Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Teaching Is an Art

I recent­ly received a mes­sage from my friend, Amir:

Mau­r­na, I want­ed to get your feed­back on this arti­cle. I taught Eng­lish for 8+ years and my final M.Ed. project was on read­ing, so this is a pas­sion of mine. When I used to pre­pare NYC pub­lic school teach­ers for their licens­ing exams, they would like­ly do bet­ter on the read­ing pas­sages if they had more back­ground knowl­edge, even though that knowl­edge was not need­ed. I won­der if we are being unre­al­is­tic in our teach­ing of read­ing?”

The arti­cle, “Why We’re Teach­ing Read­ing Com­pre­hen­sion in a Way That Doesn’t Work” was writ­ten by Natal­ie Wexler and pub­lished by Forbes mag­a­zine a few months ago. The title and Amir’s won­der­ing about whether we teach­ers are out of touch or imprac­ti­cal struck a nerve and launched weeks of fur­ther read­ing, reflect­ing, writ­ing, rewrit­ing, and rest­less nights. I felt my ini­tial response was too defen­sive and I was deter­mined to find a lev­el-head­ed way to share my take on the arti­cle. I gained empa­thy for my stu­dents who strug­gle dai­ly with writing—it has always come eas­i­ly for me but not this time. I felt like the kid who gets so frus­trat­ed with their writ­ing that they scrunch their paper into a wadded-up ball then chuck it into the garbage can only to retrieve it, smooth it out to read it over, and try to fix it one more time. I reached out to my lit­er­a­cy-guru teacher friends and asked for their hon­est feed­back on my writ­ing. And final­ly, I decid­ed to try start­ing over in an effort to find my voice and say what real­ly needs to be said.

The arti­cle by Wexler, like much of her writ­ing over the years, sounds the alarm for all the things woe­ful­ly wrong with today’s edu­ca­tion sys­tem. Her laun­dry list of com­plaints includes dan­ger­ous­ly inad­e­quate teacher edu­ca­tion pro­grams, teach­ers and pro­fes­sors who ignore the need to under­stand and teach phon­ics, teach­ers who present les­son after les­son on com­pre­hen­sion strate­gies instead of build­ing back­ground knowl­edge, teach­ers who focus on inde­pen­dent read­ing lev­els instead of push­ing text that is much more sophis­ti­cat­ed and advanced, teach­ers wast­ing time on things not endorsed by the Nation­al Read­ing Pan­el, and, final­ly, teach­ers who chal­lenge or flat out refuse to con­sid­er sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-backed research on how read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy is acquired and should be taught. It is quite the list.

At first, I thought the best approach was to pick apart Wexler’s writ­ing, first by sum­ma­riz­ing it and then offer­ing my stance on whether I agreed or dis­agreed with her asser­tions. In order to accom­plish that, I exam­ined just about every link or ref­er­ence in her arti­cle (more than two dozen). This is where I encoun­tered the most dif­fi­cul­ty in my ear­li­er attempts to com­pose an answer for my friend Amir.

There was just so much that didn’t sit right with me. Wexler, along with her col­league Emi­ly Han­ford, and many oth­er “edu­ca­tion writ­ers” refer to The Nation­al Read­ing Panel’s report from 2001 to strength­en their case for empha­siz­ing the “sci­ence” of teach­ing read­ing. Yet an arti­cle writ­ten by Joann Yatvin, a mem­ber of the NRP, decries the report for being huge­ly mis­in­ter­pret­ed and mis­used. Yatvin might hold the “minor­i­ty view” of the NRP, but her exposé of the panel’s report as “nar­row, biased, and elit­ist” can­not and should not be ignored.

When con­sid­er­ing Ms. Wexler’s arti­cle title about why we’re teach­ing read­ing in a way that doesn’t work, I con­sid­ered shar­ing a snap­shot of what she or any­one vis­it­ing my class­room might find hap­pen­ing in Room 212 when it comes to lit­er­a­cy learn­ing:

  • Kids writ­ing let­ters to authors of books they’ve fall­en in love with.
  • Kids doing research and writ­ing about a wide range of self-select­ed top­ics such as home­less­ness, African Amer­i­can mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gist Ernest Everett Just, and ancient civ­i­liza­tions (to name just a few).
  • Kids with voice and choice beg­ging for more time to read inde­pen­dent­ly.
  • Kids ask­ing to stay in from recess, so they can do more writ­ing.
  • Kids per­form­ing lit­tle plays for younger stu­dents.
  • Kids doing art.
  • Kids engaged in joy­ful learn­ing.
  • Kids learn­ing how to be cre­ative prob­lem solvers, open-mind­ed risk tak­ers, and kind, com­pas­sion­ate peo­ple.

I would love to ask Ms. Wexler to explain what it is exact­ly that isn’t work­ing in our vibrant learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty?!

teaching writing

What about Amir’s ques­tion: are we being unre­al­is­tic in our teach­ing of read­ing? My answer would have to be, “Yes.” In my opin­ion, edu­ca­tion writ­ers like Wexler and Han­ford, leg­is­la­tors all across the coun­try, and even school admin­is­tra­tors are being unre­al­is­tic when they sug­gest that the best or only answer to improved read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy (aka bet­ter read­ing test scores) is a script­ed, pack­aged, read­ing cur­ricu­lum that is hell-bent on push­ing core knowl­edge or huge dos­es of phon­ics. Wexler believes that the bright spot on the hori­zon is the uptick in “ele­men­tary lit­er­a­cy cur­ric­u­la designed to build stu­dents’ knowl­edge.” What a sad state­ment on so many lev­els. Insist­ing teach­ers fol­low a man­u­al for a pro­gram that touts “sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-backed research” is not the answer. A one-size-fits-all approach to teach­ing read­ing com­pre­hen­sion is not the answer.

I must acknowl­edge that I, too, am being unre­al­is­tic. I have a deep pas­sion for teach­ing and for lit­er­a­cy. It’s hard for me to admit, but I know not all teach­ers share that pas­sion. Not all teach­ers have had the same good for­tune I’ve had to learn from won­der­ful men­tors. Not all teach­ers are encour­aged to take risks and feel con­fi­dent in what they can accom­plish with their stu­dents. For many dif­fer­ent rea­sons, it is sad but true, there are adults in teach­ing roles (luck­i­ly in my expe­ri­ence, I’ve met only a few) who see them­selves as babysit­ters, are not inter­est­ed in life-long learn­ing, and occa­sion­al­ly act like they don’t even like kids. I wish I had an answer about how to guar­an­tee all teach­ers were high­ly qual­i­fied, filled with pas­sion, and loved kids. But I would bet my bot­tom dol­lar that the vast major­i­ty of teach­ers strive to achieve these qual­i­ties, despite being blamed so often for all that’s wrong with edu­ca­tion.

library

Wexler, along with oth­er edu­ca­tion com­men­ta­tors and researchers seem to know all about “the sci­ence” of read­ing. They vol­un­teer as tutors. They test stu­dents to deter­mine whether they are pro­fi­cient read­ers using their own cri­te­ria or high stakes tests that are rid­dled with bias. They are quick to point out all the things that are wrong with today’s teach­ers and class­rooms and then they offer their easy-to-fix-it solu­tions (“buy a bet­ter read­ing cur­ricu­lum, teach more con­tent so stu­dents gain more back­ground knowl­edge”).

The glar­ing prob­lem from my van­tage point, how­ev­er, is what they don’t do.

  • They don’t seem to get it that spend­ing 165 days a year with a group of 25–30 won­der­ful­ly diverse and bril­liant kids might gar­ner them more street cred.
  • They don’t seem to get it that improv­ing vocab­u­lary and back­ground knowl­edge starts with improv­ing the severe eco­nom­ic and racial divides in our soci­ety that cre­ate class­rooms filled with “haves” and “have-nots.”
  • They don’t seem to get it that the kids who lack ade­quate vocab­u­lary and back­ground knowl­edge are often kids who have not had the ben­e­fit of attend­ing pre-school.
  • They don’t seem to get it that while the “sci­ence” of teach­ing read­ing is impor­tant, the “art” of teach­ing read­ing is and should be of even greater stature.
  • And final­ly, they real­ly don’t seem to get it that we teach kids before we teach read­ing, writ­ing, math, sci­ence, or any oth­er sub­ject.

teaching science

No, Ms. Wexler, our teach­ers and schools are not fail­ing because we are ignor­ing the research and are not impart­ing enough knowl­edge. How­ev­er, we teach­ers, the major­i­ty of us who invest extra time, our own mon­ey, our heart and soul, who spend day after day, year after year, with dozens, even hun­dreds of kids (who for many of us become a sec­ond fam­i­ly), we teach­ers have a pletho­ra of knowl­edge that only teach­ers have. It’s knowl­edge that can’t be learned until you begin your first day on the job. We do what­ev­er it takes to know, real­ly know, our stu­dents. We also know that kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And that kind of knowl­edge won’t be found in any lit­er­a­cy cur­ric­u­la. That kind of knowl­edge is what I believe makes teach­ing read­ing a work of art.

A final note to my friend, Amir. You men­tioned help­ing teach­ers pre­pare for the teach­ing exams and not­ed that they did bet­ter if they had more back­ground knowl­edge. I can­not dis­pute the fact that more back­ground knowl­edge comes in handy when tak­ing a test and it most def­i­nite­ly makes a dif­fer­ence when it comes to com­pre­hen­sion.

There is a seri­ous need for stu­dents, espe­cial­ly Eng­lish lan­guage learn­ers, to gain as much back­ground knowl­edge and vocab­u­lary as pos­si­ble.

All kids must have a sol­id foun­da­tion that includes phon­ics and phone­mic aware­ness so that sol­id decod­ing will lead to flu­en­cy which opens the door to greater com­pre­hen­sion and vocab­u­lary. The goal is to not only teach kids how to read, but to instill the desire to want to read. The sci­ence is there but the art is achieved by inspir­ing kids to devel­op a love of read­ing.

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The Season Of Styx Malone

Our Books & Bagels book group met a cou­ple of weeks ago to dis­cuss The Sea­son of Styx Mal­one by Kekla Magoon. When I pick the books for this par­ent-child book­club, I’ve usu­al­ly read them in advance and know they will be good for dis­cus­sion. This one I picked before I’d read it. I’d read reviews and what­not, of course, but I think it was actu­al­ly the cov­er that made me sure this would be a great book for our group. The cov­er of this book is prac­ti­cal­ly per­fect in every way, I think.

The Sea­son of Styx Mal­one is about the sum­mer an über-cool, sweet-talkin’, full of Big Plans six­teen-year-old named Styx Mal­one walks into Caleb and Bob­by Gene Franklin’s per­fect­ly ordi­nary lives. Caleb longs for some­thing extra-ordi­nary to hap­pen. Enter Styx Mal­one, stage left. This is how the book opens:

Styx Mal­one didn’t believe in mir­a­cles, but he was one. Until he came along, there was noth­ing very spe­cial about life in Sut­ton, Indi­ana.

The cov­er cap­tures Styx’s cool ease, Bob­by Gene’s wor­ry and uncer­tain­ty (he’s the first born), and Caleb’s head-over-heals admi­ra­tion of their new friend.

The sum­mer with Styx Mal­one was extra­or­di­nary for Caleb and Bob­by Gene. Caleb got his wish—but the extra­or­di­nar­i­ness wasn’t exact­ly what he thought it would be. This book is fun­ny, heart-wrench­ing, poignant, and real,even as it tells the sto­ry of a fair­ly mad-cap adven­ture tak­en by a cou­ple of mid­dle-school boys under the spell of a talk-his-way-out-of-any­thing young man. All of us—kids and par­ents enjoyed it.

Over bagels and juice and cof­fee we talked about fam­i­ly and friends…choices and consequences…fear and risk…parent-child dif­fer­ences in how things are perceived…the role of worry…gut feelings…the respon­si­bil­i­ty of com­mu­ni­ty….  There was a lot to talk about. Our group is made up of some pret­ty empa­thet­ic, deep-think­ing kid­dos. I asked them, in our dis­cus­sion of wor­ry, who they were most con­cerned about at the end of the book—because we par­ents thought there was plen­ty to be con­cerned about, even as the book gave a hope­ful, hap­py end­ing.

I expect­ed the kids to say they were wor­ried about one of the boys on the cov­er. Maybe Styx, who we learn is a pret­ty vul­ner­a­ble kid in dan­ger of drop­ping through the cracks. Or maybe Caleb, who was so eas­i­ly swayed by the smooth talk­ing Styx—that child would fol­low any­one any­where! Or per­haps they’d wor­ry about Bob­by Gene, who felt the heavy weight of respon­si­bil­i­ty and walked around wor­ried and unsure so much of the time. But no—we par­ents were wor­ried about all three of these boys; the kids, how­ev­er, were wor­ried about a minor char­ac­ter named Pix­ie.

Pix­ie was an unex­pect­ed sur­prise in this book that is large­ly about boys. Styx intro­duces her as his sister—they are liv­ing in the same fos­ter-home for much of the book. Pix­ie comes into the sto­ry wear­ing every col­or of the rain­bow, accent­ed by a feath­er boa, a tutu, and a zebra striped head­band with black-and-white pink mouse ears. She is Caleb and Bob­by Gene’s age, but she doesn’t seem like it to them—her vocab­u­lary is old­er, her behav­ior younger. They are com­plete­ly con­fused by her—she twirls and sparkles, she adores Styx (and he her), and she glints and glit­ters her way into their summer…in a pret­ty minor way con­sid­er­ing all that hap­pens.

But the kids in the book­group wor­ried about her more than all the oth­er char­ac­ters. They strug­gled to voice exact­ly what they were wor­ried about, but it came down to some com­bi­na­tion of her “dif­fer­ent­ness” and the fact that she and Styx were sep­a­rat­ed into two fos­ter homes. Styx gave the impres­sion that he’d always land on his feet. It was hard to tell if Pix­ie would ever land. The kids thought she seemed unteth­ered with­out Styx as her anchor, and this was wor­ri­some for them.

When we par­ents list­ed our wor­ries about the kids—their var­i­ous vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, the his­to­ry of poor choic­es, the crazy risks tak­en by the three boys etc.—the kids nod­ded like “Yeah, yeah. Of Course.” It was like it was our job to wor­ry in this way. Their job was to wor­ry about the kid we’d hard­ly noticed.

This is why I love read­ing with kids. They notice dif­fer­ent things, they think about char­ac­ters in oth­er ways, they bring a fresh set of eyes and expe­ri­ences to sto­ries. I’m grate­ful to have them as read­ing com­pan­ions.

If you are par­ent and not part of a par­ent-child book­group, con­sid­er start­ing one. It can be a one-time thing, or an occa­sion­al group, as Books & Bagels is. It’s a good excuse to read with kids and talk about impor­tant things (and unim­por­tant things) togeth­er.

