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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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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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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Must. Get. Out.

Page Break

 

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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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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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End Cap: Miss Colfax’s Light

Miss Colfax's LightWe hope you’ve enjoyed learn­ing more about light­hous­es and their hero­ic keep­ers through the books rec­om­mend­ed in June’s Book­storm, and most par­tic­u­lar­ly Miss Colfax’s Light. 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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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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Lighthouse Beef Stew

Author Aimee Bis­sonette writes, “To accom­pa­ny your read­ing of Miss Colfax’s Light­house, here’s the type of recipe Har­ri­et would have cooked in win­ter months. It gets incred­i­bly cold on Lake Michi­gan in the win­ter and Har­ri­et was always so busy! She would have need­ed some­thing that was pret­ty easy to make (no time to fuss) but would warm her inside and out.

My sug­ges­tion: beef stew. Here’s a recipe my daugh­ters and I used to use when they were lit­tle and learn­ing to cook.”

Light­house Beef Stew
Serves 4
Meal in a pot: The fin­ished stew is rich and smooth. Sprin­kle it with chopped pars­ley and serve it with baked, boiled, or mashed pota­toes and a green veg­etable or sal­ad
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
2 hr
Total Time
3 hr 30 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
2 hr
Total Time
3 hr 30 min
Ingre­di­ents
  1. 1 ½ lb beef stew meat, cut into cubes
  2. 3 slices of bacon
  3. 2 onions
  4. 1 clove gar­lic
  5. 1 ¾ cups beef stock
  6. 2 car­rots
  7. a few strips of orange peel
  8. a large pinch of Ital­ian sea­son­ing
  9. 2 T veg­etable oil
  10. 2 T chopped pars­ley
  11. 1 T all-pur­pose flour
  12. 1 T toma­to purée
  13. Salt and pep­per
Instruc­tions
  1. Set the oven to 350 degrees F. Chop the onions and bacon with a sharp knife, slice the car­rots, and crush the gar­lic.
  2. Mix the flour, salt and pep­per on the plate. Lay the meat on top and turn it until each piece is coat­ed with flour.
  3. Heat 1 T oil in the casse­role dish and fry the car­rots and onions for a few min­utes. Remove with a slot­ted spoon.
  4. Heat the rest of the oil in the casse­role dish, then add the meat and stir it as it cooks until it is light­ly browned all over.
  5. Return the veg­eta­bles to the casse­role dish with the meat. Add the toma­to purée, gar­lic, herbs, and orange peel and stir.
  6. Add the stock and stir. Then put the lid on the casse­role and cook it for about two hours, until the meat is ten­der.
Adapt­ed from from “The Children’s Step-by-Step Cook Book” by Angela Wilkes
Adapt­ed from from “The Children’s Step-by-Step Cook Book” by Angela Wilkes
Bookol­o­gy Mag­a­zine https://www.bookologymagazine.com/
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Skinny Dip with Nancy Johnson

Nancy JohnsonFor this inter­view, we are pleased to share answers from Nan­cy John­son, pro­fes­sor, children’s/young adult lit­er­a­ture and English/ lan­guage arts edu­ca­tion, West­ern Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty:

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

Eleanor Roo­sevelt and Michelle Oba­ma. I’d do my best just to lis­ten … and learn.

Favorite city to vis­it?

Favorite coun­try is Viet­nam. Favorite “city” in Viet­nam is Hoi An. It’s mag­i­cal!

Dragon Fountain, Hoi An, Vietnam

Drag­on Foun­tain, Can­tonese Assem­bly Hall, Quant Trieu, Hoi An (cred­it: Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

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

Cof­fee (dark roast) … no sug­ar, no cream.

Reading on the beach

© Yude­sign | Dreamstime.com

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

A pile of books, lots of sun, a beach (and noth­ing to grade!)

What gives you shiv­ers?

Spi­ders and snakes. It’s irra­tional, I know, but they creep me out (even the tee­ny-tiny, non­poi­so­nous ones). And aer­i­al acts (cir­cus­es, the Blue Angels, etc.).

Your favorite can­dy as a kid …

Movie the­atre can­dy = Jujubes

Drug store can­dy = can­dy cig­a­rettes (Seri­ous­ly! They looked so cool—and so did we—but they tast­ed like chalk.)

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

It’s not real­ly a tourist attrac­tion but … when we were kids, my Dad and my best friend’s Dad took us on a field trip to a sewage treat­ment plant.

 

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Eileen Ryan Ewen

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to share with you our inter­view with Eileen Ryan Ewen, the illus­tra­tor of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Book­storm™ this month. This book is a per­fect exam­ple of the text and illus­tra­tions enhanc­ing each oth­er to make a pic­ture book biog­ra­phy that is more than the sum of its parts. Have the book open near you when you read Eileen’s respons­es. With our inter­view, we hope to help you look more deeply at the illus­tra­tions.

In the first few pages of the book, when Har­ri­et is walk­ing through the door, why did you decide to draw her with one foot poised on the thresh­old? And was this pic­ture always like this?

Yes, as I look back through my ear­ly sketch­es, Harriet’s foot is always on the thresh­old. Lit­tle is known about Harriet’s per­son­al­i­ty (though a bit comes through in her logs), and I was try­ing to imag­ine what it must have been like for her on that, her first day at the light­house. I tried to think about what it must have been like to be a woman in the 1860’s. How many women would have stepped away from a job as demand­ing as a light­house keep­er? How many women (and men, for that mat­ter) would have vol­un­tar­i­ly stayed on for as long as Har­ri­et did, as well as com­plet­ed the job so thor­ough­ly each day? I have to imag­ine that most women of that era nev­er would have enter­tained such a liveli­hood. Yet Har­ri­et, a for­mer music teacher and type­set­ter, didn’t step away. She stepped up.

Miss Colfax's Light

You have many peri­od details in your art­work, from a five-pan­el door to a log hold­er to changes in cloth­ing styles. How do you do your research?

I love his­to­ry! My father was a his­to­ri­an, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the sub­ject. As far as research, I had the good for­tune to vis­it the actu­al Michi­gan City Light­house, where won­der­ful docents gave me a tour, and pro­vid­ed great infor­ma­tion about what the light­house looked like back in Harriet’s day (it wasn’t as large!), cloth­ing from her era, and the tools she used. Com­bined with that infor­ma­tion, I used the good old inter­net to make sure the fash­ions I was using were appro­pri­ate. For instance, if you search women’s cloth­ing from the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, very for­mal ball gowns will be the most like­ly results. Har­ri­et would have worn no such thing. So then a more refined search is need­ed, often with trips to the library to scour books that might fit the time peri­od I’m try­ing to cap­ture. I know some illus­tra­tors who look to peri­od movies, and will study the cos­tumes and sets for inspi­ra­tion. In the end, I usu­al­ly have loads of infor­ma­tion about the time peri­od, and only end up using a small frac­tion of it in my illustrations—just enough to hope­ful­ly give the piece an authen­tic feel, and accu­rate­ly cap­ture the era. The research side can be tedious and time con­sum­ing, but because I find it so inter­est­ing, it’s a lot of fun as well!

Are you in charge of decid­ing where you have two fac­ing pages with dif­fer­ent scenes and where you’ll have a two-page spread? What deter­mines this for you?

