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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

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!

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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.

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End Cap: Turn Left at the Cow

Turn Left at the CowWe hope you enjoyed reading Turn Left at the Cow, solving the mystery. Did you figure out whodunit before the climactic scene? 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
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Moseying

ph_moseyingMy favorite road trips focus more on the discoveries the journey holds than on rapidly reaching a destination. You might call me a moseying kind of person.

Every fall, my mom and I load my nephews and niece into the car for one of my favorite meanders: a visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. In the years it has taken for the oldest of the kids to go from babies to texting teenagers, we have perfected the art of stretching the Arboretum’s Three-Mile Drive into a several hours’ ramble.

There are yearly rituals: a stop to see if the kids can still squeeze themselves inside the little houses, a good long roll down the big green hill. But our leisurely pace also affords us the time to notice something new each visit: the texture of this particular tree trunk, the fire captured in that individual autumn leaf. The vista of the distant barn crowning the treetops.

This taking-a-deep-breath journey allows me the chance to notice the way the teenaged nephew who Grandma once carried across this same parking lot, now leans down to protectively offer Grandma his arm.

Sometimes writing, particularly in the revision stage, requires that we slow ourselves way down. It is not always possible to hurry and still do it right, but given enough time, we have the opportunity to notice the texture of the words, to ask ourselves if the piece’s fire burns brightly enough.

The next time you challenge your students to revise, encourage them to notice each individual word. Ask them to focus on the discoveries they are making, rather than on the destination of a due date or a grade.

Sometimes moseying makes for better writing.

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Does Research Count?

Lots of people ask me for advice on writing.
That’s a hard one to answer. Writing is personal, and it’s different for everyone.

But people are curious about my process, the daily practice of my craft.
They think that hearing about my process might help them in their own work.

Maybe it will. At any rate, it is a question I can answer.
This column, Page Break, is my answer to that question.  Welcome to my world.

Lynne Jonell's Page Break

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Wolf Sighting

cabinandmckinley_280px

Our house in the Rocky Mountains. This is a photo, even though it looks like a painting. And that’s our dog McKinley, not a wolf. He’s no longer with us but he was the inspiration for The Good Dog.

It is not often that I get a call such as I just did. The call came Larry McCoy, who holds a doctorate in theology, and teaches philosophy at the Steamboat, Colorado Community College. He also builds log houses and has a dog named “Helen.” That’s the way folks are here in Routt County.  He is one of our near neighbors, living about a mile and a half away.

Now my wife and I live on a high ridge (9500 feet up) right on the edge of Rout National Forest. We own forty-five acres, which may seem like a lot if you do not live in Colorado. In fact, while the deed says we own this land, we do nothing with it, save live on it (in a log house) and wander about on snowshoes, or look at the wildflowers. Season depending.

Now the fact that we live on the edge of the national forest might explain what happened and why Larry called me.

“Avi,” said Larry, “I just thought you’d want to know that there have been three sightings—including by me—of a wolf on your land. I saw him, or her, down by your pond.”

In the fifteen or so years that we have lived here, no such sightings in all of Colorado has been reported. And this wolf was a few yards from our home.

Rocky Mountains view

the view from our front window

Something to be frightened about? No. There is NO recorded account of a wolf ever attacking people. Cattle is a whole different question. 

Where did he/she come from? There are wolves to the far north of us, in Wyoming, at Yellowstone National Park. There is plenty of forest between us and that spot. Maybe he came from thataway.

But why?

Is he/she part of a pack? Wolves are intensely social creatures, with fascinating family existences.

A lone wolf?

An old wolf? A youngster seeking new territory?

Not likely we’ll ever know. Or maybe never even see the creature.

But as my wife said, “Oh, Avi!  Our own wolf!  I’ve always wanted that!” 

She really said that, which was news to me.

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Going to Camp

Mother Daughter Book CampAs summer begins, it’s possible there is no more ubiquitous experience for American children than summer camp. Whether it’s a day camp or a sleepaway camp, an art or music camp, a Girl Scout or church camp, there are some things that most camps have in common: the outdoors, getting along with other kids and counselors, and new experiences.

Or, as Heather Vogel Frederick writes in her latest Mother-Daughter Book Club book, Mother-Daughter Book Camp, the motto of Camp Lovejoy is “Broadening Horizons for Over a Century.” Girls are encouraged to stretch outside their comfort zones.

When the subject of summer camp comes up among my friends, the discussion turns to crafts learned (macaroni-adorned something), songs sung, injuries sustained, family weekends, and unforgettable counselors.

Mother-Daughter Book Camp captures this experience with spot-on details, the emotions of being away at camp (remember that feeling of homesickness? who were these strangers? how would you make it through [however long you were slated to be there]? how could you ever leave?), the food, the one most memorable experience, and those wonderful friendships.

Mother Daughter Book Club Series

I’m a big fan of this series of books which began with The Mother-Daughter Book Club, continued with Much Ado about Anne, and continued through to the recent, seventh book, Mother-Daughter Book Camp. We’ve grown to care about these five girls, Emma (the most dedicated reader and writer), Jess (the farm girl and musician), Becca (first a bully, then a friend, highly organized, quilter), Megan (fashionista, blogger, whose mother is obsessed with green and healthy living), and Cassidy (sports, sports, and great love of family). Their mothers are familiar, too, because of Book Club meetings and trips they’ve taken. There are even grandmothers within these stories. I love it when all of the generations are drawn into the story, don’t you? These are five girls who for the most part didn’t know each other before the book club began—and now they’re forever friends.

