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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

You Be Thelma, I’ll Be Louise

by Lisa Bullard

pit stopIt’s best to bring a buddy when you hit the highway.

With a traveling companion along for the ride, the guffaws are louder.  The adventures are grander. The late-night soul-searching is more soulful.

Then there are times like the morning I woke up mid-road trip with severe food poisoning in Myrtle Beach, a day before needing to catch a plane in Raleigh. Do you know how long it takes to drive from one Carolina to the other when you have to make an emergency pit stop every ten minutes? My friend “Thelma” does. She drove the entire nightmare trip while I lay curled around a bucket in the backseat.

I line up lots of people to ride shotgun when I set off on writing road trips.  These writing companions are often different people than my riding companions, but they’re just as important to my creative journey. My writing group alternates between tough-love critiques and cheerleading sessions. My other writing friends let me despair over rejection letters, and then offer encouragement  and advice. There’s always somebody willing to take the wheel when my writing life hits a back-seat-and-bucket moment.

And a writing critique group is a two-way road: I not only receive feedback for my work, but I learn an enormous amount from evaluating other writers’ manuscripts.

You can build supportive writing relationships in your classroom by offering peer review opportunities.  Model constructive feedback for students; show them how to strike a balance between feedback that is kind, but too vague to be useful, and feedback that is overly negative. As a starting point, you can download my peer review handout.

If you haven’t tried it before, I think you’ll find that the buddy system can be a real writing boon.



Middle Kingdom: Dartmouth, Massachusetts

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

This month’s journey takes us to Dartmouth Middle School in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, where Lisa talks with teacher librarian Laura Gardner.

Lisa: What are three to five things our blog readers should know about your community, school, or library/media center?

Laura: Our school library is busy. There are often three classes in at a time getting and reading books, doing research, creating multimedia projects using iPads/green screens. We have a game corner, lots of computers, the beginnings of a Makerspace, and space for collaborative work. All our students are required to have a free reading book at any given time and we are big believers in choice. Even our summer reading requirement involves choice.

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

Laura: Popular series this year include the Maze Runner and Eye of Minds series by James Dashner, everything by Sarah Dessen, the Spirit Animals series by Brandon Mull, and everything by Rick Riordan.

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

Laura: I personally love to put good (sometimes sad) realistic fiction into kids’ hands. Some new favorites include Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (One for the Murphys was on our summer reading list last year and is very popular), Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Fourmile by Watt Key.

Lisa: What do you like most about working with middle school students?

Laura: Middle school students are the best! They change so much in the three years we have them, which I love. It’s so fun to see who they become by the time they leave us. Many of my students are often still comfortable being goofy on tech projects and I have lots of students who love to help out in the library. Here’s an article I wrote for SLJ on my student volunteer program.

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

Laura: Our summer reading program has been hugely successful over the last few years. Our students have a choice from 10-15 popular, fun books from four categories: realistic fiction, mysteries, historical fiction, and fantasy/science fiction. Our PTO and the district pay for the books and every student gets his/her choice before school ends. This summer we are even buying books for all the 7th and 8th grade teachers, and when we return in the fall we will have book club discussions for each book on the second day of school.



Skinny Dip with Will Hobbs

Never Say Die coverWhat animal are you most like?

Sea turtle.

Which book of yours was the most difficult to write or illustrate?

Bearstone, my first book, had six drafts written over an 8-year period. It even had several different titles, including Pride of the West. When I wrote the sixth draft I knew it was a quantum leap.

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

Crossing coverI’d love to see a movie of Crossing the Wire. The star would be an unknown Mexican teenager. Are you listening, Hollywood?

What’s your favorite line from a book?

The last line of Johnny Raven’s letter in Far North: “Take care of the land, take care of yourself, take care of each other.”

What book do you tell everyone to read?

The Wind in the Willows. Mr. Toad is one of my all-time favorite literary characters.



Interview with Sonny Liew

Shadow Hero coverThe Shadow Hero
written by Gene Luen Yang
illustrated by Sonny Liew
First Second, 2014

Growing up in Malaysia and Singapore, what were the popular comic books?

Well in terms of what you’d see at the newsstands , there was Old Master Q or Lao Fu Zhi from Hong Kong. In schools, there’d always be someone reading Tin Tin, Asterix or Archie. Myself, I also read a lot of Beano, Richie Rich and, a bit later on, Mad magazine. That last one probably turned me into a lifelong dissident.

How old were you when you started drawing or painting? What were your frequent subjects?

I think drawing comes very naturally to kids, it’s just an instinct to pick an pen or crayon and scribble away. But I suppose I continued drawing at an age when a lot of people stop—the early to mid-teens? By that stage I was very caught up with role-playing games like Dungeon and Dragons and Dragon Warriors, so a lot of it was fantasy art featuring barbarians and elves.

What decisions took you on your life path from Cambridge [University] to the Rhode Island School of Design?

I started doing a comic strip for a local Singaporean newspaper whilst I was still in Cambridge, and that whole process—thinking up ideas, finessing a punch line, drawing the final art—it just felt like something I could be totally engaged with. So I was pretty sure I wanted to do something arts-related after graduating, though it took me a while longer to figure out that I ought to go to art school, to learn everything from painting to sculpting, color theory and composition.

p. 60 illustration excerpt

p. 60 illustration excerpt

At what point did you decide that you’d like to be a comics artist?

Looking back at it now…I guess discovering works by creators like Chester Brown and Charles Burns—they opened up my mind to a different kind of comics then what I’d been used to—complex, personal stories that took the medium to whole new places. I suppose I had a sense then that engaging with the medium could be a lifetime’s endeavour.

How does it work in the comics world…how did you get signed on to The Shadow Hero as the illustrator?

Heh, I actually think that’s the wrong term, “illustrator.” Comics is a combination of text and images, there’s no real way to divide the two in the way the stories are told. It’s more a case of storytelling as a whole, with the writing and artwork being handled by different people in some cases. It’s a minor detail maybe, but perhaps does have some significance in the way books are classified or conceived in some places, especially those more  used to prose novels, where illustrations are seen as secondary, an add-on rather than an integral part of the story.

In any case…Gene and I had worked together on a short story for the Secret Identities anthology a few years a back, and his story is that I was the first person he thought of when he had The Shadow Hero script ready. I’d like to believe that’s true! On my end, it was a no-brainer to get the chance to work with Gene again on the project.

The color palette you chose for The Shadow Hero goes from a fairly neutral gray and brown palette to vividly intense reds, greens, and golds. How did you choose those colors?

Top: from p. 3;  Bottom: from p. 87

Top: from p. 3;
Bottom: from p. 87

It’s usually a matter of trial and error, tweaking the palette until it looks right. It’s always a function of storytelling, and in the this case, we needed different palettes to mark out the past from present, as well as a look that evoked the feel of the original Green Turtle comics.

Did you confer with Gene Luen Yang while you were drawing the story? If so, did parts of the story change based on your discussions?

Only minor things like layouts, rather than any deeper structural or thematic concerns. Gene’s scripts are wonderfully clear-headed, and the changes I suggested were mostly to add a level of visual dynamism where possible. Or maybe just to justify my presence on the project.

Did you refer to Chu Hing’s Green Turtle comics when you were doing your sketches?

For sure! I don’t own any physical copies of the comic, but fortunately these days you have access to digital versions.

Who was your favorite character to draw?

Uncle Wun Too. There was a wonderful eccentricity about him, and I got to draw him in a costume that paid homage to Old Master Q.

Art of Charlie Chan coverWe’re looking forward to The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Pantheon, early 2016). What can you tell us about your work on that book?

The book contains three main strands, I think—the life of a long-forgotten comics artist, the story of Singapore, and the story of comics. The main challenge was to try to bring them together in a narrative that would be both formally interesting and compelling. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and it’s been called multi-textured and layered… but I’m going to go with the blurb Gene wrote for the book: “A joy to read…masterfully weaves the history of Singapore with the history of comics into something you’ve never experienced before.”




