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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | cats

A Kindle* of Cats

Phyllis: 

Luna

Phyllis Root’s cat, Luna

*Even though kindle means cats born in the same litter, the alliteration was hard to resist.

“All my work is done in the company of cats,” writes Nicola Bayley, wonderful picture book artist and writer, in her book The Necessary Cat.

I know what she means. Right now my cat Luna is sitting on the open copy of The Kittens’ ABC, clearly a cat of discerning literary taste.

Cats and writers seem to have a particular relationship. Cats wander in and out of our picture books, take naps on our keyboards, and curl up in our hearts. This month we looked at a few of the many picture books where cats play a role.

The Kittens' ABCI was introduced to Claire Turlay Newberry when I found a used copy of The Kittens’ ABC and was enchanted by her drawings of cats in which she captures them with a few lines in charcoal, pencil, and pastels. (Of her seventeen picture books, all but three are about cats.) The rhymes with each letter of this ABC are simple, but I could linger over those wise, playful, cozy pictures for hours. And if Luna has her way, curled up now on N is for Nap, I will.

Kittens like to take their naps
In boxes, bureau drawers, and laps;
Or else, along the sofa pillows,
In rows, like little pussywillows.

Green EyesAnother used book find is Green Eyes by A. Birnbaum, winner of a 1953 Caldecott honor. The story follows the first year of a springtime-born kitten’s life, from scrambling out of a large box to exploring the farm life around him—chickens, cows, pigs, goats. By the time leaves fall, followed by snow, the now almost grown cat fits more snugly in his box. The art is superb, strong black lines and bright colors. This is the only picture book Birnbaum both wrote and also illustrated, but his work appeared on The New Yorker covers over more than forty years. Scrolling through images of those covers, I found myself wishing he had illustrated a whole stack of picture books (two of my favorite images:  the woodpecker rattling away after a bug to feed the nest of little woodpeckers and the exuberant crocus in a pot).  

It’s hard for YouTube to do justice to the art, but you can see and hear Green Eyes, now reissued.

Millions of CatsMillions of Cats, written and illustrated by Wanda Gag, with double page spreads, black and white lithograph prints, and hand lettered text has been called the first true American picture book. Millions of Cats won a Newbery honor in 1929 (the Caldecott did not yet exist) and has been in print ever since. The text and art roll rhythmically through the story, and the smallest cat, who didn’t consider herself pretty enough to argue with the other cats about who was prettiest, is the only one left after the hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats fight so much they eat each other up. The littlest kitten, adopted  and loved by the little old lady and the little old man (cat owners might say the people were adopted by the kitten) becomes the prettiest cat of all.

Cats in Krasinski SquareCats are the heroes in The Cats in Krasnski Square by Karen Hesse, a fictional story based on a true story of cats helping outwit the Gestapo and smuggle food into the Warsaw ghetto during World War II.

The cats
come
from the cracks in the Wall,
the dark corners,
the openings in the rubble

With her older sister (all that is left of her family) the narrator, who escaped the Polish ghetto and now lives outside its walls, is part of the resistance smuggling food to Jews still imprisoned inside the ghetto, including her friend Michael.  When the resistance learns that the Gestapo is coming with dogs on leashes to sniff out the food arriving by train to be smuggled behind the walls, the narrator knows what to do:  round up as many cats as possible and take them to the station.  As the train arrives, the narrator and her friends  release the cats, which drives the dogs wild; during the distraction the food vanishes  from the station

through the Wall, over the Wall,  under the Wall,
into the Ghetto.

Wendy Watson, one of my favorite artists, illustrated the books in somber tones reflecting the gravity of the story, where acts of great courage can resist great darkness.

So many more cat books to love!  Here are a few to check out:

Cat books

All Archie says to the stray cat on the city sidewalk is, “Hi, Cat!” in Hi, Cat! by Ezra Jack Keats, but the cat follows him and manages to ruin every act of the show Archie and his friend Peter are putting on. Still, Archie decides that the cat “just kinda liked me!”

