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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Poetry from Stones

Beach

[photo credit: Candice Ransom]

Outside my window right now: bare trees, gray sky, a brown bird. No, let’s try again. Outside my window, the leafless sweetgum shows a condo of squirrels’ nests, a dark blue rim on the horizon indicates wind moving in, and a white-crowned sparrow scritches under the feeders. Better. Even in winter, especially in winter, we need to wake up our lazy brains, reach for names that might be hibernating. 

Candice Ransom

[photo credit: Candice Ransom]

In November, I taught writing workshops at a school in a largely rural county. I was shocked to discover most students couldn’t name objects in their bedrooms, much less the surrounding countryside. Without specific details, writing is lifeless. More important, if children can’t call up words, can’t distinguish between things, they will remain locked in wintry indifference. Some blame falls on us.

Oxford Junior DictionaryA recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary swapped nature words for modern terms. Out went acorn, wren, dandelion, nectar, and otter. In went blog, bullet-point, attachment, chatroom, and voicemail. Updating dictionaries isn’t new. And maybe cygnet isn’t as relevant as database, but it’s certainly more musical.  If we treat language like paper towels, it’s no wonder many kids can’t name common backyard birds.

When I was nine, my stepfather taught me the names of the trees in our woods, particularly the oaks. I learned to identify red, white, black, pin, post, and chestnut oaks by their bark, leaves, and acorns. Labeling trees, birds, and wildflowers didn’t give me a sense of ownership. Instead, I felt connected to the planet. I longed to know the names of rocks, but they kept quiet.

That same year we fourth graders were issued Thorndyke-Barnhart’s Junior Dictionary. I fell on mine like a duck on a June bug, enchanted by new words. My parlor trick was spelling antidisestablishmentarianism, the longest word in the dictionary. Kids can Google the longest word in the English language, but the experience isn’t the same as browsing through a big book of words. 

Emerson wrote, “… the poet is the Namer, or Language-maker … The poets made all the words, naming things after their appearance, sometimes after their essence, and giving to every one its own name and not another’s.” I believe young children are poets, assigning names and making up words to mark new discoveries. After they become tethered to technology, they parrot words from commercials, programs, and video games. That fresh language is lost.

The Lost Words: a Spell BookSo imagine my delight when I found a new book for children, The Lost Words: A Spell Book. British nature-writer Robert MacFarlane paired with artist Jackie Morris to rescue 20 of the words snipped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Words like newt and kingfisher are showcased as “spells,” rather than straight definitions. MacFarlane’s spells let the essence of the creature sink deep, while Morris’s watercolors create their own magic.

On their joint book tour throughout England, MacFarlane and Morris introduced children to words—and animals. On her blog Morris writes: “I was about to read the wren spell to a class of 32 six-year-olds when the booksellers stopped me. ‘Ask the children if they know what a wren is, first, Jackie.’ I did. Not one child knew that a wren is a bird. So they had never seen a wren, nor heard that sharp bright song. But now they know the name of it, the shape of it, so perhaps if one flits into sight they will see it, hear it, know it.”

The Lost Words makes me want to take children by the hand and tell them the names of the trees and birds and clouds that illustrate our winter landscape. By giving kids specific names, they can then spin a thread from themselves to the planet.

Ammonite

Ammonite [photo credit: Candice Ransom]

“Language is fossil poetry,” Emerson continues in his essay, “as the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin.”

Rock rasps, what are you?
I am Raven! Of the blue-black jacket and the boxer’s swagger,
Stronger and older than peak and than boulder, raps Raven in reply.

From The Lost Words

Let’s dig up lost words before they become buried beneath the rubble of STEM-worthy terms. Feel the shape of them, polish their shells, let them shine.

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Skinny Dip with DeDe Small

DeDe Small

DeDe Small shares her enthusiasm about books, reading, and literacy with her students at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. We invited DeDe to Skinny Dip with us, our first interview in the New Year.

When did you first start reading books?

I don’t actually remember learning to read but I do always remember having books. I even came up with my own cataloging system in the later elementary grades.

Dinner party at your favorite restaurant with people living or dead: where is it and who’s on the guest list?

I don’t know where it is but I know I am eating a really good steak and we need a big table because I am inviting Barak Obama, JK Rowling, Buck O’Neill, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Jane Goodall, my parents, and my aunts.

All-time favorite book?

This is really hard because there are too many to name! I loved it when my mother read The Secret Garden to me. As a young child, I loved reading Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn. In upper elementary, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell was my favorite. All-time favorite might have to be the entire Harry Potter series because it speaks to choosing kindness, love, and integrity over power and fame.

DeDe Small's favorite books

Favorite breakfast or lunch as a kid?

I was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

What’s your least favorite chore?

Doing the laundry.

What’s your favorite part of starting a new project?

I love the feeling when everything starts clicking and you can sense where the project might go. That sense of potential is energizing.

SocksBarefoot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Barefoot in warm weather and socks when it is cold. You will most often find me curled up on my couch with a book, doing school work or watching a movie. The activity changes but my location does not.

When are you your most creative?

I am most creative when I step back and take the time to let an idea percolate a bit.

Your best memory of your school library?

My strongest memory is actually of my public library. We would go once a week. It became a great bonding experience with my mother and I came to think of the library as a special place. I now have four library cards.

Favorite flavor of ice cream?

Mint Chip.

Book(s) on your bedside table right now?

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, and La Rose by Louise Erdrich.  I recently read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Refugee by Alan Gratz and Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds.

Best invention in the last 200 years?

Vaccines

Which is worse: spiders or snakes?

Spiders. Way too many legs and eyes.

What’s your best contribution to taking care of the environment?

Recycling

Why do you feel hopeful for humankind?

I find hope in the characters of good books and real-life stories. Lloyd Alexander was specifically referencing fantasy but I think it is true of all good stories: “Sometimes heartbreaking, but never hopeless, the fantasy world as it ‘should be’ is one in which good is ultimately stronger than evil, where courage, justice, love, and mercy actually function.” Books allow us to recognize our own humanity in others and that makes me hopeful. If we read more, connect more, and understood more, the world would be a better place.

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Gifts from the Trenches

Gifts from the TrenchesLife in the trenches, a/k/a the classroom, is not for the faint of heart. In previous Bookology articles I’ve shared my take on many of the challenges faced by teachers in today’s educational climate. Lack of meaningful opportunities for the teacher’s voice to be heard, mounting pressure to produce students who perform well on high stakes tests, district mandates to teach from a scripted curriculum, a desire to be all and do all for students, the list goes on and on. And that list can be exhausting. Yet so many of us continue to pursue the sometimes elusive and ultimate goal; to make a positive difference in the lives of our students. At times, it feels like the balance between give and take is incredibly lopsided.

Yes, lopsided. Completely disproportionate. It’s not even a contest when I compare how much my bucket has been filled to the number of buckets I may have filled. You see, in my 30 years as a teacher, the gifts I have received far outnumber those I have been lucky enough to share with others. And so, in the spirit of the season, rather than share a list of what I wish for this Christmas, I invite you to take a peek at the treasures that have been bestowed upon me. The highlights that have inspired me over the years and have kept me going. My gifts from the trenches.   

