Advertisement. Click on the ad for more information.
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.

 

Read more...

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…..

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

Read more...

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

Read more...

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.

Read more...

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

Read more...

Driving in the Dark

A while back I was at my parents’ lake cabin with my extended family. My brother’s teenagers had all brought along friends, and on Saturday we packed everyone who fell into the “thirteen to fifteen” age range off to the late movie. As the resident night owl, I volunteered to pick up the kids when the movie was over so that the other grown-ups could make it an early night.

By davidsonlentz. AdobeStock 91080377Which is how it turns out that the first time ever in my life I was pulled over by the cops, I was driving someone else’s minivan full of McDonald’s wrappers and dog hair.

Those flashing red lights in my rearview mirror instantly had me feeling all Bonnie-and-Clydish, despite the fact that I had no idea what I had been doing wrong. Driving too fast? Nope, I’d just checked my speed. Driving under the influence? Not unless they’d added iced coffee to the list.

What was I missing?

It turns out that one of the van’s headlights was out. Once I knew that, I realized that the road had seemed a lit- tle poorly lit—but then again, I was in a tiny town with no streetlights. It never occurred to me that I might be missing a headlight. The very pleasant sheriff’s deputy ran my license and, as he promised, had me back on the road within five minutes. I arrived to find the kids running around like maniacs in the dark parking lot of the small-town movie theater, and my “street cred” as the cool aunt only seems to have been heightened by my harrowing run-in with the law.

Sometimes it helps to have somebody pull us over and point out what we’ve overlooked in our writing, too. When it’s time to begin the revision process, ask your students to exchange their writing, and then to ask each other, “What’s missing from my piece?” It’s a great all-purpose peer-review question. Often, it turns out, the missing element is something that the writer already has in their head—but that hasn’t yet made it onto the page.

Asking a reader “What’s missing?” often sheds some much-needed light on a writer’s up-to-then shadowy problem.

Read more...

I Know It’s Weird

Lynne Jonell Page Break

Read more...

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.

Read more...

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.

Read more...

Superheroes and Bad Days

Even Superheroes Have Bad DaysI don’t know about you, but I’ve been wishing for an honest-to-goodness superhero to save the day.

If adults are feeling that way, kids, who pick up all of our emotions, are wishing for the same thing. Batman and Wonder Woman led the list of most popular Halloween costumes in 2016. The proliferation of superhero movies is hard to ignore. But there are very few books about superheroes that are appropriate for the 3-7 year age range.

With rhyming text and a cartoon illustration style that has a sophisticated palette and delicious details, Even Superheroes Have Bad Days is a book everyone can use right NOW. For kids of that certain age, Shelly Becker and Eda Kaban have teamed up to give us a rowdy, exuberant book filled with images of superheroes in action.

We first learn what they could do when they’re having a bad day: kicking, punching, pounding, shrieking. They could be quite destructive with their superpowers.

“But upset heroes have all sorts of choices …
Instead of destruction and loud, livid voices
They burn angry steam off with speed-of-light hiking
Or super-Xtreme outer space mountain biking. “

They clean up other people’s messes, they protect people from harm.

Even Superheroes Have Bad Days

There’s no denying that superheroes could use their powers to wreak havoc, make mayhem, but:

“Instead they dig down to their super-best part,
The strong super-powers contained in their heart!”

There are lots of images to look at while you read together, including eight superheroes created just for this book. Beastie, Zing, Thrash, Laserman Magnifique, Screecher, Typhoon, and Icky are good writing prompts, especially for difficult days.

Every single one of us has those crabby days, down days, exasperated days. How are we supposed to act? We can look to these superheroes for inspiration to be our best selves.

Captain America and Avengers star Chris Evans chose to read this book on the CBeebies ‘Bedtime Story’ on the BCC!

Fun and emotions and resiliency and good reading all in one package! It’s a message book but one that will resonate with many kids. Recommended for school libraries, public libraries, and exuberant bookshelves everywhere.

Even Superheroes Have Bad Days
written by Shelly Becker
illustrated by Eda Kaban
Sterling Children’s Books, 2016

Read more...

Tunnel Vision

Writing Road Trip - Tunnel VisionDriving through a tunnel effectively narrows our field of vision. The walls and ceiling restrict our view to only that which is inside the tunnel. It doesn’t matter if there’s a mountain parked on top of the roof, or an ocean of water being held back by the walls: when we’re inside the tunnel, those things are outside our view.

