Being Frog

So, are you the sort of person who would be distracted by a parade of hopping frogs and excited by the idea of helping them? Do you like being out of doors, even at night? Are you intrigued by the thought of listening to spring? Have you held a frog or toad in your hand, looked it in the eye, and felt something?

These are questions I posed in the pages of Citizen Scientists, suggesting those who answered YES! would make good frog watchers. Today I’d like to add that those people–frog people–will also adore this new picture book from April Pulley Sayre.

Being Frog is a delight, cover to cover, a celebration of language and image and, of course, frogs. Don’t miss this one, friends!

What Miss Mitchell Saw

Distilling a full life into 32 pages is such a hard thing to do. It requires deep reflection, a willingness to seize a single theme and, at the very same time, to let all the other beautiful and important and relevant themes in that beautiful and important and relevant life go. Hayley Barrett and Diana Dusyka manage this task brilliantly in their picture book biography of Maria Mitchell. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW is a marriage of deliberate storytelling and expansive art, a book that focuses readers on knowing and naming, cornerstones of scientific inquiry, but doesn’t get mired in details of astronomy, its devices, and its techniques. I’m really glad I finally picked this gem up. You should too!

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

“No good book is loved by everyone,
and any good book is bound to bother somebody.”
~ Mac Barnett

Even if you don’t recognize the name Margaret Wise Brown, you’re likely to have read some of her books. The Runaway Bunny, Bumblebugs and Elephants, The Little Fireman, Goodnight Moon, among so many others. Hers are classics of childhood reading, even today, and I know I’m not the only mother of grown children who can still recite them rote. (And every now and then, does.)

Mac Barnett’s biography of Brown is unusual, deeply literary, and spellbinding. I cannot get enough of it. And while often such books are criticized as being inaccessible to children, I believe my kids would have adored this book. Would they have appreciated the metaphor that turns a single life into a single book? Would they have grasped, when they were small, the dangers of a gatekeeper? Maybe not. But they would have understood being misunderstood. They would have felt the joyful zaniness of buying an entire cart of flowers or bringing ducks into a place for no reason at all. They wanted desperately to know more about things they knew were frowned upon, like swimming naked in an ocean, or borrowing the fur from a dead rabbit. I think they’d have peered into the life of the woman behind books in their very own bedrooms and felt satisfied.

I cannot express how much I admire this book. I’m going to read it aloud to my kids, adults though they may be, when they’re home for the holidays. I’m not kidding. Because the important thing about me is that I share the stories that move me most. I’m grateful to Mac Barnett, Sarah Jacoby, and Margaret Wise Brown for this beautiful reminder of that.

Reading Life: No Heart, No Moon

I’ve been making my way through the 2019 edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing, edited by Sy Montgomery, and as is the case every year, it’s like taking a master class in communicating life and living and all the ways those two things happen in this world. I try to read a couple essays a week, but often pause, struck dumb by a piece that begs for a deeper study. That’s what happened with Matt Jones’ No Heart, No Moon.

Originally published in The Southern Review, the essay is available in its entirety at Jones’ website. It’s a stunning example of literary nonfiction, of taking the facts of a story and weaving them into something that is informative and also deeply meaningful. Art. I read the essay before bed, and re-read it the very next morning, out loud, with my morning tea. It’s gorgeously written, layered with connections that surprise and worry. I’ll be studying it for a while, sharing it with students and friends, pondering the mechanics and the message.

A Life in Books

When I started blogging back in 2006, my little apartment on the internet–a light-filled efficiency in a great neighborhood (LiveJournal!)–was called A Life in Books. I saw that title as a play on words, a way to categorize posts about my life as a working writer, which was then only just starting, and my life as a reader, too. Every post was titled with the name of a book, one I was reading to research a new project, or for pleasure, or with my three (then) young kids. Over time, it became clear that the books were just a way for me to connect to other things going on in my life at the time, and I was obsessed and pleased with the interesting ways books and thoughts and life influenced one another.

As always happens, though, life changed. My kids got older, and my working world got busy, and this, and that. Blogging became a sometimes affair. I left LiveJournal for a place with more space, built an entire author website, took on more work than I had hours in the day. You get it, right? I was still reading, but I no longer had (or took?) the time to reflect on those books and their place in my life, on the ways the work of other writers shaped my thinking, or inspired ideas, or entertained me. Such, too, is a life in books, I guess.

But, again, change. My kids are two young men and one young woman mostly off in their own places reading their own books. I’m still writing, still reading, but also teaching, and nowhere is it clearer to me how important reading is than in a classroom with writers. So much of what I know about writing–I’d say all of what I know about writing–I soaked up by reading the work of other writers.

All to say, I’m dusting things off here, spit-shining tables, sweeping up the cobwebs, thinking about how to better use all the spaces at my disposal. I’ll continue to post updates on upcoming books and essays and appearances here, of course. But I’m also going to share my reading life again, the blog posts that make me think, the articles and essays that thrill me, the books that paper, spark, and inspire this life of mine.

February 12 Fill-in-the-Blank Book Club

Hello, reader friends!

Popping in to share the topic of our next Fill-in-the-Blank Book Club event. We’ll be meeting in person at the Beaman Memorial Public Library in West Boylston, Massachusetts on Thursday, February 12 at 6:30 pm, but you can join us virtually by reading and sharing your thoughts here.

Our topic this time around is ‘The Other.’

In a time when our world feels divided, let’s use books and our own intentions to bring it a little closer, shall we? Find a book outside your own culture or your own experience, read it, learn from it, and then share what you find with the rest of us.  I kicked off my own reading for this session with #NotYourPrincess: VOICES OF NATIVE AMERICAN WOMEN, and was drawn in by vivid art and compelling words. I was also blown away by Dashka Slater’s THE 57 BUS. And I’ve got a copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME on deck in my reading pile.

Explore. Read. Learn. Then join us to spread your (book) love.

Leepike Ridge

We can’t put this book down. And I can’t stop reminding my daughter, who is reading with me, that she should never sneak out of the house at night and climb on top of a styrofoam raft …

The Man Who Planted Trees


Lost Groves, Champion Trees and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet

By Jim Robbins

Spiegel & Grau, 2012

Category: Nonfiction for Grownups

We can wait around for someone else to solve the problem of climate change and the range of other environmental problems we face, from toxic waste to air pollution to dead zones in the oceans to the precipitous decline in biodiversity, or we can take matters into our own hands and plant trees.

If you have even a smidgeon of doubt that this statement is true, read this book. I predict that when you’re done, you’ll plant a tree. Or twenty.

Postscript: For those of you who are truly into nonfiction, particularly children’s nonfiction, don’t forget about the weekly Nonfiction Monday celebration. Check it out here!

Step Gently Out


Poem by Helen Frost

Photographs by Rick Lieder

Candlewick, 2012

Category: Nonfiction picture book (but truly for all ages)

It was the title that grabbed me first. Step Gently Out. There is an ethic in those words, and they have deep meaning for me. When the book was finally in my hands, though, it was the ant on the cover that pulled me in. He is not rendered in paints as I’d thought when I’d seen the book online, but photographed. Captured atop a slender leaf, antennae waving, stepping gently. Completely enchanting.

Would you believe that things got better from there?

Helen Frost’s text is charming, and I can tell you from personal experience that it holds up to repeated readings. Rick Lieder’s breathtaking images lend a hand, inspiring closer looks at blades of grass and silken threads both inside the book and, of course, out.

I find myself reading this one over and again. I’m in love.  I think that every child on the planet should have a copy. I plan to start with the half-dozen kids who know me as Auntie Loree …