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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

The Awards

 

In the children’s lit­er­a­ture world, awards hap­pened this week. They don’t receive quite the press or air­time (which is unfor­tu­nate) as The Tonys and Oscars, but they’re impor­tant and excit­ing all the same. Dar­ling Daugh­ter and I have just dis­cussed them at some length over sup­per.

I love the awards. I love feel­ing like I pre­dict­ed a few of them. I love that there are always a cou­ple of sur­pris­es to put on my read­ing list. I even love that I can dis­agree with the selec­tions, at times—I mean, real­ly, that’s kind of fun. Most of all, I love that some of those that win feel extra spe­cial, whether it’s because I know the author, or because the award rec­og­nizes a deep spe­cial­ness that real­ly needs to be rec­og­nized in a book or an artist’s work over time.

I once heard a well-known New­bery author say that you can only receive some­thing like the New­bery award as a gift. You can’t pre­tend for a sec­ond, this author said, that you earned it some­how. The rea­son? It sits on the shelf with so many oth­er tru­ly awe­some books. The author/illustrator has cer­tain­ly done some­thing astounding—written/illustrated a spec­tac­u­lar book—and to have that rec­og­nized, well…that’s about as won­der­ful as it gets. But it’s grace. It’s gravy. It’s gift. I like that—it strikes me as being True.

One of the oth­er things I love about the awards is the amaz­ing work teach­ers and librar­i­ans do with kids to get them ready and drum up some excitement—the Mock-New­berys, Sib­ert Smack-downs, The Bearde­cotts etc. These lucky stu­dents learn how to appre­ci­ate illus­tra­tions crit­i­cal­ly, learn­ing about and some­times try­ing var­i­ous art tech­niques. They read mul­ti­ple nov­els and study mul­ti­ple sub­jects in the weeks and months lead­ing up to the awards. They learn about the process of book­mak­ing. They make nom­i­na­tions, they argue, they vote, they declare their undy­ing love for cer­tain authors and illus­tra­tors….. I learned none of this as a child—I’m so grate­ful kids do now. What an edu­ca­tion! And what fun!

So, con­grat­u­la­tions to all the award win­ners. Huz­zah! to teach­ers and librar­i­ans every­where. Hur­ray for the read­ers! And thank you to all of the authors and illus­tra­tors, edi­tors and design­ers, agents and pub­lish­ers, some of whom are nev­er rec­og­nized with a spe­cial award. But we are grate­ful—so very grate­ful!—for your work. Our book­shelves groan in appre­ci­a­tion. Our minds are opened, our hearts touched. Thank you for all you do.

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Merna Ann Hecht and Our Table of Memories

Merna Ann Hecht

Mer­na Ann Hecht

When one poet, Mer­na Ann Hecht, and one edu­ca­tor, Car­rie Stradley, observed their com­mu­ni­ty, their schools, their stu­dents, and real­ized that a pletho­ra of life expe­ri­ences sur­round­ed them, they put their teach­ing and their hearts togeth­er to cre­ate The Sto­ries of Arrival: Refugee and Immi­grant Youth Voic­es Poet­ry Project at Fos­ter High School, in Tuk­wila, Wash­ing­ton.

These weren’t typ­i­cal high school sto­ries. Instead, these stu­dents have expe­ri­ences of leav­ing their homes, their friends, their schools, their coun­tries … to emi­grate to Amer­i­ca, where life is often astound­ing­ly dif­fer­ent.

Encour­ag­ing these Eng­lish Lan­guage Learn­ing stu­dents, more than 240 of them over the past six years from 30 coun­tries, to com­mu­ni­cate their sto­ries through poet­ry helps to empow­er them to find their voic­es and move con­fi­dent­ly into their cho­sen futures (a para­phrase of the project’s mis­sion).

Stories of Our Arrival

Com­bine this project with anoth­er, Project Feast, and you have not only a cook­book of world­wide appeal but a book of poet­ry that is often eye-open­ing, com­pas­sion­ate, and heartrend­ing. A recipe for under­stand­ing. A taste of the mem­o­ries, trav­els, and long­ing behind the poets’ words.

Togeth­er with their part­ners The Insti­tute for Poet­ic Med­i­cine (Palo Alto, CA), the Jack Straw Cul­tur­al Cen­ter (Seat­tle, WA), and Chatwin Books (Seat­tle, WA), these two women and their projects have cre­at­ed Our Table of Mem­o­ries: Food & Poet­ry of Spir­it, Home­land & Tra­di­tion. It’s a beau­ti­ful book, part poet­ry by high school stu­dents, part recipes from the tra­di­tion­al cooks from their coun­tries, and part art with illus­tra­tions by Mor­gan Wright, a recent col­lege grad­u­ate, new­ly enrolled in New York City’s Bank Street Col­lege to pur­sue her Mas­ter of Arts in teach­ing.

By pub­lish­ing this inter­view with Mer­na Hecht, it is the hope of Bookol­o­gy’s edi­tors that you will be inspired to con­sid­er a pro­gram like this in your own com­mu­ni­ty. Feel free to con­tact Mer­na with your ques­tions.

  Can you tell us a bit about your life, in par­tic­u­lar what pulled you toward poet­ry?

 There is not a moment I can recall when I wasn’t pulled toward poet­ry. I first heard the incan­ta­to­ry rhythms of poems from my grand­fa­ther who gave beau­ti­ful, mem­o­rized recita­tions of Longfel­low and John Green­leaf Whit­ti­er. I think it was sec­ond grade when I began writ­ing rhymed poems. Those child­hood poems were shaped by what then seemed the mag­ic of the nat­ur­al world. Notic­ing details of bugs, petals, leaves, cracks in the side­walks on my way to and from school often made me late. At the time it seemed like a secret world. Now I think that ear­ly impulse for close obser­va­tion and a deeply pri­vate inner world have shaped the poet I’ve become. I have always turned toward poet­ry to nour­ish my spir­it. As a young woman, I began to read many dif­fer­ent poets who spoke to me, chal­lenged me, pro­voked me and opened my eyes and heart to the beau­ty and suf­fer­ing of the world; I’ve not stopped turn­ing these pages. Poet­ry is the place where I find a well­spring for expres­sion of what seems most ten­der, most true and most unsayable. 

How did you find your way to teach­ing?

By a some­what gnarled and twist­ed path and I’m so glad I got there! I was a reg­is­tered nurse by the age of 21 and worked for five years as a pedi­atric nurse. I usu­al­ly car­ried fin­ger pup­pets in my pock­ets and offered impromp­tu sto­ried pup­pet shows at children’s bed­sides. Then came a real­iza­tion that I much pre­ferred the sto­ry­telling and pup­pets to the nurs­ing! “The rest is his­to­ry,” from work­ing with mid­wives on the Nava­ho reser­va­tion, to jaunt­ing about as a pup­peteer and poet in the schools in rur­al Ida­ho, to earn­ing a Mas­ters Degree as a children’s librar­i­an. Under the tute­lage of mas­ter sto­ry­teller, Pro­fes­sor Spencer Shaw at the Uni­ver­si­ty of WA, I fell in love with the art and craft of tale-spin­ning. Fast for­ward to work­ing as a children’s librar­i­an for Seat­tle Pub­lic Library to my first for­mal teach­ing job in a pro­gres­sive teacher cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram and onward to becom­ing a teach­ing artist and a uni­ver­si­ty lec­tur­er.

You’re nation­al­ly known as a sto­ry­teller. In 2008, the Nation­al Sto­ry­telling Net­work pre­sent­ed you with their Brim­stone Award for Applied Sto­ry­telling, with which you cre­at­ed a pilot pro­gram as a poet and sto­ry­teller at Bridges: A Cen­ter for Griev­ing Chil­dren in Taco­ma. Can you tell us about applied sto­ry­telling? What does that mean and how do your sto­ries work toward that spe­cif­ic appli­ca­tion?

