Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Pinkerton & Friends

I had a “Why in the world….?” moment the oth­er day. It was unex­pect­ed and a lit­tle strange and it was this: When I imag­ine pic­ture books that I am writ­ing and/or think­ing about writ­ing, I imag­ine very spe­cif­ic illus­tra­tions. From a very spe­cif­ic illus­tra­tor. Even though I admire the work of many illus­tra­tors. (I admire this one, too, of course.) But always, always, in my first imag­in­ing, I “pic­ture” the illus­tra­tions by Steven Kel­logg.

I love Mr. Kellogg’s work. But I love the work of a lot of illus­tra­tors and would aspire and hope for many (very dif­fer­ent) illus­tra­tors to make art to help tell my sto­ries. I can switch my imag­i­na­tion to oth­er illus­tra­tors if I think about it, but with­out think­ing about it…it’s Steven Kellogg’s art. When this real­iza­tion came to me I pulled some of his books off the shelves in my office with the ques­tion: Why is Kel­logg my default, the first one whose work I imag­ine?

All I can think is that the years 1999–2002 were what I think of as The Pinker­ton Years. You might think it strange that I can pin­point the years, but I know we were less involved with Pinker­ton (and by that I mean not read­ing Pinker­ton sto­ries on a dai­ly basis) by the time Dar­ling Daugh­ter came along late in 2002. Pri­or to that, we could hard­ly leave the house with­out a Pinker­ton sto­ry with us.

These were also the first of the allergy/asthma years—#1 Son was crit­i­cal­ly ill too much of the time, and with his doc­tors we were strug­gling to fig­ure out what was caus­ing such severe reac­tions. The only clear aller­gens were pets, and he came to under­stand first that he could not be around pup­pies or kit­ties, or any­thing else fur­ry and cud­dly and fun. A ter­ri­ble sen­tence, of course, when you are three and wheezy.

So we read a lot of books about pets, and before we read Rib­sy and Because of Winn-Dix­ie we read Pinker­ton sto­ries. A lot of Pinker­ton sto­ries. #1 Son adored Pinker­ton. Pinker­ton, a Great Dane, is pos­si­bly the most hilar­i­ous dog to ever be fea­tured in a book—he is huge and ungain­ly and always get­ting him­self in a fix. His expres­sions, his “knees and elbows,” his giant flop­pi­ness, and his curios­i­ty and giant heart make him quite a char­ac­ter.

Very quick­ly we learned to spot Kel­logg illus­tra­tions from across the library/bookstore, and pret­ty much wher­ev­er there are Kel­logg pic­tures, there are ani­mals. Not just great danes, but boa con­stric­tors, mice, cats, pigs, ducks in a row, hors­es, spaniels….. And wher­ev­er there are ani­mals, there’s a fair amount of chaos—at least in a Kel­logg book. (Arti­cles and inter­views sug­gest he has lived the fun and chaos in a home we could not have entered and lived to breathe—lots of pets!)

The detail in Kellogg’s illus­tra­tions is tremen­dous, the hilar­i­ty apt­ly con­veyed, and the sweet­ness and roller­coast­er high emo­tions of kids and Great Danes alike comes alive on the page. I could read stacks of the books in one sit­ting to my wheez­ing boy. We used them to get through neb­u­liz­er treat­ments, and to “push flu­ids,” and to encour­age rest for a kid all amped up on steroids. They were mag­i­cal and we poured over the illus­tra­tions long after the read­ing of the sto­ry was done. The med­i­cine could go down with­out much fuss as long as Pinker­ton was along.

Those were exhaust­ing, wor­ried years, and all I can think is that I some­how absorbed Steven Kellogg’s art in my sleep-deprived anx­ious state…and it’s now in my bones. Thank you, Mr. Kel­logg, for your sto­ries, your art, and your pres­ence in our family’s life. You are the default in my imag­i­na­tion and I’m grate­ful.

 

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Following The Ducklings

We have just returned from a trip to the Boston/Concord area and Maine. It was a bit of a lit­er­ary trip. Three days in Con­cord, Mass­a­chu­setts set the stage as we toured Louisa May Alcott’s house and Ralph Wal­do Emerson’s, too. We fol­lowed The Amble, which became more of A Ram­ble, between Emerson’s home and Thoreau’s cot­tage at Walden Pond. We vis­it­ed muse­ums and archives, book­shops and the library. It all made this Eng­lish major very happy—I’ve want­ed to vis­it Con­cord since my Walden obses­sion in high school.

We made sure to see The Duck­lings in Boston Pub­lic Gar­den, of course. #1 Son had refused to pose with them, as oth­er small chil­dren do, when he was four. He loved Make Way for Duck­lings, how­ev­er, and insist­ed we buy it in Boston since “we only have the library book.” So, of course, we did. (Side Note: If you don’t know the sto­ry about Robert McCloskey’s atten­tion to his art with regard to this book, check out Ani­ta Silvey’s telling of it on Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac.) Dar­ling Daugh­ter was game to pose with The Duck­lings on this trip, but she didn’t want to get in the way of the lit­tle ones who climbed all over them, so we have no pic­tures of either child with this mon­u­ment. But the mere thought of those bronze ducks makes me smile.

What I didn’t real­ize as we stood watch­ing the kids on the ducks, is that we were mere­ly start­ing our Robert McCloskey tour. Our next stop after Boston was Deer Isle, Maine, an island in Penob­scot Bay reached by a stun­ning sus­pen­sion bridge from the main­land. Deer Isle was home to Robert McCloskey, who moved to the idyl­lic island in search of peace after World War II. I had no idea, though I knew he was a Main­er, of course. (So many of my favorite writ­ers are.) Turns out, The McCloskeys raised a fam­i­ly on Deer Isle and we rec­og­nized the place from Blue­ber­ries for Sal, Time of Won­der, and One Morn­ing in Maine.

We had a love­ly stay and enjoyed perus­ing Maine authors in every library, book­store, antique store, and even one gas sta­tion. The McCloskey sec­tions were espe­cial­ly large. It was in an antique store in Ston­ing­ton that I had the delight­ful sur­prise of com­ing across the Hen­ry Reed books in the McCloskey sec­tion. I reached for Hen­ry Reed’s Babysit­ting Ser­vice as if in a dream—it was like time slowed…the sounds around me became distorted…and the movie of my life rewound itself to Parson’s Ele­men­tary school. There was the Hen­ry Reed sec­tion, right in the cor­ner where the shelves came togeth­er in our school’s library….. Hen­ry Reed, Inc., Hen­ry Reed’s Jour­ney, Hen­ry Reed’s Babysit­ting Ser­vice, Hen­ry Reed’s Big Show, Hen­ry Reed’s Think Tank—we had them all! I read them all—many times!

I’d wager I haven’t thought about Hen­ry Reed in near­ly 40 years, how­ev­er. I know I didn’t read these delight­ful books by Kei­th Robert­son with our kids—how could I not have read these with them?! Oh, how I loved Hen­ry and his friend Midge! I can’t remem­ber much about the plots of the books—I paged through Hen­ry Reed’s Babysit­ting Ser­vice stand­ing there in the store and remem­bered it vis­cer­al­ly but with almost no detail. Robert McCloskey illus­trat­ed them—and you can rec­og­nize his style imme­di­ate­ly. I have the Hen­ry Reed books all mixed in with the Ramona Quim­by books—same look and feel (dif­fer­ent illus­tra­tors, as well as authors) and sim­i­lar sto­ries about won­der­ful­ly ordi­nary kids. These books were my child­hood.

Our kids are twen­ty and almost fif­teen now. I won­der if I could con­vince them the Hen­ry Reed series would make for great porch read­ing this sum­mer…? We used to drink lemon­ade and eat pop­corn while we read books on the porch in the hot after­noons of sum­mer wait­ing for Dad to come home from work. I miss this. Maybe they do, too? I feel like I’ve left a ter­ri­ble hole in their read­ing lives by inad­ver­tant­ly skip­ping Hen­ry Reed! I shall pro­cure the books and then sug­gest it. Maybe some­one will join me out on the swing…..

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The Best Wish of All

World PizzaOnce in awhile I find a book on my read­ing pile that I’ve passed by a few times. It might be that the cov­er doesn’t make sense to me and I shuf­fle through to choose anoth­er title. Or the title might be sil­ly (in my mind) and I don’t open the book because some­thing else catch­es my inter­est. And then one day I open that book and I dis­cov­er that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cov­er. (Is there a truer tru­ism?)

This time that book is World Piz­za. It’s going to be about the dif­fer­ent kinds of piz­za around the world, right? It is not. There’s a clever play on words in the title which I wouldn’t have dis­cov­ered if I hadn’t opened the book and read it. (Note to self: open the book and read it!)

You see, World Piz­za is a love­ly book. It’s a tiny bit sil­ly, enough to keep those being read to smil­ing, but it’s real­ly a book about peace (I can’t fig­ure out how to rec­om­mend this book with­out giv­ing that away). A moth­er makes a wish and sneezes, result­ing in piz­zas for every­one, every­where. It’s a book about what we have in com­mon and how that brings us togeth­er and how that’s more impor­tant than what keeps us apart.

Cece Meng’s sto­ry is told with the right kind of words, words that tell the sto­ry as it should be told, which are words that get the read­er think­ing. And smil­ing. They are not preachy words. Not at all. It’s a hap­py book and we all need hap­py books.

Ellen Shi’s illus­tra­tions of a diverse pop­u­la­tion of char­ac­ters around the world eat­ing and cel­e­brat­ing piz­za, as well as piz­za com­bi­na­tions you’ve nev­er con­sid­ered before, open the reader’s mind to all the pos­si­bil­i­ties of World Piz­za. They are some­times fun­ny and some­times gen­tle in all the right ways, cre­at­ing a sto­ry that leaves an impres­sion. And her col­or palette is yum­my.

