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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | children’s books

Pinkerton & Friends

I had a “Why in the world….?” moment the other day. It was unexpected and a little strange and it was this: When I imagine picture books that I am writing and/or thinking about writing, I imagine very specific illustrations. From a very specific illustrator. Even though I admire the work of many illustrators. (I admire this one, too, of course.) But always, always, in my first imagining, I “picture” the illustrations by Steven Kellogg.

I love Mr. Kellogg’s work. But I love the work of a lot of illustrators and would aspire and hope for many (very different) illustrators to make art to help tell my stories. I can switch my imagination to other illustrators if I think about it, but without thinking about it…it’s Steven Kellogg’s art. When this realization came to me I pulled some of his books off the shelves in my office with the question: Why is Kellogg my default, the first one whose work I imagine?

All I can think is that the years 1999-2002 were what I think of as The Pinkerton Years. You might think it strange that I can pinpoint the years, but I know we were less involved with Pinkerton (and by that I mean not reading Pinkerton stories on a daily basis) by the time Darling Daughter came along late in 2002. Prior to that, we could hardly leave the house without a Pinkerton story with us.

These were also the first of the allergy/asthma years—#1 Son was critically ill too much of the time, and with his doctors we were struggling to figure out what was causing such severe reactions. The only clear allergens were pets, and he came to understand first that he could not be around puppies or kitties, or anything else furry and cuddly and fun. A terrible sentence, of course, when you are three and wheezy.

So we read a lot of books about pets, and before we read Ribsy and Because of Winn-Dixie we read Pinkerton stories. A lot of Pinkerton stories. #1 Son adored Pinkerton. Pinkerton, a Great Dane, is possibly the most hilarious dog to ever be featured in a book—he is huge and ungainly and always getting himself in a fix. His expressions, his “knees and elbows,” his giant floppiness, and his curiosity and giant heart make him quite a character.

Very quickly we learned to spot Kellogg illustrations from across the library/bookstore, and pretty much wherever there are Kellogg pictures, there are animals. Not just great danes, but boa constrictors, mice, cats, pigs, ducks in a row, horses, spaniels….. And wherever there are animals, there’s a fair amount of chaos—at least in a Kellogg book. (Articles and interviews suggest he has lived the fun and chaos in a home we could not have entered and lived to breathe—lots of pets!)

The detail in Kellogg’s illustrations is tremendous, the hilarity aptly conveyed, and the sweetness and rollercoaster high emotions of kids and Great Danes alike comes alive on the page. I could read stacks of the books in one sitting to my wheezing boy. We used them to get through nebulizer treatments, and to “push fluids,” and to encourage rest for a kid all amped up on steroids. They were magical and we poured over the illustrations long after the reading of the story was done. The medicine could go down without much fuss as long as Pinkerton was along.

Those were exhausting, worried years, and all I can think is that I somehow absorbed Steven Kellogg’s art in my sleep-deprived anxious state…and it’s now in my bones. Thank you, Mr. Kellogg, for your stories, your art, and your presence in our family’s life. You are the default in my imagination and I’m grateful.

 

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Theater Geeks!

If your children (or you) are captivated by talent shows on TV, or dreams of acting on the stage, or the next theater production at school, there are a chorus line of books just waiting to audition for your next favorite. Here’s a mixture of classic and new stories, ranging in interest from grades 3 through 7.

All the World's a Stage  

All the World’s a Stage
written by Gretchen Woelfle, illus by Thomas Cox
Holiday House, 2011

Twelve-year-old Kit Buckles has come to London to make his fortune. Unfortunately, he’s caught up in crime to stay alive. Immediately caught in his first pickpocketing assignment, Kit is enthralled by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to do odd jobs for their Theater Playhouse. When the acting troupe is evicted, Kit is caught up in the plot to steal the theater! William Shakespeare is a character is this story and the well-researched history that defines this novel is exciting. Highly recommended.

 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
written by Barbara Robinson
HarperCollins, 1971

It can be argued that this is one of the funniest books ever published for children. When the Herdman children learn that there are free snacks at the church in their neighborhood, they attend Sunday School even though they haven’t heard of Jesus and the Christmas story before. When they’re cast in the Christmas pageant, the story of Jesus’ birth takes unusual—and eye-opening—turns. It’s a laugh-out-loud book with a heart-tugging ending. Many families read this out loud each year as part of their holiday celebrations but it’s a well-written book that works well any time of year.

Better Nate Than Never  

Better Nate Than Ever
written by Tim Federle
Simon & Schuster, 2013

Thirteen-year-old Nate Foster has been growing up in small-town Pennsylvania in a school and town that doesn’t appreciate his showmanship. His dream is to be on Broadway, a life plan he and his best friend Libby have been rehearsing for forever. When an open casting call is advertised for E.T. The Musical, Nate is determined to be there. By turns funny and heart-rending, Nate’s story will strike a chord with every kid who wants to be a performer on the spotlit stage.

Sequel: Five, Six, Seven, Nate!, Tim Federle, S&S, 2014

Drama  

Drama
written by Raina Telgemeier
Golden Books, 1947

In this book for early teens, Callie gives up her ambition to be in her school’s musical when an audition fails to impress the casting committee. She isn’t a singer. Instead, Callie becomes a part of the backstage crew, a circumstance many disappointed kids can relate with. But Callie discovers that she likes working on the set. She doesn’t know what she’s doing but she’s enthusiastic. And there’s as much drama backstage as there is onstage. Callie goes from one crush to another, maintaining suspense with humor. This graphic novel is a big hit with readers.

Forget-Me-Not Summer  

Forget-Me-Not Summer
written by Leila Howland
HarperCollins, 2015

Marigold, Zinnie, and Lily Silver have their LA summer all planned out—until their dad and mom, both working for the film industry, get jobs out of town. The girls are sent to a small, coastal, Massachusetts town to live with their aunt. They’re not happy because Marigold, twelve, had plans to audition for a movie being made of her favorite book. And life in Pruet, MA, is unplugged. No cell phone reception. Then Marigold discovers the movie’s producer has a summer home nearby. Zinnie writes a play to feature Marigold’s talents and the girls create a talent show in a community that is accepting and friendly. A heart-warming book.

Goblin Secrets  

Goblin Secrets
written by William Alexander
Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, 2012

Rownie’s older brother, Rowan, his only living relative, has disappeared. Rowan is an actor in a city that has outlawed acting. To find Rowan, Rownie joins a Goblin theater troupe that performs in Zombay, managing to get around the law. They’re up to more than is apparent and soon Rownie is caught up in the drama of life. There are touches of steampunk in this fantasy world. Rownie is taken in by Graba, a woman with mechanized chicken legs. Yes, the books is that inventive! National Book Award for this debut novel.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!  

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!
Voices from a Medieval Village
written by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Robert Byrd
Candlewick Press, 2007

Set in 1255, this engaging set of monologues create medieval vignettes that transport the reader, or performer, to a well-researched, involving era. From the singing shepherdess to the town’s “half-wit,” to the peasant’s daughter, we learn the stories of 22 people in this community. This book isn’t about theater, it is theater, offering a dramatic opportunity for understanding of a time long past. Winner of the Newbery Medal.

King of Shadows  

King of Shadows
written by Susan Cooper
Margaret McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster, 1999

One of the best time-travel novels ever written, this is the story of Nat Field, a member of the American Company of Boys, an acting troupe. An orphan, this opportunity provides a home for Nat, who travels with them to London to star at the new Globe Theater as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When he goes to sleep, he discovers he has been whisked back to 1599 where he becomes the protege of William Shakespeare with a time-traveler’s ability to save the Bard’s life. Replete with historical detail, an exciting plot, and memorable characters, this is a book to beckon readers toward modern-day excitement about Shakespeare’s plays. 

The Life Fantastic  

The Life Fantastic
written by Liza Ketchum
Simon Pulse, 2017

Fifteen-year-old Teresa is drawn to the vaudeville stage. She feels the need to sing, to perform. Her parents were vaudevillians, but they chose a conventional life of 9-to-5 jobs and staying in one town to take care of their two children. Teresa wants to try her own career on the stage but her father is vehemently against it. She sneaks away from home to New York City where she eventually ends up with a national vaudeville troupe. There are fascinating, well-researched details of vaudeville, racism in the theater and 1910 America, and life as a daring girl before women had any rights. A very good story for middle grade and older, including adults.

Okay for Now  

Okay for Now
written by Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, 2011

Formerly cast as the bully in The Wednesday Wars, Doug Swieteck is starting over in a new town. His father is abusive, his mother doesn’t stand up against his father, and his older, unkind brother is off fighting in Vietnam. Doug realizes he has an opportunity to make himself over into someone with a different reputation. He makes friends with Lil Spicer, becomes spellbound by a library book with plates of Audubon’s birds, and sets off on a grand adventure with Lil to appear on a Broadway stage. Funny, heart-wrenching, and absorbing, this book is not be missed.

Replay  

Replay
written by Sharon Creech
HarperCollins, 2005

Leonardo is the middle child in a loud, chaotic Italian family. He’s a dreamer, a thinker, and perhaps an actor. He is cast in the disappointing role of the Old Crone in Rompopo’s Porch, a play his teacher wrote. At home, he discovers the journal his father wrote when he was thirteen years old, the same age Leo is now. These two disparate occurrences will give him more confidence, solve a family mystery, and change his life. The full text of the play is included in the book so creative thespians can put on their own show.

Romeo and Juliet Together (and Alive) At Last  

Romeo and Juliet Together (and Alive) At Last
written by Avi
Scholastic, 1987

A lighthearted rendition of Romeo and Juliet is written and produced by a class of eighth-graders whose true goal is to get shy Peter Saltz and shy Anabell Stackpole to realize they’re just right for each other. The matchmaking attempts, the earnest but laugh-out-loud funny production of Shakespeare’s classic play (often taught in eighth grade), and the ringing-true thinking, planning, and missteps of this group of kids make this one of my favorite of Avi’s books.

The Shakespeare Stealer  

The Shakespeare Stealer
written by Gary Blackwood
HarperCollins, 2005

Ordered by his nefarious “owner,” and Shakespeare’s competitor, to steal the unpublished “Hamlet” from the Bard himself, the orphaned Widge is bound to obey. The only problem is that once he’s cleverly inserted himself into the troupe at the Globe Theater, he finds real friends for the first time in his life. How will he avoid the repercussions of disobeying his owner? How can Widge find a way not to disappoint his new friends? The plot twists, turns, and ultimately provides a riveting reading experience.

Snow White  

Snow White
written and illustrated by Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press, 2016

You may be thinking Snow White and the theater? What’s the connection? In Matt Phelan’s compelling re-imagining of the fairy tale, Samantha White (called Snow by her dying mother) is the daughter of the King of Wall Street. It’s the late 1920s and life is giddy. Her father marries the Queen of the Follies (as in Ziegfield, our minds supply), who turns out to have very evil intentions. She sends Samantha off to boarding school and somehow Samantha’s hale and hearty father dies. Seven street urchins and Detective Prince round out the cast in this highly readable and discussion-worthy graphic novel. 

The Cruisers A Star is Born  

A Star is Born, The Cruisers series
written by Walter Dean Myers
Scholastic Press, 2012

Eighth graders Zander, LaShonda, Kambui, and Bobbi run an alternative newspaper, The Cruiser, at their high school for gifted and talented students in Harlem, New York. In this third book in the series, LaShonda earns a scholarship to the Virginia Woolf Society Program for Young Ladies, honoring the costumes she designed for a play the Cruisers produced. Once she’s completed the program, she’ll be eligible for financial assistance for college. But there’s a wrinkle. LaShonda will have to move to be a part of the program and she’s hesitant to leave her autistic brother behind. The friends work to solve this conundrum in a realistic way. A great friendship story told with Walter Dean Myers’ deft and sure touch, using interjected poems, essays, and articles that are published in The Cruiser.

Starstruck  

Starstruck
written by Rachel Shukert
Delacorte Press, 2013

For readers mostly aged 16 and older, this 1930s Hollywood novel tells the tale of Margaret Frobisher, who is literally discovered in a drugstore. Because she looks like a movie star who’s gone missing, she is swept into the studio system, renamed Margo Sterling, and is suddenly starring in a movie. It’s a lot for a young woman to handle and it turns out that Hollywood isn’t all glamour and bright lights. Evil and darkness are a part of this new world and so are heartache and stark reality. The details are good, the characters are well-drawn … it’s a good book to read if you’re hungry for Hollywood as it was in its Golden Age.  

Summerlost  

Summerlost
written by Ally Condie
Dutton Books, 2016

Cedar could be forgiven for moping around in her new summer home. Her father and younger brother Ben were just killed in an accident. And yet she’s intrigued when she sees a boy in a costume riding past her house on a bicycle. She follows him and discovers the Summerlost theater festival. Soon Cedar is working concessions at the festival and she’s caught up in the mystery of a ghost and mysterious gifts that show up in surprising ways. Edgar Award nominee. It’s a good middle grade novel that reads with great warmth and understanding of loss.

Surviving the Applewhites  

Surviving the Applewhites
written by Stephanie S. Tolan
HarperCollins, 2002

Thirteen-year-old Jake Semple is a tough nut. He’s been kicked out of schools until there are no options left. That is until a homeschooling family, the Applewhites, offer to let him attend their Creative Academy. Everyone in the family has an artistic talent. Dad’s producing The Sound of Music at their local theater. Mom is a mystery writer who’s taking a break to write the Great American Novel. Uncle is a woodcarver and Aunt is a poet. Even Cordelia and Destiny have their unique talents. All except for E.D., who is quite possibly the only Applewhite who is organized enough to keep the family running. The book is told from Jake’s and E.D.’s alternate viewpoints. And it turns out that Jake might not be as impenetrably tough as he believes.

Swish of the Curtain  

Swish of the Curtain
written by Pamela Brown
Longwater Books (reprinted edition), orig. 1941

Most Seven children from three families organize The Blue Door Theater Company, renovating an old chapel and producing their own plays. They write, direct, stage, sew costumes, design scenery, and rehearse on their own. Their goal is to compete in the drama contest at the end of the summer, the prize for which is a scholarship to attend drama school. The group has the goal to be in the professional theater. Pamela Brown began writing this book when she was 14, but it wasn’t published until she was 17! She was a UK author, and her series of books about this drama troupe was immensely popular, being translated to radio, television, and movies. A true classic. 

Theater Shoes  

Theater Shoes
written by Noel Streatfield
Yearling, originally published in 1946

The three Forbes siblings are orphaned. Their grandmother, a famous actress, forces them to go to a theater school. They can’t afford the tuition but the Fossil Sisters (yes, the sisters from Ballet Shoes) sponsor them with a scholarship. They don’t believe they have any talents but they’re determined to live up to their sponsors’ expectations so they make their best effort. And they discover that they are talented indeed. The “Shoes” books were favorites for readers who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s. They still read well today. Many children of those years pursued careers in the arts because of Noel Streatfield’s stories!