The Kids

The first category of gifts comes from the reason we all entered the honorable profession of teaching in the first place. The kids. Every single cherub that I’ve encountered on my teaching and learning journey has a place in my heart. However, despite my desire to never play favorites when surrounded by kids in the classroom, I must confess that when I look back, there are some that stand out just a bit more. These kids have provided some of my greatest gifts, my proudest moments and memories as a teacher.

First, there was the sad little guy who had lost his mother as a kindergartener and was often in a fight or flight mode. Yet thanks to a class read-aloud of The Lemonade Club by Patricia Polacco, he became the driving force behind the “Lemonade Stand Project” my group of first graders launched in an effort to raise money for a very sick boy in our community. Whenever I think back to those busy days with six- and seven-year-olds who were so intent on doing a good deed for someone they didn’t even knows, my heart melts. This extraordinary experience reminds me that when magic happens in the classroom, it most likely does not come from a textbook or piece of curriculum. It comes from the heart and usually the heart of a kid.

The Lemonade Club

The Lemonade Club

Then there was a quiet, freckle-faced, second-grade girl who shined with creativity and kindness yet struggled to read with success. I didn’t know much about dyslexia at the time but my instincts told me I needed to learn more so I could help figure out the source of her difficulties. I found and read the book Overcoming Dyslexia by Yale neuroscientist Sally Shaywitz. I shared the book and my concerns with this bright young lady’s parents who were eager to do whatever they could to help her. That conversation led them to lots of research, a formal diagnosis, and enrollment in a school that specialized in working with dyslexic students. Over the next decade we stayed in touch and I was thrilled to hear of my former student’s continued success. The best gift came when I received this message last spring from that creative and kind young woman:

Hi Mrs. Rome! I hope all is well with you! I just wanted to share some exciting news with you. I have been accepted into a few different graduate schools to earn my Educational Psychology license to become a school psychologist … I think of you and how fortunate I was to have you as my second-grade teacher, and how different my life would have been had I never met you. You changed my life. I don’t think I would be pursuing graduate school, let alone be attending college, had you not suggested that I might be dyslexic …

Words cannot express how much a message like this means to a teacher. Goosebumps and a lump in my throat instantly materialize every time I re-read this message. What a life-changer this future school psychologist and her family were for me. No question that the balance between give and take is lopsided, and this story illustrates just how much one student can give to a teacher.

The Colleagues

In addition to gifts from many special kids, I have also been blessed with some of the finest colleagues anyone could ask for. I was a member of one particularly special team that will always have elite status in my book. We dubbed ourselves The Dream Team, not because we wanted to be boastful, but because it was like a dream come true for each of us, to feel such a sense of harmony and collaboration.

The Dream Team

The Dream Team

Although our time together was far too short, just one school year, it was like nothing I had ever experienced in all my years of teaching. I marvel at the engagement and inspiration our joint efforts created for our students as well for each other. The many gifts that I enjoyed with my Dream Team included:

  • a shared commitment to putting kids first
  • a mutual love of literacy
  • daily “collab time” to share ideas, questions, and concerns
  • honest communication
  • an abundance of vulnerability and trust
  • a desire to learn and grow together

I honestly don’t know if these attributes can be cultivated or if they simply happen when the stars are aligned just so. I do know that it is a rare and beautiful thing to love not only the work you do, but also the people you get to do it with. What a gift these ladies were!

The Authors and their Books

The last of my gifts from the trenches is a tribute to the literacy heroes that have impacted me, both personally and professionally. Much more than just a list of favorite authors and books, these writers and their characters have had a profound effect on my teaching and learning:

  • Mo Willems, author of Piggy and Elephant books, changed the way I help kids build foundational skills like decoding and fluency but, more importantly, these playful gems teach us lessons about friendship, loyalty, courage, and fun.

Mo Willems

  • Patricia Polacco, master storyteller, offers rich tapestries of family traditions, struggles and celebrations, year after year. Thank you, Mr. Falker captures Polacco’s agonizing efforts to learn to read. It is a story that resonates deeply with teachers and is one many kids can relate to.
Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco

  • Kwame Alexander, legendary poet and wordsmith, brings a level of passion and excitement to a day at school that is beyond one’s wildest expectations. Thanks to a generous grant I received from Penguin Random House and dozens of copies of Crossover donated by Scholastic, my Dream Team and I witnessed the transformative power of a great book, one that actually can change lives.
Kwame Alexander and the Dream Team

Kwame Alexander and the Dream Team

I must admit that there is one thing that remains on my Christmas wish list. That wish is for every teacher reading this essay to receive his or her own gifts from the trenches. May your kids, your colleagues, and your favorite authors and books, bring you the contentment that comes from knowing you make a difference every single day!

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Forgetting How to Drive

Writing Road Trip | Forgetting How to DriveYou always hear it around the time of the first fall snowstorm in Minnesota: “It’s like people have forgotten how to drive!” It refers to the fact that even drivers who are diehard Minnesotans—as evidenced by the Minnesota Vikings flags flying from their pickup antennas—don’t seem to have the tiniest clue how to drive on snow-packed roads. It’s as if they’ve never seen winter before.

I guess we just get spoiled during the other six months of the year, when the driving is “easy.”

I find that writing can be like that, too. No matter how many years I’ve flown the “writer” flag from my antenna, there are times when the writing comes easy, and times when it feels like I’ve “forgotten how to write.”

It’s true for me as a longtime writer, and I’ve found it’s true for young writers who are just starting out as well. So what can help to steer a writer out of a creative season that’s forecasting blizzard conditions? Sometimes a simple writing warm-up can melt the creative brain-freeze!

I’ve shared several writing warm-ups that work well for students and classrooms in past posts; you might want to check some of them out. Another of my favorites helps jumpstart the writing process by putting actual words into the hands of young writers. It’s super-simple and fun: I share out words from Magnetic Poetry Kits, hand around old cookie sheets, and ask students to “cook up” a poem to warm things up. I’ll often remind them about some of the poetry-writing basics that we’ve covered in past sessions (this varies based on the age of the students, but might include concepts such as using all five senses, alliteration, figurative language, and paying attention to the sound of the words).

Having preprinted words in hand, added to the simple fun of playing with magnets, works as a kind of anti-freeze. Before you know it, the writing forecast is for clear and sunny.

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Let It Snow!

Phyllis: The first real snow has fallen overnight, and the quality of light when I wake up is luminous outside the window. Solstice approaches, and we’ve turned our thoughts to books about winter and snow. So many to choose from! Here are a few.

