Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Penny Candy Books

Imag­ine walk­ing into an old-time dry-goods store.  Hear the wood­en floor squeak.  Peer through the glass case at the won­drous dis­play of pen­ny can­dy.  Close your eyes and taste your favorite … root beer bar­rels,  red-wax lips, ropes of red licorice.

Penny Candy BooksInstead of sug­ary sweets, Pen­ny Can­dy Books offers a selec­tion of books that delight, engage, and chal­lenge.  Their books reflect today’s glob­al con­cerns.  Pen­ny Candy’s vision is to work with a vari­ety of authors and illus­tra­tors to offer impor­tant sto­ries well told by a diver­si­ty of voic­es. Found­ed in 2015 by poets Alex­is Org­era and Chad Reynolds, Pen­ny Can­dy released its first title in the fall of 2016.  Pen­ny Candy’s imprint, Pene­lope Edi­tions, released its first title in Jan­u­ary 2017.

I asked Chad Reynolds, head of mar­ket­ing, to describe the vision of this new press.  I was struck with how sev­er­al of his phras­es echoed how I would describe their wide vari­ety of books: “few words, impor­tant ideas … small press, big con­ver­sa­tions … not afraid to take risks … an engaged world view.”  As stat­ed on the Pen­ny Can­dy web­site, we will not exclude any­one from our cat­a­log, we focus on under­rep­re­sent­ed, unheard, or for­got­ten voic­es.

Tell us about a few of your recent pub­li­ca­tions and why they are unique.

HedyPCB: We are very proud of our Spring 2019 cat­a­log. We have five titles that touch on a vari­ety of sub­jects, such as Hedy Lamarr’s work as an inven­tor; how a lit­tle girl feels when her grand­moth­er in India dies; a book about a boy with a phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty; anoth­er one about depor­ta­tion; and a friend­ship book using com­pound words to tell a sto­ry. The “com­pound book,” Be/Hold: A Friend­ship Book,” feels both utter­ly unlike any­thing I’ve seen and also very famil­iar.

Intrigued, I asked Chad addi­tion­al ques­tions:

What is the pas­sion that gives you the courage to cre­ate and pub­lish books?

PCB: We were inspired by a series of op-eds in the New York Times sev­er­al years ago by Wal­ter Dean Myers and his son Christo­pher, who called out the lack of diver­si­ty in children’s lit. We want­ed to be part of a grow­ing num­ber of pub­lish­ers who val­ue real diver­si­ty and who want to have con­ver­sa­tions around that. It’s been grat­i­fy­ing and encour­ag­ing to see the enthu­si­as­tic respons­es our titles have been getting–and I don’t just mean sales.

A Card for My FatherFor exam­ple, when Saman­tha Thorn­hill vis­it­ed a school in D.C. to dis­cuss her book about a child who doesn’t know her father because he’s incar­cer­at­ed, there was one child in par­tic­u­lar who was real­ly engaged in the con­ver­sa­tion. Appar­ent­ly, this child had nev­er opened up, was always reserved and with­drawn, and in fact often got in trou­ble for pick­ing fights and talk­ing back. But when Sam vis­it­ed, he opened up and after­wards shared he could empathize with the main char­ac­ter because he too had vis­it­ed his father in prison and it was a scary place. It’s sto­ries like this that give us the pas­sion to cre­ate and pub­lish books.

What do you want librar­i­ans and teach­ers to know about your vision of a good book? 

Henry, the BoyPCB: We think our motto—small press, big conversations—does a nice job of cap­tur­ing what our books are about. We want to remem­ber who our main audi­ence is—kids.  We want our books to spark big con­ver­sa­tions between kids and adults about time­ly, impor­tant top­ics. We feel that our titles—whether they be about parental incar­cer­a­tion, a boy with a phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty, or the impor­tance of see­ing past stereotypes—will be a won­der­ful tool in many set­tings.

Also our aes­thet­ic is inten­tion­al­ly dif­fer­ent from most press­es. Our cus­tom­ary trim size at 6.5″ W by 8.5″ tall is a bit small­er than most pic­ture books because we want peo­ple to see a book and say, oh there’s a new Pen­ny Can­dy title! We don’t require our books to be a cer­tain page length—some have been 36 pages and oth­ers are up to 68! We don’t require peo­ple to sub­mit via agents. We want to cast a wide net, to give peo­ple out­side the nor­mal chan­nels a chance to let us fall in love with the sto­ries they’ve cre­at­ed.

We aren’t afraid to take risks.

What are your visions and hopes for the future of children’s lit­er­a­ture?

PCB: I think children’s lit­er­a­ture is bet­ter than it’s ever been. We’re in a good moment, with the #own­voic­es move­ment offer­ing some pro­found sto­ries and per­spec­tives and with the high qual­i­ty of pic­ture books, mid­dle grade, and young adult nov­els. I think kid-lit has always had a vital role in deliv­er­ing hard truths to kids in ways they can under­stand. Think Aesop’s Fables or Grimms’ fairy tales or the work of Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­sen. I think kid-lit can remain rel­e­vant if it helps chil­dren make sense of their world—and there’s a lot to make sense of now. 

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Five Things I Learned
Writing My First Picture Book Biography

You would think that being friends with Tanya Lee Stone would mean I wrote lots of non­fic­tion. But the truth is, until I decid­ed to try and write a biog­ra­phy of Rube Gold­berg, I stayed far away from this genre. As a read­er, I loved it. As a friend, I learned so much read­ing Tanya’s work—not just about the facts—but about the foun­da­tions of sto­ry­telling. But I was hes­i­tant to dive in. Maybe it was the research she had to do. Maybe I lacked con­fi­dence. But when I began my chal­lenge to “write what I didn’t think I was good at,” (a chal­lenge made to decrease my own per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies and expec­ta­tions), I found myself enjoy­ing every aspect of this craft.

If you are also inter­est­ed in writ­ing some­thing true—as in non­fic­tion true—here are some things I learned writ­ing Just Like Rube Gold­berg, my first pic­ture book biog­ra­phy!

  1. You need to read care­ful­ly. This may seem obvi­ous, but as a fic­tion read­er, I was used to infer­ring from the text. When you are read­ing to dis­cov­er your true sto­ry, don’t skim! Don’t infer! Take care­ful notes. It’s not like read­ing a nov­el. It’s like going deep sea div­ing for some­thing pre­cious. As you read sources, you are look­ing for TRUTH. Don’t for­get to keep a list of your sources. And every fact needs to be con­firmed in mul­ti­ple places. When I think about it, it’s not that dif­fer­ent from cre­at­ing a char­ac­ter in a nov­el. I have to get to the heart of the person—the ele­ment that will con­nect that per­son to the read­er. But in this case, it has to be true!
  2. Just like in fic­tion, your theme or through-line will appear. The more you get to know your sub­ject, the clear­er THE WHY will become. If you have a hunch about a per­son, time, or place, fol­low that hunch! Keep read­ing! Look for the glim­mer that offers a foun­da­tion and struc­ture to tell the sto­ry.
  3. It’s fun. This was per­haps the biggest sur­prise! I actu­al­ly like research a lot. I loved going to the library. I loved talk­ing to peo­ple about Rube. I also find myself look­ing for sto­ries with new enthu­si­asm. True sto­ries are inspir­ing! They are some­times whack­i­er than fic­tion!
  4. Edi­tors and copy edi­tors are your best friends! (Well, I actu­al­ly knew that already, but I can’t leave them out of this post!) When you start find­ing your voice, you need your team to tell you when you have tak­en a lib­er­ty. For me, writ­ing this book almost became a Rube Gold­berg machine! But as my edi­tor pushed me, I also found new facts that made the sto­ry even stronger!
  5. Your voice is the glim­mer! Your voice is what will invite read­ers into your true sto­ry. Your point of view will offer your read­ers the truth in a way that engages them and makes them want to read and learn more!

Writ­ers, even though I am inter­est­ed in all kinds of top­ics, I stayed away from non­fic­tion for a real­ly long time. Well, not any­more! Per­haps the best ben­e­fit to try­ing non­fic­tion is that it gave me a new way to use my brain and play with cre­ativ­i­ty. It gave me more ener­gy for my nov­el. It sparked new inspi­ra­tion for oth­er pic­ture books that had been in the draw­er for a long time. Best of all, inspi­ra­tion comes in all sorts of ways. I am get­ting ready to sub­mit a sto­ry that came from research­ing anoth­er sto­ry! Remem­ber: writ­ing and all its parts, includ­ing dis­cov­ery, is a prac­tice! Writ­ing non­fic­tion has giv­en me more sta­mi­na for all my sto­ries!

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Teaching Is an Art

I recent­ly received a mes­sage from my friend, Amir:

Mau­r­na, I want­ed to get your feed­back on this arti­cle. I taught Eng­lish for 8+ years and my final M.Ed. project was on read­ing, so this is a pas­sion of mine. When I used to pre­pare NYC pub­lic school teach­ers for their licens­ing exams, they would like­ly do bet­ter on the read­ing pas­sages if they had more back­ground knowl­edge, even though that knowl­edge was not need­ed. I won­der if we are being unre­al­is­tic in our teach­ing of read­ing?”

The arti­cle, “Why We’re Teach­ing Read­ing Com­pre­hen­sion in a Way That Doesn’t Work” was writ­ten by Natal­ie Wexler and pub­lished by Forbes mag­a­zine a few months ago. The title and Amir’s won­der­ing about whether we teach­ers are out of touch or imprac­ti­cal struck a nerve and launched weeks of fur­ther read­ing, reflect­ing, writ­ing, rewrit­ing, and rest­less nights. I felt my ini­tial response was too defen­sive and I was deter­mined to find a lev­el-head­ed way to share my take on the arti­cle. I gained empa­thy for my stu­dents who strug­gle dai­ly with writing—it has always come eas­i­ly for me but not this time. I felt like the kid who gets so frus­trat­ed with their writ­ing that they scrunch their paper into a wadded-up ball then chuck it into the garbage can only to retrieve it, smooth it out to read it over, and try to fix it one more time. I reached out to my lit­er­a­cy-guru teacher friends and asked for their hon­est feed­back on my writ­ing. And final­ly, I decid­ed to try start­ing over in an effort to find my voice and say what real­ly needs to be said.

The arti­cle by Wexler, like much of her writ­ing over the years, sounds the alarm for all the things woe­ful­ly wrong with today’s edu­ca­tion sys­tem. Her laun­dry list of com­plaints includes dan­ger­ous­ly inad­e­quate teacher edu­ca­tion pro­grams, teach­ers and pro­fes­sors who ignore the need to under­stand and teach phon­ics, teach­ers who present les­son after les­son on com­pre­hen­sion strate­gies instead of build­ing back­ground knowl­edge, teach­ers who focus on inde­pen­dent read­ing lev­els instead of push­ing text that is much more sophis­ti­cat­ed and advanced, teach­ers wast­ing time on things not endorsed by the Nation­al Read­ing Pan­el, and, final­ly, teach­ers who chal­lenge or flat out refuse to con­sid­er sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-backed research on how read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy is acquired and should be taught. It is quite the list.

At first, I thought the best approach was to pick apart Wexler’s writ­ing, first by sum­ma­riz­ing it and then offer­ing my stance on whether I agreed or dis­agreed with her asser­tions. In order to accom­plish that, I exam­ined just about every link or ref­er­ence in her arti­cle (more than two dozen). This is where I encoun­tered the most dif­fi­cul­ty in my ear­li­er attempts to com­pose an answer for my friend Amir.

There was just so much that didn’t sit right with me. Wexler, along with her col­league Emi­ly Han­ford, and many oth­er “edu­ca­tion writ­ers” refer to The Nation­al Read­ing Panel’s report from 2001 to strength­en their case for empha­siz­ing the “sci­ence” of teach­ing read­ing. Yet an arti­cle writ­ten by Joann Yatvin, a mem­ber of the NRP, decries the report for being huge­ly mis­in­ter­pret­ed and mis­used. Yatvin might hold the “minor­i­ty view” of the NRP, but her exposé of the panel’s report as “nar­row, biased, and elit­ist” can­not and should not be ignored.

When con­sid­er­ing Ms. Wexler’s arti­cle title about why we’re teach­ing read­ing in a way that doesn’t work, I con­sid­ered shar­ing a snap­shot of what she or any­one vis­it­ing my class­room might find hap­pen­ing in Room 212 when it comes to lit­er­a­cy learn­ing:

  • Kids writ­ing let­ters to authors of books they’ve fall­en in love with.
  • Kids doing research and writ­ing about a wide range of self-select­ed top­ics such as home­less­ness, African Amer­i­can mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gist Ernest Everett Just, and ancient civ­i­liza­tions (to name just a few).
  • Kids with voice and choice beg­ging for more time to read inde­pen­dent­ly.
  • Kids ask­ing to stay in from recess, so they can do more writ­ing.
  • Kids per­form­ing lit­tle plays for younger stu­dents.
  • Kids doing art.
  • Kids engaged in joy­ful learn­ing.
  • Kids learn­ing how to be cre­ative prob­lem solvers, open-mind­ed risk tak­ers, and kind, com­pas­sion­ate peo­ple.

I would love to ask Ms. Wexler to explain what it is exact­ly that isn’t work­ing in our vibrant learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty?!

teaching writing

What about Amir’s ques­tion: are we being unre­al­is­tic in our teach­ing of read­ing? My answer would have to be, “Yes.” In my opin­ion, edu­ca­tion writ­ers like Wexler and Han­ford, leg­is­la­tors all across the coun­try, and even school admin­is­tra­tors are being unre­al­is­tic when they sug­gest that the best or only answer to improved read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy (aka bet­ter read­ing test scores) is a script­ed, pack­aged, read­ing cur­ricu­lum that is hell-bent on push­ing core knowl­edge or huge dos­es of phon­ics. Wexler believes that the bright spot on the hori­zon is the uptick in “ele­men­tary lit­er­a­cy cur­ric­u­la designed to build stu­dents’ knowl­edge.” What a sad state­ment on so many lev­els. Insist­ing teach­ers fol­low a man­u­al for a pro­gram that touts “sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-backed research” is not the answer. A one-size-fits-all approach to teach­ing read­ing com­pre­hen­sion is not the answer.

I must acknowl­edge that I, too, am being unre­al­is­tic. I have a deep pas­sion for teach­ing and for lit­er­a­cy. It’s hard for me to admit, but I know not all teach­ers share that pas­sion. Not all teach­ers have had the same good for­tune I’ve had to learn from won­der­ful men­tors. Not all teach­ers are encour­aged to take risks and feel con­fi­dent in what they can accom­plish with their stu­dents. For many dif­fer­ent rea­sons, it is sad but true, there are adults in teach­ing roles (luck­i­ly in my expe­ri­ence, I’ve met only a few) who see them­selves as babysit­ters, are not inter­est­ed in life-long learn­ing, and occa­sion­al­ly act like they don’t even like kids. I wish I had an answer about how to guar­an­tee all teach­ers were high­ly qual­i­fied, filled with pas­sion, and loved kids. But I would bet my bot­tom dol­lar that the vast major­i­ty of teach­ers strive to achieve these qual­i­ties, despite being blamed so often for all that’s wrong with edu­ca­tion.

library

Wexler, along with oth­er edu­ca­tion com­men­ta­tors and researchers seem to know all about “the sci­ence” of read­ing. They vol­un­teer as tutors. They test stu­dents to deter­mine whether they are pro­fi­cient read­ers using their own cri­te­ria or high stakes tests that are rid­dled with bias. They are quick to point out all the things that are wrong with today’s teach­ers and class­rooms and then they offer their easy-to-fix-it solu­tions (“buy a bet­ter read­ing cur­ricu­lum, teach more con­tent so stu­dents gain more back­ground knowl­edge”).

The glar­ing prob­lem from my van­tage point, how­ev­er, is what they don’t do.

