Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Wish You Were Here

Shell LakeI remem­ber my first official inter­view about my mid­dle grade mys­tery, called Turn Left at the Cow. It fea­tures fam­i­ly secrets and a trea­sure hunt (and yes, even some of Old MacDonald’s crit­ters make humor­ous guest appear­ances). The book isn’t due out for a few more months, but the reporter had read an advance copy and want­ed to talk while the sto­ry was still fresh in her mind. She lived near the rur­al Min­neso­ta lake that was a big part of my inspi­ra­tion, so much of my set­ting felt famil­iar to her.

Except she was con­fused about the desert­ed island — maybe because it’s nonex­is­tent in real life? And she couldn’t place the giant bull­head stat­ue — prob­a­bly because the near­est stat­ue of a bull­head is two hun­dred miles away.

So I had to admit that I’d bor­rowed those details from oth­er small towns. After all, what trea­sure hunt isn’t made more excit­ing by a pirate-inspired desert­ed island? And what small town isn’t the more mem­o­rable for hav­ing an unnec­es­sary but over-sized aquat­ic ver­te­brate on a down­town cor­ner?

That kind of geo­graph­ic col­lag­ing is one of my favorite parts of build­ing a sto­ry set­ting. Depend­ing on how fiction­al­ized my sto­ry, I have the chance to cre­ate a mash-up of all the differ­ent places I’ve been, or even wished I could be. If I want, I can fash­ion a place that exists only on the map of my imag­i­na­tion.

There are lots of ways that young writ­ers can use actu­al col­lag­ing and relat­ed tech­niques to build a set­ting for their own sto­ries. Hand around old mag­a­zines, trav­el brochures, and cat­a­logs, and ask stu­dents to cut out (or draw) images that fit their imag­ined set­tings. Then have them paste the images onto larg­er sheets of paper for inspi­ra­tion boards. They can make col­lages to rep­re­sent a whole town, or they can do it for a small­er com­po­nent: their character’s bed- room, or the loca­tion of some key action in their sto­ry.

I also use my cell phone to take pho­tos of any­thing I see out in the world that seems like it might fit into one of my sto­ry set­tings. Then I col­lect the pho­tos in small inex­pen­sive pho­to albums. They’re a great resource when I’ve been away from a sto­ry for a few days and need to re-pic­ture the set­ting.

Pin­ter­est also pro­vides end­less oppor­tu­ni­ties for cre­at­ing inspi­ra­tion boards online. Writ­ers can build boards that show­case the details of their character’s home, school, town, or oth­er key loca­tions by mix­ing and match­ing ele­ments from all dif­fer­ent sources, cre­at­ing the visu­al spaces and moods they want for their sto­ries.

Which means that even if your young writ­ers want to add some­thing unusu­al to their set­ting — say a giant fish stat­ue, for exam­ple — it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of “wish, and it’s here.”




Suc­cess. offers more than fifty syn­onyms for the word “suc­cess”… accom­plish­ment, fame, hap­pi­ness, progress, tri­umph, and vic­to­ry all have a place on the list. With test­ing hys­te­ria mak­ing the rounds in schools and class­rooms every­where, the def­i­n­i­tion of suc­cess as it relates to read­ing, has like­ly weighed heav­i­ly on the minds and hearts of many teach­ers. How do we mea­sure read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy? How do we mea­sure suc­cess? I firm­ly believe that it is both illu­sive and dan­ger­ous to decide whether a child has been suc­cess­ful by turn­ing only to a score on a high-stakes read­ing test.

Sad­ly, in Min­neso­ta, our leg­is­la­tors have deemed a pro­fi­cient score of 350 on the third-grade read­ing MCA such a sig­nif­i­cant mea­sure of suc­cess that for years our state has used it as a way to reward schools with what they call “Lit­er­a­cy Incen­tive Aid” which is explained in A Pub­li­ca­tion of the Min­neso­ta House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Fis­cal Analy­sis Depart­ment (p. 48):

Schools are eli­gi­ble for addi­tion­al aid based on how well stu­dents in the third grade read (called “Pro­fi­cien­cy Aid”), and how much progress is being made between the third and fourth grades in read­ing skills (called “Growth Aid”). Pro­fi­cien­cy aid is cal­cu­lat­ed by mul­ti­ply­ing $530 times the aver­age per­cent­age of stu­dents in a school that meet or exceed pro­fi­cien­cy over the cur­rent year and pre­vi­ous two years on the third-grade read­ing por­tion of the Min­neso­ta Com­pre­hen­sive Assess­ment, mul­ti­plied by the num­ber of stu­dents enrolled in the third grade at the school in the pre­vi­ous year. Sim­i­lar­ly, Growth aid is cal­cu­lat­ed by mul­ti­ply­ing $530 times the per­cent­age of stu­dents that make medi­um or high growth on the fourth-grade read­ing Min­neso­ta Com­pre­hen­sive Assess­ment mul­ti­plied by the pre­vi­ous year’s fourth grade stu­dent count. [124D.98]

Let’s think about that for a moment. Basi­cal­ly, this “read­ing boun­ty” that is placed on the heads of our stu­dents offers schools with few­er Eng­lish Lan­guage Learn­er stu­dents, schools with few­er stu­dents who receive free or reduced lunch, and schools with few­er Spe­cial Edu­ca­tion stu­dents, a hefty finan­cial boost for every stu­dent who attains that score of 350. There seems to be lit­tle regard for the fact that stu­dents from these demo­graph­ic groups already face a seri­ous oppor­tu­ni­ty gap and that gap is a pre-exist­ing con­di­tion that is fur­ther exas­per­at­ed by this mod­el of school fund­ing. In oth­er words, the rich get rich­er, while the poor con­tin­ue to strug­gle.

How I wish I could con­vince our leg­is­la­tors that defin­ing read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy or suc­cess as a score of 350 on the read­ing MCA is sim­ply not the only, and espe­cial­ly not the best, way to deter­mine whether a diverse group of eight- and nine-year old kids are suc­cess­ful in terms of lit­er­a­cy. I am con­vinced that I have plen­ty of data in addi­tion to the MCA score, both the “hard” and “soft” kind, that paints a bet­ter pic­ture of whether or not my stu­dents have attained lit­er­a­cy suc­cess. You name it, I’ve got it. Sum­ma­tive, for­ma­tive, for­mal, infor­mal, flu­en­cy CBMs, anec­do­tal con­fer­ence notes, run­ning records, NWEA MAP data, essays, opin­ion writ­ing, research reports, writ­ing in response to read­ing … the list goes on and on. A 350 is cer­tain­ly not the only way to mea­sure lit­er­a­cy suc­cess in Room 212. Just as impor­tant (if not more impor­tant) are the con­ver­sa­tions, deep-think­ing, and per­son­al reflec­tions my stu­dents share with me and each oth­er on a dai­ly basis.

Front DeskAs easy as it is to be dis­cour­aged and feel like I’m the one who has failed when some of my bril­liant, hard-work­ing and oh-so-wise stu­dents come up short of that mea­sure of suc­cess, aka a 350, I need only to call up mem­o­ries of a recent read-aloud moment in Room 212. The book, Front Desk, by Kel­ly Yang, tells the sto­ry of Mia Tang, a deter­mined, resource­ful and coura­geous ten-year-old who dis­cov­ers the pow­er of the writ­ten word. Mia and her par­ents are Chi­nese immi­grants, work­ing end­less hours at the Calivista Motel under the scruti­ny of the heart­less own­er, Mr. Yao in the ear­ly 1990s. Mia befriends Lupe, anoth­er immi­grant in her class, whose fam­i­ly came to the Unit­ed States from Mex­i­co. The two girls dis­cov­er they were both hid­ing sim­i­lar secrets that were attempts to cov­er up the harsh real­i­ties of their lives. Once they real­ize they could be vul­ner­a­ble with each oth­er, they share a great deal more about their inner most thoughts and feel­ings. Much like my reflec­tions and won­der­ing about what it means to be suc­cess­ful, Mia shared the fol­low­ing:

I was curi­ous what Lupe thought of as “suc­cess­ful.” Every­body seemed to have dif­fer­ent cri­te­ria. I used to think being suc­cess­ful meant hav­ing enough to eat…

When I asked Lupe, she put two fin­gers to her chin and thought real hard. “I think being suc­cess­ful in this coun­try means hav­ing a liv­ing room with­out a bed in it,” she decid­ed.

After read­ing that excerpt to my incred­i­ble kids, we dug deep­er into the con­ver­sa­tion and opin­ions shared by Mia and Lupe. There was a con­sen­sus that Mia was right about peo­ple hav­ing very dif­fer­ent ideas about what it might mean to be suc­cess­ful. Some kids shared their def­i­n­i­tion and oth­ers were very qui­et. I invit­ed the class to think more about the top­ic of being suc­cess­ful and to con­sid­er writ­ing about what it means to them. A num­ber of kids accept­ed the invi­ta­tion.

If only that “Lit­er­a­cy Incen­tive Aid” could include cri­te­ria beyond an MCA test score of 350. I would like to believe that the thought­ful reflec­tions shared by my stu­dents would con­vince our leg­is­la­tors that pro­fi­cien­cy is more than a num­ber derived from a bunch of cor­rect answers to mul­ti­ple-choice ques­tions about read­ing pas­sages stu­dents may have lit­tle inter­est in read­ing. 

Two of my favorite stu­dent respons­es:

success is

Suc­cess­ful means that you do some­thing you’ve always want­ed to do and it went how you want­ed.

success is

Suc­cess­ful means hav­ing a house and a dog, hav­ing a tree­house, hav­ing a gar­den, learn­ing a lot, going to col­lege.

After all, isn’t being a suc­cess­ful read­er as much about what read­ing does to our heart as it is about what read­ing does to our head? I doubt there will ever be a stan­dard­ized test that can ade­quate­ly mea­sure the impact of read­ing on one’s heart. How­ev­er, if there were such a thing, there is no doubt that all of my stu­dents would sur­pass a 350.


Aging Down, Aging Up

Back when my kids were lit­tle, I start­ed work on a non­fic­tion SEL (Social and Emo­tion­al Learn­ing) series called the “Best Behav­ior” series. More than a decade lat­er, these board books and paper­backs are still going strong, I’m hap­py to say. Titles in the series include Teeth Are Not for Bit­ing, Voic­es Are Not for Yelling, and Wor­ries Are Not For­ev­er. The books are about shap­ing behav­ior, but in a deep­er sense, they’re designed to help young chil­dren express their feel­ings, get their needs met, and bet­ter under­stand their grow­ing inde­pen­dence. I think of my books as tools in an SEL toolk­it. They can help you bring out the best in chil­dren dur­ing the tod­dler years, all the way through ear­ly ele­men­tary school, and beyond.

My goal from the begin­ning of the series was to use sim­ple words to teach, encour­age, and reas­sure young chil­dren. But I real­ized that my tod­dler board books — lim­it­ed to 11 spreads, with one full spread devot­ed to tips for par­ents and edu­ca­tors — were too short to ful­ly cov­er the top­ics for a wider audi­ence. What a tod­dler can under­stand from a book called Germs Are Not for Shar­ing is much dif­fer­ent from what a preschool­er or kinder­gart­ner can grasp. So, I’ve cre­at­ed more in-depth paper­backs for old­er chil­dren, using the same titles as the board books. I have var­i­ous ver­sions of, for exam­ple, Words Are Not for Hurt­ing: the board book, the expand­ed paper­back, and Spanish/English ver­sions of both. It’s been a joy­ful chal­lenge for me to adapt my words to the dif­fer­ent ages and stages chil­dren go through. I love aging down and aging up! The process is great prac­tice for any writer, new or expe­ri­enced, espe­cial­ly if you want to write for chil­dren.

How do you age down your text? First, know that aging down is very dif­fer­ent from “writ­ing down to chil­dren.” Our goal as children’s writ­ers is not to write to chil­dren in baby­ish lan­guage or to lec­ture our read­ers, even in books that aim to guide a child’s behav­ior. Whether you’re aging your text down or up, respect young read­ers’ intel­li­gence; know that they feel fierce­ly and they care deeply. E. B. White said it this way:

Chil­dren are … the most atten­tive, curi­ous, eager, obser­vant, sen­si­tive, quick, and gen­er­al­ly con­ge­nial read­ers on earth.”

Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford PaulSome children’s writ­ers take the approach of get­ting all their ideas and best lines on the page first, so they don’t get caught up in edit­ing them­selves too much, too ear­ly. In oth­er words, they write long before writ­ing short. This method feels expan­sive and free­ing; it lets you use the page to explore and brain­storm. Yet, there are some tips to keep in mind so you’ll be on your way to cre­at­ing work that’s age appro­pri­ate. Expert pic­ture-book writer Anne Whit­ford Paul in her man­u­al Writ­ing Pic­ture Books says there are char­ac­ter­is­tics of chil­dren to keep in mind as you write for them, includ­ing:

  1. Chil­dren have had few expe­ri­ences.
  2. Chil­dren have strong emo­tions.
  3. Some­times child­hood is not hap­py.
  4. Chil­dren long to be inde­pen­dent.
  5. Chil­dren are com­pli­cat­ed.

Paul’s list is actu­al­ly longer, and I high­ly rec­om­mend get­ting a copy of her help­ful man­u­al (recent­ly revised and updat­ed) if you want to write for young kids. Let the chil­dren in your own life inform your writ­ing, too. Spend time lis­ten­ing to them close­ly, soak­ing in their words and cre­ative turns of phrase. Ask chil­dren to read aloud to you — pay­ing close atten­tion to what cap­tures their imag­i­na­tions and res­onates with them emo­tion­al­ly. Invite fel­low writ­ers to read and com­ment on your work: What age group do you think this is for? Is this too wordy? Where might I cut some text?

Sup­pose you’ve writ­ten a man­u­script for very young chil­dren, but you’re not sure if it’s age appro­pri­ate. The eas­i­est place to start is with a word count. Gen­er­al guide­lines sug­gest that man­u­scripts should be 500 words or less. If you’re writ­ing for tod­dlers, much less. Think of it this way: Good­night Moon by Mar­garet Wise Brown is only 130 words. For fun, I just count­ed the words in my tod­dler board book Voic­es Are Not for Yelling: 131. Fic­tion pic­ture books for young chil­dren, includ­ing Good­night Moon, are often brief, poet­ic texts in which every word mat­ters—some­times described as “Per­fect words in per­fect places.” Non­fic­tion books for lit­tle ones are sim­i­lar­ly short but are often designed to give infor­ma­tion or share a mes­sage. In my SEL non­fic­tion, I don’t aim to be poet­ic but do hope to share sim­ple phras­es chil­dren can use on their own every day:

You are big­ger than your wor­ries.”

Teeth are not for bit­ing. Ouch, bit­ing hurts.”

