The book that changed my life.

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Have you ever read a book or been read a book that changes your life? I’m not talking about a self-help book or one about religion; I’m talking about Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.


Long before the movie the librarian at my elementary school read Harriet the Spy to us-I may be dating myself by saying that. Harriet is a spy, she keeps notes on people in her everyday life as well as strangers in the city. She’s very good at sneaking into places she’s not supposed to be. Things start to fall apart when she gets caught spying from a dumbwaiter, and when the kids in her class find her notebook and read what she wrote about them.

I decided that forevermore afterwards, I would carry a notebook. Not a diary. Not quite a journal, but a real spy’s notebook.

I did have a notebook for years but they ended being journals after all.  I still credit those years of keeping a journal to Harriet. It was therapeutic and I pull them out to look through from time to time. They are full of terrible drawings and good drawings. Envelopes holding little things that amused me, even a listing of useless facts. 

Thanks Harriet! I regret that I didn’t know about the two other books The Long Lie and Sport. There are also spinoff books by other authors. I don’t know that kids today would appreciate these stories so I’ve never bought them for the school. But I appreciated Harriet, and I’m thankful she helped make me who I am.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Poe!

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On this day, 198 years ago, Edgar Allan Poe was born. Poe is often remembered for his macabre tales but there is much more to this tragic figure.


Poe was orphaned at a young age but was taken in by a foster family. As a young man he struggled with gambling and general financial difficulties that prevented him from finishing college. He was able to earn a living from his writing and married Virginia Clemm in 1836. He wrote The Raven in 1845 and it was an instant success. Sadly, Virginia died of tuberculosis two years later. Poe died in Baltimore in 1849, only 40 years old. His cause of death has never been discovered.

I have loved Poe since I was a teen. My best friend Julie gave me a collection of his stories and poems when we were in high school.


I love the stories and illustrator Harry Clarke captured the aura of the macabre that surrounds his work. He is also credited with creating the genre of detective fiction. I remember reading The Purloined Letter in high school English and I adore The Murders In the Rue Morgue-I think I watched the movie version with my dad before reading the story.

I have always enjoyed all of the old Vincent Price movies of his stories: LigeaThe Masque of Red Death, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Pit and the Pendulum. I know more were made but I don’t remember if I’ve seen them.

Oh my gosh, I’m so excited!!

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What makes me this giddy? New books. There are not many more new books that our school will get before the end of the school year. Budgets only stretch so far, after all. But this shipment had a few in it that I’be been waiting patiently for.

Sick Simon by Dan Krall was recommended by another local librarian. It’s a hilarious look at the grossness that kids don’t think twice about. I’m thinking this book should be a mandatory read aloud for kindergarten and first grade. It even has helpful hints:



I didn’t waste any time getting my hands on this Tacky book. Tacky and the Haunted Igloo by Helen Lester is the only Tacky I was missing from my collection.


Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly is about Kymera, or Kym. Kym must not be seen by people. Her father says they would not understand her wings, the bolts in her neck, or her spiky tail—they would kill her. They would not understand that she was created for a purpose: to rescue the girls of Bryre.

I actually bought the second book, Ravenous earlier this year without realizing it was part of a series. I can’t wait to read them both.

The books I’m really dying to read are the continuation of The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt. I’ve read and listened to the first book (the narrator in the audio version is great!) 

I can’t explain the wonders of a book that starts with the questions, “Tell the truth. Have you ever picked your nose? Have you ever picked your nose and eaten it? Have you ever picked your nose and eaten and in so doing, opened a portal to another world?”

Stepping Into the Story

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I’m reading a fabulous book right now called Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks. Without giving you too many spoilers, it’s the first adventure of Tuesday McGillycuddy. Her mother, famous writer Serendipity Smith, has gone missing and Tuesday must travel to the world within her mother’s books to rescue her.

This story has me thinking about where I would go if I could step into the world created by one of my favorite stories. 

My first choice would probably Oz.


I don’t know why, but I’ve been focused on Oz a lot lately. As I’ve mentioned before, I love the book Wicked by Gregory Maguire. This past summer I read a young adult series called Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige and that series inspired me to attempt to read all of L. Frank Baum‘s Oz stories. I’d love to go to the island of missing things and rainbow falls. I’d also love to meet the flying monkeys.

My second choice would be Wonderland.


I have always loved Alice’s nonsensical world and I long to meet the Cheshire Cat. I think I’d also enjoy meeting the Queen of Hearts and seeing her castle.

My third choice would probably be Neverland.


I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Peter Pan, but give me Captain Hook and the Lost Boys any day! I’ve read a really great spin off series called Hook’s Revenge about Captain Hook’s daughter traveling to Neverland to get revenge on the crocodile for eating her father. Incidentally, Jocelyn Hook doesn’t care for Peter a whole lot either.

Those are my top three, but there are so many more. My best friend would choose Hogwarts. Narnia would be a great destination too. Or the kingdom where Princess Sylvie lives in The Great Good Thing. I would drop everything to visit the world of Tales of a Sixth Grade Muppet-I want to visit the Muppet theater!

So, where would you go?

Author Spotlight: Frank Asch

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Do you have a book you remember from childhood that you just loved, and still love? I remember Happy Birthday, Moon by Frank Asch


Bear wants to wish the moon happy Birthday and climbs to the top of a mountain to be close enough for moon to hear. There is an echo that convinces Bear that the moon has the same birthday as him and that it wants a hat too. It’s not a complicated story. Kids immediately know what has happened to confuse Bear and find it hilarious. Asch wrote the story in a way that allows Bear to fulfill his wishes without crushing his naive spirit.