It’s prob­a­bly dif­fer­ent for each Art Direc­tor and pub­lish­er. I have great appre­ci­a­tion for the trust that my Art Direc­tor at Sleep­ing Bear Press showed me. She gave me the man­u­script with the text some­what arranged on each page, and let me loose. I was allowed to move text if I want­ed to, in order to fit my illus­tra­tion ideas, and I had free rein to chose vignettes, full-page illus­tra­tions, or two-page spread illus­tra­tions. Now, all that said, I had to run all of my ideas and sketch­es by the Art Direc­tor, Edi­tor, and Pub­lish­er, as well as a few oth­er peo­ple, before I could start the final art. Some­times they approved my deci­sions, and some­times I had to tweak some­thing small, and oth­er times I had to do an entire illus­tra­tion over. The cov­er of Miss Colfax’s Light was done twice.

Miss Colfax's LightIn the scene where Har­ri­et is fill­ing the lantern with whale oil, the light is shin­ing up from her lantern on the floor. How do you deter­mine where the light will orig­i­nate, and where it falls, in your illus­tra­tions?

If I have to be hon­est, this is some­thing I’m still work­ing on—lights and darks. For the illus­tra­tion men­tioned above, I guessed. I revert­ed back to my fig­ure draw­ing days in col­lege, remem­ber­ing stud­ies of the planes of the face and folds of fab­ric, how sub­tle angles can be thrust into com­plete dark­ness, while a slight curve can cre­ate a sharp, bright con­trast. Look­ing at illus­tra­tors and artists who’ve mas­tered lights and darks also helps (and intim­i­dates!). I know of sev­er­al illus­tra­tors who actu­al­ly make mod­els of their char­ac­ters, and then place lights to mim­ic the light­ing of their piece, and draw from that. This is some­thing I hope to try in the future.

Miss Colfax's Light

In the dou­ble-page spread filled with small vignettes of Har­ri­et work­ing, how did you think how to lay out that page?

This was a chal­leng­ing one for me! A lot of impor­tant infor­ma­tion is being revealed, and all deserv­ing of a visu­al com­po­nent. One illus­tra­tion per page just wouldn’t cut it. Add the fact that Aimée is describ­ing the typ­i­cal work Har­ri­et would do in any one day, made me want to cap­ture the feel­ing of what it was like for Har­ri­et from sun up to sun down. For this rea­son, I chose to arch the vignettes around the words, start­ing with Har­ri­et tend­ing the light at the first crack of dawn, to Har­ri­et light­ing it again at dusk. But until I came up with that solu­tion, I strug­gled with this spread quite a bit. I’m not sure why the solu­tion came to me when it did, but it sort of popped up as I was walk­ing my daugh­ters home from preschool. I imme­di­ate­ly had the image of clock hands, the pass­ing of time, how the hands (and sun) arch and rotate from Point A, to Point B. It dawned on me to try to use this move­ment in the piece. Just goes to show that some­times ideas pop up at the strangest moments. I wasn’t think­ing about the prob­lem that fall morn­ing, or so I thought, but appar­ent­ly some lit­tle part of my art brain was still churn­ing, unbe­knownst to me.

I love how woe­ful the post­mas­ter looks when Har­ri­et is read­ing the let­ter telling her she’s being replaced. When you begin an illus­tra­tion, do you have in mind what the expres­sions will be on var­i­ous char­ac­ters’ faces?

Yes and no. Some­times, I feel like I know the char­ac­ter right away, and oth­er times I real­ly have to sit back and let the scene mar­i­nate in my mind, cre­ate a few real­ly awful sketch­es before I start to feel the true spir­it of a char­ac­ter, even a minor one, like the post­mas­ter. I remem­ber read­ing Harriet’s obit­u­ary, which described the peo­ple of Michi­gan City as absolute­ly lov­ing her, and hold­ing her in high regard. So while there were some naysay­ers at the begin­ning of Harriet’s career, it seems as if almost every­one felt she was a beloved, stal­wart fix­ture by the end of her career. The lat­ter feel­ing is what I was try­ing to cap­ture in the postmaster’s face.

You begin and end the book with that door­way. When did this idea for fram­ing the sto­ry come to you in your process?

I think it came fair­ly nat­u­ral­ly, and the fram­ing is large­ly in Aimée’s writ­ing, which made my job easy! And of course, doors make such nice analo­gies, don’t they? Com­ings and goings, begin­nings and end­ings. I almost feel like this aspect of the sto­ry­line was a gift. It just made sense to me to start and fin­ish the book with that door.

What did you want read­ers to know from the pages of illus­tra­tions you cre­at­ed for this book?

His­to­ry can be such a dry sub­ject. Until we real­ize that it’s all just a series of sto­ries, made up of real peo­ple doing extra­or­di­nary things. So I hope that when peo­ple read Miss Colfax’s Light, they see a per­son who was coura­geous, and tired, and deter­mined, with cal­loused hands and a smile for a friend or a cat who’s chas­ing the chick­ens again. I hope that I helped to make Harriet’s world a real, tan­gi­ble place for read­ers, espe­cial­ly chil­dren. I hope to inspire some­one to try some­thing that might be out of their com­fort zone, or to not back away from some­thing they want to try just because some­one says it’s not meant for them. There is so much to be learned from Har­ri­et and her life. In some ways, her sto­ry is a small one, his­tor­i­cal­ly speak­ing. In oth­er ways, it’s huge, and absolute­ly deserves to be told. It has been such an hon­or to be entrust­ed in help­ing bring her sto­ry to life!

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Journeying Inside

Writing Road Trip: Journey InsideI once sat next to a young Pak­istani woman for a long red-eye flight. She had been liv­ing in the U.S. for a cou­ple of years, and had many inter­est­ing insights on the differ­ences between our two cul­tures.

I was espe­cial­ly intrigued by the details of how her arranged mar­riage had come about, and her belief that this prac­tice was so much more suc­cess­ful than our cur­rent U.S. tra­di­tion of love match­es. I was able to gain a new under­stand­ing of a cus­tom that had always seemed unfath­omable to me—someone else being allowed to choose one’s life partner—by shar­ing an insider’s view of that life path.

And the whole dis­cus­sion gave me many intrigu­ing insights not only into her cul­ture, but into my own as well. Writ­ing also allows us this kind of insider’s peek into anoth­er life. Every time we cre­ate a char­ac­ter, we do our best to imag­ine what it would be like to trav­el inside that exis­tence. We immerse our­selves as deeply as we can into a bor­rowed con­scious­ness, hop­ing to make the char­ac­ter seem authen­tic to read­ers.

One of my writ­ing prompts helps young writ­ers prac­tice this abil­i­ty to step inside anoth­er exis­tence. First I ask stu­dents: “If you could be trans­formed into any ani­mal, what ani­mal would you choose?” Then I ask them to write about what they imag­ine life would be like as that ani­mal. How would it feel to be able to fly? To swim on the ocean bot­tom? To run with the pack, or to slith­er on desert sands?

I ask them to imag­ine that they have expe­ri­enced a kind of meta­mor­pho­sis; that they are liv­ing inside anoth­er creature’s exis­tence.

Very often I find that when they return from this jour­ney of the imag­i­na­tion, they bring back new insights into their own lives as well.

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WHY ???

 

Lynne Jonell - Why?

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No, Thank You

Thank” “You Jason.” Three sim­ple words on a cake … an anal­o­gy for one of my great­est inner con­flicts as an edu­ca­tor.

