The Long Lasting Impact of Short Stories

16 Feb


Hooray! I have returned to the wonderful world of reading. Before I had my daughter, my bedtime routine involved reading in bed before going to sleep. Once I became a mother, I found nothing quite as important as sleep and rest. Now that I have adjusted (more or less) to my new demands as a parent, I find that I need to include reading-for-pleasure in my life to give myself a much needed break from everything else and use a side of my brain that is deteriorating spending all day with a ten month old! Since most of my reading happens in smaller spurts (the luxury of spending a rainy afternoon curled up on the couch is gone), I have found the short story genre to be a perfect match for me.

I grew up reading short stories and one of my earliest memories is my father reading aloud The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry during the holidays. I love anything by Flannery O’Connor, Hemmingway and Jhumpa Lahiri and recently discovered my new short story idol in Alice Munro (female! Canadian! Pulitzer Prize!). For Christmas, my father gave me Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (a collection of her short stories) and it re-awoke my reading hiatus. While I wanted to devour each story, my lack of free time and my new pace of life forced me to slowly savor the stories and indulge in the mastery of her writing and storytelling.

I am sure in the near future I will find the time and energy to crack open a novel, but right now the short story is all I need to get by.

Here are a few suggestions of short stories (and short story collections) that will amaze you:

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Prouix

The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Looking Glass by Anton Chekhov


Books for Veteran’s Day

10 Nov

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I’ve been thinking of some of my favorite books for young readers that center around war. There are many books on this subject, so I’ve focused on books for early readers and young adult readers* about women who served or women whose lives were greatly impacted by war. Thanks to all our veterans and their families!

*Although these book recommendations are for young adult readers, I would recommend them to adults as well. I love to read books for pleasure geared to all age groups!

As a child, one of my favorite books was about Deborah Sampson, The Secret Soldier by Ann McGovern. Deborah Sampson was a woman who dressed as a man and fought in the Revolutionary War.


There are a few books about Clara Barton,  she was a teacher and nurse. She started the Red Cross and was a savior on the Civil War battlefield. Clara Barton: History Maker by Candice Ransom is very informative.


Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank and Number the Stars by Lois Lowery are two amazing books about the Holocaust, with young girls as the protagonist. The Diary of Anne Frank is a must read autobiography of Frank’s life in hiding. Number the Stars is a work of historical fiction about the rescue of the Danish Jews.



There are a few other that come highly recommended, but I haven’t read yet:

Alice Mead’s Soldier Mom, about a young girl whose mother is serving in Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War.

Peacekeepers, by Dianne Linden, which centers around a thirteen-year-old girl whose mother is serving as a peace-keeper in Kosovo.

And, if you see a Veteran on the street please thank him or her for their service.

How Playtime Connects Young Readers to Books

8 Nov


Do you ever finish a book yet still feel as though it is still alive inside of you? I know I do, and it’s one of the reasons I participate in a book group. As an adult, being part of a book group allows me to delve deeper into the book by asking questions of my fellow readers, listening to the opinions of others, and continuing to let the story simmer in my mind.

Children also need opportunities to make connections to books, especially after the book has been finished. Experiences allow children to add another layer of understanding to their word, and this is even true with reading. Follow-up experiences help young readers make personal connections to books and stories. Lastly, being able to be playful with books fosters a love of reading.

One of my favorite sites, The Imagination Tree (, has a recent post called ’12 Playful Storytelling Activities. Using everyday materials like play dough, garden plants and cardboard children bring the stories to life through play. I highly recommend starting these playful reading activites with children from an early age as children benefit from such interactive experiences, in addition to being active listeners.

14 Aug


One of my favorite and most faithful readers recently asked me, “Can you write a blog about where I can find book recommendation of certain genres? For example, best travel stories or best funny fiction books.”  Thanks for such a great question.

My first thought would be to use your library:school_library_lobby_sign


Libraries and the librarians who work there are amazing resources if you’re looking for a specific book or if you’re not sure of what you want. I’ve found librarians LOVE to help! When I first moved to Toronto I got my library card in the first week, went to my local branch and familiarized myself with how that particular library was organized. Most libraries also have an online systems where you can search within genres if you’re not particularly sure of the book.

My favorite resource is Goodreads:


It’s an incredible online site with a community of readers. The online app is very easy. There’s a section organized by genre. Just open the app, go to ‘explore’ and scroll through the genres. With goodreads you can connect with other readers, read in depth book reviews and scan books to add to your personal library. One of my favorite features is a place where you can list books that you’ve read, are currently reading, or hope to read in the future. So many books…so little time!

Happy reading, my friend!

Pop up library…on a beach

29 Jul

Thanks to Dennis for sending this gem along…

The Paper Chase

4 Jun



I highly recommend this fascinating and brief article about how the introduction of paperback books changed the way people read.


Reading Music

30 May

For the past year, I have been singing with the VOCA Chorus of Toronto ( The chorus is a wonderful opportunity to sing a variety of music (our concert this Saturday night is Celtic music!), meet new people and practice my sight reading skills. As musicians, we have a whole other world of reading when it comes to reading music. Being able to read music is a skill that I have been working on for at least a decade, and like reading print learning to read music takes time, patience and practice. Music notation is the representation of sound with symbols, from basic notations for pitch, duration, and timing, to more advanced descriptions of expression, timbre, and even special effects (wiki).

