Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Wandering Aimlessly

Pho­to by nyc­sjv at Morguefile.com

When I worked as a pub­lish­ing pro­fes­sion­al, I got to vis­it New York twice a year as part of my job. I loved it: the peo­ple, the pace, the movie-set land­scapes. So I gawked. I mean­dered. I stopped and stared up at the sky­scrap­ers. I was a stranger in a strange land.

All that seemed to make New York­ers unhap­py.  Final­ly a kind mag­a­zine edi­tor explained to me what was going on.

They seem…irritated,” I said.

He looked me up and down and shook his head.  “You’re walk­ing slow­ly, right?  You’re stop­ping to look at things? They’re not mad, they’re in a hur­ry.”

Then he leaned way for­ward and whis­pered so no one else could hear.  “Trust me.  I’m from Michi­gan. They can tell you’re a Mid­west­ern­er, and you’re in their way.”

I did fine in New York once I learned to stay out of the way. But here’s the thing: I would nev­er want to shut down that “coun­try yokel in the big city” side of myself, because in many ways, it’s my sin­gle most valu­able trait as a writer. Noth­ing has come in more use­ful than my plea­sure at wan­der­ing aimlessly—whether it’s through city streets or a long con­ver­sa­tion or the Internet—the whole time col­lect­ing the shiny bits of life as if I were a mag­pie.

Some­times I pick up somebody’s life sto­ry. Some­times I col­lect triv­ia. Some­times it’s an odd expres­sion.  They pile up in my crow’s nest of a brain, and then seem­ing­ly out of nowhere, pop up and insert them­selves into my writ­ing. They sug­gest sto­ries. They com­bine and mutate in strange and won­der­ful ways.

So despite the fact that it’s prob­a­bly the most com­mon ques­tion young writ­ers ask me, I’m always a lit­tle sur­prised when I hear, “Where do you get your ideas?” Ideas are every­where, I tell them: you just have to wan­der and gawk long enough to notice them.

As a brain­storm­ing activ­i­ty for your stu­dent writ­ers, I encour­age you to offer them mean­der­ing time.  Take a nature walk. Go to the media cen­ter and tell them to grab nonfic­tion books on any top­ics that catch their fan­cy. Allow them to browse Inter­net sites from muse­ums or zoos. Ask them to bring in three curi­ous facts about their own family’s his­to­ry.

Infor­ma­tion I dis­cov­ered while research­ing one of my nonfic­tion titles, about the walk­ing catfish, turned out to pro­vide the entire the­mat­ic basis for my mys­tery nov­el. You real­ly nev­er do know where a great sto­ry idea might come from.

Maybe even from the streets of New York.

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The Limo’s on the Way

I’ve found there’s an alarm­ing­ly close cor­re­la­tion between the top­sy-turvy emo­tions of a high school crush and a writer’s feel­ings dur­ing the process of sub­mit­ting a man­u­script to pub­lish­ers.

As the writer wait­ing for an answer from The Per­fect Pub­lish­er, you go through the same hope­ful highs and “why doesn’t any­one love me?” lows. The man­u­script that just last week looked pret­ty darn good has some­how overnight devel­oped a hideous zit. Rejec­tions begin arriv­ing, and you dri­ve your fam­i­ly crazy with your obses­sive spec­u­la­tion about whether The One will ever call.

For the past few years I’ve been work­ing on a man­u­script that’s a whole new kind of writ­ing for me, and more recent­ly I’ve been liv­ing all of these emo­tions through­out the sub­mis­sion process. One night in a restau­rant, I actu­al­ly found myself wail­ing to my good and patient friends, “All I want is for some­body to ask me to the prom!”

Guess what? The limo’s arrived! I had plen­ty of time to buy the right dress, but in Fall 2013 the limo appeared to take me and my mid­dle grade mys­tery nov­el to the Big Dance.

Get­ting pub­lished is great; there’s no way I’ll pre­tend to you it isn’t. I’ve had a whole week of flow­ers and cup­cakes, and this isn’t even my first dance! But the pur­suit of get­ting pub­lished can also be tougher and more hum­bling than new writ­ers imag­ine. So when kids approach me with that hope­ful gleam in their eye and ask, “How do I get my sto­ry pub­lished?” I always feel a lit­tle ping of pro­tec­tive wor­ry for them.

Then I work hard to instill in them a love of writ­ing for the sake of writ­ing, not just for the joy of see­ing their name on the cov­er of a book.

And then I remem­ber that hav­ing an audi­ence for my work mat­ters to me, too, and I come up with ways for stu­dents to share their writ­ing. After all, part of the urge to see one’s name on a book cov­er is the fact that on the oth­er side of the writ­ing see­saw, there’s a read­er who will find you—and your words—remarkable.

I’ll be describ­ing the impor­tance of giv­ing stu­dents a chance to share their work out loud in an upcom­ing post titled “Dri­ven to Write Bett‚er.” But there are also prac­ti­cal ways to allow stu­dents to “pub­lish” their work. You can find afford­able blank books in edu­ca­tion­al sup­ply stores and online. You can have stu­dents choose for them­selves the role of either “writer” or “illus­tra­tor,” and then pair them off to cre­ate their own pic­ture books togeth­er. One school I vis­it­ed arranged for old­er stu­dents to pair off with first-graders, and then the old­er kids inter­viewed the younger stu­dents about their per­son­al pref­er­ences and cre­at­ed a book designed espe­cial­ly for them.

When the hard work of writ­ing is done, everybody’s ready to dance!

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Spend the Day with Arnold Lobel

Arnold Lobel

Arnold Lobel

Phyl­lis: Feb­ru­ary is the month of valen­tines and lovers, and we spent a day (through his books) with some­one we love: Arnold Lobel.

He wrote easy read­er sto­ries that help chil­dren crack the code of read­ing, give them fun sto­ries with char­ac­ters who remind us of peo­ple we know and that give read­ers of all ages plen­ty to think about. In his fifty-four years, he illus­trat­ed almost a hun­dred children’s sto­ries and wrote many of them.

An edi­tor once, when asked if Arnold Lobel was more like Frog or Toad, respond­ed, after think­ing about it, that he is more like Owl.

Owl at HomeJack­ie: Some­times I read Owl at Home just to myself. What do we love about owl? Owl is always on the edge of sad­ness. He has a young child’s par­tial under­stand­ing of the world. Kids can see them­selves in Owl—and some­times they can see that they even know more than owl. Part of the joy of the sto­ry “Strange Bumps” is that kids know what the bumps are. When the two strange bumps at the foot of Owl’s bed obsess him, Owl looks under cov­ers. No bumps. He pulls the cov­ers back up and there are the bumps. He jumps up and down yelling, “Bumps. Bumps. Bumps, I will nev­er sleep tonight.” And when the bed col­laps­es, he leaves it to the bumps and goes down­stairs to sleep in a chair. He nev­er iden­ti­fies the bumps. But read­ers do.

Phyl­lis: “Tear­wa­ter Tea” is anoth­er sto­ry that always sat­is­fies. One after­noon Owl decides to brew a pot of tear­wa­ter tea. He thinks of things that are sad– chairs with bro­ken legs, songs that can­not be sung because the words are for­got­ten, books that can­not be read because some of the pages have been torn out. After a while he has accu­mu­lat­ed suf­fi­cient tears. He puts his tea ket­tle on and makes the tea. That cheers him up because, even though it tastes salty, “Tear­wa­ter tea is always very good.”

In the last sto­ry, the moon seems to fol­low Owl home despite his protes­ta­tions that he has noth­ing to give the moon for sup­per and has a very small house. When the moon dis­ap­pears behind a cloud, he says, “It is always a lit­tle sad to say good-bye to a friend.” But the moon reap­pears at his win­dow and Owl says, “Moon you have fol­lowed me home, what a good round friend you are.” Owl doesn’t feel sad at all In these brief chap­ters. So, Owl goes through sad­ness to the oth­er side. A pro­gres­sion.

Frog and Toad Are FriendsJack­ie: When we read the Frog and Toad sto­ries to our chil­dren we read them with joy and the plea­sure of shar­ing with our kids and didn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly look deep­er into them. The Frog and Toad books are a primer on the ups and downs of friendship—including the foibles and quib­bles of being a good friend. In “Spring” (Frog and Toad are Friends) Frog tricks Toad into wak­ing up ear­ly from his win­ter nap because Frog is lone­ly with­out Toad. Frog is not above laugh­ing at his friend. In “A Swim” (Frog and Toad are Friends) Toad refus­es to come out of the water because, he says, “I do not want [any­one] to see me in my bathing suit.” He is wor­ried they will laugh. Even­tu­al­ly the tur­tle, lizard, snake, drag­on­flies, and a field mouse sit on the river­bank wait­ing to see if toad looks fun­ny. Even­tu­al­ly Toad has to come out of the water. He is catch­ing cold. As Toad pre­dict­ed, every­one laughs, includ­ing Frog, who says “You do look fun­ny in your bathing suit.” “’Of course I do,’ said Toad, and he picked up his clothes and went home.”

They don’t always see eye to amphib­ian eye. In “Cook­ies” (Frog and Toad Are Friends) Frog, in pur­suit of willpow­er so as not to eat all the cook­ies Toad has baked, ends up giv­ing them to the birds. “Toad goes into the house to bake a cake.”

Phyl­lis: And who doesn’t rec­og­nize them­selves in “The List,” where, when the list blows away, Toad claims he can’t run after it because “Run­ning after my list is not one of the things I wrote on my list of things to do?”

In “The Sto­ry” (Frog and Toad Are Friends) Frog is sick (“look­ing quite green”) and he asks Toad for a sto­ry. Writ­ers will rec­og­nize what Toad does when he can­not think of a sto­ry. He walks up and down, he stands on his head, he pours a glass of water over his head, but he still can­not think of a sto­ry. He bangs his head against the wall. By then Frog feels bet­ter, Toad feels worse and asks Frog for a sto­ry. Frog tells Toad the sto­ry of the Toad who could not think of a sto­ry. We can’t help but think this delight­ful tale is per­haps based on a day when Lobel could not think of a sto­ry.

Frog and Toad TogetherIn “The Dream (Frog and Toad Togeth­er),” Toad has a dream where he can­not fail. He plays the piano, he dances, he walks on the high wire while a voice pro­claims that he is “The Great­est Toad in the World.” Each time he asks Frog if he, too, could do these won­der­ful things. Each time Frog says no and shrinks a bit until Toad says, ”Frog, can you be as won­der­ful as this?” There is no answer. Frog has shrunk so small that he can­not be seen or heard. Toad shouts at the voice pro­claim­ing his great­ness to shut up and says, “Come back Frog. I will be lone­ly.” He is des­per­ate. Then Toad wakes from his dream to see Frog, who says, “I am right here, Toad.” “I am so glad you came over,” says Toad. “I always do,” said Frog.

Forty years lat­er their friend­ship is still com­fort­ing to read­ers of all ages.

Uncle ElephantJack­ie: We can’t leave this appre­ci­a­tion with­out a men­tion of Uncle Ele­phant, in which a wise Uncle Ele­phant com­forts his lone­ly ele­phant nephew when his father and moth­er do not come back from sea. On the train to Uncle Elephant’s, they eat peanuts, count hous­es and tele­phone poles, and final­ly peanut shells, which are much eas­i­er to count. Uncle Ele­phant intro­duces his nephew to the flow­ers in his gar­den, his favorite place in the world. They make crowns of flow­ers and trum­pet the dawn togeth­er. Uncle Ele­phant tells him a sto­ry about a king with many wrin­kles and a prince who was young and smart. When they meet a lion, they trum­pet so loud­ly every one of the lion’s teeth pop out. When lit­tle ele­phant gets sad, Uncle Ele­phant puts on all his clothes at once to make the lit­tle ele­phant smile. They end up laugh­ing so hard at the “pile of clothes with two ears” that they for­get to feel sad. They sing a song togeth­er, and they dance for joy when lit­tle elephant’s moth­er and father are found and return home. On the train Uncle Ele­phant counts the won­der­ful days that they had spent togeth­er, and they promise to see each oth­er often. Uncle Ele­phant is the calmest, best-lis­ten­ing uncle ever there was. He hears what the lit­tle ele­phant can’t even say about fear and sad­ness.

Charlie & MousePhyl­lis: He offers small com­forts in the face of great of loss. We hope you all get to spend a day with Arnold Lobel and Frog and Toad and Grasshop­per and Owl and Mouse and Uncle Elephant—soon—for silli­ness and com­fort and friend­ship.

Side­bar: We just want to men­tion sto­ries writ­ten in the same spir­it as Arnold Lobel’s sto­ries, Char­lie and Mouse, easy read­ers by Lau­rel Sny­der, which was just named win­ner of the Geisel Medal, the ALA prize for Best Easy Read­er of 2017.

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Skinny Dip with Laura Purdie Salas

Laura Purdie Salas

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas is a poet, a researcher, and a pop­u­lar vis­it­ing author in ele­men­tary and mid­dle schools. Sev­er­al of her books have turned heads and stirred up a buzz, includ­ing Water Can Be … and If You Were the Moon. She has pub­lished many books about writ­ing for chil­dren and fre­quent­ly speaks at con­fer­ences. We’re pleased that this very busy author is spend­ing some time with Bookol­o­gy this month.

What’s the weird­est place you’ve ever read a book?

Perched in a tree and lying under­neath a tram­po­line in the shade were two favorite spots when I was a kid grow­ing up in Flori­da. I have also read books on bor­ing car­ni­val rides, dur­ing recitals (don’t tell!), and while canoe­ing. There is pret­ty much no place I would not be hap­py to read a book.

Laura Purdie Salas, reading in a tree

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, read­ing in a tree

What is the pre­dom­i­nant col­or in your wardrobe?

Black, but that sounds so sad! I live in yoga pants in my dai­ly life, and black ones are the most flat­ter­ing. My top half is usu­al­ly more colorful—I swear!—and blues and pur­ples are my favorite col­ors to dress in.

Which library springs to your mind when some­one says that word? What do you remem­ber most about it?

