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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Books as Therapy

FrindleI confess to using books therapeutically. When my kids were little and the day had gone wonky and none of us were at our best, a pile of picture books was a sure-fire way to reset us all. It was partly the snuggles, but mostly the shared experience of reading the stories we loved. As they’ve grown, I’ve been known to read them happy books when they are sad (and sometimes sad books, just to help us lean into it) and silly books when anger and tears have had their way with us. I’ve picked “topical” books when it seemed that approaching an issue at a “slant” might be the way to go.  And I’ve picked up books and insisted we read when I didn’t know what else to do.

Recently, I heard Andrew Clements talk about his writing life and his books at the Festival of Faith & Writing. I reread Frindle, my favorite of his books, on the plane on the way to the conference. Predictably, it made me cry, just as the flight attendant came by with pretzels and juice. I was a little afraid Mr. Clements himself would make me cry just by, you know, being up there on stage; but he talked about his childhood and his early married years and finding his way as a writer…. And it was delightful! He was exactly as you expected Andrew Clements to be while presenting to a group of teachers, writers, librarians, and readers (mostly adults, some kids).

And then, at the end he rifled through some papers, saying he wasn’t sure if he’d talk about this next thing…. But he did. Or rather he read it. He’d been presenting for an hour extemporaneously, but now his eyes were glued to the page and he read us prepared remarks. He wasn’t even a full sentence in before we understood why he was reading and not telling the story “off-the-cuff.”

Not long after the December 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, Clements was contacted with a request he both could not refuse and could not imagine. While the world watched and prayed, the school and community worked hard to piece together life for the kids, teachers and staff, and their families. Someone floated the idea of an all-school read—something for all ages, something they might enjoy  together, something besides the tragedy to help re-define them.

They needed a book that took place in a school. A book that both children and adults who were riddled with shock and terror and grief could focus on. A book that was maybe a little funny—in spots, at least. A book that did not contain the names of any of the victims of the violence that had torn apart their school community. They needed a book that could bring hope and light to their lives again.

They chose Frindle. They asked Clements to come and so he and his wife went. He told us how he was led through the police check points in the parking lot and at the school doors…. How he was escorted into the school gathering by the library worker who had shielded eighteen kids in a closet in the library during the shooting…. How they explained the importance of not making any loud noises or sudden movements…. 

And then he read Frindle to those kids and teachers. He said he and his wife agreed it was one of the holiest spaces and times they’d ever experienced.

There wasn’t, of course, a dry eye in the auditorium. Those of us in the audience could hardly breathe while he read this account. I can’t imagine the strength it must have taken for this beloved author to read his work to those children and their teachers. Such an honor, such a privilege.

Books can be so therapeutic—and the reading of them together even more so. I think the idea of an all-school read at Sandy Hook Elementary was brilliant, the choice of book and author inspired. Read your way into some holiness with a kid (or a whole group of them) today if you can. Whenever and wherever we can gather over books…holy time and space is found.


Garlic Beef Enchiladas

Garlic Beef Enchiladas
Serves 4
Yummy home-made enchiladas with a subtle kick of flavor.
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
1 hr 10 min
  1. 1 pound ground beef
  2. 1 medium onion, chopped
  3. 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  4. 1 Tbsp chili powder
  5. 1 tsp salt
  6. 1 tsp garlic powder
  7. ½ tsp ground cumin
  8. ¼ tsp rubbed sage
  9. 1 can (14.5 oz) stewed tomatoes
  1. 4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced
  2. 1/3 cup butter
  3. 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  4. 1 can (14½ oz) beef broth
  5. 1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
  6. 1 to 2 Tbsp chili powder
  7. 1 to 2 tsp ground cumin
  8. 1 to 2 tsp rubbed sage
  9. 1/2 tsp salt
  10. 10 flour tortillas (7-inches round)
  11. 2 cups (8 oz) shredded Colby-Jack cheese
  1. In a large saucepan, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in flour and seasonings until blended. Stir in tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, saute garlic in butter until tender. Stir in flour until blended. Gradually stir in broth; bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in tomato sauce and seasonings; heat through.
  3. Pour about 1-1/2 cups sauce into ungreased 13"x9"x2" baking dish. Spread about 1/4 cup beef mixture down the center of each tortilla; top with 1-2 Tbsp cheese. Roll up tightly; place seam side down over sauce in the baking dish. Finish filling, rolling, and placing all 10 tortillas. Top with the remaining suace.
  4. Cover and bake at 350 deg for 30-35 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes longer or until the cheese is melted.
Adapted from Jennifer Standridge, Taste of Home
Adapted from Jennifer Standridge, Taste of Home
Bookology Magazine

How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird

by Melanie Heuiser Hill

Our household has been patiently (and not so patiently) stuck in a long season of waiting for decisions around some important and exciting opportunities. Everyone has something up in the air. Applications, interviews, tests, hopes, and dreams are all out there, and now we watch for the mail, check messages compulsively, and try to make friends with the suspense…. Not all the news is in yet, but slowly we’re hearing of decisions. There’s been celebration and disappointment both. We busy ourselves making the corresponding choices and plans while we await other news.

How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird

Jacques Prévert, Illustrations and Translation by Mordicai Gerstein

More than once I’ve pulled a favorite picture book off my shelves to read to myself—a reminder to take a deep breath and remember that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” (Julian of Norwich). The book, How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird, was a gift from wise women in my life. I’d never seen it before and I shudder to think I might never have come across it had they not given it to me—although maybe the universe would have conspired to get it to me another way. I am a fan of Mordicai Gerstein’s work, after all, and I desperately need this book in my life.

This is a spare book—few words, beautiful illustrations. It speaks to sustained hope, fate and faith, hard work and luck, and events happening in their own time. Written in a gentle “how-to” format, we are shown how to paint a bird.

First, paint a cage with an open door. Then, in the cage, paint something for the bird, something useful and beautiful, but simple.

The young artist takes the painting and puts it under a tree, hiding himself behind the tree. Seasons pass with the boy and his painting under the tree, the painted bird cage empty.

If the bird doesn’t come right away, don’t be discouraged. Wait.

We’re reminded that it doesn’t mean our picture/future/chance won’t be good—just that good things cannot be rushed. For many things, there is a season.

If the bird comes and enters the cage, we are told to “gently close the door with [our] brush.”

 And then—oh then, we have the deep, deep wisdom of the book! The young artist demonstrates how to erase the cage, one bar at a time, taking care not to harm the bird’s feathers. Once the bird is left in all of her sweet glory on the blank canvas, the boy paints the tree, “with the prettiest branch for the bird.”  He paints the green leaves, the summer breeze, the smells of a summer day, the songs of the bees and butterflies.

Then wait for the bird to sing. If it doesn’t sing, don’t be sad. You did your best.

 The grace in this picture spread does my heart such good. Don’t we all need the occasional reminder that changes can be made if things do not work out as we hoped, that often they don’t, and that any number of paths might be good? We tend to forget these truths in the waiting and the worry.

The book ends in celebration with the bird singing a riot of a song, but I appreciate that it is acknowledged that this is not always so. And yet…all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well! This I believe—this I want our kids to believe. What comes, comes; what doesn’t, doesn’t. As long as we’ve done our best, chances are we will find our way. Often our way, if not the destination itself, turns out to be a joyful surprise.

It seemed too obvious to gather everyone in our individual and familial angst and read this book. So I’ve just left it lying about…. I’ve seen them pick it up, turn the pages and smile, then gently put it back down for someone else to find.

This is a picture book you don’t outgrow. I’ve been very grateful for its gift during this season of our family’s life.



Middle Kingdom: Hartland, Maine

The books that most delight middle school and junior high readers often straddle a “Middle Kingdom” ranging from upper middle grade to YA. Each month, Bookology columnist Lisa Bullard will visit the Middle Kingdom by viewing it through the eyes of a teacher or librarian. Bookology is delighted to celebrate the work of these educators who have built vital book encampments in the transitional territory of early adolescence.

This month’s journey takes us to the Hartland Public Library in rural Maine, where Lisa talks with librarian John R. Clark.

Lisa: What are three to five things Bookology readers should know about your community or library?


Hartland Library

John: Hartland is very rural, economically depressed, and isn’t close to any city with a bookstore. That means the library assumes a much larger role in terms of offering access to juvenile fiction than a city like Portland or Boston. We’ve tried to address this in creative ways, like swapping books online at PaperBack Swap, using revenue from books sold online to add to the collection, and trading with other librarians in Maine when we get recent duplicates. Maine is big in size, but very close in terms of library cooperation. It helps immensely that we have a statewide interlibrary loan van service. That makes encouraging younger patrons to feel comfortable using interlibrary loan an easy process.

Lisa: I’ve heard that you’re retiring, so I have a couple of connected questions I really hope you’ll address given your valuable in-depth perspective: How have books for middle kingdom readers changed during your tenure in the library? And have the types of books that readers this age ask for changed in any key way?

YA area

The new YA fiction corner

John: There has been a major shift in both juvenile and young adult fiction, particularly in the past few years. I attribute this to two things. First, J.K. Rowling stood the publishing industry on its ear and suddenly everyone realized that there was one heck of a market for books that involved fantasy and kids who weren’t ‘average.’ The second was 9/11. I don’t think adults (except for writers and librarians, maybe) had a clue how scary that made the world for everyone. Escape into books became a very healthy and popular part of life. In the past few years, we have seen a second wave begin, that of addressing all sorts of social/mental health/family issues in literature. This is more pronounced in young adult, but things like divorce, gay parents, sibling loss, and bullying are being addressed, very excellently I might add, in juvenile literature. In fact, one of my blogs at Maine Crime Writers recently was about this phenomenon, which I think is a hip version of what we used to call bibliotherapy when I worked in the mental health field. Kids have responded very well to these books and I read them myself because I enjoy seeing how different authors address the topics. Juvenile readers have responded to these new topics and I often see them come in and ask specifically for a book a friend read that they think will be interesting because of something going on in their life.

Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often by readers in the Middle Kingdom age range?


  1. anything by Rick Riordan
  2. anything by John Flanagan
  3. the Saranormal series by Phoebe Rivers
  4. Anybody Shining by Frances O’Roark Dowell
  5. The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold

Lisa: What book(s) do you personally love to place into middle school readers’ hands?


  1. Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord
  2. A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck
  3. The Secrets of Tree Taylor by Dandi Daley Mackall
  4. A Million Miles from Boston by Karen Day
  5. The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler
  6. Sizzle by Lee McClain
  7. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  8. Lost Boy by Tim Green

Lisa: If you had a new staffer starting tomorrow, what piece of advice would you be sure to give them about working with readers in this transitional age?

John: That’s easy, read in the genre if at all possible because you can’t beat real, firsthand experience when it comes to talking about books with teens and tweens.

Lisa: What do you like most about working with middle-schoolers?

John: They’re really excited when they realize you understand their interests and treat them as intelligent human beings. It’s doubly rewarding when they come in waving the book you suggested and say, “You rock! What else should I read?”

Lisa: Could you share some information about your most popular/successful/innovative program for promoting books and reading?

car photo

The car.

John: Several years ago, I won a street-legal version of Kasey Kahne’s Dodge from Gillette. It included a trip to meet Kasey at the Citizen’s Bank 400 in Michigan. The staff of the promotion company was really interested in my summer giveaway program for kids who read. They got various NASCAR drivers and teams to send me a ton of posters, shirts, and banners to use as reading incentives. I added in a bunch of stuff like MP3 players and new DVDs we’d gotten for Pepsi points and we gave away over $1,000 worth of prizes for a combined reading and writing program. Kids were beyond thrilled.




Skinny Dip with Liza Ketchum

Which book of yours was the most difficult to write or illustrate?

cover imageMy non-fiction books required the most intense periods of research, but the YA novel, Blue Coyote, was the most personally challenging. How could I, a straight woman, take on the character and voice of a young male teen who was exploring his sexuality? Yet a number of readers who had read the novel’s prequel, Twelve Days in August, had written to ask, “What about Alex? What happened to him?” They also asked the question I couldn’t answer myself, without writing the book: “Is Alex gay—or not?” I felt these readers deserved answers. As I worked through many drafts, I received wonderful insights and suggestions from my writer’s group, as well as from a couple of gay friends who read the manuscript in draft form. Writing the story in a third person limited point of view also gave me some needed distance. When students in schools ask me which book I’m proudest of, Blue Coyote is at the top of the list.

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

cover imageNewsgirl—because it is an adventure story with plenty of action, an exciting setting (Gold Rush San Francisco), and a diverse cast of characters. Amelia should be played by a feisty, determined 12 or 13 year old girl who can hold her own in a gang of boys. And since she goes flying off in an unexpected balloon ascent, she shouldn’t be afraid of heights.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

I will cheat and cite three. The first is the famous opening line from One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Marcia Marquez: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

I also love the opening sentence of M.T. Anderson’s novel, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: “I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple trees.” This is followed by six more breathtaking sentences that introduce the narrator’s amazing voice and set the tone for the story that follows.

The last sentence of Elizabeth Bowen’s novel, A World of Love, has stayed with me forever. While many final sentences wrap up a story, this one opens the reader’s mind to a whole new beginning for the protagonist, who has been through a difficult time: “They no sooner looked but they loved.”

What book do you tell everyone to read?

cover imageA tough question, when there are so many great books out there! I often mention Philip Hoose’s magnificent non-fiction book, The Race to Save the Lord God Bird (Melanie Kroupa books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux). It is one of the few non-fiction books that I have reread a number of times; I even read and studied the footnotes at the end. It’s a true story with the drama, pacing, and characterization of the best fiction. I learned a lot about birds, avid birders, and about the interconnectedness of commerce and the environment. Who knew that the disappearance of the ivory-billed woodpecker in Louisiana was linked to the rise of the Singer sewing machine? I certainly didn’t.

Are you a night owl or an early bird?

I’m an early bird. I raised my sons in Vermont, where the school bus came early, and we had animals to feed before starting the day (a small flock of sheep and a goat or two to feed and milk). My sons were also early risers, so I got into the habit of being up with the sun. In good weather, I love to walk or garden first thing in the morning. When I was teaching at Hamline University, I was lucky to room with Jackie Briggs Martin. We woke up at the same early hour during the July residencies and explored Hamline’s St. Paul neighborhood, admiring the gardens, butterflies, and birds as we walked the quiet streets.

Were you most likely to visit the school office to deliver attendance/get supplies, visit the nurse, or meet with the principal?

cover imageI hated school from the middle of kindergarten—when we moved from Vermont to Washington, D.C.—to the end of third grade. I had stomach cramps every day. When I complained of pain, my teachers sent me to the principal’s office. She was a fierce older woman who scolded me and accused me of inventing my symptoms. When I was grown and living in Vermont years later, I learned that a close writer friend had attended the same school, a few years ahead of me. She, too, suffered from repeated stomach trouble. “It was because of recess,” she said. “Remember how the boys played war?” I had forgotten, but it all came back: the gangs of boys on the playground, who tortured and bullied us girls. They chased us until we fell and skinned our knees; they yanked our hair and called us names, while the staff—who were supposed to be watching—ignored the whole scene. When we moved to New York State—where I attended a wonderful public school—the stomach aches disappeared, and so did my trips to the principal’s office.



Graphic Novels: A source of inspiration and mentor texts

by Maurna Rome

Slacker illustrationFlashback to the first week of school … we were passing the microphone around our large circle of 29 third-graders. It was easy to see that many students were shy and nervous, but one young man was apparently looking for some shock value. He began with “My name is Michael” then nonchalantly added, ”I’m a slacker.” Huh? Most of the class mumbled and murmured about that intro. Many were obviously not familiar with this unique adjective.

I made note of the kid’s attitude and advanced vocabulary, and put him at the top of my list for a one-to-one reading conference. A few days later, I discovered that Michael devours books, has excellent comprehension and is actually a very motivated reader. He became quite animated when telling me all about Greg, the main character from Diary of a Wimpy Kid (who no doubt was Michael’s current role model). In the weeks to come, my classic under-achiever proudly and often proclaimed to his peers how much he enjoyed being lazy. I was determined to help Michael find a new identity by figuring out how to tap into his obvious love of reading.

cover imageThanks to an insightful book called Of Primary Importance by Anne Marie Corgill (Stenhouse, 2008), I am committed to immersing my students in authentic literacy learning. Publishing “real” hard cover books in my 1st grade classroom proved to be a successful strategy. However, now that I was beginning my first year in a 3rd grade classroom, I knew I needed to change things up a bit. Finding the best mentor texts and simply getting kids to want to read voraciously was the first order of business.

I quickly learned that this group of 8- and 9-year-olds could be reeled in by reading graphic novels. Since our classroom inventory of graphic novels mainly consisted of Squish, Bone, and Lunch Lady, I did some research and over the next few months added more titles to our classroom library. Baby Mouse, Zita the Spacegirl, Cardboard, Knights of the Lunch Table, The Lightening Thief, and Sea of Monsters (graphic novel versions) became all the rage. Library checkout of high demand titles has included Amulet, Smile, Sisters, and all of the titles from our classroom collection, since they are limited in number.

cover imageI’ve learned that a powerful approach to motivating kids to read is to be selective when suggesting a new book to students. Sometimes, I share whole-class “book talks” but, more often, I pull a student aside and confide that I thought of him (or her) the minute I turned the first page. I am sincere when I say that I am interested in his opinion, and would really appreciate hearing if he would recommend the book after reading it. Kids care much more about what their peers are saying or thinking, so it makes sense to drum up business for specific book titles in this way.

Giving kids access to what they want to read and finding ample time for independent reading during the school day (usually 30-40 minutes daily) was just the first half of my strategy to convert my smug slacker and inspire the rest of the class as well. The discovery of blank comic books on the Bare Books website ($15 for 25 books, just 60 cents each); was the golden ticket. Offering choice and no judgment (or at least very little) about what kids are reading combined with encouragement to explore their own interests in writing, became the perfect combination.

Kids were eager to create their own version of graphic novels and soon, our classroom library grew to include such interesting titles as The Day Lady Liberty Came to Life and Bacon Man and Pig Guy, both of which became series, each with 5 volumes! The adventures continued with a line-up of Pigeon titles; Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride a Unicorn and Don’t Let the Pigeon Play Five Nights at Freddy’s along with a fun and frolicking set of books entitled Party in the USA!

Here is one of the graphic novels created in the class, Bacon Man and Pig Guy, by Ian Clark.
Click on the four-headed arrow symbol to view in full screen mode.

No flipbook found!


Students in my class are encouraged to use literacy choice time to continue reading or writing independently, with a partner or a collaborative group. This type of peer modeling and mentoring has led to an explosion of self-published graphic novels and short stories in 3MR. Kids actually cheer when I announce that we will have time to write in both the morning and afternoon. They are “publishing” their own graphic novel series, asking each other to write reviews of their books and they are waiting patiently for their turn to read a classmate’s latest offering. Best of all, they are signing up in droves to do a “Book Share” on Fridays, a new addition to our “Book Talk, Book Shop, Book Swap” Friday activities (see my previous article on that topic!).  

cover imageFast forward to the end of December. Students were once again introducing themselves, this time to a visitor in our classroom. However, when it was time for my “slacker” to take center stage, he offered this: “Hi, my name is Michael and I’m a cartoonist.” My heart did somersaults! To really seal the deal, this same student recently approached me with a delightful idea. Taking the lead from our “Cardboard L.I.T. Club” – an afterschool book club designed to Link Imagination Text, he proposed a “Cartooning L.I.F.T. Club”, adding “F” for FUN to the acronym! This one-time slacker had actually jotted down all the information needed for the invitational flyer, complete with a catchy explanation about the club’s purpose, a schedule, and contest ideas. Despite the craziness of the last few weeks of the school year, how could I say no? 20 aspiring “Cartooning L.I.F.T. Club” members will be diving into our newest mentor text, Adventures in Cartooning, for three after-school sessions in May.


