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

Raymie Nightingale

rn200pixDarling Daughter and I host/participate in an occasional parent-child bookgroup for middle-grade readers and their parents. We call it Books & Bagels and we meet at the bagel shop down the street from church and nosh on bagels while talking about books. I think we can safely say the bagel aspect of things increases participation—but all the kids who come are great readers and we love talking with them and their parents about books. We’ve read many of our favorites again with this group and they’ve introduced us to some we’ve missed in the last few years of publication. (Darling Daughter is, alas, outgrowing the middle-grade genre.)

We saved the reading of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale for Books & Bagels. I scheduled it not having read the book, in fact, which is not usually how I do things. But DiCamillo’s books lend themselves to good discussion, I’ve found, so I was sure it would work well for us.

And it did. We talked about the heartbreak and the hope, the crazy characters and their friendships and flaws, and the unlikely events that could absolutely happen. We talked about how it was similar to some of DiCamillo’s other books and how it was different, too. Good discussion all the way around.

I noticed as we talked, however, that one of our regulars—I’ll call him Sam—seemed a bit disgruntled about the book. Sam and I have been discussing books for a long time—he reads both wisely and widely and we have introduced each other to many books over the years. He has just turned ten and he’s honest about what he thinks, though always kind. He’s been taught to speak his mind, but never in a way that would hurt someone else’s feelings—including, say, the author of the book who is not even present.

“Sam,” I said, “it looks like you have something you want to say.”

“Yeah…well,” said Sam. “It was a great book and all…. Well-written, of course. And, I mean, the friendship of Raymie and those other girls was great, I guess. And the lousy adults were interesting…. But—” He paused and looked at his Mom out of the corner of his eye.

“Go ahead, Sam,” she said. “Tell us what you really think.”

“It’s just that…I mean it’s fine…but it’s just…it’s such a girlie book.” He looked both relieved and ashamed at having confessed this. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.”

I asked gentle clarifying questions. I’m sort of fascinated and appalled by the idea of “girl books” and “boy books.” I want to vehemently argue that those categories don’t exist…or shouldn’t exist…or must not be allowed to exist…or something like that. But before me was a reader insisting that he understood this was a great book, but it just had way too much “girl stuff” in it to be interesting to guys like him.

“Like what kind of girl stuff?” one of the girl readers asked.

“Batons. Barrettes. Dresses.” Sam said. He shrugged apologetically.

Other kids perked up. Right, they said. Lots of girl stuff. No boy stuff whatsoever, in fact.

I was afraid to ask what “boy stuff” they thought was missing. Instead, we talked about whether various (traditionally understood) girl and boy trappings were limited or limiting. These kids know how to have good and honest conversations around perceptions and assumptions and stereotypes. We talked about whether the character of each of the girls was “girl-only.” No, everyone agreed—they knew boys who were painfully shy/anxious, or show-offy, or stubborn, just like each of the three amigos DiCamillo conjured up. They knew both boys and girls who carried heavy loads of expectation, or family distress, or who had trouble making friends. They knew themselves what it was to feel like everything, absolutely everything, depended on them. They could identify with the book—on many levels that had nothing to do with gender. And yet…this was a girlie book—on this they all agreed, as well.

It was a wonderful discussion, really. Honest. Respectful. I thanked Sam for being brave enough to say what he thought. He wondered if Kate DiCamillo made Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana girls because she was a girl and that’s what she knew best. I said I didn’t know, but I knew that she’d also written books that featured male characters. I told him I’d share my copy of Tiger Rising with him.

As we cleaned up the bagel and cream cheese detritus I asked if anyone could suggest a book or two for our fall Books & Bagels bookgroup. Sam eagerly bounced up and down.

“I have two to suggest!” he said. “Bridge to Terabithia and The BFG.”

Two terrific books. Two terrific books that happen to have strong girl characters. I pointed this out and Sam said, “But not only girl characters. The giant is a boy!”

Read more...

Calvin Can’t Fly

Calvin-250When I was doing storytime weekly, a book about a bookworm starling was in my regular rotation. Yes, you read that right—a Bookworm Starling. That’s exactly what Calvin (the starling) is—a bookworm. And that is his shame—his cousins call him “nerdie birdie,” “geeky beaky,” and “bookworm.” Unusual (gently derogatory) labels for a starling. Not that it deters Calvin—he mostly shrugs and turns the page.

Calvin is the only starling in his very large family who does not seem to care much about flying. (Refresh your memory on how starlings move about with this astounding video of starling murmurations.) He’s into books. In a big way. While his cousins learn to fly and chase beetles, bugs, and ants, Calvin sits and learns to read letters, words, and sentences. He dreams of adventure stories, information, and poetry. His cousins dream of insect eating and garbage picking. And although they call him by the above names, they mostly ignore him, so enraptured with flying are they.

And Calvin is just as enraptured with stories and learning. Pirates and volcanoes, dinos and planets, science and history—Calvin reads it all. He reads the entire summer, learning and absorbing everything his little starling brain can.

When the seasons begin to turn, the urgency for Calvin to learn to fly becomes apparent. And yet, he manages not to learn. This creates quite an issue, because the wind has grown cold and it is time to head south….

The entire starling family takes off, minus Calvin. They don’t get far before they turn around and come back for Calvin. He is carried in the most hilarious way, which more than excuses the unkind words previously used about his reading habits.

And as it turns out, Calvin’s reading saves them—Calvin is the unexpected hero! “Make haste!” he says, leading the entire starling family to safety. Kids love this! They love that his book-knowledge of something as obscure as hurricane safety came in handy. They all but cheer—actually, once a set of twins did cheer when I read how Calvin saved them all. And kids are further delighted when Calvin flaps his wings in happiness, jumping and hopping and dancing…and flies! At last!

When I looked up the author, Jennifer Berne, I found out there’s another Calvin book! I don’t know how I missed it. Ms. Berne and the illustrator, Keith Bendis, have told an empowering story, (without being preachy!) about the wonders and necessity of reading. Can’t wait to read Calvin’s next adventures. I’m off to find a group of kids to read to….

Read more...

Cook-A-Doodle-Do!

Cook+A+Doodle+Do-260-pixI’ve got dessert on my mind—berry shortcake, to be precise. I’ve already done the strawberry shortcake during strawberry season. My raspberry bushes are producing at a rate that might call for shortcake in the near future, however. And whenever I make shortcake—or even think of it—I think of Cook-a-doodle-doo by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel (who are sisters, I believe).

This book was An Extreme Favorite at our house through two kids—one who was already on the older end of picture books when it came out. Why the popularity? Quite simply: It’s hilarious. And sweet (no pun intended). But mostly hilarious.

Big Brown Rooster is in need of a change—no more chicken feed! No more pecking about! He remembers that his very famous great-grandmother, The Little Red Hen, penned a cookbook: The Joy of Cooking Alone by L.R. Hen. Once he finds it, he realizes his great granny cooked far more than loaves of bread. And he is hungry for the strawberry shortcake featured in the middle of the book.

Like his Great-Granny before him, Big Brown Rooster is surrounded by unhelpful friends. Dog, Cat, and Goose each take their potshots at Big Brown Rooster, but he is undeterred. He ties on his apron, ready to cook all alone, only to find three new friends: Turtle, Iguana, and Pot-bellied Pig.

“Do you three know anything about cooking?” Rooster asked.

“I can read recipes!” said Turtle.

“I can get stuff!” said Iguana.

“I can taste!” said Pig. “I am expert at tasting.”

And so the team members don hats—an apron tied around Big Brown Rooster’s head, a towel around Pig’s head, an oven mitt for Iguana, and a small pot worn baseball cap-like for turtle. The illustrations are sweet and hysterical at the same time. The mix-ups and misunderstandings are on the level of the Three Stooges crossed with Amelia Bedelia. But detailed sidebars guide a home/kid cook through the correct steps. What the friends lack in experience and skill, they make up for in exuberance and excitement—so, very much like baking with children, actually.

It’s astounding when you see what they go through, but they create a beautiful (if slightly leaning) tower of strawberry shortcake. It’s only when they try to move it to the table to enjoy together that things…slip away from them. Pot-bellied Pig takes his turn—he’s the expert taster, and positively unflummoxed by shortcake being smeared across the floor. In split second—not even a page turn—the strawberry shortcake is gone.

It is then that the previously amiable friends start to lose it. Names are called and threats are intimated (plump juicy roast pig, iguana pie, turtle soup etc.)

But wise Rooster takes command. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. “The first shortcake was just for practice.”

