Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Avi: We Need to Honor That

Catch You Later, TraitorEvery par­ent, teacher, and librar­i­an wants chil­dren to read. The rea­sons they wish for this are end­less­ly var­ied, rang­ing from edu­ca­tion­al skills, enter­tain­ment, to learn­ing a les­son. Some­times, how­ev­er, we need ask, what is it about read­ing that chil­dren like?

I’ve come to believe the answer lies in the dif­fer­ent way kids and adults read books. When adults read a book, they encounter a sit­u­a­tion, a char­ac­ter, a detail, which enables them to say, “That’s some­thing I have expe­ri­enced.” Or, “How inter­est­ing. I have seen that hap­pen.” “Oh, I’ve done that.” And so forth. That’s to say, they see the fic­tion as a con­fir­ma­tion of their own lives, some­thing they rec­og­nize as true.

When young peo­ple read fic­tion, they absorb the depict­ed expe­ri­ence as if it were about them. Just the oth­er day I asked a sev­enth grad­er why she liked fan­ta­sy so much. “Because I’m always in the clouds, dream­ing,” she said. “Those books are what I want to do.”

In oth­er words, young peo­ple engage with read­ing best when they can put them­selves into a book. The expe­ri­ence relat­ed in a sto­ry becomes their expe­ri­ence. Yes, lit­er­ary qual­i­ty can enhance that expe­ri­ence, but it’s most­ly what hap­pens in a sto­ry that engages kids.

When one writes for young peo­ple, you have to find a way to allow your read­er to con­nect to your sto­ry in this very per­son­al way. The young read­er must rec­og­nize himself/herself in the tale. The sto­ry must — ulti­mate­ly — be about them, their world, even if they can­not artic­u­late that fact. Indeed, some­times what engages the young read­er is that they want the expe­ri­ence depict­ed in the sto­ry.

WouldbegoodsYears ago, for bed­time, I was read­ing E. Nesbit’s, The Would-Be-Goods (1899), a charm­ing British Edwar­dian nov­el, to my six-year-old boy. As far as I could tell, there was absolute­ly noth­ing in the book which was sim­i­lar to his life. All the same, he was enjoy­ing it immense­ly.

One night — hav­ing learned that kids wrote to authors, he said, “Can I write to the author (Nes­bit) and tell her how much I love this book?”

Me: “That would be nice, but I’m afraid she died many years ago.”

My boy sat bolt upright in bed. “That’s impos­si­ble!” he cried.


Because she knows so much about me!”

It was a great book — for him — because it was, in some way, about him.

I did not know that. I doubt if he could have explained it to me. I rather sus­pect he iden­ti­fied with the char­ac­ters in the book because they con­stant­ly got into some kind of mis­chief. It’s the kind of life he would have liked to have lived.

That’s why it’s so impor­tant to allow kids to choose the books they wish to read. Some­thing about the title, the image on the book, the open­ing para­graph, some­thing, has caught the atten­tion of the young read­er. They wish to con­nect to that. We need to hon­or that.





Chris Van Dusen: Illustrating Leroy Ninker Saddles Up


Chris Van Dusen

Chris Van Dusen

Leroy Ninker first appeared in Mer­cy Wat­son Fights Crime as the crim­i­nal. Did you con­scious­ly change his appear­ance for Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up to make him a more sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter?

I’m not sure that I con­scious­ly changed his appear­ance. I tried to make him look like the same char­ac­ter. In the orig­i­nal series he was wear­ing a robber’s mask which gave him a slight­ly sin­is­ter look. Since he’s now a “reformed thief” I removed the mask which made him a warmer and more like­able char­ac­ter which is more fit­ting for the sto­ry.

Your palette for the Deck­a­woo Dri­ve books has a retro feel­ing. What do you think decid­ed you on work­ing with the col­ors you use in those books and now Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up?

The orig­i­nal Mer­cy Wat­son Series def­i­nite­ly did have a retro feel. The col­ors I used were sim­i­lar to those that appeared in the pic­ture books I grew up with – col­ors that were pop­u­lar in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. The new series has BW inte­ri­or art but I end­ed up paint­ing the pic­tures in the same method using gouache.

Cover Sketch

Sketch of a reject­ed cov­er idea for Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up

When Leroy runs through the neigh­bor­hood to res­cue May­belline, you use a flu­id line to indi­cate his rapid motion. For young read­ers who’d love to draw their own sto­ries, how did you learn to con­vey action in this way?

Motion lines are a clas­sic car­toon way of show­ing move­ment. I prob­a­bly picked this up from my ear­ly inter­est in com­ic strips and ani­ma­tion.

How is illus­trat­ing a chap­ter book dif­fer­ent from illus­trat­ing a pic­ture book?

In a pic­ture book there are few­er words, so the illus­tra­tions have to tell more of the sto­ry. Also, pic­ture book illus­tra­tions are usu­al­ly larg­er, often a full spread. In a chap­ter book, the illus­tra­tions sup­port the text rather than tell the sto­ry.

What words of advice would you share to encour­age young illus­tra­tors who’d like to fol­low in your foot­steps?

 You can do it. But you have to keep draw­ing. Good draw­ing skills are the basis for any career as an illus­tra­tor, ani­ma­tor, car­toon­ist, painter, etc. 

interior sketch

A pre­lim­i­nary sketch
for the spread on pages 86 and 87.





Steve’s Spaghetti Sauce

In Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up Maybelline’s favorite food is spaghet­ti. Here we share our best recipe for a savory sauce to top any pas­ta. Serves four (or one hun­gry horse).

Steve’s Spaghetti Sauce

The secret of this savory spaghet­ti sauce is the pep­per­oni.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time45 mins
Serv­ings: 4
Author: Steven Palmquist


  • 1 15- oz can toma­to sauce
  • 1 6- oz can toma­to paste
  • ¼ cup sher­ry or white wine
  • 1 tsp beef stock con­cen­trate such as Bet­ter Than Bouil­lon®
  • 7 oz 12 pkg turkey pep­per­oni or reg­u­lar
  • 2 tsp gar­lic salt
  • 1 Tbsp dried pars­ley
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil


  • Using a microwave-safe plate, arrange 7 oz. (approx. 30 pieces) of pep­per­oni (or what­ev­er quan­ti­ty will fit on plate with­out much over­lap­ping) on top of two lay­ers of paper tow­els. Microwave at full pow­er for 4 to 5 min­utes, watch­ing to make sure the pep­per­oni does­n’t burn.
  • Remove pep­per­oni from plate and allow 10 min­utes to cool, then pul­ver­ize in food mill or fine­ly chop.
  • Place all ingre­di­ents in a Dutch oven or saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil, then low­er the heat and sim­mer for 30 min­utes, cov­ered.
  • Fin­ish this sauce off by sim­mer­ing meat­balls or ground beef in it, then serv­ing over pas­ta, top­ping off with fresh­ly grat­ed Parme­sano Reg­giano cheese.

Skinny Dip with David LaRochelle

Favorite hol­i­day tra­di­tion?


by David LaRochelle Walk­er Books, 2013 illus. by Mike Wohnout­ka

 With­out a doubt my favorite hol­i­day tra­di­tion is carv­ing pump­kins. It has become such a trade­mark of mine that peo­ple start ask­ing in Sep­tem­ber what I plan to carve for the upcom­ing Hal­loween. I’ve learned to jot down pos­si­ble pump­kin ideas in my sketch­book through­out the year, but it usu­al­ly comes down to crunch time (the week before Hal­loween) before I final­ly decid­ed on the 4 – 6 pump­kins I carve each year. I have a gallery of past pump­kin designs, includ­ing some I’ve carved for Good Morn­ing Amer­i­ca, on my web­site.

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

Hope­ful­ly I wasn’t obnox­ious, but I was very much a teacher’s pet. I would stay after school and go from room to room ask­ing teach­ers if they need­ed help putting up bul­letin boards or cor­rect­ing papers. I usu­al­ly spent the first day or two of sum­mer vaca­tion help­ing teach­ers pack up their rooms for the year (it helped that we lived right across the street from the ele­men­tary school), and one of my favorite things to do the first week of sum­mer was to “play school” with the extra work­sheets that teach­ers had giv­en me. No won­der I became an ele­men­tary school teacher myself!

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

Mr. PudgensWe had an inde­pen­dent read­ing pro­gram when I was in third grade where instead of writ­ing book reports, we could make a dio­ra­ma, draw a poster, etc. I often enlist­ed the help of a few class­mates and put on a short play based on the book I had read (we loved get­ting out of class to rehearse on the school’s old stage!). One of the books I have vivid mem­o­ries of per­form­ing was “Mr. Pud­gins” by Ruth Christof­fer Carlsen about a mag­i­cal babysit­ter and a fly­ing bath­tub. In one scene a bush begins to make pop­corn. One of my friends brought in a huge plas­tic trash bag of pop­corn and hid behind a chair. The class went crazy when he began to throw hand­ful after hand­ful of the pop­corn out into the audi­ence. We loved it!

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

Some day you will have the last laugh on all the bul­lies who are call­ing you “fag” and “homo.” You will also become a pub­lished author and illus­tra­tor and make lots of kids hap­py with your fun­ny books.

Or more sim­ply, I wish I could tell my 10-year-old self, “Every­thing is going to turn out okay.”

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

I would love to vis­it with George Selden (author of “The Crick­et in Times Square” series, Mac Bar­nett (author of “Sam and Dave Dig a Hole” and many oth­er incred­i­bly cre­ative books) and famed children’s edi­tor Ursu­la Nord­strom.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

On a plane, head­ing off on vaca­tion.







Hands-on History for Spatial Learners

Making HistoryWhen I was in ele­men­tary school, I was nev­er more excit­ed than when the teacher told us we could make a dio­ra­ma or a minia­ture scene of a pio­neer set­tle­ment. The con­cept, plan­ning, and build­ing were thrilling for me. Even though my fin­ished work sel­dom approached the daz­zling dis­play I could see in my head, I learned a great deal about his­to­ry, engi­neer­ing, sci­ence, and card­board from my for­ays into build­ing a small world in three dimen­sions.

We know that some kids learn best this way. They are not only hands-on, but they are spa­tial and visu­al learn­ers, peo­ple who learn best by see­ing and doing.

If you know chil­dren like this, they’ll be delight­ed with Mak­ing His­to­ry: Have a Blast with 15 Crafts (writ­ten by Wendy Fresh­man and Kristin Jans­son), pub­lished by the Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press.

With a short his­tor­i­cal les­son, thor­ough sup­plies list, excel­lent pho­tographs, and step-by-step instruc­tions that include a call-out for adult involve­ment (using scis­sors or a hot glue gun) your favorite kids can make a Makak Gen­er­a­tion Bas­ket or an Ice House (mod­el) or a Día de Los Muer­tos Nichos (a small shad­ow­box with skele­tons depict­ed on them for the Day hon­or­ing the Dead).

metal repousse pendant

Intro­duc­ing a Met­al Foil Repoussé Pen­dant, the authors share that Alice and Flo­rence LeDuc formed Hast­ings Needle­work in 1888 to cre­ate and sell embroi­dered house­hold items that were trea­sured by many as art­work. Bought by influ­en­tial fam­i­lies and fea­tured on mag­a­zine cov­ers, their needle­work was known world­wide. The Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety has more than 800 of their pat­terns in its archives.

