Discovering the North Shore

It was good to get away for a few days. To leave the city far behind us for a quieter world. We hiked rugged paths to see waterfalls, stuck our feet into the painfully cold water of Lake Superior, and relaxed on the shore by the light of the fire in the evening. For many Minnesota families, north shore vacations are long-standing traditions that have perhaps become a bit “whatever” as the sights have been seen over and over again. But for us, it was a first. It was an adventure. Everything was new to us, and I can’t help but dream of a time—years down the road—when we’ve been so many times that we’ve discovered all the hidden gems that are waiting for us to find. Something about that feels like a Minnesota badge of honor that we’ve yet to achieve.

On this trip we collected several firsts: The first time we toured the Split Rock Lighthouse; the first time we saw the view from Palisade Head; the first time we rode the gondola up the Lutsen Mountain. And the first time we trekked out to Wild Country Maple Syrup.

It was our first full day in the area, and we had so many possibilities for our To Do list that we almost skipped it. We’d already stopped at Caribou Cream, a small store where syrup and other giftable items are sold on the honor system as there are no employees there working the shop. We were charmed by the shop and its contents, so we bought some syrup and headed on our way wondering if another syrup place was worth our time.

“Why not?” we decided and drove down the country roads that twisted and turned into the woods. The paved roads became dirt and every time we wondered if we were lost, a sign that pointed the way to Wild Country Maple Syrup kept us going. Soon, we could see the syrup lines running through the forest, and eventually the road ended at the headquarters of the operation. We headed straight for the small store to find that it was much like the one we’d seen at our previous stop. But we were quickly greeted by one of the owners who offered to show us around. He took us into the sugar shack and walked us through the process of making the syrup. We got to see where they bottle the syrup and sample the different types. Everyone we met was so friendly; we ended up chatting for quite some time.

We left with more syrup, of course. Because how could we resist after getting the grand tour and the nicest welcome we could have asked for? Note to self: check out the recipe section of their web site because we have a lot of syrup now.

Back at work a few days later, I was pulling books for my library’s Family History Month display, and I happened across a picture book about a family with a tradition of making maple syrup in the spring: Taffy Time by Jennifer Lloyd. The story centers on the youngest member of the family who wants to help, but keeps getting in the way and making mistakes. The little girl’s father explains the process of making the syrup as part of the story, and it was fun to see a smaller version of what we saw at Wild Country depicted on the pages of the book.

If you happen to be in the Lutsen, MN area, consider stopping in at Wild Country. For those who can’t get to the North Shore anytime soon, there are always picture books. Taffy Time is one of many picture books about making maple syrup. Rhoda’s Rock Hunt by Molly Beth Griffin is another title with local interest—though the story of a child collecting so much that they can’t carry it all extends far beyond the Minnesota borders.  Rhoda’s solution to her problem is one that will please both young rock collectors and their parents–much like our vacation to the North Shore. ;)

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The History of My Hook

“I promise your child couldn’t possibly ask me anything I haven’t been asked before.”

This is my usual reassurance to uneasy parents as their children approach me with questions about my prosthetic arm. After thirty-odd years of using a prosthetic device in my everyday life, I have answered every question under the sun more times than I can count. Or so I thought.

Recently a little boy was particularly fascinated by the mechanics of my fake arm. He exclaimed, “This is the most amazing contraption!” with such adorable enthusiasm that I felt extra disappointed that I couldn’t answer his follow up question: Who invented it?

I have never been asked this before. That’s kind of surprising, now that I think about it. With all the interest in inventors and engineers in my world (education/libraries), you would think someone would have been curious enough about whoever might have been the brains behind my prosthetic arm to ask about it.

It seems that when it comes to prosthetics, people are only interested in the future. Robot arms. 3-d printing. Bionics. Those are the topics that get the headlines and the general interest. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked why I don’t have a robot arm.

In an effort to be prepared for the question should it ever come up again, I did a bit of looking into the history of prosthetics. It turns out that a man named D.W. Dorrance invented the split hook device in 1912. Dorrance was an amputee himself, and he wasn’t happy with the functionality of the prosthetic devices available at the time. So he made his own, which is pretty cool.

