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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Gennifer Choldenko

End Cap: Chasing Secrets

Chasing SecretsAs a new feature this month, we’re adding a Word Search puzzle using names and terms found in Gennifer Choldenko‘s historical fiction book, Chasing Secrets

Simply use your mouse or touch pad to draw a line over your found words and the program will mark them off for you. Words can be found forwards, backwards, horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. As you find a word, it will be highlighted on the board and it will disappear from the word list.

Have fun!

Hidden Words

Puzzle by mypuzzle.org
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Gennifer Choldenko

Bookology is proud to feature Gennifer Choldenko’s Chasing Secrets as its Bookstorm™ this month, sharing themes, ideas, and complementary book recommendations for your classroom, literature circle, or book group discussions.

Gennifer CholdenkoWere you a curious child? How did this manifest itself?

I was an eccentric child. I was curious to the extent that I could find out new facts to feed my imaginary world. I adored school and loved my teachers. I used to come home from school with an aching arm from raising my hand with such unbridled enthusiasm.

When you grew up, where did your curiosity lead you?

You know the classic I Love Lucy episode with the candy conveyor belt? I once had a job squishing individual servings of tomato ketchup and mustard with a big mallet. The goal, believe it or not, was quality control. You had to bang them hard. If they didn’t open, they were considered secure enough to send out. Boy was it a messy job.

Chasing SecretsLizzie Kennedy, the heroine of Chasing Secrets, is a curious child of thirteen. She’s interested in science and mathematics, in finding out the truth. What do you admire most about her?

I admire how certain she is about the rightness of the world. I’ve had people tell me that Lizzie reveals her naivete because she’s so sure she can make everything work out. That gave me pause. In Lizzie’s worldview, the truth prevails. I believe that to my very core. Maybe, that’s why I write for ten-, eleven- and twelve-year-olds.

Jing and Noah are Chinese immigrants. Only part of their family has traveled to San Francisco. Jing has aspirations for his son. What drew you to writing these characters into the book?

I’m interested in the Chinese, in part, because my daughter is Chinese. We adopted her from China when she was eight months old. She was a very small immigrant. And not surprisingly, I adore her. Because of her I’ve become more aware of the anti-Chinese sentiment in today’s world and that in turn made me more interested in the history of the Chinese in America.

You introduce the key players in the story in the early chapters. We even get a glimpse of Billy on the docks, long before he interacts with Lizzie. The rats have Chapter 3 named after them. Is this something that happens as you’re writing the first drafts, or do you go back to set up the story during revisions?

Every book seems to evolve in a different way. Chasing Secrets was built almost entirely in revision. The only part of the book that was there from the get-go involved the rats. Billy evolved with each draft. It took me a long time to persuade him to come onto the page.

The number “6” figures prominently in Chasing Secrets. There are Six Companies, Six Leaders, and Six Boys. What is the significance of the number 6 for you?

The Six Companies actually existed. They held considerable power within the Chinese community. The Six Companies reminded me of my brother’s group of friends who all lived in a house in Marblehead and called themselves “Six of Six.” That gave me the idea it would be fun to have Noah be a part of a group of six kids who were leaders in the kids Chinatown community.

There’s an exchange between Lizzie and Noah where we discover that each of them has prejudices. Lizzie has her notions about servants and the Chinese, but Noah has his ideas about girls not being as smart as boys. He believes girls lie because one girl did. This feels like an important passage in the book. Why did you include it?

If you are writing about San Francisco 1900 and every character has the sensibility and mindset of San Francisco 2016, then really what you’re doing is putting your twenty-first century characters into historic dress. A costume ball is fun but it isn’t historic fiction. On the other hand, there is no such thing as a generic 1900s sensibility anymore than there is a generic 2016 sensibility. (Does Pope Francis view our world in the same way as Lady Gaga? I don’t think so.) There always have been, and there always will be, people who are “ahead of their time,” people who are “behind the times,” and people who are wholly original thinkers. But everyone is formed to some degree from the time in which they exist.

Lizzie was more open-minded than most of her peers. But the prejudice against the Chinese was deeply embedded in San Francisco culture. Lizzie had to have absorbed some of it. And, of course, Noah’s world was sexist. Almost no one questioned either of these prejudices in 1900.