Elizabeth Verdick: A Look at “Autism Fiction”

by Elizabeth Verdick

I spent the month of April reading children’s fiction featuring characters with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). April was Autism Awareness Month, but that wasn’t my only motivation. I love children’s literature, I have written nonfiction about ASD, and I’m raising a son who’s on the autism spectrum. I wondered, Which middle-grade stories could I hand him, saying, “I think you’ll really like this”?

bk_AutismSurvivalI read the books with zeal—and growing discomfort. Why did many portrayals of characters with ASD lack the authenticity one yearns for in fiction? Why did the plots include so many tropes? Why did the narrative voice often rely on devices: interjections of random facts, unusual uses of capitalization and/or italics, or an artificially distant tone in moments of emotion? Such representations, though well intentioned, may leave readers with an overly simplified impression of the autistic experience.

Again, I thought of my son, who’s not a collection of quirks or a social misfit lacking empathy or emotion. He’s not a budding detective, a genius in one subject, or someone who refuses to be touched (common portrayals). I didn’t want to give him books that suggest his autism is a source of deep conflict, that he’s a burden to his family. Or ones that depict sensory-overload behaviors as barriers to social interaction. I sought stories with three-dimensional characters he might relate to—perhaps look up to—and remember for years to come.

Two books shone brightly.

bk_AnythingButSixth-grader Jason Blake in Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin is a protagonist with heart, a boy who struggles with the issues many middle-grade and preteen readers do: identity, family relationships, a crush. Yes, Jason has ASD but his story isn’t about “overcoming” his disability or becoming more, as we say in the autism community, neurotypical. Jason is kind, forthright, curious, creative. He stays true to himself as the plot unfolds, showing readers the ways in which the neurotypical world can be difficult to navigate, especially when others aren’t kind or open in return.

The story is written in first-person, which gives readers insight into how Jason thinks and feels as he goes about his everyday, yet exceptional, life. He’s an aspiring writer, spending much of his time on the Storyboard website, where he posts his own stories and can comment on the work of others. Here Jason finds a community, but he’s put to the test when his parents offer to take him to the Storyboard conference in another state. Attending the conference means Jason can’t hide behind written words or a screen—he will be out in the open where everyone, including a girl he’s traded stories with online, will see him for who he truly is. Jason’s growth as a character doesn’t arrive in one big moment in which he “discovers” an ability to feel emotion or make a social connection. The author’s focus on realism and authenticity allows readers to experience her character’s incremental growth, which is more satisfying in the end.

bk_RealBoyAnne Ursu’s The Real Boy takes a different approach but arrives at a similar destination: deep respect for her ASD character and an authentic emotional portrayal. In this middle-grade fantasy, an eleven-year-old orphan named Oscar is a magician’s helper who lives in the cellar among the cats, where he studies herbs and the magic they bring forth. Readers looking for enchantment and mystery will find both here, but what captured my heart was Oscar himself. He’s smart, earnest, quiet, thoughtful, self-doubting, and brave. He wants to do what is right (if he could only figure out how) in a world that’s becoming increasingly strange and dangerous.

The story uses third-person, told from Oscar’s viewpoint, with a subtle emphasis on his differences: his comfort in routines, his special interests, his confusion about social expectations. The word autism never comes up because the story takes place in another world, one of the imagined past. Yet, readers sense Oscar’s ASD through and through. That’s a credit to the author, who weaves Oscar’s differences into his character and the storyline, rather than highlighting ways in which he doesn’t fit the norm. When left to tend shop during his powerful master’s absence, Oscar gains greater independence and confidence, despite how the townspeople treat him. He forms a friendship with a healer’s apprentice named Callie, and together they set out to discover what is making the town’s children ill and what answers can be found deep among the trees of the wizard woods.

Oscar is an unsung hero. Jason is an “untypical” boy in a world where ASD is largely misunderstood. Their stories open doors for kids on the autism spectrum—and those who want to learn more about what life there is like.



Collecting Souvenirs

by Lisa Bullard

Author's snow globeNot all writers can claim the vast and varied assortment of souvenir snow globes I’ve acquired on my travels. But most writers I know are constantly collecting other things: stories, words, images, emotions, quirky characters, new experiences, and oddball facts. These “writing chachkas” clutter the rooms of our imaginations until we need inspiration

Then we pick one up, shake it, and watch to see what lands in our writing.

A big part of the writing act is sedentary—sooner or later, you have to set your butt in a chair and focus on a page or a screen. But movement is crucial too: you have to get out into the world and find new souvenirs to add to the mix, or your imagination can quickly grow stale. Even a simple “road trip” to a coffee shop or the park can provide fresh material or a new perspective on old material.  I’ve learned to value these times away from my writing chair as an important part of my writing process.

I’ve met many kinesthetic learners who hate writing because they hate to sit still. And even students who have a knack for sitting quietly can benefit from a change in perspective.  So I’ve worked hard to build movement into my writing sessions with students.  One of the most popular activities is a simple poetry-writing Treasure Hunt.  (Download a description here.)

Why not get your students started on collecting their own word souvenirs by simply sending them on a writing road trip across the landscape of your classroom?



Skinny Dip with Nancy Loewen

cover image

 illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa Two Lions Publishing, 2011

What keeps you up at night?

At various times: Panera’s iced green tea; the sound of my 18-year-old daughter raiding the fridge; playing Sudoku on my phone; and, as with everyone, a head full of this-and-that.

What is your proudest career moment?

I’m going to reach way back for this one, more than 20 years ago. I had just published my first book with Creative Education/Creative Editions. It was a biography of Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated with beautiful and haunting photographs by Tina Mucci. One day I was working at home and I received a fax from the marketing director at Creative. I watched the fax come through, bit by bit, and was elated to find that Poe had received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. The first line said, “Calling upon her significant storytelling skill, Loewen adds large measures of drama and pathos to her interpretative biography of Edgar Allan Poe.”

cover image

Photographic interpretation by Tina Mucci Creative Education, 1993

I had never really thought of myself as a storyteller before. To me, storytellers were those people who could spin a good yarn off the top of their heads, who could effortlessly keep young children—and anyone else—entertained. My mind doesn’t work that way. I’m more of an archeologist: digging cautiously, then slowly piecing artifacts together. But that starred review made me realize that just as there are countless stories to be told, there are also countless ways to bring them into the world.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever.

Nick and Nora light blue flannel pajamas covered in sock monkeys. At one point my whole family had matching pajamas—me, my two kids, my then-husband, even my brother and sister-in-law. Made for some great family pictures!

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

gymnastProbably gymnastics. (Everything but the balance beam—that just does not look like fun.) I was barely able to master a cartwheel as a kid, so this is strictly in the fantasy realm. I don’t see how it’s even humanly possible to do all those flips and spins and rolls and twists. But what a joy it must be, to be airborne of your own will!

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Sometimes our bravest actions are also private ones. I’ve done a number of brave things in recent years, but what I want to tell you about is something brave—and very public—that I did way back as a sophomore in high school. It was 1980 and I was on the Mt. Lake (MN) speech team in the category of Original Oratory. I chose a difficult topic that was just starting to edge onto the public radar: incest. I had only three solid sources, but I made the most of the information I had. I sometimes look back in wonder at that 15-year-old small-town girl who knew that just because a subject was uncomfortable didn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.

At that time, my brother was attending college in Kansas. The night before Regions, he was in a serious car accident. My parents left for Kansas immediately, but I stayed with my grandparents and went through with the competition. All I knew was that my brother had head injuries and wasn’t conscious. I walked around in a daze, but somehow, when I was standing in front of the judges, I was able to focus. I took first place, and later took first place at state as well. My brother eventually made a full recovery. But what a challenging spring that was, for all four of us.

I’ve also wrested candy bars and slimy plastic bags right out of the mouth of my very bad beagle, Dorie. And I once pulled a tick off my son’s leg, barehanded!

What’s the first book you remember reading?

cover imageI’m pretty sure it was Peppermint by Dorothy Grider, illustrated by Raymond Burns. It’s a great story about a white kitten who lives in a candy store. His brothers and sisters find homes, but no one wants scrawny little Peppermint. Then Peppermint finally does get adopted and his new owner pampers him and wants to enter him in the Best Pet contest at school. Peppermint accidentally dyes himself blue—but still wins the contest. Love that book!

What TV show can’t you turn off?

One of the perks of working at home much of the time is that I get to watch TV while I eat lunch. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is what I watch most often, now that The Colbert Report is off the air. Recently I binge-watched the second season of Orange is the New Black. I was hooked on Breaking Bad and the British Sherlock. But if I am to be completely honest, there are times when I give in to the temptation of the TLC lineup: Say Yes to the Dress, What Not to Wear, or 19 Kids and Counting. I draw the line at My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, though.



When a Prince Needs a Mechanic

by Vicki Palmquist

Interstellar CinderellaWith a deft story and otherworldly art, Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt bring us Interstellar Cinderella, a fresh and welcome take on the familiar fairy tale with a bit of Androcles and the Lion and The Jetsons thrown into the mix.

In this version, Cinderella loves fixing anything mechanical. She has her own set of special tools, all carefully drawn and named on the endpapers for the kids who love identifying things. Her companion is a robot mouse, small and seemingly insignificant but he saves the day when the wicked stepmother tries to keep the Prince from seeing Cinderella.

