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Review of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart

by Stephanie Burgis

Bloomsbury, 2017. 247 pages.
Starred Review

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is delightful! Aventurine is a young dragon, cooped up in her family’s cave for decades while her scales harden. Here’s how sibling roughhousing goes in a dragon’s cave:

He let out the most satisfying roar of rage and leaped forward, landing exactly where I’d been sitting only a moment ago. If I hadn’t been expecting it, I would have been slammed into a mountain of loose diamonds and emeralds, and my still-soft scales would have been bruised all over. But Jasper was the one who landed there instead, while I joyously pounced on his back and rubbed his snout in the pile of rocks.

“Children!” Our mother raised her head from her forefeet and let out a long-suffering snort that blew through the cave, sending more gold coins flying. “Some of us are trying to sleep after a long, hard hunt!”

“I would have helped you hunt,” I said, jumping off Jasper. “If you’d let me come –”

“Your scales haven’t hardened enough to withstand even a wolf’s bite.” Mother’s great head sank back down toward her glittering blue-and-gold feet. “Let alone a bullet or a mage’s spell,” she added wearily. “In another thirty years, perhaps, when you’re nearly grown and ready to fly . . .”

“I can’t wait another thirty years!” I bellowed. My voice echoed around the cave, until Grandfather and both of my aunts were calling their own sleepy protests down the long tunnels of our home, but I ignored them. “I can’t live cooped up in this mountain forever, going nowhere, doing nothing –”

“Jasper is using his quiet years to teach himself philosophy.” Mother’s voice no longer sounded weary; it grew cold and hard, like a diamond, as her neck stretched higher and higher above me, her giant golden eyes narrowing into dangerous slits focused solely on me, her disobedient daughter. “Other dragons have found their own passions in literature, history, or mathematics. Tell me, Aventurine: Have you managed to find your passion yet?”

Aventurine thinks lessons are boring. She wants to go explore. As it happens, she knows of a secret way out of the cave, big enough only for a very small dragon like her. She’ll go out and show her family a thing or two! They’ll find out how capable she is of taking care of herself!

And then she comes across a human! And he’s cooking a pot of something and singing. He won’t even see Aventurine as she sneaks up on him. But just as she’s about to pounce – she smells what’s in the pot. It’s amazing!

As she goes to eat it, the human stops her. He says it’s not ready. It’s supposed to be hot chocolate and she really needs the full experience. She watches him work. The smells get even better.

I was almost starting to wish that I didn’t have to take him home afterward for my family to eat. It would be much more satisfying to keep this human as a pet, to make hot chocolate for me any time I wanted.

He would be a hardworking pet, too, I could tell. As he stirred the hot chocolate, he kept on whispering to himself the whole time in that funny rhythmic chant, his whole body taut with concentration. I suppose I could have listened harder, to try to pick out his words, but really, when had I ever cared about anything that humans said? Besides, I was far too busy enjoying the smells from his pot. If I could have, I would have wrapped myself up in those steamy tendrils of scent and rolled around in them for hours. Hot chocolate. Talk about a treasure fit for a dragon!

But when the hot chocolate is ready and Aventurine drinks it, first she experiences bliss, and then the world goes black. When she wakes up – her body has been transformed into that of a human girl. Turns out, that human was a food mage. He enchanted her with the chocolate.

The food mage is a bit sympathetic to her plight, but he won’t change her back – he knows he’d get eaten. He tells her to go into the city and look for a position as an apprentice. She looks to be twelve years old, which is the right age.

So – Aventurine must navigate the world as a human. First, she tries to go back to the family cave, but when her grandfather sends a warning ball of flame her way, she figures out that won’t work. Eventually, a scheming couple stops for her and takes her into the city. They mean Aventurine to be their maid, but she’s not interested. She intends to be an apprentice at one of the city’s chocolatiers. She doesn’t have any doubt she can do it, since she’s the fiercest thing in the city.

That’s an adventure in itself. Not surprisingly, this isn’t as easy as she’d hoped. But with the help of a street girl, she finds a place where her nose for chocolate is enough of a recommendation, and Aventurine begins to learn how to make chocolate. She has found her passion!

