Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Raymie Nightingale

rn200pixDar­ling Daugh­ter and I host/participate in an occa­sion­al par­ent-child book­group for mid­dle-grade read­ers and their par­ents. We call it Books & Bagels and we meet at the bagel shop down the street from church and nosh on bagels while talk­ing about books. I think we can safe­ly say the bagel aspect of things increas­es par­tic­i­pa­tion — but all the kids who come are great read­ers and we love talk­ing with them and their par­ents about books. We’ve read many of our favorites again with this group and they’ve intro­duced us to some we’ve missed in the last few years of pub­li­ca­tion. (Dar­ling Daugh­ter is, alas, out­grow­ing the mid­dle-grade genre.)

We saved the read­ing of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightin­gale for Books & Bagels. I sched­uled it not hav­ing read the book, in fact, which is not usu­al­ly how I do things. But DiCamillo’s books lend them­selves to good dis­cus­sion, I’ve found, so I was sure it would work well for us.

And it did. We talked about the heart­break and the hope, the crazy char­ac­ters and their friend­ships and flaws, and the unlike­ly events that could absolute­ly hap­pen. We talked about how it was sim­i­lar to some of DiCamillo’s oth­er books and how it was dif­fer­ent, too. Good dis­cus­sion all the way around.

I noticed as we talked, how­ev­er, that one of our reg­u­lars — I’ll call him Sam — seemed a bit dis­grun­tled about the book. Sam and I have been dis­cussing books for a long time — he reads both wise­ly and wide­ly and we have intro­duced each oth­er to many books over the years. He has just turned ten and he’s hon­est about what he thinks, though always kind. He’s been taught to speak his mind, but nev­er in a way that would hurt some­one else’s feel­ings — includ­ing, say, the author of the book who is not even present.

Sam,” I said, “it looks like you have some­thing you want to say.”

Yeah…well,” said Sam. “It was a great book and all…. Well-writ­ten, of course. And, I mean, the friend­ship of Raymie and those oth­er girls was great, I guess. And the lousy adults were inter­est­ing…. But — ” He paused and looked at his Mom out of the cor­ner of his eye.

Go ahead, Sam,” she said. “Tell us what you real­ly think.”

It’s just that…I mean it’s fine…but it’s just…it’s such a girlie book.” He looked both relieved and ashamed at hav­ing con­fessed this. “Not that there’s any­thing wrong with that, of course.”

I asked gen­tle clar­i­fy­ing ques­tions. I’m sort of fas­ci­nat­ed and appalled by the idea of “girl books” and “boy books.” I want to vehe­ment­ly argue that those cat­e­gories don’t exist…or shouldn’t exist…or must not be allowed to exist…or some­thing like that. But before me was a read­er insist­ing that he under­stood this was a great book, but it just had way too much “girl stuff” in it to be inter­est­ing to guys like him.

Like what kind of girl stuff?” one of the girl read­ers asked.

Batons. Bar­rettes. Dress­es.” Sam said. He shrugged apolo­get­i­cal­ly.

Oth­er kids perked up. Right, they said. Lots of girl stuff. No boy stuff what­so­ev­er, in fact.

I was afraid to ask what “boy stuff” they thought was miss­ing. Instead, we talked about whether var­i­ous (tra­di­tion­al­ly under­stood) girl and boy trap­pings were lim­it­ed or lim­it­ing. These kids know how to have good and hon­est con­ver­sa­tions around per­cep­tions and assump­tions and stereo­types. We talked about whether the char­ac­ter of each of the girls was “girl-only.” No, every­one agreed — they knew boys who were painful­ly shy/anxious, or show-offy, or stub­born, just like each of the three ami­gos DiCamil­lo con­jured up. They knew both boys and girls who car­ried heavy loads of expec­ta­tion, or fam­i­ly dis­tress, or who had trou­ble mak­ing friends. They knew them­selves what it was to feel like every­thing, absolute­ly every­thing, depend­ed on them. They could iden­ti­fy with the book — on many lev­els that had noth­ing to do with gen­der. And yet…this was a girlie book — on this they all agreed, as well.

It was a won­der­ful dis­cus­sion, real­ly. Hon­est. Respect­ful. I thanked Sam for being brave enough to say what he thought. He won­dered if Kate DiCamil­lo made Raymie, Bev­er­ly, and Louisiana girls because she was a girl and that’s what she knew best. I said I didn’t know, but I knew that she’d also writ­ten books that fea­tured male char­ac­ters. I told him I’d share my copy of Tiger Ris­ing with him.

As we cleaned up the bagel and cream cheese detri­tus I asked if any­one could sug­gest a book or two for our fall Books & Bagels book­group. Sam eager­ly bounced up and down.

I have two to sug­gest!” he said. “Bridge to Ter­abithia and The BFG.”

Two ter­rif­ic books. Two ter­rif­ic books that hap­pen to have strong girl char­ac­ters. I point­ed this out and Sam said, “But not only girl char­ac­ters. The giant is a boy!”


On the Lam

My affec­tion for road trips may have start­ed with my many times on the lam as a kid. I ran the neigh­bor­hood crime syn­di­cate for the under-ten crowd; they played what I want­ed to play. On rainy days, it was often cops and rob­bers (nat­u­ral­ly, we were always the rob­bers) in my mom’s garage-parked, ancient sta­tion wag­on. I was the get­away dri­ver while my accom­plices shot their fin­gers at our pur­suers from the back win­dow.

Kid CopI insti­gat­ed oth­er games, too. Our pirate ship (a.k.a. the liv­ing room couch) sailed through shark-infest­ed waters. The hardy pio­neers who made up our wag­on train scrab­bled for pro­vi­sions as we crossed the vast back­yard prairie. Our spy net­work tracked the move­ments of a dan­ger­ous gang of evil sib­lings. Our games were full of imag­ined crises and dra­ma.

Kids under­stand con­flict;  it’s built into sib­ling rival­ry, into games, into orga­nized sports and tic-tac-toe. But as com­mon as com­bat is in their lives, kids all too often for­get to include it in their sto­ries. And a sto­ry real­ly isn’t a sto­ry with­out con­flict­ing ele­ments.

The good news is, once stu­dents under­stand the neces­si­ty of con­flict, help­ing them pull it into their sto­ries is fair­ly straight­for­ward. Invest some time in a brain­storm­ing break. Give stu­dents exam­ples of com­mon types of con­flict: char­ac­ter vs. char­ac­ter, char­ac­ter vs. soci­ety, char­ac­ters con­flict­ed with­in them­selves. Then ask stu­dents to cre­ate lists of pos­si­ble con­flicts that their own char­ac­ters might face. Empha­size that there are no “stu­pid” ideas at this stage: even the cra­zi­est pos­si­bil­i­ties can lead to fan­tas­tic sto­ry devel­op­ments. Remind stu­dents that the longer their brain­storm­ing list, the more they’ll have to draw upon when they sit down to write.

Encour­age stu­dents to dri­ve their imag­i­na­tions like speed­ing get­away cars. Before you know it, their sto­ries will be packed with the sus­pense and ten­sion that con­flicts pro­vides.


A Few Tall Tales from the Land of Rampaging Zucchini

zucchiniJack­ie:  Phyl­lis, the zuc­chi­ni seeds you gave me have grown into a plant that knocked on our back door this morn­ing. I gave it cof­fee and it retreat­ed to the yard, head­ing toward the alley.

When I was a kid one of my favorite sto­ries was the tall tale of Paul Bun­yan. I laughed at the exag­ger­a­tion, the total wack­i­ness of an ox so large his foot­prints made the Great Lakes. As an adult, I real­ized that Paul Bun­yan was actu­al­ly a clear-cut­ter and that took some of the lus­ter off the sto­ries. But I still love tall tales. What fun to come up with a rol­lick­ing tale of exag­ger­a­tion! We found some old favorites — and some new favorites.

