Maybe Something Beautiful

Friend of The Front Porch Library, F. Isabel Campoy, her co-author Theresa Howell, and artist Rafael López have captured the story of “how art transformed a neighborhood.” It is truly something beautiful.  Hear Isabel talk about the story here:


And learn more at their gorgeous website:

this week at the fpl

maybe something beautiful

Of course it poured right before Library yesterday. The usual “bill of fare” I post on the chalk board at the end of the driveway became a ghost of itself and the kids stood in front of it trying to figure out what we were going to do by reading what was left. “Vanilla Cake” was the only part that was still really legible.

The read-aloud is usually something funny, but today the read-aloud was “Maybe Something Beautiful’ by Isabel Campoy, the story of a gray inner-city neighborhood brought to life by the spontaneous painting of murals. It gave us a chance to talk about our own neighborhood and our efforts at The Front Porch Library. One thing I want to give the kids is the feeling that they are important and that they are part of something big, that we are a community.

We had our individual reading time. Many kids read aloud to a listener. Our reading time is anything but silent.

Then we took turns pulling letters out of a Bananagrams game and acting the letters out while everyone guessed what the letters were–sometimes with the help of a partner. Try acting out an M on your own.

Then each kid pulled a letter and made a poster using only things that started with that letter. Dictionaries were deployed.

We do the organized activities each week and then the disorganized activities take over. Klark found the package of water balloons left out from last week when we filled a few and then it rained so hard anything involving water seemed redundant. We played water balloon catch and blew some up with good old air and stuck them to our hair with static electricity. We ate that vanilla cake, and then all the bikes lying in the driveway were stood up again and the kids scattered out into the neighborhood to bike around, visit each other’s houses and eventually eat supper.

Another fine day at the Front Porch Library.

this week at the FPL

Bill in a china shop

Library had barely started when the sky opened up–and of course we had to save the cartons of books outside, and the Spot It cards. And the padded folding chairs. It took all our towels to dry everyone off.

Damp, we continued indoors. We had 8 kids, Miss Jennifer, Mr. John and me. We were not a big group unless you consider we were doing library in less than half of a 900 square foot house.

We started out restrained. The read aloud was Bill in a China Shop. As you can imagine Bill is a Bull and things turned out about like you’d expect.

We then talked about the fourth of July, looked at a globe and considered how unlikely it was for tiny Great Britain to hang onto those rambunctious colonies. We learned that the Declaration of Independence was actually a Dear John letter to King George (the third, Mr. John added).

Then we did all of the following: a chess match between Dee Dee and Mr. John, Twister, Chinese jump rope, cat’s cradle, drawing and puzzle making, a failed attempt at assembling the human skeleton and puppetry.

And all the while the rain fell and the lightning struck. Dee Dee kept turning out lights on the theory we would tempt the lightning to strike us.

Even though they were still damp, Miss Jennifer and I drove the kids home. Another intense day at the library!

this week at the FPL


It was a quiet day at the Front Porch Library, the turnout small. I read the first three chapters of The BFG out loud–our next goal is to take our kids to the movies, probably the BFG.

We re-instituted our summer tradition of a reading time. You can read silently or read to someone, but everyone reads.

And we got to try the great puzzle challenge. We set up tables and started easy with 24 piece puzzles (kittens and chimps). We ran Ray’s old dark room timer. At the ding everyone switched puzzles.

Warmed up we went on to 48 pieces (superheroes), then 100 (also superheroes). 100 pieces whupped our butts, not because we are terrible at assembling puzzles (Klark is a puzzle champ), but because the puzzles were bad. Seriously. There were only about four shapes to the pieces so the pieces fit just about anywhere. We, ended up with the Hulk’s fingers growing out of, well, places fingers don’t grow out of, even on superheroes.

We had a good time–sometimes a low turnout is not a bad thing. Few but focused. Another good day at the FPL.

this week at the FPL


This is Father’s Day, yes, but it is also the eve of camp for many of our FPL kids. That meant making sure that all was ready. Snacks? Check. Closed shoes? Check. Drop off at 9? Check. I think we are good to go. Vivienne was our first camper, boldly going solo, but our other eight are all joining the Zoo Crew. Those animals are in for a real treat.

