Under Threat

Under ThreatThis over­sized book is unfor­get­table. Both the art and the text are strong tes­ta­ments about ani­mals that are “threat­ened with extinc­tion: crit­i­cal­ly endan­gered (the most threat­ened), endan­gered, and vul­ner­a­ble (the least threat­ened).” There are also cat­e­gories for species that are extinct, extinct in the wild, or not thought to be threat­ened at the moment.

Each two-page spread describes the char­ac­ter of the ani­mal, the rea­sons why its num­bers have dwin­dled dra­mat­i­cal­ly, and the efforts being made to save the species.

A map shows the area where the ani­mal per­sists and an infor­ma­tion box states its class, fam­i­ly, IUCN sta­tus, and pop­u­la­tion.

The art­work by Tom Frost is a full-page, styl­ized draw­ing of the endan­gered ani­mal, each on pre­sent­ed as a postage stamp. The art­work is so strong and so beau­ti­ful that each page could be a framed poster (but don’t take the book apart!). 

Under Threat Indri

Tapan­uli Orang­utan, Kem­p’s Rid­ley, Sun­da Pan­golin, Large­tooth Saw­fish. Each one moves my heart.

It’s a book well worth own­ing at home and at school. Ani­mal lovers will be drawn in auto­mat­i­cal­ly, but the writ­ing is so inter­est­ing and the art so mag­net­ic that every­one will be fas­ci­nat­ed and moved to action. 

Under Threat: an Album of Endan­gered Ani­mals
writ­ten by Mar­tin Jenk­ins
illus­trat­ed by Tom Frost
Can­dlewick Stu­dios, 2019
ISBN 978 – 1536205435


Modern-Day Treasure Hunting

Why was I crawl­ing through a frozen sew­er pipe on my hands and knees in the mid­dle of win­ter?

I was geo­caching, my lat­est obses­sion.

If you haven’t heard of geo­caching, it’s a world­wide trea­sure hunt using GPS to locate hid­den con­tain­ers called geo­caches. There are lit­er­al­ly mil­lions of geo­caches hid­den around the globe. When I first start­ed play­ing, I was delight­ed to dis­cov­er that there were sev­er­al with­in walk­ing dis­tance of my town­home.

My friend Gary with a geocache

My friend Gary with a geo­cache he dis­cov­ered at the base of a tree in a local park.

What exact­ly is a geo­cache? It can be as sim­ple as a plas­tic Tup­per­ware con­tain­er with a log­book inside to record your name. Part of the fun of geo­caching, how­ev­er, is the cre­ative ways in which these caches can be dis­guised. I’ve been geo­caching for just over a year now and some of the more than 500 con­tain­ers I’ve found include:

  • a ceram­ic gnome hid­den inside a hol­low tree
  • a secret draw­er built into an ornate Lit­tle Free Library
  • an arti­fi­cial rock beneath a busy bus stop bench
  • a bird­house on the porch of an antique store in rur­al Wis­con­sin
  • a hol­lowed-out book on the shelves of the pub­lic library where my writ­ing group meets

I’ve found geo­caches as small as my fin­ger­nail and as large as a garbage can, and every size in-between.

tiny geocache

This tiny mag­net­ic geo­cache was stuck to the back of a city street sign.
It unscrewed to reveal a tiny log­book inside.

Who hides all of these caches? Any­one can, once they’ve learned the basics of the game.

I tend to get stuck in famil­iar ruts, so for me, one of the great­est joys of geo­caching has been all the new places I’ve dis­cov­ered. I’ve been to parks and walk­ing trails in my own home­town that I nev­er knew exist­ed. While I’ve been on vaca­tion, geo­caching has tak­en me to his­toric build­ings, stun­ning scenic over­looks, and unique parts of the city I would have nev­er oth­er­wise dis­cov­ered. When­ev­er I give an author pre­sen­ta­tion out of town, one of the first things I do is check to see what geo­caches are in the area. I always dis­cov­er some­thing new.

Panoramic view in Norway

Search­ing for geo­caches in Nor­way brought me to this panoram­ic view.

Geocaching in Madison Minnesota

While vis­it­ing schools in west­ern Min­neso­ta, I found a geo­cache hang­ing on the back of this sign.
Who knew I was in the lute­fisk cap­i­tal of the coun­try?

Posts covered with padlocks on Lake Superior

One of these locks near Lake Supe­ri­or in Duluth con­tains a geo­cache…
but which one?

Are you feel­ing adven­tur­ous?

It’s easy to get start­ed. All you need is a device with a GPS app, such as a smart­phone. Go to geocaching.com and set up a free account. Then type in a loca­tion and you’ll be shown a map of all the geo­caches in the area. Each geo­cache is rat­ed with a dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el from 1 (eas­i­est) to 5 (most dif­fi­cult) so you can choose the degree of chal­lenge you want.

Fol­low­ing the map should bring you with­in ten feet of the geo­cache. That’s when the hunt­ing begins. Is the cache inside that hol­low stump? On the back of that stop sign? Hang­ing from a tree branch? Clues in the online descrip­tion will help you nar­row your search. And then suddenly…you spot it! I still haven’t grown tired of the burst of adren­a­line I feel each time I dis­cov­er a new cache, hid­den to every­one else in the world except for me and my fel­low cachers.

Retrieving a geocache from a tree

My broth­er-in-law retriev­ing a geo­cache hang­ing from a branch.
To reach it, he used a 24-foot pole we con­struct­ed from emp­ty card­board tubes.

Once you find a geo­cache, sign the log, replace it exact­ly as you found it, and then search for anoth­er. Every­thing I need­ed to know in order to find my first cache I learned by watch­ing this short YouTube video. Be warned, how­ev­er. Geo­caching can be addic­tive. I know folks who have found more than 20,000 caches and are still going strong!

Geo­caching is a hob­by for all ages and abil­i­ties. My eight- and eleven-year-old great nieces love the lure of find­ing the inex­pen­sive trin­kets locat­ed inside some of the larg­er geo­caches, while retirees have told me it’s a fun way to get exer­cise.

Ready to dis­cov­er a new park, a new trail, or just a new sec­tion of your neigh­bor­hood? Then try geo­caching! And don’t wor­ry. You won’t have to crawl through a sew­er pipe…unless you want to.


Magination Press

Look­ing for a book for a child who is expe­ri­enc­ing a hard time — maybe being bul­lied, maybe par­ents are divorc­ing or some­one is seri­ous­ly ill, or some­thing scary hap­pened at school or in the com­mu­ni­ty. Or maybe a teen feels “dif­fer­ent”?

Mag­i­na­tion Press is a book imprint of the Amer­i­can Psy­chol­o­gy Asso­ci­a­tion that — through books — helps fam­i­lies, par­ents, and chil­dren cope with emo­tion­al, learn­ing, or behav­ioral chal­lenges.

Magination Press logo

I asked Kris­tine Ender­le, edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, to describe the unique focus of Mag­i­na­tion Press.

What is most reward­ing — and chal­leng­ing — about being an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor?

It’s chal­leng­ing — nd reward­ing at the same time — being a small inde­pen­dent press. With near­ly every major pub­lish­er now pub­lish­ing books on social-emo­tion­al learn­ing, men­tal health, and well­ness, our mar­ket just got a lit­tle crowd­ed. But, read­ers should know that they can count on us for strong, evi­dence-based, informed infor­ma­tion. Being part of the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion allows us to work with psy­chol­o­gists — experts in their fields. Our books are rock-sol­id, based on sci­en­tif­ic and trust­ed sources. We are sup­port­ive of and sen­si­tive to our lit­tle read­ers and young adults. Our books are writ­ten with kind­ness and respect. Our books are designed to lead read­ers through an intro­spec­tive and heal­ing process. Our books approach this process from a kid-cen­tered, prob­lem-solv­ing place. We want to empow­er kids by giv­ing them the tools they need to make a dif­fer­ence in their lives.

Mar­ket­ing our books out­side of a schol­ar­ly world has also been chal­leng­ing. We’re thrilled that Jason Wells (for­mer­ly of Rodale and Abrams) joined us in 2018 to help us reach a wider audi­ence and move more con­fi­dent­ly in the trade world through the efforts of his great team. Our front list sales are up over 70% year to date over last year! Our newest titles with new mar­ket­ing are work­ing well togeth­er.

What is the pas­sion that gives you the courage to con­tin­ue pub­lish­ing books?

Mag­i­na­tion Press is the children’s book imprint of the Amer­i­can Psycho­logical Asso­ci­a­tion. Through our work, we aim to make an impact and fur­ther the APA mis­sion — to pro­mote the advance­ment, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and appli­ca­tion of psy­cho­log­i­cal sci­ence and knowl­edge to bene­fit soci­ety and improve lives. So what that means for Mag­i­na­tion Press is through our books we reach young­sters and teens (and their par­ents and care­givers) mak­ing nav­i­gat­ing life’s chal­lenges a lit­tle eas­i­er. Mag­i­na­tion Press works dili­gent­ly to help chil­dren and teens learn to deal with the big and small chal­lenges they may face and be a go-to source of youth-focused books on men­tal health and well­ness, social-emo­tion­al learn­ing. We share with the world men­tal health ex­pertise and psy­cho­log­i­cal knowl­edge to help kids flour­ish and grow. Addi­tion­al­ly, Mag­i­na­tion Press is com­mit­ted to being a pro­gres­sive, proac­tive force for social change and to teach kids about psy­chol­o­gy and how it can inform and empow­er them as they apply psy­cho­log­i­cal sci­ence to their every­day life. This advo­ca­cy-effort, mis­sion-informed approach is what dri­ves Mag­i­na­tion Press.

