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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

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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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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Driving After Dark

Driving after Dark | Lisa Bullard's Writing Road TripAs an elementary school kid, my most vivid recurrent dream featured a road trip.

In it, I’m in the driver’s seat, although it’s the car that’s in control. My two-years-younger brother and our two best neighborhood friends are also along for the ride. We are on a straight stretch of the two-lane highway that leads out of town, our headlights piercing the otherwise intense darkness. The beams snag on the hungry arms of the craggy pines that crowd along the edge of the road. The grasping trees try to pull us back, but they never catch us; instead, the car just keeps barreling ahead, faster and faster down the highway.

I always woke up before we reached a destination, feeling puffed up with expectation, as if the wind whipping through the open windows of the vehicle had inflated me in anticipation of whatever waited for us at the end of that nighttime ride.

I dreamt this often enough that I can still recapture the feeling of it, immersing myself again in the emotions of a

time when it was starting to seem like each year, my own sturdy little vehicle was picking up speed as it raced towards an unknown place called “being a grown up.”

One of my best writing prompts for young writers taps into the power of the much-anticipated state of adulthood, that accomplishment that kids covet or fear, sometimes in equal measure. Even better, the prompt works well for a wide range of students: those who are barely through the opening paragraphs of their lives, and those who are a few chapters further along into life’s story.

Ask your students to write for a few minutes about where they hope to be in ten or fifteen years (or whatever number will have them just entering their early twenties). What do they want their lives to look like? Who do they want to be sharing their time with? What ambitions do they hope to be working towards at that point?

Writing can help them tap into that place deep inside where our subconscious keeps its secrets, the place where it hides both our dreams and our futures.

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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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Those Alluring Comics Storytellers

Comics ConfidentialWhen I began working as, and thinking of myself as, a graphic designer, I assumed that all of my ideas would have to spring out of my mind … and that was terrifying. (Think of the oft-asked question, “Where do your ideas come from?”) I didn’t think I was creative enough or widely traveled enough or even educated enough as a graphic designer to come up with ideas that would translate into smart, pleasing designs on paper or a computer screen.

Then I talked and worked with other graphic designers. I learned that they had folders full of “reference material,” designs they admired, cut out of magazines and newspapers, along with photos they’d taken and words typeset in innovative ways. And that sounded liked cheating to me. Were they just copying other people’s designs?

I began collecting my own reference materials (books, magazine pages, type, color swatches) and organizing them into folders and notebooks.

As I became more experienced, I understood that looking at reference materials was not copying because somewhere during the creative process my brain added its own concepts and my design seldom looked anything like the references I had used for a project.

So many young people are interested in creating their own comics and graphic novels. They have stories to tell and they want to do it in a visual way. There’s a learning curve. They’ve probably read enough “reference materials” when they begin, enough that they intuitively understand sequence, the gaps in time and story, and the conventions of dialogue bubbles and frames. They may begin by copying their favorites, but what they’ve read informs their storytelling and what they create will be entirely their own.

Leonard Marcus

Leonard S. Marcus

How refreshing to have Leonard Marcus’ book of interviews, Comics Confidential: Thirteen Graphic Novelists Talk Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box (Candlewick Press). It’s a reference material of a completely different type, invaluable really, because it shares how these thirteen much-admired artists tell their own stories. We get a peek into their lives, their experiences, their notions of art and the work they’ve done before they achieved their much-admired status.

Every interview, whether I know the work of the artist or not, held me riveted to their story, their experiences, their gaining of knowledge. I loved reading that many of them worked with a group of like-minded comics artists, learning and developing together. These interviews instill confidence and surefootedness. As a young and budding storyteller, I know that tidbits from these biographies would change how I work and how I think about my images and scripts.

For instance, Danica Novgorodoff shares that, for The Undertaking of Lily Chen, “I would envision each scene as a scene in a film. Sometimes I would have to stop myself and realize, ‘This is not going to work in a drawing. I am going to have to write it differently.’ I wrote a scene, for instance, with an empty gray stone city in which mist was rising through the streets. I thought, ‘You can’t actually make mist rise in a drawing, can you?’ I tried it and it didn’t work out nearly as well as it had in my mind! It would have looked beautiful in a film.”

What you see clearly in your mind frequently doesn’t translate well into your drawing or screen. You have to do a lot of erasing. Much as the concept of revision is taught by educators in thousands of classrooms, this idea of working on the frames in a comic book page until they are telling the best story possible, both in words and pictures, can be enormously freeing and encouraging.