The orig­i­nal Win­ter Park, Flori­da, Library. I would ride my bike to the small, ancient-look­ing build­ing once or twice a week. When I would walk between the tall white columns to go inside, it was like enter­ing anoth­er plan­et. Big wood­en card cat­a­logs. The bustling hush of peo­ple walk­ing pur­pose­ful­ly around. The children’s area, where I knew I was sup­posed to be. The rest of the library, where I wan­dered around and learned about the world beyond the hap­py lit­tle children’s books. I can still pic­ture the wall around the cor­ner that had all the mys­ter­ies, where I worked my way through the Agatha Christies. I felt like every­one there was smart and hap­py, and I knew books were the rea­son. l always checked out as many books as I could jug­gle home. Halfway through my child­hood, they built a new library, which was very nice and mod­ern­ized and big­ger. I know I used that one con­stant­ly, too. But my mem­o­ries are all of the first one—my very first library.

Which book that you read as a child has most influ­enced your life?

The Figure in the Shadows John BellairsI devoured books like they were pota­to chips, and I went for quantity—and escapism. I lost myself in books, and they were sort of like lost dreams after­ward. I don’t remem­ber too many indi­vid­ual books, but The Fig­ure in the Shad­ows, by John Bel­lairs, was a big favorite. It showed me that fam­i­ly isn’t restrict­ed to your bio­log­i­cal fam­i­ly. And it scared the bejee­bers out of me—I loved it! Two oth­ers I read around (I think) 7th grade, Crooked House, by Agatha Christie, and Flow­ers for Alger­non, by Daniel Keyes, still haunt me a lit­tle. SPOILER ALERT: In Crooked House, the mur­der­er is a child, which total­ly shocked me. Not a mis­un­der­stood child. Not a men­tal­ly ill child. A greedy, self­ish child the same age I was when I read the book. It made me think about the enor­mous capac­i­ty for good and evil human beings have. Flow­ers for Alger­non, which I recent­ly reread, shaped my thoughts about love, intel­li­gence, kind­ness, and the lim­its of sci­ence. And it broke my heart.

Have you trav­eled out­side of the Unit­ed States? Which coun­try is your favorite to vis­it? Why?

In the past ten years, I’ve got­ten to vis­it Scot­land twice, Ire­land, France, Aus­tria, the Czech Repub­lic, and Ice­land. So far, Scot­land is my favorite—so beau­ti­ful and with so much his­to­ry. Famil­iar enough to be com­fort­able, but for­eign enough to be an adven­ture. But see­ing the North­ern Lights in Ice­land was my favorite sin­gle event while trav­el­ing. This world is just so amaz­ing.

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, on the shore of a loch in Scot­land

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas with her hus­band, Randy Salas, tour­ing a lava tube cave in Ice­land

the north­ern lights as viewed from Ice­land

What’s the last per­for­mance you saw at a the­ater?

Improv com­e­dy at Com­e­dyS­portz in Min­neapo­lis. Improv is so much fun—watching peo­ple cre­ate sto­ries, live, in the moment, is incred­i­ble. It’s like being thrown into a thun­der­storm of a first draft, and you nev­er know when light­ning will strike.

When you walk into a bak­ery, what are you most like­ly to choose from the bak­ery cas­es?

Some­thing frost­ed! Or with gooey caramel. Or with a mousse. When I buy cup­cakes, I always ask the bak­er to choose the one with the most frost­ing for me. It dri­ves me nuts on bak­ing shows when a judge will say with dis­dain, “This cream cheese frost­ing is just too sweet.” Or “You have way too much but­ter­cream on this cake.” Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly impos­si­ble state­ments, in my opin­ion.

If you had a choice, would you live under the ocean or in out­er space, and why?

Out­er space fas­ci­nates me, but I’d want to live in the ocean. The idea that there are still so many mys­ter­ies and unex­plored places on our very own plan­et is crazy! Plus the ocean is so … water­col­ory and gor­geous and tran­quil. Out­er space seems less hospitable—all dark­ness and sharp­ness and emp­ty space.

If you could write any book and know that it would be pub­lished and tens of thou­sands of peo­ple would read it, which book would you write?

I would write a pic­ture book, maybe a poem, that would reas­sure kids that they are who they choose to be. They are not defined by their home, their fam­i­ly, or their family’s jobs, income, cars, edu­ca­tion lev­el, ill­ness­es … But with­out sound­ing preachy, of course! :>)

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In Memoriam: Wendy Watson

Wendy Wat­son was a third gen­er­a­tion author and artist. Her grand­par­ents, Ernest W. Wat­son and Eva Auld Wat­son, were painters and pio­neer col­or block print­ers.  Ernest was also founder and edi­tor of the mag­a­zine Amer­i­can Artist, co-founder of Wat­son-Gup­till Pub­li­ca­tions, and co-founder of one of the first sum­mer art schools, the Berk­shire Sum­mer School of Art. Wendy’s father, Aldren A. Wat­son, is an author, and also the illus­tra­tor of more than 175 books, includ­ing many children’s books writ­ten by Wendy’s moth­er, Nan­cy Ding­man Wat­son.

Wendy received her pri­ma­ry edu­ca­tion and ear­ly art train­ing from her par­ents. She lat­er stud­ied paint­ing and draw­ing with Jer­ry Farnsworth, Helen Sawyer, and Daniel Greene, and received a BA in Latin Lit­er­a­ture from Bryn Mawr Col­lege.

Wendy was the author-illus­tra­tor of twen­ty-one books for chil­dren, and the illus­tra­tor of over six­ty books for oth­er authors. Her books have received many awards and hon­ors, includ­ing: The Nation­al Book Award, nom­i­nee; The Koret Jew­ish Book Award; The Syd­ney Tay­lor Hon­or Book Award; Best Books of the Year, The New York Times; Best Books of the Year, Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion; Best Books of the Year, School Library Jour­nal; Best Books of the Year, Pub­lish­ers Week­lyKirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice; Notable Children’s Books, Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion; Out­stand­ing Sci­ence Trade Books for Chil­dren, Nation­al Sci­ence Teach­ers Association/Children’s Book Coun­cil; Pick of the Lists, Amer­i­can Bookseller’s Asso­ci­a­tion; and Notable Children’s Books in the Field of Social Stud­ies, Children’s Book Coun­cil.

Wendy’s art­work was exhib­it­ed wide­ly, and includ­ed in numer­ous nation­al and inter­na­tion­al shows, includ­ing: “The Bien­ni­al of Illus­tra­tion,” Bratisla­va, Yugoslavia; “The Orig­i­nal Art,” The Soci­ety of Illus­tra­tors, New York; and “The Annu­al Exhi­bi­tion of Amer­i­can Illus­tra­tion,” The Soci­ety of Illus­tra­tors, New York. She was one of 106 artists rep­re­sent­ed in the exhi­bi­tion and book “Myth, Mag­ic, and Mys­tery: One Hun­dred Years of Amer­i­can Children’s Book Illus­tra­tion.” Wendy’s work is part of numer­ous pri­vate and insti­tu­tion­al col­lec­tions.

Wendy was also a mem­ber of the Author’s Guild, the Soci­ety of Children’s Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors, and The Soci­ety of Illus­tra­tors. She lived in Phoenix, Ari­zona, and Cape Cod, Mass­a­chu­setts. She passed away in Feb­ru­ary 2018 and will be held dear in the hearts of many friends and rel­a­tives.

Here are Wendy Watson’s pub­lished works:

 

Bed­time Bun­nies
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Clar­i­on Books, 2010
ISBN 9780547223124

It’s always somebody’s bed­time, some­where in the world. In this book it’s bed­time for five lit­tle rab­bits. They come in from out­doors, have a snack, brush their teeth, take a bath, put on night­clothes, and lis­ten to a sto­ry before being tucked in for the night. Out­side, we see snowflakes falling. In the bun­nies’ home, all is warmth and cozi­ness and play­ful­ness and love. Four words per spread nar­rate the evening rou­tine, and delight­ful­ly soft and spir­it­ed illus­tra­tions take read­ers into the bun­nies’ world. Young chil­dren who have this book as a bed­time com­pan­ion are lucky indeed, espe­cial­ly if their own get­ting-ready-for-bed rit­u­als are as famil­iar and ten­der as those of the five bun­nies.

 

Spuds
writ­ten by Karen Hesse

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Scholas­tic Press, 2008
ISBN 9780439879934

Ma’s been work­ing so hard, she doesn’t have much left over. So her three kids decide to do some work on their own. In the dark of night, they steal into their rich neighbor’s pota­to fields in hopes of col­lect­ing the strays that have been left to rot. They dig flat-bel­lied in the dirt, hid­ing from pass­ing cars, and drag a sack of spuds through the frost back home. But in the light, the sad truth is revealed: their bag is full of stones! Ma is upset when she sees what they’ve done, and makes them set things right. But in a sur­prise twist, they learned they have helped the farmer….

 

The Cats in Krasin­s­ki Square
writ­ten by Karen Hesse
illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Scholas­tic Press, 2004
ISBN 9780439435406 

In lumi­nous free verse, Hesse’s lat­est pic­ture book tells a pow­er­ful sto­ry of a young Jew­ish girl who, togeth­er with her old­er sis­ter, inge­nious­ly fights the Nazi occu­pa­tion of War­saw. After escap­ing from the Jew­ish ghet­to, the girl avoids detec­tion.… She finds joy in play­ing with the city’s aban­doned cats, who show her holes in the ghet­to wall, which the girl’s old­er sis­ter and their resis­tance friends will use to pass sup­plies shipped by train to War­saw. The Gestapo learns of the scheme, and sol­diers wait at the train sta­tion with dogs. Luck­i­ly, the cats inspire a solu­tion; they dis­tract the dogs and pro­tect the sup­plies. It’s an empow­er­ing sto­ry about the brav­ery and impact of young peo­ple, and Hesse’s clear, spare poet­ry, from the girl’s view­point, refers to the hard­ships suf­fered with­out didac­ti­cism. In bold, black lines and wash­es of smoky gray and ochre, Watson’s arrest­ing images echo the pared-down lan­guage as well as the hope that shines like the glints of sun­light on Krasin­s­ki Square. An author’s note ref­er­ences the true events and heart­break­ing his­to­ry that inspired this stir­ring, expert­ly craft­ed sto­ry.

 

Father Fox’s Christ­mas Rhymes
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2003
ISBN 9780374375768

A cozy col­lec­tion of hol­i­day verse.

Who is that knock­ing at the door?
It’s old Father Fox with sur­pris­es galore!
Licorice & lol­lipops, lemons & limes
A bun­dle of toys & a bag full of rhymes …

Over thir­ty years ago, Father Fox’s Pen­nyrhymes became an instant clas­sic and was a Nation­al Book Award Final­ist. Now Father Fox returns with new rhymes espe­cial­ly for yule­tide that con­jure up the excite­ment and mys­tery of the sea­son: play­ing in the snow, mak­ing hot apple cider, hid­ing presents—all at the warm and lov­ing home of the Fox fam­i­ly.

The vers­es feel like clas­sic children’s rhymes, and rich paint­ings cap­ture all the cheer and beau­ty of Christ­mas­time.

 

Rab­bit Moon
writ­ten by Patri­cia Hubbell

illus­tra­tions by Wendy Wat­son
Mar­shall Cavendish, 2002
ISBN 9780761451037

Con­sid­er Rab­bit snow­men in Feb­ru­ary! Can you imag­ine Rab­bit pipers in March?! An engag­ing col­lec­tion of poems for preschool­ers and ear­ly read­ers, this unique almanac cel­e­brates the hol­i­days and good times enjoyed by young Rab­bits and chil­dren alike. From Rab­bit Lead­ers Day to Rab­bit Thanks­giv­ing, from Rab­bit fire­works in July to Rab­bit trick-or-treat in Octo­ber, all the spe­cial days of the year are here. And, as Big-Rab­bit-in-the-Moon looks on, all are enjoyed. Adding to the fun are play­ful illus­tra­tions (ren­dered in acrylics and India ink) of Rab­bits here, Rab­bits there, Rab­bits every­where!

 

Holly’s Christ­mas Eve
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Harper­Collins, 2002
ISBN 9780688176525

On Christ­mas Eve, Hol­ly is ready to join the oth­er orna­ments in cel­e­bra­tion. But dis­as­ter strikes when naughty Bad Cat bats the tree’s branch­es: Hol­ly los­es her wood­en arm! Cloth Bear and Tin Horse rush to help her find it, meet­ing dan­ger and becom­ing good friends along the way.

Wendy Watson’s paint­ings glow with excite­ment as the trio hur­ries to get home safe­ly before San­ta arrives.

This heart­warm­ing sto­ry, filled with adven­ture, is per­fect for read­ing aloud by the light of your own tree at Christ­mas­time.

 

Is My Friend at Home?: Pueblo Fire­side Tales
writ­ten by John Bier­horst

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2001
ISBN 9780374335502

Here are sev­en inter­con­nect­ed sto­ries about mak­ing and keep­ing friends, jew­el-like tales orig­i­nal­ly told to the youngest lis­ten­ers at Native Amer­i­can fire­sides in the Hopi coun­try of north­ern Ari­zona. In John Bierhorst’s authen­tic re-cre­ation of a Pueblo sto­ry­telling ses­sion, read­ers and lis­ten­ers will find out how Coy­ote got his short ears, why Mouse walks soft­ly, and how Bee learned to fly.

Snake, Mole, Bad­ger, Bee­tle, and Dove also have roles clever and fool­ish, friend­ly and not so friend­ly, and all are depict­ed with humor and finesse by illus­tra­tor Wendy Wat­son.

 

Love’s a Sweet
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Viking Pen­guin, 1998
ISBN 9780670834532

Ani­mals of every sort quar­rel and kiss, laugh and lul­la­by their way through the plea­sures and pit­falls of every­day love in this new col­lec­tion of short rhymes writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by sis­ters Clyde and Wendy Wat­son. Each of Clyde’s “pen­nyrhymes” is illus­trat­ed with fun­ny, often ten­der scenes fea­tur­ing Wendy’s fuzzy farm ani­mals. Love’s A Sweet is the per­fect book for chil­dren to share with moms, dads, broth­ers, sis­ters, and espe­cial­ly with grand­ma and grand­pa!

no cov­er
image avail­able
 

Du Store Ver­den (orig. Nor­we­gian ed.)
writ­ten by Kather­ine Pater­son et al.
illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
J.W. Cap­pe­lens For­lag a-s, 1995

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night
edit­ed and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Lothrop, Lee & Shep­ard, 1994
no ISBN yet

An illus­trat­ed ver­sion of the folk song in which a fox trav­els many miles to get din­ner for his wife and ten cubs.

