The Velveteen Rabbit

Meryl Streep is in the news this week for her speech at the Gold­en Globes. It’s a pow­er­ful piece — though, truth be told, I think she could read out a phone direc­to­ry and it would be pow­er­ful. She began by apol­o­giz­ing because she’d lost her voice. It was loud enough to hear, but cer­tain­ly rough. I was over­come by an urge to make tea with hon­ey while watch­ing.

Lis­ten­ing to her made me think of the cas­sette tape we had of her read­ing of The Vel­veteen Rab­bit when our kids were small. I think we received it as a gift the Christ­mas I was preg­nant with #1 Son. I might’ve even lis­tened to it dur­ing labor, now that I think about it. In the ear­ly stages any­way.

It is sooth­ing in the extreme. A beau­ti­ful story…accompanied by George Win­ston’s Decem­ber album…stellar nar­ra­tion; it is an astound­ing pack­age. And our sweet baby lis­tened to it every night at bed­time for the first sev­er­al years of his life. I’m tempt­ed to cred­it this cas­sette tape and Win­nie-the-Pooh, which he lis­tened to at nap­time, with the rea­son he’s such a gen­tle giant of a young man.

We trav­elled with The Vel­veteen Rab­bit and a small boom­box with that kid — he need­ed it to go to sleep at night. We used it like a drug on car trips. It sel­dom failed us. We lis­tened to it so often that the record­ing became hard to hear, which had the effect of mak­ing you lis­ten all the hard­er. Tru­ly, by the time the boy could talk, we prob­a­bly could have recit­ed the sto­ry, though not with the love­ly inflec­tion Meryl Streep con­veys, of course.

We tried using it with Child #2, as well, but the record­ing had been loved much, and had not become real, as the Vel­veteen Rab­bit and Skin Horse had, so much as unin­tel­li­gi­ble. You could still hear Win­ston’s piano, but the sto­ry did­n’t quite come through. By age three, Dar­ling Daugh­ter often said it made her feel too sleepy and asked that it be turned off. (She has nev­er slept as sound­ly or as long as her broth­er.…)

I have sev­er­al copies of this sweet sto­ry in book form — var­i­ous artists have illus­trat­ed it and I have large for­mat books and small­er, too. I don’t recall read­ing it to either child, how­ev­er. I love to read aloud, and this is a favorite sto­ry of mine…but who can com­pare to Meryl Streep? Plus, sel­dom do I have some­one in my liv­ing room at the piano to accom­pa­ny my nar­ra­tion.…

But I’m so glad our kids had this sto­ry in their life in the way they had it. Meryl Streep and George Win­ston spin­ning Margery Williams’ mag­i­cal tale of love and childhood…well, I can’t think it gets much bet­ter than that.



The Books in the Night

Phyl­lis: Night means many things: the ter­ri­fy­ing dark­ness behind the garage where I had to car­ry the garbage after sup­per as a child, the dark night of the soul that depres­sion brings, the hours between sun­set and sun­rise that grow longer and longer as our earth turns into win­ter. But night holds com­fort as well as fear, and this month we want to look at books about the gifts that night and dark­ness can bring.

In the Night KitchenWho hasn’t heard of Mick­ey who “heard a rack­et in the night and shout­ed ‘Qui­et down there!’ and fell through the dark out of his clothes past the moon and his mama and papa sleep­ing tight and into the light of the night kitchen?” (Mau­rice Sendak moves through more action in his mar­velous first sen­tences than almost any oth­er author we can think of.)  The Night Kitchen is Sendak’s imag­ined answer to what might have hap­pened after he had to go to bed as a child, and his com­ic-book art pays trib­ute to the comics that influ­enced his work. This book has encoun­tered both pub­lic and pri­vate cen­sor­ship, includ­ing librar­i­ans paint­ing dia­pers or clothes on Mick­ey to cov­er his nudi­ty, but chil­dren love the adven­ture he dis­cov­ers in the night kitchen.

Jack­ie: Sendak’s edi­tor, the leg­endary Ursu­la Nord­strom, was elo­quent in defend­ing her books from such cen­sor­ship. She once wrote to a teacher who had burned a copy of In the Night Kitchen, “I think young chil­dren will always react with delight to such a book as In the Night Kitchen, and that they will react cre­ative­ly and whole­some­ly. It is only adults who ever feel threat­ened by Sendak’s work.” (Dear Genius, p.302)

Where Does the Brown Bear Go?Phyl­lis: Sendak imag­ines a rol­lick­ing adven­ture mak­ing cake for break­fast, while Nik­ki Weiss, right from the title, asks, Where Does the Brown Bear Go? Love­ly in its sim­plic­i­ty and strong at its heart, this series of rhyming ques­tions, one to a spread, won­ders where ani­mals go when night falls:

When the lights go down on the city street
Where does the white cat go, hon­ey?
Where does the white cat go?
When evening set­tles
On the jun­gle heat,
Where does the mon­key go, hon­ey?
Where does the mon­key go?

After every two ques­tions, the same answer comes: 

They are on their way.
They are on their way home.

This would be a sweet cat­a­log of ani­mals head­ed home at night, but the book res­onates more deeply when it asks: 

When the junk­yard is lit
By the light of the moon
Where does the junk­yard dog go, hon­ey?
 Where does the junk­yard dog go? 

Know­ing that even the junk­yard dog is on his way home moves me almost to tears. 

Jack­ie: Same here. And it urges me to imag­ine what is home for the junk­yard dog and to put myself in that home for just a bit.

Phyl­lis: The last page shows a boy snug­gled in bed sur­round­ed by his stuffed ani­mals (who resem­ble the ani­mals of the pre­ced­ing pages), and the book’s last line reas­sures us that every­one is home. It’s what we wish for every one of us, that a home awaits us at night where we are safe and cher­ished.

Night on Neighborhood StreetEloise Greenfield’s Night on Neigh­bor­hood Street uses a vari­ety of poet­ic forms to tell the sto­ries of the chil­dren and grown-ups who live on Neigh­bor­hood Street as night falls and bed­time arrives. Juma stretch­es out his bed­time with a will­ing dad­dy, a new baby cries and is rocked lov­ing­ly to sleep, a fam­i­ly gath­ers for “fam­bly time” on the floor, Tonya’s moth­er plays her horn for Tonya’s friends at an overnight, the church con­gre­ga­tion sings songs of praise, and Karen lets her sis­ter be the mama when their mama has to work at night.  But the dark­er side of life appears as well:  a lone­some boy wait­ing for his friend to come home looks at the moon “with a sad, sad eye/poking out his mouth/getting ready to cry.” A drug deal­er comes around, but the chil­dren “see behind his easy smile” and head inside. A “broth­er who tries to pick a fight” is shut down when every­one else nods and smiles and lets him know they’re not inter­est­ed in fight­ing. The book ends with Tonya’s mama blow­ing lul­la­by sounds on her horn into the silence of the street. And the chil­dren “hear and smile…and they are at peace with the night.” 

Jack­ie: I love how the fam­i­lies watch out for each oth­er in this book. There is such a strong sense that chil­dren are cared for. Tonya’s Mama is a good exam­ple of this:

When Tonya’s friends come to spend the night
Her mama’s more than just polite
She says she’s glad they came to call
Tells them that she loves them all
Lis­tens to what they can do
Tells them what she’s good at, too.
Plays her horn and lets them sing
(Do they make that music swing!)…

We aren’t sure why Tonya’s friends are there. Per­haps there was trou­ble, per­haps it’s just a vis­it. But we are sure that Tonya’s moth­er is strong and will love and take care of  these chil­dren. Neigh­bor­hood Street is a neigh­bor­hood indeed, where all are made stronger by watch­ing out for each oth­er.

The House in the NightPhyl­lis: Susan Marie Swanson’s The House in the Night, inspired by a nurs­ery rhyme from The Oxford Nurs­ery Rhyme Book, is also decep­tive­ly sim­ple in its text. The sto­ry is told in short declar­a­tive sen­tences, one sen­tence each to a dou­ble page spread of Beth Krommes’ Calde­cott-win­ning scratch­board illus­tra­tions illu­mi­nat­ed with bright yel­low stars, lamp­light, moon, and oth­er objects. “Here is the key to the house,” the book begins.  In the house a light burns, a book rests on a bed, a bird flies with a song about star­ry dark, moon, sun, all of which cir­cles back (in short­er phras­es, a beau­ti­ful use of syn­tax) to the house in the night where art shows a par­ent lov­ing­ly tuck­ing in the child who has read the book in “the house full of light.” Utter­ly beau­ti­ful and sat­is­fy­ing.

Jack­ie: There is so much to notice in this book. First the trav­el and the won­der­ful verbs:  In the house burns a light/In the light rests a bed./On that bed waits a book./In that book flies a bird./In that bird breathes a song….” We go all the way to the moon and the sun — and return. And for the jour­ney back Susan Marie Swan­son uses no verbs. We zoom from one place to the next. It real­ly feels like space trav­el.

Sun in the moon,
moon in the dark,
dark in the song,
song in the bird,
bird in the book,
book on the bed,
bed in the light,
light in the house,…

You are right, Phyl­lis. This is such a sat­is­fy­ing trip back to the cozy bed­room of the house in the night.

Sweetest KuluPhyl­lis:  Not all nights are dark. The sum­mer sun nev­er real­ly sets in the arc­tic, although some­one who lives there told me how the qual­i­ty of light changes under the mid­night sun. (Some­day I hope to see for myself.) In the Arc­tic Sum­mer of Sweet­est Kulu by Celi­na Kalluk nature comes to give its gifts to lit­tle Kulu on the day he is born. The sun gives him “blan­kets and rib­bons of warm light,” wind tells how weath­er forms, snow buntings bring seeds of flow­ers and Arc­tic cot­ton, “remind­ing you to always believe in your­self.” Arc­tic Char, Fox, Nar­wahl and Bel­u­ga, Muskrat, Polar Bear, and the Land itself all offer gifts  both tan­gi­ble and intan­gi­ble. This is a child wel­comed and cher­ished by all.  A final piece of art shows Kulu nes­tled with a polar bear cub in a cir­cle of grass and flow­ers.  Exquis­ite­ly beau­ti­ful and lov­ing, this is a book as full of light and joy as the end­less Arc­tic sum­mer days. 

