Lighthouse Life

“While the idea behind the lighthouse was a practical one there’s just something elusive about them which fascinates many people. Perhaps it’s their link with the past; perhaps, that they served a heroic purpose.”  — The Door County Pulse

When I toured the Split Rock Lighthouse on Minnesota’s north shore a couple of years ago, I found myself pulled by the window into the past—into a very specific sort of life. I tried to imagine myself living in such a remote place with only very few people to call your community, and I’m not sure I could place myself there. As a suburban-raised urban dweller, the lighthouse life might well be another plane of existence. It’s smaller than I can envision while also promising some sort of perspective that we can only seem to get from a very particular, very tall, vantage point.

Since then, I’ve fallen for lighthouse stories again and again. It feels almost cliché, frankly. My romanticized view of the past surely wasn’t what it was actually like. Nonetheless, I cheered when Hello Lighthouse won the Caldecott. There was something about the quiet, nostalgic story that spoke to me. I read Hazel Gaynor’s novelized version of Grace Darling’s life in The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter and found myself comparing fact and fiction as I read. (Yes, I actually read a book written for grown ups. It happens occasionally.) From there, I discovered “The Lighthouse Family” series by Cynthia Rylant. These early chapter books begin in The Storm with a cat named Pandora living a lonely life in a lighthouse until she rescues a dog named Seabold. The two of them along with some orphaned mice they rescue become a family. If it all sounds overly sweet to you consider that the story explores the sort of loneliness that adults, whose lives often leave them disconnected and devoted to their work, feel in a way that will keep young readers’ attention. This is a series that parents will delight in reading aloud to young listeners. Or at least I hope they will.

Perhaps between the picture books and other books that tell the stories of lighthouse life, real and imagined, the magical draw to them will sustain the imaginations of another generation of readers.

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My Inclusive Storytime Challenge

Libraries are for everyone. I really believe that, and I want my storytimes to be for everyone too. But in looking back at my storytime titles over the past year, I realized that my storytime families didn’t see everyone represented in the books I had chosen. That concerned me, and after a boost of inspiration from colleagues who presented on inclusive storytimes at our last department meeting, I decided to make it a priority in the form of a challenge: include at least one book by or about a person of color every week.

Maybe that seems impossible to you. Or maybe it seems like you’d end up compromising and choosing not-as-good books just to say you were inclusive. There are probably other maybes popping up in your head, but I’m here to debunk them. Sometimes it took a little more digging for find the just right books to share for a certain theme, but I always got there. I never felt like I was compromising, and I discovered some great books that I’m sure I’ll be adding to my regular storytime rotation.

For this next session, I am stepping up my challenge to attempt to feature more #OwnVoices titles and to talk about race when it is appropriate to do so. Even just pointing out the race of the characters or author models affirming differences and identity, which is very important to me as a disabled person with a very obvious physical difference.

So here’s what I did:

J is for Jump

Jump! By Scott M. Fischer

Hop Jump by Ellen Stoll Walsh

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwell (I love this one! It is definitely a storytime favorite.)

 

L is for Library

Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn

Read it, Don’t Eat it by Ian Schoenherr

You Can Read by Helaine Becker

 

M is for Moon

Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin

 

N is for Numbers

Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell

Grandma’s Tiny House by JaNae Brown-Wood (This is a favorite!)

Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett (Interactive books always go over well with my storytime kids.)

 

P is for Pirate

Pirate Jack Gets Dressed by Nancy Raines Day (FYI, Pirate Jack has a hook for a hand just like me.)

Pirate Nap by Danna Smith

Pirate Princess by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (Honestly, this was a little long for my group, but it’s a cute story.)

 

S is for Socks and Shoes

Duck Sock Hop by Jane Kohuth

Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin (Always a good choice!)

Maggie and Michael Get Dressed by Denise Fleming

 

T is for Trucks and Trains

Freight Train by Donald Crews

Tip Tip Dig Dig by Emma Garcia

Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz (My group loved this one.)

 

W is for Wild Animals

Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora

Tiny Little Fly by Michael Rosen

Don’t Wake Up the Tiger by Britta Teckentrup (Another great interactive book.)

 

Follow me on Instagram to see what I’m doing for the spring session, and definitely check out the Talking to Kids about Race in Storytime post on Jbrary for more about inclusive storytime.