Katy and the Big SnowWhen my grown daughter saw a copy of Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton on my bookshelf, she cried, “Oh! Katy!” Since it was first published in 1943, this book has been beloved by children and grown-ups alike. Katy, “a beautiful red crawler tractor,” works as a bulldozer in the summer and even pulls a steamroller out of the pond when it falls in. In winter, Katy’s bulldozer is changed out for her snow plow, but she is “so big and strong” that she must stay in the garage until enough snow falls for her to plow. When the Big Snow finally does pile up with drifts up to second story windows, the other plows break down and Katy comes to the rescue. She plows out the city’s roads so the mail can get through (remember when mail was a main way to communicate?), telephones poles can be repaired, broken water mains fixed, patients can get to hospitals, fire trucks can reach fires, airplanes can land on cleared runways, and all the side streets are plowed out. “Then … and only then did Katy stop.” I’ve lived in Minnesota through enough winters to see houses on the prairie buried by snowdrifts and trick-or-treaters struggling through the three-foot deep Halloween blizzard. Thanks to Katy and her kin, we get around eventually, and thanks to Virginia Burton we can share in Katy’s triumph. And what child doesn’t love big machines?

Jackie: Big machines are automatic attention-grabbers. And I love the certainty of this world. There are problems to be solved in this big snow and Katy can solve them. So, the mail gets through, the sick people get treated, the fire trucks put out fires. It feels safe. And that is such a good feeling for a child—and for all of us. We adults may know that things don’t always work out that neatly, but it’s nice, even for us, to visit a world where they do work out.

Small WaltPhyllis: Small Walt by Elizabeth Verdick with pictures by Marc Rosenthal has just been published, and Katy’s descendant Walt waits, too, for a chance to plow snow. Unlike Katy who must wait for a big snow, Walt, the smallest plow in the fleet, must wait and wait for someone willing to take out “the little guy” when a snowstorm buries the streets and all the big plows and their drivers go out to clear the roads.. Enter Gus, who checks out Walt and drives him on his route. Walt chugs along, his engine thrumming his song:

My name is Walt.
I plow and salt,
They say I’m small,
But I’ll show them all.

And Walt does, until they confront a high hill with drifts bigger than Walt has ever seen. Gus suggests they can let Big Buck behind them plow the hill, but Walt is determined. He “skids, slips down, down…He shudders, sputters.” When they finally make it to the top of the hill and down, dawn has arrived and they head back to the city lot where Big Buck says, “The little guy did a better job than I thought.” Replete with onomatopoetic sounds, rhythm, and syntax, this is a wonderful read-aloud. The art is reminiscent in color and line of Burton’s art, and Walt, like Katy, is a jaunty red. A great pairing of books when the snow piles high.

Jackie: This is such a satisfying story. And as you said, Phyllis, the language is wonderful. My favorite, and I may adopt it this winter, is, “Plow and salter. Never falter.” There are days when it’s good to remember not to falter, whether or not salt is in the picture.

Over and Under the SnowPhyllis: Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal chronicles a winter day skiing where a “whole secret kingdom” exists out of sight under the snow that a child and parent glide, climb, and swoosh over. Fat bullfrogs snooze, snowshoe hares watch from under snow-covered pines, squirrels, shrews, voles, chipmunks, queen bumblebees hide under the snow where deer mice “huddle up, cuddle up. And a bushy-tailed red fox leaps to catch the mouse that his sharp ears detect scritching beneath the snow. Extensive back matter offers scientific information about how the animals survive winter. Reading this book makes me want to strap on skis and go gliding through a snowy world over a secret kingdom.

Jackie: I had that same thought—“where are my skis? Where is the snow?” It’s so much fun in this book to see into places we don’t usually see, the vole’s tunnel, the beavers’ den, the place in the mud where the bullfrog lives. It’s like being given a magic pill that makes us small enough to get into these places, usually locked to us. And I love the back information. The more we know the more we see when we look. And the more connection we have to what is under the snow.

Has Winter Come?Phyllis: Another old favorite in our family is Wendy Watson’s Has Winter Come? I love Wendy Watson’s work, and this book, text and art, enchanted me when we first read it and still does.

On the day that it started to snow,
Mother said,
“Winter is coming now.
I can smell it in the air.”

The woodchuck children sniff but can’t smell winter. As the family gathers “acorns and walnuts, hickory nuts and hazelnuts, sunflower seed and pumpkin seeds … apples and corn, and pears and parsnips” and piles up wood to keep them warm the children keep trying to smell winter. When the snow stops falling their mother gathers a star for each of them from the starry sky. As they get ready for bed the little woodchucks smell “warm beds, and pine cones burning, and apple cores sizzling on the hearth.” As their parents tuck them under warm down quilts, the children say, “We smell sleep coming, and a long night … Is this winter?”

Yes, their parents whisper. “This is winter.” The softly colored illustrations capture falling snow, the trunks and roots of the woodchucks’ woodland home, and the small luminosities of the stars that the little woodchuck clutch in their paws as they fall asleep. Who wouldn’t want such a winter nap, cozy, and well-fed, lit by starlight and watched over by loving parents?

Father Fox's PennyrhymesJackie: Wendy Watson has always been one of my favorites. Her books tell a tale of family love and, like Geopolis, always present readers a wonderful world to visit. At our house we spent many contented hours enjoying the pictures and poring over the rhymes in Father Fox’s Pennyrhymes, written by Clyde Watson and illustrated by her sister, Wendy.

As a result of working on this column I have visited Wendy Watson’s web page and especially love her blog, with its family tales and recipes.

Winter is the Warmest SeasonPhyllis: Lauren Stringer’s Winter is the Warmest Season offers proof in spare text and exuberant illustrations that, contrary to what we might think, winter is indeed our warmest time. Puffy jackets, hats that “grow earflaps,” hands wearing wooly sweaters, a good cup of something warm to drink, cats that curl in laps, cozy blankets and starry quilts to snuggle under, fires and candles, hot baths, and a book to read cuddled close by people who love us will all warm our hearts as the snow piles up outside.

Jackie: This is an ode to the joys of winter. It reminds me of the appreciation we all have for hot chocolate (which of course tastes best, when one is a little chilled), fireplaces, and the sweetness of being warmed after being cold. This book begs readers to create a companion—Summer is the Coolest Season. This would be a fun classroom writing assignment.

Snow CrystalsWe started this column with mounds of snow that had to be cleared away for village life to continue. We looked under the snow, found winter, and found it to be warm. I’d like to add a look at individual snow crystals. Because Snowflake Bentley is on our list of additional books [Thanks Phyllis!] I want to mention that his book of snow crystal photographs is still in print—Snow Crystals—and is published by Dover Publications. Also, Voyageur, in 2006 published Kenneth Libbrecht’s A Field Guide to Snowflakes, photographs of snow crystals taken with a more modern camera than Bentley’s.

Phyllis: Whether you are tucked under a warm blanket or gliding through snowy woods over creatures tucked in beneath your feet, we wish you the warmth of loved ones, the wonder of snow crystals, a pile of books to read, and a peaceful time as the earth tilts into winter and toward the solstice light.

Snowflake BentleyA few more of the blizzard of books about snow and winter:

  • Brave Irene by William Steig
  • Snowflake Bentley by Jackie Briggs Martin (Jackie might not mention this book, but Phyllis will) and Mary Azarian
  • Snowflakes Fall by Patricia MacLachlan and Steven Kellogg
  • Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
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Revisions Part IV

Page Break

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Skinny Dip with Kelly Starling Lyons

Kelly Starling Lyons

Kelly Starling Lyons (photo: Lundies Photography)

You may know Kelly Starling Lyons for One Million Men and Me or Tea Cakes for Tosh or Ellen’s Broom, memorable picture books, but we’re celebrating her new chapter books starring Jada Jones! Thanks, Kelly, for taking a Skinny Dip with us in December.