Comics Confidential, Danica Novgorodoff

Danica Novgorodoff, “Turf,” Comics Confidential, interviews by Leonard Marcus (Candlewick Press)

In this book, each interview subject created an original two-page story. Both the finished comic and an original sketch are shared. Marcus tells us in the caption for the “Turf” sketch that Novgorodoff “not only specified more background detail but also moved more action to the foreground and turned more of her characters to face us.” That’s essential information!

Comics Confidential James Sturm

James Sturm, self-portrait, from Comics Confidential, interviews by Leonard Marcus (Candlewick Press)

The comic artists telling many of our favorite graphic stories are interviewed for this book:

  • Kazu Kibuishi, who keeps his fans breathless with anticipation for the next volume in the Amulet series.
  • Hope Larson, astounding story reteller of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
  • Matt Phelan, who has graced us with exceptional storytelling and art in books like Bluffton and The Storm in the Barn.
  • James Sturm, the brilliant storyteller and instructor behind the Adventures in Cartooning series.
  • Sara Varon, well-loved for Odd Duck and President Squid and Robot Dreams.
  • Gene Luen Yang, whose Avatar, Shadow Hero, and Secret Coder series all show the brilliance for which he was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant.

These are just a few of the mighty talents interviewed for Comics Confidential. Marcus, who is a master at asking questions that bring forth the information Every Reader wants to know, has created a book formatted beautifully, brimming with elements that readers will pore over, with a helpful bibliography in the back matter.

If you’re an educator, this book will open your eyes to the skill and imagination and wellsprings of creativity from which our very best graphic novelists for young readers draw (tired pun, but apt). You’ll understand and appreciate graphic novels and comic books in a way you haven’t done before reading these interviews.

Your youngest budding artists may have a hard time reading the book if their reading level doesn’t match the book’s vocabulary but Comics Confidential is also a powerful incentive to persevere so you can learn from the masters.

If you have a small group of interested comics creators in your room, reading the interviews out loud and discussing them, particularly with some of that artist’s books at hand to review, would inform those students … and make you look awfully smart.

Donald Duck Officer for a DayI have loved comics since I read my first Donald Duck comic book in the first decade of my life. I quickly became enamored of superhero comics. I wasn’t allowed to buy them but thankfully my cousins were. I often spied one under a coffee table and took myself surreptitiously into a quiet room to read it before we went home. As an adult, I continue to love the visual nature of the stories and the different, inventive ways in which stories are told by comics artists. Comics Confidential is a dream-come-true, allowing me to “meet” the visual storytellers I admire greatly. I consider this book an essential purchase for every library and classroom.

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The Weasel Whisperer

Page Break - Weasel Whisperer

 

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Word Search: Let Your Voice Be Heard

Let Your Voice Be HeardPete Seeger was a master musician, a long-time proponent of people and racial equality and fair wages and workers’ rights and ecology and conservation. He cared about the world you and I live in and wanted it to be a better world for everyone. We’re honoring Anita Silvey’s biography this month, Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. It’s a book that will inspire you to do more to help the world … and to sing. 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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Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Slow Cooker Beef Stew
Serves 8
Inspired by our Bookstorm feature this month, Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, there was a pot of stew bubbling in many a hobo camp during the Great Depression and many a hootenanny in the ’50s and 60s’. This quick-to-assemble version can stay in your slow cooker until you’re ready to eat.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 hr
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 hr
Ingredients
  1. 3.5 lb boneless chuck or round, or stew meat
  2. 1 Tbsp Kitchen Bouquet
  3. 1 (12 oz) can flat beer
  4. 1 envelope onion soup mix
  5. 1 envelope brown gravy mix
  6. 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  7. 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  8. 4 cups assorted frozen vegetables of your choice
Instructions
  1. Cut beef into 1.5” cubes. Place them in the slow cooker and mix in Kitchen Bouquet. Add beer, onion soup mix, brown gravy mix, and Worcestershire sauce. Set pot to 200 degrees (low) and let cook for 8 to 10 hours. Stir in mushroom soup and vegetables and cook an additional 30 to 40 minutes. Makes about 8 servings.
Bookology Magazine http://www.bookologymagazine.com/
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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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Kingfisher Treasuries

unknown-3There was a time—although it seems like it’s becoming a tiny dot in the rearview mirror—in which one birthday child or the other received the birthday-appropriate book in the Kingfisher Treasury series of Stories for Five/Six/Seven/Eight Year Olds. Those beloved paperbacks reside on my office shelves now, but it was not so long ago that they were opened on the appropriate birthday to big smiles—there was something sort of milestone-like about receiving them. Near as I can tell from the interwebs, we’re only missing Stories for Four Year Olds—I just might have to complete our collection, because I’ve pretty well lost myself this morning while looking at these books again.