Jack­ie: I am so impressed with the lan­guage of this book. Many phras­es caught my ear. Here are a cou­ple of exam­ples: “Melodies of wind arrived,” “Fox, so thought­ful and swift,/came to tell you to get out of bed as soon as you wake,/and to help any­one who may need your help along your way…”

This bed­time lul­la­by res­onates with old­er read­ers, too.  We are dai­ly remind­ed in our own lives of Muskox’s gift. “Muskox shared her­itage and empow­er­ment with you,/magnificent Kulu,/showing you how to pro­tect what you believe in.”

These night­time books, whether in the kitchen, on Neigh­bor­hood Street, in the cozy house in the night, or in the Arc­tic urge us to qui­et, to being in a qui­et world, where we have space and time to appre­ci­ate what is around us in the phys­i­cal world as well as what is in our hearts and how they are strength­ened by affec­tion and care.

Phyl­lis: This is the sea­son for qui­et, after the bloom­ing and buzzing of sum­mer. As days short­en and the nights stretch out toward sol­stice, choose a book or sev­er­al to read aloud, an act as com­fort­ing as a cup of warm cocoa and a fire in the fire­place.

Here are a few more night sto­ries:

Can’t Sleep by Chris Rasch­ka

Good Night Sleep Tight by Mem Fox

Good Night, Goril­la by Peg­gy Rath­man

Night Flight by Joanne Ryder

Night Nois­es by Mem Fox

Ten Nine Eight by Mol­ly Bang


The Girl Who Drank the Moon

I con­fess, I’m a bit of a tough sell when it comes to fan­ta­sy books (unless they are for real­ly young kids). I don’t do vam­pires, I’m not thrilled with dystopic set­tings, and although I love drag­ons and fairies, oth­er fan­tas­tic beasts tend to make my eyes roll, and I…well, I lose inter­est. I believe in mag­ic, but it has to be real­ly well writ­ten to keep my inter­est, and frankly, I’ve not fin­ished a lot of real­ly well done fan­ta­sy nov­els.

I do try. Reg­u­lar­ly, in fact. Dar­ling Daugh­ter is always try­ing to get me to make it through one of the huge fan­ta­sy tomes she’s car­ry­ing around. (Side Note: Why are they all so large? I feel like I would fin­ish more if they were under three hun­dred pages.) And I always give it a go — par­tic­u­lar­ly when Kel­ly Barn­hill has a book come out, because her writ­ing is so love­ly.

I held on to Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon for quite some time. I didn’t let Dar­ling Daugh­ter read it first, as is often our pat­tern — I hid it for myself, sav­ing it for a time when I could enjoy it all on my own. It was worth the wait.

From the first Shirley Jack­son-esque (The Lot­tery) chap­ter I was hooked. It’s a ter­ri­ble premise — every year the peo­ple of the Pro­tec­torate leave a baby as an offer­ing to the witch who lives in the for­est. But very quick­ly, thanks to Antain (who is at the begin­ning and the end of the sto­ry, but is only deft­ly sprin­kled through the mid­dle so you don’t for­get how dear and impor­tant he is), the read­er real­izes that some­thing is wonky and ten­u­ous with regard to this care­ful­ly pre­served “tra­di­tion.”

In any event, the baby in ques­tion — the one this book is about — is res­cued by a kind witch named Xan, who, as it turns out, has no idea why babies are left in the for­est. She has sim­ply res­cued the chil­dren and deliv­ered them to fam­i­lies on the oth­er side of the for­est for ages. She’s been doing it for who-knows-how-long when she finds Luna, the baby who changes every­thing.

You see, Xan feeds the babies with starlight as she takes them to their new fam­i­lies. Starlight! This is exact­ly the sort of fan­ta­sy detail that makes my heart go pit­ter-pat. Such whim­sy, such metaphor! Love it! Luna gets moon­light, not starlight, how­ev­er — quite acci­den­tal­ly, you under­stand — and the moon­light fills her with extra­or­di­nary mag­ic. Which is why Xan decides to raise her instead of giv­ing her to a fam­i­ly as she usu­al­ly does. There­fore, Luna grows up with a wise Swamp Mon­ster, a Per­fect­ly Tiny Drag­on, and a kind witch as her fam­i­ly. These endear­ing char­ac­ters pro­vide a large share of the delight of the book. They did not once make me roll my eyes.

When Luna’s thir­teenth birth­day is on the hori­zon, her mag­ic — care­ful­ly restrained by Xan for most of her child­hood — begins to leak about…and the plot thick­ens! As she grows and changes and learns, she becomes all the more mag­nif­i­cent. So does the sto­ry. There are creep­tas­tic birds, a woman with a Tiger’s heart prowl­ing around, and hero­ic efforts made on the very world’s behalf.

But Luna! Oh, Luna is so incred­i­ble! She is strong and deter­mined, lov­ing and wild, smart and mag­i­cal. The kind of mag­ic that is real. The kind of mag­ic all girls have — and we must help them tap it, because it’s pre­cise­ly the kind of mag­ic that the world tries to beat out of them, and now more than ever they need to tap their mag­ic, peo­ple!

As soon as I fin­ished it, I hand­ed it to Dar­ling Daugh­ter. “It’s ter­rif­ic,” I said. I did not say “It’s impor­tant!” but it is. So impor­tant. This is, as the book­jack­et says, “a com­ing-of-age fairy tale.” It’s a gor­geous book. And I’m giv­ing it today to one of my nieces on the occa­sion of her twelfth birth­day. I can’t wait for her mag­ic to be ful­ly-real­ized — she’s amaz­ing already.


To Each Maker, Their Model

many, many carsDespite my appre­ci­a­tion for cars as a trans­porta­tion mode, I was always hope­less at telling one make and mod­el from anoth­er. Then I took on an assign­ment to write about some high-pro­file vehi­cles, and I had to learn about their dis­tin­guish­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Even with all that extra study, I still can’t author­i­ta­tive­ly iden­ti­fy those cars if I see them from the front. But a split-sec­ond glance at the shape of one from behind now tells me if it’s a Corvette or a Mus­tang. I guess I’m just bet­ter at nam­ing some­thing when I view it from the back­side.

Writ­ten pieces are the same for me: I can rarely come up with the right name for them until I’ve seen them through to the end. I have all sorts of titling tac­tics that are use­ful after the piece is writ­ten. I share those with stu­dents who are hav­ing trou­ble com­ing up with a title: Is there some­thing atten­tion-grab­bing that also reflects the tone of the piece? Is there some­thing quirky about the con­tents, or some great one-lin­er with­in, that could com­mand atten­tion at the top of the page? Is it meant to be infor­ma­tive, so the title should make that clear? Does the writer need to hint that it’s a mys­tery or an adven­ture or a fan­ta­sy, so that the piece attracts the right read­ers?

But here’s the fun­ny thing: as often as I tell stu­dents that I pre­fer to wait until I can see the entire shape of a piece before I title it, there are always those who ask me — beg me, real­ly — for per­mis­sion to write their title first. I’ve come to rec­og­nize that for some of them, writ­ing out the title is an impor­tant first step. A blank piece of paper is scary to them. But allow them to slap a title up top — and presto, they’ve claimed that piece of paper. They’ve told it, “Watch out — I have some­thing to say. It’s just going to take me a lit­tle while to get it all down.”

In oth­er words, some writ­ers find it help­ful to title a piece when they’re star­ing into its head­lights, while oth­ers find it bet­ter to wait until after they’ve watched its tail­lights speed by. Both approach­es can have their mer­its; to each mak­er their mod­el.


Potato Latkes

Potato Latkes

Whether you’re cel­e­brat­ing Hanukkah with these deli­cious treats or you’re a fan of pota­toes, you’ll want to add this easy recipe to your reper­toire. (from The Food Net­work)
Serv­ings: 4
Author: Michele Urvater


  • 1−1÷2 lbs rus­set pota­toes peeled
  • 14 cup fine­ly chopped shal­lots
  • 2 large eggs light­ly beat­en
  • 2 Tbsp flour or mat­zo meal may need more
  • 1−1÷2 tea­spoons salt and fresh­ly ground black pep­per
  • Veg­etable oil for fry­ing


  • In a food proces­sor grate the pota­toes. Line a sieve with cheese­cloth and trans­fer pota­toes to the sieve. Set sieve over a bowl, twist cheese­cloth into a pouch, squeez­ing out some mois­ture. Let mix­ture drain for 15 min­utes. After 15 min­utes, pour off liq­uid from the bowl but leave the white pota­to starch that set­tles in the bot­tom of the bowl.
  • To that starch add shal­lots, eggs, flour, 1−1÷2 tea­spoons of salt and fresh­ly ground pep­per. Return drained pota­toes to this mix­ture and toss to com­bine.
  • Pre­heat oven to 200 degrees. Line a bak­ing pan with paper tow­els. When you are ready to eat, in a large skil­let heat 14 inch of oil over medi­um high heat until hot. Drop heap­ing table­spoon­fuls of pota­to mix­ture and cook for 3 to 4 min­utes a side; latkes should be gold­en and crisp on both sides. Eat right away or keep warm in oven. Serve with apple­sauce or sour cream or cot­tage cheese mixed with sour cream.

I Have Some Bad News

Page Break Lynne Jonell


Skinny Dip with Caren Stelson

Caren Stelson

Caren Stel­son, author

We inter­viewed Caren Stel­son, first-time author, whose non­fic­tion book Sachiko: a Nagasa­ki Bomb Sur­vivor Sto­ry has received a good deal of pos­i­tive recog­ni­tion, includ­ing the longlist for the Nation­al Book Award and inclu­sion on many Best Books of 2016 lists. (Her name is pro­nounced just as you would say Karen.)

Which celebri­ty would invite you like to invite to a cof­fee shop?

If I could invite any­one to cof­fee, I’d invite Eleanor Roo­sevelt and hap­pi­ly pick up the tab. Eleanor — what a woman! She over­came so much, from her dif­fi­cult child­hood, to find­ing and claim­ing her own life work, to being Franklin Roosevelt’s con­science as First Lady. Actu­al­ly, she was the con­science of the nation, then as U.N. rep­re­sen­ta­tive, the con­science of the world. I’d love to ask Eleanor, “What do you think of Don­ald Trump as Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States?”

