What this blog’s about:


This Blog is a Children’s Book Week Champion.

May 2 – 8, 2016

 Established in 1919, Children’s Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Every year, commemorative events are held nationwide at schools, libraries, bookstores, homes — wherever young readers and books connect!

Children’s Book Week is administered by Every Child A Reader, a 501(c)(3) literacy organization dedicated to instilling a lifelong love of reading in children. The Children’s Book Council, the national non-profit trade association for children’s book publishers, is an anchor sponsor. Find out more about it here:





bookplate by Edward Ardizzone

Life is a journey fraught with distractions, detours, and setbacks.  Sometimes we can hardly imagine where we’re going, hardly remember where we’ve been.  This blog is my place to share the bright bits I’ve found on my journey. 

A life of reading and looking at art has helped me cultivate a sense of wonder.  Here’s  where I offer many reviews of illustrated and art books for all ages, including lots of children’s books (where some of our best artists are working.)  I focus on books that belong in print — that you can hold in your hands, flip through, and return to again and again.


the crowded desk of dreams

I love going to art galleries and also finding art in unexpected places.  I share links of interesting websites I’ve found. 

I share insights from my lifelong writing and drawing practice which has helped me get a handle on my slippery identity.

This is also my place to share my musings on living in the intentional community Bridge Meadows, a multi-generational community in Portland, Oregon, that helps families adopt children out of the foster care system. 

So, welcome.  

Your insights and stories are part of this conversation.  Please feel free to join in.  


~~Joy Corcoran

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It’s a Bunny Life: El Deafo by Cece Bell

It’s the last day of Children’s Book Week, so I thought I’d reblog this post on Cece Bell’s fantastic book El Deafo to close out the week. She designed the CBW bookmark. Thanks for following my blog. I hope it’s a children’s book year for you!


CBW Bookmark by Cece Bell


Many of the books I review I seek out, but some come to me in unexpected ways.  Along with the book Fleabrain Loves Frannie, I was given one I’d never heard of, called  El Deafo by Cece Bell, a graphic memoir novel.  I flipped through it  — bunny characters, a deaf girl, school problems, and intriguing scenes like this:
I love seeing Spock with bunny ears
In this after school special, the character is deaf and some one calls them deafo, which causes Cece some soul searching.
I was hooked, started reading, and pretty much devoured all 230 some odd pages.  It tells the story of a girl who contracted meningitis and lost her hearing at age 4.  She gets a bulky hearing aid she wears in a pouch around her neck with wires and earbuds.  It’s only partially successful.  What she hears is not what people are saying. 

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Hereville is Where It’s At!

Since it’s Free Comic Book Day, as well as Day 6 of Children’s Book Week, I’m reblogging this post on the wonderful graphic novel series by Barry Deutch. I hope you enjoy it:



I became aware of the delightful Hereville series by Barry Deutsch through my friend Adrian Wallace.  He drew the backgrounds for Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish, the 3rd book about “yet another 11-year-old time travelling Orthodox Jewish babysitter.”  Mirka is also a troll fighter and meteor conqueror, which is amazing in that she lives in a quiet sheltered Orthodox village.

When Adrian explained to me what it was about, I was intrigued.  When I read the first book, How Mirka Got Her Sword, I was totally hooked.  I read the second, How Mirka Met a Meteorite, and then had to wait for the third to come out. Now it’s here! I love Mirka’s story so much I really wish it was a weekly, or even, should I be so blessed, a daily strip.

Mirka is a feisty, flawed and highly imaginative 11 year old. …

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A Life in Children’s Books

I’ve so enjoyed being a part of the Children’s Book Week Champions this week.  It’s a delight to share my thoughts on children’s books and find out what books others are excited about.  I’ve particularly enjoyed reading books from the Children’s Choice Book Awards.  You can find the winners here.  Congratulations to all the great authors who have been chosen by children as the best.  I’m behind on that reading list, but that’s the nice thing about a book – they wait patiently until you can get to them.

This year I turned fifty-five and was delighted to receive several picture books for my birthday:  The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan, Hug Me by Simona Ciraolo, and Zen Socks by Jon Muth.  I treasured each of these gifts as much as any child would.


Book plate by Edward Ardizzone

I live in a community centered around children.  Bridge Meadows is an intentional community set up to support families adopting children out of the foster care system, and to give seniors a sense of purpose.  I help introduce the delights of reading books to children ages 2 to 13.


