Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Well-Traveled Paths

by Lisa Bullard

12_17PinkCarriageI slip into auto-pilot when I’m dri­ving through over­ly famil­iar ter­ri­to­ry; I stop tak­ing in the same old land­marks. And then one day, there’s a stop sign where there’s nev­er been one before, and my eyes are re-opened to the pos­si­bil­i­ties around me.

There are “sto­ry paths” like that too: fairy tales and oth­er nar­ra­tives that have grown so famil­iar we fail to notice the pow­er they hold unless we’re forced to take a fresh look. But these sto­ries have much to offer; there’s a rea­son they’ve been passed down through ages of sto­ry-tellers. Some­times they even serve as the foun­da­tion for new sto­ries in new gen­er­a­tions; “once upon a time” becomes “here, in this time.”

I use some of these time-proven sto­ries as stu­dent writ­ing prompts (down­load here). They are par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful when stu­dents are strug­gling with pulling sto­ries togeth­er. The prompts pro­vide the basics of char­ac­ter, plot, and conflict; stu­dents draw on their knowl­edge of ear­li­er ver­sions of the sto­ry to craft a new ver­sion. By explor­ing the exist­ing nar­ra­tive from the inside out, they learn how a sto­ry is craft­ed. And they car­ry that knowl­edge for­ward to oth­er sto­ries they write.

Some­times writ­ers turn time-proven sto­ries into even more pow­er­ful new sto­ries. When I added the last of the four prompts to my list, I had “The Ugly Duck­ling” in mind. But it didn’t take me long to real­ize that the same basic descrip­tion could apply to anoth­er children’s sto­ry: the tale of a boy, shunned by his fam­i­ly because he’s dif­fer­ent who one day shocks every­one with his amaz­ing hid­den tal­ent.

I offer you the two words that changed children’s book pub­lish­ing: Har­ry Pott‚er. Who knows what oth­er “new clas­sics” your stu­dents might cre­ate when they begin trav­el­ing the paths of time-test­ed sto­ries?



by Lisa Bullard

12_31BikerLegEvery year, thou­sands of bik­ers road trip to Stur­gis (South Dako­ta) to cel­e­brate their shared pas­sion for motor­cy­cles. For some of them, atten­dance is an eager­ly antic­i­pat­ed annu­al tra­di­tion that holds the same pow­er found in spir­i­tu­al rit­u­als.

One year my friend and I were caught unawares in the mid­dle of the expe­ri­ence. We had trav­eled to South Dako­ta with­out know­ing about the pil­grim­age of believ­ers, but as we came clos­er to our des­ti­na­tion, the grow­ing num­ber of bik­ers, thick as plagues of locusts at gas sta­tions, forced us to piece togeth­er the clues. It turned into one of the most illu­mi­nat­ing of our many road trips togeth­er. After all, it’s not every day that out­siders such as us are allowed a glimpse into secret cer­e­mo­ni­al rites involv­ing fur-cov­ered bras and leather chaps.

And we had good rea­son to know we had noth­ing to fear from the bik­ers, how­ev­er odd­ly they were adorned: “Most of them are den­tists in real life,” the local news­pa­per assured us.

Appar­ent­ly even den­tists love an excuse to leave the reg­u­lar world behind and cel­e­brate with their own kind. So I draw on that fact for one of my more reli­able cre­ative writ­ing prompts — one that works even on those dead­ly just- before-vaca­tion or just-back-from-break days when stu­dents are com­plete­ly dis­tract­ed.

Name­ly, I ask stu­dents to invent their own hol­i­day. I ask them to write about the rea­son their hol­i­day exists and the spe­cial tra­di­tions that sur­round it. When is their hol­i­day? What foods are eat­en? What cos­tumes are worn? What rit­u­als take place? Are gifts exchanged? Are there figures such as San­ta Claus that play a promi­nent role?

Hope­ful­ly you’ll find, as I have, that stu­dents real­ly enjoy chan­nel­ing their pre- or post-hol­i­day ener­gy into cre­at­ing their own imag­ined visions for “the best cel­e­bra­tion ever.”


Skinny Dip with Stephanie Greene

bk_Posey10What keeps you up at night?

Not much. If I do wake up and start wor­ry­ing about some­thing, I put my newest plot dilem­ma into my brain. Puz­zling over it puts me right to sleep.

What is your proud­est career moment?

I guess I’m most proud that I’m still com­ing up with fresh ideas after twen­ty years. I’ve writ­ten sev­er­al char­ac­ter-dri­ven series, some stand-alone books, sev­er­al anthro­po­mor­phic books, and new ideas con­tin­ue to arrive. Maybe I should call that a pro­fes­sion­al mir­a­cle.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

The first book I remem­ber car­ing about, deep down, was The Secret Gar­den.

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

bk_SophieDepends on what grade you’re talk­ing about. Not sure I was ever a pet, but I cer­tain­ly became a chal­lenge in mid­dle and high school.

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

Hilary McK­ay, E L Konigs­burg, Louise Fitzhugh

Where’s your favorite place to read?

Almost any­where. At night, in bed. In the morn­ing, on a bar stool at the kitchen counter. While I eat lunch, at the table. On a nice day, out­side. If it’s rain­ing … see what I mean? While in line at the gro­cery store, if it’s long. Any­where, any­time.



In Memoriam

2015 saw the pass­ing of sev­er­al authors and illus­tra­tors of Eng­lish-lan­guage chil­dren’s books. We share this in their hon­or and to say “thank-you” once again.


At the Dying of the Year

by Vir­ginia Euw­er Wolff

Now win­ter downs the dying of the year,

And night is all a set­tle­ment of snow… 

—Richard Wilbur, “Year’s End” 

 We all have our cir­cles of par­tic­u­lar­ly mourned lost ones. As our hemi­sphere dark­ens down in this ele­giac sea­son of the win­ter equinox, and death has been so relent­less­ly in the air dur­ing 2015, I wave my own lit­tle flags of grat­i­tude to some of my men­tors and acci­den­tal teach­ers.

bk_Wolff_Robinson160John Rowe Townsend (1922−2014): More than a decade ago, hear­ing him lec­ture on the canon, I sud­den­ly admit­ted to myself that I did­n’t actu­al­ly know Robin­son Cru­soe. I imme­di­ate­ly read it: a sur­pris­ing 250-year-old sto­ry, a sur­vival man­u­al, a panora­ma of ways of dis­cov­er­ing the dai­ly world and of pon­der­ing exis­tence.  And just this week, lis­ten­ing to Trea­sure Island in my car, and being more con­cerned with hawsers and cut­lass­es and scoundrel muti­neers than with speed lim­its or miles per gal­lon of Reg­u­lar, I thank John again for remind­ing his audi­ence to go to sea with Jim Hawkins.   

Lloyd Alexan­der (1924−2007): A life­long music lover, his instru­ment was the vio­lin; he told me that he’d played for years in “a wretched quar­tet” and tact­ful­ly agreed with me about a knot­ty fifth-to-fourth-posi­tion shift.  Every hard-work­ing musi­cian should have such pierc­ing lessons as a wretched quar­tet can teach.  

bk_Wollff_MoreMore160Vera B. Williams (1927−2015): Using her unique micro­scope, she showed us how tiny injus­tices are huge injus­tices and how we might rise to meet them. Among the essen­tial jol­li­ties she cel­e­brat­ed: More, More, More, Said the Baby. Read­ing it with a very young child can’t not make each of us feel bet­ter. And her radi­ant Scoot­er let new light and air into my world.

Wal­ter Dean Myers (1937−2014): Bren­da Bowen put a copy of a new book called Fall­en Angels in my hands in 1989. That sto­ry sharply shift­ed the way I looked at 1968, a year I thought I had known. His books can teach us about every war ever, between two peo­ple or among mil­lions. In our recent  epi­dem­ic of urban vio­lence and despair, I’ve heard myself ser­mo­niz­ing at the evening news: “They haven’t had enough Wal­ter Dean Myers to read!”

bk_WolffNation160Sir Ter­ry Pratch­ett (1948−2015): The giant tur­tle swims slow­ly through space, and on its shell four ele­phants walk in a cir­cle, and on their backs they bal­ance Dis­c­world, whose inhab­i­tants car­ry on with a ludi­crous­ness we can rec­og­nize. But it’s his nov­el Nation that holds pride of place in my book­shelves, where Mau and Daphne go about their baf­fling, com­pli­cat­ing work, encour­ag­ing me by their exam­ple as I go about try­ing to do mine. 

Tom Feel­ings (1933−2003): In his hands the shat­ter­ing sto­ry of The Mid­dle Pas­sage is a col­lec­tion of 64 black and white images, a trag­ic bal­let of almost incom­pre­hen­si­ble cru­el­ty. And every time the media bring me news of a new doc­u­ment or movie or play or poem, promis­ing new­ly pen­e­trat­ing artic­u­la­tion of the appalling crime of enslave­ment, Tom Feel­ings’ indeli­ble por­traits speak up again, mak­ing the unfath­omable fath­omable, shap­ing the sever­est ugli­ness into pro­found­ly affect­ing art.


Ruth Heller (1923−2004): Tire­less, vibrant artist, cheer­leader for gram­mar. Ruth and I cruised down the Yangtze Riv­er togeth­er. She bought a pair of woven boat track­ers’ san­dals on the sun­shiny bank of the nar­row Shen­nong Stream. “What are you going to do with those?” I asked her. “I’m going to hang them in my stu­dio.” “Oh! Then me, too!” (Ever since enter­ing ele­men­tary school, I’ve been copy­ing peo­ple who know more than I do.) My pair of rope san­dals hangs in my stu­dio to this day. Vis­i­tors ask about them, giv­ing me oppor­tu­ni­ties to tell about Ruth and the riv­er.  

George Gib­ian (1924−1999): When I was in col­lege, one pro­fes­sor encour­aged me as a writer. By the time I grasped that I should thank Mr. Gib­ian (a man of mod­est, dig­ni­fied mien and dar­ing intel­lect) in the acknowl­edg­ments of a book, I found that he had died two years ear­li­er.  

Mark Har­ris (1922−2007): The next teacher to encour­age me, 25 years lat­er.  It was he, dur­ing a sum­mer walk on the Ore­gon coast, who direct­ed me to sit in my chair and stay there and keep writ­ing.  The dizzy­ing rever­ber­a­tions of our lunchtime ram­ble set­tled down after a while and I did what he said.

bk_WolffKooserLet’s lis­ten to Poet Lau­re­ate Emer­i­tus Ted Koos­er in Local Won­ders:

Life is a long walk for­ward through the crowd­ed cars of a pas­sen­ger train, the bright world rac­ing past beyond the win­dows, peo­ple on either side of the aisle, strangers whose sto­ries we nev­er learn, dear friends whose names we long remem­ber and pass­ing acquain­tances whose names and faces we take in like a breath and soon breathe away.  