The Wednesday Wars  

Wednesday Wars
written by Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, 2007

Holling Hoodhood, seventh-grader, has a lot of challenges. He’s the only Presbyterian in his Catholic and Jewish school. He’s being forced to read Shakespeare by his teacher, Mrs. Baker. His father is demanding that Holling and his sister are always on their best behavior so his business can succeed. There’s a bully that won’t leave Holling alone. And Holling’s baseball heroes are coming to town to sign autographs on the same day he has to put on yellow tights and appear in a play. If that weren’t enough, the anxiety of the Vietnam War surrounds Holling’s life. A book that’s thoroughly enjoyable to read and unforgettable. It received a Newbery Honor.

Will Sparrow's Road  

Will Sparrow’s Road
written by Karen Cushman
Clarion Books, 2012

Will Sparrow’s father sells him to an innkeeper in exchange for a daily supply of ale. The innkeeper is cruel so 13-year-old Will runs away … to a world that is not kind. Stealing food to eat, lying, Will thinks of himself as a bad person. When he meets Grace and her traveling theater troupe of “oddities,” he discovers an assembled family that cares for one another. Wills learns the performing skills necessary and he realizes that he is somebody with worth in his Elizabethan England world. Filled with Karen’s Cushman’s elegant and funny language, the era comes alive because of her careful research.

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Read Out Loud for Easter

As you prepare to celebrate Easter, we encourage you to include books in your celebration. A tradition of reading out loud before Easter dinner, after Easter dinner, as you awaken on Easter morning … perhaps each day during Holy Week? Here are a few gems we believe you and your family will treasure. Happy Easter!

At Jerusalem's Gate  

At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems of Easter
written by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by David Frampton
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2005

There are twenty-two free-form poems in this book, each from the point of view of a witness to the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each poem could be read by a different family member or the poems could be read separately throughout the Easter weekend. The woodcut illustrations will engender conversations about the style, technique, and details.

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes

 

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes
written by Du Bose Heyward, illustrated by Marjorie Flack
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1939

Little Cottontail Mother is raising 21 children, but it’s her dream to become the Easter Bunny. As she assigns her children chores and teaches them life’s lessons, she gains confidence to audition for the job of one of the five Easter Bunnies who deliver eggs and baskets on Easter Sunday. It’s a sweet story still, nearly 80 years after it was first published. The brightly colored illustrations are memory-making for new generations of readers.

The Easter Story  

The Easter Story
written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith
Alfred A. Knopf, 1994

The events of Holy Week, the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and the Resurrection, are recounted through the eyes of the little donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. With Wildsmith’s distinctive illustrations, this book has been published in many editions and many languages. A good read-aloud book to add to your Easter bookshelf.

Egg  

Egg
written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books, 2017

Four eggs, each a different color, hatch (one doesn’t) and the chicks set off—and return for the unhatched egg. When the egg hatches, there’s a surprise! When the book ends, there’s another surprise! This is a book about friendship and growing up, just right for reading out loud and for emerging readers to read on their own. With simple lines and appealing colors, the illustrations are irresistible.

The Golden Egg Book  

The Golden Egg Book
written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard
Golden Books, 1947

A true classic among Easter books, a small bunny finds a blue egg. He can hear something moving around inside so he conjectures what it might be. As the bunny tries to open the egg, he wears out and falls asleep. Only then does the young duckling emerge from the egg. With richly colored illustrations from the masterful Leonard Weisgard, this is a treasured book for many children and families.

Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg  

Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg
written by Terri DeGezelle, illustrated by Gabhor Utomo
Pauline Books & Media, 2017

Based on a few lines about the legend of Simon of Cyrene that the author found while researching, this book brings to life the experience of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as told through the perspective of Simon. He takes eggs to Jerusalem to sell for Passover when he becomes caught up in the procession following Jesus as he carries his cross to Calvary. As Jesus stumbles and falls, a Roman soldier forces Simon to bear the cross instead. Told with a lively narrative and brightly colored, satisfying illustrations, this is a good story to choose for read-alouds, opening up an opportunity to discuss the many aspects of the Easter story.

Story of Easter  

Story of Easter
written by Aileen Fisher, illustrated by Stefano Vitale
HarperCollins, 1997

With an informative text and glorious illustrations, this book explains both how and why people all over the world celebrate Easter. It tells the biblical story of Jesus’ Resurrection and then describes how people honor this day and the origins of these traditions. Hands-on activities help draw children into the spirit of this joyous celebration of rebirth.

Story of the Easter Bunny  

Story of the Easter Bunny
written by Katherine Tegen, illustrated by Sally Anne Lambert HarperCollins, 2005

Most people know about the Easter Bunny, but how did the Easter Bunny get his job and how does he accomplish the distribution of so many colorful eggs each Easter? It all began in a small cottage with an old couple who dye the eggs and weave the baskets. One Easter, they sleep in and it’s their pet white rabbit’s decision to deliver the eggs and chocolate, thereby starting a tradition. Told in a matter-of-fact style with appealing, detailed illustrations, this is a good addition to your Easter tradition.

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Books for Solace and Comfort

With reports from educators that students are in a heightened state of anxiety, we put out the call for recommendations for books that would offer comfort and solace within the age range of ages three to twelve. Do you have a book in mind? Send us your recommendation(s). We’ll keep adding to this list, so you may wish to bookmark it. We’re not going to wait until we’ve gathered a lot of titles because this list is needed now.

Poetry

Here are suggestions from Merna Ann Hecht, poet and educator:

Books for Solace and Comfort

Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea, Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. NY: Harper Collins, 1993. (ages 4-7)

River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things, Pamela Michael, editor. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2008. 

Salting the Ocean: 100 Poems by Young Poets, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye, illustrated by Ashley Bryan. . NY: Greenwillow, 2000.

This is a poem that heals fish, Jean-Pierre Siméon. New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2005. A playful read-aloud book to inspire young children to delight in creating their own poetry.

This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort, selected by Georgia Heard, Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2011.

Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art, selected by Belinda Rochelle. NY: Harper Collins, 2001.

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Where the Heart Is, Wings

For Older Children

Our thanks to Cynthia Grady, author and educator, for these soothing suggestions.

Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly. NY: Henry Holt, 2009.

What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings, poetry by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Wings by William Loizeaux, illustrations by Leslie Bowman, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006.

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Graphic Storytelling

 

Fish GirlA good graphic novel should pose a mystery.

As it opens (last possible minute), the reader often has no clue what’s going on.

It’s often an unknown world, even if it looks like our world.

This isn’t that different than the opening of a conventional print book but, for some reason, people often react to graphic novels by telling me, “I can’t read them! I never know what’s going on.”

What is there about adding continual visuals that causes some otherwise avid readers to throw a graphic novel aside with such disfavor?

This question is an intriguing one for me. In our Chapter & Verse Book Club, we read at least one graphic novel each year, usually with an undercurrent of grumbling. I know which of our members won’t like the book, which of them won’t open the book, and which of them will do their best to like the book. Some will even love the book.

Why such a wide range of responses based on the visual aspect of the book? And the dialogue nature of the story?

I recently finished David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli’s Fish Girl. The opening is bewildering. What is going on? I find this satisfying.

When I finished, I turned immediately to re-read it, to figure out where I first figured it out. What were the clues? Were they visual or verbal or a combination of both? I’m not going to tell you, of course. That’s your reading journey. But I was particularly fond of the way in which Fish Girl (dare I say it?) unwinds.

As a long time fantasy reader, I’m familiar with stories in this segment of the genre. (I’m trying not to reveal too much so I’m purposefully not naming that segment.) 

About the  book, David Wiesner writes, “I tried several times to develop a picture book around these components (drawings of characters, scenes, and settings to go with an image of a house filled with water where fish are swimming) but the house full of fish turned out to be a complex image, suggesting stories too long and involved for the picture book format. The logical next step was to see it as a graphic novel.”

Many of the people who don’t care for graphic novels love picture books. Perhaps understanding graphic novels as a picture book for telling longer, more complex stories will help them appreciate this form more?

In Fish Girl, the watercolor-painted frames are clear and visually beautiful. The characters are well-delineated. The dialogue is involving. The mysteries lead the way. Why does this girl, who lives with fish and an octopus inside of a house filled with water, named Ocean Wonders, seem to be a prisoner? Why can’t she leave? Why does Neptune set so many rules? Are stories the true reason that Fish Girl stays in her prison?

Wiesner’s paintings provide focus in an involving way throughout the book. The ocean is brooding, beautiful, and beckoning. Fish Girl is lonely, a loneliness every reader will recognize. The expressions of loneliness, bewilderment, friendship, and longing are beguiling. When I consider how long it would take me to draw and paint just one of these frames and then look at how many frames are employed to tell this story, I could well imagine that David Wiesner has been working on this book for five years. I wonder what the truth of that is? 

It’s a book that many readers, young and old, will enjoy. I believe it would be a good read-aloud if all listeners can see the book and help turn the pages. Fish Girl is highly recommended. And I will keep looking for graphic novels that will convert even their most reluctant readers!

Fish Girl
David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli
Clarion Books, March 7, 2017
(I read an Advanced Reader’s Copy.)
ISBN 978-0-544-81512-4 $25 hardcover
ISBN 978-0-547-48393-1 $18 paperback

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The Delight of Reading Older Books

Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?

One of my favorite types of reading is to go back and read books I’ve missed from years ago. I once spent an entire summer reading books that were published in the 1950s. I had such a strong feeling of the decade after reading those books that I felt more connected to people who lived then. That feeling of connection is very satisfying to me.

Do you do a similar kind of reading?

This last holiday season, I did another dive into books published in decades past. There’s something very comforting about reading these books. I frequently scout out articles where people talk about the books they’ve loved from their childhood. If I haven’t read them, they go on a list and I seek them out. Sometimes I have to scout used book stores but the books are all easily obtainable.

My most recent delight was Who Stole the Wizard of Oz? by Avi. It was first published in 1981. I hadn’t read it before. It holds up well today. In fact, I would readily put this book in the hands of any child, aged 7 and older, who enjoys a mystery. Set in a small town, twin siblings Becky and Toby set out to solve a crime that’s presented on page one and is wrapped up neatly 115 pages later.

The crime takes place in a library and so does much of the action. Becky and Toby solve the crime on their own, without help from grown-ups. They question adults. They apply their brains. They discuss (and bicker) and ultimately end up on a stake-out.

To arrive at the solution, they read five classic books: Through the Looking Glass, The Wind in the Willows, The Wizard of Oz, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Treasure Island. By the time they’re done discussing what they’ve read, I knew I’d have to re-read each of those books myself! (I’ve never read Winnie-the-Pooh. I know. Gasp!)

What do each of those books have in common? That’s the delicious part of the story so I won’t spoil it for you. Read this book!

We focus on new books because people love to guess which books will win awards.  We forget that there are thousands (millions?) of kids who are reading these books for the first time. Drawing books off the shelf from the rich canon of children’s literature is a gift we can keep giving again and again.

Stay tuned. I’ll share more of my reading-of-books-past in upcoming columns.

Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?
Avi
Alfred A. Knopf, 1981
(I read a Yearling paperback.)
ISBN 978-0394849928, $6.99

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Irresistible Reading: How Things Work

How Things WorkNow, if that Science Encyclopedia wasn’t cool enough, here’s another sure-fire hit for kids who love to read facts, true stories, and know how things work.

In fact, the book is called How Things Work and it’s another powerhouse from National Geographic.

As the book admonishes, “PUT THIS BOOK DOWN NOW. It’s dangerous. It might make you think you can do impossible things.” Followed closely by “You must be one of those. The kind of kid who thinks ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer.”

Do you know one of those kids? Endless questions? On the trail for the real story? Wondering all the time? Lucky you. Lucky them if you give them this book.

How do hoverboards work? This comes with a “Try This!” that encourages experimenting with the attraction and repelling of magnets.

How do microwaves work? There are infographics, fun facts, diagrams, another Try This with ice cubes, Myth vs. Fact, a short biography of Percy Spencer whose melting peanut cluster bar sparked his imagination … and it’s all terribly exciting.

The visuals that accompany every fact in this book, the layout, the colors, all of this put together makes me want to devour this book. There are so many cool things explained that it makes me breathless.

Don’t you want the kid in your life to feel the same way about learning?

How Things Work
T.J. Resler
National Geographic, 2016
ISBN 978-1426325557, $19.99

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Feeding the Naturally Curious Brain

Science Encyclopedia“You’ll discover mouthless worms and walking ferns … ” (pg. 13) And with those words, I’m charged up for the hunt. Along the way, I can’t help being distracted by a satisfying amount of irresistible information in National Geographic’s Science Encyclopedia.

If you learn best visually, there is a surfeit of images to stimulate a curious mind. If you learn best verbally, then this book is chock full of words arranged in the most interesting ways. And the photos! This is National Geographic, after all.

The book is so visual that information leaps into the reader’s brain. Colorful text boxes help the eye and mind focus.

You’ll find page-long introductions to the various sections on matter, energy, forces and machines, electronics, the universe, life on Earth, planet Earth, and the human body. The way I approach these is to look at all of the photos in the section, read the text boxes, and then go back to read the introductions because by that time I would need to know everything on this subject.

Each double-page spread (and sometimes a single page) includes “Try This!” for practical, do-at-home-with-supplies-on-hand experiments, “Personality Plus” featuring a small, true, biographical tidbit about someone important in that field, “LOL!” a riddle pertaining to the subject (!), and a “Geek Out!” fact with which you can amaze your friends and draw new friends into your geek circle.

One set of pages features a timeline: Amazing Science! Milestones, Atom Smashing. The earliest entry from 1897 is “Englishman J.J. Thompson discovers the first subatomic particle, the electron, using a gas-filled tube that creates a glowing beam.” The latest entry is “2012-2015, in which the Large Hadron Collector “accelerates protons to just below the speed of light and smashes them together.” (pgs 22-23)

The way the pages of this timeline are laid out helps the reader focus and absorb information. It’s not a straight line with words on tick-points. Oh, no! It’s a vibrant, image-filled, double-paged spread of completely cool tidbits. A timeline to get excited about!

Everything about this book is a launchpad for further investigation.

I grew up believing that I didn’t like science. What a nut! How can you not like this stuff?

The Science Encyclopedia is such an exciting presentation of information that it belongs in every household, whether or not there are children in said house.

Don’t have any children? Buy yourself a copy of this book.

Then, buy a copy for each elementary school and middle school where you live. This book is that good. You’ll be charging up the curiosity of young minds for years to come.