In each part of the series, the book club discusses a classic book, from Little Women to Anne of Green Gables to the Betsy-Tacy books to the book featured in Mother-Daughter Book Camp, Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. The book club shares Fun Facts about the book and the author and so, of course, readers are drawn inevitably to reading the featured book—how can curiosity not engender this result? And the book club is woven skillfully into the larger story, which provides plenty of laughs, a lot of gasps of surprise, and heartwarming tears.

I’ve come to care about these girls, their families, their boyfriends. Each of them is heading off to a different college after being counselors at Camp Lovejoy. The series is done with book seven but I know they’ll stay in touch. Their lives are intertwined. I’m going to miss knowing what happens next.

Heather Vogel Frederick has written characters so vivid that I expect them to walk through my front door, plop down on the couch, and tell me all about their lives. I wish they would.

These books are that good. I highly recommend them for fourth grade readers and older. The characters are in sixth grade when their book club is formed. We watch them grow up, graduate from high school, and spend a special summer together at camp before they head off to the rest of their lives.

I’m grateful that their stories are a part of my life.

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Twisted Tots Hotdish

Twisted Tots Hotdish
Serves 8
For a delicious hot dish, which Trev's grandmother may well have cooked for him, you can't beat this slightly different take on the Tater Tot Hotdish. Because it's a Minnesota thing, don't you know?
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr
Ingredients
  1. 1 lb very lean ground beef
  2. 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  3. 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
  4. 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
  5. 1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
  6. 6 strips cooked bacon, crumbled
  7. 1/2 cup French fried onions
  8. 2 cups tater tots
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF
  2. Press uncooked ground beef into an 11x7” baking dish. Spread the tater tots evenly on top of the ground beef. Pour the soup over the tater tots. Sprinkle the diced bell peppers, bacon, and French fried onions on top of the soup. Distribute one cup of cheese over the top.
  3. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir the casserole, breaking the meat into chunks. Add the rest of the cheese and cook for an additional 20 to 30 minutes until top of casserole looks as enticing as you’d like it to look.
Bookology Magazine http://www.bookologymagazine.com/
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One Day at the Farmers Market

Farmers MarketSaturday was gorgeous, and (Oh joy! Oh rapture!) the opening day of the Mill City Farmers Market, one of my favorite markets here in the Twin Cities. I got up and out the door in such a hurry I forgot my market basket, but no matter—there were just the earliest of crops available: asparagus, spinach, rhubarb…. I could carry the few things I needed—and truth be told, I was really after the experience more than the food. The chilly air coming off the Mississippi, the violin player on the corner, the chatter of vendors and customers, small kiddos looking for future crops like berries and corn-on-the-cob and apples…this is the kind of thing that will clear the rest of winter from the recesses of your soul! I got my coffee and blissfully wandered the stalls. If I were to design the perfect morning, this really is it.

And then—an unexpected gift!

Just as I was leaving for the busy Saturday ahead of me, I heard a rich baritone sing out. “STO-ries! STO-ries! It’s storytime! STORYtime!” The hair on he back of my neck stood up (in a good way). STORYTIME! Well, I wasn’t going to leave without stories!

I moseyed back over to the stone steps of the Guthrie Theater, the usual spot for programming during the farmers market. And sure enough, a company actor was there with a stack of kid books. Parents were getting their sticky-farmers-market- smudged-up kids settled at the man’s feet, moving to sit up a step or two and enjoy their coffee in peace. I fit right in, I told myself, even without any kids with me. I just sat down with the parents and smiled down benevolently on the squirmy mosh-pit of would-be story listeners, as if one of them was mine.

Reading at the Mill City Farmers Market

Reading and Storytelling at the Mill City Farmers Market

No sooner had the reader begun than all wiggles stopped. The first book: One Day In The Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. I couldn’t believe my luck! Bernstrom and I had gone to grad school together—and the book was but days old! I hadn’t even made it to the bookstore to get my copy yet!

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus TreeWell, it’s a hoot of a book—as I knew it would be—and what I witnessed on the steps to the Guthrie was none other than Storytime MAGIC. A marvelous story, terrific illustrations, and a fantastic reader! (I mean, the guy is a professional!) The kids were rapt as this man belted out the lines of the little boy who outsmarts the yellow snake who swallowed him up.

It’s a story with some similarities to I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and also to Brer Rabbit. The boy in this story is the Smart One, a more positive moniker, I think, than “Trickster,” as Brer Rabbit is often called. The yellow snake is taken by this smart boy. Everytime he swallows someone or something up, the boy talks about how much more room there is inside…and so the snake takes another victim. And then another. And another. It’s the very smallest thing that proves too much, of course, and the gross results were most pleasing to the young audience. One little girl clapped hard as the snake “expectorated” everyone and everything in his stomach.

Oh the kids loved it! The swingy rhymes, the fun word-rhythms—their little bodies swayed in time. The suspense! The fun! Their faith in the boy! Their joy as the snake’s belly grew larger and larger. “Look at that belly!” our storyteller exclaimed every other page turn.