The Nativity

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

It was my job to read to the chil­dren. There were many oth­er sta­tions — crafts and col­or­ing, games and songs — all built around the most impor­tant task of the morn­ing: The Try­ing On of the Cos­tumes for the Christ­mas Pro­gram, which was to be held lat­er that after­noon.

I had my own lit­tle nook. Chil­dren and some­times their par­ents came and went between find­ing shep­herd robes and angel halos. I would put three or four Christ­mas books out on a table and when­ev­er a new batch of kids came in I’d ask some­one to pick a book for us to read. (Research. Always inter­est­ing to see what they pick and ask why they picked it.)

And it came to pass that I read a series of my favorites to a pre­co­cious, prag­mat­ic sev­en-year-old and a whim­si­cal three-year-old, whose favorite ques­tions always begin with Why? After the three of us had read sev­er­al books togeth­er, I put out four more and asked them to choose the next one. I knew which one they’d pick. And sure enough—The Nativ­i­ty by Julie Vivas won again.

This book is bril­liant. I love read­ing it with kids. It is so vis­cer­al, so phys­i­cal, so fleshy. The text is tak­en from the King James Ver­sion of Luke’s Gospel — lots of thees and thous—but although they occa­sion­al­ly have a vocab­u­lary ques­tion (“What’s swad­dling clothes?”) kids aren’t in the least put off by the lan­guage.

And so we began with the Angel Gabriel and his fan­tas­tic wings — Vivas’s wings are tru­ly inspired.

In the days of Herod the King, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to the
city of Nazareth. To a vir­gin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name was Mary.


3‑year-old: (wist­ful­ly) Why don’t we have wings any­more?

7‑year-old: Humans don’t have wings. Only birds and angels and insects have wings. What’s a vir­gin? And what does espoused mean?

We watched Mary’s bel­ly grow, and the sev­en-year-old said, “She real­ly IS great with child.” The three-year-old remarked that Mary’s butt was pret­ty big, too — there’s a great view when Joseph boosts her up on the don­key. And then both vol­un­teered details of their own birth that I’m guess­ing their moth­ers did not antic­i­pate would be shared.

We con­tin­ued, attempt­ing to count the peo­ple in crowd­ed Beth­le­hem in a gor­geous two-page word­less spread. And then before we knew it “the day came that she should be deliv­ered.”

7‑year-old: Deliv­ered where?

Me: Deliv­ered just means Baby Jesus would be born.

7‑year-old: And deliv­ered where?

3‑year-old: To his Mom.

And she brought forth her first­born son.


3‑year-old: He has a penis.

7‑year-old: Yes, he’s a boy. Because his name is Jesus.

And lo, the angels came to the shep­herds. Again — the wings!


7‑year-old: I’m going to be an angel in the Christ­mas Pro­gram. I was last year, too. I have expe­ri­ence.

3‑year-old: (wist­ful­ly again) Why don’t we still have wings?

7‑year-old: We nev­er had wings. Human don’t have wings.

3‑year-old: I used to.

And behold, the wise men came to Jerusalem….

3‑year-old: I rode a camel. With my grand­ma and grand­pa.

7‑year-old: Did you fol­low a star?

3‑year-old: Yes.

When we were fin­ished, we went through the book again, telling the sto­ry in our own words. The sev­en-year-old cor­rect­ly used the words vir­gin, swad­dling clothes, and espoused. She also threw in a few thees and thous. Most impres­sive. And the three-year-old stood and deliv­ered an inspired “Fear not!” when Gabriel vis­it­ed Mary, and again when the angel­ic choir came to the shep­herds. We dis­cussed the wings and the penis again, as well as the size of Mary’s back­side. We mar­veled at the angels who rode the sheep and won­dered what that would be like.

It was holy time. Read­ing to chil­dren is holy.


Two for the Show: Winter Stories

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root

Jack­ie: Ah win­ter. Sea­son of hol­i­days and snow. Such a rich­ness of sto­ries.

Phyl­lis: I have a shelf full of favorite Christ­mas books. What most of them have in com­mon is sto­ry, not just about Christ­mas itself but also about fam­i­lies cel­e­brat­ing their con­nec­tion to each oth­er.  They meet my own test for a good Christ­mas sto­ry — take away Christ­mas from the set­ting and the sto­ry still has a strong heart­beat about love, fam­i­ly, com­mu­ni­ty, and car­ing for each oth­er. 

bk_Two_EmmetOne of our fam­i­ly favorites is Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christ­mas by Rus­sell Hoban with pic­tures by Lil­lian Hoban (Par­ents Mag­a­zine Press, 1971). Emmet’s dad has died. His moth­er takes in wash­ing while Emmet does handy­man chores to help make ends meet, using the tool­box his father left him.

With Christ­mas com­ing, both Emmet and his moth­er wish they could make the day spe­cial for each oth­er, even though, as Irma Coon says, “It’s a bad year for that.” Emmet yearns to buy a used piano for his moth­er, and she hopes to give him a sec­ond hand gui­tar. 

Jack­ie: Hoban’s lan­guage brings the sto­ry to life. Emmet’s moth­er says: “It’s been such a rock-bot­tom life for so long, just once at least I’d like to bust out with a real glo­ri­ous Christ­mas for Emmet — some­thing shiny and expen­sive.” Rock-bot­tom life. What a use­ful phrase!

Phyl­lis: Ma and Emmet both see a way to “bust out” when they hear of a tal­ent show with a fifty-dol­lar prize. They each secret­ly make plans to win the prize mon­ey,  Ma pawn­ing Emmet’s tool box to get fab­ric for a dress to sing in and Emmet putting a hole in Ma’s wash­tub to make a string bass to play in the Jug band with his friends — actions which stake every­thing on win­ning.

But alas, the Night­mare band with elec­tric instru­ments, a light show, and wail­ing­ly loud music wins the prize. Yet walk­ing home, Emmet and his Ma and his friends real­ize they are glad that, like Pa who took a chance on sell­ing snake oil, they took a chance on the prize.  And when they sing their joy out­side of Doc Bullfrog’s restau­rant they are reward­ed by him with din­ner and a reg­u­lar gig.

Jack­ie: This plot is so sat­is­fy­ing. Despair, then relief — and reward.

It struck me read­ing this book this time that Rus­sell Hoban was writ­ing about the same kinds of char­ac­ters that Vera B. Williams wrote about — fam­i­lies who loved each oth­er but didn’t have a lot of mon­ey, had to make do.

Phyl­lis: And who wouldn’t love the pas­tel world Lil­lian Hoban cre­ates in the art?  In her obit­u­ary she is quot­ed as say­ing, that what she liked bet­ter than any­thing is “just mess­ing around with col­or.”

Jack­ie: And we should also men­tion that this book was made into a movie by Jim Hen­son.

bk_Two_MolePhyl­lis: The Hobans also wrote and illus­trat­ed anoth­er favorite, The Mole Fam­i­ly’s Christ­mas (Par­ents’ Mag­a­zine Press, 1969), in which Delver [Rus­sell Hoban is still laugh­ing about that name], a mole whose fam­i­ly does “straight tun­nel­ing work,” learns of the stars which he can’t see. At the same time he learns about tele­scopes and the exis­tence of a fat man in a red suit who brings presents by way of chim­neys. The mole fam­i­ly builds an above-ground chim­ney in hopes of a vis­it, but each also secret­ly makes presents for the oth­ers just in case the man in the red suit doesn’t bring gifts to ani­mals.  As they build their chim­ney they are plagued by Ephraim Owl, who goal is to catch and eat them some night. “If not this time, then some time,” he hoots.

Yet when the moles all fall asleep on the chim­ney wait­ing for the fat man in the red suit and Ephraim spots them there, he decides it would be fun­ny if the moles woke up and found them­selves not eat­en — which is exact­ly what they do find come morn­ing, along with a tele­scope from the man in the red suit. Again, a fam­i­ly that wants to meet each other’s needs and make each oth­er hap­py.

Jack­ie: Rus­sell Hoban once said, “Peo­ple say that every artist has a par­tic­u­lar theme which he goes through over and over again, and I sup­pose mine has to do with … find­ing a place.”

bk_Two_SnowDanceIn James and Joseph Bruchac’s tale Rabbit’s Snow Dance (Dial, 2012) Rab­bit (whose tail is long) has his place and he wants it cov­ered with snow, more and more snow, so he can eat the tasty buds and leaves up in the trees.

Phyl­lis: I love the word he chants, AZIKANAPO, which the Bruchacs explain means “It will snow foot wrap­pers, great big flakes of snow.” Even though it’s sum­mer, Rab­bit sings his snow song, rea­son­ing that if a lit­tle snow is good, more is bet­ter. The oth­er ani­mals aren’t pleased, but Rab­bit sings snow down as deep as the tree tops, then falls asleep on the top of a tree.  While he sleeps, sun melts snow, and when Rab­bit wakes up he sleep­i­ly steps off into what he thinks is snow and tum­bles to the ground, los­ing bits of his tail on the branch­es. By the end of the book he has lost his tail, gained patience, and only sings his snow song in the win­ter. 

Jack­ie: This YouTube video in which Bruchac talks about the ori­gins of the sto­ry and the kind of tree rab­bit might have been trapped in is charm­ing and reminds us all to look close­ly at the world.

bk_Two_LatkesAlso a sea­son­al fam­i­ly sto­ry, Papa’s Latkes by Michelle Edwards (Can­dlewick, 2004) por­trays a fam­i­ly that must cope with loss. Mama has died “before school start­ed” and Papa and Sel­ma and Dora must make the latkes for Chanukah. Papa goes at it with gus­to and plen­ty of pota­toes, onions, and oil. But his latkes look like mud­pies and Sel­ma just can’t accept a Chanukah with­out Mama. Papa brings the fam­i­ly togeth­er in a long fam­i­ly hug and Sel­ma brings her moth­er into the pic­ture by light­ing the Chanukah can­dles just the way her moth­er had taught her. This is a love­ly sto­ry, for all fam­i­lies, where loss is not denied or glossed over but lived and loved through.

bk_Two_Willoughby Anoth­er sto­ry about com­mu­ni­ty, unin­ten­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, is Mr. Willowby’s Christ­mas Tree by Robert Bar­ry (McGraw-Hilll, 1963) Mr. Wil­low­by lives at the oth­er end of easy street from Emmet Otter and Ma. He’s got a big house and orders a big Christ­mas tree, too big.

But once the tree stood in its place

Mr. Wil­low­by made a ter­ri­ble face.

The tree touched the ceil­ing then bent like a bow.

Oh, good heav­ens,” he gasped. “Some­thing must


Mov­ing the word “go” to the next line — chop­ping it off— is a sub­tle touch that made me laugh out loud. 

The but­ler trims off the top and takes it to the upstairs maid. But her tree is too big — and so on through Mr and Mrs. Timm, a bear fam­i­ly, a rab­bit fam­i­ly and final­ly a mouse fam­i­ly who live just behind the wall in Mr. Willowby’s par­lor. 