The illustrator used “gouache, brush and ink, graphite, rubylith, and digital process” to create a world that is readily identifiable as being set in the future, with touches of Arabian Nights and supercool spaceships, which Cinderella dreams of fixing when they break down.

When her fairy godrobot (don’t you think she’s a nod to Rosie on The Jetsons?) gives her a brand new spacesuit and a power gem to join the Prince’s Royal Space Parade, the Prince’s spaceship springs a leak and Cinderella is there to fix it.

I took a “Powderpuff Mechanics” class when I was in college (I didn’t name the class, folks), and I was mighty proud to be able to work on my own car. I know the thrill of fixing a leak and figuring out how to get better performance out of an engine, so Cinderella is my kind of gal.

I’m especially fond of the way this book ends. No spoilers here. Let’s just say that this isn’t your grandmother’s Cinderella story. In a rhyming picture book, the author creates a heroine who is talented and wise. The book sparkles and crackles with the power of the stars. Highly recommended.

Interstellar Cinderella, written by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt, Chronicle Books, 2015



Quirky Book Lists: Go Fly a Kite!

by The Bookologist

Curious George coverCurious George Flies a Kite

H.A. Rey
HMH Books for Young Readers, 1977 (reissue of 1958 edition)
Ages 5-8

First George is curious about some bunnies, then about fishing, and then about his friend Billy’s kite. All’s well that ends well. Ages 5-8.


cover imageDays with Frog and Toad

Arnold Lobel
1979 HarperCollins
Ages 4-8

Five stories with the two famous friends, including “The Kite,” in which Frog’s optimism and Toad’s efforts prevail over the predictions of some nay-saying robins. 



cover imageThe Emperor and the Kite

Jane Yolen and Ed Young (illustrator)
Philomel, 1988 (reissue)
Ages 4-8

Princess Ojeow Seow is the youngest of the Emperor’s children, and no one in the family thinks she’s very special. But when the emperor is imprisoned in a tower, the princess’s kite-building skills prove everyone wrong. 1968 Caldecott Honor book. 

coverimageKite Day

Will Hillenbrand
Holiday House, 2012
Ages 3-7

Bear and Mole decide it’s the perfect day to fly a kite, but first they have to build one. 

cover imageThe Kite Fighters

Linda Sue Park
Clarion, 2000
Ages 9 and up.

A story about three friends in 15th Century Korea: a boy who builds beautiful kites; his younger brother, who is an expert kite flyer and kite fighter; and a boy who is the king of Korea. 



cover imageKite Flying

Grace Lin
Knopf, 2002
Ages 4-8

Everyone has a job to do when a family builds a dragon kite. Includes cultural and historical notes on kites and kite flying. 

cover imageKites for Everyone: How to Make Them and Fly Them

Margaret Greger
Dover Publications, 2006
Ages 8 and up
Easy-to-follow, illustrated instructions for creating and flying more than fifty kites. Includes history and science of kites. 



bk_KiteTwoNationsThe Kite That Bridged Two Nations: Homan Walsh and the First Niagara Suspension Bridge

Alexis O’Neill, Terry Widener (illustrator)
Calkins Creek, 2013
Ages 8-11

True story of 16 year-old Homan Walsh, who loved to fly kites and especially loved to fly kites over the magnificent Niagara Falls that separates New York from Ontario. 

cover imageStuck

Oliver Jeffers
Philomel, 2011
Ages 3-7

Floyd’s kite is stuck in a tree! What can he throw that will knock it free? What can he throw that won’t get stuck? 





Princess of the Midnight Ball

by Melanie Heuiser Hill

Princess coverMy twelve-year-old daughter is inhaling books these days—a stack at a time out of the library, every bookshelf in the house pillaged, major insider trading at school, etc. There’s no way I can keep up, but when I move a book from here to there I often flip through or ask her opinion. When she started reading Princess of the Midnight Ball, I assumed, based on the PBS Masterpiece Theater-like attire on the cover’s princess, that it was “just-another-princess book.” I didn’t even ask about it—I’m not a huge princess book fan and she reads whole series of them.

And then, while I was chopping vegetables for dinner one afternoon, she looked up from the book and said, “You should read this, Mom.”

Now, she doesn’t say this about every book. She’s happy to tell me the plot, critique the writing, acknowledge when she’s reading what we sometimes call M&M literature (i.e., junk), and admit that a deep dark chocolate book is usually more satisfying, even as the M&M books can be fun. We love to talk books together, but we only recommend the really good ones to each other.

I said, “Is it an M&M princess story?” 

“Nope.” She giggled and turned the page.

“Plot summary?” I inquired.

“Grimm Brothers’ Twelve Dancing Princesses,” she said, not lifting her eyes from the page.

Okay, maybe more intriguing. I drizzled olive oil over the potatoes.

“Who’s the author?”

“Jessica Day George,” she said.

The name somersaulted through my brain. Why did I know that name?

Tuesdays cover“You know—she wrote Tuesdays At The Castle, and Dragon Slippers…”

Aha! Not the usual princess books!

“Tell me more,” I said, and I started chopping broccoli.

“Well, the princesses are all named for flowers—and they’re this great family and there’s the thing about how they’re dancing holes into their slippers every night and no one can figure out what’s going on…. The guys who arrive to “save” them are such idiots.” She rolled her eyes. “But the one who’s going to save them…he knits.”

A knitting hero? Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.

“Knits casually or as a plot point?” I’m not sure how knitting can be a plot point, but I hold out hope.

“I think it’s going to be a plot point….” she said in her most beguiling way. Dancing green eyes peered at me over the top of the book’s pages.

“Interesting,” I said, ever so casually.

“I’ll be done before supper,” she said. “Then you can have it.”

It’s terrific. Knitting is indeed a plot point. Knitting patterns are included at the end of the book, even! Jessica Day George’s website explains—she’s a knitter. And she loves men who knit.

Set in nineteenth century Europe (which explains the book cover—totally appropriate), this fresh retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses is full of humor, interesting characters, and fun twists and turns of plot. The princesses are smart, creative and feisty; the hero a dashing, sensitive, knitting gardener. (Be still my own princess heart.)

This book is a romp and delight. I didn’t read it quite as fast as my daughter, but almost. I look forward to the other two in the series—I have it on good authority that they are equally wonderful—and Ms. George hints on her website that there could be more.



Skinny Dip with Karen Cushman


Will Sparrow's Road coverWhat’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Phil is Jewish so we celebrate Hanukkah. I light the house with candles—one hundred or so white candles of all sizes and shapes. It looks beautiful but makes the house very, very warm.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

Oh, teacher’s pet, without a doubt. I was too nervous to misbehave, smart enough to learn quickly, and quiet enough not to show off (see question #5).

 Do you like to gift wrap presents?

Love it. I decorate packages with greenery, rosemary springs, red berries, whatever is growing outside that I can gather and tie to a package. My career goal as a young teen was to be a package wrapper at Walgreens at Christmas time. Haven’t made it yet but I have hope.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

Not to be so nervous and quiet. I don’t know what I was afraid would happen if I ever spoke up but I was too fearful to test it.

What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

Kirby Larson, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Sherman Alexie when he’s in a good mood.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

In bed. No contest.



Ellen Oh: Researching and Writing the Prophecy Trilogy


prophecy trilogyBookologist’s note: Last month we featured Catherine, Called Birdy and an interview with the author, Karen Cushman. In that interview, nonfiction writer Claire Rudolf Murphy asked Cushman about her research and incorporation of historical fact into her fiction. Continuing that exploration, this month Bookology visits with novelist Ellen Oh. King, the final volume of her Prophecy trilogy, was released in March (volumes 1 and 2 are Prophecy, Harper Teen 2013 and Warrior, Harper Teen 2014). A blend of historical and fantasy fiction, the trilogy is set around 350 AD or CE and weaves ancient history from the area now known as Korea into a compelling and action-packed narrative about a teen girl, Kira, who is a demon-hunter and also the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy—the Dragon Musado who would unite the many divided kingdoms into a single nation.

You have written on your website and spoken in other interviews about how your recreational reading of ancient Asian history triggered your writing. Have you always loved reading history and/or historical fiction?

Count of Monte CristoYes. I love history. As a child my favorite books tended to be the historical ones. In fact, my all time favorite books were The Count of Monte Cristo and To Kill a Mockingbird. I was that nerdy kid that enjoyed reading the school history textbook. When I was 13, my parents got suckered into buying the entire World History Encyclopedia book set and I am not ashamed to admit that I read every single volume. And I read whatever interests me, which is how I got into Asian history. I was fascinated by the idea that Genghis Khan had been named Time’s Man of the Millenium and it led me to read everything I could get my hands on. And in the process, I learned all about Asian history and I was hooked.

When you were first reading ancient Asian history, you must have encountered many things that rang the “how amazing—should be in a book!” bell. How did you keep track of those bits of history and mythology for later use?

Yes! So many awesome things. If the book was mine, I would tab all the important pages. But I had borrowed so many library books that I kept a notes journal filled with all the facts, legends, folktales, myths, etc., that I came across. I have several expandable file folders filled with papers and notebooks on all my notes.

Can you cite one or two finds that a reader will encounter in Prophecy or the later books?

The most amazing story I came across was the legend of the Rock of Falling Flowers, Nakhwa-am. Legend has it that during the Shilla and Tang invasion of Paekche in 638 C.E., 3,000 court ladies leapt to their deaths into the Baengma River. From a distance, the beautiful, multi-colored hanboks of the court ladies looked like falling flowers—which is where the place gets its name. The legend is so visually compelling that I knew I had to include it not only in my book, but also in my book trailer

Can you cite one or two elements in the trilogy that would not show up in a history book?

Oh yeah, well it is a fantasy and I wanted the scary elements to be really creepy. So in Prophecy, you will come across demons that eat your organs and wear your skin like a Halloween costume. But the best part is Kira and her tiger spirit. Kira has yellow eyes because she has a tiger spirit that is part of her and protects her. And it is the tiger spirit that lets her see and smell demons, something that no one else in her world has.