Swamp AngelSwamp Angel by Anne Isaacs, (illus­trat­ed by Paul O. Zelin­sky, (Dut­ton, 1994) is a win­ning com­bi­na­tion of under­state­ment and exag­ger­a­tion: “…when Angel­i­ca Lon­grid­er took her first gulp of air on this earth, there was noth­ing about the baby to sug­gest that she would become the great­est woodswoman in Ten­nessee. The new­born was scarce­ly taller than her moth­er and couldn’t climb a tree with­out help…she was a full two years old before she built her first log cab­in.” Of course it’s the Swamp Angel’s bat­tle with the huge bear Thun­der­ing Tar­na­tion that is at the heart of the sto­ry. The bear dis­patch­es four woods­men before Swamp Angel sets out. But real­ly, who cares who wins? It’s the out­sized odd­i­ty that’s fun: Swamp Angel las­sos the bear with a tor­na­do; they cre­ate the Great Smoky Moun­tains from the dust of their fight­ing; their snor­ing cre­ates a rock­slide. The unfor­tu­nate Tarnation’s pelt became the Short­grass Prairie. 

This sto­ry calls us all to look around and imag­ine what won­der­ful larg­er-than-life char­ac­ter cre­at­ed our rivers and hills, caves and prairies.

Phyl­lis:  I love this book, with its out­size sto­ry and out­size art. And I love that this is a woman who can lift a whole wag­on train out of Dejec­tion Swamp (which is how she got her name Swamp Angel). When the men sign­ing up to hunt Thun­der­ing Tar­na­tion tell her to go home and quilt or bake a pie, Swamp Angel responds that quilt­ing is men’s work and that she aims to bake a pie — “A bear pie.”  When Thun­der­ing Tar­na­tion meets his end under a tree that Swamp Angel snores down while they are fight­ing in their sleep, she “plucked off her hat, bowed her head, and offered up these words of praise: ‘Con­found it, varmint, if you warn’t the most won­der­ous heap of trou­ble I ever come to grips with!’” Not only does she bake bear pie, she also makes “bear steaks and bear cakes, bear muffins and bear stuf­fin,’ bear roast and bear toast,” enough for a feast and to restock the all the root cel­lars in Ten­nessee just in time for win­ter.

Jack­ie: All sto­ries cre­ate a shared com­mu­ni­ty between writer, or teller, and read­ers, but it seems to me that tall tales have the added advan­tage that we are shar­ing a joke. We all know that a bear and a fight­in’ woman did not cre­ate the Great Smoky Moun­tains. We are all in on the joke. We get it. And that is fun in a world where there is so much we don’t get.

Burt Dow, Deep-Water ManI have always loved the title of Robert McCloskey’s Burt Dow Deep-Water Man. And the book has a musi­cal­i­ty to it that makes me want to read it aloud. Burt is a retired deep-water man with two boats — one he fills with gera­ni­ums and sweet peas (McCoskey calls them “Indi­an peas,” I can’t find ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the sweet peas, but they are climbers and the flow­ers look like sweet peas.) And the oth­er is Tide­ly-Idley with a “make-and-break engine.”  Burt says, “She’s got a few ten­der places in her plank­ing, but you can’t see day­light through her nowhere.” 

One day Burt takes out the Tide­ly-Ide­ly and has an unex­pect­ed adven­ture. He’s fish­ing for cod and hooks a whale. “’Ahoy there, whale!’ bel­lowed Burt. ‘Hold your hors­es! Keep our shirt on! Head into the wind and slack off the main sheet!’ But the whale couldn’t hear because his hear­ing gear was so far upwind from his steer­ing gear.”  This is just the begin­ning. Burt has to hitch a ride inside the whale, paint his way out, then escape a school of whales demand­ing band-aids on their tales. It might have been too much for a younger fish­er­man, but not Burt Dow. He pla­cates the whales and makes it home just as the cock begins to crow.

This book is so much fun. It’s a Mainer’s retelling of Jon­ah with a lit­tle “whale insid­er” art thrown in for fun. And I have to men­tion the lan­guage. McCloskey wrote a sto­ry that should be read out loud on someone’s porch. Burt’s roost­er crows  “Cock­ety-doo­d­ly;” his water pump goes “slish-cashlosh, slish-caslosh;”  Burt always keeps a “firm hand on the tiller;” and the make-and-break engine always goes “clack­ety-bangety.”

An entry on Wikipedia notes that there was a Bert Dow, deep-water man, on Deer Isle where McCloskey lived. He is buried in a Deer Isle ceme­tery. His tomb­stone says: “Bert Dow, Deep Water Man, 1882 – 1964.”  Robert McCloskey helped pay for the stone.

Phyl­lis:  Burt isn’t phys­i­cal­ly larg­er than life in the way that Swamp Angel or Paul Bun­yan are, but his prob­lems are whale sized, and as with oth­er tall tale fig­ures, no prob­lem is so big Burt can’t solve it.  Along with lan­guage that delights and tick­les, McCloskey makes good use of page turns. Once Burt acci­den­tal­ly hooks the whale’s tail and his gig­gling gull waits to see “what would hap­pen next,” so does the read­er, since start­ing on the next dou­ble-page spread and on many of the fol­low­ing spreads, McCloskey breaks off his sen­tences in the mid­dle. “But the very next moment it came to Burt’s atten­tion that he’d pulled up a”….

We turn the page to fin­ish the sen­tence and read WHALE OF A TAIL. Spread after spread, McCloskey builds sus­pense, and spread after spread, while the sit­u­a­tion seems to wors­en, Burt is nev­er dis­mayed, even when he real­izes that when he asked the whale to swal­low him to save him and his boat AND gull from “a gale of a wind,” he doesn’t know for sure that the whale heard the part where they were sup­posed to be “tem­po­rary guests, so to speak.” Once they are burped free and also sat­is­fy all the oth­er whales who want bandaids on their tales, pump out the Tide­ly-Idley, slish-caslosh, slish-caslosh, crank up the make and break, clack­ety-BANG! Clack­ety-BANG! Burt and his gull sail home in time, we assume, for break­fast. A rol­lick­ing sto­ry full of rol­lick­ing lan­guage and fun.

Lies and Other Tall TalesJack­ie: We are also con­sid­er­ing an inter­gen­er­a­tional effort. Christo­pher Myers illus­trat­ed some of the “Lies and Oth­er Tall Tales” col­lect­ed by Zora Neale Hurston (Harper­Collins, 2005). These are not long sto­ries but are won­der­ful­ly rich in play with lan­guage and exag­ger­a­tion, so won­der­ful that we want to include it even though it’s a fair­ly recent book. “I seen a man so short he had to get up on a box to look over a grain of sand.” That’s one-upped by “That man had a wife and she was so small that she got in a storm and nev­er got wet because she stepped between the drops.” 

This live­ly book might work best for old­er chil­dren. Younger chil­dren could be dis­turbed by some of the exag­ger­a­tions (a man so mean he swal­lows anoth­er man whole).  For those who are ready, this book will bring some smiles — and some under­stand­ing of the ver­bal games of the African Amer­i­can cul­ture. Christo­pher Myers notes that these tales, “were used in some ver­sion of play­ing the dozens…an African Amer­i­can cul­tur­al prac­tice, which if you haven’t heard about it, you bet­ter ask your mama! It includes mama jokes and humor­ous diss­ing, which if you don’t know what diss­ing is, you don’t have the sense God gave a flea.”

Phyl­lis:  As Christo­pher Myers writes, “Liars, back in the day, could tell a lie so good, you didn’t even want to know the truth.” And these lies are so delight­ful and fan­cy-tick­ling that I agree with him. One of my favorites is the folks who built a church on “the poor­est land I ever seed” and had to use ten sacks of fer­til­iz­er before they could “raise a hymn on it.” An author’s note tells how the illus­tra­tions are made from found bits of fab­ric  and paper that Myers has trans­formed into “’quilts’ as wit­ty and beau­ti­ful as the phras­es Zora Neal Hurston found.”