I can eas­i­ly see this book being asked for again and again. Who doesn’t want to hear a sto­ry about piz­za for every­one? And who doesn’t want to be reas­sured about the good­ness in this world we live in?

World Piz­za
writ­ten by Cece Meng
illus­trat­ed by Ellen Shi
Sterling’s Children’s Books, 2017

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Swerving Over the Line

St. Peters Church in Rome, Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman

Pho­to by Car­ol M. High­smith

Dur­ing one of my vis­its to see my Alaba­ma brother’s fam­i­ly, we took a road trip to the Ave Maria Grot­to. That’s where a Bene­dic­tine Monk named Broth­er Joseph Zoet­tl built over 125 Mini-Me ver­sions of some of the great­est build­ings of the world.

Artists are often inspired by some­one else’s mas­ter­pieces.  But in work­ing with young writ­ers, I’ve found that it’s easy to mis­tak­en­ly swerve over the cen­ter line from the safe­ty of inspi­ra­tion into the dan­ger of pla­gia­rism (or trade- mark infringe­ment). Not to men­tion the ques­tions that arise when you’re teach­ing “cre­ative” writ­ing and the stu­dent in front of you has bor­rowed from anoth­er writer’s cre­ative­ness.

I’m not talk­ing about sneaky kids try­ing to get out of doing their work. I’m talk­ing about kids who are inno­cent­ly inspired by their favorite books, movies, or video games, and who are excit­ed to extend these adven­tures. And kids aren’t the only ones to do this. Writ­ers of all ages have post­ed hun­dreds of thou­sands of “fan fic­tion” sto­ries online. But where does “pay­ing homage” end and “tak­ing some­one else’s ideas” begin?

I don’t have a “one size fits all” answer about how to han­dle this sit­u­a­tion in the class­room. When the ques­tion comes up as part of a group dis­cus­sion, I take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to address the issue of pla­gia­rism.

When the ques­tion comes up when I’m read­ing an indi­vid­ual student’s sto­ry, I try to per­son­al­ize my approach. Some kids, I know, are ready to be chal­lenged to invent char­ac­ters and a set­ting “from scratch.” Oth­ers strug­gle might­i­ly to come up with their own ideas. Some­times giv­ing them per­mis­sion to bor­row a famil­iar char­ac­ter is the very thing that allows them to tru­ly engage in the act of writ­ing for the first time—rather than freez­ing up com­plete­ly. In those cas­es, I have a lit­tle chat with them about how impor­tant it is that they don’t just “steal” some­body else’s work. But I do some­times allow them to take inspi­ra­tion or even char­ac­ters from their favorite sto­ries and then write their own adven­ture using them. My hope is that in doing so, they’ll learn how to do it com­plete­ly on their own the next time around.

I think Broth­er Joseph would see the whole thing as an act of homage rather than a case of out­right theft.

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Skinny Dip with Suzanne Costner

Suzanne Costner

Suzanne Cost­ner

We’re thrilled to Skin­ny Dip with out­stand­ing edu­ca­tor Suzanne Cost­ner, Thanks to Suzanne for answer our ques­tions dur­ing her very busy end-of-the-school-year hours.

Who was your favorite teacher in grades K-7 and why?

My favorite teacher was Mrs. Hill in 4th grade. She read to us every day after lunch: Stu­art Lit­tle, Where the Red Fern Grows, James and the Giant Peach. She intro­duced us to so many awe­some writ­ers that I still go back and reread.

When did you first start read­ing books?

I can’t remem­ber a time that I didn’t read. I still have my first lit­tle cloth book that I chewed on as a baby. My grand­moth­er had a set of Dr. Seuss books on the shelf and read them to me when­ev­er I stayed with her. I was read­ing on my own before I start­ed kinder­garten.

Suzanne’s first book, a Real Cloth book.

Your favorite day­dream?

In my day­dream, I am liv­ing in a lit­tle cab­in in the woods with my dogs and my books. There is a lit­tle stream gur­gling along near­by and sun­light fil­ter­ing through the trees.

Din­ner par­ty at your favorite restau­rant with peo­ple liv­ing or dead: where is it and who’s on the guest list?

The Restau­rant at the End of the Uni­verse with C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursu­la K. Le Guin, Anne McCaf­frey, Andre Nor­ton, Isaac Asi­mov, and Lloyd Alexan­der. My sis­ter and my nieces would have to be there, too.

All-time favorite book?

The Princess Bride—chas­es, escapes, sword­fights, tor­ture, pirates, giants, mag­ic, true love…

Favorite break­fast or lunch as a kid?

My favorite lunch was a peanut but­ter sand­wich, and I always asked for “a lid on it,” because I didn’t like open-faced sand­wich­es.

What’s your least favorite chore?

It’s prob­a­bly laun­dry, because the wash­ing machine is in the base­ment and it means mul­ti­ple trips up and down the stairs.

What’s your favorite part of start­ing a new project?

Bounc­ing my ideas off my friends and hav­ing them sug­gest ways to make things even bet­ter.

Bare­foot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Bare­foot, and either read­ing a book or lis­ten­ing to an audio book.

Toy RocketWhen are you your most cre­ative?

When I am writ­ing grant appli­ca­tions to fund more STEM activ­i­ties for my stu­dents. I can think of all sorts of ways to tie rock­ets, robots, and gad­gets into lit­er­a­cy instruc­tion.

Your best mem­o­ry of your school library?

I was a library aide in mid­dle school and loved being in the library and help­ing to get the new books ready for the shelf. That “new book” smell when the box was opened should be a sig­na­ture per­fume or cologne.

Favorite fla­vor of ice cream?

O’Charley’s Caramel Pie ice cream from May­field Dairies (the best of both worlds)

What I'm reading nowBook on your bed­side table right now?

Astro­physics for Peo­ple in a Hur­ry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and The Unbreak­able Code by Jen­nifer Cham­b­liss Bert­man.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I have a brain that holds onto triv­ia, so I can come up with a song or movie quote for almost any occa­sion. Some­times at fam­i­ly din­ners we all just speak in movie quotes.

CowgirlYour favorite toy as a child …

I had a lit­tle wood­en rid­ing toy that looked like a giraffe. I rode it up and down the walk behind my grand­par­ents’ house. I also had a cow­girl out­fit, com­plete with boots and hat that I loved to wear.

Best inven­tion in the last 200 years?

Dig­i­tal books so that I can go on vaca­tion with­out tak­ing a sec­ond suit­case just for all my read­ing mate­r­i­al.

Favorite artist? Why?

I love space and stars, so Van Gogh’s Star­ry Night is my favorite paint­ing. I don’t real­ly have one favorite artist.

Which is worse: spi­ders or snakes?

Spiders—because my sis­ter Jamie hates them and I have to res­cue her from them.

What’s your best con­tri­bu­tion to tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment?

Recy­cling. espe­cial­ly trad­ing in books at the used book­store, or using CFL bulbs in my read­ing lamps.

Why do you feel hope­ful for humankind?

Because kids still fall in love with books. If they can lose them­selves in char­ac­ters and set­tings that are dif­fer­ent from their every­day world, then they can learn tol­er­ance and kind­ness.

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Why Students Copy Their Research Sources,
and How to Break the Habit

ResearchBy third grade, near­ly all stu­dents know what pla­gia­rism is and under­stand that it’s both immoral and ille­gal, and yet, again and again, we catch them copy­ing their sources.

Why don’t stu­dents express ideas and infor­ma­tion in their own words? Because they haven’t tak­en the time or don’t have the skills to ana­lyze and syn­the­size the mate­r­i­al they’ve col­lect­ed so that they can make their own mean­ing. In oth­er words, they haven’t found a per­son­al con­nec­tion to the con­tent, and that’s a crit­i­cal step in the non­fic­tion pre-writ­ing process.

Here are some ideas to help stu­dents break the habit:

Nix the All-About Books

The best non­fic­tion writ­ing hap­pens when stu­dents have to dig deep and think crit­i­cal­ly, so ask­ing them to write All-About books, which present a broad overview of a top­ic, is just set­ting them up for fail­ure. When stu­dents choose a nar­row top­ic that they find fas­ci­nat­ing, they’ll have to mine their sources, col­lect­ing tiny nuggets of gold here and there. This fun quest will fuel their pas­sion for the top­ic and result in engag­ing writ­ing that presents ideas and infor­ma­tion in fresh ways.

QuestionsStart with a Ques­tion

Sug­gest that stu­dents devel­op won­der ques­tions and use them to guide their research. Not only does this guar­an­tee that stu­dents will have some “skin in the game,” a spe­cif­ic query will lead to more tar­get­ed note tak­ing and require stu­dents to make con­nec­tions between infor­ma­tion they find in a vari­ety of sources.

Dual Note­tak­ing

Julie Har­matz, a fifth grade teacher in San Pedro, Cal­i­for­nia, has had great suc­cess with col­lab­o­ra­tive note­tak­ing in a Google doc. Not only do stu­dents enjoy the tech­no­log­i­cal nov­el­ty of this activ­i­ty, they gain access to the thought process­es of their partner(s). Pair­ing an adept note­tak­er with a stu­dent who’s strug­gling with this skill can be a pow­er­ful expe­ri­ence. After all, stu­dents often learn bet­ter from peer mod­el­ing than adult instruc­tion.

Jour­nal­ing

Encour­age stu­dents to review the infor­ma­tion they’ve gath­ered and jour­nal about it. This will help many chil­dren take own­er­ship of the mate­r­i­al and iden­ti­fy what fas­ci­nates them most about what they’ve dis­cov­ered. When stu­dents approach writ­ing with a clear mis­sion in mind, they’re more like­ly to present ideas through their own per­son­al lens.

