Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

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

Padma Venkatraman

Pad­ma Venka­tra­man

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

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

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

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

Padma Venkatraman's four novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I sent off my audi­tion tape and wait­ed.

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

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

Let’s talk,” the pub­lish­er said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,” I said.

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

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

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

I’m still not sure.

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

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Perfect Pairs

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

Perfect Pairs

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

Planting the Wild Garden and Miss Maple's Seeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kids.

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

5 Kinds of Nonfiction

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

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

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

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

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Pairing Nonfiction and Fiction

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

INVITE A DISCUSSION

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

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

SPARK A STORY

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

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

EXPLORE ANIMAL MINDS

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

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

Oth­er Pair­ings

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

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

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

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

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Glory Be!

Page Break by Lynne Jonell

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Bookstorm™: The Stuff of Stars

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

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

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

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

Downloadables

 

 

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

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Puppet Mania

Using Pup­pets to Enhance the Sto­ry­time Expe­ri­ence

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

― Fred Rogers

Mr. Z with two of his puppets

Mr. Z with two of his pup­pets

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

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

The Pup­pet Toolk­it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children playing with puppets

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pow­er of Pup­pets

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

Two sock puppets

Pup­pet Resources

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

Rec­om­mend­ed Sto­ries for Using Pup­pets

recommended books for puppet shoes

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Deb Andries and Her Reading Teams
January 2019

We’re delight­ed to fea­ture Bookol­o­gy fol­low­er Deb Andries and her grand­chil­dren to kick off our new Rais­ing Star Read­ers col­umn! The column’s goal is to show­case dif­fer­ent Read­ing Teams as they read togeth­er dur­ing mile­stone cel­e­bra­tions.

Reading The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Grayson, Gram­my, and Fin­ley share The Polar Express by Chris Van Alls­burg (HMH Books for Young Read­ers).

Deb, a.k.a. “Gram­my,” was able to enjoy two mile­stone read-togeth­ers to kick off her Christ­mas sea­son. In the pho­to above, Gram­my shares The Polar Express, by Chris Van Alls­burg, with grand­sons Grayson (5) and Fin­ley (3) in Wis­con­sin. In the pho­to below, she shares the same book with grand­daugh­ter Emmer­syn (5) in Min­neso­ta.

Emmersyn and Grammy share a read-aloud tradition.

Emmer­syn and Gram­my share a read-aloud tra­di­tion.

Deb told Bookol­o­gy about the spe­cial rit­u­als her fam­i­ly enjoys as they read this hol­i­day favorite togeth­er every year: “All three grand­chil­dren know the sto­ry and have favorite pages on which we linger and share our thoughts. We also keep our bells in our pock­ets or close by to ring at the end of the sto­ry. My orig­i­nal bell is as old as the book pub­li­ca­tion as that’s when I start­ed read­ing it with my daugh­ters!”

Deb is a retired ele­men­tary teacher and lit­er­a­cy coach of 35 years from Min­neso­ta. Cur­rent­ly, she is a Nation­al Lit­er­a­cy Con­sul­tant for Bench­mark Edu­ca­tion Co. She talks about the impor­tance of books in the life of her fam­i­ly: “Time togeth­er with these spe­cial peo­ple in my life is cher­ished. We all have book­shelves in our homes, and at each vis­it, whether that’s for a day, or a week­end, we make time to cel­e­brate spe­cial books togeth­er. Some­times, we read the same ones over and over, and oth­er times, there’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to read a new trea­sure!”

_______________________

We here at Bookol­o­gy look for­ward to shar­ing oth­er read-togeth­er mile­stones with Deb and her Read­ing Teams in the com­ing years! And if you would like us to fea­ture your Read­ing Team, con­tact Lisa Bullard. She can answer ques­tions and pro­vide fur­ther infor­ma­tion about how to par­tic­i­pate.

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Knit One, Purl Two

Phyl­lis: Two sticks and some string. That’s the most basic def­i­n­i­tion of knit­ting. The sticks might be met­al or wood. The string might be yarn or flax. But in the hands of a knit­ter, even an unskilled one such as I, they become mag­ic.

