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I post what I think about books, children's and adult's, and what is going on in my life as a librarian and a storyteller.
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1. The Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak by Brian Katcher

Here's the link.
 The Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak by Brian Katcher

The first chapter is Zak's.  We meet his stepfather, Roger, and we find out that Zak is NOT into sports.  He's not into school so much.  He's into games, and comics, and stuff like that.  And he misses his Dad.

Then, in the next chapter we meet Ana.  Here's what we learn about Ana.  She does a lot of stuff and she does it all well and she does it ALL because it will look good on her college applications.  And she doesn't have time for fun.  Her sister was the fun one.  "I don't have a sister anymore."

If these two characters were a Venn diagram, their edges would barely touch.  That touch would be the fact that they go to the same school.  That is ALL they have in common. Oh, and they are both smart.

So, Zak lifts his health essay straight from Wikipedia.  And his flustered-seeming health teacher catches it.  And his punishment is to serve as the alternate at the Quiz Team - of which Ana is captain - tournament.  This is a HUGE punishment because the tournament is on the very same weekend as the Annual Washingcon - the comic con event that Zak has not missed in 5 years.

Then Ana's younger brother - also on the Quiz team - goes AWOL from the hotel.  And Ana - whose parents are kind of scary - has to find him.  And Zak helps because he knows that Younger Brother, Clayton, has run off to Washingcon.  So, Zak gets to go after all.  And there are a lot of people in costumes and some mayhem, and a wedding and a battle and an altercation with an underworld figure of the criminal persuasion - not of the supernatural sort.  And Clayton is Super at eluding capture.  And Zak is a Washingcon celebrity of sorts and Ana learns a LOT.  And, oh wookies! Are they in a bunch of trouble!

Also, some parental drama occurs in which things get dealt with.  'Nuff said.

The parent in me wants to add:  Do NOT try this at home.  But if you do and you find a lost valuable item, leave it where it is, ok?  Just report it to the front desk and go your merry way.

Cons look like fun.  For younger people.  I'll just don my Chrestomanci bathrobe and pour another mug of coffee, right here, at home.

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2. I am Princess X




No, seriously, I am.  Except I wear purple sneakers, not read ones.  So maybe I am Princess Y?  Or Princess...

Libby and Mai met in 5th grade, sidelined from gym.  Strangers at first - then Mai grabbed a chunk of chalk.  And Libby started drawing.   And Mai started telling stories.  Three years - and boxes and notebooks of Princess X comics later - Libby's mother drove her car, with Libby in it, off a bridge over the Puget Sound.

Now, Mai is sixteen and back in Seattle visiting her Dad.  The first Princess X sticker takes her by surprise.  And then, she sees another.  But, here's the thing.  All the notebooks, the boxes of comics?  They were all thrown away after Libby's body floated to shore.  So, who is drawing these comics?

Mai has never been sure that that body was Libby.  As she reads the webcomics about Princess X, Mai is thrilled to think that her best and truest friend might still be alive.  But, why has she kept her survival a secret - especially from Mai?

Princess Y - that's who I am.  I ask the questions.  Why?  Why is the computer nerd, Patrick, not going to UW in the Fall?  Why didn't Libby's father find Libby?  Why is that skinny pale skater watching Mai?  Lots of whys, here.

The graphics inserted among the text give the reader and Mai clues to what might have happened. This book is a bit creepy, suspenseful, and off the wall.

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3. No Parking at the End Times


http://645e533e2058e72657e9-f9758a43fb7c33cc8adda0fd36101899.r45.cf2.rackcdn.com/harpercollins_us_frontbookcovers_648H/9780062275417.jpgAbby and Aaron are living in a van in San Francisco.  The Rapture that their parents dragged them across the country to join was a bust.  Although they are twins, their reactions to this "disappointment" diverge.  Abby wants to keep the family together.  Aaron wants to go home.


Abby and Aaron aren't the only homeless teens in the Bay area.  And Brother John, the charismatic preacher that the twins' dad follows slavishly, is not the only cruel parasite in San Francisco.

Bryan Bliss tells a story of dashed hopes as Abby must deal with her growing awareness that her parents can't take care of themselves, let alone the family, anymore.  Aaron's desire to make money to fund his trip home leads him to disastrous choices. 

