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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

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 (r)

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.