Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Whole World in Our Hands

"Wake up, Rafael!" the alarm whispered. "It's 5:30 AM and you are about to dazzle 80+ third graders in a little town in upstate New York." And dazzle he did.  The kids loved him (you know because they listened and were attentive).  The teachers adored him ("He was great!" "That was amazing!" "When is he coming?") and all I could think of was the chant we will recite when he does visit. (I'll give you a hint: It's very similar to the one we sang for Matt Cordell.)

Prior to dialing, we read the book together.  Wait, back up a minute.  Way prior to his visit, like the night before prior, I baked 90 cupcakes.  C'mon.  What's a party without cake? And what's a party about the beautiful diverse children in this world working together to take care of our planet without CONFETTI cupcakes?  Not one flavor but all of them sprinkled throughout the batter.  We talked about author's purpose.  We were informed of illustrator's purpose. And now I'm sharing that even a librarian has purpose.

Rafael was energetic, inspiring and didn't give us a single hint that he'd rather still be in bed.  I had mailed him a package earlier in the week with coffee, chocolate covered espresso beans, some upstate apples and biscotti.  I felt terrible about scheduling a before sunrise Skype, but Rafael kept insisting that it was ok.

He showed us some of the early sketches from the book, talked about the process and even gave us a tour of his studio.  We asked a few questions including, "What's your favorite color?"  Purple and orange but he also likes black since black has all the colors.  He had us hunting for the Eric Carle book, What's Your Favorite Color? because of course, we wanted to see immediately how he creatively included color in his gray octopus.

Even though we were celebrating We've Got the Whole World in Our Hands, my students still had questions about The Day You Begin.  "Why did you feature the ruler throughout the book?"

Every time you open my books I want you to discover something new. [I like to include] symbols that mean something or send a message. The ruler sends a message to kids to think “How am I measuring up to other kids?”

Wow.  That's deep.  The teachers were all nodding in amazement.   Of course.  I shared with Rafael and the students that we are always thinking of "author purpose" but consider this--the illustrator has purpose, too.  You can bet I'll be asking that now!

"What inspired you to make this book?"

I wanted to make this book with the message about coming together, diversity, being kind to each other and acceptance. It’s not about me or you but about us. My inspiration is that the future is in your hands. Take care of the planet.

Finally we sang "Happy Book Birthday" took our leaps and then said farewell.

I promise you that if I have it my way our salutation was a very weak goodbye paired with a strong "see you soon." Don't you want to hear 500 voices chant RA-FA-EL-EL? I thought so. Hasta la vista!

Who could resist not seeing these kids in person? 😉

It's like it was practice picture day!
Ms. Martin and Mrs. Hannah's class

Mrs. Pryde's class

Mrs. Yager's class

Mrs. DeMassio's class
Thank you for dazzling us my friend.

PS-Rafael has illustrated many books since he began in 2004 (a fun fact we learned today).  I don't have as many as I wish I did in the library. Don't worry, when he comes, I will have all of them!  But I did pull out the ones I have and Mrs. DeMassio's kids were thrilled to be able to check them out. 


Monday, October 1, 2018


My last texts to him were kind of salty.
"I'm fully entrusting you that this will all be great," I wrote.

My thoughts were saltier.
This just better be good.

He was making an announcement and wanted to Skype with my 5th and 6th graders.

Everyone had their theories.
He's announcing a new book.
He wants to put your picture in a book.
He's decided to film The Crossover movie in Castleton.

But why have Jason [our superintendent, former principal] involved?
He's giving him an award.
He just likes him and wants to "see" him.

None of the theories sounded like good enough reason to pull 150 kids together, out of their schedule, for one Skype.

That morning I had a thought...
Couldn't be...
So I opened up Facebook.  Nothing even close to upstate New York.
When I told a colleague my thought, she suggested I ask him to send me his location.
I was too busy setting up a Google Hangout lunch with fifth graders in Texas,
Sharing a book about mistakes to first graders and
Making sure the technology was working to worry about pinning his location.

The Communication guy showed up with his camera.
The IT guy sat near the computer.
My principal asked me if I was nervous.
"Heck yeah.
150 kids and all these busy people with
No clue what it's about."

Kwame and Randy in our "Kwame Room"
He assured me.
Will it?