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Books Are Our Emissaries

Dinner at the Panda PalaceAs authors, we send our books out into the world and, if we’re lucky, they con­nect us to good peo­ple whose paths we wouldn’t oth­er­wise cross.

For 28 years, Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace has been my excel­lent emis­sary. 

Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace start­ed as a sim­ple count­ing and sort­ing book with lots of ani­mals and a par­ty atmos­phere to make the learn­ing fun.  By the time it was done, it was a book of wel­come, as a tiny mouse comes knock­ing at the door, ask­ing “Is there room for one more?” It’s this part of the sto­ry that res­onates most with read­ers and has led to so many won­der­ful con­nec­tions over the years.

The book has con­nect­ed me to fam­i­lies:

Par­ents and chil­dren write me let­ters and, much to my delight, send pho­tos and draw­ings.

The book has con­nect­ed me to teach­ers:

Maryann Wick­ett, recip­i­ent of the 1996 Pres­i­den­tial Award for Excel­lence in Math­e­mat­ics Teach­ing, wrote two arti­cles shar­ing her and her stu­dents’ expan­sive ideas on the math con­cepts in the book.  Two decades after her first arti­cle appeared, she let me know she’d be read­ing the book to chil­dren in Kenya, where she was going part­ly on a human­i­tar­i­an mis­sion, part­ly as a tourist.  “Pan­da is for the human­i­tar­i­an part,” she wrote.

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The book has con­nect­ed me to reli­gious lead­ers and edu­ca­tors:

Ser­e­na Evans Beeks, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Epis­co­pal Dio­cese of Los Ange­les wrote, “Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace has been rec­om­mend­ed as a chapel book for Epis­co­pal schools and preschools—perhaps not what you intend­ed when you wrote it, but the min­istry of hos­pi­tal­i­ty shines through it!”

At The Brooke Jack­man Lit­er­a­cy Foundation’s Read-a-Thon at Barnes & Noble in New York. The young man help­ing me out is D’Andre Lee, a cast mem­ber of Kinky Boots on Broad­way.

Helen Singer, Ear­ly Child­hood Librar­i­an at the Rodeph Sholom School in New York City wrote, “Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace…ties in beau­ti­ful­ly with the Jew­ish con­cept of “Hachnasat Orchim,” wel­com­ing guests or the stranger into your home, as well as with the val­ues of kind­ness and inclu­sion.”

As writ­ers, we nev­er know which minds a book will enrich, which hearts a book will touch, what con­nec­tions will be made.  I’m grate­ful to have a book that has con­nect­ed me to such good peo­ple. In Mr. Panda’s words,

No mat­ter how many, no mat­ter how few,
there will always be room at the Palace for you.

My thanks to Wind­ing Oak, pub­lish­ers of Bookol­o­gy, for shar­ing this essay cel­e­brat­ing the 28th anniver­sary of Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace.

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Fake ID

Fake IDA while back, Facebook—apparently hav­ing run out of snazzy gift—ideas that said “thank you for using our ser­vices” in an under­stat­ed yet pleas­ing way—gifted me instead with a social media dop­pel­gänger named Yvonne. The gift arrived in my email box in the form of thou­sands of extra­ne­ous noti­fi­ca­tions. I get noti­fied any time one of Yvonne’s many (seem­ing­ly unsta­ble and to me com­plete­ly unknown) friends does any­thing they deem Face­book-wor­thy. I get noti­fied any time there is a yard sale any­where near Yvonne’s home, which hap­pens to be approx­i­mate­ly 1,000 miles away from where I live. I get noti­fied with reg­u­lar updates about Yvonne’s alma mater, a school whose mys­te­ri­ous insid­er jokes don’t trans­late well if you’ve nev­er been near that cam­pus in your life.

If you ever find your­self pre­sent­ed with the same thoughtful gift, let me just tell you that, short of the wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gram, there is no easy way to drop a dop­pel­gänger. I have done every­thing Facebook’s “help” pages sug­gest to report and rem­e­dy the prob­lem. Noth­ing has worked. This week so far I’ve got­ten 594 updates on Yvonne. And for those of you in the area, I can report that the Hazel Green yard sale has girls’ win­ter clothes, sizes 5 and 6.

But just when I thought that no good could come out of the whole sit­u­a­tion, I described it to a friend (in this case I’m using “friend” not in the Face­book sense but based on the tra­di­tion­al defi­ni­tion of “a per­son whom one actu­al­ly knows, likes, and trusts”). And he said (yes, Steve Palmquist of Wind­ing Oak, I’m look­ing at you), “That could make a good book idea. Just throw in a zom­bie or two.”

Huh. You know what? It might make a pret­ty good book idea even with­out the zom­bies. But even bet­ter, it makes a real­ly great char­ac­ter-build­ing exer­cise for young writ­ers of the age groups that are attuned to social media. I can vouch for the fact that a per­son can learn a stag­ger­ing amount about a stranger mere­ly by vic­ar­i­ous­ly expe­ri­enc­ing her Face­book pres­ence. Why not turn things around and use social media as a tool to help your young writ­ers figure out just who their char­ac­ter is?

Ask your young writ­ers to imag­ine a social media profile for their main char­ac­ter. Do they use Pin­ter­est or Face­book, Twit­ter, Insta­gram, or Tum­blr? What games do they play? Do they win? Do they cheat? What would their online profile say? Do they lie when they’re online, and if so, what about? How many peo­ple have “friend­ed” them? What kind of pho­tos do they post? What shop­ping out­lets or social caus­es have they “liked”? Do they spend hours a day online, or almost nev­er pop up? Do they mere­ly lurk, or com­ment on every­thing? The list of char­ac­ter-reveal­ing details could go on and on.

Just make sure to include one final ques­tion: Is character’s name Yvonne?

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Paws and Read

Cel­e­brat­ing Our Fur­ry Friends with a Pet Read­ing Pro­gram

Ani­mals are such agree­able friends—they ask no ques­tions, they pass no crit­i­cisms.”

—George Elliott

Oliver Jones

Oliv­er Jones, Mr. Z’s good friend

In Octo­ber 2011, I was in a state of tran­si­tion. I had just returned from intern­ing at the Library of Con­gress to a full-time job as head of a children’s depart­ment. I was excit­ed about this new adven­ture but, to move for­ward, I was miss­ing a fur­ry friend. One day, a patron came into the library and walked up to me and said, “I have this male kit­ty cat I need some­one to adopt. Do you know any­one who might want to adopt him?” I looked up, and it was an orange tab­by cat. I smiled and told her I would adopt him. His name is Oliv­er Jones, and he has been with me for almost eight years through many highs and lows. I reflect on this sto­ry from time to time to remind myself how impor­tant ani­mals are to the human jour­ney.

Through­out my time as a children’s librar­i­an, pro­grams that com­bine read­ing with ani­mals have been suc­cess­ful. My library’s pet read­ing pro­gram occurs one Sat­ur­day each month. A local teacher and her dog Wrigley vis­it the library and pro­vide a sto­ry­time pro­gram for 2- to 5-year-olds. Pet read­ing pro­grams can be for any age group.

Steps in Cre­at­ing a Pet Read­ing Pro­gram:

  1. Decide on the objec­tives for a pet read­ing pro­gram at your library. Some ques­tions to ask might include: Will the ani­mal be part of a sto­ry­time pro­gram where fam­i­lies have time to inter­act with them? Should a new read-with-a-pet pro­gram be cre­at­ed where chil­dren can reg­is­ter a time to read to them?
  2. Research cer­ti­fied pet ther­a­py pro­gram web­sites for a direc­to­ry of cer­ti­fied mem­bers in your area. The ani­mals vis­it­ing the library should be a cer­ti­fied ani­mal, not your pet or a patron’s or a coworker’s. Ther­a­py Dogs Inter­na­tion­al is one resource for you to check.
  3. Reach out to local cer­ti­fied indi­vid­u­als to pro­pose the new pet read­ing pro­gram. At the ini­tial meet­ing, ask them to send a copy of their cer­ti­fi­ca­tion along with any insurance/liability infor­ma­tion. Keep this infor­ma­tion on file.
  4. Sched­ule your first pro­gram. Do you want this to be part of a morn­ing sto­ry­time or a new after-school pro­gram? I have done both types of pro­grams with great suc­cess.
  5. Iden­ti­fy the space for your pro­gram and col­lect resources spe­cif­ic to this pro­gram. Chil­dren can bring their own book to read or search the library col­lec­tion with the ani­mal.

The fol­low­ing are my top pic­ture book, chap­ter book, and non­fic­tion book sug­ges­tions. Although each of these choic­es have an ani­mal theme, a child can choose any book to read to the ani­mal.

Picture Books

 

 

 

 

 

Pic­ture Book Sug­ges­tions

  1. Drag­ons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin (inter­est lev­el: K-3)
  2. Moth­er Bruce by Ryan T. Hig­gins (inter­est lev­el: K-3)
  3. If You Give a Dog a Donut by Lau­ra Numeroff (inter­est lev­el: K-3)
  4. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae (inter­est lev­el: K-3)
  5. There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins (inter­est lev­el: K-3)
  6. Stel­lalu­na by Janell Can­non (inter­est lev­el: K-3)
  7. A Uni­corn Named Sparkle by Amy Young (inter­est lev­el: K-3)
  8. Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey (inter­est lev­el: K-3)
  9. The Bear Ate Your Sand­wich by Julia Sar­cone-Roach (inter­est lev­el: K-3)
  10. Can I Be Your Dog? by Troy Cum­mings (inter­est lev­el: K-3)

Chapter Books

 

 

 

 

 

Chap­ter Book Sug­ges­tions

  1. Mag­ic Ani­mal Res­cue (series) by E.D. Bak­er (inter­est lev­el: 2–3 grade)
  2. The Chick­en Squad (series) by Doreen Cronin (inter­est lev­el: 2–3 grade)
  3. Ranger in Time (series) by Kate Mess­ner (inter­est lev­el: 2–5 grade)
  4. Almost Home by John Bauer (inter­est lev­el: 4–6 grade)
  5. A Dog’s Life by Ann M. Mar­tin (inter­est lev­el: 4–6 grade)
  6. Cap­tain Pug (series) by Lau­ra James (inter­est lev­el 1–4 grade)
  7. Mr. Popper’s Pen­guins by Richard Atwa­ter (inter­est lev­el: 3–6 grade)
  8. Stu­art Lit­tle by E.B. White (inter­est lev­el: 3–6 grade)
  9. Dog Man and Cat Kid by Dav Pilkey (inter­est lev­el: 2–5 grade)
  10. Drag­on Mas­ters by Tracey West (inter­est lev­el 2–4 grade)

 

 

 

 

 

Non­fic­tion Book Sug­ges­tions

  1. The King of Sting by Coy­ote Peter­son (inter­est lev­el: 2–6 grade)
  2. Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Read­ers: Woof! 100 Fun Facts About Dogs (inter­est lev­el: 1–4 grade)
  3. I Sur­vived True Sto­ries (series) by Lau­ren Tarshils (inter­est lev­el: 2–5 grade)
  4. Ani­mals that Make Me Say (series) by Dawn Cusick (inter­est lev­el: 2–5 grade)
  5. Dog Days of His­to­ry: The Incred­i­ble True Sto­ry of Our Best Friends by Sarah Albee (inter­est lev­el: 2–4 grade)
  6. The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Sto­ry of Bal­to by Natal­ie Stan­di­ford and Don­ald Cook (inter­est lev­el 2–4 grade)
  7. Oh, the Pets You can Get: All About our Ani­mal Friends by Tish Rabe (inter­est lev­el 2–4 grade)
  8. 50 Wacky Things Pets Do (series) by Hei­di Fiedler and Mar­ta Sorte (inter­est lev­el: 2–5 grade)
  9. Gross Me Out (ani­mal series) by Jody Sul­li­van Rake (inter­est lev­el: 2–5 grade)
  10. Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids 125 True Sto­ries of Amaz­ing Ani­mals by Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids (inter­est lev­el 2–5 grade)

Tam­pa Bay Humane Soci­ety Pet Read­ing Pro­gram

Here’s a video about a suc­cess­ful pet read­ing pro­gram at the Humane Soci­ety of Tam­pa Bay. This video adds that these pro­grams are not only essen­tial to help a child with their read­ing, but they also help chil­dren build their self-esteem in a non-judg­men­tal envi­ron­ment.

Read to a Dog Pro­gram at Pima Coun­ty Pub­lic Library

Enjoy watch­ing this video about a suc­cess­ful dog read­ing pro­gram at Pima Coun­ty Pub­lic Library. This video stress­es the impor­tance that this pro­gram helps to boost a child’s con­fi­dence. 

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Poetry Books That Celebrate
African American History and Culture

Poet­ry and the spo­ken word have promi­nent places in African Amer­i­can cul­ture, due at least in part to a strong oral tra­di­tion that has been passed down through gen­er­a­tions. Con­sid­er includ­ing poems from the books below in your read-alouds this month, and the year ahead, as a way to high­light the con­tri­bu­tions of African Amer­i­cans to our nation’s his­to­ry and cul­ture. These pic­ture books offer options for intro­duc­ing your audi­ences (of any age) to the works of some out­stand­ing African Amer­i­can writ­ers and illus­tra­tors.

Brothers & Sisters Family Poems  

Broth­ers and Sis­ters: Fam­i­ly Poems
Writ­ten by Eloise Green­field
Illus­trat­ed by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
Harper­Collins Children’s Books, 2009

This book cel­e­brates the uni­ver­sal joys and chal­lenges of being a part of a fam­i­ly, includ­ing thoughts on rec­on­cil­ing griev­ances, get­ting along with old­er, younger, or step sib­lings, and being a twin. Just about every­one who has a broth­er or sis­ter can prob­a­bly find some­thing that res­onates with them among the poems in this book.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy  

Thir­teen Ways of Look­ing at a Black Boy
Writ­ten by Tony Med­i­na
Illus­trat­ed by 13 dif­fer­ent artists
Pen­ny Can­dy Books, 2018

Tony Med­i­na wrote the poems in this book in tan­ka form, a kind of Japan­ese poem that starts out like haiku (three lines with five, sev­en, and five syl­la­bles respec­tive­ly) but then adds two more lines with sev­en syl­la­bles each. Kids will find many of the poems relat­able, with top­ics such as miss­ing the bus (“Athlete’s Broke Bus Blues”) and want­i­ng to be a rap star (“Givin’ Back to the Com­mu­ni­ty”).