You have a fabulous map on your website that shows the 7 Kingdoms from the novels. While you emphasize that your kingdoms are not the historical kingdoms that would merge into modern Korea, there is some similarity, and you list those. Geography is so important in the books—the mountains, the rivers, the seas, the location of the walled cities. How did you keep all of this clear in your head while writing?

I kept a copy of the map and a compass by my side the entire time I was writing. Especially in the latter books, where Kira has to literally zig zag her way across the country, I relied heavily on my map to course out the road she would travel.

Map-making can be a terrific writing prompt or exercise for uncovering details. Did you have any favorite writing exercises that helped you develop Kira’s character or world?

I like to use Excel spreadsheets and include all my characters in them and list out everything I know about them, even to their sordid and sometimes irrelevant backstories. But by putting together a spreadsheet, I was able to know intimately how everyone interacted with each other and why they were necessary in any given scene. It was, in a way, my character map.

Kira’s family gives loving support to her “differentness” and unique powers rather than cast her out or attempt to stifle her. Can you talk about that writer’s choice?

It was important for me that Kira had a strong family that she could fall back on. No matter how hard her life is, how hated she is by the outside world, having faith and being secure in her family’s love keeps her grounded. It is part of what develops her into such a strong character. And being a mom myself definitely played into this decision. You see, I have 3 wonderful and very different girls and it is important for me to be as supportive as I can for them. No matter what choices they make in life, I’ll always be there for them and love them unconditionally.

When you visit classrooms, what sort of questions do you get from students about the books?

The two most common questions are “Do you have a Jindo dog?” and “When will it be made into a movie?”

Diverse Books LogoYou are the president of #WeNeedDiverseBooks. What’s ahead in the campaign for 2015?

So many great things! Our short story contest for a spot in our anthology is currently going on and we are getting a lot of amazing entries! We have begun awarding internship grants to increase diversity in publishing and we have opened up our Walter Awards for best diverse book. And we are gearing up to prepare for our Diversity festival which is currently set for July 2016 in Silver Spring, MD.



Marion Dane Bauer: The Power of Novels

by Marion Dane Bauer

[I]f you are interested in the neurological impact of reading, the journal Brain Connectivity published a paper “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain.” Basically, reading novels increases connectivity, stimulates the front temporal cortex and increases activity in areas of the brain associated with empathy and muscle memory. [Read the whole article.] 
                                           —Jennifer Michalicek on ChildLit

dummy brainIt’s something we all know—all of us who are writers, readers, teachers know it, anyway—that reading fiction, engaging in the process of inhabiting another human being, feeling our way into another’s thoughts, feelings, desires, enlarges our hearts. It teaches us to understand those who are different from us. Equally important, if not more so, it lets us know that in the deepest possible ways we human beings are the same.

We don’t need a study to tell us this is so, and yet I am grateful for such a study, and I would guess that you are, too. Long ago I knew teachers who had to close their classroom doors least the principal pass in the hall and discover them “wasting time” reading a story. And in these days of renewed emphasis on nonfiction, I would guess that attitude surfaces again more than occasionally.

Not to dismiss the importance of nonfiction. What better way to gather information, to increase our understanding of the world than through the fascinating, expressive nonfiction available today? But there is a larger understanding we owe our children—and ourselves, for that matter—than that which can be gained by comprehending facts. It is an understanding of ourselves as human beings.

How is it that story reveals so deeply? After all, the folks talking and acting, thinking and feeling on the page are fabrications created in some stranger’s mind. Our Puritan foreparents used to forbid the reading of novels, damning them as lies! And from a totally literal perspective, it is so.

But if a writer is creating truly, she is creating out of her own substance. She is creating out of the truth of who she is, what she knows about herself and about the people around her. (Forgive me for making all writers female. The he or she dance is burdensome.) If she is writing honestly, she is revealing on the page what she has allowed few others to know. In fact, she is probably exposing far more of herself than she herself realizes, because it is part of the magic of the writing of story that we are seduced into exposing even more than we may comprehend ourselves.

And that is the secret of the revelation of fiction. Those who create stories bring their hidden humanity to the writing. Those who read stories discover their own humanity in the reading
. . . and learn to extend that humanity beyond the confines of their own skins.

What deeper learning can there be from the written word?

A mechanical study of the brain isn’t needed to understand any of this. But it’s a marvel of our times that such a study is possible, that what most of us know in our hearts can now be proven.

I hope this new understanding makes it possible for every classroom door to stand wide open while such learning takes place.


Heavy Baggage

by Lisa Bullard

I wrote in “The Beauty of Roadblocks” about how students sometimes forget to include the critical element of conflict in their stories.

White squirrelSometimes I’m faced with a different problem: a kid will include painful, intense conflict—something that is clearly based on their own experiences. Some young people carry around “heavy baggage,” and a writing road trip can unexpectedly wrench those bags open. In worrisome cases, such as descriptions of abuse, I’ve chosen to follow up with teachers or principals to let them know that a child may need additional support.

Outside of remembering to stamp this heavy baggage “handle with care,” I haven’t come up with a way to prevent the emergence of these more complex emotions and memories. Opening up about the experiences that have moved us in the past can be a powerful and even liberating part of the writing act. But I do want young writers to feel secure when these tough issues emerge, so I often use a tactic that creates a buffer of sorts: we assign these intense experiences to animal characters.

A student might write about the Rabbit family struggling through a divorce. Or the death of Grandpa Eagle. Or the all-white squirrel who is bullied for looking different than his gray squirrel schoolmates. The stories are still emotionally honest—but there’s a protection granted the young writers because the traumatic events are removed from the human world.

This tactic doesn’t work as well for older students—by Grades 5 or 6, some kids think it’s too babyish to write about talking animals. But until that point, you may find that a squirrel can come off as surprisingly human when it acts as a stand-in for a character facing one of life’s tough moments.



Skinny Dip with Marion Dane Bauer


Newbery HonorWhat is your proudest career moment?

My proudest career moment I suppose should be the day in 1986 when On My Honor won a Newbery Honor Award. But though that was the moment that changed my career more than any other, it’s not my proudest.

My proudest was when I was just beginning writing, had finished my first novel and had no idea whether what I was doing had any value at all. I had no one to read it to tell me. So I presented this first manuscript—it was Foster Child—at a writer’s workshop where the Newbery-Award-winning author Maia Wojciechowska read it. She made an announcement telling the entire conference that “Marion Dane Bauer has written a novel called Foster Child, and it’s good! It’s going to be published!”

That’s the moment when I knew for the first time that I could do this thing I wanted so badly to do, and I’ve never been prouder. From that moment on I’ve believed in myself and my work.

Describe your favorite pair of pajamas ever

pinsThey were newly made, pink with cheerful kittens all over them, and they were coordinated with pajamas made new for my identical-twin friends, Betty and Beverly.  Their grandmother had made the pajamas for the three of us and finished them just in time for an overnight together. The only problem—and this is what makes the pajamas particularly memorable—was that their grandmother’s sight was no longer very good, and she simply sewed all the straight pins into the seams and left them there. We spent the whole night, all three of us in the same double bed, saying “Ouch!” every time we moved and pulling out more pins.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

No question . . . having children was the bravest thing I’ve ever done and, as well, as being the thing I’m most grateful I did. I didn’t have children because I was consciously brave but because I had no way of knowing what lay ahead, all the difficulties, all the joys. When you have a child you connect yourself to another human being—a complete stranger—for the rest of your two lives. No divorce possible. And that, if you stop to think about it, is really scary! Fortunately, few of us stop to think those thoughts before we bring a child into our lives.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

I’ve forgotten the title and have no idea who the author was, but I can still see the fuzzy pink lamb on the pale blue cover. It was a story of a lamb with pettable pink fuzz who got lost and couldn’t find his mother. Things got so bad that on one turn of the page lightning cracked in the sky and rain fell and the pettable pink fuzz went away entirely. All the colors went away, too. That whole spread was done in grays. I remember touching the smooth gray lamb again and again, wanting to bring the pink fuzz back. Of course, another turn of the page brought everything back and the lamb’s fuzzy, pink glory. The lamb’s mother came back, too. Such a surprising and satisfying ending!

What TV show can’t you turn off?

I seldom watch TV, but I’ll admit to being in love with Downton Abbey. When an hour’s show ends, I always want more!


From the Editor


by Marsha Qualey

Nancy2Happy Birthday, Nancy Drew!

For the last few days it’s been hard to navigate online without stumbling across some celebratory musing about the titian-haired heroine turning 85. Which main characters from recent YA and children’s lit do you think could be the subject of such attention eight decades down the road?

This month’s Bookstorm™ book is a graphic novel, Lowriders in Space. The heroine of the story, Lupe, gives Nancy D. a run for her money in confidence, skills, and roadsters. What’s more, Lupe—like Nancy—keeps company with two fine friends.  Vicki Palmquist, Bookologist extraordinaire, has done her usual terrific job of compiling a storm of good reading to enjoy in the classroom or at your leisure.

I’m happy to announce three new regular additions to the Bookology line-up. We sneaked one in a week ago: Middle Kingdom, a monthly visit with a middle school librarian. Author Lisa Bullard wrangles these interviews, and the first librarian spotlighted is Laurie Amster-Burton of Jane Addams Middle School in Seattle, Washington. If you know a hard-working middle school librarian, email us with the info!

Maurna Rome returns, and she’ll now be writing regularly about her classroom literacy work (and the work of others) in Teach It Forward. Green eggs and ham never looked so good.

I’m especially delighted to introduce two wonderful writers to the Bookology crew: Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root. I’m sure many if not most of you are familiar with their books. Each month in their new column Two for the Show they’ll discuss two older picture books they’ve discovered or rediscovered.

