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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Jerry Pinkney

Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson

We are honored to interview the highly respected Richard Jackson, who is on to his next career as a writer. His most recently published book is all ears, all eyes, a lush and irresistible read-aloud book, illustrated by Katherine Tillitson (Simon & Schuster). We thought we’d take the opportunity to talk with him about the progression from his editorial career to his writing career and the four books he has written.

Editorial Career

Will you please tell us a bit about your editorial experience?

After Army service, I graduated from NYC in 1962 with a Master’s degree in education. I worked first at Doubleday, not with children’s books, then at Macmillan and David White.

In 1968, you co-founded Bradbury Press. You moved to Orchard Books in 1986 and then began the nonfiction publishing imprint DK Ink in 1996. Three years later, in 1999, you had your own imprint at Simon & Schuster with the venerated Atheneum Books. Has this journey taken you around unexpected bends in the road?

I’ve never been subjected to a job interview.

As you were gaining experience, which editors do you feel taught you the most?

Frances Keene and then Susan Hirschman at Macmillan.

Do you think most picture book editors are equal parts visual and verbal?

Most likely. For me, as writer, as editor, the words are of first importance.

What did your authors teach you?

Empathy.

While you were an editor, did you always have a yen to write your own books?

No. But retirement—in so much as I am retired; I still work on a few books annually by old publishing friends—suddenly stretched rather blandly before me. I began tinkering with words, with play, with wordplay…

You’re working with an editor now, a colleague. What do you look for from your editor?

Efficiency. A sense of humor. Taste. Candor—i.e., a willingness to see the possibilities of something not yet final.

Considering the Books You’ve Written

Have a Look, Says Book

interior spread for Have a Look, Says Book by Richard Jackson, illustration copyright Kevin Hawkes

Have a Look, Says Book

Have a Look, Says Book
illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schuster, 2016

Kevin Hawkes illustrated this book that is playfully focused on adjectives. The text rhymes but not in a way that feels read-aloud confining. How do you work on the poetry in a picture book?

In my head, often while driving.

Storytime librarians are focusing more than ever on teaching. This book offers an opportunity to talk about the pleasure of books, the love of words. Have you always been fond of words?

A verbal child was I. As opposed to athletic.

What sparked the idea for this book?

The simple but enormous word “touch” has at least two meanings… There are many see, hear books, a few smell and taste books—hardly any about touch. Watching children and grandchildren touch the pages and pictures of a book, I thought…let’s see if I can honor that young-kid impulse: to point out, to make contact with a finger, to search a book for a tactile dimension equal to seeing and hearing.

In Plain Sight

interior spread for In Plain Sight, by Richard Jackson, illustration copyright Jerry Pinkney

In Plain SightIn Plain Sight
illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Neal Porter Books
Roaring Brook Press, 2016

The story in this book is universal, a grandfather and granddaughter who enjoy each other’s company. Grandpa, who lives in a bedroom in Sophie’s house, always has something for them to do together, to find something he’s hidden In Plain Sight.

What inspired this universal story of love?

Well, I was the Grandpa, I think. Sophie, a sister who died at four. She always announced her presence with “Here I ahm.” In my imagination, the game element was as important as anything, so it was based upon a game my father played on us, his children, on Christmas night—find objects hidden in unlikely places, such as a dollar bill wrapped around a book’s spine in a bookcase—very tricky!

It’s so important for children who have older generations living with them to see themselves in books, to understand that families extend themselves when needed.

Was it your idea to have Grandpa supported by a wheelchair?

Jerry’s, I think. As was Grandpa’s athletic and military past, as was the cat.

This manuscript was interpreted by the much-admired author and illustrator, Jerry Pinkney. How was he brought into this project?

Neal Porter’s idea, at Roaring Brook. They had not worked together before. I asked Neal, quite casually, I remember, if this family might be black (they weren’t while I was following the conversation which accounts for the story here). Jerry widened and deepened every image; note Sophie’s school clothes, for instance. Or the illustration on the binding of the book—not a repeat of the jacket, but something new and on its own; that’s Grandpa’s nature, don’t you think; there’s always a little more to give.

all ears, all eyes

interior spread, all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jackson, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

all ears, all eyesall ears, all eyes
illustrated by Katherine Tillotson
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schuster, 2017

Your text for this book is so evocative of being outdoors at night, particularly in a forested or wild area. Why did you want to share that experience with readers and listeners?

