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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Bookstorm™: Giant Squid

Giant Squid Bookstorm

Giant SquidGiant Squid provides an excellent opportunity to teach about one of the most mythical, unknown, and yet real creatures on earth, the Giant Squid. The incredible illustrations by Eric Rohmann help the reader’s perception of how large this deep sea creature is and how mysterious. Found so deep within the sea, there is very little light. How did Eric Rohmann create the sense of this water darkness and the release of ink, a defense mechanism? How did Candace Fleming write with spare text and yet tell us so many fascinating details about the Giant Squid?

Our Bookstorm will take you into further exploration, studying bioluminescence, other deep sea creatures, ocean ecology, oceanographers, and more.

There are excellent resources in the back matter of the book as well. We trust you will find inspiration and resources aplenty within the Bookstorm to accompany your study of Giant Squid. 

Downloadable

You’ll find more information about Candace Fleming on her website. And read about illustrator Eric Rohmann on his website.

There’s a Teaching Guide available for Giant Squid, written by naturalist Lee Ann Landstrom.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

  • Bioluminescence
  • Deep Sea Creatures
  • Fiction
  • Giant Squid, in particular
  • Oceans
  • Relative Size
  • Scientific Exploration

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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Santa’s Favorite Story

Verily, as if on cue, I have fielded the year’s first parental question about Santa Claus. It is the whispered earnestness of the askers that keeps me from rolling my eyes. What role, if any, should Santa have in a Christian family….? they whisper leaning away from the baby on their hip, lest that babe be tipped off. It’s always their first child. They want to do things right. They’re absolutely so dear, and I feel privileged that they come to me, even as I think this is largely a stupid question. I’m with Johnny Cash: Joy to the world, and here comes Santa Claus!

I can tell which way they’re leaning as soon as I tell them how much I love Santa. They either blink politely, or look tremendously relieved. (Disclaimer: I respect either, but I’m more interested in talking to the latter.) Either way, I tell them something about the history of St. Nicholas, which we celebrate each December 6th in our household. This gives the man in red some religious credentials if that seems important to the family. Then I tell them about Santa and Coca-Cola, which I find utterly fascinating. (I also find it fascinating that snopes.com covers the story.) I usually end my impassioned speech for Santa with a poorly paraphrased version of G. K. Chesterton’s views on Santa, which can be found in the second half of this meditation. (The first half is excellent, as well, but I should memorize the second half.)

If they’re still with me—by which I mean they’re true believers in Santa and they were only temporarily deluded into thinking they needed to give that up to be responsible and faithful parents—I tell them about Hisako Aoki’s and Ivan Gantschev’s book, Santa’s Favorite Story.

This book is so simple, so good, so right. The animals in the forest discover Santa asleep against a tree and they are alarmed. Santa! ASLEEP?! They wake him and Santa explains that he’d gone for a hike to get in shape for Christmas Eve. When he got tired, he decided to take a nap. Santa napping?! He muses that maybe all the presents will be too much for him this year.

Does that mean there won’t be a Christmas anymore?” the fox asks, giving voice to the worries of the entire forest’s population.

That’s when Santa tells them the story of The First Christmas. Four spreads lay out the story told in the Gospel of Luke, complete with shepherds and sheep, a bright star, and the babe lying in the manger. Santa tells his furry audience that God gave love that first Christmas and love is the best present there is.

It’s an enormously satisfying book, and it’s still in print, I believe—somewhat remarkable given that the original copyright is 1982. I love how it holds the two most famous people of Christmas together and delivers a gentle critique of rampant consumerism at the same time. Amen, I say! Get yourself a copy and have a read this Christmas. Amen.

 

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Wish

wish200I did not grow up in the south, but my parents did, so I like to claim a little southern heritage. When my kids were younger, I loved reading them books set in the south—willing into their souls the humidity, barbecue, iced tea with lemon, and accents that have the rhythm of rocking chairs found on great big porches. They enjoyed hearing how my grandparents called me “Sugar,” and I felt it vitally important they understand that Missouri peaches just might be better than the famed Georgia peaches. (It’s true–no offense to Georgia.)

I’m a big fan of Barbara O’Connor’s novels—whether they’re explicitly set in the south or not they feel southern, and when I pick them up I know I will enjoy them. So as soon as I heard her latest book, Wish, was coming out, I put a reserve on it at the library, where it was already ordered for when it came out months down the road. This is my system so I don’t forget about great books coming out. (Which seldom happens—for the really great books, anyway—but maybe that’s because I use this system, who knows?)

By the time the library notified me my copy was in, I’d already bought the book and read and loved it. So I pulled my reserved copy off the hold shelves and went to the check-out desk to let them know I didn’t need it anymore. I took my place in line behind a little girl standing with her mother. She was wearing a winter coat even though it was about sixty degrees that day. Minnesota had a lovely extended fall this year, which Minnesotans were in awe of as we ran around in our short sleeves almost to Thanksgiving, but newcomers still thought it was cold.

I heard the girl’s mother talking to the librarian. Her voice was a gentle rocking chair voice. They were signing up for library cards. The girl stared at me, eyeing me up and down. Somewhat suspiciously, perhaps. Maybe it was my short sleeves.

She looked at Wish, which I was holding down by my side. “Is that book about a dawg?” she asked, tilting her head the same way as the book.

“There’s a dog in it, yes. His name is Wishbone,” I said, pointing to the beagly looking dog on the cover.

“What’s that girl’s name?” she asked pointing to the girl on the cover with the dog.

“Her name is Charlie.”

“That’s a boy’s name,” she fired back.

I handed her the book because I could tell she wanted to look at it straight on.

“Her mama named her Charlemagne. She liked Charlie better,” I said. “It’s a really good book.”

“What’sitabout?” she asked all in one word.

“It’s about wishes…and friends…and home…and family. It’s about a girl living in a new place and she’s not sure if she likes it or not.”

“Does anything bad happen to that dawg?” she asked warily.

“Nope,” I said.

She handed the book back to me.

“Maybe you’d like to read it?” I said. “I’m not checking it out, I’m returning it.” It was my turn at the library desk.

I explained to the library worker that I didn’t need the book and asked if the little girl walking toward the door with her mother could check it out instead. Alas, someone was waiting for it, and things happen in certain orderly ways at the library, so they couldn’t check it out to her. I decided not to be irritated by this and checked it out anyway since it was still technically my turn.

I followed the girl and her mother out the door to the parking lot and gave them the book. I told them I borrowed it for them and I told the mother I thought she’d do a great job reading it out loud. I told the girl I thought she would enjoy it a lot. They both thanked me. The mother said, “Bless your heart!” about five times.

And my heart was blessed.

“What if they don’t return it?” the library worker said when I walked back in the library. “It’s checked out on your card.”

“If they need to keep it, I’ll pay for it,” I said.

We’ll find out in a few weeks, I guess. But I’m not worried.

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Traveling Back Through Time

Photo by Ren at Morguefile.comA few years ago another Laura Ingalls Wilder fan and I made a pilgrimage to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Other faithful followers will remember that tiny town as the setting for On the Banks of Plum Creek as well as the TV version of the books.

Our favorite experience of the day was visiting the Ingalls Dugout Site. I’ve been to a lot of places with historical relevance, all around the world—but almost none of them have given me as much keen pleasure as this one. Other than a wooden bridge across Plum Creek and a simple sign, there is almost no evidence of human habitation. You feel as if you are seeing the spot exactly as it was when Laura first set eyes on it nearly 140 years ago—but without any fear that somebody wearing a sunbonnet is going to spring up and start churning butter as some kind of recreated history.

We had the place completely to ourselves. We happily dabbled our toes in the waters of Plum Creek. We planted ourselves atop the sod roof of the dugout (now just a depression in the side of the creek bank), and sighted across prairie grasses that stretched far away to the horizon. We reveled in a serenade of songbirds. For one whole hour, we lived between the covers of a book. And then we got back in our car and drove home to the city.

One of my favorite pieces of writing advice comes from author Faith Sullivan. I share it here for you to pass along to your students. When you are writing about a story’s setting, don’t leave the reader feeling like a distant observer. Don’t go on for paragraph after paragraph with static setting details and boring descriptions. Instead, have your character interact with the setting. Give the reader small, telling details of the setting as the character engages with it.

In other words, show a character running through the tall grasses, pushed along by the sneaky prairie breezes. Give us a character who’s shivering because icy fingers are trying to poke their way through the walls of their sod home.

Writers who describe their setting in this way will make us feel, for that hour or two that we are reading, like we are living between the covers of a book.

