Read Out Loud for Easter

As you pre­pare to cel­e­brate East­er, we encour­age you to include books in your cel­e­bra­tion. A tra­di­tion of read­ing out loud before East­er din­ner, after East­er din­ner, as you awak­en on East­er morn­ing … per­haps each day dur­ing Holy Week? Here are a few gems we believe you and your fam­i­ly will trea­sure. Hap­py East­er!

At Jerusalem's Gate  

At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems of East­er
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes, illus­trat­ed by David Framp­ton
Eerd­mans Books for Young Read­ers, 2005

There are twen­ty-two free-form poems in this book, each from the point of view of a wit­ness to the events of the cru­ci­fix­ion and res­ur­rec­tion of Jesus Christ. Each poem could be read by a dif­fer­ent fam­i­ly mem­ber or the poems could be read sep­a­rate­ly through­out the East­er week­end. The wood­cut illus­tra­tions will engen­der con­ver­sa­tions about the style, tech­nique, and details.

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes


The Coun­try Bun­ny and the Lit­tle Gold Shoes
writ­ten by Du Bose Hey­ward, illus­trat­ed by Mar­jorie Flack
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1939

Lit­tle Cot­ton­tail Moth­er is rais­ing 21 chil­dren, but it’s her dream to become the East­er Bun­ny. As she assigns her chil­dren chores and teach­es them life’s lessons, she gains con­fi­dence to audi­tion for the job of one of the five East­er Bun­nies who deliv­er eggs and bas­kets on East­er Sun­day. It’s a sweet sto­ry still, near­ly 80 years after it was first pub­lished. The bright­ly col­ored illus­tra­tions are mem­o­ry-mak­ing for new gen­er­a­tions of read­ers.

The Easter Story  

The East­er Sto­ry
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Wild­smith
Alfred A. Knopf, 1994

The events of Holy Week, the Last Sup­per, the cru­ci­fix­ion, and the Res­ur­rec­tion, are recount­ed through the eyes of the lit­tle don­key that car­ried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sun­day. With Wildsmith’s dis­tinc­tive illus­tra­tions, this book has been pub­lished in many edi­tions and many lan­guages. A good read-aloud book to add to your East­er book­shelf.


writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Kevin Henkes
Green­wil­low Books, 2017

Four eggs, each a dif­fer­ent col­or, hatch (one doesn’t) and the chicks set off — and return for the unhatched egg. When the egg hatch­es, there’s a sur­prise! When the book ends, there’s anoth­er sur­prise! This is a book about friend­ship and grow­ing up, just right for read­ing out loud and for emerg­ing read­ers to read on their own. With sim­ple lines and appeal­ing col­ors, the illus­tra­tions are irre­sistible.

The Golden Egg Book  

The Gold­en Egg Book
writ­ten by Mar­garet Wise Brown, illus­trat­ed by Leonard Weis­gard
Gold­en Books, 1947

A true clas­sic among East­er books, a small bun­ny finds a blue egg. He can hear some­thing mov­ing around inside so he con­jec­tures what it might be. As the bun­ny tries to open the egg, he wears out and falls asleep. Only then does the young duck­ling emerge from the egg. With rich­ly col­ored illus­tra­tions from the mas­ter­ful Leonard Weis­gard, this is a trea­sured book for many chil­dren and fam­i­lies.

Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg  

Simon of Cyrene and the Leg­end of the East­er Egg
writ­ten by Ter­ri DeGezelle, illus­trat­ed by Gab­hor Uto­mo
Pauline Books & Media, 2017

Based on a few lines about the leg­end of Simon of Cyrene that the author found while research­ing, this book brings to life the expe­ri­ence of the cru­ci­fix­ion and res­ur­rec­tion of Jesus Christ, as told through the per­spec­tive of Simon. He takes eggs to Jerusalem to sell for Passover when he becomes caught up in the pro­ces­sion fol­low­ing Jesus as he car­ries his cross to Cal­vary. As Jesus stum­bles and falls, a Roman sol­dier forces Simon to bear the cross instead. Told with a live­ly nar­ra­tive and bright­ly col­ored, sat­is­fy­ing illus­tra­tions, this is a good sto­ry to choose for read-alouds, open­ing up an oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss the many aspects of the East­er sto­ry.

Story of Easter  

Sto­ry of East­er
writ­ten by Aileen Fish­er, illus­trat­ed by Ste­fano Vitale
Harper­Collins, 1997

With an infor­ma­tive text and glo­ri­ous illus­tra­tions, this book explains both how and why peo­ple all over the world cel­e­brate East­er. It tells the bib­li­cal sto­ry of Jesus’ Res­ur­rec­tion and then describes how peo­ple hon­or this day and the ori­gins of these tra­di­tions. Hands-on activ­i­ties help draw chil­dren into the spir­it of this joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion of rebirth.

Story of the Easter Bunny  

Sto­ry of the East­er Bun­ny
writ­ten by Kather­ine Tegen, illus­trat­ed by Sal­ly Anne Lam­bert Harper­Collins, 2005

Most peo­ple know about the East­er Bun­ny, but how did the East­er Bun­ny get his job and how does he accom­plish the dis­tri­b­u­tion of so many col­or­ful eggs each East­er? It all began in a small cot­tage with an old cou­ple who dye the eggs and weave the bas­kets. One East­er, they sleep in and it’s their pet white rabbit’s deci­sion to deliv­er the eggs and choco­late, there­by start­ing a tra­di­tion. Told in a mat­ter-of-fact style with appeal­ing, detailed illus­tra­tions, this is a good addi­tion to your East­er tra­di­tion.


March Shorts

Oooo! Here in Min­neso­ta, shorts in March mean chills. These books will give you chills – in a good way!

Cat Goes Fiddle-I-FeeCat Goes Fid­dle-I-Fee
Adapt­ed and illus­trat­ed by Paul Gal­done
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1985
(reis­sued in April 2017)

I rec­og­nized the title imme­di­ate­ly as I song I know well, sung as “I Had a Roost­er” by Pete Seeger on Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Lit­tle Fish­es in 1968. Turns out, I remem­ber the rhyme more than the words. Gal­done wrote a dif­fer­ent adap­ta­tion of this folk tale, one that is irre­sistible for read­ing out loud. In fact, even if you’re sit­ting alone in a room by your­self, you’re going to want to read this out loud. The words and the rhyme scheme are fun. Kids at sto­ry­time and kids in a class­room and kids sit­ting on your lap will want to sing along … and quite pos­si­bly dance. In this new edi­tion, Gal­done’s illus­tra­tions are friend­ly. Find the snail. Who shares the page with the dog? There are many ani­mals to exam­ine and they don’t always make the expect­ed sounds: “Hen goes chim­my-chuck, chim­my-chuck.” As the tale builds cumu­la­tive­ly, it’s a good exer­cise in mem­o­ry and rep­e­ti­tion, and just plain fun. Turns out it’s a dif­fer­ent sto­ry than Seeger’s so both of them could be used. 

Hoot & Honk Just Can't SleepHoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Leslie Helakos­ki
Ster­ling Chil­dren’s Books, 2017

Two eggs, one from an owl’s nest and one from a goose’s nest, tum­ble to the ground dur­ing a wind storm. When the mamas take home the wrong eggs, the hatch­lings are con­fused. The owlet does­n’t like the food the oth­er goslings like and the gosling does­n’t want what the owlets are hun­gry for. And their sleep pat­terns are quite dif­fer­ent. A won­der­ful way to open up the dis­cus­sion about dif­fer­ent birds with young lis­ten­ers, this is a gor­geous book with a hap­py-go-lucky spir­it. Illus­trat­ed by Helakos­ki with pas­tels on sand­ed paper, the col­or is sump­tu­ous, the views have depth, and every­one’s going to want to touch the bird’s feath­ers. And who can resist the main char­ac­ters’ names? Hoot. Honk. Hoot and Honk. 

Charlotte the Scientist is SquishedChar­lotte the Sci­en­tist is Squished
writ­ten by Camille Andros
illus­trat­ed by Bri­anne Far­ley
Clar­i­on Books, 2017

I squealed after I read this book. This is exact­ly the book I would have read and re-read when I was a kid. The fly papers are dia­grams of the inside of a rock­et, labeled care­ful­ly so there’s much to pon­der. Char­lotte is a bun­ny rab­bit with a prob­lem. She is a seri­ous sci­en­tist with no room to con­duct her work. She has a large fam­i­ly, as some bun­nies do, and they’re always under­foot. So Char­lotte employs the Sci­en­tif­ic Method to solve her prob­lem. She cre­ates a hypoth­e­sis and tried her exper­i­ment and draws a con­clu­sion. And all of this is done with a great amount of humor sup­plied by the author and the illus­tra­tor, a seam­less sto­ry. That car­rot-shaped rock­et is delight­ful and so is the bun­ny in the fish­bowl. At the end of the book, there’s a fea­ture “In the lab with Char­lotte,” that uses Char­lot­te’s exper­i­ments for a dis­cus­sion of the sci­en­tif­ic method. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Anywhere FarmAny­where Farm
writ­ten by Phyl­lis Root
illus­trat­ed by G. Bri­an Karas
Can­dlewick Press, 2017

Where can you farm? Any­where! Togeth­er, Root and Karas present con­vinc­ing argu­ments for grow­ing your own food wher­ev­er and how­ev­er you can. “For an any­where farm, here’s all that you need: soil and sun­shine, some water, a seed.“With soft vignettes that look close­ly at ways and means to plant seeds, “Kale in a pail, corn in a horn,” to cir­cu­lar depic­tions of neigh­bors tend­ing their small-scale farms, to two-page spreads that show an urban com­mu­ni­ty involved in gar­den­ing, the blend of poet­ry and illus­tra­tions make this book an appeal­ing invi­ta­tion to try your hand at farm­ing … any­where. Read­ers will have fun detect­ing all the places grow­ing plants can be sup­port­ed. As kids and adults of all ages and abil­i­ties work togeth­er, the lush end to this book is a sat­is­fy­ing one. Excuse me, won’t you? I’m off to ger­mi­nate my seeds!

