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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Pinkerton & Friends

I had a “Why in the world….?” moment the other day. It was unexpected and a little strange and it was this: When I imagine picture books that I am writing and/or thinking about writing, I imagine very specific illustrations. From a very specific illustrator. Even though I admire the work of many illustrators. (I admire this one, too, of course.) But always, always, in my first imagining, I “picture” the illustrations by Steven Kellogg.

I love Mr. Kellogg’s work. But I love the work of a lot of illustrators and would aspire and hope for many (very different) illustrators to make art to help tell my stories. I can switch my imagination to other illustrators if I think about it, but without thinking about it…it’s Steven Kellogg’s art. When this realization came to me I pulled some of his books off the shelves in my office with the question: Why is Kellogg my default, the first one whose work I imagine?

All I can think is that the years 1999-2002 were what I think of as The Pinkerton Years. You might think it strange that I can pinpoint the years, but I know we were less involved with Pinkerton (and by that I mean not reading Pinkerton stories on a daily basis) by the time Darling Daughter came along late in 2002. Prior to that, we could hardly leave the house without a Pinkerton story with us.

These were also the first of the allergy/asthma years—#1 Son was critically ill too much of the time, and with his doctors we were struggling to figure out what was causing such severe reactions. The only clear allergens were pets, and he came to understand first that he could not be around puppies or kitties, or anything else furry and cuddly and fun. A terrible sentence, of course, when you are three and wheezy.

So we read a lot of books about pets, and before we read Ribsy and Because of Winn-Dixie we read Pinkerton stories. A lot of Pinkerton stories. #1 Son adored Pinkerton. Pinkerton, a Great Dane, is possibly the most hilarious dog to ever be featured in a book—he is huge and ungainly and always getting himself in a fix. His expressions, his “knees and elbows,” his giant floppiness, and his curiosity and giant heart make him quite a character.

Very quickly we learned to spot Kellogg illustrations from across the library/bookstore, and pretty much wherever there are Kellogg pictures, there are animals. Not just great danes, but boa constrictors, mice, cats, pigs, ducks in a row, horses, spaniels….. And wherever there are animals, there’s a fair amount of chaos—at least in a Kellogg book. (Articles and interviews suggest he has lived the fun and chaos in a home we could not have entered and lived to breathe—lots of pets!)

The detail in Kellogg’s illustrations is tremendous, the hilarity aptly conveyed, and the sweetness and rollercoaster high emotions of kids and Great Danes alike comes alive on the page. I could read stacks of the books in one sitting to my wheezing boy. We used them to get through nebulizer treatments, and to “push fluids,” and to encourage rest for a kid all amped up on steroids. They were magical and we poured over the illustrations long after the reading of the story was done. The medicine could go down without much fuss as long as Pinkerton was along.

Those were exhausting, worried years, and all I can think is that I somehow absorbed Steven Kellogg’s art in my sleep-deprived anxious state…and it’s now in my bones. Thank you, Mr. Kellogg, for your stories, your art, and your presence in our family’s life. You are the default in my imagination and I’m grateful.

 

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Following The Ducklings

We have just returned from a trip to the Boston/Concord area and Maine. It was a bit of a literary trip. Three days in Concord, Massachusetts set the stage as we toured Louisa May Alcott’s house and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, too. We followed The Amble, which became more of A Ramble, between Emerson’s home and Thoreau’s cottage at Walden Pond. We visited museums and archives, bookshops and the library. It all made this English major very happy—I’ve wanted to visit Concord since my Walden obsession in high school.

We made sure to see The Ducklings in Boston Public Garden, of course. #1 Son had refused to pose with them, as other small children do, when he was four. He loved Make Way for Ducklings, however, and insisted we buy it in Boston since “we only have the library book.” So, of course, we did. (Side Note: If you don’t know the story about Robert McCloskey’s attention to his art with regard to this book, check out Anita Silvey’s telling of it on Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac.) Darling Daughter was game to pose with The Ducklings on this trip, but she didn’t want to get in the way of the little ones who climbed all over them, so we have no pictures of either child with this monument. But the mere thought of those bronze ducks makes me smile.

What I didn’t realize as we stood watching the kids on the ducks, is that we were merely starting our Robert McCloskey tour. Our next stop after Boston was Deer Isle, Maine, an island in Penobscot Bay reached by a stunning suspension bridge from the mainland. Deer Isle was home to Robert McCloskey, who moved to the idyllic island in search of peace after World War II. I had no idea, though I knew he was a Mainer, of course. (So many of my favorite writers are.) Turns out, The McCloskeys raised a family on Deer Isle and we recognized the place from Blueberries for Sal, Time of Wonder, and One Morning in Maine.

We had a lovely stay and enjoyed perusing Maine authors in every library, bookstore, antique store, and even one gas station. The McCloskey sections were especially large. It was in an antique store in Stonington that I had the delightful surprise of coming across the Henry Reed books in the McCloskey section. I reached for Henry Reed’s Babysitting Service as if in a dream—it was like time slowed…the sounds around me became distorted…and the movie of my life rewound itself to Parson’s Elementary school. There was the Henry Reed section, right in the corner where the shelves came together in our school’s library….. Henry Reed, Inc., Henry Reed’s Journey, Henry Reed’s Babysitting Service, Henry Reed’s Big Show, Henry Reed’s Think Tank—we had them all! I read them all—many times!

I’d wager I haven’t thought about Henry Reed in nearly 40 years, however. I know I didn’t read these delightful books by Keith Robertson with our kids—how could I not have read these with them?! Oh, how I loved Henry and his friend Midge! I can’t remember much about the plots of the books—I paged through Henry Reed’s Babysitting Service standing there in the store and remembered it viscerally but with almost no detail. Robert McCloskey illustrated them—and you can recognize his style immediately. I have the Henry Reed books all mixed in with the Ramona Quimby books—same look and feel (different illustrators, as well as authors) and similar stories about wonderfully ordinary kids. These books were my childhood.

Our kids are twenty and almost fifteen now. I wonder if I could convince them the Henry Reed series would make for great porch reading this summer…? We used to drink lemonade and eat popcorn while we read books on the porch in the hot afternoons of summer waiting for Dad to come home from work. I miss this. Maybe they do, too? I feel like I’ve left a terrible hole in their reading lives by inadvertantly skipping Henry Reed! I shall procure the books and then suggest it. Maybe someone will join me out on the swing…..

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The Best Wish of All

World PizzaOnce in awhile I find a book on my reading pile that I’ve passed by a few times. It might be that the cover doesn’t make sense to me and I shuffle through to choose another title. Or the title might be silly (in my mind) and I don’t open the book because something else catches my interest. And then one day I open that book and I discover that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. (Is there a truer truism?)

This time that book is World Pizza. It’s going to be about the different kinds of pizza around the world, right? It is not. There’s a clever play on words in the title which I wouldn’t have discovered if I hadn’t opened the book and read it. (Note to self: open the book and read it!)

You see, World Pizza is a lovely book. It’s a tiny bit silly, enough to keep those being read to smiling, but it’s really a book about peace (I can’t figure out how to recommend this book without giving that away). A mother makes a wish and sneezes, resulting in pizzas for everyone, everywhere. It’s a book about what we have in common and how that brings us together and how that’s more important than what keeps us apart.

Cece Meng’s story is told with the right kind of words, words that tell the story as it should be told, which are words that get the reader thinking. And smiling. They are not preachy words. Not at all. It’s a happy book and we all need happy books.