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Third Grader Reading at a Sixth Grade Level

Responding to a parent request for books that would interest her third-grader-reading-at-a-sixth-grade-level, we crowd-sourced a list. Big thanks to Sara Alcott, Linda Baie, Lesley Mandros Bell, Karen Cramer, Caren Creech, Melinda Fant, Ellen Klarreich, Vickie LoPiccolo, Ellen McEvoy, Laura Moe, Tunie Munson-Benson, Vicki Palmquist, Carrie Shay, Faythe Dyrud Thureen, Cindy Walker, and Sharon J. Wilson.

Unlike our usual annotated booklists, we are presenting this one in alphabetical order by book title due to the length of the list. We hope you find books here that lead you to read more books by these authors. Of course, there are many more just-right books to suggest for this type of reader–we’ve included only books suggested by our “crowd.”

bk_alcaponeshirtsAdam Canfield of the Slash, Michael Winerip

Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great (Knights Tales series), Gerald Morris

Al Capone Does My Shirts (series of 3 books), Gennifer Choldenko

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Betsy-Tacy Treasury (series, Betsy and friends get older in the books), Maud Hart Lovelace

BFG, Roald Dahl

Birchbark House, Louis Erdrich

Black Stallion (series), Walter Farley

Boggart, Susan Cooper

Catherine, Called BirdyBook of Three (Prydain series of 5 books), Lloyd Alexander

Borrowers, Mary Norton

Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis

Catch You Later, Traitor, Avi

Catherine, Called Birdy, Karen Cushman

Chasing Vermeer, Blue Balliet

Children of Green Knowe (series), Lucy M. Boston

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

Dark is Rising (series of 5 books), Susan Cooper

Dragons in the Waters, Madeleine L’Engle

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking RatEmmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, Lynne Jonell

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Chris Grabenstein

Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School, Candace Fleming

False Prince (series of 3 books), Jennifer A. Nielsen

Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo

Frindle, Andrew Clements

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsberg

Girls Think of Everything, Catherine Thimmesh

Greenglass House, Kate Milford

Half Magic, Edward Eager

HatchetHarriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (series of 7 books), J.K. Rowling

Hatchet, Gary Paulsen

Holes, Louis Sachar

Home of the Brave, Katherine Applegate

How to Steal a Dog, Barbara O’Connor

How to Train Your Dragon (series), Cressida Crowell, “It’s funny, sophisticated, appealing, and has 12 volumes.”

Indian Shoes, Cynthia Leitich Smith

I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 (series), Lauren Tarshis

Invention of Hugo CabretInvention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, E.L. Konigsberg

Julie of the Wolves, Jean Craighead George

King of the Wind, Marguerite Henry

Lightning Thief (many books in this series and other series), Rick Riordan

Lincoln and His Boys, Rosemary Wells

Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park

Making Friends with Billy Wong, Augusta Scattergood

Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli

Old WolfMother-Daughter Book Club (series of 7 books), Heather Vogel Frederick

Mozart Season, Virginia Euwer Wolff

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien

Nation, Terry Pratchett. “A bit mature for the average third grader, but this doesn’t sound like an average kid. Make it a point of discussion.”

Old Wolf, Avi

On My Honor, Marion Dane Bauer

One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate

One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia

Owls in the Family, Farley Mowat

People Could FlyPeople Could Fly, Virginia Hamilton

Peter Nimble and the Fantastic Eyes, Jonathan Auxier

Pushcart War, Jean Merrill

Randoms, David Liss

Savvy, Ingrid Law

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (especially around Halloween), Alvin Schwartz (these are scary, so please know your child’s ability to handle this book)

Scooter, Vera B. Williams’

Stella by StarlightSingle Shard, Linda Sue Park

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White, Melissa Sweet

Stella by Starlight, Sharon M. Draper

Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome

Tales from the Odyssey, Mary Pope Osborne

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Fudge series), Judy Blume

Tom’s Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce

True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi

Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt

Uncertain Glory, Lea Wait

Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane GoodallUntamed: the Wild Life of Jane Goodall, Anita Silvey

Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech

Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

Whales on Stilts! M.T. Anderson

When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin

Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth Speare

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

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Drive-by

Adobe Stock 53485590When I visited Los Angeles not long after the 1992 riots, a home-town writer told me a story that made me feel what it was like to live there in those uncertain times.

His drive home passed a large police station. He was always on alert as he drove by; everyone thought there could be more trouble at any time, and he assumed that a police station might be a key target.

And then one day, when he was still some distance away, he saw smoke billowing out from the building. This is it, he thought. They’ve set the station on fire. Visions of escalating chaos, this time in his own neighborhood, raced through his head.

He drove closer, on high alert—and discovered cops swarming all around the outside of the building, intent on…

…the burgers being cooked on a large barbecue grill.

I think about this example when I hear a writer advise: “show, don’t tell.” That’s a way of writing that puts readers inside of the story’s action.

He could have just told me, “It was a scary time in LA. We thought things might go up in flames at any minute.” How long do you think I would have remembered that?

Instead, I can still recall small details of his story. That’s because he conveyed his tale (trust me, it was done in a much more riveting fashion than my retelling here), in such a way that I smelled the smoke and felt the sweat that trickled down his neck—and then shared his bark of laughter when it became clear that the only things to be charred that evening were the burgers.

Here’s a way to give your young writers some “show, don’t tell” practice. Ask them to write a scene that features a character experiencing an intense emotion—but don’t allow them to use the actual word (or any synonyms) that represent that emotion. Instead, ask your students to make the emotion evident through their character’s actions. In other words, if the emotion is anger, they can’t use the words “angry” or “mad” or “raging.” Instead, they could show the character stomping his foot, or screaming and tearing at her hair.

A “show, don’t tell” kind of writer won’t just tell me there’s a dead fish on the beach; he or she will have me smelling it for an entire chapter.

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Not One But Four!

Page Break

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Women Can Be Magicians, Too!

Anything But Ordinary AddieIn a sumptuous picture book biography, author Mara Rockliff and illustrator Iacopo Bruno give us the life of Adelaide Scarcez Herrmann, a real person who lived from 1853 to 1932. During her 79 years, she was an actress, a dancer, a vaudevillian, and she was shot out of a cannon. As the title says, she was Anything but Ordinary Addie. In 1875, Addie married Alexander Herrmann, a magician, and became his assistant. They added other acts to their show and traveled the world as Herrmann the Great. When Alexander died of heart failure in 1896, at age 52, Addie decided to carry on as the magician in the act. A female magician was uncommon, so her first solo show included a daring and dangerous magical feat. It was good enough to keep her on vaudeville stages as Madame Herrmann for 25 years. She kept performing until she was 75. Four years later, she passed away and out of memory.

In the Author’s Note, Rockliff laments that “Generations of girls grew up thinking all the great magicians had been men.” With a daughter interested in magic, Rockliff says “This project started when I went looking for a biography of a woman stage magician for my daughter and found to my dismay that none existed.” She began researching women magicians and ran across a very interesting research story. (Yes, I think you should read this in her book.)

It’s an inspiring story appropriate for children. It doesn’t include the financial ups and downs of the Herrmanns, focusing instead on Addie’s successes. A determined little girl and woman, she accomplished admirable feats, including The Bullet-Catching Trick. Although the book shares the highlights of her career, I’m intrigued to find out more. Other readers will be as well. Isn’t that what we want out of a good book?

gr_addie_shock_600px

Iacopo Bruno’s illustrations are richly colored with glowing elements that light the pages much as footlights would light a stage. Addie’s costumes and hair adornments are period-perfect. Even the lettering on the handbills and posters transports readers to the Gilded Age era. Bruno has a curious way of providing depth to his illustrations by surrounding people and objects in the foreground with a thick, white border, almost as though they were cut out of paper. It’s a style that grew on me. It adds focus to the page, directing the reader’s eye to truly see what’s on the page. 

I’d recommend this book for school libraries, classrooms, and for homes where magic and accomplished women are interests.

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Word Search: Presenting Buffalo Bill

Presenting Buffalo BillWhen Candace Fleming chose William “Buffalo Bill” Cody as a subject for her latest biography, she was intrigued by his storytelling, exaggeration, propensity for marketing, and the truth of his life’s adventures and accomplishment. After reading her book, we’re intrigued by the man, not the legend, who would most likely be using Twitter and Instagram to promote his Wild West shows today. 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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Candace Fleming Tames the Wild West

credit: Michael Lionstar

credit: Michael Lionstar

Our thanks to author Candace Fleming for sitting still long enough to answer in-depth questions about her conception for, research into, and writing decisions for Presenting Buffalo Bill: the Man Who Invented the Wild West, our Bookstorm™ this month. Fleming’s answers will inform educators, providing direct quotes from an oft-published biographer of beloved books that will be useful for teaching writing and research skills in the classroom. 

When did you first suspect that you’d like to write about William Cody?

