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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Are We There Yet?

by Lisa Bullard

WRT_27KeyboardMy Texas grand­par­ents  usu­al­ly made the long dri­ve to Min­neso­ta. But the sum­mer I was thir­teen, my par­ents piled me, my two younger broth­ers, and a bor­rowed boy cousin into the old sta­tion wag­on and head­ed us south.

I escaped into the far back, prop­ping myself up on suit­cas­es and read­ing a thou­sand-page-long Civ­il War nov­el called House Divid­ed. The boy’s con­stant bick­er­ing added a back­drop of bat­tle­ground sound effects.

Did I men­tion how often we had to turn around and go back some­where to retrieve my cousin’s for­got­ten retain­er?

Are we there yet?” That ques­tion comes out on every long dri­ve. There’s point where we just want to be DONE with all the trav­el­ing. It’s the same with a writ­ing road trip. There’s at least one moment dur­ing every one of my writ­ing projects when I think: I’m done. This has to be good enough. The prob­lem is, I’m often nowhere near my des­ti­na­tion  when this hap­pens.

To be a writer over the long haul, you have to get back on the road and keep writ­ing despite those moments.  But it helps enor­mous­ly to change things up somehow—I might alter my writ­ing loca­tion by going to a coffee shop, or turn on music (usu­al­ly  I’m a non-music writer).

Stu­dents have this same “I’m done” response after they’ve worked on a long project for a while. One of the most effec­tive ways I’ve found to gen­er­ate a new burst of enthu­si­asm in them is to let them switch from writ­ing long­hand to key­board­ing. Sign up for the com­put­er lab, or let stu­dents take turns on a class­room com­put­er. This sim­ple change always fuels new writ­ing ener­gy.

Even on the longest trip, the answer to “Are we there yet?” is even­tu­al­ly, “Yes! We final­ly made it!”

 

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Middle Kingdom: Nebraska City, Nebraska

Mid­dle King­dom: Nebras­ka City, Nebras­ka

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

This month’s jour­ney takes us to Nebras­ka City Mid­dle School in Nebras­ka City, Nebras­ka, where Lisa talks with Media Spe­cial­ist Alice Har­ri­son.

Lisa: What would you like to tell our read­ers about your com­mu­ni­ty?

Alice: Nebras­ka City, Nebras­ka is home to the nation­al hol­i­day Arbor Day, cel­e­brat­ed every year the last Fri­day in April. J. Mor­ton Ster­ling, the founder of Arbor Day, migrat­ed to the Nebras­ka Ter­ri­to­ry in 1854, where he lat­er became the Sec­re­tary of Nebras­ka Ter­ri­to­ry. Ster­ling saw the agri­cul­tur­al and eco­nom­i­cal ben­e­fits of plant­i­ng trees, and in 1872 he con­vinced the Nebras­ka Board of Agri­cul­ture to estab­lish a spe­cif­ic hol­i­day for every­one to join in plant­i­ng trees. April was cho­sen to cor­re­late with Sterling’s birth­day, and sev­er­al pres­i­dents since then have declared Arbor Day a nation­al hol­i­day on the last Fri­day in April. Since the first Arbor Day cel­e­bra­tion to the present day, Nebras­ka City has cel­e­brat­ed with a parade down the main street where area mid­dle school and high school bands come to per­form. Tree starters are dis­trib­uted to the atten­dees, as well as tons of can­dy!

The abun­dance of apple trees plant­ed in Nebras­ka City has led to anoth­er cel­e­bra­tion—the Apple­Jack Fes­ti­val  was estab­lished to cel­e­brate the har­vest­ing of all those apples. Tak­ing place the third week­end in Sep­tem­ber, peo­ple come from all over to con­sume apple pies, apple bread, apple donuts (my favorite!), sev­er­al vari­eties of fresh apples, apple jams, and a long list of oth­er apple items, along with par­tic­i­pat­ing in oth­er cel­e­bra­to­ry events.

Lisa: What changes are ahead this year for your school or library/media cen­ter?

Alice: Nebras­ka City Mid­dle School has 325 stu­dents, pre­dom­i­nate­ly white with a large pop­u­la­tion of His­pan­ic stu­dents. It is a Title 1 school with 45.8% free and reduced lunch. The dis­trict school board passed the imple­men­ta­tion of a tech­nol­o­gy 1:1 ini­tia­tive, begin­ning the school year of 2015–16, as a pilot pro­gram in the Mid­dle School. All the stu­dents, staff, and fac­ul­ty will have Chrome­books to use (at school only) by check­ing them in and out of the home­rooms or alpha class­rooms. Present­ly, the Mid­dle School is the only school in the dis­trict approved to par­tic­i­pate in this pilot pro­gram. Every class­room teacher will be using Google Class­room (a Google Apps for Edu­ca­tion app). The goal is to help teach­ers save time by orga­niz­ing les­son plans, incor­po­rat­ing inter­ac­tive cur­ricu­lum, allow­ing for stu­dent and teacher col­lab­o­ra­tion, and pro­vid­ing imme­di­ate teacher feed­back, along with dis­play­ing and access­ing class assign­ments and grades. To incor­po­rate this 1:1 ini­tia­tive, our IT direc­tor is set­ting up every stu­dent with their own per­son­al Gmail account.

To teach dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship and per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty with the Chrome­books, every teacher, includ­ing myself, will be teach­ing and uti­liz­ing the Com­mon Sense Media cur­ricu­lum. I am only a ¼-time Media Spe­cial­ist at the Mid­dle School (I teach at the ele­men­tary school for the oth­er ¾-time), so I am for­tu­nate to have a mar­velous full-time assis­tant in the Mid­dle School library. The first few days of school this com­ing year, all the stu­dents will be attend­ing train­ing ses­sions taught by the fac­ul­ty and staff to instruct stu­dents in the use and care of Chrome­books. In the past, I have taught 6th grade key­board­ing, but to date, I do not know of any plans for key­board­ing instruc­tion.

The Nebraska City Middle School band preparing to perform in the Arbor Day parade 2013

The Nebras­ka City Mid­dle School band prepar­ing to per­form in the Arbor Day parade 2013

Lisa: What else will be new for the Mid­dle School library this year?

Alice: I am excit­ed­ly antic­i­pat­ing this new school year at the Mid­dle School because this past May I pur­chased 37 e-books, our first time to acquire this for­mat. The e-books that I pur­chased were from Fol­lett, but our library auto­mat­ed sys­tem is the online, cloud-based ver­sion of Library World. Fol­let sent me detailed instruc­tions as to how to set up the e-books for check­out. The stu­dents and fac­ul­ty will be able to read the e-books on the Chrome­books, but only online. How­ev­er, they can be accessed on all oth­er devices for online or offline read­ing. I’m ecsta­t­ic!

Six­teen of the e-books are our state award nom­i­nees, which are called Gold­en Sow­ers . There are a total of 30 books nom­i­nat­ed every year for three lev­els, with 10 nom­i­nat­ed in each lev­el: Pri­ma­ry, Inter­me­di­ate, and Young Adult. And that leads me to how I came to con­nect with Lisa Bullard, who asked if I would par­tic­i­pate in this inter­view for Bookol­o­gy—her book Turn Left at the Cow is a Gold­en Sow­er nom­i­nee for the 2015–16 school year.

Lisa: Alice, the Gold­en Sow­er nom­i­na­tion is such a huge hon­or for me, and I’m so delight­ed that it brought the two of us togeth­er! Can you tell us more about the impact of the Gold­en Sow­er titles on your library and stu­dent read­ing?

Alice: Each sum­mer, I try to read as many Gold­en Sow­er nom­i­nees for the com­ing school year as I can. READING…my favorite pass-time!

As you can imag­ine, a major con­cen­tra­tion of our pro­mo­tion at the Mid­dle School library is devot­ed to the Gold­en Sow­er state nom­i­nee books. Our literature/reading teach­ers also heav­i­ly pro­mote these in their class­rooms. At the end of every school year, the stu­dents are award­ed cer­tifi­cates for four dif­fer­ent lev­els of com­ple­tion for read­ing the Gold­en Sow­ers. From these stu­dents, three names are drawn for addi­tion­al prizes.

Some of the Gold­en Sow­er nom­i­nees are books from a series—then I usu­al­ly pur­chase the whole series, because the stu­dents are so inter­est­ed in the nom­i­nat­ed books. For exam­ple, some of the series with recent Gold­en Sow­er nom­i­nat­ed-titles are: Richard Paul Evans’ Michael Vey series, the Starters series by Lis­sa Price, Rob Buyea’s Mr. Terupt titles, the Accord­ing to Humphrey books by Bet­ty G. Bir­ney, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, and the Leg­end series by Marie Lu. Two years ago, Won­der, by R.J. Pala­cio, was cho­sen as a Gold­en Sow­er Award win­ner and our Mid­dle School select­ed this book as an all-school read.

Lisa: What oth­er books and series have been pop­u­lar reads in your Mid­dle School?

Nebraska City Middle School

Nebras­ka City Mid­dle School

Alice: The list includes the Diver­gent series by Veron­i­ca Roth, the Con­spir­a­cy 365 series by Gabrielle Lord, the Selec­tion series by Kiera Cass, Erin Hunter’s War­riors series and Seek­ers series, the Ascen­dance Tril­o­gy by Jen­nifer A. Nielsen, and the Cirque du Freak series by Dar­ren Shan. Oth­er pop­u­lar authors with our mid­dle school­ers are Mike Lupi­ca, Lau­rie Halse Ander­son, Meg Cabot, and Carl Hiaasen.

Lisa: I’m amazed at all you have going on—especially since with your split sched­ule, you don’t have a lot of time to do it all! Are there any oth­er ini­tia­tives you’d like to share?

Alice: In the past year, I have been try­ing to focus more on our reluc­tant read­ers in the Mid­dle School. I’ve been pur­chas­ing more non­fic­tion graph­ic read­ers and fic­tion graph­ic nov­els. Also, this new school year I am incor­po­rat­ing a new pro­mo­tion at the Mid­dle School for the Gold­en Sow­ers. I have been mak­ing audio and print­ed text QR codes for each Gold­en Sow­er book and print­ing the book cov­ers to apply them to the cov­ers. I will be dis­play­ing them in the Mid­dle School library and hall­ways. The audio por­tion fea­tures me read­ing the book’s sum­ma­ry, and the print­ed por­tion con­tains links to book trail­ers, author web­sites, and book theme links.

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Skinny Dip with Avi

bk_OldWolfWhat keeps you up at night?

Meet­ing dead­lines.

What is your proud­est career moment?

When, after four­teen years of try­ing to write, I pub­lished my first book, Things that Some­times Hap­pen (1970).

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

I don’t know if the game of Squash is part of the Olympics, but if so, that would be it.

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

Becom­ing a step-par­ent.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

Otto the Giant Dog.

What TV show can’t you turn off?

I don’t turn any show on.

 

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More from the 1950s: Polio

Anoth­er threat besides com­mu­nism ter­ri­fied peo­ple in the 1950s, espe­cial­ly because it pri­mar­i­ly affect­ed chil­dren: polio. 1952 saw the largest epi­dem­ic in US his­to­ry: 57,879 peo­ple con­tract­ed polio that sum­mer, and more than 3000 of died. By the end of the decade the dis­ease was near­ly erad­i­cat­ed in the US thanks to two forms of vac­cines devel­oped by Drs. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. Here are a few titles that help us under­stand this part of the recent past.

 

bk_chasing  

Chas­ing Ori­on

Kathryn Lasky
Can­dlewick 2012 

From the New­bery Hon­or author (Sug­ar­ing Time). 11 year old Georgie and her fam­i­ly have just moved into a new house. It’s the sum­mer of 1952 and pools, parks, and oth­er gath­er­ing spots are closed due to the polio epi­dem­ic. Georgie makes friends with the teenage girl next door, Phyl­lis, who is now in an iron lung as a result of the dis­ease.  Kirkus star.