And so they make another. The three friends—Iguana, Pig, and Turtle—volunteer to help again, and it’s quick work the second time around. The last spread features a party of friends—including the nay-saying Dog, Cat and Goose!—enjoying strawberry shortcake. The last page features Great-Granny’s recipe for Magnificent Strawberry Shortcake.

I think I’ll make some tonight!

Read more...

Bink and Gollie

Early this morning I read Bink and Gollie books to my nieces. We were killing timeBink&Golliebook-180pix while their parents picked up the rental car for their Great American Summer Roadtrip. To say that the level of excitement was palpable is an understatement—it was a wave that nearly knocked me down when they opened their door. They talked—both of them—nonstop for an hour while we sipped our breakfast smoothies.

Mom and Dad were not back when we sucked down the final drops of smoothie, which was concerning, so anxious were they to get on the road already. I said, “Well, what can we do…that we can put down if your Mom and Dad come back in two minutes…and pick back up after your trip?”

“Books!” said one.

“YEAH—WE CAN READ BOOKS!” said the other.

“On the deck!”

“In the sunshine!”

“Let’s do it!”

And so we took Bink and Gollie with us to the sunny deck. No matter how excited these sweet girls get—and let me tell you, they were excited this morning!—they calm down instantly with a book. Their breathing changes by page two. And so we snuggled up and read, breathing deeply in the early morning sunshine.

I’d forgotten how much of the story is told in the pictures in Bink and Gollie books—and how many words are in the pictures. Labels and instructions, signs and notes, jokes and fun. Because both girls are learning to read, this works really well. I read the story itself and they read the pictures. The pictures are often filled with big words. (So is the story itself—it’s something I appreciate about Kate DiCamillo’s and Alison McGhee’s writing. They do not simplify vocabulary.) Some things we have to sound out together, but the real fun is getting the inflection right. Reading it in our Gollie voice, or like a 1940’s radio advertisement, or like a carnival barker.

Bink and Gollie are opposites in many ways—Gollie is tall and skinny, pragmaticBink&Gollie-180-pix and formal in her speech. She says things like I long for speed. And Greetings. And I beg you not to do that…. My nieces find this amusing. They are also tall and skinny, pragmatic (sometimes, anyway), and hilariously formal in their speech at times.

Bink is short and has hair sticking up all over her head. She loves bright socks and pancakes and peanut butter. No one would call my nieces short. (“We don’t have that problem,” one of them said this morning as we read about Bink ordering a Stretch-o-matic to make herself taller.) But their hair is sometimes Bink-like. And they delight in the simple things of life—including, but not limited to, socks, celebratory pancakes, and peanut butter. They also have Bink’s energy—they yammer, they jump, they zip, they climb and glide.

In short, they love both Bink and Gollie. They are Bink and Gollie—they can relate, as it were. Bink and Gollie have adventures, a sweet friendship, and they rollerskate everywhere—these details light up my sweet girls. They enjoy decoding the words in the pictures and getting the joke. They are envious of the treehouse in which Bink and Gollie live. They’d like to visit Eccles’ Empire of Enchantment—and maybe hit a Bargain Bonanza. (Maybe the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota will satisfy them.)

Bink and Gollie got us almost to Mom and Dad’s return. We did have to take a little field trip to my house (just around the corner) because their cousin was baking scones, but then Mom and Dad were home, the rented Jeep was loaded in record time, and off they went!

I wonder if they’re levitating with excitement in their car seats, chattering away like Bink or saying I long for the mountains…. like Gollie. They invited me to sneak in their car and go with them. Maybe I should’ve taken them up on it.

Read more...

Must. Get. Out.

Page Break

 

Read more...

Skinny Dip with Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Rebecca Kai DotlichFor this interview, we visit with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, poet and children’s book author:

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

As most of my friends know, that would be Billy Collins. And then Meryl Streep would stop by too of course.

Favorite city to visit?

I’m not a far and wide traveler, but the city I’ve always wanted to visit is any city in Switzerland.

Reading-(HS)-on-couch-400px

In high school, reading on the couch.

Which book do you find yourself recommending passionately?

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. Friendly Fire by C.D.B. Bryan. On Writing: a memoir of the craft by Stephen King. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy.

Stromboli (photo credit: wikimedia commons)

Stromboli (photo credit: wikimedia commons)

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

I haven’t eaten late-night snacks since my college days at Indiana University. Strombolis. Delivered.

Most cherished childhood memory?

Oh, so many. Piling into the station wagon on a summer night to go to the drive-in in our pajamas. Watching Roy Rogers and Sky King on Saturday mornings. The smell of baby dolls and new saddle oxfords.

First date?

First love 8th grade, Dennis. First date, high school and I am pretty sure it involved a double date and a drive-in.

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

Coffee. Growing up, there was always a pot percolating in our house. My grandmother made me coffee from a very young age. She added lots of cream and sugar and called it Boston coffee. I still love it that way.

Favorite season of the year?

Fall. Why? The chill in the air. The freshness. The newness. Reminds me of new beginnings, sweaters, and school supplies.

What’s your dream vacation?

Being in a little town with bookstores, art museums, cobblestone streets, lamplights and nothing but time.

Burgess Meredith, Twilight Zone, 1960, wikimedia commons

Burgess Meredith, Twilight Zone, 1960, wikimedia commons

What gives you shivers?

Heights. Burgess Meredith. (Twilight Zone. “Time Enough At Last.”)

Morning person? Night person?

All of my young adult and adult life I was both. Easy up at 5 and to bed after midnight or 1 o’clock. Now I’m more of a morning person.

What’s your hidden talent?

Nada. Except maybe a good recall of song lyrics. And baking darn good Christmas cookies. Oh yes, and imaginative concept photography. (uh-huh, well it’s on the bucket list.)

Your favorite candy as a kid?

Sky Bar. Rock candy (icy clear, never colors.)

Is Pluto a planet?

Wait, I have to google that . . . seems it depends on the year, the poor guy keeps getting demoted. His head must be spinning.

I did get a little huffy sometimes. With my brother Curt on my grandparents' front porch.

I did get a little huffy sometimes. With my brother Curt on my grandparents’ front porch.

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

A big brother and a little sister. Big brother ruled the land of siblings, so I am used to not squawking much when it comes to following rules suggestions. He also taught me by example that books in the hand, on the shelf and splattered on the bed are the best treasures of all. Little sister passed me the opportunity to rule in the land of siblings. And also to feel responsible to look out for someone, which fortunately or unfortunately I still feel compelled to do.

with my brother and sister and our cousins

with my brother and sister and our cousins

Your hope for the world?

Besides peace, love and kindness, it would be for the eradication of bullying, and more understanding of, and compassion for, depression and other mental health issues, especially for our youth.

Read more...

Reading Memories

bk_threelittlekittensMemories of my childhood are imperfect. Yours, too?

I don’t remember having a lot of books as a child. I remember The Poky Little Puppy and another dog book (title unknown) and Three Little Kittens (perhaps a reminder to me to keep track of my mittens).

I remember using the school library voraciously to read books. I had no access to the public library (too far away) so that school library was my lifeline. And our librarian understood what I was looking for before I did.

But back to the question of having books on our shelves. My mother had a Doubleday Book Club subscription so a new book arrived each month for the adult reader in our family. I saw To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, The Light in the Piazza, and The Sun Also Rises added to the shelves, but other than curiosity, I felt no interest in those books.

My mother also subscribed to Reader’s Digest. We had a lot of music in our house in the form of LPs. Some of my favorites were those Readers Digest collections, classics, folk songs, Broadway musicals. There was always music on the turntable. More importantly, Reader’s Digest published story collections and books for children.  

Yesterday, I was sorting through the three boxes that remain of my childhood toys and books. We’re downsizing, so the tough decisions have to be made. Do I keep my hand puppets of Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, and Hush Puppy or let them go?

Reader's Digest Treasury for Young ReadersI know I’ve gone through these boxes since I was a kid but every ten years or so I’m surprised all over again by what I played with as a child and cared enough to pack in a box for remembrance.

I found two Reader’s Digest Treasuries for Young Readers and the three-volume Doubleday Family Treasury of Children’s Stories.  My mother also subscribed to the Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Readers. This is how I read Lorna Doone and Ivanhoe and Where the Red Fern Grows.

I was startled to realize that my familiarity with many of the classic poems, stories, and nonfiction articles came from these books. I was introduced to Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Elizabeth Janet Gray and Dr. George Washington Carver and Jules Verne and The Odyssey and NASA’s work and more than a hundred more stories and articles. I’d like to believe that I’m an omnivorous reader today because of the wide variety I encountered in these books.

The Family Treasury of Children's BooksThere’s a penchant for everything new right now. Grandparents pick up the latest Dora the Explorer or Where’s Waldo? book because they’ve heard of them and have a vague sense that kids like them. Or the bookstore clerk suggests a Caldecott or Newbery winner of recent vintage.