These days, sto­ry­tellers show up in many places: deten­tion cen­ters, hos­pi­tals, war torn coun­tries at cen­ters for young peo­ple in trau­ma and drug rehab facil­i­ties for teens. These racon­teurs bring the age old plea­sure of lis­ten­ing to a tale well told. This allows young peo­ple (and all of us) to tem­porar­i­ly walk in some­one else’s shoes; it sparks the imag­i­na­tion to life. Through ancient pat­terns of myth and folk­tales sto­ries can allow a trust in pos­si­bil­i­ties to take hold. To apply sto­ry­telling in set­tings for young peo­ple and adults who have expe­ri­enced loss or trau­ma helps cre­ate safe space and gath­er­ing places where deep lis­ten­ing can occur. There are uni­ver­sal truths in sto­ries from all cul­tures. Many sto­ries reflect the inevitabil­i­ty of loss in human life and they speak to our inter­con­nect­ed­ness to each oth­er, to ani­mals, trees, the moon, the stars and to mys­ter­ies beyond us. In this way sto­ries can ease a sense of iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness. Find­ing the right sto­ry for a sit­u­a­tion, a group, or an indi­vid­ual is part of apply­ing sto­ry­telling to spe­cial set­tings and using sto­ries to help oth­ers trust that they can over­come obsta­cles and find their inner strength and courage.

What drew you toward work­ing with refugee and immi­grant chil­dren?

The short answer is that these young peo­ple are my teach­ers! Their deter­mi­na­tion to suc­ceed in high school, con­tin­ue on to col­lege and con­tribute to this coun­try and/or to return to their home­land to help oth­ers inspires me and gives me hope. They dream of becom­ing doc­tors, nurs­es, peace-mak­ers, envi­ron­men­tal­ists, actors, pilots and they do not bemoan the dif­fi­cul­ties they have expe­ri­enced at such a young age. Loss of fam­i­ly mem­bers, life in refugee camps, forced migra­tions, lack of enough food, health care, edu­ca­tion and still they are mod­el cit­i­zens. They are young peo­ple who are hope­ful, curi­ous, and deeply kind who wish to help cre­ate a more peace­ful, humane world.

Stories of Our Arrival poets

The Sto­ries of Our Arrival poets. Edu­ca­tors Car­rie Stradley (front row, left) and Mer­na Hecht (front row, sec­ond from right) feel priv­i­leged to have worked with more than 240 stu­dents over the past six years from 30 coun­tries.

You’re an organ­ic gar­den­er with respect for food tra­di­tions. How did this inspire you for Project Feast and how did the idea of the cook­book, Our Table of Mem­o­ries, with poet­ry and illus­tra­tions come into being?

Our Table of MemoriesWhen I heard about Project Feast and found that it was locat­ed with­in a mile of the school my idea for a col­lab­o­ra­tion sprang in part from years of “hands on” inten­sive gar­den­ing and cook­ing and from a pas­sion for explor­ing dif­fer­ent ways peo­ple across the globe pre­pare and share food. This love of cross cul­tur­al food is some­thing Car­rie and I share. When she heard the idea for col­lab­o­rat­ing with Project Feast her eyes lit up with a “yes!” We both rec­og­nize that when peo­ple leave their home­lands, a deep sense of home remains with them, in part, with eat­ing and grow­ing the foods of their cul­tures. We felt that a food-themed project would gen­er­ate a rich out­pour­ing of poems. Giv­en that food and poet­ry both speak lan­guages of fla­vor, scent, spice, tex­ture, and col­or we want­ed to include illus­tra­tions that would reflect the sen­so­ry feel of the poems—to cre­ate a pre­sen­ta­tion much like a mem­o­rable meal which the eye feasts upon before the palette! We also want­ed to cel­e­brate our stu­dents and the refugee women of Project Feast by includ­ing beloved recipes from their mem­o­ries, their fam­i­lies and their home­lands.

 Can you share a par­tic­u­lar sto­ry from this Project that gave every­one hope?

One of Carrie’s ELL class­es had four­teen boys and only two girls. Hope cer­tain­ly flour­ish­es when a group of ado­les­cent boys, all refugees from dif­fer­ent coun­tries, cul­tures and eth­nic­i­ties, open­ly sup­port and applaud each oth­er for writ­ing poems that are vul­ner­a­ble and emo­tion­al­ly expres­sive. Hope flour­ish­es when they tell us that they’ve found their voic­es and a way to tell their sto­ries through poet­ry. At the project’s con­clu­sion those who wished to apply for a schol­ar­ship were asked to reflect on what they learned from poet­ry. Their replies filled us with hope and in truth, with tears, here are a few short excerpts:

Khai, from Bur­ma

I can speak the truth in the poem I wrote… Poems will make oth­er peo­ple under­stand us (immi­grants). As an immi­grant and a lot of oth­ers who are just like me, we have a vast­ly hard life… One of the ways that we can explain our painful past is only by a POEM, it is the only way to make a con­nec­tion with every­one; poems make us two in one. Poems are vast­ly cru­cial to all of us because poems are ALIVE! There is peace, love, friends, fam­i­ly, and much more in a poem. This is why poems are extreme­ly impor­tant to us (immi­grants) and to every­one who has a heart.

Abdi A.

Abdi A.

Abdi A., from Soma­lia

I was born in a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, and lived there most of my life. Writ­ing poems helped me remem­ber and appre­ci­ate what I have now and also helped non-immi­grants to have a bet­ter under­stand­ing of what is it real­ly like to be a young boy with a hope­less dream of becom­ing a doc­tor. I remem­ber a white man who worked with the IOM ask­ing me what my dream was and I told him I want­ed to be a doc­tor and laughed at myself because I thought it was ridicu­lous and ‘’too big’’ for some­one like me. But here I am today liv­ing a hap­py life and work­ing towards my dream… Poet­ry doesn’t just show us how much we share, it helps us see the world in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent way. When I heard Kang Pu’s poem about how his mom died and the strug­gle that his fam­i­ly had and how the gov­ern­ment didn’t even help, I under­stood him bet­ter… Poet­ry is uni­ver­sal. ELLs can learn about or read poet­ry in their pri­ma­ry lan­guage, help­ing them bridge their worlds… I plan on going to a four-year col­lege and I still have that dream of becom­ing a doc­tor, so I can go back home one day and help the sick and the needy.

Has there been an effort made to repli­cate this project in oth­er high schools around the coun­try?

This is a next step that project co-direc­tor and ELL teacher extra­or­di­naire, Car­rie and I have want­ed and intend to accom­plish. Along with the won­der­ful engage­ment and sage advice of John Fox, founder/director of the Insti­tute for Poet­ic Med­i­cine, (we are proud­ly an IPM Poet­ry Part­ner Project) we intend to take the next step and pub­lish a tem­plate of poet­ry prompts and activ­i­ties along with a col­lec­tion of resource mate­r­i­al for repli­cat­ing this poet­ry project.

WHERE TO BUY OUR TABLE OF MEMORIES

The poems in this book are lus­cious but, to tempt you fur­ther, the recipes includes Doro wet: an Ethiopi­an Chick­en Stew (pgs. 120–121), Arroz con Leche, (pgs. 130–131), Zawng­tah: Burmese Tree Beans with Tilapia (pgs. 136–137), Orange Iraqi Teatime Cake (pgs. 154–155) and many more. Is  your mouth water­ing yet? Every­thing about this book is invit­ing … you will embrace it!

Pub­lish­er, Chatwin Books

Your Local Book­seller

SAMPLE

Kang Pu

Kang Pu

Here’s a sam­ple of one of the heart-touch­ing poems in Our Table of Mem­o­ries:

MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN
Kang Pu, from Bur­ma

When my mom cooked it smelled of sweet win­ter­time cher­ries,
of a soli­tary for­est with rain falling
and it smelled like the mur­mur of a lone­ly bird, singing,
I pic­ture the spher­i­cal smoke ris­ing from her kitchen
it was like the sound of sleep at night,
it was like arriv­ing home safe and sound
the sounds of her kitchen were peace­ful. 