They are humble paperbacks—I don’t believe they were ever published as hardbacks, let alone with gilded pages and embossed covers. But the stories between the colorful covers are of that caliber, certainly. Chosen by Edward and Nancy Blishen, these stories are from the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Beverly Cleary, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Arthur Ransome, and Astrid Lindgren. Others, too—in addition to several folk tales retold by the compilers.

What I loved about these stories when we were reading them aloud was that they were from all over the world—many cultures and places represented. We often were looking at the globe after reading from these books. Some are traditional stories, some contemporary—an excellent mix, really. Short stories for kids—loads better than the dreary ones in grade-specific readers.

What my kids loved, curiously, was how the illustrations were tucked into the text. Every page has a clever black and white drawing—something drawn around the story’s title or running along the bottom of the page, a character sketch set in the paragraph indent, a crowd scene spanning the spread between the top and bottom paragraphs on both pages, a border of leaves or animals—very detailed, even if small. You don’t see illustration placement like these much. The books have a unique feel because of them.

unknown-4The illustrators for each book are different, but all are wonderful, and because everything is printed simply in black and white and creatively spaced on the pages the books look like they go together. Some of the drawings are sweet, cute—some you can imagine as fine art. Which is what makes me wish these had been produced in a larger hard-back version with color plates, etc.

But the fact is, the paperback trim size made it easy to slip these in my purse, tuck in the glove compartment, pack for the plane ride, etc. A lot of reading happened on the fly during those early elementary years—these books were some of the easiest to carry around and pull out at the doctor’s office, the sibling’s game, and the bus stop.

I thought about putting them out in our little free library in the front yard, but I’ve decided to keep them on my shelf. Maybe tuck one in my purse for when I’m sitting outside the high school waiting for my girl, or reading outside the dressing room while she tries on clothes. The days are flying by—I’m glad I have books to remember the sweet earlier days, too.

Perhaps I’ll buy another set to share in the library…..

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Skinny Dip with Heidi Hammond

For this interview, we visit with Heidi Hammond, associate professor at St. Catherine University in the MLIS program, long-time school librarian, and author of Reading the Art in Caldecott Award Books: a Guide to the Illustrations, along with co-author Gail D. Nordstrom.

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

I would love to enjoy a cup of tea with Michelle Obama and find out what the first family plans to do after President Obama finishes his second term of office.  

What’s your favorite late-night snack? 

I don’t usually stay up late, but my favorite after supper snack is popcorn (unbuttered) and ice cream (Coconut Explosion), not together, but in that order. Sometimes I just have popcorn and ice cream for supper.

Favorite city to visit?

London! I’ve been there six times. “…when a man, (in my case, a woman), is tired of London, he (she) is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” —Samuel Johnson

Moonstone Castle MysteryMost cherished childhood memory?

One of my favorite childhood memories is receiving a stack of Nancy Drew mysteries for Christmas and having all of the Christmas holiday to read them.  

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

I drink tea and water. That’s pretty much it. I learned to drink tea after my first year of teaching. I chaperoned a group of 12 junior high students (What was I thinking?) on a four-week exchange program with a school in Wales. I stayed with the deputy headmaster and his family, and every morning he made his family tea and served it to us in bed. I would hear a knock on my door and the question, “Tea, Heidi?” It was a lovely way to begin the day.

Favorite season of the year? Why?

My favorite season on the year is fall. Having been an educator or school librarian all my professional life, fall always seems like a new beginning with the kickoff of the school year. It’s like having two New Years, one in January and one in September. That means two fresh starts.

Ouzel Falls

Hiking to Ouzel Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park

What’s your dream vacation?

A dream vacation for me is one that involves some hiking. In the summer of 2015, I hiked Hadrian’s Wall from coast to coast in northern England, all 84 miles. In spring I hiked in the Grand Canyon. This past summer I hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park. This September I’m hiking the Great Glen Way in Scotland from Fort William to Inverness, all along Loch Ness. That part of the world just happens to be the setting for “Outlander.”

What’s your hidden talent?

I am a very good parallel parker. It seems I’ve been attending the University of Minnesota off and on from 1974 to 2009. I couldn’t often afford to pay for parking in one of the lots, so I’d parallel park on the residential streets surrounding the university and walk blocks and blocks to class.

Your favorite candy as a kid?

Milk Duds. I still like them, but I think red licorice is my favorite candy now. And, dark chocolate caramels. I like pretty much any kind of candy. I have a sweet tooth. They are opening a new Abdallah’s candy store about a mile from my house in September. I’m not sure this will be good for me.

The MarvelsWhat’s the strangest tourist attraction you’ve visited?