Buffalo Bill Cody 1875

William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, ©1875

My first inkling occurred the morning I opened my email to find a message from editor Neal Porter. The subject-heading read: “Yo, Candy, want to do a book?” Neal had just returned from a trip to Cody, Wyoming, where he’d bumped into Buffalo Bill. Neal was not only intrigued by Bill, but he also realized that it had been decades since an in-depth biography of the showman had been written for young readers. But who should write it? He thought of me. Even though Neal and I had never worked together before, we’d been making eyes at each other for years. He hoped this project would finally bring us together. But I wasn’t so sure. Buffalo Bill Cody? In my mind, he was just another dusty frontiersman. A myth. A trope. Still, I decided to give him a shot (no pun intended) and ordered up his autobiography through inter-library loan. As I opened the book’s cover, I remember giving a little yawn. My expectations were low. And then … I fell into his life story. What a self-aggrandizing, exaggerating, exasperating, endearing, amusing, question-provoking storyteller! The man who wrote that book mystified me. Who was Buffalo Bill? Was he a hero or was he a charlatan? Was he an honest man or a liar? Was he a real frontiersman or was he a showman? I found myself suddenly brimming with questions. And I was eager to discover the answers. ©

At what point did you know that you’d present his life in terms of truth and maybe-not-so-true?

Buffalo Bill Cody by José Maria Mora

Buffalo Bill Cody by José Maria Mora

I knew right away that I would have to address the ambiguities in Will’s story. In fact, it was one of the reasons I was drawn to the project. I love the gray areas in history. I’m not just talking about gaps in the historical records. You know, those places where we don’t know for sure what happened. I’m talking about those places where we don’t know what to make of the historical truth. For example, Benjamin Franklin owned slaves. How do we fit that with with our image of the jovial, witty inventor and statesman? What are we to make of that? Or, take Amelia Earhart. Many of the most often-repeated stories about her aren’t true. Amelia made them up out of whole cloth. She lied. How does that jibe with our image of the daring, but doomed aviator? What are we to make of that?

Too often, especially in nonfiction for young readers, we avoid the gray areas. We don’t include these truths because we’re worried what kids will make of them. But I believe these areas are especially important for young readers … and most especially for middle school and teen readers. These are readers who are struggling to discover who they are and what they can be; they’re struggling to figure out their place in the world.

What’s right?

What’s fair?

What’s moral?

The last thing they need is another sanitized, pedestal-inhabiting, never-do-wrong person from history.

Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West ShowAnd so I decided to include both Will’s versions of events, as well as accounts that conflict with his. I intentionally incorporated opposing viewpoints from both historical figures and modern-day historians. And I purposely refrained from drawing any conclusions from the historical evidence. Instead, I chose to just lay it before my readers. Why? Because I want them to wrestle with the ambiguities. I want them to come to their own conclusions. I want them to see that stories—especially true stories from history—are not black and white. They’re gray.

Who was right?

Who was wrong?

I don’t think it’s my job to tell them. I’m not sure I could tell them.

Rather, I choose to tell all sides of the Wild West story—Will’s side, the Native performers’ side—with what I hope was equal clarity and compassion. What choices do each make under pressure? Why? No one is all good. No one is all bad.

You see, it’s in the gray area between those opposing values that I hope readers will ask themselves: What would I do in this situation?

By including history’s ambiguities, I am “kicking it to the reader,” as my friend Tonya Bolden likes to say.

And this, I believe, is the purpose of nonfiction in the 21st century—to encourage thought, not simply to provide facts for reports.

When you begin your research, how do you lay out a strategy for that research?

I confess I never have much of a strategy plan when I begin researching. Instead, the process is pretty organic. I start with archival sources. What’s already been written and collected? I focus on primary sources: letters, diaries, memoirs, interviews. This is where defining, intimate details are found. As I read, I keep an open mind. I’m curious and nosy and I ask lots of questions. I actually write those questions down on yellow ledger pads. And let me tell you, I end up with lots of questions. I won’t find the answers to all of them. I may not even try to find the answers to all of them. But in this way, I remind myself that I’m exploring, making discoveries. In truth, I have no specific idea of what I’m looking for or what I’ll find. I let the research lead me. And, slowly, I begin to understand what it is I want to say with this particular piece of history.

In those initial stages, do you use the library? The internet? Other sources?

In the first throes of research, I’ll use the Internet to discover the collections and archives that hold my subject’s papers. I’ll search for autobiographies and other firsthand accounts of the person’s life. I’ll note the names of scholars or historians whose names pop up in association with my subject. That’s the very first step.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Did you visit the McCracken Research Library or the Buffalo Bill Center of the West?

The McCracken Research Library is part of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. In fact, the library is just down the stairs from their museum. Yes, I visited both. And I spent a week in the library, culling through years of scrapbooks kept by Will, and Annie Oakley and others, reading memoirs and letters and diaries.

Would you recommend that your readers visit those locations?

I would definitely recommend the museum to my readers. So much of the detritus of Will’s life is on display: his buffalo skin coat, his favorite rifle that he named Lucretia Borgia, the famous stagecoach from the Wild West. They even have his childhood home moved in its entirety from Iowa to Cody! The place really brings Will and his times alive.

Buffalo Bill's personal saddle

Buffalo Bill’s personal saddle

What do you find to be most helpful about visiting a museum where artifacts are on display?

Those artifacts—leftovers of a person’s life, if you will—are so human. Sometimes we forget that a person from history was real flesh and blood. But then we’ll see that person’s well-worn carpet slippers, or read a love letter he wrote to his wife, and we’re reminded of that person’s humanity. Despite his place in history, he still suffered from both love and sore feet, just like all of us do.

How do you go about finding an expert to consult with about your book?

 During research, certain names starting appearing again and again. I will not only note these names, I’ll do a quick Google to check on qualifications, as well as how up-to-date their scholarship is. For example, a name that’s cited again and again in Cody research is Don Russell. But Russell wrote his seminal work almost forty years ago. Certainly, his work is valuable, but it’s no longer the most recent scholarship. Young readers deserve the latest discoveries and newest interpretations. History is, after all, an ongoing process, one in which new facts are discovered, and old facts are reconsidered. So I turned to Dr. Louis S. Warren, a highly respected scholar of the Western US history at the University of California, Davis, as well as author of the critically acclaimed Buffalo Bill’s America. He very generously offered to read the manuscript, making several suggestions for changes, as well as pointing me in the direction of the latest Cody scholarship. He also suggested I contact Dr. Jeffery Means, an associate professor of Native American History at the University of Wyoming and an enrolled Member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe for his unique perspective on my book, particularly in regards to Great Plains Indian culture.

Do you research the photos you’ll include in the book at the same time as you research the historical and biographical elements? Or is that a separate process at a separate time?

I do my own photo research. While researching, I keep an eye open for things that might make for interesting visuals. I keep a list, and in most cases, a copy of those images. But I never know what I’m going to use until I start writing. The text really does determine what photographs end up in the book. Because of this, I always end up searching for photos late in the project.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West show poster

How did you write the dramatic scenes from the Wild West Show? They’re filled with tension, vivid descriptions, and a movie-like quality. Were these actual scenes in the Show? And were you present to see them performed? It sure seems like it.

Presenting Buffalo BillIt was important to open each chapter of the book with a scene from the Wild West. Not only was I trying to show the parallels between Will’s personal experiences and the acts that eventually sprang from them, but also I wanted readers to have a clear understanding of what the show entailed. The best way to do this, I decided, was to write those scenes in a way that would make readers feel as if they were actually sitting in the stands. I wanted them to feel the tension, the excitement, the drama of the performance. I wanted them to experience (at least in a small way) the awe that show goers felt when they watched those re-enactments of buffalo hunts and Pony Express riders. After all, this is vital to the book’s theme—that the Wild West created our collective memory of the American West; that we still tend to think in tropes, and those tropes come directly from Buffalo Bill Cody. So, I wrote those scenes in great detail, almost in slow motion. Not a single description is made up. Everything comes from the historical record, including thoughts and comments from the people in the bleachers. I merely used present tense to make the action feel more immediate. But the action really and truly happened just as I’ve presented it.

