Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Red Reading Boots: The Tapper Twins

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

I’m gen­er­al­ly a read­er of “tra­di­tion­al nov­els,” by which I mean nov­els that have chap­ters with titles, para­graphs with gram­mat­i­cal­ly cor­rect sen­tences, and per­haps the occa­sion­al com­ple­men­tary art under the chap­ter num­ber. I’m inten­tion­al about expand­ing my hori­zons and read­ing graph­ic nov­els, hybrids, and the like…but I still have to be inten­tion­al about it, I’m afraid. What can I say? I’m a suck­er for the com­fort­able, tra­di­tion­al for­mat, even as I’m often wowed by the untra­di­tion­al.

book_1_smallThe Tap­per Twins Go To War (With Each Oth­er) came across my radar and was accom­pa­nied by pos­i­tive reviews from peo­ple I respect a great deal, so I request­ed it at my friend­ly local library. It came. I stood in the library, flip­ping through, shocked at what I saw.

I must have the wrong book, I thought. It was the only expla­na­tion I could think of. So I looked up the rec­om­men­da­tion again. I had the right book.

I hand­ed it to my thir­teen-year-old daugh­ter, who is much more…open. And I lis­tened to her laugh in her room that evening while she read it. The next day, she hand­ed it to me and said, “Must read, Mom!”


You’ll love it. Besides, it’s a New York Book.”

I love New York Books.

The sto­ry of Clau­dia and Reese Tap­per, twelve-year-old twins, and their war is told as an “oral his­to­ry.” It looks much like a screen play in many places. (Geoff Rod­key is, in fact, a screen­writer.) But it also includes com­put­er screen­shots, gam­ing dig­i­tal art, text mes­sages between the par­ents, and doc­tored pho­tos. There are hand­writ­ten “edits and addi­tions,” lots of arrows drawn with these edits and addi­tions, and many ref­er­ences to Wikipedia-told his­to­ry. It is, in short…well, quite dif­fer­ent than my usu­al tra­di­tion­al nov­els.

bk_tappertwins1Then I read it. And I laughed out loud. In my office, all by myself. Laughed and laughed. Loved it. I’ve spent quite a bit of time around mid­dle school­ers in recent years and Clau­dia and Reese and their friends beau­ti­ful­ly cap­ture the diver­si­ty of matu­ri­ty, zani­ness, and crazy ener­gy of this age group. Clau­dia is a pulled-togeth­er, bossy, know-it-all who is thor­ough­ly exas­per­at­ed by her twin broth­er. Reese is such a twelve-year-old boy, and there­fore sort of bewil­dered by his sis­ter. Their friends are vari­a­tions on sim­i­lar themes. The dia­logue is spot on, the esca­la­tion of the con­flict true to form, and the rela­tion­ship between sib­lings, friends, and the mid­dle school as a whole is pret­ty per­fect­ly depict­ed. Through com­put­er screen­shots, gam­ing art, text mes­sages, doc­tored phots…..

Clau­dia inter­views the com­bat­ants and serves as the pri­ma­ry nar­ra­tor of the sto­ry of the war, which starts as a series of pranks and esca­lates to seri­ous (though not fright­en­ing) pro­por­tions. She includes the tes­ti­mo­ny of her clue­less par­ents (hilar­i­ous all on their own), the inept nan­ny, the allies, bystanders, and ene­mies. She is the one who draws the arrows and makes the cor­rec­tions and addi­tions to everyone’s tes­ti­mo­ny.

book_2_smallThe rela­tion­ships are com­pli­cat­ed and the mis­un­der­stand­ings numer­ous. But the nov­el cir­cles back in a very good way — and there are some “teach­able moments,” actu­al­ly, if a par­en­t/teacher-type doesn’t ruin it by call­ing atten­tion to them. Kids can learn a lot about how things look from dif­fer­ent points of view, how social media can com­pli­cate things in ways you can’t pre­dict, and how embar­rass­ments can turn into more or less than that depend­ing on how we react to them. I’m glad my social media new­bie read it.

Pick­ing up my copy of The Tap­per Twins Tear Up New York tomor­row! I’m a fan!


Beautiful Books: an interview with designer Marty Ittner

Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane GoodallFor young writ­ers who aspire to write infor­ma­tion books of their own, or read­ers who will enjoy the expe­ri­ence of read­ing more, we’d like to help them under­stand how a book design­er works.

Mar­ty Ittner designed Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane Goodall and gra­cious­ly agreed to answer bookol­o­gist Vic­ki Palmquist’s ques­tions.Flourish

When you start the process of design­ing a book, what pro­vides your inspi­ra­tion?

The design process actu­al­ly begins in the mid­dle of a book’s life. The project has already been con­ceived, researched and approved by the author and pub­lish­er to make sure it is a sto­ry worth the invest­ment. So when the design­er first receives the text and pho­tos, it is impor­tant to hon­or the life of the book and the author’s vision. There­fore most of the inspi­ra­tion comes from com­ing to know the sto­ry, and how to tell it visu­al­ly. Sim­ply put, inspi­ra­tion comes from with­in the book itself.

How do you phys­i­cal­ly orga­nize your ideas for the book lay­out?

At first I will do some rough pen­cil sketch­es in my Mole­sk­ine note­book, along­side the notes tak­en from ini­tial dis­cus­sions with the book team. But by and large the ideas are col­lect­ed dig­i­tal­ly in InDe­sign (a page lay­out pro­gram) and Pho­to­shop, a pro­gram which enables adjust­ments to pho­tographs such as adding col­or to an old black and white pho­to.

Do you start by know­ing the book will be a cer­tain size and num­ber of pages or do you decide the size and num­ber of pages after you’ve exam­ined the con­tent and cre­at­ed a rough design?

Nation­al Geographic’s mar­ket­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion teams deter­mine the size and num­ber of pages before it reach­es the design­er. These spec­i­fi­ca­tions are based on a long his­to­ry of pub­lish­ing and review­ing sim­i­lar books and prod­ucts.


There’s a lot of space on many pages where there is no print­ing and no pho­tographs: white space. Why is this impor­tant to you?

That’s fun­ny, because to me this book is brim­ming with col­or and images, com­pared with books that are designed for adults, which have much more white space. I wouldn’t fill an entire room with fur­ni­ture or sur­vive with­out sleep. Space is sim­ply the absence that allows us to see what is present.

You’ve used a graph­ic, screened back to 15% or 20% of a sol­id hue to lay behind the pri­ma­ry ele­ments on many pages. What does this do for the read­er?

On the first sketch­es for the book, I includ­ed some exot­ic vines and leaves that were meant to set the stage for Jane’s time in the jun­gle. The book team liked the idea and decid­ed to take it fur­ther by hir­ing an illus­tra­tor (Susan Craw­ford) to draw the spe­cif­ic plants found in Gombe Nation­al Park, where Jane was study­ing the chimps. At first the read­er may only see them as a back­ground, but even­tu­al­ly may devel­op a curios­i­ty to find out more, much like Ms. Goodall’s own work and note­books. We went so far as to include a page describ­ing each plant, some of which pro­vide food and shel­ter for the chimps. In this way, the read­er can dis­cov­er more about life in the jun­gle, and the inter­de­pen­dence of all species.


On some pages a pho­to cov­ers the entire page. On oth­er pages, a pho­to may take 1/12th or ¼ of the page. How do you make deci­sions about how big the pho­tos will be?

In children’s books, we use what’s called “track­ing”, which is that a pho­to must be on the same spread as its men­tion. For exam­ple, the pho­to of Jane with her stuffed toy Jubilee would run next to the text “her father bought her a large stuffed chim­panzee”. This can some­times be tricky, but for­tu­nate­ly I love solv­ing puz­zles. The oth­er fac­tor is the qual­i­ty of the image. We will high­light good images by run­ning them large and min­i­mize pho­tographs that don’t have the best qual­i­ty.


Do you work on a grid?

Absolute­ly! Struc­ture and form are the under­pin­nings that make a book cohe­sive — cre­at­ing a rhythm that is inher­ent­ly felt. The reg­u­lar­i­ty of the grid cre­ates an ease of entry for the read­er, as their eyes are not jump­ing around.

What com­put­er pro­gram do you use to lay out the book?

Adobe InDe­sign.

ph_knifeDo you do any of your work by hand?

I love the feel of a book as an object. So when design­ing, I always print and trim out the pages with an xac­to knife to see how they will look in the final book.

When a read­er picks up Untamed, how do you hope the book’s design will affect them?

It was a great hon­or to work with Nation­al Geo­graph­ic and Ani­ta Sil­vey to tell the impor­tant sto­ry of Jane Goodall and her beloved chimps. It touch­es on com­pas­sion, the envi­ron­ment, ani­mal rights and the strength of a remark­able woman. My hope is that the design delights and car­ries the read­er through the whole sto­ry. In this way, we can hope to inspire a new wave of com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­va­tion­ists.


Skinny Dip with Anne Ursu

11_25UrsuWhat keeps you up at night?

My cats bit­ing my feet.

Describe  your favorite pair of paja­mas ever

A stu­dent got me sushi paja­mas. What could be bet­ter?

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

Fig­ure Skat­ing. How­ev­er, this is very unlike­ly.

11_25MonsterWhat’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

There’s a Mon­ster at the End of this Book

What TV show can’t you turn off?

Pow­er Rangers, much as I’d like to.

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

Pet! Most of the time. There was a French teacher who hat­ed me.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

I’m not sure about the first, but I remem­ber doing Where the Red Fern Grows, and cry­ing on the book report.

11_25ShadowThievesWhich of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

I think Shad­ow Thieves. I don’t know who could play Char­lotte and Zee, but I would love John­ny Depp to play Philonecron.

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

You actu­al­ly get to be a writer. Also, you’ll have that stuffed bear for at least thir­ty more years.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

Next to my son.


Marion Dane Bauer: Animals in Stories, Animals in the World

11_24_puppyby Mar­i­on Dane Bauer

Who doesn’t love a pup­py? Well, admit­ted­ly there are some folks who don’t, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing how dif­fi­cult both ends of such crea­tures are to keep under con­trol. So let’s rephrase the ques­tion: Who doesn’t love a pup­py in a children’s sto­ry? Or even a frog or a toad, for that mat­ter?

Some­thing hap­pens to a sto­ry when it is pop­u­lat­ed by ani­mals, some­thing easy to feel but dif­fi­cult to define. Per­haps it’s what a sales rep for one of my pub­lish­ers once referred to as “the aw fac­tor,” not awe but aw-w-w‑w! He pre­dict­ed my upcom­ing pic­ture book would be suc­cess­ful because it had “the aw fac­tor.”

Ani­mal char­ac­ters are so com­plete­ly them­selves, so utter­ly with­out lay­ers or com­pli­ca­tions. The big, bad wolf will always be big and bad. Lassie will always faith­ful and true, mak­ing her way home. And we respond to each with our whole hearts, hat­ing or lov­ing.