In the chilly months, we bun­dle up in cozy sweaters, snug mit­tens, hats that hug our heads. And what’s bet­ter than a book on a cold day or night to help keep us warm, snug­gled up with a lit­tle lis­ten­er or read­er or even a cozy cat? This month we’re look­ing at a few of the pic­ture books that cel­e­brate knit­ting and yarn.

Extra YarnIn Extra Yarn by Mac Bar­nett, illus­trat­ed by Jon Klassen (Balz­er and Bray, 2012), a lit­tle girl in a cold, drab town finds a box filled with yarn of every col­or. She knits her­self a col­or­ful sweater and still has extra yarn, so she knits her dog a sweater. But she still has extra yarn. She knits a sweater for a boy Nate (who laughs at her sweater but is real­ly just jeal­ous) and one for his dog, and so it goes. She knits sweaters for her whole class, includ­ing her teacher, for her par­ents, her neigh­bors (except for Mr. Crab­tree who nev­er wears sweaters, who get a knit­ted hat), sweaters for dogs, cats, birds and “things that didn’t even wear sweaters”—houses, mail­box­es, bird­hous­es. And still she has extra yarn. When an arch­duke hears of the mag­i­cal box of yarn and demands to buy it for ten mil­lion dol­lars, Annabelle, who is knit­ting a sweater for a pick­up truck, polite­ly declines. The arch­duke hires rob­bers who steal the box for him, but when he opens the box it is emp­ty. He flings it out the win­dow along with a curse, “Lit­tle girl…you will nev­er be hap­py again!” The box floats back across the ocean straight to Annabelle, who finds it full of extra yarn and who is indeed hap­py as she con­tin­ues to knit a more col­or­ful world. I love how her gen­eros­i­ty makes her world warmer in more ways than one.

Jack­ie: I love this book, too! I love that knit­ting stands for love, and, as you say, her knit objects bring col­or to the town, as love is the col­or in our lives. I also love the pair­ing of the mundane—knitting—with the mag­i­cal, the unend­ing sup­ply of yarn.

Feeding the SheepPhyl­lis: Feed­ing the Sheep by Leda Schu­bert, illus­trat­ed by Andrea U’Ren (Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2010) begins with a lit­tle girl ask­ing her moth­er “What are you doing?” “Feed­ing the sheep,” the moth­er replies. This struc­ture of ques­tion, answer, and rhyming cou­plets con­tin­ues through shear­ing the sheep, wash­ing the wool, card­ing the wool, until final­ly the moth­er has knit a gor­geous blue sweater for her daugh­ter. At the end of the book the moth­er asks, “What are you doing?” and this time the lit­tle girl replies, “Feed­ing the sheep.” Each stan­za ends with a rhyming line: “Snowy day, corn and hay,” “Soft and deep, sheepy heap.” Such fun to say.

Feed­ing the Sheep has the ele­gant sim­plic­i­ty of beau­ti­ful lan­guage, rep­e­ti­tion, rhyming cou­plets, and an end­ing that echoes the begin­ning and res­onates with love between a moth­er and her daugh­ter through the every­day activ­i­ties of their lives. I love this spare and ten­der sto­ry more every time I read it.

Jack­ie: This ten­der sto­ry makes me want to have a sheep, or even bet­ter, be a part of this lov­ing fam­i­ly. Andrea U’Ren’s illus­tra­tions extend the sto­ry. The girl is doing some­thing in each spread that res­onates with what the mom is doing. When Mom is shear­ing the sheep, the girl is play­ing with the fleece. When the Mom is wash­ing the wool, the girl is wash­ing the dog, Mom card­ing the wool, girl brush­ing the dog.

And at the end, we have the love­ly twist. The girl the one feed­ing the sheep. The love is passed on.

