The Sandwich Swap

The Sandwich SwapNor­mal­ly, I spurn pic­ture books writ­ten by celebri­ties, be they actors or roy­al­ty or what have you. If it’s a per­son in the head­lines, I quite assume they could not pos­si­bly write a wor­thy pic­ture book. The only excep­tion on my shelves, I believe (and I real­ize there are oth­er excep­tions! Feel free to leave titles in the com­ments.) is The Sand­wich Swap by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdul­lah with Kel­ly Depuc­chio, illus­trat­ed by Tri­cia Tusa.

I adore this book and have read it to many groups of kids. It’s about two best friends, Salma and Lily, who do most every­thing togeth­er — they draw, they swing, they jump rope. And every day they eat lunch togeth­er — Lil­ly always has a peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich on squishy white bread, and Salma always has a hum­mus sand­wich on pita bread. Secret­ly, they each find their friend’s choice of sand­wich mys­ti­fy­ing. Gooey peanut paste? Ew Gross! Icky chick­pea paste? Ew yuck! But they don’t say this to each oth­er.

Until one day they do. Lily blurts out her feel­ings about Salma’s sand­wich.

Salma frowned. She looked down at the thin, soft bread, and she thought of her beau­ti­ful, smil­ing moth­er as she care­ful­ly cut Salma’s sand­wich in two neat halves that morn­ing. 

The next line is the most bril­liant in the book, I think: Her hurt feel­ings turned to mad.

Isn’t that how it goes? Once, when I read this in sto­ry time a lit­tle boy smacked his fore­head with his hands and said, “Oh no!”

Oh no, is right — Salma snaps back with hurt­ful words about the gross­ness and offen­sive smell of Lily’s sand­wich.

Lily looked sur­prised. She sniffed the thick, squishy bread, and she thought of her dad in his sil­ly apron, whistling as he cut Lily’s sand­wich into two per­fect tri­an­gles that morn­ing.

Well, the dis­agree­ment is per­son­al and hurt­ful, and the friends part ways after a few more hurt­ful exchanges. No more pic­ture draw­ing, swing­ing, and jump rop­ing. They don’t eat togeth­er, they don’t talk…and the pic­tures are exquis­ite — two deflat­ed girls with­out their best friend.

Meanwhile…the sto­ry spread and every­one in the lunch­room began to choose sides around the peanut but­ter and hum­mus sand­wich­es.

Pret­ty soon the rude insults had noth­ing at all to do with peanut but­ter or hum­mus.

Sandwich SwapThat’s so dumb!” said one out­raged girl I was read­ing to.  I nod­ded vague­ly and turned the page to the two-page spread of a food fight right there in the lunch­room. “See!” said the girl. She held her head as if she had the worst headache.

This is how wars start, peo­ple! Inter­est­ing­ly, every time I look for this book on my shelf I’m look­ing for the title “The Sand­wich War” and am then remind­ed that the actu­al title is more…peaceful. As is the book in the end.

Salma and Lily come to their sens­es as pud­ding cups and car­rot sticks whip past their heads. They’re required to help clean up the mess and they’re sent to the principal’s office, as well. Again, the illus­tra­tions car­ry the feel­ings — two small girls, made small­er by all that has hap­pened.

The next day, brave Salma sits down across from Lily at lunch. In return, Lily works up the courage to ask Salma if she’d like to try her peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich. A swap occurs, as well as glad excla­ma­tions of the yum­mi­ness of each oth­ers sand­wich­es.

The girls hatch a plan, which is depict­ed entire­ly in a gor­geous pull-out three page spread.

Sandwich Swap

When I read this to kids, we looks at all the flags and try to iden­ti­fy them. We won­der what food was brought to rep­re­sent each coun­try. I’ve always want­ed to have such a potluck after the book, but although I’ve been to such potlucks, I nev­er seem to have the book with me at the right time. Per­haps I just need to car­ry it around in my purse… Or cre­ate such an event!


Gardening and Farming Delights


Jack­ie: At last — we made it to spring and all the usu­al accou­trements have shown up — lilacs, vio­lets, the smell of apple blos­soms, and thoughts of sprout­ing seeds and grow­ing veg­eta­bles.  How could we not look at pic­ture books about gar­dens and farm­ing this month?

Miss Jaster's GardenI have to con­fess, Phyl­lis, I did not know of Miss Jaster’s Gar­den, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by N. M. Bodeck­er and pub­lished in 1972. I’m so glad to meet Miss Jaster and Hedgie the hedge­hog whom she treats with a bowl of milk each night. “But hedge­hogs being the shape they are, and Miss Jaster being a lit­tle near­sight­ed, as often as not she put the saucer where the hedgehog’s head wasn’t. And Hedgie — so as not to cause dis­tress — “polite­ly dipped his tail in the milk and pre­tend­ed to drink.” 

That’s not the only prob­lem caused by Miss Jaster’s poor vision. When she is scat­ter­ing flower seeds in her gar­den she does not see Hedgie and plants seeds on him too.  “…after a while he began feel­ing rest­less.” Hedgie is sprout­ing. Hedgie blooms! And feels like danc­ing. “Tomor­row I’ll be as qui­et as an earth­worm,” thought Hedgie, “but not today. Today is the great­est day of my life. There’ll nev­er be anoth­er like it!” When Miss Jaster sees flow­ers danc­ing in the yard, she yells, “STOP THIEF!”  and poor Hedgie, fright­ened and cha­grined, runs off. Even­tu­al­ly the Chief Con­sta­ble, with a capa­ble bit of sleuthing, finds Hedgie and brings him back — “a weary, wor­ried, bedrag­gled lit­tle ani­mal, down on his luck.” Miss Jaster feels bad at hav­ing giv­en the hedge­hog (“flow­er­hog”) such a scare. And they take break­fast togeth­er every morn­ing — “And there was noth­ing but peace and sun­shine and a touch of Sweet William.”

I love the tone of this book — Hedgie is up for the adven­ture of being a walk­ing flower gar­den. The con­sta­ble is thought­ful, “Did you by chance, hap­pen to notice how many legs these flow­ers had when they made their get­away? In round num­bers?” In round num­bers! And I love the char­ac­ters — the hedge­hog who’s so thought­ful he pre­tends to drink with his tail so as not to upset Miss Jaster. And kind Miss Jaster who doesn’t mind shar­ing her gar­den with a hedge­hog and is actu­al­ly pleased when she real­ized that she also shared flower seeds with him.

This sto­ry has a lot of text. But the humor is so won­der­ful and the char­ac­ters just the right degree of eccen­tric, I think it would be enjoyed  by the five to nine­ty crowd. What do you think?

Miss Jaster's Garden

Phyl­lis: I didn’t know this book, either, but I also love it. The dou­ble-page spread map at the begin­ning of the book is a lit­tle sto­ry all in itself, as good maps often are. From Hedgie’s cor­ner to the bird­bath (“For ancient inscrip­tion, see page 17”) to Miss J’s wick­er chair and Sun­rise Hill (“Ele­va­tion 9’”) Bodeck­er has cre­at­ed a whole world in art as well as text.

As some­one who has become near­er and near­er sight­ed my whole life, I com­plete­ly under­stand how Miss Jaster might make such a mis­take. And who wouldn’t want a walk­ing flower gar­den? Who wouldn’t want to be a flower gar­den? I love how the end­ing brings mutu­al sat­is­fac­tion to Miss Jaster and to Hedgie, who have always been solic­i­tous of each oth­er — each morn­ing they share “a leisure­ly break­fast … and a walk along the beach, fol­lowed by a small but per­sis­tent but­ter­fly.”

Cer­tain­ly the text is much longer than many more recent pic­ture books, but what won­der­ful details! When Miss Jaster goes out to plant she does so in “a pur­ple morn­ing-dress and stur­dy shoes” with a “large straw hat, trimmed with corn­flow­ers on her head,” pulling “a small four-wheeled wag­on full of gar­den tools and flower seeds.” Like a gar­den in full bloom, the sto­ry is lush with lan­guage.

I love, too, how Hedgie, as he dis­cov­ers he’s sprout­ing, won­ders which he will be:  “’Flower bed or veg­etable gar­den? Veg­etable gar­den or flower bed?’” until one day, “’I’m in bloom!’ cried Hedgie.”

Grandpa's Too Good GardenJack­ie:  I call James Steven­son the writer with the humor cure. He makes me laugh. And Grandpa’s Too Good Gar­den  is one of his cur­ing-est. Mary Ann and Louie are dis­ap­point­ed with their gar­den­ing. Louis says, “We dig and rake and plant and water and weed — and noth­ing ever comes up. Our gar­den is no good.” Grand­pa remains calm and tells them he once had a gar­den that was “a lit­tle too good.” There are some won­der­ful cartoon‑y frames of Grand­pa and Wainey in the gar­den (both as kids with lit­tle mus­tach­es) but the sto­ry real­ly begins when Father throws his Mir­a­cle Grow hair ton­ic out the win­dow. It spills into the gar­den and gets rained in. Before Wainey even wakes up a vine snatch­es him up and almost out the win­dow. The gar­den was taller than the house. Giant cater­pil­lars came to eat the giant plants. The plants con­tin­ued to grow and Grand­pa got “snagged on a weath­er vane above our roof.” Grand­pa is in trouble…only to be res­cued by Wainey on a giant but­ter­fly. This hap­py end­ing is accom­pa­nied by Wainey show­ing up to offer Grand­pa and the kids some ice cream. I love the exag­ger­a­tion, the total silli­ness of it.