This is a plea to remember those classic books: the stories, the folk tales, the fables, the poetry. Children will read a lot that you wouldn’t expect them to read, especially if you give it to them. Those classics provide a common language for educated people.

Can’t find something suitable? Write to your favorite publisher and suggest that they print collections of classics, old and new. There are a few books published in the last 20 years that sort of approach these collections published in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Here are a few:

Story Collections

Perhaps 50 years from now your children and grandchildren will open their own box of childhood memories, being thankful that you gave them such a great gift.

Thanks, Mom. You gave me a gift that has sustained me all my life.

Read more...

How To Make An Apple Pie and See The World

How To Make An Apple Pie and See The WorldA couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to learn how to make a really good pie. I asked around—bakers, caterers, cooking store owners etc. and the book The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum came up consistently. One person mentioned How to Make An Apple Pie and See The World  by Marjorie Priceman. I purchased both—one for the how-to and one for inspiration.

The Pie and Pastry Bible is enormous and beyond detailed (like reading an organic chemistry book in some places). It has been extremely helpful. Under its tutelage, I’m proud to say I can turn out a decent pie with a flaky, toothsome crust, and filling that holds together (mostly) and delights the senses in its sweetness and texture.

How to Make and Apple Pie and See The World is something else entirely. Technically, it is also a how-to, I suppose, but a person could get lost in the adventure of it.

Making an apple pie is really very easy.
First, get all the ingredients at the market.
Mix them well, bake, and serve.

Let me tell you, Rose Levy Beranbaum would scream and pull her hair out by the roots reading these instructions; but with a simple page turn, Marjorie Priceman acknowledges the difficulties that can arise.

Unless, of course, the market is closed.

What is to be done then? Well, you go home pack a suitcase. With walking shoes and your shopping list, catch a steamship bound for Europe and use the six days on board to brush up on your Italian. Why? Well, you’ll need it when you arrive in Italy during the harvest (timing is important, Priceman acknowledges) to gather yourself some superb semolina wheat.

Photodune: Happy Cow | by Aruba2000You’ll head to France for the chicken (the eggs! You need eggs!) and then Sri Lanka for the kurundu tree (cinnamon!). Upon hitching a ride to England you’ll “make the acquaintance of a cow”—one with good manners and a charming accent. You’ll take her with you because only the freshest milk will do.

On the way to Jamaica (for sugar!) you’ll nab a jar of salty sea water (simply evaporate and you have the salt!) and then fly home. Ingredients should remain fresh, after all. Both Beranbaum and Priceman agree that fresh ingredients are of the utmost importance. You’ll parachute into Vermont for the apples—you can’t forget the apples when you’re making apple pie.

Once home, there’s simply milling and grinding and evaporating and persuading (the chicken to lay an egg) and milking and churning and slicing and mixing to do!

While you wait for the pie to bake, you simply ask a friend over to share!

I love this book and the kids I’ve read it to love it, too. We spin the globe and find all the countries of origin for the pantry staples. We talk about where our food comes from, and if it is possible to make some of our favorite foods with all local ingredients. We talk about how much work it is to grow and prepare food and how many people we depend on to do that. We enjoy the pictures—the delightful heroine who tirelessly globe-trots so she can make a pie to share with friends.

A quick internet search yields lesson plans and homeschooling ideas for this book—few mention actually baking a pie, which makes me sad. Is there anything more homey than a made-from-scratch pie? I think not.

Apple Pie by robynmac | Photodune

Got some backyard raspberries? A u-pick strawberry farm? Consider a bake-n-read this summer with some kids. It’ll be messy, but fun!

Read more...

End Cap: Miss Colfax’s Light

Miss Colfax's LightWe hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about lighthouses and their heroic keepers through the books recommended in June’s Bookstorm, and most particularly Miss Colfax’s Light. If you love puzzles and games, we hope you have a good time solving this Word Search. 

Simply use your mouse or touch pad to draw a line over your found words and the program will mark them off for you. Words can be found forwards, backwards, horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. As you find a word, it will be highlighted on the board and it will disappear from the word list.

Have fun!

Hidden Words

Puzzle by mypuzzle.org
Read more...

Laughing All the Way

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill BrysonI finished reading The Road to Little Dribbling over a week ago, and I’m still laughing.

I’m a sucker for a funny story, and Bill Bryson has provided me with a steady stream of them since I first discovered him in Granta magazine back in the ’80s. I couldn’t get enough of his wisecracking tales about growing up in Des Moines, especially the epic family road trips he endured.

His latest book, in which he more or less recreates the meanderings around and musings about Britain’s quirky corners that he mined so successfully in Notes from a Small Island four decades ago, delivered just the dose of laughs I needed to offset a particularly intense stretch at work. Humor is a first-rate antidote to any number of things, I’ve found, including stress. This is why I also own a well-worn copy of the DVD Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Mr. Mysterious & CompanyI discovered humor between the covers of a book early, when I first read Sid Fleischman’s Mr. Mysterious & Company as a child. Mr. Fleischman’s story not only had me laughing in delight, but also managed to worm its way deep into my psyche, popping out decades later when I had children of my own and inaugurated a unique Frederick twist on Fleischman’s Abracadabra Day. Read Mr. Mysterious & Company and you’ll get the idea.

A few years after discovering Fleischman, I stumbled across a P. G. Wodehouse anthology on my grandfather’s bookshelf. I was 12 or so, and enormously pleased with myself for appreciating Wodehouse’s special brand of British humor. (Of course it helped that I had just returned to the U.S. from a stretch living in England.)  His nimble style! His flawless comic timing! And oh, his characters! What budding writer could possibly resist Bertie Wooster’s substantial Aunt Dahlia, who fitted into his biggest armchair “as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing armchairs tight about the hips that season”? Or how about his formidable Aunt Agatha, whom the feckless Bertie described as wearing “barbed wire next to the skin”? And then there was that pig named the Empress of Blandings…. I was a goner.

Years later, I read somewhere that when Wodehouse’s family heard him chuckling in his study as he wrote, they knew the work was going well. I seem to recall reading the same thing about Sid Fleischman. I don’t know whether Mr. Bryson’s family hears him laughing, too, but I hope my family hears me. Not all my books are humorous, but nearly all of them have humorous moments, and when something I write strikes me as funny and I make myself laugh, I think of writers like P. G. Wodehouse and Sid Fleischman and others who have traveled this path before me, and I know I’m in good company.

Read more...

Lighthouse Beef Stew

Author Aimee Bissonette writes, “To accompany your reading of Miss Colfax’s Lighthouse, here’s the type of recipe Harriet would have cooked in winter months. It gets incredibly cold on Lake Michigan in the winter and Harriet was always so busy! She would have needed something that was pretty easy to make (no time to fuss) but would warm her inside and out.

“My suggestion: beef stew. Here’s a recipe my daughters and I used to use when they were little and learning to cook.”

Lighthouse Beef Stew
Serves 4
Meal in a pot: The finished stew is rich and smooth. Sprinkle it with chopped parsley and serve it with baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes and a green vegetable or salad
Write a review
Print
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
2 hr
Total Time
3 hr 30 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
2 hr
Total Time
3 hr 30 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 ½ lb beef stew meat, cut into cubes
  2. 3 slices of bacon
  3. 2 onions
  4. 1 clove garlic
  5. 1 ¾ cups beef stock
  6. 2 carrots
  7. a few strips of orange peel
  8. a large pinch of Italian seasoning
  9. 2 T vegetable oil
  10. 2 T chopped parsley
  11. 1 T all-purpose flour
  12. 1 T tomato puree
  13. Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Set the oven to 350 degrees F. Chop the onions and bacon with a sharp knife, slice the carrots, and crush the garlic.
  2. Mix the flour, salt and pepper on the plate. Lay the meat on top and turn it until each piece is coated with flour.
  3. Heat 1 T oil in the casserole dish and fry the carrots and onions for a few minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon.
  4. Heat the rest of the oil in the casserole dish, then add the meat and stir it as it cooks until it is lightly browned all over.
  5. Return the vegetables to the casserole dish with the meat. Add the tomato puree, garlic, herbs, and orange peel and stir.
  6. Add the stock and stir. Then put the lid on the casserole and cook it for about two hours, until the meat is tender.
Adapted from from “The Children’s Step-by-Step Cook Book” by Angela Wilkes
Adapted from from “The Children’s Step-by-Step Cook Book” by Angela Wilkes
Bookology Magazine http://www.bookologymagazine.com/
Read more...

