Archive | Columns

Lit Lunches:
Promoting a love of reading one bite at a time!


by Mau­r­na Rome


Ready for Lit Lunch.

I admit that I am some­times envi­ous of my friends who work in the busi­ness world and get to enjoy fre­quent din­ing out excur­sions dur­ing their lunch breaks. A 20 – 25 minute rush to digest school cafe­te­ria food, microwav­able left­overs or a brown bag sand­wich isn’t the most appe­tiz­ing mid-day meal expe­ri­ence. How­ev­er, once a month I do get to enjoy a spe­cial book club of sorts, called “Lit Lunch,” with some of the most thought­ful, deep thinkers I’ve ever chat­ted with about books!

It might be hard to believe that “din­ing in” with thir­ty 9‑year-olds could be such a delight­ful affair, yet this once-a-month event has become one of the high­lights of the year in Room 132. From a kid’s point of view, get­ting to eat with the teacher in the class­room has some kind of mag­i­cal appeal. For this teacher, any­thing that moti­vates kids to think and talk about a good book is worth doing.


The Sand­wich Swap

When choos­ing our lunch book of the month, our cri­te­ria are quite sim­ple. The book must have a con­nec­tion to some type of food item that can be added to the lunch menu with a rea­son­able amount of prep and cost.  It also helps if the sto­ry has a “meaty” author’s mes­sage we can real­ly dig into.

I’ve used “lunch with the teacher” as a spe­cial reward for many years, but this is the first year I’ve real­ized that adding a lit­er­a­cy ele­ment gives it an added pur­pose. An unex­pect­ed result from host­ing the first few Lit Lunch­es was that many kids made it their mis­sion to find the per­fect book for next month. My stu­dents are always on the look­out for a good sto­ry that fea­tures a favorite fare to nib­ble on.  I know the extra effort and small invest­ment in a few ingre­di­ents are more than worth­while. I’m not sure who enjoys Lit Lunch­es more — the kids, our lunch­room super­vi­sor, or me.


A favorite book

Through chow­ing and chat­ting, my stu­dents iden­ti­fied sev­er­al com­mon words of wis­dom from the books we’ve devoured so far this year. “Don’t judge a book by its cov­er” applies beau­ti­ful­ly to The Sand­wich Swap by Queen Rania of Jor­dan Al Abdul­lah, Ene­my Pie by Derek Mun­son, and Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Seuss. Nib­bling on a hum­mus and PB&J sand­wich, slice of pie, or green eggs and ham while chat­ting about the impor­tance of get­ting to know some­one or something before pass­ing judg­ment helped made our first few Lit Lunch­es a suc­cess.

The mes­sage “When life hands you lemons, make lemon­ade” came through loud and clear after read­ing and dis­cussing The Lemon­ade Club by Patri­cia Polac­co. This selec­tion was spe­cial for sev­er­al rea­sons. Sev­er­al of my stu­dents and I have dealt with the chal­lenge of help­ing a fam­i­ly mem­ber bat­tle can­cer. It was also the first stu­dent-select­ed book, thanks to an enthu­si­as­tic young lady who vis­its the pub­lic library often. Aman­da was so excit­ed to share her checked-out col­lec­tion of Polacco’s books. As we swapped our heart­felt per­son­al con­nec­tions, we shared lemon pop­py seed muffins and, of course, lemon­ade.

Green eggs and ham

Eat­ing green eggs and ham.

Our most recent les­son to be learned came from the light-heart­ed best sell­er Drag­ons Love Tacos. “Always read the fine print” was the take away from this sil­ly but fun tale. The food tie-in was by far the biggest hit with kids, though it also proved to be more time inten­sive and cost­ly than the oth­er month­ly selec­tions.