With met­al foil, a foam sheet, and house­hold sup­plies such as a pen­cil, pen, and scis­sors, your stu­dents can make a neck­lace or box orna­ment from a Hast­ings Needle­work pat­tern, includ­ed in the book and thought­ful­ly sup­plied online.

Paul Bunyan Action FigureFor your visu­al and spa­tial learn­ers, build­ing a Twister Tor­na­do (did you know that the Mayo Clin­ic was found­ed as the result of a tor­na­do?) or a Paul Bun­yan Action Fig­ure is a sneaky but effec­tive way to make learn­ing mem­o­rable and engag­ing.








Packing Your Bags

One of these things is not like the other

One of these things is not like the oth­er.

by Lisa Bullard

One of the basic writ­ing exer­cis­es I use with kids starts with hav­ing them cre­ate per­son­al “Time Cap­sules” (down­load the activ­i­ty). It’s a great way to explore how writ­ers build a char­ac­ter through the use of “telling” details — in this case, the items a char­ac­ter val­ues the most.

But a person’s stuff can reveal more about them than just the obvi­ous. For exam­ple, I have iden­ti­cal twin nephews. From the time they were two, one of them (Alex), insist­ed on spik­ing up with hair gel like a por­cu­pine or a James Dean-wannabe. When he came to vis­it me, he’d car­ry along an entire 128 oz. bot­tle for an overnight stay (I guess you nev­er know when you might have a hair gel emer­gency).

For years we weren’t sure what the gel rep­re­sent­ed. Was his cho­sen hair­style a “cool­ness” thing? A mat­ter of van­i­ty? And then Alex final­ly answered the ques­tion we’d been ask­ing for so long.

This way nobody con­fus­es me for Matt [his iden­ti­cal twin],” he said. “I real­ly want peo­ple to know it’s me under here.” Hair gel rep­re­sent­ed his deeply felt need to have oth­ers rec­og­nize him as a dis­tinct indi­vid­ual.

Under­stand­ing that, a writer could build an authen­tic, believ­able char­ac­ter — using noth­ing more than the 128 oz. of hair gel the char­ac­ter packs in his suit­case.




Mother-Daughter Book Club

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

Mother-Daughter coverIn a meta-move (we’re not usu­al­ly so cool), our moth­er-daugh­ter book club has start­ed the Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club series by Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick.  We read the first book last month and the sec­ond is sched­uled for our next meet­ing. I’m not sure we’ll be able to stop there. It was good we held them until the girls were the age of the girls in Frederick’s first books — the tim­ing is per­fect now.

The form­ing of the fic­tion­al moth­er-daugh­ter book club was dif­fer­ent than ours. The moth­ers in Frederick’s books pret­ty much coerced their girls into com­ing togeth­er in sixth grade to read Lit­tle Women. The series fol­lows the daugh­ters through their pre-teen and teen years as they read var­i­ous lit­er­ary clas­sics togeth­er with their moth­ers — not always hap­pi­ly, but always enter­tain­ing­ly. 

Our moth­er-daugh­ter book club start­ed when our girls were in sec­ond grade.  We start­ed with George Selden’s The Crick­et in Times Square. I sent the orig­i­nal inquiry/invitation. I sim­ply looked around my girl’s class­room and play­ground and sent an email to a few of the moth­ers I knew. Some of the girls were friends, some were not…yet. I don’t believe any were coerced into par­tic­i­pat­ing. If they were, at least they’ve stayed. And I’ve over­heard them claim they start­ed the book club, and we moth­ers were sim­ply allowed to come along for the ride. This revi­sion­ist his­to­ry is fine by me.

Cricket in Times Square coverToday, we are five moth­er-daugh­ter pairs and the girls are in sev­enth grade. I would guess we’ve read close to fifty books togeth­er. Frederick’s moth­er-daugh­ter book club focus­es on one clas­sic for months — some­times a year. Ours reads one book every 4 – 6 weeks or so.  We take turns pick­ing books, moms gen­tly encour­ag­ing books the girls might not oth­er­wise find and devour on their own (no Har­ry Pot­ter books, Hunger Games, Diver­gent etc.), and girls insist­ing on books moms might not oth­er­wise have giv­en a chance. We’ve read sev­er­al that were pop­u­lar when the moth­ers were the daugh­ters’ age, which they find interesting/hysterical. We’ve had a cou­ple of author vis­its. We’ve even done some events that have noth­ing to do with books — we won a prize for our Brown-Paper-Pack­ages-Tied-Up-With-String cos­tumes at the Sound of Music Sing-a-long! 

Our daugh­ters are friends in that sus­tain­ing sort of way that makes it through (we hope) the some­times tumul­tuous mid­dle school years; which is to say there are no cliquey BFF’s in the group, but rather known-each-oth­er-for-quite-awhile friend­ships. The moth­ers are friends in that sus­tain­ing sort of way that comes when you raise your daugh­ters togeth­er. We are lis­ten­ing ears for one anoth­er, glad cel­e­bra­tors, co-com­mis­er­ates (clothes shop­ping with pre-teens — OY!), and con­fi­dants. The girls talk of con­tin­u­ing our book group through their high school years, and we moth­ers cross our fin­gers and say a lit­tle prayer this will be the case. It’s get­ting more and more dif­fi­cult to sched­ule our meet­ings — busy girls, busy moms, busy fam­i­lies. But we work hard to make it work when we can with­out stress­ing any­one out.

In short, it has been a tremen­dous thing in our lives, this moth­er-daugh­ter book club.  Read­ing about a moth­er-daugh­ter book club that is so dif­fer­ent from ours is a hoot. And in the hands of Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick, ado­les­cence is not only well drawn, but help­ful­ly drawn. The moth­ers and daugh­ters in her series go through many of the very same things we do, for there is noth­ing new under the sun with regard to ado­les­cence and the moth­er-daugh­ter rela­tion­ship — just vari­a­tions on sim­i­lar themes. It’s good to read about oth­er lives that have touch points with yours — sparks great con­ver­sa­tion.




Skinny Dip with Toni Buzzeo


Avail­able May 2015

What’s your favorite hol­i­day tra­di­tion?

Although only my father is Ital­ian, I grew up with a strong con­nec­tion to my Ital­ian her­itage. And real­ly, when does one’s her­itage shine more bright­ly than the hol­i­days? So, every Christ­mas Eve finds me with my fam­i­ly in our Maine farm­house kitchen mak­ing home­made ravi­o­li. My hus­band Ken rolls out the dough that has been rest­ing on the counter under a bowl for sev­er­al hours while my son Topher and I wres­tle the cir­cles of dough he pro­vides us into fold­ed cush­ions of deli­cious­ness that we drop into a boil­ing pot of salt­ed water. Lat­er, we light the can­dles in our for­mal din­ing room and sit down with our grand­ba­by Cam­den and our daugh­ter-in-law Caitlin to a feast of baked ravi­o­li, home­made rolls, green sal­ad, and glass­es of red wine — the per­fect Christ­mas Eve feast.

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

Oh good­ness, I was nei­ther teacher’s pet nor teacher’s chal­lenge. Instead, I was the invis­i­ble child. If my best friend, Lin­da Benko, was absent, I spoke to no one the entire day, includ­ing my teacher! I was so des­per­ate­ly shy, and lived in a cocoon from which I didn’t emerge until I was six­teen years old when I sud­den­ly and quite unex­pect­ed­ly meta­mor­phosed into the gal I am now, ver­bal­ly exu­ber­ant and high­ly inter­per­son­al.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

While I don’t remem­ber writ­ing my first book report, I am absolute­ly sure that, as an enor­mous­ly pas­sion­ate read­er, I wrote it with great enthu­si­asm and ardor.

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

Presents! I adore presents — get­ting them and espe­cial­ly GIVING them. For me, a deeply sat­is­fy­ing part of prepar­ing a gift for giv­ing is the wrap­ping, the berib­bon­ing, the embell­ish­ing. Of course, that means that I keep a five-foot- wide draw­er full to the top with a tan­gle of wrap­ping paper, rib­bons, tags, flow­ers, gauzy bags, and all man­ner of doo-dads.

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

As you gob­ble those piles and piles of library books, Toni Marie, think about what it would be like to WRITE books like those. Dream the dream of being an author.” Sad­ly, I was nev­er encour­aged to write, even in high school when sure­ly, I’d begun to show signs of tal­ent, which is why it took me so very long to launch my career writ­ing for chil­dren. How much ear­li­er I might have begun had I heard that advice!

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

Here’s one of the best things about being a children’s author. I often get to have din­ner with my favorite (liv­ing) writ­ers. So, giv­en this oppor­tu­ni­ty, I’d like to go to my child­hood favorites and invite 98-year-old Bev­er­ly Cleary, author of my beloved Beezus and Ramona and Hen­ry books; Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Bet­sy-Tacy books I read over and over; and Car­olyn Hay­wood, author of my oth­er favorite Bet­sy books. And before that din­ner, I would re-read every sin­gle one of those child­hood favorites.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

For me, there is some­thing com­plete­ly lux­u­ri­ous about crawl­ing back into bed, of a morn­ing, with a cup of tea and pil­lows piled all around, and spend­ing an hour or two with a book and not a sin­gle elec­tron­ic device in sight.



Melissa Stewart: A Fresh Look at Expository Nonfiction

No Monkeys No Chocolate

No Mon­keys, No Choco­late Allen Young, co-author illus­trat­ed by Nicole Wang Charles­bridge, 2013

by Melis­sa Stew­art

Nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion. The words have a nice ring to them, don’t they?

Expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion? Not so much.

Rhymes with gory, pur­ga­to­ry, deroga­to­ry, lava­to­ry. Gesh, it’s no won­der expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion gets a bad rap. And yet, plen­ty of great non­fic­tion for kids is expos­i­to­ry. Its main pur­pose is to explain, describe, or inform.

As far as I’m con­cerned, this is a gold­en moment for expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion because, in recent years, it’s gone through an excit­ing trans­for­ma­tion. Once upon a time, it was bor­ing and stodgy and mat­ter-of-fact, but today’s non­fic­tion books MUST delight as well as inform young read­ers, and authors are work­ing hard to do just that. The expos­i­to­ry books we’re cre­at­ing fea­ture engag­ing text, often with a strong voice, as well as dynam­ic art and design.