It all worked to make me quite teary behind my sunglasses as I sat there among the young families. I was so happy for Daniel, so grateful this wonderful actor lent his voice and storytelling to the morning, so glad to have heard my classmate’s story before I read it. He has a wonderful gift with words and fun and rhythm and rhyme.

In my estimation, it was quite the perfect morning. Perhaps the only thing that could’ve made it better was having a little sticky person of my own on my lap to hear the story with me. But alas, those days are pretty well gone for me. (Sometimes I’m still able to borrow.) So it’s just the pure joy of being read to now, which, as it turns out, I’ve not outgrown. Don’t plan to either.

Thanks Daniel, thanks Mr. Wenzel—your book is terrific. Thank you Mill City Farmers Market and Guthrie Theater. Thank you to the wonderful storytime reader whose name I did not catch—your sung “STO-ries!” made my day. You were wonderful! The whole thing was wonderful.

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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

 

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Skinny Dip with Polly Carlson-Voiles

Summer of the WolvesToday we welcome author Polly Carlson-Voiles to Bookology. Her book, Summer of the Wolves, has been a favorite adventure story with middle grade readers, a recent contender for the Maud Hart Lovelace Award.

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

Jane Goodall.

Which book do you find yourself recommending passionately?

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Most cherished childhood memory?

Spending a summer on the windward side of Oahu, in Hawaii.

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

So very many…but I would have to say, Graeme Base…

Favorite season of the year? Why?

I love the season I am in … right now I love the spring with tiny green leaves misting the tree tops, the wild white blossoms of serviceberry and chokecherry. I always reluctantly say ‘good-bye’ to the last season and then fall passionately in love with the newness of the new season, with changes, new birds, new sounds, new colors.

What’s your dream vacation?

To go to Africa and see elephants and other creatures of the African wilds.

What a way to make a Skype visit with wolves in the background at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota.

What a way to make a Skype visit with wolves in the background at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota.

Morning person? Night person?

My best writing happens right after I wake up in the morning. I get some of my best ideas in those shadowy first moments of coming awake when my brain isn’t filled with distractions. But I am not one who wakes at dawn.

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

I have one older brother who was expected to do wonderful important things. Since we were raised in a sexist time and my father was very traditional, I felt very unimportant as a girl child. It made me feisty, though, to feel that girls were expected to let boys win at games, to not excel in school too much, and to be afraid of physical risks. My rebellion against this was one of the greatest gifts of my childhood.

Best tip for living a contented life?

To find your passions and cultivate them like a garden. Do things you love.

Working with a school group at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota

Working with a school group at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota

Your hope for the world?

That we all keep evolving to learn from people who are different from us, and that we all learn to treasure the gifts of wild creatures and wild places.

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Lisa Bullard

Lisa BullardIn this interview with Lisa Bullard, author of Turn Left at the Cow, our Bookstorm™ this monthwe asked nine questions to which she gave heartfelt answers. 

Lisa, thank you for your willingness to share your writing process and your thoughts about mysteries with us. Mysteries have rabid fans and you’ve written a book that’s not only smart and funny and sassy, but it’s a taut thriller. We appreciate having such a good book to read and to share with other fans.

Turn Left at the CowAt what point in writing your novel, Turn Left at the Cow, did you know it was going to be about an unsolved bank robbery?

That’s a great question—it makes me think back to the whole exciting process of how this story evolved over time! When I first set out to write this book, I actually imagined it as a murder mystery for adult readers. And then one day, when I had about 5 or 6 chapters written, I was revising the opening to the story, and a completely different voice marched in and took over the first-person narration—and it was the voice of a young teenage boy. He had so much energy, and I could “hear” him so clearly, that I knew this was truly his story to tell. And of course he wanted to talk to other kids more than he wanted to talk to adults! But that meant I had to rethink many other elements of the novel to instead make it a story for young readers.

I thought it seemed unlikely that a 13-year-old would be able to get involved in a murder investigation in a way that felt realistic, so I brainstormed other possible mysteries. At about the same time, I read a newspaper article about a man who was convinced that infamous hijacker D.B. Cooper was actually his brother. I used one of my greatest writing tools—the question “What if?”—and started thinking along the lines of “What if my character discovers that one of his relatives was involved in a notorious robbery?”

You’ve set Turn Left at the Cow in a small, rural town. Trav’s grandma lives in a cabin on a nearby lake. Why did you decide that the “place” for this story should be in this locale?

This location was at the heart of this story from the very beginning; it stayed the same no matter what other details changed, and to me, this setting speaks so loudly that it’s like another character in the book. It’s based primarily on the location of my family’s lake cabin, which is on Green Lake (near two very small Minnesota towns, Spicer and New London), in west central Minnesota. Since my family moved around when I was a kid, it’s the one place that I’ve consistently returned to since I was a very small child, and it’s a place that has sunk deep into my bones. Our lake cabin originally belonged to my grandparents, and I’ve spent some of the most important times in my life there with family and friends. It’s even where my parents had their honeymoon, so I’ve truly been visiting there my entire life! But of course, my story is fiction, so I did take some liberties with the setting—for example, I gave the town in the book a (nonexistent in real life) giant statue of a bullhead (fish), because many of my other favorite Minnesota towns feature giant statuary.

