Advertisement. Click on the ad for more information.
Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Hidden Figures

This week, my mother and I heard Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures, speak at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series. Shetterly’s book tells the true story of Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan—three of dozens of African-American women who worked in the 1950s and ‘60s for NASA in math, science and computing. Margot Lee Shetterly is the daughter of one of the early black male scientists at the NASA installation near Hampton, Virginia. She grew up knowing these amazing women and she grew up thinking that math, science and engineering was simply what black people did. This acknowledgement, which she makes in the opening pages of the book, is the backdrop for the marvelous story she tells.

It was a large and completely packed venue Tuesday night. Ms. Shetterly was eloquent and erudite and it was an inspiring speech to have had the privilege to hear. When the audience spilled out on the sidewalks of the university campus after the event, there was a palpable energy and hope in the air. We had had our better angels called out and our beleaguered spirits responded. There was zip in our step, an urgency to our conversations, a new direction to our thoughts and dreams.

Michelle Norris welcomes author Margot Lee Shetterly to the
Hubert H. Humphrey Distinguished Carlson Lecture Series, Feb 21, 2017.

After the prepared remarks, Michelle Norris asked Ms. Shetterly a few questions. One of the questions was a variation of Why did we not know about these women before now?!, a question Ms. Shetterly said she fields again and again. Her answer: Our imaginations weren’t large enough for these amazing black female mathematicians who worked in America’s space program in the 1940s-60’s. There were too many things in the way during that time—racism and sexism were two of those things, but there were others, as well. Many trouble us still—the same -isms, of course, but also our unexamined assumptions, our biases, our tribal natures, and our general ugliness (my words, not hers).

“Looking beyond” is a theme in this remarkable book—and it could’ve easily been the title of the book, as Michelle Norris pointed out. The movie uses it brilliantly when Al Harrison and Katherine Johnson stand before a chalkboard filled with math. He tells her he needs her to look beyond the numbers at math they don’t even have—and she seems to be the only one among all those NASA scientists and mathematicians who can do that. Ms. Shetterly, in turn, invited us to look beyond easy stereotypes and characterizations, past the usual stories and unexamined history, so that we can uncover other narratives as amazing as the ones she’s given us in Hidden Figures. Her confidence that these important stories are everywhere and remain untold simply because no one tells them was positively rousing.

In closing, Michelle Norris said that there was a program/effort in place to get this book in the hands of high schoolers—news which made Margot Lee Shetterly beam. There’s a young reader’s version of this book, I know—and I’ve heard it’s wonderful—but the original version is beautifully written and easily captures the interest of teens. I hope it’s the version they receive if they receive one. A tremendous amount of history is covered in such a beautiful and accessible way—through story. Such power! Our kids need these kinds of stories—we all need these stories. We need our imagination stretched and enlarged for the work that is ahead of us.

Three generations of our family are reading this book right now. I can’t think of another book that has called us to do that all at once. I commend it to you and yours—it will not disappoint.

(P.S. The movie is most excellent. The book is superb.)


Do Over

The notion of a “do-over” is alive and well on school playgrounds across the country. Ask any recess supervisor and they will confirm this. You hear it being requested on four-square courts, under basketball hoops, and on football fields… “Awwww, that should be a do-over!” Kids know that sometimes you just need another chance to get it right.

As an educator with nearly three decades of teaching experience, one might think that by this point in my career, my wish-list for “do-overs” in the classroom would be getting smaller and smaller. Yet, the truth is, it’s the exact opposite. That list of teaching regrets, what I wish I could “do over,” continues to grow. You see, as I become older and wiser, I realize more than ever the importance of reflection. Whether I am pondering the effectiveness of my lessons, examining formal or informal data, or speculating on my ability to be proactive versus reactive, I find myself feeling like a 4th grader on the playground, pleading for a chance to do it over.

Do Over

This school year I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to raise my racial consciousness and learn what it means to become an interrupter of racial inequality. My school district invests heavily in promoting this unique and very necessary form of professional development. (See more information below.)

As part of my racial equity journey, I am writing my “racial autobiography.” The ultimate goal for composing this personal narrative centered on race is to disrupt the current state of affairs by eliminating the racial predictability of the achievement gap. My personal goal in writing a racial autobiography is to positively impact how I approach my role as a culturally responsive educator. Within this program, I’ve discovered that creating and sharing personal racial identities is an effective way for educators to promote a greater understanding of our collective racial experiences. It provides a chance for us to engage in courageous conversations centered on race.

