Sev­er­al years ago a friend and I got lost dri­ving through New Orleans. Even­tu­al­ly we pulled over so I could ask a gas sta­tion atten­dant for direc­tions.

He rat­tled off a set of instruc­tions in a Cajun accent, end­ing with, “then take the Hoopa­long.”

I looked at my road map. No Hoopa­long. I asked him to point it out to me. His finger tapped a sec­tion of my map while he repeat­ed his direc­tions, this time with a hint of impa­tience. I looked again. Still no Hoopa­long that I could see, but he’d moved on to anoth­er task. I shrugged. I figured we’d fol­low his instruc­tions as far as we could, then watch road signs for this mys­te­ri­ous “Hoopa­long.”

Huey P. Long Bridge

Pho­to cred­it: John­nyAu­to­mat­ic, Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Which is how I soon there­after found myself being dri­ven across the Huey P. Long Bridge (iden­tified by some as the “scari­est bridge you’ve ever dri­ven across”) by my shriek­ing, bridge-pho­bic friend. By the time the two of us had real­ized where the attendant’s direc­tions were tak­ing us, it was too late to do any­thing but keep dri­ving for­ward.

I once heard author Lau­rie Halse Ander­son tell a group of writ­ers that we should “lead our char­ac­ters deep into the for­est.” I’ve heard oth­er authors refer to it as “throw­ing our char­ac­ters in over their heads.”

To phrase it slight­ly differ­ent­ly, we need to some­how trick our char­ac­ters into cross­ing the scari­est bridge they’ve ever dri­ven across.

Keep drum­ming this fact into your stu­dent writ­ers’ heads: a sto­ry doesn’t become com­pelling until you heap trou­ble upon your char­ac­ters. Trou­ble is what makes a read­er want to keep read­ing.

As for the stu­dents, they’ll learn one of the biggest sat­is­fac­tions a writer can have: the fun of figur­ing out how you’re going to teach your char­ac­ter to swim after you’ve thrown him or her into the deep water.


Books about Chocolate

Feb­ru­ary is Nation­al Choco­late Month, so how could we let it pass by with­out an homage to choco­late … in books? Far less cost­ly on the den­tal bill! “In 2009, more than 58 mil­lion pounds of choco­late were pur­chased and (like­ly) con­sumed in the days sur­round­ing Feb­ru­ary 14th — that’s about $345 mil­lion worth. (Kiri Tan­nen­baum, “8 Facts About Choco­late,” Del­ish) Were you a part of the nation­al sta­tis­tic? Here are a list of 12 books about choco­late to feed your crav­ing.

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake  

Bet­ty Bun­ny Loves Choco­late Cake 
writ­ten by Michael Kaplan
illus­trat­ed by Stephane Jorisch 
Dial Books, 2011

Bet­ty Bun­ny wants choco­late cake. Her moth­er wants her to learn patience. Bet­ty Bun­ny would rather have choco­late cake. This is a fun­ny, droll book about a spunky girl for whom wait­ing is a chal­lenge. The illus­tra­tions are filled with humor, too.

Candy Bomber


Can­dy Bomber: The Sto­ry of the Berlin Airlift’s “Choco­late Pilot”
writ­ten by Michael O. Tun­nell
Charles­bridge, 2010

When the Rus­sians main­tained a block­ade around West Berlin after World War II, US Air Force Lieu­tenant Gail S. Halvors­en arranged to have choco­late and gum dropped over the city by hand­ker­chief para­chutes.  Rus­sia want­ed to starve the peo­ple of West Berlin into accept­ing Com­mu­nist rule, but the Air Force con­tin­ued its sanc­tioned deliv­ery of food and goods for two years. Halvors­en would drop the can­dy for the kids of West Berlin with a wig­gle of his plane’s wings so they’d know it was him. A true sto­ry with a lot of pri­ma­ry doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  

Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­to­ry
writ­ten by Roald Dahl
illus­trat­ed by Quentin Blake
Knopf, 1964

Inspired by his school­boy expe­ri­ences of choco­late mak­ers send­ing test pack­ages to the kids in exchange for their opin­ions along­side tours of the choco­late fac­to­ries with their elab­o­rate machin­ery, Roald Dahl cre­at­ed what might be the most famous book about can­dy, and choco­late in par­tic­u­lar, in the world. As chil­dren vie for a gold­en tick­et to enter the choco­late fac­to­ry, Char­lie Buck­et finds the fifth tick­et. Liv­ing in pover­ty, it’s quite a sight for him, espe­cial­ly when the oth­er four win­ners are eject­ed igno­min­ious­ly from the fac­to­ry, leav­ing Char­lie to inher­it from Willy Won­ka. This book cel­e­brat­ed its 50th Anniver­sary in 2015.

Chock Full of Chocolate  

Chock Full of Choco­late
writ­ten by Eliz­a­beth MacLeod
illus­trat­ed by Jane Brad­ford
Kids Can Press, 2005

A great way to talk about math and process and writ­ing instruc­tions, cook­books are appeal­ing to those kids who can’t get enough of the Food Net­work. This book has 45 recipes fea­tur­ing choco­late with easy-to-under­stand instruc­tions for dish­es such as S’more Gorp, Dirt Dessert, and Can­dy-Cov­ered Piz­za.

Chocolate Fever  

Choco­late Fever
writ­ten by Robert Kim­mel Smith
illus­trat­ed by Gioia Fiammenghi
Cow­ard McCann, 1972

Hen­ry Green loves choco­late. He eats choco­late all the time in every form and shape. He’s so enam­ored of choco­late that he con­tracts Choco­late Fever. Hen­ry runs away from the doc­tor and straight into a zany adven­ture filled with humor and action. A good read-aloud.


Choco­late: Sweet Sci­ence & Dark Secrets
of the World’s Favorite Treat

writ­ten by Kay Fry­den­borg
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2015

This book on choco­late for mid­dle grade read­ers cov­ers choco­late from its light to dark aspects, from the way it was dis­cov­ered to the slaves that were used to grow and har­vest it. This book address­es the his­to­ry, sci­ence, botany, envi­ron­ment, and human rights swirling around the world’s obses­sion with choco­late.

Chocolate Touch  

Choco­late Touch
writ­ten by Patrick Skene Catling
illus­trat­ed by Mar­got Apple
Harper­Collins, reis­sued in 2006

John Midas loves choco­late. He loves it so much that he′ll eat it any hour of any day. He doesn′t care if he ruins his appetite. After wan­der­ing into a can­dy store and buy­ing a piece of their best choco­late, John finds out that there might just be such a thing as too much choco­late. This take on the leg­end of King Midas is writ­ten with humor and action. First pub­lished in 1952, this is a charm­ing sto­ry.

Chocolate War  

Choco­late War
writ­ten by Robert Cormi­er
Pan­theon Books, 1974

In this clas­sic young adult nov­el, Jer­ry Renault is a fresh­man at Trin­i­ty who refus­es to engage in the school’s annu­al fundrais­er: sell­ing choco­late. Broth­er Leon, Archie Costel­lo, the Vig­ils (the school gang) all play a part in this psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller. Cormier’s writ­ing is game-chang­ing.

Milton Hershey  

Mil­ton Her­shey: Young Choco­lati­er
(Child­hood of Famous Amer­i­cans series)
writ­ten by M.M. Eboch
illus­trat­ed by Meryl Hen­der­son
Aladdin, 2008

As a young boy, Her­shey had to drop out of school to help sup­port his fam­i­ly. He was a go-get­ter. Work­ing in an ice cream par­lor gave him ideas about sweets and sell­ing choco­late to the pub­lic. He start­ed his own busi­ness, work long and hard to per­fect the choco­late his com­pa­ny sells to this day, and learned a good deal about eco­nom­ics, mar­ket­ing, and run­ning a com­pa­ny. An inter­est­ing biog­ra­phy for young read­ers.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate  

No Mon­keys, No Choco­late
writ­ten by Melis­sa Stew­art and Allen Young
illus­trat­ed by Nicole Wong
Charles­bridge, 2013

A good look at the ecosys­tem and inter­de­pen­dence of a choco­late tree and the live­ly mon­keys that chew on its pods as they swing through the jun­gle, dis­trib­ut­ing seeds. Read­ers look at the one tree’s life cycle, exam­in­ing the flo­ra, fau­na, ani­mals, and insects that con­tribute to the mak­ing of cacao. Two book­worms on each page com­ment on the infor­ma­tion, mak­ing this infor­ma­tion even more acces­si­ble.

Smart About Chocolate  

Smart About Choco­late: a Sweet His­to­ry
writ­ten by San­dra Markle
illus­trat­ed by Charise Mer­i­cle Harp­er
Gros­set & Dun­lap, 2004

A book shar­ing many facts about the his­to­ry and mak­ing of choco­late, it’s short and engag­ing. Illus­trat­ed with car­toons and dia­logue bub­bles, pho­tos and charts, this is a good sur­vey of choco­late. Includes a recipe and sug­ges­tions for fur­ther read­ing.

This Books is Not Good For You  

This Book Is Not Good for You
writ­ten by pseu­do­ny­mous bosch
Lit­tle, Brown, 2010

In this third book in the series, Cass, Max-Ernest, and Yo-Yoji work to dis­cov­er the where­abouts of the leg­endary tun­ing fork so they can get Cass’s Mom back after she’s kid­napped by the evil dessert chef and choco­lati­er Señor Hugo. High adven­ture with a fun atti­tude.


Feeling Cranky

Phyl­lis: Feb­ru­ary is the month for lovers and for love. And it’s the month where some of us also get a lit­tle grumpy. Gray slushy snow — no good for ski­ing or build­ing snow peo­ple — lines the streets. The weight of win­ter coats wears old. And even though we do love Feb­ru­ary, we thought we’d look at books about grumpi­ness — just in case any­one else might feel a lit­tle, well, cranky once in a while.

Crankee DoodleCran­kee Doo­dle by Tom Angle­berg­er with pic­tures by Cece Bell, stretch­es the con­ven­tions of pic­ture books with art and text in dia­logue bal­loons depict­ing a con­ver­sa­tion between a sol­dier and his horse. “We could go to town,” the horse cheer­i­ly pro­pos­es. Cran­kee Doodle’s response? A long list of rea­sons NOT to go. Each of the horse’s sug­ges­tions, to go shop­ping, buy a feath­er, get a new hat, is met with more neg­a­tiv­i­ty. “Shop­ping? I hate shop­ping … I might as well throw my mon­ey down an out­house hole.” Cran­kee Doo­dle over­steps a line when the horse offers to car­ry him to town and Cran­kee says, “No way. You smell ter­ri­ble.” See­ing how much he has hurt his horse’s feel­ings, Cran­kee capit­u­lates, and they dri­ve to town with Cran­kee yelling “Yee-HAW!” out the car win­dow. “Nice hat,” “the horse tells Cran­kee in the last spread where they are hap­pi­ly laden with pur­chas­es. “Thanks, pal,” Cran­kee replies.

For a day when you or your kids feel cranky, read­ing this book out loud and throw­ing your­self into the crank­i­ness can be cathar­tic. And just plain fun. 