I don’t know if this qualifies as strange, but it was very different and wonderful. The last time I was in London, right after I read Brian Selznick’s book The Marvels, I visited the Dennis Severs’ House. I had heard Brian talk about his new book at the American Library Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco a few weeks before I left for England in 2015 to hike Hadrian’s Wall. If you know the book, you know the house is an important feature. When I entered the house, I told the young man at the door that I had come because I’d read the book and heard Brian speak. He said I was the first person to visit who had read the book (I had an advance reading copy). Unbeknownst to me, he told the curator David Milne about me, and David found me and spent quite a bit of time with me talking about Dennis and the house. He even went and got the book and showed me an illustration of one of the rooms while I was in that room. It was one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited in London.

Dennis Severs House

Dennis Severs House, London [photo: Matt Brown, Creative Commons]

Best tip for living a contented life?

Everyone expresses good in his or her own individual way. See the goodness in others and appreciate it.

Your hope for the world?

Like Rodney King, I wish we could all get along.

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Driver’s Ed

Adobe Stock ImageIt’s amazing that I passed my driver’s test on the first try, since I can see now that I was a pretty bad driver. But I was an excellent test-taker, and the State of Minnesota sent me home with a score of 96 out of 100. Mere weeks later I backed the family van into the mailbox.

It’s not that my parents didn’t try their best to improve my driving skills. In fact, they each logged enough hours of behind-the-wheel training with me that I learned to translate their two very different approaches to corrective feedback.

My mother’s primary feedback was to initiate the following sequence when I made a driving mistake: 1) make a horrified face, 2) suck air in wetly over her teeth, 3) clutch the dashboard, and 4) stomp her foot onto an imaginary passenger’s side brake.

My father was more verbal, but prone to understated commentary such as: “Did you happen to notice that was a red light you drove through?”

It’s hard to find just the right way to give somebody helpful feedback. And it’s just as tricky an issue when it comes to giving students feedback on their writing.

Praise for what is working well is always a good starting point. But then I also try to provide something concrete that students can work to improve. Leading questions are a great tool for this: queries such as, “How could you help readers better understand the character’s problem?” or “Can you make the readers feel more like they’re inside the setting of the story?”

You also want to avoid imposing your own voice over the student’s voice. The key is to remain in the role of editor rather than “re-writer.” I point out where changes could improve the writing, but then give students some room to learn to rewrite for themselves.

It’s totally tempting to stomp on the brake yourself, and just tell them how you would do it. But if you do that too many times, they might never learn how to drive without you in the car.

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Below the Surface

Our park ranger, Earl, which is pronounced in three syllables in south-central Kentucky, asks one last time to reconsider this journey if anyone suffers from a bad heart, high blood pressure, or claustrophobia. He waits at the steel door at the base of a sinkhole. On this “Domes and Dripstones” tour at Mammoth Cave National Park, no one objects. We are silent in anticipation.

As the park ranger unlocks and opens the door, the cave emits a blast of icy cold air. With a moment of hesitation, I leave the forest of leafy green behind and begin the descent into darkness. My eyes begin to adjust. Periodic battery-powered lights illuminate the cave. Ahead, the guide’s flashlight beams. I grip the metal tubular railing, moist with humidity. Here and there, the cave plummets into foreboding chasms. I take each steel step with care.  A hundred years back, tourists followed this same path, but the steps were made then of wood, prone to slipperiness.

Photo: Navin75 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/navin75/162066494/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

photo by Navin75

In spots, the cave presses in around me, and I squeeze through passages. Where its ceiling drops low, I duck to avoid bashing in my forehead. There is the perpetual plink, plink, plink of water. It percolates down the sinkhole, carving into sandstone, it drips from the cave walls into puddles, rivulets, and streams that flow down, away, deeper and deeper into darkness. Our group is silent. We are in a sanctuary, a place of awe and deep mystery where eyeless fish and translucent shrimp navigate the cave streams, where bats have birthed their young for eons, where humans stepped foot 2,000 years ago.

Around us, stalagmites create towering fairyland castles. Above us, stalactites appear as icicles in various hues. Earl reminds us that the last inch formed on each stalactite took 100-300 years, drop of water by drop of water—cavernous rooms with a labyrinth of dazzling formations resembling cream-colored silken drapes, walls of candied popcorn, frozen golden waterfalls, a swish of a many-layered skirt, a cavernous dragon’s mouth.

Earl checks his watch. We find our way out of the cave and into the world of trees and sky. The tour concludes. But I keep thinking of the caves and the slow constancy of change. With the passing of time, new caves form dazzling worlds while old caves eventually fill in and “die.” Each drop of water, each grain of sand leaves its mark. Visiting a cave means bearing witness to the artistry found in the accumulation of time.

This gives me comfort. I like to think that each footstep we take leaves its mark, too, in an ongoing colossal work of creation.

