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Three years ago I visited RIF Headquarters in Washington D.C. to deliver a donation from Picture Book Idea Month. I was told an incredible story of how a RIF executive had just returned from one of the poorest areas of Appalachia. She visited a school with children who lived in run-down homes of five families each. Many more lived in tents patched together. These children had no books of their own. The books RIF provided would help give them a chance to succeed.


I wish I could recall the story in full. I was riveted listening about the sheer joy of the children. Many couldn’t believe the books were theirs to keep.


Every year I have taken the proceeds from the PiBoIdMo Cafe Press shop and given it to RIF. Every year I wish it were more. RIF is a charity I believe in so deeply. I believe in the power of books and reading to transform lives.

So I am very honored to be spending the day with RIF tomorrow for their 50th Birthday Bash. In those 50 years, RIF has given more than 412 MILLION BOOKS to 40 MILLION CHILDREN. That is EXTRAORDINARY.


If you’d like to join in the festivities, we will be live streaming  on the web at at 9:15am EST.

There is also a RIF 50th Toolkit with classroom activities and ways to celebrate.


And remember, for just a small donation, RIF is able to provide a child in need with much-loved BOOKS.


Thank you for reading…and for giving the gift of reading!



When the year winds down, we should all feel obligated to tout our favorite reads (woot! woot!), to show appreciation to the authors and books that kept us wildly entertained through 2012.

How do I keep track of all I read? Easily, with GoodReads. I encourage you to do the same if you haven’t already tried it.



Friend me and/or fan me there! 

You can build your own shelves (without wood, allen wrenches or confusing directions from Ikea) to categorize your reads. Mark books you want to read and discover new reads similar to what you’ve already enjoyed. You can also see what your friends are reading and how they’ve rated books.


And while I loved Stephen King’s latest, 11/22/63, and other best-selling titles like Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and Laura Moriarty’s THE CHAPERONE this year, it’s especially important to me to share the works of lesser-known indie authors, like Kathleen Kaska.

murderatthearlingtonKaska’s Sydney Lockhart mystery series from Salvo Press features a plucky 1950’s heroine, an independent woman in an age where her dismissal of the domestic lifestyle makes her a loner. Sydney is a journalist in her 20’s dead-set on building a successful career, and while reporting about the famous Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Sydney finds herself entangled in a murder-mystery and her unconventional ways make her a suspect. Eager to clear her name, Sydney strives to solve the case despite roadblocks from local authorities. Her wealthy, spoiled cousin Ruth becomes her unlikely side-kick, providing ample comedic opportunities. The two ladies do not mesh personality-wise yet somehow they complement each other. There’s also a little romance tossed in with a local detective who deems Sydney clumsy yet irresistibly charming. Moreover, the mystery keeps you guessing until the very end, reminiscent of Agatha Christie. (Kaska is a Christie fan and expert, having penned a Christie trivia book.)

After MURDER AT THE ARLINGTON, I dove right onto MURDER AT THE LUTHER…and now I’m ready for the newly-released MURDER AT THE GALVEZ.

So now I want to hear from you!

What lesser-known books knocked your socks off this year?

So I love this coffee mug.

Everything about the title and cover design screams that it’s going to have something marvelous inside. (And that it’s HOT.)

Note the retro color scheme and bold lines representing books on a shelf.

I talked to the author of this mug, and she said she wanted to create it so avid readers could profess their love of books. And, oh yeah, to also bring in a few bucks for Reading is Fundamental (RIF), the national non-profit organization that puts books in the hands of underprivileged kids who otherwise wouldn’t have any books of their own.

Well, how did the author pull this off?

That’s right, she bugged her friend Carter Higgins, the writer and designer behind the popular blog Design of the Picture Book. Yes, the same person who designed the Picture Book Writing Pie.

And Carter delivered. Big time.

So head on over to the CafePress PiBoIdMo shop to grab your cuppa. (And there’s a shirta, too.)

All proceeds benefit RIF ($3 per purchase), so there’s a good cause behind a good design!

UPDATE: 2/5/2013 #Bedtimepicks hasn’t caught on, so I’m changing the hashtag to #BedtimeReads, which is more appropriate and easily understandable. Please join in! Just Tweet the hashtag with the titles of the books you’re reading to your children each night.