I don't enjoy making decisions but I don't understand the desire to abdicate all control over one's life.  Maybe temporarily, I'd like someone else to "take over" for awhile.  To follow blindly seems to have always been a lifestyle choice.  This book poses a question that I struggle with.  Why would Faith in anything ask people to seek the end of life on earth?

That's about as deep as I can go today.  No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss was a thought provoking read.  Don't do it!!! was a constant mental refrain as I turned the pages.  Don't do it, Dad!  Don't do it, Aaron!!  Abby, don't do it!  And Mom, how could you??

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4. Finding Serendipity


Finding Serendipity (Tuesday McGillycuddy #1)Tuesday McGillycuddy hopes that her mother has finally finished the very last Vivienne Small book.  But when Tuesday gets home, her mother is gone.  The attic window is open and a small box with silver words "The End" sits on the table next to her mother's typewriter.


Denis, Tuesday's father, doesn't seem concerned.  But Tuesday is afraid her mother is lost somewhere out there in the night air.  She sits at the typewriter and types out the beginning of a story about a girl who lost her mother.  The next thing she knows, Tuesday is in a magical library which leads to the land of Vivienne Small, the Peppermint Forest and the evil pirate Mothwood.  Tuesday is sure she will find her mother here.

Davis' setting reminds me of Never Never Land.  There is a sweet quality to the forest, the treehouse and even to Vivienne and Tuesday - to say nothing of shaggy dog, Baxterr.  Do NOT be fooled.  The adventure is not saccharine at all.  As soon as we meet Vivienne, she is shooting arrows and throwing knives and felling pirates left and right.  The sweetness helps as the action switches back and forth from Vivienne's land of imagination and Tuesday's home where her mother - now returned - must find a way to bring Tuesday back.

The book pays homage to the imagination required to create a new world and a story from start to finish.  Other authors gather in the magical library to find food for thought and inspiration.  The librarian forces Tuesday to finish what she has begun.

Although this is an action-packed fantasy-light with a super hero and a noxious villain, anyone who has written or tried to write a story will love Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks.  And Baxterr - who is an awesome dog of hidden talents.

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5. PA Youth Storytelling Showcase

If you are a young storyteller, between the ages of 7 and 17,  you can register to tell at the Pennsylvania Youth Storytelling Showcase.  Well, you CAN, if you live in Pennsylvania.  If you are a not so young storyteller and you know of a younger tller who might qualify, let them know about this!

Here's what you do;
1. Pick a story you really like.  Fairy tales or folk tales or original stories are best.
2. Learn how to tell it - WELL, without the book or any paper.
3.  Make sure that your performance of the story is between 5 and 7 minutes long.
4.  Get your parent's permission to perform in the PaYSS.
5.  WITH YOUR PARENT'S HELP AND PERMISSION, fill out the registration form.

BIG HINT:  If you want to tell a published story, for instance, Wimpy Kid or Diary of a Worm, you absolutely MUST get written permission from the publisher and/or author.  Most publishers have a link on their websites for this kind of thing.
If you want to tell the story of the day your next door neighbor burned down the shed, you absolutely MUST get your neighbor's written permission to share the story.  You must get written permission to tell any true story about another person from that person or, if that is not possible, from a family member of that person.

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6. The Book of Dares for Lost Friends


The Book of Dares for Lost Friends

The Book of Dares for Lost Friends by Jane Kelly.

Best friends, Val and Lanora, meet in Central Park to plan their entrance into M.S. 10.  Lanora has plans that don't include Val.   Lanora decides to use middle school as a chance to re-invent herself.  (My hopes were on the high side.)  She intends to fill Val in on what is going on, eventually.  There is a road paved with good intentions.


Val, in the meantime, has plenty to do while she misses Lanora.  She follows the park's feral cat to a dusty antiques store, owned by an old coot and staffed by an odd young boy.  She plays soccer - constantly and well.  She joins a group of word obsessed self proclaimed outsiders.

When Lanora's plan leads her off the straight and narrow, Val tries to find a way to save her old friend.  With the Book of Dares for Lost Friends, that strange boy, a pair of feathered wings and a midnight excursion, Val tries to bring the old Lanora back.

