Cinco Puntos Press

The Story of Colors / La Historia de los ColoresCon­tro­ver­sy and noto­ri­ety were not the rea­sons that Bob­by Byrd and Lee Mer­rill Byrd began their own pub­lish­ing house, Cin­co Pun­tos Press. They believed in giv­ing voice to ideas, issues, and writ­ers whose voic­es need­ed to be heard.  In 1999, Cin­co Pun­tos pub­lished the book The Sto­ry of Col­ors / La His­to­ria de los col­ores writ­ten by Sub­co­man­dante Mar­cos, the leader of the Zap­atista Army of Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion in Mex­i­co. The Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts at first applaud­ed the pub­li­ca­tion but lat­er with­drew its praise and mon­e­tary grant. The Lan­nan Foun­da­tion pro­vid­ed Cin­co Pun­tos Press with twice the amount of the lost fund­ing and in 2005 rec­og­nized the coura­geous and impor­tant work of Cin­co Pun­tos with the Cul­tur­al Free­dom Fel­low­ship for Excel­lence in Pub­lish­ing. Dur­ing a time of heat­ed con­tro­ver­sy when many issues were added to the mix, pub­lish­er Bob­by Byrd stated:

It was a strange media fren­zy, a true boon to Cin­co Pun­tos. But real ideas and issues got lost in that fren­zy, the most impor­tant of which is the indige­nous strug­gle for auton­o­my and land in Chiapas.”

Cin­co Pun­tos Press con­tin­ues to pub­lish books that have a fresh voice, spo­ken with hon­esty, with­out hesitation.

Thus it is no sur­prise that Cin­co Pun­tos has won sev­er­al awards and their books — fic­tion and non­fic­tion, adult, YA, juve­nile, and pic­ture books — con­tin­ue to rise to the top of best book lists as impor­tant books to read. Their awards include The Lan­non Foun­da­tion Cul­tur­al Free­dom Fel­low­ship for excel­lence in pub­lish­ing, the Amer­i­can Book Award from the Before Colum­bus Foun­da­tion, and the South­west Book Award for excel­lence in pub­lish­ing from the Bor­der Region Library Association.

Lee Merrill Byrd, publisher

Lee Mer­rill Byrd, publisher

I asked Lee Mer­rill Byrd how and why she and her hus­band, Bob­by Byrd, began an award-win­ning press.  Some of her respons­es will sur­prise you.

What is the most rewarding aspect about being a publisher?

Friends, authors, illus­tra­tors, col­leagues, work­ing with our son and work­ing with each oth­er, find­ing writ­ing that is full of vital­i­ty, quirk­i­ness, ener­gy, find­ing writ­ers who know how to write, even find­ing writ­ers who don’t yet know how to write. Watch­ing read­ers who love the books we’ve pub­lished. See­ing writ­ers we’ve pub­lished pros­per. It’s all good.

What was the passion that gave you the courage to form Cinco Puntos Press?

This is a great ques­tion: I don’t think we had either pas­sion or courage when we start­ed Cin­co Pun­tos Press in 1985. We were two writ­ers — I’m a fic­tion writer and Bob­by is a poet — with three kids — and we were tired of work­ing for oth­er peo­ple and wish­ing we had more time to write. (Pub­lish­ing is not the answer to hav­ing more time to write, by the way.)

We vis­it­ed Richard Grossinger and his wife, Lindy Hough, who ran North Atlantic Press in Berke­ley. They had pub­lished a book of Bobby’s poems, called Get Some Fus­es for the House. They told us they were mak­ing about $25,000 a year as pub­lish­ers. It was 1985, and that sound­ed real­ly good! So, with­out know­ing any­thing, we decid­ed that we would become pub­lish­ers. For­tu­nate­ly we had a friend down the street, Vic­ki Trego Hill, who knew how to design books and anoth­er friend two blocks over with a short sto­ry col­lec­tion, Dagob­er­to Gilb, (Win­ners on the Pass Line) who lat­er became famous and prob­a­bly for­got all about us. We didn’t have dis­tri­b­u­tion. We prob­a­bly didn’t know what dis­tri­b­u­tion meant. We didn’t have a phone num­ber in the phone book, so when Alan Cheuse reviewed Win­ners on the Pass Line on NPR, no one knew how to find it!

All this is to say that I think the very best thing that we have had going for us is that we didn’t know any­thing at all about pub­lish­ing when we start­ed. And the fact that we live here on the U.S. / Mex­i­co bor­der, far from the so-called cen­ter of pub­lish­ing in NYC. That has allowed us to be unfet­tered by the kind of com­pe­ti­tion that pre­vails in New York and also to have our own par­tic­u­lar vision of what makes a good sto­ry. And, of course, to be deeply inter­est­ed in cul­tures that are not like the ones we grew up in.