I once had a stu­dent, a mature woman, who refused to read any sto­ry that threat­ened injury or death to an ani­mal, no mat­ter how well writ­ten, no mat­ter how well earned the story’s trau­mat­ic action might be. But that same read­er was not in the least offend­ed by On My Hon­or, my nov­el in which a child dies. I sus­pect she is not alone in her response.

11_24RuntTo take her side, at least for a moment, I’ll admit it is entire­ly too easy to elic­it tears through an animal’s death, espe­cial­ly when the ani­mal is some­what periph­er­al to the sto­ry. I used such a plot device myself in a long-ago nov­el, Rain of Fire. Per­haps, were I to rewrite that sto­ry, I would still decide to kill the fic­tion­al cat, though I’m aware these days of my own increas­ing cau­tion about such dramatic/traumatic plot turns. In part that may be because I have learned to employ more sub­tle devices. Maybe the shift has come, too, from grow­ing old­er and want­i­ng the world around me to be a bit … well, gen­tler, I guess.

In Runt, my nov­el in which the char­ac­ters are mem­bers of a wolf pack, ani­mals die, too, and the deaths are affect­ing. The dif­fer­ence, how­ev­er, is that I entered the sto­ry know­ing some death must occur if I intend­ed to rep­re­sent accu­rate­ly the real­i­ty of the wolves’ lives. And as with any oth­er strong action, to be effec­tive — to be dra­ma rather than melo­dra­ma — the plot moment must rise out of the neces­si­ty of the char­ac­ters, not be imposed from on high.

11_24MamaOwenBut what about the pic­ture-book lamb that goes out into the world and gets lost from his moth­er, the sto­ry I demand­ed be read to me again and again and again when I was a preschool­er? Or the baby hip­po who is sep­a­rat­ed from his pod dur­ing a tsuna­mi and ends up bond­ing with a giant male tor­toise, his real-life sto­ry pre­sent­ed in my pic­ture book, A Mama for Owen? Or what about anoth­er of my pic­ture books, If You Were Born a Kit­ten, in which I lead up to a pre­sen­ta­tion of a child’s birth through first depict­ing the births of var­i­ous ani­mals? How does the ani­mal nature of the char­ac­ters impact us as read­ers?

11_24Little-CatAni­mals, the liv­ing ones as well as those that rise off the page, seem to call forth a puri­ty of response from us. They cap­ture our whole hearts: Jane Goodall’s chimps, the dog who lies at my feet as I write this, the lit­tle cat moth­er in my upcom­ing verse nov­el, Lit­tle Cat’s Luck. They all touch into the most ten­der, the most human part of our­selves.

And because they are so ful­ly them­selves, we become more ful­ly who we are capa­ble of being, car­ing, gen­er­ous, grate­ful.

Blessed to share our plan­et — and our sto­ries — with oth­er species.


Changing Science Fiction Forever

All-Story Magazineby Vic­ki Palmquist

In its Octo­ber 1912 issue, All-Sto­ry Mag­a­zine pub­lished a short sto­ry by Edgar Rice Bur­roughs called “Tarzan of the Apes.” Do you remem­ber the plot? John Clay­ton is born to par­ents who are marooned on the west coast of Africa. His par­ents, Lord and Lady Greystoke, die on his first birth­day. John is adopt­ed by Kala, an ape, who moth­ers him as one of her own. He is that child who is unaware he is human. He goes on to be a man more com­fort­able in the jun­gle than he is among the gen­try, his birthright. He grows up and mar­ries Jane Porter but he returns to his loin­cloth-and-knife exis­tence as often as he can.

For many years, Tarzan of the Apes with its near­ly flaw­less male hero was one of the books con­stant­ly named as a favorite among teen read­ers. Read­ing the book, one could imag­ine one­self liv­ing out­side of soci­ety and any imposed restric­tions and expec­ta­tions. The jun­gle seemed like a hos­pitable place which, although very dan­ger­ous, offered oppor­tu­ni­ties to prove the met­tle of your exis­tence.

These books can be viewed through a nos­tal­gic, his­tor­i­cal lens as being writ­ten at a time when Bur­roughs, proud of his Anglo-Sax­on her­itage, wrote with the colo­nial view­point of white Eng­lish suprema­cy. Today’s read­ers will find his atti­tude dat­ed, if not repug­nant, and yet the Tarzan books are a part of our grow­ing-up as read­ers and their influ­ence on an entire genre of fic­tion con­tin­ues to be acknowl­edged.


Dr. Jane GoodallTarzan of the Apes does, indeed, have a tie-in with our Book­storm™ this month, Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Ani­ta Sil­vey (Nation­al Geo­graph­ic).

In a 2012 inter­view on Big Issue, Dr. Goodall wrote: “I read the Tarzan books and of course I fell com­plete­ly in love with Tarzan. I felt he’d mar­ried the wrong Jane — it should have been me. I was very jeal­ous of Jane. My mum saved up to take me to see a Tarzan film at the cin­e­ma but a few min­utes in I got very upset and had to be tak­en out. I said: ‘That wasn’t Tarzan.’ John­ny Weiss­muller was not how I imag­ined Tarzan at all. And to this day I’ve nev­er ever watched anoth­er Tarzan film.” (Pho­to: Dr. Jane Goodall, tak­en by jeekc in 2007, Cre­ative Com­mons license.)


Music of the DolphinsIn lit­er­a­ture and in sci­ence, chil­dren who are lost or aban­doned in the wild are called “fer­al chil­dren.” There are a num­ber of sto­ries and books, offer­ing evi­dence of our fas­ci­na­tion with this con­cept.

Gil­gamesh, Romu­lus and Remus, and Pecos Bill are clas­si­cal­ly rep­re­sent­ed as chil­dren raised by ani­mals.

You may have read the fol­low­ing books or you’re adding them to your TBR pile now.

  • Mila in Music of the Dol­phins by Karen Hesse
  • Peter Pan by J.M. Bar­rie
  • Mowgli in The Jun­gle Book by Rud­yard Kipling
  • The Blue Lagoon by Scott O’Dell
  • Valen­tine Michael Smith in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was raised by Mar­tians. This is not pre­cise­ly fit­ting with the def­i­n­i­tion of fer­al chil­dren but, hav­ing nev­er met a Mar­t­ian, I’m not sure.
  • Even Gilligan’s Island had an episode with a “jun­gle boy,” played by Kurt Rus­sell

Here’s an arti­cle about “Fer­al Chil­dren: Mind Blow­ing Cas­es of Chil­dren Raised by Ani­mals,” writ­ten by Mihai Andrei for ZME Sci­ence


Edgar Rice BurroughsMar­ried, with two chil­dren, Bur­roughs tried his hand at many endeav­ors and did­n’t suc­ceed at any of them. The pres­sures to pro­vide a liv­ing for his fam­i­ly spurred him on to sub­mit a sto­ry he wrote for pub­li­ca­tion.

Edgar Rice Bur­roughs’ first pub­lished sto­ry was “Under the Moons of Mars,” fea­tur­ing John Carter, which appeared in All-Sto­ry Mag­a­zine in 1912. It earned him $400. He’s cred­it­ed with “help­ing to lead pulps into their gold­en era of pub­lish­ing.” 

He sold Tarzan of the Apes to the Prank A. Mun­sey com­pa­ny for $700, which is $17,164 in today’s mon­ey. He had a hard time find­ing a book pub­lish­er, but once A.C. McClurg and Com­pa­ny pub­lished Tarzan, it became a 1914 best­seller.

Edgar Rice  Bur­roughs him­self wrote, “In all these years I have not learned one sin­gle rule for writ­ing fic­tion. I still write as I did 30 years ago; sto­ries which I feel would enter­tain me and give me men­tal relax­ation, know­ing that there are mil­lions of peo­ple just like me who will like the same things I like. Any­way, I have great fun with my imag­in­ings, and I can appre­ci­ate – in a small way – the swell time God had in cre­at­ing the Uni­verse.”

Here is Chap­ter One of John Tal­i­a­fer­ro’s biog­ra­phy, Tarzan For­ev­er, The Life of Edgar Rice Bur­roughs, Cre­ator of Tarzan.


Facsimile Dust JacketDid you know that the town of Tarzana, Cal­i­for­nia is locat­ed on Edgar Rice Bur­roughs’ for­mer 550-acre ranch, which was named, not sur­pris­ing­ly, Tarzana Ranch?

Bur­roughs had anoth­er wild­ly suc­cess­ful book series beyond Tarzan, set at the Earth’s core! Known as Pel­lu­ci­dar, there are sev­en books, which also have a fer­vent fol­low­ing. In one of the books, Tarzan finds his way to Pel­lu­ci­dar, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core

The orig­i­nal dust jack­et was hard to come by for col­lec­tors. In 2014, Phil Nor­mand of recre­at­ed that orig­i­nal dust jack­et and sold it to col­lec­tors for $50.

Are you a fan of the Tarzan books? Leave a com­ment to let us know why they appeal to you.


Packing List

by Lisa Bullard

9_10SpiralNotebookI gen­er­ate a flur­ry of lists for every road trip: A “bizarre attrac­tions to stop and see” list. A “things to tell the cat-sit­ter” list. A pack­ing list.

I love lists. I love them so much I have a whole jour­nal full of dif­fer­ent sorts of lists — I write down every­thing from house­hold repairs to my buck­et list. And I don’t keep lists because I’m one of those super-achiev­er types who expects to get all those things accom­plished.

Instead, I make lists because I man­age to for­get even the most obvi­ous of things if I don’t make note of them. Some­times when the tem­per­a­ture is below zero here in the win­ter, I actu­al­ly for­get to breathe while I’m walk­ing out­side.

Okay, I don’t real­ly write down “breathe,” because I’m not quite that hope­less.  But I do write down most prac­ti­cal stuff.  My lists are the best way I’ve found to suc­cess­ful­ly de-clut­ter my brain. By mak­ing them, I clear out space for my imag­i­na­tion to play.

And then what­ev­er quirky, catawam­pus ideas were pre­vi­ous­ly shoved to the cor­ners of my mind have room to grow, to end up on their own lists. These get filed away under head­ings like “great ideas for a book some­day,” or “awe­some odd­ball char­ac­ter pos­si­bil­i­ties.” They are the best resource I have when I need a prompt to get me start­ed on a new writ­ing project.

In hon­or of this kind of list-mak­ing, the type that feeds the imag­i­na­tion, I offer you a “list poem” activ­i­ty here. It reminds stu­dents not to for­get four impor­tant things: name­ly, the oth­er sens­es — sound, touch, taste, smell — that writ­ers too often over­look. It also reminds stu­dents to “feed” their imag­i­na­tions by notic­ing the many things that they are thank­ful for this Thanks­giv­ing sea­son.


Books about Boxes

Box­es have many sto­ries to share, sto­ries to inspire, and sto­ries to help us learn and be cre­ative. Here are a few of the sto­ries that box­es have to tell. You might well expect to find books about cre­ative play and card­board box­es, but there are books for a range of young read­ers here and box­es comes in many shapes and col­ors.