Interview with Gene Luen Yang

Shadow Hero coverThe Shadow Hero
written by Gene Luen Yang
illustrated by Sonny Liew
First Second, 2014

What qualifies a comics character as a superhero?

You’ve asked a question that lies at the very heart of geekdom.  I don’t know if there’s a solid answer.  Most superheroes have superhuman abilities, but not all.  Most superheroes wear colorful costumes, but not all.  Most superheroes have goofy aliases, but not all.

Maybe a character just has to make herself into a symbol of something bigger, something more.

The Shadow Hero is an origin story—you and artist Sonny Liew created a back story for a character and series that had a brief, four-issue life back in the 1940s. You knew your end point: The Green Turtle would end up helping the Allies’ war effort during WWII, and because you wanted to make the superhero Asian, you had a start point. With those two points pinned on a board, what was the next step in writing the story?

Lots and lots of thinking.  I debated how old the protagonist should be, where he should come from, who should be in his supporting cast.  Having predetermined beginning and end points actually made things easier.  Often, I’m frozen by indecision.  Those “pinned” points narrowed my options, at least a little bit.

I knew I wanted the character to be of Chinese descent but raised in the West, like me.  I researched the history of the Chinatowns in San Francisco and New York, and found some good story fodder.

The protagonist, Hank, is content to work at his father’s side in the family store when he’s thrust into extraordinary events.  He’s not born with his superpower and he never dreamed of being a superhero. Why did you choose to work with this dramatic path?

Often, immigrants’ kids are born into dreams.  We’re born into a set of expectations.  I wanted that to be a primary tension of the book: Hank’s mom wants one thing for him, Hank himself wants another.

Superheroes are deeply American.  They were invented in America, they’re most popular in America, and at their best superheroes express America at its best.  Hank’s mom sees “superheroing” as a way of becoming American, a way to finally be accepted by her family’s new country.  Hank could care less, at least in the beginning.  He just wants to be comfortable.

Shadow Hero illustration

You’ve stated in interviews that The Shadow Hero is about the immigrant experience—about being the child of immigrants, especially.  Could you discuss this for our readers, many of whom teach and otherwise work with children of immigrants?

Almost every major superhero was created by children of Jewish immigrants: Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, the X-Men.  Consciously or not, they embedded their life experience into their creations.

Immigrants’ kids often grow up with one name at home and another at school, one set of expectations at home and another at school.  We negotiate between two identities.  That’s a convention in the superhero genre.  Superman isn’t just Superman, he’s also Clark Kent.  Batman is also Bruce Wayne.  Spider-man is also Peter Parker.

I sometimes wonder if that’s why I loved superheroes so much as a kid.  I saw myself in them.

Chinese in America coverPlease say a bit more about the research involved in writing about pre-WWII Chinatown and other settings or elements.

 I read about early Chinese communities in San Francisco, New York, and Hawaii.  Iris Chang’s The Chinese in America was particularly helpful.

Have you ever made your own superhero costume?

I haven’t, but my friends have on my behalf.  For my bachelor party, they dressed me up as a character they called Weiner Man –cape, underwear on the outside, an absurd and slightly inappropriate chest insignia.

My friends are mean.

You are also a veteran high school teacher. Your graduate-school work focused on the value of comics as an educational tool, and you’ve listed on your blog some comics that are a perfect fit for a  S.T.E.M. curriculum. On another site, Comics in Education, you list professional resources to help teachers learn to integrate comics into the classroom. If you were to tell an unconvinced teacher the singlemost reason to include graphic novels within the curriculum, and not just as independent reading, what would that be?

Simply put, certain types of information are better communicated through pictures.  I love words.  I read words for fun and I read words for work.  Words are incredibly, incredibly important to me and I never want them to go away.  But words can’t do everything.  Can you imagine putting together a Lego set by following words-only instructions?  So many concepts can be better explained with pictures: osmosis, the binary number system, factoring.

I don’t see comics as a replacement for prose—I see comics as another tool in the toolbox.  Teaching is such a difficult profession.  Shouldn’t teachers have access to as many different tools as possible?

Secret Coders coverYour forthcoming Secret Coders, Book 1 (illustrated by Mike Holmes) will be published this fall by First Second Books. Could you briefly tell us about this book and the series it launches?

I’m very, very excited about Secret Coders.  This is my first explicitly educational graphic novel series.  It’s also my youngest – it’s middle grade.

Secret Coders is a bit like Harry Potter – our young protagonists find a secret school.  However, instead of teaching magic, the secret school teaches coding.  Mike and I hope that, as our characters learn to code, our readers will too.

A final question about The Shadow Hero: If you hopped into the way-back machine and landed in seventh grade and had to give a very short report on The Shadow Hero to your classmates, what one thing about the book would you want to share with them?

It’s got punching in it!  And mahjong!



In Which the Boy Cleans His Room …

by Melanie Heuiser Hill

We’re at the one-month mark before #1 Son leaves for his first year of college. This is big for our family. (I realize it’s a big thing for every family, but it’s feeling particularly personal for us right now—indulge me.) It’s entirely right, he’s absolutely ready, and he’s going to a place that’s a good fit for him. But my heart squeezes to think of it. (I’m trying positive visualization for the good-bye.)

ph_RRB_bedroomThis week, he’s cleaning his room—a parental mandate. His room will remain his room when he goes, but long overdue is this cleaning out of the science projects from elementary school, the soccer medals from the same era, the dusty certificates and papers and binders, the mess and detritus of a boy’s life well lived and now outgrown. He’s doing the closet today—he won’t finish. It’s like an archaeological dig with its layers. He says he’s saving his bookshelf for last. “It’s not so bad,” he says.

bk_Frog_and_toad_coverLast week, I sat on his bed and looked at that bookshelf. It’s one of the first my husband built. Floor to ceiling, nearly as wide as the boy’s wingspan. Or his wingspan a few years ago, anyway. It’s stuffed and it exhibits a peculiar combination of cluttered and organized storage. It’s obvious he once alphabetized his fiction by author. This astounds me—among all of his awards, there is nary a one commending his organizational skills. But he likes to find the book he’s looking for quickly, and so at some point he gave it a go, I guess.

Many of the picture books have moved on. A few favorites remain: Caps for Sale, an anthology of Thomas The Tank Engine stories, Clever Ali, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Quiltmaker’s Gift, Frog and Toad, several books about inventors, scientists, and explorers, Winnie-the-Pooh 

And then there are the glorious chapter books that consumed weeks and months and years of his life. Some we read together, but many he devoured on his own. The well-worn Harry Potter books in English and Spanish both, all of the Swallows and Amazons series, most anything Gary Schmidt has written…. There’s a section or two of math books—cool math, not textbook math—and there’s everything from stories of dragons and wizards to the biography of Mark Twain.

bk_SwallowsThe boy has always read widely. History is mixed in with science, which is mixed in with his banned books collection and various works of Shakespeare. Contemporary novelists sit piled under ancient classics. He has the entire collection of Calvin and Hobbes sitting next to The Atlas of Indian Nations, and various graphic novels are shelved in the midst of an extensive collection of Peter Pan prequels and sequels. I see both books he was required to read and books he could not put down.

I’m almost as proud of this bookshelf as I am the boy—it steadies me to look at it. With just a few weeks left until he heads out, I catch myself with panicked thoughts: Will he wash his sheets? Does he know the details of our family medical history? Is the salad bar in the dining service nice enough to tempt him to eat his vegetables? Does he know the signs of a concussion? Frostbite? Will he call home before he makes Big Life Decisions? WILL HE READ? 

That last one pops up a lot for this English major Mama. He wants to be an engineer. That curriculum does not feature much in the way of literature courses; though I’m impressed they have an all-campus-read that plays a significant part in orientation. Will our boy read for fun, or be so consumed with engineering and math that he won’t have time for stories? If he decides to have a beer, will he pick up a new novel or an old favorite to enjoy with it? (A mom can dream.) Will he find a banned book to read in September during Banned Books Week, like we’ve always done? Will he lose himself in the stacks of that fancy campus library and maybe carry a pile of books back to his dorm room? If he stays up much too late, will it be—please let it be—because he’s fallen into a story and can’t get out?