Thought PromptsUse Thought Prompts

Ryan Scala, a fifth grade teacher in East Hamp­ton, New York, rec­om­mends invit­ing stu­dents to syn­the­size their research and make per­son­al con­nec­tions by using one of the fol­low­ing thought prompts:

  • The idea this gives me …
  • I was sur­prised to learn …
  • This makes me think …
  • This is impor­tant because … 

Can’t Copy

Encour­age stu­dents to use source mate­ri­als that they can’t copy, such as a doc­u­men­tary film or per­son­al obser­va­tions out­doors or via a web­cam.

WowFocus on the “Oh, wow!”

Award-win­ning children’s book author Deb­o­rah Heilig­man advis­es young writ­ers to only write down infor­ma­tion that makes them say, “Oh wow!” Then she sug­gests that they write their first draft with­out look­ing at their notes, using just what they remem­ber. Of course, they can always go back and add details, dates, etc., lat­er, but when kids are forced to write from their mem­o­ries, they write in their own voic­es, and they focus on the ideas and infor­ma­tion that inter­est them most.

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Mystery Readers

In this col­umn, I’m pleased to share a brief overview of Nur­tur­ing the Devel­op­ment of Reflec­tive Read­ers,” a ses­sion I attend­ed at “Echoes of Learn­ing,” the lit­er­a­cy con­fer­ence at Zaharis Ele­men­tary in Mesa, AZ. Kris-Ann Flo­rence and Megan Kyp­ke, sec­ond and fourth grade teach­ers, shared how they pro­mote reflec­tion and enhance com­pre­hen­sion by using a stu­dent ver­sion of mis­cue analy­sis to help read­ers under­stand the impor­tance of mean­ing-mak­ing. In kid-friend­ly lan­guage, it’s sim­ply called “Mys­tery Read­er.” Kris-Ann and Megan show­cased the pow­er of this engag­ing and fun approach to lit­er­a­cy learn­ing by demon­strat­ing it in action. They were assist­ed by an eager bunch of brave stu­dents who vol­un­teered to spend part of their Sat­ur­day show­ing what they know in front of a group of con­fer­ence atten­dees. The activ­i­ty is usu­al­ly intro­duced and shared with the whole class. How­ev­er, it could cer­tain­ly be done with small groups of stu­dents who need extra guid­ance and sup­port with decod­ing, flu­en­cy, self-mon­i­tor­ing, com­pre­hen­sion, or choos­ing good-fit books.

Teach­ing kids how to effec­tive­ly par­tic­i­pate in mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion about what it means to be a read­er is the ulti­mate goal of “Mys­tery Read­er.” You might agree that being respect­ful and sen­si­tive about cor­rect­ing errors and offer­ing sug­ges­tions for improve­ment requires a degree of tact and finesse that may not be refined in most sev­en- to eleven-year-olds. To counter this, Kris-Ann and Megan stressed the impor­tance of shar­ing audio record­ings of oral read­ing that guar­an­tee to keep the iden­ti­ty of the read­er a mys­tery. They rely on an inven­to­ry of record­ings of anony­mous stu­dents from years gone by as well as excerpts col­lect­ed from audio swap­ping with teacher friends from oth­er schools or dis­tricts.

I was so cap­ti­vat­ed by this unique idea! And as much as I love work­ing as an instruc­tion­al coach, the thought of set­ting up this “Mys­tery Read­er” as a rou­tine lit­er­a­cy prac­tice made me real­ly wish I had my own class­room again. I’m hope­ful that next fall I can sup­port teach­ers who are inter­est­ed with this inno­v­a­tive approach to fos­ter­ing inde­pen­dent, con­fi­dent, and moti­vat­ed read­ers.

Mystery Reader

The steps to imple­ment­ing “Mys­tery Read­er” are sim­ple. I’ve out­lined them as if I were pre­sent­ing them to stu­dents.

First, set the pur­pose. 

In this activ­i­ty we will lis­ten to some­one we don’t know read a short pas­sage as we fol­low along with a copy of the text. We will learn how to take notes about the read­ing so that we can talk about what we noticed and give advice to the read­er. “Mys­tery Read­er” helps us under­stand the text and the read­er. It helps us become bet­ter read­ers because we also learn about how each of us reads on our own.

Mystery Reader

Sec­ond, explain and prac­tice mark­ing the text with stu­dents. 

  • When we read aloud it is impor­tant to read with expres­sion, to sound the way the char­ac­ter would real­ly sound. We’ll call that using “voice.” Any time a mys­tery read­er does a great job of using voice, we will write a “V” on the paper at that spot.
  • When a read­er fix­es a mis­take all by him or her­self, we’ll call that a “self-cor­rect” and will write down an “S/C.”
  • Some­times read­ers pause because they are stuck on a word or are think­ing about the text. Oth­er times read­ers will repeat or reread a word or sen­tence to make it sound bet­ter. If either of these hap­pen, we will write down a “P” or an “R.”
  • If the read­er skips a word, we will write down an “S.”
  • Final­ly, we will lis­ten and watch care­ful­ly for any words that are not said cor­rect­ly. These are called “mis­cues.” If that hap­pens, we will cross out the word and we will write the word the read­er said instead above the one we just crossed out.
  • Lat­er when we talk about the mis­cues, we will decide if the word the read­er said changed the mean­ing or not. If the mean­ing was not changed, for exam­ple say­ing “home” instead of “house,” we will write “QM” for “qual­i­ty mis­cue.” But if the mean­ing did change because of the mis­cue, we will write “MCM” for “mean­ing chang­ing mis­cue.”

Guiding Questions

Third, prac­tice, reflect on, and dis­cuss the process using guid­ing ques­tions.

This year we will be prac­tic­ing, think­ing about, and talk­ing about “Mys­tery Read­ers.” We will share things we notice about what makes each read­er a good read­er. We will real­ly focus on whether the read­er is mak­ing mean­ing or under­stand­ing the text and we will decide if the text was a “good fit.” 

And final­ly, stu­dents demon­strate greater aware­ness and com­pre­hen­sion in their own read­ing. 

As we get more com­fort­able doing “Mys­tery Read­er,” we will see how it helps us with our own read­ing. We will be able to use voice to show good expres­sion when we read aloud. We will also get bet­ter at self-cor­rect­ing our mis­cues. And if we do have mis­cues when we read, we will be able to fig­ure out if they are qual­i­ty mis­cues or mean­ing-chang­ing mis­cues. All of these things will be impor­tant ways to help us learn how to choose “good fit books” and gain mean­ing from the texts we read.

A final note about “Mys­tery Read­er”… For as long as I can remem­ber, I have strived to cap­i­tal­ize on time spent with stu­dents in one-on-one ses­sions involv­ing read­ing con­fer­ences or tak­ing run­ning records. When class­rooms are filled with 25–30 stu­dents who range sig­nif­i­cant­ly in their read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy, self-mon­i­tor­ing abil­i­ty, moti­va­tion, and self-con­fi­dence, it is imper­a­tive that teach­ers bring effi­cien­cy and a sense of urgency and fun to the table. “Mys­tery Read­ers” has the poten­tial to do all of these things in one sweet and sim­ple swoop.

The next Teach it For­ward col­umn will offer addi­tion­al ideas for imple­ment­ing “Mys­tery Read­er.” Sug­ges­tions for col­lect­ing oral read­ing sam­ples and adding a com­pre­hen­sion con­fer­ence por­tion to the activ­i­ty will be offered.

RESOURCES

The ori­gins of this approach date back to 1996 with “Ret­ro­spec­tive Mis­cue Analy­sis” by Yet­ta Good­man. To learn more, check out these arti­cles and hand­outs:

Ret­ro­spec­tive Mis­cue Analy­sis: Revalu­ing Read­ers and Read­ing” by Yet­ta Good­man and Ann Marek

Ret­ro­spec­tive Mis­cue Analy­sis: An Effec­tive Inter­ven­tion for Stu­dents in Grades 3–12,” pre­sent­ed by Sue Haer­tel

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Watch Where You’re Going

Writing Road Trip | Watch Where You're GoingRid­ing along with my dad was like going on a Mid­west­ern safari. Even while dri­ving, he had an amaz­ing knack for spot­ting crit­ters as they peeked out from behind trees, perched on phone poles, or slid along the road­side.

He didn’t seem to pay any atten­tion to the makes of oth­er cars, or bill­board mes­sages, or what oth­er dri­vers were wear­ing. His focus (with the excep­tion of safe dri­ving itself) was wildlife-cen­tric.

That kind of exclu­sive focus can be key to suc­cess­ful sto­ry-writ­ing. Many sto­ries cen­ter around a core focus, a cen­tral idea or mes­sage. Many char­ac­ters are built around a core moti­va­tion or dri­ving emo­tion. Any­thing that pops up dur­ing the writ­ing process—even good stuff—that doesn’t sup­port that focus, may have to go. It’s not as easy as it sounds: even expe­ri­enced writ­ers are some­times seduced by an intrigu­ing side sto­ry, a bril­liant­ly writ­ten descrip­tion, a charis­mat­ic sec­ondary char­ac­ter. But how­ev­er bril­liant or charis­mat­ic, if those things don’t help devel­op the core sto­ry or illu­mi­nate the main char­ac­ter for the read­er, they need to be sent pack­ing.

Here’s an exam­ple: in the nov­el I’m work­ing on, my teenage char­ac­ter looks out over the water and spec­u­lates that per­haps the per­son he is search­ing for has “plant­ed” him­self in the lake. The image fits the rur­al set­ting and the moment of the sto­ry. But it doesn’t fit my char­ac­ter, who’s an urban kid. As one of my cri­tique part­ners point­ed out, my kid would nev­er think in terms of an agri­cul­tur­al metaphor. How­ev­er deft that description—and I’d received com­pli­ments on it from oth­er readers—I had to acknowl­edge that it didn’t belong to the sto­ry I was telling.