Here’s the really unbelievable part though: Dorrance’s design, with few modifications, is still the industry standard over 100 years later. It’s what I’ve used for most of my life. It may not seem as cool as the robot arms you saw in some news story, but it’s surprisingly functional. My split hook device is infinitely more useful to me than the more hand-like prosthetic devices I’ve used in my life as well as the 3-d printed accessories I’ve tried (though the typing tool prototype I have from a 3d printing company is pretty awesome). I guess the old adage is true: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In any case, it’s a rather impressive story. How many inventors can say that their inventions have remained in use for so long with so few changes?

I’d love to be able to point kids to books about the history of prosthetics, especially one that includes Dorrance’s story, but there’s almost nothing out there. While I am the first to be interested in news stories about some cool new tech that might benefit amputees like me someday, I can’t help but wish for some celebration of the past or acknowledgment of the present.

The one book that I can recommend on the subject is Artificial Limbs by Kira Freed. This is part of the Miracles of Medicine series from an educational publisher, and it is aimed at upper elementary age kids. I have a few minor quibbles with the wording here and there, but overall, the book offers a good explanation of how prosthetic arms like mine work without getting lost in technological possibilities. I, for one, appreciate that more than you might think.

 

I have been eagerly awaiting the publication of New Hands, New Life: Robots, Prostheses, and Innovation, which looks to be a look at the ways that assistive technology has helped kids who have various disabilities. I am particularly curious to see how it will balance the present and the future. If we are to have yet another book that focuses too far ahead, I just may have to write the book I want to see. ;)

 

Team Outer Space

It was space that first drew my daughter in to Brains On, a science podcast for kids, so it was hardly a surprise that when it came down to Outer Space vs. Deep Sea, she was firmly cheering for Team Outer Space to win the debate. In her mind, it was hardly even a debate.

“What’s so great about the ocean?” she asked from the back seat as we set off on a long drive one recent Saturday. I was about to press play on the big debate, and I admit, I was hoping she would keep an open mind.

“You might be surprised,” I said, thinking of the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean that I was certain would be as fascinating as planets, stars, and the possibility of alien life if she gave it a chance. We listened as Brains On producers presented their arguments for each side. We mostly kept our commentary to ourselves other than the occasional “huh” or “wow” for both Outer Space and Deep Sea.

We kept track of the points we would award each debater, and, in the end, Team Outer Space won the debate for both of us. But for those of you still on the fence about which one is cooler, perhaps one of these books will sway you:

Deep Sea
I wrote about What if Sharks Disappeared a few weeks ago, and it certainly fills in the argument for Deep Sea by sharing how we are connected to ocean life. But let’s stay focused on the debate at hand—The Deep Sea vs. Outer Space. For a look at the deepest parts of the ocean, Down, Down, Down by Steve Jenkins is a must-read. Really, all of Steve Jenkins’ books are must-reads, or at least must-browse-through-to-look-at-the-remarkable-illustrations.

Outer Space

Last time I wrote about Brains On, I shared Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, and this is still one of my daughter’s favorite books. It’s funny and browsable while being full of information. Plus, she likes cats. Not as much of a cat person as she is? That’s okay. How about Destination: Space? In this book five kids take a tour of the universe from the big bang and beyond. It’s similar to Professor Astro Cat, just a little less cute and funny.

It’s up to you to choose a team (or remain neutral) in this very important debate. ;)

As a side note to fellow librarians reading this, it occurs to me as I write this that “Deep Sea vs. Outer Space” would be a fun library display. Actually, there are probably lots of possibilities here. Well, I’m off to brainstorm potential “versus” displays I could do in my library….

If you like… Time Travel

If you follow me on Goodreads or other social media, you may have noticed a theme in my reading choices lately. You are not imagining it. I am binge reading time travel novels. This is not a new reading interest, by any means. I did a project on time travel fiction for one of my library school classes eleventy billion years ago, and I will sometimes admit that I have the beginning of a time travel novel of my own creation saved on my computer. I started it years ago, and I always say I’m going to finish it but that’s not what this post is about. Lay off!