Brian's SongIn writing about my life in terms of race, I’ve discovered that until my senior year of high school, the interactions I had with people of color were only through books and movies. Growing up in Dubuque, Iowa, it wasn’t until I plopped down in front of the TV in November 1971, for the ABC Movie of the Week, that I met a black person for the very first time. I was eight years old when I watched the tear-jerker about cancer-stricken Brian Piccolo and his teammate, Gale Sayers. Brian’s Song depicts the experiences of two Chicago Bears football players who became the first racially integrated roommates in the NFL. Sitting next to my older brother who just wanted to watch a football movie about his favorite team, the story captured my attention for very different reasons. I was full of questions as my racial consciousness was stirred. My childhood naiveté about race left me wondering why it was such a big deal for a white man and a black man, players on the same team, to share a room. I was curious and confused. After the movie ended, I could not stop thinking about the friendship between the two men.

The story of Piccolo and Sayers stayed with me. What for some was an ordinary weekly TV-watching experience, this movie remains one of the most vivid memories from my childhood.  I recall going to the public library five years later as a junior high student to check out the book I Am Third by Gale Sayers. As a teenager I had begun hearing about and witnessing more examples of bigotry and stereotypes, racism, in subtle and not so subtle ways. I wanted to get to know this man of color who I had encountered years earlier. It wasn’t until just a few months ago that the significance of that Tuesday evening in 1971 would be fully understood. In writing my racial autobiography, I discovered that this initial exposure to people who were intent on interrupting racial injustice contributed in profound ways to my racial consciousness.

So what does wanting a “do-over” have to do with my racial autobiography? My desire to have another chance stems from the realization that, as an educator, I missed out on far too many opportunities to create critical literary experiences, as well as lived ones, that were focused on racial awareness and racial equity. The idea of teaching about “white privilege” in an explicit way was barely on my radar. My classroom was filled with mostly white students for years, yet I did little to help those kids learn about and appreciate others who not only looked different but experienced life in a much different way. Yes, there were stories about Martin Luther King, Jr., Ruby Bridges, and Rosa Parks and there were lots of books brought out for Black History Month. However, now I see that those minimal efforts actually may have done more harm than good. By isolating the teaching and learning about people of color to just a few individuals and one month out of the entire school year, what message was I sending to kids?

If I had to do it all over again, I would be intentional in my teaching about race, racism, and white privilege. In a classroom full of six-year-olds, I would seize opportunities to talk with kids about these issues. I would devote time to helping my students gain an appreciation for racial equity by exploring the need to embrace diversity in people, thoughts, and approaches to problem-solving. We would learn about how talking about race and working towards social justice benefits everyone. As former Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum puts it, “It’s not just understanding somebody’s heroes and holidays.”

As a white, female educator, I represent the demographic of approximately 75% of public school teachers in this country. Since do-overs are much easier to come by on the school playground than they are in our classrooms, I invite all who read this essay to join me in my effort to get it right from here on out. Let’s embrace the opportunity for learning and teaching about racial awareness in order to address the urgent need for racial equity in today’s world.


I offer this list of resources to help you with your racial equity teaching and learning journey:

Be a ChangemakerWhat I’m reading with kids

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagaro

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters by Laurie Ann Thompson

What I’m reading for personal and professional development

Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving

The mission: Putting more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children. Visit We Need Diverse Books.

The vision: A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.

More information about Glenn Singleton and Courageous Conversations.

To learn more about writing your racial autobiography, check out this link.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?Author of the book, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? Beverly Daniel Tatum offers insights on color blindness, racial stereotypes, and the media in this PBS interview.

60+ Resources for Talking to Kids About Racism” by Lorien Van Ness, provides a lists of books and activities to help adults begin the dialogue, starting with birth to three-year-olds.

An extensive list compiled by The Washington Post, offering articles, resources, and research, “Teaching about race, racism and police violence: Resources for educators and parents.”

More about the St. Louis Park (Minnesota) Equity Coaching Program

Every educator in St. Louis Park schools works one-on-one with an Equity Coach, who offers support, resources, and training in a number of ways. Through conversations, workshops, observations and coaching, teachers learn about the importance of raising their racial consciousness in an effort to disrupt systemic racism.


In September, 2013, the St. Louis Park School District started a program called Equity Coaching to help address the achievement gap and to improve educational equality in its schools. Grant funds from the state-sponsored Quality Compensation (Q Comp) grant (also known as ATPPS; Alternative Teacher Professional Pay System) help fund the Equity Coach initiative.

The Equity Coaching blog further describes the St. Louis Park Schools Equity Coaching Model:  “Systemic racial equity change transpires when educators are given the space and support to critically reflect on their own racial consciousness and practice. Equity coaching provides sustained dialogue in a trusting environment to interrupt the presence of racism and whiteness. Using Courageous Conversations Protocol, tenets of Critical Race Theory, and instructional coaching methods, educators, and coaches engage in this.”


Books for Solace and Comfort

With reports from educators that students are in a heightened state of anxiety, we put out the call for recommendations for books that would offer comfort and solace within the age range of ages three to twelve. Do you have a book in mind? Send us your recommendation(s). We’ll keep adding to this list, so you may wish to bookmark it. We’re not going to wait until we’ve gathered a lot of titles because this list is needed now.