Did you have trouble deciding which of the main characters would get sick with the plague?

RatsHow did you know? I felt strongly that the person who got sick was not going to be Chinese only because many people believed that the plague only affected Asians, which was and is false. But whom should I choose? It was a ghoulish question.

 It seemed logical that someone like Maggy would get sick because she spent a lot of time cleaning and there were an inordinate amount of dead rats around in 1900, many of whom died of the plague. But I really loved Maggy and I didn’t want her to suffer much less die. So initially I gave her a light dusting of the plague, from which she recovered pretty easily.

 Then I got a letter from my editor. She did not believe this was realistic. I happened to be on tour when I got the letter. I remember waking up one morning in Nashville with the realization that one character who I had making the “right” decision would not have made that decision at all. And from then on the book wrote itself.

There are many interesting real-life characters in your book (Dr. Kinyoun, Donaldina Cameron). Did you visit museums and libraries to do your research?

I spend half my life at the library. And of course I went to museums in San Francisco and in New York in addition to every historical tour I could find in San Francisco and Sacramento and in New York. Historical tours rarely give me a picture of the exact time, place, and social status I’m looking for, but they are a leaping-off place. I pepper the tour guides with questions and source materials and begin to develop a picture of what the homes of my characters might have looked like.

Chinatown

The Gateway Arch today, San Francisco’s Chinatown, chensiyuan, GFDL

Another thing I love to do is walk the neighborhoods I’m writing about. Of course, San Francisco now looks nothing like San Francisco in 1900 and yet some things are the same. Weather, proximity to the bay, seafood, wildlife, birds, natural geography are all largely the same. I spent a lot of time in Chinatown. Chinatown now is almost nothing like it was, except for one thing: it still feels like its own city in the middle of San Francisco. By walking the city now and studying old maps and old photos, I was able to conjure up Chinatown in 1900.

Chinatown today

The Street of Gamblers (Ross Alley), Arnold Genthe, 1898. The population was predominantly male because U.S. policies at the time made it difficult for Chinese women to enter the country. Photo by Arnold Genthe, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.

Research is an ongoing detective game. A synergy between what I can find out and what I can imagine. I research before I begin writing, while I’m writing, and while I’m revising. My husband says when I’m in the middle of a book I am possessed. I can’t get enough information. But I find the entire process thrilling. There is nothing like discovering a juicy source that tells me exactly what I need to know.

Gus Trotter and his sister, Gemma, are intriguing friends who embrace Lizzie and her escapades. Were they in the story from the very beginning?

Al Capone Does My ShirtsNo! Gemma and Gus Trotter came later. In the beginning, Aunt Hortense and Uncle Karl had a daughter who was very close to Lizzie. But somewhere around the third draft I realized she got in the way of the story. So I kicked her out of the book and as soon as I did Gemma and Gus appeared. The same thing happened with Al Capone Does My Shirts. Initially, I had a different group of kids on the island. I liked them, but they didn’t work very well with Moose, so I fired them. And when I did up popped Jimmy, Theresa, and Annie.

Writing a book is a bit like having a dinner party. I’ve had dinner parties where I invited guests I know and love but the dinner party didn’t quite work because the dynamic between the guests fell flat. And then there have been other parties where the guests bounced off each other and the cumulative effect was incredible. This is, of course, what I’m looking for when I audition characters for my novels.

Do you find it sad to say goodbye to your characters when you’ve finished writing the book?

Yes! I really loved the world of Chasing Secrets. I found it utterly fascinating. It takes a long time to develop a historical setting to the point that it becomes quite that believable to me. At first the details sit on the surface and then gradually, draft by draft, they sink into the core of the book. And when that happens I become so invested in that world that it is quite challenging to let go.

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

For use with your students, Gennifer’s website includes A Writing Timeline, a series of videos and podcasts about Chasing Secrets.

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Bookstorm™: Chasing Secrets

 

Bookmap for Chasing Secrets Bookstorm

Chasing SecretsDon’t you love a good mystery? Set it in an exotic but familiar city like San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. Create a main character who’s a smart and adventurous young girl with interests frowned upon during that time: science, mathematics, and pursuing a college education. Provide a family and friends who are immensely interesting because they’re so vivid that you’d like to know each one of them. Research the history of the times so that these people are believably living in the midst of impending disease, short tempers over immigration, and the clash between the very wealthy and the very poor … and you have this exciting story. When our Bookologists read it, we couldn’t put it down!