Jack­ie: I love the way this sto­ry ties into the song Yan­kee Doo­dle. Cran­kee Doo­dle, the grumpy broth­er to the orig­i­nal, doesn’t want to go to town, (espe­cial­ly not rid­ing a pony), doesn’t want a feath­er for his hat, and refus­es to call his hat “mac­a­roni” (lasagna, maybe, but def­i­nite­ly not mac­a­roni). A read­ing of this sto­ry should always be pre­ced­ed by a singing of the song.

Man Who Enjoyed GrumblingPhyl­lis: The Man Who Enjoyed Grum­bling by Mar­garet Mahy, with illus­tra­tions by Wendy Hod­der (pub­lished in 1987 and found on the used book rack of an Allen Coun­ty pub­lic library). fea­tures scratchy Mr. Ratch­ett, who enjoys a good grum­ble. His neigh­bors, the Goat fam­i­ly, give him plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ty to grum­ble at them.

The Goat fam­i­ly liked mak­ing trou­ble.
They bunt­ed and bleat­ed.
They nib­bled his hedge.
Some­times they put their horns down
And chased the cat.

One day the Goat fam­i­ly, want­i­ng more room for jump­ing around and tired of their scratchy neigh­bor, move to the high hills. Mr. Ratch­ett tries to find sat­is­fac­tion in the peace and qui­et but, with­out his neigh­bors to grum­ble at, things are too qui­et. “Trust those Goats to go off and have a good time,” he grum­bles. “They don’t spare a thought for the poor old man next door.”

Up in the hills the Goat fam­i­ly, too, finds things too qui­et. “We like mak­ing trou­ble and we need a scratchy neigh­bor close by,” they tell Mr. Ratch­ett when they move back in next door. Mr. Ratch­ettt does a lit­tle grumbler’s tap dance where the Goats can’t see him because “he was so glad they were back.”

Jack­ie: This book is so much fun to read out loud:“They bunt­ed and bleated./They nib­bled his hedge.”

And it’s packed full of great words and phras­es: Scratchy Mr. Ratch­ett (as he is always called in this book) wears “moan­ing boots.” And he believes “A man needs a bit of grum­bling to bring a sparkle to his eyes.”

Worst Person in the WorldPhyl­lis: James Steven­son’s The Worst Per­son in the World has a yard full of poi­son ivy, yells at any­one who comes near his house, eats lemons for break­fast (“Ugh! Too sweet!”), and hits flow­ers with his umbrel­la. When the Worst encoun­ters the ugli­est thing in the world, who has a self-con­fessed “pleas­ing per­son­al­i­ty,” Ugly enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly plans a par­ty in the Worst’s house with dec­o­ra­tions, cake, par­ty hats, and invi­ta­tions to the neigh­bor­hood chil­dren. The Worst tells Ugly he wants no par­ty, no chil­dren, and no Ugly. The crest­fall­en Ugly leaves, but the Worst even­tu­al­ly finds a striped par­ty hat in the cor­ner and tries it on. “Hmmm,” he says, and goes off to find Ugly and the chil­dren to invite them back to a par­ty. Steven­son doesn’t trans­form his char­ac­ter into a sun­shiney per­son, but the Worst does have a smile on his face as he leads every­one back to his house.

Jack­ie: James Steven­son is so fun­ny! Ugly recites the old saw, “if you’ve got a pleas­ing per­son­al­i­ty that’s all that counts,” in such a dead­pan and earnest way that some­how empha­sizes the clichéd qual­i­ty. I almost think Steven­son invent­ed Ugly so he could use that line.

He, like Mar­garet Mahy, is fun­ny in the way he uses lan­guage. The par­ty is not just a par­ty. When the Worst asks what he’s doing Ugly replies, “Get­ting ready for the big she­bang!” She­bang — much more fun than a par­ty.

You are right, Phyl­lis, that the Worst con­tin­ues to be grumpy right up until the end of the sto­ry, but we know it’s not quite the same lev­el of grumpi­ness because he’s changed. At the begin­ning of the sto­ry he looks right at their ball and tells the kids he hasn’t seen it. At the end he looks at it and returns it to them.

The Worst is the grump we love to laugh at, so this seems like just the right amount of change. We don’t want him to total­ly reform.

Phyl­lis: Stevenson’s oth­er Worst books include The Worst Per­son in the World at Crab Beach, The Worst Goes South, The Worst Person’s Christ­mas, and Worse than the Worst. In all of the books Stevenson’s scratchy illus­tra­tions cap­ture the Worst’s crank­i­ness in his per­son and his sur­round­ings. By the end of each book, if he’s not smil­ing, the Worst’s frown has at least relaxed a lit­tle.

James Stevenson Worst Books

Jack­ie: My favorite of those I have read on this list is The Worst Goes South. Worst leaves home to avoid a fall fes­ti­val next door — way too much hog-call­ing and pol­ka music. He’s the first guest since 1953 in the motel he finds. The own­er says, “Clean [your room] your­self. And don’t be both­er­ing me for tow­els and soap and all that non­sense … don’t be whin­ing for break­fast, … this is not some fan­cy spoil-you-rot­ten hotel.” It turns out that there are two Worsts. And the motel own­er is Worst’s broth­er, Ervin.

Phyl­lis: Stevenson’s Worst books can be hard to put your hands on — with­in a large met­ro­pol­i­tan library sys­tem The Worst Per­son in the World was only avail­able from an out­state library. But his books, along with Cran­kee Doo­dle and The Man Who Enjoyed Grum­bling, will put a smile on the cranki­est face.

Jack­ie: The Worst books that I found came from Gal­latin, Mis­souri, New­ton, Iowa, and Waver­ly, Iowa. These are not books we can read on a whim, at least not now. Get­ting them requires advance plan­ning. I wish some pub­lish­er would reprint these books.

Phyl­lis: Spring is on the way, but Feb­ru­ary has much to cel­e­brate: love, lovers, friends, and per­haps the chance, once in a while, to enjoy being just a lit­tle cranky.

Jack­ie: Phyl­lis and I were actu­al­ly a lit­tle cranky about how hard it was to find the Worst books and The Man Who Enjoyed Grum­bling. I could not find it nor suc­cess­ful­ly order it. Phyl­lis had to read it to me over Skype. As we said, we’d love to see them reprint­ed. Are there books that you love that you can’t find eas­i­ly, that you think should be reprint­ed? Let us know in the com­ments below. We want to start a list.



Pippi LongstockingAt Bookol­o­gy, we believe the adage about “the right book for the right read­er.” Those are not nec­es­sar­i­ly the books that we see in adver­tise­ments, in the blog­gers’ buzz, or on award lists. Only by lis­ten­ing to each oth­er, and espe­cial­ly to kids, talk about books do we find those gems our hearts were look­ing for but didn’t know exist­ed.

When you think about your favorite books, what’s your per­spec­tive? Do you remem­ber the sto­ry first? The char­ac­ters? The cov­er? The illus­tra­tions?

For many of us, it’s the book cov­er. Yes­ter­day, I was look­ing for books about cats. I want­ed to rec­om­mend some clas­sics. I remem­ber a book from the 1960s that had a boy and a cat on the cov­er. Both of them were fac­ing away from me, look­ing at a neigh­bor­hood. I remem­ber that the cov­er is yel­low. Do you know the book I’m talk­ing about? I asked Steve, because he fre­quent­ly talks about this book. When I described the cov­er, he knew right away: It’s Like This, Cat by Emi­ly Cheney Neville. (I’m not pub­lish­ing the cov­er here because I don’t want to give it away. Take a look at the bot­tom of this arti­cle.)

Often it’s the illus­tra­tions. Who can for­get the thick black out­lines of My Friend Rab­bit? Or the clear, bright col­ors of My Heart is Like a Zoo? Or the pen and ink draw­ings of Lois Lens­ki?


Some­times it’s the char­ac­ters. The book with the spi­der and the pig. That one with the adven­tur­ous red-haired girl with pig­tails. That book where the high-school kids share their poet­ry in class. That auto­bi­og­ra­phy of the author grow­ing up in Cuba and the USA. Those char­ac­ters are so mem­o­rable that, once read, we can’t for­get them. (The book cov­ers are post­ed at the end of this arti­cle.)

When we’re meet­ing with the Chap­ter & Verse book club each month, the last half-hour is a time to rec­om­mend books we’ve enjoyed. I always add to my read­ing list. Do you have an inten­tion­al, set-aside time for talk­ing with oth­er adults about the children’s books they’re read­ing and are thrilled to rec­om­mend? I par­tic­u­lar­ly love it when they’re books that aren’t on the buzzers’ radar. I feel as though we’ve shared a secret.

Chapter & Verse Book Club, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin

Chap­ter & Verse Book Club, Red­bery Books, Cable, Wis­con­sin

I also hunt through the state lists. These are books that edu­ca­tors and librar­i­ans are choos­ing because they know they have kid appeal. So often, these are not books that have been on award lists … but they’re passed along, buzzed about among child read­ers, rec­om­mend­ed by the adults in their lives.

State Choice Awards

Not all books need to be new. There are fab­u­lous books hid­ing on the library shelves and in used book­stores. Do a sub­ject search. It’s amaz­ing what you can find by look­ing at a library cat­a­log or doing an online search.

Everyone’s pub­lish­ing book­lists these days. How do you know which ones to fol­low? Do the titles res­onate with you? Do you find your­self eager­ly adding their sug­ges­tions to your TBR pile? Then book­mark those lists! Vis­it them fre­quent­ly or sign up to receive noti­fi­ca­tions when they pub­lish their next list.

The award books and books with stars are one way to find good books but don’t rely sole­ly on those sources. Don’t for­get the wealth of fab­u­lous books that fly under the radar.

Talk to each oth­er. Adult to adult. Child to adult. Child to child. Adult to child. Old or new. Hid­den trea­sure or best­seller. We learn about the best books when we hear rec­om­men­da­tions from anoth­er read­er, anoth­er per­spec­tive.

books described in the article


End Cap: Chasing Secrets

Chasing SecretsAs a new fea­ture this month, we’re adding a Word Search puz­zle using names and terms found in Gen­nifer Chold­enko’s his­tor­i­cal fic­tion book, Chas­ing Secrets

Sim­ply use your mouse or touch pad to draw a line over your found words and the pro­gram will mark them off for you. Words can be found for­wards, back­wards, hor­i­zon­tal­ly, ver­ti­cal­ly, and diag­o­nal­ly. As you find a word, it will be high­light­ed on the board and it will dis­ap­pear from the word list.

Have fun!

Hid­den Words

Puz­zle by mypuzzle.org

Theater: “The Story of Crow Boy”


Story of Crow Boy Bruce Silcox Minneapolis Star Tribune

In the Heart of the Beast play In the Heart of the Beast, pho­to cred­it: Bruce Sil­cox, Min­neapo­lis Star­Tri­bune

There are sev­er­al excel­lent, insight­ful reviews of The Sto­ry of Crow Boy, on stage Feb­ru­ary 18 – 28, 2016, at Min­neapo­lis’ (MN) In the Heart of the Beast Pup­pet and Mask The­atre. Links to these reviews are below, and I won’t restate their con­tent here except to reit­er­ate that the work tells the sto­ry of the Calde­cott Hon­or (1956) book Crow Boy’s author and illus­tra­tor, Taro Yashima (the pen name of Atsushi Iwa­mat­su).