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Vinegar Pie

Vinegar Pie
Serves 8
As Martha Stewart explains, "This dessert gets its apple-pie-like flavor from cider vinegar, a technique used in covered wagon days, when fresh produce was scarce." The cooks in Buffalo Bill's day would have been familiar with this recipe. Don't miss reading more about those days in Presenting Buffalo Bill by Candace Fleming.
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Prep Time
35 min
Total Time
3 hr 25 min
Prep Time
35 min
Total Time
3 hr 25 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
  2. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  3. 1/2 cup light-brown sugar
  4. 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  5. 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  6. 1/6 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  7. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  8. 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  9. 1 cup plus 1 teaspoon water, divided
  10. 3 large eggs, divided
  11. 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar or sanding sugar
  12. Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Instructions
  1. Roll out 1 disk of dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, and trim edge of dough to rim. Roll out remaining disk of dough to a 12-inch round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate, along with dough in pie plate, until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water; remove from heat. Whisk in brown sugar, flour, spices, salt, vinegar, and 1 cup water. Lightly beat 2 eggs, and whisk into mixture. Return bowl to pan of simmering water, and cook, stirring often, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Pour filling into crust, and place top crust over filling. Trim excess, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold under bottom crust. Press to seal, and crimp as desired. Beat remaining egg with remaining teaspoon water; brush top of pie with egg wash, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Use a sharp knife to slash 6 vents radiating out from center of pie. Bake pie until golden and surface has puffed, about 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack 45 minutes. Serve slightly warm with ice cream.
Adapted from http://www.marthastewart.com/939300/pioneer-vinegar-pie
Adapted from http://www.marthastewart.com/939300/pioneer-vinegar-pie
Bookology Magazine http://www.bookologymagazine.com/
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The Tapper Twins Run For President

tapper-twins-200-pixMy own flesh and blood accused me of stealing the other day. When it was I, not she, who procured the book, and I, not she, who was part way through it…and then she stole it from me! Hid it, really, intentionally or un- beneath her bed. I practically had to clean her room to find it. It’s gone back and forth this whole week. (I’ve been trying to extend my reading of it and not just gulp it down all at once—I suspect she’s doing the same.) Last night I finished, and I put it in my To-Do pile (casually, under a few things) so that I could write about it today.

And it was gone this morning. I immediately went across the hall to my daughter’s room. Found it after a brief search. I consider myself lucky, because the bookmark indicates she’s almost done—I’m surprised she didn’t squirrel it away in her backpack.

Speaking of squirrel, there’s a squirrel in The Tapper Twins Run For President. But she’s not to that part yet, I see from the bookmark. The squirrel is pretty much the cherry on top of some pretty elaborate icing and sprinkles on a very fun cupcake. (Claudia Tapper, one of the Tapper twins, uses many slightly over-the-top metaphors—I think it’s catching.)

I’ve written about The Tapper Twins before; but I must again, because this book has the power to rekindle your sense of humor about politics in the midst of this horrendous campaign season we are currently subjected to. The premise is this: Student Government elections are taking place at Culvert Prep and both Claudia and Reese Tapper wind up running for sixth grade president.

As it says on the author Geoff Rodkey’s website: A presidential election between a thoughtful, policy-minded female and a guy without a shred of experience who’s constantly spouting off the first thing that comes to his mind. The really great thing? You can laugh at this one without experiencing a gnawing sense of existential dread for the future of American democracy. (Watch the 42 second trailer!)

It is practically an allegory, friends. And it’s hilarious. And your kids can read it without you fearing “mature themes.” Claudia and Reese are so well drawn—as are their friends. The very best of the middle school mind and temperament, I assure you. There is zaniness (not just the squirrel) throughout and you can’t help but keep reading.

As I said the last time I wrote about the Tapper Twins, this is not the usual kind of book I’m drawn to. It’s part screen-play, part mixed media, part…scrapbook, maybe. When I stray off of the traditional novel form, which I don’t do that often, it’s generally something in the epistolary genre. The Tapper Twins offers something else all together—these books have expanded my horizons considerably.

Do yourself a favor—find a copy and then find a middle-school (or older) kid and fight over who gets to read it first. It’s a quick read and a fun one. This is the third Tapper Twins book I’ve more or less inhaled—ditto for Darling Daughter. It makes me smile to even say Tapper Twins. I’m thrilled to see another is coming.

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Skinny Dip with Cynthia Grady

Cynthia GradyFor this interview, we visit with Cynthia Grady, author and librarian, at her home in New Mexico.

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

Oh, most definitely Beatrix Potter. My earliest literary hero.

Which book do you find yourself recommending passionately?

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I turned back to page 1 as soon as I finished reading it.

 Whirley-Pop Hand Crank Popping MachineWhat’s your favorite late-night snack?

Popcorn—fresh popped on the stove in a Whirley-Pop Hand Crank Popping Machine –with lots of butter and salt. But I will pop it and eat it anytime.

Most cherished childhood memory?

I wouldn’t call this my most cherished memory exactly, but one that I’ve been revisiting lately—is how a friend and I roamed several neighborhoods, crossing streets we weren’t allowed to cross, by way of creeks and drainage pipes.  

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

Am I allowed to say Irish whiskey? Straight up? After that comes lavender lemonade. Mmmmm. Delicious.

Necco wafersWhat gives you shivers?

The dark. Since age 3.

Your favorite candy as a kid …

Neccos—at the movies.

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

The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, now located within the Science Museum of Minnesota. A frightening experience of medical quackery!

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

Ah. I am number six of nine children. Being the youngest of the first six, the eldest of the bottom four, and nearly in the middle overall has shaped every single bit of my life, from my ability to sleep anywhere to my absolute love of silence.  Plus, I display all of the characteristics on those birth order charts.

Best tip for living a contented life?

A house rabbit or two.

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Fitting in with the Locals

Writing Road Trip by Lisa Bullard | Bookology MagazineThe way we talk can be a dead giveaway that we’re from elsewhere.

Google the phrase “pop vs. soda,” and you’ll find color-coded maps that divide the country like election night results. Test this research on the road and you’ll discover that there are haters out there who scorn the term “pop” when unsuspecting out-of-towners (like me) order fizzy beverages.

If you are a “pop” person in a particularly fragile state of mind, you might even be tempted to avoid ridicule by downloading one of the maps and adjusting your word choice based on the region you’re traveling through.

Most likely few of us will decide to take this extreme measure.  But the truth is, we do choose our words differently, depending on who we’re talking to. If I’m going to tell someone the story of my terrible weekend, it’s going to be edited differently if I’m describing it to my mother or my best friend or my pastor.

Which leads to a fun way to help young writers learn something about the nuances of dialogue. At some point while your students are working on a story, ask them to write three scenes that draw on their story. Each scene should be a dialogue-heavy exchange that involves the main character talking with one other person about the conflict that the main character is facing.

But in each of the three scenes, the person that the main character is speaking to will change. First, it will be a parent, teacher, or some kind of authority figure. Then, it will be their best friend or someone they trust. Finally, it will be someone they don’t like—a sworn enemy, or someone they perceive to be a rival.

Depending on the age of your young writers, you might have to give them additional help with this activity. But the goal is for them to recognize that people choose what they say—and what they leave unsaid—in part based on the identity of their listener.

Just like a “pop” person might choose to masquerade as a “soda” person when they really want to fit in with the locals.

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Big and Blank

Lynne Jonell Page Break

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Everything You Need to Ace Five Subjects

bk_everything_series_300pxI’ve had this TBR pile of five very attractive, come-hither-looking books begging to be recommended for weeks now. The spines are bright primary colors so I know that even when I shelve them they will be calling to me. And I think they’ll be calling to your students as well.

I open what are for me the two scariest volumes (eat your vegetables first—oops, as an adult, I find I LOVE vegetables), Everything You Need to Know to Ace Science in One Fat Notebook: Notes Borrowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Double-Checked by Award-Winning Teacher) and Everything You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Notebook: Notes Borrowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Double-Checked by Award-Winning Teacher). Did you catch that? Borrowed from the “Smartest Kid” in the class.

When I was a kid I had encyclopedias from the grocery store of the highly visual, dipping-in-and-out variety. I could sit for hours, flipping pages, looking at something that caught my eye, devouring information.

These books remind me of those encyclopedias although they’re more focused on a subject area.

If you have kids who suck up facts and information like a vacuum cleaner, these are the books for them. They’re also self-challenging. Each chapter ends with a list of questions which you can respond to before you turn the page to find the supplied answers.

bk_everything_science_200pxSo, in the Science book, my eyes light immediately on Chapter 5: Outer Space, the Universe, and the Solar System, with subsections of The Solar System and Space Exploration (which every self-respecting Star Wars nerd needs to study), The Sun-Earth-Moon System, and The Origin of the Universe and Our Solar System.

In all of the books, important names and places are bolded in blue, vocabulary words are highlighted in yellow, definitions are highlighted in yellow, and stick figures provide the entertainment.

Looking further, I discover the first chapters in the Science book are about thinking like a scientist and designing an experiment. I need a LOT of help with those activities, so I’m glad to be put at ease.

It’s a bright and colorful book, with great eye-appeal. Even for the most reluctantly curious mind, these books hold a great deal of promise.