To Kill a MockingbirdWhich book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

I keep com­ing back to To Kill a Mock­ing­bird by Harp­er Lee as my favorite book. Any­one who wants to under­stand the Unit­ed States needs to read Harp­er Lee’s nov­el.

Favorite city to vis­it?

Can I have two favorites? Bath, Eng­land is one and Nagasa­ki, Japan is the oth­er. I lived in Bath, Eng­land in 2001 – 2002 and spent that year inter­view­ing adults who had sur­vived the April 1942 blitz as kids dur­ing World War II. I was fas­ci­nat­ed by what they remem­bered about liv­ing through the war and what those mem­o­ries meant to them now. I have great mem­o­ries of the inter­views and great mem­o­ries of the city of Bath, itself. Bath is a Geor­gian archi­tec­tur­al won­der with lay­ers and lay­ers of his­to­ry. The Roman Bath in the heart of the city is the best pre­served Roman bath in the world. I loved liv­ing in Bath. I still have many friends there, mak­ing Bath “home away from home” for me. Nagasa­ki, Japan is anoth­er city where I’m at home. Of course, my friend Sachiko Yasui lives in Nagasa­ki as do many of my oth­er Japan­ese friends. Because Nagasa­ki was the sec­ond city destroyed by an atom­ic bomb dur­ing WWII, the hor­ror of nuclear war is for­ev­er stamped on the city’s con­science. So is the neces­si­ty for peace. For me, Nagasa­ki is Ground Zero for the study of peace.

City of Bath, England

Bath, Eng­land

Roman Bath

The Roman Bath in Bath, Eng­land

Nagasaki, Japan

Nagasa­ki, Japan today

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

One of my most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ries is sled­ding down a hill in Ver­mont one win­try night with my fam­i­ly. I still can see my father stretched out on a wood­en sled with my moth­er on top of him, speed­ing down the hill. I can still hear their screams of laugh­ter echo­ing through the dark. I don’t have many mem­o­ries of that kind of fam­i­ly laugh­ter, so I hang onto this mem­o­ry pret­ty tight­ly.

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

My dream vaca­tion is a pho­to­graph­ic safari to the Serengeti Plain. My hus­band and I trav­eled to Tan­za­nia in the 1980s and camped on the floor of Ngoro Ngoro Crater, the place with the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of wild ani­mals in the world. I can still hear the lions’ roar­ing at night. And the eyes. At night, we aimed a high-pow­ered flash­light out­side the cir­cle of tents and watched the eyes of ante­lope stare back at us. Today it’s not pos­si­ble to camp on the crater floor, but I’d do it in a heart­beat as my dream vaca­tion.

Ngoro Ngoro Crater, Tan­za­nia (Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

What makes you shiv­er?

There’s a lot to shiv­er about these days, but hon­est­ly, the first thing that popped into my mind was shark attacks. Any sto­ry that has a shark attack in it will give me night­mares.

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

I used to be a night per­son when I was younger, but now I’m a straight morn­ing per­son. Some­times I’ll get out of bed around 5:00 am, maybe ear­li­er, put on the cof­fee, and start writ­ing right away. When I’m in that half-sleep, half-awake zone, lots of inter­est­ing things start hap­pen­ing on the page.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I real­ly love hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with three-year-olds. I think that can be con­sid­ered a tal­ent.  I recent­ly took care of a three-year-old for a day and we had the best time explor­ing every mechan­i­cal item in the house, from how a mix­er works to how a piano makes its sound. If we could all sus­tain our three-year-old curios­i­ty, we tru­ly could be wide-awake, life-long learn­ers.

Piano iinterior

Explain­ing how a piano makes sound (Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

Favorite can­dy as a kid?

Good ‘n‘ Plen­ty. I loved those pink and white can­dy cov­ered pieces of licorice, par­tic­u­lar­ly if I ate them at the movies.

Broth­ers and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

I have an old­er broth­er and a younger broth­er, so I’m the sis­ter stuck in the mid­dle. Being the only girl shaped my life quite a bit. My broth­ers weren’t all that inter­est­ed in sports, but I was. My father taught me how to throw a foot­ball, play ten­nis, and get up the courage to play var­si­ty high school sports. Hav­ing that father­ly atten­tion gave me con­fi­dence. But I also missed not hav­ing a sis­ter I could con­fide in. I looked for that close­ness in the books I read and in my per­son­al jour­nals. Today, I think of my clos­est women friends as my sis­ters, which makes up for the hole in my child­hood.

Sachiko: a Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's StoryHope for the world?

What is there but hope for peace? The world is heat­ing up with fears and ten­sions we haven’t seen in decades. This does not bode well for the future. It’s a long shot, but I hope the nations of the world will col­lec­tive­ly real­ize war is not the answer to our prob­lems. Real­ly, we have no choice. Between nuclear weapons and cli­mate change, our exis­tence on this plan­et is at stake. We Amer­i­cans and the rest of the world’s pop­u­la­tion have to fig­ure out how to work togeth­er and work for peace. As indi­vid­u­als we may feel pow­er­less in the face of world ten­sions, but we can begin the peace process among neigh­bors and across our cities and states. I love the quote by peace activist and Quak­er Gene Knud­sen Hoff­man, “The ene­my is a per­son whose sto­ries we have not heard.” We can start lis­ten­ing.

Nagasaki, Japan

Caren Stel­son in Nagasa­ki, Japan


Santa’s Favorite Story

Ver­i­ly, as if on cue, I have field­ed the year’s first parental ques­tion about San­ta Claus. It is the whis­pered earnest­ness of the askers that keeps me from rolling my eyes. What role, if any, should San­ta have in a Chris­t­ian fam­i­ly….? they whis­per lean­ing away from the baby on their hip, lest that babe be tipped off. It’s always their first child. They want to do things right. They’re absolute­ly so dear, and I feel priv­i­leged that they come to me, even as I think this is large­ly a stu­pid ques­tion. I’m with John­ny Cash: Joy to the world, and here comes San­ta Claus!

I can tell which way they’re lean­ing as soon as I tell them how much I love San­ta. They either blink polite­ly, or look tremen­dous­ly relieved. (Dis­claimer: I respect either, but I’m more inter­est­ed in talk­ing to the lat­ter.) Either way, I tell them some­thing about the his­to­ry of St. Nicholas, which we cel­e­brate each Decem­ber 6th in our house­hold. This gives the man in red some reli­gious cre­den­tials if that seems impor­tant to the fam­i­ly. Then I tell them about San­ta and Coca-Cola, which I find utter­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. (I also find it fas­ci­nat­ing that snopes.com cov­ers the sto­ry.) I usu­al­ly end my impas­sioned speech for San­ta with a poor­ly para­phrased ver­sion of G. K. Chesterton’s views on San­ta, which can be found in the sec­ond half of this med­i­ta­tion. (The first half is excel­lent, as well, but I should mem­o­rize the sec­ond half.)

If they’re still with me — by which I mean they’re true believ­ers in San­ta and they were only tem­porar­i­ly delud­ed into think­ing they need­ed to give that up to be respon­si­ble and faith­ful par­ents — I tell them about Hisako Aoki’s and Ivan Gantschev’s book, Santa’s Favorite Sto­ry.

This book is so sim­ple, so good, so right. The ani­mals in the for­est dis­cov­er San­ta asleep against a tree and they are alarmed. San­ta! ASLEEP?! They wake him and San­ta explains that he’d gone for a hike to get in shape for Christ­mas Eve. When he got tired, he decid­ed to take a nap. San­ta nap­ping?! He mus­es that maybe all the presents will be too much for him this year.

Does that mean there won’t be a Christ­mas any­more?” the fox asks, giv­ing voice to the wor­ries of the entire forest’s pop­u­la­tion.

That’s when San­ta tells them the sto­ry of The First Christ­mas. Four spreads lay out the sto­ry told in the Gospel of Luke, com­plete with shep­herds and sheep, a bright star, and the babe lying in the manger. San­ta tells his fur­ry audi­ence that God gave love that first Christ­mas and love is the best present there is.

It’s an enor­mous­ly sat­is­fy­ing book, and it’s still in print, I believe — some­what remark­able giv­en that the orig­i­nal copy­right is 1982. I love how it holds the two most famous peo­ple of Christ­mas togeth­er and deliv­ers a gen­tle cri­tique of ram­pant con­sumerism at the same time. Amen, I say! Get your­self a copy and have a read this Christ­mas. Amen.



Karen Cushman, the Girl in Men’s Underwear

Karen Cushman

Karen Cush­man

We wel­come the oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk with Karen Cush­man, New­bery Medal and Hon­or recip­i­ent for The Mid­wife’s Appren­tice and Cather­ine, Called Birdy, as well as his­tor­i­cal fic­tion set in the west­ern Unit­ed States. Her most recent nov­el is the fan­ta­sy Grayling’s Song. We look for­ward to talk­ing with Karen because her sense of humor is always in play, some­thing you’d expect from read­ing her books.

 Are you work­ing on a new man­u­script? (Care to offer a teas­er)?

I’m strug­gling my way through a book set in San Diego in 1941, short­ly before Pearl Har­bor. Here’s the begin­ning, or the begin­ning at the moment:

Jorge lift­ed the slimy crea­ture to his lips and bit it right between the eyes.

I shud­dered as I watched. “Doesn’t that taste mud­dy and dis­gust­ing?”

Nah,” he said, wip­ing mud from his mouth. “Is only salty. This way they don’t die but only sleep, stay fresh.” He threw the octo­pus into a buck­et and slipped through the mud flats to anoth­er hole in the muck. He filled a baster from a mud-spat­tered Clorox bot­tle and squirt­ed the bleach into a hole.

When the occu­pant slith­ered to the sur­face, Jorge pulled it out and bit it, too. “You want? Make good stew.”

I shook my head. I pre­ferred fish that came in cans and was mixed with mayo and chopped cel­ery.

 Elvis PresleyAre there par­tic­u­lar mem­o­ries of grow­ing up that, look­ing back, you see as lead­ing you toward a writ­ing career?