Here are suggestions from Merna Ann Hecht, poet and educator:

Books for Solace and Comfort

Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea, Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. NY: Harper Collins, 1993. (ages 4-7)

River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things, Pamela Michael, editor. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2008. 

Salting the Ocean: 100 Poems by Young Poets, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye, illustrated by Ashley Bryan. . NY: Greenwillow, 2000.

This is a poem that heals fish, Jean-Pierre Siméon. New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2005. A playful read-aloud book to inspire young children to delight in creating their own poetry.

This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort, selected by Georgia Heard, Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2011.

Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art, selected by Belinda Rochelle. NY: Harper Collins, 2001.

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Where the Heart Is, Wings

For Older Children

Our thanks to Cynthia Grady, author and educator, for these soothing suggestions.

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly. NY: Henry Holt, 2009.

What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings, poetry by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Wings by William Loizeaux, illustrations by Leslie Bowman, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006.


Those Kennedys

Patrick and the PresidentAmerica has a fine tradition of elected officials who care deeply about the people, places, and policies of the United States of America. Two recent books highlight the good works of, and respect for, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the First Lady and President from 1961 to 1963. Although President Kennedy was assassinated just two short years into his term as President, the First Lady continued her work for the benefit of the people throughout her life.

In Patrick and the President, Ireland’s Late Late Show host, Ryan Tubridy, has written his first children’s book about President John F. Kennedy’s visit to his ancestral homeland, Ireland. In June of 1963, President Kennedy spent four days in various cities, visiting sites and meeting people. This book shares one boy’s experience of meeting the President.

Patrick Kennedy, John’s great-grandfather, left Ireland in 1848 aboard a famine ship. Many people in Ireland relied solely on potatoes as their food source, so when a blight affected the potato crop, nearly one million people starved to death and one million people emigrated to America. The immigrants retained a strong love for their original country, which they passed along to their children and grandchildren. John F. Kennedy’s decision to visit Ireland was heralded by Irish people on both sides of the ocean.

The language of this story beautifully portrays the excitement the entire town felt as they welcomed this world-famous Irish descendant back to the land of his roots. Patrick, the boy in the story, will be part of the children’s choir singing “The Boys of Wexford” when the President visits … and his father negotiates a chance for Patrick to help serve tea to the President when he visits the Ryans and Kennedys in New Ross. Emotions are high and expectations are tense: who will get to talk with “Himself”?

Tubridy is the author of a book written for adults: JFK in Ireland: Four Days That Changed a President. The information here is distilled in a way that feels personal and immediate. Every child will identify with young Patrick, knowing full well what it feels like to have high hopes for something.

P.J. Lynch, currently the Children’s Laureate of Ireland, contributes nearly photographic illustrations of Patrick, his family, the helicopters, the President, and the food.

There are two pages in the back matter that list Kennedy’s itinerary during his four-day visit, along with three sepia-toned photos. Don’t miss reading this information—it’s quite interesting.

The closeups and focus on Patrick and his family bring a palpable excitement to the book, which encourages reading throughout a somewhat long but ultimately satisfying text. This would make a good read-aloud for discussing several things in class. Who was President Kennedy? What do families mean to us? From where did our forebears immigrate? What do these connections across oceans and time mean for our world?

Patrick and the President
written by Ryan Tubridy, illustrated by P.J. Lynch
Candlewick Press, 2017
ISBN 978-0-7636-8949-0, $16.99

The interior of Grand Central Station in New York City, © Charlotte Leaper |

Natasha Wing wrote one of my favorite picture book biographies, An Eye for Color: the Story of Josef Albers, so I was excited to learn that she has written a book about historic preservation, starring none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

When Jackie Saved Grand CentralAs First Lady of the United States for two years, she captured the attention and imagination of every newspaper, magazine, and newsreel in the land. Women adopted her fashion sense and hairstyle. She did a great deal to restore the grandeur of the White House and would undoubtedly have done more had she been in residence there longer.

Returning to live in New York City, the city in which she grew up, Mrs. Kennedy learned that Grand Central Station was in danger of being altered with a skyscraper built on its roof!

“Like a powerful locomotive, Jackie led the charge to preserve the landmark she and New York City loved. She joined city leaders and founded the Committee to Save Grand Central. She spoke at press conferences and made headlines.

“She inspired citizens to donate money. When people across the United States saw their fashionable former First Lady championing her cause, New York City’s fight became America’s fight.”

In other words, only Jacqueline Kennedy could promote a cause in a way that resulted in the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, under which Grand Central Station could find the protection it needed to be restored to its former grandeur. 

The text is written with such clarity and verve that the reader will want to look for an historic building of their own to save! An extensive author’s note provides more information that will prompt some children to adopt this as a cause of their own.

The illustrations by Alexandra Boiger are energetic and whimsical, all the while using color to subtly emphasize parts of the story. In “A Note from the Illustrator,” you’ll find much to discuss about the colors she uses while you pore back over the book to find examples.

