Lisa Bullard: My Not-So-Overnight Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Return Visit

by Lisa Bullard

1_14GooglyEyesSan Fran­cis­co has an eerie qual­i­ty of rein­ven­tion that is unique to that city for me. When I make return vis­its to oth­er des­ti­na­tions, the visu­al “pieces” from each trip start to fit togeth­er like giant jig­saw puz­zles, and even­tu­al­ly I form an inte­grat­ed pic­ture of the whole place.

But despite the num­ber of times I’ve vis­it­ed San Fran­cis­co, each new vis­it feels as if I’m see­ing some­place new: the city feels com­plete­ly remade to me. It’s as if, between my vis­its, the cur­tain goes down and they replace the stage set.

If only I could bot­tle it, this San Fran­cis­co syn­drome would be enor­mous­ly use­ful to writ­ers. The abil­i­ty to suc­cess­ful­ly revise requires the abil­i­ty to return to a work-in-progress as if you’ve nev­er seen it before. But this can be incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult. We become attached to the work as it is already wri‚tten and, when we revis­it it, we notice only how eas­i­ly it fits togeth­er, instead of being able to tru­ly “re-vision” it.

Some­times, how­ev­er, all it takes is time away. One of the best tac­tics I’ve found to aid a fresh look is some­thing I call “putting it in the draw­er.” If I set a piece aside com­plete­ly, ignor­ing it for sev­er­al weeks, I often find that dur­ing my absence from it the set chang­ers of my imag­i­na­tion go to work. When I return to the piece, I’m able to tack­le the revis­ing task with far greater objec­tiv­i­ty and skill.

I know from expe­ri­ence how reluc­tant stu­dents usu­al­ly are to revise their writ­ing. Why not try my sim­ple San Fran­cis­co trick? Ask them to set the work aside for a week or more. When they final­ly come back to it, they are more like­ly to return with a fresh set of eyes.


Books about Chickens

Whether a chick­en makes you cluck, BAWK! or cheep-cheep-cheep, books about chick­ens make us laugh. We may not have been intro­duced to a chick­en in real life but, trust me, some peo­ple keep them as egg-lay­ing won­ders and oth­er peo­ple keep them as pets. These fowl have been around in many col­ors, types, and breeds in most coun­tries in the world … and quite recent­ly they have become the sub­ject of many books. Go, chick­ens! We’ve sug­gest­ed 19 books. What would you add as the 20th book on this list?

The Perfect Nest  

The Per­fect Nest
writ­ten by Cather­ine Friend
illus­trat­ed by John Man­ders
Hen­ry Holt, 2011

Farmer Jack, the cat, is build­ing a nest to attract a chick­en who will lay eggs for his mouth-water­ing omelet. Things don’t go quite as planned. Oth­er birds find the nest to be per­fect, too. The eggs hatch and Jack is sud­den­ly tend­ing to lit­tle chicks who think he’s their father. The book is laugh-out-loud fun­ny and makes a great read-aloud. Each of the per­fect nest’s occu­pants speaks with a dif­fer­ent accent.

Hoboken Chicken Emergency


The Hobo­ken Chick­en Emer­gency
Daniel Pinkwa­ter
illus by Jill Pinkwa­ter
Simon & Schus­ter, 1977

A clas­sic book that will keep your kids laugh­ing with every page turn. Arthur Bobow­icz is sent to get the Thanks­giv­ing turkey but there are none to be had. On the way home, he sees a sign in Pro­fes­sor Mazzocchi’s win­dow (you know him, the inven­tor of the Chick­en Sys­tem). Arthur ends up tak­ing a chick­en home but it’s a 266-pound live chick­en named Hen­ri­et­ta. She gets loose … and caus­es dis­as­ter all over Hobo­ken, New Jer­sey. A good read-aloud but also the per­fect book for 9- and 10-year-olds to read.

Beautiful Yetta  

Beau­ti­ful Yet­ta: the Yid­dish Chick­en
Daniel Pinkwa­ter
illus by Jill Pinkwa­ter
Fei­wel & Friends, 2010

Yet­ta, the chick­en, escapes from a poul­try truck in Brook­lyn and is soon lost, lone­ly, and hun­gry, shunned by the rats and pigeons she encoun­ters. Hero­ical­ly, she saves a lit­tle green bird, Eduar­do, from a cat, win­ning the grat­i­tude of his friends, the par­rots. They teach Yet­ta how to find food and how to get along in an unfa­mil­iar place. The book is filled with Yid­dish, Span­ish, and Eng­lish phras­es and Yetta’s speech appears in both Hebrew and Eng­lish alpha­bets. Your kids will soon be exclaim­ing about the “farsh­tunken katz”!

The Little Red Hen  

The Lit­tle Red Hen
Paul Gal­done
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2011 (reis­sued)

When the Hen asks for help plant­i­ng wheat, the cat, the dog, and the mouse all say “No!” They won’t help her water it, or har­vest it, or grind it. They are quite lazy. When the Lit­tle Red Hen bakes a deli­cious cake, who will be invit­ed to eat it? Ages 4 to 11.

Chicken Man  

Chick­en Man
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Michelle Edwards
1991, repub­lished in 2009 by North­South Books

Rody lives on a kib­butz in Israel, where he is assigned to tend to the chick­ens. He comes to love them and they him. He sings loud­ly with joy. And thus oth­er kib­butz work­ers think the chick­en house must be the best place to work and Rody is re-assigned to anoth­er job.  The chick­ens stop lay­ing eggs. And Rody miss­es his chick­ens.  How will Rody find his way back to his favorite job? A good look at life on a kib­butz.

Chickens to the Rescue  

Chick­ens to the Res­cue
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by John Him­mel­man
Hen­ry Holt, 2006

On the Green­stalk farm, things are con­tin­u­al­ly going wrong. Mon­day through Sat­ur­day, when things need to be done, it’s the chick­ens to the res­cue! In hilar­i­ous attire, with laugh-out-loud results, the good-inten­tioned chick­ens help ani­mals and humans alike. Except on Sun­day. Then they rest. The illus­tra­tions in this book are delight­ful.

Interrupting Chickens  

Inter­rupt­ing Chick­en
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by David Ezra Stein
Can­dlewick Press, 2010

Papa is good about read­ing bed­time sto­ries to Lit­tle Red Chick­en, but she can’t help but inter­rupt his read­ing to warn the char­ac­ters in the books about what’s to come. Which, of course, brings an abrupt end to the sto­ries. Papa asks Lit­tle Red to write her own sto­ry but Papa inter­rupts … by snor­ing. It’s a charm­ing book, sure to cause gig­gles … and it brings some clas­sic tales to life. Calde­cott Hon­or book.

First the Egg  

First the Egg
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lau­ra Vac­caro Seeger
Roar­ing Brook Press, 2007

It’s a book of trans­for­ma­tions, from cater­pil­lar to but­ter­fly, from tad­pole to frog, from egg to chick­en, and more. Illus­trat­ed with lus­cious col­or and sim­ple die-cuts, this is an engag­ing con­cept book for the preschool crowd. Calde­cott Hon­or book.

Chicken Cheeks  

Chick­en Cheeks
Michael Ian Black
illus­trat­ed by Kevin Hawkes
Simon & Schus­ter, 2009

Bear enlists all the oth­er ani­mals to make a tow­er so he can get at some elu­sive hon­ey. The hilar­i­ty comes from the view of many ani­mal bot­toms, 16 ways to refer to those bot­toms, and the unsta­ble, improb­a­ble, tee­ter­ing tow­er of gig­gle-wor­thy ani­mals.

Chicks and Salsa  

Chicks and Sal­sa
Aaron Reynolds
illus­trat­ed by Paulette Bogan
Blooms­bury, 2007

The ani­mals on Nuthatch­er Farm are bored with their food. The roost­er looks around and hatch­es a plan. They will eat chips and sal­sa made from the ingre­di­ents on the farm! The sal­sa recipe changes to accom­mo­date each animal’s pref­er­ences. It’s so excit­ing they decide to have a fies­ta! But when the day comes, the humans have abscond­ed with their ingre­di­ents to enter into the state fair. What will the ani­mals do? Thanks to the quick-think­ing roost­er and a resource­ful rat, the par­ty goes on!

Chicken in the Kitchen  

Chick­en in the Kitchen
Nne­di Oko­rafor
illus­trat­ed by Mehrdokht Ami­ni
Lan­tana Pub­lish­ing, 2015

Set in Nige­ria, a young girl awakes to a noise in the mid­dle of the night. When she inves­ti­gates, she dis­cov­ers a giant chick­en in the kitchen. Hilar­i­ty ensues. Noth­ing is quite what it seems. Will Anyau­go be able to pro­tect the tra­di­tion­al foods her aun­ties have pre­pared for the New Yam Fes­ti­val? Gor­geous illus­tra­tions and a good look at the mas­quer­ade cul­ture of West Africa. 

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?  

Why Did the Chick­en Cross the Road?
illus­trat­ed by Jon Agee, Tedd Arnold, Har­ry Bliss, David Catrow, Mar­la Frazee, Mary Grand­Pre, Lynn Mun­singer, Jer­ry Pinkney, Vladimir Kan­dun­sky, Chris Rasch­ka, Judy Schachn­er, David Shan­non, Gus She­ban, and Mo Willems
Dial Books, 2006

When 14 illus­tra­tors are asked “why did the chick­en cross the road?” their answers are fresh and fun and var­ied. They’ll delight you with their orig­i­nal takes on this old chest­nut.

Hattie and the Fox  

Hat­tie and the Fox
Mem Fox
illus­trat­ed by Patri­cia Mullins
Simon & Schus­ter, 1987

In a cumu­la­tive tale with plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ty for dif­fer­ent voic­es and great ener­gy while read­ing out loud, we learn that Hat­tie, the black hen, spies a fox in the bush­es. She tries to warn the oth­er ani­mals but they don’t believe her. A won­der­ful pas­tiche of antic­i­pa­tion, rep­e­ti­tion, and the illustrator’s vivid use of tis­sue paper col­lage and con­te cray­on make this an excel­lent choice for sto­ry­time and any­time.

Hen Hears Gossip  

Hen Hears Gos­sip
Megan McDon­ald
illus­trat­ed by Joung Un Kim
Green­wil­low, 2008

Psst. Psst. Psst.” Hen is addict­ed to gos­sip, espe­cial­ly about her­self. When she over­hears Pig whis­per­ing a secret to Cow, Hen spreads it around until it returns to her with a not-so-nice ren­di­tion. Read­ing this book pro­vides a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about the ways gos­sip hurts. 