 

Epi­dem­ic: The Bat­tle Against Polio

Stephanie Drap­er
Bench­mark Books, 2005

Pho­to illus­trat­ed sur­vey of the his­to­ry of the dis­ease, includ­ing a sec­tion on the debate over whether FDR’s paral­y­sis was caused by polio or some oth­er dis­ease. Includes time­line of polio-relat­ed events.

 

Fleabrain Loves Fran­ny

Joanne Rock­lin
Amulet Books, 2015

Pitts­burgh, 1952. 11-year-old Fran­ny has polio and is under­go­ing exten­sive ther­a­py. She befriends a genius flea and falls in love with a brand new book, Charlotte’s Web. Includes author’s note, bib­li­og­ra­phy, and dis­cus­sion guide. Bank Street Col­lege of Education’s “The Best Children’s Books of the Year,” Ages 9–12.

 

Jonas Salk and the Polio Vac­cine

Kather­ine Krohn and Al Mil­grom (illus.)
Cap­stone Press, 2007

A graph­ic nov­el that focus­es on the efforts to find a vac­cine. Back mat­ter includes a con­densed his­to­ry of the dis­ease and biog­ra­phy of Salk. Exten­sive bib­li­og­ra­phy. Part of the Inven­tions and Dis­cov­er­ies Graph­ic Library series.

 

King of the Mound (My Sum­mer with Satchel Paige)

Wes Tooke
Simon and Schus­ter, 2012

When Nick is released from the hos­pi­tal after suf­fer­ing from polio, he is sure that his father will nev­er look at him in the same way again. Once the best pitch­er in youth league, Nick now walks with a limp and is depen­dent on a heavy leg brace.  Things look up when he gets to hang out at the local semi-pro ball park, where he meets the great Satchel Paige.

 

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio

Peg Kehret
Albert Whit­man, 2006 anniver­sary edi­tion

The author of numer­ous state-award-win­ning children’s books (includ­ing Night­mare Moun­tain, The Ghost’s Grave, Stolen Chil­dren) describes her bat­tle against polio when she was thir­teen and her efforts to over­come its debil­i­tat­ing effects. Small Steps has also won many state reader’s choice awards.

 

Warm Springs: Traces of a Child­hood at FDR’s Polio Haven

Susan Richards Shreve
Houghton Mif­flin, 2007 

Just after her eleventh birth­day, at the height of the fright­en­ing child­hood polio epi­dem­ic, the future best-sell­ing author of many books for adults and chil­dren (The Flunk­ing of Joshua T. Bates, Ghost Cat) was sent as a patient to the san­i­tar­i­um at Warm Springs, Geor­gia. It was a place famous­ly found­ed by FDR, “a per­fect set­ting in time and place and strange­ness for a hos­pi­tal of crip­pled chil­dren.” For old­er read­ers and adults.

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Enola Holmes Mysteries

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

bk_EnolaStripThe summer’s road­trip is behind us—a won­der­ful vaca­tion had by all. We were in two cars this year due to dif­fer­ent des­ti­na­tions at the start, but we met up for the sec­ond half of the week.

The car my daugh­ter and I drove was equipped with sev­er­al audio­books. The boys neglect­ed this detail, prob­a­bly because they were pack­ing for sur­vival in the wilder­ness. I have no idea what they lis­tened to while in the car—each oth­er, pod­casts, music etc., I guess. We asked the ques­tion, but hard­ly lis­tened, I’m afraid, so eager were we to fill them in on what we had lis­tened to….

…which was a trio of glo­ri­ous Eno­la Holmes mys­ter­ies! We’d all lis­tened to the first, The Case of the Miss­ing Mar­quess, a sum­mer or two ago. The kids are huge Sher­lock fans, and so these mys­ter­ies fea­tur­ing a much younger sis­ter of that famous detec­tive were a no brain­er for a long trip that took us into the moun­tains. We agreed after that first book that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s got nuthin’ on Nan­cy Springer. And now that some of us have lis­tened to a cou­ple more books of Springer’s series—well, let’s say this: Stand Down, Sher­lock. Eno­la Can Do It All—And In a Corset!

Eno­la Holmes (please notice what her first name spells back­wards) is but four­teen years old and liv­ing on her own, hav­ing run away from her broth­ers, Sher­lock and Mycroft, after her moth­er ran off on Enola’s four­teenth birth­day. And she’s get­ting along quite well, thank you, with­out her bril­liant (yet ter­ri­bly chauvinistic/misogynistic) broth­ers. In each book, Eno­la is solv­ing a mystery—even over­lap­ping with Sher­lock in some cases—and elud­ing vil­lains, scal­ly­wags, and her broth­ers as the needs arise.

The his­toric detail is fascinating—especially the detail on the sub­ject of corsets and oth­er “unmen­tion­ables.” The corset becomes a sym­bol of all that Eno­la (and her moth­er, for that mat­ter) rejects—namely, the myr­i­ad of con­fines that Vic­to­ri­an soci­ety placed on women. But she wears one! Not just any corset, of course. Her scrawny four­teen year old body doesn’t need the “sup­port,” and she flat-out rejects the not-unlike-foot-bind­ing pur­pos­es of ear­ly corset wear­ing (these details are har­row­ing). But as a vehicle—yes, you read right—for her many dis­guis­es and tools, her very indi­vid­u­al­ly designed corset is an impor­tant part of how she makes her way in Lon­don as a detec­tive instead of a run­away four­teen year old girl. Enola’s corset offers phys­i­cal pro­tec­tion and storage—in it she car­ries a dag­ger, var­i­ous dis­guis­es, mon­ey, clues, ban­dages, food and supplies—while allow­ing her to change her shape as need­ed. Her dis­guis­es are as var­ied as the fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters she meets.

Eno­la is feisty and out­spo­ken, wicked smart and wise beyond her years. The mys­ter­ies she solves are full of intrigue, puz­zles, and curi­ous clues. And the audio­books are per­formed by none oth­er than Kather­ine Kell­gren, one of our very favorite read­ers. These sto­ries are won­der­ful in black and white on the page, but Kell­gren brings them to life! As she does in read­ing the Bloody Jack series, each char­ac­ter receives their own voice. If you read about Kellgren’s prepa­ra­tion you’ll see that she works with dialect coach—I dare say that Pro­fes­sor Hen­ry Hig­gins would be able to place each char­ac­ter on the very street on which they were born.

Although the mys­ter­ies do not have to be read in order, it’s good to read The Case of the Miss­ing Mar­quess first because it sets up the ungird­ing mys­tery of Enola’s moth­er. Each mys­tery ref­er­ences pre­vi­ous ones and as we end come clos­er to the end of the series (I hope more are being writ­ten!) that seems to be impor­tant, as well.

Read them, lis­ten to them—they’re delight­ful either way. These receive a hardy rec­om­men­da­tion from our house to yours as beau­ti­ful­ly span­ning a sig­nif­i­cant sib­ling age-range in the car. You can’t help but fall into the sto­ry. We only made it half-way through the third mys­tery before we were home, but we’ll start again with our boys on our upcom­ing road trip. What were we think­ing lis­ten­ing to such great books with­out them?

 

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Skinny Dip with Lynne Jonell

bk_SignCatFavorite hol­i­day tra­di­tion?

One of my favorite things ever is when we sit around the table at Thanks­giv­ing and take turns telling what we are par­tic­u­lar­ly thank­ful for, that year. I get a lit­tle choked up, espe­cial­ly when I lis­ten to my sons.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s chal­lenge?

I was a teacher’s pet up through sixth grade, and then teacher’s night­mare there­after. (My ninth grade Eng­lish teacher hat­ed me so much, she slot­ted me into the slow class for tenth grade Eng­lish. I couldn’t fig­ure out why I was in a class with a high pro­por­tion of good-look­ing jocks, but I wasn’t com­plain­ing! My moth­er dis­cov­ered what had hap­pened in my senior year, but by then it was too late.)

Upon reflec­tion, I think I was prob­a­bly a fair­ly chal­leng­ing teacher’s pet, as well.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

bk_WitchFamilyI can’t be absolute­ly cer­tain, but I think it was The Witch Fam­i­ly by Eleanor Estes. Besides the fab­u­lous mix of real­i­ty and fan­ta­sy, which I have always loved, the great thing about that book was that I dis­cov­ered it when it was my turn to choose library books for our small in-class­room library. All the oth­er third grade girls loved my choice, and begged to read it after me; and for a week, I was pop­u­lar!

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

Yes, and I thought I was pret­ty good at it until we had an all-fam­i­ly Olympics one sum­mer. One of the events was gift-wrapping—blindfolded—and my team put me head-to-head with my old­er sis­ter, Kathy. Not to put too fine a point on it, she mopped the floor with me.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year-old self?

In the immor­tal words of Bob Mar­ley, “Don’t wor­ry ‘bout a thing, ‘cause every lit­tle thing gonna be all right.”

What 3 children’s book authors or illus­tra­tors or edi­tors would you like to invite to din­ner?

gr_authorsLouisa May Alcott: She cap­ti­vat­ed me on a fam­i­ly vaca­tion with Lit­tle Women. I had already read through the stack of books I’d brought for the car trip, and my moth­er bought that book for me instead of the com­ic book I want­ed. Though I com­plained at first, I read the first page—and I was hooked for­ev­er.

C.S. Lewis: He pulled me into his mag­i­cal world of Nar­nia, with its great themes of good and evil and chil­dren whose choic­es had pow­er­ful reper­cus­sions, and I only wished he had writ­ten a hun­dred sto­ries for me to devour, instead of just sev­en.

Madeleine L’Engle: I still remem­ber exact­ly where I was when I read A Wrin­kle in Time in sixth grade, and how I reread the final chap­ter because I couldn’t bear for it to be over. When I closed the book at last, I knew that what I want­ed to do most of all was to write sto­ries like that, for kids like me.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

It depends on the sea­son!

Win­ter: curled up in bed with my elec­tric blan­ket on high. Sum­mer: on the back patio, in the wood­en swing, with cush­ions and a tall glass of some­thing cool. And in spring or fall, on a com­fort­able sag­ging cor­ner of my favorite couch, next to my grandfather’s old glass-front­ed book­case (which hous­es my favorite children’s books.)

 

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My Seneca Village

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

My Seneca Vil­lage
by Mar­i­lyn Nel­son
Name­los, 2015

My Seneca Village cover

I’m going to begin with a dis­claimer that is also a bit o’ brag­ging. I’ve had the good for­tune to meet and work with Mar­i­lyn Nel­son (A Wreath for Emmett Till, Snook Alone, How I Dis­cov­ered Poet­ry). I’ve stayed up late and sipped wine and talked with her, spent a day escort­ing her to school vis­its where she wowed ele­men­tary stu­dents; she once supped at my table. I also had the good for­tune to hear some of the poems in My Seneca Vil­lage when the book was a work in progress.

So, obvi­ous­ly I was pre­dis­posed to like it. I was not pre­pared, how­ev­er, for how quick­ly and com­plete­ly I fell in love.

The book opens with Nelson’s “Wel­come,” which includes a suc­cinct his­to­ry of Seneca Vil­lage, “Manhattan’s first sig­nif­i­cant com­mu­ni­ty of African Amer­i­can prop­er­ty own­ers,” that was found­ed in 1825. The vil­lage was short-lived: “By 1857, every­one would have been forced to move, and Seneca Vil­lage would be com­plete­ly erased by the cre­ation of Cen­tral Park.”

41 poems are at the heart of the book. Each was inspired by a name and “iden­ti­fy­ing label” Nel­son found in cen­sus records. Pre­sent­ed in chrono­log­i­cal order, the poems span thir­ty-two years; sev­er­al of the char­ac­ters reap­pear, matur­ing and chang­ing along with the vil­lage. For the first read­ing, it’s ben­e­fi­cial to read the poems in order, even if a quick glance at a table of con­tents that reveals such titles as “Mir­a­cle in the Col­lec­tion Plate” or “Pig on Ice” tempts you to skip ahead.

