Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Raymie Nightingale

rn200pixDar­ling Daugh­ter and I host/participate in an occa­sion­al par­ent-child book­group for mid­dle-grade read­ers and their par­ents. We call it Books & Bagels and we meet at the bagel shop down the street from church and nosh on bagels while talk­ing about books. I think we can safe­ly say the bagel aspect of things increas­es par­tic­i­pa­tion — but all the kids who come are great read­ers and we love talk­ing with them and their par­ents about books. We’ve read many of our favorites again with this group and they’ve intro­duced us to some we’ve missed in the last few years of pub­li­ca­tion. (Dar­ling Daugh­ter is, alas, out­grow­ing the mid­dle-grade genre.)

We saved the read­ing of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightin­gale for Books & Bagels. I sched­uled it not hav­ing read the book, in fact, which is not usu­al­ly how I do things. But DiCamillo’s books lend them­selves to good dis­cus­sion, I’ve found, so I was sure it would work well for us.

And it did. We talked about the heart­break and the hope, the crazy char­ac­ters and their friend­ships and flaws, and the unlike­ly events that could absolute­ly hap­pen. We talked about how it was sim­i­lar to some of DiCamillo’s oth­er books and how it was dif­fer­ent, too. Good dis­cus­sion all the way around.

I noticed as we talked, how­ev­er, that one of our reg­u­lars — I’ll call him Sam — seemed a bit dis­grun­tled about the book. Sam and I have been dis­cussing books for a long time — he reads both wise­ly and wide­ly and we have intro­duced each oth­er to many books over the years. He has just turned ten and he’s hon­est about what he thinks, though always kind. He’s been taught to speak his mind, but nev­er in a way that would hurt some­one else’s feel­ings — includ­ing, say, the author of the book who is not even present.

Sam,” I said, “it looks like you have some­thing you want to say.”

Yeah…well,” said Sam. “It was a great book and all…. Well-writ­ten, of course. And, I mean, the friend­ship of Raymie and those oth­er girls was great, I guess. And the lousy adults were inter­est­ing…. But — ” He paused and looked at his Mom out of the cor­ner of his eye.

Go ahead, Sam,” she said. “Tell us what you real­ly think.”

It’s just that…I mean it’s fine…but it’s just…it’s such a girlie book.” He looked both relieved and ashamed at hav­ing con­fessed this. “Not that there’s any­thing wrong with that, of course.”

I asked gen­tle clar­i­fy­ing ques­tions. I’m sort of fas­ci­nat­ed and appalled by the idea of “girl books” and “boy books.” I want to vehe­ment­ly argue that those cat­e­gories don’t exist…or shouldn’t exist…or must not be allowed to exist…or some­thing like that. But before me was a read­er insist­ing that he under­stood this was a great book, but it just had way too much “girl stuff” in it to be inter­est­ing to guys like him.

Like what kind of girl stuff?” one of the girl read­ers asked.

Batons. Bar­rettes. Dress­es.” Sam said. He shrugged apolo­get­i­cal­ly.

Oth­er kids perked up. Right, they said. Lots of girl stuff. No boy stuff what­so­ev­er, in fact.

I was afraid to ask what “boy stuff” they thought was miss­ing. Instead, we talked about whether var­i­ous (tra­di­tion­al­ly under­stood) girl and boy trap­pings were lim­it­ed or lim­it­ing. These kids know how to have good and hon­est con­ver­sa­tions around per­cep­tions and assump­tions and stereo­types. We talked about whether the char­ac­ter of each of the girls was “girl-only.” No, every­one agreed — they knew boys who were painful­ly shy/anxious, or show-offy, or stub­born, just like each of the three ami­gos DiCamil­lo con­jured up. They knew both boys and girls who car­ried heavy loads of expec­ta­tion, or fam­i­ly dis­tress, or who had trou­ble mak­ing friends. They knew them­selves what it was to feel like every­thing, absolute­ly every­thing, depend­ed on them. They could iden­ti­fy with the book — on many lev­els that had noth­ing to do with gen­der. And yet…this was a girlie book — on this they all agreed, as well.

It was a won­der­ful dis­cus­sion, real­ly. Hon­est. Respect­ful. I thanked Sam for being brave enough to say what he thought. He won­dered if Kate DiCamil­lo made Raymie, Bev­er­ly, and Louisiana girls because she was a girl and that’s what she knew best. I said I didn’t know, but I knew that she’d also writ­ten books that fea­tured male char­ac­ters. I told him I’d share my copy of Tiger Ris­ing with him.

As we cleaned up the bagel and cream cheese detri­tus I asked if any­one could sug­gest a book or two for our fall Books & Bagels book­group. Sam eager­ly bounced up and down.

I have two to sug­gest!” he said. “Bridge to Ter­abithia and The BFG.”

Two ter­rif­ic books. Two ter­rif­ic books that hap­pen to have strong girl char­ac­ters. I point­ed this out and Sam said, “But not only girl char­ac­ters. The giant is a boy!”

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Calvin Can’t Fly

Calvin-250When I was doing sto­ry­time week­ly, a book about a book­worm star­ling was in my reg­u­lar rota­tion. Yes, you read that right — a Book­worm Star­ling. That’s exact­ly what Calvin (the star­ling) is — a book­worm. And that is his shame — his cousins call him “nerdie birdie,” “geeky beaky,” and “book­worm.” Unusu­al (gen­tly deroga­to­ry) labels for a star­ling. Not that it deters Calvin — he most­ly shrugs and turns the page.

Calvin is the only star­ling in his very large fam­i­ly who does not seem to care much about fly­ing. (Refresh your mem­o­ry on how star­lings move about with this astound­ing video of star­ling mur­mu­ra­tions.) He’s into books. In a big way. While his cousins learn to fly and chase bee­tles, bugs, and ants, Calvin sits and learns to read let­ters, words, and sen­tences. He dreams of adven­ture sto­ries, infor­ma­tion, and poet­ry. His cousins dream of insect eat­ing and garbage pick­ing. And although they call him by the above names, they most­ly ignore him, so enrap­tured with fly­ing are they.

And Calvin is just as enrap­tured with sto­ries and learn­ing. Pirates and vol­ca­noes, dinos and plan­ets, sci­ence and his­to­ry — Calvin reads it all. He reads the entire sum­mer, learn­ing and absorb­ing every­thing his lit­tle star­ling brain can.

When the sea­sons begin to turn, the urgency for Calvin to learn to fly becomes appar­ent. And yet, he man­ages not to learn. This cre­ates quite an issue, because the wind has grown cold and it is time to head south….

The entire star­ling fam­i­ly takes off, minus Calvin. They don’t get far before they turn around and come back for Calvin. He is car­ried in the most hilar­i­ous way, which more than excus­es the unkind words pre­vi­ous­ly used about his read­ing habits.

And as it turns out, Calvin’s read­ing saves them — Calvin is the unex­pect­ed hero! “Make haste!” he says, lead­ing the entire star­ling fam­i­ly to safe­ty. Kids love this! They love that his book-knowl­edge of some­thing as obscure as hur­ri­cane safe­ty came in handy. They all but cheer — actu­al­ly, once a set of twins did cheer when I read how Calvin saved them all. And kids are fur­ther delight­ed when Calvin flaps his wings in hap­pi­ness, jump­ing and hop­ping and dancing…and flies! At last!

When I looked up the author, Jen­nifer Berne, I found out there’s anoth­er Calvin book! I don’t know how I missed it. Ms. Berne and the illus­tra­tor, Kei­th Bendis, have told an empow­er­ing sto­ry, (with­out being preachy!) about the won­ders and neces­si­ty of read­ing. Can’t wait to read Calvin’s next adven­tures. I’m off to find a group of kids to read to….

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Roxane Orgill

I’d like to know a thou­sand things about this book because you’ve opened so many doors for my imag­i­na­tion. I’ll restrict myself to only a few of those ques­tions, pri­mar­i­ly to help stu­dents who are drawn in by all the sto­ries with­in this pho­to­graph and the poems you’ve writ­ten about it.

Roxane OrgillYou have been a jour­nal­ist and a music crit­ic. You’re a pic­ture book writer, a biog­ra­ph­er, a non­fic­tion writer. This is your first book writ­ten in poet­ry. How did you learn about poet­ic form so that you had con­fi­dence to write this book?

I wrote a cou­ple of sort-of poems and thought they might work as a way to tell the sto­ry of the pho­to­graph “Harlem 1958.” Then I start­ed read­ing poet­ry, and I attend­ed a poet­ry retreat. Most­ly I just kept writ­ing.

Jazz DayHow long did it take you to write Jazz Day? Is that more or less time than it nor­mal­ly takes you to write a pic­ture book biog­ra­phy?

I’m not sure, maybe a year and a half. Less time than my pic­ture book bios, but that’s not count­ing the time I spent try­ing oth­er forms in which to tell the sto­ry. That’s always the hard part for me, fig­ur­ing out what the sto­ry is and how I want to tell it. That peri­od can last many months.

How did you find the right place to ask per­mis­sion to use Harlem 1958 in your book?

I went through the Art Kane estate.

You wrote “This Moment” in the form of a pan­toum. That form uses four-line stan­zas. The sec­ond and fourth line from one stan­za become the first and third line of the fol­low­ing stan­za. How long did it take you to get this poem just right?

Not long. It’s like a puz­zle. But I wrote that poem near the end, when I was already famil­iar with the sto­ry and the peo­ple in the pho­to.

Do you recall when you first learned about the pan­toum form?

At the poet­ry retreat, from the teacher, a poet named Lesléa New­man.

Did you end up being hap­py you’d cho­sen to write the book in poet­ry or decid­ing this is the last time you’ll do this?

Absolute­ly, yes. Poems turned out to be the per­fect way to write about this pho­to­graph, jazz, a Harlem street, the 1950s — the whole thing.

gr_jazzday_boys_600px

Scuf­fle: The Boys,” from Jazz Day by Rox­ane Orgill, copy­right Fran­cis Valle­jo

How do you decide the sub­ject of your next book?

I fol­low my nose, I guess. What inter­ests me. It doesn’t always work; I have a few books which I spent a lot of time research­ing and writ­ing, and in the end, they didn’t work. My next book is not about music or the arts, and I had to muster the courage to tack­le some­thing com­plete­ly unfa­mil­iar.

 Were you drawn to this book because of your love for jazz or pho­tog­ra­phy or the 1950s? What pulled you into the project?

Jazz pulled me in, but I’d known about this par­tic­u­lar pho­to ever since I began learn­ing about jazz.

What dif­fer­ence did it make to the book that you were able to inter­view a pri­ma­ry source, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er Art Kane’s son, Jonathan Kane?

A big dif­fer­ence because there are lots of ver­sions out there of what hap­pened that day, whose idea it was to take the pho­to, etc. I basi­cal­ly used Jonathan Kane’s ver­sion of events.

You had no idea how your poems would be illus­trat­ed, how they would make that leap from sep­a­rate poems and illus­tra­tions to inte­grat­ed dou­ble-page spreads that work togeth­er to help us under­stand a time, a place, a feel­ing, a group of peo­ple. Did you find your­self alter­ing your poet­ry to allow room for the illus­tra­tor to make his own con­tri­bu­tions to the book?

No, not at all. The way it works is that I com­plete the man­u­script, revise it togeth­er with my edi­tor, and then the fin­ished text is sent to an illus­tra­tor who has been cho­sen by the art edi­tor. I may have changed a word or two to suit an illus­tra­tion or lay­out, but that’s all. I was sent sketch­es and invit­ed to com­ment, which I did, but for the most part, Fran­cis and I worked inde­pen­dent­ly. We didn’t even meet until after the book was pub­lished. That’s pret­ty much the norm.