 

The Big Book for Our Plan­et
edit­ed by Ann Dur­rell, Jean Craig­head George, and Kather­ine Pater­son
illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Dut­ton Children’s Books, 1993
ISBN 9780525451198

More than forty acclaimed children’s book authors and illus­tra­tors join togeth­er to cre­ate an anthology—whose pro­ceeds will ben­e­fit envi­ron­men­tal organizations—of sto­ries, poems, essays, and pic­tures that cel­e­brate Earth and call atten­tion to envi­ron­men­tal destruc­tion.

 

Hap­py East­er Day!
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Clar­i­on Books, 1993
ISBN 9780395536292

A fam­i­ly pre­pares for a tra­di­tion­al Amer­i­can East­er by mak­ing hot cross buns, get­ting new clothes, and dec­o­rat­ing eggs. On the hol­i­day, they hunt for bas­kets, go to church, have din­ner, and play games. Songs and poems are inter­spersed through­out the text.

 

Boo! It’s Hal­loween
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Clar­i­on Books, 1992
ISBN 9780395536285

A fam­i­ly gets ready for Hal­loween by prepar­ing cos­tumes, mak­ing good­ies for the school par­ty, and carv­ing jack-o’-lanterns. Hal­loween jokes and rhymes are inter­spersed through­out the text.

 

Hur­ray for the Fourth of July
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Clar­i­on Books, 1992
ISBN 9780618040360 (Sand­piper ed., 2000)

In a small Ver­mont town a fam­i­ly cel­e­brates the Fourth of July by attend­ing a parade, hav­ing a pic­nic, and watch­ing fire­works.

 

Thanks­giv­ing at Our House
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Clar­i­on Books, 1991
ISBN 9780395699447 (Sand­piper ed., 1994)

A spir­it­ed col­lec­tion of tra­di­tion­al rhymes woven into an orig­i­nal sto­ry.

 

A Valen­tine for You
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Clar­i­on Books, 1991
ISBN 9780395536254

A live­ly col­lec­tion of tra­di­tion­al Valen­tine rhymes cel­e­brates the fun a fam­i­ly can have prepar­ing for the hol­i­day.

 

The Night Before Christ­mas
writ­ten by Clement Clarke Moore

edit­ed and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Clar­i­on Books, 1990
ISBN 9780395665084 (Sand­piper ed., 1993)

The famil­iar verse about a vis­it from Saint Nick is depict­ed in a late-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry small town set­ting, which brings to life the tra­di­tion­al Amer­i­can cel­e­bra­tion of a beloved hol­i­day.

 

Wendy Watson’s Frog Went A-Court­ing
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
piano arr. by Paul Alan Levi
Lothrop, Lee & Shep­ard, 1990
ISBN 9780688065409

Presents the well-known folk song about the courtship and mar­riage of the frog and the mouse. Includes music.

 

A, B, C, D, Tum­my, Toes, Hands, Knees
writ­ten by Bar­bara Hen­nessey

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Viking Pen­guin, 1989
ISBN 9780670817030

A rhyth­mic, rhyming text lists objects, ideas, and actions; sim­ple vignettes and full-page draw­ings pro­vide the def­i­n­i­tions by show­ing famil­iar activ­i­ties and games enjoyed by a moth­er and child in the course of their day togeth­er.

 

Valen­tine Fox­es
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son

illus­tra­tions by Wendy Wat­son
Orchard Books, 1989
ISBN 9780531070338 (Orchard, 1992)

The Fox family’s genial dis­ar­ray is enlivened as the cubs pre­pare a spe­cial sur­prise. The book includes a recipe for Valen­tine Pound Cake.

 

 

Wendy Watson’s Moth­er Goose
edit­ed and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Lothrop, Lee & Shep­ard, 1989
ISBN 9780688057084

In this com­pre­hen­sive, lav­ish­ly illus­trat­ed vol­ume, Wat­son shares her beguil­ing vision of the time­less world of Moth­er Goose. A won­der­ful intro­duc­tion to the rich folk­lore of child­hood. Full-col­or illus­tra­tions.

no cov­er
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How I Feel: Hap­py
writ­ten by Mar­cia Leonard

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Ban­tam, 1988
no ISBN yet

No syn­po­sis yet.

no cov­er
image avail­able
 

How I Feel: Sil­ly
writ­ten by Mar­cia Leonard

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Ban­tam, 1988
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

no cov­er
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How I Feel: Sad
writ­ten by Mar­cia Leonard

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Ban­tam, 1988
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

How I Feel: Angry
writ­ten by Mar­cia Leonard

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Ban­tam, 1988
ISBN 9780553054828

Describes, in sim­ple terms, sit­u­a­tions which make us angry and how to cope with feel­ings of anger.

 

Tales For a Winter’s Eve
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 1988
ISBN 9780374474195 (Sun­burst ed., 1991)

When Fred­die Fox injures his paw in a ski­ing acci­dent, his fam­i­ly and friends dis­tract him with sto­ries about the ani­mal inhab­i­tants of their vil­lage.

 

Doc­tor Coy­ote, A Native Amer­i­can Aesop’s Fable
writ­ten by John Bier­horst

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Macmil­lan, 1987
ISBN 9780027097801 

Coy­ote is fea­tured in each of these Aztec inter­pre­ta­tions of Aesop’s fables. The illus­tra­tions are set in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.

 

Lit­tle Brown Bear
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
West­ern Pub­lish­ing, 1985
ISBN 9780307030429

Lit­tle Brown Bear would like to go fish­ing with his father, but his par­ents think he’s too small.

 

Belinda’s Hur­ri­cane
writ­ten by Eliz­a­beth Winthrop

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
E.P. Dut­ton, 1984
ISBN 9780525441069

While wait­ing out a fierce hur­ri­cane in her grandmother’s house on Fox Island, Belin­da has a chance to get to know her grandmother’s reclu­sive neigh­bor Mr. Fletch­er.

 

I Love My Baby Sis­ter: Most of the Time
writ­ten by Elaine Edel­man

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Lothrop, Lee & Shep­ard, 1984
ISBN 9780140505474 (Puf­fin ed., 1985)

A small girl looks for­ward to the time when her baby sis­ter will be big enough to play with and be friends with.

 

Hap­py Birth­day From Car­olyn Hay­wood
writ­ten by Car­olyn Hay­wood

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Mor­row Junior Books, 1984
ISBN 9780688027094

A col­lec­tion of nine sto­ries revolv­ing around the birth­day cel­e­bra­tions of a vari­ety of the author’s char­ac­ters, old and new.

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Christ­mas at Bunny’s Inn
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Philomel, 1984
ISBN 9780399210907

Pop-up book: A three-dimen­sion­al Advent cal­en­dar.

 

Father Fox’s Feast of Songs
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Philomel, 1983
ISBN 9780399208867

Here is a joy­ous col­lec­tion of songs for every fam­i­ly to enjoy togeth­er. Clyde Wat­son has cho­sen her favorites from the best-sell­ing nurs­ery rhyme books, Father Fox’s Pen­nyrhymes and Catch Me & Kiss Me & Say it Again, and set them to music in easy-to-play arrange­ments for voice, piano and gui­tar. Wendy Wat­son has illus­trat­ed her sister’s songs with humor and affec­tion. Gath­er around the piano and sing— here are songs to cel­e­brate every aspect of hap­py child­hood and lov­ing fam­i­ly life.

 

Betsy’s Up-and-Down Year
writ­ten by Anne Pel­lows­ki

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Philomel, 1983
ISBN 9780399209703

The fur­ther adven­tures of Bet­sy on her family’s Wis­con­sin farm includ­ing her strug­gles with sib­ling rival­ry, an encounter with a rat­tlesnake, a birth­day par­ty, and cop­ing with the death of her grand­fa­ther.

 

The Bun­nies’ Christ­mas Eve (pop-up book)
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Philomel, 1983
ISBN 9780399209680

Bun­ny learns the true mean­ing of Christ­mas as she takes part in a spe­cial cer­e­mo­ny and fam­i­ly hol­i­day tra­di­tions, as depict­ed by stand-up illus­tra­tions with mov­ing parts.

 

Apple­bet, An ABC
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son
illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 1982
ISBN 9780374404277

A is for apple as every­one knows
Can you fol­low this one wher­ev­er it goes? 
B is for Bet in the top of the tree
Who picked it & shined it & gave it to me.

A Library of Con­gress Children’s Book of the Year.

 

The Biggest, Mean­est, Ugli­est Dog in the Whole Wide World
writ­ten by Rebec­ca C. Jones

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Macmil­lan, 1982
ISBN 9780027478006

Jonathan is ter­ri­fied of the dog next door, until one day he throws his ball at it in defense and their rela­tion­ship changes.

 

First Farm in the Val­ley: Anna’s Sto­ry
writ­ten by Anne Pel­lows­ki

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Macmil­lan, 1982
ISBN 9780884895374 (St. Mary’s Press ed., 1998)

Anna, the Amer­i­can-born daugh­ter of Pol­ish immi­grants, longs to escape the rig­ors of Wis­con­sin farm life to vis­it the roman­ti­cized Poland of her dreams.

 

Wind­ing Val­ley Farm: Annie’s Sto­ry
writ­ten by Anne Pel­lows­ki

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Philomel, 1982
ISBN 9780399208638

Life for six-year-old Annie Dorawa on Wind­ing Val­ley Farm just down the road from the Pel­lowskis’ first farm in the val­ley is busy and hap­py. Then one day, Annie hears her father speak about not plant­i­ng that year, but instead mov­ing into town. Is it real­ly pos­si­ble that they might leave their beau­ti­ful farm? What could her father be think­ing about? This new anx­i­ety, along with that inner imp of mis­chief always threat­en­ing to get her into trou­ble (and which final­ly does when broth­er John is killing chick­ens at the chop­ping block), hov­er over Annie as she works and plays with her sis­ter and five broth­ers immersed in the vig­or­ous life of their Amer­i­can-Pol­ish com­mu­ni­ty. Despite the dis­cov­ery that life is not always easy or as she d like it to be, Annie begins to real­ize what warm secu­ri­ty is to be found in a hard­work­ing fam­i­ly root­ed in faith and love.

 

Stairstep Farm: Anna Rose’s Sto­ry
writ­ten by Anne Pel­lows­ki

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Philomel, 1981
ISBN 9780884895367 (St. Mary’s Press ed., 1998)

In the late 1930s, Annie’s daugh­ter Anna Rose, as well as her oth­er chil­dren, can make almost any chore an occa­sion for fun. But Anna Rose, who is busy enough with the farm work and a new baby sis­ter, dreams of start­ing school.

 

Wil­low Wind Farm: Betsy’s Sto­ry
writ­ten by Anne Pel­lows­ki

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Philomel, 1981
ISBN 9780399207815

Anna Rose’s sev­en-year-old niece Bet­sy has a spe­cial year, one in which all the rel­a­tives from near and far gath­er for a fam­i­ly reunion at her grandparent’s farm. Bet­sy then dis­cov­ers how nice it is to live at the heart of a large and lov­ing fam­i­ly.

 

Jamie’s Sto­ry
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Philomel, 1981
ISBN 9780399207891

Por­trays a day in the life of a tod­dler as he helps his moth­er and father, plays, and dis­cov­ers the world around him.

 

But­ton Eye’s Orange
writ­ten by Jan Wahl

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Fred­er­ick Warne, 1980
ISBN 9780723261889

Tak­en to the mar­ket to be sold, a toy dog tries to return with an orange to his boy who wears a leg brace.

 

How Brown Mouse Kept Christ­mas
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 1989
ISBN 9780374334949

On Christ­mas Eve the mice feast and make mer­ry around the family’s Christ­mas tree, in full view of the sleep­ing cat, and Brown Mouse inad­ver­tent­ly does a kind­ness for the fam­i­ly.

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Jenny’s Cat
writ­ten by Miska Miles

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Dut­ton, 1979
ISBN 9780553151251

Lone­ly in their new town, Jen­ny is delight­ed when a stray cat comes to their house, but her moth­er doesn’t want the cat to stay.

 

Catch Me & Kiss Me & Say It Again
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1978
ISBN 9780399219948

Thir­ty-two rhymes for the very young includ­ing count­ing rhymes, lul­la­bies, and games.

 

Has Win­ter Come?
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son

Philomel, 1978
ISBN 9780529054395

Although the chil­dren don’t rec­og­nize the faint smell of win­ter in the air, a wood­chuck fam­i­ly begins prepar­ing for long snowy nights.

 

Mov­ing
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1978
ISBN 9780690013269

When Mom and Dad make plans to move to a new house, Muf­fin decides to remain in the old one.

 

Bina­ry Num­bers
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­soni
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1977
ISBN 9780690009927

Intro­duces the prin­ci­ple and uses of bina­ry num­bers.

 

Maps, Tracks, and the Bridges of Konigs­berg
writ­ten by Michael Holt

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1976
ISBN 9780690007466

Offers a basic expla­na­tion of graph the­o­ry.

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Christ­mas All Around the House:
Christ­mas Dec­o­ra­tions You Can Make
writ­ten by Flo­rence Pet­tit

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1976
ISBN 9780690010138

Instruc­tions for mak­ing a vari­ety of Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions, crafts, and foods that orig­i­nat­ed in dif­fer­ent parts of the world.

 

Hick­o­ry Stick Rag
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1976
ISBN 9780690009590

Recounts, in rhyme, the good and bad events of a school year for the young ani­mal chil­dren.

 

Lol­lipop
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1976
ISBN 9780690007688

Bun­ny goes through a lot before he final­ly gets his lol­lipop.

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Heart’s Ease, A Lit­tle Book of Ten­der Thoughts
writ­ten by ???????

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Peter Pau­per Press, 1975
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

Quips & Quirks
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Crow­ell, 1975
ISBN 9780690007336

Briefly defines a num­ber of names used to tease or insult for a hun­dred years or more. Includes rub­ber­neck, flib­ber­ti­gib­bet, trolly­bags, and many more.

 

Muncus Agrun­cus: a Bad Lit­tle Mouse
writ­ten by Nan­cy D. Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1975
ISBN 9780307125408

Always fond of adven­ture, Muncus Agrun­cus spends much of his time pur­su­ing and escap­ing from mis­chief.