(If you would like to pur­chase any of the books below that are in print, click­ing on the book cov­er will take you to, which shares its book sales with local, inde­pen­dent book­sellers. Bookol­o­gy earns a small com­mis­sion from the sale of each book, there­by sup­port­ing the work we do.)


365 Pen­guins

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jean-Luc Fro­men­tal
Hol­i­day House, 2012

A fam­i­ly find a pen­guin mys­te­ri­ous­ly deliv­ered in a box to their door every day of the year. At first the pen­guins are cute, but with every pass­ing day they pile up and they cause the fam­i­ly sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems. Who on earth is send­ing these crit­ters? This book holds math con­cepts and envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns with­in its sto­ry, which is quite fun. Ages 4 to 8.

Beryl's Box


Beryl’s Box

writ­ten by Lisa Tay­lor
Barron’s Juve­niles, 1993

When Pene­lope and Beryl must play togeth­er at Penelope’s house, Beryl isn’t inter­est­ed in Penelope’s plen­ti­ful toys. She wants to play in a card­board box, imag­in­ing all sorts of adven­tures. Pene­lope is intrigued and soon the girls become friends. Ages 3 to 6.

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom


Box: Hen­ry Brown Mails Him­self to Free­dom

writ­ten by Car­ole Boston Weath­er­ford
illus­trat­ed by Michele Wood
Can­dlewick Press, 2020

Hen­ry Brown wrote that long before he came to be known as Box, he “entered the world a slave.” He was put to work as a child and passed down from one gen­er­a­tion to the next — as prop­er­ty. When he was an adult, his wife and chil­dren were sold away from him out of spite. Hen­ry Brown watched as his fam­i­ly left bound in chains, head­ed to the deep­er South. What more could be tak­en from him? But then hope — and help — came in the form of the Under­ground Rail­road. Escape!

A Box Story  

Box Sto­ry

writ­ten by Ken­neth Kit Lamug
illus­trat­ed by Rab­ble Boy
Rab­ble­Box, 2011

The author and illus­tra­tor uses pen­cil draw­ings to con­vey all the ways in which a box is not just a box. Ages 3 to 7.

A Box Can Be Many Things  

A Box Can Be Many Things

writ­ten by Dana Meachen Rau
Chil­dren’s Press, 1997

An ear­ly read­er about a box that’s being thrown away and the two kids who res­cue it for their own adven­tures, slow­ly cut­ting the box up for the sup­plies they need, until there isn’t much left of the box. Ages 3 to 6

Boxes for Katje  

Box­es for Kat­je

writ­ten by Can­dace Flem­ing
illus­trat­ed by Sta­cy Dressen-McQueen
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2003

A heart­warm­ing sto­ry about a com­mu­ni­ty in Indi­ana which, upon hear­ing about Holland’s strug­gles to find enough food, cloth­ing, and prac­ti­cal items after World War II, sends box­es of sup­plies to Olst, Hol­land. Ages 5 to 10.



writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Doug Ten­Napel

In this graph­ic nov­el, Cam’s dad is feel­ing depressed and there isn’t a lot of mon­ey to buy Cam some­thing for his birth­day. He gives him a card­board box and togeth­er they work to cre­ate a man from the box. It mag­i­cal­ly comes to life and all is well until the neigh­bor­hood bul­ly strives to turn the card­board man to his evil pur­pos­es. Ages 10 and up.

Cardboard Box Book  

Card­board Box Book

writ­ten and cre­at­ed by Roger Prid­dy and Sarah Pow­ell
illus­trat­ed by Bar­bi Sido
Prid­dy Books, 2012

If you’re in need of ideas and tips for mak­ing your own card­board cre­ations, or even if you are full of ideas, you’ll be inspired by this book that helps you fig­ure out how to make some amaz­ing but sim­ple card­board con­trap­tions. All you need is sim­ple house­hold art sup­plies like a pen­cil and glue and scis­sors. And maybe a lit­tle paint. Ages 5 and up (with adult super­vi­sion).

Cardboard Creatures  

Card­board Crea­tures: Con­tem­po­rary Card­board Craft Projects for the Home, Cel­e­bra­tions & Gifts

writ­ten and cre­at­ed by Claude Jean­tet
David & Charles, 2014

What else can you do with card­board? Sculp­tures, of course. There are clever ani­mals to make here, designed by an archi­tect who has her own shop in Paris where she sells her intrigu­ing card­board art. You and your chil­dren can make these things, too! Ages 5 and up (with adult super­vi­sion)..

Christina Katerina and the Box  

Christi­na Kate­ri­na and the Box

writ­ten by Patri­cia Lee Gauch
illus­trat­ed by Doris Burns
Boyds Mills Press, 2012

When Christi­na Katerina’s fam­i­ly buys a new refrig­er­a­tor, her moth­er is excit­ed about the refrig­er­a­tor but Christi­na Kate­ri­na is excit­ed about the box. She can do all kinds of things with a box, includ­ing a cas­tle and a play­house. Ages 3 to 7.

Harry's Box  

Har­ry’s Box

writ­ten by Angela McAl­lis­ter
illus­trat­ed by Jen­ny Jones
Blooms­bury, 2005

When Har­ry and his mom come back from the gro­cery store, he grabs the box the gro­ceries came in and sets off for adven­ture with his dog, trav­el­ing the high seas, hid­ing from bears, and every­thing he can think of before he falls asleep to dream of more! Ages 3 to 7.

Henry's Freedom Box  

Hen­ry’s Free­dom Box: a True Sto­ry of the Under­ground Rail­road

writ­ten by Ellen Levine
illus­trat­ed by Kadir Nel­son
Scholas­tic Press, 2007

This is the true sto­ry of Hen­ry Brown, a boy born into slav­ery who is forcibly sep­a­rat­ed from his moth­er to work in his owner’s fac­to­ry. As a man, his wife and three chil­dren are sold away from his life. He makes plans with oth­er abo­li­tion­ists and mails him­self in a box to free­dom in Philadel­phia. Ages 5 and up.

Meeow and the Big Box  

Mee­ow and the Big Box

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Sebastien Braun
Box­er Books, 2009

For the preschool set, this book about a cat who cre­ates a fire truck from a box is filled with bright col­ors and tex­tures, and just enough text to read aloud. There are sev­er­al more Mee­ow books. Ages 2 to 4.

My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes  

My Cat Likes to Hide in Box­es

writ­ten by Eve Sut­ton
illus­trat­ed by Lyn­ley Dodd
Parent’s Mag­a­zine Press, 1974; Puf­fin, 2010

A rhyming text for begin­ning read­ers which also makes a good read-aloud, this dynam­ic duo tells the sto­ry of an ordi­nary cat who likes to hide in box­es while cats around the world do astound­ing things. Ages 3 to 7

Not a Box  

Not a Box

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Antoinette Por­tis
Harper­Collins, 2006

Nar­rat­ed by a rab­bit, this sto­ry of the many pos­si­bil­i­ties of a box (It’s NOT A BOX! Oops, sor­ry.) are drawn with a sim­ple line that inspires any­thing but sim­ple ideas. New York Times Best Illus­trat­ed Book. Ages 3 and up.



writ­ten by Alice McLer­ran
illus­trat­ed by Bar­bara Cooney
Lothrop, Lee & Shep­ard, 1991

A rhyming text for begin­ning read­ers which also makes a good read-Based on a true sto­ry from the author’s child­hood, the kids in Yuma, Ari­zona use found objects, but par­tic­u­lar­ly box­es, to cre­ate a city where they spend end­less hours play­ing and mak­ing up sto­ries and cre­at­ing mem­o­ries that will last a life­time. The book has inspired chil­dren around the world. There’s a park in Yuma to com­mem­o­rate the site of the orig­i­nal Rox­abox­en. Ages 4 to 7.

Secret Box  

Secret Box

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bar­bara Lehman
Houghton Mif­flin, 2011

There are secret mes­sages hid­den in secret box­es to be dis­cov­ered in secret places … a word­less book pro­vides beau­ti­ful­ly craft­ed images with intri­cate details that pro­vide much to think and won­der about, ulti­mate­ly encour­ag­ing the read­er to cre­ate the sto­ry. There’s time trav­el, mag­ic, and puz­zles with­in this book. Good for ages 4 and up.

The Secret Box  

Secret Box

writ­ten by Whitak­er Ring­wald
Kather­ine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2014

When Jax Mal­one receives a gift in a box for her 12th birth­day, she and her friend Ethan soon dis­cov­er it’s not a gift but a cry for help from an unknown great-aunt. Set­ting off to solve the mys­tery of the box and pro­vide the request­ed help, the kids are soon on a wild, crazy, and dan­ger­ous road trip … a fast-paced tale and the begin­ning of a series of books. (The author’s name is a pseu­do­nym, by the way, a mys­tery in itself.) Ages 8 to 12.

Sitting in My Box  

Sit­ting in My Box

writ­ten by Dan Lil­le­gard
iilus­trat­ed by Jon Agee
Two Lions, 2010

From the safe­ty of a card­board box, a lit­tle boy reads a book about Wild Ani­mals and — behold! — they come to vis­it him. How many ani­mals can fit in the box? It’s a cumu­la­tive sto­ry and the word­ing makes it a good choice for a read-aloud. Ages 2 to 5.

Tibet Through the Red Box  

Tibet Through the Red Box

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Peter Sís
Green­wil­low, 1999

When the author was lit­tle, his father kept things inside a red box that his chil­dren were not allowed to touch. When the author is grown, he receives a let­ter from his father, telling him the red box is now his. The red, lac­quered box holds secrets about his fathere’s expe­ri­ences in the 1950s when he was draft­ed into the Czecho­slo­va­kian army and sent to Chi­na to teach film­mak­ing. At the time, Czechoslo­vokia is a secre­tive coun­try behind the Iron Cur­tain. The father is soon lost in Tibet for two years, where his adven­tures must be kept secret but are shared with his son. The book’s illus­tra­tions are inspired by Tibetan art. Calde­cott Hon­or Book, Boston Globe Horn Book Award. Ages 7 and up.

What to Do with a Box  

What To Do With a Box

writ­ten by Jane Yolen
illus­trat­ed by Chris She­ban
Cre­ative Edi­tions, 2016

What can’t you do with a box? If you give a child a box, who can tell what will hap­pen next? It may become a library or a boat. It could set the scene for a fairy tale or a wild expe­di­tion. The most won­der­ful thing is its seem­ing­ly end­less capac­i­ty for mag­i­cal adven­ture. Read this out loud to your favorite kids and watch the ideas light up their eyes. Ages 4 to 7.


Skinny Dip with Maurna Rome

What keeps you up at night?

My mad dash attempts to fin­ish a video, write an arti­cle, apply for a grant, or get to the last page of a ter­rif­ic book often keep me up at night. 

bk_ElDeafo_NewberyWhat is your proud­est career moment?