But even before I lived here, I read children’s books as often as I read adult books.  I understand the delineation between adult books and children’s books, but to me, if it’s a good story, it’s a good story no matter what age it’s recommended for.  I’m pretty sure all books are recommended for me.

It’s all part of my love of story and art.  In picture books I’ve always found stories with humor and hope.  The illustrations are often breathtaking and I find some of the most moving art in pictures books.  From the classics like Edward Ardizzone and Trina Schart Hyman to the newer masters like David Weisner, Shaun Tan, and Emily Hughes, I find much depth in the way illustrations can express what is impossible to say.  Some of our finest living artist work in picture books.  They illuminate meaning and bring a sense of wonder to life.

In her book The Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson said, “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years…the alienation from the sources of our strength.”

I grew up in a broken home.  My life was dimmed by the influence of alcoholism, drug addiction, cruelty and poverty.  My refuge was always books.  I was a regular library user from first grade til today.  I went through a brief period during my teens and early 20s when I didn’t read picture books and story books, but as soon as I had kids at age 23 I was hooked again.  My children outgrew picture books, but I kept reading them.

They are that “unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment” of adulthood.  In the past few decades, I’ve seen the world of children’s books expand in all directions.  Printing a book is still an expensive endeavor, but there are fewer gate keepers and more kinds of independent presses.  There are ways for self-published authors and artists to find an audience.  The themes explored in children’s and young adult books have opened up.  And, even though there’s a huge dystopian market in young adult books, there are also books for teens that explore ways of healing and rediscovering hope.  A child who finds out another person has suffered abuse is a child less isolated.  There is hope out there on the fringes of even the grimmest stories.

In my deepest heart, I believe it’s been the power of stories that has allowed me to rise about all the challenges that life has thrown at me.  I’ve been laid low many times, but part of recovery has always been reading.  I don’t think I would be as alert to wonder, to the beauty of nature, or to the value of friends without that regular injection of children’s books.


A cup of tea and a few books

In stories, there’s often a rule of three.  Three challenges are overcome before the ending.  While I know there aren’t happy endings to every story, I’ve learned that the unhappy ending may be just another plot point, I haven’t reached the end of the story.  And when I do reach the ultimate end, I may fly away and live like a song on the wind.

I recently wrote this post on the book Cry, Heart, but Never Break by Glenn Ringtved and illustrated by Charlotte Pardi.


It quickly became one of my most shared blog posts.  I’m sharing here again for those of you who are new followers or are reading this because of Children’s Book Week.  It’s a perfect example of how reading children’s books keeps my sense of wonder alive and helps me deal with very adult situations.:

Convergence: Grief, Books, Life

I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for reading my blog.

This post is a part of Children’s Book Week, May 2 – 8.  I’m posting on children’s books every day this week.  To find more great children’s books, check out the Children’s Book Week website.  They have a list of events going on all over the country, maybe one near you.  You can find links to their facebook and twitter pages there, too.

Here are links to the first 4 posts of the week:

Monday: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Tuesday:  I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton

Wednesday:  Flying in Our Imagination

Thursday:  Butterflies and Robots


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Butterflies and Robots: The Books of Philippe UG

I love books, which you know if you’ve read this blog at all, and I’m enchanted by the book arts.  There are so many ways of telling a story and so many ways paper can be manipulated to bring stories to life.

I’ve been collecting pop-up books for several years now.  I love the way the paper sculptures jump up from the page and give my imagination a jolt.  I use pop-ups with children who are reluctant readers and who find the lure of videos, movies and social media much more interesting than a book.  Pop-up and interactive books grab their attention and are a gateway to learning to love books.

I’ve recently become aware of the works of Philippe UG, a book artist whose work is bright and colorful and amazing.  His work is being brought to the US market by the fine art publisher Prestel.

001UG’s work is delightful.  His book In the Butterfly Garden tells the story of a caterpillar’s journey to become a butterfly.  A garden unfolds as you browse it.  It’s a perfect book for this time of year when flowers are popping up everywhere.


“It’s time for the first walk of the day and one after the other the caterpillars are heading out.”



Noah was excited about the book and wanted to read it the second after it came in the mail.


“A butterfly is born!  It nibbles on the sweet nectar of the flowers with its feelers.”



Amazing and enchanting paper sculpture.

UG’s work varies greatly from book to book.  Robots: Watch Out, Water About is a delight in an entirely different way.