Paula BunyanJack­ie:  Phyl­lis, I can’t quit with­out men­tion­ing your tall tale—Paula Bun­yan (Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2009). Paula has way more sense than God gave a flea. She actu­al­ly replants trees where oth­er log­gers have cut them down. And she’s fast. “Paula could run so fast that once when she for­got to do her chores, she ran all the way back to yes­ter­day to fin­ish them.” It must have been fun to re-tell the Paul Bun­yan sto­ry as a green­ing of the earth.

Phyl­lis:  It was fun. The sto­ry start­ed as some­thing my kids and I told one fall while rid­ing on a hay­wag­on to pick Har­al­son apples, our favorites.  And why not anoth­er tall tale woman? What’s against it?

None of us may be as large or fight as fierce­ly as Swamp Angel, we may not know a man so hun­gry he swal­lowed him­self, we may nev­er have to fig­ure out how to get on the out­side of a whale. But these tales remind us that even in our ordi­nary lives we can keep a firm hand on the tiller, come to grips with what­ev­er “won­drous heap of trou­ble” comes our way, and still make it home in time for break­fast.

And speak­ing of break­fast, I don’t mean to brag, but my zuc­chi­ni pound­ed on the door this morn­ing and demand­ed a lat­te and a cin­na­mon crois­sant.  With but­ter.


Borrowed Magic”

Thir­teen years.  The project I began in 2003 has had that many birth­days.  It occu­pies two large crates in my office.  It has dom­i­nat­ed my life, involv­ing trav­el, research, read­ing.  It has spawned four ver­sions, each drag­ging mul­ti­ple drafts.  Rejec­tions span ten years.

Nobody, it seems, wants this book.  “Kids won’t be inter­est­ed.”  The sub­ject, Mar­garet Wise Brown, would find this fun­ny.  I am not amused, espe­cial­ly since it was Mar­garet her­self who demand­ed (she’s not the ask­ing type) that I tell her sto­ry.

Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the MoonThe jour­ney began in 1992 when I read Leonard Mar­cus’ biog­ra­phy, Mar­garet Wise Brown: Awak­ened by the Moon.  I re-read that book every night for eight years.  Clear­ly some­thing was awak­en­ing in me: a fas­ci­na­tion with Margaret’s sto­ry and the desire to write for the very young.  In 2003, I gave in to Margaret’s insis­tence and start­ed research­ing.

Tan­gled up in Margaret’s sto­ry is my own, both writ­ers for chil­dren, though our back­grounds are vast­ly dif­fer­ent.  No mat­ter what genre I work in — pic­ture books, mid­dle grade, non­fic­tion — I always draw upon my own life.  But because my youngest years were trau­mat­ic, I nev­er could reach my three-year-old self.  Writ­ing for the very young elud­ed me.  Mar­garet made it look so easy.  She wrote Good­night Moon in bed one morn­ing and lit­er­al­ly phoned it in to her edi­tor.

little island 1 webEar­li­er this year, I was asked to speak and give a work­shop on Vinal­haven Island, Maine, where Mar­garet had owned a sum­mer house, in August.  I accept­ed, but decid­ed my Mar­garet book would stay in the crates.  I would not res­ur­rect a failed project.

Days before my flight, Mar­garet beck­oned once more.  A whole week on Vinal­haven!  A rare chance to see Only House!  How could I pass up that oppor­tu­ni­ty?  I dug out the crates and pored over my notes and drafts, let­ting Mar­garet fill my soul again.

On the fer­ry to the Island, I prayed for a new way into my sto­ry.  Would I be able to bor­row some of Margaret’s mag­ic from her spe­cial place?

I vis­it­ed Only House.  I sat on Margaret’s dock.  I gazed at the lit­tle pine-topped island she made famous in The Lit­tle Island and wait­ed for light­ning to strike.

mwb house 1 webAt Only House, Mar­garet lived a “cat life,” just being.  I only had a week, not enough time to “be.”  But I fell in love with Vinal­haven, just as she had.  Wak­ing to the country’s first sun­ris­es.  Ospreys glid­ing over the rental house I stayed in.  But­ter­flies work­ing tan­sy and this­tle.  Lob­ster boats dot­ting the bay.  Once, the call of a late-night loon.

Dur­ing Margaret’s first sum­mer there, she wrote to a friend, “Life goes on in Tran­si­tion.  This sum­mer it is bet­ter than it has been in a long time, and still [things hang] in the bal­ance.”

One night, I watched a full moon climb over the cove.  I turned off the bed­room lamp and noticed glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceil­ing.  My effort to tell Margaret’s sto­ry one more time was fal­ter­ing.  She had been inspired by the real moon.  I only had past­ed-on stars that shined from bor­rowed light as my guide.

mwb gravestoneThe next day, I stood at Margaret’s grave site up the hill from Only House.  She had died sud­den­ly at the age of 42 and her fiancé had scat­tered her ash­es at the place she loved best. The gran­ite mark­er is inscribed with a quote from The Lit­tle Island.

Life is always in tran­si­tion. Any moment bal­ance can be tipped. Mar­garet may have found mag­ic here, but she still did the work in the short time allot­ted to her.

And so will I.


Interpersonal Relationships!

Page Break: Interpersonal Relationships



Welcome to Roy’s House

Roy's HouseWhat bet­ter way to famil­iar­ize one’s self with the work of pop cul­ture artist Roy Licht­en­stein than to walk through his house from liv­ing room to snack bar, from bath­room to bed­room, and final­ly into his stu­dio, where we can try our hand at paint­ing?

Susan Gold­man Rubin and her team at Chron­i­cle have cre­at­ed a book illus­trat­ed by Roy Lichtenstein’s paint­ings, Roy’s House, which lets us see up close his style of art, the col­ors he used, and the tech­nique of shad­ing col­or in dots.

printer's loupeIf you look at a news­pa­per or a mag­a­zine or a brochure, and you use a loupe (Mer­ri­am-Web­ster def­i­n­i­tion: a small mag­ni­fi­er used espe­cial­ly by jew­el­ers and watch­mak­ers), you can dis­tin­guish among the dots used to lay the col­or down (the “halftone” tech­nique).

Dur­ing print­ing, when the col­or is laid down, those dots grow in size a bit. That’s called “dot gain” and print­ers expect it, com­pen­sat­ing on the orig­i­nal.

Licht­en­stein exag­ger­at­ed those dots, and the tech­nique of cross-hatch­ing, to make his paint­ings bold, bright, and mem­o­rable. His style is instant­ly rec­og­niz­able. As the back mat­ter states, “His first show shocked crit­ics in 1962.”

Roy's House

The text is min­i­mal (in keep­ing with Lichtenstein’s paint­ings) but the author still man­ages to imbue those words with warmth and humor, spark and spir­it. Mak­ing use of the artist’s dis­tinc­tive, jagged-edged thought bub­bles pro­vides ener­gy.

This is a book for the very young, the bud­ding artist or art col­lec­tor, and yet it’s also a book for those who love art, teach art, and are edu­cat­ing them­selves about the infi­nite styles with­in art. Lichtenstein’s work is icon­ic … and so is this book. (Mer­ri­am-Web­ster def­i­n­i­tion: “wide­ly known and acknowl­edged espe­cial­ly for dis­tinc­tive excel­lence”)

Also take a look at the author’s book Whaam! The Art and Life of Roy Licht­en­stein (Abrams), writ­ten for an old­er child.

For read­ers 12 and up, find a copy of Marc Aron­son’s Art Attack: a Brief Cul­tur­al His­to­ry of the Avant-Garde (Clar­i­on Books).


Word Search: No Monkeys, No Chocolate

No Monkeys, No ChocolateIs choco­late, in any form, one of your favorite foods? Then you’ll be fas­ci­nat­ed by our fea­tured books this month. No Mon­keys, No Choco­late by Melis­sa Stew­art, Allen Young, and Nicole Wong is an excel­lent guide to under­stand­ing where our choco­late comes from (even if the part about mag­gots and ants’ brains is an eeeewww part of the process). If you love puz­zles and games, we hope you have a good time solv­ing this Word Search. 