Who was your favorite teacher in grades K-7 and why?

That’s a tough question. I loved all of my teachers. But two that stand out are Dr. Kupec at Beechwood Elementary and Mr. Powell at Milliones Middle School.

Dr. Kupec was my second grade teacher and later principal of the school. I looked forward to going to her class to see what wonders were in store. Would we sing? Act? Read books that took us to other worlds? She knew how to captivate kids and make learning fun.

Another favorite was band director and teacher Mr. Powell. Brilliant, creative and exacting, he taught me the power of practice and feeling what you’re playing. Under his direction, I couldn’t just blend into the background. I had synthesizer solos that put me in the spotlight. He even wrote a song that showcased my playing called “Kelly’s Blues.” I’ll always remember how amazing that made me feel.

Something BeautifulAll-time favorite book?

A children’s book that made a big impact on me was Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. In the story, an African-American girl learns that the power to create beauty lives in her. I looked at her face full of wonder and saw girls I know and little me. That was the first time I saw a black character on the cover of a picture book.  It called me to write for kids and will always have special meaning.

Favorite breakfast or lunch as a kid?

Breakfast is my favorite meal. On weekends, we would sit around the table and marvel at the spread made by my grandma and mom. The table was filled with favorites—fried apples, scrambled eggs with cheese, homefries, link sausage, homemade muffins, banana pancakes with warm maple syrup. It was a feast of food and love.

Your best memory of your library?

My local Carnegie Library was magical. All around, stories waited to be read and explored. It was a place where adventures and dreams came to life. Reading was like being on another plane, outside of time and space. Those storytelling journeys meant everything to me. I feel blessed to be creating them for children today.

Your favorite toy as a child?

I treasured my homemade Raggedy Ann doll. In stores, I just saw white ones. But a relative made one with skin the color of mine. It was more than a toy. It was an affirmation, a love letter. It’s one of the few keepsakes I’ve held onto from childhood. Today, it’s my daughter’s.

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The Grinch

I’m just going to say it. Go on the record.

I do not like The Grinch. I do not like the book. I do not like the character. I do not like the story of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. I do not like the brilliant theater productions of the story (though I acknowledge the brilliance.) I do not like the TV special, which I grew up watching, and which I did not let my kids watch. I do not like the movie or the song. I do not like any of it, Sam-I-Am.

Lest you think I’m simply grinchy about all things Grinch, I will tip my hand here at the beginning and say that I love the name “Grinch.” It’s perfect. As perfect as Ebeneezer Scrooge’s name, and let’s be honest, How The Grinch Stole Christmas is really just a knock-off of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. It’s just not as well done. It lacks…subtlety, among other things.

Scrooge is afflicted with his own personal bah humbugness, but you suspect even before all of the Christmas Ghosts visit that he could be a different man with a little therapy and some homemade Christmas cookies. But the Grinch is just mean. He’s not all “Bah humbug!” when Christmas frivolities get on his nerves—he’s all “I MUST stop this Christmas from coming.”

Dude. Take your two-sizes-too-small heart and get back to your cave.

I’m tired of making excuses for the grinches of the world. He takes the stockings and presents, the treats and the feast of the wee Whos! He takes the last can of Who-hash, for heaven’s sake! And then The Tree—he shoves the Whos’ Christmas tree up the chimney! Who does that?!

It’s CindyLou Who and her sweet trusting nature that just undoes me. 

“Santy Claus, why…Why are you taking our Christmas tree? WHY?”

The Grinch poses as Santa Claus—can we agree this is an abomination?

He tells her there’s a light that won’t light, and so he’s taking it back to his workshop to fix. Sweet CindyLou believes him—she trots back to bed with her cold cup of water. My heart! And the Grinch takes the very log for the fire; then goes up the chimney, himself, the old liar.

We did not have this book growing up. We watched the TV special but I’d never read it until I babysat a family who had it. They had three boys, ages nine, six, and three. They were wild. Difficult. Not kind to each other. And they were exhausting to put to bed. I think this is why their parents went out.

I suggested a few books to wind down one summer night, and the six-year-old demanded that I read How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

“YEAH!” said the nine-year-old. “It makes babies cry!” And as if on cue, the three-year-old started to whimper. I said we weren’t going to read a book that made anyone cry. And besides, it wasn’t even Christmas.

But two hours later, after the older two had passed out, the three-year-old brought How The Grinch Stole Christmas down to me and asked me to read it. His eyes were huge. His thumb was in his mouth. He said he had to go potty first. Then he needed a cold cup of water—just like CindyLou Who.

When we finally sat down to read the book, we did not get past the first page before huge tears welled in his eyes. I told him I could not in good conscience read him a book that made him so sad. He suggested we just look at the pictures. And so we did. We talked through the pictures, and he trembled as we did. He obviously knew the story.

And it did not matter one bit that The Grinch could not finally take away Christmas—that Christmas came in fine style even without all the trappings he’d stolen. It did not matter that The Grinch’s heart grew three sizes in the end and that he himself carved the roast beef. This, I suppose, is meant to be the “lesson,” the take-away that makes the rest of it all okay. Too little too late, I say.

I had a three-year-old on my lap trying so hard to brave, trying not to be The Baby his brothers told him he was. His little heart hammered as we turned those pages and by the time we were done, I was done with The Grinch.

So there.

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Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award Committee

Sigurd Olson Children's and Young Adult Literature ConferenceWe’re in the midst of award season, when best of the year lists and speculation about award winners proliferate on the social media platforms swirling around children’s and teen books. In November, we attended the award ceremony at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute’s Children and Young Adult Literature Conference, which takes place at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin (on the awe-inspiring south shore of Lake Superior). Inspired by the authors, naturalists, and librarians who speak at this conference, we interviewed the dedicated committee who select this important award each year.

How do you select the awarded books?

We have a committee of eight members who all have an interest in promoting both the natural world and high quality literature for children. Because committee members remain on the committee from year to year we have a dedicated, knowledgeable group of professionals. Each member first ranks books and then those results are tallied. The top ranked books becomes the focus of a committee meeting. A final vote is taken with numerical rankings following that in-depth discussion.

What are the criteria for this award?

The Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award for Children’s Literature is given to a published children’s book of literary nature writing (nonfiction or fiction) that captures the spirit of the human relationship with nature, and promotes the awareness, preservation, appreciation, or restoration of the natural world for future generations. (Here’s a full list of SONWA books since 1991.)

How do you gather the books?

Since most, if not all, publishers are on Twitter, we established a SONWA Awards Twitter account two years ago (@sonwa_awards). For the past two years, we’ve promoted the awards through our feed and by directly tweeting to publishers. We also post to the SOEI (Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute) Facebook feed periodically.