Warm water, lots of soap, scrub, scrub, scrub. Send those germs down the drain.”

I adore writ­ing short! It’s sat­is­fy­ing for me to pick at my own words like I pick weeds in my gar­den. I’m an edi­tor at heart, and that’s where I got my start in pub­lish­ing, help­ing oth­er writ­ers use lan­guage to the best of their abil­i­ties. When writ­ing for the very young, revise and then revise again (and again) to boil down your lan­guage to its sim­plest form. If that sounds dif­fi­cult or bor­ing, remem­ber that illus­tra­tions do half the work in books for lit­tle ones. A sim­ple tip? Get rid of your adjec­tives or over­ly descrip­tive lan­guage. Illus­tra­tions can do that job for you.

When­ev­er I’m start­ing a new book in the “Best Behav­ior” series, I tack­le the board book first. This helps me sim­pli­fy the con­cepts and lan­guage for the youngest audi­ence, while also let­ting me reach the fin­ish line faster. Once I’ve writ­ten the board book, I feel like I’ve accom­plished some­thing and want to do more. I then think of the ways in which preschool­ers, kinder­gart­ners, and old­er chil­dren expe­ri­ence behav­ior issues in school and in the com­mu­ni­ty. As they grow old­er, chil­dren spend more time out­side of the home, engag­ing with a wider vari­ety of peo­ple and places. A child’s world grad­u­al­ly expands — and so my books have to expand as well. But not by too much. I try to keep that “500 words or less” rule of thumb firm­ly in mind as I write.

Peep LeapRecent­ly, I vis­it­ed a first-grade class­room to share a cou­ple of my pic­ture books, Small Walt (about a lit­tle snow­plow) and Peep Leap (about a baby wood duck afraid to leave the nest). A theme in each of these works is “small can be mighty” and that we all need encour­age­ment, from our­selves and oth­ers. One of my favorite lines in Peep Leap is: “You are braver than you know.” To be hon­est, I feel scared every time I start a new man­u­script. It doesn’t mat­ter how many books I’ve writ­ten before — each new one feels like a chal­lenge I have no idea how to take on. I give myself lit­tle pep talks and reach out to fel­low writ­ers who often feel the same way. On that day of the first-grade vis­it, the teacher pulled me aside and con­fid­ed that she had a book idea and want­ed to write for chil­dren and hadn’t start­ed yet because it felt too “big.” Well, I hope she does start writ­ing soon, and I told her to give it a try. If you work with chil­dren or are rais­ing them, you have an insider’s view into what makes kids tick, and how much they grow and change as time rolls on. That’s a great start … now you need to put some words on the page.


Strictly No Elephants


It had been one of those news days…. Actu­al­ly, there had been a string of such news days — hate-filled head­lines, bom­bas­tic egos, dan­ger­ous threats. The world seemed extra prick­ly and dan­ger­ous. It’s at these times that I espe­cial­ly like read­ing with kids. For­tu­nate­ly, I had a read­ing gig all lined up at an ele­men­tary school — it was the week lead­ing up to Read Across Amer­i­ca. Bless the schools — the teach­ers, par­ents and kids — who make this such a fun tra­di­tion each year. What a great cel­e­bra­tion!

I was vis­it­ing Pre‑K and kinder­garten class­rooms, so I put togeth­er a lit­tle sto­ry­time cen­tered on the themes of peace, gen­tle­ness, inclu­sion, and love—The Big Umbrel­la, One Dog Canoe, Worm Loves Worm, Xander’s Pan­da Par­ty, and Strict­ly No Ele­phants—and went to read.

The kids at this school are obvi­ous­ly read to — they are polite, engaged audi­ences. They enjoyed what­ev­er com­bi­na­tion of books I read, but it was Strict­ly No Ele­phants by Lisa Mantchev, illus­trat­ed by Taee­un Yoo, that was the biggest hit in each class. They were hooked from the first line.

The trou­ble with hav­ing a tiny ele­phant for a pet is that you nev­er quite fit in.

Near as I can tell, it was the two word phrase “tiny ele­phant” that made them sit up and lean in. When I turned the page, they leaned in fur­ther. 

No one else has an ele­phant.

The text is spare, but it’s the illus­tra­tions that made them lean in, I think — an apart­ment house, every oth­er win­dow show­ing the usu­al sorts of pets that peo­ple have. Pup­pies, gold­fish, cats, a bird in a cage etc. And then the boy with the tiny ele­phant who lives next door. Sep­a­rate. Apart.

We’re then treat­ed to spreads of quo­tid­i­an activ­i­ties with the tiny ele­phant — going for walks, strug­gling over cracks in the side­walk (the tiny ele­phant is afraid of them) and the like.

And then! Joy! It’s Pet Club Day — every­one is meet­ing at Num­ber 17. All the cats and dogs and their peo­ple head out to the club meet­ing. As does the tiny ele­phant and boy.

But when they arrive at Num­ber 17, there is a sign that says: Strict­ly No Ele­phants. 

The tiny ele­phant leads the boy back home, obliv­i­ous to the side­walk cracks now, because: That’s what friends do: brave the scary things for you.

You could’ve heard the prover­bial pin drop. I looked out on lit­tle faces reg­is­ter­ing the pain of exclu­sion. We all know what that feels like. When I turned the page and the art showed rain and a blue and grey col­or palette that mir­rored our emo­tions, their lit­tle faces grew even sad­der. But I held the page open just a bit longer than usu­al. The spread is word­less, leav­ing the pic­tures to car­ry the mag­ic. The boy and his tiny ele­phant have red and yel­low on their cloth­ing (the ele­phant wears a scarf, of course)…and so does a girl sit­ting on the bench, her own pet in her lap.  

I watched their eyes trav­el from the boy and his ele­phant to the girl. They sat up just a tiny bit straighter, the light of hope return­ing to their eyes. I turned the page.

Turns out, the girl has a skunk for a pet. The trou­ble with hav­ing a skunk, of course, is that you nev­er quite fit in.… 

He doesn’t stink.,” the girl says. And the boy agrees.

They start their own club! My read­ers were ecsta­t­ic — what a great idea! There’s a glo­ri­ous spread of unusu­al pets. The kids went wild. We iden­ti­fied each of the unusu­al pets — a por­cu­pine, nar­whal, giraffe, and pen­guin among them. We were gid­dy with relief that every­one had found each oth­er.

The kids and their pets find a park with a tree­house and they paint their own sign. This part was my favorite. At first they fol­low the mod­el they’d seen—Strict­ly no strangers. No Spoil­sports. But then they change it. It’s a sign that says who is wel­come instead of who is not.

All are wel­come. 

A most sat­is­fy­ing pic­ture book!


Explorer Academy: The Falcon’s Feather

The Falcon's FeatherExplor­er Acad­e­my: The Fal­con’s Feath­er
Tru­di Trueit
illus­trat­ed by Scott Plumbe (with a blend of pho­tos)
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Part­ners, 2019
ISBN 978−1−4263−3304−0

I’ve writ­ten a pri­or Read­ing Ahead essay about my love for The Neb­u­la Secret, the first book in the Explor­er Acad­e­my series. Now book two, The Fal­con’s Feath­er, con­tin­ues the sto­ry and I think it’s even more excit­ing. I can­not wait for the next install­ment in the series, The Dou­ble Helix, which won’t be avail­able until Sep­tem­ber 3, 2019. Do you remem­ber that kind of excite­ment as a young read­er, wait­ing for a book by your favorite author?

In this book, Cruz Coro­n­a­do, his friends and fel­low Explor­ers, Emmett, Sailor, and Brandys, and their entire class embark on The Ori­on, a superb high-tech­nol­o­gy ship that will vis­it var­i­ous trou­bled spots on the Earth, teach­ing the stu­dents about ecol­o­gy, con­ser­va­tion, sci­en­tif­ic inquiry, and involv­ing them in cur­rent exper­i­ments. A con­gru­ent sto­ry­line finds Cruz and his best friend in Hawaii, Lani, putting clues togeth­er that Cruz’s sci­en­tist moth­er left before she dis­ap­peared. It’s all very involv­ing, page-turn­ing, and will appeal to peo­ple who love mys­ter­ies, non­fic­tion, puz­zles, sci­ence, and Har­ry Pot­ter.

I am so excit­ed by this book that I asked if I could inter­view the author, Tru­di Trueit. How on earth does she write a book, much less a sev­en-book series, of this cal­iber? Here’s how she answered me:

Trudi Trueit

Tru­di Trueit

What’s in your back­ground that prompt­ed Nation­al Geo­graph­ic to ask you to write The Explor­er Acad­e­my series?

Many writ­ers will tend to choose a genre, but I’ve always had a pas­sion for writ­ing both fic­tion and non­fic­tion. My work includes more than nine­ty non­fic­tion library titles for kids on every­thing from video gam­ing to storm chas­ing for pub­lish­ers like Scholas­tic and Lern­er. I’ve also writ­ten nine mid­dle grade fic­tion titles, includ­ing the Secrets of a Lab Rat series for Simon & Schus­ter. I will go back and forth between the two gen­res, writ­ing a fic­tion title, then writ­ing a short series of non­fic­tion books. It’s the per­fect mix. Just when I am eager to fin­ish writ­ing about a non­fic­tion top­ic, it’s time to switch and let my cre­ative juices take over. Explor­er Acad­e­my is a com­bi­na­tion of those worlds, allow­ing me to cre­ate a fast-paced adven­ture series that’s root­ed in sci­ence.

I recent­ly saw you on WCCO in Min­neapo­lis with Eri­ka Bergman, sub­mersible pilot, a Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Explor­er. When you’re writ­ing each book in the series, do you pull the plot togeth­er with actu­al Nation­al Geo­graph­ic projects as the basis for your scenes … or do you and your edi­tor work out the projects to fea­ture in each book?

The plots aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly based on actu­al Nation­al Geo­graph­ic projects, how­ev­er, I do look to expe­ri­ences from the explor­ers and real-world tech­nol­o­gy to enhance the sto­ry­line. Some­times, a sto­ry is sparked by some­thing an explor­er shared with me, a project they are work­ing on, or an arti­cle they wrote. Oth­er times, it’s an issue that has touched my heart, like help­ing marine ani­mals caught in fish­ing nets. I research and learn what we are (or aren’t) doing to address the prob­lem and then cre­ate a mis­sion for the explor­ers to go on.

Are you some­one who enjoys puz­zles and mys­ter­ies? Do you like to play games?

I adore games, puz­zles, and mys­ter­ies! As a kid, one of my favorite books was called Two Minute Mys­ter­ies and it was exact­ly that: short sto­ries where you had to fig­ure out who­dunit. I also devoured pret­ty much every Nan­cy Drew book out there (Hardy Boys, too!). I love games, too, espe­cial­ly word games and triv­ia.

Your plots are jam packed with adven­tures. How do you orga­nize your plots, phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly?

I try to keep things orga­nized through an out­line, scene list, and what I call Thread Notes. These are notes that I car­ry through from book to book, to remind me of the dif­fer­ent threads that I have start­ed so that I can decide when and how to wrap them up as the series pro­gress­es. For each book, I will do a gen­er­al four to five page syn­op­sis to estab­lish the main plot ele­ments and how I want it to end. I do try to keep as much in my head as pos­si­ble, because if you’re expect­ing a read­er to remem­ber details as they read, it’s only fair that you do the same. I don’t do an extreme­ly detailed out­line because I find it tends to sti­fle cre­ativ­i­ty. Half the fun of get­ting up in the morn­ing is see­ing what will pour out of my head and onto the page!

What does your work­space look like?

My work­space is noth­ing fan­cy — my home office with a desk, book­shelf, and lit­tle flo­ral sofa. The sage green walls are dec­o­rat­ed with can­vas prints of some of my book cov­ers. It’s pret­ty neat, because I can’t write in chaos. I do have three edi­tors, who see to it that I stay on track: my cats Pip­pin, Emmy­lou, and Woody. They snooze (and some­times, snore) the day away next to my com­put­er and occa­sion­al­ly steal my pens and pen­cils. Woody is a twen­ty-pound boy, so he takes a bit of room. I think I need a big­ger desk!

Trudi Trueit's cats

What are your five top go-to ref­er­ence sites or ref­er­ence books while you’re writ­ing?

It varies, depend­ing on the top­ic and book. Sources that I’ve looked to while writ­ing Explor­er Acad­e­my include The Smith­son­ian, Nation­al Ocean­ic and Atmos­pher­ic Admin­is­tra­tion (NOAA), U.S. Geo­log­i­cal sur­vey, NASA, NOVA, Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can, Dis­cov­ery, and, of course, first and fore­most, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic.

Map of Orion

I love maps! This one is so detailed that I’ve spent quite a lot of time refer­ring to it. Map of Ori­on from Explor­ers Acad­e­my: The Fal­con’s Feath­er, illus­tra­tion copy­right Scott Plumbe, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Books for Kids, 2019

The Ori­on Ship Map at the begin­ning of The Falcon’s Feath­er is one of the coolest things ever. Did you draw a ver­sion of that map to help you with writ­ing the scenes on board The Ori­on?

Yes, I did a very basic ver­sion of the ship so I could visu­al­ize where every­thing was and keep track of things. Thank­ful­ly, tal­ent­ed artist Scott Plumbe took my crude draw­ing and craft­ed an incred­i­ble illus­tra­tion for the book. I love its futur­is­tic look!

You explain the gad­gets so well. Are these sci­en­tif­ic inno­va­tions some­thing you’ve been able to see to help with describ­ing them or are they fic­tion?

Some gad­gets I have been able to see, such as minia­ture drones and smart glass­es, but things like the time cap­sule, octo­pod, or shad­ow badge are fic­tion­al. Often, the gad­gets are a com­bi­na­tion of both. Because the explor­ers are liv­ing in the not-too-dis­tant future, I will often take ele­ments of the famil­iar and expand them via my imag­i­na­tion. For instance, the CAVE (Com­put­er Ani­mat­ed Vir­tu­al Expe­ri­ence) is a vir­tu­al real­i­ty room, which we are all famil­iar with, that gives off an actu­al sen­sa­tion when you touch an object, which is some­thing that we are not famil­iar with – yet!

Taryn Secliff, the kids’ school res­i­dent assis­tant, has a High­land White Ter­ri­er named Hub­bard, who’s affec­tion­ate­ly regard­ed by Cruz, Emmett, and Bryn­dis. Do you have a pet?

Yes, I have three pets. I think you met them on my desk: Pip­pin (snow­shoe), Woody (gin­ger tab­by), and Emmy­lou (Siamese mix). They all get along great and are so much fun. Pip­pin has his own Face­book page, because you can nev­er have too many cat pic­tures, right?

What’s your best hope for this series of books?