Parade in Spicer

Travis, your protagonist, is a 13-year-old boy whose dad died before he was born. This serves as a strong motivation for him running away from his mother in California to his grandmother in Minnesota. Does your sure-footed knowledge of Trav’s motivation come from your own experience?

I have been so lucky to have a dad who has always been very active in my life. To this day, we still talk and laugh and argue with each other like we did when I was a little kid and a teenager. But many of the people I’ve been closest to throughout my life are not so lucky. I’ve been close friends with several people who lost their father when they were quite young, and my closest uncle died the summer I turned nine—so my cousins no longer had a father of their own. As my mom explained to me, that meant I needed to “share” my dad with them.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my greatest writing tools is the question “What if?” It challenges me to expand my stories beyond my own personal experiences and to live inside the experiences of a character who is very different from me. One of the biggest “What if” questions in my own life has always been: “What if I didn’t happen to have the dad that I was lucky enough to have?” I decided that this story was the place for me to try to imagine what it might be like for someone to desperately crave a relationship with a lost father.

Readers are fascinated by the “red herrings” in a whodunit, the clues that could, but don’t, solve the mystery. At what point in writing the story did you consciously work with (plant your) red herrings?

walking catfishI love quirky details, and I built a lot of them into the story: for example, there’s a human head carved out of butter, a walking catfish, and a game where the winner is chosen by a pooping chicken. But I don’t want to give away any clues to readers who haven’t yet had a chance to read my story, so I’m hesitant to tell you here which details are red herrings and which details are key clues! I’ll just say that some of the red herrings were in place before I wrote a single word of the story, some of them wandered in out of the mysterious depths of my subconscious as I was writing the first few drafts, and others were things I created quite deliberately when I was revising and reached a point where I felt I needed to mislead readers from figuring out the solution too easily.

Since that’s a really vague answer, how about this? After you’ve read the story, feel free to visit the contact page on my website (lisabullard.com) and send me an email with any questions you have about the specific red herrings in my story—I’d be delighted to send you an answer!

Your story is very tense as it approaches its climax. Did you have to re-work your manuscript to achieve this?

Yes, absolutely! The entire story required many rounds of revision, but I received some key advice that really helped me make this section more dramatic and suspenseful. The novel took me about 3 years total to write, but one year in particular was very productive. During that year I took a series of classes from mystery writer Ellen Hart, and got great advice and feedback from her and the other students in the class. One of the things I learned was that you should write in short, choppy sentences when you want to create a scene that feels chaotic and quick-moving. Those short sentences push the reader forward through the story more quickly because they read more quickly. In my first draft, I had included lots of long and meandering sentences, and those had to be broken up or deleted altogether.

No time to think!I had also written a lot of reflective passages in those tense scenes—paragraphs where my character was doing a lot of thinking along the lines of “How did this even happen?” But in real life, when something really high-action and stressful is happening, a person usually doesn’t have time to stop and think too hard—they only have time to react and keep moving. Stopping to figure out exactly where things went wrong comes afterwards. So I went back and took out all of those places where my character was “over-thinking,” and just had him responding to the danger of the moment as best he could.

When you write a mystery, how do you know that it’s mysterious enough?

Wow, that’s another great question. I’m not sure that I know how to answer it exactly, but I’ll do my best! To me, mystery stories are puzzles: as the writer, your job is to hand the reader all the pieces of the puzzle, but to do it in such a way that the puzzle isn’t overly easy to solve. So for example, I’ve never liked mysteries where the answer is something the reader couldn’t possibly have figured out—when there’s some important clue that the author has held back, and then on the last page, the detective says something like, “This letter that was locked in a bank vault until 5 minutes ago proves that the thief was Mr. Villain!” As a reader, I want a fair chance to put together all the puzzle pieces for myself—and if the writer still fools me after playing fair, then good for them!

Clue MapSo when I was writing this mystery, I knew I had to play fair—I had to give the reader all of the important clues. It was okay if I spread out the clues over the whole book. And it was totally okay if I mislead the reader into thinking that some of those clues weren’t as important as they turned out to be in the end! After all, it’s the reader’s job to put the puzzle pieces together to get the right answer—I trust my readers to be smart, so I don’t have to make it TOO easy for them!

As far as the actual writing process, I made a long list of all the clues I knew in advance, and I thought about how I could work them into the story at intervals so there would be clues all throughout. I also built in things that seemed like fake clues to heighten the suspense and to make the puzzle more exciting. Finally, as I was writing, at any point where I felt like the story was slowing down too much, I would ask myself, “What is something really unexpected or surprising that could happen to my character next?”—and that approach provided some additional clues.

I also worked to think of metaphors and setting details that would add a spooky atmosphere to the whole story, and I tried to put my character into situations that seemed dangerous. After all, another big part of mysteries is that they’re more fun if they’re kind of scary!

Do you read mysteries? How old were you when you began reading them? Can you remember some of the first mysteries you read?