Everything I Need to Ace Math

In the Math book, we explore ratios, proportions, equations, probability, and more. Although my brain bawks at looking at this stuff, I find my eye resting longer and longer on some of the highly visual information, wanting to understand it better. The book is working its magic.

Everything You Need to Know American History

Volumes on American History, English Language Arts, and World History similarly offer an overview of many topics within their disciplines. The American History notebook begins with “The First People in America EVER” and ends with the George W. Bush administration, with many stops along the way for famous and not-so-famous parts of America’s history.

English Language Arts explores everything from language and syntax to how to read fiction and nonfiction, including poetry, explicit evidence, and using multiple sources to strengthen your writing.

World History covers 3500 BC to present times in 502 pages, lighting on ancient African civilizations, the Song Dynasty in China, 1830s revolutions in Europe, and so much more.

Everything You Need to Ace English Language ArtsNone of the information is exhaustive. In fact, it’s quite light. Toe-dipping is an apt description. But the information is enough to intrigue the reader and lead them on to other resources.

There are no bibliographies or sources or suggestions for further reading in the books. I can see where that would have been a monumental task. I suppose I’m going to have to look it up myself. Oh, maybe that’s part of the experience? I’m guessing it is.

Highly recommended for grades 6 through 9 (the covers say “The Complete Middle School Study Guide”) and especially for your home library. I think this would be a perfect starting place for choosing a research topic or entertaining yourself with reading an expository text. I envision whiling away many hours looking through these books. Good job, Workman and production team.

 

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Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection

thomas-200pixOnce upon a time, we had a little boy who was completely enthralled with all things having to do with trains. When he fell for Thomas the Tank Engine, he fell hard, and he was not yet two. We have an extensive collection of Thomas and friends (thanks to the grandparents) complete with a living room’s miles worth of track, corresponding stations, bridges, and assorted other props. That boy is now in engineering school, and I can’t help but think that Thomas and friends (as well as Legos® and blocks etc.) had a hand to play in his education/career choice.

It had been awhile since the trains roamed the living room for days on end, when my daughter brought her babysitting charges over last spring. They could not believe their eyes when they saw our train paraphernalia—I’d not met such Thomas fans in nearly fifteen years. The 8×10 oval rug was soon transformed into a set for Thomas adventures and stories—both those familiar from books and shows and those made up on the spot.

I now have several young friends in storytime who love Thomas. Slowly I’m remembering the names and personalities of the train cars. It gives me an “in” with these preschoolers, I think—I speak their language. I know about cheeky Percy and wise Edward. I know that Thomas has the number one on his engine, whereas Edward has a two—although both are blue, it’s a beginner’s mistake to mix them up. I know that James, the Red Engine, can be a real pain at times—he’s a bit of a snob and a little too proud of his red paint. I know Annie and Clarabelle are Thomas’ friends (his coach cars, actually).

I took the giant Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection off my shelves the other day. It instantly made me sleepy. We read Thomas stories after lunch, before nap, with a great regularity. They are not terribly sophisticated stories. They tend to be more than a bit preachy. And there’s an astonishing level of detail about train bits and their workings. I was always half asleep by the time we were finished reading.

I think of the Thomas stories with the same sort of fondness with which I think of Mr. Rogers—gentle, rhythmic, sleep-inducing, post-lunch wonderfulness. And, my goodness, do I love the very serious conversations to be had when dimpled little hands hold up the cars and tell me all about the parts and personalities of each of the trains and trucks and diggers. These conversations don’t make me sleepy at all, though they do make me nostalgic for the days when it took a whole morning’s worth of negotiation to get my boy to move Thomas and his friends so I could vacuum. Vacuuming days were hard and sad days, generally reclaimed only with an extra story from The Complete Collection. And then a nap…for all concerned.

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Bookstorm™: Presenting Buffalo Bill

Bookmap Presenting Buffalo Bill

Presenting Buffalo BillPresenting Buffalo Bill provides an excellent opportunity to teach differentiation between fiction and nonfiction, mythology and fact, as well as the discernment, research, and discussion skills that are naturally born out of this type of close reading. Buffalo Bill’s life and Wild West Show are exciting and the author makes them all the more vivid and engaging with her writing. In her sections on “Panning for the Truth,” the differences between myth (or storytelling or marketing) are called out for further examination.

Our perceptions of the Wild West have changed as we have listened to voices from many cultures, sharing their experiences, opening our eyes, communicating in ways those who immigrated to America didn’t have available. Westerns, movies and books set in the “Old West” can now be looked at with different eyes and more understanding minds. Thoughtful papers on then and now can encourage heightened awareness. A Tall Tale Contest might point out how exaggeration and deception work in marketing and internet articles.

We’ve included books on truth and lies, mythology versus authenticity, as well as fiction and nonfiction written at various points in our history. There are excellent resources in the back matter of Candace Fleming’s book as well. We trust you will find inspiration and resources aplenty to accompany your study of Presenting Buffalo Bill. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more information about Candace Fleming on her website.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Buffalo Bill. He was once one of the most famous men in the world. Hundreds of dime novels were written about him. Several versions of his autobiography are available. Many authors have chosen to chronicle his life and his Wild West Show. We’ve chosen a few that will provide a means for students to contrast and compare. Online resources will add depth to research.

Art of the 19th Century. Buffalo Bill’s most famous portrait was painted by the French artist Rosa Bonheur. Hundreds of posters from the Wild West Show can be studied to reveal how they tell a persuasive story or influence the audience to attend the shows.

Exaggeration, Lies, and Storytelling. One of the most thought-provoking aspects of Presenting Buffalo Bill is the attention Candace Fleming pays to the veracity of the stories Will Cody told and others told about him. We’ve included current books about truth, lying, deception, and marketing. An in-depth study that caroms off Candace’s book will fascinate your students.

Mythology versus Authenticity. Comparing other myths to that of the Wild West, including folk heroes of the same era such as Davy Crockett, and modern-day myths such as Star Wars and Star Trek, will help with comparative analysis.

Native Americans. Buffalo Bill employed hundreds of American Indians in his Wild West shows. He interacted with famous chiefs and brought entire families into his show encampments. We’ve included biographies of heroes such as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Red Cloud, as well as contemporary novels and nonfiction.

The West During Bill Cody’s Lifetime. Fleming sets the Wild West Show and Bill’s life within the context of geography, history, and politics. The Bookstorm includes books about the children, women, men, and politics of Bill’s life, those who lived in the authentic West.

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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Coming Home to Safe Harbor

Lake Superior

Phyllis: This summer I had the opportunity to sail for a week in Lake Superior, so we are turning our thoughts to books about the sea (including the great inland sea that borders Minnesota, so vast it makes its own weather).  If we can’t go sailing right now, we can at least read about it in a fleet of good picture books.

Jackie:  And I am a self-confessed water gazer. I’m not a boater of any kind but I can’t get enough of being next to water, watching and listening.

The Mousehole Cat

Phyllis: I cannot tell you how much I love The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber with luminous art by Nicola Bayley.  As many times as I’ve read it, the story still gives me shivers and makes me want to cry. Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel by the Cornish people who live there) is a small town where the people go out every day through the narrow breakwater opening into the ocean to fish for their living. Old Tom and his cat Mowzer fish as well, for Mowzer in particular is partial to a plate of fresh fish. 

One day a terrible winter storm blows in. “’The Great Storm-Cat is stirring,’ thinks Mowzer,” and although the Great Storm–Cat flings the sea against the breakwater and claws at the harbor gap, the boats are safe “as mice in their own mousehole,” but the people are hungry because no one can go out into the ocean to fish.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, Old Tom decides he should go out to try to fish, for he cannot stand to see the children starving at Christmas. Mowzer goes with him, “for he was only a man, she thought, and men were like mice in the paws of the Great Storm-Cat.”

The Mousehole Cat

illustration copyright Nicola Bayley

And it is Mowzer’s singing that distracts the Great Storm-Cat long enough for the boat to escape the harbor and play out the nets in the ocean. All day Mowzer sings to the Great Storm-Cat, but she knows he will strike when they run for the harbor and safety.  As she thinks of the food they might make with the catch they have hauled in, Mowzer begins to purr, a sound the Great Storm-Cat has not heard since he was a Storm-Kitten. They purr together, the seas calm, and Old Tom and Mowzer come into the harbor on the “smallest, tamest Storm-Kitten of a wind” where the whole town is waiting with lit candles to guide them home.  (Even writing this gives me shivers of delight.) 

Every year since then the village of Mousehole is lit with a thousand lights at Christmas time, “a message of hope and a safe haven to all those who pass in peril of the sea.”