And it was.
And there they were
A whole new crop of unforgettable Kwame STARS walking out of school elated.
I cannot wait to see them on Monday and
Relive the whole experience.

I was surprised at my bridal shower.
I was blown away when I won "Teacher of the Year."
And I went into shock when Kwame showed up at school on Friday.

Yeah, so sorry for being salty.
Thank you, my friend.

You know life is good when you have matching leggings with a first grader AND Kwame visits!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


Every single word on the 300+ pages of SWEEP are well worth every minute of reading.  Jonathan Auxier fills these pages with quotable quotes and characters to love. He stirs up feelings from the gut and places you in settings so vivid you question whether you have actually been there or not. Lucky for all of us, today, Nan, Charlie, Toby, Newt, Miss Bloom and that wicked Crudd arrived on bookshelves everywhere ready for you and the students in your lives to experience late 19th century London from the eyes of young chimney sweeps.

When Nan was six years old, her Sweep disappeared.  The only thing he left for her was a clump of soot that she kept safely in her pocket. Now 11 and after spending years working for the evil Crudd, Nan gets stuck in a chimney fire.  She should have died from the "Devil's Nudge" except that her ember "creature" saved her.

Named after char, Charlie, is a what?  "I have met monsters before and you are not one of them," Nan tells Charlie. Not a monster but a golem. In search of learning more about golems, Nan turns to Miss Bloom, the Jewish teacher at a nearby school.  "Once a golem has fulfilled its purpose, it must die."

What is Charlie's purpose?  Is he there to teach love? Friendship? Courage? Fear? All of the above?  It was interesting to chat briefly with Jonathan about the book and compare it to The Night Gardener. He said he was thinking of writing a trilogy with each book capturing a different feeling: Night Gardener would be fear; Sweep grief and the third love.  I actually thought there was a lot of love in this book, along with fear, too. "If you're not afraid, you're not doing it right." Take my word for it, Jonathan you're doing it just right.

I read this book in two days.  I had to finish it before I met up with Jonathan at the Princeton Book Festival on Saturday and of course, before its book birthday today.  I'm glad closed the book on time because then I got to talk to Jonathan about a few of my observations including what I think is the recurring theme of a tree growing in a house.

One thing I love about the book are the thoughtful and quotables quotes.  I can even picture some of them in a yearbook*:

On defining a year: "A year is a little lifetime..." this couldn't be truer and as my daughter navigates 11th grade, I want this lifetime and the next to go VERY slowly.

"We are saved by saving others."

"In some ways, accidents feel even worse than if you'd done them on purpose."

"The world is full of wonders that I can scarcely imagine....Like everyday was a miracle."

"Courage is feeling fear and facing it head-on." (Graduation speech material?)

I picked up a copy of The Night Gardener for my son on Saturday.  He started reading it this afternoon and later said in a surprising voice, "It's good, Mom."  Would I really steer him astray?

Trust me, that's Jonathan!

Happy Book Birthday, Sweep!
Hope it was a good one!


I still share this Night Gardener Animoto with students as an example of a good one.  After that lesson, students flock to the A section. What do you think?

Monday, September 24, 2018

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

By the time you read this it will probably be the book birthday of Chris Barton's latest, What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.  An extraordinary woman deserves an extraordinary book, and she got it.  Chris's poetic text paired with Ekua Holmes's profound illustrations make this one a book you will want to read over and over again. And every time you do, you will find a new detail in an illustration or a new idea emerge from the text.

Chris knows that not only am I a big fan of his, but of Texas and Barbara Jordan, so when the F&Gs arrived at his home in Austin, he direct messaged me asking where I would like him to send me a copy.  I gave him the address of wherever I knew it would arrive the quickest. And I've been drooling over it ever since.

Virtual Chris Barton on the screen with me IRL with his book

I decided to share Barbara Jordan with my third graders during our "Book of the Week" time this morning.  I reached out to Chris, requesting a book birthday Skype shout out.  Busy with school visits all week, he offered to record himself on a personal video to Castleton Elementary School.  It was perfect. Then I got nervous.  I was just a little unsure of how eight year olds would take it all in but when I used my confident voice and shared Barbara's story, they got it.  They embraced the message and took it way farther than I would have ever imagined.  They had wonderful ideas that give me so much hope for our future.  When we were sharing at the end, all hands were raised.  I was sorry we ran out of time because one kept getting better than the next, if that was even possible.  I plan to hang the finished papers outside the library for parents to see later this week during our Parent Night, so they, too can be hopeful and get those good little feelings inside.