We actively ask publishers to submit books that fit the criteria. Since we’re one of the few nature writing awards for young adult and children’s literature, the publishers of this type of book are aware of us.

What selection criteria do you apply?

First of all, as the name of the award suggests, the book has to be about some aspect of nature and written for children appropriate to the age group. In addition, it has to be written in the year prior to the year the award is received.

After that, we look at:

  • Human Relationships with Natural World: Does the book capture the spirit of the human relationship with nature?
  • Literary Value: Does the book take on elements such as character development, metaphor, climax, allusion, theme, motif, etc?
  • Values: Does the book promote the values for nature this award seeks to promote for future generations: awareness, preservation, appreciation, restoration?
  • Illustrations: When books meet all the above criteria, then illustrations and the artwork are considered.

What is the impetus you feel for donating your time to this award process?

Living in the Northwoods, whether an outdoor person or not, creates a strong connection to the earth and concern for its future. Our committee is also well aware of how literacy can impact our humanity. This award process allows us to commit to two efforts that are important to us. We hope the chain from writers to publishers will be validated for their efforts. And we hope the reader will be enriched in multiple ways.

You are housed within, and sponsored by, the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute. Why is this a good fit for a nature-writing award?

The mission of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute is to promote experiences of wildness and wonder, while also working to protect wildlands for future generations. Literary depictions and accounts of wild nature and the wonder it evokes in people often inspire readers to seek similar experiences, or, if they’ve already had those experiences, the literary works help to further affirm the value of those experiences.

Sigurd F. Olson’s writing is one of the richest and most influential parts of his legacy, and the nature writing award is one of the ways that we carry that legacy forward.

Northland College

You’ll find the Sigurd F. Olson Environmental Institute on the campus of Northland College, Ashland, Wisconson (in the foreground of this photo). That’s Lake Superior in the background.

Your focus was initially regionally written adult books. Why did you develop a specific award for children’s books?

In part this was a circumstantial decision: each year publishers were submitting children’s books, even though they didn’t meet the criteria we had established for the original adult award. Although we could not consider these submissions for the adult award, we were impressed by their quality and wanted to recognize and promote the work of the authors and illustrators of the children’s books.

Of course, we also recognize how important it is to capture the imaginations of children and the role that stories can play in shaping their values and visions for themselves and their future. We want children to grow up having and valuing experiences of wildness and wonder in their lives, and the children’s nature writing award, as well as our children’s literature conference, help us to realize this goal.

Having read so many nature-themed children’s books, what trends are you noticing?

We do see topic trends from time to time. A few years ago it was whales and then water the next year. Just like publishing in other areas, the trends tend to follow what is going on in the world. This year we have a few hurricane books. Often times, grandparents are depicted as nurturer, guardian, or storyteller of nature.

 We are seeing more diversity and inclusion. There are more picture books with more white space but with detailed author notes or supplemental added value. In recent year, nonfiction books for older readers will have side bars, graphics, captioned photos, and more alongside the main body. This can be either an enhancement or a distraction.

What themes or topics do you wish were being addressed in children’s books?

We are always looking for books that have a strong relationship to human interaction with the natural world. Books for older children with this aspect are not as readily available. There are always some that stand out in this area but we would happily welcome more.

___________________

Thank you for your commitment to reading and recommending the very best in nature writing for children and teens. Your focus on human interaction with the natural world is critical to the lives of our children and our planet. Important work you’re doing!

[The submission deadline for 2018 award consideration is December 31, 2017. Learn more.]

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Stopping by the Diner

Writing Road Trip by Lisa Bullard | Stopping by the DinerMy dad has a passionate hatred of olives on, in, or even in the general vicinity of his food. He’s convinced their mere presence contaminates anything else on his plate. So when he eats at his favorite small-town diner, he’s always careful to tell the server that he wants his dinner salad without the black olives they usually include. Except this time the brand-new teenage server plopped it down in front of him complete with a generous helping of his much-loathed food.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I asked for the salad without olives.”

She thought a moment, said, “No problem,” reached out to scoop the olives out with her bare hand, and walked away holding them.

Here are the answers to the three questions you’re now asking: No, he didn’t eat the salad.

No, we haven’t stopped laughing yet.

No, he didn’t call over the manager to rat her out. But the next time he went in, he pulled aside one of the more seasoned servers and asked her to make sure the young woman understood there might be a different way to handle the situation.

There are different ways to handle a writing revision as well. Revision is the least favorite part of the writing process for most young writers. So having different approaches on hand is a good way to keep students coming back to this all-important process.

The common approach is to simply work one’s way through the first draft, making corrections and taking out the “olives” as you go. But this isn’t always the best tactic. Some seasoned writers recommend that for a second draft, you go back and start fresh, rather than merely fix what’s already on paper. It sounds counter-intuitive—don’t you lose what was good about the original, along with what wasn’t working? But the truth is, this more radical approach can give young writers permission to “color outside the lines” of their original drafts. Having writt‚en the first draft still informs the new version in an important way, but it doesn’t limit it. Sometimes this approach can elevate the writing to a whole new level.

As my dad might say, once his food has been touched by olives (not to mention someone else’s fingers), he simply can’t eat it. The only answer is to start with a whole new salad.

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True Story

Recently I attended a writer’s conference mainly to hear one speaker. His award-winning books remind me that the very best writing is found in children’s literature. When he delivered the keynote, I jotted down bits of his sparkling wisdom.

At one point he said that we live in a broken world, but one that’s also filled with beauty. My pen slowed. Something about those words bothered me. The crux of his speech was that as writers for children, we are tasked to be honest and not withhold the truth.

After the applause pattered away, the air in the ballroom seemed charged. Everyone was eager to march, unfurling the banner of truth for young readers! If we had been given paper, we would have started brilliant, authentic novels on the spot.

The keynote’s message carried over into break-out sessions. Panelists admitted to craving the truth when they were kids, things parents wouldn’t tell them. Participants agreed. We should show kids the world as it really is! The implication being that children leading “normal” lives should be aware of harsher realities and develop empathy. Kids living outside the pale would find themselves, maybe learn how to cope with their situations.

I stopped taking notes.

Here’s my truth: I was born into a broken world. By age four, I’d experienced scores of harsher realities. At seven, I learned the hardest truth of all: that parents aren’t required to want or love their children. I spent most of my childhood fielding one real-world challenge after the other. I did not want to read about them, though few books fifty years ago explored issues of alcoholism, homelessness, and domestic violence.

Christmas Day when I was 11 with my sister and my cousins. I was already a writer at this age.

I read to escape, delving into stories where the character’s biggest challenge was finding grandmother’s hidden jewels, as in The Secret of the Stone Griffins. Fluff? So what? In order to set the bar, I had to seek normal and didn’t care if Dick-and-Jane families weren’t real. Even Mo, the alien girl in Henry Winterfield’s Star Girl who’d tumbled from her spaceship, lived a normal life with her family on Asra, climbing trees on that faraway planet like I did on Earth.

In a family of non-readers, I broke free of the norm. Not only did I read constantly, but decided to be a writer at an early age. I’d write the kind of books I loved, books where secrets involved buried treasure, not things I had to keep quiet about; books where kids felt protected enough to embark on adventures.