Ellen Shi’s illustrations of a diverse population of characters around the world eating and celebrating pizza, as well as pizza combinations you’ve never considered before, open the reader’s mind to all the possibilities of World Pizza. They are sometimes funny and sometimes gentle in all the right ways, creating a story that leaves an impression. And her color palette is yummy.

I can easily see this book being asked for again and again. Who doesn’t want to hear a story about pizza for everyone? And who doesn’t want to be reassured about the goodness in this world we live in?

World Pizza
written by Cece Meng
illustrated by Ellen Shi
Sterling’s Children’s Books, 2017

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Swerving Over the Line

St. Peters Church in Rome, Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman

Photo by Carol M. Highsmith

During one of my visits to see my Alabama brother’s family, we took a road trip to the Ave Maria Grotto. That’s where a Benedictine Monk named Brother Joseph Zoettl built over 125 Mini-Me versions of some of the greatest buildings of the world.

Artists are often inspired by someone else’s masterpieces.  But in working with young writers, I’ve found that it’s easy to mistakenly swerve over the center line from the safety of inspiration into the danger of plagiarism (or trade- mark infringement). Not to mention the questions that arise when you’re teaching “creative” writing and the student in front of you has borrowed from another writer’s creativeness.

I’m not talking about sneaky kids trying to get out of doing their work. I’m talking about kids who are innocently inspired by their favorite books, movies, or video games, and who are excited to extend these adventures. And kids aren’t the only ones to do this. Writers of all ages have posted hundreds of thousands of “fan fiction” stories online. But where does “paying homage” end and “taking someone else’s ideas” begin?

I don’t have a “one size fits all” answer about how to handle this situation in the classroom. When the question comes up as part of a group discussion, I take the opportunity to address the issue of plagiarism.

When the question comes up when I’m reading an individual student’s story, I try to personalize my approach. Some kids, I know, are ready to be challenged to invent characters and a setting “from scratch.” Others struggle mightily to come up with their own ideas. Sometimes giving them permission to borrow a familiar character is the very thing that allows them to truly engage in the act of writing for the first time—rather than freezing up completely. In those cases, I have a little chat with them about how important it is that they don’t just “steal” somebody else’s work. But I do sometimes allow them to take inspiration or even characters from their favorite stories and then write their own adventure using them. My hope is that in doing so, they’ll learn how to do it completely on their own the next time around.

I think Brother Joseph would see the whole thing as an act of homage rather than a case of outright theft.

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Skinny Dip with Suzanne Costner

Suzanne Costner

Suzanne Costner

We’re thrilled to Skinny Dip with outstanding educator Suzanne Costner, Thanks to Suzanne for answer our questions during her very busy end-of-the-school-year hours.

Who was your favorite teacher in grades K-7 and why?

My favorite teacher was Mrs. Hill in 4th grade. She read to us every day after lunch: Stuart Little, Where the Red Fern Grows, James and the Giant Peach. She introduced us to so many awesome writers that I still go back and reread.

When did you first start reading books?

I can’t remember a time that I didn’t read. I still have my first little cloth book that I chewed on as a baby. My grandmother had a set of Dr. Seuss books on the shelf and read them to me whenever I stayed with her. I was reading on my own before I started kindergarten.

Suzanne’s first book, a Real Cloth book.

Your favorite daydream?

In my daydream, I am living in a little cabin in the woods with my dogs and my books. There is a little stream gurgling along nearby and sunlight filtering through the trees.

Dinner party at your favorite restaurant with people living or dead: where is it and who’s on the guest list?

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe with C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, and Lloyd Alexander. My sister and my nieces would have to be there, too.

All-time favorite book?

The Princess Bride—chases, escapes, swordfights, torture, pirates, giants, magic, true love…

Favorite breakfast or lunch as a kid?

My favorite lunch was a peanut butter sandwich, and I always asked for “a lid on it,” because I didn’t like open-faced sandwiches.

What’s your least favorite chore?

It’s probably laundry, because the washing machine is in the basement and it means multiple trips up and down the stairs.

What’s your favorite part of starting a new project?

Bouncing my ideas off my friends and having them suggest ways to make things even better.

Barefoot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Barefoot, and either reading a book or listening to an audio book.

Toy RocketWhen are you your most creative?

When I am writing grant applications to fund more STEM activities for my students. I can think of all sorts of ways to tie rockets, robots, and gadgets into literacy instruction.

Your best memory of your school library?

I was a library aide in middle school and loved being in the library and helping to get the new books ready for the shelf. That “new book” smell when the box was opened should be a signature perfume or cologne.

Favorite flavor of ice cream?

O’Charley’s Caramel Pie ice cream from Mayfield Dairies (the best of both worlds)

What I'm reading nowBook on your bedside table right now?

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and The Unbreakable Code by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.

What’s your hidden talent?

I have a brain that holds onto trivia, so I can come up with a song or movie quote for almost any occasion. Sometimes at family dinners we all just speak in movie quotes.

CowgirlYour favorite toy as a child …

I had a little wooden riding toy that looked like a giraffe. I rode it up and down the walk behind my grandparents’ house. I also had a cowgirl outfit, complete with boots and hat that I loved to wear.

Best invention in the last 200 years?

Digital books so that I can go on vacation without taking a second suitcase just for all my reading material.

Favorite artist? Why?

I love space and stars, so Van Gogh’s Starry Night is my favorite painting. I don’t really have one favorite artist.

Which is worse: spiders or snakes?

Spiders—because my sister Jamie hates them and I have to rescue her from them.

What’s your best contribution to taking care of the environment?

Recycling. especially trading in books at the used bookstore, or using CFL bulbs in my reading lamps.

Why do you feel hopeful for humankind?

Because kids still fall in love with books. If they can lose themselves in characters and settings that are different from their everyday world, then they can learn tolerance and kindness.

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Why Students Copy Their Research Sources,
and How to Break the Habit

ResearchBy third grade, nearly all students know what plagiarism is and understand that it’s both immoral and illegal, and yet, again and again, we catch them copying their sources.

Why don’t students express ideas and information in their own words? Because they haven’t taken the time or don’t have the skills to analyze and synthesize the material they’ve collected so that they can make their own meaning. In other words, they haven’t found a personal connection to the content, and that’s a critical step in the nonfiction pre-writing process.

Here are some ideas to help students break the habit:

Nix the All-About Books

The best nonfiction writing happens when students have to dig deep and think critically, so asking them to write All-About books, which present a broad overview of a topic, is just setting them up for failure. When students choose a narrow topic that they find fascinating, they’ll have to mine their sources, collecting tiny nuggets of gold here and there. This fun quest will fuel their passion for the topic and result in engaging writing that presents ideas and information in fresh ways.

QuestionsStart with a Question

Suggest that students develop wonder questions and use them to guide their research. Not only does this guarantee that students will have some “skin in the game,” a specific query will lead to more targeted note taking and require students to make connections between information they find in a variety of sources.

Dual Notetaking

Julie Harmatz, a fifth grade teacher in San Pedro, California, has had great success with collaborative notetaking in a Google doc. Not only do students enjoy the technological novelty of this activity, they gain access to the thought processes of their partner(s). Pairing an adept notetaker with a student who’s struggling with this skill can be a powerful experience. After all, students often learn better from peer modeling than adult instruction.