During library we sat out at the round table in the driveway and made puzzles. I printed puzzle patterns off the good old internet and glued them to cardboard. Draw on the blank side, cut them out and voila! A home made puzzle!

We told father stories–some very sad. Not all kids get great dads. Mr. John told about his father working as a code-breaker. I talked about my Dad, the original owner of our library house. A couple of the kids had a bad-dad smack-down. It was hard to say which dad was the baddest.

We made some beautiful puzzles and talked and talked–there weren’t as many of us as usual. Most were off celebrating Dad. There were bounteous snacks for all and leftover library birthday cake–quite delicious eaten frozen.

Kweli arrived with the beginning of dreads. Killean wore a shirt that said: In Memory of When I Cared. Dee Dee came to the library for the first time in years–that sure was hug-worthy. Joe sang enthusiastically, although not exactly on key. Klark and Olivia rolled in after their family’s dadfest. Miss Jennifer got stung by a wasp. Isaac passed the sign in sheet then settled into the puzzle-making.

It was a little like a quilting bee, but one that required a lower skill level.

Another fine day at the Front Porch Library.

this week at the fpl — new champion watermelon seed-spitter crowned

FPL June8

It is beginning to seem like the norm. Sunday, library day–throw a dinner for all the neighbors! Actually this week was Olivia’s birthday party which started at 2 and went through the end of library time. Past actually. The carport that was cleared for our birthday shaded the Olivia-fest and in addition to neighbors Olivia’s home school group came, plus loads of friends.

The food was great. But what part of it was library? I am proud to say the library provided the waterworks. We mounted a rainbird sprinkler on top of a stepladder and got the kids wet — especially Olivia’s brother Klark, who spent a huge amount of time standing on the ladder messing with the water flow.

We also had Miss Heather and Miss Jennifer in the back feverishly sorting books to give away–our latest theory, give some of the books away and then we can imagine everyone at home reading. We like that mental picture.

The library finished its official duties with the annual watermelon seed spitting contest in the street. It begins with a chalk line and kids standing, barefoot, behind it. There is technique to seed spitting. Rear back and hock it.

We have a string for each of the previous year’s record-setting spits. Our longest 24 1/2 feet was launched by a volunteer perhaps four years ago. We stretched the string on the road so everyone knew what they were shooting for.

I am proud to say that Keith , 11, exceeded the old record. Yes! That boy can spit! We haven’t measured his string officially, but I’ll bet his record-setter went 26 feet.

I know that libraries are diversifying to stay relevant as books follow the path of the dodo. But I’ll bet we take the cake in the diversifying department: getting kids soaked, giving them books and encouraging them to spit for distance. Top that Leon County Public!

Another fine day at the FPL.

this week at the fpl


Big thanks to all who made the 7th birthday of the Front Porch Library such a success! The party was several Sundays in the making when you think about the saucification of our community garden vegetables, cookie baking, and gluing paper crickets on our official invitations–six on the front of each, one inside for the seventh year. “Hop on over to the celebration!”

Our party began with the behind-the-scenes prep at first light and went on until we were put out of our misery by the arrival of our first guests. We had plenty of kid help from Klark, Olivia, Keith, Nalani, Elleina and Connor. They alternately helped decorate and tote plates and silverware and strayed into the building supplies, compelled to create something on the rug that had to be walked around.

The weather being iffy, Ern cleared out the family carport next door and we set up our motley array of tables made beautiful with an assortment of red and white tablecloths (Miss Jennifer insisted that for spaghetti we needed Italian restaurant style tablecloths).

We assembled the ice cream sandwiches (homemade cookies, vanilla ice cream), heated the sauces. Maya cooked the noodles. We ran around like crazy people, beautifying with bouquets of hydrangeas on the tables and a snappy parade of books on the cross brace in the carport.

Neighbors came and came. I think we counted 49, including Greg Mannheimer, a neighbor long gone from Seminole Manor, but back for the festivities.