Skinny Dip with Nancy Johnson

Nancy JohnsonFor this interview, we are pleased to share answers from Nancy Johnson, professor, children’s/young adult literature and English/ language arts education, Western Washington University:

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

Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama. I’d do my best just to listen … and learn.

Favorite city to visit?

Favorite country is Vietnam. Favorite “city” in Vietnam is Hoi An. It’s magical!

Dragon Fountain, Hoi An, Vietnam

Dragon Fountain, Cantonese Assembly Hall, Quant Trieu, Hoi An (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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

Coffee (dark roast) … no sugar, no cream.

Reading on the beach

© Yudesign | Dreamstime.com

What’s your dream vacation?

A pile of books, lots of sun, a beach (and nothing to grade!)

What gives you shivers?

Spiders and snakes. It’s irrational, I know, but they creep me out (even the teeny-tiny, nonpoisonous ones). And aerial acts (circuses, the Blue Angels, etc.).

Your favorite candy as a kid …

Movie theatre candy = Jujubes

Drug store candy = candy cigarettes (Seriously! They looked so cool—and so did we—but they tasted like chalk.)

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

It’s not really a tourist attraction but … when we were kids, my Dad and my best friend’s Dad took us on a field trip to a sewage treatment plant.

 

Read more...

Eileen Ryan Ewen

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to share with you our interview with Eileen Ryan Ewen, the illustrator of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Bookstorm™ this month. This book is a perfect example of the text and illustrations enhancing each other to make a picture book biography that is more than the sum of its parts. Have the book open near you when you read Eileen’s responses. With our interview, we hope to help you look more deeply at the illustrations.

In the first few pages of the book, when Harriet is walking through the door, why did you decide to draw her with one foot poised on the threshold? And was this picture always like this?

Yes, as I look back through my early sketches, Harriet’s foot is always on the threshold. Little is known about Harriet’s personality (though a bit comes through in her logs), and I was trying to imagine what it must have been like for her on that, her first day at the lighthouse. I tried to think about what it must have been like to be a woman in the 1860’s. How many women would have stepped away from a job as demanding as a lighthouse keeper? How many women (and men, for that matter) would have voluntarily stayed on for as long as Harriet did, as well as completed the job so thoroughly each day? I have to imagine that most women of that era never would have entertained such a livelihood. Yet Harriet, a former music teacher and typesetter, didn’t step away. She stepped up.

Miss Colfax's Light

You have many period details in your artwork, from a five-panel door to a log holder to changes in clothing styles. How do you do your research?

I love history! My father was a historian, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the subject. As far as research, I had the good fortune to visit the actual Michigan City Lighthouse, where wonderful docents gave me a tour, and provided great information about what the lighthouse looked like back in Harriet’s day (it wasn’t as large!), clothing from her era, and the tools she used. Combined with that information, I used the good old internet to make sure the fashions I was using were appropriate. For instance, if you search women’s clothing from the mid-nineteenth century, very formal ball gowns will be the most likely results. Harriet would have worn no such thing. So then a more refined search is needed, often with trips to the library to scour books that might fit the time period I’m trying to capture. I know some illustrators who look to period movies, and will study the costumes and sets for inspiration. In the end, I usually have loads of information about the time period, and only end up using a small fraction of it in my illustrations—just enough to hopefully give the piece an authentic feel, and accurately capture the era. The research side can be tedious and time consuming, but because I find it so interesting, it’s a lot of fun as well!

Are you in charge of deciding where you have two facing pages with different scenes and where you’ll have a two-page spread? What determines this for you?

It’s probably different for each Art Director and publisher. I have great appreciation for the trust that my Art Director at Sleeping Bear Press showed me. She gave me the manuscript with the text somewhat arranged on each page, and let me loose. I was allowed to move text if I wanted to, in order to fit my illustration ideas, and I had free rein to chose vignettes, full-page illustrations, or two-page spread illustrations. Now, all that said, I had to run all of my ideas and sketches by the Art Director, Editor, and Publisher, as well as a few other people, before I could start the final art. Sometimes they approved my decisions, and sometimes I had to tweak something small, and other times I had to do an entire illustration over. The cover of Miss Colfax’s Light was done twice.

Miss Colfax's LightIn the scene where Harriet is filling the lantern with whale oil, the light is shining up from her lantern on the floor. How do you determine where the light will originate, and where it falls, in your illustrations?

If I have to be honest, this is something I’m still working on—lights and darks. For the illustration mentioned above, I guessed. I reverted back to my figure drawing days in college, remembering studies of the planes of the face and folds of fabric, how subtle angles can be thrust into complete darkness, while a slight curve can create a sharp, bright contrast. Looking at illustrators and artists who’ve mastered lights and darks also helps (and intimidates!). I know of several illustrators who actually make models of their characters, and then place lights to mimic the lighting of their piece, and draw from that. This is something I hope to try in the future.

Miss Colfax's Light

In the double-page spread filled with small vignettes of Harriet working, how did you think how to lay out that page?

This was a challenging one for me! A lot of important information is being revealed, and all deserving of a visual component. One illustration per page just wouldn’t cut it. Add the fact that Aimée is describing the typical work Harriet would do in any one day, made me want to capture the feeling of what it was like for Harriet from sun up to sun down. For this reason, I chose to arch the vignettes around the words, starting with Harriet tending the light at the first crack of dawn, to Harriet lighting it again at dusk. But until I came up with that solution, I struggled with this spread quite a bit. I’m not sure why the solution came to me when it did, but it sort of popped up as I was walking my daughters home from preschool. I immediately had the image of clock hands, the passing of time, how the hands (and sun) arch and rotate from Point A, to Point B. It dawned on me to try to use this movement in the piece. Just goes to show that sometimes ideas pop up at the strangest moments. I wasn’t thinking about the problem that fall morning, or so I thought, but apparently some little part of my art brain was still churning, unbeknownst to me.

I love how woeful the postmaster looks when Harriet is reading the letter telling her she’s being replaced. When you begin an illustration, do you have in mind what the expressions will be on various characters’ faces?

Yes and no. Sometimes, I feel like I know the character right away, and other times I really have to sit back and let the scene marinate in my mind, create a few really awful sketches before I start to feel the true spirit of a character, even a minor one, like the postmaster. I remember reading Harriet’s obituary, which described the people of Michigan City as absolutely loving her, and holding her in high regard. So while there were some naysayers at the beginning of Harriet’s career, it seems as if almost everyone felt she was a beloved, stalwart fixture by the end of her career. The latter feeling is what I was trying to capture in the postmaster’s face.

You begin and end the book with that doorway. When did this idea for framing the story come to you in your process?

I think it came fairly naturally, and the framing is largely in Aimée’s writing, which made my job easy! And of course, doors make such nice analogies, don’t they? Comings and goings, beginnings and endings. I almost feel like this aspect of the storyline was a gift. It just made sense to me to start and finish the book with that door.

What did you want readers to know from the pages of illustrations you created for this book?

History can be such a dry subject. Until we realize that it’s all just a series of stories, made up of real people doing extraordinary things. So I hope that when people read Miss Colfax’s Light, they see a person who was courageous, and tired, and determined, with calloused hands and a smile for a friend or a cat who’s chasing the chickens again. I hope that I helped to make Harriet’s world a real, tangible place for readers, especially children. I hope to inspire someone to try something that might be out of their comfort zone, or to not back away from something they want to try just because someone says it’s not meant for them. There is so much to be learned from Harriet and her life. In some ways, her story is a small one, historically speaking. In other ways, it’s huge, and absolutely deserves to be told. It has been such an honor to be entrusted in helping bring her story to life!

Read more...

Journeying Inside

Writing Road Trip: Journey InsideI once sat next to a young Pakistani woman for a long red-eye flight. She had been living in the U.S. for a couple of years, and had many interesting insights on the differences between our two cultures.

I was especially intrigued by the details of how her arranged marriage had come about, and her belief that this practice was so much more successful than our current U.S. tradition of love matches. I was able to gain a new understanding of a custom that had always seemed unfathomable to me—someone else being allowed to choose one’s life partner—by sharing an insider’s view of that life path.

And the whole discussion gave me many intriguing insights not only into her culture, but into my own as well. Writing also allows us this kind of insider’s peek into another life. Every time we create a character, we do our best to imagine what it would be like to travel inside that existence. We immerse ourselves as deeply as we can into a borrowed consciousness, hoping to make the character seem authentic to readers.

One of my writing prompts helps young writers practice this ability to step inside another existence. First I ask students: “If you could be transformed into any animal, what animal would you choose?” Then I ask them to write about what they imagine life would be like as that animal. How would it feel to be able to fly? To swim on the ocean bottom? To run with the pack, or to slither on desert sands?