For a classroom, this is a terrific way to begin talking about the buildings we see every day, why they are important to a community, and what they mean for our future.

When Jackie Saved Grand Central:
The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon

written by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017


The End

Page Break Lynne Jonell


Skinny Dip with Nancy Peterson

Nancy Peterson

We interviewed Nancy Peterson, EdD, professor of elementary education at Utah Valley University and co-chair of UVU’s annual Forum on Engaged Reading “For the Love of Reading” conference and retreat. 

Which celebrity, living or not, do you wish would invite you to a coffee shop?

I recently learned that Patrick Henry (Revolutionary War Patriot) is one of my ancestors. I’d love to talk heart to heart with him about what I have read concerning his personal trials. For instance, I believe his first wife suffered from a mental illness, and that he remained loyal and responsible for her until she died.  I’d really like to know how he coped, dealt with it, etc.

Gift from the SeaWhich book do you find yourself recommending passionately?

Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I re-read it every so often… finding different gems for the first time, depending on my life’s circumstances.  I love that book… love that woman!

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

I can’t even think about it….   Today is my 188th day of no sugar, no flour, and no snacking.  When I crave “that thing,” I just have go to bed!

Providence, Rhode IslandFavorite city to visit?

Providence, Rhode Island, in the fall. I’ve only been there once, but I was enamored with it, and want to see it again!

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

I really want to answer this, but I have to share three: Steve Jenkins, and his exquisitely detailed cut paper work that almost redefines realism, in my mind! Marla Frazee, whose illustrations are dripping with unique personality and “voice.” And finally, Jon J Muth. Some words I have borrowed to express how I feel about his watercolor and pastel illustrations are “magical,” “haunting,” “charming,” “majestic,” and “cozy.” All I can say is that I can’t get enough of them.

Tea? Coffee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Shasta diet root beer… I just love that stuff!

Favorite season of the year?

Autumn (not “fall” – autumn) Why? Evening walks in the crisp, damp air, the vivid colors of gold, orange and scarlet leaves, and the aromas coming from the chimneys of the first houses on the block to light their fireplaces.

What’s your dream vacation?

I would love to take the train from Washington, DC, to Harper’s Ferry, stay in a bed & breakfast inn, and walk and wander around for 2 or 3 days sight-seeing the historical landmarks and museums and shopping in the historic village and quaint shops – in autumn, of course!

What gives you shivers?

Snakes and mice.

Morning person? Night person?


What’s your hidden talent?

I am an amazing grandma! For my talent of “grandmothering” I have the hair, the rocker, the storybooks, the sewing machine and the most beautiful two and four year old grandchildren ever to walk this earth!

Your favorite candy as a kid …

M&Ms – always and forever! Have you tried the Mega M&Ms?

Brother and sisters or an only child?

I’m the oldest of five girls.

How did that shape your life?

I’m headstrong, opinionated, stubborn, and always But I’m also a pleaser; I can hold my tongue when I want to, and I usually go overboard in trying to make a good impression.

Best tip for living a contented life?

Taking time to be alone and find joy. Anne Morrow Lindbergh says women need to take a minute of every hour, an hour of every day, a day of every week, and a month of every year (or something like that) for themselves. I don’t have a regular schedule for it, but I know when I’m needing it, and I go to great lengths to get it.

Your hope for the world?

For every human being to receive and give kindness more than feeling and inflicting pain.


Frog and Toad

This spring, Minneapolis’ Children’s Theater Company will put on A Year With Frog & Toad, which has stood as one of my top three theater experiences for the last dozen years or so.

We had three tickets the first time we saw it. Darling Daughter was still young enough for a “lap pass” at the time. Our household had been hit with The Plague and for days/weeks/month/going on years (it seemed, anyway) and we’d been sickly and unfit to leave our home. But I was loathe to miss the performance. We decided if we napped, medicated, and then bathed and dressed up, we could enter society. All but Dad—he was still down for the count. So I took the kids. We piled our coats on the third seat and Darling Daughter sat atop them, so thrilled to have her own seat, so thrilled to be out of the house, that she bounced through most of the performance, clapping wildly at each of Frog and Toad’s antics.

Ten minutes in I was weepy and so sorry we hadn’t drugged Dad up enough to bring him. It was fantastic! Of course the Children’s Theater Company does most excellent work—one expects to love the experience. But this was, I think, particularly well done, and I’m willing to think that it might be the source material that really gave it that extra something. Well, that and it’s a musical—could there be anything better?

I love Frog and Toad with a passion similar to my love for Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. I love their friendship, their quotidian adventures, their goofiness, and their oh-so-distinct personalities. We have the whole collection at our house—in both English and Spanish (Sapo y Sepo inseparables, etc.)—and they bear the marks of having been repeatedly read and loved.