Big Chickens  

Big Chick­ens
Leslie Helakos­ki
illus­trat­ed by Hen­ry Cole
Dut­ton, 2006

When a wolf threat­ens the chick­en coop, the chick­ens RUN! They’re ter­ri­fied and they want to get away. The fun ensues as they get into one hilar­i­ous predica­ment after anoth­er. It’s the exact kind of sil­ly kids love and Hen­ry Cole’s illus­tra­tions rein­force the goofy chick­ens’ reac­tions to the chaos they cre­ate.

Chicken Followed Me Home!  

A Chick­en Fol­lowed Me Home:
Ques­tions and Answers about a Famil­iar Fowl
Robin Page
Beach Lane Books, 2015

What would you do if a chick­en fol­lowed you home? You’d learn to tell what kind of chick­en it is, what it would like to eat, and how to keep it safe and healthy. You’d observe how many eggs a chick­en lays in a year and how a chick­en is dif­fer­ent than a roost­er. With bold illus­tra­tions, this book will appeal to both younger and old­er chil­dren.

Kids Guide to Keeping Chickens  

A Kid’s Guide to Keep­ing Chick­ens:
Best Breeds, Cre­at­ing a Home,
Care and Han­dling, Out­door Fun, Crafts and Treats
Melis­sa Caugh­ey
Storey Pub­lish­ing, 2015

Filled with won­der­ful pho­tos and prac­ti­cal advice for kids who would like to raise chick­ens … whether in the city or out in the coun­try.  The book sug­gests ways to con­sid­er chick­ens as pets, offer­ing crafts to con­nect with your barn­yard beau­ties: build them a fort, learn to speak chick­en, and cre­ate a veg­gie piña­ta for them. Egg-celent egg ecipes are avail­able, too.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer  

Unusu­al Chick­ens for the Excep­tion­al Poul­try Farmer
Kel­ly Jones
illus by Katie Kath
Knopf Books for Young Read­ers, 2015

Mov­ing from Los Ange­les to a farm her fam­i­ly inher­it­ed, Sophie Brown and her moth­er and father are reluc­tant farm­ers. Sophie feels iso­lat­ed, which she tack­les by writ­ing let­ters to her abuela and to Agnes of Red­wood Farm Sup­ply. You see, Sophie’s great-uncle kept chick­ens. One-by-one they come home to roost and Sophie dis­cov­ers they are not ordi­nary chick­ens … they have pow­ers. Are they mag­i­cal? Super­nat­ur­al? They’re cer­tain­ly unusu­al and neigh­bors will do just about any­thing to claim them. A fun­ny, mid­dle-grade nov­el, Unusu­al Chick­ens will have read­er want­i­ng to become Excep­tion­al Poul­try Farm­ers.

Prairie Evers  

Prairie Evers
Ellen Air­good
Nan­cy Paulsen Books, 2012

Prairie Evers moves from North Car­oli­na to upstate New York, where her fam­i­ly claims an inher­it­ed farm. She’s going to attend a pub­lic school for the first time. Up until now, Prairie has been home­schooled and hav­ing class­mates is a new expe­ri­ence. When Ivy Blake becomes her first-ever friend, Prairie real­izes Ivy’s home life is not a hap­py one. The Evers invite Ivy to spend time with them … and Prairie finds that a new expe­ri­ence, too. This mid­dle-grade nov­el  has great infor­ma­tion about the chick­ens Prairie is rais­ing … and a lot about friend­ship, opti­mism, and loy­al­ty.

Cheater for the Chicken Man  

Cheat­ing for the Chick­en Man
Priscil­la Cum­mings
Dut­ton, 2015

A seri­ous YA nov­el set on a chick­en farm, this is a com­pan­ion to two ear­li­er books in the Red Kayak series. Now Kate is deal­ing with her father’s death, her mother’s grief, and her broth­er J.T.’s return home from a juve­nile deten­tion camp where he served a sen­tence for sec­ond-degree mur­der. She wants to give her broth­er a chance at a fresh start but it’s a daunt­ing task.

My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me  

My Paint­ed House, My Friend­ly Chick­en, and Me
Maya Angelou
pho­tographs by Mar­garet Court­ney Clarke
Crown, 2003

Hel­lo, Stranger-Friend” begins Maya Angelou’s sto­ry about Than­di, a South African Nde­bele girl, her mis­chie­vous broth­er, her beloved chick­en, and the aston­ish­ing mur­al art pro­duced by the women of her tribe.  With nev­er-before-seen pho­tographs of the very pri­vate Nde­bele women and their paint­ings, this unique book shows the pass­ing of tra­di­tions from par­ent to child and intro­duces young read­ers to a new cul­ture through a new friend. Thanks to Nan­cy Bo Flood for sug­gest­ing this title.


Our com­menters have added:

  • The Plot Chick­ens by Mary Jane and Herb Auch
  • Wings: a Tale of Two Chick­ens by James Mar­shall
  • Chick­en Squad: the First Mis­ad­ven­ture by Doreen Cronin, illus by Kevin Cor­nell
  • Hen­ny by Eliz­a­beth Rose Stan­ton

chicken books

How about you? What’s your favorite chick­en book?


Telling a Story the Hard Way

Space Dumplinsby Vic­ki Palmquist

I’ve just fin­ished read­ing the graph­ic nov­el Space Dumplins by Craig Thomp­son, with col­or by Dave Stew­art (Graphix, 2015). I am over­whelmed by the work that went into this book. First off, it’s an engross­ing, turn-the-page sto­ry with an appeal­ing cast of char­ac­ters. As read­ers, we care about what will hap­pen. That’s a good start.

Now, imag­ine that you are sit­ting down with a pen­cil to sketch one of the spreads in this book. Per­haps you’ve picked the pages where Vio­let, our hero­ine, first gets a look at SHELL-TAR, the inte­ri­or of the space sta­tion. You start by draw­ing the intri­ca­cies of the gleam­ing steam­punk time clock and then you draw all of the activ­i­ty going on inside the trans­par­ent trans­port tubes, large enough to accom­mo­date per­son­al space­ships. Next you fill in the many habi­tats, the glob­u­lar trees, the peo­ple at the beach. Then you insert our cast of char­ac­ters into the scene along with the robot­ic Chaper­drone (a babysit­ter). Whew. That’s a lot of draw­ing for two pages.

Of course, you’re pro­vid­ing this as a back­drop for the fast-paced sto­ry of three new friends, quick-wit­ted, learn­ing to work as a team, doing their best to save the peo­ple they love and their cor­ner of the uni­verse. You’ve already writ­ten the sto­ry, the script, and worked through the sur­pris­es that will delight your read­ers, mak­ing it a tight and believ­able hero’s jour­ney set in the Mucky Way.

Vio­let, Zac­cha­eus, and Eliot are unlike­ly heroes except that Vio­let has a wel­com­ing heart, a brave out­look on adven­ture, and an opti­mism as big as out­er space. She can see qual­i­ties in her new friends that they can’t see them­selves. Eliot, the chick­en, is stu­dious, intro­vert­ed, wide­ly read, and some­what psy­chic. Zac­cha­eus, the last of the Lump­kins (well, almost the last, because space whales ate his plan­et) is chaot­ic, impul­sive, and ready for a fight. All three of the friends are good at prob­lem-solv­ing, espe­cial­ly when they work togeth­er. The mil­i­tary can’t defeat the space whales: they can only clean up after them. It’s these three who fig­ure out the true heart of the prob­lem.

Craig Thompson Space Dumplins ballpoint

from Craig Thomp­son’s web­site, copy­right Craig Thomp­son

Once you’ve sketched all of this, applied ball­point pen, then brushed ink, you ask some­one else to col­or every­thing in.  Togeth­er, you’re cre­at­ing a book full of these sto­ry-telling images, rich­ly col­ored, high­ly detailed, and ulti­mate­ly believ­able as a look at life that’s real­ly hap­pen­ing some­where “out there.”

The rest of the main cast of char­ac­ters include Violet’s par­ents, the reformed felon Gar and the fash­ion design­er Cera, Gar’s fish­ing bud­dies Mr. Tin­der and crew, Cera’s boss at the Fash­ion Fac­to­ry, Mas­ter Adam Arnold, and the most inven­tive space vehi­cles I’ve ever seen. Every being (they’re not all human) in this book has a unique look. No cook­ie-cut­ter, repet­i­tive char­ac­ters to save on draw­ing time.

It’s a movie set on paper, except that you’ve had to con­ceive of, write, draw, and col­or every bit of it. There are no cam­eras and crew to bring your vision to life. Exhaust­ed yet?

Even the end­pa­pers are atten­tion-riv­et­ing. The con­stel­la­tions fill the skies of Space Dumplins and they often make an appear­ance, remind­ing us that we share the same space even though the set­ting feels alien and won­drous.

early concept

ear­ly con­cept of space­ship, copy­right Craig Thomp­son

You know those kids who are con­stant­ly doo­dling in class? They’ll love this book. And the kids who stay up long past their bed­times try­ing to fin­ish a chap­ter? They’ll love this book. And the kids who don’t know what to read next but they don’t want it to be bor­ing? Yup, they’re gonna love it. Space Dumplins reads like a TV series, a movie, a video game, and a sol­id, excit­ing sto­ry all between book cov­ers. Bril­liant.


Be sure to notice the homage to a num­ber of cul­tur­al icons in this book. H.A. Rey’s The Con­stel­la­tions? Strange Brew? Space­balls? And the real Trike (it exists!).

Be sure to read Craig Thomp­son’s answers to Five Ques­tions on The Book Rat’s blog. You’ll find out how long it took him to cre­ate Space Dumplins.

For a look at what Craig Thomp­son is work­ing on and where he’s appear­ing, vis­it his web­site.


That Lovely Ornament, the Moon

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root

Jack­ie: We’ve passed the Sol­stice but we still have more night than day. We can watch the moon with our break­fast and with our din­ner. We thought we’d cel­e­brate this sea­son of the moon by shar­ing some sto­ries fea­tur­ing that love­ly orna­ment.

Phyl­lis: And Christ­mas Eve we saw an almost full moon cast­ing shad­ows on the snow before the clouds blew in. Moon­light real­ly is mag­i­cal.

Papa Please Get the Moon For MeJack­ie: There’s love­ly mag­ic in Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Car­le. This book has been a favorite of mine since my days as a preschool teacher. It nev­er fails to please the sit-on-the-rug crowd. What’s not to love? There’s Eric Carle’s won­der­ful moon, and a father so ded­i­cat­ed that he finds a “very long lad­der” and takes it to “a very high moun­tain.” Then he climbs to the moon and waits until it’s just the right size. He brings it back and gives it to his daugh­ter. She hugs it, jumps and dances with it — until it dis­ap­pears.