Your list poem, for exam­ple, “What to Wear (from A to Z)” is illus­trat­ed bril­liant­ly in list fash­ion as well. Were you aware of includ­ing items in your list that could be eas­i­ly illus­trat­ed?

No, I don’t imag­ine how my words will be illus­trat­ed. I guess that’s why I am a writer, not an illus­tra­tor!

Names: Williams ‘Count’ Basie, pianist,” from Jazz Day by Rox­ane Orgill, copy­right Fran­cis Valle­jo

You state in the author’s note that you researched why some of the most famous jazz musi­cians aren’t in the pho­to. What drew you into doing this “extra” research? Or do you view it as extra?

It wasn’t extra, not to me. I knew many “greats” were miss­ing: Louis Arm­strong, Ella Fitzger­ald, Sarah Vaugh­an, Miles Davis, on and on. I thought it might be fun to focus on one of the miss­ing peo­ple, and maybe fig­ure out what he or she was doing instead of being at the pho­to shoot. It was also a way of talk­ing about the jazz life; most of these guys, and gals, were on the road all the time.

Rox­ane, thank you for tak­ing the time to share your insights with our read­ers. Your book has received six starred reviews from the major review jour­nals … it’s hard not to fall in love with Jazz Day.

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Cook-A-Doodle-Do!

Cook+A+Doodle+Do-260-pixI’ve got dessert on my mind — berry short­cake, to be pre­cise. I’ve already done the straw­ber­ry short­cake dur­ing straw­ber­ry sea­son. My rasp­ber­ry bush­es are pro­duc­ing at a rate that might call for short­cake in the near future, how­ev­er. And when­ev­er I make short­cake — or even think of it — I think of Cook-a-doo­dle-doo by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crum­mel (who are sis­ters, I believe).

This book was An Extreme Favorite at our house through two kids — one who was already on the old­er end of pic­ture books when it came out. Why the pop­u­lar­i­ty? Quite sim­ply: It’s hilar­i­ous. And sweet (no pun intend­ed). But most­ly hilar­i­ous.

Big Brown Roost­er is in need of a change — no more chick­en feed! No more peck­ing about! He remem­bers that his very famous great-grand­moth­er, The Lit­tle Red Hen, penned a cook­book: The Joy of Cook­ing Alone by L.R. Hen. Once he finds it, he real­izes his great granny cooked far more than loaves of bread. And he is hun­gry for the straw­ber­ry short­cake fea­tured in the mid­dle of the book.

Like his Great-Granny before him, Big Brown Roost­er is sur­round­ed by unhelp­ful friends. Dog, Cat, and Goose each take their pot­shots at Big Brown Roost­er, but he is unde­terred. He ties on his apron, ready to cook all alone, only to find three new friends: Tur­tle, Igua­na, and Pot-bel­lied Pig.

Do you three know any­thing about cook­ing?” Roost­er asked.

I can read recipes!” said Tur­tle.

I can get stuff!” said Igua­na.

I can taste!” said Pig. “I am expert at tast­ing.”

And so the team mem­bers don hats — an apron tied around Big Brown Rooster’s head, a tow­el around Pig’s head, an oven mitt for Igua­na, and a small pot worn base­ball cap-like for tur­tle. The illus­tra­tions are sweet and hys­ter­i­cal at the same time. The mix-ups and mis­un­der­stand­ings are on the lev­el of the Three Stooges crossed with Amelia Bedelia. But detailed side­bars guide a home/kid cook through the cor­rect steps. What the friends lack in expe­ri­ence and skill, they make up for in exu­ber­ance and excite­ment — so, very much like bak­ing with chil­dren, actu­al­ly.

It’s astound­ing when you see what they go through, but they cre­ate a beau­ti­ful (if slight­ly lean­ing) tow­er of straw­ber­ry short­cake. It’s only when they try to move it to the table to enjoy togeth­er that things…slip away from them. Pot-bel­lied Pig takes his turn — he’s the expert taster, and pos­i­tive­ly unflum­moxed by short­cake being smeared across the floor. In split sec­ond — not even a page turn — the straw­ber­ry short­cake is gone.

It is then that the pre­vi­ous­ly ami­able friends start to lose it. Names are called and threats are inti­mat­ed (plump juicy roast pig, igua­na pie, tur­tle soup etc.)

But wise Roost­er takes com­mand. “It doesn’t mat­ter,” he says. “The first short­cake was just for prac­tice.”

And so they make anoth­er. The three friends — Igua­na, Pig, and Tur­tle — vol­un­teer to help again, and it’s quick work the sec­ond time around. The last spread fea­tures a par­ty of friends—includ­ing the nay-say­ing Dog, Cat and Goose!—enjoy­ing straw­ber­ry short­cake. The last page fea­tures Great-Granny’s recipe for Mag­nif­i­cent Straw­ber­ry Short­cake.

I think I’ll make some tonight!

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Tomi Ungerer: Far Out Toward the Heart

Tomi UngererPhyl­lis: Tomi Unger­er has writ­ten and illus­trat­ed over 30 books for chil­dren, along with over 100 oth­er books. I didn’t know much about him until Jack­ie sug­gest­ed we do a blog on him, and I’m so glad she did. I came home from the library with a stack of his books, which range wide­ly from the ridicu­lous to the mys­te­ri­ous.

One of my favorites is I am Papa Snap and These Are My Favorite No Such Sto­ries, six­teen most­ly absurd sto­ries with illus­tra­tions. One sto­ry is only 14 words long, anoth­er is told in three sen­tences (although the first sen­tence runs for 14 lines and gives a whole brief his­to­ry of the pink gaso­line sta­tion). I par­tic­u­lar­ly love the sto­ry of the very hun­gry sofa and also the sto­ry about Mr. and Mrs. Limpid. Here is the Limpid sto­ry in its entire­ty:

Mr. Limpid is blind.
Mrs. Limpid is lame.
They are old.
They are hap­py.
They have each oth­er.

There’s a whole ten­der life of two peo­ple con­tained in these words, which remind me of my par­ents when they grew elder­ly, one able to dri­ve, the oth­er able to remem­ber where they were going and how to get back home.

Mr. and Mrs. Tuber Sprout

I also love Mr. Tuber Sprout, who every morn­ing for sev­en years runs for the train to work and miss­es it. “The sta­tion clock is always five min­utes ahead of mine,” he exclaims. “But at least it keeps me from going to work.”

These brief, ridicu­lous sto­ries make me want to try to write my own no such sto­ries in which no such things prob­a­bly ever hap­pened (that we know of). But, like Unger­er, we can still imag­ine a world of wacky pos­si­bil­i­ties.

I am Papa Snap and Other No Such StoriesJack­ie: I love these sto­ries, Phyl­lis! And I have nev­er seen them before. Read­ing them was like eat­ing pota­to chips. I kept turn­ing the pages for one more. And some of Ungerer’s phras­es are just hilar­i­ous: Mr. and Mrs. Kaboo­dle buy a new nest from a “local nidol­o­gist.”

Or here is the Doc­tor Stig­ma Lohengreen’s diag­no­sis of Mr. Lido Ran­cid:

There is a PICKLE jammed in your vena cava,
and the gan­gli­at­ed chords of your sym­pa­thet­ic
are all tan­gled up.”

Or,

Zink Slugg bought a new car.
It had lots of cylin­ders,
coör­di­nat­ed cram-notch gears,
cou­pled crush-brakes, two-speed grinders,
cobra uphol­stery,
an elec­tron­ic police detec­tor,
strobe head­lights, and a quan­ti­ty of what­nots.”

CrictorPhyl­lis: I also love Cric­tor, a Read­ing Rain­bow choice that chron­i­cles the adven­tures of an old lady named Madame Louise Bodot in a lit­tle French town and the boa con­stric­tor her son sends her for her birth­day. Upon open­ing the box she first screams but, being prac­ti­cal, then takes the snake to the zoo to make sure he’s not poi­so­nous. He isn’t, and she names him Cric­tor. Most of the book relates their lives togeth­er; I par­tic­u­lar­ly love her cradling Cric­tor in her arms and feed­ing him a bot­tle of milk. She gets palm trees so he will feel at home and knits him a sweater to keep him warm when he wrig­gles behind her in the snow on their walks. Cric­tor goes with her to school one day, where he shapes let­ters and num­bers for the chil­dren, but the real dra­ma begins late in the book, when a bur­glar breaks in and gags and ties Madame Bodot to a chair. Cric­tor attacks and traps the bur­glar in his coils until the police arrive. Crictor’s hero­ism is hon­ored with a medal, a stat­ue, and a park ded­i­cat­ed to him. “Loved and respect­ed by the entire vil­lage, Cric­tor lived a long and hap­py life.”

Jack­ie: I once read an inter­view with Unger­er in which he said:

I iden­ti­fy a lit­tle bit with all of [my heroes]. I’m always on the side of the under­dog. I iden­ti­fy with my snake, my octo­pus, all of my reject­ed ani­mals.“

Fog IslandPhyl­lis: As if absurd sto­ries and boa con­stric­tor heroes weren’t enough, among his oth­er books Unger­er has writ­ten and illus­trat­ed Fog Island about a mys­te­ri­ous island where things might (or might not) have hap­pened. Finn and Cara live on a farm with their moth­er and fish­er­man father, who makes them their own cur­ragh, a boat con­struct­ed of reeds and tar. He tells them to stay clear of Fog Island, which looms off­shore “like a jagged black tooth.” “It’s a doomed and evil place,” he says. “Those who have ven­tured there have nev­er returned.”

One day when Finn and Cara are explor­ing in their cur­ragh a fog rolls in, and strong cur­rents car­ry them out to Fog Island. They fol­low steps up to a door, which is answered by a wiz­ened, white-haired old man who calls him­self the Fog Man and shows them how he makes fog by let­ting water flow in to a deep well of mag­ma. He turns off the fog so they can return home safe­ly the next day, then Finn, Cara, and the Fog Man have a singsong. He makes them a meal and shows them a bed for the night where they sleep cov­ered by a quilt.

They wake the next morn­ing sur­round­ed by desert­ed ruins but with the quilt still tucked over them and two steam­ing bowls of stew beside them. When they leave the island a storm over­takes them, and they are saved by their father and the oth­er fish­er­men who have come look­ing for them. All the neigh­bors cel­e­brate Finn and Cara’s return, but no one believes them about the fog man, and no one wants to vis­it the island to see if their sto­ry is true. Weeks lat­er, Cara pulls a long hair from her soup, and she and Finn chuck­le, rec­og­niz­ing it as one of the Fog Man’s.

Fog Island

Jack­ie: This book seems typ­i­cal of Tomi Ungerer’s work, so inclu­sive. There’s an affec­tion­ate fam­i­ly, a named Evil — Fog Island, and a won­der­ful ambi­gu­i­ty in the end­ing. Who was the fog man? And I also find it inter­est­ing that the father, fol­low­ing received com­mu­ni­ty wis­dom, I think, tells the chil­dren that Fog Island is a “doomed and evil place.” But they find singing and hot soup.

There may be anoth­er con­sis­ten­cy here — a com­plex artist push­ing us to see that a “doomed and evil place” can offer hot soup and a good night’s sleep, a boa con­stric­tor can become a help­ful part of the com­mu­ni­ty.

Most of my chil­dren’s books have fear ele­ments,” Unger­er has said in an inter­view on Fresh Air. “But I must say, too, to bal­ance this fact, that the chil­dren in my books are nev­er scared. … I think fear is an ele­ment which is instilled by the adults a lot of time.”

We see this in Fog Island. When the chil­dren land on Fog Island Finn says, “This must be Fog Island./Let’s find out where those steps lead.” No fear, but curios­i­ty.