Three InvestigatorsI love mysteries! They’re still some of my absolute favorite books, and they’re some of the first books I remember reading. When I was in elementary school, I was lucky enough to be given a huge box full of books that had belonged to either my mom or my older girl cousins when they were younger. The box held a lot of mystery series, some of them pretty old-fashioned but still wonderful. The different series included Judy Bolton, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and the Three Investigators. And some of the first “grown-up” books I ever read were Agatha Christie mysteries and suspense stories by Mary Stewart. As a kid, I loved mystery stories so much that I made up my own mysteries and forced my brother and friends to “play” Three Investigators in our basement—we even wrote secret messages in invisible ink (lemon juice) and then decoded them by holding them over the toaster.

What is there about a mystery that you think appeals to kids?

puzzleIt’s fun to get that little spine-tingly feeling that comes when something is a little bit scary, so that’s part of it. Many mysteries are action-packed and fast-moving (rarely boring), so that’s another part of it. But I think a big reason is that working to put together the puzzle of the story is kind of like a game—and if, as a reader, you manage to figure out the mystery before the story’s detective does, then you also feel pretty darn proud of yourself, and smart!

Can you share with us what you’re working on now? Is it another mystery? (We hope so.)

I’ve written several nonfiction books since Turn Left at the Cow was published, and now I’m wrestling with another mystery. My writing process is pretty slow when it comes to novels (and my life in the last few years has been really complicated)—plus I write a lot of my first draft in my head before any of it actually hits paper—so there isn’t a whole lot actually written down yet. But I can tell you that this story is set in the north woods of Minnesota, and like Turn Left the mystery has to do with a complicated family story and a lot of quirky small-town characters. Including Bigfoot, by the way—now there’s a mystery for you!

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Secret Destination

Secret DestinationIf I hadn’t made the trip myself, I don’t think I would believe how quickly you can travel from the curious world of the Las Vegas Strip to what seems to be its diametrical opposite: the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Red Rock is composed of desert and rock formations, the kind of place that inspired one website to urge visitors to leave news of their intended destination with a “responsible party” before they journey into its mysteries.

The Vegas Strip is composed of showgirls and casinos. In other words, it’s the kind of place where visitors should leave news of their intended destination with a “responsible party” before they journey into its mysteries.

It’s almost as if Las Vegas keeps a giant secret wilderness tucked away in its backyard—a secret unknown to many Vegas visitors who don’t venture beyond the familiar flashing lights. And yet, now that I know that secret is there, a whole new dimension has been added to my understanding of the Las Vegas experience.

Discovering a secret can be illuminating when you’re on a writing road trip, too. Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given about characterization came from mystery writer Ellen Hart. She urged me to give every one of my characters—even those who play small roles in my stories—a secret.

She was right. These secrets have added a wonderful dimension to my understanding of my stories. Now that all of my characters have something tucked secretly into the backyards of their lives, my stories are more infused with potential and humanity.

Every young writer knows the refrain “I’ve got a secret.” Remind your students of it; urge them to study their own characters, to find out what kind of wilderness each one has kept hidden from the world.

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Words of Wisdom

graduationI may never be asked to give the commencement speech at my alma mater—or yours for that matter. However, just in case the opportunity presents itself, I am ready. After considerable reflection on my 25 years as an educator, I can sum up my message for aspiring teachers who are about to embark on a career in the classroom with the following words of wisdom.

#1. Practice the “Art of Being”

Being available, being kind, being compassionate, being transparent, being real, being thoughtful, and being ourselves, this is the path that leads to success.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the “doing” when it comes to teaching. Once you jump on that treadmill with your to-do list in hand, it can be difficult to stop and rest. However, it is the art of being that will lay the foundation for building relationships with students, parents and colleagues. It is those relationships that will play the most important role in your success as an educator.

#2. Develop Stamina and Speed

Be prepared to develop a combination of these two contradictory but essential skills. You will quickly realize that some aspects of teaching require you to go the distance (bathroom breaks will be few and far between). At the very same time you will often need to train like you’re competing for a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records (not everyone can eat an entire lunch and go to the bathroom in 20 minutes or less).

#3. Mistakes Are Okay

Beautiful Oops!The lovely little book Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg, offers a profound truth—mistakes are much more than accidents or mishaps. They are opportunities to turn blunders into wonders. Create a classroom climate that embraces trying, failing, and learning from those errors. Set the tone for your students by celebrating those beautiful oops that all of us make so that everyone knows that no one is perfect.

#4. Find a “Marigold”

Several years ago, Jennifer Gonzalez offered this wise advice to those just starting out:

“Just like a young seedling growing in a garden, thriving in your first year depends largely on who you plant yourself next to… Among companion plants, the marigold is one of the best: It protects a wide variety of plants from pests and harmful weeds.”

Seek out someone who will serve as the type of mentor who will support you with positivity. Find a mentor who will not hesitate to show you the ropes, answer questions and offer reassurance—you will never regret spending time with a marigold.

#5.  Words Matter, Choose Them Carefully

Choice Words Opening MindsChoice Words and Opening Minds by Peter Johnston are two of the best books I’ve ever read about the important role that language plays in our efforts to reach students and positively impact their learning. Both books are full of insightful examples of how what we say (or don’t say) can make a dramatic difference in the lives of students. 