Immersing Yourself in a Fantasy World

goosegirlAnd then there are those sequels I can’t not read.

I just posted about making time for sequels (or not), and then I found myself devouring a complete trilogy in just a couple of weeks. That’s rare enough, but add to that the fact that it was a fantasy story (not my usual genre), and you have something so odd that I thought it deserved its own blog post.

It all started when I wanted to share one of my old favorites with my daughter. Goose Girl by Shannon Hale is a fairy tale retelling that I fell in love with years ago. In the story, Princess Ani is on her way to the Kingdom of Bayern where she will marry the prince. Because that’s what princesses do. Various things go wrong that I won’t spoil for you because you should read it for yourself, and Ani finds herself on her own and not sure who to trust.

kissofdeceptionAs I was reading Goose Girl aloud to my ten-year-old, I started thinking about all the stories that start with princesses (or other noble ladies) facing arranged marriages. The librarian in me thought that might make a good list or maybe display, so I decided to see how many I could find. Somewhere along the way, I came across a book called The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson. It sounded interesting.

The SLJ review was pretty glowing: “Romance, adventure, mysticism-this book has it all and it just may be the next YA blockbuster.” So I placed the library hold and waited.

When the book came in eventually, I shrugged. Why did I want to read this again? I couldn’t remember. I hardly ever read fantasy. But I gave it a chance. Why not?

It began rather ominously:

“Today was the day a thousand dreams would die and a single dream would be born. The wind knew. It was the first of June, but cold gusts bit at the hilltop citadelle as fiercely as deepest winter, shaking the windows with curses and winding through drafty halls with warning whispers. There was no escaping what was to come. For good or bad, the hours were closing in.”

Something about the richly descriptive prose or the fascinating world held me captive as a reader. I could hardly put it down. My heart pounded along with Princess Arabella’s as she fled an arranged marriage to someone she’d never met. I was riveted to the pages as she made a new identity for herself, and I stressed big time as I read about the two strangers who arrived in town since I knew what the princess didn’t: one was an assassin sent to kill her and one was the prince she might have married. Unfortunately, neither of us knows which is which for much of the book.

When the book ended, I felt like my interest in the story was far from sated. I needed book two like I’ve never needed a sequel before, maybe ever. The few days it took to get it from the library felt like a lifetime, and once I had my hands on it, I gobbled up the story as fast as I could. I was thrilled to find out that I didn’t have to wait for book three. It was checked in at my library. I was less thrilled to discover that it was nearly 700 pages, but that wasn’t going to stop me from following Princess Lia’s story wherever it took me.

Having finished the trilogy now, I’m left wondering what to do with myself. I’ve spent weeks immersed in this world of destiny, deception, and danger. How will I go on when this story has ended?

At least I still have Goose Girl and its sequels to read with my daughter as she discovers the magic of a story in which a girl makes her own way and doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do.

Perspectives on World War I

summer100 years ago today marks the end of the first world war. In the serendipity that is my library request list, The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson appeared on my hold shelf about a week ago. So it was that I found myself reading a story about the outbreak of the war while my community prepared to commemorate its end.

In truth, I had placed my name on the waiting list for the book because it was on an “If you like Downton Abbey…” reading list. And it is indeed Downton Abbey-like in its exploration of the way the war affected a small English town. We don’t get a lot of details about what’s happening abroad. The story focuses on the personal rather than the political aspects of the war. It’s about lack of food in the shops, inability to travel, and changed career plans. But the part of the story that fascinated me the most is the portrayal of women’s lives at the time, especially the twenty-three year-old Latin teacher who struggles to be independent from the oversight of the trustees who manage her inheritance. It was another world in terms of how women were permitted to live, but it was a time of change.

If you like gentle stories full of historical details and wry wit, this is a good choice for you. If you are more interested in an account of the war itself, try Through the Barricades by Denise Deegan, which I wrote about here. Or if you want to read about the American home front, don’t miss one of my favorite books Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen.

On Sequels

atthesignoftrueand.jpgI rarely read sequels. Who has time for that? (Says the person who has also posted about rereading books multiple times just ‘cause.) The truth is that no matter what I say about lack of time, if I really want to read something, I’ll make the time . . .eventually.  If I am being honest, I would say that I rarely bother with sequels because they are usually disappointing.