For two years I’ve been Tweeting the hashtag #bedtimepicks to share the picture books I’m reading to my kids that night. For two years some folks have joined in, yet all have dropped out.


What is wrong with me? (Don’t answer that!)

So I now triumphantly propose we get moving with this hashtag! It’s a simple way to share and discover great picture books for parent-child bonding. (And if you read chapter books or middle grade novels to your kids, of course, those count, too!)

In the evening, tweet something like this:

Then click on the hashtag to see what other parents and caregivers are reading.



If you’re in, let me know in the comments. And please blog about it to spread the word.

Now quick, let’s all play catch-up!

You may have never heard of Ursula Oaks, but she’s a pioneer. She and her family are one of only a handful of East-Coast bibliophiles who have become stewards of a Little Free Library.

What’s a Little Free Library? Just as it sounds, it’s a small structure—a little bigger than a breadbox—that houses books which are free to borrow. Take a book, return a book, leave a book. Visit as often as you wish. And there’s never an overdue fine!

The brainchild of Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, the Little Free Library enterprise began in 2009 and flourished in the Wisconsin and Minnesota region. Intended to support literacy, social empowerment, youth and community development, the libraries sit on front lawns and places of business, encouraging neighbors and patrons to read…and share great literature.

A map on the website displays registered LFLs around the country. I was hoping to find one in New Jersey, but alas, none exist. (Don’t worry, my neighbor and I plan to change that soon.)

But I did find Ursula Oaks in Silver Spring, MD, living just three miles from my brother’s home. Originally I planned to visit her and the little library-on-stilts in her side yard, but since that didn’t work out, we chatted via email about her experience with being a Little Free Library “home librarian”.

TL: When and why did you decide to open a Little Free Library?

UO: I first heard about the LFL movement on an NPR program out of Wisconsin Public Radio called “Here On Earth: Radio Without Borders”, which is hosted by the amazing journalist Jean Feraca. She interviewed the founders, and the whole thing sounded so fun and meaningful that I went home that night and told my husband and son about it. They were both interested, too, so we started making plans. We thought the idea was a perfect melding of our shared love for building things, for libraries, and for books. Our son Liam loved the idea that we could select books from our own collection to share, and that we could host something in our yard that the whole community could take part in. My husband Craig was excited to have a new building project. And we all loved the creative aspect of designing and painting something totally unique. That was September of last year. It took us five months to actually get it completely finished, due to schedules, weather, travel, etc. The finished library finally went up in the yard on January 25 of this year.

TL: How did it get built and why did you choose the Madeline theme?

Craig is great with woodworking, so he built the structure, complete with copper run-off pipes, tin roof, and clear plexiglass front door. I sketched out the design based on the original Bemelmans drawings in one of our Madeline books, and everyone pitched in to paint, including 7-year-old Liam. Frankly we were surprised at how well it turned out, because none of us is particularly gifted with a paintbrush.

The story of how we ended up with the Madeline theme is a bit convoluted. We knew we wanted to do some kind of stylized approach to the house, so we thought about a barn or a farm house or bird house, and then at some point I suggested we try to come up with an idea that had some connection with a book we love—something that people would recognize and understand. Liam has always loved the Madeline stories, and we had recently returned from a visit to Paris for Thanksgiving, so the idea came to us pretty quickly once we went down that path, especially because while we were in Paris we passed an enormous house that looked incredibly similar to the Madeline house.

We decided to let Liam have free rein with the back of the house, but he needed help because he insisted on including an Eiffel Tower. He did the trees and the bird and the flag on the top of the tower.

TL: How does the Little Free Library work? Can people take any book they want? Do they have to return them? Can anyone add to the collection?

UO: The motto of the LFL movement is “take a book, leave a book”, but there’s no check-out/check-in system, and anyone is welcome to take a book. It’s been amazing to see how well this works, totally organically. Some people take and leave books, some just take, some just leave. I put a small notebook and pen inside inviting comments, and we have had many, all of them very positive. Many of them mention what a nice addition it is to the community, and many comment on the attractiveness of the structure itself. It seems to invite people to stop and linger. All of the books we originally stocked it with have been taken, replaced by an equal number of books from many other people.

TL: Can you share some of the comments you’ve received?