Cats aren’t mentioned in This is Our House by Hyewon Yum, but generations of cats and kittens weave in and out of the art of this deceptively simple story of immigration, family, and home.

Ginger written and illustrated by Charlotte Voake, is a tale of “sibling” rivalry when the cat of the house must deal with a new kitten.

Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes tells of a kitten who thinks the first full moon of her life is a bowl of milk in the sky, but all her efforts to drink that milk end in disaster.  Luckily, when she returns home, a bowl of milk is waiting just for her.

Lola and the Rent-a-Cat, written and illustrated by Ceseli Josephus Jitta, tells how Lola, whose husband of many years has died, finds a cat to belong to (and keep) through the Internet. Lola chooses number 313 Tim:

  • Homely, slightly older cat
  • Loves attention and care
  • Fond of diet food

Lola and Tim are together all the time, and she is able to recall the good memories as she and Tim sit on a bench in the evenings, and Tim purrs as she strokes him. 

October 29 is National Cat Day, but any day is a good day to curl up with a cat book (and a cat, if one is handy).

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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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August Shorts

Warning: There’s a lot of enthusiasm ahead for these books!

Where Do Pants Go?Where Do Pants Go?
Written by Rebecca Van Slyke, illustrated by Chris Robertson
Sterling Children’s Books, 2016

Well, this is just adorable … and I can already hear households throughout the English-speaking world chanting:

“Where do pants go?

On your arms? No.

On your neck? No.

No, no, no.

Pants go on your legs, that’s where pants go.”

We all know how much kids love saying “NO!” This book depicts a charming cast of kids in a rowdy lesson on getting dressed from underwear to jacket and hat. It’s a cumulative text so language skills are a part of the mix. The illustrations are bouncy and full of humor. Getting dressed will be filled with giggles.

Sky Stirs Up TroubleThe Sky Stirs Up Trouble (Tornadoes)
written by Belinda Jensen, illustrated by Renee Kurilla
Millbrook Press, 2016

I wonder if a scientific study has ever been done to determine how many kids want to grow up to be the weather forecaster on local or national news. Certainly the weather is just as much a preoccupation for children as it is for adults. This brand-new, six-book series about Bel the Weather Girl is written by a television meteorologist with an eye toward entertaining and educating the reader. In this book, Bel and her cousin Dylan head to the basement with Bel’s mom when a tornado siren goes off. They learn how to react to the warning and Bel explains, by baking a Tornado Cake, how the atmospheric conditions must be just so in order to cook up a tornado. A recipe for the cake is included as are interesting fact bubbles. The illustrations are friendly and engaging. I know I would have read and re-read this series in elementary school.

D is for Dress-UpD is for Dress Up: The ABCs of What We Wear
written and illustrated by Maria Carluccio
Chronicle Books, 2016

This charming alphabet book is just right for someone who will grow up to collect fabric, carefully study fashions, and find joy in creating “a look.” A wonderfully diverse group of children are dressed in clothing and accessories that depict each word from apron (for a chef) to zippers (for two friends’ jackets). In between, we find leotards and overalls and raincoats. It’s the illustrations that are most inviting: so much for the eyes and brain and heart to notice and absorb. There’s texture and pattern and detail (notice those galoshes) created by a textile and product designer resulting in a warm and enchanting book. You’ll know just the child to give it to.

This is NOT a Cat!This is NOT a Cat!
written by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Sterling Children’s Books, 2016

LaRochelle and Wohnoutka (Moo!) are at it again: a book that has very few words but a lot of laughs! I love these books with few words because kids are so good at telling the story themselves. With gentle prompting from the adult reading with them, kids can be encouraged to tell the story in different ways. Perhaps the most fun is saying the five words in the book in so many different ways with varying emphasis and LOUDness! It’s just plain fun to read this book out loud. And because there are only five words, every child can have the satisfaction of reading this book on their own. The lively, humorous pictures conceived by Mike Wohnoutka invite studying closely as the details add to the fun. Bring your own knowledge to this book: do cats like cheese?