And then he shuffles into my office, laughing at another artifact he’s uncovered in the deep dark recesses of his closet. We agree it can be “passed on.”

“Hey Mom?” he says. “What do you do with your books when you go to college?”

I tell him there’s not much room in the typical dorm room to house books outside of those you need for your studies.

“Maybe I can just take a few favorites?” he says.

I ask which few those would be.

“I’ll have to think about it,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of favorites.”

Oh, I’m going to miss that boy.



Classic Children’s Comics

by Vicki Palmquist

“No one I knew ever picked up Archie or Lulu or Dennis the Menace because it was Required Reading. We read comics because we wanted to see what was going to happen. We wanted to take that unexpected turn.” — Jon Scieszka

Toon Treasury of Classic Children's ComicsWhen I was in high school, I went on a hunt to find as many old comics as I could, learning about the history, the controversy, the artists, and the love affair that swooped up so many kids and showed them that good stories exist in many forms.

If you’d like to share classic comics with your kids or your students, you’re in luck. Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, those folks behind Toon Books, sought out the fun, wacky, and adventuresome stories that will have them turning the pages for their next comics encounter. Spiegelman and Mouly aimed for funny and they found it—bullseye—in The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics (Abrams ComicArts, 2009).

You’ll find comics that may be familiar to you such as Little Lulu, Pogo, Dennis the Menace, Heckle and Jeckle, and the Little Archies (not the teenage version, but the young kids). You’ll read stories and find characters that I believe will be new to you as well.

Toon Treasury

I particularly enjoyed Gerald McBoing Boing in “Boing Boing” by Theodore Seuss Geisel and P.D. Eastman. The graphic line, the colors, the poetry, the story … I won’t ruin the ending but it’s comforting to know that there’s a place for everyone in this world.

In Melvin Monster “Mice Business” by John Stanley, a family of monsters has a mouse problem. This is theater of the absurd. Your children (and you) will howl over the antics of Mummy and Baddy and their son, Melvin.

Little Lulu Five BabiesIn Little Lulu “Five Little Babies” by John Stanley and Irving Tripp, the boys trick Lulu into looking foolish but she gets the best of them in a clever and ironic way.

Believe it or not, in Uncle Scrooge “Tralla La” by Carl Barks, this high-energy story lets us in on the secrets of capitalism and utopia.

Did you know that Walt Kelly of Pogo fame also did a series of comics called Fairy Tale Parade? “Prince Robin and the Dwarfs” is fast-paced, exciting, and funny … and also a ripping good yarn. I particularly enjoyed studying his Map of the Fairy Tale Lands.

I don’t know if you can say these are favorites when I’ve listed so many of them, but “Captain Marvel in the Land of Surrealism” by C.C. Beck and Pete Constanza is a true high point of the Treasury. When I started this article I was going to say that there are no superheroes in this collection but they included Captain Marvel in a story that will have you questioning reality. (And there’s a story about Supermouse, too.)

These six stories are just a fraction of what’s available in The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics. There’s at least one story that will tickle every reader’s funny bone and I’m willing to bet you’ll have a hard time keeping your own favorites to a list of six.

Map of the Fairy Tale Lands

How lucky kids are today to have such ready access to a book that collects the best of an era when comics were new and experimental and, in the case of this Treasury, appropriate for childhood.

As Mr. Spiegelman and Ms. Mouly write in their introduction, “But as parents we’ve desperately wanted to keep our kids safe on the ever-shrinking island of childhood, protected from the dangers of, say, Internet porn and the horrors of the nightly news, while still preparing them for the Real World. As evidenced in so many of our selected stories, adults can act very childishly, kids can be remarkably clear-eyed, and the battle between the rational and the irrational is more like a dance.”

I’m glad to have been invited to that dance. I’ll pull this tome (it’s 1-1/4” thick) down from the shelves when I need a book to lighten the mood. Thanks to my good friend Amy who knew this would be a cherished birthday present.


Skinny Dip with Debra Frasier

ph_orangesWhat is your favorite holiday tradition:

When I was fourteen years old I assumed the role of Christmas Ambrosia Maker in my southern-novel of a family. I was the youngest appointee, ever, and surprising, as it requires welding a very sharp serrated knife, but I had a knack for it. We were a “fruit-rich” family due to a small, scraggly orange grove west of Vero Beach, FL. You needed to be fruit-rich because my family ambrosia method requires cutting deep into the naval skin to not only remove the white pith, but to also cut into the tiny juicy orange cells, leaving a little ribbon of actual orange on the spiral skin. This is why our ambrosia is better than any other you will taste. Ever. But. You need a lot of oranges for this method.

When I was sixteen, and had faithfully repeated the recipe for two years, I removed the traditional canned pineapple. Scandal! There were arched eyebrows from my grandmother. When I was seventeen, I removed the coconut, and my mother raised her eyebrows. But once the knife had been passed, it turned out you can do what you want, my first taste of family matriarchal power. Now we have ambrosia just how I like it: plain, un-doctored naval oranges in a brimming bowl. And I now add finely chopped mint. My daughter will probably remove it one day.

Long answer to a short question.

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

My teachers loved me because I was a perfectionist amid a pack of wild Florida boys. In those days we received paper report cards where teachers could write, in gorgeous script, comments for each child. A reoccurring comment was: “Debbie is an excellent student however she is very hard on herself.”

Little did I know that this would be the report card for my life…

What was the first book report you ever wrote?

bk_YearlingI don’t remember my first book report but I remember Book Reports. I always drew the cover and an illustration in a carefully measured box. My favorite book was read aloud in the fourth grade by a long-term substitute. It was a desperate attempt to control an unruly class—and it worked miraculously well: The Yearling, by Marjorie Kennan Rawlings, trumped 25 Florida ruffians committed to ruining a substitute’s life. My report on the book was filled with pictures of fawns, curled in the Florida scrub, and bounding in the cabin yard. This book changed my life forever, as hearing it kept the divorce–wracked world at bay, and I realized that stories were the ultimate magic, some kind of medicine for the heart.

Do you like to gift-wrap presents?

When I was growing up wrapping presents was considered An Art. I was taught to carefully fold tucked in corners, and to make sure the scotch tape was perpendicular to the gift’s base line. My mother, somehow, got on the mailing list for the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog. She could never have afforded to order anything but she studied the wrapping methods in the over-the-top section. I remember one particular wrapping that she showed me with such amazement: Take ten cashmere sweaters, each a different bright color. Find a very tall glass container, preferably shaped like a fountain soda glass. Lay each sweater in the glass so as to appear to be a layer of ice cream. Add a bow to the base, and save a white sweater for the whipped-cream top.

So, yes, I grew up loving to wrap presents, wrapped at a department store for a teen job, and now…am the worst present-wrapper you ever met. Sloppy, I use recycled paper and bags, and never match my corners. What happened?! But I STILL often think about my mother’s delight in the ice cream glass filled with cashmere sweaters—

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

Laugh more. I was a serious child, and had this thing for doing everything too, too perfectly. The report cards were right: Lighten up, for heaven’s sake, Debra! But I could tell myself that TODAY, too!

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

OK, defying The Rules of Time my guests would be: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, after orange season so she is relaxed and she can bring Max Perkins as her date, Ursula Nordstrom, after finishing Carrot Seed with Ruth Krauss so she is pleased as punch, and Ursula LeGuin, so things are always looking forward with her remarkable mind and its insistence on recognizing the feminine in us all.

Let’s make the dinner in NYC, somewhere street level, with red leather booths but we take the round table in the window, beneath the tied back drapes…Candles on the table, wine ordered.

bk_spike_228Where’s your favorite place to read?