The book is populated entirely by robots.  Unfortunately, one robot gets caught in the rain and must call for a doctor to help him.


“Drip drip, drip drop…Slowly rain begins to fall.  But robots don’t like water at all.”


This guy got all wet!


Luckily there’s a robot doctor to the rescue.



A look at how UG gets the fixed robot to stand up.

The children who have seen these books want to see more of UG’s work.  That’s always a good sign – if a child want to follow an artist, you know they’ve become connected to the world of books and art in a way that will last a life time.

UG’s has also made books that will inspire an interest in more complex kinds of art.  I’ll be reviewing his book Pop-Up Op-Art next week.  You can check out more of his work on his website here.

Prestel Publishing has wonderful books that introduce children to the arts and artists.  You can see their list of books for children here.

This post is a part of Children’s Book Week, May 2 – 8.  I’m posting on children’s books every day this week.  To find more great children’s books, check out the Children’s Book Week website.  They have a list of events going on all over the country, maybe one near you.  You can find links to their facebook and twitter pages there, too.

Here are links to the first three posts of the week:

Monday: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Tuesday:  I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton

Wednesday:  Flying in Our Imagination

If you like interactive and unique books, you might want to take a look at these posts:

Old Tales, New Views

Charming Pop-Up Toy Book

I hope you find something to delight you today.  Thanks for reading my blog.








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Flying in our Imagination

DSC05868I’ve been reading with my neighbor Karishma since she was about 4. She’s now 7 and reading on her own, but she still likes it when I read to her — and now, she likes to read to me, too.

She came over recently and grabbed all her favorite books off the shelf and sorted through them, trying to decide which one to read first.


She stopped and asked me, “How come all these books have Flying Eye on them?”


“That’s the name of the publisher,” I said.

“What’s a publisher?”

So I got to explain to her how books were made and a little bit on the publishing industry.  I explained to her why I liked independent publishers.  You can pretty much be assured that if you like one of their books, you’re going to like others.  They often bring in new writers and publish books that some bigger publishers won’t take a risk on, since publishing books is very expensive.

We looked at all our favorite picture books and found they were published either by Flying Eye or Enchanted Lion, (except Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller, which was published by Henry Holt.)

“But why do they call it Flying Eye?” she asked.

“I’m not sure.  What do you think?”

She thought for a minute and shuffled through the books.  “I think it means the stories help our eyes fly into our imagination and follow stories. ”

“I think you’re right.”

So we let our imagination fly into our latest Flying Eye book, Tough Guys Have Feelings, Too, by Keith Negly.


I was a little reluctant to share this one because Karishma’s family is all girls, but she loved it.

Negley’s vivid illustrations show very tough looking guys having emotions, even, tears.


We sometimes see little boys cry, but we never see grown men of any sort cry –  not in books, movies, or even real life. In short but poignant text, this fun book gave us a chance to empathize with men.


I’ve had a chance to read Tough Guys to several children, now,  and often the first reaction is laughter.  Then, there’s lots of room for discussion on why it seems funny for bikers to cry, and how hard it must be for tough guys to be tough all the time.


Karishma felt that she, too, had to be tough. When she has trouble in school, when she’s being pestered by sisters or cousins, when she’s having a blue day – she has to act tough.  She also thinks she’d make a great superhero.


Karishma is also a budding toy doctor.


I had a toy tough guy, who she decided needed work.


She diagnosed him with a hard head, and proceed to tattoo hearts on him, especially his head, with a pink sharpie.  “He’s a heart-headed guy now,” she said.  Unfortunately she ran off with him to show her mom before I got a picture of the new and improved toy.

Keith Negly is a nationally recognized editorial and children’s book illustrator with 15 years experience working for major newspapers, magazines and publishers. Tough Guys is his debut children’s book


Flying Eye books always have great endpapers, are well-bound and put up with a lot of kid-handling without showing wear on their hard covers.

For other Flying Eye Book reviews check out the following posts.  And check out their website, too.










This post is a part of Children’s Book Week, May 2 – 8.  I’m posting on children’s books every day this week.  To find more great children’s books, check out the Children’s Book Week website.  They have a list of events going on all over the country, maybe one near you.  You can find links to their facebook and twitter pages there, too.

Here are links to the first two posts of the week:

Monday: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Tuesday:  I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton

If you meet a guy today that seems too tough, just remember he has feelings, too, and one day, he may be lucky enough to show them.

Thanks for reading my blog.