Crow Boy, Taro YashimaWhat I do wish to remark upon in this lit­er­ary venue is the gen­e­sis of this show, a seed plant­ed decades ago through the pages of a pic­ture book into the cre­ative, bril­liant, inspired mind and spir­it of a teenaged Sandy Spiel­er (one of the founders of In the Heart of the Beast Pup­pet and Mask The­atre, and its artis­tic direc­tor since 1976). The book even­tu­al­ly brought Spiel­er to the larg­er sto­ry of its author/illustrator, which she and her amaz­ing col­lab­o­ra­tors bring to joy­ful, painful, pierc­ing, and ulti­mate­ly hope­ful life on the stage.

Take heed and take heart, those of you who are mak­ers of books for the young. Your sto­ries mat­ter, these works of first Art you cre­ate for chil­dren through text and through pic­tures. Write and draw truth and joy and friend­ship and pow­er and over­com­ing and the exquis­ite nat­ur­al world and human expe­ri­ence. Your sto­ries bur­row and blos­som in still-mal­leable young minds; they are busy nur­tur­ing roots of strength and pur­pose and hope and trans­for­ma­tion long after you have turned your own atten­tion toward oth­er tales.97

If you are able to attend the Heart of the Beast show, please know that there are some extreme­ly intense and soul sear­ing seg­ments in the work, doc­u­ment­ing por­tions of this world’s evil his­to­ry that must be remem­bered. The stag­ing expands our under­stand­ing of atroc­i­ties as they affect indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies, even though we can’t pos­si­bly com­pre­hend the true mag­ni­tude of loss and dev­as­ta­tion behind those flash­es with which we are pre­sent­ed. The show is def­i­nite­ly not for chil­dren. (The the­atre’s pub­lic­i­ty states that the “show is rec­om­mend­ed for age 11 and old­er.”)

The intri­cate inter­play of pup­petry, pro­jec­tions, masks, human actors, and music in the show is seam­less, inspired and often mag­i­cal. Small moments such as the book-lov­ing boy pup­pet Taro snug­gling to sleep lit­er­al­ly between the cov­ers of a book, and lat­er launch­ing into a brief moment of flight from his perch on the pages will trans­fix any bib­lio­phile’s heart.

The Story of Crow BoyThe pro­gram notes cite Taro Yashima’s ded­i­ca­tion “against all odds, to a tena­cious belief in the abil­i­ty of art to trans­form the world.” Cer­tain­ly Art that is made espe­cial­ly for chil­dren — and actu­al­ly for chil­dren — does have this capac­i­ty, since chil­dren are the ones who may be able to ulti­mate­ly trans­form this world. Thank you, chil­dren’s book mak­ers, for giv­ing them seeds of inspi­ra­tion and strength through your books.

At Heart of the Beast, a Chil­dren’s Book Grows Up” by Euan Kerr, Min­neso­ta Pub­lic Radio News

Crow Boy Takes Flight at Heart of the Beast,” by Gray­don Roye, Min­neapo­lis Star Tri­bune

Heart of the Beast Pup­pet The­ater Takes Flight with Crow Boy,” by Chris Hewitt, St. Paul Pio­neer Press

HOBT’s Much Antic­i­pat­ed The Sto­ry of Crow Boy on Stage Feb 18 – 28,” press release, Phillips West News

A descrip­tion of the play from In the Heart of the Beast­’s web­site:

The Sto­ry of Crow Boy explores the intrigu­ing life sto­ry of Taro Yashima who wres­tled with human bru­tal­i­ty, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, and the rav­ages of WWII to build work of social con­science, com­pas­sion­ate insight, poet­ic visu­al form, and ulti­mate­ly — of joy. Yashima reminds us what it means to be human, and offers under­stand­ing into the com­plex­i­ties of cul­tur­al sur­vival. This pro­duc­tion draws on his auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal and fic­tion­al books includ­ing the Calde­cott Hon­or Award-win­ning Crow Boy (1956) about a young boy who learns to sing the “voic­es of crows” in defi­ance of his years of being bul­lied.


A Walk in the Woods

I tend to win things. Not always, of course…but if there’s an “enter to win” offer that shows up on Face­book and I don’t mind the spon­sor­ing par­ty hav­ing my email or mail­ing address (usu­al­ly they already do), I enter. I’ve won con­cert and play tick­ets, music, din­ner, and books this way. I think maybe not many oth­er peo­ple enter. Or I’m extra­or­di­nar­i­ly lucky. Per­haps I should buy lot­tery tick­ets?

Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the WoodsThe lat­est thing I won was two copies of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods plus two movie tick­ets (it was a pro­mo for the movie); though now that I think about it, I nev­er received the movie tick­ets. Doesn’t mat­ter. Two copies of the book arrived at my house from Pen­guin Ran­dom House as soon as I gave them my address; which I might add, they already had.

A few weeks lat­er I threw one of the copies in a care-pack­age head­ed to #1 Son at col­lege. He’s at an engi­neer­ing school and I’m just so afraid he’ll for­get to read what with all the math and sci­ence. (This real­ly isn’t like­ly, but I have to wor­ry about some­thing.) He’s in a hyper-woodsy-out­doorsy loca­tion and had recent­ly announced an inter­est in doing some longer hikes.

Me: How long?

#1 Son: A long trail, maybe….

Me: Like the Pacif­ic Crest Trail or the Appalachi­an Trail? That kind of long?

#1 Son: Yeah, maybe….

Me: By your­self? I texted back as relaxed as I could.
Notice there’s no excla­ma­tion point after the ques­tion mark — that means I was [fak­ing] relaxed.)

#1 Son: Yeah, that’d be cool….

So there’s some­thing else for me to wor­ry about. But I try to alter­nate that wor­ry­ing with my wor­ries about the snow shel­ters he’s now into build­ing. (They’re engi­neer­ing stu­dents—this means they have all the yearn­ings and yet not all the skills to build things safe­ly. Ven­ti­la­tion, for instance — that’s my wor­ry this week. When you fac­tor in the still devel­op­ing pre-frontal cor­tex of these lit­tle boys, I mean, young men…well, like I said, I have to wor­ry about some­thing.)

ANYWAY…a week or so after I sent the book, I asked if he’d read it. He said he’d start­ed it but had to put it down because of finals. “I can tell it would be dis­tract­ing,” he said. And what’s a moth­er to say to that? So he packed it and brought it home for win­ter break — it’s a well-trav­eled book at this point. He curled up in the red read­ing chair in the liv­ing room his first full day home and pret­ty much only put it down to eat. He read and laughed and kept say­ing “You have to read this!” to any of us who passed through the liv­ing room.

So here we are a month lat­er and I still haven’t read it. (Still intend to.) But #1 Daugh­ter picked it up as soon as her broth­er left. She also lounged about in the red read­ing chair and gig­gled through the whole thing. “You have to read this!” she said when­ev­er her father and I walked into the liv­ing room.

This marks a mile­stone of some sort in our fam­i­ly. We have read so many books togeth­er, and our eldest has hand­ed down books he loved to his sis­ter over the years, but they were books I’d read (and pur­chased for him). This is the first time, I do believe, that both of them have devoured a book (an adult book at that) and nei­ther of their par­ents have got­ten to it yet. They laugh and joke and talk about it and just keep repeat­ing: You have to read it!

It’s com­ing up in the pile. In fact, I might just start it tonight….


Kung Pao Chicken with Broccoli

Kung Pao Chicken with Broccoli

In hon­or of Jing’s deli­cious cook­ing in Chas­ing Secrets, here’s a favorite recipe.
Cook Time12 hrs
Serv­ings: 4


  • 3 Tbsp water
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp corn­starch
  • 1 Tbsp dry sher­ry
  • 1 tsp sug­ar
  • 2 bone­less chick­en breast halves skinned and cubed
  • 1 Tbsp corn­starch
  • 4 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 6 dried hot red chilies or ¼ tsp dried red pep­per flakes
  • 5 green onions chopped
  • 2 gar­lic cloves minced
  • 1 tsp minced peeled, fresh gin­ger
  • 3 cups small broc­coli flo­rets
  • ½ cup salt­ed peanuts
  • fresh­ly cooked rice


  • Blend first 5 ingre­di­ents in bowl. Set sauce aside. Toss chick­en with 1 Tbsp corn­starch to coat. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in wok or heavy large skil­let over high heat. Add chilies and cook until black­ened, about 2 min­utes. Add chick­en and cook until browned, stir­ring fre­quent­ly, 1 to 2 min­utes. Remove chick­en using slot­ted spoon. Set aside.
  • Add remain­ing 2 Tbsp oil to wok. Add green onions, gar­lic, and gin­ger and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add broc­coli and stir-fry 2 min­utes. Stir sauce and add to wok. Cov­er and cook until sauce is thick­ened and broc­coli is crisp-ten­der, about 3 min­utes. Mix in chick­en and peanuts and heat through. Serve imme­di­ate­ly with rice.

Middle Kingdom: Denver, Colorado

The books that most delight mid­dle school and junior high read­ers often strad­dle a “Mid­dle King­dom” rang­ing from upper mid­dle grade to YA. Each month, Bookol­o­gy colum­nist Lisa Bullard will vis­it the Mid­dle King­dom by view­ing it through the eyes of a teacher or librar­i­an. Bookol­o­gy is delight­ed to cel­e­brate the work of these edu­ca­tors who have built vital book encamp­ments in the tran­si­tion­al ter­ri­to­ry of ear­ly ado­les­cence.

This month we’re vis­it­ing Den­ver Acad­e­my in Den­ver, Col­orado, where Lisa talks with librar­i­an Jolene Gutiér­rez.

Lisa: What are three to five things our blog read­ers should know about your com­mu­ni­ty, school, or library/media cen­ter?

Jolene GutierrezJolene: I’m the librar­i­an at Den­ver Acad­e­my, a school for diverse learn­ers from ele­men­tary through high school.

  • Our school is locat­ed on 22 acres and we use the cam­pus as a learn­ing tool, from study­ing wildlife in our small pond to work­ing out math prob­lems in chalk on our side­walks.
  • Our cam­pus start­ed as a tuber­cu­lo­sis hos­pi­tal in the ear­ly 1900s, so we have some beau­ti­ful his­toric build­ings, includ­ing the Chapel where my main library is housed (I also run a small High School Media Cen­ter in anoth­er build­ing). The Chapel is 90 years old this year and is des­ig­nat­ed as an his­toric land­mark in the city of Den­ver. We’re work­ing on a grant appli­ca­tion that will help us to pre­serve and restore cer­tain parts of the build­ing, includ­ing the cop­per cupo­la and the zinc-camed win­dows. I’ve done a lot of research over the past few years and have pulled that infor­ma­tion togeth­er into a web­site that my stu­dents use to cre­ate pre­sen­ta­tions and tours of the Chapel for their par­ents.

Denver Academy Chapel

  • Our school is com­prised of diverse learn­ers, which can mean lots of things. Some of our stu­dents are diag­nosed with things like dyslex­ia or ADHD, and some have no diag­noses but do bet­ter with small­er class sizes. Either way, many of our stu­dents have strug­gled before com­ing to Den­ver Acad­e­my, and I think that their strug­gles and some of the pain they’ve expe­ri­enced make them some of the most com­pas­sion­ate, respect­ful kids I’ve ever met. There’s very lit­tle bul­ly­ing on our cam­pus because most of the stu­dents know the pain of being bul­lied or feel­ing “less than,” and they don’t want oth­ers to feel that way.
  • Our stu­dents are some of the most cre­ative peo­ple I’ve ever met. All of our stu­dents are bril­liant, and that bril­liance includes phe­nom­e­nal artists, gift­ed musi­cians, cre­ative writ­ers, and won­der­ful actors. Many of our alum­ni have gone on to make a liv­ing as actors, sculp­tors, and musi­cians.
  • Some peo­ple say our library and oth­er parts of our cam­pus are haunt­ed. A group of our teach­ers lead a “Haunt­ed Den­ver” class each year, and the ambiance of our Chapel library cou­pled with those ghost tales have inspired many stu­dent movies and sto­ries.