I still long for the laugh­ter of those fam­i­ly meals
we all wait­ed for that table, my mom’s table,
how she pre­pared every fam­i­ly meal,
this is what I still long for,
so often I remem­ber my moth­er
noth­ing can take her mem­o­ry away from me,
it is tru­ly dif­fi­cult that I have depart­ed
from my moth­er­land,
and from my mother’s kitchen.

Kang Pu – MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN
The rea­son I wrote this poem is for mem­o­ries of my mom and her kitchen. It was dif­fi­cult for me to write this poem because I still long for my mother’s kitchen. Some­times it makes it hard for me to study. Yet, no mat­ter how far away from my par­ents, I am still hold­ing their lessons and still using what they taught me. With­out lessons from par­ents it’s hard to be in com­mu­ni­ty with oth­ers and hard to stand on your own.

Nathaly Rosas

Nathaly Rosas

And anoth­er sam­ple:

WHERE FOOD IS ART
Nathaly Rosas, from Mex­i­co

I am from a place where
The food is an art and every bite
Is a spicy piece of our cul­ture.
Where the smells call you to enjoy
And the fla­vors take you to your mem­o­ries.

Read more poems like these on Mer­na Hecht’s web­site.

RESOURCES

Sto­ries of Immi­gra­tion and Cul­ture” poet­ry pod­casts are avail­able here, host­ed by the Jack Straw Cul­tur­al Cen­ter.

Insti­tute for Poet­ic Med­i­cine, found­ed by John Fox, where Mer­na and Sto­ries of Arrival are Poet­ry Part­ners.

Jack Straw Cul­tur­al Cen­ter

Sto­ries of Arrival: Immi­grant Youth Voic­es Poet­ry Project

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(E)motion Sickness

Wrong Way signMost of my many school vis­its have been amaz­ing, pos­i­tive adven­tures (see my post titled “Trav­el­ing Like a Rock Star”). A few of my vis­its have fea­tured minor bumps in the road. And one school visit—thank good­ness, one only!—might be bet­ter described as a major traf­fic inci­dent.

It hap­pened when I was still a “new­bie” to school vis­its. I was vis­it­ing this par­tic­u­lar school for a week. On Day 1, a stu­dent came up front to read his sto­ry, got overex­cit­ed, and threw up all over my shoes. Unfor­tu­nate­ly I didn’t heed that case of car­sick­ness for the fore­shad­ow­ing that it was.

It turns out that hav­ing my shoes soiled paled in com­par­i­son to what hap­pened next: I found out that one of the teach­ers I was work­ing with thought that my approach to teach­ing writ­ing was com­plete­ly wrong. At first I assumed this was a “fix­able” dif­fer­ence. The teacher and I talked at length sev­er­al times over the remain­der of the week. I mod­i­fied my approach in many ways.

But I nev­er man­aged to get it “right.” I left the school feel­ing like a fail­ure. It remains the most emo­tion­al­ly dif­fi­cult expe­ri­ence of the twelve or so years I’ve worked as a writ­ing instruc­tor.

In some ways, it’s too bad that this expe­ri­ence hap­pened dur­ing my ear­ly years of class­room vis­its. If it hap­pened now, I’d be bet­ter able to nav­i­gate the unset­tled waters and come up with a way to sal­vage the week for every­body involved.

But it might also be seen as one of the most impor­tant things I’ve ever learned: I now know what it feels like to be told by a teacher that I’m bad at some­thing writ­ing-relat­ed. As Over­achiev­er Kid, that was nev­er part of my own school expe­ri­ence. But because of that week, I gained a new lev­el of under­stand­ing for those stu­dents who struggle—and con­tin­ue to fail—at writ­ing. It was (e)motion sick­ness induc­ing for me, but from that day for­ward I’ve made it a prac­tice to find some­thing pos­i­tive to say about every student’s writ­ing, to soft­en what­ev­er less-than-hap­py news has to fol­low.

Those of you who have more train­ing as edu­ca­tors than I do prob­a­bly know oth­er tac­tics to help moti­vate the kids who “just can’t seem to get writ­ing right.” Maybe some of you will share your ideas as com­ments below?

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Skinny Dip with Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park

Lin­da Sue Park

We inter­viewed Lin­da Sue Park, vet­er­an author and New­bery medal­ist, whose books have inspired chil­dren in many ways, appeal­ing to a wide range of read­ers with books like A Sin­gle Shard, The Mul­ber­ry Project, Keep­ing Score, Yaks Yak, and A Long Walk to Water.

Which celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

My pater­nal grand­moth­er, whom I nev­er got to meet. How­ev­er, I sus­pect she wouldn’t invite me to a cof­fee shop; she’d invite me for naeng-myun instead (Kore­an cold noo­dle soup. Deli­cious.). And I real­ize that she is not a celebri­ty in the con­ven­tion­al sense, but I believe that all brave women should be.

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

Cur­rent­ly: All Amer­i­can Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Bren­dan Kiely

Brendan Kiely, Linda Sue Park, Jason Reynolds

Bren­dan Kiely, Lin­da Sue Park, Jason Reynolds

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

Real­ly good guac with real­ly fresh chips. I will eat mediocre chips if they’re all that’s avail­able. The guac is what mat­ters.

Favorite city to vis­it?

New York!

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

Sat­ur­day morn­ings at the pub­lic library.

First date?

Roller-skat­ing and ice cream, 6th grade, with a boy named Cur­tis. Where is he now?

Xander's Panda Party and Yaks YakIllustrator’s work you most admire?

UNFAIR ques­tion. Reg­is­ter­ing protest by not answer­ing.

No, strike that: I’ll name the illus­tra­tors of my two most recent pic­ture books: Matt Phe­lan (Xander’s Pan­da Par­ty) and Jen­nifer Black Rein­hardt (Yaks Yak). ‘Admire’ is too staid. Their work for my texts THRILLED me.

Tea? Cof­fee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Tea in the morn­ing, espres­so once or twice a day, swee’ tea when I’m in the South. My go-to is water.

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

Snor­kel­ing, read­ing on a beach, and eat­ing fab­u­lous food, both street and fine din­ing, with fam­i­ly and/or friends, some­where that has live­ly out­door mar­kets.

WormsWhat gives you shiv­ers?

Worms.

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

NIGHT. Morn­ing is a recur­ring insult to the psy­che.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

It has fad­ed with time, but I used to be able to iden­ti­fy red M&Ms blind­fold­ed.

Your favorite can­dy as a kid …

As a kid? Why not now? As a kid: Bit O’Honey. As an adult: pecan rolls.

Is Plu­to a plan­et?

Of course not. He’s Popeye’s nemesis—that big guy, with the arms. 😉

What’s the strangest tourist attrac­tion you’ve vis­it­ed?

The DMZ, bor­der between North and South Korea.

Broth­er and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

One of each. I’m the old­est. I don’t think my life has a shape. Or maybe it’s con­stant­ly chang­ing.

The Park family

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

1) Find a way to do work that you love. 2) When you’ve got the blues, do some­thing for some­one else.

Your hope for the world?

Every child a read­er.

Cavern of SecretsLin­da Sue, thanks for these can­did answers for our Bookol­o­gy read­ers. If they haven’t read all of your pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished books, we encour­age them to have a Lin­da Sue Park read-a-thon. Could you share with us which books comes out next?

I hope you’ll enjoy the sec­ond book in the Claw & Wing series, Cav­ern of Secrets. It fol­lows Book #1, For­est of Won­ders. You’ll find the book in book­stores on March 7, 2017. Raf­fa sets off on a treach­er­ous jour­ney across Obsidia to save his friends and fam­i­ly … and the world!

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The Delight of Reading Older Books

Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?

One of my favorite types of read­ing is to go back and read books I’ve missed from years ago. I once spent an entire sum­mer read­ing books that were pub­lished in the 1950s. I had such a strong feel­ing of the decade after read­ing those books that I felt more con­nect­ed to peo­ple who lived then. That feel­ing of con­nec­tion is very sat­is­fy­ing to me.

Do you do a sim­i­lar kind of read­ing?