Focusing on the matter at hand: If you like time travel fiction, what should you read next? Here are a few newish suggestions:

For Kids: The Time Museum by Matthew Loux is a fun adventure that takes readers all over time in graphic novel format. My daughter enjoyed it and is eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

For Teens: The Passenger by Alexandra Bracken and Into the Dim by Janet Taylor are very similar stories. Both fall into the “Hey, your mom is secretly a time traveler and in serious danger from a rival faction of time travelers and you will have to rescue her somewhere in time” category. Apparently, that’s a Thing. Who knew? Anyway, both were good, but probably don’t read them back to back like I did or you’ll probably find yourself confusing the details and growing tired of the genre. Tempest by Julie Cross is slightly different in that it’s more of a spy thriller, but still has a secretive parent and possibly evil time travelers with whom the protagonist has to contend.

So which one should you read? If you want plenty of romance in your time travel story: The Passenger. If you want an action-oriented story with a male lead: Tempest. If you want a story that spends a lot of time in the distant past: Into the Dim.

For Adults: If you missed my post about The Jane Austen Project, that’s where you should probably start. That was the book that began this little genre binge of mine, and I recommend it to readers of historical fiction who want something unusual as well as those who, like me, are obsessed with time travel. If you’re more of a mystery/thriller kind of reader, try A Murder in Time by Jill McElwain. It’s the sort of book that I couldn’t put down despite feeling like it was a little bit cheesy. If I’m honest, a bit of cheesiness is part of the fun of time travel stories, at least for me.

Of course, there are as many reasons for reading a particular genre as there are readers. Some people are enamored with the idea of a do-over or want to mull over the paradoxes. For me, it’s the silly anachronisms and the fish-out-of-water elements that make it fun to read. Not to mention: star-crossed love. I can never seem to resist a love story, even if it makes me cry.

Links of interest:

Library Heroes

What librarian doesn’t have something of a weakness for books about books? I can’t imagine I am alone in finding stories that celebrate stories particularly charming. That was, of course, how I ended up reading The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey, which is the story of a bug who loves books. This is unusual for bugs, mind you, and Eddie’s family thinks he’s a bit strange for his preoccupation with reading. They don’t expect much of him at all. Too much of a dreamer.

As an aside, how many kids who always have their heads in a book are written off this way? It makes me sad to think about.

In any case, Eddie is a bug of action no matter what his family thinks. When his beloved Aunt Min, who taught him to read, is missing, he braves the wider world to find her. The bug’s eye view of the world is sure to get kids laughing, and the references to children’s books (both obvious and not obvious) throughout are fun to spot.

As if this wasn’t enough to make this book a winner, get this: After Eddie finds Aunt Min at the library, naturally, he learns that the library is in danger of being shut down. What can a little bug do to save a library populated by “squishers”? Sticky notes. Eddie leaves sticky notes in the library asking the squishers to save it, to keep it open and full of books. The kids at the library think it’s a ghost leaving the notes, but it doesn’t matter who left the notes, they will save the library as requested.

I love this. I love the idea that even the smallest person, or insect in this case, can make a big difference, and I love the idea of sticky notes being the way the difference happens. I’ve always thought that notes left in unexpected places had a particular sort of power, and it seems I’m not the only one. At the library where I work, I’ve found two sticky notes inside the front cover of picture books with messages for whomever may find them. I have no idea who is leaving these notes. I’m fairly certain it’s not a tiny bug or a ghost, but I agree with their sentiments.

I’ll be watching for more of these notes in the library. Meanwhile, I added The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library to my Animals list and the Books & Libraries list on my wiki. I quite recommend the book to young readers looking for a humorous and charming adventure.

What about sharks?

Everyone is afraid of sharks, right? They are fearsome creatures who come out of nowhere to attack when you’re swimming and having fun. Aren’t they? Perhaps there is more to it than that.

When we were in Boston a few months ago, we visited the New England Aquarium and caught a showing of Great White Shark 3D in the IMAX theater. The movie used suspenseful music and beautiful shots to explore the fear of sharks that is deeply ingrained in our culture while making it clear that sharks are in danger from humans far more than we are in danger from them.

My daughter was entranced by the film. First it was the 3D effects that caught her attention since it was her first 3D movie, but by the end, she had clearly invested in the shark’s plight. The call to action to protect sharks that ended the film earned a soft but firm “yeah” from her, which surprised me.

