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Tag Archives | Marion Dane Bauer

Marion Dane Bauer

Marion Dane Bauer and her books are respected and loved by children, parents, educators, librarians, editors, and writers. She began her career as a novelist, turning to picture books later in her career. Celebrating the release of her newest picture book, the charming Winter Dance, we were curious about how she writes these short books so we asked! And this long-time teacher of other writers provided heartfelt answers.

Marion Dane Bauer

Marion Dane Bauer (photo credit: Katherine Warde)

If You Were Born a KittenWhen you sit down to write a picture book, what has inspired you?

Sometimes I begin with an idea I want to share.  If You Were Born a Kitten, for instance, comes out of my very impassioned belief that the miracle of birth is hidden from most young children in our society—from most of us, really.  I wanted to celebrate birth in a way that would show it both as miracle and as part of our solid, everyday reality. 

Sometimes the concept comes from something I read or something someone says to me. Winter Dance came from an editor’s saying, “What about celebrating the first snow?” 

But the actual picture book begins, always, with language.  I can’t even begin to flesh out my idea until the opening line is singing in my head.

The Longest NightDo you know the ending of your picture book before you begin to write?

I always know the end of a novel before I begin to write, and if a picture book is a story, I know the end of that, too. So when I began writing The Longest Night, I knew before I put down the first word that the little chickadee would bring back the sun. When I write concept books, though, like How Do I Love You?, I have to find my ending in the playing out of the language.

Do you write with a specific child in mind?

I write always for a child, and in the case of picture books for the adult who will be sharing the book, but I have no particular child in my heart … except maybe the small child I was so many years ago.

Do you envision the illustrations while you are writing?

I envision space for the illustrations, which is a very different thing. I don’t think what the illustrations will depict, specifically, and I certainly don’t think about what they will look like. That’s the artist’s territory. But I make sure I have created an active changing world for the illustrator to take hold of.

How much do you consider the level of the reader’s vocabulary when you write a picture book?

Honestly? Not at all. Because picture books are usually read to a child rather than by the child, I never consider vocabulary. Sometimes a totally new word is, in itself, a kind of enchantment for a child. Think of Peter Rabbit for whom lettuce had a “soporific” effect! No, I’ve never used the word soporific or anything like it, but isn’t it a wonderfully resonant word? 

I should add, though, that there is one basic rule I use with all of my writing.  I believe the best word in any piece of writing for any audience is always the simplest one.  Sometimes, though, that best word might just happen to be soporific.

Winter DanceDo you ever begin a picture book feeling at a loss for how to write it?

Yes, and when I do I always stop, set it aside, give it time. When it begins to sing to me—if it begins to sing to me—then there will be no more loss.

Winter Dance, my newest picture book, actually began with an editor’s committing to a picture book I had written about spring.  For a complicated series of reasons the text the editor contracted had to be altered substantially, and during that process, my drafts got farther and farther away from anything the editor wanted.  I mentioned earlier, it was the editor who finally came up with the idea that I write about the first snow instead.  Great idea, but first I had to find my fox, and I had to discover that foxes mate in winter so he would have a reason to rejoice over snow.  And then, of course, I had to find the song to carry him through.

What is the word length you aim for in a picture book?

A maximum of 450 words.  Even that can be too long for some books. 

You were best known for your novels for middle grade and teen readers. What influenced you to try a different book form for a different reader?

The truth is I always wanted to write picture books. In the beginning, I simply didn’t know how to write them, even though I had read them endlessly to my own children and to various foster children in my home. Picture books are a bit technical to learn, and I had no one to teach me. In fact, I started out trying to write picture books and discovered I didn’t know what I was doing. So I moved on and found it easier, not knowing what I was doing, to muddle through a novel. 