Jackie: The lit candles that guide them home after the adventure is such a wonderful touch. Don’t we all want to be guided home after a great struggle? The plot is so satisfying as well. It’s the small cat that saves them because she begins to purr.  As I was thinking about Mowzer’s purr I realized how calming a cat’s purr is.  I think we all become more relaxed if we have a purring cat on our lap. Same for the Great Storm Cat.

This is a lovely illustrated short story that I think would charm middle graders, as well as primary graders.

Amos and BorisPhyllis:  Another favorite is William Steig’s Amos and Boris, the story of a mouse who builds a boat, christens it the Rodent, provisions it with a delightful list of items, and sets sail on the ocean. Amos is less lucky than Old Tom and Mowzer; one night, gazing at the vast and starry sky while lying on his boat, he rolls overboard, and the Rodent in full sail bowls along without him. Amos manages to stay afloat through the night, leading to one of my favorite comforting lines in all of picture books: “Morning came, as it always does.” And with morning comes Boris the whale, just as Amos’s strength is failing. Boris gives Amos a ride home by whaleback, and on the weeklong journey they become “the closest possible friends.”

Jackie: I just love that!

Phyllis:  When they near shore, Amos thanks Boris and offers his help if Boris ever needs it, which amuses Boris. He can’t imagine how a little mouse could ever help him.

Amos and Boris by William Steig

illustration copyright William Steig

Years pass. Hurricane Yetta flings Boris ashore right by Amos’s house. Boris will die unless he gets back in the water, and Amos runs off to get help: two elephants who roll the whale back into the ocean while Amos stands on one of their heads, yelling instructions that no one can hear. Soon Boris is afloat again, whale tears rolling down his cheeks. Knowing they might never meet again, the friends say a tearful good-bye, knowing, too, that they will always remember each other.

In another writer’s hands, I might make some comment about the convenient “elephants ex machina” that Amos finds, but I accept it completely here, because Steig makes me believe. And cry, again.

Jackie: There is so much to love in this story. First, the list of items: cheese, biscuits, acorns, honey, wheat germ [Steig must have included wheat germ because he liked the sound. Wheat germ?] fresh water, a compass, a sextant, a telescope, a saw, a hammer and nails and some wood, … a needle and thread for the mending of torn sails and various other necessities such as bandages and iodine, a yo-yo and playing cards.” I just love the notion of a mouse on a boat practicing his yo-yo tricks. And I think readers will be called to ask themselves what they might find essential for a sea journey.

And I’m admiring of the nuanced way Steig moves the plot along. Amos doesn’t roll off the boat because he falls asleep, or because a high wind blows him off. He falls off because he is “overwhelmed by the beauty and mystery of everything.” His own capacity for awe is what causes the problem.

You have talked about the wonderful back and forth of helping between Amos and Boris. I want to mention, too, Boris’s wonderful voice. When the mouse meets the whale, he says. “’I’m a mouse, which is a mammal, the highest form of life. I live on land.’

‘Holy clam and cuttlefish!’ said the whale. I’m a mammal myself, though I live in the sea. Call me Boris,’ he added.” [A little nod to “Call me Ishmael?”]

Sometimes good luck happens. When the worst looks inevitable, fate intervenes. And sometimes fate gives us life-saving elephants. They are such a relief. And so outlandish. It’s as if Steig is saying, “I’m the author. I can do this.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea CaptainPhyllis:  Edward Ardizzone wrote and illustrated a series of eleven books about Little Tim, who goes to sea, beginning with Little Tim and The Brave Sea Captain and ending with Tim’s Last Voyage. We loved these books when my children were growing up, and we still do. Visit this site so you can hear a sample of Little Tim and The Brave Sea Captain read aloud and see Ardizzone’s wonderful art. 

Jackie:  I love the language of this book: “’Sometimes Tim would astonish his parents by saying, ’That’s a Cunarder’ or ‘Look at that barquentine on the port bow.’” [I want to say that again and again.] When his parents say he is much too young to go to sea, Tim is “so sad that he resolved, at the first opportunity, to run away to sea.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain

illustration copyright Edward Ardizzone

But best of all, I had the sense throughout this story that the storyteller was going to give me a wonderful yarn and that, with or without elephants, Little Tim was going to get through this adventure safely.

Keep the Lights Burning, AbbiePhyllis:  Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie by Peter and Connie Roop is a book for those who pass in peril of the sea. Based on the true story of 16-year old Abbie Burgess, whose father was the lighthouse keeper on Matinicus Rock off the coast of Maine, the book tells how Abbie’s father heads out one morning to get much needed supplies from Matinicus Island and is storm-bound there for weeks before he can return. Abbie takes care of her three younger sisters and her ailing mother and “keeps the lights burning” so that ships can pass safely by. She lights the lamps, scrapes ice off the windows so the lights can be seen, trims wicks, cleans lamps, fills them with oil, and saves her chickens when waves threaten to wash them away, all until her father can safely sail back to the lighthouse. A wonderful strong character for girls and boys to know about.

Jackie:  There is something so alluring about lighthouses and islands. I wonder how many kids have fantasies of living in a lighthouse on an island. I sure did. I really enjoyed the matter-of-fact tone of this story. As Abbie is first lighting the lamps a match blows out, but the next one doesn’t, nor the next and she goes on to light them all, night after night for a month. No drama, just a telling of what she did. No drama but touching emotion at the end when we learn that her father was watching for those lights every night as evidence that his family was still there. That detail almost made me tear up.

In a Village by the SeaPhyllis:  We could sail on through sea story after sea story. A more recent book, In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van is a elegantly simple and lovely story that begins, “In a fishing village by the sea there is a small house.” Each page moves closer in, from the house to the kitchen to the fire to a pot of soup to a woman watching the soup to a sleepy child to a dusty hole in the floor where a cricket is humming and painting a picture of a fisherman in his storm-tossed boat hoping for the storm to end so that he can return to his village by the sea where in a small house, his family waits for him to come home. April Chu’s beautiful art concludes the book with the cricket painting a picture of that fisherman and his boat sailing home into a calm harbor.

Jackie:  This book is so artful and so satisfying in the way we circle in on the story and then circle back out. And I agree about April Chu’s illustrations. They are wonderfully expressive. I almost expect the dog to talk.

In a Village by the Sea

illustration copyright April Chu

Thanks for choosing these books, Phyllis. I’m sitting at my desk on a quiet, cloudy day but feel as if I have been on adventures. My head is stretched, and I look at my house and yard with new appreciation. The sea, or stories about the sea, take us out of our lives, our kitchens, toss us around a bit, and with hope and help—and occasional elephants—bring us back home, where, as Little Tim might say, we are ever so glad for warmth and chocolate.

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Skinny Dip with Debby Dahl Edwardson

For this interview, we visit with Debby Dahl Edwardson, author of the National Book Award finalist My Name is Not Easy and co-founder of the LoonSong Writers’ Retreat.

Debby Dahl EdwardsonWhich celebrity, living or not, do you wish would invite you to a coffee shop?

Anne Lamott. I feel like I already know her so well though her books that I would actually feel comfortable with this kind of meeting, which is a bit out of my comfort zone, for sure. Lamott seems like the kind of person you could talk to about anything—from your struggles with spirituality to your awful first draft—and she’d emphasize, having just dealt with these same issues like yesterday morning or in the middle of the night last week.  

Most cherished childhood memory? 

Getting lost in books. When I was 12 years old, my godmother gave me a book for Christmas. It was a book that had won the Newbery award that year and it captivated me. Clichés aside, I was pulled immediately into the dark and stormy night with which the book opened and I found myself instantly inside that little attic bedroom where Meg Murry was just beginning to awaken to the series of strange and wonderful events. I remained immersed in that book for several days. I reread it immediately upon finishing it. I simply did not want to leave that world. I am talking, of course, about A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle. Entering new worlds through the world of books are among my most cherished childhood memories.

Debby Dahl Edwardson and George Edwardson

Debby Dahl Edwardson and her husband, George Edwardson

Favorite season of the year? Why?

Fall. It’s always been my favorite. I love the colors and the smells of fall everywhere, even here in Alaska, where I live on the treeless tundra. I love the way the tundra turns russet and the air tingles with the promise of snow. I remember, as a child in northern Minnesota, watching the sky darken with geese calling out their raucous calls, headed south. And now that I am in the fall of my life, I love that, too!

What’s your dream vacation?

I have about a hundred dream vacations. Most of them involve ocean beaches because I love the ocean and I love to swim. But one non-beach place I’d love to visit and spend time in is northern New Mexico, the region where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and painted. I have a picture of hers in my writing room. It’s one you’ve never seen: a single blue trail leading up into pastel blue and ginger mountains. I want to go there. I love adobe, too, the way the red houses seem to grow from the red earth—and there’s a hot spring there, too: Ojo Caliente. I love hot springs. Above that picture of O’Keeffe’s painting in my writing room is a photograph of her with the words that have pretty much become my writing motto: “It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough I could have it.” I am attracted to landscapes that hold that kind of power.  