A great cast of characters, a hint of magic, superstition and the setting of a vibrant city add up to a suspenseful middle grade read.  Readers will moan in disappointment and lean forward in hope as these kids muddle through adjusting to a new school and family drama.  Questions remain about some of the characters.  So maybe??

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7. Wild Ideas - thanks Brain Pickings

Whoa!  Look at these illustrations.  The book is about solving problems but the dioramas are want-inducing.  Oh, if I could give a space to one of these pieces of art!  Hmmm, but then, I'd have to dust it and worry about it and keep it out of the bright sunlight and make sure it has enough light and...  No, this book will do.

Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking
See what I mean???

http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/13/wild-ideas-kelsey-kim/

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8. A School for Brides

 Patrice Kindl's A School for Brides was the inspiration for my 5 Things That Make Me Happy post.

 Eight young women have been sent by their families to a school in Yorkshire, far from anywhere, to prepare for their eventual role as wives and mothers of gentility.  The oldest is 19, almost an old maid.  The youngest is 12.  And they despair of ever meeting dashing, well-bred, financially secure young men of the appropriate social class.

Then a young man falls off his horse and must be rescued by these young ladies.  (The old-young- gentleman-falls-off-horse-trick is well played here.) Luckily, he is well-mannered, titled and has lots of eligible friends.

Meanwhile, one of the girls is receiving ardent notes from an unknown admirer.  The Baron's daughter is threatened by the return of her feared and truly despicable governess.  And a necklace disappears!!

 That's a lot of action conveyed to the reader in a most genteel and Austen-esque manner. 

I had hoped that Robert, the extremely decorative footman, would be revealed to be the lost son of someone quite high in society.  He is a foundling, after all.  He seems happy where he is so perhaps we should just let him be.

Read the book. 'Nuff said.



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9. 5 things that make me happy

1.  Having a good book in the offing.
2.  Reading that good book.
3.  Knowing I have a pile of other good books waiting when this one is done.
4.  Libraries - because all those good books won't last forever.
5.  Bookstores.  Sometimes a book is so good I want to OWN it.

Because it's all about the books, about the books.  Start reading.


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10. Book TRAILERS for the picture book set

  


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11. Ponds

My brother built a pond on his property because he LOVES stone walls and running water - (but  especially stone walls).  So when I saw this evocative trailer I thought of him.  Here's to you, second youngest brother - and to your water feature. 



It is so much fun to imagine that any pond can go deeper under the earth.

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12. New from Stephen Biesty!

Who loves Stephen Biesty's wonderful cross section books?  I do, for sure.  Look what goes on sale this month.  Check your bookstore and library for his other illuminating books,  Visit his website for a slideshow of his illustrations.
Emergency Vehicles

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13. You Can Be a Hero

This year's Summer Reading Club theme is "Every Hero Has a Story".  And most libraries are using Superheroes to bring in kids.  It's such a kid friendly theme!

Not all heroes are super heroes.  Every one of us can be a hero - at least, sometime.  Doing the small things like smiling at someone who smiles at you - even when you feel grumpy - can feel heroic sometimes.

On Wednesday, I will tell stories about Every Day Heroes at a local library.  The audiences there are usually fairly young, so telling historic stories of heroes of the past may not work.  I want the children to see that simple things - telling the truth, picking up trash, being kind - can make the world a better place.

I decided to search for "simple ways to change the world" online and I got a lot of things like:
1. Be present.
2. Be grateful.
3. Be kind to yourself.

Hmmm, explaining gratitude to a 4-year-old is hard.  And these kids are as present as anyone can be.

But one simple action, Plant something, caught my attention.

So here are my 5 Simple Ways to Change the World:
1.  Keep your own space clean and neat.  (I don't follow this advice very well myself.)
    The world space belongs to us all so this includes your house and your neighborhood.
2.  Speak the truth.  Hmmm, this is never as easy as it seems.  People use their words so cleverly.  Use YOUR words for good.
3.  Smile.  Yep.  That.
4.  Plant something.  Grow something.  In a can on the windowsill - caring for a living thing is good   
for you and the plant will clean the air around it.
5.  Keep the peace.  It is so tempting to be hurtful when we feel down or when someone is hurtful to us.  If we can't find a way to bring peace to our attacker, we should just walk away from them.  I am talking about every day attacks, not life threatening events.