 

Sleep Is For Every­one
writ­ten by Paul Show­ers

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1974
ISBN 9780064451413

Bed­time often seems to come too ear­ly, but what would hap­pen if you nev­er went to sleep? When sci­en­tists decid­ed to find out, they dis­cov­ered that your brain needs a rest after a long day of think­ing, just as your mus­cles would need a rest after a long day of work.
A dif­fer­ent kind of bed­time sto­ry, this book is the per­fect response to the question—Can’t I stay up a lit­tle longer?’

 

The Birth­day Goat
writ­ten by Nan­cy D. Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son 
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1974
ISBN 9780333174838

The Goat fam­i­ly enjoys its out­ing to the Car­ni­val until Baby Souci goat is kid­napped.

 

Upside Down and Inside Out
writ­ten by Bob­bie Katz

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Franklin Watts, 1973
ISBN 9781563971228

Spec­u­lates in verse on the many ways the world could be turned upside down, inside out, and oth­er­wise mixed up.

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Ani­mal Gar­den
writ­ten by Ogden Nash

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Andre Deutsch, Lon­don, 1972
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

Open the Door and See All the Peo­ple
writ­ten by Clyde Robert Bul­la

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1972
ISBN 9780690600452

After los­ing every­thing they own, includ­ing their dolls, when their house burns down, two sis­ters learn about a place where they can adopt dolls.

 

Tom Fox and the Apple Pie
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1972
ISBN 9780690827835

Tom Fox goes to the Fair to bring back an apple pie for his fam­i­ly.

 

Prob­a­bil­i­ty
writ­ten by Charles Linn

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1972
ISBN 9780690656015

Sim­ple exper­i­ments with eas­i­ly avail­able mate­ri­als explain the the­o­ry of prob­a­bil­i­ty and how it is used by sci­en­tists, poll-tak­ers, and indus­tri­al­ists.

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A Gift of Mistle­toe
writ­ten by ?????

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Peter Pau­per Press, 1971
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

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Amer­i­ca! Amer­i­ca!
writ­ten by ???????

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Peter Pau­per Press, 1971
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

Life’s Won­drous Ways
writ­ten by ???????

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Peter Pau­per Press, 1971
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

Father Fox’s Pen­nyrhymes
writ­ten by Clyde Wat­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Thomas Y. Crow­ell, 1971
ISBN 9780060295011 (Harper­Collins ed., 2001)

(Syn­op­sis for the 2001 edi­tion.)

Life pro­claimed this long-unavail­able clas­sic the “first authen­ti­cal­ly col­lo­qui­al and breezi­ly Amer­i­can nurs­ery rhyme” when it was pub­lished in 1971. Now it is back for new gen­er­a­tions to enjoy!

All of Clyde Waterson’s vers­es have what School Library Jour­nal calls the “foot-stomp­ing rhythm of an Amer­i­can square dance call.” Some feel cozy and nos­tal­gic; oth­ers are sil­ly. Many evoke the plea­sures of chang­ing sea­sons. But they all keep read­ers and young lis­ten­ers enter­tained, page after page. Wendy Watson’s ful­ly imag­ined and fine­ly detailed pic­tures of the splen­did fox fam­i­ly, at home and on joy­ous out­ings, will make chil­dren gig­gle. As The New York Times Book Review explains, “Put it all together—rhymes and pictures—and the book is like a breath of fresh air.”

 

Hap­py Thoughts
writ­ten by Louise Bachelder

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Peter Pau­per Press, 1970
no ISBN yet 

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

How Dear to My Heart
writ­ten by Louise Bachelder

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Peter Pau­per Press, 1970
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

Lizzie, the Lost Toys Witch
writ­ten by Mabel Harmer

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Macrae Smith, 1970
ISBN 9780825541254

The Lost Toys Witch goes around and gath­ers up all the toys that are left on carousels, in Kil­li­wid­dy chuck­holes, or in old man Twiddledink’s toma­to red push­cart.

 

Mag­ic in the Alley
writ­ten by Mary Cal­houn

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Atheneum, 1970
no ISBN yet

Cleery finds a box with sev­en mag­ic items in it and even though the mag­ic is soon spent it brings three friends some­thing of val­ue.

 

Helen Keller
writ­ten by Mar­garet David­son

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Scholas­tic Book Ser­vices, 1970
ISBN 9780590424042

The best­selling biog­ra­phy of Helen Keller and how, with the com­mit­ment and life­long friend­ship of Anne Sul­li­van, she learned to talk, read, and even­tu­al­ly grad­u­ate from col­lege with hon­ors.

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The Jack Book
writ­ten by Irma Simon­ton

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Macmil­lan, Bank Street School of Edu­ca­tion, 1969
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

God Bless Us, Every One!
writ­ten by Louise Bachelder

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Peter Pau­per Press, 1969
no ISBN yet

Christ­mas-themed anthol­o­gy of say­ings, poet­ry, proverbs and Bible quotes.

need cov­er image  

The Hedge­hog and the Hare (the Broth­ers Grimm)
re-told and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
World, 1969
no ISBN yet

This is the Grimm Brother’s ver­sion of one of the best-loved of all folk tales now retold and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son. The hare taunts the hedge­hog for the short­ness of his legs. The hedge­hog sug­gests a race– and the hare is sur­prised when the hedge­hog wins. The clever hedge­hog had made a plan…

 

When Noodle­head Went to the Fair
Writ­ten by Kathryn Hitte

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Par­ents’ Mag­a­zine Press, 1968
no ISBN yet

A cute sto­ry about Noodle­head going to the fair to win a prize for his car­rot.

 

Uncle Fonzo’s Ford
writ­ten by Miska Miles

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Atlantic-Lit­tle Brown, 1968
no ISBN yet

A ten-year-old girl is very much embar­rassed by her uncle who intends well but always does things wrong, so that every­one laughs, espe­cial­ly the boy next door.

 

The Best in Off­beat Humor
writ­ten by Paul B. Lowney

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Peter Pau­per Press, 1968
no ISBN yet

A col­lec­tion of humor­ous quips pre­sent­ed by not­ed humorist, author, and com­ic book writer Paul B. Lowney.

 

Fish­er­man Lul­la­bies
music by Clyde Wat­son

edit­ed and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
World, 1968
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

The Cruise of the Aard­vark
writ­ten by Ogden Nash

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
M. Evans, 1967
ISBN 9780871315700 (1989 ed.)

The aard­vark is on a cruise and paints pic­tures of everyone–and they all look like him. After all, don’t they want to be improved? NO!

need cov­er image  

Daugh­ter of Lib­er­ty
writ­ten by Edna Boutwell

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­soni
World, 1967
ISBN 9780529036506 (1975 ed.)

The expe­ri­ences of Pol­ly Sum­n­er, a French fash­ion doll in Boston dur­ing the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion who once brought a note to Paul Revere and is now resid­ing in the Old State House.

 

The Poems of Longfel­low
writ­ten by H.W. Longfel­low

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Peter Pau­per Press, 1967
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

The Straw­man Who Smiled by Mis­take
writ­ten by Paul Tripp

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Dou­ble­day, 1967
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

Love Is a Laugh
writ­ten by Mar­garet Green­man

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Peter Pau­per Press, 1967
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

need cov­er image  

Rosabel’s Secret
writ­ten by Alice E. Christ­gau

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
William R. Scott, 1967
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

A Com­ic Primer
writ­ten by Eugene Field

illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Peter Pau­per Press, 1966
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

need cov­er image  

The Spi­der Plant
writ­ten by Yet­ta Speev­ak

illus­trat­ed by Kurt Werth
Atheneum, 1965
no ISBN yet

No syn­op­sis yet.

 

Very Impor­tant Cat
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wendy Wat­son
Dodd, Mead, 1958
ISBN 9781258369187

No syn­op­sis yet.

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In Her Own Words:
The Impact of Personal Accounts on Biography

I admit it. I am a his­to­ry nerd.

Like all biog­ra­phers, I am fas­ci­nat­ed by the past. I love learn­ing about the world of long ago: what peo­ple wore, what they ate, the jobs they had, the wars they fought.  And noth­ing thrills me more when I am research­ing than to dis­cov­er a first­hand account, a per­son­al writ­ing … a pri­ma­ry source.

How do first­hand accounts help biog­ra­phers? Here are some exam­ples.

Biog­ra­phers put their read­ers “in the moment’ when they use a subject’s own words.

Bold Women of MedicineIn her book, Bold Women of Med­i­cine, author Susan Lat­ta describes the filthy, rat infest­ed hos­pi­tal Flo­rence Nightin­gale encoun­tered when she treat­ed sol­diers dur­ing the Crimean War. Lat­ta details these des­per­ate con­di­tions for her read­ers, infus­ing her descrip­tion with Flo­rence Nightingale’s own words from let­ters writ­ten at the time:

We have not a basin nor a tow­el nor a bit of soap nor a broom—I have ordered 300 scrub­bing brush­es … one half of the Bar­rack is so sad­ly out of repair that it is impos­si­ble to use a drop of water on the stone floors, which are all laid upon rot­ten wood, and would give our men fever in no time … I am get­ting a screen now for the ampu­ta­tions … “

When Lat­ta includes this can­did account in her writ­ing, she makes read­ers sit up and take notice. There is no dis­put­ing how awful things were. Nightingale’s own words make the con­di­tions real.

Biog­ra­phers use per­son­al writ­ings to get a glimpse into their subject’s per­son­al­i­ty, which helps with the por­tray­al of the sub­ject.

In my book, Aim for the Skies, I tell the sto­ry of an air race between two women, Jer­rie Mock and Joan Mer­ri­am Smith, in the 1960’s. Because the 1960’s are fair­ly recent his­to­ry, I was able to find a great deal of infor­ma­tion about the race—from both pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary sources—when I con­duct­ed my research. But I want­ed more. I want­ed to know the pilots. What were they real­ly like? What made them tick?

Three-Eight CharlieJer­rie Mock’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Three Eight Char­lie, gave me the insight I desired.  It gave me a much need­ed glimpse into Jerrie’s per­son­al­i­ty. News­pa­per accounts por­trayed Jer­rie as busi­ness-like and capa­ble, which she was, but pas­sages from her auto­bi­og­ra­phy revealed more. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, Jer­rie had a keen com­pet­i­tive nature:

I had just kept qui­et about the burned-out motor, so that no one would try to stop me. And since I couldn’t main­tain radio con­tact all of the time, I was care­ful to stay clear of clouds, so I wouldn’t run into anoth­er plane. I didn’t know how far back Joan Smith might be, and I didn’t intend to lose a race around the world because of a stu­pid burned out motor.”

But she also was vul­ner­a­ble and sec­ond guessed her­self at times:

I didn’t like to admit it, but I was ner­vous. There must have been an over­cast, because I couldn’t see any stars. There was no moon either. The soft red glow from the instru­ment lights was a soli­tary pool of light in the black night. Out­side, Charlie’s three nav­i­ga­tion lights and bright, flash­ing-red bea­con would be burn­ing in the emp­ty sky. But they weren’t where I could see them. I felt ter­ri­bly alone … I said a prayer. Lots of prayers.”

As I researched, I dis­cov­ered arti­cles authored by Joan Mer­ri­am Smith, too. In those writ­ings, Joan pro­vid­ed her own—sometimes very different—account of the race.  Talk about inter­est­ing! It was appar­ent from all these per­son­al writ­ings that Jer­rie and Joan were two smart, feisty women.

Biog­ra­phers use per­son­al writ­ings to reveal the fla­vor of the times. 

Miss Colfax's LightAs a biog­ra­ph­er, get­ting a sense of the era and my subject’s place in it may be my favorite thing about per­son­al accounts. That cer­tain­ly was the case with Har­ri­et Col­fax, the light­house keep­er I wrote about in Miss Colfax’s Light.

As part of her light­house keep­ing duties, Har­ri­et Col­fax had to keep a dai­ly log. Harriet’s log entries were a trea­sure trove of infor­ma­tion about her life, her work, and the dan­gers of Great Lakes ship­ping in the late 1800’s. They were full of Harriet’s musings—and occa­sion­al com­plaints. I read through decades of Harriet’s log entries, ulti­mate­ly com­ing to the con­clu­sion that the refrain I used in the book of “I can do this,” was some­thing Har­ri­et def­i­nite­ly would have repeat­ed over and over.

In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing great facts, though, Harriet’s log entries show­cased the lan­guage of the day: tra­di­tion­al words and phras­es, and an over­all for­mal­i­ty.  A num­ber of log entries are includ­ed in the book so young read­ers can get a sense of how dif­fer­ent­ly peo­ple spoke in the late 1800’s.

Miss Colfax's Light

Miss Colfax's Light

Per­son­al accounts allow biog­ra­phers to add rich­ness and authen­tic­i­ty to their work. They pro­vide a true sense of a subject’s view of the world. They pro­vide his­tor­i­cal facts and con­text. All of which makes the biographer’s job eas­i­er.

And, let’s face it, per­son­al accounts are just plain fun to read.

They are a lit­tle gift to the his­to­ry nerd in all of us. 

Tips for Stu­dents

How can stu­dents learn to mine the rich ter­ri­to­ry of a first­hand account (and expe­ri­ence the thrill biog­ra­phers get when they are lucky enough to dis­cov­er such a source)? Here are some ques­tions stu­dents and teach­ers can ask that will help them glean more than just the facts:

  1. What was the writer’s pur­pose for writ­ing this per­son­al account? Does this pur­pose make you think the writ­ing is more or less truth­ful?
  2. What his­tor­i­cal facts does the writer include in the per­son­al account? How is the writer’s world dif­fer­ent from today? How is it the same?
  3. What do the lan­guage, gram­mar, and word usage in the per­son­al account tell us about the writer? Was the writer poor, rich, well-edu­cat­ed?  
  4. If the writer is describ­ing an event from his­to­ry, why is the writer’s point of view impor­tant?
  5. What else can you tell about the writer from this per­son­al account?
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With My Hands

Some­times, a book comes across my desk that sparkles like a gem, attract­ing my atten­tion, insist­ing that I stop what I’m doing and read it. This hap­pened when With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things arrived last week. I thought I’d take a peek. Next thing you know, I was clos­ing the last page of the book, sigh­ing with con­tent­ment. And then I knew I had to read the book all over again.

I’ve been inter­est­ed in mak­ing things since I can first remem­ber. Whether I was cre­at­ing a peg­board town with my Playskool set or help­ing my grand­moth­er make pie crust or giv­ing my grand­fa­ther a hand in his shop, or sewing small items to dec­o­rate my Bar­bie doll house … I still feel best when my hands, mind, and heart are busy. When cre­ativ­i­ty is awake and sat­is­fied.