The setting is a bit of woods, across a brook near our house in the country north of New York City. Real country, if you can believe. One night a yodeling fox awoke me and my wife. Moon and mostly darkness. Stillness, except for Mr. Fox. Magical. We got the children up (they are part of my dedication for this book) and, barefoot, we went outside, across the grass, up to the brook’s bank. We listened and without entering the woods, let the woods enter us. I hoped to write a poem to that night, that fox, that family experience.

When you wrote the text for all ears, all eyes, did you have an illustrator in mind? Why?

Yes indeed, the text was for Katherine Tillotson always, once the opening words sprang from my memory. She suggested the project somehow, and inspired it all along, from a very early rendition of a lurking owl. Next came Caitlyn Dlouhy and Ann Bobco (Atheneum’s brilliant art director), and the four of us played for months and months. Until quite close to the “end,” I was fussing with rhymes and line breaks. Such fun.

Many people who want to write books for children have been told that they’ll never work directly with their illustrator. Did you include instructions for how the text might be illustrated? As an editor, does your mind work that way?

I give a little guidance when the artist will need it—the main boy wears glasses, for example. And I break the text into page and page turn units. In my head I’m imaging a movie. But the illustrator is the cameraman (or woman), and often comes up with totally surprising and often just-right new views.

Don’t miss reading our interview with Katherine Tillotson about this book.

interior spread from This Beautiful Day, by Richard Jackson, illustration copyright Suzy Lee

This Beautiful DayThis Beautiful Day
illustrated by Suzy Lee
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schuster, 2017

In August of this year, we’ll be treated to another book you wrote, this one filled with humor and whimsy. It begins with a boring, rainy day, but the attitude of the three children and their mother brings out the sun.

With your considerable experience as an editor, do you reflexively envision your text on the page?

Reflexively? I think not. I do imagine page turns—and often, as suggested above, an illustrator will have a better idea and I’ll be tickled.

When you were an editor, did you look forward to the surprise of the illustrator’s rough sketches, their interpretation of the author’s story?

Father Time and the Day BoxesYou bet! I once published a picture book, George Ella Lyon’s and Robert Parker’s Father Time and the Day Boxes (o.p), using the sketches, which were perfect as they were. Had I imagined them as Bob presented them? No way. It’s ideal to be surprising and just right from the get-go.

Now that it’s your manuscript being interpreted, how does that experience differ?

Not much different. I hadn’t imagined a rainy beginning to this day, so was taken aback at first; eventually, I have come to see the wisdom of giving the narrative this “hinge” in mood. What you suggest (that sun is attitude induced) is irresistible—and completely Suzy’s idea.

____________________

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Richard Jackson!

I’ve admired the books he’s edited, some of the finest in the children’s literature canon, so it’s a pleasure to hear from him as he walks his next path as a writer. 

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I Love to Read Month

“Why would we employ reading initiatives that derail internal reading motivation and divide kids into reading winners and losers?” 
Donalyn Miller

I Love to Read BookmarkI’ve been thinking about this question from literacy guru Donalyn Miller ever since I read it last May. It struck a chord and made me challenge some of my past practices as a champion of motivating readers. What about all that time and effort spent promoting reading by asking kids to log their minutes in order to receive some trinket totally unrelated to reading? Could I have actually done more harm than good?

As a long-time committee chair for “I Love to Read” month festivities at several different schools, the shortest month of the year has always been one of my favorites. While some folks experience visions of hearts and chocolates when the calendar page flips to February, my head has always been filled with images of books and kids reading. As I reflected on that article by Donalyn, I thought about last year’s “I Love to Read” month awards ceremony. Our students who met the quota of required reading minutes—or at least claimed they did—were called up on the stage by their teachers to receive a coveted “reading medal.” I remember the look on some of the little faces out in the audience and imagined what they were thinking or feeling… “Who cares about reading medals?” “I guess I’m not a reader.” “Maybe I should have just fibbed about those minutes!”