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Anna Walk­er
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2017 paper­back

I pro­nounce this a Pic­ture-Book-of-the-Absurd, delight­ful­ly so. “Peg­gy lived in a small house on a qui­et street.” Her chick­en coop in the back­yard of a sub­ur­ban house has a tram­po­line out­side. “Every day, rain or shine, Peg­gy ate break­fast, played in her yard, and watched the pigeons.” In a series of nine “slides” (do you remem­ber slides?) on each page, we observe Peg­gy doing just these things … with joy and When Peg­gy is blown off her tram­po­line by a strong wind into the unfa­mil­iar envi­ron­ment of down­town, does she pan­ic? No. She takes the oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore. In vignettes, Peg­gy eats spaghet­ti, she rides an esca­la­tor, and she shops for bar­gains. The soft, mut­ed water­col­or palette of the book is punc­tu­at­ed by Peg­gy’s black feath­ers, mak­ing her easy to fol­low as she ulti­mate­ly decides she’d rather be at home. But how will she get there? Clues plant­ed ear­li­er in the sto­ry give her ideas and ulti­mate­ly she finds her way back to her chick­en coop with new-found friends. This is an ide­al book for shar­ing one-on-one, exam­in­ing the humor on every page as the intre­pid Peg­gy shares her sto­ry.

writ­ten by Joyce Sid­man
illus­trat­ed by Taee­un Yoo
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2017

Do any of us spend enough time notic­ing the nat­ur­al world around us? Do we look at the shape of things? Do we won­der enough about why they are in the shapes they are? What about all of the round things in the world? The moon. water, lily pads, rocks … so many spe­cif­ic things to notice, observe, and appre­ci­ate. Joyce Sid­man’s poem leads the lis­ten­er into this explo­ration: “I love to watch round things move. They are so good at it!” Yoo’s illus­tra­tions find things to show us that are not in the text … words and illus­tra­tions blend­ing togeth­er into a book that is more than its parts. Col­or­ful and charm­ing, the book’s design gets every­thing right. Even the author’s bios on the back jack­et flap are pre­sent­ed in round shapes! Two pages in back ask “Why are so many things in nature round?” Short para­graphs from the author will broad­en your vision, lead­ing to dis­cus­sions and notic­ing more each time you walk out­side.

If You Were the MoonIf You Were the Moon
writ­ten by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas
illus­trat­ed by Jaime Kim
Mill­brook Press, 2017

From the glossy cov­er to the moon’s expres­sive face to the brack­et­ed, you-did­n’t-know-that facts, every­thing about this book is appeal­ing. Salas has a way of look­ing at some­thing as famil­iar as the moon while encour­ag­ing us to think about it in fresh ways, poet­i­cal­ly obser­vant, wak­ing-you-up ways. The moon as a bal­le­ri­na? Of course, and for very good rea­son. In brack­ets, the facts: “The moon spins on its invis­i­ble axis, mak­ing a full turn every twen­ty-sev­en days.” Kim illus­trates this spread with a con­tent­ed, bal­let-danc­ing moon that can’t help but make the read­er smile. “Weave a spell over won­der­ers.”? The brack­et inspires us with “Claire de Lune” and “The Moon is Dis­tant from the Sea.” The illus­tra­tion shows the Baule peo­ple of the Ivory Coast in fes­ti­val masks. All of this is set in the vibrant col­ors of a moon­lit night. It’s an inspir­ing book pre­sent­ed with the right bal­ance for kids who love a poet­ic pre­sen­ta­tion as well as fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion.


Skinny Dip with Loni Niles

Loni Niles

Loni Niles

We inter­viewed Loni Niles, K‑12 media spe­cial­ist in the Wade­na-Deer Creek pub­lic schools in west cen­tral Min­neso­ta. She shared her thoughts about books and life.

What is your favorite late-night snack?

I love pop­corn and can eat it any time dur­ing the day, even for break­fast!

Favorite city to vis­it?

Chica­go. Even though we moved from there when I was just a baby, I still take some pride that I was born there!  Now I love to vis­it there because my step­daugh­ter and her hus­band are such won­der­ful hosts — they show us all kinds of won­der­ful things the city has to offer.  Oh yeah, and there’s that grand­son there, too! He def­i­nite­ly is a draw for me to vis­it this won­der­ful city!

First date?

My hus­band and I do not real­ly agree on when our first date was. For­tu­nate­ly, we agree on some of the more impor­tant things in life!

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

I find myself pas­sion­ate­ly rec­om­mend­ing the nov­els The Lot­tery Rose by Irene Hunt and A Wrin­kle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Miss Steim­le, my fifth grade teacher, read both of these out loud to my class in the 1970s, but today’s kids love them, too!

The Lottery Rose, A Wrinkle in Time

This is NOT a Cat!Illus­tra­tor’s work you most admire?

Mike Wohnout­ka. My favorite book of his work is writ­ten by one of my favorite authors, David LaRochelle. It’s a final­ist for the Min­neso­ta Book Awards this year and called This is NOT a Cat! Check it out! 

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

Got­ta have my cof­fee in the morn­ing!

Favorite sea­son of the year?

Although I love them all, it’s win­ter! Min­neso­ta is the per­fect place for me!  We typ­i­cal­ly get a real win­ter here and we def­i­nite­ly get four sea­sons!  At age 48, I start­ed to down­hill ski.  But I love to watch high school hock­ey, go snow­mo­bil­ng and sled­ding, and when my sons were younger we used to love play­ing in the snow!

Marathon candy barFavorite can­dy as a kid?

Any­one remem­ber the Marathon can­dy bar?! A yum­my caramel braid cov­ered in choco­late.

Broth­ers and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

I’m in the mid­dle of two broth­ers. I always told my two sons that I’m the best mom for them because I know what it’s like to have that big broth­er pound­ing on you and that lit­tle broth­er pick­ing at you!  I used to lament not hav­ing sis­ters, but I have been sur­round­ed by won­der­ful women (and girls, too — I have three grand­daugh­ters) in my life — so it’s not so much an issue any­more. 

Loni Niles and her brothers

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

I do live a very con­tent­ed life, but I don’t real­ly have a tip on how to do it. See­ing the good in things and peo­ple comes pret­ty nat­u­ral­ly to me.  I try to remem­ber my mom’s advice to always assume the best. This is the same woman who once told me as a teenag­er com­plain­ing about my acne that I should just be hap­py I have a face. That still makes me chuck­le! 

Hope for the world?

My hope for the world is that we begin to rec­og­nize each oth­ers’ tal­ents (and our own!) and appre­ci­ate each oth­er — even our dif­fer­ences.



Copyright Adobe Stock. Rome Map Detail; selective focus By Jules_KitanoIn col­lege I was for­tu­nate enough to trav­el with a school-spon­sored group to Europe. I saw many amaz­ing things, but Rome was the place I couldn’t stop talk­ing about after­wards.

When I described my love for Rome to my par­ents, I focused on one par­tic­u­lar episode: Want­i­ng to escape the after­noon heat, a group of us ducked inside one of the church­es that crop up every­where in that city. Inside this unre­mark­able build­ing, I dis­cov­ered the orig­i­nal of a paint­ing that had been my favorite out of my entire art his­to­ry text­book. It was just hang­ing there on the wall, not even wor­thy of a locked door in a city that is crammed full of exquis­ite art­works.

I used a dif­fer­ent anec­dote when talk­ing to my friends. I described the mul­ti-hour din­ner a group of us enjoyed, com­plete with a dif­fer­ent wine for every course, and how we fol­lowed it up with a long mid­night stroll through what seemed like the entire city of Rome, becom­ing com­plete­ly lost, and prob­a­bly by pure luck man­ag­ing to even­tu­al­ly make it back to our hotel in one piece.