Thank you Jason

One morn­ing in March I stopped at Sam’s Club on my way to school to pick up a cake. A cel­e­bra­tion hon­or­ing a col­league was tak­ing place that day. I quick­ly found a love­ly one with cheery red flow­ers and asked the bak­er to add the sen­ti­ment “Thank you, Jason.” A few min­utes lat­er she hand­ed me the cake, flip­pant­ly men­tion­ing, “I’m not that great at cake writ­ing …” then adding the zinger “but, what­ev­er, it’s going to taste the same.”  I inspect­ed her hand­i­work and was tak­en aback. “Thank” appeared on the first line. “You Jason” was scrawled across the next line. My ini­tial reac­tion was a quizzi­cal look. Was she kid­ding? I real­ized she didn’t know I was a teacher and I wasn’t try­ing to be rude or dif­fi­cult, but seri­ous­ly, doesn’t every­one know that “Thank You” on one line makes more sense than “You Jason” on one line? I looked at it again. “Thank” fol­lowed by “You Jason”!? I shook my head, as a myr­i­ad of thoughts bounced around my head.

What would hap­pen if I told her the writ­ing on this cake was sim­ply not accept­able?

If I made a fuss…

  1. I might sound like a com­plain­er if I asked to speak to the man­ag­er — feel­ing embar­rassed.
  2. I might be late for school — feel­ing incon­ve­nienced.
  3. I might get the bak­er in trou­ble for a sub-par per­for­mance — feel­ing guilty.

What would hap­pen if I silent­ly but grudg­ing­ly accept­ed this con­fec­tionery mini-cri­sis?

If I didn’t make a fuss…

  1. I could arrive at school on time with a sor­ry look­ing cake — feel­ing embar­rassed.
  2. I could try scrap­ing off the messed up mes­sage — feel­ing incon­ve­nienced.
  3. I could miss an oppor­tu­ni­ty to help the bak­er improve her skills and per­for­mance — feel­ing guilty.

I was per­plexed but Min­neso­ta Nice won out (tem­porar­i­ly) as I ambiva­lent­ly put “Thank. You Jason” in my cart. How­ev­er, by the time I got to the check­out, I had a change of heart and knew I couldn’t and shouldn’t remain silent. When the check­out clerk asked me if I found every­thing all right I point­ed to the cake and said, “Well, almost … I wish I would have found bet­ter writ­ing on my cake …” She took a quick look at my boxed dilem­ma and called the man­ag­er over. In less than 10 min­utes the cake was returned to the bak­ery and then came back to me with a nice­ly aligned sen­ti­ment, along with an apol­o­gy from the bak­er. I thanked her sin­cere­ly, accept­ed the apol­o­gy, and com­pli­ment­ed her on the new ver­sion. The “icing on the cake” was receiv­ing a store gift card from the man­ag­er as an addi­tion­al token of apol­o­gy for my incon­ve­nience.

Thank you, Jason

As I wheeled my cart across the park­ing lot, I sud­den­ly expe­ri­enced an epiphany. This entire inci­dent remind­ed me of my district’s recent lan­guage arts cur­ricu­lum adop­tion (aka a new “core” basal read­ing pro­gram). The whole sit­u­a­tion was like the unac­cept­able writ­ing on the cake. The thought of kids los­ing their voice and choice in their dai­ly read­ing lives was sim­ply not okay. I could not let my feel­ings of embar­rass­ment, incon­ve­nience, or guilt stop me from speak­ing up.

So I con­tin­ued to raise the ques­tions … Are they (dis­trict deci­sion mak­ers) kid­ding? I real­ize some peo­ple don’t know just how pas­sion­ate I am about kids and lit­er­a­cy and I’m not try­ing to be rude or dif­fi­cult. But seri­ous­ly, doesn’t every­one know that there is no “mag­ic bul­let” read­ing pro­gram that will auto­mat­i­cal­ly “fix” test scores sim­ply because it is taught with fideli­ty? What about the prac­ti­tion­ers? How about invest­ing in long-term, high-qual­i­ty pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment for teach­ers? What about the stu­dents? How about meet­ing kids’ indi­vid­ual needs based on what we learn about them as we cre­ate pos­i­tive class­room com­mu­ni­ties? What about the par­ents? How about get­ting their input about a com­pa­ny that puts out ele­men­tary lev­eled texts that have been found to be “offen­sive and inac­cu­rate.”

Chances are no one is going to present me with a gift card for mak­ing a fuss this time. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I’m not expect­ing an “icing on the cake” hap­py end­ing.

Stay tuned for part 2 of “Thank. You Jason” in the next install­ment of Teach it For­ward.

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Visiting Brigadoon

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Steve and I returned ear­li­er this week from Mont­pe­lier, Ver­mont, where we spoke at the Ver­mont Col­lege of Fine Arts, specif­i­cal­ly to the alum­ni of their Writ­ing for Chil­dren and Young Adults MFA pro­gram. We were there to talk about “Mar­ket­ing as Sto­ry­telling,” with the goal of mak­ing these typ­i­cal­ly intro­vert­ed writ­ers feel more com­fort­able about tout­ing their books. Mar­ket­ing is all part of the busi­ness of writ­ing, espe­cial­ly in these times when the social media cacoph­o­ny makes it hard­er to be heard.

We’ve heard about this pro­gram at VCFA for years. A num­ber of our col­leagues are fac­ul­ty mem­bers and a num­ber of our clients have grad­u­at­ed from this col­lege. Did it live up to the many lauda­to­ry state­ments we’ve lis­tened to? The grad­u­ates speak about the school as though these are hal­lowed halls. What is it that cre­ates their reac­tion?

On our dri­ve back to Boston to take the plane home, Steve and I talked about this. We over­heard the fac­ul­ty and staff refer­ring to them­selves as Brigadoon through­out the three days we were there. Are you famil­iar with that leg­end? The city in Scot­land that appears for only one day every one hun­dred years? A step out­side of time? A haven for good and tal­ent­ed peo­ple? 

Set among the ver­dant hills of Ver­mont, the College’s build­ings are arranged around a green grass plaza, a place where dogs catch Fris­bees and foun­tains bur­ble and trees shade stu­dents who are writ­ing, read­ing, and con­vers­ing. 

Stu­dents in the WCYA pro­gram are enrolled in a low-res­i­den­cy pro­gram, mean­ing that they work in their homes and come togeth­er twice a year on the cam­pus to lis­ten to and work direct­ly with fac­ul­ty and vis­it­ing speak­ers. They get to know the oth­er stu­dents in their class, all of whom are work­ing toward the com­mon goal of hav­ing sus­tain­able pub­lish­ing careers. They spend ten days togeth­er in the sum­mer and ten days in the win­ter (anoth­er pop­u­lar time in ski­able Ver­mont) and then they fade away to their own homes, inspired once again to work intent­ly on improv­ing their writ­ing and sto­ry­telling tech­niques.

Brigadoon? Yes. The spell fell upon us, too. What a charm­ing place to learn your craft, to strive toward being the best writer you can be. We look for­ward to great books from the men and women we met dur­ing our brief sojourn. We’re con­fi­dent we’ll be read­ing them soon.

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Aimée Bissonette

Aimée BissonetteIn this inter­view with Aimée Bis­sonette, author of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Book­storm™ this monthwe asked about writ­ing and research­ing this non­fic­tion pic­ture book biog­ra­phy. 

Aimée, thank you for shar­ing your expe­ri­ences and dis­cov­er­ies with our read­ers. We’re excit­ed about this book that show­cas­es an Every­day Hero, one of America’s female light­house keep­ers.