Equal­ly impor­tant are the one-page scene-set­ting prose descrip­tions that pref­ace each poem. Were My Seneca Vil­lage ever to be an image-illus­trat­ed book, I’d wager not even the finest of our pic­ture book artists could ani­mate the char­ac­ters and set­ting as well as the author’s lan­guage; it would be akin to break­ing a spell.

Seneca Village Project; Google Earth; Photo: City Metric

  Cen­tral Park West is the street bor­der­ing the park in the right hand image. Seneca Vil­lage Project; Google Earth; Pho­to: City Met­ric                                          

His­tor­i­cal foot­notes accom­pa­ny sev­er­al of the poems. Those and the excel­lent con­clud­ing author’s note, in which Nel­son explains the poet­ic forms and rhyming tech­niques she used, remind the read­er that the lit­er­ary mur­al unfold­ing in her hands is the result of his­to­ry, imag­i­na­tion, and hard and inten­tion­al work.

This is a book for all ages, but, oh, what a ter­rif­ic book to read aloud or sim­ply make avail­able to young read­ers (though I should warn any inter­est­ed teacher that there is one poem that might trig­ger PG-13-ish ques­tions or com­ments; I won’t men­tion it by name because I don’t want any­one read­ing ahead, but it includes the love­ly com­pound noun “plea­sure-pur­vey­ors”). 

Seneca Vil­lage is an almost-lost world.  With My Seneca Vil­lage, Mar­i­lyn Nel­son brings that world near in time and close to home.

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Places We Never Expected to Go

by Lisa Bullard

WRT_TwinsOn-the-road Lisa is dif­fer­ent than Lisa-at-home. Trav­el­ing Lisa takes big­ger risks. She’s less respon­si­ble. She puts her­self in the way of more trou­ble.

You might almost call her my Evil Twin.

Some­thing hap­pens when I’ve moved out­side my com­fort zone. I per­ceive things in a fresh way. I feel a free­dom to be some­one oth­er than who I usu­al­ly am. My per­spec­tive and my rela­tion­ship to the world change with my sur­round­ings.

Writ­ing gives me this same chance to try on differ­ent parts of myself, but with­out the need to set aside bail mon­ey. So what if I’ve nev­er been a four­teen-year-old boy? A musi­cal genius? Home­com­ing queen? I can write my way inside any one of those char­ac­ters, any one of those facets of the human expe­ri­ence. When I am suc­cess­ful in doing so, it means I have man­aged to trav­el to an unex­plored part of myself—a part that, like my Evil Twin, expe­ri­ences the world in a very dif­fer­ent way.

Your stu­dents can explore the pow­er of an alter­nate out­look through a sim­ple “swap­ping view­points” writ­ing exer­cise. Give them a basic sto­ry conflict, such as a sce­nario where a “per­fect” old­er broth­er and a “screw-up” younger sis­ter have to work togeth­er to achieve a com­mon goal.

Ask stu­dents to immerse them­selves as ful­ly as they can into the con­scious­ness of the broth­er. Have them write for ten min­utes, telling the sto­ry from that character’s point of view. Then, ask them to swap and rewrite the exact same scene from the younger sister’s point of view. They’ll be sur­prised by the pos­si­bil­i­ties they dis­cov­er in the sto­ry, and in them­selves, by explor­ing these alter­nate view­points.

One of the beau­ties of writ­ing is that it can take us places we nev­er expect­ed to go—perhaps espe­cial­ly, places we nev­er knew exist­ed inside our­selves.

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Skinny Dip with Terri Evans

bk_EleanorParkWhat keeps you up at night?

Just about every­thing – I am a wor­ri­er and haven’t had eight straight hours of sleep in almost two years.

What is your proud­est career moment?

There are two, both of which occurred in the past cou­ple of years. The first began two years ago (as did my inabil­i­ty to sleep well) when the par­ents of a child involved in a sum­mer read­ing pro­gram, on which my Library Media Spe­cial­ists col­leagues and I were col­lab­o­rat­ing, chal­lenged the book we had cho­sen on the grounds that it con­tained graph­ic lan­guage and sex. The Par­ents Action League (one of eight groups in Min­neso­ta that the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter has deemed a hate group) got behind the chal­lenge and made sev­er­al demands—that the book be removed from all schools in the dis­trict, that the author not be allowed to vis­it our schools, and that the Library Media Spe­cial­ists who chose the book be dis­ci­plined. The sto­ry went nation­al. One of my proud­est moments was when I spoke in front of our school board, along with two of my col­leagues, in order to defend the book (the award-win­ning Eleanor and Park by Rain­bow Row­ell). I am pas­sion­ate about the free­dom to read and the free­dom of information—and pro­vid­ing my stu­dents with books in which they see them­selves reflect­ed, even if their lives aren’t pret­ty. This free­dom also allows these stu­dents to look into the lives of oth­ers and devel­op empa­thy. Hav­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to express this pas­sion, and even­tu­al­ly win­ning this bat­tle (the com­mit­tee charged with decid­ing the fate of the book vot­ed unan­i­mous­ly to keep the book on the shelves in our schools), changed me for­ev­er. The fol­low­ing fall I was award­ed the Lars Steltzn­er Intel­lec­tu­al Free­dom Award. In addi­tion, that year I was named a final­ist for Min­neso­ta Teacher of the Year. One of the most chal­leng­ing times in my life was also one of the most reward­ing.

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

Gym­nas­tics or fig­ure skat­ing. In fifth grade my teacher told me I was clum­sy. It would be a great “so there” moment!

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

bk_Little-Women-book-cover-2As a child, my par­ents could not afford to buy me or my four sib­lings books, nor did we ever go to the library. I was not a read­er. The sum­mer between fourth and fifth grade, my fam­i­ly and I moved back to Min­neso­ta from Michi­gan.  As a going-away gift, my friends gave me a copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Lit­tle Women. It was the first book that I ever owned and the first book I remem­ber read­ing cov­er to cov­er. That was the begin­ning of my jour­ney to becom­ing a read­er. I trea­sure that mem­o­ry and that book (which I keep in a safe spot and look at fre­quent­ly).

What TV show can’t you turn off?

So You Think You Can Dance – real­i­ty com­pe­ti­tion shows, espe­cial­ly those that involve some­thing artis­tic, are my guilty plea­sure (Sur­vivor, Danc­ing with the Stars, Amer­i­can Idol, America’s Next Top Mod­el, Project Run­way – I LOVE them all!)

 

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Two for the Show: How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Phyl­lis Root and Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin

It’s high sum­mer in the gar­den, with an abun­dance of veg­eta­bles to har­vest and flow­ers abuzz with pol­li­na­tors. Crunchy car­rots, leafy kale, sun-warm toma­toes, gar­lic bulbs, green beans, zuc­chi­ni (some gigan­tic) all offer them­selves to the gar­den­er. But more grows in a gar­den than plants. Peo­ple grow, too, and con­nec­tions between peo­ple take root and blos­som. Two love­ly pic­ture books about grow­ing things and the peo­ple who grow with them are The Gar­den­er by Sarah Stew­art with pic­tures by David Small (Far­rar, Strauss, Giroux , 1997) and The Grandad Tree by Trish Cooke, illus­trat­ed by Sharon Wil­son (Can­dlewick Press, 2000).

bk_gardner178The Gar­den­er is an epis­to­lary pic­ture book (a cat­e­go­ry wor­thy of its own blog post), told in let­ters from a young girl, Lydia Grace, sent from her home in the coun­try to live in the city with her Uncle Jim dur­ing the Depres­sion until “things get bet­ter.” She writes first to her Uncle Jim, then back home to Mama, Papa, and Grand­ma. Although Uncle Jim doesn’t ever smile, Lydia Grace is excit­ed by the win­dow box­es she sees in the city, by learn­ing to bake bread in her uncle’s bak­ery, and by the store cat Otis who sleeps on her bed.

With help from her fam­i­ly back home who sends her bulbs and seedlings and seed cat­a­logues, from Emma who works in the bak­ery with her hus­band Ed, and from neigh­bors who give her con­tain­ers in which to plant flow­ers and call her “the gar­den­er,” Lydia Grace sets about mak­ing gar­dens in pots and fill­ing win­dows box­es with radish­es onions, and let­tuce. But what fills her with “great plans” is her dis­cov­ery at the top of a fire escape of the building’s roof (shown in a word­less spread), lit­tered with trash and just wait­ing for the dirt she hauls from a vacant lot.

All the while, Lydia hopes for a smile from Uncle Jim.

When her “secret place” is ready, Lydia Grace, Emma, and Ed bring Uncle Jim to the roof gar­den in a glo­ri­ous dou­ble page word­less spread, which par­al­lels the first view of the roof, now trans­formed.

A week lat­er, when Lydia Grace learns that her papa has got a job and that she’s going home Uncle Jim clos­es the shop, sends Ed and Emma and Lydia Grace to the roof gar­den, and brings Lydia Grace a cake cov­ered in flow­ers. Lydia Grace writes, “I tru­ly believe that cake equals one thou­sand smiles.” The last page, also word­less, shows Uncle Jim hug­ging Lydia Grace as they wait for her to board the train home. In the grim grey city, Lydia Grace has grown more than beau­ti­ful flow­ers and a gar­den, she has grown a con­nec­tion with her uncle, Emma, Ed, and the neigh­bors. As she writes in the P. S. of her last let­ter, “We gar­den­ers nev­er retire.” In this book, the deep­est emo­tions are not said in words but with flow­ers, with cake, and with silent hugs. Even the word­less spreads con­vey the book’s heart—that plants and peo­ple can bloom in the grayest sur­round­ings.

bk_grandadtreeLGThe spare poet­ic words of The Grandad Tree begin,

There is a tree

at the bot­tom of Leigh’s gar­den.

An apple tree.

Vin, Leigh’s big broth­er, said

it start­ed as a seed

and then grew

and grew.

And Vin said

that tree,

where they used to play

with Grandad,

that apple tree

will be there…

for­ev­er.

The text goes on to tell how Grandad was a baby once, then a boy who climbed coconut trees near the sea where he lived, then a man and a hus­band and a dad and a grand­dad for Leigh and Vin. “That’s life,” Grandad would say.

 The apple tree blos­soms in spring as the art shows Vin and Leigh play­ing ball with Grandad. In sum­mer, as the apples grow, Grandad plays his vio­lin for the chil­dren under the tree. He watch­es them har­vest apples as the leaves fall, and he watch­es from the win­dow as they build a snow­man in the win­ter. The text con­tin­ues,

And some­times things die,

like trees,

like peo­ple…

            like Grandad.

Leigh and Vin and their mom­ma remem­ber Grandad as Vin plays his vio­lin, and Leigh plants a seed beside the apple tree to grow and grow, to go through changes, and for them to love for­ev­er and ever

            just like they’ll always love Grandad.

In few words and glow­ing illus­tra­tions, Cooke and Wil­son bring togeth­er the sea­sons of a tree and of a life lived and show how while things change, some things, like Leigh and Vin’s love for Grandad and his for them, will last for­ev­er.

Com­fort, love, rela­tion­ships can all bloom along with the wide world of grow­ing things. Even when har­vest is upon us gar­den­ers, it’s good to remem­ber that seeds will hold next year’s gar­dens close inside. Who knows what will blos­som there beyond fruits and flow­ers?