Here’s an impor­tant reminder for your writ­ing stu­dents: when they are telling a sto­ry using a char­ac­ter speak­ing in first-per­son voice (the “I” voice), the character/narrator’s intend­ed audi­ence will play a key role. In oth­er words, at some point the writer should ask, “What ‘audi­ence des­ti­na­tion’ does the nar­ra­tor intend? Who does my char­ac­ter imag­ine will read their sto­ry?” That aware­ness of audi­ence will shape many things, par­tic­u­lar­ly how hon­est the nar­ra­tor choos­es to be, and what kind of pri­vate details they choose to share.

Do they imag­ine that there will be no out­side read­ers (such as in a “Dear Diary” for­mat)? Or does the nar­ra­tor imag­ine they are telling their sto­ry to com­plete strangers? Know­ing the answer to that ques­tion, in com­bi­na­tion with the per­son­al­i­ty the writer has estab­lished for the nar­ra­tor, will affect how the sto­ry is told.

Case in point: when I knew my par­ents were the audi­ence, I chose a Rome sto­ry set at mid­day, in a church, fea­tur­ing a Great Work of Art. I DIDN’T choose the Rome sto­ry set at mid­night, on dark streets, fea­tur­ing a group of wine-slop­py col­lege stu­dents.


Convincing Details!

Lynne Jonell Page Break


Pop-up Books

Our household’s fas­ci­na­tion with pop-up books came as a sur­prise to me. As a child I didn’t like them much. We had a few — one was Sleep­ing Beau­ty, I think. But they popped with bor­ing mod­esty and they always had these tabs that you pulled to make things move, only my broth­er pulled them too hard and so they didn’t do any­thing besides pull in and out. Dis­tinct­ly dis­ap­point­ing.

But #1 Son received Robert Sabuda’s The Christ­mas Alpha­bet for his first Christ­mas. He was ten months old. We were still at the stage where I was singing cheer­ful­ly, “Books are for read­ing, not for eat­ing!” every time we sat down to read. He loved books…with all his sens­es. But when I opened The Christ­mas Alpha­bet he sat back on the couch in amaze­ment — his mouth opened in sur­prise, but not because he want­ed to eat the pop-ups. When he man­aged to tear his eyes away from the fan­tas­tic paper cre­ations that stood up on each page, he looked at me as if to say, “What have we been doing all this time with those tasty two-dimen­sion­al books?!”

I taught him how to use one gen­tle fin­ger to lift the flaps, open the doors, turn the pages….. I think this might’ve been instru­men­tal in him becom­ing such a gen­tle giant, actu­al­ly. (He’s 6’6”+ these days!) Our pop-ups remain in stel­lar con­di­tion.

Over the years we added to our col­lec­tion. More Robert Sabu­da, of course—Cook­ie Count, A Tasty Pop-up became our all-time favorite, I’d say — the gin­ger­bread house can be enjoyed from all sides! But we also pro­cured many of the clas­sics—Alice in Won­der­land, Wiz­ard of Oz, Peter Pan, Moth­er Goose Rhymes — and some gen­er­al learn­ing ones, too, like an atlas, some­thing about dinosaurs or drag­ons (I can’t remem­ber which, and I can’t find it — maybe #1 Son took it to col­lege?), and sev­er­al more hol­i­day books.

In short, we are fans. Dar­ling Daugh­ter once spent most of a spring break mak­ing pop-ups off of the plans on Sabuda’s web­site. Part engi­neer­ing, part origa­mi, part art, pop-ups are end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. She’d prob­a­bly do it on her spring break next week if I left the tab open on the com­put­er.

It’s hard to have pop-ups at the library, of course. There’s always the child who pulls too hard, turns the page too fast and refolds the folds or breaks the spine. If they weren’t so expen­sive I’d say we should just let them get trashed and replace them…but I get bud­gets. How­ev­er, it’d make a great spe­cial event at the library — an after­noon of mak­ing pop-ups, read­ing them, then shar­ing them with friends…. I’d sign up and go myself! Now that I’ve pulled all of ours out though…I might still be busy here!


Skinny Dip with Mike Wohnoutka

Mike Wohnoutka

Mike Wohnout­ka

We inter­viewed Mike Wohnout­ka, chil­dren’s book illus­tra­tor, wide­ly known for his books Dad’s First Day, Moo!, and Lit­tle Pup­py and the Big Green Mon­ster. (Mike’s last name is pro­nounced wuh-noot-kuh.)

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

Pic­ture books in gen­er­al. I often hear par­ents say their chil­dren are too old for pic­ture books. Recent­ly a par­ent told me her first grad­er had “moved on” from pic­ture books.  This absolute­ly dri­ves me crazy. You are nev­er too old for pic­ture books.  They are sec­ond to none when it comes to art, sto­ry­telling, and lan­guage.

picture books

Favorite city to vis­it?

New York. I love the muse­ums, com­e­dy clubs, book stores, and the­aters. It’s also nice to go to lunch with my edi­tors since most of the pub­lish­ers I work with are in New York.

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

Play­ing Kick the Can with all the kids in our neigh­bor­hood.

Mike Wohnoutka and David ShannonIllus­tra­tor’s work you most admire?

David Shan­non. David is the rea­son I became an illus­tra­tor. After see­ing his pre­sen­ta­tion, when I was in col­lege, about how he illus­trat­ed his first children’s book, How Many Spots Does A Leop­ard Have?,  I thought “THAT is what I want to do!” His paint­ings are tech­ni­cal­ly stun­ning and his sto­ries are so fun­ny.

When I vis­it schools I tell stu­dents about David being such an influ­ence on me. It’s amaz­ing how excit­ed the stu­dents get when I show the cov­er of No David! and it’s incred­i­ble that every stu­dent is famil­iar with that series. He obvi­ous­ly has struck a chord with chil­dren.

A cou­ple years ago, David and I both pre­sent­ed at the Maz­za Muse­um sum­mer con­fer­ence. It was won­der­ful to meet him. He  is the nicest guy and it was fun to let him know how much of an inspi­ra­tion he has been to me.

Go-to drink?

Cof­fee, espe­cial­ly in the morn­ing as I write or paint.

Mike Wohnoutka

Copy­right Mike Wohnout­ka

Favorite sea­son?

Fall. Leaves chang­ing col­ors, cool­er weath­er, the World Series, and Hal­loween are a few of the many things I love about fall.

Dream vaca­tion?


What gives you shiv­ers?


Strangest tourist attrac­tion?

Mike Wohnoutka's family at the Wizarding World of Harry PotterOur fam­i­ly recent­ly took a trip to Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios in Orlan­do, main­ly to vis­it The Wiz­ard­ing World of Har­ry Pot­ter. It was such a fun vaca­tion. The atten­tion to detail in cre­at­ing Diagon Alley, Hog­warts Express, and Hogsmeade was awe-inspir­ing.

My wife and I got teary-eyed when we first entered Diagon Alley. 

Also, the rides through­out Uni­ver­sal and Islands of Adven­ture were a blast. Of course our kids loved it all, but the strange thing about this tourist attrac­tion is how much my wife and I tru­ly enjoyed every­thing, too. We can’t wait to go back.

Broth­ers or sis­ters? How did they shape your life?

Ever since I can remem­ber, I’ve loved to draw. Hav­ing three old­er broth­ers who were all real­ly good at draw­ing had a big influ­ence on me. I remem­ber being so impressed with the sim­plest sketch they would do and I was deter­mined to be as good as they were.

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

I have found med­i­ta­tion and yoga very help­ful. I start every day with a 20 minute med­i­ta­tion (before the cof­fee).


Isn’t It Time to Listen to the Teachers?

Recent head­lines are sound­ing the alarm:

Star Tribune articleMore Min­neso­ta teach­ers leav­ing jobs, new state report shows
One-fourth of new teach­ers leave with­in first three years, accord­ing to a new state report. 

The statewide teacher short­age described as an “epi­dem­ic” has Min­neso­ta school dis­tricts search­ing for strate­gies that will increase teacher reten­tion. A Feb­ru­ary, 2017, Star Tri­bune arti­cle offers a star­tling sta­tis­tic that should be stop­ping school boards, admin­is­tra­tors, leg­is­la­tors and most impor­tant­ly par­ents in their tracks:

The 2017 ver­sion of the Min­neso­ta Teacher Sup­ply and Demand report issued Wednes­day found a 46 per­cent increase in the num­ber of teach­ers leav­ing the pro­fes­sion since 2008.”

While I believe a num­ber of oth­er issues also deserve our atten­tion (increas­ing the num­ber of teach­ers of col­or, improv­ing teacher train­ing, and clos­ing the achieve­ment gap), we can­not ignore the fact that the future of edu­ca­tion is uncer­tain at best. Some might even say the future is bleak.

How­ev­er, as a self-pro­fessed cham­pi­on of pos­i­tiv­i­ty and on behalf of the hun­dreds of col­leagues I have worked with over the past 26 years, I have com­piled a short list of requests. Invest­ing in these five straight­for­ward con­di­tions would send a strong mes­sage that we are seri­ous about address­ing the need to attract and retain high-qual­i­ty teach­ers for our chil­dren.

Isn’t it time to lis­ten to the teach­ers when we ask for the fol­low­ing? 