Miss Colfax's LightWhen you were writ­ing this book, do you remem­ber edit­ing to include few­er details so the illus­tra­tor could do her work?

Yes, indeed! In fact, that’s half the joy of writ­ing pic­ture books — know­ing the illus­tra­tor will fill in so many details. Eileen Ryan Ewen’s  illus­tra­tions in this book pro­vide won­der­ful fac­tu­al mate­r­i­al. Harriet’s cloth­ing and house­hold items in the book are just like the things Har­ri­et would have worn and owned in the late 1800’s. I did not need to include descrip­tions in the text. Eileen includ­ed so much his­tor­i­cal detail in her illus­tra­tions.

How did you learn that some peo­ple in the city felt Har­ri­et “got her job only because her cousin was a U.S. Con­gress­man”?

In writ­ing the book, I did a lot of research. There were sev­er­al writ­ten accounts of Harriet’s life and the docents at the Light­house Muse­um had a trea­sure trove of infor­ma­tion about Har­ri­et. My favorite source of infor­ma­tion was Har­ri­et her­self. She kept a dai­ly jour­nal, called a log, start­ing in the 1870’s. The idea that Harriet’s cousin, Schuyler Col­fax, a U.S. Con­gress­man who lat­er became Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, helped Har­ri­et get her job was men­tioned fre­quent­ly in my sources. Specif­i­cal­ly, it is men­tioned in a 1904 Chica­go Tri­bune news­pa­per arti­cle by a reporter who inter­viewed Har­ri­et right before she retired.

Miss Colfax's Light log book

The author and illus­tra­tor chose to include depic­tions of Miss Colfax’s log book through­out the book.

There are short seg­ments of entries from Harriet’s jour­nal includ­ed through­out the book. Did you have to get per­mis­sion to use those? How did you know who to ask?

Those short seg­ments are entries from the “log” I men­tioned above. Har­ri­et main­tained that log as part of her offi­cial light­house keep­er duties so the log tech­ni­cal­ly is “owned” by the U.S. Gov­ern­ment. Her log is kept in the Nation­al Archives. I did not need to get per­mis­sion to use it because it is not pro­tect­ed by copy­right. Keep in mind, though, much of the mate­r­i­al a writer uncov­ers while doing research for a non­fic­tion book is pro­tect­ed by copy­right. Writ­ers need to be aware of this and ask per­mis­sion when they use oth­er people’s copy­right­ed work in the books they write.

Did you have to research the Light­house Board and the Light­house Inspec­tor before you could write this book?

The ref­er­ences in the book to the Light­house Board and Light­house Inspec­tor are based on Harriet’s log entries. There are many more log entries than are includ­ed in the book — 30 years’ worth, in fact! Read­ing them was tremen­dous­ly eye-open­ing. Har­ri­et referred often to the Board and the Inspec­tor in her entries. I did addi­tion­al read­ing about the Light­house Board and how light­hous­es were man­aged in the 1800’s, but most­ly relied on Harriet’s own words when writ­ing about the Board and Inspec­tor.

Oth­er than “I can do this,” there is no dia­logue in the book. Why did you choose to leave out dia­logue?

That’s a good ques­tion! I think the main rea­son is that, although I had Harriet’s log entries and her let­ters and I had a sense of what she might say and how she might say it, I didn’t know exact­ly what she would have said in a con­ver­sa­tion. I felt if I made up dia­logue, it would take away from the fac­tu­al accu­ra­cy of the book. We can’t even be 100% cer­tain that Har­ri­et would have thought or said “I can do this.” But giv­en all I learned about Har­ri­et — her dri­ve, her intel­li­gence, the hard­ships she faced — I felt it fit and I allowed that one excep­tion.

Miss Colfax's Light

What do you want read­ers to know that they didn’t know before from the text you wrote?

I want read­ers to think about Har­ri­et and oth­ers like her — the every­day heroes whose work makes life bet­ter for all of us. We don’t often think of light­house keep­ers as “heroes,” but the work Har­ri­et did was crit­i­cal to sea cap­tains and sailors and the peo­ple of Indi­ana who depend­ed on the goods brought in by ship. I also want read­ers to think about how Har­ri­et and many oth­er women of that time defied the restric­tions placed on women and did incred­i­ble things — all with­out the cool tech­nol­o­gy we have today.

Would you have cho­sen to do Harriet’s job if you were alive then?

I like to think that I would have, yes. I think there is a lit­tle bit of me in Har­ri­et. Like Har­ri­et, I love a good chal­lenge!

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Driving Past Effingham

erasersIf a road trip ever takes you past Eff­in­g­ham, Illi­nois, you won’t be able to miss the 198-foot giant cross that looms over two inter­states.

And yet, did that tow­er­ing sym­bol of her reli­gious beliefs inspire my moth­er to sing a rous­ing cho­rus of “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” as we drove past it? No, indeed.

That was because at the time, she was much too busy chortling over the name “Eff­in­g­ham.” To her, it sound­ed like a euphemism for THAT word—the one that, in her opin­ion, is the sin­gle most offen­sive utter­ance in the Eng­lish lan­guage.

Label­ing some­thing “naughty” only makes it more irre­sistible. So from the moment we first spied an Eff­in­g­ham road sign, Mom spo­rad­i­cal­ly repeat­ed the name out loud, laugh­ing anew each time. It turns out that “Eff­in­g­ham” is emi­nent­ly glee-wor­thy to at least one grand­moth­er of five.

Or maybe she’d just inhaled too many exhaust fumes that day.

One of the best ways to give stu­dent erasers a work­out is to tell stu­dents to read their writ­ing out loud. This is a sure­fire revi­sion tac­tic; read­ing some­thing out loud ensures that stu­dents will hear mis­takes they have nev­er noticed before. Or you can have stu­dents give a copy of their piece to a part­ner. As their part­ner reads it to them, the writer of the piece should lis­ten espe­cial­ly for all the places where the read­er stum­bles, paus­es too long, or looks con­fused.

These are all places where the writer will need to con­sid­er revi­sions.

Per­haps the founders of Eff­in­g­ham should have said their new town name out loud a few more times, until one of them noticed its poten­tial for pro­nun­ci­a­tion humor.

Or maybe, in the end, they sim­ply chose not to revise.

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I must go to Scotland

 

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Look at how we’re teaching nonfiction!

Melissa Stewart working with a studentAs anoth­er school year winds to a close, I’m feel­ing encour­aged about the state of non­fic­tion read­ing and writ­ing in ele­men­tary class­rooms across the coun­try.

In 2010, when the Com­mon Core State Stan­dards were intro­duced, edu­ca­tors began ask­ing me for ideas and strate­gies for imple­ment­ing the Read­ing Infor­ma­tion­al Text stan­dards. And they were hun­gry for tips and tools that they could use to teach infor­ma­tion­al writ­ing.

Melissa Stewart's websiteSo I began to think deeply about the craft of non­fic­tion writ­ing. I described my evolv­ing insights and obser­va­tions on my blog and pro­vid­ed resources on my web­site and pin­ter­est pages.

Teach­ers, school librar­i­ans, read­ing spe­cial­ists, and lit­er­a­cy coör­di­na­tors appre­ci­at­ed what I was doing. They used my resources. They emailed me with ques­tions. They asked me to par­tic­i­pate in Twit­ter chats. And they invit­ed me to their schools. We shared ideas, and togeth­er, our under­stand­ing of non­fic­tion, espe­cial­ly expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion, grew.