Oth­er books about grow­ing things that we love:

  • Cher­ries and Cher­ry Pits by Vera B. Williams
  • Farmer Duck by Mar­tin Wad­dell
  • Miss Rumphius by Bar­bara Cooney
  • The Tree Lady: The True Sto­ry of How One Tree-Lov­ing Woman Changed a City For­ev­er by H. Joseph Hop­kins
  • Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Win­ter
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Kekla Magoon: Writing Historical Fiction

inter­view by Ric­ki Thomp­son

cover image

Aladdin Books, 2009

RICKI: Kekla, thanks so much for join­ing me and your oth­er fans (old and new) on Bookol­o­gy! Your nov­els have been described as “well-paced,” “deeply-lay­ered,” and “ele­gant­ly craft­ed.”  I espe­cial­ly admire the uncom­fort­able issues you con­front and the risks you take in your sto­ries. You’ve authored a num­ber of engag­ing books, but today let’s talk about your com­pan­ion YA his­tor­i­cal nov­els, The Rock and the Riv­er and Fire in the Streets, and the research involved in writ­ing them.

Your nov­els take place in Chica­go, 1968, a pow­der keg time and place. 1968 was the year Mar­tin Luther King Jr. and Bob­by Kennedy were shot. It was the year that thou­sands of pro­test­ers and police clashed vio­lent­ly out­side the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion in Chica­go. Did you choose this volatile set­ting, or did it choose you?

KEKLA: I want­ed to write about the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, and though the orga­ni­za­tion was start­ed in 1966 in Oak­land, I want­ed to show a broad­er pic­ture of the civ­il rights strug­gle too. So I chose a city I was already famil­iar with, and where riots had erupt­ed in the wake of Dr. King’s assas­si­na­tion (this hap­pened in many cities nation­wide, but not Oak­land, because the Pan­thers helped calm the com­mu­ni­ty). Chica­go hap­pened to also be the city where the DNC [Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion] was held, which allowed Maxie’s sto­ry to open amid that mêlée.

RICKI: The Black Pan­thers was a con­tro­ver­sial par­ty. Many of your char­ac­ters, includ­ing your pro­tag­o­nist, Max­ie, are mem­bers. Why did you make this choice?

Aladdin, 2012

Aladdin, 2012

KEKLA: The Pan­thers were con­tro­ver­sial because a lot of peo­ple didn’t under­stand their goals. In the media and in his­tor­i­cal dis­cus­sions, they tend to be por­trayed as vio­lent and scary, when in real­i­ty their work in the com­mu­ni­ties was broad and often very pos­i­tive. Most peo­ple think of them as a mil­i­tant group, which they were, how­ev­er their “mil­i­tan­cy” was based on a strat­e­gy of self-defense against police bru­tal­i­ty. When they were not being attacked, they focused on cre­at­ing pos­i­tive change and empow­er­ing peo­ple with­in strug­gling black com­mu­ni­ties. The Black Pan­ther Par­ty oper­at­ed schools, ran food pro­grams, offered legal aid, and pro­vid­ed health clin­ics for poor peo­ple who did not have any­where else to turn. I wrote these books in part to offer up the Pan­thers’ side of the sto­ry and to show how excit­ing their pres­ence in the com­mu­ni­ty was to young peo­ple who longed to make a dif­fer­ence and were tired of march­ing and protest­ing for change and being beat­en down for their effort.

RICKI: The Black Pan­thers believed in car­ry­ing arms in order to police the police. A num­ber of the char­ac­ters in your books han­dle guns. What kind of research did you do to learn about firearms?

KEKLA: I read about the types of guns the Pan­thers used. I’ve nev­er had actu­al firearms as a part of my life. I’m a lit­tle bit intim­i­dat­ed by the idea of guns, and while it appeals to me in the­o­ry to learn to use them for the pur­pos­es of research, I didn’t ever take it that far.

RICKI: Chica­go, 1968, doesn’t exist any­more. But some of the peo­ple who inhab­it­ed that time and place still do. What role did per­son­al inter­views have in your research?

KEKLA: Not much for The Rock and the Riv­er. I didn’t per­son­al­ly know any for­mer Pan­thers at that point, though I had spo­ken to a num­ber of peo­ple who lived through the time and par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Civ­il Rights Move­ment in oth­er capac­i­ties. By the time Fire in the Streets came out, I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak to a hand­ful of for­mer Pan­thers, some of whom are still well known activists and edu­ca­tors.

RICKI: Did you explore the places in Chica­go where your char­ac­ters lived and worked? What did you learn from your explo­rations?

cover image

Hen­ry Holt, 2014

KEKLA: I went to col­lege in Chica­go area, but I lived in New York when I wrote these books. I have been to the neigh­bor­hoods where I pic­ture Sam and Max­ie liv­ing, but the com­mu­ni­ty I cre­at­ed for them is real­ly a con­glom­er­a­tion of places and things.

RICKI: Your nov­els make ref­er­ence to a num­ber of famous people—Martin Luther King Jr., Coret­ta Scott King, Bob­by Seale, Huey New­ton, Fred Hamp­ton. If you could have  lunch with one of them, whom would you choose? Why?

KEKLA: Oh, wow. I would love to sit with any of them. Of your list, the only per­son still liv­ing is Bob­by Seale, so I will try for that one in real life at some point, along with Elaine Brown, Angela Davis, Kath­leen Cleaver and any­one else who will hang out with me. But in terms of those who are gone, I would prob­a­bly choose Fred Hamp­ton. He is the one on the list who had the least chance to speak in the world (short­est life, small­est plat­form dur­ing that life) and I can only imag­ine how much more he would have had to say.

RICKI: Authen­tic dia­logue is so impor­tant in his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. How did you learn the slang (such as “pigs” for “police”) and the every­day ver­nac­u­lar of the peri­od?

KEKLA: Just from read­ing the Pan­thers’ his­tor­i­cal writ­ings, I was able to pick up their lan­guage and style. I cer­tain­ly could have car­ried that aspect of the sto­ries fur­ther, but I want­ed mod­ern read­ers to be able to fol­low the slang, so I chose a few things to use reg­u­lar­ly. “Pigs,” to me, is Pan­ther-spe­cif­ic and very evoca­tive.

RICKI: What expe­ri­ences, ques­tions, crav­ings, in your own life con­nect you to Sam in The Rock and the Riv­er and/or Max­ie in Fire in the Streets?

cover image

Can­dlewick, 2015

KEKLA: Well, the main ques­tion that dri­ves ROCK is which path to choose—passive resis­tance or self-defense, broad­ly speak­ing. And in FIRE, it’s how far will you go to stand up for what you believe in, which is a shade of the same issue. So these nov­els are part­ly dri­ven by my won­der­ing what I would have done if I had lived back then, what choic­es I might have made in that time and place.

RICKI: Can you talk about your research process?

KEKLA: I did a lot of read­ing about the Black Pan­ther Par­ty: books, mag­a­zines, news­pa­pers. I’d already stud­ied the civ­il rights move­ment in gen­er­al for many years already, but it was inter­est­ing and infor­ma­tive to dig into a less-often-dis­cussed top­ic. I watched doc­u­men­taries in which the founders and ear­ly mem­bers of the BPP spoke and the organization’s his­to­ry and con­tro­ver­sies were high­light­ed. I read their writ­ings and speech­es from the peri­od, and auto­bi­ogra­phies of, and I even viewed some old micro­film copies of the orig­i­nal Black Pan­ther news­pa­per. Lat­er, I trav­eled to Oak­land and viewed copies of the real news­pa­pers and oth­er ephemera in their archives.

RICKI: And how did you keep track of your research?

KEKLA: I was sup­posed to keep track of it?

RICKI: You said your mom helped you in your research. How?

KEKLA: I can imag­ine myself say­ing that, but out of con­text, I’m not actu­al­ly sure what I meant. She was a young teen in the late 1960s, so I’ve cer­tain­ly talked with her about her own expe­ri­ences and mem­o­ries of the time.

RICKI: You’ve no doubt heard the expres­sion “Your research is show­ing.” What riv­et­ing infor­ma­tion did you have to elim­i­nate for the sake of the sto­ries?

cover image

Blooms­bury, 2015

KEKLA: Well, 1968 was quite a rich year in terms of his­tor­i­cal con­text, so I left a lot of com­pelling mate­r­i­al out of these sto­ries. But it’s also a near enough moment in his­to­ry that the kinds of his­tor­i­cal details that authors some­times get bogged down in retelling—daily food prepa­ra­tion rit­u­als, trans­porta­tion, peri­od technology—weren’t too much of an issue. I did have to pay close atten­tion to my own assump­tions about the world—I had to elim­i­nate ref­er­ences to Chicago’s Sears Tow­er (now Willis Tow­er), which hadn’t been fin­ished yet, and pens that “click” open had to become pens with caps. The long curly cords of tele­phones that I remem­ber from my 1980s child­hood weren’t in fash­ion yet, so you couldn’t walk around the kitchen while on the phone, you had to stand in one place to talk. This is the kind of detail that my mom and oth­er old­er read­ers helped me cor­rect. And, of course, I real­ize that the very detail of using a cord­ed phone may be news to some of my young read­ers!

RICKI: Fire in the Streets ends on a strong but edgy note. Can we hope for a third nov­el to join your oth­er two?

KEKLA: Oh, I doubt it. I guess you nev­er know when an idea will strike, but for the time being I’ve moved on to oth­er top­ics. The near­est thing to a third “com­pan­ion” for ROCK and FIRE is my non-fic­tion book on the his­to­ry and lega­cy of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, which will be pub­lished by Clar­i­on in Fall 2016.

 

 

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There’s Nothing to Dooooooooo

by Vic­ki Palmquist

By this point in the sum­mer when I was young, the charm of being out of school had worn off, I’d played every game on my grandma’s shelves, and I’d had a few fights with my friends in the neigh­bor­hood, so I’d retreat­ed to read­ing as many books as I could, con­sum­ing sto­ries like Ms. Pac­man swal­low­ing ener­gy pel­lets.

When your kids claim that there’s noth­ing to do, here are a few sug­ges­tions for books that inspire doing things, think­ing about things, and inves­ti­gat­ing more.

How Come? Every Kid's Science Questions ExplainedAs I was grow­ing up, I believed that I didn’t like sci­ence or math. Turns out it was text­books and work­sheets and tests I didn’t much care for. Give me a para­graph like these two:

One very big num­ber was named by nine-year-old Mil­ton Sirot­ta in 1938.

Milton’s math­e­mati­cian uncle, Edward Kas­ner, asked his nephew what he would call the num­ber one fol­lowed by a hun­dred zeroes. Mil­ton decid­ed it was a googol.”

And the num­ber nam­ing doesn’t stop there. This tid­bit is part of a chap­ter called “What is the last num­ber in the uni­verse”” found in How Come? Every Kid’s Sci­ence Ques­tions Explained (Work­man, 2014), writ­ten by Kathy Wol­lard and illus­trat­ed by Debra Solomon with won­der­ful­ly com­ic and live­ly depic­tions of the con­cepts in the text.

Oth­er chap­ters address must-know top­ics such as “How does a fin­ger on a straw keep liq­uid in?” and “Are ants real­ly stronger than humans?” and “Why do the leaves change col­or in the fall?”

I prob­a­bly don’t need to point out that kids aren’t the only ones who will find this book fas­ci­nat­ing. Read a few chap­ters to your­self at night and you’ll be able to answer those end­less­ly curi­ous chil­dren who pull on your sleeve.

PhotoplayFor the visu­al­ly curi­ous, and I believe that means Every Child, you’ll be inspired by Pho­to­play! Doo­dle. Design. Draw. by M.J. Bron­stein (Chron­i­cle, 2014).

Ms. Bron­stein pro­vides exam­ples and work­space for kids to draw on exist­ing pho­tos (print­ed in the book), telling a sto­ry with those draw­ings or even writ­ing a sto­ry. The book can be used in quite a few dif­fer­ent ways … and then you can take your own pho­tos and print them out for kids to con­tin­ue hav­ing fun and using their imag­i­na­tions.

