Letter: Smiles, hugs and thanks


Good afternoon,

Attached, please find a collage of several drawings from the sixth grade students where our daughter teaches at Robert L. Bland Middle School in Weston, Lewis County.
I read there once a week, and they know how much I enjoy artwork. I love The Indian in the Cupboard and hand out plastic cowboys and Indians about halfway through the book and tell them that, all they are missing is the cupboard.
You can see the little wheels turning. I love to stimulate the imagination — what if…?
What a rich history our country has – and life’s lessons that go along with it.

I also read in three  pre-K classes with Upshur County Head Start in Buckhannon, including one which my wife teaches.
The smiles and hugs are the most wonderful rewards.

Thanks and best wishes,

Donald W. “Woody” Martin, II
French Creek

10 to TRY: Successful books suggested by our volunteers in 2018

“Bring a book to recommend,” participants in Read Aloud’s annual conference were instructed. Then at a good pausing point (or technical glitch, because books don’t glitch, right?) a volunteer would offer a quick show-and-tell. This issue’s book reviews include some of those favorites from around the state:

1. The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak. You may know the author better as Ryan from the TV show “The Office.” Don’t be daunted by the hilarious video online of Novak reading it to a school in New York. But be warned. Here’s a sample: “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.

“No matter what.”

Young listeners wisely get the foreshadowing here and anticipate with giggles.

2. The Big Jump and Other Stories by Benjamin Elkin. This one, originally published in 1958, was recommended by Berkeley County volunteer Casey Wilson because it is one of his wife’s favorites. He read the first of the three stories in the book to a first-grade class, and then closed the book.

A student raised his hand and said, “There are more pages in that book.”

Caught holding out on them, Wilson re-opened the book and read all three stories to the class in that one sitting.

“It’s as different from what’s coming out that’s new and contemporary as it can be, but the kids love it. Don’t be hesitant to pull out the old-timers,” he said.

3. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. Speaking of old-timers, this folktale was first published as the beloved picture book by an avant-garde artist in 1940. It has sold millions and makes a great board book because of the repetitive language suited to small children. If you read it, though, make sure you know what monkey noise you’re going to make when the time comes.


4. What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. A national bestseller this all-ages story and light, inviting drawings explore something anyone can recognize — what do you do with that idea? Sequels include What Do You Do with a Problem? and What Do You Do with a Chance?


5. Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk. This beautiful new picture book traces West Virginia’s recently discovered hero Katherine Johnson, of Greenbrier County, educated at West Virginia State University and WVU, who then worked quietly behind the scenes at NASA doing the math that made space travel possible. It’s aimed at younger students, but it has something to inform and inspire all ages.

6. Henry Builds a Cabin by D.B. Johnson. This is the first in a short series of picture books drawing on specific stories and imagery of Henry David Thoreau. This Henry is a bear who sets about building a cabin in the woods. The sentences are simple enough for little ones to follow, but the book is even better in fourth and fifth grades, where students kick off discussion with  “Why is he doing that?” Or someone insists that no one can build a house for 28 dollars, 12 and a half cents, and we discover the word inflation.

7. Cendrillon by Robert D. San Souci and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. This is another picture book that grows with the students. It’s the Cinderella story, so easily recognizable, but set in the French West Indies, with all the color, imagery and a peppering of French Creole language. Also, it is told from the point of view of the Fairy Godmother, or nannin’.


8. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. A chapter book, this features second-grader Alvin Ho, aka his superhero alter-ego Firecracker Man, who does everything you would expect, except that as soon as he steps off the bus at school he can’t talk. The characters inspire laughs and compassion in listeners. It’s not too young for third grade, where students begged for the next one in the series.


9. Monsters in West Virginia by Rosemary Ellen Guiley. There is something even more suspenseful about allegations of monsters and fantastic beasts just out of sight, if the places they were supposedly spotted are places you know — Grafton, Point Pleasant, Braxton County, for example. A good lure for older listeners.


10. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. “I love the connections we can make between how the author explored different kinds of love, friendship, family love, betrayal, all of these rich ideas and plot twists and things that we can look at together when we read those books,” said Christy Schwartz, literacy specialist with the West Virginia Department of Education’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

“There’s a really powerful moment at the end. Every time my students saw me tear up at the end, they thought, ‘Wow.’ They fell in love with the characters, with the author, and they tended to read more books by that author.” This is another one for upper elementary students.