It’s been a few months since then, but I finally got my hands on a copy of If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams to share with her to reinforce and deepen the idea that sharks are important to the ecosystem—and to us. Imagine if the ocean became unlivable because plankton grew out of control because fish and pinnipeds disappeared because sharks disappeared. We are all connected. That’s the point here, and it is made in a way that even kids younger than my nine-year-old will be able to grasp. The scientific vocabulary and kid-friendly tips for helping protect sharks are just bonuses in an already powerful picture book.

I’m still afraid of sharks. I can’t imagine cage diving in shark infested waters, much less free diving in those places as was depicted in the film. But fear doesn’t negate the connection between us, which seems like an important idea to explore with kids whether we are talking about nature or other aspects of our world.

Great White Sharks 3D trailer:

If Sharks Disappeared trailer:

If you like… Roald Dahl

The most consistently popular posts on my blog are these “If You like…” posts, so I thought I might try to do more of them. What better author to start up the series again than Roald Dahl? His books are beloved by kids and grown-ups. His quirky, subversive style has endured for over 50 years with a strong base of adoring fans. But once you finish the 19 children’s books Dahl wrote, what next? While I imagine that very few authors measure up to Roald Dahl in most fans’ eyes, here are a few books that might satisfy readers looking for something similar:

Ms Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera is a whimsical adventure that includes the social satire that Dahl fans enjoy. I read it aloud to my daughter, and we both found it quite charming.

The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld is an absurd fairy tale style story full of wit and wordplay. It’s a princess story, but it’s sarcastic and funny. What could be better than that?

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon is another whimsical adventure story with quirky characters that reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl’s books.  And I wasn’t the only one who saw the similarities. Both the Booklist and the School Library Journal reviews compared the book to Dahl. I will say that it’s a bit long and slow moving at times, but the dreamy nature of the story pulls the reader along well enough.

Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner stars Emily Vole, an abandoned child who has been adopted by a pair of terrible parents who treat her like a servant. But things change for Emily when she gets to know her neighbor Miss String and all sorts of magical things start happening. This is a silly adventure full of the sort of humor and wit that Dahl fans know and love.

Need more suggestions? Try these:

Weird and Wonderful Books for Kids who Like Roald Dahl

If you like Roald Dahl you might also like…

The BFG Readalikes

Living in a Multilingual World

Every document that comes home from my daughter’s elementary school comes in three different languages: English, Spanish, and Somali.  In the hallways, you can see various languages on signs and posters.  Her school isn’t a language immersion school; it’s just a typical school in Minneapolis.  According to the school district, there are 96 languages or dialects spoken by students or their families throughout the city, and her school is only 31% white.

Our kids are growing up in a world in which you can’t count on the people around you speaking your language.  You might have to meet people somewhere between your language and theirs or listen for more than just the meaning of words.

I was thinking about this as I read Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, which is written in journal format and includes a lot of Spanish words and phrases throughout the book.  Gabi’s life is in both languages, and it feels real to have both languages represented in her journal.  I don’t speak Spanish, but I loved Gabi’s story.  I connected with her through her intimate and humorous diary entries as she sorted out big issues like cultural identity, family problems, and feminism all while discovering the power of poetry.  It’s a story that will stick with me for a long time.  Sure, I didn’t always know the Spanish words, but I did know Gabi.

At the AWP Conference in Minneapolis in 2015, I attended a session in which M. Evelina Galang spoke about her book Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery, and she shared her experience that young people never seemed to question the inclusion of Tagalog in her book the way adult readers did.  The teen readers accepted that it was part of the story and created their own context around it.  Galang advises readers in a post you can download on her web site to “feel the words” they don’t understand.  In her book, Galang creates a rich world full of feeling that will give readers an opportunity to connect with Angel’s experience whether they know any Tagalog or not.

My daughter, a third-grader, is far from reading these teen novels, but she could “feel the words” in Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina, which includes lots of Spanish words in the text as the story follows a young Colombian girl as she learns English. Juana is a wonderfully likable character, and it is easy to relate to her even with a limited knowledge of Spanish.  Her story is just the thing to generate enthusiasm for learning a new language!