There you go.  Johnny Appleseed, Wangari Maathai, Elzeard Bouffier are all heroes who planted trees.   I think at least one of them should make it into my program.  I'll let you know how it goes.




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14. TOON at last

 Picture

Windmill Dragons :A Leah and Alan Adventure by David Nytra is a celebration of the imagination in detailed black and white.  Leah tells Alan a story that starts with windmills that turn into dragons.  Suddenly, Leah and Alan are fighting these monsters.   A giant chicken, St. George, a trick with a bit of string and a man-eating boat lead Alan and Leah on a wild adventure.  Just wait until you see what caused all the ruckus.
    Nytra adds an illustrated bibliography of sorts to help his readers understand some of the literary references in this wild and crazy comic book.

The Suspended Castle : a Philemon Adventure  by FRED.  OK. Philemon and his adventures make me itchy.  But if you enjoy the surreal, you will love Philemon.  Back in the 1960s, Philemon fell down a well and into a land that was shaped like an "A".  With the help of Mr. Bartholomew, Philemon got back to France.
     Now, Mr. Bartholomew is so bored, he wants to return to his life on a letter in the middle of the ocean (on a globe - you know one those spinning things?  I told you - surreal! Or maybe it was on a map.)  Thank goodness, Phil's Uncle Felix knows what to do.  You see, he just gets Phil to inflate this seashell....
     Well, Bartholomew and Phil both end up on the dot on the letter "i" and from there it just gets wilder and crazier - with owls that turn into lighthouses and whales with oars and mutinies and buccaneers who sail the skies in wooden pelican bills - or something - and of course, the suspended castle from the title.
   The artwork is colorful and suitably cartoonish.  The last two pages gives a bio of Fred (Frederic Othon Aristides) and background on his inspirations for this story. 

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15. Just the titles, ma'am.

I will just list the titles of books I've read this week.

Flunked by Jen Calonita.  Fairy Tale Reform School?

Ruddy Gore by Kerry Greenwood, a Miss Phryne Fisher mystery - for adults.  I love the PBS series and the books are, well, almost as good - and occasionally better.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones.  With a title like that, how could I resist?

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall.  Well, finally, here's a family that I can love as much as Hilary McKay's Casson family and without as much worry.  The Penderwick parents are a bit less scattered than the Casson parents. 

More on these and on the last two TOON books in my stack.

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16. Busy like a beaver!

I have been telling stories and having so much fun in the last two weeks that I have not had time to post here. I promised you TOON reviews and with the Eisner Awards recently announced, I must comply.
  
TOON will NOT be left behind. They have produced  Little Nemo's Big New Dreams, edited by Josh O'Neil, Andrew Carl and Chris Stevens.   Poor Little Nemo! He's been having incredibly active dreams since 1905 when his comic strip was first designed by Windsor McCay.

Little Nemo's Big New Dreams: A TOON GraphicEach double page spread of Big New Dreams offers a Little Nemo Slumberland adventure as envisioned by a different graphic artist.  Most are paneled but some are simply large illustrations that still manage to tell a story.  Little Nemo is clearly identified in each story but the artists' styles vary widely.

I can imagine so many different ways to use this colorful book - besides just reading the stories. 

Well, I have another telling event this evening and need to prepare so stay TOON for my next TOON review and a possible GIVEAWAY!

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17. Life is a roller coaster! Personal post

NOTE: This post is political and personal.  It is not about books, or storytelling, or crafts.   It IS about change and my thoughts on all the change that is going on right now in the Untied States.

A week and a half ago, a young man sat with a Bible study group for an hour and then killed nine of the members.  He chose this group on purpose.  He had a plan.  Suddenly, the hatred, obstinacy, and irrational craziness that many Americans subscribed to since an African American became president was exposed for what it was.  Racism.  Bigotry.  Cruelty.  Evil.  Fear.

Since then:
1. The Confederate flag has been demonized - rightly so.  It should never have been flown on public land after the Civil War. (Private rights are another thing.)  It's just a piece of cloth, but it's significance in the war against equality is now clear.