Though this book, if writ­ten today, would include more kinds of fam­i­lies, not more ani­mals but dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions than the “Mr. and Mrs. and kids,” there is still some­thing joy­ous in the rhymes, the suc­ces­sive trim­mings, and each new group’s delight in their sec­tion of green.

Phyl­lis: I love how the char­ac­ters all make some­thing from what’s been tossed away — it’s anoth­er sto­ry about mak­ing do and cel­e­brat­ing what we have.

Hap­py Cel­e­bra­tions to you all and wish­es for many good sto­ry times.



Skinny Dip with Roxanne Orgill

bk_mahaliaWhat keeps you up at night?

Thoughts of my two chil­dren: their school issues, health prob­lems, things they said or didn’t say. What calms me and gets me to sleep, per­haps odd­ly, is to think about the book I’m writ­ing at the moment. I can think about parts of it I like, what I’ll write next, and even prob­lems whose solu­tions are right then, any­way, out of my grasp, and drift off, con­tent.

What is your proud­est career moment?

bk_ShoutSisterBeing at the New York Pub­lic Library pre­sen­ta­tion of its Best Books for the Teen Age with two books: Mahalia, a biog­ra­phy of the gospel singer Mahalia Jack­son, and Shout, Sis­ter, Shout! Ten Girl Singers Who Shaped a Cen­tu­ry.

Describe your favorite pair of paja­mas ever.

Laven­der cot­ton short pjs, a gift from my grand­moth­er, who had a bath­room all in laven­der (tow­els and rugs and smelling of laven­der soap and sachets), which I enjoyed.

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

Rais­ing (and not giv­ing up on, not for a minute) a teen with men­tal ill­ness.

bk_footworkWhat’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

I’m afraid the first book(s) I remem­ber read­ing are the Dick and Jane books, and not with any fond­ness, in first grade. But the first book I remem­ber falling in love with is Pip­pi Long­stock­ing.

 What TV show can’t you turn off?

The Good Wife. Real­ly good writ­ing, and Juliana Mar­gulies is too good not to watch to the end.


Mary Casanova: Cultivating Quiet

by Mary Casano­va

bk_WeltyEudo­ra Wel­ty wrote in One-Writer’s Begin­nings: “Long before I wrote sto­ries, I lis­tened for sto­ries.”

The more I write, the more I find that writ­ing is about lis­ten­ing to sto­ries that need to be told. Lis­ten­ing at a deeply intu­itive lev­el, how­ev­er, demands shut­ting out a fre­net­ic world in favor of a qui­eter life — one that sup­ports and nur­tures cre­ativ­i­ty — and writ­ing.

Sev­er­al decades ago, my hus­band and I left St. Paul for life on the North­ern Min­neso­ta bor­der. We were both drawn — then and now — to a qui­et, con­tem­pla­tive life. These days, we spend plen­ty of time at our cab­in read­ing by the wood­stove or hik­ing through the woods. Liv­ing “Up North” has meant less time in traf­fic, less city noise, and more time to gaze up at stars and lis­ten … some­times to a cho­rus of spring peep­ers, oth­er times to a dis­tant pack of howl­ing wolves.

It would seem my envi­ron­ment is per­fect for writ­ing. It most­ly is — when I’m home.

bk_FrozenThe real­i­ty of being a full time author means lead­ing a dual life: one is an intu­itive, intro­vert­ed life of writ­ing and the oth­er is a per­for­mance-based, extro­vert­ed world of speak­ing and meet­ing the pub­lic. Speak­ing, tour­ing, and social media are all impor­tant means of stay­ing con­nect­ed with read­ers, but none of those activ­i­ties trans­late into writ­ing time.

Some authors write on the road. Some don’t. I’m one of the lat­ter. After pre­sent­ing all day at a school or con­fer­ence, I’m spent. I can return to my hotel room and tin­ker with revi­sions. I can jot down bits and pieces of ideas. But I do my real writ­ing when I return home and sink into four-hour blocks of unin­ter­rupt­ed qui­et.

That’s one kind of qui­et nec­es­sary to the actu­al work of writ­ing. The oth­er kind of qui­et comes by lis­ten­ing to the sub­con­scious. When I’m not at my com­put­er, for instance, I’m car­ry­ing sto­ries in my head as I bake in the kitchen, gath­er eggs from our chick­ens, or clean out horse stalls.

bk_graceThere’s also some­thing mag­i­cal about that qui­et time in the ear­ly hours of morn­ing, just between first stir­ring and becom­ing ful­ly awake. I’ve learned to cul­ti­vate an extra 10 min­utes in bed to “lis­ten” to where my sto­ry needs to go next. I often get the answers to ques­tions I have about a cur­rent work-in-progress.

Of course, whether in the city or the coun­try, life doesn’t always offer easy stretch­es of qui­et. You often have to seek it. When our two chil­dren were lit­tle, qui­et was hard to come by. I carved out time. I wrote dur­ing their naps and start­ed going on writ­ing retreats. When our kids  became teenagers and our home was filled with their garage-band friends and elec­tric gui­tars, I found a small stu­dio to escape to. I learned ear­ly on that if I didn’t val­ue my writ­ing needs, no one else would either. And the past few years, I’ve need­ed to for­go days of writ­ing time to help care for my 86-year old moth­er who has Alzheimer’s. What mat­ters is not wait­ing “for the kids to go to col­lege,” as I’ve heard more than once, or “when I retire” but to claim unin­ter­rupt­ed blocks of writ­ing time wher­ev­er life finds you.

More than ever, in a hyper-paced world, writ­ers need to cul­ti­vate qui­et to hear the whis­pers of sto­ry with­in.


Interview with Julie Downing: Illustrating The Firekeeper’s Son

inter­view by Vic­ki Palmquist and Mar­sha Qua­ley

Firekeeper's SonThe illus­tra­tions in The Fire­keep­er’s Son are all dou­ble-page spreads. How did that design deci­sion affect your choic­es and work?

I decid­ed on the for­mat because the land­scape is an impor­tant part of the sto­ry. The orig­i­nal dum­my I made had few­er pages so I split many spreads into small­er images. For­tu­nate­ly, my won­der­ful edi­tor rec­og­nized the prob­lem and allowed me to make the book 40 pages instead of 32, so I could spread the sto­ry over 20 spreads. We both felt the expan­sive dou­ble-page spreads helped make the sto­ry feel big­ger.

My favorite spreads are on pp. 24 – 25 and pp. 30 – 31. Sim­i­lar in palate and sub­ject, one (pp. 30 – 31) is effec­tive­ly a close-up of the oth­er (pp. 24 – 25), and that helps so much to height­en sus­pense at a crit­i­cal moment. Did this image come quick­ly or was it reached slow­ly?

My favorite sequence of spreads is between pp. 24 – 25 and pp. 30 – 31. This is the cli­mac­tic moment in the text, and Lin­da Sue expert­ly builds the cli­max to Sang-hee’s moment of deci­sion. The sequence of images took a long time to get just right (most of my ideas come V E R Y slow­ly) I drew and redrew these 4 spreads many times so I could find just the right way to show how Sang-hee decides to put aside his desire to see sol­diers (as shown in the shad­ow on pp. 24 – 25) to the moment where he lights the fire.

FirekeeperIllustrationThe toy fig­ures Sang-hee plays with are a cru­cial ele­ment in the nar­ra­tive, yet they’re not men­tioned in the text. When and how did they become part of the sto­ry?

As an illus­tra­tor, my job is to bring some­thing new to the text. The text says that Sang-hee loves sol­diers and I want­ed to show his inter­est in a way that young read­ers could under­stand. I watched my own son, who was Sang-hee’s age, when I was illus­trat­ing this book. He spent a lot of his time mak­ing Lego® fig­ures and play­ing with them, so I start­ed won­der­ing what the 17th cen­tu­ry equiv­a­lent was to Lego® and came up with the idea of clay sol­diers.

Sang-hee plays with clay (or mud) sol­diers. Did you find exam­ples of these in your research? How do you go about mak­ing sure those toys were in use dur­ing the time peri­od in which the book is set?

Chil­dren did­n’t have toys in the small Kore­an vil­lages and any that they made would not have sur­vived, how­ev­er I spoke to a cura­tor at the Asian Art Muse­um and he sug­gest­ed that chil­dren might have fash­ioned sim­ple fig­ures out of mud or clay. The actu­al sol­diers were made by my 6‑year-old-son so they looked like some­thing a young boy would make.

Where did you do your research to find the uni­forms Kore­an sol­diers would have worn dur­ing this time peri­od? They seem to have reflec­tive riv­ets on their jack­ets. Is this some­thing you could detect from your research?

I love the research part of the process. San Fran­cis­co has a won­der­ful Asian Art Muse­um and I was able to go behind the scenes and look at some of the sol­diers’ actu­al uni­forms. The muse­um also pro­vid­ed me with tons of visu­al ref­er­ence for all the cos­tumes in the book. The reflec­tion in the riv­ets actu­al­ly rep­re­sents sparks from the 2nd coal. I want­ed to visu­al­ly blend real­i­ty and fan­ta­sy.

Did you use mod­els for the peo­ple in your paint­ings?

I do use mod­els. My son’s best friend posed for Sang-hee, and his moth­er posed as well. I find one of the hard­est parts of paint­ing the illus­tra­tions for a book is mak­ing the char­ac­ters look con­sis­tent. It helps me if I find a real per­son to pose.

Do you remem­ber mak­ing a deci­sion to paint Sang-hee’s imag­ined sol­diers with­in the fire?

The text does say he saw a huge bat­tle in the flames, so I was inspired by the text. One of the things I loved about the sto­ry are the lev­els of com­plex­i­ty, and yet the writ­ing is spare. Lin­da Sue touch­es on so many themes — fam­i­ly, duty, desire — with­in a sim­ple text that I had lots of oppor­tu­ni­ties to expand the sto­ry with the art.


You achieve a won­der­ful lumi­nes­cence with your fire. How did you accom­plish this?

I worked with a com­bi­na­tion of water­col­or and liq­uid acrylics. The acrylics are incred­i­bly intense col­ors so I watered them down and paint­ed in dozens of lay­ers. My stu­dio now has a big blue-green stain right near the door, because I pinned the paint­ing to the door, wet them with a spray bot­tle and lit­er­al­ly poured paint over them. All the excess dripped onto the floor. It cre­at­ed a nice wel­come mat!

The col­or palette for the paint­ings is blue, green, and pur­ple, with a beau­ti­ful light suf­fus­ing the land­scape. What led you to decide on that group of col­ors?

I chose the col­ors to con­trast with the warmth of the fire. I usu­al­ly do exten­sive col­or stud­ies so I can work out not only the col­ors in the indi­vid­ual spreads, but also how the col­ors affect the sto­ry arc.

