A day in western Massachusetts

If you have even a passing interest in children’s literature, sooner or later you’re going to end up in western Massachusetts. A disproportionate number of children’s book authors and illustrators have made their homes here: Micha Archer, Holly Black, Eric Carle, Mike Curato, Tony DiTerlizzi, Mordicai Gerstein, Hollie Hobbie, Norton Juster, Jarrett Krosoczka, Julius Lester, Patricia MacLachlan, Dr. Seuss, Mo Willems, Jane Yolen, and a bunch more. If you want to cross paths with movie stars, go to L.A., but if you want to run into your kid lit favorites, you need go no further west than Amherst.

Start your day at the epicenter, the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst. The film Eric Carle, Picture Writer, shown daily at 11:30, gives a good introduction to the artist’s life and work. From there, you can take in the exhibits, currently featuring Claire A. Nivola, Christian Robinson, Eric Carle in Japan, and the connection between picture books and letter writing. If you’re lucky enough to have some kids with you, enjoy a story time and/or art project, and be sure to visit the bookstore and library. To learn about Carle’s life and art before you go, read The Art of Eric Carle (The World of Eric Carle, 2021).

Inside the Center – no weeding allowed.
The Yiddish Book Center

A logical next step is the Yiddish Book Center, just half a mile away. I learned about the center when I read The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy (Paula Wiseman Books, 2019), which gives a history of the center and its founder, Aaron Lansky. It’s a fascinating story, and if you have any interest in Judaism, Yiddish, preserving languages, or archives, you will undoubtedly find much to enjoy here. As a librarian, I tend to weed any collection with ruthless abandon, so this visit made me (briefly) reconsider my minimalist tendencies.

Emily Dickinson Museum

Drive a few miles up the road, and you’ll be in downtown Amherst, home to the main campus of the University of Massachusetts as well as the Emily Dickinson Museum. If you want a guided tour, buy your tickets online in advance (or call to get the teacher discount). You can also wander through the house on your own. If your impression of Emily Dickinson is (as mine was) the reclusive woman dressed all in white, I recommend the guided tour to get a more fleshed-out picture of the poet.

I’d read a few children’s books about Dickinson: On Wings of Words by Jennifer Berne (Chronicle, 2020), a biography that weaves in a lot of Emily’s poetry; Emily and Carlo by Marty Rhodes Figley (Charlesbridge, 2012) about Emily’s relationship with her beloved dog Carlo, and Emily by Michael Bedard (Doubleday, 1992), a historical fiction story told by one of Emily’s young neighbors, and beautifully illustrated by Barbara Cooney. A visit to the museum gift shop led me to discover a few more: Emily Writes by Jane Yolen (Henry Holt, 2020), recounts scenes from Emily’s early childhood and her first attempts at writing and Becoming Emily by Krystyna Poray Goddu (Chicago Review Press, 2019), is a longer biography for older elementary kids and young adults. For child-friendly poetry collections, try Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson edited by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin (Sterling, 1994) and Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson edited by Susan Snively (MoonDance, 2016).

Friendly fossils
Mammoth discoveries

A two-minute drive or eight-minute walk will get you to the Beneski Museum of Natural History at the University of Massachusetts. You may want to keep your car in downtown Amherst and walk, as campus parking can be a bit of a dicey proposition, especially on weekdays. Museum admission is free. This is a university museum, so kids should be old enough to treat the exhibits with respect, but anyone with an interest in paleontology or geology will find plenty to keep them interested. I’m sure all paleontology fans have their favorite books, so I’ll just mention a few of mine here: Prehistoric Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (Clarion, 2015), Mammoths on the Move by Lisa Wheeler (Clarion, 2006), and the Science Comics entry Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers by MK Reed (First Second, 2016)

By the time you’re through the Beneski, you’ll undoubtedly be ready for lunch, dinner, or a snack, so get back in the car and head to Northampton. The E.J. Gare parking garage is centrally located and cheap (the sign at the entrance says it all: “Where the coffee is strong and so are the women…and the first hour in this garage is always free!”). There are plenty of cafes and restaurants in downtown Northampton: Jake’s, Woodstar, and Haymarket are three of my favorites. You’ll exit the garage through Thorne’s which has some good shopping, including coffee and a bookstore.