#1. High qual­i­ty train­ing in class­room man­age­ment and engage­ment

Ask any first year edu­ca­tor what he/she learned about these essen­tial com­po­nents of teach­ing in their under­grad­u­ate cours­es and the answer will like­ly be “Lit­tle, if any­thing.” The sad truth is that our col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are not doing an excep­tion­al job of prepar­ing new teach­ers for the chal­lenges they will face when it comes to cre­at­ing class­room envi­ron­ments that are con­ducive to learn­ing. We must do bet­ter. Before the degrees are grant­ed, as well as once new teach­ers are stand­ing in front a class­room full of kids, learn­ing how to estab­lish a cli­mate where kids can and want to learn is essen­tial. 

#2. Rea­son­able class sizes

And speak­ing of that class­room full of kids… Despite the stud­ies that insist class size doesn’t real­ly mat­ter all that much, 99.9% of teach­ers will tell you, CLASS SIZE MATTERS! A lot! Last year I taught two sec­tions of Lan­guage Arts. My first sec­tion had 31 stu­dents, my sec­ond sec­tion just 22 stu­dents. The amount of time I could devote to small group read­ing with stu­dents in the sec­ond sec­tion was obvi­ous­ly much greater than with stu­dents in the first sec­tion. Excel­lent teach­ers strive to cre­ate mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ships with stu­dents, they believe in pro­vid­ing rel­e­vant feed­back, and they under­stand the impor­tance of con­nect­ing with par­ents. Accom­plish­ing these goals is pos­si­ble with 22 stu­dents. Mak­ing it hap­pen con­sis­tent­ly with 31 stu­dents is a feat that most teach­ers find over­whelm­ing.

#3. Ample class­room library and sup­ply bud­gets

There is a joke often shared on social media that teach­ing is the only pro­fes­sion where you steal from home and take things to work. Sur­veys have shown that the aver­age teacher spends at least $500 out of their pock­et for every­thing from Kleenex to snow boots to gra­ham crack­ers. We not only wor­ry about keep­ing stu­dents healthy, warm, and fed, but we also invest heav­i­ly in putting books on our shelves year after year. Many teach­ers I know dream of win­ning the lot­tery in order to stock his/her class­room with the basic essen­tials. Rather than make us wait for our lucky num­bers to hit, how about if the school boards, admin­is­tra­tors, and school finance gurus help us meet the needs of stu­dents today! We’re not ask­ing for mil­lions, but $500-$1,000 per year would help a great deal.

#4. Time in our class­rooms dur­ing “back to school work­shop” days

Every August it’s the same old sto­ry. Teach­ers sit through hour after hour, day after day of meet­ings and work­shops that are sup­posed to help us become the best teach­ers we can be. The inten­tions are hon­or­able. Most of us real­ize this. But here’s the thing, our minds are else­where dur­ing this cru­cial time peri­od. It is tough to get or stay engaged in talk about inter­ven­tions, effec­tive math rou­tines or even worse, new rules for using the lam­i­na­tor, when more than two dozen lit­tle peo­ple and their fam­i­lies will be walk­ing through the door for open house in 48 – 72 hours. Give us the time we need to get our class­rooms ready. Make it a pri­or­i­ty to lim­it those August work­shop ses­sions in favor of sup­port­ing us in a sub­stan­tial way – with ade­quate time to be in our class­rooms prepar­ing for our learn­ers and the adven­tures that lie ahead. 

(l. to r.) Mau­r­na Rome, Meghan Mal­one, Lynn Sear­le, Ash­ley Hall, Kali Gard­ner, all sec­ond grade teach­ers at Peter Hobart Ele­men­tary in St. Louis Park, MN. Team mem­bers not avail­able for pho­to: Suzanne Knauf and Mol­ly Borg

#5. Ongo­ing, job-embed­ded, teacher-dri­ven pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment

The ben­e­fits of “one and you’re done” or “sit and git” work­shop train­ing days are min­i­mal. Often­times there is lit­tle change in beliefs or behav­iors after attend­ing this type of PD. As an instruc­tion­al coach, I am priv­i­leged to be in a dis­trict that val­ues invest­ing in teacher devel­op­ment and growth. I have worked in sev­er­al oth­er dis­tricts that have not approached pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment in the same way. Hon­or­ing teacher voic­es in this process is the way to fos­ter sys­temic change and sus­tain improve­ments. Recent­ly I joined a group of teach­ers as they col­lab­o­rat­ed on cre­at­ing a teacher-friend­ly guid­ed read­ing les­son plan for­mat. It was so impres­sive to see how they bounced ideas off of one anoth­er, dis­cussed their ratio­nale and insights, or offered dif­fer­ing opin­ions on how to approach the plan. There was a love­ly mix of syn­er­gy, respect, and affir­ma­tion. They knew what they were doing and they were doing it well. The next day, they decid­ed to put in a request for half-day subs so every­one on the team could dig even deep­er into their under­stand­ing and imple­men­ta­tion of the new approach to guid­ed read­ing. This is the type of pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment we need. No one at the dis­trict office or State Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion could do a bet­ter job of pre­scrib­ing or design­ing effec­tive train­ing.

Ask the teach­ers. And most impor­tant­ly, lis­ten to them. They know. Trust me. They know. Trust them. They real­ly know.


Guess What’s in My Glove Compartment?

stuffed duckLet’s play a lit­tle game. I’ll tell you some things about the inside of my car, and you tell me what you can dis­cern about me from those details.

There’s an ice scraper on the floor and a fold­able camp chair in the back.

There’s a copy of a 200-page unpub­lished nov­el with my name list­ed as the author.

CD selec­tions range from the Car­pen­ters to Queen Lat­i­fah to the sound­track from “Shrek.” The back­seat car­pet is heav­i­ly stained. The back­seat itself is cov­ered in scuff marks.

There’s a bright­ly col­ored, hand­made God’s eye hang­ing off the gear shift. There’s a stuffed duck dressed in a sailor’s outfit in the map pock­et.

The glove com­part­ment holds binoc­u­lars, mints, a pre­scrip­tion bot­tle full of quar­ters, and fast food coupons.

Okay, you get the pic­ture.  My guess is that while you might mis­in­ter­pret some of those details, there are actu­al­ly sev­er­al things you’d guess cor­rect­ly about me based on know­ing them.

You can turn this game into a fun char­ac­ter-build­ing activ­i­ty for stu­dent writ­ers.  Ask them to describe one of the fol­low­ing set­tings con­nect­ed to one of their own sto­ry char­ac­ters: their character’s bed­room, lock­er at school, clos­et, or (for old­er char­ac­ters), their car. Once they’ve cre­at­ed the descrip­tion, have them trade with anoth­er stu­dent. Then the oth­er stu­dent will try to guess some­thing about the per­son­al­i­ty of their partner’s char­ac­ter, based on the descrip­tion of that per­son­al space. That tells the writer which details best reveal their character’s per­son­al­i­ty and cir­cum­stances, and there­fore would make the best details to include in their actu­al sto­ry.

Stu­dents could also do this as a compare/contrast activ­i­ty by describ­ing the bed­room or lock­er of two or more key char­ac­ters in their sto­ry.

Young writ­ers will find that they can con­vey a whole lot about a char­ac­ter by giv­ing read­ers a chance to peek into their char­ac­ters’ per­son­al spaces.


What’s Best for the Story?

Page Break


I’ve Been Enchanted

The Hotel CatThis is a rare admis­sion from me because it’s about a book whose main char­ac­ters are ani­mals. I’ve stat­ed before in this col­umn that ani­mal books have nev­er been a favorite of mine, even as a child. Sure­ly there are oth­ers of you out there who are too shy to admit the same thing?

In my deter­mi­na­tion to read old­er children’s books that I haven’t read before, I’ve just fin­ished a book that has shown me I can adore books about ani­mals: The Hotel Cat by Esther Aver­ill, a Jenny’s Cat Club book. First pub­lished in 1969, this is the penul­ti­mate book in Averill’s 13-book series that begins with The Cat Club, pub­lished in 1944.

I liked this one so well that I’m going to track down all of the oth­er books that come before it and some of Averill’s oth­er books as well.

Her cats are always cats. Even though they speak cat talk, and at least in The Hotel Cat they can talk with a human who under­stands cat talk, their thoughts and dia­logue and actions always seem cat-like.

Tom, the stray who wan­ders into the Roy­al Hotel, an old­er but gen­teel 300-room hotel in Green­wich Vil­lage, is wel­comed by Fred, the jan­i­tor, and giv­en a place to stay. Tom even­tu­al­ly explores the hotel, stay­ing out of sight of the humans, until kind and thought­ful Mrs. Wilkins, a long-term res­i­dent of the hotel, dis­cov­ers him in the ball­room. The two become ten­der-heart­ed friends because Mrs. Wilkins is that char­ac­ter who under­stands cat talk. She meets Tom late each night for a con­ver­sa­tion, always remem­ber­ing to bring Tom a treat.