This concept of tunnel vision provides a good way to talk with your writing students about using first person point of view. This viewpoint is distressingly easy to mess up. When we’ve chosen to tell a story using the “I” voice, it’s all too simple to slip into another character’s head. But it’s a no-no to wander into a landscape that is beyond the “view” of the perspective character.

Sometimes it happens because the writer has been tempted to bring in information that the character doesn’t know, perhaps to increase tension or suspense (Will the snake the author has told us is hiding under the bed strike a fatal bite? Will she ever realize that he’s secretly attracted to her, as the reader knows because the writer snuck into his innermost thoughts?).

And sometimes it happens just as a slip: suddenly the writer has entered another character’s thoughts, or introduced action, that is outside the field of vision of the perspective character.

There’s a simple line I use to remind students that they can’t deviate from their character’s “tunnel vision” this way: in first person, the action has to stop whenever that character falls asleep, slips into a coma, or leaves the room.

The character can certainly come back into the room (or wake up from the coma) and guess that something has happened: they might read someone’s face and guess they’ve been crying, or see a broken vase and interpret that somebody threw it in a rage. But what happened inside that room after the character left is officially “outside the tunnel,” and therefore out of bounds of the character’s direct experience for storytelling purposes. If the writer wants what happened to be part of the story’s action, they have to find a clever way for the point of view character to discern what has gone on; they can’t simply sneak into somebody else’s head.

What happens outside the tunnel, stays outside the tunnel.

Read more...

The Bluest Eye

 

It’s been years since I could keep up with my kids reading. When they first began reading independently, I’d often read (or at least skim) the books they were working on so I could ask questions and talk about it with them. Then for several more years, they would simply tell me about whatever they were reading—often in great detail. Sometimes I’d read it, sometimes not, but we could converse about it given the amount of detail they shared. But eventually they read at a pace much faster than me, and they read more widely, too. Both read way more fantasy than I do. #1 Son reads a lot of history, and Darling Daughter a lot more YA than I manage. These days, it’s often me asking them for books to read.

As they each entered high school I decided to try and read with them on the books they were reading in English class. This is largely a re-reading of the classics for me—I was an English major, after all. And a few more contemporary books, too. I haven’t managed to read every one, but many I have, and been glad I did. None more so than this spring’s Honors English 9 selection: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater is putting on The Bluest Eye this spring, and we had tickets in our season package. Last fall when they came I thought, “Oh, we should read that before we go…..” But I’d lost it in the daily shuffle. I was thrilled when Darling Daughter told me The Bluest Eye was next on the syllabus.

“Toni Morrison!” I said. “I haven’t read The Bluest Eye in ages! I’ll dust my copy off and have a read with you.”

“Mr. W. says it’s pretty…intense,” Darling Daughter said.

“Indeed,” I said, as I scanned the bookshelves. “And beautiful. That’s how Morrison writes.” But The Bluest Eye was not in the M section on my shelf. Nor was it “misfiled” somewhere else—I looked everywhere for it the next few days and finally gave up and bought a copy.

Twenty pages in I realized that I’d probably never read it. I had it all confused with Beloved, I think. It is quite a read. Intense seems like too simple a word to describe it. So heartbreaking. Appalling in too many ways. But such gorgeous writing! And…important. It feels important to read this book. I’m grateful my kid has an English teacher willing to take it on.

Our Guthrie ticket night came and we went and watched the intense, heartbreaking story on stage. I could hardly breathe through much of it. The hard scenes of rape and racism and horror were beautifully handled and I was so grateful to be sitting next to my fourteen year old as we watched. I was plumb full of gratitude, in fact. Grateful for Morrison’s work; grateful for the work of the playwright, Lydia R. Diamond; grateful for the actors who presented it to us with such exquisite artistry.

None of us will forget this book and its play. I’m very glad to have finally read The Bluest Eye, and I’m thrilled to have read and seen it with my kiddo.

Read more...

I Need a Grant

Read more...

The Funny and the Heart

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Jackie: Recently Phyllis and I read a heart-breaking column in The New York Times, written by author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who wrote many children’s books, and a couple of books for adults.

The column, written as a love-note to her husband from a dying wife, was heartfelt, sad, and funny all at the same time. We both wished we had known Amy Krouse Rosenthal. But it was too late. We looked at a few of her books and found the funny and the heart that characterized that column.

As a way of paying tribute, we want to share just a few of her books with you. And I should add that we both want to do this but Phyllis is out tramping around after Minnesota wildflowers for a book project so I am on my own this month. I will miss my big-hearted friend in writing a column about another writer with heart, but will do my best.

