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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | book

Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary, 1971

Beverly Cleary, 1971

For the last month I have been reading articles, toasts, essays, and interviews with one of my favorite authors of all time: Beverly Cleary. She turned 100 years old this week. Everything I read about her makes me misty-eyed—the birthday plans in her home state of Oregon … her memories of being in the lowest reading group, the Blackbirds, in elementary school … that she writes while baking bread … how she named her characters … that she was a “well-behaved girl” but she often thought like Ramona (me, too!!!) … the fan mail she still receives in a steady stream … SIGH.

My second grade teacher, Mrs. Perkins, read us Ramona the Brave. It was a new book that year—she used it to show us how to open a brand-new book and “break in” the binding so that the pages would turn easily. She told us that it was part of a series and I remember being out of sorts that she would start mid-series, but then I was so engrossed in the story that I dropped my grudge.

Reading Is FundamentalMy elementary school was a RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) school. RIF day was easily my favorite day of the year. I understood that RIF existed to put books in the hands of kids who would not otherwise own books. I had books at home, though many of my classmates did not, and I was always a little nervous that somehow I would be excluded—what if someone reported my little bookshelf, or the fact that I received a book every birthday? What if I was pulled aside—not allowed to go pick a book?! But it never happened. No questions asked—just encouragement to pick a book of my very own. RIF Bliss!

Ramona the PestThat second-grade-year, when my class went down to the entrance lobby of the school to visit the tables and tables piled with books (this remains my image of abundance), the very first book I saw was Ramona the Pest. I knew it had to be related to Ramona the Brave, and was proud to have the presence of mind—my heart beat hard in the excitement of my discovery!—to confirm that the author’s name, Beverly Cleary, was listed under the title. Mrs. Cleary lived in Oregon, Mrs. Perkins said. It was a place so far away from central Illinois that I was surprised one of her books could have made its way to our RIF tables. I scooped it up and carried it around with me as I perused all of the other books. We were allowed to choose only one book, but none of the others even came close to tempting me to put down Ramona the Pest.

illustration by Louis Darling

illustration by Louis Darling

I’m astounded when I look at lists of Beverly Cleary’s books and their publication dates. She started the Ramona series in 1955. My mother was nine years old! The last in the series, Ramona’s World, was written when my son was two, in 1999. And that’s just the Ramona books! What a career! At least three generations have read and loved Cleary’s books.

I still have that little trade-paperback book. It’s well worn—I read it many times as a kid. And I read it to my kids, too, of course. It’s the only Ramona book I own—through all of the cover changes and box sets, I’ve just stuck with my one little RIF book.

I might change that this week, though. I think perhaps I’ll buy myself a boxed set of Ramona and make a donation to RIF in Beverly Cleary’s honor.

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

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Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten

Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten

Rose meets Mr. Wintergarten by Bob Graham has been around for awhile. I’ve been reading it to kids for almost as long as it’s been on this side of the pond. But I’ve read it two different ways, and I’m ready to confess that now.

I love most everything about this sweet picture book. I adore the Summerses—what a great hippie-like family!—especially Mom in her loose fitting dress and sandals and crazy earrings. I love the illustrations—particularly the gobs and gobs of flowers. And I experience nothing but delight with the marvelous contrast provided by Mr. Wintergarten—his dark house that the sun never hits; his cold, gray, uninviting dinner with floating gristle and mosquitoes breeding on top; his dusty coattails and huge empty dining room table. I think the not-so-subtle puns found in the neighbors’ last names (which a four-year-old had to point out to me) are brilliant.

And the story itself! Sweet Rose, brave enough to venture over to her neighbor’s house despite the neighborhood children’s stories of Mr. Wintergarten’s mean and horrible reputation, his wolf-dog and saltwater crocodile, his penchant for eating children…. I love it all.

Except that last bit. “No one ever goes in there,” said Arthur, “in case Mr. Wintergarten eats people.” I hate that. And it functions almost like a spell in the story, because as soon as Arthur delivers this worst-of-the-worse news, Rose’s ball goes over Mr. Wintergarten’s fence.

For a long time, I just left off the incaseMr.Wintergarteneatspeople part of what Arthur says. I thought it sufficiently exciting for my wee story-listeners that nobody ever went in there…(drumroll!)…and now Rose would go in there. It was but a small change—a tiny omission, I reasoned. It’s not like I totally changed the story.

Rose Meets Mr. WintergreenWhen Rose goes to ask her mother what to do and her mother suggests, like all good hippie-mothers, that she simply go ask Mr. Wintergarten to give her ball back, Rose says she can’t  “Because he eats kids.” To which her no-nonsense hippie-mother says, “We’ll take him some cookies instead.”

