Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

If You Plant a Seed

by Melanie Heuser Hill

My deal­er (in books, my drug of choice) and I have a spe­cial rela­tion­ship. I send her emails of books I’d like to have as I have a need, and she gets them for me. I know that doesn’t sounds all that spe­cial, but because she keeps a run­ning tab for me and because I’m usu­al­ly not in a hur­ry, I some­times for­get what I’ve ordered by the time we meet on the street cor­ner for the hand-off.

If You Plant a SeedSuch was the case with If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nel­son. Undoubt­ed­ly, I’d read a review sug­gest­ing I’d love this book — due to bud­get con­straints, I don’t usu­al­ly put in an order unless I’m sure I want it on my shelves. Per­haps I’d sim­ply seen the cov­er — Nelson’s art­work often makes my heart go pit­ter-pat, and this cov­er with its lop-eared bun­ny and mouse anx­ious­ly watch­ing a small seedling … well. It must be the gar­den­er in me.

But I’d for­got­ten I’d ordered it, and so when it came, it came as a delight­ful sur­prise.  I sat down this morn­ing to read it and two things hap­pened. First, I found myself quite verklempt. Then, I went and stood on my front porch and looked up and down the street hop­ing I’d see some kids. I sat down in the rock­ing chair to wait. That’s how deter­mined I was to read it to a child — imme­di­ate­ly, if not soon­er. Sit with book and they will come, I told myself.

Alas, even­tu­al­ly I had to track down my niece who lives around the cor­ner. But she was more than will­ing to have a read with me as soon as I showed her the cov­er — they cur­rent­ly have a bit of a bun­ny and mouse obses­sion going at their house this spring.

Eighty words. That’s all the book has. Eighty words! But of course Nel­son is a fine artist and much of the sto­ry is told in the art. Three seeds are plant­ed. A toma­to plant, car­rot, and cab­bage grow after time and a lit­tle love and care. The bun­ny and mouse dance their joy in the gar­den and set­tle in for a feast.

Five birds arrive — a crow, a pigeon, a blue jay, a car­di­nal, and a nuthatch/sparrow. (Please note: I am not an ornithol­o­gist — I can­not pos­i­tive­ly iden­ti­fy the nuthatch/sparrow, but I think I have the oth­er ones right.) They look at the bun­ny and mouse with a sort of “Whatcha-doin’?” kin­da look. You turn the page and they are look­ing at you with “Well-are-ya-gonna-share?” kind of look.

The book goes on to explore (in less than eighty words and in beau­ti­ful art — a true pic­ture book!) what hap­pens if you plant a seed of selfishness…and what hap­pens if you plant a seed of kind­ness. The read­er is allowed to see the “har­vest” of both.

This is a “qui­et book.” Each spread is made to be savored, time must be allowed for look­ing at all the details and absorb­ing the sto­ry and the emo­tions. The title might make you think it will have the rol­lick­ing fun of the Lau­ra Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse/Pig/Moose a Cookie/Pancake/Muffin books. But it’s noth­ing like that. If You Plant A Seed is about the ban­quet of joy that feeds and delights all when a small seed of kind­ness is plant­ed. There’s no moral — nobody screech­es out the les­son at the end in a Lit­tle Red Hen voice — but the last spread illus­trates the point well.

Find this book, if you haven’t already. Find a kid, or a whole group of them. Read it. Then go out and plant some seeds — toma­toes, car­rots, cab­bage… and/or love, joy and gen­eros­i­ty of spir­it.



Birdy’s Lentil Soup

Karen Cush­man passed along this recipe from the Cookin’ Canuck with the note that it was just the sort of cold weath­er meal that would grace tables in the Cather­ine, Called Birdy world.

Hearty Lentil Soup

Just what Birdy would have eat­en!
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time1 hr 5 mins
Author: The Cookin’ Canuck


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 12 large onion chopped
  • 2 large stalks cel­ery diced
  • 2 cloves gar­lic minced
  • 2 tsp smoked papri­ka
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 14 oz. can diced toma­toes
  • 1 cup dried brown lentils
  • 34 cup low-sodi­um veg­etable or chick­en broth divid­ed
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 14 oz. black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 14 cup chopped pars­ley
  • Salt and pep­per to taste


  • Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan set over medi­um heat. Add onions and cel­ery and cook, stir­ring occa­sion­al­ly, until the veg­eta­bles are begin­ning to soft­en, 6 to 7 min­utes.
  • Add gar­lic, smoked papri­ka and bay leaves and sauté for 30 sec­onds.
  • Stir in diced toma­toes with juices, lentils, 3 cups veg­etable or chick­en broth and 3 cups water. Increase heat to medi­um-high and bring the mix­ture to a boil. Reduce the heat slight­ly and cook, stir­ring occa­sion­al­ly, until lentils are ten­der, 25 to 35 min­utes.
  • Remove from the heat and let cool for about 10 min­utes. Remove and dis­card the bay leaves. Trans­fer half of the lentil mix­ture, half of the black beans and 3f4 cup veg­etable or chick­en broth to the bowl of a blender or food proces­sor. Pulse until com­bined, but not pureed. It should be a chunky tex­ture.
  • Pour the blender mix­ture back into the lentils in the saucepan, along with the remain­ing 1 cup of chick­en broth and remain­ing black beans. Stir and reheat over medi­um heat. Stir in pars­ley. Sea­son with salt and pep­per to taste. Serve.

Author Emeritus: Rosemary Sutcliffe

Rosemary Sutcliff photoRose­mary Sut­cliff, author of children’s his­tor­i­cal nov­els, was born on Decem­ber 14, 1920, in Sur­rey, Eng­land. She wrote children’s books, nov­els, short sto­ries, and scripts for radio, TV, and film.

In child­hood, Stil­l’s dis­ease kept her in a wheel­chair and close to home. Her moth­er home­schooled her and first intro­duced her to Sax­on and Celtic leg­ends. She didn’t learn to read until the age of ten. In her auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Blue Hills Remem­bered, Ms. Sut­cliff wrote, “I had a lone­ly child­hood and grow­ing-up time. My par­ents loved me and I loved them, but I could nev­er talk to them about the prob­lems and fears and aching hopes inside me that I had most need to talk about to some­one. And there was no one else.”

The Lantern BearersSut­cliff attend­ed Bid­ford Art School at the age of 14. She began to write for pub­li­ca­tion in 1946 and was com­mis­sioned to write a children’s ver­sion of Robin Hood. She went on to write 46 nov­els for young peo­ple, sev­er­al of which were ALA notable books. The Lantern Bear­ers was award­ed the 1959 Carnegie Medal.

In 1975, she was appoint­ed Offi­cer of the Order of the British Empire for ser­vices to children’s lit­er­a­ture. In 1992, Ms. Sut­cliff was named Com­man­der of the Order of the British Empire.

She described her style as immers­ing her­self in an era, let­ting his­to­ry guide her plot devel­op­ment. She is remem­bered for her sense of his­tor­i­cal detail.

Rose­mary Sut­cliff died in 1992.

—Vic­ki Palmquist

For more Authors Emer­i­tus biogra­phies, please vis­it the AE index.



The World in Birdy’s Time, 1290 AD

The year of Birdy’s sto­ry in Cather­ine, Called Birdy is more than 700 years ago. It might be hard for us to imag­ine what it was like to live then, before tech­nol­o­gy and planes and even the print­ing press! Read­ing the book gives us an oppor­tu­ni­ty to put our­selves into that world and time. Here’s what was going on through­out Birdy’s world to help us place the book with­in its ref­er­ence points. We know you’ll enjoy the book … and learn­ing more about his­to­ry.

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Middle Kingdom: Seattle, Washington

The books that most delight mid­dle school and junior high read­ers often strad­dle a “Mid­dle King­dom” rang­ing from upper mid­dle grade to YA. Each month, Bookol­o­gy colum­nist Lisa Bullard will vis­it the Mid­dle King­dom by view­ing it through the eyes of a teacher or librar­i­an. Bookol­o­gy is delight­ed to cel­e­brate the work of these edu­ca­tors who have built vital book encamp­ments in the tran­si­tion­al ter­ri­to­ry of ear­ly ado­les­cence.

Our first jour­ney takes us to Jane Addams Mid­dle School in Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton, where Lisa talks with librar­i­an Lau­rie Amster-Bur­ton.

Lisa: What are three to five things Bookol­o­gy read­ers should know about your com­mu­ni­ty, school, or library/media cen­ter?

Jane Addams Middle School library

New book col­lec­tion get­ting unpacked in August 2014 (click to enlarge).

Lau­rie: Jane Addams Mid­dle School is a new mid­dle school in an old-ish (1949) build­ing. We serve all kinds of stu­dents in grades six-eight, includ­ing pro­grams for Eng­lish lan­guage learn­ers, high­ly capa­ble, and autism inclu­sion. Our staff is ener­getic and our stu­dents are live­ly. The library opened this year with 10,600 brand-new books.

Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often?

Lau­rie: Graph­ic nov­els or comics are 11 of the top 20 books checked out, and Raina Tel­ge­meier is the reign­ing queen. Her books Sis­ters, Dra­ma, and Smile are in con­stant cir­cu­la­tion. Pop­u­lar series include the Menagerie books by Tui T. Suther­land, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kin­ney, and the Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renée Rus­sell.

You can see that those titles skew toward the sixth grade read­ers. The books most pop­u­lar with old­er stu­dents include The Liv­ing by Matt de la Pena, the Maze Run­ner series by James Dash­n­er, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and Eleanor & Park by Rain­bow Row­ell.

Lisa: What books do you per­son­al­ly love to place into stu­dents’ hands?

Lau­rie: Ship Break­er by Pao­lo Baci­galupi. Good Enough by Paula Yoo. Impos­si­ble by Nan­cy Wer­lin. Zach’s Lie by Roland Smith (wit­ness pro­tec­tion!). Girl, Stolen by April Hen­ry (kid­nap­ping!). Con­fet­ti Girl by Diana Lopez. Bliz­zard of Glass by Sal­ly M. Walk­er is amaz­ing non­fic­tion that I love to book­talk.

Our library has the new edi­tions of Lois Dun­can, and when I get them into kids’ hands they always come back for more.