Some­times I think these things are hints of future sto­ries or future char­ac­ters, play­ing peek-a-boo from the depths of our sub­con­scious. But it’s bet­ter to admit that they don’t belong in the spot they’ve popped up, and save them in a “great ideas file” for lat­er.

Point out these peek-a-boo moments in your young writ­ers’ sto­ries. Encour­age them to take anoth­er look at what’s at the heart of their story—at the heart of their character—and judge by that whether that great idea belongs to their cur­rent sto­ry, or needs to be set aside for anoth­er writ­ing day.

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Skinny Dip with Aimée Bissonette

Aimée Bis­sonette

We’re thrilled to Skin­ny Dip with Aimée Bis­sonette, who is the author of two acclaimed pic­ture books so far, North Woods Girl (Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press) and Miss Colfax’s Light (Sleep­ing Bear Press). Thanks to Aor tak­ing time away from writ­ing and work to answer Bookol­o­gy’s ques­tions!

When did you first start read­ing books?

My best friend, Lyn, taught me to read when I was 5 years old.

Fun with Dick and JaneLyn was a year old­er so she went to first grade the year before I did. When she got home from school, she would bring her read­ing books (the “Fun with Dick and Jane” series) over to my house. We’d sit on my front steps and Lyn would teach me every­thing she’d learned in school that day. I am sure I read with mem­bers of my fam­i­ly, too, but Lyn was the one who real­ly taught me to love read­ing.

Favorite break­fast or lunch as a kid?

I always loved Sun­day break­fast grow­ing up. It was the one time of the week we were all guar­an­teed to be in one spot togeth­er. I have six broth­ers and sis­ters, so it was a bit of a chal­lenge to get enough food ready at the right time to feed every­one. (Remem­ber, this was before microwave ovens!) And it was pret­ty chaot­ic. My mom used to joke that when she wrote the sto­ry of her life, she would title it “Raw Eggs and Burnt Bacon.” Maybe I’ll write a book about her some­day with that title.

Sock basketBare­foot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Socks! I love socks! In fact, my moth­er-in-law used to laugh at the size of the sock bas­ket in my laun­dry room—you know, the place where you throw all those clean socks from the dry­er so you can pair them lat­er while watch­ing TV? My sock bas­ket is huge.

When are you your most cre­ative?

I am at my cre­ative best when I am out in nature. I love to hike, bike, and snow­shoe.  I walk every day—rain or shine, pud­dles or snow. I need to get away from my desk, smell out­door smells, lis­ten to bird­song. Nature always finds its way into my books.

Favorite fla­vor of ice cream?

Mint choco­late chip. Hands down.

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The Reading Summer

A stressed moth­er of a first grad­er sought my coun­sel this week. The issue was read­ing. Her son wasn’t. And at the close of first grade he was expect­ed to. There was talk of test­ing, reme­di­al help over the sum­mer, read­ing logs, etc. She and her spouse were dread­ing it, wor­ried, and a lit­tle irked—not at the not-yet-read­er, but at the expec­ta­tions and the pres­sure. I lis­tened for a long time and when she final­ly took a breath, I asked what she was most wor­ried about—for instance, was she wor­ried there was a learn­ing issue that need­ed to be addressed? “No!” she said. “I’m wor­ried he’s going to hate read­ing if we spend the sum­mer doing these things!”

And that response com­plet­ed the time-warp I was expe­ri­enc­ing while lis­ten­ing to her story—twelve years I vault­ed back in the space-time con­tin­uüm. Twelve years ago this week we received the phone call that was the cul­mi­na­tion of an entire school year of frus­tra­tion and con­cern. #1 Son was not reading—he’d staunch­ly refused to even try to read the test­ing selec­tions his sec­ond-grade teacher asked him to in the last weeks of school. He just sat there—a con­sci­en­tious objec­tor of sorts.

Our kids went to a won­der­ful Span­ish-immer­sion school and there was a lit­tle extra time built in before they start­ed sug­gest­ing inter­ven­tions sim­ply because the stu­dents learn to read first in a lan­guage that is not their first lan­guage. But it was clear that he was “behind” by the time sec­ond grade was draw­ing to a close—The Oth­er Chil­dren were read­ing well in Span­ish, and some of them quite well in Eng­lish, too. The school rec­om­mend­ed sum­mer school, a read­ing pro­gram, and a Span­ish tutor for the sum­mer.

I calm­ly asked if any­one was con­cerned that there was a learn­ing difference/disability that need­ed to be addressed. They didn’t think so. I called a read­ing spe­cial­ist and wise moth­er and told her of the school’s rec­om­men­da­tions. And then I told her that our col­lec­tive par­ent­ing gut was telling us to decline any pro­gram­ming what­so­ev­er in favor of sim­ply read­ing good books togeth­er all sum­mer.

She was silent on the phone for sev­er­al sec­onds. And then she whis­pered (whis­pered!) that she thought this was a won­der­ful idea. I’d been a sto­ry­time read­er in her class­room before and she said she won­dered if #1 Son wasn’t read­ing sim­ply because he couldn’t read like I read quite yet—with all the inflec­tion, voic­es, and fun. She said it was obvi­ous to her that sto­ries were very much alive for him, and when you’re being asked to read those very ear­ly books in which each word is not longer than four let­ters and most of them rhyme [Mat sat on the cat.]…well, it’s hard­er to make them come alive.

Take the sum­mer and read!” she whis­pered, as if she was telling me a secret that read­ing spe­cial­ists don’t impart to the mass­es. “Read the very best books you can find and read your very best. See where he is in the fall.”

And so we did—we read all sum­mer long. We read The Sword in the Stone and The Mouse and The Motor­cy­cle. We read Peter and the Star Catch­ers and Stu­art Lit­tle. We lis­tened to Har­ry Pot­ter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the car on vaca­tion and read Swal­lows and Ama­zons in the tent while camp­ing. We went to the library every Fri­day and then on a pic­nic where we read stacks of pic­ture books (his sis­ter was two!) while we ate our PB&J. We vis­it­ed our local kids’ book­store with reg­u­lar­i­ty and took our new books down to the lake and I read while they fed the ducks. I did not ask him to read “the next para­graph” or to sound out a word here and there. I just read—until I was hoarse, some­times, I read.

At the end of the sum­mer, we went to meet #1 Son’s third grade teacher. She was a no-non­sense grand­moth­er and she got his num­ber imme­di­ate­ly. I loved her just as imme­di­ate­ly. She took away the Clif­ford El Gran Per­ro Col­orado pic­ture books and hand­ed him Har­ry Pot­ter y la piedra filoso­fal. And he opened that thick nov­el and start­ed reading—just like that. 

It was a won­der­ful sum­mer. She was a won­der­ful teacher. #1 Son is A Won­der­ful Read­er (in two lan­guages!), and he always was. He just didn’t “per­form” until he was good and ready. (He still resists per­form­ing.)

I told the wor­ried moth­er our sto­ry. She nod­ded smart­ly. “That’s what we’re going to do,” she said. “If there’s actu­al­ly a read­ing prob­lem that needs to be addressed, we’ll address it, but I just don’t think we know that when he’s just six.” I wished them well and shared a book­list. 

I envy the sum­mer ahead of them. The Read­ing Sum­mer was one of the best par­ent­ing deci­sions we ever made, I think. I hope it turns out as well for them.

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Summer Travel

Kids' Book of QuestionsHere are three words that may be loom­ing large in your mind: Long. Car. Trip. You’re pack­ing games, snacks, an audio book or two, sev­er­al books to take turns read­ing out loud, and … The Kids’ Book of Ques­tions.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid and we went on long car trips (near­ly every week­end), I read a lot (which must have been bor­ing for my mom), but the two of us also sang songs, talked over the week we had just explored, and, if we were head­ing to fam­i­ly, expec­ta­tions for behav­ior. But that only took so long.

It would have been great to have this book to delve into. Depend­ing on your kids’ ages, it would be a good idea to let fam­i­ly mem­bers browse through the book to pick a ques­tion to have each per­son answer in turn.

TKids' Book of Questionshe author, Dr. Gre­go­ry Stock, Ph.D., has an inter­est in life sci­ence, med­i­cine, tech­nol­o­gy, and dis­cus­sions about val­ues. He speaks fre­quent­ly at schools and on radio and tele­vi­sion. This book was first pub­lished in 1988, a fol­low-up to the adult ver­sion, The Book of Ques­tions. Now it’s been updat­ed to include ques­tions about the inter­net and school vio­lence and cli­mate change.

If you were rid­ing your  bike and acci­den­tal­ly ran into some­one else’s bike and wrecked it—but no one saw you—what would you do?”

What is the wildest and cra­zi­est thing you’ve ever done? Would you like to do it again?”

Whether you use them as con­ver­sa­tion starters, com­po­nents of a game, or just a way to pass the time, you might find this book a handy tuck-in for your Long. Car. Trip. this year. I know we’re tak­ing it along.

The Kids’ Book of Ques­tions
writ­ten by Gre­go­ry Stock, Ph.D.
Work­man Pub­lish­ing, 2015

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Skinny Dip with Susan Latta

Susan Latta

Susan Lat­ta

This week we’re all set to Skin­ny Dip with Susan Lat­ta, who is cel­e­brat­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of her first trade book on Sep­tem­ber 1st, Bold Women of Med­i­cine: 21 Sto­ries of Astound­ing Dis­cov­er­ies, Dar­ing Surg­eries, and Heal­ing Break­throughs (Chica­go Review Press). With his­tor­i­cal to con­tem­po­rary biogra­phies of women who have found cures, advanced med­i­cine, and tend­ed to the sick with com­pas­sion, Susan has writ­ten an inspir­ing book that teen read­ers will find fas­ci­nat­ing. Thanks to Susan for tak­ing time to answer Bookol­o­gy’s ques­tions!

Bold Women of MedicineWho was your favorite teacher in grades K-7 and why?