Proud grandparents Debby Dahl Edwardson

Proud grandparents!

My Name is Not EasyYour hope for the world?

That people will learn true empathy and develop, from a young age, the ability to see the world through multiple lenses. I think many of the problems we face in the world come from an increasing tendency to see the world monolithically. This kind of inflexibility is extremely dangerous in pretty much every way you can imagine. One of my favorite quotes is this one, from Wade Davis:  “Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit. The world in which you were born is just one model of reality.” We will not begin to find true solutions to our deepest problems until we develop the ability to see multiple ways of configuring reality.”

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My Work-Study Internship

World Telegram photo by Al Aumuller, Library of Congress, Creative Commons

World Telegram photo by Al Aumuller, Library of Congress, Creative Commons

The first college I attended was Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. It had a work-study curriculum in which half your year was spent working off-campus on some job relating to your professional aspirations. At that time, being interested in the theatre, I was offered and took a job at a Cleveland television station. A few days before the job began it was canceled. I was offered a job at a bookstore, but decided to find a job on my own.

A family friend was Lee Hays, the baritone singer for the popular folk group, The Weavers. Lee also was a mentor to me and my would-be writing career. I don’t recall the circumstances but having learned that I was looking for a job, he sent me to Harold Leventhal, who managed The Weavers. Leventhal offered me a job.

It appeared that Mr. Leventhal was involved in some way with the estate of the late Woody Guthrie. What was the job? Guthrie was not just a famous performer, and a song writer, he was a writer. In 1943, he had published a “partially fictionalized” autobiography. Indeed, he left boxes of manuscripts. What job was I offered? Read through all those boxes and let Mr. Leventhal know if anything was worth publishing. I was next interviewed by Pete Seeger who was also involved in the Guthrie estate.

I got what I thought was a glamorous job. If this seems an odd job to be given to a nineteen-year-old—I would, in retrospect, agree The many boxes arrived.

I held myself to working an eight-hour day.

The problem was that Guthrie had Huntington’s disease, which is “a fatal genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It deteriorates a person’s physical and mental abilities during their prime working years and has no cure.”

Thus the Guthrie writing I had to read—from his late years—was at best erratic, and often disturbing. Whatever hero worship I might have had about this vital, hugely creative and important man, rapidly disintegrated. But being the age I was, I doggedly read on, eight hours a day for three months.

When, after the three months were up and I came in to report to Mr. Leventhal, he asked, “Is there anything worth publishing?” To which I replied, “Nothing.”

Why these folks trusted my judgment—or even if they did trust my judgment—I never learned. But I am perhaps one of the few people who—ever since—cannot bear to listen to the distinctive voice of Woody Guthrie. I had gotten too much into his ill mind.

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One North Star, Three Creative Artists

One North Star

Betsy Bowen’s book, Antler Bear Canoe: a Northwoods Alphabet, has been a favorite alphabet book for the last 25 years, reminding every reader about the things they love in their unique environment.

Now, a counting book will sit alluringly on the bookshelf next to that title. One North Star: a Counting Book (University of Minnesota Press) has been written by Phyllis Root, and illustrated with woodcuts by Betsy Bowen and Beckie Prange. We’re so taken with the book that we asked to interview the inspiring team who created it.

Phyllis RootPHYLLIS ROOT, writer

Which came first, the idea for the illustrations or the idea for the text? They’re both filled with so much wonder and imagination.

The text came first.  The book began when an editor at University of Minnesota Press was interested in a counting book, and we decided on one about the flora and fauna and habitats in Minnesota.  Ever since I moved to Minnesota years ago I’ve been fascinated with the variety of places, plants, and animals in the state along with all the still-wild places, so the book was great fun (and, as it turned out, a great challenge). When in my research I learned that the Minnesota motto is l’Etoile du nord, the star of the north, the structure of the book took shape.

This is a cumulative tale in that we count numbers, beginning at one, “one north star,” and add other north woods creatures or geology or flora until we’re counting backwards from ten. Unlike many cumulative tales (think A Partridge in a Pear Tree), the words aren’t repeated each time, except for “under one north star.” How were you able to include such a variety?

Lots and lots and lots of research and lots and lots and lots of writing and rewriting. One of the challenges was figuring out what lived where at what time of year and what number you might see. You probably wouldn’t see ten moose together, for example, and even if you did, I couldn’t imagine them all squeezing them into a picture along with nine of something, eight of something, etc.

Bog, One North Star

How did you go about organizing this book? Choosing which flora and fauna you would include?

First was the research. I learned so much reading about all the habitats and what you might see there and visiting places to see for myself. (I’d never been to the bog, for example, and fell in love with the Big Bog when I did visit—enough to write a book just about the bog.) Once I had an abundance of information, I began fitting the plants and animals into numbers and also into seasons so that the book followed through the year. So it made sense that in winter you’d have fewer plants and animals available, while later in summer you’d have many different ones to choose from. Also, I tried to include fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals along with flowers, trees, and fungi. I wanted the book to be as inclusive as possible. The whole book became a puzzle to figure out. And when I had a draft I checked with a naturalist friend and found out just how much I had gotten wrong (a lot) and had to reorganize again—and again.

How did you work on your active verbs and your adjectives to get them to be so evocative of the sights, sounds, and smells of the North Woods?

I decided that, just to make the book a little more challenging (what was I thinking?) that I would try to never use a verb more than once, and I wanted each verb to be as strong and evocative as possible, to work as hard as it could so that the book would be fun to read as well.

When you were doing your research, did you discover that any of the animals or plants would not be grouped in the numbers you wrote?

Plenty of times. More times than I can count.

Were there any descriptions that the illustrators asked you to change because they would be too hard to depict?

There were descriptions I was asked to change because they were incorrect, for which I’m very grateful. I learned a lot about phenology from Beckie, what you might see at the same time in the same place, and I learned even more from my naturalist friends. I’m awestruck and delighted at how the artists solved the problem of fitting so many images on the later pages of the book. I counted up roughly 220 images depicting 55 different species in the book itself. The artwork and the artists are beyond amazing.

You have extensive back matter, divided by the type of ecosystem, such as Aspen Prairie Parkland and Bog, with descriptions of each living creature or plant you’ve included in the text of One North Star. Did you have a set of criteria so you could be  succinct with those short paragraphs?

Just trying to write sparely, something picture book writers are always struggling to do. I also tried to focus on what was the essential or most interesting feature about a place or a species, such as northern prairie skinks being able to break off their tails to escape capture.

What do you find most satisfying about adding One North Star to your deep list of books?

I love how beautiful the artists have made the book, and I’m very glad to have a book that celebrates Minnesota’s rich natural diversity. I hope the book will make folks want to go out and see these places for themselves.

Beckie PrangeBECKIE PRANGE, illustrator and woodcut artist

How were you asked to work on One North Star? Why did you agree?

I was approached by a former UMN Press editor and was excited about Phyllis’ concept for One North Star, and its scope.

When you work on a book like this, how much planning goes into the illustrations before you begin to make your woodcuts?

The amount of planning and research is massive. The former editor wanted the illustrations to be realistic scenes, which meant finding a way to fit all of the species into an image of what you could possibly see from a particular viewpoint in nature.

For this book, there were two of you contributing woodcut illustrations. I know that you have been teacher and student in the past. Did that help when you worked on this book together?

Due to the quirks and timing of life events I was unable to finish the illustration work on One North Star. There was a gap in the progress on the book after I had completed most of the work on the draft illustrations. By the time we could get started again, I had a full time position in a field I’m excited about and found that I was unable to continue as illustrator. I’m very thankful that Betsy was able to pick up so skillfully where I left off.

How did you work together to make the illustrations a cohesive whole?

All I can say here is that Betsy is totally awesome, and did a beautiful job with the final illustrations without any help from me.

Was it challenging to compose the chock-full, two-page spreads that included many critters? How did you make decisions about where to place everything in the illustration?

Creating single scenes from one viewpoint which included all of the organisms Phyllis wrote about, while being faithful to those organisms’ habits and habitats was incredibly challenging. It was especially tough with the higher numbers, but there were challenges with lower numbers too. For example, how do you put a nocturnal creature and a diurnal creature in the same scene and have it look at least marginally believable? Little brown bats and rough-legged hawks just don’t hang out in the same space and time. I just had to play with it, and let it go until something came to me.

Have you worked on projects before with this many different objects included?

No! Nowhere close.

Number Three, One North Star

Which two-page spread in the book gives you the most satisfaction?