Lisa: If you had a new staffer start­ing tomor­row, what piece of advice would you be sure to give them?

Lau­rie: Be calm. Be patient. Show the kids that you care.

Lisa: What do you like most about work­ing with mid­dle-school­ers?

Lau­rie: They are so fun­ny and earnest and thrive with a lit­tle kind­ness.






Skinny Dip with Sharon Chmielarz

What keeps you up at night?

bk_ChmielarzNoth­ing keeps me up at night (knock on wood). I have a cou­ple of glass­es of red wine, then show­er (usu­al­ly), hit the mat­tress, do some leg exer­cis­es, and I’m a goner until the next morn­ing. If I slip from that rou­tine and drink some­thing with caf­feine too close to 6:30 pm or so, then it’s a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. Then in the dark at 11:00 pm I wor­ry when and if I’m ever going to fall asleep. 

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

What’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done? Try to stab my father in the back with a scis­sor when he was attack­ing my moth­er.

Describe your favorite paja­mas ever.

Oh, yes, I remem­ber my fav PJ’s. My moth­er worked at a cloth­ing store (Barton’s) and got a dis­count on what­ev­er she bought. One day she brought home a pair of pink and char­coal gray dia­mond-pat­terned cot­ton PJ’s. The dia­monds repeat­ed them­selves as in a Har­le­quin cos­tume. Each pink dia­mond had a tuft of gray in its cen­ter. But the pièce de resis­tance was the robe that matched it. Knee length. Big side pock­ets. Sleeves just past the elbow. Any paja­ma out­fit fea­tured in Sev­en­teen would be jeal­ous. The com­plete out­fit was a bit warm in the sum­mer in our non air-con­di­tioned, no-fan house, but I wore it any­way.

What TV show can’t you turn off?

Cur­rent­ly, Down­ton Abbey is my favorite TV show. Don’t call me at 8:00 p.m. Sun­days. When the clock’s hand in the TV room edges toward 8:50, I think, “Oh, (exple­tive).It’s almost over.”

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

Slalom ski­ing has it all for me. First, it takes place in a beau­ti­ful land­scape. Sec­ond — or maybe first — the skiers are beau­ti­ful, schuss­ing down a moun­tain, sashay­ing this way and that through the gates, leav­ing a trail of pow­der spray. I’m amazed by the strength in their legs. I’m very sor­ry Lind­sey Vonn didn’t make the world cham­pi­onship giant slalom finals this year. She has such grace and pow­er schuss­ing down a slope.



The Curious Child: writing and books

Catherine, Called Birdy

by Vic­ki Palmquist

After read­ing Cather­ine, Called Birdy, read­ers will won­der about Edward, Birdy’s broth­er, and the books he was scrib­ing at the monastery. In what type of book did Birdy keep her jour­nal? Who taught her to write? Did she write in the same fan­cy script that her broth­er did at the monastery?

Birdy gives the read­er clues about her jour­nal: “The skins are my father’s, left over from the house­hold accounts, and the ink also. The writ­ing I learned of my broth­er Edward, but the words are my own.”

The author, Karen Cush­man, describes the scrip­to­ri­um in the monastery for us, “Edward works in Par­adise. Beyond the gar­den, near the chapel, is a room as large as our barn and near as cold. Shelves lin­ing the wall hold books and scrolls, some chained down as if they were pre­cious relics or wild beasts. In three rows sit fif­teen desks, fee­bly lit by can­dles, and fif­teen monks sit curled over them, their noses pressed almost to the desk­tops. Each monk holds in one hand his pen and in the oth­er a sharp knife for scratch­ing out mis­takes. On the desks are pens and quills of all sizes, pots of ink black or col­ored, pow­der for dry­ing, and knives for sharp­en­ing.”

Cather­ine, Called Birdy is set in 1290 – 91 AD, a time when writ­ing meth­ods and scripts were chang­ing a great deal. Life was mov­ing from the medieval peri­od to the Renais­sance, although no one alive then would have known that or giv­en those names to their lives. In the Author’s Note, Ms. Cush­man writes, “Most peo­ple did not know what cen­tu­ry it was, much less what year.”

It’s hard for us to think of the effort it took to cre­ate one book, the hours and hours of painstak­ing draw­ing of let­ters, which not only had to be read­able but had to sat­is­fy the fash­ions of the day, the stan­dards for art and beau­ty that defined pen­man­ship in that era.

This was approx­i­mate­ly 200 years before the first book would be mechan­i­cal­ly print­ed in Eng­land.

In the year in which Cather­ine, Called Birdy is set, the fash­ion­able cal­lig­ra­ph­er used the pen­strokes of Tex­tu­ra Quadra­ta, so called because its rhyth­mic ver­ti­cal strokes cre­at­ed a tex­ture on the paper … and was very dif­fi­cult to read. There are many mod­ern sam­ples of this style on The Pen­sive Pen, a blog about cal­lig­ra­phy by Jamin Brown.

gothic textura quadrata

The Goth­ic man­u­scripts … used the same pen stroke for many let­ters, and thus a word like “min­i­mum,” with its unre­lieved parade of ver­ti­cal strokes, was almost impos­si­ble to read.” The Smith­son­ian Book of Books by Michael Olmert, Smith­son­ian Books, 1992, pg 75.


Here is an excel­lent video of a scribe, with a quill pen, cre­at­ing let­ters in the Tex­tu­ra Quadra­ta or Black­let­ter style. Here are more sam­ples.

In the class­room, you might talk about the dif­fer­ences between the way we write today and the time and care it is tak­ing for the scribe in the video to write the alpha­bet.

Enjoy this sam­ple page of cal­lig­ra­phy from John Stevens Design, a mas­ter cal­lig­ra­ph­er whose doc­u­ments are cre­at­ed for spe­cial occa­sions as works of art.

Today, we open up our word pro­cess­ing pro­gram and scroll through the choice of fonts, mak­ing selec­tions based on our mood or the mes­sage we’re hop­ing to con­vey. We may choose Fritz Quadra­ta or Caslon or Brush Script, most like­ly being unaware of the deep his­to­ry behind each of these fonts. Today, Goth­ic Tex­tu­ra Quadra­ta is a font one can pur­chase for $12 online. Com­pare this to the art and care and skill of the scribe cre­at­ing a page (with­out ben­e­fit of spellcheck or the delete key) to sat­is­fy a rich patron who want­ed a book in their house and paid for it to be hand­writ­ten.

 “In the ear­ly mid­dle ages lit­er­a­cy was viewed with some sus­pi­cion; actions def­i­nite­ly spoke loud­er than words, espe­cial­ly writ­ten words. These atti­tudes changed as the mid­dle ages pro­gressed; gov­ern­ment became more depen­dent on records, and cor­re­spond­ing­ly the rest of soci­ety became increas­ing­ly aware that mem­o­ries were not enough. It became impor­tant to have writ­ten proof of own­er­ship or events. Latin was the lan­guage of gov­ern­ment and offi­cial busi­ness, but by the four­teenth cen­tu­ry an increas­ing amount of writ­ing was being con­duct­ed in the ver­nac­u­lar.” A Medieval Book of Sea­sons, by Marie Collins and Vir­ginia Davis, Harper­Collins, 1992, pgs 25 – 26.

textura quadrata

From about 1150, how­ev­er, all this began to change. Pro­fes­sion­al sec­u­lar scribes and illu­mi­na­tors start­ed to take over the book busi­ness. There is tan­ta­liz­ing evi­dence from the mid-12th cen­tu­ry of trav­el­ing crafts­man who must have hired them­selves out to those who want­ed man­u­scripts made.” The Smith­son­ian Book of Books by Michael Olmert, Smith­son­ian Books, 1992, pg 10.

If a copy­ist made a mis­take he put a series of fine dots under the offend­ing word and then con­tin­ued with his text. This avoid­ed the cre­ation of a hor­rif­ic black cross-out, which would spoil the nor­mal den­si­ty of the let­ters on the page. Mis­takes com­mon­ly occurred when the scribe was inter­rupt­ed and then cast his eye for­ward or back­ward to a word sim­i­lar to the one he had just fin­ished. Christo­pher de Hamel, an expert in medieval man­u­scripts, says this usu­al­ly hap­pened when the scribe lift­ed his pen from the page for more ink (scribes tried to do a sin­gle sen­tence with each refill.) The Smith­son­ian Book of Books by Michael Olmert, Smith­son­ian Books, 1992, pg 74.

 “Monas­tic scribes engaged in a vari­ety of jobs. They pre­pared offi­cial doc­u­ments, copied or recopied ancient or con­tem­po­rary texts, pro­duced missales for use in church or books of hours for rich patrons. Such lengthy, metic­u­lous work was obvi­ous­ly a strain on the eyes, o it is not sur­pris­ing that the first glass­es were worn by monks. Man­u­scripts could be con­sult­ed in the library, but to pre­vent their being pur­loined by too indi­vid­u­al­is­tic monks they were some­times changed to the shelves, as at Her­ford. This explains why in some monas­ter­ies copy­ists either worked in the library or in a scrip­to­ri­um pro­vid­ed for com­pil­ing and copy­ing texts.” Life in the Mid­dle Ages, by Robert Delort, Edi­ta Lau­sanne, 1972.

Mov­able type is cred­it­ed to Bi Sheng, who lived in Bian­i­lang dur­ing the North­ern Song Dynasty. Some­where between 1045 and 1058, he fash­ioned “3000 of the most com­mon let­ters” out of clay, baked them in a kiln, and used them to print pages of type.

In 1234, Kore­an print­ers invent­ed met­al move­able type, which was more durable, and they print­ed the “old­est extant met­al print­ed book” in 1377.” Be sure to take a look at the UNESCO Mem­o­ry of the World for more details about this mile­stone that changed the world for­ev­er.

Here’s a fact that many of us learned in school: Johannes Guten­berg pub­lished the 42-line Chris­t­ian Bible in 1455. His accom­plish­ment was to invent a screw-type press that could use mov­able type to print pages quick­ly.