Sim­ply use your mouse or touch pad to draw a line over your found words and the pro­gram will mark them off for you. Words can be found for­wards, back­wards, hor­i­zon­tal­ly, ver­ti­cal­ly, and diag­o­nal­ly. As you find a word, it will be high­light­ed on the board and it will dis­ap­pear from the word list.

Have fun!

Hid­den Words

Puz­zle by

Decadent Chocolate Raspberry Cake

Decadent Chocolate Raspberry Cake

Inspired by our Book­storm fea­ture this month, No Mon­keys, No Choco­late, bake this rich choco­late cake, and indulge in every sweet choco­late-rasp­ber­ry bite.
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time2 hrs 25 mins
Total Time3 hrs
Serv­ings: 12


  • CAKE
  • 1 cup semi­sweet choco­late chips 6 oz
  • ½ cup but­ter or mar­garine
  • ½ cup all-pur­pose flour
  • 4 eggs sep­a­rat­ed
  • ½ cup sug­ar
  • 1 box 10 oz frozen rasp­ber­ries, thawed, drained and juice reserved
  • ¼ cup sug­ar
  • 2 Tbsp corn­starch
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp orange- or rasp­ber­ry-fla­vored liqueur if desired
  • ½ cup semi­sweet choco­late chips
  • 2 Tbsp but­ter or mar­garine
  • 2 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • ½ cup whipped cream
  • Fresh rasp­ber­ries if desired


  • Heat oven to 325°F. Grease bot­tom and side of 8‑inch spring­form pan or 9‑inch round cake pan with short­en­ing. In 2‑quart heavy saucepan, melt 1 cup choco­late chips and 12 cup but­ter over medi­um heat, stir­ring occa­sion­al­ly. Cool 5 min­utes. Stir in flour until smooth. Stir in egg yolks until well blend­ed; set aside.
  • In large bowl, beat egg whites with elec­tric mix­er on high speed until foamy. Beat in 12 cup sug­ar, 1 table­spoon at a time, until soft peaks form. Using rub­ber spat­u­la, fold choco­late mix­ture into egg whites. Spread in pan.
  • Bake the spring­form pan 35 to 40 min­utes, round cake pan 30 to 35 min­utes, or until tooth­pick insert­ed in cen­ter comes out clean (top will appear dry and cracked). Cool 10 min­utes. Run knife along side of cake to loosen; remove side of spring­form pan. Place cool­ing rack upside down over cake; turn rack and cake over. Remove bot­tom of spring­form pan or round cake pan. Cool com­plete­ly, about 1 hour.
  • Mean­while, add enough water to reserved rasp­ber­ry juice to mea­sure 1 cup. In 1‑quart saucepan, mix 14 cup sug­ar and the corn­starch. Stir in juice and thawed rasp­ber­ries. Heat to boil­ing over medi­um heat. Boil and stir 1 minute. Place small strain­er over small bowl. Pour mix­ture through strain­er to remove seeds; dis­card seeds. Stir liqueur into mix­ture; set aside.
  • Place cake on serv­ing plate. In 1‑quart saucepan, heat glaze ingre­di­ents over medi­um heat, stir­ring occa­sion­al­ly, until chips are melt­ed. Spread over top of cake, allow­ing some to driz­zle down side. Place whipped cream in dec­o­rat­ing bag fit­ted with star tip. Pipe a rosette on each serv­ing. Serve cake with sauce. Gar­nish with fresh rasp­ber­ries.


Adapt­ed from Bet­ty Crock­er

What a Picture’s Worth


Time and UmbrellaWhen I was a kid, a vis­it from my Texas grand­par­ents guar­an­teed hori­zon-expand­ing expe­ri­ences.

For one thing, we were exposed to food choic­es not com­mon to our lit­tle house in Minnesota’s north woods. I’m not talk­ing about chili — my Tex­an father cooked that all the time. I’m talk­ing about Grand­ma drink­ing hot Dr. Pep­per instead of cof­fee. And Grand­pa slather­ing peanut but­ter on his ham­burg­ers.

From the van­tage point of our small town, these out­landish approach­es to famil­iar food­stuffs con­vinced me that the wider world held unimag­ined pos­si­bil­i­ties: appar­ent­ly even peanut but­ter could be made strange and excit­ng, if expe­ri­enced some­where glam­orous like Texas.

Anoth­er ele­ment of my grand­par­ents’ vis­its was Night at the Movies. We’d crowd togeth­er on the couch, the lights would dim, and then we’d have: the slideshows, the director’s cut ver­sions of every road trip my grand­par­ents had recent­ly ven­tured upon. I’d see cap­tured images of exot­ic places like Okla­homa or Mis­souri, and I’d mar­vel at how much world was out there wait­ing for me. Those pho­tos were enough to inspire me to grand imag­in­ings.

Pho­tos are also a per­fect way to trig­ger writ­ing road trips. Cre­ate a col­lec­tion of quirky or out­landish images (like the one of mine at the top of this page, which you are free to use). Sort through your own pho­tos, or take a local road trip with your cam­era in hand, or ven­ture online to track them down. My writer friend Lau­ra Pur­die Salas posts a new writ­ing-prompt pho­to on her blog every Thurs­day morn­ing. Once you’ve col­lect­ed your pho­tos, hand them around your class­room, let­ting stu­dents pull out the one that most intrigues them. Then ask them to write a poem or start a sto­ry based on what­ev­er the image inspires in them. Some­times, you’ll find, a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words.


Writing on Vacation!!

Lynne Jonell Page Break



Melissa Stewart

Melissa StewartWe are so pleased to have author and sci­ence speak­er Melis­sa Stew­art take time away from her very busy book-writ­ing sched­ule to share her answers to burn­ing ques­tions we had after read­ing No Mon­keys, No Choco­late, our Book­storm this month.

Melis­sa, when do book ideas usu­al­ly come knock­ing on your brain?

Melissa's NotebookIdeas can come any­time, any­where — so I always have to be ready. I car­ry a small note­book with me every­where I go. The idea for No Mon­keys, No Choco­late start­ed per­co­lat­ing in my mind when I saw cocoa trees grow­ing in the rain for­est dur­ing a trip to Cos­ta Rica.

As ecosys­tems go, how do you iso­late one and stick to writ­ing about it?

To me, No Mon­keys, No Choco­late isn’t real­ly about the rain for­est ecosys­tem, it’s about a tree and all the crea­tures it depends on to grow. This is all hap­pen­ing with­in a rain for­est, of course, but my goal was to keep a laser-sharp focus on the tree itself.

Cocoa tree

You revised this man­u­script 56 times, which you share so thought­ful­ly in class­room-usable detail on your Revi­sion Time­line. Is this typ­i­cal for all of your writ­ing?

For most of my books, I revise a half dozen times, but con­cept pic­ture books like No Mon­keys, No Choco­late often take quite a bit more work. It can take time and a whole lot of tri­al and error to find the very best way to present the infor­ma­tion to young read­ers.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate bookwormsWhose idea was it to include the car­toon com­men­ta­tors on each spread? Do you remem­ber why you decid­ed to include them?

The book­worms were my idea. They have two func­tions — to add humor (which kids love) and to rein­force some of the chal­leng­ing sci­ence ideas pre­sent­ed in the in the book’s main text.

What’s the most vital take­away you hope to inspire with No Mon­keys, No Choco­late?

I hope it will help chil­dren (and adults) under­stand that every liv­ing thing on Earth is inter­con­nect­ed, and if we want to keep enjoy­ing our favorite things (like choco­late), we need to pro­tect and pre­serve the nat­ur­al world and its amaz­ing cast of crea­tures.

Allen YoungYou worked with a co-author on this book. What role did Allen Young play and how did you work togeth­er?

For this book, I need­ed to know all the dif­fer­ent crea­tures that cocoa trees depend on to live and grow and make more cocoa trees. I read every sci­en­tif­ic paper that had ever been writ­ten about cocoa trees, but they didn’t have the infor­ma­tion I need­ed. Since it wasn’t pos­si­ble for me to spend months observ­ing cocoa trees in the rain for­est, I need­ed to find some­one who had.