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The Spider Incident

20160503_100159I went out into the Bridge Meadows community courtyard last week and found a crowd of kids clustered  about 6 feet away from the bike rack.  They would shuffle towards it in a pack, then scream and run away from it.  It turns out a black and white spider with green spots was on one of the racks.

“It’s a wolf spider, the most poisonous spider in the world,” one of the kids said.

I couldn’t remember, but I thought a wolf spider was brown.  As I got closer to the spider, one of the kids got hysterical and screamed, “Stay away, it’ll bite you and kill you.”  He was in tears.  I took a minute to comfort him and tell him I wasn’t going to touch it.

“The spider’s probably more scared than we are.  Look how big we are compared to it.  We’re like monsters to it.”

Another boy took this as a cue to advance with a toy and say he was going to kill it.  He didn’t get within arm’s reach of it though.

I asked them all to leave it alone.  I would get a container and take it far away from them.

I went in, came back with a plastic container.  I wore a leather glove and guided the spider into the container and sealed it.

Then the children all gathered around and we looked at it closer.  It was a pretty spider.  I suggested we look it up on the internet, but most of the children were bored of it by then.  Two of the girls, ages 8 and 10, who are budding naturalists, wanted to learn more, so they followed me into my apartment and we googled the spider.

We think it was a jumping spider, and that the green spots were its eyes.  Jumping spiders can bite, and that can irritate, but no more so than a mosquito bite.


We looked up wolf spiders, and the most venomous spiders.  We also looked up whether or not the bug known as the Daddy Long Legs is the most poisonous spider, but its teeth are too small to bite humans, since one of the girls had heard that at school.


It’s not true.  It’s not a spider, it has no venom, and it has no teeth.

Then we let our jumping spider go in the greenway that surrounds my apartment building.

The next day, I got a copy of I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton, (Viking, 2015) a delightful picture book that introduces young kids to spiders in a playful way.


Barton acknowledges her fear of spiders right away and it’s a natural fear.  Insects and spiders of all kinds can be quite toxic.  A fear of them is probably good for us, but it needn’t be a paralyzing fear.


Many spiders are friends to us – they eat insects that destroy our gardens and invade our homes.  I especially like that they eat one of the most dangerous of insects in the world, the mosquito.  (Through the diseases it carries, the mosquito is responsible for 725,000 deaths a year – almost as many as that most dangerous of animals, humans.)

001I loved reading this book to the boy, age 5, who had such a fear of spiders.  It’s so honest, and several spiders get smushed.  I got a few “eeewws” and a lot of laughter.



It helped him understand spiders a bit more and fear a bit more.  He liked that Barton didn’t actually conquer her fears but learned to like spiders – mostly.  We’re going to respect them from a distance.

Barton’s style is splashy, inky, and friendly.  She invites touch and her watercolor is charge with energy.  This book is part of her own desire to understand spiders.

002You can find more about her and her books here.

This book was one of the finalists for the Children’s Choice Third – Fourth Grade Book of the Year.  I found it to be a great book for much younger children.  In fact, my 3rd grade budding naturalist likes reading it to younger children.  It doesn’t get better than that!

You can see all the finalists for the Children’s Choice Book Awards here:  http://www.cbcbooks.org/ninth-annual-childrens-choice-book-awards-finalists-announced/#.VyfJ5jArKM-

This post is a part of Children’s Book Week, May 2 – 8.  I’ll post on children’s books every day this week.  To find more great children’s books, check out the Children’s Book Week website.  They have a list of events going on all over the country, maybe one near you.  You can find links to their facebook and twitter pages there, too.

If you missed yesterday’s post on The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, give it a read here.

If you see a spider today, don’t smash it.  Give it a little nod of respect, and congratulate yourself for appreciating all of nature’s wonders.

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The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

“If people were silent, they could hear the noise of their own lives better.  If people were silent, it would make what they did say, whenever they chose to say it, more important.  If people were silent, they could read one another’s signals, the way underwater creatures flash lights at one another, or turn their skin different colors.

“Humans are so bad at reading one another’s signals.  I knew this by now.”

Some children cope with difficulties by going quiet.  They shut down and you just can’t reach them or get them to respond.  I’ve mentored a child who does this.  She was in foster care but now is adopted and has been in a stable loving home for over 4 years now.  It was only a month ago when she got upset over a small thing that she cried in front of me.  I was shocked, and though I commiserated with her, I felt pretty happy that she finally felt safe enough to open up and cry.  Then she talked about what was actually upsetting her.  It was a golden moment.