Right next door to Thorne’s, you’ll find R. Michelson Galleries, which, in my opinion, gives the Eric Carle Museum a run for its money if you want to see original artwork from children’s literature. There’s an abundance of it on display and for sale by such luminaries as Mo Willems, Jason Chin, Carson Ellis, Mark Teague, Emily Arnold McCully, Dr. Seuss, Grace Lin, Brian Pinkney, and Maurice Sendak. It’s an art gallery, so no charge, and be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to take it all in.

Finally, Dr. Seuss fans can drive 25 minutes south to Springfield, where they can visit The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum. With its mix of Seuss-inspired exhibits for kids and Ted Geisel memorabilia, there’s something for everyone. Adult admission is $25, which covers all five of the Springfield museums, featuring art, history, and science. A ten-minute drive gets you to the Zoo in Forest Park, where Ted Geisel’s father worked as Superintendent, which may have inspired Dr. Seuss’s zany animal creations. En route, you can drive past 74 Fairfield Street where young Ted lived. You might recognize the address from the picture book biography, The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss by Kathleen Krull (Random House, 2004). Be sure to have some actual cash on hand, as the cash-only admission to the park is $3.00 for Massachusetts residents and $5.00 for out-of-staters. There’s an additional fee for the zoo.

Eb and Flow by Kelly J. Baptist

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Ebony (Eb) and DeKari (Flow, a nickname given because of his swimming skills) get a ten-day suspension for fighting when Eb pours barbecue sauce on DeKari’s prized new shoes, and DeKari calls her the b-word and hits her.  As the days tick by, readers learn about each of the seventh-grader’s family and home life.  They’re surrounded by loving mothers, grandmothers, siblings, and extended family, but life is hard as family members deal with pregnancy, gangs, and unemployment.  Both of them have fathers in the military, Eb’s in Texas and DeKari’s in an undisclosed overseas location.  Neither is ready to forgive the other until two of their older male relatives get involved in some potential gang fighting due, in part, to the conflict between Eb and Flow.  The night before their return to school, each of them has a disturbing dream about where that violence could lead that makes them want to do better and try a little harder when they go back.  224 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This novel in verse offers a nuanced portrayal of two tweens that many kids will recognize and relate to.  Both are going through a lot at home, despite loving families, and the ending is hopeful but realistic.  

Cons:  I’m kind of on the fence about whether to get this for my elementary library.  I have Kelly J. Baptist’s other books, but this feels like more of a middle school book.

Summer reading for my students

**UPDATE** All three projects have been fully funded! Thank you!

I have three Donors Choose projects posted to give every student in my school a book to take home for summer reading. Starting today, as long as funds last, Donors Choose is matching donations.

I did this last year, and the kids were absolutely thrilled.

As always, no pressure at all, but if you’d like to take a look, here are the links:

Grades PreK-K

Grades 1-2

Grades 3-5

And, also as always, thanks for being a supporter of my blog!

A Day in Concord, Massachusetts

I’m trying a new experiment: travelogues for families with book recommendations to read in conjunction with the visits. Over my February school vacation week, I took a day trip to Concord, Massachusetts, a town I’ve been to many times, since I lived for 20 years in neighboring Stow. Despite my familiarity with Concord, I still made some new discoveries. I focused on the transcendentalists rather than the Revolutionary War aspect, partly because of my own interests and partly because I found so many books about them. Here’s my report from that visit.

I started my day with breakfast at The Club Car Cafe in West Concord (note: West Concord is officially part of Concord but has its own downtown). This is a converted railroad depot with a model train running along a track overhead, or if you have a train aficionado in the family it’s a fun place to get breakfast or lunch. The West Concord train station is nearby, so you may see the real thing as well.

The Old Manse

From there I headed to the Old Manse, a historic house owned by the Trustees of Reservations. It was built by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s great-grandfather, William, in 1769, and you can see Old North Bridge from at least one of its windows, so it’s a good way to connect the Revolutionary and transcendentalist histories of Concord. Both Ralph and Nathaniel Hawthorne lived there, and there’s a windowpane where Hawthorne’s wife carved a pretty lengthy message with her diamond ring, commemorating the beauty of an ice storm that she shared with her 10-month-old daughter.