I hope that read­ers have as much fun read­ing Explor­er Acad­e­my as I am hav­ing writ­ing it (I’m writ­ing Book Five in the series now!). It would be won­der­ful if some read­ers see them­selves in its pages, per­haps, even dis­cov­er a pas­sion that leads to a career. More than any­thing, I hope the series spurs kids to par­tic­i­pate and con­tribute, just the way the Nation­al Geo­graph­ic explor­ers I have met seek to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in the world.

Scott Plumbe's illustration for The Falcon's Feather

One of Scott Plumbe’s excit­ing illus­tra­tions for The Fal­con’s Feath­er, copy­right Scott Plumbe, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Part­ners, 2019

Vis­it Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s Explor­er Acad­e­my web­site.

Trudi TrueitTru­di Trueit has writ­ten more than 100 books for young read­ers, both fic­tion and non­fic­tion. Her love of writ­ing began in fourth grade, when she wrote, direct­ed, and starred in her first play. She went on to be a TV news reporter and weath­er fore­cast­er, but she knew her call­ing was in writ­ing. Trueit is a gift­ed sto­ry­teller for mid­dle-grade audi­ences, and her fic­tion nov­els include The Sis­ter Solu­tionSteal­ing Pop­u­lar, and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. Her exper­tise in kids non­fic­tion encom­pass­es books on his­to­ry, weath­er, wildlife, and Earth sci­ence. She is the author of all the nar­ra­tives for the Explor­er Acad­e­my series, begin­ning with Explor­er Acad­e­my: The Neb­u­la Secret. Born and raised in the Pacif­ic North­west, Tru­di lives in Everett, Wash­ing­ton. Vis­it her web­site.


Fresh Air: Taking Storytime Outdoors

We could nev­er have loved the earth so well if we had no child­hood in it.” —George Eliot 

Giggle, Giggle, QuackIn the state of Iowa, where I live, the change from win­ter to spring is like an on and off switch. Yet, at the end of anoth­er vor­tex, Spring has final­ly come to Iowa. Spring is a per­fect time to sched­ule your sto­ry­time pro­grams out­doors. The library I work at has a court­yard where we have out­door sto­ry­times; how­ev­er, a local park will do as well. Out­door sto­ry­times bring the library out of its nat­ur­al habi­tat and into the wild and are a per­fect oppor­tu­ni­ty to bring sto­ries to life through a vari­ety of out­door activ­i­ties includ­ing:

  1. A Sto­ry Hike. For me, a sto­ry hike is a set of out­door activ­i­ties that enhance the read­ing expe­ri­ence. Each activ­i­ty I design is based on the sto­ries I read. One great exam­ple is The Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar by Eric Car­le. For this sto­ry hike, fam­i­lies were asked to search for the var­i­ous foods the cater­pil­lar ate. At the end of the hike, they enjoyed see­ing real but­ter­flies we raised at the library.
  2. Musi­cal Per­for­mances. Adding music to sto­ry­times is noth­ing new but, for out­door sto­ry­times, I enjoy invit­ing com­mu­ni­ty musi­cians to pro­vide a live per­for­mance. The songs are both clas­sics and mod­ern and relate to the cho­sen theme. Fam­i­lies are encour­aged to par­tic­i­pate by using musi­cal instru­ments through­out the per­for­mance.
  3. Art in the Park. An out­door sto­ry­time opens up many art oppor­tu­ni­ties by using nature as a back­drop. In years past, I cre­at­ed a flower sto­ry­time, for which one of the activ­i­ties was hav­ing the chil­dren paint a flower gar­den. Fam­i­lies used a key of the flow­ers on the library grounds and searched for them. They were pro­vid­ed with a col­or­ing sheet with the out­lines of flow­ers in a gar­den. Once they found each flower a bot­tle of paint was sit­ting in the gar­den. They were invit­ed to add that col­or to their col­or­ing sheet.
  4. Tast­ing Nature. For this activ­i­ty, I choose sto­ries with either veg­eta­bles or fruit. I con­tact­ed my local gro­cery store nutri­tion­ist to see if they would donate veg­eta­bles, fruit, or both for this activ­i­ty. At the end of this activ­i­ty, fam­i­lies are treat­ed with veg­eta­bles or fruit found in the sto­ry.


I Took a WalkGreat Sto­ries to Read for Out­door Sto­ry­time

  1. Are you Ready to Play Out­side? by Mo Willems
  2. I Took a Walk by Hen­ry Cole
  3. Plant­i­ng a Rain­bow by Lois Ehlert
  4. My Gar­den by Kevin Henkes
  5. Gig­gle, Gig­gle, Quack by Doreen Cronin
  6. Rum­ble in the Jun­gle by Giles Andreae
  7. Walk­ing through the Jun­gle by Stel­la Black­stone
  8. Planting a RainvowEat­ing the Alpha­bet by Lois Ehlert

Songs to Enjoy

  1. Walk­ing through the Jun­gle
  2. In the Gar­den
  3. A Camp­ing We Will Go
  4. Flap Your Wings Togeth­er
  5. Rain­bow Col­ors

Outdoor Science Lab for KidsIdea Books for the Great Out­doors:

  1. Out­door Sci­ence Lab for Kids by Liz Hei­necke
  2. Gar­den­ing Lab for Kids by Rena­ta Brown
  3. 150+ Screen-Free Activ­i­ties for Kids by Asia Cit­ro

Arti­cles on the Impor­tance of Out­door Play:

  1. 6 Rea­sons Chil­dren Need to Play Out­doors
  2. Our Proud Her­itage: Out­door Play is Essen­tial to the Whole Child
  3. Take it Out­side
  4. The Impor­tance of Out­door Play for Young Children’s Healthy Devel­op­ment
  5. The Perks of Play-in-the-Mud Edu­ca­tion­al Phi­los­o­phy

Friends, Friends

Jack­ie: We two friends have been doing this blog since 2015. Yet, we’ve nev­er done a col­umn on books about friends. We know there are many, and many clas­sics, such as the always-sat­is­fy­ing Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel, or William Steig’s Amos and Boris, or James Marshall’s George and Martha. But today we want to look at three, one by one of our favorite writ­ers Lucille Clifton. (We are still hop­ing — cam­paign­ing — for a re-issue of her out-of-print Everett Ander­son books.) And two new­er “friend” books.

My Friend JacobMy copy of Lucille Clifton’s My Friend Jacob is a library copy that became avail­able because a library “with­drew” it from its own col­lec­tion. I don’t know why any­one would not want this book in their col­lec­tion. A child nar­ra­tor tells us: “My best friend lives next door…We do things togeth­er, Jacob and me. We love to play bas­ket­ball togeth­er. Jacob always makes a bas­ket on the first try.” (We see that Jacob is taller, old­er, than the nar­ra­tor.) …” My moth­er used to say, ‘Be care­ful with Jacob and that ball, he might hurt you.’  But now she doesn’t. He knows that Jacob wouldn’t hurt any­body, espe­cial­ly his very very best friend.”  And Jacob’s moth­er once said, “’You don’t have to have Jacob tag­ging along with you [to the gro­cery store] like that, Sam­my.’ But now she doesn’t. She knows we like to go to the store togeth­er. Jacob helps me to car­ry, and I help Jacob to remem­ber.’”  These two friends accept each oth­er for just who they are. Sam­my learns the makes and names of cars from Jacob, who knows them all. Jacob needs help remem­ber­ing what the street lights mean. He needs help remem­ber­ing to knock before enter­ing Sammy’s house. And the tri­umphal moment comes when he does remem­ber. “Next day at din­ner­time, we were sit­ting in our din­ing room when me and my moth­er and my father heard this real loud knock­ing at the door. Then the door popped open and Jacob stuck he’s head in./’I’m knock­ing, Sam!’ he yelled.”

Clifton does here what she often does so well — makes a sat­is­fy­ing sto­ry out of hum­ble accom­plish­ments. Her moments involve the stuff of all our lives, count­ing cars, shoot­ing bas­ket­balls, remem­ber­ing to knock. And we cheer for her char­ac­ters’ achieve­ments. And admire her abil­i­ty to present, with­out apol­o­gy or awk­ward­ness, a kid for whom it is sev­er­al afternoon’s work to make a birth­day card, or prac­tice to remem­ber to knock. Clifton cares about Jacob. And she helps us to share Sammy’s affec­tion for him. I want to live in Lucille Clifton’s world.

Phyl­lis:  Could I live there, too, please? My copy of My Friend Jacob, too, had been removed from a library (I’ve since passed it on to oth­er read­ers). Clifton’s books hon­or the lives, strug­gles, and hearts of the peo­ple who were not often found in pic­ture books at the time she wrote. It’s easy to dis­tance our­selves from peo­ple who seem dif­fer­ent; it takes a friend to see how we are not so dif­fer­ent and how we help hold each oth­er up.  Sam­my is that friend to Jacob, and Jacob is that friend to him.

The Lion and the BirdJack­ie: The Lion and The Bird by Mar­i­anne Dubul (trans­lat­ed by Clau­dia Zoe Bedrick, pub­lished by Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2014) fea­tures a lion who has a mod­est cot­tage, a gar­den, and a con­tent­ed life. One fall day, while work­ing in his gar­den he spots an injured bird. He ban­dages the bird’s wing and they both watch as the oth­er birds fly away. Lion invites the bird to spend the win­ter. “There’s more than enough room for both of us.” The bird eats at Lion’s table, lis­tens by the fire while Lion reads, and sleeps cozi­ly in one of Lion’s slip­pers. “They spend the win­ter togeth­er, enjoy­ing each day.” And we see them sled­ding, ice-fish­ing, Bird tucked snug­ly in his own place in Lion’s hat. Come spring, Bird flies away with his peers. We see Lion feel­ing small­er and lone­li­er. “And so it goes./Life is some­times like that.” Word­less pic­tures show Lion resum­ing his soli­tary life — emp­ty slip­pers, eat­ing alone. He grows his gar­den, fish­es, pass­es the sum­mer. And in the fall, Bird returns! ‘Togeth­er we’ll stay warm again this win­ter.”

This is a qui­et, love­ly sto­ry of kind­ness, friend­ship, shar­ing, and kind­ness returned. The illus­tra­tions so clear­ly reflect Lion’s emo­tions. I would love to read this with a child and talk about feel­ings.

Phyl­lis:  I love how Lion puts Bird ten­der­ly up on top of his mane to keep him warm, cov­er­ing him with his hat (with appro­pri­ate cut-out win­dow) in win­ter. “Win­ter doesn’t feel all that cold with a friend,” Dubul writes, and those of us in win­try cli­mates (as I write this there’s an April bliz­zard blow­ing out­side) espe­cial­ly rec­og­nize that warmth. Spring returns, and as the migrat­ing flock of birds fly over, Lion tells Bird he knows Bird must go. And even though “life is some­times like that,” some­times life also brings our friends back to us, just as Bird returns and choos­es to spend the win­ter again with Lion.  The soft spare art per­fect­ly match­es the spare text.  Spring’s return is a sin­gle flower open­ing on a dou­ble page spread, and a sin­gle note on a dou­ble page spread her­alds Bird’s return. Dubul does not gloss over the sense of loss Lion feels; like Lion, we yearn for Bird’s return, and that absence and yearn­ing makes the return even more sat­is­fy­ing.  I love that friend­ships can sur­vive dis­tance and time.

Jerome by HeartJack­ie: Jerome By Heart by Thomas Scot­to with illus­tra­tions by Olivi­er Tal­lec (trans­lat­ed from the French by Clau­dia Zoe Bedrick and Karin Snel­son; Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2018) gives us a sto­ry told with humor and poignan­cy, of two friends who know they are friends. “He always holds my hand./It’s true./Really tight.” And we see two boys, bicy­cling, hold­ing hands as traf­fic backs up behind them. And the one dri­ver whose face we can see looks rather grumpy. They are friends every­where, “On field trips to the art museum,/it’s me he choos­es as his bud­dy.” Rafael loves Jerome. Rafael’s mom likes Jerome, but doesn’t real­ize that Rafael feels pro­tect­ed by Jerome’s friend­ship. Rafael’s Dad wish­es Jerome would play soc­cer.

Jerome is kind — sees Rafael and speaks to him when he’s with oth­er friends, defends Rafael when oth­er kids make fun of him (we don’t know why), and tells “sto­ries that are so good/they seem real…”

When Rafael tells his par­ents, “I had the best dream last night!/It was good in a Jerome kind of way,” his Dad stares at his shoelaces. His Mom says, “’Eat your cere­al, Rafael.’” Rafael replies, “Maybe I’ll just eat my dream on toast! … That way all you’ll hear is crunching/and it won’t both­er your ears so much.”  And Dad responds, “Now that’s enough!”

Rafael goes to his room, look­ing for a present for Jerome. He imag­ines them on vaca­tion togeth­er, rid­ing in a race car. “I cir­cle around and around my bed./Around and around my table./Around and around my ques­tions.”  At the end he affirms his true friend­ship, in spite of his par­ents. “And I say — yes./Rafael loves Jerome./I can say it./It’s easy.” And we cheer for him.

Phyl­lis: I love this book so much — it’s one of those books that cap­ti­vat­ed me and insist­ed I buy it. The title page of Jerome By Heart quotes French poet Jacques Prévert, who wrote the enchant­i­ng How to Paint the Por­trait of a Bird (illus­trat­ed by Morde­cai Ger­stein, Roar­ing Brook Press, 2007). Prévert wrote, “And the passers-by point­ed fin­gers at them.  But the chil­dren who love each oth­er aren’t there for any­one else.”

Jerome and Rafael are “there” for each oth­er. Raphael’s mom says Jerome is polite and charm­ing. “But she nev­er says any­thing about how warm his smile is. She doesn’t seem to notice that I have a secret hide­out there, where I feel pro­tect­ed by Jerome’s two eyes.” Jerome always sees Raphael, even when Jerome is with his friends. What do we real­ly want but to be seen and loved for who we real­ly are? And to love that per­son back. Raphael says it for us: “’I for­get my mom and dad./ I think only about Jerome/ who I know by heart.”

In The Lit­tle Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry the prince says, “And now here is my secret, a very sim­ple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see right­ly; what is essen­tial is invis­i­ble to the eye.” Friends like Sam­my and Jacob, Lion and Bird, Jerome and Rafael see what is essen­tial but invis­i­ble to the eye. May we all have such friends. May we all be such friends, see­ing and know­ing each oth­er heart to heart.

P.S. Two of these three books are pub­lished by Enchant­ed Lion, a press that’s bring­ing out books that quick­ly become some of our favorite book friends.


Waiting for My Editor, part 4

Page Break Waiting for My Editor, Part 4


Pairing Verse with Nonfiction

Why write non­fic­tion in verse? If you do, is it still non­fic­tion? Good ques­tions in a time when gen­res are expand­ing.

