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Several weeks ago I came across an article on the BBC highlighting a new book of photography by Steve McCurry. The theme of McCurry’s project, displayed in this stunning book, is reading. Readers, to be more precise.

I immediately requested it through my library and have thoroughly enjoyed meandering through it.

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On Reading, by Steve McCurry
published in 2016 by Phaidon Press

Even if you don’t know the name Steve McCurry, you know his photography. One of National Geographic’s most heralded photographers, McCurry’s most famous shot is probably Afghan Girl, taken in 1984.

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On Reading is the result of his personal interest in capturing the faces, postures, environments of people around the world caught up in the act of reading. For forty years as he’s globe-trotted, he’s had his eye out for these images.

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Paul Theroux, in his foreword, comments that “readers are seldom lonely or bored, because reading is a refuge and an enlightenment…It seems to me that there is always something luminous in the face of a person in the act of reading.”

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Indeed, McCurry wondrously captures the focused absorption of readers old and young, rich and poor, from widely disparate cultures in this collection. It is gorgeous, immensely satisfying, and heartening.

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McCurry himself was inspired by the earlier work of Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész who spent over 50 years observing and photographing readers. His work was likewise published in a book entitled On Reading, published in 1971 by Grossman Publishers. I checked that one out from my library, too!

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The compelling, black-and-white photographs in this small book span the years 1915-1970. About half of them are from the 1960’s and most were shot in New York City and Paris.

The differences in the worlds and perspectives of these two books, despite their common theme, is remarkable. The work of Kertész has a much more spur of the moment, snapshot sense, whereas McCurry’s are bold, immersive, with subjects generally much closer to us.

Venice (young man reading on canal side), September 10, 1963

Venice (young man reading on canal side), September 10, 1963

I love seeing the small dramas taking place on all these tiny stages in the world. On a particular day now long gone, an anonymous person was caught up in reading during one unscheduled moment, now frozen in time for us to contemplate.

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Esztergam, Hungary, 1915

McCurry and Kertész both saw so much in this ordinary, transportive, monumental act. I love the way photographers help me see, and particularly how these two have helped me see the magic of reading woven through time and across cultures.

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Charles William Eliot, the transformative president of Harvard from 1869-1909, called books “the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”

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All of us who love books and reading can get downright soppy when it comes time to praise them. It is hard to express how much books impact our lives. Rather than even try, today I’m simply celebrating books with these fabulous books about books.

how-this-book-was-made-cover-imageHow This Book Was Made, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex
published in 2016 by Disney Hyperion

The dynamic duo, Barnett and Rex, are back at it again, and who better to make book-making as engaging and appealing a subject as a golden Willy Wonka ticket. Their silly, self-deprecating, unconventional, winning way with both text and art works like a magnet, pulling us into this crazy, fascinating account.

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It all starts with an idea. Simple enough. But gobs of hard work, wrangles with an editor, waiting, waiting, waiting, illustrating, printing, and shipping, come after that and the process is so full of surprising twists and turns, a circus world of interruptions, and any number of ludicrous bumps in the road, you would not believe it.

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Unless Mac the author and Adam the artist spell it out for you, as they have done here. At the end of the day, though, all that work still does not make a book a book. What’s the last, key ingredient?

A thoroughly-inventive, humorous, masterful treatment of what goes into bringing you all the amazing stories you love. It’s a superb treat for ages 3 through Adult.

brother-hugo-and-the-bear-cover-imageBrother Hugo and the Bear, written by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
published in 2014 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Of course, books have not always been made via high speed printing presses. Once upon a time medieval monks labored painstakingly to create them by hand, start to finish.

Katy Beebe relates this intriguing process while regaling us with a delightfully-improbable story about one monk, one manuscript, and one particularly-hungry bear. Effortlessly learn about the monasteries of 12th-century France, the preparation of parchment, pen, and ink, and methods of book-binding, while shuffling along with a hapless monk named Brother Hugo. Beebe’s use of the quaint manner of medieval speech is suffused with gentle humor, all to brilliant effect.

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Meanwhile, Schindler’s artwork is exactly right. He provides a lovely, matching touch of whimsy and historical accuracy. Gorgeous, illuminated letters, bucolic French landscapes,and scenes of monastery life share the stage with a curiously book-hungry bear and poor, unlucky Hugo.

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A historical note, glossary of terms, and author’s and illustrator’s notes complete the package, an utter pleasure for ages 5-6 and up.

the-not-so-quiet-library-cover-imageThe Not-So-Quiet Library, written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora
published in 2016 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Zoom into contemporary, hipster-land now with this salsa-fied, rambunctious ode to storytime!