Far Out Isn't Far EnoughPhyl­lis: In Far Out Isn’t Far Enough, a doc­u­men­tary about Unger­er, Mau­rice Sendak said of Ungerer’s influ­ence on his own [Sendak’s] work: “I learned to be braver than I was. Unger­er did­n’t mind scar­ing kids, because he believed in their abil­i­ty to cope with and adapt to life’s dif­fi­cul­ties.”

Unger­er him­self learned about liv­ing in fear­ful sit­u­a­tions from an ear­ly age: from eight to thir­teen, he lived under Adolf Hitler’s occu­pa­tion of Alsace and was told in school that Hitler need­ed artists to draw for him. In a Fresh Air inter­view he recalls, “…I had to do a por­trait of the Führer, you know, giv­ing a speech, and I put a stein of beer on this thing. Well, the Führer did­n’t drink, but still, you know, nobody ever object­ed. The thing is, no mat­ter what tyran­ny, you can always get away, maybe not with mur­der, but with a few oth­er things. And your mind is always free. Nobody can take away your mind.” Years lat­er in the Unit­ed States Unger­er would draw anti-war posters dur­ing the Viet Nam war.

Zeralda's OgreJack­ie: He received the Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­son Award in 1998 and is tru­ly a giant. I haven’t read close to all of his sto­ries and espe­cial­ly want to read Zeralda’s Ogre, which Book World called “the most hor­ren­dous, ugli­est — yet most beguil­ing — ogre imag­in­able.”

What I love about his work is that the dots do not have to con­nect. The sto­ries do not get tied up neat­ly at the end. We don’t know about the Fog Man. Zink Slugg’s won­der­ful car rams into a tree and Zink “feels very bad” and that is the end. I also admire the way Unger­er com­bines edgi­ness and heart — feed­ing a boa con­stric­tor with a bot­tle is such a great exam­ple and only one of many we could point to.

Phyl­lis: It’s so fit­ting that for a time his children’s books were con­sid­ered dan­ger­ous and evil, like Fog Island (because of erot­ic draw­ings he did for adults). But now when we do vis­it these books, we find strange and won­drous things, things not to answer but to pon­der — deal­ing with fear, being sub­ver­sive, and aspir­ing to live a fear­less life.

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Marsha Wilson Chall and Jill Davis

I recent­ly had the hon­or of inter­view­ing Mar­sha Wil­son Chall, the author of the new pic­ture book, The Secret Life of Fig­gy Mus­tar­do, and her edi­tor, Jill Davis.

Marsha Wilson ChallMar­sha Wil­son Chall grew up an only child in Min­neso­ta, where her father told her the best sto­ries. The author of many pic­ture books, includ­ing Up North at the Cab­in, One Pup’s Up, and Pick a Pup, Mar­sha teach­es writ­ing at Ham­line Uni­ver­si­ty’s MFAC pro­gram in St. Paul, Min­neso­ta. She lives on a small farm west of Min­neapo­lis with her hus­band, dog, barn cats, and books.

Jill DavisJill Davis has been an exec­u­tive edi­tor in children’s books at Harper­Collins since 2013. A vet­er­an of children’s books, she began her career at Ran­dom House in 1992, and worked there at Crown and Knopf Books For Young Read­ers until 1996, after which she worked at Viking until 2005. After that, she held posi­tions at both Blooms­bury and Far­rar, Straus & Giroux. She is the author of three pic­ture books, edi­tor of one col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, and has an MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren and Young Adults from Ham­line Uni­ver­si­ty

Secret Life of Fiiggy MustardoMark: The Secret Life of Fig­gy Mus­tar­do came about in a dif­fer­ent way than most pic­ture books. You were asked to write a sto­ry based on illus­tra­tions of a char­ac­ter. Could you tell us about this process and a lit­tle about the sto­ry?

Mar­sha: You’re right that this sto­ry evolved dif­fer­ent­ly than my oth­ers. My amaz­ing edi­tor, Jill Davis, sent me Ali­son Friend’s thumb­nails of an adorable canine char­ac­ter she had named Fig­gy Mus­tar­do in a vari­ety of human-like pos­es and cos­tumes. For me, it was love at first sight! So I set about the process of cre­at­ing Fig­gy’s sto­ry based on my impres­sions of him through Alison’s art and then, via Jill, Alison’s writ­ten notions of his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and sto­ry ideas.

Alison FriendAn imag­i­na­tive, spir­it­ed fel­low, Ali­son visu­al­ized Fig­gy zip­ping through many adven­tures on his scoot­er. In the book, I took the lib­er­ty of chang­ing the scoot­er to a race car and also cast Fig­gy as a rock star and a piz­za chef who orga­nizes and stars in a neigh­bor­hood rock con­cert, pizze­ria, and stock car race with his ani­mal friends. Lots of Fig­gy fun, but this did not a sto­ry make. I need­ed to know why these activ­i­ties mat­tered to Fig­gy and how he grew as a char­ac­ter.

Secret Life of Figgy MustardoI also had to think about the nuts and bolts of how Fig­gy might trans­form from dog to dilet­tante. I was fair­ly cer­tain of my own dog’s bore­dom and lone­li­ness while our fam­i­ly is away, so I start­ed my sto­ry explo­ration there. We all know that dogs, as social crea­tures, dis­like being left alone and are often fraught with anx­i­ety lead­ing to cer­tain not-so-flat­ter­ing behav­iors and/or the escape of sleep. A sto­ry with a sleep­ing dog would not be too inter­est­ing, so I chose the much more excit­ing, destruc­tive route. What if Fig­gy ate things – any things – in his frus­tra­tion, fell asleep, and dreamed about him­self as a man­i­fes­ta­tion of what he ate? We all know “you are what you eat,” so in Fig­gy’s case, for exam­ple, he eats Mrs. Mus­tar­do’s Bone Appetit mag­a­zine, falls asleep, and dreams of being Ital­ian Piz­za Chef Mus­tar­do serv­ing Muttsarel­lo and Figaro piz­zas to ador­ing gour­mands. When he wakes, he knows his dream is a sign, so he makes a real one of his own, “Free Piz­za,” and serves his entire ani­mal neigh­bor­hood at Fig­gy’s Pizze­ria.

Most impor­tant­ly, I need­ed to devel­op a moti­va­tion for Fig­gy’s adven­tures; how were these events con­nect­ed to him? What did they mean? How would they affect Fig­gy’s world out­side and inside? The answer arrived in the form of loss; every ani­mal neigh­bor came to Fig­gy’s con­cert and pizze­ria and car race except Fig­gy’s fam­i­ly, the Mus­tar­dos, espe­cial­ly George (his boy). In des­per­a­tion, Fig­gy cre­ates the sign “Free Dog” to find a fam­i­ly who will talk and walk and play with him like all the oth­er fam­i­lies he sees through his win­dow. Where are the Mus­tar­dos? The fam­i­ly Mus­tar­do arrives in time to show Fig­gy how much they care with a promise to take him wher­ev­er they can and to pro­vide him com­pan­ion­ship when they can’t in the form of new pup named Dot. Fig­gy and Dot go on to enliv­en the neigh­bor­hood with Free Shows night­ly.

Mark: What kind of revising/editing process did you and Jill go through?

Mar­sha: Once I knew my char­ac­ter and his prob­lem, I dashed off the sto­ry, sent it to Jill who loved it at first sight, then sat back sat­is­fied with a good day’s work.

Ha! Not the way it hap­pened, but I did write a first draft with­in a few days that Jill found promis­ing. So many drafts lat­er that I can’t even recall the orig­i­nal, Jill exer­cised plen­ty of patience wait­ing for the sto­ry she and Ali­son hoped I could write. I know she’ll protest my trib­ute, but I have nev­er worked with an edi­tor so open to my tri­al and error. Her abun­dant humor car­ried us through the process that I think would have oth­er­wise over­whelmed me.

Mark: Will there be any more books with Fig­gy and his fur­ther adven­tures?

Mar­sha: Fig­gy hopes so and so do Jill, Ali­son, and I. For now, I hope Fig­gy wags his way into the hands and hearts of many human friends where he belongs.

WOOF!

Mark: How was this project dif­fer­ent hav­ing a char­ac­ter first and then hav­ing to find a writer to tell his sto­ry?

The Secret Life of Figgy MustardoJill: It was kind of hard. The illus­tra­tor had invent­ed this lit­tle dog who she want­ed to be an adven­tur­er — yet she wasn’t sure how to make the sto­ry hap­pen. When I saw the dog, I thought of Marsha’s One Pup’s Up—and I knew how tal­ent­ed she was. Seemed like a slam dunk! But all of us — Mar­sha, myself, and the illus­tra­tor, Ali­son Friend, had  to share plen­ty of feed­back, edit, and revise a bit before Mar­sha was able to tell both the sto­ry she envi­sioned as well as the sto­ry Ali­son had in mind. Mar­sha pic­tured Fig­gy at home, and real­ly loved the idea of using signs. Ali­son seemed to feel Fig­gy was some kind of James Bond. So how were those two visions going to meet? They final­ly did when Mar­sha real­ized that Fig­gy would go to sleep and dream about his excit­ing alter-ego. And we all loved the idea. The book may seem a lit­tle bit sad because Fig­gy is always being left at home, but Mar­sha told it in such a great way that Fig­gy showed his grit! If he’s hun­gry, he eats what’s there — but then the mag­ic hap­pens and he goes to sleep and dreams of some­thing relat­ed to what he ate. It’s so fun and so imag­i­na­tive. I love what Mar­sha did with Figgy’s sto­ry, and Ali­son did, too.

Mark: What was it like to work with Mar­sha in this new role as edi­tor after being her stu­dent in the MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren pro­gram at Ham­line Uni­ver­si­ty?

Jill: It felt very won­der­ful and nat­ur­al. Mar­sha does not use intim­i­da­tion as a tac­tic in gen­er­al. She’s the rare com­bi­na­tion of bril­liant and super sil­ly. That’s one rea­son she’s so loved at Ham­line and in the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing.

There were times when she should have been frus­trat­ed or want­ed to spit at me, but she was cool as a cucum­ber in the freez­er in the North Pole. So pro­fes­sion­al and what I loved also about work­ing with her is how much I learned. I learned how she makes use of rep­e­ti­tion, allit­er­a­tion, and very care­ful edit­ing. I can be slop­py, but Mar­sha walked straight out of Strunk and White. She’s exact and won­der­ful­ly detail-ori­ent­ed. She was also involved at the sketch stage. Actu­al­ly at sev­er­al sketch stages. We worked on the phone, we worked at Ham­line, and we worked until we thought it felt per­fect. And she loved it because she could use it in her teach­ing! And I just loved work­ing with Mar­sha!

Mark:  Thank you Mar­sha and Jill for tak­ing the time to tell us about your col­lab­o­ra­tion on The Secret Life of Fig­gy Mus­tar­do. The book is now avail­able at every­one’s local inde­pen­dent book store.

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Word Search: Jazz Day

Jazz DayWere you already a jazz affi­ciona­do? Love groovin’ to the tunes? Or did read­ing Jazz Day: the Mak­ing of a Famous Pho­to­graph by Rox­ane Orgill, with inspired illus­tra­tions by Fran­cis Valle­jo, draw you clos­er to the some­times ener­getic, some­times mel­low, but always riv­et­ing music we call JAZZ? If you love puz­zles and games, we hope you have a good time solv­ing this Word Search. 

Sim­ply use your mouse or touch pad to draw a line over your found words and the pro­gram will mark them off for you. Words can be found for­wards, back­wards, hor­i­zon­tal­ly, ver­ti­cal­ly, and diag­o­nal­ly. As you find a word, it will be high­light­ed on the board and it will dis­ap­pear from the word list.