I ask them to imagine that they have experienced a kind of metamorphosis; that they are living inside another creature’s existence.

Very often I find that when they return from this journey of the imagination, they bring back new insights into their own lives as well.

Read more...

WHY ???

 

Lynne Jonell - Why?

Read more...

No, Thank You

“Thank” “You Jason.” Three simple words on a cake … an analogy for one of my greatest inner conflicts as an educator.

Thank you Jason

One morning in March I stopped at Sam’s Club on my way to school to pick up a cake. A celebration honoring a colleague was taking place that day. I quickly found a lovely one with cheery red flowers and asked the baker to add the sentiment “Thank you, Jason.” A few minutes later she handed me the cake, flippantly mentioning, “I’m not that great at cake writing …” then adding the zinger “but, whatever, it’s going to taste the same.”  I inspected her handiwork and was taken aback. “Thank” appeared on the first line. “You Jason” was scrawled across the next line. My initial reaction was a quizzical look. Was she kidding? I realized she didn’t know I was a teacher and I wasn’t trying to be rude or difficult, but seriously, doesn’t everyone know that “Thank You” on one line makes more sense than “You Jason” on one line? I looked at it again. “Thank” followed by “You Jason”!? I shook my head, as a myriad of thoughts bounced around my head.

What would happen if I told her the writing on this cake was simply not acceptable?

If I made a fuss…

  1. I might sound like a complainer if I asked to speak to the manager — feeling embarrassed.
  2. I might be late for school — feeling inconvenienced.
  3. I might get the baker in trouble for a sub-par performance — feeling guilty.

What would happen if I silently but grudgingly accepted this confectionery mini-crisis?

If I didn’t make a fuss…

  1. I could arrive at school on time with a sorry looking cake — feeling embarrassed.
  2. I could try scraping off the messed up message — feeling inconvenienced.
  3. I could miss an opportunity to help the baker improve her skills and performance — feeling guilty.

I was perplexed but Minnesota Nice won out (temporarily) as I ambivalently put “Thank. You Jason” in my cart. However, by the time I got to the checkout, I had a change of heart and knew I couldn’t and shouldn’t remain silent. When the checkout clerk asked me if I found everything all right I pointed to the cake and said, “Well, almost … I wish I would have found better writing on my cake …” She took a quick look at my boxed dilemma and called the manager over. In less than 10 minutes the cake was returned to the bakery and then came back to me with a nicely aligned sentiment, along with an apology from the baker. I thanked her sincerely, accepted the apology, and complimented her on the new version. The “icing on the cake” was receiving a store gift card from the manager as an additional token of apology for my inconvenience.

Thank you, Jason

As I wheeled my cart across the parking lot, I suddenly experienced an epiphany. This entire incident reminded me of my district’s recent language arts curriculum adoption (aka a new “core” basal reading program). The whole situation was like the unacceptable writing on the cake. The thought of kids losing their voice and choice in their daily reading lives was simply not okay. I could not let my feelings of embarrassment, inconvenience, or guilt stop me from speaking up.

So I continued to raise the questions … Are they (district decision makers) kidding? I realize some people don’t know just how passionate I am about kids and literacy and I’m not trying to be rude or difficult. But seriously, doesn’t everyone know that there is no “magic bullet” reading program that will automatically “fix” test scores simply because it is taught with fidelity? What about the practitioners? How about investing in long-term, high-quality professional development for teachers? What about the students? How about meeting kids’ individual needs based on what we learn about them as we create positive classroom communities? What about the parents? How about getting their input about a company that puts out elementary leveled texts that have been found to be “offensive and inaccurate.”

Chances are no one is going to present me with a gift card for making a fuss this time. Unfortunately, I’m not expecting an “icing on the cake” happy ending.

Stay tuned for part 2 of “Thank. You Jason” in the next installment of Teach it Forward.

Read more...

Visiting Brigadoon

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Steve and I returned earlier this week from Montpelier, Vermont, where we spoke at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, specifically to the alumni of their Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program. We were there to talk about “Marketing as Storytelling,” with the goal of making these typically introverted writers feel more comfortable about touting their books. Marketing is all part of the business of writing, especially in these times when the social media cacophony makes it harder to be heard.

We’ve heard about this program at VCFA for years. A number of our colleagues are faculty members and a number of our clients have graduated from this college. Did it live up to the many laudatory statements we’ve listened to? The graduates speak about the school as though these are hallowed halls. What is it that creates their reaction?

On our drive back to Boston to take the plane home, Steve and I talked about this. We overheard the faculty and staff referring to themselves as Brigadoon throughout the three days we were there. Are you familiar with that legend? The city in Scotland that appears for only one day every one hundred years? A step outside of time? A haven for good and talented people? 

Set among the verdant hills of Vermont, the College’s buildings are arranged around a green grass plaza, a place where dogs catch Frisbees and fountains burble and trees shade students who are writing, reading, and conversing. 

Students in the WCYA program are enrolled in a low-residency program, meaning that they work in their homes and come together twice a year on the campus to listen to and work directly with faculty and visiting speakers. They get to know the other students in their class, all of whom are working toward the common goal of having sustainable publishing careers. They spend ten days together in the summer and ten days in the winter (another popular time in skiable Vermont) and then they fade away to their own homes, inspired once again to work intently on improving their writing and storytelling techniques.

Brigadoon? Yes. The spell fell upon us, too. What a charming place to learn your craft, to strive toward being the best writer you can be. We look forward to great books from the men and women we met during our brief sojourn. We’re confident we’ll be reading them soon.

Read more...

Aimée Bissonette

Aimée BissonetteIn this interview with Aimée Bissonette, author of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Bookstorm™ this monthwe asked about writing and researching this nonfiction picture book biography. 

Aimée, thank you for sharing your experiences and discoveries with our readers. We’re excited about this book that showcases an Everyday Hero, one of America’s female lighthouse keepers.

Miss Colfax's LightWhen you were writing this book, do you remember editing to include fewer details so the illustrator could do her work?

Yes, indeed! In fact, that’s half the joy of writing picture books — knowing the illustrator will fill in so many details. Eileen Ryan Ewen’s  illustrations in this book provide wonderful factual material. Harriet’s clothing and household items in the book are just like the things Harriet would have worn and owned in the late 1800’s. I did not need to include descriptions in the text. Eileen included so much historical detail in her illustrations.

How did you learn that some people in the city felt Harriet “got her job only because her cousin was a U.S. Congressman”?

In writing the book, I did a lot of research. There were several written accounts of Harriet’s life and the docents at the Lighthouse Museum had a treasure trove of information about Harriet. My favorite source of information was Harriet herself. She kept a daily journal, called a log, starting in the 1870’s. The idea that Harriet’s cousin, Schuyler Colfax, a U.S. Congressman who later became Vice President of the United States, helped Harriet get her job was mentioned frequently in my sources. Specifically, it is mentioned in a 1904 Chicago Tribune newspaper article by a reporter who interviewed Harriet right before she retired.

Miss Colfax's Light log book

The author and illustrator chose to include depictions of Miss Colfax’s log book throughout the book.

There are short segments of entries from Harriet’s journal included throughout the book. Did you have to get permission to use those? How did you know who to ask?

Those short segments are entries from the “log” I mentioned above. Harriet maintained that log as part of her official lighthouse keeper duties so the log technically is “owned” by the U.S. Government. Her log is kept in the National Archives. I did not need to get permission to use it because it is not protected by copyright. Keep in mind, though, much of the material a writer uncovers while doing research for a nonfiction book is protected by copyright. Writers need to be aware of this and ask permission when they use other people’s copyrighted work in the books they write.

Did you have to research the Lighthouse Board and the Lighthouse Inspector before you could write this book?

The references in the book to the Lighthouse Board and Lighthouse Inspector are based on Harriet’s log entries. There are many more log entries than are included in the book — 30 years’ worth, in fact! Reading them was tremendously eye-opening. Harriet referred often to the Board and the Inspector in her entries. I did additional reading about the Lighthouse Board and how lighthouses were managed in the 1800’s, but mostly relied on Harriet’s own words when writing about the Board and Inspector.

Other than “I can do this,” there is no dialogue in the book. Why did you choose to leave out dialogue?

That’s a good question! I think the main reason is that, although I had Harriet’s log entries and her letters and I had a sense of what she might say and how she might say it, I didn’t know exactly what she would have said in a conversation. I felt if I made up dialogue, it would take away from the factual accuracy of the book. We can’t even be 100% certain that Harriet would have thought or said “I can do this.” But given all I learned about Harriet — her drive, her intelligence, the hardships she faced — I felt it fit and I allowed that one exception.