Every Saturday, Oskar, his pal Theodore (a bear), and Oskar’s dad go to the library.

Hilarious side note: this picture of Dad loading up his books to be returned is epic, is it not?

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It is how I feel every time I lug my bags and bags of books to the library. Immediate connection with Oskar’s dad. I love having his company on this planet.

Okay. But this Saturday at the library, there’s a sudden booming. A crashing. Even a growl. Egads! There’s a monster in the library! A five-headed one at that! And he’s steaming mad! It seems he?…they?…think books are for eating and those cardboard covers and inky pages are really not doing it for them.

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It’s a wild ride while Oskar and Theodore attempt to defuse the situation. Thankfully, Ms.-Watson-the-librarian steps in with just the right antidote — stories. OHora’s bold-as-brass illustrations grab us by the collar in this blast of a story that will tickle the fancies of any child (and parent) ages 2 and up. And P.S. Doughnuts and sprinkles are included. So get some to munch while you read this sizzler.

the-storybook-knight-cover-imageThe Storybook Knight, written by Helen Docherty, illustrated by Thomas Docherty
published in 2016 by Sourcebooks, Jabberwocky

Oh, those Dochertys. They write great books about books! See my review of The Snatchabook if you haven’t already gobbled that one up.

Plus they live in Wales, which is cool.

This is a story about a gentle knight named Leo. Sort of the Ferdinand-the-bull of knights. He’s not into fighting and swordsmanship. Nope. He is a reader. Yay, Leo!

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However, Leo’s folks do not see eye to eye with him on his preoccupation with books. There’s a dragon to be fought, and they want Leo to do it. They send him packing — sandwiches, shield, and all. He makes quite a Quixotic character on his slump-bellied horse, Old Ned.

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Leo encounters several potentially-hazardous creatures en route to the dragon — a griffin, a troll — and unsurprisingly to us bibliophiles it’s his story lore that saves the day each time. When Leo meets the dragon, though — the entire, enormous, fiery, dagger-tailed, winged eminence — how can a book possibly come to the rescue?

So much book-love, such delight, warmth, personality, and peaceableness are crammed into this story, it simply radiates from the pages. You will love it. A sunny treat for anyone ages 3 and up.

a-child-of-books-cover-imageA Child of Books, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Finally, this philosophical, artistic wonder. Jeffers and Winston say that they “both wanted to create a tale that celebrates our own love of classic children’s literature with an added modern twist.”

Goal achieved. And then some.

It starts right off with the end-papers, a wallpaper of titles and authors from the canon of classic literature that has been enjoyed by children and adults for centuries. Immediately, we are overwhelmed with the vastness of this treasure.

Hand-lettered text meanders through the pages, poetically describing the voyages of imagination undertaken by someone lucky enough to be “a child of books.” Mountains of make-believe. Forests of fairy tales. These are the worlds we enter and live in and are changed by when we dwell in the world of literature.

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Although the concept, the largeness of this idea, seems too big for words, too immense for a picture book, the brief phrases here are at once so concrete and so enchanting that even very young children will connect and feel deep inside that someone else understands just how magical an experience storytime is. That’s a sweet kinship.

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Meanwhile, the illustrations are brilliant, incorporating segments of text from classic literature — at times whole paragraphs, at times a sea of letters or words. Inventive compositions, fantastical, friendly, ethereal, explosive expressions of the world of story, dominate the pages. It’s a joy for book-lovers, ages 3 to 100.

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2016_childrens_poster from Ohio

It’s Memorial Day week-end, the harbinger of full-on summer! Once again, I’m posting a number of programs created to reward kids for reading over these school-vacation months. 

Whether your kids need incentives to read or actually need to come up for air from their books from time to time, it’s always fun to enter free contests and win prizes!

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Keep in mind that your local library is almost surely running a program specific to your area, so check with them first. Here in the Twin Cities, that program is Bookawocky, with prizes ranging from books to State Fair tickets, gift cards for stores, movie theaters and cafes, CDs, preschool rhythm instruments — good stuff! Our kids won prizes every year from the library — don’t miss out!

 Scholastic’s annual Summer Reading Challenge got underway a few weeks back and already some 43 million minutes of reading have been logged by participating kids!
Read. Log your minutes on the ever-growing Minute Counter. Win prizes and get entered for a chance to win some awesome gifts from Klutz Press!

Half Price Books’ Feed Your Brain campaign has programs for 8th graders and under, and for high schoolers. The youngers log minutes, the olders write reviews. All are rewarded with Bookworm Bucks. 