Denver Academy

Lisa: What recent changes or new ele­ments are affect­ing the work you do with stu­dents?

Jolene: I start­ed work­ing in my library over 20 years ago when we weren’t auto­mat­ed and I was writ­ing out over­due notices by hand. The tech­no­log­i­cal changes in the last 20 years have trans­formed both the way I man­age my library and the skills my stu­dents need to have when they grad­u­ate from our school. I do my best to keep up with teach­ing them what they need to know today as well as giv­ing them the crit­i­cal think­ing skills they’ll need in the future (because I have no idea where we’ll be in anoth­er 20 years)!

Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often by your mid­dle school stu­dents?

Jolene: Dystopi­an fic­tion (espe­cial­ly that which has been made into movies like The Hunger Games, The Maze Run­ner, and The 5th Wave) has been very pop­u­lar this year, as have books by authors who’ve vis­it­ed our school recent­ly, includ­ing Avi’s Old Wolf and Bob­bie Pyron’s books Lucky Strike and The Dogs of Win­ter. And I know that’s six books, but I became a librar­i­an because I like words bet­ter than num­bers.

Denver Academy is reading

Lisa: What book(s) do you per­son­al­ly love to place into mid­dle school stu­dents’ hands?

Jolene: No spe­cif­ic titles; just the right book for each kid, includ­ing books that stu­dents love because they make the task of read­ing a lit­tle eas­i­er to tack­le:

  • Graph­ic nov­els are great for kids who have a tough time visu­al­iz­ing as they read because the pic­tures are pre-sup­plied. I also sug­gest graph­ic nov­els for the stu­dents who always ask for the nov­el­iza­tions of movies or books that movies are based on — these stu­dents may have issues with visu­al­iz­ing and pic­tur­ing things and might want to read about some­thing that they’ve seen visu­al­ly, like a movie. Movies are Cliff­s­Notes for kids who strug­gle with visu­al­iza­tion, and they often want to read some­thing they’ve already seen because they now have the images that go with the sto­ry.
  • Choose Your Own Adven­ture and sim­i­lar books are won­der­ful for reluc­tant read­ers because they get to feel like they’re cheat­ing at read­ing (so are graph­ic nov­els and non­fic­tion books with lots of pho­tos). Now that there are so many CYOA-ish book series out there, stu­dents can find both non­fic­tion and fic­tion books, and when I show stu­dents that they can skip around and not real­ly read the entire book, they get real­ly excit­ed and a lot of them actu­al­ly end up read­ing most of the book because they try to get a pos­i­tive end­ing to their sto­ry.
  • Series books give anx­ious stu­dents the answer to “What do I read next?” and help them to grow as a read­er as they work their way through each book in the series.
  • Audio books and/or large print books allow stu­dents who strug­gle with print oth­er options for access­ing books. If stu­dents have a learn­ing dif­fer­ence, they can work on grow­ing their read­ing and com­pre­hen­sion skills in a less intim­i­dat­ing man­ner with these resources.

Lisa: If you had a new staffer start­ing tomor­row, what piece of advice would you be sure to give them?

Jolene: Some of our stu­dents don’t love books or read­ing, and that’s okay. We’re here to help them at least learn to like libraries and trust librar­i­ans. Teach­ing stu­dents to access libraries teach­es them a life skill. And once stu­dents begin to trust you, they may become more open to explor­ing books with you. There’s noth­ing more ful­fill­ing than find­ing the right book for a reluc­tant read­er. Often­times, there is that one mag­i­cal book that will unlock the world of read­ing for kids, and that is one of the most reward­ing parts of being a librar­i­an. If you can find that per­fect book, you can help change a life for­ev­er.

Denver Academy

Lisa: What do you want your stu­dents to remem­ber about your library in ten years?

Jolene: I want them to remem­ber the mag­ic of this space and the fun we’ve had here! I hope our library teach­es stu­dents the joy of learn­ing and books. I want our library to pro­vide some warm fuzzy mem­o­ries for stu­dents once they’re grown, and I hope my stu­dents’ good mem­o­ries of their library will cause them to be life­long library users.


Skinny Dip with Steve Palmquist

Chinese foodFavorite hol­i­day tra­di­tion?

Well, that usu­al­ly involves food — we try to have Chi­nese food on Christ­mas Eve. Our fam­i­ly has had a lot of changes late­ly, so we’ve been try­ing to cre­ate new tra­di­tions.

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

Annunciation SchoolBoth! At times I was a mod­el stu­dent and oth­er times I was the class clown. I’m sure the clown­ing was a bit dis­rup­tive but I only got sent to the principal’s office once. This was at a parochial grade school. The prin­ci­pal was a nun who was about 6′3″. She was a gen­tle dis­ci­pli­nar­i­an but it did sort of seem like her height gave her a direct line to God and all the grav­i­tas that goes with that.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

I don’t remem­ber the very first but the one that sticks in my mind was a report for a book about liv­ing in space. I did a hor­ri­ble job with it and was allowed to redo the report. I knocked it out of the park with the sec­ond attempt — that taught me the val­ue of revi­sion.

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

I like the idea of wrap­ping presents but my exe­cu­tion leaves a lit­tle to be desired. Gift bags and a sup­ply of col­ored tis­sue paper have saved my bacon on more than one occa­sion.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year-old self?

You are going to be loved and cher­ished by some­one who will inspire you to be the best per­son you can be.

Look beyond the hurt that some peo­ple seem to always give — that always gives a clue about where they’re tru­ly vul­ner­a­ble or hurt­ing them­selves.

Keep your mind free and open — it will be your best tool and lead you into many adven­tures.

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

Oh, gosh, that’s a hard one. If I go his­tor­i­cal, how about Mark Twain, Mar­garet Wise Brown, and Don Free­man?Mark Twain, Margaret Wise Brown, and Don Freeman

Where’s your favorite place to read?

I don’t have that over­stuffed chair from my par­ents any longer. My favorite place to read now is any­where near my wife, Vic­ki, so when­ev­er one of us gasps or laughs at a book, we get to share with the oth­er one.


Writing Books for the Newest Readers

I once believed noth­ing was hard­er than writ­ing a pic­ture book. Writ­ing pic­ture books is a cake­walk com­pared to begin­ning read­ers. Kids don’t have to read pic­ture books, just enjoy them. Begin­ning, or lev­eled read­ers, are designed for new­ly-inde­pen­dent read­ers who have grad­u­at­ed from phon­ics texts. Lev­els vary accord­ing to pub­lish­ers, but usu­al­ly include an ear­ly lev­el for pre-read­ers and/or kinder­garten­ers.  

I Like Shoes by Candice RansomWhen I wrote I Like Shoes (2005) for Scholastic’s Rook­ie Read­er series, I wasn’t even sure the 44-word rhyming text was a book. It didn’t have much of a sto­ry.

The preschool to kinder­garten read­ers have very short texts and are splashed with cheer­ful illus­tra­tions. They look easy to write.  Fun, even! I’ve writ­ten three Lev­el 1 (Ready-to-Read) books for the Step into Read­ing imprint of Ran­dom House. I’d love to brag I dash these frip­peries off in a day or so, but my orange note­book would be quick to report the fib.

My bat­tered orange spi­ral note­book is used exclu­sive­ly for writ­ing lev­el 1 read­ers. It’s bat­tered because I drag it every­where. Some­times I throw it across the room in a fit of frus­tra­tion. The orange note­book knows I will pick it up with a sigh and go back to the dif­fi­cult lines I was strug­gling with.

Sleepy Dog by Harriet ZiefertAt the front of this note­book is a typed ver­sion of, at least in my opin­ion, the Moby Dick of lev­eled read­ers. Har­ri­et Ziefert’s Sleepy Dog was first pub­lished in 1984 and is still a strong sell­er. The short charm­ing text about a dog-child going to bed is decep­tive­ly sim­ple.  

My first Lev­el 1 ideas were reject­ed for being too sophis­ti­cat­ed, such as the canine eti­quette guide writ­ten by fleas. Grad­u­al­ly I under­stood this audi­ence needs sto­ries about their world.

Pumpkin Day by Candice Ransom and illustrated by Erika MezaI final­ly got it right with Pump­kin Day (2015). The sto­ry, about a pump­kin-pick­ing fam­i­ly, employs rhyme and rhythm. Unlike I Like Shoes, Pump­kin Day has a nar­ra­tive arc. The 113 words were care­ful­ly cho­sen and dis­card­ed, revised and reworked, page after scrib­bled page, as evi­denced in the orange note­book.   

Lev­el 1 books teem with action. Illus­tra­tions match the nar­ra­tive. If the read­er has trou­ble decod­ing the text, the art pro­vides nec­es­sary cues. Apple Pick­ing Day (2016) will fol­low Pump­kin Day.  Same fam­i­ly on a dif­fer­ent fall adven­ture. This sto­ry was even hard­er because there was no sto­ry. After you’ve picked pump­kins, what sur­pris­es await pick­ing apples? Plus I had to use the same rhyme and rhythm scheme as in Pump­kin Day.

No metaphors, my edi­tor warned. And no con­trac­tions. While I wasn’t giv­en a word list, I had to  rely on com­mon sense.  The stan­za “Over mountains/cross a bridge/apple orchard/on the ridge” con­tained “moun­tains,” “bridge,” and “ridge.” I loved the image of the family’s lit­tle yel­low car motor­ing through the coun­try­side, but the stan­za had to be changed. The pub­lished ver­sion (after many scratch-outs in the orange note­book) reads, “Over hill tops,/big and small./I see apples./Hello, fall!”  

Sim­ple wins every time.

For Tooth Fairy Night (2017), I applied a guide of sight words for kinder­gart­ners. Draft pages in the orange note­book are lit­tered with tiny mar­gin­al lists of one-syl­la­ble end rhymes, like stay, away, day, play. Words that seem ridicu­lous­ly easy to us give the youngest read­ers plea­sure and sat­is­fac­tion.

I actu­al­ly love writ­ing these lit­tle sto­ries. The orange note­book often sits on the kitchen counter while I fix din­ner or wash dish­es. I’ll mut­ter lines or try out rhymes while soap­ing the same plate over and over. If I’m rid­ing in the car, my trusty note­book rests on my lap like a pup­py.  

Some­times I long to be asked to write a Lev­el 2. Big­ger word list! More syl­la­bles! Yet I pic­ture a brand-new read­er pick­ing up one of my Lev­el 1 books and hap­pi­ly sound­ing out those hun­dred or so words to the very end.  The orange note­book and I toast (ink for the note­book, iced tea for me) anoth­er reader’s suc­cess.

