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.

YEAHWE 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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