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Barnes and Noble’s Summer Reading Triatholon starts June 4th. Read, complete your reading log, and choose a free book. Simple and fun!

Sylvan Learning Centers has a Book Adventure program. Books from their lists are read, online quizzes taken, and points accumulated toward prizes ranging from temporary tattoos to 3-month Highlights subscriptions.

Chuck E Cheese includes reading in their rewards calendar program all year long. Check off the boxes for a couple of weeks and bring it in for free tokens.

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Showcase CinemasI think these are up in the Northeastern U.S. — has a Bookworm Wednesday deal again this summer. Bring in a book report and you, your parents/guardians, and other kids 6 and down get free admission to select kids’ films.

Have I forgotten any great summer programs? Let us know in the comments.

 

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Henri Matisse Woman ReadingI have a new Musings post up today. Thinking about reading as a form of listening. Musing about how this helps us learn to listen well in a hurting and often isolated world.

You can find it by clicking on the link here.

Or use the Musings tab at the top of the page.

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Edvard Munch, The Sick Child

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child

By far the most popular post I’ve written in five years of blogging is my musing on the role of children’s literature in a sorrowing world.

I wrote that in March of this year. Here we are in November, and what a year it has been, with earthquakes of suffering reverberating across widening circles. So, I thought I’d bring that post into the light of day again.

Read it by clicking on this link: In a World of Sorrow, Shall I Dish Up Green Eggs and Ham?

May we all strive to spread peace, empathy, and goodness in our spheres.

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Here’s a little treasure I’ve fallen in love with lately:

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A Book is a Book, by Jenny Bornholdt, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins
first published in 2013 by Gecko Press and Whitireia

Coming out of New Zealand, this paean to the joys of books will charm your socks off. It’s simply a collection of nonchalant musings about books, accompanied by sunny illustrations. 

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Childlike philosophizing and instructions ramble about the pages. There’s advice:

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You can read in the bath but you mustn’t drop your book.

And helpful explanations:

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Some books are small because some writers are very tired.

The whimsical, scattered thoughts, and the book’s small dimensions, remind me very much of Ruth Krauss’s classic, A Hole is to Dig

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It suits ages 3-93. If you’re looking for a smart gift for a book-lover, check it out. 

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static1.squarespaceThere is a day for everything.

And this Saturday, May 2, is Independent Bookstore Day, when hundreds of indie booksellers around the country are throwing out the stops to celebrate these unique, community-oriented, literary-rich…okay, let’s just say it…havens of civilization!! 

Okay. And, since Minneapolis is currently rated #1 Most Literate City in the country, and St. Paul is just a couple notches down the list at #4 (go Minnesota!!) — if you are a Twin Cities resident, you have oodles of parties to choose from.

Here are just a few examples…

…and I’ll start with Magers and Quinn because my daughter works

This is a Bogart doughnut. Enough said.

This is a Bogart doughnut. Enough said.

there 🙂 They’re the biggest indie in the Twin Cities and they’ve got lots cooked up including Awesome Prizes being raffled off, Bogarts doughnuts and coffee, impromptu poetry — tell the poet a secret and she’ll write you a poem about it!, Obscure Book Recommendations from the folks at Rain Taxi Review, literary board games and more. Go to their website and find the whole schedule of events.

There are two incredible children’s bookstores in the Twin Cities.

PA-140265842-630x422At Wild Rumpus in Linden Hills, they are…wait for it…painting sheep. And painting you to look like a sheep. If you think this sounds odd, you don’t understand the connection between Wild Rumpus and animals galore. Check out their event page here. There’s lots more including some exclusive merchandise on sale only at the store, only on Saturday…

…which is also happening at The Red Balloon Bookshop on Grand

Derek Anderson will be there to launch his new book.

Derek Anderson will be there to launch his new book.

Ave. in St. Paul. They’re hosting a book launch which promises to be riotous and includes cake, face painting, gobs of treats, and a visit from David LaRochelle, one of our awesome local author/illustrators. And gobs more which you can find out about on their event page here.

moon palaceI have to put in a plug for Moon Palace Books as well. For one thing, they were kind enough to make a cool map of all the indie shops in the Twin Cities so you can bop from one to another having a high old time. Find it here, where you can also link to their event page. Lots of great give-aways and raffled goodies going on there.

Check the websites for stores listed on the map to find where you can make your own zine, play F. Scott Fitzgerald Bingo, dance around a Maypole and Oh So Much More.

If you have an Independent Book Store Day event you’d like to tell us about in your neck of the woods, please feel free to comment.

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