UO: “This is beautiful and a treasure! Can we donate books to the cause?”
“We love it! My daughter has exchanged books three times already! Thank you!”
“Add a toilet.” (from a child)
“Gorgeous! Where did you get the cabinet?”
“We love your library!”
“Such a nice little library! It makes us happy just seeing it!”
“Amazing. Makes the world a better place.”
“I love this library.”
“So fun to trade books.”
“What a very sweet and thoughtful addition to our neighborhood. I will have to leave you a treat in return for your great idea.”
“The idea is so amazing. I want to make one when I grow up!!!”
“Thank you so much. We love the house, especially the rain gutters.”

TL: Have any of your neighbors expressed interest in starting their own Little Free Library?

UO: Yes, one person expressed interest. I think people have discovered ours after reading the recent USA Today article about how others have gone about establishing theirs.

TL: What has been the best part of owning a Little Free Library?

UO: The best part of it is seeing it every day and feeling like it is adding a bit of community-building and joy to our neighborhood.

I am always amazed at how it continues to enrich our lives. Let me share with you an interesting anecdote. Craig was getting ready to go to work and walked out to find an enormous FedEx truck in the street. He figured someone had ordered some furniture or something, but then he saw the FedEx guy looking at our Little Free Library. He said “hi” to him and the guy said he had seen a story about LFL on TV and had looked on the web site to see where there might be one in his area (he lives in northern Maryland). He realized there is only one in the state (ours) and said he finally had a chance to come down and check it out!  I just thought that was pretty sweet.

Thank you, Ursula and the Oaks Family! I wish you many happy years of home librarianship! Who knows…maybe the FedEx guy will deliver an endless supply of books!

So blog readers, how about you? Are you eager to set up your own Little Free Library? Let us know in the comments. And visit to get started!

by Carol Rasco, CEO, Reading is Fundamental

At first glance, it seems almost too simple, offering children the opportunity to choose the books they want to read and own. But since 1966, choosing books has been the key feature of RIF programs where children often select multiple books per year. Does it make a difference?

In late September of 2010 results were released from a RIF-commissioned, rigorous meta-analysis conducted by Learning Points, an affiliate of the American Institutes for Research. Those results showed that giving children access to print materials is associated with positive behavioral, educational, and psychological outcomes. I invite you to study the results more fully as these results then move us to the importance of picture books in the early years of the children targeted by RIF. Detailed information about the study and its results can be found on the RIF website:

How exciting it has been to learn more this year about PiBoIdMo by following carefully the informative guest posts each day as well as looking back over past year’s PiBoIdMo materials. Reading Is Fundamental deals more with picture books than any other genre, and this is all the more reason I appreciate this opportunity to visit with those of you participating in PiBoIdMo this year. I sincerely hope this opens a dialogue between you and RIF as I know you have ideas and information that could be of benefit to RIF.

Our coordinators in the field who might be teachers, reading specialists, PTA parents, Kiwanis Club members—volunteers of all stripes and professions—tell us repeatedly they seek more of three types of picture books: nonfiction that is “eye and mind catching”, bilingual books, and multicultural books. And at RIF, we do not necessarily see these three as mutually exclusive.

One example I have found of a book that certainly combines the nonfiction and multicultural features is HOW MANY SEEDS IN A PUMPKIN? by Margaret McNamara. I have shared this book numerous times in classrooms across the country and almost without fail, each time I read it some student or even multiple students will talk about the magic in the book. They have no idea they are learning math and science. At the same time the illustrations are clearly multicultural in portraying the world around the students – but would most people label it at first glance a ‘multicultural book’? No. It is a natural portrayal of the real world of mirrors and windows we stress in our Multicultural Literacy Campaign.

As part of our commitment to motivate young readers, RIF has increased efforts through our Multicultural Literacy Campaign to reach more African American, Hispanic, and American Indian children at risk of academic failure. We are deeply concerned about the growing number of quality reports and research studies showing the large gaps in literacy accomplishments too often found between these children and their peers. We know one aspect of promoting improvement is to provide more culturally diverse books so that children nationwide can discover the value of their own heritage while learning about the importance of others. You can learn more about our Multicultural Literacy Campaign at

Choice is a key reading motivator. Allowing children control over what they read can help them build a lifelong, life-changing love of reading. We also believe choice is power. For underserved children, who have fewer opportunities than more advantaged children to make positive choices in life, offering a choice of books provides a taste of the dignity of personal autonomy. Even such small opportunities and encouragements to choose can inspire children to make greater choices: to choose learning, to choose success in school and life, to choose a brighter future. Quite simply, given the power to choose what they will read, children will chose to read to learn.