My first 17 or so years seemed to be lead­ing me to a writ­ing career. I wrote all the time: poems, short sto­ries, a 7‑page nov­el, an epic poem cycle based on the life of Elvis (see the last ques­tion below). A lot of what I wrote was involved with cre­at­ing a world I’d like to live in star­ring a per­son I’d like to be.

Are there three books you’d rec­om­mend for gift-giv­ing in the upcom­ing hol­i­days?

I asked my daugh­ter, who works at Pow­ell’s Book­store in Port­land and knows more about books than any­one. She rec­om­mend­ed three illus­trat­ed non­fic­tion titles. I plan to buy them for myself.

  • Atlas Obscu­ra (by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Mor­ton). A fas­ci­nat­ing tour guide to the strangest and most curi­ous places in the world: glow­worm caves in New Zealand, Turk­menistan’s 40-year hole of fire called the Gates of Hell, salt mines in Poland, a par­a­sitol­ogy muse­um, bone muse­ums in Italy.
  • David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work Now. Packed with infor­ma­tion on the inner work­ings of every­thing from wind­mills to Wi-Fi, this extra­or­di­nary book guides read­ers through the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of machines and shows how the devel­op­ments of the past are build­ing the world of tomor­row. 
  • In the Com­pa­ny of Women (by Grace Bon­ney). Pho­tos and descrip­tions of inspir­ing, cre­ative women across the world who forged their own paths and suc­ceed­ed. 

Three book recommendations by Karen Cushman

What did you study in col­lege?

I entered col­lege as an Eng­lish major but quick­ly became enam­ored of the Clas­sics depart­ment because it was much small­er and more inter­est­ing and they had sher­ry par­ties every Fri­day after­noon. My final major was dou­ble — Greek and Eng­lish.

Did you tak­ing writ­ing class­es?

My uni­ver­si­ty had a grad­u­ate cre­ative writ­ing major but there was only one course for under­grad­u­ates. I took it, hat­ed it, and nev­er went. Peo­ple sat around and crit­i­cized each other’s work. Not for me. The night before the quar­ter was over, I stayed up all night and wrote twelve short sto­ries. The pro­fes­sor com­ment­ed that I seemed to have learned a lot dur­ing the class even though I nev­er came to class. Go fig­ure. That was my first and last writ­ing class.

men's boxers What was your first job?

I worked in the men’s socks and shorts depart­ment of a Tar­get-like store, where I was known as the girl in men’s under­wear.

What’s your strongest mem­o­ry of the 1950s?

Elvis. No ques­tion. I also remem­ber look­ing at all the unhap­py house­wives on our sub­ur­ban street, sip­ping mar­ti­nis and mak­ing lunch­es, and feared I would end up like that.  

PS:  I didn’t.


Writing around Roadblocks

Mutzi and Lisa Bullard's deskI’ve tried to cre­ate a stim­u­lat­ing atmos­phere in my home office. Works of art by the illus­tra­tors of my pic­ture books adorn the walls. I have a Rain­bow Mak­er in the win­dow. There are bloom­ing plants and inspir­ing say­ings and a bas­ket of toys to play with. There are birds chirp­ing out­side the win­dow (even an occa­sion­al owl when I’m work­ing at mid­night). My desk chair is large and com­fy. Mutzi the tail­less cat perch­es next to my key­board and purrs. Every­thing in my writ­ing space is meant to help me tran­si­tion quick­ly and hap­pi­ly to a cre­ative and pro­duc­tive writ­ing frame of mind.

Which works great, some days. Oth­er days, I sit here like a dud. I’ve found that the only answer on those days is to take a writ­ing road trip.

It doesn’t have to take me far, or to a par­tic­u­lar­ly fan­cy des­ti­na­tion. One time I had about giv­en up on find­ing the right words for a par­tic­u­lar pic­ture book con­cept, despite weeks (maybe even months?) of bat­tling to pin it down. Final­ly I grabbed my notes and head­ed off to a cof­fee shop, with­out even my trusty lap­top as a token of the famil­iar. Sud­den­ly, in this dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ment, I was able to crank out an entire rough draft in about an hour and a half.

Of course, all of those unpro­duc­tive attempts in my home office also fed this cre­ative burst. But I’m con­vinced the sto­ry might nev­er have come out if I hadn’t bro­ken through that writ­ing road­block by tak­ing my pen-and-note­book show on the road.

Here’s a sim­ple way to give your stu­dents a cre­ative kick start when you sense their writ­ing ener­gy is flag­ging: allow them to move to a dif­fer­ent writ­ing spot. Do you have a long writ­ing ses­sion planned for the day? When you have ten min­utes left, allow stu­dents to stretch out on the floor or curl up in a cor­ner of the room with their note­books. Or ini­ti­ate a “musi­cal chairs” type of desk exchange, where every­one at least ends up with a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive of the room.

The com­bi­na­tion of move­ment and a change of scenery can work won­ders for our brains when they’ve become too com­pla­cent to remain cre­ative.


The Contract, It Arrives!!

Lynne Jonell's Page Break


Skinny Dip with Janet Taylor Lisle

Janet Taylor LisleFor this inter­view, we chat with Janet Tay­lor Lisle, New­bery Hon­or-win­ning author of After­noon of the Elves, the Scott O’Dell Award-win­ning The Art of Keep­ing Cool, and the thriller Black Duck, along with many oth­er read­er favorites.

Which celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

I’m quite sure Emi­ly Dick­in­son, shy and secre­tive as she was, would nev­er invite me to a cof­fee shop, but per­haps I could slip a note under her door in Amherst, Mass­a­chu­setts and beg for a vis­it. I’d like to ask her why she made her poems, what some of them mean, and if it mat­tered to her that her work was unpub­lished dur­ing her life.

The LeopardWhich book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

My all-time favorite book is The Leop­ard (Il Gat­topar­do) by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampe­dusa. Every time I read it, the nov­el changes what I see around me. Lampe­dusa wrote only this one work but it’s enough to put the uni­verse at your fin­ger­tips.

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

I am not noc­tur­nal but my cat Nel­lie would like to men­tion here that she will take straight canned tuna fish and milk any­time after mid­night. After 3 a.m., too, if it comes to that.

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

So, we three chil­dren are sail­ing off Martha’s Vine­yard with my dad when a sud­den storm hits. Vio­lent sea! Howl­ing wind! My dad is on deck reef­ing the sails when a huge wave rolls into the cock­pit. It lifts my lit­tle broth­er up and is sweep­ing him over­board when I grab him by the arm and hold on with all my strength. Hugh is saved! (That was close.) I cry. He grows up to become a loved doc­tor who cares deeply for his patients.

Janet Tay­lor Lisle with one of Bar­ry Flana­gan’s “hare” sculp­tures, at the Nation­al Gallery of Art Sculp­ture Gar­den, in Wash­ing­ton, DC

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

I guess the illus­tra­tors I loved as a child still speak to me most direct­ly. Beat­rix Pot­ter for her hedge­hogs and rab­bits; John Ten­niel for his Mad Hat­ter and March Hare; N.C. Wyeth for his mur­der­ous, one-legged pirates and mys­te­ri­ous islands. So many oth­ers. Today, it’s any­thing by William Steig or Arnold Lobel for me and my grand­chil­dren. (Nel­lie cozies up to these guys too.)

Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

Win­ter in New Eng­land. Stark. Qui­et. When the leaves fall off the trees the land  opens to show its real face. The moon looks big­ger.

Janet Taylor Lisle

Win­ter, Janet’s favorite time of year

What gives you shiv­ers?

A recent arrival in my Rhode Island neigh­bor­hood is an otter-like ani­mal known as a Fish­er Cat. It hunts near the pond and screams most hor­ri­bly at night. I pull the blan­kets over my head and Nellie’s. We don’t like even think­ing about this crea­ture.

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

I’m a morn­ing per­son. I like to rise with the sun. Rosy-fin­gered dawn for me, and a walk on the beach. (My nov­el The Lamp­fish of Twill came from this dai­ly  habit.)

Janet Taylor Lisle

Janet Tay­lor Lisle in front of the pond in Lit­tle Comp­ton, the inspi­ra­tion for my fic­tion­al Quick­sand Pond.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I love to sing and have sung in choral groups all my life. Mozart, Beethoven, Han­del, Bach. I’m not a reli­gious per­son but the big requiems and mass­es some­times bring me to tears even as I sing them. I’m a suck­er for pop­u­lar music too: a big croon­er in the car. Radio always on.

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

For a con­tent­ed life, keep it sim­ple and keep out of the lime­light. Fame nev­er did any­one any good.


In Draft

Henry JamesHe was always chas­ing the next draft of him­self.”

 Amer­i­can crit­ic Dwight Gar­ner, in the New York Times Book Review on Feb­ru­ary 16 of this year, was describ­ing the child­hood of Hen­ry James.

An expand­able list comes to mind, some of our mem­o­rable fig­ures mov­ing toward the next draft of them­selves: Anne Shirley, Hold­en Caulfield, Jo March, Jody Bax­ter, Arnold Spir­it, Jr., Gilly Hop­kins, M.C. Hig­gins, Jane Yolen’s Hannah/Chaya, Will Grayson and Will Grayson, Bil­lie Jo Kel­by, Ramona Quim­by, the Gaither sis­ters, Hugo Cabret, Stan­ley Yel­nats, the Logan fam­i­ly of Mis­sis­sip­pi, Win­nie Fos­ter, Wal­ter Dean Myers’ Steve Har­mon, Ter­ry Pratch­et­t’s Mau and Daphne and their Nation.  Har­ry, Hermione, Ron.

One of our tru­isms is that the char­ac­ters who trans­port us in their sto­ries are actu­al­ly show­ing us — sel­dom with­out pain — about revis­ing and becom­ing. We’ve all felt it hap­pen.

After the last page, our selves have enlarged, lead­ing us often sub­tly, silent­ly, into our own next draft.

Gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion, many of our young, in fic­tion and in the house just down the road, must revise them­selves by flee­ing chaos, vio­lence, or neglect wrought by cal­lous or con­fused adults. Oth­ers seek change and release from what seems an abyss of bore­dom. And some of us lucky ones try on dif­fer­ences just because we can.

draftRight now, Decem­ber 2016, in our own USA, many of our neigh­bors and stu­dents fear depor­ta­tion, a cru­el next draft in a world they nev­er made. As the new admin­is­tra­tion struts toward Wash­ing­ton, we’re wary of the con­vul­sive upend­ing, we’re appre­hen­sive about the pre­cip­i­tous swerves and the jaw-drop­ping, impetu­ous tweets, and some of us place bets. Here is Hen­ry James’ dec­la­ra­tion from about a hun­dred years ago: “I hate Amer­i­can sim­plic­i­ty. I glo­ry in the pil­ing up of com­pli­ca­tions of every sort.” Come on back, Hen­ry. We have drafts galore for you, we’ll help you catch up on your read­ing, and we’ve got real life com­pli­ca­tions that will blow your spats off.


Irresistible Reading: How Things Work

How Things WorkNow, if that Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia wasn’t cool enough, here’s anoth­er sure-fire hit for kids who love to read facts, true sto­ries, and know how things work.

In fact, the book is called How Things Work and it’s anoth­er pow­er­house from Nation­al Geo­graph­ic.

As the book admon­ish­es, “PUT THIS BOOK DOWN NOW. It’s dan­ger­ous. It might make you think you can do impos­si­ble things.” Fol­lowed close­ly by “You must be one of those. The kind of kid who thinks ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer.”

Do you know one of those kids? End­less ques­tions? On the trail for the real sto­ry? Won­der­ing all the time? Lucky you. Lucky them if you give them this book.

How do hov­er­boards work? This comes with a “Try This!” that encour­ages exper­i­ment­ing with the attrac­tion and repelling of mag­nets.

How do microwaves work? There are info­graph­ics, fun facts, dia­grams, anoth­er Try This with ice cubes, Myth vs. Fact, a short biog­ra­phy of Per­cy Spencer whose melt­ing peanut clus­ter bar sparked his imag­i­na­tion … and it’s all ter­ri­bly excit­ing.

The visu­als that accom­pa­ny every fact in this book, the lay­out, the col­ors, all of this put togeth­er makes me want to devour this book. There are so many cool things explained that it makes me breath­less.

Don’t you want the kid in your life to feel the same way about learn­ing?

How Things Work
T.J. Resler
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016
ISBN 978 – 1426325557, $19.99



wish200I did not grow up in the south, but my par­ents did, so I like to claim a lit­tle south­ern her­itage. When my kids were younger, I loved read­ing them books set in the south — will­ing into their souls the humid­i­ty, bar­be­cue, iced tea with lemon, and accents that have the rhythm of rock­ing chairs found on great big porch­es. They enjoyed hear­ing how my grand­par­ents called me “Sug­ar,” and I felt it vital­ly impor­tant they under­stand that Mis­souri peach­es just might be bet­ter than the famed Geor­gia peach­es. (It’s true – no offense to Geor­gia.)

I’m a big fan of Bar­bara O’Connor’s nov­els — whether they’re explic­it­ly set in the south or not they feel south­ern, and when I pick them up I know I will enjoy them. So as soon as I heard her lat­est book, Wish, was com­ing out, I put a reserve on it at the library, where it was already ordered for when it came out months down the road. This is my sys­tem so I don’t for­get about great books com­ing out. (Which sel­dom hap­pens — for the real­ly great books, any­way — but maybe that’s because I use this sys­tem, who knows?)

By the time the library noti­fied me my copy was in, I’d already bought the book and read and loved it. So I pulled my reserved copy off the hold shelves and went to the check-out desk to let them know I didn’t need it any­more. I took my place in line behind a lit­tle girl stand­ing with her moth­er. She was wear­ing a win­ter coat even though it was about six­ty degrees that day. Min­neso­ta had a love­ly extend­ed fall this year, which Min­nesotans were in awe of as we ran around in our short sleeves almost to Thanks­giv­ing, but new­com­ers still thought it was cold.

I heard the girl’s moth­er talk­ing to the librar­i­an. Her voice was a gen­tle rock­ing chair voice. They were sign­ing up for library cards. The girl stared at me, eye­ing me up and down. Some­what sus­pi­cious­ly, per­haps. Maybe it was my short sleeves.

She looked at Wish, which I was hold­ing down by my side. “Is that book about a dawg?” she asked, tilt­ing her head the same way as the book.

There’s a dog in it, yes. His name is Wish­bone,” I said, point­ing to the beagly look­ing dog on the cov­er.

What’s that girl’s name?” she asked point­ing to the girl on the cov­er with the dog.

Her name is Char­lie.”

That’s a boy’s name,” she fired back.

I hand­ed her the book because I could tell she want­ed to look at it straight on.

Her mama named her Charle­magne. She liked Char­lie bet­ter,” I said. “It’s a real­ly good book.”

What’sitabout?” she asked all in one word.

It’s about wishes…and friends…and home…and fam­i­ly. It’s about a girl liv­ing in a new place and she’s not sure if she likes it or not.”

Does any­thing bad hap­pen to that dawg?” she asked war­i­ly.

Nope,” I said.

She hand­ed the book back to me.

Maybe you’d like to read it?” I said. “I’m not check­ing it out, I’m return­ing it.” It was my turn at the library desk.

I explained to the library work­er that I didn’t need the book and asked if the lit­tle girl walk­ing toward the door with her moth­er could check it out instead. Alas, some­one was wait­ing for it, and things hap­pen in cer­tain order­ly ways at the library, so they couldn’t check it out to her. I decid­ed not to be irri­tat­ed by this and checked it out any­way since it was still tech­ni­cal­ly my turn.

I fol­lowed the girl and her moth­er out the door to the park­ing lot and gave them the book. I told them I bor­rowed it for them and I told the moth­er I thought she’d do a great job read­ing it out loud. I told the girl I thought she would enjoy it a lot. They both thanked me. The moth­er said, “Bless your heart!” about five times.

And my heart was blessed.

What if they don’t return it?” the library work­er said when I walked back in the library. “It’s checked out on your card.”

If they need to keep it, I’ll pay for it,” I said.

We’ll find out in a few weeks, I guess. But I’m not wor­ried.


Essential Holiday Giving: Books

Hands down, there is no bet­ter gift for hol­i­days or birth­days than a book. You can find a book to suit every inter­est, every taste, and your bud­get. You can always feel good about giv­ing a book (unless you’re giv­ing a gift to some­one who lives in a Tiny House … ask first). 


Here’s my list of sug­ges­tions for the hol­i­days. It’s filled with books that are infor­ma­tive, beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed or pho­tographed, use­ful, well-writ­ten, but most­ly books that can be savored or cher­ished, with uplift­ing sto­ries.

And if you’d like more sug­ges­tions, my best advice is to walk into your pub­lic library and talk to the chil­dren’s librar­i­ans there. Tell them about the chil­dren in your lives, their inter­ests, the kind of books they like to read, or if they haven’t yet met the right book to turn them on to read­ing. You’ll be amazed by the good sug­ges­tions these library angels will give you.

I’m going to break these out into the type of read­er I think will be most appre­cia­tive. You’ll find links to longer reviews scat­tered through­out. And I’m going to keep adding to this list up until the end of the year. Peo­ple are cel­e­brat­ing hol­i­days at many dif­fer­ent times.

In love with pic­ture books

Before MorningBefore Morn­ing
writ­ten by Joyce Sid­man
illus­trat­ed by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2016

I think this ranks up there in my list of favorite pic­ture books of all time. It works on so many lev­els, but most­ly it speaks of love and yearn­ing and beau­ty and grace. It is a sim­ple sto­ry of a lit­tle girl who wish­es for a snow day so her fam­i­ly can be togeth­er. Joyce Sid­man’s sto­ry is exquis­ite. Beth Krommes cre­ates a win­ter every­one can love and appre­ci­ate with her scratch­board illus­tra­tions. The col­or palette, the tex­ture on the page, and the snow! Has there ever been such glo­ri­ous snow? A per­fect gift book for young and old.

Frank and LuckyFrank and Lucky Get Schooled
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lynne Rae Perkins
Green­wil­low Books, 2016

One day when Frank could not win for los­ing, he got Lucky. And one day when Lucky was lost and found, he got Frank. Both of them were just pups. They had a lot to learn.” Life, at its best, is one big learn­ing adven­ture. Frank and Lucky grow togeth­er, each teach­ing the oth­er. We hear the sto­ry in both of their voic­es. Life is explore through learn­ing: Chem­istry, Tax­on­o­my, Read­ing, Math. So many ques­tions and so lit­tle time. Learn­ing fol­lows these two wher­ev­er they go. They have fun. But how does it all fit togeth­er? Ah, that’s the adven­ture. There is so much to look at and think about in this book … and Lucky makes the adven­ture fun. A great book for explor­ing togeth­er as the first step in plan­ning your own learn­ing adven­tures. Inspired!

Henry & LeoHen­ry & Leo
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Pamela Zagaren­s­ki
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2016 

This is such a won­der­land of a book. I fin­ished it and imme­di­ate­ly start­ed again at the begin­ning. And yet again. The pages are filled with details that are irre­sistible, incit­ing curios­i­ty and sto­ry­telling. The sto­ry is a com­fort­ing one about a young boy, Hen­ry, who fero­cious­ly loves his stuffed lion, Leo. The fam­i­ly goes for a walk in the Near­by Woods and … Leo is lost. Hen­ry is beside him­self, wor­ried about Leo alone in the woods. His fam­i­ly com­forts him by say­ing that Leo isn’t real, which is no com­fort at all of course. But some­thing very real and mys­ti­cal hap­pens in those Woods and Leo finds his way back to Hen­ry. Pamela Zagaren­s­ki paints this book with lucious foresty and night-time col­ors, with pages so soft and tex­tured you know you can walk into the scene. She includes her trade­mark crowns, crit­ters large and small, win­dows, and those teacups. What does it all mean? As our brains look for answers, we cre­ate our own sto­ries. It’s mag­i­cal.

