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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Santa’s Favorite Story

Verily, as if on cue, I have fielded the year’s first parental question about Santa Claus. It is the whispered earnestness of the askers that keeps me from rolling my eyes. What role, if any, should Santa have in a Christian family….? they whisper leaning away from the baby on their hip, lest that babe be tipped off. It’s always their first child. They want to do things right. They’re absolutely so dear, and I feel privileged that they come to me, even as I think this is largely a stupid question. I’m with Johnny Cash: Joy to the world, and here comes Santa Claus!

I can tell which way they’re leaning as soon as I tell them how much I love Santa. They either blink politely, or look tremendously relieved. (Disclaimer: I respect either, but I’m more interested in talking to the latter.) Either way, I tell them something about the history of St. Nicholas, which we celebrate each December 6th in our household. This gives the man in red some religious credentials if that seems important to the family. Then I tell them about Santa and Coca-Cola, which I find utterly fascinating. (I also find it fascinating that covers the story.) I usually end my impassioned speech for Santa with a poorly paraphrased version of G. K. Chesterton’s views on Santa, which can be found in the second half of this meditation. (The first half is excellent, as well, but I should memorize the second half.)

If they’re still with me—by which I mean they’re true believers in Santa and they were only temporarily deluded into thinking they needed to give that up to be responsible and faithful parents—I tell them about Hisako Aoki’s and Ivan Gantschev’s book, Santa’s Favorite Story.

This book is so simple, so good, so right. The animals in the forest discover Santa asleep against a tree and they are alarmed. Santa! ASLEEP?! They wake him and Santa explains that he’d gone for a hike to get in shape for Christmas Eve. When he got tired, he decided to take a nap. Santa napping?! He muses that maybe all the presents will be too much for him this year.

Does that mean there won’t be a Christmas anymore?” the fox asks, giving voice to the worries of the entire forest’s population.

That’s when Santa tells them the story of The First Christmas. Four spreads lay out the story told in the Gospel of Luke, complete with shepherds and sheep, a bright star, and the babe lying in the manger. Santa tells his furry audience that God gave love that first Christmas and love is the best present there is.

It’s an enormously satisfying book, and it’s still in print, I believe—somewhat remarkable given that the original copyright is 1982. I love how it holds the two most famous people of Christmas together and delivers a gentle critique of rampant consumerism at the same time. Amen, I say! Get yourself a copy and have a read this Christmas. Amen.




wish200I did not grow up in the south, but my parents did, so I like to claim a little southern heritage. When my kids were younger, I loved reading them books set in the south—willing into their souls the humidity, barbecue, iced tea with lemon, and accents that have the rhythm of rocking chairs found on great big porches. They enjoyed hearing how my grandparents called me “Sugar,” and I felt it vitally important they understand that Missouri peaches just might be better than the famed Georgia peaches. (It’s true–no offense to Georgia.)

I’m a big fan of Barbara O’Connor’s novels—whether they’re explicitly set in the south or not they feel southern, and when I pick them up I know I will enjoy them. So as soon as I heard her latest book, Wish, was coming out, I put a reserve on it at the library, where it was already ordered for when it came out months down the road. This is my system so I don’t forget about great books coming out. (Which seldom happens—for the really great books, anyway—but maybe that’s because I use this system, who knows?)

By the time the library notified me my copy was in, I’d already bought the book and read and loved it. So I pulled my reserved copy off the hold shelves and went to the check-out desk to let them know I didn’t need it anymore. I took my place in line behind a little girl standing with her mother. She was wearing a winter coat even though it was about sixty degrees that day. Minnesota had a lovely extended fall this year, which Minnesotans were in awe of as we ran around in our short sleeves almost to Thanksgiving, but newcomers still thought it was cold.

I heard the girl’s mother talking to the librarian. Her voice was a gentle rocking chair voice. They were signing up for library cards. The girl stared at me, eyeing me up and down. Somewhat suspiciously, perhaps. Maybe it was my short sleeves.

She looked at Wish, which I was holding down by my side. “Is that book about a dawg?” she asked, tilting her head the same way as the book.

“There’s a dog in it, yes. His name is Wishbone,” I said, pointing to the beagly looking dog on the cover.

“What’s that girl’s name?” she asked pointing to the girl on the cover with the dog.

“Her name is Charlie.”

“That’s a boy’s name,” she fired back.

I handed her the book because I could tell she wanted to look at it straight on.

“Her mama named her Charlemagne. She liked Charlie better,” I said. “It’s a really good book.”

“What’sitabout?” she asked all in one word.

“It’s about wishes…and friends…and home…and family. It’s about a girl living in a new place and she’s not sure if she likes it or not.”

“Does anything bad happen to that dawg?” she asked warily.

“Nope,” I said.

She handed the book back to me.

“Maybe you’d like to read it?” I said. “I’m not checking it out, I’m returning it.” It was my turn at the library desk.

I explained to the library worker that I didn’t need the book and asked if the little girl walking toward the door with her mother could check it out instead. Alas, someone was waiting for it, and things happen in certain orderly ways at the library, so they couldn’t check it out to her. I decided not to be irritated by this and checked it out anyway since it was still technically my turn.

I followed the girl and her mother out the door to the parking lot and gave them the book. I told them I borrowed it for them and I told the mother I thought she’d do a great job reading it out loud. I told the girl I thought she would enjoy it a lot. They both thanked me. The mother said, “Bless your heart!” about five times.

And my heart was blessed.

“What if they don’t return it?” the library worker said when I walked back in the library. “It’s checked out on your card.”

“If they need to keep it, I’ll pay for it,” I said.

We’ll find out in a few weeks, I guess. But I’m not worried.


Feeding the Naturally Curious Brain

Science Encyclopedia“You’ll discover mouthless worms and walking ferns … ” (pg. 13) And with those words, I’m charged up for the hunt. Along the way, I can’t help being distracted by a satisfying amount of irresistible information in National Geographic’s Science Encyclopedia.

If you learn best visually, there is a surfeit of images to stimulate a curious mind. If you learn best verbally, then this book is chock full of words arranged in the most interesting ways. And the photos! This is National Geographic, after all.

The book is so visual that information leaps into the reader’s brain. Colorful text boxes help the eye and mind focus.

You’ll find page-long introductions to the various sections on matter, energy, forces and machines, electronics, the universe, life on Earth, planet Earth, and the human body. The way I approach these is to look at all of the photos in the section, read the text boxes, and then go back to read the introductions because by that time I would need to know everything on this subject.

Each double-page spread (and sometimes a single page) includes “Try This!” for practical, do-at-home-with-supplies-on-hand experiments, “Personality Plus” featuring a small, true, biographical tidbit about someone important in that field, “LOL!” a riddle pertaining to the subject (!), and a “Geek Out!” fact with which you can amaze your friends and draw new friends into your geek circle.

One set of pages features a timeline: Amazing Science! Milestones, Atom Smashing. The earliest entry from 1897 is “Englishman J.J. Thompson discovers the first subatomic particle, the electron, using a gas-filled tube that creates a glowing beam.” The latest entry is “2012-2015, in which the Large Hadron Collector “accelerates protons to just below the speed of light and smashes them together.” (pgs 22-23)

The way the pages of this timeline are laid out helps the reader focus and absorb information. It’s not a straight line with words on tick-points. Oh, no! It’s a vibrant, image-filled, double-paged spread of completely cool tidbits. A timeline to get excited about!

Everything about this book is a launchpad for further investigation.

I grew up believing that I didn’t like science. What a nut! How can you not like this stuff?

The Science Encyclopedia is such an exciting presentation of information that it belongs in every household, whether or not there are children in said house.

Don’t have any children? Buy yourself a copy of this book.

Then, buy a copy for each elementary school and middle school where you live. This book is that good. You’ll be charging up the curiosity of young minds for years to come.

Science Encyclopedia:
Atom Smashing, Food Chemistry, Animals, Space, and More

National Geographic. 2016
ISBN 978-1426325427, $24.99


Essential Holiday Giving: Books

Hands down, there is no better gift for holidays or birthdays than a book. You can find a book to suit every interest, every taste, and your budget. You can always feel good about giving a book (unless you’re giving a gift to someone who lives in a Tiny House … ask first). 