I also made sure to share I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien with her last year when a new student arrived in her class. The student had only recently arrived in the country from Somalia and spoke very little English, much like Fatimah in the book. I’m New Here helped us to talk about how it would feel to go to school in a different country and explore how we might connect with people when we don’t share a language. This conversation could easily be had in a classroom setting, and teachers may be interested in the resources available on O’Brien’s web site, including a community event kit and a video. Pair it with Meg Medina’s Mango, Abuela, and Me for the way the story blends English and Spanish as grandmother and granddaughter attempt to communicate despite not speaking each other’s language.

These are the books that reflect the world in which we live, and I hope to see even more cultures and languages (especially Somali!) represented on the shelves of our libraries to help us remember that there are ways to connect with people and things we share with them even when we don’t share a first language.

Exploring Japan

A few years ago, my daughter and I spent a summer exploring the world. Well, not literally. Our family travel budget isn’t nearly large enough to accommodate a world tour. But we felt like world explorers as we read each book in the Dodsworth series by Tim Egan that followed the title character from New York to London, Paris, and Tokyo. For each book, we would seek out as much of the location we could experience from afar as we could.  It may seem silly, but we had a great time armchair traveling to all of these places. Thanks to our imaginary trip to Paris, chocolate croissants have become a favorite treat in our family.

Recently we took our first non-imaginary mother-daughter trip to visit family in Boston, and we were delighted to discover an opportunity to explore a faraway place while we were there thanks to the Boston Children’s Museum. Amid the usual children’s museum exhibits in which kids can play, build, and create is a unique exhibit that allows museum visitors a special glimpse of life on the other side of the world: The Japanese House.

The house, which was a gift to the city of Boston from sister-city Kyoto, is a traditional live-work space from the textile district of Kyoto. We learned that very few of these houses still exist in Kyoto.  In fact, a 2012 National Geographic article featured Kyoto as one of “9 Places to See Before They Slip Away” citing this architectural style as a highlight of Kyoto that is losing ground to modernization. We may never get to Kyoto ourselves, so I really appreciated that this house was preserved and shared this way. For those who are far from both Kyoto and Boston, you can armchair travel via a virtual tour or this video.

My daughter left the exhibit with all sorts of questions about what life is like in Japan now compared to the lifestyle preserved in the exhibit, so when we got back to Minneapolis, we found ourselves poring over books from our local library about children’s lives in Japan and watching this video.

Our favorite book we found was My Awesome Japan Adventure, which is a fictional travel diary about a boy spending four months in Japan. I liked it because it modeled the idea of a travel diary while sharing all sorts of information about Japanese culture. My nine-year-old liked it for the cartoon style, the humorous tone, and the spread that included origami instructions. Either way, it was a winner. ;)

Wherever we end up on our next mother-daughter trip, I hope to find hidden gems and surprises like the Japanese House exhibit there too. Perhaps we’ll keep our own travel diaries as we move from imaginary adventures to real ones out in the world. We may not always be able to go far, but we can always keep a sense of adventure with us.

Book Review: Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez

My initial reaction to Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez was, embarrassingly, “huh?” I was excited to receive a review copy from the publisher because the art looked beautiful, the setting was unusual in a children’s book, and my nine-year-old loves graphic novels.  I expected this to be a rave review all around, but upon receiving the book, I found I didn’t know what to make of it. Sure, the illustrations were as beautiful as I had expected, and the story’s Colombian setting isn’t one often found in books for kids. Those things are true. But I wasn’t expecting a story that was so dark and creepy. Could I share this with my sensitive nine-year-old? It was the stuff of nightmares, I thought.

The book, however, has stuck with me in a way that had me rereading it multiple times. To appreciate the illustrations. To make sense of the story that seemed so unsettling and almost unfinished. It was a book that wouldn’t let me go. That alone must mean something, I thought.

As I reread the story again and again, I found it shifted from the dark and creepy nightmare I saw at first to something empowering. The little girl in the story encounters a strange darkness and instead of running from it, she finds a way to live with it. To allow what might have been scary to be part of her world. The openness of the ending, so unsettling at first, seemed more appropriate when viewed through this lens.

Maybe the monstrous character of Morfie is Sandy’s doubt and insecurity. Maybe the story shows Sandy learning to live with that kind of anxiety and still be creative. I’m not sure what the author intended. But I know that Nightlights deserves to be read. Maybe more than once.

More about Nightlights: