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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Poetry from Stones

Beach

[pho­to cred­it: Can­dice Ran­som]

Out­side my win­dow right now: bare trees, gray sky, a brown bird. No, let’s try again. Out­side my win­dow, the leaf­less sweet­gum shows a con­do of squir­rels’ nests, a dark blue rim on the hori­zon indi­cates wind mov­ing in, and a white-crowned spar­row scritch­es under the feed­ers. Bet­ter. Even in win­ter, espe­cial­ly in win­ter, we need to wake up our lazy brains, reach for names that might be hiber­nat­ing. 

Candice Ransom

[pho­to cred­it: Can­dice Ran­som]

In Novem­ber, I taught writ­ing work­shops at a school in a large­ly rur­al coun­ty. I was shocked to dis­cov­er most stu­dents couldn’t name objects in their bed­rooms, much less the sur­round­ing coun­try­side. With­out spe­cif­ic details, writ­ing is life­less. More impor­tant, if chil­dren can’t call up words, can’t dis­tin­guish between things, they will remain locked in win­try indif­fer­ence. Some blame falls on us.

Oxford Junior DictionaryA recent edi­tion of the Oxford Junior Dic­tio­nary swapped nature words for mod­ern terms. Out went acorn, wren, dan­de­lion, nec­tar, and otter. In went blog, bul­let-point, attach­ment, cha­t­room, and voice­mail. Updat­ing dic­tio­nar­ies isn’t new. And maybe cygnet isn’t as rel­e­vant as data­base, but it’s cer­tain­ly more musi­cal.  If we treat lan­guage like paper tow­els, it’s no won­der many kids can’t name com­mon back­yard birds.

When I was nine, my step­fa­ther taught me the names of the trees in our woods, par­tic­u­lar­ly the oaks. I learned to iden­ti­fy red, white, black, pin, post, and chest­nut oaks by their bark, leaves, and acorns. Label­ing trees, birds, and wild­flow­ers didn’t give me a sense of own­er­ship. Instead, I felt con­nect­ed to the plan­et. I longed to know the names of rocks, but they kept qui­et.

That same year we fourth graders were issued Thorndyke-Barnhart’s Junior Dic­tio­nary. I fell on mine like a duck on a June bug, enchant­ed by new words. My par­lor trick was spelling antidis­es­tab­lish­men­tar­i­an­ism, the longest word in the dic­tio­nary. Kids can Google the longest word in the Eng­lish lan­guage, but the expe­ri­ence isn’t the same as brows­ing through a big book of words. 

Emer­son wrote, “… the poet is the Namer, or Lan­guage-mak­er … The poets made all the words, nam­ing things after their appear­ance, some­times after their essence, and giv­ing to every one its own name and not another’s.” I believe young chil­dren are poets, assign­ing names and mak­ing up words to mark new dis­cov­er­ies. After they become teth­ered to tech­nol­o­gy, they par­rot words from com­mer­cials, pro­grams, and video games. That fresh lan­guage is lost.

The Lost Words: a Spell BookSo imag­ine my delight when I found a new book for chil­dren, The Lost Words: A Spell Book. British nature-writer Robert Mac­Far­lane paired with artist Jack­ie Mor­ris to res­cue 20 of the words snipped from the Oxford Junior Dic­tio­nary. Words like newt and king­fish­er are show­cased as “spells,” rather than straight def­i­n­i­tions. MacFarlane’s spells let the essence of the crea­ture sink deep, while Morris’s water­col­ors cre­ate their own mag­ic.

On their joint book tour through­out Eng­land, Mac­Far­lane and Mor­ris intro­duced chil­dren to words—and ani­mals. On her blog Mor­ris writes: “I was about to read the wren spell to a class of 32 six-year-olds when the book­sellers stopped me. ‘Ask the chil­dren if they know what a wren is, first, Jack­ie.’ I did. Not one child knew that a wren is a bird. So they had nev­er seen a wren, nor heard that sharp bright song. But now they know the name of it, the shape of it, so per­haps if one flits into sight they will see it, hear it, know it.”

The Lost Words makes me want to take chil­dren by the hand and tell them the names of the trees and birds and clouds that illus­trate our win­ter land­scape. By giv­ing kids spe­cif­ic names, they can then spin a thread from them­selves to the plan­et.

Ammonite

Ammonite [pho­to cred­it: Can­dice Ran­som]

Lan­guage is fos­sil poet­ry,” Emer­son con­tin­ues in his essay, “as the lime­stone of the con­ti­nent con­sists of infi­nite mass­es of the shells of ani­mal­cules, so lan­guage is made up of images, which now, in their sec­ondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poet­ic ori­gin.”

Rock rasps, what are you?
I am Raven! Of the blue-black jack­et and the boxer’s swag­ger,
Stronger and old­er than peak and than boul­der, raps Raven in reply.

From The Lost Words

Let’s dig up lost words before they become buried beneath the rub­ble of STEM-wor­thy terms. Feel the shape of them, pol­ish their shells, let them shine.

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True Story

Recent­ly I attend­ed a writer’s con­fer­ence main­ly to hear one speak­er. His award-win­ning books remind me that the very best writ­ing is found in children’s lit­er­a­ture. When he deliv­ered the keynote, I jot­ted down bits of his sparkling wis­dom.

At one point he said that we live in a bro­ken world, but one that’s also filled with beau­ty. My pen slowed. Some­thing about those words both­ered me. The crux of his speech was that as writ­ers for chil­dren, we are tasked to be hon­est and not with­hold the truth.

After the applause pat­tered away, the air in the ball­room seemed charged. Every­one was eager to march, unfurl­ing the ban­ner of truth for young read­ers! If we had been giv­en paper, we would have start­ed bril­liant, authen­tic nov­els on the spot.

The keynote’s mes­sage car­ried over into break-out ses­sions. Pan­elists admit­ted to crav­ing the truth when they were kids, things par­ents wouldn’t tell them. Par­tic­i­pants agreed. We should show kids the world as it real­ly is! The impli­ca­tion being that chil­dren lead­ing “nor­mal” lives should be aware of harsh­er real­i­ties and devel­op empa­thy. Kids liv­ing out­side the pale would find them­selves, maybe learn how to cope with their sit­u­a­tions.

I stopped tak­ing notes.

Here’s my truth: I was born into a bro­ken world. By age four, I’d expe­ri­enced scores of harsh­er real­i­ties. At sev­en, I learned the hard­est truth of all: that par­ents aren’t required to want or love their chil­dren. I spent most of my child­hood field­ing one real-world chal­lenge after the oth­er. I did not want to read about them, though few books fifty years ago explored issues of alco­holism, home­less­ness, and domes­tic vio­lence.

Christ­mas Day when I was 11 with my sis­ter and my cousins. I was already a writer at this age.

I read to escape, delv­ing into sto­ries where the character’s biggest chal­lenge was find­ing grandmother’s hid­den jew­els, as in The Secret of the Stone Griffins. Fluff? So what? In order to set the bar, I had to seek nor­mal and didn’t care if Dick-and-Jane fam­i­lies weren’t real. Even Mo, the alien girl in Hen­ry Winterfield’s Star Girl who’d tum­bled from her space­ship, lived a nor­mal life with her fam­i­ly on Asra, climb­ing trees on that far­away plan­et like I did on Earth.

