Take Action Tuesday: BAKE!

I love to cook. The cleaning up part may not be my favorite, but the actual cooking is something I love.

Today is an unexpected snow day here in our neck of the woods. The weather was messier than expected and the “no big deal,” turned into a “two hour school delay,” turned into “SNOW DAY!”

This coincides with the echoing refrigerator in my house. It is really, really empty. Shockingly so for a house with five people. And thus, I bake. A quick soup and some fresh bread makes me look far more put together than I actually am.


Today’s recipe source is The Panera Bread Cookbook. I’m the kind of person who actually loves to read cookbooks. All the better when there are little stories or musings on the recipes inside. This is more of a straight-up cookbook but has excellent info on baking technique, particularly around shaping breads.

Some are disappointed that it doesn’t have the items found on Panera’s menu. It really is more about bread, and some other types of items which transform the bread you’ve made (like crostini or French toast.)

Honestly, this is not about the particular book for me. There are amazing baking books out there. Today, it’s just about the act of creating.

My mom never bought bread from fall to spring — fresh baked only. This wasn’t about being earthy or healthy or back to nature. It was that she did the calculation and figured out that she could bake it for a lot cheaper than buying and money was tight. I remember hating the store bought bread that appeared in the summer. (In the summer we lived in a cabin on a lake — and I really mean a cabin. This was not a summer home or a second house. It was a camp, as we say back home, with an outhouse and no potable running water. Water was carried in jugs that we filled from the spigot at the store or at our house on the weekly shopping/laundry trip. But I’ve digressed. More about that another day. The bottom line is that it wasn’t exactly a place that baking regularly would have been easy.)

Back to the idea of today as a day of creating. Right now my kids are lying on the floor together, each with a sketch book, drawing superheroes. (This has never actually happened before. Shhh….They often play together but this drawing together thing is new.) I’m about to grab my notebook to get down some ideas for a couple book projects. And in the background is some music, the scent of baking bread, and lightly falling snow.

Talk about a day to renew spirits.

My Day, Monday: Youth Media Awards!

This is an exciting day for book lovers. Today the American Library Association announced the Youth Media Awards at their conference in Atlanta. For those of us with To Be Read book stacks that rival the Empire State Building, it can be an unsettling time. How can I add even one more book to my list, and yet, how can I not?

The list is long, but these are some of the most prestigious awards granted in this field: the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King awards and more. There are awards for overall contributions to children’s literature, as well as for specific awards for authors; illustrators; lifetime achievement; books that highlight the experiences of African Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities; video; and more.

Among the highlights for me:

newbery2017_drankmoonThe John Newbery Medal went to “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” by Kelly Barnhill. This “coming-of-age fairy tale” tells of a girl, intended as a sacrifice for a witch, who becomes imbued with magic from the moon and must courageously fight to defend those who have protected her. The book is recommended for grades 4-6.

Newbery Honor Books included Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan,” “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog,” and “Wolf Hollow.” “Freedom Over Me” was also a Corretta Scott King Honor Book award winner for author and for illustrator.

caldecott2017_basquiatThe Randolph Caldecott Medal was awarded to “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat” written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. I have long been entranced by Basquiat so I’m excited to see this one. Steptoe was also the winner of the Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award.

The Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award honors an African-American author and illustrator. The award very rightly went to “March: Book Three,” written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. This entire series is a must-read. “March: Book Three” also received the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults, the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for informational books for children, and the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

I’m looking forward to reading the Schneider Family Book Award winner f0r books for ages 0-10, “Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille,” written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. The Schneider award honors books that “embody an artistic expression of the disability experience.” The winner for middle grades was “as brave as you,” written by Jason Reynolds. The teen book winner was “When We Collided,” written by Emery Lord.

riordan_awardThe one I hadn’t paid enough attention to in advance was the biggest surprise and joy for me. “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor,” written by Rick Riordan, was honored with the Stonewall Book Award for “children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.” My son and I are HUGE Rick Riordan fans. We’ve heard him speak three times and have everything he’s written for kids. We are delighted to see him earn this honor.


The full list of awards can be found here.

Picture Book Weekends: Star Stuff

snowathomeThis computer is out to get me. Seriously. I was without it for FIVE days because that’s how long it now takes to put a battery into a Mac laptop. I won’t rant about that topic anymore, but really? REALLY?  Anyway, I finally got my baby back last week. Last night I was about to plug it in to charge and discovered a split in the charging cord. So, now I have a great, brand spanking new battery, but my power level is on the verge of nothing because I can’t recharge. Another trip to the Apple store ahead.

But it’s a beautiful snowy day here in New England. Except if you check the weather. Until an hour ago, the report still said it wasn’t snowing. But what I see out my window is that big, fluffy kind of snow that drifts in the wind and makes you want to curl up with a book and a cup of tea. (Of course, I want to curl up with a book and a cup of tea every day. But that’s another story.)


This weekend’s (delayed) picture book recommendation is Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson. While I gave the book to my kids when I bought it, the reality is that it was really a gift for my husband.

