Picture Books · Reading

Cornucopia: Picture Books for Autumn

It’s been a while since I’ve done a picture book blog, and since a-something like twenty of my former students had babies in the last year and b-I love fall, I’ve decided to collect some seasonal books that don’t have snowfolk or reindeer as protagonists.

  1. “Little Tree” by Loren Long. When all the trees are little, everything is great, but when fall comes, one won’t let his leaves fall because he’s afraid of the cold. The problem is that stunts his growth, and once he establishes the pattern of holding on to stuff too long, it’s hard to break. I feel personally called out by this picture book, so I love it and need to share.
  2. “Room on the Broom” by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler. This is such a great book: it’s Halloweeny, but just because the character is a witch. It’s mostly about finding your tribe and protecting your homies. And when your homies are all adorable critters, that’s awesome.
  3.  “John Pig’s Halloween” by Jan L. Waldron and David McPhail is the first Halloween book my son had, and we all loved it. I’m a sucker for good verse, and John overcomes his fear by making friends with monsters, so I feel like that is a win all around. The verse is so catchy we practically memorized the whole thing, and 18 years later, we still find ourselves using a line or two in conversation when it’s appropriate, which is more often than you’d think.
  4. “Thanks for Thanksgiving” by Julie Markes and Doris Barrette is our requisite Turkey Day book, in part because of the wonderful fall-toned illustrations that include wonderful family moments but also school and play. It also includes a blank page at the end for families to write in what they’re thankful for, which makes my Bullet Journaling heart happy. Train ‘em young, I say. You want them to read? Then read. You want them to be grateful? Then be grateful. And write that stuff down, so you can remember what it was like to be grateful for Thomas trains and Fairy Fudge.
  5. “The Giant Cabbage” by Chérie B. Stihler and Jeremiah Trammell. This one is adorably illustrated by Trammell and a sweet fable about coming together for a common purpose, then sharing in the fruits (or vegetables) of that labor. Fall is all about abundance, after all.
  6. “Persephone” by Sally Pomme Clayton and Virginia Lee, speaking of abundance… and what comes after the harvest.  This is a solid version of the myth of Persephone and her mom, about seasons and sorrows and cycles and the bond between life and death.
  7. “Georgie and the Robbers” by Robert Bright is not overtly a fall book, but it must take place in the fall, if one uses the illustrations as a guide. And since it’s about a ghost and an owl and a cat, it has an autumnal feel to it. It remains, after thousands of books, my very favorite book to read aloud. Part of that may be nostalgia. I had it as a kid and remember reading it when I was little, and then I read it to my kids. But when I read it to my kids, I realized how delightful the music and drama and character building is when you read it aloud. It’s amazing. It’s hard to find now, but if you want to borrow mine, or even better—ask me to read it to you—I’m down.

Happy Fall y’all.


The Grateful List for 2018

It’s no secret that the United States is going through a divisive, difficult time.  Human rights issues I keep thinking we should be long past are flaring up everywhere. People’s very identity is being questioned, challenged, denied. The divide between the rich and the poor is unspeakably wide, fomenting tragedy after tragedy. And old, medieval-era hatreds are sadly, not dead.

So what, then am I thankful for this Thanksgiving? The usual. People.
I’m grateful that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is back to work the day after she cracks ribs.
I’m grateful that my husband teaches, reaches, and defends Dreamers and other vulnerable students.
I’m grateful that my kids go to a diverse school where they are asked to engage real world problems and read a wide variety of texts—that their friends include Muslims and non-binary kids and immigrants and that they respect one anothers’ differences while learning to build bridges, not walls.
I’m grateful for young voters.
I’m grateful for artists—for painters and songwriters and musicians and storytellers—for everyone who makes us see new beauties and question old patterns.
I’m grateful for my cousin Carole, who passed away this fall, but who leaves behind a legacy of hard work improving literacy in her third grade classes, and for my aunt and uncle, her parents, who spent part of their retirement decorating her classroom, stocking her library, and reading at storytime—filling gaps in funding and staffing with service that so many classrooms in the US need.
I’m grateful for the firefighters, first responders, emergency crews, and neighbors who come together during disasters like the horrific wildfires California has endured this month. For the Auburn Girls Volleyball team, who lifted up the Paradise team, raising money, providing new uniforms and equipment but also food and companionship and solace.
I’m grateful for my family. Though I feel deeply for so many, my own life is marked by luck and serendipity and undeniable privilege. I’m grateful to be able to raise my kids as I like—in comfort and in love—and to have a partner who partners. When the world feels chaotic, they sort me and support me. My daughter reads me well and administers hugs when needed. My son tells stories and plays games to bring people together. My husband makes me laugh every single day.

I’m grateful for my colleagues and my students, who strive every day toward improving the world. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able each day to try and do a little more.

I wish you a full belly and a full heart this Thanksgiving, friends. And maybe a little time just to sit and be.

(These pictures are from one of my favorite photographers, Tiina Tormanen, and from Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books. Viva Finland.)


The Little Things are the Big Things, or Thanksgiving in June

Graduation always makes me happy. It’s the best day of the year, as far as my job is concerned—the day we work toward with each class of students, our main reason we do what we do. If faculty do their jobs and students do theirs, the result is Graduation Day. And it’s glorious.
It’s also Big. It’s often the biggest day in a student’s life so far, although we certainly have plenty who have had wedding days or children’s births, or some other Big celebrations, but by and large, it’s a milestone. It’s a time to be proud of hard work and perseverance and a time of excitement (and anxiety) about the future.
In some very concrete ways, we’re taught to measure our life out in these Big Things, as if there’s a checklist everyone’s privy to. High School? College? First big job? First promotion? First car? Marriage? First home? Children?
With a laundry list like that to check off, young people might well be intimidated, might be inclined to feel lesser if they miss one or two or five of those accomplishments.
I’m here to tell you not that the Big Things are a lie, but that you can make your own list, and that you shouldn’t get hung up on it.  The Big Things are the frame of your life, the dots in the connect-the-dots image of you.  But the Little Things—that’s where you live.
And if you stay focused on the Big Things, you miss the Little Things.
It’s a balance, of course, as all things are.We have to pan out, like Ansel Adams, and see the big picture, how we want the shape of our life to look. But we can’t dwell there. Most of our lives are spent in the middle ground—dealing with people and surroundings we encounter. I’d like to advocate for as many close-ups as you can squeeze in—attentive moments where you really see how full of wonder the Little Things are.
Here is an underwhelmingly incomplete list of Little Things that I have come to see as Big Things in my life.  It’s just a matter of changing your lens. Have fun out there.

  • ·         Hot tea on a cool morning
  • ·         Sleeping in
  • ·         Sunscreen
  • ·         Walking dogs
  • ·         Thank-you cards
  • ·         Yogurt pretzels (sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy—what more can you ask for?)
  • ·         Dogs who pose for portraits
  • ·         Homemade bread
  • ·         Goodnight kisses
  • ·         Poems
  • ·         Tweezers
  • ·         Card games
  • ·         Used books
  • ·         Snail mail
  • ·         A good murder mystery
  • ·         Family photos
  • ·         Crossword puzzles
  • ·         Wildflowers
  • ·         Handmade cards (anything handmade, really)
  • ·         Squirrels
  • ·         Learning something new
  • ·         Running in to an old friend
  • ·         Stumbling across a favorite something you haven’t seen in a while

What does your list look like?