My favorite place to read has more to do with time than place—I most like to read wherever I feel there is space, psychic space, I mean. I love to read, for example, when traveling, especially in the air if it is not bumpy. There is a lot of psychic space in an airplane, untethered to all those strings below. I also have a little sleeping loft in a North Carolina cabin that you get to by a rope suspended ladder—perfect reading space, and once again, up high, always summer, always untethered. But if I waited for an airplane or summer, I’d never read, so I squeeze reading into a lot of odd spaces: before sleep, waiting in lines, over lunch, in my studio…In later life I have developed a severe addiction to narrative so I have to ration myself or I will stay up all night trying to find out the age old question’s answer: What happens NEXT? At night I have to read only cookbooks because it does not matter so much what happens next and I can turn the light off at a sensible time and go to sleep. Seriously. It’s a problem.



Lisa Bullard: My Superpower

When I do school visits, the students treat me like a superhero. The time with them is exhilarating, and it would take a much more hardened heart than mine to resist the curiosity and imagination these young people exhibit. But my classroom days also leave me bone-deep exhausted. One afternoon, midway through a weeklong residency, I lay down in my front yard when I arrived back home, too tired to tackle the Mount Everest that had replaced my front steps.

orange starThat’s one of the reasons I stand in awe of classroom teachers. The degree of patience and endurance that they require to show up day after day for an entire school year astounds me. I also have a secret theory that education majors are trained in super-human bladder control. For my part, I need to stay fully hydrated to survive school visit days—which means I develop an early awareness of the restroom layout for any school I visit. That’s how I got to be particularly friendly with one young writer who I’ll call Jake. In his particular school, there was a handy faculty restroom just off of the nurse’s office. Between classes I’d duck in, and more often than not find Jake sitting on the nurse’s bed.

“Hey, Mrs. Writer Lady,” he’d invariably greet me, and we’d exchange pleasantries and chat about the activities I had planned for his classroom that day.

After several more restroom visits, I became worried about Jake. The little guy seemed to spend a good part of his school day in the nurse’s office, and I imagined an array of chronic diseases that might be the culprit. I finally caught a rare moment where the nurse was present but Jake was not, and understanding that she couldn’t reveal confidential medical information, I told her of my concern for Jake’s health. She laughed, waving a hand.

gr_Zap“Jake’s not sick,” she said. “They just stash the sent-to-the-principal students in here when the principal is away.” In other words, Jake was That Kid: the one who spends a good part of his educational experience getting into trouble, disrupting other students, and being sent to the principal’s office. Yet this side of his nature was completely foreign to me—when I worked with his class, he was enthusiastic and engaged, cheerfully creating a highly imaginative piece about a polar bear who McGuyver-ed bubblegum to solve his story’s conflict.

Jake was my first hands-on evidence of something I’ve observed time and again during my classroom visits: stories can have the power to reach That Kid in a way that few other things can. I’ve now had many teachers seek me out after class to tell me about That Kid in their classroom: how, to the teacher’s great surprise, That Kid was able to focus, to behave, to show enthusiasm, for my story-writing activity in a way That Kid seldom can for other classroom activities. Stories certainly aren’t the magic fix for every struggling kid, but I now believe strongly that they can sometimes work wonders for That Kid.

blue starMost superheroes need a superpower: mine is stories. I work really hard to make my school visits fun (hence the need for all that hydration!). But the truth is, I’m not an entertainer by nature—I’m a writer who spends most of my work days alone with imaginary characters and a cat. So the credit for the ability to reach some of those hardest-to-reach kids should rightfully go to the power of story rather than to me. That means that any classroom that allows time for pleasure reading and creative writing can tap into that power, too.

You just need to stock up on good books, sharp pencils, and not-empty-for-long notebooks, and Kapow! Zap! Boom! It will be superhero time in your classroom (or living room) before you know it.



Shifting Drivers

by Lisa Bullard

Take TurnsIf you go road tripping with enough different people, you discover another way that human beings sort themselves out: into the drivers of the world, and the passengers of the world.

The drivers are only completely happy when they have control of the steering wheel. But, on every trip, there comes a point where they tire out and lose their concentration.  Then it’s necessary to shift drivers. Even a short break can bring the original driver back to peak driving ability.

This is true of a writing road trip as well.  At some point, we tire out and lose our concentration.   When my students have been focusing on a longer writing session, I’ve discovered that temporarily “shifting drivers” works as a quick and effective break.

Here’s how it works. Ask students to shift their writing utensil to their non-dominant hand, and to try writing two or three sentences with that hand. Sometimes I use the board to model the “crazy ax murderer” results that my left hand produces when I shift drivers this way.

This gives students a chance to shake out their dominant hand, which has likely grown tired of gripping a pencil. It provides students a chance for a quick laugh over their attempts to write with their non-dominant hand. And I’ve read information that suggests that shifting hands this way re-engages the other side of our brain, which enlivens the writing process.

So when you’ve assigned a longer writing project, remember to follow the road signs in today’s photo at some point: First, STOP. Then, TAKE TURNS.  It’s a little trick to bring your students back to peak writing ability.



Two for the Show: Three Books on the River

by Phyllis Root and Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Summertime. And whether we live by water or only dream of living by water, reading about river adventures is fun. We are fortunate to have a number of wonderful books that take us out onto the water. We are unfortunate that only one of the books on today’s list can easily be found at a library.

We two bloggers dream of a library that does not “weed,” but keeps books on the shelves because they are timeless and will always appeal to children. Perhaps that’s what we are trying to do with this blog: create our own “library” of books that nourish wonder, grow sympathy, fill brains with possibility.

What better place to do all that than the river? Let’s shove off.

Mr Gumpy's Outing coverMr. Gumpy’s Outing, by John Burningham. Some library copies of Mr. Gumpy’s Outing look like they are one hundred years old, not merely forty-five. It is such a good story that it deserves not to be overlooked because it looks worn. Time to summon the library angels of our nature to donate new copies. As you all may know, “Mr. Gumpy owned a boat and his house was by a river.” When he goes out in his boat various characters come up to the river bank and ask to go along. He says yes to all but there are some rules. The children are not to squabble, the rabbit not to hop about, the cat not to chase the rabbit, the dog not to chase the cat, the pig not to muck about, the sheep not to bleat, the chickens not to flap (it’s hard not to list them all because the verbs are so wonderful), the calf not to trample, and the goat not to kick. For a while all goes along well, but life is life. And we know they will do what they are not to do. …So the boat tips over, but no lectures from Mr. Gumpy. That may be the best part of the book. He says, “We’ll walk home across the fields…It’s time for tea.” Mr. Gumpy knew something like this would happen. It’s in the nature of children to squabble and calves to trample. We can still drink tea and eat sweets. This book is sure to please, whether being read or acted out by young actors. It’s a joy.

Three Days coverSo is Vera B. Williams’ Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe a joy. Though this book is not available in any of three eastern Iowa libraries, an Amazon check shows it is still being purchased and loved by readers. Published in 1981, it is written as a child’s journal of a canoe trip that takes place after the narrator, walking home from school, notices a red canoe for sale. She, Sam, Mom and Aunt Rosie “pool” their money and buy the canoe. Mom and Aunt Rosie come up with a three-day trip. They buy supplies and then “drove and drove and drove and drove and drove and drove and drove and drove and drove and drove.” What child does not have that memory of a long car trip?

The book includes so much—Mom and Aunt Rosie lowering the boat over a waterfall, camp cooking, instructions on how to tie a half hitch, a recipe for pancakes and fruit stew, and dumplings, sketches of fish and fowl. It is as if we were on the trip.

The tone also contributes to the special-ness of this book. Vera B. Williams has captured the leisurely feeling of a river trip: let’s stop to swim, tell stories at night, watch a muskrat. And there’s the unspoken caring. When Sam stands up and falls out of the canoe, he gets towed to shore. “Mom doesn’t say much, but she looks upset. Aunt Rose looks scared. Sam changes to dry clothes and we canoe on.” Vera B. Williams doesn’t need to say how much Mom and Aunt Rosie love the kids. That love and caring infuses the story, as in all of Williams’s work—and that’s why we keep going back to it.