That’s where Allen Young came in. He’s the world’s lead­ing expert in cocoa tree growth and he stud­ied cocoa trees in the Cos­ta Rican rain for­est for more than 30 years.  I asked Allen if he’d share his knowl­edge with me, and he said, “Yes,” as long as he could be the co-author of the book.

So I asked him a bunch of ques­tions to get the infor­ma­tion I need­ed, and then I start­ed to write. Lat­er, Allen read the man­u­script to make sure that every­thing was accu­rate.

What are the sec­ond and third most fas­ci­nat­ing ecosys­tems for you?

Oh boy, every ecosys­tem is fas­ci­nat­ing to me. One ecosys­tem that I’m dying to vis­it is the Amer­i­can South­west­ern desert. I’m hop­ing to trav­el to Ari­zona some­time in the next year.

How do you make sure that the lan­guage and con­cepts in the book fit the intend­ed audi­ence?

Cur­ricu­lum stan­dards, such as the Next Gen­er­a­tion Sci­ence Stan­dards, spec­i­fy what top­ics and con­cepts stu­dents at var­i­ous grade lev­els are study­ing in school, so that helps me decide whether an idea I have will work best as a pic­ture book or an ear­ly read­er or as long-form non­fic­tion for old­er read­ers.  Once I know who my audi­ence is, I can adjust the voice, point of view, hook, and text com­plex­i­ty to make the writ­ing inter­est­ing and age-appro­pri­ate.

Melissa Stewart working with a student during a school visitWhen you’re at a school talk­ing about ecosys­tems, what kind of hands-on activ­i­ties do you do with this book?

Because teach­ers want to pro­vide stu­dents with real-life exam­ples of how revi­sion can improve writ­ing, my school vis­it for No Mon­keys, No Choco­late focus­es on my 10-year process of cre­at­ing the book. I explain why it took so darn long to write the book and why I didn’t just give up. My hope is that hear­ing my sto­ry of my strug­gle and ulti­mate suc­cess will encour­age stu­dents to devel­op sta­mi­na as writ­ers.

What has cap­tured your atten­tion cur­rent­ly in the sci­ence realm?

Oh, wow, there is always some­thing new and excit­ing. That’s why I love sci­ence. I think it’s real­ly inter­est­ing to see all the amaz­ing inno­va­tions in robot research. And I’m also close­ly fol­low­ing sto­ries about new dis­cov­er­ies in space. I’m espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in know­ing if there real­ly is anoth­er plan­et out there on the lone­ly out­er fringes of our solar sys­tem. More and more, it’s look­ing like the answer is “Yes!”


Skinny Dip with Pamela S. Turner

For this inter­view, we vis­it with Pamela S. Turn­er, chil­dren’s book author with two new books out in 2016, Samu­rai Ris­ing: The Epic Life of Minamo­to Yoshit­sune and Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Bright­est Bird:

Pamela S. TurnerWhich celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

Sir Richard Fran­cis Bur­ton, the Vic­to­ri­an anthro­pol­o­gist, trans­la­tor, lin­guist, and African explor­er. I’ve had a huge crush on him ever since I read The White Nile.  

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry? 

Get­ting my first library card at age four. Mom said I could­n’t get one until I could write my own name, so I learned in a flash.  

Sir Richard Francis Burton

Richard Fran­cis Bur­ton by Rischgitz, 1864

Tea? Cof­fee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Why isn’t “mar­gari­ta” one of the options here?

Your favorite can­dy as a kid …

Abba-Zab­ba … or maybe Bit O’ Hon­ey … or maybe Big Hunk … no, wait! Cot­ton can­dy. I still love cot­ton can­dy. I have the taste buds of a three-year-old.  

Is Plu­to a plan­et?

No. But Plu­to being demot­ed from plan­et­hood is a won­der­ful les­son in how sci­ence works. In sci­ence data mat­ter, not tra­di­tion.

Cotton CandyBest tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

I think Bud­dhists have the best mot­to of all: “com­pas­sion for all sen­tient crea­tures.”

Your hope for the world?

That we will find a way to live with­in our eco­log­i­cal means and not muck every­thing up for our­selves and for all oth­er sen­tient crea­tures.


The Birthday Surprise

I had pret­ty much giv­en up on find­ing an appro­pri­ate gift for my dad’s 82nd birth­day; the last thing he need­ed was more stuff. So I head­ed off to the fam­i­ly lake cab­in for the 4th of July hol­i­day (also his birth­day week­end) with the thought that I’d fig­ure out a clever cel­e­bra­to­ry idea at the last minute. Maybe some kind of game that every­one would enjoy?

The prob­lem with that was the “every­one” involved. My brother’s four kids each brought a friend along, so 13 to 20-year-olds made up the clear major­i­ty. All of them trav­el at a speed that far out­dis­tances their grand­pa, and their lives revolve around com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al touch­stones. Not to men­tion that two of them seemed to have self-iden­ti­fied as space aliens sent to cat­a­log the pecu­liar behav­ior of earth­lings, sit­ting apart and observ­ing the rest of us with a dis­sect­ing air. What kind of game could I pos­si­bly come up with that would work for this mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional (not to men­tion mul­ti-plan­e­tary) crew?

Out of des­per­a­tion, I decid­ed to just go for it, and I scratched out a series of 10 ques­tions about Grand­pa. What major world event rad­i­cal­ly changed his life when he was a kid? What dan­ger­ous ani­mal did he cap­ture when he was a teenag­er? How many col­leges kicked him out? How did he meet his wife (the Grand­ma we were all still mourn­ing)? In oth­er words, ques­tions that trans­lat­ed Grandpa’s life into the con­cerns of a 13 to 20-year-old. Then I told the kids that they were going to work as pairs (grand­child plus friend) to answer the ques­tions, and who­ev­er got the most cor­rect would win a small prize. Part­way through the game, each team would have a chance to pri­vate­ly ask Grand­pa to share sto­ries to pro­vide two of the answers they didn’t know.

ph_lb_dad_erinThey’re good kids. I fig­ured they would hide their eye-rolls and play along for courtesy’s sake. Mean­while, Grand­pa would be the cen­ter of atten­tion for a few min­utes, get­ting to share a few of the details from his first 81 years, and it would make him feel like we’d at least tak­en notice of his birth­day.

In all my wor­ry about find­ing an appro­pri­ate way to cel­e­brate my dad’s life, I had inex­plic­a­bly for­got­ten the pow­er of his sto­ries. I’d momen­tar­i­ly over­looked sto­ries’ facil­i­ty for bridge-build­ing — their capac­i­ty to cre­ate a con­nec­tion between some­one whose child­hood was altered by the bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor, and the grand­son whose child­hood was shaped by 911. My lit­tle quiz turned into a fierce bat­tle for sto­ry suprema­cy; even the space aliens couldn’t get enough. Every­one was a win­ner.

And this children’s book writer went home from the week­end with a reminder about the impor­tance of the work I do on an every­day basis. Just wait, world: have I got a sto­ry for you!


August Shorts

Warn­ing: There’s a lot of enthu­si­asm ahead for these books!

Where Do Pants Go?Where Do Pants Go?
Writ­ten by Rebec­ca Van Slyke, illus­trat­ed by Chris Robert­son
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

Well, this is just adorable … and I can already hear house­holds through­out the Eng­lish-speak­ing world chant­i­ng:

Where do pants go?

On your arms? No.

On your neck? No.

No, no, no.

Pants go on your legs, that’s where pants go.”

We all know how much kids love say­ing “NO!” This book depicts a charm­ing cast of kids in a row­dy les­son on get­ting dressed from under­wear to jack­et and hat. It’s a cumu­la­tive text so lan­guage skills are a part of the mix. The illus­tra­tions are boun­cy and full of humor. Get­ting dressed will be filled with gig­gles.