Science Encyclopedia:
Atom Smashing, Food Chemistry, Animals, Space, and More

National Geographic. 2016
ISBN 978-1426325427, $24.99

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Essential Holiday Giving: Books

Hands down, there is no better gift for holidays or birthdays than a book. You can find a book to suit every interest, every taste, and your budget. You can always feel good about giving a book (unless you’re giving a gift to someone who lives in a Tiny House … ask first). 

pl_books_best_gifts

Here’s my list of suggestions for the holidays. It’s filled with books that are informative, beautifully illustrated or photographed, useful, well-written, but mostly books that can be savored or cherished, with uplifting stories.

And if you’d like more suggestions, my best advice is to walk into your public library and talk to the children’s librarians there. Tell them about the children in your lives, their interests, the kind of books they like to read, or if they haven’t yet met the right book to turn them on to reading. You’ll be amazed by the good suggestions these library angels will give you.

I’m going to break these out into the type of reader I think will be most appreciative. You’ll find links to longer reviews scattered throughout. And I’m going to keep adding to this list up until the end of the year. People are celebrating holidays at many different times.

In love with picture books

Before MorningBefore Morning
written by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

I think this ranks up there in my list of favorite picture books of all time. It works on so many levels, but mostly it speaks of love and yearning and beauty and grace. It is a simple story of a little girl who wishes for a snow day so her family can be together. Joyce Sidman’s story is exquisite. Beth Krommes creates a winter everyone can love and appreciate with her scratchboard illustrations. The color palette, the texture on the page, and the snow! Has there ever been such glorious snow? A perfect gift book for young and old.

Frank and LuckyFrank and Lucky Get Schooled
written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins
Greenwillow Books, 2016

“One day when Frank could not win for losing, he got Lucky. And one day when Lucky was lost and found, he got Frank. Both of them were just pups. They had a lot to learn.” Life, at its best, is one big learning adventure. Frank and Lucky grow together, each teaching the other. We hear the story in both of their voices. Life is explore through learning: Chemistry, Taxonomy, Reading, Math. So many questions and so little time. Learning follows these two wherever they go. They have fun. But how does it all fit together? Ah, that’s the adventure. There is so much to look at and think about in this book … and Lucky makes the adventure fun. A great book for exploring together as the first step in planning your own learning adventures. Inspired!

Henry & LeoHenry & Leo
written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 

This is such a wonderland of a book. I finished it and immediately started again at the beginning. And yet again. The pages are filled with details that are irresistible, inciting curiosity and storytelling. The story is a comforting one about a young boy, Henry, who ferociously loves his stuffed lion, Leo. The family goes for a walk in the Nearby Woods and … Leo is lost. Henry is beside himself, worried about Leo alone in the woods. His family comforts him by saying that Leo isn’t real, which is no comfort at all of course. But something very real and mystical happens in those Woods and Leo finds his way back to Henry. Pamela Zagarenski paints this book with lucious foresty and night-time colors, with pages so soft and textured you know you can walk into the scene. She includes her trademark crowns, critters large and small, windows, and those teacups. What does it all mean? As our brains look for answers, we create our own stories. It’s magical.

Ganesha's Sweet ToothGanesha’s Sweet Tooth
written by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes
illustrated by Sanjay Patel
Chronicle Books, 2012

A story based on Hindu mythology, an adorable Ganesha and his friend Mr. Mouse are all about the candy. In particular, Ganesha wants a Super Jumbo Jawbreaker Ladoo (candy) and he wants to bite down on it. Mr. Mouse warns him that it’s a jawbreaker. And soon Ganesha has broken his tusk. Luckily, he happens upon a poet who advises him to use his tusk to write down the Mahabharata, a long, ancient, Sanskrit poem about the beginning of things. Ganesha is described as a “Hindu god. He’s very important and powerful. And a tad chubby.” And that sets the tone of the book. Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth is a feast for eyes, mind, and imagination. Patel, an artist and animator with Pixar, creates illustrations unlike anything I’ve ever seen before … you’ll enjoy poring over them.

Luis Paints the WorldLuis Paints the World
written by Terry Farish
illustrated by Oliver Dominguez
Carolrhoda Books, 2016

When an older brother enlists in the army to “see the world,” young Luis is uncertain. How could his brother want to leave their family and their neighborhood? How could he want to leave Luis? Will he come back again to play baseball and eat his Mama’s flan? Luis begins painting a mural on a wall in their neighborhood, hoping to paint the world so Nico won’t need to leave home. He paints and paints with a good deal of skill. Yet Nico does leave home. Missing his brother, Luis continues to paint his heart onto the wall. Soon his friends, family, and neighbors join him in painting. Will Nico come home again? The author, Terry Farish, based her story in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where she was a public librarian. The city is famous for the murals and outdoor art found throughout the town. For a heartwarming story of love and artistic expression, this is the right choice.

Monster & SonMonster & Son
written by David LaRochelle
illustrated by Joey Chou

This is an ideal book for dads to read aloud to their little sons. Yetis, werewolves, monsters of every shape and shiver, this is a bedtime story in spite of the subject matter. The illustrations are calming and detailed, even sparkling, yet perfectly suited to the monster fan. David LaRochelle’s text is fun to read out loud and Joey Chou’s artwork is painted with calm blues and purples and sleepy monsters.

NorNorth Woods Girl
written Aimée Bissonette
illustrated by Claudia McGehee
Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2015

For anyone who loves the North Woods, no matter where those woods may be, this is a heart-calling tale of a grandmother who knows she belongs in the woods and a granddaughter who is fascinated by what her grandmother knows and how she lives. Aimée Bissonette’s story is so well told that it feels universal. We all know someone like this girl and her grandmother. We hope we understand what it means to be so connected to place. Claudia McGehee’s scratchboard illustrations are an integral part of the experience of this book. The animals, trees, plants, the boundless night sky, the warm fire … there’s so much to love here. North Woods Girl will lead to good inter-generational discussions and foster good memories of your own special places.

On One Foot

On One Foot
written by Linda Glaser
illustrated by Nuria Balaguer
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2016

A familiar tale to many Jews, this story of the not-quite-a-fool who seeks a rabbi (teacher) who can teach him while standing on one foot (I’m guessing because the student would like the teaching to be short, even though he says it’s because he wants his teacher to be the best) is an active parable for the most important lesson in the world. Each successive teacher derides the student for asking them to teach the Torah on one foot, telling him that not even the famous Rabbi Hillel could do such a thing. When the student finally meets Rabbi Hillel, he is astounded by the simplicity of the lesson, one that each of us can live and share. The cut paper and mixed media illustrations are fitting for long-ago Jerusalem, showing both wit and empathy.

A Poem for PeterA Poem for Peter
written by Andrea Davis Pinkney
illustrated by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson
Viking, 2016

Probably my favorite picture book of 2016, A Poem for Peter tells the story of the growing up and older of Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz, who is “Born under Hardship’s Hand, into a land filled with impossible odds.” He began paintings signs for stores when he was eight years old. An introduction to the Brooklyn Public Library opened the world to him. It’s a biography written poetically and every word is worth savoring. We know him now as Ezra Jack Keats and he created A Snowy Day, which is one of the most beloved books of all time. His life is painted here by Fancher & Johnson, who small touches on each page of their illustrations that remind us of Keats’ genius, his work with collage and color and shapes and textures. It’s a lovely, beautiful, magical book. It should be on your family’s bookshelf, ready for reading again and again.

Storm's Coming!Storm’s Coming!
written by Margi Preus
illustrated by David Geister
Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2016

The weather! In many parts of the country, it is increasingly a factor in our everyday life. Here in Minnesota, it is what strangers talk about before anything else. Friends exclaim in e-mail and by phone about the effect weather has on their lives. When family gathers, the first topic of conversation is the weather (and how they drove to the gathering place). Margi Preus tells the story of a storm approaching with traditional weather signs and folk sayings. Bees flying in large numbers into their hive? “Look at those busy bees,” Sophie exclaimed. “They know it’s going to storm.” Dan watched the bees flying into their hive. “That’s true,” he said. “You know what they say: A bees was never caught in a shower.” All kinds of intriguing tidbits are woven into this weather story, set at Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior at the beginning of the twentieth century. David Geister’s oil paintings are suffused with light, family love, the varying moods of the Lake, and the final, satisfying storm scene. You know the weather-watchers in your family. This will make a welcome gift.

savors poetry

Emily Dickinson: Poetry for KidsEmily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids
edited by Susan Snively, PhD
illustrated by Christine Davenier
MoonDance Press, Quarto Publishing Group, 2016

For a beautiful introduction to the poems of Emily Dickinson, this book invites reading out loud, discussion, and turning the pages in appreciation of Christine Davenier’s art. The poems are accessible by children and their adults. Arranged by the seasons of the year, the pages offer commentary and definitions for important words to aid in your conversations about the poems. It’s a book that will be read and re-read in your home.

Miss Muffet, or What Came AfterMiss Muffet, or What Came After
written by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by David Litchfield
Clarion Books, 2016

Think you know all about Miss Muffet? That tuffet? That spider? Think again, mes amis!

This oh-so-delightful book will have you smiling, laughing, heart filling with awe at the poet’s and illustrator’s mastery … but most of all falling in love with a story you never knew. That short nursery rhyme? Pull back from the scene (I easily see this as a staged play, readers theater or with props and costumes) and realize that Miss Muffet (Patience Muffet) and the spider (Webster) live in a larger world of sister, mother, rooster, fiddlers, a king, and many lively neighbors. These are easily understandable poems and poetry that is fun to say out loud and poems that tickle our funny bones. David Litchfield manages to use mixed media in a way that pulls us into the story and has us touring Pat Muffet’s world. Just gorgeous. It’s all so satisfying. Children will enjoy reading this themselves, with friends, acting it out, and taking part in a classroom performance. Such possibilities!

good family read-alouds

Garvey's ChoiceGarvey’s Choice
written by Nikki Grimes
WordSong, 2016

Garvey feels as though he’s constantly disappointing his father. Sports are his dad’s way of relating and he has high hopes for Garvey becoming a football player or a baseball player or … something in a sport uniform. Garvey, on the other hand, enjoys reading and music and science. How does he show his dad what matters to him? This is a book that is optimistic and funny and hopeful. Even though Garvey consoles himself with food, becoming heavier and heavier, he is drawn outside of his funk by his interests. He can’t resist. And his father finally sees what’s important to his son. A novel written in verse, this makes a good book for the family to read out loud. 

Making Friends with Billy WongMaking Friends with Billy Wong
written by Augusta Scattergood
Scholastic Press, 2016

When Azalea’s mother and father drive her to Arkansas to help her injured grandmother, Azalea is not thrilled. She contemplates being lonely for an entire summer and having nothing to do … and her grandmother, whom she hardly knows, is cranky. Even though she yearns to go home, she is drawn into the neighborhood by a boy with a boundless spirit and a curiosity to match her own. There is a mystery to solve and the two kids become friends while they’re figuring things out. It’s a heartwarming book and one that brings to light an immigrant story that isn’t well-known. 

Saving WonderSaving Wonder
written by Mary Knight
Scholastic Press, 2016

Curley Hines lives with his grandpa in Wonder Gap, Kentucky, settled in the Appalachian Mountains. His Papaw gives him a word each week to learn and decide where it fits into his life. For people who love words, this is a book that enchants with its word choices. Curley has a best friend. He believes he’s in love with Jules but at 15 it might be a little early to know. And then Jules is entranced with the new kid in town, an urban kid, J.D., and Curley’s life is taking an unexpected turn. Even these changes pale in the face of a more threatening change: the coal company that employs so many of Wonder Gap’s residents wants to tear down Curley and Papaw’s mountain in order to get at the coal inside cheaply. All three of the kids get involved in Saving Wonder. This is an uplifting story that will have you cheering while you’re reading.

WishWish
written by Barbara O’Connor
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016

Charlie Reese is a girl whose parents have abandoned her. Her father is in jail and her mother suffers from a depression that has her forgetting about Charlie for days on end. Child Protection Services sends Charlie to live with her Uncle Gus and Aunt Bertha who are as nice and loving as any kid could want. But Charlie wants to go home. She wants a family who loves her. In fact, she searches every day for something lucky that allows her to make that wish. She’s angry about her new home. She hopes it’s temporary. So she’s resistant when Howard, a kid with an up-and-down walk, does his best to reach her, to make her his friend. And she’s a little resistant when a stray dog, who she names Wishbone is as hard to reach as she is. It’s a wonderful story of a group of people coming together to form a family that’s made with love. These characters will take up a place in your mind and your heart for a very long time. And isn’t that a magical book cover?

can’t get enough of biographies

Let Your Voice Be HeardLet Your Voice Be Heard:
The Life and Times of Pete Seeger

written by Anita Silvey
Clarion Books, 2016

At this very moment, many of us, children and adults alike, are looking for a way to make a difference in our world. We’d like to show that love is stronger than any talk or action done in hatred. Young and old, we’d like to show that we are willing to stand up and let our voices be heard. There is no better example than the life of Pete Seeger. Anita Silvey writes this book in a way that shows how hard it was for him to perservere but he stood by his principles for nearly nine decades! Even when he was beaten down by the government, he was resolute. And he sang songs by the people, for the people, to inspire the people and bring them together. This book is written so it can be read by anyone ages 9 and older (adults will find this book worthwhile, too). I highly recommend it as a family read-aloud and discussion starter but it’s so good that reading it individually works, too.

Six DotsSix Dots: a Story of Young Louis Braille
written by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Boris 
Random House, 2016

When a terrible accident blinds him as a child, Louis Braille’s world turns dark. He sets out to get along in the world. “My family did what they could. Papa made a wooden cane. … My brother taught me to whistle … My sisters made a straw alphabet. Papa made letters with wooden strips or by pounding round-topped nails into boards” With his mother, he played dominoes. But he wanted to read books. Six Dots is the story of Braille’s journey to create a code that the blind could read. Louis Braille was a child inventor and this biography leads us to appreciate how significant his invention was and how much it continues to matter in the world today. Bryant’s text, written in free verse, makes the reading lyrical. Kulikov’s illustrations give an understanding of the darkness and the light in this blind inventor’s world. Six Dots fits well into our list of uplifting gifts. [Hidden Giveaway: the first person to send us an e-mail requesting this book will receive a copy of Six Dots, signed by the author. Be sure to include your mailing address so we can send you the book.]