The Cow Who Fell coverPerhaps it’s not the same as a parent’s love for a child, but how can we not love Hendrika, the Dutch cow, envisioned by Phyllis Krasilovsky and illustrated by the wonderful Peter Spier? The Cow Who Fell in the Canal was first published in 1957. According to Krasilovsky’s obituary in the New York Times the book became so popular in the Netherlands that the author was feted by the Dutch Consul in New York. The book begins: “Hendrika was an unhappy cow. She lived on a farm in Holland, where it is very flat. All summer long she ate grass. All winter long she ate hay. All winter and all summer she did nothing but eat.” She’s learned about the city from Pieter, the horse, who comes to pick up the milk. One day while out eating grass she falls into the canal. Of course she continues eating and then stumbles upon a raft. Spier shows us the entire process of pushing and maneuvering and finally falling onto the raft. Then the adventure begins! Hendrika is the mischievous child in all of us. She runs, she tramples, she wears a straw hat and finally she goes home, where “she had so much to think about.” If this book had no words it would be wonderful because Peter Spier’s illustrations are so full of detail and energy. But the words tell us of a great adventure that left the wanderer changed—as all good adventures do, as all good books do.

Other river picture books:

Give Her the River, by Michael Dennis Browne illus by Wendell Minor. Atheneum, 2004. A father’s thoughts about his daughter.

River Friendly, River Wild, by Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Neil Brennan. Aladdin Reprint, 2007. A story inspired by the flooding of the Red River.


A Trip to the Art Museum

by Vicki Palmquist

Arlo's Artrageous Adventure!  

Arlo’s Artrageous Adventure!

David LaRochelle
Sterling Children’s Books, 2013

When Arlo’s grandmother drags him to the art museum, he can’t imagine how he’ll be interested. Something odd catches his eye and he soon realizes the paintings have things to say that surprise and delight him—and the reader. Fun and quirky, with illustrations that will make you smile and flaps to lift that will reveal nuances in much the same way you discover something new in a painting each time you look at it … this is a good choice to prepare a child for a trip to the museum.

Art Dog  

Art Dog

Thacher Hurd
HarperCollins, 1996

When the moon is full, Arthur Dog, security guard at the Dogopolis Museum of Art becomes Art Dog, a masked artist painting masterpieces. When an art heist occurs, Arthur must find the true criminals. Your readers will have fun recognizing the works of Pablo Poodle, Henri Mutisse, and Vincent Van Dog.

Behind the Museum Door  

Behind the Museum Door:
Poems to Celebrate the Wonder of Museums

Lee Bennett Hopkins, ed.
illus by Stacey Dressen-McQueen
Harry N. Abrams, 2007

An ideal read-aloud to prepare for a  class trip, this collection of poetry will be useful when discussing art and artists. The poems are energetic and informative while Dressen-McQueen’s illustrations do an admiral job of visually representing each poem.

Chasing Vermeer  

Chasing Vermeer

Blue Balliett
Scholastic, 2004

Petra and Calder, 11-year-olds, become friends when they team up to solve the theft of a Vermeer painting which was en route to a museum in Chicago, where they live. The thief leaves clues in the newspaper and our clever duo work hard to solve the puzzles and mysteries that result. Your readers will learn about art while playing detective.

Dog's Night  

Dog’s Night

Meredith Hooper
illus by Alan Curless
Frances Lincoln, 2006

With a setting at London’s National Gallery, this is a tale of that one night a year when the dogs in the museum’s paintings are set free to come to life and play. A good way to introduce young people to fine art.

Eddie Red Undercover  

Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile

Marcia Wells, illus by Marcos Calo
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013

Edmund, an 11-year-old boy with a photographic memory and a talent for drawing, is hired by the NYPD to help them look for thieves planning a major art heist. Filled with humor, interesting characters, and a lot of clues to a satisfying mystery.



Frank Cottrell Boyce
HarperCollins, 2006

When Dylan’s father leaves because their business, Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel, is faltering, Dylan’s family tries to improve their circumstances. At the same time, paintings from the National Gallery are being moved to storage near Dylan’s Welsh town. Filled with art history and colorful, charismatic characters, this book is sure to hook readers.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler  

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

E.L. Konigsburg
Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 1970

A classic in which Claudia plans carefully for a week’s stay in the Metropolitan Museum of Art to break the monotony of her life. She invites her younger brother, James, because he has money. A new sculpture in the museum is possibly a marble angel created by Michelangelo, but no one knows for certain. Claudia and James are determined to help solve the mystery.


Going to the Getty  

Going to the Getty

Vivian Walsh
illus by J. Otto Seibold
J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997

The creators of Olive, the Other Reindeer have created a picture book that introduces young visitors to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, including artwork, gardens, and behind-the-scenes work spaces.

Katie and the Sunflowers  

Katie and the Sunflowers

James Mayhew
Orchard Books, 2001

When Katie visits the museum, it’s an adventure indeed! She finds she can reach into the paintings, such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, while other paintings come to life. There are a number of Katie books in which she learns more about fine art, but this particular title features Gaugin and Cezanne, the Post-Impressionists. Back matter helps elucidate more information in a friendly way.



Elise Broach
illus by Kelly Murphy
Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt, 2008

An excellent mystery weaving together the world of art and the world of art theft. Marvin is a beetle who lives under the sink in James’ apartment. Marvin has a marvelous talent for drawing in miniature. So marvelous that his drawings become a media sensation … for which James receives the credit. Art forgery is required but the friendship between Marvin and James, neither of whom can speak to the other, is tested.

Matthew's Dream  

Matthew’s Dream

Leo Lionni
Random House, 1995

When Matthew the mouse goes on a field trip to the art museum with his class, he is overcome with the beauty and power of the artwork hanging there. Inspired, he returns to his dusty and uninspired attic and creates art with things he’s never recognized as having beauty, creating paintings “filled with the shapes and colors of joy.”

Mrs Brown on Exhibit  

Mrs. Brown on Exhibit and Other Museum Poems

Susan Katz
illus R.W. Alley
Simon & Schuster, 2002

A book of poetry is written in the children’s own voices about their exuberant teacher, Mrs. Brown. She loves field trips to art exhibits and other exotic museums. A good book to show the breadth of collections encompassed by museums.



Susan Verde
illus by Peter H. Reynolds
Harry N. Abrams, 2013

On a visit to the museum, a young girl reacts with differing emotions to each painting she sees, expressing herself with movement and sound and facial expressions. Drawn in a cartoon style, this book will help kids move beyond that feeling of reverence that museums sometimes inspire to examine the works for a personal connection.

Museum ABC  

Museum ABC

New York Metropolitan Museum of Art
Little Brown, 2002

An alphabet book introducing children to the collection of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, including Roy Lichtenstein’s Red Apple and Degas’ ballerinas. It works well as a discussion starter about art and as a guide to the museum’s treasures.

Museum Book  

Museum Book: a Guide to Strange and Wonderful Collections

Jan Mark
illus Richard Holland
Chronicle Books, 2007

There are anecdotes, historical facts, and invitations galore in this book to look at museums from different perspectives. Top-notch.

Museum Trip  

Museum Trip

Barbara Lehmann
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006

When a boy gets separated from his class on a field trip to a museum, wondrous things happen when he stops to tie his shoe and gets separated from his class. He goes on an adventure that will have readers asking, “Is that real?” Well, look for clues in the illustrations. It’s a wordless book, so your children will have an opportunity to tell the story in their own way.

Norman the doorman  

Norman the Doorman

Don Freeman
Penguin, 1959

In a book that has not aged, a dormouse is a doorman at the Majestic Museum of Art. He leads tours of small creatures to marvel in the paintings and sculptures stored in the museum’s basement. Inspired by a competition, Norman creates his own entry out of mousetraps set to catch him by the Museum guard. Filled with puns both verbal and visual, this is a must-have for your collection.

Seen Art?  

Seen Art?

Jon Scieszka
illus by Lane Smith
Viking Books, 2005

In a quirky play on words, the narrator is looking for his friend Art, but he’s directed to the Museum of Modern Art by a lady who thinks he’s looking for … art. While continuing to look for his friend, he encounters paintings by Van Gogh, Lichtenstein, Matisse, Klee, and more. A humorous way to approach fine art.