The first book to be print­ed in Eng­land was William Caxton’s edi­tion of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur in 1484. Cax­ton pub­lished “about 100 books, a num­ber of which will live for­ev­er. The Can­ter­bury Tales (1476−1478) was near­ly a cen­tu­ry old when Cax­ton print­ed them (Chaucer died in 1300). He prob­a­bly print­ed them not because they were “lit­er­a­ture” but because they con­tained pop­u­lar, appeal­ing sto­ries. Cax­ton was a busi­ness­man. Enter­tain­ment was more impor­tant to him than eru­di­tion.” The Smith­son­ian Book of Books by Michael Olmert, Smith­son­ian Books, 1992.

And what hap­pened to those books? Did Birdy’s house have a shelf with books on it, script writ­ten by Edward? Here’s a pub­lic library 400 years lat­er at Wim­borne Min­ster in Eng­land.

Sit­u­at­ed with­in the Min­ster, this was one of Britain’s first pub­lic libraries, estab­lished in 1686 in the room pre­vi­ous­ly the Trea­sury, which housed the wealth of the Min­ster until it was con­fis­cat­ed by Hen­ry VIII.

Among the ear­li­est col­lec­tions of the library, which we see here, were donat­ed by Rev. William Stone on con­di­tion that the books were chained to the shelves — he wished that his items be avail­able not only to the cler­gy but also to ‘the bet­ter class of per­son in Wim­borne.’  He pro­vid­ed mon­ey for the chains and also stip­u­lat­ed that the exist­ing works also be chained, lest they be pil­fered by the less scrupu­lous. 

Wimborne Minster public library


Stone’s col­lec­tion is entire­ly eccle­si­as­ti­cal, but lat­er col­lec­tions have a vari­ety of sub­jects, from archi­tec­ture to wine press­ing and even how to kill an ele­phant.

These are Vic­to­ri­an chains but there are two orig­i­nals remain­ing. Because the chains are attached to the edges of the book cov­ers, rather than the spines which would become eas­i­ly dam­aged, the books face inwards.” From Geo­graph: Wim­borne Min­ster, Dorset, Great Britain.


Art of Calligraphy

Alpha­bet Goth­ique, Tex­tu­ra Quadra­ta. Ger­ard Caye. YouTube video.

Art of Cal­lig­ra­phy: a Prac­ti­cal Guide to the Skills and Tech­niques. David Har­ri­son. DK Books, 1995.

Cather­ine, Called Birdy. Karen Cush­man. Clar­i­on Books, 1994.

Chi­na, “Bi Sheng.”

Friend­ly Korea, my friend’s coun­try. “The Great­est Inven­tion, Mov­able Met­al Type Print­ing and Jikji.”

Geo­graph web­site.

Life in the Mid­dle Ages. Robert Delort. Edi­ta Lau­sanne, 1972.

Mal­o­ry Project. Fac­sim­i­le ver­sion of William Cax­ton’s 1485 edi­tion of Le Morte d’Arthur.

Medieval Book of Sea­sons. Marie Collins and Vir­ginia Davis. Harper­Collins, 1992.

Mem­o­ry of the World. Unit­ed Nations Edu­ca­tion­al, Sci­en­tif­ic, and Cul­tur­al Orga­ni­za­tion. 

Ore­gon State Uni­ver­si­ty Libraries, Spe­cial Col­lec­tions & Archives Research Cen­ter. “Trea­sures from the McDon­ald Col­lec­tion, the Incun­able Era, the Guten­berg Press.” 

Pen­sive Pen, a blog about cal­lig­ra­phy. Jamin Brown.

Smith­son­ian Book of Books. Michael Olmert. Smith­son­ian Books, 1992.


Jen Bryant: It’s Not Pretty!

by Jen Bryant

I’ve always had an ambiva­lent rela­tion­ship with the word “inspi­ra­tion.” On the one hand, I acknowl­edge the illu­sive, inex­plic­a­ble aspect of the writ­ing process that I can’t con­trol, when the lines, para­graphs, pages seem to flow from some­where out­side of myself, knit­ting togeth­er almost seam­less­ly. On the oth­er hand (and this is the much, much heav­ier hand) I believe that good writ­ing — like all good art — comes from con­scious effort, com­mit­ment, and lots of tri­al and error. In this way, writ­ing a poem or a nov­el is much like any­thing else we do: mak­ing a home-cooked meal, build­ing a go-cart, or shap­ing a back­yard gar­den. You begin with a vision, but then you must roll up your sleeves, kneel down and set to work.

But how do you know where to start?!” I hear this ques­tion at near­ly every writ­ing work­shop I con­duct, regard­less of the age or expe­ri­ence of the stu­dents. My stan­dard answer is always the same: “Well, I don’t KNOW where to start … but I start any­way. I start at the place where my heart is thump­ing the loud­est, the part that is almost pure emo­tion.” Usu­al­ly, it’s not pret­ty. I might scrib­ble down some phras­es, a ques­tion, or even a few lines of rough poet­ry that focus on one or two images. It nev­er looks like much. I set that aside and go do some­thing else (work on my gar­den or my gro­cery list.)

ph_river_of_words_medalLat­er, I come back to that first scrib­ble and read it over a few times. If it’s the begin­ning of a biog­ra­phy for which I’ve done con­sid­er­able research, I shuf­fle through my notes and choose a few facts about the sub­ject that I find par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing or unusu­al. For exam­ple, when I began writ­ing A Riv­er of Words: The Sto­ry of William Car­los Williams, I honed in on young Willie’s love of wan­der­ing through the fields around his home­town, his sense of phys­i­cal con­nec­tion to his sur­round­ings, and his easy rela­tion­ship to soli­tude. Lat­er, as an adult, these would be instru­men­tal in his suc­cess as a poet. As I worked through the many drafts of the nar­ra­tive, the image of the riv­er became the thread that con­nect­ed his child­hood to his adult­hood, his child’s play to his man’s work.

Ladder and nursery window, Lindbergh home in Hopewell, New Jersey.

Lad­der and nurs­ery win­dow, Lind­bergh home in Hopewell, New Jer­sey. Pho­to cour­tesy NJ State Archives.

If it’s a nov­el with some real/historical under­pin­nings, I focus on an image that I can flesh out into a rough poem. In The Tri­al, for exam­ple, I began with the image of the lad­der — the object that became the most impor­tant piece of evi­dence against immi­grant car­pen­ter Bruno Richard Haupt­mann, the man accused of kid­nap­ping the Lind­bergh baby. So how, you ask, did that lad­der make MY heart thump, when I wasn’t even alive in 1935, the year the tri­al took place? Well … I grew up just a few blocks from the famous Flem­ing­ton cour­t­house, and our house was next to that of my pater­nal grand­moth­er, who remem­bered that tri­al from her own child­hood. She used to tell me sto­ries about that time, and those sto­ries some­times haunt­ed me at night, when I would imag­ine a stranger plac­ing a wood­en lad­der against OUR house, climb­ing up to my bed­room win­dow, and snatch­ing me from my room. (See?– thump, thump, thump!)

The part of “inspi­ra­tion” that you CAN con­trol is your com­mit­ment to try. Sit down, pick a phrase or an image that has some emo­tion­al res­o­nance for you, and start with that. If the first one doesn’t lead you for­ward — try anoth­er one. And anoth­er. And anoth­er, if nec­es­sary. Do this often enough, and you will have the first bricks laid on a path that will lead you through the rest of your book.



Taking the Wheel

by Lisa Bullard

Some days I real­ly wish I was bet­ter at being a bad writer.

At the wheelHere’s why. Draft­ing, that ear­ly stage of writ­ing when you are just try­ing to cap­ture your ideas, usu­al­ly works best if you can get words down as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. But my inner edi­tor is hor­ri­bly crit­i­cal. If I let that inner edi­tor take the wheel while I’m draft­ing, it’s as if my car has hit a patch of ice: my wheels start spin­ning, I skid, and even­tu­al­ly I crash into a snow bank. So rather than writ­ing bad­ly, I often don’t write at all — to avoid that crash.

In a real-life skid, you have to react quick­ly; there’s no time to over-think. You cor­rect the car’s tra­jec­to­ry based on instinct and prac­tice. I advo­cate a lot of “behind-the-wheel” prac­tice for your writ­ing stu­dents, too, to counter ten­den­cies towards their inner edi­tors tak­ing over too soon in the writ­ing process. These inner edi­tors too often have names such as “per­fec­tion­ism” and “lack of con­fi­dence,” and they’re bad dri­ving instruc­tors.

I start each writ­ing ses­sion with a “quick write.” (You can down­load one of mine here.) For this exer­cise, the only mea­sure of stu­dent suc­cess is that they keep writ­ing. Even bet­ter, for­bid the use of erasers, since this is one time when spelling things cor­rect­ly doesn’t count.

Throw the edi­tors out of the room for these ten min­utes — and that includes your own edi­to­r­i­al voice as teacher, as well as the crit­ics liv­ing inside each of your stu­dents. I’m a huge fan of a well-craft­ed sen­tence. Edit­ing and revis­ing DO have a huge role to play. But the writ­ing ride is plen­ty long — and draft­ing must come before revis­ing. Give stu­dents’ cre­ativ­i­ty some dai­ly dri­ving prac­tice before you ask them to let their inner edi­tors take the wheel.




Skinny Dip with Elizabeth Verdick

bk_PeepLeap140What keeps you up at night?

Read­ing much, much too late!

What is your proud­est career moment?

In 2005 I won the Hen­ry Bergh Award, which hon­ors books that rec­og­nize the need to treat ani­mals with kind­ness and car­ing (for my book Tails Are Not for Pulling). I got to stand on a stage in New Orleans with Nor­man Brid­well, author/illustrator of the Clif­ford books. I couldn’t believe I was in the same room with him. Plus, he was just as nice as I’d imag­ined he’d be.

Describe your favorite pair of paja­mas ever.

I had a bright red pair of long johns in col­lege, the kind that are all one piece with a flap in the behind. I have no idea when, where, or why I bought them, but I remem­ber one very strange par­ty in the Car­leton Col­lege dorms where every­one was wear­ing long johns and this bright red pair came in handy. They got soaked with beer, stained my skin, and went in the trash when I got back to my room. I’m pret­ty sure beery dorm par­ties are no longer allowed at my alma mater.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

Golden BookWhen I was lit­tle, I had a lot of Lit­tle Gold­en Books. Baby’s Moth­er Goose Pat-a-Cake was one of my ear­ly favorites. (I was obsessed with any­thing that had a cat on it. Still am.) The pages of the book are now fad­ed, yel­lowed, and torn. The art was by Aure­lius Battaglia, and one inte­ri­or illus­tra­tion looks a lot like my cat Tom, a tuxe­do cat with per­fect white mit­tens and bright green eyes. Now all he needs is a big red bow.