Here’s my list of suggestions for the holidays. It’s filled with books that are informative, beautifully illustrated or photographed, useful, well-written, but mostly books that can be savored or cherished, with uplifting stories.

And if you’d like more suggestions, my best advice is to walk into your public library and talk to the children’s librarians there. Tell them about the children in your lives, their interests, the kind of books they like to read, or if they haven’t yet met the right book to turn them on to reading. You’ll be amazed by the good suggestions these library angels will give you.

I’m going to break these out into the type of reader I think will be most appreciative. You’ll find links to longer reviews scattered throughout. And I’m going to keep adding to this list up until the end of the year. People are celebrating holidays at many different times.

In love with picture books

Before MorningBefore Morning
written by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

I think this ranks up there in my list of favorite picture books of all time. It works on so many levels, but mostly it speaks of love and yearning and beauty and grace. It is a simple story of a little girl who wishes for a snow day so her family can be together. Joyce Sidman’s story is exquisite. Beth Krommes creates a winter everyone can love and appreciate with her scratchboard illustrations. The color palette, the texture on the page, and the snow! Has there ever been such glorious snow? A perfect gift book for young and old.

Frank and LuckyFrank and Lucky Get Schooled
written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins
Greenwillow Books, 2016

“One day when Frank could not win for losing, he got Lucky. And one day when Lucky was lost and found, he got Frank. Both of them were just pups. They had a lot to learn.” Life, at its best, is one big learning adventure. Frank and Lucky grow together, each teaching the other. We hear the story in both of their voices. Life is explore through learning: Chemistry, Taxonomy, Reading, Math. So many questions and so little time. Learning follows these two wherever they go. They have fun. But how does it all fit together? Ah, that’s the adventure. There is so much to look at and think about in this book … and Lucky makes the adventure fun. A great book for exploring together as the first step in planning your own learning adventures. Inspired!

Henry & LeoHenry & Leo
written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 

This is such a wonderland of a book. I finished it and immediately started again at the beginning. And yet again. The pages are filled with details that are irresistible, inciting curiosity and storytelling. The story is a comforting one about a young boy, Henry, who ferociously loves his stuffed lion, Leo. The family goes for a walk in the Nearby Woods and … Leo is lost. Henry is beside himself, worried about Leo alone in the woods. His family comforts him by saying that Leo isn’t real, which is no comfort at all of course. But something very real and mystical happens in those Woods and Leo finds his way back to Henry. Pamela Zagarenski paints this book with lucious foresty and night-time colors, with pages so soft and textured you know you can walk into the scene. She includes her trademark crowns, critters large and small, windows, and those teacups. What does it all mean? As our brains look for answers, we create our own stories. It’s magical.

Ganesha's Sweet ToothGanesha’s Sweet Tooth
written by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes
illustrated by Sanjay Patel
Chronicle Books, 2012

A story based on Hindu mythology, an adorable Ganesha and his friend Mr. Mouse are all about the candy. In particular, Ganesha wants a Super Jumbo Jawbreaker Ladoo (candy) and he wants to bite down on it. Mr. Mouse warns him that it’s a jawbreaker. And soon Ganesha has broken his tusk. Luckily, he happens upon a poet who advises him to use his tusk to write down the Mahabharata, a long, ancient, Sanskrit poem about the beginning of things. Ganesha is described as a “Hindu god. He’s very important and powerful. And a tad chubby.” And that sets the tone of the book. Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth is a feast for eyes, mind, and imagination. Patel, an artist and animator with Pixar, creates illustrations unlike anything I’ve ever seen before … you’ll enjoy poring over them.

Luis Paints the WorldLuis Paints the World
written by Terry Farish
illustrated by Oliver Dominguez
Carolrhoda Books, 2016

When an older brother enlists in the army to “see the world,” young Luis is uncertain. How could his brother want to leave their family and their neighborhood? How could he want to leave Luis? Will he come back again to play baseball and eat his Mama’s flan? Luis begins painting a mural on a wall in their neighborhood, hoping to paint the world so Nico won’t need to leave home. He paints and paints with a good deal of skill. Yet Nico does leave home. Missing his brother, Luis continues to paint his heart onto the wall. Soon his friends, family, and neighbors join him in painting. Will Nico come home again? The author, Terry Farish, based her story in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where she was a public librarian. The city is famous for the murals and outdoor art found throughout the town. For a heartwarming story of love and artistic expression, this is the right choice.

Monster & SonMonster & Son
written by David LaRochelle
illustrated by Joey Chou

This is an ideal book for dads to read aloud to their little sons. Yetis, werewolves, monsters of every shape and shiver, this is a bedtime story in spite of the subject matter. The illustrations are calming and detailed, even sparkling, yet perfectly suited to the monster fan. David LaRochelle’s text is fun to read out loud and Joey Chou’s artwork is painted with calm blues and purples and sleepy monsters.

NorNorth Woods Girl
written Aimée Bissonette
illustrated by Claudia McGehee
Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2015

For anyone who loves the North Woods, no matter where those woods may be, this is a heart-calling tale of a grandmother who knows she belongs in the woods and a granddaughter who is fascinated by what her grandmother knows and how she lives. Aimée Bissonette’s story is so well told that it feels universal. We all know someone like this girl and her grandmother. We hope we understand what it means to be so connected to place. Claudia McGehee’s scratchboard illustrations are an integral part of the experience of this book. The animals, trees, plants, the boundless night sky, the warm fire … there’s so much to love here. North Woods Girl will lead to good inter-generational discussions and foster good memories of your own special places.

On One Foot

On One Foot
written by Linda Glaser
illustrated by Nuria Balaguer
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2016

A familiar tale to many Jews, this story of the not-quite-a-fool who seeks a rabbi (teacher) who can teach him while standing on one foot (I’m guessing because the student would like the teaching to be short, even though he says it’s because he wants his teacher to be the best) is an active parable for the most important lesson in the world. Each successive teacher derides the student for asking them to teach the Torah on one foot, telling him that not even the famous Rabbi Hillel could do such a thing. When the student finally meets Rabbi Hillel, he is astounded by the simplicity of the lesson, one that each of us can live and share. The cut paper and mixed media illustrations are fitting for long-ago Jerusalem, showing both wit and empathy.

A Poem for PeterA Poem for Peter
written by Andrea Davis Pinkney
illustrated by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson
Viking, 2016

Probably my favorite picture book of 2016, A Poem for Peter tells the story of the growing up and older of Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz, who is “Born under Hardship’s Hand, into a land filled with impossible odds.” He began paintings signs for stores when he was eight years old. An introduction to the Brooklyn Public Library opened the world to him. It’s a biography written poetically and every word is worth savoring. We know him now as Ezra Jack Keats and he created A Snowy Day, which is one of the most beloved books of all time. His life is painted here by Fancher & Johnson, who small touches on each page of their illustrations that remind us of Keats’ genius, his work with collage and color and shapes and textures. It’s a lovely, beautiful, magical book. It should be on your family’s bookshelf, ready for reading again and again.

Storm's Coming!Storm’s Coming!
written by Margi Preus
illustrated by David Geister
Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2016

The weather! In many parts of the country, it is increasingly a factor in our everyday life. Here in Minnesota, it is what strangers talk about before anything else. Friends exclaim in e-mail and by phone about the effect weather has on their lives. When family gathers, the first topic of conversation is the weather (and how they drove to the gathering place). Margi Preus tells the story of a storm approaching with traditional weather signs and folk sayings. Bees flying in large numbers into their hive? “Look at those busy bees,” Sophie exclaimed. “They know it’s going to storm.” Dan watched the bees flying into their hive. “That’s true,” he said. “You know what they say: A bees was never caught in a shower.” All kinds of intriguing tidbits are woven into this weather story, set at Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior at the beginning of the twentieth century. David Geister’s oil paintings are suffused with light, family love, the varying moods of the Lake, and the final, satisfying storm scene. You know the weather-watchers in your family. This will make a welcome gift.

savors poetry

Emily Dickinson: Poetry for KidsEmily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids
edited by Susan Snively, PhD
illustrated by Christine Davenier
MoonDance Press, Quarto Publishing Group, 2016

For a beautiful introduction to the poems of Emily Dickinson, this book invites reading out loud, discussion, and turning the pages in appreciation of Christine Davenier’s art. The poems are accessible by children and their adults. Arranged by the seasons of the year, the pages offer commentary and definitions for important words to aid in your conversations about the poems. It’s a book that will be read and re-read in your home.