Have fun!

Hid­den Words

Puz­zle by mypuzzle.org
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Our Collapsing World

We live in a col­laps­ing world.

icon_collasping-world-mdb_16-07-26_200Per­haps the world has always been col­laps­ing in one way or anoth­er and it is only the sur­feit of infor­ma­tion that makes the col­lapse seem so immi­nent now. I know only that, even as I wake each morn­ing into grat­i­tude for this life I have been gift­ed, I also wake into a gut-deep knowl­edge of dis­as­ter:

A polit­i­cal sys­tem implod­ing, our ten­der globe’s cli­mate wild­ly dis­or­dered; a renewed nuclear arms race (so it’s now small arms, it’s still nuclear!); racial injus­tice so old a sto­ry that we should have wept our­selves dry by now; big mon­ey con­trol­ling every­thing, every­thing, every­thing.

I wake into this col­laps­ing world, then sit down at my desk and attempt to write anoth­er sto­ry for chil­dren. Don’t mis­un­der­stand. I’m not sug­gest­ing that’s a triv­ial task. I can think of few that are more impor­tant. Because the func­tion of sto­ry — all sto­ry — is to make mean­ing. And mean­ing that we make for chil­dren lasts.

But what mean­ing fits today’s dis­as­ters?

In 1972 when the Water­gate scan­dal occu­pied the news, my own two chil­dren were eight and ten, just com­ing into an aware­ness of the larg­er world. And to dis­cov­er that their country’s lead­ers were behav­ing like the worst school­yard bul­lies dis­il­lu­sioned them beyond words. What I said to them, again and again, as we lis­tened to the lat­est reports, was “Look! Our sys­tem works. The Pres­i­dent had to step down.”

I wish I could say the same to my grand­chil­dren. “Look! Our sys­tem works.”

But if I can’t say that, what can I say?

To begin with I will not offer what I’ve heard pre­sent­ed too often to young peo­ple: “Okay. We failed. It’s your world now. Fix it.” I can think of few more dis­cour­ag­ing mes­sages to begin a life on.

And I will not tell them that we are all beyond hope, even if some­times hope is dif­fi­cult to name. Because, for all our fail­ures, hope has changed this world in aston­ish­ing ways in my life­time, and I will not lose hold of it now.

I will be hon­est, but in my hon­esty I will also be gen­tle, car­ing. Because truth with­out gen­tle­ness, with­out car­ing can be a blud­geon. And I will write pri­mar­i­ly about what mat­ters most, all the ways we try and fail and try again to love one anoth­er.

If I make that strug­gle the core of all I say, I will nev­er run out of sto­ries, because the strug­gle to love is the strug­gle to be human.

And if the strug­gle to be human lies at the cen­ter of every sto­ry I send into this col­laps­ing world, I may yet save a few souls … my own includ­ed

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Francis Vallejo

Francis VallejoWe are pleased to share with you our inter­view with Fran­cis Valle­jo, the illus­tra­tor of Jazz Day: the Mak­ing of a Famous Pho­to­graph, our Book­storm™ this month. This book is so rich with visu­al images that stir read­ers’ imag­i­na­tions. You’ll feel like you’re stand­ing on the street with the oth­er onlook­ers!

The title page says that you used acrylics and pas­tels to cre­ate this art. Are those famil­iar media to you? Did you use any oth­er media or dig­i­tal manip­u­la­tion?

I devel­oped this tech­nique for Jazz Day. Before this book I had exten­sive­ly used acrylics, but had not used pas­tels very much. As I was work­ing on the ear­ly sketch­es and think­ing about how I would paint the final images, I dis­cov­ered the illus­trat­ed books of John Col­lier. He used acrylic and pas­tel (although some­times gouache instead of acrylic). Also, my friend and incred­i­ble artist Jane Rad­strom has been cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful pas­tel works for a while. Her work kept exper­i­men­ta­tion with pas­tel fresh in my mind. So com­bin­ing a wet medi­um (acrylic) and dry draw­ing medi­um (pas­tel) seemed like the best of both worlds. I could cre­ate large wash­es and make big deci­sions, and then detailed mark mak­ing using draw­ing.

I also gen­er­al­ly like to devel­op a new fin­ish­ing process for every project I work on, so the next book will assured­ly have a rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent look. I think it keeps me fresh. Final­ly, yes, I used a lit­tle dig­i­tal manip­u­la­tion in post to add a few details I may have missed in the phys­i­cal stage.

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copy­right Fran­cis Valle­jo

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copy­right Fran­cis Valle­jo

Before you begin cre­at­ing art, do you make sketch­es? Do you keep those sketch­es to refer to through­out your illus­tra­tion process?

My process before cre­at­ing the final image is bor­der­line obses­sive — scratch that — it IS rad­i­cal­ly obses­sive! My process is based on that of Nor­man Rock­well. I spent 3 years work­ing on the art for this book. 2.5 was spent on the sketch­ing and research and stud­ies and pho­tog­ra­phy to pre­pare for the final paint­ing. My pub­lish­er filmed this video of me going over my process:

Grays and blacks are pre­dom­i­nant in this book. There are some allur­ing uses of bright col­or, such as the yel­low taxi, the gold cor­net, and the hot pink on the cov­er. Can you share with us some of the deci­sion-mak­ing you did while you thought through your illus­tra­tions? Or is try­ing a bit of this and a bit of that?

An impor­tant part of design­ing the pages was to look at them as a whole, in one big group, on one sheet (or screen). Since books are sequen­tial projects, the images have to work in sequence and not just by them­selves. The col­ors, val­ues, and mood, has to flow with the emo­tions of the sto­ry. I ref­er­enced col­or keys from movies, par­tic­u­lar­ly Pixar movies, in how I designed the over­all col­or keys for indi­vid­ual paint­ings, and made a strong effort to group togeth­er pic­tures that took place in front of town­homes and sep­a­rate­ly images of the musi­cians at their venues.

Your “per­spec­tive” changes through­out the book. You look at scenes from dif­fer­ent angles, some­times from above, some­times from street lev­el, some­times from far away, some­times close up. When do these per­spec­tives enter into your plan­ning process?

Right at the very begin­ning I knew that that idea was going to be chal­leng­ing. Most of the pic­tures were going to be set in front of the same set of stairs. I had to cre­ate 15 illus­tra­tions all set in the same place and not make it repet­i­tive! So using unique and var­ied per­spec­tives was one of my very first pri­or­i­ties. Believe me, I was very excit­ed when I was able to take a break from the street scene and move into the jazz clubs for a few pic­tures.

Do you choose the fonts that will be used in the book? Why did you choose a sans serif font?

I didn’t choose the font out­right, but I was involved in the dis­cus­sion. We thought sans serif was appro­pri­ate­ly mod­ern and avant garde – just as jazz is.

Did you know from the begin­ning that there would be a fold-out of the orig­i­nal pho­to? Did you make the deci­sion to include the word “click” as a direc­tion to open the fold-out?

That was an edi­to­r­i­al deci­sion that was planned out before I was even involved with the project. It is everyone’s favorite part and I do think it was a smart design and pac­ing deci­sion!

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copy­right Fran­cis Valle­jo

When you plan an illus­tra­tion, do you con­scious­ly leave room for the poem that will go with it?

Absolute­ly. The text is just anoth­er shape on the page, so it is inte­gral to plan for it from the very begin­ning. It is among my favorite things to do actu­al­ly. I am a nerd like that. I love the puz­zle of fig­ur­ing out how I can design a scene to organ­i­cal­ly allow text to fit so that it seems like the neg­a­tive shape the text is placed in is actu­al­ly a shape that fits into the pic­ture. Many of the most for­ward-think­ing illus­tra­tors from the 1960’s would real­ly explore this idea (Al Park­er is king at this) and they were a big influ­ence.

Did you always know the order in which the poems would be includ­ed in the book? Did that change how you thought about these illus­tra­tions?

I did. The order was giv­en to me at the begin­ning and is incred­i­bly impor­tant to con­sid­er. As I men­tioned pri­or, the images have to work sequen­tial­ly. There were numer­ous indi­vid­ual images that I was very fond of that I had to scrap as they did not fit the over­all flow.

Was there an illus­tra­tion that chal­lenged you the most?

Yes! There is an image of a girl look­ing out of a win­dow (appro­pri­ate­ly titled “At the Win­dow”) that took maybe 60 hours to sketch out then maybe 10 more to paint. In order to cap­ture the poem I had to cap­ture a pro­file shot of the girl from the side, as well as the top of the peo­ple’s heads. To do this I had to use a fish­eye warped per­spec­tive. Fig­ur­ing that out involved a lot of head scratching…and eras­ing!

Which of the illus­tra­tions in the book gives you the most plea­sure when you look at it now?

The one I just men­tioned. I bat­tled that pic­ture to get it right. I don’t always win those fights, but this one turned out well and the paint­ing of the girl might be one of my very best!

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The place I go back to…

Going to the Lake | Lisa BullardThere is a par­tic­u­lar road trip that has become a sum­mer rit­u­al for me, a jour­ney that takes me to anoth­er time as well as anoth­er place: going to The Lake.

No oth­er place has been such a con­stant in my life. I spent ear­ly sum­mers there dive-bomb­ing off the dock with my cousins and lis­ten­ing to my grandma’s sto­ries of the moon spin­ners. I spent teenage sum­mers there play­ing mud vol­ley­ball and yearn­ing over the boys next door. More recent­ly, I’ve spent sum­mer week­ends there watch­ing a new gen­er­a­tion pick up where the last one left off.

It is the place I go back to when I need to find myself again.

Some­times in the mid­dle of a hard-frozen win­ter I will pull some­thing out of a clos­et that I car­ried home from The Lake months before, and as soon as the famil­iar scent of that place reach­es me, I jump straight back into some of my deep­est mem­o­ries.

Our sense of smell holds that abil­i­ty to instant­ly relo­cate us to anoth­er place and time because it is deeply entan­gled with our mem­o­ries and emo­tions. And yet as writ­ers, our sense of sight too often dom­i­nates. When see­ing a scene for the read­er, we focus on what our eyes per­ceive, and for­get what the nose knows.

Encour­age your young writ­ers to allow the sense of smell to sneak its way into their writ­ing. For the youngest writ­ers, you might chal­lenge them to per­ceive a sto­ry seen “through a dog’s nose.” For more devel­oped writ­ers, you might ask them to write a scene where all the emo­tions are sig­naled through smell.

You might find, with a litt‚le encour­age­ment, that smells are pow­er­ful enough to trans­port your young writ­ers on their own evoca­tive jour­neys.

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Louis Armstrong’s Red Beans and Rice

A Cajun-inspired favorite recipe from jazz musi­cian Louis Arm­strong, this is a per­fect accom­pa­ni­ment to your read­ing of Jazz Day by Rox­ane Orgill.