Which book of yours was the most dif­fi­cult to write or illus­trate?

Peep Leap, my first pub­lished work of fic­tion for chil­dren. It took me years! I had writ­ten non­fic­tion but not stories…I had a long learn­ing curve.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

I still love “Let the wild rum­pus start!” It gives me shiv­ers. I feel pow­er­ful like Max in Where the Wild Things Are.

What book do you tell every­one to read?

The Absolute­ly True Diary of a Part-time Indi­an. It made me laugh so hard I almost peed.



We Didn’t Always Know the Way

by Vic­ki Palmquist

How to Read a StoryA step-by-step, slight­ly tongue-in-cheek but most­ly sin­cere, guide to read­ing a book, How to Read a Sto­ry by Kate Mess­ner, illus­trat­ed by Mark Siegel (Chron­i­cle Books), will have you and your young read­ers feel­ing all warm and cozy and smart.

With advice in Step 2 to Find a Read­ing Bud­dy, we are cau­tioned “And make sure you both like the book.” That makes per­fect sense. Read­ing bud­dies, as drawn in a col­or­ful palette by illus­tra­tor and car­toon­ist Mark Siegel, can be old­er, younger, “or maybe not a per­son at all.” Per­haps a blue dog will wish to read with you.

In Step 6, the sug­ges­tion is to read the dia­logue by say­ing it “in a voice to match who’s talk­ing.” The ink-and-water­col­or illus­tra­tions take up the nar­ra­tive, giv­ing us irre­sistible words with which to prac­tice, a lion, a mouse who says “I am the most POWERFUL in all the land!” and a robot who mere­ly says “Beep.” It’s excel­lent prac­tice for inter­pret­ing pic­tures and putting mean­ing into the words.

We’re invit­ed to try our minds at pre­dic­tion in Step 8, as our read­er and his read­ing bud­dy, the blue dog, con­tem­plate what will hap­pen next.

It’s a book that will make you smile, a good match between well-cho­sen words and play­ful illus­tra­tions, yet it’s a use­ful book for home and school and sto­ry hour. How can chil­dren learn the way to read out loud? How to Read a Sto­ry will have them try­ing before you know it.



In God’s Hands

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

In God's HandsThis week, I am read­ing (for the umpteenth time) what I think of as The Very Most Favorite Book of the chil­dren in my church. They call it That Book About Bread. The book is In God’s Hands by Lawrence Kush­n­er and Gary Schmidt and it res­onates deeply with these kids.

I know how it will go. I’ll pull it out of my bag and a gen­er­al clam­or and harangue will go up.



Me, too!”

You haven’t read that book in a long time!” (Deliv­ered with a pouty face.)

You should read That Book About Bread EVERY week.”

Now, this is a very well-read group of kids — they are a ter­rif­ic sto­ry­time audi­ence. But they do not say these things about every book. Some books I pull out (espe­cial­ly if they are books “about God”) illic­it these respons­es:

You already read that one.” (Pouty face.)

Aahhh…not that one!”

Are you just read­ing that one first and then a bet­ter one next?”

Can you read That Book About Bread?”

Yeah! Read That Book About Bread!”

In God’s Hands begins like this:

When the sun sets and stars fill the sky, the square in the lit­tle town grows qui­et and still. The cool air of dis­tant hills min­gles with the sweet scent of bak­ing bread. The moon ris­es and glows soft­ly. It’s the sort of place where mir­a­cles could hap­pen.

The chil­dren grow qui­et and still as I read. You can prac­ti­cal­ly see them inhale the sweet scent of bak­ing bread. They are ready to hear (again) about the mir­a­cle that hap­pens in this book. They love that it’s called a mir­a­cle, because what hap­pens in this book is a quo­tid­i­an mix-up – and the kids fig­ure it out before the char­ac­ters do. 

Jacob is a rich man, David is a poor man. Jacob, half asleep in syn­a­gogue ser­vice, hears God call him to bake twelve loaves of chal­lah and set them before The Lord in two rows, six in each row. (What he actu­al­ly hears is the day’s Torah read­ing from Leviti­cus.) Obe­di­ent­ly, Jacob does this — he bakes twelve beau­ti­ful braid­ed loaves and places them in the syn­a­gogue’s ark, where the holy Torah is kept, since that seems to be the clos­est place to God.

Soon after, David, the care­tak­er of the syn­a­gogue, comes before the ark and prays a prayer of qui­et des­per­a­tion. His fam­i­ly is hun­gry and they are out of food.

When I turn the page and David opens the ark to find twelve loaves of braid­ed chal­lah, the chil­dren all but cheer. They lis­ten in delight as the mir­a­cle con­tin­ues. Jacob, astound­ed that God has received his twelve loaves, con­tin­ues to bake; and David, his chil­dren ever hun­gry, con­tin­ues to receive with deep grat­i­tude the mirac­u­lous loaves that appear in the ark. Nei­ther man real­izes what is hap­pen­ing — they quite appro­pri­ate­ly call it a mir­a­cle. But the kids know what is going on, and they love it!

I love the mes­sage of this beau­ti­ful book — the wise rab­bi explains that God’s mir­a­cles often work like this. “Your hands are God’s hands,” he says. And now that David and Jacob know this, they will have to keep act­ing as they have — doing God’s work with their hands.

Read it again!” the kids say.

My copy is well-worn. I intend to read it until it falls apart. Then I’ll get a new one.



Skinny Dip with Margo Sorenson

Tori and the SleighWhat is your proud­est career moment?

My proud­est career moment was doing my first author vis­it at Hale Kula Ele­men­tary School, Wahi­awa, HI, the Schofield Bar­racks ele­men­tary, where I spoke to 200 kinder­garten­ers and their par­ents, many of whom were in cam­mies, about Alo­ha for Car­ol Ann. Tears came to my eyes as I watched the par­ents and kids inter­act in the activ­i­ty the librar­i­an (SLJ Librar­i­an of the Year Michelle Colte) had designed for them, based on my book. To think these par­ents, who put their lives on the line for our coun­try, took the time to show their kids how impor­tant read­ing and writ­ing are by their atten­dance and involve­ment was tru­ly inspi­ra­tional.

Describe your favorite pair of paja­mas ever.

My favorite pair of paja­mas ever are my Roy­al Stu­art red plaid flan­nels – espe­cial­ly in Min­neso­ta!

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

Fenc­ing would be my pick, being a medieval his­to­ry major, but, sad­ly, I’ve nev­er even tak­en one les­son or held a foil in my hand.

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

The bravest thing I’ve ever done was punch the neigh­bor­hood bul­ly when I was twelve years old, because he was throw­ing rocks at two oth­er lit­tle neigh­bor­hood kids. I’ve not punched any­one since — at least, not that I remem­ber!

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

The first book I remem­ber read­ing was Our Island Sto­ry, by H.E. Mar­shall, the clas­sic chil­dren’s sto­ry­book about Eng­lish his­to­ry from its pur­port­ed begin­ning to the 1950’s, with its sto­ries of all the kings and queens and intrigue. The his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters came to life on the page and they seemed so real to me. It is still on my desk for inspi­ra­tion. Yes, it’s true; I am a geek!

What TV show can’t you turn off?

The TV show I can’t turn off is Down­ton Abbey. The char­ac­ters are clas­sic, the dia­logue wit­ty, the plots and sub­plots intrigu­ing, and the act­ing mar­velous. I wish it would go on for­ev­er; it is such a kick!




Partners in the Dance: From Fiction to Nonfiction and Back Again

by Liza Ketchum

Liza's nonfiction bookshelf (Click to enlarge)

Liza­’s non­fic­tion book­shelf (Click to enlarge.)

This week, while I pre­pared for a talk at AWP (Asso­ci­a­tion of Writ­ing Pro­grams) on writ­ing non-fic­tion biogra­phies for kids, I thought about how I enjoy research­ing both non­fic­tion and fic­tion titles. Yet a gulf often sep­a­rates the two gen­res. In my local library, you turn right at the top of the stairs for the non­fic­tion stacks and left to peruse the nov­els. The same divi­sion holds true in the children’s room down­stairs. In my own writ­ing stu­dio, non­fic­tion books fill one shelf, while nov­els threat­en to top­ple anoth­er. Yet ele­ments of one often bleed into the oth­er.

I have always been fas­ci­nat­ed by the role of women in Amer­i­can pio­neer his­to­ry. My first YA nov­el, West Against the Wind, drew heav­i­ly on 19th cen­tu­ry diaries, let­ters, and news­pa­pers. The facts of the time shaped and inspired the sto­ry. A few years lat­er, I was asked to write a non­fic­tion book on the Cal­i­for­nia Gold Rush. For that book, I drew both on pri­ma­ry sources I’d used in my nov­el, as well as on new mate­r­i­al I uncov­ered in such won­der­ful resources as The Hunt­ing­ton Library in San Meri­no, CA. 

An edi­tor at Lit­tle, Brown was inter­est­ed in the sto­ry of the child per­former Lot­ta Crab­tree, whom I pro­filed in The Gold Rush. Could I write about eight adven­tur­ous pio­neer women like Lot­ta, who “broke the rules” and made his­to­ry dur­ing that time? I agreed and end­ed up with my non­fic­tion book Into a New Coun­try.

note basket

Gold Rush notes (Click to enlarge.)

By now, I had a huge box of notes and images on the pio­neer peri­od. I thought I was fin­ished with that era, but the dance con­tin­ued. In the process of writ­ing The Gold Rush, I uncov­ered infor­ma­tion about chil­dren who also caught “gold fever.” They panned for gold along­side their par­ents, helped them run stores or restau­rants, and per­formed in saloons — where some girls ran hair­pins along cracks in the floor­boards to col­lect gold dust.

Two small items from my research went straight into my Idea File. One was that gangs of boys in San Fran­cis­co could make more mon­ey — sell­ing six-month-old East Coast news­pa­pers on the street — than their par­ents, who strug­gled to sur­vive in that hurly-burly town. Anoth­er was a news­pa­per item about a boy who sur­vived an acci­den­tal bal­loon ascent. He became the first per­son to see the bay area from the air.