The other piece, though, was that my first editor, at a time when we  writers were owned by our first editors, said to me when I showed him what I thought was a picture-book manuscript, “Marion, you are not a picture book writer.” Now, he could legitimately have said, “Marion, that’s not a picture book.” Because it wasn’t. But even when the publishing world opened up and I did learn and began publishing successful picture books with other houses, he refused to alter his vision of me as only a novelist. So I have him to thank for my career getting established in novels. Picture books are so much fun, if he had been open to younger work from me, I probably would have been off playing with picture books much sooner.

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Thank you, Marion, for sharing your thoughts about picture books in such an instructive way. We’re always happy to learn from you.

Learn more about Marion Dane Bauer.

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On Growing Older … Old

Growing OlderWhy is “older” an acceptable word and “old” almost forbidden?

To answer my own question, I suppose it’s because we’re all growing older, even the four-year-old next door. But old … ah, old smacks of incompetence, of irrelevance. Even worse, old smacks of that truly obscene-to-our-society word … death.

I am approaching my birthday month. It won’t be a “big” dividable-by-five birthday, but still one that feels significant for the number it stands close to. I will be 79 next month.

Can you name the number?

Forty didn’t trouble me a bit. I had a friend, several years older than I, who, when I turned forty, said, “Forty is such a fine age. It’s the first number you reach that has any authority, but you still feel so young.” And she was right! I sailed into 40 feeling mature, confident … and still young.

Sixty-five slipped past without much fanfare. As a working writer I wasn’t facing retirement, after all. Moreover, I could sign up for Social Security and Medicare, and for the self-employed that is no small thing. I’d been paying in, both the employee and the employer side, for a long time, and at last it was going to come back to me. Given the difficulty and expense of buying health insurance that isn’t handed down through an employer, being able to get Medicare was an even bigger deal. (I will never understand the flap in this country about “socialized medicine.” That’s what Medicare is, and it works! It works better than any other pay-for-care system this backward system offers.)

When I turned seventy my daughter threw me a big party … at my request, I should add. It was a lovely party, and it exhausted me. Mostly it reminded me that I’ve never liked parties.

“I won’t ask you to do that again,” I said.

She, who has always been a loving and willing daughter, said, “Good!”

But this is 79! And yes, I might as well name the number. Eighty is a very short hop, skip and hobble down the road!

It’s the first time I find myself facing changes in my body that I know I don’t have the power to fix. Not that I’ve given up trying. I walk vigorously two of three times a day. I do Pilates three times a week. I stretch and I meditate and I eat healthfully and I practice excellent sleep hygiene. Actually, my sleep hygiene is better and more reliable than my sleep. But my body continues on its ever-so-predictable downward trajectory.

From time to time, bits fall off.

And my mind? That’s harder to define and even harder to talk about. I can still produce a workable manuscript. I can still offer a useful critique of someone else’s manuscript, too. But I find myself too often going back to the refrigerator to locate the eggs I’ve just set out on the counter or struggling in the evening to remember some detail of what I’ve done that morning.

My omelets still please the palate, though, and I’ve shown up wherever I was expected to be in the morning and done whatever I said I would do.

Arriving at a place called old in this culture is a matter for some amazement. Who is ever prepared? After all, old has never been something to aspire to … despite the alternative. A friend said recently, “I went from wolf whistles to invisibility in a heartbeat.” And I went from “cutting-edge” to “veteran author” in the same incomprehensibly short time.

I find I want more than anything else to use these years I’ve been gifted, however many or few they may be. I want to use them to deepen my acceptance of my own life, blunders and accomplishments all. I want to use them to enrich the peace my presence brings to a room.

I want to use these years to live. Not just to move through my days stacking accomplishments, one on top of another. I have enough of those. We all have enough of those.

I want to use these years to breathe, deeply and mindfully. And now, being old, I want use these final years to be grateful for every, every breath.

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Knowing My Own Mind

There are times when I don’t know my own mind. Worse, there are times when I think I know my mind perfectly well and then find an entirely different mind on a later visit to my opinions.

Which feels almost as though I have no mind at all.