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. WhiteSome Writer! The Story of E.B. White
written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

Are you a fan of Charlotte’s Web? Stuart Little? The Trumpet of the Swan? One Man’s Meat? Here is New York? E.B. White wrote books that are considered classics today, loved with a fierce wonder for their characters and emotions. In a work of love and art, Melissa Sweet shares the story of his life from childhood through adulthood as he learned to love books and writing. It’s the story of a man of words who lives so closely with them that he co-authors Elements of Style, a standard reference. There are details here that every fan of his books will want to know. Best of all, the book is done as perhaps only Melissa Sweet could, making collages out of found objects, White’s papers, and original (and charming) drawings. There are Garth Williams’ original sketches and photos of the people in E.B. White’s life. This book is a treasure, one you can share with many people on your gift list. Perhaps you can bundle it up with a copy of one of his books listed earlier, choices for both children and adults.

just the facts, please

Science EncyclopediaScience Encylopedia: Atom Smashing,
Food Chemistry, Animals, Space, and More!

National Geographic, 2016

I think every person on your gift list should get one of these! Seriously, whether you love science or don’t want anything to do with it, you will like this book. You will dip into the book somewhere and then you’ll find yourself thumbing through, being caught by this and that tidbit. Here’s my full review of this encyclopedia.

How Things WorkHow Things Work
T.J. Resler
National Geographic, 2016

As if the Science Encyclopedia isn’t cool enough, this book, also published by National Geographic, has astounding information in it. This quote from the beginning of the book wraps things up so well and tempts you to pull at the tail of the bow: “PUT THIS BOOK DOWN NOW. It’s dangerous. It might make you think you can do impossible things.” Followed closely by “You must be one of those. The kind of kid who thinks ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer.” Read the full review and buy this book for every kid (and maybe an adult or two) who love to know how things work. Because this book reveals all.

adults who breathe more fully around children’s literature

Comics ConfidentialComics Confidential: Thirteen Novelists Talk
Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box

interviews by Leonard S. Marcus
Candlewick Press, 2016

If you have the smallest bit of interest in comic books and graphic novels, you will find yourself drawn in by the interviews in this book. Marcus is a veteran at asking the right questions and his chosen subjects are the people who create books that kids and adults stand in line to read. You’ll hear from Harry Bliss, Catia Chien, Geoffrey Hayes, Kazu Kibuishi, Hope Larson, Danica Novgorodoff, Matt Phelan, Dave Roman, Mark and Siena Cherson Siegel, James Sturm, Sara Varon, Gene Luen Yang. Each one of them contributes a self-portrait, a comic written and drawn especially for this book, and there are sketches that accompany the interview. It’s a visual book about a visual medium created by visual artists who know how to tell exceptional stories.

Picture This: How Pictures WorkPicture This (25th anniversary edition)
Molly Bang
Chronicle Books, 2016

If you’ve ever felt that you like the art in a book but you don’t know why, this is the book for you. If you know teachers who regularly read out loud to children, this is the book for them. First written 25 years ago, Molly Bang has revised her guide to show us in clear language and pictures how the art in our favorite books works its magic. The way a page is arranged, the perspective, the focal point, the emotion, the mood, all of these can change the way we experience a book. We can understand what it is that we’re looking at in ways we never understood before. This is a very special book to give as a gift to someone you love or to yourself.

cook it up!

Betty Crocker's Cooky BookBetty Crocker’s Cooky Book
by Betty Crocker (!)
illustrated by Eric Mulvaney
Hungry Minds, 2002

I received this book in 1964 with an inscription from my grandmother, who wanted me to have “the gift of cooking food everyone will love.” It’s hard to go wrong serving cookies and the recipes in this book are classics. You’ll find Chocolate Chip Cookies, Toffee Squares, Krumkake, and Sugar Cookies. Good photographs show you how to decorate them and suggest how to serve them. Your burgeoning baker will spend hours planning, considering which cookies to make, and mixing things up in the kitchen!

Kids in the Holiday KitchenKids in the Holiday Kitchen
by Jessica Strand and Tammy Massman-Johnson
photographs by James Baigrie
Chronicle Books, 2008

For those who celebrate Christmas, this book has loads of recipes that are fun to decorate, good to give as gifts, and will help to keep the holiday buffet well-supplied. And it’s not just food. There are crafts included to decorate a soap bar for a gift or dress up gift tins. A good idea for the cooking-inspired child on your gift list.

Everyday Kitchen for KidsEveryday Kitchen for Kids: 100 Amazing Savory and Sweet Recipes Your Children Can Really Make
by Jennifer Low
Whitecap Books, Ltd.

If your child’s wish is to appear on Food Network, here’s a head start.  In addition to being delicious and easy to make, these 100 recipes are all about safety. None of the methods call for sharp knives, stovetop cooking,  or small motorized appliances. All the recipes are kid tested and each one is accompanied by a full-color photograph.

crafts are the stuff of life

Ed Emberley's Book of Trucks and TrainsEd Emberley’s Drawing Book of Trucks and Trains
Ed Emberley
LB Kids, 2005

Using simple shapes and lines and putting them together in thousands of different ways, anyone can draw. And in constructing these pictures out of those shapes and lines, they will find confidence in creating their own drawings. A part of it is practice, but a part of it is seeing how things are put together and Ed Emberley is a master at this. He is a Caldecott Medal winner and the author of many fine picture books, but it is his drawing books that many children cherish because that’s how they learned to draw! It’s an ideal book for a gift because with a pack of colored pencils and paper the fun can begin immediately!

51 Things to Make with Cardboard Boxes51 Things to Make with Cardboard Boxes
Fiona Hayes
Quarto Publishing Group, 2016

Gather up cereal boxes and chocolate boxes and match boxes and large boxes and small boxes and paint and googly eyes … to create dinosaurs, chickens, houses, and robots. Then make a giraffe and a hippopotamus and a construction crane … all out of boxes! The book has step-by-step instructions in both words and pictures that will help you and your children create fifty-one different projects. My only quibble with this book is that I would like measurements so I know which kind of boxes will work best … but perhaps the author wanted the size to be variable. I would have loved this book as a child. I suspect there’s crafty and building children in your life as well. There’s hours and hours of fun (and cereal-eating) ahead.

Look for this company’s 51 Things to Make with Paper Plates as well. Using paper plates and paper bowls (and googly eyes) there are many more creatures to be brought to life with these inexpensive construction tools.

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Orbiting Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in OrbitThat lively, quirky-thinking duo from Planet Kindergarten have teamed up once again for Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit. Many schools use the 100-day marker to reflect on how far they’ve come since the first day of kindergarten. Social graces, etiquette, mindfulness, assignments, singing, pledges … they’re all included in this new book.

But the extra-fun twist is that our hero recounts the entire story as a trip into space aboard a starship filled with aliens and a thoughtful commander. 

A classmate who becomes sick doing “anti-gravity exercises” is kindly accompanied to the Nurse’s Office by our hero. Shane Prigmore, the illustrator, reminds us of the exciting scene from Star Wars, the first movie, in which Luke Skywalker zeros in on the Deathstar, with a hallful of doors, slightly askew, and the red-doored office at the end. Adults and older siblings will get the reference and continue looking for more. 

Waiting for show-and-tell, our hero says “Then, like the Apollo astronauts, we wait to be called up. It takes forever before my turn.” Mayhem ensues when there’s a tricky maneuver … but these children aliens are quick to lend a hand, because that’s what they’ve learned in Planet Kindergarten!

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit

The illustrations are bold and funny and cued-up with plenty to notice and appreciate. The story is clever but that never gets in the way. It’s a very good story to read out loud, savor as a child-and-adult reading book, or use in the classroom to inspire space-themed play and imagination. Count me in as a moon circling this planet!

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit
written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Chronicle Books, 2016

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Thanksgiving is a Good Time for a Book

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, As food is being prepared and family gathers, as food is being digested and some people are napping, as sports and shopping beckon, perhaps it’s a good time to take out a stack of Thanksgiving books to read aloud as a family. Here are 11 books that reflect the Thanksgiving holiday with many different stories, ranging in age from very young to teens … with books adults will enjoy as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving  

1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving 
written by Catherine O’Neill Grace
National Geographic Children’s Books, 2004

“Countering the prevailing, traditional story of the first Thanksgiving, with its black-hatted, silver-buckled Pilgrims; blanket-clad, be-feathered Indians; cranberry sauce; pumpkin pie; and turkey, this lushly illustrated photo-essay presents a more measured, balanced, and historically accurate version of the three-day harvest celebration in 1621.”

 

Balloons Over Broadway:
the True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade

written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011

“Everyone’s a New Yorker on Thanksgiving Day, when young and old rise early to see what giant new balloons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who first invented these “upside-down puppets”? Meet Tony Sarg, puppeteer extraordinaire! In brilliant collage illustrations, Melissa Sweet tells the story of the puppeteer Tony Sarg, capturing his genius, his dedication, his zest for play, and his long-lasting gift to America—the inspired helium balloons that would become the trademark of Macy’s Parade.”

Boy in the Black Suit  

Boy in the Black Suit
written by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum, 2016

A book for older children and adults, Matt’s mother has just died and his father isn’t doing well. Matt’s on his own so he gets a job at a funeral home, where he’s surprised by how moving he finds the stories behind these funerals. When he meets one young woman whose beloved grandmother just died, he goes on his first “date” with her … at the homeless shelter where she and her grandmother have always served Thanksgiving dinner. This is an uplifting story of friendship, caring, and healing.

Cranberry Thanksgiving  

Cranberry Thanksgiving
written by Wende Devlin
illustrated by Harry Devlin
Purple House Press, 2012

“First published in 1971, this beloved favorite shares the story of Grandmother inviting a guest for Thanksgiving dinner and allowing Maggie to do the same. “Ask someone poor or lonely,” she always said. Thanksgiving was Grandmother’s favorite day of the year. The cooking was done and her famous cranberry bread was cooling on a wooden board. But she wasn’t happy to find out Maggie had invited the unsavory Mr. Whiskers to dinner. Would her secret cranberry bread recipe be safe with him in the house?”

Give Thanks to the Lord  

Give Thanks to the Lord
written by Karma Wilson
illustrated by Amy June Bates
Zonderkidz, 2013

“Celebrate the season in this heartwarming story that references Psalm 92 in tender rhyme from award-winning author Karma Wilson. Told from the point of view of one young member of an extended family, Give Thanks to the Lord celebrates joy of all kinds, from the arrival of distant relatives to a cozy house already filled with merriment, to apple cider and the delicious smells of roasting turkey and baking pie.  And just when your mouth is watering, sit down and join a thankful child in prayer, praising God for ‘food and fun and family, all the wonderful things I see.'”

Giving Thanks  

Giving Thanks:
Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving 

written by Katherine Paterson
illustrated by Pamela Dalton
Chronicle Books, 2013

“Katherine Paterson’s meditations on what it means to be truly grateful and Pamela Dalton’s exquisite cut-paper illustrations are paired with a collection of over 50 graces, poems, and praise songs from a wide range of cultures, religions, and voices. The unique collaboration between these two extraordinary artists flowers in this important and stunningly beautiful reflection on the act of giving thanks.”

Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey  

Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey
written by Joy Cowley
illustrated by Joe Cepeda
HarperCollins, reissued in 2006

Miguel’s trucker father is on the road and Miguel is worried about him making it home in time for Thanksgiving. But then Papa sends a big wooden crate with the message, “Fatten this turkey for Thanksgiving. I’ll be home to share it with you.” Miguel names the turkey Gracias and takes him for walks in New York City. Adventures follows. Miguel wants desperately to save Gracias from the Thanksgiving table. Fun and high-spirited tale.

How Many Days to America?  

How Many Days to America? a Thanksgiving Story
written by Eve Bunting
illustrated by Beth Peck
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990

When soldiers come to their home in the middle of the night, father and mother decide they must flee their country for their family’s safety. This is the tale of that journey and their landing in America on the Thanksgiving holiday, where the family is thankful for freedom and safety.

Squanto's Journey  

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving 
written by Joseph Bruchac
illustrated by Greg Shed
Silver Whistle, 2000

“In 1620 an English ship called the Mayflower landed on the shores inhabited by the Pokanoket people, and it was Squanto who welcomed the newcomers and taught them how to survive in the rugged land they called Plymouth. He showed them how to plant corn, beans, and squash, and how to hunt and fish. And when a good harvest was gathered in the fall, the two peoples feasted together in the spirit of peace and brotherhood.”

Thankful  

Thankful
written by Eileen Spinelli
illustrated by Archie Preston
Zonderkidz, 2016

A book that conveys “the importance of being thankful for everyday blessings. Like the gardener thankful for every green sprout, and the fireman, for putting the fire out, readers are encouraged to be thankful for the many blessings they find in their lives.”

Thanks a Million  

Thanks a Million
written by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Greenwillow Books, 2006

A very appropriate book for your Thanksgiving celebration, there are sixteen poems that range in form from a haiku to a rebus to a riddle, Nikki Grimes reminds us how wonderful it is to feel thankful, and how powerful a simple “thank you” can be. This book can be used throughout the year as well. In classrooms, this is a good mentor text for creating poems of thanks and gratitude.

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Word Search: Classics

The Invention of Hugo CabretThis month, we’re thinking about the classics, both old and new. They’re books that easily come to mind when you think of the books that are beloved by many, many readers. If you love puzzles and games, we hope you have a good time solving this Word Search.

This month, we’re adding an extra facet to our game. Each of the 26 words in the list is taken from the title of one of those classic books. When you’ve finished the Word Search, take a screen capture of your board and save it as a JPG. Then make a list of the book associated with each word on our list (you’ll have 26 book titles when you’re finished). Send us your completed board and book list by midnight on December 10, 2016, and we’ll choose one person at random from among the correct entries and send you three autographed books for your home or classroom library. Be sure to include your name, email, and mailing address (so we can send the books to you). We’ll announce the winner on Facebook on December 11, 2016. (You must be 14 years of age or older to send us an entry. Only one entry per person. Open to US residents only for postage expense reasons.)

To play the 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.

You might enjoy doing this as a family activity over the Thanksgiving holiday. Have fun!

Hidden Words

Puzzle by mypuzzle.org
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Trailblazing Illustrator, Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elizabeth Shippen Green

Younger readers may not fully appreciate how difficult it was for women to break into the highly competitive field of illustration. For many years, men were routinely hired for advertising art, newspaper and magazine illustration, and children’s book illustration. 

Elizabeth Shippen Green, born in 1871 and dying in 1954, was one of the earliest female illustrators to win high regard, helping to open the door a little wider for the women who followed her,

Her father was an artist-correspondent during the Civil War. He encouraged her to study art, supporting her as she attended various art schools.

Elizabeth Shippen GreenShe studied with Thomas Anshutz, Robert Vonnoh, Thomas Eakins, and Howard Pyle. “She credited Pyle with teaching her the importance of visualizing, then realizing, the dramatic moment key to illustrating a narrative text.” (Library of Congress)

While studying with Pyle at the Brandywine School, Elizabeth met Jessie Willcox Smith and Violet Oakley. The three of them became fast friends, supportive of each other’s careers in illustration. They moved into The Red Rose Inn in Villanova, Pennsylvania, with Henrietta Cozens as their housekeeper.