These are “I CAN READ Books,” but what I remember is reading them with my kids. I’d do one page, they the next. Except for Shivers, which is in Days With Frog and Toad. I was the only reader on that one—it was too shivery for anyone to work on sounding out the words. Both kids learned to read with inflection using these books. Many books—especially “I CAN READ Books,” and especially Arnold Lobel books—lend themselves to dramatic reading, but for some reason, Frog and Toad’s conversations and adventures taught them to look for the exclamation point, the question mark, and the meaning of the words as they worked so hard to get through the sentence.

Truth be told, the three of us probably could’ve recited many of the Frog and Toad stories featured in the musical that night. Certainly, even the too-young-to-be-able-to-hold-a-theater-seat-down child could’ve told you about their sledding and swimming adventures, their trip to the ice cream store, and about when Toad tried to fly a kite. We bought the CD, naturally, so it was only a few more days before we could sing the stories.

My kiddos are much older now…but I think I might try for four tickets this spring. Everyone can hold their seat down now, and if we stay well we can finally take Dad. I’ve no doubt we’ll enjoy it just as much as the last time.




Graphic Storytelling


Fish GirlA good graphic novel should pose a mystery.

As it opens (last possible minute), the reader often has no clue what’s going on.

It’s often an unknown world, even if it looks like our world.

This isn’t that different than the opening of a conventional print book but, for some reason, people often react to graphic novels by telling me, “I can’t read them! I never know what’s going on.”

What is there about adding continual visuals that causes some otherwise avid readers to throw a graphic novel aside with such disfavor?

This question is an intriguing one for me. In our Chapter & Verse Book Club, we read at least one graphic novel each year, usually with an undercurrent of grumbling. I know which of our members won’t like the book, which of them won’t open the book, and which of them will do their best to like the book. Some will even love the book.

Why such a wide range of responses based on the visual aspect of the book? And the dialogue nature of the story?

I recently finished David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli’s Fish Girl. The opening is bewildering. What is going on? I find this satisfying.

When I finished, I turned immediately to re-read it, to figure out where I first figured it out. What were the clues? Were they visual or verbal or a combination of both? I’m not going to tell you, of course. That’s your reading journey. But I was particularly fond of the way in which Fish Girl (dare I say it?) unwinds.

As a long time fantasy reader, I’m familiar with stories in this segment of the genre. (I’m trying not to reveal too much so I’m purposefully not naming that segment.) 

About the  book, David Wiesner writes, “I tried several times to develop a picture book around these components (drawings of characters, scenes, and settings to go with an image of a house filled with water where fish are swimming) but the house full of fish turned out to be a complex image, suggesting stories too long and involved for the picture book format. The logical next step was to see it as a graphic novel.”

Many of the people who don’t care for graphic novels love picture books. Perhaps understanding graphic novels as a picture book for telling longer, more complex stories will help them appreciate this form more?

In Fish Girl, the watercolor-painted frames are clear and visually beautiful. The characters are well-delineated. The dialogue is involving. The mysteries lead the way. Why does this girl, who lives with fish and an octopus inside of a house filled with water, named Ocean Wonders, seem to be a prisoner? Why can’t she leave? Why does Neptune set so many rules? Are stories the true reason that Fish Girl stays in her prison?

Wiesner’s paintings provide focus in an involving way throughout the book. The ocean is brooding, beautiful, and beckoning. Fish Girl is lonely, a loneliness every reader will recognize. The expressions of loneliness, bewilderment, friendship, and longing are beguiling. When I consider how long it would take me to draw and paint just one of these frames and then look at how many frames are employed to tell this story, I could well imagine that David Wiesner has been working on this book for five years. I wonder what the truth of that is? 

It’s a book that many readers, young and old, will enjoy. I believe it would be a good read-aloud if all listeners can see the book and help turn the pages. Fish Girl is highly recommended. And I will keep looking for graphic novels that will convert even their most reluctant readers!

Fish Girl
David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli
Clarion Books, March 7, 2017
(I read an Advanced Reader’s Copy.)
ISBN 978-0-544-81512-4 $25 hardcover
ISBN 978-0-547-48393-1 $18 paperback


Anti-Tailgating Measures

Writing Road Trip | Anti-Tailgating MeasuresA few years ago, a country highway I regularly drive in the summer became part of a pilot program to stop tailgating. Large white dots were painted on the road, and new signs instruct drivers to keep a minimum of two dots between them and the car they’re following. Rear-end collisions are a danger on this roadway, and the program hopes to encourage drivers to leave enough room between cars so they can take corrective action if something goes wrong.

It occurs to me that this hints at an enormously helpful piece of advice you can share with your students about their writing road trips, as well: double-spacing their first draft is one of the easiest tools they have for simplifying their later revisions.

Revising is chaotic work. When I visit classrooms, I often bring along proof of this: the first handwritten draft of one of my stories, complete with dozens of cross-outs, margin notes, arrows, and additional brainstormed ideas spilling onto the back. This “sloppy copy” eventually turned into a finished book that is only 224 words long, but my messy piece of paper must contain thousands of words, all combating to see which of them will make my final cut.