And all that (and more) just today—issue launch day, the first Tuesday of the month. Look for even more all through this month as our regular columns and features roll out. 

Thank you for stopping in. Now please go explore the third issue of Bookology.



Lit Lunches:
Promoting a love of reading one bite at a time!


by Maurna Rome


Ready for Lit Lunch.

I admit that I am sometimes envious of my friends who work in the business world and get to enjoy frequent dining out excursions during their lunch breaks. A 20-25 minute rush to digest school cafeteria food, microwavable leftovers or a brown bag sandwich isn’t the most appetizing mid-day meal experience. However, once a month I do get to enjoy a special book club of sorts, called “Lit Lunch,” with some of the most thoughtful, deep thinkers I’ve ever chatted with about books!

It might be hard to believe that “dining in” with thirty 9-year-olds could be such a delightful affair, yet this once-a-month event has become one of the highlights of the year in Room 132. From a kid’s point of view, getting to eat with the teacher in the classroom has some kind of magical appeal. For this teacher, anything that motivates kids to think and talk about a good book is worth doing.


The Sandwich Swap

When choosing our lunch book of the month, our criteria are quite simple. The book must have a connection to some type of food item that can be added to the lunch menu with a reasonable amount of prep and cost.  It also helps if the story has a “meaty” author’s message we can really dig into.

I’ve used “lunch with the teacher” as a special reward for many years, but this is the first year I’ve realized that adding a literacy element gives it an added purpose. An unexpected result from hosting the first few Lit Lunches was that many kids made it their mission to find the perfect book for next month. My students are always on the lookout for a good story that features a favorite fare to nibble on.  I know the extra effort and small investment in a few ingredients are more than worthwhile. I’m not sure who enjoys Lit Lunches more—the kids, our lunchroom supervisor, or me.


A favorite book

Through chowing and chatting, my students identified several common words of wisdom from the books we’ve devoured so far this year. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” applies beautifully to The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah, Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, and Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Seuss. Nibbling on a hummus and PB&J sandwich, slice of pie, or green eggs and ham while chatting about the importance of getting to know someone or something before passing judgment helped made our first few Lit Lunches a success.

The message “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade” came through loud and clear after reading and discussing The Lemonade Club by Patricia Polacco. This selection was special for several reasons. Several of my students and I have dealt with the challenge of helping a family member battle cancer. It was also the first student-selected book, thanks to an enthusiastic young lady who visits the public library often. Amanda was so excited to share her checked-out collection of Polacco’s books. As we swapped our heartfelt personal connections, we shared lemon poppy seed muffins and, of course, lemonade.

Green eggs and ham

Eating green eggs and ham.

Our most recent lesson to be learned came from the light-hearted best seller Dragons Love Tacos. “Always read the fine print” was the take away from this silly but fun tale. The food tie-in was by far the biggest hit with kids, though it also proved to be more time intensive and costly than the other monthly selections.

My advice for any teacher who is interested in making lunchtime a little more interesting, though perhaps not as relaxing as a meal out on the town, is to start small. Consider inviting a group of 5-6 kids to join you for a Lit Lunch based on a recent read aloud. For your second helping of Lit Lunch, add another group of kids. When holding a full class Lit Lunch, a hand-held microphone that can be passed around is a must. Securing funding through the school parent-group, a grant, or grade-level budget would be a good way to offset the cost of providing appetizing titles that are paired with some tasty treats.   

Green eggs and ham

A lot of green eggs and ham.

It may take time, practice, and group reflection to make the Lit Lunch feel more like a real book club with impromptu contributions versus a traditional classroom, teacher-led discussion. It is helpful if kids practice being a part of informal conversations in both small and whole group settings. Facilitating a productive discussion about character traits, the gist of the story and/or the author’s message is not an easy feat with a group of thirty hungry 3rd graders, but Room 132 is proof that it can be done.

Finding the right food-related book is a must. A free 100-page, annotated book list featuring  “over 400 books with positive food, nutrition and physical activity messages for children in grades K-2” can be downloaded thanks to a project from Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan State of Education.




Literary Madeleine: Grasping at Stars

by Vicki Palmquist

How many children, over how many years, have learned from their parents to identify the stars that make up the Big Dipper? Can you see them standing outside, pointing to the stars in the dark sky, tracing the make-believe line that draws a saucepan in the heavens?

The Stars and Find the ConstellationsMy mother told me some of the stories she knew about the constellations, about the Great Bear and Orion and Andromeda. When her supply of knowledge (and interest) were exhausted, she bought me Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey (yes, the author of the Curious George books).

When I wanted to know more, she bought me The Stars: a New Way to See Them, also by H.A. Rey.

Besides creating books for children, the jacket flap says Mr. Rey’s interests “extended from biology and languages (he was fluent in four and acquainted with half a dozen more) to history and, of course, astronomy.” Thank goodness! He awakened that interest in me and I’m pretty sure dozens and dozens and hundreds of other children. (And adults, go ahead, admit it.)

In Find the Constellations, which is updated through 2016, you’ll find explanations that combine facts, and stories, and science. Anything less would not be satisfying. Better yet, the man could draw, and his illustrations are lighthearted but scientifically sound. When he draws a “Sky View” as though we were privileged to be inside the USA’s best planetarium, we can see seasonal depictions of the way the stars appear in the sky, and the way they might appear in our brain, finding the constellations. There are charts and maps and tips for stargazing.

Finding the Stars

In The Stars, we find a book for older children and adults. There are constellation charts with viewing notes:

CRAB (CANCER): Faintest of all constellations in the zodiac. Its main attraction is the so-called BEEHIVE, a small hazy spot [marked by a cross on the chart], just visible without glasses under best conditions. Glasses reveal a cluster of many faint stars.

Finding the ConstellationsThese are infographics at their best, long before we began using that term. The Calendar Charts show where the stars will be in the sky on a certain day, at a certain time. There are even latitudinal charts so people in different parts of the country can more accurately observe the stars.

The second half of the books includes more wonders, including how stars die, the celestial clock, how the earth wobbles on its axis, and how constellations have moved through the ages. When the right child finds this book, there is an astronomer in the making, whether as a profession or as a hobby.

Wait! There’s more! If you buy the hardcover of The Stars, you will find that the dust jacket unfolds to a large poster of a General Chart of the Sky. I had this hanging on my bedroom wall throughout my childhood. Is it any wonder I love reading science fiction? Check these books out of the library for your curious child. When you find yourself considering a telescope, it’s time to buy them for your own library.



Lowriders in Space Companion Booktalks


To get you started on the Bookstorm™ books …

13 Planets13 Planets: The Latest View of the Solar System, by David A. Aguilar. National Geographic Children’s Books, 2011.  Grades 2-6

  • Report material galore, beautifully organized
  • Illustrated with a combination of photographs and digital art
  • Includes several hands-on activities

Car Science coverCar Science: an Under-the-Hood, Behind-the-Dash Look at How Cars Work, by Richard Hammond, DK Books, 2008. Grades 3 and up

  • Key physics concepts as they relate to how cars run
  • DK’s signature exploded diagrams, cutaways, and high-interest visuals
  • Material is divided into intriguing sections: Power, Speed, Handling, and Technology

Chato's Kitchen coverChato’s Kitchen, by Gary Soto, illustrations by Susan Guevara, Penguin, 1997. Preschool through Grade 3.

  • Mouse family vs Chato, a very cool cat
  • Good story for “prediction”
  • Spanish and English vocabulary

Draw 50 Cars coverDraw 50 Cars, Trucks, and Motorcycles: The Step-by-Step Way to Draw Dragsters, Vintage Cars, Dune Buggies, Mini Choppers, and Much More, by Lee J. Ames, Watson-Guptill, 2012.  Grade 1 through Adult.

  • From a Disney studios artist
  • Variety of drawing projects suitable for range of experience
  • “Step-by-step” is really layer-by-layer, showing how a drawing is “built”

Girls Think of Everything coverGirls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women, by Catherine Thimmesh, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002. Grades 3 and up.

  • Sibert-winning author, Caldecott-winning artist
  • Inventions from exotic to familiar
  • Inventors and inventions going back to 3000 BC

If I Built a CarIf I Built a Car, by Chris Van Dusen. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2005.  Primary grades.

  • 2006 E.B. White Read Aloud Award
  • Classic Van Dusen illustrations: bold colors, cartoon-style (look for hidden references to a few other Van Dusen books)
  • Great discussion starter for all ages: What kind of car would YOU design?

Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush coverMr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush, by Luis Alberto Urrea, illustrated by Christopher Cardinale, Cinco Puntos Press, 2010. Grades 7 and up.

  • Graphic novel about a graffiti artist and Mexican village life, with some magic realism
  • Narrative is a non-linear reminiscence—bold flashes of story to match the art
  • Richly-colored woodblock-style art

My Little Car coverMy Little Car, by Gary Soto, illustrated by Pam Paparone, Putnam, 2006. Preschool and primary grades.

  • Child-grandparent story
  • English and Spanish vocabulary
  • Just how do you make a car dance?

NicoVisitsNico Visits the Moon, by Honorio Robledo, Cinco Puntos Press, 2001. Preschool and primary grades.

  • Vivid, imaginative, art
  • Crawling baby, balloons, the moon—each page turn delivers a fantasy surprise
  • Bilingual in Spanish and English

Norther Lights coverNorthern Lights: The Science, Myth, and Wonder of the Aurora Borealis, by George Bryson, photographs by Calvin Hall and Daryl Pederson, Sasquatch Books, 2001. Grades 3 and up for looking at the photographs, grades 5 and up for the science.

  • Beautiful photographs that can be looked at again and again
  • Discusses the many myths and legends inspired by the lights
  • Concise explanation of geophysics behind the phenomenon

Remind coverRemind, by Jason Brubaker, Coffee Table Comics, 2011. Grades 5 and up.