What keeps you going when dis­ap­point­ments or frus­tra­tions hap­pen?

A tal­ent­ed team of edi­tors and their ener­gy feeds my days. We added a new senior edi­tor role this year and also brought on our first pro­duc­tion edi­tor and in-house graph­ic design­er, so keep an eye on us as we evolve. We are also sign­ing-on famil­iar, beloved authors such as Pat Mora, Lesléa New­man, and oth­ers.

Tell us about a few of your recent pub­li­ca­tions and why they are unique.

Trans + book coverWe love books that lead teens to­ward a place of self-dis­cov­ery and pro­vide hon­est, un­censored, fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion that may answer ques­tions they have relat­ing to men­tal health con­cerns (anx­i­ety, stress, depres­sion, anger, sui­cide), psy­cho­log­i­cal devel­op­ment (self-expres­sion or iden­ti­ty), and social-emo­tion­al psy­chol­o­gy (life skills). An excel­lent exam­ple of such a book is TRANS+: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You by Kathryn Gon­za­les and Karen Rayne. We are super excit­ed about this book! Trans+ is an uncen­sored guide for teens who are trans­gen­der, non­bi­na­ry, gen­der-non­con­form­ing, or gen­der-flu­id. The authors are amaz­ing. The infor­ma­tion is essen­tial and frank. The sto­ries are real, mak­ing the whole book gen­uine, hon­est, author­i­ta­tive, and inclu­sive. It’s real­ly spe­cial.

We work hard to reflect the expe­ri­ences of all kids and cre­ate books where chil­dren and teens can see them­selves and can con­nect with the char­ac­ters. We now make room on our list for books that speak to and help kids under­stand crit­i­cal soci­etal issues and open a con­ver­sa­tion to impact our com­mu­ni­ties. For instance, Some­thing Hap­pened in Our Town is a sto­ry about a police shoot­ing of an unarmed African-Amer­i­can man. It is an amaz­ing book that starts a con­ver­sa­tion about racial injus­tice, inter­nal­ized bias­es, and our coun­try’s his­to­ry of oppres­sion and preju­dices. Also Mar­velous Mar­avil­loso cel­e­brates col­or­ful­ly diverse fam­i­lies and at its core it is about mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, inclu­sion, and bira­cial iden­ti­ty. Jacob’s Room to Choose intro­duces the need for open-access bath­rooms for chil­dren every­where and dis­cuss­es gen­der expres­sion and gen­der non­con­form­ing iden­ti­ty.

Something Happened in Our Town, Marvelous Maravilloso, Jacob's Room to Choose

Goodbye, SchoolI love find­ing books that have a smidgen of psy­chology or sto­ries that sneak impor­tant psychologi­cal con­cepts into the sto­ry. We recent­ly pub­lished a book called, Good­bye, School. There are sev­er­al books about start­ing school, but I haven’t see one about leav­ing school to go to a new school or at the end of the school year. This book tells a sto­ry that guides chil­dren through an impor­tant peri­od of their life and helps them under­stand tran­si­tion or change and acknowl­edge their feel­ings through­out the expe­ri­ence. It’s beau­ti­ful­ly illustrat­ed with charm­ing details and super help­ful with the under­ly­ing psy­chol­o­gy of accept­ing and deal­ing with dif­fi­cult tran­si­tions.

What books of yours would you espe­cial­ly rec­om­mend to teach­ers and librar­i­ans?

Neon Words—a neat writ­ing guide and guid­ed jour­ney of self-expres­sion

Camil­la Car­tog­ra­ph­er—super cute sto­ry about a boar, snowy for­est, maps, and spa­tial aware­ness

Red Yel­low Blue—great lit­tle sto­ry about social and emo­tion­al learn­ing

Giraffe Asks for Help—a per­fect tool to encour­age kids to ask for help with themes of prob­lem-solv­ing and team­work

Giraffe Asks for Help, Neon Words, Red Yellow Blue

What top­ics are you cur­rent­ly look­ing for? (for our author read­ers)

Camilla CartographerWe always are look­ing for pic­ture books cov­er­ing social-emo­tion learn­ing and friendship/family rela­tion­ships. Books for teens that address crit­i­cal soci­etal issues (com­mu­ni­ty vio­lence, addic­tion, racism, cli­mate change) and help teens under­stand and deal with anx­i­ety, stress, and fears those issues cause are at the top of our wish list. We are also inter­est­ed in books that will pro­vide a safe way for mid­dle graders and teens to explore their own voice, val­ues, roles, iden­ti­ties, and ideas. We are also explor­ing non­fic­tion resource books on psy­chology sub­dis­ci­plines and research meth­ods and ways to pro­mote psy­cho­log­i­cal sci­ence as a STEM dis­ci­pline. Sub­mis­sions guide­lines on the web­site are spe­cif­ic and help­ful.

No social-emo­tion­al or behav­ior issue is too big or too small to be con­sid­ered an appro­pri­ate top­ic. Not only is the vari­ety of top­ics amaz­ing — from every­day sit­u­a­tions, such as start­ing school or adapt­ing to a chang­ing, grow­ing fam­i­ly to more seri­ous prob­lems, such as divorce, depres­sion, anx­i­ety, asth­ma, atten­tion dis­or­ders, bul­ly­ing, and death.  Oth­er top­ics are the uni­ver­sal devel­op­men­tal chal­lenges chil­dren face — phys­i­cal changes, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, han­dling awk­ward social sit­u­a­tions, mak­ing friends.  

Mag­i­na­tion Press books are not didac­tic. Children’s emo­tions are shown through behav­ioral inter­ac­tions with peers, pets, or par­ents. The read­er is not told what to do to han­dle a chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion, learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ty or neg­a­tive feel­ings, but giv­en sug­ges­tions and options. In the fic­tion nar­ra­tives, read­ers see how feel­ings and thoughts can evolve and change.

All of our pic­ture books include a com­pre­hen­sive Note to Par­ents. What­ev­er age of the read­er, Mag­i­na­tion Press has books to offer:

  • Pic­ture books for young chil­dren (ages 4 to 8)
  • Mid­dle school read­ers for chil­dren (ages 9 to 13)
  • Non­fic­tion books and work­books for old­er chil­dren (ages 9 to 13 and teens)

Thank you, Kris­tine Ender­le, Edi­to­r­i­al Direc­tor, Mag­i­na­tion Press, and Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion for cre­at­ing impor­tant books for chil­dren, teens, par­ents, teach­ers, and all ages of care­givers. 


Celebrating Winter Celebrations

Phyl­lis: Win­ter has come down like a snowy blan­ket, and ani­mals in our world have migrat­ed, hiber­nat­ed, or are shiv­er­ing their way through the months ahead. But ani­mals in pic­ture books have oth­er ideas. Why not be a part of December’s cel­e­bra­tions of Hanukkah, Christ­mas, Sol­stice or help a friend in frozen need? These books make us feel as cozy as a cup of tea, a light­ed tree.

Le Loup NoelMichael Gay’s The Christ­mas Wolf was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in France as Le Loup Noël. For­tu­nate­ly for us, it was also pub­lished in Eng­lish in 1980 by Green­wil­low Books. Father Wolf and his fam­i­ly live in the moun­tains in an aban­doned pow­er­house. When the wolf cubs won­der why Father Christ­mas nev­er comes to them, Father Wolf decide some­thing must be done and heads to town. He is run off the road by a truck and lands in the dump, where he fash­ions a dis­guise from a hat, boots, a long coat, and sun­glass­es. But it’s hard to hide his wolfish ten­den­cies at the store in town, where a revolv­ing door baf­fles him, and sales­peo­ple won­der when he says that his wife prefers a bone to jew­el­ry. In the toy sec­tion his excite­ment caus­es him to for­get his dis­guise, and his tail gives him away. In the out­cry, Father Wolf hides in a win­try win­dow dis­play, final­ly return­ing home emp­ty hand­ed that night. The same truck that ran him off the road, return­ing from town, man­ages to hit him, and when he howls in pain Moth­er Wolf finds him and helps him home. The truck dri­vers, fright­ened by the howl, leap from the truck, which pitch­es down the moun­tain­side, scat­ter­ing the presents it car­ried. In the morn­ing, the ani­mals find presents every­where — in trees, on the ground. A ban­daged and recov­er­ing Father Wolf real­ly has brought Christ­mas to the delight­ed ani­mals. The last two spread show a pleased Father Wolf and wife and ani­mals glee­ful­ly open­ing presents, read­ing books, play­ing a gui­tar, and find­ing all sorts of Christ­mas sur­pris­es. Even though each side of a spread shows a sep­a­rate image, Gay’s art flows seam­less­ly as we jour­ney along with Father Wolf and feel immense sat­is­fac­tion along with him at the end.