Those sto­ries — and some nag­ging ques­tions — stayed with me. What if a girl want­ed to be a news­boy? What if the boys wouldn’t let her in? And what if her fam­i­ly arrived in San Fran­cis­co pen­ni­less: could she help them sur­vive? And what if she tried to get a news scoop on a bal­loon ascent?        

bk_newsgirl_120.jpgI wrote News­girl to answer those ques­tions.

Whether I write non­fic­tion or fic­tion, each informs the oth­er. I use fic­tion­al tech­niques in non­fic­tion. I want to grab the young read­er, pull him or her into the sto­ry with action, dia­logue, strong char­ac­ter, and sig­nif­i­cant detail. I want to appeal to the son of a writer friend who asked his mom, “When are you going to write one of those books where, you know, some­thing hap­pens on every page?”

At the same time, I use tech­niques and infor­ma­tion from non­fic­tion to anchor my nov­els in time and place. My most recent YA nov­el, Out of Left Field, is not his­tor­i­cal fic­tion per se (though 2004 may feel like ancient times to some young read­ers). The Viet­nam War casts shad­ows over the nov­el. Though I lived through that era, I didn’t know enough about men who fled the coun­try for Cana­da, as my protagonist’s father did. I tracked down mem­oirs of draftees and enlist­ed men who fled the coun­try and read accounts of life on the run. My friend, the Cana­di­an writer Tim Wynne-Jones, sug­gest­ed books about Amer­i­can resisters who lived in Toron­to dur­ing those times. I watched a video of the draft lot­tery that took place in 1969, an event that deter­mined the lives — and deaths — of thou­sands of young men. And I read and reread Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Car­ried, itself a stun­ning fusion of fic­tion and mem­oir.

While Bran­don, my nar­ra­tor, is invent­ed, I had the actu­al Red Sox sched­ule at hand as I wrote. Bran­don fol­lows the 2004 sea­son with as much devo­tion as I did that year. When Bran­don sees David Ortiz slam his game-win­ing hit in the 14th inning of the Sox-Yan­kee game, the pan­de­mo­ni­um in the stands is real, as are the smells, the sounds, the ener­gy of a ball park when fans real­ize the team could win it all — for the first time in eighty-six years.

My friend and col­league, Phyl­lis Root, asks: “Is the line grow­ing more mal­leable between spec­u­la­tion and fact?” Cer­tain­ly young read­ers need to know the dif­fer­ence between what is real and what is invent­ed. But per­haps the sep­a­ra­tion between non-fic­tion and fic­tion is arbi­trary. Maybe I’ll mix the two gen­res on my own shelves. Who knows what sparks might fly if these books end up danc­ing togeth­er?



The Beauty of Roadblocks


by Lisa Bullard

Can you guess which of these real­ly hap­pened?

a) After acci­den­tal­ly invad­ing the Stur­gis Motor­cy­cle Ral­ly, my trav­el­ing com­pan­ion and I were in a three-way stand-off: our car, a Harley, and a 1,000-pound buf­fa­lo.

b) I peered over a hotel bal­cony high above the Mis­sis­sip­pi, watch­ing the bomb squad and 50 oth­er emer­gency vehi­cles squeal into the park­ing lot direct­ly below.

c) Our air­boat became stuck in an alli­ga­tor-infest­ed Louisiana swamp.

d) All of the above

Did you guess “d”? One of the best things about road trips is the sto­ries I have to tell after­wards about the unex­pect­ed road­blocks I faced down along the way.

Obsta­cles come in handy when you’re writ­ing fic­tion, too. You need to make sure your char­ac­ter faces prob­lems all along their wild ride to the story’s fin­ish. That con­flict is what hooks in read­ers. But con­flict is the ingre­di­ent kids most often leave out of their sto­ries. Some­times they don’t under­stand that fic­tion requires it. Some­times they want to pro­tect their char­ac­ters. Some­times con­flict scares them. Some kids resolve all the con­flict too quick­ly, drain­ing the sto­ry of sus­pense.

So before we even start writ­ing, I ask kids to tell me about their favorite books. I help them iden­ti­fy the road­blocks their favorite char­ac­ters have faced. I have stu­dents brain­storm long lists of prob­lems that could con­front their own char­ac­ters. And I remind stu­dents that “and they lived hap­pi­ly ever after” doesn’t come until a story’s end.

For me, the whole point of tak­ing a road trip is that moment when you’re fac­ing down the buf­fa­lo. After all, I got home in one piece — and I’ve got a great sto­ry to tell! So don’t let your writ­ing stu­dents for­get to intro­duce their char­ac­ters to a buf­fa­lo or two along the way.




Skinny Dip with Joanne Anderson Reisberg

Zachary ZormerWhat is your proud­est career moment?

I entered a Writer’s Digest Con­test and received an Achieve­ment Cer­tifi­cate for hav­ing placed 37th out of 100 in ‘pic­ture books.” I felt thrilled to be includ­ed, and then I read the con­test had received 11,000 entries in 5 dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories. Woo Hoo.

 Describe your favorite pair of paja­mas ever

When I was ten, I received an out­ra­geous pair of silk paja­mas from a child­less aunt in Chica­go. The bot­toms were Chi­nese red with a black silk top and a man­darin col­lar, so dif­fer­ent from the cud­dly flan­nel PJ’s most of us wore. And that made them…awesome. It’s the out-of-the-ordi­nary that makes life excit­ing.

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

The bravest thing in writ­ing has to have been send­ing in a qua­train to The Wall Street Jour­nal’s Pep­per and Salt, a small car­toon with a quip below it. I haven’t seen it in print, but I made sure to take a pic­ture of the check I received from Dow Jones Pub­lish­ing Inc.,

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

Years ago books were giv­en at birth­days and by the church at Christ­mas. I received a Grim­m’s Fairy Tales and mem­o­rized bit’s of the 51 sto­ries as I escaped into fas­ci­nat­ing words, yet I always felt safe.

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

A gold medal in ten­nis would be the one. I played com­pet­i­tive ten­nis for a club at one time, brought in a younger play­er for a tour­na­ment, and had a blast. I still play ten­nis and love poach­ing at the net.


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.




Karen Cushman: Researching and Writing

inter­view by Claire Rudolf Mur­phy

Karen Cushman

Karen Cush­man

Con­grat­u­la­tions, Karen. Your first nov­el and New­bery Hon­or book Cather­ine Called Birdy is 20 years old and still going strong. The sto­ry still res­onates with teen read­ers, espe­cial­ly girls, and is remem­bered fond­ly and reread by many read­ers who are grown up now. One such fan is actress Lena Dun­ham, who announced last fall that she is adapt­ing the nov­el into a movie with plans to direct it.

I am obvi­ous­ly very excit­ed. I’ve met with Lena, who is a love­ly per­son. She loves the book and has great ideas for a movie. I hope it will be made in Eng­land and I can get all my friends parts as extras.

How much research did you do about medieval Eng­land before you start­ed Catherine’s sto­ry? How much was done dur­ing the writ­ing and revis­ing of the nov­el? How do you bal­ance the research and the writ­ing?

Most of my research was done dur­ing the four-year writ­ing peri­od. I knew enough about medieval Eng­land to know that the sto­ry I had in mind would fit there and then, but I didn’t know what else I need­ed to know until I dug into the writ­ing. I start­ed by research­ing aca­d­e­m­ic his­to­ry books but they didn’t tell me what was inter­est­ing to me, like what peo­ple ate and wore, what they ate in win­ter, where they went to the bath­room, so I had to search for every­day-life sorts of books. Most­ly research and writ­ing hap­pened at the same time. Some­times I’d uncov­er facts impor­tant enough to find a place for in the book; at oth­er times I’d find a hole in the sto­ry and have to go back to research.

Ever since the feisty Cather­ine came alive on the page, read­ers and review­ers have debat­ed her fem­i­nist ten­den­cies. What do you think of that debate then and now?

I don’t think Cather­ine could be called a fem­i­nist in our mod­ern terms. She just want­ed the world to play fair — with females, with peas­ants, with Jews. And there were many exam­ples of feisty medieval females for me to look to, from Margery Kempe to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Women from all cen­turies prob­a­bly ran the gamut from feisty and assertive to sub­mis­sive, just as they do today. Cather­ine had dif­fer­ent lim­i­ta­tions and con­straints than we do today. She knew them and grew to under­stand and even accept some of them. For exam­ple, she nev­er thought about mar­ry­ing Perkin. A lady and a goat boy match was too far out­side the pos­si­bil­i­ties in her world. Oth­er lim­i­ta­tions she fought against because she is Cather­ine, and feisty, and that’s why we love her.

Your work is root­ed in his­to­ry, but kids today have no prob­lem relat­ing to your char­ac­ters and sto­ries. Could you share a few thoughts about how you make your his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters seem real and rel­e­vant to read­ers today?

Midwife's ApprenticeI con­scious­ly write about strong char­ac­ters so that read­ers can love, cheer for, and iden­ti­fy with them. I don’t set out to make them rel­e­vant to read­ers today. I just tell their sto­ries and, I believe, read­ers find what they need.  What young read­ers take from a book real­ly depends on them. I had a young girl tell me The Midwife’s Appren­tice was a book about a cat, and a high school class in a poor neigh­bor­hood in LA found it a sto­ry about home­less­ness. And a young woman hos­pi­tal­ized after a sui­cide attempt found in Cather­ine Called Birdy a mod­el for find­ing ways to be your­self when you feel hope­less and devoid of options. I nev­er could have antic­i­pat­ed those respons­es.

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges in his­tor­i­cal fic­tion is how much or how lit­tle con­text to use. Do you believe that his­to­ry is the sto­ry or that the his­tor­i­cal peri­od should serve the sto­ry?