Melissa Stewart in the classroom

This year I saw tan­gi­ble evi­dence that edu­ca­tors’ efforts are pay­ing off. When I vis­it­ed schools, teach­ers no longer ner­vous­ly asked me, “How can we teach non­fic­tion?” Instead, they proud­ly exclaimed, “Look at how we’re teach­ing non­fic­tion!” Then they showed me the amaz­ing projects their stu­dents had com­plet­ed.

Here are some the great ideas edu­ca­tors have shared with me.

Non­fic­tion Smack­down!
Mrs. Par­adis, teacher-librar­i­an
Plymp­ton Ele­men­tary School, Waltham, MA

Stu­dents in grades 3–5 read two non­fic­tion books on the same top­ic. Then they eval­u­ate and com­pare the two titles, record­ing their think­ing on a work­sheet like this one. When stu­dents are done, they can share their respons­es with class­mates. Or the work­sheets can be post­ed, so that oth­er stu­dents can use the infor­ma­tion to help them make book choic­es.

March Madness

March Mad­ness Non­fic­tion
Mrs. Moody, instruc­tion­al coach
Williams Ele­men­tary School, Oak­land, ME

Dur­ing the month of March, stu­dents in every grade lev­el par­tic­i­pat­ed in class­room read-alouds of six­teen non­fic­tion pic­ture books. Then the chil­dren vot­ed on their favorites. Here’s more info about this fun, whole-school activ­i­ty.

Text Fea­ture Posters
Mrs. Teany, kinder­garten teacher
Memo­r­i­al Ele­men­tary School, Med­field, MA

After read­ing a vari­ety of age-appro­pri­ate books writ­ten by me, K-2 stu­dents cre­at­ed fab­u­lous text fea­ture posters, using the ones in my books as men­tor texts. Take a look at these ter­rif­ic exam­ples.

A caption and labels highlighting a butterfly’s body parts.

A cap­tion and labels high­light­ing a butterfly’s body parts.

Hurricane Watch

Labels on a grip­ping draw­ing of a hur­ri­cane.

Dragonfly Zoom bubble

A “zoom bub­ble” show­ing a close-up view of a dragonfly’s head next to a com­plete body image with very col­or­ful wings.

Poisonous

Com­par­ing a frog and toad, high­light­ing that frogs have teeth but toads don’t. (top) Fact box­es with infor­ma­tion about two frogs, one is poi­so­nous and one isn’t. (bot­tom)

You can see more sam­ples in this fun video cre­at­ed by Mrs. Gro­den, the teacher-librar­i­an at Memo­r­i­al Ele­men­tary School.

Text Struc­ture Swap
Fourth grade teach­ing team
Kennedy Ele­men­tary School, Bil­ler­i­ca, MA

After read­ing No Mon­keys, No Choco­late, the stu­dents made book maps to get a stronger sense of the archi­tec­ture of the main text, which has what I call a cumu­la­tive sequence struc­ture (my men­tor texts were tra­di­tion­al cumu­la­tive tales, such as The House that Jack Built and I Know an Old Lady Who Swal­lowed a Fly.)

Then each child chose one exam­ple from the text and rewrote it with a cause and effect text struc­ture.  What a great idea!

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Exper­i­ment­ing with Text Struc­tures
Sec­ond grade teach­ing team
Wealthy Ele­men­tary School, East Grand Rapid, MI

Image-L_260pxWhile grow­ing bean plants, stu­dents read a wide vari­ety of age-appro­pri­ate non­fic­tion books about plants and plant growth. Then each child wrote about the beans using the text struc­ture of his or her choice. The range of sam­ples includ­ed using:

  • sequence struc­ture to describe their plant’s growth sequence.
  • com­pare and con­trast struc­ture to explain the dif­fer­ences they observed between their seed and seeds placed in low-light con­di­tions or deprived of water. 
  • cause and effect struc­ture to describe how low light or lack of water affect­ed seeds.
  • how-to struc­ture to explain how stu­dents cared for their seed.
  • descrip­tion struc­ture to doc­u­ment the appear­ance of their plant with metic­u­lous atten­tion to detail.

Wow! I was blown away.

Rad­i­cal Revi­sion!
Kennedy Ele­men­tary School
Bil­ler­i­ca, MA

As teach­ers lis­tened to me describe the 10-year process of revis­ing No Mon­keys, No Choco­late, they hatched a plan for a project I love. They’re asked first graders to write a piece of non­fic­tion. Next year, when the stu­dents are in sec­ond grade, teach­ers will share the No Mon­keys, No Choco­late Revi­sion Time­line on my web­site and ask the chil­dren to revise the piece they wrote in first grade. Good idea, right? But it gets even bet­ter. Both drafts will be placed in a fold­er, and the stu­dents will revise the piece again in third, fourth, and fifth grade.

Imag­ine how dif­fer­ent the final piece will be from the orig­i­nal! It will allow chil­dren to see tan­gi­ble evi­dence of their growth as writ­ers and give them a true sense of how long it can take to write a book.

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Authen­tic Illus­tra­tion
K-2 teach­ers, Mid­dle Gate Ele­men­tary School
New­town, CT

As teach­ers lis­tened me describe the process of mak­ing When Rain Falls, they came up with a great idea. After stu­dents have writ­ten non­fic­tion about a top­ic of their choice, chil­dren in anoth­er class at the same grade lev­el will illus­trate the text. Then the orig­i­nal writ­ers will cri­tique the artists’ work. Did they make any fac­tu­al errors in their draw­ings? This activ­i­ty mim­ics the process non­fic­tion authors go through when they review sketch­es cre­at­ed by an illus­tra­tor.

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Sci­ence and Sto­ries Lab­o­ra­to­ry
Ms. Beech­er, Lit­er­a­cy Coör­di­na­tor
Pasade­na (CA) Uni­fied School Dis­trict

Using Per­fect Pairs: Using Fic­tion & Non­fic­tion Pic­ture Books to Teach Life Sci­ence as a guide, Ms. Beech­er worked with the staff at Jack­son STEM Dual Lan­guage Mag­net Ele­men­tary School to design an inno­v­a­tive Sci­ence and Sto­ries Lab­o­ra­to­ry that immersed stu­dents in a fab­u­lous mul­ti-week adven­ture of read­ing, writ­ing, and explor­ing. Take a look at this fun video to see some of the high­lights.

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Like teach­ers all across Amer­i­ca, I’m more than ready for sum­mer break. But I’m also look­ing for­ward to see­ing even more ter­rif­ic ideas for teach­ing infor­ma­tion­al read­ing and writ­ing next year. It’s a great time for non­fic­tion!

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Skinny Dip with April Halprin Wayland

April Halprin WaylandToday we wel­come author and edu­ca­tor April Hal­prin Way­land to Bookol­o­gy. Her most recent pic­ture book, More Than Enough, is a sto­ry about Passover. April was one of nine Instruc­tors of the Year hon­ored by the UCLA Exten­sion Writ­ers’ Pro­gram, Cre­ative Writ­ing.

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

I would LOVE to have cof­fee (one-shot lat­te with extra soy, extra foam) with Crock­ett John­son, author/illustrator of Harold and the Pur­ple Cray­on but most notably for me, author/illustrator of Barn­a­by, a com­ic strip that ran dur­ing WWII (actu­al­ly 1942–1952). I think of it as the pre­de­ces­sor of Calvin and Hobbes. Barn­a­by stars five-year-old Barn­a­by Bax­ter and his fairy god­fa­ther Jac­k­een J. O’Malley. Mr. O’Malley con­tin­u­al­ly gets Bar­ney into trou­ble. It’s bril­liant.