Lotus and the Feather, illus by Julie Downing Disney Hyperion, 2016

Lotus and Feath­er, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Julie Down­ing, pp. 18 – 19. forth­com­ing from Dis­ney Hype­r­i­on, 2016

Many illus­tra­tors paint in water­col­or, but you’ve added pas­tel crayons. What do you feel this adds to a paint­ing?

I love paint­ing with water­col­or. The trans­paren­cy you can achieve with the medi­um was per­fect for the book. How­ev­er, some­times I want­ed a bet­ter dark, a lighter high­light, or a dif­fer­ent tex­ture, so adding pas­tel and col­ored pen­cil allowed me to do this.

The cov­er is not tak­en from pages already exist­ing in the book. It stands sep­a­rate­ly. What did you feel need­ed to be on the cov­er in order to draw peo­ple into the book?

I find cov­ers to be chal­leng­ing. I want to con­vey a sense of the sto­ry with­out giv­ing any­thing away. The edi­tor and I went back and forth on show­ing sol­diers in the flames because we were wor­ried it might reveal the end­ing. Final­ly, we decid­ed that if they were sub­tle, it just adds to the mys­tery of the sto­ry.


Through the Woods

by Lisa Bullard

12_17SantaSleighA few years ago I decid­ed to vis­it a friend in North Car­oli­na over the hol­i­days, and the only way I could afford the air­fare was to fly on Christ­mas Day. I admit to a case of self pity as I set out, pic­tur­ing the rest of the world in their new paja­mas, open­ing presents and rev­el­ing in a hol­i­day feast, while I suf­fered the long lines, cramped seats, and oth­er indig­ni­ties that air trav­el offers

What was I think­ing, leav­ing home for Christ­mas? How could I pos­si­bly enjoy anoth­er family’s hol­i­day tra­di­tions? Would it even feel like Christ­mas in a place where pan­sies were still bloom­ing?

And then I spot­ted a fam­i­ly at the air­port who were all decked out in San­ta caps, the two young chil­dren big-eyed with excite­ment as they pre­pared to jour­ney over the riv­er and through the woods to Grandmother’s house. They hadn’t left their Christ­mas at home: they were car­ry­ing it with them, packed along with their tooth­brush­es and clean under­wear for the trip.

My entire mood turned instant­ly ebul­lient. All it took was that reminder that even when we trav­el far away, we still car­ry a lit­tle part of home with us.

Writ­ing is a jour­ney too. It might begin with the things we know best, but even­tu­al­ly our imag­i­na­tions take us into unfa­mil­iar ter­ri­to­ry. Some­times this is exhil­a­rat­ing. Some­times it’s uncom­fort­able or even a lit­tle scary. The best thing to do is to keep mov­ing for­ward, tak­ing out what­ev­er lit­tle part of home we’re car­ry­ing with us when we need some reas­sur­ance.

The path to Grandmother’s house may take us through the woods. But nev­er for­get that Grand­moth­er is wait­ing on the oth­er side with a big cup of hot cocoa and a thou­sand twin­kling Christ­mas lights.


Skinny Dip with Loretta Ellsworth

bk_searchmockingbirdWhat keeps you up at night? 

Usu­al­ly my son Andrew – he’s blind and some­times gets day and night mixed up.

What is your proud­est career moment?

Fin­ish­ing a nov­el, mean­ing writ­ing and revis­ing until I’m sat­is­fied with it – no mat­ter what hap­pens with the man­u­script, I know I’ve accom­plished an amaz­ing goal.

Describe your favorite pair of paja­mas ever

When I was young I had a pair of footie paja­mas that I loved and wore out.

Serena_Williams_at_the_Australian_Open_2015In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal? 

I love to play ten­nis and would love to win a gold medal in that – if only I could play like Ser­e­na Williams!

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing? 

My par­ents had a book of nurs­ery rhymes that all sev­en of us chil­dren read (or were read to).  I loved the pic­tures in that book and mem­o­rized most of the nurs­ery rhymes.

What TV show can’t you turn off? 

The Simp­sons, because my son loves to watch it and he won’t let me turn it off.  I’m now an expert on any­thing Simp­son-relat­ed.


Looking inside

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Today I WillFor sev­er­al years, I have been dip­ping into a book that I keep beside my desk. It’s called Today I Will: a Year of Quotes, Notes, and Promis­es to Myself (Knopf, 2009). Two acknowl­edged mas­ters of children’s lit­er­a­ture, Eileen Spinel­li and Jer­ry Spinel­li, wrote it. They are par­ents and grand­par­ents and one can feel their love and con­cern for future gen­er­a­tions in this book.

When I was grow­ing up, I often received the gift of a day-by-day book that had word def­i­n­i­tions or devo­tions or super-short sto­ries in it. I didn’t have enough patience to read each page on the des­ig­nat­ed day, but I read sev­er­al pages at once, return­ing often for just a few, sat­is­fy­ing min­utes.

This book’s for­mat finds each page with a quote from a children’s book, a thought- and dis­cus­sion-pro­vok­ing state­ment or ques­tions, an illus­tra­tion by Julie Roth­man, and an exam­ple of a promise you could make to your­self (or as a fam­i­ly).

I love books of quo­ta­tions. Do you? This book looks more deeply into the thoughts inspired by the quote.

Once in awhile, the book feels a lit­tle heavy-hand­ed, but I remind myself that I am an adult with many years of expe­ri­ence in my brain. For some­one still in the first decade or two of their life, these are ideas worth con­sid­er­ing. There’s no shy­ing away from the moral com­pass in Today I Will. I find that refresh­ing. Espe­cial­ly now, when all of our wor­ry meters are turned to HIGH, I feel that a book like this is ground­ing.

bk_todayiwill2Eight to 12-year-olds will enjoy Today I Will on their own, but a class­room or home­school or fam­i­ly could use this for a short, dai­ly dis­cus­sion or a writ­ing prompt.

If you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you — you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quiet­ness.” —The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I hes­i­tat­ed before writ­ing about this book, even though it’s a favorite of mine. It’s no longer in print (and that’s a rant for anoth­er day) but it is avail­able as an e‑book. That won’t be near­ly as sat­is­fy­ing as hold­ing this book in your hands (it’s a good size, a good weight, and the paper is real­ly nice) but you can eas­i­ly find this at a used book­seller (I know this — I looked it up).

Not every­thing we read has to be enter­tain­ing. Some­times we want to think and feel and learn to know our­selves bet­ter. This book is a good fit.




Prep Time7 mins
Cook Time1 d
Serv­ings: 4
Author: Guy Fieri


  • 12 medi­um head napa cab­bage uncored, rough­ly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup car­rot juli­enned, match­stick size
  • 1 cup daikon radish juli­enned, match­stick size
  • 2 green onions split in half, cut in 2″ sec­tions
  • 34 cup tamari soy sauce
  • 12 cup water
  • 14 cup apple cider vine­gar
  • 2 Tbsp minced gar­lic
  • 1 Tbsp hon­ey
  • 4 dry hot chile pep­pers split length­wise, seeds removed


  • In a colan­der in the sink, sprin­kle cab­bage with salt and toss to com­bine. Let sit about 1 12 hours or until cab­bage wilts. Rinse sev­er­al times with cold water and drain well. Squeeze out any excess water. Com­bine cab­bage with car­rots, radish and green onions. In a small bowl, mix togeth­er soy sauce, water, vine­gar, gar­lic, hon­ey and chile pep­pers. Place cab­bage mix­ture in a clean glass jar or glass bowl (about 1 quart or larg­er). Pour liq­uid over cab­bage and place in refrig­er­a­tor or cool dark place for 24 hours.
  • Read more at:

Red Reading Boots: Lucia Morning in Sweden

ph_lussekatterbunThis week is full of prepa­ra­tions at our house. Lucia Day comes on Sun­day and our household’s Lucia wish­es to make the Lussekat­ter buns this year. I’ve learned not to stand in her way — she can­not be deterred.

The mag­ic of St. Lucia was intro­duced to our fam­i­ly four­teen years ago. It was a dif­fi­cult Decem­ber for us and our dark days were in need of some light and love, which was pro­vid­ed by some dear friends who arrived on our doorstep in the very ear­ly morn­ing, wak­ing us with song, can­dle­light, and a scrump­tious Swedish break­fast feast. It’s one of the kind­est gifts of friend­ship I’ve ever received. We knew noth­ing about Lucia pri­or to that mag­i­cal morn­ing, but our friends sat and told her sto­ries and their sto­ries of cel­e­brat­ing Lucia with their kids when they were small.

By the next Christ­mas we had a rosy-cheeked blue-eyed baby girl who looked like she’d be a blondie if she ever got hair. (She’s one-quar­ter Swedish, to boot!) And it came to pass. She’s thir­teen now, and has a full head of still-blonde hair. She’s been Lucy on Decem­ber 13th for the last ten years. She takes very seri­ous­ly the bring­ing of  light and song and Lucy cook­ies and treats to her fam­i­ly and friends.

When she was in sec­ond grade, her school did a unit on all the fes­ti­vals of light that occur in and around Decem­ber — Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwan­zaa etc. and my girl vol­un­teered me to come teach about Lucia.


writ­ten by Ewa Rydåk­er,
illus. by Cari­na Ståhlberg

So I did a lit­tle research, wrote new Eng­lish words to the tra­di­tion­al Swedish song, bought a lot of Annas Swedish Wish Cook­ies, and went to my local Swedish Insti­tute (we have such things in Min­neso­ta) to see if there was a book I might read. Lucia Morn­ing in Swe­den by Ewa Rydåk­er fit the bill.

Class after class was rapt as the sto­ry of one mod­ern Swedish family’s Lucia Day prepa­ra­tions was read. The kids loved it. They sang the song lusti­ly, ate their cook­ies and made their wish­es (one for them­selves and one for some­one else, in homage to Lucia who brought light and love to oth­ers), and asked many many ques­tions of Lucia’s death, saint­hood, and her many Decem­ber cel­e­bra­tions around the world. They were utter­ly fas­ci­nat­ed with the crown of can­dles and only the lice epi­dem­ic the school was expe­ri­enc­ing that year (there’s always some­thing) pre­vent­ed us from hav­ing each and every child try the crown on.

gr_luciaIn research­ing the his­to­ry and sur­round­ing myths of Lucia, I learned that Swe­den is not the only coun­try to claim Lucy. There’s an Ital­ian part of the sto­ry — which led me to announce that some Lucias have blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin, while oth­er have black hair, dark eyes, and brown skin. Sud­den­ly the entire sec­ond grade felt free to be Lucia or one of her star boys.

Six years lat­er, I still occa­sion­al­ly run into a teenag­er who says, “Hey — you brought us those wish cook­ies and taught us about Lucia when we were lit­tle! I loved that book!”

The mem­o­ry of tak­ing the St. Lucia cel­e­bra­tion to the sec­ond grade warms my heart each year in Decem­ber. My own Lucy needs lit­tle help with prepa­ra­tions any more. Indeed, she told me she’d be my alarm clock this year and bring me lussekat­ter and cof­fee in bed on Sun­day.