My advice for any teacher who is inter­est­ed in mak­ing lunchtime a lit­tle more inter­est­ing, though per­haps not as relax­ing as a meal out on the town, is to start small. Con­sid­er invit­ing a group of 5 – 6 kids to join you for a Lit Lunch based on a recent read aloud. For your sec­ond help­ing of Lit Lunch, add anoth­er group of kids. When hold­ing a full class Lit Lunch, a hand-held micro­phone that can be passed around is a must. Secur­ing fund­ing through the school par­ent-group, a grant, or grade-lev­el bud­get would be a good way to off­set the cost of pro­vid­ing appe­tiz­ing titles that are paired with some tasty treats.   

Green eggs and ham

A lot of green eggs and ham.

It may take time, prac­tice, and group reflec­tion to make the Lit Lunch feel more like a real book club with impromp­tu con­tri­bu­tions ver­sus a tra­di­tion­al class­room, teacher-led dis­cus­sion. It is help­ful if kids prac­tice being a part of infor­mal con­ver­sa­tions in both small and whole group set­tings. Facil­i­tat­ing a pro­duc­tive dis­cus­sion about char­ac­ter traits, the gist of the sto­ry and/or the author’s mes­sage is not an easy feat with a group of thir­ty hun­gry 3rd graders, but Room 132 is proof that it can be done.

Find­ing the right food-relat­ed book is a must. A free 100-page, anno­tat­ed book list fea­tur­ing  “over 400 books with pos­i­tive food, nutri­tion and phys­i­cal activ­i­ty mes­sages for chil­dren in grades K‑2” can be down­loaded thanks to a project from Michi­gan State Uni­ver­si­ty Exten­sion and the Michi­gan State of Edu­ca­tion.




Two for the Show


by Jack­ie Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root

Martin and Root

Jack­ie Brig­gs Mar­tin (l) an Phyl­lis Root ®

We both love find­ing for­got­ten trea­sures in the “removed from cir­cu­la­tion” sec­tions of libraries or in sec­ond hand book­stores. Some of these books call to us because we remem­ber them from our child­hoods: the Babar books writ­ten out in long­hand, the Flic­ka, Ric­ka, Dic­ka sto­ries about Swedish triplets, Mar­cia Brown’s Stone Soup.

Some books enchant that we’ve nev­er read before: When the Wind Blew by Mar­garet Wise Brown, Run, Run, Run by Clement Hurd, The Trea­sure of Topolobam­po by Scott O’Dell (and illus­trat­ed by the won­der­ful Lynd Ward). These books seem like for­got­ten trea­sures that we wish would be remem­bered. They remind us, as well, that the sto­ries we tell now are very much akin to the sto­ries told before us. The length may dif­fer, the tone may have changed with time, but the hearts of these sto­ries still con­nect with read­ers today.

We want to look at sto­ries whose hearts have stayed strong, whether those sto­ries are fifty years old or fif­teen years old — or even more recent. We hope you, too, will find the old­er sto­ries enchant­i­ng enough to look them up, either in libraries on in online book sites such as Alib­ris or Abe­Books. Or per­haps, like we do, you might wan­der the aisles of book­stores and library shops, look­ing for that book that reach­es out, taps you on the shoul­der, and says, “Read me. You’ll be glad you did.”

Our first finds have to do with moth­ers, a good top­ic for ear­ly May. We are call­ing it “What’s a moth­er to do?”

Moms are the pole stars of child­hood, the ones who make us feel safe in the scari­est, wor­ry­ing-est of times. And in this, our first Two for the Show col­umn, we want to take a look at two clas­sic pic­ture books about Moms and see what the moms are doing.

Monster Mama coverMon­ster Mama, writ­ten by Liz Rosen­berg and illus­trat­ed by Stephen Gam­mell (Philomel, 1993) cel­e­brates lan­guage and Moms. It begins:

Patrick Edward was a won­der­ful boy, but his moth­er was a mon­ster. She lived in a big cave at the back of the house. [page turn]

Some­times she paint­ed, some­times she gar­dened, and some­times she tossed Patrick Edward light­ly up and down in the air, for fun.