Sky Stirs Up TroubleThe Sky Stirs Up Trou­ble (Tor­na­does)
writ­ten by Belin­da Jensen, illus­trat­ed by Renee Kuril­la
Mill­brook Press, 2016

I won­der if a sci­en­tif­ic study has ever been done to deter­mine how many kids want to grow up to be the weath­er fore­cast­er on local or nation­al news. Cer­tain­ly the weath­er is just as much a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion for chil­dren as it is for adults. This brand-new, six-book series about Bel the Weath­er Girl is writ­ten by a tele­vi­sion mete­o­rol­o­gist with an eye toward enter­tain­ing and edu­cat­ing the read­er. In this book, Bel and her cousin Dylan head to the base­ment with Bel’s mom when a tor­na­do siren goes off. They learn how to react to the warn­ing and Bel explains, by bak­ing a Tor­na­do Cake, how the atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions must be just so in order to cook up a tor­na­do. A recipe for the cake is includ­ed as are inter­est­ing fact bub­bles. The illus­tra­tions are friend­ly and engag­ing. I know I would have read and re-read this series in ele­men­tary school.

D is for Dress-UpD is for Dress Up: The ABCs of What We Wear
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Maria Car­luc­cio
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016

This charm­ing alpha­bet book is just right for some­one who will grow up to col­lect fab­ric, care­ful­ly study fash­ions, and find joy in cre­at­ing “a look.” A won­der­ful­ly diverse group of chil­dren are dressed in cloth­ing and acces­sories that depict each word from apron (for a chef) to zip­pers (for two friends’ jack­ets). In between, we find leo­tards and over­alls and rain­coats. It’s the illus­tra­tions that are most invit­ing: so much for the eyes and brain and heart to notice and absorb. There’s tex­ture and pat­tern and detail (notice those galosh­es) cre­at­ed by a tex­tile and prod­uct design­er result­ing in a warm and enchant­i­ng book. You’ll know just the child to give it to.

This is NOT a Cat!This is NOT a Cat!
writ­ten by David LaRochelle, illus­trat­ed by Mike Wohnout­ka
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

LaRochelle and Wohnout­ka (Moo!) are at it again: a book that has very few words but a lot of laughs! I love these books with few words because kids are so good at telling the sto­ry them­selves. With gen­tle prompt­ing from the adult read­ing with them, kids can be encour­aged to tell the sto­ry in dif­fer­ent ways. Per­haps the most fun is say­ing the five words in the book in so many dif­fer­ent ways with vary­ing empha­sis and LOUD­ness! It’s just plain fun to read this book out loud. And because there are only five words, every child can have the sat­is­fac­tion of read­ing this book on their own. The live­ly, humor­ous pic­tures con­ceived by Mike Wohnout­ka invite study­ing close­ly as the details add to the fun. Bring your own knowl­edge to this book: do cats like cheese?

The Bot That Scott BuiltThe Bot That Scott Built
writ­ten by Kim Nor­man, illus­trat­ed by Agnese Baruzzi
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

Great Scott! I love this book. For any child the least bit sci­ence-mind­ed who loves to exper­i­ment or build things or cre­ative­ly com­pile what-ifs, this is a must-have book. It’s an awe-inspir­ing feast for the eyes and the ears and the fun­ny bone. The set­ting is a Sci­ence Day, in which stu­dents show their sci­ence projects to their teacher and the rest of the class. In a House That Jack Built style, the “what can go wrong, does” sto­ry pro­gress­es with much laugh­ter thanks to the spot-on rhyming text and the col­or-infused illus­tra­tions. The end­ing is inge­nious. I won’t spoil it for you and your small­er read­ers. But Scott’s sci­ence project saves the class­room from the brink of destruc­tion. I’m inspired to make my own “bot” right now and so will you be!


Calvin Can’t Fly

Calvin-250When I was doing sto­ry­time week­ly, a book about a book­worm star­ling was in my reg­u­lar rota­tion. Yes, you read that right — a Book­worm Star­ling. That’s exact­ly what Calvin (the star­ling) is — a book­worm. And that is his shame — his cousins call him “nerdie birdie,” “geeky beaky,” and “book­worm.” Unusu­al (gen­tly deroga­to­ry) labels for a star­ling. Not that it deters Calvin — he most­ly shrugs and turns the page.

Calvin is the only star­ling in his very large fam­i­ly who does not seem to care much about fly­ing. (Refresh your mem­o­ry on how star­lings move about with this astound­ing video of star­ling mur­mu­ra­tions.) He’s into books. In a big way. While his cousins learn to fly and chase bee­tles, bugs, and ants, Calvin sits and learns to read let­ters, words, and sen­tences. He dreams of adven­ture sto­ries, infor­ma­tion, and poet­ry. His cousins dream of insect eat­ing and garbage pick­ing. And although they call him by the above names, they most­ly ignore him, so enrap­tured with fly­ing are they.

And Calvin is just as enrap­tured with sto­ries and learn­ing. Pirates and vol­ca­noes, dinos and plan­ets, sci­ence and his­to­ry — Calvin reads it all. He reads the entire sum­mer, learn­ing and absorb­ing every­thing his lit­tle star­ling brain can.

When the sea­sons begin to turn, the urgency for Calvin to learn to fly becomes appar­ent. And yet, he man­ages not to learn. This cre­ates quite an issue, because the wind has grown cold and it is time to head south….

The entire star­ling fam­i­ly takes off, minus Calvin. They don’t get far before they turn around and come back for Calvin. He is car­ried in the most hilar­i­ous way, which more than excus­es the unkind words pre­vi­ous­ly used about his read­ing habits.

And as it turns out, Calvin’s read­ing saves them — Calvin is the unex­pect­ed hero! “Make haste!” he says, lead­ing the entire star­ling fam­i­ly to safe­ty. Kids love this! They love that his book-knowl­edge of some­thing as obscure as hur­ri­cane safe­ty came in handy. They all but cheer — actu­al­ly, once a set of twins did cheer when I read how Calvin saved them all. And kids are fur­ther delight­ed when Calvin flaps his wings in hap­pi­ness, jump­ing and hop­ping and dancing…and flies! At last!

When I looked up the author, Jen­nifer Berne, I found out there’s anoth­er Calvin book! I don’t know how I missed it. Ms. Berne and the illus­tra­tor, Kei­th Bendis, have told an empow­er­ing sto­ry, (with­out being preachy!) about the won­ders and neces­si­ty of read­ing. Can’t wait to read Calvin’s next adven­tures. I’m off to find a group of kids to read to….


Bookstorm™: No Monkeys, No Chocolate

No Monkeys Bookmap


No Monkeys, No ChocolateWe are pleased to fea­ture No Mon­keys, No Choco­late as our August book selec­tion, in which author and sci­ence writer Melis­sa Stew­art, along with Allen Young and illus­tra­tor Nicole Wong share the inter­de­pen­dent ecosys­tem that cre­ates the right con­di­tions for cacao beans to be grown and har­vest­ed so we can pro­duce choco­late.

This ecosys­tem is set in the rain­for­est of the Ama­zon, but there are inter­de­pen­dent ecosys­tems all over the world, vital ani­mals, rep­tiles, birds, insects, humans, and plants that are nec­es­sary for our lives to con­tin­ue on this earth. We all rely on each oth­er. We all have a part to play in pre­serv­ing a healthy Earth. We are grate­ful to authors and illus­tra­tors like Melis­sa, Allen, and Nicole who bring these con­nec­tions to our atten­tion so we can share them with chil­dren who will become the stew­ards of this plan­et.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books, arti­cles, and videos for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. This month, we’re focus­ing on books about Amer­i­can light­hous­es, light­house keep­ers, and biogra­phies of female heroes. 




You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Melis­sa Stew­art on her web­site. Illus­tra­tor Nicole Wong’s web­site will show you more of her port­fo­lio.


Choco­late. I know there are peo­ple who don’t like choco­late, but sure­ly they are a small per­cent­age of peo­ple in the world! As we move between descrip­tions of deca­dent choco­late plea­sures to news that it’s healthy for us to foun­tains and per­son­al­ized choco­late … these books share facts, sto­ries, and tan­ta­liz­ing pho­tographs.