As a firm believer in “it’s never too late to change” (for the better), I vowed to completely revamp my approach to encouraging kids to read. My school community and fabulous “I Love to Read” committee co-chairs also embraced the idea of celebrating reading for the sake of reading. The entire budget from our Home-School Association was earmarked for books, which we purchased way back in September when Scholastic Reading Clubs offers the very best bonus points offer (we spent less than $2.00 per book for many high demand and hot-ticket titles!). The idea of rewarding reading with reading is simple and the research to back it up is convincing. Yet we know that our kids still hope for something a little snazzy and jazzy. I’m delighted to share how we plan to WOW kids with a month of activities designed to affirm every child as a reader!

gr_wow_450px

Several weeks ago we designed and ordered special t-shirts for our staff. We will be wearing these at our kick-off event during the first week of February. This FUN and FREE family event will highlight our theme Reading is its own Reward with a “Reading is golden!” snack bag: Rold Gold pretzels, Goldfish graham treats, and a chocolate treasure candy. Activities will include a book swap (kids bring their gently-used books to trade), a bookmark craft, nominating a favorite book, a brand new book for every child and best of all, a READING CONCERT! The talented educators at my school will be making one of my bucket-list wishes come true, by staging a mini-flash mob, singing “Read with Me” (sung to the Ben E. King song, Stand by Me)! I’ll be sharing a video later this month that captures the crowd’s reaction to our surprise serenade!

EPWCCS educators

From left to right, educators Sam Goodman, Maurna Rome, and Caitlin Meyer

The centerpiece of our celebration of books and reading will be the “Tiger Trophy” Awards. Students will be given a paper “trophy award” to fill out each week, nominating a favorite book. Paper trophies will be displayed around the school. Weekly book winners will be chosen from the paper trophies and we will also be filming students as they share something about their favorite books.

School-wide Tiger TrophyIn addition, for three weeks, each classroom will award one paper trophy to one book that has been chosen as a class favorite. During the last week of February, classrooms will vote on which of the three paper trophy books is their ALL-TIME FAVORITE, which will be awarded a real classroom trophy designed with the initial of each teacher’s last name (cute and inexpensive, made from dollar store trophies and alphabet blocks). All classroom trophy books will be eligible to win a SCHOOL-WIDE TIGER TROPHY, with a ballot of books listed in special categories given to each student.

Our “I Love to Read” month activity calendar includes an overview of our lively literacy-filled month. We will display our love of a great book with our “Door Decorating Contest” (the winning classroom will get BOOKS) and each week teachers will share short YouTube videos featuring 2016 award-winning books and authors.

2016 Newbery Medal Award Winner: Matt de la Pena Last Stop on Market Street

2016 Caldecott Medal Award Winner: Lindsay Mattick Finding Winnie, The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear 

Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement Winner: Jerry Pinkney 

2016 Newbery Honor Award Winner: Victoria Jamieson Roller Girl

We will also participate in a powerful event called the “African American Read In,” sponsored by NCTE “celebrating 25 years of encouraging diversity in literature.” More information and free resources can be found here. The AARI at my school will definitely be a memorable day for 4th and 5th graders who will be meeting Kwame Alexander, 2015 Newbery Medal Award Winner for the exceptional book Crossover.

I Love to Read Trophies

Our culminating event will take place on the last Friday in February. During the finale we will announce our Tiger Trophy Award Winners and bestow our very own prestigious medals to the book covers. We’re even planning on sending the Tiger Trophies to the winning authors with a request to snap a selfie posing with our little literary prize! Oh and about those reading medals… this year, EVERY student will be awarded one because we know that EVERY CHILD is a reader and should be recognized as one!

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Books about Chickens

Whether a chicken makes you cluck, BAWK! or cheep-cheep-cheep, books about chickens make us laugh. We may not have been introduced to a chicken in real life but, trust me, some people keep them as egg-laying wonders and other people keep them as pets. These fowl have been around in many colors, types, and breeds in most countries in the world … and quite recently they have become the subject of many books. Go, chickens! We’ve suggested 19 books. What would you add as the 20th book on this list?

The Perfect Nest  

The Perfect Nest
written by Catherine Friend
illustrated by John Manders
Henry Holt, 2011

Farmer Jack, the cat, is building a nest to attract a chicken who will lay eggs for his mouth-watering omelet. Things don’t go quite as planned. Other birds find the nest to be perfect, too. The eggs hatch and Jack is suddenly tending to little chicks who think he’s their father. The book is laugh-out-loud funny and makes a great read-aloud. Each of the perfect nest’s occupants speaks with a different accent.

Hoboken Chicken Emergency

 

The Hoboken Chicken Emergency
Daniel Pinkwater
illus by Jill Pinkwater
Simon & Schuster, 1977

A classic book that will keep your kids laughing with every page turn. Arthur Bobowicz is sent to get the Thanksgiving turkey but there are none to be had. On the way home, he sees a sign in Professor Mazzocchi’s window (you know him, the inventor of the Chicken System). Arthur ends up taking a chicken home but it’s a 266-pound live chicken named Henrietta. She gets loose … and causes disaster all over Hoboken, New Jersey. A good read-aloud but also the perfect book for 9- and 10-year-olds to read.