Today I was telling our kindergarten teacher about Bear and I realized how well loved these books have been at our school. They are falling apart and I’ve decided to replace them next year as well as pick up the ones I don’t have yet.

These books are timeless. I enjoyed them 30 years ago and they still make kids giggle. Try them with a little one you love!

Author Spotlight: Helen Lester

Helen Lester is one of the funniest authors I know of. Her books, often illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, are year round favorites with my students.


I’m partial to Wodney Wat. He can’t say his ‘R’ sound correctly and it ends up saving the day – when I was a little girl I took 2 years of speech therapy for the exact same problem. Tacky the Penguin is another character that I just have to introduce my first graders to. They need to see this silly penguin being himself and still being a great bird to have around! (I love doing the voices of the hunters in the Tacky stories).

Lester’s characters learn life lessons in hilarious ways that little ones can not only understand but actually relate to. Most kids have been like Pinkerton Pig, always wanting to be first, and most can tell you by the end of the story that first isn’t always best.

I don’t own all of Lester’s books at school yet. I just realized there is a Halloween Tacky book! I add a few of her titles each year, as the budget allows, and I never regret the purchases. I’m so thankful to my good friend Raynette for introducing me to her books.

The Great Trouble

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A few years ago, while working at the public library, I came across the book in the Nonfiction section called The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.

 The book chronicles the cholera epidemic on Broad Street in London in 1854, and how Dr. John Snow used observation to finally discover the source of this deadly disease. It was extremely well written with an easy to follow time line – some people skip nonfiction because they think it might be like a text book, but that isn’t the case with this book.
Dr. John Snow

Snow’s research revealed that the epidemic centered around the Broad Street pump.
 Until Snow’s efforts to solve the mystery, people believed that bad  smells or miasmas caused illnesses like cholera.
Fast forward to last year. I try hard to read a little from many authors and when I find one I like, I expand my collection of their titles. Deborah Hopkinson is an author that I first discovered in the picture book section. Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek and Apples to Oregon are great picture books based on true events (and funny!) When a student asked for more historical fiction about epidemics, I looked Hopkinson’s titles up and was pleasantly surprised to find The Great Trouble: the Mystery of London, the Blue Death and a Boy Called Eel.


Hopkinson has created a boy that lives next to the Broad Street pump and has to watch as his neighbors and friends begin to fall victim to the blue death. Eel is extremely smart and and resourceful, a necessity since he is hiding serious secrets about his past. It is his idea to ask Dr. Snow to help on Broad Street, and though Snow cannot cure the victims, he enlists Eel’s help to find the cause of the disease. 

Hopkinson tells the story of what happened very faithfully, even with the addition of fictional characters. She also tells it in a way that isnt too difficult or graphic for elementary students.

Pressed between pages…

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In times gone by people pressed treasures between the pages of books. I’ve bought old books and found old flowers, fragile but gorgeous.

Years ago, one of my best friends showed me a book called Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book.Written by Terry Jones (of Monty Python’s Flying Circus fame) this diary chronicles the life of Angelica Cottington. Angelica can see fairies and though beautiful, they are bothersome nuisances to her. The only reasonable solution is to smash them between the pages of her journal.

The watercolor illustrations are gorgeous, painted by Brian Froud. Some of the fairies died in lewd positions so part of the journal is sealed for the protection of innocents. Speaking of lewd positions, the fairies manage to get Lady Cottington into a precarious situation or two as well. Though funny this book is not for children!
I believe the story was based on the famous Cottingly fairy photographs. Here is the most famous: 

I own Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book as well as Strange Stains and Mysterious Smells but there are more books written by either Jones or Froud that I’ve put on my Thriftbooks.com wishlist. Maybe next year for my birthday…

Southern Mystery

I really love southern characters. Maybe because I lived there for four years, I don’t know. But I love the way the people speak and I love when a great author can capture that on the page. Sheila Turnage is one such author. 


Mo (short for Moses) is a preteen girl with a quite a mysterious history. She was found floating on a raft during a hurricane by her adoptive father, the Colonel. Did I mention he has amnesia and has no idea who he was before the hurricane? MO’s best friend is Dale, a sweet kid from a home with an abusive father.  Mo has been sending messages in bottles for years, trying to find her upstream mother, so it seems perfectly natural for her and Dale to try to help solve the mysterious death of one of their neighbors.


In the second book the kids have a supernatural mystery to solve when their families start fixing up a derelict hotel.


In the most recent book (keeping my fingers crossed for more,) Dale has to face the question of his father’s guilt – he is accused of kidnapping and other charges. The kids must solve this mystery while trying to protect Dale’s older brother Lavender, who Mo plans to marry some day.

I tried to give you a run down on each book without giving you any spoilers. It’s hard! I want to go on and on about these kids and their town. Like I said, I’m hoping for more and recommending them to all the kids I can.

Need a laugh?

Have I got the book for you! Tom Angelberger, know for his great Origami Yoda series, wrote this fabulous picture book that will make kids (and adults) laugh out loud, and it sneakily teaches some history at the same time.


Crankee Doodle examines that beloved song Yankee Doodle. Have you ever wondered at the words? Why call a hat macaroni?!? The history is all here and Crankee and his horse are very fun to read aloud-a lot of emotion. The simple illustrations convey those emotions and even really young kids understand what the characters are feeling easily.
I’m kind of hoping Angelberger decided to write more like it. There are plenty of folk songs that he could illuminate with his humorous style.