Pass It On  

Pass It On: African Amer­i­can Poet­ry for Chil­dren
Select­ed by Wade Hud­son
Illus­trat­ed by Floyd Coop­er
Scholas­tic Inc., 1993

This col­lec­tion includes beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed works by pro­lif­ic poets such as Langston Hugh­es, Gwen­dolyn Brooks, Nik­ki Gio­van­ni, Eloise Green­field, and Nik­ki Grimes. A theme of deter­mi­na­tion emerges from a num­ber of the selec­tions includ­ing: “I Can,” “Mid­way,” “The Dream Keep­er,” and “Lis­ten Chil­dren.”

Poems in the Attic

 

Poems in the Attic
Writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
Illus­trat­ed by Eliz­a­beth Zunon

For this book, Grimes drew on her own expe­ri­ence mov­ing fre­quent­ly as a child and rely­ing on writ­ing to help her cope. The book is a fic­tion­al account of a child who grew up with par­ents serv­ing in the U.S. mil­i­tary. Her poems in this pic­ture book remind us that although we can’t often choose our cir­cum­stances we can choose how we respond to them.

Seeing into Tomorrow  

See­ing into Tomor­row: Haiku by Richard Wright
Biog­ra­phy and illus­tra­tions by Nina Crews
Mill­brook Press, 2018

Select­ed from the thou­sands of haiku that Richard Wright wrote in his last years, these poems have uni­ver­sal appeal. Each is paired with a pho­to col­lage that helps read­ers visu­al­ize Wright’s mem­o­ries of grow­ing up in the rur­al South.

Words with Wings  

Words with Wings:
A Trea­sury of African-Amer­i­can Poet­ry and Art
Select­ed by Belin­da Rochelle
Harper­Collins Pub­lish­ers, 2001

This stel­lar col­lec­tion con­tains twen­ty poems by well-known poets, each paired with a bold, endur­ing work by a visu­al artist. The poet­ry and art inspire the imag­i­na­tion as they cap­ture a vari­ety of expe­ri­ences shared by all peo­ple and allow the read­er to look at the world through the eyes of a num­ber of dif­fer­ent artists. Poems by a num­ber of children’s authors are fea­tured in this book as well as ones by authors such as Maya Angelou and Alice Walk­er.

 

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Putting Emotion into Nonfiction Books

Many peo­ple think writ­ing non­fic­tion is just string­ing togeth­er a bunch of ran­dom facts. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. While writ­ing non­fic­tion, I use every sin­gle fic­tion tech­nique a nov­el­ist uses.

I feel strong­ly that I need to write my text in a way that will lead my read­ers to invest emo­tion­al­ly with my non­fic­tion text. Real. Raw. Emo­tion. But I don’t tell read­ers what to feel. I trust they will sup­ply their own emo­tions as they read my book.

Let me give you some exam­ples.

Buried LivesMy newest book Buried Lives: The Enslaved Peo­ple of George Washington’s Mount Ver­non is about six, spe­cif­ic enslaved indi­vid­u­als. This book was chal­leng­ing to write because no writ­ten record exists from these indi­vid­u­als. There­fore as the author I had to be very care­ful not to put words, thoughts or feel­ings into their mouths, so to speak. I had to fig­ure out how to write the text that is full of emo­tion while main­tain­ing his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy.

To begin Buried Lives, I want­ed to pull in my read­ers emo­tion­al­ly from the start. So, the first sen­tence of the first chap­ter is:

William Lee, a six­teen-year-old African Amer­i­can boy, was for sale.”

It is straight­for­ward and his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate. But at the same time, I hope my words car­ry a lot of emo­tion­al weight.

Lat­er in the book, I give read­ers a peek into the dai­ly life of Car­o­line, the house­maid at Mount Ver­non. I wrote a sec­tion about the work she did each day. I explained how she swept, turned the feath­er beds, and dust­ed. While our mod­ern day sen­si­bil­i­ties under­stand basic house clean­ing, I inten­tion­al­ly left one detail of her clean­ing rou­tine to the end of the sen­tence. To mod­ern read­ers, this should pack an emo­tion­al punch:

She emp­tied and cleaned the cham­ber pots that had been used dur­ing the night. Then Car­o­line poured a lit­tle bit of water into the pots to cut down on the smell and mess for the next time she emp­tied them.”

Something Out of NothingIn my book Some­thing Out of Noth­ing: Marie Curie and Radi­um, I wrote about the death of Marie’s hus­band, Pierre, and his funer­al. Then I want­ed to pull the read­ers emo­tion­al­ly into the way Marie han­dled the loss of her beloved hus­band:

 “Marie could not bear to talk about Pierre, not even to men­tion his name. In the years fol­low­ing his death, she would nev­er talk to her daugh­ters about their father.

Around this time, Marie began rub­bing togeth­er her fin­ger­tips and thumbs (which had become hard from work­ing with vials of radi­um) in a ner­vous habit. Uncon­scious­ly, she would rub and rub and rub. The habit stayed with her for the rest of her life.”

In Defiance of HitlerAnoth­er of my books, In Defi­ance of Hitler: The Secret Mis­sion of Var­i­an Fry, relates how an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist saved thou­sands of refugees from falling into the hands of the Nazis by secret­ly help­ing them escape. Fry stayed in Mar­seilles for thir­teen months, and then was forced to leave France. In this pas­sage, I want read­ers to feel the emo­tions of Fry’s sad­ness and uncer­tain­ty on the day he said good­bye to the peo­ple who were part of the team who worked with him to save lives:

Rain poured from the sky on Sep­tem­ber 6, 1941, the day Var­i­an left France. The gray, drea­ry weath­er matched their mood as Var­i­an and his staff ate their last lunch togeth­er. Around the table, long moments of silence took the place of heir usu­al meal­time chat­ter. None of them knew what hard­ships lay ahead. None knew what the out­come of World War 11 would be. Would Hitler ulti­mate­ly be vic­to­ri­ous and take over all of Europe and the rest of the world? Would they ever see each oth­er again? Would the Vichy police or the Gestapo come for them in the mid­dle of the night? Would they have enough food to sur­vive the win­ter?”

In each of these exam­ples, I don’t tell the read­er how they should feel, yet I hope each read­er makes these emo­tion­al jumps with me.

I’ve always said, “I don’t cre­ate the facts, but I use the facts cre­ative­ly.” It is pos­si­ble to fill the pages of a non­fic­tion book with pow­er­ful emo­tions. I believe this is what read­ers will remem­ber long after they close the cov­er.

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Constance Van Hoven and Her Reading Team
February 2019

For this addi­tion to our Rais­ing Star Read­ers fea­ture, we’re delight­ed to be show­cas­ing anoth­er new Star Read­er: Baby Nikhil was just 2 months old when he joined the Read­ing Team that also includes his grand­moth­er Con­stance Van Hov­en (Con­nie) and his big sis­ter Priya (2). The team was cel­e­brat­ing Connie’s first oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet her new grand­son, who lives with his fam­i­ly in Col­orado.

Constance Van Hoven and her grandchildren

Priya, “Gigi,” and baby Nikhil share their first read-aloud togeth­er.

Con­nie (or Gigi, as she is known to her grand­chil­dren) chose Owl Babies, writ­ten by Mar­tin Wad­dell and illus­trat­ed by Patrick Ben­son, as the team’s first read-togeth­er title. Con­nie notes that the book is gen­tle and reas­sur­ing and adds “who doesn’t love owls?” She also says that new big sis­ter, Priya, enjoyed point­ing out each owl sib­ling on every page and that she cheered when their Owl Moth­er returned to the nest. Nikhil clear­ly sensed some­thing good was hap­pen­ing, because he stayed awake for two read­ings! Of course, Con­nie admits that their spon­ta­neous “whooo-whooo-whooo’s” also helped keep his atten­tion. Con­nie comes from a fam­i­ly of bird­ers, so she is espe­cial­ly hap­py to share that love and antic­i­pates read­ing this book with them many times in the future.

Con­nie is a for­mer buy­er for Cre­ative Kid­stuff stores in Min­neapo­lis. She cur­rent­ly lives in Boze­man, Mon­tana, where she enjoys the great out­doors with her fam­i­ly and one extra-ener­getic dog. She is the author of sev­er­al pic­ture books, includ­ing Rare and Blue: Find­ing Nature’s Trea­sures, forth­com­ing from Charles­bridge in 2020. You can find her online at www.constancevanhoven.com.

_______________________

We here at Bookol­o­gy wish Con­nie, Priya, and Nikhil many won­der­ful hours of read­ing and owl-hoot­ing togeth­er! We espe­cial­ly look for­ward to a pho­to of the three of them enjoy­ing Connie’s newest pic­ture book when it is pub­lished next year. If you would like us to fea­ture your Read­ing Team, con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion about how to par­tic­i­pate.

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Book Memories

Maurna Rome Halloween costume The Four PuppiesMy first mem­o­ry of falling in love with books takes me way back to the ten­der age of five. The lit­tle “Gold­en Book Gold­en Hours Library Clock House” that I received for Christ­mas that year helped me become the pas­sion­ate read­er I am today. I cher­ished the col­lec­tion of twelve lit­tle books and one in par­tic­u­lar was extra spe­cial; The Four Pup­pies. It’s a sweet sto­ry of grow­ing, learn­ing, chang­ing sea­sons and find­ing some­thing to cel­e­brate along the way. It’s filled with opti­mism, wis­dom, and the love­li­ness of shar­ing life’s ups and downs with oth­ers who care about you. A few years ago I replaced my orig­i­nal Gold­en Book clock house (which was lost long ago) with what is now con­sid­ered a “vin­tage” collector’s item. I even fash­ioned a Hal­loween cos­tume to hon­or the book that first filled my heart with book love.

Gold­en Books Clock House

My first mem­o­ry of dis­cov­er­ing a read­ing com­mu­ni­ty takes me way back to the sum­mer just after my sixth birth­day. I eager­ly wait­ed for the Carnegie Stout Pubic Library book­mo­bile to roll into our mobile home park each week.  For me, it was a mag­i­cal ves­sel on wheels. The library ladies (as I used to call them) who rode along with all those fine books always wait­ed patient­ly for lit­tle girls like me who took longer than most to make their selec­tions from the rows and rows of options. My fond­ness for book­mo­biles will stay with me for­ev­er.

My first mem­o­ry of long­ing for a book takes me way back to sixth grade when the wait­ing list at my school library for Are You There, God? It’s Me, Mar­garet stretched for weeks and weeks. I still remem­ber the thrill of final­ly get­ting my hands on that book. I felt like I had found a friend who strug­gled with the same ques­tions and inse­cu­ri­ties that I was expe­ri­enc­ing, which many 12-year-old girls were expe­ri­enc­ing. Mar­garet would join my list of oth­er “book friends,” Ramona, Pip­pi, and Ency­clo­pe­dia Brown, to name just a few.

As a teacher and a grand­ma, I am intent on try­ing to pro­vide these mem­o­rable expe­ri­ences: falling in love with books at an ear­ly age, dis­cov­er­ing a nur­tur­ing read­ing com­mu­ni­ty, and long­ing for a cer­tain book that brings a new friend into your life. These three sig­nif­i­cant book mem­o­ries help define me as a read­er. They form the foun­da­tion for my life-long love of read­ing and they are three of the rea­sons why I am so pas­sion­ate about lit­er­a­cy. If only all chil­dren could make mem­o­ries of this kind, I am cer­tain the world would be a bet­ter place.

If I win the lot­tery one of these days, you might just see me pulling into your neigh­bor­hood in my very own book­mo­bile. Now that would be the tick­et for cre­at­ing book mem­o­ries far and wide!

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Skinny Dip with Carla McClafferty

Carla Killough McClafferty

Car­la Kil­lough McClaf­fer­ty [pho­to: Kelsey Bond]

We’re pleased to wel­come author Car­la Kil­lough McClaf­fer­ty to our Skin­ny Dip col­umn. She is known for her fine and care­ful­ly researched non­fic­tion books, such as The Many Faces of George Wash­ing­ton: Remak­ing a Pres­i­den­tial Icon; Some­thing Out of Noth­ing: Marie Curie and Radi­um; Fourth Down and Inch­es: Con­cus­sions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment and her most recent Buried Lives: The Enslaved Peo­ple of George Washington’s Mount Ver­non. If you’re near Mount Ver­non, Car­la will be pre­sent­ing on April 11, 2019, at 7:00 pm, as part of the Ford Book Talk Series. You can reg­is­ter for free tick­ets begin­ning Feb­ru­ary 22, 2019.

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

I sup­pose in the bath­tub … but that’s not weird.

Do you keep your book­shelves in a par­tic­u­lar order?

Nope, it is all crammed in togeth­er.

How many book­cas­es do you have in your house?

Five, if you count clos­ets with shelves that are full of books.

What’s the pre­dom­i­nant col­or in your wardrobe?

I favor blues and greens, espe­cial­ly roy­al blue.

Harvard College Library cardWhich library springs to your mind when some­one says that word? What do you remem­ber most about it?

We didn’t have a library in the small town where I grew up. My ele­men­tary school did not have a library either. So I didn’t have a lot of access to books grow­ing up even though I loved to read. Since I was an adult before I had access to nice libraries, I con­sid­er any library to be a won­der­ful place. As a non­fic­tion author, I’ve had the priv­i­lege to do research in some of the finest libraries in Amer­i­ca. I’ll nev­er for­get the days I’ve spent doing research in the libraries at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, and the Boston Athenaeum. For a girl who grew up wish­ing for a library, it doesn’t get much bet­ter than that.

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

Since I didn’t have access to a lot of books as I grew up, I didn’t read the usu­al books. I bor­rowed nov­els from neigh­bors, so I grew up read­ing Vic­to­ria Holt and Phyl­lis A. Whit­ney.

What’s your food weak­ness?

I love Mex­i­can food. Espe­cial­ly cheese dip.

What’s your favorite form of exer­cise?

A tread­mill.

What do you con­sid­er to be your best accom­plish­ment?

In my per­son­al life-rais­ing self-sup­port­ing kids. In my pro­fes­sion­al life-research­ing and writ­ing books I’m proud to have writ­ten.

stargazer lilyWhat’s your favorite flower?

Stargaz­er lilies.

Have you trav­eled out­side of your state? Which state draws you back?

Yes, I’ve trav­eled a lot. I’ve vis­it­ed 25 states out­side of my home state. I nev­er get tired of Vir­ginia because it is full of his­to­ry. And I nev­er get tired of the beach­es in the Flori­da pan­han­dle.

Which coun­try is your favorite to vis­it? Why?

Yes, I’ve trav­eled in Cana­da, Mex­i­co, Eng­land, Scot­land, Ire­land, Wales, France, Spain, Italy, Aus­tria, Switzer­land, Liecht­en­stein, Greece, Israel, Turkey and Jor­dan. I’d say my favorite to vis­it is France because small towns are pic­turesque and Paris is beau­ti­ful.

Who’s your favorite artist?

I have two favorites: Van Gogh and Mon­et.