Here are ten of my recent favorites:

  • A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Car­olyn Cina­mi DeCristo­fano
  • Bone by Bone: Com­par­ing Ani­mal Skele­tons by Sarah Levine
  • Born in the Wild: Baby Mam­mals and Their Par­ents by Lita Judge
  • Bugged: How Insects Changed the World by Sarah Albee
  • Crea­ture Fea­tures by Steve Jenk­ins & Robin Page
  • Feath­ers: Not Just for Fly­ing by Melis­sa Stew­art
  • Frogs by Nic Bish­op
  • Look Up! Bird-Watch­ing in Your Own Back­yard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
  • Neo Leo by Gene Bar­ret­ta
  • Tiny Crea­tures: The Invis­i­ble World of Microbes by Nico­la Davies

Sarah S. Bran­nen, illus­tra­tor
Charles­bridge, 2014

There is also a sec­ond kind of expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion books. Some peo­ple call them data books. I pre­fer to call them fast-fact books to dis­tin­guish them from the facts-plus books list­ed above.

Facts-plus books focus on facts as well as over­ar­ch­ing ideas. In oth­er words, they present facts and explain them. Fast-fact books focus on shar­ing cool facts. Peri­od. They inform, and that’s all. Exam­ples include The Guin­ness Book of World Records and The Time for Kids Big Book of Why. These are the con­cise, fact-filled books that groups of boys love to read togeth­er and dis­cuss.

Some peo­ple don’t have a very high opin­ion of fast-fact books, and to be sure, they don’t build read­ing sta­mi­na or crit­i­cal think­ing skills. BUT they do entice many reluc­tant read­ers to pick up a book, and IMHO that alone makes them worth­while.

Why do stu­dents need to be exposed to a diverse array of expos­i­to­ry texts? Because it’s the style of non­fic­tion they’ll be asked to write most fre­quent­ly through­out their school years and in their future jobs. Whether they’re work­ing on a report, a the­sis, a busi­ness pro­pos­al, or even a com­pa­ny newslet­ter, they’ll need to know how to sum­ma­rize infor­ma­tion and syn­the­size ideas in a way that is clear, log­i­cal, and inter­est­ing to their read­ers. Today’s expos­i­to­ry children’s books make ide­al men­tor texts for mod­el­ing these skills.



Book Talk, Book Shop & Book Swap

by Mau­r­na Rome

As my stu­dents pass through our class­room door, the morn­ing buzz begins. The kids are already remind­ing me… “It’s Fri­day, Mrs. Rome!” We all know what that means. It’s Fri­day Fun Day! It’s time for “Book Talk, Book Shop, and Book Swap.” 

The kids in Room 132 do not seem to care about miss­ing out on the usu­al “Fun Day” menu choic­es of extra free time, videos, or games. They are excit­ed about our spe­cial day of lit­er­a­cy-based activ­i­ties. The sign-up list for book talk­ers is grow­ing… the max­i­mum of 10 is quick­ly reached. The titles being pro­mot­ed come from a vari­ety of sources; the pub­lic library, our school or class­room library, per­son­al col­lec­tions from home (which change fre­quent­ly, thanks to our week­ly book swap­ping) or even from our very own “class­room author col­lec­tion”. 

Keme booktalks with assistance from Austin.

Keme book talks Card­board with assis­tance from Austin.         (Click any pho­to to enlarge.)

The first book talk title is Card­board by Doug Ten­Napel. A lover of graph­ic nov­els, Keme explains that it all starts with a birth­day present that is noth­ing but a card­board box. A boy and his dad turn the box into a card­board per­son but when the clock strikes mid­night, it comes to life. Since the only rule for “Book Talk” is NO SPOILERS, we are left hang­ing with this teas­er: “After the card­board box breaks, the boy rush­es home but his heart is pump­ing so fast, so he might not make it!” Sev­er­al hands fly up in the air… “How many copies do we have?” “Can I have it after you, Keme?” 

Exploring the crates

Explor­ing the crates.

Once the book talk­ers wrap up, the book crates that store our mas­sive col­lec­tion of class­room books are uncov­ered. Eager shop­pers are ready to select new titles for their per­son­al book box­es, which are stored on the counter that runs the length of our class­room. Each plas­tic bin holds from 4 – 15 books, depend­ing on the genre and thick­ness. These books are select­ed almost entire­ly by stu­dents. Although we all under­stand what it means to have books that are “just right”, occa­sion­al­ly stu­dents need to reflect on their book choic­es. How­ev­er, I don’t insist that kids pick books that are only from a spe­cif­ic Lex­ile or guid­ed lev­el. The main cri­te­ria is that kids choose books they want to read. I often won­der how this could be con­sid­ered a “nov­el” idea… shouldn’t this be the rule of thumb? 

Final­ly, the last piece of our Fri­day tri­fec­ta. The book swap is

Classroom Book Shop

Search­ing, search­ing…

under­way. Gen­tly used books that were turned into the book swap box in the morn­ing are care­ful­ly laid out on a table. Book swap coupons are place on top of each book. Coupons can be used right away or saved for a future swap. In addi­tion to this day’s inven­to­ry, we add many oth­er books from pre­vi­ous Fri­days’ book swaps. Read­ers who are ready to make a trade, col­lect their coupons and begin perus­ing the avail­able titles. Some­times, extra coupons are hand­ed out as rewards. The class­room is trans­formed into a bustling mix of book swap­pers, some choos­ing new “gen­tly used” books for them­selves while oth­ers are look­ing for a book to give to a younger sis­ter or broth­er. Unlike books that are cho­sen dur­ing “book shop­ping”, book swap books are tak­en home “for keeps” or per­haps, brought back to be trad­ed in a future book swap. 

Coupons and books, ready for swapping.

Coupons and books, ready for swap­ping.

As I sit back and watch a love of books and read­ing take over our class­room, a sat­is­fy­ing smile spreads across my face and my heart. This is real­ly what it is all about. Kids who want to share their thoughts and opin­ions about what they are read­ing.

Kids who want to make their own choic­es about the books they are read­ing. Kids who want to read. We always seem to strug­gle to fit all three com­po­nents of Fun Fri­day in before the end of the day, but we do our best. Some­times the kids plead to do more book talk­ing, shop­ping and swap­ping on Mon­day. My answer is always the same, “Well… I sup­pose!”

This after­noon of pro­mot­ing a love of lit­er­a­cy is not out­lined on any dis­trict cur­ricu­lum plan, it is not found on the pages of any teacher guide, and it most cer­tain­ly won’t be the focus of any ques­tions on the man­dat­ed stan­dard­ized tests com­ing next month. How­ev­er, I will wager a bet that years from now when these amaz­ing 8- and 9‑year-olds think back to third grade, they will fond­ly recall “Book Talk, Book Shop, and Book Swap” and the fun we had on Fri­days in Room 132!




A Writing GPS

GPS_clipFor a cou­ple of years run­ning I was hired for two-week “writ­ing road trips” across the south­west­ern Min­neso­ta prairie. On my dai­ly jour­neys I often passed with­in a few miles of the banks of Lau­ra Ingalls Wilder’s Plum Creek. But I didn’t have time to stop and vis­it Famous Author Land­marks. I had been hired on as a “Famous Author” myself, to vis­it a series of schools and talk to stu­dents about writ­ing. I would spend the morn­ing in a school with hun­dreds of kids packed into the gym, and then charge down coun­try high­ways to anoth­er school so small that the entire 3rd grade was made up of six lit­tle boys.

I was on dis­play in these out-of-the-way places as proof that there are real peo­ple behind those names on books. But I also want­ed to inspire the kids I met to be more enthu­si­as­tic writ­ers. I want­ed them to see writ­ing as a chance to reach into their deep­est hid­den selves, and then to reach back out to oth­ers with what­ev­er sto­ries they found squir­reled away inside. But that’s not always an easy thing to do when you only have 45 min­utes and a big group of kids. I had to come up with a lot of atten­tion-grab­bing activ­i­ties — activ­i­ties that tru­ly taught some­thing about writ­ing, but were also “fun” enough to stick.

Now that it’s many thou­sands of words, kids, and teens lat­er, I’ve fig­ured out a bit more about teach­ing kids how to write, and I’m going to share what I’ve dis­cov­ered — here, on a reg­u­lar basis. If you’re act­ing as a “writ­ing GPS,” hop­ing to guide kids towards writ­ing with more con­fi­dence, more imag­i­na­tion, and more finesse — but espe­cial­ly more fun! — I’d love to have you come along for the ride.



Skinny Dip with Nikki Grimes

bk_chasingfreedom_140What keeps you up at night?

My brain! I can’t shut it off. I’m con­stant­ly bom­bard­ed with thoughts about what’s on my to-do list (I live or die by the list), what arrange­ments I need to make for the next con­fer­ence, book fes­ti­val, or school vis­it; what work I need to do to ele­vate the rela­tion­ships of my char­ac­ters or ways to make them more authen­tic; what man­u­script I need to con­cen­trate on next (I’m always jug­gling three or four at one time). When those things aren’t keep­ing me up, it’s one of my mouthy char­ac­ters, decid­ing he or she has some­thing to say that just can’t wait until morn­ing!

What is your proud­est career moment?

Enter­ing the White House as a guest for the first time, on the invi­ta­tion of First Lady Lau­ra Bush, as part of the Nation­al Book Fes­ti­val in 2003, with my sis­ter — my old­est fan — on my arm, beam­ing! Win­ning the Coret­ta Scott King Award for Bronx Mas­quer­ade is what got me there.

bk_bronx140In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Ice-skat­ing! I have absolute­ly no tal­ent in this area, but ice-skat­ing is the one Olympic sport that keeps me glued to the tele­vi­sion screen. That com­bi­na­tion of lyri­cal move­ment and tech­ni­cal skill fas­ci­nates me. I espe­cial­ly love those moments of spon­tane­ity when each ath­lete’s per­son­al­i­ty shines through. The pro­grams are planned and chore­o­graphed, but the per­for­mances are very much in the moment. Any­thing can hap­pen, and I love that! I feel that way when I’m writ­ing a sto­ry. Any­thing is pos­si­ble. Any­thing can hap­pen! I put in the work, I lay in the struc­ture, set my char­ac­ter’s back-sto­ries, and then, some­where along the way, I get into the zone, and — boom! Mag­ic hap­pens, and I score tens across the board — in my mind, at least! Yeah. Ice-skat­ing.

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

Face down an armed rob­ber, high on drugs, in a Swedish bou­tique I man­aged in Stock­holm. I was work­ing behind the counter when this guy came into the store and con­front­ed me, his hand in his pock­et point­ing a gun in my direc­tion. He demand­ed the mon­ey in the reg­is­ter and, when I did not com­ply, he bared a mouth­ful of yel­lowed teeth.

I will blow you straight to hell,” he told me.

No,” I said. “You’ll blow me straight to heav­en.”

That got him off his game, I think. He took a step back from the counter and gave me a long, hard look.

What? What did you say?” he asked.

I, calm as the prover­bial cucum­ber, explained to him that, as a Chris­t­ian, when I died, I was going to heav­en, not to hell. Then, blan­ket­ed in the per­fect peace of God, I pro­ceed­ed to share with him the gospel of Christ, and invit­ed him to accept Jesus.