Siege by Roxane OrgillI’ve used verse in two non­fic­tion sto­ries: a pic­ture book, Jazz Day: The Mak­ing of a Famous Pho­to­graph, and a book for ages ten and up, Siege: How Wash­ing­ton Kicked the British out of Boston and Launched a Rev­o­lu­tion (Can­dlewick Press). As to why I chose poet­ry over prose, read on. And yes, to me, the sto­ry of the Siege of Boston in one hun­dred poems is non­fic­tion (although my pub­lish­er dis­agrees; more on that lat­er.)

First, a word on my tastes as a read­er, and there­fore, writer. I like con­cise writ­ing. I pre­fer acces­si­ble over aca­d­e­m­ic and would rather read a book of man­age­able length than a heavy tome.

It was 1776, by David McCul­lough, that start­ed me on the Rev­o­lu­tion thing. Four hun­dred pages, and it reads like a sto­ry. I’d nev­er heard of the ten-month stand­off between George Washington’s mili­tia-turned-army in Cam­bridge and the British in Boston. It seemed to me that the rev­o­lu­tion start­ed there, rather than with the bat­tles in Lex­ing­ton and Con­cord.

Curi­ous, I dove into Washington’s Papers, which, dur­ing the years I spent research­ing Siege, became increas­ing­ly avail­able online, and are now, thanks to an agree­ment between the Nation­al Archives and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia Press, ful­ly acces­si­ble at What a trove! I got into the Gen­er­al Orders, issued as Wash­ing­ton was putting togeth­er the first Amer­i­can army, and I couldn’t pull myself out. The Orders are sur­pris­ing­ly read­able, loaded with detail and even, if you read close­ly, feel­ing, includ­ing the Commander’s despair over the unruli­ness of his fledg­ling out­fit. “Fill up old nec­es­saries” (out­door toi­lets)… exe­cute prop­er­ly the reveille upon the drum… no fir­ing of guns to start a fire for cook­ing….”

Won­der­ful, pre­cise, con­cise lan­guage. Washington’s words prompt­ed me to con­sid­er how I might take a dif­fer­ent tack. I have long been attract­ed to alter­na­tive meth­ods of telling a true sto­ry: graph­ic nov­els like Perse­po­lis, verse nov­els like Allan Wolf’s The Watch that Ends the Night, about the Titan­ic, and the musi­cal Hamil­ton. Impressed as I am by Wolf (the ice­berg is a char­ac­ter! Bril­liant!), I want­ed to stay clos­er to the truth.

Persepolis, The Watch That Ends the Night, Hamilton

Then I hap­pened upon a review of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary-war book for adults which used the phrase “cacoph­o­ny of voic­es.” An “ah-ha” moment. I would give an account of the siege from many points of view: major fig­ures such as Wash­ing­ton, his wife, Martha, and the book­seller-turned-artillery­man Hen­ry Knox, but also less­er knowns: The Commander’s favorite aide-de-camp Joseph Reed, his ser­vant-slave, William, a pri­vate; a lieu­tenant… while draw­ing on as many pri­ma­ry sources as I could. Rich mate­r­i­al, irre­sistible. Con­sid­er Reed’s plain­tive, telling com­ment in a let­ter to his wife: “Events here are very uncer­tain; don’t think of me too much or too lit­tle!”

Poet­ry brought imme­di­a­cy, and the inten­si­ty of wartime. Verse’s loose­ness allowed me choic­es over char­ac­ters and events. I didn’t have to find every pri­vate, just one who suit­ed my lit­er­ary pur­pose, like Samuel, whose diary told me of the mun­dan­i­ty of war as he penned, day after day, “noth­ing much hap­pened.” I wouldn’t need to cov­er every skir­mish, and there were a great many, just the whop­per on Ploughed Hill where they tried to stop a can­non­ball with their feet. I could do the unex­pect­ed, like use an alpha­bet poem to con­vey how much stuff the British Army left behind when it fled.

Orgill OrganizationVerse freed me to write my sto­ry.

But I was not entire­ly free; I was restrict­ed by the rules of non­fic­tion. It’s impor­tant for read­ers to know if a book is true, so I was care­ful to note the sources of every poem. I used quotes where pos­si­ble and where they didn’t dis­rupt the poet­ry. Every event, set­ting, num­ber, and char­ac­ter in Siege is real — except one. In a book for chil­dren about adults, I want­ed to include a child. Although I locat­ed sev­er­al accounts of boys who served in the war, none of the them was active in this peri­od. I took a leap across the non­fic­tion divide and cre­at­ed a boy ser­vant who was a com­pos­ite of sev­er­al real boys.

Per­haps that’s why my pub­lish­er chose to call the book a nov­el, I don’t know. To me it’s well-researched non­fic­tion in verse. For­tu­nate­ly for writ­ers and read­ers there is a place called children’s books in which writ­ing and pub­lish­ing such a thing — by what­ev­er name — is pos­si­ble.



Libraries and Librarians

We’re post­ing this when it’s Nation­al Library Week, but we believe every week should be Library Week. If you love pub­lic, school, and spe­cial libraries as much as we do, add these books to your read­ing list and share them with your favorite read­ers.

As always, if you have a book you believe should be on this list, let us know in the com­ments or send us an e‑mail. We’ll most like­ly add it, with a thanks to you.

Bats in the Library  

Bats in the Library
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Lies
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2008

Join the free-for-all fun at the pub­lic library with these book-lov­ing bats! Shape shad­ows on walls, frol­ic in the water foun­tain, and roam the book-filled halls until it’s time for every­one, young and old, to set­tle down into the enchant­ment of sto­ry time. Bri­an Lies’ joy­ful crit­ters and their noc­tur­nal cel­e­bra­tion cast library vis­its in a new light.


Book Scavenger  

Book Scav­enger
writ­ten by Jen­nifer Cham­b­liss Bert­man
Hen­ry Holt, 2015

The first of a three-book series joins Emi­ly and James as they try to crack Gar­ri­son Griswold’s online game to find books hid­den in cities all over the coun­try. They work hard to solve puz­zles and sort our clues. Gris­wold has been attacked and lies in a coma in the hos­pi­tal. Will they com­plete the game before and find the secret before Griswold’s assailant comes after them?


Dewey the Library Cat  

Dewey the Library Cat: a True Sto­ry
writ­ten by Vic­ki Myron and Bret Wit­ter
Lit­tle, Brown, 2011

When a cat is aban­doned in a library book drop in the mid­dle of win­ter, he is adopt­ed by Spencer, Iowa’s pub­lic library, quick­ly becom­ing a favorite with library patrons. Dewey Read­more Books, a real cat and a true sto­ry, is the cat­a­lyst for a love­ly sto­ry about hope and friend­ship.


Down Cut Shin Creek  

Down Cut Shin Creek:
The Pack Horse Librar­i­ans of Ken­tucky

writ­ten by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Can­nel­la Schmitzer
Harper­Collins, 2001

From 1935 to 1943, the WPA paid women to ride into the Appalachi­an hills of Ken­tucky to deliv­er books, mag­a­zines, pam­phlets, and oth­er read­ing mate­ri­als to peo­ple who lived in hard-to-reach loca­tions. The Pack Horse Library Project was inno­v­a­tive in help­ing to raise peo­ple up dur­ing the Great Depres­sion. The pho­tos in this book are evoca­tive of the era. Very inspir­ing.



writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Yuyi Morales
Neal Porter Books, 2018
(con­tributed by Dr. Hei­di Ham­mond)

Shar­ing her own sto­ry about immi­grat­ing to this coun­try from Mex­i­co with her young son, we learn that they did not have an easy time of it. By vis­it­ing the pub­lic library, they learned the lan­guage of their new home. It is a book about becom­ing a cre­ative artist despite heart-break­ing chal­lenges. It is a beau­ti­ful book, illus­trat­ed with Ms. Morales’ charis­mat­ic vision. “We are two languages./ We are lucha./ We are resilience./ We are hope.”


Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library  

Escape from Mr. Lemon­cel­lo’s Library
writ­ten by Chris Graben­stein
Ran­dom House, 2013

Kyle Kee­ley, who would rather play board games and video games than do any­thing else, is invit­ed to a sleep­over at his hometown’s brand new library, cre­at­ed by Lui­gi Lemon­cel­lo, the game inven­tor Kyle admires most. There are games galore and lots of fun but when morn­ing rolls around, the doors mys­te­ri­ous­ly stay locked. Kyle and the oth­er game-play­ers have to solve the games and puz­zles or they won’t get out. Lots of fun.

The Haunted Library


The Haunt­ed Library
writ­ten by Dori Hillestad But­ler, illus­trat­ed by Aurore Damant
Gros­set & Dun­lap, 2014 (a series)

There’s a ghost haunt­ing the library. Kaz is a boy ghost who is forced to move when the build­ing he and his fam­i­ly haunt is torn down. He meets a real girl, Claire, who can see ghosts. She lives above the library. Will the two of them be able to solve the mys­tery to fig­ure out who the library’s ghost is and what they’re doing there?

The Imaginary  

The Imag­i­nary
by A.F. Har­rold
illus­trat­ed by Emi­ly Gravett
Blooms­bury, 2015

Aman­da Shuf­fle­up has an imag­i­nary friend, Rudger. Nobody else can see Rudger … until the evil Mr. Bunting knocks on the door. He wants to eat Rudger because that’s how he con­tin­ues to live. Aman­da dis­ap­pears and Rudger is alone. He must find her and he has to escape from Bunting. Soon, he finds him­self in a library filled with imag­in­ery friends who are try­ing not to fade out of exis­tence … or be eat­en. It’s a delight­ful­ly spooky and off­beat mid­dle grade nov­el.


Librarian of Basra  

Librar­i­an of Bas­ra: A True Sto­ry from Iraq
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jean­nette Win­ter
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2005
(con­tributed by Ani­ta Dualeh)

Alia Muham­mad Bak­er is a librar­i­an in Bas­ra, Iraq. For many years, her library has been a meet­ing place for those who love books. Until war comes to Bas­ra. Alia fears that the library, along with thir­ty thou­sand books in its col­lec­tion, will be destroyed for­ev­er.

In a war-strick­en coun­try where civil­ians, espe­cial­ly women, have lit­tle pow­er, this true sto­ry about a librar­i­an’s strug­gle to save her com­mu­ni­ty’s price­less col­lec­tion of books reminds us all how, through­out the world, the love of lit­er­a­ture and the respect for knowl­edge know no bound­aries


Libraries of Minnesota  

Libraries of Min­neso­ta
text by Will Weaver, Pete Haut­man, Nan­cy Carl­son, Mar­sha Wil­son Chall, David LaRochelle, and Kao Kalia Yang
pho­tog­ra­phy by Doug Ohman
Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press, 2011

Does your state have a book hon­or­ing its many libraries? If it doesn’t, you’re miss­ing a treat. This book shares the sto­ries of a num­ber of children’s and YA book authors who fond­ly remem­ber their expe­ri­ences at the library, accom­pa­nied by a mas­ter­ful photographer’s images from those and many oth­er libraries.


The Library  

The Library
by Sarah Stew­art
illus­trat­ed by David Small
Far­rar, Staus, Giroux, 1995
(con­tributed by Beth Raff)

Eliz­a­beth Brown loves to read more than she likes to do any­thing else. She col­lects books and soon they are mak­ing it hard to open the door to her house. So many books! What to do? Why, start a lend­ing library of course! A charm­ing book with beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tions.


Library Lil  

Library Lil
by Susanne Williams
illus­trat­ed by Steven Kel­logg
Pen­guin, 2001

From the day she was born, Lil had a book in her hand…so it’s no sur­prise when she grows up to become a librar­i­an her­self. She even man­ages to turn the peo­ple of Chester­ville — who are couch pota­toes — into read­ers. But then Bust-’em-up Bill roars into town with his motor­cy­cle gang. Just men­tion read­ing to him and you’re toast. Has Lil final­ly met her match? This orig­i­nal tall tale by a real-life librar­i­an, com­bined with Steven Kel­log­g’s trade­mark humor, is great fun.


Library Lion  

Library Lion 
by Michelle Knud­sen
illus­trat­ed by Kevin Hawkes
Can­dlewick Press, 2006

Miss Mer­ri­weath­er, the head librar­i­an, is very par­tic­u­lar about rules in the library. No run­ning allowed. And you must be qui­et. But when a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library. This is an endear­ing book and a good read-aloud.


Lola at the Library


Lola at the Library
writ­ten by Anna McQuinn
illus­trat­ed by Ros­alind Beard­shaw
Charles­bridge, 2006

A good sto­ry for intro­duc­ing young read­ers to the library. She and her mom­my go to the library every Tues­day, where Lola has dis­cov­ered friends. They share books, lis­ten to the librar­i­an tell them sto­ries, and engage in play. They don’t even have to be qui­et! No won­der Lola loves the library.

Lost in the Library: a Story of Patience and Fortitude


Lost in the Library: A Sto­ry of Patience and For­ti­tude
writ­ten by Josh Funk
illus­trat­ed by Ste­vie Lewis
Hen­ry Holt, 2018

Did you know that the lions in front of the New York Pub­lic Library are named Patience and For­ti­tude? Well, now you know. When Patience goes miss­ing, For­ti­tude does his best to find her. Where should he look? He begins at the Library …

The Man Who Loved Libraries


The Man Who Loved Libraries:
The Sto­ry of Andrew Carnegie

writ­ten by Andrew Larsen
illus­trat­ed by Kat­ty Mau­rey
OwlKids, 2017
(con­tributed by Beth Raff)

Andrew Carnegie arrived in Amer­i­ca in the 1840s, hav­ing emi­grat­ed from Scot­land. His work­ing class fam­i­ly raised him to believe in hard work and deter­mi­na­tion. He worked hard and invest­ed in telegraphs and rail­roads, even­tu­al­ly becom­ing the rich­est man in the world. He believed in phil­an­thropy, donat­ing more than 2,000 libraries around the world. He changed the land­scape of pub­lic libraries and how peo­ple think about books and read­ing.

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise


Miss Moore Thought Oth­er­wise: How Anne Car­roll Moore Cre­at­ed Libraries for Chil­dren
writ­ten by Jan Pin­bor­ough
illus­trat­ed by Deb­by Atwell
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2013

There was a time when Amer­i­can chil­dren couldn’t bor­row library books. Many thought it was­n’t impor­tant for chil­dren to read. Luck­i­ly Miss Anne Car­roll Moore thought oth­er­wise! This is the true sto­ry of how Miss Moore cre­at­ed the first children’s room at the New York Pub­lic Library, a bright, warm room filled with art­work, win­dow seats, and most impor­tant of all, bor­row­ing priv­i­leges for the world’s best children’s books in many dif­fer­ent lan­guages.