Yes Day!Humor and heart characterize all the Amy Krouse Rosenthal books I have read. A favorite of my grandchildren is Yes Day! Once a year the exuberant child in this book wakes up to a day in which his parents answer all his questions with, “Yes.”

“Can I please have pizza for breakfast?” Turn the page and he is about to enjoy what we know to be, because it’s steaming with flavor, delicious sausage pizza.

“Can I use your hair gel?” Turn the page and the family is posing for a portrait with our hero standing in front with superbly spiked hair.

“Can I clean my room tomorrow?” Yes. Or pick all the cereals?  And we see in the grocery cart Puffed Sugar Cereal, Marshmallow Fluff cereal (“with bits of actual cereal”), Hot Fudge Sundae Flakes (“1 whole oat per serving”).  There are no bad wishes. Mario can come for dinner. Our hero can stay up really late. And on the last two pages we see the Yes Day celebrant lying on the ground,  under the stars with his Dad. “Does this day have to end? We know the answer. But his last words are “See you again next year!”

This picture book is so satisfying. Our granddaughter Ella is seven and enjoys the Harry Potter books, Beverly Cleary books, as well as many graphic novels. But she loved this book, too. And sat through repeated readings, laughing at all the jokes.

ChopsticksElla also loved Chopsticks. This story of the friendship of two chopsticks is loaded with visual and verbal puns. “They go everywhere together. They do everything together.” Until one of them snapped. “Chopstick was quickly whisked away,” carried by a kitchen whisk. “The others all waited quietly. /No one stirred,/ not even Spoon.”

When Chopstick returns from his surgery, he tells his friend to go off, have adventures on his own. One of his hilarious adventures is conducting an orchestra of kitchen implements. The turkey baster plays French horn, a fork plays an oven thermometer that looks like a bassoon. Who could not love this page?

Who could not love this book which ends with the chopsticks playing “Chopsticks” on the piano?

Exclamation PointAmy Krouse Rosenthal had a light touch with serious subjects, too. Exclamation Mark is the story of a punctuation mark that does not fit in. Hilarious already, right?  The text and illustrations appear on what looks like the wide-lined school paper of the early grades. The book begins “He stood out from the very beginning—on the next page we see a row of circle-drawn periods with little faces and one period with a long line above it—the Exclamation Mark. “He tried everything to be more like them./But he just wasn’t like everyone else. [Line of periods.] Period.”  After a while he meets a question mark. Of course it only speaks in questions. “Who are you? What grade are you in? What’s your favorite color? Do you like frogs?” And on and on—until Exclamation Mark says, STOP!” The Question Mark loves it and asks him to do it again. “Hi!” And again, “Howdy!”  And more. “It was like he broke free from a life sentence.” With all its puns and silly phrases, this is at its core a story of finding one’s place in the world. And that is always satisfying

SpI was familiar with only two of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s books, Spoon, the story of a spoon who is unhappy with its role in life, envies the other implements. He says of Chopsticks, “Everyone thinks they’re really cool and exotic! No one thinks I’m cool or exotic.” Eventually Spoon realizes a spoon’s work can be cool—and fun. Such a great idea to tell this tale from the point of view of a spoon. We all need to be reminded and reminded that we all have a place in the world. And how light-hearted to let a spoon character do the reminding. And there’s the advantage of giving kids permission to talk to their spoons.  How many kids now have conversations with their spoons when they eat their morning cereal and have Amy Krouse Rosenthal to thank?

from Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustration copyright Scott Magoon

Duck! Rabbit!The second book in my AKR mental library was Duck! Rabbit!, It’s a story told totally in dialogue about two friends who see a creature that could be a rabbit with long ears or a duck with a beak. ”Are you kidding me?/It’s totally a duck./It’s for sure a rabbit./See there’s his bill./What are you talking about?/Those are ears, silly.” It’s a clever turn on two characters who can look at the same picture/event/person and come to completely different conclusions.  Finally one says, “You know, maybe you were right./Maybe it was a rabbit.” And the other says, “Thing is, now I’m actually thinking it was a duck.” After this coming together, the story ends with them seeing an anteater/brachiosaurus. And we take off again.

If I were a teacher I’d keep a stash of Amy Krouse Rosenthal books in my bag for those times when kids are antsy, or standing in line to get into the auditorium, or just need a good laugh or a good pun. I’m definitely going to keep a stash for my grandkids. I wish I had said, “Thanks,” when she was still living. The best I can do is pass these books along to readers of all ages who need a smile or actually would like to start the day talking to their spoons—or their chopsticks.