Miss Colfax's Light

What do you want readers to know that they didn’t know before from the text you wrote?

I want readers to think about Harriet and others like her — the everyday heroes whose work makes life better for all of us. We don’t often think of lighthouse keepers as “heroes,” but the work Harriet did was critical to sea captains and sailors and the people of Indiana who depended on the goods brought in by ship. I also want readers to think about how Harriet and many other women of that time defied the restrictions placed on women and did incredible things — all without the cool technology we have today.

Would you have chosen to do Harriet’s job if you were alive then?

I like to think that I would have, yes. I think there is a little bit of me in Harriet. Like Harriet, I love a good challenge!

Read more...

Driving Past Effingham

erasersIf a road trip ever takes you past Effingham, Illinois, you won’t be able to miss the 198-foot giant cross that looms over two interstates.

And yet, did that towering symbol of her religious beliefs inspire my mother to sing a rousing chorus of “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” as we drove past it? No, indeed.

That was because at the time, she was much too busy chortling over the name “Effingham.” To her, it sounded like a euphemism for THAT word—the one that, in her opinion, is the single most offensive utterance in the English language.

Labeling something “naughty” only makes it more irresistible. So from the moment we first spied an Effingham road sign, Mom sporadically repeated the name out loud, laughing anew each time. It turns out that “Effingham” is eminently glee-worthy to at least one grandmother of five.

Or maybe she’d just inhaled too many exhaust fumes that day.

One of the best ways to give student erasers a workout is to tell students to read their writing out loud. This is a surefire revision tactic; reading something out loud ensures that students will hear mistakes they have never noticed before. Or you can have students give a copy of their piece to a partner. As their partner reads it to them, the writer of the piece should listen especially for all the places where the reader stumbles, pauses too long, or looks confused.

These are all places where the writer will need to consider revisions.

Perhaps the founders of Effingham should have said their new town name out loud a few more times, until one of them noticed its potential for pronunciation humor.

Or maybe, in the end, they simply chose not to revise.

Read more...

I must go to Scotland

 

Read more...

Look at how we’re teaching nonfiction!

Melissa Stewart working with a studentAs another school year winds to a close, I’m feeling encouraged about the state of nonfiction reading and writing in elementary classrooms across the country.

In 2010, when the Common Core State Standards were introduced, educators began asking me for ideas and strategies for implementing the Reading Informational Text standards. And they were hungry for tips and tools that they could use to teach informational writing.

Melissa Stewart's websiteSo I began to think deeply about the craft of nonfiction writing. I described my evolving insights and observations on my blog and provided resources on my website and pinterest pages.

Teachers, school librarians, reading specialists, and literacy coordinators appreciated what I was doing. They used my resources. They emailed me with questions. They asked me to participate in Twitter chats. And they invited me to their schools. We shared ideas, and together, our understanding of nonfiction, especially expository nonfiction, grew.

Melissa Stewart in the classroom

This year I saw tangible evidence that educators’ efforts are paying off. When I visited schools, teachers no longer nervously asked me, “How can we teach nonfiction?” Instead, they proudly exclaimed, “Look at how we’re teaching nonfiction!” Then they showed me the amazing projects their students had completed.

Here are some the great ideas educators have shared with me.

Nonfiction Smackdown!
Mrs. Paradis, teacher-librarian
Plympton Elementary School, Waltham, MA

Students in grades 3-5 read two nonfiction books on the same topic. Then they evaluate and compare the two titles, recording their thinking on a worksheet like this one. When students are done, they can share their responses with classmates. Or the worksheets can be posted, so that other students can use the information to help them make book choices.

March Madness

March Madness Nonfiction
Mrs. Moody, instructional coach
Williams Elementary School, Oakland, ME

During the month of March, students in every grade level participated in classroom read-alouds of sixteen nonfiction picture books. Then the children voted on their favorites. Here’s more info about this fun, whole-school activity.

Text Feature Posters
Mrs. Teany, kindergarten teacher
Memorial Elementary School, Medfield, MA

After reading a variety of age-appropriate books written by me, K-2 students created fabulous text feature posters, using the ones in my books as mentor texts. Take a look at these terrific examples.

A caption and labels highlighting a butterfly’s body parts.

A caption and labels highlighting a butterfly’s body parts.

Hurricane Watch

Labels on a gripping drawing of a hurricane.

Dragonfly Zoom bubble

A “zoom bubble” showing a close-up view of a dragonfly’s head next to a complete body image with very colorful wings.

Poisonous

Comparing a frog and toad, highlighting that frogs have teeth but toads don’t. (top) Fact boxes with information about two frogs, one is poisonous and one isn’t. (bottom)

You can see more samples in this fun video created by Mrs. Groden, the teacher-librarian at Memorial Elementary School.

Text Structure Swap
Fourth grade teaching team
Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, MA

After reading No Monkeys, No Chocolate, the students made book maps to get a stronger sense of the architecture of the main text, which has what I call a cumulative sequence structure (my mentor texts were traditional cumulative tales, such as The House that Jack Built and I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.)

Then each child chose one example from the text and rewrote it with a cause and effect text structure.  What a great idea!

Image-I_400px

Image-J_400px

Image-K_400px

Experimenting with Text Structures
Second grade teaching team
Wealthy Elementary School, East Grand Rapid, MI

Image-L_260pxWhile growing bean plants, students read a wide variety of age-appropriate nonfiction books about plants and plant growth. Then each child wrote about the beans using the text structure of his or her choice. The range of samples included using:

  • sequence structure to describe their plant’s growth sequence.
  • compare and contrast structure to explain the differences they observed between their seed and seeds placed in low-light conditions or deprived of water. 
  • cause and effect structure to describe how low light or lack of water affected seeds.
  • how-to structure to explain how students cared for their seed.
  • description structure to document the appearance of their plant with meticulous attention to detail.

Wow! I was blown away.

Radical Revision!
Kennedy Elementary School
Billerica, MA

As teachers listened to me describe the 10-year process of revising No Monkeys, No Chocolate, they hatched a plan for a project I love. They’re asked first graders to write a piece of nonfiction. Next year, when the students are in second grade, teachers will share the No Monkeys, No Chocolate Revision Timeline on my website and ask the children to revise the piece they wrote in first grade. Good idea, right? But it gets even better. Both drafts will be placed in a folder, and the students will revise the piece again in third, fourth, and fifth grade.

Imagine how different the final piece will be from the original! It will allow children to see tangible evidence of their growth as writers and give them a true sense of how long it can take to write a book.

Image-M_600px

Authentic Illustration
K-2 teachers, Middle Gate Elementary School
Newtown, CT

As teachers listened me describe the process of making When Rain Falls, they came up with a great idea. After students have written nonfiction about a topic of their choice, children in another class at the same grade level will illustrate the text. Then the original writers will critique the artists’ work. Did they make any factual errors in their drawings? This activity mimics the process nonfiction authors go through when they review sketches created by an illustrator.

Image-N_600px

Science and Stories Laboratory
Ms. Beecher, Literacy Coordinator
Pasadena (CA) Unified School District

Using Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science as a guide, Ms. Beecher worked with the staff at Jackson STEM Dual Language Magnet Elementary School to design an innovative Science and Stories Laboratory that immersed students in a fabulous multi-week adventure of reading, writing, and exploring. Take a look at this fun video to see some of the highlights.

Images_O_P_600px

Like teachers all across America, I’m more than ready for summer break. But I’m also looking forward to seeing even more terrific ideas for teaching informational reading and writing next year. It’s a great time for nonfiction!

Read more...

Skinny Dip with April Halprin Wayland

April Halprin WaylandToday we welcome author and educator April Halprin Wayland to Bookology. Her most recent picture book, More Than Enough, is a story about Passover. April was one of nine Instructors of the Year honored by the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, Creative Writing.

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

I would LOVE to have coffee (one-shot latte with extra soy, extra foam) with Crockett Johnson, author/illustrator of Harold and the Purple Crayon but most notably for me, author/illustrator of Barnaby, a comic strip that ran during WWII (actually 1942-1952). I think of it as the predecessor of Calvin and Hobbes. Barnaby stars five-year-old Barnaby Baxter and his fairy godfather Jackeen J. O’Malley. Mr. O’Malley continually gets Barney into trouble. It’s brilliant.

Which book do you find yourself recommending passionately?

You’re joking, right—one book? I’ll tell you right this very minute what books (plural) I recommend. But ask me in half an hour and my list will be completely different.

Favorite city to visit?

NYC! And Poipu, Kauai! And let’s not forget London, for heaven’s sake. And anywhere my husband, my son, or my best two friends are.

Most cherished childhood memory?