Shape Game  

Shape Game

Anthony Browne
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2003

In an inspirational, autobiographical picture book, Anthony Browne shares his family’s visit to the Tate Museum in London that changed his way of looking at art. He examines actual paintings hanging in the Tate in a manner that encourages the reader to look more intentionally at art. The Shape Game is a family tradition, one that Anthony’s mother shares with him on the way home from the museum.

Speeding Down the Spiral  

Speeding Down the Spiral: an Artful Adventure

Deborah Goodman Davis
illus by Sophy Naess
Life in Print, 2012

A somewhat longer picture book that frames a look at artwork in the Guggenheim Museum in New York City with a visit by a bored girl, her father, and her baby brother in a stroller. When the stroller gets away from her and heads down the spiral, a group of people give chase … and look at the artwork along the way!

Squeaking of Art  

Squeaking of Art: the Mice Go to the Museum

Monica Wellington
Dutton, 2000

Using reproductions that look somewhat like the original works of art, this book teaches the vocabulary and concepts that are so helpful when one visits a museum.

Under the Egg  

Under the Egg

Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Dial Books, 2014

In this novel, 13-year-old Theo inherits a painting after her grandfather dies unexpectedly. Isolated by poverty and the lack of a responsible adult, Theo gains friends as she attempts to figure out if the painting is one of Raphael’s and why her grandfather had it. It’s a charming book with a riveting mystery and fast-paced action.

Visiting the Art Museum  

Visiting the Art Museum

Laurene Krasny Brown
illus by Marc Brown
Dutton, 1986

When a young family goes to a museum, there is a great deal of complaining and expectations of boredom. Instead they are drawn in by work ranging from Renoir, Pollack, Cezanne, Picasso, and Warhol. Reproductions by Marc Brown of those famous paintings make this book accessible by younger and older children.

You Can't Take a Balloon Into the Metropolitan Museum  

You Can’t Take a Balloon Into the Metropolitan Museum

Jacqueline P. Weitzman
illus by Robin Preiss Glasser
Dial Books, 1998

When a young girl and her grandmother visit the museum, the guard tells them she can’t take her yellow balloon in with her. He ties it to a railing. The two museum visitors view works of wart while the yellow balloon is untied by a pigeon to float through and explore New York City, often in parallel adventures.


Skinny Dip with John Coy

7_15HoopWhat animal are you most like?

I have a strong love for the Graywolf.

Which book of yours was the most difficult to write or illustrate?

All the ones that have not yet found a publisher.

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

Lots of students think Crackback would. I’d be happy with any star.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

“Go, Dog. Go!”

What book do you tell everyone to read?

The Watson go to Birmingham—1963

Are you a night owl or an early bird?

I used to be a night owl. Now I’m much more of an early bird.

Were you most likely to visit the school office to deliver attendance/get supplies, visit the nurse, or meet with the principal?

I hardly ever visited the school office for any of these reasons. Our elementary school was so small we didn’t even have a regular nurse. We hardly ever saw the principal and we had no lunch at school. We all walked home every day for lunch. And the idea of being too cold to go outside for recess hadn’t been invented yet.



Give me a good mystery

Summertime is synonymous with reading for me.

My grandmother kept a light blue blanket by the back door so I could spread it out under the elm tree and dissolve into stories. Sometimes a lemonade, sometimes a piece of watermelon … but always a book. Sometimes a friend would sit next to me absorbed in a story of their own but most often it was just me, the birds, the sounds of summer, and a hardcover book.

I was reminded of that blanket under the tree this weekend when we were in Somerset, Wisconsin. We had to be somewhere at 11 am but we were early. We had brought books with us—of course—and we sat under a tree reading.

Eddie Red UndercoverFor me, it was Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile. Reading mysteries is a passion and a comfort for me. This book by Marcia Wells, with integral illustrations by Marcos Calo, swept me in and connected me to the girl who read during her summers, as many books as they’d let her check out of the library.

Eddie Red lives in New York City with a dad who’s been downsized from the library and a mother who’s a real estate agent. Although he’s been attending Senate Academy, a school for gifted students, his family’s financial duress puts him in a state of anxiety over not being able to afford tuition next year. He likes his school but he realizes he won’t see his best friend, Jonah, anymore. Jonah is brilliant but he’s challenged by hyperactivity and a number of medical conditions … all of which make him a perfect sidekick.

You see, Edmund Lonnrot, our hero, is a 12-year-old with a photographic memory and a startling ability to draw detailed, lifelike portraits of people he has seen recently. When Edmund and his dad are drawn into a dangerous situation in an alley, Edmund is later able to draw the criminals for the police. It turns out these particular bad guys are part of the Picasso Gang, internationally-wanted art thieves. The police hire Edmund as a police sketch artist, code name Eddie Red, to observe the comings and goings of people on Museum Mile in NYC, any of whom could be a disguised art thief.

Plausibility? Well, let’s just say that the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief” is apropos. I was willing to overlook the NYPD hiring a twelve-year-old for a stakeout as farfetched  and get completely involved in Edmund’s and Jonah’s story, a chess game of a plot, and Edmund’s likeable sense of humor. The author does a good job of making Eddie’s talents feel universally adoptable—if only we had a Jonah to give us that extra oomph in the mystery-solving arena.

Eddie Red Undercover - Marcos Calo illustratorCalo’s portraits are a part of the plot, essential to the story. They’re as full of character as the author’s story. At the end of the book Eddie Red offers advice on how to draw a portrait. That’s perfection because I found myself itching to pick up a pencil and draw the people around me while I was solving the mystery alongside Edmund.

It’s an engaging story, perfect for reading any time, but especially satisfying on a summer afternoon.


Anne of Green Gables

by Melanie Heuiser Hill

I received Anne of Green Gables for my tenth birthday. I fell in love immediately. Absolutely In Love—that’s the only way I can describe it.

bk_Anne120For the next several years, I received the next book in the Anne series each birthday and Christmas. I could spot the book in my pile of wrapped gifts—I have the Bantam Starefire Collection, small mass market paperbacks not quite seven inches tall—the very size and shape of those books made my heart beat faster. The print is tiny, the margins almost non-existent, which wasn’t in any way a problem when I received them. Now that I’ve added a few decades, I need my new bifocals to read them. My husband suggested I get another set of the books—one with larger print. As if.

For years, through high school and college and young-adulthood, I re-read the books on the sly. Usually in times of stress. I’d rip through the entire series—Anne age ten in #1 all the way through to her youngest daughter, Rilla, a teenager in #8. A couple of years might go by between the readings—but not more than that. Sometimes I just read Anne of Green Gables, which remains my absolute favorite, but usually if I read it, I read them all.

“A bosom friend–an intimate friend, you know–a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul.”(Anne Shirley, in Anne of Greene Gables)

Several years ago now I met my bosom friend. I sat in the back of a small group as she and her husband talked about writing and reading, family and life. I was so entranced I could not even take notes. I loved her at once, somehow. I sat listening to her and I thought: This woman is a kindred spirit.

A heartbeat later, as a part of a long list of excellent books worth re-reading, my kindred spirit said “And Anne of Green Gables. I perpetually read Anne of Green Gables, of course.” Her husband nodded.

A zing went through me head to toe—why had I never thought to do that?! It was the word perpetually that got me. And the non-chalant of course. I was a thousand miles from home, but if I’d had my trusty Bantam Starfire Collection with me, I would’ve started perpetually reading the Anne books right then and there. As it was, I had to wait until I got home. But I’ve been perpetually reading them—a chapter or two most nights before bed—ever since. (Imagine my husband nodding.)