As an author, what can I do to give my work the best chance to be published by your press?

This is a toughie with no guar­an­tees, but I think the best thing a writer can do to get pub­lished by Cin­co Pun­tos — or by any press — is to write. If you want to be a writer, make writ­ing a dai­ly habit and write from your own heart and write for your own under­stand­ing. Don’t write to get pub­lished, but write to get at what you want to say.

In my sub­mis­sion guide­lines on our web­site, I ask aspir­ing authors to call me on the phone and tell me what they would like us to con­sid­er. I gen­er­al­ly don’t hear peo­ple who are writ­ers. I hear peo­ple who want to get pub­lished more than they want to write. That should not be the dri­ving force.

What recent publications are you especially excited about?

I’ll men­tion a few.

Feath­ered Ser­pent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mex­i­co by David Bowles.

Our first-ever Span­ish edi­tion of The Smell of Old Lady Per­fume by Clau­dia Guadalupe Mar­tinez. This book in Eng­lish is a clas­sic, just as good as The House on Man­go Street, in a Span­ish edition.

When a Woman Ris­es, by Chris­tine Eber, the sto­ry of two young women grow­ing up in Chi­a­pas dur­ing the begin­nings of the Zap­atista rev­o­lu­tion, going very dif­fer­ent ways.

Iron Riv­er by Daniel Acos­ta, a YA set in the late 1950s in L.A.

From Nan­cy: One book — a pic­ture book — I will add to your recent list of award-win­ning books is All Around Us, a debut pic­ture book writ­ten by Xele­na Gon­za­lez and illus­trat­ed by Adri­ana Gar­cia. All Around Us was select­ed as an Amer­i­can Indi­an Library Asso­ci­a­tion out­stand­ing pic­ture book hon­or, received nation­al recog­ni­tion with the Pura Bel­pré 2018 Illus­tra­tor Hon­or Book, won the Tomas Rivera Best Pic­ture Book Award, and was named as the best pic­ture book by The Texas Insti­tute of Letters.

Thank you, Lee, for being “brave and fool­ish” and con­tin­u­ing to pub­lish books that matter. 

Cin­co Pun­tos Press con­tin­ues to be a small press that takes risks, pub­lish­es new voic­es, cel­e­brates a diver­si­ty of sto­ries, and offers the best in good books, well-writ­ten. If you are not yet famil­iar with their books, I encour­age you to seek them out.


Skinny Dip with Jerdine Nolen

Jer­dine Nolen is the ver­sa­tile author of pic­ture books, chap­ter books, and nov­els, includ­ing her most recent books, the Brad­ford Street Bud­dies series and Cal­i­co Girl. We enjoy hav­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn more about this writer and educator.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever read a book? 

The weirdest place I have ever read a book is in a closet. It wasn’t a dark closet. There was a nice window with lots of light and there was enough room for a small lamp. It was quite comfy and cozy.

Which book you read as a child has most influenced your life?

Fairy tales and tall tales, poetry

What’s your food weakness?

I like chocolate-covered orange peels. Yummy.

What’s your favorite form of exercise?

My favorite form of exercising is walking and rowing, though not at the same time.

What’s your favorite flower?

Some of my favorite flowers: peonies, irises, hydrangea

Have you traveled outside of your state? Which state draws you back? (How many states have you visited?)

California, Connecticut, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, DC, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and Iowa

Have you traveled outside of the United States? Which country is your favorite to visit? Why?

I like France best because we have friends there and my favorite foods and restaurants. I travelled for fun either alone or with my family to Italy, France, Canada, Israel, Germany, and England.

What’s the last performance you saw at a theater?

I’m planning to see The Iceman Cometh later this year.

What’s your favorite word because you like the way it sounds?

As a child, cucumber was a favorite word of mine. I think I still like it as much.

August WilsonWho’s at the top of your list of Most Admired People? 

My parents and my ancestors. Playwright August Wilson.

When you walk into a bakery, what are you most likely to choose from the bakery cases?

Almond or chocolate croissant

What are your favorite pizza toppings? 

Basil, pepperoni, extra cheese

Do you remember your dreams?

Usually, and I remember them vividly and with much detail. When this happens, I have to write them down.

If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would you choose (don’t worry about language differences.)

William Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, and Galileo for now

What foreign language would you like to learn? 

I'm learning French. 

Do you read the end of a book first?