The story of what happens to a dragon in girl form with a passion for chocolate who now must live among humans – is a delight. It will make you hungry, though. I recommend having some chocolate handy if you start reading this book.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh? by Alison Limentani

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh?

by Alison Limentani

Boxer Books, 2016. 28 pages.
Starred Review

The more I look at this book, the more I like it. Right now, I’m planning to use it for my next Toddler and Preschool Storytimes, and even bring it to Kindergarten and first grade classes for booktalking. The idea is simple, but it’s got so much depth.

Here is the text of the first several pages:

10 ants weigh the same as 1 ladybug.

9 ladybugs weigh the same as 1 grasshopper.

8 grasshoppers weigh the same as 1 stickleback fish.

7 stickleback fish weigh the same as 1 garden snail.

You get the idea! The book progresses, counting down, through starlings, gray squirrels, rabbits, and fox cubs to 1 swan. Then, of course, to finish off, we learn:

1 swan weighs the same as 362,880 ladybugs.

The illustrations are simple and clear. This whole book could almost be thought of as an infographic, except that the animals are not icons, but detailed illustrations.

I love that the animals chosen are not your typical animal-book animals. But most of them (except maybe the stickleback fish) are ones a child is quite likely to see in their own yard or neighborhood.

The back end papers list average weights of all the animals (in a colorful diagram) with the note, “Different animals of the same species can vary in weight, just as different people do. All the weights in this book are based on animals within the average healthy weight range.”

I love the way this is a counting book, a math book (about relative weight and even multiplication), a beginning reader, and a science book (about these different species).

It’s also a beautiful picture book. The note at the front says, “The illustrations were prepared using lino cuts and litho printing with digital color.” They are set against lovely solid color backgrounds, so the animals show up nice and clear.

I have a feeling that reading this book frequently with a child will get that child noticing small animals and insects in the neighborhood and thinking about weights and differences and good things like that.

A truly brilliant choice for early math and science thinking.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

Monday, March 13th, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

by Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 388 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Newbery Medal Winner

In the Protectorate every year, the youngest baby is left in the woods for the Witch.

But this year, the mother of the child protests and goes mad and has to be locked up.

And Antain, the young apprentice to the Elders is disturbed by what he sees and asks uncomfortable questions. But the elders leave the baby anyway.

They left her knowing that there surely wasn’t a witch. There never had been a witch. There were only a dangerous forest and a single road and a thin grip on a life that the Elders had enjoyed for generations. The Witch – that is, the belief in her – made for a frightened people, a subdued people, a compliant people, who lived their lives in a saddened haze, the coulds of their grief numbing their senses and dampening their minds. It was terribly convenient for the Elders’ unencumbered rule. Unpleasant, too, of course, but that couldn’t be helped.

They heard the child whimper as they tramped through the trees, but the whimpering soon gave way to the swamp sighs and birdsong and the woody creaking of trees throughout the forest. And each Elder felt as sure as sure could be that the child wouldn’t live to see the morning, and that they would never hear her, never see her, never think of her again.

They thought she was gone forever.

They were wrong, of course.

Now, there is a witch who lived in the woods named Xan. Here’s her perspective on the Day of Sacrifice:

For as long as Xan could remember, every year at about the same time, a mother from the Protectorate left her baby in the forest, presumably to die. Xan had no idea why. Nor did she judge. But she wasn’t going to let the poor little thing perish, either. And so, every year, she traveled to that circle of sycamores and gathered the abandoned infant in her arms, carrying the child to the other side of the forest, to one of the Free Cities on the other side of the Road. These were happy places. And they loved children.

But this year, which was turning out so differently from usual, something about the baby caught at Xan’s heart. And as she journeyed with the baby, she accidentally fed it moonlight rather than the usual starlight.

There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile and diffused, stretched into the most delicate of threads. There is enough magic in starlight to content a baby and fill its belly, and in large enough quantities, starlight can awaken the best in that baby’s heart and soul and mind. It is enough to bless, but not to enmagic.

Moonlight, however. That is a different story.

Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like.

So, baby Luna gets enmagicked, and Xan realizes that means she must care for the baby herself. So Luna grows up in the forest with tiny dragon Fyrian (who thinks he is Simply Enormous) and bog monster Glerk. When her magic comes in, there may be disastrous consequences, so Xan has to take momentous steps to control it.

Luna has no idea of her origins. And Xan has no idea what she has set in motion – things that are going to change the lives of everyone in the Protectorate and the forest. They will find the source of all the Sorrows and discover how to fight against it.