#6. Parents Are Our Partners—It Is Not “Us” Versus “Them”

Dear ParentsToo often educators make hasty judgments about what appears to be a lack of interest or involvement on the part of parents. When issues flare with a student, the blame game may surface and the tension mounts. One of the greatest investments any teacher can make is to develop strong communication and rapport with parents. It’s not enough to simply say you value parent input, it is necessary to cultivate a sense of teamwork and mutual respect.  Check out Dear Parents: From Your Child’s Loving Teacher (Handbook for Effective Teamwork) by Dana Arias for a wonderful collection of letters that promote a true alliance between educators and parents.

#7. Network, Connect, or Get “Linked In”

Social media offers an endless nexus of professional groups. Digital natives will have no trouble seeking out and mingling online with other educators who share the same interests and frustrations yet may offer a different perspective or approach. In addition to the virtual world of networking, don’t hesitate to join organizations that meet face to face, offering high quality and ongoing professional development. State and national chapters of the International Literacy Association (ILA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), to name a few, are incredibly valuable resources. 

#8. Expect to Be Overwhelmed

Rose-colored glasses don’t make an attractive fashion accessory for educators. The reality of this challenging career is that it is and might always be overwhelming. The teacher’s job is tough and it is not for the faint of heart. Despite this fact, the rewards most definitely outweigh the demands (take extra notice of #9 and #10 to counteract #8)!

#9. Be Patient with Yourself

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.” —Joyce Meyer

You and your craft are a work in progress. It will take time to learn the art and magic of balancing curriculum, technology, classroom management, assessments, and effective teaching strategies. You’ll likely be your own toughest critic. Strive to find the balance between maintaining a sense of urgency and stopping long enough to appreciate the fun and humor that wiggles its way into your classroom thanks to the marvelous little people you will be spending your days with.

#10. Find Joy Every Day 

Be HappyBe Happy! by Monica Sheehan offers excellent suggestions for staying focused on the simplest of things … make friends, dance, dream big, be brave, along with a treasure trove of other ideas. Read this little gem on the first day of school, the last day of school and lots of days in between. It is a masterpiece and might just be the blueprint for a truly satisfying life for all human beings.

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La Escuela Primaria: A Visit to Cuba

school gardenThis past February, my husband and I traveled to Cuba on an eleven-day tour. Near the end of the trip, we drove from the central city of Camagüey to visit a ranch. After a two-hour drive, our bus bounced down a long dirt road and passed under a wooden sign that resembled a gate in an old western, telling us we had reached “The King Ranch.” Sheep, goats, and cattle grazed on dry, scrubby brush, in fields that lined both sides of the road.

We drew up near the ranch’s main building. The ranch manager who welcomed us was fluent in English. He told us that Mr. King—the same wealthy Texan who once developed a million-acre ranch in the U.S—had bought 40,000 hectares of land in Cuba before the Revolution. At its height, the ranch boasted 20,000 head. When Castro came to power, the ranch passed into government hands, as did all land and private businesses on the island. Now the ranch supports 3,000 animals and a village of about 130 people.

Our visit to the ranch included a small rodeo, where a few vaqueros, riding small cow ponies, competed in calf and bull roping as well as bull riding. One stocky cowboy managed to stay aboard a bucking bull for fifteen seconds before being tossed to the ground. He scrambled to his feet and dusted himself off, unhurt.

After the show ended, we climbed into horse-drawn wagons that carried us to the village. As we approached a circle of small, thatch-roofed cottages, a few kids ran along next to our carriages, calling out to us. Why weren’t they in school?

Before we could ask, our horses drew up in front of a tiny, two-room school building. We gathered in a garden outside, decorated with colorful, handmade sculptures of animals and insects. Our guide explained that the teaching principal had just been selected as Teacher of the Year for all of Cuba. This honor meant that the school would host a local district meeting the next day. School had been cancelled to allow a team of teachers and parents to spruce up the building, set up displays, and sweep out the two small rooms where children in grades K-4 were educated. In a narrow hall, a parent was dusting and arranging a few dozen books on a narrow shelf that made up the school’s entire biblioteca.

Mom with Books

Biblioteca (school library): photo by John Fischer

 An outside observer might think these children were deprived. After all, their homes were small simple structures, with dirt floors and thatched roofs. Except for the main ranch building, none of these homes were built to survive a hurricane. I also wondered how the school managed with so few books and materials. Yet the teaching principal (speaking through a translator) was proud of his school’s success. He spoke of the benefits children gain when different ages learn and work together. He also explained that parents are very involved in their children’s education.

Cuban home

Farm worker’s home: photo by Martin Crossland

Cuba prizes its children. The country boasts one of the world’s highest literacy rates. Children’s health and education are a top priority. Throughout our travels, we saw children who appeared healthy, well-fed, and happy. On school days, children wear uniforms according to grade level: red and white for primary school; yellow and white for middle school; brown and white for high school; and dark and light blue for higher education. Their uniforms are clean, bright, and serviceable.

Health care is free for all, new mothers can take a year’s maternity leave, and the state provides free daycare from six months to age five or six. Education is free, from kindergarten through university or technical school, and graduate school.

La Escuela Primaria

Escuela Primaria: photo by Suzanne Raley

Although this village is twenty-one kilometers from the nearest town, nurses and doctors visit regularly, and ranch children receive the same education and follow the same curriculum as their peers in city classrooms. Twice a week, teachers make the long trip to give lessons in art, music, and computer science. The principal showed us a first grade notebook where a child had written long paragraphs in perfect cursive.