This last hol­i­day sea­son, I did anoth­er dive into books pub­lished in decades past. There’s some­thing very com­fort­ing about read­ing these books. I fre­quent­ly scout out arti­cles where peo­ple talk about the books they’ve loved from their child­hood. If I haven’t read them, they go on a list and I seek them out. Some­times I have to scout used book stores but the books are all eas­i­ly obtain­able.

My most recent delight was Who Stole the Wiz­ard of Oz? by Avi. It was first pub­lished in 1981. I hadn’t read it before. It holds up well today. In fact, I would read­i­ly put this book in the hands of any child, aged 7 and old­er, who enjoys a mys­tery. Set in a small town, twin sib­lings Becky and Toby set out to solve a crime that’s pre­sent­ed on page one and is wrapped up neat­ly 115 pages lat­er.

The crime takes place in a library and so does much of the action. Becky and Toby solve the crime on their own, with­out help from grown-ups. They ques­tion adults. They apply their brains. They dis­cuss (and bick­er) and ulti­mate­ly end up on a stake-out.

To arrive at the solu­tion, they read five clas­sic books: Through the Look­ing Glass, The Wind in the Wil­lows, The Wiz­ard of Oz, Win­nie-the-Pooh, and Trea­sure Island. By the time they’re done dis­cussing what they’ve read, I knew I’d have to re-read each of those books myself! (I’ve nev­er read Win­nie-the-Pooh. I know. Gasp!)

What do each of those books have in com­mon? That’s the deli­cious part of the sto­ry so I won’t spoil it for you. Read this book!

We focus on new books because peo­ple love to guess which books will win awards.  We for­get that there are thou­sands (mil­lions?) of kids who are read­ing these books for the first time. Draw­ing books off the shelf from the rich canon of children’s lit­er­a­ture is a gift we can keep giv­ing again and again.

Stay tuned. I’ll share more of my read­ing-of-books-past in upcom­ing columns.

Who Stole the Wiz­ard of Oz?
Avi
Alfred A. Knopf, 1981
(I read a Year­ling paper­back.)
ISBN 978–0394849928, $6.99

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Momentum

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The Velveteen Rabbit

Meryl Streep is in the news this week for her speech at the Gold­en Globes. It’s a pow­er­ful piece—though, truth be told, I think she could read out a phone direc­to­ry and it would be pow­er­ful. She began by apol­o­giz­ing because she’d lost her voice. It was loud enough to hear, but cer­tain­ly rough. I was over­come by an urge to make tea with hon­ey while watch­ing.

Lis­ten­ing to her made me think of the cas­sette tape we had of her read­ing of The Vel­veteen Rab­bit when our kids were small. I think we received it as a gift the Christ­mas I was preg­nant with #1 Son. I might’ve even lis­tened to it dur­ing labor, now that I think about it. In the ear­ly stages any­way.

It is sooth­ing in the extreme. A beau­ti­ful story…accompanied by George Winston’s Decem­ber album…stellar nar­ra­tion; it is an astound­ing pack­age. And our sweet baby lis­tened to it every night at bed­time for the first sev­er­al years of his life. I’m tempt­ed to cred­it this cas­sette tape and Win­nie-the-Pooh, which he lis­tened to at nap­time, with the rea­son he’s such a gen­tle giant of a young man.

We trav­elled with The Vel­veteen Rab­bit and a small boom­box with that kid—he need­ed it to go to sleep at night. We used it like a drug on car trips. It sel­dom failed us. We lis­tened to it so often that the record­ing became hard to hear, which had the effect of mak­ing you lis­ten all the hard­er. Tru­ly, by the time the boy could talk, we prob­a­bly could have recit­ed the sto­ry, though not with the love­ly inflec­tion Meryl Streep con­veys, of course.

We tried using it with Child #2, as well, but the record­ing had been loved much, and had not become real, as the Vel­veteen Rab­bit and Skin Horse had, so much as unin­tel­li­gi­ble. You could still hear Winston’s piano, but the sto­ry didn’t quite come through. By age three, Dar­ling Daugh­ter often said it made her feel too sleepy and asked that it be turned off. (She has nev­er slept as sound­ly or as long as her broth­er.…)

I have sev­er­al copies of this sweet sto­ry in book form—various artists have illus­trat­ed it and I have large for­mat books and small­er, too. I don’t recall read­ing it to either child, how­ev­er. I love to read aloud, and this is a favorite sto­ry of mine…but who can com­pare to Meryl Streep? Plus, sel­dom do I have some­one in my liv­ing room at the piano to accom­pa­ny my nar­ra­tion.…

But I’m so glad our kids had this sto­ry in their life in the way they had it. Meryl Streep and George Win­ston spin­ning Margery Williams’ mag­i­cal tale of love and childhood…well, I can’t think it gets much bet­ter than that.

 

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Focus Your Trip

ButterheadEvery year my mom and I took my nephews and niece to the Min­neso­ta State Fair. We have cer­tain faith­ful fam­i­ly rit­u­als that we always repeat: mini-donuts as soon as we’re through the front gates. The big slide. Vig­i­lant avoid­ance of the giant walk­ing French fry man because he ter­ri­fies my niece. The but­ter head ren­di­tions of the dairy princess­es.

Imag­ine my bemuse­ment at the fact that there are MN State Fair vis­i­tors who nev­er both­er with the but­ter heads. But the but­ter head haters are actu­al­ly fol­low­ing a sound prin­ci­ple: when you’re in the mid­dle of an over­whelm­ing expe­ri­ence, you’re often bet­ter off choos­ing to focus on only a few key things.

That explains why trav­el­ing to the fair with a grown-up friend one year felt like a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence to me. We focused on entire­ly dif­fer­ent things than I do when I’m herd­ing the kids, and I actu­al­ly got to spend some qual­i­ty time in the Cre­ative Arts build­ing. I expe­ri­enced the fair in a whole new way.

The same con­cept holds true for me when I set out to revise a piece of writ­ing. If I try to see and do every­thing in one vis­it, the task quick­ly becomes over­whelm­ing. But if I make sev­er­al dif­fer­ent revi­sion trips, pick­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent to focus on each time, then I can revise quite effec­tive­ly. One time through, I might focus exclu­sive­ly on my over­all orga­ni­za­tion. Anoth­er trip, I might keep my atten­tion riv­et­ed on strength­en­ing my verbs. Still anoth­er trip, I might watch specif­i­cal­ly for ways to add atmos­phere.

Tell your stu­dents this: When they set out to revise, a whole lot of dif­fer­ent things will all try to grab their atten­tion at once. They’re prob­a­bly going to get more out of the expe­ri­ence if they break down the revis­ing task into sev­er­al dif­fer­ent trips. Encour­age them to focus their atten­tion on a few key things each time. They can always make the trip again to focus on some­thing dif­fer­ent; after all, the fair­grounds are open for twelve long days.

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Coffee Will Be My Downfall

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Bookstorm™: Giant Squid

Giant Squid Bookstorm

Giant SquidGiant Squid pro­vides an excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ty to teach about one of the most myth­i­cal, unknown, and yet real crea­tures on earth, the Giant Squid. The incred­i­ble illus­tra­tions by Eric Rohmann help the reader’s per­cep­tion of how large this deep sea crea­ture is and how mys­te­ri­ous. Found so deep with­in the sea, there is very lit­tle light. How did Eric Rohmann cre­ate the sense of this water dark­ness and the release of ink, a defense mech­a­nism? How did Can­dace Flem­ing write with spare text and yet tell us so many fas­ci­nat­ing details about the Giant Squid?

Our Book­storm will take you into fur­ther explo­ration, study­ing bio­lu­mi­nes­cence, oth­er deep sea crea­tures, ocean ecol­o­gy, oceanog­ra­phers, and more.

There are excel­lent resources in the back mat­ter of the book as well. We trust you will find inspi­ra­tion and resources aplen­ty with­in the Book­storm to accom­pa­ny your study of Giant Squid. 