I think the two work togeth­er. His­tor­i­cal nov­els tell a sto­ry that could not fit in any oth­er time. In mod­ern Lon­don, Cather­ine would not have been faced with the same obsta­cles. Will Sparrow’s adven­tures were dis­tinct­ly Eliz­a­bethan. Rodzina’s sto­ry and the Orphan Trains both belonged to the late 19th cen­tu­ry. I chose Eliz­a­bethan Lon­don for Meg­gy Swann’s par­tic­u­lar sto­ry because alche­my and many oth­er sci­en­tif­ic endeav­ors were flour­ish­ing then. And I did not want to write of the medieval response to Meg­gy and her lame­ness; I want­ed some, though not all, peo­ple to under­stand dis­ease and defor­mi­ty as med­ical issues and not God’s curs­es.

Meggy SwannYour sto­ries are filled with the sights, sounds and smells of every­day peo­ple — dur­ing Medieval Eng­land, the Renais­sance, the orphan trains, and the Cal­i­for­nia gold rush. What kind of research did you do to come up with such rich sen­so­ry details?

I find those spe­cif­ic details most­ly in first per­son accounts — let­ters, diaries, jour­nals. And I use books about the nat­ur­al world of medieval and Eliz­a­bethan Eng­land and 19th cen­tu­ry Cal­i­for­nia. But some­times I just close my eyes and imag­ine from what I know.

In the nov­el Alche­my and Meg­gy Swann, how did you learn enough about medieval alche­my to bring it alive in the sto­ry?

I found many books about the phi­los­o­phy and prac­tices of alche­my. I under­stood very lit­tle — alche­my is arcane, eso­teric, mys­te­ri­ous, delib­er­ate­ly cryp­tic, and com­pli­cat­ed. The most help­ful, most acces­si­ble book was Dis­till­ing Knowl­edge: Alche­my, Chem­istry, and the Sci­en­tif­ic Rev­o­lu­tion by Bruce Moran. Online I found illus­tra­tions of alchem­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ries and even sim­ple chem­i­cal exper­i­ments that explained the process in a sim­pli­fied man­ner.

Loud Silence of Francine GreenThe Loud Silence of Francine Green (2006) is set at a Catholic school in 1949 Los Ange­les that is mod­eled on one from your child­hood. How did your research for this book dif­fer from your oth­er nov­els set in long ago times, such as mid­wifery?

My research into mid­wifery was all from books, but I am close in age to Francine so some of that research took place in my own mem­o­ry and expe­ri­ences. I enjoyed hav­ing Francine hear the songs or swoon over the actors or say things that I remem­ber. Some­times this got in the way — I was includ­ing things in the sto­ry that hap­pened to me, not Francine. Or I’d say, “This real­ly hap­pened. I should include it,” even if it had noth­ing to do with Francine’s sto­ry. I had to be con­scious of the dif­fer­ences between Francine’s sto­ry and my own life.

You have two mas­ter’s degrees, one in muse­um stud­ies, and the oth­er in human behav­ior. Your Stan­ford under­grad­u­ate degree is in Greek and Eng­lish. How have those stud­ies affect­ed your writ­ing and your research?

The study and espe­cial­ly the teach­ing I did as part of my muse­um stud­ies degree intro­duced me to the process and val­ue of learn­ing about peo­ple from what we call mate­r­i­al cul­ture — the objects they made and used, the art they saw, the music and jin­gles and adver­tise­ments they heard. Dur­ing my last three years at the uni­ver­si­ty I worked with MA stu­dents on their the­ses, which taught me a lot about writ­ing, orga­niz­ing, edit­ing, and tak­ing a project from big idea to achiev­able prod­uct. I think that expe­ri­ence real­ly set me on my way to writ­ing a nov­el. Human behav­ior? I use that both in my writ­ing and my life. And I love find­ing ways to use the Latin I learned as part of my Clas­sics degree in my books.

Is there any­thing else you’d like to add about your writ­ing today or your many years of pub­lish­ing books for kids and young adults?

I could not real­ly imag­ine being pub­lished. As I was writ­ing Cather­ine Called Birdy, peo­ple told me to be pre­pared for fail­ure, that first nov­els don’t sell, his­to­ry is not pop­u­lar with young peo­ple, that the Mid­dle Ages are dead, and no one wants to read about girls any­way. How­ev­er I had a sto­ry to tell and it seemed impor­tant to me to tell it, no mat­ter what hap­pened, so I ignored every­one and just wrote. What sur­prised me was the incred­i­ble luck I had in find­ing an agent (first one I queried), a pub­lish­er (Clar­i­on is still my pub­lish­er), an edi­tor (she’s still my edi­tor), and cov­er artist (Tri­na Schart Hyman did my cov­ers until she passed away). And I was sur­prised by the cama­raderie, mutu­al sup­port, and friend­li­ness of every­one in the children’s book com­mu­ni­ty. I had heard so many hor­ror sto­ries about the pub­lish­ing world but my expe­ri­ence was splen­did every way pos­si­ble. I rec­om­mend any­one with a book inside her just to do it. Take the leap and write, with pas­sion and gus­to and hope. It could change your life. It changed mine.

Many of us writ­ers appre­ci­ate the Late Bloomer award you and your hus­band have set up through SCBWI. Could you tell us more about the award and how it came about?

I was hav­ing lunch with Lin Oliv­er of the SCBWI, and I told her I want­ed to con­tribute mon­ey to SCBWI. She asked whom I would tru­ly like to encour­age. I said, of course, late bloomers like me. And so the award was born. I love to imag­ine folks who think they are too old to begin writ­ing find­ing reas­sur­ance and inspi­ra­tion in the fact that many of us start after fifty and suc­ceed.


Books Starring Dachshunds

by Vic­ki Palmquist

The Hallo Weiner  

The Hal­lo-Wiener

Dav Pilkey
Scholas­tic, 1999

Oscar, the dachs­hund, wants to wear a scary cos­tume for Hal­loween but his moth­er has oth­er ideas. She sews him a hot-dog bun with mus­tard and he must wear it so he doesn’t hurt her feel­ings. It’s hard to nav­i­gate and his friends get to the treats before he does, but when the pack is threat­ened by some mon­ster cats, it’s Oscar to the res­cue! Preschool through Grade 2.

Hot Dog Cold Dog  

Hot Dog, Cold Dog (board book)

Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non
POW! 2014

Dachsunds go every­where, in every style of fash­ion, in every weath­er, engag­ing in every activ­i­ty. Fun­ny, col­or­ful, and endear­ing to engage baby. A large-for­mat board book for a good read-aloud. Young babies.

Lumpito and the Painter from Spain  

Lumpi­to and the Painter from Spain

Mon­i­ca Kulling, illus­trat­ed by Dean Grif­fiths
Paja­ma Press, 2013

Do you know the true sto­ry of Pablo Picas­so’s enchant­ment with a dachs­hund named Lump, who was the pet of pho­tog­ra­ph­er David Dun­can? When pho­tog­ra­ph­er and dog vis­it­ed Picas­so, it was the begin­ning of a beau­ti­ful rela­tion­ship. When Dun­can real­izes how much the artist and the dog care for each oth­er, he leaves Lump in his new home. A charm­ing sto­ry about friend­ship and art.


Mox­ie, the Dachs­hund of Falling­wa­ter

Cara Arm­strong
Bright Sky Press, 2010

An intro­duc­to­ry look at the archi­tec­ture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and what is now a pub­lic muse­um at Falling­wa­ter in south­west Pennsylvania’s Lau­rel High­lands, from the view­point of Mox­ie, one of the dachs­hund gang that gam­boled about the house when the Kauf­mann fam­i­ly lived there. Writ­ten by the cura­tor of edu­ca­tion at Falling­wa­ter. Kinder­garten through Grade 3.



by Munro Leaf, illus­trat­ed by Lud­wig Bemel­mans
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2006 (orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1937)

Noo­dle, the dachs­hund, feels he’s too long and his legs are too short to suc­cess­ful­ly dig for bones. Grant­ed one wish by the dog fairy, he asks all the ani­mals in the zoo what shape he should wish to be. They teach him a good deal about being proud and con­tent with the body we have. Preschool.



by Mar­gret Ray, illus­trat­ed by H.A. Rey
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1997

Gre­ta, a petite dachs­hund, doesn’t care for long-in-body dachs­hunds, which is exact­ly what Pret­zel wins a blue rib­bon for being. This is a tale of pup­py love. A clas­sic from the team who cre­at­ed Curi­ous George. PreK through Grade 2.

10 Little Hot Dogs  

10 Lit­tle Hot Dogs

John Him­mel­man
Two Lions, 2014

A pro­gres­sive count­ing book, one then two and final­ly ten dachs­hunds join their friends in a com­fy chair, set­tle down for a nap, then wake up and leave the chair. They’re full of antics and play. A good read-aloud for a small group or one child. Preschool to K.

Wiener Wolf  

Wiener Wolf

Jeff Cros­by
Dis­ney-Hype­r­i­on, 2011

A good choice for ear­ly read­ers, the min­i­mal text and emo­tion­al art­work will be sat­is­fy­ing to read. Wiener dog sees a nature doc­u­men­tary and real­izes he’s bored with his pam­pered life, so he runs off to join a pack of wolves! Wein­er Wolf soon real­izes the dif­fer­ence between wild and domes­ti­cat­ed, return­ing home to Granny and his new pack in the dog park. PreK through Grade 2.


Two Birds from the Same Egg with Poetry PLUS!

(edi­tor’s note:  In hon­or of Nation­al Poet­ry Month, we asked Sylvia Vardell and Janet  Wong, authors of  the The Poet­ry Fri­day series for a quick exam­ple of inte­grat­ing poet­ry into the class­room. )

by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

PFA For CelebrationsWe are pressed for time, so we mul­ti­task. You might be eat­ing break­fast while you’re read­ing Bookol­o­gy, or doing laun­dry, or both. “Killing two birds with one stone” or “hatch­ing two birds from the same egg” — inte­grat­ed teach­ing — is the best way to fit every­thing in, espe­cial­ly in the K‑5 class­room.

In anoth­er post here at Bookol­o­gy, Melis­sa Stew­art talked about “facts-plus” books that present facts and explain them. We’d like to sug­gest that our books in The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy series are “Poet­ry PLUS”; we present poems that tie into the Com­mon Core State Stan­dards (CCSS), Next Gen­er­a­tion Sci­ence Stan­dards (NGSS), social stud­ies stan­dards, and state stan­dards such as the Texas TEKS — and we show you how to teach these poems, too.