The Bot That Scott BuiltThe Bot That Scott Built
written by Kim Norman, illustrated by Agnese Baruzzi
Sterling Children’s Books, 2016

Great Scott! I love this book. For any child the least bit science-minded who loves to experiment or build things or creatively compile what-ifs, this is a must-have book. It’s an awe-inspiring feast for the eyes and the ears and the funny bone. The setting is a Science Day, in which students show their science projects to their teacher and the rest of the class. In a House That Jack Built style, the “what can go wrong, does” story progresses with much laughter thanks to the spot-on rhyming text and the color-infused illustrations. The ending is ingenious. I won’t spoil it for you and your smaller readers. But Scott’s science project saves the classroom from the brink of destruction. I’m inspired to make my own “bot” right now and so will you be!

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Jennifer A. Bell

Jennifer A. BellIn this interview with Jennifer A. Bell, illustrator of many endearing books, we’ve asked about the process of illustrating Little Cat’s Luck, our Bookstorm™ this month, written for second, third, and fourth graders as a read-aloud or individual reading books.Jennifer was also the illustrator for Marion Dane Bauer’s earlier novel-in-verse, Little Dog, Lost.

What media and tools did you use to create the soft illustrations in Little Cat’s Luck?

These illustrations were rendered in pencil and finished in Adobe Photoshop.

Little Cat's LuckDo you use real animals for models? Are they animals you know?

I do have a cat. I find Google image searches to be a bit more helpful when I need to find details of different animal breeds or specific poses.

How are the decisions you make about drawing in black-and-white different than those you make about drawing in color?

I love working in black-and-white. I get to narrow my focus onto lighting, value contrast, and textures. It’s much faster than working in color. Color adds another layer of decision-making and can make things more complicated.

Little Dog Lost

The covers for Little Cat’s Luck and Little Dog, Lost are so vibrantly colored. Do you get to choose the color palette for the covers or are you asked to use those colors?

Initially, I had submitted many cover sketches for Little Dog, Lost. Most of them were moody nighttime scenes with the exception of a daytime park sketch. Simon and Schuster thought that image worked the best and we went from there. That cover went through many revisions. The dog changed, the composition was adjusted, and the colors got brighter and brighter. When we started working on Little Cat’s Luck the cover needed to look different than the dog book but still coordinate.

Little Dog, LostHow did you interact with the art director for these books?

There was a lot of back and forth on the covers but I had more freedom working on the interior illustrations. I had a set number of illustrations to come up with and they set me loose with the manuscript. The art director then used my sketches to lay out the book. Once they could see how it all came together we made some adjustments and I was able to work on the final artwork.

When does the book designer get into the process?

The art directors for these books were also the designers.

What does the book designer do beyond what you’ve already done?

So much! They design the cover and book jacket. They choose the fonts. They paginate the text and illustrations and prepare the book to be printed.

___________________________________________

Jennifer, thank you for taking the time to share these insights into your work with our readers. One of the reasons we fell in love with both Patches and Gus, and with Buddy in Little Dog, Lost, is because you have such a deft way with characterization.

For use with your students, Marion’s website includes a book trailer, a social-emotional learning guide, and a teaching guide that you’ll find useful as you incorporate this book into your planning.