Too Many MittensPhyl­lis: Too Many Mit­tens by Flo­rence and Louis Slo­bod­kin (Ran­dom House Children’s Books, 1958) was writ­ten at a time when pic­ture books often had many more words than today (and when most ser­vice peo­ple were men). When Don­nie los­es a red mit­ten while Grand­ma is stay­ing with him and his twin Ned while their par­ents are trav­el­ling, word about the lost mit­ten goes around the neigh­bor­hood. Neigh­bor after neigh­bor help­ful­ly bring over red mit­tens they have found. “Is this yours?” they ask, and Grand­ma replies, “I guess so,” stash­ing the mit­tens in a draw­er. When Don­nie and Ned’s par­ents return from their trip with a present for the boys—red mittens—Grandma opens the mit­ten draw­er, which explodes with red mit­tens. Ned’s solu­tion: hang the red mit­tens on a clothes­line out­side and post a sign for peo­ple to claim them, which they do, all but one. The neigh­bor­hood likes the mit­ten solu­tion so much that each win­ter the fam­i­ly strings a mit­ten clothes­line for lost red mit­tens to be reclaimed. Any­one who finds a red mit­ten any­where brings the mit­ten over to the twins’ house to hang on the clothes­line. Who knows? You might find your lost red mit­ten there! The mit­tens them­selves are vivid spots in the art.

Jack­ie: The art in this book is so won­der­ful. I love the red mit­tens appear­ing on the pages. They remind me of the joy of car­di­nals in win­ter. And I enjoy the neigh­bor­hood feel­ing of this sto­ry. A sign of how much we have changed since 1958 is that I miss the women who might car­ry mail, or deliv­er pack­ages, or pick up garbage. But we can add them in as we read and talk about this sto­ry.

A Hat for Mrs. GoldmanPhyl­lis: In A Hat for Mrs. Gold­man: A Sto­ry about Knit­ting and Love by Michelle Edwards, illus­trat­ed by G. Bri­an Karas (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016) a lit­tle girl finds her own solu­tion to pro­vid­ing her gen­er­ous and beloved neigh­bor a hat to keep her head warm. When Sophie was born Mrs. Gold­man knit her a tiny baby hat to keep her kep­pie (head) warm. When Sophie grows big­ger, Mrs. Gold­man teach­es Sophie to knit, but what Sophie likes best is mak­ing the pom-poms for all the hats Mrs. Gold­man knits to keep oth­er people’s kep­pies warm which, Mrs. Gold­man says, is a mitz­vah, a good deed. Sophie wor­ries because Mrs. Gold­man is so busy knit­ting for oth­ers that she has no hat to keep her own kep­pie warm when they take Fifi for a walk. Sophie sets out to knit a hat as a sur­prise for Mrs. Gold­man. Sophie knits and knits and knits, but the fin­ished hat is lumpy and bumpy with “holes where there shouldn’t be holes.” Sophie remem­bers Mrs. Gold­man say­ing that Sophie’s pom-poms add beau­ty “and that’s a mitz­vah,” so Sophie dec­o­rates Mrs. Goldman’s hat with 20 pom-poms cov­er­ing the lumps and bumps and holes. Mrs. Gold­man loves her sur­prise and wears Sophie’s hat to keep her kep­pie warm.

Jack­ie: This is such a rich sto­ry, rich in emo­tion, rich in cre­ative solu­tions, rich in vocab­u­lary. I am glad to learn “kep­pie,” and that a good deed is a “mitz­vah.” And I am so glad for the instruc­tions that Michelle Edwards includ­ed in the book, so we can all make hats to keep the kep­pies of our loved ones warm.

And so, skills, and love, are passed down to new knit­ters. Knit one, purl two. A hat a scarf a sweater, pom-poms—what two sticks and some yarn are real­ly knit­ting is love. And that’s a mitz­vah.

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Curiouser and Curiouser with Lee Bennett Hopkins

Lee Bennett Hopkins

Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you scout new poets?

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

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

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

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

Most def­i­nite­ly. All of these are impor­tant.

A sampling

A sam­pling of Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins’ pop­u­lar poet­ry antholo­gies

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

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

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

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

What does your work­space look like?

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

Lee Bennett Hopkins' office

Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins at work in his library/study

Some of the bookshelves in Lee Bennett Hopkins' office

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

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

The view from Lee Bennett Hopkins' office window

The view from Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins’ office win­dow

The fountain and grotto at night

The foun­tain at night

What is your favorite object in your work­space?

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

What pleas­es you about the work you do?

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

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

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

Lee Bennett Hopkins Guinness Book of World Records

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

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

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In the Driver’s Seat

driver's seatTo be able to learn how to get some­where, I have to dri­ve the route myself. Rid­ing shot­gun doesn’t work if I’m try­ing to mem­o­rize the route; some­how the feel­ing of the nec­es­sary twists and turns has to seep up through the steer­ing wheel and into the pores of my hands for me to be able to reli­ably retain it. In oth­er words, I have to expe­ri­ence it as a dri­ver and not just as a pas­sen­ger.