Usually is not always, of course. I recently reread a book and its sequel that I’d read years ago and wanted to revisit. It turned out that At the Sign of the Star was just okay, in my opinion. I almost skipped reading A True and Faithful Narrative even though I had Inter-Library Loaned both of these books since my library system no longer owned them. But I’m so glad I gave it a chance. A True and Faithful Narrative told Meg’s story as she grew into herself, into the writer she had always imagined herself to be despite the obstacles before her as a female in the 1680s. It was one of those very rare situations where the sequel was actually better than the first book.

All in my own opinion, of course. But there you have it. Not all sequels are terrible. Some of them are even really good.

Other YA sequels you might want to make time for:

thunderhead.jpgThunderhead (sequel to Scythe) by Neal Shusterman – Both Scythe and Thunderhead were rather outside of my usual choices, but I could not put either of them down.  Seriously, if you like dystopian novels that explore ethics and ideas while telling a story that is brutal and compelling, you need to read both of these books. Actually the School Library Journal called Thunderhead, “A rare sequel that is even better than the first book.” I’m not sure I’d go that far myself, but I will say that I will absolutely be reading the third installment as soon as it comes out, which is a super rarity for me.

empress.jpgThe Empress (sequel to The Diabolic) by S.J. Kincaid – Perhaps a bit like Scythe and Thunderhead, this science fiction story explores big ideas (what is personhood, science vs. religion, etc.) in a world that is harsh and full of deception. But here the focus is on the political intrigue at the emperor’s court where Nemesis, a genetically engineered bodyguard, is sent to impersonate a Senator’s daughter to protect her. There are unexpected twists and turns in both books, and by the end of The Empress, I am not even sure what to expect for the third book.

I’m considering reading The Rose and the Dagger (sequel to The Wrath & the Dawn, which is excellent), and I’ve been saying I’ll get around to A Torch Against the Night (sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which was an unexpected favorite of mine) for ages.

Sequels I plan to read for kids: Patina and Sunny (sequels to Ghost) by Jason Reynolds. If you have yet to read Ghost, start there. You’ll thank me, I promise.

What other sequels should I be sure to make time for?

Let’s look at the Weather

Look at the Weather by Britta TeckentrupI found this book shelved with the nonfiction picture books at my library. Next to books offering information about weather for preschoolers and young children. This 100+ page volume stood out as different from the sea of 32 page picture books. At a glance, I thought perhaps it might be misshelved. Looking further into the book, I thought perhaps there was no section for this book in my library. No one place it belonged.

It is not quite a picture book, but it contains illustrations on each spread. It is not full of facts about weather so much as it is an invitation to observe and experience the weather as it happens. To reflect and consider. There are more questions in this book than there are facts.

It is not a book that is only for children, by any means. I often say that picture books are for everyone. My fifth grade daughter is probably sick of me reminding her that you never grow out of picture books. This is a book that proves the point. Hand this book to anyone of any age and let them savor the art and the text. It is sure to speak to readers of a far greater variety of ages than will discover it in the nonfiction picture book bins at the library, which is why I share it with you today. Don’t miss this one. Don’t let it sit in the bin and eventually be weeded from your local library. It is far too lovely for that fate.

Hidden Gems at the Library

As I celebrate one year of working for the library, I thought I would highlight one of the perks of the job: discovering hidden gems in the library collection. I already blogged about Through the Barricades, which I came across while browsing the library’s shelves—something I never had time to do as a patron. Others I have discovered while looking at circulation reports and pulling books that haven’t checked out in a long while. Sometimes when you are doing this kind of work, you feel like you understand why a book hasn’t checked out. Maybe it doesn’t look appealing or the description makes it sound a little strange. But there are other books with low circulation numbers that I find myself reading—and enjoying, and I just know that other people would love them too if they found them.

Catlantis by Anna Starobinets, for example, falls into this category. This short book is actually a rather silly story about how cats came to have nine lives. It involves time travel and other magical elements, but it never takes itself too seriously. If you are a kid who appreciates cat-oriented wordplay, this is the book for you.

Speaking of wordplay and laugh-out-loud humor, The Short Con by Pete Toms is another lonely book with few checkouts. It’s a shame, really, because this graphic novel will appeal to grown ups as well as kids. There are pop culture references, cat puns, and just plain weirdness. It’s small, but a lot of fun. I’m glad I found it, and I hope other people do too.

I’m glad it’s part of my job to discover these hidden gems and help them get into the hands of the right readers!