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Sunflower Cat Treats

Sunflower Cat Treats
Here's a popular homemade treat your cat will enjoy! You'll need a dehydrator to prepare these.
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Print
Ingredients
  1. ¼ cup sunflower seeds
  2. 2 cups flour
  3. ½ cup chopped apples
  4. ¼ cup carrots, peas, or other vegetables
  5. ¼ cup oats, ground to a powder
  6. 1 cup peanut butter
  7. 1 cup rolled oats
  8. 1 cup molasses
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients but molasses in a large bowl; add molasses and work in until dough is stiff. Additional oats may be added to make the dough stiff.
  2. Roll out dough and cut into shapes or squares.
  3. Dehydrate at the highest setting—145 to 155 degrees—until done, for approximately 4 hours.
  4. These treats should be very dry, so add time as necessary.
Bookology Magazine http://www.bookologymagazine.com/
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Marion Dane Bauer

Marion Dane BauerIn this interview with Marion Dane Bauer, we’re asking about her novel-in-verse, Little Cat’s Luck, our Bookstorm™ this month, written for second, third, and fourth graders as a read-aloud or individual reading books. It’s a good companion to her earlier novel-in-verse, Little Dog, Lost.

 When the idea for this story came to you, was it a seed or a full-grown set of characters and a storyline?

I began by sitting down to write another Little Dog, Lost, but not with the same characters, so it was easiest to start with a cat. When I begin a story, any story, I always know three things: who my main character will be, what problem she will be struggling with (knowing the problem, of course, includes knowing about the story’s antagonist, in this case “the meanest dog in town), and what a resolution will feel like. So I knew Patches would be lost and I knew she would encounter “the meanest dog in town” and I knew she and Gus must be believable friends in the end. I wasn’t sure, though, how their friendship would evolve. So I sent her out the window after that golden leaf and then waited to see what would happen.

Little Cat's LuckYou’ve stated that Little Cat’s Luck is a “companion book” for your earlier novel-in-verse, Little Dog, Lost. What does that term mean to you?

It’s not a sequel, because it’s not the same characters or the same place (though it’s another small town). I have however written it in the same manner—a story told in verse through a narrator—which gives it the same kind of feel. The same artist, Jennifer Bell, did the illustrations, too. Each book stands alone, but they could also be read side-by-side, compared and enjoyed together. One significant difference is that Little Cat’s Luck is entirely devoted to the world of the animals where Little Dog, Lost is focused more on the humans. In Little Cat’s Luck we see the humans only tangentially as they affect the animals, and because the animals stand at the center of the story I allow them to converse with one another. That doesn’t happen from the human perspective of Little Dog, Lost.

When you’re writing animal characters, which you do so well, from where are you drawing knowledge of their behavior?

I have always had animals in my life, cats when I was a child, both dogs and cats as an adult, though in recent years I’ve grown somewhat allergic to cats so no longer have them in my home. But I have lived with dogs and cats, paid close attention to them, loved them all my life, and when I turn to them as characters in a story I know exactly how they will be. In fact, since I can’t cuddle real cats any longer without ending up with itchy eyes, I found deep pleasure in bringing Patches to life on the page.

In creating Patches, you’ve imbued her with characteristics and dialogue that could be identified as human and yet you’ve maintained her animal nature. At what part of your process did you find yourself watching for that border between human and animal?

RuntThe moment I give an animal human speech, I have violated its animal nature. We are who we are as humans precisely because we talk, and we do it constantly, with good and bad results. We converse to understand one another, and we call one another names. In stories it can be very difficult to hold onto the animal nature of a dog or cat while human words are coming from their mouths. When I wrote my novel Runt, about a wolf pup, I chose to give the animals speech, following the pattern of marvelous writers such as Felix Salten, the author of Bambi, a Life in the Woods. And while that was a very intentional choice, it was a choice I found myself not wanting to repeat when I considered writing a sequel to Runt. I returned to my wolf research in preparation for writing that second book and found myself so impressed with the subtle, complex ways wolves actually communicate with one another that I put the idea for a sequel aside. I found I didn’t want to put speech into their mouths again. However, when I wrote Little Cat’s Luck I put that concern aside easily, partly I suppose because cats are domesticated animals, so speech felt less a violation. I gave them roles that are familiar in our human world, too, for Patches be a mother and for Gus to be a hurting bully, which made it easy to know what they might say. Throughout, though, I retained their animal nature by staying close to their physicality. Describing the way they move and the things they do with their bodies kept their animal natures in view.