Re-claiming Women’s History — Still

At a meet­ing at the Dal­las Pub­lic Library one day, a retired chief exec­u­tive explained to me his vision for a per­ma­nent dis­play on a soon-to-be-ren­o­vat­ed floor hon­or­ing the men who built up the city’s down­town after World War II.

I looked at him skep­ti­cal­ly. “What about the women?”

There aren’t any,” he snapped back.

Of course there were! But because a group of white men con­trolled pol­i­tics in the city for decades, few peo­ple know them.

How iron­ic it was to have this con­ver­sa­tion in the Dal­las Pub­lic Library, which was cre­at­ed only after May Dick­son Exall and her women friends raised mon­ey for it and con­vinced Andrew Carnegie to sup­port it. That library, which opened in 1901, housed books on the first floor and a pub­lic art gallery on the sec­ond, which would lat­er morph into the Dal­las Muse­um of Art.

With every research project, I dis­cov­er again and again lit­tle-known or mis­rep­re­sent­ed women who made impor­tant things hap­pen. This is an old sto­ry that’s even more famil­iar to Native Amer­i­cans and peo­ple of col­or. But decades after the sec­ond women’s move­ment began, I am still stunned when I encounter it in recent books.

This mat­ters because deny­ing women cred­it for past accom­plish­ments makes it eas­i­er to deny them cred­it today. And since many read­ers assume non­fic­tion books are fact, stereo­types get repeat­ed again and again.

Con­sid­er Car­ry Nation, the woman best know for smash­ing up saloons in the turn-of-the-cen­tu­ry run-up to pro­hi­bi­tion. News­men at the time ridiculed her, ques­tioned her san­i­ty, and por­trayed her as some kind of over­sized freak.

Carry Nation, reading the Bible circa 1900, appears to be of medium height.

Car­ry Nation, read­ing the Bible cir­ca 1900, appears to be of medi­um height. (cour­tesy of Kansas State His­tor­i­cal Society)

So did more recent authors. She “was six feet tall, with the biceps of a steve­dore, the face of a prison war­den, and the per­sis­tence of a toothache,” wrote author Daniel Okrent in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Pro­hi­bi­tion (2010), the book that was the basis of Ken Burns’ pro­hi­bi­tion documentary.

Edward Behr, author of Pro­hi­bi­tion: Thir­teen Years that Changed Amer­i­ca (1996), wrote that she was “so unbal­anced and out of con­trol” that she “might well have been con­fined to a men­tal institution.”

Bootleg by Karen BlumenthalIn real­i­ty, pho­tos (and oth­er writ­ers) show Nation couldn’t pos­si­bly have been six-feet tall, although Britannica.com and the State His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety of Mis­souri also say so. Though her actions were rad­i­cal, I con­clud­ed in my book Boot­leg: Mur­der, Moon­shine, and the Law­less Years of Pro­hi­bi­tion that they grew out of per­son­al expe­ri­ence with an alco­holic first hus­band, min­is­ter­ing to peo­ple in jail with drink­ing prob­lems, and a deep reli­gious con­vic­tion. She was angry, no doubt.  But a thought­ful biog­ra­phy by Fran Grace, Car­ry A. Nation: Retelling the Life (2004), por­trays her as com­mit­ted, not crazy.

As Nation famous­ly said, “You wouldn’t give me the vote, so I had to use a rock!”

More recent­ly, I’ve been steeped in Bon­nie and Clyde lore for a non­fic­tion book out in August. Bon­nie Park­er is a com­pli­cat­ed char­ac­ter and every writer strug­gles to define her: Was she the leader, a fol­low­er or a co-conspirator?

But there’s anoth­er temp­ta­tion for male writ­ers, famil­iar to every female who ever went to high school. That’s to call her a slut or even a prostitute.

The impli­ca­tion that she may have engaged in pros­ti­tu­tion like­ly start­ed with detec­tive mag­a­zines of the 1930s, which embell­ished sto­ries much like super­mar­ket tabloids today. Some con­tem­po­rary authors allude to it, but in Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, The Man Who Killed Bon­nie and Clyde (2016), author John Boesse­neck­er sim­ply states she worked as a part-time pros­ti­tute before she met Clyde, and that Dal­las police “knew Bon­nie as a street-walk­er but nev­er arrest­ed her.”

His source? A 1991 local his­to­ry col­umn in the Seguin, Texas, news­pa­per writ­ten by a bar­ber, who attrib­uted the infor­ma­tion to unnamed “old Dal­las police­men.” Since Bon­nie and Clyde had been dead 57 years by then, those police­men must have been very old.