Louis and Lucille Arm­strong’s Red Beans and Rice
Serves 8
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Total Time
6 hr
Total Time
6 hr
Ingre­di­ents
  1. 1 pound kid­ney beans
  2. 12 pound salt pork (strip of lean, strip of fat)
  3. 1 small can of toma­to sauce (if desired)
  4. 6 small ham hocks or 1 smoked
  5. pork butt
  6. 2 onions, diced
  7. 14 green bell pep­per
  8. 5 tiny or 2 medi­um dried pep­pers
  9. 1 clove gar­lic, chopped
  10. Salt, to taste
Instruc­tions
  1. Wash beans thor­ough­ly, then soak overnight in cold water. Be sure to cov­er beans. To cook, pour off water and add fresh water to cov­er. Add salt pork and bring to a boil in cov­ered pot. Turn flame down to slight­ly high­er than low and cook one and a half hours. Add onions, pep­pers, gar­lic and salt. Cook three hours. Add toma­to sauce and cook an hour and a half more, adding water as nec­es­sary. Beans and meat should always be cov­ered with liq­uid.
  2. To pre­pare with ham hocks or pork butt, wash meat, add water to cov­er and bring to boil in cov­ered pot over medi­um flame. Cook one and a half hours. Add beans (pour water off) and rest of ingre­di­ents to meat. Cook four and a half hours. Add water as nec­es­sary.
  3. Serve over or beside rice.
Adapt­ed from Louis Arm­strong House Muse­um
Bookol­o­gy Mag­a­zine https://www.bookologymagazine.com/
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Skinny Dip with Mélina Mangal

Mélina MangalFor this inter­view, we vis­it with Méli­na Man­gal, chil­dren’s book author and librar­i­an:

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

My favorite ANYTIME snack is white ched­dar pop­corn.  

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?  

Roam­ing through the north woods, climb­ing trees with my sis­ter and broth­ers.  I loved being out­doors so much.   

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

There are so many illus­tra­tors I admire, such as Leo and Diane Dil­lon, whose vast body of work has inspired sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions.  Also: the late Vera B. Williams, David Diaz, Cor­nelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, Pat Cum­mings, Maya Cristi­na Gon­za­lez.… I could go on! 

Melina Mangal's most admired illustrators

Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

Sum­mer is my favorite sea­son.  I can work in the gar­den, swim out­side, bike every­where, and read in the back­yard ham­mock next to the apple tree.  

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

Def­i­nite­ly a morn­ing per­son.  I love to wake with the sun.

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

I have one old­er sis­ter and two younger broth­ers. Being in the mid­dle made me flex­i­ble and helps me lis­ten, medi­ate, and empathize.

Melina Mangal Books

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Bluetooth Guy

 

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Dear Peacemakers

In recent weeks, we’ve had many requests for books about anger and fear and con­flict res­o­lu­tion.

Book by BookI was imme­di­ate­ly remind­ed of an excel­lent resource pub­lished in 2010 called Book by Book: an Anno­tat­ed Guide to Young People’s Lit­er­a­ture with Peace­mak­ing and Con­flict Res­o­lu­tion Themes (Car­ol Spiegel, pub­lished by Edu­ca­tors for Social Respon­si­bil­i­ty, now called Engag­ing Schools).

Peace edu­ca­tor Car­ol Spiegel has gath­ered a use­ful, impor­tant, and intrigu­ing-to-read list of 600 pic­ture books and 300 chap­ter books that will spark your imag­i­na­tion and help you find just the right book to use in your class­room, library, or home.

When Sophie Gets AngryAs she says so well, “Sto­ries can gen­tly steal into the lives of young peo­ple and show the way to peace and con­flict res­o­lu­tion. Children’s lit­er­a­ture is rich with such tales. As an exam­ple, pic­ture this. Annie strug­gles with her anger and then she hears about Sophie who gets just as angry. Annie is heart­ened when she learns how Sophie copes. Had some­one tried to talk direct­ly with Annie about ways to deal with anger, Annie may have been defen­sive. This pos­ture was unnec­es­sary when Sophie was being fea­tured.”

Of course, the book Ms. Spiegel is describ­ing is Mol­ly Bang’s book, When Sophie Gets Angry — Real­ly, Real­ly Angry … (and check out the 2015 book When Sophie’s Feel­ings Are Real­ly, Real­ly Hurt).

There is an Index of Book Themes in the back mat­ter that will help you find books with themes such as:

  • Elder­ly, respect for
  • Emo­tion­al lit­er­a­cy: accept­ing lim­i­ta­tions and gifts
  • Explor­ing con­flict: nature of con­flict, con­flict styles
  • Friend­ship, inclu­sion and exclu­sion

You’ll find good books that will be use­ful for your read­ing and dis­cus­sions, such as:

  • First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez, illus by Robert Casil­la (Over­com­ing Obsta­cles, Bul­ly­ing)
  • Why Mos­qui­toes Buzz in People’s Ears by Ver­na Aarde­ma, illus by Leo and Diane Dil­lon (Lis­ten­ing, Rumors or Sus­pi­cion)
  • Prob­a­bly Still Nick Swan­son by Vir­ginia Euw­er Wolff (Accept­ing Lim­i­ta­tions and Gifts, Respect for Elder­ly or Dis­abled, Rumors or Sus­pi­cion)
  • The Reveal­ers by Doug Wil­helm (Bul­ly­ing, Prej­u­dice or Dis­like, Non­vi­o­lent Response)
  • REVOLUTION is Not a Din­ner Par­ty by Ying Chang Com­pes­tine (Non­vi­o­lent Response, Oppres­sion)

Book by Book books

In our cur­rent world, where books have a shelf life of less than five years, you may not read­i­ly find some of these books (because they were pub­lished six or sev­en years ago). Get the book you’re inter­est­ed in on inter­li­brary loan from your pub­lic library, read it, con­sid­er whether it’s impor­tant to have it in your school or class­room library, and then find a used copy online.

The folks at Engag­ing Schools were kind enough to send me two down­load­able PDFs that may help to con­vince you to obtain this book: Table of Con­tents and Sup­ple­men­tal Index. You can order the book from Engag­ing Schools online.

I hope they will update this book … it’s a crit­i­cal ref­er­ence in our unset­tled, grow­ing wis­er, open­ing our minds world.

Seri­ous­ly, you’ll won­der why you don’t already have this ref­er­ence book on your shelf.

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Bink and Gollie

Ear­ly this morn­ing I read Bink and Gol­lie books to my nieces. We were killing timeBink&Golliebook-180pix while their par­ents picked up the rental car for their Great Amer­i­can Sum­mer Road­trip. To say that the lev­el of excite­ment was pal­pa­ble is an under­state­ment — it was a wave that near­ly knocked me down when they opened their door. They talked — both of them — non­stop for an hour while we sipped our break­fast smooth­ies.

Mom and Dad were not back when we sucked down the final drops of smooth­ie, which was con­cern­ing, so anx­ious were they to get on the road already. I said, “Well, what can we do…that we can put down if your Mom and Dad come back in two minutes…and pick back up after your trip?”

Books!” said one.

YEAH — WE CAN READ BOOKS!” said the oth­er.

On the deck!”

In the sun­shine!”

Let’s do it!”

And so we took Bink and Gol­lie with us to the sun­ny deck. No mat­ter how excit­ed these sweet girls get — and let me tell you, they were excit­ed this morn­ing! — they calm down instant­ly with a book. Their breath­ing changes by page two. And so we snug­gled up and read, breath­ing deeply in the ear­ly morn­ing sun­shine.

I’d for­got­ten how much of the sto­ry is told in the pic­tures in Bink and Gol­lie books — and how many words are in the pic­tures. Labels and instruc­tions, signs and notes, jokes and fun. Because both girls are learn­ing to read, this works real­ly well. I read the sto­ry itself and they read the pic­tures. The pic­tures are often filled with big words. (So is the sto­ry itself — it’s some­thing I appre­ci­ate about Kate DiCamillo’s and Ali­son McGhee’s writ­ing. They do not sim­pli­fy vocab­u­lary.) Some things we have to sound out togeth­er, but the real fun is get­ting the inflec­tion right. Read­ing it in our Gol­lie voice, or like a 1940’s radio adver­tise­ment, or like a car­ni­val bark­er.

Bink and Gol­lie are oppo­sites in many ways — Gol­lie is tall and skin­ny, prag­mat­icBink&Gollie-180-pix and for­mal in her speech. She says things like I long for speed. And Greet­ings. And I beg you not to do that…. My nieces find this amus­ing. They are also tall and skin­ny, prag­mat­ic (some­times, any­way), and hilar­i­ous­ly for­mal in their speech at times.

Bink is short and has hair stick­ing up all over her head. She loves bright socks and pan­cakes and peanut but­ter. No one would call my nieces short. (“We don’t have that prob­lem,” one of them said this morn­ing as we read about Bink order­ing a Stretch-o-mat­ic to make her­self taller.) But their hair is some­times Bink-like. And they delight in the sim­ple things of life — includ­ing, but not lim­it­ed to, socks, cel­e­bra­to­ry pan­cakes, and peanut but­ter. They also have Bink’s ener­gy — they yam­mer, they jump, they zip, they climb and glide.

In short, they love both Bink and Gol­lie. They are Bink and Gol­lie — they can relate, as it were. Bink and Gol­lie have adven­tures, a sweet friend­ship, and they roller­skate every­where — these details light up my sweet girls. They enjoy decod­ing the words in the pic­tures and get­ting the joke. They are envi­ous of the tree­house in which Bink and Gol­lie live. They’d like to vis­it Eccles’ Empire of Enchant­ment — and maybe hit a Bar­gain Bonan­za. (Maybe the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dako­ta will sat­is­fy them.)

Bink and Gol­lie got us almost to Mom and Dad’s return. We did have to take a lit­tle field trip to my house (just around the cor­ner) because their cousin was bak­ing scones, but then Mom and Dad were home, the rent­ed Jeep was loaded in record time, and off they went!

I won­der if they’re lev­i­tat­ing with excite­ment in their car seats, chat­ter­ing away like Bink or say­ing I long for the moun­tains…. like Gol­lie. They invit­ed me to sneak in their car and go with them. Maybe I should’ve tak­en them up on it.

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Choice and Voice

Classroom bookshelfIn sev­er­al past arti­cles I’ve writ­ten about the frus­tra­tion I’ve felt con­cern­ing my district’s deci­sion to adopt a new read­ing cur­ricu­lum. In recent weeks I have had to reflect and dig deeply to under­stand my uneasi­ness and fear relat­ed to “an inno­v­a­tive and mod­ern way to teach the gamut of ele­men­tary lit­er­a­cy skills” (quote from dis­trict web­site post about the new read­ing cur­ricu­lum). I am some­one who has nev­er shied away from change or oppor­tu­ni­ties to grow as an edu­ca­tor. How­ev­er, this sig­nif­i­cant shift in the approach to lit­er­a­cy learn­ing and instruc­tion in my class­room (and approx­i­mate­ly 660 oth­er ele­men­tary class­rooms in the dis­trict) has con­tributed great­ly to my deci­sion to accept a posi­tion with a new school dis­trict for the com­ing school year.

What fol­lows is the let­ter I am send­ing to dis­trict lead­ers and school board mem­bers in my now for­mer dis­trict. My hope is that by shar­ing this with you, my Teach it For­ward read­ers, and dis­trict deci­sion mak­ers, I can respect­ful­ly offer some­thing for all of us to think about in hopes of mak­ing a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in the lives of our stu­dents.

Dear Dis­trict Admin­is­tra­tors and School Board Mem­bers,

I believe we have sev­er­al essen­tial things in com­mon. We care about kids and we want them to suc­ceed. I also believe we share a pas­sion for learn­ing. We aim to do what’s right by our stu­dents. We share a sense of urgency. We want to empow­er our future lead­ers with nec­es­sary skills, expe­ri­ences, and knowl­edge. We are intent on mak­ing informed deci­sions and allo­cat­ing resources wise­ly.