I took the “family friendly” tour of the Old Manse, which I’m sure seemed like an odd choice since I was the only one on the tour. I explained what I was doing, and the tour guide, at my request, treated me like an 8-year-old for most of the tour to show me how she interacts with kids. She did a good job of being engaging and focusing on details that would be interesting to kids, and the tour was 30 minutes instead of the standard 50 minutes.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house

From there, the logical next step would have been Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house, but unfortunately it was closed for the winter. I’ve never given RWE much thought but reading A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley (Scholastic, 2014) got me interested enough in him and his house (which burned to the ground when he lived there) that I was sorry I couldn’t get a tour. The book does a good job describing Emerson’s life, house, and his importance to Concord, and it distills his philosophy into small, easily digestible chunks, which, as near as I can tell, is no easy feat.

Lunch was at Helen’s on Main Street, a family-friendly restaurant that’s been in Concord for almost 90 years and always seems to be hopping. If you’re looking for pancakes, a burger, or ice cream, this is a great choice. After lunch, I walked along Main Street, stopping in The Concord Bookshop, which is just a few years younger than Helen’s and will fill all your Concord-related reading needs. When my kids were little, we used to love visiting The Toy Shop on the corner of Main and Walden. I thought the pandemic had done them in, but it turns out they’ve moved across the street as The Concord Toy Box. It’s smaller and less prominent than the former store, but definitely worth seeking out.

Orchard House
The School of Philosophy

Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House is right down the street from Emerson’s, and I had signed up for a tour at 1:45. This was a tour I’d done a few times before, and I was probably a bit jaded going into it. The guide struck me as a bit fawning about the Alcott family, but the young women in my group loved it, and you probably will too. We began the tour by viewing a film in the School of Philosophy started by Louisa’s father Bronson (located behind the main house), then we were split into two groups. The other group included some pretty young kids, and they seemed to move through the house quite a bit more quickly than we did, so it appears that tours can be tailored for the age group.

If you want to learn more about Louisa May Alcott, start with Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yona Zeldis McDonough (Henry Holt, 2009), which is an excellent introduction to Louisa and her family. Another good choice that ties Louisa to another of Concord’s leading lights is Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau’s Flute by Julie Dunlap and Marybeth Lobiecki, illustrated with striking woodcuts by Caldecott winner Mary Azarian (Dial, 2002). If you share my suspicion that the family succeeded in spite of, not because of, Bronson Alcott, this book will really seal that deal.

For older kids, you can’t beat the original Little Women and/or one of the many film versions. Middle school readers might want to go from there to a modern graphic version of the story like Jo: An Adaptaion of Little Women (Sort of ) by Kathleen Gross (Quill Tree, 2020) or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Rey Terciero (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019). It’s fun to see what’s the same and what’s different from the original, and–spoiler alert–both give Beth a happier ending.

A statue of Henry David Thoreau outside his house
The inside of Thoreau’s house

My last stop for the day was Walden Pond. I’ve been there many times, often in the summer when the parking lot gets filled by noon. But on this 20-degree day, the lot was almost completely empty. I parked by the visitor center and traipsed through icy snow to look at the replica of Thoreau’s house, which gives new meaning to “tiny house.” I didn’t venture across the street to the pond, as it was freezing outside and pretty icy under foot. Having visited in all seasons, I’d recommend spring or fall for a good hike around the pond when you won’t have to fight for a parking spot.

I love the idea of Walden (the book, that is), and I’ve attempted to read it multiple times, but there’s a lot to wade through to get to the good stuff. I discovered a graphic version called Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino (Little, Brown Ink 2018) that distills out some of the more memorable lines from the original in an easy-to-read comic version. It’s a great introduction for older elementary school and middle school kids, and honestly could serve as a sort of Cliff’s Notes version for those assigned to read the book in high school or college.

Another title for that age group is I Begin With Spring: The Life and Seasons of Henry David Thoreau by Julie Dunlap (Tilbury House, 2022). Part nature journal, part Thoreau biography, it tells the essentials of Henry’s life in an engaging way with plenty of illustrations.

Younger kids will enjoy the Henry series by D. B. Johnson starting with Henry Climbs a Mountain (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2003). Henry is a bear, but his adventures are drawn from Thoreau’s life and include a lot of his philosophy.

If You Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond by Robert Burleigh (Christy Ottaviano, 2012) is a beautiful picture book for slightly older readers, imagining a journey through time to see how Henry would have spent the day at Walden.

