Pages and Patterns


a guest blog by Francesca Ciotoli

Mother  ●  Teacher    Bibliophile

Blogopus would like to welcome Francesca Ciotoli, who will write about the pages and patterns in her life. Next week, we’ll feature an interview with Francesca. For now, here’s a bit of background on our newest guest blogger.

The mother of two young children, one of whom has autism, Francesca is also an educator who specializes in curriculum development. She earned a bachelor’s in voice performance at the Manhattan School of Music and a master’s in education at Fordham University. Francesca has taught grades one through eight using her own curriculum during her ten years in the classroom. She developed the Shakespeare Project and the Gilbert and Sullivan Project at the Special Music School in New York City. [Editorial aside: Impressive!]

Francesca recently helped design a developmentally appropriate curriculum with a focus on inclusion for the Ben Samuels Children’s Center at Montclair State University (MSU). She currently works in the field of curriculum and professional development, splitting her time between teaching and serving as a grant coordinator for MSU’s College of Education and Human Services. She was a featured speaker at MSU’s Early Childhood Autism Institute Conference for Parents in 2009 and 2010 and the Interdisciplinary Council for Developmental Learning Disorders Annual Conference in 2011.

And now, without further ado, Francesca’s first post:

A Peek Beneath My Bookshelves

You can tell a lot about people by the books they collect. When visiting friends and family, I can’t help but sneak a peek at their bookshelves—it’s more revealing than what’s in their medicine cabinet. When I first meet someone, I wonder, what and who do you like to read? Are your books cataloged Dewey-style or lying in Tower-of-Pisa stacks around the house? Do you earmark pages and write in margins—or treat your books with kid gloves?

My living room hosts a potpourri of reading material, but nothing really revealing: Smithsonian magazines, random catalogs, Ancient Rome in Full Color and A History of Art beside some Dr. Seuss and A Treasury of Curious George.

In the upstairs hallway resides a custom-made bookcase that safeguards carefully organized passions. One side, devoted to everything Shakespeare, includes a bound facsimile of the first folio from which I transcribe unedited adaptations for students. The other holds history, mainly American, notably World War II memoirs (a shared interest with my husband Joe) and works on Thomas Jefferson acquired at a teacher’s seminar at Monticello. (I have to love a man who said, “I cannot live without books.”) The bottom shelves brim with professional teaching books and curriculum guides amassed while teaching upper elementary and middle school humanities. I long to see my own work on education here someday.

Both of my children’s rooms contain lots of books, many yet to be read. Most were purchased before their arrival, but the collections have expanded exponentially. These shelves contain memories of shared experiences. An autographed Time for Bed was the first book I read to both of them.

Christopher, who has autism, has his favorites, which almost always involve numbers, repeating verses, and visual patterns—Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and its sequel 123, Freight Train in three formats: board book, hardcover, and big book. There are books that allow Joe and me to use “high affect,” a teaching term for reading with exaggerated verbal and facial expression to gain and hold his attention. Christopher loves my high-pitched baby bird in Are You My Mother? My attempt at Put Me in the Zoo was met with his first, “I want Daddy!” Sandra Boynton books always elicit precious laughs.

In between Ava’s Pinkalicious and My Little Ponies are gems that reveal her sense of humor and sophistication: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Corduroy, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and This Is Not a Box. Fairy tales are a staple.

Prominently displayed is Home for a Bunny. Both children love this book, and so do I. In our reading, the white bunny (Ava) invites the brown bunny (Christopher) into her home and they live happily ever after.

On my side of my and Joe’s bedroom rests a large basket containing my eye candy. Lighter reads like (I confess) Twilight, but also the Hunger Games trilogy. There’s my wine and chocolate: Christie, Holt, Harkness, and a revolving borrowing of historical romances (they’re history, not romance!) and historical mysteries with their small—or large, thank you—helping of romance: Michaels, Parris, Liss. And my e-reader (gasp), which makes nibbling cheesy romances embarrassment-free!