This is a lovely book with a fantasy world not quite like any other. We have the usual quest of good versus evil, but it proceeds in surprising ways.

I like the way this book celebrates Love and Joy. And conquering those who feed on Sorrows.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Sondy for Newbery!

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

I’m standing for 2019 Newbery committee!

I’ve got a page up with all the reasons why you should vote for me at

Check it out!

Sonderling Sunday – Momo – Meeting Beppo

Sunday, September 4th, 2016


It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books, or, in this case, the English translation of a German children’s book.

Today I’m going back to Momo, by Michael Ende, the first book I purchased in Germany — and the first chance I got, too.

Last time I looked at Momo, I left off at the start of the Viertes Kapitel (Chapter Four). Since German is the original language, I’ll begin with the German version.

Chapter 4 is called Ein schweigsamer Alter und ein zungenfertiger Junger, but only “Two Special Friends” in English. A more direct translation is “A silent old man and a tongue-ready young man.” (Google translates zungenfertiger as “glib.”)

Here’s the first sentence, a good one to know:
Wenn jemand auch sehr viele Freunde hat, so gibt es darunter doch immer einige wenige, die einem ganz besonders nahestehen und die einem die allerliebsten sind.
= “Even when people have a great many friends, there are always one or two whom they love best of all.”

teilten = “shared”

Beppo Straßenkehrer = “Beppo Roadsweeper”

Ziegelsteinen, Wellblechstücken und Dachpappe
= “bricks, corrugated iron, and tar paper”

gebückt = “bent-backed”

ein kurzer weißer Haarschopf = “a single tuft of white hair”

This is funny how much more the translator put in:
eine kleine Brille
= “a diminutive pair of steel-rimmed spectacles”

nicht ganz richtig im Kopf
= “not quite right in the head”

Ungenauigkeit = “carelessness”

alten, quietschenden Fahrrad = “squeaky old bicycle”

stetig = “steadily”

Besenstrich = “stroke of the broom”

Und man strengt sich noch mehr an
= “And you try even harder”

man kriegt es mit der Angst
= “you panic”

außer Puste = “out of breath” (“out-puffed”)

Wisdom from Beppo:
Man muß nur an den nächsten Schritt denken, an den nächsten Atemzug, an den nächsten Besenstrich.
= “You must only concentrate on the next step, the next breath, the next stroke of the broom.”

Schritt für Schritt = “bit by bit”

wiedererkannt = “recognized” (“again-known”)

mit schrägem Kopf = “with his head to one side”

And the last sentence about Beppo:
Aber Momo hatte ihn lieb und bewahrte alle seine Worte in ihrem Herzen.
= “But Momo loved him and treasured every word he uttered.”

And I’ll stop there tonight. I think the most interesting word tonight was zungenfertiger. May your tongue be ready!

Fibonacci Blanket – Finished!

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

I finished my Fibonacci Blanket to give to my little niece Meredith!

Fib with Baby3

The blanket is a Golden Rectangle, with a Golden Spiral, based on the Fibonacci numbers.


Here’s how the Fibonacci sequence works. You start with 1, then each number in the sequence is the sum of the two previous numbers.

So the sequence goes: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, …. To get the next number, just add up the two previous numbers.

To make a Golden Rectangle, start with a square with sides of length 1. On the side of that square, make a square that touches it and has sides of length 1. For the next square, use the sides of the two previous squares next to each other. So that square will have sides of length 1 + 1 = 2.

Spiral the squares around so that the sides of the new squares are always the sum of the two previous squares. This Golden Rectangle that results (all these squares together) is a pleasing proportion to human eyes. If you extend the Fibonacci series out and take the average of each number divided by the previous entry, it gets closer and closer to φ, phi, the Golden Mean.

Fib Blanket Closeup

You can also make a Fibonacci Spiral inside the Golden Rectangle by inscribing a semicircle inside each square. My semicircles aren’t perfect in this blanket (I eyeballed them.), but I think it gives the idea.

To make the blanket I chose shades of pink once I found out the baby would be a girl. I began with one color in the square for 1. The next square used stripes of that color and a new, slightly lighter color. The next square used the colors for each of the two previous squares and added a new color. I just alternated rows with each of the three colors.

That was the pattern I used for the rest of the blanket. Mirroring the Fibonacci Sequence, I used a color from each of the two previous squares and added a new color representing the new square.

Then I crocheted a chain-stitch Golden Spiral on the finished blanket.