Miss Muffet, or What Came AfterMiss Muffet, or What Came After
written by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by David Litchfield
Clarion Books, 2016

Think you know all about Miss Muffet? That tuffet? That spider? Think again, mes amis!

This oh-so-delightful book will have you smiling, laughing, heart filling with awe at the poet’s and illustrator’s mastery … but most of all falling in love with a story you never knew. That short nursery rhyme? Pull back from the scene (I easily see this as a staged play, readers theater or with props and costumes) and realize that Miss Muffet (Patience Muffet) and the spider (Webster) live in a larger world of sister, mother, rooster, fiddlers, a king, and many lively neighbors. These are easily understandable poems and poetry that is fun to say out loud and poems that tickle our funny bones. David Litchfield manages to use mixed media in a way that pulls us into the story and has us touring Pat Muffet’s world. Just gorgeous. It’s all so satisfying. Children will enjoy reading this themselves, with friends, acting it out, and taking part in a classroom performance. Such possibilities!

good family read-alouds

Garvey's ChoiceGarvey’s Choice
written by Nikki Grimes
WordSong, 2016

Garvey feels as though he’s constantly disappointing his father. Sports are his dad’s way of relating and he has high hopes for Garvey becoming a football player or a baseball player or … something in a sport uniform. Garvey, on the other hand, enjoys reading and music and science. How does he show his dad what matters to him? This is a book that is optimistic and funny and hopeful. Even though Garvey consoles himself with food, becoming heavier and heavier, he is drawn outside of his funk by his interests. He can’t resist. And his father finally sees what’s important to his son. A novel written in verse, this makes a good book for the family to read out loud. 

Making Friends with Billy WongMaking Friends with Billy Wong
written by Augusta Scattergood
Scholastic Press, 2016

When Azalea’s mother and father drive her to Arkansas to help her injured grandmother, Azalea is not thrilled. She contemplates being lonely for an entire summer and having nothing to do … and her grandmother, whom she hardly knows, is cranky. Even though she yearns to go home, she is drawn into the neighborhood by a boy with a boundless spirit and a curiosity to match her own. There is a mystery to solve and the two kids become friends while they’re figuring things out. It’s a heartwarming book and one that brings to light an immigrant story that isn’t well-known. 

Saving WonderSaving Wonder
written by Mary Knight
Scholastic Press, 2016

Curley Hines lives with his grandpa in Wonder Gap, Kentucky, settled in the Appalachian Mountains. His Papaw gives him a word each week to learn and decide where it fits into his life. For people who love words, this is a book that enchants with its word choices. Curley has a best friend. He believes he’s in love with Jules but at 15 it might be a little early to know. And then Jules is entranced with the new kid in town, an urban kid, J.D., and Curley’s life is taking an unexpected turn. Even these changes pale in the face of a more threatening change: the coal company that employs so many of Wonder Gap’s residents wants to tear down Curley and Papaw’s mountain in order to get at the coal inside cheaply. All three of the kids get involved in Saving Wonder. This is an uplifting story that will have you cheering while you’re reading.

written by Barbara O’Connor
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016

Charlie Reese is a girl whose parents have abandoned her. Her father is in jail and her mother suffers from a depression that has her forgetting about Charlie for days on end. Child Protection Services sends Charlie to live with her Uncle Gus and Aunt Bertha who are as nice and loving as any kid could want. But Charlie wants to go home. She wants a family who loves her. In fact, she searches every day for something lucky that allows her to make that wish. She’s angry about her new home. She hopes it’s temporary. So she’s resistant when Howard, a kid with an up-and-down walk, does his best to reach her, to make her his friend. And she’s a little resistant when a stray dog, who she names Wishbone is as hard to reach as she is. It’s a wonderful story of a group of people coming together to form a family that’s made with love. These characters will take up a place in your mind and your heart for a very long time. And isn’t that a magical book cover?

can’t get enough of biographies

Let Your Voice Be HeardLet Your Voice Be Heard:
The Life and Times of Pete Seeger

written by Anita Silvey
Clarion Books, 2016

At this very moment, many of us, children and adults alike, are looking for a way to make a difference in our world. We’d like to show that love is stronger than any talk or action done in hatred. Young and old, we’d like to show that we are willing to stand up and let our voices be heard. There is no better example than the life of Pete Seeger. Anita Silvey writes this book in a way that shows how hard it was for him to perservere but he stood by his principles for nearly nine decades! Even when he was beaten down by the government, he was resolute. And he sang songs by the people, for the people, to inspire the people and bring them together. This book is written so it can be read by anyone ages 9 and older (adults will find this book worthwhile, too). I highly recommend it as a family read-aloud and discussion starter but it’s so good that reading it individually works, too.

Six DotsSix Dots: a Story of Young Louis Braille
written by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Boris 
Random House, 2016

When a terrible accident blinds him as a child, Louis Braille’s world turns dark. He sets out to get along in the world. “My family did what they could. Papa made a wooden cane. … My brother taught me to whistle … My sisters made a straw alphabet. Papa made letters with wooden strips or by pounding round-topped nails into boards” With his mother, he played dominoes. But he wanted to read books. Six Dots is the story of Braille’s journey to create a code that the blind could read. Louis Braille was a child inventor and this biography leads us to appreciate how significant his invention was and how much it continues to matter in the world today. Bryant’s text, written in free verse, makes the reading lyrical. Kulikov’s illustrations give an understanding of the darkness and the light in this blind inventor’s world. Six Dots fits well into our list of uplifting gifts. [Hidden Giveaway: the first person to send us an e-mail requesting this book will receive a copy of Six Dots, signed by the author. Be sure to include your mailing address so we can send you the book.]

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. WhiteSome Writer! The Story of E.B. White
written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

Are you a fan of Charlotte’s Web? Stuart Little? The Trumpet of the Swan? One Man’s Meat? Here is New York? E.B. White wrote books that are considered classics today, loved with a fierce wonder for their characters and emotions. In a work of love and art, Melissa Sweet shares the story of his life from childhood through adulthood as he learned to love books and writing. It’s the story of a man of words who lives so closely with them that he co-authors Elements of Style, a standard reference. There are details here that every fan of his books will want to know. Best of all, the book is done as perhaps only Melissa Sweet could, making collages out of found objects, White’s papers, and original (and charming) drawings. There are Garth Williams’ original sketches and photos of the people in E.B. White’s life. This book is a treasure, one you can share with many people on your gift list. Perhaps you can bundle it up with a copy of one of his books listed earlier, choices for both children and adults.

just the facts, please

Science EncyclopediaScience Encylopedia: Atom Smashing,
Food Chemistry, Animals, Space, and More!

National Geographic, 2016

I think every person on your gift list should get one of these! Seriously, whether you love science or don’t want anything to do with it, you will like this book. You will dip into the book somewhere and then you’ll find yourself thumbing through, being caught by this and that tidbit. Here’s my full review of this encyclopedia.