Now, mind you, this was an out-of-body expe­ri­ence, because part of me was stand­ing back, watch­ing, ask­ing myself, “Are you crazy?! This man’s got a gun!” But, some­how, in that moment, by God’s grace, I felt no fear.

I talked with him qui­et­ly, slow­ly as if I had all the time in the world.

He asked me a few hon­est ques­tions about faith and for­give­ness, which I answered. As the scene played out, his pos­ture changed. His shoul­ders soft­ened, his head began to bow, the hand in his pock­et relaxed and he let the gun drop.  Even­tu­al­ly, with both hands at his side, he shuf­fled out of the store, whis­per­ing a string of apolo­gies. 

Once he was gone, I returned to my body and trem­bled from head to foot, like a nor­mal per­son! It was an extra­or­di­nary moment that taught me the real­i­ty of the pow­er of God and the per­fect peace he can offer in any cir­cum­stance. Okay, so maybe this is as much a sto­ry about faith as it is about brav­ery. Any­way, there you have it.

What TV show can’t you turn off?

There are a few, but the one that most sur­pris­es me is Shark Tank!

There is some­thing riv­et­ing about a per­son bar­ing his heart in pur­suit of a dream, and fight­ing for that dream in a do-or-die moment, when self-con­fi­dence is the key to suc­cess. I have wres­tled in pur­suit of my dreams my entire life. Maybe that’s why this show res­onates with me.


Reading Ahead: Levitate Your Brother!

Big Magic for Little Hands

by Vic­ki Palmquist

We recent­ly host­ed a Har­ry Pot­ter par­ty for adults for which every­one was asked to per­form a mag­ic trick. Some peo­ple fierce­ly addressed the chal­lenge. Some peo­ple pan­icked. Some peo­ple bought a trick off the inter­net. I turned to Joshua Jay’s Big Mag­ic for Lit­tle Hands (Work­man Pub­lish­ing Co).

Cit­ing all the ben­e­fits of learn­ing to per­form mag­ic, the author reveals that he was­n’t a read­er until he need­ed to know about mag­ic. Learn­ing mag­ic tricks and per­form­ing them gives a child con­fi­dence and helps with pub­lic speak­ing skills. “Oth­ers have inte­grat­ed mag­ic into their jobs, using effects to break the ice or com­plete a sale or relax a jury.”

There are dia­grams and ter­mi­nol­o­gy and sug­gest­ed stage setups. There are help­ful hints (over­com­ing stage fright). There are lists of mate­ri­als need­ed for each feat of pres­tidig­i­ta­tion.

With com­pelling black, white, and red illus­tra­tions, the dia­grams are easy to fol­low, con­vinc­ing even the most skep­ti­cal that they could make these tricks work.

The writ­ing is not just step-by-step instruc­tion­al – Jay writes with humor and an appre­ci­a­tion of what’s prac­ti­cal.

The mate­ri­als are items you prob­a­bly have on hand in your house­hold. When one list includes a top hat, Jay writes “A top hat works great, but you could also dec­o­rate an emp­ty tis­sue box and use that, or use your dad’s cow­boy hat. (Note: This only works if your dad is a cow­boy.)”

Per­haps most of all, I enjoyed the real-life sto­ries of mag­ic such as “Hou­dini’s Great Plane Escape.” When Hou­di­ni was film­ing the movie The Grim Game, a stunt required climb­ing by rope from one plane to the oth­er. Dur­ing the stunt, the two planes col­lid­ed and crashed to the ground. What hap­pened? Well, that would be telling. Accord­ing to Jay, a good magi­cian nev­er shares a secret or tells how it is done. Big Mag­ic for Lit­tle Hands will tell you but I won’t.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for kids aged 8 and old­er (and the adults in their lives who will be just as fas­ci­nat­ed). It’s a large for­mat book with a big heart and plen­ty of fas­ci­na­tion between its cov­ers. A great gift. A good, read­able, and hours-of-fun addi­tion to your library.



Reading With Older Kids

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

Our first-born turned eigh­teen this week. This prompt­ed many trips down mem­o­ry lane about his child­hood, as he is now an “adult.” I was rather tick­led to real­ize that so many of our fam­i­ly mem­o­ries have to do with books — all the cool books we’ve read, the cool places we read them in, and the times we’ve read when the oth­er par­ent­ing pro­to­cols didn’t quite seem to fit. (When in doubt, read togeth­er, I say. It will sure­ly nev­er make things worse, and almost always improves the sit­u­a­tion in some way.) 

Gone are the days when I read a book aloud to him. I know there are fam­i­lies who do this through the high school years and even beyond. I admire this very much, but we haven’t. For­mal­ly, at least. I can’t remem­ber exact­ly when we stopped — read­ing aloud time was prob­a­bly extend­ed for him because he has a much younger sib­ling. Even now he some­times “lis­tens in” as we read to her. But I strug­gle to pin­point when we stopped curl­ing up on the couch togeth­er before bed­time to read. Prob­a­bly when the home­work took over his life. 

QuietWhat has changed is the prepo­si­tion. We no longer read to the man-child, but rather with him. This hap­pens in a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent ways. He tends to read many of the same news arti­cles, pro­files, and human-inter­est sto­ries that I do. This is, as I see it, one of the best things to come from tech­nol­o­gy in our moth­er-son rela­tion­ship — we both have easy access to the New York Times, The Atlantic, The New York­er etc. In anoth­er time, these might not have been lying around in the liv­ing room for serendip­i­tous read­ing. He also zones in on the same sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy news, as well as the same fan­ta­sy or detec­tive nov­els, as his Dad. 

Each per­son might read these shared inter­est read­ing mate­ri­als at dif­fer­ent times, but when two or more have read the same thing, there is often con­ver­sa­tion at sup­per, dis­cus­sion as stalling/procrastination tech­nique (he hasn’t out­grown all the lit­tle-boy behav­iors), or shar­ing ideas in the car. 

We’ve also start­ed shar­ing books more fre­quent­ly. We gave him Qui­et: The Pow­er of Intro­verts In a World That Just Can’t Stop Talk­ing for Christ­mas. He inhaled it and pressed it into my hands with a “You have to read this!” The audio­book came in for me at the library and I am now lis­ten­ing to it as I com­mute. “Mom, have you got­ten to the part about…..?” he asks again and again. 

The Double BindHe looks on the liv­ing room book­shelf and notices a bat­tered copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Dark­ness. “Hey, we’re read­ing that next in Eng­lish,” he says. And so I re-read the book I haven’t read since I was his age, in fresh­man Eng­lish class. When he read The Great Gats­by, I said, “And now you must read The Dou­ble Bind by Chris Boh­jalian.” 

We read and dis­cuss banned books togeth­er, share book­lists and arti­cles, and read and attend Shake­speare plays togeth­er. We often find that our book­shelves are not as per­son­al as they once were — they’re more famil­ial. If I can’t find a cer­tain book in my office, I head to his room and see if it is on his shelves, or to his sister’s shelves and see if it is there. They share quite a lot now, too, so a book search can some­times take a while. 

He’s a read­er, which I feel a lit­tle proud about and a lot relieved. All of those hours and hours and hours of read­ing to him have led to very enjoy­able teen years of read­ing with him. I hope this will con­tin­ue as he grows into adult­hood. I had no idea when we start­ed that read­ing was the gift that would keep on giv­ing. I know the two don’t always cor­re­late, but I’m awful­ly glad they have in our house.



Skinny Dip with Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing Secrets

Avail­able August 2015

What keeps you up at night?

Gen­er­al­ly I wake up wor­ry­ing about my kids or my career. The mid­dle-of-the-night sce­nar­ios are dire: acci­dents, Alzheimer’s, awful reviews, abject humil­i­a­tion in one form or anoth­er. Unfor­tu­nate­ly I’m a world-class wor­ri­er, so there I am lying in a pool of sweat whipped into a fret­ting fren­zy when sud­den­ly an idea pops into my head. A good idea. An idea that solves a writ­ing prob­lem I’ve been grap­pling with for days. But I don’t know it because mid­dle-of-the-night ideas come in dis­guise. An image, a line of dia­logue, a name, a char­ac­ter I hadn’t thought was impor­tant that sud­den­ly begins to speak to me. I write every­thing down but I often don’t under­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of what I’ve writ­ten until the next morn­ing.

What is your proud­est career moment?

I’m the kid in the back-back of the sta­tion wag­on. The one who tries hard and every­one says: is such a nice girl. I’m not the star. I don’t have a his­to­ry of win­ning any­thing. The day I won the New­bery Hon­or changed my life. It made me believe in my dreams in a way noth­ing else ever has.

Describe your favorite pair of paja­mas.

My favorite PJs look like an 18th cen­tu­ry orphan’s rags. They are worn to threads, the elas­tic frayed down to one thin rub­ber band. I live in fear that some­one out­side my fam­i­ly will see me wear­ing them, but I sim­ply can’t give them up. They feel like me.

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

I’d like to win a gold medal in gym­nas­tics or ten­nis although in my mind’s eye I look good in those skimpy lit­tle out­fits. Clear­ly, I have a great imag­i­na­tion.

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

Putting the Monkeys to Bed

Avail­able June 2015

Once, I spoke to 1500 mid­dle school kids in a gym­na­si­um the size of the state of Texas. The screen where my lap­top pro­ject­ed the images essen­tial for the pre­sen­ta­tion was the size of a for­tune cook­ie. The audi­ence could not see it. I was the only speak­er for an entire hour. I thought I was going to faint when I walked into this sit­u­a­tion but the kids had read my books. They want­ed to hear what I had to say. You could have heard an ant cross that gym­na­si­um floor. I will always be indebt­ed to the teach­ers who pre­pared those kids so well.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

The Car­rot Seed by Ruth Strauss and Crock­ett John­son. I still remem­ber hold­ing it in my chub­by lit­tle hand, read­ing it for the very first time. I believed I was the main char­ac­ter. In one hun­dred and one words, Strauss and John­son told a pow­er­ful sto­ry that spoke to me on the deep­est lev­el. Incred­i­ble!

What TV show can’t you turn off?

Inter­est­ing the way you phrased this ques­tion: “can’t turn off” which implies that you should be turn­ing TV off. Or in fact you shouldn’t turn it on in the first place. Hon­est­ly, I think that’s a dat­ed point of view. The best writ­ing is in books. No doubt about that. But a close sec­ond is writ­ing for tele­vi­sion. The Sopra­nos, House of Cards, Break­ing Bad, The Left­overs, Mad­men, Trans­par­ent . . . this is fine, fine char­ac­ter writ­ing. Writ­ing for movies, on the oth­er hand, is not near­ly as strong as it was ten years ago.

What book do you tell every­one to read?

Not sur­pris­ing­ly I have a lot of favorite books so I will just talk about this month’s favorite books. For YAs: All the Light We Can­not See by Antho­ny Doerr. For MG read­ers: Nest by Esther Ehrlich.