Finally, I discovered a new book called Of Walden Pond: Henry David Thoreau, Frederic Tudor, and the Pond Between by Lesa Cline-Ransome (Holiday House, 2022) that takes an interesting look at the intersecting lives of Thoreau and Frederic Tudor, an entrepreneur who harvested ice from Walden Pond and figured out how to preserve it and ship it to India. This was featured as a StoryWalk on the Woods Path when I visited.

My library disaster

Last weekend, New England experienced an arctic chill, with wind chills diving down to nearly 40 below. Predictably, pipes froze and burst, and one of the casualties was my school’s library. Water rained down from a broken sprinkler system pipe, soaking two areas of the library and resulting in the destruction of thousands of books.

I work in an urban school with high poverty rates that was without a library for many years. Thanks to a principal who thinks a school library is important, I was hired as a librarian back in 2020 and given a very generous book budget. The kids love coming to the library, and it’s been exciting to give them so many choices of books to check out.

Two of the areas that were hardest hit by the flood were the early readers and early chapter books, two of the most popular collections. Fortunately, many of the books were checked out, but everything that was in the library that day had to be thrown out. These are books that new readers can use to practice their skills, and they’re used by kids at every grade level.

I”ve started two Donors Choose projects to raise funds to replace some of the lost books. This will be a big help in getting the library up and running again. Right now, I am traveling to classrooms with a cart of books, but I hope to reopen the library as soon as possible. If you would like to contribute to either of my projects, you can check out the early reader one here (the books in the photo are the ones that were destroyed) and the chapter book one here. Thank you for considering this!

Supporting this blog through Patreon

I’ve recently set up a Patreon account where you can support my work by signing up to donate $3 or $5 a month. It kind of goes against my grain to do this, as I’ve always thought of this blog as a labor of love, but the truth is I spend 7-10 hours each week reading and reviewing books, and it would be nice to be compensated for that time.

This is completely optional. At this time, I’m not offering additional perks for contributors, and this blog will continue to be freely available to all.

If you’d like to check it out, here’s the link to my Patreon. You can also visit my blog and click on How to support this blog near the top of the page.

I truly appreciate your support in all forms, whether it is financial, positive feedback in the comments, or “likes” on my posts. Thank you!

It’s awards day!

Just watched the livestream of the announcements:


Honor books:

Knight Owl by Christopher Denise

Berry Song by Michaela Goade

Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Jason Griffin

Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy, illustrated by Janelle Washington

Winner: Hot Dog by Doug Salati



Iveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Arango, illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat

Maizie Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee

Winner: Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson

The ones that got away: books that I wish had won a Newbery or Caldecott

Every year I predict the books that I think will win the Newbery and Caldecott. Sometimes I get a few right, and I always get quite a few wrong. There are some that I still feel regrets about not winning. Here are my top three for both awards. How about you? Share your favorites in the comments!

This is my last post before my annual break. I’ll resume with 2023 books in a few weeks.


Wishes by Muợn Thị Văn, illustrated by Victo Ngai

Published by Orchard Books, 2021

 “The night wished it was quieter.  The bag wished it was deeper.  The light wished it was brighter.” The simple text and beautiful illustrations tell a powerful story about refugees escaping with their wishes and hopes for a better life.

After the Fall by Dan Santat

Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2017

Even adults gasp at the final few pages where Humpty Dumpty overcomes his fears and learns to fly. The illustrations are both funny and inspiring.

Small in the City by Sydney Smith

Published by Neal Porter Books, 2019

This was one of my go-to books when I was reading to classes on Zoom. It’s such a great book for teaching inferencing, and Zoom allowed the kids to study the pictures and try to figure out who the child is looking for in the city.


The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016

With all due respect to The Girl Who Drank the Moon (the 2017 Newbery winner), it has never come close to the kid appeal of this book and its 2018 sequel.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018

Part mystery, part historical fiction, part family and friendship story, this book dealt with serious issues of racism, bullying, and homophobia without ever losing its light touch. Varlan Johnson got a Coretta Scott King Honor, but no Newbery.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016

Jason Reynolds went on to write three more books exploring the challenges of members of this resilient middle school track team. This was a National Book Award Finalist but passed over by the Newbery committee.