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

Find­ing Nev­er­land.

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

A choco­late croissant—definitely. 

What are your favorite piz­za top­pings?

Pep­per­oni and pineap­ple.

Do you remem­ber your dreams?

Bits and pieces.

If you could have din­ner with any­one from his­to­ry, who would you choose (don’t wor­ry about lan­guage dif­fer­ences.)

George Wash­ing­ton. I’ve writ­ten about him a lot.

What for­eign lan­guage would you like to learn?

French.

Do you read the end of a book first?

Absolute­ly not!

Buried Lives, Fourth Down and Inches, The Many Faces of George Washington

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When a Map Is a Journey

The first map I remem­ber was flashed briefly on TV, part of a com­mer­cial for Sto­ry Book Land. It aired on “Cap­tain Tugg,” a local kid­die pro­gram. I adored Cap­tain Tugg, so any­thing he endorsed must be gold. Like the home-movie type kid shows of the 50s and 60s, Sto­ry Book Land was a fam­i­ly-owned amuse­ment park. And for my ninth birth­day, I was going to Sto­ry Book Land!

The day of my trip brought a fam­i­ly cri­sis. After things had set­tled down, we went to Sto­ry Book Land. My moth­er sat on a bench while I fol­lowed the col­ored map giv­en at the tick­et booth to Robin Hood’s Tree House and Ali Baba’s Cave. The map promised adven­ture, but the park itself, with its fiber­glass hous­es and nurs­ery rhyme fig­ures, fell short. This may have been my ear­li­est expe­ri­ence with antic­i­pa­tion exceed­ing the actu­al event, yet my love for maps grew out of that dis­ap­point­ment.

Maps Finding Your Place in the WorldThe fan­ta­sy books I read abound­ed with maps. The Hob­bit, Water­ship Down, The Phan­tom Toll­booth, The Wiz­ard of Oz, the Nar­nia books, all pro­vid­ed maps to help read­ers pic­ture imag­i­nary worlds. As Richard Padron says in Maps: Find­ing Our Place in the World, “[ver­bal map­ping does] not have the same impact, [or] pro­vides quite the same expe­ri­ence. That impact has every­thing to do with the seduc­tions of see­ing a world that is not our own.”

I was enchant­ed with the map in Car­ol Kendall’s The Gam­mage Cup. Erik Blegvad’s draw­ing of The Land Between the Moun­tains gave me a sense of the topog­ra­phy, essen­tial to under­stand­ing the sto­ry. My fin­ger traced the riv­er tum­bling from Snow­drift Moun­tain to the for­bid­ding Frost­bite Moun­tains. The riv­er was the source of life for the tiny Min­nip­ins. If I ever found myself in the Land Between the Moun­tains, some­thing I wished for might­i­ly, I’d eas­i­ly make my way to Slip­per-on-the-Water, the best of the twelve vil­lages. The map added to my read­ing expe­ri­ence, kept me anchored in that world longer, which was fine by me. My own world was a grease spot in the road in rur­al Fair­fax Coun­ty, sad­ly lack­ing rivers and moun­tains, giants and tiny peo­ple.

Land Between the Mountains map from The Gammage Cup

Map of the Land Between the Moun­tains from The Gam­mage Cup

The Long SecretMaps in con­tem­po­rary fic­tion serve the same pur­pose. When I read The Long Secret, the sequel to Har­ri­et the Spy, I entered a place as for­eign as any fan­ta­sy: the ham­let of Water­mill, Long Island. It was a stretch to nav­i­gate the ref­er­ences of well-heeled peo­ple, such as the fact Beth Ellen’s moth­er was in Biar­ritz. Was that a men­tal insti­tu­tion, I won­dered? The map showed me that rich peo­ple lived in the coun­try, too, if only “sum­mer­ing.” Metic­u­lous­ly ren­dered roads, hous­es, shops gave me con­fi­dence I could walk down Mon­tauk High­way to Harriet’s or Beth Ellen’s house.

In a blog post on maps in lit­er­a­ture, Nicholas Tam says, “Fic­tion­al maps intro­duce the com­pli­ca­tion of hav­ing, at min­i­mum, two lay­ers of author­ship: the lay­er out­side the text that has the pow­er to dic­tate and reshape the world, and the lay­er that belongs to the real­i­ty of the world. The author is in the first and the char­ac­ters are in the sec­ond.”

The map by Christo­pher Robin in Win­nie-the-Pooh, with its child­like lan­guage (“100 Aker Wood,” “Floody Place”) lets read­ers believe the place is real because it was drawn by a peer. Christo­pher Robin may be a char­ac­ter in the sto­ry, but he is also a kid that read­ers can trust. I came to Win­nie-the-Pooh as an adult, yet Hun­dred Acre Wood seemed real (it is!). It’s safe to assume that Tam’s sec­ond lay­er dom­i­nates the author­ship of that map.

Yet author­ship of a novel’s map isn’t always reli­able. Look at Robert Lawson’s gor­geous end­pa­pers for Rab­bit Hill. Ani­mals are depict­ed big­ger than the land­scape and build­ings, cer­tain­ly not to scale, though their larg­er-than-life size sug­gests their impor­tance against the human back­drop. To the right, “Our Bur­row” indi­cates the rab­bit nar­ra­tor drew the map. But would a child­like rab­bit be able to cre­ate such a love­ly piece of art? It’s clear to me that the first layer—the lay­er out­side the text dic­tat­ing and reshap­ing the world—is the author. This doesn’t both­er me one whit. If Rab­bit Hill is this daz­zling, I’m ready to move there.

Rabbit Hill

Robert Lawson’s map of The Hill from Rab­bit Hill.

The Writer's MapMaps in children’s books made me notice my own sur­round­ings. Sud­den­ly the grease spot in the mid­dle of Lee High­way wasn’t that bor­ing. Hous­es, barns, the auto garage, the motel, all were mag­ic land­marks that I knew by their secrets. When I began writ­ing for pub­li­ca­tion, I set most of my sto­ries where I grew up, car­ry­ing in my head those hous­es and barns, long after I left, long after the place changed dras­ti­cal­ly. Their secrets stayed with me.

In Abi Elphinstone’s essay in The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imag­i­nary Lands (brand-new and won­der­ful), she too uses the map of her child­hood in her books. But she goes one step fur­ther, she draws her own maps, espe­cial­ly on “those days when the words sit stub­born­ly out of reach.” “I have nev­er found myself at a loss when doo­dling an imag­ined world,” she says.

For my new work in progress, I’ve brought out col­ored pen­cils and Micron pens. I don’t draw that well, but I know my cre­at­ed world won’t be made of fiber­glass.

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Making Something Out of Nothing

Jack­ie: We are in cold, cold win­ter. Too cold to read seed catalogs–spring just seems too far away to imag­ine frag­ile green. We are con­fined to cab­in. What to do but think of repur­pos­ing, mak­ing some­thing out of noth­ing, or next to noth­ing?

Stone Soup by Marcia BrownStone Soup by Mar­cia Brown has always been one of my favorite some­thing-out-of-noth­ing (or at least some­thing out of stones) sto­ries. The three hun­gry sol­diers promise to teach the towns­folk, who claim to have no food to share, how to make soup from stones. The towns­folk quick­ly find a pot, wood for a fire, and three good stones. “’Any soup needs salt and pep­per,’ said the sol­diers, as they began to stir.” No prob­lem. And then it begins, “Stones like these gen­er­al­ly make good soup. But oh, if there were car­rots, it would be much bet­ter.” Françoise brings car­rots. Soon oth­ers bring cab­bage, beef and pota­toes, bar­ley and milk. Tables are set. And the peas­ants decide this won­der­ful soup requires “bread—and a roast—and cider.” They feast and dance into the night and offer the sol­diers warm beds in their homes. I love the idea of mak­ing soup from stones, the notion that the vil­lagers are will­ing to share to make a bet­ter stone soup, per­haps because it’s coöper­a­tive. They are mak­ing soup togeth­er.

In recent days, I have want­ed to see the vil­lagers become aware of the stone soup trick, but that is not part of this French folk tale. And I can still imag­ine to myself a vil­lage child wak­ing up with a smile on her face as she under­stands the real charm of stone soup.

Once Upon a Mouse by Marcia BrownPhyl­lis: I can under­stand the vil­lagers’ hes­i­tan­cy to share—they’ve been in the midst of war, feed­ing many sol­diers whether they chose to or not, and now that the war has end­ed, shouldn’t they be left in peace? But peace means more than just the ces­sa­tion of fight­ing. It means, too, learn­ing how to open hearts as well as cup­boards, a les­son the vil­lagers don’t even real­ize they have been sly­ly giv­en and have tak­en to heart.

I have been mak­ing lots of soup as the tem­per­a­ture dips to minus 28 with a wind chill of minus 47 or there­abouts. Like the say­ing about wood warm­ing a per­son twice, (once when you split it, once when you burn it) soup warms us in many ways. The cook­ing warms our kitchens, the eat­ing warms our bod­ies, and the shar­ing warms our hearts. When the ground thaws, I’m going to hunt for a smooth, round stone and try adding it to my soup pot. Who knows? It might be as secret ingre­di­ent, as it was for the vil­lagers in Stone Soup. And I love the flow­ing line of Brown’s art—I knew I want­ed to be a part of pic­ture books when, in col­lege, I dis­cov­ered a tucked-away shelf of children’s books that includ­ed her won­der­ful wood­cuts for Once A Mouse.

Thank You, Omu!Jack­ie: An inside-out- ver­sion of this soup sto­ry is Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora, recent­ly named a Calde­cott Hon­or Win­ner by the ALA. Omu lives on the top floor of an apart­ment build­ing. One day she makes her­self a large pot of thick red stew. Its “scrump­tious scent waft­ed out the win­dow and out the door, down the hall towards the street and around the block” until Knock, Knock, Knock. A lit­tle boy stops in to ask for a bowl of the thick red stew. “It would not hurt to share,” decides Omu. After all she has a very large pot of stew. Then stops a police offi­cer, a hot dog ven­dor, the may­or, and others—all look­ing for stew. When it comes time for her deli­cious din­ner of stew, Omu’s pot is emp­ty. She hears Knock, Knock, Knock. But she has no more stew. “’We are not here to ask,” says the boy. ‘We are here to give.’” And all the neigh­bors who ate Omu’s stew have returned with meat and sweets, and plates of food. Omu’s small apart­ment is filled with peo­ple who “ate, danced, and cel­e­brat­ed.” Omu’s stew makes a com­mu­ni­ty cel­e­bra­tion out of an emp­ty pot. And who can resist sto­ries that end with eat­ing and danc­ing? (Here’s a link to an inter­view with Oge Mora.)

Phyl­lis: I love this book! Oge Mora also just won the 2019 Coret­ta Scott King Book Awards John Step­toe Award for New Tal­ent Illus­tra­tor for Thank You, Omu!, and it’s easy to see why—the col­or­ful col­lage art, her col­or palette, the way words and images leap off the page, the irre­sistible knocks on the door that pro­pel page turns, and, of course, the sto­ry of freely giv­ing and receiv­ing in return.

 In an inter­view Oge Mora talks about how the heart of the book cen­ters on giv­ing and grat­i­tude. She didn’t include a recipe for Omu’s scrump­tious stew in part, she says, because she wants read­ers to think about food that they have their own rela­tion­ships with—food that com­forts, food that calls up mem­o­ries of cooks who came before us. In an author’s note Mora tells how her grand­moth­er danced and swayed as she stirred a pot of soup, and her table was open to any­one who stopped by. “Every­one in the com­mu­ni­ty had a seat at my grandmother’s table,” she writes. And we are lucky enough to have a seat at Omu’s table as we share this book.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms TabackJack­ie: No soup involved in Simms Tabak’s Joseph Had a Lit­tle Over­coat, but there is much mak­ing some­thing out of some­thing less. We can enjoy time and again Joseph’s inge­nu­ity in mak­ing from his worn coat a jack­et, then a vest. When the vest is “old and worn,” he makes a scarf and “sang in a men’s cho­rus.” Then a neck­tie, a hand­ker­chief, and a but­ton. When the but­ton is lost, he makes a book about it. “Which shows you can always make some­thing out of noth­ing.”

Phyl­lis: Vivid art and clever cutouts show the overcoat/jacket/vest/scarf/necktie/handkerchief/button get­ting small­er and small­er. Joseph, who makes a sto­ry out of “noth­ing,” cheer­i­ly doesn’t seem to care at all that one sus­pender is miss­ing now a but­ton, and we have no doubt that he’ll find some oth­er noth­ing to make a new but­ton out of.

The Patchwork BikeThe Patch­work Bike by Max­ine Bene­ba Clarke, illus­trat­ed by Van Thanh Rudd, begins, “This is the vil­lage where we live inside our mud-for-wall home. These are my crazy broth­ers, and this is our fed-up mum.” The nar­ra­tor and her broth­ers build a sand hill to slide down, jump and climb in the big Fiori tree “out in the no-go desert, under the stretch­ing-out sky.” But the best thing in the vil­lage, she tells us, is the bike she and her broth­ers make out of scraps, with a “bent buck­et seat and han­dle­bar branch­es that shick­et­ty shake when we ride over sand hills.” Tin cans become han­dles, wheels cut from wood go win­ket­ty wonk, a flour sack becomes a flag, Mum’s milk pot becomes a bell (and is she fed-up about that, we won­der), lights are paint­ed on, and the license plate, made of bark, keeps falling off. “The best thing of all to play with under the stretch­ing-out sky at the edge of the no-go desert,” she tells us, “is me and my broth­ers’ bike.” As some­one who’s mend­ed cars with twisty ties and tem­porar­i­ly patched leaky gas tank leaks with bars of soap, I admire their inge­nu­ity. The art races across the page as a few exact­ly right words cre­ate set­ting and fam­i­ly and take us along with the nar­ra­tor and her broth­ers on their best-thing-of-all patch­work bike.

The Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock and Claire A. NivolaJack­ie: And final­ly, back to stones. In The Secret King­dom by Barb Rosen­stock and illus­trat­ed by Claire A. Nivola, we learn of Nek Chand, forced out of his home vil­lage with the par­ti­tion­ing of India to a new­ly-con­struct­ed city. He longed for the sights and sounds of his home, now part of Pak­istan. He could not go back nor could he find the old sights and sounds in the gray city. He found a place on the edge of town, an unin­hab­it­ed jun­gle. He made him­self a home and over the next fif­teen years he scav­enged “bro­ken pieces of vil­lage life under the mod­ern city…chipped sinks, cracked water pots, and bro­ken glass ban­gles in red, blue, and green.” For sev­en years he “car­ried these trea­sures into the wilder­ness. He made cement and pressed porce­lain shards into it.” He “saved half-dead plants from the city dump,” watered them, and filled his king­dom with bougainvil­lea, ole­an­der, man­go and pipal trees. He con­struct­ed god­dess­es and queens, singing men, women, and laugh­ing chil­dren. “Nek built his king­dom over twelve acres and kept it secret for fif­teen years.” When gov­ern­ment offi­cers found his king­dom, they planned to destroy it.