Phyl­lis: Gar­den­ers need patience, but not all of us wait qui­et­ly. When the seeds don’t grow quick­ly  enough, Wainey and Grand­pa encour­age them. “’Hel­lo, beans? Toma­toes? Are you down there? Give us a sign!’ ‘Hel­lo, car­rumps?” The for­tu­itous hair ton­ic reminds me of old radio sci­ence fic­tion shows. “You threw the growth for­mu­la out back?” the sci­en­tist asks his assis­tant just before the now-giant earth­worms come bang­ing on the door. There’s a sat­is­fy­ing cir­cu­lar­i­ty to Grandpa’s gar­den sto­ry when one of the giant but­ter­flies that meta­mor­phed from the giant cater­pil­lars res­cues both broth­ers. Won­der­ful wack­i­ness!

Farmer DuckJack­ie: Farmer Duck by Mar­tin Wad­dell (illus­trat­ed by Helen Oxen­bury) is set on a farm and Farmer Duck does farm work so we are includ­ing it. It’s all about friends. And friends are impor­tant to gar­den­ers. Who else would take our extra zuc­chi­ni? or help us pull weeds? or share plants with us?

This is such an exu­ber­ant telling. Was there ever a lazier farmer than the human farmer who stays in bed all day, yelling to the duck, “How goes the work?” Farmer Duck always responds the same way, “Quack.” This goes on day after day. While the lazy farmer eats bon bons, the duck saws wood, spades the gar­den, wash­es dish­es, irons clothes. The oth­er ani­mals can’t stand to see their friend work so hard. One night they meet in the barn and make a plan. “’Moo!’ said the cow./’Baa!’ said the sheep./ ‘Cluck!’ said the hens. And that was the plan.” 

When they car­ry out their plan the lazy farmer runs away and nev­er returns. “…moo­ing and baaing and cluck­ing and quack­ing, they all set to work on their farm.” We just can’t help but think hay will be sweet­er, corn will be taller, and there may be danc­ing in the barn.

Farmer Duck

Phyl­lis: I adore this book, text and art. The duck looks wea­ri­er and wea­ri­er, and who wouldn’t want to be com­fort­ed by such car­ing hens and the oth­er ani­mals as well?  And I love how the ani­mals that the duck tend­ed to at the begin­ning of the sto­ry, includ­ing car­ry­ing a sheep from the hill, all pitch in to help at the end as “moo­ing and baaing and cluck­ing and quack­ing, they all set to work on their farm.” Ani­mals, unite! The fruits of the labor belong to the labor­ers!

When the Root Children Wake UpJack­ie:  I would be remiss not to men­tion your name­sake book, Phyl­lis—When The Root Chil­dren Wake Up, retold by Audrey Wood and illus­trat­ed by Ned Bit­tinger. It’s a sto­ry of sea­sons. A robin comes to the win­dow of Mother’s Earth’s under­ground “home” and calls, “Root Chil­dren! Root Chil­dren …Wake up! It’s time for the mas­quer­ade.” The chil­dren awak­en the bugs and paint them and head out for the mas­quer­ade. But it’s not too long before “Cousin Sum­mer slips his knap­sack on his back and quick­ly strides over the hills and far away.” Time for Uncle Fall. And soon it will be time for anoth­er winter’s nap. 

There’s a lot about this sto­ry that I like — the cir­cle of sea­sons, paint­ing the bugs. I’m a lit­tle put off by the very real­is­tic draw­ings of chil­dren as the “Root Chil­dren.” I’m not sure why. Maybe because they seem too real to be sleep­ing under­ground all win­ter. Makes me feel  claus­tro­pho­bic. Maybe I’m just grumpy. I’d love to know what oth­ers think.

When the Root Children Wake UpPhyl­lis: It’s true that what caught my eye about When the Root Chil­dren Wake Up was my name in the title, but I also love the sto­ry and art in the ver­sion I have, a reprint of the 1906 Sybelle Olf­fers book  first pub­lished in Ger­many and repub­lished in Eng­lish in 1988 by Green Tiger Press. The charm­ing­ly old-fash­ioned orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions remind me of books I loved as a child and include a joy­ous spread of the root chil­dren emerg­ing above ground car­ry­ing flow­ers and grass­es “into the love­ly world.” Inter­est­ing how art can change the per­cep­tion of a sto­ry!

Lola Plants a GardenA gar­den book for the very young is Lola Plants a Gar­den by Anna McQuinn, illus­trat­ed by Ros­aline Beard­shaw. The straight­for­ward sto­ry tells how Lola loves the poem “Mary Mary Quite Con­trary” and  wants to plant a gar­den of her own. She and Mom­my read books about gar­dens, make a list of Lola’s favorite flow­ers, buy seeds, and plant them. While she waits for them to grow, Lola makes their own book about flow­ers, strings beads and shells and bells, and makes a lit­tle Mary Mary doll. Lola’s patience and work are reward­ed as the flow­ers grow big and “Open toward the sun.” Dad­dy helps her hang her bells, her friends come to her gar­den to eat Mommy’s peas and straw­ber­ries, and Lola makes up a sto­ry for them about Mary Mary. The book con­cludes, “What kind of gar­den will Lola plant next?” Sim­ply told and sat­is­fy­ing, the book makes me want to run out and buy more pack­ets of flower seeds, then invite friends to come vis­it in the gar­den and encour­age them to grow.

Lola Plants a Garden

Jack­ie: Friends and gar­dens and the cycle of sea­sons. We are all root­ed on this earth. And that’s good to remem­ber. Let’s go plant some beans.


End Cap: Turn Left at the Cow

Turn Left at the CowWe hope you enjoyed read­ing Turn Left at the Cow, solv­ing the mys­tery. Did you fig­ure out who­dunit before the cli­mac­tic scene? If you love puz­zles and games, we hope you have a good time solv­ing this Word Search. 

Sim­ply use your mouse or touch pad to draw a line over your found words and the pro­gram will mark them off for you. Words can be found for­wards, back­wards, hor­i­zon­tal­ly, ver­ti­cal­ly, and diag­o­nal­ly. As you find a word, it will be high­light­ed on the board and it will dis­ap­pear from the word list.

Have fun!

Hid­den Words

Puz­zle by mypuzzle.org


ph_moseyingMy favorite road trips focus more on the dis­cov­er­ies the jour­ney holds than on rapid­ly reach­ing a des­ti­na­tion. You might call me a mosey­ing kind of per­son.

Every fall, my mom and I load my nephews and niece into the car for one of my favorite mean­ders: a vis­it to the Min­neso­ta Land­scape Arbore­tum. In the years it has tak­en for the old­est of the kids to go from babies to tex­ting teenagers, we have per­fect­ed the art of stretch­ing the Arboretum’s Three-Mile Dri­ve into a sev­er­al hours’ ram­ble.

There are year­ly rit­u­als: a stop to see if the kids can still squeeze them­selves inside the lit­tle hous­es, a good long roll down the big green hill. But our leisure­ly pace also affords us the time to notice some­thing new each vis­it: the tex­ture of this par­tic­u­lar tree trunk, the fire cap­tured in that indi­vid­ual autumn leaf. The vista of the dis­tant barn crown­ing the tree­tops.

This tak­ing-a-deep-breath jour­ney allows me the chance to notice the way the teenaged nephew who Grand­ma once car­ried across this same park­ing lot, now leans down to pro­tec­tive­ly offer Grand­ma his arm.

Some­times writ­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the revi­sion stage, requires that we slow our­selves way down. It is not always pos­si­ble to hur­ry and still do it right, but giv­en enough time, we have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to notice the tex­ture of the words, to ask our­selves if the piece’s fire burns bright­ly enough.

The next time you chal­lenge your stu­dents to revise, encour­age them to notice each indi­vid­ual word. Ask them to focus on the dis­cov­er­ies they are mak­ing, rather than on the des­ti­na­tion of a due date or a grade.

Some­times mosey­ing makes for bet­ter writ­ing.


Does Research Count?

Lots of peo­ple ask me for advice on writ­ing.
That’s a hard one to answer. Writ­ing is per­son­al, and it’s dif­fer­ent for every­one.

But peo­ple are curi­ous about my process, the dai­ly prac­tice of my craft.
They think that hear­ing about my process might help them in their own work.

Maybe it will. At any rate, it is a ques­tion I can answer.
This col­umn, Page Break, is my answer to that ques­tion.  Wel­come to my world.

Lynne Jonell's Page Break


Wolf Sighting


Our house in the Rocky Moun­tains. This is a pho­to, even though it looks like a paint­ing. And that’s our dog McKin­ley, not a wolf. He’s no longer with us but he was the inspi­ra­tion for The Good Dog.

It is not often that I get a call such as I just did. The call came Lar­ry McCoy, who holds a doc­tor­ate in the­ol­o­gy, and teach­es phi­los­o­phy at the Steam­boat, Col­orado Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege. He also builds log hous­es and has a dog named “Helen.” That’s the way folks are here in Routt Coun­ty.  He is one of our near neigh­bors, liv­ing about a mile and a half away.

Now my wife and I live on a high ridge (9500 feet up) right on the edge of Rout Nation­al For­est. We own forty-five acres, which may seem like a lot if you do not live in Col­orado. In fact, while the deed says we own this land, we do noth­ing with it, save live on it (in a log house) and wan­der about on snow­shoes, or look at the wild­flow­ers. Sea­son depend­ing.

Now the fact that we live on the edge of the nation­al for­est might explain what hap­pened and why Lar­ry called me.

Avi,” said Lar­ry, “I just thought you’d want to know that there have been three sight­ings — includ­ing by me — of a wolf on your land. I saw him, or her, down by your pond.”

In the fif­teen or so years that we have lived here, no such sight­ings in all of Col­orado has been report­ed. And this wolf was a few yards from our home.

Rocky Mountains view

the view from our front win­dow

Some­thing to be fright­ened about? No. There is NO record­ed account of a wolf ever attack­ing peo­ple. Cat­tle is a whole dif­fer­ent ques­tion. 

Where did he/she come from? There are wolves to the far north of us, in Wyoming, at Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park. There is plen­ty of for­est between us and that spot. Maybe he came from that­away.

But why?

Is he/she part of a pack? Wolves are intense­ly social crea­tures, with fas­ci­nat­ing fam­i­ly exis­tences.

A lone wolf?

An old wolf? A young­ster seek­ing new ter­ri­to­ry?

Not like­ly we’ll ever know. Or maybe nev­er even see the crea­ture.

But as my wife said, “Oh, Avi!  Our own wolf!  I’ve always want­ed that!” 

She real­ly said that, which was news to me.


Going to Camp

Mother Daughter Book CampAs sum­mer begins, it’s pos­si­ble there is no more ubiq­ui­tous expe­ri­ence for Amer­i­can chil­dren than sum­mer camp. Whether it’s a day camp or a sleep­away camp, an art or music camp, a Girl Scout or church camp, there are some things that most camps have in com­mon: the out­doors, get­ting along with oth­er kids and coun­selors, and new expe­ri­ences.

Or, as Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick writes in her lat­est Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club book, Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp, the mot­to of Camp Love­joy is “Broad­en­ing Hori­zons for Over a Cen­tu­ry.” Girls are encour­aged to stretch out­side their com­fort zones.

When the sub­ject of sum­mer camp comes up among my friends, the dis­cus­sion turns to crafts learned (mac­a­roni-adorned some­thing), songs sung, injuries sus­tained, fam­i­ly week­ends, and unfor­get­table coun­selors.

Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp cap­tures this expe­ri­ence with spot-on details, the emo­tions of being away at camp (remem­ber that feel­ing of home­sick­ness? who were these strangers? how would you make it through [how­ev­er long you were slat­ed to be there]? how could you ever leave?), the food, the one most mem­o­rable expe­ri­ence, and those won­der­ful friend­ships.

Mother Daughter Book Club Series

I’m a big fan of this series of books which began with The Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club, con­tin­ued with Much Ado about Anne, and con­tin­ued through to the recent, sev­enth book, Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp. We’ve grown to care about these five girls, Emma (the most ded­i­cat­ed read­er and writer), Jess (the farm girl and musi­cian), Bec­ca (first a bul­ly, then a friend, high­ly orga­nized, quil­ter), Megan (fash­ion­ista, blog­ger, whose moth­er is obsessed with green and healthy liv­ing), and Cas­sidy (sports, sports, and great love of fam­i­ly). Their moth­ers are famil­iar, too, because of Book Club meet­ings and trips they’ve tak­en. There are even grand­moth­ers with­in these sto­ries. I love it when all of the gen­er­a­tions are drawn into the sto­ry, don’t you? These are five girls who for the most part didn’t know each oth­er before the book club began — and now they’re for­ev­er friends.

In each part of the series, the book club dis­cuss­es a clas­sic book, from Lit­tle Women to Anne of Green Gables to the Bet­sy-Tacy books to the book fea­tured in Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp, Under­stood Bet­sy by Dorothy Can­field Fish­er. The book club shares Fun Facts about the book and the author and so, of course, read­ers are drawn inevitably to read­ing the fea­tured book — how can curios­i­ty not engen­der this result? And the book club is woven skill­ful­ly into the larg­er sto­ry, which pro­vides plen­ty of laughs, a lot of gasps of sur­prise, and heart­warm­ing tears.

I’ve come to care about these girls, their fam­i­lies, their boyfriends. Each of them is head­ing off to a dif­fer­ent col­lege after being coun­selors at Camp Love­joy. The series is done with book sev­en but I know they’ll stay in touch. Their lives are inter­twined. I’m going to miss know­ing what hap­pens next.

Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick has writ­ten char­ac­ters so vivid that I expect them to walk through my front door, plop down on the couch, and tell me all about their lives. I wish they would.

These books are that good. I high­ly rec­om­mend them for fourth grade read­ers and old­er. The char­ac­ters are in sixth grade when their book club is formed. We watch them grow up, grad­u­ate from high school, and spend a spe­cial sum­mer togeth­er at camp before they head off to the rest of their lives.

I’m grate­ful that their sto­ries are a part of my life.


Twisted Tots Hotdish

Twisted Tots Hotdish

For a deli­cious hot dish, which Trev’s grand­moth­er may well have cooked for him, you can’t beat this slight­ly dif­fer­ent take on the Tater Tot Hot­dish. Because it’s a Min­neso­ta thing, don’t you know?
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Total Time1 hr
Serv­ings: 8


  • 1 lb very lean ground beef
  • 1 can cream of mush­room soup
  • 2 cups shred­ded sharp ched­dar
  • 14 cup diced red bell pep­per
  • 14 cup diced green bell pep­per
  • 6 strips cooked bacon crum­bled
  • 12 cup French fried onions
  • 2 cups tater tots


  • Pre­heat oven to 350ºF
  • Press uncooked ground beef into an 11×7” bak­ing dish. Spread the tater tots even­ly on top of the ground beef. Pour the soup over the tater tots. Sprin­kle the diced bell pep­pers, bacon, and French fried onions on top of the soup. Dis­trib­ute one cup of cheese over the top.
  • Bake for 20 min­utes. Remove from oven and stir the casse­role, break­ing the meat into chunks. Add the rest of the cheese and cook for an addi­tion­al 20 to 30 min­utes until top of casse­role looks as entic­ing as you’d like it to look.

One Day at the Farmers Market

Farmers MarketSat­ur­day was gor­geous, and (Oh joy! Oh rap­ture!) the open­ing day of the Mill City Farm­ers Mar­ket, one of my favorite mar­kets here in the Twin Cities. I got up and out the door in such a hur­ry I for­got my mar­ket bas­ket, but no mat­ter — there were just the ear­li­est of crops avail­able: aspara­gus, spinach, rhubarb…. I could car­ry the few things I need­ed — and truth be told, I was real­ly after the expe­ri­ence more than the food. The chilly air com­ing off the Mis­sis­sip­pi, the vio­lin play­er on the cor­ner, the chat­ter of ven­dors and cus­tomers, small kid­dos look­ing for future crops like berries and corn-on-the-cob and apples…this is the kind of thing that will clear the rest of win­ter from the recess­es of your soul! I got my cof­fee and bliss­ful­ly wan­dered the stalls. If I were to design the per­fect morn­ing, this real­ly is it.

And then — an unex­pect­ed gift!

Just as I was leav­ing for the busy Sat­ur­day ahead of me, I heard a rich bari­tone sing out. “STO-ries! STO-ries! It’s sto­ry­time! STO­RY­time!” The hair on he back of my neck stood up (in a good way). STORYTIME! Well, I wasn’t going to leave with­out sto­ries!

I moseyed back over to the stone steps of the Guthrie The­ater, the usu­al spot for pro­gram­ming dur­ing the farm­ers mar­ket. And sure enough, a com­pa­ny actor was there with a stack of kid books. Par­ents were get­ting their sticky-farm­ers-mar­ket- smudged-up kids set­tled at the man’s feet, mov­ing to sit up a step or two and enjoy their cof­fee in peace. I fit right in, I told myself, even with­out any kids with me. I just sat down with the par­ents and smiled down benev­o­lent­ly on the squirmy mosh-pit of would-be sto­ry lis­ten­ers, as if one of them was mine.

Reading at the Mill City Farmers Market

Read­ing and Sto­ry­telling at the Mill City Farm­ers Mar­ket

No soon­er had the read­er begun than all wig­gles stopped. The first book: One Day In The Euca­lyp­tus, Euca­lyp­tus Tree by Daniel Bern­strom, illus­trat­ed by Bren­dan Wen­zel. I couldn’t believe my luck! Bern­strom and I had gone to grad school togeth­er — and the book was but days old! I hadn’t even made it to the book­store to get my copy yet!

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus TreeWell, it’s a hoot of a book — as I knew it would be — and what I wit­nessed on the steps to the Guthrie was none oth­er than Sto­ry­time MAGIC. A mar­velous sto­ry, ter­rif­ic illus­tra­tions, and a fan­tas­tic read­er! (I mean, the guy is a pro­fes­sion­al!) The kids were rapt as this man belt­ed out the lines of the lit­tle boy who out­smarts the yel­low snake who swal­lowed him up.

It’s a sto­ry with some sim­i­lar­i­ties to I Know An Old Lady Who Swal­lowed a Fly and also to Brer Rab­bit. The boy in this sto­ry is the Smart One, a more pos­i­tive moniker, I think, than “Trick­ster,” as Brer Rab­bit is often called. The yel­low snake is tak­en by this smart boy. Every­time he swal­lows some­one or some­thing up, the boy talks about how much more room there is inside…and so the snake takes anoth­er vic­tim. And then anoth­er. And anoth­er. It’s the very small­est thing that proves too much, of course, and the gross results were most pleas­ing to the young audi­ence. One lit­tle girl clapped hard as the snake “expec­to­rat­ed” every­one and every­thing in his stom­ach.

Oh the kids loved it! The swingy rhymes, the fun word-rhythms — their lit­tle bod­ies swayed in time. The sus­pense! The fun! Their faith in the boy! Their joy as the snake’s bel­ly grew larg­er and larg­er. “Look at that bel­ly!” our sto­ry­teller exclaimed every oth­er page turn.

It all worked to make me quite teary behind my sun­glass­es as I sat there among the young fam­i­lies. I was so hap­py for Daniel, so grate­ful this won­der­ful actor lent his voice and sto­ry­telling to the morn­ing, so glad to have heard my classmate’s sto­ry before I read it. He has a won­der­ful gift with words and fun and rhythm and rhyme.

In my esti­ma­tion, it was quite the per­fect morn­ing. Per­haps the only thing that could’ve made it bet­ter was hav­ing a lit­tle sticky per­son of my own on my lap to hear the sto­ry with me. But alas, those days are pret­ty well gone for me. (Some­times I’m still able to bor­row.) So it’s just the pure joy of being read to now, which, as it turns out, I’ve not out­grown. Don’t plan to either.

Thanks Daniel, thanks Mr. Wen­zel — your book is ter­rif­ic. Thank you Mill City Farm­ers Mar­ket and Guthrie The­ater. Thank you to the won­der­ful sto­ry­time read­er whose name I did not catch — your sung “STO-ries!” made my day. You were won­der­ful! The whole thing was won­der­ful.


Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer

Charles Gigna

Charles Ghigna (pho­to: Scott Pierce)

This month Charles Ghigna, well-known as the poet Father Goose, offers “Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer.” There is much to pon­der here, no mat­ter what your age might be, but young writ­ers espe­cial­ly will find these words of encour­age­ment to be use­ful and inspi­ra­tional. For exam­ple:

your instincts
to write.

your rea­sons
not to.

How many times do you tell your­self you should­n’t be writ­ing poet­ry? When that’s what you real­ly want to do?

Enjoy these poems and take them to heart: you, too, are a poet.

Do you teach chil­dren to write poet­ry? The stan­zas of “Dear Poet” are short gems that will give you and your stu­dents good ideas for dis­cus­sions.

Charles is a pro­lif­ic poet, pub­lish­ing books for chil­dren, teens, and adults, who lives and writes in Alaba­ma. Here are some of his recent titles.

Charles Ghigna Books



Skinny Dip with Polly Carlson-Voiles

Summer of the WolvesToday we wel­come author Pol­ly Carl­son-Voiles to Bookol­o­gy. Her book, Sum­mer of the Wolves, has been a favorite adven­ture sto­ry with mid­dle grade read­ers, a recent con­tender for the Maud Hart Lovelace Award.

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

Jane Goodall.

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

The War That Saved My Life, by Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

Spend­ing a sum­mer on the wind­ward side of Oahu, in Hawaii.

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

So very many…but I would have to say, Graeme Base…

Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

I love the sea­son I am in … right now I love the spring with tiny green leaves mist­ing the tree tops, the wild white blos­soms of ser­vice­ber­ry and chokecher­ry. I always reluc­tant­ly say ‘good-bye’ to the last sea­son and then fall pas­sion­ate­ly in love with the new­ness of the new sea­son, with changes, new birds, new sounds, new col­ors.

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

To go to Africa and see ele­phants and oth­er crea­tures of the African wilds.

What a way to make a Skype visit with wolves in the background at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota.

What a way to make a Skype vis­it with wolves in the back­ground at the Inter­na­tion­al Wolf Cen­ter in Ely, Min­neso­ta.

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?

My best writ­ing hap­pens right after I wake up in the morn­ing. I get some of my best ideas in those shad­owy first moments of com­ing awake when my brain isn’t filled with dis­trac­tions. But I am not one who wakes at dawn.

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

I have one old­er broth­er who was expect­ed to do won­der­ful impor­tant things. Since we were raised in a sex­ist time and my father was very tra­di­tion­al, I felt very unim­por­tant as a girl child. It made me feisty, though, to feel that girls were expect­ed to let boys win at games, to not excel in school too much, and to be afraid of phys­i­cal risks. My rebel­lion against this was one of the great­est gifts of my child­hood.

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

To find your pas­sions and cul­ti­vate them like a gar­den. Do things you love.

Working with a school group at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota

Work­ing with a school group at the Inter­na­tion­al Wolf Cen­ter in Ely, Min­neso­ta

Your hope for the world?

That we all keep evolv­ing to learn from peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from us, and that we all learn to trea­sure the gifts of wild crea­tures and wild places.


Lisa Bullard

Lisa BullardIn this inter­view with Lisa Bullard, author of Turn Left at the Cow, our Book­storm™ this monthwe asked nine ques­tions to which she gave heart­felt answers. 

Lisa, thank you for your will­ing­ness to share your writ­ing process and your thoughts about mys­ter­ies with us. Mys­ter­ies have rabid fans and you’ve writ­ten a book that’s not only smart and fun­ny and sassy, but it’s a taut thriller. We appre­ci­ate hav­ing such a good book to read and to share with oth­er fans.

Turn Left at the CowAt what point in writ­ing your nov­el, Turn Left at the Cow, did you know it was going to be about an unsolved bank rob­bery?

That’s a great ques­tion — it makes me think back to the whole excit­ing process of how this sto­ry evolved over time! When I first set out to write this book, I actu­al­ly imag­ined it as a mur­der mys­tery for adult read­ers. And then one day, when I had about 5 or 6 chap­ters writ­ten, I was revis­ing the open­ing to the sto­ry, and a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent voice marched in and took over the first-per­son nar­ra­tion — and it was the voice of a young teenage boy. He had so much ener­gy, and I could “hear” him so clear­ly, that I knew this was tru­ly his sto­ry to tell. And of course he want­ed to talk to oth­er kids more than he want­ed to talk to adults! But that meant I had to rethink many oth­er ele­ments of the nov­el to instead make it a sto­ry for young read­ers.

I thought it seemed unlike­ly that a 13-year-old would be able to get involved in a mur­der inves­ti­ga­tion in a way that felt real­is­tic, so I brain­stormed oth­er pos­si­ble mys­ter­ies. At about the same time, I read a news­pa­per arti­cle about a man who was con­vinced that infa­mous hijack­er D.B. Coop­er was actu­al­ly his broth­er. I used one of my great­est writ­ing tools — the ques­tion “What if?” — and start­ed think­ing along the lines of “What if my char­ac­ter dis­cov­ers that one of his rel­a­tives was involved in a noto­ri­ous rob­bery?”

You’ve set Turn Left at the Cow in a small, rur­al town. Trav’s grand­ma lives in a cab­in on a near­by lake. Why did you decide that the “place” for this sto­ry should be in this locale?

This loca­tion was at the heart of this sto­ry from the very begin­ning; it stayed the same no mat­ter what oth­er details changed, and to me, this set­ting speaks so loud­ly that it’s like anoth­er char­ac­ter in the book. It’s based pri­mar­i­ly on the loca­tion of my family’s lake cab­in, which is on Green Lake (near two very small Min­neso­ta towns, Spicer and New Lon­don), in west cen­tral Min­neso­ta. Since my fam­i­ly moved around when I was a kid, it’s the one place that I’ve con­sis­tent­ly returned to since I was a very small child, and it’s a place that has sunk deep into my bones. Our lake cab­in orig­i­nal­ly belonged to my grand­par­ents, and I’ve spent some of the most impor­tant times in my life there with fam­i­ly and friends. It’s even where my par­ents had their hon­ey­moon, so I’ve tru­ly been vis­it­ing there my entire life! But of course, my sto­ry is fic­tion, so I did take some lib­er­ties with the set­ting — for exam­ple, I gave the town in the book a (nonex­is­tent in real life) giant stat­ue of a bull­head (fish), because many of my oth­er favorite Min­neso­ta towns fea­ture giant stat­u­ary.

Parade in Spicer

Travis, your pro­tag­o­nist, is a 13-year-old boy whose dad died before he was born. This serves as a strong moti­va­tion for him run­ning away from his moth­er in Cal­i­for­nia to his grand­moth­er in Min­neso­ta. Does your sure-foot­ed knowl­edge of Trav’s moti­va­tion come from your own expe­ri­ence?

I have been so lucky to have a dad who has always been very active in my life. To this day, we still talk and laugh and argue with each oth­er like we did when I was a lit­tle kid and a teenag­er. But many of the peo­ple I’ve been clos­est to through­out my life are not so lucky. I’ve been close friends with sev­er­al peo­ple who lost their father when they were quite young, and my clos­est uncle died the sum­mer I turned nine — so my cousins no longer had a father of their own. As my mom explained to me, that meant I need­ed to “share” my dad with them.

As I men­tioned ear­li­er, one of my great­est writ­ing tools is the ques­tion “What if?” It chal­lenges me to expand my sto­ries beyond my own per­son­al expe­ri­ences and to live inside the expe­ri­ences of a char­ac­ter who is very dif­fer­ent from me. One of the biggest “What if” ques­tions in my own life has always been: “What if I didn’t hap­pen to have the dad that I was lucky enough to have?” I decid­ed that this sto­ry was the place for me to try to imag­ine what it might be like for some­one to des­per­ate­ly crave a rela­tion­ship with a lost father.

Read­ers are fas­ci­nat­ed by the “red her­rings” in a who­dunit, the clues that could, but don’t, solve the mys­tery. At what point in writ­ing the sto­ry did you con­scious­ly work with (plant your) red her­rings?

walking catfishI love quirky details, and I built a lot of them into the sto­ry: for exam­ple, there’s a human head carved out of but­ter, a walk­ing cat­fish, and a game where the win­ner is cho­sen by a poop­ing chick­en. But I don’t want to give away any clues to read­ers who haven’t yet had a chance to read my sto­ry, so I’m hes­i­tant to tell you here which details are red her­rings and which details are key clues! I’ll just say that some of the red her­rings were in place before I wrote a sin­gle word of the sto­ry, some of them wan­dered in out of the mys­te­ri­ous depths of my sub­con­scious as I was writ­ing the first few drafts, and oth­ers were things I cre­at­ed quite delib­er­ate­ly when I was revis­ing and reached a point where I felt I need­ed to mis­lead read­ers from fig­ur­ing out the solu­tion too eas­i­ly.

Since that’s a real­ly vague answer, how about this? After you’ve read the sto­ry, feel free to vis­it the con­tact page on my web­site (lisabullard.com) and send me an email with any ques­tions you have about the spe­cif­ic red her­rings in my sto­ry — I’d be delight­ed to send you an answer!

Your sto­ry is very tense as it approach­es its cli­max. Did you have to re-work your man­u­script to achieve this?

Yes, absolute­ly! The entire sto­ry required many rounds of revi­sion, but I received some key advice that real­ly helped me make this sec­tion more dra­mat­ic and sus­pense­ful. The nov­el took me about 3 years total to write, but one year in par­tic­u­lar was very pro­duc­tive. Dur­ing that year I took a series of class­es from mys­tery writer Ellen Hart, and got great advice and feed­back from her and the oth­er stu­dents in the class. One of the things I learned was that you should write in short, chop­py sen­tences when you want to cre­ate a scene that feels chaot­ic and quick-mov­ing. Those short sen­tences push the read­er for­ward through the sto­ry more quick­ly because they read more quick­ly. In my first draft, I had includ­ed lots of long and mean­der­ing sen­tences, and those had to be bro­ken up or delet­ed alto­geth­er.

No time to think!I had also writ­ten a lot of reflec­tive pas­sages in those tense scenes — para­graphs where my char­ac­ter was doing a lot of think­ing along the lines of “How did this even hap­pen?” But in real life, when some­thing real­ly high-action and stress­ful is hap­pen­ing, a per­son usu­al­ly doesn’t have time to stop and think too hard — they only have time to react and keep mov­ing. Stop­ping to fig­ure out exact­ly where things went wrong comes after­wards. So I went back and took out all of those places where my char­ac­ter was “over-think­ing,” and just had him respond­ing to the dan­ger of the moment as best he could.

When you write a mys­tery, how do you know that it’s mys­te­ri­ous enough?

Wow, that’s anoth­er great ques­tion. I’m not sure that I know how to answer it exact­ly, but I’ll do my best! To me, mys­tery sto­ries are puz­zles: as the writer, your job is to hand the read­er all the pieces of the puz­zle, but to do it in such a way that the puz­zle isn’t over­ly easy to solve. So for exam­ple, I’ve nev­er liked mys­ter­ies where the answer is some­thing the read­er couldn’t pos­si­bly have fig­ured out — when there’s some impor­tant clue that the author has held back, and then on the last page, the detec­tive says some­thing like, “This let­ter that was locked in a bank vault until 5 min­utes ago proves that the thief was Mr. Vil­lain!” As a read­er, I want a fair chance to put togeth­er all the puz­zle pieces for myself — and if the writer still fools me after play­ing fair, then good for them!

Clue MapSo when I was writ­ing this mys­tery, I knew I had to play fair — I had to give the read­er all of the impor­tant clues. It was okay if I spread out the clues over the whole book. And it was total­ly okay if I mis­lead the read­er into think­ing that some of those clues weren’t as impor­tant as they turned out to be in the end! After all, it’s the reader’s job to put the puz­zle pieces togeth­er to get the right answer — I trust my read­ers to be smart, so I don’t have to make it TOO easy for them!

As far as the actu­al writ­ing process, I made a long list of all the clues I knew in advance, and I thought about how I could work them into the sto­ry at inter­vals so there would be clues all through­out. I also built in things that seemed like fake clues to height­en the sus­pense and to make the puz­zle more excit­ing. Final­ly, as I was writ­ing, at any point where I felt like the sto­ry was slow­ing down too much, I would ask myself, “What is some­thing real­ly unex­pect­ed or sur­pris­ing that could hap­pen to my char­ac­ter next?” — and that approach pro­vid­ed some addi­tion­al clues.

I also worked to think of metaphors and set­ting details that would add a spooky atmos­phere to the whole sto­ry, and I tried to put my char­ac­ter into sit­u­a­tions that seemed dan­ger­ous. After all, anoth­er big part of mys­ter­ies is that they’re more fun if they’re kind of scary!

Do you read mys­ter­ies? How old were you when you began read­ing them? Can you remem­ber some of the first mys­ter­ies you read?

Three InvestigatorsI love mys­ter­ies! They’re still some of my absolute favorite books, and they’re some of the first books I remem­ber read­ing. When I was in ele­men­tary school, I was lucky enough to be giv­en a huge box full of books that had belonged to either my mom or my old­er girl cousins when they were younger. The box held a lot of mys­tery series, some of them pret­ty old-fash­ioned but still won­der­ful. The dif­fer­ent series includ­ed Judy Bolton, Trix­ie Belden, Nan­cy Drew, and the Three Inves­ti­ga­tors. And some of the first “grown-up” books I ever read were Agatha Christie mys­ter­ies and sus­pense sto­ries by Mary Stew­art. As a kid, I loved mys­tery sto­ries so much that I made up my own mys­ter­ies and forced my broth­er and friends to “play” Three Inves­ti­ga­tors in our base­ment — we even wrote secret mes­sages in invis­i­ble ink (lemon juice) and then decod­ed them by hold­ing them over the toast­er.

What is there about a mys­tery that you think appeals to kids?

puzzleIt’s fun to get that lit­tle spine-tingly feel­ing that comes when some­thing is a lit­tle bit scary, so that’s part of it. Many mys­ter­ies are action-packed and fast-mov­ing (rarely bor­ing), so that’s anoth­er part of it. But I think a big rea­son is that work­ing to put togeth­er the puz­zle of the sto­ry is kind of like a game — and if, as a read­er, you man­age to fig­ure out the mys­tery before the story’s detec­tive does, then you also feel pret­ty darn proud of your­self, and smart!

Can you share with us what you’re work­ing on now? Is it anoth­er mys­tery? (We hope so.)

I’ve writ­ten sev­er­al non­fic­tion books since Turn Left at the Cow was pub­lished, and now I’m wrestling with anoth­er mys­tery. My writ­ing process is pret­ty slow when it comes to nov­els (and my life in the last few years has been real­ly com­pli­cat­ed) — plus I write a lot of my first draft in my head before any of it actu­al­ly hits paper — so there isn’t a whole lot actu­al­ly writ­ten down yet. But I can tell you that this sto­ry is set in the north woods of Min­neso­ta, and like Turn Left the mys­tery has to do with a com­pli­cat­ed fam­i­ly sto­ry and a lot of quirky small-town char­ac­ters. Includ­ing Big­foot, by the way — now there’s a mys­tery for you!


Secret Destination

Secret DestinationIf I hadn’t made the trip myself, I don’t think I would believe how quick­ly you can trav­el from the curi­ous world of the Las Vegas Strip to what seems to be its dia­met­ri­cal oppo­site: the Red Rock Canyon Nation­al Con­ser­va­tion Area.

Red Rock is com­posed of desert and rock for­ma­tions, the kind of place that inspired one web­site to urge vis­i­tors to leave news of their intend­ed des­ti­na­tion with a “respon­si­ble par­ty” before they jour­ney into its mys­ter­ies.

The Vegas Strip is com­posed of show­girls and casi­nos. In oth­er words, it’s the kind of place where vis­i­tors should leave news of their intend­ed des­ti­na­tion with a “respon­si­ble par­ty” before they jour­ney into its mys­ter­ies.

It’s almost as if Las Vegas keeps a giant secret wilder­ness tucked away in its back­yard — a secret unknown to many Vegas vis­i­tors who don’t ven­ture beyond the famil­iar flash­ing lights. And yet, now that I know that secret is there, a whole new dimen­sion has been added to my under­stand­ing of the Las Vegas expe­ri­ence.

Dis­cov­er­ing a secret can be illu­mi­nat­ing when you’re on a writ­ing road trip, too. Some of the best advice I’ve ever been giv­en about char­ac­ter­i­za­tion came from mys­tery writer Ellen Hart. She urged me to give every one of my char­ac­ters — even those who play small roles in my sto­ries — a secret.

She was right. These secrets have added a won­der­ful dimen­sion to my under­stand­ing of my sto­ries. Now that all of my char­ac­ters have some­thing tucked secret­ly into the back­yards of their lives, my sto­ries are more infused with poten­tial and human­i­ty.

Every young writer knows the refrain “I’ve got a secret.” Remind your stu­dents of it; urge them to study their own char­ac­ters, to find out what kind of wilder­ness each one has kept hid­den from the world.


Words of Wisdom

graduationI may nev­er be asked to give the com­mence­ment speech at my alma mater — or yours for that mat­ter. How­ev­er, just in case the oppor­tu­ni­ty presents itself, I am ready. After con­sid­er­able reflec­tion on my 25 years as an edu­ca­tor, I can sum up my mes­sage for aspir­ing teach­ers who are about to embark on a career in the class­room with the fol­low­ing words of wis­dom.

#1. Prac­tice the “Art of Being”

Being avail­able, being kind, being com­pas­sion­ate, being trans­par­ent, being real, being thought­ful, and being our­selves, this is the path that leads to suc­cess.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the “doing” when it comes to teach­ing. Once you jump on that tread­mill with your to-do list in hand, it can be dif­fi­cult to stop and rest. How­ev­er, it is the art of being that will lay the foun­da­tion for build­ing rela­tion­ships with stu­dents, par­ents and col­leagues. It is those rela­tion­ships that will play the most impor­tant role in your suc­cess as an edu­ca­tor.

#2. Devel­op Sta­mi­na and Speed

Be pre­pared to devel­op a com­bi­na­tion of these two con­tra­dic­to­ry but essen­tial skills. You will quick­ly real­ize that some aspects of teach­ing require you to go the dis­tance (bath­room breaks will be few and far between). At the very same time you will often need to train like you’re com­pet­ing for a spot in the Guin­ness Book of World Records (not every­one can eat an entire lunch and go to the bath­room in 20 min­utes or less).

#3. Mis­takes Are Okay

Beautiful Oops!The love­ly lit­tle book Beau­ti­ful Oops! by Bar­ney Saltzberg, offers a pro­found truth — mis­takes are much more than acci­dents or mishaps. They are oppor­tu­ni­ties to turn blun­ders into won­ders. Cre­ate a class­room cli­mate that embraces try­ing, fail­ing, and learn­ing from those errors. Set the tone for your stu­dents by cel­e­brat­ing those beau­ti­ful oops that all of us make so that every­one knows that no one is per­fect.

#4. Find a “Marigold”

Sev­er­al years ago, Jen­nifer Gon­za­lez offered this wise advice to those just start­ing out:

Just like a young seedling grow­ing in a gar­den, thriv­ing in your first year depends large­ly on who you plant your­self next to… Among com­pan­ion plants, the marigold is one of the best: It pro­tects a wide vari­ety of plants from pests and harm­ful weeds.”

Seek out some­one who will serve as the type of men­tor who will sup­port you with pos­i­tiv­i­ty. Find a men­tor who will not hes­i­tate to show you the ropes, answer ques­tions and offer reas­sur­ance — you will nev­er regret spend­ing time with a marigold.

#5.  Words Mat­ter, Choose Them Care­ful­ly

Choice Words Opening MindsChoice Words and Open­ing Minds by Peter John­ston are two of the best books I’ve ever read about the impor­tant role that lan­guage plays in our efforts to reach stu­dents and pos­i­tive­ly impact their learn­ing. Both books are full of insight­ful exam­ples of how what we say (or don’t say) can make a dra­mat­ic dif­fer­ence in the lives of stu­dents. 

#6. Par­ents Are Our Part­ners — It Is Not “Us” Ver­sus “Them”

Dear ParentsToo often edu­ca­tors make hasty judg­ments about what appears to be a lack of inter­est or involve­ment on the part of par­ents. When issues flare with a stu­dent, the blame game may sur­face and the ten­sion mounts. One of the great­est invest­ments any teacher can make is to devel­op strong com­mu­ni­ca­tion and rap­port with par­ents. It’s not enough to sim­ply say you val­ue par­ent input, it is nec­es­sary to cul­ti­vate a sense of team­work and mutu­al respect.  Check out Dear Par­ents: From Your Child’s Lov­ing Teacher (Hand­book for Effec­tive Team­work) by Dana Arias for a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of let­ters that pro­mote a true alliance between edu­ca­tors and par­ents.

#7. Net­work, Con­nect, or Get “Linked In”

Social media offers an end­less nexus of pro­fes­sion­al groups. Dig­i­tal natives will have no trou­ble seek­ing out and min­gling online with oth­er edu­ca­tors who share the same inter­ests and frus­tra­tions yet may offer a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive or approach. In addi­tion to the vir­tu­al world of net­work­ing, don’t hes­i­tate to join orga­ni­za­tions that meet face to face, offer­ing high qual­i­ty and ongo­ing pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment. State and nation­al chap­ters of the Inter­na­tion­al Lit­er­a­cy Asso­ci­a­tion (ILA), Nation­al Coun­cil of Teach­ers of Eng­lish (NCTE), Nation­al Coun­cil of Teach­ers of Math­e­mat­ics (NCTM) and the Asso­ci­a­tion of Super­vi­sion and Cur­ricu­lum Devel­op­ment (ASCD), to name a few, are incred­i­bly valu­able resources. 

#8. Expect to Be Over­whelmed

Rose-col­ored glass­es don’t make an attrac­tive fash­ion acces­so­ry for edu­ca­tors. The real­i­ty of this chal­leng­ing career is that it is and might always be over­whelm­ing. The teacher’s job is tough and it is not for the faint of heart. Despite this fact, the rewards most def­i­nite­ly out­weigh the demands (take extra notice of #9 and #10 to coun­ter­act #8)!

#9. Be Patient with Your­self

Patience is not the abil­i­ty to wait, but the abil­i­ty to keep a good atti­tude while wait­ing.” —Joyce Mey­er

You and your craft are a work in progress. It will take time to learn the art and mag­ic of bal­anc­ing cur­ricu­lum, tech­nol­o­gy, class­room man­age­ment, assess­ments, and effec­tive teach­ing strate­gies. You’ll like­ly be your own tough­est crit­ic. Strive to find the bal­ance between main­tain­ing a sense of urgency and stop­ping long enough to appre­ci­ate the fun and humor that wig­gles its way into your class­room thanks to the mar­velous lit­tle peo­ple you will be spend­ing your days with.

#10. Find Joy Every Day 

Be HappyBe Hap­py! by Mon­i­ca Shee­han offers excel­lent sug­ges­tions for stay­ing focused on the sim­plest of things … make friends, dance, dream big, be brave, along with a trea­sure trove of oth­er ideas. Read this lit­tle gem on the first day of school, the last day of school and lots of days in between. It is a mas­ter­piece and might just be the blue­print for a tru­ly sat­is­fy­ing life for all human beings.


La Escuela Primaria: A Visit to Cuba

school gardenThis past Feb­ru­ary, my hus­band and I trav­eled to Cuba on an eleven-day tour. Near the end of the trip, we drove from the cen­tral city of Cam­agüey to vis­it a ranch. After a two-hour dri­ve, our bus bounced down a long dirt road and passed under a wood­en sign that resem­bled a gate in an old west­ern, telling us we had reached “The King Ranch.” Sheep, goats, and cat­tle grazed on dry, scrub­by brush, in fields that lined both sides of the road.

We drew up near the ranch’s main build­ing. The ranch man­ag­er who wel­comed us was flu­ent in Eng­lish. He told us that Mr. King — the same wealthy Tex­an who once devel­oped a mil­lion-acre ranch in the U.S — had bought 40,000 hectares of land in Cuba before the Rev­o­lu­tion. At its height, the ranch boast­ed 20,000 head. When Cas­tro came to pow­er, the ranch passed into gov­ern­ment hands, as did all land and pri­vate busi­ness­es on the island. Now the ranch sup­ports 3,000 ani­mals and a vil­lage of about 130 peo­ple.

Our vis­it to the ranch includ­ed a small rodeo, where a few vaque­ros, rid­ing small cow ponies, com­pet­ed in calf and bull rop­ing as well as bull rid­ing. One stocky cow­boy man­aged to stay aboard a buck­ing bull for fif­teen sec­onds before being tossed to the ground. He scram­bled to his feet and dust­ed him­self off, unhurt.

After the show end­ed, we climbed into horse-drawn wag­ons that car­ried us to the vil­lage. As we approached a cir­cle of small, thatch-roofed cot­tages, a few kids ran along next to our car­riages, call­ing out to us. Why weren’t they in school?

Before we could ask, our hors­es drew up in front of a tiny, two-room school build­ing. We gath­ered in a gar­den out­side, dec­o­rat­ed with col­or­ful, hand­made sculp­tures of ani­mals and insects. Our guide explained that the teach­ing prin­ci­pal had just been select­ed as Teacher of the Year for all of Cuba. This hon­or meant that the school would host a local dis­trict meet­ing the next day. School had been can­celled to allow a team of teach­ers and par­ents to spruce up the build­ing, set up dis­plays, and sweep out the two small rooms where chil­dren in grades K‑4 were edu­cat­ed. In a nar­row hall, a par­ent was dust­ing and arrang­ing a few dozen books on a nar­row shelf that made up the school’s entire bib­liote­ca.

Mom with Books

Bib­liote­ca (school library): pho­to by John Fis­ch­er

 An out­side observ­er might think these chil­dren were deprived. After all, their homes were small sim­ple struc­tures, with dirt floors and thatched roofs. Except for the main ranch build­ing, none of these homes were built to sur­vive a hur­ri­cane. I also won­dered how the school man­aged with so few books and mate­ri­als. Yet the teach­ing prin­ci­pal (speak­ing through a trans­la­tor) was proud of his school’s suc­cess. He spoke of the ben­e­fits chil­dren gain when dif­fer­ent ages learn and work togeth­er. He also explained that par­ents are very involved in their children’s edu­ca­tion.

Cuban home

Farm worker’s home: pho­to by Mar­tin Cross­land

Cuba prizes its chil­dren. The coun­try boasts one of the world’s high­est lit­er­a­cy rates. Children’s health and edu­ca­tion are a top pri­or­i­ty. Through­out our trav­els, we saw chil­dren who appeared healthy, well-fed, and hap­py. On school days, chil­dren wear uni­forms accord­ing to grade lev­el: red and white for pri­ma­ry school; yel­low and white for mid­dle school; brown and white for high school; and dark and light blue for high­er edu­ca­tion. Their uni­forms are clean, bright, and ser­vice­able.

Health care is free for all, new moth­ers can take a year’s mater­ni­ty leave, and the state pro­vides free day­care from six months to age five or six. Edu­ca­tion is free, from kinder­garten through uni­ver­si­ty or tech­ni­cal school, and grad­u­ate school.

La Escuela Primaria

Escuela Pri­maria: pho­to by Suzanne Raley

Although this vil­lage is twen­ty-one kilo­me­ters from the near­est town, nurs­es and doc­tors vis­it reg­u­lar­ly, and ranch chil­dren receive the same edu­ca­tion and fol­low the same cur­ricu­lum as their peers in city class­rooms. Twice a week, teach­ers make the long trip to give lessons in art, music, and com­put­er sci­ence. The prin­ci­pal showed us a first grade note­book where a child had writ­ten long para­graphs in per­fect cur­sive.

Cursive Writing

Dic­ta­do (dic­ta­tion): pho­to by Suzanne Raley

Dis­plays on the wall demon­strat­ed sci­ence projects and geog­ra­phy. Chil­dren leave the ranch in fifth grade to board with fam­i­lies in a larg­er town, four nights a week. There, their learn­ing con­tin­ues, through high school and beyond if that is what they choose.

After our tour, I walked back to the main house with our guide and the vaque­ro who had demon­strat­ed bull rid­ing. I learned that he and his daugh­ter, now 17, were both born in the vil­lage and edu­cat­ed at the vil­lage school. His daugh­ter was now fin­ish­ing high school and would enter med­ical school in the fall. He was proud of her accom­plish­ment, but he spoke as if it wasn’t unusu­al.

Of course, Cuba has enor­mous eco­nom­ic prob­lems. Though cit­i­zens are well-edu­cat­ed, they work for pal­try salaries and may not find jobs that allow them to use their exper­tise and train­ing. Their lives are con­strict­ed in ways that we would find oppres­sive. But as our bus drove away from the ranch, I thought of the stun­ning and inspir­ing art exhibits, con­certs, and dance per­for­mances we had seen in every city on our tour, which demon­strat­ed the val­ue Cuba places on the arts. This was in sharp con­trast to our schools, where the arts often dis­ap­pear when bud­gets are tight. I thought of city schools in Amer­i­ca with over­crowd­ed class­rooms that lack basic mate­ri­als, and teach­ers who are poor­ly paid and dis­re­spect­ed. What if our coun­try val­ued its chil­dren, their health, nutri­tion, and edu­ca­tion, as high­ly as Cubans do?

The Cubans we met were warm, wel­com­ing, and informed. They asked knowl­edge­able ques­tions about our upcom­ing elec­tions. Cubans hope — as we do — that the rap­proche­ment begun by Pres­i­dent Oba­ma will con­tin­ue to grow and heal the rift between our two coun­tries. Many Amer­i­cans like to boast that our nation is the wealth­i­est in the world. Still, we have much to learn from this fas­ci­nat­ing, croc­o­dile-shaped island.


Summer Adventures


Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in ActionThe oth­er day, a pub­lic librar­i­an asked on social media for graph­ic nov­el rec­om­men­da­tions for read­ers aged 6 to 12. I imme­di­ate­ly rec­om­mend­ed the Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing series by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alex­is Fred­er­ick-Frost.

The first book was Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing: How to Turn Your Doo­dles into Comics, intro­duc­ing us to The Knight, Edward the chub­by horse, and the Mag­ic Car­toon­ing Elf. With humor and breath­less sto­ry­telling, this sto­ry cap­tures both atten­tion and imag­i­na­tion. I can­not envi­sion a read­er who wouldn’t want to pull out a pen­cil and give car­toon­ing a try.

Since then, there have been three more Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing sto­ry/how-to books and four pic­ture books fea­tur­ing the beloved char­ac­ters.

The book I’ve fall­en in love with now is Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing: Char­ac­ters in Action, first pub­lished in 2013. An afford­able paper­back, this is a stealthy way to buy an activ­i­ty book that also encour­ages sto­ry­telling, writ­ing, spa­tial think­ing, and math (yes, math, while fig­ur­ing out how to lay out the sto­ry).

These books are clever because they tell a sto­ry while show­ing how to write a sto­ry. And the sto­ry is good, not didac­tic.

In this vol­ume, many char­ac­ters are intro­duced as a way of show­ing how you can make dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters out of a few shapes and how you describe a char­ac­ter with a min­i­mum of words, cloth­ing, facial expres­sions, and place­ment on the page. And they all move the sto­ry for­ward! With each page turn, some­thing unpre­dictable hap­pens — that’s great sto­ry­telling. I admire the authors’ skill­ful­ness.

Read­ing these books as an adult cracks me up. The jokes are clever, but they’re lay­ered — and they, too, move the sto­ry for­ward, so they also teach while tick­ling the reader’s fun­ny bone.

Summer’s near­ly here. Are you gear­ing up with things to do? Buy the series of Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing books and pull them out of your bore­dom-reliev­er bag at oppor­tune times. They’re a can’t miss for any kids who like to tell sto­ries and draw.


The Odious Ogre

The Odious OgreI’m a big fan of Phan­tom Toll­booth by Nor­ton Juster, illus­trat­ed by Jules Feif­fer. I can remem­ber read­ing it as a kid and think­ing it both hilar­i­ous and clever. And I loved the words! So many words!