It’s the win­ter of the Big Freeze, and neigh­bor­ing res­i­dents are mov­ing to the hotel with their cats because their boil­ers are burst­ing. Tom is very pro­tec­tive of his hotel until Mrs. Wilkins encour­ages him to be friend­ly, an accom­mo­dat­ing and com­pas­sion­ate host. Three of the new hotel guests are Jen­ny Lin­sky and her broth­ers Edward and Check­ers.

Esther Averill

illus­tra­tion copy­right Esther Aver­ill

It’s a book about mak­ing friends and shar­ing and learn­ing how to talk in a kind and thought­ful way. Tom wor­ries about los­ing his new friends when all the boil­ers are fixed. He learns about the Cat Club and tries hard not to feel left out. These are all feel­ings every child knows well.

Because Averill’s writ­ing is so spare, with words appro­pri­ate­ly evoca­tive, this book (and pre­sum­ably the oth­ers) would make a great read-aloud for class­rooms and fam­i­lies. What fun it is to read the cat talk out loud!

Esther AverillAnd now that I’ve fall­en in love with her writ­ing, I had to know more about the author and illus­tra­tor. I’ll keep look­ing for more infor­ma­tion about Esther Aver­ill but I’m already fas­ci­nat­ed by what I’ve found.

She grad­u­at­ed from Vas­sar Col­lege, wrote for Women’s Wear Dai­ly, then moved to Paris. There, she found­ed Domi­no Press to pub­lish children’s books with Euro­pean illus­tra­tors. She paid as much atten­tion to book design and pro­duc­tion as she did to con­tent and illus­tra­tion — the books were top­notch. When Nazis threat­ened to over­take Paris, Aver­ill returned to the Unit­ed States and once again pub­lished books through Domi­no Press. She went to work at the New York Pub­lic Library and then began writ­ing and illus­trat­ing her own books. Don’t you want to invite her to lunch?

Here’s an arti­cle that Ms. Aver­ill wrote for The Horn Book in 1957. If you won­der about the dis­tinc­tion between pic­ture books, illus­trat­ed books, and pic­ture sto­ry­books, this arti­cle will enlight­en you. In it, she crit­i­cal­ly reviewed the Calde­cott win­ners from 1938 to 1957. 

I enjoyed this arti­cle by Ani­ta Sil­vey about Jen­ny and the Cat Club for Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac

You can research Esther Aver­il­l’s work, includ­ing The Hotel Cat, at the Ker­lan Col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta and at the DeGrum­mond Col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Mis­sis­sip­pi.


The Hotel Cat 
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Esther Aver­ill
The New York Review of Books, 2005
orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1969


Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?

Once there were two bears. Big Bear and Lit­tle Bear. Big Bear is the big bear, and Lit­tle Bear is the lit­tle bear. They played all day in the bright sun­light. When night came, and the sun went down, Big Bear took Lit­tle Bear home to the Bear Cave….

There was a time — and it doesn’t seem that long ago, I might add — that this gen­tle book was read in our own Bear Cave on a dai­ly basis. I know there are oth­er Big Bear and Lit­tle Bear books, but we nev­er had them. We had just this one—Can’t You Sleep Lit­tle Bear?­­ And we loved it — both the kids and the par­ents.

The kids delight­ed in the lit­tle jokes in the words and illus­tra­tions. Big Bear is the big bear and Lit­tle Bear is the lit­tle bear was hilar­i­ous to #1 Son. Dar­ling Daugh­ter loved Lit­tle Bear’s acro­bat­ics in bed when he was sup­posed to be set­tling down to sleep. (She was per­haps all too inspired by them, in fact.)

And I loved it because….well, Can’t You Sleep Lit­tle Bear is one of those books that fea­tures inspired par­ent­ing. As a par­ent who read a lot to the kids, I always appre­ci­at­ed hav­ing parental role mod­els in the books I read — wise and under­stand­ing moth­ers, kind and empa­thet­ic fathers. Par­ents who seem to be at their best in some­times dif­fi­cult or har­ried cir­cum­stances (like with the child who won’t go to sleep) — not per­fect, sel­dom per­fect, in fact — but rather, sim­ply wise peo­ple who know how to take a deep breath, ask a per­ti­nent ques­tion, and lead the child through to the res­o­lu­tion if there was one to be had.

Big Bear is an inspi­ra­tional Dad. He may be exhaust­ed, but he has remark­able patience at the end of a day spent play­ing in bright sun­light. Sure, he grum­bles a bit that he has to put down his Bear Book just when it’s get­ting to the inter­est­ing part — but he does put it down, and he gen­tly address­es the sit­u­a­tion, with nary a hint of impa­tience. Again and again he goes to his Lit­tle Bear who is turn­ing flip-flops on the bed and says “Can’t you sleep, Lit­tle Bear?” (He does not yell from the oth­er room: “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, WILL YOU GO TO SLEEP?!”)

And when Lit­tle Bear says he’s scared, Big Bear does not say “There’s noth­ing to be afraid of…” No, he asks what Lit­tle Bear is scared about. “I don’t like the dark,” [says] Lit­tle Bear. Big Bear asks a clar­i­fy­ing ques­tion. “What dark?” And Lit­tle Bear tells him,“The dark all around us.” (We used to divvy up these lines when we read the book togeth­er. I’d say “What dark?” and they’d say, “The Dark All Around!” with very dra­mat­ic inflec­tion.)

Big Bear looks, and he sees that the dark part of the cave is very dark, so he goes to the Lantern Cup­board and brings a small light to Lit­tle Bear. He does this sev­er­al times, in fact. A larg­er light each time.

It’s the Lantern Cup­board that gets me. Each time Lit­tle Bear protests the dark, Big Bear brings a larg­er light to van­quish the dark­ness that is all around. From the Lantern Cup­board. I’d read that and think: shouldn’t we all have a Lantern Cup­board? With dif­fer­ent sized lights as might be need­ed for dif­fer­ent and par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tions? I’m sure I’d be a bet­ter par­ent if I had access to a Lantern Cup­board.

In the end, the Big Bear and Lit­tle Bear leave the Bear Cave and go out where the dark­ness real­ly is all around. And Lit­tle Bear is scared, but Big Bear encour­ages him to look . “Look at the dark, Lit­tle Bear.” And lit­tle bear does. In the safe­ty of Big Bear’s arms, he looks at the dark­ness. And in the midst of the vast dark­ness, he sees the moon and the twinkly stars, too.

And this, I think, is what it is to par­ent — Lantern Cup­board or no. We light the lights against the darkness…we go with them when and where we can…we offer our love with our strong arms wrapped around them so they can be brave and look out at all that is out there…and, hope­ful­ly, be sur­prised by the moon and the twinkly stars, too.


Skinny Dip with April Whatley Bedford

April Whatley Bedford

April What­ley Bed­ford

We inter­viewed April What­ley Bed­ford, life­long read­er, cur­rent­ly the Dean of the School of Edu­ca­tion at Brook­lyn Col­lege.

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

Can I choose two? I would love to have cof­fee with Michelle and Barack Oba­ma, either togeth­er or indi­vid­u­al­ly. I’m sure I’m not alone in this answer, but there are no two peo­ple I admire more in the world, and I also believe we would laugh a lot dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tions.

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

The Girl Who Drank the MoonThis changes on a fre­quent basis, but I just fin­ished read­ing the most recent New­bery win­ner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon. I have not been able to stop think­ing about it since I fin­ished it. Kel­ly Barnhill’s beau­ti­ful lan­guage, the world she imag­ined and described in such exquis­ite detail, the ulti­mate mes­sage of hope and for­give­ness … I could go on and on about this book. I feel sure that the well-deserved award will bring this book to the atten­tion of more read­ers — of every age — who need to know about it.

Favorite city to vis­it?

Until I was for­tu­nate enough to live in them, my two favorite cities to vis­it were always New Orleans, where I lived for 15 years, and New York City, where I have lived for the past three. Now my favorite city to vis­it is San Fran­cis­co, but I also dream of liv­ing in Paris some­time. There is nev­er enough time to explore all the won­ders of each of these unique and cul­tur­al­ly rich cities, and they all have pret­ty fan­tas­tic food, too.

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

Radiant ChildAgain, I could nev­er pick just one but I am cur­rent­ly swoon­ing over Java­ka Steptoe’s spec­tac­u­lar Radi­ant Child: The Sto­ry of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat! Since I moved to Brook­lyn, I have become friends with Java­ka, and when his name was called in Atlanta at the ALA Youth Media Awards first for the Coret­ta Scott King medal and then for the Calde­cott, I couldn’t stop scream­ing. He showed me a draft of the book on his iPad about a year before it was pub­lished, and I was count­ing the days until I could see it in print. His col­lages, evok­ing the style of Basquiat but pure Java­ka, are so cap­ti­vat­ing to me. We invit­ed the fifth graders from a local part­ner school, PS 119, to hear him speak at Brook­lyn Col­lege just a few weeks before ALA Mid-Win­ter and gave them each a signed copy of Radi­ant Child. Being able to con­nect chil­dren with authors and illus­tra­tors is one of the great joys of my per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al life, and I was thrilled to be able to call the prin­ci­pal of PS 119 after the awards cer­e­mo­ny with the won­der­ful news that she could share with all of her fifth-graders. I am def­i­nite­ly one of Javaka’s biggest fans!

Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

Grow­ing up in Texas, I was always a sum­mer sun wor­shiper, but since mov­ing to New York, I’ve grown very fond of the fall. As a teacher, the begin­ning of a new school year has always seemed like the real New Year’s for me, but most of my life I lived in places that real­ly didn’t have four sep­a­rate sea­sons. There’s just an excite­ment in the air as the sea­son changes from sum­mer to fall that I love. I’m still not a fan of New York win­ters, but it’s pret­ty hard to beat the hol­i­day sea­son in the city.

Autumn in New York, Central Park, New York Ciity

What gives you shiv­ers?

Sun­sets, fire­works, can­dle­light, shoot­ing stars, light­en­ing bugs, water­falls, the ocean…all in a good way.

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

Most def­i­nite­ly a night per­son.

Your hope for the world?

My great­est hope for the world, espe­cial­ly dur­ing these dif­fi­cult days, is that we are all able to expect kind­ness and com­pas­sion from one anoth­er.


Seeing the Signs

Ice Cream!Fast food signs taught my twin nephews to read when they were only two.

They couldn’t whip out the dic­tio­nary and rat­tle off def­i­n­i­tions. But they could spot a famil­iar logo and cor­rect­ly assign lan­guage and con­text to it. The big gold­en “M” meant a pos­si­ble lunch break; “DQ” meant ice cream; “SA” was for bath­room breaks. In my book, they were read­ing, if only on a rudi­men­ta­ry lev­el.

Dri­vers tend to stop notic­ing how fre­quent­ly those same signs appear along the road­side. But if you’ve told the back­seat duo that you’ll buy them some ice cream, trust me — there’s no way you’ll be allowed to over­look the next “DQ.”

There are a cou­ple of “bad” writ­ing habits that work some­thing the same way. These habits tend to be scat­tered all over our writ­ing, but we often over­look them — until we make it our spe­cif­ic mis­sion to notice how often they pop up.

The first habit is overus­ing some form of the verb “feel”: “felt,” “feel­ing,” etc. Exam­ples are: “He felt angry.” “She’s feel­ing sad.” There’s a stronger way to con­vey that emo­tion — in writ­ers’ lin­go, you want to “show” instead of “tell” your read­er how the char­ac­ter is feel­ing. Instead of say­ing he felt angry, have him kick the wall. Instead of telling us she’s sad, have her weep. The emo­tions will be more intense, and the writ­ing will be stronger.

The sec­ond habit is overus­ing adverbs. Look for any words end­ing in “ly.” Then work to reduce these adverbs while also for­ti­fy­ing the verbs they mod­i­fy. An exam­ple? Instead of say­ing, “He ran quick­ly,” say “He raced.”

So here’s a quick revi­sion tip: Have your stu­dents scan their doc­u­ments, cir­cling or high­light­ing any form of “feel,” and any “ly” end­ings (or if it’s com­put­er­ized doc­u­ment, they can use the “find and replace” func­tion). Then have them fol­low the advice above to strength­en their writ­ing.

Once they see how much dif­fer­ence these quick fixes can make, you won’t even have to bribe them with ice cream.


Miles to Go

Page Break Lynne Jonell


Our Hearts Will Hold Us Up

Jack­ie: It seems per­fect­ly appro­pri­ate that the Man­ag­er of Hol­i­day Place­ment  has placed Valentine’s Day, a day to cel­e­brate love and affec­tion, right in the mid­dle of cold, dark Feb­ru­ary. I want that cel­e­bra­tion to spread out for the whole month (why not the whole year?) the way the smell of bak­ing bread fills an entire house, not just the kitchen. Why can’t all of Feb­ru­ary be Heart Month? We are choos­ing books this month with that goal in mind. We want to cel­e­brate heart, love, ties of affec­tion. And we have cho­sen a new book, a cou­ple of medi­um new books and an old book to help us.

More, More, More Said the BabyA while back we did an entire col­umn on Vera B. Williams. But I am still miss­ing her. I need her polit­i­cal activism and her huge heart in my neigh­bor­hood. I turned to More, More, More Said the Baby. (Green­wil­low, 1990). 

This book is a huge cel­e­bra­tion of the love between dad­dies and kids:

Just look at you
With your per­fect bel­ly but­ton
Right in the mid­dle
Right in the mid­dle
Right in the mid­dle
Of your fat lit­tle bel­ly.
Then Lit­tle Guy’s dad­dy
Brings that baby
Right up close
And gives that lit­tle guy’s bel­ly
A kiss right I the mid­dle
Of the bel­ly but­ton.

Between grand­mas and kids:

Then Lit­tle Pumpkin’s grand­ma
Brings that baby right up close
And tastes each
Of Lit­tle Pumpkin’s toes.

And mamas and kids:

Just look at you
With your two closed eyes
Then Lit­tle Bird’s Mama…
Gives that lit­tle bird a kiss
Right on each of her lit­tle eyes.

I nev­er tire of read­ing about these chil­dren, diverse chil­dren, who are so loved and so val­ued. This book will be fresh as long as we laugh and kiss babies with bel­ly but­tons and ten lit­tle toes.

Phyl­lis:; I miss Vera B. Williams, too, and I love see­ing her spir­it still alive in her books and also in the hearts of peo­ple every­where who care about peo­ple every­where. Her lan­guage in More More More is so deli­cious – along with the rep­e­ti­tion we have live­ly verbs of inter­ac­tion between grown-ups and beloved chil­dren (swing, scoot, catch that baby up).  Lit­tle Guy, Lit­tle Pump­kin, and Lit­tle Bird have names that could be any child’s. I love, too, the exu­ber­ant art and hand let­tered mul­ti-col­ored text. Every­thing about this book cel­e­brates tak­ing joy in our chil­dren.

My Heart Will Not Sit DownJack­ie: In My Heart Will Not Sit Down, (Alfred Knopf, 2012) empa­thy and car­ing for oth­ers trav­el around the world. Rock­liff cre­ates a school child Kedi, who hears from her teacher about the hun­gry chil­dren in New York City and can­not stop think­ing about them. She asks her moth­er for a coin to send them. Her moth­er says they have no coins to spare. “Kedi knew Mama was right. Still, her heart would not sit down.” She asks an uncle, a sweep­ing moth­er with a baby on her back, a grand­moth­er pound­ing cas­sa­va, laugh­ing girls who car­ried pots of riv­er water, old men play­ing a game of stones, even the head­man. No one has coins… Until the next morn­ing when her mama gives her one coin. She takes the coin to school, think­ing that one coin can do lit­tle good for the hun­gry chil­dren. Then the vil­lagers show up — each bear­ing a coin. “We have heard about the hunger in our teacher’s vil­lage,” said the head­man. “Our hearts would not sit down until we helped.” 

Phyl­lis:  This is one of those books that called to me from the shelf in a book­store and cap­ti­vat­ed my heart once I opened it. Kedi’s heart stands up for the hun­gry chil­dren in New York, Amer­i­ca, as she calls it. When the vil­lagers bring their coins, which the author notes would be a small for­tune to the vil­lage even though $3.77 would not go far in Amer­i­ca even in the Depres­sion, her mama asks, “Now will your heart sit down in peace?” Kedi answers, “Yes, Mama, Yes!”  The author notes, too, that in Cameroon, where the event occurred on which the sto­ry is based, peo­ple shared with any­one in need, even strangers, because, as they said, “You may meet him [a stranger] again, and in his own place.” This sto­ry reminds me that the actions of one small per­son can touch many hearts and feed hun­gry chil­dren.

The Heart and the BottleJack­ie: Hearts can spur us to action. Hearts can break. And the last two books are gen­tle sto­ries of the heartache of loss. Oliv­er Jef­fers writes of a “lit­tle girl…whose head was filled with all the curiosi­ties of the world.” Jef­fers shows us this lit­tle girl talk­ing with her grand­pa who sits in a chair, lying under the stars with her grand­pa. He accom­pa­nies her on all her explores. And then one day the chair is emp­ty. She decides to put her heart in a bot­tle to keep it safe. After that she wasn’t curi­ous. She grows up and the bot­tled heart is heavy around her neck.  When she wish­es to retrieve her heart she can’t — until she meets anoth­er lit­tle girl.

This is a sto­ry about deal­ing with sad­ness — we want to pro­tect our hearts but we lose so much when we wall them up.