Ganesha's Sweet ToothGane­sha’s Sweet Tooth
writ­ten by San­jay Patel and Emi­ly Haynes
illus­trat­ed by San­jay Patel
Chron­i­cle Books, 2012

A sto­ry based on Hin­du mythol­o­gy, an adorable Gane­sha and his friend Mr. Mouse are all about the can­dy. In par­tic­u­lar, Gane­sha wants a Super Jum­bo Jaw­break­er Ladoo (can­dy) and he wants to bite down on it. Mr. Mouse warns him that it’s a jaw­break­er. And soon Gane­sha has bro­ken his tusk. Luck­i­ly, he hap­pens upon a poet who advis­es him to use his tusk to write down the Mahab­hara­ta, a long, ancient, San­skrit poem about the begin­ning of things. Gane­sha is described as a “Hin­du god. He’s very impor­tant and pow­er­ful. And a tad chub­by.” And that sets the tone of the book. Gane­sha’s Sweet Tooth is a feast for eyes, mind, and imag­i­na­tion. Patel, an artist and ani­ma­tor with Pixar, cre­ates illus­tra­tions unlike any­thing I’ve ever seen before … you’ll enjoy por­ing over them.

Luis Paints the WorldLuis Paints the World
writ­ten by Ter­ry Far­ish
illus­trat­ed by Oliv­er Dominguez
Car­ol­rho­da Books, 2016

When an old­er broth­er enlists in the army to “see the world,” young Luis is uncer­tain. How could his broth­er want to leave their fam­i­ly and their neigh­bor­hood? How could he want to leave Luis? Will he come back again to play base­ball and eat his Mama’s flan? Luis begins paint­ing a mur­al on a wall in their neigh­bor­hood, hop­ing to paint the world so Nico won’t need to leave home. He paints and paints with a good deal of skill. Yet Nico does leave home. Miss­ing his broth­er, Luis con­tin­ues to paint his heart onto the wall. Soon his friends, fam­i­ly, and neigh­bors join him in paint­ing. Will Nico come home again? The author, Ter­ry Far­ish, based her sto­ry in Lawrence, Mass­a­chu­setts, where she was a pub­lic librar­i­an. The city is famous for the murals and out­door art found through­out the town. For a heart­warm­ing sto­ry of love and artis­tic expres­sion, this is the right choice.

Monster & SonMon­ster & Son
writ­ten by David LaRochelle
illus­trat­ed by Joey Chou

This is an ide­al book for dads to read aloud to their lit­tle sons. Yetis, were­wolves, mon­sters of every shape and shiv­er, this is a bed­time sto­ry in spite of the sub­ject mat­ter. The illus­tra­tions are calm­ing and detailed, even sparkling, yet per­fect­ly suit­ed to the mon­ster fan. David LaRochelle’s text is fun to read out loud and Joey Chou’s art­work is paint­ed with calm blues and pur­ples and sleepy mon­sters.

NorNorth Woods Girl
writ­ten Aimée Bis­sonette
illus­trat­ed by Clau­dia McGe­hee
Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press, 2015

For any­one who loves the North Woods, no mat­ter where those woods may be, this is a heart-call­ing tale of a grand­moth­er who knows she belongs in the woods and a grand­daugh­ter who is fas­ci­nat­ed by what her grand­moth­er knows and how she lives. Aimée Bis­sonet­te’s sto­ry is so well told that it feels uni­ver­sal. We all know some­one like this girl and her grand­moth­er. We hope we under­stand what it means to be so con­nect­ed to place. Clau­dia McGe­hee’s scratch­board illus­tra­tions are an inte­gral part of the expe­ri­ence of this book. The ani­mals, trees, plants, the bound­less night sky, the warm fire … there’s so much to love here. North Woods Girl will lead to good inter-gen­er­a­tional dis­cus­sions and fos­ter good mem­o­ries of your own spe­cial places.

On One Foot

On One Foot
writ­ten by Lin­da Glaser
illus­trat­ed by Nuria Bal­a­guer
Kar-Ben Pub­lish­ing, 2016

A famil­iar tale to many Jews, this sto­ry of the not-quite-a-fool who seeks a rab­bi (teacher) who can teach him while stand­ing on one foot (I’m guess­ing because the stu­dent would like the teach­ing to be short, even though he says it’s because he wants his teacher to be the best) is an active para­ble for the most impor­tant les­son in the world. Each suc­ces­sive teacher derides the stu­dent for ask­ing them to teach the Torah on one foot, telling him that not even the famous Rab­bi Hil­lel could do such a thing. When the stu­dent final­ly meets Rab­bi Hil­lel, he is astound­ed by the sim­plic­i­ty of the les­son, one that each of us can live and share. The cut paper and mixed media illus­tra­tions are fit­ting for long-ago Jerusalem, show­ing both wit and empa­thy.

A Poem for PeterA Poem for Peter
writ­ten by Andrea Davis Pinkney
illus­trat­ed by Lou Fanch­er & Steve John­son
Viking, 2016

Prob­a­bly my favorite pic­ture book of 2016, A Poem for Peter tells the sto­ry of the grow­ing up and old­er of Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz, who is “Born under Hard­ship’s Hand, into a land filled with impos­si­ble odds.” He began paint­ings signs for stores when he was eight years old. An intro­duc­tion to the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library opened the world to him. It’s a biog­ra­phy writ­ten poet­i­cal­ly and every word is worth savor­ing. We know him now as Ezra Jack Keats and he cre­at­ed A Snowy Day, which is one of the most beloved books of all time. His life is paint­ed here by Fanch­er & John­son, who small touch­es on each page of their illus­tra­tions that remind us of Keats’ genius, his work with col­lage and col­or and shapes and tex­tures. It’s a love­ly, beau­ti­ful, mag­i­cal book. It should be on your fam­i­ly’s book­shelf, ready for read­ing again and again.

Storm's Coming!Stor­m’s Com­ing!
writ­ten by Mar­gi Preus
illus­trat­ed by David Geis­ter
Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press, 2016

The weath­er! In many parts of the coun­try, it is increas­ing­ly a fac­tor in our every­day life. Here in Min­neso­ta, it is what strangers talk about before any­thing else. Friends exclaim in e‑mail and by phone about the effect weath­er has on their lives. When fam­i­ly gath­ers, the first top­ic of con­ver­sa­tion is the weath­er (and how they drove to the gath­er­ing place). Mar­gi Preus tells the sto­ry of a storm approach­ing with tra­di­tion­al weath­er signs and folk say­ings. Bees fly­ing in large num­bers into their hive? “Look at those busy bees,” Sophie exclaimed. “They know it’s going to storm.” Dan watched the bees fly­ing into their hive. “That’s true,” he said. “You know what they say: A bees was nev­er caught in a show­er.” All kinds of intrigu­ing tid­bits are woven into this weath­er sto­ry, set at Split Rock Light­house on Lake Supe­ri­or at the begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. David Geis­ter’s oil paint­ings are suf­fused with light, fam­i­ly love, the vary­ing moods of the Lake, and the final, sat­is­fy­ing storm scene. You know the weath­er-watch­ers in your fam­i­ly. This will make a wel­come gift.

savors poet­ry

Emily Dickinson: Poetry for KidsEmi­ly Dick­in­son: Poet­ry for Kids
edit­ed by Susan Snive­ly, PhD
illus­trat­ed by Chris­tine Dav­e­nier
Moon­Dance Press, Quar­to Pub­lish­ing Group, 2016

For a beau­ti­ful intro­duc­tion to the poems of Emi­ly Dick­in­son, this book invites read­ing out loud, dis­cus­sion, and turn­ing the pages in appre­ci­a­tion of Chris­tine Dav­e­nier’s art. The poems are acces­si­ble by chil­dren and their adults. Arranged by the sea­sons of the year, the pages offer com­men­tary and def­i­n­i­tions for impor­tant words to aid in your con­ver­sa­tions about the poems. It’s a book that will be read and re-read in your home.

Miss Muffet, or What Came AfterMiss Muf­fet, or What Came After
writ­ten by Mar­i­lyn Singer
illus­trat­ed by David Litch­field
Clar­i­on Books, 2016

Think you know all about Miss Muf­fet? That tuffet? That spi­der? Think again, mes amis!

This oh-so-delight­ful book will have you smil­ing, laugh­ing, heart fill­ing with awe at the poet­’s and illus­tra­tor’s mas­tery … but most of all falling in love with a sto­ry you nev­er knew. That short nurs­ery rhyme? Pull back from the scene (I eas­i­ly see this as a staged play, read­ers the­ater or with props and cos­tumes) and real­ize that Miss Muf­fet (Patience Muf­fet) and the spi­der (Web­ster) live in a larg­er world of sis­ter, moth­er, roost­er, fid­dlers, a king, and many live­ly neigh­bors. These are eas­i­ly under­stand­able poems and poet­ry that is fun to say out loud and poems that tick­le our fun­ny bones. David Litch­field man­ages to use mixed media in a way that pulls us into the sto­ry and has us tour­ing Pat Muf­fet’s world. Just gor­geous. It’s all so sat­is­fy­ing. Chil­dren will enjoy read­ing this them­selves, with friends, act­ing it out, and tak­ing part in a class­room per­for­mance. Such pos­si­bil­i­ties!

good fam­i­ly read-alouds

Garvey's ChoiceGar­vey’s Choice
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
Word­Song, 2016

Gar­vey feels as though he’s con­stant­ly dis­ap­point­ing his father. Sports are his dad’s way of relat­ing and he has high hopes for Gar­vey becom­ing a foot­ball play­er or a base­ball play­er or … some­thing in a sport uni­form. Gar­vey, on the oth­er hand, enjoys read­ing and music and sci­ence. How does he show his dad what mat­ters to him? This is a book that is opti­mistic and fun­ny and hope­ful. Even though Gar­vey con­soles him­self with food, becom­ing heav­ier and heav­ier, he is drawn out­side of his funk by his inter­ests. He can’t resist. And his father final­ly sees what’s impor­tant to his son. A nov­el writ­ten in verse, this makes a good book for the fam­i­ly to read out loud. 