  • They don’t seem to get it that spend­ing 165 days a year with a group of 25–30 won­der­ful­ly diverse and bril­liant kids might gar­ner them more street cred.
  • They don’t seem to get it that improv­ing vocab­u­lary and back­ground knowl­edge starts with improv­ing the severe eco­nom­ic and racial divides in our soci­ety that cre­ate class­rooms filled with “haves” and “have-nots.”
  • They don’t seem to get it that the kids who lack ade­quate vocab­u­lary and back­ground knowl­edge are often kids who have not had the ben­e­fit of attend­ing pre-school.
  • They don’t seem to get it that while the “sci­ence” of teach­ing read­ing is impor­tant, the “art” of teach­ing read­ing is and should be of even greater stature.
  • And final­ly, they real­ly don’t seem to get it that we teach kids before we teach read­ing, writ­ing, math, sci­ence, or any oth­er sub­ject.

teaching science

No, Ms. Wexler, our teach­ers and schools are not fail­ing because we are ignor­ing the research and are not impart­ing enough knowl­edge. How­ev­er, we teach­ers, the major­i­ty of us who invest extra time, our own mon­ey, our heart and soul, who spend day after day, year after year, with dozens, even hun­dreds of kids (who for many of us become a sec­ond fam­i­ly), we teach­ers have a pletho­ra of knowl­edge that only teach­ers have. It’s knowl­edge that can’t be learned until you begin your first day on the job. We do what­ev­er it takes to know, real­ly know, our stu­dents. We also know that kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And that kind of knowl­edge won’t be found in any lit­er­a­cy cur­ric­u­la. That kind of knowl­edge is what I believe makes teach­ing read­ing a work of art.

A final note to my friend, Amir. You men­tioned help­ing teach­ers pre­pare for the teach­ing exams and not­ed that they did bet­ter if they had more back­ground knowl­edge. I can­not dis­pute the fact that more back­ground knowl­edge comes in handy when tak­ing a test and it most def­i­nite­ly makes a dif­fer­ence when it comes to com­pre­hen­sion.

There is a seri­ous need for stu­dents, espe­cial­ly Eng­lish lan­guage learn­ers, to gain as much back­ground knowl­edge and vocab­u­lary as pos­si­ble.

All kids must have a sol­id foun­da­tion that includes phon­ics and phone­mic aware­ness so that sol­id decod­ing will lead to flu­en­cy which opens the door to greater com­pre­hen­sion and vocab­u­lary. The goal is to not only teach kids how to read, but to instill the desire to want to read. The sci­ence is there but the art is achieved by inspir­ing kids to devel­op a love of read­ing.

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Watching for the Brown Truck

mouse in the houseA few years back, I had one fright­en­ing week. I had my head down, work­ing hard, when I heard a com­mo­tion out­side. I got up to look out my front win­dow and saw the SWAT team march­ing towards my house, car­ry­ing guns and wear­ing bul­let-proof vests. Once the sound of the news heli­copters alert­ed me to turn on the TV, I found out what was going on: there had been a work­place shoot­ing in my nor­mal­ly qui­et neigh­bor­hood, and at first law enforce­ment thought the gun­man might be on the loose.

Things even­tu­al­ly went back to being qui­et here, but they’re not the same. There’s an almost tan­gi­ble sor­row hang­ing in the air because of the lives lost. I can’t help but remem­ber the care that our neigh­bor­hood UPS dri­ver, one of those killed, always took to hide my pack­ages from the win­ter weath­er (some­times he hid them so well that I didn’t find them at first, either). The last pack­age he deliv­ered to me was some­thing I’d great­ly antic­i­pat­ed: the line edits for my nov­el. I’ve tied a brown rib­bon on my rail­ing in his hon­or.

I’m not the only one who wait­ed fear­ful­ly until they announced it was safe to leave our homes again. I was talk­ing to a neigh­bor yes­ter­day, and she said that her five-year-old reas­sured her, dur­ing the time when we still thought there was active dan­ger, by say­ing, “It’s okay, Mom­my, I learned what to do in school. We just get down on the floor and hide.”

That breaks my heart.

Dur­ing that chill­ing week, I was also deal­ing with anoth­er series of mini-scares—and I want to make it clear, I rec­og­nize that these are on a rad­i­cal­ly small­er scale than the tragedy above. But for me they’ve been fright­en­ing events, nonethe­less: mice have sud­den­ly appeared in my house. I’m ter­ri­fied of mice. It’s a fear that goes way beyond ratio­nal, housed in some deep pri­mal cor­ner of my brain, as evi­denced by the fact that my response when I see one is the embar­rass­ing­ly stereo­typ­i­cal duo of jump­ing up on the clos­est piece of fur­ni­ture and shriek­ing.

My response, although way over-the-top, is a good reminder that fear isn’t always ratio­nal, but it’s always deeply felt. Some­times the things we fear are based on hor­ri­ble real­i­ties, and some­times they’re just a mouse in the house. Wher­ev­er they fall on the spec­trum, fear is still one of the biggest human emo­tions. And writ­ing, I’ve learned, is one way that young peo­ple can effec­tive­ly grap­ple with their own fears. Ask­ing your stu­dents, “What is the thing that most scares you?” and then giv­ing them the chance to jour­nal about it, or to address a let­ter poem to that fear­ful thing, or to con­struct a plot where the char­ac­ter shares their fear, can lead to deeply pow­er­ful writing—as well as, some­times, to a sense that they have some con­trol over the fear­ful thing itself.

With sin­cere apolo­gies to author Neil Gaiman for most like­ly hor­ri­bly man­gling his words, I remem­ber once hear­ing him respond to an inter­view­er who asked why he wrote such fright­en­ing books for kids. He answered that kids are all too aware that there are mon­sters hid­ing under their beds, and it’s no use try­ing to con­vince them oth­er­wise. So he tries to give them sto­ries that acknowl­edge the mon­sters, but where kids still win out in the end.

Some­times, maybe, we can also gain a lit­tle ground on our mon­sters by writ­ing about them—just like I’ve done here.

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The Animals in The Stuff of Stars

The Stuff of StarsWhen I first read The Stuff of Stars by Mar­i­on Dane Bauer and Ekua Holmes, I was cap­ti­vat­ed by the beau­ty of the book and its lyri­cal thoughts about the earth and our envi­ron­ment. Ms. Holmes’ illus­tra­tions invite us to look clos­er, to dis­cern the crea­tures she’s so art­ful­ly includ­ed. Ms. Bauer’s text includes a list of ani­mals that roam the earth, bring­ing to mind all of the sto­ries and facts about these spe­cif­ic ani­mals, birds, insects, and rep­tiles.

We thought it would be help­ful to pull togeth­er a Quirky Book List that you could use for dis­cus­sions in your class­room, research units, book dis­plays on The Stuff of Stars theme, or inde­pen­dent read­ing. Be sure to refer to Bookol­o­gy’s Book­storm for The Stuff of Stars for more resources that com­ple­ment this book.

BEETLES
Bonkers about Beetles  

Bonkers about Bee­tles
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Owen Davies
Fly­ing Eye Books, 2018

Fun and fas­ci­nat­ing infor­ma­tion about the tough­est bugs in the world. The illus­tra­tions are incred­i­ble but the facts will astound young read­ers.

 

Masterpiece  

Mas­ter­piece
writ­ten by Elise Broach
illus­trat­ed by Kel­ly Mur­phy
Hen­ry Holt, 2008

Mar­vin, the bee­tle, lives under the kitchen sink in the Pom­pa­days’ apart­ment. James Pom­pa­day is an eleven-year-old boy who lives in the same apart­ment. When James receives a pen-and-ink set for his birth­day, Mar­vin sur­pris­es him with an intri­cate draw­ing. Soon, these two friends are drawn into a staged heist of an Albrecht Dür­er draw­ing at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art.

 

One Beetle Too Many  

One Bee­tle Too Many:
The Extra­or­di­nary Adven­tures of Charles Dar­win
writ­ten by Kathryn Lasky
illus­trat­ed by Matthew True­man
Can­dlewick Press, 2009

A child­hood of col­lect­ing spec­i­mens, espe­cial­ly bee­tles, Charles Dar­win was a nat­u­ral­ist to his very toes, hap­pi­est when he was sail­ing The Bea­gle to South Amer­i­ca to observe the flo­ra and fau­na. Lasky writes the sto­ry of Darwin’s life in a way that reveals the com­plex man who chal­lenged the world’s think­ing.

BLUEBIRDS

Bluebird

 

Blue­bird
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lind­sey Yankey
Sim­ply Read Books, 2014

Lit­tle Blue­bird awak­ens one morn­ing to find the wind miss­ing. She and wind always fly togeth­er. Deter­mined to find the way, Blue­bird sets off on a clever, well-illus­trat­ed, heart­warm­ing jour­ney.

 

Bluebird  

Blue­bird
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bob Staake
Schwartz & Wade, 2013

In this emo­tion­al pic­ture book, read­ers will be cap­ti­vat­ed as they fol­low the jour­ney of a blue­bird as he devel­ops a friend­ship with a young boy and ulti­mate­ly risks his life to save the boy from harm.

 

Captivating Bluebirds  

Cap­ti­vat­ing Blue­birds:
Excep­tion­al Images and Obser­va­tions
writ­ten and pho­tographed by Stan Tekiela
Adven­ture Pub­li­ca­tions, 2008

Although not strict­ly a children’s book, Tekiela’s out­stand­ing pho­tographs will keep children’s atten­tion as you share some of the intrigu­ing facts on each page.

 

What Bluebirds Do

 

What Blue­birds Do
writ­ten by Pamela Kir­by
Boyds Mills Press, 2009

After a male and female blue­bird select a place to nest, they raise a young fam­i­ly of hatch­lings, feed­ing them and encour­ag­ing them to fly off on their own. Excel­lent pho­tographs illus­trate this book.

BUTTERFLIES

Caterpillar to Butterfly

 

Cater­pil­lar to But­ter­fly
writ­ten by Lau­ra Marsh
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids, 2012

This ear­ly read­er gives kids an close-up look, through stel­lar pho­tographs, at how a cater­pil­lar becomes a but­ter­fly. The book includes infor­ma­tion about the dif­fer­ent types of but­ter­flies and poi­so­nous cater­pil­lars.

How to Hide a Butterfly

 

How to Hide a But­ter­fly & Oth­er Insects
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ruth Heller
Gros­set & Dun­lap, 1992

Each page invites the read­er to hunt for the but­ter­fly or bee or inch­worm, all the while nar­rat­ed by Heller’s dis­tinc­tive poet­ic text.

A Place for Butterflies

 

A Place for But­ter­flies
writ­ten by Melis­sa Stew­art
illus­trat­ed by Hig­gins Bond
Peachtree Press, 2006

By fram­ing but­ter­flies as a vital­ly inter­con­nect­ed part of our world, this book teach­es about behav­ior and habi­tat, while encour­ag­ing efforts to pre­serve forests and mead­ows, cut­ting down on pes­ti­cides.

CRICKETS

Cricket in Times Square

 

CLASSIC
A Crick­et in Times Square
writ­ten by George Selden
illus­trat­ed by Garth Williams
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 1960

When Chester Crick­et hops into a pic­nic bas­ket, lured by the smell of liv­er­wurst, this coun­try crick­et is trans­port­ed to Times Square. There, he’s giv­en a com­fy home by Mario Belli­ni, and becomes friends with Tuck­er Mouse and Har­ry Cat. And yet, Chester’s coun­try home calls to him. A favorite of young read­ers for more than 50 years!

Oscar and the Cricket

 

Oscar and the Crick­et
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Geoff War­ing
Can­dlewick Press, 2009

A begin­ning sci­ence book that teach­es about mov­ing and rolling. One day Oscar sees a ball in the grass. “Try push­ing it!” says Crick­et. Oscar learns that the ball rolls slow­ly in grass and faster on a path, until it bounces off a tree and changes direc­tion. Some things need a push to move, and oth­ers use their mus­cles to move themselves—and to move plen­ty of oth­er things, too.

Quick as a Cricket

 

Quick as a Crick­et
writ­ten by Audrey Wood
illus­trat­ed by Don Wood
Child’s Play Library, 1982.

I’m as quick as a crick­et, I’m as slow as a snail. I’m as small as an ant, I’m as large as a whale.” The young child plays with imag­i­na­tion and words, illus­trat­ed with fun and ram­bunc­tious inter­pre­ta­tion.

FROGS

Frog and Toad Are Friends

 

CLASSIC
Frog and Toad Are Friends
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Arnold Lobel
Harper­Collins, 1970.

The beloved tale of two friends who are always there for each oth­er, whether it’s find­ing a lost but­ton or going swim­ming or writ­ing let­ters.

The Frog Book

 

The Frog Book
writ­ten by Robin Page
illus­trat­ed by Steve Jenk­ins
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2019

With more than 5,000 dif­fer­ent frog species on the plan­et, in every col­or of the rain­bow and a vast num­ber of vivid pat­terns, no crea­tures are more fas­ci­nat­ing to learn about or look at. Jenk­ins and Page present a stun­ning array of these intrigu­ing amphib­ians and the many amaz­ing adap­ta­tions they have made to sur­vive. An excel­lent non­fic­tion pic­ture book.

It's Mine!

 

It’s Mine!
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Leo Leon­ni
Scholas­tic, 1986

Three frogs con­stant­ly fight and bick­er over who gets to eat the lat­est hap­less insect. But a toad and a storm help them real­ize that there are mer­its to shar­ing.

GIRAFFES

Giraffes

 

Giraffes
writ­ten by Lin­da Marsh
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Read­ers, 2016

A true book, with inter­est­ing facts and teach­ing points for begin­ning read­ers. Giraffes are fas­ci­nat­ing crea­tures. The text and pho­tos in this book are engag­ing and mem­o­rable.

Giraffes Can't Dance

 

Giraffes Can’t Dance
writ­ten by Giles Andreae
illus­trat­ed by Guy Park­er-Rees
Orchard Books, 2001

Ger­ald the giraffe is excit­ed to go to the dance but the oth­er ani­mals tell him he can’t dance because he has knob­by knees and skin­ny legs and he’ll look sil­ly. Ger­ald slinks away, unhap­py, until a kind voice tells him to dance to a dif­fer­ent song. Soon Ger­ald is danc­ing so beau­ti­ful­ly that the oth­er ani­mals gath­er to watch and admire.

Stay Close to Mama

 

Stay Close to Mama
writ­ten by Toni Buzzeo
illus­trat­ed by Mike Wohnout­ka
Dis­ney / Hype­r­i­on, 2012

Twiga is curi­ous and wants to explore, but Mama knows about the dan­gers of the savan­nah and wants to pro­tect lit­tle Twiga. An excel­lent read-aloud with engag­ing illus­tra­tions.

HAWKS

Hawk Rising

 

Hawk Ris­ing
writ­ten by Maria Gian­fer­rari
illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Flo­ca
Roar­ing Brook Press, 2018

A father red-tailed hawk hunts prey for his fam­i­ly in a sub­ur­ban neigh­bor­hood in this thrilling, fierce non­fic­tion pic­ture book. Infor­ma­tive book writ­ten in sen­so­ry, poet­ic, per­cep­tive text with Bri­an Floca’s stun­ning illus­tra­tions.

Tale of Pale Male

 

Tale of Pale Male: a True Sto­ry
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jeanette Win­ter
Har­court, 2007

When a red-tailed hawk makes its nest on top of a New York City apart­ment build­ing, the res­i­dents remove the nest, pro­test­ers raise their voic­es, and even­tu­al­ly bird­ers rejoice.

Birds of Prey

 

Birds of Prey: Hawks, Eagles, Fal­cons,
and Vul­tures of North Amer­i­ca
writ­ten by Pete Dunne, with Kevin T. Karl­son
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2017

A book of nature writ­ing that dou­bles as a field guide, this is a well-researched and -writ­ten book with accom­pa­ny­ing pho­tos.