Among the stack on my nightstand are Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Gift from the Sea, Band of Brothers, Pride and Prejudice, Parenting the Child with Special Needs, Gone with the Wind, The Odyssey, Thinking in Pictures, The Fountainhead, and To Kill a Mockingbird. These are my most beloved books, collected over thirty years and still gathering.

These are the books that hearten and heal me—they are my guardians as I sleep and dream.

 •  •    •    •    •    •  
So now you’ve had the chance to peek beneath my bookshelves, I invite you to show me yours!  Please post in the comment section.

Stop back to read Francesca’s next post
about the pages and patterns in her life…

    Share and Enjoy

    17 thoughts on “Pages and Patterns

    1. Francesca – I enjoyed your first post so much! I once rented an apartment in Harvard Square simply because I was so interested in their impressive bookstacks! I agree – very revealing to peruse others’ shelves. What a loss if everyone shifts to e-readers.

      My son also has autism and loves the same books as Christopher with a special passion for Seuss and Bill Martin. Richard Scarry’s “I Am A Bunny” also a big favorite and “The Big Red Barn” by Margaret Wise Brown. I was happy when my daughter passed the pink and pony phase, then the rainbow fairy phase, and is into deeper middle grade material now. “Edward Tulane” made us both ache!

      Looking forward to the interview!

      • Thanks so much for your reply Cathy – I waged an inner battle against the e-reader. I love, love, love the feeling of turning pages, but being able to read snuggled up in bed with all the lights off is the trade off!

        It’s fascinating that our kids love the same books – there is definitely something to that. I will try “The Big Red Barn” and “I am a Bunny” with him – thanks for the recommendation. Part of me can’t wait until the Pony (and the like) phase is over, but then of course that will mean my baby is no longer a baby…

    2. Books have always been a constant in my life. Through the years , going to the Library was a regular activity before music lessons,gymnastics, and horseback riding. My shelves are groaning with cook books, mysteries, non fiction and historical novels. Every year, I resolve to “thin the herd” but I just can’t do it. I really enjoyed this blog – looking forward to more. It is a great addition to an already very creative, refreshing and interesting site.

      • I love the way you phrase it – “thinning the herd!” I have so many books in my attic because I can’t bear to do it either. I’m so glad you enjoyed my post – I am honored to be part of this site.

    3. Dear Francesca,
      I love this piece. For years -(dare I say it?) I judged people by their home libraries. I too felt like it was window into their inner souls/selves. AS I have gotten older I have purged my apartment in the if you don’t use it -lose it mode and I did pass along a lot of my library. I loved reading about all the books you have all over your home. You are a lovely lovely writer . Thanks for sharing the blog, your words and your life with me. xoxoxo pat

    4. I love the blog. But I have to disagree. I never leave a good book in my house. I can’t leave it sitting staring at me, it’s words going to waste. I make a point of giving it to someone I hope will enjoy it as much as me! So, my shelves are filled with books that didn’t make the cut, or ones I disbanded a long time ago; dusty, yellowed and looking very sad!

      Your column was a great reminder to me that they are still out there, being shared with others.

      Thanks Fran for writing this!

      • What a great insight! I never thought about giving them away – I can’t bear the thought. I love the image of the rejects sitting on your shelves waiting to be sent away, like the island of misfit toys! Maybe there is one for me to love…

    5. Hi, Francesca, (though I do want to call you Fran … :-)
      What’s better than visiting someone and perusing their bookcases! Thanks for the virtual tour of yours. At my house, I have one for novels I love and will keep plus poetry and some short story collections, another with novels and Life magazines going back to … well, going back; another just for cookbooks; another with all things metaphysical; another only of animals/adult animal stories; and my biggest bookcase has all my art books and children’s books. Oh … and then, there’s the top of two of those bookcases and one dresser with my yet-to-be-read finds from the Hunterdon County Annual Library book sale. And to think, when I last moved, I divested myself of 25% of my books!
      Come on over!