Phyl­lis:  Oliv­er Jef­fers both wrote and illus­trat­ed The Heart and the Bot­tle, and the illus­tra­tions help car­ry the events and the emo­tions of the sto­ry.  When the girl who has bot­tled her heart decides as a grown-up to take her heart out again, the art shows her try­ing to shake the heart out, grip it with pli­ers, break the bot­tle with a ham­mer, and final­ly, aban­don­ing her work bench cov­ered with a drill, a cross cut saw, a wood­en mal­let, screw­driv­er, and oth­er assort­ed tools includ­ing a vac­u­um clean­er lean­ing again the bench, she climbs a lad­der to the top of an enor­mous­ly tall brick wall and drops the bot­tle which still doesn’t break but just “bounced and rolled…right down to the sea” where a lit­tle girl eas­i­ly frees the heart from the bot­tle and returns it.  The book ends, “The heart was put back where it came from.  And the chair wasn’t emp­ty any­more. But the bot­tle was.” Here, too, the art reflects that the woman’s  world is once again filled with won­der.  We need our hearts with­in us.

Cry, Heart, But Never BreakJack­ie: Cry, Heart, But Nev­er Break comes to us from Den­mark. It was writ­ten by Glenn Ringtved, illus­trat­ed by Char­lotte Par­di and trans­lat­ed by Robert Moulthrop (Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2016).  This book also deals with loss. Four chil­dren live with their grand­moth­er — “A kind­ly woman, she had cared for them for many years.” Then Death knocks at the door. The chil­dren decide to fore­stall Death’s mis­sion with cof­fee. They will keep him drink­ing cof­fee all night so he can­not take their grand­moth­er, thus giv­ing her anoth­er day of life. Even­tu­al­ly he has had enough. And one of the chil­dren asks why grand­moth­er has to die. And then comes: “Some peo­ple say Death’s heart is as dead and black as a piece of coal, but that is not true. Beneath his inky cloak, Death’s heart is as red as the most beau­ti­ful sun­set and beats with a great love of life.” He tells them a sto­ry of Sor­row and Grief meet­ing and falling in love with Delight and Joy. “What would life be worth if there were no death? Who would enjoy the sun if it nev­er rained? Who would yearn for day if there were no night?”

When Death goes to the Grandmother’s room, he says to the chil­dren, “Cry, Heart, but nev­er break. Let your tears of grief and sad­ness begin a new life.” Char­lotte Pardi’s illus­tra­tions are per­fect for this book, sim­ple and ten­der. We see what appears to be quick­ly-sketched fur­ni­ture in the night kitchen — we know this is a sto­ry. And yet we con­nect with the emo­tions on the children’s faces.

Cry, Heart, But Never Break

Cry, Heart, But Nev­er Break. Illus­tra­tion © Char­lotte Par­di.

Phyl­lis: I love that the chil­dren ply Death with cof­fee, which Death loves, strong and black, and that it’s the youngest child who looks right at Death and even­tu­al­ly puts her hand over his. But even cof­fee can’t stop Death; when he goes  upstairs the chil­dren hear the win­dow open and Death say, “Fly, soul, fly away.” Their hearts grieve and cry but do not break. Some (but not all) of the best books about Death come, inter­est­ing­ly, from oth­er coun­tries. But this book is not only about Death it is about the neces­si­ty of a life with both sor­row and grief and also joy and delight. This is a book that makes me cry and hope for all our hearts that they nev­er com­plete­ly break.

Jack­ie: We start­ed with con­nec­tion — the con­nec­tions of babies and fam­i­lies, and we have come round to loss of con­nec­tion, when what remains is love. Our hearts will hold us up.


Merna Ann Hecht and Our Table of Memories

Merna Ann Hecht

Mer­na Ann Hecht

When one poet, Mer­na Ann Hecht, and one edu­ca­tor, Car­rie Stradley, observed their com­mu­ni­ty, their schools, their stu­dents, and real­ized that a pletho­ra of life expe­ri­ences sur­round­ed them, they put their teach­ing and their hearts togeth­er to cre­ate The Sto­ries of Arrival: Refugee and Immi­grant Youth Voic­es Poet­ry Project at Fos­ter High School, in Tuk­wila, Wash­ing­ton.

These weren’t typ­i­cal high school sto­ries. Instead, these stu­dents have expe­ri­ences of leav­ing their homes, their friends, their schools, their coun­tries … to emi­grate to Amer­i­ca, where life is often astound­ing­ly dif­fer­ent.

Encour­ag­ing these Eng­lish Lan­guage Learn­ing stu­dents, more than 240 of them over the past six years from 30 coun­tries, to com­mu­ni­cate their sto­ries through poet­ry helps to empow­er them to find their voic­es and move con­fi­dent­ly into their cho­sen futures (a para­phrase of the project’s mis­sion).

Stories of Our Arrival

Com­bine this project with anoth­er, Project Feast, and you have not only a cook­book of world­wide appeal but a book of poet­ry that is often eye-open­ing, com­pas­sion­ate, and heartrend­ing. A recipe for under­stand­ing. A taste of the mem­o­ries, trav­els, and long­ing behind the poets’ words.

Togeth­er with their part­ners The Insti­tute for Poet­ic Med­i­cine (Palo Alto, CA), the Jack Straw Cul­tur­al Cen­ter (Seat­tle, WA), and Chatwin Books (Seat­tle, WA), these two women and their projects have cre­at­ed Our Table of Mem­o­ries: Food & Poet­ry of Spir­it, Home­land & Tra­di­tion. It’s a beau­ti­ful book, part poet­ry by high school stu­dents, part recipes from the tra­di­tion­al cooks from their coun­tries, and part art with illus­tra­tions by Mor­gan Wright, a recent col­lege grad­u­ate, new­ly enrolled in New York City’s Bank Street Col­lege to pur­sue her Mas­ter of Arts in teach­ing.

By pub­lish­ing this inter­view with Mer­na Hecht, it is the hope of Bookol­o­gy’s edi­tors that you will be inspired to con­sid­er a pro­gram like this in your own com­mu­ni­ty. Feel free to con­tact Mer­na with your ques­tions.

  Can you tell us a bit about your life, in par­tic­u­lar what pulled you toward poet­ry?

 There is not a moment I can recall when I wasn’t pulled toward poet­ry. I first heard the incan­ta­to­ry rhythms of poems from my grand­fa­ther who gave beau­ti­ful, mem­o­rized recita­tions of Longfel­low and John Green­leaf Whit­ti­er. I think it was sec­ond grade when I began writ­ing rhymed poems. Those child­hood poems were shaped by what then seemed the mag­ic of the nat­ur­al world. Notic­ing details of bugs, petals, leaves, cracks in the side­walks on my way to and from school often made me late. At the time it seemed like a secret world. Now I think that ear­ly impulse for close obser­va­tion and a deeply pri­vate inner world have shaped the poet I’ve become. I have always turned toward poet­ry to nour­ish my spir­it. As a young woman, I began to read many dif­fer­ent poets who spoke to me, chal­lenged me, pro­voked me and opened my eyes and heart to the beau­ty and suf­fer­ing of the world; I’ve not stopped turn­ing these pages. Poet­ry is the place where I find a well­spring for expres­sion of what seems most ten­der, most true and most unsayable. 

How did you find your way to teach­ing?

By a some­what gnarled and twist­ed path and I’m so glad I got there! I was a reg­is­tered nurse by the age of 21 and worked for five years as a pedi­atric nurse. I usu­al­ly car­ried fin­ger pup­pets in my pock­ets and offered impromp­tu sto­ried pup­pet shows at children’s bed­sides. Then came a real­iza­tion that I much pre­ferred the sto­ry­telling and pup­pets to the nurs­ing! “The rest is his­to­ry,” from work­ing with mid­wives on the Nava­ho reser­va­tion, to jaunt­ing about as a pup­peteer and poet in the schools in rur­al Ida­ho, to earn­ing a Mas­ters Degree as a children’s librar­i­an. Under the tute­lage of mas­ter sto­ry­teller, Pro­fes­sor Spencer Shaw at the Uni­ver­si­ty of WA, I fell in love with the art and craft of tale-spin­ning. Fast for­ward to work­ing as a children’s librar­i­an for Seat­tle Pub­lic Library to my first for­mal teach­ing job in a pro­gres­sive teacher cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram and onward to becom­ing a teach­ing artist and a uni­ver­si­ty lec­tur­er.

You’re nation­al­ly known as a sto­ry­teller. In 2008, the Nation­al Sto­ry­telling Net­work pre­sent­ed you with their Brim­stone Award for Applied Sto­ry­telling, with which you cre­at­ed a pilot pro­gram as a poet and sto­ry­teller at Bridges: A Cen­ter for Griev­ing Chil­dren in Taco­ma. Can you tell us about applied sto­ry­telling? What does that mean and how do your sto­ries work toward that spe­cif­ic appli­ca­tion?