We are pleased to feature Chasing Secrets as our February book selection, written by the talented Gennifer Choldenko.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books for middle grade readers. We’ve included some books for adults with good photographs of the era and more information to help you set context for your students. 

Downloadables

 

 

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Women in Science. There are exceptional fiction and nonfiction books about the women in many fields such as botany, astronomy, chemistry, and zoology who have applied their interests, hard work, and creativity to change the world. 

Early Women in Medicine. Female medical practitioners were frowned upon until recently. Some of them found ways to tend to their communities without degrees, by being midwives and herbalists. Others fought their way into medical school and set out to establish themselves as valued doctors and scientists. We’ve suggested a mixture of fiction and nonfiction you and your students will find enlightening and engrossing.

Infectious Diseases. Plagues, fevers, influenza … they’ve wreaked havoc with various populations up to the present day. The authors of these books have written compelling narratives to inspire future scientists and doctors, nurses and aid workers.

Chinese Immigration. San Francisco was the major port for Chinese immigrants coming to “Gold Mountain” in the 1800s and early 1900s. As with so many ethnic groups arriving in America, they were not welcomed with courtesy and kindness, but with suspicion and resentment. There are a number of books for both children and adult readers included.

Chinatown. Along with a fine book by Laurence Yep, we recommend two books for adults to give you background and photographs as you prepare to discuss Chasing Secrets in your classroom or book group.

Detective Fiction. Our Bookologists put their heads together to recommend their favorite books in this genre, some of them classic and some of them brand new. Mystery readers will settle in for several weeks of page-turning!

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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Skinny Dip with Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing Secrets

Available August 2015

What keeps you up at night?

Generally I wake up worrying about my kids or my career. The middle-of-the-night scenarios are dire: accidents, Alzheimer’s, awful reviews, abject humiliation in one form or another. Unfortunately I’m a world-class worrier, so there I am lying in a pool of sweat whipped into a fretting frenzy when suddenly an idea pops into my head. A good idea. An idea that solves a writing problem I’ve been grappling with for days. But I don’t know it because middle-of-the-night ideas come in disguise. An image, a line of dialogue, a name, a character I hadn’t thought was important that suddenly begins to speak to me. I write everything down but I often don’t understand the significance of what I’ve written until the next morning.

What is your proudest career moment?

I’m the kid in the back-back of the station wagon. The one who tries hard and everyone says: is such a nice girl. I’m not the star. I don’t have a history of winning anything. The day I won the Newbery Honor changed my life. It made me believe in my dreams in a way nothing else ever has.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas.

My favorite PJs look like an 18th century orphan’s rags. They are worn to threads, the elastic frayed down to one thin rubber band. I live in fear that someone outside my family will see me wearing them, but I simply can’t give them up. They feel like me.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

I’d like to win a gold medal in gymnastics or tennis although in my mind’s eye I look good in those skimpy little outfits. Clearly, I have a great imagination.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Putting the Monkeys to Bed

Available June 2015

Once, I spoke to 1500 middle school kids in a gymnasium the size of the state of Texas. The screen where my laptop projected the images essential for the presentation was the size of a fortune cookie. The audience could not see it. I was the only speaker for an entire hour. I thought I was going to faint when I walked into this situation but the kids had read my books. They wanted to hear what I had to say. You could have heard an ant cross that gymnasium floor. I will always be indebted to the teachers who prepared those kids so well.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Strauss and Crockett Johnson. I still remember holding it in my chubby little hand, reading it for the very first time. I believed I was the main character. In one hundred and one words, Strauss and Johnson told a powerful story that spoke to me on the deepest level. Incredible!

What TV show can’t you turn off?

Interesting the way you phrased this question: “can’t turn off” which implies that you should be turning TV off. Or in fact you shouldn’t turn it on in the first place. Honestly, I think that’s a dated point of view. The best writing is in books. No doubt about that. But a close second is writing for television. The Sopranos, House of Cards, Breaking Bad, The Leftovers, Madmen, Transparent . . . this is fine, fine character writing. Writing for movies, on the other hand, is not nearly as strong as it was ten years ago.

What book do you tell everyone to read?