My proud­est career moment changes each year as I dis­cov­er the unique tal­ents of a new bunch of stu­dents. My most recent would be fin­ish­ing a read-aloud of the New­bery nov­el, El Deafo. My “kids” were gath­ered around the promethean board as I shared each page of the graph­ic nov­el with our doc cam­era. The con­ver­sa­tions about friend­ship, the 70s, smok­ing, hear­ing impair­ments, and fit­ting in were price­less.

Describe  your favorite pair of paja­mas ever.

My favorite PJs are my Dr. Seuss footie paja­mas that I bought about 7 years ago. They are per­fect for school PJ par­ties that some­times take place dur­ing “I Love to Read” month.

11-18Skinny_JohnCandyIn what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Does it have to be a “real” sport? If yes, then bob­sled­ding (I loved the movie Cool Run­nings with John Can­dy). If no, then read­ing aloud while keep­ing kids beg­ging for more.

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

The bravest thing I’ve ever done was to move to Japan for 6 months, after grad­u­at­ing from col­lege, to teach Eng­lish. It was a mem­o­rable expe­ri­ence that affirmed my life-long desire to trav­el and learn about oth­er cul­tures.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

bk_Little-Golden-Book-Four-PuppiesThe Four Pup­pies, a Lit­tle Gold­en book, is the first book I remem­ber read­ing. I found a tat­tered and well-loved copy of it on Ebay and snatched it up. I read it to my stu­dents every year, and explain why the author’s mes­sage is so impor­tant to me (in a nut­shell: embrace change and make the most of your sit­u­a­tion!).

What TV show can’t you turn off?

The Good Wife. Ali­cia is a com­plex char­ac­ter who has a few flaws yet strives to be a “good” per­son (I wish they could change the title!).


Best Ever Banana Pudding

Best Ever Banana Pudding

A South­ern-style banana pud­ding that’s a fit­ting treat while you’re read­ing Ani­ta Sil­vey’s Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane Goodall
Serv­ings: 9
Author: Stephanie Har­ris


  • 34 cup sug­ar
  • 14 cup all-pur­pose flour
  • 14 tsp salt
  • 3 cups 2% milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1−1÷2 tsp vanil­la extract
  • 8 oz vanil­la wafers about 60, divid­ed
  • 4 large ripe bananas, peeled, cut into 14″ slices


  • In a large saucepan, mix sug­ar, flour and salt. Whisk in milk. Cook and stir over medi­um heat until thick­ened and bub­bly. Reduce heat to low; cook and stir 2 min­utes longer. Remove from heat.
  • In a small bowl, whisk eggs. Whisk a small amount of hot mix­ture into eggs; return all to pan, whisk­ing con­stant­ly. Bring to a gen­tle boil; cook and stir 2 min­utes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanil­la. Cool 15 min­utes, stir­ring occa­sion­al­ly.
  • In an ungreased 8‑in.-square bak­ing dish, lay­er 25 vanil­la wafers, half of the banana slices and half of the pud­ding. Repeat lay­ers
  • Press plas­tic wrap onto sur­face of pud­ding. Refrig­er­ate 4 hours or overnight. Just before serv­ing, crush remain­ing wafers and sprin­kle over top.


If you aren’t famil­iar with Taste of Home, it’s a great source for tried-and-true home cook­ing.
Adapt­ed from Taste of Home

Interview with Anita Silvey: Writing about Dr. Jane Goodall

For young writ­ers who aspire to write infor­ma­tion books of their own, we’d like to help them under­stand how a writer works.


Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane GoodallWhen do you remem­ber becom­ing aware of Dr. Jane Goodall?

I worked at Houghton Mif­flin when many of her books were being pub­lished and knew her edi­tor well. The first time I heard her give one of her bril­liant lec­tures, I became a total con­vert.     

What flipped the switch for you to con­sid­er writ­ing a biog­ra­phy of her?

My edi­tor, Kate Olesin of Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, asked if the project would inter­est me. They had access to pho­tos and could put me in touch for inter­views with peo­ple who had worked close­ly with her. Since her 80th birth­day was approach­ing, I loved the idea of a biog­ra­phy that cov­ered her entire life.          

Why was it impor­tant for you to write about Dr. Goodall’s life for young read­ers?

Her pas­sion, her ded­i­ca­tion to her cause, and her abil­i­ty to take a child­hood inter­est, a love of ani­mals, and turn it into her life’s work. I think chil­dren need hero­ines and heroes – and Jane Goodall qual­i­fies as one.

How many books do you esti­mate you read to write about Dr. Goodall’s life?

Prob­a­bly around 70 or so, and then I watched doc­u­men­taries, video clips, and read inter­views. You do so much more research for a non­fic­tion book than ever shows. But in the end, every­thing you exam­ine enters into what you write.

Where did you look to find info about her child­hood, which you use so effec­tive­ly to estab­lish what moti­vat­ed her choice of her life’s work?


For­tu­nate­ly a great deal has been writ­ten about her child­hood, both in sec­ondary sources and by Jane her­self. But to write that chap­ter I was often tak­ing a scene or idea from one book and com­bin­ing it with ideas and scenes from anoth­er. Writ­ing nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion is often like stitch­ing a quilt togeth­er, and scraps come from a vari­ety of sources.         

At what point did your ideas for writ­ing this book come togeth­er with a sin­gle, promi­nent thread that gave you a focus for Untamed?

By the time I had final­ized the out­line, I knew the direc­tion the sto­ry would take. Sol­id non­fic­tion writ­ing depends on a good scaf­fold. If you don’t get that right, you have to redo and redo until the struc­ture is sound.        

When did you start writ­ing Untamed and how long did it take you before you sent the final copy edits back to your pub­lish­er?

We had a sched­ule from the begin­ning of the project. I had a year for the first draft; we fin­ished edi­to­r­i­al revi­sion in 6 months. I have nev­er worked with an edi­tor as effi­cient and effec­tive as Kate. She knows how to keep a project on track!   

There are Field Notes at the end of the book that include facts about chim­panzees, biogra­phies of the Gombe chim­panzees, and a time­line of Dr. Goodall’s life, among oth­er things. Did these come out of your research? Did you begin by know­ing what you want­ed for back mat­ter or did that emerge after you gath­ered your infor­ma­tion?

Some of these I knew I need­ed, like a time­line. But the edi­to­r­i­al staff at Nat Geo, who work on non­fic­tion all the time, had a lot of cre­ative ideas – such as fun facts about chimps or the fam­i­ly pho­to album. Also because of their exper­tise, the back mat­ter has been designed to be attrac­tive and read­able for chil­dren.

Untamed, pp.34-35

Untamed, pp.34 – 35

What was your favorite part of cre­at­ing this book?

See­ing the bound vol­ume. I knew Untamed was going to be beau­ti­ful – but the final book took my breath away.      

What makes you the most proud about Untamed?

Jane Goodall her­self and the Jane Goodall Insti­tute read both the man­u­script and the final pages, check­ing for accu­ra­cy and inter­pre­ta­tion.  I am very proud that Jane Goodall con­sid­ered the book wor­thy of this atten­tion – and thought well enough of the book to write an intro­duc­tion.


Collecting your observations

Welcome to New Zealandby Vic­ki Palmquist

I nev­er kept a jour­nal. Why? It nev­er occurred to me. It wasn’t with­in my realm of famil­iar­i­ty. I start­ed writ­ing many sto­ries on note­book paper and stuffed them into fold­ers. But how sat­is­fy­ing to have a jour­nal, specif­i­cal­ly an obser­va­tion jour­nal to keep track of what you see, hear, and think.

As a child, I was a hunter-gath­er­er. Were you? Did you have a col­lec­tion of rocks? Leaves? Agates? Ani­mals? Per­haps you still do. Or per­haps you know a child who has these ten­den­cies.

I think of Rhoda’s Rock Hunt by Mol­ly Beth Grif­fith and Jen­nifer A. Bell (Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press). Rho­da col­lect­ed so many rocks on her family’s camp­ing trip that she couldn’t walk — they weighed her down.

Adding to Rhoda’s sto­ry, I think of Lois Ehlert’s The Scraps Book and Leaf Man. Author and illus­tra­tor Lois Ehlert is renowned for her col­lec­tions, her “scraps,” and how she puts them to use. A con­sum­mate hunter-gath­er­er.

Then there’s a brand new, absolute­ly amaz­ing book about cre­at­ing a nature jour­nal, Wel­come to New Zealand by San­dra Mor­ris (Can­dlewick Press). This pic­ture book com­bines the record-keep­ing, visu­al art sat­is­fac­tion, and exam­ples of dif­fer­ent things to observe in nature that will keep a hunter-gath­er­er busy for years. I admire this book on so many dif­fer­ent lev­els.

Welcome to New Zealand

Very clev­er­ly designed as a jour­nal, this book shows exam­ples of dif­fer­ent types of art, ways to arrange things on pages, labels, and note-tak­ing. There’s advice on press­ing leaves, observ­ing clouds and phas­es of the moon, and mak­ing a land­scape study. Every turn of the page brings a new sur­prise and some­thing to try on your own. (And you can do this — none of these excus­es about not being an artist — you are!)

Mor­ris writes, “Cre­ate a lay­ered map of the birds on the shore­line as the tide changes, like my high-tide jour­nal page here. Work­ing from the top of the page down­wards, draw the dif­fer­ent flocks as they advance clos­er.” Much bet­ter than ANY video game (and I like play­ing video games).

Welcome to New Zealand

Exam­ples of cray­on, pen­cil, water­col­or, and char­coal draw­ing will inspire each read­er. Plen­ti­ful sam­ples of cre­ative hand-let­ter­ing encour­age the free­dom to make your jour­nal quite per­son­al. Mor­ris pro­vides ideas, but unless you’re sit­ting on a beach in New Zealand as you read this, your jour­nal will be all your own.

And that’ just it. If you’re not in New Zealand, read­ing this book will teach you a lot about the land­scape, the mam­mals, the trees, the insects, and the sea­sons.

This book is great for any young hunter-gath­er­er and observ­er but any old per­son will like it, too! It’s a trea­sure.

Oth­er Resources

Smith­son­ian Kids has a site devot­ed to col­lect­ing.

Kids Love Rocks Fun Club

Dr. Patri­cia Nan Ander­son, Advantage4Parents, writes “Why Kids Love to Col­lect Stuff.

Now that you know about this book (you’re wel­come), and you try out some of the sug­gest­ed activ­i­ties, send me a sam­ple in the com­ments. Most of all, enjoy the time you spend with nature and your jour­nal.


Judy Blume

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

ph_blumeI had the extra­or­di­nary for­tune of see­ing Judy Blume a few weeks ago. I was going to say “see­ing Judy Blume in con­cert” — that’s sort of what it felt like, actu­al­ly. She’s a rock-star in my world. And she was inter­viewed by Nan­cy Pearl, no less, so the whole event felt like I’d won a prize and been dropped in A Dream Come True. Both were won­der­ful — pro­found, hon­est, fun­ny. It was such a treat.