So when the Juster-Feif­fer team came out with The Odi­ous Ogre a few years back, I leapt at it. A pic­ture book! A long pic­ture book! My favorite kind! Full of long words and clever phras­ings — it is a hoot. I’ve read it to pre-school­ers through mid­dle-school­ers — they and their adults laugh.

The Odi­ous Ogre lives on his rep­u­ta­tion most­ly — and it’s a ghast­ly rep­u­ta­tion. He was, it was wide­ly believed, extra­or­di­nar­i­ly large, exceed­ing­ly ugly, unusu­al­ly angry, con­stant­ly hun­gry, and absolute­ly mer­ci­less.

At least that was his rep­u­ta­tion — it’s what every­one thought or sup­posed or had heard or read …. As Juster says: No ogre ever had it so good. He ter­ror­ized the sur­round­ing vil­lages and every­one just … well, let him. They thought it was hope­less, that there was noth­ing they could do.

No one can resist me, says the Ogre. I am invul­ner­a­ble, impreg­nable, insu­per­a­ble, inde­fati­ga­ble, insur­mount­able …. He had an impres­sive vocab­u­lary hav­ing acci­dent­ly swal­lowed a large dic­tio­nary while eat­ing the head librar­i­an in one of the neigh­bor­ing towns.

Now I know there are those who will read that sen­tence of won­der­ful i‑words and and the detail of eat­ing librar­i­ans and they will think one of two things (if not both): There’s a vocab list! OR, why would she read that to pre-school­ers?!

My hus­band just looked over my shoul­der at the illus­tra­tions and said, “Wow. That looks vio­lent.” And there are vio­lent scenes, to be sure. (Although they’re pic­tures in sweet pen and inky water col­ors, so the impact is soft­ened.) The best scene is when the ogre throws a tem­per tantrum, leap­ing and hurl­ing him­self around the gar­den of a com­plete­ly unflap­pable young girl out­side of her beflow­ered cot­tage. She’d just offered him tea. And muffins. This floors the ogre. He wor­ries that his rep­u­ta­tion might be in jeop­ardy. So he bel­lows and stomps and blus­ters. He gri­maces and twitch­es and snorts, all while belch­ing, claw­ing and drool­ing in an attempt to fright­en the imper­turbable young woman. There’s a two-page spread of his reign of ter­ror. The chil­dren adore it. The younger they are, the more they delight in it.


The girl is at first over­whelmed. Then she recov­ers her­self, sets down her plate of muffins and applauds with great enthu­si­asm for a full minute.

What fun, how mag­i­cal, how won­der­ful!” she exclaimed. “Would you con­sid­er doing that for the orphans’ pic­nic next week? I know the chil­dren would love it.”

It sim­ply doesn’t mat­ter that the three-year-olds can­not define all of the words. They know exact­ly what is going on — they’ve thrown such spec­ta­cles them­selves, after all! They think it hilar­i­ous that the young woman wants the ogre to do it again on pur­pose.

Tucked in my copy of The Odi­ous Ogre, I have sheets that I made that fold into a wee lit­tle book. It helps the kids to write their own sto­ry about  (Name) , The Most (adjec­tive) Ogre. It asks them to name their ogre, describe their ogre, draw the ogre‑y face, describe the ogre’s voice and sounds ….

Kids love this activ­i­ty! At first I thought it was the size of the book (maybe 2 inch­es by 3 inch­es). But I actu­al­ly think it’s the words. They come up with such cre­ative words after hear­ing such the­sauras­tic strings of adjec­tives from Juster. They name their ogres things like Chris­til­li­blly and Amdropis­ti­ly. They describe their ogres with words like humun­go, tiz­zl­ly, and grub­bling. They use all the crayons in the box when they draw their ogre’s por­trait, and they change their own lit­tle voic­es in the most amaz­ing ways to let me hear how their ogre sounds.

Big words, long ram­bly sen­tences, large art spreads — this is a great book for kids of all ages. I stand by my call for the longer pic­ture book. I wish Juster and Feif­fer would do a series for my per­son­al sto­ry­time plea­sure.


Skinny Dip with Eric Rohmann


Today we wel­come author, illus­tra­tor, and Calde­cott medal­ist Eric Rohmann to Bookol­o­gy. He agreed to give us the skin­ny on sev­er­al top­ics of vital impor­tance.

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

Dar­win, New­ton, William Blake … and so many oth­ers I’ll need a big cof­fee shop.

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

The Lost CarvingLate­ly, The Lost Carv­ing by David Ester­ly.

What’s your favorite late-night snack?


Favorite city to vis­it?

Vien­na, New York, Paris, Madrid, Sin­ga­pore … still gonna need a big cof­fee house in each one.

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

Trav­el­ing in the Amer­i­can west.

First date?

Some­time in the fog of High School.

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

Like a per­son could name just one!

red mug of coffeeTea? Cof­fee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?


Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

Autumn. Clear, cool, and col­or­ful.

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

The next one I have planned … so many places to see!

What gives you shiv­ers?

Good shiv­ers: watch­ing dogs run, Bad shiv­ers: con­ser­v­a­tive talk radio.

Morn­ing per­son? Night per­son?


Paint­ing you could look at again and again.

Bosch’s Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights; any Rem­brandt self-por­trait; Cezanne’s apples; Delacroix’s The Death of Sar­danopo­lus … lots of wall space in the cof­fee shop!


Hierony­mus Bosch, The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I can cook well, a lit­tle.

Milk DudsYour favorite can­dy as a kid …

Milk Duds.

Is Plu­to a plan­et?

Is Bron­tosaurus real­ly just a big Apatosaurus?

What’s the strangest tourist attrac­tion you’ve vis­it­ed?

Haw Par Vil­la in Sin­ga­pore.

Har Paw Villa

Har Paw Vil­la

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

Broth­er and sis­ter. Good: I was nev­er alone. Bad: I was nev­er alone.

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

Be curi­ous.

Your hope for the world?

Wish­ing for any­thing but peace would just be self­ish.


Bookstorm™: Turn Left at the Cow


Turn Left at the Cow

Turn Left at the CowWho does­n’t love a mys­tery? Whether your find them intrigu­ing puz­zles or can’t-wait-to-know-the-solu­tion page-turn­ers, a good mys­tery is engross­ing and a lit­tle tense. Throw in a lit­tle humor, a detailed set­ting, and well-drawn char­ac­ters and you have a book you can con­fi­dent­ly hand to young read­ers who are already hooked on the genre and those who have yet to become fans.

We are pleased to fea­ture Turn Left at the Cow as our May book selec­tion, writ­ten by the expert plot­ter Lisa Bullard, replete with her char­ac­ter­is­tic humor.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books, arti­cles, and videos for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. This month, we’re focus­ing on books for mid­dle grade read­ers with mys­ter­ies, humor, and bank heists. 




Don’t miss the excep­tion­al resources on the author’s web­site. Try your hand at but­ter carv­ing with “But­ter Head Beau­ties,” engag­ing sci­ence, art, and lan­guage arts skills. Re-cre­ate the book’s chick­en poop bin­go with “Chances Are,” call­ing on math and lan­guage arts. Lisa Bullard’s Pin­ter­est page has more great ideas that you’ll find use­ful as you incor­po­rate this book into your plan­ning.


Mid­dle Grade Mys­ter­ies. There are amaz­ing books writ­ten for this age group. We’ve includ­ed a list that would help you select read-alikes or com­pan­ion books, draw­ing on titles first print­ed in 1929 (yes, real­ly) to 2015.

But­ter Heads and Oth­er State Fair Strange­ness. A but­ter head is one of the atten­tion-wor­thy objects in the book. Begin an online research assign­ment with a few arti­cles about but­ter heads around the coun­try.

Fish Out of Water. Travis lives in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. When he runs away to his grand­moth­er’s cab­in in north­ern Min­neso­ta, it walks and talks like a dif­fer­ent world, one that Travis has to learn to nav­i­gate if he’s going to solve the mys­tery.

Miss­ing Par­ent. Even though Travis left his moth­er behind with her new hus­band, Travis is most inter­est­ed in find­ing out about his dad, who died before he was born. Books for this age group often revolve around a par­ent or par­ents who are not present. We’ve rec­om­mend­ed a few of them. 

Rob­beries and Heists. Travis has trou­ble believ­ing his father could have robbed a bank but the towns­peo­ple seem to think so. We’ve includ­ed books that delin­eate bank or train rob­beries, some of them true.

Small Town Fes­ti­vals. One of the most excit­ing scenes in Turn Left at the Cow takes place in Green Lake, Min­neso­ta’s annu­al sum­mer fes­ti­val where chick­en poop bin­go is a tra­di­tion. We’ve found arti­cles about oth­er small town fes­ti­vals that would make good writ­ing prompts, research projects, or Pow­er­Point projects.

Mys­ter­ies offer a spe­cial plea­sure to many read­ers, both chil­dren and adults. They pro­vide an excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about plot and how that plot is rein­forced by intrigu­ing char­ac­ters (and good writ­ing!).

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