Downloadable

You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Can­dace Flem­ing on her web­site. And read about illus­tra­tor Eric Rohmann on his web­site.

There’s a Teach­ing Guide avail­able for Giant Squid, writ­ten by nat­u­ral­ist Lee Ann Land­strom.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

  • Bio­lu­mi­nes­cence
  • Deep Sea Crea­tures
  • Fic­tion
  • Giant Squid, in par­tic­u­lar
  • Oceans
  • Rel­a­tive Size
  • Sci­en­tif­ic Explo­ration

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

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Fantasy Gems

Lord of the RingsThe Christ­mas present that stands out most in my mem­o­ry was giv­en to me when I was 16. We opened our presents on Christ­mas Eve. At that age, I expect­ed clothes and prac­ti­cal gifts. Some­how, my moth­er knew to give me the boxed set of The Lord of the Rings. I hadn’t read any fan­ta­sy before this. So I was curi­ous. I slipped into my bed­room around nine o’clock and began read­ing. I read until the Nazgul’s pur­suit of the Hob­bits became too intense. I put the book down, dreamed about the book all night, picked up The Fel­low­ship of the Ring the next morn­ing, and nev­er came up for air for the rest of the hol­i­day. I had to fin­ish those books.

The Lord of the Rings start­ed me on a life­long love of fan­ta­sy. My master’s the­sis was on fan­ta­sy lit­er­a­ture. I enjoyed read­ing Cabell, Lord Dun­sany, Peake, Le Guin, Moor­cock, McKil­lip, McKin­ley, Susan Coop­er, Wal­ton, Kurtz, Nes­bit … I devoured them.

But at a cer­tain point, fan­ta­sy lit­er­a­ture felt repet­i­tive to me, with stock char­ac­ters, and pre­dictable plots. I sel­dom read it any­more, which is a sad thing.

But last Sep­tem­ber I met the author of a series about Jinx. She talked about the book as though I should know it … and I was curi­ous. So I began Jinx, then had to find Jinxs Mag­ic the next day, and Jinxs Fire a cou­ple of days lat­er. These are good books with char­ac­ters I hadn’t encoun­tered before in a world of wiz­ards and magi­cians and a deep con­nec­tion to the forests. It’s fun­ny and mag­i­cal and fea­tures a lot of warm and cap­ti­vat­ing rela­tion­ships. The main char­ac­ter, Jinx, is com­plex and like­able. There’s a good bal­ance between dia­logue, descrip­tion, action, a fast pace, and time to breathe. The main char­ac­ter starts out at age 12 and grows to age 14 so this is the right book to place in the hands of read­ers ages 10 and up (through adult).

Jinx series

I was so enthralled by Jinx’s tale that I had to ask the author, Sage Black­wood, a few ques­tions:

Did you con­struct the Urwald, Sama­ra, and the sur­round­ing coun­tries before you began writ­ing the first book, Jinx? Or did you invent the geog­ra­phy as you went along?

The Urwald came first— years before the sto­ry, in fact. Sama­ra I think also came before the sto­ry; I remem­ber draw­ing pic­tures of it. The sur­round­ing coun­tries weren’t real­ly devel­oped till I need­ed them.

Did you know the end­ing of Jinx’s Fire (Book 3) when you began Jinx (Book 1)?

As regards the Bone­mas­ter, yes, but the auton­o­my of the trees was some­thing that devel­oped as I wrote. I grad­u­al­ly real­ized that if the Urwald was a liv­ing enti­ty, then like any oth­er char­ac­ter, it had to have agency and flaws… and a Last Straw.

This series is found­ed on the bal­ance between good and evil. Did you start writ­ing with this premise or did you dis­cov­er it dur­ing your writ­ing process?

I think I start­ed out not real­ly believ­ing in evil. At least not of the hand-rub­bing “Mwuha­ha! Cringe before me, mor­tals!” vari­ety. So I guess it devel­oped as I wrote: Each of the major char­ac­ters has at some point touched evil. Not just as a vic­tim, but as a per­pe­tra­tor or poten­tial per­pe­tra­tor.  And each char­ac­ter is changed by the expe­ri­ence. That’s what evil is— some­thing we all either face down, or embrace. For­tu­nate­ly rel­a­tive­ly few of us do the lat­ter.

And, of course, we can’t always tell it’s evil at the time. Evil can come dis­guised as an unfor­tu­nate neces­si­ty, or a great job offer.

What aspect of your sto­ry under­went the most change dur­ing the writ­ing of the three books?

Jinx him­self, I think. At first he was a polite, dif­fi­dent boy. Then it became clear that he was nev­er going to sur­vive being raised by Simon. Not with his pro­tag­o­nist­hood intact, any­way. So he had to tough­en up and devel­op a sar­don­ic edge, and I real­ly became much fonder of him when he did.

I love the ambi­gu­i­ty of your main char­ac­ters. They seem ful­ly human for this rea­son. Does this part of craft­ing a char­ac­ter come nat­u­ral­ly to you or is it an effort?

Thank you. It is an effort, but not one I would forego. It’s impor­tant that each major char­ac­ter could con­ceiv­ably be the pro­tag­o­nist, if the sto­ry were slewed around a bit. And this is how they see them­selves, of course. None of us are side­kicks in real life.

Jinx can’t exact­ly read minds but he can see auras that show how a per­son is real­ly feel­ing. This is one of the most excit­ing aspects of your books. How did this char­ac­ter qual­i­ty come to you?

It hap­pened while I was writ­ing the ear­ly scenes. Emo­tions kept com­ing up in a very visu­al way, and I real­ized that that was because I was writ­ing from Jinx’s point of view and that’s what he was actu­al­ly see­ing.

Do you have an affec­tion for trees?

Oh yes! I am a tree-hug­ger. I spent a lot of time walk­ing in the for­est while I was writ­ing Jinx, and this was where I real­ized that the trees talk to each other—something sci­ence was appar­ent­ly also dis­cov­er­ing at more or less the same moment. (Peo­ple keep send­ing me arti­cles about this.)

Your over-arch­ing vil­lain, The Bone­mas­ter, is so rep­re­hen­si­ble that it’s hard for me to have his pres­ence in the sto­ry. How do you fig­ure out the para­me­ters of an evil char­ac­ter?

Well, I had to remem­ber that as far as he was con­cerned, he was the hero of the sto­ry.  A good vil­lain should always think he’s the hero. It’s what vil­lains think in real life.

There­fore, a vil­lain needs val­ues. They can be hor­ri­ble ones, but he’s got to have them. He has to have a self-con­struct­ed ide­al he’s liv­ing up to. (This is where some Dark Lords fall short.)

How long does it take you to fin­ish writ­ing a book from first draft to the edi­tor receiv­ing your man­u­script?

About a year, if I’ve got my act togeth­er. Before that there’s a peri­od of draw­ing pic­tures, tak­ing notes, and hang­ing index cards on the wall.

Have you been a long-time fan­ta­sy read­er? If so, which are your favorite books or series?

Drowned AmmetLike you, I loved Lord of the Rings as a kid. Lat­er I grew dis­il­lu­sioned with the genre. Then I dis­cov­ered Diana Wynne Jones. She was such a fresh, new voice, see­ing the humor in the genre and the mag­ic at the same time. And the way she estab­lish­es a world on page one with­out ever laps­ing into mere descrip­tion… I couldn’t believe every­one wasn’t talk­ing about her!

It was 20 years before I final­ly met a Diana Wynne Jones fan I hadn’t cre­at­ed, as it were. Now it turns out she was a major influ­ence on many (most?) of us who are writ­ing mid­dle grade fan­ta­sy today. We just all found her one way or anoth­er.

Some of my favorites of hers are Drowned Ammet, Cart and Cwid­der, The Lives of Christo­pher Chant, and The Home­ward Bound­ers (which is prob­a­bly struc­tural­ly her best nov­el).

Beyond Jones, the Har­ry Pot­ter series is also won­der­ful. And I absolute­ly love Ter­ry Pratch­ett— per­haps as much for the lan­guage as any­thing else.