No. T.Rex in the Library


No T.Rex in the Library
writ­ten by Toni Buzzeo
illus­trat­ed by Sachiko Yoshikawa
Mar­garet K. McElder­ry Books, 2010

It’s a qui­et morn­ing in the library until a lit­tle girl roars out of con­trol! Tess resigns her­self to a time-out, but finds that she must be the one who has to main­tain order when T.Rex leaps from the pages of a book into real life. Will the library ever be the same?

Pete the Cat Checks Out the Library


Pete the Cat Checks Out the Library
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by James Dean
Harper­Collins, 2018

When Pete the Cat vis­its the library for the first time, he takes a tour and reads some of the cool sto­ries. With­out even leav­ing the library, Pete goes on groovy adven­tures. All Pete needs is a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion — and of course, his library card!

Planting Stories


Plant­i­ng Sto­ries:
The Life of Librar­i­an and Sto­ry­teller Pura Bel­pré

writ­ten by Ani­ka Aldamuy Denise
illus­trat­ed by Pao­la Esco­bar
Harper­Collins, 2019

When she came to Amer­i­ca in 1921, Pura Bel­pré car­ried the cuen­tos folk­lóri­cos of her Puer­to Rican home­land. Find­ing a new home at the New York Pub­lic Library as a bilin­gual assis­tant, she turned her pop­u­lar retellings into libros and spread sto­ry seeds across the land. Today, these seeds have grown into a lush land­scape as gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren and sto­ry­tellers con­tin­ue to share her tales and cel­e­brate Pura’s lega­cy.

Properly Unhaunted Place


Prop­er­ly Unhaunt­ed Place
writ­ten by William Alexan­der
Mar­garet K. McElder­ry Books, 2017

Ingot is the only ghost-free town in the world. When Rosa moves to Ingot with her moth­er, she can’t fig­ure out why they’re there. Rosa’s moth­er is a ghost-appease­ment librar­i­an. Her job is to keep ghosts out of the library, but there are none. Or is that true? Rosa joins forces with Jasper, long-time Ingot res­i­dent, to solve the mys­tery and keep the angry spir­its from attack­ing the town and the library. It’s a fast-paced and humor­ous tale. A page-turn­er for mid­dle grade read­ers.

A sec­ond book, A Fes­ti­val of Ghosts, con­tin­ues the sto­ry.

Ron's Big Mission


Ron’s Big Mis­sion
writ­ten by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden
illus­trat­ed by Don Tate
Dut­ton, 2009
(con­tributed by Dr. Hei­di Ham­mond)

Nine-year-old Ron loves going to the Lake City Pub­lic Library to look through all the books on air­planes and flight. Today, Ron is ready to take out books by him­self. But in the seg­re­gat­ed world of South Car­oli­na in the 1950s, Ron’s obtain­ing his own library card is not just a small rite of pas­sage — it is a young man’s first coura­geous mis­sion. Here is an inspir­ing sto­ry, based on Ron McNair’s life, of how a lit­tle boy, future sci­en­tist, and Chal­lenger astro­naut deseg­re­gat­ed his library through peace­ful resis­tance.



Schom­burg: The Man Who Built a Library
writ­ten by Car­ole Boston Weath­er­ford
illus­trat­ed by Eric Velasquez
Can­dlewick Press, 2017

Amid the schol­ars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renais­sance stood an Afro – Puer­to Rican named Arturo Schom­burg. This law clerk’s life’s pas­sion was to col­lect books, let­ters, music, and art from Africa and the African dias­po­ra and bring to light the achieve­ments of peo­ple of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s col­lec­tion became so big it began to over­flow his house, he turned to the New York Pub­lic Library, where he cre­at­ed and curat­ed a col­lec­tion that was the cor­ner­stone of a new Negro Divi­sion. A cen­tu­ry lat­er, his ground­break­ing col­lec­tion, known as the Schom­burg Cen­ter for Research in Black Cul­ture, has become a bea­con to schol­ars all over the world.

That Book Woman


That Book Woman
writ­ten by Heather Hen­son
illus­trat­ed by David Small
Atheneum, 2008
(con­tributed by Ani­ta Dualeh)

Cal does­n’t like to read so he has a hard time under­stand­ing why that book woman rides up to his house over some of the tough­est ter­rain in Appalachia just to bring his sis­ter more to read. He admires the per­sis­tence of this Pack Horse Librar­i­an, though, and read­ers of this book will be awed by how this WPA lit­er­a­cy projects turned so many peo­ple into life­long read­ers.

Tomas and the Library Lady


Tomás and the Library Lady
writ­ten by Pat Mora
illus­trat­ed by Raul Colón
Knopf, 19972

Based on the true sto­ry of the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can author and edu­ca­tor Tomás Rivera, a child of migrant work­ers who went on to become the first minor­i­ty Chan­cel­lor in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia sys­tem, this inspi­ra­tional sto­ry sug­gests what libraries — and edu­ca­tion — can make pos­si­ble.

When the Library Lights Go Out


When the Library Lights Go Out
writ­ten by Megan McDon­ald
illus­trat­ed by Kater­ine Tillot­son
Atheneum, 20015

When the library clos­es at night, have you imag­ined what goes on inside? Three sto­ry-hour pup­pets believe the “closed” sign means “open for adven­ture.” At first there are only Rab­bit and Lion. Her­mit Crab is miss­ing. Where can she be in the library dark­ness? Find out for your­self when — mag­i­cal­ly — only pup­pets are mov­ing about in the library.

Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?


Who Stole the Wiz­ard of Oz?
writ­ten by Avi
Knopf, 1981

When a rare edi­tion of The Wiz­ard of Oz is miss­ing from the local library, Becky is accused of steal­ing it. She and her twin broth­er Toby set out to catch the real thief and prove her inno­cence. Clues clev­er­ly hid­den in four oth­er books lead to a hid­den trea­sure — and a grip­ping adven­ture. A good read-aloud for ear­ly grades.


On the Way to East Dene

Come Hither by Walter de la MareOne day dur­ing this drea­ry Vir­ginia win­ter, I came across a talk by Susan Coop­er, giv­en at Sim­mons Col­lege in 1980. The talk was titled, “Nahum Tarune’s Book.” To explain the title, she begins by quot­ing an aston­ish­ing pas­sage from the intro­duc­tion of Come Hith­er by Wal­ter de la Mare, an anthol­o­gy of poet­ry first pub­lished in 1923:

In my rov­ings and ram­blings as a boy I had often skirt­ed the old stone house in the hol­low. But my first clear remem­brance of it is of a hot summer’s day. I had climbed to the crest of a hill and stood look­ing down on its grey walls and chim­neys as if out of a dream. And as if out of a dream already famil­iar to me.

My real inten­tion in set­ting out from home that morn­ing had been to get to a place called East Dene. My moth­er had often spo­ken to me of East Dene — of its trees and waters and green pas­tures, and the rare birds and flow­ers to be found there. Ages ago, she told me an ances­tor of our fam­i­ly had dwelt in this place.

Susan Coop­er came to Come Hith­er when she was four­teen. She kept a copy of “this won­der for thir­ty years and must have turned to it at least as many times each year. It is my tal­is­man, my haunt­ing: a dis­til­la­tion of all the books to which I’ve respond­ed most deeply …”

I own a few de la Mare poet­ry col­lec­tions—Songs of Child­hood (1902) and Pea­cock Pie (1913). His work is mys­te­ri­ous and ethe­re­al, earn­ing him the man­tle “poet of dusk.” Coop­er hoped to cap­ture de la Mare’s mag­ic in her own work. (Her nov­el The Dark Is Ris­ing won a New­bery Hon­or, and The Grey King was a New­bery Medal­ist — I’d say she’s done fair­ly well in the mag­ic depart­ment.)

How fast did I order Come Hith­er? And when it came, this 800-page brick of a book, I leafed straight to the intro­duc­tion, sink­ing deeply into the dreamy prose. Simon, the “rov­ings and ram­blings” boy, describes the old stone house:

It was nev­er the same for two hours togeth­er. I have seen it gath­ered close up in its hol­low in the livid and cop­pery gloom of a storm; crouched like a hare in win­ter under a mask of snow; dark and silent beneath the chang­ing sparkle of the stars; and like a palace out of an Ara­bi­an tale in the milky radi­ance of the moon. Thrae was the name inscribed on its gate­way.

Simon meets the old lady of the house, Miss Taroone, who tells him of Sure Vine, which Simon believed was an ances­tral man­sion. The maid men­tioned vil­lages called Ten Laps, and how he might get to East Dene: through the quar­ry, by the pits, “and then you come to a Wall. And you climb over.” Then Simon hears of the boy Nahum Tarune. Explor­ing Nahum’s room in the stone tow­er, Simon is amazed by the fos­sils, rocks, nests, clocks, mod­el ships, strange musi­cal instru­ments, and a human skele­ton. Book­cas­es cov­er the walls.

He digs out an old vol­ume with Nahum’s hand-print­ed title: Theother­worlde. Inside, Nahum had copied poems — Shake­speare, Chaucer, Blake, Poe. Simon is not impressed. “‘Poet­ry!’ I would scoff to myself, and would shut up the cov­ers of any such book with a kind of yawn inside me.” But then he begins to read.

I remem­ber see­ing Come Hith­er in my small ele­men­tary school library, the same edi­tion I have now, print­ed in 1957 with dec­o­ra­tions by War­ren Chap­pell. Hun­gry for sto­ries back then, I had no inter­est in poems. In high school, I grew slow­ly into poet­ry, falling hard for Frost, Sand­burg, and, espe­cial­ly Edgar Lee Mas­ters’ Spoon Riv­er Anthol­o­gy.

Soon Simon does what Nahum Tarune did so many years ago — he copies the poems he likes best. He vis­its Thrae many times, often stay­ing late. Once Miss Taroone warns him to leave: “There’s a heavy dew tonight, and the owls are busy.” Then comes the inevitable day when Simon must go to school and leave Thrae for good. But he keeps his book of poet­ry.

Susan Coop­er points out the ran­dom notes that Simon scat­ters between the poems like coins. Ben Jonson’s “The Witch­es’ Song” spurred four dense pages of notes on the folk­lore and old names of plants. The next time I pick cat mint, I’ll think “Robin-run-in-the-hedge” instead. The intro­duc­tion acts as a frame sto­ry — Simon copy­ing the poems Nahum copied which ulti­mate­ly became the book Come Hith­er. Like poet­ry, the frame sto­ry can be read on many lev­els, the mean­ing nev­er the same twice.

Simon doesn’t see Nahum because, as Coop­er clar­i­fies, “he is all of us.” Nahum Tarune is an ana­gram of human nature. Thrae is earth, Ten Laps are the plan­ets, Sure Vine is the uni­verse. Miss Taroone is prob­a­bly Moth­er Nature. And East Dene? Des­tiny.

I could see why Coop­er dipped into Come Hith­er “some­times for solace, some­times for sun­shine.” This great col­lec­tion of words that Simon learns to read “very slow­ly, so as ful­ly and qui­et­ly to fill up the time allowed for each line and to lis­ten to its music,” to see even com­mon and famil­iar things dif­fer­ent­ly from the actu­al object. That is the pow­er of poet­ry. On our way to East Dene, poet­ry helps us climb over the Wall.

April is Nation­al Poet­ry Month. Teach­ers every­where will be intro­duc­ing chil­dren to the works of Valerie Worth, David McCord, Shel Sil­ver­stein, Jack Pre­lut­sky, Nik­ki Grimes, and many oth­ers. I’ll be read­ing Spoon Riv­er Anthol­o­gy for the first time since high school, while wait­ing for a spring night when the dew is heavy, and the owls are busy.



Recent­ly, I’ve been think­ing back on a time when my focus was riv­et­ed on help­ing to care for a fam­i­ly mem­ber who was deal­ing with seri­ous med­ical issues. It’s been stress­ful to have this large “life moment” dis­rupt my nor­mal rou­tine, but it also brings with it a cer­tain kind of clar­i­ty. It’s kind of like dri­ving at night on a coun­try road, when the only thing you see clear­ly is what is illu­mi­nat­ed by your head­light beams; you’re aware of the shad­owy shapes of oth­er objects flash­ing by along the road­side, but the illu­mi­nat­ed area in front of you is what gets your pri­ma­ry atten­tion.

Focus can be a handHeadlightsy plat­form for a writ­ing exer­cise for young authors, too. I love col­lect­ing small, unusu­al objects, often from the nat­ur­al world — inter­est­ing stones, seashells, a strange­ly life­like stick — and I keep a bas­ket of them on hand. For the pur­pos­es of this exer­cise, it’s best to choose objects that can stand up to han­dling. I place them in a grab bag and cir­cu­late through the room, allow­ing each stu­dent to choose one “sur­prise” object from the bag by touch alone.

Then I ask them to exam­ine their object in minute detail. What does it feel like? Look like? Smell like? Can they hear the ocean whis­per­ing from inside the secret curves of their seashell? Does the life­like stick “speak” to them? (Some of them, of course, can’t resist actu­al­ly tast­ing their object, although I nev­er explic­it­ly encour­age this.)

Using the sen­so­ry data they’ve col­lect­ed, I then ask them to write a poem about their object. They can give the item a human voice and per­son­al­i­ty, or sim­ply address it as an intrigu­ing object; the goal is to stay intense­ly focused on that one thing until the poem that it has hid­den inside begins to emerge.

The voic­es of even small things can speak loud­ly when, for what­ev­er rea­son, they have become the cen­ter of our uni­verse.


The Lost Forest

The Lost ForestHow many books can you name that are about sur­vey­ing … and a mys­tery? I know. Right? And yet we see sur­vey­ors every day in fields, on busy street cor­ners, and in our neigh­bor­hoods. What are they doing? Would it sur­prise you to know that near­ly every acre of your state has been sur­veyed? That knowl­edge about those acres is record­ed on plat books and maps that peo­ple in gov­ern­ment and com­merce con­sult all the time?

What if 40 acres of old-growth trees (actu­al­ly 114 acres) were some­how record­ed incor­rect­ly by sur­vey­ors in 1882? What if those trees were left to grow, undis­turbed, because they appeared on maps as a lake? Then you would have The Lost Forty, which inspired The Lost For­est, by Phyl­lis Root, illus­trat­ed by Bet­sy Bowen (Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press).

So inter­est­ing to learn how those sur­vey­ors worked, the instru­ments they used, the cloth­ing they wore to fend off the snow, sun, and insects. Then the author invites us to think about the chal­lenges of sur­vey­ing:

If you have ever walked through the woods
you know the land does­n’t care
about straight lines.

This book’s for­mat is tall, just like those old-growth pines, and it con­tains all kinds of infor­ma­tion that will fit beau­ti­ful­ly into your STEM cur­ricu­lum.