HIPPOPOTAMUSES

Mama for Owen

 

A Mama for Owen
writ­ten by Mar­i­on Dane Bauer
illus­trat­ed by John But­ler
Simon & Schus­ter, 2007

When an African baby hip­po is sep­a­rat­ed from its moth­er dur­ing the Indi­an Ocean Tsuna­mi of 2004, it bonds with a giant tor­toise. This is a gen­tle per­spec­tive on the true sto­ry.

I've Lost My Hiippopotamus

 

I’ve Lost My Hip­popota­mus
poems by Jack Pre­lut­sky
illus­trat­ed by Jack­ie Urbanovic
Green­wil­low, 2012

Short, rhyth­mic poems about ani­mals that are ide­al for ear­ly read­ers.

How to Clean a Hippopotamus

 

How to Clean a Hip­popota­mus:
A Look at Unusu­al Ani­mal Part­ner­ships
writ­ten by Robin Page
illus­trat­ed by Steve Jenk­ins
HMH Books for Younger Read­ers, 2010

A non­fic­tion book about ani­mal sym­bio­sis, fea­tur­ing the hip­popota­mus as well as oth­er ani­mals.

Saving Fiona

 

Sav­ing Fiona:
The Sto­ry of the World’s Most Famous Baby Hip­po
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Thane May­nard
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2018

The sto­ry of the first pre­ma­ture baby hip­po born in cap­tiv­i­ty, raised at the Cincin­nati Zoo & Botan­i­cal Gar­den.

George and Martha

 

CLASSIC
George and Martha
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by James Mar­shall
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 1972

Legions of fans love these sto­ries about two hip­pos who rev­el in being friends.

HORSES

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses

 

The Girl Who Loved Wild Hors­es
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Paul Gob­le
Atheneum, 2001

Though she is fond of her peo­ple, a girl prefers to live among the wild hors­es where she is tru­ly hap­py and free.

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

 

Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up
writ­ten by Kate DiCamil­lo
illus­trat­ed by Chris Van Dusen
Can­dlewick Press, 2014

Leroy Ninker has all the trap­pings of a cow­boy, but he doesn’t have a horse. Then he meets May­belline, a horse who loves spaghet­ti and hav­ing sweet noth­ings whis­pered in her ear. Will their rela­tion­ship mean an end to Leroy’s lone­li­ness?

Misty of Chincoteague

 

CLASSIC
Misty of Chin­coteague
writ­ten by Mar­garet Hen­ry
illus­trat­ed by Wes­ley Den­nis
Rand McNal­ly, 1947

On the island of Chin­coteague off the coasts of Vir­ginia and Mary­land lives a cen­turies-old band of wild ponies. Among them is the most mys­te­ri­ous of all, Phan­tom, a rarely seen mare that eludes all efforts to cap­ture her—that is, until a young boy and girl lay eyes on her and deter­mine that they can’t live with­out her.

Rosie's Magic Horse

 

Rosie’s Mag­ic Horse
writ­ten by Rus­sell Hoban
illus­trat­ed by Quentin Blake
Can­dlewick Press, 2013

Rosie puts a dis­card ice-pop stick into a box, but the stick wants to be some­thing! When Rosie dreams of a horse named Stick­eri­no, the ice-pop stick trans­forms, gal­lop­ing out of the box. “Where to?” he asks. “Any­where with trea­sure!”

JELLYFISH

I Am Jellyfish

 

I Am Jel­ly­fish
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ruth Paul
Pen­guin, 2018

Jel­ly­fish is chased into the ocean depths by Shark. Shark is attached by Squid. Who will save Shark? Jel­ly­fish!

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish

 

Peanut But­ter and Jel­ly­fish
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jar­rett J. Krosocz­ka
Knopf, 2014

Peanut But­ter, a sea­horse, and Jel­ly­fish are best friends. Crab­by is NOT their best friend. But when Crab­by gets into trou­ble, will Peanut But­ter and Jel­ly­fish help? Of course they will.

The Thing about Jellyfish

 

The Thing About Jel­ly­fish
writ­ten by Ali Ben­jamin
Lit­tle, Brown, 2015

For a mid­dle grade read­er: Suzi con­vinces her­self that her friend Fran­ny drowned because she was stung by a rare jel­ly­fish. Suzi explores her the­o­ry and comes to real­ize many truths that make it pos­si­ble for her to grow past her grief and remorse.

LARKS

Ostrich and Lark

 

Ostrich and Lark
writ­ten by Mar­i­lyn Nel­son
illus­trat­ed by the San artists of Botswana
Boyds Mills Press, 2012

This pic­ture book about an unlike­ly friend­ship is the result of col­lab­o­ra­tion between the award-win­ning poet Mar­i­lyn Nel­son and the San artists of Botswana. The sto­ry, which cap­tures the feel of a tra­di­tion­al African folk­tale, is brought to life with vibrant illus­tra­tions inspired by the ancient rock paint­ings of the San people’s ances­tors.

LIONS

Deadliest Animals

 

Dead­liest Ani­mals
writ­ten by Melis­sa Stew­art
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Children’s Books, 2011

Fas­ci­nat­ing facts about the most threat­en­ing ani­mals in the world, includ­ing lions, writ­ten on an ear­ly read­er lev­el.

Eli

 

Eli
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bill Peet
HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 1978

A decrepit lion despis­es a vul­ture, but he soon learns about friend­ship from his pesky vis­i­tor.

Library Lion

 

Library Lion
writ­ten by Michelle Knud­sen
illus­trat­ed by Kevin Hawkes
Can­dlewick Press, 2006

Miss Mer­ri­weath­er is a librar­i­an with a lot of rules for her library. When a lion appears one day, there isn’t a rule to cov­er it. What will they do? The lion res­cues the library, which finds a place for him.

Lion and the Mouse

 

The Lion and the Mouse
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jer­ry Pinkney
Lit­tle, Brown Books, 2009

A book about a devel­op­ing friend­ship between an unlike­ly pair, with ele­ments of fam­i­ly bonds woven into the famil­iar fable. African ani­mals are beau­ti­ful­ly depict­ed in the Calde­cott-win­ning illus­tra­tions for this book.

SHARKS

Great White Shark Adventure

 

Great White Shark Adven­ture
writ­ten by James O. Fraioli and Fabi­en Cousteau
illus­trat­ed by Joe St. Pierre
Mar­garet K. McElder­ry Books, 2019

Graph­ic nov­el. Junior explor­ers Bel­la and Mar­cus join famed explor­er Fabi­en Cousteau and his research team as they embark on an ocean jour­ney off the coast of South Africa, where the world’s largest con­cen­tra­tions of great white sharks are found. Their mis­sion is to inves­ti­gate a sight­ing of a mas­sive white shark and tag it so they can track and pro­tect it. 

If Sharks DIsappeared

 

If Sharks Dis­ap­peared
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lily Williams
Roar­ing Brook Press, 2017

Even though sharks can be scary, we need them to keep the oceans healthy. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, due to over­fish­ing, many shark species are in dan­ger of extinc­tion, and that can cause big prob­lems in the oceans and even on land.

Shark vs Train

 

Shark vs Train
writ­ten by Chris Bar­ton
illus­trat­ed by Tom Licht­en­held
Lit­tle, Brown, 2010

Smack talk­ing, Shark and Train are pit­ted against each oth­er in this wild and crazy book about what would help them gain suprema­cy in a vari­ety of sit­u­a­tions. Fun!

SNAILS

The Biggest House in the World

 

CLASSIC
The Biggest House in the World
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Leo Lion­ni
Knopf, 1968

A young snail is deter­mined to have the biggest shell in the world until his father tells him a gen­tle fable about the respon­si­bil­i­ty and weight of car­ry­ing around that type of shell.

The End of the Beginning

 

The End of the Begin­ning:
Being the Adven­tures of a Small Snail
(and an Even Small­er Ant)
writ­ten by Avi
illus­trat­ed by Tri­cia Tusa
Har­court, 2004

Avon the snail sets out on an adven­ture because that’s what every­one does. They encounter a drag­on in dis­guise, the begin­ning of the sky, and a mag­ic cas­tle. Along the way, they dis­cov­er friend­ship. It’s a great read-aloud for kinder­garten and up.

The Snail and the Whale

 

The Snail and the Whale
writ­ten by Julia Don­ald­son
illus­trat­ed by Axel Schef­fler
Dial Books, 2004

A tiny snail and a hump­back whale set out to trav­el the world, explor­ing the oceans, under­wa­ter caves, and the skies. When the whale is strand­ed on the beach, will the snail be able to save him?

SPIDERS

Charlotte's Web

 

CLASSIC
Charlotte’s Web
writ­ten by E.B. White
illus­trat­ed by Garth Williams
Harp­er & Bros, 1952

Some Pig. Hum­ble. Radi­ant.These are the words in Charlotte’s web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spi­der­web tells of her feel­ings for a lit­tle pig named Wilbur, who sim­ply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his lit­ter.

Spiders

 

Spi­ders
writ­ten by Lau­ra Marsh
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Children’s Books, 2011

Spi­ders are every­where. And there are so many kinds of spi­ders! Some red, some blue, yel­low, and more … all fas­ci­nat­ing. Amaz­ing pho­tog­ra­phy and easy-to-under­stand text makes Spi­ders a hit.

Very Busy Spider

 

CLASSIC
Very Busy Spi­der
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Eric Car­le
Philomel, 1985

Ear­ly one morn­ing a lit­tle spi­der spins her web on a fence post. One by one, the ani­mals of the near­by farm try to dis­tract her, yet the busy lit­tle spi­der keeps dili­gent­ly at her work. When she is done, she is able to show every­one that not only is her cre­ation quite beau­ti­ful, it is also quite use­ful!

WHALES

Amos & Boris

 

CLASSIC
Amos & Boris
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by William Steig
Far­rar, Straus and Giroux, 1971

Amos the mouse and Boris the whale: a devot­ed pair of friends with noth­ing at all in com­mon, except good hearts and a will­ing­ness to help their fel­low mam­mal. They meet after Amos sets out to sail the sea and finds him­self in extreme need of res­cue. And there will come a day, long after Boris has gone back to a life at sea and Amos has gone back to life on dry land, when the tiny mouse must find a way to res­cue the great whale.

Breathe

 

Breathe
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Scott Magoon
Simon & Schus­ter, 2004

A good book for young chil­dren, this looks at the life of a baby whale who ven­tures out on his own for the first time, engag­ing in adven­tures, and return­ing home to his mom.

Whales

 

Whales
writ­ten by Sey­mour Simon
Collins, 2006

This non­fic­tion book is full of infor­ma­tion about cows, calves, feed­ing, habi­tat, and the 90 species of whales around the world. From a mas­ter researcher and writer of non­fic­tion for young read­ers.

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Waiting for My Editor, part 2

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Joining Forces

Cre­at­ing a Library Exchange Net­work

Last year, I had the dis­tinct hon­or to attend a pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ty at MIT (Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy). As part of the train­ing, we were giv­en a chance to see some of the projects stu­dents and pro­fes­sors are work­ing on in fields such as edu­ca­tion, fash­ion, and health­care. I was sur­prised to learn from Dr. Chris Bourg, Direc­tor for MIT Libraries, about the Pub­lic Library Inno­va­tion Exchange (PLIX) where MIT researchers work with pub­lic librar­i­ans to exchange ideas to devel­op new cre­at­ed learn­ing pro­grams. Scratch Cod­ing and the Duct Tape Net­work are exam­ples of their pre­vi­ous projects. After return­ing home, I cre­at­ed a Library Exchange Net­work with both com­mu­ni­ty and state part­ners to devel­op new learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for library patrons and the com­mu­ni­ty by reach­ing out to indi­vid­u­als in a vari­ety of dis­ci­plines such as the arts and engi­neer­ing.

From small to large libraries, any size library can cre­ate a Library Exchange Net­work with THREE easy steps:

Step 1: Part­ner­ship Radar

A part­ner­ship radar pro­vides you the oppor­tu­ni­ty to map out poten­tial part­ners for your exchange. Cre­ate a list of poten­tial part­ners who could poten­tial­ly offer a library pro­gram (this is some­thing you might already have com­plet­ed). Some exam­ples might include a con­struc­tion com­pa­ny who could help chil­dren cre­ate bird­hous­es, a uni­ver­si­ty or col­lege who could pro­vide a STEM pro­gram, or a gar­den­ing group who could pro­vide chil­dren the oppor­tu­ni­ty to plant a bulb. Your map can include local and or non-local part­ners. Your part­ner­ship radar will con­tin­ue to grow.

Storytime with WrigleyStep 2: Throw­ing the Line Out

As with fish­ing, you need to throw a line out to poten­tial part­ners by email or phone, express­ing the library’s inter­est in devel­op­ing a library pro­gram relat­ing to their pro­fes­sion or skill. For exam­ple, I reached out to a local teacher who has a ther­a­py dog to estab­lish a new Sat­ur­day sto­ry­time pro­gram where fam­i­lies enjoy not only sto­ries, songs, and a craft but also enjoy time with her ther­a­py dog. Con­clude your email by wel­com­ing them to your library for a brain­storm­ing ses­sion.

Step 3: Idea Exchange

The idea exchange is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for you and the poten­tial part­ner to brain­storm ideas on poten­tial pro­gram oppor­tu­ni­ties for the com­mu­ni­ty. For exam­ple, I had our local train muse­um vis­it with me to brain­storm new pos­si­bil­i­ties for fam­i­lies to learn about the his­to­ry of trains through expe­ri­ences includ­ing an inter­ac­tive kiosk and a live pre­sen­ta­tion. The goal at the ini­tial exchange meet­ing is to throw out as many pro­gram ideas as pos­si­ble even if they seem impos­si­ble. The meet­ings that fol­low will be reserved for the design of the pro­gram. 

10 Ben­e­fits of a Library Exchange Net­work

  1. Pro­vides new learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for the com­mu­ni­ty.
  2. Increas­es the library’s vis­i­bil­i­ty.
  3. Lim­its staff time to devel­op new pro­grams.
  4. Requires lit­tle or no cost. Many employ­ers require employ­ees to com­plete com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices.
  5. Shares both tal­ents and resources.
  6. Fos­ters coöper­a­tion.
  7. Reach­es new audi­ences.
  8. Re-images the pur­pose of the pub­lic library.
  9. Expands both ser­vices and pro­grams.
  10. Ensures the library con­tin­ues to be an enjoy­able place with­in the com­mu­ni­ty.

Nation­al Part­ners:

Code NinjasOur local part­ner­ship is exten­sive; how­ev­er, here are some of our non-local part­ner­ships who have chains through­out the Unit­ed States.

  1. Cod­ing Nin­jas
  2. Syl­van Learn­ing
  3. Bricks 4 Kids
  4. Boy and Girls Club
  5. After­school Alliance
  6. Engi­neer­ing for Kids

Arti­cles to Enjoy on Library Part­ner­ships:

The Who, What, Where, Why, When, and Hows of Pas­sive Pro­gram­ming,” by Aman­da Ben­nett, OLC Small Libraries, 17 March 2014

How Pub­lic Libraries Help Build Healthy Com­mu­ni­ties,” by Marcela Cam­bel­lo and Stu­art M. But­ler, Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion, 30 March 2017  

Books to Gen­er­ate Pro­gram Ideas

books for programming

Some Pro­gram Exam­ples Pro­vid­ed by Our Part­ners

Two Programs

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Bookstorm™: Just Like Rube Goldberg

Just Like Rube Goldberg

Just Like Rube Goldberg

Edu­ca­tors across the coun­try have been inspired by Rube Goldberg’s intri­cate, clever, engi­neer­ing-based, but unlike­ly-to-be-made-in-real-life car­toons. Stu­dents are gath­er­ing to cre­ate their own Rube Gold­berg machines, using every­day objects in fun and inno­v­a­tive ways to accom­plish sim­ple tasks with fun results. Just Like Rube Gold­berg inspires all its read­ers with the details about Rube’s child­hood and his trip into adult­hood. He was deter­mined to become a car­toon­ist for a major news­pa­per but went to engi­neer­ing school at his dad’s insis­tence. When Rube final­ly found his dream job as a car­toon­ist, would his fan­tas­ti­cal draw­ings have become pop­u­lar world­wide if he hadn’t been trained as an engi­neer? So much to dis­cuss with this book!