Journaling

Encourage students to review the information they’ve gathered and journal about it. This will help many children take ownership of the material and identify what fascinates them most about what they’ve discovered. When students approach writing with a clear mission in mind, they’re more likely to present ideas through their own personal lens.

Thought PromptsUse Thought Prompts

Ryan Scala, a fifth grade teacher in East Hampton, New York, recommends inviting students to synthesize their research and make personal connections by using one of the following thought prompts:

  • The idea this gives me . . .
  • I was surprised to learn . . .
  • This makes me think . . .
  • This is important because . . . 

Can’t Copy

Encourage students to use source materials that they can’t copy, such as a documentary film or personal observations outdoors or via a webcam.

WowFocus on the “Oh, wow!”

Award-winning children’s book author Deborah Heiligman advises young writers to only write down information that makes them say, “Oh wow!” Then she suggests that they write their first draft without looking at their notes, using just what they remember. Of course, they can always go back and add details, dates, etc., later, but when kids are forced to write from their memories, they write in their own voices, and they focus on the ideas and information that interest them most.

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Mystery Readers

In this column, I’m pleased to share a brief overview of Nurturing the Development of Reflective Readers,” a session I attended at “Echoes of Learning,” the literacy conference at Zaharis Elementary in Mesa, AZ. Kris-Ann Florence and Megan Kypke, second and fourth grade teachers, shared how they promote reflection and enhance comprehension by using a student version of miscue analysis to help readers understand the importance of meaning-making. In kid-friendly language, it’s simply called “Mystery Reader.” Kris-Ann and Megan showcased the power of this engaging and fun approach to literacy learning by demonstrating it in action. They were assisted by an eager bunch of brave students who volunteered to spend part of their Saturday showing what they know in front of a group of conference attendees. The activity is usually introduced and shared with the whole class. However, it could certainly be done with small groups of students who need extra guidance and support with decoding, fluency, self-monitoring, comprehension, or choosing good-fit books.

Teaching kids how to effectively participate in meaningful discussion about what it means to be a reader is the ultimate goal of “Mystery Reader.” You might agree that being respectful and sensitive about correcting errors and offering suggestions for improvement requires a degree of tact and finesse that may not be refined in most seven- to eleven-year-olds. To counter this, Kris-Ann and Megan stressed the importance of sharing audio recordings of oral reading that guarantee to keep the identity of the reader a mystery. They rely on an inventory of recordings of anonymous students from years gone by as well as excerpts collected from audio swapping with teacher friends from other schools or districts.

I was so captivated by this unique idea! And as much as I love working as an instructional coach, the thought of setting up this “Mystery Reader” as a routine literacy practice made me really wish I had my own classroom again. I’m hopeful that next fall I can support teachers who are interested with this innovative approach to fostering independent, confident, and motivated readers.

Mystery Reader

The steps to implementing “Mystery Reader” are simple. I’ve outlined them as if I were presenting them to students.

First, set the purpose. 

In this activity we will listen to someone we don’t know read a short passage as we follow along with a copy of the text. We will learn how to take notes about the reading so that we can talk about what we noticed and give advice to the reader. “Mystery Reader” helps us understand the text and the reader. It helps us become better readers because we also learn about how each of us reads on our own.

Mystery Reader

Second, explain and practice marking the text with students. 

  • When we read aloud it is important to read with expression, to sound the way the character would really sound. We’ll call that using “voice.” Any time a mystery reader does a great job of using voice, we will write a “V” on the paper at that spot.
  • When a reader fixes a mistake all by him or herself, we’ll call that a “self-correct” and will write down an “S/C.”
  • Sometimes readers pause because they are stuck on a word or are thinking about the text. Other times readers will repeat or reread a word or sentence to make it sound better. If either of these happen, we will write down a “P” or an “R.”
  • If the reader skips a word, we will write down an “S.”
  • Finally, we will listen and watch carefully for any words that are not said correctly. These are called “miscues.” If that happens, we will cross out the word and we will write the word the reader said instead above the one we just crossed out.
  • Later when we talk about the miscues, we will decide if the word the reader said changed the meaning or not. If the meaning was not changed, for example saying “home” instead of “house,” we will write “QM” for “quality miscue.” But if the meaning did change because of the miscue, we will write “MCM” for “meaning changing miscue.”

Guiding Questions

Third, practice, reflect on, and discuss the process using guiding questions.

This year we will be practicing, thinking about, and talking about “Mystery Readers.” We will share things we notice about what makes each reader a good reader. We will really focus on whether the reader is making meaning or understanding the text and we will decide if the text was a “good fit.” 

And finally, students demonstrate greater awareness and comprehension in their own reading. 

As we get more comfortable doing “Mystery Reader,” we will see how it helps us with our own reading. We will be able to use voice to show good expression when we read aloud. We will also get better at self-correcting our miscues. And if we do have miscues when we read, we will be able to figure out if they are quality miscues or meaning-changing miscues. All of these things will be important ways to help us learn how to choose “good fit books” and gain meaning from the texts we read.

A final note about “Mystery Reader”… For as long as I can remember, I have strived to capitalize on time spent with students in one-on-one sessions involving reading conferences or taking running records. When classrooms are filled with 25-30 students who range significantly in their reading proficiency, self-monitoring ability, motivation, and self-confidence, it is imperative that teachers bring efficiency and a sense of urgency and fun to the table. “Mystery Readers” has the potential to do all of these things in one sweet and simple swoop.

The next Teach it Forward column will offer additional ideas for implementing “Mystery Reader.” Suggestions for collecting oral reading samples and adding a comprehension conference portion to the activity will be offered.

RESOURCES

The origins of this approach date back to 1996 with “Retrospective Miscue Analysis” by Yetta Goodman. To learn more, check out these articles and handouts:

Retrospective Miscue Analysis: Revaluing Readers and Reading” by Yetta Goodman and Ann Marek

Retrospective Miscue Analysis: An Effective Intervention for Students in Grades 3-12,” presented by Sue Haertel

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Watch Where You’re Going

Writing Road Trip | Watch Where You're GoingRiding along with my dad was like going on a Midwestern safari. Even while driving, he had an amazing knack for spotting critters as they peeked out from behind trees, perched on phone poles, or slid along the roadside.

He didn’t seem to pay any attention to the makes of other cars, or billboard messages, or what other drivers were wearing. His focus (with the exception of safe driving itself) was wildlife-centric.

That kind of exclusive focus can be key to successful story-writing. Many stories center around a core focus, a central idea or message. Many characters are built around a core motivation or driving emotion. Anything that pops up during the writing process—even good stuff—that doesn’t support that focus, may have to go. It’s not as easy as it sounds: even experienced writers are sometimes seduced by an intriguing side story, a brilliantly written description, a charismatic secondary character. But however brilliant or charismatic, if those things don’t help develop the core story or illuminate the main character for the reader, they need to be sent packing.

Here’s an example: in the novel I’m working on, my teenage character looks out over the water and speculates that perhaps the person he is searching for has “planted” himself in the lake. The image fits the rural setting and the moment of the story. But it doesn’t fit my character, who’s an urban kid. As one of my critique partners pointed out, my kid would never think in terms of an agricultural metaphor. However deft that description—and I’d received compliments on it from other readers—I had to acknowledge that it didn’t belong to the story I was telling.

Sometimes I think these things are hints of future stories or future characters, playing peek-a-boo from the depths of our subconscious. But it’s better to admit that they don’t belong in the spot they’ve popped up, and save them in a “great ideas file” for later.