Fib Blanket Closeup2

I did the blanket in garter stitch, since that stitch is the best for squares. If the number of ridges and number of stitches are equal, you’ll get a square.

My unit square had six ridges (twelve rows), so one unit was six ridges. I went up to 21, so my final square was 21 x 6 = 126 stitches wide and 126 ridges high.

Best of all, the colors turned out very pretty for my lovely niece Meredith!

Fib with Baby4

Normal Distribution Coloring Sheets

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

I’ve made a Normal Distribution Coloring Sheet and posted it in my Mathematical Knitting Gallery, Sonderknitting.

I thought it would be fun to talk more about it and show some examples.

The reason it’s in my Mathematical Knitting Gallery is that the idea began with knitting.

First, it was my Probability Scarf. I read this idea somewhere. Just choose six colors that look good together. Knit the scarf lengthwise. Assign the numbers 1 through 6 to the six colors. For each row, roll a die to decide which color to use on that row. Flip a coin to decide whether to knit or purl.

Here’s how that scarf came out:


But in this scarf, all the colors are equally likely. This is called a uniform distribution. What if the colors were chosen from a normal distribution, a bell-shaped curve? That’s what I did with Jade’s Outliers Scarf, using bright colors for the outliers, plainer colors for the middle of the curve.


But then I thought it would be fun — and much, much quicker — to do this with colored pencils or crayons. So I made a coloring sheet that is just a grid. But the instructions explain how to use random numbers chosen from a normal distribution to color the sections in the grid.

The scarf used three colors, plus a rainbow yarn for the outliers. I decided to use four shades of colored pencils: dark blue for within half a standard deviation of the mean, dark purple for between one-half and one standard deviation, green for one to one and a half standard deviations, and light blue for one and a half to two standard deviations from the mean. Then I used a red marker for the outliers more than 2 standard deviations out from the mean. (I may try this in a scarf, so it was nice to check how it looks first.)

Here’s how it turned out:


Since a lot of characteristics in people or in nature have a normal distribution, this gives a good feel for how people vary. It also explains why the outliers might feel like oddballs. And why one outlier might have a hard time finding another like themselves. But don’t change, outliers! You are what makes life beautiful!

I’m still going to try some other color schemes. I’m thinking it might be time to buy some colored pencils with more shades.

But meanwhile, it occurred to me that I could get more shades if I used computer coloring.

My grid is a table in Microsoft Word. And you have the option of coloring each cell, specifying a number between 0 and 255 for the red, green, and blue elements in RGB mode.

So I went back to and generated numbers from a normal distribution with 128 (right in the middle) as the mean and 42 as the standard deviation. So the only way the numbers would go past 0 or 255 would be more than 3 standard deviations out from the mean. (With 990 numbers generated, only one did.) I’m thinking about doing it again using a standard deviation of 64, in which case there would be more variation, and you’d have more using 0 or 255.

It was interesting to do. The majority turned out to be grayish. You’d get the brightest squares when one element was very different from the other two.


It took a long time — I’m sure it would be fairly simple to create a program that would generate one of these charts, so maybe I’ll do that sometime in the future. I’m also thinking about doing the same thing but using the HSL color model available in Word. HSL stands for Hue, Saturation, and Lightness — but it also uses numbers 0 to 255 for each one.

Meanwhile, I feel like my intuitive grasp of the normal distribution has grown.

But mostly, I think these are pretty.

ALA Midwinter Meeting, Day Three

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

Today was the third day of 2016 ALA Midwinter Meeting. Today my plan was again to make it to an 8:30 am session.

I left my hotel room and got into a crowded elevator — and author Mac Barnett entered the elevator next to me!

I’m a year behind — but Sam and Dave Dig a Hole is one of my 2015 Sonderbooks Stand-outs.

When we got off the elevator, so we weren’t surrounded by others, I said, “What do you do when you’re in an elevator next to a celebrity?”

He said, “Hi, I’m Mac.”

I said, “I know.”

I said more things, but they came out rather idiotic (I thought), and I left the hotel to get on the bus to go to the convention center. He wished me a good day at the conference.

Then I went to a session on Teens and Social Media presented by Denise Agosto, whom I think I had a class with when I was an online student at Drexel University. (I know I read several of her papers.)

The session was very informative. She’d done extensive studies and based this information on what she’d found.