Phyllis:  Thank you, Jackie, for this month’s column.  Like these books and their author, you, too, have an amazing heart and a sense of joy and delight.  Now, back to my book deadline….

Read more...

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. 

Read more...

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.

"If

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.

______________________

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.

Read more...

Spring Break 2017

I’m still relishing the memory of spring break. Surrounded by mountains and plenty of sunshine, I stumbled upon a literacy oasis that up until then, I had only visited in my dreams. Almost a month later, I am still intrigued and inspired by what I experienced. I knew instantly that this magical place would be the topic of my next Bookology contribution. In fact, I believe I have enough material for a year’s worth of articles about this very special sanctuary of learning. I invite my readers to relive the day with me, now and in the coming months, as I share my take-aways from Zaharis Elementary School, a place where people “clamor to bring their children… because of [a] unique approach to teaching and learning.”  

Donalyn Miller and Maurna Rome

Donalyn Miller and Maurna Rome

Thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook, I seized an opportunity that I knew I couldn’t pass up. A few days before I was scheduled to kick off spring break by boarding a flight to Arizona, Donalyn Miller posted that she was also heading to the desert to present at the Zaharis Literacy Conference, Echoes of Learning, in Mesa, Arizona. Those of us who have read The Book Whisperer or Reading in the Wild or are Nerdy Book Club members knew that this would be worth investigating! I looked up the school’s website and quickly discovered that for just $50 I could attend the one-day conference that featured Donalyn along with keynote addresses from Pam Muñoz Ryan and Dr. Frank Serafini. I’ve had the privilege of seeing all three of these highly respected literacy gurus in the past and knew that I couldn’t go wrong. Spring break or not, I would be going back to school on my first day of vacation. If the conference had consisted of just these three exceptional people it would have been enough. I had no idea that so much more awaited me.

From the moment I strolled through the front doors and scanned the hallways, I could tell that Zaharis Elementary was not your average, run-of-the-mill kind of school. Throughout the day, literacy conference attendees were encouraged to take tours, visit classrooms, and meander through the hallways to get a closer look at the school and how it operates.

The very first thing I noticed was a beautiful mural of two kids reading while sitting on a pile of books. A plethora of author’s autographs filled the spines and covers of the painted books; Jack Gantos, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Patricia Polacco, Grace Lin, Mary Amato, Michael Buckley, and more than a dozen others. Clearly, I had discovered a place where literacy was alive and well.

I rounded the corner and spotted a huge wall filled with framed 8 X 10 photos of Zaharis staff members. Maybe not such an unusual display, until you consider the large heading painted above the frames: Our Legacy – A Love for Literature. Every staff member was holding their very favorite book in their school picture. “Huh!” I thought to myself, “What a simple and inexpensive way to promote a love of reading.” There is a reason Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine selected this school as one of the “25 Coolest Schools in America.” 

Our Legacy Zaharis Elementary School

Once I signed in for the day and met Nancy, one of the friendliest secretaries ever (she hails from the Midwest, having lived in Wisconsin and Minnesota), I wandered from room to room and visited with several extraordinary teachers. I learned quite a bit about this amazing school and realized that my first impression was accurate… this was truly a place where promoting a love of literacy gets top billing. I have to admit, it didn’t take long for me to think about polishing up my résumé and moving south!

Another notable display worth mentioning was a wall filled with framed book covers. Captioned Our Mentors, this sizable collection of professional learning titles showcases the commitment Zaharis staff makes to honing their craft as teachers and learners. Since opening their classroom doors for business in 2002, teachers at Zaharis have engaged in book studies with nearly three dozen mentor texts. Included are such gems as On Solid Ground by Sharon Taberski, In the Middle by Nancy Atwell, Going Public by Shelley Harwayne, Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller, About the Authors: Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers by Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleaveland, and of course, Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller.

Our Mentors - Zaharis Elementary School

In between breakout sessions that were led by classroom teachers, I took part in a guided tour of Zaharis led by school principal, Mike Oliver.  Mr. Oliver’s unparalleled passion and expertise easily qualify him as one of the most solid literacy leaders I’ve ever encountered. His refreshing approach to teaching and literacy learning tugged at my heartstrings as I wish every educator and every child could benefit from this type of mindset. His words resonated so strongly with my personal beliefs:

“What is a reader? What does it mean to be a reader? That’s a question that we ask all the time. The reason that question is so important and our response to it, is it largely determines who our children become as readers, whether or not they pick up a book of their own choosing and how successful they are, really resides in our response to ‘What does it mean to be a reader?’ You look at schools across the country and in so many of them, they drown in a sea of worksheets… 5-6 per day is over 1,000 worksheets a year. Yet there’s no research that shows that there’s a correlation between how many worksheets kids do and how successful they are as readers.” 