Some time ago one of my favorite writers came out with a new novel. I had been waiting for her next book for years, so, of course, I signed up to have it pop into my electronic reader at the first opportunity. It did, and I read it eagerly.

I was disappointed. Profoundly.

It wasn’t that the novel was badly written. This author isn’t capable of bad writing. It was just that I didn’t care about the people she explored so deeply. And even knowing their complexities, one layer exposed after another, didn’t make me want to spend time with them.

I didn’t have to wait nearly so long for her next book. This time, though, I read it with caution, with my newly acquired discontent. (Once burned.) This novel was . . . okay. But I wasn’t in love. I had been in love with her early novels. Besotted, really.

Now another book is out. In a series of interwoven short stories my once-favorite author explored many of the characters from the previous novel, the one I didn’t dislike but that had never quite captured me.

And before I had quite decided to do so, I had finished the latest offering and gone back to reread the previous novel. The okay one. And I found myself rereading the book I had been so tepid about with new respect, even full-blown appreciation. Obviously, the book hadn’t changed on the page.

Next I intend to return to the first book that disappointed me. Will the change in me, whatever caused it, now make room for that one, too?

As someone who has for many years mentored my fellow writers, I find myself wondering. Is my opinion any more reliable, any less emotionally based when I am evaluating a manuscript than it is when I approach a published novel?

When I critique a manuscript I always try, if I possibly can, to read it twice. Sometimes a strongly held opinion from my first reading dissolves on the second. When that happens, I usually trust the second reading. And, especially if it’s a long manuscript, I rarely risk a third.

Is nothing in my mind solid, certain? Are my opinions based on anything except emotion? Is all the logic in the world simply something I pile around me to justify my mood?

When I’m responding to published work and the opinions I hold are only my own, the question is merely a matter of curiosity. Something to take out and wonder at in wondering moments. How solid is this thing I think of as self with all its supporting framework of opinion?

When I’m responding to a manuscript-in-process, the question is one of profound responsibility. My opinion will impact another person’s work. And what if my response is, indeed, a product of my mood? What harm might I do to a piece of writing in the name of helping?

The question is even more disconcerting when I face my own work. Some days I am utterly confident of this new novel I’m pecking away at. Others I’m equally convinced that my entire premise is bogus.

I have long known that nothing impacts my writing output more than my confidence. If I’m certain that this piece I’m working on is truly good and I’m loving writing it, the words flow. (The true value of what I produce is a matter for later discernment, my own and others.) When I doubt myself, each word arrives after a slog through mud.

How I wish there were a reliable way to keep my writing flowing, to keep my soul brimming with confidence.

Emotions are slippery, often hard to recognize and name, certainly impossible to keep marching in a straight line, and yet I’m convinced this supposedly logic-driven world is more accurately an emotion-driven one.

It’s a scary thought!

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End Cap: Little Cat’s Luck

Little Cat's LuckWe hope you enjoyed reading Little Cat’s Luck as much as we did. Didn’t Marion Dane Bauer and Jennifer A. Bell capture the nature of cats and dogs well? If you love puzzles and games, we hope you have a good time solving this 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.

Have fun!

Hidden Words

Puzzle by mypuzzle.org
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Jennifer A. Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Dog Lost

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

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

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

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

When does the book designer get into the process?

The art directors for these books were also the designers.

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

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

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

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

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Marion Dane Bauer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Cat's Luck concrete poetry

Do you think visually or primarily in words?

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

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

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

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

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

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Bookstorm™: Little Cat’s Luck

 

Little Cat's Luck

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

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

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

Downloadables

 

 

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

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marion Dane Bauer: Animals in Stories, Animals in the World

11_24_puppyby Marion Dane Bauer

Who doesn’t love a puppy? Well, admittedly there are some folks who don’t, especially considering how difficult both ends of such creatures are to keep under control. So let’s rephrase the question: Who doesn’t love a puppy in a children’s story? Or even a frog or a toad, for that matter?

