Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

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.

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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?

Some­times.

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Writing Under the Influence

Peri­od­i­cal­ly I tire of the finan­cial ups and downs of life as a work­ing writer, and I explore careers that might gen­er­ate a larg­er and more sta­ble income. One of the last times I pur­sued this notion I used an aid: a job-hunt­ing guide for cre­ative peo­ple. My under­stand­ing of the book was that it would steer me towards work that suits my artis­tic bent but also allows a life of com­fort and secu­ri­ty. I read the intro­duc­tion and filled out the self-inter­est tests. I iden­ti­fied my cre­ative “type” and eager­ly locat­ed that sec­tion, sure that a career that com­bined cre­ative ful­fill­ment and the abil­i­ty to pay the VISA bill with­out whim­per­ing was a mere page-turn away.

So—what two careers did the book encour­age me to pur­sue? 1) Pup­peteer, and 2) Mime.

Any pro­fes­sion­al mimes who read this, feel free to cor­rect me, but I’m guess­ing that you occa­sion­al­ly strug­gle with errat­ic and insuf­fi­cient income too.

But if the answer isn’t as easy as learn­ing how to climb an imag­i­nary rope, what will get me through those lean times when my income is unpre­dictable? I think it’s the fact that I was raised under the influ­ence of my prac­ti­cal and mon­ey-wise father. How­ev­er much mon­ey man­age­ment might not be my nat­ur­al apti­tude, repeat­ed expo­sure to his exam­ple allowed me to learn skills I like­ly would nev­er have oth­er­wise devel­oped.

Not every stu­dent in your class­room is going to have a nat­ur­al apti­tude for writ­ing. But plac­ing them under the influ­ence of amaz­ing writ­ers can go a long way towards teach­ing them skills they might nev­er have oth­er­wise devel­oped.

To me, this means more than just putting great books into their hands; it requires think­ing and talk­ing about books from a writer’s per­spec­tive. Here’s an exam­ple. When I’m strug­gling with plot­ting, I’ll choose to read a book that I’ve heard has a strong plot. As I read, I con­tin­ue to ask myself what tricks the writer is using to make the action of the sto­ry seem both sur­pris­ing and inevitable.

You can make a game of it to cre­ate this expe­ri­ence in your class­room. Stop the class at the end of each chap­ter and review what’s hap­pened so far in the sto­ry. Then ask stu­dents to antic­i­pate and write down what they think will be the key action in the next chap­ter (but have them keep their pre­dic­tions a secret). When that next chap­ter is fin­ished, stop again and ask stu­dents how many of them guessed correctly—and what they antic­i­pate for the fol­low­ing chap­ter.

I can almost guar­an­tee that after sev­er­al rounds of this, your stu­dents will bring stronger plot­ting skills to the next sto­ry they write. Read­ing like a writer inevitably leads to writ­ing under the influ­ence.

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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.]

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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, I 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

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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.

 

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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.

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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 crêpe myr­tle. Say, did I men­tion zin­nias?

Daylilies

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?

Body­guard.

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.

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Take the Next Turn

A while back, a big hunk of con­crete cracked off of the front edge of a step lead­ing to my ter­raced yard. I knew that it was too cold for any kind of con­crete repair to hold, but I want­ed to mark the poten­tial haz­ard so that peo­ple would notice it despite the snow and ice that are still a risk here in March. So I set a con­crete block over the hole, and then I adorned it with a blaze orange hat. Until I can get it fixed, you’re not like­ly to miss the prob­lem and hurt your­self.

I thought it was a prac­ti­cal tem­po­rary solu­tion. It wasn’t until my neigh­bors and our mail car­ri­er pro­vid­ed com­men­tary that I real­ized it might also be viewed as a lit­tle wacky. And I’ll just add that this isn’t the first time my untrained approach to home main­te­nance has caused more sea­soned handy peo­ple to laugh out loud.

One of the rea­sons I love work­ing with kid writ­ers is that they don’t yet have a pre-pro­grammed set of writ­ing fix­es; the go-to solu­tions that more sea­soned writ­ers habit­u­al­ly fall back on aren’t yet built-in for them. If a stu­dent writer doesn’t know how to patch the big crack in their sto­ry, they throw in some­thing wacky. Or they take words and phras­es that a grown-up might take for grant­ed, and set them on their ears. Some­times this turns out to be fun­ny, but it can also be fresh and excit­ing.

One of my all-time favorites is a scene where a stu­dent writer had her main char­ac­ter suc­cess­ful­ly cross­ing a riv­er only to be con­front­ed by a threat­en­ing “herd of tur­tles.” “Herd” is not the prop­er col­lec­tive word for tur­tles; it should be “bale.” But I would argue that “herd of tur­tles” cre­ates a great visu­al for the read­er and it’s a lot more fun to read. To me, this is a case where wacky wins out.

As a writ­ing warm-up, why not ask your stu­dents to cre­ate a fresh new spin on a tired old way of say­ing some­thing? Brain­storm com­mon idioms with your class­room (use a Google search for a starter list if you’d like), and then ask stu­dents to invent new pos­si­bil­i­ties that paint more vivid pic­tures or fall more trip­ping­ly off their tongues.

In oth­er words, ask them to turn a “turn of phrase.”

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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.

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