This book will serve as inspi­ra­tion, recog­ni­tion, and encour­age­ment. It will awak­en a dor­mant mak­er and help a per­sis­tent mak­er sit up and feel good about what they do.

VanDerwater’s poet­ry is under­stand­able. It reads out loud well. It is often brief. Her word choice is pal­pa­ble … I find myself cheer­ing her selec­tions.

The illus­tra­tions by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er are bril­liant. From the first spread, “Mak­er,” with the art based on fin­ger­prints (I can do that!) and a hill­side of clover, to the last spread “Shad­ow Show,” with its exam­ple of a shad­ow pup­pet that echoes spi­rals, the inspi­ra­tion for art-mak­ing is full of detail and sub­tle ideas to launch your own work. I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy those spreads where two dis­parate poems are unit­ed by the illus­tra­tions. That pro­vides inspi­ra­tion, too!

My excite­ment lev­el after read­ing this book was high. Much like the Olympics cre­ate pos­si­bil­i­ties in young minds, this book encour­ages the can-do spir­it.

Poet­ry? Give the dif­fer­ent forms a try. Craft with words. Origa­mi? Leaf pic­tures? Mak­ing a piña­ta? Tie-dying? Soap carv­ing? The sub­tle humor in VanDerwater’s poet­ry and the John­son Fanch­ers’ art keeps read­ers’ spir­its high.

Para­chute

I cut a para­chute from plas­tic
tied my guy on with elas­tic
threw him from a win­dow (dras­tic)
watched him drift to earth—fantastic!”

The Army Guy tied to the plas­tic para­chute, drift­ing down to the boat fea­tured in the next poem … this is the kind of poet­ry every­one can enjoy, the inspi­ra­tion every­one needs.

With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things
writ­ten by Amy Lud­wig Van­Der­wa­ter
illus­trat­ed by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er
Clar­i­on Books, March 27, 2018
978–0544313408

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Backseat Drivers

Some of the best advice you can give stu­dent writ­ers is also some of the eas­i­est for them to car­ry through on: to write bet­ter, they should read bet­ter.

Read bet­ter, as in: Read more. Read wide­ly. Read out­side their usu­al read­ing “type.” Read care­ful­ly. Read for fun.

Read first for sto­ry, and then read as back­seat writ­ers.

I’ll warn you that there is a risk in “back­seat writ­ing,” in sec­ond-guess­ing the author’s deci­sions with­out first allow­ing our­selves to savor their sto­ry. If we read only to ana­lyze every deci­sion the author made, it can strip all the plea­sure out of the read­ing expe­ri­ence. So I encour­age stu­dents to put the sto­ry first, sim­ply ask­ing them­selves if the book worked for them on the most ele­men­tary lev­el: did the act of read­ing it bring them a pay­off of some kind? Did read­ing the book give them an adren­a­line rush or warm fuzzy feel­ings or make them cry or fall in love? Did it cause them to exam­ine their world in a whole new way, or illu­mi­nate some­thing about their life?

If the answer to any of those ques­tions is yes, then after savor­ing for a while, I chal­lenge them to think as a back­seat writer. What tricks do they think the author used to accom­plish those reac­tions? Are they tricks they could try in their own writ­ing? How would the sto­ry be dif­fer­ent if the writer had made dif­fer­ent choic­es? Changed point of view? Used a dif­fer­ent set­ting? Giv­en the char­ac­ter a dif­fer­ent moti­va­tion? Point­ed the plot in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion?

It’s that time of year when “best of the year” book lists and children’s and young adult book awards are dis­sect­ed and debat­ed and detailed on blogs far and wide. In oth­er words, it’s the per­fect time to eas­i­ly steer your young writ­ers towards a whole year full of great read­ing. Ask them to pick up books—any good books will do—and then read them like back­seat writ­ers.

Before they know it, they’ll be teach­ing them­selves how to dri­ve.

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The Human Alphabet

At my local library, a cou­ple of weeks ago, I flipped through the books that were for sale by the Friends of the Library. These are most­ly books that have been removed from the shelves for one rea­son or anoth­er. The kids’ books cost $.50—fifty cents, peo­ple! I’ve found some great ones in these bins.

The find this time: Pilobo­lus Dance Com­pa­ny’s The Human Alpha­bet. I snapped it up. As in I dropped the oth­er books I was hold­ing, I grabbed it so fast. It’s in pret­ty good con­di­tion. You can tell it’s been read hard, but frankly it might be the very copy that was read hard in our house, so I don’t mind the evi­dence of pre­vi­ous reads.

This book reg­u­lar­ly found its way into our library bag when #1 Son was young. He hat­ed alpha­bet books with an almost patho­log­i­cal hatred, being a child who could fer­ret out an adult’s agen­da (learn­ing let­ters, for instance) quick­er than you could open a book. He dis­dained any books that were designed to help a young per­son learn let­ters or num­bers. Except for Pilobolus’s alpha­bet book. For this rea­son, I con­sid­er this book mag­i­cal.

It opens with this sim­ple invi­ta­tion: Here are 26 let­ters of the alpha­bet and 26 pictures—all made of peo­ple! Can you guess what each pic­ture shows? And what fol­lows are the most amaz­ing pic­tures. Each let­ter is made of peo­ple, and so is a pic­ture that goes with each letter—a line of ants for A, but­ter­fly for B etc. They are astound­ing, each and every one.

Some­thing about these let­ters made of peo­ple spoke to our boy who was “not so very fond of let­ters and num­bers.” (A direct quote, age four—we read a lot of Win­nie-the-Pooh, hence the British syn­tax.) Occa­sion­al­ly he would humor me and we would make let­ters with our bod­ies. But only occa­sion­al­ly. Most­ly he just flipped through the book, study­ing each let­ter, each pic­ture. Some­times I’d posi­tion myself so I could see his eyes as he looked at the book. He’d take in the whole page, lean in a bit…and then the recog­ni­tion! His eyes would widen almost imper­cep­ti­bly, and a lit­tle smile would come—he’d dis­cov­ered some­thing. The let­ter N! Or an ice cream cone! (MADE OF HUMANS!)

I tried so hard not to ruin it by hav­ing him trace the let­ters, or say them out loud, or won­der togeth­er what oth­er words might start with that let­ter. I bit my tongue, and we just enjoyed. Reg­u­lar­ly.

The copy­right on this book says 2005. In my mem­o­ry, he was much younger when we were look­ing at this book. But he was a lat­er read­er (you can read more on that adven­ture here), so per­haps it fell in that time when he already “should’ve” known his let­ters, but gave no indi­ca­tion he did on any of the usu­al tests and per­for­mances.

When I showed him my find, #1 Son, who will be 21 years old in a cou­ple of weeks, smiled with recog­ni­tion. Maybe I’ll send it to him for his birth­day….

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Behind the Sign

I came down with the flu. After weeks of drag­ging myself to the com­put­er, I final­ly lis­tened to the doc­tor and let myself be sick. One after­noon I pulled out my old jour­nals. I haven’t kept a jour­nal in the last few years, instead a plan­ner dic­tates my days. My com­po­si­tion note­books are a mish­mash of thoughts, mem­o­ries, obser­va­tions, scrib­blings on books in progress, and notes from writer’s con­fer­ences. I’ve nev­er been a ded­i­cat­ed diary keep­er, but car­ry­ing around a hand­made jour­nal felt less like “being a writer” and more like stay­ing in touch with the world.

Candice Ransom's Journals

Back then, I didn’t fre­quent Star­bucks or muse­ums or uni­ver­si­ty libraries. My obser­va­tions were made in din­ers where the first course for the spe­cial is cole slaw with Saltines, in gen­er­al stores that car­ry week­ly news­pa­pers report­ing a man was shot and became dead, and along back roads where peo­ple live in aban­doned gas sta­tions. I cap­tured scenes like this:

In Good­will today, a moth­er and daugh­ter came in talk­ing six­ty to the minute. Nat­u­ral­ly I eaves­dropped. Moth­er: Look, they got Dale Earn­hart glass­es. Daugh­ter: No, I seen ‘em before. I remem­bered shop­ping trips with my moth­er and sis­ter, how we’d “find” stuff for each oth­er.

The daugh­ter was ahead of me in the check-out line. One of her items, a NASCAR throw, wasn’t priced. Her mother—a large woman in an ill-fit­ting dress—squeezed past me to stand behind her daugh­ter. “Par­don me, sweet­ie,” she said. The clerk allowed the NASCAR throw was $14.99. Too much, the daugh­ter said and paid for her oth­er things.

Her moth­er set down two glass­es, the Dale Earn­hart ones. She pulled two dol­lars fold­ed into tiny squares from her wal­let. I won­dered if she pur­chased the Earn­hart glass­es for her daugh­ter, know­ing she want­ed them but didn’t have enough mon­ey. She thanked me again for let­ting her cut in front. The women talked all the way out the door. I won­dered where they were head­ed next. I longed to go with them.

I know fam­i­lies like that. They’re every­where, but most of us liv­ing our busy, for­ward-focused lives don’t notice the mar­gin-dwellers. I see them because I once exist­ed on the periph­ery. Deep inside, I still do. Peo­ple at the ragged edge will give you their time and any­thing else, even if they can’t spare it. When they speak, in what Anne Tyler calls “pure metaphor,” I come home.

Read­ing my jour­nals made me won­der where I’ve been late­ly and why my recent work feels so … safe. I was once on track to tell the sto­ries of kids who have fall­en through the cracks. Not in a poor-me-we-live-in-a-trail­er-and-Dad­dy-chews-Red-Man way, but with dig­ni­ty and even humor. After sev­er­al failed attempts, I quit because I knew the sto­ries I want­ed to write would hard­ly be a top pick in an editor’s inbox.

Oct. 3, 2014: Some days—weeks—it feels as if I haven’t writ­ten a word. Not my words. I’m remind­ed how much I want to say, how lit­tle time I have to do it.

So I stopped keep­ing a jour­nal. Stopped dri­ving down back roads to get lost on pur­pose. Worse, I faced for­ward and ignored the edges where the love­ly, impor­tant things are.

No Outlet signI found advice from Jack Gantos’s open­ing speech at the 2014 SCBWI Mid-win­ter con­fer­ence. The slide on the screen showed the cov­er of his New­bery award-win­ner, Dead End in Norvelt, with the title writ­ten on a road sign and a boy stand­ing behind it.

Feb. 22: “Always go behind the sign,” Gan­tos said. “It’s where the real sto­ries are.” I already do that.

When I fin­ished read­ing, I stacked the note­books, reluc­tant to put them back on the dusty shelf. If I did, I’d bury a trea­sure trove of sto­ries, sketch­es, places, names, scenes, and rare glimpses of my own true self. I moved them to the bed­room to dip into, hop­ing my dreams will urge me to record once more the soft cadence of for­got­ten voic­es.

I’m the only one stand­ing in the way. No one will beg me to tell the sto­ries I’ve already shot and declared dead with­out writ­ing a syl­la­ble, hear­ing an edi­tor say, No, I have seen this before. It’s up to me to find the edges, to unfold the tiny, tight squares of my con­fi­dence. To get lost on pur­pose and slip behind the sign. To see what I’m real­ly part of.

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Working with an Editor

What’s it like to work with an editor?”is a ques­tion I often get from teach­ers, stu­dents, and aspir­ing authors and it’s one that takes some time to ful­ly answer. In the best sit­u­a­tions, an editor’s rela­tion­ship to her author is like a coach’s rela­tion­ship to an ath­lete: know­ing her author’s per­son­al­i­ty, tal­ent, and poten­tial, she encour­ages her strengths, while tact­ful­ly push­ing her toward improv­ing on her weak­ness­es. When the rela­tion­ship is work­ing well, the writer feels sup­port­ed, yet inde­pen­dent, and the edi­tor trusts that the writer is car­ry­ing out her sug­ges­tions, mov­ing the book toward their com­mon goal of mak­ing it the very best it can pos­si­bly be.  

When I began my writ­ing career in 1989, things were a lot dif­fer­ent in our indus­try. Sub­mis­sions were made through the reg­u­lar mail. I wrote my drafts long-hand on legal pads and then typed them into a huge, mono­chrome-screened com­put­er using MS-DOS. I spoke with edi­tors in per­son and by phone about cur­rent and future projects. Pub­lish­ers did all of the pro­mo­tion for my books (self-pro­mo­tion? author mar­ket­ing? What was that?) and I reviewed and approved every book con­tract myself.

Those times are long gone … and with them, some of the pre-dig­i­tal age advan­tages of real­ly know­ing your edi­tor as an indi­vid­ual (and vice ver­sa) and being able to con­cen­trate almost exclu­sive­ly on writ­ing. But some things about the author-edi­tor expe­ri­ence have not changed at all: edi­tors are still, at least the ones that I have worked with, very ded­i­cat­ed to mak­ing good lit­er­a­ture, extreme­ly hard-work­ing, and serve as an author’s #1 col­lab­o­ra­tor through the pro­duc­tion process.

But they are also indi­vid­u­als. Although their roles at the var­i­ous pub­lish­ing hous­es (acquir­ing man­u­scripts, offer­ing guid­ance to the author as he/she shapes the sto­ry, work­ing with the art direc­tor to choose an illus­tra­tor or cov­er artist, shep­herd­ing the book through the pro­duc­tion process, help­ing to plan mar­ket­ing strate­gies) may be sim­i­lar, their exe­cu­tion of that role can be very dif­fer­ent. Even so, the most impor­tant aspect of a suc­cess­ful author-edi­tor rela­tion­ship is com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Let’s say an edi­tor (we’ll call her Susan) has acquired a pic­ture book biog­ra­phy man­u­script I’ve writ­ten. It’s 75% done—which is to say, it’s a full sto­ry that shows good poten­tial, but it needs some rework­ing and some addi­tion­al back mat­ter mate­r­i­al. Susan will go over the draft sev­er­al times, mark­ing it up and mak­ing sug­ges­tions that she feels will improve the final text. She will send it back to me (email these days) and I will read her com­ments and do my best to address the issues she has high­light­ed. Some of these issues might be large ones (“Can we make the lit­tle broth­er more of an active char­ac­ter in the nar­ra­tive?”) and some are small ones (“I think we can delete this whole line—the art will show this.”)