I think that’s essen­tial­ly what writ­ers mean when they offer the mys­te­ri­ous writ­ing advice: “Show, don’t tell.” They’re advis­ing stu­dent writ­ers to put the read­er in the driver’s seat, to offer the read­er a deep lev­el of engage­ment with the expe­ri­ence of the sto­ry, rather than just tak­ing them along for the ride.

Here’s an exam­ple. If in my sto­ry I write, “It was an ear­ly spring rain,” I am sim­ply “telling” you about the weath­er and the sea­son. Here, how­ev­er, are two very dif­fer­ent ways of “show­ing” you a spring rain­fall:

Ver­sion one: “Plip. Plop. Ploop. Fat, wet drops tapped against the frozen brown cheeks of dor­mant Earth. Eas­ing itself awake, Earth let out a mighty yawn, scent­ing the air with a mem­o­ry of last autumn’s leaves.”

Ver­sion two: “Lulu shiv­ered as icy sliv­ers slashed her cheeks. It was time to push aside the mound of unmatched mit­tens and unearth the trusty umbrel­la that had shield­ed her from such attacks in the dis­tant past.”

Each ver­sion evokes a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent mood. Nei­ther men­tions “rain” or “ear­ly spring,” yet they are implic­it. Which leads to a fun game that can help young writ­ers learn how to write in a more “show­ing” way: ask them to describe a scene with­out using the obvi­ous cue words. Ask them to write about a char­ac­ter who is angry with­out say­ing the word “angry” or any of the obvi­ous syn­onyms. Have them set a scene at night with­out using the words “night” or “dark.” Encour­age them to put the read­er inside the expe­ri­ence in a sur­pris­ing and unex­pect­ed way, rather than rely­ing on the obvi­ous short-cuts. (If you hap­pen to have the game Taboo, I use the game cards as a way to play “Show, Don’t Tell” with my writ­ing stu­dents.)

Writ­ing that “shows” evokes the sens­es, uses active verbs, draws on metaphor­i­cal lan­guage, and asks read­ers to engage more deeply—to put them­selves in the driver’s seat, and to let the sto­ry seep up through the paper into their pores.

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Skinny Dip with Padma Venkatraman

Padma Venkatraman

Pad­ma Venka­tra­man

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

How many book­cas­es do you have in your house?

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

What’s the pre­dom­i­nant col­or in your wardrobe?

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

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

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

lebkuchenWhat’s your food weak­ness?

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

What’s your favorite form of exer­cise?

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

lotusWhat’s your favorite flower?

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

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

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

beach in Gao province in India

Who’s your favorite artist?

My daugh­ter!

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

My daugh­ter again.

What are your favorite piz­za top­pings? 

Pineap­ple chunks and hot pep­pers.

Do you remem­ber your dreams?

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

What for­eign lan­guage would you like to learn?

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

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

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

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

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

Padma Venkatraman's four novels

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Writer’s Retreat: Time

Writing Retreat: Time

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Books Books Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books Books Books and Charles Dickens

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

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

Books Books Books da Vinci

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

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Teaching Passion

When the direc­tor of Hollins University’s grad­u­ate pro­gram in children’s lit­er­a­ture asked me to teach a crit­i­cal class on the his­to­ry of children’s book illus­tra­tors, I said no. Even with an MFA in writ­ing for chil­dren from Ver­mont Col­lege, an MA in children’s lit­er­a­ture from Hollins, scores of pub­lished books, and years of teach­ing grad­u­ate-lev­el cre­ative class­es, I still felt like a fraud. Some­day I’d be called out because I nev­er got an under­grad­u­ate degree or under­stood what “dia­log­ic” meant. But the direc­tor insist­ed I was the only one who could teach this course, required for stu­dents in the new MFA Writ­ing and Illus­trat­ing Children’s Books pro­gram.