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Life does not stop …

Lynne Jonell Page Break

 

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Anita Silvey

Let Your Voice Be HeardWe are so pleased to have author and educator Anita Silvey talk with us about her book Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, our Bookstorm this month.

Do you remember when you were first aware of Pete Seeger as a child or teenager?

In my sophomore year in college, I came down with mono and had to be sequestered from other students. So I taught myself guitar as a way to pass the long convalescent hours. That was the semester I fell in love with Pete Seeger.

What made you want to write a book about Pete Seeger?

I had interviewed Pete for Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book. I was talking to Dinah Stevenson of Clarion about that interview, and she mentioned that she had tried, unsuccessfully, to get one of her writers interested in a book on the Weavers. I myself didn’t see the Weavers as the subject of a book but mentioned that a biography of Pete, with a chapter on the Weavers, would be an exciting project. That conversation began an eight-year publishing process.

You begin the book with the Peekskill concert which turned out to be life-threatening. Why did you choose to begin there?

Pete always talked about the Peekskill concert and the ride home as among the most frightening moments of his life. That incident showcases one of the themes of the book. No matter what happened to him, Pete Seeger did not allow anything to keep him from singing.

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, 2011, Creative Commons

Were there any “truths” you thought were true but your research proved were otherwise?

There were so many things I didn’t know: for 10 years he was harassed during the McCarthy era; he had difficulties appearing on television, even after he was cleared. The extent of his activities—for unions, civil rights, peace, the environment—amazed me. I could have written 10,000 words about any year in Pete’s life.

Did you find a lot of factual material that you had to check in several sources before you included it in the book?

You have just described the process of writing narrative nonfiction—lots of sources, both primary and secondary, lots of balancing opinions. Basically I had to do that for every sentence that I wrote.

How do you plan an interview with the subject of a biography?

With Pete it was easy. I would have a couple of questions that I needed clarifying. He would do all the rest. Two hours later I’d be off the phone with information I didn’t even know I needed.

When you interviewed Pete Seeger, what surprised you the most in his responses?

His generosity of time. And he sang to me.

Pete Seeger's banjo

Pete Seeger’s banjo, Creative Commons

What proved to be the hardest information for you to find about Pete Seeger?

Toshi Seeger and Pete clearly tried to keep family information out of the press. In the end I honored that desire and kept details about the family to a minimum.

In your Afterword, you write, “Biographers have a responsibility to examine the facts, remain as unbiased as possible, and tell the truth about their subjects.” You follow this up by sharing that “When I read the files that the FBI had gathered about Pete Seeger, and I studied the complete testimony of Pete Seeger’s appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee, I became angry and disturbed.” In conclusion, you stated, “I offer up his story in the hope that as a nation we never again turn on our own citizens and do them the same kind of injustice.”

After writing this book, do you feel that taking a stance in a nonfiction book is acceptable for an author?

I think writers for children need to admit to a bias if they have one. I didn’t make this type of statement in Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall. For that book, I remained much more impartial throughout the process. Alerting children to the bias of a writer helps them interpret nonfiction and can send them to other sources. Sometimes when asked by an adult friend about something, I remind them that I am not impartial on this topic. I believe children deserve the same respect.

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Windows, Mirrors, Sliding Glass Doors, and Maps

“There seems little chance of developing the humility so urgently needed for world cooperation, instead of world conflict, as long as our children are brought up on gentle doses of racism through their books.” —Nancy Larrick

“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.” —Rudine Sims Bishop

“Perhaps this exclusivity, in which children of color are at best background characters, and more often than not absent, is in fact part of the imaginative aspect of these books. But what it means is that when kids today face the realities of our world, our global economies, our integrations and overlappings, they all do so without a proper map. They are navigating the streets and avenues of their lives with an inadequate, outdated chart, and we wonder why they feel lost.” —Christopher Myers

Three profound quotes, all contemplating the troubling reality of the predominantly white world of children’s literature. These quotes appeared in three separate articles that were written decades apart in 1965, 1990 and 2014, respectively. It has been more than 50 years since Nancy Larrick penned “The All White World of Children’s Books.” And then, 25 years later, Rudine Sims Bishop addressed the same travesty in her article “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors.” Skip ahead another two dozen years and we hear from Christopher Myers when he discusses “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature.” It is a sad reality that so little progress has been made over so many years.

bk_courageeousconversationsYet, I am compelled to feel optimistic. I have sincere hopes and dreams that bigger change is possible. One reason for this positivity comes from the investment and effort my new school district has made towards racial equity and promoting the equity journeys of every district employee. The two-day “Beyond Diversity” workshop I recently attended, based on the work of Glenn Singleton and his book Courageous Conversations About Race, was one of the most powerful “back to school” professional development sessions I have ever experienced. Simply put, race matters, and so do our discussions, beliefs, feelings, thoughts, and actions related to race. 

