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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | fiction

Bookstorm™: Giant Pumpkin Suite

Giant Pumpkin SuiteCompetition is a part of young people’s lives: art, sports, music, dance, science, cup-stacking … many children spend a good part of their day practicing, learning, and striving to do their best. Giant Pumpkin Suite is about two types of competitions, a Bach Cello Suites Competition and a giant pumpkin growing competition. Rose and Thomas Brutigan are twelve-year-old twins … but their personalities and interests are quite different. It’s a book set within a neighborhood that pulls together when a serious accident changes the trajectory of their summer. We meet so many interesting people, children and adults, in this book. It’s full of hold-your-breath plot turns. 

The book is written at a level for 5th to 8th grade readers (and adults) and it has many ties to popular culture, mathematics, gardening, and the nature of competition. It’s an excellent choice for a book club discussion.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books, articles, websites, and videos for a variety of tastes and interests.  

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more information about Melanie Heuiser Hill on her website.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Johann Sebastian Bach. Rose Brutigan focuses on an upcoming Bach Suites Competition by practicing … a lot. Who was Bach and why is his music still with us 260 years after his death? Resources include books and videos of our best cellists playing the Bach Cello Suites.

The Cello. More about the instrument Rose plays, with a number of videos you can share with your class or book club.

Charlotte’s Web. This book is a favorite of Rose and her neighbor Jane. Charlotte’s Web provides a major turning point in Giant Pumpkin Suite. Learn more about the book and its author, E.B. White.

Giant Pumpkins. Thomas and his neighbors work together to grow a giant pumpkin. Today, these pumpkins (not grown for eating) can way over 2,000 pounds—more than one ton. Books, videos, and articles share stories and how-tos for growing giant pumpkins competitively.

Japanese Tea Ceremony. Mrs. Kiyo shares this beautiful ceremony with Rose. The Bookstorm suggests a video for your students to watch.

Mathematics and Bach. Are you aware that Bach used math and physics when creating his compositions? Your students can delve into this fascinating aspect of the composer!

Movie Musicals. The music from musicals of the 1940s and 1950s is very important to Jane and Mrs. Lukashenko—they sing and tap dance at the least suggestion. We provide three suggestions for watching these movies.

Music Competition (Fiction). There are a number of excellent books about young people preparing for, and playing in, music competitions! 

Music in Middle Grade Books. And more novels in which music is an important part of the plot. 

Neighborhood Books. We suggest books in which the people and places of a neighborhood are integral to the plot of a book. Perhaps you’ll find your favorites.

Tap Dancing. Who can resist a good tap dance? Another strong plot point, we suggest books and videos to share with your students.

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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Third Grader Reading at a Sixth Grade Level

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

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

bk_alcaponeshirtsAdam Canfield of the Slash, Michael Winerip

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

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

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

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

BFG, Roald Dahl

Birchbark House, Louis Erdrich

Black Stallion (series), Walter Farley

Boggart, Susan Cooper

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

Borrowers, Mary Norton

Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis

Catch You Later, Traitor, Avi

Catherine, Called Birdy, Karen Cushman

Chasing Vermeer, Blue Balliet

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

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

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

Dragons in the Waters, Madeleine L’Engle

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

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Chris Grabenstein

Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School, Candace Fleming

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

Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo

Frindle, Andrew Clements

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

Girls Think of Everything, Catherine Thimmesh

Greenglass House, Kate Milford

Half Magic, Edward Eager

HatchetHarriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

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

Hatchet, Gary Paulsen

Holes, Louis Sachar

Home of the Brave, Katherine Applegate

How to Steal a Dog, Barbara O’Connor

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

Indian Shoes, Cynthia Leitich Smith

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

Invention of Hugo CabretInvention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

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

Julie of the Wolves, Jean Craighead George

King of the Wind, Marguerite Henry

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

Lincoln and His Boys, Rosemary Wells

Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park

Making Friends with Billy Wong, Augusta Scattergood

Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli

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

Mozart Season, Virginia Euwer Wolff

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

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

Old Wolf, Avi

On My Honor, Marion Dane Bauer

One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate

One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia

Owls in the Family, Farley Mowat

People Could FlyPeople Could Fly, Virginia Hamilton

Peter Nimble and the Fantastic Eyes, Jonathan Auxier

Pushcart War, Jean Merrill

Randoms, David Liss

Savvy, Ingrid Law

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

Scooter, Vera B. Williams’

Stella by StarlightSingle Shard, Linda Sue Park

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

Stella by Starlight, Sharon M. Draper

Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome

Tales from the Odyssey, Mary Pope Osborne

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

Tom’s Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce

True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi

Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt

Uncertain Glory, Lea Wait

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

Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech

Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

Whales on Stilts! M.T. Anderson

When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin

Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth Speare

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

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Candace Fleming Tames the Wild West

credit: Michael Lionstar

credit: Michael Lionstar

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

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

Buffalo Bill Cody 1875

William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, ©1875

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

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

Buffalo Bill Cody by José Maria Mora

Buffalo Bill Cody by José Maria Mora

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

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

What’s right?