Beautiful Yetta  

Beautiful Yetta: the Yiddish Chicken
Daniel Pinkwater
illus by Jill Pinkwater
Feiwel & Friends, 2010

Yetta, the chicken, escapes from a poultry truck in Brooklyn and is soon lost, lonely, and hungry, shunned by the rats and pigeons she encounters. Heroically, she saves a little green bird, Eduardo, from a cat, winning the gratitude of his friends, the parrots. They teach Yetta how to find food and how to get along in an unfamiliar place. The book is filled with Yiddish, Spanish, and English phrases and Yetta’s speech appears in both Hebrew and English alphabets. Your kids will soon be exclaiming about the “farshtunken katz”!

The Little Red Hen  

The Little Red Hen
Paul Galdone
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011 (reissued)

When the Hen asks for help planting wheat, the cat, the dog, and the mouse all say “No!” They won’t help her water it, or harvest it, or grind it. They are quite lazy. When the Little Red Hen bakes a delicious cake, who will be invited to eat it? Ages 4 to 11.

Chicken Man  

Chicken Man
written and illustrated by Michelle Edwards
1991, republished in 2009 by NorthSouth Books

Rody lives on a kibbutz in Israel, where he is assigned to tend to the chickens. He comes to love them and they him. He sings loudly with joy. And thus other kibbutz workers think the chicken house must be the best place to work and Rody is re-assigned to another job.  The chickens stop laying eggs. And Rody misses his chickens.  How will Rody find his way back to his favorite job? A good look at life on a kibbutz.

Chickens to the Rescue  

Chickens to the Rescue
written and illustrated by John Himmelman
Henry Holt, 2006

On the Greenstalk farm, things are continually going wrong. Monday through Saturday, when things need to be done, it’s the chickens to the rescue! In hilarious attire, with laugh-out-loud results, the good-intentioned chickens help animals and humans alike. Except on Sunday. Then they rest. The illustrations in this book are delightful.

Interrupting Chickens  

Interrupting Chicken
written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein
Candlewick Press, 2010

Papa is good about reading bedtime stories to Little Red Chicken, but she can’t help but interrupt his reading to warn the characters in the books about what’s to come. Which, of course, brings an abrupt end to the stories. Papa asks Little Red to write her own story but Papa interrupts … by snoring. It’s a charming book, sure to cause giggles … and it brings some classic tales to life. Caldecott Honor book.

First the Egg  

First the Egg
written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Roaring Brook Press, 2007

It’s a book of transformations, from caterpillar to butterfly, from tadpole to frog, from egg to chicken, and more. Illustrated with luscious color and simple die-cuts, this is an engaging concept book for the preschool crowd. Caldecott Honor book.

Chicken Cheeks  

Chicken Cheeks
Michael Ian Black
illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Simon & Schuster, 2009

Bear enlists all the other animals to make a tower so he can get at some elusive honey. The hilarity comes from the view of many animal bottoms, 16 ways to refer to those bottoms, and the unstable, improbable, teetering tower of giggle-worthy animals.

Chicks and Salsa  

Chicks and Salsa
Aaron Reynolds
illustrated by Paulette Bogan
Bloomsbury, 2007

The animals on Nuthatcher Farm are bored with their food. The rooster looks around and hatches a plan. They will eat chips and salsa made from the ingredients on the farm! The salsa recipe changes to accommodate each animal’s preferences. It’s so exciting they decide to have a fiesta! But when the day comes, the humans have absconded with their ingredients to enter into the state fair. What will the animals do? Thanks to the quick-thinking rooster and a resourceful rat, the party goes on!

Chicken in the Kitchen  

Chicken in the Kitchen
Nnedi Okorafor
illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
Lantana Publishing, 2015

Set in Nigeria, a young girl awakes to a noise in the middle of the night. When she investigates, she discovers a giant chicken in the kitchen. Hilarity ensues. Nothing is quite what it seems. Will Anyaugo be able to protect the traditional foods her aunties have prepared for the New Yam Festival? Gorgeous illustrations and a good look at the masquerade culture of West Africa. 

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?  