Something happens to a story when it is populated by animals, something easy to feel but difficult to define. Perhaps it’s what a sales rep for one of my publishers once referred to as “the aw factor,” not awe but aw-w-w-w! He predicted my upcoming picture book would be successful because it had “the aw factor.”

Animal characters are so completely themselves, so utterly without layers or complications. The big, bad wolf will always be big and bad. Lassie will always faithful and true, making her way home. And we respond to each with our whole hearts, hating or loving.

I once had a student, a mature woman, who refused to read any story that threatened injury or death to an animal, no matter how well written, no matter how well earned the story’s traumatic action might be. But that same reader was not in the least offended by On My Honor, my novel in which a child dies. I suspect she is not alone in her response.

11_24RuntTo take her side, at least for a moment, I’ll admit it is entirely too easy to elicit tears through an animal’s death, especially when the animal is somewhat peripheral to the story. I used such a plot device myself in a long-ago novel, Rain of Fire. Perhaps, were I to rewrite that story, I would still decide to kill the fictional cat, though I’m aware these days of my own increasing caution about such dramatic/traumatic plot turns. In part that may be because I have learned to employ more subtle devices. Maybe the shift has come, too, from growing older and wanting the world around me to be a bit . . . well, gentler, I guess.

In Runt, my novel in which the characters are members of a wolf pack, animals die, too, and the deaths are affecting. The difference, however, is that I entered the story knowing some death must occur if I intended to represent accurately the reality of the wolves’ lives. And as with any other strong action, to be effective—to be drama rather than melodrama—the plot moment must rise out of the necessity of the characters, not be imposed from on high.

11_24MamaOwenBut what about the picture-book lamb that goes out into the world and gets lost from his mother, the story I demanded be read to me again and again and again when I was a preschooler? Or the baby hippo who is separated from his pod during a tsunami and ends up bonding with a giant male tortoise, his real-life story presented in my picture book, A Mama for Owen? Or what about another of my picture books, If You Were Born a Kitten, in which I lead up to a presentation of a child’s birth through first depicting the births of various animals? How does the animal nature of the characters impact us as readers?

11_24Little-CatAnimals, the living ones as well as those that rise off the page, seem to call forth a purity of response from us. They capture our whole hearts: Jane Goodall’s chimps, the dog who lies at my feet as I write this, the little cat mother in my upcoming verse novel, Little Cat’s Luck. They all touch into the most tender, the most human part of ourselves.

And because they are so fully themselves, we become more fully who we are capable of being, caring, generous, grateful.

Blessed to share our planet—and our stories—with other species.

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Bookstorm™: Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall

Untamed Bookstorm

Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane GoodallThis month, we are pleased to feature Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall, written by Anita Silvey, with photographs and book designed by the incredible team at National Geographic. This book is not only fascinating to read, it’s a beautiful reading experience as well.

It’s not often that a book offers us a glimpse into the childhood of a woman who has followed a brave, and caring, career path, but also follows her through more than 50 years in that chosen profession, describing her work, discoveries, and her passion for the mammals with whom she works. I learned so much I didn’t know about Dr. Goodall and her chimpanzees, Africa, field work, and how one moves people to support one’s cause.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. For Untamed, you’ll find books for a variety of tastes and interests. The book will be comfortably read by ages 9 through adult. We’ve included fiction and nonfiction, picture books, middle grade books, and books adults will find interesting. A number of the books are by Dr. Jane Goodall herself—she’s a prolific writer. We’ve also included books about teaching science, as well as videos, and articles accessible on the internet.

Jane Goodall and Her Research. From Me … Jane, the picture by Patrick McDonnell about Jane Goodall’s childhood, to Jane Goodall: the Woman Who Redefined Man by Dale Peterson, there are a number of accessible books for every type of reader.