Who Done It?A book that takes some inves­ti­ga­tion and one that looks like a book for very young chil­dren is actu­al­ly a sophis­ti­cat­ed guess­ing game. The humans and crit­ters line up on Olivi­er Tallec’s game pages in Who Done It? (Chron­i­cle, forth­com­ing in 2015).

A sim­ple ques­tion such as “Who played with that mean cat?” requires look­ing into. Can you spot the most like­ly sus­pect?

For kids who are learn­ing about facial expres­sions, body lan­guage, and tak­ing one’s time to rea­son through a puz­zle, this is an ide­al book that will engen­der good dis­cus­sions or occu­py a few of those “there’s noth­ing to doooooo” hours of sum­mer.

Who Done It?

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Mockingbird…

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

We are talk­ing a lot these days at our house about Harp­er Lee’s To Kill a Mock­ing­bird and bk_MockingbirdGo Set A Watch­man. As a fam­i­ly we lis­tened to To Kill A Mock­ing­bird, nar­rat­ed by Sis­sy Spacek, last sum­mer on our vaca­tion. Every­one in the car was riv­et­ed to the story…but both of the kids will tell you they real­ly didn’t like it.

I adore Harp­er Lee’s novel—the char­ac­ters, the set­ting, the sto­ry, the writ­ing. We spent much of eighth grade Eng­lish on it, in my (pos­si­bly revi­sion­ist) mem­o­ry, and I loved every minute of it. I am intrigued, chal­lenged, and often con­vict­ed by the argu­ments made by those who do not adore it, how­ev­er. Clos­er exam­i­na­tion of this beloved clas­sic this sum­mer hasn’t “ruined” To Kill a Mock­ing­bird for me, nor has Go Set A Watch­man; rather, I’m see­ing it through dif­fer­ent eyes and think­ing about things in new ways. This feels impor­tant. And I’ll make the dan­ger­ous­ly loose claim that any book that gets peo­ple talk­ing and read­ing like these two books have is a good book. (Of course there are exceptions—you just thought of some and so did I. Just go with it. You know what I mean.)

***

bk_I-KillLast week, I went to look for books for kids about To Kill a Mock­ing­bird and brought home a cou­ple of nov­els rec­om­mend­ed at my local inde­pen­dent book­store. My girl reads much faster than I do—especially in the sum­mer with its long read­ing hours—and so she agreed to read them and report back. I hand­ed her I Kill the Mock­ing­bird by Paul Acam­po­ra first. She read it in one sit­ting.

You will love it,” she said.

Did you love it?” I asked. Some­times these opin­ions are mutu­al­ly exclu­sive.

Pret­ty much.”

And so I read it. It’s a quick­ie and it did not dis­ap­point. Very clever, great writ­ing, many lay­ers to enjoy but easy to read, and a won­der­ful “idea” for a sto­ry for young teens. My only com­plaint is that I wish it had been longer. It moves fast and is admirably compact…but the writ­ing is so good, the char­ac­ters so won­der­ful, their dia­logue so wit­ty, the sto­ry such a hoot, and the themes so impor­tant…well, I just would’ve enjoyed more of it.

Our con­ver­sa­tion around this book has large­ly been about the role of tech­nol­o­gy, not the orig­i­nal clas­sic around which the small nov­el revolves. Acampora’s book is full of social media—Facebook, Twit­ter, Insta­gram, chat rooms—it’s all there. In fact, it is absolute­ly nec­es­sary to the plot, which is why I didn’t mind it at all.

I remain Lud­dite-like and cranky enough to be frus­trat­ed when these very con­tem­po­rary (so con­tem­po­rary I won­der how they get the book pub­lished before every­thing changes) social media plat­forms show up in books. Often, in children’s books espe­cial­ly, it feels like men­tions of tech­nol­o­gy have been added in to make things seem more teen-friend­ly and “hip.” Since the social media scene is noto­ri­ous­ly fast-chang­ing (espe­cial­ly in how kids and teens use it), this seems short-sight­ed, not to men­tion unnec­es­sary.

But I Kill the Mock­ing­bird is actu­al­ly depen­dent on the social media in what I’ll call “a good way.” What the kids do—which is cre­ate a sit­u­a­tion in which To Kill A Mock­ing­bird seem­ing­ly dis­ap­pears and there­fore becomes The Hot “New” Book Every­one Must Read—could not have been done in one sum­mer with­out the expo­nen­tial pos­si­bil­i­ties and cat­a­stro­phes of social media.

ph_screen-and-bookPLUS—and this is important—these kids, all three going into high school, are not on screens and devices all the time. That would make a ter­ri­ble book, in my opin­ion. They text and post and tweet and chat, etc., but that’s all summed up in effi­cient nar­ra­tion (because who needs to watch it unfold?) and we’re back to the action of the sto­ry, back to the large and impor­tant themes, back to the unique per­son­al­i­ties and sweet friend­ship of the three main char­ac­ters.

You do not have to have read To Kill A Mock­ing­bird to enjoy I Kill the Mock­ing­bird, but you will enjoy it more if you have. You’ll also enjoy it more if you’re gen­er­al­ly well read—the chap­ter titles are very clever, as is the sub­tle homage to a whole shelf of well-loved books. I’m a fan. And so’s my kid. So we rec­om­mend it, the both of us. Take an after­noon in these last weeks of sum­mer and have a read. Let us know what you think.

 

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Summer School

by Mau­r­na Rome

photo salt flats

Mau­r­na, read­ing at the salt flats in Argenti­na

The bumper stick­er reads: “Three rea­sons to be a teacher; June, July and August.” This may be true for some, but it was nev­er my mantra, at least until this sum­mer. This sum­mer I decid­ed to par­tic­i­pate in sum­mer school and what a good deci­sion that was! My class of “sum­mer kids” includ­ed the most diverse, inter­est­ing bunch of char­ac­ters I have ever expe­ri­enced in my 25 years of teach­ing. And best of all, rather than being con­fined to one class­room for the entire stint, our lessons took place in a vari­ety of loca­tions includ­ing Lon­don, New York, and New Orleans. If you’re think­ing this was one of those online “vir­tu­al” schools, think again. It wasn’t. I had the plea­sure of cre­at­ing this sum­mer school expe­ri­ence that was like none oth­er. I hand picked most of the kids and the places to which we trav­elled. I know it sounds too good to be true in many ways and, although it wasn’t always easy, it has been one of the most reward­ing sum­mers of my career.

Let me tell you a bit about the kids… Trust me, learn­ing about the his­to­ries of kids who have dealt with some unimag­in­able hard­ships at a very young age can pull might­i­ly on your heart­strings and make you lose sleep. My “sum­mer kids” have had to nav­i­gate some seri­ous chal­lenges. Ada was born with a phys­i­cal impair­ment that could’ve been treat­ed at birth yet her abu­sive moth­er chose to keep her locked in their apart­ment, away from oth­er kids. Her lan­guage devel­op­ment was severe­ly impact­ed by this neglect yet she final­ly

photo bookstore

Vis­it­ing a book­store in Argenti­na.

learned to read at the age of 9, thanks to her fos­ter mom. Albie is one of the kind­est, most hard-work­ing, sin­cere boys I have ever met. Although his par­ents try to be sup­port­ive, they are extreme­ly frus­trat­ed with low aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment and the fact that they were asked to remove him from his high­ly regard­ed pri­vate school. And then there’s Rose. A very high poten­tial girl with autism who lives with her emo­tion­al­ly dis­tant father and a dog she loves dear­ly. Rose has fre­quent melt­downs in class and has been known to throw things, scream and make it dif­fi­cult for oth­ers in the class­room to learn. Armani is a sassy, brave young lady who sur­vived Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na and has had to grow up fast as she helped her fam­i­ly pick up the pieces after they lost every­thing. Final­ly, there is Robert, a very lone­ly, trou­bled boy being raised by his grand­moth­er. He yearns to find out more about his moth­er who died when he was a baby. These incred­i­ble “sum­mer kids” are just a few of the 20 or so who have filled my days with wor­ry, sad­ness, inspi­ra­tion and joy. Many of my “sum­mer kids” have been teased and tor­ment­ed by peers. Not all of them have endured such trau­ma, but they all have a sto­ry to tell. My time with these “sum­mer kids” has taught me much about the pow­er of friend­ship, per­se­ver­ance and hope.

Meeting Caldecott award winning author, Dan Santat at the ILA Convention.

Meet­ing Calde­cott award win­ning author, Dan San­tat at the ILA Con­ven­tion.

One of my stu­dents had a real gift for mak­ing up rhymes. Con­sid­er this gem:

Home is a place to get out of the rain

It cra­dles the hurt and mends the pain
And no one cares about your name

Or the height of your head
Or the size of your brain

Anoth­er quote worth pon­der­ing came from the moth­er of one of my “sum­mer kids”:

If you have to tell lies, or you think you have to, to keep your­self safe—I don’t think that makes you a liar. Liars tell lies when they don’t need to, to make them­selves look spe­cial or impor­tant.

And imag­ine how tak­en I was with this thought for the day, shared by that same young man who was removed from his pres­ti­gious school for not being smart enough:

You couldn’t get where you were going with­out know­ing where you’d been. And you couldn’t be any­where at all with­out hav­ing been almost there for a while.

I love my “sum­mer kids” and the time we spent togeth­er but I have a con­fes­sion to make. The truth is, I did not receive a pay­check for any of the hours I devot­ed to sum­mer school. That may seem absurd, yet I would do it all over again in a heart­beat. What I got out of the expe­ri­ence was worth much more. There is no deny­ing how real and full of grit my “sum­mer kids” lives are. There is also no doubt that I learned some tremen­dous lessons from this group. But, you see, my “sum­mer kids” came to me from the books I savored through­out sev­er­al weeks of trav­el­ling and time with fam­i­ly and friends. While I was swept up in the worlds in which they live, they accom­pa­nied me on my sum­mer Rome_SummerKidsadven­tures, from Salta, Argenti­na to St. Louis, MO. And just like every eager learn­er who greets me at the start of a new school year, their chal­lenges and tri­umphs become mine and their sto­ries will remain in my heart for­ev­er.

I’ll bring these “sum­mer kids” into our class­room this fall where they’ll join us on our lit­er­a­cy jour­ney in the com­ing year. We’ll all get to know and dis­cuss this bunch of char­ac­ters as I read their books aloud. I am a read­er and it is so impor­tant that my stu­dents learn about my read­ing life as they con­tin­ue to cre­ate their own!

***

Some of the “kids” I spent my sum­mer with:

  • Ada – The War that Saved My Life by Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley
  • Albie – Absolute­ly Almost by Lisa Graff
  • Rose – Rain, Reign by Ann M. Mar­tin
  • Armani – Upside Down in the Mid­dle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana
  • Robert – Rump by Liesl Shurtliff
  • Jack – Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gan­tos
  • Ellie – 14th Gold­fish by Jen­nifer Holms
  • Lina – Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  • Hyung-pil – Sin­gle Shard by Lin­da Sue Park
  • Dinky – Dinky Hock­er Shoots Smack by M.E. Kerr
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Skinny Dip with Mary Casanova

Grace coverWhat keeps you up at night?

I have two kinds of sleep­ers in me: 1) the one who sleeps sound­ly from the moment my head hits the pil­low until morn­ing and 2) the rest­less non-sleep­er (usu­al­ly hor­mone induced) who keeps an ear open for the cat, Apol­lo, meow­ing at the door; who hears one of our three dogs—Kito, Sam, or Mattie—every time they get up to lap at the water bowl, which I imag­ine must be get­ting low and so I climb from under my cov­ers to go check; the sleep­er whose mind starts whip­ping through a “rolodex of wor­ries” or pos­si­ble sto­ry ideas (I have a one-word mantra I use to stop the whirring and it’s SLEEP); and the sleep­er with rest­less legs syn­drome, which feels exact­ly like worms crawl­ing in my legs until I move them around, or as I’ve dis­cov­ered, get up and do ten min­utes of stretch­ing. Sleep­er #2 needs three cups of strong cof­fee to get going in the morn­ing.