The Five Little PigsLater, they moved to Cogslea in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. Because of their residence together, they were referred to ever after as The Red Rose Girls. These three and several other women formed The Plastic Club, meant to encourage one another professionally. 

Elizabeth was one of the most recognized illustrators in the country because of her assignments for St. Nicholas Magazine, Woman’s Home Companion, The Saturday Evening Post, and a 23-year exclusive contract with Harper’s Magazine. In 1922, she illustrated a beautiful edition of Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb.

gr_green_mother_daughter

Read more about Elizabeth Shippen Green:

The Red Rose Girls: an Uncommon Story of Art and Love, by Alice A. Carter

By a Woman’s Hand: Illustrators of the Golden Age, ed. by Mary Carolyn Waldrep, Dover Fine Art

National Museum of American Illustration

Library of Congress, “A Petal from the Rose” exhibit

Some of her work in the Library of Congress’ collection

American Art Archives, showing some of her advertising art

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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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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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Bookstorm™: No Monkeys, No Chocolate

No Monkeys Bookmap

 

No Monkeys, No ChocolateWe are pleased to feature No Monkeys, No Chocolate as our August book selection, in which author and science writer Melissa Stewart, along with Allen Young and illustrator Nicole Wong share the interdependent ecosystem that creates the right conditions for cacao beans to be grown and harvested so we can produce chocolate.

This ecosystem is set in the rainforest of the Amazon, but there are interdependent ecosystems all over the world, vital animals, reptiles, birds, insects, humans, and plants that are necessary for our lives to continue on this earth. We all rely on each other. We all have a part to play in preserving a healthy Earth. We are grateful to authors and illustrators like Melissa, Allen, and Nicole who bring these connections to our attention so we can share them with children who will become the stewards of this planet.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books, articles, and videos for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books about American lighthouses, lighthouse keepers, and biographies of female heroes. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more information about Melissa Stewart on her website. Illustrator Nicole Wong’s website will show you more of her portfolio.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Chocolate. I know there are people who don’t like chocolate, but surely they are a small percentage of people in the world! As we move between descriptions of decadent chocolate pleasures to news that it’s healthy for us to fountains and personalized chocolate … these books share facts, stories, and tantalizing photographs.

Ecosystems. Our featured book is an excellent description of an ecosystem in which plants, animals, and insects work together to create the bean that creates chocolate. There are a number of good examples of ecosystems throughout the world in the books we’ve included.

Growing Food. We appreciate and thank the people who work so hard to grow our food. From urban farms to rural ranches to rainforests, the foods we tend and grow and harvest are essential to all life on earth. We hope that teaching children about the sources of their food, the people who grow it, and the care given to the stuff of life will encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Monkeys. Monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, apes … primates have been fascinating people, especially children, since time began. And now we now they’re essential for chocolate! We’ve included books that will start discussions, answer questions, and entertain young readers.

Pollination. The process of pollination, and all the ways it happens, is incredible. These books are guaranteed to interest young readers.

Rain Forest Preservation. It’s vital for all the people of the earth to support efforts to keep the rain forests of our world healthy. The more we know and understand about their role in our climate, our air, our ability to breathe, the more we can commit to doing our part as individuals. 

Author’s Website Resources. Author Melissa Stewart created a writing timeline that is useful in teaching writing, especially expository writing, to your students. She has a reader’s theater, teaching guide, and several more teaching aids to offer. We’ve provided links.

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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Books Like This Are Convincing

Lives of the ScientistsI’m more comfortable with magic than I am with science. Married to a science guy, I work harder to be interested in science. It gives us something to talk about. When I find narrative nonfiction that tells a compelling story, I’m thankful … and intrigued. I’m particularly happy to find books that feature lesser-known aspects of science, thereby taunting my curiosity.

Do you know the Lives of … series, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated with disproportionately big heads by Kathryn Hewitt? First published in 2013 and now in paperback for less than $10, I had a ball reading Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought). It reminds me of People magazine in tone, leaning toward gossipy aspects of these most curious of people past and present but balanced by the right amount of tantalizing information about their work (for many of them, their obsession). And you may not have heard of many of these people.

For instance, William and Caroline Herschel, brother and sister, earned their living as musicians until they had sold enough of their handmade telescopes (they used horse dung for the molds!) and their catalog of newly discovered heavenly bodies attracted the attention of England’s King George III, who paid them both a salary.

The gossipy part? Apparently William was a bossy guy who didn’t have his sister’s well-being at the top of his priority list. During a long night of astronomic observation, Caroline’s leg was impaled on a hook but he couldn’t hear her cries of pain. He was concentrating hard!

After each profile, there are “extra credit” points that didn’t fit into the narrative but they’re awfully interesting.

Don’t you love this tidbit about Grace Murray Hopper, computer scientist? “When Grace Murray Hopper was seven, she took her alarm clock apart to see how it worked. Her parents were impressed—until she took apart seven more. They limited her to dismantling one clock at a time, but they fully supported her education.”

Rachel Carson, Lives of the Scientists, illustration copyright Kathryn Hewitt

Rachel Carson, Lives of the Scientists, illustration copyright Kathryn Hewitt

Do you know the work of Chien-Shiung Wu, Zhang Heng, and Edwin Hubble? There are more familiar scientists as well, people like Jane Goodall, Albert Einstein, Rachel Carson, and George Washington Carver.

This book supports curiosity, investigation, and the pursuing of dreams … your kids will enjoy these three- to four-page biographies even if they’re more inclined to magic than science.

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Dear Peacemakers

In recent weeks, we’ve had many requests for books about anger and fear and conflict resolution.

Book by BookI was immediately reminded of an excellent resource published in 2010 called Book by Book: an Annotated Guide to Young People’s Literature with Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution Themes (Carol Spiegel, published by Educators for Social Responsibility, now called Engaging Schools).

Peace educator Carol Spiegel has gathered a useful, important, and intriguing-to-read list of 600 picture books and 300 chapter books that will spark your imagination and help you find just the right book to use in your classroom, library, or home.

When Sophie Gets AngryAs she says so well, “Stories can gently steal into the lives of young people and show the way to peace and conflict resolution. Children’s literature is rich with such tales. As an example, picture this. Annie struggles with her anger and then she hears about Sophie who gets just as angry. Annie is heartened when she learns how Sophie copies. Had someone tried to talk directly with Annie about ways to deal with anger, Annie may have been defensive. This posture was unnecessary when Sophie was being featured.”

Of course, the book Ms. Spiegel is describing is Molly Bang’s book, When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry … (and check out the 2015 book When Sophie’s Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt).

There is an Index of Book Themes in the back matter that will help you find books with themes such as:

  • Elderly, respect for
  • Emotional literacy: accepting limitations and gifts
  • Exploring conflict: nature of conflict, conflict styles
  • Friendship, inclusion and exclusion

You’ll find good books that will be useful for your reading and discussions, such as:

  • First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez, illus by Robert Casilla (Overcoming Obstacles, Bullying)
  • Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears by Verna Aardema, illus by Leo and Diane Dillon (Listening, Rumors or Suspicion)
  • Probably Still Nick Swanson by Virginia Euwer Wolff (Accepting Limitations and Gifts, Respect for Elderly or Disabled, Rumors or Suspicion)
  • The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm (Bullying, Prejudice or Dislike, Nonviolent Response)
  • REVOLUTION is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine (Nonviolent Response, Oppression)

Book by Book books

In our current world, where books have a shelf life of less than five years, you may not readily find some of these books (because they were published six or seven years ago). Get the book you’re interested in on interlibrary loan from your public library, read it, consider whether it’s important to have it in your school or classroom library, and then find a used copy online.

The folks at Engaging Schools were kind enough to send me two downloadable PDFs that may help to convince you to obtain this book: Table of Contents and Supplemental Index. You can order the book from Engaging Schools online.

I hope they will update this book … it’s a critical reference in our unsettled, growing wiser, opening our minds world.

Seriously, you’ll wonder why you don’t already have this reference book on your shelf.

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Reading Memories

bk_threelittlekittensMemories of my childhood are imperfect. Yours, too?

I don’t remember having a lot of books as a child. I remember The Poky Little Puppy and another dog book (title unknown) and Three Little Kittens (perhaps a reminder to me to keep track of my mittens).

I remember using the school library voraciously to read books. I had no access to the public library (too far away) so that school library was my lifeline. And our librarian understood what I was looking for before I did.

But back to the question of having books on our shelves. My mother had a Doubleday Book Club subscription so a new book arrived each month for the adult reader in our family. I saw To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, The Light in the Piazza, and The Sun Also Rises added to the shelves, but other than curiosity, I felt no interest in those books.

My mother also subscribed to Reader’s Digest. We had a lot of music in our house in the form of LPs. Some of my favorites were those Readers Digest collections, classics, folk songs, Broadway musicals. There was always music on the turntable. More importantly, Reader’s Digest published story collections and books for children.  

Yesterday, I was sorting through the three boxes that remain of my childhood toys and books. We’re downsizing, so the tough decisions have to be made. Do I keep my hand puppets of Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, and Hush Puppy or let them go?

Reader's Digest Treasury for Young ReadersI know I’ve gone through these boxes since I was a kid but every ten years or so I’m surprised all over again by what I played with as a child and cared enough to pack in a box for remembrance.

I found two Reader’s Digest Treasuries for Young Readers and the three-volume Doubleday Family Treasury of Children’s Stories.  My mother also subscribed to the Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Readers. This is how I read Lorna Doone and Ivanhoe and Where the Red Fern Grows.

I was startled to realize that my familiarity with many of the classic poems, stories, and nonfiction articles came from these books. I was introduced to Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Elizabeth Janet Gray and Dr. George Washington Carver and Jules Verne and The Odyssey and NASA’s work and more than a hundred more stories and articles. I’d like to believe that I’m an omnivorous reader today because of the wide variety I encountered in these books.

The Family Treasury of Children's BooksThere’s a penchant for everything new right now. Grandparents pick up the latest Dora the Explorer or Where’s Waldo? book because they’ve heard of them and have a vague sense that kids like them. Or the bookstore clerk suggests a Caldecott or Newbery winner of recent vintage.

This is a plea to remember those classic books: the stories, the folk tales, the fables, the poetry. Children will read a lot that you wouldn’t expect them to read, especially if you give it to them. Those classics provide a common language for educated people.

Can’t find something suitable? Write to your favorite publisher and suggest that they print collections of classics, old and new. There are a few books published in the last 20 years that sort of approach these collections published in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Here are a few:

Story Collections

Perhaps 50 years from now your children and grandchildren will open their own box of childhood memories, being thankful that you gave them such a great gift.

Thanks, Mom. You gave me a gift that has sustained me all my life.

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Bookstorm™: Jazz Day

Bookmap for Jazz Day

 

Jazz DayThis month we’re featuring Jazz Day, a book that’s all about jazz and a photograph that recorded a moment in time, people at the top of their musical careers and people who were just getting started. Author Roxane Orgill is familiar with the jazz culture; she’s written several books about the music and the people. Illustrator Francis Vallejo took elements of photography, graphic design, acrylic, and pastels to illustrate his first book. This powerful team has received no fewer than six starred reviews for the picture book biography they’ve created together.

In Jazz Day, each story is told with a poem, among them free verse, a pantoum, and a list poem. There are poems about the photographer, the musicians, the young neighborhood boys who showed up for the photograph out of curiosity, the jazz life, and the process of taking the photo, Harlem 1958, which is famous for capturing a large number of musicians in their time, their clothing, their community, but without their instruments (except for one guy, Rex Stewart, but it earned him a poem).

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books, websites, and videos for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books about jazz, music, singers, and photography. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more information about Roxane Orgill on her website. The illustrator’s website will show you more of Francis Vallejo’s portfolio.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Jazz Musicians in Picture Books. Here you’ll find excellent picture books about jazz musicians including Trombone Shorty, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Louise Williams, Melba Liston, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. Many of these books help us understand how the childhood of these renowned musicians launched them into their careers.

Jazz Singers. Ella Fitzgerald? Scat. Josephine Baker? Showmanship. Civil rights. The Sweethearts of Rhythm? Swing musicians who rose to prominence during the war. Exceptional books about exceptional singers.

Jazz for Older Readers. From Roxane Orgill’s own book, Dream Lucky, one of the best books about jazz musicians, to highly respected books like Jazz 101, and The History of Jazz, and Marsalis on Music, there’s a lot of information here to get you talking proficiently about, and teaching, jazz.

Photography. Art Kane wasn’t a photographer but he took one of the most famous photographs, Harlem 1958. But there are children’s books about famous photographers such as Gordon Parks and Snowflake Bentley. You’ll find more suggestions in the Bookstorm.

The Music. Your students who are already interested in rap or jazz rap or hip-hop or pop music, will be fascinated to listen to the different genres of jazz music that came before … and we’ve included URLs where you can find excellent examples. Or perhaps you’re a jazz aficionado and you have your own music to share.

Websites. There are helpful websites such as the Jazz Education Network and Smithsonian Jazz that will help you put together a multimedia set of lesson plans for exploring jazz, our most American form of music.

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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Bookstorm™: Miss Colfax’s Light

Bookmap Miss Colfax's Light

 

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to feature Miss Colfax’s Light as our June book selection, in which author Aimée Bissonette and illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen tell the fascinating story of a woman who served as the Michigan City Lighthouse keeper from 1861 to 1904. Captains and navigators on Lake Michigan relied on her lighthouse to keep them from foundering on the rocks or crashing onto the shore in rough weather.

Every day heroes. That’s how author Aimée Bissonette refers to the people in history who intrigue her. She traveled to research her chosen subject, Harriet Colfax, talking with people in Indiana who could proudly provide information. Miss Colfax faithfully kept a log, so Aimée was able to read about Harriet’s work and her daily life in Harriet’s own words. Illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen painted a wealth of accurate, time-appropriate details into the pages of the book, helping readers visually understand the time in which Miss Colfax lived. We think you’ll be inspired by Miss Colfax’s story as much as we are.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books, articles, and videos for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books about American lighthouses, lighthouse keepers, and biographies of female heroes. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more information about Aimée Bissonette on her website. The illustrator’s website will show you more of Eileen Ryan Ewen’s portfolio.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

About Lighthouses. For background information as you prepare to excite students, library patrons, or your family members about American lighthouses, these books will help you locate these beacons of safety, learn more about their operation, and understand the science and math that are an inherent part of the workings of lighthouses around the country.