How Things WorkHow Things Work
T.J. Resler
National Geographic, 2016

As if the Science Encyclopedia isn’t cool enough, this book, also published by National Geographic, has astounding information in it. This quote from the beginning of the book wraps things up so well and tempts you to pull at the tail of the bow: “PUT THIS BOOK DOWN NOW. It’s dangerous. It might make you think you can do impossible things.” Followed closely by “You must be one of those. The kind of kid who thinks ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer.” Read the full review and buy this book for every kid (and maybe an adult or two) who love to know how things work. Because this book reveals all.

adults who breathe more fully around children’s literature

Comics ConfidentialComics Confidential: Thirteen Novelists Talk
Story, Craft, and Life Outside the Box

interviews by Leonard S. Marcus
Candlewick Press, 2016

If you have the smallest bit of interest in comic books and graphic novels, you will find yourself drawn in by the interviews in this book. Marcus is a veteran at asking the right questions and his chosen subjects are the people who create books that kids and adults stand in line to read. You’ll hear from Harry Bliss, Catia Chien, Geoffrey Hayes, Kazu Kibuishi, Hope Larson, Danica Novgorodoff, Matt Phelan, Dave Roman, Mark and Siena Cherson Siegel, James Sturm, Sara Varon, Gene Luen Yang. Each one of them contributes a self-portrait, a comic written and drawn especially for this book, and there are sketches that accompany the interview. It’s a visual book about a visual medium created by visual artists who know how to tell exceptional stories.

Picture This: How Pictures WorkPicture This (25th anniversary edition)
Molly Bang
Chronicle Books, 2016

If you’ve ever felt that you like the art in a book but you don’t know why, this is the book for you. If you know teachers who regularly read out loud to children, this is the book for them. First written 25 years ago, Molly Bang has revised her guide to show us in clear language and pictures how the art in our favorite books works its magic. The way a page is arranged, the perspective, the focal point, the emotion, the mood, all of these can change the way we experience a book. We can understand what it is that we’re looking at in ways we never understood before. This is a very special book to give as a gift to someone you love or to yourself.

cook it up!

Betty Crocker's Cooky BookBetty Crocker’s Cooky Book
by Betty Crocker (!)
illustrated by Eric Mulvaney
Hungry Minds, 2002

I received this book in 1964 with an inscription from my grandmother, who wanted me to have “the gift of cooking food everyone will love.” It’s hard to go wrong serving cookies and the recipes in this book are classics. You’ll find Chocolate Chip Cookies, Toffee Squares, Krumkake, and Sugar Cookies. Good photographs show you how to decorate them and suggest how to serve them. Your burgeoning baker will spend hours planning, considering which cookies to make, and mixing things up in the kitchen!

Kids in the Holiday KitchenKids in the Holiday Kitchen
by Jessica Strand and Tammy Massman-Johnson
photographs by James Baigrie
Chronicle Books, 2008

For those who celebrate Christmas, this book has loads of recipes that are fun to decorate, good to give as gifts, and will help to keep the holiday buffet well-supplied. And it’s not just food. There are crafts included to decorate a soap bar for a gift or dress up gift tins. A good idea for the cooking-inspired child on your gift list.

Everyday Kitchen for KidsEveryday Kitchen for Kids: 100 Amazing Savory and Sweet Recipes Your Children Can Really Make
by Jennifer Low
Whitecap Books, Ltd.

If your child’s wish is to appear on Food Network, here’s a head start.  In addition to being delicious and easy to make, these 100 recipes are all about safety. None of the methods call for sharp knives, stovetop cooking,  or small motorized appliances. All the recipes are kid tested and each one is accompanied by a full-color photograph.

crafts are the stuff of life

Ed Emberley's Book of Trucks and TrainsEd Emberley’s Drawing Book of Trucks and Trains
Ed Emberley
LB Kids, 2005

Using simple shapes and lines and putting them together in thousands of different ways, anyone can draw. And in constructing these pictures out of those shapes and lines, they will find confidence in creating their own drawings. A part of it is practice, but a part of it is seeing how things are put together and Ed Emberley is a master at this. He is a Caldecott Medal winner and the author of many fine picture books, but it is his drawing books that many children cherish because that’s how they learned to draw! It’s an ideal book for a gift because with a pack of colored pencils and paper the fun can begin immediately!

51 Things to Make with Cardboard Boxes51 Things to Make with Cardboard Boxes
Fiona Hayes
Quarto Publishing Group, 2016

Gather up cereal boxes and chocolate boxes and match boxes and large boxes and small boxes and paint and googly eyes … to create dinosaurs, chickens, houses, and robots. Then make a giraffe and a hippopotamus and a construction crane … all out of boxes! The book has step-by-step instructions in both words and pictures that will help you and your children create fifty-one different projects. My only quibble with this book is that I would like measurements so I know which kind of boxes will work best … but perhaps the author wanted the size to be variable. I would have loved this book as a child. I suspect there’s crafty and building children in your life as well. There’s hours and hours of fun (and cereal-eating) ahead.

Look for this company’s 51 Things to Make with Paper Plates as well. Using paper plates and paper bowls (and googly eyes) there are many more creatures to be brought to life with these inexpensive construction tools.


Driving Miss Daisy

limousineWhen I was a kid, one of my neighborhood gang’s favorite summer games was to “play chauffeur.” We’d jump on our bikes and gather for shoptalk at chauffeur headquarters (a.k.a. the middle of our quiet side street). Then we’d race off in different directions to pick up members of the enviably wealthy and pampered (yet of course imaginary) families that utilized our driving services.

A big part of the fun was that we each got to invent detailed back stories for our fantasy employers, constructing elaborate scenarios around the parents’ demanding work, the children’s exotic activities, and a multitude of overheard backseat battles—all while driving “our families” along the street and up and down various driveways and around Blue Jay Way (the dirt path that curved through Mrs. Elliott’s yard). And then we’d all meet up again at chauffeur headquarters to trade stories about our family’s doings, seeding each other’s imaginations for potential new gossip-worthy developments for the next day.

When I talk with writers about developing their characters, I encourage them to develop such detailed biographies for their characters that it seems as if they are spying on them from the vantage point of a trusted family servant. I know from my own experience that even details that don’t make it into my stories still inform my work in an important way.

I’ve created multi-generational family trees and imaginary iTunes lists for past characters. So at some early point in your students’ story-writing journey, have them try the following character-development brainstorming activity.

banana seatFirst, ask them to create a list of details about their main character: name, age, likes and dislikes, personality traits, physical details, report card grades, locker contents, secret crushes. Once they have a list started but seem to be running out of steam on their own, have students divide into small groups. Ask them to take turns going around the group, adding one more detail about their character each time it’s their turn. Even those whose lists weren’t long to begin with will have their group’s examples as inspiration for more ideas.

I bet you the banana seat off my old bike that if you try this simple exercise, your students will discover, with each other’s help, new details to help fully flesh out their characters.


Charles Ghigna, Champion of Poetry

Charles Ghigna

Charles Ghigna at Fox Tale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA

Our thanks to author and poet Charles Ghigna (GEEN-yuh) for taking time out from his writing, school visits, and conference tours to answer these questions which have been knock-knock-knockin’ on my brain since I first began reading his many books of poetry and, now, a nonfiction book about fascinating animals!  

Do you remember when you first read a poem and it caught your attention?

Mending Wall” by Robert Frost, Freshman English class.

At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to write poetry? For a living?

I wrote little rhyming poems and stories in elementary school and started keeping a daily writing journal in high school. Some of my entries were written as poems. I continued writing and keeping journals through my college years. When I began teaching high school English, I had less time to write and my journal entries began appearing as short, poetic pieces. That was my delicious late night writing time— after grading my students’ papers. 😉 Later, I submitted a few of those early poems and some of them were published in Harper’s and other magazines. A few years later, after my son was born, I began writing poems for children. It was then I began dreaming of “writing for a living.”

What kind of poems did you like when you were young?

As a child I liked poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, Wordsworth, Longfellow, Kipling, and others.

How do you stay tuned in to the kinds of poems very young children like?

I’m on the road this month visiting schools while promoting my new Animal Planet book. It’s easy to stay tuned in to the kinds of poems the very young like by seeing so many “children’s faces looking up holding wonder like a cup.” 

Score!50 Poems to Motivate and InspireI admire your book Score! 50 Poems to Motivate and Inspire. With the emphasis on growth mindset in classrooms, it occurred to me that each of these poems could be used as a blackboard or whiteboard encouragement, a discussion starter. The illustrations are excellent examples of graphic design—they add even more depth to each poem. As teachers work with students to build graphic design skills, this is a mentor text on several levels. (In spite of the cover, this is not a sports-centric book.)