I applaud the dis­trict for its will­ing­ness to invest in its kids. A com­bined $5.3 mil­lion for the new read­ing cur­ricu­lum, train­ing, and tech­nol­o­gy is no small expen­di­ture. I know dis­trict lead­ers who sup­port­ed the cur­ricu­lum adop­tion worked count­less hours to coör­di­nate the review process, the pilot­ing of mate­ri­als, and the plan for imple­men­ta­tion. For teach­ers who are new to the pro­fes­sion and have lim­it­ed expe­ri­ence, this new pro­gram offers a detailed overview for each day of the six week units that cov­er les­son plans for the entire school year, includ­ing book selec­tions, align­ment to the stan­dards, week­ly tests, and inter­ven­tions. For more vet­er­an edu­ca­tors it deliv­ers a time-sav­ing pro­gram that fea­tures a ful­ly-inte­grat­ed cur­ricu­lum that embeds read­ing, writ­ing, spelling, and vocab­u­lary, along with a wide range of tech­nol­o­gy tools.

I’ve spent nine years, more than a third of my 25-year teach­ing career, in this dis­trict. I am a Nation­al Board Cer­ti­fied Teacher with a mas­ters degree in lit­er­a­cy and an Edu­ca­tion Spe­cial­ist degree in K‑12 Lead­er­ship. My desire to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in stu­dents’ lives runs deep. How­ev­er, this let­ter isn’t about me. It is about the 32 incred­i­ble kids from Room 123. It’s about kids who need an advo­cate who will speak up on their behalf when they are not in a posi­tion to do so them­selves. I am writ­ing to respect­ful­ly ask you to con­sid­er some of the insights I have about the district’s recent adop­tion of the new cur­ricu­lum.

Here are three things I believe those 32 kids would tell you if they had the chance.

Book Wall

#1. Please let us pick books we want to read along with books we want our teach­ers to read to us. “One size fits all” does not always feel that great.

Read­ers thrive on hav­ing choice and voice. Kids come to us with a wide range of inter­ests, abil­i­ties, back­grounds, and expe­ri­ences. Pro­vid­ing them with plen­ti­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties to have some say in what they read is crit­i­cal. Imag­ine show­ing up at your pub­lic library or favorite book­store every week for the next six years only to be told that the sto­ries and books with which you will be spend­ing 60 – 90 min­utes a day have already been pre-select­ed for you … would that moti­vate you to read?

Nan­cy Atwell, renowned edu­ca­tor and author who is the first recip­i­ent of the $1 mil­lion Glob­al Teacher Prize, speaks to the impor­tance of offer­ing choice and hon­or­ing stu­dents’ voice when it comes to read­ing. She explains:

We now have a quar­ter cen­tu­ry of stud­ies that doc­u­ment three find­ings: lit­er­a­cy blooms wher­ev­er stu­dents have access to books they want to read, per­mis­sion to choose their own, and time to get lost in them. Entic­ing col­lec­tions of lit­er­a­ture — inter­est­ing books writ­ten at lev­els they can decode with accu­ra­cy and com­pre­hend with ease — are key to chil­dren becom­ing skilled, thought­ful, avid read­ers.”

I encour­age you to read what else this accom­plished and high­ly regard­ed edu­ca­tor has to say about kids, read­ing, and achieve­ment.

The new cur­ricu­lum has all the books pre-select­ed for the entire year. The read-aloud or shared-read­ing selec­tions are orga­nized by theme to con­nect with the titles that are shared in small group read­ing. Each week there are four titles offer­ing four dif­fer­ent read­ing lev­els to match four dif­fer­ent groups of read­ers. The dis­trict web­site post announc­ing the new cur­ricu­lum adop­tion states: “… they’re [stu­dents] read­ing the same con­tent no mat­ter their read­ing abil­i­ty. So stu­dents at dif­fer­ent abil­i­ty lev­els can par­tic­i­pate through col­lab­o­ra­tive con­ver­sa­tions and learn from each oth­er.”

Those 32 incred­i­ble kids might want to know what hap­pens if one of those four books doesn’t fit (whether that be because of top­ic, genre, or level)…do they have a say?

Reflect bookcase#2. Please know that we don’t all have the same access to tech­nol­o­gy but that doesn’t mean our fam­i­lies don’t want us to do well or that we need more work­sheets to do.

While the new cur­ricu­lum offers dig­i­tal at-home access to texts and read­ing mate­ri­als, not all stu­dents have the same oppor­tu­ni­ty to use them out­side the class­room. Near­ly 80% of stu­dents at my for­mer school are eli­gi­ble for Free/Reduced Lunch and almost half are Eng­lish Lan­guage Learn­ers. Close to 90% are stu­dents of col­or. Yes, there is an achieve­ment gap between white and non-white stu­dents and yes it must be addressed. Acknowl­edg­ing that an “oppor­tu­ni­ty gap” also exists is a step in the right direc­tion.

Those 32 incred­i­ble kids might not be able to artic­u­late their feel­ings about the notion of “equi­ty” but there is no doubt they have felt its absence. They might be won­der­ing how the dis­trict will address the issue of equi­ty for stu­dents who lack access to tech­nol­o­gy at home. Will get­ting a “hard copy” of texts and mate­ri­als instead of get­ting to use online tools be enough to pro­vide them with self-direct­ed learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties?

Relax bookshelf#3. Please ask and lis­ten to my teach­ers about how the new cur­ricu­lum is work­ing in my class­room, at my school (test results are only part of the answer).

 One fea­ture of the new pro­gram is week­ly assess­ments, which will pro­vide test-tak­ing prac­tice for stu­dents and data for teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors. While this is one way to mea­sure growth and achieve­ment to aid in plan­ning for instruc­tion, it is not the only thing to con­sid­er. The teach­ers who pilot­ed the pro­gram pri­mar­i­ly rep­re­sent­ed non-Title schools in the dis­trict. In fact, of the 10 schools (out of 24) select­ed to par­tic­i­pate, only 3 were from the 14 Title schools in the dis­trict.

As stat­ed ear­li­er, advo­cat­ing for my incred­i­ble stu­dents is my ulti­mate respon­si­bil­i­ty and it is the rea­son I am shar­ing this let­ter. It is my hope that the under-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Title stu­dents and class­rooms in the pilot­ing of the cur­ricu­lum does not sig­ni­fy an indif­fer­ence to stu­dents and teach­ers who deserve to be includ­ed in con­ver­sa­tions and deci­sions about the imple­men­ta­tion of the cur­ricu­lum.

On behalf of those 32 incred­i­ble kids I keep talk­ing about, I am hap­py to report that they are some of the most cre­ative, intel­li­gent, kind and fun­ny kids with whom I have ever worked. Many are bilin­gual. They write poet­ry. They play musi­cal instru­ments. They are artists, ath­letes, and actors. Most of them believe in them­selves and their abil­i­ty to do and become what­ev­er they choose. Those 32 incred­i­ble kids have shared their unique tal­ents, pas­sions, and per­son­al­i­ties with me each and every day, some for the past two years. Their desire to read, talk, and write about their favorite char­ac­ters, authors’ mes­sages, and the things they won­der has been evi­dent, in part because they have been giv­en guid­ance and free­dom to select from the vast col­lec­tion of books avail­able to them in Room 123.

One final thing those 32 incred­i­ble kids might ask is that you nev­er lose sight of the fact that although they might not all be able to demon­strate just how much they know and are capa­ble of doing when it comes to read­ing and stan­dard­ized tests, they deal with chal­lenges on a dai­ly basis, chal­lenges that some of us nev­er encounter in our entire adult lives. Don’t let this new cur­ricu­lum become anoth­er chal­lenge. I sim­ply ask that you look beyond the new cur­ricu­lum to con­sid­er what the kids and teach­ers might need to address the issues of stu­dent choice, stu­dent voice, equi­ty, achieve­ment gaps, oppor­tu­ni­ty gaps, and, most impor­tant­ly, the idea that one size does not fit all when it comes to teach­ing and learn­ing.

Sin­cere­ly,

Mau­r­na Rome

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Old

Virginia Euwer WolffThat’s your Great-Grand­fa­ther Who Lost His Arm in the Bat­tle of the Wilder­ness.” That was his name. In a big gold gilt-framed pho­to: a dis­tin­guished-look­ing, white-haired, mus­tached gen­tle­man high above the upright piano in my grandmother’s music room. This Civ­il War vet­er­an was her father-in-law, and he and his wife in her match­ing frame watched over the music room for as long as I can remem­ber. His wife looks severe: per­haps it was her high lace col­lar, the hard life of a 19th Cen­tu­ry woman, and the long wait for the pho­to­graph­ic plate’s expo­sure.

My hor­ti­cul­tur­ist great-grand­fa­ther with the long name had con­vinced his son, my por­trait pho­tog­ra­ph­er grand­pa, to move the entire fam­i­ly 2000 miles west from Jamestown, New York to the foothills of Mt. Hood in Ore­gon in 1911, there to begin grow­ing apples and pears on land whose price matched its fer­tile but irri­ga­tion-chal­lenged soil. My grandma’s opin­ion: “But only if we can live close to the school and close to the church.” The Civ­il War hero, his wife, and my grand­par­ents and their three young chil­dren trav­eled by train, with box­cars full of fur­ni­ture, to a com­mu­ni­ty of rut­ted roads and tena­cious, weath­er-tough­ened farm­ers and log­gers. My grand­par­ents’ big house got built beside the church.

Irri­ga­tion was the most piti­less of the orchard’s many obsta­cles. The farm didn’t last long. The Great Depres­sion hap­pened. My grand­pa re-edu­cat­ed him­self as an elec­tri­cian, and drove a Mod­el T Ford to his jobs well into the 1950s.

Now, sum­mer­time 2016, I’m sit­ting on a chair from that music room, as I have done for decades. Not the piano stool. (“Vir­ginia, do NOT spin on the piano stool. You KNOW that.”) This is a straight-back maple chair, prob­a­bly from the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry, with curvy lines, turned legs, and a heart carved out of its back. Who made it and where? Why didn’t I ask when I was a kid and Grand­ma or Grand­pa could have told me?

It has silent­ly held up its end of my dai­ly work­ing bar­gain with­out com­plaint.

My grand­par­ents’ for­tunes fell, the great-grand­par­ents died, the three chil­dren grew up. Grand­ma opened a board­ing house for school­teach­ers, and the board­ing music teach­ers gave lessons on her piano. Ram­bunc­tious school­yard kids walked tame­ly through my grand­par­ents’ door, car­ry­ing their red John Thomp­son music and their yel­low and green Schirmer’s.

My moth­er had mar­ried her true love, a lapsed Penn­syl­va­nia lawyer turned Ore­gon farmer who had built a large log house three miles from town. My broth­er and I made a fam­i­ly of four, hap­py and com­plete.

Grandma’s and Grandpa’s din­ing room, with a great big table (for all of us rel­a­tives and all those board­ing teach­ers), opened into the music room, and some­one (any­one) could play “Hap­py Birth­day” on the piano for who­ev­er was cel­e­brat­ing: age 6, 46, or 76.

We chil­dren dec­o­rat­ed the music room Christ­mas tree with raggedy and chipped orna­ments from his­to­ry (why didn’t I ask for their sto­ries?), and my vis­it­ing cousin and I gid­di­ly over­re­act­ed each year, as our gifts pro­gressed from iden­ti­cal dolls to iden­ti­cal bot­tles of Evening in Paris per­fume.

I think that dur­ing the 60-plus years this util­i­tar­i­an chair spent in the music room it was nev­er wit­ness to inso­lence or pro­fan­i­ty.

I knew my grand­par­ents were promi­nent in the church, in posi­tions of pow­er. A few times each year Grand­ma pre­pared the cubes of Com­mu­nion bread, and as I grew I was allowed to help her pour her home­made grape juice into teen­sy glass­es in the holy, shiny tray-rack thing. Grandpa’s role was even more essen­tial: He start­ed the church fur­nace ear­ly on Sun­day morn­ings, and on choir prac­tice evenings, and made sure every­thing was work­ing right in every room of the build­ing. He made church pos­si­ble.