The man­u­script bounces back and forth between us a few, sev­er­al, many times—depending on how much work it needs. The clar­i­ty of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between edi­tor and author is para­mount: I can­not make the nec­es­sary changes to the sto­ry if I have no idea what the edi­tor is sug­gest­ing. Most edi­tors are very, very good at this; it’s the focus of their train­ing and they take this part seri­ous­ly. Once the man­u­script has been “accept­ed and deliv­ered” (i.e., it’s a final draft that’s ready to go into pro­duc­tion, where it will increas­ing­ly look like a book …), there is usu­al­ly a peri­od where­in there is less com­mu­ni­ca­tion as the text is being illus­trat­ed. Nor­mal­ly, there is lit­tle, if any, com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the author and the illus­tra­tor (a fact that nev­er fails to astound at school vis­its) unless the illus­tra­tor needs help find­ing an orig­i­nal source, pho­to­graph, or has an accu­ra­cy-relat­ed ques­tion.

At this point, a good edi­tor will keep in touch peri­od­i­cal­ly to update an author about his/her book’s progress and to rein­force the rhythm of their rela­tion­ship. Even if it’s just a quick email every few weeks to check in, share any ques­tions from the illus­tra­tor, or just to say “everything’s on track for our pub­li­ca­tion date.” Remem­ber: a good author and a good edi­tor usu­al­ly make an excel­lent book—and like all rela­tion­ships, per­son­al and professional—both part­ners need to invest time and atten­tion to it. If they don’t, then you can bet that author will be more than hap­py to look else­where with her next man­u­script. This is not rock­et sci­ence, obvi­ous­ly, but in my own experience—and espe­cial­ly now that dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion has large­ly dis­placed in-per­son and phone communication—it’s the edi­tor who lets his/her author know that “I have your back”; “I am tak­ing good care of your man­u­script here as we search for just the right artist”; “I’m spend­ing time think­ing about how we can best posi­tion this book for some extra sales”; “I’m in touch with illus­tra­tor John Smith, and all is going real­ly well”; “I saw this new book XYZ and I think we may want to do some­thing sim­i­lar in yours regard­ing side­bars and author’s note”…it’s that kind of edi­tor with whom the author will want to keep work­ing.

Being an edi­tor is a tough job—always has been and always will be. They work long hours, wear many hats, jug­gle more dead­lines and projects than we can imag­ine. Yet all the good ones know that it’s clear and con­sis­tent com­mu­ni­ca­tion that keeps the good authors com­ing back.

Editor reflecting

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The Magic Misfits

The Magic MisfitsI’m one of those peo­ple that often reads a celebri­ty-writ­ten book because I’d like to find one that defies the odds. How about you? Did you get over the won­der­ing at a cer­tain point? Or do you still give a new star-pow­ered book a try?

Sad­ly, I don’t often find a celebri­ty book I can rec­om­mend. This time, though, I’m prac­ti­cal­ly shout­ing: Read this book! It’s that good.

Neil Patrick Har­ris wrote The Mag­ic Mis­fits. As pres­i­dent of the Acad­e­my of Mag­i­cal Arts from 2011 to 2014, I sus­pect­ed the “mag­ic” might be more than a word for fan­ta­sy. It’s an inte­gral part of this mys­tery, woven deft­ly into the sto­ry. What’s more, there are mag­ic tricks after many of the chap­ters, pro­vid­ing step-by-step instruc­tions and tips for mak­ing the illu­sions seem real. And Har­ris intro­duces the book by let­ting read­ers know there are codes and ciphers with­in the text. Pay atten­tion!

Carter Locke is a young boy who loves mag­ic … and he’s taught him­self to be good with illu­sions. When he’s quite young his lov­ing par­ents dis­ap­pear, after which he goes to live with his uncle … who is a crook! Sylvester “Sly” Beat­on is self­ish and cru­el. He demands that Carter act as his shill in con­fi­dence games. Carter learns all of Uncle Sly’s moves but Carter makes a firm rule that he will nev­er steal. He has a strong com­pass for right and wrong. Life is intol­er­a­ble with Sly and Carter runs away, with­out hav­ing any idea where he’s going.

Rid­ing the rails, he ends up in Min­er­al Wells (There’s a MAP! I love maps.) where he meets Mr. Dante Ver­non, which is a very lucky hap­pen­stance. Carter is intro­duced to five oth­er young peo­ple his age, all of them prac­tic­ing some form of mag­ic. They are the Mag­ic Mis­fits, the first friends of his young life.

Min­er­al Wells is cur­rent­ly caught up in the fer­vor over B.B. Bosso’s Car­ni­val Spec­tac­u­lar. Tempt­ing peo­ple with cir­cus acts, sideshow odd­i­ties, and promis­es of prizes, Carter quick­ly real­izes the show is all based on fak­ery. When Bosso invites him to be a part of the Spec­tac­u­lar because of his mag­ic skills, Carter feels uncom­fort­able. He refus­es. Carter and the Mag­ic Mis­fits are deter­mined to save Min­er­al Wells from Bosso’s spell. There’s a strong sense of dan­ger in Har­ris’ sto­ry. He’s writ­ten a true page-turn­er.

I enjoyed the way the author speaks direct­ly to the read­er. From the begin­ning of Chap­ter Two:

Sur­prise! It’s time for a flash­back!

I under­stand how frus­trat­ing it is to pause a sto­ry right in the mid­dle of the action, but there are a few things you should know about Carter before I tell you what hap­pens next. Things like: Who is this kid? And why was he run­ning? And who is the man he was run­ning from? I promise we’ll get back to Carter’s escape soon enough. And if we don’t, I’ll let you lock me up in a tight strait­jack­et with no key. Oh, the hor­ror!”

The book reads like a movie: Lis­sy Marlin’s illus­tra­tions are pep­pered through­out, help­ing the read­er visu­al­ize just enough. Her char­ac­ters’ faces con­tribute depth to the sto­ry.

I hope this book wasn’t ghost-writ­ten. I want to know that Har­ris wrote the whole thing. I could hear his voice through­out the sto­ry, so I’m choos­ing to believe this is a celebri­ty-writ­ten book that far sur­pass­es oth­er star-pow­ered efforts. It’s a sol­id mid­dle-grade book. It’s charm­ing, fun­ny, com­pelling, and a tes­ta­ment to the pow­er of friend­ship. And I can learn mag­ic. Mag­ic Mis­fits: The Sec­ond Sto­ry comes out in Sep­tem­ber 2018. I already have it on order.

Mag­ic Mis­fits
Neil Patrick Har­ris
Little,Brown Books for Young Read­ers
Novem­ber 2017
ISBN 978–0316391825

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The Secret Kingdom

The Secret KingdomThis book is irre­sistible. For all kinds of rea­sons.

Remem­ber when you were a kid, or maybe you do this now, how you’d take what­ev­er was at hand and cre­ate a house, a camp, an entire set­ting for you to play in? Where you could act out your sto­ries? Did you do this with found items from nature? Or things your fam­i­ly was throw­ing away? Did you scoop up cool fab­ric or papers to use when you need­ed them? Then this book is for you.

The author and illus­tra­tor tell the sto­ry of Nek Chand. It begins this way:

On the con­ti­nent of Asia, near the mighty Himalayas, in the Pun­jab region of long ago, sat the tiny vil­lage of Berian Kalan, the place Nek Chand Sai­ni called home.”

Claire A. Nevola, who is, I con­fess, one of my favorite illus­tra­tors because she knows how impor­tant the details are and seems to read my mind about what I need to know, begins with this illus­tra­tion.

from The Secret Kingdom, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

sculp­ture by Bri­an Mar­shall

As you can see on the cov­er of the book, there are bro­ken pots and rib­bons and warped bicy­cle wheels, just the sort of thing you and I might have col­lect­ed. Per­haps you still do. (Anoth­er con­fes­sion, I have a Pin­ter­est board where I keep exam­ples of char­ac­ters made from Found Objects, so col­lect­ing bits and scraps is always on my mind. Here’s one of the char­ac­ters I find so charm­ing.)

Barb Rosen­stock tells the sto­ry. Nek Chand is born a sto­ry­teller. He notices the peo­ple and the world around him. He appre­ci­ates his vil­lage and the peo­ple, the com­mu­ni­ty, with whom he lives. Until the Pun­jab is split into two coun­tries, Pak­istan and India. Nek’s vil­lage is in Pak­istan, which is now Mus­lim. His fam­i­ly is Hin­du. “The Sai­ni fam­i­ly fled at night, walk­ing for twen­ty-four days across the new bor­der into India. Nek car­ried only vil­lage sto­ries in his bro­ken heart.” 

We have seen cur­rent pho­tos. The night­ly news tells us sto­ries (not enough of them) of the peo­ple who are leav­ing their much-loved homes. The Secret King­dom takes place in 1947. It could be tak­ing place today.

What is most impor­tant about this book is that it the true sto­ry of what one man does to wrap him­self in the mem­o­ries of home. With much effort, Nek finds a spot in the jun­gle near his new town. Patient­ly, he begins to clear a space, col­lect dis­card­ed trea­sures and boul­ders from riverbeds, and “half-dead plants from the city dump.” He began to tell his sto­ries by cre­at­ing art, a sanc­tu­ary, a place he could feel at home. 

He’s built all this on gov­ern­ment land. After many years, he is dis­cov­ered, and the gov­ern­ment intends to demol­ish all of his art­work. 

Every­one in Chandi­garh learned his secret. Offi­cials were out­raged. Nek Chand Sai­ni should lose his job!

His King­dom would be destroyed.

Until the peo­ple of Chandi­garh came.”

That stopped my breath­ing. It was the peo­ple who rec­og­nized imme­di­ate­ly how impor­tant this secret king­dom of Nek Chand’s tru­ly was. And it was the peo­ple who worked to save it. 

At the end of the sto­ry, there is a tru­ly appro­pri­ate fold-out sec­tion with pho­tographs that will have you say­ing, “Yes! I under­stand why this had to be saved. I would have worked with the com­mu­ni­ty to do this.”

Nek Chand (pho­to: Gilles Prob­st, Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

A biog­ra­phy of Nek Chand is in the Author’s Note, help­ing the read­er under­stand how impor­tant and vital this man was. He died at age 90 in 2015. His art remains.

This is the sto­ry of what one per­son can do to pre­serve our sto­ries. It is also the sto­ry of how a com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple can pro­tect, defend, and pre­serve what is tru­ly impor­tant to them. It is an irre­sistible true sto­ry.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for school and home.

The Secret King­dom: Nek Chand, a Chang­ing India, and a Hid­den World of Art
writ­ten by Barb Rosen­stock
illus­trat­ed  by Claire A. Nivola
pub­lished by Can­dlewick Press, 2017
ISBN 978−0−7636−7475−5

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Capers and Cons

When you (or your stu­dents) want a book that keeps you turn­ing the pages for your week­night and week­end read­ing, here are some sug­ges­tions for books with that nim­ble pac­ing and what-are-they-up-to plots. Many of them are just right for mid­dle grade or avid younger-than-that read­ers, with a cou­ple of teen titles added. (And, of course, all are suit­able for read­ing by adults.)

Adam Canfield of the Slash  

Adam Can­field of the Slash
writ­ten by Michael Winer­ip
Can­dlewick Press, 2005

This book is by turns fun­ny and seri­ous, but Adam Can­field is always inter­est­ed in dis­cov­er­ing the truth. Writ­ten by a New York Times colum­nist (on edu­ca­tion) who won a Pulitzer Prize, Winer­ip knows what his read­ers will find inter­est­ing. Adam reluc­tant­ly accepts the posi­tion of co-edi­tor of their school paper. He’s skep­ti­cal when a third-grad­er uncov­ers a pos­si­ble scan­dal. Adam and his co-edi­tor, Jen­nifer, take the sto­ry to the prin­ci­pal, who for­bids them to inves­ti­gate. Adam and Jen­nifer can’t help them­selves and they’re soon uncov­er­ing secrets.  Even though school papers are most­ly dig­i­tal now, this book will moti­vate read­ers to be truth seek­ers.

Con Academy  

Con Acad­e­my
writ­ten by Joe Schreiber
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2015

For teen read­ers: Senior Michael Shea has conned his way into one of the country’s élite prep schools. He’s an old hand at cons, but he’s unpre­pared to meet Andrea, his com­pe­ti­tion. When the two of them set up a com­pe­ti­tion to con the school’s Big Man on Cam­pus out of $50,000, the stakes are high. One twist after anoth­er, a full crew of grifters brought in to effect the con … this book reads cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly and moves along quick­ly.

Eddie Red Undercover: Doom at Grant's Tomb  

Eddie Red Under­cov­er: Doom at Grant’s Tomb
writ­ten by Mar­cia Wells, illus­trat­ed by Mar­cos Calo
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2016

Hav­ing just fin­ished the third book in the series, I’m a fan of the youngest inves­ti­ga­tor work­ing for the NYPD. There’s a back sto­ry for that, of course, but Eddie has an eidet­ic mem­o­ry and a quick­sil­ver mind … he’s good at solv­ing crimes. The police are always reluc­tant to involve Eddie because he’s only 12 years old, but the kid’s good at what he does. In this install­ment, it appears that Eddie is being tar­get­ed for seri­ous con­se­quences by inter­na­tion­al art thieves whom he’s foiled before. The thieves are steal­ing valu­able items from well-known land­marks. Can Eddie psych them out before they catch up with him?

 

Framed!

 

Framed!
writ­ten by James Pon­ti
Aladdin, 2016

Jess Aarons has been prac­tic­ing all sum­mer so he can be the fastest run­ner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, out­paces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchant­ed land called Ter­abithia. One morn­ing, Leslie goes to Ter­abithia with­out Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his fam­i­ly and the strength that Leslie has giv­en him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief.

Illyrian Adventure  

Illyr­i­an Adven­tures
writ­ten by Lloyd Alexan­der
Dut­ton Books, 1987

This is the first of six books about 16-year-old Ves­per Hol­ly who, in 1872, in the com­pa­ny of her guardian, Bin­nie, trav­els to Illyr­ia on the Adri­at­ic Sea to prove one of her late father’s the­o­ries. She’s a girl with mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties set against Binnie’s con­ser­v­a­tive con­cerns. Ves­per gets caught up in fast-paced intrigue with a rebel­lion against the king, all the while man­ag­ing to search for the leg­endary trea­sure. With Mr. Alexander’s char­ac­ter­is­tic humor, and a touch of romance, this series is fun to read and def­i­nite­ly qual­i­fies as a turn-the-page adven­ture.