What is your proud­est career moment?

One Dog coverOh, there have been many mov­ing, hum­bling, amaz­ing expe­ri­ences with fans. But just recent­ly, at an ele­men­tary school in Duluth, Min­neso­ta I had anoth­er. I’d picked kids to come up and help act out One-Dog Canoe in front of the audi­ence with a lam­i­nat­ed red paper canoe and pup­pets. As we neared the end of the skit, one boy who hadn’t been select­ed, bar­reled up unex­pect­ed­ly, seized the micro­phone from my hand, and shout­ed into it “Can I come, too?!!!” I was sur­prised, but before I knew it he ran off as an adult made a dash for him. Turned out, he was a boy with autism who rarely tuned in to what was going on around him. But from the back of the audi­to­ri­um, he’d become ful­ly engaged in the sto­ry and skit and want­ed to be part of it. As the teacher said, “You con­nect­ed with him and he was right there with you!”

Describe your most favorite pair of paja­mas ever.

Two years ago I ordered paja­mas for myself for Christ­mas from Bed­Head. Pricey. More than the cheap pj’s I had always set­tled for. The red, gray, and light blue pais­ley pat­tern has fad­ed (they were pret­ty wild at first), but from the start, they’ve been soft and com­fy and wel­com­ing. Paja­mas should say “Ahhh.” These do.

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

Because I love hors­es (we own three: Sable, Gin­ger, and Mid­night,) I’d def­i­nite­ly do an equine event. And if I knew I’d win gold and not break my neck, I’d go for three-day event­ing, which involves cross-coun­try jump­ing, dres­sage, and sta­di­um jump­ing. Short of that, I’ll have to set­tle for occa­sion­al 3-day horse-camp­ing trips, trail-rid­ing, and rid­ing at a friend’s indoor are­na, just a few miles down the road.

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

bk_Dick_JaneThe bravest thing? I wrote a first nov­el and fin­ished the draft. And sec­ond, once pub­lished, I braved my deep and pro­found fear of speak­ing. Only by speak­ing count­less times, over and over and over, did I grad­u­al­ly over­come the clenched stom­ach, vis­i­ble shak­ing, and sense of impend­ing death. I told myself, “Do this for your books. It won’t kill you, even if it feels like it will.” And now, to my utter amaze­ment, the fear is 99% gone and I enjoy shar­ing with audi­ences. I nev­er thought that would be pos­si­ble.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

I remem­ber Dick and Jane books in 1st grade and thought they were incred­i­bly dull and bor­ing sto­ries. If this was “read­ing,” I wasn’t impressed. It took Charlotte’s Web, per­haps in 3rd or 4th grade, to change my atti­tude toward books.

 

 

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School Desegregation in Children’s Literature

by The Bookol­o­gist

In this month’s “From the Edi­tor,” Mar­sha Qua­ley share’s schol­ar Rudine Sims Bishop’s obser­va­tion that while there are many non­fic­tion books for chil­dren and YAs about the civ­il rights events of the 1950s, not too many authors have tack­led the top­ics in fic­tion. One excep­tion might be school desegregation/integration,which is the focus of this month’s time­line. We’ve includ­ed one of the first books to deal with deseg­re­ga­tion after Brown vs. The Board of Edu­ca­tion (1954), a few from the bound­ary-push­ing era of “prob­lem nov­els,” and some recent titles, which are of course also prob­lem nov­els (what nov­el isn’t!) but with flashier cov­ers. 

Oh–and one pic­ture book. Enjoy.

IntegrationTimeline4

 

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Catch You Later, Traitor Companion Booktalks

To get you start­ed on the Book­storm™ Books …
America in the 1950s cover  

Amer­i­ca in the 1950s

Edmund Lin­dop with Sarah Deca­pua
21st Cen­tu­ry Books, 2010

  • Top­ic-cen­tered chap­ters, e.g.: the tran­si­tion from WWII, the Kore­an War, the 50’s econ­o­my and soci­ety, the Red Scare

  • Pho­to-illus­trat­ed

  • Report mate­r­i­al galore, includ­ing sub­stan­tial back mat­ter

Bat 6 cover

 

Bat 6

Vir­ginia Euw­er Wolff
Scholas­tic, 1998

  • In rur­al Ore­gon not long after WWII, the annu­al soft­ball game between 6th grade girls from two towns is a caul­dron of secrets, sim­mer­ing racism, class divide, hope and friend­ship.

  • Quick-read­ing, mul­ti­ple-view­point nar­ra­tive shared by all the girls and some adults pro­vides a “you are there” report of the big event

  • Jane Addams Peace Award, an SLJ Best Book of the Year

Belles of the Ballpark cover  

Belles of the Ball­park: Cel­e­brat­ing the All-Amer­i­can Girls Pro­fes­sion­al Base­ball League

Diana Star Helmer with Thomas S. Owens
Sum­mer Games, 2015

  • The 1992 film A League of their Own is now a gen­er­a­tion old and pos­si­bly unknown to many young stu­dents; this book is per­fect for those just dis­cov­er­ing the women’s-league top­ic or for fans of the film that want to know more

  • Detailed league his­to­ry from its ori­gins dur­ing WWII, through its 12 sea­sons

  • Loads of pho­tos and many inter­views

Catch a Tiger cover  

Catch a Tiger by the Toe

Ellen Levine
Viking Juve­nile, 2005

  • It’s 1953 in New York, and 13-year-old Jamie’s father IS a com­mu­nist; life changes

  • Com­mu­nists in the ‘50s were often very involved in civ­il rights actions; this nov­el explores the rel­e­vance of that con­nec­tion to the “witch-hunt­ing” and fin­ger-point­ing

  • Author’s note and addi­tion­al back mat­ter

City of Spies cover  

City of Spies

Susan Kim and Lau­rence Kla­van
illus by Pas­cal Dizin
First Sec­ond, 2010

  • It’s 1942 and the world is at war, and in New York 10 year old Eve­lyn has the run of the city; adven­ture ensues in this graph­ic nov­el

  • Visu­al blend of old-style-Amer­i­can comics (Eve­lyn reads them and draws her own) and updat­ed Euro­pean (Tin-Tin) visu­al sto­ry­telling

  • See­ing the ene­my everywhere—a great cur­rent top­ic for dis­cus­sion and a ter­rif­ic nar­ra­tive back­bone for a mys­tery

Cold War cover  

Cold War

Josepha Sher­man
Lern­er Pub­li­ca­tions 2004

  • Begins with his­tor­i­cal back­ground on the “rise of the super­pow­ers,” includ­ing a brief run­down on both the US and Russ­ian rev­o­lu­tions and the par­ti­tion­ing of Europe dur­ing and after World War II.

  • Strong pho­to illus­tra­tion

  • Back mat­ter includes glos­sary, time­line of Cold War events, maps, and read­ing list

Fabulous Fashions cover  

Fab­u­lous Fash­ions of the 1950s

Feli­cia Lowen­stein Niv­en
Enslow, 2011

  • 48-page overview of the fash­ion era

  • Pho­to illus­trat­ed, with repro­duc­tions of actu­al 50s adver­tis­ing

  • Glos­sary and fash­ion time­line in back mat­ter

Green Glass Sea  cover  

The Green Glass Sea

Ellen Klages 
Viking Books, 2006

  • And you think your fam­i­ly has a secret… A nov­el about grow­ing up in the shad­ow of the Man­hat­tan project

  • Set in 1943, pro­vides con­text for why the Sovi­et Union and com­mu­nism would loom as such a foe in the 1950s

  • Scott O’Dell Award for his­tor­i­cal fic­tion

 

Discovered Poetry cover  

How I Dis­cov­ered Poet­ry

Mar­i­lyn Nel­son
illus by Hadley Hoop­er
Dial Books for Young Read­ers, 2014

  • Child­hood memoir—fictionalized—in poems, each set in the years 1950–1959

  • Illus­tra­tions and black and white pho­tographs expand the “curb appeal” for the read­er wary of poet­ry

  • Coret­ta Scott King hon­or book

LIFE cover  

Life: Our Cen­tu­ry in Pic­tures for Young People

edit­ed by Richard B. Stol­ley
adapt­ed by Amy E. Sklan­sky
Lit­tle, Brown and Co., 2000

  • Before, dur­ing, and after the 1950s. Great con­text for study and dis­cus­sion of the decade

  • Intro­duc­to­ry essays for each decade writ­ten by notable children’s authors, includ­ing Lois Lowry, Patri­cia and Fred­er­ick McKis­sack, Avi, and Kather­ine Pater­son.

  • Illus­trat­ed with pho­tos from the Life mag­a­zine archives

Francine cover  

The Loud Silence of Francine Green

Karen Cush­man
Clar­i­on Books, 2005

  • Com­mu­nism, the Red Scare, injus­tice; also, friend­ship and being 13

  • Detailed and unusu­al set­ting (1950 Los Ange­les, a Catholic school) with many cul­tur­al ref­er­ence stu­dents will enjoy explor­ing; dis­cus­sion guide  

  • New­bery medal author

Spy cover  

Spy

Richard Platt  
DK Eye­wit­ness Books, 2009

  • His­to­ry of spy­ing with many bios of famous spies

  • Gad­gets galore

  • The usu­al DK mag­ic potion of well-done visu­als and text

Played for Nothing cover  

We Would Have Played for Noth­ing: Base­ball Stars of the 1950s and 1960s Talk About the Game They Loved

Fay Vin­cent
Simon & Schus­ter, 2008

  • Inter­views with some of baseball’s best play­ers from the 1950s and 1960s

  • Sec­ond install­ment of the author’s project, an oral his­to­ry of base­ball; inter­est­ed read­ers can go back to Vol­ume 1 (1930s and 40s) or jump to Vol­ume 3 (1970s and 80s)

  • Illus­trat­ed with peri­od pho­tos  

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Candice Ransom: Being Ten

Ivy Honeysuckle coverEvery sum­mer I wish I was ten again, the per­fect age for the per­fect sea­son. At that age I was at the height of my child­hood pow­ers. And as a read­er, books couldn’t be thrust into my hands fast enough.

Every morn­ing I’d eat a bowl of Rice Krispies, with my book at the table (my moth­er wouldn’t let me do this at sup­per, though I often kept my library book open on the seat of the next chair). Then I’d go out to my tree house to watch birds and read the day into being. What­ev­er I was reading—fiction or nonfiction—shaped my dai­ly expe­ri­ences. I longed to live in books.

At ten, I had mas­tered writ­ing and draw­ing to the degree that I was com­fort­able mov­ing back and forth between words and images. With pen­cil, paper, and crayons, I could slip into the world beyond the print­ed page. I “con­tin­ued” the sto­ry in the book, or drew pic­tures, some­times copy­ing the illus­tra­tions. I loved the reck­less, sketchy lines of Beth and Joe Krush’s draw­ings in The Bor­row­ers. And I drew pre­cise, tiny black cats, like the ones Superstitious coverErik Bleg­vad often includ­ed in books he illus­trat­ed, like The Dia­mond in the Win­dow, and Super­sti­tious? Here’s Why?

Books led my ten-year-old self to places beyond my small Vir­ginia land­scape. In The Talk­ing Tree, a nov­el about Pacif­ic North­west Native Amer­i­cans, I was des­per­ate to make my own totem pole. I glued three emp­ty thread spools togeth­er and tried to etch a styl­ized raven, wolf, and beaver with the point­ed end of a nail file that kept skid­ding off the smooth wood­en sur­face.