My favorite teacher was my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Palmquist. I don’t remem­ber her first name. She had a sys­tem of writ­ing the num­bers 1, 2, 3, on the black­board for dis­ci­pline. If the class mis­be­haved and she got to num­ber 3, that meant she wouldn’t read to us that day. Since I was one of the “goody two-shoes” in the class it always made me so angry when one of the boys (usu­al­ly Den­nis) did some­thing to get us to num­ber 3. I espe­cial­ly remem­ber when she read Charlotte’s Web and Stu­art Lit­tle. I was fas­ci­nat­ed and looked for­ward to that time of day.

Caps for SaleWhen did you first start read­ing books?

Prob­a­bly in about first grade. We had all the usu­al books for the time; Cat in the Hat, A Snowy Day, The Lit­tle Engine That Could, Mike Mul­li­gan and His Steam Shov­el, Caps for Sale. When I was a lit­tle old­er, I loved the Lau­ra Ingalls Wilder series, as well as any­thing by Bev­er­ly Cleary. And a bit lat­er, I devoured every Agatha Christie mys­tery.

Din­ner par­ty at your favorite restau­rant with peo­ple liv­ing or dead: where is it and who’s on the guest list?

Broder’s Pas­ta Bar in Min­neapo­lis, their home­made pas­ta is to die for. As far as guests, I think Abi­gail Adams, Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen, Dr. Helen Taus­sig, Sis­ter Eliz­a­beth Ken­ny, Lau­ra Ingalls Wilder, Julia Child, and my fam­i­ly; hus­band Rob, sons Ryan and Rob­bie, and daugh­ter Kris­ten. Our gold­en retriev­er Stan­ley would love to come for the left­overs.

Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksAll-time favorite book?

Hard to choose just one. As a child, My Side of the Moun­tain by Jean Craig­head George and Snow Trea­sure by Marie McSwigan. As an adult: Pil­lars of the Earth by Ken Fol­lett, The Immor­tal Life of Hen­ri­et­ta Lacks by Rebec­ca Skloot, John Adams by David McCul­lough.

Favorite break­fast or lunch as a kid?

Amer­i­can Braun­schweiger which is a type of liv­er­wurst or liv­er sausage with a lit­tle may­on­naise on white bread. Haven’t had it in years; not sure it is con­sid­ered health food.

What’s your least favorite chore?

Chang­ing the sheets.

What’s your favorite part of start­ing a new project?

Dig­ging into the research.

Bare­foot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Shoes and good wool socks in the win­ter, bare­foot in the sum­mer.

strong coffeeWhen are you at your most cre­ative?

Morn­ing, but after break­fast and good strong cof­fee. And when I say strong, I mean “spoon almost stand­ing up in the mug strong.”

Your best mem­o­ry of your school library?

As fifth graders, we wrote and illus­trat­ed pic­ture books to read to the kinder­gart­ners in the library. Mine was some­thing about bears. Sure wish I still had it.

Favorite fla­vor of ice cream?

Mocha chip.

Lilian Boxfish Takes a WalkBook on your bed­side table right now?

Lil­lian Box­fish Takes a Walk by Kath­leen Rooney.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I can wig­gle my ears.

Your favorite toy as a child?

My Bar­bie and Skip­per dolls.

Best inven­tion in the last 200 years?

The dish­wash­er.

Girl with a Watering Can

Girl with a Water­ing Can, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1876

Favorite artist? Why?

Claude Mon­et or Renoir. I love impres­sion­ism and had a poster of Renoir’s paint­ing A Girl with a Water­ing Can in my bed­room grow­ing up. I also love Anna Mary Robert­son Moses, bet­ter known as Grand­ma Moses. Her idyl­lic paint­ings have so many things to dis­cov­er.

Which is worse: spi­ders or snakes?

That’s a toss-up. Prob­a­bly spi­ders.

What’s your best con­tri­bu­tion to tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment?

Recy­cling.

Why do you feel hope­ful for humankind?

Because buried in each of us there is good­ness. In some it may be hard to find, but it is there.

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Theater Geeks!

If your chil­dren (or you) are cap­ti­vat­ed by tal­ent shows on TVor dreams of act­ing on the stage, or the next the­ater pro­duc­tion at school, there are a cho­rus line of books just wait­ing to audi­tion for your next favorite. Here’s a mix­ture of clas­sic and new sto­ries, rang­ing in inter­est from grades 3 through 7.

All the World's a Stage  

All the World’s a Stage
writ­ten by Gretchen Woelfle, illus by Thomas Cox
Hol­i­day House, 2011

Twelve-year-old Kit Buck­les has come to Lon­don to make his for­tune. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, he’s caught up in crime to stay alive. Imme­di­ate­ly caught in his first pick­pock­et­ing assign­ment, Kit is enthralled by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to do odd jobs for their The­ater Play­house. When the act­ing troupe is evict­ed, Kit is caught up in the plot to steal the the­ater! William Shake­speare is a char­ac­ter is this sto­ry and the well-researched his­to­ry that defines this nov­el is excit­ing. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

 

The Best Christ­mas Pageant Ever
writ­ten by Bar­bara Robin­son
Harper­Collins, 1971

It can be argued that this is one of the fun­ni­est books ever pub­lished for chil­dren. When the Herd­man chil­dren learn that there are free snacks at the church in their neigh­bor­hood, they attend Sun­day School even though they haven’t heard of Jesus and the Christ­mas sto­ry before. When they’re cast in the Christ­mas pageant, the sto­ry of Jesus’ birth takes unusual—and eye-opening—turns. It’s a laugh-out-loud book with a heart-tug­ging end­ing. Many fam­i­lies read this out loud each year as part of their hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions but it’s a well-writ­ten book that works well any time of year.

Better Nate Than Never  

Bet­ter Nate Than Ever
writ­ten by Tim Fed­er­le
Simon & Schus­ter, 2013

Thir­teen-year-old Nate Fos­ter has been grow­ing up in small-town Penn­syl­va­nia in a school and town that doesn’t appre­ci­ate his show­man­ship. His dream is to be on Broad­way, a life plan he and his best friend Lib­by have been rehears­ing for for­ev­er. When an open cast­ing call is adver­tised for E.T. The Musi­cal, Nate is deter­mined to be there. By turns fun­ny and heart-rend­ing, Nate’s sto­ry will strike a chord with every kid who wants to be a per­former on the spotlit stage.

Sequel: Five, Six, Sev­en, Nate!, Tim Fed­er­le, S&S, 2014

Drama  

Dra­ma
writ­ten by Raina Tel­ge­meier
Gold­en Books, 1947

In this book for ear­ly teens, Cal­lie gives up her ambi­tion to be in her school’s musi­cal when an audi­tion fails to impress the cast­ing com­mit­tee. She isn’t a singer. Instead, Cal­lie becomes a part of the back­stage crew, a cir­cum­stance many dis­ap­point­ed kids can relate with. But Cal­lie dis­cov­ers that she likes work­ing on the set. She doesn’t know what she’s doing but she’s enthu­si­as­tic. And there’s as much dra­ma back­stage as there is onstage. Cal­lie goes from one crush to anoth­er, main­tain­ing sus­pense with humor. This graph­ic nov­el is a big hit with read­ers.

Forget-Me-Not Summer  

For­get-Me-Not Sum­mer
writ­ten by Leila How­land
Harper­Collins, 2015

Marigold, Zin­nie, and Lily Sil­ver have their LA sum­mer all planned out—until their dad and mom, both work­ing for the film indus­try, get jobs out of town. The girls are sent to a small, coastal, Mass­a­chu­setts town to live with their aunt. They’re not hap­py because Marigold, twelve, had plans to audi­tion for a movie being made of her favorite book. And life in Pruet, MA, is unplugged. No cell phone recep­tion. Then Marigold dis­cov­ers the movie’s pro­duc­er has a sum­mer home near­by. Zin­nie writes a play to fea­ture Marigold’s tal­ents and the girls cre­ate a tal­ent show in a com­mu­ni­ty that is accept­ing and friend­ly. A heart-warm­ing book.

Goblin Secrets  

Gob­lin Secrets
writ­ten by William Alexan­der
Atheneum, Simon & Schus­ter, 2012

Rownie’s old­er broth­er, Rowan, his only liv­ing rel­a­tive, has dis­ap­peared. Rowan is an actor in a city that has out­lawed act­ing. To find Rowan, Rown­ie joins a Gob­lin the­ater troupe that per­forms in Zom­bay, man­ag­ing to get around the law. They’re up to more than is appar­ent and soon Rown­ie is caught up in the dra­ma of life. There are touch­es of steam­punk in this fan­ta­sy world. Rown­ie is tak­en in by Gra­ba, a woman with mech­a­nized chick­en legs. Yes, the books is that inven­tive! Nation­al Book Award for this debut nov­el.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!  

Good Mas­ters! Sweet Ladies!
Voic­es from a Medieval Vil­lage
writ­ten by Lau­ra Amy Schlitz, illus­trat­ed by Robert Byrd
Can­dlewick Press, 2007

Set in 1255, this engag­ing set of mono­logues cre­ate medieval vignettes that trans­port the read­er, or per­former, to a well-researched, involv­ing era. From the singing shep­herdess to the town’s “half-wit,” to the peasant’s daugh­ter, we learn the sto­ries of 22 peo­ple in this com­mu­ni­ty. This book isn’t about the­ater, it is the­ater, offer­ing a dra­mat­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty for under­stand­ing of a time long past. Win­ner of the New­bery Medal.