Brave and Extraordinary Women. From picture book biographies to short-article anthologies, you’ll find a variety of inspiring stories from oceanographer Sylvia Earle to educational activist Malala Yousafzai.

How Lighthouses Work. From the Fresnel lens to the Chance Brothers engineering to the improvements in fuel, increases in the range of light, and Edison’s invention of the lightbulb, you’ll find books to inform your presentations and discussions about Miss Colfax’s Light.

Lighthouse Books. There are a number of good books to pair with our featured Bookstorm. Compare the true story of Miss Colfax with that of Abbie Burgess, who took her lighthouse keeper father’s place during an ice storm, or the Maine Flying Santa program, or the Little Red Lighthouse near the George Washington Bridge in New York City, among many others.

Protecting Our Waterways. In addition to our lighthouse keepers, the U.S. Coast Guard is on duty protecting water travelers and shipping vessels during all types of weather and in hazardous situations. These books will extend readers’ understanding of the work done by highly skilled patrols.

Water. Before and after reading Miss Colfax’s Light, it’s a good time to have a discussion about the importance of water in our lives. From our Great Lakes, to our coastal waters, to the rivers and lakes throughout our country, to the water that falls from the sky, to the water that is pumped up from underground aquifers, water and water conservation are essential to our everyday lives. 

Whether you choose to focus on every day heroes, water, science, Great Lakes commerce, or inspiration women, there are many directions you can go and many subjects you can support with Miss Colfax’s Light.

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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Gardening and Farming Delights

 

Jackie: At last—we made it to spring and all the usual accoutrements have shown up—lilacs, violets, the smell of apple blossoms, and thoughts of sprouting seeds and growing vegetables.  How could we not look at picture books about gardens and farming this month?

Miss Jaster's GardenI have to confess, Phyllis, I did not know of Miss Jaster’s Garden, written and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker and published in 1972. I’m so glad to meet Miss Jaster and Hedgie the hedgehog whom she treats with a bowl of milk each night. “But hedgehogs being the shape they are, and Miss Jaster being a little nearsighted, as often as not she put the saucer where the hedgehog’s head wasn’t. And Hedgie—so as not to cause distress—“politely dipped his tail in the milk and pretended to drink.” 

That’s not the only problem caused by Miss Jaster’s poor vision. When she is scattering flower seeds in her garden she does not see Hedgie and plants seeds on him too.  “…after a while he began feeling restless.” Hedgie is sprouting. Hedgie blooms! And feels like dancing. “Tomorrow I’ll be as quiet as an earthworm,” thought Hedgie, “but not today. Today is the greatest day of my life. There’ll never be another like it!” When Miss Jaster sees flowers dancing in the yard, she yells, “STOP THIEF!”  and poor Hedgie, frightened and chagrined, runs off. Eventually the Chief Constable, with a capable bit of sleuthing, finds Hedgie and brings him back—“a weary, worried, bedraggled little animal, down on his luck.” Miss Jaster feels bad at having given the hedgehog (“flowerhog”) such a scare. And they take breakfast together every morning—“And there was nothing but peace and sunshine and a touch of Sweet William.”

I love the tone of this book—Hedgie is up for the adventure of being a walking flower garden. The constable is thoughtful, “Did you by chance, happen to notice how many legs these flowers had when they made their getaway? In round numbers?” In round numbers! And I love the characters—the hedgehog who’s so thoughtful he pretends to drink with his tail so as not to upset Miss Jaster. And kind Miss Jaster who doesn’t mind sharing her garden with a hedgehog and is actually pleased when she realized that she also shared flower seeds with him.

This story has a lot of text. But the humor is so wonderful and the characters just the right degree of eccentric, I think it would be enjoyed  by the five to ninety crowd. What do you think?

Miss Jaster's Garden

Phyllis: I didn’t know this book, either, but I also love it. The double-page spread map at the beginning of the book is a little story all in itself, as good maps often are. From Hedgie’s corner to the birdbath (“For ancient inscription, see page 17”) to Miss J’s wicker chair and Sunrise Hill (“Elevation 9’”) Bodecker has created a whole world in art as well as text.

As someone who has become nearer and nearer sighted my whole life, I completely understand how Miss Jaster might make such a mistake. And who wouldn’t want a walking flower garden? Who wouldn’t want to be a flower garden? I love how the ending brings mutual satisfaction to Miss Jaster and to Hedgie, who have always been solicitous of each other—each morning they share “a leisurely breakfast … and a walk along the beach, followed by a small but persistent butterfly.”

Certainly the text is much longer than many more recent picture books, but what wonderful details! When Miss Jaster goes out to plant she does so in “a purple morning-dress and sturdy shoes” with a “large straw hat, trimmed with cornflowers on her head,” pulling “a small four-wheeled wagon full of garden tools and flower seeds.” Like a garden in full bloom, the story is lush with language.

I love, too, how Hedgie, as he discovers he’s sprouting, wonders which he will be:  “’Flower bed or vegetable garden? Vegetable garden or flower bed?’” until one day, “’I’m in bloom!’ cried Hedgie.”

Grandpa's Too Good GardenJackie:  I call James Stevenson the writer with the humor cure. He makes me laugh. And Grandpa’s Too Good Garden  is one of his curing-est. Mary Ann and Louie are disappointed with their gardening. Louis says, “We dig and rake and plant and water and weed—and nothing ever comes up. Our garden is no good.” Grandpa remains calm and tells them he once had a garden that was “a little too good.” There are some wonderful cartoon-y frames of Grandpa and Wainey in the garden (both as kids with little mustaches) but the story really begins when Father throws his Miracle Grow hair tonic out the window. It spills into the garden and gets rained in. Before Wainey even wakes up a vine snatches him up and almost out the window. The garden was taller than the house. Giant caterpillars came to eat the giant plants. The plants continued to grow and Grandpa got “snagged on a weather vane above our roof.” Grandpa is in trouble…only to be rescued by Wainey on a giant butterfly. This happy ending is accompanied by Wainey showing up to offer Grandpa and the kids some ice cream. I love the exaggeration, the total silliness of it.

Phyllis: Gardeners need patience, but not all of us wait quietly. When the seeds don’t grow quickly  enough, Wainey and Grandpa encourage them. “’Hello, beans? Tomatoes? Are you down there? Give us a sign!’ ‘Hello, carrumps?” The fortuitous hair tonic reminds me of old radio science fiction shows. “You threw the growth formula out back?” the scientist asks his assistant just before the now-giant earthworms come banging on the door. There’s a satisfying circularity to Grandpa’s garden story when one of the giant butterflies that metamorphed from the giant caterpillars rescues both brothers. Wonderful wackiness!

Farmer DuckJackie: Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury) is set on a farm and Farmer Duck does farm work so we are including it. It’s all about friends. And friends are important to gardeners. Who else would take our extra zucchini? or help us pull weeds? or share plants with us?

This is such an exuberant telling. Was there ever a lazier farmer than the human farmer who stays in bed all day, yelling to the duck, “How goes the work?” Farmer Duck always responds the same way, “Quack.” This goes on day after day. While the lazy farmer eats bon bons, the duck saws wood, spades the garden, washes dishes, irons clothes. The other animals can’t stand to see their friend work so hard. One night they meet in the barn and make a plan. “’Moo!’ said the cow./’Baa!’ said the sheep./ ‘Cluck!’ said the hens. And that was the plan.” 

When they carry out their plan the lazy farmer runs away and never returns. “…mooing and baaing and clucking and quacking, they all set to work on their farm.” We just can’t help but think hay will be sweeter, corn will be taller, and there may be dancing in the barn.

Farmer Duck

Phyllis: I adore this book, text and art. The duck looks wearier and wearier, and who wouldn’t want to be comforted by such caring hens and the other animals as well?  And I love how the animals that the duck tended to at the beginning of the story, including carrying a sheep from the hill, all pitch in to help at the end as “mooing and baaing and clucking and quacking, they all set to work on their farm.” Animals, unite! The fruits of the labor belong to the laborers!

When the Root Children Wake UpJackie:  I would be remiss not to mention your namesake book, Phyllis—When The Root Children Wake Up, retold by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Ned Bittinger. It’s a story of seasons. A robin comes to the window of Mother’s Earth’s underground “home” and calls, “Root Children! Root Children …Wake up! It’s time for the masquerade.” The children awaken the bugs and paint them and head out for the masquerade. But it’s not too long before “Cousin Summer slips his knapsack on his back and quickly strides over the hills and far away.” Time for Uncle Fall. And soon it will be time for another winter’s nap. 

There’s a lot about this story that I like—the circle of seasons, painting the bugs. I’m a little put off by the very realistic drawings of children as the “Root Children.” I’m not sure why. Maybe because they seem too real to be sleeping underground all winter. Makes me feel  claustrophobic. Maybe I’m just grumpy. I’d love to know what others think.

When the Root Children Wake UpPhyllis: It’s true that what caught my eye about When the Root Children Wake Up was my name in the title, but I also love the story and art in the version I have, a reprint of the 1906 Sybelle Olffers book  first published in Germany and republished in English in 1988 by Green Tiger Press. The charmingly old-fashioned original illustrations remind me of books I loved as a child and include a joyous spread of the root children emerging above ground carrying flowers and grasses “into the lovely world.” Interesting how art can change the perception of a story!

Lola Plants a GardenA garden book for the very young is Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosaline Beardshaw. The straightforward story tells how Lola loves the poem “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” and  wants to plant a garden of her own. She and Mommy read books about gardens, make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers, buy seeds, and plant them. While she waits for them to grow, Lola makes their own book about flowers, strings beads and shells and bells, and makes a little Mary Mary doll. Lola’s patience and work are rewarded as the flowers grow big and “Open toward the sun.” Daddy helps her hang her bells, her friends come to her garden to eat Mommy’s peas and strawberries, and Lola makes up a story for them about Mary Mary. The book concludes, “What kind of garden will Lola plant next?” Simply told and satisfying, the book makes me want to run out and buy more packets of flower seeds, then invite friends to come visit in the garden and encourage them to grow.

Lola Plants a Garden

Jackie: Friends and gardens and the cycle of seasons. We are all rooted on this earth. And that’s good to remember. Let’s go plant some beans.

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Bookstorm™: Turn Left at the Cow

 

Turn Left at the Cow

Turn Left at the CowWho doesn’t love a mystery? Whether your find them intriguing puzzles or can’t-wait-to-know-the-solution page-turners, a good mystery is engrossing and a little tense. Throw in a little humor, a detailed setting, and well-drawn characters and you have a book you can confidently hand to young readers who are already hooked on the genre and those who have yet to become fans.

We are pleased to feature Turn Left at the Cow as our May book selection, written by the expert plotter Lisa Bullard, replete with her characteristic humor.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books, articles, and videos for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books for middle grade readers with mysteries, humor, and bank heists. 

Downloadables

 

 

Don’t miss the exceptional resources on the author’s website. Try your hand at butter carving with “Butter Head Beauties,” engaging science, art, and language arts skills. Re-create the book’s chicken poop bingo with “Chances Are,” calling on math and language arts. Lisa Bullard’s Pinterest page has more great ideas that you’ll find useful as you incorporate this book into your planning.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Middle Grade Mysteries. There are amazing books written for this age group. We’ve included a list that would help you select read-alikes or companion books, drawing on titles first printed in 1929 (yes, really) to 2015.

Butter Heads and Other State Fair Strangeness. A butter head is one of the attention-worthy objects in the book. Begin an online research assignment with a few articles about butter heads around the country.

Fish Out of Water. Travis lives in southern California. When he runs away to his grandmother’s cabin in northern Minnesota, it walks and talks like a different world, one that Travis has to learn to navigate if he’s going to solve the mystery.

Missing Parent. Even though Travis left his mother behind with her new husband, Travis is most interested in finding out about his dad, who died before he was born. Books for this age group often revolve around a parent or parents who are not present. We’ve recommended a few of them. 

Robberies and Heists. Travis has trouble believing his father could have robbed a bank but the townspeople seem to think so. We’ve included books that delineate bank or train robberies, some of them true.

Small Town Festivals. One of the most exciting scenes in Turn Left at the Cow takes place in Green Lake, Minnesota’s annual summer festival where chicken poop bingo is a tradition. We’ve found articles about other small town festivals that would make good writing prompts, research projects, or PowerPoint projects.

Mysteries offer a special pleasure to many readers, both children and adults. They provide an excellent opportunity to talk about plot and how that plot is reinforced by intriguing characters (and good writing!).

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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Spring, Where Are You?

The Boy Who Didn't Believe in SpringPhyllis: Each year, as soon as the snow melts, I’m eager to go search for native wildflowers. Two of the earliest flowers bloom in two different protected places a car ride away. And every year, I go too early—either the ephemeral snow trilliums aren’t even up yet or the pasque flowers are still such tiny, tight, furry brown buds that they’re hard to spot in the dried grass on the hillside where they grow. When I do finally find snow trilliums and pasque flowers in bloom, I know spring really has arrived.

A little boy named King Shabazz also goes looking for spring in Lucille Clifton’s The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring, illustrated by Brinton Turkle. His search takes him down city streets rather than up windy hillsides, but the impetus is the same.

When King Shabazz’s teacher talks about spring, he whispers, “No such thing.” When his mother talks about spring, he demands, “Where is it at?”

One day after his teacher has talked about blue birds and his Mama had talked about crops coming up, King Shabazz has had enough.

“Look here, man,” he tells his friend Tony Polito, “I’m going to get me some of this spring.” They set off through their urban neighborhood, searching for spring. They look around the corner, by the school and playground, by the Church of the Solid Rock, past a restaurant and apartment buildings until they come to a vacant lot walled in by tall buildings with an abandoned car sitting in the middle.

 When the boys go to investigate a sound coming from the car, Tony Polito trips on a patch of little yellow pointy flowers. “Man, the crops are coming up!” King Shabazz shouts. The sound turns out to be birds who fly out of the car, where the boys discover a nest with four light blue eggs.

 “Man, it’s spring!” says King Shabazz.

As do picture books by Vera B. Williams, Ezra Jack Keats, and Matt de la Peña, Clifton’s book celebrates the city where so many of us live and where spring arrives, as well, even if you don’t yet believe in it.

Lucille CliftonJackie: I loved this book so much that I had to do a little research on Lucille Clifton, who wrote more than twenty books for children. You mentioned celebration, Phyllis. Here’s what New Yorker magazine writer Elizabeth Alexander said of Clifton after her death in 2010:

Clifton invites the reader to celebrate survival: a poet’s survival against the struggles and sorrows of disease, poverty, and attempts at erasure of those who are poor, who are women, who are vulnerable, who challenge conquistador narratives. There is luminous joy in these poems, as they speak against silence and hatred.