The com­bi­na­tion of fan­ta­sy and real-moon, fam­i­ly affec­tion and joy is just time­less. This thir­ty year old sto­ry could have been writ­ten yes­ter­day.

Kitten's First Full MoonPhyl­lis: In Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes, Kit­ten, too, yearns for the moon, mis­tak­ing it for a bowl of milk. “And she want­ed it.” Clos­ing her eyes and lick­ing toward the moon only gives her a bug on her tongue, jump­ing at the moon ends in a tum­ble, and chas­ing the moon ends with Kit­ten up a tree and the moon no clos­er. After each attempt, the text reminds us of Kitten’s yearn­ing: “Still, there was the lit­tle bowl of milk, just wait­ing.” When Kit­ten sees the moon’s reflec­tion in the pond and leaps for it, she ends up tired, sad, and wet. Poor kit­ten! She returns home… to find a big bowl of milk on the porch, just wait­ing for her to lap it up.

Thirteen Moons on Turtle's BackJack­ie: Kit­tens and chil­dren and all of us are fas­ci­nat­ed by the moon. Thir­teen Moons on Turtle’s Back: a Native Amer­i­can Year of Moons (Pen­guin, 1992) by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan Lon­don is a col­lec­tion of thir­teen poems about the sea­sons of the moon from “each of the thir­teen Native Amer­i­can trib­al nations in dif­fer­ent regions of the con­ti­nent [cho­sen] to give a wider sense of the many things Native Amer­i­can peo­ple have been taught to notice in this beau­ti­ful world around us.” The notic­ing is one thing I love about this book. Read­ing these poems makes me want to walk in the woods and see some­thing in a new way.

Moon of Popping TreesIt feels as if we are in the sea­son of the “Moon of Pop­ping Trees.”

Out­side the lodge
the night air is bit­ter cold.
Now the Frost giant walks
with his club in his hand.
When he strikes the trunks
of the cot­ton­wood trees
we hear them crack
beneath the blow.
The peo­ple hide inside
when they hear that sound….

And that is much bet­ter than say­ing, “it’s cold.”

Phyl­lis: In “Baby Bear Moon” we learn how a small child lost in the snow was saved by sleep­ing all through the win­ter with a moth­er bear and her cubs. The poem con­cludes:

when we walk by on our snow­shoes
we will not both­er a bear
or her babies. Instead
we think how those small bears
are like our chil­dren.
We let them dream togeth­er.”

Who wouldn’t want to sleep the win­ter away shar­ing dreams with bears?

Jack­ie: I love the poet­ry of this book—

…Earth Elder
made the first tree,
a great oak with twelve branch­es
arch­ing over the land.
Then, sit­ting down beneath it,
the sun shin­ing bright,
Earth Elder thought
of food for the peo­ple,
and acorns began to form.”

Per­haps the best is that Bruchac and Lon­don encour­age us to see more than trees and grass, to imag­ine a land­scape, a thrum­ming with his­to­ry, com­mu­ni­ty, and the spir­its of shar­ing.

MoonlightJack­ie: Moon­light by Helen V. Grif­fith (Green­wil­low, 2012) is also a poet­ic text — and spare:

Rab­bit hides in shad­ow
under cloudy skies
wait­ing for the moon­light
blink­ing sleepy eyes.

But he goes into his bur­row and doesn’t see “Moon­light slides like butter/skims through out­er space/skids past stars and comets/leaves a but­ter trace.”

What a won­der­ful image! “Moon­light slides like but­ter.” Who can look at moon­light the same again?

Phyl­lis: I love the spare lan­guage of this book, and I love Lau­ra Dronzek’s lumi­nous art as well, where moon­light real­ly does but­ter every tree and slips into Rabbit’s dreams, awak­ing him to dance in the moon­light. So few words, but so well cho­sen — verbs such as skims and skids and skips and skit­ters. A won­der­ful pair­ing of words and art that makes me want to dance in the moon­light, too.

Owl MoonJane Yolen’s Owl Moon, which won a Calde­cott for its evoca­tive win­try art, is a sto­ry of an owl, patience, hope, and love. On a snowy night the nar­ra­tor sets out to go on a long-await­ed out­ing owl­ing with Pa. She knows, because Pa says, that when you go owl­ing you have to be qui­et, you have to make your own heat, and you have to have hope. Their hope is final­ly reward­ed when they spot an owl and stare into the owl’s eyes as it stare back before it flies away. The last image shows the small nar­ra­tor being car­ried toward the lights of home by her pa. The book con­cludes:

When you go owl­ing
you don’t need words
or warm
or any­thing but hope.
That’s what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shin­ing
Owl Moon.

Jack­ie: “When you go owling/you don’t need words/or warm/ or any­thing but hope.” The shin­ing moon, a light in the night, a lamp of hope that we turn into a friend in the sky. These books make me grate­ful for long nights.

Phyl­lis: And for moon­light and dreams and danc­ing.



Princess Posey’s Crazy Lazy Vacation Cookies

Princess Posey’s Crazy Lazy Vacation Cookies

If you like crispy, crunchy cook­ies and the taste of almonds, you’ll love these!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time35 mins
Serv­ings: 12
Author: Stephanie Greene


  • 1 ¾ cups sliced almonds
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sug­ar
  • 2 large egg whites
  • Grat­ed peel of one orange or to taste
  • ½ tea­spoon pure almond extract


  • Pre­heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread almonds in a sin­gle lay­er on a rimmed bak­ing sheet and toast in oven until light­ly browned and fra­grant, 7 to 9 min­utes. Remove from oven; let cool.
  • Com­bine almonds and sug­ar in food proces­sor and grind to a fine pow­der. Trans­fer to a medi­um bowl. In a sep­a­rate bowl, beat eggs whites until stiff peaks form. (Tip: if you beat the whites in a bowl over sim­mer­ing water, they’ll beat faster. You can do it by hand or with a mix­er. It’s fun!)
  • Fold egg whites into almond mix­ture; fold in almond extract; fold in grat­ed orange peel.
  • Line a bak­ing sheet with parch­ment paper. Trans­fer almond mix­ture to a pas­try bag fit­ted with a ½‑inch plain tip.* Pipe twen­ty 2‑inch rings onto pre­pared sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake until gold­en brown and firm to the touch, about 25 min­utes.
  • Remove from oven and imme­di­ate­ly trans­fer to a wire rack to cool com­plete­ly.


If you don’t have a pas­try bag, you can cut the cor­ner off a large plas­tic bag and use it. It’s not per­fect, but it works.


by Melanie Heuis­er Hill


BambiWhen I was 16, my aunt gave birth to twin boys. We did not see them near­ly often enough as they were grow­ing up (we were sep­a­rat­ed by sev­er­al states), but the mem­o­ries I have of those boys when they were lit­tle are clear in a way they are not with regard to my oth­er cousins. (I’m the old­est of many cousins on that side — there were lit­tle kids every­where for a few years.)

I remem­ber spoon­ing baby food into their lit­tle mouths — two-hand­ed, hard­ly able to keep up. I remem­ber catch­ing them as they jumped off the div­ing board, and how hard they held onto my neck as we swam to the side. I remem­ber their lit­tle boy ener­gy (x2!) as they ran the cir­cle between the liv­ing room, din­ing room, kitchen, and front hall in my grand­par­ents’ house.

And I remem­ber read­ing Bam­bi to them as if it was yes­ter­day. The boys were almost three, I believe. We’d had a big day and they were final­ly bathed, in their paja­mas, and it was time to set­tle-down for the night. I asked them to pick a book we could read togeth­er. They brought me Disney’s Bam­bi, a book that was almost as big as they were — they had to take turns lug­ging it across the room. Togeth­er they heaved it onto my lap, then climbed up on the couch and sank in beside me, one on each side.

I opened the over-sized book and start­ed read­ing. They were imme­di­ate­ly absorbed, each of them lean­ing into me…breathing deeply…settling down, as was the goal. I snug­gled down between the two sham­poo smelling dar­lings, bliss­ful­ly hap­py….

I don’t know how, but I total­ly for­got Bambi’s mom dies. I turned the page and there she was in the upper left-hand cor­ner, sprawled on her side, blood in the snow. I quick­ly adjust­ed my grip on the book, plac­ing my hand over her body. I felt a flash of anger. Seri­ous­ly? We had to cov­er mater­nal death before they were three?! I smooth­ly adjust­ed the words, leav­ing things a bit vague as to where Bambi’s moth­er went….

But the boys knew the sto­ry. They sat up. One moved my hand off of Bambi’s life­less moth­er, and the oth­er said, “Why did Bambi’s Mama die?”

I will nev­er for­get those sweet lit­tle faces look­ing up at me, anguished curios­i­ty pooled in their big eyes. My heart broke right there and I start­ed to cry. What could I say? Just the facts? A hunter shot her. It’s The Dis­ney Way? The moth­ers always die. The truth? Some­times hor­ri­ble things hap­pen….

I don’t know what I offered as expla­na­tion. I remem­ber that they stood on the couch and bounced, prob­a­bly try­ing to make me laugh instead of sob all over their book. Even­tu­al­ly, I pulled it togeth­er and we sank back into our cozy read­ing posi­tion to fin­ish the grand saga of Bam­bi. As I read, one of them kept his hand on my arm, his lit­tle fin­gers ris­ing and falling in a sooth­ing pat.

One of those boys — the pat­ter — became a father last Decem­ber. The oth­er became a father ear­li­er this week. This is astound­ing to me. I look at the pic­tures of these grown men (they’re THIRTY now!) hold­ing their wee babies and all I see are the faces of those sweet lit­tle boys — their imp­ish grins, their big eyes full of love and ques­tions, their pride and won­der at all that life holds…. The razor stub­ble doesn’t fool me at all — time just moves in weird ways, I guess. The babies now have babies.

They will be won­der­ful fathers, I’ve no doubt. I wish for them so many things, but espe­cial­ly the joy of read­ing to their kids as they grow. It’s been a favorite part of par­ent­ing for me. And it’s my favorite mem­o­ry of being their cousin, too.


Skinny Dip with Karen Blumenthal

Matzo ToffeeFavorite hol­i­day tra­di­tion?

Food! I love to bake and hol­i­days are the best excuse for bak­ing! Peach cob­bler for the Fourth of July, apple cake for the Jew­ish hol­i­days, dozens and dozens of cook­ies for friends and fam­i­ly in Decem­ber, and this killer can­dy that we call mat­zo tof­fee at Passover. I make a ton of it for friends and even send some to spe­cial edi­tors. It’s the most addic­tive thing ever and it proves that choco­late makes every­thing bet­ter.