Cursive Writing

Dictado (dictation): photo by Suzanne Raley

Displays on the wall demonstrated science projects and geography. Children leave the ranch in fifth grade to board with families in a larger town, four nights a week. There, their learning continues, through high school and beyond if that is what they choose.

After our tour, I walked back to the main house with our guide and the vaquero who had demonstrated bull riding. I learned that he and his daughter, now 17, were both born in the village and educated at the village school. His daughter was now finishing high school and would enter medical school in the fall. He was proud of her accomplishment, but he spoke as if it wasn’t unusual.

Of course, Cuba has enormous economic problems. Though citizens are well-educated, they work for paltry salaries and may not find jobs that allow them to use their expertise and training. Their lives are constricted in ways that we would find oppressive. But as our bus drove away from the ranch, I thought of the stunning and inspiring art exhibits, concerts, and dance performances we had seen in every city on our tour, which demonstrated the value Cuba places on the arts. This was in sharp contrast to our schools, where the arts often disappear when budgets are tight. I thought of city schools in America with overcrowded classrooms that lack basic materials, and teachers who are poorly paid and disrespected. What if our country valued its children, their health, nutrition, and education, as highly as Cubans do?

The Cubans we met were warm, welcoming, and informed. They asked knowledgeable questions about our upcoming elections. Cubans hope—as we do—that the rapprochement begun by President Obama will continue to grow and heal the rift between our two countries. Many Americans like to boast that our nation is the wealthiest in the world. Still, we have much to learn from this fascinating, crocodile-shaped island.

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Summer Adventures

 

Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in ActionThe other day, a public librarian asked on social media for graphic novel recommendations for readers aged 6 to 12. I immediately recommended the Adventures in Cartooning series by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost.

The first book was Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles into Comics, introducing us to The Knight, Edward the chubby horse, and the Magic Cartooning Elf. With humor and breathless storytelling, this story captures both attention and imagination. I cannot envision a reader who wouldn’t want to pull out a pencil and give cartooning a try.

Since then, there have been three more Adventures in Cartooning story/how-to books and four picture books featuring the beloved characters.

The book I’ve fallen in love with now is Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action, first published in 2013. An affordable paperback, this is a stealthy way to buy an activity book that also encourages storytelling, writing, spatial thinking, and math (yes, math, while figuring out how to lay out the story).

These books are clever because they tell a story while showing how to write a story. And the story is good, not didactic.

In this volume, many characters are introduced as a way of showing how you can make different characters out of a few shapes and how you describe a character with a minimum of words, clothing, facial expressions, and placement on the page. And they all move the story forward! With each page turn, something unpredictable happens—that’s great storytelling. I admire the authors’ skillfulness.

Reading these books as an adult cracks me up. The jokes are clever, but they’re layered—and they, too, move the story forward, so they also teach while tickling the reader’s funny bone.

Summer’s nearly here. Are you gearing up with things to do? Buy the series of Adventures in Cartooning books and pull them out of your boredom-reliever bag at opportune times. They’re a can’t miss for any kids who like to tell stories and draw.

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The Odious Ogre

The Odious OgreI’m a big fan of Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. I can remember reading it as a kid and thinking it both hilarious and clever. And I loved the words! So many words!

So when the Juster-Feiffer team came out with The Odious Ogre a few years back, I leapt at it. A picture book! A long picture book! My favorite kind! Full of long words and clever phrasings—it is a hoot. I’ve read it to pre-schoolers through middle-schoolers—they and their adults laugh.

The Odious Ogre lives on his reputation mostly—and it’s a ghastly reputation. He was, it was widely believed, extraordinarily large, exceedingly ugly, unusually angry, constantly hungry, and absolutely merciless.

At least that was his reputation—it’s what everyone thought or supposed or had heard or read …. As Juster says: No ogre ever had it so good. He terrorized the surrounding villages and everyone just … well, let him. They thought it was hopeless, that there was nothing they could do.

No one can resist me, says the Ogre. I am invulnerable, impregnable, insuperable, indefatigable, insurmountable …. He had an impressive vocabulary having accidently swallowed a large dictionary while eating the head librarian in one of the neighboring towns.

Now I know there are those who will read that sentence of wonderful i-words and and the detail of eating librarians and they will think one of two things (if not both): There’s a vocab list! OR, why would she read that to pre-schoolers?!

My husband just looked over my shoulder at the illustrations and said, “Wow. That looks violent.” And there are violent scenes, to be sure. (Although they’re pictures in sweet pen and inky water colors, so the impact is softened.) The best scene is when the ogre throws a temper tantrum, leaping and hurling himself around the garden of a completely unflappable young girl outside of her beflowered cottage. She’d just offered him tea. And muffins. This floors the ogre. He worries that his reputation might be in jeopardy. So he bellows and stomps and blusters. He grimaces and twitches and snorts, all while belching, clawing and drooling in an attempt to frighten the imperturbable young woman. There’s a two-page spread of his reign of terror. The children adore it. The younger they are, the more they delight in it.

gr_odious_ogre_tantrum

The girl is at first overwhelmed. Then she recovers herself, sets down her plate of muffins and applauds with great enthusiasm for a full minute.