We did the usual read-alouds. “When Dinosaurs Came With Everything” was the biggest hit. “You want a box of donuts? A free dinosaur comes with it.” Everyone got the name of a book character or famous person slapped on their back and by asking questions they had to determine who they were.

We had volunteers on the street shooting hoops with the kids, volunteers overseeing the book giveaway table, volunteers lighting cake candles, running melting ice cream sandwiches back to the freezer, carrying food to some neighbors too busy with a medical crisis to come by. Too many volunteers to name, but I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

We did everything with china plates, cloth napkins, the usual library mugs for drinks. No plastic or paper died for the cause, and that meant that the cleanup without a dishwasher was pretty big. Thanks John R. Woodwardand Vikki and Lillian McGee. The cost of our principles is sometimes a lot of hard work.

Another fine year at the Front Porch Library.

this week at the fpl


Today at the Front Porch Library we continued with the very serious business of getting ready for our 7th birthday party. Over these long years certain traditions have become well established–perhaps the strongest one is using whatever we have on hand to make the meal.

The early arrivers, Kweli, Olivia and Klark operated the impact nut cracker, and picked the shells off a huge pile of street pecans–we needed them for our cookies.

The tradition of pasta sauce made from the end of last year’s crop of tomatoes and peppers with this year’s onions and squash was in full swing along with a fairly recent tradition, the not-burning of the sauce, a tradition since Mr. John took over the effort from me (the traditional burner of the sauce), this year with Killean wielding the vegetable knife alongside him.

On the porch Hanna and Isaac mixed double batches of chocolate cookie dough for the also-traditional homemade ice cream sandwiches. We freeze the cookies, then put slightly softened ice cream between two and freeze again. Good Humor eat your heart out.

We had a full table of thankers working on handmade cards. So many people have helped us and saying thank you is part of what we do (so if we owe you one it will get there as soon as I find some strange, oversized envelopes).

Then there was the decoration table staffed by Miss Jennifer, Miss Judy and CJ1 (who was mostly three to critique the work of the other two).

We are never actually ready for the dinner party we throw each year for library families and the neighborhood in general. Some years we forget to borrow chairs. Some years the bottom third of the spaghetti sauce is black and stuck to the pan. Some years it rains and we have to squeeze the whole neighborhood into a 900 square foot house. Sometimes, at the last minute I break a glass in the sink and end up at urgent care. Who knows what it will be this year? But whatever it is, a good time will be had by all.

Another fine day at the Front Porch Library.

FPL 7th birthday party on Sunday, June 5th

happy bday fpl

Please join us for the birthday celebration and dinner.  4pm – 6pm
Pasta with homegrown sauce and homemade ice cream sandwiches will be served.

Please bring a side dish to share!
All neighbors and friends of the FPL are invited!

this week at the fpl


Wow, what a busy day at the Front Porch Library! We are preparing for our big seventh birthday. As always, Mr. John manned the kitchen, but he had Killien, who was with us for the first time, for help–even after Mr. John mentioned that he had, perhaps been named after a bottle of beer. I thought we were leaning on him awfully hard, but it turned out he likes to cook and isn’t allowed to do it at home, so, huzzah!.

Meanwhile his four-year-old sister was making invitations at the big plastic table in the driveway along with Olivia, Nalanie and Elleina. That involved coloring and gluing grasshoppers on construction paper cards, six on the outside, the seventh on the inside–I guess it was a metaphor. each grasshopper represented a year–Hop on Down To the Library!

We made place mats too, and there was a really lively lego table where Jackie, Zion, Connor, Klark and Arianna built mostly planes. Of all our building blocks the legos are by far the most popular, even though the constructions are relatively small. We, the adults, admired many palm-sized planes and looked serious as it was explained that in addition to flying “this plane is also a motor cycle.”

Plastic food was served in the living room; I ordered a burger with everything on it. Real food (healthy snack and not-so-healthy cookies) was served in the driveway.