In a fam­i­ly of non-read­ers, I broke free of the norm. Not only did I read con­stant­ly, but decid­ed to be a writer at an ear­ly age. I’d write the kind of books I loved, books where secrets involved buried trea­sure, not things I had to keep qui­et about; books where kids felt pro­tect­ed enough to embark on adven­tures.

My moth­er and step­fa­ther regard­ed me with odd respect, as if unsure what plan­et this kid had come from. So long as “sto­ry-writ­ing” didn’t inter­fere with school­work (it did), my moth­er excused me from chores. Only once did she declare read­ing mate­r­i­al inap­pro­pri­ate.

I was nine and fresh out of library books. I found a True Sto­ry mag­a­zine and was deep into sto­ry about an abused boy when my moth­er caught me. She thought I was learn­ing about sex. I was out­raged by the injus­tice: pun­ished for read­ing about a kid my age! Now I think about the irony.

Judy ScuppernongThen I grew up and wrote children’s books. Most of my fic­tion was light and humor­ous. Yet some brave writ­ers tack­led seri­ous sub­jects. My col­league Bren­da Seabrooke wrote a slen­der, ele­gant verse nov­el called Judy Scup­per­nong. This com­ing-of-age sto­ry touch­es on fam­i­ly secrets and alco­holism. The for­mat was per­fect for nav­i­gat­ing dif­fi­cult sub­jects.

I sat down and wrote a poem called “Nobody’s Child.” More fol­lowed, until I’d told my own sto­ry. My agent sub­mit­ted my book Nobody’s Child. One edi­tor asked me to rewrite it as a YA nov­el. “You’ve already done the hard part,” he said. He was wrong. Each time I revised (many times over the years), I had to crawl back into that dark place. Some peo­ple said that by telling my sto­ry, I’d be able to put it behind me. They were wrong. I nev­er will.

The truth is, I wrote Nobody’s Child to find answers. I already knew the what and the how. I want­ed to know why. But by then every­one involved was gone, tak­ing their rea­sons with them. If I were to fic­tion­al­ize my sto­ry to help anoth­er child in the same sit­u­a­tion, I couldn’t make the end­ing turn out any bet­ter.

In the fan­tasies and mys­ter­ies and books about ani­mals I read as a kid, I fig­ured out I’d prob­a­bly be okay. When I looked up from what­ev­er library book I was read­ing, or what­ev­er sto­ry I was writ­ing, I noticed the real world around me. Not all of it was bro­ken. There were woods and gar­dens and cats and birds and, yes, at last, peo­ple who cared about me.

Author Peter Altenberg said, “I nev­er expect­ed to hold the great mir­ror of truth up before the world; I dreamed only of being a lit­tle pock­et mir­ror …one that reflects small blem­ish­es, and some great beau­ties, when held close enough to the heart.”

Valiant children’s writ­ers will flash the great mir­ror of truth in bold­er works than mine. I’m con­tent to shine my lit­tle pock­et mir­ror at small truths, no big­ger than a starling’s sharp eye, from my heart to my reader’s.

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Big Surprise!

Lynne Jonell Page Break

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Thanksgiving Tea

The week before Thanks­giv­ing I was part of a won­der­ful Thanks­giv­ing-themed Sto­ry­time. Excel­lent books were read: Otis Gives Thanks by Loren Long and Thank­ful by Eileen Spinel­li. We sang through There Was An Old Lady Who Swal­lowed A Turkey by Lucille Colan­dro, and Sim­ple Gifts by Chris Rasch­ka. All was going swimmingly—beautiful chil­dren, rapt and smil­ing. They were very young, but you could tell they were read to reg­u­lar­ly. They knew how to sit on cush­ions, raise their hands, use their inside voic­es, etc.

And then I decid­ed to “tell” an orig­i­nal sto­ry about set­ting the table for a Thanks­giv­ing Tea. I pulled out #1 Son’s tea set from when he was three and very into tea par­ties. I gave it a good wash—quite dusty as he has used larg­er tea cups for years now—and packed it into a “sto­ry box” with a few oth­er props.

We will set a beau­ti­ful table togeth­er, I thought. I will invite them to pour the tea for one another…to imag­ine what they’d like to eat…we will give thanks for all the good­ness in life…. Warm cozy feel­ings flood­ed my sto­ry­telling heart.

I placed a small end table in front of them. They all stood up and gath­ered around. This was unexpected—the standing—but it made sense, of course. They would be right there and able to see the sto­ry unfold. I smiled, opened my sto­ry box, and began.

This is our Thanks­giv­ing table for tea… They stood still stock still, star­ing at the table in front of them. I love the innate dra­ma of telling sto­ries!

This is the table­cloth, ironed so smooth, that cov­ers our Thanks­giv­ing table for tea…. I spread a col­or­ful sun­flower nap­kin. Imme­di­ate­ly they all were touch­ing the nap­kin, rub­bing the table with the nap­kin, pulling the nap­kin to one side and then the oth­er, wip­ing their noses on the nap­kin. I sug­gest­ed we put our hands at our sides.

Nope.

I sug­gest­ed we put our hands behind our backs.

Ha!

So I con­tin­ued. I’m semi-unflap­pable.

This is the light, that shines in the mid­dle…. A quick glance at my fel­low sto­ry­time leader con­firmed that we might not want to light the can­dle as planned in my ridicu­lous­ly cozy vision of this sto­ry telling. This was an excel­lent choice as instant­ly there were hun­dreds, maybe thou­sands, of lit­tle hands all over the unlit can­dle. They passed it around, grabbed it from one anoth­er, blew on it. I insist­ed we put the light in the mid­dle as the sto­ry said.

When it was reluc­tant­ly placed there and we imag­ined the cozy flame, I con­tin­ued through the sto­ry. They con­tin­ued touch­ing the can­dle and adjust­ing the cloth.

But things didn’t real­ly fall apart until I brought out the small plates of “all dif­fer­ent col­ors” with their “match­ing cups for our Thanks­giv­ing tea.”

These were rearranged, stacked and unstacked, clat­tered togeth­er, passed around, dropped on the floor, sipped from, and licked. My fel­low sto­ry­teller flinched with every clat­ter, but I knew what those dish­es had been through and although they are pot­tery, they are the mag­i­cal sort that some­how does not break.

When I placed the teapot and cream and sug­ar “that match the cups and plates, all dif­fer­ent col­ors” on the table, fre­net­ic pour­ing and com­mon cup swig­ging ensued. Clear­ly they under­stood the con­cept of teatime. A small skir­mish broke out over the cream pitch­er and its imag­i­nary cream. Heaps more sug­ar than the wee sug­ar bowl could pos­si­bly hold was sprin­kled around all over the cloth and on each oth­er. A thou­sand or more chil­dren man­aged to gath­er around that tiny table and “manip­u­late” the props.

WHAT A FEAST! I cried. WHAT A TREAT! WHAT SHALL WE EAT FOR OUR TEA?! 

Cere­al!” was the first answer. Then ‘taters and pie and pop­corn and can­dy and turkey and more can­dy and toast and gold­fish and jel­ly and mac­a­roni-and-cheese and cup­cakes and milk and apples and but­tered noo­dles and bananas and hot­dogs and meat and corn-on-the-cob and hot choco­late and water­mel­on and more can­dy. Marsh­mal­lows, too. For the hot choco­late. But also just to eat.

All of these things we pre­tend­ed to place and plop and sprin­kle and slop on the wee lit­tle plates and in the wee lit­tle cups as they were mov­ing, no less. It was chaos—everything con­stant­ly being passed and clat­tered and exchanged and grabbed.

WE GIVE THANKS FOR THIS FOOD AND DRINK, THIS TABLE, AND OUR FRIENDS! I yelled above the may­hem. AND NOW WE CLEAN UP!

Half of the group imme­di­ate­ly went and sat on their cush­ions. The oth­er half did indeed “help” put every­thing back in the sto­ry­box. My sto­ry­teller part­ner and I heaved a sigh of relief as I put the lid on. Noth­ing broke. No one was cry­ing. There was no blood.

Now we have a craft!” we said. Which was, curi­ous­ly, a much calmer activ­i­ty. Except for the glue sticks—small bat­tles erupt­ed over those. More than one child used them as chap­stick. Per­haps this made for a qui­et ride home.

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The Kindness of Teachers

Miss Rosemary Follett and David LaRochelle

Miss Rose­mary Fol­lett and David LaRochelle

I loved first grade.

Fifty-one years lat­er, I still have vivid mem­o­ries of my teacher, Miss Fol­lett. She played the piano every day. She read to us from her giant book of poet­ry. She showed us pho­tos of her trips to exot­ic places, like Alas­ka and Hawaii.

At Hal­loween we screamed in ter­ror and delight when she hob­bled into our class­room dressed as a witch. At East­er we fol­lowed “bun­ny tracks” through­out the school till they led us to a chest filled with panora­ma sug­ar eggs that Miss Fol­lett had hand­made, one for each of us. On our birth­days we sat at the spe­cial birth­day desk that was dec­o­rat­ed with crêpe paper stream­ers and bal­loons. Miss Fol­lett would light the can­dles on the plas­ter of Paris birth­day cake and the entire class would sing.

Miss Fol­lett was also seri­ous about learn­ing. That was fine with me. One of the rea­sons I want­ed to start first grade was because I des­per­ate­ly want­ed to read. Words were all around me; I want­ed to know their secrets.

Humpty Dumpty

Hump­ty Dump­ty

I also remem­ber Hump­ty Dump­ty, Miss Follett’s form of behav­ior man­age­ment. The Hump­ty Dump­ty cook­ie jar sat on the cor­ner of Miss Follett’s desk. If our class was very, very good, Hump­ty Dump­ty might (mind you, might) be mag­i­cal­ly filled with cook­ies for us. No one ever want­ed to do any­thing that would dis­please Hump­ty.

When I became a children’s author, Miss Fol­lett attend­ed one of my pub­li­ca­tion par­ties. It was a proud moment for both of us. When I auto­graphed her book, I includ­ed doo­dles of my favorite first grade mem­o­ries.

Years passed.

This last spring I came home from run­ning errands to find a large box wait­ing in front of my door. When I removed the lay­ers of bub­ble wrap, I dis­cov­ered Miss Follett’s Hump­ty Dump­ty cook­ie jar inside, along with this note:

Dear David,

Now that I am mov­ing to senior hous­ing and need to down­size,
it’s time for Hump­ty to find a new home. I thought
he might enjoy liv­ing in your stu­dio.

Your First Grade Teacher
Rose­mary Fol­lett

Miss Fol­lett did indeed teach me to read. But she taught me a lot of oth­er things as well. She taught me that adults can be both seri­ous and play­ful. She taught me that art and music and poet­ry make life more beau­ti­ful. She taught me that the world is full of fas­ci­nat­ing places, and that I can go vis­it them. She taught me that you are nev­er too old to use your imag­i­na­tion.

And she taught me that teach­ers nev­er stop car­ing about their stu­dents.

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Biography: How to Decide
What Goes into the Soup Pot (and What Doesn’t)

It is cold up here in the north coun­try, so late­ly my thoughts have turned to cre­at­ing a steam­ing pot of soup. For soup, you have to hit the high­lights; the chick­en, onions, a car­rot or two. If you toss in too many ingre­di­ents, noth­ing will stand out and the result will be a mud­dled mess. You must also have a spe­cial ingre­di­ent. The quick taste that says, mmm, what is that? A dash of nut­meg? A spoon­ful of car­away seed?

Bold Women of MedicineWhen I wrote the short pro­files in Bold Women of Med­i­cine: 21 Sto­ries of Astound­ing Dis­cov­er­ies, Dar­ing Surg­eries, and Heal­ing Break­throughs, I real­ized they required a sim­i­lar focus. I need­ed the high­lights; birth, fam­i­ly, edu­ca­tion. The pro­files also need­ed that spe­cial some­thing to stand out.

Oth­er than bio­graph­i­cal assign­ments in school, I hadn’t writ­ten many biogra­phies. But often it is in the doing that we learn. When I researched and wrote my (look­ing for a home) pic­ture book biog­ra­phy Step by Step: The Sto­ry of Eliz­a­beth Kenny’s Fight to Treat Polio, I learned a few lessons.

I had been fas­ci­nat­ed by Sis­ter Ken­ny ever since my father’s stay at the Sis­ter Ken­ny Insti­tute after his stroke. Who was this brash woman who had found­ed the insti­tute famous in Min­neapo­lis? Not just Min­neapo­lis, for in fact, she was once vot­ed the most influ­en­tial woman in Amer­i­ca, beat­ing out Eleanor Roo­sevelt.

Research­ing and writ­ing the life of some­one famous can be daunt­ing. I didn’t have the space to write about every­thing in her life, and I didn’t want to bore young read­ers with unin­ter­est­ing facts.

The Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Center’s Gale Fam­i­ly Library held her secrets in the form of let­ters, cards, and pho­tographs packed into box­es. See­ing Sis­ter Kenny’s hand­writ­ing helped me to imag­ine her sit­ting at a desk com­pos­ing a let­ter. The pho­tographs let me look into her simul­ta­ne­ous­ly kind and deter­mined eyes. It was an odd sense of the past, her past, com­ing to life. And yet, since she died in 1952, I knew more about her fate (and lega­cy) than she did.

Sis­ter Ken­ny even­tu­al­ly became the sam­ple chap­ter I includ­ed in my pro­pos­al for Bold Women of Med­i­cine. The Chica­go Review Press Women of Action Series intro­duces young adults to women and girls of courage and con­vic­tion.

As I sift­ed through these lives I won­dered, what spurred these women on to a life in med­i­cine?

With­in the frame­work of the women’s lives (birth, edu­ca­tion, career, and fam­i­ly), I began to see pat­terns lead­ing them to med­i­cine. My goal was to keep the sto­ry mov­ing for­ward.

Sis­ter Ken­ny (pho­to: State Library of Queens­land)

For exam­ple, Sis­ter Ken­ny real­ized suc­cess with one patient inflict­ed with cere­bral pal­sy, caus­ing paral­y­sis. She said, “Although my spe­cial life’s work had not yet real­ly begun, I always think of this peri­od as my start­ing point.” Dis­cov­er­ing each woman’s moti­va­tion helped me to cre­ate a tighter focus. In oth­er words, I lim­it­ed the ingre­di­ents I placed into my soup pot and at the same time found that spe­cial some­thing.

What fac­tors influ­enced Sis­ter Ken­ny to prac­tice med­i­cine? Was it an event, a per­son, or a need to be help­ful? I am a lin­ear thinker (some­times a hin­drance) but in this case, point A of a woman in medicine’s life often led to point B. Some­times I had to back­track much like you do when fol­low­ing a hik­ing trail, and often when I back­tracked I dis­cov­ered anoth­er, more intrigu­ing part of her sto­ry.

Research is a tricky beast no mat­ter what the sub­ject is, and the most dif­fi­cult part of research is know­ing when to quit. Not every­thing from your fridge must be a part of your din­ner.

I searched for anec­dotes that would inter­est a young read­er. What hap­pened in Sis­ter Kenny’s child­hood that shaped her inter­est in sci­ence? What char­ac­ter traits did she pos­sess that led to suc­cess or fail­ure? What impact did she have on his­to­ry? Pulitzer Prize win­ning writer David McCul­lough says, “I believe very strong­ly that the essence of writ­ing is to know your subject…to get beneath the sur­face. You have to know enough to know what to leave out.”

I read as much as I could on each woman, until I found the sto­ry and pat­tern with which to begin. Each of these women lived full lives, and in the cut­ting of some of their life events I strength­ened the fla­vors, high­light­ing their pow­ers of hope, edu­ca­tion, and per­se­ver­ance. And as I write this on a cold day, it’s time to pull out the pot and fig­ure out the best ingre­di­ents for my soup!

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Pie Season

Jack­ie: This is grat­i­tude sea­son and that is a good reminder. Many of us have plen­ty to be grate­ful for and we often for­get that while wait­ing for the next good things. It’s also Pie Sea­son. It is the one time of the year at my house when we have no holds barred on pie. Every­one gets to have a favorite at Thanks­giv­ing. Pie for din­ner, pie for break­fast (the best!). So Phyl­lis and I decid­ed to find some pie books.

How to Make a Pie and See the WorldOne book that I wish I had writ­ten is Mar­jorie Priceman’s How To Make Apple Pie and See the World (Pen­guin, Ran­dom House, 1994; paper­back, 2008). This is a delight­ful sto­ry of gath­er­ing the ingre­di­ents for apple pie and then mak­ing the pie and shar­ing with friends. This book can be used to teach math (frac­tions in the recipe), geog­ra­phy (of course), and pie-mak­ing. And, more impor­tant­ly, it’s fun. The lan­guage is live­ly and orig­i­nal. After prepar­ing for the trip by find­ing a “shop­ping list and walk­ing shoes,” get on a boat. Go to Italy for semoli­na wheat, then to France. In France, “locate a chick­en. French chick­ens lay ele­gant eggs.” “Make the acquain­tance of a cow” in Eng­land. The cow and the chick­en accom­pa­ny our intre­pid pie-mak­er for the rest of the book as she gets bark for cin­na­mon from Sri Lan­ka, sug­ar cane from Jamaica, salt from the ocean, and “eight rosy apples” from Ver­mont.

Phyl­lis: There’s so much to love in this book (which I, too, wish I had writ­ten): the sources of our food which we often take for grant­ed, the friends the lit­tle girl makes as she trav­els the world, the resilience of find­ing what you need (and, in a twist at the end, mak­ing do with­out the ice cream), the treat­ment of ani­mals who give us milk and eggs, the humor of the art, which shows the pilot drop­ping the lit­tle girl off in Ver­mont by means of a para­chute, the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of what we eat. It makes me want to bake a pie her way, and it also makes me grate­ful for the gro­cery store and farmer’s mar­ket.

Gator PieJack­ie: Anoth­er long-time favorite of mine is Gator Pie by Louise Math­ews with illus­tra­tions by Jeni Bas­sett (Dodd, Mead, 1979). Alvin and Alice are gator friends who live in a swamp. One day they find a love­ly pie. They decide to share, but before Alice can cut two halves anoth­er alli­ga­tor comes up and demands a share. Now Alice must cut the pie in thirds. And Alvin is not too hap­py about shar­ing. It gets worse—Alvin thinks he’ll get a quar­ter of the pie, then an eighth and final­ly one one-hun­dredth. Then he gets a bril­liant idea. And he and Alice get to share the pie them­selves. The illus­tra­tions make this book delight­ful. The sub­ject mat­ter makes it per­fect for talk­ing about how frac­tions work.

Phyl­lis: Because we are often look­ing at old­er books (I remem­ber read­ing this one to my now-grown kids when they were lit­tle), we some­times have prob­lems putting our hands on those books. Some reside on our book­shelves, some are avail­able through inter­li­brary loan, some we find online, and on occa­sion, if one of us has a copy but the oth­er can’t find it, we read the sto­ry to each oth­er on Skype. This time, because Gator Pie hadn’t yet arrived at my local library from anoth­er library, I watched a YouTube video of a young boy read­ing with his father, who helped his son when he wasn’t sure of a word. At one point, the boy grins at his father and says, “Excuse me, I drooled.” I love think­ing that a book about a pie was so deli­cious that it made the boy’s mouth water, but I love more see­ing the ten­der inter­ac­tion between child and par­ent and book. This is why we write, for those con­nec­tions.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieJack­ie: Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie by Rob­bin Gour­ley (Clar­i­on, 2009) fea­tures Edna Lewis, African Amer­i­can chef who wrote sev­er­al cook­books “teach­ing peo­ple how to pre­pare food in the south­ern region­al style.” This book focus­es on Edna’s child­hood and imag­ines Edna and her fam­i­ly gath­er­ing the foods of the sea­son: wild straw­ber­ries and fresh greens in the spring­time; hon­ey, cher­ries, and black­ber­ries in the sum­mer. The round fruits—peaches and tomatoes—fill sum­mer bas­kets and box­es. Corn for corn­bread, water­mel­ons, but­ter beans (“’We’re rich as kings as long as we have beans,’ says Mama.”) and mus­ca­dine grapes fin­ish out the sum­mer. Back to school sea­son means apples for pie and apple crisp. This is a book to remind us to savor the foods of our area. Read­ing it will make you hungry—and make you want to get out bowl and spoon, flour and fruit, and cook some­thing.

Phyl­lis: Which you can do with this book, because it ends with an author’s note and some mouth-water­ing recipes. It’s a book, too, rich in fam­i­ly and lan­guage. Mama says, ‘Bet­ter hur­ry! You’ll need to out­run the rab­bits to get the berries.” Dad­dy says to fill as many bas­kets as they can because the larder’s emp­ty. When Aun­tie helps Edna and her lit­tle sis­ter gath­er wild greens, she says, “A fresh crisp sal­ad to nour­ish the heart and soul as well as the body.” Broth­er helps gath­er cher­ries and black­ber­ries. When the fam­i­ly gath­ers round to find the per­fect mel­on, Granny says, “Mel­ons are just like friends. Got­ta try ten before you get a good one.” Sas­safras roots tossed up by the plow will fla­vor root beer. Water­mel­on rind will become pick­les. As Edna sur­veys the cel­lar packed with good things, she says, “You can nev­er have too much sum­mer.” When I look at the wealth of squash and onions and gar­lic and pota­toes piled high on my counter from my CSA farm share, I agree with Edna. And you can nev­er have too many books as deli­cious as this one.

Enemy PieJack­ie: Final­ly, we want to look at a charm­ing book that uses pie to solve a prob­lem–Ene­my Pie by Derek Mun­son and illus­trat­ed by Tara Cala­han King (Chron­i­cle, 2000). When Jere­my Ross moves into the narrator’s neigh­bor­hood, things start to go bad. Jere­my laughs at the nar­ra­tor when Jere­my strikes him out in a base­ball game, Jere­my didn’t invite him to a par­ty at his house. Jere­my Ross became the top—and only name—on the new “ene­my list.” But Dad has the answer, Ene­my Pie. What goes into Ene­my Pie? Dad won’t tell. The boy brings his dad weeds, no need. He brings earth­worms and rocks, used gum. Not in the recipe. Dad says the oth­er impor­tant part of Ene­my Pie is that the boy has to spend a day with the ene­my. Dad says, “Even worse you have to be nice to him. It’s not easy. But that’s the only way Ene­my Pie can work. Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

So the boy spends one day with Jere­my Ross to get him “out of my hair for the rest of my life.” By the end of the day, when it’s time for Ene­my Pie, the boy tries to pre­vent Jere­my from eat­ing it. By then he doesn’t want him to eat the awful pie. But Dad was eat­ing. Then Jere­my took a bite. Would their hair fall out? It turned out that Ene­my Pie was deli­cious!

This is such a sweet book, with a won­der­ful pie-mak­ing Dad, and a boy who learns that ene­mies don’t always stay ene­mies.

Hap­py pie-bak­ing to all. I’m eager for fruit pie. What’s your favorite Phyl­lis?

Phyl­lis: Pump­kin is lus­cious, but one of the best pies I ever tast­ed was on a road trip in Canada—bumbleberry pie, which I think might be made of all the fruit pie fruits in one.

How­ev­er you slice it, we love pie and pie books. We hope your hous­es are rich as kings in books and pies this sea­son.

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It’s All About the Heart

And now here is my secret, a very sim­ple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see right­ly; what is essen­tial is invis­i­ble to the eye.” 
― Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Lit­tle Prince

Orig­i­nal­ly this install­ment of Teach it For­ward was going to offer my take on how to fos­ter inde­pen­dence and pro­mote sta­mi­na in the class­room. Late­ly, I’ve been hear­ing a lot from teach­ers about these two top­ics and the chal­lenge they present. The strug­gle to cre­ate a class­room filled with autonomous stu­dents who can sus­tain pur­pose­ful learn­ing seems to be uni­ver­sal. As I cap­tured my thoughts about how to help teach­ers, I came up with a list of cre­ative strate­gies that worked for me over the years. Along with my reper­toire of ideas, I sprin­kled in lots of encour­age­ment and upbeat advice such as “Look for what you want to see in your stu­dents… the rest will fol­low.”

frustrated student

How­ev­er, after sit­ting with my words for a few days, I real­ized that my attempt to sim­pli­fy such a com­plex under­tak­ing would like­ly only make mat­ters worse for teach­ers. How could one brief arti­cle ade­quate­ly address some­thing so per­plex­ing and yet so essen­tial as fos­ter­ing inde­pen­dence and sta­mi­na in the class­room? The answer to this predica­ment came from a wise col­league who recent­ly chat­ted with me about the dis­tress teach­ers face when it seems impos­si­ble to devel­op self-dri­ven and engaged learn­ers. She sug­gest­ed we all do a bit of soul search­ing by start­ing with the heart, not the head, to find the answers to these ques­tions:

  • What are my beliefs about how my class­room should oper­ate?
  • What is my “why” for being a teacher?
  • How do the kids know that I care, that I am pas­sion­ate?

remembering the heartThe Lit­tle Prince reminds us of the impor­tant role the heart plays in under­stand­ing what lies below the sur­face. We must be will­ing to be vul­ner­a­ble with our stu­dents if we want them to be vul­ner­a­ble with us. As men­tioned in the col­umn “Food for Thought” a few months ago, I believe reach­ing the heart is a pre­req­ui­site for reach­ing the head. Before we can enable stu­dents to be inde­pen­dent learn­ers for extend­ed peri­ods of time, it is cru­cial to con­vince them that what is invis­i­ble to the eye is what mat­ters most.

It starts with the first of four com­po­nents from Cul­tur­al­ly Respon­sive Teach­ing (Teach­ing Tol­er­ance), referred to as The 4 Rs, which is rela­tion­ships.

From there, we strength­en con­nec­tions with stu­dents by bring­ing real­ness, the sec­ond of the 4 Rs, into our lessons.

Next, we con­sid­er the rel­e­vance of what we teach to make sure stu­dents see the “why” of what we are ask­ing them to do.

And, final­ly, we infuse rig­or, the fourth and final “R,” into our teach­ing as we strive for high expec­ta­tions of all kids.

Which favorite teacher comes to mind when you think of The 4 Rs? I eas­i­ly return to 6th grade and fond­ly recall my very best teacher, Mrs. Frett. Although I can­not remem­ber one stan­dard or learn­ing objec­tive that she taught me, I can eas­i­ly recall sev­er­al mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tions we had more than 40 years ago. Her secret was sim­ple: she focused on our hearts before going after our heads.

In the words of beloved poet and writer, Maya Angelou, “… peo­ple will for­get what you said, peo­ple will for­get what you did, but peo­ple will nev­er for­get how you made them feel.” 

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Predictable Pattern

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Skinny Dip with Mira Bartók

Mira Bartok

Mira Bartók, author and illus­tra­tor, recent­ly ush­ered The Won­der­ling into the world and it is already on sev­er­al best of 2017 book lists. Con­grat­u­la­tions, Mira, and thanks for shar­ing your respons­es with our read­ers.

When did you first start read­ing books?

Age 4.

The Arrival, Shaun TanAll-time favorite book?

The Arrival by Shaun Tan.

Favorite break­fast or lunch as a kid?

Lunch: grilled cheese sand­wich, mashed pota­toes, and choco­late milk!

What’s your leasst favorite chore?

Vac­u­um­ing.

What’s your favorite part of start­ing a new project?

Read­ing all kinds of books and tak­ing ran­dom notes, and also going to muse­ums to sketch objects and paint­ings that relate to what I’m work­ing on.

Bare­foot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Soft, com­fy socks.

When are you your most cre­ative?

When I’m not pro­mot­ing a book, and when I turn off all elec­tron­ic devices. And my brain is usu­al­ly explod­ing with ideas when I’m either in a muse­um or walk­ing in the woods. 

Favorite fla­vor of ice cream?

Mint choco­late chip.

Landscape with Invisible Hand, M.T. AndersonBook on your bed­side table right now?

There are sev­er­al: M.T. Anderson’s Land­scape with Invis­i­ble Hand, two vol­umes of fairy tales by 19th cen­tu­ry Scot­tish writer George Mac­Don­ald, the first Red­wall book (I still haven’t read the series!), and a new short sto­ry col­lec­tion called The Age of Per­pet­u­al Light by a  bril­liant young writer named Josh Weil.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I think I sightread piano music pret­ty fast. 

Your favorite toy as a child …

A lit­tle stuffed pony named: PONY

Favorite artist? Why?

South African artist William Ken­tridge. Because his work is avant-garde yet acces­si­ble, per­son­al and polit­i­cal, and intel­lec­tu­al and emo­tion­al.

William Kentridge

A Uni­ver­sal Archive, copy­right William Ken­tridge

tarantulaWhich is worse: spi­ders or snakes?

I love them both! I worked in a zoo and han­dled every­thing, includ­ing taran­tu­las!

What’s your best con­tri­bu­tion to tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment?

I’m not sure which is my own best con­tri­bu­tion but I know that com­post­ing and recy­cling every day is super easy and real­ly helps. 

Why do you feel hope­ful for humankind?

It’s hard to feel hope­ful these days but when I see the lit­tle lit­tles of the world expe­ri­ence won­der, it give me hope. So I sup­pose I feel hope­ful because of them.

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Mighty Jack

Mighty Jack and the Goblin KingWe are thrust into the midst of the action, which nev­er stops until the epi­logue. This is how Ben Hatke tells a sto­ry.

We don’t know what’s going on. There’s no set­up. Instead, we quick­ly learn that Jack is climb­ing some veg­e­ta­tive mat­ter to find the ogre who kid­napped his sis­ter Mad­dy and take her home. His friend, Lil­ly, no side­kick, is climb­ing along­side him.

The vil­lains of the piece are rats, giants, and that ogre. They have con­trol of a nexus point that exists out­side of time and space, a con­nect­ing link between worlds. It looks like the tow­er of a cas­tle built on an aster­oid. The place has lost its lus­ter because of the giants’ nefar­i­ous choic­es, among them the need to feed a human child to the machine that blocks the bridges between worlds. It’s sat­is­fy­ing to dis­cov­er these plot points through­out the sto­ry.

Jack and Lil­ly are split up when Lil­ly falls from the vine (a rat is respon­si­ble). Jack vows to come back for her but he is com­pelled to find Mad­dy.

This is not earth,” illus­tra­tion from Jack and the Mighty Gob­lin King by Ben Hatke

The adven­ture takes off in two direc­tions. Lil­ly is seri­ous­ly hurt by the rats … and saved by the gob­lins who inhab­it the low­er reach­es of the nexus point. The Gob­lin King demands that Lil­ly will be his bride. She has oth­er ideas. In the “trash from all worlds,” she finds a Shel­by Mus­tang. She will find a way to take it with her. Lil­ly is a hero in the truest sense of the word.

The gob­lins are the most endear­ing char­ac­ters in the book. They are fun­ny, resource­ful, knowl­edge­able, and they care for Lil­ly. Their lan­guage is not exact­ly Eng­lish and it suits them. Now we know how gob­lins com­mu­ni­cate.

There are unan­swered ques­tions. Why can’t Mad­dy talk? Where did the mag­ic seeds come from that give Jack and Lil­ly short bursts of need­ed pow­er? Why is Jack’s mother’s house being fore­closed? These are the intrigu­ing bits that encour­age the read­er to fill in the sto­ry, becom­ing one with the sto­ry­teller.

Hatke’s art­work is so much a part of the sto­ry that the book couldn’t be read out loud with­out show­ing the frames of the graph­ic nov­el. His brain cre­ates exot­ic set­tings that invite lin­ger­ing to absorb their odd­ness. His vil­lains are das­tard­ly, fear­some, invit­ing us to defeat them. The gob­lins are oth­er-world­ly but a lit­tle cud­dly. (Just a lit­tle.) The col­or palette is spacey where appro­pri­ate,  con­vinc­ing­ly sub­ter­ranean when we’re in the goblin’s habi­tat, and quite rich­ly appeal­ing when the veg­e­ta­tion trans­forms. And that Shel­by Mus­tang!

The book is filled with sur­pris­es. A turn of the page often brings an unex­pect­ed turn of events. Even the epi­logue, often used to wrap up a sto­ry and tell us about the future, leaves us with a  sense of urgency: what will hap­pen next?

There is a first book, Mighty Jack, which I have not read. It most like­ly cre­ates the world in which Lil­ly, Jack, Mad­dy, and Phe­lix the drag­on (!) live, but I’m very glad that a read­er doesn’t have to first read that book to enjoy this one. I always hat­ed going to my cousin Sig’s house, read­ing his com­ic books, nev­er know­ing where the sto­ries were com­ing from or how they would end because they were pub­lished episod­i­cal­ly. 

This is sto­ry­telling at its very best. Appeal­ing, fun, hold-your-breath sto­ry­telling. I could have revealed that this is a re-telling of the Jack and the Beanstalk sto­ry but it is so much more than that. Ben Hatke’s pow­ers enchant his read­ers once again.

(Please be advised that this might have a PG13 rat­ing because of some vio­lence and one swear word. You’ll know best if this fits for your fam­i­ly.)

Mighty Jack and the Gob­lin King
a graph­ic nov­el by Ben Hatke
col­or by Alex Camp­bell and Hilary Sycamore
pub­lished by First Sec­ond, 2017
ISBN 978−1−6267−226−68

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Art and Words, Words and Art

Jun­gle Tales,” by J.J. Shan­non, 1895

Thir­ty years ago, I bought a poster of “Jun­gle Tales” by J.J. Shan­non (1895) at the Met in New York City. I took it to my favorite framer, but when it was ready, I was hor­ri­fied to see they’d cut off Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art, The Children’s Book­shop at the bot­tom, fram­ing just the image.  No one thought the words were impor­tant.  The framer ordered a new poster and framed it intact. “Jun­gle Tales” has been hang­ing over our den sofa ever since. I love the paint­ing, but I also love the place names. In my mind, the two can’t be separated—art and words, words and art.

Like most kids, I wrote sto­ries and drew pic­tures. I enjoyed words with illustrations—magazines with pho­tographs and car­toons, com­ic books, mid­dle grade fic­tion with inside line draw­ings. The expe­ri­ence was nev­er hurried—I pored over the images and made con­nec­tions between the art and the words. This was a world I nev­er want­ed to leave.

San­cho, the Hom­ing Steer, by Can­dice Sylvia Far­ris

I planned to be both a writer and an artist, but after high school I real­ized I’d need for­mal art train­ing. Col­lege of any kind was out of the ques­tion. I could teach myself to write and that was the path I chose.

Still, art remained a large part of my life. I watch children’s book illus­tra­tors work, envy­ing those who can draw and paint and see results at the end of the day. In a writ­ing ses­sion, I may pro­duce one decent sen­tence, if that. To improve my craft—a dai­ly strug­gle even after all these years—I start jour­nals, but fal­ter in the prac­tice. New projects seem wrenched from me. Words, words, where are the words?

Two years ago, I was asked to write a pic­ture book based on a char­ac­ter cre­at­ed by an illus­tra­tor. I agreed to try, though I was uncer­tain and ner­vous. I hadn’t writ­ten a pic­ture book in more than ten years. And I’d nev­er writ­ten a pic­ture book based on a char­ac­ter. The edi­tor sent me the illustrator’s sam­ple sketch­es. I stud­ied them, just as I’d once pored over the art in comics or mys­tery books. I pho­to­copied the sam­ples and car­ried them around with me.

pre­lim­i­nary sketch­es for Aman­da Pan­da Quits Kinder­garten

Instead of hav­ing to visu­al­ize a char­ac­ter in my head, the way I usu­al­ly wrote pic­ture books (or any­thing), I could see the pan­da girl and her range of emo­tions, and appre­ci­ate Chris­tine Grove’s sense of humor. I knew the kind of sto­ry this char­ac­ter need­ed. And I wrote it, Aman­da Pan­da Quits Kinder­garten (2017). When I was asked to write a sequel, the illus­tra­tions from the first book inspired me. Aman­da Pan­da and the Big­ger, Bet­ter Birth­day will be out next sum­mer.