Not surprisingly I have a lot of favorite books so I will just talk about this month’s favorite books. For YAs: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. For MG readers: Nest by Esther Ehrlich.

 

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Teaching the Future

by Rob Reid

Animal Shenanigans

Animal Shenanigans, Rob Reid’s latest resource book for teachers, parents, and librarians.

I am fortunate to teach three sections of children’s literature each semester to future elementary teachers, future special education teachers, and future librarians. It’s truly a fun gig. I was asked by the Bookology folks to share those books and topics I teach to these budding professionals.

I open each semester by introducing myself and reading my current favorite interactive picture book. The last few years, it has been Press Here by Hervé Tullet and the students are delighted to know such a book like this exists. I then ask them to tell me what comes to mind when I say, “Children’s Books.” I write their responses on the board and…the same titles appear year after year. Titles from their school years: Arthur, Amelia Bedelia, Magic Treehouse, Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss—the usual suspects. All good choices but no surprises and nothing recently published. That’s my job then for the next 15 weeks: combine history of children’s literature with the best of the newer stuff, so they can share those with kids down the road.

Next, we look at current trends in children’s publishing: trends I pick up from Publishers Weekly, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, the American Library Association, and my own observations. We also look at the current NY Times bestseller lists for picture books, middle grade books, and series. I read a few of those bestselling picture books to the class as well as selections of the chapter books. (I read aloud children’s books to my college students pretty much every class session.)

I contrast what sells with what wins the numerous awards: quantity vs. quality (and luckily, the two go together with many titles) and how kids need to be exposed to all. Over the semester, my students learn what the following awards are for, who are the most recent winners, and many of the notable past winners: Newbery (and I share my own experience being on that committee), Caldecott, Geisel, Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpré, American Indian Youth Literature, Scott O’Dell, Sibert, Orbis Pictus, and the Schneider Family Award.

Sibk_wonder_140nce that last award originated at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where I teach, and because I have many special education students, we put special emphasis on this award that recognizes portrayals of people with disabilities. As a class, we all read Wonder by R.J. Palacio (before that it was Rules by Cynthia Lord) and I will also be adding El Deafo by Cece Bell this upcoming year as a required read to represent graphic novels (I have been using the first Babymouse and the first Lunch Lady as examples of elementary school graphic novels).

The other required read is Love That Dog, and I introduce the other works of Sharon Creech and Walter Dean Myers (who is a fictionalized character of himself in the book). We look at dozens of poetry books not written by Shel Silverstein (and I have some good Silverstein anecdotes to share) and learn ways to make poetry fun for kids.

Out of My MindStudents pick an elective chapter book from a list I provide (which includes Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Out of My Mind, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Coraline, Tale of Despereaux, Princess Academy, Elijah of Buxton, and several more) and they create a literature activity guide to go with their novel.

Students draw the name of a children’s illustrator and put together a PowerPoint to share with the class what they learned about the various artistic elements present in the picture books.

We also look at the timeline of diversity in children’s literature, traditional folklore from around the world, fantasy and science fiction, controversial books, informational books and biographies, easy readers and bridge books, realistic fiction, historical fiction, and Minnesota and Wisconsin book creators (since most of my students are from these two states and we have so many talented, published, award-winning authors and illustrators here).

Each student also has to tell an oral story to the class based on a folktale. They are sent to the 398 section of the library to look through both the picture book editions and anthologies of folktales, learn one, and share it without notes.

We finish the semester with competitive rounds of Kiddie Lit Jeopardy, they fill out their student evaluations that all read “This was a lot of work!” and I send them off to explore the remaining 99% of the wonderful children’s books we didn’t have time to cover in class.

[Reid-Rob-bio]

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Monday Morning Roundup

We’re a little behind time today. CLN has entered the world of cloud computing … Steve spent the weekend moving all 25,000 pages, photos, blogs, and photos to the CLN Cloud. Doesn’t that sound restful? For you, we hope it means the pages will load faster, videos will run more smoothly, and you’ll enjoy hanging […]

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Bank Street’s 2010 Choices

We eagerly await the annual list of books chosen by the Bank Street College of Education as books that work well with children from birth to age 14. Each year, the Children’s Book Committee reviews over 6000 titles each year for accuracy and literary quality and considers their emotional impact on children. It chooses the […]

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