Emmanuel's DreamSo how do I grapple with the current reality, my role as a white woman working in classrooms with a mixture of precious brown, black, and white faces, eager to share a side of children’s literature that honors each and every one of them? We are in our second week of school, establishing classroom communities, discussing our hopes and dreams. I pull out a treasured book, one that packs a powerful message about the importance of not letting disabilities become inabilities. A true story that delivers an uplifting message of bravery, respect, determination and love. As I read the first few pages of Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson, the little guy right in front of me asks the question, “Hey, how come everyone in that book looks like me?.” I dream of a day when this experience, the sharing of a picture book filled with children and adults of color, does not prompt a child, any child, to feel this is an unusual occurrence, but rather one that is commonplace and expected.  

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Apples, Well-Being, and Family

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieBring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story about Edna Lewis is a memorable book about growing food throughout the seasons and living off the land in Virginia. Wild strawberry, purslane, dandelions, sassafras, honey. As spring rides the breeze into summer, this extended family tends to their larder, taking full advantage of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables growing around them. Summer subdues itself into fall. Time to bring in the corn and beans, take a last harvest of pecans before winter sets in.

This way of life may be unfamiliar to a large percentage of children, but even though the book is set in the 1920s, everything about the story feels contemporary. Perhaps it is a way of life that withstands time.

Food is the focus because this is a glimpse of the early life of Edna Lewis, renowned chef and Southern cookbook author. As the author and watercolor illustrator Robbin Gourley writes, “But her most significant contribution was to make people aware of the importance of preserving traditional methods of growing and preparing food and of bringing ingredients directly from the field to the table.” With our current resurgence of interest in a farm-to-table lifestyle, this book is a good way to talk about food and nutrition with your children.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Bake You a Pie

Quite a few traditional sayings are included in the book:

“Raccoon up the pecan tree.
Possum on the ground.
Raccoon shake the pecans down.
Possum pass ‘em round.”

Your mouth will water so much while you’re reading this book that you’ll be glad there are five recipes in the back of the book, from Strawberry Shortcake to Pecan Drops.

The watercolor illustrations throughout are charming and informative, warm and loving. The color palette of clear, bright tones adds to the feeling of health and well-being.

It’s a worthwhile addition to your home, school, or public library.

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Raymie Nightingale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bookstorm™: Let Your Voice Be Heard

Bookmap Let Your Voice Be Heard

Let Your Voice Be HeardWhether you include social justice, community service, activism, or social action in your curriculum or at your library, this is the ideal book for you. A biography of Pete Seeger, recipient of our National Medal for the Arts, and champion of the people for his 94 years, our Bookstorm this month, Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, celebrates his life while it inspires each reader to carry on his work. At once informative and entertaining, Anita Silvey has written a book that looks at Seeger’s childhood, his evolution from singer to worldwide change leader to deeply admired man. Eminently readable, this would be a good book to share with students as  you lead into deeper discussions about involvement and service in your own community.

The book is written at a level for 4th to 6th grade readers, so you can use this with these students, but we also encourage you to use the book in middle school, high school, and with adult groups. It’s an excellent choice for a book club discussion.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books, articles, websites, and videos for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books about the ways in which Pete Seeger influenced our world. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more information about Anita Silvey on her website.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

About Pete Seeger. To supplement the information Anita Silvey has included in her biography, we’ve suggested a few other books that offer another perspective.

Written by Pete Seeger. He was remarkably prolific in writing books, or introductions, or collaborating on quite a few books. You’ll certainly recognize Abiyoyo but there are more books for study, enjoyment, and for singing!

Pete Seeger’s Music. He’s so well-known for his music and he recorded a great number of folk songs for children and all ages. We’ve pointed you in the direction of some of the best that you can share in your classroom or library. 

Civil Rights. Well-known for his efforts on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement, for over  70 years, we offer recommendations so you can gather a shelf full of paired books including fiction, true stories, and poetry.

Labor Movement. September is the month when we honor the hard work of those who have fought for workers’ rights, outlawing child labor, ensuring health and vacation and sick leave benefits. Pete Seeger was a tireless proponent of this work. You’ll find a number of recommendations to support this aspect of his biography, certainly engendering discussion. We’ve included recommendations for songs to accompany this study.

Folk Music, Collecting, Playing, Singing. Do you know the work of Alan and John Lomax, Woody Guthrie, Charles and Ruth Seeger, Smithsonian Folkways, and other musicologists? This is a fascinating aspect of Pete Seeger’s life that can lead to discussions of preserving culture, the intrinsic place of music within a culture … and more singing! Suggestions are made for further study of many individuals important to the preservation of folk music.

