Marigolds Aplenty!

Readers may recall past posts about the tenacious and often surprising marigolds that add a touch of beauty to our front yard. Every spring (or summer, if I’m getting a late start) I arm myself with seeds from a previous year’s blooms and my trusty spade and go to work. Even though our neighborhood birds must be watching and, as soon as I am out of sight, invite their friends and relatives for a feast, they always leave at least a few uneaten. (And, when it comes to this project, I always have more seeds and a lot of patience–or is it determination that the avian diners won’t leave me marigoldless?)

This year was no exception. On Marigold Day, I planted more seeds that I cared to count, lovingly covered them with soil, and provided the new plantings with a generous helping of water. As usual, the feathered feasters enjoyed their repast–and fewer than a dozen baby marigolds made an appearance. Wondering why our local birds seem to target our yard more in recent years, I rejoiced when the hardy survivors presented us with blossoms. But the joy was short-lived. A gardener who has worked for us on a number of occasions came to practice his craft–and PULLED UP MY MARIGOLDS! His reasons made no sense, but the deed was done. As summer was on the wane, it appeared that we would have no marigolds to grace our yard this autumn. We would not have the pleasure of seeing flowers bloom into December and provide us with seeds to be planted as soon as four months down the road.

However, the marigolds had other ideas. Autumn was in full swing when my husband and I noticed tiny seedlings that looked tantalizingly familiar growing in a neat row.  First two, then three, then four, then five. Did we dare hope for flowers? We dared. And were rewarded.

marigolds1As November is on the wane, it looks like we’ll have December marigolds after all–and a generous supply of seeds with which to plant the next generation of these marvelous plants.

Speaking of November, I would indeed be remiss if I neglected to mention a special commemoration that occurs this month. This has nothing to do with harvest celebrations or turkeys (unless we are thinking about books on these topics). Picture Book Month celebrates this vital literary form and those who create these treasures.

Crunch is a food-loving guinea pig. When the roly-poly rodent meets a friendly–and hungry–mouse named Cheddar and refuses to share his food with the newcomer, the little fellow sadly leaves. Crunch finishes his meal and, plagued by fears of what might befall the mouse, begins a fruitless search for Cheddar. The sorrowful guinea pig returns home where, to his surprise, a full-tummied Cheddar is enjoying a carrot. The very satisfying ending to a delectable story makes Crunch! a picture book that deserves to be shared again and again.

To quote myself: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture book is priceless.”






Newbies and Goodies

Even though I am officially retired, the urge to read–and share–books is as strong as ever. It helps that on occasion, a publisher will send copies of newly- and soon-to-be-published titles for me to review. The latest batch contains some gems for the picture-book crowd that beg to be shared. So, without further ado…

The Seasons series by Ailie Busby

Each volume in this delightful tribute to the seasons begins with a common refrain, for example, “I know it’s spring when…I hear the birds singing when I wake up. It makes me feel like singing too!” Smiling, rosy-cheeked children discover the pleasures of each time of year. Whether the youngsters meet baby animals, frolic in a pool, find acorns, or romp through the snow, readers and listeners will share their enthusiasm. Language gems abound: “Funny bugs buzz and butterflies flutter by.” “We’re eating sandwiches in the sand…and sand in our sandwiches!” The author’s bright, colorful illustrations are full of details kids will enjoy pointing out. A pesonal note: When my 2 1/2-year-old grandson, a budding literary critic, saw these books, he brought me the whole pile–and had a marvelous time identifying familiar objects and providing appropriate sound effects. He gives the series five stars.

The Jar of Happiness by Ailsa Burrows

Meg is a little girl with a grand idea. She mixes the right ingredients together to create a jar of happiness. With the taste of chocolate ice cream, apple juice and sunshine, and the smell of warm cookies and the ocean, Meg’s creation is bright and colorful. Wherever the little girl goes, the jar of happiness goes. With it, Meg raises the spirits of her down-in-the-dumps friend Zoe and makes her ailing Oma feel better. She even lets her brother Leon use it.

However, one morning, Meg’s jar of happiness is missing from its shelf. The distraught little girl looks everywhere (even in the unlikeliest of places like under her cat’s tail!), but it is nowhere to be found. An unhappy Meg goes to see Zoe and Oma, who teach her new ways of making happiness. And Leon shows her the ability of happy thoughts to “scare away gloomy feelings, bad smells and even monsters.”

What a treasure this book is. Ailsa Burrows teaches a marvelous lesson: how one child can make a positive difference in the lives of others, and how those she touches give back happiness when she needs it most. The talented British author’s vibrant, imaginative illustrations bring Meg’s story to life. Endearing details like the band of stuffed animals accompanying Meg with their musical instruments are priceless. This story, like Meg’s jar, is sure to spread joy wherever it is read. As her tale concludes, “By the end of the day, Meg still hadn’t found her jar…but she had found plenty of happiness.” Pair this book with Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon and Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell for more kid-inspired ways to make a difference in the lives of others.

November is Picture Book Month! Celebrate by sharing these with the children in your life.

You can take the librarian out of the library, but you can’t take the library out of the librarian.

The End of a Chapter, Part 2

Almost six weeks have passed since I began what I refer to as my enforced retirement.  As happens every summer to most of us, the time has passed quickly. The calendar suddenly says August; late summer is descending as quickly as the temperature (for a time, at least) is rising. Many people are planning end-of-season getaways. In a number of locales, kids are on the verge of returning to school or are already back in the classroom.