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books, arti­cles, web­sites, and videos for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests.  

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Sarah Aron­son and Robert Neubeck­er on their web­sites.

BOOKSTORM

About Rube Gold­berg and His Art. We share with you a num­ber of good books, arti­cles, videos, and web­sites where you’ll find infor­ma­tion to cre­ate your own cur­ricu­lum around Just Like Rube Gold­berg.

Alter Egos and Secret Iden­ti­ties. Gold­berg attrib­uted his inven­tions to his alter ego, Pro­fes­sor Lucifer Gor­gonzo­la Butts. We’ve found sev­er­al books that delve into alter egos and secret iden­ti­ties. Author Sarah Aron­son has a delight­ful activ­i­ty she brings to her school vis­its that invite stu­dents to explore their own alter egos.

Car­toon­ing and Draw­ing. For the kinet­ic and visu­al learn­ers in your class­room or book club, here are top-notch books to lead them through try­ing their hand at car­toon­ing and draw­ing.

Crit­i­cal Think­ing. Math puz­zles, cre­ative prob­lem-solv­ing, Albert Ein­stein, brain­storm­ing … a num­ber of books will start you and your stu­dents on the path to think­ing crit­i­cal­ly.

Engi­neer­ing. We rec­om­mend two videos, one from NASA and one from Crash Course Kids, to give inspir­ing intro­duc­tions to the field of engi­neer­ing.

Mak­ing Machines with Mov­ing Parts. There are more books on this top­ic than you might real­ize. From Girls Think of Every­thing to Mon­key with a Tool­belt to Build Your Own Chain Reac­tion Machines to Dump­ster Div­er … and many more … inspi­ra­tion awaits!

San Fran­cis­co Earth­quake, 1906. Yes, Rube Gold­berg lived through that earth­quake and it changed his life. Here are books both fic­tion and non­fic­tion to bring your stu­dents up to speed on one of the largest nat­ur­al dis­as­ters of all time.

Resources for Adults. As always, our Book­storms include books and videos that will give you the back­ground you need to guide stu­dents in both class­room and library set­tings.

Let us know how you are mak­ing use of this Book­storm™. Share your ideas and any oth­er books you’d add to this Book­storm™.

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Weathering Weather

Phyl­lis: Min­neso­ta has had a win­ter full of weath­er this year. We’ve just fin­ished the snowiest Feb­ru­ary on record, and now March is blow­ing down on us with the promised of wind and rain and (most like­ly) still more snow. An anony­mous British poet wrote of the weath­er, “We’ll weath­er the weath­er what­ev­er the weath­er.” We decid­ed to not only weath­er the weath­er but to cel­e­brate it with a few weath­ery pic­ture books.

Come On, Rain!In Karen Hesse’s Come On, Rain, illus­trat­ed by Jon J. Muth, an urban African Amer­i­can child yearns for rain. Her mamma’s plants are parched, She is “siz­zling like a hot pota­to,” and the city droops with heat. Hope comes in gray clouds rolling in, and the nar­ra­tor runs to find her friend Jack­ie-Joyce and tell her to put on her swim­suit. They run out into the alley, where their friends join them, and rain­drops plop down, “mak­ing dust dance all around us.” The friends dance in cir­cles, open their mouths to catch the rain, chase each oth­er down the street. They make such a rack­et shout­ing, “Come on, rain!” that the grown-ups toss off their shoes and socks and join them in a joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion. When the clouds and rain at last move off and every­thing is “spring­ing back to life,” they head home soaked and soothed by the wel­come rain. I remem­ber the delight of run­ning out into my back yard into a rain­storm, pud­dle-jump­ing, rain­drop catch­ing, and rain­bow spot­ting. Hesse’s book makes me wish for a rain­storm right now so I could run out into one again.

Jack­ie: I love this book, too, for that feel­ing of a grow­ing cel­e­bra­tion that’s going to bring the whole neigh­bor­hood togeth­er. And it reminds me of the fun of being drenched by a warm rain. It always gives me a feel­ing of being one with the world to be out in the rain, just get­ting wet. I laugh at how even the dust dances in cel­e­bra­tion in this sto­ry.

AlbertPhyl­lis: Albert by Don­na Jo Napoli, illus­trat­ed by Jim LaMarche, is less about a par­tic­u­lar kind of weath­er and more about a man who only expe­ri­ences the weath­er by stick­ing his hand out the grill­work over his win­dow, decid­ing it’s too cold, too damp, too hot, or too breezy to go out­side.

One day when he sticks his hand out, a car­di­nal drops a twig in it, then anoth­er car­di­nal joins in. While Albert watch­es, they build a nest in his hand and set­tle in. Albert doesn’t want to dis­turb the nest by twist­ing his hand back in through the grill­work, so he stands there, hold­ing the nest, which soon con­tains eggs. Kind-heart­ed Albert sleeps stand­ing up at night, breath­ing on the eggs to keep them warm when­ev­er the moth­er leaves the nest, and scar­ing away a curi­ous cat, all the while watch­ing life go by on the street below. One morn­ing “when Albert opened his mouth, he peeped.” The father car­di­nal brings him a bee­tle, then black­ber­ries to eat. On the twelfth morn­ing the eggs hatch, and with­in a few weeks the hatch­lings fledge, even­tu­al­ly leav­ing the nest, the last with encour­age­ment from Albert. He lets the now emp­ty nest fall, pulls his hand back in, and real­iz­ing that he is part of the big won­der­ful world, whether cold or damp or hot or breezy, he heads out of his apart­ment. The book ends: “Now Albert walks often. And some­times, just some­times, when no one’s look­ing, he flies.” The art shows Albert soar­ing on a swing, a car­di­nal perched on his head. This is a book that invites us not only to be gen­er­ous and kind to ani­mals but also to step out into the “big won­der­ful world” of which we are all a part.

Jack­ie: And if we are lucky, per­haps some­times we will fly. My used copy of this book is signed by the illus­tra­tor Jim LaMarche. The car­di­nals he drew for this book are so won­der­ful. They look as if they might fly right off the page. Read­ers of this sto­ry may nev­er have a nest on their hands, but they will nev­er see car­di­nals the same again.

When the Wind BlewPhyl­lis: Two books about wind seem fit­ting for March, which has come in like a snow lion this year. In When the Wind Blew by Mar­garet Wise Brown, illus­trat­ed by Geof­frey Hayes, an old, old lady lives all by her­self by the ocean with sev­en­teen cats and one lit­tle blue gray kit­ten. Each morn­ing the old lady milks her cow and fills sev­en­teen pur­ple saucers and one lit­tle blue saucer to feed her cats and kit­ten, then fills a mug for her­self. The old woman wash­es up the dish­es, the cats wash them­selves, and they all enjoy the sun­shine. One day the wind blows off the ocean, and the old lady brings her cats and kit­ten in out of the wind, where they curl up by the fire. Then a ter­ri­ble toothache strikes her, for which she has no med­i­cine or even a hot water bot­tle to put on her toothache for the pain. She takes her toothache to bed and lis­tens to the wind tear­ing through the cracks in her house, wish­ing for a hot water bot­tle for her aching tooth. Click purr, click purr. The lit­tle blue gray kit­ten jumps onto the bed and curls up next to her cheek, a fur-cov­ered hot water bot­tle that takes her toothache away. The wind blows on, but the old lady and her cats and blue grey kit­ten all sleep peace­ful­ly in her lit­tle house by the ocean. A sim­ple tale, and a com­fort­ing one, with Mar­garet Wise Brown’s lov­ing atten­tion to the sim­ple details of every­day life.

Jack­ie: One of her details is the detail of pain. “Her toothache was all there seemed to be in the world.” And I love the verbs that MWB uses. The cats, “mewed and purred and gur­gled for break­fast.” And the wind that “blew the sun­light cold and almost blew the lit­tle gray kit­ten off his feet.” We have had those winds that blow the sun­light cold. This book is a peek into a self-con­tained world that gets blown awry and then right­ed and it is so sat­is­fy­ing.

What Color is the Wind?What Col­or is the Wind? by Anne Herbauts is a lyri­cal med­i­ta­tion on the wind, but it is also a tex­tur­al book. By run­ning one’s fin­gers over the pages one can feel the ruf­fled hair of a dog, the coarse fur of a wolf, the raised bumps of rain, the smooth skin of an apple. Com­bine this with cut out win­dows, and you have a book to fas­ci­nate the sens­es. In the sto­ry, a lit­tle giant of a child sets out to dis­cov­er the col­or of the wind, only to receive dif­fer­ent answers from the ani­mals and objects that he meets. Stream, tree, bird all weigh in, but it is an enor­mous giant who answers, “It is every­thing at once. This whole book.” Ruf­fling the pages of the book the enor­mous giant makes a gen­tle wind for the lit­tle giant. The wind of the book. Mag­i­cal.

ShelterSome­times a book touch­es us so much that we have to own it. As soon as I took Shel­ter by Celine Claire, illus­trat­ed by Qin Leng off the shelf at Red Bal­loon Book­shop and read through it, I knew I could not leave the store with­out it. The book begins with ani­mals prepar­ing for a com­ing storm, gath­er­ing wood for the a fire, squir­rel­ing away nuts. As the storm hits and the ani­mals are snug­gly tucked in their dens, two strangers, a big bear and a lit­tle bear, appear in the fog seek­ing shel­ter. They offer tea in exchange for the warmth of a fire at the first den they come to, and though the art shows a bright­ly burn­ing fire, the ani­mals inside claim their fire is out. “Try next door,” they say. Next door the hun­gry bears offer to trade tea for a few cook­ies but are told, “We have no food. Try next door,” even though the den is heaped with acorns. The fox­es next door turn the bears down because their den is crowd­ed, although Lit­tle Fox runs after the bears and offers them a lantern. Next door is only a hill, but the bears feel wel­come there, and once snow begin to fall, they know they will be all right. Back in the fox­es’ den, the weight of the snow caus­es the roof to col­lapse, and although the fox fam­i­ly escapes, the world out­side is cold and dark and full of snow. A light beck­ons, which turns out to be the lantern Lit­tle Fox gave the bears, glow­ing through the snow den they have built. Lit­tle Fox offers cook­ies for tea and the bears reply that their lantern is weak­en­ing, their den is small and crowd­ed, and they have no food but the fox­es are wel­come to share the den and their tea—which they do. The last illus­tra­tion shows the win­ter storm blus­ter­ing while inside the small snow shel­ter, the fox­es and bears sip tea and eat cook­ies togeth­er by lantern light. This sto­ry moved my heart, not least because it is about the gen­eros­i­ty of strangers and about how we nev­er know when we might be the stranger in need of aid who hopes some­one will open their heart to us.

Jack­ie: I agree. This is a won­der­ful book and so per­fect for our time. If one read­er shares one cook­ie with anoth­er, who then shares a cookie…Well, let’s hope.

So many more good weath­er books, some of which we’ve looked at in pre­vi­ous posts—The Snowy Day, Hide and Seek Fog, Lau­ren Stringer’s Win­ter is the Warmest Sea­son, Red Rub­ber Boot Day, Yel­low Time—we could keep list­ing them until the snow melts. Whether or not we like the weath­er, we’ll weath­er it with a good weath­ery book, know­ing, too, that if we just wait a lit­tle while, new weath­er will be upon us.

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The Arrow of Time

When you walk into our house, you know imme­di­ate­ly my hus­band and I are read­ers. The din­ing room is des­ig­nat­ed as the library, but there are book­cas­es and books in every sin­gle room, includ­ing the bath­rooms. We sub­scribe to The Wall Street Jour­nal and the Sun­day New York Times, as well as Smith­son­ian, Audubon, and Sky and Tele­scope. 

The Enchanted HourMy hus­band has been teach­ing him­self quan­tum physics the last few years. I take books to the movies. Yet we both would have failed the “Goldilocks effect” if that test had been giv­en to us as young chil­dren. In her book, The Enchant­ed Hour: The Mirac­u­lous Pow­er of Read­ing Aloud in the Age of Dis­trac­tion, Meghan Cox Gur­don dis­cuss­es Dr. John Hutton’s research on how read­ing aloud to chil­dren affects their cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment.

Hut­ton, a pedi­a­tri­cian and pro­fes­sor at the Cincin­nati Children’s Hos­pi­tal, dis­cov­ered through MRI scans that the brains of preschool­ers who had been read to on a reg­u­lar basis “lit up” in areas asso­ci­at­ed with lan­guage and pro­cess­ing infor­ma­tion. Com­pared to peers who had lit­tle or no access to books, or who were giv­en screens instead of shar­ing a pic­ture book with a care­giv­er, the sto­ry-rich chil­dren were miles ahead in “lan­guage, emo­tion­al con­trol, vision, hear­ing … lay­ing the path­ways for future thought and rea­son­ing.”

The “Goldilocks effect” per­tains to chil­dren age three to five, when their brains are grow­ing fast. MRI scans showed “too hot” brain activ­i­ty in chil­dren view­ing videos. Not as ter­rif­ic as it sounds, the watch­ers were actu­al­ly pas­sive. Audio—listening to sto­ries through headphones—produced tepid reac­tions, “too cold.” The “just right” com­bi­na­tion was being read to from a pic­ture book. Chil­dren must process the pic­tures while lis­ten­ing. Their brains are engaged and active. And they have the added ben­e­fit of phys­i­cal con­nec­tion to a per­son.

When I read this study, I remem­bered my own years between two and five. There were no children’s books in the house I lived in. No one read to me. I was sel­dom spo­ken to and heard no sto­ries. Howdy Doo­dy and The Mick­ey Mouse Club (screen) kept me com­pa­ny. At the age of six, I entered first grade. The “look-say” or “whole word” method was still going strong. Read­ing didn’t click with me until sec­ond grade.

Kids Fort

My hus­band was born in the Depres­sion when children’s books were far down on the list of neces­si­ties. Next came the war, and his par­ents were busy with war work. He wasn’t read to and doesn’t remem­ber any books until he start­ed first grade. His sto­ries came over radio waves (audio), Inner Sanc­tum and One Step Beyond.

I can’t say either of us grew up in a time of few dis­trac­tions. For my hus­band, the war ruled everyone’s lives. By the time it was over, he was twelve, well past those vital devel­op­ment years. My life sta­bi­lized when I turned five, but my par­ents had mul­ti­ple jobs. Learn­ing to read and being exposed to books was left to teach­ers.

The Enchant­ed Hour cov­ers oth­er stud­ies that prove the impor­tance of read­ing aloud to young chil­dren, such as vocab­u­lary. Read­ing two pic­ture books aloud to a child each day for a year expos­es him or her to more than 438,000 words of text. Cather­ine Tamis-LeMon­da of New York Uni­ver­si­ty believes that pic­ture book time is the only set­ting in which par­ent and child talk about things oth­er than dai­ly rou­tines. Where else can you dis­cuss the moon or ele­phants or how birth­days are cel­e­brat­ed in oth­er coun­tries?

The book includes test results of chil­dren in low­er socioe­co­nom­ic sit­u­a­tions: book- and word-poor house­holds. My back­ground. And yet I did learn to read, though rather late. Once the door to sto­ries was open, I read and wrote them. Library books had to be returned, but the sto­ries I wrote were mine. No one could take them away from me.

My hus­band did fine in lan­guage arts, but his inter­ests lay in math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence. My moth­er want­ed me to get a desk job. My husband’s father urged him to join his build­ing busi­ness. With­out encour­age­ment, we found our own moti­va­tion and fol­lowed our own paths.

Gurdon’s book made me wist­ful. What would my life had been like if some­one read me bed­time sto­ries? If I was tak­en to the library? If some­one stopped to lis­ten to one of my own sto­ries? But I can’t go back to my preschool years and fill that gap. The arrow of time—a the­o­ry devel­oped by physi­cist Arthur Edding­ton in 1927—only moves in one direc­tion, for­ward. The past is fixed and immutable.