Vicki, thank you so much for asking about my Score! book. That book is near and dear to my heart. It was a true labor of love. I always wanted to write a book of short quotable poems for young people to use when they needed a little extra nudge to keep them going toward their dreams. I wanted to create a book of poems to inspire and motivate. I was thrilled to have Abrams publish that book and even more thrilled to watch it become a popular resource for teachers, coaches, and parents. I’m happy to report the book has been adopted by school systems to use in their character education programs with principals reading a poem a day from it during their morning announcements.

Strange, Unusual, Gross & Cool AnimalsYour newest book, Animal Planet Strange, Unusual, Gross & Cool Animals, appeals to any kid who’s lived around animals or yearns to welcome animals in their lives. Do you have animals around you?

Yes, but all my animal friends are free range. I have a hawk who lives in a nearby tree and circles over my treehouse each day to say hello, a multitude of squirrels and chipmunks I watch from my window, and two jeweled hummingbirds who come each day to drink from the feeder. I would add the menagerie of monarchs that have been dancing outside my window this summer, but they have since flown farther south for the winter. My hummingbirds will no doubt soon join them on their way south.

This book is a departure from your poetry—how did you come to work on this project?

Yes, this book was a “departure” for me. I wrote a piece for the Bermuda Onion about how the project came to be. The first paragraph explains how the project got started. 

“I had just finished spending nearly a year writing a six-book animal series for toddlers when the phone rang. It was a Time Inc editor in New York asking if I might be interested in writing a 128-page book for Animal Planet about strange, unusual, gross, and cool animals for kids ages 8-12. Sure. And it’s due in nine months. Wait. What? Let me think about it. I’ve written more than 100 books, but I’ve never written a big, nonfiction, research-based book. I do write a lot about animals though. Mostly in rhyme. Mostly for toddlers. Sure. What the heck. I can do that. Wait. Did you say nine months?” (read the full essay by Charles here)

Have you always lived in Alabama?

I’ve lived in Alabama for more than 40 years now. I was at Florida State University serving as poetry editor of English Journal when I received a two-year grant from the National Council on the Arts & Humanities to begin the first Poet-in-the-Schools program for the state of Alabama. I fell in love with this beautiful state—and with my wife. People say to me, “You’re a writer. You could live anywhere in the world.” I always smile and say, “Yes, I know. That’s why I live in Alabama.”

Who have your poetic mentors been?

Too many mentors to name, but my very first poetic mentor was my mother. She was the most creative, inspiring “kid” I ever knew. She made each day an adventure. She had magic in her eyes and she challenged me to dream big—and to follow those dreams. I also had a high school English teacher who on Fridays told us to close our books, look out the window, and make up stories and poems. 

Tickle DayHow did you get the name Father Goose?

Many years ago when I first started visiting schools, students and teachers began calling me “Father Goose.” The name stuck. It was a lot easier to say than Mr. Ghigna—and a lot easier to spell. The Walt Disney Company suggested I use that moniker for one of my first books with them, Tickle Day: Poems from Father Goose. They created the first image of Father Goose. Since then my other publishers and illustrators have continued the tradition, often including a goose or two in my books. I’m called Father Goose now more often than my real name!


My Greatest Responsibility

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Orbiting Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in OrbitThat lively, quirky-thinking duo from Planet Kindergarten have teamed up once again for Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit. Many schools use the 100-day marker to reflect on how far they’ve come since the first day of kindergarten. Social graces, etiquette, mindfulness, assignments, singing, pledges … they’re all included in this new book.

But the extra-fun twist is that our hero recounts the entire story as a trip into space aboard a starship filled with aliens and a thoughtful commander. 

A classmate who becomes sick doing “anti-gravity exercises” is kindly accompanied to the Nurse’s Office by our hero. Shane Prigmore, the illustrator, reminds us of the exciting scene from Star Wars, the first movie, in which Luke Skywalker zeros in on the Deathstar, with a hallful of doors, slightly askew, and the red-doored office at the end. Adults and older siblings will get the reference and continue looking for more. 

Waiting for show-and-tell, our hero says “Then, like the Apollo astronauts, we wait to be called up. It takes forever before my turn.” Mayhem ensues when there’s a tricky maneuver … but these children aliens are quick to lend a hand, because that’s what they’ve learned in Planet Kindergarten!

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit

The illustrations are bold and funny and cued-up with plenty to notice and appreciate. The story is clever but that never gets in the way. It’s a very good story to read out loud, savor as a child-and-adult reading book, or use in the classroom to inspire space-themed play and imagination. Count me in as a moon circling this planet!

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit
written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Chronicle Books, 2016


Skinny Dip with Ed Spicer

For this interview, we visit with Ed Spicer, educator, author, curriculum guide writer, and ALA committee member many times over.

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

I would love to spend some time in a confidential, friendly chat with Michelle Obama.

Which book do you find yourself recommending passionately?

Oh! This depends so much on what color your wheelbarrow might be! As a teacher, I’ve always loved edging students out of their comfort zones and we are all students. I adore Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. I love Audre Lorde’s poetry, which is most certainly a window for this white, male reader.

CeremonyCurrently, I am getting ready to do a presentation at a symposium featuring Naomi Shihab Nye, so I have fallen in love again with 19 Varieties of Gazelle, a gorgeous book that helps us to remember that no single story can encapsulate a people or a culture or even a single human. If you want to read a book with your ears, I think Tobin Anderson’s Feed is actually enhanced by the audio (and it is terrific with just your eyes).

What’s your favorite late-night snack?

Either cashews or ice cream. but don’t tell anyone!

Favorite city to visit?

If I were only allowed one, I could very well choose staying at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans in the winter or spring (they treated us like family). If not, Chicago and Toronto would have to battle it out.

The badge of honor in Ed's class was trying things that are hard. These students are eating seaweed.

The badge of honor in Ed’s class was trying things that are hard. These students are eating seaweed.

Most cherished childhood memory?

A lot of my childhood memories are not pleasant. I watched my father knock my sister’s front tooth out with a cement sprinkler attached to a garden hose. I ran away and lived hiding in a church youth center for about a year. I was on my own for good at the age of 15. Yet I absolutely cherish these memories. As The Association says, “Cherish is the word I use to describe all the feeling I have hiding…”

First date?

When I went to college, I weighed under 100 pounds and was approaching the five foot mark. Dating wasn’t a word that meant the same thing to me as it did to the young women I thought I was dating. In any event, my first 500 dates were totally boring and insignificant. I may also be exaggerating the five actual dates I really did have, but I still do not remember them.

Ed Spicer Dinner Party

A recent dinner at Ed and Ann’s house with (clockwise from left) Charles Emery, Eric Rohmann, Gary Schmidt, Edith Pattou, Bill Perkins, Lynn Rutan, Anita Eerdmans, Cindy Dobrez, Lynne Rae Perkins, Candy Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Ed, Travis Jonker.

Illustrator’s work you most admire?

Too many! Kadir Nelson, Beth Krommes, Pamela Zagarenski, Melissa Sweet, Jerry Pinkney, Paul Zelinsky, Marla Frazee, Mo Willems, E.B. Lewis, Matt Faulkner, Yuyi Morales, Ashley Bryan … And, of course, Maurice Sendak, Wanda Gag, Beatrix Potter, Dorothy P. Lathrop from earlier years. Among the younger illustrators coming up the pipe, I am very excited by the new work Shadra Strickland is doing. I also think Christian Robinson will become even more of a force. My friend Ruth McNally Barshaw gave me a watercolor she painted of Red Riding Hood. Watercolor is a new medium for her and it is among my very favorite pieces of art and I hope it bodes well for her.

On of Ed's favorite reading photos

One of Ed’s favorite reading photos

Tea? Coffee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

COFFEE, cream and no sugar! Sometimes there is nothing better than a gin and tonic, however.

Favorite season of the year? Why?

ALA Midwinter season! This may not be a universally acknowledged season, but for me it begins that slow trek back into feeling healthy. I suffer from seasonal affective disorder and ALA comes right after the holidays in January (sometimes, painfully, February). Hanging around so many believers in children, in literacy, and, more importantly, kindness always restores my faith in the world and in myself. From an art perspective, I love autumn. The colors never cease to blow me away.