My own daughter is not as infatuated with Anne. She’s a little overwhelmed with Anne’s boisterous spirit, incessant chatter, over-active imagination, and general endearing exuberance. (Which is funny, because she’s really quite like Anne Shirley.) She has a couple of copies of Anne of Green Gables—hardback collector editions she received as gifts. I gave her a box set of the whole series for her birthday last year. (This is what has changed in a generation—I received the books one at a time, but I gave her the entire series at once. But I digress.) They are similarly sized to mine, and I thought maybe the size would somehow make the difference.

Alas no. They just aren’t really her thing. I thought I might be crushed by her indifference—I worried about it for years. My bosom friend (whose daughters are older than mine) warned me this could, in fact, happen. But now that it has, it’s okay. Really. My girl has read the hardback a couple of times, watched the excellent movies with me, and I’ve convinced her to read Anne of Avonlea with me over vacation this summer. It’s all good.

My dear bosom friend died quite unexpectedly and horribly a year and a half ago. The hole left in my life remains large—we corresponded daily and often referenced Anne Shirley and her adages and escapades alongside our own. Neither of us fit the role of Anne Shirley or Diana Barry, but our friendship was deep, even though it started later in life.

bk_AnneRainbow120My perpetual reading of the Anne series has been a gift during this time. I am so very grateful for my friend’s unassuming words: perpetual, of course. Without the zing that went through me that evening, I might not have been bold enough to contact her, and our resulting bosom friendship, so rich and so much a part of my life, might not have been.

So I think of her each night as I open whatever book in the series I’m on (just started #7, Rainbow Valley). It’s bittersweet, to be sure, but it’s been helpful somehow. My heart is grateful.

Also, I’m still holding out hope my girl will become an Anne-girl this summer. We’ll see….



Skinny Dip with Heather Vogel Frederick

7_8patienceWhat is your proudest career moment?

I don’t think anything will ever beat getting that phone call over a dozen years ago from Simon & Schuster (editor Kevin Lewis, to be exact) letting me know that they were going to publish my first book, The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed. I hung up the phone afterwards and burst into tears. I’d worked so hard on that novel, for so many years! I was floating on air for weeks. In some ways, I still am.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever.

I was five, they were leopard print, and I thought I was the coolest thing ever. I loved those jammies to shreds. I had matching leopard print slippers, too—which met an untimely end when I accidentally stepped in the toilet. But that’s another story.

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

Curling. Just to see the looks on people’s faces when I told them.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Twenty-three years ago, my husband and I picked up and moved from the East Coast to Portland, Oregon, sight unseen, no jobs. Friends and family thought we were nuts. We probably were, but it was also a fabulous adventure. We fell in love with Oregon the minute we drove across the border. The Pacific Northwest is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s been a great place to raise our boys.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

7_8WestWindOn my own? This is a tough one, because my memories of reading on my own are so tightly interlaced with nightly read-alouds with my father. I remember him reading Thornton Burgess’s Old Mother West Wind stories to me, which were his favorites when he was growing up, and I also remember sounding the words out myself and reading them back to him. As a solo read, though, I think it was either Gene Zion’s Harry the Dirty Dog or Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (both of which I later read to my boys, who also loved them—isn’t that one of the best things about books?).

What TV show can’t you turn off?

Believe it or not, The West Wing. Somehow we missed it the first time around when it aired over a decade ago, and now we’re streaming it on Netflix and can’t pull ourselves away. It’s held up remarkably well, and in many ways is still topical and timely. And the writing! Don’t get me started on the writing. Sharp, funny, smart, informative. I can’t get enough of it.



Lynne Jonell: Justice in Another World

by Lynne Jonell

Jonell_Lock200I just met a woman who lived through horrifying emotional abuse as a child.

I had been told about her history some years before; but when I met the woman, we didn’t mention it. We talked instead about books, a subject of common interest, and teaching, her passion.

I made an effort to forget what I knew about her past; it was awful enough for her to have lived through it without my thinking about it while we talked, like a bystander at a crime scene who keeps casting surreptitious glances at the pooling blood beneath a blanket-covered mound.

But I couldn’t keep my thoughts entirely disciplined. Mostly, I was in awe—that she had survived, that she had become a kind person, a contributing member of society with a generous heart. And now, days later, I am still thinking about—let’s call her “Jean.”

I know there are evil things done in this world, but for the most part they are things that one reads about in papers, or hears on the news. To sit across from someone who lived through what Jean had was something more real, and in the days following our lunch date I went back to it over and over again, trying each time to make sense of her story somehow.

Jonell_CatAfloat200I suppose it will end up being worked out in a book. It’s happened before. There are people in my life I have tried to comprehend, and events and themes that have concerned me deeply. I have worried them all like a dog might a bone until they took shape as characters and plot points, and then I wrote them down.

In my book Emmy & the Incredible Shrinking Rat, where did Miss Barmy, the world’s most evil nanny, come from? I know, but I’m not telling. Why does the man in her life keep going back to her in spite of everything? That is something that mystifies me as well and I try to make sense of it on the page.Jonell_Villain200

In my newest book, The Sign of the Cat, the Earl of Merrick is the hero of the nation, universally admired and honored—but this front hides a dangerous criminal (and he’s mean to kittens, too.) Where did this villain come from? I didn’t know while I was writing the story, but I am beginning to understand now.

Why is it so important to write about villains? Why not just write about good people, and good choices?

Jonell_Shadow-at-Door200Because evil does exist in this world, and children know it. They may not know it in all its horror, but they get the concept; and they’re afraid of the dark. And they passionately want justice.

I want justice, too. And I want to tell the truth. So I write fantasy.

Fantasy is a time-honored method of speaking truth when truth is too difficult to face straight on. I can write about child abandonment, abduction, and murder, and if I include talking cats, it’s considered perfectly suitable for children. Fantasy softens the sharp edges, Jonell_Cat200distances the reality, so that it becomes possible to look at deep truths and deep fears without being overwhelmed.

Fantasy has another purpose, too. It can carry readers far, far away from the circumstances of their lives. It can take a lonely and abused child, like Jean, to another world entirely; a world where such a child has a chance, and a voice; a world where evil is unequivocal and called by its name.

Jonell_Hand200Being told from birth that you are less than everyone else takes its toll. Being told you are worthless can make you feel as if you are drowning in a sea of rejection and pain.  But for a few hours in time, as long as it takes to read a book, such a child can forget; such a child can identify with a character, can put on courage, can hope for a happy ending.

Jean loved books as a child. I like to think that the books she read helped her make it through. And there are many children like Jean, right now, today, caught in situations they feel powerless to change. I want to give them what I can: a world where justice comes at last, be the battle ever so unequal.


Illustrations by Lynne Jonell, from The Sign of the Cat


The Shadow Hero Companion Booktalks

A 12-pack to get you started on the Bookstorm™ Books …

bk_100_5Minute5-Minute Marvel Stories, by Disney Book Group, Marvel Press, 2012. Ages 3 and up.

  • Perfect read-aloud length for younger fans
  • Nice introduction for newcomers to Spiderman, Ironman, the Hulk, the Avengers, the X-Men, Captain America
  • Other than a few swinging fists, little violence

bk_100_BoysSteelBoys of Steel: the Creators of Superman, by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ross Macdonald, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008. Ages 8 and up.

  • How two high school outsiders created the most famous super hero
  • Picture book format but text and illustrations will appeal to independent readers
  • Back matter includes the story of the writer and artist’s super struggle to be acknowledged and compensated fully for their creation

bk_100_BrothersBrothers, by Yin, illustrations by Chris Soentpiet, Philomel, 2006. Ages 8 and up.

  • The story of Ming, a Chinese immigrant who arrives in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1800s
  • A friendships story develops when Ming defies an older brother’s orders and ventures past the Chinatown border
  • Beautiful, detailed wide-spread water color illustrations on every page 

bk_100_CompleteGuideComplete Guide to Figure Drawing for Comics and Graphic Novels, by Dan Cooney, Barron’s Educational Series, 2012. Ages 10 and up.

  • Every page has multiple tips and examples with very readable text and clear illustrations.
  • Emphasizes classic comic book action poses and character
  • Back matter includes advice on submitting portfolios and a glossary 

bk_100_DragonwingsDragonwings, by Laurence Yep, HarperCollins, 1977.