Again, the cannibalistic innuendo was just too much for me. I’d look at those sweet little faces, rapt in the story I was reading them…and it was just easiest to have Rose remain silent when her mother asks why she doesn’t just go make the proper inquiry. Then all I had to do was leave off the word “instead” when her mother suggests the cookie idea. The book taught hospitality among neighbors—excellent!

I read it like this for years. I didn’t feel bad about it at all. I was protecting the children! And then one day, amongst the crowd of children at my feet, there was a reader.

“Hey!” he said. “You skipped a line.”

“I did?” I said.

The boy stood and approached. “Yeah, right here. “No one ever goes in there,” said Arthur, “in case Mr. Wintergarten eats people.” He underlined the words with his index finger. I feigned surprise upon seeing them. I complimented him on his astute reading skills.

Nervously, I checked on the rest of the wee vulnerable storytime children at my feet. They were looking up at me in what I can only describe as thoroughly delighted horror.

“He EATS kids?” a little girl said.

“For real?” said another.

Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten“Probably not,” said the reading child. “They probably just think he eats kids.”

“Oh….” Big eyes looked at me and the older, wiser, more worldly reading boy.

So when Rose’s Mom says they’ll take cookies, I, of course, put in the word “instead.”

“That’s a good idea,” said a sweet little girl with dark curls. She nodded vigorously. “A really good idea.”

“Yeah,” said her little brother. “Everyone likes cookies.”

As you might guess, Rose’s brave overtures earn her a new friend in Mr. Wintergarten. Turns out her old neighbor hadn’t even opened his drapes in years. Once he goes outside and kicks Rose’s ball back over the fence—losing his slipper in the process—he’s pretty much a new man. As are the children, who learn their reclusive neighbor’s reputation might be a bit exaggerated.

I’ve not omitted the cannibalistic lines since. I bite my tongue so I don’t soften them with a “Oh that’s just silly, isn’t it?!” I just read it straight. Kids love this book—I think, much as it pains me to admit it, all the more so because of the previously censored lines. They can take it, I guess. Who knew?

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Worm Loves Worm

Worm Loves Wormfinally had a chance to read one of my new favorite picture books—Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato—to a group of kids. It was Valentine’s Day—the kids were making valentines, learning origami, and listening to love stories read by moi.

My mistake was trying to call them away from the origami and stickers and scraps by saying: Hey kids! Let’s read some love stories!

A couple of them looked up and made a face, but most ignored me. The adults came to my aid and tried to get everyone to circle up, but the assurances that everyone could go back to their crafting did little to persuade. They’re readers, but they’re also crafters. Unfair to make them choose, but I did. I announced grandly, “The first book is about worms….”

That got their attention.

“Worms?” they said.

“I thought you said you were reading love stories,” said one child (who will be a lawyer some day.)

“Yes,” I said. “This is a love story. About worms.”

A few left their scraps and stickers and came over to see. I started the story.

Worm loves Worm.

“Let’s be married,” says Worm to Worm.

“Yes!” answers Worm.

“Let’s be married.” 

“I didn’t know worms could get married!” said one child. More joined our circle.

I turned the page. Worm and Worm’s friend Cricket volunteers to marry them, because you have to have someone to marry you—“that’s how it’s always been done.”  

That’s How It’s Always Been Done is a major refrain in this book.

“Now can we be married?” asks Worm.

But no, not yet. Beetle insists on a best beetle, and volunteers himself for the role. The Bees insist on being bride’s bees. And then there are the rings to consider—because, of course, “that’s how it’s always been done.”

It goes on and on—the usual trapping of a wedding, the ways “it’s always been done”—are trotted out as hurdles, if not quite objections. Patiently the worms adapt. Their friends see how things can be different. They’ll wear the rings like belts, not having fingers. They’ll do The Worm at the dance, not having feet to dance with. Their friend Spider will attach the hat and flowers with sticky web and eat the cake “along with Cricket and Beetle,” since worms do not eat cake.

Now, the adults in the room understood the story as a clever way to turn the same-gender vs. different-gender marriage debate upside down. They were delighted. These are parents who have raised their kids to support marriage for all—indeed, some of the kids in my audience are being raised in a family with two moms/dads.

The kids understood the more subtle message behind the story, though. It’s about change. It’s about learning to see past How It’s Always Been Done. They didn’t even blink when one worm wore a veil and tux and the other wore a dress and top hat. This is how kids play dress up, after all. Details do not stymie children the way they do adults.

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The ending to this book is happy. When Cricket objects that “That isn’t how it’s always been done.” Worm says, “Then we’ll just change how it’s done.” The other worm said, “Yes.”

And the children said, “Yes.” And then they went back to their Valentines.

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Rolling the Storytelling Blocks

by Vicki Palmquist

How to tell a storyLooking for hours of fun with a book the whole family can enjoy … or one person can easily study to learn to write or tell a story … better? Then you’ll want to give this a try: How to Tell a Story, written by Daniel Nayeri, illustrated by Brian Won, and published by Workman Publishing in 2015.