Ann and Ed at Yellowstone National Park

Ann and Ed on their national park tour

What’s your dream vacation?

My wife, Ann, and I have begun exploring our National Parks. Last summer we visited six, which brings our total close to 20. We want to keep exploring. I have dreamed of traveling down the Zambezi River through the Okavango Delta region of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana although I fear I may have missed my opportunity.

What gives you shivers?

Our newly elected president and our lack of kindness and even civility toward those who do not share our culture, religions, customs, holidays, language, etc.

Logan, a former first grader in Ed's class, now a writing major and slam poet at Emerson College in Boston

Logan, a former first grader in Ed’s class, now a writing major and slam poet at Emerson College in Boston

Morning person? Night person?

NIGHT! Bedtime before 1:00 am is for wimps.

What’s your hidden talent?

Years ago I was a very successful cologne salesperson during the holidays! I sold a lot of Russian Leather cologne. Today, I am not a chef, but I do make very pretty food that tastes good! I cannot, however, follow recipes to save my life and I have rarely made the same thing twice.

Your favorite candy as a kid …

Any that I could steal.

Mission to PlutoIs Pluto a planet?

Ha! I write the curriculum guides for Houghton Mifflin’s Scientists in the Field series. I just finished doing the guide on Pluto. The lead scientist in this book thinks of Pluto as a planet. I will side with him.

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

Corn Palace? I have been to some very sketchy amusement parks. In Allegan, I often take people to see our giant chicken at our County Fair site.

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

When everyone was alive, I had 2 brothers and 5 sisters. At least one brother has passed away and I haven’t seen the other for more than 50 years. I haven’t spoken to anyone in my family for more than ten years. It is more like anti-shaping.

Best tip for living a contented life?

Get help!

What a Wonderful WorldYour hope for the world?

When I taught first grade, I could never read the Ashley Bryan illustrated version of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World without crying! I read this book every year and cried every time. “They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know…” always hit me as so beautiful and so true. I often told people every year that I had first graders who are much smarter than I am. Many people assumed I was being facetious, but I meant it quite literally. I have more experience and I have more facts at my disposal, but my first graders always demonstrated the creativity, the dreams, and the fearlessness that make me feel hopeful for our future.

Ed Spicer's Classroom

Ed Spicer’s class five years ago


Thanksgiving is a Good Time for a Book

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, As food is being prepared and family gathers, as food is being digested and some people are napping, as sports and shopping beckon, perhaps it’s a good time to take out a stack of Thanksgiving books to read aloud as a family. Here are 11 books that reflect the Thanksgiving holiday with many different stories, ranging in age from very young to teens … with books adults will enjoy as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving  

1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving 
written by Catherine O’Neill Grace
National Geographic Children’s Books, 2004

“Countering the prevailing, traditional story of the first Thanksgiving, with its black-hatted, silver-buckled Pilgrims; blanket-clad, be-feathered Indians; cranberry sauce; pumpkin pie; and turkey, this lushly illustrated photo-essay presents a more measured, balanced, and historically accurate version of the three-day harvest celebration in 1621.”


Balloons Over Broadway:
the True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade

written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011

“Everyone’s a New Yorker on Thanksgiving Day, when young and old rise early to see what giant new balloons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who first invented these “upside-down puppets”? Meet Tony Sarg, puppeteer extraordinaire! In brilliant collage illustrations, Melissa Sweet tells the story of the puppeteer Tony Sarg, capturing his genius, his dedication, his zest for play, and his long-lasting gift to America—the inspired helium balloons that would become the trademark of Macy’s Parade.”

Boy in the Black Suit  

Boy in the Black Suit
written by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum, 2016

A book for older children and adults, Matt’s mother has just died and his father isn’t doing well. Matt’s on his own so he gets a job at a funeral home, where he’s surprised by how moving he finds the stories behind these funerals. When he meets one young woman whose beloved grandmother just died, he goes on his first “date” with her … at the homeless shelter where she and her grandmother have always served Thanksgiving dinner. This is an uplifting story of friendship, caring, and healing.

Cranberry Thanksgiving  

Cranberry Thanksgiving
written by Wende Devlin
illustrated by Harry Devlin
Purple House Press, 2012

“First published in 1971, this beloved favorite shares the story of Grandmother inviting a guest for Thanksgiving dinner and allowing Maggie to do the same. “Ask someone poor or lonely,” she always said. Thanksgiving was Grandmother’s favorite day of the year. The cooking was done and her famous cranberry bread was cooling on a wooden board. But she wasn’t happy to find out Maggie had invited the unsavory Mr. Whiskers to dinner. Would her secret cranberry bread recipe be safe with him in the house?”

Give Thanks to the Lord  

Give Thanks to the Lord
written by Karma Wilson
illustrated by Amy June Bates
Zonderkidz, 2013

“Celebrate the season in this heartwarming story that references Psalm 92 in tender rhyme from award-winning author Karma Wilson. Told from the point of view of one young member of an extended family, Give Thanks to the Lord celebrates joy of all kinds, from the arrival of distant relatives to a cozy house already filled with merriment, to apple cider and the delicious smells of roasting turkey and baking pie.  And just when your mouth is watering, sit down and join a thankful child in prayer, praising God for ‘food and fun and family, all the wonderful things I see.'”

Giving Thanks  

Giving Thanks:
Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving 

written by Katherine Paterson
illustrated by Pamela Dalton
Chronicle Books, 2013

“Katherine Paterson’s meditations on what it means to be truly grateful and Pamela Dalton’s exquisite cut-paper illustrations are paired with a collection of over 50 graces, poems, and praise songs from a wide range of cultures, religions, and voices. The unique collaboration between these two extraordinary artists flowers in this important and stunningly beautiful reflection on the act of giving thanks.”

Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey  

Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey
written by Joy Cowley
illustrated by Joe Cepeda
HarperCollins, reissued in 2006

Miguel’s trucker father is on the road and Miguel is worried about him making it home in time for Thanksgiving. But then Papa sends a big wooden crate with the message, “Fatten this turkey for Thanksgiving. I’ll be home to share it with you.” Miguel names the turkey Gracias and takes him for walks in New York City. Adventures follows. Miguel wants desperately to save Gracias from the Thanksgiving table. Fun and high-spirited tale.

How Many Days to America?  

How Many Days to America? a Thanksgiving Story
written by Eve Bunting
illustrated by Beth Peck
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990

When soldiers come to their home in the middle of the night, father and mother decide they must flee their country for their family’s safety. This is the tale of that journey and their landing in America on the Thanksgiving holiday, where the family is thankful for freedom and safety.

Squanto's Journey  

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving 
written by Joseph Bruchac
illustrated by Greg Shed
Silver Whistle, 2000

“In 1620 an English ship called the Mayflower landed on the shores inhabited by the Pokanoket people, and it was Squanto who welcomed the newcomers and taught them how to survive in the rugged land they called Plymouth. He showed them how to plant corn, beans, and squash, and how to hunt and fish. And when a good harvest was gathered in the fall, the two peoples feasted together in the spirit of peace and brotherhood.”


written by Eileen Spinelli
illustrated by Archie Preston
Zonderkidz, 2016

A book that conveys “the importance of being thankful for everyday blessings. Like the gardener thankful for every green sprout, and the fireman, for putting the fire out, readers are encouraged to be thankful for the many blessings they find in their lives.”

Thanks a Million  

Thanks a Million
written by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Greenwillow Books, 2006

A very appropriate book for your Thanksgiving celebration, there are sixteen poems that range in form from a haiku to a rebus to a riddle, Nikki Grimes reminds us how wonderful it is to feel thankful, and how powerful a simple “thank you” can be. This book can be used throughout the year as well. In classrooms, this is a good mentor text for creating poems of thanks and gratitude.


Word Search: Classics

The Invention of Hugo CabretThis month, we’re thinking about the classics, both old and new. They’re books that easily come to mind when you think of the books that are beloved by many, many readers. If you love puzzles and games, we hope you have a good time solving this Word Search.