First, she cleared up some myths about teens and social media. Click through to the links for her hand-outs on the topic.

Teens are far more savvy about internet privacy than adults tend to think they are. She did find that schools that allow social media use — and model good practices via the teachers and staff — have much more savvy teens.

Social media is opening up new ways of collaborating and creating, and teens are getting in on that.

She also did some studies on Teen Attitudes toward Privacy and Safety.

Youth Attitudes Toward Privacy:
1) They believe there’s no such thing as true privacy online.
It’s a perspective change: They tend to assume anything they say online is as public as speaking out loud in an auditorium.

2) Discomfort with unintended audiences accessing/capturing personal data.
As an example, one boy was horrified to discover that if you googled his name old pictures of him from a closed account of when he was in middle school would come up.

3) Tension between the desire to share and withhold information.
They want a following but still want privacy.

4) Privacy concerns affect technology choices.
Teens now use Facebook primarily to connect with relatives.

Youth Attitudes Toward Safety:
1) Generally more concerned about potential loss of online privacy than about potential safety issues.
A feeling of: Everyone else is risky, but I’m safe.

2) Online safety is a learning process that takes time to develop and also develops with increased age, maturity, and experience.

3) Teens tend to believe that other generations are less knowledgeable than they are about online safety.
They roll their eyes at some things their parents do, but are also willing to act as media mentors for middle school and younger students.

After talking about attitudes, we talked about best practices.

1) Be social media role models. (Where schools allow social media — for students and staff — this is more effective.)

2) Provide social media education.
Doesn’t have to be in-house. A college or church may be willing to provide a speaker.
Kids are tired of videos, though. Provide hands-on time in a computer lab where you actually look at privacy settings and what the different settings mean and allow them to set them. Tell them their options.
Let people tell their own stories. Discussion is worth far more than a video.
Avoid scare tactics — frame lessons in positive terms.
Talk about it in terms of risks vs benefits.

3) Provide positive examples: Passive and active social media programming.

Some Passive Programming Ideas:
— Let teens share book/movie/media reviews online via social media.
— Set up a podcast station for their best library story or experience.
— Online forum where teens share tech tips, gaming tips, media reviews.

Some Active Programming Ideas:
— Host an author Q&A on Google Hangouts
— Run online book discussion groups. (Let the teens pick which platform.)
— Drop in social media question session.
— Totally tech teen lock-in party.


After that program finished, I introduced myself to Dr. Agosto as a former Drexel student. Then I went into the exhibits and found Sarah Brannen doing an author signing.

Sarah Brannen

Sarah is the author of Madame Martine, which was my #1 Sonderbooks Stand-out for Picture Books I read in 2015. She also wrote a wonderful sequel, Madame Martine Breaks the Rules. Lucky Sarah had to go to Paris to research the books! She said she saw many old ladies walking dogs on the grounds of the Eiffel Tower.

Living near Washington, D. C., as I do, I took the message of Madame Martine to heart and have made a goal in 2016 of doing at least one adventurous outing each month. (Of course, for January, the outing is going to ALA Midwinter Meeting!)

After purchasing two copies of Madame Martine and getting them signed to my little nieces, I went to a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Book Buzz. I have to say that Book Buzz sessions only make me want to read *more* books. I got a list of books I will watch for (adult books this time), but I did manage to stay away from their booth after the talk and not grab a copy of each book they had mentioned.

After eating lunch, I went to hear Stephon Alexander, the author of The Jazz of Physics.


He was born in Trinidad and Tobago and grew up in the Bronx. He is now a full professor of physics at Brown University.

In many ways, his book is about inclusivity. His musical life was in the closet with his physics colleagues, and he didn’t talk about physics with his musician friends.

Only 5% of American professors of physics are female. But only 2% are African-American or Latino. But the great physicists of the twentieth century were children of immigrants. They were different, too.

His book is also about narrative. He was taught physics through storytelling.

And his book concretely addresses the intersection of music and physics. His high school physics teacher was also his music teacher.

His family expected him to be a musician. But he found he was more interested in how music works.

The book is also about analogies and metaphors. Mathematics itself is an analogy. Music notes are a metaphor.

How to improvise is an art, science and craft.

The book is about how the universe is structured. There was vibrational energy in the early universe, and of course vibration is at the heart of music.

He did play his saxophone for us to illustrate some of the principles.


He talked about the pentatonic scale and its underlying symmetry.