Years lat­er, my big broth­er whis­pered to me that Grand­pa was the church jan­i­tor, and that he and Grand­ma were prob­a­bly doing those jobs to ful­fill their annu­al tithe. We were in church, and our moth­er, as usu­al, was on the organ bench, bring­ing Bach and Schu­bert and all those beau­ti­ful loved ones to the rur­al fam­i­lies in the pews.

I don’t think I ever heard my grand­par­ents dis­cuss reli­gion. It was just there, an unequiv­o­cal force, like a moun­tain or an ocean or God.

The fam­i­ly side­stepped dis­pu­ta­tious­ness, didn’t stoop to quar­rel­ing. When peo­ple got peev­ed about wartime rationing or went mute about Hiroshi­ma they did it with­out mak­ing a fuss. I nev­er knew which mar­riages were unen­durable yet iron-tight, I nev­er knew which grownups had “er — uh — a problem…” Things and peo­ple didn’t break apart. Except that peo­ple died. When they did, our grief was wild and silent.

Your father was a won­der­ful man, Vir­ginia.”

I know.”

You look like your father, Vir­ginia, you have his eyes.”

Do I?”

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Grand­ma washed on Mon­days (tubs, blu­ing, the cranked wringer, hun­dreds of clothes­pins, yards of clothes­line), ironed on Tues­days (all those board­ers’ sheets went through a mar­velous machine called a man­gle), sewed and mend­ed on Wednes­days, teach­ing me to use a Singer machine for per­fect seams by using only my foot on the ped­al.

Elvis Pres­ley began to sing. Our fam­i­ly went on as if he had had the good man­ners not to. But he had stirred some­thing in my vis­it­ing cousin and me, and it lay stealthy and uncom­pre­hend­ed inside us.

We spread out, we learned to vote. Now, years too late, ques­tions per­sist, cast­ing every­thing in the shad­owy half-light of incom­ple­tion.

Had the Civ­il War sergeant (Penn­syl­va­nia 105th Infantry Reg­i­ment) kept a war diary? How did Grand­pa real­ly feel about leav­ing stu­dio pho­tog­ra­phy and try­ing to be an orchardist? What might Grand­ma have said about spend­ing her entire life tak­ing care of peo­ple? Why did the church break into fac­tions? Why did our fam­i­lies trust to school to teach us what Hitler had actu­al­ly done? How many sud­den grownup silences did my vis­it­ing cousin and I snick­er through, instead of prob­ing?

And that’s a thing I’d like to change, if I could. We know chil­dren can’t deci­pher the secret mes­sages that adults send in plain sight by means of eye­brows and cod­ed ges­tures. But I wish the young were quick­er to devel­op anten­nae for the waves of his­to­ry, its tragedies, its hilar­i­ties, its noble strug­gles.

I’m duly ashamed that I don’t even know where this beloved chair came from.

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Let me show you this great video I took on my trip…

alligatorWe’re stuck,” Air­boat Man said.

Stuck: three peo­ple, on an air­boat, near­ing sun­down, with noth­ing but swamp and alli­ga­tors for miles.

Here’s the deal. I could tell you this sto­ry sev­er­al dif­fer­ent ways and remain truth­ful.  I could make it seem scary, or adven­tur­ous, or even per­vert­ed. But being me, I’m going to tell you what I hope is the “fun­ny” ver­sion:

You two stand down on the edge there and bounce.” Air­boat Man point­ed to the low­er por­tion of the air­boat. “That should jar us loose.”

BFF and I glanced dubi­ous­ly at each oth­er. Was this how Air­boat Man got his kicks? By drag­ging zaftig, out- of-state females deep into the lone­ly swamp, where he manip­u­lat­ed a set of dia­bol­i­cal­ly evil cir­cum­stances so that he could force them to — bounce?

It’s the only way,” Air­boat Man said.

So we bounced. Sure enough, we got unstuck. Air­boat Man looked amused.

I won­der if that Japan­ese film crew over there got videos of ya’ll bounc­ing,” he said.

Indeed, while we had been busy bounc­ing, anoth­er air­boat had appeared behind us.  They had pulled close enough that I assume you could google the phrase, “Large Amer­i­can women bounce on air­boat” (if you knew enough Japan­ese), and you’d get an up-close-and-per­son­al of our bounc­ing back ends.

So what does this tell you about writ­ing? I’ve talked before about how dif­fi­cult it is to help young writ­ers under­stand the term “voice.” Voice is the dis­tinc­tive way that each writer acts as a filter for how the read­er expe­ri­ences a sto­ry. If BFF or Air­boat Man want­ed to write about this same event, they would do so using a dif­fer­ent voice — and it might sound like a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent sto­ry.

Why not ask all of your stu­dents to write about an adven­ture you have shared togeth­er?  Then have them each read their work out loud, so the group can hear dif­fer­ent voic­es relat­ing the same expe­ri­ence — and begin to learn by com­par­i­son what is unique about their own voice.

Devel­op­ing your voice as a writer is a lit­tle like bounc­ing to “un-stick” an air­boat.  At first, the whole con­cept sounds pret­ty sus­pect. But once you give it a try, you find out it works. In fact, some writ­ers are able to devel­op such dis­tinc­tive voic­es, they become famous enough to google.

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Must. Get. Out.

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Skinny Dip with Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Rebecca Kai DotlichFor this inter­view, we vis­it with Rebec­ca Kai Dotlich, poet and chil­dren’s book author:

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

As most of my friends know, that would be Bil­ly Collins. And then Meryl Streep would stop by too of course.

Favorite city to vis­it?

I’m not a far and wide trav­el­er, but the city I’ve always want­ed to vis­it is any city in Switzer­land.

Reading-(HS)-on-couch-400px

In high school, read­ing on the couch.

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

The Glass Cas­tle by Jeanette Walls. Friend­ly Fire by C.D.B. Bryan. On Writ­ing: a mem­oir of the craft by Stephen King. Big Mag­ic by Eliz­a­beth Gilbert. Prince of Tides by Pat Con­roy.

Stromboli (photo credit: wikimedia commons)

Strom­boli (pho­to cred­it: wiki­me­dia com­mons)

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

I haven’t eat­en late-night snacks since my col­lege days at Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty. Strom­bo­lis. Deliv­ered.

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

Oh, so many. Pil­ing into the sta­tion wag­on on a sum­mer night to go to the dri­ve-in in our paja­mas. Watch­ing Roy Rogers and Sky King on Sat­ur­day morn­ings. The smell of baby dolls and new sad­dle oxfords.

First date?

First love 8th grade, Den­nis. First date, high school and I am pret­ty sure it involved a dou­ble date and a dri­ve-in.

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

Cof­fee. Grow­ing up, there was always a pot per­co­lat­ing in our house. My grand­moth­er made me cof­fee from a very young age. She added lots of cream and sug­ar and called it Boston cof­fee. I still love it that way.

Favorite sea­son of the year?

Fall. Why? The chill in the air. The fresh­ness. The new­ness. Reminds me of new begin­nings, sweaters, and school sup­plies.

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

Being in a lit­tle town with book­stores, art muse­ums, cob­ble­stone streets, lamp­lights and noth­ing but time.

Burgess Meredith, Twilight Zone, 1960, wikimedia commons

Burgess Mered­ith, Twi­light Zone, 1960, wiki­me­dia com­mons

What gives you shiv­ers?

Heights. Burgess Mered­ith. (Twi­light Zone. “Time Enough At Last.”)

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

All of my young adult and adult life I was both. Easy up at 5 and to bed after mid­night or 1 o’clock. Now I’m more of a morn­ing per­son.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

Nada. Except maybe a good recall of song lyrics. And bak­ing darn good Christ­mas cook­ies. Oh yes, and imag­i­na­tive con­cept pho­tog­ra­phy. (uh-huh, well it’s on the buck­et list.)

Your favorite can­dy as a kid?

Sky Bar. Rock can­dy (icy clear, nev­er col­ors.)

Is Plu­to a plan­et?

Wait, I have to google that … seems it depends on the year, the poor guy keeps get­ting demot­ed. His head must be spin­ning.

I did get a little huffy sometimes. With my brother Curt on my grandparents' front porch.

I did get a lit­tle huffy some­times. With my broth­er Curt on my grand­par­ents’ front porch.

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

A big broth­er and a lit­tle sis­ter. Big broth­er ruled the land of sib­lings, so I am used to not squawk­ing much when it comes to fol­low­ing rules sug­ges­tions. He also taught me by exam­ple that books in the hand, on the shelf and splat­tered on the bed are the best trea­sures of all. Lit­tle sis­ter passed me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to rule in the land of sib­lings. And also to feel respon­si­ble to look out for some­one, which for­tu­nate­ly or unfor­tu­nate­ly I still feel com­pelled to do.

with my brother and sister and our cousins

with my broth­er and sis­ter and our cousins

Your hope for the world?

Besides peace, love and kind­ness, it would be for the erad­i­ca­tion of bul­ly­ing, and more under­stand­ing of, and com­pas­sion for, depres­sion and oth­er men­tal health issues, espe­cial­ly for our youth.

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Reading Memories

bk_threelittlekittensMem­o­ries of my child­hood are imper­fect. Yours, too?

I don’t remem­ber hav­ing a lot of books as a child. I remem­ber The Poky Lit­tle Pup­py and anoth­er dog book (title unknown) and Three Lit­tle Kit­tens (per­haps a reminder to me to keep track of my mit­tens).

I remem­ber using the school library vora­cious­ly to read books. I had no access to the pub­lic library (too far away) so that school library was my life­line. And our librar­i­an under­stood what I was look­ing for before I did.

But back to the ques­tion of hav­ing books on our shelves. My moth­er had a Dou­ble­day Book Club sub­scrip­tion so a new book arrived each month for the adult read­er in our fam­i­ly. I saw To Kill a Mock­ing­bird, Catch­er in the Rye, The Light in the Piaz­za, and The Sun Also Ris­es added to the shelves, but oth­er than curios­i­ty, I felt no inter­est in those books.

My moth­er also sub­scribed to Reader’s Digest. We had a lot of music in our house in the form of LPs. Some of my favorites were those Read­ers Digest col­lec­tions, clas­sics, folk songs, Broad­way musi­cals. There was always music on the turntable. More impor­tant­ly, Reader’s Digest pub­lished sto­ry col­lec­tions and books for chil­dren.  

Yes­ter­day, I was sort­ing through the three box­es that remain of my child­hood toys and books. We’re down­siz­ing, so the tough deci­sions have to be made. Do I keep my hand pup­pets of Lamb Chop, Char­lie Horse, and Hush Pup­py or let them go?

Reader's Digest Treasury for Young ReadersI know I’ve gone through these box­es since I was a kid but every ten years or so I’m sur­prised all over again by what I played with as a child and cared enough to pack in a box for remem­brance.

I found two Reader’s Digest Trea­suries for Young Read­ers and the three-vol­ume Dou­ble­day Fam­i­ly Trea­sury of Children’s Sto­ries.  My moth­er also sub­scribed to the Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Read­ers. This is how I read Lor­na Doone and Ivan­hoe and Where the Red Fern Grows.

I was star­tled to real­ize that my famil­iar­i­ty with many of the clas­sic poems, sto­ries, and non­fic­tion arti­cles came from these books. I was intro­duced to Dorothy Can­field Fish­er and Eliz­a­beth Janet Gray and Dr. George Wash­ing­ton Carv­er and Jules Verne and The Odyssey and NASA’s work and more than a hun­dred more sto­ries and arti­cles. I’d like to believe that I’m an omniv­o­rous read­er today because of the wide vari­ety I encoun­tered in these books.