Bonnie Parker during her waitressing days. (courtesy of Buddy Barrow)

Bon­nie Park­er dur­ing her wait­ress­ing days. (cour­tesy of Bud­dy Barrow)

To be sure, Bon­nie was a mar­ried woman liv­ing on the road with a man who was not her hus­band. But there is no evi­dence that Bon­nie ever worked as a prostitute.

A lot, of course, has changed. More and more children’s books are high­light­ing ground-break­ing women. Just a few days ago, the New York Times print­ed a spe­cial sec­tion of women whose obit­u­ar­ies were pre­vi­ous­ly over­looked, with a promise to keep adding names. I know for a fact that the Dal­las Library direc­tor will nev­er have an all-male dis­play in her building.

But stereo­types per­sist. Here are a few things that writ­ers, edu­ca­tors, and librar­i­ans might do to give women their due:

Con­sid­er the source. I love pri­ma­ry sources, includ­ing doc­u­ments and con­tem­po­rary news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. But they have to be put in the con­text of their times. Women were legal­ly con­sid­ered their hus­bands’ prop­er­ty for hun­dreds of years. They couldn’t bor­row mon­ey or own land. They were denied entrance to law schools, med­ical schools, and grad­u­ate schools because of their gen­der. Many of these laws didn’t change until the 1970s. Don’t assume today’s stan­dards when read­ing or writ­ing about women from a dif­fer­ent era.

Ques­tion, Ques­tion, Ques­tion! Were girls real­ly weak? Did women real­ly faint? Would her tem­per or impa­tience have mat­tered if she were a man? Is her hair, attrac­tive­ness, or body shape rel­e­vant? Do female writ­ers tell a dif­fer­ent story?

Include women in every unit of study. In almost every top­ic area these days — the Civ­il War, both World Wars, sci­ence, the envi­ron­ment, math, tech­nol­o­gy, pol­i­tics, art, music and so on — there are good kids’ books about what women con­tributed. Share them.

Do your own research. Con­sid­er a class project to iden­ti­fy and research a less­er-known woman or per­son of col­or who made a dif­fer­ence in your com­mu­ni­ty. While high­ways and big build­ings are usu­al­ly named after men, there’s prob­a­bly a name on a local park, school, or near­by street to get you start­ed. Your local library or his­tor­i­cal or genealog­i­cal soci­ety would prob­a­bly be thrilled to help.

[Ed: As this arti­cle cir­cu­lat­ed, Karen Blu­men­thal tweet­ed the Bri­tan­ni­ca ency­clo­pe­dia folks about the dis­crep­an­cy in fact con­cern­ing Car­rie Nation’s height. Here’s what hap­pened. You and your stu­dents can have a pos­i­tive effect on fac­tu­al information.]


Unexpected Wonder

Last Sep­tem­ber, we drove to an emp­ty lake deep in the Appalachi­ans for a short vaca­tion, a much-need­ed chance to relax.  I longed to escape writ­ing and house chores and cats and recon­nect with nature. 

When we arrived, clouds draped over the peaks and our room was gloomy. I missed civ­i­liza­tion instant­ly and forced my hus­band to dri­ve the sev­en crooked miles back down the moun­tain to the near­est ham­let so I could hit the Dol­lar store (the biggest con­cern). I raced through the aisles grab­bing snacks, note­books, pens, and word-search puz­zle books. We’d come to unwind, but I’d dragged my Rest­less Self with us. 

I chose this spot not just for its seclu­sion but also because of the lake’s mys­tery. Every 50 or 100 years, Moun­tain Lake per­forms a dis­ap­pear­ing act.  Sci­en­tists believe it drains itself and, when con­di­tions are right, fills again by springs beneath the lake bed. Yet after years of tests, they still aren’t sure. Well, want­ed to know for sure. In addi­tion to Rest­less Self, I also brought along Nosy-Got-To-Learn-More-Right-Now Self (yes, the car was crowd­ed). Why did the lake emp­ty? I grilled the poor guy run­ning the gift shop. When was it com­ing back?

Like many of us, I look up stuff before I’ve fin­ished think­ing of it. Lack of a smart­phone doesn’t slow me down — I run upstairs to my com­put­er so fast I could medal in track. But the sat­is­fac­tion of fer­ret­ing a fact in sec­onds doesn’t last and some­times flat-out ruins the won­der of not knowing. 

Gone-Away LakeOn the edge of sleep that night, I real­ized why I’d picked such a remote place: a children’s book, of course. Gone-Away Lake (1957) by Eliz­a­beth Enright was one of my favorite books, along with its sequel Return to Gone-Away (1961). A com­mu­ni­ty of sum­mer hous­es were built around a lake in the late 1800s. The lake dried up in 1905 and the hous­es were aban­doned. Present-day kids (well, in the ’50s) dis­cov­er the “ship-wrecked” hous­es and two elder­ly peo­ple liv­ing there. These aren’t slam-bang, cliff-hang­er sto­ries, but a rich, lus­cious sum­mer idyll with just enough mys­tery and the most gor­geous writ­ing in children’s literature.