Politics: Under Suspicion and Blacklisted (Censorship). During those times of the year when your classroom or library is focusing on censorship, Anita Silvey focuses on the House Un-American Activities Committee of the 1950s, Communism, and blacklisting. All of these can be compared to the political climate in contemporary America. We have included a variety of fiction and nonfiction recommendations.

Protesting War (Vietnam). The protests of the 1960s and 1970s in America left an indelible change on the country that a number of anthropologists argue continues to affect America today. Pete Seeger was active in this protest movement. Books on the war, its aftermath, and songs of protest are a part of this Bookstorm.

Think Globally, Act Locally. Pete Seeger’s social action with The Clearwater Project, gathering communities to clean up The Hudson River in New York, was accomplished through song, community gatherings, fundraising, and hard work. We provide quotes, videos, websites, and a lot of books for students to use for learning more and making their own plans for involvement.

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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A Few Tall Tales from the Land of Rampaging Zucchini

zucchiniJackie:  Phyllis, the zucchini seeds you gave me have grown into a plant that knocked on our back door this morning. I gave it coffee and it retreated to the yard, heading toward the alley.

When I was a kid one of my favorite stories was the tall tale of Paul Bunyan. I laughed at the exaggeration, the total wackiness of an ox so large his footprints made the Great Lakes. As an adult, I realized that Paul Bunyan was actually a clear-cutter and that took some of the luster off the stories. But I still love tall tales. What fun to come up with a rollicking tale of exaggeration! We found some old favorites—and some new favorites.

Swamp AngelSwamp Angel by Anne Isaacs, (illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, (Dutton, 1994) is a winning combination of understatement and exaggeration: “…when Angelica Longrider took her first gulp of air on this earth, there was nothing about the baby to suggest that she would become the greatest woodswoman in Tennessee. The newborn was scarcely taller than her mother and couldn’t climb a tree without help…she was a full two years old before she built her first log cabin.” Of course it’s the Swamp Angel’s battle with the huge bear Thundering Tarnation that is at the heart of the story. The bear dispatches four woodsmen before Swamp Angel sets out. But really, who cares who wins? It’s the outsized oddity that’s fun: Swamp Angel lassos the bear with a tornado; they create the Great Smoky Mountains from the dust of their fighting; their snoring creates a rockslide. The unfortunate Tarnation’s pelt became the Shortgrass Prairie. 

This story calls us all to look around and imagine what wonderful larger-than-life character created our rivers and hills, caves and prairies.

Phyllis:  I love this book, with its outsize story and outsize art. And I love that this is a woman who can lift a whole wagon train out of Dejection Swamp (which is how she got her name Swamp Angel). When the men signing up to hunt Thundering Tarnation tell her to go home and quilt or bake a pie, Swamp Angel responds that quilting is men’s work and that she aims to bake a pie—“A bear pie.”  When Thundering Tarnation meets his end under a tree that Swamp Angel snores down while they are fighting in their sleep, she “plucked off her hat, bowed her head, and offered up these words of praise: ‘Confound it, varmint, if you warn’t the most wonderous heap of trouble I ever come to grips with!’” Not only does she bake bear pie, she also makes “bear steaks and bear cakes, bear muffins and bear stuffin,’ bear roast and bear toast,” enough for a feast and to restock the all the root cellars in Tennessee just in time for winter.

Jackie: All stories create a shared community between writer, or teller, and readers, but it seems to me that tall tales have the added advantage that we are sharing a joke. We all know that a bear and a fightin’ woman did not create the Great Smoky Mountains. We are all in on the joke. We get it. And that is fun in a world where there is so much we don’t get.

Burt Dow, Deep-Water ManI have always loved the title of Robert McCloskey’s Burt Dow Deep-Water Man. And the book has a musicality to it that makes me want to read it aloud. Burt is a retired deep-water man with two boats—one he fills with geraniums and sweet peas (McCoskey calls them “Indian peas,” I can’t find verification of the sweet peas, but they are climbers and the flowers look like sweet peas.) And the other is Tidely-Idley with a “make-and-break engine.”  Burt says, “She’s got a few tender places in her planking, but you can’t see daylight through her nowhere.” 

One day Burt takes out the Tidely-Idely and has an unexpected adventure. He’s fishing for cod and hooks a whale. “’Ahoy there, whale!’ bellowed Burt. ‘Hold your horses! Keep our shirt on! Head into the wind and slack off the main sheet!’ But the whale couldn’t hear because his hearing gear was so far upwind from his steering gear.”  This is just the beginning. Burt has to hitch a ride inside the whale, paint his way out, then escape a school of whales demanding band-aids on their tales. It might have been too much for a younger fisherman, but not Burt Dow. He placates the whales and makes it home just as the cock begins to crow.