The writ­ing is engag­ing, telling a true sto­ry and invit­ing us to use all of our sens­es to explore the sto­ry. Bet­sy Bowen’s illus­tra­tions cause us to linger, exam­in­ing each page care­ful­ly.

from The Lost Forty, text copy­right Phyl­lis Root, illus­tra­tions copy­right Bet­sy Bowen,
used here with the per­mis­sion of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press

In the back mat­ter, there’s a list of 15 trees, flow­ers, and birds that may live in old-growth forests. You and your fam­i­ly can trav­el to The Lost Forty Sci­en­tif­ic and Nat­ur­al Area in the Chippe­wa Nation­al For­est to con­duct your own expe­di­tion, using the book to iden­ti­fy these species.

In addi­tion, the book offers notes about how land is mea­sured (fas­ci­nat­ing … and some­thing you could do as a field trip), How to Talk Like a Sur­vey­or (“mean­der line”?), and How to Dress Like a Sur­vey­or (prac­ti­cal). Do not miss Bet­sy Bowen’s illus­tra­tions of Phyl­lis and Bet­sy on the last page!

Two admirable pic­ture book cre­ators, Phyl­lis Root and Bet­sy Bowen, have teamed up once again to bring us a fas­ci­nat­ing and beau­ti­ful book about those incor­rect­ly sur­veyed acres of trees. Bookol­o­gy asked them how this book, shar­ing an unusu­al his­to­ry, came to be.

Phyllis RootPhyl­lis Root, author:

I was work­ing on a count­ing book, One North Star, for the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press about habi­tats in our state and the plants and ani­mals that live in those habi­tats. That led me to Minnesota’s Sci­en­tif­ic and Nat­ur­al Areas (SNAs), and on a trip north to vis­it the Big Bog I made a detour to see the Lost Forty SNA and was enchant­ed. The trees, some four hun­dred years old, tow­er so tall that it’s hard to see the tops, and the trunks of some are so big it takes three peo­ple to wrap their arms around. Since then I’ve gone back at least once each year, not only to see these amaz­ing trees but also to look for the wild­flow­ers that grow around them — bunch­ber­ry, moc­casin flow­ers, rose twist­ed-stalk, spot­ted coral­root, wild sar­sa­par­il­la, Hooker’s orchid, gold thread. Hik­ing in the Lost Forty real­ly is a trip back in time to before Min­neso­ta was logged over.

The Lost Forty

In the course of writ­ing One North Star, I also wrote a book about the bog (Big Belch­ing Bog) and one about the prairie (Plant a Pock­et of Prairie). I want­ed to write a com­pan­ion book about Minnesota’s forests but strug­gled to find a way in that would be both engag­ing and also spe­cif­ic. Because the Lost Forty is one of the few remain­ing stands of old growth pines in Min­neso­ta, and because the sto­ry of how it got lost was fas­ci­nat­ing, I began to write about it.

Most­ly I con­cen­trat­ed on the plants and ani­mals, with a nod to how the for­est got lost. I remem­bered a sign at the entrance to the Lost Forty that talked about a sur­vey­ing error. But my mem­o­ry mis-remem­bered, and I wrote sev­er­al drafts before real­iz­ing that the error was made not by tim­ber cruis­ers, the peo­ple employed by lum­ber com­pa­nies to esti­mate the amount of usable lum­ber in a cer­tain area, but by land sur­vey­ors. This led me to research the fas­ci­nat­ing world of the cas­das­tral sur­vey that mea­sured off most of the land in the Unit­ed States, step by step, acre by acre, sec­tion by sec­tion. The Bureau of Land Man­age­ment has dig­i­tal records that include the map and jour­nal of the crew who sur­veyed what is now the Lost Forty. For some rea­son (there are sev­er­al the­o­ries as to how it hap­pened) they mis-sur­veyed part of the for­est as a lake. Spec­u­la­tors and tim­ber com­pa­nies who stud­ied maps weren’t inter­est­ed in buy­ing lakes, just for­est, and so the site was over­looked for 76 years. I couldn’t track down the exact per­son who “found” the Lost Forty, but I did find a let­ter dat­ed 1958 that request­ed a re-sur­vey which dis­cov­ered those vir­gin white pines.

Per­haps one of the biggest real­iza­tions for me work­ing on this sto­ry was under­stand­ing that how we mea­sure land reflects how we treat the land: as a com­mod­i­ty to be bought and sold, often with no attempt to under­stand the organ­ic nature of the land itself. It made me so hap­py when one review not­ed that the book’s “implic­it mes­sage that the nat­ur­al world is some­thing more than a mea­sur­able com­mod­i­ty.”

I have always loved maps (although I am also fre­quent­ly lost). Just pour­ing over the names of places fas­ci­nates me, as does know­ing that maps are only an approx­i­ma­tion of real­i­ty, and that some­times maps delib­er­ate­ly lie. You can find the Lost Forty on maps now, no longer lost but pro­tect­ed for any­one to vis­it who wants to take a trip back in time. And it makes me think about what oth­er won­ders might not be on maps but still wait­ing to be found. v

Betsy BowenBet­sy Bowen, illus­tra­tor:

When this man­u­script came to me from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, I eager­ly took it on. I have lived on the edge of the north­ern Min­neso­ta for­est for over fifty years, and there are only a few places to see the real­ly big, old trees. I’d had the expe­ri­ence of canoe camp­ing in Cana­da and find­ing sec­tions of the for­est that felt like no one had ever seen it before, thick spongy moss, deep green light, and gigan­tic trees. There was a mag­i­cal sense to it. My grand­fa­ther P. S. Love­joy was a forester in the ear­ly 1900s and an ear­ly con­ser­va­tion­ist voice who made an effort to save some wild places for us all to expe­ri­ence. I loved vis­it­ing The Lost Forty and feel­ing like a lit­tle kid try­ing to put my arms around such a big tree!

I used acrylic paint on ges­soed paper, first paint­ing the whole page flat black, and then draw­ing with a chalky ter­ra-cot­ta-col­ored Con­té cray­on.  I had help from some present-day foresters to find the orig­i­nal old sur­vey notes that I could page through online, and pho­tos of the sur­vey crew in 1882. My father, a civ­il engi­neer, was also a sur­vey­or, still using the same equip­ment that Josi­ah used to sur­vey The Lost Forty. I remem­ber look­ing at the moon through his old brass tran­sit. My moth­er was a car­tog­ra­ph­er in the 1930s and ‘40s, and I gained my love of maps from her. 

I love the sense of dis­cov­ery in Phyllis’s writ­ing of this sto­ry. The book was great fun to work on. v

Our thanks to Phyl­lis Root and Bet­sy Bowen for shar­ing their cre­ative process with us, a process that result­ed in this impor­tant book. We hope you’ll trea­sure it as much as we do.


Waiting for My Editor, part 3

Page Break


Kids & Books…Books & Kids

Last week I was a teacher-pre­sen­ter at a young authors and artists con­fer­ence for a cou­ple of days. Tremen­dous fun — the kids who come to these things want to be there and want to learn. They’re read­ers, writ­ers, artists! They are an engaged, engaging, and exu­ber­ant lot, which I enjoy immense­ly.

I taught six ses­sions on bring­ing con­flict to your sto­ries — “Mak­ing It Even Worse” was the title of my ses­sion. Con­flict is dif­fi­cult for me to write, so I’ve had to fig­ure out ways to approach is from the side…. But oh, the imag­i­na­tions of kid­dos! They are mas­ter­ful at cre­at­ing what a writ­ing teacher of mine calls “incre­men­tal per­tur­ba­tions.”

At the begin­ning of each ses­sion I asked them to intro­duce them­selves with name and grade, and then tell me a favorite book of theirs and some­thing about why it’s a favorite. I love ask­ing kids those last two ques­tions — I feel like I learn some­thing about them very quick­ly. I also build my read­ing list. If they men­tion a book I’ve read, I try to say some­thing about why I like that book, too. If they men­tion a book I’ve not read, I write it down.

They think this is fas­ci­nat­ing — that I read the same books they do, and keep a list of books that they rec­om­mend. One boy said, “This is a book for kids, just so you know….” And I said, “I know — those are the best books!”

What I learned from two days with third and fourth graders is this: They real­ly like series books. They enjoy read­ing all the books in the series, or at least attempt­ing to. They enjoy what I con­sid­er pell-mell action books — cliff hang­ers at the end of every chap­ter, so many incre­men­tal per­tur­ba­tions your head spins, con­stant per­il etc. They also enjoy less rau­cous books, espe­cial­ly if ani­mals are involved — books like Charlotte’s Web, Mrs. Fris­by and the Rats of NIMH, Pablo and Birdy, Black Beau­ty. They think these are best read out loud — a teacher of par­ent read­ing to them. They can be sharply divid­ed as to whether they like a magical/fantasy ele­ment to their books, though Har­ry Pot­ter and the Per­cy Jack­son series seems to rise above any objec­tions to fan­ta­sy — they feel real, I’m told.

I love these kinds of book dis­cus­sions with kids — the exchange of titles, the pas­sion­ate opin­ions, the “…and if you like that, then you’d real­ly like ______!” It’s not only a great way to begin class, but also an easy way to put out there that books are things to be talked about.

As they left, many kids were feed­ing me more titles. “I bet you haven’t read this one…” they’d say. And they were so tick­led if I had, or if I ran to put it on my list.

Such an easy fun thing to do: Ask the kid­dos in your life what they’re read­ing….


Five Things I Learned
Writing My First Picture Book Biography

You would think that being friends with Tanya Lee Stone would mean I wrote lots of non­fic­tion. But the truth is, until I decid­ed to try and write a biog­ra­phy of Rube Gold­berg, I stayed far away from this genre. As a read­er, I loved it. As a friend, I learned so much read­ing Tanya’s work — not just about the facts — but about the foun­da­tions of sto­ry­telling. But I was hes­i­tant to dive in. Maybe it was the research she had to do. Maybe I lacked con­fi­dence. But when I began my chal­lenge to “write what I didn’t think I was good at,” (a chal­lenge made to decrease my own per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies and expec­ta­tions), I found myself enjoy­ing every aspect of this craft.

If you are also inter­est­ed in writ­ing some­thing true — as in non­fic­tion true — here are some things I learned writ­ing Just Like Rube Gold­berg, my first pic­ture book biog­ra­phy!

  1. You need to read care­ful­ly. This may seem obvi­ous, but as a fic­tion read­er, I was used to infer­ring from the text. When you are read­ing to dis­cov­er your true sto­ry, don’t skim! Don’t infer! Take care­ful notes. It’s not like read­ing a nov­el. It’s like going deep sea div­ing for some­thing pre­cious. As you read sources, you are look­ing for TRUTH. Don’t for­get to keep a list of your sources. And every fact needs to be con­firmed in mul­ti­ple places. When I think about it, it’s not that dif­fer­ent from cre­at­ing a char­ac­ter in a nov­el. I have to get to the heart of the per­son — the ele­ment that will con­nect that per­son to the read­er. But in this case, it has to be true!
  2. Just like in fic­tion, your theme or through-line will appear. The more you get to know your sub­ject, the clear­er THE WHY will become. If you have a hunch about a per­son, time, or place, fol­low that hunch! Keep read­ing! Look for the glim­mer that offers a foun­da­tion and struc­ture to tell the sto­ry.
  3. It’s fun. This was per­haps the biggest sur­prise! I actu­al­ly like research a lot. I loved going to the library. I loved talk­ing to peo­ple about Rube. I also find myself look­ing for sto­ries with new enthu­si­asm. True sto­ries are inspir­ing! They are some­times whack­i­er than fic­tion!
  4. Edi­tors and copy edi­tors are your best friends! (Well, I actu­al­ly knew that already, but I can’t leave them out of this post!) When you start find­ing your voice, you need your team to tell you when you have tak­en a lib­er­ty. For me, writ­ing this book almost became a Rube Gold­berg machine! But as my edi­tor pushed me, I also found new facts that made the sto­ry even stronger!
  5. Your voice is the glim­mer! Your voice is what will invite read­ers into your true sto­ry. Your point of view will offer your read­ers the truth in a way that engages them and makes them want to read and learn more!

Writ­ers, even though I am inter­est­ed in all kinds of top­ics, I stayed away from non­fic­tion for a real­ly long time. Well, not any­more! Per­haps the best ben­e­fit to try­ing non­fic­tion is that it gave me a new way to use my brain and play with cre­ativ­i­ty. It gave me more ener­gy for my nov­el. It sparked new inspi­ra­tion for oth­er pic­ture books that had been in the draw­er for a long time. Best of all, inspi­ra­tion comes in all sorts of ways. I am get­ting ready to sub­mit a sto­ry that came from research­ing anoth­er sto­ry! Remem­ber: writ­ing and all its parts, includ­ing dis­cov­ery, is a prac­tice! Writ­ing non­fic­tion has giv­en me more sta­mi­na for all my sto­ries!


Teaching Is an Art

I recent­ly received a mes­sage from my friend, Amir:

Mau­r­na, I want­ed to get your feed­back on this arti­cle. I taught Eng­lish for 8+ years and my final M.Ed. project was on read­ing, so this is a pas­sion of mine. When I used to pre­pare NYC pub­lic school teach­ers for their licens­ing exams, they would like­ly do bet­ter on the read­ing pas­sages if they had more back­ground knowl­edge, even though that knowl­edge was not need­ed. I won­der if we are being unre­al­is­tic in our teach­ing of read­ing?”

The arti­cle, “Why We’re Teach­ing Read­ing Com­pre­hen­sion in a Way That Doesn’t Work” was writ­ten by Natal­ie Wexler and pub­lished by Forbes mag­a­zine a few months ago. The title and Amir’s won­der­ing about whether we teach­ers are out of touch or imprac­ti­cal struck a nerve and launched weeks of fur­ther read­ing, reflect­ing, writ­ing, rewrit­ing, and rest­less nights. I felt my ini­tial response was too defen­sive and I was deter­mined to find a lev­el-head­ed way to share my take on the arti­cle. I gained empa­thy for my stu­dents who strug­gle dai­ly with writ­ing — it has always come eas­i­ly for me but not this time. I felt like the kid who gets so frus­trat­ed with their writ­ing that they scrunch their paper into a wadded-up ball then chuck it into the garbage can only to retrieve it, smooth it out to read it over, and try to fix it one more time. I reached out to my lit­er­a­cy-guru teacher friends and asked for their hon­est feed­back on my writ­ing. And final­ly, I decid­ed to try start­ing over in an effort to find my voice and say what real­ly needs to be said.