Pub­lish­ers Week­ly cov­er illus­tra­tion by Bill Peet

Maybe … When I was nine­teen, I bought a children’s lit­er­a­ture text­book at a yard sale. That one-dol­lar book became the first in my children’s lit­er­a­ture library, with a heavy con­cen­tra­tion in illus­tra­tors. What I lacked in aca­d­e­m­ic expe­ri­ence, I could make up for in pas­sion. As a kid, I longed to be an illus­tra­tor, switch­ing to ani­ma­tion when I was a teenag­er. Those dreams nev­er tran­spired, but my love for art stayed true.

Once home from that sum­mer of teach­ing, I gath­ered my books on illus­tra­tion. The floor near­ly fell in! I had so much mate­r­i­al, I didn’t need to leave my house. The course would begin with the ear­li­est children’s book illus­tra­tors, up to the end of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Hollins sum­mer res­i­dence terms are six weeks, two class­es a week, each class three hours.

I would cov­er the ear­ly illus­tra­tors in the first class, then spend the rest of the term high­light­ing tech­nique, print­ing meth­ods, and ground-break­ing artists. My out­line looked dead­ly. I tossed it and any pre­ten­sion I had of being a “real” aca­d­e­m­ic. I’d teach the class the way I wish some­one would have taught me—moving chrono­log­i­cal­ly through time, giv­ing back­grounds of illus­tra­tors, and, most impor­tant, telling sto­ries along with show­ing the art. Stu­dents would get plen­ty of infor­ma­tion, but they would also have a sense of the artists’ lives.

The out­come for the stu­dents? Rather than turn them into walk­ing ency­clo­pe­dias, I want­ed them to fall in love. Fall for one illus­tra­tor, one artist that would change their lives, change the way they made their own art.

I began scan­ning illus­tra­tions for Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions. My lit­tle flatbed scan­ner hummed day after day until I had 1000 slides. A thou­sand! Even spread out over twelve class­es, a thou­sand slides would send stu­dents fly­ing for the exit. I cut and cut, until I had 500 slides. Well, they’d get their money’s worth.

Mon­strosi­ties of 1825,” by George Cruik­shank

On the first day of our class, I told the stu­dents to buck­le up, their first lec­ture would be like a motor­cy­cle ride through the Lou­vre. We cov­ered 150 years of illus­tra­tion, from the 1830s (George Cruik­shank) to the 1930s (E.H. Shep­ard), criss-cross­ing between Eng­land and Amer­i­ca. There were 75 slides, my script was 35 pages. Amaz­ing­ly, they all came back for the next class.

Toad told Rat all his adven­tures”, by Ernest H. Shep­ard, from The Wind in the Wil­lows

Halfway through the term, I added anoth­er facet to the unit on mid-cen­tu­ry illus­tra­tors. Artists who’d start­ed at Dis­ney Stu­dios and gone on to pro­duce children’s books—people like Bill Peet, the Provensens, and Gyo Fujikawa. Twelve class­es was not enough! So, I cre­at­ed a thir­teenth class, some­thing no one had ever done before. Work­ing around stu­dents’ sched­ules, we met dur­ing lunch. I opened the lec­ture up to every­one in our pro­gram. After that, oth­er fac­ul­ty mem­bers began hold­ing lunchtime lec­tures.

from The Ani­mal Fair, Alice and Mar­tin Provensen, Gold­en Books

A Child’s Good Night Book, illus­trat­ed by Jean Char­lot

Instead of a sin­gle text, stu­dents were required to dis­cuss ten pic­ture books I’d select­ed. Many had nev­er seen Robert Lawson’s tech­ni­cal­ly bril­liant line-work for Fer­di­nand the Bull. They all knew Clement Hurd’s art for Mar­garet Wise Brown’s Good­night Moon but had missed Jean Charlot’s mas­ter­ful pas­tels in A Child’s Good Night Book. Although I’d put togeth­er a zil­lion slides, I stag­gered into each class with more exam­ples of the fea­tured artist’s work. Slides are great, but noth­ing beats pag­ing through actu­al books, most vin­tage or hard-to-find.

We had “spe­cial” days, such as sam­pling every black form of media I could lay my hands on for stu­dents to emu­late Wan­da Gag’s printer’s black. We ate blue­ber­ry Dan­ish dur­ing the Robert McCloskey class. Stu­dents tore pieces of col­ored paper and made Leo Lion­ni-style col­lages as we dis­cussed Lit­tle Blue and Lit­tle Yel­low.