It was a busy, good day at the Front Porch Library.

this week at the fpl

fpl slam dunk

Word on the street was that many of our Front Porch Library kids were going to birthday parties today so I expected things to be quiet. Maybe we could get some cataloging done…maybe plan a little for the library’s seventh birthday party. Wrong.

We had plenty of kids. Several boys arrived armed with plastic guns. We reminded them of the no guns during library rule. They rolled their eyes–for Pete sake, they’re plastic, but they humored us leaving the arsenal in the back room.

We took a look at the globe and figured out which ocean I flew over to get to Italy and hypothesized why the return trip took longer.

We tested our two new basketballs. Our good old balls have mysteriously disappeared, but Miss Donna found that Walmart was selling brand new ones for five bucks apiece. Here is a photo of a collective slam-dunk, CJ 1 showing Javis how it’s done.

We made a big Thank You card for the DAR for sending kids to camp this summer–ten in total! The card featured many ferocious animals. The kids are all joining the Zoo Crew at the Tallahassee museum. I just hope the animals they work with aren’t as dangerous as the ones on the card. I hope they won’t really be feeding jaguars.

Another fine–and unexpectedly busy day at the FPL.

WFSU features “Learning and Camaraderie at the FPL”

Rebecca Alvis and her crew produced a WONDERFUL piece about our library for the program “Local Routes.”  Here’s a link:  Local routes segment on the FPL


WFSU segment on FPL

this week at the fpl

fpl monster


After our big moment in the sun with WFSU the Front Porch Library followed up with a small and quiet gathering–but good. Our old buddy CJ1 was back with us after disappearing with his mom and brother to Jacksonville for several months. He is taller (we didn’t think that was possible) and thinner, and he can still do a sensational back flip.

I read Danny Schnitzlein‘s “The Monster Who Ate My Peas.” As always the read aloud was a hit–what is not to like about a kid bargaining with a demanding monster whose saving grace is that he will eat yucky peas?

Then we looked at animal’s with interesting adaptations for the particular niche they filled–then we created animals of our own that had to fit particular niches, like living deep underground, or being an appropriate companion for a dragon. We sat out at the umbrella tables drawing feverishly.

Layla, our youngest new library kid demonstrated that she can spell her own name. We all praised her, and her mom, Sam, who is a natural born teacher. Klark wiped out on his bike and impressed everyone by being completely cheerful despite some bleeding that could really have used one of the big bandaids (if we’d had one). Olivia and CJ1 wowed us with gymnastics on the lawn, and even on the hard top road.

Rylie and Kyle were our Key Club volunteers today. They designed animals along with the rest of us and were great company for the kids. Judy Leclere used all her persuasive posers to promote reading, and she brought the DAR check from the Caroline Brevard chapter that will send our kids to camp–we are so grateful.

The cake was chocolate, iced by Olivia and sprinkled by Klark. Another great day at the FPL!

this week at the fpl


It was Front Porch Library day–and I do mean day. We were sprucing up for our moment of fame on WFSU and before long we had almost all our regular library kids helping–not to mention working in clay, shooting hoops and making glued yarn pictures with what Connor described as “the colorful yarn.” Some even wrote their “why I want to go to summer camp” essays.

While all this was going on Miss Kary replaced the torn out screen on the porch (someone locked the do-not-lock upper lock in the door and we had to rip our way in), and Mr. Ray and Klark replaced the window pane Klark exuberantly and accidentally broke with a soccer ball (we’ve all done that, right?), and Miss Jennifer Woodard with much help built the jungle set for the Tallahassee debut of “How the Frog Lost His Tail,” and I kept straightening while right behind me others kept messening.

So, from about 9:30 on the library was in full swing. Mr. John arrived and the cake decorating reached new heights. Let’s just say chocolate cake, chocolate icing with blue drizzle accents, sprinkles and (this is the piece de resistance) we had a box of Girl Scout thin mints we discovered would stand up like fins if an edge was shoved into the cake.

By the time WFSU arrived we were at full roar. They managed to interview many of us and shoot footage of everything from our shark-finned cake to our puppet show (we pulled it off, woo-hoo!).

It was a great and very full day at the FPL. May I collapse now?


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