This book is so much fun. It’s a Mainer’s retelling of Jonah with a little “whale insider” art thrown in for fun. And I have to mention the language. McCloskey wrote a story that should be read out loud on someone’s porch. Burt’s rooster crows  “Cockety-doodly;” his water pump goes “slish-cashlosh, slish-caslosh;”  Burt always keeps a “firm hand on the tiller;” and the make-and-break engine always goes “clackety-bangety.”

An entry on Wikipedia notes that there was a Bert Dow, deep-water man, on Deer Isle where McCloskey lived. He is buried in a Deer Isle cemetery. His tombstone says: “Bert Dow, Deep Water Man, 1882-1964.”  Robert McCloskey helped pay for the stone.

Phyllis:  Burt isn’t physically larger than life in the way that Swamp Angel or Paul Bunyan are, but his problems are whale sized, and as with other tall tale figures, no problem is so big Burt can’t solve it.  Along with language that delights and tickles, McCloskey makes good use of page turns. Once Burt accidentally hooks the whale’s tail and his giggling gull waits to see “what would happen next,” so does the reader, since starting on the next double-page spread and on many of the following spreads, McCloskey breaks off his sentences in the middle. “But the very next moment it came to Burt’s attention that he’d pulled up a”….

We turn the page to finish the sentence and read WHALE OF A TAIL. Spread after spread, McCloskey builds suspense, and spread after spread, while the situation seems to worsen, Burt is never dismayed, even when he realizes that when he asked the whale to swallow him to save him and his boat AND gull from “a gale of a wind,” he doesn’t know for sure that the whale heard the part where they were supposed to be “temporary guests, so to speak.” Once they are burped free and also satisfy all the other whales who want bandaids on their tales, pump out the Tidely-Idley, slish-caslosh, slish-caslosh, crank up the make and break, clackety-BANG! Clackety-BANG! Burt and his gull sail home in time, we assume, for breakfast. A rollicking story full of rollicking language and fun.

Lies and Other Tall TalesJackie: We are also considering an intergenerational effort. Christopher Myers illustrated some of the “Lies and Other Tall Tales” collected by Zora Neale Hurston (HarperCollins, 2005). These are not long stories but are wonderfully rich in play with language and exaggeration, so wonderful that we want to include it even though it’s a fairly recent book. “I seen a man so short he had to get up on a box to look over a grain of sand.” That’s one-upped by “That man had a wife and she was so small that she got in a storm and never got wet because she stepped between the drops.” 

This lively book might work best for older children. Younger children could be disturbed by some of the exaggerations (a man so mean he swallows another man whole).  For those who are ready, this book will bring some smiles—and some understanding of the verbal games of the African American culture. Christopher Myers notes that these tales, “were used in some version of playing the dozens…an African American cultural practice, which if you haven’t heard about it, you better ask your mama! It includes mama jokes and humorous dissing, which if you don’t know what dissing is, you don’t have the sense God gave a flea.”

Phyllis:  As Christopher Myers writes, “Liars, back in the day, could tell a lie so good, you didn’t even want to know the truth.” And these lies are so delightful and fancy-tickling that I agree with him. One of my favorites is the folks who built a church on “the poorest land I ever seed” and had to use ten sacks of fertilizer before they could “raise a hymn on it.” An author’s note tells how the illustrations are made from found bits of fabric  and paper that Myers has transformed into “’quilts’ as witty and beautiful as the phrases Zora Neal Hurston found.”

Paula BunyanJackie:  Phyllis, I can’t quit without mentioning your tall tale—Paula Bunyan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009). Paula has way more sense than God gave a flea. She actually replants trees where other loggers have cut them down. And she’s fast. “Paula could run so fast that once when she forgot to do her chores, she ran all the way back to yesterday to finish them.” It must have been fun to re-tell the Paul Bunyan story as a greening of the earth.

Phyllis:  It was fun. The story started as something my kids and I told one fall while riding on a haywagon to pick Haralson apples, our favorites.  And why not another tall tale woman? What’s against it?

None of us may be as large or fight as fiercely as Swamp Angel, we may not know a man so hungry he swallowed himself, we may never have to figure out how to get on the outside of a whale. But these tales remind us that even in our ordinary lives we can keep a firm hand on the tiller, come to grips with whatever “wondrous heap of trouble” comes our way, and still make it home in time for breakfast.

And speaking of breakfast, I don’t mean to brag, but my zucchini pounded on the door this morning and demanded a latte and a cinnamon croissant.  With butter.

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