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

Most­ly a teacher’s pet. I had poor eye­sight and super-thick glass­es and had to sit up front. But I also have strong opin­ions, so I’m sure I was a chal­lenge as well.

Mexia TexasWhat’s the first book report you ever wrote?

This is embar­rass­ing, but I don’t remem­ber book reports in ele­men­tary school. I remem­ber reports on a town in Texas (I chose Mex­ia, pro­nounced Me-hay‑a) and oth­er sub­jects, and even a report on Nixon’s trip to Chi­na, but no book reports. Maybe I blocked them out! We did do them in junior high and I got in trou­ble for choos­ing a 1934 nov­el by John O’Hara that the teacher deemed too old for me.

First BookDo you like to gift wrap presents?

That’s kind of a fun­ny ques­tion. Yes, and no. Here’s why: For the last 12 or 13 years, my fam­i­ly has gift-wrapped books at local book­stores dur­ing the Christ­mas sea­son to raise mon­ey for a lit­er­a­cy orga­ni­za­tion called First Book. Some years, we worked many shifts at sev­er­al book­stores and some years, we worked just a hand­ful of shifts. But near­ly all of those years, we gift-wrapped on Christ­mas Eve, which is a crazy day when all the last-minute or vis­it­ing-from-out-of-town shop­pers come in. By the mid­dle of the sea­son, I could hard­ly bear to wrap our family’s own gifts.

All togeth­er, our wrap­ping raised more than $20,000 for First Book. But we decid­ed 2014 would be our last year. Our daugh­ters, who were 12 and 14 when we start­ed, are now grown and live on oppo­site coasts and we don’t get to spend much time with them.  It was a great expe­ri­ence though, and I’m now an excel­lent wrap­per!

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

Hmmm. I enjoyed writ­ing at that age, but was becom­ing self-con­scious about it, and I had class­mates — includ­ing anoth­er Karen — who were more skilled. Prob­a­bly I would tell her that pas­sion and per­sis­tence are about as impor­tant as any­thing and to keep at it.

ph_dinner_300What 3 children’s book authors or illus­tra­tors or edi­tors would you like to invite to din­ner?

One of the real­ly great things about being an author is that you get to meet oth­er authors, and even have a meal with them. So I’ve got­ten to meet some of my heroes, like Rus­sell Freed­man, Steve Sheinkin, and Susan Bar­to­let­ti.

Oh, this is so hard! Bev­er­ly Cleary, for sure, because she was one of my ear­ly favorites and still is.  J.K. Rowl­ing, because that would be amaz­ing. And maybe John Green, because he’s so cool.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

Any­where! Real­ly! I’ll read just about any­where, though I pre­fer a chair. I read a lot at my break­fast table, but also in a com­fort­able chair in our den, on the bike at the gym, on planes, and when I’m wait­ing for an appoint­ment. 



Middle Kingdom: Anchorage, Alaska

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

This jour­ney takes us to Gold­en­view Mid­dle School in Anchor­age, Alas­ka, where Lisa talks with librar­i­an Nicole Roohi.

Lisa: Nicole, thank you so much for invit­ing us to make this vir­tu­al vis­it to your school library! Our first ques­tion is, what are three to five things our blog read­ers should know about your com­mu­ni­ty, school, or library/media cen­ter?


Nicole: Gold­en­view Mid­dle School serves 700 – 800 sev­enth and eighth graders and is locat­ed in Anchor­age, Alas­ka. The Anchor­age School Dis­trict is the most deseg­re­gat­ed school dis­trict in the coun­try, and because of that we have an incred­i­ble diver­si­ty in each class­room, in race, lan­guage, cul­ture, and socio-eco­nom­ic sta­tus. The top three most diverse high schools in the coun­try are in Anchor­age, and six of the top sev­en most diverse mid­dle schools are also here. Although Gold­en­view is not one of these six, it can’t help but be incred­i­bly diverse as a result of being in this won­der­ful city.

Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often?

Nicole: Nat­u­ral­ly, all the dystopi­an trilo­gies are top­ping our cir­cu­la­tion list for the fall, fol­lowed by the movie tie-in books, so I’ll con­cen­trate on the next most pop­u­lar books after these usu­al sus­pects. That’s what makes it inter­est­ing, isn’t it? Intrigu­ing­ly, The List by Siob­han Vivian was hands down the biggest sin­gle book in cir­cu­la­tion this fall. I book talked it to one class, and then word of mouth made it spread like wild­fire amongst the sev­enth graders. A few days lat­er I noticed we had 14 holds on it, so I had to ILL sev­er­al copies from oth­er schools to fill the demand! The next four top books were Case File 13: Zom­bie Kid by J. Scott Sav­age, Ruby Red by Ker­stin Gier, Girl, Stolen by April Hen­ry, and Zero Tol­er­ance by Clau­dia Mills.

Gardenview 5 most circulated books

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


  • Gracel­ing (by Kristin Cashore) is a favorite, and is an easy sell 95% of the time.
  • Ash­fall (by Mike Mullin) is anoth­er easy sell, espe­cial­ly to boys. I like how the char­ac­ter matures.
  • Some years, The Boy Who Har­nessed the Wind (by William Kamk­wam­ba and Bryan Meal­er) is very pop­u­lar, oth­er years not. This year it is cir­cu­lat­ing because some girls have read I Will Always Write Back (by Caitlin Ali­firen­ka and Mar­tin Gan­da with Liz Welch), or I Am Malala (by Malala Yousafzai with Christi­na Lamb) and want some­thing sim­i­lar, so I put this in their hands.
  • The Thief (by Megan Whalen Turn­er) and The Raven Boys (by Mag­gie Stief­vater) are two of my favorite fan­tasies but are hard­er to sell. Gen­er­al­ly girls who love fan­ta­sy and romance will take them, and they come back gush­ing and tell their friends about them.
  • We have a size­able Native pop­u­la­tion here, so The Absolute­ly True Diary of a Part-Time Indi­an (by Sher­man Alex­ie) is always pop­u­lar; it’s one of my favorites and is one I love to show kids.
  • Whale Talk (by Chris Crutch­er) and Slam (by Nick Horn­by) appeal to boys once I point them out to them.
  • Final­ly, The Dis­rep­utable His­to­ry of Frankie Lan­dau-Banks and even the Ruby Oliv­er series (all by E. Lock­hart) are ones I love to give out because they are, as my daugh­ter calls them, sub­ver­sive chick-lit. The girls get hooked on the romance and dra­ma, but they are quite empow­er­ing too. Prob­a­bly The Dis­rep­utable His­to­ry is too empow­er­ing as the girls hate that Frankie los­es her boyfriend in the end. I’m guess­ing high school­ers are much less dis­turbed by this end­ing.

Gardenview Booktalks

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

Nicole: When­ev­er I get a new library assis­tant, I tell them our first pri­or­i­ty is ser­vice. Also, you have to love kids and books. If you do, then this is the best job in the school. What could be bet­ter than help­ing stu­dents and staff every day? We make their lives bet­ter and eas­i­er and more fun! The best thing about this job is per­son­al­ly deliv­er­ing a book on hold to a student’s class­room and see­ing the excit­ed smile on their face.

Lisa: What do you like most about work­ing with mid­dle-school­ers?

Nicole: This age group is still young enough that they read all the time and home­work doesn’t inter­fere too much, so we still work with books a lot. But they are final­ly old enough that they are think­ing about the world around them and are try­ing to fig­ure out what their place is in it and how they can make a dif­fer­ence. So we get to talk about how to make the world a bet­ter place and I can help them find resources for that too.

Reading in the library

Lisa: Could you share some infor­ma­tion about your most pop­u­lar, suc­cess­ful, inno­v­a­tive pro­gram for pro­mot­ing books and read­ing to mid­dle school­ers?

King of the Mild FrontierNicole: There are lots of ways we pro­mote read­ing here. We just fin­ished the Amaz­ing Race, which is a dis­trict-wide read­ing com­pe­ti­tion among six of our mid­dle schools. Last year sev­er­al of the sec­ondary librar­i­ans decid­ed to gen­refy our fic­tion sec­tions to increase read­ing, and one of the things we did with that was to take our Amaz­ing Race com­pe­ti­tion and turn it into a way to encour­age our stu­dents to read in all sev­en gen­res. This year with all our stu­dents read­ing togeth­er, Gold­en­view read 3,268 hours in just 28 days! That is twice as much as we did last year.

We also have video announce­ments every morn­ing, and I have been doing occa­sion­al record­ed book talks for many years. How­ev­er, last year we got a fan­tas­tic new announce­ments teacher, and we’ve worked togeth­er to improve the book talks. We now have Book Talk Tues­day every week, and the kids great­ly look for­ward to it. They often sing the book talk jin­gle to me when I pass them in the hall.

Final­ly, I have for years cre­at­ed, curat­ed, and updat­ed a series of book pam­phlets on dif­fer­ent top­ics in our library. I have these on our cir­cu­la­tion desk and stu­dents take these every day to help them find books of inter­est. Of course now that we’ve gen­re­fied our fic­tion sec­tion, that helps them too!

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

Nicole: In ten years I hope that my stu­dents still love to read. And I want them to see read­ing as a path­way to con­tin­ue their edu­ca­tion and growth for the rest of their lives. I very much would like to have them be strong pub­lic library users and sup­port­ers.


Lynne Jonell: Accessing Childhood Emotion

Lynne Jonell Childhood Memories

Lynne Jonel­l’s neigh­bor­hood friends

They say that, if you’re a doc­tor, it’s not some­thing you want to admit to at an event where you’re going to have to make small talk with a lot of strangers. Because invari­ably peo­ple will want your opin­ion on their rash, or the fun­ny flut­ter in their chest, or the odd bump on their knee. I wouldn’t know, not being a doc­tor, but I under­stand feel­ing cau­tious about admit­ting what I do for a liv­ing. Because there are appar­ent­ly a lot of peo­ple who have always want­ed to be a children’s author, and most of them have a great idea for a book. Or so they tell me.

The gen­er­al feel­ing seems to be that any­one can write a children’s book. They’re so short! And everyone’s been a kid, right? So every­one can write from expe­ri­ence!

It’s all quite true. But while any­one can write a children’s book, more to the point, will any­one want to read it? Learn­ing to write some­thing that chil­dren actu­al­ly want to read (and pub­lish­ers want to pub­lish) is slight­ly more tricky than just putting down child­hood mem­o­ries.

For one thing, child­hood mem­o­ries won’t cut it. You can’t just remem­ber. You have to become the child you were; you have to open the door to that inner room where that child still resides, and allow the emo­tion to hit you in the face. It is a task that requires some brav­ery. After that, of course, you must call into play all your adult skill to craft a plot and devel­op your char­ac­ters — but first, and above all, you have to access the emo­tion.