She also teach­es Patrick Edward how to roar and how to cast a spell that could put almost any­one to sleep. One day he runs into bul­lies who tie him to a tree and say, “Your moth­er wears army boots.” Patrick Edward roars, breaks away, and chas­es the boys. “Who knows what might have hap­pened next — but Mon­ster Mama heard the echoes of his roar. She zoomed out of her cave…” and straight to Patrick Edward. Once things are set to right and they’ve all shared cake (which the bul­lies made) she says to Patrick Edward, “No mat­ter where you go, or what you do…I will be there. Because I am your moth­er, even if I am a mon­ster — and I love you.”

What we love in this book is the shim­mer­ing ques­tion: Is she real­ly a mon­ster? She gar­dens, she toss­es light­ly, she likes sweets. But she is fierce and she can cast spells. There is humor in this ques­tion and humor in the lan­guage — “Vil­lains, farewell!” Patrick Edward says to the bul­lies. And, “Strength is for the wise, not the reck­less. — More cake please.”

Hazel coverIn Hazel’s Amaz­ing Moth­er by Rose­mary Wells (Dial, 1985) Hazel goes off on her own to “buy some­thing nice” for a pic­nic. She gets lost. And that’s when the bul­lies show up. They take Hazel’s doll and throw her until the stuff­ing falls out. Hazel cries, “Oh, Mother…Mother, I need you.” Just then a wind comes up, blows the pic­nic blan­ket — along with Hazel’s moth­er— right over the town into the very tree under which Hazel sat. Hazel’s moth­er takes charge.

A toma­to hit Doris smack between the eyes.

Don’t make a move with­out fix­ing Eleanor!” Hazel’s moth­er roared.

She also rum­bles, laughs thun­der­ous­ly, brings about repairs.

Oh, moth­er,” said Hazel, “‘how did you do it?”

It must have been the pow­er of love,” said Hazel’s moth­er.

These two sto­ries are fun­ny, not trea­cly. When Hazel’s moth­er tells the mean Doris to fix Hazel’s doll, she toss­es down a pock­et sewing kit — and three more toma­toes. The bul­lies don’t just work at fix­ing— “The boys scrubbed fever­ish­ly. Doris sewed like a machine.”

Nana coverAnd these sto­ries are reas­sur­ing. Kids know they can’t do it all — even though it seems we some­times expect them to in our books. How many times have we heard that kids should solve their own prob­lems in our sto­ries? Per­haps that’s chang­ing. Nana in the City by Lau­ren Castil­lo (Clar­i­on, 2014) — a 2015 Calde­cott Hon­or Book — fea­tures a grand­moth­er who knits a cape for her grand­son who’s wor­ried about being in the city. The cape does the trick, and the grand­son begins to enjoy the city. It’s not bad for kids to see exam­ples of grown-ups who can help. They are the bridge to get kids to their own stronger place.

A few oth­er books fea­tur­ing moth­ers:

  • Owl Babies by Mar­tin Wad­dell
  • Run­away Bun­ny by Mar­garet Wise Brown
  • Are you My Moth­er? by P.D. East­man
  • A Chair for My Moth­er by Vera B. Williams
  • Feed­ing the Sheep by Leda Schu­bert





From the Editor

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

April Bookology cover

The FIRST Bookol­o­gy!

It’s the first Tues­day of the month, and all the Wind­ing Oak bookol­o­gists are a bit breath­less but hap­py to be open­ing this sec­ond issue of Bookol­o­gy.

We’ve been so grat­i­fied by the warm response to the mag­a­zine. Thank you.

In this April edi­tion you’ll find anoth­er Book­storm™ at the cen­ter of every­thing. Since its pub­li­ca­tion in 1994, Cather­ine, Called Birdy by Karen Cush­man has been a read­er favorite and class­room stal­wart. So why shine the spot­light on a book that earned its hon­ored place long ago?