2.  The Supreme Court has outlawed housing discrimination - again - upholding broad discrimination claims.

3.  The Supreme Court made marriage among all people - same sex, two sexes - a law in 50 states.  This means people everywhere in the United States have the right to not be lonely anymore regardless of whom they love.

4. Our president delivered the speech of his lifetime when he delivered the eulogy for Clementa Pinckney - a speech that showed his intelligence, his confidence, his empathy, and his faith.

People were shocked into their senses again.  Politicians had to admit that their party loyalty just might be counterproductive, if not downright anti-American. 

The battle to be a better country is not over.  Hate crimes are still being committed.  The Equal Rights Act needs to come to fruition.  But, my dwindling hope has rebounded.  There are good people here - on both sides of the aisle.

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18. Toon! Toon! TOON!

Bless you, TOON, for the lovely box of new graphic novels!  You publish some of the best highly illustrated kids' lit out there.

Written and Drawn by Henrietta, a TOON Book by LINIERS, is my favorite of this bunch.  "A box of colored pencils is as close as you can get to owning a piece of the rainbow", Henrietta tells her cat, Fellini.  Henrietta sits down to write and draw the amazing story of "The Monster with Three Heads and Two Hats."  We see Henrietta's drawings and we see her reactions to her own imagination and the whole thing is fun and funny and delightful. 

Flop to the Top!, a TOON book by Eleanor Davis & Drew Weing.  Wanda is a Superstar and she knows it.  When she goes online and posts a picture with her floppy dog, Wilbur, the Internet goes crazy.  Wilbur is a HUGE hit.  Wanda is not happy for his fame.  Young readers will get a kick out of attention hog Wanda's disappointment and of Wilbur's response to fame and fortune.  The ending is super cool, too.

Check back soon for reviews of my other TOON swag.


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19. Stick and Stone

I love Picture Book trailers.  Here's a cute one for you.


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20. Text haiku

Tough times when a person's favorite people move away. Sending texts to simply say "We miss you," gets old...to say nothing of annoying. So today, I took another tactic.

"This screen is empty/ no when, no where, no questions/ an expanse of gone."

The reply came line by line. "Memorial day.". " going to the pool soon". "Hope all is well, Mom.". " That's a haiku."

And so it continued.  At one point I got this message. "I could do this all day.".

So could I.

Some more haiku texts: " I don't want to walk.". "But D-c- wants to walk there." " So walking it is."

"Not really walking." "Your dad is carrying you." "And he is tired."

My text haiku deteriorated after my first attempt.

I am finished now. My screen is dressed in letters. My heart is at rest.

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21. Mollie Whuppie, Unexpected Hero!

When I was a youngster, I remember reading Mollie Whuppie in one of the many fairytale collections at the public library.  I am a fairytale kind of person.  Mollie Whuppie is a little short on sparkles and ball gowns and a little long on violence and greed.

I don't know why I like the story so much.  It may be the archaic dialog between Mollie and the giant she torments.  It might be that Mollie is an unexpected hero - the runt of the family, and a girl to boot.
When I figure it out, I'll let you know.  I have to admit, I did not tell the original ending.  That ending is a bit too gruesome for my tastes.

Today, I decided to share Mollie Whuppie with the sixth graders at Nazareth Intermediate School.  My version has some (ahem) blood in it and there's lots of action.  I guessed, correctly, that the guys would like it.  What I didn't expect was all the questions the kids had during and after the story.  One question that cropped up in three of the four classes was this.  "How did the King know what the Giant had and where he kept it?"

Yeah!  How did he know that?  And why did he keep sending this tiny girl out to steal from the Giant?  And why did the parents abandon the three youngest children and not the three oldest children - who might have a better chance of surviving?

And why did Mollie carry the treasures back to the King?  Why not keep them for herself?

And why didn't those old time storytellers ask these questions themselves and answer them in the story? (My question.)

Perhaps Kings were such powerful people that listeners at the time thought Kings knew what everyone had and where they kept it.  I bet that they felt that way at tax time.

And powerless people always like stories about small powerless people who prevail.

Now, about keeping the loot for herself, Mollie had to protect her sisters who might suffer at the hands of the King if Mollie "cheated" him.