From the Editor: Welcome

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

Wel­come to Bookol­o­gy.

WelcomeWhat began almost a year ago as a con­ver­sa­tion among col­leagues has now tak­en shape and arrived on your vir­tu­al doorstep: an e‑magazine ded­i­cat­ed to nur­tur­ing the essen­tial con­ver­sa­tion about the role of children’s books in the K‑8 class­room.

That meet­ing was con­vened by Vic­ki and Steve Palmquist, own­ers and founders of Wind­ing Oak and per­haps more famil­iar to many of you as the founders and heart­beat of Children’s Lit­er­a­ture Net­work, an orga­ni­za­tion they rolled up last year after pro­vid­ing 12 years of lead­er­ship as well as an unpar­al­leled online plat­form for com­mu­ni­ca­tion between children’s book cre­ators and the adults who love those books.

Vic­ki and Steve want­ed to cre­ate a sim­i­lar online pres­ence, one that would not only high­light the work of Wind­ing Oak’s many clients, but which would also invite a larg­er net­work of read­ers, writ­ers, illus­tra­tors, teach­ers, and librar­i­ans into the con­ver­sa­tion.

A quick guide to what you’ll see each month:

A Book­storm ™.  Each “storm” begins with one book. From there we spin out a cross-cur­ricu­lum array of sub­jects and pro­vide titles for each cat­e­go­ry. Com­mon Core, STEM/STEAM, state stan­dards — any cur­ricu­lum struc­ture will be served by the Book­storm™ bib­li­og­ra­phy. But we also go beyond a sim­ple list, and each month much of the Bookol­o­gy con­tent we present will emanate from the Book­storm™ titles.

Columns.  Whether writ­ten by one of our reg­u­lars or a guest writer, these posts are intend­ed to share the voic­es of peo­ple immersed in the world of children’s lit­er­a­ture. We are espe­cial­ly delight­ed to launch “Knock Knock,” a blog col­lec­tive from Wind­ing Oak’s many clients that will appear on alter­nate Tues­days. Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick game­ly accept­ed the assign­ment to write the inau­gur­al col­umn; she’ll be fol­lowed up lat­er this month by Melis­sa Stew­art and Avi.

Inter­views and arti­cles. We will be vis­it­ing with illus­tra­tors, writ­ers, teach­ers, librar­i­ans and oth­ers in order to expand what we all know and under­stand about children’s lit­er­a­ture. We’ll also be offer­ing a lighter, more humor­ous get­ting-to-know-you inter­view venue: Skin­ny Dips, in which we ask about almost any­thing except the cre­ative process.

We will scat­ter about the mag­a­zine fea­tures and inci­den­tals we hope will be of inter­est, such as Lit­er­ary Madeleines—dis­cov­er­ies that even the vet­er­an read­ers on the staff savored — and Time­lines, quick at-a-glance looks at sem­i­nal books in a genre or sub­ject. Con­test, quizzes, and book-give­aways will also appear through­out the month.

What you won’t see are book reviews. While many of our arti­cles and columns will of course dis­cuss and rec­om­mend books, those rec­om­men­da­tions will always be in con­text of a larg­er top­ic. There are plen­ty of book review forums avail­able, and we weren’t inter­est­ed in adding to those voic­es.

And for now you won’t see “Com­ments” sec­tions. This is iron­ic of course in view of our stat­ed mis­sion of nur­tur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion; we’ll open those, and soon. In the mean­time, should you have a com­ment or sug­ges­tion or request, send me a note.

Thanks for your time and inter­est. Now please go explore Bookol­o­gy.



Bookstorm: Leroy Ninker Saddles Up


In this Bookstorm:

Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up. Tales from Deck­a­woo Dri­ve, Book 1.

Kate DiCamil­lo, illus­trat­ed by Chris Van Dusen.
Can­dlewick Press, 2014

Leroy Ninker has a hat, a las­so, and boots. What he doesn’t have is a horse — until he meets May­belline, that is, and then it’s love at first sight. May­belline loves spaghet­ti and sweet noth­ings, and she loves Leroy, too. But when Leroy for­gets the third and final rule of car­ing for May­belline, dis­as­ter ensues. Can Leroy wres­tle fate to the ground, res­cue the horse of his heart, and las­so lone­li­ness for good? Join Leroy, May­belline, and a cast of famil­iar char­ac­ters — Stel­la, Frank, Mrs. Wat­son, and everyone’s favorite porcine won­der, Mer­cy — for some hilar­i­ous and heart­felt hors­ing around on Deck­a­woo Dri­ve.”

Ear­ly Chap­ter Books. Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up is writ­ten in a way that begin­ning read­ers will find approach­able and sat­is­fy­ing. There are chap­ters, each one a short tale. The vocab­u­lary is acces­si­ble. In begin­ning read­ers, there are illus­tra­tions for chil­dren who are most famil­iar with pic­ture books but the empha­sis shifts toward read­ing. You’ll find a num­ber of com­ple­men­tary titles in the Book­storm, some of which focus on hors­es.

Friend­ship. Whether it’s unlike­ly friend­ships between ani­mals, good friends old and young, or com­fort­ing a fear­ful friend, we rec­om­mend books that will pair well with Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up, in which insep­a­ra­ble friends Leroy and May­belline find joy.

Cow­boys. Leroy Ninker aban­dons his life of crime to work in a dri­ve-in the­ater, but being a cow­boy appeals to him. You’ll find true sto­ries about cow­boys in this sec­tion of the Book­storm™, includ­ing Cow­boy Up! Ride the Nava­jo Rodeo, about fam­i­lies who work hard to be their best on the rodeo cir­cuit.

Hors­es. Leroy Ninker loves May­belline, his horse unlike any oth­er. You’ll find rec­om­mend­ed pic­ture books and chap­ter books about hors­es, fic­tion and non­fic­tion, includ­ing Mar­guerite Henry’s clas­sic, Misty of Chin­coteague.

Dri­ve-In The­aters. There are very few left in the coun­try, but Leroy works at one and many adults remem­ber the fun of watch­ing a movie in your PJs, tucked inside your par­ents’ car, slap­ping at the mos­qui­toes, and eat­ing food from the con­ces­sions stand. We rec­om­mend a web­site that brings the expe­ri­ence to life.

Spaghet­ti. It’s Maybelline’s favorite food and a won­der­ful way to engage your stu­dents in dis­cus­sions about sci­ence and math. We rec­om­mend cook­books for those who enjoy non­fic­tion best.

Size. Leroy is on the short side and May­belline is on the tall side. Books such as Actu­al Size by Steve Jenk­ins will have your stu­dents com­par­ing and con­trast­ing with ease.

Kind­ness. The book inspires dis­cus­sions about being kind and accept­ing oth­ers. We’ve rec­om­mend­ed books that will add to the dis­cus­sion, includ­ing The Name Jar by Yang­sook Choi.

Weath­er. A storm is an impor­tant plot ele­ment in Leroy and Maybelline’s sto­ry. Sev­er­al books about weath­er, rang­ing from pic­ture books to begin­ning read­ers, from fic­tion to non­fic­tion, are includ­ed for your inspi­ra­tion.

Tech­niques for using each book:



Skinny Dip with Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamilloDo you remem­ber any book reports you wrote or gave while in ele­men­tary school?

No one has ever asked me this ques­tion before! Here is the truth: I don’t remem­ber doing one, sin­gle book report. Have I blocked the mem­o­ries out? Or did I real­ly not do any? I’m think­ing it’s the lat­ter. Tru­ly.

Describe your all-time favorite pair of paja­mas.

Red flan­nel. Dec­o­rat­ed with dogs. And Milk bones. Divine.

What was the best Hal­loween cos­tume you’ve ever worn or seen?

I love the Bugs Bun­ny mask I wore when I was three. I can still smell the inte­ri­or of that mask. I can still feel the pow­er of *hid­ing* behind that mask.

Are you good at wrap­ping presents?

Ha ha ha. I am laugh­ing. And I can hear my moth­er laugh­ing from the great beyond. I inher­it­ed my inabil­i­ty to wrap presents from her. Present-wrap­ping always ends up with me in the mid­dle of a great big snarl of wrap­ping paper and scotch tape. Imag­ine Bink wrap­ping a present and you get the right visu­al.

Do you like to cook for friends or meet them at a restau­rant?

Still laugh­ing. Cook for friends? Me? I like to go to *their* hous­es and eat *their* food. But I do take them out to restau­rants to return the favor.

Which out­door activ­i­ty are you most like­ly to par­tic­i­pate in: run­ning; fish­ing; leaf rak­ing; parade watch­ing?

Parade watch­ing. I love a parade. And it’s all a parade.

When did you get your first library card, and from what library?

*Swoon* I got my first library card when was I sev­en. I got it from the Coop­er Memo­r­i­al Pub­lic Library.

Favorite bird?


 Which children’s book do you wish you’d read as a child?

Matil­da. It was­n’t in our school library or the pub­lic library. Strange, huh?


Traveling In-Word

For this week’s writ­ing road trip, I jour­neyed to the Alpha­bet For­est. For those who haven’t had the plea­sure of vis­it­ing, the Alpha­bet For­est is the remark­able cre­ation of author/illustrator/innovator Debra Frasi­er, who through pure pas­sion and per­sis­tence, man­aged to carve out an oasis for words in the midst of the con­sum­able crazi­ness that is the Min­neso­ta State Fair.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the State Fair. I just don’t think of it as a place to sit qui­et­ly and muse deeply. And yet, Debra’s love of fair let­ter­ing start­ed her on a jour­ney that led to cre­at­ing this enchant­ed place: in the midst of sun­burn, sore feet, and stom­ach aches, here is a cor­ner where there’s shade and plen­ty of places to sit down and peo­ple who offer you fun for free. But bet­ter yet, there are words enough to stuff your imag­i­na­tion even more than those mini donuts have already stuffed your stom­ach.

Lisa Bullard

Last year, I watched as my niece ignored every oth­er fair offer­ing (okay, with the excep­tion of that giant brown­ie) as she obses­sive­ly filled out her Fab­u­lous Fair Alpha­bet Game Card. This year, I had the plea­sure of serv­ing as author-in-res­i­dence at the Alpha­bet For­est for a day. I worked with oodles of kids who set­tled in at my table and prompt­ly became utter­ly absorbed in writ­ing or draw­ing. It didn’t mat­ter that the parade was pass­ing them by (lit­er­al­ly!) and that there were still corn­dogs and cot­ton can­dy to be eat­en: when giv­en the option, their num­ber one pri­or­i­ty was to lose them­selves in the cre­ative act.

It remind­ed me, all over again, why I do what I do: giv­ing kids the gift of words and sto­ry is like hand­ing them the mag­ic key to life. Even kids who think they hate read­ing and writ­ing can be won over eas­i­ly once you find the right key for them. A for­est full of words can beat a clutch of corn­dogs any day.