And then of course, we had to sing Happy Book Birthday.  I'll try and find a piece of cake to celebrate tomorrow.  Or at least channel Barbara Jordan and use my voice.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Year #4 of Princeton Book Festival

It's hard to believe that for the past four years, my son and I have made the trek to attend the annual Princeton Book Festival #PPLBookFest, but we have and it continues to be worth it.  It doesn't hurt that my grandmother lives a half hour away so it becomes a weekend of books and Bubby.

We were very late leaving Castleton.  Why?  Because at ALA I was given an ARC of SWEEP by Jonathan Auxier and had not read it yet.  I began it Thursday and it had to be finished before I saw him at the festival.  Well, I stayed up late, woke up early and closed the book (after reading all the excellent back matter, too) at 9:00 am.  We were on the road an hour ish later. It was so good and I promise to blog about it before the big book birthday on Tuesday! So, yes, I was able to chat with Jonathan about it (Are you Jewish? No but...Trees in houses seem to be running themes in your books. This was not scary like The Night Gardener but crushed my heart in other ways.)

Jonathan is a tall guy and his leap is "off the page!"

I was THRILLED to see old friends:
Lauren Castillo with her newest book that got an amazing review in the NYT recently!

Anna Kang and Chris Weyant who will come to Castleton ONE OF THESE DAYS!

I met Ellen Potter at ALA in NOLA and now she is a New Yorker in the Syracuse area and a friend!  

Ame Dyckman ran out of Misunderstood Shark before I got there but we still got to take a leap!

The photo dedicated to Matt Cordell: Bob, Not Bob! authors Audrey Vernick and  TEXAN, Liz Garton Scanlon.
The incomparable Sophie Blackall who WILL be at CES someday soon, maybe even this year?
Looks like I'm squeezing her hand for dear life!

HAPPY to finally meet IRL some new friends:

Stella Diaz will be on my Newbery list!

I promised Abby Hanlon she will never forget this leap!

I love Shaking Things Up and Susan Hood's newest (and first middle grade) Lifeboat 12.
Plus, she's a Matt Cordell author, too!

Torrey Maldonado seemed to always have a crowd when I walked by. 
But I got lucky he was right behind me on the checkout line.
Tight will be on my Newbery list, too!

I've met Greg Pizzoli before but never really chatted.  He's the illustrator of Crunch, which I read to first graders on the first day of school.  "Did they sing 'Happy Birthday'?" he asked.  "They did!"
Who's mouth is open wider???

I'M STILL IN AWE when I chat with some folks who I wish were my friends:

Another Newbery list book.  Two years ago at the same festival I bought a copy of Liar and Spy (my favorite).
Then I came home only to find out I already owned a copy.  At least I remembered this year so as not to buy a third!

The only time I really saw my son smile yesterday was when he told Wendy Mass that The Candymakers is his favorite book.

Every time I see David Wiesner I tell him about our Surf City, Long Beach Island connection.
This time we talked about mini golf.  It didn't hurt that my son was wearing his Flamingo Golf t-shirt.

Susan Verde (also a Matt Cordell author) is our Gala author this year and our theme is "I am...ME!" piggybacking her "I Am" books with Peter H. Reynolds. We finally met IRL but of course, I never got a photo :-(.  I did get one with John Parra who illustrated Susan's latest book, Hey, Wall, that we will be featuring at our October Monthly Morning Assembly.

Shhh...Don't tell anyone (except me because I'd love to know that you read to the end of this post) but Mrs. Kelliher and I are going to dress up as the "I Am Peace" character for Halloween this year. I discreetly asked Susan if she had any of the hats and she told me that a woman made three of them and told her that she would never make any again. Hmph?! I guess they were really hard to sew or crochet?  Well, I put a query out on Etsy tonight to a woman who loves to crochet.  Stay tuned.

Check out this stack of books for my library:

All in all a wonderful day to be a librarian.

I am taking up a collection though.  Send all donations to the Princeton Police Department:

Dear Princeton Municipal Court, 
Please pardon my negligence in feeding the meter.  I was too caught up in leaping with a slew of superstars that I became irresponsible in my parking payment duties.