Thank you for tak­ing the time for this inter­view, Sage. Your series of Jinx books ranks right up there with my favorite fan­tasies of all time.

Thanks so much, Vic­ki; that’s won­der­ful to hear. And thank you for com­ing up with all these great ques­tions that were fun to answer!

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The Books in the Night

Phyl­lis: Night means many things: the ter­ri­fy­ing dark­ness behind the garage where I had to car­ry the garbage after sup­per as a child, the dark night of the soul that depres­sion brings, the hours between sun­set and sun­rise that grow longer and longer as our earth turns into win­ter. But night holds com­fort as well as fear, and this month we want to look at books about the gifts that night and dark­ness can bring.

In the Night KitchenWho hasn’t heard of Mick­ey who “heard a rack­et in the night and shout­ed ‘Qui­et down there!’ and fell through the dark out of his clothes past the moon and his mama and papa sleep­ing tight and into the light of the night kitchen?” (Mau­rice Sendak moves through more action in his mar­velous first sen­tences than almost any oth­er author we can think of.)  The Night Kitchen is Sendak’s imag­ined answer to what might have hap­pened after he had to go to bed as a child, and his com­ic-book art pays trib­ute to the comics that influ­enced his work. This book has encoun­tered both pub­lic and pri­vate cen­sor­ship, includ­ing librar­i­ans paint­ing dia­pers or clothes on Mick­ey to cov­er his nudi­ty, but chil­dren love the adven­ture he dis­cov­ers in the night kitchen.

Jack­ie: Sendak’s edi­tor, the leg­endary Ursu­la Nord­strom, was elo­quent in defend­ing her books from such cen­sor­ship. She once wrote to a teacher who had burned a copy of In the Night Kitchen, “I think young chil­dren will always react with delight to such a book as In the Night Kitchen, and that they will react cre­ative­ly and whole­some­ly. It is only adults who ever feel threat­ened by Sendak’s work.” (Dear Genius, p.302)

Where Does the Brown Bear Go?Phyl­lis: Sendak imag­ines a rol­lick­ing adven­ture mak­ing cake for break­fast, while Nik­ki Weiss, right from the title, asks, Where Does the Brown Bear Go? Love­ly in its sim­plic­i­ty and strong at its heart, this series of rhyming ques­tions, one to a spread, won­ders where ani­mals go when night falls:

When the lights go down on the city street
Where does the white cat go, hon­ey?
Where does the white cat go?
When evening set­tles
On the jun­gle heat,
Where does the mon­key go, hon­ey?
Where does the mon­key go?

After every two ques­tions, the same answer comes: 

They are on their way.
They are on their way home.

This would be a sweet cat­a­log of ani­mals head­ed home at night, but the book res­onates more deeply when it asks: 

When the junk­yard is lit
By the light of the moon
Where does the junk­yard dog go, hon­ey?
 Where does the junk­yard dog go? 

Know­ing that even the junk­yard dog is on his way home moves me almost to tears. 

Jack­ie: Same here. And it urges me to imag­ine what is home for the junk­yard dog and to put myself in that home for just a bit.

Phyl­lis: The last page shows a boy snug­gled in bed sur­round­ed by his stuffed ani­mals (who resem­ble the ani­mals of the pre­ced­ing pages), and the book’s last line reas­sures us that every­one is home. It’s what we wish for every one of us, that a home awaits us at night where we are safe and cher­ished.

Night on Neighborhood StreetEloise Greenfield’s Night on Neigh­bor­hood Street uses a vari­ety of poet­ic forms to tell the sto­ries of the chil­dren and grown-ups who live on Neigh­bor­hood Street as night falls and bed­time arrives. Juma stretch­es out his bed­time with a will­ing dad­dy, a new baby cries and is rocked lov­ing­ly to sleep, a fam­i­ly gath­ers for “fam­bly time” on the floor, Tonya’s moth­er plays her horn for Tonya’s friends at an overnight, the church con­gre­ga­tion sings songs of praise, and Karen lets her sis­ter be the mama when their mama has to work at night.  But the dark­er side of life appears as well:  a lone­some boy wait­ing for his friend to come home looks at the moon “with a sad, sad eye/poking out his mouth/getting ready to cry.” A drug deal­er comes around, but the chil­dren “see behind his easy smile” and head inside. A “broth­er who tries to pick a fight” is shut down when every­one else nods and smiles and lets him know they’re not inter­est­ed in fight­ing. The book ends with Tonya’s mama blow­ing lul­la­by sounds on her horn into the silence of the street. And the chil­dren “hear and smile…and they are at peace with the night.” 

Jack­ie: I love how the fam­i­lies watch out for each oth­er in this book. There is such a strong sense that chil­dren are cared for. Tonya’s Mama is a good exam­ple of this:

When Tonya’s friends come to spend the night
Her mama’s more than just polite
She says she’s glad they came to call
Tells them that she loves them all
Lis­tens to what they can do
Tells them what she’s good at, too.
Plays her horn and lets them sing
(Do they make that music swing!)…

We aren’t sure why Tonya’s friends are there. Per­haps there was trou­ble, per­haps it’s just a vis­it. But we are sure that Tonya’s moth­er is strong and will love and take care of  these chil­dren. Neigh­bor­hood Street is a neigh­bor­hood indeed, where all are made stronger by watch­ing out for each oth­er.

The House in the NightPhyl­lis: Susan Marie Swanson’s The House in the Night, inspired by a nurs­ery rhyme from The Oxford Nurs­ery Rhyme Book, is also decep­tive­ly sim­ple in its text. The sto­ry is told in short declar­a­tive sen­tences, one sen­tence each to a dou­ble page spread of Beth Krommes’ Calde­cott-win­ning scratch­board illus­tra­tions illu­mi­nat­ed with bright yel­low stars, lamp­light, moon, and oth­er objects. “Here is the key to the house,” the book begins.  In the house a light burns, a book rests on a bed, a bird flies with a song about star­ry dark, moon, sun, all of which cir­cles back (in short­er phras­es, a beau­ti­ful use of syn­tax) to the house in the night where art shows a par­ent lov­ing­ly tuck­ing in the child who has read the book in “the house full of light.” Utter­ly beau­ti­ful and sat­is­fy­ing.

Jack­ie: There is so much to notice in this book. First the trav­el and the won­der­ful verbs:  In the house burns a light/In the light rests a bed./On that bed waits a book./In that book flies a bird./In that bird breathes a song….” We go all the way to the moon and the sun—and return. And for the jour­ney back Susan Marie Swan­son uses no verbs. We zoom from one place to the next. It real­ly feels like space trav­el.

Sun in the moon,
moon in the dark,
dark in the song,
song in the bird,
bird in the book,
book on the bed,
bed in the light,
light in the house,…

You are right, Phyl­lis. This is such a sat­is­fy­ing trip back to the cozy bed­room of the house in the night.

Sweetest KuluPhyl­lis:  Not all nights are dark. The sum­mer sun nev­er real­ly sets in the arc­tic, although some­one who lives there told me how the qual­i­ty of light changes under the mid­night sun. (Some­day I hope to see for myself.) In the Arc­tic Sum­mer of Sweet­est Kulu by Celi­na Kalluk nature comes to give its gifts to lit­tle Kulu on the day he is born. The sun gives him “blan­kets and rib­bons of warm light,” wind tells how weath­er forms, snow buntings bring seeds of flow­ers and Arc­tic cot­ton, “remind­ing you to always believe in your­self.” Arc­tic Char, Fox, Nar­wahl and Bel­u­ga, Muskrat, Polar Bear, and the Land itself all offer gifts  both tan­gi­ble and intan­gi­ble. This is a child wel­comed and cher­ished by all.  A final piece of art shows Kulu nes­tled with a polar bear cub in a cir­cle of grass and flow­ers.  Exquis­ite­ly beau­ti­ful and lov­ing, this is a book as full of light and joy as the end­less Arc­tic sum­mer days. 