Primate Research. We’ve included nonfiction books such as Pamela S. Turner’s Gorilla Doctors and Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wick’s Primates, a graphic novel about the three women who devoted so much of their loves to studying primates: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas.

Chimpanzees. Dr. Goodall’s research is specifically about chimpanzees so companion books such as Michele Colon’s Termites on a Stick and Dr. Goodall’s Chimpanzees I Love: Saving Their World and Ours are suggested.

Fiction. Many excellent novels have been written about primates and Africa and conservation, ranging from realism to science fiction and a novel based on a true story. Among our list, you’ll find Linda Sue Park’s A Long to Water and Eva by Peter Dickinson and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

World-Changing Women and Women Scientists. Here you’ll find picture book biographies, longer nonfiction books, and collections of short biographies such as Girls Think of Everything by Catherine Thimmesh, Silk & Venom by Kathryn Lasky, and Rad American Women: A to Z by Kate Schatz.

Africa. The titles about, or set on, this continent are numerous. Learning About Africa by Robin Koontz provides a useful and current introduction to the continent. We also looked for books by authors who were born in or lived for a while in an African country; Next Stop—Zanzibar! by Niki Daly and Magic Gourd by Coretta Scott King Honoree Baba Wague Diakiteare are included in this section.

Animal Friendships. Children and adults alike crave these stories about unlikely friendships between animals who don’t normally hang around together. From Catherine Thimmesh’s Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships to Marion Dane Bauer’s A Mama for Owen, you’ll be charmed by these books.

Animals In Danger of Extinction. We’ve included only two books in this category but both of them should be stars in your booktalks. Counting Lions by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton, is a stunning book—do find it! Dr. Goodall contributes a moving book, Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink.

Teaching Science. If you’re working with young children in grades K through 2, you’ll want Perfect Pairs by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley. For older students in grades 3 through 6, Picture-Perfect Science Lessons will inspire you.

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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Turtles in Children’s Literature

Our Bookstormbook, The Shadow Hero, is the origin story of a superhero, The Green Turtle. While this character is not an actual chelonian—though that would be an awesome super hero—there are many turtles and tortoises in children’s literature. Some might even be, technically, terrapins. Here are some notables.

TurtleTimeline_July

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Marion Dane Bauer: The Power of Novels

by Marion Dane Bauer

[I]f you are interested in the neurological impact of reading, the journal Brain Connectivity published a paper “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain.” Basically, reading novels increases connectivity, stimulates the front temporal cortex and increases activity in areas of the brain associated with empathy and muscle memory. [Read the whole article.] 
                                           —Jennifer Michalicek on ChildLit

dummy brainIt’s something we all know—all of us who are writers, readers, teachers know it, anyway—that reading fiction, engaging in the process of inhabiting another human being, feeling our way into another’s thoughts, feelings, desires, enlarges our hearts. It teaches us to understand those who are different from us. Equally important, if not more so, it lets us know that in the deepest possible ways we human beings are the same.

We don’t need a study to tell us this is so, and yet I am grateful for such a study, and I would guess that you are, too. Long ago I knew teachers who had to close their classroom doors least the principal pass in the hall and discover them “wasting time” reading a story. And in these days of renewed emphasis on nonfiction, I would guess that attitude surfaces again more than occasionally.

Not to dismiss the importance of nonfiction. What better way to gather information, to increase our understanding of the world than through the fascinating, expressive nonfiction available today? But there is a larger understanding we owe our children—and ourselves, for that matter—than that which can be gained by comprehending facts. It is an understanding of ourselves as human beings.

How is it that story reveals so deeply? After all, the folks talking and acting, thinking and feeling on the page are fabrications created in some stranger’s mind. Our Puritan foreparents used to forbid the reading of novels, damning them as lies! And from a totally literal perspective, it is so.