Ecosys­tems. Our fea­tured book is an excel­lent descrip­tion of an ecosys­tem in which plants, ani­mals, and insects work togeth­er to cre­ate the bean that cre­ates choco­late. There are a num­ber of good exam­ples of ecosys­tems through­out the world in the books we’ve includ­ed.

Grow­ing Food. We appre­ci­ate and thank the peo­ple who work so hard to grow our food. From urban farms to rur­al ranch­es to rain­forests, the foods we tend and grow and har­vest are essen­tial to all life on earth. We hope that teach­ing chil­dren about the sources of their food, the peo­ple who grow it, and the care giv­en to the stuff of life will encour­age a healthy lifestyle.

Mon­keys. Mon­keys, chim­panzees, goril­las, apes … pri­mates have been fas­ci­nat­ing peo­ple, espe­cial­ly chil­dren, since time began. And now we now they’re essen­tial for choco­late! We’ve includ­ed books that will start dis­cus­sions, answer ques­tions, and enter­tain young read­ers.

Pol­li­na­tion. The process of pol­li­na­tion, and all the ways it hap­pens, is incred­i­ble. These books are guar­an­teed to inter­est young read­ers.

Rain For­est Preser­va­tion. It’s vital for all the peo­ple of the earth to sup­port efforts to keep the rain forests of our world healthy. The more we know and under­stand about their role in our cli­mate, our air, our abil­i­ty to breathe, the more we can com­mit to doing our part as indi­vid­u­als. 

Author’s Web­site Resources. Author Melis­sa Stew­art cre­at­ed a writ­ing time­line that is use­ful in teach­ing writ­ing, espe­cial­ly expos­i­to­ry writ­ing, to your stu­dents. She has a read­er’s the­ater, teach­ing guide, and sev­er­al more teach­ing aids to offer. We’ve pro­vid­ed links.

Let us know how you are mak­ing use of this Book­storm™. Share your ideas and any oth­er books you’d add to this Book­storm™.


Books for My Grandbaby and Me

Reading to my GrandbabyIt’s no secret that I am a big fan of books and read­ing. I am actu­al­ly an even big­ger fan of babies. I am instant­ly smit­ten. I can think of noth­ing bet­ter than cud­dling an infant, blan­ket­ed by that new baby smell, read­ing to an audi­ence of one. You can imag­ine how thrilled I am to announce that there’s a new baby in town! My incred­i­ble daugh­ter-in-law and son are cel­e­brat­ing the joy of tran­si­tion­ing from lov­ing cou­ple to lov­ing fam­i­ly and I am a first-time grand­ma.

A sweet, lit­tle baby boy (well actu­al­ly, not so lit­tle, with a birth weight of 11 lbs. 12 oz. and length of 24”) to bounce on my knee as we cre­ate read­ing mem­o­ries togeth­er! I’ve looked for­ward to shar­ing my pas­sion for lit­er­a­cy with a pre­cious grand­ba­by for a very long time. And so, with my heart full of  more love than I ever thought pos­si­ble, I will set­tle into this esteemed and hon­or­able role as grand­ma by reach­ing for a trea­sured stack of books. Care­ful­ly select­ed books that will begin a life­long adven­ture of dis­cov­ery, won­der, snug­gles, and joy. Books filled with lessons for my grand­ba­by and me!   

Book and Les­son #1: On The Day You Were Born
Books help us cel­e­brate and learn.

On tThe per­fect first book to share with my grand­ba­by offers this sweet greet­ing: “Wel­come to the spin­ning world… We are so glad you’ve come.” Debra Frasier’s love­ly pic­ture book will, with­out a doubt, become a tra­di­tion for us. The mir­a­cle of nature explains the mir­a­cle of a very spe­cial baby’s entrance into the world. Each year on the anniver­sary of his birth, we will mar­vel at the uni­verse as it is depict­ed in page after page of charm­ing nature col­lages. An extra­or­di­nary book to com­mem­o­rate an extra­or­di­nary event in our lives!   

Book and Les­son #2: More! More! More! Said the Baby
Books help us cher­ish mem­o­ries from the past and cre­ate new ones.

More! More! More! Said the BabyLit­tle Guy, Lit­tle Pump­kin and Lit­tle Bird, tod­dlers from More! More! More! Said the Baby, by Vera B. Williams, bring out the silli­ness and play­ful fun that are essen­tial qual­i­ties for grand­mas and grand­pas. After read­ing this delight­ful sto­ry to my grand­son, I will share anoth­er sto­ry, one about his own dad that I will call “Lit­tle Fish.”  Cen­tered on the mem­o­ry of an ener­getic, not quite two- year- old, I’ll rem­i­nisce and recall the gig­gles and squeal­ing “I do gan, I do gan” as my son jumped off the dock into the lake, again and again. You can bet that each time I read this book it will be grand­ma who pleads for “more, more, more” tum­my kiss­es and toe tick­les!

Book and Les­son #3: Snowy Day
Books help us find new friends.

The Snowy DayIntro­duc­ing my grand­son to a curi­ous lit­tle boy named Peter will be the begin­ning of what I hope will be many friend­ships sprout­ing from the pages of a good book. While read­ing Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, we will get to know an adven­tur­er who loves build­ing smil­ing snow­men and mak­ing snow angels. It won’t be long before my grand­son and I enjoy win­ter days doing the same. And though he will be too young to under­stand the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of this book (con­sid­ered to be the first full col­or pic­ture book fea­tur­ing a child of col­or as the main char­ac­ter), it will always be a reminder to me about the impor­tance of pro­vid­ing a pletho­ra of books with diverse char­ac­ters, books that offer “win­dows and mir­rors,” books filled with friends my grand­ba­by has yet to meet.

Book and Les­son #4: Four Pup­pies
Books help us under­stand life and the world around us.

Four PuppiesThis grandma’s “must read to grand­ba­by book­list” would not be com­plete with­out the book that was my very first per­son­al favorite. As a kinder­garten­er, I fell in love with this clas­sic Lit­tle Gold­en Book. My hope is that my grand­son will delight in the antics of this ram­bunc­tious pack of pups as they learn about the chang­ing sea­sons. Even­tu­al­ly my spe­cial read­ing bud­dy and I will talk about the wise red squir­rel and the pos­i­tive life lessons he pass­es on to his young pro­tégés.    

Book and Les­son #5:
The Lit­tle Mouse, the Red Ripe Straw­ber­ry, and the Big Hun­gry Bear
Books help us have a lit­tle fun.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry BearThis deli­cious sto­ry by Don and Audrey Wood pro­vides anoth­er walk down mem­o­ry lane. It seems like just yes­ter­day when my three-year old preschool­er begged for anoth­er read­ing of this high­ly inter­ac­tive tale. This time around, I plan to wear a pair of Grou­cho fuzzy nose and glass­es as I read it with my grand­ba­by. The cap­ti­vat­ing tale that mix­es a bit of fear, mys­tery, humor, sneak­i­ness and, best of all, shar­ing with oth­ers, will like­ly find a spot on grandbaby’s “read it again” list!

Book and Les­son #6: The I LOVE YOU Book
Books help us express our feel­ings.

The I Love You BookUncon­di­tion­al love is a nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­non for par­ents and grand­par­ents all over the world. The I Love You Book by Todd Parr describes the pow­er­ful, unwa­ver­ing affec­tion that I will for­ev­er feel for this child who has cap­tured my heart. With bright, col­or­ful illus­tra­tions, the mes­sage is sim­ple: I love you whether sil­ly, sad, scared, or brave. I love you whether sleep­ing or not sleep­ing. I love you and I always will, just the way you are!

Once Upon a Time BabyBooks for my grand­ba­by and me will offer a wide range of lessons on all sorts of top­ics. How­ev­er, the great­est gift they will pro­vide is a chance to share mean­ing­ful moments, a chance to relive fond mem­o­ries, a chance to cre­ate new mem­o­ries. Books for my grand­ba­by and me are a gift that will last a life­time, a lega­cy of lit­er­a­cy and love, for my grand­ba­by and me.

Two of my favorite baby lit­er­a­cy gift sites:

I ordered a per­son­al­ized copy of On the Day You Were Born with my grandbaby’s name print­ed on the cov­er and through­out the book.