Until the peo­ple of Chandi­garh came.” They loved this place! “By the hun­dreds, city peo­ple roamed sculp­tured walk­ways, ducked through arch­es, laughed and told vil­lage sto­ries, begin­ning to end and back again.” The peo­ple con­vinced the gov­ern­ment offi­cials to pre­serve the vil­lage.

With his col­lec­tion of scraps and shards, with his yearn­ing and his art, Nek Chand made a place that called forth sto­ries, laugh­ter, mem­o­ry.

Nek Chand's Outsider ArtPhyl­lis: This book is breath­tak­ing, both in the sto­ry it tells and also in the world of remem­bered home that Nek Chand cre­at­ed. The author came across this sto­ry by acci­dent while research­ing anoth­er book and was so gripped by Chand’s art and sto­ry that she put aside that project while she wrote The Secret King­dom. A short video offers a glimpse of Chand’s king­dom, and a book for grown-ups, Nek Chand’s Out­sider Art: the Rock Gar­den of Chandi­garh, is filled with pho­tos of his cre­ations made from the cast-off trash of the city. In the end, Chand’s art, built in secret soli­tude, cre­at­ed com­mu­ni­ty as peo­ple fought to save his king­dom.

Jack­ie: When we make some­thing out of noth­ing, we end up with more than the thing we have made, we end up with com­mu­ni­ty, love, healed hearts, home.

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Brenda Sederberg and Her Reading Team
February 2019

Sylvie and Gram

Sylvie and Gram begin a read-aloud tra­di­tion togeth­er.

For this addi­tion to our new Rais­ing Star Read­ers fea­ture, we’re hon­ored to be show­cas­ing a brand-new Star Read­er: Baby Sylvie was only two days old when this pho­to was tak­en! She’s pic­tured with Gram (Bren­da Seder­berg), as the two of them share Debra Frasier’s clas­sic pic­ture book On the Day You Were Born at Sylvie’s home in Duluth, Min­neso­ta. The mile­stone they were cel­e­brat­ing was, of course, Sylvie’s safe entry into the world.

Bren­da is a retired ele­men­tary teacher with a pas­sion for children’s lit­er­a­ture. When she retired, she didn’t take much else from her class­room, but she did bring home 24 box­es of books! They are now on shelves in her home, and she takes cer­tain ones out to read to vis­it­ing chil­dren and now her new grand­daugh­ter as well. Bren­da also reads in a 4th grade class each week and belongs to the Duluth branch of Bookol­o­gy’s Chap­ter & Verse Book Clubs, which meets at the Book­store at Fitger’s. 

Sylvie is now five months old and Bren­da cares for her two days a week. They read togeth­er each time. This is impor­tant to Bren­da, being a teacher, and know­ing the impor­tance of books. Her wish for her grand­daugh­ter is to grow up with a love of read­ing, and Bren­da is delight­ed to report that Sylvie is already lis­ten­ing and focused.

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We here at Bookol­o­gy wish Bren­da and Sylvie many, many hap­py hours of read­ing togeth­er, and we look for­ward to shar­ing oth­er mile­stones with their Read­ing Team in the future. If you would like us to fea­ture your Read­ing Team, con­tact Lisa Bullard. She can answer ques­tions and pro­vide fur­ther infor­ma­tion about how to par­tic­i­pate.

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Bim, Bam, Bop … and Oona, an Interview

Bim, Bamp, Bop ... and OonaPoor Oona—she’s always the last duck to the pond…. But then her frog friend Roy reminds her: you’re good with giz­mos… And so Oona the duck goes to work in the barn on her giz­mos, pour­ing her cre­ative and deter­mined self into get­ting to the pond before the faster ducks. Along the way, she learns there is more to life than just being fast and get­ting some­where first.

Bim, Bam, Bop … and Oona by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Lar­ry Day (illus­tra­tor) will be on a book­shelf near you soon. Until then, Bookol­o­gy brings you a look behind the scenes of this pic­ture book col­lab­o­ra­tion….

Bookol­o­gy: How did Bim, Bam, Bop … and Oona come to be?

Jack­ie: I wrote this book a few years ago, sent it out, revised, sent it out again, revised again, etc. And no pub­lish­er quite want­ed it. So I put it in a draw­er. Then two to three years ago, in Decem­ber, I got it out of the draw­er and read it. Sur­prise: I liked it and made it a goal of the next year to find a pub­lish­er. I decid­ed to read it at Ham­line [MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren and Young Adults] in the upcom­ing Jan­u­ary [res­i­den­cy]. My read­ing night was dur­ing Alum­ni week­end. Lar­ry hap­pened to be at the res­i­den­cy with Miri­am Busch, his wife [and an alum­nus], and he heard it. He came up to me after the read­ing and said he’d love to illus­trate it. I said if I found a pub­lish­er, I would remem­ber that. When Erik Ander­son at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press offered a con­tract, he asked if I had illus­tra­tors in mind. I told him Lar­ry Day would be inter­est­ed. He asked for a sam­ple. When Lar­ry sent his sam­ple, we all knew he was the one. And we were right!

Larry Day

Lar­ry Day

Lar­ry: Jack­ie is spot on. Sit­ting in the audi­ence as an observ­er lis­ten­ing to the fac­ul­ty read­ing their man­u­scripts is always a unique event. When it got to Jackie’s turn I was hooked. I felt a real con­nec­tion with her script. I loved the inge­nu­ity and deter­mi­na­tion of this duck named Oona. While Jack­ie was read­ing, she had a series of slides of run­ner ducks pro­ject­ed on the screen behind her. I was sketch­ing from the slides. After her read­ing, Miri­am nudged me to approach Jack­ie.

I’m a huge advo­cate of col­lab­o­ra­tion and choos­ing who to work with. (I wouldn’t col­lab­o­rate with my Aunt Mary. May she rest in peace.) I real­ly appre­ci­ate work­ing with pros like Jack­ie, Erik, and Miri­am. Jack­ie nev­er flinched at revis­ing her own copy. In one of my spreads I changed Oona col­lid­ing with the clothes­line and falling into the bas­ket of clothes. After see­ing the art, Jack­ie revised her copy to read,”…and Oona, who moped toward the barn, tripped into a tum­ble, and conked her­self with an idea…”  Erik, who put up with my own con­stant and numer­ous revi­sions, offered the kind of enthu­si­as­tic sup­port illus­tra­tors dream of. And Miri­am, who sees when the visu­als fill in the sto­ry, offered many sug­ges­tions through­out the book, help­ing with crit­i­cal pac­ing and page turns.

Bookol­o­gy: This book is pub­lished by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press. You are an Iowa writer and Illi­nois artist. Talk to us about the sense of “place” in this book…and how the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press came to be inter­est­ed in it.

Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin

Jack­ie: The Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta is inter­est­ed in pub­lish­ing books with a Mid­west­ern angle, I think, and the books should have appeal for those out­side the Mid­west. Lar­ry has made the land­scape a Mid­west­ern land­scape, but the issues are uni­ver­sal. Where does a duck fit? How does a duck fit? How do we find our true tal­ents?

Lar­ry: I was told that the UMP had a some­what loose guide­line to keep their books to an upper Mid­west sto­ry theme. I guess I had that con­nec­tion, since I was born and raised in a small farm­ing com­mu­ni­ty in cen­tral Illi­nois. Even though cen­tral Illi­nois is flat as flat can be, I would accom­pa­ny my father who hunt­ed turkeys in the rolling hills of north­ern Mis­souri. He hunt­ed while I sketched the land­scape. It was more like I was sketch­ing while he was fast asleep in a blind as groups of turkeys casu­al­ly strolled in front of him. I was also influ­enced by the poet­ic land­scapes of the region­al­ist artist, Grant Wood.

Bookol­o­gy: Jackie—there’s some very fun lan­guage here! The names of the ducks, “giz­mos,” rhyming lines, ooo-hoolie-hoo! etc.

Jack­ie: I love words! When I can’t sleep at night, I go through the alpha­bet with asso­nant words. It doesn’t always help me to sleep but gives me plea­sure. I do play with sounds, even when I am not writ­ing. So I am often sur­prised by the words that get onto the page. Ooo-hoolie-hoo just sounds good to me. I do not know where it came from. Giz­mo is also a favorite. I like the sound of z. We gave our son the nick­name of Bizzy Bones. He was an active kid, but I real­ly think it was the z sound that deter­mined that nick­name.

Bookol­o­gy: Larry—there are two kinds of ducks in this sto­ry. Bim, Bam and Bop are run­ner ducks. Oona is not. A pho­to­graph of the two kinds of ducks would show their dif­fer­ences, cer­tain­ly, but what went into your artis­tic ren­der­ing so that a child would under­stand the dif­fer­ences? Because this is a theme in the story—Bim, Bam, and Bop run. Oona wad­dles. How did that play out for you as an artist? What was your process in mak­ing them come alive on the page?

Lar­ry: Oona is a rouen clair. I start­ed out draw­ing her as a domes­tic duck: flat yel­low beak, white body, wide yel­low feet. I also tried draw­ing her as a mal­lard and as a com­bi­na­tion of assort­ed ducks. Jack­ie sug­gest­ed Oona need­ed to be more of a brown­ish farm duck, one that would con­trast with the long-legged lean­er ath­let­ic shape of the run­ner ducks. After many attempts at a vari­ety of ducks, we picked a rouen clair. It was per­fect! Oona would be a rouen clair! A rouen clair is a short, stocky, low-to-the-ground brown­ish duck with spots on her feath­ers that resem­ble freck­les. The con­trast of the shape of Bim, Bam, and Bop to Oona would add to the visu­al humor. Oona would have less of a stride and more of a wad­dle. A wad­dle is chal­leng­ing to illus­trate, but I delight­ed in this. I imag­ined the body lan­guage action of the wad­dling side-to-side motion as I drew.

Bookol­o­gy: Tell us about Oona’s frog-friend Roy…. Was he always in the sto­ry? 

Jack­ie: Roy was not always in the sto­ry. In some of the ear­ly, ear­ly drafts Oona did not have a friend. And she seemed lone­ly to me and a lit­tle bit sad­der than I want­ed her to be.

Lar­ry: I love to illus­trate the green blob­by large-eyed shape of frogs. I love that Jack­ie added Roy. The sto­ry just wouldn’t be the same with­out him. The read­er needs to see Roy offer­ing encour­age­ment to Oona when she needs it the most—a true friend. Every­one needs a lit­tle Roy in their lives.

Bookol­o­gy:: What was the writer-artist process of cre­at­ing Oona’s giz­mos on the page? Some are briefly described in words, but all cer­tain­ly have room for “artis­tic license.” How did the two of you work togeth­er (or not) on these cre­ative giz­mos for Oona?

Jack­ie: Lar­ry gets total cred­it for the won­der­ful giz­mos. Writ­ers just say Ooo-hoolie-hoo, and illus­tra­tors like Lar­ry have to do the work.

Lar­ry: The very first pen­cil sketch I made of Oona was her fly­ing in her bas­ket. The prob­lem with that sketch was that the giz­mos attached to the bas­ket were too sim­ple and basic. Jack­ie sug­gest­ed that we up the wack­i­ness lev­el of the giz­mos. So, I need­ed to “think out­side the bas­ket,” so to speak.

I remem­bered spend­ing the day at the Muse­um of Sci­ence and Indus­try in Chica­go. There was a rather large, elab­o­rate, bicy­cle-like con­trap­tion on dis­play. It was cre­at­ed by the British car­toon­ist Row­land Emett. His work played a big part influ­enc­ing the art for Oona’s work­shop and her fly­ing con­trap­tion. Emett’s work gave me the con­fi­dence I need­ed to up the giz­mo lev­el. Some­times, no mat­ter what lev­el you are at, you need that extra push.

Bookol­o­gy: Oona doesn’t feel “as big as a duck should.”  She doesn’t feel “as boun­cy as a duck should.” But she’s very cre­ative….  Deter­mined and clever, as well. Where did this char­ac­ter come from? Why these traits mixed with her self-doubt? What do you hope kids take away from this sto­ry?

Jack­ie: I real­ly just want them to enjoy the sto­ry, love Oona enough that they think about her, take her with them. My biggest want is that she becomes part of the fur­ni­ture of their minds. And then they may have var­i­ous take­aways. She’ll just be there as one more char­ac­ter that they know. I’d love for kids to exper­i­ment with giz­mos, for them to be so joy­ous they can’t resist say­ing Ooo-hoolie-hoo, for them to become more inter­est­ed in ducks, and for them to remem­ber Oona and try one more time.

Lar­ry: I love every­thing Jack­ie says. I too, hope this book sparks read­ers to con­nect with their own sense of deter­mi­na­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty. I give cred­it to our edi­tor, Erik Ander­son, for his insight and enthu­si­as­tic appre­ci­a­tion of Oona. Both Erik and I were Oonas as young kids. Short and slow. Always picked last on school sports teams. Every­one else whizzing past us on the school ground. Always the under­duck. But when it came to cre­ativ­i­ty, we excelled. I can’t pre­dict what read­ers will take away from Oona, but maybe if even a short stocky brown­ish farm duck can man­age some­thing extra­or­di­nary, so can they.

Bookol­o­gy: Thanks to you both for tak­ing us behind the scenes of Bim, Bam, Bop…and Oona. Thank you for bring­ing this book to the world!

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Bridging the Gap Between My Writing and Reading Selves:
an Author’s Experience of Recording an Audiobook

Padma Venkatraman

Pad­ma Venka­tra­man

The woman who read Climb­ing the Stairs aloud did a great job,” my friend said. She was telling me, with delight, how her chil­dren and their friends—two girls and two boys—listened with rapt atten­tion to the audio book ver­sion of my debut nov­el, refus­ing to get out of the car when the trip end­ed but the sto­ry hadn’t yet.

Delight­ed though I was to hear both how much the young peo­ple enjoyed the audio­book, I feel a twinge of dis­ap­point­ment. After all, I love read­ing books aloud—and I tend to think I do a pret­ty good job of it—and I was nev­er offered the chance to read my own nov­el for the audio­book ver­sion. 

An entire decade’s flown by since Climb­ing the Stairs was released. It’s still in print, which is a won­der­ful achieve­ment. It’s also no longer my only nov­el. Dur­ing this decade, Island’s End and A Time to Dance were also pub­lished. And, as I had a baby and spent vast and won­der­ful amounts of time read­ing to her and watch­ing her read, I didn’t have a spare moment to con­sid­er doing the audio for either of those nov­els. 

