Day #145: Reading Intervention

We need an intervention. This morning on KARE-11 Sunrise, co-host Kris Laudien once again spoke of his disregard for books and reading. The discussion was about distracted driving and people who read books while they’re behind the wheel. Our disconnected host said, “I didn’t think people even read books any more.” Oh, Mr. Laudien, this does not do good things for you nor does it reinforce positive support for reading, one of the basic fundamentals to success in life. There are so many people in important places showing that they read, reading to children, speaking up in support of reading … and I am grateful for those people. How do we turn this guy around?

Reading on the train

Day #143: Maud Hart Lovelace

It will be Maud Hart Lovelace’s birthday on April 25th, next Thursday. I started reading her books in grade school. As I grew older, so did her characters Betsy, Tacy, Tib, and the Gang. As an only child who moved to new homes frequently, I cherished her stories of family and friends. I didn’t realize Deep Valley was really a city in my state (Mankato) or that her characters were modeled on real people–not until I was much older. I have read everything she published and much of what other people have written about her. My favorite book is Emily of Deep Valley, a book about immigrants, compassion, and friendship. Which book is your favorite? You haven’t read her books? Children will want to start with the younger books; adults will want to begin with the high school books. No matter your age–you have a treat in store.

Maud Hart Lovelace

Day #138: SWMRC

We will travel to New Ulm today. At Martin Luther College, we’ll meet with teachers and librarians, members of the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council, who are gathering to hear author Aimee Bissonette speak about Everyday Heroes and Wonder Women. We are grateful for this opportunity. We admire these people who are passionate about encouraging our children to become lifelong readers. And then we’ll beat the blizzard home.

Southwest Minnesota Reading Council at Martin Luther College

It was such a special evening. If you teach or you’re an education student or you work in a school library, you’ll want to be a part of the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council. Seriously. As I listened to their president, Dr. Cindy Whaley, welcome the students from Martin Luther College and Southwest Minnesota State University, asking them to share something about themselves, and thanking them for their commitment to the profession, I realized that this is a CARING community that dedicates part of their professional lives to educating, advocating, and supporting each other. They are so focused (you see what I did there, Jon Roux?) on making a difference in kids’ reading lives that I was brought to tears.

Day #129: Lisa See

I eagerly anticipate each of Lisa See‘s new books because she’s a compelling writer and she fearlessly explores a history which is her own, but unfamiliar. From the very first, with On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family in 1995, to her most recent, The Island of Sea Women, I am grateful for her books because they open my eyes and my heart. (She’s also very good at getting the word out and building a community of readers.) 

Lisa See

Day #119: Alexander McCall Smith

In thinking over the many concerns in the children’s literature community, authentic voice is one that is prevalent. With friends and colleagues, I’ve had many discussions, all of which agree that there are complex layers interwoven so closely that its difficult to see the path forward.

I keep thinking about Alexander McCall Smith, a white male in his late 60s, whose most popular series features a female Motswana sleuth, Precious Ramotswe, as the main character. He crosses lines of gender and culture and yet these books are so absorbing that they’re beloved by millions. Nowhere online could I find a discussion of his “right” to write these books.

I’m grateful for the discussion, puzzling through the viewpoints, trying to make sense of authentic voice.

I love these books. Start with the first book in the series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. HBO did a 7-episode series of these books, starring Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose–they’re wonderful.)

Here’s an article from Botswana about Mr. Smith’s latest book: http://bit.ly/2TiPl36.

Day #115: Book Treasures

On a hunt through a used bookstore, nothing brings me more delight than finding a book I didn’t know existed that’s written by a favorite author. Many years ago, I discovered that Carol Ryrie Brink had written a book called The Twin Cities (The Macmillan Company, 1961).

Carol Ryrie Brink and The Twin Cities

You probably recognize her as the author of the 1936 Newbery Medal winner, Caddie Woodlawn. You may not have known that although she was born in Idaho, graduated from Berkeley, she lived in St. Paul for 40 years. Her husband, Raymond, was a professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota. She taught creative writing while she lived here. Hamline University named her as one of twenty-eight outstanding women of Minnesota in 1954.

This book is very much a time capsule and it’s fascinating to read for that reason. With a Euro-centric view of living in Minnesota, the chapters cover figure skating, the skylines and progress of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the indoor gardens, the Winter Carnival, the Minneapolis Aquatennial, the Old Log Theatre, the anticipation of the new Guthrie Theater … and many, many more tidbits. She includes several pages about the native American tribes, all of which have a 1950s lens. Those pages are uncomfortable to read but I appreciate having this perspective on where we’ve come from.