If you are one of those peo­ple who has always want­ed to write for chil­dren, you may be won­der­ing how this is done. There are a lot of ways, but I am going to tell you one exer­cise that is very good. Be care­ful, though — you may just open the flood­gates.

Here is the exer­cise:

  1. Think back to the house you lived in as a child. If you lived in more than one, pick one. If you are not sure which to pick, choose the one you remem­ber best.
  2. Pick one floor of that house.
  3. Draw a floor plan of that floor, in that house, that you lived in as a child.
  4. Pick a spot some­where on the floor plan, and mark it with an X.
  5. A mem­o­ry will come to you of some­thing that hap­pened in that space.
  6. Allow your­self to smell the smells, see the col­ors, feel the tex­tures of this mem­o­ry that hap­pened in this room. Allow your­self to feel what you felt then.
  7. Write about this feel­ing.

Of course you can use this method with your school, your neigh­bor­hood, the gro­cery store from your child­hood — but once I became adept at slip­ping into my child mind, I found that I could use this in whol­ly made-up worlds as well. If I became stuck at a cer­tain point in a sto­ry, for exam­ple, I would visu­al­ize the spot my char­ac­ter was in, put myself in the place of my char­ac­ter, and expe­ri­ence the sen­so­ry details around me just as if it were my own child­hood I was re-expe­ri­enc­ing. And then I would wait to see what hap­pened next. I would go through a door, or I would open a book, or I would bend down to look at some­thing on the floor. Always, some detail or the oth­er would make itself known to me, and I would pay atten­tion to it. Once I paid atten­tion to the detail, the emo­tion would fol­low — and the sto­ry would move for­ward.

I wish I could give cred­it to the prop­er per­son for this exer­cise, but I hon­est­ly can’t remem­ber where I heard it. If any of you do this exer­cise, I would be inter­est­ed to hear what hap­pened, though. Did it work for you?


Well-Traveled Paths

by Lisa Bullard

12_17PinkCarriageI slip into auto-pilot when I’m dri­ving through over­ly famil­iar ter­ri­to­ry; I stop tak­ing in the same old land­marks. And then one day, there’s a stop sign where there’s nev­er been one before, and my eyes are re-opened to the pos­si­bil­i­ties around me.

There are “sto­ry paths” like that too: fairy tales and oth­er nar­ra­tives that have grown so famil­iar we fail to notice the pow­er they hold unless we’re forced to take a fresh look. But these sto­ries have much to offer; there’s a rea­son they’ve been passed down through ages of sto­ry-tellers. Some­times they even serve as the foun­da­tion for new sto­ries in new gen­er­a­tions; “once upon a time” becomes “here, in this time.”

I use some of these time-proven sto­ries as stu­dent writ­ing prompts (down­load here). They are par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful when stu­dents are strug­gling with pulling sto­ries togeth­er. The prompts pro­vide the basics of char­ac­ter, plot, and conflict; stu­dents draw on their knowl­edge of ear­li­er ver­sions of the sto­ry to craft a new ver­sion. By explor­ing the exist­ing nar­ra­tive from the inside out, they learn how a sto­ry is craft­ed. And they car­ry that knowl­edge for­ward to oth­er sto­ries they write.

Some­times writ­ers turn time-proven sto­ries into even more pow­er­ful new sto­ries. When I added the last of the four prompts to my list, I had “The Ugly Duck­ling” in mind. But it didn’t take me long to real­ize that the same basic descrip­tion could apply to anoth­er children’s sto­ry: the tale of a boy, shunned by his fam­i­ly because he’s dif­fer­ent who one day shocks every­one with his amaz­ing hid­den tal­ent.

I offer you the two words that changed children’s book pub­lish­ing: Har­ry Pott‚er. Who knows what oth­er “new clas­sics” your stu­dents might cre­ate when they begin trav­el­ing the paths of time-test­ed sto­ries?


John Burningham

John BurninghamYou prob­a­bly know John Burn­ing­ham best for Mr. Gumpy’s Out­ing but illus­tra­tors, book cre­ators, are so much more than what we see between the cov­ers of their books. Their lives are often illus­trat­ed. They record things on paper visu­al­ly. They put what they’ve observed into draw­ers and port­fo­lios and note­books so they have that once-seen image to call upon for their work.

In this epony­mous­ly titled book, John Burn­ing­ham (Can­dlewick Press), both Mau­rice Sendak and Bri­an Alder­son write fore­words for the book, par­tic­u­lar­ly about the ear­ly 1960s which saw the pub­li­ca­tion of Bor­ka (Burn­ing­ham) and Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak). Those books “were the direct result of those fast and furi­ous­ly fresh­ly designed pic­ture book days. Down with the sim­per­ing 19th cen­tu­ry goody-goody books that deprived chil­dren of their ani­mal nature, wild imag­i­na­tion, and lust for liv­ing.” (Sendak)

The major­i­ty of the book is Burningham’s remem­brances of child­hood, liv­ing in a car­a­van with his fam­i­ly dur­ing World War II, his ear­ly jobs, attend­ing the Cen­tral School of Arts, and each of his books. This Lit­er­ary Madeleine is replete with sketch­es, draw­ings, and fin­ished work, pho­tos, inspi­ra­tion, and obser­vances.

John Burningham Books

Here are some high­lights:

There is a mis­con­cep­tion that pic­ture books for chil­dren should be packed with colour and dec­o­ra­tion on every page. This is rather like say­ing a suc­cess­ful piece of music should be crammed full of loud noise. It’s the jux­ta­po­si­tion and build-up of sound that makes music inter­est­ing.” (pg 127) 

 “When I look at some of my child­hood draw­ings, I real­ize I have repro­duced them again years lat­er. The plumb­ing pic­ture I drew as a child is very sim­i­lar to the pic­ture in Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley.” (pg 130)

John Burningham

He offers com­ments on many of his books, insight­ful, pro­duc­ing much flip­ping back and forth to look at oth­er draw­ings, to exam­ine how Burn­ing­ham has done this else­where, to absorb his scope and style. For Oi! Get Off Our Train (called Hey, Get Off Our Train in the US … oi!) he explains that the West Japan Rail­way Com­pa­ny hired him to make a book about the Yoshit­sune, Japan’s first steam loco­mo­tive, for Expo 90, a world’s fair held in Osa­ka in 1990. The paint­ing below is from this book …

Oi Get Off Our Train!

It’s very reveal­ing about this author/illustrator that he writes, “Oi! Get Off Our Train was first pub­lished in Japan in 1989. It is an envi­ron­men­tal tale, now ded­i­cat­ed to Chico Mendes, who did so much try­ing to pro­tect the rain­forests. He was mur­dered for his work. Oi! Get Off Our Train is about endan­gered species, but more than that it’s about the social hier­ar­chy of young chil­dren and the need to ease them­selves into a group.” (pg 167)

Harvey SlumfenbergerHar­vey Slumfenburger’s Christ­mas Present relates the sto­ry of a young boy who is quite poor. The only present he will get for Christ­mas is the one that Father Christ­mas will bring him. “Father Christ­mas was very tired. The rein­deer were asleep and one of them was not very well. But Father Christ­mas knew he had to get the present to Har­vey Slum­fen­burg­er.” (pg 179)

It is a book to be read care­ful­ly, savored, and cher­ished. Pull it down from your shelf every few months and you’ll quick­ly be pulled into his art­work once again. You’ll find your­self filled with effer­ves­cence, the type that car­ries you on to do great things.


Stephanie Roth Sisson

Stephanie Roth SissonThe first Princess Posey book was pub­lished in 2010. How long before that were you asked to illus­trate the book? And were the plans to have it be a sin­gle book at that time or were there already inten­tions to pub­lish more than one book about Posey?

Susan Kochan and Cecil­ia Yung at Pen­guin con­tact­ed me in Novem­ber of 2008 about the Princess Posey series. If I am remem­ber­ing this right, there were two books planned ini­tial­ly. The first book was well received, so I think that’s what expand­ed the series out.

Know­ing how impor­tant it is to have char­ac­ters in books look the same no mat­ter how they are stand­ing or sit­ting or mov­ing, how did you begin to cre­ate Posey’s look?

Princess Poeey and the Tiny TreasureStephanie Greene’s text cre­at­ed Princess Posey through her approach­able and clever text. After read­ing the first man­u­script, I thought that this is a real and relat­able kid- some­one we all know. As an aside, I loved that Posey’s fam­i­ly sit­u­a­tion is not explained. We don’t know why her father isn’t in the pic­ture. This isn’t a divorce book or a book about why dad isn’t there — her world is not about the absence of some­one. Posey has her fam­i­ly, her neigh­bors, friends, and a teacher who are lov­ing and nur­tur­ing and that’s enough.  

What type of draw­ing mate­ri­als and papers do you use when you’re illus­trat­ing the Posey sto­ries?

The Princess Posey illus­tra­tions are done tra­di­tion­al­ly with water­col­ors and paper. I do a lit­tle clean­ing up dig­i­tal­ly, but 90% or bet­ter is tra­di­tion­al media.

What do you think of dif­fer­ent­ly when cre­at­ing the black-and-white draw­ings and spot illus­tra­tions for Posey as opposed to cre­at­ing the illus­tra­tions for your newest book: Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mys­ter­ies of the Cos­mos?

Star StuffWhen I was work­ing on the illus­tra­tions for Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mys­ter­ies of the Cos­mos, I was prepar­ing for a life out­side of the U.S. on this lit­tle island called Mau­ri­tius. On Mau­ri­tius the air is humid (paper buck­les and molds) and qual­i­ty art mate­ri­als are dif­fi­cult to find,  plus ship­ping orig­i­nal art­work is an act of faith in an incred­i­bly unre­li­able ser­vice at best. I can’t even count on a let­ter mailed with­in Mau­ri­tius with clear­ly print­ed address­es to make it to its des­ti­na­tion. For Star Stuff, I used most­ly dig­i­tal media work­ing on a Wacom™ tablet with some scanned art — most­ly for back­grounds. I need­ed to teach myself a method that I could use that could be uploaded to an FTP serv­er. I uploaded the book short­ly before we moved to Mau­ri­tius and it worked!

Do you keep a file of images, either on paper or dig­i­tal­ly, that helps you with ideas?

Yes, I have files for all of my books. I am also a big fan of Pin­ter­est. When­ev­er I find images that I think I can use I col­lect them. This is a great way to cre­ate a book.