Point out these peek-a-boo moments in your young writers’ stories. Encourage them to take another look at what’s at the heart of their story—at the heart of their character—and judge by that whether that great idea belongs to their current story, or needs to be set aside for another writing day.

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Skinny Dip with Aimée Bissonette

Aimée Bissonette

We’re thrilled to Skinny Dip with Aimée Bissonette, who is the author of two acclaimed picture books so far, North Woods Girl (Minnesota Historical Society Press) and Miss Colfax’s Light (Sleeping Bear Press). Thanks to Aor taking time away from writing and work to answer Bookology‘s questions!

When did you first start reading books?

My best friend, Lyn, taught me to read when I was 5 years old.

Fun with Dick and JaneLyn was a year older so she went to first grade the year before I did. When she got home from school, she would bring her reading books (the “Fun with Dick and Jane” series) over to my house. We’d sit on my front steps and Lyn would teach me everything she’d learned in school that day. I am sure I read with members of my family, too, but Lyn was the one who really taught me to love reading.

Favorite breakfast or lunch as a kid?

I always loved Sunday breakfast growing up. It was the one time of the week we were all guaranteed to be in one spot together. I have six brothers and sisters, so it was a bit of a challenge to get enough food ready at the right time to feed everyone. (Remember, this was before microwave ovens!) And it was pretty chaotic. My mom used to joke that when she wrote the story of her life, she would title it “Raw Eggs and Burnt Bacon.” Maybe I’ll write a book about her someday with that title.

Sock basketBarefoot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Socks! I love socks! In fact, my mother-in-law used to laugh at the size of the sock basket in my laundry room—you know, the place where you throw all those clean socks from the dryer so you can pair them later while watching TV? My sock basket is huge.

When are you your most creative?

I am at my creative best when I am out in nature. I love to hike, bike, and snowshoe.  I walk every day—rain or shine, puddles or snow. I need to get away from my desk, smell outdoor smells, listen to birdsong. Nature always finds its way into my books.

Favorite flavor of ice cream?

Mint chocolate chip. Hands down.

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The Reading Summer

A stressed mother of a first grader sought my counsel this week. The issue was reading. Her son wasn’t. And at the close of first grade he was expected to. There was talk of testing, remedial help over the summer, reading logs, etc. She and her spouse were dreading it, worried, and a little irked—not at the not-yet-reader, but at the expectations and the pressure. I listened for a long time and when she finally took a breath, I asked what she was most worried about—for instance, was she worried there was a learning issue that needed to be addressed? “No!” she said. “I’m worried he’s going to hate reading if we spend the summer doing these things!”

And that response completed the time-warp I was experiencing while listening to her story—twelve years I vaulted back in the space-time continuum. Twelve years ago this week we received the phone call that was the culmination of an entire school year of frustration and concern. #1 Son was not reading—he’d staunchly refused to even try to read the testing selections his second-grade teacher asked him to in the last weeks of school. He just sat there—a conscientious objector of sorts.

Our kids went to a wonderful Spanish-immersion school and there was a little extra time built in before they started suggesting interventions simply because the students learn to read first in a language that is not their first language. But it was clear that he was “behind” by the time second grade was drawing to a close—The Other Children were reading well in Spanish, and some of them quite well in English, too. The school recommended summer school, a reading program, and a Spanish tutor for the summer.

I calmly asked if anyone was concerned that there was a learning difference/disability that needed to be addressed. They didn’t think so. I called a reading specialist and wise mother and told her of the school’s recommendations. And then I told her that our collective parenting gut was telling us to decline any programming whatsoever in favor of simply reading good books together all summer.

She was silent on the phone for several seconds. And then she whispered (whispered!) that she thought this was a wonderful idea. I’d been a storytime reader in her classroom before and she said she wondered if #1 Son wasn’t reading simply because he couldn’t read like I read quite yet—with all the inflection, voices, and fun. She said it was obvious to her that stories were very much alive for him, and when you’re being asked to read those very early books in which each word is not longer than four letters and most of them rhyme [Mat sat on the cat.]…well, it’s harder to make them come alive.

“Take the summer and read!” she whispered, as if she was telling me a secret that reading specialists don’t impart to the masses. “Read the very best books you can find and read your very best. See where he is in the fall.”

And so we did—we read all summer long. We read The Sword in the Stone and The Mouse and The Motorcycle. We read Peter and the Star Catchers and Stuart Little. We listened to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the car on vacation and read Swallows and Amazons in the tent while camping. We went to the library every Friday and then on a picnic where we read stacks of picture books (his sister was two!) while we ate our PB&J. We visited our local kids’ bookstore with regularity and took our new books down to the lake and I read while they fed the ducks. I did not ask him to read “the next paragraph” or to sound out a word here and there. I just read—until I was hoarse, sometimes, I read.

At the end of the summer, we went to meet #1 Son’s third grade teacher. She was a no-nonsense grandmother and she got his number immediately. I loved her just as immediately. She took away the Clifford El Gran Perro Colorado picture books and handed him Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal. And he opened that thick novel and started reading—just like that. 

It was a wonderful summer. She was a wonderful teacher. #1 Son is A Wonderful Reader (in two languages!), and he always was. He just didn’t “perform” until he was good and ready. (He still resists performing.)

I told the worried mother our story. She nodded smartly. “That’s what we’re going to do,” she said. “If there’s actually a reading problem that needs to be addressed, we’ll address it, but I just don’t think we know that when he’s just six.” I wished them well and shared a booklist. 

I envy the summer ahead of them. The Reading Summer was one of the best parenting decisions we ever made, I think. I hope it turns out as well for them.

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Summer Travel

Kids' Book of QuestionsHere are three words that may be looming large in your mind: Long. Car. Trip. You’re packing games, snacks, an audio book or two, several books to take turns reading out loud, and … The Kids’ Book of Questions.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid and we went on long car trips (nearly every weekend), I read a lot (which must have been boring for my mom), but the two of us also sang songs, talked over the week we had just explored, and, if we were heading to family, expectations for behavior. But that only took so long.

It would have been great to have this book to delve into. Depending on your kids’ ages, it would be a good idea to let family members browse through the book to pick a question to have each person answer in turn.

TKids' Book of Questionshe author, Dr. Gregory Stock, Ph.D., has an interest in life science, medicine, technology, and discussions about values. He speaks frequently at schools and on radio and television. This book was first published in 1988, a follow-up to the adult version, The Book of Questions. Now it’s been updated to include questions about the internet and school violence and climate change.

“If you were riding your  bike and accidentally ran into someone else’s bike and wrecked it—but no one saw you—what would you do?”

“What is the wildest and craziest thing you’ve ever done? Would you like to do it again?”

Whether you use them as conversation starters, components of a game, or just a way to pass the time, you might find this book a handy tuck-in for your Long. Car. Trip. this year. I know we’re taking it along.

The Kids’ Book of Questions
written by Gregory Stock, Ph.D.
Workman Publishing, 2015

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Skinny Dip with Susan Latta

Susan Latta

Susan Latta

This week we’re all set to Skinny Dip with Susan Latta, who is celebrating the publication of her first trade book on September 1st, Bold Women of Medicine: 21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs (Chicago Review Press). With historical to contemporary biographies of women who have found cures, advanced medicine, and tended to the sick with compassion, Susan has written an inspiring book that teen readers will find fascinating. Thanks to Susan for taking time to answer Bookology‘s questions!

