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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
Serves 4
The secret of this savory spaghetti sauce is the pepperoni.
Write a review
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
45 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
45 min
  1. 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
  2. 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  3. ¼ cup sherry or white wine
  4. 1 tsp beef stock concentrate, such as Better Than Bouillon®
  5. 7oz (1/2 pkg) turkey pepperoni or regular
  6. 2 tsp garlic salt
  7. 1 Tbsp dried parsley
  8. 1 tsp dried oregano
  9. 1 tsp dried basil
  1. 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.
  2. Remove pepperoni from plate and allow 10 minutes to cool, then pulverize in food mill or finely chop.
  3. Place all ingredients in a Dutch oven or saucepan.
  4. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, covered.
  5. Finish this sauce off by simmering meatballs or ground beef in it, then serving over pasta, topping off with freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano cheese.
Bookology Magazine

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 Cooperative 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.