He has reframed the Uncertainty Principle as the Improvisation Principle.

In questions, someone asked about the Imposter Syndrome he’d mentioned. I liked what he said that bringing his music to his physics helps him feel better about making his own contribution. He also said that we’re all Frauds! The great physicists of the past were outsiders, too.

He did say that science needs to be more inclusive. It’s time to make use of our natural human resources.

And he echoed something I’d heard in other places this weekend — that it’s about PLAY!

When he got his first saxophone, he saw it as a toy, unlike the piano, which he’d been told to practice. We learn when we’re playful and not afraid to make mistakes.


After the talk, I was able to get a signed Advance Reader Copy of his book. And, yes, I mentioned my prime factorization sweater and other mathematical knitting, and he told me to come to his signing in the booth later (He was out of time on the stage) so he could tell me more about physics and knitting.

Next it was time to mail my books home! I have to check out of my hotel room tomorrow, and I knew I needed the use of my rolling carry-on to get the books to a place where I could ship them.

I’m afraid I hurt myself carting them back to the convention center (This meant a shuttle bus ride back to the hotel and then a shuttle bus ride back to the convention center — It was pouring rain.), and almost fell over when I lifted them up the stairs of the bus. But I made it! There actually wasn’t much of a line in the post office, and I was able to fit my books into three flat rate boxes and sent them home!

Then, of course, I went back to talk to Stephon Alexander more. And this time, I had my prime factorization scarf with me. And the Outliers Scarf, for which I’m sewing in the ends.

He liked them so much, he called up his girlfriend, who was elsewhere in the exhibits, and asked her to come see them, because she’s an artist, and he thought she’d like to see them.


He did, also, tell me a story about a great physicist who said that grandmothers knitting know more than beginning physics students.

And I’m afraid the whole delightful encounter increased my impression that book people, in general, don’t necessarily appreciate the beauty in math the way people in math or science fields do. I still say they are NOT mutually exclusive! Anyway, I loved what Stephon Alexander had to say about the intersection of music and physics, and I’m looking forward to reading his book!


And to cap the day off, when I got back to my hotel, I saw an elevator with its door about to close and rushed to catch it, as the man inside kept the door from closing. When I stepped inside — It was Mac Barnett!

I apologized for my incoherence in the morning and this time managed to introduce myself. He did remember me because of my reviews, and the whole encounter made me much happier and far less mortified with myself than the one that started the day!

Of course the highlight of the whole conference happens tomorrow morning, when the Newbery and Caldecott and many other award winners are all announced! I will be there cheering, and tweeting the results!

An Outliers Scarf for Jade

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015


I recently posted an explanation of my Probability Scarf, where I simply rolled a die to decide which of 6 colors to use for each row of the scarf.


But that represents a uniform distribution, where each color is equally likely — a little boring.

So I thought: Why not make a scarf using the normal distribution, a bell-shaped curve. I searched the web and found a site that would give me random numbers generated from a normal distribution.

I’ll use four colors:


Brown is for the center of the distribution (numbers within half a standard deviation from the mean). This is where most of the data will fall.

The next color has a bit more red in it, but it’s between red and brown. This will be for numbers between a half and one standard deviation from the mean.

The third color will be used for numbers more than one standard deviation from the mean, but less than one and a half standard deviation. It’s quite bright and red and pretty.

And finally — for the outliers — I bought a rainbow yarn. It turns out it changes colors very slowly, so you can’t necessarily tell that it’s rainbow-colored in the scarf, but it is bright and is slowly changing.

Also, about half the numbers are negative and half positive. I went with positive is for purl and negative is for knit.

And the point of the scarf? It is the outliers that make it beautiful! Yes, we need the nice middle-of-the-road, close to the mean folks — but the colorful ones are the outliers and add spice to life.

I’m planning to give the scarf to my daughter Jade, who has always been an outlier in several areas — and I fully believe that has a lot to do with why she is so wonderful.


The scarf is turning out lovely. I plan to continue until I run out of one color. (I bought two skeins of the brown yarn.) Yes, I am going to have lots of ends to sew in when I am done! I’m planning to do a crocheted edging in brown to cover up some of that.


I’m gathering all my Mathematical Knitting links on my Sonderknitting page.