This leads me to think my work here is about done.


Books about Trees

With hats off to our friends at the tree-fes­tooned Iowa Arbore­tumMin­neso­ta Land­scape Arbore­tum, Chica­go Botan­ic Gar­dens, and Oma­ha’s Lau­ritzen Gar­dens, this list is ded­i­cat­ed to arborists every­where, pro­fes­sion­al and ama­teur … you take care of an essen­tial part of our ecosys­tem. Thank you. Here’s a list of books for younger and old­er chil­dren, fic­tion and non­fic­tion. We hope you’ll savor each one.


Celebritrees: His­toric  & Famous Trees of the World
writ­ten by Mar­gi Preus, illus­trat­ed by Rebec­ca Gib­bon
Hen­ry Holt, 2011

Preus tells the true sto­ries of four­teen out­stand­ing trees from around the world, includ­ing a bristle­cone pine in Cal­i­for­nia that is 4,000 years old and the Tree of One Hun­dred Hors­es in Eng­land that shel­tered the Queen of Aragon and her sol­diers dur­ing a rain­storm. Back mat­ter includes addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about tree vari­eties in the book, a bib­li­og­ra­phy, and web­site links. Illus­trat­ed through­out this is a charm­ing book for ages 8 and up.

The Cherry Tree


Cher­ry Tree
writ­ten by Ruskin Bond, illus­trat­ed by Manoj A. Menon
Pen­guin Books, 2012

In north­ern India, young Rakhi plants a cher­ry tree in the Himalayan foothills where fruit trees are sparse. She nur­tures it and cares for it and grows old­er along with the tree.  A gen­tle, reflec­tive sto­ry. Ages 3 to 7.

Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Trees  

Crinkleroot’s Guide to Know­ing the Trees
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jim Arnosky
Simon & Schus­ter, 1992

Crin­kle­root is a wise woods­man who takes read­ers on a jour­ney through the for­est, shar­ing wis­dom about hard­wood and soft­wood forests and the impor­tance of a mixed for­est for a healthy ecosys­tem for plants, ani­mals, and insects. Crin­kle­root shares how trees get their shapes, that dead trees play an impor­tant role, and the fac­tors that play a role in a tree’s devel­op­ment. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing infor­ma­tion and the water­col­or illus­tra­tions are engag­ing. Ages 4 to 8.

Grandpa Green  

Grand­pa Green
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lane Smith
Roar­ing Brook Press, 2011

As a farm boy grows old­er, he shapes top­i­ary in a gar­den that reflects his mem­o­ries. Noah Galvin, a child, learns more about his great-grand­fa­ther as he wan­ders through the nar­ra­tive of this gar­den, grow­ing to under­stand that Grand­pa Green did not lead an ordi­nary life. There are details on each page that pro­vide a lay­ered read­ing expe­ri­ence and there is ample impe­tus for dis­cus­sion. This book would be help­ful after the loss of a loved one. Calde­cott Hon­or book. Ages 4 to 11.

Lord of the Rings  

Lord of the Rings
writ­ten by J.R.R. Tolkien
George Allen and Unwin, as well as Houghton Mif­flin, 1965

The epic sto­ry of good bat­tling evil in Mid­dle Earth, focus­ing on the sto­ry of the hob­bit Fro­do Bag­gins and his com­pan­ion Sam Gamgee trav­el­ing to Mor­dor to throw the Ring into the fires there, thus end­ing the cycles of greed and wars for pow­er, can­not be over­looked in a book­list of trees. More than trees, but appear­ing as trees, the Ents are an old and wise race, slow to action but a turn­ing point in the quest and the final war that frees Mid­dle Earth from Sauron’s tyran­ny. Ages 10 and up.


writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jason Chin
Flash Point, 2009

When a boy dis­cov­ers a book about red­woods while wait­ing for his sub­way train, read­ing it takes him to explore the trees in his imag­i­na­tion, show­ing the read­er facts about these trees, some of which are as old as the Roman Empire. Roman sol­diers appear next to him on the train, help­ing him under­stand the his­tor­i­cal con­text. As he emerges from the sub­way, he is in the midst of the red­woods in Cal­i­for­nia, offer­ing him an oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore their habi­tat and their sur­round­ings. The water­col­or illus­tra­tions are stun­ning and filled with ways to observe these trees that are among the old­est and most mag­nif­i­cent on Earth. An inten­tion­al blend of fact and fan­ta­sy, read­ers from age 3 to 9 will find this absorb­ing.

Swiss Family Robinson  

The Swiss Fam­i­ly Robin­son
writ­ten by Johann D. Wyss,
William God­win, 1816 (orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Ger­man in 1812).
Pen­guin Books, 2012 (close­ly adheres to God­win edi­tion)

A pastor’s fam­i­ly is cast up on an island in the South Pacif­ic after their ship founders and sinks. For­tu­nate­ly, their ship was full of sup­plies that wash up on shore. It’s an action-packed adven­ture in which the island’s trees pro­vide sus­te­nance and shel­ter. This book may be sole­ly respon­si­ble for people’s dreams of liv­ing in tree­hous­es. This will be a chal­leng­ing but worth­while clas­sic for ages 10 and up

The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-ups  

Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-ups
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Gila Ingoglia, ASLA
Brook­lyn Botan­ic Gar­den, 2008, updat­ed in 2013

A clear-spir­it­ed book about the impor­tance of trees, with guides for iden­ti­fy­ing their flow­ers, leaves, and shapes. You’ll learn about feed­ing sys­tems, ances­try, and the roles they play in our lives. The illus­tra­tions are essen­tial to this book and our under­stand­ing. It’s an essen­tial guide for chil­dren and par­ents to enjoy togeth­er, learn­ing while enjoy­ing the infor­ma­tion pre­sent­ed about 33 tree species, most of which are native to North Amer­i­ca. Ages 4 and up.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn  

A Tree Grows in Brook­lyn
writ­ten by Bet­ty Smith
Harp­er & Broth­ers, 1943

In this clas­sic sto­ry of immi­grants try­ing to improve their cir­cum­stances in Brook­lyn from 1902 to 1919, Fran­cie Nolan, her broth­er Neely, and their par­ents go through tough times as immi­grants who are shunned, strug­gling through near-star­va­tion but per­se­ver­ing as a fam­i­ly whose love pulls them through. Fran­cie is an engag­ing char­ac­ter who grows, much like the tree out­side the win­dow of their ten­e­ment, because she is resource­ful and finds joy in sim­ple plea­sures, books, and her fam­i­ly. Ages 12 and up.

A Tree is Nice  

A Tree is Nice
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jan­ice May Udry
Harper­Collins, 1987

For the very young, this book explores all of the many ben­e­fits that trees bring to our lives. From plant­i­ng trees, to enjoy­ing their shade, to using their branch­es for draw­ing in the sand, this charm­ing book will fos­ter a respect for the trees around us. Calde­cott medal. Ages 3 to 8.

The Tree Lady  

Tree Lady:
the True Sto­ry of How One Woman Changed a City For­ev­er
writ­ten by H. Joseph Hop­kins, illus­trat­ed by Jill McEl­mur­ry
Beach Lane Books, 2013

In 1881, Kather­ine Olivia Ses­sions was the first woman to grad­u­ate from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia with a degree in sci­ence. Although she moved to San Diego to teach, she quick­ly became involved in her dream to bring green­ery to the city’s desert cli­mate. She wrote to peo­ple around the world to request seeds that would thrive in this area, plant­i­ng and nur­tur­ing trees that would cre­ate San Diego’s City Park and grow through­out the city. In 1915, the Pana­ma-Cal­i­for­nia Expo­si­tion was held in the park, pro­vid­ing a lush set­ting for the world to expe­ri­ence. With a foun­da­tion of sci­ence, a sense of biog­ra­phy, and evoca­tive illus­tra­tions, this is a beau­ty to inspire new tree lovers. For ages 5 to 11.

Tree of Life  

Tree of Life: the World of the African Baobab, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bar­bara Bash, Sier­ra Club Books, 2002

In this dra­mat­i­cal­ly illus­trat­ed book, we learn of the life cycle of this long-lived and hearty tree that sur­vives in the desert, pro­vid­ing shel­ter and sus­te­nance for insects, birds, ani­mals, and humans. It’s a won­der­ful book for teach­ing inter­de­pen­dence and learn­ing more about the African savan­nah. Ages 4 to 10.

Tree of Wonder  

Tree of Won­der: the Many Mar­velous Lives of a Rain­for­est Tree
writ­ten by Kate Mess­ner, illus­trat­ed by Simona Mulaz­zani
Chron­i­cle Books, 2015

In Latin Amer­i­ca, the rain for­est is home to the Almen­dro tree, which hosts more than 10,000 organ­isms, includ­ing a great green macaw and a blue mor­pho but­ter­fly. The num­ber of crea­tures dou­ble with each turn of the page so that the sense of the enor­mi­ty of life inside this tree can be under­stood. It is a math book, an ecol­o­gy book, and a poet­ry book that will be enjoyed in your class­room or home. Ages 6 to 11.

Tree, Leaves and Bark  

Trees, Leaves and Bark
writ­ten by Diane Burns and Lin­da Gar­row
Coop­er Square Pub­lish­ing, 1995

From crown to roots, a great deal of infor­ma­tion is pre­sent­ed in a friend­ly, under­stand­able way about tree seeds and grown trees. It’s a good take-along guide for iden­ti­fy­ing leaves in the for­est and urban set­tings. Ages 8 and up.

Wangari Trees of Peace  

Wangari’s Trees of Peace
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jeanette Win­ter
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2008

In this true sto­ry of Wan­gari Maathai, envi­ron­men­tal­ist and win­ner of the Nobel Peace Prize, we fol­low her life from a young girl grow­ing up in Kenya to her found­ing of the Green Belt Move­ment. Alarmed to see large swaths of trees being cut down, she enlists the help of oth­er women to plant trees in their sur­round­ings. Today, more than 30,000,000 trees have been plant­ed through her efforts. One per­son can make a dif­fer­ence. Winter’s illus­tra­tions are warm and enlight­en­ing. Ages 4 to 12.

Winter Trees  

Win­ter Trees
writ­ten by Car­ole Ger­ber, illus­trat­ed by Leslie Evans
Charles­bridge Books, 2009

Illus­trat­ed with wood­cuts, this book helps chil­dren and their par­ents iden­ti­fy trees in the win­ter­time when their leaves have fall­en and the skele­tal struc­ture of the trees helps us see more clear­ly how the tree grows. The nar­ra­tive takes a clos­er look at sev­en trees, includ­ing the sug­ar maple, burr oak, and paper birch. Ages 3 to 8.


Skinny Dip with Candace Fleming

bk_stuartWhat’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

The first book I remem­ber read­ing on my own is E.B. White’s Stu­art Lit­tle.  I was sev­en years old and it was the Sat­ur­day before Christ­mas – the day of St. John Lutheran’s annu­al hol­i­day par­ty. I loved that par­ty! The potluck. The car­ols. The vis­it from San­ta Claus (real­ly Pas­tor Franken­feld in a red suit). 

My father had spent the morn­ing dec­o­rat­ing the church’s com­mu­ni­ty room. 

My moth­er had spent the after­noon bak­ing sug­ar cook­ies. 

And I had spent the entire day ask­ing how much longer until we went. 

No one noticed the snow com­ing down until my Uncle Howard stopped by. “Six inch­es and more com­ing,” he report­ed. “We’ll be snowed in by din­ner­time.”

He was right. The par­ty was can­celled. My par­ents were left with six-dozen cook­ies and one very whiny sec­ond grad­er. I stomped. I pout­ed. I flung myself on the sofa and howled. The last thing I deserved was a present. But that’s exact­ly what I got. My moth­er went to her stash of gifts meant for Christ­mas morn­ing and returned with Stu­art Lit­tle. She also gave me a plate of warm cook­ies.

ph_Skinny_FlemingCookiesI took both to the bay win­dow in our liv­ing room. Set­tled in the win­dow seat, I turned to the first page. And fell into the sto­ry. I was delight­ed, enchant­ed, com­plete­ly swept into the sto­ry. I got all the way to the part where Stu­art sails across the pond in Cen­tral Park before the real world returned. I blinked. It had got­ten so dark I could no longer see the words on the page. I blinked again. And when had I eat­en those cook­ies?

written by Candace Fleming  illustrated by Eric Rohmann  Atheneum, 2015

This was the first time I expe­ri­enced the trans­port­ing pow­er of a good book. I’d trav­eled to New York City with­out ever leav­ing Indi­ana. Amaz­ing! It made me hunger for more of these “trav­els.” I quick­ly became an adven­tur­er through books, vis­it­ing places I could nev­er trav­el to on my bike, or in my parent’s Chevy. And when­ev­er pos­si­ble I bring along some cook­ies.

Describe your favorite pair of paja­mas you’ve ever had.

My favorite pair of paja­mas? That’s easy. It’s the pair I’m wear­ing right now, the ones made of blue flan­nel and pat­terned with black Scot­ty dogs sport­ing red hair bows. I like them because they’re big and roomy have been worn to thread­bare silk­i­ness and because the right sleeve is stained with blue ink from the Bic pen I use to write all my first drafts. They’re work­ing jam­mies, the best kind.

bk_FamilyRomanovWhat is your proud­est career moment?

The first time I saw my book at the pub­lic library. That was my proud­est career moment.  After all, I’ve long known that libraries are sacred spaces, the repos­i­to­ries of all good things in life (pic­ture books, sto­ry hour, librar­i­ans). So when I found my book on the shelf, I was over­whelmed. Me! Includ­ed in this place! I looked on in won­der. I couldn’t get over it. I still can’t. Want to know a secret? I con­tin­ue to look myself up when­ev­er I find myself in a library I haven’t vis­it­ed before. I still get that elec­tric thrill. I still look on in won­der.

What tele­vi­sion show can’t you turn off?

ph_claire-underwoodI sim­ply can’t turn off House of Cards. I binge-watch every new sea­son, spend­ing hours on the sofa, pop­corn and cat in lap. Oh, that Clare Under­wood is a manip­u­la­tive piece of work. Looove her! I’m drool­ing for the next sea­son.

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

Ice danc­ing.  Does that seem like a typ­i­cal female response? Who cares! As a per­son who has two left feet, I adore the notion of glid­ing grace­ful­ly across the ice in the arms of my part­ner, while per­form­ing twiz­zles and dance spins. I also think the cos­tumes are pret­ty spiffy. Sigh. A girl can dream. 


Interview with Linda Sue Park: Writing The Firekeeper’s Son

Firekeeper's SonHow do you begin the research for a sto­ry set long ago?

I go to the library. I live in New York state, which has a won­der­ful inter­li­brary loan sys­tem. My local library can get me books from any­where in the state. Many of my sources have come from the East Asian col­lec­tions of uni­ver­si­ty libraries.

The Firekeeper’s Son is set, accord­ing to the Library of Con­gress data on the copy­right page, in the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry. Did you choose that time because you could ver­i­fy the fires were in use as a sig­nal sys­tem (as men­tioned in your author’s note)? Because it was a time of peace, which was cru­cial to Sang-hee’s long­ing to see sol­diers?

Both. I read about the sig­nal sys­tem in a traveler’s account of 19th cen­tu­ry Korea, and I also chose that time frame because there was no war.

bk_Park_stripThis pic­ture book was pub­lished after you’d writ­ten four nov­els. How much par­ing down of the sto­ry and text did you have to do from the first draft?

Actu­al­ly, I start­ed my writ­ing life as a poet. I’ve writ­ten poet­ry since I was a child, and pub­lished poet­ry as an adult long before I became a fic­tion writer. Good pic­ture-book text is a kissin’ cousin of poet­ry. So when I wrote the book, it felt like ‘com­ing home’ to me.

I did end up cut­ting words from the orig­i­nal draft; I can’t recall the exact num­ber, but it wasn’t dras­tic. As I implied above, I approached the man­u­script wear­ing my ‘poet­ry’ hat, not my ‘nov­el’ one!

How did you decide on the crit­i­cal ele­ment of ten­sion with­in the book?

In every sto­ry I write, the char­ac­ter has to face a prob­lem, make a deci­sion, and act on that deci­sion. Pic­ture books that tell sto­ries aren’t exempt from this struc­ture. So I knew I want­ed to put Sang-hee in a posi­tion where he would have to make a dif­fi­cult deci­sion: one where he would have to choose between his own desires and what he knew was the right thing to do. Even quite young chil­dren face this kind of dilem­ma in their own lives — I know I’m not sup­posed to throw this valu­able break­able fig­urine but I real­ly real­ly want to — so I was con­fi­dent that it would work in a pic­ture book.

You have trav­eled to Korea sev­er­al times. Do you feel that Julie Down­ing, your illus­tra­tor, cap­tured the land that you know?

Korea has of course changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly in many ways since the 19th cen­tu­ry, espe­cial­ly in the cities. I haven’t been able to vis­it the coun­try­side as much as I would like. But the moun­tains and the sea are for­ev­er — at least I hope so — and I think Julie did a ter­rif­ic job there. I also love her depic­tion of Sang-hee’s vil­lage.

FirekeeperIllustrationThe toy fig­ures Sang-hee plays with are a cru­cial ele­ment in the nar­ra­tive, yet they’re not men­tioned in the text. When and how did they become part of the sto­ry?

I was absolute­ly delight­ed to see the toy fig­ures in the illus­tra­tions. They were entire­ly Julie’s idea, and a per­fect way to show Sang-hee’s keen inter­est in sol­diers. I love how she brought her own vision to the sto­ry. That sort of detail is what makes a pic­ture book a true col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Why was it impor­tant to you to tell this sto­ry?

I think many of us feel that his­to­ry is some­thing that hap­pens out­side of our own expe­ri­ences — to famous peo­ple, as a result of momen­tous or tur­bu­lent events. But his­to­ry is hap­pen­ing all around us, all the time, and each one of us is par­tic­i­pat­ing, even if we don’t think we are! In all my his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, includ­ing this book, I want to explore how ordi­nary peo­ple are part of shap­ing his­to­ry. And of course I’m always inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about Korea, where my fam­i­ly comes from. For me, writ­ing is a way of learn­ing.




Bookstorm™: Firekeeper’s Son

Bookmap Firekeeper's SonFirekeeper's SonThis month, we are pleased to fea­ture Fire­keep­er’s Son, writ­ten by Lin­da Sue Park and illus­trat­ed by Julie Down­ing. Set in Korea in the 19th cen­tu­ry, it’s a book about an his­toric sys­tem of sig­nal fires that served as nation­al secu­ri­ty … and one fam­i­ly who is respon­si­ble for light­ing a bon­fire each and every night. 

The young boy at the cen­ter of the book dreams of see­ing sol­diers, but it’s his father’s job to advise the king that all is clear. Sol­diers are not need­ed. What hap­pens when the boy must fill in for his father? Will he call the sol­diers to sat­is­fy his dreams? With lumi­nous, com­pelling illus­tra­tions, this is a mem­o­rable book about hon­or, loy­al­ty, and dis­ci­pline.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. For Fire­keep­er’s Son, you’ll find books for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. The book will be com­fort­ably read to or by ages 4 through adult. We’ve includ­ed fic­tion and non­fic­tion, pic­ture books, poet­ry, mid­dle grade books, and books adults will find inter­est­ing. 

Kore­an Cul­ture. The peo­ple and places of Korea, the alpha­bet and lan­guage, proverbs and folk­tales … there are books to famil­iar­ize your class­room with the ancient and fas­ci­nat­ing cul­ture of the Land of Morn­ing Calm.

Fic­tion: Books Set in Korea. From pic­ture books to mid­dle grade nov­els, many books have been set in Korea, both his­tor­i­cal nov­els like Kite Fight­ers and pic­ture books about Amer­i­can immi­grants like The Name Jar. Lin­da Sue Park’s New­bery Medal nov­el A Sin­gle Shard fits with­in this cat­e­go­ry and so does Year of Impos­si­ble Good­byes by Sook Nyul Choi. Good sto­ries!

Fire and Light. Sang-hee’s fam­i­ly works with fire. Hav­ing a reli­able way to light the sig­nal fire each evening is vital. How does fire work? We’ve select­ed inter­est­ing web­sites and a DK Eye­wit­ness book for “spark­ing” an inter­est. 

Poet­ry. Are you famil­iar with the Kore­an sijo form of poet­ry? Tap Danc­ing on the Roof is filled with this pre­cise poet­ry with a twist.

Web­sites, Videos, and Films About Korea. We’ve select­ed web­sites from the Kore­an Art Asso­ci­a­tion, the BBC, The New York Times and more to fill in answers for some of the ques­tions you will have about Korea when you read all of these books.

Codes and Sig­nals. From storm codes to sig­nal fires to secret writ­ing and ciphers, codes have fas­ci­nat­ed peo­ple for thou­sands of years.

Korea – Books for Adult Read­ers. You’ll want to fill in the gaps in your knowl­edge about Korea. We’ve found some high­ly rec­om­mend­ed books, includ­ing one of the books Lin­da Sue Park used for her research for Fire­keep­er’s Son.

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



From the Editor

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

ph_redbirdHere in the upper Mid­west most of us are wait­ing for the oth­er shoe to drop. We’ve had a hint of win­ter, and we all sus­pect the real thing will arrive soon.  Mean­while, the land­scape is brown, with the occa­sion­al flash of col­or from hol­i­day trim­mings, birds, blaze orange out­er­wear. 

The Nation­al Book Awards were bestowed last month at what’s prob­a­bly the fan­ci­est book event in the U.S.  While the book award sea­son is now on hold until Jan­u­ary, the end of year “best” or “best bets for gifts” list­ing is in full swing. These com­mer­cial lists have a lot in com­mon with those announced in con­junc­tion with an award: They’re all about the new books.

From its incep­tion, Bookol­o­gy has not been about new books. Yes, a num­ber of our Book­storm™ books have been new releas­es, but month-to-month we aim our focus on and use our plat­form to her­ald the vast cat­a­logue of books pub­lished in pre­vi­ous years.  The per­fect book to place in the hand of a young read­er might not be the one gen­er­at­ing all the cur­rent buzz, and that’s why so many titles in our columns and ‘storms and Quirky Book lists have a few miles on them and deserve to be talked about once again.

Firekeeper's SonOur Book­storm™ book this month is The Firekeeper’s Son by New­bery medal­ist Lin­da Sue Park. A pic­ture book set in 19th cen­tu­ry Korea, it’s the sto­ry of a boy who is sud­den­ly swept away from play­time with his toy sol­diers and chal­lenged to “step up” when his father is injured.

We’ll have inter­views with both Lin­da Sue Park and, lat­er this month, the illus­tra­tor, Julie Down­ing. Also com­ing soon: a Quirky list and an end-of-year slide show hon­or­ing the children’s book cre­ators who have died this year. And of course we’ll have the usu­al columns from the bookol­o­gists and authors who show up reg­u­lar­ly in Bookol­o­gy. Today: author Eliz­a­beth Fixmer shares how children’s books deep­ened her work as a psy­chother­a­pist.

Thanks for vis­it­ing Bookol­o­gy.


The Power of Fiction to Help Kids Grow

by Eliz­a­beth Fixmer

bk_SaintTrainingThe years I spent in pri­vate prac­tice as a psy­chother­a­pist spe­cial­iz­ing in work with chil­dren pro­pelled me to become a children’s writer. My use of books as a ther­a­py adjunct evolved over time, as did my respect and even­tu­al awe for the pow­er of fic­tion as a change agent. My young clients intro­duced me to mid­dle-grade and young-adult nov­els. But it was a few years into my prac­tice before I start­ed to appre­ci­ate what sto­ries had to offer these kids.

It start­ed when a nine-year-old excit­ed­ly brought me a mid­dle-grade nov­el and begged me to read it because, “It says exact­ly how I feel.” She, like most kids, had been strug­gling to find words to express her feel­ings. She was relieved to find the words right there on the page, and to rec­og­nize that her feel­ings were shared by oth­er chil­dren. When kids have words to express them­selves they can bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate their own. And when sto­ries show a way for them to appro­pri­ate­ly express those feel­ings, they begin to devel­op tools for their own expres­sion. But this was only the begin­ning of what sto­ries could offer.

bk_down_mountain_160At first I tried using self-help books that matched the child’s main issue — divorc­ing par­ents, bul­lies, and behav­ioral prob­lems, to name a few. The child’s eyes would glaze over and her atten­tion would drift. Sim­i­lar­ly, when I tried to dis­cuss the issue direct­ly, my young clients would say, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

But when I tried using sto­ries, made up, or through pub­lished fic­tion, kids start­ed to make progress. Kids were riv­et­ed and they start­ed to make progress. They laughed and cried with the char­ac­ters. They offered advice to the char­ac­ters or asked what I would do to help in this, all with­out reveal­ing how and why they relat­ed to the pro­tag­o­nist.

Sto­ries also offer dis­tance between the character’s and child’s strug­gles. The child lives vic­ar­i­ous­ly through the pro­tag­o­nists’ adven­tures and strug­gles, feel­ing what the char­ac­ter is feel­ing and, if the sto­ry is com­pelling enough, chang­ing right along with the pro­tag­o­nist. This made per­fect sense because, as a ther­a­pist I knew that change would not occur through intel­lect alone. Emo­tion­al growth requires engag­ing the emo­tions. And I saw that what the fic­tion­al child con­cludes about his or her prob­lem — and how he or she moves for­ward, can become a road map for the real child.

bk_GillyA great exam­ple of this is Kather­ine Patterson’s nov­el, The Great Gilly Hop­kins. Gilly starts out as an oppo­si­tion­al child who refus­es to believe that her moth­er doesn’t want her and bucks the fos­ter care sys­tem with incor­ri­gi­ble behav­ior. Through the firm hand and lov­ing kind­ness of her new fos­ter moth­er, Gilly’s behav­ior changes and when she final­ly has a chance to spend time with her birth moth­er, she comes to under­stand and accept her mother’s lim­i­ta­tions. I would ask my client to do role plays in which we’d act out pos­si­ble con­ver­sa­tions between Gilly and her fos­ter mom, Mrs. Trot­ter so that my client could express her anger about mov­ing from fos­ter home to fos­ter home giv­ing my young client the oppor­tu­ni­ty to express her feel­ings about hav­ing so many fos­ter place­ments. Then we’d role play Gilly con­vers­ing with her bio­log­i­cal moth­er. My client would play both roles and when I played the moth­er I’d make sure “Gilly” was grant­ed per­mis­sion to go on with life and be hap­py.

Anoth­er sto­ry that I found par­tic­u­lar­ly help­ful with adop­tion issues was The Last Bat­tle, by C.S. Lewis. Adopt­ed chil­dren who have lived with their bio­log­i­cal par­ents and/or have had mul­ti­ple place­ments will often reject their new par­ents even though the par­ents’ have an abun­dance of love to offer. The Last Bat­tle offered me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to help kids see that no one could make them, or help them, take in what was offered.

bk_LastBattleI would share the scene in which Lucy had died and found her­self back in Nar­nia — a per­fect Nar­nia. Every­one was hap­py except for a lit­tle group of gnomes who seemed to be suf­fer­ing ter­ri­bly. Lucy begs Aslan (a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Christ) to for­give their offens­es and let them enjoy this heav­en. Aslan takes Lucy to them. He offers them beau­ti­ful trays of fruits and nuts and var­i­ous meats. They reject it, see­ing it as dog dung and they con­tin­ue to starve. They com­plain of the cold so he offers them furs, but they per­ceive the furs as por­cu­pine nee­dles. The offers and rejec­tions con­tin­ue until Aslan turns sad­ly to Lucy and reminds her that we all have free will and no one can make us take the good we are offered. Time and again, my young clients would, them­selves link this to how they were reject­ing their adop­tive par­ents. They would sob. They knew that deep inside they longed for the love and dis­ci­pline their adop­tive par­ents offered. These ses­sions with Lewis’s book proved to be a turn­ing point for sev­er­al kids.

I no longer prac­tice psy­chother­a­py. Instead I write. My clin­i­cal expe­ri­ence con­vinced me that what I want­ed to do was cre­ate of sto­ries with the pow­er to change lives. My two pub­lished books include Saint Train­ing and Down from the Moun­tain. These two, and a third in progress, are about issues of social jus­tice, and the young lives affect­ed by these issues. They help to devel­op a social con­science.

Because of my pro­fes­sion­al back­ground, I’ve also been giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cre­ate and write social/emotional guides for teach­ers, par­ents and coun­selors to use with spe­cif­ic books — pic­ture books through YA — that will fos­ter dis­cus­sion, iden­ti­fy and label feel­ings, and will pro­mote pro-social val­ues and cross-cul­tur­al appre­ci­a­tion. This is excit­ing for me because it’s anoth­er avenue to help kids grow through fic­tion.

I’m for­ev­er grate­ful to the young clients who intro­duced me to the nov­els they loved and in doing so, placed in my hands pow­er­ful and per­son­al agents of change.


Crossing the Border

by Lisa Bullard

12_3MooseMountieOnce when flying back to the U.S. from Cana­da I met up with some zeal­ous bor­der con­trol agents. The cus­toms guy want­ed a detailed descrip­tion of what I’d pur­chased.

I bought one of those sou­venir snow globes with a lit­tle Moun­tie inside,” I said.

The guy thought a moment and then sad­ly shook his head. “Ma’am, if you’d played your cards right,  you could have tak­en home the real thing.”

The immi­gra­tion guy looked me up and down and then barked out, “What’s ‘Oshkosh?”’

It’s either a small town in Wis­con­sin or a kind of over­alls,” I said. I was hop­ing for a gold star, but instead he rolled his eyes and waved me through.

Years lat­er I was telling a friend trained in secu­ri­ty about this sto­ry. “Would he real­ly have kept me from cross­ing the bor­der if I had answered the Oshkosh ques­tion wrong?” I asked.

She laughed. “He didn’t care what you answered. He cared how you answered. He’s trained to know when some­one is telling the truth or when they’re lying.”

Fic­tion writ­ers are also heav­i­ly vest­ed in the kind of truth that lies under­neath the sur­face answer.

When stu­dent writ­ers use real-life events as their inspi­ra­tion, they often get worked up over “what real­ly hap­pened.” But this isn’t the task of fiction. Instead, fiction is all about reshap­ing “what real­ly hap­pened” to reveal to the read­er some of the biggest truths of all: truths about life, truths about peo­ple.

Explain to your stu­dents that it’s okay to leave out some details, add oth­ers, change a few more, if it’s done with the goal of point­ing the read­er towards the emo­tion­al truth of the sto­ry. This isn’t cross­ing the bor­der from “telling the truth” over to “lying.” It’s mak­ing impor­tant writ­ing choic­es.

It’s dig­ging down to the truth found under­neath “Oshkosh.”


Creating a Curriculum and Culture of Kindness in the Classroom

bk_wonder_140by Mau­r­na Rome

When giv­en the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” ― R.J. Pala­cio, Won­der

Wouldn’t our class­rooms be grand if stu­dents were giv­en oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn about and expe­ri­ence what being kind looks like, sounds like and feels like on a dai­ly basis? Wouldn’t life be grand if we could all sim­ply choose true col­lab­o­ra­tion with our teach­ing col­leagues to pro­mote kind­ness? Wouldn’t our schools be grand if our dis­tricts would invest in kind­ness? My answer is a resound­ing “YES!” to these ques­tions, and I hope oth­er teach­ers would agree on all counts.

True, we are faced with con­stant pres­sure to pre­pare stu­dents for “those tests.” You know, the ones that are used to deter­mine just how accom­plished we teach­ers and our stu­dents are. Many of us still feel the urge to just close the door and do what we do in iso­la­tion. And yes, in many dis­tricts, sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing is being used to buy new and com­pre­hen­sive “core” read­ing pro­grams (remem­ber those test scores). Yet what about the con­tent of our stu­dents’ char­ac­ter? What about their cur­rent lev­el of engage­ment and future hap­pi­ness? Could the answer be the pur­suit of kind­ness and uti­liz­ing authen­tic lit­er­a­ture in our class­rooms? Do books real­ly have the pow­er to change lives? Again, my answer is a resound­ing “YES!”

from Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “Thought Bub­ble on Kind­ness”

Despite the chal­lenges, my incred­i­ble col­leagues and I have sought out an inten­tion­al approach to weave kind­ness into our teach­ing. As “human­i­ties” teach­ers, it seems only fit­ting that along with lessons on parts of speech, com­pre­hen­sion strate­gies and writ­ing lit­er­ary essays, we include a com­mit­ment to teach­ing kind­ness. It is after all, an inte­gral aspect of belong­ing to this thing we call humankind.

Smart teach­ers know there is a sense of urgency in our class­rooms. Time is always in short sup­ply while meet­ings, les­son plan­ning, paper cor­rect­ing, and grad­ing are a con­stant demand. It helps to have a team like the one I work with. The strong lev­els of trust, mutu­al respect and shared enthu­si­asm for what we do is invig­o­rat­ing. We encour­age each oth­er to want to be the best teach­ers we can be. We con­tin­u­al­ly brain­storm, test, suc­ceed, fail, and try again, as we share our ideas, resources and instruc­tion­al strate­gies with one anoth­er. This is a recipe for pro­fes­sion­al kind­ness that works. If you want to teach kind­ness in your class­room, it is much eas­i­er if you have cama­raderie among your col­leagues.


Glob­al Read Aloud (aka Glow Ball Read Dahl Loud) day. Click to enlarge.

And kids seem to notice when their teach­ers love what they do. On Novem­ber 13th, class­rooms near and far par­tic­i­pat­ed in two simul­ta­ne­ous events: World Kind­ness Day and Glob­al Read Aloud (aka Glow Ball Read Dahl Loud). My team­mates and I wore our glow sticks and ball gowns, while read­ing poet­ry by Roald Dahl (loud­ly). We also shared the short film, Snack Attack, to pro­mote a mes­sage of kind­ness and gen­er­ate lots of dis­cus­sion. Our unusu­al attire and this award-win­ning movie with a twist were excel­lent ways to rein­force the con­cept of “Con­trasts and Con­tra­dic­tions” a sign­post from Notice and Note; Strate­gies for Close Read­ing by Kylene Beers and Robert Prob­st. 

It’s up to us teach­ers to work our mag­ic to carve out the time, to cre­ate an inte­grat­ed cur­ricu­lum and cul­ture of kind­ness. Kids who learn the impor­tance of kind­ness are kids who devel­op empa­thy and com­pas­sion. They are more apt to be selfless in a world where “self­ies” rule. Con­sid­er these “Words of the Wis­er” (anoth­er Notice and Note sign­post):

I think prob­a­bly kind­ness is my num­ber one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or brav­ery or gen­eros­i­ty or any­thing else. Kind­ness — that sim­ple word. To be kind — it cov­ers every­thing, to my mind. If you’re kind that’s it.”  ―Roald Dahl

The fol­low­ing kind­ness resources have been field-test­ed and have earned a sol­id stamp of approval from dozens of wise (and kind) 6 – 11 year olds.


 Children’s Pic­ture Books:

  • Each Kind­ness by Jacque­line Wood­son
  • Have You Filled a Buck­et Today by Car­ol McCloud
  • Last Stop on Mar­ket Street by Matt de la Pena
  • My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems
  • Those Shoes by Mari­beth Boelts

YA/Middle Grades Chap­ter Books:

  • The Mirac­u­lous Jour­ney of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamil­lo
  • The Mis­fits by James Howe
  • Sahara Spe­cial by Esme Raji Codell
  • The War That Saved My Life by Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley
  • Won­der by R.J. Pala­cio

In addi­tion to read­ing books to and with kids to teach kind­ness, these pro­fes­sion­al books are well worth the invest­ment of time and mon­ey:

  • Beyond Nice: Nur­tur­ing Kind­ness with Young Chil­dren by Stu­art L. Stotts
  • Bul­ly­ing Hurts, Teach­ing Kind­ness through Read Alouds and Guid­ed Con­ver­sa­tions
    by Lester Lam­i­nack
  • Secret Kind­ness Agents: How Small Acts of Kind­ness Real­ly Can Change the World
    by Fer­i­al Pear­son

Final­ly, if you are look­ing for ways to bring a kind­ness cam­paign to your class­room, con­sid­er these spe­cial events.


Skinny Dip with Catherine Urdahl

bk_emma_cv_485What’s your proud­est career moment?

I had just start­ed doing author vis­its and was at a small school that serves a high-risk pop­u­la­tion of stu­dents from preschool through eighth grade. I start­ed with the lit­tle ones, and it went well. I had this. Then a group of TALL sixth through eighth graders saun­tered in. They slumped in their seats and looked away.

My pic­ture book Emma’s Ques­tion (my only pub­lished book at that time) is offi­cial­ly for ages 4 to 7, but some­one had told me it didn’t mat­ter because every­one liked to hear sto­ries. I wished that some­one was there. I intro­duced myself and start­ed read­ing — though it did not seem like a good idea. When I was a few pages in, I glanced up. The body lan­guage had changed. Stu­dents sat taller. They looked up. When I was fin­ished I read from The Great Gilly Hop­kins and The Lon­don Eye Mys­tery—books that, like Emma’s Ques­tion, deal with dif­fi­cult top­ics. I talked about how the stu­dents could write about their own lives.

When I fin­ished, one of the boys walked up and said in a qui­et voice, “I want to be an author when I grow up.” I think that was my proud­est moment — or at least my most grate­ful.

bk_polka-dot_newDescribe your favorite pair of paja­mas ever.

When I was about six, my grand­ma made match­ing night­gowns for my two sis­ters, my cousin and myself. They had a white back­ground with pink flow­ers. (At least I think they were pink; the pho­to of us, lined up by height, is black and white.) I do remem­ber the feel of the fab­ric — thick cot­ton flan­nel — not the fake-fuzzy poly­ester of store-bought paja­mas. Most of  all I remem­ber the sense of belong­ing and secu­ri­ty that comes from match­ing paja­mas. Last year one of my sis­ters bought us match­ing paja­mas. It still works.

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

I began telling peo­ple I was try­ing to write books for chil­dren. When I was writ­ing in secret, I could quit if it was too hard or just didn’t work out. But once peo­ple knew, I felt account­able. One day I found a to-do list writ­ten by my then 9‑year-old daugh­ter. One of the items was Encour­age Mom to get a book pub­lished. This was years before my first book was pub­lished — at a time I was tempt­ed to quit. But what could I do? I kept going. Telling some­one you’re pur­su­ing a long-shot dream isn’t the same kind of brave as sky­div­ing or pick­ing up a snake (which I did once and will nev­er do again). But some­times it feels just as scary.

bk_CowSiloWhat’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing? 

I remem­ber my grand­pa read­ing a Lit­tle Gold­en Book—The Cow in the Silo by Patri­cia Good­ell — to my sis­ters and me every time we vis­it­ed. The book is long out of print, and prob­a­bly nev­er received any awards. But I loved it. Maybe that’s because my grand­pa, a qui­et farmer from north­ern Min­neso­ta, took time from his field­work and chores to read it again and again and again. And maybe because, in the end, Mrs. O’Crady solves the prob­lem of the stuck cow by cov­er­ing her in Crisco and push­ing her through the door. Bril­liant. And prob­a­bly the best use of Crisco ever.

What TV show can’t you turn off? 

I don’t know whether I should admit this, but it’s Gilmore Girls. I love the cast of quirky char­ac­ters, each of them dis­tinct and full of enough con­tra­dic­tions and imper­fec­tions to make them love­able and believ­able in a real­ly weird way. I also enjoy the strange pop cul­ture ref­er­ences and the speedy-quick dia­logue. I once read that the scripts ran about 77 – 78 pages, com­pared to 50 – 55 pages for a typ­i­cal show with the same run­ning time. I think about pic­ture book writ­ers like myself strug­gling to write short­er and short­er man­u­scripts and won­der whether we could apply the Gilmore Girls trick (or some­thing like it). Maybe tiny type?



Don’t get took! Read a book!”

by Vic­ki Palmquist

bk_bookitchI go crazy when I hear that Vaun­da Michaux Nel­son has anoth­er book com­ing out. I’m a fan. For my own read­ing life, No Crys­tal Stair: a doc­u­men­tary nov­el of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem book­seller, is one of my top ten books in the last ten years. I found every aspect of that book sat­is­fy­ing. I learned a great deal. Ms. Nel­son’s writ­ing style is well suit­ed to nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion: she makes it excit­ing. 

So, when I heard that a pic­ture book form of No Crys­tal Stair was on the hori­zon, my expec­ta­tions were high. It would be illus­trat­ed by R. Gre­go­ry Christie, whose work I have loved ever since his Stars in the Dark­ness (writ­ten by Bar­bara M. Joosse) found me sob­bing. But how would they com­press all of the great true sto­ries in No Crys­tal Stair into a pic­ture book?

They’ve done it. Even the title appeals to younger read­ers: The Book Itch: Free­dom, Truth & Harlem’s Great­est Book­store (Car­ol­rho­da, 2015).

The book is nar­rat­ed by Michaux’s son, Lewis H. Michaux, Jr., who is just­ly proud of his father. It opens with Muham­mad Ali’s vis­it to the store. Jump right in!

With the longer text in No Crys­tal Stair, Nel­son builds a depth of under­stand­ing for Michaux’s com­mit­ment to books. In The Book Itch, she knows this is not need­ed for young read­ers. We learn the parts that will inter­est this crowd. Michaux start­ed with five books, sell­ing his read­ing mate­ri­als out of a push­cart. He could­n’t get financ­ing from a bank because the banker said “Black peo­ple don’t read.” Michaux believed oth­er­wise. His store became a place to find, and read, books by and about black peo­ple.

Lewis Michaux was a good friend to Mal­colm X. They were both polit­i­cal and believed “Nobody can give you free­dom. Nobody can give you equal­i­ty or jus­tice or any­thing. If you’re a man, you take it.” Nel­son includes the heart­break­ing scene that recounts Michaux’s reac­tion to the assas­si­na­tion of Mal­colm X. His son had nev­er seen his father cry before that day.


This book keeps his­to­ry alive and vital by con­nect­ing us to The Nation­al Memo­r­i­al African Book­store, a place which was, in Michaux’s words, “The House of Com­mon Sense and Prop­er Pro­pa­gan­da.” Christie’s illus­tra­tions are at once a record and a rib­bon reach­ing from the past, show­ing us how peo­ple felt. We often for­get about this in our look back … and it’s essen­tial to remem­ber that impor­tant his­tor­i­cal fig­ures were just like us, think­ing, act­ing, laugh­ing, hurt­ing.

Ms. Nel­son’s place in my list of Best Non­fic­tion Authors is firm. This is a book that belongs in every library, class­room, and on fam­i­ly book­shelves. Books bring us free­dom.

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