King of Shadows  

King of Shad­ows
writ­ten by Susan Coop­er
Mar­garet McElder­ry Books, Simon & Schus­ter, 1999

One of the best time-trav­el nov­els ever writ­ten, this is the sto­ry of Nat Field, a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Com­pa­ny of Boys, an act­ing troupe. An orphan, this oppor­tu­ni­ty pro­vides a home for Nat, who trav­els with them to Lon­don to star at the new Globe The­ater as Puck in A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream. When he goes to sleep, he dis­cov­ers he has been whisked back to 1599 where he becomes the pro­tégé of William Shake­speare with a time-traveler’s abil­i­ty to save the Bard’s life. Replete with his­tor­i­cal detail, an excit­ing plot, and mem­o­rable char­ac­ters, this is a book to beck­on read­ers toward mod­ern-day excite­ment about Shakespeare’s plays. 

The Life Fantastic  

The Life Fan­tas­tic
writ­ten by Liza Ketchum
Simon Pulse, 2017

Fif­teen-year-old Tere­sa is drawn to the vaude­ville stage. She feels the need to sing, to per­form. Her par­ents were vaude­vil­lians, but they chose a con­ven­tion­al life of 9-to-5 jobs and stay­ing in one town to take care of their two chil­dren. Tere­sa wants to try her own career on the stage but her father is vehe­ment­ly against it. She sneaks away from home to New York City where she even­tu­al­ly ends up with a nation­al vaude­ville troupe. There are fas­ci­nat­ing, well-researched details of vaude­ville, racism in the the­ater and 1910 Amer­i­ca, and life as a dar­ing girl before women had any rights. A very good sto­ry for mid­dle grade and old­er, includ­ing adults.

Okay for Now  

Okay for Now
writ­ten by Gary D. Schmidt
Clar­i­on Books, 2011

For­mer­ly cast as the bul­ly in The Wednes­day Wars, Doug Swi­eteck is start­ing over in a new town. His father is abu­sive, his moth­er doesn’t stand up against his father, and his old­er, unkind broth­er is off fight­ing in Viet­nam. Doug real­izes he has an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make him­self over into some­one with a dif­fer­ent rep­u­ta­tion. He makes friends with Lil Spicer, becomes spell­bound by a library book with plates of Audubon’s birds, and sets off on a grand adven­ture with Lil to appear on a Broad­way stage. Fun­ny, heart-wrench­ing, and absorb­ing, this book is not be missed.

Replay  

Replay
writ­ten by Sharon Creech
Harper­Collins, 2005

Leonar­do is the mid­dle child in a loud, chaot­ic Ital­ian fam­i­ly. He’s a dream­er, a thinker, and per­haps an actor. He is cast in the dis­ap­point­ing role of the Old Crone in Rompopo’s Porch, a play his teacher wrote. At home, he dis­cov­ers the jour­nal his father wrote when he was thir­teen years old, the same age Leo is now. These two dis­parate occur­rences will give him more con­fi­dence, solve a fam­i­ly mys­tery, and change his life. The full text of the play is includ­ed in the book so cre­ative thes­pi­ans can put on their own show.

Romeo and Juliet Together (and Alive) At Last  

Romeo and Juli­et Togeth­er (and Alive) At Last
writ­ten by Avi
Scholas­tic, 1987

A light­heart­ed ren­di­tion of Romeo and Juli­et is writ­ten and pro­duced by a class of eighth-graders whose true goal is to get shy Peter Saltz and shy Anabell Stack­pole to real­ize they’re just right for each oth­er. The match­mak­ing attempts, the earnest but laugh-out-loud fun­ny pro­duc­tion of Shakespeare’s clas­sic play (often taught in eighth grade), and the ring­ing-true think­ing, plan­ning, and mis­steps of this group of kids make this one of my favorite of Avi’s books.

The Shakespeare Stealer  

The Shake­speare Steal­er
writ­ten by Gary Black­wood
Harper­Collins, 2005

Ordered by his nefar­i­ous “own­er,” and Shakespeare’s com­peti­tor, to steal the unpub­lished “Ham­let” from the Bard him­self, the orphaned Widge is bound to obey. The only prob­lem is that once he’s clev­er­ly insert­ed him­self into the troupe at the Globe The­ater, he finds real friends for the first time in his life. How will he avoid the reper­cus­sions of dis­obey­ing his own­er? How can Widge find a way not to dis­ap­point his new friends? The plot twists, turns, and ulti­mate­ly pro­vides a riv­et­ing read­ing expe­ri­ence.

Snow White  

Snow White
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Matt Phe­lan
Can­dlewick Press, 2016

You may be think­ing Snow White and the the­ater? What’s the con­nec­tion? In Matt Phelan’s com­pelling re-imag­in­ing of the fairy tale, Saman­tha White (called Snow by her dying moth­er) is the daugh­ter of the King of Wall Street. It’s the late 1920s and life is gid­dy. Her father mar­ries the Queen of the Fol­lies (as in Zieg­field, our minds sup­ply), who turns out to have very evil inten­tions. She sends Saman­tha off to board­ing school and some­how Samantha’s hale and hearty father dies. Sev­en street urchins and Detec­tive Prince round out the cast in this high­ly read­able and dis­cus­sion-wor­thy graph­ic nov­el. 

The Cruisers A Star is Born  

A Star is Born, The Cruis­ers series
writ­ten by Wal­ter Dean Myers
Scholas­tic Press, 2012

Eighth graders Zan­der, LaShon­da, Kam­bui, and Bob­bi run an alter­na­tive news­pa­per, The Cruis­er, at their high school for gift­ed and tal­ent­ed stu­dents in Harlem, New York. In this third book in the series, LaShon­da earns a schol­ar­ship to the Vir­ginia Woolf Soci­ety Pro­gram for Young Ladies, hon­or­ing the cos­tumes she designed for a play the Cruis­ers pro­duced. Once she’s com­plet­ed the pro­gram, she’ll be eli­gi­ble for finan­cial assis­tance for col­lege. But there’s a wrin­kle. LaShon­da will have to move to be a part of the pro­gram and she’s hes­i­tant to leave her autis­tic broth­er behind. The friends work to solve this conun­drum in a real­is­tic way. A great friend­ship sto­ry told with Wal­ter Dean Myers’ deft and sure touch, using inter­ject­ed poems, essays, and arti­cles that are pub­lished in The Cruis­er.

Starstruck  

Starstruck
writ­ten by Rachel Shuk­ert
Dela­corte Press, 2013

For read­ers most­ly aged 16 and old­er, this 1930s Hol­ly­wood nov­el tells the tale of Mar­garet Fro­bish­er, who is lit­er­al­ly dis­cov­ered in a drug­store. Because she looks like a movie star who’s gone miss­ing, she is swept into the stu­dio sys­tem, renamed Mar­go Ster­ling, and is sud­den­ly star­ring in a movie. It’s a lot for a young woman to han­dle and it turns out that Hol­ly­wood isn’t all glam­our and bright lights. Evil and dark­ness are a part of this new world and so are heartache and stark real­i­ty. The details are good, the char­ac­ters are well-drawn … it’s a good book to read if you’re hun­gry for Hol­ly­wood as it was in its Gold­en Age.  

Summerlost  

Sum­mer­lost
writ­ten by Ally Condie
Dut­ton Books, 2016

Cedar could be for­giv­en for mop­ing around in her new sum­mer home. Her father and younger broth­er Ben were just killed in an acci­dent. And yet she’s intrigued when she sees a boy in a cos­tume rid­ing past her house on a bicy­cle. She fol­lows him and dis­cov­ers the Sum­mer­lost the­ater fes­ti­val. Soon Cedar is work­ing con­ces­sions at the fes­ti­val and she’s caught up in the mys­tery of a ghost and mys­te­ri­ous gifts that show up in sur­pris­ing ways. Edgar Award nom­i­nee. It’s a good mid­dle grade nov­el that reads with great warmth and under­stand­ing of loss.

Surviving the Applewhites  

Sur­viv­ing the Apple­whites
writ­ten by Stephanie S. Tolan
Harper­Collins, 2002

Thir­teen-year-old Jake Sem­ple is a tough nut. He’s been kicked out of schools until there are no options left. That is until a home­school­ing fam­i­ly, the Apple­whites, offer to let him attend their Cre­ative Acad­e­my. Every­one in the fam­i­ly has an artis­tic tal­ent. Dad’s pro­duc­ing The Sound of Music at their local the­ater. Mom is a mys­tery writer who’s tak­ing a break to write the Great Amer­i­can Nov­el. Uncle is a wood­carv­er and Aunt is a poet. Even Cordelia and Des­tiny have their unique tal­ents. All except for E.D., who is quite pos­si­bly the only Apple­white who is orga­nized enough to keep the fam­i­ly run­ning. The book is told from Jake’s and E.D.‘s alter­nate view­points. And it turns out that Jake might not be as impen­e­tra­bly tough as he believes.

Swish of the Curtain  

Swish of the Cur­tain
writ­ten by Pamela Brown
Long­wa­ter Books (reprint­ed edi­tion), orig. 1941

Most Sev­en chil­dren from three fam­i­lies orga­nize The Blue Door The­ater Com­pa­ny, ren­o­vat­ing an old chapel and pro­duc­ing their own plays. They write, direct, stage, sew cos­tumes, design scenery, and rehearse on their own. Their goal is to com­pete in the dra­ma con­test at the end of the sum­mer, the prize for which is a schol­ar­ship to attend dra­ma school. The group has the goal to be in the pro­fes­sion­al the­ater. Pamela Brown began writ­ing this book when she was 14, but it wasn’t pub­lished until she was 17! She was a UK author, and her series of books about this dra­ma troupe was immense­ly pop­u­lar, being trans­lat­ed to radio, tele­vi­sion, and movies. A true clas­sic. 

Theater Shoes  

The­ater Shoes
writ­ten by Noël Streat­field
Year­ling, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1946

The three Forbes sib­lings are orphaned. Their grand­moth­er, a famous actress, forces them to go to a the­ater school. They can’t afford the tuition but the Fos­sil Sis­ters (yes, the sis­ters from Bal­let Shoes) spon­sor them with a schol­ar­ship. They don’t believe they have any tal­ents but they’re deter­mined to live up to their spon­sors’ expec­ta­tions so they make their best effort. And they dis­cov­er that they are tal­ent­ed indeed. The “Shoes” books were favorites for read­ers who grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They still read well today. Many chil­dren of those years pur­sued careers in the arts because of Noël Streatfield’s sto­ries!