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

You’re jok­ing, right—one book? I’ll tell you right this very minute what books (plur­al) I rec­om­mend. But ask me in half an hour and my list will be com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent.

Favorite city to vis­it?

NYC! And Poipu, Kauai! And let’s not for­get Lon­don, for heaven’s sake. And any­where my hus­band, my son, or my best two friends are.

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

One August when I was nine or ten, I found a raft by the Feath­er Riv­er, which ran by our farm. I repaired it (I don’t remem­ber if an adult helped me or not), then climbed aboard and lay back. The next month, at the begin­ning of the school year, my teacher asked us to choose a word and define it by writ­ing about some­thing that hap­pened that sum­mer. I wrote about that hot sum­mer day on the riv­er. My word? Bliss.

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

Like my favorite books, this will change in the next half hour. For right this minute it would involve my hus­band, our lanky, knuck­le-brained dog, Eli, our son and his girl­friend, hik­ing, bik­ing, mead­ows, forests, and arriv­ing at a dif­fer­ent bed-and-break­fast each evening with farm-fresh, just-har­vest­ed food for din­ner, a down quilt each night, and a one-shot lat­te with extra soy, extra foam each morn­ing. 🙂

April Halprin Wayland in the classroom

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

I ask myself a cen­tral, touch­stone ques­tion: Will this action or thought help me to like myself?

So, for exam­ple, each day I might ask myself: Should I say yes to this invi­ta­tion to speak? Should I eat this whole bag of (fill in the blank)? Should I spend an extra half-hour with this per­son, even though I have a pile of work at home? Should I go to this polit­i­cal gath­er­ing? Should I vol­un­teer to help put on an event? Should I skip med­i­ta­tion (or exer­cise or walk­ing the dog) today? Should I pick up that piece of trash I just passed? Do I real­ly need to eat the whole jar? Should I floss my teeth? Should I work on this poem or this book? Should I go to a meet­ing tonight? Should I turn off the com­put­er and spend time with my hus­band, who just got home from work?

If I ask myself that ques­tion, the answer is always clear. I may not choose to act on the obvi­ous answer, but if I do, I feel more con­tent.

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Mon­key and Eli read poet­ry togeth­er.

Your hope for the world?

That we will be kind to each oth­er.

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Bookstorm™: Miss Colfax’s Light

Bookmap Miss Colfax's Light

 

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to fea­ture Miss Colfax’s Light as our June book selec­tion, in which author Aimée Bis­sonette and illus­tra­tor Eileen Ryan Ewen tell the fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry of a woman who served as the Michi­gan City Light­house keep­er from 1861 to 1904. Cap­tains and nav­i­ga­tors on Lake Michi­gan relied on her light­house to keep them from founder­ing on the rocks or crash­ing onto the shore in rough weath­er.

Every day heroes. That’s how author Aimée Bis­sonette refers to the peo­ple in his­to­ry who intrigue her. She trav­eled to research her cho­sen sub­ject, Har­ri­et Col­fax, talk­ing with peo­ple in Indi­ana who could proud­ly pro­vide infor­ma­tion. Miss Col­fax faith­ful­ly kept a log, so Aimée was able to read about Harriet’s work and her dai­ly life in Harriet’s own words. Illus­tra­tor Eileen Ryan Ewen paint­ed a wealth of accu­rate, time-appro­pri­ate details into the pages of the book, help­ing read­ers visu­al­ly under­stand the time in which Miss Col­fax lived. We think you’ll be inspired by Miss Colfax’s sto­ry as much as we are.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books, arti­cles, and videos for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. This month, we’re focus­ing on books about Amer­i­can light­hous­es, light­house keep­ers, and biogra­phies of female heroes. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Aimée Bis­sonette on her web­site. The illustrator’s web­site will show you more of Eileen Ryan Ewen’s port­fo­lio.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

About Light­hous­es. For back­ground infor­ma­tion as you pre­pare to excite stu­dents, library patrons, or your fam­i­ly mem­bers about Amer­i­can light­hous­es, these books will help you locate these bea­cons of safe­ty, learn more about their oper­a­tion, and under­stand the sci­ence and math that are an inher­ent part of the work­ings of light­hous­es around the coun­try.

Brave and Extra­or­di­nary Women. From pic­ture book biogra­phies to short-arti­cle antholo­gies, you’ll find a vari­ety of inspir­ing sto­ries from oceanog­ra­ph­er Sylvia Ear­le to edu­ca­tion­al activist Malala Yousafzai.

How Light­hous­es Work. From the Fres­nel lens to the Chance Broth­ers engi­neer­ing to the improve­ments in fuel, increas­es in the range of light, and Edison’s inven­tion of the light­bulb, you’ll find books to inform your pre­sen­ta­tions and dis­cus­sions about Miss Colfax’s Light.

Light­house Books. There are a num­ber of good books to pair with our fea­tured Book­storm. Com­pare the true sto­ry of Miss Col­fax with that of Abbie Burgess, who took her light­house keep­er father’s place dur­ing an ice storm, or the Maine Fly­ing San­ta pro­gram, or the Lit­tle Red Light­house near the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge in New York City, among many oth­ers.

Pro­tect­ing Our Water­ways. In addi­tion to our light­house keep­ers, the U.S. Coast Guard is on duty pro­tect­ing water trav­el­ers and ship­ping ves­sels dur­ing all types of weath­er and in haz­ardous sit­u­a­tions. These books will extend read­ers’ under­stand­ing of the work done by high­ly skilled patrols.

Water. Before and after read­ing Miss Colfax’s Light, it’s a good time to have a dis­cus­sion about the impor­tance of water in our lives. From our Great Lakes, to our coastal waters, to the rivers and lakes through­out our coun­try, to the water that falls from the sky, to the water that is pumped up from under­ground aquifers, water and water con­ser­va­tion are essen­tial to our every­day lives. 

Whether you choose to focus on every day heroes, water, sci­ence, Great Lakes com­merce, or inspi­ra­tion women, there are many direc­tions you can go and many sub­jects you can sup­port with Miss Colfax’s Light.

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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The Sandwich Swap

The Sandwich SwapNor­mal­ly, I spurn pic­ture books writ­ten by celebri­ties, be they actors or roy­al­ty or what have you. If it’s a per­son in the head­lines, I quite assume they could not pos­si­bly write a wor­thy pic­ture book. The only excep­tion on my shelves, I believe (and I real­ize there are oth­er excep­tions! Feel free to leave titles in the com­ments.) is The Sand­wich Swap by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdul­lah with Kel­ly Depuc­chio, illus­trat­ed by Tri­cia Tusa.

I adore this book and have read it to many groups of kids. It’s about two best friends, Salma and Lily, who do most every­thing together—they draw, they swing, they jump rope. And every day they eat lunch together—Lilly always has a peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich on squishy white bread, and Salma always has a hum­mus sand­wich on pita bread. Secret­ly, they each find their friend’s choice of sand­wich mys­ti­fy­ing. Gooey peanut paste? Ew Gross! Icky chick­pea paste? Ew yuck! But they don’t say this to each oth­er.

Until one day they do. Lily blurts out her feel­ings about Salma’s sand­wich.

