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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

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
Serves 12
If you like crispy, crunchy cookies and the taste of almonds, you’ll love these!
Write a review
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
35 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
35 min
  1. 1 ¾ cups sliced almonds
  2. 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  3. 2 large egg whites
  4. Grated peel of one orange, or to taste
  5. ½ teaspoon pure almond extract
  1. 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.
  2. 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!)
  3. Fold egg whites into almond mixture; fold in almond extract; fold in grated orange peel.
  4. 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.
  5. Remove from oven and immediately transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  1. 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.
Bookology Magazine


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 24/7 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™.