I love all of them, but the one that makes me happiest right now is number three, with the black bears, grouse and lynx. When I was drawing that one, I struggled with it. I could not get it to feel right. The perspective was bothering me. I never did solve it to my satisfaction. Betsy translated what is basically the same layout into an image that really works. It looks perfect.

A big thanks to all three of you for sharing the way you worked on this book that all who are fond of the north woods will cherish.

Betsy BowenBETSY BOWEN, illustrator and woodcut artist

How were you asked to work on One North Star? Why did you agree?

This is my third book with Phyllis, and I really enjoy her lyrical and informative language.  I also like working with University of Minnesota Press.

When you work on a book like this, how much planning goes into the illustrations before you begin to make your woodcuts?

In this case, Beckie had made the layouts in pencil and watercolor for the number pages.  I joined the project later on, and so I used her designs. I added ideas for the parts before and after the number section. And then I made the final version of the art.  Planning and sketching is a big part of the work (and the fun!).

Was it challenging to compose the chock-full, two-page spreads that included many critters? How did you make decisions about where to place everything in the illustration?

This was Beckie’s doing, I think it must have been tricky.

Illustrators often use photographs to plan their composition or get the details right. Is it the same when you’re carving wood?

I like to look at photos to help inform the drawing, and study the way animals and plants really look.  That is if I can’t get the moose to stand still long enough …

Betsy Bowen woodcut for One North Star coverHow long does it take to create a woodcut for one two-page spread?

The carving took me a few days for each spread.

Do you make mistakes? Do you have to start over with a fresh block of wood?

Most mistakes I can fix with either Elmer’s Glue® or a Band-aid®. Rarely I do start over with a new carving. I try to shake out the questions in the drawing/design phase before starting the longer process of carving and printing. It’s not very easy to just move something over  ”just a little” once the whole picture is made.

Have you worked on projects before with this many different objects included?

These were detailed pages! I think all more intricate than I have done before.

Number Seven, One North Star

Which two-page spread in the book gives you the most satisfaction?

The Seven page, viewing from underwater, was tricky for me.  I would try to see how the light came through water while I was swimming at the local pool.  I really liked the result more than I expected.

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A Story for the Ages

For the past two years my husband and I have had the good fortune to spend the waning days of summer in Door County, Wisconsin. There we have discovered a vibrant arts community. A bounty of theatre, music, and fine arts is there for the picking.

The Rabbits Wedding by Garth WilliamsThis year, as I scanned the possibilities for our visit, I was particularly interested in the Peninsula Players’ Midwest premiere of a new play by Kenneth Jones called Alabama Story. The play comes from actual events which occurred in Alabama in 1959. Based on the American Library Association’s recommendation, State Librarian Emily Wheelock Reed purchased copies of the picture book, The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams, for state libraries. The Rabbits’ Wedding concerns a black rabbit and a white rabbit who marry. Though Williams, an artist, chose the colors of the rabbits for the contrast they would provide in his illustrations, they became symbolic of much more when segregationist Senator E.O. Eddins demanded that the book be removed from all state library shelves. Eddins believed that the book promoted the mixing of races. Alabama Story tells this story of censorship, juxtaposed with the story of a biracial relationship.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellMy husband and I both had tears in our eyes several times throughout the August 31st performance of Alabama Story. Censorship was something we know intimately. Though Alabama Story takes place in 1959, it could have taken place in 2013 in Anoka, Minnesota, with a teen book entitled Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. My high school Library Media Specialist colleagues and I had planned a district-wide community read for the summer of 2013. Based on our own reading of the book, and based on the fact that the book had received starred reviews across the board and was on many “best” lists for 2013, we chose Eleanor & Park as the book for the summer program. All students who volunteered to participate received a free copy of the book. Rainbow Rowell agreed to visit in the fall for a day of follow-up with the participants. Shortly after the books were handed out, just prior to our summer break, parents of one of the participants, along with the Parents’ Action League (deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) registered a challenge against the book. Their complaint had to do with the language that they deemed inappropriate in the book and with the sexual content in the book. They demanded that the parents of all participants be informed that their child had been “exposed” to the book (they were not), that Rainbow Rowell’s visit be cancelled (it was), that copies of the book be removed from the shelves of all district schools (they were not), that our selection policy be rewritten (it was), and that the Library Media Specialists be disciplined (we received a letter). The story gained national attention in the late summer and fall of 2013. 

Emily Wheelock ReadOne of the most striking aspects of Emily Wheelock Reed’s story was the sense of isolation she felt. She received no support, particularly from the American Library Association who had published the list of recommendations which she used to purchase new books for Alabama state libraries. These feelings of isolation were familiar to me. Though my colleagues turned to each other for support, we received no support from the district school board or the district administration. This was the most difficult time in my thirty-six career as a high school educator. Though I had won the district’s Teacher Outstanding Performance award, was a finalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year, and won the Lars Steltzner Intellectual Freedom award, choosing Eleanor & Park as the selection for a voluntary summer reading program felt like a threat to my career and to my job. As Toby Graham, University of Georgia’s University Librarian, asks in a video for the Freedom to Read Organization, “Who are the Emily Reeds of today, and who will stand up with them in their pursuit to insure our right to read?” Thankfully, the media, the Southern Poverty Law Center, our local teachers’ union, and others were supportive in many ways. In addition, the American Library Association, the Freedom to Read Organization, and other organizations now offer tools dedicated to Library Media Specialists who find themselves in similar situations.

Eleanor & Park went on to be named a Michael J. Printz Honor book—the gold standard for young adult literature. It is the moving story of two outcast teens who meet on the school bus. Eleanor is red-headed, poor, white, bullied, and the victim of abuse. Park is a biracial boy who survives by flying under the radar. The two eventually develop trust in each other as the world swirls around them. They themselves don’t use foul language. They use music as a way to hold the rest of the world at bay. They fall in love and consider having an intimate relationship but decide, very maturely, that they are not ready for sex. As a Library Media Specialist, there were “Eleanors” and “Parks” who walked into my media center each and every day. Their story needed to be on the shelf in my library, so that they could see themselves reflected in its pages, to know that the world saw them and valued them, even if their lives were messy. For those more fortunate than these Eleanors and Parks, the story was important as well. By looking into the lives of others via books, we develop empathy and understanding, even when the viewpoints reflected there are not our own.

Carmen Roman as librarian Emily Wheelock Reed, a librarian who stood her ground for the right to read during the onset of the civil rights movement and refused to remove "The Rabbit's Wedding" from the shelves. Photo by Len Villano for The Peninsula Players

Carmen Roman as librarian Emily Wheelock Reed, a librarian who stood her ground for the right to read during the onset of the civil rights movement and refused to remove The Rabbit’s Wedding from the shelves. Photo by Len Villano for The Peninsula Players

As artists—teachers, writers, actors, musicians, painters, dancers, and sculptors—it is our job to tell and preserve stories, the stories of all individuals, even when they represent beliefs different from our own. Knowledge truly is power. When we censor stories, we take away power. One need only look at history, and the burning of books and the destruction of libraries by those in power, for examples of the dangers of censorship. As we celebrate Banned Books Week (September 25th–October 1st), it is important to reflect on the value of artistic freedom and on the value of our freedom to read.

Though Garth Williams did not intend for The Rabbits’ Wedding to be a story about race and, thus, become a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement, it did. Though Rainbow Rowell did not intend for Eleanor & Park to become a symbol of censorship, it did. Alabama Story took place in 1959 but could just have easily taken place in 2001 with a book called Harry Potter, or in 2006 with a book called And Tango Makes Three, or … in 2013 with a book called Eleanor & Park. Censorship still occurs in 2016.

Peninsula Players, Door County

Peninsula Players Theatre hosted Door County library staff to a dress rehearsal of the Midwest premiere of “Alabama Story” by Kenneth Jones. Jones was inspired by librarian Emily Wheelock Reed’s defense of a children’s book in 1959, Montgomery, Alabama. From left are cast members and librarians Byron Glenn Willis, actor; Tracy Vreeke, Sturgeon Bay Library; Pat Strom, Fish Creek Library; Holly Somerhalder, Fish Creek Library; Greg Vinkler, Peninsula Players Artistic Director; Kathy White, Sturgeon Bay Library; Harter Clingman, actor; Holly Cole, Egg Harbor Library; James Leaming, actor; Carmen Roman, actor and Katherine Keberlein, actor. Visit www.peninsulaplayers.com Photo by Len Villano.

As the audience stood that evening, my husband and I applauded the Peninsula Players’ artistic staff, cast, and crew for telling Emily Wheelock Reed’s story. It is a story that needs to be told over and over again—for every “Eleanor” and every “Park” among us.

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