Posey has three friends, a teacher, Miss Lee, and her moth­er and grand­fa­ther as main char­ac­ters. Do you orga­nize your infor­ma­tion about each of them in a par­tic­u­lar way? What form does those records take?

Princess PoseyI keep a file with images of Posey’s world. It con­tains maps of her neigh­bor­hood, draw­ings of her house, a floor­plan of her house and draw­ings of each room. I do a bit of the same for the oth­er char­ac­ters, not­ing what sort of cloth­ing they wear. For exam­ple, Nik­ki wears a lot of tunics and wears a head­band, Posey likes her bling.  I have scans of the char­ac­ters in var­i­ous posi­tions and have a “line up” draw­ing with their heights rel­a­tive to one anoth­er.

Do you feel that you know Posey and her world quite well now? Does it feel like a real place to you?

Yes, def­i­nite­ly. Her world sits as a com­plete place in my mind.

On your web­site, you wrote that Tomie dePao­la was the first illus­tra­tor who made you real­ize that you could have a job writ­ing and illus­trat­ing children’s books. What kind of train­ing did you go through to make you con­fi­dent in your work?

Tomie dePaolaYes, I was lucky to have met Tomie dePao­la when I was in ele­men­tary school. I haven’t received any for­mal art train­ing. My col­lec­tion of books for chil­dren grows by the year and includes most of my favorites from child­hood. I study those books. I love every­thing about them from the feel of the paper,  how the sto­ry is laid out, the the­ater of this thing we call a book. I began draw­ing (like most of us) as soon as I could hold a pen­cil, I’ve just nev­er stopped.

What books would you rec­om­mend to bud­ding illus­tra­tors?

Show Me a StoryStudy the books you love  and ask your­self why you like them. Study how the sto­ry unfolds, how we meet the char­ac­ters in the book, and what we can tell about the char­ac­ters from the pic­tures. I’ve noticed that many suc­cess­ful illus­tra­tors come from a film back­ground. Watch movies and see what kind of light­ing is used to set a mood, how scenes are framed and how things are paced to height­en the emo­tion of the sto­ry. As a sto­ry­teller, my num­ber one focus is always the emo­tion­al con­nec­tion between the read­er and the char­ac­ters and the sto­ry. As far as books go, there are so many! Leonard Mar­cus has writ­ten some gems about chil­drens’ lit­er­a­ture, I love read­ing biogra­phies of illus­tra­tors and writ­ers for inspi­ra­tion, too. My first stop though in this process of becom­ing a cre­ator of con­tent for chil­dren is the SCBWI (Soci­ety of Chil­dren’s Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors).    

Stephanie, it has been a joy to come to know Posey through the visu­als you cre­ate. Many of them show ten­der­ness, humor, and joy … all of which young read­ers appre­ci­ate. Thank you for shar­ing your tal­ents with us.


Rolling the Storytelling Blocks

by Vic­ki Palmquist

How to tell a storyLook­ing for hours of fun with a book the whole fam­i­ly can enjoy … or one per­son can eas­i­ly study to learn to write or tell a sto­ry … bet­ter? Then you’ll want to give this a try: How to Tell a Sto­ry, writ­ten by Daniel Nay­eri, illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Won, and pub­lished by Work­man Pub­lish­ing in 2015.

This book comes in a box. Inside the box there’s a small-for­mat book (5−1÷4” x 5−1÷4”, 143 pages) with lots of illus­tra­tions and visu­al cues to help under­stand the many ways telling a sto­ry can be not only fun but inter­est­ing and chal­leng­ing.

To help you “get ideas,” which kids often feel is the tough­est part of writ­ing or sto­ry­telling, there are 20 cubes. Each face of the cube con­tains a char­ac­ter, object, place, adjec­tive (descrip­tion or emo­tion), action, or rela­tion­ship. They’re col­or-cod­ed so you can set par­tic­u­lar para­me­ters for your “game play” or the chal­lenge you’ve made for your­self.

How to Tell a Story


With chap­ters on con­flict, moti­va­tion, dia­logue, char­ac­ter, plot, and theme, the basics of sto­ry­telling are packed into this guide.

The author has includ­ed a num­ber of games that can be played with two, up to 20, blocks. For instance, in “Debate,” we’ll roll 10 blocks. We’ll choose two blue blocks and one red block. Nay­eri writes, “Oh, no! There’s a dead­ly storm on the hori­zon and Cap­tain Lark has to decide what to do with a ship full of pre­cious (blue block), the crew of (red block), and the mag­i­cal (oth­er blue block), which can only be used to save one per­son or thing. What should Cap­tain Lark save first? Why? Come up with enough sto­ries to argue for sav­ing either the pre­cious (blue block), the crew of (red block), or him­self.” My fin­gers are itch­ing to roll the blocks, aren’t yours?

How to Tell a Story

The blocks can be used in sim­ple ways with young chil­dren or they can be engross­ing for adults. The author is very instruc­tive in the text:

 “As our sto­ry­teller, if you start in the mid­dle, then you’re going to have to intro­duce us to the impor­tant bits of the back­sto­ry as they become nec­es­sary.

The ancient Roman poet Horace called this method IN MEDIA RES, which means “in the mid­dle of things.”  He rec­om­mend­ed telling sto­ries this way so you can jump straight into the action and fill out the details as you go.”

The illus­tra­tions by Bri­an Won are appeal­ing to chil­dren, teens, and adults. They’re the same style as those used on the blocks (and often the same images) so we feel a con­nec­tion. They’re descrip­tive enough so that our brains begin mak­ing sto­ries out of them imme­di­ate­ly, but not so reduc­tive that they only con­vey one pos­si­bil­i­ty.

How to Tell a Story

That’s the beau­ty of this set of sto­ry starters. There’s a myr­i­ad of ways to use them, to learn from them, to play games with them, and to have fun. This is a per­fect gift for the sto­ry­tellers in your fam­i­ly.


Stephanie Greene

Stephanie GreeneIs the “impos­si­ble game” some­thing you ran across or is it some­thing you invent­ed?

I read about it on a blog or the Inter­net, I can’t remem­ber. I try to keep abreast of what six-year-olds are doing by talk­ing to my nieces, who have lit­tle girls, or friends who do, or the chil­dren on the street where we live – any­where I can find infor­ma­tion.

How do you main­tain your sense of what a first grad­er thinks about, feels, and wor­ries about?

When I was writ­ing the books, I didn’t think about that. Posey got under my skin and I was able to con­vey the feel­ings and indig­na­tions and con­cerns of a lit­tle girl her age. But now that you ask and I look back, I think she’s prob­a­bly a bit like me at that age. I’m glad I didn’t real­ize it at the time because I find it impos­si­ble to write if I think that who I’m writ­ing about is myself. My moth­er once said I was always well-inten­tioned as a child and I think Posey is, too. I guess I uncon­scious­ly pulled on the often con­flict­ed feel­ings of hav­ing four sib­lings, too. They’re the uni­ver­sal emo­tions of chil­dren.

Do you find your­self writ­ing words, actions, con­cerns, and then check­ing with “author­i­ties” to see if your writ­ing is age-accu­rate?

No. I come up with the cen­tral con­cept and write it. My edi­tor offers her opin­ion, of course, and some­times ques­tions what I’ve had Posey say or do. Togeth­er, we iron out any­thing that doesn’t feel authen­tic.

Did you keep a jour­nal when your own child was this age … or when you were this age?

No, but I sure wish I had. I did jot down things my son said (and have used almost all of them in oth­er books), but I nev­er kept a jour­nal when I was a kid. I didn’t dare – hav­ing read my old­er sister’s diary on a reg­u­lar basis, I knew one of my sib­lings was bound to read mine.

You’ve writ­ten about an ele­men­tary-school boy, Owen Foote, and a mid­dle school girl, Sophie Hart­ley, and the pri­ma­ry-school-aged Posey. From where do you draw your infor­ma­tion about what’s a part of these children’s lives at dif­fer­ent ages?

Owen Foote, Sophie Hartley, Princess PoseyMany things have led to what I’m proud to think are books that reflect the authen­tic lives of chil­dren at what­ev­er age I’ve cho­sen. For starters, I remem­ber a lot of the events and emo­tions of my own child­hood. I’ve also spent many years as a vol­un­teer in schools to keep abreast of what’s going on. And I spy and eaves­drop inces­sant­ly on chil­dren to this day – my own and oth­ers wher­ev­er I see them. I have a con­stant anten­na out to see what’s going on in the world as it per­tains to chil­dren. Every­thing in life is fod­der to an author.

Your books read as con­tem­po­rary fic­tion. Are you con­cerned about adding in cell phones and com­put­ers and video games?

Yes. Not com­put­ers and videos games, as much, because I can have a char­ac­ter sit down with one of those as part of a larg­er scene with­out hav­ing to go into detail as to what they’re doing. But cell phones? I only used those in one Sophie Hart­ley book and I kept their pres­ence short. (Thad broke up with his girl­friend via a text, which I know kids do. Nora longed for one.) As an adult who sees more and more chil­dren tex­ting and watch­ing things on their cell phones when they’re with one anoth­er, or should be look­ing at the world around them, cell phones dis­tress me. They have an adverse effect on young people’s abil­i­ty to relate to one anoth­er or even hold a con­ver­sa­tion. So far, I haven’t want­ed to be par­ty to that. Should I come up with an idea in which a cell phone played a cru­cial role …? I guess I’ll wait and see what I do with that.

Read­ing a Posey book on their own is com­fort­able for read­ers ages 5 to 7, depend­ing on their read­ing skill. Do you think about the words you’re using when you write for these read­ers?

Not real­ly, no. I write them using the lan­guage Posey and her friends use. If I’d made Posey ten, the books would have been writ­ten dif­fer­ent­ly. The age of the pro­tag­o­nist deter­mines the lan­guage.

Your moth­er, Con­stance C. Greene, wrote A Girl Called Al, which is a humor­ous book writ­ten for what we then called young adults, as well as the oth­er books in that series. She also wrote a book about grief and sor­row called Beat the Tur­tle Drum that moved many read­ers. When you were grow­ing up, were you aware of what your moth­er did for a liv­ing? Did she involve you in any way?

A Girl Called AlMy moth­er sold A Girl Called Al when I was a junior in high school. Before then, she wrote short sto­ries for the New York Dai­ly News and oth­er news­pa­pers, includ­ing a woman’s mag­a­zine in Scot­land. She nev­er direct­ly involved any of us in her writ­ing, but since she wrote on the din­ing room table, we were all aware of it. Writ­ing was what she did. She was very good and she loved doing it, but she was mat­ter-of-fact about it. All she ever did was cau­tion me against ever show­ing my spouse any­thing I’d writ­ten – long before I start­ed writ­ing. Or was even dat­ing.