Katy and the Big Snow, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Vir­ginia Lee Bur­ton

Stu­dents began bring­ing in books from mad-dash trips home to share. They showed sketch­es in the style of Vir­ginia Lee Bur­ton or Don­ald Crews. And they did what I hoped—they fell in love.

After my ini­tial run, I repeat­ed the course every oth­er year. Stu­dents pro­claimed it was their very favorite class in the pro­gram. On the last day of the term, we tra­di­tion­al­ly eat Krispy Kreme donuts and I ask the stu­dents who they fell in love with dur­ing the term. Often, it’s more than one illus­tra­tor. Then there are hugs and heart­felt good­byes, even a few tears.

Sum­mer 2018 was the final time I taught that love­ly course. After thir­teen years at Hollins, I need­ed to spend sum­mers home for per­son­al rea­sons. Instead I’ll teach inten­sives at the uni­ver­si­ty, as I have—and will con­tin­ue to do—for oth­er pro­grams and orga­ni­za­tions. As it turned out, my stu­dents changed my life, and teach­ing became my pas­sion.

On the last day of my last illus­tra­tion class, I gath­ered my mate­ri­als one last time, looked around at the emp­ty class­room where’d I’d taught so many years, and turned out the light. The tears were mine.

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Serendipity

I love the word “serendip­i­ty.” I also love when I actu­al­ly expe­ri­ence the feel­ing of serendip­i­ty. It shows up unex­pect­ed­ly in moments when I feel a sur­pris­ing con­nec­tion or hap­py coin­ci­dence between two seem­ing­ly sep­a­rate things. It makes me believe in the pow­er of the uni­verse and often leaves me ques­tion­ing whether these occur­rences are more than a fluke. I espe­cial­ly love when serendip­i­ty shows up in my teach­ing, learn­ing, and lit­er­a­cy life.

Engaging ChildrenA book I’ve been read­ing the past cou­ple of months has filled me with more serendip­i­tous moments than any oth­er I can recall. Start­ing with the beau­ti­ful blue cov­er and its title Engag­ing Chil­dren, all the way to the last page of Appen­dix G; “Essen­tial Con­di­tions for Engage­ment,” I have felt an over­whelm­ing sense of awe because it seems as if this book was writ­ten espe­cial­ly for me! More than any of my oth­er pro­fes­sion­al books about teach­ing (and trust me, I have an exten­sive col­lec­tion), this trea­sure of a book by Ellin Oliv­er Keene, feels like a cul­mi­na­tion of my teach­ing career as well as a per­fect reflec­tion of my edu­ca­tion­al phi­los­o­phy, my most pas­sion­ate hopes and dreams for kids.

The first chap­ter enti­tled “Let Me Enter­tain You!” imme­di­ate­ly grabbed my atten­tion with the first sen­tence: “A pie in the face: What does it take to moti­vate?” Just days ear­li­er, we had kicked off an excit­ing Rea­dathon fundrais­er at my school and one of the chal­lenges for kids was to meet a cer­tain dol­lar amount to win a chance to toss a pie at our beloved prin­ci­pal. Keene opens her lat­est book with a replay of a con­ver­sa­tion she shared with edu­ca­tors about exter­nal and inter­nal moti­va­tion as it relates to kids’ read­ing. She calls on her read­ers to rethink moti­va­tion. She pon­ders whether our attempts to moti­vate stu­dents, though well-intend­ed, are actu­al­ly fail­ing kids. She also shares research from Mari­nak and Gam­brell about the pit­falls of extrin­sic rewards (some­times hand­ed out in the form of points, piz­zas, or pies in the face) and how these incen­tives have actu­al­ly been shown to decrease moti­va­tion for some kids.  From there, Keene offers var­i­ous def­i­n­i­tions of moti­va­tion and explains impor­tant dis­tinc­tions between four pro­files that impact learn­ing; com­pli­ance, par­tic­i­pa­tion, moti­va­tion and engage­ment.