ALA Annual Conference: Libraries and Book Collections as Essential Cultural Institutions

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Libraries and Book Collections as Essential Cultural Institutions:
A Historical and Forward-Looking Perspective

These are notes from a Saturday afternoon session at ALA Annual Conference.

How do we preserve what we have, and how do we move forward into the digital era?

Sasha Abremsky: The House of 20,000 Books
Truly interesting and informative account about his grandparents — an expert on Jewish and socialist history. A vision of stewardship

Scott German: Patience & Fortitude: Fight to save a public library
Efforts to gut the NYPL Like a nail-biting corporate thriller

Matthew Battles: Library: An Unquiet History
Polipsest: A History of the Written Word
Writing is constantly evolving.
Our brains have changed all the time, anyway.

Preserving and going forward:
Sasha: Approaching it from his grandparents’ library. His granddad amassed one of the best private libraries on modern Jewish history.
The importance of the library as the fabric of civilized life.
His grandfather got fascinated with the web of ideas behind socialism.
He started collecting anything printed, anything illuminated, and on it went.
Contacted more and more collectors. Included handwritten notes by Marx, Lenin, etc
Yiddish texts, books written in the 1500s.
Wasn’t just utilitarian. Was concerned about the texture of the page. Was interested in mistakes in the printing techniques. Fascinated by the minutaie of printing. They told him stories.
Where it was printed told him where there were centers of intellectual life.
The grade of paper told him about the intended audience.
Granddad collected books and grandma collected people. Conversations developed around the great ideas collected in those rooms.
The rooms had different intellectual trajectories with how they were laid out.
You gained an understanding of a world vision.
He took it for granted that his granddad would grab a book to prove a point.
All of that was the physical texture of the library.
A library is a place that nurtures conversations and a world view.
How do you preserve libraries as cultural institutions?
A library is inherently a public thing. In a house, it tells you about who that person is. Provides an opening point for an interesting conversation.
Online, there would have been no way to spark those conversations.
In the house the books were the social lubricant.
Online preserves things that would otherwise die, which is good.
Don’t forget the majesty of paper or vellum or parchment or cuneiform. They provide a public entry point to a conversation. And all those nonverbal clues to history.
Paper is still an important, vital, and wonderful part of knowledge.

Scott German heard that stacks were going to be destroyed at NYPL. Heard they’d be “removed” not “demolished.” He was there when they got $100,000 for renovation. of the 42nd Street building. 88 branch libraries. For centuries NYPL has been cash starved. They planned to sell branches to raise money.
In early 2012, the plan became controversial.
His book outlines the battle. The stacks are still there, but they are empty — books had been removed to make way for demolition.
What is the best way to preserve?
For government officials to regulate it before the trustees destroy it.
Librarians need to learn to manage trustees.
Trustees see librarians as serfs. Librarians weren’t consulted. The plan came from the mind of a real estate developer on the board.

Matthew Battles: Widener Library at Harvard. His job involved spending lots of time in the stacks. Part of the structural support of the building itself.

Layers of social history are written into the shelving of the books. LC system and also the Widener system. It was topical in nature. A proverbs class, Moliere class, war, Descartes, etc… They told the story of the institution and how the people from the past were in dialog with our own time.
Started working the same time the card catalog was being converted.
Forensic traces of history of the use of the collection on the cards.
He was seeing marks of previous disruption to the schemes.
They’d used printed bound catalogs before the card catalog.
Interested in the archaeology of the library.
Libraries have been many things materially, socially, culturally…
The library has never been one thing. Yet it’s also an archetype.
When we wonder about the future of the library, we do well to look to the past.
There were libraries before there were books, if we mean things that look like these.
Remember out history and it’s a road to a rich and diverse future.
Librarians preserve, but we also shape collections. Should we be selling that more?
Remember libraries don’t have the same meaning for everyone.
Ethics of librarians developed and evolve.

Sasha: When you catalog something, to an extent you depersonalize it.
One of the greatest joys of a library is the unpredictability.
The more you digitize, the less it becomes unpredictable.
Matthew: That depends on the way it’s done. Gave a story about a finding aid that was digitized that allowed you to discover more.

Guy asked a question who wrote a forthcoming book about public library. He talked with library users. Look at why people love public libraries.
Public discourse around the library is so vital.
We should cultivate a sense of ownership in the public.

Canada: Asking auditor general to declare libraries and holdings as cultural resources.
Relationships between writer, publisher, libraries, shift with every technological change.