If you’re near Min­neso­ta, and you’re going to the fair, you can be inspired with ideas for how to cre­ate an Alpha­bet For­est in your own class­room or din­ing room. If not, there are a myr­i­ad of amaz­ing down­load­able resources to help you, start­ing at this link and mov­ing on from there to Debra Frasier’s web­site.

You’ll be mighty glad you made the jour­ney.


Git along, doggies!

The images below are a small part of a larg­er pho­to or book cov­er. Each of the images per­tains to a book in this mon­th’s issue. Can you guess what these are? When you believe you’ve decid­ed, click on the image and you’ll see if you’re right.

 My, you pay care­ful atten­tion! Well done.


Katherine Tillotson: Illustrating Shoe Dog

bk_shoe-dog1Shoe Dog

writ­ten by Megan McDon­ald
illus­tra­tions by Kather­ine Tillot­son
Richard Jack­son Books / Simon & Schus­ter, 2014

Your illus­tra­tion of the Shoe Dog is so unusu­al. What inspired you to use this ropy scrib­ble?

Shoe Dog sketchWhen I first visu­al­ized Shoe Dog, it was as a black and white bull ter­ri­er. In fact, I cre­at­ed an entire book dum­my with that image. I had even asked a woman in the neigh­bor­hood if I could use her bull ter­ri­er as a mod­el. But there was some­thing about my sketch­es that did­n’t feel quite right to me and when I hap­pened to come across some scrib­bly side­walk chalk draw­ings made by chil­dren, I imme­di­ate­ly went home and began revis­ing my sketch­es. It was the ener­gy and life in the chil­dren’s pic­tures that inspired me.

What tools did you use to cre­ate the var­i­ous ele­ments in the book, such as the move­ment lines, the speech bub­bles, the fence, the exot­ic shoes?

Artwork from Shoe DogI have always been attract­ed by col­lage. In the past, I have enjoyed cut­ting up pat­terned paper and arrang­ing the pieces in unex­pect­ed ways. The com­put­er has made it pos­si­ble to re-imag­ine the tech­nique of col­lage. Now I am able to com­bine marks that would have been impos­si­ble to mix if I was work­ing con­ven­tion­al­ly.

I love to work with hand­made marks. For Shoe Dog I used marks made by a bray­er, cray­on rub­bings, a flat pen­cil and char­coal, then col­laged them in the com­put­er.

What did you do to “loosen up” your line for the high­ly active Shoe Dog?

I have recent­ly been exper­i­ment­ing in water­col­or and I find that by the time I have ren­dered any more than five lay­ers, I am com­plete­ly stiff and tight. I think that ten­sion is caused by the fear that the entire paint­ing can be ruined with the next brush stroke. In con­trast, Shoe Dog­gie was a loosey-goosey ride. Since I was using the com­put­er, I knew that I could scrib­ble and scrib­ble until I cre­at­ed a dog I want­ed to use. Know that I could make tons of mis­takes helped me to keep the mark-mak­ing loose and relaxed.

Color MovesHow do you go about choos­ing a col­or palette? It’s so lumi­nous that it exudes good cheer, until we get to the BAD DOG! part of the book. Mar­velous con­trast. You express so well some­thing we’ve all felt.

Thank you! I always try many col­or com­bi­na­tions until one feels right. I have to give a call-out to Atheneum’s Excec­u­tive Art Direc­tor, Ann Bob­co. From time to time she sends me inspir­ing pack­ages. While I was work­ing on a col­or palette for Shoe Dog, Ann sent me the book, Col­or Moves: Art & Fash­ion by Sonia Delau­nay. The fab­rics of Sonia Delau­nay great­ly influ­enced my col­or choic­es.

Did you select the font used through­out the book or did the book design­er do that? Is it usu­al for an illus­tra­tor to choose the book’s font? What was it about this font that you felt suit­ed the book?

Cred­it for the font choice goes to Ann Bob­co. I love the bounce and ani­ma­tion it gives to the words.

In my expe­ri­ence, it is unusu­al for the illus­tra­tor to choose the book font. How­ev­er, I know that there are many excep­tions. Recent­ly, I was read­ing The Adven­tures of Beek­le writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Dan San­tat. I looked to see what font had been used and it was San­tat.

How did you go about decid­ing to leave human faces out of the book?

I am so glad you asked! I believe that it was orig­i­nal­ly Megan who sug­gest­ed that the woman in the sto­ry, She, Her­self, would be a pres­ence, a very sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence, but just off-cam­era. She, Her­self would be most­ly hid­den until the very end. It was par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing to fig­ure out how to estab­lish the close­ness between woman and dog ear­ly in the sto­ry. I want­ed a hug. The solu­tion was to adorn She Her­self with a very large hat.

Shoe Dog

Illus­tra­tion from Shoe Dog.

 Did you and the author, Megan McDon­ald, talk togeth­er about the art for this book?

We spoke a tee­ny tiny bit at the begin­ning of the art mak­ing. Megan and I do speak reg­u­lar­ly, but usu­al­ly not about any books that are under­way. We both fol­low our cus­tom­ary prac­tice of com­mu­ni­cat­ing about the book with Dick Jack­son, our most excel­lent edi­tor. This arrange­ment works well for every­one.

Are you already work­ing on your next project?

I am! A night­time sto­ry set in a for­est. Then I am going for a romp in the moun­tains with anoth­er sto­ry.



Leroy Ninker Saddles Up! Companion Booktalks

Let these help you get start­ed on the Book­storm™ books:

Actual SizeActu­al Size, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Steve Jenk­ins

  • Ani­mal parts or whole ani­mals shown in actu­al size (a squid’s eye!)
  • Try to guess the ani­mal by look­ing at just one part
  • Ide­al for com­par­ing and con­trast­ing

Bill PicketBill Pick­et: Rodeo-Ridin’ Cow­boy,
 writ­ten by Andrea Pinkney, illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Pinkney

  • True sto­ry of an African-Amer­i­can rodeo star
  • You won’t believe his trick for qui­et­ing bulls and calves
  • Biog­ra­phy of a true-life action super­hero

Black Cowboys, Wild HorsesBlack Cow­boy, Wild Hors­es,
 writ­ten by Julius Lester, illus­trat­ed by Jer­ry Pinkney

  • True sto­ry about one of the many African-Amer­i­can cow­boys
  • Find all the cam­ou­flaged crit­ters!
  • Hors­es galore!

Cowboy UpCow­boy Up! Ride the Nava­jo Rodeo
, writ­ten by Nan­cy Bo Flood, pho­tographs by Jan Son­nemair

  • You’ve heard of buckin’ bron­cos — how about buckin’ sheep?
  • Pho­tos of chil­dren and teens of the Nava­jo Nation par­tic­i­pat­ing in all the events
  • Poet­ry, pho­tos, and prose make you feel part of the action

Cowgirl KateCow­girl Kate and Cocoa,
 writ­ten by Eri­ca Sil­ver­man, illus­trat­ed by Bet­sy Lewin

  • Easy read­er with four stand-alone chap­ters
  • A girl with her very own horse
  • Kate and her con­trary horse get into all sorts of trou­ble

FriendsFriends: True Sto­ries of Extra­or­di­nary Ani­mal Friend­ships,
writ­ten by Cather­ine Thimmesh

  • Friend­ships between ani­mals of dif­fer­ent species — some are very unusu­al ani­mals
  • What hap­pens to injured wild ani­mals? Learn about ani­mal reha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ters
  • Entic­ing, imme­di­ate pho­tographs

Horse SongHorse Song: the Naadam of Mon­go­lia, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ted and Bet­sy Lewin

  • Based on the authors’ own vis­it to Mon­go­lia
  • Young read­ers will love rid­ing into com­pe­ti­tion with 9 year-old jock­ey Tamir
  • Illus­tra­tions bring the Naadam fes­ti­val to life

In the Days of the VaquerosIn the Days of the Vaque­ros,
writ­ten by Rus­sell Freed­man

  • Who were the first cow­boys in the Amer­i­c­as? How were they dif­fer­ent from the cow­boys in movies?
  • Find out why Cal­i­for­nia Vaque­ros would las­so and cap­ture griz­zly bears
  • Great mate­r­i­al for a report

Just the Right SizeJust the Right Size,
writ­ten by Nico­la Davies, illus­trat­ed by Neal Lay­ton

  • Why can’t there be a real King Kong?
  • Why can geck­oes climb on ceil­ings and humans can’t?
  • Have fun with math (and the car­toon illus­tra­tions) to find the answers

Leroy NinkerLeroy Ninker Sad­dles Up
, writ­ten by Kate DiCamil­lo, illus­trat­ed by Chris Van Dusen

  • A scary storm, a search for a lost friend, a cel­e­bra­tion with friends — excit­ing action
  • Sil­ly char­ac­ters and their tongue-twisty, fun­ny dia­logue
  • First book in a com­pan­ion series to the author’s Mer­cy Wat­son books — plen­ty more read­ing for eager read­ers

Name JarThe Name Jar
, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Yang­sook Choi

  • Class­room sto­ry about young Kore­an immi­grant Unhei’s dilem­ma: should she choose an Amer­i­can name?
  • Warm, sim­ple illus­tra­tions that evoke all the emo­tions and humor
  • Top­ic of “Your name” makes a won­der­ful dis­cus­sion and writ­ing prompt

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bar­bara Lehman.

  • What do you think about on a rainy day?
  • Min­gles a boy’s real and imag­ined world in a sto­ry with­out words
  • Calde­cott Hon­or author/illustrator


Ready Steady SpaghettiReady Steady Spaghet­ti, by Lucy Broad­hurst

  • Cook­book with col­or­ful and engag­ing pho­tographs — wow fac­tor
  • Uncom­pli­cat­ed recipes for a range of food – veg­e­tar­i­an, desserts, snacks, and more
  • Swamp Mud” looks deli­cious!

Star of Wild Horse CanyonStar of Wild Horse Canyon,
writ­ten by Clyde Robert Bul­la, illus­trat­ed by Grace Paull

  • Cap­tur­ing and tam­ing wild hors­es!
  • A mys­tery involv­ing a lost horse — can you solve it before Dan­ny does?
  • Why is the horse named Star?

, writ­ten by Mar­i­on Dane Bauer, illus­trat­ed by John Wal­lace

  • All the facts about this unseen weath­er ele­ment — in text just right for begin­ning read­ers
  • Part of a set of four, also includ­ing Rain, Snow, and Clouds—great for first sci­ence reports
  • And just where does the wind come from?



Literary Madeleine: The Horse

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

The Horse coverThe Horse: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Hors­es in Art
Rachel Barnes and Simon Barnes
Quer­cus Pub­lish­ing 2008

We paint what mat­ters to us…”

Hors­es have always been part pf the human imag­i­na­tion”

                                           —from the intro­duc­tion

While prepar­ing for this month’s Bookol­o­gy I read and looked at many books about hors­es, and this is the one that was total­ly (totes!) unex­pect­ed. I was wowed. Even bet­ter, after an ini­tial perusal I felt com­pelled to page through it again and again, study­ing the text and savor­ing the images.