There is luminous joy in this book—joy in the characters who are best friends and wait at the stoplight, which they have never gone past before, to see what the other will do; joy in the discovery of a bird’s nest on the front seat of a beat-up car. This is a story of survival, too. The boys do cross the street, even though Junior Williams has said he will beat them up if he sees them. They will survive. They have courage, each other, and appreciation for spring.

and then it's springPhyllis: Julie Fogliano’s book and then it’s spring is another story of waiting, this time in a more rural setting, told in second person in one long extended sentence whose syntax captures the feeling of waiting and waiting and waiting.

“First you have brown,
all around you have brown,

the book begins, and proceeds to seeds, a wish for rain, rain, a “hopeful, very possible sort of brown” but still brown. As time passes (and the single sentence continues) the child gardener worries that the birds might have eaten the seeds or bears tromped on them, until finally the brown

“still brown,
has a greenish hum
that you can only hear
if you put your ear to the ground
and close your eyes…”
until finally, on a sunny day,
“…now you have green,
all around you have green.”

Jackie: I love Julie Fogliano’s language: “…a hopeful, very possible sort of brown.” And the brown with the greenish hum just makes me smile. I know this is a blog about writing but I have to mention Erin Stead’s illustrations. Her possible-birds-eating-seeds painting is full of jokes—there’s a bird wearing a bib, a bird flat on its back, birds billing (as in billing and cooing) a bird trilling. It would be worth giving up a few seeds to see these lively birds in one’s yard.

Phyllis: And the sign to keep bears away (which the bear is using to scratch under his arm) made me laugh out loud: “Please do not stomp here. There are seeds and they are trying.”

Iridescence of birdsThe Iridescence of Birds, A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan also uses the syntax of an elongated sentence to heighten a sense of yearning and show how Matisse’s love of color and light might have bloomed from his childhood “in a dreary town in northern France where the skies were gray and the days were cold” and his mother brightened their home with painted plates and flowers and red rugs on the dirt floor, and his father raised pigeons “with colors that changed with the light as they moved.” The single long interrogative sentence is answered by another, shorter question:

“Would it be a surprise that you became
A fine painter who painted
Light
And
Movement
And the iridescence of birds?”

Jackie: This book does for me what all good picture books do, it makes me want to know more about Henri Matisse—and his remarkable mother. She knew that a red rug trumps a dirt floor any day—and she must have had a lode of artistic ability herself. And this book makes me want to try to write a story in one sentence.

Waiting-for-Spring StoriesPhyllis: Waiting-for-Spring Stories by Bethany Robert was a baby gift to my first daughter, and it continues to enchant. Papa Rabbit, “like Grandpa Rabbit before him and Great-Grandpa Rabbit before that,” helps to pass the time with his little rabbits until Spring arrives by telling stories, seven in all. And true to a child’s sensibility of the world, wind talks, a star yearns to sing, the little rabbit’s too big feet complain about the ways he tries to shrink them, a worm reassures a rabbit, and, in my favorite, “The Garden,” vegetables rebel against a farmer who plans to eat them for supper.

“’Get him, boys,’ called the onion.” And they do. The onion makes him cry, potato trips him, the carrot whacks him on the head, and they escape by rolling out the door.

“After that, the farmer rabbit always ate pancakes for his dinner.”

Jackie: Those vegetables could be in a horror picture book, for sure. But maybe they are too funny for a horror picture book.

Phyllis: The book and the storytelling end with sunlight pouring in the window and the snow beginning to melt from the windowpanes.

“Spring is here at last!”

Jackie: These stories remind me of Arnold Lobel’s work in their sure portrayal of characters I care about in just a few words. And I so love the talking grass and the talking feet and the feisty onion, carrot, and potato. I don’t know why but I found myself wanting to hear something from the little rabbits between the stories, something about the waiting or the upcoming spring. But that’s another book. These stories are cozy and charming and just right to read while we wait.

pasque flowers trilliumPhyllis: Last week I saw pasque flowers and snow trilliums. This week I found green leaves growing in my garden. This year’s time of yearning is over. It’s time to go outside and glory in springtime, here at last.

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Celebrating Ezra Jack Keats

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack KeatsJackie: This is the time of year when I read the Travel Section of the Sunday paper. I just want to go away from gritty snow, brown yards and come back to Spring. Well, there are no tickets on the shelf this year so Phyllis and I are taking a trip to the city created by Ezra Jack Keats. And why not? This month, this year marks his one-hundredth birthday.

As our travel guide we’re taking The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats (Yale University Press, 2011), written by Claudia Nahsen to coincide with The Snowy Day’s 50th anniversary and the showing of many of his works at the Jewish Museum, New York

Last Stop on Market StreetI’ve been thinking of Keats since I read Last Stop on Market Street, this year’s Newbery Award winner, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Robinson’s wonderful depictions of the urban landscape and the text’s suggestion that beauty is all around us, reminded me of Keats’s city scenes. Often they are set in his childhood home in Depression Era Brooklyn but enhanced with Keats’s brilliant collages, sketches, and jazzy palette.

A bit about his life, which I learned from Nahsen’s beautiful book: Jacob Ezra Katz was born in New York, on March 11, 1916. He was the youngest of three children born to immigrant parents in a “loveless marriage.” He grew up in a family marked by strife and unhappiness. He felt invisible as a child and believed “’life was measured by anguish.’” (Nahsen,p. 5). Art saved him. And in his art he gave life and validity to the streets he remembered from his childhood and to the kids, often invisible to society, who live on those streets.

The Snowy DayPhyllis: And up until publication of A Snowy Day, the first full-color picture book to feature an African American protagonist, those kids were virtually invisible in picture books as well. I especially love how Keats makes us see the city and the children and grown-ups who live in it with fresh eyes—his art includes graffiti, trashcans, and the struggles and celebrations of childhood. Nahsen quotes Keats: “Everything in life is waiting to be seen!” While some people criticized Keats, a white writer, for writing about black characters in The Snowy Day, the poet Langston Hughes wished he had “grandchildren to give it [the book] to.” Keats felt the criticisms deeply but continued to tell and illustrate the stories in his world “waiting to be seen.”

LouieJackie: Keats wrote and illustrated twenty-two books in his career. The ones I know are just as fresh, just as in tune with the lives of children as they were when he wrote them. We all know Peter of A Snowy Day, Peter’s Chair, A Letter to Amy. But Keats’s Louie is not quite as familiar. Louie is a quiet, kid who hardly ever speaks. But when he sees the puppet Gussie (Keats’s mother’s name) at Susie and Roberto’s puppet show, he stands up and yells “Hello!, Hello! Hello!” Susie and Roberto decide to have Gussie ask Louie to sit down so they can get on with the show. After the show they bring Gussie out so Louie can hold the puppet. Then the boy goes home, eventually sleeps and dreams he is falling and kids are laughing at him. When he wakes up, his mother tells him someone slipped a note under the door—“Go outside and follow the long green string.” At the end of the green string is—Gussie! There is so much to love about this story—a sensitive portrayal of a child who is somehow different, gets laughed at, yelled at by some kids; two kids, Susie and Roberto, who treat Louie with great kindness; and a hopeful ending.

Nahsen says: “…neglected characters, who had hitherto been living in the margins of picture books or had simply been absent from children’s literature take pride of place in Keats’s oeuvre.” She quotes from his unpublished autobiography: “When I did my first book about a black kid I wanted black kids and white kids to know that he’s there.” So it is with Louie. Keats reminds readers that the quiet kids, the kids who march to a different drum, the kids who live behind the broken doors, or on broken-down buses and can only have a cricket for a pet (Maggie and the Pirate) are there.

Maggie and the PiratePhyllis: Just as Keats portrays the real lives of kids who live in buses or city apartments without “even any steps in front of the door to sit on,” he doesn’t shy away from the small and large griefs and troubles of childhood. In Maggie and the Pirate, Maggie’s pet cricket, taken by a boy who admires the cricket’s cage, accidentally drowns in a river. Maggie and her friends hold a cricket funeral, and when the “pirate,” a boy who didn’t mean for the cricket to die but wanted the cage “real bad,” brings Maggie the cage with a new cricket, the children

                “all sat down together.
                Nobody said anything.
                They listened to the new cricket singing.
                Crickets all around joined in.”

Tragedies and consolation in the death of a cricket—a world seen through children’s eyes.

The Trip, Louie's Search, Regards to the Man in the Moon

Jackie: Keats came back to Louie with three other books and used this character to help him present some of the other problems of childhood—The Trip (1978), Louie’s Search (1980), and Regards to the Man in the Moon (1981).

The Trip tells us that Louie and his Mom move to a new neighborhood. Louie’s Search takes place after Louie has moved to a new neighborhood. “’What kind of neighborhood is this?’ thought Louie. “Nobody notices a kid around here.” He puts on a paper sack hat and paints his nose red and goes out for a walk. Eventually he picks up an object which has fallen off a junk wagon and so encounters the scary junkman Barney. Barney is huge and thinks Louie has stolen this object. “’Come back, you little crook,’ Barney bellowed.” They go to Louie’s house where Barney tells his Mom, “Your son’s a crook!’”

What Louie had found was a music box. When he holds it the box makes music. When he drops it, it stops. Barney decides to give the music box to Louie and stays for tea with Louie and his mom. It’s the beginning of a wonderful relationship that ends with a wedding and Louie finding the Dad he hoped for.

The Trip, Jennie's Hat, Dreams

Phyllis: Another thread throughout Keats’ work is the power of imagination. Louie in The Trip imagines a plane flying him to his old neighborhood. Jennie in Jennie’s Hat imagines a beautiful hat instead of the plain one her aunt has sent, and the birds, who she feeds daily, swoop down and decorate her hat with leaves, pictures, flowers (paper and real), colored eggs, a paper fan, and a pink valentine. In Dreams, Roberto imagines (or does it really happen?) that when a paper mouse he has made tumbles from his windowsill, its shadow “grew bigger—and bigger—and BIGGER” until it scared off the dog terrorizing his friend’s kitten on the sidewalk below.

Ezra Jack Keats: Artist and Picture-book MakerWe haven’t really even talked about his art and his brilliant use of collage and color. Just as Keats’s books celebrate the power of the imagination, Anita Silvey says that Keats took “absolute joy in the creative process.” We can share that joy in his books in stories and art that recognize that everyone needs to be seen, everyone has a place, and everyone, joyously, matters.

Jackie: Brian Alderson in Ezra Jack Keats: Artist and Picture-Book Maker writes that in The Snowy Day Keats “came home to his proper place: a colorist celebrating the hidden lives of the city kids.” I would add that that can be said for most of his works. And we are the richer for it.

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Writing Books for the Newest Readers

I once believed nothing was harder than writing a picture book. Writing picture books is a cakewalk compared to beginning readers. Kids don’t have to read picture books, just enjoy them. Beginning, or leveled readers, are designed for newly-independent readers who have graduated from phonics texts. Levels vary according to publishers, but usually include an early level for pre-readers and/or kindergarteners.  

I Like Shoes by Candice RansomWhen I wrote I Like Shoes (2005) for Scholastic’s Rookie Reader series, I wasn’t even sure the 44-word rhyming text was a book. It didn’t have much of a story.

The preschool to kindergarten readers have very short texts and are splashed with cheerful illustrations. They look easy to write.  Fun, even! I’ve written three Level 1 (Ready-to-Read) books for the Step into Reading imprint of Random House. I’d love to brag I dash these fripperies off in a day or so, but my orange notebook would be quick to report the fib.

My battered orange spiral notebook is used exclusively for writing level 1 readers. It’s battered because I drag it everywhere. Sometimes I throw it across the room in a fit of frustration. The orange notebook knows I will pick it up with a sigh and go back to the difficult lines I was struggling with.

Sleepy Dog by Harriet ZiefertAt the front of this notebook is a typed version of, at least in my opinion, the Moby Dick of leveled readers. Harriet Ziefert’s Sleepy Dog was first published in 1984 and is still a strong seller. The short charming text about a dog-child going to bed is deceptively simple.  

My first Level 1 ideas were rejected for being too sophisticated, such as the canine etiquette guide written by fleas. Gradually I understood this audience needs stories about their world.

Pumpkin Day by Candice Ransom and illustrated by Erika MezaI finally got it right with Pumpkin Day (2015). The story, about a pumpkin-picking family, employs rhyme and rhythm. Unlike I Like Shoes, Pumpkin Day has a narrative arc. The 113 words were carefully chosen and discarded, revised and reworked, page after scribbled page, as evidenced in the orange notebook.   

Level 1 books teem with action. Illustrations match the narrative. If the reader has trouble decoding the text, the art provides necessary cues. Apple Picking Day (2016) will follow Pumpkin Day.  Same family on a different fall adventure. This story was even harder because there was no story. After you’ve picked pumpkins, what surprises await picking apples? Plus I had to use the same rhyme and rhythm scheme as in Pumpkin Day.

No metaphors, my editor warned. And no contractions. While I wasn’t given a word list, I had to  rely on common sense.  The stanza “Over mountains/cross a bridge/apple orchard/on the ridge” contained “mountains,” “bridge,” and “ridge.” I loved the image of the family’s little yellow car motoring through the countryside, but the stanza had to be changed. The published version (after many scratch-outs in the orange notebook) reads, “Over hill tops,/big and small./I see apples./Hello, fall!”  

Simple wins every time.

For Tooth Fairy Night (2017), I applied a guide of sight words for kindergartners. Draft pages in the orange notebook are littered with tiny marginal lists of one-syllable end rhymes, like stay, away, day, play. Words that seem ridiculously easy to us give the youngest readers pleasure and satisfaction.

I actually love writing these little stories. The orange notebook often sits on the kitchen counter while I fix dinner or wash dishes. I’ll mutter lines or try out rhymes while soaping the same plate over and over. If I’m riding in the car, my trusty notebook rests on my lap like a puppy.  

Sometimes I long to be asked to write a Level 2. Bigger word list! More syllables! Yet I picture a brand-new reader picking up one of my Level 1 books and happily sounding out those hundred or so words to the very end.  The orange notebook and I toast (ink for the notebook, iced tea for me) another reader’s success.

Copyright Evan Sharboneau (via dollarphotoclub.com)

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John Burningham

John BurninghamYou probably know John Burningham best for Mr. Gumpy’s Outing but illustrators, book creators, are so much more than what we see between the covers of their books. Their lives are often illustrated. They record things on paper visually. They put what they’ve observed into drawers and portfolios and notebooks so they have that once-seen image to call upon for their work.