What’s fair?

What’s moral?

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

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

Who was right?

Who was wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

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

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

Would you recommend that your readers visit those locations?

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

Buffalo Bill's personal saddle

Buffalo Bill’s personal saddle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buffalo Bill's Wild West show poster

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

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

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Bookstorm: Catherine, Called Birdy

Catherine Called Birdy Bookstorm

In this Bookstorm™:

Catherine, Called BirdyCatherine, Called Birdy

written by Karen Cushman
published by Clarion Books, 1994
Newbery Honor book

“Corpus Bones! I utterly loathe my life.”

Catherine feels trapped. Her father is determined to marry her off to a rich man–any rich man, no matter how awful. But by wit, trickery, and luck, Catherine manages to send several would-be husbands packing. Then a shaggy-bearded suitor from the north comes to call–by far the oldest, ugliest, most revolting suitor of them all. Unfortunately, he is also the richest. Can a sharp-tongued, high-spirited, clever young maiden with a mind of her own actually lose the battle against an ill-mannered, pig-like lord and an unimaginative, greedy toad of a father? Deus! Not if Catherine has anything to say about it!” 

Arranged Marriages. From the beginning of Catherine, Called Birdy, our heroine is aware that she will be married off to a man who can bring her father more land and more worldly goods, an alliance, something of monetary value. She is particularly determined not to let this happen. We recommend other books written for teens about arranged marriages. 

Birds. Catherine has many birdcages filled with winged friends in her bedroom. They bring her peace of mind and she treasures them. From true stories about birds, field guides, to alarm over the disappearance of songbirds, there are bird books to introduce to your readers. 

Crusades. With many eyes focused on the Middle East, it is likely that you’re finding interest in the history of the conflicts there. Catherine, Called Birdy is set at a time when religious and military warriors are returning to England from the Crusades. We recommend several excellent nobels and biographies set during this time. 

Embroidery. The women in Birdy’s home embroider. They couldn’t go out and buy ready-made clothes so the only way to make clothes prettier was to decorate them with patterns of thread. Does someone in your class already embroider? Will you schedule an embroidery demonstration for your classroom? You’ll find some books with patterns that will appeal to the crafters among your students. 

Fleas. Hygiene wasn’t as well-known in Birdy’s day. House were not as protected from the elements. Fleas were a fact of life. They caused personal discomfort but they also caused plagues and changed politics. Certainly there will be those students in your classroom who will be intrigued. 

Illuminated Manuscripts. Birdy’s brother works at a monastery where they are illuminating manuscripts. We recommend several websites that will help you demonstrate this forerunner of the printing press. 

Journals/Diaries. Catherine’s story is told in first person in the form of a diary she’s keeping. Many students are asked to keep journals. Here are several favorite books told in this format. 

Judaism: the Edict of Expulsion. Few people realize that Edward I ordered all Jews to leave England forever on July 18, 1290. Birdy meets a group of Jews who are departing and finds it hard to understand how they are any different than she and her family. We reference articles that will give more background on this topic. 

Medieval Life. Novels, picture books, and true stories for young readers have often been set in the medieval world. We offer suggestions for a number of them, ranging from Adam of the Road, published in 1943, to Stephen Biesty’s Cross-Sections Castle from 2013. 

Peerage and Nobility. Whether you’re fascinated by the titles used in England or you find them confusing, here are a few guides to enhance your students’ understanding. 

Saints Days. Birdy prefaces each of her journal entries with the reflection of a saint whose day was celebrated on that day. We’ve found a few references that will explain who these people were and why they became saints from an historical viewpoint. 

Women’s History/Coming of Age. At the heart of Birdy’s story is the fact that she is leaving childhood behind and becoming a young woman. We’ve included recommendations for books on this theme that include fictional and true stories over a wide span of years..

Techniques for using each book:

Downloadables


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The Fourteenth Goldfish

The versatile Jennifer L. Holm pens a fantasy this time around, but it’s a story suffused with humor and science, deftly asking a mind-blowing question: is it a good thing to grow old? So what happens when a 13-year-old boy shows up on your doorstep, arguing with your mom, who invites him in, and it […]

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Behind the Books We’ve Loved: A Wilder Rose

Growing up, I loved to read mysteries, biographies, but especially series books. I didn’t read Nancy Drew or Anne of Green Gables (not until I was an adult), but I followed most every other series character. I read Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, Trixie Belden, Beany Malone, Janet Lennon, but especially Louisa May Alcott’s books, the […]

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