My cousins got roped into act­ing out a Nan­cy Drew sto­ry. After read­ing The Mys­tery of the Lean­ing Chim­ney, I buried my mother’s Japan­ese sake cup, brought back by my uncle dur­ing WWII, in our back yard. When my cousins rolled up, I ran to meet their sta­tion wag­on.

Mama’s valu­able for­eign vase has been stolen!” I exclaimed, show­ing the boys the sin­is­ter-sound­ing note I’d writ­ten.

Aw, you wrote that,” Eugene said, rec­og­niz­ing my hand­writ­ing.

Pumpkin Day coverNo, real­ly, it’s from the vase steal­er!” I was shocked at his unwill­ing­ness to sus­pend dis­be­lief, but unde­terred. I dragged them all over the yard, dig­ging holes until I “stum­bled” on the buried cup.

What made that sum­mer spe­cial was the free­dom to read. I read dur­ing the school year, of course, and even in class when I was sup­posed to be work­ing on frac­tions, but plea­sure read­ing time was squished to week­end after­noons and bed­time. Sum­mer, how­ev­er, was one Great Big Read­ing Fest.

Best of all, I wasn’t hob­bled by a sum­mer read­ing list. I grew up in an era in which teach­ers turned kids loose in June, glad not to clap eyes on them again until after Labor Day. Now many ele­men­tary schools ask stu­dents to read to pre­vent “Sum­mer Slide.” The ran­dom lists I checked offer a wide vari­ety of books in a range of read­ing lev­els. But the read­ing list noose tight­ens in mid­dle and high schools. Stu­dents are often required to read from a more spe­cif­ic list and write a paper.

In her recent Wash­ing­ton Post piece, edu­ca­tor Michelle Rhee admits her own child­hood dis­like of sum­mer read­ing lists that includ­ed such titles as Anne of Green Gables and oth­er books she trudged through with lit­tle inter­est. As a teacher, and lat­er as chan­cel­lor of D.C. Pub­lic Schools, she rec­og­nized the val­ue of sum­mer read­ing pro­grams. But she also believes stu­dents should choose their own books.

A few weeks ago, I wan­dered the non­fic­tion children’s sec­tion in our pub­lic library. A boy around ten sat cross-legged on the floor, a book on heli­copters open in his lap. I guessed he had pulled the book from the shelf and plunked right down to read it.

Mom!” he said. “You have to see this! It’s the most amaz­ing thing in the world!”

Yes, I agreed silent­ly. It is the most amaz­ing thing in the world to watch a child just the right age fall into a book of his choice. I hoped he would keep that glo­ri­ous part of his self always. Let books con­tin­ue to guide him, pull him in, shape his day.

 

 

 

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Bookstorm: Catch You Later, Traitor

Catch You Later Traitor Bookstorm

In this Bookstorm™:

Catch You Later, TraitorCatch You Later, Traitor

writ­ten by Avi
Algo­nquin Books for Young Read­ers, 2015

The ear­ly 1950s in the Unit­ed States was a time when sol­diers and med­ical per­son­nel had returned home from the two the­aters of World War II, Com­mu­nism was talked about as some­thing to be feared, and col­leagues and neigh­bors were asked to tes­ti­fy against peo­ple who were sus­pect­ed to be Com­mu­nists in Amer­i­ca. The nation was caught up in reports from the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee and Sen­a­tor Joseph McCarthy. The Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tions was con­cerned about cit­i­zens who were dis­loy­al to Amer­i­ca. The air was heavy with sus­pi­cion and peo­ple were encour­aged to fear intel­lec­tu­als, immi­grants, and Hol­ly­wood.

It was a time when base­ball soared. The Brook­lyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, and the New York Yan­kees were the most famous teams of the day. Radio was the pri­ma­ry source for news and enter­tain­ment. Tele­vi­sions weren’t yet a part of every house­hold. 

In Avi’s nov­el, 12-year-old Pete Col­li­son is a reg­u­lar kid who loves Sam Spade detec­tive books and radio crime dra­mas, but when an FBI agent shows up at Pete’s doorstep accus­ing his father of being a Com­mu­nist, Pete finds him­self caught in a real-life mys­tery. Could there real­ly be Com­mies in Pete’s fam­i­ly? This look at what it felt like to be an aver­age fam­i­ly caught in the wide net of the Red Scare has pow­er­ful rel­e­vance to con­tem­po­rary ques­tions of democ­ra­cy and indi­vid­ual free­dom.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. For Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor, you’ll find books for a vari­ety of tastes, inter­ests, and read­ing abil­i­ties. Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor will be com­fort­ably read by ages 10 through adult. We’ve includ­ed pic­ture books, nov­els, and non­fic­tion for the pletho­ra of pur­pos­es you might have. This Book­storm™ has a few more books for adults than usu­al, believ­ing that a back­ground in the era will be help­ful for edu­ca­tors who weren’t alive dur­ing, or wish to brush up on, the time in which this book takes place.

McCarthy Era, also known as the Red Scare. Sur­pris­ing­ly, there aren’t very many books writ­ten for young read­ers about this intense time in his­to­ry, but we’ve select­ed a few that will align well with Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor.

Non­fic­tion. There are a greater num­ber of non­fic­tion books avail­able about the ear­ly 1950s, includ­ing lifestyle books, the Cold War, fash­ion, the Hol­ly­wood Ten, and spies.

Com­mu­nism, Social­ism in the Unit­ed States. Were you aware that a group of Finnish-Amer­i­cans moved to Rus­sia to set up a Utopi­an com­mu­ni­ty based on promis­es from Russ­ian leader Joseph Stal­in?

Witch Hunts. A clas­sic book, a clas­sic play, and a fas­ci­nat­ing look at an inci­dent of the “Red Scare” in children’s books.

Mid-Cen­tu­ry Unit­ed States. Superb rec­om­men­da­tions for books, both fic­tion and non­fic­tion, set in the 1950s. Read­ing sev­er­al of these along with Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor will give stu­dents an excel­lent fla­vor of the time, which offers a mir­ror for oth­er peri­ods in his­to­ry as well as the present.

Base­ball in the 1950s. It was the most talked-about sport in the coun­try, claim­ing head­lines and tun­ing radios in to lis­ten to “the game.” We’ve gath­ered a wide-rang­ing set of books that will include some­thing for every read­er, from pic­ture books to books for adults.

Noir Detec­tive Fic­tion. We men­tioned Sam Spade, but what exact­ly does “noir” mean? Here are good exam­ples, span­ning ear­ly chap­ter books such as Chet Gecko to a graph­ic nov­el like City of Spies to Dashiell Hammett’s Mal­tese Fal­con.

Old-Time Radio. There are whole radio pro­grams online to be shared with your class­room, along with a series on YouTube that depicts the work­ings of a radio stu­dio, and Avi’s own nov­el about the hey­day of radio seri­als.

Tech­niques for using each book:

Downloadables

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From the Editor

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

Catch You Later, TraitorWel­come to the sixth issue of Bookol­o­gy.

This month’s Book­storm™ Book is Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor, the lat­est nov­el by New­bery medal­ist Avi. Set in the 1950s in New York City dur­ing the era of com­mu­nist-hunt­ing, the nov­el explores the long and fright­en­ing reach of gov­ern­ment into pri­vate lives under the guise of secu­ri­ty and patri­o­tism and how a point­ed and accus­ing fin­ger can cause so much dam­age.  Accom­pa­ny­ing the Book­storm™ is a con­ver­sa­tion between Avi and New­bery Hon­or author Gary D. Schmidt and our usu­al bul­let point book talks for some of the Book­storm™ com­pan­ion books.

After prep­ping and read­ing for this month’s 1950s-influ­enced Bookol­o­gy, I’m ready to claim the podi­um and assert that the most impor­tant year in Amer­i­can Children’s pub­lish­ing was 1957. Thanks to two of that year’s events, every­thing changed.

  1. bk_cat-hatThe pub­li­ca­tion of The Cat and the Hat. In one fell swoop, read­ing instruc­tion and the type of books ear­ly read­ers could encounter would nev­er be the same. Dick and Jane would hold on for a few years, but not much longer.
  2. The launch of Sput­nik. Accord­ing to author and children’s lit­er­a­ture schol­ar Ani­ta Sil­vey, after this sal­vo in the space race the “school mar­ket for children’s books surged into the fore­front of children’s pub­lish­ing” (Children’s Books and Their Cre­ators, p. 5 43). This surge was strength­ened a year lat­er with a tremen­dous increase in the fed­er­al funds avail­able for pur­chas­ing school books—texts and gen­er­al read­ing mate­r­i­al.
Sputnik 1

Sput­nik 1

Every­thing changed.

Well, that’s a bit of hyper­bole, isn’t it? It’s also quick­ly refut­ed because one big thing that didn’t change was the white­ness of Amer­i­can children’s lit­er­a­ture.

The world of children’s book writ­ing and pub­lish­ing is now engaged in a need­ed and won­der­ful cam­paign for diver­si­ty in the top­ics and sub­jects of the books and in the voic­es cre­at­ing, pub­lish­ing, and pro­mot­ing those books.

A won­der­ful cam­paign, but not a new one, though the def­i­n­i­tion of diver­si­ty has expand­ed in ways the ear­ly pro­po­nents might nev­er have imag­ined. One of those pro­po­nents was Nan­cy Lar­rick, whose 1965 Sat­ur­day Review arti­cle “The All-White World of Children’s Books” brought the top­ic to the gen­er­al public’s eye, much like Wal­ter Dean Myers’s 2014 arti­cle in the New York Times short­ly before his death.

Blacklist coverThe white­ness of children’s lit­er­a­ture came into sharp relief as I was read­ing and read­ing about books includ­ed in this month’s storm.  We include sev­er­al Red Scare nov­els on the list, but they are cen­tered on white lives; I’d love to hear about books that explore what a child or teen of col­or expe­ri­enced. In the ter­rif­ic book The Oth­er Black List, author Mary Helen Wash­ing­ton writes “Because J. Edgar Hoover sus­pect­ed that any­one work­ing against seg­re­ga­tion or in the field of civ­il rights also had com­mu­nist ties, the FBI (in league with Joseph McCarthy’s Per­ma­nent Sub­com­mit­tee on Inves­ti­ga­tions and the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties com­mit­tee) per­sis­tent­ly tar­get­ed the black intel­lec­tu­al and cul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ty of the 1950s” (pp. 22–23). At least some of those tar­get­ed adults must have had young peo­ple in their lives who were affect­ed.  I want to read their sto­ries.

bk_FreeWithinIn her excel­lent book Free With­in Our­selves: The Devel­op­ment of African Amer­i­can Children’s Lit­er­a­ture, Rudine Sims Bish­op, Pro­fes­sor Emeri­ta at Ohio State Uni­ver­si­ty, states there is a sur­pris­ing dearth of children’s nov­els about the orga­nized civ­il rights events of the fifties (and by exten­sion, I sup­pose, the Red Scare).

Which brings me back to 1957 and yet anoth­er momen­tous event: the deseg­re­ga­tion of Cen­tral High School in Lit­tle Rock. At the cen­ter of that were nine teenagers:  Ernest Green, Eliz­a­beth Eck­ford, Jef­fer­son Thomas, Ter­rence Roberts, Car­lot­ta Walls, Min­ni­jean Brown, Glo­ria Ray, Thel­ma Moth­er­shed, and Mel­ba Pat­til­lo. Per­haps one rea­son there are so few fic­tion­al explo­rations of the 1950s civ­il rights peri­od is that the real sto­ries and peo­ple involved tend to blow every­thing else out of the water. Still, deseg­re­ga­tion is one civ­il rights era expe­ri­ence that many authors HAVE tack­led in nov­els, and our time­line this month shares some of those.

The upheavals of the 1960s, on the oth­er hand, have inspired many writ­ers, and lat­er this month we’ll have an inter­view, “Writ­ing His­to­ry,” with Kekla Magoon, author of How it Went Down, Fire in the Streets, The Rock and the Riv­er, and many more books for teens and mid­dle grade read­ers.