Each day, rain or shine, is packed with won­der at Gone-Away Lake. Brim­ming with curios­i­ty, the kids dis­cov­er plants, ani­mals, insects that changed the land­scape after the lake van­ished. They lis­ten to sto­ries about the good old days when the com­mu­ni­ty was in full swing. They pick out a not-too-falling-down house and make it their own.

When I woke up our first morn­ing at Moun­tain Lake, the sun was bright. I left Rest­less and Nosy to the word-search puz­zles and went explor­ing. I wad­ed into the 55-acre site, mar­veling at the vari­ety of plants and tiny crit­ters that had adapt­ed with­in the last five years.  I paused by dry-docked rocks with strange for­ma­tions. Over­head, the sky was paint box blue and I felt con­tent. I didn’t need to iden­ti­fy that slug, or those pur­ple flow­ers, or the snake that whipped near­ly across my shoes. It was enough to let unex­pect­ed won­der wash over me.

Sud­den­ly I didn’t want to go home. I want­ed to explore every inch of that dried-up lake and wan­der the back roads that criss­crossed the moun­tain. I want­ed to give myself over to wonder.

In Gone-Away Lake, ten-year-old Por­tia weeds the gar­den with her Aunt Hilda. 

If you could just hold onto it,” said Por­tia, sit­ting back on the warm grass. “Sum­mer start­ing to be.  Every­thing just exact­ly right.”

But if it were this way every day, all the time, we’d get too used to it,” said Aunt Hil­da. “It’s because it doesn’t and can’t last that a day like this is so wonderful.”

 “Good things must have com­par­ers, I sup­pose,” said Por­tia. “Or how would we know how good they are?”

Those few, per­fect days at Moun­tain Lake became my com­par­er. I didn’t find a vacant colony of Vic­to­ri­an hous­es, but I gath­ered odd peb­bles from the bot­tom of the lake bed, pos­si­bly cre­at­ed mil­lions of years ago. I took some pho­tos. I did not take notes. 

Back home, I fell into my busy rou­tine. Yet I made sure I checked the morn­ing sky when I fetched the paper, watched star­lings at stop­lights, lin­gered at the door to catch a rare south­east breeze. I quit look­ing up every sin­gle ques­tion that flashed through my mind. Some things should remain a mystery.

E.B. White quote


The Hate You Give


This past week­end, Dar­ling Daugh­ter and I par­tic­i­pat­ed in a par­ent-teen book dis­cus­sion about The Hate You Give by Ang­ie Thomas. This book has won many awards, received fan­tas­tic reviews, and is a hot top­ic of dis­cus­sion in both the book and teen world — espe­cial­ly where those worlds over­lap. It’s about the after­math of a police shoot­ing of an unarmed black teen. It cov­ers var­i­ous racial issues, grief, friend­ship, eco­nom­ic dis­par­i­ty, and polit­i­cal activism, just to name a few of the chal­leng­ing the­mat­ic elements.

The con­ver­sa­tion over piz­za and sal­ad was excel­lent. I came with a list of ques­tions, but we real­ly didn’t need it. We won­dered togeth­er about all we don’t know and can’t know about anoth­er person’s sit­u­a­tion. We won­dered if dif­fer­ences make it hard­er to under­stand one another…and/or if there’s a way to use those dif­fer­ences some­how to strength­en what we have in com­mon. We reflect­ed on how com­pli­cat­ed life can be — how so many traps can catch a kid, an adult, too. We talked about the dif­fer­ence one car­ing adult, or one good friend, can make in a kid’s life. And we talked about when that isn’t enough. We dis­cussed insti­tu­tion­al and sys­temic racism. And they pro­vid­ed real life illus­tra­tions from school that week.

It was pret­ty eye open­ing. These teens are white stu­dents at very diverse urban high schools (three dif­fer­ent ones.) We par­ents had gone to high schools, back in the day, with­out near­ly as much diver­si­ty in terms of cul­ture, lan­guage, skin col­or, reli­gion, and socio-eco­nom­ic sta­tus. It was clear they thought we’d missed out. Speak­ing for myself, I think we did, too.