Cave Painting

Spot­ted Horse Cave Paint­ing
Las­caux, France
Click to enlarge.

In art, paint­ings over a cer­tain size are clas­si­fied as “mon­u­men­tal.” This is a mon­u­men­tal book, 17’’ (h) x 14” (w). Accord­ing­ly, the repro­duc­tions — many on dou­ble page spreads — are much larg­er than any that could be viewed on a com­put­er screen; fur­ther, the paper and image qual­i­ty suc­cess­ful­ly con­vey the tac­tile ele­ment of the art­work.

The price tag is also mon­u­men­tal; that along with the size would make this book a ques­tion­able one to add to a school library or a per­son­al col­lec­tion, but its impact as a class­room or liv­ing room vis­i­tor is easy to imag­ine.

Horses, Basilica San Marco

The Hors­es of Saint Mark,
St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca
Venice, Italy
Click to enlarge.

His­to­ry? You bet. The book is orga­nized chrono­log­i­cal­ly, from the cave painters to Picas­so. How did the human rela­tion­ship to hors­es change? Why? How did those changes show up in our art?

Sci­ence? You bet. The green pati­na on the bronze hors­es at Saint Mark’s in Venice is enough to trig­ger many con­ver­sa­tions about basic chem­istry and pol­lu­tion.

The Piebald Horse

The Piebald Horse 1650 – 4 The Get­ty Cen­ter
Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia USA
Click to enlarge.

Lan­guage arts? You bet. Begin with Paulus Potter’s paint­ing, “The Piebald Horse.” Piebald. This vet­er­an writ­ing teacher smiles at the idea of using the word as a prompt for any num­ber of writ­ing exer­cis­es.

Of course, there would be some class­room cau­tions should the book be shared that way. Because the focus is on West­ern art, the ear­ly sec­tions include a fair amount of Chris­t­ian imagery. And — yet again — most of the (known) artists are white men.

The Horse Fair

The Horse Fair, 1853 – 5 Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art New York, New York USA Click to enlarge.

The excep­tions to the white-guys trope are fab­u­lous, though, and they should be added to any list of report-wor­thy indi­vid­u­als:

Rosa Bon­heur (The Horse Fair, left): “In order to make stud­ies at the horse sale in Paris she obtained police per­mis­sion to dress up as a man, so she could move more eas­i­ly around the crowd” (p.123). 

Bronco Busting

Bron­co Bust­ing c.1925 – 35 Smith­son­ian Amer­i­can Art Muse­um, Wash­ing­ton DC USA Click to enlarge.

Veli­no Shi­je Her­rera (Bron­co Bust­ing, right): “Her­rera was born in Zia Pueblo in New Mex­i­co. He became rec­og­nized for his quo­tid­i­an scenes of the Pueblo Indi­an Life … this work is signed with his Native Amer­i­can name Ma Pe Wi” (p. 184).

One final warn­ing: this is not a lap book. To savor it you will need a table and time.





Horse Stories in Children’s Literature

Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up rides on the with­ers of a great many pre­vi­ous books. A time­line is only an at-a-glance his­tor­i­cal sur­vey, of course; still, we cre­at­ed this one to high­light some of the sem­i­nal books in a long his­to­ry of horse sto­ries. 

Horse Story Timeline


Teaching the Future

by Rob Reid

Animal Shenanigans

Ani­mal Shenani­gans, Rob Rei­d’s lat­est resource book for teach­ers, par­ents, and librar­i­ans.

I am for­tu­nate to teach three sec­tions of children’s lit­er­a­ture each semes­ter to future ele­men­tary teach­ers, future spe­cial edu­ca­tion teach­ers, and future librar­i­ans. It’s tru­ly a fun gig. I was asked by the Bookol­o­gy folks to share those books and top­ics I teach to these bud­ding pro­fes­sion­als.

I open each semes­ter by intro­duc­ing myself and read­ing my cur­rent favorite inter­ac­tive pic­ture book. The last few years, it has been Press Here by Hervé Tul­let and the stu­dents are delight­ed to know such a book like this exists. I then ask them to tell me what comes to mind when I say, “Children’s Books.” I write their respons­es on the board and…the same titles appear year after year. Titles from their school years: Arthur, Amelia Bedelia, Mag­ic Tree­house, Har­ry Pot­ter, Dr. Seuss — the usu­al sus­pects. All good choic­es but no sur­pris­es and noth­ing recent­ly pub­lished. That’s my job then for the next 15 weeks: com­bine his­to­ry of children’s lit­er­a­ture with the best of the new­er stuff, so they can share those with kids down the road.

Next, we look at cur­rent trends in children’s pub­lish­ing: trends I pick up from Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, the Coöper­a­tive Children’s Book Cen­ter, the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, and my own obser­va­tions. We also look at the cur­rent NY Times best­seller lists for pic­ture books, mid­dle grade books, and series. I read a few of those best­selling pic­ture books to the class as well as selec­tions of the chap­ter books. (I read aloud children’s books to my col­lege stu­dents pret­ty much every class ses­sion.)

I con­trast what sells with what wins the numer­ous awards: quan­ti­ty vs. qual­i­ty (and luck­i­ly, the two go togeth­er with many titles) and how kids need to be exposed to all. Over the semes­ter, my stu­dents learn what the fol­low­ing awards are for, who are the most recent win­ners, and many of the notable past win­ners: New­bery (and I share my own expe­ri­ence being on that com­mit­tee), Calde­cott, Geisel, Coret­ta Scott King, Pura Bel­pré, Amer­i­can Indi­an Youth Lit­er­a­ture, Scott O’Dell, Sib­ert, Orbis Pic­tus, and the Schnei­der Fam­i­ly Award.

Sibk_wonder_140nce that last award orig­i­nat­ed at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Eau Claire, where I teach, and because I have many spe­cial edu­ca­tion stu­dents, we put spe­cial empha­sis on this award that rec­og­nizes por­tray­als of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. As a class, we all read Won­der by R.J. Pala­cio (before that it was Rules by Cyn­thia Lord) and I will also be adding El Deafo by Cece Bell this upcom­ing year as a required read to rep­re­sent graph­ic nov­els (I have been using the first Baby­mouse and the first Lunch Lady as exam­ples of ele­men­tary school graph­ic nov­els).

The oth­er required read is Love That Dog, and I intro­duce the oth­er works of Sharon Creech and Wal­ter Dean Myers (who is a fic­tion­al­ized char­ac­ter of him­self in the book). We look at dozens of poet­ry books not writ­ten by Shel Sil­ver­stein (and I have some good Sil­ver­stein anec­dotes to share) and learn ways to make poet­ry fun for kids.

Out of My MindStu­dents pick an elec­tive chap­ter book from a list I pro­vide (which includes Roll of Thun­der Hear My Cry, Out of My Mind, Joey Pigza Swal­lowed the Key, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Cora­line, Tale of Des­pereaux, Princess Acad­e­my, Eli­jah of Bux­ton, and sev­er­al more) and they cre­ate a lit­er­a­ture activ­i­ty guide to go with their nov­el.

Stu­dents draw the name of a children’s illus­tra­tor and put togeth­er a Pow­er­Point to share with the class what they learned about the var­i­ous artis­tic ele­ments present in the pic­ture books.

We also look at the time­line of diver­si­ty in children’s lit­er­a­ture, tra­di­tion­al folk­lore from around the world, fan­ta­sy and sci­ence fic­tion, con­tro­ver­sial books, infor­ma­tion­al books and biogra­phies, easy read­ers and bridge books, real­is­tic fic­tion, his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, and Min­neso­ta and Wis­con­sin book cre­ators (since most of my stu­dents are from these two states and we have so many tal­ent­ed, pub­lished, award-win­ning authors and illus­tra­tors here).

Each stu­dent also has to tell an oral sto­ry to the class based on a folk­tale. They are sent to the 398 sec­tion of the library to look through both the pic­ture book edi­tions and antholo­gies of folk­tales, learn one, and share it with­out notes.

We fin­ish the semes­ter with com­pet­i­tive rounds of Kid­die Lit Jeop­ardy, they fill out their stu­dent eval­u­a­tions that all read “This was a lot of work!” and I send them off to explore the remain­ing 99% of the won­der­ful children’s books we did­n’t have time to cov­er in class.



Nancy Bo Flood: Creating Cowboy Up!

Cowboy Up!When you con­ceived of Cow­boy Up! was the poet­ry for­mat a part of your plan? If not, when did that occur?

I was stand­ing next to the fence watch­ing a young girl rid­ing her horse bar­rel-rac­ing, speed­ing around the are­na, kick­ing up dirt and smil­ing from ear to ear. I thought, I want to do that. I want to be a rodeo-rider…and the first poem came to me, right from that yearn­ing. I once raised and rode hors­es and there is noth­ing like gal­lop­ing across a field with the wind in your face and the feel of the horse mov­ing under you. On the Nava­jo Nation I have enjoyed the “back-yard rodeos” watch­ing kids with their fam­i­lies groom their hors­es, braid tails, shine hooves and get ready to ride. I want­ed to cap­ture and share the expe­ri­ence with oth­ers. From the poems devel­oped the book.  

Did you work from the pho­tos or did Jan Son­nen­mair select pho­tos from her col­lec­tion based on your poet­ry?

I had nev­er met Jan but dis­cov­ered her pho­to gallery online while I was research­ing about rodeos.  She cap­tured the feel­ings with­in the rodeo rid­ers. The edi­tor and pub­lish­er agreed and con­tract­ed with Jan to come to Ari­zona and shoot the images for the book. She did. First as strangers and soon as friends we trav­eled togeth­er with her young son, Eli, for a cou­ple of weeks across the Nava­jo Nation going to small junior rodeos to the big­ger ones search­ing for the images that com­ple­ment­ed the text.

Did Jan specif­i­cal­ly take pho­tographs for this book or does she reg­u­lar­ly pho­to­graph rodeos?

Photography by Jan Sonnenmair.  Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Jan Son­nen­mair.
Used with per­mis­sion. All rights reserved.

All the images in the book — and sev­er­al thou­sand more — were tak­en for Cow­boy Up! Jan was usu­al­ly in the rodeo are­na, wear­ing boots, jeans, west­ern shirt and cow­boy hat — all required — with sev­er­al cam­eras slung over both shoul­ders, shoot­ing close-ups. Once a buck­ing bron­co charged toward her. She snapped the image (on the book’s back cov­er) and I ducked to the ground with arms around her son and my grand­kids. It was an excit­ing moment. Anoth­er day we both stood in a howl­ing sand­storm, tears stream­ing down our faces from the grit and wind, as she tried to take pho­tos of lit­tle ones com­pet­ing in the Wooly-Rid­ing event. And then there was the morn­ing we stood in ankle-deep mud at the Junior Rodeo Cham­pi­on Com­pe­ti­tion, rain pour­ing, wind blow­ing, wish­ing we could quit and go home. The sun came out and Jan took many of the pho­tos of young rodeo rid­ers that you see in the open­ing and clos­ing “gallery.”