Jack London and the Klondike Gold Rush  

Jack Lon­don and the Klondike Gold Rush
writ­ten by Peter Lourie, illus­trat­ed by Wen­dell Minor
Hen­ry Holt, 2017

Teens will enjoy this one. When Jack Lon­don turns 21, the Gold Rush of 1897 com­pels trea­sure seek­ers from around the world to trek through life-threat­en­ing con­di­tions to get to the gold fields in the Yukon Ter­ri­to­ry of Cana­da. Jack is swept up in the excite­ment, assem­bling a team of adven­tur­ers and sup­plies to with­stand the cru­el jour­ney. That some­one this young could com­mand respect and cama­raderie speaks loud­ly about his char­ac­ter. This true sto­ry serves as an excel­lent com­pan­ion books for Call of the Wild and White Fang, Jack London’s Klondike sto­ries. A real page-turn­er.

Magic Misfits  

Mag­ic Mis­fits
writ­ten by Neill Patrick Har­ris, illus by Lis­sy Mar­lin
Lit­tle, Brown Books, 2017

This thor­ough­ly enjoy­able book fol­lows Carter when he runs away from his crooked, thiev­ing uncle to the New Eng­land town of Min­er­al Wells, a sur­pris­ing­ly wel­com­ing place. Con­vinced that mag­ic isn’t real, and yet a tal­ent­ed street magi­cian, Carter is soon befriend­ed by a group of Mag­ic Mis­fits who set out to expose a cir­cus that’s a front for a well-orches­trat­ed, and dan­ger­ous, team of grifters. Adven­tur­ous, fun­ny, heart­warm­ing, this will cap­ture read­ers’ imag­i­na­tions. 

Mighty Jack  

Mighty Jack
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ben Hatke
First Sec­ond, 2016

Mighty Jack and the Gob­lin King
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ben Hatke
First Sec­ond, 2017

In the first book, Jack’s sis­ter Mad­dy per­suades him to trade their Mom’s car for a box of mys­te­ri­ous seeds … and the adven­ture begins. These are not, of course, ordi­nary seeds. They grow strange, oth­er­world­ly crea­tures and the kids, includ­ing next-door-neigh­bor Lil­ly, are chal­lenged to deal with crea­tures run amok.

In the sec­ond book, an ogre snatch­es Mad­dy into anoth­er world with Jack and Lil­ly deter­mined to res­cue her. Along the way, we meet gob­lins (good) and ogres (bad) and Lil­ly ful­fills a prophe­cy. It’s all very excit­ing and well-told with vibrant, engross­ing illus­tra­tions.

Parker Inheritance  

Park­er Inher­i­tance
writ­ten by Var­i­an John­son
Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholas­tic, 2018

In mod­ern-day Lam­bert, Can­dice dis­cov­ers a mys­tery in her grandmother’s let­ters. In the 1950s, her grand­moth­er left Lam­bert in shame, but it’s soon appar­ent to Can­dice and her friend Bran­don that racism was behind those events … and they reflect that things haven’t changed that much. Read­ing this book will bring your cre­ative prob­lem-solv­ing skills into play. There’s intrigue, humor, and a lot to think about in this sto­ry. 

Player King  

Play­er King
writ­ten by Avi
Atheneum, 2017

In 1846, young Lam­bert Sim­nel slaves away in a Lon­don tav­ern, com­plete­ly unaware of the pol­i­tics of the land.  When he’s pur­chased in the mid­dle of the night by a fri­ar, he’s astound­ed when the man reveals, “You, Lam­bert, are actu­al­ly Prince Edward, the true King of Eng­land!” King Hen­ry VII has just claimed the throne of Eng­land, but only after Prince Edward, who has a truer claim, dis­ap­pears. Could Lam­bert be the real prince? How could he not remem­ber this? Based on a blip in his­to­ry, this is a fas­ci­nat­ing look at a con­fi­dence job planned by politi­cians whose lives are at stake.

Riddle in Ruby  

Rid­dle in Ruby
writ­ten by Kent Davis
Green­wil­low Books, 2015

In an alter­nate his­to­ry colo­nial Philadel­phia, Ruby Teach is train­ing to be a thief and a guardian of secrets. It isn’t until she meets young Lord Athen that she begins to under­stand that her entire life has been kept secret from the pow­ers that be. In this world, those pow­ers use alche­my to fuel the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion. It’s a fast-paced, fun­ny, and com­pelling book, the first of a tril­o­gy, with The Changer’s Key and The Great Unrav­el pro­vid­ing the rest of the sto­ry.

Supernatural Sleuthing Service  

Super­nor­mal Sleuthing Ser­vice
writ­ten by Gwen­da Bond and Christo­pher Rowe,
illus­trat­ed by Glenn Thomas
Green­wil­low Books, 2017

Stephen and his dad are mov­ing cross-coun­try so Dad can be the new exec­u­tive chef at the New Har­mo­nia, a New York City hotel for super­nor­mals (read: mon­sters!) It isn’t long before Stephen dis­cov­ers he’s part super­nor­mal him­self! When Stephen is framed for steal­ing a valu­able heir­loom, he teams up with two new friends to prove his inno­cence. It’s a spooky sto­ry, filled with humor and hijinks, and there’s a sec­ond book, The Sphinx’s Secret. You know the right read­er for these books!

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Laughing Matters

This month, Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root, the usu­al hosts of this col­umn, have invit­ed Kari Pear­son to share her rec­om­men­da­tions for fun­ny pic­ture books.

Kari Pearson

Kari Pear­son

Let’s play a game! It’s called Funny/Not Fun­ny. It goes like this:

Fun­ny: Eat­ing greasy bloaters with cab­bage-and-pota­to sog (see: How Tom Beat Cap­tain Najork and His Hired Sports­men)

Not Fun­ny: Shov­el­ing gigan­tic snow­drifts out of my dri­ve­way into piles almost as tall as myself.

Laugh­ing mat­ters, as any­one who has sur­vived a Min­neso­ta win­ter will tell you.

Whether you’re snow­bound or not, I hope you will enjoy the warmth and wit this quirky col­lec­tion of pic­ture books has to offer. Some of them are old (look for them at your library or online through Alib­ris), oth­ers are new­er. Most impor­tant­ly, all are guar­an­teed to be more hilar­i­ous than dis­cov­er­ing you have to kick your own front door open from the inside because it has frozen shut overnight in a bliz­zard (file under: not fun­ny). Not that that hap­pened, because that would be ridicu­lous.

The Big Orange SplotThe Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwa­ter (Scholas­tic, 1977)

It all starts with The Big Orange Splot. More specif­i­cal­ly, with a seag­ull who is car­ry­ing a buck­et of orange paint (no one knows why), which he drops onto Mr. Plumbean’s house (no one knows why). Unfazed, Mr. Plumbean allows the splot to remain and goes about his busi­ness, much to the neigh­bors’ cha­grin. On this neat street such things sim­ply aren’t done. Even­tu­al­ly, Plumbean agrees that this has gone far enough. He buys some paint and gets to work cor­rect­ing the prob­lem.

Overnight, the big orange splot is joined by small­er orange splots, stripes, pic­tures of ele­phants and lions, steamshov­els, and oth­er images befit­ting a rain­bow jun­gle explo­sion. “My house is me and I am it,” Plumbean tells his flab­ber­gast­ed neigh­bors. “My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.” But Plumbean doesn’t stop there. Palm trees, frangi­pani, alligators…nothing is too out­landish for his new dream house. “Plumbean has popped his cork, flipped his wig, blown his stack, and dropped his stop­per” the neigh­bors exclaim in dis­may. They go about hatch­ing a plan to get things back to nor­mal on their neat street. But as they soon dis­cov­er, once a Big Orange Splot appears, there’s no going back. Plumbean’s unbri­dled imag­i­na­tion far out­strips even their most ardent­ly held pedes­tri­an sen­si­bil­i­ties. Wigs have only begun to flip.

Nino Wrestles the WorldNiño Wres­tles the World by Yuyi Morales (Roar­ing Brook, 2013)

Seño­ras y Señores, put your hands togeth­er for the fan­tas­tic, spec­tac­u­lar, one of a kind…Niño!” So begins the most improb­a­ble lucha libre wrestling com­pe­ti­tion of all time. Our hero is Niño, a diminu­tive boy in a red mask with more than a few tricks up his (non-exis­tent) sleeves. Armed with lit­tle more than a pop­si­cle, a decoy doll, and assort­ed puz­zle pieces, Niño pre­vails against a col­or­ful array of foes. La Llorona (the weep­ing woman), Cabeza Olme­ca (a sculpt­ed basalt head from the Olmec civ­i­liza­tion), and the ter­ri­fy­ing Gua­na­ju­a­to Mum­my are just a few of the char­ac­ters in this win­ning trib­ute to the the­atri­cal world of lucha libre. Cer­tain illus­tra­tions might be a bit scary for the youngest read­ers, but they are pre­sent­ed in a sil­ly way that make them less fright­en­ing and more fun. And lest you think that Niño has no seri­ous com­pe­ti­tion, rest assured that all bets are off once his lit­tle sis­ters, las her­man­i­tas, wake up from their nap…

Slow LorisSlow Loris by Alex­is Dea­con (Kane/Miller, 2002)

If you’ve ever been to the zoo, you prob­a­bly noticed that some ani­mals are just not that excit­ing. Or are they? This sto­ry delves into the dai­ly life of Slow Loris, an impos­si­bly bor­ing ani­mal who earns his name by spend­ing ten min­utes eat­ing a sat­suma, twen­ty min­utes going from one end of his branch to the oth­er, and a whole hour scratch­ing his bot­tom. But Slow Loris has a secret. At night, he gets up and does every­thing fast! When the oth­er zoo ani­mals get over their sur­prise at how wild Slow Loris real­ly is, they don’t hes­i­tate to join his all-night par­ty, which includes (among oth­er things) a mul­ti­tude of hats, col­or­ful ties, danc­ing, and an epic drum solo (by Slow Loris, of course). As you would imag­ine, it’s a slow day at the zoo after that as the par­ty ani­mals sleep off the pre­vi­ous night’s shenani­gans. Bor­ing!

Stop That Pickle!Stop That Pick­le! by Peter Armour, illus­trat­ed by Andrew Shachat (Houghton Mif­flin, 1993)

As fast as Slow Loris may be by night, I’m guess­ing he still couldn’t catch the run­away pick­le from Mr. Adolph’s deli. Rather than be eat­en by one Ms. Elmi­ra Deeds, this plucky pick­le leaps out of the jar and makes a break for it. Stop That Pick­le! is a delight­ful­ly wacky sto­ry of one pickle’s dar­ing escape and ulti­mate tri­umph over a host of oth­er foods try­ing to catch it. (And if you were won­der­ing if there is any sol­i­dar­i­ty in the food world, this book answers that ques­tion with a resound­ing NO.) 

When Mr. Adolph is imme­di­ate­ly over­whelmed by the pickle’s speed, a dis­grun­tled peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich joins the chase. “Every­one knows that a peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich is not the fastest sand­wich in the world, but it does have great endurance.” Page by page ten­sion builds as more foods join the pack, all shout­ing: Stop That Pick­le!. By the end of the book the pick­le is being pur­sued by not only the sand­wich (hel­lo, endurance!), but also a braid­ed pret­zel, green pip­pin apple, sev­en­teen toast­ed almonds, a crowd of raisins, a cake dough­nut, a cool grape soda, and an ele­gant vanil­la ice cream cone. How will our pick­le pre­vail??? The sto­ry cul­mi­nates in a back alley moment of truth which I won’t spoil for you, but rest assured that this pick­le lives to run anoth­er day. With its sat­is­fy­ing (yet total­ly inef­fec­tu­al) refrain, Stop That Pick­le! is a great read aloud book and will def­i­nite­ly make you think twice about the moral advis­abil­i­ty of skew­er­ing the last pick­le in the jar.

Sophie's SquashSophie’s Squash by Pat Ziet­low Miller, illus­trat­ed by Anne Wils­dorf (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013)

When Sophie spots a but­ter­nut squash at the farm­ers’ mar­ket, it is love at first sight. Her squash is “just the right size to hold in her arms. Just the right size to bounce on her knee. Just the right size to love.” Final­ly, Sophie has found the per­fect friend! Except…her par­ents seem to want to eat her friend. “Don’t lis­ten, Ber­nice!” Sophie cries at the sug­ges­tion of cook­ing Ber­nice with marsh­mal­lows. And so Ber­nice becomes part of the fam­i­ly. She goes to sto­ry time at the library, rolls down hills, vis­its oth­er squash. Every­thing is fine until one day Ber­nice is not quite her­self. She starts look­ing spot­ty and her som­er­saults don’t have “their usu­al style.” What to do? This heart­warm­ing sto­ry is has a sim­ple, fun­ny sweet­ness to it as Sophie learns about being a loy­al friend and what it means to let go. Don’t miss the illus­trat­ed end­pa­pers which fea­ture Sophie in her unpar­al­leled squashy exu­ber­ance! This book also offers a sea­son­al­ly appro­pri­ate les­son: win­ter might seem like the end, but some­times it is only the begin­ning.  

How Tom Beat Captain NajorkHow Tom Beat Cap­tain Najork and His Hired Sports­men by Rus­sell Hoban, illus­trat­ed by Quentin Blake (Atheneum, 1974)

No self-respect­ing list of fun­ny pic­ture books would be com­plete with­out How Tom Beat Cap­tain Najork and his Hired Sports­men. This gem is from an era where pic­ture books were a bit longer, but that just means there is more hilar­i­ty here to enjoy. Tom is a boy who knows fool­ing around. He fools around “with sticks and stones and crum­pled paper, with mews­es and pas­sages and dust­bins, with bent nails and bro­ken glass and holes in fences.” You get the idea. He’s an expert.

