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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Our Hearts Will Hold Us Up

Jackie: It seems perfectly appropriate that the Manager of Holiday Placement  has placed Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love and affection, right in the middle of cold, dark February. I want that celebration to spread out for the whole month (why not the whole year?) the way the smell of baking bread fills an entire house, not just the kitchen. Why can’t all of February be Heart Month? We are choosing books this month with that goal in mind. We want to celebrate heart, love, ties of affection. And we have chosen a new book, a couple of medium new books and an old book to help us.

More, More, More Said the BabyA while back we did an entire column on Vera B. Williams. But I am still missing her. I need her political activism and her huge heart in my neighborhood. I turned to More, More, More Said the Baby. (Greenwillow, 1990). 

This book is a huge celebration of the love between daddies and kids:

Just look at you
With your perfect belly button
Right in the middle
Right in the middle
Right in the middle
Of your fat little belly.
Then Little Guy’s daddy
Brings that baby
Right up close
And gives that little guy’s belly
A kiss right I the middle
Of the belly button.

Between grandmas and kids:

Then Little Pumpkin’s grandma
Brings that baby right up close
And tastes each
Of Little Pumpkin’s toes.

And mamas and kids:

Just look at you
With your two closed eyes
Then Little Bird’s Mama…
Gives that little bird a kiss
Right on each of her little eyes.

I never tire of reading about these children, diverse children, who are so loved and so valued. This book will be fresh as long as we laugh and kiss babies with belly buttons and ten little toes.

Phyllis:; I miss Vera B. Williams, too, and I love seeing her spirit still alive in her books and also in the hearts of people everywhere who care about people everywhere. Her language in More More More is so delicious–along with the repetition we have lively verbs of interaction between grown-ups and beloved children (swing, scoot, catch that baby up).  Little Guy, Little Pumpkin, and Little Bird have names that could be any child’s. I love, too, the exuberant art and hand lettered multi-colored text. Everything about this book celebrates taking joy in our children.

My Heart Will Not Sit DownJackie: In My Heart Will Not Sit Down, (Alfred Knopf, 2012) empathy and caring for others travel around the world. Rockliff creates a school child Kedi, who hears from her teacher about the hungry children in New York City and cannot stop thinking about them. She asks her mother for a coin to send them. Her mother says they have no coins to spare. “Kedi knew Mama was right. Still, her heart would not sit down.” She asks an uncle, a sweeping mother with a baby on her back, a grandmother pounding cassava, laughing girls who carried pots of river water, old men playing a game of stones, even the headman. No one has coins… Until the next morning when her mama gives her one coin. She takes the coin to school, thinking that one coin can do little good for the hungry children. Then the villagers show up—each bearing a coin. “We have heard about the hunger in our teacher’s village,” said the headman. “Our hearts would not sit down until we helped.” 

Phyllis:  This is one of those books that called to me from the shelf in a bookstore and captivated my heart once I opened it. Kedi’s heart stands up for the hungry children in New York, America, as she calls it. When the villagers bring their coins, which the author notes would be a small fortune to the village even though $3.77 would not go far in America even in the Depression, her mama asks, “Now will your heart sit down in peace?” Kedi answers, “Yes, Mama, Yes!”  The author notes, too, that in Cameroon, where the event occurred on which the story is based, people shared with anyone in need, even strangers, because, as they said, “You may meet him [a stranger] again, and in his own place.” This story reminds me that the actions of one small person can touch many hearts and feed hungry children.

The Heart and the BottleJackie: Hearts can spur us to action. Hearts can break. And the last two books are gentle stories of the heartache of loss. Oliver Jeffers writes of a “little girl…whose head was filled with all the curiosities of the world.” Jeffers shows us this little girl talking with her grandpa who sits in a chair, lying under the stars with her grandpa. He accompanies her on all her explores. And then one day the chair is empty. She decides to put her heart in a bottle to keep it safe. After that she wasn’t curious. She grows up and the bottled heart is heavy around her neck.  When she wishes to retrieve her heart she can’t—until she meets another little girl.

This is a story about dealing with sadness—we want to protect our hearts but we lose so much when we wall them up.

Phyllis:  Oliver Jeffers both wrote and illustrated The Heart and the Bottle, and the illustrations help carry the events and the emotions of the story.  When the girl who has bottled her heart decides as a grown-up to take her heart out again, the art shows her trying to shake the heart out, grip it with pliers, break the bottle with a hammer, and finally, abandoning her work bench covered with a drill, a cross cut saw, a wooden mallet, screwdriver, and other assorted tools including a vacuum cleaner leaning again the bench, she climbs a ladder to the top of an enormously tall brick wall and drops the bottle which still doesn’t break but just “bounced and rolled…right down to the sea” where a little girl easily frees the heart from the bottle and returns it.  The book ends, “The heart was put back where it came from.  And the chair wasn’t empty anymore. But the bottle was.” Here, too, the art reflects that the woman’s  world is once again filled with wonder.  We need our hearts within us.

Cry, Heart, But Never BreakJackie: Cry, Heart, But Never Break comes to us from Denmark. It was written by Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Charlotte Pardi and translated by Robert Moulthrop (Enchanted Lion Books, 2016).  This book also deals with loss. Four children live with their grandmother—“A kindly woman, she had cared for them for many years.” Then Death knocks at the door. The children decide to forestall Death’s mission with coffee. They will keep him drinking coffee all night so he cannot take their grandmother, thus giving her another day of life. Eventually he has had enough. And one of the children asks why grandmother has to die. And then comes: “Some people say Death’s heart is as dead and black as a piece of coal, but that is not true. Beneath his inky cloak, Death’s heart is as red as the most beautiful sunset and beats with a great love of life.” He tells them a story of Sorrow and Grief meeting and falling in love with Delight and Joy. “What would life be worth if there were no death? Who would enjoy the sun if it never rained? Who would yearn for day if there were no night?”

When Death goes to the Grandmother’s room, he says to the children, “Cry, Heart, but never break. Let your tears of grief and sadness begin a new life.” Charlotte Pardi’s illustrations are perfect for this book, simple and tender. We see what appears to be quickly-sketched furniture in the night kitchen—we know this is a story. And yet we connect with the emotions on the children’s faces.

Cry, Heart, But Never Break

Cry, Heart, But Never Break. Illustration © Charlotte Pardi.

Phyllis: I love that the children ply Death with coffee, which Death loves, strong and black, and that it’s the youngest child who looks right at Death and eventually puts her hand over his. But even coffee can’t stop Death; when he goes  upstairs the children hear the window open and Death say, “Fly, soul, fly away.” Their hearts grieve and cry but do not break. Some (but not all) of the best books about Death come, interestingly, from other countries. But this book is not only about Death it is about the necessity of a life with both sorrow and grief and also joy and delight. This is a book that makes me cry and hope for all our hearts that they never completely break.

Jackie: We started with connection—the connections of babies and families, and we have come round to loss of connection, when what remains is love. Our hearts will hold us up.

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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.)

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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.

Resources

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.”

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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.

Poetry

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.

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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 | Dreamstime.com

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

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The End

Page Break Lynne Jonell

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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?

Morning.

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.

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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.

 

 

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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

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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.

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Magical

Page Break by Lynne Jonell

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