I was also quite enthused about Mr. Oliver’s philosophy of how to recruit and hire top-notch teaching talent. As we paused in front of the Our Mentors wall display, he explained that the first several interview questions always center on reading. Candidates are asked to share what they are reading for personal pleasure and for professional growth. If unable to respond easily and fully, the interview is, quite frankly, over (though the remaining questions are still shared out of respect). As Mr. Oliver pointed out, how can we expect someone who doesn’t appear to value reading to be responsible for instilling a love of literacy in children?

Mr. Oliver's Office

Mr. Oliver’s Office

Oversized classrooms that look more like furniture showrooms, complete with sectional sofas, cozy reading nooks and floor to ceiling book displays would make any kid or teacher swoon. As much as I love the idea of relaxed, homey learning environments like those at Zaharis, it might be a tall order to transform most traditional classrooms into such well-appointed spaces.

Primary Classroom, Zaharis Elementary School

Primary Classroom, Zaharis Elementary School

First grade classroom, Zaharis Elementary School

First grade classroom, Zaharis Elementary School

However, the real heart of the learning that happens in this literacy oasis located in the Arizona desert, comes from the careful integration of kids and books, skillfully woven together by the teachers, not from a scripted program or pre-selected curriculum. Please check back next month for the next installment on Zaharis Elementary, a feature on using picture books with first graders to teach a civil rights timeline and an innovative approach called “Mystery Readers” to help 2nd through 5th graders learn how to analyze oral reading.

I’ll close with the words that comprise the Zaharis mission and values, every bit as eloquent and uplifting as it is child- and learning-centered! 

 Our Mission

Learning, caring, rejoicing and working together to create a more just, compassionate, insightful world.

At Zaharis…

Our school is a family. We care for one another and value each other’s voice.

We are all learners and our passions are contagious. We unite as we celebrate each other’s growth, achievements and successes.

It is important to share our stories. This is one way we merge heart and intellect.

We value children’s brilliance. Their feelings, ideas, gifts and talents are respected and shared.

Smiles and laughter make everything easier. Love serves as a motivator until desire to learn is cultivated.

 We understand that when learning travels through the heart, it inspires greater meaning and purpose.

Learning is a social experience. We make meaning together through collaborative dialogue.

We learn through inquiry. The learning in our classrooms mirrors the work that readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists and social scientists do.

Students and teachers have time – time to think, time to wonder, time to explore, and time to share their findings—together.

Read more...

Behind the Poem, “What She Asked”

one of Virginia’s many popular books for upper middle grade and teen readers

Listen to Virginia’s poem, “What She Asked,” on Poetry Mosaic, the April 7th entry, and then read her description of the real-life event behind the poem.

In a rural Oregon high school where I taught English more than 20 years ago, we had big teaching areas separated by screen-wall things, but they came nowhere near reaching the high ceiling, because a few years earlier the design of the school had been to have a giant Resource Center and Library, and teachers and groups of students would ideally meet in sections of the massive room, and that would be school. Didn’t turn out that way (of course): Acoustics were the main problem, but also the continuous human traffic through, coming and going in the Library section. So the dividers arrived, and we had somewhat discrete class areas, but not really. If the neighboring class area was noisy, focus and concentration were difficult. In one or two periods of the day, my area’s nearest neighbor was Human Health and Sexuality, and we who were studying fiction heard “and the condoms don’t always work,” etc.

“What She Asked,” is including in this poetry anthology, published by Pomelo Books, 2016

There were the occasional paper airplanes. One or two per week, maybe. 

One afternoon, in the sleepy after-lunch period, I whisperingly asked my class (high school juniors, maybe some sophomores) to make paper airplanes and we would send them, on signal, over the wall to Human Health and Sexuality.

“Can we make more than one?” “Sure! As many as you can fly all at once,” said I. I insisted that they understand that only at my signal would the fleet of airplanes have the desired effect of simultaneity. I, too, made one paper airplane.

On my own personal count of 3, it worked. I think we must have sent over 40+ airplanes into the next class. Great fun. The teacher had a fine sense of humor (her fields were Biology and Ski Coaching) and she liked the dramatic moment of it. Of course Human Health and Sexuality sent the planes back, but I suppose we won because we had done it first. And simultaneously.

Read more...