Judy Blume played a large role in my childhood/adolescence.  My fourth grade teacher read us Tales of a Fourth Grade Noth­ing, of course, and from there I went on to Freck­le Juice and Oth­er­wise Known As Sheila the Great. By fifth grade I was read­ing Star­ring Sal­ly J. Freed­man As Her­self and learn­ing about anti-semi­tism, which I knew noth­ing about; and racism, which was a dai­ly part of life where I was grow­ing up; and lice, the rea­son we spent hours with our whole class in the nurse’s office being picked over. (If we’d spent as much time learn­ing as we did hav­ing our hair picked through, I prob­a­bly could’ve skipped a cou­ple of grades.)

I think it was prob­a­bly Sal­ly J. that got me active­ly look­ing for Judy Blume books. She’s the first author I remem­ber search­ing for at the library cat­a­log. I read Are You There God, It’s Me Mar­garet? many times in fifth grade. I was stunned to learn that a girl could wish for the changes brought on by puber­ty. Puber­ty hit me ear­ly, hard, and fast and I hat­ed the changes it brought. It was fas­ci­nat­ing to read about a girl who yearned for her peri­od, did exer­cis­es in hope of increas­ing her bust line (“We must! We must! We must increase our bust!”), and prayed to God to make her a woman.

blumestripMy daughter’s fifth grade Eng­lish teacher hand­ed her Margaret’s sto­ry. Per­haps I gushed too much about how I loved it, because Dar­ling Daugh­ter cared for it not. Our Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book­club tried a cou­ple of times to sug­gest the book — we moth­ers who came of age in the sev­en­ties had fond mem­o­ries. But as it turned out, the moth­ers (re)read it, and the daugh­ters refused. Not inter­est­ed. Not even about the reli­gious stuff, which I was sur­prised to find was real­ly the main con­flict in the sto­ry! I’d for­got­ten all about it — it was all bras and “san­i­tary nap­kins” in my mem­o­ry.

We moth­ers won­dered: was it because we were encour­ag­ing the girls to read Mar­garet that they didn’t want to? Our own moth­ers were not so keen on the book — Judy Blume’s books didn’t have a great rep­u­ta­tion among moth­ers in the 1970s. Ms. Blume cov­ered all kinds of top­ics quite frankly and some of those top­ics our moth­ers either want­ed to cov­er them­selves, or leave as a “mys­tery.” (Prob­a­bly most­ly the lat­ter.)

But I read a lot of Judy Blume, not hav­ing a cen­sor­ing moth­er, and I learned a lot from her books. I learned about sco­l­io­sis and bad deci­sions and wet dreams and peri­ods and inse­cu­ri­ties and mean­ness and kind­ness and fam­i­ly issues/secrets and mas­tur­ba­tion and gen­der and crush­es and sex. Well, actu­al­ly, I didn’t learn much about sex. The “key pages” from For­ev­er were passed around the sixth grade, but I was too ner­vous to actu­al­ly read them, which left things a lit­tle vague, giv­en that the play­ground dis­cus­sion around said pages was…a lit­tle vague.

Ms. Blume told us that those of us who grew up read­ing Are You There God, It’s Me, Mar­garet often ask her for a “sequel” bring­ing our friend Mar­garet full cir­cle as she goes through menopause. I would love this book, I must say. But Margaret’s author said, “Mar­garet is always twelve! Menopause is not her sto­ry.”

blume_eventAnd indeed — the book is pret­ty time­less (with a lit­tle vocab­u­lary updat­ed) because being twelve has a time­less­ness about it. Twelve (and the years just on either side of twelve) is a time of tremen­dous tran­si­tion and change, hopes and prayers, inse­cu­ri­ty and deci­sion. The details change a lit­tle gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, but the impor­tant stuff — the stuff of cre­at­ing and dis­cov­er­ing your­self, of grow­ing up — stays remark­ably the same.

I’m so grate­ful to Judy Blume and grate­ful for the work she still does — the writ­ing and speak­ing and the stand she has tak­en on cen­sor­ship. Her newest book (for adults), In the Unlike­ly Event, is ter­rif­ic. I can hear her voice as I read it, which is a tremen­dous treat as both a read­er and a writer. Huz­zah to Judy! I say. Huz­zah!


Chair of Honor for Vera B. Williams

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root

photo credit: Thane Peterson

pho­to cred­it: Thane Peter­son

Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin: Some writ­ers teach us craft. Some writ­ers inspire us. Vera B. Williams does both. As part of cel­e­brat­ing her won­der­ful life and career we want to take anoth­er look at her love­ly sto­ries and her busy life. One of the many remark­able things about her books is that they “erupt” (as she said) from the activ­i­ties of her life.

bk_williams_canoeThree Days on the Riv­er in a Red Canoe was based on Williams’ own 500-mile jour­ney down the Yukon Riv­er. It starts when a kid notices a canoe for sale in a neighbor’s yard. His mom and her sis­ter and his cousin pool their mon­ey and buy it. This is a fam­i­ly that thinks about buy­ing some­thing. There is not a lot of cash lying around. Amber Was Brave Essie Was Smart gives read­ers a lov­ing fam­i­ly (based on Williams and her sis­ter) whose father is in prison.  

One of her best-loved sto­ries, A Chair for My Moth­er, grew out of her expe­ri­ence grow­ing up “in a fam­i­ly that had a lot of trou­ble mak­ing a liv­ing.” She nev­er for­got that. In a Green­wil­low pub­lic­i­ty inter­view she recount­ed that her moth­er worked very hard, just as Rosa’s moth­er, and actu­al­ly did buy her­self a chair so she would have a place to sit when she was tired. Williams said, “I’m very proud of hav­ing intro­duced a kind of char­ac­ter and fam­i­ly and expe­ri­ence to children’s books… peo­ple who work for a liv­ing in very ordi­nary pro­fes­sions.”

Phyl­lis Root: Yes, one of the many things I love about Vera B. Williams is how both her work and her life cel­e­brate every­day peo­ple, work­ing class peo­ple, peo­ple with prob­lems, fam­i­ly, com­mu­ni­ty.

bk_williams_chairJacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin: And that focus on com­mu­ni­ty comes from her life, too. Her moth­er was very com­mu­ni­ty-mind­ed. She was one of a group of peo­ple who would gath­er on the side­walk dur­ing the Depres­sion when a family’s fur­ni­ture was being repos­sessed and “defy the bailiff” by car­ry­ing that fur­ni­ture back to the family’s apart­ment. I love pic­tur­ing that and think the two page spread in A Chair for My Moth­er in which neigh­bors bring pieces of fur­ni­ture to Rosa’s fam­i­ly after the fire must be part­ly inspired by William’s ear­ly neigh­bors car­ry­ing fur­ni­ture back upstairs.

Phyl­lis Root:  Williams said that as a child she didn’t under­stand her mother’s need for “new cush­iony chair.” In A Chair for my Moth­er Rosa, her moth­er, and grand­moth­er all work togeth­er sav­ing nick­els and dimes and quar­ters in a jar to buy a chair for the whole fam­i­ly. Williams trans­forms her child­hood expe­ri­ence, just as she worked to trans­form the world — she was a mem­ber of the War Resistor’s League and went to prison for protest­ing the Viet­nam War. She not only wrote about what she believed, she lived those beliefs.

bk_williams_cherriesCher­ries and Cher­ry Pits, too, is about trans­for­ma­tion. As a child, Vera drew pic­tures and told sto­ries about them, just as Bidem­mi does in Cher­ries and Cher­ry Pits. In each sto­ry Bidem­mi tells, some­one shares cher­ries — a father with his chil­dren, a grand­moth­er with her par­rot, a boy with his lit­tle sis­ter. And all of them are “eat­ing cher­ries and spit­ting out the pits.” In the last sto­ry she tells, Bidem­mi, too, has a bag of cher­ries. She eats the cher­ries and plants the pits in her “junky old yard,” where they grow into trees full of cher­ries, and peo­ple come from “Nairo­bi and Brook­lyn, Toron­to and Saint Paul” to eat those cher­ries and spit out the pits, which grow “until there is a whole for­est of cher­ry trees right on our block.”

Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin: And we can learn craft from this sto­ry, too. Look at this char­ac­ter descrip­tion:

This is the door to the sub­way and THIS is a man lean­ing

on the door… His face is a nice face. But it is also not so

nice. He has a fat wrin­kle on his fore­head. It’s like my

mother’s wrin­kle. It’s from wor­ry­ing and wor­ry­ing, my

moth­er says. And his neck is thick and his arms are thick

with very big, strong mus­cles. His shirt is striped blue and

white and his skin is dark brown and in his great big hands

he has a small white bag. This man looks so strong I think

he could even car­ry a piano on his head. But he is only

car­ry­ing this lit­tle white bag…

What great infor­ma­tion we get about the Bidem­mi and her moth­er from the descrip­tion of this man who has a fat wrin­kle “from wor­ry­ing and wor­ry­ing.” Who could ever for­get a man strong enough to car­ry a piano on his head?

bk_williams_morePhyl­lis Root: Williams believed that if children’s needs are met in “the way of love and adven­tures, we would have a lot more hap­pi­ness in the world.” Her book “More, More, More,” Said the Baby: Three Love Sto­ries joy­ous­ly cel­e­brates three babies whose needs are met, (and includes a white grand­moth­er and her brown grand­child, one of the first times such a fam­i­ly was shown in a pic­ture book).

In an inter­view in Show Me a Sto­ry, Con­ver­sa­tions with 21 of the World’s Most Cel­e­brat­ed Illus­tra­tors com­piled and edit­ed by Leonard S. Mar­cus, Williams talks about luck, a word that shows up not only in Lucky Song but also in A Chair for My Moth­er when the grand­moth­er thanks the neigh­bors for all their help mov­ing into and fur­nish­ing their new apart­ment. “It’s lucky we’re young and can start all over,” she says. Even the gro­cery whose own­ers give away water­mel­ons in The Great Water­mel­on Birth­day is named Fortuna’s Fruits.

bk_williams_gingerbreadOur fam­i­ly has been lucky to know Williams’s books for many years. Since we dis­cov­ered her first—It’s a Gin­ger­bread House: Bake It, Build It, Eat It! — we’ve been mak­ing gin­ger­bread hous­es and delight­ing in her sto­ries.

Here’s hop­ing many, many more chil­dren will be lucky enough to read and enjoy her books and to grow up in a peace­ful world where the grown-ups make sure that every child’s needs are met.  A world Vera B. Williams envi­sioned, worked for, and made into beau­ti­ful, deeply felt books.