  • Graphic novel with a great cast: Sonja, a young woman who is a mechanical genius; Victuals, her cat that may have received the brain of an exiled lizard man; an underwater colony of lizard people
  • Wonderful array of mechanical inventions (Discuss: what kind of gizmos would you like to invent?)
  • Crisp, uncluttered illustrations—at times suitably creepy

Shark King CoverShark King, by R. Kikuo Johnon, TOON Books, 2012. Grades 1 and up.

  • Child-friendly version of a Hawaiian myth
  • Clean, highly readable layout—no sensory overload from text or illustrations
  • Includes discussion material for teachers and parents


Zita coverZita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke, First Second, 2010.  Grades 3 and up.

  • Graphic novel with a Wizard of Oz storyline: young girl is transported to a strange world
  • Though Zita is trying to save an abducted friend, and though the planet is about to be destroyed, the text and art are more about fun than fear
  • How many weird creatures can you find?




Cathy Camper: Writing Lowriders in Space

Lowriders coverLowriders in Space
written by Cathy Camper
illustrated by Raul the Third
Chronicle Books, 2014

When did you first become aware of (or involved in) lowrider culture?

Probably in the early 1980’s, when I visited a friend of mine who lived in the Mission District of San Francisco. There were a lot of lowriders in the neighborhood, and since we were young women at the time, we’d get flirtatious attention from guys showing off their cars when we walked down the street.

How was the decision made to make your three heroes non-human (the fourth hero, Genie, is a cat and I don’t need to ask why a cat is a cat)? They are an impala, an octopus, and a human … how did that come about?

Back when the book was just a daydream, I thought up the names of the characters first. I liked the name Elirio, and the name Elirio Malaria was really fun to say. I’d walk around thinking, Elirio Malaria, what kind of guy is he? Then one day it was as if a little voice whispered in my ear, “I’m not a guy, I’m a mosquito!” Duh!

Lowriders cast

Heroes in Space

Lupe (short for Guadalupe) Impala also got her name because it was fun to say, and because Impalas are the chosen cars of lowriders. She really is an impala, which is like a deer, or gazelle. For some reason readers don’t seem to know what kind of animal she is; they think she’s a fox, a wolf, a mouse?!? Raul and I thought it would be clear from her name, but you just never know…

And Flappy…I was reading an article about octopuses, and discovered there really is a super cute kind of octopus called a Flapjack Octopus, because its tentacles are short and stubby. Bam, you couldn’t ask for a better character.

It cracks me up when I hear the heroes described as a mosquito, an impala and an octopus, because I never thought of them as those animals first. Their animal nature came out of their names and personalities.

For the kids who’d like to make their own comics, how did you find Raul the Third? And when you found him, did the two of you work on developing the graphic novel together? Or was there the typical separation of author and artist?

Lupe at the Wheel

Lupe at the Wheel

Raul and I met via a mutual friend, who was drawing another comic I’d written. He couldn’t complete it, so he emailed me to suggest his friend Raul might like to work on it. I never finished that comic, but several years later when I’d written the script for Lowriders, I emailed Raul to see if was interested in a kid’s book, because I liked his art and knew we both had a good work ethic – we like to meet our deadlines.

He read it and wrote back, “This is the book I wanted to read as a kid,” and started sending me sketches the next day. He lives in Boston and I live in Portland, and we eventually met in person before embarking on such a big project, but from the start, it was obvious we had similar goals and shared the same sense of humor and approach to getting things done. In general, I write the story and he does the art, but we’re lucky that our publishers have let us collaborate a lot. Sometimes Raul will suggest plot changes or add dialog that fits with his choreography of the story. Likewise, sometimes I’ll specify some things that need to be shown in the art. It’s kind of like jazz, riffing off each other, where jokes and plot lines move back and forth between words and pictures. We also both have to adjust what we do to fit our editors’ and art director’s instructions.

Because a comic book or graphic novel often lets a story be told between the panels, did you do more editing to fit the illustrations than you might have with a picture book?



When I write the script, it’s very descriptive, because I’m trying to convey a whole world to Raul, my editors, and our art director. When Raul draws the thumbnail sketches, a lot of the writing falls out, because the story has now moved into the pictures. So if a character says, “Look, there’s a falling star!” once he’s drawn it, the character might just need to say, “Look!” I also try to leave some large spaces where big drama occurs, so the art can take over.

I think our book is different in this way from books like Drama or El Deafo, in that their art follows the plot line a little more directly, whereas Raul and I wanted sometimes to let the art just envelope the reader.

I don’t think it’s that different from writing a picture book, except I have to use waaay more exclamation marks. There are some parts of the writing I fight for, though, in order to maintain a rhythm, a poetry and to retain deeper layers of meaning.

Did you set out to write a comic that had science elements in it? Was lowriding into outer space always a part of the concept?

I love science; it’s where I get tons of my inspiration because nothing is more unbelievable than what is true. My first idea for this book was that it would be cool to have a car that was detailed by outer space. So it was natural to include not just space science but the technology of cars. I also thought it was weird that we rarely see kids’ books about cars, when you think of the big part they play in our lives, and all the jobs folks have involving automobiles.

I love that this comic is virtually readable by any person of any age: was that a conscious decision?

Lowriders illustrationMy original target audiences were kids in third through fifth grade, English- Spanish readers, and boys, since their literacy rate is dropping. I also wanted something that wouldn’t seem babyish to older kids reading below grade level, since I work with a lot of kids like that as a librarian. And then Raul and I are both avid comics readers, so we wanted to include stuff that both parents and adult comics ‘ fans would enjoy. Plus a lot of it was just Raul and I making ourselves laugh.

Integrating Spanish into the story feels very natural—and I know a lot of people will be grateful for the instant translation on each page—which feels like a natural part of the comic book style. Was this a subject of discussion with your editor or art director?

Both Raul and I love Love and Rockets comics by the Hernandez brothers, (an adult comic). They always used drop-down translations and explanations beneath their comic’s frames for things readers might not understand. Our comic is definitely an homage to theirs (they have a female mechanic named Maggie who works on rockets, and who is Lupe’s role model) and so we thought it was natural to do this in our book as well. I wanted to include a glossary for many reasons, but first and foremost, to empower any kid to read. Incarcerated kids, immigrant kids, kids whose parents don’t speak English or Spanish, or don’t read super well. I wanted to give kids the opportunity to figure it out themselves. Also, learning to use a glossary is a skill in and of itself, which ties in with curriculum goals, which schools need to meet. And then there’s the kids that tell me, “I just love reading glossaries! “

Have you done any work on your own car?

Naw, although my car is kinda low and slow. It’s old and faithful.

Do you have plans to go into outer space?

No, I like looking at meteor showers, and the night sky, and spying on outer space through telescopes. I guess I’m not focused on just one field of science. I love talking to scientists and learning what’s new and cool. There’s so much to discover, and we live in an age where a lot is going on.

Does the group El Lupe y su Quinteto Impala have anything to do with Lupe’s name?

Ha! Nope, that’s a total coincidence. Although I do love cumbia!

For classroom teachers who might be working with students who are writing a comic book, what advice would you give them about the writing side of this?

As a writer working with an artist, you have to agree to collaborate. So you want to figure out right at the start who does what. Some artists want the writer to do all the writing, break down the dialog frame by frame, and even describe what they should draw in each frame. Other artists prefer more freedom. And the same can be true of writers. Some demand to have a lot of artistic control about how the art will look. Others are more open. If it’s clear from the beginning, no one’s feelings will get hurt.

Do a rough form of the comic, penciling everything in loosely, before you commit to something that will take a lot more work. That way, you can work out your mistakes before you invest too much time in it. One very important thing is to figure out where each page will fall. If you look at a comic, you’ll see how important it is, where each panel lands. A big double page splash page has to land on two pages that lay next to each other. So it really helps to make a rough mock-up of your comic to figure this out.

I notice on the title page it says “Book 1.” Dare we hope for a Book 2?

Oh yes, book two is in the works as I write this, and it’s bigger and just as over-the-top as book one. Our intrepid heroes take a road trip in the opposite direction, into the center of the Earth! It will be out in spring of 2016.


Author Emeritus: Eleanor Cameron


bk_wondrEleanor Frances Butler Cameron in was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on March 23, 1912. She attended UCLA and the LA Art Center School for three years before marrying Ian Stuart Cameron, a printer, in 1934. Mrs. Cameron worked as a reference librarian for many years before beginning to write full time, and was fascinated by the way the mind took fragments of a writer’s life and rearranged them for writing material. “Situations … are like usable places—mysterious in their ability to arouse the writer’s creative response.”

One day her son David told her of a dream he’d had that would inspire the five Mushroom Planet books, including The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet and Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet. She wrote of bk_plantCalifornia, which she knew well, in The Terrible Churnadryne and The Mysterious Christmas Shell; The Court of the Stone Children, for which she won a National Book Award; and in A Room Made of Windows, part of a realistic fiction series about Julia Redfern, a twelve-year-old writer. Mrs. Cameron died in 1996, leaving a legacy of delightful children’s books. She also wrote extensively about the field of children’s literature and analyzed her own creative process in such essays as “The Seed and The Vision: on the Writing and Appreciation of Children’s Books,” which is a part of the Kerlan Collection.

— Julie Schuster

For more Authors Emeritus biographies please visit the AE index.



Raul the Third: Illustrating Lowriders in Space


Lowriders coverLowriders in Space

written by Cathy Camper
illustrated by Raul the Third
Chronicle Books, 2014

When did you first become aware of (or involved in) lowrider culture?

I feel like I’ve been aware of lowrider culture for my entire life. When I was in high school I would draw the type of imagery you might see used as décor on a lowrider. Besides the superheroes, roses, clowns crying tears, gothic letters in torn scrolls were all things you would find in my notebooks. Plus I was a big fan of Lowrider magazine and especially of the Fan art which was usually created with BIC pens.