Then, just a few months ago, Pen­guin con­tact­ed me to say the audio book ver­sion of The Bridge Home would be released simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with the print ver­sion, in Feb­ru­ary 2019. I was thrilled to hear this—and when I men­tioned this to my fam­i­ly at the din­ner table, my daugh­ter prompt­ly asked if I would be read­ing it aloud.

Padma Venkatraman's four novels

No,” I said. “They’ll get a pro­fes­sion­al actress to read it aloud.”

But you read so well!” Hear­ing the dis­ap­point­ment in her tone revived that sense of dis­ap­point­ment I’d felt all those years ago.

And, I want­ed, just as much as ever, to read my own work aloud. I’d had ten years of read­ing books aloud every night. Sure­ly I was bet­ter at it, not worse?

What’s the worst they could say,” my spouse said. “No?”

He was right about that. But I want­ed the best for my audio­book. I didn’t want to make a com­plete hash of read­ing it aloud.

Pub­lish­ers have many excel­lent rea­sons for employ­ing pro­fes­sion­al actors to read books aloud (rather than authors). Some authors do their work a dis­ser­vice when they read it aloud. And even those who read aloud well aren’t pro­fes­sion­al actors. We don’t learn how to “do dif­fer­ent voic­es” and we work with edi­tors, not direc­tors. Read­ing hun­dreds of pages at one stretch is not the same as read­ing aloud to an engaged and eager audi­ence for ten whole min­utes. The art of the spo­ken word is not the same as the art of the writ­ten word. Being a good writer doesn’t imply one has any act­ing capa­bil­i­ty, let alone tal­ent.

I thought it over, and then decid­ed I’d regret it if I didn’t give it a chance. So, I asked Pen­guin for per­mis­sion to audi­tion for the audio­book (and yes, authors do have to audi­tion to read their own books aloud which is in their own best inter­est). The audio book pub­lish­er was kind enough to give me per­mis­sion to send a sev­en-minute (or so) audio clip. I was instruct­ed to read a sec­tion that con­tained dia­logue.

My daugh­ter was delight­ed. She insist­ed on sit­ting right next to me as I record­ed my audi­tion.

That’s when I had my first inkling of how hard the process would be.

When I read aloud, I often make mistakes—but I gloss over those mis­takes. I change the sen­tence I’m read­ing if nec­es­sary, so it’s gram­mat­i­cal­ly cor­rect. I’m not good at read­ing pre­cise­ly what’s on the page—although this is, of course, what one needs to do when read­ing a mid­dle grade book aloud.

After try­ing three times and dis­cov­er­ing the third time isn’t any more “the charm” than the first two, I was ready to give up. My daugh­ter, how­ev­er, wasn’t ready to give up on me.

And giv­en that I hope she’ll be per­sis­tent and that I want to lead by exam­ple, I forced myself to read a fourth and final­ly a fifth time. That fifth time I almost made it all the way through three pages with­out a sin­gle error. Or maybe two and a half.

So I sent off my audi­tion tape and wait­ed.

In a day or two, I had a warm reply from the pub­lish­er. She described my audi­tion as “love­ly” and said she was hap­py to have me read, or to have a pro­fes­sion­al read. She sent me links to two mar­velous read­ers whom she had in mind. After lis­ten­ing to oth­er audio books those two actress­es had read, I was more con­fused than ever.

I sent a long let­ter to the pub­lish­er, express­ing my dilem­ma. I loved audio­books and I had spo­ken seri­ous­ly to the Perkins Insti­tute about vol­un­teer­ing to read books aloud for them. I always dreamed of read­ing my own nov­el, some day—at least one of my nov­els. But then, I want­ed the best pos­si­ble read­er to read it aloud—and I couldn’t tell if that per­son was me.

Let’s talk,” the pub­lish­er said.

I called and left a long and wor­ried mes­sage on her answer­ing machine.

When she called back, she was enthu­si­as­tic. “I lis­tened to your mes­sage a cou­ple of times,” she said.

Real­ly? I’m not even sure my spouse lis­tened to any mes­sage I left him a cou­ple of times. Nor, for that mat­ter, although I love his voice, have I ever lis­tened to his mes­sages repeat­ed­ly.

She said she’d also watched the links of my inter­views on nation­al and inter­na­tion­al TV and radio.

I was thrilled. At least some­one was actu­al­ly lis­ten­ing to those links which had tak­en my Lud­dite self years to load onto my web­site.

Based on all this, she said, she was will­ing to give me a chance. “It’s your fourth nov­el. You’ve earned it.” She assured me she want­ed the best for the book too, and I could tell she real­ly did, just as much if not more, than I did.

A mix­ture of tri­umph and trep­i­da­tion filled me, as I entered the record­ing stu­dio, about a week lat­er. It wasn’t real­ly any dif­fer­ent from a booth at a radio sta­tion, as far as I could tell. And it was far less for­bid­ding than a TV set. Yet my hands were trem­bling as I got into “the sad­dle” and put on my head­phones.

For the next two days—two whole days—I read and re-read and read. A direc­tor super­vised my work and he was bril­liant.

His words of wis­dom: “If you get tired, if your mind starts wan­der­ing, take a short break and then come right back and attack it with all your ener­gy and con­cen­tra­tion. Don’t give me a half-assed per­for­mance. Read like you mean every word. An author—in this case you—spent years work­ing on it. And I always tell my actors, I don’t care how they feel, they owe it to the author to give it every­thing they’ve got. You owe it to your­self.”

Or, I thought, I owed it to my char­ac­ters. I loved the four char­ac­ters in The Bridge Home. They are real to me, now, and I want the best for them. I want them to be loved. I want their sto­ry to be loved.

At some point dur­ing the writ­ing process, I read an entire nov­el aloud—but when I do that, I’m lis­ten­ing and pay­ing atten­tion in a dif­fer­ent way. I use those read­ings to help me refine and edit my drafts.

Read­ing aloud for the audio­book was very dif­fer­ent. It was far more stren­u­ous. I had to “get into character”—every char­ac­ter in the book, real­ly. It’s what I do any­way, when I write, but in this case, I had to speak in char­ac­ter instead of just lis­ten­ing to my char­ac­ters speak and writ­ing down the words they said in my head.

Don’t wor­ry about get­ting the words right,” my direc­tor said. “Every­one makes mis­takes, and every­one has to come back to make cor­rec­tions lat­er.” Those cor­rec­tions are what the indus­try calls pick-ups.

What I need­ed to do was read in such a way that the lis­ten­er hears just enough emo­tion to stay engaged. Too much turns lis­ten­ers off, and too lit­tle leaves them bored. That’s not unlike writing—as a writer, I’ve always main­tained that it’s not just what I say and how I say it, it’s also what I leave out.

My director’s gold­en words of wis­dom helped me under­stand this fine bal­ance as I read aloud “You don’t need to act the writer’s words. You just need to feel the words as you read.”

When I began to see a movie in my head, the way I do when I’m close to com­plet­ing a nov­el, I real­ized that I was in busi­ness. And after a few tri­als, I was in the zone—a sort of wak­ing dream in which I sensed the char­ac­ters haunt­ing my mind and tak­ing over my heart. And I stayed in that zone as my voice was record­ed, allow­ing the char­ac­ters to pos­sess my soul, so I was with them dur­ing every step of the jour­ney, from the first page to the last.

When I final­ly took off the head­phones and slid off the high stool on which I’d perched as I read and walked out of the record­ing booth, the own­er of the record­ing stu­dio declared, “You’re the real thing. I almost cried.”

Thanks,” I said.

Then he added, gruffly, “The only rea­son it’s almost instead of actu­al­ly cry­ing is because I’m an old white man and we weren’t allowed to do that.”

That evening, I get home exhaust­ed and exhil­a­rat­ed, in equal mea­sure.

Will I read all my future books, my spouse and daugh­ter want­ed to know when I returned. I wasn’t sure.

I’m still not sure.

But what I am sure of is that I’m glad I did it for The Bridge Home.

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Perfect Pairs

Bookol­o­gy is delight­ed to fea­ture a sam­ple les­son from Per­fect Pairs: Using Fic­tion & Non­fic­tion Pic­ture Books to Teach Life Sci­ence, K-2 by children’s book author Melis­sa Stew­art and mas­ter edu­ca­tor Nan­cy Ches­ley (Sten­house Pub­lish­ers). When this book (and its com­pan­ion for grades 3–5) first came across our desk, we were blown away by its per­cep­tion and use­ful­ness. For edu­ca­tors who are not as con­fi­dent teach­ing sci­ence as they are lan­guage arts and writ­ing, here’s an excel­lent resource to help you stand more assured­ly in front of your stu­dents, know­ing they’ll be moti­vat­ed to explore sci­ence.

Perfect Pairs

We’re grate­ful to Melis­sa, Nan­cy, and Sten­house Pub­lish­ers for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to give you a clear view inside the Per­fect Pairs resources. This grade 2 les­son, How Wind Water, and Ani­mals Dis­perse Seeds,” (click for the les­son plan) fea­tures two tru­ly won­der­ful books, Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheel­er and Plant­i­ng the Wild Gar­den by Kathryn O. Gail­braith and Wendy Ander­son Halperin. [This les­son plan is from Per­fect Pairs:Using Fic­tion and Non­fic­tion Pic­ture Books to Teach Life Sci­ence, K-2 by Melis­sa Stew­art and Nan­cy Ches­ley copy­right © 2014, repro­duced with per­mis­sion of Sten­house Pub­lish­ers. stenhouse.com]

Planting the Wild Garden and Miss Maple's Seeds

Melis­sa Stew­art has also been lead­ing the way for every­one who works with young minds to incor­po­rate the five kinds of non­fic­tion into their school and class­room libraries as well as their ELA and con­tent area instruc­tion, so we’ve decid­ed to ask her a few ques­tions.

Melis­sa, when you and edu­ca­tor Nan­cy Ches­ley decid­ed to cre­ate Per­fect Pairs, what did you feel was the most press­ing need for these fic­tion-non­fic­tion, life sci­ence matchups, and accom­pa­ny­ing les­son plans?

In recent years, many ele­men­tary teach­ers have been asked to devote more time to lan­guage arts and math in an effort to improve stu­dent scores on assess­ment tests. As a result, many K-5 stu­dents receive lim­it­ed sci­ence instruc­tion, and many mid­dle school stu­dents are sore­ly lack­ing in basic sci­ence knowl­edge and skills.

In addi­tion, many ele­men­tary teach­ers do not have a strong sci­ence back­ground. Some even report being intim­i­dat­ed by their school’s sci­ence cur­ricu­lum and feel ill equipped to teach basic sci­ence con­cepts. Build­ing sci­ence lessons around children’s books enables many ele­men­tary edu­ca­tors to approach sci­ence instruc­tion with greater con­fi­dence. And because our lessons incor­po­rate sig­nif­i­cant read­ing and writ­ing, they allow teach­ers to teach sci­ence with­out com­pro­mis­ing lan­guage arts instruc­tion time.

Because some chil­dren love fic­tion while oth­ers pre­fer non­fic­tion, pair­ing books is an effec­tive way to intro­duce sci­ence con­cepts. And when a book pair is pre­sent­ed in con­junc­tion with inno­v­a­tive, minds-on activ­i­ties that appeal to a wide vari­ety of learn­ing styles, stu­dents are even more like­ly to remem­ber the experience—and the con­tent. That’s what Per­fect Pairs is all about.

In the Intro­duc­tion to Per­fect Pairs, you state that the lessons in the book address the Next Gen­er­a­tion Sci­ence Stan­dards (NGSS) and sup­port the Com­mon Core State Stan­dards for Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts. Why is this ben­e­fi­cial for edu­ca­tors?

Com­mon Core and NGSS form the foun­da­tion for all cur­rent state ELA and sci­ence standards—even in states that nev­er offi­cial­ly adopt­ed them, so when teach­ers use the lessons in Per­fect Pairs, they can be con­fi­dent that they are teach­ing stu­dents the crit­i­cal con­cepts and skills they need to know.

To help teach­ers track how each les­son relates to the stan­dards, tables in the Appen­dix of Per­fect Pairs spec­i­fy which NGSS Per­for­mance Expec­ta­tion and Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing Prac­tices each les­son address­es. A sec­ond set of tables indi­cates which Com­mon Core stan­dards for Read­ing Lit­er­a­ture, Read­ing Infor­ma­tion­al Text, Writ­ing, and Speak­ing and Lis­ten­ing each les­son sup­ports.

In Per­fect Pairs, you also write that “In recent years, a new kind of children’s non­fic­tion has emerged. These inno­v­a­tive titles are remark­ably cre­ative and com­pelling. Their pur­pose is to delight as well as inform.”

On your high­ly-regard­ed blog, Cel­e­brate Sci­ence, you often share lists of these fine­ly-craft­ed non­fic­tion books. You also write about the craft of non­fic­tion writ­ing and include inno­v­a­tive activ­i­ties and strate­gies for teach­ing infor­ma­tion­al read­ing and writ­ing. What keeps you com­mit­ted to your mis­sion to bring more non­fic­tion to young read­ers?

The kids.

Many edu­ca­tors have a nat­ur­al affin­i­ty for sto­ries and sto­ry­telling, so they con­nect strong­ly with fic­tion. When they choose non­fic­tion, they grav­i­tate toward nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion because it tells true sto­ries.

5 Kinds of Nonfiction

Click on this image for down­load­able resources from Melis­sa Stewart’s web­site.

And yet, stud­ies show that as many as 75 per­cent of ele­men­tary stu­dents enjoy read­ing non­fic­tion with an expos­i­to­ry writ­ing style as much as (33 per­cent) or more than (42 per­cent) nar­ra­tives. If we want all stu­dents to devel­op a love of read­ing, we need to give them access to a diverse array of fic­tion, nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion, and expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion.

As stu­dents mature as read­ers, we can help them devel­op an appre­ci­a­tion for oth­er kinds of writ­ing. But first, we must show kids that we hon­or all books and val­ue all read­ing.

To help edu­ca­tors accom­plish this goal, I worked with Mar­lene Cor­reia, past pres­i­dent of the Mass­a­chu­setts Read­ing Asso­ci­a­tion and Direc­tor of Cur­ricu­lum and Assess­ment for the Free­town-Lakeville Region­al School Dis­trict in Lakeville, MA, to devel­op an info­graph­ic that high­lights five easy ways edu­ca­tors can share more expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion with their stu­dents.

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Pairing Nonfiction and Fiction

Non­fic­tion and fic­tion are like peanut but­ter and choco­late. Each excel­lent on its own, but when combined…so sub­lime.