Here’s a list of her books, all pub­lished by Green­wil­low:

  • Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart: The Sto­ry of Amber and Essie Told Here in Poems and Pic­tures (2001)
  • A Chair for Always (2009)
  • A Chair for My Moth­er (1982)
  • Cher­ries and Cher­ry Pits (1986)
  • It’s a Gin­ger­bread House: Bake It, Build It, Eat It! (1978)
  • Lucky Song (1997)
  • More, More, More,” Said the Baby: Three Love Sto­ries (1990)
  • Music, Music for Every­one (1984)
  • Scoot­er (1993)
  • Some­thing Spe­cial for Me (1983)
  • Stringbean’s Trip to the Shin­ing Sea, with Jen­nifer Williams (1988) 

And here’s where you can order a 1989 Peace Cal­en­dar (365 rea­sons not to have anoth­er war) by Grace Paley and Vera B. Williams. (Extra bonus: the 1989 cal­en­dar repeats in 2017, but even if it didn’t, it’s well worth buy­ing for the art and writ­ing and to sup­port the War Resisters League.)


Skinny Dip with Rick Chrustowski

praying mantisWhat ani­mal are you most like?

Some­times I am a Zen-like pray­ing man­tis, sit­ting and watch­ing the world. And oth­er times I am hopped up like a hum­ming­bird zip­ping around try­ing to get a bunch of things done at once or, if I am at a par­ty, try­ing to meet every­one in the room.

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

My new book Bee Dance was the most dif­fi­cult. It is only 250 words long, but it took me 9 years to write it! I should tell you that’s not the only thing I worked on dur­ing that time. I did the research about how hon­ey­bees com­mu­ni­cate and wrote a man­u­script. When I read it out loud I felt like it just wasn’t good enough. So I put it away and worked on oth­er projects. A cou­ple years lat­er I pulled it out again and worked on it some more. But it still wasn’t good enough. I worked on oth­er books and for­got about it. Then a few years after that, my good friend Susan Marie Swan­son said “Hey, what­ev­er hap­pened to that bee book?”

bk_bee_dance_300pxI pulled it out of the draw­er where I keep sto­ries in progress and read it again. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad! I learned that if I just focused specif­i­cal­ly on the bee dance that would be the way to go. I worked on it some more, and took it to my writ­ers’ group. They helped me make it a lit­tle bet­ter still. Then I did sev­er­al dum­mies to fig­ure out how the illus­tra­tions should look. I showed it to my edi­tor, Lau­ra God­win, and she loved it. My advice to writ­ers out there: some­times your work might take longer than you think it should. But, if you believe that it’s a good idea, don’t ever give up! I could have giv­en up on Bee Dance so many times. I’m real­ly glad I didn’t.

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

bk_batHmmm. I actu­al­ly think that the book I’m work­ing on right now would make a cool movie. But I can’t tell you about that one yet….so let’s see, I’ll pick Big Brown Bat. John­ny Depp would make a great bat, I’m sure.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

Then the owl pumped its great wings and lift­ed off the branch like a shad­ow with­out sound.” From Owl Moon, writ­ten by Jane Yolen.

What book do you tell every­one to read?

I real­ly love the Amulet graph­ic nov­el series by Kazu Kibuishi. I would rec­om­mend it to any­one, even if you don’t like long-form comics.

Are you a night owl or an ear­ly bird?

If I am on a tight dead­line I work late into the night. Oth­er­wise I like to see the morn­ing sun.

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

None of the above. In my ele­men­tary school the library was very tiny and it was in the principal’s office! Who would want to pick out a book with the prin­ci­pal watch­ing? I won­der if that’s why I was nev­er a big read­er as a kid. Now I love to read and I usu­al­ly have 2 or 3 books going at once, but back then I liked play­ing out­side or draw­ing pic­tures in my room more than any­thing else.


Jen Bryant: The Writing Apprenticeship

by Jen Bryant

TRW book cover w sealsSev­er­al months ago, I was asked to be on a pan­el for a new-writ­ers work­shop. Dur­ing the ques­tion and answer peri­od, one woman com­ment­ed: “I keep hear­ing that writ­ing is a craft that requires time and prac­tice to mas­ter. I get that … but as some­one who’s eager to be an appren­tice but has nei­ther the time nor mon­ey to enroll in an MFA pro­gram, how — exact­ly — do I go about find­ing some­one who’s qual­i­fied, will­ing, and avail­able to men­tor me?”

It was a great ques­tion — one which we took turns answer­ing, based on our unique per­son­al expe­ri­ences. That pan­el made me recall the details of my own (very long, cir­cuitous road) to becom­ing a pub­lished children’s author, and how I found my own “Mas­ter writ­ers” from whom I learned a great deal about the art and craft of writ­ing. This is what I told her .… .

After spend­ing the first sev­en years after col­lege as a French teacher and H.S. X‑C coach, I began my writ­ing life almost by acci­dent: We relo­cat­ed in the mid­dle of the school year and I sud­den­ly had no full-time job. I con­tin­ued to teach part-time, but I also began some free­lance writ­ing. I wrote mag­a­zine arti­cles and book reviews and com­piled quotes for a gift-book com­pa­ny.

At first, I got by using the “tri­al and error” method (accent on the error!) and work­ing on my own when my baby daugh­ter napped. In col­lege, I’d majored in for­eign lan­guages, not Eng­lish or Cre­ative Writ­ing, so while I had no for­mal train­ing, I also had very low expec­ta­tions. In ret­ro­spect, this was an advan­tage: I had no pre­con­ceived notions about what was “accept­able” and so moved freely between gen­res and for­mats — exper­i­ment­ing, fail­ing, and try­ing again. That got me through the first cou­ple of years … but I got to a point where I want­ed to write bet­ter.

georgias-bonesI’d pub­lished sev­er­al essays and reviews in lit­er­ary mag­a­zines and I was read­ing a lot of poet­ry (and try­ing to write my own), when I stum­bled upon my first pro­fes­sion­al men­tor. While attend­ing a read­ing at a Philadel­phia book­store, I saw a fly­er for a work­shop run by a local poet-pro­fes­sor. Dis­ap­point­ed that I couldn’t make the sched­uled class­es, I asked her if, instead, she’d be will­ing to meet me for twice-a-month tutor­ing ses­sions. She agreed, and thus began my first true writ­ing appren­tice­ship, held in a bak­ery on South Street (I can still smell those cran­ber­ry scones!)

It would take me pages to explain what I learned from her, but suf­fice to say that despite my being a “pub­lished author” I knew in my heart that I was just start­ing to learn how to write. She assigned month­ly read­ings, cri­tiqued my poet­ry drafts, shared her own drafts and fin­ished poems, and answered hun­dreds of ques­tions.

When she moved away for her job, I con­tin­ued my writ­ing appren­tice­ship with anoth­er Philadel­phia poet. His style was very dif­fer­ent, but that stretched me in new direc­tions and made me exper­i­ment even more. I learned so much from him, that when he, too, moved on to a new job in Col­orado, we con­tin­ued to exchange work by mail. [** I should note that nei­ther of these poets wrote for chil­dren, and that near­ly ALL of what I read and wrote while work­ing under their guid­ance was aimed at adults, not kids. Nonethe­less, every­thing they taught me has influ­enced and improved my writ­ing for young peo­ple.]

11_10Bryant_Jen, Eileen, Jerry

l‑r: Jen, Eileen Spinel­li, Jer­ry Spinel­li

About this time, I got to know Jer­ry and Eileen Spinel­li, who lived near­by and whose books I’d admired for years. As our friend­ship grew, they became men­tors of a dif­fer­ent sort, answer­ing ques­tions about pic­ture books (Eileen con­vinced me to turn one of my “art poems” into my first pic­ture book, Georgia’s Bones), edi­tors (Jer­ry con­nect­ed me with his edi­tor, Joan Slat­tery at Knopf, who became my edi­tor for the next decade), and bol­ster­ing my spir­its through the inevitable ups and downs of book pub­lish­ing. Where my pre­vi­ous men­tors had been about skill devel­op­ment, the “nuts & bolts” of craft, the Spinel­lis were more like gear-greasers, facil­i­tat­ing my for­ay into children’s lit­er­a­ture and cheer­ing each small suc­cess.

I was lucky to find these peo­ple, I know — but I believe I also made my own luck: I cre­at­ed a work­shop tuto­r­i­al where there was none; I per­se­vered in my appren­tice­ship through changes in logis­tics, geo­graph­i­cal dis­tance, and personal/ fam­i­ly demands — and I made my writ­ing life a pri­or­i­ty.

I tru­ly believe that, with a lit­tle per­sis­tence, any­one can find a writ­ing men­tor, some­one (or a series of some­ones) who can be both Teacher and Guide on their oth­er­wise soli­tary jour­ney.


Untamed Companion Booktalks

To get you start­ed on the Book­storm™ Books …

Chimpanzees I Love  

The Chim­panzees I Love: Sav­ing Their World and Ours

Jane Goodall
Scholas­tic Press, 2001 

  • Uses sto­ries of indi­vid­ual chim­panzees to share infor­ma­tion about chim­panzee behav­ior and their envi­ron­ment as well as the author’s own biog­ra­phy

  • Heav­i­ly illus­trat­ed with engag­ing pho­tos

  • Wealth of infor­ma­tion pre­sent­ed in nar­ra­tive, side­bar com­men­tary, pic­ture cap­tions, quo­ta­tions, and back mat­ter

The Elephant Scientist


The Ele­phant Sci­en­tist

Caitlin O’Connell and Don­na M. Jack­son
illus­trat­ed by Tim­o­thy Rod­well
Houghton Mif­flin, 2011

  • Fol­lows Caitlin O’Connell in her study of ele­phants in Africa in Etosha Nation­al Park and in engag­ing well-orga­nized text shows a sci­en­tist at work

  • Ele­phant behav­ior is amaz­ing!

  • Heav­i­ly pho­to-illus­trat­ed with infor­ma­tive cap­tions



Friends: True Sto­ries of Extra­or­di­nary Ani­mal Friend­ships

Cather­ine Thimmesh
Houghton Mif­flin, 2011

  • Rhyming text cel­e­brates the true-life ani­mal friend­ships that are depict­ed in very appeal­ing, large col­or pho­tos

  • Includes back­sto­ry of each friend­ship

  • Sto­ries are from around the world: India, Indone­sia, Europe, Japan, and North Amer­i­ca

Gorilla Doctors  

Goril­la Doc­tors: Sav­ing Endan­gered Great Apes

Pamela S. Turn­er
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2008

  • Book opens with an engag­ing bang: the true sto­ry of a sin­gle Goril­la, Mararo, who has been injured when caught in a poacher’s trap

  • In addi­tion to the sto­ry of the doc­tors car­ing for these threat­ened ani­mals, the book includes back­ground infor­ma­tion about goril­las and human intru­sion into goril­la habi­tats

  • Pri­mar­i­ly pho­to illus­trat­ed, but also includes sev­er­al help­ful maps

Hope for the Animals  

Hope for Ani­mals and Their World: How Endan­gered Species Are Being Res­cued from the Brink

Jane Goodall, Gail Hud­son, and Thane May­nard
Grand Cen­tral Pub­lish­ing, 2009

  • Sur­vival sto­ries about con­ser­va­tion efforts to bring back endan­gered species and to pro­tect their habi­tats

  • Sto­ries are from around the globe and focus on appeal­ing ani­mals (Abbott’s Boo­by in Aus­tralia, Pygmy Hog in India, Amer­i­can Croc­o­dile in the U.S.)