Gus, the dog, is at once the “meanest dog in town” and the character who earns the most sympathy and admiration from readers. Was the “villain” of your story always this dog? Did he become more or less mean during your revision process?

Gus was always the villain, and he always started out mean. In fact, I didn’t know how mean he could be until he took possession of those kittens … and then of Patches herself! But by that time I understood Gus, understood the need his pain—and thus his meanness—came from, and thus knew he was acting out of desperation, not out of a desire to hurt. So that meant my story could find a reasonable and believable solution, that Patches, the all-loving, all-wise mother, could succeed in reforming “the meanest dog in town.”

How conscious are you of your readers, their age and reading ability, when you’re writing a novel like Little Cat’s Luck or Little Dog, Lost?

Little Dog, LostWhen I’m writing, I’m focused on my story and my characters, not my readers. I hope there will be readers one day, of course, but I’m writing through my characters, through my story without giving much thought for what will happen to it out in the world. If I can inhabit my story well, and if my story comes out of my young readers’ world, it will serve them. However, reading ability is another matter, and one I must take into consideration. I have written many books for developing readers, and I love the kinds of stories that work for young readers, so I have loved writing them. I wrote a series of books for Stepping Stones aimed at developing readers, ghost stories The Blue Ghost, The Red Ghost, etc., The Secret of the Painted House, The Very Little Princess, and more. And they were a great pleasure to write. But after I time I grew restless over having to write in short sentences to make the reading manageable for those still developing their skills. So when I came to write Little Dog, Lost, I said to myself, What if I wrote in verse? If I did that, the bite-sized lines would make it easier to read, and I wouldn’t have to alter the natural flow of my style. I did it, and it seemed to work, not just for reviewers and the adults who care about kids’ books, but for my young readers themselves. And I have been very happy with having discovered a new—for me—way of presenting a story. That’s why I decided to do Little Cat’s Luck in the same way.

Little Dog, Lost was your first novel-in-verse. With Little Cat’s Luck, are you feeling comfortable with the form or do you feel there are more challenges to conquer?

I was much more comfortable with the form with Little Cat’s Luck. When I started Little Dog, Lost I felt tentative. Could I really do this? Would anyone want it if I did? Was I just dividing prose into short lines or was I truly writing verse? So many questions. But after a time, I grew to love the form, and when I was ready to start again with a new story, I knew verse was the right choice. The one change I brought to verse form in Little Cat’s Luck is that this time I began experimenting with concrete verse, letting a word fall down the page when it described falling, curl when Patches curls into a nap and more. That was fun, too, but the challenge was to play with the shape of the words on the page without making deciphering more difficult for young readers. I’m guessing there will be more discoveries ahead if I return to this form.

Little Cat's Luck concrete poetry

Do you think visually or primarily in words?

Totally through words. Absolutely and totally. In fact, when I receive the first art for one of my picture books, I always go through the entire thing reading the text. And then I say to myself, “Oh, I’m supposed to be looking at the pictures!” and I go back to look. I didn’t have to prompt myself to be more visual, though, to play with the concrete poetry. Once I’d started doing it, opportunities to do more kept popping up, so even though I was using only words my thinking became more visual.

What is the most important idea you’d like to share with teachers and librarians about Patches and Buddy that you hope they’ll take with them to their students and patrons?

Little Cat's Luck by Jennifer A. BellI believe that the most important thing a story does, any story, is to make us feel. By inhabiting a story, living through it, we are transformed in some small—or sometimes large—way. I know that when stories are used in the classroom, they are used for multiple purposes, and that is as it should be, but I hope adults presenting Patches and Buddy will first let the children experience the boy, the dog, the cat, will let them feel their stories from the inside. After the stories have been experienced, as stories, there is plenty of time to use those words on the page for vocabulary lessons or as a prompt for children to write their own verse stories or anything else they might be useful for. But always, I hope, the story will be first.