In the chapter “Dinner and a Show,” she writes, “I remember one Sunday when friends from New York tried to take us to lunch in Minneapolis. My husband and I, like our neighbors, were unaccustomed to lunching away from home on a Sunday, but we supposed that it could easily be done. We were as surprised as the New Yorkers to find that most of the restaurants were closed, and that cocktails were entirely out of the question. The only satisfaction that our thirsty friends got out of the adventure was the dubious thrilled of finding themselves in that incredible part of the world known to them as ‘the sticks.’”

She writes about “Jim Hill” in her chapter on the “Empire Builder.” Hill advertised for settlers along his railway so goods and commerce and supplies would flow. He built a fabulous art collection. He believed strongly in education, books, and libraries, so the Hill Reference Library at the St. Paul Central Library was planned shortly before his death. In 1910, Hill published a book called Highways of Progress, in which he wanted to see beyond the present to “anticipate the needs and opportunities of tomorrow.”

It’s tomorrow. We still live in the context of our history … although we’re striving to make forward progress. I’m grateful for the discovery of book treasures like this one.

Day #101: My Dictionary

As a child, I remember being told—often—to “look it up in the dictionary.” That was a treat. It wasn’t long before I did so without being told. When I graduated from high school, my mother gave me The Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, one of my Top Ten Favorite Gifts of all time. The portion that was the Funk & Wagnall’s Standard College Dictionary featured etymology. There were dictionaries in French, German, and Spanish. An entire section contained essays on research, writing, and speaking. There were pages filled with salutations for correspondence. I often used the dictionaries of space and medical terms. The dictionary of American slang and the dictionary of quotations are well-thumbed. I used this as my primary research tool for papers in college and grad school and now it settles arguments when we’re playing games. I still find magic in opening up to any page and reading.

The Reader's Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary

In my college library science classes, we studied dictionaries for 14 weeks. It was one of my most memorable classes. But I never found a dictionary to compare to mine. It’s falling to pieces now, but I can’t bear to part with it. I am grateful to the group of specialists who created this book. What a feat!

Day #93: Roxane Orgill

Some books have a vivid place in my thoughts. When I read Dream Lucky, I time-traveled to 1936, meeting the Big Band leaders who are a part of my personal soundtrack. The subtitle for the book is “When FDR was in the White House, Count Basie was on the radio, and everyone wore a hat…”

Here’s the official blurb: The time: 1936-1938. The mood: Hopeful. It wasn’t wartime, not yet. The music: The incomparable Count Basie and Benny Goodman, among others. The setting: Living rooms across America and, most of all, New York City.

Dream Lucky covers politics, race, religion, arts, and sports, but the central focus is the period’s soundtrack—specifically big band jazz—and the big-hearted piano player William “Count” Basie. His ascent is the narrative thread of the book—how he made it and what made his music different from the rest. But many other stories weave in and out: Amelia Earhart pursues her dream of flying “around the world at its waistline.” Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., stages a boycott on 125th Street. And Mae West shocks radio listeners as a naked Eve tempting the snake.

I admire Roxane Orgill as a writer, researcher, and weaver of history. This book is storytelling magic, and it’s all true! Her picture book, Jazz Day, is astounding as a melding of verbal poetry, visual poetry, and real people. Her writing is so evocative that I feel certain I lived alongside those people, stood in their locations, and had that awareness of what was happening around me. I am grateful for Roxane’s skill in crafting books that aid my understanding of the world. I’m going to read Dream Lucky again this weekend.

Day #86: Favorite Poems Old and New

When I was three years old, my mother gave me Helen Ferris’ Favorite Poems Old and New: Selected for Boys and Girls, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. It was a brand new book then. I couldn’t read. Mom did not read poetry for herself so I will always wonder why she felt it important to make sure I had a book of poetry, to read those poems to me. I read Favorite Poems from cover to cover and dipped into it on many occasions … I still do.

There are 700 poems, many that we would consider classic. Hughes, Tagore, and Naidu are included in the section From All the World to Me, but this is primarily a volume of poetry by Western Caucasians. Giving this book today, I would be sure to pair it with a modern book encompassing diverse poets.

I am grateful to Helen Ferris, and my mother, for instilling a wild love of poetry in me. Poetry is a golden thread in the tapestry of my life.