INVITE A DISCUSSION

My non­fic­tion account Samu­rai Ris­ing: The Epic Life of Minamo­to Yoshit­sune (2016, grade 6 and up) describes the dra­mat­ic rise and fall of a 12th-cen­tu­ry samu­rai. One of the joys of research­ing the life of this Japan­ese hero was learn­ing about the under­ly­ing polit­i­cal, social and eco­nom­ic cur­rents that result­ed in the 700-year-long rule of the samu­rai. In Kather­ine Paterson’s Of Nightin­gales That Weep (1989, grade 6 and up), Patterson’s pro­tag­o­nist, Takiko, serves the rival samu­rai fam­i­ly that Yoshit­sune even­tu­al­ly destroys.

A side-by-side read­ing of Samu­rai and Nightin­gales allows read­ers to pon­der how war is expe­ri­enced by those wag­ing it com­pared to those who are its vic­tims.

SPARK A STORY

Lynn Fulton’s new pic­ture book biog­ra­phy She Made a Mon­ster: How Mary Shel­ley Cre­at­ed Frankenstein (2018, grade 1 and up) is based on Shelley’s own account of the inspi­ra­tion for her icon­ic mon­ster. Pair it with an acces­si­ble ver­sion of the clas­sic such as the Step­ping Stones ver­sion of Franken­stein (1982, grade 1 and up).

Ask your young read­er: Have you ever had a strange dream that stuck in your head? We can’t con­trol our dreams, but we can turn them into sto­ries. Try writ­ing one.

EXPLORE ANIMAL MINDS

A straight-up sci­ence book and a nov­el make a great duo. In my book Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Bright­est Bird (2016, grade 5 and up), I look at the extra­or­di­nary abil­i­ties of the tool-mak­ing New Cale­don­ian crow. Team this one up with Kather­ine Applegate’s love­ly Wishtree (2017, grade 4 and up), which fea­tures a crow among its cast of sub­ur­ban wildlife.

Young read­ers may not be famil­iar with the term “anthro­po­mor­phism,” but this pair­ing invites a dis­cus­sion about how ani­mal char­ac­ters in books are often giv­en a mix of char­ac­ter­is­tics that are true-to-life and fan­ci­ful. Based on Crow, how real­is­tic is Applegate’s black-feath­ered char­ac­ter?

Oth­er Pair­ings

Deb­o­rah Hopkinson’s Courage and Defi­ance: Spies, Sabo­teurs, and Sur­vivors in WWII Den­mark (2015, grade 5 and up), and Eliz­a­beth Wein’s Code Name Ver­i­ty (2012, grade 7 and up).

Christy Hale’s Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World (2018, pre-K and up), and Arthur Dorros’s bilin­gual Isla (1999, pre-K and up).

Jeanne Walk­er Harvey’s Maya Lin: Artist-Archi­tect of Light and Lines (2017, kinder­garten and up), and Eve Bunting’s The Wall (1992, pre-K and up).

Now that I’ve shared mine, what are YOUR favorite nonfiction/fiction pair­ings? What comparisons/discussion activ­i­ties does the pair­ing invite? Please add your sug­ges­tions in the com­ments. And then go reward your­self with some­thing involv­ing wine and cheese. Or gua­camole and chips. Or peanut but­ter and choco­late.

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Glory Be!

Page Break by Lynne Jonell

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Bookstorm™: The Stuff of Stars

The Stuff of StarsBefore the uni­verse was formed, before time and space exist­ed, there was … noth­ing. But then … BANG! Stars caught fire and burned so long that they explod­ed, fling­ing star­dust every­where. And the ash of those stars turned into plan­ets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poet­ic text, Mar­i­on Dane Bauer takes read­ers from the tril­lionth of a sec­ond when our uni­verse was born to the sin­gu­lar­i­ties that became each one of us, while vivid illus­tra­tions by Ekua Holmes cap­ture the void before the Big Bang and the ensu­ing life that burst across galax­ies. A seam­less blend of sci­ence and art, this pic­ture book reveals the com­po­si­tion of our world and beyond—and how we are all the stuff of stars.

The Stuff of Stars is an ide­al book for home, read­ing aloud, life cel­e­bra­tions, and as a way to begin dis­cus­sions about sci­ence.

In the class­room and library, The Stuff of Stars is a a poet­ic and breath­tak­ing­ly beau­ti­ful way to open sci­ence units about ani­mals, the earth, out­er space, human beings, and evo­lu­tion. It will ignite imag­i­na­tions when used as a men­tor text for poet­ry units.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books, arti­cles, web­sites, and videos for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests.  

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Mar­i­on Dane Bauer and Ekua Holmes on their web­sites.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Ani­mals of the Earth. The author and illus­tra­tor include many ani­mals in The Stuff of Stars, from hip­popota­mus­es to hors­es to larks. Look close­ly for them in Ekua Holmes’ illus­tra­tions. Use The Stuff of Stars to begin your learn­ing about ani­mals every­where.

Babies. Babies and old­er chil­dren (and adults) love books about babies. The Stuff of Stars is a cel­e­bra­tion of birth. You’ll enjoy explor­ing these books.

Human Body. How amaz­ing our bod­ies are! We rec­om­mend books that will help you talk in age-appro­pri­ate ways about the won­ders of human beings.

Mar­bling. Illus­tra­tor Ekua Holmes uses a paper mar­bling techh­nique to begin her art for The Stuff of Stars … and then she lifts that art­form to a new lev­el. Per­haps you’d like to try paper mar­bling in a class­room or after school set­ting?

Our Earth. From Todd Parr’s The Earth Book to Lisa Bullard’s Earth Day Every Day to Oliv­er Jef­fers’ Here We Are: Notes for Liv­ing on Plan­et Earth, you’ll find inspi­ra­tion for study­ing fas­ci­nat­ing aspects of our home plan­et.

Our Uni­verse is Born / Evo­lu­tion. We offer a num­ber of books that will bring sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ries of evo­lu­tion into sharp­er focus. How was our uni­verse born?

Plan­ets and Stars. A web­site with a star wheel, a video demon­strat­ing how to use a star chart, and sev­er­al excel­lent books will help you along your way to nav­i­gat­ing the plan­ets and the stars.

Poet­ry. Mar­i­on Dane Bauer’s poem can be used as a men­tor text in your class­room, along with books on show­cased sub­jects by Dou­glas Flo­ri­an, Joseph Bruchac, Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, and more.

Resources for Adults. The author was orig­i­nal­ly inspired by Carl Sagan’s “Cos­mos.” That book and sev­er­al oth­ers are rec­om­mend­ed.

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

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Puppet Mania

Using Pup­pets to Enhance the Sto­ry­time Expe­ri­ence

Any­one who does any­thing to help a child in his life is a hero to me. ”

― Fred Rogers

Mr. Z with two of his puppets

Mr. Z with two of his pup­pets

I recent­ly watched Won’t You Be My Neigh­bor, the new doc­u­men­tary on the life and career of Fred Rogers … Mis­ter Rogers. At the con­clu­sion of the doc­u­men­tary, I reflect­ed on how he shone a light on the role sto­ry­telling has in our ser­vice to chil­dren and fam­i­lies. At the start of every show, Mis­ter Rogers joined the audi­ence at 143, his numero­log­i­cal code for “I love you.” Rogers pro­vid­ed a wel­com­ing envi­ron­ment where every audi­ence mem­ber was invit­ed to trav­el to the Neigh­bor­hood of Make-Believe, where the audi­ence met pup­pet friends Daniel Tiger and Lady Elaine Fairchilde, to name two of them. Each pup­pet por­trayed real feel­ings and real expe­ri­ences.

Through­out my expe­ri­ence as a children’s librar­i­an, pup­pets have been essen­tial tools for con­nect­ing with fam­i­lies. Here’s a pup­pet toolk­it to help you bring pup­pets into your sto­ry­time pro­gram or to enhance your cur­rent work with pup­pets. This toolk­it is based on my expe­ri­ence. Add or edit the toolk­it to meet your needs.

The Pup­pet Toolk­it

Tool #1: Pup­pet Pur­pose: Think about the pur­pose a pup­pet will serve for your sto­ry­time pro­gram. Some ques­tions to con­sid­er:

  1. Does the pup­pet align with a theme or does it need to align with a theme?
  2. Will the pup­pet help facil­i­tate the pro­gram?
  3. Will you have one or mul­ti­ple pup­pets in the pro­gram?
  4. Will you use ani­mal or peo­ple pup­pets?
  5. Where will you use the pup­pet in your sto­ry­time (at the begin­ning, mid­dle, end, or through­out the sto­ry­time?

Tool #2: Find­ing or Cre­at­ing a Pup­pet: Search for places to pur­chase pup­pets or ideas on how to cre­ate a pup­pet. In doing a sim­ple search, you can find sev­er­al pup­pet dis­trib­u­tors. Search at com­mu­ni­ty yard sales or a local thrift store. Many of us, includ­ing myself, are on tight bud­gets and it may be dif­fi­cult to pur­chase pup­pets. There are many resources for mak­ing pup­pets. Here are a few to get you start­ed:

  1. A video from Par­ents Mag­a­zine on how to make a sock pup­pet.
  2. A pup­pet craft tuto­r­i­al from Danielle’s Place 
  3. Mak­ing Home­made Pup­pets” from Savay Home­made 
  4. A sim­ple Pin­ter­est search.

Tip: Always remem­ber to look in your library sup­ply clos­et before pur­chas­ing. Tell your com­mu­ni­ty about this project and the sup­plies need­ed. You might be sur­prised with dona­tions.

Mister Rogers stampTool #3: Embody­ing a Pup­pet: When watch­ing Mis­ter Rogers, it was easy to think, “I can’t embody a pup­pet like he does,” or “I don’t have any train­ing in pup­petry.” Let me set­tle your mind. Although I don’t have pup­pet train­ing, my audi­ence laughs and enjoys each pup­pet expe­ri­ence. What does it mean to embody a pup­pet? Once you decide to pur­chase or make a puppet(s), fol­low these steps:

  1. Refer back to the first tool: think about the pur­pose of pup­pets in your sto­ry­time.
  2. Prac­tice hold­ing the pup­pet and mov­ing it. Skills need­ed will dif­fer if put your hand through a hole or you hold the pup­pet with a stick.
  3. Prac­tice how your pup­pet will speak. Will it have your voice or will you cre­ate a voice?
  4. Prac­tice in front of a staff mem­ber or fam­i­ly mem­ber to get feed­back. Remem­ber, it is not about hav­ing a per­fect per­for­mance. It’s impor­tant to be com­fort­able and have fun.
  5. Will you inter­act with anoth­er pup­pet? If so, prac­tice! Will you oper­ate both pup­pets or will a staff mem­ber or fam­i­ly mem­ber be the oth­er pup­pet?

Tip: Search on YouTube for more videos on how oth­er libraries use pup­pets in their pro­grams,

Tip: Watch these two videos by librar­i­an and pup­peteer Kim­ber­ly Fau­rot on “Bring­ing Your Pup­pet to Life.”

Children playing with puppets

Tool #4: Pup­pet Inter­ac­tion with the Audi­ence: It’s impor­tant to think about your cur­rent audi­ence of chil­dren and fam­i­lies who attend sto­ry­time.

  1. What inter­ac­tion will the pup­pet have with chil­dren and fam­i­lies?
  2. Will the pup­pet ask ques­tions? If so, what ques­tions will it ask?
  3. Will chil­dren have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to pet or hug the pup­pet? This has been the most effec­tive use of pup­pets in my pro­grams. Chil­dren love to do this.
  4. Will the pup­pet ask chil­dren to help tell the sto­ry? For exam­ple, the pup­pet might ask chil­dren to bring some­thing to put on the felt board or it might tell them it is hun­gry and they need to look for food.
  5. How can the pup­pet be used for some­thing besides telling a sto­ry? You might use a pup­pet to help chil­dren and fam­i­lies relax before the sto­ries and activ­i­ties begin.
  6. Will the pup­pet inter­act with the adults? Can the adults help embody a pup­pet? Pup­pets can be an effec­tive tool for adult par­tic­i­pa­tion. As a pup­peteer, I inter­act with adults by ask­ing them ques­tions relat­ed to the sto­ry­time. I have had suc­cess in ask­ing adults to choose a pup­pet and inter­act with the audi­ence through­out sto­ry­time.

finger puppetsTool#5: Using Pup­pets to Inspire Cre­ativ­i­ty: Pup­pets are a great tool for inspir­ing cre­ativ­i­ty. I host­ed a pup­pet-mak­ing pro­gram for fam­i­lies to make their own pup­pets. Sup­plies were includ­ed:

  1. Paper bags (pro­vid­ed by a local gro­cery store) or $1.96 (50 count) priced online
  2. Stick­ers
  3. Crayons (could be no cost if you have them in your sup­ply clos­et, $5.04 for a pack of 12, priced online)
  4. Scis­sors (could be no cost if you have them in your sup­ply clos­et, $4.50 per one, priced online)
  5. Wood­en craft sticks (could be no cost if you have them in your sup­ply clos­et, $7.99 for a box of 200, priced online)
  6. Yarn (pro­vid­ed by a local moms group) (could be no cost if you have them in your sup­ply clos­et, $14.97 for assort­ed col­ors, priced online)
  7. Pom-poms (could be no cost if you have them in your sup­ply clos­et, $6.99 for a bag of 100, priced online
  8. Wig­gly eyes (could be no cost if you have them in your sup­ply clos­et, $6.25 for a bag of 200)

Poten­tial cost depend­ing on what’s in your sup­ply clos­et : $47.70

At the com­ple­tion of the pup­pet-mak­ing pro­gram, fam­i­lies gath­ered in our sto­ry­time room to meet the new pup­pets. Many par­ents helped their child intro­duce their pup­pet to the group.

The Pow­er of Pup­pets

Through­out my career as a children’s librar­i­an, my pup­petry expe­ri­ences have been pro­found. Dur­ing a sen­so­ry sto­ry­time pro­gram, a moth­er noticed I had pup­pets on the ground. She asked to speak with me briefly about her son who is on the autism spec­trum. She told me the dif­fi­cul­ty he has with objects like pup­pets because he can’t see where his hand is going. I under­stood com­plete­ly. At the con­clu­sion of our con­ver­sa­tion, we noticed her son on the floor play­ing with a few pup­pets on his hands. He was talk­ing with them, ask­ing them ques­tions. The moth­er start­ed to cry. We both smiled at each oth­er. Pup­pets can be mean­ing­ful for both child and par­ent.