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?
illustrated by Jon Agee, Tedd Arnold, Harry Bliss, David Catrow, Marla Frazee, Mary GrandPre, Lynn Munsinger, Jerry Pinkney, Vladimir Kandunsky, Chris Raschka, Judy Schachner, David Shannon, Gus Sheban, and Mo Willems
Dial Books, 2006

When 14 illustrators are asked “why did the chicken cross the road?” their answers are fresh and fun and varied. They’ll delight you with their original takes on this old chestnut.

Hattie and the Fox  

Hattie and the Fox
Mem Fox
illustrated by Patricia Mullins
Simon & Schuster, 1987

In a cumulative tale with plenty of opportunity for different voices and great energy while reading out loud, we learn that Hattie, the black hen, spies a fox in the bushes. She tries to warn the other animals but they don’t believe her. A wonderful pastiche of anticipation, repetition, and the illustrator’s vivid use of tissue paper collage and conte crayon make this an excellent choice for storytime and anytime.

Hen Hears Gossip  

Hen Hears Gossip
Megan McDonald
illustrated by Joung Un Kim
Greenwillow, 2008

“Psst. Psst. Psst.” Hen is addicted to gossip, especially about herself. When she overhears Pig whispering a secret to Cow, Hen spreads it around until it returns to her with a not-so-nice rendition. Reading this book provides a good opportunity to talk about the ways gossip hurts. 

Big Chickens  

Big Chickens
Leslie Helakoski
illustrated by Henry Cole
Dutton, 2006

When a wolf threatens the chicken coop, the chickens RUN! They’re terrified and they want to get away. The fun ensues as they get into one hilarious predicament after another. It’s the exact kind of silly kids love and Henry Cole’s illustrations reinforce the goofy chickens’ reactions to the chaos they create.

Chicken Followed Me Home!  

A Chicken Followed Me Home:
Questions and Answers about a Familiar Fowl
Robin Page
Beach Lane Books, 2015

What would you do if a chicken followed you home? You’d learn to tell what kind of chicken it is, what it would like to eat, and how to keep it safe and healthy. You’d observe how many eggs a chicken lays in a year and how a chicken is different than a rooster. With bold illustrations, this book will appeal to both younger and older children.

Kids Guide to Keeping Chickens  

A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens:
Best Breeds, Creating a Home,
Care and Handling, Outdoor Fun, Crafts and Treats
Melissa Caughey
Storey Publishing, 2015

Filled with wonderful photos and practical advice for kids who would like to raise chickens … whether in the city or out in the country.  The book suggests ways to consider chickens as pets, offering crafts to connect with your barnyard beauties: build them a fort, learn to speak chicken, and create a veggie piñata for them. Egg-celent egg ecipes are available, too.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer  

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
Kelly Jones
illus by Katie Kath
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015

Moving from Los Angeles to a farm her family inherited, Sophie Brown and her mother and father are reluctant farmers. Sophie feels isolated, which she tackles by writing letters to her abuela and to Agnes of Redwood Farm Supply. You see, Sophie’s great-uncle kept chickens. One-by-one they come home to roost and Sophie discovers they are not ordinary chickens … they have powers. Are they magical? Supernatural? They’re certainly unusual and neighbors will do just about anything to claim them. A funny, middle-grade novel, Unusual Chickens will have reader wanting to become Exceptional Poultry Farmers.

Prairie Evers  

Prairie Evers
Ellen Airgood
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012

Prairie Evers moves from North Carolina to upstate New York, where her family claims an inherited farm. She’s going to attend a public school for the first time. Up until now, Prairie has been homeschooled and having classmates is a new experience. When Ivy Blake becomes her first-ever friend, Prairie realizes Ivy’s home life is not a happy one. The Evers invite Ivy to spend time with them … and Prairie finds that a new experience, too. This middle-grade novel  has great information about the chickens Prairie is raising … and a lot about friendship, optimism, and loyalty.

Cheater for the Chicken Man  

Cheating for the Chicken Man
Priscilla Cummings
Dutton, 2015

A serious YA novel set on a chicken farm, this is a companion to two earlier books in the Red Kayak series. Now Kate is dealing with her father’s death, her mother’s grief, and her brother J.T.’s return home from a juvenile detention camp where he served a sentence for second-degree murder. She wants to give her brother a chance at a fresh start but it’s a daunting task.

My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me  

My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me
Maya Angelou
photographs by Margaret Courtney Clarke
Crown, 2003

“Hello, Stranger-Friend” begins Maya Angelou’s story about Thandi, a South African Ndebele girl, her mischievous brother, her beloved chicken, and the astonishing mural art produced by the women of her tribe.  With never-before-seen photographs of the very private Ndebele women and their paintings, this unique book shows the passing of traditions from parent to child and introduces young readers to a new culture through a new friend. Thanks to Nancy Bo Flood for suggesting this title.