My mother and stepfather regarded me with odd respect, as if unsure what planet this kid had come from. So long as “story-writing” didn’t interfere with schoolwork (it did), my mother excused me from chores. Only once did she declare reading material inappropriate.

I was nine and fresh out of library books. I found a True Story magazine and was deep into story about an abused boy when my mother caught me. She thought I was learning about sex. I was outraged by the injustice: punished for reading about a kid my age! Now I think about the irony.

Judy ScuppernongThen I grew up and wrote children’s books. Most of my fiction was light and humorous. Yet some brave writers tackled serious subjects. My colleague Brenda Seabrooke wrote a slender, elegant verse novel called Judy Scuppernong. This coming-of-age story touches on family secrets and alcoholism. The format was perfect for navigating difficult subjects.

I sat down and wrote a poem called “Nobody’s Child.” More followed, until I’d told my own story. My agent submitted my book Nobody’s Child. One editor asked me to rewrite it as a YA novel. “You’ve already done the hard part,” he said. He was wrong. Each time I revised (many times over the years), I had to crawl back into that dark place. Some people said that by telling my story, I’d be able to put it behind me. They were wrong. I never will.

The truth is, I wrote Nobody’s Child to find answers. I already knew the what and the how. I wanted to know why. But by then everyone involved was gone, taking their reasons with them. If I were to fictionalize my story to help another child in the same situation, I couldn’t make the ending turn out any better.

In the fantasies and mysteries and books about animals I read as a kid, I figured out I’d probably be okay. When I looked up from whatever library book I was reading, or whatever story I was writing, I noticed the real world around me. Not all of it was broken. There were woods and gardens and cats and birds and, yes, at last, people who cared about me.

Author Peter Altenberg said, “I never expected to hold the great mirror of truth up before the world; I dreamed only of being a little pocket mirror …one that reflects small blemishes, and some great beauties, when held close enough to the heart.”

Valiant children’s writers will flash the great mirror of truth in bolder works than mine. I’m content to shine my little pocket mirror at small truths, no bigger than a starling’s sharp eye, from my heart to my reader’s.

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Skinny Dip with Sarah Aronson

Sarah AronsonSarah Aronson’s most recent books, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever (The Wish List #1, Beach Lane Books) and Keep Calm and Sparkle On! (The Wish List #2) are at once lighthearted and serious—stories that are fun to read and encourage working for causes that matter to the world. Sarah is widely known in the children’s book writing community as an enthusiastic and effective writing instructor. Thanks, Sarah, for taking a Skinny Dip with us in December!

Who was your favorite teacher in grades K-7 and why?

This is an easy one! My favorite and most influential teacher during those first years of school was my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Dan Sigley.  

It was a year that began with mixed emotions. At that time, I didn’t really feel passionate about books. Oh, I liked books, but theater was my favorite story medium. I had also just returned from 8 months in York, England. I went to school there and was introduced to new settings (that you could visit) as well as writers like Charles Dickens. I read Enid Blyton. More important, I watched my friends take the 11 plus exam, effectively tracking and dividing them for different kinds of futures.

The PearlMr. Sigley awakened my creative spirit in many ways. He got me hooked on books in three distinct ways. First, our class read and performed Romeo and Juliet—unabridged! He showed me that even if I didn’t understand the individual words, I could infer meaning in a text! Second, he tirelessly handed me books—he was determined to make me a reader. The book that did it was John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. That ending blew me away! It made me think! This was what I wanted from books! A chance to think about injustice and relationships and family … and how I could make it better. Last, he taught us how to make books—from writing to illustrating to binding. This first home-made book, The Adventures of Prince Charming, connected the dots. Books were like theater. Books were unique for each reader. I loved getting into the heads of my characters. I loved holding a book, too.

About the time Head Case was released, Mr. Sigley moved to the house next to my parents, so I got to see him many times and thank him for everything he taught me. He was a gentle, creative man. He was the first person who held me accountable and awakened my imagination.

All-time favorite book?

The word, favorite, is my least favorite word ever! Here are the books I keep on my desk—they are the books I love. They are the books I reach for when I’m stuck. These are the books that have taught me how to write.

  • The Story of Ferdinand, The Rag and Bone Shop, Sandy's Circus, What Jamie SawOliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
  • The Rag and Bone Shop (Robert Cormier)
  • Monster (Walter Dean Myers)
  • Clementine (Sara Pennypacker)
  • Bunnicula (James Howe, Deborah Howe)
  • What Jamie Saw (Carolyn Coman)
  • The Carrot Seed (Ruth Krauss, Crockett Johnson)
  • The Story of Ferdinand (Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson)
  • Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh)
  • Blubber (Judy Blume)
  • Officer Buckle and Gloria (Peggy Rathmann)
  • Charles and Emma (Deborah Heiligman)
  • Sandy’s Circus (Tanya Lee Stone, Boris Kulikov)

What’s your favorite part of starting a new project?

When I am in pre-writing mode, nothing counts! (I am one of those weird writers that deletes her first discovery draft!!!) I love writing without expectations! It doesn’t feel like work. It is all disposable!

ShoesBarefoot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

You have to ask? I write books about fairy godmothers! I like shoes. Always shoes. I love shoes and boots and would even wear glass slippers if I didn’t think I’d trip and break them.

When are you your most creative?

First thing in the morning. Best advice I can offer: hide your phone. Be a word producer—not just a consumer. Get out of bed and create. Get someone to make you a coffee. Journal every morning. Or doodle. Get the pen to the paper. Find a way to transition from the real world to your imaginative state. The world and social media can wait!

Favorite flavor of ice cream?

In the winter: chocolate

In the summer: peach

But the gelato place around the corner makes Greek Yoghurt gelato. It’s sweet and sour and tangy! Yum.

(File under: this author has problems with favorites.)

Book on your bedside table right now?

I’m crying over Matylda, Bright and Tender, by Holly McGhee, recommended by Olivia Van Ledtje, also known as @thelivbits

Sarah Aronson's elephantWhat’s your hidden talent?

I can turn anything into a writing lesson.

Also: I can draw an elephant from behind.

Why do you feel hopeful for humankind?

Young people give me hope. They value kindness. And the environment. They stick up for one another. They exhibit a strong sense of goodness and a willingness to speak out against injustices.

That is what I have seen and learned from readers—to kids and teens—even the shy ones who wait until they can email me to ask a question. Our young people are growing up in a time where there are no barriers to information. Yes, there is a lot of misleading stuff, but the good stuff is at our fingertips, too. I could complain a lot about phones and the internet, but technology is also equalizing. We live in a time when we can interact with just about anyone. There are so many ways to learn.

In young people, I see motivated kids like Nora (from The Wish List). They want to make the world better. They believe in goodness. They are not afraid to speak out. They support each other. That gives me hope.

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The Kindness of Teachers

Miss Rosemary Follett and David LaRochelle

Miss Rosemary Follett and David LaRochelle

I loved first grade.