In this eponymously titled book, John Burningham (Candlewick Press), both Maurice Sendak and Brian Alderson write forewords for the book, particularly about the early 1960s which saw the publication of Borka (Burningham) and Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak). Those books “were the direct result of those fast and furiously freshly designed picture book days. Down with the simpering 19th century goody-goody books that deprived children of their animal nature, wild imagination, and lust for living.” (Sendak)

The majority of the book is Burningham’s remembrances of childhood, living in a caravan with his family during World War II, his early jobs, attending the Central School of Arts, and each of his books. This Literary Madeleine is replete with sketches, drawings, and finished work, photos, inspiration, and observances.

John Burningham Books

Here are some highlights:

“There is a misconception that picture books for children should be packed with colour and decoration on every page. This is rather like saying a successful piece of music should be crammed full of loud noise. It’s the juxtaposition and build-up of sound that makes music interesting.” (pg 127) 

 “When I look at some of my childhood drawings, I realize I have reproduced them again years later. The plumbing picture I drew as a child is very similar to the picture in Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley.” (pg 130)

John Burningham

He offers comments on many of his books, insightful, producing much flipping back and forth to look at other drawings, to examine how Burningham has done this elsewhere, to absorb his scope and style. For Oi! Get Off Our Train (called Hey, Get Off Our Train in the US … oi!) he explains that the West Japan Railway Company hired him to make a book about the Yoshitsune, Japan’s first steam locomotive, for Expo 90, a world’s fair held in Osaka in 1990. The painting below is from this book …

Oi Get Off Our Train!

It’s very revealing about this author/illustrator that he writes, “Oi! Get Off Our Train was first published in Japan in 1989. It is an environmental tale, now dedicated to Chico Mendes, who did so much trying to protect the rainforests. He was murdered for his work. Oi! Get Off Our Train is about endangered species, but more than that it’s about the social hierarchy of young children and the need to ease themselves into a group.” (pg 167)

Harvey SlumfenbergerHarvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present relates the story of a young boy who is quite poor. The only present he will get for Christmas is the one that Father Christmas will bring him. “Father Christmas was very tired. The reindeer were asleep and one of them was not very well. But Father Christmas knew he had to get the present to Harvey Slumfenburger.” (pg 179)

It is a book to be read carefully, savored, and cherished. Pull it down from your shelf every few months and you’ll quickly be pulled into his artwork once again. You’ll find yourself filled with effervescence, the type that carries you on to do great things.

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Interview with Julie Downing: Illustrating The Firekeeper’s Son

interview by Vicki Palmquist and Marsha Qualey

Firekeeper's SonThe illustrations in The Firekeeper’s Son are all double-page spreads. How did that design decision affect your choices and work?

I decided on the format because the landscape is an important part of the story. The original dummy I made had fewer pages so I split many spreads into smaller images. Fortunately, my wonderful editor recognized the problem and allowed me to make the book 40 pages instead of 32, so I could spread the story over 20 spreads. We both felt the expansive double-page spreads helped make the story feel bigger.

My favorite spreads are on pp. 24-25 and pp. 30-31. Similar in palate and subject, one (pp. 30-31) is effectively a close-up of the other (pp. 24-25), and that helps so much to heighten suspense at a critical moment. Did this image come quickly or was it reached slowly?

My favorite sequence of spreads is between pp. 24-25 and pp. 30-31. This is the climactic moment in the text, and Linda Sue expertly builds the climax to Sang-hee’s moment of decision. The sequence of images took a long time to get just right (most of my ideas come V E R Y slowly) I drew and redrew these 4 spreads many times so I could find just the right way to show how Sang-hee decides to put aside his desire to see soldiers (as shown in the shadow on pp. 24-25) to the moment where he lights the fire.

FirekeeperIllustrationThe toy figures Sang-hee plays with are a crucial element in the narrative, yet they’re not mentioned in the text. When and how did they become part of the story?

As an illustrator, my job is to bring something new to the text. The text says that Sang-hee loves soldiers and I wanted to show his interest in a way that young readers could understand. I watched my own son, who was Sang-hee’s age, when I was illustrating this book. He spent a lot of his time making Lego® figures and playing with them, so I started wondering what the 17th century equivalent was to Lego® and came up with the idea of clay soldiers.

Sang-hee plays with clay (or mud) soldiers. Did you find examples of these in your research? How do you go about making sure those toys were in use during the time period in which the book is set?

Children didn’t have toys in the small Korean villages and any that they made would not have survived, however I spoke to a curator at the Asian Art Museum and he suggested that children might have fashioned simple figures out of mud or clay. The actual soldiers were made by my 6-year-old-son so they looked like something a young boy would make.

Where did you do your research to find the uniforms Korean soldiers would have worn during this time period? They seem to have reflective rivets on their jackets. Is this something you could detect from your research?

I love the research part of the process. San Francisco has a wonderful Asian Art Museum and I was able to go behind the scenes and look at some of the soldiers’ actual uniforms. The museum also provided me with tons of visual reference for all the costumes in the book. The reflection in the rivets actually represents sparks from the 2nd coal. I wanted to visually blend reality and fantasy.

Did you use models for the people in your paintings?

I do use models. My son’s best friend posed for Sang-hee, and his mother posed as well. I find one of the hardest parts of painting the illustrations for a book is making the characters look consistent. It helps me if I find a real person to pose.

Do you remember making a decision to paint Sang-hee’s imagined soldiers within the fire?

The text does say he saw a huge battle in the flames, so I was inspired by the text. One of the things I loved about the story are the levels of complexity, and yet the writing is spare. Linda Sue touches on so many themes—family, duty, desire—within a simple text that I had lots of opportunities to expand the story with the art.

firekeeper_2

You achieve a wonderful luminescence with your fire. How did you accomplish this?

I worked with a combination of watercolor and liquid acrylics. The acrylics are incredibly intense colors so I watered them down and painted in dozens of layers. My studio now has a big blue-green stain right near the door, because I pinned the painting to the door, wet them with a spray bottle and literally poured paint over them. All the excess dripped onto the floor. It created a nice welcome mat!

The color palette for the paintings is blue, green, and purple, with a beautiful light suffusing the landscape. What led you to decide on that group of colors?

I chose the colors to contrast with the warmth of the fire. I usually do extensive color studies so I can work out not only the colors in the individual spreads, but also how the colors affect the story arc.

Lotus and the Feather, illus by Julie Downing Disney Hyperion, 2016

Lotus and Feather, written and illustrated by Julie Downing, pp. 18-19. forthcoming from Disney Hyperion, 2016

Many illustrators paint in watercolor, but you’ve added pastel crayons. What do you feel this adds to a painting?

I love painting with watercolor. The transparency you can achieve with the medium was perfect for the book. However, sometimes I wanted a better dark, a lighter highlight, or a different texture, so adding pastel and colored pencil allowed me to do this.

The cover is not taken from pages already existing in the book. It stands separately. What did you feel needed to be on the cover in order to draw people into the book?

I find covers to be challenging. I want to convey a sense of the story without giving anything away. The editor and I went back and forth on showing soldiers in the flames because we were worried it might reveal the ending. Finally, we decided that if they were subtle, it just adds to the mystery of the story.

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Bookstorm™: Bulldozer’s Big Day

Bookstorm-Bulldozer-Visual_655

written by Candace Fleming  illustrated by Eric Rohmann  Atheneum, 2015

written by Candace Fleming 
illustrated by Eric Rohmann 
Atheneum, 2015

It’s Bulldozer’s big day—his birthday! But around the construction site, it seems like everyone is too busy to remember. Bulldozer wheels around asking his truck friends if they know what day it is, but they each only say it’s a work day. They go on scooping, sifting, stirring, filling, and lifting, and little Bulldozer grows more and more glum. But when the whistle blows at the end of the busy day, Bulldozer discovers a construction site surprise, especially for him!

An ideal book for a read-aloud to that child sitting by you or to a classroom full of children or to a storytime group gathered together, Bulldozer’s Big Day is fun to read because of all the onomatopoeia and the wonderful surprise ending.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. For Bulldozer’s Big Day, you’ll find books for a variety of tastes and interests. The book will be comfortably read to ages 3 through 7. We’ve included picture books, nonfiction, videos, websites, and destinations that complement the book, all encouraging early literacy.

Building Projects. There have been many fine books published about designing and constructing houses, cities, and dreams. We share a few books to encourage and inspire your young dreamers.

Construction Equipment. Who can resist listening to and watching the large variety of vehicles used on a construction project? You’ll find both books and links to videos.

Birthday Parties. This is the other large theme in Bulldozer’s Big Day and we suggest books such as Xander’s Panda Party that offer other approaches to talking about birthdays.

Dirt, Soil, Earth. STEM discussions can be a part of early literacy, too. Get ready to dish the dirt! 

Loneliness. Much like Bulldozer, children (and adults) can feel let down, ignored, left out … and books are a good way to start the discussion about resiliency and coping with these feelings.

Surprises. If you work with children, or have children of your own, you know how tricky surprises and expectations can be. We’ve included books such as Waiting by Kevin Henkes and Handa’s Surprise by Eileen Browne.

Friendship. An ever-popular theme in children’s books, we’ve selected a few of the very best, including A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by the Steads.

Let us know how you are making use of this Bookstorm™. Share your ideas and any other books you’d add to this Bookstorm™.

Downloadables

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We Didn’t Always Know the Way

by Vicki Palmquist

How to Read a StoryA step-by-step, slightly tongue-in-cheek but mostly sincere, guide to reading a book, How to Read a Story by Kate Messner, illustrated by Mark Siegel (Chronicle Books), will have you and your young readers feeling all warm and cozy and smart.

With advice in Step 2 to Find a Reading Buddy, we are cautioned “And make sure you both like the book.” That makes perfect sense. Reading buddies, as drawn in a colorful palette by illustrator and cartoonist Mark Siegel, can be older, younger, “or maybe not a person at all.” Perhaps a blue dog will wish to read with you.

In Step 6, the suggestion is to read the dialogue by saying it “in a voice to match who’s talking.” The ink-and-watercolor illustrations take up the narrative, giving us irresistible words with which to practice, a lion, a mouse who says “I am the most POWERFUL in all the land!” and a robot who merely says “Beep.” It’s excellent practice for interpreting pictures and putting meaning into the words.

We’re invited to try our minds at prediction in Step 8, as our reader and his reading buddy, the blue dog, contemplate what will happen next.

It’s a book that will make you smile, a good match between well-chosen words and playful illustrations, yet it’s a useful book for home and school and story hour. How can children learn the way to read out loud? How to Read a Story will have them trying before you know it.

 

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Heather Vogel Frederick: Borrowed Fire

In Absolutely Truly, my new middle grade mystery set in a bookshop in the fictional town of Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire, a first edition of Charlotte’s Web goes missing. There’s a reason this particular book features so prominently in the story—it’s a nod to my literary hero, E. B. White.

E.B. White

E.B. White and friend

E.B. White and I go way back. He’s one of the reasons I became a writer, thanks to Charlotte’s Web, which was one of my all-time favorites as a young reader (it still is). It tops a short list of what I consider perfect novels—a list that includes Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, among a handful of others.

The year I turned 12 and declared my intention of becoming an author, my dad slipped a copy of Elements of Style into my Christmas stocking. It was an inspired present, as the book on writing and grammar that Mr. White co-wrote with William Strunk, Jr., made me feel both validated and grown-up. I displayed it prominently on my desk, and if I read it with more enthusiasm than comprehension, at least I felt very sophisticated as I did so. Later, in college, I would discover White’s collected letters and essays, which helped inspire my early career as a journalist.

Of all the gifts that E. B. White has given me, though, the one I treasure most are his characters. I can’t even imagine a world without Charlotte and Wilbur, or without Fern Arable, and Lurvy, and Templeton the rat. Memorable characters such as these are what make for memorable stories. Sure, setting is important, research is important, and a story without a plot is a hot mess (anybody sat through Waiting for Godot recently?), but for me, memorable characters are the main course, the engine that drives the train, the beating heart of a book.

Charlotte's Web coverCharacters like Charlotte and Wilbur don’t just spring full-blown onto the page like Athena from the head of Zeus, however. Writing is a deliberate act. It is artifice; it is craft; it is intentional. While the concept for a character may come to a writer in a flash, the construction of that character is the result of much effort and care.

So how does a writer go about creating characters that walk off the page and straight into a reader’s heart?

It comes down to something I call “borrowed fire.”

There are other tools writers employ in creating characters, of course—tools such as description, dialogue, and voice. But all of these ingredients would be nothing without borrowed fire. Without this elemental flame, characters remain as lifeless and cold as the paper on which they’re printed.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, just a few miles from the end of the Oregon Trail. While reading about the early settlers at one point, I learned just how crucial fire was to survival. The pioneers depended on it for warmth, for cooking, for light, and for cheer. If a campfire or cook stove went out in a log cabin or along the wagon train, someone would be rapidly dispatched to a neighbor’s with a lidded pan to “borrow fire”—a few embers or coals with which to rekindle their own.

In writing, we, too, need fire. We need the blaze of emotion to light up our stories and stir our readers, igniting in them a sympathetic response. 

But from whom do we borrow this fire? 

Fiery HeartFrom ourselves. From our own lives, our own experiences. Robert Frost once said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Writers have to be willing to dig deep. I’m not talking about spilling dark secrets onto the page. I’m talking about tapping into your own unique well of emotional experience and sharing it with your reader. We all know what it’s like to be anxious about something, to be envious or fearful or alight with happiness or crazy in love. Investing our characters with these emotional truths creates the point of connection. That’s the moment at which a character walks off the page and into a reader’s heart.

E.B. White was never an eight-year-old girl named Fern. He was never a worried piglet or a literate spider or a scheming rat with a soft underbelly of kindness. But he knew about friendship, and love, and loss, and he borrowed those embers from his own life to kindle his characters, and the light and warmth they radiate have touched the hearts of readers down the years.

Borrowed fire is where the magic happens in a story. It’s by the light of this fire that memorable characters are made.

 

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The Scraps Book

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life

Sometimes I want to walk right into the pages of a book, know everything the author knows, share their lifetime of experiences, and be able to emulate their creativity. Scraps: Notes from a Colorful Life makes me feel that way. I’ve even enjoyed the feeling and texture of the paper because I want in! For […]

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bk_betsytacytib.jpg

Discussing the Books We’ve Loved: Déjà Vu

As I ready this article for publication, I am sitting in the coffee shop where I first met Heather Vogel Frederick, now a much-admired author of some of my favorite books. I still enjoy getting caught up in a series, accepting the likeable and not-so-likeable characters as my new-found circle of friends, anticipating the treat […]

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Boy Reading

Doing it Yourself

In the ten years that CLN has existed, one of our greatest challenges has been self-published books. Do we include them or don’t we? The rules of publishing are changing in seismic ways. We’re watching the shifting trends. CLN believes in presenting books that can fit the credo “the right book at the right time […]

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