Storm Whale in WinterThe Storm Whale in Win­ter by Ben­ji Davies, is a sequel to The Storm Whale in which a lit­tle boy, Noi, res­cued a strand­ed whale washed up by a storm. Noi, who lives with his father and six cats by the sea, keeps search­ing the water for his whale friend with no suc­cess. Win­ter descends, and Noi’s father leaves for one last fish­ing trip, even though the sea is fill­ing with ice. When he doesn’t return by dark­ness, Noi thinks he sees his father’s boat out to sea and hur­ries across the ice to find it. The boat, when he reach­es it, is held fast by ice, and Noi’s father is not aboard. Afraid and not know­ing what else to do, Noi curls up tight in a blan­ket. Sud­den­ly the boat feels a BUMP. The storm whale and his whole fam­i­ly have come to help. They punch through the ice, singing, and push the boat back to the shore, where Noi’s father had been brought when res­cued by oth­er fish­er­men. The art shows Noi togeth­er with his father in the spring, paint­ing the boat which they rename The Storm Whale in hon­or of the night Noi’s friend had come back, then sail­ing togeth­er among the whales.

Both of these are sim­ply told, straight­for­ward sto­ries, and yet both touch the heart unsen­ti­men­tal­ly. Father Wolf wants to make his chil­dren hap­py with the gift of Christ­mas, and Noi wants both to find his friend and also his father. Both sto­ries end with goals achieved, but not until after dif­fi­cul­ty, which makes their suc­cess even sweet­er.

The Hanukkah BearJack­ie: The bear in The Hanukkah Bear (by Eric Kim­mell and illus­trat­ed by Mike Wohnout­ka; 2013) has an eas­i­er time of it. He wakes up mid-win­ter to a deli­cious smell, which he fol­lows to the house of 97-year old Bub­ba Bray­na. She doesn’t see as well as she used to, nor hear as well. But she still makes the best latkes around. And this night she makes twice as many because the Rab­bi is com­ing.

Bub­ba Bray­na wel­comes the bear, whom she mis­takes for the Rab­bi, and inter­prets his grunts and growls as the Rabbi’s part of the con­ver­sa­tion. He devours the latkes. Bub­ba Bray­na laughs at his appetite and wipes of his face. “You eat like a bear,” she says in a teas­ing way. She gives him a scarf and wish­es him a hap­py Hanukkah.

Bub­ba Bray­na is charm­ing in her sim­ple gen­eros­i­ty and accep­tance of a Rab­bi who eats with his paws. And she is gra­cious when the real rab­bi comes with neigh­bors, and the chil­dren see tracks and tell her it was a bear she had fed.

Some may see this sto­ry as fun at the expense of some­one who doesn’t see or hear as well as she used to. But I love it for the qual­i­ties in Bub­ba Bray­na that allow her to be gen­er­ous with a messy imag­ined Rab­bi, laugh at her own mis­take — and solic­it her friends’ help in whip­ping up anoth­er batch of latkes. Would that we all could over­come our mis­takes with such grace.

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band ChristmasOne last ani­mal sto­ry, or sort of. Rus­sell Hoban’s otters are the peo­ple we wish we could be. We have includ­ed this book in the past, but it is so good, so warm, we just have to men­tion it again. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christ­mas (1971) was writ­ten by Rus­sell Hoban and illus­trat­ed by Lil­lian Hoban. I have loved this sto­ry for most of my adult life. We found it when our kids were young and read it for years – all year long. It is always fun to watch the Jim Hen­son 1977 Mup­pet pro­duc­tion of this sto­ry, but the book is my favorite telling.

Ma Otter says to her friend Irma Coon, “It’s been such a rock-bot­tom life for so long, just once I’d like to bust out with a real glo­ri­ous Christ­mas for Emmet — some­thing shiny and expen­sive.” And Emmet says to his friend Char­lie Beaver, “Some­times [Ma’s] got to have some­thing fine and fan­cy.” When they hear of the tal­ent show with the fifty-dol­lar prize, Emmet drills a hole in Ma’s wash­tub to be part of the Frog­town Hol­low Jug Band and Ma sells Emmet’s tool­box to buy fab­ric for a fan­cy dress to wear as she sings in the con­test.

But no one had count­ed on the River­bend Night­mare band with their elec­tri­cal instru­ments and rau­cous (rock-us?) sound. After the Night­mare per­for­mance, Ma sound­ed like a whis­per. Emmet’s band sound­ed like “crick­ets and night peep­ers.” Still, as they walk home, Ma says, “I guess I ought to feel pret­ty bad, but the fun­ny thing is I don’t. I feel pret­ty good.” And they start to make music. And their music is heard…and appre­ci­at­ed by all the cus­tomers at Doc Bullfrog’s River­side Rest. A free sup­per and a night of enter­tain­ing fol­low. And they all go home with a reg­u­lar job at Doc Bullfrog’s and mon­ey in their pock­ets.

Ma and Emmet are so spunky. Hoban’s lan­guage is so enter­tain­ing. We all have days that we want to call “rock-bot­tom.” And we hope for times when maybe we should feel pret­ty bad, but we feel pret­ty good. This sto­ry is a clas­sic and bears read­ing again and again.

The Shortest DayPhyl­lis: The sparest of poet­ic texts (121 words by my quick count) flows through Susan Cooper’s The Short­est Day, a sol­stice cel­e­bra­tion.

Jack­ie: An end note tells us Coop­er wrote the poem for “The Christ­mas Rev­els,” a sol­stice cel­e­bra­tion begun by John Langstaff in 1957 and revived in 1971 and cel­e­brat­ed in cities all over the coun­try.

Phyl­lis: The dark art, soft as a winter’s night, is lit by can­dles in win­dow and torch­es in hands as “every­where, down the cen­turies of the snow-white world came peo­ple singing, danc­ing, to dri­ve the dark away.” They hang homes with ever­greens and burn fires to wak­en the new year’s sun. When the sun returns, they “car­ol, feast, give thanks, and dear­ly love their friends, and hope for peace. And so do we, here, now….”

And we, too, wish­ing you dear friends that in the com­ing year we dri­ve the dark away, com­mit to cel­e­bra­tions, and find peace and joy.


Cheryl Minnema

Cheryl Minnema

Cheryl Min­nema

This month we wel­come author Cheryl Min­nema to our Skin­ny Dip tra­di­tion, learn­ing more about this Ojib­we author who has pub­lished two pic­ture books, Hun­gry John­ny and John­ny’s Pheas­ant, each based on mem­o­ries of grow­ing up with her broth­er and grand­moth­er. Enjoy this audio inter­view with Cheryl by Lisa John­son at KUMD.

What keeps me up at night: Poten­tial dia­logue for a sto­ry I’m work­ing on.

My phi­los­o­phy: Speak from the heart and you’ll nev­er have to wor­ry about what to say.

One habit I keep try­ing to break: Drink­ing soda.

I nev­er thought I would: Be on tele­vi­sion.

My mom was right about: Some day I would know how it feels to argue with a child who does­n’t want to wear win­ter gear.

No one knows that I: Trained to be a box­er as a pre­teen and boxed boys in the ring, blood­ing the lip of one par­tic­u­lar boy I used to be afraid of.

The bravest thing I’ve ever done: I donat­ed a kid­ney to my sis­ter.

Guilti­est plea­sure: Eat­ing cheese­burg­ers.

I yearn to: Retire to a log cab­in on a lake with a wood burn­ing fire­place.

The food I can’t resist: Bread

The piece of cloth­ing in my clos­et I can’t let go: Melis­sa Etheridge’s con­cert t‑shirt.

What I do when I want to feel joy: Go on a nature pho­to adven­ture in the sum­mer.


Carrot Soup

Carrot SoupCar­rots are most often served raw in our home due to our sons’ pref­er­ences. But five years ago at the library we found the book Car­rot Soup by John Segal. Of the dozen or so books we checked out that week, my preschool­er asked for this one to be reread the most.  

On the last page, there’s a recipe for rab­bit’s favorite car­rot soup. We made a half a batch. Both boys ate a small serv­ing of the soup, and my old­er son even asked for sec­onds. He sug­gest­ed I write the recipe down before we return the book. I did, and I’ve made the soup a num­ber of times since. This fall, it proved to be a good way to use up car­rots grown in our gar­den.

Sopa de ZanahoriaI’ve tried oth­er car­rot soup recipes, but this is the one I keep com­ing back to, for its sim­plic­i­ty and its but­tered-car­rot fla­vor. Some fam­i­ly mem­bers are not into dill or pars­ley, so I usu­al­ly leave that out. Gar­nish­es, on the oth­er hand, are often a win with kids. Try sprin­kling a few crou­tons or roast­ed chick­peas on top. Or even pop­corn. Bet­ter yet, let them choose if they want to add the crunchy top­pings to their soup or just eat them on the side.  