 

Our commenters have added:

  • The Plot Chickens by Mary Jane and Herb Auch
  • Wings: a Tale of Two Chickens by James Marshall
  • Chicken Squad: the First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin, illus by Kevin Cornell
  • Henny by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

chicken books

How about you? What’s your favorite chicken book?

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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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Virginia Euwer Wolff: Considering Flaubert

by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Flaubert photo

Gustave Flaubert

For years I’ve taken primitive comfort in Gustave Flaubert‘s mid-nineteenth century remark in a letter to a friend: “Last week I spent five days writing one page.”

And Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac reminded us (Dec. 12, 2014) that Flaubert often put in a comma one day and took it out the next. Yes, sure, fine, yeah, we all do that, and we can tell the keyboard, or the cat, whoever keeps us company, that in these insertions and deletions we’re honoring Flaubert and the noble tradition. But these hours of wifty indecisiveness may instead illustrate my own inability to perceive accurately, rather than Flaubert’s lofty aesthetic.

In this same Writer’s Almanac we hear that Flaubert said this (translated from the French):

It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire     universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I  was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red  sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.

We’ve all been told: Write what you know. Some of us have rolled our eyes when we hear it. A couple of decades ago, Winnie Morris  was the first author I heard say this to that: “Instead of writing what I know, I work at writing what I want to find out about.”

Ah, yes. Did Jean Craighead George know how she herself would live with wolves when she sat down to begin Julie of the Wolves? Did Tolstoy know how Kutuzov brooded? Had Jerry Pinkney ever been a majestic Serengeti lion in violent distress? We can bet that J.K. Rowling didn’t even know the Quidditch rules when she began.

My hunch: Gustave Flaubert, that man of scandalously racy mind, knew not a whit or a jot about actually being a horse or a leaf. I’m willing to guess that instead he paid scrupulous attention to things, cultivating a visceral sense of life in motion, an immersion in the drift of passionate giving and taking, using and being used, of hope, sorrow, envy, greed, kindliness, faith and faithlessness, of the plucky pulse of planet earth breathing. How else could he know about “love-drowned eyes”? And those things he had to learn about included horse and leaf. And he helped himself to them.

I think that must have been how he was able to force me to the front of my chair and cause me to plead, “Oh, no, Emma! Not him! Please, no!” Just as I want to leap from my seat and shout at Romeo in the tomb: “No! Don’t!” And to cheer Winnie Foster on as she makes her choice not to drink the water at Treegap. And every time I write “for deposit only” on a check, Dicey Tillerman comes to mind, and I thank Cynthia Voigt for letting me into that big story.

We set out to make a narrative nobody else has written. Of course it’s scary in there, that room or that cave we enter, alone, not knowing if those sounds are the voices of our story or of the forces that don’t want us to write it. As an article of faith, we pay attention. We examine the dripping walls of that cave, we find it’s the cave of our unconscious, and everything lives there: love and hate and envy and devotion and betrayal and exuberance and grief and uproarious laughter at what marvelously various fools we mortals be.

woodpecker photoJust now a female downy woodpecker is scooting up a pine tree outside my window. She doesn’t find an insect in every hole. She keeps hunting, hopping about, doing her work, going where she may never have been. I don’t expect ever to be her, but I certainly learn lessons from her tenacity, her routine of scooting, scampering, soaring.

As I’m considering Flaubert and wrestling with a recalcitrant manuscript, I’m reminded that Maurice Ravel took a year to compose the three and a half minute “Bacchanale,” the lush commotion that concludes his Daphnis et Chloé ballet. A year to move from the periphery, where it may have seemed easy, into the inviting and defiant heart of the matter.

Some faint melody, some shadowy story is waiting, just over there. Of course it’s been made before, and by wiser minds than mine. But maybe I can do it with a difference. Maybe. Make it an eighth-note just there. No, no, wait a minute: Make it two sixteenths. Yes, that’s it, exactly. No, I was wrong. Back to the eighth-note. Yes. I think.

 

 

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Musings of a lifelong reader, part two

Why do we have books without illustrations? Only in the last few years has the concept of a “visual learner” become familiar to me. By all definitions, and pedagogical controversy aside, this describes the way I absorb knowledge. I wasn’t aware of a name or theory when I was learning to read, or actively engaged […]

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