Our kids are pret­ty flu­ent in things we nev­er thought about as high school stu­dents because of the rich make-up of their stu­dent bod­ies. Their lunch­rooms accom­mo­date an array of dietary restric­tions and eco­nom­ic neces­si­ties. The sched­ul­ing of tests has to take into account var­i­ous reli­gious obser­vances. There are some­times heat­ed dis­cus­sions and even fights hap­pen­ing in lan­guages the bystanders and staff don’t under­stand. There are cul­tur­al val­ues they find mys­te­ri­ous, but want to respect, even as they won­der about the source of their own val­ues. There are racial issues that play out in both ugly and inter­est­ing ways. It’s quite a mix of peo­ple and issues they nav­i­gate each day in their class­es, hall­ways, and lunchroom.

Our kids loved The Hate You Give—for the “real­ness” of it, the con­tem­po­rary feel, for what it helped explain, and for the ques­tions it made them ask of them­selves, their schools, and their com­mu­ni­ties. When we talked about “mir­rors and win­dows” — whether a book mir­rors a reader’s life sit­u­a­tion or pro­vides a win­dow to see into another’s life sit­u­a­tion — they all said they thought this was a win­dow book. It was writ­ten for white peo­ple, they said, to help them flesh out sto­ries in the news, help them build empa­thy. I asked if they had black friends read­ing the book. They did. They did not spec­u­late as to whether their black friends read The Hate You Give as a mir­ror or win­dow book, but they said every­one who reads it is talk­ing about it.

We par­ents loved The Hate You Give, too — for the peek inside our kids’ days and thoughts, for expla­na­tions of things we’re not famil­iar with (like rap lyrics), and for its com­plex­i­ty. The sit­u­a­tions and the char­ac­ters in this book are enor­mous­ly com­pli­cat­ed. Our days are filled with tweets and posts and head­lines that gross­ly sim­pli­fy things, there­by caus­ing fur­ther harm. This books blows open issues of race and fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty by show­ing their com­plex­i­ty. It makes for a rich, heart-break­ing sto­ry that some­how man­ages to give a glim­mer of hope at the end.

The Hate You Give is a heck of a cross-over book. Some of us read YA and kidlit books reg­u­lar­ly, but many adults do not. This one works for adults. And if you have a teen you can read it with — well, sit back and lis­ten to them. They also give you a sense of hope.






How Infographics Can Help Students Avoid Plagiarism

My book Pinoc­chio Rex and Oth­er Tyran­nosaurs, is chock­ful of text fea­tures, includ­ing this fun infographic:

The process of design­ing it began with a VERY rough sketch by me.

Let’s face the facts. My draw­ing skills leave a lot of be desired, but this sketch was enough to give the tal­ent­ed folks in the Harper­Collins art depart­ment an idea of what I had in mind — a group­ing of visu­al ele­ments that work togeth­er to show that the tyran­nosaur fam­i­ly lived on Earth for 100 mil­lion years, and while it’s final mem­bers were gigan­tic, fear­some preda­tors, they’re ear­li­est ances­tors were about the same size as us.

Pinocchio Rex and Other TyrannosaursBasi­cal­ly, the info­graph­ic sum­ma­rizes one of the book’s cen­tral tenets by draw­ing on infor­ma­tion pre­sent­ed on many dif­fer­ent pages. The process of con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing it was very sim­i­lar to the process stu­dents engage in as they ana­lyze and syn­the­size research notes while prepar­ing to write a report.

In this arti­cle, I dis­cuss the rea­sons stu­dents pla­gia­rize instead of express­ing ideas and infor­ma­tion in their own words and offer some solu­tions. By third grade, chil­dren know that they shouldn’t copy their sources, but they strug­gle to eval­u­ate the infor­ma­tion they’ve col­lect­ed and make it their own. We need to offer stu­dents a vari­ety of ways to think care­ful­ly and crit­i­cal­ly about their research notes, and info­graph­ics is one tool we can offer them.

Here’s a ter­rif­ic info­graph­ic that sum­ma­rizes the infor­ma­tion in my book No Mon­keys, No Choco­late.

No Monkeys, No ChocolateThis was­n’t a school assign­ment. The stu­dent did it in her own in her free time because she real­ly want­ed to under­stand the process described in the book. I espe­cial­ly love the book­worm dia­logue she wrote. It per­fect­ly cap­tures the voice I used in the book. It also shows that she under­stands the func­tion of these char­ac­ters — to add humor and rein­force the ideas in the main text. In Com­mon Core lin­go, she under­stands my author intent. See how pow­er­ful info­graph­ics can be?

When stu­dents take the time to rep­re­sent their notes visu­al­ly as info­graph­ics (or oth­er com­bi­na­tions of words and pic­tures) dur­ing their pre-writ­ing process, they will find their own spe­cial way of con­vey­ing the infor­ma­tion. Instead of being tempt­ed to pla­gia­rize, they’ll write a report that’s 100 per­cent their own.