The Read_Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease and Read to Your Bunny by Rosemary Wells

I wor­ry about chil­dren like me, grow­ing up in word- and book-poor homes. The plea of The Enchant­ed Hour is for par­ents to carve out an hour a day to read aloud to their chil­dren. This isn’t a new idea. Jim Trelease’s 1979 The Read-Aloud Hand­book paved that road for par­ents forty years ago. In 1998, Read to Your Bun­ny by Rose­mary Wells was pub­lished as part of her ini­tia­tive urg­ing fam­i­lies to set aside twen­ty min­utes a day of read-aloud time. Down from an hour to twen­ty min­utes, and yet the prob­lem still exists.

Here we are at the same cross­roads, but now the ene­my is screen time. No one read­ing this col­umn is unaware that screens are in the hands of younger and younger chil­dren. I see babies with cell­phones “to keep them qui­et” and I see the expres­sion­less faces of their par­ents, also on screens. Chil­dren in fam­i­lies that are poor in books but rich in screens—no mat­ter where they land on the socioe­co­nom­ic scale—will strug­gle to devel­op live­ly imag­i­na­tions, to escape the pull of social media, to fol­low their own paths, with or with­out encour­age­ment.

The arrow of time only moves in one direc­tion, for­ward. Once passed by, those impor­tant years can’t be reclaimed and fixed.

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The Writing Process as a Living Story

In some ways, it’s too bad that the cur­ricu­lum in most schools calls for writ­ing per­son­al nar­ra­tives at the begin­ning of the school year because I think stu­dents could learn a lot by craft­ing a per­son­al nar­ra­tive about the process of research­ing, writ­ing, and revis­ing an infor­ma­tion­al writ­ing assign­ment.

What do I mean by that? Well, late­ly, I’ve been think­ing about my non­fic­tion book-mak­ing process as a liv­ing sto­ry. Even though I write (most­ly) expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion, there is a sto­ry, a per­son­al nar­ra­tive, behind every book I cre­ate.

I doc­u­ment­ed the sto­ry of craft­ing Dead­liest Ani­mals in a series of blog posts, which I bun­dled togeth­er on this Pin­ter­est board.

Writing Nonfiction Step by Step Pinterest board

I told the sto­ry behind No Mon­keys, No Choco­late in this inter­ac­tive time­line.

No Monkeys No Chocolate timeline

Based on ques­tions and feed­back from stu­dents and teach­ers, I cre­at­ed a mod­i­fied inter­ac­tive time­line with info­graph­ic ele­ments to describe the expe­ri­ence of writ­ing Can an Aard­vark Bark?

Can an Aardvark Bark? timeline

I cre­at­ed these mate­ri­als as edu­ca­tion­al resources for teach­ers and stu­dents, so they could see and hear and under­stand a pro­fes­sion­al writer’s process. My goal was to pull back the cur­tain, so that stu­dents could see that my expe­ri­ence is very sim­i­lar to their own.

But, sur­pris­ing­ly, I prof­it­ed from the process myself. By think­ing through and reliv­ing the expe­ri­ence, I noticed things that I con­sis­tent­ly do wrong, allow­ing me to brain­storm ways to work smarter. I was able to ask oth­er writ­ers tar­get­ed ques­tions about their process, and exper­i­ment with the tech­niques and strate­gies they sug­gest­ed.

I think young writ­ers could also ben­e­fit from telling their sto­ries of cre­ation. Imag­ine stu­dents using tools like Flip­grid or Padlet or audio record­ings or sto­ry­board­ing to doc­u­ment their non­fic­tion writ­ing expe­ri­ences. They could address some of the fol­low­ing ques­tions:

  • What was my process?
  • What chal­lenges did I face?
  • How did I over­come them?
  • Who or what helped me?
  • What might I try dif­fer­ent­ly the next time?

This activ­i­ty will help to solid­i­fy the steps of the non­fic­tion writ­ing process in their minds, which as I dis­cuss in this post, can real­ly help some stu­dents. It would also offer a fun, authen­tic form of self-assess­ment and a start­ing point for dia­logue with oth­ers.

Why not give it a try?

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Emergency Car Kit

Emergency car kitWhen I was a kid grow­ing up in the north woods of Min­neso­ta, a group of my neigh­bor­hood friends had a “Chip­munk Fort.” It was con­struct­ed out of a pile of old fenc­ing mate­ri­als in my friend Paul’s back­yard; each kid had their own “house” in the fort. We spent some time col­lect­ing pret­ty rocks and odd­ly shaped sticks and soft clumps of moss to dec­o­rate our hous­es. But the pri­ma­ry work of the Chip­munk Fort was to sup­port our large com­mu­ni­ty of striped squir­rel neigh­bors by peel­ing acorns for them.

I don’t know if chip­munks appre­ci­ate such efforts or not, but the crea­tures are genius­es at stock­pil­ing food for when times are scarce. In fact, if you look care­ful­ly at the pho­to, you’ll see that one of them has found his way into my dad’s con­tain­er of bird­seed; the crit­ter spent the entire day stuff­ing his cheeks with the con­tents of the jug and car­ry­ing it home for win­ter pro­vi­sions.

To me, stock­pil­ing ideas has proven to be a great tac­tic. One of the most com­mon ques­tions young writ­ers ask me is, “Where do your ideas come from?” The truth is, they come from every­where, all around me. But they often show up when I can’t actu­al­ly make use of them, and prove elu­sive when I’m sit­ting in front of my com­put­er. I don’t keep a jour­nal (a tac­tic that has worked well for many oth­er writ­ers); I’m too undis­ci­plined to fol­low through on that reg­u­lar prac­tice. But I have learned to car­ry a writer’s note­book so I can stuff it full of the good bits when they spon­ta­neous­ly pop up. The note­book becomes an assort­ment of ran­dom mus­ings, eaves­dropped con­ver­sa­tions, bizarre facts, and won­der­ful-to-say words. Then when I face one of my reg­u­lar “writ­ing win­ters,” those times when it seems impos­si­ble to come up with an inter­est­ing con­cept, I’ve got plen­ty of seeds stored away.

That note­book is a lit­tle like hav­ing an emer­gency car kit when you set off on a long winter’s dri­ve. You may be blessed with good for­tune and nev­er need the emer­gency kit. But in case you do get stuck—whether in a snow bank or faced with a “writ­ing emergency”—you’ll be awful­ly glad you’ve got it on hand. Why not encour­age your young writ­ers to take a sim­i­lar pre­cau­tion and keep a writer’s note­book of their own in their desk or back­pack?

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Waiting for My Editor

Page Break

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Make This!

Make This!Make This! Build­ing, Think­ing, and Tin­ker­ing Projects for the Amaz­ing Mak­er in You 
Ella Schwartz, pho­tographs by Matthew Rako­la
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids, 2019

When pre­sent­ed with this book, wheels start turn­ing, ideas begin pop­ping, and your tem­per­a­ture ris­es! This is going to be fun.

And a care­ful­ly thought-through learn­ing expe­ri­ence … but who needs to know that?

By the book’s def­i­n­i­tion, “A mak­er is some­one who tin­kers, fix­es, breaks, rebuilds, and con­structs projects for the world around them.” With great empha­sis, it is evi­dent that “A mak­er is you!”

We are shown mak­er spaces and we learn that mak­ers reuse, recy­cle, and cre­ate.

You know these kids. (You prob­a­bly know some who grew up to be adults.) There are some kids who are mak­ers but don’t know it yet. Give them this book if they’re old enough or sit down with them on an oth­er­wise bor­ing after­noon or work these projects into your class­room lessons or library pro­grams.

Sam­ple chap­ters are “Sim­ple Machines,” “Optics,” “Acoustics,” “Forces,” and “Motion.”

The book is col­or­ful­ly and thought­ful­ly designed, allow­ing the mak­er to ful­ly focus on def­i­n­i­tions, facts, step-by-step num­bered instruc­tions, warn­ings, and pho­tos that are excep­tion­al­ly clear in delin­eat­ing the steps in case the ver­bal direc­tions don’t answer all of your ques­tions. You’ll find a dif­fi­cul­ty meter, a box with the num­ber of peo­ple it takes to do the project, and some­times an admo­ni­tion to “grab an adult.”

Make This! Interior page

from Make This!: Build­ing Think­ing, and Tin­ker­ing Projects for the Amaz­ing Mak­er in You, © Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Children’s Books, 2019, used here with per­mis­sion

Projects include “Rolling Pin Pul­ley” (using a rolling pin, rope, and two friends to lift a heavy book), after which we’re chal­lenged to keep a list of the pul­leys we see through­out one day.

For “Pen­cil Push­er,” we’re intro­duced to The Mys­tery of Stone­henge. How did ancient mak­ers move those huge stones 160 miles from Wales to near Sal­is­bury, Eng­land? Work­ing with pen­cils and a pile of heavy books offers one pos­si­ble solu­tion (and the cur­rent the­o­ry).

We’re asked why any­one would care about the col­or of a roof in “Pow­er Col­ors.” This project requires two small bal­loons, two 2-liter soda bot­tles, black paint, white paint, and a sun­ny day. Applied knowl­edge.

On “Clean & Clear,” there’s a warn­ing about fil­ter­ing water “It’s impor­tant to keep in mind that even though the water looks clean, it is not safe for you or your pets to drink. There may be oth­er harm­ful things in the water, like bac­te­ria or microor­gan­isms, which are too small to see.” Even the warn­ings are instruc­tive!

This book teach­es sci­ence with­out mak­ing a big deal out of it.

Sign­ing off. I need to go make a con­vey­or belt, a periscope, a skee-ball game, and a mar­ble maze. Irre­sistible!

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The BEARdecotts

The ALA/ALSC recent­ly announced their Youth Media Awards, result­ing in much excite­ment.

The teacher librar­i­ans at a Min­neso­ta pri­vate school with three cam­pus­es help their stu­dents look for excel­lence in children’s books by hold­ing their own award process each year. Called The BEARde­cotts, after their school mas­cot, the edu­ca­tors select books for a short list that they then share with their stu­dents over sev­er­al months, read­ing aloud, read­ing indi­vid­u­al­ly, mak­ing crit­i­cal analy­ses, and final­ly vot­ing on the most wor­thy books.

Many of the choic­es this year reflect a theme of anx­i­ety, an emo­tion that is preva­lent among young stu­dents every­where.

The books in this year’s short list are list­ed below, in no par­tic­u­lar order.

The win­ners at the two ele­men­tary schools are:

Pota­to Pants! by Lau­rie Keller and Drawn Togeth­er by Minh Le and Dan San­tat

Is this a lit­er­a­cy expe­ri­ence you’d like to repli­cate in your school?

Patchwork Bike  

Patch­work Bike
writ­ten by Max­ine Bene­ba Clark
illus­trat­ed by Van Thanh Rudd
Can­dlewick Press, 2018

 

Sea Creatures from the Sky  

Sea Crea­tures from the Sky
Writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ricar­do Cortés
Black Sheep, 2018

 

Shaking Things Up  

Shak­ing Things Up:
14 Young Women Who Changed the World

writ­ten by Susan Hood
illus­trat­ed by 13 Extra­or­di­nary Women: Seli­na Alko, Sophie Black­all, Lisa Brown, Hadley Hoop­er, Emi­ly Win­field Mar­tin, Oge Mora, Julie Morstad, Sara Pala­cios, LeUyen Pham, Erin Robin­son, Isabel Rox­as, Shadra Strick­land, and Melis­sa Sweet
HarperCollins,2018

Imagine

 

Imag­ine
writ­ten by Juan Felippe Her­rera
illus­trat­ed by Lau­ren Castil­lo
Can­dlewick Press, 2018

Read Bookol­o­gy’s rec­om­men­da­tion for this book.

Wall in the Middle of This Book  

Wall in the Mid­dle of the Book
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jon Agee
Dial Books, 2018

 

Julian is a Mermaid  

Julián is a Mer­maid 
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jes­si­ca Love
Can­dlewick Press, 2018

 

A Big Moon Cake for Little Star

 

A Big Moon­cake for Lit­tle Star
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Grace Lin
Lit­tle Brown, 2018

Potato Pants!

 

Pota­to Pants!
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lau­rie Keller
Hen­ry Holt, 2018

The top choice by stu­dents at one of the two ele­men­tary schools, win­ner of the 2019 Bearde­cott.

Me and My Fear

 

Me and My Fear
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Francesca San­na
Fly­ing Eye Books, 2018

Drawn Together

 

Drawn Togeth­er
writ­ten by Minh Le
illus­trat­ed by Dan San­tat
Disney/Hyperion, 2018

The top choice by stu­dents at one of the two ele­men­tary schools, win­ner of the 2019 Bearde­cott.

 

 

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Books Are Our Emissaries

Dinner at the Panda PalaceAs authors, we send our books out into the world and, if we’re lucky, they con­nect us to good peo­ple whose paths we wouldn’t oth­er­wise cross.

For 28 years, Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace has been my excel­lent emis­sary. 

Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace start­ed as a sim­ple count­ing and sort­ing book with lots of ani­mals and a par­ty atmos­phere to make the learn­ing fun.  By the time it was done, it was a book of wel­come, as a tiny mouse comes knock­ing at the door, ask­ing “Is there room for one more?” It’s this part of the sto­ry that res­onates most with read­ers and has led to so many won­der­ful con­nec­tions over the years.

The book has con­nect­ed me to fam­i­lies:

Par­ents and chil­dren write me let­ters and, much to my delight, send pho­tos and draw­ings.

The book has con­nect­ed me to teach­ers:

Maryann Wick­ett, recip­i­ent of the 1996 Pres­i­den­tial Award for Excel­lence in Math­e­mat­ics Teach­ing, wrote two arti­cles shar­ing her and her stu­dents’ expan­sive ideas on the math con­cepts in the book.  Two decades after her first arti­cle appeared, she let me know she’d be read­ing the book to chil­dren in Kenya, where she was going part­ly on a human­i­tar­i­an mis­sion, part­ly as a tourist.  “Pan­da is for the human­i­tar­i­an part,” she wrote.

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The book has con­nect­ed me to reli­gious lead­ers and edu­ca­tors:

Ser­e­na Evans Beeks, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Epis­co­pal Dio­cese of Los Ange­les wrote, “Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace has been rec­om­mend­ed as a chapel book for Epis­co­pal schools and preschools—perhaps not what you intend­ed when you wrote it, but the min­istry of hos­pi­tal­i­ty shines through it!”

At The Brooke Jack­man Lit­er­a­cy Foundation’s Read-a-Thon at Barnes & Noble in New York. The young man help­ing me out is D’Andre Lee, a cast mem­ber of Kinky Boots on Broad­way.

Helen Singer, Ear­ly Child­hood Librar­i­an at the Rodeph Sholom School in New York City wrote, “Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace…ties in beau­ti­ful­ly with the Jew­ish con­cept of “Hachnasat Orchim,” wel­com­ing guests or the stranger into your home, as well as with the val­ues of kind­ness and inclu­sion.”

As writ­ers, we nev­er know which minds a book will enrich, which hearts a book will touch, what con­nec­tions will be made.  I’m grate­ful to have a book that has con­nect­ed me to such good peo­ple. In Mr. Panda’s words,

No mat­ter how many, no mat­ter how few,
there will always be room at the Palace for you.

My thanks to Wind­ing Oak, pub­lish­ers of Bookol­o­gy, for shar­ing this essay cel­e­brat­ing the 28th anniver­sary of Din­ner at the Pan­da Palace.

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Blue Dot Press | KO Kids Books

Kathryn OtoshiMeet Kathryn Oto­shi, artist, author, edu­ca­tor, and the cre­ator of two award-win­ning indie pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies, KO Kids Books and Blue Dot Press. In 2016, SCBWI (Soci­ety of Children’s Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors) rec­og­nized Blue Dot Press with their SPARK Award for excel­lence in inde­pen­dent pub­lish­ing.