Making Friends with Billy WongMak­ing Friends with Bil­ly Wong
writ­ten by Augus­ta Scat­ter­good
Scholas­tic Press, 2016

When Aza­lea’s moth­er and father dri­ve her to Arkansas to help her injured grand­moth­er, Aza­lea is not thrilled. She con­tem­plates being lone­ly for an entire sum­mer and hav­ing noth­ing to do … and her grand­moth­er, whom she hard­ly knows, is cranky. Even though she yearns to go home, she is drawn into the neigh­bor­hood by a boy with a bound­less spir­it and a curios­i­ty to match her own. There is a mys­tery to solve and the two kids become friends while they’re fig­ur­ing things out. It’s a heart­warm­ing book and one that brings to light an immi­grant sto­ry that isn’t well-known. 

Saving WonderSav­ing Won­der
writ­ten by Mary Knight
Scholas­tic Press, 2016

Cur­ley Hines lives with his grand­pa in Won­der Gap, Ken­tucky, set­tled in the Appalachi­an Moun­tains. His Papaw gives him a word each week to learn and decide where it fits into his life. For peo­ple who love words, this is a book that enchants with its word choic­es. Cur­ley has a best friend. He believes he’s in love with Jules but at 15 it might be a lit­tle ear­ly to know. And then Jules is entranced with the new kid in town, an urban kid, J.D., and Cur­ley’s life is tak­ing an unex­pect­ed turn. Even these changes pale in the face of a more threat­en­ing change: the coal com­pa­ny that employs so many of Won­der Gap’s res­i­dents wants to tear down Cur­ley and Papaw’s moun­tain in order to get at the coal inside cheap­ly. All three of the kids get involved in Sav­ing Won­der. This is an uplift­ing sto­ry that will have you cheer­ing while you’re read­ing.

writ­ten by Bar­bara O’Con­nor
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2016

Char­lie Reese is a girl whose par­ents have aban­doned her. Her father is in jail and her moth­er suf­fers from a depres­sion that has her for­get­ting about Char­lie for days on end. Child Pro­tec­tion Ser­vices sends Char­lie to live with her Uncle Gus and Aunt Bertha who are as nice and lov­ing as any kid could want. But Char­lie wants to go home. She wants a fam­i­ly who loves her. In fact, she search­es every day for some­thing lucky that allows her to make that wish. She’s angry about her new home. She hopes it’s tem­po­rary. So she’s resis­tant when Howard, a kid with an up-and-down walk, does his best to reach her, to make her his friend. And she’s a lit­tle resis­tant when a stray dog, who she names Wish­bone is as hard to reach as she is. It’s a won­der­ful sto­ry of a group of peo­ple com­ing togeth­er to form a fam­i­ly that’s made with love. These char­ac­ters will take up a place in your mind and your heart for a very long time. And isn’t that a mag­i­cal book cov­er?

can’t get enough of biogra­phies

Let Your Voice Be HeardLet Your Voice Be Heard:
The Life and Times of Pete Seeger

writ­ten by Ani­ta Sil­vey
Clar­i­on Books, 2016

At this very moment, many of us, chil­dren and adults alike, are look­ing for a way to make a dif­fer­ence in our world. We’d like to show that love is stronger than any talk or action done in hatred. Young and old, we’d like to show that we are will­ing to stand up and let our voic­es be heard. There is no bet­ter exam­ple than the life of Pete Seeger. Ani­ta Sil­vey writes this book in a way that shows how hard it was for him to perser­vere but he stood by his prin­ci­ples for near­ly nine decades! Even when he was beat­en down by the gov­ern­ment, he was res­olute. And he sang songs by the peo­ple, for the peo­ple, to inspire the peo­ple and bring them togeth­er. This book is writ­ten so it can be read by any­one ages 9 and old­er (adults will find this book worth­while, too). I high­ly rec­om­mend it as a fam­i­ly read-aloud and dis­cus­sion starter but it’s so good that read­ing it indi­vid­u­al­ly works, too.

Six DotsSix Dots: a Sto­ry of Young Louis Braille
writ­ten by Jen Bryant
illus­trat­ed by Boris 
Ran­dom House, 2016

When a ter­ri­ble acci­dent blinds him as a child, Louis Braille’s world turns dark. He sets out to get along in the world. “My fam­i­ly did what they could. Papa made a wood­en cane. … My broth­er taught me to whis­tle … My sis­ters made a straw alpha­bet. Papa made let­ters with wood­en strips or by pound­ing round-topped nails into boards” With his moth­er, he played domi­noes. But he want­ed to read books. Six Dots is the sto­ry of Braille’s jour­ney to cre­ate a code that the blind could read. Louis Braille was a child inven­tor and this biog­ra­phy leads us to appre­ci­ate how sig­nif­i­cant his inven­tion was and how much it con­tin­ues to mat­ter in the world today. Bryan­t’s text, writ­ten in free verse, makes the read­ing lyri­cal. Kulikov’s illus­tra­tions give an under­stand­ing of the dark­ness and the light in this blind inven­tor’s world. Six Dots fits well into our list of uplift­ing gifts. [Hid­den Give­away: the first per­son to send us an e‑mail request­ing this book will receive a copy of Six Dots, signed by the author. Be sure to include your mail­ing address so we can send you the book.]

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. WhiteSome Writer! The Sto­ry of E.B. White
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Melis­sa Sweet
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2016

Are you a fan of Char­lot­te’s Web? Stu­art Lit­tle? The Trum­pet of the Swan? One Man’s Meat? Here is New York? E.B. White wrote books that are con­sid­ered clas­sics today, loved with a fierce won­der for their char­ac­ters and emo­tions. In a work of love and art, Melis­sa Sweet shares the sto­ry of his life from child­hood through adult­hood as he learned to love books and writ­ing. It’s the sto­ry of a man of words who lives so close­ly with them that he co-authors Ele­ments of Style, a stan­dard ref­er­ence. There are details here that every fan of his books will want to know. Best of all, the book is done as per­haps only Melis­sa Sweet could, mak­ing col­lages out of found objects, White’s papers, and orig­i­nal (and charm­ing) draw­ings. There are Garth Williams’ orig­i­nal sketch­es and pho­tos of the peo­ple in E.B. White’s life. This book is a trea­sure, one you can share with many peo­ple on your gift list. Per­haps you can bun­dle it up with a copy of one of his books list­ed ear­li­er, choic­es for both chil­dren and adults.

just the facts, please

Science EncyclopediaSci­ence Ency­lo­pe­dia: Atom Smash­ing,
Food Chem­istry, Ani­mals, Space, and More!

Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016

I think every per­son on your gift list should get one of these! Seri­ous­ly, whether you love sci­ence or don’t want any­thing to do with it, you will like this book. You will dip into the book some­where and then you’ll find your­self thumb­ing through, being caught by this and that tid­bit. Here’s my full review of this ency­clo­pe­dia.

How Things WorkHow Things Work
T.J. Resler
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016

As if the Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia isn’t cool enough, this book, also pub­lished by Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, has astound­ing infor­ma­tion in it. This quote from the begin­ning of the book wraps things up so well and tempts you to pull at the tail of the bow: “PUT THIS BOOK DOWN NOW. It’s dan­ger­ous. It might make you think you can do impos­si­ble things.” Fol­lowed close­ly by “You must be one of those. The kind of kid who thinks ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer.” Read the full review and buy this book for every kid (and maybe an adult or two) who love to know how things work. Because this book reveals all.

adults who breathe more ful­ly around chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture

Comics ConfidentialComics Con­fi­den­tial: Thir­teen Nov­el­ists Talk
Sto­ry, Craft, and Life Out­side the Box

inter­views by Leonard S. Mar­cus
Can­dlewick Press, 2016

If you have the small­est bit of inter­est in com­ic books and graph­ic nov­els, you will find your­self drawn in by the inter­views in this book. Mar­cus is a vet­er­an at ask­ing the right ques­tions and his cho­sen sub­jects are the peo­ple who cre­ate books that kids and adults stand in line to read. You’ll hear from Har­ry Bliss, Catia Chien, Geof­frey Hayes, Kazu Kibuishi, Hope Lar­son, Dan­i­ca Nov­gorod­off, Matt Phe­lan, Dave Roman, Mark and Siena Cher­son Siegel, James Sturm, Sara Varon, Gene Luen Yang. Each one of them con­tributes a self-por­trait, a com­ic writ­ten and drawn espe­cial­ly for this book, and there are sketch­es that accom­pa­ny the inter­view. It’s a visu­al book about a visu­al medi­um cre­at­ed by visu­al artists who know how to tell excep­tion­al sto­ries.

Picture This: How Pictures WorkPic­ture This (25th anniver­sary edi­tion)
Mol­ly Bang
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016

If you’ve ever felt that you like the art in a book but you don’t know why, this is the book for you. If you know teach­ers who reg­u­lar­ly read out loud to chil­dren, this is the book for them. First writ­ten 25 years ago, Mol­ly Bang has revised her guide to show us in clear lan­guage and pic­tures how the art in our favorite books works its mag­ic. The way a page is arranged, the per­spec­tive, the focal point, the emo­tion, the mood, all of these can change the way we expe­ri­ence a book. We can under­stand what it is that we’re look­ing at in ways we nev­er under­stood before. This is a very spe­cial book to give as a gift to some­one you love or to your­self.

cook it up!

Betty Crocker's Cooky BookBet­ty Crock­er’s Cooky Book
by Bet­ty Crock­er (!)
illus­trat­ed by Eric Mul­vaney
Hun­gry Minds, 2002

I received this book in 1964 with an inscrip­tion from my grand­moth­er, who want­ed me to have “the gift of cook­ing food every­one will love.” It’s hard to go wrong serv­ing cook­ies and the recipes in this book are clas­sics. You’ll find Choco­late Chip Cook­ies, Tof­fee Squares, Krumkake, and Sug­ar Cook­ies. Good pho­tographs show you how to dec­o­rate them and sug­gest how to serve them. Your bur­geon­ing bak­er will spend hours plan­ning, con­sid­er­ing which cook­ies to make, and mix­ing things up in the kitchen!

Kids in the Holiday KitchenKids in the Hol­i­day Kitchen
by Jes­si­ca Strand and Tam­my Mass­man-John­son
pho­tographs by James Baigrie
Chron­i­cle Books, 2008

For those who cel­e­brate Christ­mas, this book has loads of recipes that are fun to dec­o­rate, good to give as gifts, and will help to keep the hol­i­day buf­fet well-sup­plied. And it’s not just food. There are crafts includ­ed to dec­o­rate a soap bar for a gift or dress up gift tins. A good idea for the cook­ing-inspired child on your gift list.