In addition to choice of book, RIF has two other key components to our book distribution program: motivational activities during the distribution (and nothing is more exciting than an author or illustrator coming to read!) and parent engagement.

I invite you to visit with us at RIF regarding ideas you have about how we can provide more books like those I reference and other inputs you may have on our various program components. I also encourage you to determine if there is a RIF program in your community where you might give one reading/presentation a year as part of our effort. Use the locator map ( where you can easily access program sites near you; should you need assistance in making contact with a program(s) or you have questions/suggestions of any type for RIF, please contact me at crasco[at]

My interest in PiBoIdMo has escalated over recent weeks, and I have started my own beginning short list of books I wish I could write. Who knows, I may figure out how to allocate the time to learn even more about this process over the next year and actually sign up—book one is one I have carried for three years in my head and there are two more beginning to take root. I want to take the excitement I have seen in children at the sea organ in Croatia and the pure awe I witnessed on the faces of students as they watched the making of smoke by an American Indian as he rubbed sticks together at a recent RIF distribution in DC and figure out how I can share those experiences with children who may not the opportunity to visit with an American Indian visit or take a trip to Croatia.

Children’s interests matter at RIF. We strive to develop their freedom to ask and answer questions, to experience adventures and new ways of perceiving the world around them through the books they choose. We are honored to have played a part in offering the millions of choices connected to the more than 366 million books provided to children since our founding…and we look forward to providing millions more.

Happy Reading!

Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF), founded in 1966, motivates children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life. RIF’s highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth to age 8. Through community volunteers in every state and U.S. territory, RIF last year provided 4.4 million children with 15 million new, free books and literacy resources. For more information and to access reading resources, visit RIF’s website at

This doesn’t require commentary. Just watch.

(I know, aren’t you amazed that I can be quiet for once?)

concealbookshelvesWhen my father got a Kindle, he was awestruck by its instant gratification: “The books come out of the air!”

And now, I have a similar cry of joy: “The books hover in the air!”

I’m not talking about a Kindle, which is still too steep for me to consider. No, I’m referring to the amazing Umbra conceal bookshelf. (Which, at less than $10 from The Container Store, is a whole lot cheaper than any e-reader.)

Magically, a stack of books sits upon the wall, seemingly suspended sans anchor. An artful arrangement, as minimal as minimalism gets, the Umbra conceal bookshelf creates a floating home for a flotilla of tomes.

How it works: the L-shaped bracket screws into the wall. Place the last page of a book on top of the shelf and slide it to the wall. Below the shelf, two tiny hooks hold the back cover up—ingenious! You can then stack 6-8 books on the first, concealing the bracket on the wall to create the levitation illusion.

concealworksHowever, there are a few caveats. With the large shelf, the books should be no deeper than 10”, and the total weight of the books shouldn’t exceed 20 lbs. or they will sag. (Grab a stack of books and weigh it on your bathroom scale. I had what I thought was a heavy bunch, but it was only 13 lbs. No sweat for the Umbra.)

Next, the arrangement of books can be a little tricky. I bought two shelves for cookbooks. I have about 40, and it took some shuffling to create perfect pyramids of progressively smaller books. Some books were smaller in length, but not in width—and vice-versa. If you have a large collection of books, however, finding a pleasing aerial aesthetic shouldn’t be an issue. You can even display small objets d’art atop the books, as I did with a Japanese cast-iron teapot.

Finally, you need to install the shelf into a stud and use a hardcover for the bottom book. But paperbacks work well mid-stack, as you’ll see I put the meatless Moosewood between Jim Dodge and the Barefoot Contessa.

Books are works of art, and never before have they been so suitably displayed. I can’t imagine the Kindle being hung on the wall for artistic appreciation. But go ahead, get your e-reader. I’ll just keep buying more books…and more Umbra bookshelves.

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