At what age did you real­ize you want­ed to write books for chil­dren … and why?

I guess I start­ed when my son was lit­tle. Watch­ing him with his friends was often hilar­i­ous. They were so absorbed by, and intent on, what­ev­er it was they were doing. It wasn’t until the day I lis­tened to Bet­sy Byars give an hilar­i­ous talk at an SCBWI con­fer­ence, how­ev­er, that I actu­al­ly sat down and wrote. It was my first Owen Foote book and I was so inspired by her that I wrote it in one draft.

Here’s a tough ques­tion: how do you write a humor­ous book? What do you keep in mind?

As my edi­tor Dinah Steven­son once said, “You can’t make kids laugh by say­ing something’s fun­ny.” i.e., writ­ing that a kid “cracked up” or “laughed so hard” when what made him/her do that isn’t very fun­ny. Hav­ing kids doing awk­ward or embar­rass­ing things is kind of a cheap trick (although farts and burps are help­ful tools). As with all emo­tions, you have to earn a reader’s laugh­ter. I think hav­ing a good sense of humor is impor­tant, or see­ing the world in a humor­ous way, or hav­ing an iron­ic view­point about things. Writ­ers who write humor well gen­er­al­ly have a kind feel­ing for peo­ple, I think. The best humor isn’t mean-spir­it­ed. Plus that, chil­dren are basi­cal­ly fun­ny. Their view of life is so untaint­ed and they say what they mean. Some­times the humor aris­es from the fact that what they’re try­ing to accom­plish is com­plete­ly at odds with the sit­u­a­tion. If you can get inside their heads and put it on paper the way they see it, it can be fun­ny.

In your dai­ly life, would the peo­ple who know you think of you as fun­ny?

Ha! That would depend on who they are and what their rela­tion is to me. My friends con­sid­er me fun­ny, I think, but I’ve been told that peo­ple who don’t know me very well think I’m for­bid­ding or remote. It’s not my fault. I have my father’s fore­head – it’s per­pet­u­al­ly fur­rowed.

Where do you write and what is your rou­tine for writ­ing? (Can you send a pho­to of your writ­ing space?)

Stephanie Greene's officeI write ear­ly in the morn­ing. By about noon, I’m worn out and spend the after­noon doing oth­er writ­ing-relat­ed things. If I have sev­er­al projects going at the same time, I might switch to one in a dif­fer­ent genre. We’ve lived in sev­er­al hous­es since I start­ed writ­ing, so my work area has changed. I’ve writ­ten in a tiny room off the laun­dry room, in the liv­ing room, in an extra bed­room, and now, in a small space at the end of our upstairs hall with a win­dow over­look­ing the street. I’ve nev­er had a for­mal office, per se. One place where I can’t work is in any pub­lic place.

Get­ting back to Posey, in par­tic­u­lar, when you write a series, how do you keep your char­ac­ters con­sis­tent?

I fol­low their lead. They become real peo­ple to me, so I put them in a cer­tain sit­u­a­tion, give them their heads, and watch what they do. As with peo­ple, they act in char­ac­ter most of the time. All I have to do is lis­ten and write. I love writ­ing char­ac­ter-dri­ven books. Once I have inter­nal­ized the char­ac­ter, he or she does most of the work.

Although this is a series, it is not pre­sent­ed in a “sto­ry arc” that requires read­ing the books in order. It’s help­ful to start with Book No. 1, Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade, but oth­er­wise the sto­ries stand on their own. When you began writ­ing Posey’s sto­ry did you make a deci­sion to write in this par­tic­u­lar way? Did you plan out what would hap­pen over 10 books or did you think of her next sto­ry after you’d com­plet­ed the first?

Princess Posey and the Crazy, Lazy VacationI wrote the first book as a one-off. The lit­tle girl was called Megan. It was prompt­ed by the response I had to a sign I saw in front of a school. I nev­er imag­ined in a mil­lion years that it would become a series. It was Susan Kochan, my edi­tor at Put­nam, who told me I’d cre­at­ed a “hook” in the pink tutu. She asked if I had any more ideas, so I thought for a bit, came up with a list of short sce­nar­ios, and she asked for three more. That’s the way the entire series has gone.

Do you have any fan mail about Posey to share with us? Some­thing that par­tic­u­lar­ly tick­led or moved you?

Many of the let­ters and emails I get come from par­ents because their child is five or six. I got one from the moth­er of a boy with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties who loves Posey. She sent me a pic­ture of him hold­ing one. More recent­ly, the moth­er of an eight-year-old girl with dyslex­ia wrote to tell me that her daugh­ter hat­ed read­ing before she dis­cov­ered Posey, and that it makes her so hap­py to walk into the liv­ing room and see her daugh­ter curled up on the couch with one of the books in the series. I’m thrilled to think that my books mean some­thing to emerg­ing read­ers, and that Posey becomes real to them so they care about her. Only when a book mat­ters do chil­dren real­ize that books have some­thing to offer them.

Stephanie, thank you sin­cere­ly for writ­ing the books you do. It’s so sat­is­fy­ing to have a series of books to rec­om­mend that you know will appeal to read­ers of this age, all the while mak­ing them laugh, and feed­ing their “need to read.”


Tales from Shakespeare

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

Red Reading Boots

One of my favorite class­es in col­lege was a Shake­speare class. It was well-known, well-loved, hard to get into, and manda­to­ry for all Eng­lish majors. It orga­nized my life the semes­ter I took it. The rhythm it dic­tat­ed was this: Arrive at class on Mon­day hav­ing read the assigned play and accom­pa­ny­ing crit­i­cal lit­er­a­ture. Inspir­ing lec­tures on Mon­day and Wednes­day on the week’s play. Dif­fi­cult test and var­i­ous movie clips of the play on Fri­day. Repeat. We made it through Shakespeare’s major plays stick­ing to this sched­ule.

It was a lot of read­ing. That’s what I remem­ber most — stand­ing in line at the door to the library at noon on Sun­days (wait­ing for it to open — col­lege libraries are open 247 now!) with snacks, tea, and my hefty bright red Com­plete Works of Shake­speare. I spent bliss­ful Sun­day after­noons read­ing the week’s assigned play…and nap­ping. I took a nap every Sun­day after­noon in the library. I left post-nap when the play was read, my notes made, and I could put off sup­per no longer. It has been many, many years since I spent a Sun­day after­noon in this way, but I think of it almost every Sun­day. I think it might be my True Rhythm.

Tales from ShakespeareI have retained more infor­ma­tion from that class than any oth­er, I think. But I still some­times get plots con­fused. If I don’t have a Sun­day after­noon to devote to read­ing a whole play through, I sim­ply pull the well-worn Tales From Shake­speare from my shelf and have a look there.

I don’t know when this book came to us — I think prob­a­bly my moth­er-in-law got it for our son when he was quite young. She loves Shake­speare. He loves Shake­speare — and it start­ed with this book, I know. He can tell you plots — sel­dom con­fus­es them — and it’s all because of this book.

Because of Tales From Shake­speare and the acces­si­bil­i­ty it pro­vid­ed for an inter­est­ed young child, we have seen many of Shakespeare’s plays on the stage, in the park, and on the screen over the years. Know­ing the basics of the plot and the char­ac­ters before you go can make all the dif­fer­ence, no mat­ter your age. He sat rapt at Shake­speare In the Park pro­duc­tions before he went to school. We saw a stun­ning pro­duc­tion of Mac­beth when he was still wear­ing a clip-on tie and I was wor­ried about the lev­el of vio­lence. Years ago, when he was a young teen, we saw Pro­peller, the all male Shake­speare troupe, in a per­for­mance of Tam­ing of the Shrew that we still talk about reg­u­lar­ly.

Tales From Shake­speare by Tina Pack­er, pres­i­dent and artis­tic direc­tor of Shake­speare & Com­pa­ny, has made these expe­ri­ences pos­si­ble. There is noth­ing all that fan­cy about this book — it’s beau­ti­ful, to be sure, but it isn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly pro­found in its beau­ty or in what it does. After a brief syn­op­sis, the sto­ry is told over a few pages. There is art here and there by a vari­ety of artists. There is a list of the main char­ac­ters and their rela­tion­ship to each oth­er. A Time & Place is list­ed, made all the more inter­est­ing when we see the play set in anoth­er time and place. That’s it. But our copy is well-worn — I used to read it to the kids. Then they read it on their own. Now we pret­ty much con­sult it as need­ed. And I should say that I use it as much as any­one — there’s noth­ing about it that makes it exclu­sive­ly a “kid book.”

HamletOver New Year’s we caught a Nation­al The­ater Live pro­duc­tion of Ham­let—Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch play­ing the title role, which was tremen­dous­ly excit­ing for our Sher­lock-lov­ing house­hold. We hadn’t seen Ham­let  before and although we could piece togeth­er the basics between us, we still pulled out Tales From Shake­speare and did our home­work before we went. It was a ter­rif­ic pro­duc­tion and young and old­er alike enjoyed it thor­ough­ly.

There’s a par­tic­u­lar kind of pride — I feel like there should be a long Ger­man word for it — that one feels when walk­ing behind one’s thir­teen and almost-nine­teen year old off­spring as they dis­cuss their favorite parts of a Shake­speare­an pro­duc­tion, com­par­ing and con­trast­ing with oth­er Shake­speare plays they’ve seen. Does this Eng­lish-Major Mama’s heart good.

I put Tales From Shake­speare back on the shelf this morn­ing. It won’t be long before it’s out again, I’m sure.


One Word

by Mau­r­na Rome

One wordThis year I resolve to for­go the typ­i­cal New Year’s res­o­lu­tions. Truth is, they rarely make it past Dr. King’s birth­day in mid-Jan­u­ary. Begin­ning this year, I’m com­mit­ting to a much sim­pler idea. It may seem trendy with a lot of recent hype, yet a quick Google search reveals a 2007 blog post by Chris­tine Kane intro­duc­ing the idea of a “one word” res­o­lu­tion (you can even down­load a free “Word-of-the-Year Dis­cov­ery Toolk­it”). In the past eight years, the con­cept of nar­row­ing down all those soon to be for­got­ten New Year’s res­o­lu­tions into a sin­gu­lar word has erupt­ed into a major pres­ence in the world of Twit­ter, pub­lished books, and blog posts (see list of resources at the end of this arti­cle).

The more I think about it, the more I like it. After a bit of reflect­ing, it was easy to choose my “one word.”  It encom­pass­es all aspects of my life… teach­ing, learn­ing, fam­i­ly, home, health and friends. It’s a theme I believe in, one that could pro­pel 2016 into a stel­lar year.