Are either you or Cathy drawn into the comic?

I drew author pictures of the both of us. Cathy is drawn as a Fox in an astronaut helmet doing research for our book. I am a wolf. Raul means “swift wolf” so I thought it was appropriate, plus I am a shaggy dude so it fits my personality. This book is incredibly autobiographical as well. I modeled Lupe’s hair on my Abuelita Catalina’s. I based el Chavo on my childhood hero Chespirito and the locale of the book is loosely based on El Paso/Juarez where I grew up. I also drew myself driving a van on the very last page!


I read that you used Bic pens for a good deal of the drawing and coloring. Is this a medium you’ve used on other projects?

I have used them for other projects. For some of the fine art drawings I have used it as a texturing tool or to create text within the drawing. This was the first time I have used them in a project as involved as Lowriders in Space. I felt that it was the perfect instrument for this series. When I was a boy I learned to draw with the BIC pens my father had lying around the house. I wanted to use materials that most everyone could have access to. This is a book about dreamers who use what they have to build the car of their dreams and I wanted the approach to the artwork to reflect what is possible when you have nothing, but dream big.

What type of paper did you draw this book on?

When I started creating concept drawings for the book before Chronicle Books was in the picture I drew pages on notebook paper and newsprint to give the look of a school kid drawing in their notebook. This would not have been possible for the final artwork as this type of paper is very unforgiving to mistakes. When I started working on the final artwork I used smooth plate Bristol board for the illustrations and typing paper for the color layer.


From the art on your website, I see that you’ve used coffee as a texturing agent before. Is there a story behind that? Did you use that technique in Lowriders in Space?

I love staining my paper with coffee or tea. I use that technique to age the paper. I love stuff that is old or appears beyond its years. I wanted Lowriders in Space to have that same feel. As if the characters had been with us forever. The look of old pulpy paper and the way stuff in classic comic books is often printed off registration is a huge inspiration. The drawings in Lowriders in Space are a love letter to so much about what I admire in cartooning, comic books, and old prints by Jorge Guadalupe Posada.


Is this your first comic book or have you worked in this form before?

This is my first published work. I have self-published zines before Lowriders in Space that were comic books, and I have been drawing them for a large part of my life.  

How did you work with Cathy to fit the text of the story into your panels?

It is a very collaborative process not just with Cathy but with our editorial team as well, which included our art director Neil Egan. It begins with Cathy’s script which I then turn into a rough storyboard. I then share this with Cathy and she makes adjustments to the script based on the new visual flow of the story. We then share this with our editorial team, and they give it back to us with notes and suggestions, and we repeat the process until we get it just right. After all is set in stone I lock myself in a room and complete the final art for the book.


For classroom teachers who might be working with their students to create a comic book, what advice would you pass along about the artwork?

Base characters on yourselves. It makes drawing so much easier if you know what your characters look like and you don’t know anybody like you know yourself. We also come with our own supporting casts so pick and choose characteristic from friends and family. There are not enough characters out there that truly resemble the wonderful people that make up our communities so it’s time we made ourselves into the interesting heroic characters we know we are! Also draw what you love to draw and through your drawings go on the adventures of your choosing.


Two for the Show


by Jackie Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root

Martin and Root

Jackie Briggs Martin (l) an Phyllis Root (r)

We both love finding forgotten treasures in the “removed from circulation” sections of libraries or in second hand bookstores. Some of these books call to us because we remember them from our childhoods: the Babar books written out in longhand, the Flicka, Ricka, Dicka stories about Swedish triplets, Marcia Brown’s Stone Soup.

Some books enchant that we’ve never read before: When the Wind Blew by Margaret Wise Brown, Run, Run, Run by Clement Hurd, The Treasure of Topolobampo by Scott O’Dell (and illustrated by the wonderful Lynd Ward). These books seem like forgotten treasures that we wish would be remembered. They remind us, as well, that the stories we tell now are very much akin to the stories told before us. The length may differ, the tone may have changed with time, but the hearts of these stories still connect with readers today.

We want to look at stories whose hearts have stayed strong, whether those stories are fifty years old or fifteen years old—or even more recent. We hope you, too, will find the older stories enchanting enough to look them up, either in libraries on in online book sites such as Alibris or AbeBooks. Or perhaps, like we do, you might wander the aisles of bookstores and library shops, looking for that book that reaches out, taps you on the shoulder, and says, “Read me. You’ll be glad you did.”

Our first finds have to do with mothers, a good topic for early May. We are calling it “What’s a mother to do?”

Moms are the pole stars of childhood, the ones who make us feel safe in the scariest, worrying-est of times. And in this, our first Two for the Show column, we want to take a look at two classic picture books about Moms and see what the moms are doing.

Monster Mama coverMonster Mama, written by Liz Rosenberg and illustrated by Stephen Gammell (Philomel, 1993) celebrates language and Moms. It begins:

Patrick Edward was a wonderful boy, but his mother was a monster. She lived in a big cave at the back of the house. [page turn]

Sometimes she painted, sometimes she gardened, and sometimes she tossed Patrick Edward lightly up and down in the air, for fun.

She also teaches Patrick Edward how to roar and how to cast a spell that could put almost anyone to sleep. One day he runs into bullies who tie him to a tree and say, “Your mother wears army boots.” Patrick Edward roars, breaks away, and chases the boys. “Who knows what might have happened next—but Monster Mama heard the echoes of his roar. She zoomed out of her cave…” and straight to Patrick Edward. Once things are set to right and they’ve all shared cake (which the bullies made) she says to Patrick Edward, “No matter where you go, or what you do…I will be there. Because I am your mother, even if I am a monster—and I love you.”

What we love in this book is the shimmering question: Is she really a monster? She gardens, she tosses lightly, she likes sweets. But she is fierce and she can cast spells. There is humor in this question and humor in the language—“Villains, farewell!” Patrick Edward says to the bullies. And, “Strength is for the wise, not the reckless.—More cake please.”

Hazel coverIn Hazel’s Amazing Mother by Rosemary Wells (Dial, 1985) Hazel goes off on her own to “buy something nice” for a picnic. She gets lost. And that’s when the bullies show up. They take Hazel’s doll and throw her until the stuffing falls out. Hazel cries, “Oh, Mother…Mother, I need you.” Just then a wind comes up, blows the picnic blanket—along with Hazel’s mother— right over the town into the very tree under which Hazel sat. Hazel’s mother takes charge.

A tomato hit Doris smack between the eyes.

“Don’t make a move without fixing Eleanor!” Hazel’s mother roared.

She also rumbles, laughs thunderously, brings about repairs.

“Oh, mother,” said Hazel, “‘how did you do it?”

“It must have been the power of love,” said Hazel’s mother.

These two stories are funny, not treacly. When Hazel’s mother tells the mean Doris to fix Hazel’s doll, she tosses down a pocket sewing kit—and three more tomatoes. The bullies don’t just work at fixing— “The boys scrubbed feverishly. Doris sewed like a machine.”

Nana coverAnd these stories are reassuring. Kids know they can’t do it all—even though it seems we sometimes expect them to in our books. How many times have we heard that kids should solve their own problems in our stories? Perhaps that’s changing. Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo (Clarion, 2014)—a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book—features a grandmother who knits a cape for her grandson who’s worried about being in the city. The cape does the trick, and the grandson begins to enjoy the city. It’s not bad for kids to see examples of grown-ups who can help. They are the bridge to get kids to their own stronger place.

A few other books featuring mothers:

  • Owl Babies by Martin Waddell
  • Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Are you My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
  • A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
  • Feeding the Sheep by Leda Schubert





Bookstorm: Lowriders in Space

Bookstorm: Lowriders in Space

In this Bookstorm™:

Lowriders in SpaceLowriders in Space

written by Cathy Camper
illustrated by Raul the Third
published by Chronicle Books, 2014

“Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team’s favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito. The stars align when a contest for the best car around offers a prize of a trunkful of cash—just what the team needs to open their own shop! ¡Ay chihuahua! What will it take to transform a junker into the best car in the universe? Striking, unparalleled art from debut illustrator Raul the Third recalls ballpoint-pen-and-Sharpie desk-drawn doodles, while the story is sketched with Spanish, inked with science facts, and colored with true friendship. With a glossary at the back to provide definitions for Spanish and science terms, this delightful book will educate and entertain in equal measure.”

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book, Lowriders in Space. You’ll find books for a variety of tastes, interests, and reading abilities.

Car Mechanics. An assortment of books offering details and infographics about how cars work and how to build a car, suitable from primary to middle school.

Drawing Cars. A lot of learning takes place when you draw a car. A reader thinks deeply about how the car works, how the parts inter-relate, and you are tempted to look up the details to verify that you’re getting it right.  

Graphic Novels. There’s a rich history of space exploration and science fiction in graphic novels. We include a few stellar (ahem) examples that are sure to intrigue your readers. 

Lowriders. The lowrider culture and the artistic, mechanically-inventive cars are an intrinsic part of life in some parts of the US. You’ll find websites and books that explain more.  

Novels. Science fiction for young readers isn’t plentiful, but there are excellent books in this genre. Our recommendations include a classic and several new books. 

Outer Space. For some readers, the facts about outer space are paramount. Books with an overview, sticker books, up-to-date books about what we currently understand … these will interest those truth-seekers.

Picture Books. Cars and stars are favorite subjects for picture book authors and illustrators. You’ll want to discuss some of these in your classroom and offer suggestions for others as books for independent reading.

Science. Studying the skies is a lifetime of work for many scientists, and their fields of endeavor are broad and touch upon other areas of science. Their discoveries change lives. From books looking at the constellations to those answering science questions, we recommend a few gems to get you thinking.

Women Changing the World. Dolores Huerta, Sonia Sotomayor, Rad American Women A-Z … Lupe Impala is inspirational. She will naturally lead to questions about other women who have set their sites on the stars.

Techniques for using each book: