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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.



Serves 4
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Prep Time
7 min
Cook Time
24 hr
Prep Time
7 min
Cook Time
24 hr
  1. 1/2 medium head napa cabbage, uncored, roughly chopped
  2. 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  3. 1 cup carrot (julienned, matchstick size)
  4. 1 cup daikon radish (julienned, matchstick size)
  5. 2 green onions (split in half, cut in 2" sections)
  6. 3/4 cup tamari soy sauce
  7. 1/2 cup water
  8. 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  9. 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  10. 1 Tbsp honey
  11. 4 dry hot chile peppers, split lengthwise, seeds removed
  1. In a colander in the sink, sprinkle cabbage with salt and toss to combine. Let sit about 1 1/2 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.
  2. Read more at:
Bookology Magazine

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.