As to abandoning the youngest rather than the oldest, I invite you to offer reasons for that.

In the meantime, these questions make great writing prompts and I imagine a comic book series about The Adventures of Mollie Whuppie.  Although there are picture books out there starring Ms. Whuppie, she could be a superhero.

Mollie Whuppie, Unexpected Hero!!!


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22.


The Unmapped Sea (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, #5) 

Dear Maryrose Wood,
    I finished The Unmapped Sea, early Monday morning and I have just one or two little questions for you.

1.  WHAT!!!!????

2.  Are you kidding me?  Please, say you are kidding me!

Oh and this one.

3.  How could you do this to your loyal readers?

Sorry.  I do have another question.  It's actually the most important question.

4.  When is the next book coming out?  I hope it will arrive next week, because I can handle this sense of fraughtitude for maybe a week.  But not much longer than that.  Then I explode and start telling people what happened.  Or not.

The Incorrigible children and Miss Lumley accompany Sir Frederick and Lady Constance and the Ashton household to the beach at Brighton - in January.  The doctor ordered it.  But this works to Miss Lumley's advantage because the only person who has any clue as to the nature of the Ashton family curse lives in Brighton.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Time is running out.  Lady Constance will bring forth generation #5 of cursed Ashton's in May.  The curse must be dispelled before the baby arrives or..... (falls into a Lady Constance-ish swoon!!!)

Alexander, Beowulf and Casseiopeia meet the Babushnikov children.  Isn't that sweet?  (Simper and smile.)  They go skating and share dinners together and visit a most unusual Museum and it's like a walk in the sunshine... A very cold, argument-wracked walk in the winter blustery sunshine - with clouds.

And that is really all I can tell you.  Don't ask.  If you need to know more you can read the book yourself.  I am returning my copy to the Bethlehem Area Public Library this weekend.

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23. Gregory K.

Your book trailer for the day!

Thanks, Greg, for a fun book!

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24. Glass bird


The Girl with the Glass Bird: A Knight's Haddon Boarding School MysteryIn The Girl with the Glass Bird, we meet Edie Wilson just as her awful cousins have caught the pet goldfish Edie brought with her to Folly Farm.  What they do to the goldfish and to Edie is gross and cruel.  But like many stereotypical upper class British parents, Edie's aunt writes it all off as "Boys will be boys".


Meanwhile, Edie's older cousin, Charles has been handed an assignment by one of his biggest clients and oldest friends.  Charles has to plant a girl in the client's daughter's boarding school to find out if the client's daughter IS being tormented as she claims she is.  Well, well, well, how convenient!  When he decides to drop in on Folly Farm, who should he find but an 11-year-old  girl whose aunt could care less what happens to her - as long as Edie is "safe", that is.

And Edie enters the world of Knight's Haddon.  No cell phones, no TV, very little computer usage -  the school is exactly as it was when Edie's mother went there.  From the start, Edie knows that Anastasia, her charge, is being manipulated.  But are the students behind the pranks or are the adults to blame?

Princesses and bullies, spies and secrets, The Girl with the Glass Bird by Esme Kerr mixes all these things together to produce a page turner.  Is Anastasia crazy or is someone just trying to make her seem that way?  Who can Edie trust when her grandmother warns her away from everyone?  Little events build to a grand crisis.  And Edie may not be able to move fast enough. 


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25. GoFundMe

This graphic is the property of the Lehigh Valley Storytelling guild and was designed by Kutztown University students.
The Lehigh Valley Storytelling Guild does a lot with kids.  We have a Children's Series of performances.  This past year one of our members planned a Teen Story Jam.  And we host the Pennsylvania Youth Storytelling Showcase.  What we don't have yet is a group of young members.

So, some other storytellers and I are starting the Young Tellers Guild of the Lehigh Valley.  It's not as easy as it sounds.  We need meeting places.  And resources.  And time and travel.  And coaching supplies.  And most of all, we need kids.

I have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to provide resources, to find meeting spaces, to encourage libraries and schools to hosts meetings and to pay travel expenses for storytellers who work with these groups.

Please support these efforts to share the oldest form of entertainment, education and enrichment with the newest tellers.

www.gofundme.com/ytglv

Thanks.

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