I checked Car­rot Soup out again last week, to revis­it it for old time’s sake. My kids remem­bered it — and were more or less will­ing to hear the sto­ry one more time. I smiled at how one seem­ing­ly ran­dom book selec­tion has left us with a mem­o­ry of a shared sto­ry and a recipe we keep in our fall rota­tion.


On Your Mark, Get Set … You!

Just Make a Mark and See Where it Takes You”

—Peter Reynolds, author of The Dot

The New Year is upon on us and libraries are busy with hol­i­day pro­grams cel­e­brat­ing all things win­ter, pro­vid­ing make-and-take pro­grams that inspire cre­ativ­i­ty, and hav­ing a warm place to read. I had a lit­tle time to go through the children’s stacks to begin think­ing about themes for the New Year. I was in the “REY sec­tion” and I stum­bled upon books by author Peter Reynolds. Reynolds’ sto­ries ignite and inspire indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, cre­ativ­i­ty, art, and dis­cov­ery. I began to read them again and it sparked an idea for a great children’s pro­gram I’d like to share with you. 

Pro­gram Overview:

This pro­gram cel­e­brates the works by Peter Reynolds by encour­ag­ing chil­dren to cre­ate an artis­tic expres­sion of who they are. The objec­tive is to show­case work com­plet­ed by chil­dren that cel­e­brates their indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. Search your col­lec­tion (see list below) for Peter Reynolds books. 

Pro­gram Prepa­ra­tion:

  1. Pre­view books by Peter Reynolds.
  1. Review your sup­ply clos­et for paint and paint brush­es. This is a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to reach out to the com­mu­ni­ty to request a dona­tion of sup­plies. 
  1. Set up between 3 to 4 tables and include var­i­ous sheets of white paper (con­struc­tion, card­stock, or reg­u­lar).  

 Pro­gram Exe­cu­tion: 

  1. Begin the pro­gram by read­ing a few books by Peter Reynolds. The fol­low­ing are sug­gest­ed ques­tions you can ask depend­ing on the book you are read­ing:
    1. The Dot: What is the one gift you have that you give to oth­ers?
    2. Ish: What word or words describe an idea you have that you can share with oth­ers?
    3. Sky Col­or: What col­or rep­re­sents you today?

Peter Reynolds' books The Dot, Ish, and Sky Color

  1. After sto­ry­time, chil­dren will take a seat at a table and begin to design and cre­ate a piece of art­work to rep­re­sent some­thing about them­selves. Some ideas can include:
    1. The Col­or of You: Chil­dren will decide one or two col­ors that best describe how they cur­rent­ly feel about them­selves. Using only that col­or or col­ors, they will paint an emo­tion reflect­ing their feel­ing.
    2. Blend­ing the World: For this activ­i­ty, each child will begin paint­ing some­thing that reflects the world. They will do this in one col­or. They will switch places with anoth­er child, who then adds some­thing to their pic­ture in a dif­fer­ent col­or. By the end, each child will have a mur­al that shows the world from var­i­ous per­spec­tives. 
    3. Day­dream­ing: Chil­dren will dip their paint brush in one col­or and close their eyes. Tell them to pre­tend to look up at the sky and ask them to paint what they see while keep­ing their eyes closed.

Paint­ing is not the only medi­um you can use for this activ­i­ty. You can use a vari­ety of your avail­able art sup­plies. You can also invite fam­i­lies to ven­ture out­doors and col­lect rocks, sticks, and dirt and design your project around cre­at­ing with nat­ur­al resources.

Web­sites to Inspire Art Activ­i­ties:

Hap­py Dream­er Activ­i­ties by Scholas­tic

Fable Vision Learn­ing

Peter Reynolds’ Web­site

Oth­er Great Books Sim­i­lar to Peter Reynolds

four books for creativity


Mileage Log

Mileage Log

source: Adobe Stock (2094321)

Since I am a self-employed per­son, the IRS asks me to keep a mileage log list­ing my busi­ness trav­el: where I went, how far away it was, the peo­ple I met with when I got there. So here’s an iron­ic con­fes­sion from a writer: every time I sit down to try to write an end-of-the-year hol­i­day let­ter — some­thing that because of my pro­fes­sion, you might assume I could eas­i­ly pull off in the most clever and delight­ful fash­ion — it instead comes out sound­ing a lit­tle bit like my mileage log for the year.

So I’m play­ing with the form. And along those lines, I decid­ed to try some­thing out with a group of young teenage girls I had men­tored as a writ­ing group: I had them write year-end hol­i­day let­ters for them­selves, but in poet­ic form. I remind­ed them that we’ve talked about epis­to­lary poems before, and encour­aged them to remem­ber the many oth­er poet­ic tools and ele­ments we’ve dis­cussed: metaphor, allit­er­a­tion, imagery, rhythm, word­play, the sound qual­i­ty of cer­tain words.

Their result­ing let­ter poems were engag­ing­ly suc­cess­ful, and each girl’s work was dis­tinc­tive­ly dif­fer­ent. A cou­ple of them chose to write in stan­zas. One wrote in rhyme. Their tones var­ied from fun­ny to ret­ro­spec­tive.

And for at home, if you’re a “San­ta fam­i­ly,” an option for younger kids would be to help them write their San­ta let­ters using sim­ple poet­ic ele­ments.

Maybe I’ve final­ly dis­cov­ered a way I can leave the mileage log in the car and craft a let­ter of my own that makes a more poet­ic imprint.


Ultimate Power!

Page Break


A to Zåäö

A to ZaaoThis 96-page pic­ture book wraps many pur­pos­es between its cov­ers. It’s an alpha­bet book, a muse­um exhib­it cat­a­log, an intro­duc­tion to the Swedish lan­guage, and a pic­ture book illus­trat­ed  by a moth­er’s water­col­ors and her son’s pen-and-ink draw­ings. The lus­cious water­col­ors por­tray a muse­um object and the pen-and-ink draw­ings are lay­ered over the water­col­ors, invit­ing the read­er to imag­ine sto­ries.

On the page for “P,” the Swedish phrase “pig­ga upp dig!” are trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish as “perk up!” The water­col­or por­trays a three-legged chair in the ASI’s col­lec­tion, carved by a woman who emi­grat­ed from Swe­den to Amer­i­ca before 1939. The pen-and-ink draw­ings on this two-page spread sug­gest many sto­ry pos­si­bil­i­ties, depict­ing fig­ures of knights, a late-eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry cou­ple, a troll in shorts, a drag­on, a rein­deer, a man in a dol­phin cos­tume, and a mod­ern-day fam­i­ly hav­ing a beach pic­nic, all of them inter­act­ing with each oth­er. The ideas for sto­ries abound!

In the back mat­ter, there are full-col­or pho­tos and descrip­tions of the fea­tured items from the ASI’s col­lec­tion, graced by more pen-and-ink draw­ings. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to play with. Designed to be a trea­sure for all ages, the book suc­ceeds in its mis­sion.

It’s an enchant­i­ng, infor­ma­tive, and fun book, one that invites you to spend a few hours with your imag­i­na­tion. It’s a keep­er! 

A to Zåäö: Play­ing with His­to­ry
at the Amer­i­can Swedish Insti­tute
illus­trat­ed by Tara Sweeney
and Nate Christo­pher­son
his­tor­i­cal text by Inga Thiessen
Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta  Press, 2019
ISBN 978 – 1517907884


The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

I think of this line each and every Christ­mas Eve when the Christ­mas sto­ry accord­ing to Luke’s Gospel is read. If I’m the one doing the read­ing, and you were to pay close atten­tion, you’d prob­a­bly notice that I have to take a nano-sec­ond pause so as to drop the “Hey!” and read it “straight.”

The line is from The Best Christ­mas Pageant Ever by Bar­bara Robin­son. Gladys, the youngest of the six Herd­man chil­dren, who were “absolute­ly the worst chil­dren in the his­to­ry of the world,” is the Angel of the Lord announc­ing the good news of Jesus’ birth to the shep­herds. She takes her role very seri­ous­ly. I remem­ber read­ing the book for the first time when I was ten and hav­ing the clear­est pic­ture of this angel­ic announce­ment set right in our church. (I still imag­ine the whole thing in the church of my child­hood.) The clar­i­ty of that scene has stayed with me for forty years.

My best friend, Alli­son, gave me The Best Christ­mas Pageant Ever for Christ­mas when we were in fifth grade. It wasn’t a new book then — it was writ­ten when we were tod­dlers. I don’t believe it has ever gone out of print. (Thank good­ness!) It is from that Avon $1.50 copy I received in 1979 that I have shared the sto­ry with my kids. And now this year, I’m read­ing it to my ten-year-old niece. She is a qui­et and sen­si­tive child and she’s in a “chal­leng­ing” class at school. I don’t know that the class is Herd­man-lev­el chal­leng­ing, but my sweet niece did look like she knew exact­ly who I was talk­ing about when I read the open­ing para­graph.