The Family Treasury of Children's BooksThere’s a pen­chant for every­thing new right now. Grand­par­ents pick up the lat­est Dora the Explor­er or Where’s Wal­do? book because they’ve heard of them and have a vague sense that kids like them. Or the book­store clerk sug­gests a Calde­cott or New­bery win­ner of recent vin­tage.

This is a plea to remem­ber those clas­sic books: the sto­ries, the folk tales, the fables, the poet­ry. Chil­dren will read a lot that you wouldn’t expect them to read, espe­cial­ly if you give it to them. Those clas­sics pro­vide a com­mon lan­guage for edu­cat­ed peo­ple.

Can’t find some­thing suit­able? Write to your favorite pub­lish­er and sug­gest that they print col­lec­tions of clas­sics, old and new. There are a few books pub­lished in the last 20 years that sort of approach these col­lec­tions pub­lished in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Here are a few:

Story Collections

Per­haps 50 years from now your chil­dren and grand­chil­dren will open their own box of child­hood mem­o­ries, being thank­ful that you gave them such a great gift.

Thanks, Mom. You gave me a gift that has sus­tained me all my life.

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Bookstorm™: Jazz Day

Bookmap for Jazz Day

 

Jazz DayThis month we’re fea­tur­ing Jazz Day, a book that’s all about jazz and a pho­to­graph that record­ed a moment in time, peo­ple at the top of their musi­cal careers and peo­ple who were just get­ting start­ed. Author Rox­ane Orgill is famil­iar with the jazz cul­ture; she’s writ­ten sev­er­al books about the music and the peo­ple. Illus­tra­tor Fran­cis Valle­jo took ele­ments of pho­tog­ra­phy, graph­ic design, acrylic, and pas­tels to illus­trate his first book. This pow­er­ful team has received no few­er than six starred reviews for the pic­ture book biog­ra­phy they’ve cre­at­ed togeth­er.

In Jazz Day, each sto­ry is told with a poem, among them free verse, a pan­toum, and a list poem. There are poems about the pho­tog­ra­ph­er, the musi­cians, the young neigh­bor­hood boys who showed up for the pho­to­graph out of curios­i­ty, the jazz life, and the process of tak­ing the pho­to, Harlem 1958, which is famous for cap­tur­ing a large num­ber of musi­cians in their time, their cloth­ing, their com­mu­ni­ty, but with­out their instru­ments (except for one guy, Rex Stew­art, but it earned him a poem).

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books, web­sites, and videos for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. This month, we’re focus­ing on books about jazz, music, singers, and pho­tog­ra­phy. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Rox­ane Orgill on her web­site. The illus­tra­tor’s web­site will show you more of Fran­cis Valle­jo’s port­fo­lio.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Jazz Musi­cians in Pic­ture Books. Here you’ll find excel­lent pic­ture books about jazz musi­cians includ­ing Trom­bone Shorty, John Coltrane, Thelo­nius Monk, Louis Arm­strong, Dizzy Gille­spie, Mary Louise Williams, Mel­ba Lis­ton, Duke Elling­ton, and Ben­ny Good­man. Many of these books help us under­stand how the child­hood of these renowned musi­cians launched them into their careers.

Jazz Singers. Ella Fitzger­ald? Scat. Josephine Bak­er? Show­man­ship. Civ­il rights. The Sweet­hearts of Rhythm? Swing musi­cians who rose to promi­nence dur­ing the war. Excep­tion­al books about excep­tion­al singers.

Jazz for Old­er Read­ers. From Rox­ane Orgill’s own book, Dream Lucky, one of the best books about jazz musi­cians, to high­ly respect­ed books like Jazz 101, and The His­to­ry of Jazz, and Marsalis on Music, there’s a lot of infor­ma­tion here to get you talk­ing pro­fi­cient­ly about, and teach­ing, jazz.

Pho­tog­ra­phy. Art Kane was­n’t a pho­tog­ra­ph­er but he took one of the most famous pho­tographs, Harlem 1958. But there are chil­dren’s books about famous pho­tog­ra­phers such as Gor­don Parks and Snowflake Bent­ley. You’ll find more sug­ges­tions in the Book­storm.

The Music. Your stu­dents who are already inter­est­ed in rap or jazz rap or hip-hop or pop music, will be fas­ci­nat­ed to lis­ten to the dif­fer­ent gen­res of jazz music that came before … and we’ve includ­ed URLs where you can find excel­lent exam­ples. Or per­haps you’re a jazz afi­ciona­do and you have your own music to share.

Web­sites. There are help­ful web­sites such as the Jazz Edu­ca­tion Net­work and Smith­son­ian Jazz that will help you put togeth­er a mul­ti­me­dia set of les­son plans for explor­ing jazz, our most Amer­i­can form of music.

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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How To Make An Apple Pie and See The World

How To Make An Apple Pie and See The WorldA cou­ple of years ago, I decid­ed I want­ed to learn how to make a real­ly good pie. I asked around — bak­ers, cater­ers, cook­ing store own­ers etc. and the book The Pie and Pas­try Bible by Rose Levy Beran­baum came up con­sis­tent­ly. One per­son men­tioned How to Make An Apple Pie and See The World  by Mar­jorie Price­man. I pur­chased both — one for the how-to and one for inspi­ra­tion.

The Pie and Pas­try Bible is enor­mous and beyond detailed (like read­ing an organ­ic chem­istry book in some places). It has been extreme­ly help­ful. Under its tute­lage, I’m proud to say I can turn out a decent pie with a flaky, tooth­some crust, and fill­ing that holds togeth­er (most­ly) and delights the sens­es in its sweet­ness and tex­ture.

How to Make and Apple Pie and See The World is some­thing else entire­ly. Tech­ni­cal­ly, it is also a how-to, I sup­pose, but a per­son could get lost in the adven­ture of it.

Mak­ing an apple pie is real­ly very easy.
First, get all the ingre­di­ents at the mar­ket.
Mix them well, bake, and serve.

Let me tell you, Rose Levy Beran­baum would scream and pull her hair out by the roots read­ing these instruc­tions; but with a sim­ple page turn, Mar­jorie Price­man acknowl­edges the dif­fi­cul­ties that can arise.

Unless, of course, the mar­ket is closed.

What is to be done then? Well, you go home pack a suit­case. With walk­ing shoes and your shop­ping list, catch a steamship bound for Europe and use the six days on board to brush up on your Ital­ian. Why? Well, you’ll need it when you arrive in Italy dur­ing the har­vest (tim­ing is impor­tant, Price­man acknowl­edges) to gath­er your­self some superb semoli­na wheat.

Photodune: Happy Cow | by Aruba2000You’ll head to France for the chick­en (the eggs! You need eggs!) and then Sri Lan­ka for the kurun­du tree (cin­na­mon!). Upon hitch­ing a ride to Eng­land you’ll “make the acquain­tance of a cow” — one with good man­ners and a charm­ing accent. You’ll take her with you because only the fresh­est milk will do.

On the way to Jamaica (for sug­ar!) you’ll nab a jar of salty sea water (sim­ply evap­o­rate and you have the salt!) and then fly home. Ingre­di­ents should remain fresh, after all. Both Beran­baum and Price­man agree that fresh ingre­di­ents are of the utmost impor­tance. You’ll para­chute into Ver­mont for the apples — you can’t for­get the apples when you’re mak­ing apple pie.

Once home, there’s sim­ply milling and grind­ing and evap­o­rat­ing and per­suad­ing (the chick­en to lay an egg) and milk­ing and churn­ing and slic­ing and mix­ing to do!

While you wait for the pie to bake, you sim­ply ask a friend over to share!

I love this book and the kids I’ve read it to love it, too. We spin the globe and find all the coun­tries of ori­gin for the pantry sta­ples. We talk about where our food comes from, and if it is pos­si­ble to make some of our favorite foods with all local ingre­di­ents. We talk about how much work it is to grow and pre­pare food and how many peo­ple we depend on to do that. We enjoy the pic­tures — the delight­ful hero­ine who tire­less­ly globe-trots so she can make a pie to share with friends.

A quick inter­net search yields les­son plans and home­school­ing ideas for this book — few men­tion actu­al­ly bak­ing a pie, which makes me sad. Is there any­thing more homey than a made-from-scratch pie? I think not.

Apple Pie by robynmac | Photodune

Got some back­yard rasp­ber­ries? A u‑pick straw­ber­ry farm? Con­sid­er a bake-n-read this sum­mer with some kids. It’ll be messy, but fun!

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Laughing All the Way

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill BrysonI fin­ished read­ing The Road to Lit­tle Drib­bling over a week ago, and I’m still laugh­ing.

I’m a suck­er for a fun­ny sto­ry, and Bill Bryson has pro­vid­ed me with a steady stream of them since I first dis­cov­ered him in Gran­ta mag­a­zine back in the ’80s. I couldn’t get enough of his wise­crack­ing tales about grow­ing up in Des Moines, espe­cial­ly the epic fam­i­ly road trips he endured.

His lat­est book, in which he more or less recre­ates the mean­der­ings around and mus­ings about Britain’s quirky cor­ners that he mined so suc­cess­ful­ly in Notes from a Small Island four decades ago, deliv­ered just the dose of laughs I need­ed to off­set a par­tic­u­lar­ly intense stretch at work. Humor is a first-rate anti­dote to any num­ber of things, I’ve found, includ­ing stress. This is why I also own a well-worn copy of the DVD Fer­ris Bueller’s Day Off

Mr. Mysterious & CompanyI dis­cov­ered humor between the cov­ers of a book ear­ly, when I first read Sid Fleischman’s Mr. Mys­te­ri­ous & Com­pa­ny as a child. Mr. Fleischman’s sto­ry not only had me laugh­ing in delight, but also man­aged to worm its way deep into my psy­che, pop­ping out decades lat­er when I had chil­dren of my own and inau­gu­rat­ed a unique Fred­er­ick twist on Fleischman’s Abra­cadabra Day. Read Mr. Mys­te­ri­ous & Com­pa­ny and you’ll get the idea.

A few years after dis­cov­er­ing Fleis­chman, I stum­bled across a P. G. Wode­house anthol­o­gy on my grandfather’s book­shelf. I was 12 or so, and enor­mous­ly pleased with myself for appre­ci­at­ing Wodehouse’s spe­cial brand of British humor. (Of course it helped that I had just returned to the U.S. from a stretch liv­ing in Eng­land.)  His nim­ble style! His flaw­less com­ic tim­ing! And oh, his char­ac­ters! What bud­ding writer could pos­si­bly resist Bertie Wooster’s sub­stan­tial Aunt Dahlia, who fit­ted into his biggest arm­chair “as if it had been built round her by some­one who knew they were wear­ing arm­chairs tight about the hips that sea­son”? Or how about his for­mi­da­ble Aunt Agatha, whom the feck­less Bertie described as wear­ing “barbed wire next to the skin”? And then there was that pig named the Empress of Bland­ings…. I was a goner.

Years lat­er, I read some­where that when Wodehouse’s fam­i­ly heard him chuck­ling in his study as he wrote, they knew the work was going well. I seem to recall read­ing the same thing about Sid Fleis­chman. I don’t know whether Mr. Bryson’s fam­i­ly hears him laugh­ing, too, but I hope my fam­i­ly hears me. Not all my books are humor­ous, but near­ly all of them have humor­ous moments, and when some­thing I write strikes me as fun­ny and I make myself laugh, I think of writ­ers like P. G. Wode­house and Sid Fleis­chman and oth­ers who have trav­eled this path before me, and I know I’m in good com­pa­ny.

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