At this point in my read­ing (still on Chap­ter One!), I was so excit­ed about what this book was offer­ing that I couldn’t keep it to myself. I start­ed tex­ting my teach­ing “soul-sis­ter” Kris. I sent her screen shots of sev­er­al pages of the e-book, mar­veling at all of the coin­ci­dences I was encoun­ter­ing. In addi­tion to the pie sto­ry, there was a ref­er­ence to moti­va­tion being described as attain­ing a “flow”; in oth­er words, find­ing one­self so immersed in a book or activ­i­ty that all sense of time and place is lost. The term “flow” also hap­pens to be the title of the month­ly newslet­ter our dis­trict super­in­ten­dent sends to staff. Then Keene brought up read­ing logs, a very rel­e­vant top­ic giv­en the recent con­ver­sa­tions Kris and I had shared about our mixed feel­ings and ques­tions about using them effec­tive­ly. Yet anoth­er con­nec­tion popped up when Keene rem­i­nisced about being a third grad­er who loved maps… my bud­dy Kris has often pro­claimed her own love of maps and we both teach third grade! Serendip­i­ty sur­round­ed me as I read on and final­ly stopped tex­ting Kris so she could enjoy her Fri­day evening.

It wasn’t just that this book res­onat­ed with me because it con­tin­u­al­ly referred to top­ics and ideas that were famil­iar and rel­e­vant. It was so much more. You see, through­out my teach­ing career, I have always main­tained that pro­mot­ing an excite­ment for learn­ing was the tick­et. All this time I believed that moti­vat­ing kids was one of the most impor­tant approach­es to teach­ing I could embrace. And now, here was a new take on moti­va­tion. Rather than just hope kids would catch the moti­va­tion bug, I could actu­al­ly teach engage­ment using strate­gies that help kids rec­og­nize when they become dis­en­gaged so that they can reen­gage.

Room 212 White Board

our white­board in Room 212

So that’s exact­ly what I decid­ed to do when we returned to room 212 the fol­low­ing Mon­day. I start­ed by intro­duc­ing my stu­dents to the four pro­files: com­pli­ance, par­tic­i­pa­tion, moti­va­tion and engage­ment. Next, I accept­ed Keene’s chal­lenge to share with my stu­dents some of my most mem­o­rable and engaged learn­ing expe­ri­ences. Since that first attempt to put Engag­ing Chil­dren into prac­tice, we con­tin­ue to talk about the impor­tance of all four pro­files and how to dis­tin­guish the dif­fer­ences between them. I strive to weave engage­ment into our dis­cus­sions on a dai­ly basis. Kids are encour­aged to share their own sto­ries of engage­ment, to offer exam­ples of how they know they are expe­ri­enc­ing engage­ment. I’ve already noticed a dif­fer­ence in how my stu­dents take own­er­ship of their learn­ing and this is just the begin­ning!

Keene has put togeth­er an exten­sive and pow­er­ful col­lec­tion of prac­ti­cal ideas and use­ful tools from which all edu­ca­tors and stu­dents can ben­e­fit. I am con­vinced that Engag­ing Chil­dren has the poten­tial to trans­form the learn­ing tak­ing place in our class­rooms. The appen­dix is full of check­lists, rubrics, record-keep­ing forms, engage­ment reflec­tion guides for book clubs, and so much more.  Please don’t just take my word for it, though. Bet­ter yet, check it out for your­self. Get your hands on this book and see if you dis­cov­er a bit of serendip­i­ty for your­self!

In clos­ing, I offer a few quotes from the book and the uncan­ny con­nec­tions they have to past arti­cles I’ve writ­ten for Teach It For­ward. This my friends, is serendip­i­ty at its finest!

In a large group les­son, a craft­ing ses­sion, for exam­ple … I ask stu­dents to pay atten­tion to what they think, feel, believe and are com­pelled to act upon.” (pg. 84) “Win­dows, Mir­rors, Slid­ing Glass Doors, and Maps

Engage­ment is often born of an emo­tion­al res­o­nance for ideas – engaged chil­dren can describe expe­ri­ences when a con­cept is imprint­ed in the heart as well as the mind.” (pg. 115) “It’s All About the Heart

Chil­dren will devel­op a sense of agency and independence—and engage in learning—if giv­en time and prop­er scaf­fold­ing.” (pg. 71) “The Beau­ty of Imper­fec­tion

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