Kathryn O’s books are bright, col­or­ful, delight­ful, cre­ative, and just plain fun. Her newest book, Beau­ti­ful Hands, cre­at­ed with Bret Baum­garten, cel­e­brates and inspires cre­ativ­i­ty in many sur­pris­ing forms. Look at your own hands. Imag­ine all the ways they can be creative—from Beau­ti­ful Hands:

What will your beau­ti­ful hands DO today?
Will they PLANT
What can you plant? IDEAS?

Kathryn O’s books show chil­dren impor­tant mes­sages. Per­haps her most well-known book is One. In this pic­ture book, Blue is a qui­et col­or. Red’s a hot­head who likes to bul­ly Blue. The oth­er col­ors don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand—until One comes along and shows all the col­ors how to stand up, stand togeth­er, and count. As read­ers learn about num­bers, count­ing, and pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary col­ors, they also learn about accept­ing each other’s dif­fer­ences and how it often takes only one coura­geous voice to make every­one count.

One Two Zero

Then came Kathryn’s books Zero and Two. What might these books be about? Just a hint—Two is best friends with One, until … Three comes along. You guessed it—this “tri­an­gle” friend­ship soon has prob­lems.

I had the plea­sure of ask­ing Kathryn Oto­shi a few ques­tions. Enjoy read­ing Kathryn’s thought­ful respons­es. They are an inspi­ra­tion as are her beau­ti­ful books.

What are your hopes when a child opens one of your books?

My hope is that when the child opens the book and fin­ish­es read­ing it, they will clutch it to their chest like a dear friend and not want to let it go! And when they become teenagers and see the book, they will be com­pelled to pick up the book, and page by page, read through it from begin­ning to end, with a smile on their face. And when they grow old, if they see its tat­tered cov­er on the shelf, my hope is they pick it up with cher­ished fondness—and per­haps even love.

What is the pas­sion that gives you the courage to cre­ate your own pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny?

It is the sto­ries them­selves, the mes­sages and themes in them, and the spe­cif­ic vision I had for each of the titles (the writ­ing style, the illus­tra­tions, the design and the nar­ra­tive itself) that drove me to cre­ate my own pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny with my hus­band. Most of the issues in my sto­ries are based on issues, prob­lems, or sit­u­a­tions I expe­ri­enced in my own child­hood. When I pub­lished sto­ries about belong­ing, inse­cu­ri­ties, find­ing val­ue in our­selves and in oth­ers, I couldn’t be sure it would have mean­ing or val­ue to any­one else but myself. But I did know I want­ed to share these themes, not just with chil­dren but with adults too. Because I feel these char­ac­ter-build­ing issues are rel­e­vant for every­one.

As far as courage goes, I’m pret­ty sure it was naiveté that drove me to start my own pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny! But I will say it took per­se­ver­ance (and yes, a lit­tle courage) to keep going past the fif­teen-year mark.

What is most reward­ing about being a pub­lish­er?

To see how a sin­gle title can impact a child’s life. And cer­tain­ly I didn’t know that was pos­si­ble when I first began. I learned that a book, just like a per­son, can influ­ence oth­ers. Just like a key con­ver­sa­tion can change someone’s life’s direc­tion, words in a book can “speak” to some­one right at the most need­ed moment. I learned that beyond the phys­i­cal cov­er, spine, paper, words and illus­tra­tion of a book, the mes­sages inside it can some­how live and breathe in the real world.

One time, after I did a pre­sen­ta­tion, a woman came to me almost in tears and told me her son was get­ting bul­lied at school. She then told me the prin­ci­pal read the book One to all the class­rooms. The boy end­ed up stay­ing at the school after much live­ly con­ver­sa­tion had been gen­er­at­ed. The book cre­at­ed a spark, but it was the stu­dents, par­ents, and teach­ers them­selves who took it way beyond the book and made their own sto­ry in real life. Now that is tru­ly mag­i­cal.

What are your chal­lenges as a pub­lish­er?

For me, the chal­lenges that face a pub­lish­er are two-fold: cre­ative chal­lenges and prac­ti­cal chal­lenges. For me, enabling the cre­ative process is key. So what­ev­er cre­ative chal­lenges a pub­lish­er might face (need­ing to make the sto­ry longer, thus hav­ing more pages affect­ing more paper thus mak­ing it more expen­sive) must be sup­port­ed by the prac­ti­cal. Not the oth­er way around. If ‘how much a book costs’ ulti­mate­ly dic­tates how a book looks or what it must be, then the book will like­ly not live up to its full poten­tial. Of course, mar­ket­ing is always key. With­out it, how will peo­ple know your book exists? You need to mar­ket to make peo­ple aware. There is a very low prof­it mar­gin in the pub­lish­ing indus­try, so it’s always a tricky bal­ance with how much mar­ket­ing you do, how real­is­ti­cal­ly you can hope this book will per­form, what your bud­get should be, and—with all this in mind—still enable the book. When your book is “born” and released into the world, it will have it’s own per­son­al­i­ty and tra­jec­to­ry. The mar­ket­ing plan you decide on at first might not ulti­mate­ly be the right one for the book. It’s impor­tant to evolve to what the book tells you it needs once it’s out in the world.

Tell us about one or two of your books and why they are unique.

The book One is spe­cial to me because it’s the first book I cre­at­ed that had illus­tra­tions that were sym­bol­ic. The main char­ac­ters are col­ors and num­bers, but they also rep­re­sent emo­tions and dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. In the begin­ning, I was told this book would nev­er sell. A major chain book­store rep­re­sen­ta­tive told me “kids won’t ‘get it.’ It’s too con­cep­tu­al.” It was also sug­gest­ed that I “should have a more col­or­ful cov­er like Rain­bow Fish, which has a very beau­ti­ful, col­or flashy holo­graph­ic foil on it. Pub­lish­ers must some­times “pro­tect” our books like par­ents. We must know what the book inher­ent­ly and authen­ti­cal­ly needs and stick to it. I knew the cov­er and sto­ry of One need­ed to be thought­ful, yet sim­ply told. I’m glad I stuck to my guns! One is now in its 24th print­ing!

Beautiful HandsBeau­ti­ful Hands was done for Bret Baum­garten, who was diag­nosed with pan­cre­at­ic can­cer. When we found out, it was at stage 4. It was heart­break­ing. He and I both want­ed to do a book for his chil­dren, Noah and Sofie. I found out every day he would hold his kids’ hands in his and ask them, “What will your beau­ti­ful hands do today?”

I want­ed every­one whom Bret loved to be in this book. We arranged for his fam­i­ly and friends (mine too!) to make hand­prints as part of the illus­tra­tions in the book, so that they could par­tic­i­pate and be a part of this nar­ra­tive. Over 100 people’s hand­prints are in the rain­bow at the end of the sto­ry. So many peo­ple loved Bret, we didn’t know where to put our grief. The book became a pos­i­tive way to remem­ber the mes­sage he want­ed to impart most: love, cre­ativ­i­ty, com­pas­sion, and our con­nec­tion with one anoth­er.

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Fake ID

Fake IDA while back, Facebook—apparently hav­ing run out of snazzy gift—ideas that said “thank you for using our ser­vices” in an under­stat­ed yet pleas­ing way—gifted me instead with a social media dop­pel­gänger named Yvonne. The gift arrived in my email box in the form of thou­sands of extra­ne­ous noti­fi­ca­tions. I get noti­fied any time one of Yvonne’s many (seem­ing­ly unsta­ble and to me com­plete­ly unknown) friends does any­thing they deem Face­book-wor­thy. I get noti­fied any time there is a yard sale any­where near Yvonne’s home, which hap­pens to be approx­i­mate­ly 1,000 miles away from where I live. I get noti­fied with reg­u­lar updates about Yvonne’s alma mater, a school whose mys­te­ri­ous insid­er jokes don’t trans­late well if you’ve nev­er been near that cam­pus in your life.

If you ever find your­self pre­sent­ed with the same thoughtful gift, let me just tell you that, short of the wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gram, there is no easy way to drop a dop­pel­gänger. I have done every­thing Facebook’s “help” pages sug­gest to report and rem­e­dy the prob­lem. Noth­ing has worked. This week so far I’ve got­ten 594 updates on Yvonne. And for those of you in the area, I can report that the Hazel Green yard sale has girls’ win­ter clothes, sizes 5 and 6.

But just when I thought that no good could come out of the whole sit­u­a­tion, I described it to a friend (in this case I’m using “friend” not in the Face­book sense but based on the tra­di­tion­al defi­ni­tion of “a per­son whom one actu­al­ly knows, likes, and trusts”). And he said (yes, Steve Palmquist of Wind­ing Oak, I’m look­ing at you), “That could make a good book idea. Just throw in a zom­bie or two.”

Huh. You know what? It might make a pret­ty good book idea even with­out the zom­bies. But even bet­ter, it makes a real­ly great char­ac­ter-build­ing exer­cise for young writ­ers of the age groups that are attuned to social media. I can vouch for the fact that a per­son can learn a stag­ger­ing amount about a stranger mere­ly by vic­ar­i­ous­ly expe­ri­enc­ing her Face­book pres­ence. Why not turn things around and use social media as a tool to help your young writ­ers figure out just who their char­ac­ter is?

Ask your young writ­ers to imag­ine a social media profile for their main char­ac­ter. Do they use Pin­ter­est or Face­book, Twit­ter, Insta­gram, or Tum­blr? What games do they play? Do they win? Do they cheat? What would their online profile say? Do they lie when they’re online, and if so, what about? How many peo­ple have “friend­ed” them? What kind of pho­tos do they post? What shop­ping out­lets or social caus­es have they “liked”? Do they spend hours a day online, or almost nev­er pop up? Do they mere­ly lurk, or com­ment on every­thing? The list of char­ac­ter-reveal­ing details could go on and on.

Just make sure to include one final ques­tion: Is character’s name Yvonne?

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Poetry Books That Celebrate
African American History and Culture

Poet­ry and the spo­ken word have promi­nent places in African Amer­i­can cul­ture, due at least in part to a strong oral tra­di­tion that has been passed down through gen­er­a­tions. Con­sid­er includ­ing poems from the books below in your read-alouds this month, and the year ahead, as a way to high­light the con­tri­bu­tions of African Amer­i­cans to our nation’s his­to­ry and cul­ture. These pic­ture books offer options for intro­duc­ing your audi­ences (of any age) to the works of some out­stand­ing African Amer­i­can writ­ers and illus­tra­tors.

Brothers & Sisters Family Poems  

Broth­ers and Sis­ters: Fam­i­ly Poems
Writ­ten by Eloise Green­field
Illus­trat­ed by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
Harper­Collins Children’s Books, 2009

This book cel­e­brates the uni­ver­sal joys and chal­lenges of being a part of a fam­i­ly, includ­ing thoughts on rec­on­cil­ing griev­ances, get­ting along with old­er, younger, or step sib­lings, and being a twin. Just about every­one who has a broth­er or sis­ter can prob­a­bly find some­thing that res­onates with them among the poems in this book.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy  

Thir­teen Ways of Look­ing at a Black Boy
Writ­ten by Tony Med­i­na
Illus­trat­ed by 13 dif­fer­ent artists
Pen­ny Can­dy Books, 2018

Tony Med­i­na wrote the poems in this book in tan­ka form, a kind of Japan­ese poem that starts out like haiku (three lines with five, sev­en, and five syl­la­bles respec­tive­ly) but then adds two more lines with sev­en syl­la­bles each. Kids will find many of the poems relat­able, with top­ics such as miss­ing the bus (“Athlete’s Broke Bus Blues”) and want­i­ng to be a rap star (“Givin’ Back to the Com­mu­ni­ty”).

Pass It On  

Pass It On: African Amer­i­can Poet­ry for Chil­dren
Select­ed by Wade Hud­son
Illus­trat­ed by Floyd Coop­er
Scholas­tic Inc., 1993

This col­lec­tion includes beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed works by pro­lif­ic poets such as Langston Hugh­es, Gwen­dolyn Brooks, Nik­ki Gio­van­ni, Eloise Green­field, and Nik­ki Grimes. A theme of deter­mi­na­tion emerges from a num­ber of the selec­tions includ­ing: “I Can,” “Mid­way,” “The Dream Keep­er,” and “Lis­ten Chil­dren.”

Poems in the Attic

 

Poems in the Attic
Writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
Illus­trat­ed by Eliz­a­beth Zunon

For this book, Grimes drew on her own expe­ri­ence mov­ing fre­quent­ly as a child and rely­ing on writ­ing to help her cope. The book is a fic­tion­al account of a child who grew up with par­ents serv­ing in the U.S. mil­i­tary. Her poems in this pic­ture book remind us that although we can’t often choose our cir­cum­stances we can choose how we respond to them.

Seeing into Tomorrow  

See­ing into Tomor­row: Haiku by Richard Wright
Biog­ra­phy and illus­tra­tions by Nina Crews
Mill­brook Press, 2018

Select­ed from the thou­sands of haiku that Richard Wright wrote in his last years, these poems have uni­ver­sal appeal. Each is paired with a pho­to col­lage that helps read­ers visu­al­ize Wright’s mem­o­ries of grow­ing up in the rur­al South.

Words with Wings  

Words with Wings:
A Trea­sury of African-Amer­i­can Poet­ry and Art
Select­ed by Belin­da Rochelle
Harper­Collins Pub­lish­ers, 2001

This stel­lar col­lec­tion con­tains twen­ty poems by well-known poets, each paired with a bold, endur­ing work by a visu­al artist. The poet­ry and art inspire the imag­i­na­tion as they cap­ture a vari­ety of expe­ri­ences shared by all peo­ple and allow the read­er to look at the world through the eyes of a num­ber of dif­fer­ent artists. Poems by a num­ber of children’s authors are fea­tured in this book as well as ones by authors such as Maya Angelou and Alice Walk­er.

 

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Putting Emotion into Nonfiction Books

Many peo­ple think writ­ing non­fic­tion is just string­ing togeth­er a bunch of ran­dom facts. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. While writ­ing non­fic­tion, I use every sin­gle fic­tion tech­nique a nov­el­ist uses.

I feel strong­ly that I need to write my text in a way that will lead my read­ers to invest emo­tion­al­ly with my non­fic­tion text. Real. Raw. Emo­tion. But I don’t tell read­ers what to feel. I trust they will sup­ply their own emo­tions as they read my book.

Let me give you some exam­ples.

Buried LivesMy newest book Buried Lives: The Enslaved Peo­ple of George Washington’s Mount Ver­non is about six, spe­cif­ic enslaved indi­vid­u­als. This book was chal­leng­ing to write because no writ­ten record exists from these indi­vid­u­als. There­fore as the author I had to be very care­ful not to put words, thoughts or feel­ings into their mouths, so to speak. I had to fig­ure out how to write the text that is full of emo­tion while main­tain­ing his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy.

To begin Buried Lives, I want­ed to pull in my read­ers emo­tion­al­ly from the start. So, the first sen­tence of the first chap­ter is:

William Lee, a six­teen-year-old African Amer­i­can boy, was for sale.”

It is straight­for­ward and his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate. But at the same time, I hope my words car­ry a lot of emo­tion­al weight.

Lat­er in the book, I give read­ers a peek into the dai­ly life of Car­o­line, the house­maid at Mount Ver­non. I wrote a sec­tion about the work she did each day. I explained how she swept, turned the feath­er beds, and dust­ed. While our mod­ern day sen­si­bil­i­ties under­stand basic house clean­ing, I inten­tion­al­ly left one detail of her clean­ing rou­tine to the end of the sen­tence. To mod­ern read­ers, this should pack an emo­tion­al punch:

She emp­tied and cleaned the cham­ber pots that had been used dur­ing the night. Then Car­o­line poured a lit­tle bit of water into the pots to cut down on the smell and mess for the next time she emp­tied them.”