And of course through­out the month we will run our reg­u­lar fea­tures and columns, begin­ning today with a Knock Knock col­umn: “Being Ten” by Can­dace Ran­som.

We also have a con­test! Any­one who com­ments (on any arti­cle in Bookol­o­gy) dur­ing the month will be entered into a ran­dom draw­ing to win a signed hard­cov­er of Avi’s book, and our fea­tured Book­storm, Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor.

And by all means…if you dis­agree with me about the year 1957, tell me why. In a com­ment, please. You might be a win­ner.

Thanks for vis­it­ing Bookol­o­gy.

 

 

 

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A Conversation Between Avi and Gary D. Schmidt

Avi and Gary D. SchmidtWhen Avi pub­lished his 1950s’ era nov­el, Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor, he ded­i­cat­ed the book to Gary D. Schmidt, fel­low author, fel­low read­er, fel­low con­nois­seur of noir detec­tive nov­els and his­to­ry. The Bookol­o­gist is priv­i­leged to lis­ten in on this con­ver­sa­tion between two authors who are so great­ly admired for the depth and tex­ture with­in their books. Enjoy!

Gary D. Schmidt:
Ray Brad­bury once wrote a short arti­cle enti­tled “Mem­o­ries Shape the Voice” in which he talked about the pow­er­ful ways that his child­hood mem­o­ries affect­ed the mak­ing of his Green­town, Illi­nois. It wasn’t just the details that would come back to him as he cre­at­ed the world of his short stories—it was how he felt about those details: the beau­ty (to him) of the town’s fac­to­ries, the ter­ror (to him) of the gul­lies. It seems to me that this is true also of your evo­ca­tion of 1951 Brook­lyn. Is that fair to say?

Avi:
It is fair. It’s been many years since I’ve lived in NYC, but I con­fess I still think of myself as a New York­er. I’ve writ­ten more about the city than any oth­er place, from City of Light, City of Darka dystopi­an graph­ic novel—to Sophia’s Wara tale of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. It’s not just “home” in a phys­i­cal sense, it’s my emo­tion­al home. And yet, I now live in the Rocky Moun­tains, nine thou­sand feet up, in a com­mu­ni­ty of thir­teen, the near­est neigh­bor a mile away.

When writ­ing Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor, which is set, for the most part, in my boy­hood neigh­bor­hood, it was easy for me to walk home from school, play stoop­ball, go to the local movie the­ater. I eas­i­ly recall sit­ting on the front stoop read­ing com­ic books with my friends—even which com­ic books.

Gary D. Schmidt:
One part of that world is the phys­i­cal set­ting: Pete’s apart­ment, the streets, the nurs­ing home, the school. Though I sus­pect that being in these set­tings brought a great deal of nos­tal­gic plea­sure, how did these set­tings play a part in the plot­ting of the book?

Avi:
I think all writ­ers depend on sen­so­ry mem­o­ry. Con­sid­er Ritman’s Books where, in the book, Pete hangs out. There was such a book­store in my neigh­bor­hood, which I loved to go to. The same for that movie the­ater where I would go for the Sat­ur­day morn­ing kids’ shows. My Brook­lyn was very much a small town. There was every­thing I need­ed, and all I need­ed to con­struct the book. Even when I had to go beyond, by subway—I love the city subways—it gave me great plea­sure to write about them.

Brooklyn Heights SchoolGary D. Schmidt:
The school is par­tic­u­lar­ly intrigu­ing to me, since it seems to me to be act­ing in inter­est­ing the­mat­ic ways. School, for Pete, is a place of mono­lith­ic pow­er: the teacher. There is one point of view, one way of respond­ing to Amer­i­ca, one way of sit­ting and respond­ing and behav­ing. Toward the end of the book, Pete calls his teacher, Mr. Don­a­van, a bully—and it seems at that point that Mr. Don­a­van rep­re­sents all of the school. But does it seem to you as well that the school, with its insis­tent pow­er, also rep­re­sents the way the coun­try was act­ing toward dis­sent at this time?

Avi:
Mr. Don­a­van is based on a teacher I did have. I describe him as I remem­ber him. But don’t for­get Mr. Malakows­ki, who is also real, and a nice guy. He was, in fact, my favorite teacher. Par­ents think they know about their children’s schools, but I think in some way schools con­sti­tute a par­al­lel uni­verse to home life. They don’t always inter­sect. Pete’s par­ents don’t real­ly know what’s going on there, and Pete doesn’t want them to get involved. That, I think, is typ­i­cal. In today’s world, the old­er a kid gets the less he/she wants par­ents to be involved in school. Yes, the school does rep­re­sent the coun­try at that time, but it’s impor­tant to remem­ber that it was not the whole coun­try.

Gary D. Schmidt:
And of course, there are the char­ac­ters that are so vivid—an Avi trade­mark. I think espe­cial­ly of Mr. Ord­son, the blind man to whom Peter reads. He reads the news­pa­per, because Mr. Ord­son wants to keep up with cur­rent events. And he is a wise and good friend to Pete. You’ve writ­ten that Mr. Ord­son is based on a real per­son to whom you, as a young ado­les­cent, read. Are there oth­er char­ac­ters based on folks from your past? Per­haps Pete’s father, a noble char­ac­ter? Have you, as William Faulkn­er once advised, cut up your rel­a­tives to use them in your plot?

Avi:
How can I say this? Pete’s father is based on what my father was not. My father was not a nice man. Very hard on me. Abu­sive. Don’t get me going. Any­way, I think Pete’s father is what I would have liked my father to be. I bet you’ve worked from that kind of oppo­site, too. Cathar­tic, per­haps. On the oth­er hand, Pete’s old­er broth­er is some­what based on my own old­er broth­er who, like many old­er broth­ers, can be patron­iz­ing to younger broth­ers. That said, a major part of the sto­ry is not about fam­i­lies that pull apart—there is some of that—but how fam­i­lies stay togeth­er. And Kat—a key fic­tion­al char­ac­ter in the book—is drawn to Pete’s fam­i­ly as much as she is to Pete.

Gary D. Schmidt:
One oth­er ele­ment from the past: the noir voic­es, the sounds of the hard-boiled detec­tive fic­tion that you read, that I read, that we both still read. At times, Pete leaves the first-per­son nar­ra­tive to go into that hard-boiled voice. I think you prob­a­bly had a lot of fun with that, right?

Avi:
I adored writ­ing those sec­tions. I think there is some­thing unique­ly Amer­i­can in that noir voice. The tough love. The sar­casm. The wit. The truth-telling. The very care­ful lit­er­ary con­struc­tion, all of which masks a deep-root­ed sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty, an embar­rassed, if you will, search­ing for love. Very com­plex. The thought that I can share that—introduce it—to my read­ers gives me great plea­sure.

Gary D. Schmidt:
In this McCarthy–era nov­el, Pete is thrown into a world in which fear inspires hatred. As news spreads that his father does not accept an easy vision of a per­fect Amer­i­ca but believes that the sto­ries of work­ers and African Amer­i­cans also need full play in tales of the devel­op­ment of the coun­try, Pete is ostra­cized, since it is assumed that his father must be a Com­mie! Since all his­tor­i­cal fic­tion is writ­ten both about a time in the past and for read­ers in the present, it seems to me that your nov­el is a pow­er­ful warn­ing against assum­ing that any nar­ra­tive about our coun­try is sim­ple and uncom­pli­cat­ed.

bk_go-between_160Avi:
One of my favorite notions about his­tor­i­cal fic­tion is expressed in the open­ing lines of L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between. “The past is a for­eign coun­try: they do things dif­fer­ent­ly there.” I find that a fas­ci­nat­ing idea because I don’t entire­ly agree with it. What I mean is, yes, the past is a dif­fer­ent coun­try, but they do not always do things dif­fer­ent­ly there. I know, from what I’ve read of what you’ve writ­ten, you under­stand this. Our goal is to make the past mean­ing­ful to the present, right? To give it life. Amer­i­ca has such a com­plex and fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry. But how lit­tle peo­ple know of it! How many great sto­ries there are yet to tell!

Gary D. Schmidt:
Pete must deal with some hard truths: in the nov­el, he devel­ops strong anger toward both his broth­er and his great-uncle, anger which does not get resolved in the nar­ra­tive. At the same time, he comes to under­stand that his father lives a life that is larg­er and per­haps more noble and hon­or­able than he had imag­ined. Is it fair to say that in one way, this nov­el is about the lim­its of knowledge—that we can­not tru­ly know some­one else com­plete­ly?

Avi:
Pete’s father tells Pete: “Noth­ing is sim­ple. Know that and you know half the world’s wis­dom.” Oh, how I believe that! Bet you do, too. Some­where I read, “Poor writ­ing makes what you know sim­ple. Good writ­ing makes it com­plex.” Right?

Gary D. Schmidt:
Per­haps this is the hubris of the McCarthy era as well—the assump­tion that I have the right to know every­thing about some­one else. I note this in the con­text of a world in which it seems to be the grow­ing assump­tion that we do have the right to know what we want to know about anoth­er person—something that Pete’s father insists is not true at all.

Avi:
Hey! Pri­va­cy, the last fron­tier! It’s one of the most impor­tant things about book read­ing. It’s tru­ly pri­vate. Far more so than even dig­i­tal read­ing! The oth­er day—in San Francisco—I passed a used book store. Out front was a box labeled “Free Books.” Think of it! No one would know if I picked up a book. Or read it. Or thought about it. Or what I thought. No one. And yet, and yet—and I know you believe this, too—nothing is more inti­mate than shar­ing thoughts. That said, one of the most pow­er­ful things a per­son can have—for good or ill—is a secret. As a kid I recall play­ing a game we called Secrets. The idea being that you and your friend each shared a real secret. A dan­ger­ous game, when you think about it.

You Never Heard of Willie Mays?Gary D. Schmidt:
Pete decides that he will be a Giants fan, going against Brooklyn’s fanat­ic loy­al­ty to the Dodgers—who, we know, will one day betray that loy­al­ty. I know this is, on one lev­el, sim­ply Pete’s desire to get back at the oth­ers around him for their hatred. But it also seems to me that Pete is assert­ing his right to be different—exactly what McCarthy­ists feared and pros­e­cut­ed, and, per­haps, exact­ly what our own cul­ture seems to fear: the per­son who does not buy into the cur­rent vision of the Amer­i­can dream: to acquire. This is not a mes­sage nov­el; it first does what E. M. Forster claims the writer must do: make the read­er turn the page. But at the same time, you are mak­ing some pow­er­ful sug­ges­tions that warn against a too easy accep­tance of the culture’s claims upon us.

Avi:
Being loy­al to a false ide­al can be very destruc­tive. Being loy­al to high ide­al can be very dan­ger­ous. Pete’s shift from being a Brook­lyn Dodger fan to a New York Giants fan is some­thing that came right out of my life—and, yes, in 1951 when the Giants won the Nation­al Pen­nant just as I recount it in the book. It was my first step in becom­ing inde­pen­dent from my fam­i­ly. But when you become inde­pen­dent of your family—or your culture—you pay a price. More often than not you are reject­ed, told that you have aban­doned them, who­ev­er or what­ev­er them might be. But being dif­fer­ent, being inde­pen­dent, is lib­er­at­ing. In Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor, the word trai­tor becomes a code word for “being dif­fer­ent.” In the sto­ry being dif­fer­ent enrich­es Pete’s life. The sto­ry begins by his no longer being a kid. It ends by his becom­ing a kid again—but far deep­er in expe­ri­ence. Hey, that’s why I ded­i­cat­ed the book to you. You’ve lived your life that way. Right?

Bookol­o­gist:
Thank you both for this inter­view. It opens many paths to explore and ideas to con­sid­er, but we expect­ed no less from the two of you.

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