Children's Bookshelf - October 2013
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Travel the Reading Road and Grow!
By Valerie Toner

As a reader I was a slow beginner, but as soon as I got started there was no stopping me. I found books that ignited my inner desire to travel and dream big! The very first book that inspired me to read was The Drinking Gourd by F.N. Monjo. It was exciting to go on a secret adventure with Tommy Fuller during a time of conflict and meet travelers of the Underground Railroad. The Drinking Gourd is a book appropriate for a beginning reader; it introduces a lot of history through the use of very few, yet important, words and beautiful pictures by Fred Brenner.

It is the history that weaves itself through the story that grabbed my attention, and stories with an historical background lead me to explore fascinating subjects and more good books. The Drinking Gourd ends with a short history of the real events that inspired the story. This angle sparks interest and encourages curious kids to explore American history.

As a young reader, I journeyed forth looking for more inspiration and found it in On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The thrill of a covered-wagon ride, a dug-out home in the ground and all the wonderful adventures allowed me to see what life was like for a young girl living in a place very unlike my world — the rocky coast of Maine. I was enchanted by the flat plains in Minnesota and the Midwest, and Laura’s experiences with grasshopper clouds, bloodsuckers and wild badgers. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s words encouraged me to seek out authors like Willa Cather when I got older. Wilder’s stories are great for kids just beginning to discover longer story books and read on their very own.

The beautiful drawings in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books by illustrator Garth Williams always made me feel warm and cozy; I went in search of other pictures in books that made me feel the colors of the story, and I found Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton! The simplistic, colorful and energetic pictures of Mike Mulligan and his friends bring the tale to life. I learned about changing landscapes, growing cities, and the advent of big machines that dig in the dirt to make roads, tunnels, basements and other interesting places. The vibrant pictures also depict the beautiful sense of friendship and workmanship so proudly told by Mike and Mary Ann the Steam Shovel! This is a great story for the whole family to share!

It wasn’t until I was working as a children’s librarian that I bumped into another famous character on the shelves of the reading road, it was Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen by Marissa Moss, who helped me out one day. A fifth grade class was making a visit to the library, and the teacher wanted to introduce the students to a character in history. Fifth graders can be a hard crowd, but Mighty Jackie was just the right person to introduce to them: a girl on the pitcher’s mound striking out the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and others. The fifth graders cheered out loud for Jackie and we all enjoyed the umpire’s strike out calls. It seemed unbelievable to the kids that a women played professional baseball in the year 1931! The book ends with a piece about Mighty Jackie’s life as a baseball player and a picture of her at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Jackie’s story may lead to a family road trip!

Along any reading road there is always a favorite spot, and my favorite is the place where Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater, lives. When I first encountered the story in the third grade, I instantly fell in love with penguins. I thought the idea of keeping penguins cool in the freezer was a great one. I drove my parents crazy because I thought that my family could keep penguins too. Mr. Popper made it look so easy. The penguins are so entertaining and fun to live with... well, maybe not! Mr. Popper and his hilarious penguins will make the whole family laugh out-loud on a not-so-smooth, and oftentimes slippery, road!

Events at Bristol Public Library

The Children’s Department at the Bristol Public Library offers story time and reading club programs for children age 12 and under starting in October. Registration is not required for these programs, just come to the library and have fun!

The Art Truck, Halloween Gala, preschool fair, Musical Fun with Two Right Feet, 1000 Books before Kindergarten, Read Dogs, a magical wintry show, craft Saturdays and more are coming to the Bristol Public Library soon.

The Bristol Public Library is located at 5 High Street. Call 860-584-7787 or visit for more information.

Valerie Toner is the Supervisor of Children’s Services at Bristol Public Library.



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