Skinny Dip with Lester Laminack

Lester Lam­i­nack

Lester Lam­i­nack is sought after as a speak­er in school dis­tricts all over the coun­try. A retired pro­fes­sor, active­ly involved in lit­er­a­cy on many lev­els, he’s thought­ful, artic­u­late, and has a sparkling sense of humor.  We’re pleased that this very busy author and speak­er took time to share his thoughts with Bookol­o­gy’s read­ers this month.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever read a book? 

Well, it isn’t really all that weird, but most of my reading happens on airplanes. I fly a lot to work with kids and teachers around the country.

Do you keep your bookshelves in a particular order? 

I do. Most of my books are arranged in alphabetical order by author’s last name. However, I have several sets of books that I like to keep clustered by theme. I have some books on shelves next to my desk and those rotate depending on the project I’m working on at the moment.

How many bookcases do you have in your house?

I have a room for books. I call it my library. Then, there is my office and it also has lots of books. And I have books in crates at my house.

Lester Lam­i­nack: book­cas­es and art

Lester Laminack meeting table

Lester Lam­i­nack: a meet­ing table sur­round­ed by books

Lester Laminack books in crates

Lester Lam­i­nack: Books in crates

Lester Lam­i­nack: desk

Lester Laminack a place to read

Lester Lam­i­nack: a place to read

What’s the predominant color in your wardrobe?

Blue. I like lots of colors and wear reds and orange and pink and green and gray and black, and I have mostly plaids and checks, but the color you’ll see most in my closet is blue.

Which library springs to your mind when someone says that word? What do you remember most about it?

I have spent a lot of time in many libraries, but that word most often conjures memories of the library in the elementary school I attended as a child—Cleburne County Elementary in Heflin, Alabama. I can still hear the voice of Mrs. Hand, our librarian, reading The Boxcar Children. She had the best read aloud voice.

Which book you read as a child has most influenced your life?

Hmmmm, I think that would be The Wizard of Oz. When I was in the fifth grade my family moved to Key West for a year. In that year I read The Wizard of Oz and for the first time I fell inside and lived in the book. It was an amazing experience to be there, in the story, with that cast of characters. That experience changed the way I read.

What’s your food weakness?

Hmmm, bread. Oh, and did I say bread? OK, and éclairs. I do love a good éclair.

What’s your favorite form of exercise?

Walking and yoga, but I have fallen out of the habit of doing yoga. So, if you don’t do it, does it still count as a favorite? Hmmm, I need to get back into that again. Maybe I’d lose that 20 pounds I found. Note: If you have lost 20 pounds in the last 24 months please contact me. I think I found them.

What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?

My son.  He is a kind, decent, caring young man with a lovely, confident, intelligent wife and a beautiful young daughter.  He is also a college English professor. 

What’s your favorite flower?

Daylilies. And dahlias. Oh, and Azalea and rhododendrons and mountain laurel and dogwood and camellia and peony. I almost forgot crepe myrtle. Say, did I mention zinnias?


Have you traveled outside of your state? Which state draws you back? (How many states have you visited?)

I have traveled in 47 of the 50 states, all but North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. But, I’m going to speak in Montana in 2018. I grew up in Alabama, but I have lived in North Carolina since 1982. North Carolina is my home now and no matter where I travel I am always delighted to return to these mountains. With that said, I do love the area around Sedona, Arizona,  and Taos, New Mexico.

Have you traveled outside of the United States? Which country is your favorite to visit? Why?

I love Italy. The language is music. Dining is an experience. Art is an essential part of life. I adore Paris. And I’m traveling to Scotland in about three weeks, so I may have a new favorite.

Who’s your favorite artist?

Any child who makes art with joy and abandon. I have long admired the art of Mary Cassatt. I greatly admire the art of Jonathan Green in  Charleston, South Carolina. At present I collect the art of two artists from the South Carolina Lowcountry.  Mary Segars and Cassandra Gillens.

What’s the last performance you saw at a theater?


What’s your favorite word because you like the way it sounds?

Dénouement and asparagus and corduroy and bourbon …

What would you wear to a costume party?  

I’m not a costume party guy. I’m sort of a character in regular clothes. When I’m working you’ll almost always find me in Levi jeans, a button down shirt, and a bow tie. Otherwise I’m likely to be in jeans and a sweatshirt or t-shirt.

Who’s at the top of your list of Most Admired People? 

Mr. Rogers.

When you walk into a bakery, what are you most likely to choose from the bakery cases?

Hands down I will go directly to the éclair. And a really good looking slice of carrot cake can easily get my attention.