The arti­cle by Wexler, like much of her writ­ing over the years, sounds the alarm for all the things woe­ful­ly wrong with today’s edu­ca­tion sys­tem. Her laun­dry list of com­plaints includes dan­ger­ous­ly inad­e­quate teacher edu­ca­tion pro­grams, teach­ers and pro­fes­sors who ignore the need to under­stand and teach phon­ics, teach­ers who present les­son after les­son on com­pre­hen­sion strate­gies instead of build­ing back­ground knowl­edge, teach­ers who focus on inde­pen­dent read­ing lev­els instead of push­ing text that is much more sophis­ti­cat­ed and advanced, teach­ers wast­ing time on things not endorsed by the Nation­al Read­ing Pan­el, and, final­ly, teach­ers who chal­lenge or flat out refuse to con­sid­er sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-backed research on how read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy is acquired and should be taught. It is quite the list.

At first, I thought the best approach was to pick apart Wexler’s writ­ing, first by sum­ma­riz­ing it and then offer­ing my stance on whether I agreed or dis­agreed with her asser­tions. In order to accom­plish that, I exam­ined just about every link or ref­er­ence in her arti­cle (more than two dozen). This is where I encoun­tered the most dif­fi­cul­ty in my ear­li­er attempts to com­pose an answer for my friend Amir.

There was just so much that didn’t sit right with me. Wexler, along with her col­league Emi­ly Han­ford, and many oth­er “edu­ca­tion writ­ers” refer to The Nation­al Read­ing Panel’s report from 2001 to strength­en their case for empha­siz­ing the “sci­ence” of teach­ing read­ing. Yet an arti­cle writ­ten by Joann Yatvin, a mem­ber of the NRP, decries the report for being huge­ly mis­in­ter­pret­ed and mis­used. Yatvin might hold the “minor­i­ty view” of the NRP, but her exposé of the panel’s report as “nar­row, biased, and elit­ist” can­not and should not be ignored.

When con­sid­er­ing Ms. Wexler’s arti­cle title about why we’re teach­ing read­ing in a way that doesn’t work, I con­sid­ered shar­ing a snap­shot of what she or any­one vis­it­ing my class­room might find hap­pen­ing in Room 212 when it comes to lit­er­a­cy learn­ing:

  • Kids writ­ing let­ters to authors of books they’ve fall­en in love with.
  • Kids doing research and writ­ing about a wide range of self-select­ed top­ics such as home­less­ness, African Amer­i­can mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gist Ernest Everett Just, and ancient civ­i­liza­tions (to name just a few).
  • Kids with voice and choice beg­ging for more time to read inde­pen­dent­ly.
  • Kids ask­ing to stay in from recess, so they can do more writ­ing.
  • Kids per­form­ing lit­tle plays for younger stu­dents.
  • Kids doing art.
  • Kids engaged in joy­ful learn­ing.
  • Kids learn­ing how to be cre­ative prob­lem solvers, open-mind­ed risk tak­ers, and kind, com­pas­sion­ate peo­ple.

I would love to ask Ms. Wexler to explain what it is exact­ly that isn’t work­ing in our vibrant learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty?!

teaching writing

What about Amir’s ques­tion: are we being unre­al­is­tic in our teach­ing of read­ing? My answer would have to be, “Yes.” In my opin­ion, edu­ca­tion writ­ers like Wexler and Han­ford, leg­is­la­tors all across the coun­try, and even school admin­is­tra­tors are being unre­al­is­tic when they sug­gest that the best or only answer to improved read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy (aka bet­ter read­ing test scores) is a script­ed, pack­aged, read­ing cur­ricu­lum that is hell-bent on push­ing core knowl­edge or huge dos­es of phon­ics. Wexler believes that the bright spot on the hori­zon is the uptick in “ele­men­tary lit­er­a­cy cur­ric­u­la designed to build stu­dents’ knowl­edge.” What a sad state­ment on so many lev­els. Insist­ing teach­ers fol­low a man­u­al for a pro­gram that touts “sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-backed research” is not the answer. A one-size-fits-all approach to teach­ing read­ing com­pre­hen­sion is not the answer.

I must acknowl­edge that I, too, am being unre­al­is­tic. I have a deep pas­sion for teach­ing and for lit­er­a­cy. It’s hard for me to admit, but I know not all teach­ers share that pas­sion. Not all teach­ers have had the same good for­tune I’ve had to learn from won­der­ful men­tors. Not all teach­ers are encour­aged to take risks and feel con­fi­dent in what they can accom­plish with their stu­dents. For many dif­fer­ent rea­sons, it is sad but true, there are adults in teach­ing roles (luck­i­ly in my expe­ri­ence, I’ve met only a few) who see them­selves as babysit­ters, are not inter­est­ed in life-long learn­ing, and occa­sion­al­ly act like they don’t even like kids. I wish I had an answer about how to guar­an­tee all teach­ers were high­ly qual­i­fied, filled with pas­sion, and loved kids. But I would bet my bot­tom dol­lar that the vast major­i­ty of teach­ers strive to achieve these qual­i­ties, despite being blamed so often for all that’s wrong with edu­ca­tion.


Wexler, along with oth­er edu­ca­tion com­men­ta­tors and researchers seem to know all about “the sci­ence” of read­ing. They vol­un­teer as tutors. They test stu­dents to deter­mine whether they are pro­fi­cient read­ers using their own cri­te­ria or high stakes tests that are rid­dled with bias. They are quick to point out all the things that are wrong with today’s teach­ers and class­rooms and then they offer their easy-to-fix-it solu­tions (“buy a bet­ter read­ing cur­ricu­lum, teach more con­tent so stu­dents gain more back­ground knowl­edge”).

The glar­ing prob­lem from my van­tage point, how­ev­er, is what they don’t do.

  • They don’t seem to get it that spend­ing 165 days a year with a group of 25 – 30 won­der­ful­ly diverse and bril­liant kids might gar­ner them more street cred.
  • They don’t seem to get it that improv­ing vocab­u­lary and back­ground knowl­edge starts with improv­ing the severe eco­nom­ic and racial divides in our soci­ety that cre­ate class­rooms filled with “haves” and “have-nots.”
  • They don’t seem to get it that the kids who lack ade­quate vocab­u­lary and back­ground knowl­edge are often kids who have not had the ben­e­fit of attend­ing pre-school.
  • They don’t seem to get it that while the “sci­ence” of teach­ing read­ing is impor­tant, the “art” of teach­ing read­ing is and should be of even greater stature.
  • And final­ly, they real­ly don’t seem to get it that we teach kids before we teach read­ing, writ­ing, math, sci­ence, or any oth­er sub­ject.

teaching science

No, Ms. Wexler, our teach­ers and schools are not fail­ing because we are ignor­ing the research and are not impart­ing enough knowl­edge. How­ev­er, we teach­ers, the major­i­ty of us who invest extra time, our own mon­ey, our heart and soul, who spend day after day, year after year, with dozens, even hun­dreds of kids (who for many of us become a sec­ond fam­i­ly), we teach­ers have a pletho­ra of knowl­edge that only teach­ers have. It’s knowl­edge that can’t be learned until you begin your first day on the job. We do what­ev­er it takes to know, real­ly know, our stu­dents. We also know that kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And that kind of knowl­edge won’t be found in any lit­er­a­cy cur­ric­u­la. That kind of knowl­edge is what I believe makes teach­ing read­ing a work of art.

A final note to my friend, Amir. You men­tioned help­ing teach­ers pre­pare for the teach­ing exams and not­ed that they did bet­ter if they had more back­ground knowl­edge. I can­not dis­pute the fact that more back­ground knowl­edge comes in handy when tak­ing a test and it most def­i­nite­ly makes a dif­fer­ence when it comes to com­pre­hen­sion.

There is a seri­ous need for stu­dents, espe­cial­ly Eng­lish lan­guage learn­ers, to gain as much back­ground knowl­edge and vocab­u­lary as pos­si­ble.

All kids must have a sol­id foun­da­tion that includes phon­ics and phone­mic aware­ness so that sol­id decod­ing will lead to flu­en­cy which opens the door to greater com­pre­hen­sion and vocab­u­lary. The goal is to not only teach kids how to read, but to instill the desire to want to read. The sci­ence is there but the art is achieved by inspir­ing kids to devel­op a love of read­ing.


The Animals in The Stuff of Stars

The Stuff of StarsWhen I first read The Stuff of Stars by Mar­i­on Dane Bauer and Ekua Holmes, I was cap­ti­vat­ed by the beau­ty of the book and its lyri­cal thoughts about the earth and our envi­ron­ment. Ms. Holmes’ illus­tra­tions invite us to look clos­er, to dis­cern the crea­tures she’s so art­ful­ly includ­ed. Ms. Bauer’s text includes a list of ani­mals that roam the earth, bring­ing to mind all of the sto­ries and facts about these spe­cif­ic ani­mals, birds, insects, and rep­tiles.

We thought it would be help­ful to pull togeth­er a Quirky Book List that you could use for dis­cus­sions in your class­room, research units, book dis­plays on The Stuff of Stars theme, or inde­pen­dent read­ing. Be sure to refer to Bookol­o­gy’s Book­storm for The Stuff of Stars for more resources that com­ple­ment this book.

Bonkers about Beetles  

Bonkers about Bee­tles
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Owen Davies
Fly­ing Eye Books, 2018

Fun and fas­ci­nat­ing infor­ma­tion about the tough­est bugs in the world. The illus­tra­tions are incred­i­ble but the facts will astound young read­ers.



writ­ten by Elise Broach
illus­trat­ed by Kel­ly Mur­phy
Hen­ry Holt, 2008

Mar­vin, the bee­tle, lives under the kitchen sink in the Pom­pa­days’ apart­ment. James Pom­pa­day is an eleven-year-old boy who lives in the same apart­ment. When James receives a pen-and-ink set for his birth­day, Mar­vin sur­pris­es him with an intri­cate draw­ing. Soon, these two friends are drawn into a staged heist of an Albrecht Dür­er draw­ing at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art.


One Beetle Too Many  

One Bee­tle Too Many:
The Extra­or­di­nary Adven­tures of Charles Dar­win
writ­ten by Kathryn Lasky
illus­trat­ed by Matthew True­man
Can­dlewick Press, 2009

A child­hood of col­lect­ing spec­i­mens, espe­cial­ly bee­tles, Charles Dar­win was a nat­u­ral­ist to his very toes, hap­pi­est when he was sail­ing The Bea­gle to South Amer­i­ca to observe the flo­ra and fau­na. Lasky writes the sto­ry of Darwin’s life in a way that reveals the com­plex man who chal­lenged the world’s think­ing.




writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lind­sey Yankey
Sim­ply Read Books, 2014

Lit­tle Blue­bird awak­ens one morn­ing to find the wind miss­ing. She and wind always fly togeth­er. Deter­mined to find the way, Blue­bird sets off on a clever, well-illus­trat­ed, heart­warm­ing jour­ney.



writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bob Staake
Schwartz & Wade, 2013

In this emo­tion­al pic­ture book, read­ers will be cap­ti­vat­ed as they fol­low the jour­ney of a blue­bird as he devel­ops a friend­ship with a young boy and ulti­mate­ly risks his life to save the boy from harm.


Captivating Bluebirds  

Cap­ti­vat­ing Blue­birds:
Excep­tion­al Images and Obser­va­tions
writ­ten and pho­tographed by Stan Tekiela
Adven­ture Pub­li­ca­tions, 2008

Although not strict­ly a children’s book, Tekiela’s out­stand­ing pho­tographs will keep children’s atten­tion as you share some of the intrigu­ing facts on each page.


What Bluebirds Do


What Blue­birds Do
writ­ten by Pamela Kir­by
Boyds Mills Press, 2009

After a male and female blue­bird select a place to nest, they raise a young fam­i­ly of hatch­lings, feed­ing them and encour­ag­ing them to fly off on their own. Excel­lent pho­tographs illus­trate this book.


Caterpillar to Butterfly


Cater­pil­lar to But­ter­fly
writ­ten by Lau­ra Marsh
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids, 2012

This ear­ly read­er gives kids an close-up look, through stel­lar pho­tographs, at how a cater­pil­lar becomes a but­ter­fly. The book includes infor­ma­tion about the dif­fer­ent types of but­ter­flies and poi­so­nous cater­pil­lars.

How to Hide a Butterfly


How to Hide a But­ter­fly & Oth­er Insects
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ruth Heller
Gros­set & Dun­lap, 1992

Each page invites the read­er to hunt for the but­ter­fly or bee or inch­worm, all the while nar­rat­ed by Heller’s dis­tinc­tive poet­ic text.

A Place for Butterflies


A Place for But­ter­flies
writ­ten by Melis­sa Stew­art
illus­trat­ed by Hig­gins Bond
Peachtree Press, 2006

By fram­ing but­ter­flies as a vital­ly inter­con­nect­ed part of our world, this book teach­es about behav­ior and habi­tat, while encour­ag­ing efforts to pre­serve forests and mead­ows, cut­ting down on pes­ti­cides.


Cricket in Times Square


A Crick­et in Times Square
writ­ten by George Selden
illus­trat­ed by Garth Williams
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 1960

When Chester Crick­et hops into a pic­nic bas­ket, lured by the smell of liv­er­wurst, this coun­try crick­et is trans­port­ed to Times Square. There, he’s giv­en a com­fy home by Mario Belli­ni, and becomes friends with Tuck­er Mouse and Har­ry Cat. And yet, Chester’s coun­try home calls to him. A favorite of young read­ers for more than 50 years!

Oscar and the Cricket


Oscar and the Crick­et
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Geoff War­ing
Can­dlewick Press, 2009

A begin­ning sci­ence book that teach­es about mov­ing and rolling. One day Oscar sees a ball in the grass. “Try push­ing it!” says Crick­et. Oscar learns that the ball rolls slow­ly in grass and faster on a path, until it bounces off a tree and changes direc­tion. Some things need a push to move, and oth­ers use their mus­cles to move them­selves — and to move plen­ty of oth­er things, too.

Quick as a Cricket


Quick as a Crick­et
writ­ten by Audrey Wood
illus­trat­ed by Don Wood
Child’s Play Library, 1982.

I’m as quick as a crick­et, I’m as slow as a snail. I’m as small as an ant, I’m as large as a whale.” The young child plays with imag­i­na­tion and words, illus­trat­ed with fun and ram­bunc­tious inter­pre­ta­tion.


Frog and Toad Are Friends


Frog and Toad Are Friends
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Arnold Lobel
Harper­Collins, 1970.

The beloved tale of two friends who are always there for each oth­er, whether it’s find­ing a lost but­ton or going swim­ming or writ­ing let­ters.

The Frog Book


The Frog Book
writ­ten by Robin Page
illus­trat­ed by Steve Jenk­ins
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2019

With more than 5,000 dif­fer­ent frog species on the plan­et, in every col­or of the rain­bow and a vast num­ber of vivid pat­terns, no crea­tures are more fas­ci­nat­ing to learn about or look at. Jenk­ins and Page present a stun­ning array of these intrigu­ing amphib­ians and the many amaz­ing adap­ta­tions they have made to sur­vive. An excel­lent non­fic­tion pic­ture book.