Bold Women of MedicineWho was your favorite teacher in grades K-7 and why?

My favorite teacher was my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Palmquist. I don’t remember her first name. She had a system of writing the numbers 1, 2, 3, on the blackboard for discipline. If the class misbehaved and she got to number 3, that meant she wouldn’t read to us that day. Since I was one of the “goody two-shoes” in the class it always made me so angry when one of the boys (usually Dennis) did something to get us to number 3. I especially remember when she read Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. I was fascinated and looked forward to that time of day.

Caps for SaleWhen did you first start reading books?

Probably in about first grade. We had all the usual books for the time; Cat in the Hat, A Snowy Day, The Little Engine That Could, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Caps for Sale. When I was a little older, I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, as well as anything by Beverly Cleary. And a bit later, I devoured every Agatha Christie mystery.

Dinner party at your favorite restaurant with people living or dead: where is it and who’s on the guest list?

Broder’s Pasta Bar in Minneapolis, their homemade pasta is to die for. As far as guests, I think Abigail Adams, Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, Dr. Helen Taussig, Sister Elizabeth Kenny, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Julia Child, and my family; husband Rob, sons Ryan and Robbie, and daughter Kristen. Our golden retriever Stanley would love to come for the leftovers.

Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksAll-time favorite book?

Hard to choose just one. As a child, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan. As an adult: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, John Adams by David McCullough.

Favorite breakfast or lunch as a kid?

American Braunschweiger which is a type of liverwurst or liver sausage with a little mayonnaise on white bread. Haven’t had it in years; not sure it is considered health food.

What’s your least favorite chore?

Changing the sheets.

What’s your favorite part of starting a new project?

Digging into the research.

Barefoot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Shoes and good wool socks in the winter, barefoot in the summer.

strong coffeeWhen are you at your most creative?

Morning, but after breakfast and good strong coffee. And when I say strong, I mean “spoon almost standing up in the mug strong.”

Your best memory of your school library?

As fifth graders, we wrote and illustrated picture books to read to the kindergartners in the library. Mine was something about bears. Sure wish I still had it.

Favorite flavor of ice cream?

Mocha chip.

Lilian Boxfish Takes a WalkBook on your bedside table right now?

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney.

What’s your hidden talent?

I can wiggle my ears.

Your favorite toy as a child?

My Barbie and Skipper dolls.

Best invention in the last 200 years?

The dishwasher.

Girl with a Watering Can

Girl with a Watering Can, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1876

Favorite artist? Why?

Claude Monet or Renoir. I love impressionism and had a poster of Renoir’s painting A Girl with a Watering Can in my bedroom growing up. I also love Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as Grandma Moses. Her idyllic paintings have so many things to discover.

Which is worse: spiders or snakes?

That’s a toss-up. Probably spiders.

What’s your best contribution to taking care of the environment?

Recycling.

Why do you feel hopeful for humankind?

Because buried in each of us there is goodness. In some it may be hard to find, but it is there.

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Theater Geeks!

If your children (or you) are captivated by talent shows on TV, or dreams of acting on the stage, or the next theater production at school, there are a chorus line of books just waiting to audition for your next favorite. Here’s a mixture of classic and new stories, ranging in interest from grades 3 through 7.

All the World's a Stage  

All the World’s a Stage
written by Gretchen Woelfle, illus by Thomas Cox
Holiday House, 2011

Twelve-year-old Kit Buckles has come to London to make his fortune. Unfortunately, he’s caught up in crime to stay alive. Immediately caught in his first pickpocketing assignment, Kit is enthralled by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to do odd jobs for their Theater Playhouse. When the acting troupe is evicted, Kit is caught up in the plot to steal the theater! William Shakespeare is a character is this story and the well-researched history that defines this novel is exciting. Highly recommended.

 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
written by Barbara Robinson
HarperCollins, 1971

It can be argued that this is one of the funniest books ever published for children. When the Herdman children learn that there are free snacks at the church in their neighborhood, they attend Sunday School even though they haven’t heard of Jesus and the Christmas story before. When they’re cast in the Christmas pageant, the story of Jesus’ birth takes unusual—and eye-opening—turns. It’s a laugh-out-loud book with a heart-tugging ending. Many families read this out loud each year as part of their holiday celebrations but it’s a well-written book that works well any time of year.

Better Nate Than Never  

Better Nate Than Ever
written by Tim Federle
Simon & Schuster, 2013

Thirteen-year-old Nate Foster has been growing up in small-town Pennsylvania in a school and town that doesn’t appreciate his showmanship. His dream is to be on Broadway, a life plan he and his best friend Libby have been rehearsing for forever. When an open casting call is advertised for E.T. The Musical, Nate is determined to be there. By turns funny and heart-rending, Nate’s story will strike a chord with every kid who wants to be a performer on the spotlit stage.

Sequel: Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, Tim Federle, S&S, 2014

Drama  

Drama
written by Raina Telgemeier
Golden Books, 1947

In this book for early teens, Callie gives up her ambition to be in her school’s musical when an audition fails to impress the casting committee. She isn’t a singer. Instead, Callie becomes a part of the backstage crew, a circumstance many disappointed kids can relate with. But Callie discovers that she likes working on the set. She doesn’t know what she’s doing but she’s enthusiastic. And there’s as much drama backstage as there is onstage. Callie goes from one crush to another, maintaining suspense with humor. This graphic novel is a big hit with readers.

Forget-Me-Not Summer  

Forget-Me-Not Summer
written by Leila Howland
HarperCollins, 2015

Marigold, Zinnie, and Lily Silver have their LA summer all planned out—until their dad and mom, both working for the film industry, get jobs out of town. The girls are sent to a small, coastal, Massachusetts town to live with their aunt. They’re not happy because Marigold, twelve, had plans to audition for a movie being made of her favorite book. And life in Pruet, MA, is unplugged. No cell phone reception. Then Marigold discovers the movie’s producer has a summer home nearby. Zinnie writes a play to feature Marigold’s talents and the girls create a talent show in a community that is accepting and friendly. A heart-warming book.

Goblin Secrets  

Goblin Secrets
written by William Alexander
Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, 2012

Rownie’s older brother, Rowan, his only living relative, has disappeared. Rowan is an actor in a city that has outlawed acting. To find Rowan, Rownie joins a Goblin theater troupe that performs in Zombay, managing to get around the law. They’re up to more than is apparent and soon Rownie is caught up in the drama of life. There are touches of steampunk in this fantasy world. Rownie is taken in by Graba, a woman with mechanized chicken legs. Yes, the books is that inventive! National Book Award for this debut novel.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!  

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!
Voices from a Medieval Village
written by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Robert Byrd
Candlewick Press, 2007

Set in 1255, this engaging set of monologues create medieval vignettes that transport the reader, or performer, to a well-researched, involving era. From the singing shepherdess to the town’s “half-wit,” to the peasant’s daughter, we learn the stories of 22 people in this community. This book isn’t about theater, it is theater, offering a dramatic opportunity for understanding of a time long past. Winner of the Newbery Medal.