One August when I was nine or ten, I found a raft by the Feather River, which ran by our farm. I repaired it (I don’t remember if an adult helped me or not), then climbed aboard and lay back. The next month, at the beginning of the school year, my teacher asked us to choose a word and define it by writing about something that happened that summer. I wrote about that hot summer day on the river. My word? Bliss.

What’s your dream vacation?

Like my favorite books, this will change in the next half hour. For right this minute it would involve my husband, our lanky, knuckle-brained dog, Eli, our son and his girlfriend, hiking, biking, meadows, forests, and arriving at a different bed-and-breakfast each evening with farm-fresh, just-harvested food for dinner, a down quilt each night, and a one-shot latte with extra soy, extra foam each morning. 🙂

April Halprin Wayland in the classroom

Best tip for living a contented life?

I ask myself a central, touchstone question: Will this action or thought help me to like myself?

So, for example, each day I might ask myself: Should I say yes to this invitation to speak? Should I eat this whole bag of (fill in the blank)? Should I spend an extra half-hour with this person, even though I have a pile of work at home? Should I go to this political gathering? Should I volunteer to help put on an event? Should I skip meditation (or exercise or walking the dog) today? Should I pick up that piece of trash I just passed? Do I really need to eat the whole jar? Should I floss my teeth? Should I work on this poem or this book? Should I go to a meeting tonight? Should I turn off the computer and spend time with my husband, who just got home from work?

If I ask myself that question, the answer is always clear. I may not choose to act on the obvious answer, but if I do, I feel more content.

Monkey-and-Eli-read-poetry-together_600px

Monkey and Eli read poetry together.

Your hope for the world?

That we will be kind to each other.

Read more...

Bookstorm™: Miss Colfax’s Light

Bookmap Miss Colfax's Light

 

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to feature Miss Colfax’s Light as our June book selection, in which author Aimée Bissonette and illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen tell the fascinating story of a woman who served as the Michigan City Lighthouse keeper from 1861 to 1904. Captains and navigators on Lake Michigan relied on her lighthouse to keep them from foundering on the rocks or crashing onto the shore in rough weather.

Every day heroes. That’s how author Aimée Bissonette refers to the people in history who intrigue her. She traveled to research her chosen subject, Harriet Colfax, talking with people in Indiana who could proudly provide information. Miss Colfax faithfully kept a log, so Aimée was able to read about Harriet’s work and her daily life in Harriet’s own words. Illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen painted a wealth of accurate, time-appropriate details into the pages of the book, helping readers visually understand the time in which Miss Colfax lived. We think you’ll be inspired by Miss Colfax’s story as much as we are.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books, articles, and videos for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books about American lighthouses, lighthouse keepers, and biographies of female heroes. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more information about Aimée Bissonette on her website. The illustrator’s website will show you more of Eileen Ryan Ewen’s portfolio.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

About Lighthouses. For background information as you prepare to excite students, library patrons, or your family members about American lighthouses, these books will help you locate these beacons of safety, learn more about their operation, and understand the science and math that are an inherent part of the workings of lighthouses around the country.

Brave and Extraordinary Women. From picture book biographies to short-article anthologies, you’ll find a variety of inspiring stories from oceanographer Sylvia Earle to educational activist Malala Yousafzai.

How Lighthouses Work. From the Fresnel lens to the Chance Brothers engineering to the improvements in fuel, increases in the range of light, and Edison’s invention of the lightbulb, you’ll find books to inform your presentations and discussions about Miss Colfax’s Light.

Lighthouse Books. There are a number of good books to pair with our featured Bookstorm. Compare the true story of Miss Colfax with that of Abbie Burgess, who took her lighthouse keeper father’s place during an ice storm, or the Maine Flying Santa program, or the Little Red Lighthouse near the George Washington Bridge in New York City, among many others.

Protecting Our Waterways. In addition to our lighthouse keepers, the U.S. Coast Guard is on duty protecting water travelers and shipping vessels during all types of weather and in hazardous situations. These books will extend readers’ understanding of the work done by highly skilled patrols.

Water. Before and after reading Miss Colfax’s Light, it’s a good time to have a discussion about the importance of water in our lives. From our Great Lakes, to our coastal waters, to the rivers and lakes throughout our country, to the water that falls from the sky, to the water that is pumped up from underground aquifers, water and water conservation are essential to our everyday lives. 

Whether you choose to focus on every day heroes, water, science, Great Lakes commerce, or inspiration women, there are many directions you can go and many subjects you can support with Miss Colfax’s Light.

Let us know how you are making use of this Bookstorm™. Share your ideas and any other books you’d add to this Bookstorm™.

Read more...

The Sandwich Swap

The Sandwich SwapNormally, I spurn picture books written by celebrities, be they actors or royalty or what have you. If it’s a person in the headlines, I quite assume they could not possibly write a worthy picture book. The only exception on my shelves, I believe (and I realize there are other exceptions! Feel free to leave titles in the comments.) is The Sandwich Swap by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah with Kelly Depucchio, illustrated by Tricia Tusa.

I adore this book and have read it to many groups of kids. It’s about two best friends, Salma and Lily, who do most everything together—they draw, they swing, they jump rope. And every day they eat lunch together—Lilly always has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on squishy white bread, and Salma always has a hummus sandwich on pita bread. Secretly, they each find their friend’s choice of sandwich mystifying. Gooey peanut paste? Ew Gross! Icky chickpea paste? Ew yuck! But they don’t say this to each other.

Until one day they do. Lily blurts out her feelings about Salma’s sandwich.

Salma frowned. She looked down at the thin, soft bread, and she thought of her beautiful, smiling mother as she carefully cut Salma’s sandwich in two neat halves that morning. 

The next line is the most brilliant in the book, I think: Her hurt feelings turned to mad.

Isn’t that how it goes? Once, when I read this in story time a little boy smacked his forehead with his hands and said, “Oh no!”

Oh no, is right—Salma snaps back with hurtful words about the grossness and offensive smell of Lily’s sandwich.

Lily looked surprised. She sniffed the thick, squishy bread, and she thought of her dad in his silly apron, whistling as he cut Lily’s sandwich into two perfect triangles that morning.

Well, the disagreement is personal and hurtful, and the friends part ways after a few more hurtful exchanges. No more picture drawing, swinging, and jump roping. They don’t eat together, they don’t talk…and the pictures are exquisite—two deflated girls without their best friend.

Meanwhile…the story spread and everyone in the lunchroom began to choose sides around the peanut butter and hummus sandwiches.

Pretty soon the rude insults had nothing at all to do with peanut butter or hummus.

Sandwich Swap“That’s so dumb!” said one outraged girl I was reading to.  I nodded vaguely and turned the page to the two-page spread of a food fight right there in the lunchroom. “See!” said the girl. She held her head as if she had the worst headache.

This is how wars start, people! Interestingly, every time I look for this book on my shelf I’m looking for the title “The Sandwich War” and am then reminded that the actual title is more…peaceful. As is the book in the end.

Salma and Lily come to their senses as pudding cups and carrot sticks whip past their heads. They’re required to help clean up the mess and they’re sent to the principal’s office, as well. Again, the illustrations carry the feelings—two small girls, made smaller by all that has happened.

The next day, brave Salma sits down across from Lily at lunch. In return, Lily works up the courage to ask Salma if she’d like to try her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A swap occurs, as well as glad exclamations of the yumminess of each others sandwiches.

The girls hatch a plan, which is depicted entirely in a gorgeous pull-out three page spread.

Sandwich Swap

When I read this to kids, we looks at all the flags and try to identify them. We wonder what food was brought to represent each country. I’ve always wanted to have such a potluck after the book, but although I’ve been to such potlucks, I never seem to have the book with me at the right time. Perhaps I just need to carry it around in my purse… Or create such an event!

Read more...

Gardening and Farming Delights

 

Jackie: At last—we made it to spring and all the usual accoutrements have shown up—lilacs, violets, the smell of apple blossoms, and thoughts of sprouting seeds and growing vegetables.  How could we not look at picture books about gardens and farming this month?

Miss Jaster's GardenI have to confess, Phyllis, I did not know of Miss Jaster’s Garden, written and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker and published in 1972. I’m so glad to meet Miss Jaster and Hedgie the hedgehog whom she treats with a bowl of milk each night. “But hedgehogs being the shape they are, and Miss Jaster being a little nearsighted, as often as not she put the saucer where the hedgehog’s head wasn’t. And Hedgie—so as not to cause distress—“politely dipped his tail in the milk and pretended to drink.” 