This book comes in a box. Inside the box there’s a small-format book (5-1/4” x 5-1/4”, 143 pages) with lots of illustrations and visual cues to help understand the many ways telling a story can be not only fun but interesting and challenging.

To help you “get ideas,” which kids often feel is the toughest part of writing or storytelling, there are 20 cubes. Each face of the cube contains a character, object, place, adjective (description or emotion), action, or relationship. They’re color-coded so you can set particular parameters for your “game play” or the challenge you’ve made for yourself.

How to Tell a Story

 

With chapters on conflict, motivation, dialogue, character, plot, and theme, the basics of storytelling are packed into this guide.

The author has included a number of games that can be played with two, up to 20, blocks. For instance, in “Debate,” we’ll roll 10 blocks. We’ll choose two blue blocks and one red block. Nayeri writes, “Oh, no! There’s a deadly storm on the horizon and Captain Lark has to decide what to do with a ship full of precious (blue block), the crew of (red block), and the magical (other blue block), which can only be used to save one person or thing. What should Captain Lark save first? Why? Come up with enough stories to argue for saving either the precious (blue block), the crew of (red block), or himself.” My fingers are itching to roll the blocks, aren’t yours?

How to Tell a Story

The blocks can be used in simple ways with young children or they can be engrossing for adults. The author is very instructive in the text:

 “As our storyteller, if you start in the middle, then you’re going to have to introduce us to the important bits of the backstory as they become necessary.

“The ancient Roman poet Horace called this method IN MEDIA RES, which means “in the middle of things.”  He recommended telling stories this way so you can jump straight into the action and fill out the details as you go.”

The illustrations by Brian Won are appealing to children, teens, and adults. They’re the same style as those used on the blocks (and often the same images) so we feel a connection. They’re descriptive enough so that our brains begin making stories out of them immediately, but not so reductive that they only convey one possibility.

How to Tell a Story

That’s the beauty of this set of story starters. There’s a myriad of ways to use them, to learn from them, to play games with them, and to have fun. This is a perfect gift for the storytellers in your family.

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Reading Ahead: Levitate Your Brother!

Big Magic for Little Hands

by Vicki Palmquist

We recently hosted a Harry Potter party for adults for which everyone was asked to perform a magic trick. Some people fiercely addressed the challenge. Some people panicked. Some people bought a trick off the internet. I turned to Joshua Jay’s Big Magic for Little Hands (Workman Publishing Co).

Citing all the benefits of learning to perform magic, the author reveals that he wasn’t a reader until he needed to know about magic. Learning magic tricks and performing them gives a child confidence and helps with public speaking skills. “Others have integrated magic into their jobs, using effects to break the ice or complete a sale or relax a jury.”

There are diagrams and terminology and suggested stage setups. There are helpful hints (overcoming stage fright). There are lists of materials needed for each feat of prestidigitation.

With compelling black, white, and red illustrations, the diagrams are easy to follow, convincing even the most skeptical that they could make these tricks work.

The writing is not just step-by-step instructional–Jay writes with humor and an appreciation of what’s practical.

The materials are items you probably have on hand in your household. When one list includes a top hat, Jay writes “A top hat works great, but you could also decorate an empty tissue box and use that, or use your dad’s cowboy hat. (Note: This only works if your dad is a cowboy.)”

Perhaps most of all, I enjoyed the real-life stories of magic such as “Houdini’s Great Plane Escape.” When Houdini was filming the movie The Grim Game, a stunt required climbing by rope from one plane to the other. During the stunt, the two planes collided and crashed to the ground. What happened? Well, that would be telling. According to Jay, a good magician never shares a secret or tells how it is done. Big Magic for Little Hands will tell you but I won’t.

Highly recommended for kids aged 8 and older (and the adults in their lives who will be just as fascinated). It’s a large format book with a big heart and plenty of fascination between its covers. A great gift. A good, readable, and hours-of-fun addition to your library.

 

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Gifted: Under the North Light

Under the North Light The Life and Times of Maud and Miska Petersham written by Lawrence Webster foreword by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead Woodstock Arts, 2012 info@woodstockarts.com ISBN 978-0-9679268-6-5 My husband, Steve, and I have worked together for the last 25 years. We have been married for 32 years, so it took […]

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Books Plus: The Goods by McSweeney’s

The Goods by McSweeney’s: Games and Activities for Big Kids, Little Kids, and Medium-Size Kids edited by Mac Barnett and Brian McMullen featuring Adam Rex, Jon Scieszka, and more Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, 2013 For your holiday gift-giving consideration … An oversized book filled with every imaginable distraction, this should be […]

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