Jack­ie: I am so impressed with the lan­guage of this book. Many phras­es caught my ear. Here are a cou­ple of exam­ples: “Melodies of wind arrived,” “Fox, so thought­ful and swift,/came to tell you to get out of bed as soon as you wake,/and to help any­one who may need your help along your way…”

This bed­time lul­la­by res­onates with old­er read­ers, too.  We are dai­ly remind­ed in our own lives of Muskox’s gift. “Muskox shared her­itage and empow­er­ment with you,/magnificent Kulu,/showing you how to pro­tect what you believe in.”

These night­time books, whether in the kitchen, on Neigh­bor­hood Street, in the cozy house in the night, or in the Arc­tic urge us to qui­et, to being in a qui­et world, where we have space and time to appre­ci­ate what is around us in the phys­i­cal world as well as what is in our hearts and how they are strength­ened by affec­tion and care.

Phyl­lis: This is the sea­son for qui­et, after the bloom­ing and buzzing of sum­mer. As days short­en and the nights stretch out toward sol­stice, choose a book or sev­er­al to read aloud, an act as com­fort­ing as a cup of warm cocoa and a fire in the fire­place.

Here are a few more night sto­ries:

Can’t Sleep by Chris Rasch­ka

Good Night Sleep Tight by Mem Fox

Good Night, Goril­la by Peg­gy Rath­man

Night Flight by Joanne Ryder

Night Nois­es by Mem Fox

Ten Nine Eight by Mol­ly Bang

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Skinny Dip with Caren Stelson

Caren Stelson

Caren Stel­son, author

We inter­viewed Caren Stel­son, first-time author, whose non­fic­tion book Sachiko: a Nagasa­ki Bomb Sur­vivor Sto­ry has received a good deal of pos­i­tive recog­ni­tion, includ­ing the longlist for the Nation­al Book Award and inclu­sion on many Best Books of 2016 lists. (Her name is pro­nounced just as you would say Karen.)

Which celebri­ty would invite you like to invite to a cof­fee shop?

If I could invite any­one to cof­fee, I’d invite Eleanor Roo­sevelt and hap­pi­ly pick up the tab. Eleanor—what a woman! She over­came so much, from her dif­fi­cult child­hood, to find­ing and claim­ing her own life work, to being Franklin Roosevelt’s con­science as First Lady. Actu­al­ly, she was the con­science of the nation, then as U.N. rep­re­sen­ta­tive, the con­science of the world. I’d love to ask Eleanor, “What do you think of Don­ald Trump as Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States?”

To Kill a MockingbirdWhich book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

I keep com­ing back to To Kill a Mock­ing­bird by Harp­er Lee as my favorite book. Any­one who wants to under­stand the Unit­ed States needs to read Harp­er Lee’s nov­el.

Favorite city to vis­it?

Can I have two favorites? Bath, Eng­land is one and Nagasa­ki, Japan is the oth­er. I lived in Bath, Eng­land in 2001–2002 and spent that year inter­view­ing adults who had sur­vived the April 1942 blitz as kids dur­ing World War II. I was fas­ci­nat­ed by what they remem­bered about liv­ing through the war and what those mem­o­ries meant to them now. I have great mem­o­ries of the inter­views and great mem­o­ries of the city of Bath, itself. Bath is a Geor­gian archi­tec­tur­al won­der with lay­ers and lay­ers of his­to­ry. The Roman Bath in the heart of the city is the best pre­served Roman bath in the world. I loved liv­ing in Bath. I still have many friends there, mak­ing Bath “home away from home” for me. Nagasa­ki, Japan is anoth­er city where I’m at home. Of course, my friend Sachiko Yasui lives in Nagasa­ki as do many of my oth­er Japan­ese friends. Because Nagasa­ki was the sec­ond city destroyed by an atom­ic bomb dur­ing WWII, the hor­ror of nuclear war is for­ev­er stamped on the city’s con­science. So is the neces­si­ty for peace. For me, Nagasa­ki is Ground Zero for the study of peace.

City of Bath, England

Bath, Eng­land

Roman Bath

The Roman Bath in Bath, Eng­land

Nagasaki, Japan

Nagasa­ki, Japan today

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

One of my most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ries is sled­ding down a hill in Ver­mont one win­try night with my fam­i­ly. I still can see my father stretched out on a wood­en sled with my moth­er on top of him, speed­ing down the hill. I can still hear their screams of laugh­ter echo­ing through the dark. I don’t have many mem­o­ries of that kind of fam­i­ly laugh­ter, so I hang onto this mem­o­ry pret­ty tight­ly.

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

My dream vaca­tion is a pho­to­graph­ic safari to the Serengeti Plain. My hus­band and I trav­eled to Tan­za­nia in the 1980s and camped on the floor of Ngoro Ngoro Crater, the place with the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of wild ani­mals in the world. I can still hear the lions’ roar­ing at night. And the eyes. At night, we aimed a high-pow­ered flash­light out­side the cir­cle of tents and watched the eyes of ante­lope stare back at us. Today it’s not pos­si­ble to camp on the crater floor, but I’d do it in a heart­beat as my dream vaca­tion.

Ngoro Ngoro Crater, Tan­za­nia (Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

What makes you shiv­er?

There’s a lot to shiv­er about these days, but hon­est­ly, the first thing that popped into my mind was shark attacks. Any sto­ry that has a shark attack in it will give me night­mares.

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

I used to be a night per­son when I was younger, but now I’m a straight morn­ing per­son. Some­times I’ll get out of bed around 5:00 am, maybe ear­li­er, put on the cof­fee, and start writ­ing right away. When I’m in that half-sleep, half-awake zone, lots of inter­est­ing things start hap­pen­ing on the page.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I real­ly love hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with three-year-olds. I think that can be con­sid­ered a tal­ent.  I recent­ly took care of a three-year-old for a day and we had the best time explor­ing every mechan­i­cal item in the house, from how a mix­er works to how a piano makes its sound. If we could all sus­tain our three-year-old curios­i­ty, we tru­ly could be wide-awake, life-long learn­ers.

Piano iinterior

Explain­ing how a piano makes sound (Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

Favorite can­dy as a kid?

Good ‘n‘ Plen­ty. I loved those pink and white can­dy cov­ered pieces of licorice, par­tic­u­lar­ly if I ate them at the movies.

Broth­ers and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

I have an old­er broth­er and a younger broth­er, so I’m the sis­ter stuck in the mid­dle. Being the only girl shaped my life quite a bit. My broth­ers weren’t all that inter­est­ed in sports, but I was. My father taught me how to throw a foot­ball, play ten­nis, and get up the courage to play var­si­ty high school sports. Hav­ing that father­ly atten­tion gave me con­fi­dence. But I also missed not hav­ing a sis­ter I could con­fide in. I looked for that close­ness in the books I read and in my per­son­al jour­nals. Today, I think of my clos­est women friends as my sis­ters, which makes up for the hole in my child­hood.

Sachiko: a Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's StoryHope for the world?

What is there but hope for peace? The world is heat­ing up with fears and ten­sions we haven’t seen in decades. This does not bode well for the future. It’s a long shot, but I hope the nations of the world will col­lec­tive­ly real­ize war is not the answer to our prob­lems. Real­ly, we have no choice. Between nuclear weapons and cli­mate change, our exis­tence on this plan­et is at stake. We Amer­i­cans and the rest of the world’s pop­u­la­tion have to fig­ure out how to work togeth­er and work for peace. As indi­vid­u­als we may feel pow­er­less in the face of world ten­sions, but we can begin the peace process among neigh­bors and across our cities and states. I love the quote by peace activist and Quak­er Gene Knud­sen Hoff­man, “The ene­my is a per­son whose sto­ries we have not heard.” We can start lis­ten­ing.

Nagasaki, Japan

Caren Stel­son in Nagasa­ki, Japan

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Karen Cushman, the Girl in Men’s Underwear

Karen Cushman

Karen Cush­man

We wel­come the oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk with Karen Cush­man, New­bery Medal and Hon­or recip­i­ent for The Midwife’s Appren­tice and Cather­ine, Called Birdy, as well as his­tor­i­cal fic­tion set in the west­ern Unit­ed States. Her most recent nov­el is the fan­ta­sy Grayling’s Song. We look for­ward to talk­ing with Karen because her sense of humor is always in play, some­thing you’d expect from read­ing her books.