My husband LOVES “Cosmos” and Carl Sagan and all things space and science. He was definitely born to be an engineer. Listening to him talk to the kids about math and science makes me so happy, because I want them to not only learn the concepts, but understand why it is exciting and magical and important. (I was a bio major and so these topics are also near and dear to my heart.)

I adore this picture book because, like so many of my favorites, it is smart and thought-provoking and treats kids like human beings who can think deep thoughts and make sense of things.

The book opens with a Carl Sagan quote, “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”

The book introduces us to a young Carl Sagan, growing up in an apartment in Brooklyn, NY. With very few words, and simple, elegant drawings, Sagan’s curiosity about the world is captured beautifully. The text deftly changes pace, beginning with a slow, building cadence to points where the language seems to leap with excitement, speeding you through as if you are racing for information like Sagan. Then it slows again, becomes almost contemplative, as Sagan’s thoughts and goals become deeper.

Even the layout changes as the ideas get bigger. After a few traditional page designs, the book suddenly turns to a two page vertical design, highlighting the idea of the expansiveness of space. Then it returns to traditional designs, and then opens up again to a two page layout. There is even a fold-out spread that provides three full pages of vertical space.

This is a wonderful way to introduce kids to the idea of thinking big and being aware of just how very big the world beyond is. And when life seems overwhelming, just remember, “The Earth and every living thing are made of star stuff.” — Carl Sagan

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”   —- Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Books in past “Picture Book Weekend” posts: 365 Penguins and The Gigantic Turnip.
Other posts about picture books included The Red Book, Dog Loves Drawing, and Iggy Peck, Architect.

When Fear Wins

Today is a day to plumb the depths of my heart, to find the place where love lives and hope resides. To protect it, to care for it, to nurture it.

Today is a day to reach deep into my soul, to find peace.

Today is a day to extend my hand to friends, to those I care for, to those who are afraid and hurting.

But right now, my fear is invading, pressing down on me. It is easier to be afraid of something, something concrete and specific. I can face that. Fight that. Raise my fist against it. But this. This is harder.

I am afraid of my own fear, how it is possessing me, restricting me. Hope can’t find its way forward. Isolated.

Usually this is the moment I come forth with the happy ending, how the story turned, how it all became right again. My natural optimism providing strength to see the good. But not today.

Today I am letting myself be. Be angry. Be sad. Be afraid. Be bitter. Be mournful.

Tomorrow I will open my eyes. I will start again. I will move forward because I must, because people depend on me to do so. Because I need to find my way forward. Because I can’t live in this gloom.

But today. Today I let fear win.


Throw Back Thursdays: Seeking Shakespeare

When I try to remember my high school English experiences, I remember very distinct things about each of my teachers.

My 10th grade teacher focused on American literature. I remember we had those anthologies that so many schools use and it used to irritate me that we read such small selections of books. We’d read a small excerpt of an expansive piece of literature and then be expected to make an analysis of the author’s intent, character motivations, etc. Writers spend years crafting each detail to give a full picture of the characters and their movements but yet we were to base all our answers on a few hundred words.

My 11th grade teacher loved grammar and diagramming sentences. I thought it felt like a puzzle to be solved and I grew to love it too. I also remember particular books. Like so many other high school students, we read “A Separate Peace” and I remember writing a paper on war imagery in “A Separate Peace” and “A Farewell to Arms.” I also remember writing another analysis comparing “A Clockwork Orange,” “A Brave New World,” and a third book I can’t remember.

shakespeareMy senior year was British literature. I was really excited about it. We learned a great deal of British history. (Henry the VIII and his wives will always stick in my head — divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.) I remember being assigned “Heart of Darkness,” hating every single word. (Then the teacher told me she assigned it to me because my brother hated it and she figured I would too. Thanks.) I also remember that she refused to teach any Shakespeare. A whole year of British literature and no mention of Shakespeare.

I made up for that by signing up for a Shakespeare class in college, which, as one might imagine, was not a typical pick for a Biology major. I absolutely loved it.

I know many people dislike reading Shakespeare. The language is complicated and confusing at times. There are often dozens of characters to keep track of. What do I love about it?

I love the poetry of it — that even before I could fully understand the words, I could grasp the feel and emotion. I felt the story, more than I was reading it. This is how I encourage my kids to experience it right now.

I love to imagine them being performed on stage — picturing each scene and conversation. It is why visiting the Globe Theater replica in London was one of my “musts” on my last trip. Standing in the oak and thatch structure, imagining the actors on stage, and viewing the costumes, was so moving.

Finally, Shakespeare’s plays have inspired so many other stories and I love to see the roots of these tales and the phrases that have become part of

our lives long after people have forgotten the source. According to this article, scholars credit Shakespeare with creating as many as 1700 words we use regularly.

Whether you are on the “love it” or “hate it” side, it might be time to dip back into a collection of Shakespeare’s plays.

Globe Theater, London
Globe Theater, London
Inside the Theater
Inside the Theater