For exam­ple, here’s one of the 218 poems in The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Sci­ence (K‑5 Teacher Edi­tion), with its accom­pa­ny­ing “Take 5!” mini-les­son. The NGSS and most state stan­dards for sci­ence require ele­men­tary stu­dents to under­stand weath­er and cli­mate and be able to dis­tin­guish between the two — some­thing that this poem teach­es in a way that will appeal to poet­ry lovers (who are hes­i­tant about sci­ence) and also to bud­ding sci­en­tists (who are unsure of poet­ry).


Or here’s an exam­ple that’s per­fect for today, April 7th — which hap­pens to be Met­ric Sys­tem Day. Using “Just Weight” by Hei­di Bee Roe­mer from The Poet­ry Fri­day Anthol­o­gy for Cel­e­bra­tions, you can com­bine a lan­guage arts les­son with three oth­er con­tent areas in just five min­utes:

  • sci­ence (learn­ing about hip­pos)
  • math (doing a tons to kilos con­ver­sion)
  • social stud­ies (geog­ra­phy; iden­ti­fy­ing the three coun­tries that have not adopt­ed the met­ric sys­tem: the U.S., Liberia, and Myan­mar)


 We hope that our books — and the Take 5! approach to shar­ing any poem — will help teach­ers find more time to share poet­ry, this month and all year long!



That’s Some Egg

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Under the EggIn Under the Egg, Theodo­ra Ten­pen­ny begins her sto­ry when her beloved grand­fa­ther, Jack, is hit by a taxi … and dies. Out­side their 200-year-old Man­hat­tan town­home, Jack whis­pers to Theo to “look under the egg.” Deal­ing with her grief, but des­per­ate because she and her head-in-the-clouds moth­er have no income, Theo tries to fig­ure out what her grand­fa­ther meant. She’s fair­ly cer­tain he’s try­ing to pro­vide for them, but did he have to be so mys­te­ri­ous?

What unrav­els is a tense mys­tery of art “theft,” Jack’s sol­dier­ing in World War II, sus­pi­cious adults who become alto­geth­er too inter­est­ed, and a new best friend, Bod­hi, who aids and abets Theo’s hare­brained, but ulti­mate­ly bril­liant, schemes.

Under the Egg is a fast-paced, intel­li­gent, learn­ing-about-art-his­to­ry while sav­ing the world sort of book, not unlike Indi­ana Jones or Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. I stayed up all night to read it, unable to rest until the mys­tery was solved.

On Lau­ra Marx Fitzgerald’s web­site, there are won­der­ful resources. When I fin­ished Dan Brown’s The DaVin­ci Code, the first thing I did was find a paint­ing of The Lord’s Sup­per to see if he was right. Fitzger­ald saves us the hunt. There’s a map of all the places Theo vis­its in New York City. There’s more about Raphael, with thought­ful­ly pro­vid­ed paint­ings that link to fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries from the painter’s life. There’s a page devot­ed to sep­a­rat­ing fact from fic­tion. And more.

Read­ers who love adven­tur­ous romps, who like to puz­zle through a mys­tery, or enjoy vis­it­ing art muse­ums will adore this book.



Bookstorm: Catherine, Called Birdy

Catherine Called Birdy Bookstorm

In this Bookstorm™:

Catherine, Called BirdyCatherine, Called Birdy

writ­ten by Karen Cush­man
pub­lished by Clar­i­on Books, 1994
New­bery Hon­or book

Cor­pus Bones! I utter­ly loathe my life.”

Cather­ine feels trapped. Her father is deter­mined to mar­ry her off to a rich man – any rich man, no mat­ter how awful. But by wit, trick­ery, and luck, Cather­ine man­ages to send sev­er­al would-be hus­bands pack­ing. Then a shag­gy-beard­ed suit­or from the north comes to call – by far the old­est, ugli­est, most revolt­ing suit­or of them all. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, he is also the rich­est. Can a sharp-tongued, high-spir­it­ed, clever young maid­en with a mind of her own actu­al­ly lose the bat­tle against an ill-man­nered, pig-like lord and an unimag­i­na­tive, greedy toad of a father? Deus! Not if Cather­ine has any­thing to say about it!” 

Arranged Mar­riages. From the begin­ning of Cather­ine, Called Birdy, our hero­ine is aware that she will be mar­ried off to a man who can bring her father more land and more world­ly goods, an alliance, some­thing of mon­e­tary val­ue. She is par­tic­u­lar­ly deter­mined not to let this hap­pen. We rec­om­mend oth­er books writ­ten for teens about arranged mar­riages. 

Birds. Cather­ine has many bird­cages filled with winged friends in her bed­room. They bring her peace of mind and she trea­sures them. From true sto­ries about birds, field guides, to alarm over the dis­ap­pear­ance of song­birds, there are bird books to intro­duce to your read­ers. 

Cru­sades. With many eyes focused on the Mid­dle East, it is like­ly that you’re find­ing inter­est in the his­to­ry of the con­flicts there. Cather­ine, Called Birdy is set at a time when reli­gious and mil­i­tary war­riors are return­ing to Eng­land from the Cru­sades. We rec­om­mend sev­er­al excel­lent nobels and biogra­phies set dur­ing this time. 

Embroi­dery. The women in Birdy’s home embroi­der. They couldn’t go out and buy ready-made clothes so the only way to make clothes pret­ti­er was to dec­o­rate them with pat­terns of thread. Does some­one in your class already embroi­der? Will you sched­ule an embroi­dery demon­stra­tion for your class­room? You’ll find some books with pat­terns that will appeal to the crafters among your stu­dents. 

Fleas. Hygiene wasn’t as well-known in Birdy’s day. House were not as pro­tect­ed from the ele­ments. Fleas were a fact of life. They caused per­son­al dis­com­fort but they also caused plagues and changed pol­i­tics. Cer­tain­ly there will be those stu­dents in your class­room who will be intrigued. 

Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­scripts. Birdy’s broth­er works at a monastery where they are illu­mi­nat­ing man­u­scripts. We rec­om­mend sev­er­al web­sites that will help you demon­strate this fore­run­ner of the print­ing press. 

Journals/Diaries. Catherine’s sto­ry is told in first per­son in the form of a diary she’s keep­ing. Many stu­dents are asked to keep jour­nals. Here are sev­er­al favorite books told in this for­mat. 

Judaism: the Edict of Expul­sion. Few peo­ple real­ize that Edward I ordered all Jews to leave Eng­land for­ev­er on July 18, 1290. Birdy meets a group of Jews who are depart­ing and finds it hard to under­stand how they are any dif­fer­ent than she and her fam­i­ly. We ref­er­ence arti­cles that will give more back­ground on this top­ic. 

Medieval Life. Nov­els, pic­ture books, and true sto­ries for young read­ers have often been set in the medieval world. We offer sug­ges­tions for a num­ber of them, rang­ing from Adam of the Road, pub­lished in 1943, to Stephen Biesty’s Cross-Sec­tions Cas­tle from 2013. 

Peer­age and Nobil­i­ty. Whether you’re fas­ci­nat­ed by the titles used in Eng­land or you find them con­fus­ing, here are a few guides to enhance your stu­dents’ under­stand­ing. 

Saints Days. Birdy pref­aces each of her jour­nal entries with the reflec­tion of a saint whose day was cel­e­brat­ed on that day. We’ve found a few ref­er­ences that will explain who these peo­ple were and why they became saints from an his­tor­i­cal view­point. 

Women’s History/Coming of Age. At the heart of Birdy’s sto­ry is the fact that she is leav­ing child­hood behind and becom­ing a young woman. We’ve includ­ed rec­om­men­da­tions for books on this theme that include fic­tion­al and true sto­ries over a wide span of years..

Tech­niques for using each book:



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. 



Catherine, Called Birdy Companion Booktalks

A baker’s dozen to get you start­ed on the April Book­storm™  books …

Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction ManualAviary Won­ders Inc. Spring Cat­a­log and Instruc­tion Man­u­al, Kate Sam­worth. Clar­i­on Books, 2014

  • Win­ner of the 2014 Kirkus Prize for Young Read­ers’ Lit­er­a­ture
  • Fan­tas­tic illus­tra­tions of fan­tas­ti­cal crea­tures
  • Build your own birds!


Backyard BirdsBack­yard Birds by Karen Stray Nolt­ing, Jonathan Latimer, and Roger Tory Peter­son. Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1999

  • Col­or pho­tographs and draw­ings
  • Easy guides on how-to-iden­ti­fy com­mon birds
  • Great sup­ple­men­tary mate­r­i­al for reports 


Blood Red HorseBlood Red Horse by K.M. Grant. Walk­er, 2006 (Book 1 of a tril­o­gy)

  • 13 year old rides a beloved horse into bat­tle dur­ing the cru­sades
  • Nar­ra­tive fol­lows both Chris­t­ian and Mus­lim char­ac­ters
  • What does it take to become a knight? 


CastleCas­tle, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by David Macaulay. Can­dlewick Press, 2005 edi­tion

  • Calde­cott Hon­or book
  • Step-by-step con­struc­tion of fic­tion­al 13th Cen­tu­ry cas­tle
  • Easy Read­er ver­sion avail­able 

Castle DiaryCas­tle Diary: the Jour­nal of Tobias Burgess by Richard Platt, illus­trat­ed by Chris Ridell. Can­dlewick Press, 2003

  • Dai­ly life in a cas­tle from an 11-year-old servant’s point of view
  • Joust­ing, sword fight­ing, archery, horse-back rid­ing
  • What was it like to live in a cas­tle? 