This deeply trou­bles Aunt Fid­get Wonkham-Strong, a for­mi­da­ble woman in an iron hat who believes boys should spend their time mem­o­riz­ing pages from the Nau­ti­cal Almanac instead of doing things that sus­pi­cious­ly resem­ble play­ing. So she calls in Cap­tain Najork and his hired sports­men to teach Tom a les­son in fool­ing around. As you might imag­ine, Cap­tain Najork has wild­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed Tom’s exper­tise in these mat­ters and gets his come­up­pance accord­ing­ly. Quentin Blake’s won­der­ful­ly zany line draw­ings are the per­fect accom­pa­ni­ment to the hijinks of this weird and total­ly sat­is­fy­ing sto­ry. Greasy bloaters, any­one? There’s also some cab­bage-and-pota­to sog left. Some­how.

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Skinny Dip with Lisa Bullard

Lisa Bullard

Lisa Bullard (pho­to: Kather­ine Warde)

Lisa Bullard is a well-respect­ed writ­ing teacher in Min­neso­ta and beyond, hav­ing shared her wis­dom and her sense of humor about writ­ing with class­rooms full of adults and chil­dren (usu­al­ly not at the same time). She has two books on writ­ing, one for adults (Get Start­ed in Writ­ing for Chil­dren) and one for chil­dren (You Can Write a Sto­ry! A Sto­ry-Writ­ing Recipe for Kids), as well as a series of Insid­er Guides co-writ­ten with Lau­ra Pur­die Salas. She has writ­ten Bookol­o­gy’s pop­u­lar Writ­ing Road Trip col­umn for sev­er­al years.

Lisa Bullard's READ Bookcase

My favorite book­case!

How many book­cas­es do you have in your home?

Based on my house, this ques­tion is open to inter­pre­ta­tion. What qual­i­fies as a book­case? For exam­ple, if the baker’s rack in my kitchen holds dozens of cook­books (despite the fact that I don’t cook), does this qual­i­fy as a book­case? Does it influ­ence the judg­ing if I explain that one of my absolute favorite books as a child was Bet­ty Crocker’s Cooky Book? I spent hours “read­ing” the book and invent­ing sto­ries to go along with the cook­ie cre­ations pic­tured there.

But okay, back to the orig­i­nal ques­tion. In addi­tion to the “kitchen book­case” described above, I have six-and-a-half book­cas­es.

What’s your food weak­ness?

My food weak­ness is that I love food far beyond its nutri­tion­al pur­pose. It rep­re­sents so much more than just that to me. Food is sneak­ing into the kitchen late at night with Grand­ma to eat pick­les while Mom looks askance. Food is spit­ting water­mel­on seeds into the lake and get­ting brain freeze from home­made ice cream on the 4th of July. Food is the brown­ie you lick so that your broth­ers don’t eat it first.

Licking the brownie

If you’re ask­ing about my favorite food rather than my food weak­ness, it’s any food that some­body else has cooked. I am for­tu­nate enough to have sev­er­al friends who love to cook, and who express their affec­tion by cook­ing for me. Now that’s love!

Have you trav­eled out­side of the Unit­ed States? Which coun­try is your favorite to vis­it? Why?

I’ve been lucky enough to trav­el out­side of the U.S. to Eng­land, France, Switzer­land, Italy, and Cana­da. I found things to love in all of those coun­tries, but I most loved how dif­fer­ent I became in Italy. For some rea­son I trans­formed into a whole oth­er per­son there. Some­one who knows me well once described me as a “cheer­ful pes­simist;” grow­ing up, I was heav­i­ly influ­enced by my sto­ical­ly Scan­di­na­vian moth­er; and I’m typ­i­cal­ly very cau­tious. But under Italy’s influ­ence, I trans­formed into a risk-tak­er who gam­boled from one roman­tic city to the next with hard­ly a care in the world. I real­ly liked that per­son, but she only seems to exist in Italy!

Juliet's balcony in Verona

Juliet’s bal­cony in Verona

A gondolier in Venice

A gon­do­lier in Venice

What’s your favorite word because you like the way it sounds?

I love say­ing the word “col­ly­wob­bles.” It’s such a won­der­ful, roly poly word, and it sounds so much more joy­ful than its mean­ing. When­ev­er one of us kids was sick, my mom’s first ques­tion was: “Do you have the col­ly­wob­bles?” Few of my friends knew what the word meant, so they usu­al­ly looked blank when I asked them the same ques­tion. For a long time I thought it was a word that belonged to my fam­i­ly alone; that you had to have access to some kind of Bullard Fam­i­ly Dic­tio­nary to be able to decode it. This was also true, by the way, of one of my most dread­ed words: “potch.” My mom threat­ened to “potch” us when we were naughty, and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I was able to fig­ure out that this “Bullard fam­i­ly word” was (sur­pris­ing­ly, giv­en our her­itage) in fact Yid­dish.

What for­eign lan­guage would you like to learn?

I don’t know if it’s defined as a “for­eign” lan­guage or not, but one of the things on my buck­et list is to learn Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage. When I attend a per­for­mance or pre­sen­ta­tion where some­one is inter­pret­ing into ASL, I’m riveted—I’d love to be able to make my words dance in the air the same way that I try to make them dance on the page when I write.

Do you read the end of a book first?

I’m actu­al­ly per­fect­ly hap­py to start a book some­where oth­er than the begin­ning, and then to read it in sec­tions com­plete­ly out of order. But now that I’m a writer, I’ve made a rule to allow oth­er writ­ers the chance to tell me their sto­ry in the fash­ion they think is best (in oth­er words, I make myself read it in the order it’s pre­sent­ed, from begin­ning to end). But if I grow bored a cou­ple of chap­ters in, the rules change, and I revert to ran­dom read­ing order. In that case, I usu­al­ly dip into the mid­dle and read a bit to see if the sto­ry seems more excit­ing at that point. If not, I’ll read the end as my way of giv­ing the author a final chance to sell me on their sto­ry. If I like the end­ing after all that, I some­times go back and read ear­li­er bits, dip­ping in and out of the sto­ry in ran­dom fash­ion until I get back to that end again.

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The Pushcart War

I first heard of  Jean Merrill’s The Push­cart War in grad school. I read it because a fel­low stu­dent spoke with absolute glee about it. I’ve not heard a book rec­om­mend­ed with such laugh­ter and vig­or before or since. And I fell into the book just as she insist­ed I would. Fell, I tell you. Lost my head, real­ly.

My kids did, too. I hand­ed it to them with a casu­al, “It’s real­ly good and I think you’ll like it…” sort of rec­om­men­da­tion. I want­ed to see if they would, as I did, google “push­cart war” to see when this had hap­pened and why we didn’t know more about it. They did. Well, the lit­tle one said, “Wait…did this real­ly hap­pen?!”

Appar­ent­ly, we each read over the dates of the for­ward and the author’s intro­duc­tion. Both are dat­ed in the year 2036, which would’ve been a clue, of course…but so absorbed were we in the “report­ing” of the Push­cart War—in the strug­gle, the unfair tac­tics and pol­i­tics of the truck­ers, and the plight of the push­cart vendors—that we missed the clues, I guess.

When The Push­cart War was pub­lished in 1964, it was set in New York City in 1976. When it was repub­lished in 1974, it was set in 1986. The 1985 edi­tion is set in 1996—always the not-so-dis­tant future, in oth­er words. When the New York Review Children’s Col­lec­tion pub­lished the 50th anniver­sary edi­tion a cou­ple of years ago, the date changed to 2026 (this is the edi­tion I have). This book has had polit­i­cal res­o­nance in each of the eras in which it has pub­lished and repub­lished, and the plight of the push­cart ven­dors cer­tain­ly still rings True, hilar­i­ous­ly and poignant­ly, today.

The sto­ry could be cat­e­go­rized as “nar­ra­tive jour­nal­ism,” pub­lished ten years after the events of the war. The for­ward, writ­ten by one Pro­fes­sor Lyman Cum­ber­ly of New York Uni­ver­si­ty says “…it is very impor­tant to the peace of the world that we under­stand how wars begin….” The Push­cart War shows us. Kids under­stand the issue at hand—the big truck­ing com­pa­nies want the roads cleared for trucks and only trucks. The truck­ing indus­try cites the impor­tance of deliv­er­ies being on time, the gen­er­al agree­ment that traf­fic is awful etc. The pushcarts—the lit­tle guys—are the first tar­get.

But they fight back! And the fight is glo­ri­ous and one that any­one who has ever been bul­lied or wit­nessed bul­ly­ing or has bul­lied will under­stand. There’s The Daf­fodil Mas­sacre, which starts it all off, and then we’re quick­ly intro­duced to Mor­ris the Florist, and Frank the Flower, and Max­ie Ham­mer­man, the Push­cart King. Movie star, Wan­da Gam­bling, sees the dan­ger signs—don’t we all? I mean, the taxi dri­vers grew cau­tious in their driving!—and pret­ty soon there are famous speech­es and secret meet­ings, trig­ger­ing words and secret weapons. Then there’s an all out War. It’s basi­cal­ly David and Goliath all over again.

But there’s some­thing about the way it’s written—I guess it’s the “nar­ra­tive jour­nal­ism” tone—before you know it, you’re search­ing Wikipedia to get the details nailed down.

If I were a teacher of fourth graders, I’d read a chap­ter of this time­less clas­sic every day. And I’d notice, and pon­der, as I did and do, that this book, a sto­ry for chil­dren, has only the briefest men­tion of any kids. The main char­ac­ters are entire­ly adults.

Fas­ci­nat­ing, don’t you think?

 

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The Good Thing about Bad Words

It’s mid-Jan­u­ary, I have this Non­fic­tionary dead­line, and all I can think about is Pres­i­dent Trump’s lat­est vul­gar­i­ty.

His recent word choice about cer­tain coun­tries jumped from my phone like an elec­tri­cal charge, lit­er­al­ly and phys­i­cal­ly jolt­ing me back­wards. For the rest of the day and beyond, my soul hurt and my spir­it sagged.

But it was just a word. 

Let’s be hon­est.  I have a pret­ty good vocab­u­lary of inap­pro­pri­ate words and I’m not all that care­ful about using them in adult com­pa­ny. My moth­er was so fond of “damn” that I didn’t know it was con­sid­ered a curse word until I got to school. (Some­how, I’m still sur­prised that it’s ver­boten!)

I worked in sev­er­al news­rooms where blue lan­guage was just the way we described events and chat­ted with each oth­er. And my dog is def­i­nite­ly famil­iar with a few four-let­ter excla­ma­tions.

Oh please, they’re just words. 

Still, there’s a line. Despite the col­or­ful ban­ter of the work­place, news­pa­pers have a clear stan­dard about what goes into print: Pro­fan­i­ty is allowed only spar­ing­ly, even today. If the offend­ing lan­guage is in a quote, per­haps you para­phrase it into some­thing more print­able or just work around it. Any excep­tions must be impor­tant and usu­al­ly require spe­cial per­mis­sion from the high­er-ups.

In the old days, The Wall Street Jour­nal reg­u­lar­ly used what was called a Bar­ney dash, after the paper’s arrow-straight keep­er of stan­dards, Bar­ney Calame. That was a first let­ter, fol­lowed by a long dash. It still reserves the Bar­ney dash for espe­cial­ly egre­gious words.

No s—, you knew what it was. But you didn’t have to actu­al­ly ingest it along with your Wheaties.

If the pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States said some­thing coarse, or the VP let some­thing obscene slip out on a hot micro­phone, well, that was a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion. Then, the words might actu­al­ly appear in all their ugli­ness.

You’ve got to have some stan­dards.

As a writer of non­fic­tion for young peo­ple, I’ve run into these kinds of lan­guage issues more than I expect­ed. After all, real peo­ple do use real words. And some­times they have real impact on a sub­ject.

Bootleg by Karen BlumenthalHell,” for instance, was a big con­cept dur­ing the debate over liquor before, dur­ing, and after Pro­hi­bi­tion. It was impos­si­ble to ignore it in my book Boot­leg: Mur­der, Moon­shine, and the Law­less Years of Pro­hi­bi­tion, though some peo­ple think that word doesn’t belong in a children’s book. (Appar­ent­ly, the Bible is exempt.)

One review­er called me out for using “damned” in a quo­ta­tion in Mr. Sam, my biog­ra­phy of Sam Wal­ton, and then ques­tioned the appro­pri­ate­ness of the book because of that sin­gle word. (Thanks, Mom!)

Steve Jobs, how­ev­er, posed the biggest chal­lenge. As a col­or­ful entre­pre­neur, he had quite the wide-rang­ing adult vocab­u­lary. Wal­ter Isaacson’s long biog­ra­phy for grown-ups is pep­pered with four-let­ter salti­ness. But writ­ing for young adults required a choice.

Steve Jobs by Karen BlumenthalIt wasn’t too dif­fi­cult to decide what to do in Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Dif­fer­ent. I real­ize that teens (and younger kids) know those words and that they use them, too. But I’m in Texas, and I also know there are school libraries that will shy away from a book just because of a pro­fan­i­ty. If I wrote fic­tion, I might choose dif­fer­ent­ly, since avoid­ing those words might make a teen char­ac­ter less authen­tic. But as a teller of true sto­ries, I had access to plen­ty of words that effec­tive­ly made clear what Jobs want­ed to say when he was, for exam­ple, demol­ish­ing someone’s hard work.

There was one quote, how­ev­er, where one of those das­tard­ly bombs explod­ed. Some com­menter some­where won­dered aloud why I didn’t use the obvi­ous real word.

True sto­ry: the orig­i­nal source had used a long dash—and so did I.

Words mat­ter.

Hillary Rodham Clinton by Karen BlumenthalHillary Rod­ham Clin­ton: A Woman Liv­ing His­to­ry intro­duced me to a new kind of lan­guage. There are cer­tain words I absolute­ly won’t use in any con­text, pri­mar­i­ly those that I con­sid­er racist or hate­ful, includ­ing a cou­ple of espe­cial­ly crude ones aimed at women. A few peo­ple found it nec­es­sary to share those words in describ­ing how they felt about the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date I pro­filed. (Thanks, Twit­ter!)

In tap­ping on my social media, I had the same response I had to Pres­i­dent Trump’s Jan­u­ary word choice, a brac­ing, slap-in-the-face reac­tion.

It was painful and upsetting—and I think that’s okay. We should nev­er lose the abil­i­ty to vis­cer­al­ly feel the impact of lan­guage, good or bad. We should nev­er grow so com­pla­cent that words don’t move us. They should spark hor­ror, spur tears, con­vey out­rage, hurt, heal, or pro­pel us to be some­thing bet­ter.

Words are pow­er­ful. Choose care­ful­ly.

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