But if a writer is creating truly, she is creating out of her own substance. She is creating out of the truth of who she is, what she knows about herself and about the people around her. (Forgive me for making all writers female. The he or she dance is burdensome.) If she is writing honestly, she is revealing on the page what she has allowed few others to know. In fact, she is probably exposing far more of herself than she herself realizes, because it is part of the magic of the writing of story that we are seduced into exposing even more than we may comprehend ourselves.

And that is the secret of the revelation of fiction. Those who create stories bring their hidden humanity to the writing. Those who read stories discover their own humanity in the reading
. . . and learn to extend that humanity beyond the confines of their own skins.

What deeper learning can there be from the written word?

A mechanical study of the brain isn’t needed to understand any of this. But it’s a marvel of our times that such a study is possible, that what most of us know in our hearts can now be proven.

I hope this new understanding makes it possible for every classroom door to stand wide open while such learning takes place.

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Skinny Dip with Marion Dane Bauer

 

Newbery HonorWhat is your proudest career moment?

My proudest career moment I suppose should be the day in 1986 when On My Honor won a Newbery Honor Award. But though that was the moment that changed my career more than any other, it’s not my proudest.

My proudest was when I was just beginning writing, had finished my first novel and had no idea whether what I was doing had any value at all. I had no one to read it to tell me. So I presented this first manuscript—it was Foster Child—at a writer’s workshop where the Newbery-Award-winning author Maia Wojciechowska read it. She made an announcement telling the entire conference that “Marion Dane Bauer has written a novel called Foster Child, and it’s good! It’s going to be published!”

That’s the moment when I knew for the first time that I could do this thing I wanted so badly to do, and I’ve never been prouder. From that moment on I’ve believed in myself and my work.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever

pinsThey were newly made, pink with cheerful kittens all over them, and they were coordinated with pajamas made new for my identical-twin friends, Betty and Beverly.  Their grandmother had made the pajamas for the three of us and finished them just in time for an overnight together. The only problem—and this is what makes the pajamas particularly memorable—was that their grandmother’s sight was no longer very good, and she simply sewed all the straight pins into the seams and left them there. We spent the whole night, all three of us in the same double bed, saying “Ouch!” every time we moved and pulling out more pins.

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

No question . . . having children was the bravest thing I’ve ever done and, as well, as being the thing I’m most grateful I did. I didn’t have children because I was consciously brave but because I had no way of knowing what lay ahead, all the difficulties, all the joys. When you have a child you connect yourself to another human being—a complete stranger—for the rest of your two lives. No divorce possible. And that, if you stop to think about it, is really scary! Fortunately, few of us stop to think those thoughts before we bring a child into our lives.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

I’ve forgotten the title and have no idea who the author was, but I can still see the fuzzy pink lamb on the pale blue cover. It was a story of a lamb with pettable pink fuzz who got lost and couldn’t find his mother. Things got so bad that on one turn of the page lightning cracked in the sky and rain fell and the pettable pink fuzz went away entirely. All the colors went away, too. That whole spread was done in grays. I remember touching the smooth gray lamb again and again, wanting to bring the pink fuzz back. Of course, another turn of the page brought everything back and the lamb’s fuzzy, pink glory. The lamb’s mother came back, too. Such a surprising and satisfying ending!

What TV show can’t you turn off?

I seldom watch TV, but I’ll admit to being in love with Downton Abbey. When an hour’s show ends, I always want more!

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Leroy Ninker Saddles Up! Companion Booktalks

Let these help you get started on the Bookstorm™ books:

Actual SizeActual Size, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins

  • Animal parts or whole animals shown in actual size (a squid’s eye!)
  • Try to guess the animal by looking at just one part
  • Ideal for comparing and contrasting


Bill PicketBill Picket: Rodeo-Ridin’ Cowboy,
 written by Andrea Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

  • True story of an African-American rodeo star
  • You won’t believe his trick for quieting bulls and calves
  • Biography of a true-life action superhero


Black Cowboys, Wild HorsesBlack Cowboy, Wild Horses,
 written by Julius Lester, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

  • True story about one of the many African-American cowboys
  • Find all the camouflaged critters!
  • Horses galore!