Fifty-one years later, I still have vivid memories of my teacher, Miss Follett. She played the piano every day. She read to us from her giant book of poetry. She showed us photos of her trips to exotic places, like Alaska and Hawaii.

At Halloween we screamed in terror and delight when she hobbled into our classroom dressed as a witch. At Easter we followed “bunny tracks” throughout the school till they led us to a chest filled with panorama sugar eggs that Miss Follett had handmade, one for each of us. On our birthdays we sat at the special birthday desk that was decorated with crepe paper streamers and balloons. Miss Follett would light the candles on the plaster of Paris birthday cake and the entire class would sing.

Miss Follett was also serious about learning. That was fine with me. One of the reasons I wanted to start first grade was because I desperately wanted to read. Words were all around me; I wanted to know their secrets.

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty

I also remember Humpty Dumpty, Miss Follett’s form of behavior management. The Humpty Dumpty cookie jar sat on the corner of Miss Follett’s desk. If our class was very, very good, Humpty Dumpty might (mind you, might) be magically filled with cookies for us. No one ever wanted to do anything that would displease Humpty.

When I became a children’s author, Miss Follett attended one of my publication parties. It was a proud moment for both of us. When I autographed her book, I included doodles of my favorite first grade memories.

Years passed.

This last spring I came home from running errands to find a large box waiting in front of my door. When I removed the layers of bubble wrap, I discovered Miss Follett’s Humpty Dumpty cookie jar inside, along with this note:

Dear David,

Now that I am moving to senior housing and need to downsize,
it’s time for Humpty to find a new home. I thought
he might enjoy living in your studio.

Your First Grade Teacher
Rosemary Follett

Miss Follett did indeed teach me to read. But she taught me a lot of other things as well. She taught me that adults can be both serious and playful. She taught me that art and music and poetry make life more beautiful. She taught me that the world is full of fascinating places, and that I can go visit them. She taught me that you are never too old to use your imagination.

And she taught me that teachers never stop caring about their students.

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Biography: How to Decide
What Goes into the Soup Pot (and What Doesn’t)

It is cold up here in the north country, so lately my thoughts have turned to creating a steaming pot of soup. For soup, you have to hit the highlights; the chicken, onions, a carrot or two. If you toss in too many ingredients, nothing will stand out and the result will be a muddled mess. You must also have a special ingredient. The quick taste that says, mmm, what is that? A dash of nutmeg? A spoonful of caraway seed?

Bold Women of MedicineWhen I wrote the short profiles in Bold Women of Medicine: 21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs, I realized they required a similar focus. I needed the highlights; birth, family, education. The profiles also needed that special something to stand out.

Other than biographical assignments in school, I hadn’t written many biographies. But often it is in the doing that we learn. When I researched and wrote my (looking for a home) picture book biography Step by Step: The Story of Elizabeth Kenny’s Fight to Treat Polio, I learned a few lessons.

I had been fascinated by Sister Kenny ever since my father’s stay at the Sister Kenny Institute after his stroke. Who was this brash woman who had founded the institute famous in Minneapolis? Not just Minneapolis, for in fact, she was once voted the most influential woman in America, beating out Eleanor Roosevelt.

Researching and writing the life of someone famous can be daunting. I didn’t have the space to write about everything in her life, and I didn’t want to bore young readers with uninteresting facts.

The Minnesota Historical Center’s Gale Family Library held her secrets in the form of letters, cards, and photographs packed into boxes. Seeing Sister Kenny’s handwriting helped me to imagine her sitting at a desk composing a letter. The photographs let me look into her simultaneously kind and determined eyes. It was an odd sense of the past, her past, coming to life. And yet, since she died in 1952, I knew more about her fate (and legacy) than she did.

Sister Kenny eventually became the sample chapter I included in my proposal for Bold Women of Medicine. The Chicago Review Press Women of Action Series introduces young adults to women and girls of courage and conviction.

As I sifted through these lives I wondered, what spurred these women on to a life in medicine?

Within the framework of the women’s lives (birth, education, career, and family), I began to see patterns leading them to medicine. My goal was to keep the story moving forward.

Sister Kenny (photo: State Library of Queensland)

For example, Sister Kenny realized success with one patient inflicted with cerebral palsy, causing paralysis. She said, “Although my special life’s work had not yet really begun, I always think of this period as my starting point.” Discovering each woman’s motivation helped me to create a tighter focus. In other words, I limited the ingredients I placed into my soup pot and at the same time found that special something.

What factors influenced Sister Kenny to practice medicine? Was it an event, a person, or a need to be helpful? I am a linear thinker (sometimes a hindrance) but in this case, point A of a woman in medicine’s life often led to point B. Sometimes I had to backtrack much like you do when following a hiking trail, and often when I backtracked I discovered another, more intriguing part of her story.

Research is a tricky beast no matter what the subject is, and the most difficult part of research is knowing when to quit. Not everything from your fridge must be a part of your dinner.

I searched for anecdotes that would interest a young reader. What happened in Sister Kenny’s childhood that shaped her interest in science? What character traits did she possess that led to success or failure? What impact did she have on history? Pulitzer Prize winning writer David McCullough says, “I believe very strongly that the essence of writing is to know your subject…to get beneath the surface. You have to know enough to know what to leave out.”

I read as much as I could on each woman, until I found the story and pattern with which to begin. Each of these women lived full lives, and in the cutting of some of their life events I strengthened the flavors, highlighting their powers of hope, education, and perseverance. And as I write this on a cold day, it’s time to pull out the pot and figure out the best ingredients for my soup!

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Cloth and the Picture Book:
Storytelling with Textile Techniques

Author and illustrator Debra Frasier was invited to lecture on this topic to the Western North Carolina Textile Study Group, and the public, in mid-November 2017. This is the bibliography that accompanies Debra’s presentation, with book selections by Debra Frasier and Vicki Palmquist.

If you would like to invite Debra to give this presentation to your group, please contact her.

Download a print version of this bibliography.

Books are listed in order of appearance in the presentation.

INTRODUCTION TO THE PICTURE BOOK FORM

Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe  

Spike, Ugliest Dog in the Universe
written and illustrated 
by Debra Frasier
Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster,
2014.

Collaged worn blue jeans with other textiles and papers.

THREE HISTORICAL INSPIRATIONS

Stitching Stars  

The Lady and the Unicorn, as seen in the Musée de Cluny, Paris, France.

The Bayeux Tapestry, written by David M. Wilson, “The Complete
Tapestry in Colour with Introductions, Description and commentary by David M. Wilson,” Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Stitching Stars, The Story Quilts of Harriet Powers, Lyons, Mary E, African-American Artists and Artisans series, 1993, Charles Scribner’s & Sons, historical overview of late 1860’s, slave life, and Ms. Powers’ works and history.