What are your favorite pizza toppings? 

Mushrooms, green and black olives, ham, lots of cheese.

Do you remember your dreams?

Sometimes, not always. I don’t usually make any sense out of them, but I can sometimes remember snippets. About once a year I will have a dream that I am rushing like crazy and finally get to school with all the kids busy at work not even noticing that I’m late.

What foreign language would you like to learn? 

I took French in high school. I wish I could speak fluently. I love the sound of Italian and I’d love to have it flow from my mouth like a waterfall. But, to be practical I would like to learn Spanish because I believe it would be most useful. 

Do you read the end of a book first?

Never. And I never eat dessert before dinner either.

If you had a choice, would you live under the ocean or in outer space, and why? 

Neither. I am just figuring out how to live on this earth. I’ll stay right here if you don’t mind.

Peace symbolIf you could write any book and know that it would be published and tens of thousands of people would read it, which book would you write?

A memoir written for adults. 

If you could be granted one wish, what would you wish for?

Peace on this globe. If I could have one wish granted it would be for all people to have enough, to live in kindness and harmony with others and to be good stewards of this earth.


A Porcupine Named Fluffy

It’s Read Across Amer­i­ca Week this week and I had the priv­i­lege of haul­ing a bag of books to a local ele­men­tary school and read­ing to five dif­fer­ent class­es — K‑2nd grade — last Tues­day. A tru­ly won­der­ful way to spend the after­noon, I must say.

#1 Son’s 21st birth­day was Tues­day, which made me all nos­tal­gic for the days of pic­ture books, and so I’d packed a bag full of his long-ago favorites (and a cou­ple new­er ones, too). In each class we’d chat for a few min­utes and I’d kin­da suss out what they might like most. Small Walt was a hit with a kinder­garten class, The Odi­ous Ogre with the sec­ond graders. One Dog Canoe works for just about any age, of course. As does A Por­cu­pine Named Fluffy. I think I read A Por­cu­pine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester, illus­trat­ed by Lynn Mun­singer, in three of the five class­rooms. It nev­er fails.

When #1 Son was small, we used that book to get things done. “When you’re all done with bath and have brushed your teeth…we can read Fluffy.” “Just as soon as you fin­ish your lunch, we can read Fluffy out in the ham­mock….” He loved Fluffy.

The book opens with Mr. and Mrs. Por­cu­pine tak­ing a stroll with their first child in a stroller. They’re try­ing to find exact­ly the right name for him. They con­sid­er Spike. Too com­mon. Lance? Too fierce for their sweet lit­tle guy. Needleroozer?

It’s Needlerooz­er that gets the kids laugh­ing — it’s almost like a mag­ic word that unlocks something.

Needlerooz­er?!” they say.

That’s a ter­ri­ble name!”

It’s hard to spell!”

Prick­les? I say. They shake their heads. Pokey? More head shakes. How about Quillian?

What kind of name is that?” said one lit­tle boy.

Then togeth­er Mr. and Mrs. Por­cu­pine have an idea. “Let’s call him Fluffy. It’s such a pret­ty name. Fluffy!”

 Lots of gig­gles at this. Por­cu­pines aren’t fluffy! They all know this and so the name is hilar­i­ous! It’s a pret­ty won­der­ful intro­duc­tion to irony, if you ask me.

So Fluffy grows up, beloved and some­what pro­tect­ed, with his iron­ic name. At some point he begins to sus­pect he’s not fluffy — things hap­pen. The illus­tra­tions car­ry the humor in these instances and kids love love love it. And so he embarks on the chal­lenge of mak­ing his sharp quills fluffi­er — more hilar­i­ty ensues.

And then one day, Fluffy meets a very large rhi­noc­er­os. And the rhi­noc­er­os tells him right out that he’s going to give Fluffy a “rough time.”

What’s your name, small prick­ly thing?” the rhi­noc­er­os asks.

Fluffy,” says Fluffy.

And this just slays the rhi­no — he can hard­ly breathe he laughs so hard. By then, every­one is laugh­ing — a prop­er read­ing depends on the laugh­ter in fact.

And what is your name?” Fluffy asks, despite his embarrassment.

And then we find out the rhino’s name, which I shall not divulge here. Suf­fice to say, it gives the irony of Fluffy’s name a run for its money.

The books ends with the two as fast friends, of course. And the book ends with read­ers — young and old­er — smil­ing and laugh­ing. There’s just some­thing about this book! If you haven’t read it, or don’t remem­ber it (it was pub­lished before I grad­u­at­ed from high school!) look for it in your library. I saw it there just a few weeks ago — it is still very much in circulation.