As adults, we often forget how hard it is to be a child.  We tend to remember what’s good about childhood, especially if we have safe places to grow up.  But even if a child does have a safe home life, growing up is still extremely difficult.  I’ve seen smart children who’ve had wonderful lives completely undone by the pressures and changes of adolescence.  Often, it’s girls who suddenly become objects of ridicule because their interests and intelligence make them stand out.  I see girls dumb themselves down to fit in and be “cute.”

001So I’m extremely glad to have the book The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin, (Little, Brown, and Company, 2015) to share with kids who are hitting that hard phase in life.

Suzy Swanson is a very smart, somewhat obsessive girl who loves science and the natural world.  She has a best friend, Franny, who has always bolstered her and listened to her, even though everyone else thinks Suzy is a chatterbox.  In a letter to Franny, Suzy writes:

“My parents have a word for what I do – constant-talking, like that is a single word – and they explain to me that it is important to let others talk, too.  …But you like it when I tell you things.  You don’t need me to ask questions.  You have never once called what I do constant-talking.” 

Then sixth grade and middle school happens.  Franny becomes infatuated with the pretty, popular girls.  She tries to bring Suzy along, but Suzy has no interest in make-up, or trying to tame her frizzy hair, or boys, or being cute.  She wants Franny to stay the same, but Franny is growing away from her.  Their relationship becomes contentious and cruel.  Suzy one-ups Franny after she plays a prank on her.

And then the unthinkable happens.  Franny drowns while on summer vacation.  Suzy’s last memory of Franny is the horrible thing Suzy did to Franny.  The fact of her death, the fact of Suzy’s own cruelty, the inability to undo any of it, shuts Suzy up.

She retreats into silence to escape her grief.  She stops talking for months and has to go to counseling, where she never talks.  Her mind, though, is still working away.  She becomes obsessed with jellyfish.  She’s convinced that Franny succumbed to a jellyfish sting.  She becomes obsessed with how many people are stung by jellyfish every minute, how jellyfish are taking over the oceans as temperatures warm.  But she also finds a great deal of wonder in how jelly fish live, of how one is deadly, but another is immortal.

Suzy is such a well-developed character.  She is flawed.  She uses silence, deceit, and theft to further what she sees as a mission to find a way to prove a jellyfish was responsible for Franny’s death.  She is also still grieving the break-up of her parents’ marriage.

“I know everything exists because tiny specks, too small to see, move through an invisible field the way a pair of boots moves through mud, getting heavier as they go.

“And since my parents split up, I have begun to wonder if this is happening to me, too:  if I am getting more weighed down, harder to lift, as I move through the world.”

But because she remains connected to the wonders of the world through her studies of nature, and an exceptionally smart and kind science teacher, she finds her way to acceptance and redemption.


Mrs. Turton’s kindness and intelligence helps Suzy regain her buoyancy.  

In her silence she learns all the tentacles of forgiveness, mortality, and compassion.  You don’t get the feeling that Suzy will ever be an average girl, but that she will be a multi-faceted and amazing person.

I spent a day with this book and read it until the end.  I look forward to a second reading to savor it more.  Benjamin’s writing is engaging, compelling, and poetic.  Suzy tells her story in different perspectives which Benjamin handles with ease.  Her sense of wonder is apparent in the way the story unfolds.

heart beats

Ali Benjamin grew up outside New York City, in a rickety house that neighbors thought was haunted.  As a child, she caught bugs and frogs.  The Thing About Jellyfish emerged from her fascination with the natural world.  She is the co-writer of HIV-positive teen Paige Rawl’s coming of age memoir Positive.  She also co-wrote Tim Howard’s bestseller, The Keeper.  She’s a member of the New England Science Writers and lives in rural Massachusetts.

Here’s a video of Benjamin talking about the book:

This book was one of the finalists for the Children’s Choice Book Debut Author Award.  You can see all the finalists for the Children’s Choice Book Awards here:  http://www.cbcbooks.org/ninth-annual-childrens-choice-book-awards-finalists-announced/#.VyfJ5jArKM-

This post is a part of Children’s Book Week, May 2 – 8.  I’ll post on children’s books every day this week.  To find more great children’s books, check out their website.  They have a list of events going on all over the country, maybe one near you.  You can find links to their facebook and twitter pages.

May you find a children’s book to celebrate today.


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