You’ve cap­tured the inner dia­logue of these rodeo par­tic­i­pants in such an effec­tive way. Do you know these chil­dren? Have you talked with them about their lives in rodeo com­pe­ti­tion?

Some of them, yes. I do wan­der the “back areas” of the rodeo grounds lis­ten­ing and watch­ing. I’ve talked with the par­ents and grand­par­ents sit­ting in the bleach­ers or stand­ing along the fence, watch­ing their kids com­pete. I can’t imag­ine watch­ing my own child com­pete in bull rid­ing. But I’ve also had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to watch the chil­dren prac­tice — like any ath­lete — on mechan­i­cal bulls or rop­ing goats, leap­ing out of a chute, going from stand­ing still to full gal­lop, turn­ing tighter around a bar­rel — prac­tic­ing all the skills that are essen­tial to get­ting bet­ter, stronger, faster. And also the oth­er part of work­ing with ani­mals, tak­ing care of them. Car­ry­ing bales of hay, muck­ing out stalls, fill­ing up water tanks, pail by pail, clean­ing tack, scrap­ing hooves, ban­dag­ing cuts, wash­ing and brush­ing your horse, talk­ing to them… They love their hors­es, feel such pride about wear­ing a cham­pi­on belt buck­le, and a strong sense of “this is my fam­i­ly and I’m part of it.”

Do you have a rough guess (or an actu­al sta­tis­tic) about what per­cent­age of chil­dren par­tic­i­pates in the Nava­jo Rodeo in these com­mu­ni­ties?

Good ques­tion and I have no idea. When I do school vis­its at a Nava­jo school, I ask, “How many of you are rodeo rid­ers?” Always more than half the chil­dren raise their hands (with big grins on their faces).

Do you recall your plan­ning for “Wool­ly Rid­er”? There’s a sense of time in that poem, which is very hard to do in print. Was this for­mat present from the first draft?

I knew I want­ed some­thing dif­fer­ent for this poem, some­thing that con­veyed the feel­ing of being on that buck­ing, dodg­ing sheep and how long eight sec­onds could be. When I’m watch­ing a child (imag­ine, some­times only three years old) come shoot­ing out on top of a buck­ing sheep, in my head I am always count­ing the sec­onds, hop­ing the lit­tle one can hang on just one more, one more…until that buzzer rings. That became the struc­ture for the poem. I wrote what I “saw” as my mind clicked the sec­onds. At first the sec­onds were done “back­wards,” from eight down to zero, and the edi­tor point­ed out, that didn’t make sense.

Adding the announcer’s voice gives the read­er a sense of being present at the rodeo. When did it occur to you to add this third voice to the book (the oth­er two being the poem and the fac­tu­al nar­ra­tive)?

I give cred­it to our amaz­ing edi­tor, Mar­cia Leonard. We were strug­gling with what to do about titling each poem, how to indi­cate a shift to the next event, etc. I don’t quite remem­ber how the idea unfold­ed but I did have a poem about the announc­er — such an impor­tant part of any rodeo and also a per­son who has been a cham­pi­on rid­er. He knows not only every­thing about the events, but the rid­ers, the hors­es, even the bulls. Then Mar­cia sug­gest­ed we keep his voice guid­ing us through the day, as it is at any rodeo.

You chose to have the last poem speak in the voice of a child who did not win at the rodeo. What felt right to you about that?

This poem was impor­tant to me. At first the edi­tor, Mar­cia, was con­cerned it was too much a “down­er.” I did short­en the poem but this poem is the “heart” for me. What­ev­er we do, what­ev­er our age, we expe­ri­ence again and again, “nope, didn’t come in first.” What’s impor­tant is not the win­ning, but the get­ting back up, dust off your jeans, and try again.

What is your con­nec­tion to the chil­dren who take part in the Nava­jo Rodeos?

Photography by Jan Sonnenmair.  Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Jan Son­nen­mair.
Used with per­mis­sion. All rights reserved.

I watch them, cheer them on, and wish I was one of them.

I know you teach on the Nava­jo lands, but do you teach chil­dren? Of what ages? And are you cur­rent­ly teach­ing?

I was teach­ing teach­ers for North­ern Ari­zona Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­tant Ed and also teach­ing under­grad­u­ate class­es for Dine’ (Nava­jo) Col­lege. I also did short writ­ing work­shops with school chil­dren, all ages. Cur­rent­ly I am writ­ing and doing author vis­its with a bot­tom line mes­sage of read, read, read.

Our book club often talks about authen­tic­i­ty: it’s a bewil­der­ing top­ic for us as we see many sides of this chal­leng­ing top­ic. I know our groups will ask, so I include this ques­tion: are you of Native Amer­i­can descent?

I am not of Native Amer­i­can descent. I do have a grand­child who is. But this ques­tion is impor­tant. How does a writer cre­ate an authen­tic and hon­est book — and a book with a good sto­ry? This doesn’t hap­pen quick­ly or eas­i­ly. For myself, I need to lis­ten, lis­ten, and lis­ten even more deeply. Research involves libraries and books but it also involves feel­ing the dirt, smelling the air, eat­ing the food, being with the peo­ple. Again, ask­ing ques­tions, talk­ing, tak­ing time, and then even­tu­al­ly, ask­ing for feed­back. Did I get it right? Part of my moti­va­tion for writ­ing Cow­boy Up! Ride the Nava­jo Rodeo is that the kids I was talk­ing with at their schools, want­ed to see them­selves in books. Not Indi­ans in teepees wav­ing tom­a­hawks and wear­ing buck­skins. Where were their sto­ries? I feel strong­ly that the heart of “we need diverse books” is that every child should find their peo­ple, their sto­ries, on the pages of a book. And con­tem­po­rary sto­ries, not just his­tor­i­cal or “past tense.” Nava­jo peo­ple have an amaz­ing cul­ture with rich tra­di­tions. Rodeo is part of that. And rodeo is also part of uni­ver­sal feel­ings we all share. I want­ed to cel­e­brate both. When I get dis­cour­aged and not sure about “slap­ping off the dust and get­ting back up,” I think about the kids who come up to me with a big grin and say, “I am in this book.” 




Heather Vogel Frederick: Borrowed Fire

In Absolute­ly Tru­ly, my new mid­dle grade mys­tery set in a book­shop in the fic­tion­al town of Pump­kin Falls, New Hamp­shire, a first edi­tion of Charlotte’s Web goes miss­ing. There’s a rea­son this par­tic­u­lar book fea­tures so promi­nent­ly in the sto­ry — it’s a nod to my lit­er­ary hero, E. B. White.

E.B. White

E.B. White and friend

E.B. White and I go way back. He’s one of the rea­sons I became a writer, thanks to Charlotte’s Web, which was one of my all-time favorites as a young read­er (it still is). It tops a short list of what I con­sid­er per­fect nov­els — a list that includes Harp­er Lee’s To Kill a Mock­ing­bird and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prej­u­dice, among a hand­ful of oth­ers.

The year I turned 12 and declared my inten­tion of becom­ing an author, my dad slipped a copy of Ele­ments of Style into my Christ­mas stock­ing. It was an inspired present, as the book on writ­ing and gram­mar that Mr. White co-wrote with William Strunk, Jr., made me feel both val­i­dat­ed and grown-up. I dis­played it promi­nent­ly on my desk, and if I read it with more enthu­si­asm than com­pre­hen­sion, at least I felt very sophis­ti­cat­ed as I did so. Lat­er, in col­lege, I would dis­cov­er White’s col­lect­ed let­ters and essays, which helped inspire my ear­ly career as a jour­nal­ist.

Of all the gifts that E. B. White has giv­en me, though, the one I trea­sure most are his char­ac­ters. I can’t even imag­ine a world with­out Char­lotte and Wilbur, or with­out Fern Arable, and Lurvy, and Tem­ple­ton the rat. Mem­o­rable char­ac­ters such as these are what make for mem­o­rable sto­ries. Sure, set­ting is impor­tant, research is impor­tant, and a sto­ry with­out a plot is a hot mess (any­body sat through Wait­ing for Godot recent­ly?), but for me, mem­o­rable char­ac­ters are the main course, the engine that dri­ves the train, the beat­ing heart of a book.

Charlotte's Web coverChar­ac­ters like Char­lotte and Wilbur don’t just spring full-blown onto the page like Athena from the head of Zeus, how­ev­er. Writ­ing is a delib­er­ate act. It is arti­fice; it is craft; it is inten­tion­al. While the con­cept for a char­ac­ter may come to a writer in a flash, the con­struc­tion of that char­ac­ter is the result of much effort and care.

So how does a writer go about cre­at­ing char­ac­ters that walk off the page and straight into a reader’s heart?

It comes down to some­thing I call “bor­rowed fire.”

There are oth­er tools writ­ers employ in cre­at­ing char­ac­ters, of course — tools such as descrip­tion, dia­logue, and voice. But all of these ingre­di­ents would be noth­ing with­out bor­rowed fire. With­out this ele­men­tal flame, char­ac­ters remain as life­less and cold as the paper on which they’re print­ed.

I live in the Pacif­ic North­west, just a few miles from the end of the Ore­gon Trail. While read­ing about the ear­ly set­tlers at one point, I learned just how cru­cial fire was to sur­vival. The pio­neers depend­ed on it for warmth, for cook­ing, for light, and for cheer. If a camp­fire or cook stove went out in a log cab­in or along the wag­on train, some­one would be rapid­ly dis­patched to a neighbor’s with a lid­ded pan to “bor­row fire” — a few embers or coals with which to rekin­dle their own.

In writ­ing, we, too, need fire. We need the blaze of emo­tion to light up our sto­ries and stir our read­ers, ignit­ing in them a sym­pa­thet­ic response. 

But from whom do we bor­row this fire? 

Fiery HeartFrom our­selves. From our own lives, our own expe­ri­ences. Robert Frost once said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the read­er.” Writ­ers have to be will­ing to dig deep. I’m not talk­ing about spilling dark secrets onto the page. I’m talk­ing about tap­ping into your own unique well of emo­tion­al expe­ri­ence and shar­ing it with your read­er. We all know what it’s like to be anx­ious about some­thing, to be envi­ous or fear­ful or alight with hap­pi­ness or crazy in love. Invest­ing our char­ac­ters with these emo­tion­al truths cre­ates the point of con­nec­tion. That’s the moment at which a char­ac­ter walks off the page and into a reader’s heart.

E.B. White was nev­er an eight-year-old girl named Fern. He was nev­er a wor­ried piglet or a lit­er­ate spi­der or a schem­ing rat with a soft under­bel­ly of kind­ness. But he knew about friend­ship, and love, and loss, and he bor­rowed those embers from his own life to kin­dle his char­ac­ters, and the light and warmth they radi­ate have touched the hearts of read­ers down the years.

Bor­rowed fire is where the mag­ic hap­pens in a sto­ry. It’s by the light of this fire that mem­o­rable char­ac­ters are made.


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