In the past, my husband and I also took a vacation or treated ourselves to an overnight stay before the season changed once more. We contemplated doing the same again this year, but then the realization hit: for the first time in more than two decades, there is no necessity to be back at work the day after Labor Day. A September trip became a possibility. While it is a cause of celebration, there is a sense of the bittersweet. Despite my relief that the decision—the only right one—has been made, I will not be joining colleagues at my or other schools as they plan another academic year. The world I have known for nearly a quarter of a century is moving on, and I am no longer a part of it. There is no more sharing literary treasures with young people, no more encouraging children to think creatively and critically about books they have read, no more leading stimulating class discussions, no more choosing reading materials to enhance the quality of the collection, no more conducting schoolwide activities promoting a love of reading and showcasing young peoples’ writing and artistic talents.

However, there is another way of looking at things. While this part of my life is at an end, it leaves room for a new opening. This is the season when Jews the world over look back at the past year and, more importantly, look ahead to the one about to begin. It is a time for reflection, for thinking about what we have done in the past and considering how to do and be better in the future. Even though (in the northern hemisphere, at least) summer is ending and autumn waits in the wings, it is a season for a new beginning. As the leaves change from green and show their true colors (made possible by the absence of chlorophyll), we humans can focus on our true colors—what makes us who we are without outside trappings.

The possibilities are endless.

The End of a Chapter

It was a move I’ve been contemplating for some time. Since the news became official last fall that the school which had been my professional home for more than 23 years was relocating (but no one knew where), my future there waxed uncertain. As the academic year progressed, and I reached the age at which I could receive Social Security retirement benefits, I (privately) made the decision to say farewell before summer arrived. Even though there was no confirmation, I learned that the new location might not have space for a library. Rather than discover at school year’s end that this was true–and as there was no library, there would be no need for a librarian–the wisdom of closing this chapter in my life became more apparent.

So, on a lovely spring day, I informed an administrator of my decision. If it was any consolation, as the school made preparations for the Big Move, my fears were realized. The library books, except those that we pulled for use by teachers in their classrooms, were to be put into long-term storage until such a time as more spacious accommodations might be found.

Am I sad? Definitely. Sad for what was and is no more. Sad that thousands of wonderful books will sit in boxes for an indeterminate span of time. Sad that this is how almost 24 years of being part of the school ends.

Yet it is true that time heals all wounds. While my days seem a bit empty now, I am already planning how to fill them. So even though this chapter (or, in the words of a dear friend and right-hand-lady, this book) is at an end, I am not one to dwell very long on a just-completed story. There is always another tale waiting to be read.

Quince Blossoms Revisited

“Can we do it yet?” is a question we ask ourselves and each other. From the time–even before–trees blossom in the spring, the anticipation builds. Added to the physical reasons to enthusiastically greet the plethora of flora that accompany the balmy temperatures, there is a spiritual one.

I refer to the blessing that Jews make once a year. Upon seeing a fruit tree in bloom in the spring, we thank the Creator. “Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has made nothing lacking in His world, and created in it goodly creatures and goodly trees to give mankind pleasure.” It only takes a moment to show our gratitude for the magnificence of Creation. It’s a moment that can last an entire year.

Quince Blossoms!

Like so many in the Northeast, we wondered if spring was ever going to arrive. The roller-coaster ride of daily temperatures, punctuated by snow (and more snow), made us feel like Queen Elsa in the wonderful and popular movie Frozen had stamped her foot and initiated a winter that outlasted its welcome. The tulips that normally make an appearance in early February were nowhere to be seen. Trees which often show off their lovely blossoms before the calendar officially says spring remained flowerless.

But even the longest-lasting cold spells must give way the effects of longer days. Reminiscent of the delightful picture book Old Winter by Judith Benet Richardson, we at times felt that the chilly season personified must have taken offense at spring-deprived individuals’ complaints and holed himself up in a supermarket storage freezer (until Spring arrives and puts things right).

And then came a sight for sore winter-weary eyes. Tulip leaves pushed their way through the earth. They were followed by a (belated) sure sign of spring: our flowering quince tree began to bud. And the buds opened into the most exquisite pinkish-red blossoms. Before the phenomenon could become a happy memory, this warm-weather aficionado snapped a few pictures.


A Garden of Discovery

Like so many bibliophiles, I delved into book after book in my childhood and teen years. Any genre would do. I enjoyed both Little Women and a beautifully illustrated Cinderella as a fifth grader. Edna Ferber caught my fancy in high school.

Given the wide variety of reading material I enjoyed during those years, it is surprising that a gem of a novel is not on my “read books” list. It was not until this year that I took it off my school library shelf and took it home. When I made myself comfy and opened the book to the first page, I was entranced. What is missing from the above-mentioned list is a tale that deserves its reputation as a classic.

The book is no other than The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. From the moment we meet Mary and journey with her from India to England, we are eager to know what is in store. As our heroine metamorphoses from a haughty, disagreeable child to a girl who for the first time discovers the beauty around her and finds a purpose to her life, the reader cannot help but cheer. The journey of discovery (and self-discovery) upon which Mary and those in her world embark makes this a novel that begs to be shared. Their story is as beautiful and uplifting as the garden that works its magic on all those who enter its domain.

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