FleasCreepy Crea­tures: Fleas by Valerie Bod­den. Cre­ative Paper­backs, 2014

  • Under-the-micro­scope pho­tographs with amaz­ing details
  • Great back mat­ter for report writ­ing
  • One in a set of Creepy Crea­tures books 

Crispin: The Cross of LeadCrispin: Cross of Lead by Avi. Pen­guin, 2002

  • New­bery win­ner
  • Page-turn­ing action
  • False­ly-accused boy goes on the run in 14th cen­tu­ry Eng­land


Doodle StitchingDoo­dle Stitch­ing: Fresh and Fun Embroi­dery for Begin­ners by Aimee Ray. Ster­ling Pub­lish­ing, 2007

  • Easy-to-fol­low pat­terns for a vari­ety of projects (book cov­ers!)
  • Doo­dles” appeal­ing to boys and girls
  • Many designs that even begin­ners could fin­ish in a short block of time 

Good masters, Sweet LadiesGood Mas­ters! Sweet Ladies! Voic­es from a Medieval Vil­lage by Lau­ra Amy Schlitz, illus­trat­ed by Robert Byrd. Can­dlewick Press, 2011

  • Linked sto­ries told through mono­logues, per­fect for read­ers the­ater or solo read­ing
  • New­bery win­ner
  • Vil­lage map and oth­er illus­tra­tions by Robert Byrd and Lau­ra Amy Schlitz’s author notes pro­vide a wealth of detail to sup­port the sto­ries

Oxford Dictionary of SaintsOxford Dic­tio­nary of Saints by David Farmer. Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 5th edi­tion, 2011

  • Easy-read­ing biogra­phies of 1300 saints, with empha­sis on most famil­iar and Eng­lish saints
  • Gives folk­lore asso­ci­at­ed with saints as well as his­to­ry
  • Just-the-facts approach — doesn’t judge or pros­e­ly­tize


A Proud Taste for Scarlet and MiniverProud Taste for Scar­let and Miniv­er, by E.L. Konigs­burg. 2001 reprint

  • His­tor­i­cal fic­tion from two-time New­bery-win­ning author
  • Meet one of the most pow­er­ful women in his­to­ry: Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • Fast-mov­ing, dia­logue-rich nar­ra­tive


SaladinSal­adin: Noble Prince of Islam by Diane Stan­ley. Harper­Collins, 2002

  • Biog­ra­phy of an Islam­ic hero and ruler dur­ing the Cru­sades
  • Beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tions evoke medieval Islam­ic art
  • Great back mat­ter for report writ­ing 


Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13-3/4Secret Diary of Adri­an Mole, Aged 13−3÷4 by Sue Townsend. Harper­Teen, 2003

  • First crush, acne, a roy­al wed­ding, being broke — through the eyes of British teen
  • First in a series of humor­ous diaries
  • 1980s Britain — details of set­ting might be unfa­mil­iar to today’s read­ers but emo­tions won’t be 



Skinny Dip with Lisa Bullard

Turn Left at the CowWhat keeps you up at night?

I don’t need any­thing to keep me up at night — I am almost always up at night no mat­ter what! When I have morn­ing oblig­a­tions, I force myself to go to bed at a rea­son­able time. But when I have a few days in a row where I don’t have to get up “ear­ly,” my bed­time slips to a lat­er and lat­er time — until I am reg­u­lar­ly stay­ing up until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morn­ing. The very ear­ly morn­ing hours (before I have been to bed) are a very cre­ative time for me. But very ear­ly morn­ing hours AFTER I have been to bed — on days I have to get up super-ear­ly — are a night­mare!

What is your proud­est career moment?

See­ing my name on the cov­er of a book for the first time (it was my pic­ture book Not Enough Beds!) still ranks as one of the biggest thrills of my life. I deter­mined in 5th grade that some­day I would become a pub­lished author, and I was real­ly proud to have made that dream come true.

Describe  your favorite pair of paja­mas ever

When I was a lit­tle girl, my grand­ma gave me a light-blue night­gown that had light-blue fake fur around the neck and the bot­tom of the sleeves. I thought it was the most glam­orous thing I had ever owned, and I wore it until it was in tat­ters.

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

I grew up in the north­ern part of Min­neso­ta, where I took fig­ure skat­ing lessons and skat­ed in ice shows. I would love to win a gold medal in fig­ure skat­ing — it’s such a beau­ti­ful and ath­let­ic sport!

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

I don’t know if it was brave or stu­pid, but I did scare off a bad guy when I was in col­lege. I was on a trip to Europe with class­mates, and some of us were walk­ing through the Lon­don sub­way sys­tem late at night when a guy start­ed in our direc­tion in a men­ac­ing fash­ion. Rather than run­ning away, which prob­a­bly would have been the smart thing to do, I threw myself in front of my com­pan­ions, lift­ed my chin, and growled at him. He took one look at me mak­ing my “Dude, I’m scari­er than you are” face and ran off. I’ve since fig­ured out that I can be very brave when I’m pro­tect­ing oth­er peo­ple, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly when it’s just about me!

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

I think it might have been Snow by Roy McK­ie and P.D. East­man, one of Dr. Seuss’ Begin­ner Books. It was def­i­nite­ly from that series. I was real­ly proud that I could read the entire book to my mom, but my teacher secret­ly told her that rather than actu­al­ly read­ing, I had mem­o­rized the whole book and was recit­ing it back.

What TV show can’t you turn off?

I like goofy things, so I am a huge fan of Fnd­ing Big­foot—noth­ing makes me laugh hard­er than watch­ing those true believ­ers (and one skep­tic) roam­ing through the woods, howl­ing and knock­ing on trees in the hopes of attract­ing the atten­tion of Big­foots (and yes, that is a cor­rect plur­al usage). There is some­thing about the seek­ers’ wide-eyed cer­tain­ty that some­day Big­foot will show up for the cam­eras that I can’t resist.



Library Lion

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

I recent­ly read about a series of get-to-know-you games to play with kids. One sug­gest­ed mak­ing a list of hard and fast rules that every­one could agree to — a series of sen­si­ble pro­hi­bi­tions, per­haps — and then tak­ing turns think­ing of the excep­tions to those rules.

RULE:  No run­ning in the hall­ways. EXCEPTION: Run if the build­ing is on fire.

RULE: Only qui­et voic­es in the library. EXCEPTION: Shout as loud as you can if there is an emer­gency.

Library Lion cover

by Michelle Knud­sen illus­tra­tions: Kevin Hawkes Can­dlewick, 2006

Vari­a­tions on these two rules appear in Library Lion, one of my favorite pic­ture books ever. And I wish I’d had this book when my two rule-fol­low­ers were lit­tle — it might’ve helped us play the game above.

I was quite smit­ten with Library Lion the first time I saw it. Some­thing about the cov­er evokes a nos­tal­gic feel­ing for me — the illus­tra­tions by Kevin Hawkes are done in a soft palate of acrylics and pen­cil. The gigan­tic lion calm­ly read­ing over the shoul­der of a young girl looks entire­ly plau­si­ble.

The sto­ry, too, some­how feels plau­si­ble. You don’t ques­tion it at all when you read on page one: “One day, a lion came to the library. He walked right past the cir­cu­la­tion desk and up into the stacks.”

I have made the mis­take, while read­ing to a group of chil­dren, of say­ing, “Can you believe it? A lion in the library!” They look at me with weari­ness, their faces clear­ly say­ing, “Hush up, Sto­ry Lady. Just keep read­ing.”

Only Mr. McBee ques­tions the pro­pri­ety of the lion. Not Miss Mer­ri­weath­er. (Could there be more per­fect names for {nos­tal­gi­cal­ly stereo­typ­i­cal} librar­i­ans? I think not.) Miss Mer­ri­weath­er is as calm as Mr. McBee is ner­vous. “‘Is he break­ing any rules?’” she asks. Mr. McBee, obvi­ous­ly famil­iar with the rules and their impor­tance, admits that the lion has not tres­passed in any way. “‘Then leave him be,’” says the unflap­pable Miss Mer­ri­weath­er.

Gor­geous spreads of the lion’s pres­ence and assis­tance in the library abound. He sniffs the card cat­a­log, rubs his head on the new book col­lec­tion, and joins sto­ry hour. Nobody quite knows what to do as “there weren’t any rules about lions in the library.”

When he lets out a small but star­tling RAAAHHRRRR! at the end of sto­ry hour, Miss Mer­ri­weath­er informs him of the library rule that cov­ers every­thing from too much talk­ing to roar­ing. “‘If you can­not be qui­et, you will have to leave,” she [says] in a stern voice. “Those are the rules!’”

Well, as we know — and as chil­dren must learn — there are times when it is entire­ly right to break the rules. And when that time comes in this book, the lion knows what to do. This time, his roar is much larg­er. I always have the kids read it with me — we raaahhrr as loud as we pos­si­bly can. As we work up to a prop­er vol­ume (they always have to be encour­aged), we take turns run­ning our fin­gers over the illus­trat­ed let­ters that blow the spec­ta­cles off Mr. McBee’s face.


Library Lion illustration

© 2006 Kevin Hawkes

I was so smit­ten with Library Lion when I first dis­cov­ered it that I was lit­tle ner­vous about read­ing it to a group of young chil­dren. What if they didn’t like it? What if it was too old-fash­ioned, implau­si­ble, too sweet? What if chil­dren today were some­how too jad­ed to prop­er­ly appre­ci­ate this gem of a book?!

I need not have wor­ried. This is one of those pic­ture books that sucks kids in right away. They become one of the chil­dren in Miss Merriweather’s library on page one. When the book fin­ish­es, they look around the bookstore/library/room as if they expect to see a lion pad in.

Michele Knud­sen and Kevin Hawkes are an inspired pair — this is a beau­ti­ful book and I love shar­ing it with kids. It’s a love­ly thing to go hoarse while roar­ing with chil­dren.



Skinny Dip with Melissa Stewart


Charles­bridge, 2014

What keeps you up at night? 

Noth­ing. I fall asleep the instant my head touch­es the pil­low, and I’m prob­a­bly the world’s sound­est sleep­er.

Describe your all-time favorite pair of paja­mas.

When I was in col­lege, I spent a term at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bath in Bath, Eng­land, and rent­ed a room at a house near­by. Because heat­ing oil is so expen­sive in Great Britain, most peo­ple keep their homes very cool in win­ter. My lit­tle room at the top of the house was freez­ing. Luck­i­ly, my mom found a pair of adult-size paja­mas with feet and sent them to me along with a very warm hat and mit­tens. I was so grate­ful.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing? 

Mr. Mys­te­ri­ous and Com­pa­ny by Sid Fleis­chman. I’m thrilled that I was able to meet Mr. Fleis­chman and tell him how much his book meant to me.

What TV show can’t you turn off? 

The Voice.

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

I’m not very ath­let­ic, but I do like minia­ture golf. I don’t think that’s an Olympic sport, but it should be.



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