These days, sto­ry­tellers show up in many places: deten­tion cen­ters, hos­pi­tals, war torn coun­tries at cen­ters for young peo­ple in trau­ma and drug rehab facil­i­ties for teens. These racon­teurs bring the age old plea­sure of lis­ten­ing to a tale well told. This allows young peo­ple (and all of us) to tem­porar­i­ly walk in some­one else’s shoes; it sparks the imag­i­na­tion to life. Through ancient pat­terns of myth and folk­tales sto­ries can allow a trust in pos­si­bil­i­ties to take hold. To apply sto­ry­telling in set­tings for young peo­ple and adults who have expe­ri­enced loss or trau­ma helps cre­ate safe space and gath­er­ing places where deep lis­ten­ing can occur. There are uni­ver­sal truths in sto­ries from all cul­tures. Many sto­ries reflect the inevitabil­i­ty of loss in human life and they speak to our inter­con­nect­ed­ness to each oth­er, to ani­mals, trees, the moon, the stars and to mys­ter­ies beyond us. In this way sto­ries can ease a sense of iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness. Find­ing the right sto­ry for a sit­u­a­tion, a group, or an indi­vid­ual is part of apply­ing sto­ry­telling to spe­cial set­tings and using sto­ries to help oth­ers trust that they can over­come obsta­cles and find their inner strength and courage.

What drew you toward work­ing with refugee and immi­grant chil­dren?

The short answer is that these young peo­ple are my teach­ers! Their deter­mi­na­tion to suc­ceed in high school, con­tin­ue on to col­lege and con­tribute to this coun­try and/or to return to their home­land to help oth­ers inspires me and gives me hope. They dream of becom­ing doc­tors, nurs­es, peace-mak­ers, envi­ron­men­tal­ists, actors, pilots and they do not bemoan the dif­fi­cul­ties they have expe­ri­enced at such a young age. Loss of fam­i­ly mem­bers, life in refugee camps, forced migra­tions, lack of enough food, health care, edu­ca­tion and still they are mod­el cit­i­zens. They are young peo­ple who are hope­ful, curi­ous, and deeply kind who wish to help cre­ate a more peace­ful, humane world.

Stories of Our Arrival poets

The Sto­ries of Our Arrival poets. Edu­ca­tors Car­rie Stradley (front row, left) and Mer­na Hecht (front row, sec­ond from right) feel priv­i­leged to have worked with more than 240 stu­dents over the past six years from 30 coun­tries.

You’re an organ­ic gar­den­er with respect for food tra­di­tions. How did this inspire you for Project Feast and how did the idea of the cook­book, Our Table of Mem­o­ries, with poet­ry and illus­tra­tions come into being?

Our Table of MemoriesWhen I heard about Project Feast and found that it was locat­ed with­in a mile of the school my idea for a col­lab­o­ra­tion sprang in part from years of “hands on” inten­sive gar­den­ing and cook­ing and from a pas­sion for explor­ing dif­fer­ent ways peo­ple across the globe pre­pare and share food. This love of cross cul­tur­al food is some­thing Car­rie and I share. When she heard the idea for col­lab­o­rat­ing with Project Feast her eyes lit up with a “yes!” We both rec­og­nize that when peo­ple leave their home­lands, a deep sense of home remains with them, in part, with eat­ing and grow­ing the foods of their cul­tures. We felt that a food-themed project would gen­er­ate a rich out­pour­ing of poems. Giv­en that food and poet­ry both speak lan­guages of fla­vor, scent, spice, tex­ture, and col­or we want­ed to include illus­tra­tions that would reflect the sen­so­ry feel of the poems — to cre­ate a pre­sen­ta­tion much like a mem­o­rable meal which the eye feasts upon before the palette! We also want­ed to cel­e­brate our stu­dents and the refugee women of Project Feast by includ­ing beloved recipes from their mem­o­ries, their fam­i­lies and their home­lands.

 Can you share a par­tic­u­lar sto­ry from this Project that gave every­one hope?

One of Carrie’s ELL class­es had four­teen boys and only two girls. Hope cer­tain­ly flour­ish­es when a group of ado­les­cent boys, all refugees from dif­fer­ent coun­tries, cul­tures and eth­nic­i­ties, open­ly sup­port and applaud each oth­er for writ­ing poems that are vul­ner­a­ble and emo­tion­al­ly expres­sive. Hope flour­ish­es when they tell us that they’ve found their voic­es and a way to tell their sto­ries through poet­ry. At the project’s con­clu­sion those who wished to apply for a schol­ar­ship were asked to reflect on what they learned from poet­ry. Their replies filled us with hope and in truth, with tears, here are a few short excerpts:

Khai, from Bur­ma

I can speak the truth in the poem I wrote… Poems will make oth­er peo­ple under­stand us (immi­grants). As an immi­grant and a lot of oth­ers who are just like me, we have a vast­ly hard life… One of the ways that we can explain our painful past is only by a POEM, it is the only way to make a con­nec­tion with every­one; poems make us two in one. Poems are vast­ly cru­cial to all of us because poems are ALIVE! There is peace, love, friends, fam­i­ly, and much more in a poem. This is why poems are extreme­ly impor­tant to us (immi­grants) and to every­one who has a heart.

Abdi A.

Abdi A.

Abdi A., from Soma­lia

I was born in a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, and lived there most of my life. Writ­ing poems helped me remem­ber and appre­ci­ate what I have now and also helped non-immi­grants to have a bet­ter under­stand­ing of what is it real­ly like to be a young boy with a hope­less dream of becom­ing a doc­tor. I remem­ber a white man who worked with the IOM ask­ing me what my dream was and I told him I want­ed to be a doc­tor and laughed at myself because I thought it was ridicu­lous and ‘’too big’’ for some­one like me. But here I am today liv­ing a hap­py life and work­ing towards my dream… Poet­ry does­n’t just show us how much we share, it helps us see the world in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent way. When I heard Kang Pu’s poem about how his mom died and the strug­gle that his fam­i­ly had and how the gov­ern­ment didn’t even help, I under­stood him bet­ter… Poet­ry is uni­ver­sal. ELLs can learn about or read poet­ry in their pri­ma­ry lan­guage, help­ing them bridge their worlds… I plan on going to a four-year col­lege and I still have that dream of becom­ing a doc­tor, so I can go back home one day and help the sick and the needy.

Has there been an effort made to repli­cate this project in oth­er high schools around the coun­try?

This is a next step that project co-direc­tor and ELL teacher extra­or­di­naire, Car­rie and I have want­ed and intend to accom­plish. Along with the won­der­ful engage­ment and sage advice of John Fox, founder/director of the Insti­tute for Poet­ic Med­i­cine, (we are proud­ly an IPM Poet­ry Part­ner Project) we intend to take the next step and pub­lish a tem­plate of poet­ry prompts and activ­i­ties along with a col­lec­tion of resource mate­r­i­al for repli­cat­ing this poet­ry project.


The poems in this book are lus­cious but, to tempt you fur­ther, the recipes includes Doro wet: an Ethiopi­an Chick­en Stew (pgs. 120 – 121), Arroz con Leche, (pgs. 130 – 131), Zawng­tah: Burmese Tree Beans with Tilapia (pgs. 136 – 137), Orange Iraqi Teatime Cake (pgs. 154 – 155) and many more. Is  your mouth water­ing yet? Every­thing about this book is invit­ing … you will embrace it!

Pub­lish­er, Chatwin Books

Your Local Book­seller


Kang Pu

Kang Pu

Here’s a sam­ple of one of the heart-touch­ing poems in Our Table of Mem­o­ries:

Kang Pu, from Bur­ma

When my mom cooked it smelled of sweet win­ter­time cher­ries,
of a soli­tary for­est with rain falling
and it smelled like the mur­mur of a lone­ly bird, singing,
I pic­ture the spher­i­cal smoke ris­ing from her kitchen
it was like the sound of sleep at night,
it was like arriv­ing home safe and sound
the sounds of her kitchen were peace­ful. 

I still long for the laugh­ter of those fam­i­ly meals
we all wait­ed for that table, my mom’s table,
how she pre­pared every fam­i­ly meal,
this is what I still long for,
so often I remem­ber my moth­er
noth­ing can take her mem­o­ry away from me,
it is tru­ly dif­fi­cult that I have depart­ed
from my moth­er­land,
and from my mother’s kitchen.

The rea­son I wrote this poem is for mem­o­ries of my mom and her kitchen. It was dif­fi­cult for me to write this poem because I still long for my mother’s kitchen. Some­times it makes it hard for me to study. Yet, no mat­ter how far away from my par­ents, I am still hold­ing their lessons and still using what they taught me. With­out lessons from par­ents it’s hard to be in com­mu­ni­ty with oth­ers and hard to stand on your own.

Nathaly Rosas

Nathaly Rosas

And anoth­er sam­ple:

Nathaly Rosas, from Mex­i­co

I am from a place where
The food is an art and every bite
Is a spicy piece of our cul­ture.
Where the smells call you to enjoy
And the fla­vors take you to your mem­o­ries.

Read more poems like these on Mer­na Hecht’s web­site.


Sto­ries of Immi­gra­tion and Cul­ture” poet­ry pod­casts are avail­able here, host­ed by the Jack Straw Cul­tur­al Cen­ter.

Insti­tute for Poet­ic Med­i­cine, found­ed by John Fox, where Mer­na and Sto­ries of Arrival are Poet­ry Part­ners.

Jack Straw Cul­tur­al Cen­ter

Sto­ries of Arrival: Immi­grant Youth Voic­es Poet­ry Project