It's Mine!


It’s Mine!
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Leo Leon­ni
Scholas­tic, 1986

Three frogs con­stant­ly fight and bick­er over who gets to eat the lat­est hap­less insect. But a toad and a storm help them real­ize that there are mer­its to shar­ing.




writ­ten by Lin­da Marsh
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Read­ers, 2016

A true book, with inter­est­ing facts and teach­ing points for begin­ning read­ers. Giraffes are fas­ci­nat­ing crea­tures. The text and pho­tos in this book are engag­ing and mem­o­rable.

Giraffes Can't Dance


Giraffes Can’t Dance
writ­ten by Giles Andreae
illus­trat­ed by Guy Park­er-Rees
Orchard Books, 2001

Ger­ald the giraffe is excit­ed to go to the dance but the oth­er ani­mals tell him he can’t dance because he has knob­by knees and skin­ny legs and he’ll look sil­ly. Ger­ald slinks away, unhap­py, until a kind voice tells him to dance to a dif­fer­ent song. Soon Ger­ald is danc­ing so beau­ti­ful­ly that the oth­er ani­mals gath­er to watch and admire.

Stay Close to Mama


Stay Close to Mama
writ­ten by Toni Buzzeo
illus­trat­ed by Mike Wohnout­ka
Dis­ney / Hype­r­i­on, 2012

Twiga is curi­ous and wants to explore, but Mama knows about the dan­gers of the savan­nah and wants to pro­tect lit­tle Twiga. An excel­lent read-aloud with engag­ing illus­tra­tions.


Hawk Rising


Hawk Ris­ing
writ­ten by Maria Gian­fer­rari
illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Flo­ca
Roar­ing Brook Press, 2018

A father red-tailed hawk hunts prey for his fam­i­ly in a sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hood in this thrilling, fierce non­fic­tion pic­ture book. Infor­ma­tive book writ­ten in sen­so­ry, poet­ic, per­cep­tive text with Bri­an Floca’s stun­ning illus­tra­tions.

Tale of Pale Male


Tale of Pale Male: a True Sto­ry
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jeanette Win­ter
Har­court, 2007

When a red-tailed hawk makes its nest on top of a New York City apart­ment build­ing, the res­i­dents remove the nest, pro­test­ers raise their voic­es, and even­tu­al­ly bird­ers rejoice.

Birds of Prey


Birds of Prey: Hawks, Eagles, Fal­cons,
and Vul­tures of North Amer­i­ca
writ­ten by Pete Dunne, with Kevin T. Karl­son
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2017

A book of nature writ­ing that dou­bles as a field guide, this is a well-researched and ‑writ­ten book with accom­pa­ny­ing pho­tos.


Mama for Owen


A Mama for Owen
writ­ten by Mar­i­on Dane Bauer
illus­trat­ed by John But­ler
Simon & Schus­ter, 2007

When an African baby hip­po is sep­a­rat­ed from its moth­er dur­ing the Indi­an Ocean Tsuna­mi of 2004, it bonds with a giant tor­toise. This is a gen­tle per­spec­tive on the true sto­ry.

I've Lost My Hiippopotamus


I’ve Lost My Hip­popota­mus
poems by Jack Pre­lut­sky
illus­trat­ed by Jack­ie Urbanovic
Green­wil­low, 2012

Short, rhyth­mic poems about ani­mals that are ide­al for ear­ly read­ers.

How to Clean a Hippopotamus


How to Clean a Hip­popota­mus:
A Look at Unusu­al Ani­mal Part­ner­ships
writ­ten by Robin Page
illus­trat­ed by Steve Jenk­ins
HMH Books for Younger Read­ers, 2010

A non­fic­tion book about ani­mal sym­bio­sis, fea­tur­ing the hip­popota­mus as well as oth­er ani­mals.

Saving Fiona


Sav­ing Fiona:
The Sto­ry of the World’s Most Famous Baby Hip­po
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Thane May­nard
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2018

The sto­ry of the first pre­ma­ture baby hip­po born in cap­tiv­i­ty, raised at the Cincin­nati Zoo & Botan­i­cal Gar­den.

George and Martha


George and Martha
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by James Mar­shall
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 1972

Legions of fans love these sto­ries about two hip­pos who rev­el in being friends.


The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses


The Girl Who Loved Wild Hors­es
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Paul Gob­le
Atheneum, 2001

Though she is fond of her peo­ple, a girl prefers to live among the wild hors­es where she is tru­ly hap­py and free.

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up


Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up
writ­ten by Kate DiCamil­lo
illus­trat­ed by Chris Van Dusen
Can­dlewick Press, 2014

Leroy Ninker has all the trap­pings of a cow­boy, but he doesn’t have a horse. Then he meets May­belline, a horse who loves spaghet­ti and hav­ing sweet noth­ings whis­pered in her ear. Will their rela­tion­ship mean an end to Leroy’s lone­li­ness?

Misty of Chincoteague


Misty of Chin­coteague
writ­ten by Mar­garet Hen­ry
illus­trat­ed by Wes­ley Den­nis
Rand McNal­ly, 1947

On the island of Chin­coteague off the coasts of Vir­ginia and Mary­land lives a cen­turies-old band of wild ponies. Among them is the most mys­te­ri­ous of all, Phan­tom, a rarely seen mare that eludes all efforts to cap­ture her — that is, until a young boy and girl lay eyes on her and deter­mine that they can’t live with­out her.

Rosie's Magic Horse


Rosie’s Mag­ic Horse
writ­ten by Rus­sell Hoban
illus­trat­ed by Quentin Blake
Can­dlewick Press, 2013

Rosie puts a dis­card ice-pop stick into a box, but the stick wants to be some­thing! When Rosie dreams of a horse named Stick­eri­no, the ice-pop stick trans­forms, gal­lop­ing out of the box. “Where to?” he asks. “Any­where with trea­sure!”


I Am Jellyfish


I Am Jel­ly­fish
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ruth Paul
Pen­guin, 2018

Jel­ly­fish is chased into the ocean depths by Shark. Shark is attached by Squid. Who will save Shark? Jel­ly­fish!

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish


Peanut But­ter and Jel­ly­fish
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jar­rett J. Krosocz­ka
Knopf, 2014

Peanut But­ter, a sea­horse, and Jel­ly­fish are best friends. Crab­by is NOT their best friend. But when Crab­by gets into trou­ble, will Peanut But­ter and Jel­ly­fish help? Of course they will.

The Thing about Jellyfish


The Thing About Jel­ly­fish
writ­ten by Ali Ben­jamin
Lit­tle, Brown, 2015

For a mid­dle grade read­er: Suzi con­vinces her­self that her friend Fran­ny drowned because she was stung by a rare jel­ly­fish. Suzi explores her the­o­ry and comes to real­ize many truths that make it pos­si­ble for her to grow past her grief and remorse.


Ostrich and Lark


Ostrich and Lark
writ­ten by Mar­i­lyn Nel­son
illus­trat­ed by the San artists of Botswana
Boyds Mills Press, 2012

This pic­ture book about an unlike­ly friend­ship is the result of col­lab­o­ra­tion between the award-win­ning poet Mar­i­lyn Nel­son and the San artists of Botswana. The sto­ry, which cap­tures the feel of a tra­di­tion­al African folk­tale, is brought to life with vibrant illus­tra­tions inspired by the ancient rock paint­ings of the San people’s ances­tors.


Deadliest Animals


Dead­liest Ani­mals
writ­ten by Melis­sa Stew­art
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Children’s Books, 2011

Fas­ci­nat­ing facts about the most threat­en­ing ani­mals in the world, includ­ing lions, writ­ten on an ear­ly read­er lev­el.



writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bill Peet
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 1978

A decrepit lion despis­es a vul­ture, but he soon learns about friend­ship from his pesky vis­i­tor.

Library Lion


Library Lion
writ­ten by Michelle Knud­sen
illus­trat­ed by Kevin Hawkes
Can­dlewick Press, 2006

Miss Mer­ri­weath­er is a librar­i­an with a lot of rules for her library. When a lion appears one day, there isn’t a rule to cov­er it. What will they do? The lion res­cues the library, which finds a place for him.

Lion and the Mouse


The Lion and the Mouse
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jer­ry Pinkney
Lit­tle, Brown Books, 2009

A book about a devel­op­ing friend­ship between an unlike­ly pair, with ele­ments of fam­i­ly bonds woven into the famil­iar fable. African ani­mals are beau­ti­ful­ly depict­ed in the Calde­cott-win­ning illus­tra­tions for this book.


Great White Shark Adventure


Great White Shark Adven­ture
writ­ten by James O. Fraioli and Fabi­en Cousteau
illus­trat­ed by Joe St. Pierre
Mar­garet K. McElder­ry Books, 2019

Graph­ic nov­el. Junior explor­ers Bel­la and Mar­cus join famed explor­er Fabi­en Cousteau and his research team as they embark on an ocean jour­ney off the coast of South Africa, where the world’s largest con­cen­tra­tions of great white sharks are found. Their mis­sion is to inves­ti­gate a sight­ing of a mas­sive white shark and tag it so they can track and pro­tect it. 

If Sharks DIsappeared


If Sharks Dis­ap­peared
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lily Williams
Roar­ing Brook Press, 2017

Even though sharks can be scary, we need them to keep the oceans healthy. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, due to over­fish­ing, many shark species are in dan­ger of extinc­tion, and that can cause big prob­lems in the oceans and even on land.

Shark vs Train


Shark vs Train
writ­ten by Chris Bar­ton
illus­trat­ed by Tom Licht­en­held
Lit­tle, Brown, 2010

Smack talk­ing, Shark and Train are pit­ted against each oth­er in this wild and crazy book about what would help them gain suprema­cy in a vari­ety of sit­u­a­tions. Fun!


The Biggest House in the World


The Biggest House in the World
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Leo Lion­ni
Knopf, 1968

A young snail is deter­mined to have the biggest shell in the world until his father tells him a gen­tle fable about the respon­si­bil­i­ty and weight of car­ry­ing around that type of shell.

The End of the Beginning


The End of the Begin­ning:
Being the Adven­tures of a Small Snail
(and an Even Small­er Ant)
writ­ten by Avi
illus­trat­ed by Tri­cia Tusa
Har­court, 2004

Avon the snail sets out on an adven­ture because that’s what every­one does. They encounter a drag­on in dis­guise, the begin­ning of the sky, and a mag­ic cas­tle. Along the way, they dis­cov­er friend­ship. It’s a great read-aloud for kinder­garten and up.

The Snail and the Whale


The Snail and the Whale
writ­ten by Julia Don­ald­son
illus­trat­ed by Axel Schef­fler
Dial Books, 2004

A tiny snail and a hump­back whale set out to trav­el the world, explor­ing the oceans, under­wa­ter caves, and the skies. When the whale is strand­ed on the beach, will the snail be able to save him?


Charlotte's Web


Charlotte’s Web
writ­ten by E.B. White
illus­trat­ed by Garth Williams
Harp­er & Bros, 1952

Some Pig. Hum­ble. Radi­ant.These are the words in Char­lot­te’s web, high up in Zuck­er­man’s barn. Char­lot­te’s spi­der­web tells of her feel­ings for a lit­tle pig named Wilbur, who sim­ply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his lit­ter.



writ­ten by Lau­ra Marsh
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Children’s Books, 2011

Spi­ders are every­where. And there are so many kinds of spi­ders! Some red, some blue, yel­low, and more … all fas­ci­nat­ing. Amaz­ing pho­tog­ra­phy and easy-to-under­stand text makes Spi­ders a hit.

Very Busy Spider


Very Busy Spi­der
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Eric Car­le
Philomel, 1985

Ear­ly one morn­ing a lit­tle spi­der spins her web on a fence post. One by one, the ani­mals of the near­by farm try to dis­tract her, yet the busy lit­tle spi­der keeps dili­gent­ly at her work. When she is done, she is able to show every­one that not only is her cre­ation quite beau­ti­ful, it is also quite use­ful!


Amos & Boris


Amos & Boris
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by William Steig
Far­rar, Straus and Giroux, 1971

Amos the mouse and Boris the whale: a devot­ed pair of friends with noth­ing at all in com­mon, except good hearts and a will­ing­ness to help their fel­low mam­mal. They meet after Amos sets out to sail the sea and finds him­self in extreme need of res­cue. And there will come a day, long after Boris has gone back to a life at sea and Amos has gone back to life on dry land, when the tiny mouse must find a way to res­cue the great whale.



writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Scott Magoon
Simon & Schus­ter, 2004

A good book for young chil­dren, this looks at the life of a baby whale who ven­tures out on his own for the first time, engag­ing in adven­tures, and return­ing home to his mom.



writ­ten by Sey­mour Simon
Collins, 2006

This non­fic­tion book is full of infor­ma­tion about cows, calves, feed­ing, habi­tat, and the 90 species of whales around the world. From a mas­ter researcher and writer of non­fic­tion for young read­ers.


Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

Eat dessert first! Inspired by Rube Gold­berg’s love of Cool Whip (and Sarah’s love of writ­ing what makes her hap­py!)
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time1 hr 5 mins
Author: Sarah Aron­son


  • 2 eggs plus 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 12 cup unsweet­ened cocoa pow­der
  • 1−1÷2 cups heavy cream
  • 1−1÷2 tsp cin­na­mon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 oz bit­ter­sweet choco­late
  • 1−1÷2 cup sug­ar
  • 1 tsp vanil­la
  • 6 to 8 crois­sants
  • Cool Whip!


  • Pre­heat oven to 325 deg F.
  • Whisk 2 eggs plus 4 egg yolks togeth­er. Set aside.
  • Over a low flame, com­bine 2 cups whole milk, 12 cup unsweet­ened cocoa pow­der, 1 12 cups heavy cream, 1 12 tsp cin­na­mon, and 1 tsp salt in a sauce pan until smooth.
  • Add 8 oz bit­ter­sweet choco­late, 1 12 cup sug­ar, and 1 tsp vanil­la .
  • Stir.
  • Slow­ly add milk-and-choco­late mix­ture to the eggs. Don’t be aggres­sive! (If you do, you
  • will get scram­bled eggs.)
  • But­ter an 8″ x 8″ bak­ing dish.
  • Cut 6 – 8 crois­sants into cubes and place in dish.
  • Pour choco­late mix­ture over crois­sants. Let them sit to soak up all the choco­latey good­ness. Be patient!
  • Bake at 325 degrees for 45 – 50 min­utes.
  • Scoop on some Cool Whip and eat!

Bookstorm™: Just Like Rube Goldberg