This month, we’re adding an extra facet to our game. Each of the 26 words in the list is taken from the title of one of those classic books. When you’ve finished the Word Search, take a screen capture of your board and save it as a JPG. Then make a list of the book associated with each word on our list (you’ll have 26 book titles when you’re finished). Send us your completed board and book list by midnight on December 10, 2016, and we’ll choose one person at random from among the correct entries and send you three autographed books for your home or classroom library. Be sure to include your name, email, and mailing address (so we can send the books to you). We’ll announce the winner on Facebook on December 11, 2016. (You must be 14 years of age or older to send us an entry. Only one entry per person. Open to US residents only for postage expense reasons.)

To play the 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.

You might enjoy doing this as a family activity over the Thanksgiving holiday. Have fun!

Hidden Words

Puzzle by

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies
We recommend giving kids cookbooks for the holidays. Yumm. For kids who are inspired by relatives who cook, TV cooking shows, or their innate wish to make (and eat) good food, a cookbook will travel with them throughout life. (And it’s a sneaky way to encourage reading and math!)
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  1. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  2. ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  3. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  4. 1 teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
  5. 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
  6. 1 to 2 teaspoons rosemary, chestnut or other dark, full-flavored honey (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, rosemary and salt. Add butter, and honey if desired, and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don't overprocess. Dough should not be smooth.
  2. Press dough into an ungreased 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan or 9-inch pie pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm.
Adapted from The New York Times
Bookology Magazine

Trailblazing Illustrator, Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elizabeth Shippen Green

Elizabeth Shippen Green

Younger readers may not fully appreciate how difficult it was for women to break into the highly competitive field of illustration. For many years, men were routinely hired for advertising art, newspaper and magazine illustration, and children’s book illustration. 

Elizabeth Shippen Green, born in 1871 and dying in 1954, was one of the earliest female illustrators to win high regard, helping to open the door a little wider for the women who followed her,

Her father was an artist-correspondent during the Civil War. He encouraged her to study art, supporting her as she attended various art schools.

Elizabeth Shippen GreenShe studied with Thomas Anshutz, Robert Vonnoh, Thomas Eakins, and Howard Pyle. “She credited Pyle with teaching her the importance of visualizing, then realizing, the dramatic moment key to illustrating a narrative text.” (Library of Congress)

While studying with Pyle at the Brandywine School, Elizabeth met Jessie Willcox Smith and Violet Oakley. The three of them became fast friends, supportive of each other’s careers in illustration. They moved into The Red Rose Inn in Villanova, Pennsylvania, with Henrietta Cozens as their housekeeper.

The Five Little PigsLater, they moved to Cogslea in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. Because of their residence together, they were referred to ever after as The Red Rose Girls. These three and several other women formed The Plastic Club, meant to encourage one another professionally. 

Elizabeth was one of the most recognized illustrators in the country because of her assignments for St. Nicholas Magazine, Woman’s Home Companion, The Saturday Evening Post, and a 23-year exclusive contract with Harper’s Magazine. In 1922, she illustrated a beautiful edition of Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb.


Read more about Elizabeth Shippen Green:

The Red Rose Girls: an Uncommon Story of Art and Love, by Alice A. Carter

By a Woman’s Hand: Illustrators of the Golden Age, ed. by Mary Carolyn Waldrep, Dover Fine Art

National Museum of American Illustration

Library of Congress, “A Petal from the Rose” exhibit

Some of her work in the Library of Congress’ collection

American Art Archives, showing some of her advertising art


Traveling Back Through Time

Photo by Ren at Morguefile.comA few years ago another Laura Ingalls Wilder fan and I made a pilgrimage to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Other faithful followers will remember that tiny town as the setting for On the Banks of Plum Creek as well as the TV version of the books.

Our favorite experience of the day was visiting the Ingalls Dugout Site. I’ve been to a lot of places with historical relevance, all around the world—but almost none of them have given me as much keen pleasure as this one. Other than a wooden bridge across Plum Creek and a simple sign, there is almost no evidence of human habitation. You feel as if you are seeing the spot exactly as it was when Laura first set eyes on it nearly 140 years ago—but without any fear that somebody wearing a sunbonnet is going to spring up and start churning butter as some kind of recreated history.

We had the place completely to ourselves. We happily dabbled our toes in the waters of Plum Creek. We planted ourselves atop the sod roof of the dugout (now just a depression in the side of the creek bank), and sighted across prairie grasses that stretched far away to the horizon. We reveled in a serenade of songbirds. For one whole hour, we lived between the covers of a book. And then we got back in our car and drove home to the city.

One of my favorite pieces of writing advice comes from author Faith Sullivan. I share it here for you to pass along to your students. When you are writing about a story’s setting, don’t leave the reader feeling like a distant observer. Don’t go on for paragraph after paragraph with static setting details and boring descriptions. Instead, have your character interact with the setting. Give the reader small, telling details of the setting as the character engages with it.

In other words, show a character running through the tall grasses, pushed along by the sneaky prairie breezes. Give us a character who’s shivering because icy fingers are trying to poke their way through the walls of their sod home.

Writers who describe their setting in this way will make us feel, for that hour or two that we are reading, like we are living between the covers of a book.


Looming Deadline!

Looming Deadline


Tucked In for the Winter

Sleep Tight Farm

Sleep Tight Farm by Eugenie Doyle illus by Becca Stadtlander Chronicle Books ISBN 9781452129013

Every detail in this book is heartwarming. You know that the author and the illustrator and the book’s publishing team put a lot of love and respect into bringing this story to readers.

From the moment you see the opening end papers, a forest and pasture ablaze with fall color, until you discover the closing end papers, that same forest with the snowy skeletons of those trees, you sense the care within.

It’s a story of a farm family who are very busy tucking their farm in for the winter. Unless you live on a farm, you likely have no idea there’s so much to do! Harvesting, putting food by, protecting the fields, preparing the hoop house, keeping the beehives safe from mice and wind … from big chores to small, this family’s love for their farm wraps around the reader like a fluffy quilt.

The book will open eyes for children who don’t know about farm life, but it also neatly tucks the details around us, giving us a satisfying look at a family who raise a variety of vegetables for themselves, winter markets, and their own farmstand. You sense the family’s deep level of caring for the land, the birds and animals, and the farm that sustains them.

“Dad cuts back the raspberries before wind and snow can crack the canes. … The promise of late summer’s plump fruit lies in roots tucked underground. Good night, raspberries, resting below.” So fine.

I was drawn to this book by the cover and illustrations. It’s those finely detailed, draw-the-reader-into-the-world-of-the-book, gently instructing paintings that complete the spell of Sleep Tight Farm.  Those details include the icy whiteness of the book’s title on the cover and the informal friendliness of the body text. The farm kitchen is fascinating with stacked wood, a collection of painted pottery, rugs on the floor, and a fire in the pot-bellied stove.

Sleep Tight Farm

When “We board up chinks in the chicken coop and set a timer to give the hens the light they need to lay eggs all winter” even the straw that lines the chicken coop and the feed for those chickens are included in the details. We learn a great deal about the farm by observation. How are eggs collected from the coop? Mom is pounding nails to “board up chinks.” There’s a variety of hens and a beautiful rooster. The family is wearing boots for their work. There’s a fence around the chicken yard. A chicken-strutting ramp leads from the coop to the ground. “Good night, chickens, snug in your coop.” 

After reading this book, I feel calmer about the winter to come. And I want to visit this farm. Warm thanks to author Eugenie Doyle (whose family operates The Last Resort Farm in Vermont) and illustrator Becca Stadtlander and the team at Chronicle Books for creating this respectful, loving, and informative book. What a joy to read! It’s a keeper.


William Steig and Transmogrification

bk_sylvester_200pxJackie: After Phyllis and I read Amos and Boris for our last month’s article on boats we both wondered why we hadn’t looked at the work of William Steig. He so often executes that very satisfying combination of humor and heart. Steig’s language is funny but his stories regularly involve worrisome separation and then return to a loving family.