That’s not the only problem caused by Miss Jaster’s poor vision. When she is scattering flower seeds in her garden she does not see Hedgie and plants seeds on him too.  “…after a while he began feeling restless.” Hedgie is sprouting. Hedgie blooms! And feels like dancing. “Tomorrow I’ll be as quiet as an earthworm,” thought Hedgie, “but not today. Today is the greatest day of my life. There’ll never be another like it!” When Miss Jaster sees flowers dancing in the yard, she yells, “STOP THIEF!”  and poor Hedgie, frightened and chagrined, runs off. Eventually the Chief Constable, with a capable bit of sleuthing, finds Hedgie and brings him back—“a weary, worried, bedraggled little animal, down on his luck.” Miss Jaster feels bad at having given the hedgehog (“flowerhog”) such a scare. And they take breakfast together every morning—“And there was nothing but peace and sunshine and a touch of Sweet William.”

I love the tone of this book—Hedgie is up for the adventure of being a walking flower garden. The constable is thoughtful, “Did you by chance, happen to notice how many legs these flowers had when they made their getaway? In round numbers?” In round numbers! And I love the characters—the hedgehog who’s so thoughtful he pretends to drink with his tail so as not to upset Miss Jaster. And kind Miss Jaster who doesn’t mind sharing her garden with a hedgehog and is actually pleased when she realized that she also shared flower seeds with him.

This story has a lot of text. But the humor is so wonderful and the characters just the right degree of eccentric, I think it would be enjoyed  by the five to ninety crowd. What do you think?

Miss Jaster's Garden

Phyllis: I didn’t know this book, either, but I also love it. The double-page spread map at the beginning of the book is a little story all in itself, as good maps often are. From Hedgie’s corner to the birdbath (“For ancient inscription, see page 17”) to Miss J’s wicker chair and Sunrise Hill (“Elevation 9’”) Bodecker has created a whole world in art as well as text.

As someone who has become nearer and nearer sighted my whole life, I completely understand how Miss Jaster might make such a mistake. And who wouldn’t want a walking flower garden? Who wouldn’t want to be a flower garden? I love how the ending brings mutual satisfaction to Miss Jaster and to Hedgie, who have always been solicitous of each other—each morning they share “a leisurely breakfast … and a walk along the beach, followed by a small but persistent butterfly.”

Certainly the text is much longer than many more recent picture books, but what wonderful details! When Miss Jaster goes out to plant she does so in “a purple morning-dress and sturdy shoes” with a “large straw hat, trimmed with cornflowers on her head,” pulling “a small four-wheeled wagon full of garden tools and flower seeds.” Like a garden in full bloom, the story is lush with language.

I love, too, how Hedgie, as he discovers he’s sprouting, wonders which he will be:  “’Flower bed or vegetable garden? Vegetable garden or flower bed?’” until one day, “’I’m in bloom!’ cried Hedgie.”

Grandpa's Too Good GardenJackie:  I call James Stevenson the writer with the humor cure. He makes me laugh. And Grandpa’s Too Good Garden  is one of his curing-est. Mary Ann and Louie are disappointed with their gardening. Louis says, “We dig and rake and plant and water and weed—and nothing ever comes up. Our garden is no good.” Grandpa remains calm and tells them he once had a garden that was “a little too good.” There are some wonderful cartoon-y frames of Grandpa and Wainey in the garden (both as kids with little mustaches) but the story really begins when Father throws his Miracle Grow hair tonic out the window. It spills into the garden and gets rained in. Before Wainey even wakes up a vine snatches him up and almost out the window. The garden was taller than the house. Giant caterpillars came to eat the giant plants. The plants continued to grow and Grandpa got “snagged on a weather vane above our roof.” Grandpa is in trouble…only to be rescued by Wainey on a giant butterfly. This happy ending is accompanied by Wainey showing up to offer Grandpa and the kids some ice cream. I love the exaggeration, the total silliness of it.

Phyllis: Gardeners need patience, but not all of us wait quietly. When the seeds don’t grow quickly  enough, Wainey and Grandpa encourage them. “’Hello, beans? Tomatoes? Are you down there? Give us a sign!’ ‘Hello, carrumps?” The fortuitous hair tonic reminds me of old radio science fiction shows. “You threw the growth formula out back?” the scientist asks his assistant just before the now-giant earthworms come banging on the door. There’s a satisfying circularity to Grandpa’s garden story when one of the giant butterflies that metamorphed from the giant caterpillars rescues both brothers. Wonderful wackiness!

Farmer DuckJackie: Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury) is set on a farm and Farmer Duck does farm work so we are including it. It’s all about friends. And friends are important to gardeners. Who else would take our extra zucchini? or help us pull weeds? or share plants with us?

This is such an exuberant telling. Was there ever a lazier farmer than the human farmer who stays in bed all day, yelling to the duck, “How goes the work?” Farmer Duck always responds the same way, “Quack.” This goes on day after day. While the lazy farmer eats bon bons, the duck saws wood, spades the garden, washes dishes, irons clothes. The other animals can’t stand to see their friend work so hard. One night they meet in the barn and make a plan. “’Moo!’ said the cow./’Baa!’ said the sheep./ ‘Cluck!’ said the hens. And that was the plan.” 

When they carry out their plan the lazy farmer runs away and never returns. “…mooing and baaing and clucking and quacking, they all set to work on their farm.” We just can’t help but think hay will be sweeter, corn will be taller, and there may be dancing in the barn.

Farmer Duck

Phyllis: I adore this book, text and art. The duck looks wearier and wearier, and who wouldn’t want to be comforted by such caring hens and the other animals as well?  And I love how the animals that the duck tended to at the beginning of the story, including carrying a sheep from the hill, all pitch in to help at the end as “mooing and baaing and clucking and quacking, they all set to work on their farm.” Animals, unite! The fruits of the labor belong to the laborers!

When the Root Children Wake UpJackie:  I would be remiss not to mention your namesake book, Phyllis—When The Root Children Wake Up, retold by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Ned Bittinger. It’s a story of seasons. A robin comes to the window of Mother’s Earth’s underground “home” and calls, “Root Children! Root Children …Wake up! It’s time for the masquerade.” The children awaken the bugs and paint them and head out for the masquerade. But it’s not too long before “Cousin Summer slips his knapsack on his back and quickly strides over the hills and far away.” Time for Uncle Fall. And soon it will be time for another winter’s nap. 

There’s a lot about this story that I like—the circle of seasons, painting the bugs. I’m a little put off by the very realistic drawings of children as the “Root Children.” I’m not sure why. Maybe because they seem too real to be sleeping underground all winter. Makes me feel  claustrophobic. Maybe I’m just grumpy. I’d love to know what others think.

When the Root Children Wake UpPhyllis: It’s true that what caught my eye about When the Root Children Wake Up was my name in the title, but I also love the story and art in the version I have, a reprint of the 1906 Sybelle Olffers book  first published in Germany and republished in English in 1988 by Green Tiger Press. The charmingly old-fashioned original illustrations remind me of books I loved as a child and include a joyous spread of the root children emerging above ground carrying flowers and grasses “into the lovely world.” Interesting how art can change the perception of a story!

Lola Plants a GardenA garden book for the very young is Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosaline Beardshaw. The straightforward story tells how Lola loves the poem “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” and  wants to plant a garden of her own. She and Mommy read books about gardens, make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers, buy seeds, and plant them. While she waits for them to grow, Lola makes their own book about flowers, strings beads and shells and bells, and makes a little Mary Mary doll. Lola’s patience and work are rewarded as the flowers grow big and “Open toward the sun.” Daddy helps her hang her bells, her friends come to her garden to eat Mommy’s peas and strawberries, and Lola makes up a story for them about Mary Mary. The book concludes, “What kind of garden will Lola plant next?” Simply told and satisfying, the book makes me want to run out and buy more packets of flower seeds, then invite friends to come visit in the garden and encourage them to grow.

Lola Plants a Garden

Jackie: Friends and gardens and the cycle of seasons. We are all rooted on this earth. And that’s good to remember. Let’s go plant some beans.

Read more...

Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer

Charles Gigna

Charles Ghigna (photo: Scott Pierce)

This month Charles Ghigna, well-known as the poet Father Goose, offers “Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer.” There is much to ponder here, no matter what your age might be, but young writers especially will find these words of encouragement to be useful and inspirational. For example:

Trust
your instincts
to write.

Question
your reasons
not to.

How many times do you tell yourself you shouldn’t be writing poetry? When that’s what you really want to do?

Enjoy these poems and take them to heart: you, too, are a poet.

Do you teach children to write poetry? The stanzas of “Dear Poet” are short gems that will give you and your students good ideas for discussions.

Charles is a prolific poet, publishing books for children, teens, and adults, who lives and writes in Alabama. Here are some of his recent titles.

Charles Ghigna Books

 

Read more...