Two sock puppets

Pup­pet Resources

  1. Why Pup­pet Play is Impor­tant,” Karen Whit­ter, Play & Grow, 4 Jan 2017
  2. Pup­pets Talk, Chil­dren Lis­ten,” Christie Belfiore, Teach, not dat­ed
  3. The Pow­er of Pup­pets: How Our Fuzzy Friends Help Kids Grow Social-Emo­tion­al Skills,” Car­olyn Sweeney Hauck, Explore. Play. Learn., Kinder­Care blog, 7 Feb 2018
  4. Pup­pet Scripts,” Pup­pets for Libraries, 19 Jan 2012
  5. Pup­pets and Sto­ry­time,” Dr. Jean Feld­man for Scholas­tic (PDF)
  6. Pup­pets for Non-Pup­pet Peo­ple,” Mal­lo­ry Inman, Mal­lo­ry Tells Sto­ries, 10 Jun 2015
  7. The Pup­petry Home Page,” Rose Sage Barone and Nick Barone
  8. Pup­pets, Lan­guage, and Learn­ing, a book by Jane Fish­er

Rec­om­mend­ed Sto­ries for Using Pup­pets

recommended books for puppet shoes

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Curiouser and Curiouser with Lee Bennett Hopkins

Lee Bennett Hopkins

Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins

As I read each of Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins’ col­lec­tions of poet­ry, I find my curios­i­ty piqued: “How does he do this?” When I was a grad stu­dent, I came across Mr. Hop­kins’ book, Books Are by Peo­ple: inter­views with 104 authors and illus­tra­tors of books for young chil­dren. Those inter­views pro­voked my imag­i­na­tion and pro­pelled my career. It’s a priv­i­lege to be inter­view­ing Mr. Hop­kins for Bookol­o­gy.

Lee: My good­ness! Between 1969 and 1974 I inter­viewed 169 book peo­ple; l04 in Books Are By Peo­ple and 65 in More Books by More Peo­ple. Thank you for remind­ing me of these incred­i­ble adven­tures.

You have been an edu­ca­tor, an author, and an influ­encer. How did you turn to poet­ry books as a path in your life’s work?

I began to real­ize the impor­tance of poet­ry when I began teach­ing sixth grade in Fair Lawn, New Jer­sey, in 1960. I used verse with all stu­dents but found that slow­er read­ers were excit­ed over poems. Vocab­u­lary was often with­in their reach, works were short; more impor­tant we learned that more could some­times be said and felt in 8 or l0 or l2 lines than some­times an entire nov­el could con­vey.

Been to YesterdaysBeing a city child my entire life, I think the rust­ed metronome start­ed beat­ing, telling me to write ‘city.’ “Hydrants” was the first poem I wrote for chil­dren. At a din­ner par­ty of her home in Long Island, I read it to May Swen­son, one of America’s most renowned poets, who told me she liked it. I was hooked. This led me to cre­at­ing Been to Yes­ter­days: Poems of a Life (Boyds Mills Press/Wordsong). Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1995, now close to 25 years since its pub­li­ca­tion, the book is being used in Al-Anon pro­grams, youth groups, and stud­ied in writ­ing cours­es. In essence, it is about a strug­gling teen who wants to “make/ this world/a whole lot brighter” to grow up to become a writer.” My life has been, is, blessed with poet­ry.

After teach­ing six years and get­ting my master’s degree at Bank Street Col­lege in New York (when Bank Street was on Bank Street in Green­wich Vil­lage), I was offered a job to work at Bank Street’s Resource Cen­ter in Harlem, enrich­ing lan­guage arts cur­ric­u­la into class­room pro­grams with an empha­sis on poet­ry.

Don't You Turn BookOn May 22, 1967, when Hugh­es died, I could not share his only book for chil­dren, The Dream­keep­er and Oth­er Poems, pub­lished in l932, due to the stereo­typ­i­cal depic­tion of blacks. I bold­ly called Vir­ginia Fowler, edi­tor at Knopf, ask­ing why a new edi­tion had nev­er been done. Vir­ginia asked me to lunch, also sug­gest­ing I do a new col­lec­tion. The result was one of my first antholo­gies, Don’t You Turn Back: Poems by Langston Hugh­es, illus­trat­ed in won­drous two-col­or wood­cut engrav­ings by Ann Gri­fal­coni (l969). In addi­tion to a host of awards, it was an ALA Notable.

In 1994, the 75th Anniver­sary edi­tion of The Dream Keep­er was pub­lished with wood engrav­ings by Bri­an Pinkney. I was invit­ed to write the intro­duc­tion to the book by Janet Schul­man, an icon in our indus­try.

The Dream KeeperI then began to do many antholo­gies with the aim to bring a bevy of poets’ works to chil­dren.

Hook­ing chil­dren on read­ing at a young age is imper­a­tive. I believe they should be read to in the womb! Poet­ry, in par­tic­u­lar, brings a sense of song, melody, sootheness into a child’s life. This can be a life­long gift.

Which comes first: the idea for a book of poet­ry, the theme, or do poems swirl about you until they sug­gest a col­lec­tion?

Each of the three above hap­pen. At times I get an idea or focus on a theme; at oth­er times poems do swirl that sug­gest a col­lec­tion.

What are the steps by which you gath­er poems for a book?

I have a vast library of poet­ry to turn to. Thank­ful­ly, I have a very good mem­o­ry. Ask me for a ‘horse’ poem, a poem about piz­za, or a poem about a jacaran­da tree and I’ll have it for you in min­utes. If I am cre­at­ing a new col­lec­tion of poems espe­cial­ly com­mis­sioned for a book, I issue a BY INVITATION ONLY to a select group of poets.

Do you scout new poets?

At times I do. How­ev­er, “new” poets scout me. I real­ize how dif­fi­cult it is to get one’s work into an anthol­o­gy since very few are pub­lished each year. Hard­ly more than two to five are pub­lished annu­al­ly.  A pic­ture book themed poet­ry col­lec­tion might have between 16 to 20 poems. Major poets must be includ­ed. How­ev­er, I love giv­ing new voic­es a chance. I have start­ed many poets on their path to suc­cess.

Do you visu­al­ize how a poet­ry book will be laid out when you’re select­ing poems?

All of my col­lec­tions have an arc. I want read­ers to read a col­lec­tion as if they were read­ing any book. There is a begin­ning, mid­dle, and end.

When you’re assem­bling a new book, do you think about bal­ance? Col­or? Sound?

Most def­i­nite­ly. All of these are impor­tant.

A sampling

A sam­pling of Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins’ pop­u­lar poet­ry antholo­gies

Do you ever run out of the right poems for a book? What do you do then?

For­tu­nate­ly, I work with pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers who will go back to the “draw­ing board.” It some­times takes many rewrites to get to the place where one feels the work is done. Poets only want their best to be pub­lished.

What are the tools you work with? Pen, scis­sors, jour­nals, the com­put­er?

I work on the com­put­er. Poets send work via email attach­ments. I print them, edit them, often cut and paste. Some­times a poem comes through full-blown; at oth­er times a poet and I will work togeth­er.

What does your work­space look like?

I work in my library/study sur­round­ed by thou­sands of books. I have a large cher­ry-wood desk com­mis­sioned by an Amish crafts­man ide­al for space, fil­ing, etc.

Lee Bennett Hopkins' office

Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins at work in his library/study

Some of the bookshelves in Lee Bennett Hopkins' office

Do you work in silence? Or is there sound sur­round­ing you?

I work in total silence. I love the noth­ing­ness of qui­et. I have a per­fect view from the win­dows in my study, look­ing out at sway­ing palm trees, a rush­ing water­fall, beau­ti­ful sculp­ture. I’m star­ing at all this as I write now. Mag­ic in the mak­ing.

The view from Lee Bennett Hopkins' office window

The view from Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins’ office win­dow

The fountain and grotto at night

The foun­tain at night

What is your favorite object in your work­space?

I have many. A few? A piece of wood sculp­ture the poet and dear­est friend Aileen Fish­er made for me. A let­ter open­er from a won­drous friend who died far too ear­ly in life. A bronze bust of Har­ri­et Tub­man with a sto­ry too long to tell. A paper­weight designed by Tri­na Schart Hyman that launched the first issue of Crick­et mag­a­zine. And shelf upon shelf of trea­sured auto­graphed books by author-friends, lit­er­al­ly A-Z—Alma Flor Ada to Char­lotte Zolo­tow. These are a life­time of trea­sures.

What pleas­es you about the work you do?

My entire career has been devot­ed to bring­ing chil­dren and poet­ry togeth­er. Poet­ry is life in its deep­est form.

You leave the chil­dren of the world with the gift of poet­ry. We’re thank­ful for the work you’ve done, the wis­dom you’ve shown, the ded­i­ca­tion that has shared poems that res­onate with indi­vid­ual read­ers. Thank you, Mr. Hop­kins, for your con­tri­bu­tions to the world of lit­er­a­ture.

Lee: AND … I thank YOU for bring­ing chil­dren and books togeth­er.

Lee Bennett Hopkins Guinness Book of World Records

Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins is in the Guin­ness Book of World Records as the per­son who has pub­lished the most poet­ry antholo­gies, num­ber­ing 113 in 2011 when he broke the record.

Intrigued? Please vis­it Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins’ web­site for more infor­ma­tion and a wider selec­tion of books.

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Skinny Dip with Padma Venkatraman

Padma Venkatraman

Pad­ma Venka­tra­man

We’re pleased to wel­come author Pad­ma Venka­tra­man, whose every nov­el I have found delight­ful. Her per­spec­tives as a world cit­i­zen and an oceanog­ra­ph­er and a per­son who cares fer­vent­ly about children’s well-being give a pow­er­ful depth to her writ­ing. We asked Pad­ma to answer the Skin­ny Dip ques­tions that appealed to her:

How many book­cas­es do you have in your house?

Ten! But that’s not enough to fit all our books, so our house (unless I clean up before guests arrive), resem­bles the protagonist’s home in The Library (by Sarah Stew­art and David Small)!

What’s the pre­dom­i­nant col­or in your wardrobe?

Red is my favorite col­or for cloth­ing, but not for any­thing else (def­i­nite­ly not inside homes or for cars, for exam­ple).

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

The library in a house by the ocean, called Saradin­du, which I thought about when I wrote Climb­ing the Stairs. I loved the way sun­light would slip in through the win­dows, I loved the sound of the sea out­side, I loved the musty odor of the books, and I loved how many books there were—rows upon rows of books, all along the walls, floor to ceil­ing, so you had to climb a steplad­der to reach the books on the top shelf.

lebkuchenWhat’s your food weak­ness?

Lebkuchen (a gin­ger­bread del­i­ca­cy which is served around Christ­mas time in Germany)—so long as it is not too sweet and it’s dipped in dark choco­late on one side, with an apri­cot jam-like fill­ing and a white wafer on the oth­er side. I could eat oodles of them. 

What’s your favorite form of exer­cise?

Yoga indoors every morn­ing on week­days, Hik­ing and canoe­ing when it’s warm and sun­ny out­doors on week­ends and hol­i­days. 

lotusWhat’s your favorite flower?

The lotus (and I am real­iz­ing as I write this answer, that this might be might be sub­lim­i­nal­ly nar­cis­sis­tic because Pad­ma means Lotus in Sanskrit—but you said to be hon­est and write the first thing that comes to mind, so there you go)!

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

I’ve lived in four coun­tries out­side the Unit­ed States: India, Eng­land, Ger­many, and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates. I’ve trav­eled to many more. I sup­pose my favorite coun­try to vis­it is India, because I still have fam­i­ly and old friends back there, and it not only has (in my opin­ion) the best veg­an cui­sine and the music that I most enjoy (live instru­men­tal Car­nat­ic music—which is sort of the sound­track for A Time to Dance in my head), but also the most spec­tac­u­lar sun­shine. I think the sun shines more bright­ly on the sands and seas of an Indi­an beach than any­where else in the world. 

beach in Gao province in India

Who’s your favorite artist?

My daugh­ter!

Who’s at the top of your list of Most Admired Peo­ple? 

My daugh­ter again.

What are your favorite piz­za top­pings? 

Pineap­ple chunks and hot pep­pers.

Do you remem­ber your dreams?

Yes, and when I get to the end of a nov­el, I usu­al­ly dream the dreams of my char­ac­ters, and so my dreams help me write.

What for­eign lan­guage would you like to learn?

San­skrit (which I sort of learned, but not real­ly), so I could read the Upan­ishads and the Vedas.

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

Out­er space, because I’ve already spent some time (though, admit­ted­ly, not a whole lot of time) under the ocean. Plus, I’d rather see stars than sea-stars when I look out­side my win­dow.

If you had one wish, what would you wish for?

That no child would ever have to suf­fer hunger, vio­lence or home­less­ness, like the four chil­dren in The Bridge Home. And that every child would be able to form friend­ships as strong as the bonds between the four in The Bridge Home.

Padma Venkatraman's four novels

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Books Books Books

Books Books BooksBooks Books Books 
Mick Man­ning and Bri­ta Granström
Can­dlewick Press, 2017

Book lovers appre­ci­ate the beau­ty, rar­i­ty, inven­tive design, and con­tent of all types of books. Those in the vast col­lec­tion of the British Library (more than 150 mil­lion lit­er­ary arti­facts on 15 floors and 400 miles of shelv­ing) will help to make book lovers of the chil­dren in your life. The clever and reveal­ing spreads in this book will hold the atten­tion of bud­ding book lovers, rais­ing ques­tions that will inspire read­ing the books and doing fur­ther research.

Who could resist see­ing The Klencke Atlas which is 7 feet by 5 feet 10 inch­es when opened. It is “so heavy it takes 6 peo­ple to lift it.”

The small­est book in their col­lec­tion is Lady Jane Grey’s prayer book. It is 2−3÷4″ x 3−3÷8″ inch­es. She was queen of Eng­land for 9 days before Mary had her “impris­oned and sen­tenced to death. She car­ried this lit­tle hand­writ­ten book to her exe­cu­tion.”

We learn that many of the rooms in the Library are bomb-proof. 

Shakespeare’s First Folio is stored deep under­ground. On Shakespeare’s pages of Books Books Books, there are small, hand-drawn sketch­es with dia­logue bub­bles pro­vid­ing humor and infor­ma­tive tid­bits.

Books Books Books and Charles Dickens

The col­or­ful col­lages include frag­ments of each book so there is a great deal to study and absorb, just the right amount of busy-ness. The design is fresh, col­or­ful, lay­ered, and invit­ing.

You’ll find infor­ma­tion about Jane Eyre, the Brontes, Charles Dick­ens, sci­ence with da Vin­ci and Dar­win, fan­ta­sy by Lewis Car­rol, sheet music, Sher­lock Holmes … The authors have cre­at­ed a tempt­ing sur­vey of the world’s most influ­en­tial books with child-rel­e­vant facts, humor, and col­lectible tid­bits.

Books Books Books da Vinci

This is a good book for open­ing dis­cus­sions about books, muse­ums, and what it means to pre­serve cul­ture and his­to­ry for present and future gen­er­a­tions. Rec­om­mend­ed for the class­room and home.

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