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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!
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
  1. 1 tbsp olive oil
  2. 1/2 large onion, chopped
  3. 2 large stalks celery, diced
  4. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 2 tsp smoked paprika
  6. 2 bay leaves
  7. 1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes
  8. 1 cup dried brown lentils
  9. 4 3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth, divided
  10. 3 cups water
  11. 1 (14 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
  12. 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  13. Salt and pepper to taste
  1. 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.
  2. Add garlic, smoked paprika and bay leaves and saute for 30 seconds.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Bookology Magazine

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

(c) 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.