Archive | April, 2013

Another stroll down memory lane

30 Apr

Bicycles never go away in Portland, which has a healthy, and sometimes weird, cycling community. In many places, though, bikes come out in Spring, as did Chris Raschka’s new book  Everyone can Learn to Ride a Bicycle.


I had more than my share of trouble learning to ride a bike. My twin sister took to a two-wheeler like a duck to water. Not I.  My dad did not believe in training wheels so many an evening, after dinner, he and my brother (look Brian, you are in 2 blogs in a row!) would take me out to my brand new blue CCM.


They’d hold it while I’d climb on. They’d run behind me and let me go. I’d wobble for a while then fall down. It felt as though I lived with stones in my palms. If only I had this book to inspire me.

Raschka’s “how to”  text is simple and straightforward. He doesn’t really walk you through the mechanics of learning to ride, but instills confidence. He even teaches you to get back on if you fall off. The lively watercolors capture the momentum of the experience.

I finally decided enough was enough. I was tired of running behind my sister & friends who were riding. One day I got my bike and decided I MUST do it. And I did. Apparently, I had to learn to bicycle standing up. It was weeks before I could sit & pedal, but I discovered what Chris Raschka says, “by luck, grace, and determination, you are riding a bicycle”. And I never forgot how.

What Elizabeth Blackwell and I have in common

29 Apr

Memory is a funny thing.  We have a family story about me eating a cow’s eye which involves my big brother Brian. He & I tell very different versions of this story. Of course, mine is the true version. At least in my mind. The facts we agree on are that he brought home the lens of a cow’s eye and I put it in my mouth. What my brother told me and my motivation are items of debate. For the record, it tasted yucky so I spit it out. Reading the picture biography Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors: the Story of Elizabeth Blackwell  by Tanya Lee Stone,


I learned that a young Elizabeth was grossed out by a cow’s eyeball.

A less amusing thing she & I have in common is being told girls can’t be doctors. When I was in grade 8, I recall sitting in the basement of our house on Greenwood Drive in New Hamburg, talking with my parents about which classes my twin sister & I should take in high school. There was some discussion about electives and my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I said I wanted to be a doctor, he replied “Girls can’t be doctor”. I was upset but kept quiet and secretly nurtured my desire until I eventually realized I hated gore and preferred Social Sciences to Natural Sciences. Besides, no one wanted a doctor who gagged at icky things.

Unlike me, Elizabeth got over her disgust at the cow’s eyeball incident and persevered in her desire to become a doctor, despite opposition of almost everyone. Marjorie Priceman’s colorful illustration transmit the energy Elizabeth needed to pursue her goal.

When I read books like this to kids, they can’t believe people used to say women couldn’t do things like become doctors. They think it is rather ridiculous. I hope, when I share books like this, they look beyond the literal and think about obstacles they might face today. Some of my kids are probably undocumented. Many are poor or come from dysfunctional families. Elizabeth Blackwell came from a privileged background, but I hope she can be an inspiration to boys and girls who also have a lot to overcome in order to reach their dreams.

2013 Hub Reading Challenge check in #12

27 Apr

I finished 2 this week: The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna and Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo.

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The White Bicycle is told in the voice of an autistic girl, who at 19, is trying to become more independent. Love and Other Perishable Items is a funny love story.I felt both were just OK. They’d be good summer reads, but don’t go out of your way to get them.  Definitely get them from the library though. They aren’t great enough to add to your home library.

Here are some of my reflections, looking back at my 12 weeks of the HUB Challenge. At first I tried to vary which list I was pulling from, to keep things lively, as long as they were available at the library. I always max out my holds & some have been on hold for a long time. I just got Where’d You Go Bernadette & it’s been on hold almost since the Challenge began. I’m now devoting myself almost exclusively to the Alex & Morris winners.

I think my favorite is Code Name Verity. It totally falls into the kind of historical fiction I love. Aristotle & Dante is a close runner-up. We’ll see if I still feel the same by the end of the Challenge.

Master George

26 Apr

My image of 18th & 19th century American slavery is rooted in Roots, the 1977 TV miniseries based on Alex Haley’s novel. Marfé Ferguson Delano has a new book out, Master George’s People, that focuses on the first president’s slaves and George Washington’s own reflections on slavery.


It’s  a crazy but true fact that George Washington became a slave owner at age 11. That’s just a year older than the kids I teach.  At that age, however, his mother “managed” them  on George’s behalf. This book is a fascinating look at particular individuals, enslaved at Mount Vernon and I think this really adds to my knowledge as well as the knowledge of the young readers the book is written for. The author deftly shows, through Washington’s own words, how he struggled with the concept of slavery and the reality of his own situation.

Peppered with real and re-enacted photos, the book has a reflection of the author’s journey in writing the book, a chronology , a bibliography, list of Sources and an index. It is an interesting and useful addition to the literature for kids about Washington.

World Book Night 2013

24 Apr

I walked  the dogs after I got home from work last night, as I usually do. It was a beautiful spring evening, sunny & warm. What we’ve been waiting for all winter. It takes Fiona, age 12, 30 minutes to walk 2 blocks. this is no exaggeration. Sometimes I get impatient with her, but not last night. It was a perfect evening.