King of Shadows  

King of Shadows
written by Susan Cooper
Margaret McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster, 1999

One of the best time-travel novels ever written, this is the story of Nat Field, a member of the American Company of Boys, an acting troupe. An orphan, this opportunity provides a home for Nat, who travels with them to London to star at the new Globe Theater as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When he goes to sleep, he discovers he has been whisked back to 1599 where he becomes the protege of William Shakespeare with a time-traveler’s ability to save the Bard’s life. Replete with historical detail, an exciting plot, and memorable characters, this is a book to beckon readers toward modern-day excitement about Shakespeare’s plays. 

The Life Fantastic  

The Life Fantastic
written by Liza Ketchum
Simon Pulse, 2017

Fifteen-year-old Teresa is drawn to the vaudeville stage. She feels the need to sing, to perform. Her parents were vaudevillians, but they chose a conventional life of 9-to-5 jobs and staying in one town to take care of their two children. Teresa wants to try her own career on the stage but her father is vehemently against it. She sneaks away from home to New York City where she eventually ends up with a national vaudeville troupe. There are fascinating, well-researched details of vaudeville, racism in the theater and 1910 America, and life as a daring girl before women had any rights. A very good story for middle grade and older, including adults.

Okay for Now  

Okay for Now
written by Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, 2011

Formerly cast as the bully in The Wednesday Wars, Doug Swieteck is starting over in a new town. His father is abusive, his mother doesn’t stand up against his father, and his older, unkind brother is off fighting in Vietnam. Doug realizes he has an opportunity to make himself over into someone with a different reputation. He makes friends with Lil Spicer, becomes spellbound by a library book with plates of Audubon’s birds, and sets off on a grand adventure with Lil to appear on a Broadway stage. Funny, heart-wrenching, and absorbing, this book is not be missed.

Replay  

Replay
written by Sharon Creech
HarperCollins, 2005

Leonardo is the middle child in a loud, chaotic Italian family. He’s a dreamer, a thinker, and perhaps an actor. He is cast in the disappointing role of the Old Crone in Rompopo’s Porch, a play his teacher wrote. At home, he discovers the journal his father wrote when he was thirteen years old, the same age Leo is now. These two disparate occurrences will give him more confidence, solve a family mystery, and change his life. The full text of the play is included in the book so creative thespians can put on their own show.

Romeo and Juliet Together (and Alive) At Last  

Romeo and Juliet Together (and Alive) At Last
written by Avi
Scholastic, 1987

A lighthearted rendition of Romeo and Juliet is written and produced by a class of eighth-graders whose true goal is to get shy Peter Saltz and shy Anabell Stackpole to realize they’re just right for each other. The matchmaking attempts, the earnest but laugh-out-loud funny production of Shakespeare’s classic play (often taught in eighth grade), and the ringing-true thinking, planning, and missteps of this group of kids make this one of my favorite of Avi’s books.

The Shakespeare Stealer  

The Shakespeare Stealer
written by Gary Blackwood
HarperCollins, 2005

Ordered by his nefarious “owner,” and Shakespeare’s competitor, to steal the unpublished “Hamlet” from the Bard himself, the orphaned Widge is bound to obey. The only problem is that once he’s cleverly inserted himself into the troupe at the Globe Theater, he finds real friends for the first time in his life. How will he avoid the repercussions of disobeying his owner? How can Widge find a way not to disappoint his new friends? The plot twists, turns, and ultimately provides a riveting reading experience.

Snow White  

Snow White
written and illustrated by Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press, 2016

You may be thinking Snow White and the theater? What’s the connection? In Matt Phelan’s compelling re-imagining of the fairy tale, Samantha White (called Snow by her dying mother) is the daughter of the King of Wall Street. It’s the late 1920s and life is giddy. Her father marries the Queen of the Follies (as in Ziegfield, our minds supply), who turns out to have very evil intentions. She sends Samantha off to boarding school and somehow Samantha’s hale and hearty father dies. Seven street urchins and Detective Prince round out the cast in this highly readable and discussion-worthy graphic novel. 

The Cruisers A Star is Born  

A Star is Born, The Cruisers series
written by Walter Dean Myers
Scholastic Press, 2012

Eighth graders Zander, LaShonda, Kambui, and Bobbi run an alternative newspaper, The Cruiser, at their high school for gifted and talented students in Harlem, New York. In this third book in the series, LaShonda earns a scholarship to the Virginia Woolf Society Program for Young Ladies, honoring the costumes she designed for a play the Cruisers produced. Once she’s completed the program, she’ll be eligible for financial assistance for college. But there’s a wrinkle. LaShonda will have to move to be a part of the program and she’s hesitant to leave her autistic brother behind. The friends work to solve this conundrum in a realistic way. A great friendship story told with Walter Dean Myers’ deft and sure touch, using interjected poems, essays, and articles that are published in The Cruiser.

Starstruck  

Starstruck
written by Rachel Shukert
Delacorte Press, 2013

For readers mostly aged 16 and older, this 1930s Hollywood novel tells the tale of Margaret Frobisher, who is literally discovered in a drugstore. Because she looks like a movie star who’s gone missing, she is swept into the studio system, renamed Margo Sterling, and is suddenly starring in a movie. It’s a lot for a young woman to handle and it turns out that Hollywood isn’t all glamour and bright lights. Evil and darkness are a part of this new world and so are heartache and stark reality. The details are good, the characters are well-drawn … it’s a good book to read if you’re hungry for Hollywood as it was in its Golden Age.  

Summerlost  

Summerlost
written by Ally Condie
Dutton Books, 2016

Cedar could be forgiven for moping around in her new summer home. Her father and younger brother Ben were just killed in an accident. And yet she’s intrigued when she sees a boy in a costume riding past her house on a bicycle. She follows him and discovers the Summerlost theater festival. Soon Cedar is working concessions at the festival and she’s caught up in the mystery of a ghost and mysterious gifts that show up in surprising ways. Edgar Award nominee. It’s a good middle grade novel that reads with great warmth and understanding of loss.

Surviving the Applewhites  

Surviving the Applewhites
written by Stephanie S. Tolan
HarperCollins, 2002

Thirteen-year-old Jake Semple is a tough nut. He’s been kicked out of schools until there are no options left. That is until a homeschooling family, the Applewhites, offer to let him attend their Creative Academy. Everyone in the family has an artistic talent. Dad’s producing The Sound of Music at their local theater. Mom is a mystery writer who’s taking a break to write the Great American Novel. Uncle is a woodcarver and Aunt is a poet. Even Cordelia and Destiny have their unique talents. All except for E.D., who is quite possibly the only Applewhite who is organized enough to keep the family running. The book is told from Jake’s and E.D.’s alternate viewpoints. And it turns out that Jake might not be as impenetrably tough as he believes.

Swish of the Curtain  

Swish of the Curtain
written by Pamela Brown
Longwater Books (reprinted edition), orig. 1941

Most Seven children from three families organize The Blue Door Theater Company, renovating an old chapel and producing their own plays. They write, direct, stage, sew costumes, design scenery, and rehearse on their own. Their goal is to compete in the drama contest at the end of the summer, the prize for which is a scholarship to attend drama school. The group has the goal to be in the professional theater. Pamela Brown began writing this book when she was 14, but it wasn’t published until she was 17! She was a UK author, and her series of books about this drama troupe was immensely popular, being translated to radio, television, and movies. A true classic. 