Amanda Panda Quits KindergartenA few weeks ago, Chris­tine Grove sent me a new char­ac­ter. “What do you think?” she wrote. I print­ed out the char­ac­ter and car­ried it around with me. A month lat­er, I had a new sto­ry. Art came to my res­cue. It gave me the words I hadn’t been able to pull out of my head. 

I don’t know if this new sto­ry will become a pub­lished pic­ture book, but I’ve learned my les­son. Don’t stray from art again. I’ll col­lect mag­a­zine pho­tos, doo­dle, pho­to­copy books (Pin­ter­est doesn’t cut it for me), and paste the images into those fal­low jour­nals. Visu­als will help me find the words. Art and words, words and art.

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Cloth and the Picture Book:
Storytelling with Textile Techniques

Author and illus­tra­tor Debra Frasi­er was invit­ed to lec­ture on this top­ic to the West­ern North Car­oli­na Tex­tile Study Group, and the pub­lic, in mid-Novem­ber 2017. This is the bib­li­og­ra­phy that accom­pa­nies Debra’s pre­sen­ta­tion, with book selec­tions by Debra Frasi­er and Vic­ki Palmquist.

If you would like to invite Debra to give this pre­sen­ta­tion to your group, please con­tact her.

Down­load a print ver­sion of this bib­li­og­ra­phy.

Books are list­ed in order of appear­ance in the pre­sen­ta­tion.

INTRODUCTION TO THE PICTURE BOOK FORM

Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe  

Spike, Ugli­est Dog in the Uni­verse
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed 
by Debra Frasi­er
Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schus­ter,
2014.

Col­laged worn blue jeans with oth­er tex­tiles and papers.

THREE HISTORICAL INSPIRATIONS

Stitching Stars  

The Lady and the Uni­corn, as seen in the Musée de Cluny, Paris, France.

The Bayeux Tapes­try, writ­ten by David M. Wil­son, “The Com­plete
Tapes­try in Colour with Intro­duc­tions, Descrip­tion and com­men­tary by David M. Wil­son,” Thames & Hud­son, 2004.

Stitch­ing Stars, The Sto­ry Quilts of Har­ri­et Pow­ers, Lyons, Mary E, African-Amer­i­can Artists and Arti­sans series, 1993, Charles Scribner’s & Sons, his­tor­i­cal overview of late 1860’s, slave life, and Ms. Pow­ers’ works and his­to­ry.

A QUIRKY SURVEY OF TEXTILE TECHNIQUES 
USED IN ILLUSTRATIONS
FOR CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS

QUILTED INSPIRATIONS

Alphabet Atlas

 

The Alpha­bet Atlas
writ­ten by Arthur Yorinks
illus­trat­ed by Adri­enne Yorinks
Winslow Press, 1999

Machine quilt­ed, col­laged con­ti­nents

Hummingbirds  

Hum­ming­birds
writ­ten by Adri­enne Yorinks and Jean­nette Lar­son

illus­trat­ed by Adri­enne Yorinks
Charles­bridge Pub­lish­ing, 2011

Non­fic­tion com­bined with myth­ic, all quilt­ed

Patchwork Folk Art  

Patch­work Folk Art, Using Appliqué & Quilt­ing Tech­niques
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Janet Bolton
Sterling/Museum Quilts Book
Ster­ling Pub­lish­ing Co, 1995

Not a children’s pic­ture book but an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to nar­ra­tive in patch­work col­lage.

Mrs. Noah's Patchwork Quilt  

Mrs. Noah’s Patch­work Quilt
A Jour­nal of the Voy­age with a Pock­et­ful of Patch­work Pieces
writ­ten by Sheri Safran
illus­trat­ed by Janet Bolton
Tan­go Books (Eng­land), 1995

Presents a how-to along with the sto­ry of Mrs. Noah’s quilt, and a back pock­et includes pat­terns of quilt pieces appear­ing in the illus­tra­tions.

Tar Beach  

Tar Beach
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Faith Ring­gold
Crown Pub­lish­er, 1991

Based on one of Ringgold’s quilts held by the Guggen­heim Muse­um. The sto­ry arc and quilt bor­ders all car­ried over to the pic­ture book so, in this case, the book is inspired by the quilt.

Quiltmaker's Gift  

Quiltmaker’s Gift
writ­ten by Jeff Brum­beau
illus­trat­ed by Gail de Mar­ck­en
Scholas­tic Press, 2001

In which the cre­ation of a quilt changes the heart of a greedy king. Each page fea­tures a dif­fer­ent quilt block that fits into the con­text of the sto­ry.

The Keeping Quilt  

Keep­ing Quilt
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Patri­cia Polac­co
Simon & Schus­ter, 1988

A quilt made from a family’s cloth­ing is passed down in var­i­ous guis­es for more than a cen­tu­ry, a sym­bol of their endur­ing love and faith.

CLOTH AND THINGS IN THE SEWING BASKET

Pat the Bunny  

Pat the Bun­ny
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Dorothy Kun­hardt
Gold­en Book, 1940

Spi­ral bound with a small trim-size, this clas­sic book uses actu­al bits of fab­ric to “feel” and “lift.”

Wag a Tail  

Wag A Tail
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lois Ehlert
Har­court, Inc, 2007

Col­laged papers and cloth, with but­tons and “pink­ing shear” edg­ing through­out.

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf  

Red Leaf, Yel­low Leaf
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lois Ehlert
Har­court Brace & Com­pa­ny, 1991

Burlap, kite tails, string and bits of cloth are used in the col­lages.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat  

Joseph Had a Lit­tle Over­coat
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Simms Taback
Viking/Penguin Put­nam Books for Young Read­ers, 1999

The main character—a dimin­ish­ing coat—is actu­al cloth and is col­laged with oth­er bits of cloth cur­tains, rugs and cloth­ing, and then all adhered to a paint­ed sur­face.

Mama Miti  

Mama Miti
writ­ten by Don­na Jo Napoli
illus­trat­ed by Kadir Nel­son
Simon & Schus­ter Books for Young Read­ers, 2010

Nel­son has com­bined cloth with paint­ing for both land­scapes and cloth­ing.

Hands  

Hands
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lois Ehlert
Har­court Brace & Co, 1997

Ehlert has used actu­al objects: work gloves, apron swatch, sewing tools, scis­sors, pat­tern tissue—in this ode to mak­ing things as a child.

PAPER TREATED AS CLOTH

Paper Illusions  

Paper Illu­sions, The Art of Isabelle de Borch­grave
by Bar­bara and Rene Stoeltie
Abrams, 2008 (Eng­lish edi­tion)

Lav­ish pho­tographs of life-sized paper cos­tumes made to match Renais­sance peri­od cloth using paint­ing, fold­ing, glu­ing, stitch­ing to cre­ate the illu­sion of cloth.

Mole's Hill  

Mole’s Hill: a Wood­land Tale
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lois Ehlert
Har­court, 1994

Inspired by Wood­land Indi­ans rib­bon appliqué and sewn bead­work, the paper is often dot­ted and pieced as if stitched and bead­ed. An author note describes this hand­work and how it inspired her approach.

Seeds of Change  

Seeds of Change
writ­ten by Jen Culler­ton John­son
illus­trat­ed by Sonia Lynn Sadler
Lee & Low Books, 2010

Dis­tinc­tive Kenyan-styled flower print dress pat­terns are used as the inspi­ra­tion for paint­ings of dress­es and mir­rored in land­scapes.