Adorable t‑shirts for my grand­ba­by, encour­ag­ing lit­er­a­cy and learn­ing


Traveling Like a Rock Star

rock starI raced into the school bath­room and dashed into a stall, pass­ing two small girls at the sink. Phew! I had just moments before I had to be on stage in front of a large assem­bly of kids, but this was a nec­es­sary stop.

Then I real­ized that there was com­plete silence from the area of the sink, although I could still see the girls through the gap next to the stall door. I heard the out­er door push open, and anoth­er girl joined the first two.

She’s in there,” one of the sink girls loud­ly whis­pered. “Who?” asked New Arrival.

The author lady. She’s right in there. We saw her.”

Next thing I knew, a pair of eyes were fas­tened to the oth­er side of the gap, as New Arrival took her oppor­tu­ni­ty to catch a glimpse of me — the “famous” per­son vis­it­ing her school.

I may not have to fight off paparazzi like a movie star, but I’m still spy-wor­thy when my knick­ers are down. And road­ies don’t load my car, but often­times I feel like a rock star before the day of a school vis­it is over.

That’s because kids make even writ­ers of rel­a­tive obscu­ri­ty feel like vis­it­ing roy­al­ty. I’ve been sung to, prayed over, hugged, pho­tographed, and begged for my auto­graph. I’ve received thank you notes that tell me I’ve changed somebody’s life.

Just one vis­it like that can keep me moti­vat­ed to write for weeks. Which leads me to some pret­ty sim­ple advice: make writ­ing a stand­ing ova­tion accom­plish­ment in your class­room. Talk about authors as super­heroes. Turn stu­dents’ writ­ing mile­stones into major cel­e­bra­tions. Encour­age your stu­dents to cheer for a friend’s well-writ­ten sto­ry or poem.

Treat your stu­dents like rock stars when they write well, and who knows what writ­ing results you might inspire.


Saying “Yes!”

Try­ing new things makes me uncom­fort­able. I don’t like to take risks; I like the famil­iar. That’s why when I was asked to give sev­er­al author pre­sen­ta­tions at inter­na­tion­al schools in Bei­jing, my gut reac­tion was to shout, “Not on your life!” Sure, I knew oth­er authors who had trav­eled over­seas and had won­der­ful expe­ri­ences vis­it­ing schools in India and Sau­di Ara­bia, but I’m not as brave or as com­pe­tent as these friends.

Still, some­thing inside me whis­pered that I would regret say­ing no to this oppor­tu­ni­ty. The whis­per con­tin­ued to nag until final­ly I told the inquir­ing school a hes­i­tant “yes.”

It didn’t take me long to imag­ine all the things that could go wrong. I could miss my flight. The East­ern food could dis­agree with my Mid­west­ern stom­ach. My dri­ver in Bei­jing might not show up.

My brave friends assured me that all of these wor­ries were unfound­ed.

And you know what?

They were wrong.

All of these wor­ries came true.

My depart­ing flight was delayed mul­ti­ple times until I was sent home and told to come back tomor­row and try again. When I even­tu­al­ly made it to Bei­jing a day late, two bites of an inno­cent look­ing “pan­cake” from the hotel’s break­fast buf­fet left me with instan­ta­neous “diges­tive issues” (aka explo­sive diar­rhea). And mid­way into my trip as I wait­ed (and wait­ed and wait­ed) one morn­ing for my dri­ver to arrive, it became clear that he was nev­er going to show, leav­ing me (with­out a cell phone) to fran­ti­cal­ly find a way to con­tact the school.

David LaRochelle AbroadWith all these set­backs, the trip should have been a dis­as­ter for a wor­ry­wart like me. But it was noth­ing of the sort. I brought back incred­i­ble mem­o­ries that I wouldn’t trade for any­thing: stand­ing on the Great Wall, vis­it­ing with preschool­ers who had baked a giant cake shaped like one of the char­ac­ters from my pic­ture books, learn­ing how to make Chi­nese dumplings from one of the teach­ers. None of these things would have hap­pened if I had stayed at home.

Version 2

And all those mini-dis­as­ters? They turned out to be bless­ings in dis­guise. When my worst wor­ries mate­ri­al­ized and I found a way to work around them, I dis­cov­ered that I was braver and more com­pe­tent than I thought.

Though I’m reluc­tant to admit it, some of the most reward­ing moments of my career have come when I’ve stepped out of my com­fort zone and attempt­ed things I didn’t think I could do: write for teenagers, illus­trate a book with tricky paper engi­neer­ing, tack­le non­fic­tion. I’ll nev­er be an enthu­si­as­tic risk-tak­er like some of my friends, but I’ve learned that being a lit­tle uncom­fort­able is worth the ben­e­fits I reap when I stretch myself.

Recent­ly I was asked to vis­it schools in Moscow and St. Peters­burg. As I remem­bered my time in Bei­jing, I visu­al­ized all the things that could go wrong on a trip to Rus­sia. Then I swal­lowed my fears, took a deep breath, and said, “Sure, I’d love to go!”

David LaRochelle in Moscow


Books Like This Are Convincing

Lives of the ScientistsI’m more com­fort­able with mag­ic than I am with sci­ence. Mar­ried to a sci­ence guy, I work hard­er to be inter­est­ed in sci­ence. It gives us some­thing to talk about. When I find nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion that tells a com­pelling sto­ry, I’m thank­ful … and intrigued. I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly hap­py to find books that fea­ture less­er-known aspects of sci­ence, there­by taunt­ing my curios­i­ty.

Do you know the Lives of … series, writ­ten by Kath­leen Krull and illus­trat­ed with dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly big heads by Kathryn Hewitt? First pub­lished in 2013 and now in paper­back for less than $10, I had a ball read­ing Lives of the Sci­en­tists: Exper­i­ments, Explo­sions (and What the Neigh­bors Thought). It reminds me of Peo­ple mag­a­zine in tone, lean­ing toward gos­sipy aspects of these most curi­ous of peo­ple past and present but bal­anced by the right amount of tan­ta­liz­ing infor­ma­tion about their work (for many of them, their obses­sion). And you may not have heard of many of these peo­ple.

For instance, William and Car­o­line Her­schel, broth­er and sis­ter, earned their liv­ing as musi­cians until they had sold enough of their hand­made tele­scopes (they used horse dung for the molds!) and their cat­a­log of new­ly dis­cov­ered heav­en­ly bod­ies attract­ed the atten­tion of England’s King George III, who paid them both a salary.

The gos­sipy part? Appar­ent­ly William was a bossy guy who didn’t have his sister’s well-being at the top of his pri­or­i­ty list. Dur­ing a long night of astro­nom­ic obser­va­tion, Caroline’s leg was impaled on a hook but he couldn’t hear her cries of pain. He was con­cen­trat­ing hard!

After each pro­file, there are “extra cred­it” points that didn’t fit into the nar­ra­tive but they’re awful­ly inter­est­ing.

Don’t you love this tid­bit about Grace Mur­ray Hop­per, com­put­er sci­en­tist? “When Grace Mur­ray Hop­per was sev­en, she took her alarm clock apart to see how it worked. Her par­ents were impressed — until she took apart sev­en more. They lim­it­ed her to dis­man­tling one clock at a time, but they ful­ly sup­port­ed her edu­ca­tion.”

Rachel Carson, Lives of the Scientists, illustration copyright Kathryn Hewitt

Rachel Car­son, Lives of the Sci­en­tists, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kathryn Hewitt

Do you know the work of Chien-Shi­ung Wu, Zhang Heng, and Edwin Hub­ble? There are more famil­iar sci­en­tists as well, peo­ple like Jane Goodall, Albert Ein­stein, Rachel Car­son, and George Wash­ing­ton Carv­er.

This book sup­ports curios­i­ty, inves­ti­ga­tion, and the pur­su­ing of dreams … your kids will enjoy these three- to four-page biogra­phies even if they’re more inclined to mag­ic than sci­ence.


A Bit of Noise


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