A QUIRKY SURVEY OF TEXTILE TECHNIQUES 
USED IN ILLUSTRATIONS
FOR CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS

QUILTED INSPIRATIONS

Alphabet Atlas

 

The Alphabet Atlas
written by Arthur Yorinks
illustrated by Adrienne Yorinks
Winslow Press, 1999

Machine quilted, collaged continents

Hummingbirds  

Hummingbirds
written by Adrienne Yorinks and Jeannette Larson

illustrated by Adrienne Yorinks
Charlesbridge Publishing, 2011

Nonfiction combined with mythic, all quilted

Patchwork Folk Art  

Patchwork Folk Art, Using Applique & Quilting Techniques
written and illustrated by Janet Bolton
Sterling/Museum Quilts Book
Sterling Publishing Co, 1995

Not a children’s picture book but an excellent introduction to narrative in patchwork collage.

Mrs. Noah's Patchwork Quilt  

Mrs. Noah’s Patchwork Quilt
A Journal of the Voyage with a Pocketful of Patchwork Pieces
written by Sheri Safran
illustrated by Janet Bolton
Tango Books (England), 1995

Presents a how-to along with the story of Mrs. Noah’s quilt, and a back pocket includes patterns of quilt pieces appearing in the illustrations.

Tar Beach  

Tar Beach
written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold
Crown Publisher, 1991

Based on one of Ringgold’s quilts held by the Guggenheim Museum. The story arc and quilt borders all carried over to the picture book so, in this case, the book is inspired by the quilt.

Quiltmaker's Gift  

Quiltmaker’s Gift
written by Jeff Brumbeau
illustrated by Gail de Marcken
Scholastic Press, 2001

In which the creation of a quilt changes the heart of a greedy king. Each page features a different quilt block that fits into the context of the story.

The Keeping Quilt  

Keeping Quilt
written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Simon & Schuster, 1988

A quilt made from a family’s clothing is passed down in various guises for more than a century, a symbol of their enduring love and faith.

CLOTH AND THINGS IN THE SEWING BASKET

Pat the Bunny  

Pat the Bunny
written and illustrated by Dorothy Kunhardt
Golden Book, 1940

Spiral bound with a small trim-size, this classic book uses actual bits of fabric to “feel” and “lift.”

Wag a Tail  

Wag A Tail
written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
Harcourt, Inc, 2007

Collaged papers and cloth, with buttons and “pinking shear” edging throughout.

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf  

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf
written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
Harcourt Brace & Company, 1991

Burlap, kite tails, string and bits of cloth are used in the collages.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat  

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat
written and illustrated by Simms Taback
Viking/Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1999

The main character—a diminishing coat—is actual cloth and is collaged with other bits of cloth curtains, rugs and clothing, and then all adhered to a painted surface.

Mama Miti  

Mama Miti
written by Donna Jo Napoli
illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010

Nelson has combined cloth with painting for both landscapes and clothing.

Hands  

Hands
written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
Harcourt Brace & Co, 1997

Ehlert has used actual objects: work gloves, apron swatch, sewing tools, scissors, pattern tissue—in this ode to making things as a child.

PAPER TREATED AS CLOTH

Paper Illusions  

Paper Illusions, The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave
by Barbara and Rene Stoeltie
Abrams, 2008 (English edition)

Lavish photographs of life-sized paper costumes made to match Renaissance period cloth using painting, folding, gluing, stitching to create the illusion of cloth.

Mole's Hill  

Mole’s Hill: a Woodland Tale
written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
Harcourt, 1994

Inspired by Woodland Indians ribbon applique and sewn beadwork, the paper is often dotted and pieced as if stitched and beaded. An author note describes this handwork and how it inspired her approach.

Seeds of Change  

Seeds of Change
written by Jen Cullerton Johnson
illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler
Lee & Low Books, 2010

Distinctive Kenyan-styled flower print dress patterns are used as the inspiration for paintings of dresses and mirrored in landscapes.

STITCHING

Fabric Pictures  

Fabric Pictures
A Workshop with Janet Bolton, Creating a Textile Story
written and illustrated by Janet Bolton
Jacqui Small LLP, Aurum Press, 2015

Not a children’s picture book but an excellent workshop-in-a-book on creating narratives with applique.

Baby's First Book  

Baby’s First Book
written and illustrated by Clare Beaton
Barefoot Books, 2008

Hand sewn felt, vintage fabrics, buttons, and stitched lettering collaged for a baby’s compendium of subjects. ALL items and backgrounds made of cloth.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves  

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
adapted by Joan Aiken
illustrated by Belinda Downes
A Dorling Kindersley Book
Penguin Company, 2002

Downes uses fine fabrics appliquéd with rich embroidery, incorporating a consistent running stitch to outline and embellish.

CLOTH AS SUBJECT

Cloth Lullaby  

Cloth Lullaby, The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois
written by Amy Novesky
illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016

The illustrator uses woven lines, [similar to some of Bourgeois’ later drawings] to create a textile sensibility in the illustrations amid the early years, and then the same vocabulary is used to visually describe the sculpture of her adult artist years.

Pattern for Pepper  

A Pattern for Pepper
written and illustrated by Julie Kraulis
Tundra Books, Random House/Canada, 2017

From Herringbone to Dotted Swiss, from Argyle to Toile—a visit to a tailor’s shop becomes a compendium of fabric patterns with each fabric sampled in the hunt for the perfect pattern for Pepper. Oil paint and graphite on board.

THREE-D CLOTH AND FELT

Pocketful of Posies  

Pocketful of Posies, A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes
collected and illustrated by Salley Mavor
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010

64 traditional nursery rhymes are illustrated with hand-sewn fabric relief collages, including dozens of figures.

Felt Wee Folk  

Felt-Wee-Folk, 120 Enchanting Dolls
“New Adventures”
by Salley Mavor
C&T Publishing, 2015

This is a how-to book for creating characters and scenes as pictured in Pocketful of Posies.

Pride & Prejudice  

Cozy Classics
Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice
by Jack and Holman Wang
Chronicle Books, 2016

Entirely illustrated by felted 3-D characters that are set in an environment, superbly lit, and photographed to tell classic tales in one word page turns. Several classic titles are included in this series.

Roarr Calder's Circus  

Roarr, Calder’s Circus
a story by Maira Kalman
photos by Donatella Brun
designed by M&Co for
the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1991

Using bits of Calder’s spoken text from the film of his hand manipulated circus, Kalman expands the language and characterizations. Calder’s circus characters of wire and cloth are photographed and then collaged across the double-page spread.

THE DYED BOOK

We Got Here Together  

We Got Here Together
written by Kim Stafford
illustrated by Debra Frasier
Harcourt Brace, 1994

Shibori, a resist dyeing method, is used to pattern Japanese gampi tissue paper (long fibered tissue) as ocean and rain, in both pipe resist and braided resist techniques, respectively. Shibori tissue paper is combined with Japanese dyed sheets in collages on illustration board.

SPECIAL GUEST

Catharine Ellis  

Catharine Ellis, self published, three titles:

Cape Cod: The Present, Blue, and Mapping Color (written by Nancy Penrose, illustrated by Catharine Ellis). Find Catharine’s resources and publications here.

(Each of these chapbooks is illustrated using photographs of natural dyed fabrics, sometimes additionally stitched on the surfaces, while abstractly defining the text.)

What are your favorite books illustrated with textiles? Send us your recommendations.

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