Something Out of NothingIn my book Some­thing Out of Noth­ing: Marie Curie and Radi­um, I wrote about the death of Marie’s hus­band, Pierre, and his funer­al. Then I want­ed to pull the read­ers emo­tion­al­ly into the way Marie han­dled the loss of her beloved hus­band:

 “Marie could not bear to talk about Pierre, not even to men­tion his name. In the years fol­low­ing his death, she would nev­er talk to her daugh­ters about their father.

Around this time, Marie began rub­bing togeth­er her fin­ger­tips and thumbs (which had become hard from work­ing with vials of radi­um) in a ner­vous habit. Uncon­scious­ly, she would rub and rub and rub. The habit stayed with her for the rest of her life.”

In Defiance of HitlerAnoth­er of my books, In Defi­ance of Hitler: The Secret Mis­sion of Var­i­an Fry, relates how an Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist saved thou­sands of refugees from falling into the hands of the Nazis by secret­ly help­ing them escape. Fry stayed in Mar­seilles for thir­teen months, and then was forced to leave France. In this pas­sage, I want read­ers to feel the emo­tions of Fry’s sad­ness and uncer­tain­ty on the day he said good­bye to the peo­ple who were part of the team who worked with him to save lives:

Rain poured from the sky on Sep­tem­ber 6, 1941, the day Var­i­an left France. The gray, drea­ry weath­er matched their mood as Var­i­an and his staff ate their last lunch togeth­er. Around the table, long moments of silence took the place of heir usu­al meal­time chat­ter. None of them knew what hard­ships lay ahead. None knew what the out­come of World War 11 would be. Would Hitler ulti­mate­ly be vic­to­ri­ous and take over all of Europe and the rest of the world? Would they ever see each oth­er again? Would the Vichy police or the Gestapo come for them in the mid­dle of the night? Would they have enough food to sur­vive the win­ter?”

In each of these exam­ples, I don’t tell the read­er how they should feel, yet I hope each read­er makes these emo­tion­al jumps with me.

I’ve always said, “I don’t cre­ate the facts, but I use the facts cre­ative­ly.” It is pos­si­ble to fill the pages of a non­fic­tion book with pow­er­ful emo­tions. I believe this is what read­ers will remem­ber long after they close the cov­er.

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Constance Van Hoven and Her Reading Team
February 2019

For this addi­tion to our Rais­ing Star Read­ers fea­ture, we’re delight­ed to be show­cas­ing anoth­er new Star Read­er: Baby Nikhil was just 2 months old when he joined the Read­ing Team that also includes his grand­moth­er Con­stance Van Hov­en (Con­nie) and his big sis­ter Priya (2). The team was cel­e­brat­ing Connie’s first oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet her new grand­son, who lives with his fam­i­ly in Col­orado.

Constance Van Hoven and her grandchildren

Priya, “Gigi,” and baby Nikhil share their first read-aloud togeth­er.

Con­nie (or Gigi, as she is known to her grand­chil­dren) chose Owl Babies, writ­ten by Mar­tin Wad­dell and illus­trat­ed by Patrick Ben­son, as the team’s first read-togeth­er title. Con­nie notes that the book is gen­tle and reas­sur­ing and adds “who doesn’t love owls?” She also says that new big sis­ter, Priya, enjoyed point­ing out each owl sib­ling on every page and that she cheered when their Owl Moth­er returned to the nest. Nikhil clear­ly sensed some­thing good was hap­pen­ing, because he stayed awake for two read­ings! Of course, Con­nie admits that their spon­ta­neous “whooo-whooo-whooo’s” also helped keep his atten­tion. Con­nie comes from a fam­i­ly of bird­ers, so she is espe­cial­ly hap­py to share that love and antic­i­pates read­ing this book with them many times in the future.

Con­nie is a for­mer buy­er for Cre­ative Kid­stuff stores in Min­neapo­lis. She cur­rent­ly lives in Boze­man, Mon­tana, where she enjoys the great out­doors with her fam­i­ly and one extra-ener­getic dog. She is the author of sev­er­al pic­ture books, includ­ing Rare and Blue: Find­ing Nature’s Trea­sures, forth­com­ing from Charles­bridge in 2020. You can find her online at www.constancevanhoven.com.

_______________________

We here at Bookol­o­gy wish Con­nie, Priya, and Nikhil many won­der­ful hours of read­ing and owl-hoot­ing togeth­er! We espe­cial­ly look for­ward to a pho­to of the three of them enjoy­ing Connie’s newest pic­ture book when it is pub­lished next year. If you would like us to fea­ture your Read­ing Team, con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion about how to par­tic­i­pate.

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Skinny Dip with Carla McClafferty

Carla Killough McClafferty

Car­la Kil­lough McClaf­fer­ty [pho­to: Kelsey Bond]

We’re pleased to wel­come author Car­la Kil­lough McClaf­fer­ty to our Skin­ny Dip col­umn. She is known for her fine and care­ful­ly researched non­fic­tion books, such as The Many Faces of George Wash­ing­ton: Remak­ing a Pres­i­den­tial Icon; Some­thing Out of Noth­ing: Marie Curie and Radi­um; Fourth Down and Inch­es: Con­cus­sions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment and her most recent Buried Lives: The Enslaved Peo­ple of George Washington’s Mount Ver­non. If you’re near Mount Ver­non, Car­la will be pre­sent­ing on April 11, 2019, at 7:00 pm, as part of the Ford Book Talk Series. You can reg­is­ter for free tick­ets begin­ning Feb­ru­ary 22, 2019.

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

I sup­pose in the bath­tub … but that’s not weird.

Do you keep your book­shelves in a par­tic­u­lar order?

Nope, it is all crammed in togeth­er.

How many book­cas­es do you have in your house?

Five, if you count clos­ets with shelves that are full of books.

What’s the pre­dom­i­nant col­or in your wardrobe?

I favor blues and greens, espe­cial­ly roy­al blue.

Harvard College Library cardWhich library springs to your mind when some­one says that word? What do you remem­ber most about it?

We didn’t have a library in the small town where I grew up. My ele­men­tary school did not have a library either. So I didn’t have a lot of access to books grow­ing up even though I loved to read. Since I was an adult before I had access to nice libraries, I con­sid­er any library to be a won­der­ful place. As a non­fic­tion author, I’ve had the priv­i­lege to do research in some of the finest libraries in Amer­i­ca. I’ll nev­er for­get the days I’ve spent doing research in the libraries at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, and the Boston Athenaeum. For a girl who grew up wish­ing for a library, it doesn’t get much bet­ter than that.

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

Since I didn’t have access to a lot of books as I grew up, I didn’t read the usu­al books. I bor­rowed nov­els from neigh­bors, so I grew up read­ing Vic­to­ria Holt and Phyl­lis A. Whit­ney.

What’s your food weak­ness?

I love Mex­i­can food. Espe­cial­ly cheese dip.

What’s your favorite form of exer­cise?

A tread­mill.

What do you con­sid­er to be your best accom­plish­ment?

In my per­son­al life-rais­ing self-sup­port­ing kids. In my pro­fes­sion­al life-research­ing and writ­ing books I’m proud to have writ­ten.

stargazer lilyWhat’s your favorite flower?

Stargaz­er lilies.

Have you trav­eled out­side of your state? Which state draws you back?

Yes, I’ve trav­eled a lot. I’ve vis­it­ed 25 states out­side of my home state. I nev­er get tired of Vir­ginia because it is full of his­to­ry. And I nev­er get tired of the beach­es in the Flori­da pan­han­dle.

Which coun­try is your favorite to vis­it? Why?

Yes, I’ve trav­eled in Cana­da, Mex­i­co, Eng­land, Scot­land, Ire­land, Wales, France, Spain, Italy, Aus­tria, Switzer­land, Liecht­en­stein, Greece, Israel, Turkey and Jor­dan. I’d say my favorite to vis­it is France because small towns are pic­turesque and Paris is beau­ti­ful.

Who’s your favorite artist?

I have two favorites: Van Gogh and Mon­et.

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

Find­ing Nev­er­land.

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

A choco­late croissant—definitely. 

What are your favorite piz­za top­pings?

Pep­per­oni and pineap­ple.

Do you remem­ber your dreams?

Bits and pieces.

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

George Wash­ing­ton. I’ve writ­ten about him a lot.

What for­eign lan­guage would you like to learn?

French.

Do you read the end of a book first?

Absolute­ly not!

Buried Lives, Fourth Down and Inches, The Many Faces of George Washington

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Bridging the Gap Between My Writing and Reading Selves:
an Author’s Experience of Recording an Audiobook

Padma Venkatraman

Pad­ma Venka­tra­man

The woman who read Climb­ing the Stairs aloud did a great job,” my friend said. She was telling me, with delight, how her chil­dren and their friends—two girls and two boys—listened with rapt atten­tion to the audio book ver­sion of my debut nov­el, refus­ing to get out of the car when the trip end­ed but the sto­ry hadn’t yet.

Delight­ed though I was to hear both how much the young peo­ple enjoyed the audio­book, I feel a twinge of dis­ap­point­ment. After all, I love read­ing books aloud—and I tend to think I do a pret­ty good job of it—and I was nev­er offered the chance to read my own nov­el for the audio­book ver­sion. 

An entire decade’s flown by since Climb­ing the Stairs was released. It’s still in print, which is a won­der­ful achieve­ment. It’s also no longer my only nov­el. Dur­ing this decade, Island’s End and A Time to Dance were also pub­lished. And, as I had a baby and spent vast and won­der­ful amounts of time read­ing to her and watch­ing her read, I didn’t have a spare moment to con­sid­er doing the audio for either of those nov­els. 

Then, just a few months ago, Pen­guin con­tact­ed me to say the audio book ver­sion of The Bridge Home would be released simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with the print ver­sion, in Feb­ru­ary 2019. I was thrilled to hear this—and when I men­tioned this to my fam­i­ly at the din­ner table, my daugh­ter prompt­ly asked if I would be read­ing it aloud.

Padma Venkatraman's four novels

No,” I said. “They’ll get a pro­fes­sion­al actress to read it aloud.”

But you read so well!” Hear­ing the dis­ap­point­ment in her tone revived that sense of dis­ap­point­ment I’d felt all those years ago.

And, I want­ed, just as much as ever, to read my own work aloud. I’d had ten years of read­ing books aloud every night. Sure­ly I was bet­ter at it, not worse?

What’s the worst they could say,” my spouse said. “No?”

He was right about that. But I want­ed the best for my audio­book. I didn’t want to make a com­plete hash of read­ing it aloud.

Pub­lish­ers have many excel­lent rea­sons for employ­ing pro­fes­sion­al actors to read books aloud (rather than authors). Some authors do their work a dis­ser­vice when they read it aloud. And even those who read aloud well aren’t pro­fes­sion­al actors. We don’t learn how to “do dif­fer­ent voic­es” and we work with edi­tors, not direc­tors. Read­ing hun­dreds of pages at one stretch is not the same as read­ing aloud to an engaged and eager audi­ence for ten whole min­utes. The art of the spo­ken word is not the same as the art of the writ­ten word. Being a good writer doesn’t imply one has any act­ing capa­bil­i­ty, let alone tal­ent.

I thought it over, and then decid­ed I’d regret it if I didn’t give it a chance. So, I asked Pen­guin for per­mis­sion to audi­tion for the audio­book (and yes, authors do have to audi­tion to read their own books aloud which is in their own best inter­est). The audio book pub­lish­er was kind enough to give me per­mis­sion to send a sev­en-minute (or so) audio clip. I was instruct­ed to read a sec­tion that con­tained dia­logue.

My daugh­ter was delight­ed. She insist­ed on sit­ting right next to me as I record­ed my audi­tion.

That’s when I had my first inkling of how hard the process would be.

When I read aloud, I often make mistakes—but I gloss over those mis­takes. I change the sen­tence I’m read­ing if nec­es­sary, so it’s gram­mat­i­cal­ly cor­rect. I’m not good at read­ing pre­cise­ly what’s on the page—although this is, of course, what one needs to do when read­ing a mid­dle grade book aloud.

After try­ing three times and dis­cov­er­ing the third time isn’t any more “the charm” than the first two, I was ready to give up. My daugh­ter, how­ev­er, wasn’t ready to give up on me.

And giv­en that I hope she’ll be per­sis­tent and that I want to lead by exam­ple, I forced myself to read a fourth and final­ly a fifth time. That fifth time I almost made it all the way through three pages with­out a sin­gle error. Or maybe two and a half.

So I sent off my audi­tion tape and wait­ed.

In a day or two, I had a warm reply from the pub­lish­er. She described my audi­tion as “love­ly” and said she was hap­py to have me read, or to have a pro­fes­sion­al read. She sent me links to two mar­velous read­ers whom she had in mind. After lis­ten­ing to oth­er audio books those two actress­es had read, I was more con­fused than ever.

I sent a long let­ter to the pub­lish­er, express­ing my dilem­ma. I loved audio­books and I had spo­ken seri­ous­ly to the Perkins Insti­tute about vol­un­teer­ing to read books aloud for them. I always dreamed of read­ing my own nov­el, some day—at least one of my nov­els. But then, I want­ed the best pos­si­ble read­er to read it aloud—and I couldn’t tell if that per­son was me.

Let’s talk,” the pub­lish­er said.

I called and left a long and wor­ried mes­sage on her answer­ing machine.

When she called back, she was enthu­si­as­tic. “I lis­tened to your mes­sage a cou­ple of times,” she said.

Real­ly? I’m not even sure my spouse lis­tened to any mes­sage I left him a cou­ple of times. Nor, for that mat­ter, although I love his voice, have I ever lis­tened to his mes­sages repeat­ed­ly.

She said she’d also watched the links of my inter­views on nation­al and inter­na­tion­al TV and radio.

I was thrilled. At least some­one was actu­al­ly lis­ten­ing to those links which had tak­en my Lud­dite self years to load onto my web­site.

Based on all this, she said, she was will­ing to give me a chance. “It’s your fourth nov­el. You’ve earned it.” She assured me she want­ed the best for the book too, and I could tell she real­ly did, just as much if not more, than I did.

A mix­ture of tri­umph and trep­i­da­tion filled me, as I entered the record­ing stu­dio, about a week lat­er. It wasn’t real­ly any dif­fer­ent from a booth at a radio sta­tion, as far as I could tell. And it was far less for­bid­ding than a TV set. Yet my hands were trem­bling as I got into “the sad­dle” and put on my head­phones.

For the next two days—two whole days—I read and re-read and read. A direc­tor super­vised my work and he was bril­liant.

His words of wis­dom: “If you get tired, if your mind starts wan­der­ing, take a short break and then come right back and attack it with all your ener­gy and con­cen­tra­tion. Don’t give me a half-assed per­for­mance. Read like you mean every word. An author—in this case you—spent years work­ing on it. And I always tell my actors, I don’t care how they feel, they owe it to the author to give it every­thing they’ve got. You owe it to your­self.”

Or, I thought, I owed it to my char­ac­ters. I loved the four char­ac­ters in The Bridge Home. They are real to me, now, and I want the best for them. I want them to be loved. I want their sto­ry to be loved.

At some point dur­ing the writ­ing process, I read an entire nov­el aloud—but when I do that, I’m lis­ten­ing and pay­ing atten­tion in a dif­fer­ent way. I use those read­ings to help me refine and edit my drafts.

Read­ing aloud for the audio­book was very dif­fer­ent. It was far more stren­u­ous. I had to “get into character”—every char­ac­ter in the book, real­ly. It’s what I do any­way, when I write, but in this case, I had to speak in char­ac­ter instead of just lis­ten­ing to my char­ac­ters speak and writ­ing down the words they said in my head.

Don’t wor­ry about get­ting the words right,” my direc­tor said. “Every­one makes mis­takes, and every­one has to come back to make cor­rec­tions lat­er.” Those cor­rec­tions are what the indus­try calls pick-ups.

What I need­ed to do was read in such a way that the lis­ten­er hears just enough emo­tion to stay engaged. Too much turns lis­ten­ers off, and too lit­tle leaves them bored. That’s not unlike writing—as a writer, I’ve always main­tained that it’s not just what I say and how I say it, it’s also what I leave out.