Well, we chron­ic read­ers may know a book is worth read­ing and we may believe in our bones that you shouldn’t need a rea­son to pro­mote and share a good book in the class­room, but ever-shift­ing cur­ricu­lum require­ments demand that we take a fresh look at old favorites and eval­u­ate how well they sup­port that cur­ricu­lum.

And so we took a fresh look at Cather­ine, Called Birdy; we’re delight­ed to share the results in the new Book­storm ™.

Besides the reg­u­lar fea­tures and columns, you’ll also find an inter­view with the author of Birdy, Karen Cush­man. Because we want­ed to focus on the sto­ry behind the sto­ry, espe­cial­ly the research involved, we asked vet­er­an non­fic­tion writer Claire Rudolf Mur­phy to con­duct the inter­view. 

April means poet­ry, and for this Bookol­o­gy we asked Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong to share exam­ples from two of their Poet­ry Fri­day antholo­gies.

And, final­ly, we’ve also launch a new fea­ture: Wacky Book Lists. In this month — books star­ring dachs­hunds.




Literary Madeleine: A History of Reading

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

A History of Reading coverOne of the great good for­tunes of my life is that I’ve man­aged to cre­ate a pro­fes­sion­al life that requires I read a lot. Read­ing is a pas­sion; the old bumper stick­er says it all: I’d rather be read­ing.

But I also think read­ing is an inter­est­ing top­ic. How and why do we read? Who were the first read­ers? How has read­ing been used to oppress and lib­er­ate? How and why does read­ing — the phys­i­cal act of read­ing — vary from cul­ture to cul­ture? Why — unlike so many out­spo­ken pro­po­nents of one tech­nol­o­gy or the oth­er — does my cat not care whether I read a hard copy book or use my Kin­dle? (He’s hap­py to paw or plop on either when he wants my atten­tion.)

Alber­to Manguel’s A His­to­ry of Read­ing has answers to most of those ques­tions, and it pos­es and answers a great many more. Though won­der­ful­ly illus­trat­ed, the book is text-heavy, and it’s writ­ten for read­ers with some knowl­edge of world his­to­ry. In oth­er words, tough going for young read­ers.

How­ev­er, the his­to­ry Manguel weaves is chock full of gems that could enter­tain and intrigue read­ers of any age if care­ful­ly culled and pre­sent­ed.

Fore­most among them, a cen­ter­fold: A Read­er’s Time­line. Here are just a few of the items on Manguel’s time­line:

  • c. 2300 BC: The first record­ed author, the Sumer­ian high priest­ess Enhed­u­an­na, address­es a “dear read­er” in her songs
  • c. 200 BC: Aristo­phanes of Byzan­tium invents punc­tu­a­tion
  • c. 1010: At a time when “seri­ous read­ing” in Japan is restrict­ed to men, Lady Murasa­ki writes the first nov­el, The Book of Gen­ji, to pro­vide read­ing mate­r­i­al for her­self and the oth­er women of the Heian Court
Eleanor of Aquitaine, reading for eternity

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s tomb lid; read­ing for eter­ni­ty

Also of imme­di­ate val­ue are the exam­ples of the many depic­tions of read­ing in visu­al art through the ages, a list of which could pro­vide a good start for a moti­vat­ed young researcher.

The evo­lu­tion of read­ing and its influ­ence on indi­vid­u­als and soci­eties pro­vides a won­der­ful angle for study­ing his­to­ry. But if that doesn’t work for your young read­ers, there’s always Manguel’s ear­li­er book: The Dic­tio­nary of Imag­i­nary Places, a com­pre­hen­sive and cel­e­bra­to­ry cat­a­logue of fan­ta­sy set­tings from world lit­er­a­ture.

A native of Argenti­na, Alber­to Manguel now lives in Cana­da. 