The Wednesday Wars  

Wednes­day Wars
writ­ten by Gary D. Schmidt
Clar­i­on Books, 2007

Holling Hood­hood, sev­enth-grad­er, has a lot of chal­lenges. He’s the only Pres­by­ter­ian in his Catholic and Jew­ish school. He’s being forced to read Shake­speare by his teacher, Mrs. Bak­er. His father is demand­ing that Holling and his sis­ter are always on their best behav­ior so his busi­ness can suc­ceed. There’s a bul­ly that won’t leave Holling alone. And Holling’s base­ball heroes are com­ing to town to sign auto­graphs on the same day he has to put on yel­low tights and appear in a play. If that weren’t enough, the anx­i­ety of the Viet­nam War sur­rounds Holling’s life. A book that’s thor­ough­ly enjoy­able to read and unfor­get­table. It received a New­bery Hon­or.

Will Sparrow's Road  

Will Sparrow’s Road
writ­ten by Karen Cush­man
Clar­i­on Books, 2012

Will Sparrow’s father sells him to an innkeep­er in exchange for a dai­ly sup­ply of ale. The innkeep­er is cru­el so 13-year-old Will runs away … to a world that is not kind. Steal­ing food to eat, lying, Will thinks of him­self as a bad per­son. When he meets Grace and her trav­el­ing the­ater troupe of “odd­i­ties,” he dis­cov­ers an assem­bled fam­i­ly that cares for one anoth­er. Wills learns the per­form­ing skills nec­es­sary and he real­izes that he is some­body with worth in his Eliz­a­bethan Eng­land world. Filled with Karen’s Cushman’s ele­gant and fun­ny lan­guage, the era comes alive because of her care­ful research.

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Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson

Richard Jack­son

We are hon­ored to inter­view the high­ly respect­ed Richard Jack­son, who is on to his next career as a writer. His most recent­ly pub­lished book is all ears, all eyes, a lush and irre­sistible read-aloud book, illus­trat­ed by Kather­ine Tillit­son (Simon & Schus­ter). We thought we’d take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk with him about the pro­gres­sion from his edi­to­r­i­al career to his writ­ing career and the four books he has writ­ten.

Edi­to­r­i­al Career

Will you please tell us a bit about your edi­to­r­i­al expe­ri­ence?

After Army ser­vice, I grad­u­at­ed from NYC in 1962 with a Master’s degree in edu­ca­tion. I worked first at Dou­ble­day, not with children’s books, then at Macmil­lan and David White.

In 1968, you co-found­ed Brad­bury Press. You moved to Orchard Books in 1986 and then began the non­fic­tion pub­lish­ing imprint DK Ink in 1996. Three years lat­er, in 1999, you had your own imprint at Simon & Schus­ter with the ven­er­at­ed Atheneum Books. Has this jour­ney tak­en you around unex­pect­ed bends in the road?

I’ve nev­er been sub­ject­ed to a job inter­view.

As you were gain­ing expe­ri­ence, which edi­tors do you feel taught you the most?

Frances Keene and then Susan Hirschman at Macmil­lan.

Do you think most pic­ture book edi­tors are equal parts visu­al and ver­bal?

Most like­ly. For me, as writer, as edi­tor, the words are of first impor­tance.

What did your authors teach you?

Empa­thy.

While you were an edi­tor, did you always have a yen to write your own books?

No. But retirement—in so much as I am retired; I still work on a few books annu­al­ly by old pub­lish­ing friends—suddenly stretched rather bland­ly before me. I began tin­ker­ing with words, with play, with word­play…

You’re work­ing with an edi­tor now, a col­league. What do you look for from your edi­tor?

Effi­cien­cy. A sense of humor. Taste. Candor—i.e., a will­ing­ness to see the pos­si­bil­i­ties of some­thing not yet final.

Con­sid­er­ing the Books You’ve Writ­ten

Have a Look, Says Book

inte­ri­or spread for Have a Look, Says Book by Richard Jack­son, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kevin Hawkes

Have a Look, Says Book

Have a Look, Says Book
illus­trat­ed by Kevin Hawkes
Cait­lyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schus­ter, 2016

Kevin Hawkes illus­trat­ed this book that is play­ful­ly focused on adjec­tives. The text rhymes but not in a way that feels read-aloud con­fin­ing. How do you work on the poet­ry in a pic­ture book?

In my head, often while dri­ving.

Sto­ry­time librar­i­ans are focus­ing more than ever on teach­ing. This book offers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about the plea­sure of books, the love of words. Have you always been fond of words?

A ver­bal child was I. As opposed to ath­let­ic.

What sparked the idea for this book?

The sim­ple but enor­mous word “touch” has at least two mean­ings… There are many see, hear books, a few smell and taste books—hardly any about touch. Watch­ing chil­dren and grand­chil­dren touch the pages and pic­tures of a book, I thought…let’s see if I can hon­or that young-kid impulse: to point out, to make con­tact with a fin­ger, to search a book for a tac­tile dimen­sion equal to see­ing and hear­ing.

In Plain Sight

inte­ri­or spread for In Plain Sight, by Richard Jack­son, illus­tra­tion copy­right Jer­ry Pinkney

In Plain SightIn Plain Sight
illus­trat­ed by Jer­ry Pinkney
Neal Porter Books
Roar­ing Brook Press, 2016

The sto­ry in this book is uni­ver­sal, a grand­fa­ther and grand­daugh­ter who enjoy each other’s com­pa­ny. Grand­pa, who lives in a bed­room in Sophie’s house, always has some­thing for them to do togeth­er, to find some­thing he’s hid­den In Plain Sight.

What inspired this uni­ver­sal sto­ry of love?

Well, I was the Grand­pa, I think. Sophie, a sis­ter who died at four. She always announced her pres­ence with “Here I ahm.” In my imag­i­na­tion, the game ele­ment was as impor­tant as any­thing, so it was based upon a game my father played on us, his chil­dren, on Christ­mas night—find objects hid­den in unlike­ly places, such as a dol­lar bill wrapped around a book’s spine in a bookcase—very tricky!

It’s so impor­tant for chil­dren who have old­er gen­er­a­tions liv­ing with them to see them­selves in books, to under­stand that fam­i­lies extend them­selves when need­ed.

Was it your idea to have Grand­pa sup­port­ed by a wheel­chair?

Jerry’s, I think. As was Grandpa’s ath­let­ic and mil­i­tary past, as was the cat.

This man­u­script was inter­pret­ed by the much-admired author and illus­tra­tor, Jer­ry Pinkney. How was he brought into this project?

Neal Porter’s idea, at Roar­ing Brook. They had not worked togeth­er before. I asked Neal, quite casu­al­ly, I remem­ber, if this fam­i­ly might be black (they weren’t while I was fol­low­ing the con­ver­sa­tion which accounts for the sto­ry here). Jer­ry widened and deep­ened every image; note Sophie’s school clothes, for instance. Or the illus­tra­tion on the bind­ing of the book—not a repeat of the jack­et, but some­thing new and on its own; that’s Grandpa’s nature, don’t you think; there’s always a lit­tle more to give.

all ears, all eyes

inte­ri­or spread, all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jack­son, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kather­ine Tillot­son

all ears, all eyesall ears, all eyes
illus­trat­ed by Kather­ine Tillot­son
Cait­lyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schus­ter, 2017

Your text for this book is so evoca­tive of being out­doors at night, par­tic­u­lar­ly in a forest­ed or wild area. Why did you want to share that expe­ri­ence with read­ers and lis­ten­ers?

The set­ting is a bit of woods, across a brook near our house in the coun­try north of New York City. Real coun­try, if you can believe. One night a yodel­ing fox awoke me and my wife. Moon and most­ly dark­ness. Still­ness, except for Mr. Fox. Mag­i­cal. We got the chil­dren up (they are part of my ded­i­ca­tion for this book) and, bare­foot, we went out­side, across the grass, up to the brook’s bank. We lis­tened and with­out enter­ing the woods, let the woods enter us. I hoped to write a poem to that night, that fox, that fam­i­ly expe­ri­ence.

When you wrote the text for all ears, all eyes, did you have an illus­tra­tor in mind? Why?

Yes indeed, the text was for Kather­ine Tillot­son always, once the open­ing words sprang from my mem­o­ry. She sug­gest­ed the project some­how, and inspired it all along, from a very ear­ly ren­di­tion of a lurk­ing owl. Next came Cait­lyn Dlouhy and Ann Bob­co (Atheneum’s bril­liant art direc­tor), and the four of us played for months and months. Until quite close to the “end,” I was fuss­ing with rhymes and line breaks. Such fun.

Many peo­ple who want to write books for chil­dren have been told that they’ll nev­er work direct­ly with their illus­tra­tor. Did you include instruc­tions for how the text might be illus­trat­ed? As an edi­tor, does your mind work that way?

I give a lit­tle guid­ance when the artist will need it—the main boy wears glass­es, for exam­ple. And I break the text into page and page turn units. In my head I’m imag­ing a movie. But the illus­tra­tor is the cam­era­man (or woman), and often comes up with total­ly sur­pris­ing and often just-right new views.

Don’t miss read­ing our inter­view with Kather­ine Tillot­son about this book.

inte­ri­or spread from This Beau­ti­ful Day, by Richard Jack­son, illus­tra­tion copy­right Suzy Lee

This Beautiful DayThis Beau­ti­ful Day
illus­trat­ed by Suzy Lee
Cait­lyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schus­ter, 2017

In August of this year, we’ll be treat­ed to anoth­er book you wrote, this one filled with humor and whim­sy. It begins with a bor­ing, rainy day, but the atti­tude of the three chil­dren and their moth­er brings out the sun.