William Steig was born to immigrant Jewish parents from Eastern Europe in 1907. His father was a painter and decorator and his mother was a seamstress. When the Depression came, Steig supported the family by selling cartoons to The New Yorker magazine. At age sixty he began to write children’s books and wrote more than two dozen before his death in 2003 at age 95.

Roger Angell, writing in The New Yorker, quoted a New York school teacher [his wife] speaking about Steig’s children’s books: “They’re touching but not sentimental, and they bring young children ideas they’ve not experienced before.”

Solomon the Rusty NailThey’re touching and they are funny—sometimes they are downright silly. In Solomon The Rusty Nail (1985), Solomon the rabbit figures out that if he scratches his nose and wiggles his toes at exactly the same time he becomes a rusty nail. Not to worry, this is not Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, not yet at least. Solomon also figures out that if he says to himself, “I’m no nail, I’m a rabbit,” he will quickly become a rabbit again.

Phyllis: I thought I knew most of Steig’s work but I didn’t know this book, and I love it, not least for Steig’s wonderfully playful language. When Solomon discovers his ability to transform, his first thought is to show his family what a “prize pazoozle of a rabbit” he is but decides instead to keep his “secret secret.” When Solomon transforms into a rusty nail behind a tree to fool a cat who has captured him, the cat is “discombobulated “and searches for Solomon “clockwise, counter clockwise, and otherwise.”

But for all their delicious language, Steig’s stories have high stakes: when Solomon refuses to turn back into a rabbit so the cat and his wife can eat him, the irate cat pounds him into the wall of their cabin where Solomon, unable to transform back into his true self, wonders, “Do nails die?”

Doctor De SotoJackie: Steig’s Doctor DeSoto, (1982) the mouse dentist has always been a favorite of mine. It is the perfect combination of humor and sensitivity, even compassion. Even though he has sworn not to treat foxes and wolves, Doctor Desoto agrees to treat the suffering fox. And the fox repays this kindness by wondering if it would be “shabby” to eat Dr. and Mrs. DeSoto. [Is “shabby” not the perfect, hilarious word here?] We root for Doctor DeSoto who says he always finishes what he starts and we love his remarkable preparation that allows him to fix the fox’s tooth and save the lives of him and his wife.

Perhaps everyone knows Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969), Steig’s Caldecott winner. Sylvester’s unfortunate wish turns him into a rock. His parents grieve. He sits and drowses as a rock until a remarkable series of circumstances results in his return to his old donkey form. So satisfying.

Steig loved this theme of transformation and clearly wasn’t done with it after Sylvester. He gave us the above-mentioned Solomon the Rusty Nail, The Toy Brother (1996), Gorky Rises (1980), all of which involve some sort of magical preparation or incantation and some sort of “stuckness.”

Amazing BonePhyllis: Steig is a master at making us believe these seemingly inexplicable vicissitudes. In The Amazing Bone Pearl the pig finds a bone that can talk in any language and imitate any sound—a trumpet’s call to arms, the wind blowing, the rain pattering down, snoring, sneezing. When Pearl asks the bone how it can sneeze, it replies, “I don’t know. I didn’t make the world.” When a hungry fox captures Pearl and the bone pleads for him to let her go, the fox replies, “I can’t help being the way I am. I didn’t make the world.”

Toy BrotherJackie: The Toy Brother (1996) is a wonderful turnaround book about two siblings who live with their parents—Magnus Bede, a famous alchemist, and his “happy-go-lucky wife” Eutilda. The older son, Yorick, “considers little Charles a first-rate pain in the pants.” Yorick is his father’s apprentice and hopes to turn donkey dung into gold. When the parents go off for a wedding Yorick sneaks into his father’s lab. Things don’t work out as he hoped and Yorick next appears the size of a mole. Charles enjoys his role as big brother and is actually kind to Yorick, builds him a house, feeds him crumbs of cheese, tries to amuse him by costuming himself and the family animals. But the two cannot get Yorick back to his original size, and neither can Magnus. Until Yorick remembers one very important detail.

Once again, Steig’s language is such a joy. When they realize what is needed, Magnus says, “Ginger! That’s a fish from another pond. Is it any wonder there was no transmogrification?” What child is not going to love that? I almost feel transmogrified reading it.

Gorky RisesGorky the frog makes a potion, too, in a kitchen lab, with “a little of this and a little of that: a spoon each of chicken soup, tea, and vinegar, a sprinkle of coffee grounds, one shake of talcum powder, two shakes of paprika, a dash of cinnamon, a splash of witch hazel, and finally a bit of his father’s clear cognac and a lot of attar of roses (!!).”… “This obviously was the magic formula he had long been seeking.”

He doesn’t know what it will do but soon realizes that it enables him to rise in the sky and float. He startles the groundlings, including a fox who looks like he just dropped by before his gig in Doctor DeSoto. Gorky endures a storm and longs for home…and eventually figures out how to get there.

Amos & BorisPhyllis: In Amos and Boris, I was startled by the fortuitous appearance of two elephants who help Amos the mouse roll Boris the whale back into the sea when he is beached by a storm. I didn’t realize that more elephants wander through Steig’s stories—Elephant Rock where Gorky eventually lands really is a transformed elephant, restored to his real self by the last drops of Gorky’s formula.

Brave IreneStorms are also recurring characters in Steig’s books. Irene encounters a storm in Brave Irene, an inimitable one that yodels a warning: “Go home….GO HO-WO-WOME,” as she attempts to deliver a dress her mother has made for the duchess. When the wind carries off the dress, Irene presses on in the worsening storm to tell the duchess what happened to her beautiful gown. Irene twists her ankle, she gets lost, night falls, she shivers from the cold, and just when she finally spots the castle below she is swallowed by a snowdrift up to her hat. In despair, she wonders if she should give up and freeze to death, since she is already buried. But the memory of her mother “who always smelled like fresh-baked bread” gives her the energy to fight free of the snowdrift, find a way to the castle (where the wind has plastered the gown to a tree) and eventually arrive home, driven by the doctor who tells her mother “what a brave and loving person Irene was. Which, of course, Mrs. Bobbin knew. Better than the duchess.”

Back cover of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, illustration copyright William Steig

Back cover of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, illustration copyright William Steig

Jackie: These characters are all surprised by circumstance. Storms fly in. The potions do not work exactly as planned. Dealing with these circumstances is not always easy. And so it is with the lives of children. Things do not go along as planned. They hear: “We are moving. You’ll be going to a new school.” “Your father and I are separating.” “We’re having a new baby. You’ll need to share your room.” It’s hard to get back to the old life. That is true in Steig’s stories. Sylvester’s parents grieve when they lose him. Gorky’s parents search for him all night and are tremendously relieved to see him.

All of his characters are returned to the loving arms of family, changed perhaps by their adventures, but not alone. I would love to do a session with students in which we read these books and then wrote our own story of transmogrification. What a freeing experience to change into something/someone else, to float, to talk to a bone—that talked back.

Phyllis: What a terrific idea. I want to read all of his books aloud, savoring his deliriously delectable language in book after book after book. Steig is a prize pazoozle of a writer as well as an artist.

Jackie: Though he was not writing tracts for children Steig was well aware of the power of story. He said in his Caldecott Acceptance Speech:

Art, including juvenile literature, has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe, and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life. Art also stimulates the adventurousness and the playfulness that keep us moving in a lively way and that lead us to useful discovery.

Books for children are something I take seriously. I am hopeful that more and more the work I do for children, as well as the work I do for adults, will approach the condition of art. I believe that what this award and this ceremony represent is our mutual striving in the same direction, and I feel encouraged by the faith you have expressed in me in honoring my book with the Caldecott Medal. (Caldecott Acceptance Speech, June, 1970).

His stories remind us that the “mystery of things … stimulate[s] adventurousness and playfulness” in both theme and language. In Steig’s books we can share the fun of sound, the joy of adventure, and the sweetness of return.

Phyllis: And they remind us, too, that in the inexplicable events of the universe, our families love us, search for us when we are lost, and welcome us home again with immeasurable delight.

See also: The Collection of William Steig at the University of Pennsylvania.