      • Call me Fran Jeanne, everybody else does! Thank you for sharing what’s on your shelves and in your heart. The process was an opportunity for self examination and I am now thinking about all the books that are NOT on my shelves…

    6. To my dear friend Fran,
      I share with you a great passion for literature. Although, I know, you are more well read than I, our collections are mirror images. From my treasured shelves of books holding the pages I’ve read and reread, some of which are so loved that they are held together by tape, (history, philosophy, the classics), to my night stand stack that is building too high to possibly maintain its balance, to my professional manuals and journals to the not-so-cheap, quick reads… We surround ourselves with words, thoughts, ideas. We envelope ourselves in fiction and fantasy for escape while balancing it with philosophy and history for guidance in our lives.

      Your post has me walking over to my shelves. In doing so I found a book I’d forgotten about “An Anthropologist on Mars” by Oliver Sacks. Guess I’ll add it to the queue. Hope it doesn’t topple the stack on the night stand.

      • It’s no surprise to me that our bookcases are mirror images – we could never run out of things to talk about! I distinctly remember the moment when we realized we were kindred souls. I can imagine the books that are tape-bound – a sign of a truly loved book, “The Fountainhead” in particular. I am fascinated by the balance we seek to strike between reality and fantasy, truth and fiction, grounding and inspiration. I would ask to borrow the Sachs when you are finished, but I know full well it will need to remain on your shelf. I’ll just have to go and get my own copy…

    7. This article made me feel all warm and fuzzy (’til I got to the mention of the cold, hard e-reader! GASP!) and I LOVED hearing about all the places, scattered throughout the house, that have books and reading material :) I live with my parents, so my room here is relatively cramped for all my life contains (and that goes for all of us here, really), so my books are in the oddest places. Recently, during my desperate attempts to gain more control and order in my life, I re-organized my plethora, categorizing them in the many places they reside. I then gradually listed every single one of them, so many of which I forgot I owned!

      I haven’t counted them, but there are easily about a thousand of mine alone (we’re not counting my father’s “office” lined all around with overflowing, sloppy bookshelves. I can’t list them, but here are the categories: Architecture, Art/Photos/etc., Business/Financial, Chess, Child-Related (non-fiction), Computer, Cooking/Food, Fiction (from PBs through adult), Health, History/Geography, Household Misc., Humor, Non-Fiction (general), Poetry, Reference, Science, Travel (not that I do!), Trivia/Games/etc., and Writing (ANYthing to do with writing!). This doesn’t include the periodicals. Anyway, nothing gives me the feeling books do. I love everything about them—the covers, the textures of pages, their sizes and shapes, the fonts and pictures…just EVERYthing. I’m sorry, but last night when I saw a beautiful poster in Barnes & Noble, of a father and daughter reading together, I loved it until I realized they were using an e-reader. I cringed.

      Thanks for writing something like this. Honestly, I can never get enough of reading about writing and reading! :)

      • You created quite an image of a house bursting with books – I love it! How I would love to browse your library…

        I totally share your love of everything books. I am completely at home in a library or bookstore – I love the feeling they give me of endless reading possibilities, although sometimes I get frustrated that there is never enough time! Have you ever seen the Twilight Zone episode where a man (much like us) finally finds himself in the wonderful situation of having a eternity to read all the books he’s ever wanted, only to drop and step on his glasses! That would truly be hell!

        • I never saw that episode, but EGADS! As soon as I read the words “He broke his glasses…”

          I have a t-shirt I bought for my father, quite a few years ago, which he won’t wear, but I love and keep for the day I’m thin enough; it’s quote is:

          “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” — Jorge Luis Borges


    8. I’m so glad to see you writing, fran! my bookshelves are a disaster, but i do love each and every book and remember the way i felt reading each one as soon as i see the cover. in moving this past weekend, i had the chance to go through all of them. some of the books dearest to me are those that opened my eyes to a world beyond my little bubble and those that challenged my intellect. i love the ease of my ebooks, but being one who also loves sneaking a peek at someone’s bookshelf (and music collection, and weirdly, their fridge), you can’t quite get the full picture anymore.

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