Theater Shoes  

Theater Shoes
written by Noel Streatfield
Yearling, originally published in 1946

The three Forbes siblings are orphaned. Their grandmother, a famous actress, forces them to go to a theater school. They can’t afford the tuition but the Fossil Sisters (yes, the sisters from Ballet Shoes) sponsor them with a scholarship. They don’t believe they have any talents but they’re determined to live up to their sponsors’ expectations so they make their best effort. And they discover that they are talented indeed. The “Shoes” books were favorites for readers who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s. They still read well today. Many children of those years pursued careers in the arts because of Noel Streatfield’s stories!

The Wednesday Wars  

Wednesday Wars
written by Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, 2007

Holling Hoodhood, seventh-grader, has a lot of challenges. He’s the only Presbyterian in his Catholic and Jewish school. He’s being forced to read Shakespeare by his teacher, Mrs. Baker. His father is demanding that Holling and his sister are always on their best behavior so his business can succeed. There’s a bully that won’t leave Holling alone. And Holling’s baseball heroes are coming to town to sign autographs on the same day he has to put on yellow tights and appear in a play. If that weren’t enough, the anxiety of the Vietnam War surrounds Holling’s life. A book that’s thoroughly enjoyable to read and unforgettable. It received a Newbery Honor.

Will Sparrow's Road  

Will Sparrow’s Road
written by Karen Cushman
Clarion Books, 2012

Will Sparrow’s father sells him to an innkeeper in exchange for a daily supply of ale. The innkeeper is cruel so 13-year-old Will runs away … to a world that is not kind. Stealing food to eat, lying, Will thinks of himself as a bad person. When he meets Grace and her traveling theater troupe of “oddities,” he discovers an assembled family that cares for one another. Wills learns the performing skills necessary and he realizes that he is somebody with worth in his Elizabethan England world. Filled with Karen’s Cushman’s elegant and funny language, the era comes alive because of her careful research.

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Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson

We are honored to interview the highly respected Richard Jackson, who is on to his next career as a writer. His most recently published book is all ears, all eyes, a lush and irresistible read-aloud book, illustrated by Katherine Tillitson (Simon & Schuster). We thought we’d take the opportunity to talk with him about the progression from his editorial career to his writing career and the four books he has written.

Editorial Career

Will you please tell us a bit about your editorial experience?

After Army service, I graduated from NYC in 1962 with a Master’s degree in education. I worked first at Doubleday, not with children’s books, then at Macmillan and David White.

In 1968, you co-founded Bradbury Press. You moved to Orchard Books in 1986 and then began the nonfiction publishing imprint DK Ink in 1996. Three years later, in 1999, you had your own imprint at Simon & Schuster with the venerated Atheneum Books. Has this journey taken you around unexpected bends in the road?

I’ve never been subjected to a job interview.

As you were gaining experience, which editors do you feel taught you the most?

Frances Keene and then Susan Hirschman at Macmillan.

Do you think most picture book editors are equal parts visual and verbal?

Most likely. For me, as writer, as editor, the words are of first importance.

What did your authors teach you?

Empathy.

While you were an editor, did you always have a yen to write your own books?

No. But retirement—in so much as I am retired; I still work on a few books annually by old publishing friends—suddenly stretched rather blandly before me. I began tinkering with words, with play, with wordplay…

You’re working with an editor now, a colleague. What do you look for from your editor?

Efficiency. A sense of humor. Taste. Candor—i.e., a willingness to see the possibilities of something not yet final.

Considering the Books You’ve Written

Have a Look, Says Book

interior spread for Have a Look, Says Book by Richard Jackson, illustration copyright Kevin Hawkes

Have a Look, Says Book

Have a Look, Says Book
illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schuster, 2016

Kevin Hawkes illustrated this book that is playfully focused on adjectives. The text rhymes but not in a way that feels read-aloud confining. How do you work on the poetry in a picture book?

In my head, often while driving.

Storytime librarians are focusing more than ever on teaching. This book offers an opportunity to talk about the pleasure of books, the love of words. Have you always been fond of words?

A verbal child was I. As opposed to athletic.

What sparked the idea for this book?

The simple but enormous word “touch” has at least two meanings… There are many see, hear books, a few smell and taste books—hardly any about touch. Watching children and grandchildren touch the pages and pictures of a book, I thought…let’s see if I can honor that young-kid impulse: to point out, to make contact with a finger, to search a book for a tactile dimension equal to seeing and hearing.

In Plain Sight

interior spread for In Plain Sight, by Richard Jackson, illustration copyright Jerry Pinkney

In Plain SightIn Plain Sight
illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Neal Porter Books
Roaring Brook Press, 2016

The story in this book is universal, a grandfather and granddaughter who enjoy each other’s company. Grandpa, who lives in a bedroom in Sophie’s house, always has something for them to do together, to find something he’s hidden In Plain Sight.

What inspired this universal story of love?

Well, I was the Grandpa, I think. Sophie, a sister who died at four. She always announced her presence with “Here I ahm.” In my imagination, the game element was as important as anything, so it was based upon a game my father played on us, his children, on Christmas night—find objects hidden in unlikely places, such as a dollar bill wrapped around a book’s spine in a bookcase—very tricky!

It’s so important for children who have older generations living with them to see themselves in books, to understand that families extend themselves when needed.

Was it your idea to have Grandpa supported by a wheelchair?

Jerry’s, I think. As was Grandpa’s athletic and military past, as was the cat.

This manuscript was interpreted by the much-admired author and illustrator, Jerry Pinkney. How was he brought into this project?

Neal Porter’s idea, at Roaring Brook. They had not worked together before. I asked Neal, quite casually, I remember, if this family might be black (they weren’t while I was following the conversation which accounts for the story here). Jerry widened and deepened every image; note Sophie’s school clothes, for instance. Or the illustration on the binding of the book—not a repeat of the jacket, but something new and on its own; that’s Grandpa’s nature, don’t you think; there’s always a little more to give.

all ears, all eyes

interior spread, all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jackson, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

all ears, all eyesall ears, all eyes
illustrated by Katherine Tillotson
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schuster, 2017

Your text for this book is so evocative of being outdoors at night, particularly in a forested or wild area. Why did you want to share that experience with readers and listeners?

The setting is a bit of woods, across a brook near our house in the country north of New York City. Real country, if you can believe. One night a yodeling fox awoke me and my wife. Moon and mostly darkness. Stillness, except for Mr. Fox. Magical. We got the children up (they are part of my dedication for this book) and, barefoot, we went outside, across the grass, up to the brook’s bank. We listened and without entering the woods, let the woods enter us. I hoped to write a poem to that night, that fox, that family experience.

When you wrote the text for all ears, all eyes, did you have an illustrator in mind? Why?

Yes indeed, the text was for Katherine Tillotson always, once the opening words sprang from my memory. She suggested the project somehow, and inspired it all along, from a very early rendition of a lurking owl. Next came Caitlyn Dlouhy and Ann Bobco (Atheneum’s brilliant art director), and the four of us played for months and months. Until quite close to the “end,” I was fussing with rhymes and line breaks. Such fun.

Many people who want to write books for children have been told that they’ll never work directly with their illustrator. Did you include instructions for how the text might be illustrated? As an editor, does your mind work that way?

I give a little guidance when the artist will need it—the main boy wears glasses, for example. And I break the text into page and page turn units. In my head I’m imaging a movie. But the illustrator is the cameraman (or woman), and often comes up with totally surprising and often just-right new views.