As I think about apply­ing this “one word” con­cept to life in the class­room, I am drawn to con­sid­er the chal­lenges and rewards that I expe­ri­ence each and every day and also how it might impact my stu­dents’ learn­ing. The dou­ble-sided coin of teach­ing and learn­ing must be exam­ined. My col­leagues and I encounter the heart-tug­ging, tough ques­tions, along with the nuggets of gold offered by our stu­dents, and every­thing in between on a dai­ly basis. As we think about our approach to lit­er­a­cy instruc­tion, we must also take our stu­dents into account.

My reflec­tion on a “one word” choice for 2016 includ­ed:

  • Do I col­lab­o­rate with my team effec­tive­ly, and enough, while also main­tain­ing my sense of unique­ness and spon­tane­ity?
  • Am I giv­ing kids enough free­dom and self-direc­tion in cre­at­ing their lit­er­a­cy life while also hold­ing them account­able?
  • When it comes to writ­ing, which deserves more time, atten­tion and effort: the for­mal process with a focus on mechan­ics or the open-end­ed, unstruc­tured, “free­dom to write what­ev­er” approach?
  • Is it pos­si­ble to pro­mote an effec­tive use of tech­nol­o­gy while also teach­ing stu­dents the val­ue of being unplugged and tech-free?
  • How do I mesh a sense of urgency and pas­sion for stu­dent learn­ing while also cre­at­ing a tran­quil cli­mate that evokes peace and secu­ri­ty?

One WordAnd now for the drum­roll please.… the “one word” I have cho­sen for 2016 is bal­ance. It’s more than famil­iar. We’ve all heard of bal­anced lit­er­a­cy, a bal­anced diet, and even a bal­anced bud­get, all desir­able and do-able. Yet for me, bal­ance is some­thing I seem to strug­gle to attain even though I yearn for it. I am hope­ful that the answers I seek to the ques­tions men­tioned above can be found by focus­ing on my one word, bal­ance.

A few weeks ago, stu­dents in my after-school “Lit­er­a­cy L.I.F.T. Club” select­ed a favorite word from a book they were each read­ing to cre­ate some­thing we called “vocab­u­lary bracelets.” At the time, the notion of a “one word” res­o­lu­tion had not even entered my mind. How­ev­er, now that the New Year is here, I am excit­ed to com­bine the two ideas.

On the first day of school in 2016, I’ll share my sto­ry about how and why I chose bal­ance. Then dur­ing the month of Jan­u­ary, I’ll invite my stu­dents to be on the look­out for their own “one word.” I’ll ask them to read with inten­tion, reflect­ing on words that might fit the bill for a theme or goal they might cre­ate for them­selves in 2016.  Then we will make anoth­er round of bracelets… “one word bracelets,” a per­fect acces­so­ry for the New Year!

How about you? What one-word theme have you cho­sen for 2016?

One word” author/advocates worth check­ing out include:

2007 Blog Post by Chris­tine Kane

A “Lead Learn­er” from Cabot, Arkansas by Bethany Hill

Com­pi­la­tion of #oneword on Twit­ter


Skinny Dip with Eileen Beha

Mad MenWhat TV show can’t you turn off?

I watch very lit­tle TV; I will almost always choose to read a good book instead. How­ev­er, I do admit that I’ve not missed a sin­gle episode of Mad Men since the series pre­miered in 2007 or Down­ton Abbey, which will end after its sixth sea­son this win­ter. Late­ly, I’ve got­ten into this strange habit of watch­ing old episodes of Mur­der, She Wrote on Net­flix. Mind can­dy. I’m inspired by the main char­ac­ter, a retired-teacher-turned-mys­tery author named Jes­si­ca Fletch­er, peer­ing through her over­sized, horn-rimmed glass­es, typ­ing her man­u­scripts on an old Roy­al type­writer. (A few months ago, I bought a new pair of eye­glass­es that are strik­ing­ly sim­i­lar to hers, I just now real­ized.)

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

I would like to win a gold medal as a mem­ber of the U. S. Olympic women’s soc­cer team. All of our chil­dren — one son and three daugh­ters — played soc­cer, so I have attend­ed innu­mer­able soc­cer games in my life. I real­ly do love the sport and wish that I could have played in a league when I was grow­ing up. Watch­ing a soc­cer game is very much like the process of plot­ting a sto­ry, where every action on the field — pass, kick, shot, or head­er — is sig­nif­i­cant and con­tributes to the final out­come.

What 3 children’s book authors or illus­tra­tors or edi­tors would you like to invite to din­ner?

White Paterson CurtisI would invite children’s book authors E. B. White, Kather­ine Pater­son, and Christo­pher Paul Cur­tis to my fan­ta­sy din­ner. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Stu­art Lit­tle; Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hop­kins and Jacob I Have Loved; and Curtis’s The Wat­sons Go to Birm­ing­ham and Bud, Not Bud­dy are books I use as mod­els of qual­i­ty, sub­stance, voice, and style when I write books for young read­ers. We would meet at Gramer­cy Tav­ern, my favorite restau­rant in New York City, or in front of the fire­place in my liv­ing room in Min­neapo­lis dur­ing a win­ter snow­storm. I’d serve home­made split pea soup, fresh­ly-baked whole wheat bread, and pump­kin pie with whipped cream, made from scratch. I wouldn’t say much, I’d just sit back and lis­ten.

What ani­mal are you most like?

Since my hus­band, Ralph, knows me bet­ter than any­one else in the world, I asked him, “What ani­mal am I most like? Say the first thing that comes into your mind.” He answered, “A black bear.” Of course, I pressed for his rea­sons. Appar­ent­ly I’m affa­ble but not Hel­lo-Kit­ty-cute and remind him of Eva Bear, one of his favorite stuffed toys. My image of that par­tic­u­lar mam­mal is one of a moth­er bear rais­ing a den-full of ram­bunc­tious cubs, which I’ve expe­ri­enced as a moth­er, step­moth­er, teacher, and school admin­is­tra­tor.

What is your proud­est career moment?

National Blue Ribbon School of ExcellenceMy proud­est career moment hap­pened in the mid-1990’s when St. Antho­ny Mid­dle School, where I served as build­ing prin­ci­pal, was select­ed as a Nation­al Blue Rib­bon School of Excel­lence. I had the hon­or and priv­i­lege, along with rep­re­sen­ta­tive mem­bers of my out­stand­ing staff, of attend­ing a recep­tion at the White House, host­ed by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, Vice-Pres­i­dent Al Gore, and U. S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Richard W. Riley. A once-in-a-life­time oppor­tu­ni­ty.

What is your favorite line from a book?

My favorite line from a book is: “Life is dif­fi­cult.” This three-word sen­tence is the first line of The Road Less Trav­eled by M. Scott Peck. For the past cou­ple of years, a con­fi­dante has been teach­ing me the grace and peace that comes with “rad­i­cal accep­tance” of this not-so-sim­ple truth. 



Bookstorm™: Princess Posey


Princess Posey Bookmap

Princess Posey and the Crazy, Lazy VacationThere have been many papers writ­ten about why chil­dren, teens, and adults like to read books that are pub­lished as part of a series. From The Bobb­sey Twins to Nan­cy Drew to the Box­car Chil­dren to Ency­lo­pe­dia Brown to Goose­bumps to The Babysit­ters Club to Red­wall to War­riors (draw­ing in a long breath) … okay, you get the idea. These books are pop­u­lar. We like read­ing about char­ac­ters who are famil­iar to us in set­tings that we feel we could walk through. Some­times they’re involved in sto­ries that we might feel are pre­dictable, but that’s been found to be part of the charm.

This month, we are pleased to fea­ture Princess Posey and the Crazy, Lazy Vaca­tion, writ­ten by Stephanie Greene and illus­trat­ed by Stephanie Roth Sis­son. The tenth book in their series, this one fol­lows our favorite first-grad­er, she who wears a pink tutu for con­fi­dence, through spring vaca­tion, a stay­ca­tion replete with unan­tic­i­pat­ed adven­ture. Full of gen­tle humor and sit­u­a­tions your own kids this age will find famil­iar, Posey has good friends, help­ful adults, and a devel­op­ing sense of self to rely on for a sat­is­fy­ing sto­ry in each vol­ume.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. For Princess Posey and the Crazy, Lazy Vaca­tion, you’ll find books for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. This month, we’re focus­ing on books for this par­tic­u­lar age group, a lit­tle younger, a lit­tle old­er, but pri­mar­i­ly pic­ture books, easy read­ers, and ear­ly chap­ter books. 





Bicy­cles. Learn­ing to ride a bicy­cle, being afraid of it, and then over­com­ing that fear, is one of the sto­ry­lines for Posey this time around. We’ve sug­gest­ed oth­er books about bicy­cles.

Courage. Try­ing unfa­mil­iar activ­i­ties and foods, meet­ing new peo­ple, all of these take courage. Talk about these books with your fam­i­ly or class­room or sto­ry­time group. Start the con­ver­sa­tion about step­ping out­side our com­fort zones.

Doing Noth­ing. Some­times vaca­tions — and life — are ful­ly pro­grammed. No chance to be bored. We’ve list­ed a few books that rev­el in kick­ing back and let­ting imag­i­na­tion take over.

Ear­ly Read­ers for and About First and Sec­ond Grade. Long sub­ti­tle, but books that are fun to read. We’ve even includ­ed a joke book!

Frogs. Yes, there’s a frog among the char­ac­ters in Posey’s vaca­tion so you’ll find a few more frog books to read out loud.

Miss­ing Mom. Because the series takes place dur­ing first grade, Posey fre­quent­ly exam­ines her feel­ings about miss­ing her moth­er while she’s at school. She has a younger broth­er and a car­ing grand­fa­ther, but it’s that mom con­nec­tion that the Stepha­nies han­dle so well. 

Sleep-Overs. Has your child been on their first sleep-over yet? There’s almost as much anx­i­ety as there is in going to school! An unfa­mil­iar house and stay­ing up past bed­time … here are a few more books to read.

Teeth. How much can hap­pen dur­ing one spring vaca­tion? Well, Posey has a loose tooth. Here are some books about that tooth-los­ing expe­ri­ence, includ­ing one of our favorites, Throw Your Tooth On the Roof.

Tutus. Posey’s pink tutu is one of her trade­marks. When she first sets off for school, she won’t leave home with­out it.

Vaca­tions. What will we do on vaca­tion? Kids can be simul­ta­ne­ous­ly excit­ed and fear­ful about leav­ing home for this length of time, ven­tur­ing to an unknown place. A lit­tle read­ing about oth­er kids’ vaca­tions will help.

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