The Herd­mans were absolute­ly the worst kids in the his­to­ry of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cig­ars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit lit­tle kids and cussed their teach­ers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old bro­ken-down tool­house.

The book is nar­rat­ed by the daugh­ter of the Christ­mas pageant’s sub­sti­tute direc­tor. I think it’s the first per­son voice that makes the book. She fills us in on the his­to­ry of the Herd­mans: how they pass every grade not because they’ve mas­tered the skills of the year but because the teach­ers do not want to risk hav­ing two Herd­mans if one is held back…how they shoplift…how they trav­el togeth­er like a street gang, extort­ing their peers, and beat­ing up each oth­er and any­one who cross­es them. The Herd­mans are fierce­ly loy­al to each oth­er, ter­ri­bly (won­der­ful­ly?) irrev­er­ent, and hun­gry.

They wind up in the pageant when they come to Sun­day School on a tip that there are snacks. They’ve nev­er heard the Christ­mas sto­ry and they have many ques­tions. They are vis­cer­al­ly intrigued by the Holy Fam­i­ly, and they apply both com­mon sense and some pret­ty fab­u­lous the­ol­o­gy in their dra­mat­ic pre­sen­ta­tion of the events of that holy night.  For you see, the Herd­mans wind up play­ing all the key parts (hav­ing bul­lied their peers into remain­ing silent dur­ing the call for vol­un­teers.)  Mary is played by Imo­gene, Joseph by Ralph, the wise men by Claude, Ollie, and Leroy, and The Angel of the Lord by Gladys, the “mean­est Herd­man of them all.”

Antics ensue, shall we say. And along the way lit­tle bits are slipped to us about the Herd­mans’ home life. They don’t have enough to eat, one par­ent works dou­ble shifts, one is rumored to be in jail. The Herd­man kids look after each oth­er because nobody else does — “the big ones taught the lit­tle ones every­thing they knew” — which explains how Gladys, the youngest, got to be the mean­est.

We’re in the sea­son of Christ­mas pageants right now and most of them get it all wrong. They’re adorable and spark­ly and sweet…and these days there are too few pater­nal bathrobes pressed into ser­vice for the wise ones’ robes and too many dig­i­tized back­grounds and real live sheep used in the tableau (what in the world?!). We’ve sung Silent Night and Joy to the World and Have a Hol­ly Jol­ly Christ­mas so many times we’ve for­got­ten that against the won­der and mys­tery of Christ­mas there is grit and pol­i­tics and wor­ry and fear and a less than ide­al birth sit­u­a­tion.

Most of our con­tem­po­rary Christ­mas pageants could use the Herd­mans, real­ly. “Hey! Unto you a child is born!” 

[Mary and Joseph] looked like the peo­ple you see on the six o’clock news — refugees, sent to wait in some strange ugly place, with all their box­es and sacks around them. It sud­den­ly occurred to me that this was just the way it must have been for the real Holy Fam­i­ly stuck away in a barn by peo­ple who didn’t much care what hap­pened to them. They couldn’t have been very neat and tidy, but more like this Mary and Joseph (Imogene’s veil was cock­eyed as usu­al, and Ralph’s hair stuck out all around his ears). Imo­gene had the baby doll but she wasn’t car­ry­ing it the way she was sup­posed to, cra­dled in her arms. She had it slung up over her shoul­der, and before she put it back in the manger she thumped it twice on the back.

Any­way, this is my youngest niece I’m read­ing to. We start­ed it last week and I offered to let her take my pre­cious copy home to fin­ish, but she declined in favor of us read­ing it togeth­er. I near­ly wept Christ­mas joy. She’s gonna love the line “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”


Anita Dualeh and Her Reading Team
December 2019

Rais­ing Star Read­ers is delight­ed to intro­duce a new Read­ing Team, one that high­lights how reward­ing it can be to con­tin­ue a prac­tice of read­ing aloud with chil­dren as they grow old­er.

Ani­ta Dualeh’s Team includes her sons Adam, age 12, and Caleb, age 9. As Ani­ta explains, “While I encour­age inde­pen­dent read­ing, I believe read­ing aloud is equal­ly impor­tant, and for every age. I’ve been read­ing to my sons since they were infants, but we’ve had to adjust our rou­tine as their read­ing skills have devel­oped. They’re both avid read­ers and read above their grade lev­els but tend to stick with what they know and like. When left to choose their own books, that’s graph­ic nov­els. Still, they’ll also pick up a ran­dom pic­ture book I have lying around and read it — and some­times humor me when I want to read one aloud to them. I’ve also been able to lure them to some chap­ter books by read­ing the first book in a series aloud and let­ting them pick it up from there.

Caleb, age 9, and Adam, age 12

I look for clas­sics or books with endur­ing themes for our read-alouds. We usu­al­ly keep a book going at all times but devote more time to shared read­ing dur­ing hol­i­days and breaks from school. With a snow day added, we had a five-day week­end dur­ing Thanks­giv­ing and we made good use of it, fin­ish­ing Richard Peck’s nov­el A Sea­son of Gifts. It’s the third book in the series that begins with A Long Way from Chica­go, a New­bery Hon­or book. I’d dis­cov­ered the author by scan­ning the shelves near where my third-grad­er was look­ing for his cur­rent favorites, the ‘Big Nate’ nov­els by Lin­coln Peirce.

We had read the first book in Richard Peck’s series togeth­er in Octo­ber and had grown fond of Grand­ma Dowdel, a no-non­sense matri­arch who is as handy with a gun as she is with a rolling pin. We imme­di­ate­ly request­ed book two in the series, A Year Down Yon­der, which my boys thought was even bet­ter than the first one. It left us eager to read more, so we checked A Sea­son of Gifts out of the library. This third book takes place some years after the first two, but many of the same char­ac­ters remain a part of the sto­ry, as well as the chil­dren of char­ac­ters we’d met in ear­li­er books.

Richard Peck trilogy

This series con­tains sto­ries with just the right bal­ance of humor and poignan­cy to be sat­is­fy­ing to kids and grown-ups alike. Even bet­ter, they address themes that have led to some rich con­ver­sa­tions among the three of us, both while read­ing and days lat­er. They’re cer­tain­ly enter­tain­ing — the scene about 12-year-old Bob learn­ing to dri­ve with Mrs. Dowdel proved to be hard to read aloud because I was laugh­ing so much. We had a marathon read­ing ses­sion the day after Thanks­giv­ing to fin­ish the last book and get it back to the library by the due date.

The only prob­lem is that the next book we’ve start­ed read­ing has been a bit dis­ap­point­ing by com­par­i­son. (I’m ask­ing them to hang on, though, as I know the plot improves.)”


Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion if you’re inter­est­ed in par­tic­i­pat­ing.


I love that you always find a bookstore!”

After post­ing pho­tos on Face­book of a recent trip to Chica­go, my friend Joanne post­ed the above com­ment. My heart soared a bit, know­ing that my pas­sion for books and book­stores gar­nered such a love­ly, pos­i­tive obser­va­tion. It’s no secret that just about any­time I find myself traips­ing through a new town, I am eager to check out the local book­store. It seems fit­ting that as 2019 comes to a close, I recap my book­store adven­tures from the past year and share a few high­lights from five favorites.

Riv­er Lights 2nd Book­store
1098 Main Street
Dubuque, IA

Why it’s worth the vis­it

Dubuque is my home­town and though there are three col­lege book­stores, Riv­er Lights is the only inde­pen­dent book­seller in the city. The quaint and com­fy estab­lish­ment is con­ve­nient­ly locat­ed on Main Street and it’s open sev­en days a week. What I love most about it is the qual­i­ty and quan­ti­ty of rec­om­mend­ed titles and how they are dis­played. The space is not huge, but they make use of the space in a most charm­ing man­ner. Floor to ceil­ing shelves with a cool slid­ing lad­der pro­vide plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ty for explor­ing. There’s also a cute lit­tle nook espe­cial­ly for kids.

River Lights Bookstore

Riv­er Lights 2nd Book­store, Dubuque, Iowa

If I still lived in Dubuque, I would be thrilled to take advan­tage of the many book clubs spon­sored by Riv­er Lights; Chow Bel­la for food groupies, Slight­ly Creepy — a hor­ror book club, Page and Palette for art lovers, the lunch time book group, and the “read and be empow­ered” fem­i­nist book group. I’ll con­tin­ue to vis­it Riv­er Lights when I return to Iowa for fam­i­ly events and I hope any­one pass­ing through or stop­ping by Dubuque for a longer stay also checks it out.

Riv­er Lights has a great web­site fea­tur­ing a cal­en­dar of events, book sug­ges­tions, local author fea­tures and more. They offer an edu­ca­tor dis­count of 10% and a 30% dis­count to edu­ca­tors buy­ing books in bulk.

Chang­ing Hands Book­store
6428 McClin­tock Dr.
Tempe, AZ

Why it’s worth the vis­it

I’m for­tu­nate to head south mul­ti­ple times a year to vis­it my daugh­ter (and get a break from the Min­neso­ta win­ters!). Chang­ing Hands, billed as “Arizona’s lead­ing inde­pen­dent book­store,” has two loca­tions in the val­ley, one in Phoenix and one just a few miles from my Ari­zona retreat. The expan­sive space offers a mul­ti­tude of new and used books to peruse along with lots of adorable gift buy­ing options. There’s a great cof­fee shop con­nect­ed to Chang­ing Hands and there is always a “side­walk sale” with bar­gain books tak­ing place out­side.

Changing Hands Bookstore

Chang­ing Hands Book­store, Tempe, AZ

If I lived in Tempe, I would espe­cial­ly appre­ci­ate the many work­shops and events (more than 400 per year) spon­sored by Chang­ing Hands. Their doors first opened in 1974, as “a social­ly respon­si­ble, envi­ron­men­tal­ly sound busi­ness that would also be a com­mu­ni­ty gath­er­ing place” and after 45 years, two of the orig­i­nal own­ers con­tin­ue to make it their mis­sion to raise aware­ness of social jus­tice issues, pro­mot­ing inclu­sion and a love of lit­er­a­cy. I pre­dict my next vis­it to Ari­zona will include a stop at the Phoenix Chang­ing Hands loca­tion which also includes the “First Draft Book Bar,” a unique venue fea­tur­ing cof­fee, wine, beer and snacks.

Chang­ing Hands has an impres­sive social media pres­ence. Their web­site offers a week­ly newslet­ter, ideas, events, staff book picks, and my favorite, the “B.I.T.” and “LILB.I.T.” book picks. Tweens, aged 8 – 12, com­prise an élite group of book review­ers who offer their opin­ion on books pri­or to release dates or “Before Its Trendy.” This impres­sive fix­ture in the Ari­zona lit world offers an edu­ca­tor dis­count of 10% and a wide range of oth­er ben­e­fits and pro­grams for teach­ers and kids.

Indi­go Books
1033 Rob­son St.
Van­cou­ver, BC, Cana­da

Why it’s worth the vis­it

While not an inde­pen­dent book sell­er, Indi­go (Canada’s lead­ing book retail­er), is led by two pas­sion­ate women who are intent on spread­ing a mis­sion of joy, con­nec­tions, expe­ri­ences and pas­sion. With 89 super­stores and 111 small stores in all 10 Cana­di­an provinces, chances are if you love books and have spent time in Cana­da, you’ve heard of Indi­go. Last year they opened their first store in the U.S. in Short Hills, New Jer­sey. I stum­bled upon the Indi­go store locat­ed in Van­cou­ver while trav­el­ing to Alas­ka last sum­mer. Though I man­aged to make my way through most of the numer­ous rooms, sec­tions and floors in less than two hours, I could have eas­i­ly spent two days in this lit­er­a­cy haven.

Indigo Books, Vancouver, BC

Indi­go Books, Van­cou­ver, BC

If I vis­it Cana­da again, I would seri­ous­ly plan my trip around anoth­er vis­it to an Indi­go book­store. I also know that should my trav­els take me out east, a stop in Short Hills, New Jer­sey, would be a pri­or­i­ty. The smart dis­plays, beau­ti­ful mur­al paint­ings, and cre­ative­ly designed depart­ments at Indi­go give it a hip, con­tem­po­rary feel. Though it is far dif­fer­ent from the inti­ma­cy of small inde­pen­dent book­stores, I still felt a sense of allure and delight as I explored the 29,000 square foot space.

For book enthu­si­asts who are inter­est­ed in Indi­go but may not be able to trav­el so far to check them out, the Indi­go web­site pro­vides lots to check out and the “about us” page is espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing. The Indi­go Love of Read­ing Foun­da­tion is ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing high-needs ele­men­tary schools in Cana­da pro­vide stu­dents access to books. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, order­ing online from Indi­go brings with it hefty inter­na­tion­al ship­ping charges so I sug­gest vis­it­ing in per­son if at all pos­si­ble.

Par­nas­sus Books
5 Creek Street
Ketchikan, Alas­ka

Why it’s worth the vis­it

My first trip to Alas­ka last July began with a stop in the rainy, lit­tle vil­lage of Ketchikan. Strolling through the pic­turesque down­town board­walk, one can­not miss the ide­al­ly locat­ed Par­nas­sus Books. The native pride that emanates from the shelves and dis­plays is also easy to spot.

Parnassus Books, Ketchikan, AK

Par­nas­sus Books, Ketchikan, AK

If I am lucky enough to go on anoth­er Alaskan adven­ture, I would def­i­nite­ly want to vis­it Par­nas­sus Books again. I loved find­ing sev­er­al MN authors fea­tured in the tiny but well-stocked children’s sec­tion and my pur­chas­es that day made ter­rif­ic sou­venirs for the grand­kids.

Ketchikan is a pop­u­lar stop for tourists and cruise ships. My hope is that all who spend time in this love­ly place also make their way to Par­nas­sus Books. The book­store is active on their Face­book page where new books and vis­i­tors to the store are fre­quent­ly fea­tured in posts. You know you’re in good book-lov­ing com­pa­ny when the own­er shares a mes­sage like this:

Win­ter Hours 
Tues­day-Sat­ur­day 10 – 5
Sun­day 12 – 4
CALL 225‑7690 to grab a book after hours as we may be in the store clean­ing.

Harvey’s Tales
216 James St.
Gene­va, IL

Why it’s worth the vis­it

If you love books and Bernese Moun­tain dogs, this book­store is a must for your buck­et list! Locat­ed in the his­toric city of Gene­va, Illi­nois, just 50 min­utes east of Chica­go, the trans­formed two-sto­ry is one of the most fun book­stores I’ve ever seen. A recent girl’s week­end with col­lege friends brought me to the bustling streets of this gem of a town.

Harvey's Tale, Geneva, IL

Har­vey’s Tale, Gene­va, IL

The own­ers of Harvey’s, Chuck, a retired teacher and Rox­anne, a retired real estate pro­fes­sion­al, along with their friend­ly staff, go out of their way to make sure shop­pers find what they are look­ing for. More than a book­store, Harvey’s Tale is a last­ing trib­ute to a beloved pup who passed away last year. The family’s new addi­tion gets spe­cial men­tion as the name­sake for Hazel’s House, an adorable book room and a Birth­day Club, both devot­ed to young read­ers. The well-designed space in the large house offers some­thing for every­one and even man­ages to fit in a cof­fee café which fills the store with deli­cious aro­mas.

I will def­i­nite­ly return to Harvey’s Tale as it was a high­light of our girl’s week­end. The vari­ety of books and book-relat­ed gifts was incred­i­ble. Such an excep­tion­al assort­ment of book-themed socks, t‑shirts, cards, bags, posters, book­marks, and more! Their web­site show­cas­es their fam­i­ly-based phi­los­o­phy and how they strive to impact their com­mu­ni­ty in many ways.

Who knows, some­day I might just find myself emu­lat­ing the retire­ment plan that Chuck and Rox­anne put togeth­er… Wel­come to Rome’s Read­ers Book­store has a nice ring to it!


Skinny Dip with Brian P. Cleary

Brian P. Cleary

We’re pleased to wel­come author and poet Bri­an P. Cleary for a Skin­ny Dip this month. His books have made kids guf­faw and chor­tle, all while learn­ing parts of gram­mar or math! Impos­si­ble, you say? Not for Bri­an, whose brain just works this way.

With more than three mil­lion books in print, he’s in high demand for school vis­its where his sense of humor engages stu­dents with the cur­ricu­lum and hav­ing fun with words and writ­ing. (Check out the details about Bri­an’s author vis­its.)

Open up If It Rains Pan­cakes: Haiku and Lantern Poems, You Can’t Dance to These Rhythms: What are Algo­rithms?, and Chips and Cheese and Nana’s Knees: What is Allit­er­a­tion? for a high ener­gy ride through poet­ry, cod­ing, and lan­guage.

A Confederacy of DuncesThe book I wish every­one would read:

A Con­fed­er­a­cy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The best way to stay fit:

Walk­ing. It’s eas­i­er on your joints than run­ning, and you can wear fun hats while you do it.

My phi­los­o­phy:

Pay as lit­tle inter­est as you can, leave a few fries on your plate, and try to err on the side of gen­eros­i­ty when you can.

One habit I keep try­ing to break:

I like Coca-Cola more than I should. While I’m not try­ing to break it, I am attempt­ing to man­age it.

I don’t believe in:

Guilty plea­sures. If you want to lip-synch along to George Michael’s Faith while order­ing take­out when you’ve got actu­al food in the fridge, guilt is not going to sweet­en the deal — just go for it.

The movie I watch when I want to laugh:

The In-Laws, 1979, with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin.

Chango's Beads and Two-Tone ShoesI’m cur­rent­ly read­ing:

Chang­o’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes [William Kennedy] 

My tough­est les­son has been:

Com­ing to the under­stand­ing that most peo­ple aren’t like me.

My heroes are:

Babe Ruth, Bruce Spring­steen, Max­i­m­il­ian Kolbe, Jack­ie Robin­son, Dorothy Day, Dorothea Lange, Ben Web­ster, Rosa Parks, Woody Allen, Tom Waits

The bravest thing I’ve ever done:

I’ve giv­en the Heim­lich four times, and hope to nev­er do it again.

I wish I could tell my 12-year-old self:

Enjoy that hair.

I yearn to:

Wake up and mag­i­cal­ly know how to play sev­er­al instru­ments.


Pterodactyls and Dragons

The Boy chiefly dab­bled in nat­ur­al his­to­ry and fairy-tales, and he just took them as they came, in a sand­wichy sort of way, with­out mak­ing any dis­tinc­tions; and real­ly his course of read­ing strikes one as rather sen­si­ble.” The Reluc­tant Drag­on

Ken­neth Gra­hame wrote “The Reluc­tant Drag­on” as a chap­ter in his book Dream Days, in 1898, ten years before pub­lish­ing The Wind in the Wil­lows. The Boy in the sto­ry is the son of a shep­herd, dur­ing the time when drag­ons still need­ed slay­ing. Unlike most chil­dren of his sta­tion, Boy is a read­er, spend­ing “much of his time buried in big vol­umes.”

The Reluctant Dragon

the 1938 title page of The Reluc­tant Drag­on

I was the Boy, lost in that won­der­ful stage where I read “to escape, to uncov­er … to find com­pan­ion­ship … [to] set loose dreams,” as Pamela Paul and Maria Rus­so state in How to Raise a Read­er. I plowed through nov­els and “fac­tu­al” books. Vis­it­ing our tiny ele­men­tary school library was the high point of my week. We had no book lists. No one told us what we should be read­ing rel­a­tive to study units. We were only required to check out a book, two at the most.

Class­mates leafed through mag­a­zines or whis­pered to friends. For me, library peri­od was seri­ous busi­ness. Some kids couldn’t find a sin­gle book and Miss Sharp, the librar­i­an, would pull one off the shelves. I knew those kids would return their books unread the next week. Why couldn’t I have their check-out allot­ments instead of ago­niz­ing between three books, one of which I’d have to slide behind the stacks so no one else would check it out. I habit­u­al­ly chose a nov­el and a sci­ence book and read them in a sand­wichy sort of way.           

In his intro­duc­tion to A Hun­dred Fables of Aesop, pub­lished in 1899, Gra­hame wrote:

Vital­i­ty — that is the test; and, what­ev­er its com­po­nents, mere truth is not nec­es­sar­i­ly one of them. A drag­on, for instance, is a more endur­ing ani­mal than a ptero­dactyl. I have nev­er yet met any­one who real­ly believed in a ptero­dactyl, but every hon­est per­son believes in drag­ons — down in the back-kitchens of his con­scious­ness.

I didn’t know yet about ptero­dactyls, but I did learn about the world’s first bird, Archaeopteryx, in All About Birds. At nine, I wasn’t sure about drag­ons since there weren’t any in Vir­ginia, but this Juras­sic Age crea­ture, dis­cov­ered in Ger­many in 1861, seemed very real. The illus­tra­tion of its fos­sil remains ren­dered vital­i­ty in every line. I loved read­ing how the fly­ing rep­tile devel­oped, bone by bone, mus­cle by mus­cle, into today’s mod­ern birds. I repeat­ed soft­ly the word Archaeopteryx to myself, lov­ing the sound of it.


the orig­i­nal Ger­man archaeopteryx fos­sil in the Nat­ur­al His­to­ry Muse­um in Lon­don

All About BirdsThe borrower’s card in the pock­et of All About Birds bore my sig­na­ture every oth­er line, I checked it out so many times. The only bird book I owned was a small Gold­en Nature Guide. Birds made no men­tion of archaeopteryx or ptero­dactyls, but it set loose dreams of my becom­ing an ornithol­o­gist.

Across the Atlantic, in Scot­land, sev­en-year-old Michael J. Ben­ton received a Gold­en Nature Guide called Fos­sils. Four years younger than me, Michael pored over the pic­tures (“481 Illus­tra­tions in Col­or”). Fos­sils cov­ered ancient life from cock­roach­es to corals, includ­ing Archaeopteryx and the aston­ish­ing Pter­a­n­odon, with its 25-foot wingspan. Michael was hooked:

What excit­ed me [about Fos­sils] was that the illus­tra­tions were all in colour — unusu­al still in the 1960s — and there were not only pic­tures of fos­sils, but recon­struc­tions too. The text reflect­ed the knowl­edge of the time — this is what Tyran­nosaurs looked like, based on the clas­sic stud­ies by Pro­fes­sor Hen­ry Osborn of the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, and this is how the dinosaurs died out, rather slow­ly, and per­haps as a result of long-term cool­ing cli­mates (or maybe because they were too stu­pid to adapt to a chang­ing world) … Nonethe­less, as a sev­en-year-old, that was all I need­ed. It nev­er entered my head to ques­tion the author­i­ty of some­thing writ­ten in a book …”

FossilsBenton’s ear­ly inter­est in dinosaurs led him to study pale­o­bi­ol­o­gy. Now a pro­fes­sor at Bris­tol Uni­ver­si­ty, Ben­ton is a world-renowned pale­on­tol­o­gist and author, with a dinosaur named in his hon­or. Despite grow­ing up in a coun­try stuffed with sto­ries of drag­ons, fairies, water hors­es, and oth­er myth­i­cal crea­tures, his dream was let loose by a 1.00 (in Amer­i­can cur­ren­cy) children’s field guide.

I didn’t become a sci­en­tist, after all. My sen­si­ble, sand­wichy method of read­ing — nov­els and non­fic­tion — sent me down a dif­fer­ent road. I became a writer of fic­tion and non­fic­tion, though much of my fic­tion depends on research. In the back-kitchen of my mind, there are griffins and grack­les. Both are vital, and both get along just fine.     

Charles Knight Mural

Charles Knight’s mur­al at
the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in New York



StatueThere’s a quote about sculpt­ing, attrib­uted to Michelan­ge­lo, that I often para­phrase for stu­dents when I’m talk­ing about the art of revis­ing:

In every block of mar­ble I see a stat­ue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and per­fect in atti­tude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the love­ly appari­tion to reveal it to the oth­er eyes as mine see it.

A first draft is often writ­ten in a kind of over­drive, with words spin­ning across the paper with­out thought to whether they all belong. That’s a valid draft­ing tech­nique, but a writer can’t stop there (how­ev­er much most stu­dents want to), because that first draft acts as a block of mar­ble. It includes such an excess of words that they imprison the per­fec­tion inside. It is only by revis­ing — hew­ing away the excess — that the essen­tial sto­ry, poem, or essay is revealed.

Pic­ture books are one of the best tools I’ve found for teach­ing the beau­ty of “less is more” in writ­ing. They are fan­tas­tic writ­ing exam­ples even for stu­dents who are well past read­ing them on a reg­u­lar basis — includ­ing mid­dle school and high school writ­ers. The com­pact pack­ages make for a quick study, and the best are great exam­ples of sto­ry­telling, poet­ic lan­guage, the clear but evoca­tive deliv­ery of infor­ma­tion, and sen­so­ry images.

Some of my past favorites that work well with old­er stu­dents include City Dog, Coun­try Frog by Mo Willems, A Leaf Can Be by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, and Chop­sticks by Amy Krouse Rosen­thal.

Read them, talk about them, and then encour­age your stu­dents to take out the chis­els and get to work!


Aimée Bissonette

Aimee Bissonette's Self on the Shelf

Aimée Bis­sonet­te’s selec­tions for Self on the Shelf

A few days ago, I scanned my many book­shelves in antic­i­pa­tion of writ­ing this piece. My charge was to assem­ble a small stack of books that had sig­nif­i­cance to me.  Per­haps, I thought, I’ll write about my love for mys­ter­ies. After all, I spent count­less hours as a young girl devour­ing the Hardy Boys and Nan­cy Drew mys­ter­ies before mov­ing on to Agatha Christie, Tony Hiller­man, and Sara Paret­sky. Or maybe, I thought, I could write about my love for mem­oir. To me, well-craft­ed mem­oir is a gift.  It pro­vides an insider’s view — the weight of a per­son­al sto­ry that expands my knowl­edge and under­stand­ing of events and expe­ri­ences that are for­eign to me. 

Both mys­tery and mem­oir would have been fun to write about and each would have giv­en some insight into how books have shaped my life. I know, though, if I’m going to be hon­est, with me it all comes down to poet­ry.

I have loved poet­ry from the begin­ning and I have writ­ten poet­ry across the years: in ele­men­tary school where hol­i­days were always a favorite top­ic; as a teenag­er and in col­lege where the pre­dom­i­nant theme was rela­tion­ships; and as an adult with a strong bent toward nature writ­ing.  And because poet­ry was always a big part of my life, I shared it with my daugh­ters, cul­ti­vat­ing a love of poet­ry in them that lasts to this day. 

Which books mat­tered most? There are so many — it’s hard to say. Here’s a small sam­pling, though, that made a dif­fer­ence for me.

As you see in the pho­to, my first book – the book at the top of the stack – has no cov­er and no spine. It did once, of course, but I have no mem­o­ry of that. I am sure it suf­fered wear and tear in my hands and the hands of my six sib­lings. It also endured many cross coun­try moves.

Why is this book spe­cial? This book was my mom’s when she was a lit­tle girl. It’s a 1938 edi­tion of 200 Best Poems for Boys and Girls com­piled by Mar­jorie Bar­rows for the Whit­man Pub­lish­ing Com­pa­ny. When this book was final­ly passed down to me, I didn’t give it up. 

As a girl, I read and reread the poems in this book. I mem­o­rized and recit­ed them. The book is full of well-known and less­er known children’s poems about frogs and trees and pirates and gob­lins. It made my imag­i­na­tion soar.  It also intro­duced me to the wry, clever poems of Ogden Nash whose “The Tale of Cus­tard the Drag­on” is still a favorite. It starts like this:

Belin­da lived in a lit­tle white house,
With a lit­tle black kit­ten and a lit­tle gray mouse,
And a lit­tle yel­low dog and a lit­tle red wag­on,
And a realio, trulio, lit­tle pet drag­on.

Now the name of the lit­tle black kit­ten was Ink,
And the lit­tle gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the lit­tle yel­low dog was sharp as Mus­tard,
But the drag­on was a cow­ard, and she called him Cus­tard. 

Tale of Custard the Dragon

As you might imag­ine, a rol­lick­ing sto­ry unfolds in this poem reveal­ing that all isn’t as it seems and Cus­tard plays a sur­pris­ing role! I love to share this poem with kids when I do school vis­its. It sparks laugh­ter and con­ver­sa­tion. Look it up, you’ll love it, too.

The next book in the stack was anoth­er child­hood favorite, A.A. Milne’s Now We Are Six. I long ago lost my own copy of this book (remem­ber the mul­ti­ple cross coun­try moves?). The one in the pho­to is the copy I bought for my daugh­ters when they were lit­tle.  I have mem­o­ries of sneak­ing away to a qui­et place with this and oth­er books — not an easy task in a house with sev­en kids.  Lucky for me, one of the last hous­es we lived in was a refur­bished board­ing house. It had a big walk in linen clos­et that I treat­ed as my per­son­al read­ing room. I’d gath­er my books, pull the string on the light fix­ture, shut the door against the noise, and lie among the blan­kets and pil­lows, relat­ing might­i­ly to Milne’s “Soli­tude”:

I have a house where I go
When there’s too many peo­ple,
I have a house where I go
Where no one can be;
I have a house where I go,
Where nobody ever says “No”;
Where no one says any­thing — so
There is no one but me.

The next two books in the pho­to are from a wide shelf of poet­ry books my hus­band and I shared with our daugh­ters as they grew up. The Ran­dom House Book of Poet­ry for Chil­dren includes poems by so many won­der­ful children’s poets. Its pages are dog-eared and smudged. We read it over and over. It makes me think of blan­kets and paja­mas and cud­dling on the couch. Good mem­o­ries.

Our daugh­ters also loved every one of Shel Silverstein’s books. This copy of Where the Side­walk Ends (which long ago lost its dust jack­et) shows how well loved his books are. We still rem­i­nisce about our favorites. Does any­one remem­ber “Warn­ing” fea­tur­ing a Sharp Toothed Snail? My girls still laugh about that one. One of my favorites is “Hug O’ War”:

I will not play at tug o’war.
I’d rather play at hug o’war.
Where every­one hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where every­one gig­gles
And rolls on the rug.
Where every­one kiss­es,
And every­one grins,
And every­one cud­dles,
And every­one wins. 

Not a bad sen­ti­ment for today’s times, huh!

The remain­ing books in the stack are impor­tant for many rea­sons. Among oth­er things, they rep­re­sent my love for read­ing and writ­ing nature poems. Morn­ing Earth is by John Cad­dy, a won­der­ful poet and nat­u­ral­ist who taught the first poet­ry class I dared take at The Loft. For years, John emailed a poem a day to teach­ers and class­rooms all over the world. In doing so, he made poet­ry — and nature — more acces­si­ble to kids. Here is one of his poems, titled “Novem­ber 26”:

In a snowy field
three jun­cos feed.
Their weight curves down
the stalks of weeds
as they pluck the fuel
the fire needs.

The next books in the stack, Poets of Boca Grande and Amethyst and Agate, con­tain poems from two of my favorite nat­ur­al places: Florida’s gulf coast and Lake Supe­ri­or.  I often buy poet­ry books when I trav­el.

The final books, The Cuckoo’s Haiku (a gift from a writer friend) and Song of the Water Boat­man, are books I use with stu­dents when I am vis­it­ing schools. Read­ing and writ­ing short poems is a great warm up exer­cise for young writ­ers. I also use these books as men­tor texts for my own writ­ing. If one day I could write one poem as love­ly as any of Joyce Sidman’s, I’d be thrilled.

So, that’s my stack. A small sam­pling, but I am sure you get the idea.  I love poet­ry – its spare lines and lush descrip­tion; its humor; the emo­tion it evokes. And I know read­ing and study­ing poet­ry help me write pic­ture books.  The notion that every word counts is true to both, as is the impor­tance of line breaks and page turns.  

I still love a good mys­tery. And if you know me, you’ve like­ly heard me rec­om­mend a mem­oir or two, but at the heart of all my read­ing, writ­ing, and inspi­ra­tion is poet­ry. I feel blessed to have it in my life.        



Page Break



HumanimalsLet me start this book rec­om­men­da­tion by say­ing that I believe every class­room, school library, and home should have this book on your shelves. As the author, Christo­pher Lloyd, states in the Fore­word, “the ances­tors of today’s indige­nous peo­ples lived close to wild ani­mals. They passed along cul­tur­al tra­di­tions of respect for ani­mals as the equals or some­times the supe­ri­ors of humans.” And then, he goes on to say, humans decid­ed we were smarter and bet­ter than ani­mals because moved to farms and cities and saw less of wild ani­mals, rais­ing them so we could make use of them.

Sci­en­tists decid­ed on “a sim­ple def­i­n­i­tion of humans that went like this: Humans are tool mak­ers. Mak­ing and using tools sets us apart from the rest of the ani­mal world.” If you’ve been fol­low­ing along with stud­ies of the nat­ur­al world, you’ll know that around about the 1960s, Jane Goodall com­mit­ted to study­ing chim­panzees for years, observ­ing that they did make and use tools. “Yikes! Our def­i­n­i­tion of humans was out the win­dow.”

This thought­ful, obser­vant, and astound­ing book looks at all the ways that ani­mals are like humans: they live and work in com­mu­ni­ties, even liv­ing in cities, they like to have fun, they show off, and they love each oth­er. Hav­ing and dis­play­ing intel­li­gence is anoth­er group of behav­iors that make us more alike than dif­fer­ent: they are self-aware, we’ve rec­og­nized that many ani­mals com­mu­ni­cate with a lan­guage, and they can solve puz­zles.  

Humanimals illustration

illus­tra­tion copy­right Mark Ruf­fle, from Human­i­mals, pub­lished by What on Earth Books, 2019

Spe­cif­ic exam­ples are giv­en to back up each of these asser­tions, tak­en direct­ly from the stud­ies of sci­en­tists who are pho­tographed and sum­ma­rized in the back mat­ter of the book, along with a con­cise glos­sary of terms that you’ll find use­ful for teach­ing. They’re easy to remem­ber!

Who among your read­ers could resist this kind of detail? “It’s not just chimps who use tools. In Aus­tralia, black kites use a very dra­mat­ic one. They car­ry burn­ing sticks from for­est fires to near­by grass­lands and drop them to start fires in the grass. Why on earth would they do this? The answer is that it’s a super clever form of hunt­ing. …”

Mark Ruf­fle’s illus­tra­tions are dra­mat­ic, get­ting to the heart of each page of infor­ma­tion, show­ing us pre­cise­ly what we prob­a­bly won­der about while we’re read­ing. What hap­pens when dol­phins are put in front of a mir­ror? When ravens roll down a snowy hill to have fun? When an octo­pus turns a dif­fer­ent col­or when it’s feel­ing aggres­sive? Ruf­fle cap­tures the behav­iors with the right touch­es of whim­sy and infor­ma­tion.

This book is a page-turn­er in all of the right ways. It’s an immense­ly read­able non­fic­tion book that deliv­ers mem­o­rable infor­ma­tion. Best of all, I believe it will change hearts and minds about our rela­tion­ship to ani­mals, a nec­es­sary step in our evo­lu­tion if we’re engaged in sav­ing our plan­et.

Here Christo­pher Lloyd is inter­viewed on Sky News, shar­ing the way bees vote demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly.

Human­i­mal: Incred­i­ble Ways Ani­mals Are Just Like Us!
writ­ten by Christo­pher Lloyd
illus­trat­ed by Mark Ruf­fle
What on Earth Books, 2019
ISBN 978−1−912920−01−3