Don’t miss reading our interview with Katherine Tillotson about this book.

interior spread from This Beautiful Day, by Richard Jackson, illustration copyright Suzy Lee

This Beautiful DayThis Beautiful Day
illustrated by Suzy Lee
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schuster, 2017

In August of this year, we’ll be treated to another book you wrote, this one filled with humor and whimsy. It begins with a boring, rainy day, but the attitude of the three children and their mother brings out the sun.

With your considerable experience as an editor, do you reflexively envision your text on the page?

Reflexively? I think not. I do imagine page turns—and often, as suggested above, an illustrator will have a better idea and I’ll be tickled.

When you were an editor, did you look forward to the surprise of the illustrator’s rough sketches, their interpretation of the author’s story?

Father Time and the Day BoxesYou bet! I once published a picture book, George Ella Lyon’s and Robert Parker’s Father Time and the Day Boxes (o.p), using the sketches, which were perfect as they were. Had I imagined them as Bob presented them? No way. It’s ideal to be surprising and just right from the get-go.

Now that it’s your manuscript being interpreted, how does that experience differ?

Not much different. I hadn’t imagined a rainy beginning to this day, so was taken aback at first; eventually, I have come to see the wisdom of giving the narrative this “hinge” in mood. What you suggest (that sun is attitude induced) is irresistible—and completely Suzy’s idea.

____________________

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Richard Jackson!

I’ve admired the books he’s edited, some of the finest in the children’s literature canon, so it’s a pleasure to hear from him as he walks his next path as a writer. 

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Katherine Tillotson

Katherine Tillotson

Katherine Tillotson

For this interview, we turn to the illustrator of a new book, all ears, all eyes, whose work I’ve long admired. This is a very special book. Open it and you’ll be captivated by the forest at night. Such unusual art! But, then, her prior books have also been distinctive, each in their own way. I hope you enjoy this visit with Katherine as much as I did.

In each of your recent books, Katherine, you’ve used a different illustration style. All the Water in the World is whooshes and swooshes, whirls and swirls, liquid on paper.

All the Water in the World

interior spread from All the Water in the World, by George Ella Lyon, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

For Shoe Dog, your pages were light-hearted, full of chaotic energy that portrayed Megan McDonald’s dog who finds shoes irresistible.

Shoe Dog

interior spread from Shoe Dog, by Megan McDonald, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

For It’s Picture Day Today!, you assembled familiar home and schoolroom crafting supplies into adorable creatures preparing for picture day. I like to imagine you folding paper and sorting through buttons and peeling glue off your fingers during the making of this book.

It's Picture Day Today!

interior spread from It’s Picture Day Today!, by Megan McDonald, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

In your newest book, all ears, all eyes, you’ve accomplished yet another completely different look. Your portrayal of the forest in the dark brings the night to life. The reader is deep inside the forest, seeing it, feeling it, while Richard Jackson’s poetry provides the sound track.

all ears, all eyes

interior spread from all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jackson, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

I find myself with lots of questions!

When an editor sends you a manuscript, what happens in your mind as you’re reading it?

 I always hope to have my imagination awakened. I usually do not have an idea where I might take a new story with the illustrations but I can perceive an opening for my part of the storytelling. If it is the right manuscript for me, there is a feeling of excited anticipation.

What moves you to agree to a project, knowing it will take you (how long?) to create the illustrations?

I am slow and it is a long time from beginning to end. I can easily slip into being hopelessly overwhelmed or impossibly anxious. It is always best if I think of the process in small steps instead of a distant destination. Collaborators are also invaluable. Many a time, my editor or art director has helped me through a bumpy bit along the way. And I belong to a most wonderful critique group. Together we cheer and help each other move the books forward.

How do you begin a new book?

I love to sit down in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee, the manuscript, and a big pile of books. The books are often on artists but I also have a large collection of Bologna Annuals. I keep a sketchbook nearby and let my mind and my pencil wander.

all ears, all eyesFor all ears, all eyes, the title page reveals that you combined watercolor and digital techniques. Could you tell us more about this process?

I struggled a lot with technique for this book. Early on, I experimented with acrylic and oil. Neither worked. I really wanted to use watercolor and I even had a few lessons from my friend, Julie Downing, a very accomplished watercolor illustrator, I longed to lay down the paint with the confidence of a master, yet I did not have time to master the technique. Watercolor involves a lot of layering (Julie tells me she can have fifty to eighty layers on a painting). Yet I found the more layers I added to a painting, the more I was afraid I would mess up. With each new layer, my rendering became stiffer and stiffer. In mulling over the problem, I thought I might paint more expressively if I knew I could layer in Photoshop, thus discarding any layers I did not like and keeping only those I did. This technique gave me the freedom I craved.

Do you make a conscious effort to make each book quite different? Why?

No, it really isn’t a conscious or intellectual choice. There are so many ways to make marks. Shoe Dog was originally going to be rendered in oil. When he developed into a scribble, it just felt right.

Well and then there is the fact that I love art supplies so much. I could spend almost as many hours in an art supply store as in a bookstore.

Do you study other illustrators’ work? What do you see when you do?

Oh, yes! Definitely! There are wonderful illustrators—from all over the world. I have so many favorites. My shelves are overflowing with their picture books. I try to use the library or my book buying habit could easily spin out of control.

Most of all, I love how illustrators extend and enhance the storytelling, stretching beyond the words. An example would be Migrant, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Well, and then there is Chris Raschka. I love the expressive power of his work. Something I am always aspiring to. I could keep going and going… I find so much to admire and inspire in my fellow illustrators’ work.

For all ears, all eyes, you illustrated a Richard Jackson manuscript. He has been your editor for 15 years. Now he’s the author. It is typical in the publishing process that author and illustrator don’t communicate directly, but rather indirectly through their editor. How did that work for this book?

When we began, Dick was very involved in both authoring and editing the book. As the process continued, he began to focus more on his writing life. My communication continued with my new editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, and my art director, Ann Bobco.

I miss Dick as my editor. He is really the one who taught me how to think about picture books, but I was losing my vision of the book and trying to please everyone. My process was becoming scattered and disconnected. When we returned to a conventional communication model, the book resumed taking shape.

all ears, all eyes

interior spread from all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jackson, copyright Katherine Tilltson

There is nothing about the illustrations in this book that whispers “digital” to me and yet the copyright page says “a combination of watercolor and digital techniques.” Would you share with us how your digital skills have evolved?

Thank you! I use very few of the functions available in Photoshop. Most of my computer time has to do with scanning and placing the layers (and there are lots of layers). I am constantly trying to find ways to minimize my time on the computer and spend most of my time sketching and painting. I believe that the drawing board is where I can find the looseness and emotion I want.

When you went to art school, what was your vision of your artistic future?

I graduated from the University of Colorado with an art major with an education minor. I have always loved making art, but I did not have a clear vision of how to find a career that incorporated art making. I took night classes to develop new art-related skills and through happy coincidence met a fellow student who introduced me to Harcourt in San Francisco. For many years, I designed educational books during the day and worked on illustration samples at night and weekends. It wasn’t until I painted this little guy (an early version of what evolved into Shoe Dog) that doors began to open. Dick Jackson saw the piece and took a chance on me.

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What is your vision of that future now?

I would love to write and illustrate a story. I have a couple ideas that I am thinking about and a few characters rattling around in my head. Now if I could just get them to come out and play….

Don’t miss Bookology‘s interview with the author of all ears, all eyes, Richard Jackson.

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Thank you, Katherine, for letting us peek inside your process, your work, and your passion as an illustrator. We always look forward to the next book you’re creating.

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