Salma frowned. She looked down at the thin, soft bread, and she thought of her beau­ti­ful, smil­ing moth­er as she care­ful­ly cut Salma’s sand­wich in two neat halves that morn­ing. 

The next line is the most bril­liant in the book, I think: Her hurt feel­ings turned to mad.

Isn’t that how it goes? Once, when I read this in sto­ry time a lit­tle boy smacked his fore­head with his hands and said, “Oh no!”

Oh no, is right—Salma snaps back with hurt­ful words about the gross­ness and offen­sive smell of Lily’s sand­wich.

Lily looked sur­prised. She sniffed the thick, squishy bread, and she thought of her dad in his sil­ly apron, whistling as he cut Lily’s sand­wich into two per­fect tri­an­gles that morn­ing.

Well, the dis­agree­ment is per­son­al and hurt­ful, and the friends part ways after a few more hurt­ful exchanges. No more pic­ture draw­ing, swing­ing, and jump rop­ing. They don’t eat togeth­er, they don’t talk…and the pic­tures are exquisite—two deflat­ed girls with­out their best friend.

Meanwhile…the sto­ry spread and every­one in the lunch­room began to choose sides around the peanut but­ter and hum­mus sand­wich­es.

Pret­ty soon the rude insults had noth­ing at all to do with peanut but­ter or hum­mus.

Sandwich SwapThat’s so dumb!” said one out­raged girl I was read­ing to.  I nod­ded vague­ly and turned the page to the two-page spread of a food fight right there in the lunch­room. “See!” said the girl. She held her head as if she had the worst headache.

This is how wars start, peo­ple! Inter­est­ing­ly, every time I look for this book on my shelf I’m look­ing for the title “The Sand­wich War” and am then remind­ed that the actu­al title is more…peaceful. As is the book in the end.

Salma and Lily come to their sens­es as pud­ding cups and car­rot sticks whip past their heads. They’re required to help clean up the mess and they’re sent to the principal’s office, as well. Again, the illus­tra­tions car­ry the feelings—two small girls, made small­er by all that has hap­pened.

The next day, brave Salma sits down across from Lily at lunch. In return, Lily works up the courage to ask Salma if she’d like to try her peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich. A swap occurs, as well as glad excla­ma­tions of the yum­mi­ness of each oth­ers sand­wich­es.

The girls hatch a plan, which is depict­ed entire­ly in a gor­geous pull-out three page spread.

Sandwich Swap

When I read this to kids, we looks at all the flags and try to iden­ti­fy them. We won­der what food was brought to rep­re­sent each coun­try. I’ve always want­ed to have such a potluck after the book, but although I’ve been to such potlucks, I nev­er seem to have the book with me at the right time. Per­haps I just need to car­ry it around in my purse… Or cre­ate such an event!

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Gardening and Farming Delights

 

Jack­ie: At last—we made it to spring and all the usu­al accou­trements have shown up—lilacs, vio­lets, the smell of apple blos­soms, and thoughts of sprout­ing seeds and grow­ing veg­eta­bles.  How could we not look at pic­ture books about gar­dens and farm­ing this month?

Miss Jaster's GardenI have to con­fess, Phyl­lis, I did not know of Miss Jaster’s Gar­den, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by N. M. Bodeck­er and pub­lished in 1972. I’m so glad to meet Miss Jaster and Hedgie the hedge­hog whom she treats with a bowl of milk each night. “But hedge­hogs being the shape they are, and Miss Jaster being a lit­tle near­sight­ed, as often as not she put the saucer where the hedgehog’s head wasn’t. And Hedgie—so as not to cause distress—“politely dipped his tail in the milk and pre­tend­ed to drink.” 

That’s not the only prob­lem caused by Miss Jaster’s poor vision. When she is scat­ter­ing flower seeds in her gar­den she does not see Hedgie and plants seeds on him too.  “…after a while he began feel­ing rest­less.” Hedgie is sprout­ing. Hedgie blooms! And feels like danc­ing. “Tomor­row I’ll be as qui­et as an earth­worm,” thought Hedgie, “but not today. Today is the great­est day of my life. There’ll nev­er be anoth­er like it!” When Miss Jaster sees flow­ers danc­ing in the yard, she yells, “STOP THIEF!”  and poor Hedgie, fright­ened and cha­grined, runs off. Even­tu­al­ly the Chief Con­sta­ble, with a capa­ble bit of sleuthing, finds Hedgie and brings him back—“a weary, wor­ried, bedrag­gled lit­tle ani­mal, down on his luck.” Miss Jaster feels bad at hav­ing giv­en the hedge­hog (“flow­er­hog”) such a scare. And they take break­fast togeth­er every morning—“And there was noth­ing but peace and sun­shine and a touch of Sweet William.”

I love the tone of this book—Hedgie is up for the adven­ture of being a walk­ing flower gar­den. The con­sta­ble is thought­ful, “Did you by chance, hap­pen to notice how many legs these flow­ers had when they made their get­away? In round num­bers?” In round num­bers! And I love the characters—the hedge­hog who’s so thought­ful he pre­tends to drink with his tail so as not to upset Miss Jaster. And kind Miss Jaster who doesn’t mind shar­ing her gar­den with a hedge­hog and is actu­al­ly pleased when she real­ized that she also shared flower seeds with him.

This sto­ry has a lot of text. But the humor is so won­der­ful and the char­ac­ters just the right degree of eccen­tric, I think it would be enjoyed  by the five to nine­ty crowd. What do you think?

Miss Jaster's Garden

Phyl­lis: I didn’t know this book, either, but I also love it. The dou­ble-page spread map at the begin­ning of the book is a lit­tle sto­ry all in itself, as good maps often are. From Hedgie’s cor­ner to the bird­bath (“For ancient inscrip­tion, see page 17”) to Miss J’s wick­er chair and Sun­rise Hill (“Ele­va­tion 9’”) Bodeck­er has cre­at­ed a whole world in art as well as text.

As some­one who has become near­er and near­er sight­ed my whole life, I com­plete­ly under­stand how Miss Jaster might make such a mis­take. And who wouldn’t want a walk­ing flower gar­den? Who wouldn’t want to be a flower gar­den? I love how the end­ing brings mutu­al sat­is­fac­tion to Miss Jaster and to Hedgie, who have always been solic­i­tous of each other—each morn­ing they share “a leisure­ly break­fast … and a walk along the beach, fol­lowed by a small but per­sis­tent but­ter­fly.”

Cer­tain­ly the text is much longer than many more recent pic­ture books, but what won­der­ful details! When Miss Jaster goes out to plant she does so in “a pur­ple morn­ing-dress and stur­dy shoes” with a “large straw hat, trimmed with corn­flow­ers on her head,” pulling “a small four-wheeled wag­on full of gar­den tools and flower seeds.” Like a gar­den in full bloom, the sto­ry is lush with lan­guage.

I love, too, how Hedgie, as he dis­cov­ers he’s sprout­ing, won­ders which he will be:  “’Flower bed or veg­etable gar­den? Veg­etable gar­den or flower bed?’” until one day, “’I’m in bloom!’ cried Hedgie.”