With your con­sid­er­able expe­ri­ence as an edi­tor, do you reflex­ive­ly envi­sion your text on the page?

Reflex­ive­ly? I think not. I do imag­ine page turns—and often, as sug­gest­ed above, an illus­tra­tor will have a bet­ter idea and I’ll be tick­led.

When you were an edi­tor, did you look for­ward to the sur­prise of the illustrator’s rough sketch­es, their inter­pre­ta­tion of the author’s sto­ry?

Father Time and the Day BoxesYou bet! I once pub­lished a pic­ture book, George Ella Lyon’s and Robert Parker’s Father Time and the Day Box­es (o.p), using the sketch­es, which were per­fect as they were. Had I imag­ined them as Bob pre­sent­ed them? No way. It’s ide­al to be sur­pris­ing and just right from the get-go.

Now that it’s your man­u­script being inter­pret­ed, how does that expe­ri­ence dif­fer?

Not much dif­fer­ent. I hadn’t imag­ined a rainy begin­ning to this day, so was tak­en aback at first; even­tu­al­ly, I have come to see the wis­dom of giv­ing the nar­ra­tive this “hinge” in mood. What you sug­gest (that sun is atti­tude induced) is irresistible—and com­plete­ly Suzy’s idea.

____________________

Thank you for shar­ing your thoughts with us, Richard Jack­son!

I’ve admired the books he’s edit­ed, some of the finest in the children’s lit­er­a­ture canon, so it’s a plea­sure to hear from him as he walks his next path as a writer. 

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Katherine Tillotson

Katherine Tillotson

Kather­ine Tillot­son

For this inter­view, we turn to the illus­tra­tor of a new book, all ears, all eyes, whose work I’ve long admired. This is a very spe­cial book. Open it and you’ll be cap­ti­vat­ed by the for­est at night. Such unusu­al art! But, then, her pri­or books have also been dis­tinc­tive, each in their own way. I hope you enjoy this vis­it with Kather­ine as much as I did.

In each of your recent books, Kather­ine, you’ve used a dif­fer­ent illus­tra­tion style. All the Water in the World is whoosh­es and swoosh­es, whirls and swirls, liq­uid on paper.

All the Water in the World

inte­ri­or spread from All the Water in the World, by George Ella Lyon, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kather­ine Tillot­son

For Shoe Dog, your pages were light-heart­ed, full of chaot­ic ener­gy that por­trayed Megan McDonald’s dog who finds shoes irre­sistible.

Shoe Dog

inte­ri­or spread from Shoe Dog, by Megan McDon­ald, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kather­ine Tillot­son

For It’s Pic­ture Day Today!, you assem­bled famil­iar home and school­room craft­ing sup­plies into adorable crea­tures prepar­ing for pic­ture day. I like to imag­ine you fold­ing paper and sort­ing through but­tons and peel­ing glue off your fin­gers dur­ing the mak­ing of this book.

It's Picture Day Today!

inte­ri­or spread from It’s Pic­ture Day Today!, by Megan McDon­ald, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kather­ine Tillot­son

In your newest book, all ears, all eyes, you’ve accom­plished yet anoth­er com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent look. Your por­tray­al of the for­est in the dark brings the night to life. The read­er is deep inside the for­est, see­ing it, feel­ing it, while Richard Jackson’s poet­ry pro­vides the sound track.

all ears, all eyes

inte­ri­or spread from all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jack­son, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kather­ine Tillot­son

I find myself with lots of ques­tions!

When an edi­tor sends you a man­u­script, what hap­pens in your mind as you’re read­ing it?

 I always hope to have my imag­i­na­tion awak­ened. I usu­al­ly do not have an idea where I might take a new sto­ry with the illus­tra­tions but I can per­ceive an open­ing for my part of the sto­ry­telling. If it is the right man­u­script for me, there is a feel­ing of excit­ed antic­i­pa­tion.

What moves you to agree to a project, know­ing it will take you (how long?) to cre­ate the illus­tra­tions?

I am slow and it is a long time from begin­ning to end. I can eas­i­ly slip into being hope­less­ly over­whelmed or impos­si­bly anx­ious. It is always best if I think of the process in small steps instead of a dis­tant des­ti­na­tion. Col­lab­o­ra­tors are also invalu­able. Many a time, my edi­tor or art direc­tor has helped me through a bumpy bit along the way. And I belong to a most won­der­ful cri­tique group. Togeth­er we cheer and help each oth­er move the books for­ward.

How do you begin a new book?

I love to sit down in a com­fy chair with a cup of cof­fee, the man­u­script, and a big pile of books. The books are often on artists but I also have a large col­lec­tion of Bologna Annu­als. I keep a sketch­book near­by and let my mind and my pen­cil wan­der.

all ears, all eyesFor all ears, all eyes, the title page reveals that you com­bined water­col­or and dig­i­tal tech­niques. Could you tell us more about this process?

I strug­gled a lot with tech­nique for this book. Ear­ly on, I exper­i­ment­ed with acrylic and oil. Nei­ther worked. I real­ly want­ed to use water­col­or and I even had a few lessons from my friend, Julie Down­ing, a very accom­plished water­col­or illus­tra­tor, I longed to lay down the paint with the con­fi­dence of a mas­ter, yet I did not have time to mas­ter the tech­nique. Water­col­or involves a lot of lay­er­ing (Julie tells me she can have fifty to eighty lay­ers on a paint­ing). Yet I found the more lay­ers I added to a paint­ing, the more I was afraid I would mess up. With each new lay­er, my ren­der­ing became stiffer and stiffer. In mulling over the prob­lem, I thought I might paint more expres­sive­ly if I knew I could lay­er in Pho­to­shop, thus dis­card­ing any lay­ers I did not like and keep­ing only those I did. This tech­nique gave me the free­dom I craved.

Do you make a con­scious effort to make each book quite dif­fer­ent? Why?

No, it real­ly isn’t a con­scious or intel­lec­tu­al choice. There are so many ways to make marks. Shoe Dog was orig­i­nal­ly going to be ren­dered in oil. When he devel­oped into a scrib­ble, it just felt right.

Well and then there is the fact that I love art sup­plies so much. I could spend almost as many hours in an art sup­ply store as in a book­store.

Do you study oth­er illus­tra­tors’ work? What do you see when you do?

Oh, yes! Def­i­nite­ly! There are won­der­ful illustrators—from all over the world. I have so many favorites. My shelves are over­flow­ing with their pic­ture books. I try to use the library or my book buy­ing habit could eas­i­ly spin out of con­trol.

Most of all, I love how illus­tra­tors extend and enhance the sto­ry­telling, stretch­ing beyond the words. An exam­ple would be Migrant, illus­trat­ed by Isabelle Arse­nault. Well, and then there is Chris Rasch­ka. I love the expres­sive pow­er of his work. Some­thing I am always aspir­ing to. I could keep going and going… I find so much to admire and inspire in my fel­low illus­tra­tors’ work.

For all ears, all eyes, you illus­trat­ed a Richard Jack­son man­u­script. He has been your edi­tor for 15 years. Now he’s the author. It is typ­i­cal in the pub­lish­ing process that author and illus­tra­tor don’t com­mu­ni­cate direct­ly, but rather indi­rect­ly through their edi­tor. How did that work for this book?

When we began, Dick was very involved in both author­ing and edit­ing the book. As the process con­tin­ued, he began to focus more on his writ­ing life. My com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­tin­ued with my new edi­tor, Cait­lyn Dlouhy, and my art direc­tor, Ann Bob­co.

I miss Dick as my edi­tor. He is real­ly the one who taught me how to think about pic­ture books, but I was los­ing my vision of the book and try­ing to please every­one. My process was becom­ing scat­tered and dis­con­nect­ed. When we returned to a con­ven­tion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion mod­el, the book resumed tak­ing shape.

all ears, all eyes

inte­ri­or spread from all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jack­son, copy­right Kather­ine Tillt­son

There is noth­ing about the illus­tra­tions in this book that whis­pers “dig­i­tal” to me and yet the copy­right page says “a com­bi­na­tion of water­col­or and dig­i­tal tech­niques.” Would you share with us how your dig­i­tal skills have evolved?

Thank you! I use very few of the func­tions avail­able in Pho­to­shop. Most of my com­put­er time has to do with scan­ning and plac­ing the lay­ers (and there are lots of lay­ers). I am con­stant­ly try­ing to find ways to min­i­mize my time on the com­put­er and spend most of my time sketch­ing and paint­ing. I believe that the draw­ing board is where I can find the loose­ness and emo­tion I want.

When you went to art school, what was your vision of your artis­tic future?

I grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Col­orado with an art major with an edu­ca­tion minor. I have always loved mak­ing art, but I did not have a clear vision of how to find a career that incor­po­rat­ed art mak­ing. I took night class­es to devel­op new art-relat­ed skills and through hap­py coin­ci­dence met a fel­low stu­dent who intro­duced me to Har­court in San Fran­cis­co. For many years, I designed edu­ca­tion­al books dur­ing the day and worked on illus­tra­tion sam­ples at night and week­ends. It wasn’t until I paint­ed this lit­tle guy (an ear­ly ver­sion of what evolved into Shoe Dog) that doors began to open. Dick Jack­son saw the piece and took a chance on me.

"If

What is your vision of that future now?

I would love to write and illus­trate a sto­ry. I have a cou­ple ideas that I am think­ing about and a few char­ac­ters rat­tling around in my head. Now if I could just get them to come out and play.…

Don’t miss Bookol­o­gy’s inter­view with the author of all ears, all eyes, Richard Jack­son.

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Thank you, Kather­ine, for let­ting us peek inside your process, your work, and your pas­sion as an illus­tra­tor. We always look for­ward to the next book you’re cre­at­ing.

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