Looking for your next Read Aloud hit? Need to freshen your repertoire?

Scroll through and click around our helpful booklists.


Newbery winner to speak at West Virginia Book Festival Oct. 27, 2018

Newbery winner Kwame Alexander will appear at the West Virginia Book Festival.

By Kaitlyn Guynn

The West Virginia Book Festival is returning to the Charleston Civic Center on October 26 and 27 with Newbery Award-winning children’s author Kwame Alexander.

His series The Crossover is about a boy and his brother who love basketball, but face challenges together much deeper than who wins a game of one-on-one.

Alexander and singer-songwriter Randy Preston will perform “A Literary Concert with Kwame Alexander and Randy Preston,” from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27 in Conference Rooms 202-205.

One of Alexander’s latest novels, Rebound, is a prequel to The Crossover, which is about brothers, loss of a father and becoming a man. Another novel, Solo, is a poetic verse novel about a 17-year old girl who learns that the life of a rockstar isn’t all the glamour it seemed.

Alexander has also published picture books and poetry books.

Leading up to the festival, Harvard history professor and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore will give the annual McCreight Lecture in the Humanities at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24 in Riggleman Hall at the University of Charleston.

Among her many books, Lepore wrote Book of Ages, a biography of Benjamin Franklin’s little-known sister, and The Secret History of Wonder Woman, which won the American History Book Prize. Her new book, These Truths: A History of the United States, was published in September.

Also appearing at this year’s Book Festival schedule are:

— Debbie Macomber, author of the popular Cedar Cove and Rose Harbor series.

— Dennis Lehane, staff writer of the HBO series “The Wire” and author of many bestsellers including Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone.

— John Scalzi, award-winning science fiction writer and blogger, author of Redshirts, among many others.

— David Grann, another New Yorker writer and author of The Lost City of Z, whose stories frequently make it to the screen.

The festival is free to the public. For more information about the schedule, writing workshops or other events visit wvbookfestival.org.

Kaitlyn Guynn is a senior at the University of Charleston.


Book Review

Fallingwater: The Building of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece by Marc Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker 

Reviewed by Dawn Miller

In a discussion with an out-of-town visitor some time ago, several of us at the Charleston Gazette-Mail tried to convey that our readers have a strong sense of place. The visitor, having listened carefully, nodded: “I think it’s safe to say you love West Virginia.” The emphasis was his.

I thought of that exchange while reading Fallingwater: The Building of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece by West Virginia authors Marc Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker, who also have a love of place, and know how to appreciate it in others.

Their poetic words, and somehow moving illustrations by LeUyen Pham, tell the story of Edgar Kaufmann (as in the old Pittsburgh-based department store formerly anchoring the Charleston Town Center), who wanted to build a house at a special place, near a waterfall on Bear Run in western Pennsylvania.

“Campfires have been built on that big rock for hundreds of years,” Kaufmann told Wright, a famous architect whose best years and projects were behind him, or so people believed.

For 34 dynamic pages, Harshman, Smucker and Pham make even the thinking that goes into the design of Wright’s most famous house suspenseful.

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything….,” Wright wrote in his autobiography. “Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”

Most adults coming to the book will already know that Wright builds Kaufmann’s house over the water, so that the campfire rock becomes the hearth of the house. Yet it is a revelation as it emerges from drawings, rock and scaffolding.

There’s a page where Wright stands out on the farthest point of the terrace, extended out over the creek.

I think of it every time I drive by the Charleston Civic Center’s ongoing renovations, where an inviting bowsprit has emerged over the Elk River.

I tried the book recently in Martha Barnes’ and Sarah Woody’s third-grade class at Piedmont Elementary School in Charleston. Here’s how it went:

“That’s beautiful.”

Can you imagine going to bed in a house where you could hear the waterfall in every room, I asked.

“I would go right to sleep,” one girl said, and closed her eyes.

“How does it not block the waterfall?”

“How do we know that people have camped at that rock for centuries?”

I asked if anyone has a special place like this. The quick answers were big, the places of exciting family memories: Myrtle Beach. Las Vegas. China.

The slower answers were closer, and quieter: Fayette County. My grandma’s front yard.

Dawn Miller, a 26-year Read Aloud West Virginia volunteer and former board president, is the Gazette opinion editor at the Charleston Gazette-Mail.