Cowboy UpCowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo
, written by Nancy Bo Flood, photographs by Jan Sonnemair

  • You’ve heard of buckin’ broncos—how about buckin’ sheep?
  • Photos of children and teens of the Navajo Nation participating in all the events
  • Poetry, photos, and prose make you feel part of the action


Cowgirl KateCowgirl Kate and Cocoa,
 written by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Betsy Lewin

  • Easy reader with four stand-alone chapters
  • A girl with her very own horse
  • Kate and her contrary horse get into all sorts of trouble


FriendsFriends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships,
written by Catherine Thimmesh

  • Friendships between animals of different species—some are very unusual animals
  • What happens to injured wild animals? Learn about animal rehabilitation centers
  • Enticing, immediate photographs


Horse SongHorse Song: the Naadam of Mongolia, written and illustrated by Ted and Betsy Lewin

  • Based on the authors’ own visit to Mongolia
  • Young readers will love riding into competition with 9 year-old jockey Tamir
  • Illustrations bring the Naadam festival to life


In the Days of the VaquerosIn the Days of the Vaqueros,
written by Russell Freedman

  • Who were the first cowboys in the Americas? How were they different from the cowboys in movies?
  • Find out why California Vaqueros would lasso and capture grizzly bears
  • Great material for a report


Just the Right SizeJust the Right Size,
written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton

  • Why can’t there be a real King Kong?
  • Why can geckoes climb on ceilings and humans can’t?
  • Have fun with math (and the cartoon illustrations) to find the answers


Leroy NinkerLeroy Ninker Saddles Up
, written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

  • A scary storm, a search for a lost friend, a celebration with friends—exciting action
  • Silly characters and their tongue-twisty, funny dialogue
  • First book in a companion series to the author’s Mercy Watson books—plenty more reading for eager readers


Name JarThe Name Jar
, written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi

  • Classroom story about young Korean immigrant Unhei’s dilemma: should she choose an American name?
  • Warm, simple illustrations that evoke all the emotions and humor
  • Topic of “Your name” makes a wonderful discussion and writing prompt


RainstormRainstorm,
written and illustrated by Barbara Lehman.

  • What do you think about on a rainy day?
  • Mingles a boy’s real and imagined world in a story without words
  • Caldecott Honor author/illustrator

 

Ready Steady SpaghettiReady Steady Spaghetti, by Lucy Broadhurst

  • Cookbook with colorful and engaging photographs—wow factor
  • Uncomplicated recipes for a range of food–vegetarian, desserts, snacks, and more
  • “Swamp Mud” looks delicious!


Star of Wild Horse CanyonStar of Wild Horse Canyon,
written by Clyde Robert Bulla, illustrated by Grace Paull

  • Capturing and taming wild horses!
  • A mystery involving a lost horse—can you solve it before Danny does?
  • Why is the horse named Star?


WindWind
, written by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by John Wallace

  • All the facts about this unseen weather element—in text just right for beginning readers
  • Part of a set of four, also including Rain, Snow, and Clouds—great for first science reports
  • And just where does the wind come from?

 

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Peace

Peace is elusive. It is a goal of some people at some time in some parts of the world. As John Lennon wrote: “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people sharing all the world …” Is […]

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Sparking the flint

Children aren’t the only kids who get bored during the summer. Teens are looking for something to do in more subtle ways. If they’ve got the writing bug … or if they don’t have it yet … you might tempt them with one or more of these books. You’ll find something for every taste, with […]

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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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Monday morning roundup

Hey, Joyce Sidman, your new book, Ubiquitous, has done the Most Unusual … five starred reviews! In 2009, only 13 books received five starred reviews (if you’re curious, check out the Seeing Stars 2009 document, stored on Radar, the CLN members’ home page). Booklist, The Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal […]

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