We got passed by a several people and just as we approach the intersection where we turn left, two young people came up behind us. One of them was carrying a box.  the girls like to stop & see who is coming. They live in hope that the strangers will stop & say hello. These two did. They told me it was World Book Night 2013 and then they offered me a free copy of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.It was an edition produced just for last night.


It was a great moment at the end of a great day.

So, thank you anonymous couple who gave me the book. I hope you had as great an evening as I did. Here is a haiku for you:

Fahrenheit 451

Will never burn as long as there

Are people like  You

With an unidentified dog

23 Apr

The cover of Diego Rivera: an Artist for the People by Susan Goldman Rubin caught my attention because DR is on the cover with a dog.


The caption simply says “Rivera, at work on a mural, poses for a photograph with an unidentified dog.” Looks like a boxer puppy  to me. This is really incidental to the story, but I’m glad it worked to get my attention because this is a really good book! The text is factual, but easy and interesting to read. Rubin doesn’t cover up Rivera’s less than traditional relationships with women, but she doesn’t dwell on them. As the title suggests, she’s more interested in  what Rivera wanted to do with his art. Like Matt Tavares’ book on Babe Ruth that I reviewed earlier this month, this book gives me a whole new appreciation of the author’s subject.

The art in the book shows some of the artists that influenced Rivera as well as his own work. These are gorgeous. I especially like that they show close-ups of parts of his murals and then the piece in its entirety, in situ. Additionally, end notes give a brief history of Mexican politics and the artists that influenced Rivera. There is a bibliography, a glossary, and an index.

Bunnies & Squirrels

22 Apr

Sometimes a character’s voice can make or break a book. In Bunnies on Ice, written & illustrated by Johanna Wright, the voice makes me laugh.


In simple text, the nameless main character tells how she prepares for ice skating season, then she demonstrates all the fantastic feats she can accomplish on ice. The pictures do not attest to her prowess, but they sure show that she has heart. It is a true voice of a little child who has learned to do something small but feels as though she has scaled a mountain.

Ol’ Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein is told in the third person, but her voices speaks loudly, especially when danger is near.


She is a fierce defender of her babies, armed only with her terrifying “chook, chook, chook!” For most, this is enough to keep them away from her babies. When a real disaster looms, Ol’ Mama Squirrel is up to the task. You can’t help loving her.


21 Apr

I have had four bassets in my life.  Here they are, in order of appearance: Clara, Louie Fiona & Lucy.


Fiona was elegant.

Louie-Just_being Louie

Louie loved everyone & everything.


 Fiona came afraid of everyone but is now the neighborhood flirt.


Lucy is petite & nimble and an expert fly hunter

They are all rescues, except for Fiona, who belonged to a friend before she came to me. I wrote  a picture book about Clara & Louie for a children’s lit class I took  when I was getting my Masters in Library. So, I’m always on the lookout for quirky  books that really capture a dog’s personality. Alex T. Smith has a winner with Claude in the City.


Claude, a beret loving dog of indeterminate breeding (but who looks a little bassety) decides to venture into the city one morning after Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes leave for work. He is accompanied by his good friend Sir Bobblysock. And so begins their day of great adventures. There is much to love here. The simple red white and black art is very appealing. The stories, for this is written in chapters, are quite funny and even have some brassiere humor thrown in. The endpapers indicate that 2 more Claude books are on the way in Fall 2013 and Spring 2014. I can hardly wait!


If you want to see some funny basset photos, check out this Facebook page:

My girls both “Like” it. They think you will too.


2013 Hub Reading Challenge check in #11

20 Apr

I don’t  very often choose humorous books. The only book I read for the Challenge this week  Sparks: the epic, completely true blue, (almost) holy quest of Debbie,  by S. J. Adams, was really funny!


Debbie has spent every Friday night for the many years, with her friend, Lisa, watching Full House. But Lisa now has a boyfriend and Debbie is on he down for hear first Friday night, bringing to a head a secret she’s has been keeping: she is in love with Lisa.  So begins her journey to beaching her own person. Along the way we encounter a quirky cast of characters and a fun, fast-paced story of one night in Debbie’s life. This is  a great read when you are looking for something light that tackles a serious subject.

A Newbery Contender

18 Apr

I’ve read many books published in 2013 and I have finally found my first Newbery contender.


The Center of Everything by Linda Urban takes place in one brief moment of one day. Ruby Pepperdine, chosen to give this year’s founder’s day speech, is standing in a circle, awaiting her time to speak. As she stands there, she reflects on the events that have led her there, friendship, family, death, time travel, and the meaning of “should”. The book starts of slowly and builds. You are drawn into Ruby’s world in such a gentle way you hardly even realize how hooked you are until you are completely hooked. It’s the creative way the book is organized and the empathetic writing that makes this a Newbery contender. Ruby is standing in a circle, at the center of everything, trying to make sense of the world. The story isn’t linear; it passes back and forth between present to past in a way that lets us know Ruby intimately. Urban’s focus on the details Ruby sees as she stands in the circle is almost poetic. I can think of several kids and adults who will love this book.

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