  • In the early 20th Century, a young boy travels from China to America to meet a father he doesn’t know.
  • Part of the Golden Mountain series consisting of 10 books
  • Newbery Honor book 


bk_100_FoiledFoiled by Jane Yolen, illustrations by Mike Cavallaro, First Second, 2011. Ages 8 and up.

  • Aliera’s ordinary life changes when she meets a new guy, acquires a new sword (she’s into fencing) and one day heads to Grand Central Station
  • Manga-style illustrations alternate between two-tone (ordinary world) and full color (the fantastic), occasionally merging
  • Details of fencing skills and equipment provide unusual background and good character development

bk_100_MarvelWayHow to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, by Stan Lee and John Buscema, Touchstone, 1984. Ages 8 and up.

  • Author Stan Lee is the creator of many comics legends, Buscema is the illustrator of many current comics
  • Many examples begin with stick figures and develop step by step—perfect for novice and experienced illustrator
  • Includes glossary

bk_100_LittleWhiteLittle White Duck: a Childhood in China, by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez, illustrations by Andrés Vera Martínez. Graphic Universe, 2012. Ages 8 and up.

  • Graphic memoir about Na Liu’s childhood in 1970s China; wife/husband collaboration
  • Divided into 8 short stories
  • Includes glossary of Chinese words and at-a-glance timeline of Chinese history

bk_100_PowerlessPowerless, by Matthew Cody, Knopf, 2009. Ages 8 and up.

  • Daniel is the new kid in a town—and the only one his age without a superpower
  • A Sherlock Holmes fan, Daniel decides to unearth the mystery behind the superpowers his new friends have—and why they disappear at age 13
  • First in series of three

bk_SharkKing_extendedShark King by R. Kikuo Johnson, TOON Books, 2013. Ages 4 to 8. Asian Pacific ALA’s Literary Award.

  • Child-friendly version of a Hawaiian myth
  • Clean layout—no sensory overload from text or illustrations
  • Includes discussion material for teachers and parents


bk_100ABCSuperHero ABC, written and illustrated by Bob McLeod, HarperCollins, 2008. Ages 3 and up.

  • An alphabet book, not a primer on superheroes, with comic-like illustrations
  • Humorous original heroes and heroines, such as Bubbleman and Firefly
  • Good prompt for individual or group superhero writing or drawing project

bk_Zita100Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke, First Second, 2011. Ages 8 and up.

  • Graphic novel with a Wizard of Oz storyline: young girl is transported to a strange world
  • Though Zita is trying to save an abducted friend, and though the planet is about to be destroyed, the text and art are more about fun than fear
  • How many weird creatures can you find?



From the Editor

by Marsha Qualey

ph_catI made my professional entrance into the world of children’s books in the early 1990s when the first of my YA novels was published. One thing that has changed drastically since then is the increased media coverage; YA lit is an especially big show right now. While you still run across some vestigial articles of the “Should Adults Read Children’s Books” nature, gone are the days when a children’s book author would be dismissed out of hand as not being a real writer, especially by writers of literary fiction and poetry.

My response—most often delivered to unappreciative but patient cats but a few times when face to face with those writers—was always, “Well, where do you think your readers come from? Do you think readers don’t exist until they discover your writing?” #snap!

Okay… #sadsnap. 

Shadow HeroAnother thing that has changed is the prevalence of graphic novels in the classroom, libraries, and publishers’ catalogues. For the second time in its short history Bookology’s Bookstorm™ book is a graphic novel: Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero.

I’ve had the good fortune of working with Gene in a writing program for adults. He is a natural, brilliant teacher. I’ve observed die-hard novelists and poets emerge from one of his Writing a Graphic Novel workshops excited about this new storytelling form.

Of course it’s not really new, just new to us here in the mainstream US book world. Wouldn’t you love to go back in a time machine to a library conference in the 1940s or 50s and tell everyone about comics in the classroom? Can’t you just see the white gloves flying up to smother gasps or cover ears?

Later this month we will have interviews with both Gene and Sonny. Today we’re rolling out the Bookstorm™ and a couple of related features—storm cells, you might call them (and yes, it’s pouring as I write this.) We also have a thoughtful Knock Knock essay by author Lynne Jonell: “Justice in Another World.” Skinny Dip interviews and our regular columns will of course appear throughout this week and weeks to come.

Enjoy—and thank you for stopping by.



Bookstorm: The Shadow Hero


In this Bookstorm™:

Shadow HeroShadow Hero

written by Gene Luen Yang
illustrated by Sonny Liew
First Second, 2014

As we become a culture adapted to screens, visuals, and moving pictures, we grow more accustomed to the storytelling form of the graphic novel. For some, their comfort with this combination of visuals and text telling a story satisfies a craving to “see” the story while they’re reading. For others, the lack of descriptive detail and measured, linear momentum through the story feels like a barrier to understanding. With the variety of graphic novels available and the inventive ways in which they’re assembled, we encourage you to keep trying. Find a story that intrigues you and persevere … we believe you’ll grow accustomed to this form. In time, you’ll add graphic novels to the depth of offerings you eagerly recommend to students, patrons, and friends.

We selected Shadow Hero for our featured book this month because the superhero has been present in comics since the early 1900s and current films and television have reawakened an interest among children that we believe can easily transport them into reading. Yang and Liew have given a back story to a superhero, The Green Turtle, originally created by talented comic book artist (and fine artist) Chu Fook Hing in the 1940s. There’s plenty of action, humor, mystery, and suspense in this new book … all the right ingredients for the best reading.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. For Shadow Hero, you’ll find books for a variety of tastes, interests, and reading abilities. Shadow Hero will be comfortably read by ages 10 through adult. We’ve included picture books, novels, and nonfiction for the plethora of purposes you might have.

Graphic Novels About Superheroes. With the popularity of The Avengers and X-Men, Iron Man and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there are a number of graphic novels about superheroes available for different ages. Some have mature content. Many are accessible for younger readers. Whether or not they’re wearing capes, superheroes are appealing because of the possibilities.

Graphic Novels About Mythology. The Green Turtle is a part of Chinese mythology. We hear a lot about Greek and Roman mythology, but there are compelling myths around the world. Graphic novels make those traditions and stories available to readers who might have trouble with straight text.

Fiction about Superheroes. Longer texts, without illustrations, often hold as much attraction for comic book readers if the stories are engaging. And there are picture books that are just right for the readers who are too young for graphic novels but have the interest.

Comic Books, Nonfiction. Whether it’s learning how two boys came to invent Superman, the superhero from Krypton, or examining infographics and statistics, or listening to a podcast with Gene Luen Yang on public radio about his inspiration, The Green Turtle, there’s a lot of research and learning to be done with superheroes.

Drawing. For those kinetic and visual learners, telling a story through drawing, populating a page with characterization and setting and voice is a way to use comic book art for developing writing skills.

Chinese History. There are many, many books, some of them quite scholarly, about Chinese history. We’ve selected just two, both of which are also visual histories.

Chinese Art. China is such a large country, with a civilization that is thousands of years old, that these books organize the information in order to present the diversity of arts in a way that makes sense.

Chinese Immigration. There are fine books about the immigration of Chinese and Asian Pacific people to America, the Golden Mountain. We’ve selected a few, from picture books to novels to memoir. 

Chinese Food. Readers learn a great deal about different cultures from the food they eat, their traditions for preparing food, and the ways they share it with their community. We’ve found cookbooks for both learning and eating, for adults and for children.

Chinese Geography. It always helps to have a good map to reinforce the visual knowledge of a country. You’ll find suggestions for maps, downloads, photos, and facts about this large country in Asia.

Techniques for using each book:



Turtles in Children’s Literature

Our Bookstormbook, The Shadow Hero, is the origin story of a superhero, The Green Turtle. While this character is not an actual chelonian—though that would be an awesome super hero—there are many turtles and tortoises in children’s literature. Some might even be, technically, terrapins. Here are some notables.