  • Pub­lished for adults, but the sto­ries are short (8−10) and pho­to illus­trat­ed (includ­ing many col­or plates) and will engage strong read­ers 10 and up

Life in the Ocean  

Life in the Ocean: the Sto­ry of Oceanog­ra­ph­er Sylvia Ear­le

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Claire Nivola
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2012

  • Biog­ra­phy of ocean sci­en­tist Ear­le, who lived on a farm as a child

  • Illus­tra­tions tar­get ocean life and details of Earle’s sto­ry that will catch the eye and hold inter­est of young read­ers: aqua suits, sub­mersibles, whales, and a mul­ti­tude of fish and oth­er sea crea­tures

  • Includes author’s note and bib­li­og­ra­phy

Magic Gourd  

The Mag­ic Gourd

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Baba Wague Diakite
Scholas­tic Press, 2003

  • A folk tale from Mali involv­ing many ani­mal char­ac­ters — great for read-alouds

  • Illus­trat­ed by Coret­ta Scott King Hon­oree (for A Hunter­man and the Croc­o­dile: A West African Folk­tale)

  • Back mat­ter include glos­sary and notes on author’s native Mali

termites on a stick  

Ter­mites on a Stick

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Michéle Colon
Star Bright Books, 2008

  • One of Dr. Goodall’s most impor­tant dis­cov­er­ies was the obser­va­tion that chim­panzees con­trive and use tools, which shat­tered the pre­vail­ing idea that only humans were tool­mak­ers and users; this book trans­fers that impor­tant obser­va­tion into a child-friend­ly sto­ry

  • Appeal­ing illus­tra­tions and moth­er-child nar­ra­tive will appeal to young read­ers and lis­ten­ers

  • Back mat­ter includes help­ful­ly illus­trat­ed infor­ma­tion about chim­panzees and ter­mites

Tree Lady  

Tree Lady: the True Sto­ry of How One Tree-Lov­ing Woman Changed a City For­ev­er

H. Joseph Hop­kins
illus­trat­ed by Jill McEl­mur­ry
Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schus­ter, 2013

  • Pic­ture book bio of Kate Ses­sions, the first woman to grad­u­ate from the U of Cal­i­forn­ian in sci­ence and who trans­formed the bare desert in and around San Diego into a hor­ti­cul­tur­al oasis

  • Lush, engag­ing illus­tra­tions

  • Author’s note includes addi­tion­al bio­graph­i­cal mate­r­i­al for Ses­sions


Unlikely friendships  

Unlike­ly Friend­ships: 47 Remark­able Sto­ries from the Ani­mal King­dom

Jen­nifer Hol­land
Work­man, 2011

  • While short (3−5 pages), each sto­ry gives ample infor­ma­tion for reports  

  • Sto­ries are from around zoos and ani­mal reha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ters around the world

  • Pho­to illus­trat­ed


Winter Roads

by Lisa Bullard

WRT_12-3SnowWin­ters add the ele­ment of sur­prise to the Min­neso­ta dri­ving equa­tion. Mid-jour­ney, you can be sucked into one of the car-devour­ing pot­holes caused by my state’s rad­i­cal tem­per­a­ture changes. Or you can skid on a decep­tive slick of black ice, and end up strad­dling a snow bank.

In those moments, you real­ize that your trip isn’t going to turn out as you thought it would. You might not even reach the des­ti­na­tion you had planned.

The writ­ing road is full of sud­den sur­pris­es too. Even when I think I’ve figured out exact­ly where a sto­ry is head­ed, my cre­ative brain might pop up one of these “jour­ney adjust­ments” — an odd­ball image, a repeat­ed song refrain, a quirky pos­si­bil­i­ty that changes my whole per­cep­tion of the sto­ry.

Often these sur­pris­es make no sense at first. But strange as they are, I’ve learned to invite them into my writ­ing. Soon­er or lat­er, I come to under­stand their role in the sto­ry — and it’s often some­thing that changes that entire writ­ing road trip.

For one of my sto­ries, this unfore­seen “pot­hole” was an ugly win­ter hat, which float­ed into my brain and even­tu­al­ly came to rep­re­sent an impor­tant turn­ing point for my char­ac­ter. In anoth­er sto­ry, the sur­prise was a walk­ing catfish — which proved to be a metaphor for the under­ly­ing theme of the nov­el as a whole. I allowed these unex­pect­ed gifts from my sub­con­scious to reroute my sto­ries, because I’ve learned that doing so makes my writ­ing all the more com­pelling.

You can’t force your stu­dents’ brains to pop out these intu­itive hints on demand. But you can teach them to be recep­tive to bizarre ele­ments when they do turn up. As prac­tice for that, throw some win­ter sur­pris­es at your stu­dents — by using the down­load­able “Snow­ball” activ­i­ty found here.


Skinny Dip with Steve Mudd

bk_tangledwebWhat’s your favorite hol­i­day tra­di­tion?

A Christ­mas tree!

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

Sad­ly, pet.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

bk-ShaneThe first one I can remem­ber that made an impres­sion on me was an oral report on Shane (with which the teacher, one of my favorites, was not over­ly impressed).

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

When I have the time and resources, indeed.

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

Quit wor­ry­ing so much and enjoy life more.

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

Eleanor Cameron, for children’s authors. In addi­tion, Ray Brad­bury and Roger Zelazny. And Andre Nor­ton.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

A rock­ing chair or a reclin­er in my liv­ing room.



The Book That Saved My Students and Me

by Mau­r­na Rome

gr_burnoutA rough start to a new school year can be unset­tling for rook­ie teach­ers. It can pro­duce feel­ings of self-doubt and immense stress.  Inex­pe­ri­enced edu­ca­tors may ques­tion every­thing from the qual­i­ty of their under­grad teacher train­ing to whether or not edu­ca­tion was a wise career choice. The lack of prepa­ra­tion for man­ag­ing chal­leng­ing behav­iors, deal­ing with an abun­dance of cur­ricu­lum stan­dards, and build­ing enough sta­mi­na to keep up with an exhaust­ing dai­ly pace is enough to make “teacher burn out” more than just a buzz word. 

A rough start to a new school year can be unset­tling for vet­er­an teach­ers, too.  It can pro­duce feel­ings of self-doubt and immense stress. Expe­ri­enced teach­ers may ques­tion every­thing from the qual­i­ty of the many years of exten­sive train­ing (mas­ters pro­gram, edu­ca­tion spe­cial­ist degree, and Nation­al Board Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for yours tru­ly) to whether or not it’s time to say good­bye to a beloved career choice. The years of expe­ri­ence man­ag­ing chal­leng­ing behav­iors, deal­ing with an abun­dance of cur­ricu­lum stan­dards, and build­ing enough sta­mi­na to keep up with an exhaust­ing dai­ly pace are not always enough to make “teacher burn out” just a buzz word.

500px-PostItNotePadA few weeks into the school year, my col­leagues and I were asked to share two things on Post-it® notes: some­thing that caus­es great frus­tra­tion and stress and some­thing that brings a sense of calm and “low breath­ing.” I imme­di­ate­ly thought of more than a dozen things that were weigh­ing heav­i­ly on my heart. How­ev­er, I could hon­est­ly think of just one thing that had the pow­er to set­tle me down and make me feel wor­thy as a teacher. Just one thing that seemed to affirm all the rea­sons I became a teacher. Just one thing I could count on to bring a sense of peace to my class­room. How appro­pri­ate that the one thing that could do so much is a book — a read-aloud book that my stu­dents can’t get enough of. This book could be called “The Book that Saved My Stu­dents and Me.” How fit­ting that this book is actu­al­ly called The War That Saved My Life.  

bk_-The-War-That-Saved-My-LifeWrit­ten by Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley and set in 1939 Eng­land, the nov­el is a dif­fer­ent type of WWII saga. It is a sto­ry filled with pain and tri­umph. It’s about the impor­tance of oral lan­guage, kind­ness, and belief in one­self. It teach­es lessons of per­se­ver­ance, courage, and com­pas­sion. The War That Saved My Life is com­prised of so many of the same teach­able moments that edu­ca­tors like me strive to cap­ture and make the most of on a reg­u­lar basis.

The sto­ry of Ada was men­tioned in a pre­vi­ous Bookol­o­gy arti­cle about my “sum­mer school kids.” I knew then that this book was one that would stay with me… and it has!  I was con­vinced it would be the per­fect book to share with my stu­dents at the start of the school year… and it is! I hoped my teach­ing part­ners would agree… and they did! Each day 150 4th and 5th graders at my school plead to hear more of this sto­ry. When stu­dents from dif­fer­ent class­rooms dis­cov­ered their teach­ers were all read­ing aloud the same book, they start­ed dis­cussing the sto­ry dur­ing recess. In the mid­dle of a spelling test, when the word “trot­ted” was announced, a stu­dent imme­di­ate­ly con­nect­ed it to Ada and exclaimed “Hey, Ada trot­ted with But­ter.” For the next two weeks we chal­lenged one anoth­er to use spelling words in sen­tences that con­nect­ed to the sto­ry. It was sur­pris­ing­ly easy for stu­dents and it cer­tain­ly jazzed up our typ­i­cal rou­tine for study­ing words.

A final tes­ta­ment to the pow­er of this book came when I told my stu­dents I would be at meet­ings for sev­er­al days in a row and I need­ed their help with an impor­tant ques­tion: “Should I ask the guest teacher to con­tin­ue read­ing aloud Ada’s sto­ry or should we put it on hold for a short while?” My 4th graders respond­ed with “We can’t wait that long to hear more! Let the sub read it!” Clear­ly, they love this book! The same ques­tion was also posed to my 5th graders. Their response was dif­fer­ent but tick­led me just as much as the first one did: “No one can read the sto­ry like you, Mrs. Rome. We want to wait for you to come back and read it to us.”

In the world of edu­ca­tion where teacher burnout is a very real thing for the young and old alike, there is one thing that has with­stood the test of time and is proven to cul­ti­vate com­mu­ni­ty, cre­ate calm, and con­tribute to the cur­ricu­lum: one good book. The War That Saved My Life is the book that saved my stu­dents and me!


Bookstorm™: Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall

Untamed Bookstorm

Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane GoodallThis month, we are pleased to fea­ture Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall, writ­ten by Ani­ta Sil­vey, with pho­tographs and book designed by the incred­i­ble team at Nation­al Geo­graph­ic. This book is not only fas­ci­nat­ing to read, it’s a beau­ti­ful read­ing expe­ri­ence as well.