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Thank you, Marion, for sharing your thoughts and writing journey with us. 

For use with your students, Marion’s website includes a book trailer, a social-emotional learning guide, and a teaching guide that you’ll find useful as you incorporate this book into your planning.

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Bookstorm™: Little Cat’s Luck

 

Little Cat's Luck

Little Cat's LuckMany people love cats. You might be one of them. Many children consider their cat or their dog to be one of the family. Marion Dane Bauer understands that. She wrote Little Cat’s Luck, the story of Patches, a cat, and Gus, the meanest dog in town, out of her deep affinity for both cats and dogs. You can tell. These are real animals who have adventures, challenges, and feelings that readers will avidly follow … and understand. Written as a novel-in-verse with charming use of concrete poetry, Little Cat’s Luck is a book that will interest both avid readers and those still gaining confidence.

We are pleased to feature Little Cat’s Luck as our March book selection, written by the perceptive Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by the playful Jennifer A. Bell, storytellers both.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books for primary grade readers. We’ve included some books for adults with background information about cats, information texts, narrative nonfiction, and plenty of memorable cat characters. 

Downloadables

 

 

Don’t miss the exceptional resources on the author’s website. There’s a book trailer, a social-emotional learning guide, and a teaching guide that you’ll find useful as you incorporate this book into your planning.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Memorable Cat Characters. You may know and love these books but have your readers been introduced to Macavity, Pete the Cat, the Cat in the Hat, Atticus McClaw? From picture books to early readers to middle grade novels, there’s a wide range of books here for every taste.

Friendship. There have been excellent books published about animals who are friends, many you wouldn’t expect, both as fictional stories and true stories.

Smart Animals. Do you know the true story of Alex the Parrot? Or how smart an octopus is? Do you know what animals think and feel? There are books here that will amaze you and deepen your appreciation for animals and birds.

Caring for Animals. These fictional books are good discussion starters for the responsibility of having an animal pet, especially a cat. 

Spirit of Adventure. Animal adventures have been favorites ever since Jack London published Call of the Wild. These are some of the best stories, just like Little Cat’s Luck and Little Dog, Lost.

Animal Mothers and Their Offspring. How do animals care for their young? We’ve included a couple of books that will fascinate young readers.

The Truth about Cats. From The Cat Encyclopedia to How to Speak Cat, these are information texts filled with facts. Good choices for your students’ book bins.

Best of all? There are so many good books about cats!

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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That Lovely Ornament, the Moon

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root

Jackie: We’ve passed the Solstice but we still have more night than day. We can watch the moon with our breakfast and with our dinner. We thought we’d celebrate this season of the moon by sharing some stories featuring that lovely ornament.

Phyllis: And Christmas Eve we saw an almost full moon casting shadows on the snow before the clouds blew in. Moonlight really is magical.

Papa Please Get the Moon For MeJackie: There’s lovely magic in Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle. This book has been a favorite of mine since my days as a preschool teacher. It never fails to please the sit-on-the-rug crowd. What’s not to love? There’s Eric Carle’s wonderful moon, and a father so dedicated that he finds a “very long ladder” and takes it to “a very high mountain.” Then he climbs to the moon and waits until it’s just the right size. He brings it back and gives it to his daughter. She hugs it, jumps and dances with it—until it disappears.

The combination of fantasy and real-moon, family affection and joy is just timeless. This thirty year old story could have been written yesterday.

Kitten's First Full MoonPhyllis: In Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes, Kitten, too, yearns for the moon, mistaking it for a bowl of milk. “And she wanted it.” Closing her eyes and licking toward the moon only gives her a bug on her tongue, jumping at the moon ends in a tumble, and chasing the moon ends with Kitten up a tree and the moon no closer. After each attempt, the text reminds us of Kitten’s yearning: “Still, there was the little bowl of milk, just waiting.” When Kitten sees the moon’s reflection in the pond and leaps for it, she ends up tired, sad, and wet. Poor kitten! She returns home… to find a big bowl of milk on the porch, just waiting for her to lap it up.

Thirteen Moons on Turtle's BackJackie: Kittens and children and all of us are fascinated by the moon. Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: a Native American Year of Moons (Penguin, 1992) by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London is a collection of thirteen poems about the seasons of the moon from “each of the thirteen Native American tribal nations in different regions of the continent [chosen] to give a wider sense of the many things Native American people have been taught to notice in this beautiful world around us.” The noticing is one thing I love about this book. Reading these poems makes me want to walk in the woods and see something in a new way.

Moon of Popping TreesIt feels as if we are in the season of the “Moon of Popping Trees.”

Outside the lodge
the night air is bitter cold.
Now the Frost giant walks
with his club in his hand.
When he strikes the trunks
of the cottonwood trees
we hear them crack
beneath the blow.
The people hide inside
when they hear that sound….

And that is much better than saying, “it’s cold.”

Phyllis: In “Baby Bear Moon” we learn how a small child lost in the snow was saved by sleeping all through the winter with a mother bear and her cubs. The poem concludes:

“when we walk by on our snowshoes
we will not bother a bear
or her babies. Instead
we think how those small bears
are like our children.
We let them dream together.”

Who wouldn’t want to sleep the winter away sharing dreams with bears?

Jackie: I love the poetry of this book—

“…Earth Elder
made the first tree,
a great oak with twelve branches
arching over the land.
Then, sitting down beneath it,
the sun shining bright,
Earth Elder thought
of food for the people,
and acorns began to form.”

Perhaps the best is that Bruchac and London encourage us to see more than trees and grass, to imagine a landscape, a thrumming with history, community, and the spirits of sharing.

MoonlightJackie: Moonlight by Helen V. Griffith (Greenwillow, 2012) is also a poetic text—and spare:

Rabbit hides in shadow
under cloudy skies
waiting for the moonlight
blinking sleepy eyes.

But he goes into his burrow and doesn’t see “Moonlight slides like butter/skims through outer space/skids past stars and comets/leaves a butter trace.”

What a wonderful image! “Moonlight slides like butter.” Who can look at moonlight the same again?

Phyllis: I love the spare language of this book, and I love Laura Dronzek’s luminous art as well, where moonlight really does butter every tree and slips into Rabbit’s dreams, awaking him to dance in the moonlight. So few words, but so well chosen—verbs such as skims and skids and skips and skitters. A wonderful pairing of words and art that makes me want to dance in the moonlight, too.

Owl MoonJane Yolen’s Owl Moon, which won a Caldecott for its evocative wintry art, is a story of an owl, patience, hope, and love. On a snowy night the narrator sets out to go on a long-awaited outing owling with Pa. She knows, because Pa says, that when you go owling you have to be quiet, you have to make your own heat, and you have to have hope. Their hope is finally rewarded when they spot an owl and stare into the owl’s eyes as it stare back before it flies away. The last image shows the small narrator being carried toward the lights of home by her pa. The book concludes:

When you go owling
you don’t need words
or warm
or anything but hope.
That’s what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shining
Owl Moon.

Jackie: “When you go owling/you don’t need words/or warm/ or anything but hope.” The shining moon, a light in the night, a lamp of hope that we turn into a friend in the sky. These books make me grateful for long nights.

Phyllis: And for moonlight and dreams and dancing.

 

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Space Taxi: Archie Takes Flight Wendy Mass and Michael Brawer, illus by Elise Gravel Little, Brown Books for Young Readers What a hoot! When eight-year-old Archie Morningstar gets up early in the morning for his first Take Your Kid to Work Day, he never imagines that his taxi-driving dad in their rickety cab is actually […]

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Gifted: Spike, Ugliest Dog in the Universe

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