Mother-Daughter Book Club

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

Mother-Daughter coverIn a meta-move (we’re not usu­al­ly so cool), our moth­er-daugh­ter book club has start­ed the Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club series by Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick.  We read the first book last month and the sec­ond is sched­uled for our next meet­ing. I’m not sure we’ll be able to stop there. It was good we held them until the girls were the age of the girls in Frederick’s first books — the tim­ing is per­fect now.

The form­ing of the fic­tion­al moth­er-daugh­ter book club was dif­fer­ent than ours. The moth­ers in Frederick’s books pret­ty much coerced their girls into com­ing togeth­er in sixth grade to read Lit­tle Women. The series fol­lows the daugh­ters through their pre-teen and teen years as they read var­i­ous lit­er­ary clas­sics togeth­er with their moth­ers — not always hap­pi­ly, but always enter­tain­ing­ly. 

Our moth­er-daugh­ter book club start­ed when our girls were in sec­ond grade.  We start­ed with George Selden’s The Crick­et in Times Square. I sent the orig­i­nal inquiry/invitation. I sim­ply looked around my girl’s class­room and play­ground and sent an email to a few of the moth­ers I knew. Some of the girls were friends, some were not…yet. I don’t believe any were coerced into par­tic­i­pat­ing. If they were, at least they’ve stayed. And I’ve over­heard them claim they start­ed the book club, and we moth­ers were sim­ply allowed to come along for the ride. This revi­sion­ist his­to­ry is fine by me.

Cricket in Times Square coverToday, we are five moth­er-daugh­ter pairs and the girls are in sev­enth grade. I would guess we’ve read close to fifty books togeth­er. Frederick’s moth­er-daugh­ter book club focus­es on one clas­sic for months — some­times a year. Ours reads one book every 4 – 6 weeks or so.  We take turns pick­ing books, moms gen­tly encour­ag­ing books the girls might not oth­er­wise find and devour on their own (no Har­ry Pot­ter books, Hunger Games, Diver­gent etc.), and girls insist­ing on books moms might not oth­er­wise have giv­en a chance. We’ve read sev­er­al that were pop­u­lar when the moth­ers were the daugh­ters’ age, which they find interesting/hysterical. We’ve had a cou­ple of author vis­its. We’ve even done some events that have noth­ing to do with books — we won a prize for our Brown-Paper-Pack­ages-Tied-Up-With-String cos­tumes at the Sound of Music Sing-a-long! 

Our daugh­ters are friends in that sus­tain­ing sort of way that makes it through (we hope) the some­times tumul­tuous mid­dle school years; which is to say there are no cliquey BFF’s in the group, but rather known-each-oth­er-for-quite-awhile friend­ships. The moth­ers are friends in that sus­tain­ing sort of way that comes when you raise your daugh­ters togeth­er. We are lis­ten­ing ears for one anoth­er, glad cel­e­bra­tors, co-com­mis­er­ates (clothes shop­ping with pre-teens — OY!), and con­fi­dants. The girls talk of con­tin­u­ing our book group through their high school years, and we moth­ers cross our fin­gers and say a lit­tle prayer this will be the case. It’s get­ting more and more dif­fi­cult to sched­ule our meet­ings — busy girls, busy moms, busy fam­i­lies. But we work hard to make it work when we can with­out stress­ing any­one out.

In short, it has been a tremen­dous thing in our lives, this moth­er-daugh­ter book club.  Read­ing about a moth­er-daugh­ter book club that is so dif­fer­ent from ours is a hoot. And in the hands of Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick, ado­les­cence is not only well drawn, but help­ful­ly drawn. The moth­ers and daugh­ters in her series go through many of the very same things we do, for there is noth­ing new under the sun with regard to ado­les­cence and the moth­er-daugh­ter rela­tion­ship — just vari­a­tions on sim­i­lar themes. It’s good to read about oth­er lives that have touch points with yours — sparks great con­ver­sa­tion.