Copyright Evan Sharboneau (via dollarphotoclub.com)


Gennifer Choldenko

Bookol­o­gy is proud to fea­ture Gen­nifer Chold­enko’s Chas­ing Secrets as its Book­storm™ this month, shar­ing themes, ideas, and com­ple­men­tary book rec­om­men­da­tions for your class­room, lit­er­a­ture cir­cle, or book group dis­cus­sions.

Gennifer CholdenkoWere you a curi­ous child? How did this man­i­fest itself?

I was an eccen­tric child. I was curi­ous to the extent that I could find out new facts to feed my imag­i­nary world. I adored school and loved my teach­ers. I used to come home from school with an aching arm from rais­ing my hand with such unbri­dled enthu­si­asm.

When you grew up, where did your curios­i­ty lead you?

You know the clas­sic I Love Lucy episode with the can­dy con­vey­or belt? I once had a job squish­ing indi­vid­ual serv­ings of toma­to ketchup and mus­tard with a big mal­let. The goal, believe it or not, was qual­i­ty con­trol. You had to bang them hard. If they didn’t open, they were con­sid­ered secure enough to send out. Boy was it a messy job.

Chasing SecretsLizzie Kennedy, the hero­ine of Chas­ing Secrets, is a curi­ous child of thir­teen. She’s inter­est­ed in sci­ence and math­e­mat­ics, in find­ing out the truth. What do you admire most about her?

I admire how cer­tain she is about the right­ness of the world. I’ve had peo­ple tell me that Lizzie reveals her naïveté because she’s so sure she can make every­thing work out. That gave me pause. In Lizzie’s world­view, the truth pre­vails. I believe that to my very core. Maybe, that’s why I write for ten‑, eleven- and twelve-year-olds.

Jing and Noah are Chi­nese immi­grants. Only part of their fam­i­ly has trav­eled to San Fran­cis­co. Jing has aspi­ra­tions for his son. What drew you to writ­ing these char­ac­ters into the book?

I’m inter­est­ed in the Chi­nese, in part, because my daugh­ter is Chi­nese. We adopt­ed her from Chi­na when she was eight months old. She was a very small immi­grant. And not sur­pris­ing­ly, I adore her. Because of her I’ve become more aware of the anti-Chi­nese sen­ti­ment in today’s world and that in turn made me more inter­est­ed in the his­to­ry of the Chi­nese in Amer­i­ca.

You intro­duce the key play­ers in the sto­ry in the ear­ly chap­ters. We even get a glimpse of Bil­ly on the docks, long before he inter­acts with Lizzie. The rats have Chap­ter 3 named after them. Is this some­thing that hap­pens as you’re writ­ing the first drafts, or do you go back to set up the sto­ry dur­ing revi­sions?

Every book seems to evolve in a dif­fer­ent way. Chas­ing Secrets was built almost entire­ly in revi­sion. The only part of the book that was there from the get-go involved the rats. Bil­ly evolved with each draft. It took me a long time to per­suade him to come onto the page.

The num­ber “6” fig­ures promi­nent­ly in Chas­ing Secrets. There are Six Com­pa­nies, Six Lead­ers, and Six Boys. What is the sig­nif­i­cance of the num­ber 6 for you?

The Six Com­pa­nies actu­al­ly exist­ed. They held con­sid­er­able pow­er with­in the Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ty. The Six Com­pa­nies remind­ed me of my brother’s group of friends who all lived in a house in Mar­ble­head and called them­selves “Six of Six.” That gave me the idea it would be fun to have Noah be a part of a group of six kids who were lead­ers in the kids Chi­na­town com­mu­ni­ty.

There’s an exchange between Lizzie and Noah where we dis­cov­er that each of them has prej­u­dices. Lizzie has her notions about ser­vants and the Chi­nese, but Noah has his ideas about girls not being as smart as boys. He believes girls lie because one girl did. This feels like an impor­tant pas­sage in the book. Why did you include it?

If you are writ­ing about San Fran­cis­co 1900 and every char­ac­ter has the sen­si­bil­i­ty and mind­set of San Fran­cis­co 2016, then real­ly what you’re doing is putting your twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry char­ac­ters into his­toric dress. A cos­tume ball is fun but it isn’t his­toric fic­tion. On the oth­er hand, there is no such thing as a gener­ic 1900s sen­si­bil­i­ty any­more than there is a gener­ic 2016 sen­si­bil­i­ty. (Does Pope Fran­cis view our world in the same way as Lady Gaga? I don’t think so.) There always have been, and there always will be, peo­ple who are “ahead of their time,” peo­ple who are “behind the times,” and peo­ple who are whol­ly orig­i­nal thinkers. But every­one is formed to some degree from the time in which they exist.

Lizzie was more open-mind­ed than most of her peers. But the prej­u­dice against the Chi­nese was deeply embed­ded in San Fran­cis­co cul­ture. Lizzie had to have absorbed some of it. And, of course, Noah’s world was sex­ist. Almost no one ques­tioned either of these prej­u­dices in 1900.

Did you have trou­ble decid­ing which of the main char­ac­ters would get sick with the plague?

RatsHow did you know? I felt strong­ly that the per­son who got sick was not going to be Chi­nese only because many peo­ple believed that the plague only affect­ed Asians, which was and is false. But whom should I choose? It was a ghoul­ish ques­tion.

 It seemed log­i­cal that some­one like Mag­gy would get sick because she spent a lot of time clean­ing and there were an inor­di­nate amount of dead rats around in 1900, many of whom died of the plague. But I real­ly loved Mag­gy and I didn’t want her to suf­fer much less die. So ini­tial­ly I gave her a light dust­ing of the plague, from which she recov­ered pret­ty eas­i­ly.

 Then I got a let­ter from my edi­tor. She did not believe this was real­is­tic. I hap­pened to be on tour when I got the let­ter. I remem­ber wak­ing up one morn­ing in Nashville with the real­iza­tion that one char­ac­ter who I had mak­ing the “right” deci­sion would not have made that deci­sion at all. And from then on the book wrote itself.

There are many inter­est­ing real-life char­ac­ters in your book (Dr. Kiny­oun, Donal­d­ina Cameron). Did you vis­it muse­ums and libraries to do your research?

I spend half my life at the library. And of course I went to muse­ums in San Fran­cis­co and in New York in addi­tion to every his­tor­i­cal tour I could find in San Fran­cis­co and Sacra­men­to and in New York. His­tor­i­cal tours rarely give me a pic­ture of the exact time, place, and social sta­tus I’m look­ing for, but they are a leap­ing-off place. I pep­per the tour guides with ques­tions and source mate­ri­als and begin to devel­op a pic­ture of what the homes of my char­ac­ters might have looked like.


The Gate­way Arch today, San Fran­cis­co’s Chi­na­town, chen­siyuan, GFDL

Anoth­er thing I love to do is walk the neigh­bor­hoods I’m writ­ing about. Of course, San Fran­cis­co now looks noth­ing like San Fran­cis­co in 1900 and yet some things are the same. Weath­er, prox­im­i­ty to the bay, seafood, wildlife, birds, nat­ur­al geog­ra­phy are all large­ly the same. I spent a lot of time in Chi­na­town. Chi­na­town now is almost noth­ing like it was, except for one thing: it still feels like its own city in the mid­dle of San Fran­cis­co. By walk­ing the city now and study­ing old maps and old pho­tos, I was able to con­jure up Chi­na­town in 1900.

Chinatown today

The Street of Gam­blers (Ross Alley), Arnold Gen­the, 1898. The pop­u­la­tion was pre­dom­i­nant­ly male because U.S. poli­cies at the time made it dif­fi­cult for Chi­nese women to enter the coun­try. Pho­to by Arnold Gen­the, Fine Arts Muse­um of San Fran­cis­co. Trans­ferred from en.wikipedia to Com­mons.

Research is an ongo­ing detec­tive game. A syn­er­gy between what I can find out and what I can imag­ine. I research before I begin writ­ing, while I’m writ­ing, and while I’m revis­ing. My hus­band says when I’m in the mid­dle of a book I am pos­sessed. I can’t get enough infor­ma­tion. But I find the entire process thrilling. There is noth­ing like dis­cov­er­ing a juicy source that tells me exact­ly what I need to know.

Gus Trot­ter and his sis­ter, Gem­ma, are intrigu­ing friends who embrace Lizzie and her escapades. Were they in the sto­ry from the very begin­ning?

Al Capone Does My ShirtsNo! Gem­ma and Gus Trot­ter came lat­er. In the begin­ning, Aunt Hort­ense and Uncle Karl had a daugh­ter who was very close to Lizzie. But some­where around the third draft I real­ized she got in the way of the sto­ry. So I kicked her out of the book and as soon as I did Gem­ma and Gus appeared. The same thing hap­pened with Al Capone Does My Shirts. Ini­tial­ly, I had a dif­fer­ent group of kids on the island. I liked them, but they didn’t work very well with Moose, so I fired them. And when I did up popped Jim­my, There­sa, and Annie.

Writ­ing a book is a bit like hav­ing a din­ner par­ty. I’ve had din­ner par­ties where I invit­ed guests I know and love but the din­ner par­ty didn’t quite work because the dynam­ic between the guests fell flat. And then there have been oth­er par­ties where the guests bounced off each oth­er and the cumu­la­tive effect was incred­i­ble. This is, of course, what I’m look­ing for when I audi­tion char­ac­ters for my nov­els.

Do you find it sad to say good­bye to your char­ac­ters when you’ve fin­ished writ­ing the book?

Yes! I real­ly loved the world of Chas­ing Secrets. I found it utter­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. It takes a long time to devel­op a his­tor­i­cal set­ting to the point that it becomes quite that believ­able to me. At first the details sit on the sur­face and then grad­u­al­ly, draft by draft, they sink into the core of the book. And when that hap­pens I become so invest­ed in that world that it is quite chal­leng­ing to let go.


Thank you, Gen­nifer, for shar­ing your thoughts and writ­ing jour­ney with us. 

For use with your stu­dents, Gen­nifer­’s web­site includes A Writ­ing Time­line, a series of videos and pod­casts about Chas­ing Secrets.


Road Food Re-Mix

by Lisa Bullard

2_11lemonPieI love seek­ing out odd­ball road food oppor­tu­ni­ties. In New Jer­sey: a Chi­nese-Ital­ian buf­fet where the spaghet­ti and lo mein rubbed shoul­ders like long-lost cousins. In Nashville: a Swedish-South­ern all-you-can-eat spread, with fried chick­en and pick­led her­ring vying for att‚ention. In New York City: a Greek-Mex­i­can café.

Many of the world’s diverse taste temp­ta­tions are no longer exot­ic options to us. But I still admit to sur­prise and delight when I stum­ble over a place where the bur­ri­tos are backed up by bakla­va.

Com­bin­ing an odd­ball set of options can also prompt a writ­ing road trip. I’ve shared the down­load­able activ­i­ty found here before, under anoth­er con­text. I offer it up to you again with the encour­age­ment that even if you tried it then, it’s some­thing you should use with your stu­dents on-and-off through­out the year. Each time you offer it to them, they’ll have a chance to work with a sur­pris­ing remix of sto­ry ingre­di­ents.

Not only has the activ­i­ty proven to be one of my most reli­able writ­ing prompts for a wide vari­ety of ages, but you’ll also be rein­forc­ing in your stu­dents a taste for the fun­da­men­tal ingre­di­ents that any good sto­ry requires: char­ac­ter, set­ting, and conflict.

Besides, the whole thing is almost as much fun as egg rolls with mari­nara sauce.


Boys and Girls of Bookland

Boys and Girls of BooklandThis is how book col­lect­ing goes. You see some­thing that piques your curios­i­ty. You won­der: “Why did this book get pub­lished?” “Who would have bought this book?” “On whose shelves did this book rest and why did they let it go?” “Was it a gift, nev­er opened, or was it cher­ished and read over and over again?”

Some­times you’re curi­ous about the text or the illus­tra­tions or the bind­ing or the pub­lish­er.

When I first began col­lect­ing books, sat­is­fy­ing my curios­i­ty was hit or miss. I would go to the library and look up some of the things I won­dered about in the Reader’s Guide to Peri­od­i­cal Lit­er­a­ture or in the card cat­a­logue (I know I’m dat­ing myself, but that’s the point). Usu­al­ly, I had to keep won­der­ing.

Book col­lect­ing today is entire­ly dif­fer­ent. Many of the anti­quar­i­an book­stores I fre­quent­ed are gone because it became too expen­sive to main­tain a phys­i­cal store. They sell on the inter­net where one entire­ly miss­es the smell and ran­dom­ness and hap­py acci­dents of book col­lect­ing. And yet I have access to used book­stores across the coun­try. One comes to appre­ci­ate the buy­ers in these stores, their par­tic­u­lar tastes.

A cou­ple of my favorites? Cat­ter­mole 20th Cen­tu­ry Children’s Books in Ohio. The Her­mitage Book­shop in Den­ver.  Old Children’s Books in Ore­gon. Do you have a favorite? Please share in the com­ments.

Some­time last year, I pur­chased Boys and Girls of Book­land from Bob Topp at The Her­mitage Book­shop. I did this because it was illus­trat­ed by Jessie Wilcox Smith and I hadn’t ever heard of the book. I admire Miss Smith’s work a lot. And I admire the sto­ry of her life.

David Copperfield and His Mother

David Cop­per­field and His Moth­er by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Nora Archibald Smith

Nora Archibald Smith

The book is writ­ten by Nora Archibald Smith. I’d nev­er heard of her before. Because of the inter­net, I quick­ly dis­cov­ered she was Kate Dou­glas Wiggin’s sis­ter. You remem­ber Ms. Wig­gin: Rebec­ca of Sun­ny­brook Farm. I also learned that the two sis­ters were instru­men­tal in found­ing the Kinder­garten move­ment in San Fran­cis­co in 1873. They wrote 15 books togeth­er. I’ll have to hunt for more about this author.

The book’s copy­right is with the Cos­mopoli­tan Book Cor­po­ra­tion which, with a lit­tle dig­ging, I learned was owned by William Ran­dolph Hearst. Why would he pub­lish this book?

David MacKay

David MacK­ay

The pub­lish­er of this book is David MacK­ay. I learned that he was born in Scot­land in 1860. He immi­grat­ed to the USA in 1871, when he was 11. At age 13, he start­ed work­ing for J.B. Lip­pin­cott, learn­ing the book­selling trade. A rival pub­lish­er, Rees Welsh, offered him a job. Dur­ing his tenure, he pub­lished Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass before he was 21, even though the attor­ney-gen­er­al of Mass­a­chu­setts did­n’t want it pub­lished for its “alleged immoral­i­ty.” At age 22, MacK­ay opened his own pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny, epony­mous­ly named. Will I be able to find out more about him?

You see, the author wrote rough­ly nine pages each about famous books such as Lit­tle Women, The Jun­gle Book, David Cop­per­field, Jack­anapes, and more. They’re sum­maries of the sto­ries, hop­ing you will read the full book. I guess you could say they’re lengthy book­talks in writ­ing. And Jessie Wilcox Smith did a paint­ing for each sto­ry in full col­or. What an inter­est­ing for­mat. Were oth­er books like this pub­lished?

I even searched online to find the name of the woman who was giv­en this book as a gift, Susan Class House, from Uncle Thad and Aun­tie “B” Lawrence. I would like to know more about their lives.

There are often objects inside a book. This one did not dis­ap­point. I found a plas­tic book­mark, a Yahtzee® score­card with a 1996 copy­right date, and a “Thank you!” card from Bob Topp.


Book col­lect­ing isn’t just buy­ing a book to read the sto­ry. It’s about dis­cov­er­ing the sto­ries that swirl around the book.


Libraries in the USA are at Mission Critical

There is not such a cra­dle of democ­ra­cy upon the earth as the Free Pub­lic Library, this repub­lic of let­ters, where nei­ther rank, office, nor wealth receives the slight­est con­sid­er­a­tion.” —Andrew Carnegie

Hamel Public Library, Minnesota

Hamel Pub­lic Library, Min­neso­ta

Libraries in the USA are at mis­sion crit­i­cal. Those who went before us worked hard to estab­lish free pub­lic libraries so we could have access to what we need to know. How can we let their lega­cy erode?

We’ve already seen our pub­lic school libraries dam­aged by bud­get short­falls in which libraries are deemed non-essen­tial and degreed librar­i­ans are con­sid­ered eas­i­ly replaced by a vol­un­teer.

Pub­lic libraries have suf­fered as well via con­sol­i­da­tion, replaced by pick-up-your-book kiosks, and out­right clo­sure.

For read­ers, it is under­stood how vital libraries are as a free source of edu­ca­tion, essen­tial ser­vices, and enter­tain­ment that might oth­er­wise be too expen­sive for fam­i­lies and indi­vid­u­als. Beyond books, pub­lic libraries offer free pro­gram­ming in edu­ca­tion, craft­ing, music and dance, cit­i­zen­ry, and busi­ness. Some libraries have become a place to check out sel­dom-need­ed but impor­tant items like fish­ing rods, elec­tric drills, sewing machines, and gar­den­ing tools.

gardening tools library

Read­ing is still at the heart of the library. The abil­i­ty to learn, whether by fic­tion or non­fic­tion, and the priv­i­lege of ask­ing a librar­i­an who can help you find what you need and what you don’t yet know that you need — that is a library. No com­put­er algo­rithm, no mat­ter how well-mean­ing, can take a librarian’s place.

Many of us take our pub­lic library for grant­ed. We walk a few blocks, ride our bikes, dri­ve a few miles or 30 miles to check out books and mag­a­zines. We can call the staff on the phone to make sure they know what we’re look­ing for and have it. If they don’t have it, they can order it from a library far, far away. This is one of the most reli­able ser­vices of being an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen.

This access to infor­ma­tion and resources was hard-won. The gen­er­a­tions before us rec­og­nized how vital books and read­ing are to a healthy, cit­i­zen-engaged coun­try.

Down Cut Shin CreekIn Down Cut Shin Creek: the Pack Horse Librar­i­ans of Ken­tucky by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Can­nel­la Schmitzer (Harp­er Collins, 2001), we learn the riv­et­ing true sto­ry of women, pri­mar­i­ly, who were hired by the Work Projects Admin­is­tra­tion (WPA) in 1935, dur­ing the height of the Depres­sion, to ride hors­es or pack mules to the often inac­ces­si­ble small com­mu­ni­ties and indi­vid­u­als of east­ern Ken­tucky. Even­tu­al­ly these librar­i­ans would serve more 100,000 peo­ple in 30 coun­ties as part of the Pack Horse Library Project. It’s an inspir­ing book. Read­ing the account of how impor­tant these librar­i­ans were because they knew their com­mu­ni­ties, their read­ers’ tastes, and felt a sense of duty … it’s eas­i­er to under­stand why libraries have been so vital in Amer­i­ca.

A con­gress­man from Ken­tucky, Carl D. Perkins, spon­sored the Library Ser­vices Act in 1956 “that made the first fed­er­al appro­pri­a­tions for library ser­vice.” More than like­ly, he was influ­enced by a Pack Horse Librar­i­an while he taught in rur­al Ken­tucky.

That Book WomanFor a pic­ture book about the Pack Horse Librar­i­ans, read Heather Henson’s That Book Woman, illus­trat­ed by David Small (Atheneum, 2008). Writ­ten by a Ken­tucky native, this sto­ry of Cal, liv­ing high in the Appalachi­an hills, depicts a young boy who wants noth­ing to do with read­ing until he real­izes the extra­or­di­nary lengths his Pack Horse Librar­i­an is achiev­ing to bring him books.

Books in a BoxIn north­ern climes, Stu­art Stotts wrote the mar­velous Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Trav­el­ing Libraries of Wis­con­sin (Big Val­ley Press, 2005). Lutie Stearns grew up near Mil­wau­kee, read­ing all the time. She is drawn to library ser­vice where, thank­ful­ly, she has big ideas. She teams up with Frank Hutchins (anoth­er big idea per­son, he start­ed the Wis­con­sin State For­est Depart­ment, and intro­duced East­er Seals to the Anti-Tuber­cu­lo­sis Asso­ci­a­tion) to cre­ate trav­el­ing libraries.

Melvil Dewey (he of the Dewey Dec­i­mal Sys­tem) intro­duced pub­licly-fund­ed trav­el­ing libraries in New York State in 1893. (The first trav­el­ing libraries were like­ly those in Scot­land and Wales in the ear­ly 1800s, but they were part of a school­ing sys­tem.)

The next year, Lutie and Frank peti­tioned lum­ber baron and Wis­con­sin state sen­a­tor James Stout to fund trav­el­ing libraries in Dunn Coun­ty. They want­ed him to intro­duce a bill in the leg­is­la­ture to fun the Wis­con­sin Free Library Com­mis­sion. You must read this book for the engross­ing expe­ri­ences Lutie encoun­tered as she tried to estab­lish trav­el­ing libraries, books in a box, around the state in post offices and stores.

Lat­er, Lutie would help cit­i­zens apply for funds from Andrew Carnegie to con­struct a library. These Carnegie libraries, some of which are still in use, brought edu­ca­tion and enter­tain­ment to gen­er­a­tions of cit­i­zens, tax­pay­er sup­port­ed but oth­er­wise free, through­out the Unit­ed States. Lutie Stearns could cel­e­brate the growth of books-in-a-box to full-fledged libraries through her per­sis­tent efforts and those of Frank Hutchins.

Dunn County

Demo­c­rat Print­ing Com­pa­ny — (1897) Free Trav­el­ing Libraries in Wis­con­sin: The Sto­ry of Their Growth, Pur­pos­es, and Devel­op­ment; with Accounts of a Few Kin­dred Move­ments

The desire to have a good influ­ence and a decent place to go, instead of the many saloons and dance halls, led me to vis­it one com­mu­ni­ty no less than twelve times before I could get the town pres­i­dent, also own­er of a dance hall, to appoint a library board.” (Lutie Stearns, Books in a Box, pg 49)

Twelve times? That’s deter­mi­na­tion.

Can we do less?


The ear­li­est libraries-on-wheels looked way cool­er than today’s book­mo­biles,” by Rose Eveleth, Smithsonian.com

Trav­el­ing libraries,” by Lar­ry T. Nix, Library His­to­ry Buff


Lisa Bullard: My Not-So-Overnight Success

ShoesEar­ly on, when peo­ple would ask my kid self what I want­ed to be when I grew up, I’d answer “Shoe Sales­per­son.” But then I dis­cov­ered that feet some­times smell, and I moved on to a dif­fer­ent dream: Book Writer.

I could invent a great sto­ry and tell you that I craft­ed a long-term plan to real­ize my dream. But instead, this is a tale of false starts and mis­di­rect­ed wan­der­ings. Per­haps you’ll find it inspir­ing if you’ve made mis­steps on the way to cap­tur­ing your own dream!

I wrote all the time as a kid — songs, sto­ries, poems, com­ic strips. But I didn’t believe that any­one would pay me to do some­thing I loved so much. And my first sev­er­al jobs didn’t serve as mod­els for ful­fill­ing work: babysit­ter, fast food employ­ee, card­board box mak­er, school jan­i­tor.

That meant my expec­ta­tions for the world of work, even after grad­u­at­ing from col­lege, weren’t all that high. With no clear ambi­tion oth­er than “it would be great to get a job that didn’t involve scrap­ing gum off desks” — a key fea­ture of the school jan­i­tor job — I moved to Min­neapo­lis, rent­ed a drafty apart­ment with my cousin, and took on a series of unin­spir­ing temp jobs. I wrote in my spare time, but my efforts went no fur­ther than my file cab­i­net.

Insurance FormsThen one day I arrived home from my posi­tion as Forms Clerk (tem­po­rary) at an insur­ance com­pa­ny to find the first heat bill had arrived. It totaled over $800. And the insur­ance com­pa­ny had just offered me a job. That is the “care­ful­ly plot­ted” career tra­jec­to­ry that result­ed in my posi­tion as Chief Forms Clerk (per­ma­nent)! But despite this mete­oric rise, and my will­ing­ness to work very hard, I found I didn’t enjoy sort­ing forms. I start­ed vis­it­ing the human resources depart­ment for guid­ance, and a very kind woman took me under her wing. She gave me a bar­rage of career assess­ment tests, then looked me in the eyes and said, “Lisa, I don’t think there IS a job in insur­ance that will make you hap­py.”

That HR per­son did me two great ser­vices. First, her notion that hap­pi­ness might be a valid fac­tor in job selec­tion was a rev­e­la­tion to me. And sec­ond, she knew of the Den­ver Pub­lish­ing Insti­tute—an inten­sive sum­mer course focus­ing on book pub­lish­ing — and she rec­om­mend­ed that I con­sid­er attend­ing. A few months lat­er I moved on from the world of insur­ance and attend­ed the Den­ver pro­gram.

CockroachPer­haps the most impor­tant thing I learned there is that pub­lish­ing hous­es are mon­ey-mak­ing enter­pris­es. Pub­lish­ing is a cre­ative indus­try full of peo­ple ded­i­cat­ed to books and the writ­ten word, but it’s also a tough busi­ness. Very few peo­ple get rich off of books. Day after day at the Insti­tute, pub­lish­ing pro­fes­sion­als came in to share the real­i­ties of work­ing in the indus­try, and they’d all con­clude by say­ing, “If you want to work real­ly hard, make almost no mon­ey, and live in a roach-infest­ed apart­ment in New York, this is the field for you!”

I was will­ing to take on every­thing oth­er than the roach­es. For­tu­nate­ly I dis­cov­ered there was a boom­ing pub­lish­ing indus­try in Min­neso­ta, so I flew back home and began my six­teen-year career as a pub­lish­ing employ­ee. I worked with a lot of amaz­ing peo­ple, both co-work­ers and writ­ers, build­ing rela­tion­ships I still val­ue high­ly. I rev­eled in being able to do work I was pas­sion­ate about, despite the fact that the warn­ing about low pay proved all too true.

Not Enough Beds!Towards the end of those six­teen years, I cel­e­brat­ed a life-chang­ing event: my first book was pub­lished. I believe it final­ly hap­pened part­ly because I had con­tin­ued to refine my writ­ing skills, part­ly because I had learned what makes a book con­cept sal­able, and part­ly because I had built impor­tant con­nec­tions in the indus­try. I am the oppo­site of an overnight suc­cess: it took me four­teen years work­ing in pub­lish­ing to get pub­lished myself!

Lat­er, with anoth­er book in the wings, I decid­ed to shift my focus from pub­lish­ing employ­ee to writer, and I start­ed offi­cial­ly call­ing myself a Children’s Book Writer — a job I am proud to have now cel­e­brat­ed through many years and nine­ty books. I still don’t make very much mon­ey. I still work real­ly hard. Some­times I even get bored. But I love that I’m actu­al­ly liv­ing my dream, and nobody expects me to scrape gum off desks.

I’m think­ing that’s not too shab­by for a lit­tle girl who once dreamed of sell­ing shoes.


Little Peggy Ann McKay

I might have insta­mat­ic flu,” said the young girl as her moth­er checked her in at the doctor’s office.

Let’s hope not,” her moth­er replied.

Insta­mat­ic flu. Instamatic…flu….

The words bounced around in my head.

My mouth is wet, my throat is dry…” the girl said in half-heart­ed sing-songy voice as they took a chair in the wait­ing room.

Her moth­er dropped a kiss onto her daughter’s fore­head in that way moth­ers do to check for fever.

Are you going blind in your right eye?” she asked. The lit­tle girl gig­gled soft­ly.

Shel Silverstein | Where the Sidewalk EndsAh! Yes! “Sick” from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Side­walk Ends. A poem about Lit­tle Peg­gy Ann McK­ay, who could not go to school (today) for all of the mal­adies she suf­fered — a gash, a rash and pur­ple bumps…her hip hurt when she moved her chin and her bel­ly but­ton was cav­ing in…her nose was cold, her toes were numb, she had a sliv­er in her thumb….

I checked myself in and took a seat direct­ly across from the moth­er-daugh­ter pair. I stud­ied them sur­rep­ti­tious­ly over my mag­a­zine. The girl leaned on her Mom. Despite her sense of humor, she obvi­ous­ly didn’t feel well. It was her moth­er I was inter­est­ed in, how­ev­er. She was per­haps the right age. I searched her face, look­ing for a lit­tle girl I might have known once upon a time….

She smiled tight­ly at me in that way that said, “What are you look­ing at?” I went back to my mag­a­zine. Noth­ing about her looked famil­iar. It would’ve been reas­sur­ing had she been Terese or Bel­la or Jazmine…. It would be com­fort­ing to know she’d made it to adult­hood, had a daugh­ter when she was close to thir­ty and a doctor’s office she could take that daugh­ter to when she was sick. It’d be nice to know they had lit­tle moth­er-daugh­ter jokes about a sil­ly poem. That would’ve made my day, actu­al­ly.

Twen­ty years ago I worked in an after­school pro­gram for kids who had lit­tle poet­ry in their lives — metaphor­i­cal­ly or lit­er­al­ly. Their lives in and out of school were filled with “issues,” dra­ma they didn’t choose, and “chal­lenges” that made sea­soned teach­ers weep.

Sto­ry time was hard. Every­thing was hard. I read to them while they ate their snack. It was the only time they were qui­et — they were always hun­gry. They had favorite books, but I can’t remem­ber the titles any more. But I do remem­ber the Shel Sil­ver­stein poems. They glo­ried in the rhythms and loved the length of his longer poems. They “per­formed” them — spo­ken word in a group — when we were out and about and you could tell that they felt like they’d accom­plished some­thing after they rat­tled off a long sto­ried poem filled with big words and sil­ly rhymes.

We’d learn a cou­plet or so a day, patient­ly mem­o­riz­ing our way through “the two-page poems,” as they called them. They adored “Sick,” with its mar­velous joke at the end about it being Sat­ur­day. They enjoyed “Sarah Cyn­thia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out,” even as they tried to out­do each oth­er with tall tales (I hope, but prob­a­bly not in some cas­es) of the heaps of trash in and around their homes.

bkart_crocodiles-toothache_250We learned “The Crocodile’s Toothache” in record time — tech­ni­cal­ly a one-page poem, but the illus­tra­tion on the fac­ing page made it wor­thy of excep­tion. They enjoyed the short­er poems, too, but they didn’t want to learn them. Just read them occa­sion­al­ly.

We whis­pered poems while wait­ing out­side the bath­rooms, we jumped rope to them on the play­ground, we shout­ed them out in the park for a group of peo­ple who slept in the park. Build­ing staff, police, bus dri­vers, old peo­ple, drunk peo­ple, and lit­tle babies lis­tened to our recita­tions. Those kids weren’t applaud­ed for much in their lives, but their abil­i­ty to recite a poem en masse was an impres­sive feat and they were cel­e­brat­ed for it every­where we went.

I didn’t know oth­er poets for kids then. I’d be so much more pre­pared now — we’d do Langston Hugh­es, Jack Pre­lut­sky, Joyce Sid­man, Jon Sci­esz­ka, Mar­i­lyn Singer, Ken Nes­bitt, Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, Gwen­dolyn Brooks, Alma Flor Ada…

I won­der how many poems they could’ve mem­o­rized? I won­der if they still remem­ber any of the ones we did? Would they rec­og­nize the words insta­mat­ic flu if they over­heard it at the doctor’s office? If so, I hope it makes them smile.


I Love to Read Month

Why would we employ read­ing ini­tia­tives that derail inter­nal read­ing moti­va­tion and divide kids into read­ing win­ners and losers?” 
Don­a­lyn Miller

I Love to Read BookmarkI’ve been think­ing about this ques­tion from lit­er­a­cy guru Don­a­lyn Miller ever since I read it last May. It struck a chord and made me chal­lenge some of my past prac­tices as a cham­pi­on of moti­vat­ing read­ers. What about all that time and effort spent pro­mot­ing read­ing by ask­ing kids to log their min­utes in order to receive some trin­ket total­ly unre­lat­ed to read­ing? Could I have actu­al­ly done more harm than good?

As a long-time com­mit­tee chair for “I Love to Read” month fes­tiv­i­ties at sev­er­al dif­fer­ent schools, the short­est month of the year has always been one of my favorites. While some folks expe­ri­ence visions of hearts and choco­lates when the cal­en­dar page flips to Feb­ru­ary, my head has always been filled with images of books and kids read­ing. As I reflect­ed on that arti­cle by Don­a­lyn, I thought about last year’s “I Love to Read” month awards cer­e­mo­ny. Our stu­dents who met the quo­ta of required read­ing min­utes — or at least claimed they did — were called up on the stage by their teach­ers to receive a cov­et­ed “read­ing medal.” I remem­ber the look on some of the lit­tle faces out in the audi­ence and imag­ined what they were think­ing or feel­ing… “Who cares about read­ing medals?” “I guess I’m not a read­er.” “Maybe I should have just fibbed about those min­utes!”

As a firm believ­er in “it’s nev­er too late to change” (for the bet­ter), I vowed to com­plete­ly revamp my approach to encour­ag­ing kids to read. My school com­mu­ni­ty and fab­u­lous “I Love to Read” com­mit­tee co-chairs also embraced the idea of cel­e­brat­ing read­ing for the sake of read­ing. The entire bud­get from our Home-School Asso­ci­a­tion was ear­marked for books, which we pur­chased way back in Sep­tem­ber when Scholas­tic Read­ing Clubs offers the very best bonus points offer (we spent less than $2.00 per book for many high demand and hot-tick­et titles!). The idea of reward­ing read­ing with read­ing is sim­ple and the research to back it up is con­vinc­ing. Yet we know that our kids still hope for some­thing a lit­tle snazzy and jazzy. I’m delight­ed to share how we plan to WOW kids with a month of activ­i­ties designed to affirm every child as a read­er!


Sev­er­al weeks ago we designed and ordered spe­cial t‑shirts for our staff. We will be wear­ing these at our kick-off event dur­ing the first week of Feb­ru­ary. This FUN and FREE fam­i­ly event will high­light our theme Read­ing is its own Reward with a “Read­ing is gold­en!” snack bag: Rold Gold pret­zels, Gold­fish gra­ham treats, and a choco­late trea­sure can­dy. Activ­i­ties will include a book swap (kids bring their gen­tly-used books to trade), a book­mark craft, nom­i­nat­ing a favorite book, a brand new book for every child and best of all, a READING CONCERT! The tal­ent­ed edu­ca­tors at my school will be mak­ing one of my buck­et-list wish­es come true, by stag­ing a mini-flash mob, singing “Read with Me” (sung to the Ben E. King song, Stand by Me)! I’ll be shar­ing a video lat­er this month that cap­tures the crowd’s reac­tion to our sur­prise ser­e­nade!

EPWCCS educators

From left to right, edu­ca­tors Sam Good­man, Mau­r­na Rome, and Caitlin Mey­er

The cen­ter­piece of our cel­e­bra­tion of books and read­ing will be the “Tiger Tro­phy” Awards. Stu­dents will be giv­en a paper “tro­phy award” to fill out each week, nom­i­nat­ing a favorite book. Paper tro­phies will be dis­played around the school. Week­ly book win­ners will be cho­sen from the paper tro­phies and we will also be film­ing stu­dents as they share some­thing about their favorite books.

School-wide Tiger TrophyIn addi­tion, for three weeks, each class­room will award one paper tro­phy to one book that has been cho­sen as a class favorite. Dur­ing the last week of Feb­ru­ary, class­rooms will vote on which of the three paper tro­phy books is their ALL-TIME FAVORITE, which will be award­ed a real class­room tro­phy designed with the ini­tial of each teacher’s last name (cute and inex­pen­sive, made from dol­lar store tro­phies and alpha­bet blocks). All class­room tro­phy books will be eli­gi­ble to win a SCHOOL-WIDE TIGER TROPHY, with a bal­lot of books list­ed in spe­cial cat­e­gories giv­en to each stu­dent.

Our “I Love to Read” month activ­i­ty cal­en­dar includes an overview of our live­ly lit­er­a­cy-filled month. We will dis­play our love of a great book with our “Door Dec­o­rat­ing Con­test” (the win­ning class­room will get BOOKS) and each week teach­ers will share short YouTube videos fea­tur­ing 2016 award-win­ning books and authors.

2016 New­bery Medal Award Win­ner: Matt de la Pena Last Stop on Mar­ket Street

2016 Calde­cott Medal Award Win­ner: Lind­say Mattick Find­ing Win­nie, The True Sto­ry of the World’s Most Famous Bear 

Coret­ta Scott King – Vir­ginia Hamil­ton Award for Life­time Achieve­ment Win­ner: Jer­ry Pinkney 

2016 New­bery Hon­or Award Win­ner: Vic­to­ria Jamieson Roller Girl

We will also par­tic­i­pate in a pow­er­ful event called the “African Amer­i­can Read In,” spon­sored by NCTE “cel­e­brat­ing 25 years of encour­ag­ing diver­si­ty in lit­er­a­ture.” More infor­ma­tion and free resources can be found here. The AARI at my school will def­i­nite­ly be a mem­o­rable day for 4th and 5th graders who will be meet­ing Kwame Alexan­der, 2015 New­bery Medal Award Win­ner for the excep­tion­al book Crossover.

I Love to Read Trophies

Our cul­mi­nat­ing event will take place on the last Fri­day in Feb­ru­ary. Dur­ing the finale we will announce our Tiger Tro­phy Award Win­ners and bestow our very own pres­ti­gious medals to the book cov­ers. We’re even plan­ning on send­ing the Tiger Tro­phies to the win­ning authors with a request to snap a self­ie pos­ing with our lit­tle lit­er­ary prize! Oh and about those read­ing medals… this year, EVERY stu­dent will be award­ed one because we know that EVERY CHILD is a read­er and should be rec­og­nized as one!


Skinny Dip with Michael Hall

Red: a Crayon's StoryWhat is your proud­est career moment?

Sev­er­al months before the pub­li­ca­tion of my book, Red: A Crayon’s Sto­ry, The Wall Street Jour­nal pub­lished an edi­to­r­i­al bemoan­ing the “gen­der indus­tri­al com­plex,” “cul­tur­al war­riors,” and books — includ­ing mine — “that seek to engage the sym­pa­thies of young read­ers … and nudge the nee­dle of cul­ture.” I had writ­ten some­thing good enough to pro­voke the wrath of the WJS edi­to­r­i­al page. It was a proud moment, indeed.

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

The first thing that comes to my mind is base­ball. But there are prob­lems.

First of all, base­ball isn’t an Olympic sport. (It became an offi­cial Olympic sport in 1992, but was oust­ed after the 2008 sum­mer Olympics.) Nev­er­the­less, since we’re talk­ing about fan­ta­sy — and since I have a rich fan­ta­sy life — this is rel­a­tive­ly easy to over­come. Let’s face it, if I can imag­ine the bald­ing, pot-bel­lied, six­ty-some­thing me grace­ful­ly climb­ing the wall in left field to rob a bat­ter of an extra-base hit (to the thun­der­ing approval of the crowd), I can cer­tain­ly imag­ine that base­ball has been rein­sti­tut­ed as an Olympic sport just in time for the sum­mer of 2016.

Michael Hall sports fantasyBut there’s a more dif­fi­cult prob­lem: Hav­ing spent much of my life imag­in­ing myself as a star left field­er for the Min­neso­ta Twins, my sta­tus as an ama­teur is clear­ly in doubt. If it came down to it, I wouldn’t sac­ri­fice my imag­i­nary Twins base­ball star sta­tus in order to imag­ine win­ning an Olympic gold medal for the Unit­ed States Olympic team.

So I’m going with table ten­nis.

What is your favorite line from a book?

In an old house in Paris that was cov­ered with vines lived twelve lit­tle girls in two straight lines.”

What keeps you up at night?

These pesky crea­tures called should’ves. I don’t know how they get into the house, but at night, they crawl into my bed and whis­per in my ear.

You should have done this, Michael.”

And frankly, you should have done that as well, Michael.”

This makes sleep­ing dif­fi­cult.

It’s well known that should’ves tire eas­i­ly. If you ignore them, they’ll fall asleep. So I thought I could just wait them out. But it’s less well known that they snore loud­ly. So, even while sleep­ing, they keep me awake.

One night, after the should’ves fell asleep — and were snor­ing hor­ri­bly — I picked them up, put them in a shoe box, and took them out the back door. I went back to bed and was doz­ing off, when I was vis­it­ed by five angry shouldn’t’ves.

Michael, you should not have done that!”

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

It's an Orange AardvarkThe book with the most crisply drawn char­ac­ters is prob­a­bly It’s An Orange Aard­vark, a book about five car­pen­ter ants who awake to a noise out­side their dark nest in a tree stump. One ant tries to get clues as to what it is by drilling holes in the stump. As each new hole reveals a dif­fer­ent col­or, a sec­ond ant, who is con­vinced that it’s a hun­gry aard­vark, twists the infor­ma­tion to fit his pre­con­ceived belief, even as his ver­sion of the truth becomes more and more absurd.

For me, this was always a book about sci­en­tif­ic method. The hole-drilling ant is a wide-eyed, ded­i­cat­ed, ide­al­is­tic sci­en­tist. I think some­one like Toby Maguire would be per­fect for the role. (There is no love inter­est here. It’s a pic­ture book after all. But I’m sure a tal­ent­ed screen­writer could fix that.)

The sec­ond ant, the one who’s con­vinced an aard­vark awaits, is sort of a cross between Dick Cheney and Cliff Clavin from Cheers. I could sug­gest some­one like Willem Defoe, but I don’t want to play up the sin­is­ter part too much (it’s a pic­ture book, after all), so I’ll go with John Ratzen­berg­er from the Cheers cast. 



Bookstorm™: Chasing Secrets


Bookmap for Chasing Secrets Bookstorm

Chasing SecretsDon’t you love a good mys­tery? Set it in an exot­ic but famil­iar city like San Fran­cis­co at the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Cre­ate a main char­ac­ter who’s a smart and adven­tur­ous young girl with inter­ests frowned upon dur­ing that time: sci­ence, math­e­mat­ics, and pur­su­ing a col­lege edu­ca­tion. Pro­vide a fam­i­ly and friends who are immense­ly inter­est­ing because they’re so vivid that you’d like to know each one of them. Research the his­to­ry of the times so that these peo­ple are believ­ably liv­ing in the midst of impend­ing dis­ease, short tem­pers over immi­gra­tion, and the clash between the very wealthy and the very poor … and you have this excit­ing sto­ry. When our Bookol­o­gists read it, we could­n’t put it down!

We are pleased to fea­ture Chas­ing Secrets as our Feb­ru­ary book selec­tion, writ­ten by the tal­ent­ed Gen­nifer Chold­enko.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. This month, we’re focus­ing on books for mid­dle grade read­ers. We’ve includ­ed some books for adults with good pho­tographs of the era and more infor­ma­tion to help you set con­text for your stu­dents. 





Women in Sci­ence. There are excep­tion­al fic­tion and non­fic­tion books about the women in many fields such as botany, astron­o­my, chem­istry, and zool­o­gy who have applied their inter­ests, hard work, and cre­ativ­i­ty to change the world. 

Ear­ly Women in Med­i­cine. Female med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers were frowned upon until recent­ly. Some of them found ways to tend to their com­mu­ni­ties with­out degrees, by being mid­wives and herbal­ists. Oth­ers fought their way into med­ical school and set out to estab­lish them­selves as val­ued doc­tors and sci­en­tists. We’ve sug­gest­ed a mix­ture of fic­tion and non­fic­tion you and your stu­dents will find enlight­en­ing and engross­ing.

Infec­tious Dis­eases. Plagues, fevers, influen­za … they’ve wreaked hav­oc with var­i­ous pop­u­la­tions up to the present day. The authors of these books have writ­ten com­pelling nar­ra­tives to inspire future sci­en­tists and doc­tors, nurs­es and aid work­ers.

Chi­nese Immi­gra­tion. San Fran­cis­co was the major port for Chi­nese immi­grants com­ing to “Gold Moun­tain” in the 1800s and ear­ly 1900s. As with so many eth­nic groups arriv­ing in Amer­i­ca, they were not wel­comed with cour­tesy and kind­ness, but with sus­pi­cion and resent­ment. There are a num­ber of books for both chil­dren and adult read­ers includ­ed.

Chi­na­town. Along with a fine book by Lau­rence Yep, we rec­om­mend two books for adults to give you back­ground and pho­tographs as you pre­pare to dis­cuss Chas­ing Secrets in your class­room or book group.

Detec­tive Fic­tion. Our Bookol­o­gists put their heads togeth­er to rec­om­mend their favorite books in this genre, some of them clas­sic and some of them brand new. Mys­tery read­ers will set­tle in for sev­er­al weeks of page-turn­ing!

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