It’s not often that a book offers us a glimpse into the child­hood of a woman who has fol­lowed a brave, and car­ing, career path, but also fol­lows her through more than 50 years in that cho­sen pro­fes­sion, describ­ing her work, dis­cov­er­ies, and her pas­sion for the mam­mals with whom she works. I learned so much I did­n’t know about Dr. Goodall and her chim­panzees, Africa, field work, and how one moves peo­ple to sup­port one’s cause.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. For Untamed, you’ll find books for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. The book will be com­fort­ably read by ages 9 through adult. We’ve includ­ed fic­tion and non­fic­tion, pic­ture books, mid­dle grade books, and books adults will find inter­est­ing. A num­ber of the books are by Dr. Jane Goodall her­self — she’s a pro­lif­ic writer. We’ve also includ­ed books about teach­ing sci­ence, as well as videos, and arti­cles acces­si­ble on the inter­net.

Jane Goodall and Her Research. From Me … Jane, the pic­ture by Patrick McDon­nell about Jane Goodal­l’s child­hood, to Jane Goodall: the Woman Who Rede­fined Man by Dale Peter­son, there are a num­ber of acces­si­ble books for every type of read­er.

Pri­mate Research. We’ve includ­ed non­fic­tion books such as Pamela S. Turn­er’s Goril­la Doc­tors and Jim Otta­viani and Maris Wick­’s Pri­mates, a graph­ic nov­el about the three women who devot­ed so much of their loves to study­ing pri­mates: Jane Goodall, Dian Fos­sey, and Biruté Galdikas.

Chim­panzees. Dr. Goodal­l’s research is specif­i­cal­ly about chim­panzees so com­pan­ion books such as Michele Colon’s Ter­mites on a Stick and Dr. Goodal­l’s Chim­panzees I Love: Sav­ing Their World and Ours are sug­gest­ed.

Fic­tion. Many excel­lent nov­els have been writ­ten about pri­mates and Africa and con­ser­va­tion, rang­ing from real­ism to sci­ence fic­tion and a nov­el based on a true sto­ry. Among our list, you’ll find Lin­da Sue Park’s A Long to Water and Eva by Peter Dick­in­son and The One and Only Ivan by Kather­ine Apple­gate.

World-Chang­ing Women and Women Sci­en­tists. Here you’ll find pic­ture book biogra­phies, longer non­fic­tion books, and col­lec­tions of short biogra­phies such as Girls Think of Every­thing by Cather­ine Thimmesh, Silk & Ven­om by Kathryn Lasky, and Rad Amer­i­can Women: A to Z by Kate Schatz.

Africa. The titles about, or set on, this con­ti­nent are numer­ous. Learn­ing About Africa by Robin Koontz pro­vides a use­ful and cur­rent intro­duc­tion to the con­ti­nent. We also looked for books by authors who were born in or lived for a while in an African coun­try; Next Stop — Zanz­ibar! by Niki Daly and Mag­ic Gourd by Coret­ta Scott King Hon­oree Baba Wague Diakiteare are includ­ed in this sec­tion.

Ani­mal Friend­ships. Chil­dren and adults alike crave these sto­ries about unlike­ly friend­ships between ani­mals who don’t nor­mal­ly hang around togeth­er. From Cather­ine Thimmesh’s Friends: True Sto­ries of Extra­or­di­nary Ani­mal Friend­ships to Mar­i­on Dane Bauer’s A Mama for Owen, you’ll be charmed by these books.

Ani­mals In Dan­ger of Extinc­tion. We’ve includ­ed only two books in this cat­e­go­ry but both of them should be stars in your book­talks. Count­ing Lions by Katie Cot­ton, illus­trat­ed by Stephen Wal­ton, is a stun­ning book — do find it! Dr. Goodall con­tributes a mov­ing book, Hope for Ani­mals and Their World: How Endan­gered Species Are Being Res­cued from the Brink.

Teach­ing Sci­ence. If you’re work­ing with young chil­dren in grades K through 2, you’ll want Per­fect Pairs by Melis­sa Stew­art and Nan­cy Ches­ley. For old­er stu­dents in grades 3 through 6, Pic­ture-Per­fect Sci­ence Lessons will inspire you.

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



From the Editor

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane GoodallThank good­ness for pub­lic libraries. I’ve been a user and fan for well over 50 years now, but for the last eight months, as I’ve worked with the oth­er bookol­o­gists putting togeth­er the mag­a­zine, I’ve put more book miles on my card than in many years com­bined.

My local library is the largest in a con­sor­tium of near­ly 50 libraries in west­ern Wis­con­sin, which means deliv­ery of spe­cial requests hap­pens quick­ly; that reach and speed has been a key ele­ment in my abil­i­ty to keep up with the nec­es­sary book work. This is espe­cial­ly true for the Book­storm™ books. Before we rec­om­mend or write about those titles we like to — at the very least — get our hands on the can­di­date books, rif­fle pages, and exam­ine back mat­ter and illus­tra­tions. And of course we read. For near­ly a year now I make the trip to the library sev­er­al times a week to see what’s wait­ing for me on the hold shelf.

This month our Book­storm™ fea­tures Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall, writ­ten by Ani­ta Sil­vey, with pho­tographs and book design by the edi­to­r­i­al team at Nation­al Geo­graph­ic. The com­pan­ion book read­ing for this mon­th’s storm has quite pos­si­bly cov­ered more lit­er­ary dis­tance than that trig­gered by pre­vi­ous Book­storms. Not only have I crossed and recrossed the African con­ti­nent, but I’ve read about ani­mal friend­ships and inspir­ing sci­en­tists, East African trick­ster sto­ries, and vis­it­ed a mar­ket in Zanz­ibar.

golden-baobab-prizeI’ve dis­cov­ered more than books, of course. I’ve learned about the devel­op­ing and excit­ing chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture scene through­out the African con­ti­nent: The Gold­en Baobab Prize, first award­ed in 2009 to cel­e­brate and encour­age emerg­ing writ­ers and illus­tra­tors of chil­dren’s sto­ries; Book­shy, a won­der­ful blog­ger who focus­es on African lit­er­a­ture and book art; Book Dash, a writ­ers and illus­tra­tors’ project designed to pro­vide thou­sands of chil­dren with sto­ry books at lit­tle or no cost, and – most intrigu­ing–Worl­dread­er, a non­prof­it that pro­vides e‑readers and e‑books to schools and stu­dents in Africa and also works with African pub­lish­ers to dig­i­tize their titles. 

And of course, I’ve read and thought a lot about Dr. Jane Goodall. As Book­storm™ cre­ator Vic­ki Palmquist says in her intro­duc­tion to this mon­th’s ‘storm, “[i]t’s not often that a book offers us a glimpse into the child­hood of a woman who has fol­lowed a brave, and car­ing, career path, but also fol­lows her through more than 50 years in that cho­sen pro­fes­sion, describ­ing her work, dis­cov­er­ies, and her pas­sion for the mam­mals with whom she works.”

Thanks for vis­it­ing Bookol­o­gy. Please roam, and enjoy.


Is It a Classic?

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Loretta Mason PottsWhen I was in my twen­ties, I worked at an archi­tec­ture firm. Sev­er­al of the archi­tects were fas­ci­nat­ed by my deep con­nec­tion to children’s books. One day, one of them asked me, “Which books, being pub­lished now, will become clas­sics?” That ques­tion has stuck with me, hold­ing up a sign­post every now and then. How does one pre­dict a clas­sic?

When­ev­er some­one asks which books were favorites from my own child­hood (#book­sthathooked), sev­er­al books push them­selves to the fore­front—A Wrin­kle in Time, Lord of the Rings, and Loret­ta Mason Potts. That last title always caus­es a “huh?” Peo­ple, gen­er­al­ly, are unfa­mil­iar with this book.

The next ques­tion is always, “what’s it about?” Here’s the thing: I couldn’t answer that ques­tion. I didn’t remem­ber a thing about the book except its title. What I remem­bered was the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the read­ing of that book, the way it made me feel.

In sixth grade, I had a teacher, Gor­don Rausch, who changed my life. He showed me pos­si­bil­i­ties. He believed in me. He made learn­ing and research fun. I was often bored in school, but nev­er in his class. Every day was a new adven­ture. What I remem­ber most is that he read books out loud to the whole class. I remem­ber Pip­pi Long­stock­ing. I remem­ber A Wrin­kle in Time. But he also read Loret­ta Mason Potts to us.

As far as I can recall, he was the only teacher I had who ever read books out loud. Our class had its share of bul­lies and atten­tion-get­ters. No one inter­rupt­ed his read­ing of a book. His choic­es were good, his read­ing skills were exem­plary, and he always knew where to end, leav­ing us crav­ing more.

Loret­ta Mason Potts was writ­ten by Mary Chase and pub­lished in 1958. Thanks to The New York Review Children’s Col­lec­tion, you can read this fine book, too. They reprint­ed it in 2014. I’ve just re-read it and once again I under­stand why it springs to mind as my favorite.

Mary Chase lived in Den­ver. She died in 1981. You may know her because of anoth­er one of her books, Har­vey, which won a Pulitzer Prize and became a movie star­ring Jim­my Stew­art. If you know Har­vey, you will under­stand that the writer has a fan­tas­ti­cal imag­i­na­tion and a good wit. Both of those are evi­dent in Loret­ta Mason Potts.

It’s a charm­ing mix­ture of a Tam Lin sto­ry and a Snow Queen sto­ry, cen­ter­ing on a fam­i­ly of chil­dren, their moth­er, and their long-lost eldest sis­ter, told in a way that will reach into the heart and mind of a child. It has naughty chil­dren, ensor­celled chil­dren, a car­ing but some­what clue­less moth­er, a mys­te­ri­ous bridge, and a cas­tle occu­pied by the bored Count­ess and Gen­er­al, who hov­er on the precipice of dan­ger.

I am so glad that this book is illus­trat­ed. It was the first book pub­lished with Harold Berson’s black-and-white line draw­ings. He would go on to illus­trate anoth­er 90 books.

There are a grow­ing num­ber of titles in the New York Review Children’s Col­lec­tion. I have sev­er­al of them and would put every one of them on my book­shelves if I could. The selec­tion of these books is enchant­i­ng. Do you remem­ber read­ing Esther Averill’s Jen­ny and the Cat Club? How about Dino Buzzati’s The Bears’ Famous Inva­sion of Sici­ly? Or Lucre­tia P. Hale’s The Peterkin Papers? (I had for­got­ten all about this book until I saw it on their book­list — I loved that book.) Or Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf and Robert Law­son?

New York Review of Books Children's Collection

Are these books clas­sics? This, I think, is the inter­est­ing ques­tion. What is a clas­sic? These books are being pub­lished once again … so they’ve with­stood the test of time. Although the writ­ing is some­what quaint, they still hold up as sto­ries that will inter­est a mod­ern read­er. Loret­ta Mason Potts is a book that has lived on in my mind for decades. I won­der if the oth­er stu­dents in my sixth grade class remem­ber it in the same way.

Which books pub­lished today will become clas­sics? It’s a ques­tion worth dis­cussing, isn’t it?

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