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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine


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 Senor 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

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
Serves 4
In honor of Jing's delicious cooking in Chasing Secrets, here's a favorite recipe.
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Cook Time
12 hr
Cook Time
12 hr
  1. 3 Tbsp water
  2. 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  3. 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  4. 1 Tbsp dry sherry
  5. 1 tsp sugar
  6. 2 boneless chicken breast halves, skinned and cubed
  7. 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  8. 4 Tbsp peanut oil
  9. 6 dried hot red chilies or ¼ tsp dried red pepper flakes
  10. 5 green onions, chopped
  11. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  12. 1 tsp minced, peeled, fresh ginger
  13. 3 cups small broccoli florets
  14. ½ cup salted peanuts
  15. freshly cooked rice
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
Bookology Magazine

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


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 naivete 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,

“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™.