In other words, revising is not merely tidying up your manuscript; it’s an “empty out the back of the closets” type of spring cleaning.

Double-spacing is one simple way for students to make this revision process slightly less messy and slightly more manageable. Unlike the relatively low probability of a rear-end collision on any given day of driving, something always goes wrong when writing a first draft. Encourage your students to think of the blank lines left by double-spacing as the room they’ll undoubtedly need for later corrective action.



Page Break by Lynne Jonell


Merna Ann Hecht and Our Table of Memories

Merna Ann Hecht

Merna Ann Hecht

When one poet, Merna Ann Hecht, and one educator, Carrie Stradley, observed their community, their schools, their students, and realized that a plethora of life experiences surrounded them, they put their teaching and their hearts together to create The Stories of Arrival: Refugee and Immigrant Youth Voices Poetry Project at Foster High School, in Tukwila, Washington.

These weren’t typical high school stories. Instead, these students have experiences of leaving their homes, their friends, their schools, their countries … to emigrate to America, where life is often astoundingly different.

Encouraging these English Language Learning students, more than 240 of them over the past six years from 30 countries, to communicate their stories through poetry helps to empower them to find their voices and move confidently into their chosen futures (a paraphrase of the project’s mission).

Stories of Our Arrival

Combine this project with another, Project Feast, and you have not only a cookbook of worldwide appeal but a book of poetry that is often eye-opening, compassionate, and heartrending. A recipe for understanding. A taste of the memories, travels, and longing behind the poets’ words.

Together with their partners The Institute for Poetic Medicine (Palo Alto, CA), the Jack Straw Cultural Center (Seattle, WA), and Chatwin Books (Seattle, WA), these two women and their projects have created Our Table of Memories: Food & Poetry of Spirit, Homeland & Tradition. It’s a beautiful book, part poetry by high school students, part recipes from the traditional cooks from their countries, and part art with illustrations by Morgan Wright, a recent college graduate, newly enrolled in New York City’s Bank Street College to pursue her Master of Arts in teaching.

By publishing this interview with Merna Hecht, it is the hope of Bookology‘s editors that you will be inspired to consider a program like this in your own community. Feel free to contact Merna with your questions.

  Can you tell us a bit about your life, in particular what pulled you toward poetry?

 There is not a moment I can recall when I wasn’t pulled toward poetry. I first heard the incantatory rhythms of poems from my grandfather who gave beautiful, memorized recitations of Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier. I think it was second grade when I began writing rhymed poems. Those childhood poems were shaped by what then seemed the magic of the natural world. Noticing details of bugs, petals, leaves, cracks in the sidewalks on my way to and from school often made me late. At the time it seemed like a secret world. Now I think that early impulse for close observation and a deeply private inner world have shaped the poet I’ve become. I have always turned toward poetry to nourish my spirit. As a young woman, I began to read many different poets who spoke to me, challenged me, provoked me and opened my eyes and heart to the beauty and suffering of the world; I’ve not stopped turning these pages. Poetry is the place where I find a wellspring for expression of what seems most tender, most true and most unsayable. 

How did you find your way to teaching?

By a somewhat gnarled and twisted path and I’m so glad I got there! I was a registered nurse by the age of 21 and worked for five years as a pediatric nurse. I usually carried finger puppets in my pockets and offered impromptu storied puppet shows at children’s bedsides. Then came a realization that I much preferred the storytelling and puppets to the nursing! “The rest is history,” from working with midwives on the Navaho reservation, to jaunting about as a puppeteer and poet in the schools in rural Idaho, to earning a Masters Degree as a children’s librarian. Under the tutelage of master storyteller, Professor Spencer Shaw at the University of WA, I fell in love with the art and craft of tale-spinning. Fast forward to working as a children’s librarian for Seattle Public Library to my first formal teaching job in a progressive teacher certification program and onward to becoming a teaching artist and a university lecturer.

You’re nationally known as a storyteller. In 2008, the National Storytelling Network presented you with their Brimstone Award for Applied Storytelling, with which you created a pilot program as a poet and storyteller at Bridges: A Center for Grieving Children in Tacoma. Can you tell us about applied storytelling? What does that mean and how do your stories work toward that specific application?

These days, storytellers show up in many places: detention centers, hospitals, war torn countries at centers for young people in trauma and drug rehab facilities for teens. These raconteurs bring the age old pleasure of listening to a tale well told. This allows young people (and all of us) to temporarily walk in someone else’s shoes; it sparks the imagination to life. Through ancient patterns of myth and folktales stories can allow a trust in possibilities to take hold. To apply storytelling in settings for young people and adults who have experienced loss or trauma helps create safe space and gathering places where deep listening can occur. There are universal truths in stories from all cultures. Many stories reflect the inevitability of loss in human life and they speak to our interconnectedness to each other, to animals, trees, the moon, the stars and to mysteries beyond us. In this way stories can ease a sense of isolation and loneliness. Finding the right story for a situation, a group, or an individual is part of applying storytelling to special settings and using stories to help others trust that they can overcome obstacles and find their inner strength and courage.

What drew you toward working with refugee and immigrant children?

The short answer is that these young people are my teachers! Their determination to succeed in high school, continue on to college and contribute to this country and/or to return to their homeland to help others inspires me and gives me hope. They dream of becoming doctors, nurses, peace-makers, environmentalists, actors, pilots and they do not bemoan the difficulties they have experienced at such a young age. Loss of family members, life in refugee camps, forced migrations, lack of enough food, health care, education and still they are model citizens. They are young people who are hopeful, curious, and deeply kind who wish to help create a more peaceful, humane world.

Stories of Our Arrival poets

The Stories of Our Arrival poets. Educators Carrie Stradley (front row, left) and Merna Hecht (front row, second from right) feel privileged to have worked with more than 240 students over the past six years from 30 countries.

You’re an organic gardener with respect for food traditions. How did this inspire you for Project Feast and how did the idea of the cookbook, Our Table of Memories, with poetry and illustrations come into being?

Our Table of MemoriesWhen I heard about Project Feast and found that it was located within a mile of the school my idea for a collaboration sprang in part from years of “hands on” intensive gardening and cooking and from a passion for exploring different ways people across the globe prepare and share food. This love of cross cultural food is something Carrie and I share. When she heard the idea for collaborating with Project Feast her eyes lit up with a “yes!” We both recognize that when people leave their homelands, a deep sense of home remains with them, in part, with eating and growing the foods of their cultures. We felt that a food-themed project would generate a rich outpouring of poems. Given that food and poetry both speak languages of flavor, scent, spice, texture, and color we wanted to include illustrations that would reflect the sensory feel of the poems—to create a presentation much like a memorable meal which the eye feasts upon before the palette! We also wanted to celebrate our students and the refugee women of Project Feast by including beloved recipes from their memories, their families and their homelands.

 Can you share a particular story from this Project that gave everyone hope?

One of Carrie’s ELL classes had fourteen boys and only two girls. Hope certainly flourishes when a group of adolescent boys, all refugees from different countries, cultures and ethnicities, openly support and applaud each other for writing poems that are vulnerable and emotionally expressive. Hope flourishes when they tell us that they’ve found their voices and a way to tell their stories through poetry. At the project’s conclusion those who wished to apply for a scholarship were asked to reflect on what they learned from poetry. Their replies filled us with hope and in truth, with tears, here are a few short excerpts:

Khai, from Burma

I can speak the truth in the poem I wrote… Poems will make other people understand us (immigrants). As an immigrant and a lot of others who are just like me, we have a vastly hard life… One of the ways that we can explain our painful past is only by a POEM, it is the only way to make a connection with everyone; poems make us two in one. Poems are vastly crucial to all of us because poems are ALIVE! There is peace, love, friends, family, and much more in a poem. This is why poems are extremely important to us (immigrants) and to everyone who has a heart.

Abdi A.

Abdi A.

Abdi A., from Somalia

I was born in a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, and lived there most of my life. Writing poems helped me remember and appreciate what I have now and also helped non-immigrants to have a better understanding of what is it really like to be a young boy with a hopeless dream of becoming a doctor. I remember a white man who worked with the IOM asking me what my dream was and I told him I wanted to be a doctor and laughed at myself because I thought it was ridiculous and ‘’too big’’ for someone like me. But here I am today living a happy life and working towards my dream… Poetry doesn’t just show us how much we share, it helps us see the world in an entirely different way. When I heard Kang Pu’s poem about how his mom died and the struggle that his family had and how the government didn’t even help, I understood him better… Poetry is universal. ELLs can learn about or read poetry in their primary language, helping them bridge their worlds… I plan on going to a four-year college and I still have that dream of becoming a doctor, so I can go back home one day and help the sick and the needy.

Has there been an effort made to replicate this project in other high schools around the country?

This is a next step that project co-director and ELL teacher extraordinaire, Carrie and I have wanted and intend to accomplish. Along with the wonderful engagement and sage advice of John Fox, founder/director of the Institute for Poetic Medicine, (we are proudly an IPM Poetry Partner Project) we intend to take the next step and publish a template of poetry prompts and activities along with a collection of resource material for replicating this poetry project.


The poems in this book are luscious but, to tempt you further, the recipes includes Doro wet: an Ethiopian Chicken Stew (pgs. 120-121), Arroz con Leche, (pgs. 130-131), Zawngtah: Burmese Tree Beans with Tilapia (pgs. 136-137), Orange Iraqi Teatime Cake (pgs. 154-155) and many more. Is  your mouth watering yet? Everything about this book is inviting … you will embrace it!