My director’s gold­en words of wis­dom helped me under­stand this fine bal­ance as I read aloud “You don’t need to act the writer’s words. You just need to feel the words as you read.”

When I began to see a movie in my head, the way I do when I’m close to com­plet­ing a nov­el, I real­ized that I was in busi­ness. And after a few tri­als, I was in the zone—a sort of wak­ing dream in which I sensed the char­ac­ters haunt­ing my mind and tak­ing over my heart. And I stayed in that zone as my voice was record­ed, allow­ing the char­ac­ters to pos­sess my soul, so I was with them dur­ing every step of the jour­ney, from the first page to the last.

When I final­ly took off the head­phones and slid off the high stool on which I’d perched as I read and walked out of the record­ing booth, the own­er of the record­ing stu­dio declared, “You’re the real thing. I almost cried.”

Thanks,” I said.

Then he added, gruffly, “The only rea­son it’s almost instead of actu­al­ly cry­ing is because I’m an old white man and we weren’t allowed to do that.”

That evening, I get home exhaust­ed and exhil­a­rat­ed, in equal mea­sure.

Will I read all my future books, my spouse and daugh­ter want­ed to know when I returned. I wasn’t sure.

I’m still not sure.

But what I am sure of is that I’m glad I did it for The Bridge Home.

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Perfect Pairs

Bookol­o­gy is delight­ed to fea­ture a sam­ple les­son from Per­fect Pairs: Using Fic­tion & Non­fic­tion Pic­ture Books to Teach Life Sci­ence, K-2 by children’s book author Melis­sa Stew­art and mas­ter edu­ca­tor Nan­cy Ches­ley (Sten­house Pub­lish­ers). When this book (and its com­pan­ion for grades 3–5) first came across our desk, we were blown away by its per­cep­tion and use­ful­ness. For edu­ca­tors who are not as con­fi­dent teach­ing sci­ence as they are lan­guage arts and writ­ing, here’s an excel­lent resource to help you stand more assured­ly in front of your stu­dents, know­ing they’ll be moti­vat­ed to explore sci­ence.

Perfect Pairs

We’re grate­ful to Melis­sa, Nan­cy, and Sten­house Pub­lish­ers for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to give you a clear view inside the Per­fect Pairs resources. This grade 2 les­son, How Wind Water, and Ani­mals Dis­perse Seeds,” (click for the les­son plan) fea­tures two tru­ly won­der­ful books, Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheel­er and Plant­i­ng the Wild Gar­den by Kathryn O. Gail­braith and Wendy Ander­son Halperin. [This les­son plan is from Per­fect Pairs:Using Fic­tion and Non­fic­tion Pic­ture Books to Teach Life Sci­ence, K-2 by Melis­sa Stew­art and Nan­cy Ches­ley copy­right © 2014, repro­duced with per­mis­sion of Sten­house Pub­lish­ers. stenhouse.com]

Planting the Wild Garden and Miss Maple's Seeds

Melis­sa Stew­art has also been lead­ing the way for every­one who works with young minds to incor­po­rate the five kinds of non­fic­tion into their school and class­room libraries as well as their ELA and con­tent area instruc­tion, so we’ve decid­ed to ask her a few ques­tions.

Melis­sa, when you and edu­ca­tor Nan­cy Ches­ley decid­ed to cre­ate Per­fect Pairs, what did you feel was the most press­ing need for these fic­tion-non­fic­tion, life sci­ence matchups, and accom­pa­ny­ing les­son plans?

In recent years, many ele­men­tary teach­ers have been asked to devote more time to lan­guage arts and math in an effort to improve stu­dent scores on assess­ment tests. As a result, many K-5 stu­dents receive lim­it­ed sci­ence instruc­tion, and many mid­dle school stu­dents are sore­ly lack­ing in basic sci­ence knowl­edge and skills.

In addi­tion, many ele­men­tary teach­ers do not have a strong sci­ence back­ground. Some even report being intim­i­dat­ed by their school’s sci­ence cur­ricu­lum and feel ill equipped to teach basic sci­ence con­cepts. Build­ing sci­ence lessons around children’s books enables many ele­men­tary edu­ca­tors to approach sci­ence instruc­tion with greater con­fi­dence. And because our lessons incor­po­rate sig­nif­i­cant read­ing and writ­ing, they allow teach­ers to teach sci­ence with­out com­pro­mis­ing lan­guage arts instruc­tion time.

Because some chil­dren love fic­tion while oth­ers pre­fer non­fic­tion, pair­ing books is an effec­tive way to intro­duce sci­ence con­cepts. And when a book pair is pre­sent­ed in con­junc­tion with inno­v­a­tive, minds-on activ­i­ties that appeal to a wide vari­ety of learn­ing styles, stu­dents are even more like­ly to remem­ber the experience—and the con­tent. That’s what Per­fect Pairs is all about.

In the Intro­duc­tion to Per­fect Pairs, you state that the lessons in the book address the Next Gen­er­a­tion Sci­ence Stan­dards (NGSS) and sup­port the Com­mon Core State Stan­dards for Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts. Why is this ben­e­fi­cial for edu­ca­tors?

Com­mon Core and NGSS form the foun­da­tion for all cur­rent state ELA and sci­ence standards—even in states that nev­er offi­cial­ly adopt­ed them, so when teach­ers use the lessons in Per­fect Pairs, they can be con­fi­dent that they are teach­ing stu­dents the crit­i­cal con­cepts and skills they need to know.

To help teach­ers track how each les­son relates to the stan­dards, tables in the Appen­dix of Per­fect Pairs spec­i­fy which NGSS Per­for­mance Expec­ta­tion and Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing Prac­tices each les­son address­es. A sec­ond set of tables indi­cates which Com­mon Core stan­dards for Read­ing Lit­er­a­ture, Read­ing Infor­ma­tion­al Text, Writ­ing, and Speak­ing and Lis­ten­ing each les­son sup­ports.

In Per­fect Pairs, you also write that “In recent years, a new kind of children’s non­fic­tion has emerged. These inno­v­a­tive titles are remark­ably cre­ative and com­pelling. Their pur­pose is to delight as well as inform.”

On your high­ly-regard­ed blog, Cel­e­brate Sci­ence, you often share lists of these fine­ly-craft­ed non­fic­tion books. You also write about the craft of non­fic­tion writ­ing and include inno­v­a­tive activ­i­ties and strate­gies for teach­ing infor­ma­tion­al read­ing and writ­ing. What keeps you com­mit­ted to your mis­sion to bring more non­fic­tion to young read­ers?

The kids.

Many edu­ca­tors have a nat­ur­al affin­i­ty for sto­ries and sto­ry­telling, so they con­nect strong­ly with fic­tion. When they choose non­fic­tion, they grav­i­tate toward nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion because it tells true sto­ries.

5 Kinds of Nonfiction

Click on this image for down­load­able resources from Melis­sa Stewart’s web­site.

And yet, stud­ies show that as many as 75 per­cent of ele­men­tary stu­dents enjoy read­ing non­fic­tion with an expos­i­to­ry writ­ing style as much as (33 per­cent) or more than (42 per­cent) nar­ra­tives. If we want all stu­dents to devel­op a love of read­ing, we need to give them access to a diverse array of fic­tion, nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion, and expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion.

As stu­dents mature as read­ers, we can help them devel­op an appre­ci­a­tion for oth­er kinds of writ­ing. But first, we must show kids that we hon­or all books and val­ue all read­ing.

To help edu­ca­tors accom­plish this goal, I worked with Mar­lene Cor­reia, past pres­i­dent of the Mass­a­chu­setts Read­ing Asso­ci­a­tion and Direc­tor of Cur­ricu­lum and Assess­ment for the Free­town-Lakeville Region­al School Dis­trict in Lakeville, MA, to devel­op an info­graph­ic that high­lights five easy ways edu­ca­tors can share more expos­i­to­ry non­fic­tion with their stu­dents.

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Curiouser and Curiouser with Lee Bennett Hopkins

Lee Bennett Hopkins

Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins

As I read each of Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins’ col­lec­tions of poet­ry, I find my curios­i­ty piqued: “How does he do this?” When I was a grad stu­dent, I came across Mr. Hop­kins’ book, Books Are by Peo­ple: inter­views with 104 authors and illus­tra­tors of books for young chil­dren. Those inter­views pro­voked my imag­i­na­tion and pro­pelled my career. It’s a priv­i­lege to be inter­view­ing Mr. Hop­kins for Bookol­o­gy.

Lee: My good­ness! Between 1969 and 1974 I inter­viewed 169 book peo­ple; l04 in Books Are By Peo­ple and 65 in More Books by More Peo­ple. Thank you for remind­ing me of these incred­i­ble adven­tures.

You have been an edu­ca­tor, an author, and an influ­encer. How did you turn to poet­ry books as a path in your life’s work?

I began to real­ize the impor­tance of poet­ry when I began teach­ing sixth grade in Fair Lawn, New Jer­sey, in 1960. I used verse with all stu­dents but found that slow­er read­ers were excit­ed over poems. Vocab­u­lary was often with­in their reach, works were short; more impor­tant we learned that more could some­times be said and felt in 8 or l0 or l2 lines than some­times an entire nov­el could con­vey.

Been to YesterdaysBeing a city child my entire life, I think the rust­ed metronome start­ed beat­ing, telling me to write ‘city.’ “Hydrants” was the first poem I wrote for chil­dren. At a din­ner par­ty of her home in Long Island, I read it to May Swen­son, one of America’s most renowned poets, who told me she liked it. I was hooked. This led me to cre­at­ing Been to Yes­ter­days: Poems of a Life (Boyds Mills Press/Wordsong). Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1995, now close to 25 years since its pub­li­ca­tion, the book is being used in Al-Anon pro­grams, youth groups, and stud­ied in writ­ing cours­es. In essence, it is about a strug­gling teen who wants to “make/ this world/a whole lot brighter” to grow up to become a writer.” My life has been, is, blessed with poet­ry.

After teach­ing six years and get­ting my master’s degree at Bank Street Col­lege in New York (when Bank Street was on Bank Street in Green­wich Vil­lage), I was offered a job to work at Bank Street’s Resource Cen­ter in Harlem, enrich­ing lan­guage arts cur­ric­u­la into class­room pro­grams with an empha­sis on poet­ry.

Don't You Turn BookOn May 22, 1967, when Hugh­es died, I could not share his only book for chil­dren, The Dream­keep­er and Oth­er Poems, pub­lished in l932, due to the stereo­typ­i­cal depic­tion of blacks. I bold­ly called Vir­ginia Fowler, edi­tor at Knopf, ask­ing why a new edi­tion had nev­er been done. Vir­ginia asked me to lunch, also sug­gest­ing I do a new col­lec­tion. The result was one of my first antholo­gies, Don’t You Turn Back: Poems by Langston Hugh­es, illus­trat­ed in won­drous two-col­or wood­cut engrav­ings by Ann Gri­fal­coni (l969). In addi­tion to a host of awards, it was an ALA Notable.

In 1994, the 75th Anniver­sary edi­tion of The Dream Keep­er was pub­lished with wood engrav­ings by Bri­an Pinkney. I was invit­ed to write the intro­duc­tion to the book by Janet Schul­man, an icon in our indus­try.

The Dream KeeperI then began to do many antholo­gies with the aim to bring a bevy of poets’ works to chil­dren.

Hook­ing chil­dren on read­ing at a young age is imper­a­tive. I believe they should be read to in the womb! Poet­ry, in par­tic­u­lar, brings a sense of song, melody, sootheness into a child’s life. This can be a life­long gift.

Which comes first: the idea for a book of poet­ry, the theme, or do poems swirl about you until they sug­gest a col­lec­tion?

Each of the three above hap­pen. At times I get an idea or focus on a theme; at oth­er times poems do swirl that sug­gest a col­lec­tion.

What are the steps by which you gath­er poems for a book?

I have a vast library of poet­ry to turn to. Thank­ful­ly, I have a very good mem­o­ry. Ask me for a ‘horse’ poem, a poem about piz­za, or a poem about a jacaran­da tree and I’ll have it for you in min­utes. If I am cre­at­ing a new col­lec­tion of poems espe­cial­ly com­mis­sioned for a book, I issue a BY INVITATION ONLY to a select group of poets.

Do you scout new poets?

At times I do. How­ev­er, “new” poets scout me. I real­ize how dif­fi­cult it is to get one’s work into an anthol­o­gy since very few are pub­lished each year. Hard­ly more than two to five are pub­lished annu­al­ly.  A pic­ture book themed poet­ry col­lec­tion might have between 16 to 20 poems. Major poets must be includ­ed. How­ev­er, I love giv­ing new voic­es a chance. I have start­ed many poets on their path to suc­cess.

Do you visu­al­ize how a poet­ry book will be laid out when you’re select­ing poems?

All of my col­lec­tions have an arc. I want read­ers to read a col­lec­tion as if they were read­ing any book. There is a begin­ning, mid­dle, and end.

When you’re assem­bling a new book, do you think about bal­ance? Col­or? Sound?

Most def­i­nite­ly. All of these are impor­tant.

A sampling

A sam­pling of Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins’ pop­u­lar poet­ry antholo­gies

Do you ever run out of the right poems for a book? What do you do then?

For­tu­nate­ly, I work with pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers who will go back to the “draw­ing board.” It some­times takes many rewrites to get to the place where one feels the work is done. Poets only want their best to be pub­lished.

What are the tools you work with? Pen, scis­sors, jour­nals, the com­put­er?

I work on the com­put­er. Poets send work via email attach­ments. I print them, edit them, often cut and paste. Some­times a poem comes through full-blown; at oth­er times a poet and I will work togeth­er.

What does your work­space look like?

I work in my library/study sur­round­ed by thou­sands of books. I have a large cher­ry-wood desk com­mis­sioned by an Amish crafts­man ide­al for space, fil­ing, etc.

Lee Bennett Hopkins' office

Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins at work in his library/study

Some of the bookshelves in Lee Bennett Hopkins' office

Do you work in silence? Or is there sound sur­round­ing you?

I work in total silence. I love the noth­ing­ness of qui­et. I have a per­fect view from the win­dows in my study, look­ing out at sway­ing palm trees, a rush­ing water­fall, beau­ti­ful sculp­ture. I’m star­ing at all this as I write now. Mag­ic in the mak­ing.

The view from Lee Bennett Hopkins' office window

The view from Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins’ office win­dow

The fountain and grotto at night

The foun­tain at night

What is your favorite object in your work­space?

I have many. A few? A piece of wood sculp­ture the poet and dear­est friend Aileen Fish­er made for me. A let­ter open­er from a won­drous friend who died far too ear­ly in life. A bronze bust of Har­ri­et Tub­man with a sto­ry too long to tell. A paper­weight designed by Tri­na Schart Hyman that launched the first issue of Crick­et mag­a­zine. And shelf upon shelf of trea­sured auto­graphed books by author-friends, lit­er­al­ly A-Z—Alma Flor Ada to Char­lotte Zolo­tow. These are a life­time of trea­sures.

What pleas­es you about the work you do?

My entire career has been devot­ed to bring­ing chil­dren and poet­ry togeth­er. Poet­ry is life in its deep­est form.

You leave the chil­dren of the world with the gift of poet­ry. We’re thank­ful for the work you’ve done, the wis­dom you’ve shown, the ded­i­ca­tion that has shared poems that res­onate with indi­vid­ual read­ers. Thank you, Mr. Hop­kins, for your con­tri­bu­tions to the world of lit­er­a­ture.

Lee: AND … I thank YOU for bring­ing chil­dren and books togeth­er.

Lee Bennett Hopkins Guinness Book of World Records

Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins is in the Guin­ness Book of World Records as the per­son who has pub­lished the most poet­ry antholo­gies, num­ber­ing 113 in 2011 when he broke the record.

Intrigued? Please vis­it Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins’ web­site for more infor­ma­tion and a wider selec­tion of books.

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