Monsters!

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Monsterous Picture Books:

they’re a scream 🙂

  • The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone (my first and favorite)
  • How to Mash Monsters by Catherine Leblanc (also useful when dealing with coworkers/relatives . . . )
  • I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll
  • Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems
  • A Monster Followed Me Home by Mercer Mayer
  • PLUS a bonus Chapter Book: The Witches by Roald Dahl

Happy Reading!

Best Picks for Halloween: The Widow’s Broom & The Stranger

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This is a throwback to the 1990’s—I remember pouring over all of Chris Van Allsburg’s books, reading them one more time just to make sure I had the story right, totally wrapped up in the mystery of it all. There is something nicely strange about ambiguous endings, which Mr. Van Allsburg has in abundance. Most stories end up happily ever after, or even miserably ever after, but the author at least TELLS you outright how things end up. It was altogether new to encounter a story whose ending was up to my own interpretation & insight. I used to ask my dad to just tell me what it meant and he was wise enough to resist.

The Stranger, first published in 1986, is as full of compassion and warmth as it is with mystery. Farmer Bailey and his family take in a man who has lost his memory. As the season should be shifting from summer to autumn, the stranger stays with them, and the leaves aren’t changing. The clues are there on every page—what name would you give to the stranger?

Another Van Allsburg classic, The Widow’s Broom, published in 1992, has plenty of Halloween elements: witches, pumpkins, ghosts at night, and tough kids trolling the neighborhood. The black-and-white illustrations are rich with detail, and even the plain broom stick shows emotion. This story, like The Stranger, has undertones of compassion (the widow and the abandoned broom form an unlikely friendship) as well as a clever twist to save the day.

In this spooky season, curl up with some stories that will leave you with a healthy dose of mystery.

Curl Up with a Good One

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nicole with a sick day for amos mcgee

I thought that I could outrun the common cold this time. Every school year it is a race of endurance to see how long I can keep ahead of the germs. Eventually it catches up with me, and this week I found myself working around a raspy voice and constant sneezing. What a perfect time to pull out A Sick Day for Amos McGee!

This 2011 Caldecott Medal winner by Philip Stead is a delight to read, especially when I am under the weather. The story follows Amos McGee through his daily work routine, and he is easy to love immediately, for the care he puts into simple jobs. The smallest details make up the heart of the narrative. He makes a breakfast of oatmeal and tea. He waits for the bus. He plays chess with the slow-moving elephant and tends to a sniffly rhino (no small task). There are many jobs to do, but Amos makes time to care for each animal one by one. He knows exactly what they need.

When one day Amos stays home sick, roles reverse, and he is taken care of by the very friends who are usually looked after by him. It is tender and beautifully accompanied by the woodblock and pencil drawings of first time illustrator Erin Stead.

Not only is this book a nice reminder that good things often come back around to help you, it also happened to solve a puzzle for me. Once I found myself in Barnes and Noble, searching for the perfect thank you gift.  I needed a book that was warm and real and delightful. It needed to have emotional depth but also be buoyed up by lightness and ease. As soon as I pulled A Sick Day for Amos McGee off the shelf, I knew it was a perfect fit.

why books?

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Some of my first memories involve books–turning pages with tiny hands, pouring over pictures, hearing my mother read those stories over and over until I could tell them too. Words became a way to engage with the world, a way to make meaning at a time when everything was new. Do we ever really out-grow stories?

We are surrounded by them: newsfeeds, status updates, conversations, and articles. They make their way to us in texts, tweets, 6 second sound bytes. We are filled up with stories. We are motivated by them; we thrive on the details of people’s lives (fictional or our neighbors). Stories harness our emotional abilities–to empathize, to wonder, to respond. And stories satisfy our rational side–to question, to piece together, to infer.

Countless conversations with my husband start with, “So I read this article today . . .” and the story comes bubbling out. Because something deep compels me to add meaning to the story by making it a shared experience. Reading anything alone is nice. Reading with someone I respect and love is better. And reading with my roudy group of third graders is magic.

Really. Magic. As in, something that cannot be quantified or fully explained. Right now we are reading Matilda together (I’ll be talking about her more in later posts . . . can’t help it!) and with each new group of kids it is a completely new experience. The funny bits are funnier with 24 kiddos giggling along. The sad parts are sadder as you try to make sense of it. And even though we are all wrapped up in our own lives, for those few minutes we enter the same world. We step onto the same emotional page, and ride out the story–together.

As a reader, as a teacher, as a sister, as a wife, and one day as a mother, I believe in celebrating stories.

What will follow on this blog is a string of stories, new books and old books, that strike a chord in me. And I can’t help but want to make that story a thousand times better by sharing it . . . with you.