“What fun, how magical, how wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Would you consider doing that for the orphans’ picnic next week? I know the children would love it.”

It simply doesn’t matter that the three-year-olds cannot define all of the words. They know exactly what is going on—they’ve thrown such spectacles themselves, after all! They think it hilarious that the young woman wants the ogre to do it again on purpose.

Tucked in my copy of The Odious Ogre, I have sheets that I made that fold into a wee little book. It helps the kids to write their own story about  (Name) , The Most (adjective) Ogre. It asks them to name their ogre, describe their ogre, draw the ogre-y face, describe the ogre’s voice and sounds ….

Kids love this activity! At first I thought it was the size of the book (maybe 2 inches by 3 inches). But I actually think it’s the words. They come up with such creative words after hearing such thesaurastic strings of adjectives from Juster. They name their ogres things like Christilliblly and Amdropistily. They describe their ogres with words like humungo, tizzlly, and grubbling. They use all the crayons in the box when they draw their ogre’s portrait, and they change their own little voices in the most amazing ways to let me hear how their ogre sounds.

Big words, long rambly sentences, large art spreads—this is a great book for kids of all ages. I stand by my call for the longer picture book. I wish Juster and Feiffer would do a series for my personal storytime pleasure.

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Skinny Dip with Eric Rohmann

 

Today we welcome author, illustrator, and Caldecott medalist Eric Rohmann to Bookology. He agreed to give us the skinny on several topics of vital importance.

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

Darwin, Newton, William Blake … and so many others I’ll need a big coffee shop.

Which book do you find yourself recommending passionately?

The Lost CarvingLately, The Lost Carving by David Esterly.

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

Popcorn.

Favorite city to visit?

Vienna, New York, Paris, Madrid, Singapore … still gonna need a big coffee house in each one.

Most cherished childhood memory?

Traveling in the American west.

First date?

Sometime in the fog of High School.

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

Like a person could name just one!

red mug of coffeeTea? Coffee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Coffee.

Favorite season of the year? Why?

Autumn. Clear, cool, and colorful.

What’s your dream vacation?

The next one I have planned … so many places to see!

What gives you shivers?

Good shivers: watching dogs run, Bad shivers: conservative talk radio.

Morning person? Night person?

Morning.

Painting you could look at again and again.

Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights; any Rembrandt self-portrait; Cezanne’s apples; Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanopolus … lots of wall space in the coffee shop!

gr_garden_of_earthly_delights

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

What’s your hidden talent?

I can cook well, a little.

Milk DudsYour favorite candy as a kid …

Milk Duds.

Is Pluto a planet?

Is Brontosaurus really just a big Apatosaurus?

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

Haw Par Villa in Singapore.

Har Paw Villa

Har Paw Villa

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

Brother and sister. Good: I was never alone. Bad: I was never alone.

Best tip for living a contented life?

Be curious.

Your hope for the world?

Wishing for anything but peace would just be selfish.

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Bookstorm™: Turn Left at the Cow

 

Turn Left at the Cow

Turn Left at the CowWho doesn’t love a mystery? Whether your find them intriguing puzzles or can’t-wait-to-know-the-solution page-turners, a good mystery is engrossing and a little tense. Throw in a little humor, a detailed setting, and well-drawn characters and you have a book you can confidently hand to young readers who are already hooked on the genre and those who have yet to become fans.

We are pleased to feature Turn Left at the Cow as our May book selection, written by the expert plotter Lisa Bullard, replete with her characteristic humor.

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 for middle grade readers with mysteries, humor, and bank heists. 

Downloadables

 

 

Don’t miss the exceptional resources on the author’s website. Try your hand at butter carving with “Butter Head Beauties,” engaging science, art, and language arts skills. Re-create the book’s chicken poop bingo with “Chances Are,” calling on math and language arts. Lisa Bullard’s Pinterest page has more great ideas that you’ll find useful as you incorporate this book into your planning.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Middle Grade Mysteries. There are amazing books written for this age group. We’ve included a list that would help you select read-alikes or companion books, drawing on titles first printed in 1929 (yes, really) to 2015.

Butter Heads and Other State Fair Strangeness. A butter head is one of the attention-worthy objects in the book. Begin an online research assignment with a few articles about butter heads around the country.

Fish Out of Water. Travis lives in southern California. When he runs away to his grandmother’s cabin in northern Minnesota, it walks and talks like a different world, one that Travis has to learn to navigate if he’s going to solve the mystery.

Missing Parent. Even though Travis left his mother behind with her new husband, Travis is most interested in finding out about his dad, who died before he was born. Books for this age group often revolve around a parent or parents who are not present. We’ve recommended a few of them. 

Robberies and Heists. Travis has trouble believing his father could have robbed a bank but the townspeople seem to think so. We’ve included books that delineate bank or train robberies, some of them true.

Small Town Festivals. One of the most exciting scenes in Turn Left at the Cow takes place in Green Lake, Minnesota’s annual summer festival where chicken poop bingo is a tradition. We’ve found articles about other small town festivals that would make good writing prompts, research projects, or PowerPoint projects.

Mysteries offer a special pleasure to many readers, both children and adults. They provide an excellent opportunity to talk about plot and how that plot is reinforced by intriguing characters (and good writing!).

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

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