 Are you work­ing on a new man­u­script? (Care to offer a teas­er)?

I’m strug­gling my way through a book set in San Diego in 1941, short­ly before Pearl Har­bor. Here’s the begin­ning, or the begin­ning at the moment:

Jorge lift­ed the slimy crea­ture to his lips and bit it right between the eyes.

I shud­dered as I watched. “Doesn’t that taste mud­dy and dis­gust­ing?”

Nah,” he said, wip­ing mud from his mouth. “Is only salty. This way they don’t die but only sleep, stay fresh.” He threw the octo­pus into a buck­et and slipped through the mud flats to anoth­er hole in the muck. He filled a baster from a mud-spat­tered Clorox bot­tle and squirt­ed the bleach into a hole.

When the occu­pant slith­ered to the sur­face, Jorge pulled it out and bit it, too. “You want? Make good stew.”

I shook my head. I pre­ferred fish that came in cans and was mixed with mayo and chopped cel­ery.

 Elvis PresleyAre there par­tic­u­lar mem­o­ries of grow­ing up that, look­ing back, you see as lead­ing you toward a writ­ing career?

My first 17 or so years seemed to be lead­ing me to a writ­ing career. I wrote all the time: poems, short sto­ries, a 7-page nov­el, an epic poem cycle based on the life of Elvis (see the last ques­tion below). A lot of what I wrote was involved with cre­at­ing a world I’d like to live in star­ring a per­son I’d like to be.

Are there three books you’d rec­om­mend for gift-giv­ing in the upcom­ing hol­i­days?

I asked my daugh­ter, who works at Powell’s Book­store in Port­land and knows more about books than any­one. She rec­om­mend­ed three illus­trat­ed non­fic­tion titles. I plan to buy them for myself.

  • Atlas Obscu­ra (by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Mor­ton). A fas­ci­nat­ing tour guide to the strangest and most curi­ous places in the world: glow­worm caves in New Zealand, Turkmenistan’s 40-year hole of fire called the Gates of Hell, salt mines in Poland, a par­a­sitol­ogy muse­um, bone muse­ums in Italy.
  • David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work Now. Packed with infor­ma­tion on the inner work­ings of every­thing from wind­mills to Wi-Fi, this extra­or­di­nary book guides read­ers through the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of machines and shows how the devel­op­ments of the past are build­ing the world of tomor­row. 
  • In the Com­pa­ny of Women (by Grace Bon­ney). Pho­tos and descrip­tions of inspir­ing, cre­ative women across the world who forged their own paths and suc­ceed­ed. 

Three book recommendations by Karen Cushman

What did you study in col­lege?

I entered col­lege as an Eng­lish major but quick­ly became enam­ored of the Clas­sics depart­ment because it was much small­er and more inter­est­ing and they had sher­ry par­ties every Fri­day after­noon. My final major was double—Greek and Eng­lish.

Did you tak­ing writ­ing class­es?

My uni­ver­si­ty had a grad­u­ate cre­ative writ­ing major but there was only one course for under­grad­u­ates. I took it, hat­ed it, and nev­er went. Peo­ple sat around and crit­i­cized each other’s work. Not for me. The night before the quar­ter was over, I stayed up all night and wrote twelve short sto­ries. The pro­fes­sor com­ment­ed that I seemed to have learned a lot dur­ing the class even though I nev­er came to class. Go fig­ure. That was my first and last writ­ing class.

men's boxers What was your first job?

I worked in the men’s socks and shorts depart­ment of a Tar­get-like store, where I was known as the girl in men’s under­wear.

What’s your strongest mem­o­ry of the 1950s?

Elvis. No ques­tion. I also remem­ber look­ing at all the unhap­py house­wives on our sub­ur­ban street, sip­ping mar­ti­nis and mak­ing lunch­es, and feared I would end up like that.  

PS:  I didn’t.

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In Draft

Henry JamesHe was always chas­ing the next draft of him­self.”

 Amer­i­can crit­ic Dwight Gar­ner, in the New York Times Book Review on Feb­ru­ary 16 of this year, was describ­ing the child­hood of Hen­ry James.

An expand­able list comes to mind, some of our mem­o­rable fig­ures mov­ing toward the next draft of them­selves: Anne Shirley, Hold­en Caulfield, Jo March, Jody Bax­ter, Arnold Spir­it, Jr., Gilly Hop­kins, M.C. Hig­gins, Jane Yolen’s Hannah/Chaya, Will Grayson and Will Grayson, Bil­lie Jo Kel­by, Ramona Quim­by, the Gaither sis­ters, Hugo Cabret, Stan­ley Yel­nats, the Logan fam­i­ly of Mis­sis­sip­pi, Win­nie Fos­ter, Wal­ter Dean Myers’ Steve Har­mon, Ter­ry Pratchett’s Mau and Daphne and their Nation.  Har­ry, Hermione, Ron.

One of our tru­isms is that the char­ac­ters who trans­port us in their sto­ries are actu­al­ly show­ing us—seldom with­out pain—about revis­ing and becom­ing. We’ve all felt it hap­pen.

After the last page, our selves have enlarged, lead­ing us often sub­tly, silent­ly, into our own next draft.

Gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion, many of our young, in fic­tion and in the house just down the road, must revise them­selves by flee­ing chaos, vio­lence, or neglect wrought by cal­lous or con­fused adults. Oth­ers seek change and release from what seems an abyss of bore­dom. And some of us lucky ones try on dif­fer­ences just because we can.

draftRight now, Decem­ber 2016, in our own USA, many of our neigh­bors and stu­dents fear depor­ta­tion, a cru­el next draft in a world they nev­er made. As the new admin­is­tra­tion struts toward Wash­ing­ton, we’re wary of the con­vul­sive upend­ing, we’re appre­hen­sive about the pre­cip­i­tous swerves and the jaw-drop­ping, impetu­ous tweets, and some of us place bets. Here is Hen­ry James’ dec­la­ra­tion from about a hun­dred years ago: “I hate Amer­i­can sim­plic­i­ty. I glo­ry in the pil­ing up of com­pli­ca­tions of every sort.” Come on back, Hen­ry. We have drafts galore for you, we’ll help you catch up on your read­ing, and we’ve got real life com­pli­ca­tions that will blow your spats off.

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Irresistible Reading: How Things Work

How Things WorkNow, if that Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia wasn’t cool enough, here’s anoth­er sure-fire hit for kids who love to read facts, true sto­ries, and know how things work.

In fact, the book is called How Things Work and it’s anoth­er pow­er­house from Nation­al Geo­graph­ic.

As the book admon­ish­es, “PUT THIS BOOK DOWN NOW. It’s dan­ger­ous. It might make you think you can do impos­si­ble things.” Fol­lowed close­ly by “You must be one of those. The kind of kid who thinks ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer.”

Do you know one of those kids? End­less ques­tions? On the trail for the real sto­ry? Won­der­ing all the time? Lucky you. Lucky them if you give them this book.

How do hov­er­boards work? This comes with a “Try This!” that encour­ages exper­i­ment­ing with the attrac­tion and repelling of mag­nets.

How do microwaves work? There are info­graph­ics, fun facts, dia­grams, anoth­er Try This with ice cubes, Myth vs. Fact, a short biog­ra­phy of Per­cy Spencer whose melt­ing peanut clus­ter bar sparked his imag­i­na­tion … and it’s all ter­ri­bly excit­ing.

The visu­als that accom­pa­ny every fact in this book, the lay­out, the col­ors, all of this put togeth­er makes me want to devour this book. There are so many cool things explained that it makes me breath­less.

Don’t you want the kid in your life to feel the same way about learn­ing?

How Things Work
T.J. Resler
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016
ISBN 978–1426325557, $19.99

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