Publisher, Chatwin Books

Your Local Bookseller


Kang Pu

Kang Pu

Here’s a sample of one of the heart-touching poems in Our Table of Memories:

Kang Pu, from Burma

When my mom cooked it smelled of sweet wintertime cherries,
of a solitary forest with rain falling
and it smelled like the murmur of a lonely bird, singing,
I picture the spherical smoke rising from her kitchen
it was like the sound of sleep at night,
it was like arriving home safe and sound
the sounds of her kitchen were peaceful. 

I still long for the laughter of those family meals
we all waited for that table, my mom’s table,
how she prepared every family meal,
this is what I still long for,
so often I remember my mother
nothing can take her memory away from me,
it is truly difficult that I have departed
from my motherland,
and from my mother’s kitchen.

The reason I wrote this poem is for memories of my mom and her kitchen. It was difficult for me to write this poem because I still long for my mother’s kitchen. Sometimes it makes it hard for me to study. Yet, no matter how far away from my parents, I am still holding their lessons and still using what they taught me. Without lessons from parents it’s hard to be in community with others and hard to stand on your own.

Nathaly Rosas

Nathaly Rosas

And another sample:

Nathaly Rosas, from Mexico

I am from a place where
The food is an art and every bite
Is a spicy piece of our culture.
Where the smells call you to enjoy
And the flavors take you to your memories.

Read more poems like these on Merna Hecht’s website.


“Stories of Immigration and Culture” poetry podcasts are available here, hosted by the Jack Straw Cultural Center.

Institute for Poetic Medicine, founded by John Fox, where Merna and Stories of Arrival are Poetry Partners.

Jack Straw Cultural Center

Stories of Arrival: Immigrant Youth Voices Poetry Project


Skinny Dip with Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park

We interviewed Linda Sue Park, veteran author and Newbery medalist, whose books have inspired children in many ways, appealing to a wide range of readers with books like A Single Shard, The Mulberry Project, Keeping Score, Yaks Yak, and A Long Walk to Water.

Which celebrity, living or not, do you wish would invite you to a coffee shop?

My paternal grandmother, whom I never got to meet. However, I suspect she wouldn’t invite me to a coffee shop; she’d invite me for naeng-myun instead (Korean cold noodle soup. Delicious.). And I realize that she is not a celebrity in the conventional sense, but I believe that all brave women should be.

Which book do you find yourself recommending passionately?

Currently: All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Brendan Kiely, Linda Sue Park, Jason Reynolds

Brendan Kiely, Linda Sue Park, Jason Reynolds

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

Really good guac with really fresh chips. I will eat mediocre chips if they’re all that’s available. The guac is what matters.

Favorite city to visit?

New York!

Most cherished childhood memory?

Saturday mornings at the public library.

First date?

Roller-skating and ice cream, 6th grade, with a boy named Curtis. Where is he now?

Xander's Panda Party and Yaks YakIllustrator’s work you most admire?

UNFAIR question. Registering protest by not answering.

No, strike that: I’ll name the illustrators of my two most recent picture books: Matt Phelan (Xander’s Panda Party) and Jennifer Black Reinhardt (Yaks Yak). ‘Admire’ is too staid. Their work for my texts THRILLED me.

Tea? Coffee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Tea in the morning, espresso once or twice a day, swee’ tea when I’m in the South. My go-to is water.

What’s your dream vacation?

Snorkeling, reading on a beach, and eating fabulous food, both street and fine dining, with family and/or friends, somewhere that has lively outdoor markets.

WormsWhat gives you shivers?


Morning person? Night person?

NIGHT. Morning is a recurring insult to the psyche.

What’s your hidden talent?

It has faded with time, but I used to be able to identify red M&Ms blindfolded.

Your favorite candy as a kid …

As a kid? Why not now? As a kid: Bit O’Honey. As an adult: pecan rolls.

Is Pluto a planet?

Of course not. He’s Popeye’s nemesis—that big guy, with the arms. 😉

What’s the strangest tourist attraction you’ve visited?

The DMZ, border between North and South Korea.

Brother and sisters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

One of each. I’m the oldest. I don’t think my life has a shape. Or maybe it’s constantly changing.

The Park family

Best tip for living a contented life?

1) Find a way to do work that you love. 2) When you’ve got the blues, do something for someone else.

Your hope for the world?

Every child a reader.

Cavern of SecretsLinda Sue, thanks for these candid answers for our Bookology readers. If they haven’t read all of your previously published books, we encourage them to have a Linda Sue Park read-a-thon. Could you share with us which books comes out next?

I hope you’ll enjoy the second book in the Claw & Wing series, Cavern of Secrets. It follows Book #1, Forest of Wonders. You’ll find the book in bookstores on March 7, 2017. Raffa sets off on a treacherous journey across Obsidia to save his friends and family … and the world!