Here is an example of  music one might ‘read’:


To read this piece of music, one must look at a variety of different elements. To keep this post from being really long, I’ve tried to condense my description of reading music to three basic elements.

1.  The Staff:  The staff are the five lines where the notes live. Each note has a distinct tone and these tones go together make up a sound or melody. Each note is given its individual rhythm with either a note head (open or closed), a stem, or a flag (see example in time signature).


2. The Time Signature:  The time signature (in this example it is 4/4) tells the musician how many beats per measure. In this example, if you were singing you would hold the first note for four beats because it is an open head note with no stem. Then, you would sing each of the notes in the next measure for two beats each, then the next measure each note has a value of four beats, and so on and so on (there is a lot of math in music!).


3. Dynamic Markings:  Notice at the beginning of this piece there is a little ‘p‘.  That means ‘pianissimo/piano’ which means softly. The dynamic markings allow the composer a way to articulate her musical vision.  When we are reading music, we must be aware of the dynamics to fully bring the piece to life.  


When we learn to read text, we begin learning the letters and sounds and it grows from there, and the same goes for learning music. As Maria von Trapp from The Sound of Music sang, ‘when you read you begin with ABC, when you sing you begin with Do, Re, Mi.’

NYTimes: The Country That Stopped Reading

7 Mar

The educational machine does not need fine-tuning; it needs a complete change of direction. It needs to make students read, read and read.

This is a discouraging article about the issues of literacy education in Mexico City :


Why I Still Scrapbook

5 Mar

Print versus digital?  It is a question we face on a daily basis with our books, newspapers and our photographs.  If you are like me, you live your life in a mix of print and digital. I read the NY Times online and the Metro Newspaper in print; most of my books are in print but there are a couple of classics I read on my iPad. My photos are not quite as organized; some are on Shutterfly or on Snapfish, a few are on Kodak or saved to my computer and others are on my iPhone.  However, I still love to create scrapbooks using printed photos.

I’ve started to create a system for my scrapbooks. Throughout the year I move photos I think I may use for the scrapbook into a file labeled by year, so at the end of the year I can send them to a photo printing site. Then, I take the printed photos (along with some stickers and bright construction paper) and make my year-end scrapbook.  The process isn’t fully finessed (I still have to figure out how to get my photos from my iPhone to a printable media and usually print them on my home printer), but the process is worth it when I have a scrapbook in hand to commemorate the year.

Like the physicality of books, there is something magical about holding a real photo, versus seeing it on a computer screen. I grew up in a home with many scrapbooks and found joy in reminiscing with my family about our travel adventures and holiday festivities. I find that instead of having a computer full of photo files I rarely look at, I have scrapbooks with selected photos I look at often and that I can share with my friends and family. I look forward to the end of the year when putting the book together and reminiscing of the year in review. I also really look forward to sharing the book with my husband and family and having these printed memories for the years to come.

Here are two photos from my personal scrapbooks:

Weekend in the Poconos (Pennsylvania) with my family and nephew!

photo (14)

My first Maple Leafs (Toronto) game!

photo (15)

FACT: Globally, 776 million people cannot read or write (

21 Feb


“Literacy isn’t just about reading books. Reading and writing are tools for eradicating poverty, a means of reducing child mortality, and the key to gender equality.  In today’s rapidly-evolving, high-technology world, illiteracy usually equals unemployment.  An estimated 41-44 percent of adults with basic literacy skills live below the poverty line, compared to 4-8 percent of adults with high literacy rates” ( Even if reading isn’t “just about books”, books are the keys to literacy.  Books are the foundation for solving these larger global issues.  In our world, it is my belief that every child deserves the right to a solid education.  Basic needs like food, shelter and clothing should not be optional rights and neither should education.  In order to move society towards these ideals, we must focus on literacy education of children.  Approximately ( 490,000 children are born to our earth each day and each one of these human beings deserves an education that will serve them for their future. Literacy isn’t just about books; it is about changing the world.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”  Thus, literacy is not just about reading the book in-hand; it is about actively participating and making connections.  Books offer us the opportunity to connect to ourselves and others, and to connect to the community and the greater world.

(Excerpt from the 2011 thesis of Emily Vick, submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Science in Education/Master of Education)

What YOU can do:

-Find volunteer opportunities in your community (schools, community centers, and libraries) to work with adults and children who need help learning to read.

-Set an example for those around you: turn off the TV and tune into reading!

-Donate your time or money to some great reading projects (these are just a few of the good ones out there!): (Book Aid International increases access to books and supports literacy, education and development in sub-Saharan Africa.) (The Uni Project is dedicated to expanding a culture of learning beyond the walls of schools and libraries and into public space.) (Literacy for Incarcerated Teens, Inc. (LIT) is the only non-profit organization of its kind working to end illiteracy among New York’s incarcerated young people by inspiring them to read.)