Everyday Kitchen for KidsEvery­day Kitchen for Kids: 100 Amaz­ing Savory and Sweet Recipes Your Chil­dren Can Real­ly Make
by Jen­nifer Low
White­cap Books, Ltd.

If your child’s wish is to appear on Food Net­work, here’s a head start.  In addi­tion to being deli­cious and easy to make, these 100 recipes are all about safe­ty. None of the meth­ods call for sharp knives, stove­top cook­ing,  or small motor­ized appli­ances. All the recipes are kid test­ed and each one is accom­pa­nied by a full-col­or pho­to­graph.

crafts are the stuff of life

Ed Emberley's Book of Trucks and TrainsEd Ember­ley’s Draw­ing Book of Trucks and Trains
Ed Ember­ley
LB Kids, 2005

Using sim­ple shapes and lines and putting them togeth­er in thou­sands of dif­fer­ent ways, any­one can draw. And in con­struct­ing these pic­tures out of those shapes and lines, they will find con­fi­dence in cre­at­ing their own draw­ings. A part of it is prac­tice, but a part of it is see­ing how things are put togeth­er and Ed Ember­ley is a mas­ter at this. He is a Calde­cott Medal win­ner and the author of many fine pic­ture books, but it is his draw­ing books that many chil­dren cher­ish because that’s how they learned to draw! It’s an ide­al book for a gift because with a pack of col­ored pen­cils and paper the fun can begin imme­di­ate­ly!

51 Things to Make with Cardboard Boxes51 Things to Make with Card­board Box­es
Fiona Hayes
Quar­to Pub­lish­ing Group, 2016

Gath­er up cere­al box­es and choco­late box­es and match box­es and large box­es and small box­es and paint and goo­gly eyes … to cre­ate dinosaurs, chick­ens, hous­es, and robots. Then make a giraffe and a hip­popota­mus and a con­struc­tion crane … all out of box­es! The book has step-by-step instruc­tions in both words and pic­tures that will help you and your chil­dren cre­ate fifty-one dif­fer­ent projects. My only quib­ble with this book is that I would like mea­sure­ments so I know which kind of box­es will work best … but per­haps the author want­ed the size to be vari­able. I would have loved this book as a child. I sus­pect there’s crafty and build­ing chil­dren in your life as well. There’s hours and hours of fun (and cere­al-eat­ing) ahead.

Look for this com­pa­ny’s 51 Things to Make with Paper Plates as well. Using paper plates and paper bowls (and goo­gly eyes) there are many more crea­tures to be brought to life with these inex­pen­sive con­struc­tion tools.


Skinny Dip with Ed Spicer

For this inter­view, we vis­it with Ed Spicer, edu­ca­tor, author, cur­ricu­lum guide writer, and ALA com­mit­tee mem­ber many times over.

Ed SpicerWhich celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

I would love to spend some time in a con­fi­den­tial, friend­ly chat with Michelle Oba­ma.

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

Oh! This depends so much on what col­or your wheel­bar­row might be! As a teacher, I’ve always loved edg­ing stu­dents out of their com­fort zones and we are all stu­dents. I adore Leslie Mar­mon Silko’s Cer­e­mo­ny. I love Audre Lorde’s poet­ry, which is most cer­tain­ly a win­dow for this white, male read­er.

CeremonyCur­rent­ly, I am get­ting ready to do a pre­sen­ta­tion at a sym­po­sium fea­tur­ing Nao­mi Shi­hab Nye, so I have fall­en in love again with 19 Vari­eties of Gazelle, a gor­geous book that helps us to remem­ber that no sin­gle sto­ry can encap­su­late a peo­ple or a cul­ture or even a sin­gle human. If you want to read a book with your ears, I think Tobin Anderson’s Feed is actu­al­ly enhanced by the audio (and it is ter­rif­ic with just your eyes).

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

Either cashews or ice cream. but don’t tell any­one!

Favorite city to vis­it?

If I were only allowed one, I could very well choose stay­ing at the Hotel Mon­teleone in New Orleans in the win­ter or spring (they treat­ed us like fam­i­ly). If not, Chica­go and Toron­to would have to bat­tle it out.

The badge of honor in Ed's class was trying things that are hard. These students are eating seaweed.

The badge of hon­or in Ed’s class was try­ing things that are hard. These stu­dents are eat­ing sea­weed.

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

A lot of my child­hood mem­o­ries are not pleas­ant. I watched my father knock my sister’s front tooth out with a cement sprin­kler attached to a gar­den hose. I ran away and lived hid­ing in a church youth cen­ter for about a year. I was on my own for good at the age of 15. Yet I absolute­ly cher­ish these mem­o­ries. As The Asso­ci­a­tion says, “Cher­ish is the word I use to describe all the feel­ing I have hid­ing…”

First date?

When I went to col­lege, I weighed under 100 pounds and was approach­ing the five foot mark. Dat­ing wasn’t a word that meant the same thing to me as it did to the young women I thought I was dat­ing. In any event, my first 500 dates were total­ly bor­ing and insignif­i­cant. I may also be exag­ger­at­ing the five actu­al dates I real­ly did have, but I still do not remem­ber them.

Ed Spicer Dinner Party

A recent din­ner at Ed and Ann’s house with (clock­wise from left) Charles Emery, Eric Rohmann, Gary Schmidt, Edith Pat­tou, Bill Perkins, Lynn Rutan, Ani­ta Eerd­mans, Cindy Dobrez, Lynne Rae Perkins, Can­dy Flem­ing, Stephanie Hemphill, Ed, Travis Jonker.

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

Too many! Kadir Nel­son, Beth Krommes, Pamela Zagaren­s­ki, Melis­sa Sweet, Jer­ry Pinkney, Paul Zelin­sky, Mar­la Frazee, Mo Willems, E.B. Lewis, Matt Faulkn­er, Yuyi Morales, Ash­ley Bryan … And, of course, Mau­rice Sendak, Wan­da Gag, Beat­rix Pot­ter, Dorothy P. Lath­rop from ear­li­er years. Among the younger illus­tra­tors com­ing up the pipe, I am very excit­ed by the new work Shadra Strick­land is doing. I also think Chris­t­ian Robin­son will become even more of a force. My friend Ruth McNal­ly Bar­shaw gave me a water­col­or she paint­ed of Red Rid­ing Hood. Water­col­or is a new medi­um for her and it is among my very favorite pieces of art and I hope it bodes well for her.

On of Ed's favorite reading photos

One of Ed’s favorite read­ing pho­tos

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

COFFEE, cream and no sug­ar! Some­times there is noth­ing bet­ter than a gin and ton­ic, how­ev­er.

Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

ALA Mid­win­ter sea­son! This may not be a uni­ver­sal­ly acknowl­edged sea­son, but for me it begins that slow trek back into feel­ing healthy. I suf­fer from sea­son­al affec­tive dis­or­der and ALA comes right after the hol­i­days in Jan­u­ary (some­times, painful­ly, Feb­ru­ary). Hang­ing around so many believ­ers in chil­dren, in lit­er­a­cy, and, more impor­tant­ly, kind­ness always restores my faith in the world and in myself. From an art per­spec­tive, I love autumn. The col­ors nev­er cease to blow me away.

Ann and Ed at Yellowstone National Park

Ann and Ed on their nation­al park tour

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

My wife, Ann, and I have begun explor­ing our Nation­al Parks. Last sum­mer we vis­it­ed six, which brings our total close to 20. We want to keep explor­ing. I have dreamed of trav­el­ing down the Zam­bezi Riv­er through the Oka­van­go Delta region of Zam­bia, Zim­bab­we, and Botswana although I fear I may have missed my oppor­tu­ni­ty.

What gives you shiv­ers?

Our new­ly elect­ed pres­i­dent and our lack of kind­ness and even civil­i­ty toward those who do not share our cul­ture, reli­gions, cus­toms, hol­i­days, lan­guage, etc.

Logan, a former first grader in Ed's class, now a writing major and slam poet at Emerson College in Boston

Logan, a for­mer first grad­er in Ed’s class, now a writ­ing major and slam poet at Emer­son Col­lege in Boston

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

NIGHT! Bed­time before 1:00 am is for wimps.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

Years ago I was a very suc­cess­ful cologne sales­per­son dur­ing the hol­i­days! I sold a lot of Russ­ian Leather cologne. Today, I am not a chef, but I do make very pret­ty food that tastes good! I can­not, how­ev­er, fol­low recipes to save my life and I have rarely made the same thing twice.

Your favorite can­dy as a kid …

Any that I could steal.

Mission to PlutoIs Plu­to a plan­et?

Ha! I write the cur­ricu­lum guides for Houghton Mifflin’s Sci­en­tists in the Field series. I just fin­ished doing the guide on Plu­to. The lead sci­en­tist in this book thinks of Plu­to as a plan­et. I will side with him.

What’s the strangest tourist attrac­tion you’ve vis­it­ed?

Corn Palace? I have been to some very sketchy amuse­ment parks. In Alle­gan, I often take peo­ple to see our giant chick­en at our Coun­ty Fair site.

Broth­er and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

When every­one was alive, I had 2 broth­ers and 5 sis­ters. At least one broth­er has passed away and I haven’t seen the oth­er for more than 50 years. I haven’t spo­ken to any­one in my fam­i­ly for more than ten years. It is more like anti-shap­ing.

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

Get help!

What a Wonderful WorldYour hope for the world?

When I taught first grade, I could nev­er read the Ash­ley Bryan illus­trat­ed ver­sion of Louis Armstrong’s What a Won­der­ful World with­out cry­ing! I read this book every year and cried every time. “They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know…” always hit me as so beau­ti­ful and so true. I often told peo­ple every year that I had first graders who are much smarter than I am. Many peo­ple assumed I was being face­tious, but I meant it quite lit­er­al­ly. I have more expe­ri­ence and I have more facts at my dis­pos­al, but my first graders always demon­strat­ed the cre­ativ­i­ty, the dreams, and the fear­less­ness that make me feel hope­ful for our future.

Ed Spicer's Classroom

Ed Spicer’s class five years ago