Grandpa's Too Good GardenJack­ie:  I call James Steven­son the writer with the humor cure. He makes me laugh. And Grandpa’s Too Good Gar­den  is one of his cur­ing-est. Mary Ann and Louie are dis­ap­point­ed with their gar­den­ing. Louis says, “We dig and rake and plant and water and weed—and noth­ing ever comes up. Our gar­den is no good.” Grand­pa remains calm and tells them he once had a gar­den that was “a lit­tle too good.” There are some won­der­ful car­toon-y frames of Grand­pa and Wainey in the gar­den (both as kids with lit­tle mus­tach­es) but the sto­ry real­ly begins when Father throws his Mir­a­cle Grow hair ton­ic out the win­dow. It spills into the gar­den and gets rained in. Before Wainey even wakes up a vine snatch­es him up and almost out the win­dow. The gar­den was taller than the house. Giant cater­pil­lars came to eat the giant plants. The plants con­tin­ued to grow and Grand­pa got “snagged on a weath­er vane above our roof.” Grand­pa is in trouble…only to be res­cued by Wainey on a giant but­ter­fly. This hap­py end­ing is accom­pa­nied by Wainey show­ing up to offer Grand­pa and the kids some ice cream. I love the exag­ger­a­tion, the total silli­ness of it.

Phyl­lis: Gar­den­ers need patience, but not all of us wait qui­et­ly. When the seeds don’t grow quick­ly  enough, Wainey and Grand­pa encour­age them. “’Hel­lo, beans? Toma­toes? Are you down there? Give us a sign!’ ‘Hel­lo, car­rumps?” The for­tu­itous hair ton­ic reminds me of old radio sci­ence fic­tion shows. “You threw the growth for­mu­la out back?” the sci­en­tist asks his assis­tant just before the now-giant earth­worms come bang­ing on the door. There’s a sat­is­fy­ing cir­cu­lar­i­ty to Grandpa’s gar­den sto­ry when one of the giant but­ter­flies that meta­mor­phed from the giant cater­pil­lars res­cues both broth­ers. Won­der­ful wack­i­ness!

Farmer DuckJack­ie: Farmer Duck by Mar­tin Wad­dell (illus­trat­ed by Helen Oxen­bury) is set on a farm and Farmer Duck does farm work so we are includ­ing it. It’s all about friends. And friends are impor­tant to gar­den­ers. Who else would take our extra zuc­chi­ni? or help us pull weeds? or share plants with us?

This is such an exu­ber­ant telling. Was there ever a lazier farmer than the human farmer who stays in bed all day, yelling to the duck, “How goes the work?” Farmer Duck always responds the same way, “Quack.” This goes on day after day. While the lazy farmer eats bon bons, the duck saws wood, spades the gar­den, wash­es dish­es, irons clothes. The oth­er ani­mals can’t stand to see their friend work so hard. One night they meet in the barn and make a plan. “’Moo!’ said the cow./’Baa!’ said the sheep./ ‘Cluck!’ said the hens. And that was the plan.” 

When they car­ry out their plan the lazy farmer runs away and nev­er returns. “…moo­ing and baaing and cluck­ing and quack­ing, they all set to work on their farm.” We just can’t help but think hay will be sweet­er, corn will be taller, and there may be danc­ing in the barn.

Farmer Duck

Phyl­lis: I adore this book, text and art. The duck looks wea­ri­er and wea­ri­er, and who wouldn’t want to be com­fort­ed by such car­ing hens and the oth­er ani­mals as well?  And I love how the ani­mals that the duck tend­ed to at the begin­ning of the sto­ry, includ­ing car­ry­ing a sheep from the hill, all pitch in to help at the end as “moo­ing and baaing and cluck­ing and quack­ing, they all set to work on their farm.” Ani­mals, unite! The fruits of the labor belong to the labor­ers!

When the Root Children Wake UpJack­ie:  I would be remiss not to men­tion your name­sake book, Phyl­lis—When The Root Chil­dren Wake Up, retold by Audrey Wood and illus­trat­ed by Ned Bit­tinger. It’s a sto­ry of sea­sons. A robin comes to the win­dow of Mother’s Earth’s under­ground “home” and calls, “Root Chil­dren! Root Chil­dren …Wake up! It’s time for the mas­quer­ade.” The chil­dren awak­en the bugs and paint them and head out for the mas­quer­ade. But it’s not too long before “Cousin Sum­mer slips his knap­sack on his back and quick­ly strides over the hills and far away.” Time for Uncle Fall. And soon it will be time for anoth­er winter’s nap. 

There’s a lot about this sto­ry that I like—the cir­cle of sea­sons, paint­ing the bugs. I’m a lit­tle put off by the very real­is­tic draw­ings of chil­dren as the “Root Chil­dren.” I’m not sure why. Maybe because they seem too real to be sleep­ing under­ground all win­ter. Makes me feel  claus­tro­pho­bic. Maybe I’m just grumpy. I’d love to know what oth­ers think.

When the Root Children Wake UpPhyl­lis: It’s true that what caught my eye about When the Root Chil­dren Wake Up was my name in the title, but I also love the sto­ry and art in the ver­sion I have, a reprint of the 1906 Sybelle Olf­fers book  first pub­lished in Ger­many and repub­lished in Eng­lish in 1988 by Green Tiger Press. The charm­ing­ly old-fash­ioned orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions remind me of books I loved as a child and include a joy­ous spread of the root chil­dren emerg­ing above ground car­ry­ing flow­ers and grass­es “into the love­ly world.” Inter­est­ing how art can change the per­cep­tion of a sto­ry!

Lola Plants a GardenA gar­den book for the very young is Lola Plants a Gar­den by Anna McQuinn, illus­trat­ed by Ros­aline Beard­shaw. The straight­for­ward sto­ry tells how Lola loves the poem “Mary Mary Quite Con­trary” and  wants to plant a gar­den of her own. She and Mom­my read books about gar­dens, make a list of Lola’s favorite flow­ers, buy seeds, and plant them. While she waits for them to grow, Lola makes their own book about flow­ers, strings beads and shells and bells, and makes a lit­tle Mary Mary doll. Lola’s patience and work are reward­ed as the flow­ers grow big and “Open toward the sun.” Dad­dy helps her hang her bells, her friends come to her gar­den to eat Mommy’s peas and straw­ber­ries, and Lola makes up a sto­ry for them about Mary Mary. The book con­cludes, “What kind of gar­den will Lola plant next?” Sim­ply told and sat­is­fy­ing, the book makes me want to run out and buy more pack­ets of flower seeds, then invite friends to come vis­it in the gar­den and encour­age them to grow.

Lola Plants a Garden

Jack­ie: Friends and gar­dens and the cycle of sea­sons. We are all root­ed on this earth. And that’s good to remem­ber. Let’s go plant some beans.

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Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer

Charles Gigna

Charles Ghigna (pho­to: Scott Pierce)

This month Charles Ghigna, well-known as the poet Father Goose, offers “Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer.” There is much to pon­der here, no mat­ter what your age might be, but young writ­ers espe­cial­ly will find these words of encour­age­ment to be use­ful and inspi­ra­tional. For exam­ple:

Trust
your instincts
to write.

Ques­tion
your rea­sons
not to.

How many times do you tell your­self you shouldn’t be writ­ing poet­ry? When that’s what you real­ly want to do?

Enjoy these poems and take them to heart: you, too, are a poet.

Do you teach chil­dren to write poet­ry? The stan­zas of “Dear Poet” are short gems that will give you and your stu­dents good ideas for dis­cus­sions.

Charles is a pro­lif­ic poet, pub­lish­ing books for chil­dren, teens, and adults, who lives and writes in Alaba­ma. Here are some of his recent titles.

Charles Ghigna Books

 

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