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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 snopes.com 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.

 

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Wish

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.

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Feeding the Naturally Curious Brain

Science EncyclopediaYou’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

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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). 

pl_books_best_gifts

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.

WishWish
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.

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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.

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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!

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My Greatest Responsibility

Page Break

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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

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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

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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.”

Thankful  

Thank­ful
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.

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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 mypuzzle.org
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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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Ingre­di­ents
  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)
Instruc­tions
  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
Adapt­ed from The New York Times
Bookol­o­gy Mag­a­zine https://www.bookologymagazine.com/
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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.

gr_green_mother_daughter

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

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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.

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Looming Deadline!

Looming Deadline

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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.

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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.

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