STITCHING

Fabric Pictures  

Fab­ric Pic­tures
A Work­shop with Janet Bolton, Cre­at­ing a Tex­tile Sto­ry
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Janet Bolton
Jacqui Small LLP, Aurum Press, 2015

Not a children’s pic­ture book but an excel­lent work­shop-in-a-book on cre­at­ing nar­ra­tives with appliqué.

Baby's First Book  

Baby’s First Book
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Clare Beat­on
Bare­foot Books, 2008

Hand sewn felt, vin­tage fab­rics, but­tons, and stitched let­ter­ing col­laged for a baby’s com­pendi­um of sub­jects. ALL items and back­grounds made of cloth.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves  

Snow White and the Sev­en Dwarves
adapt­ed by Joan Aiken
illus­trat­ed by Belin­da Downes
A Dor­ling Kinder­s­ley Book
Pen­guin Com­pa­ny, 2002

Downes uses fine fab­rics appliquéd with rich embroi­dery, incor­po­rat­ing a con­sis­tent run­ning stitch to out­line and embell­ish.

CLOTH AS SUBJECT

Cloth Lullaby  

Cloth Lul­la­by, The Woven Life of Louise Bour­geois
writ­ten by Amy Novesky
illus­trat­ed by Isabelle Arse­nault
Abrams Books for Young Read­ers, 2016

The illus­tra­tor uses woven lines, [sim­i­lar to some of Bour­geois’ lat­er draw­ings] to cre­ate a tex­tile sen­si­bil­i­ty in the illus­tra­tions amid the ear­ly years, and then the same vocab­u­lary is used to visu­al­ly describe the sculp­ture of her adult artist years.

Pattern for Pepper  

A Pat­tern for Pep­per
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Julie Kraulis
Tun­dra Books, Ran­dom House/Canada, 2017

From Her­ring­bone to Dot­ted Swiss, from Argyle to Toile—a vis­it to a tailor’s shop becomes a com­pendi­um of fab­ric pat­terns with each fab­ric sam­pled in the hunt for the per­fect pat­tern for Pep­per. Oil paint and graphite on board.

THREE-D CLOTH AND FELT

Pocketful of Posies  

Pock­et­ful of Posies, A Trea­sury of Nurs­ery Rhymes
col­lect­ed and illus­trat­ed by Sal­ley Mavor
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2010

64 tra­di­tion­al nurs­ery rhymes are illus­trat­ed with hand-sewn fab­ric relief col­lages, includ­ing dozens of fig­ures.

Felt Wee Folk  

Felt-Wee-Folk, 120 Enchant­i­ng Dolls
“New Adven­tures”
by Sal­ley Mavor
C&T Pub­lish­ing, 2015

This is a how-to book for cre­at­ing char­ac­ters and scenes as pic­tured in Pock­et­ful of Posies.

Pride & Prejudice  

Cozy Clas­sics
Jane Austen’s Pride & Prej­u­dice
by Jack and Hol­man Wang
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016

Entire­ly illus­trat­ed by felt­ed 3-D char­ac­ters that are set in an envi­ron­ment, superbly lit, and pho­tographed to tell clas­sic tales in one word page turns. Sev­er­al clas­sic titles are includ­ed in this series.

Roarr Calder's Circus  

Roarr, Calder’s Cir­cus
a sto­ry by Maira Kalman
pho­tos by Donatel­la Brun
designed by M&Co for
the Whit­ney Muse­um of Amer­i­can Art, 1991

Using bits of Calder’s spo­ken text from the film of his hand manip­u­lat­ed cir­cus, Kalman expands the lan­guage and char­ac­ter­i­za­tions. Calder’s cir­cus char­ac­ters of wire and cloth are pho­tographed and then col­laged across the dou­ble-page spread.

THE DYED BOOK

We Got Here Together  

We Got Here Togeth­er
writ­ten by Kim Stafford
illus­trat­ed by Debra Frasi­er
Har­court Brace, 1994

Shi­bori, a resist dye­ing method, is used to pat­tern Japan­ese gampi tis­sue paper (long fibered tis­sue) as ocean and rain, in both pipe resist and braid­ed resist tech­niques, respec­tive­ly. Shi­bori tis­sue paper is com­bined with Japan­ese dyed sheets in col­lages on illus­tra­tion board.

SPECIAL GUEST

Catharine Ellis  

Catharine Ellis, self pub­lished, three titles:

Cape Cod: The Present, Blue, and Map­ping Col­or (writ­ten by Nan­cy Pen­rose, illus­trat­ed by Catharine Ellis). Find Catharine’s resources and pub­li­ca­tions here.

(Each of these chap­books is illus­trat­ed using pho­tographs of nat­ur­al dyed fab­rics, some­times addi­tion­al­ly stitched on the sur­faces, while abstract­ly defin­ing the text.)

What are your favorite books illus­trat­ed with tex­tiles? Send us your rec­om­men­da­tions.

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A Picture and a Thousand Words

As a reporter and edi­tor for decades, I often heard peo­ple accuse my col­leagues and me of “bias,” of hav­ing a par­tic­u­lar slant on a story—usually a point of view that the accuser dis­put­ed. It was a com­mon charge, espe­cial­ly if the issue was con­tro­ver­sial.

But in truth, reporters are no dif­fer­ent than any­one else. Every­one comes to a sub­ject with some kind of bias.  If you know what a cer­tain beach is like, then you are like­ly to asso­ciate oth­er beach­es with that expe­ri­ence; if you’ve nev­er been to the beach, then you can only imag­ine what the smells, the sand, or the sea is like.

If you are pro-can­dy, you will read about can­dy dif­fer­ent­ly than some­one who doesn’t like it.

When you write non­fic­tion, these dif­fer­ent read­er per­spec­tives mat­ter. If we want to be thought­ful about a sub­ject or apply those all-impor­tant crit­i­cal think­ing skills, it helps to acknowl­edge our nat­ur­al biases—not to judge, but sim­ply to under­stand that our expe­ri­ences affect how we see things.

Tommy: the Gun that Changed America (hardcover on the left, paperback on the right)When I speak to junior high stu­dents, I often hold up a copy of my book Tom­my: The Gun that Changed Amer­i­ca and ask them what they think it is about.

Why would I write this,” I go on, “and why, espe­cial­ly, for young peo­ple?” Then I might show them the paper­back ver­sion, which has the same title, of course, but no gun on the cov­er.  “What do you make of that?”

From there, we can actu­al­ly start talk­ing about guns—what role they play in our soci­ety, what makes them inter­est­ing to read­ers and how they gen­er­ate strong feelings—without hav­ing to debate the Sec­ond Amend­ment.

Because we live in such a visu­al world, I spend hours track­ing down the right pho­tos, car­toons, and doc­u­ments to help tell a sto­ry. And even if these images don’t make it into the book, they influ­ence my writ­ing by remind­ing me what the world looked like and how peo­ple felt in that time peri­od.

The images that do make it into my books can change the reader’s expe­ri­ence, chal­leng­ing the bias­es they bring to the sto­ry.

Bonnie Parker

Bon­nie Park­er (pho­to: Mis­souri State High­way Patrol)

Con­sid­er this pho­to of Bon­nie Park­er, a key image in my next book, Bon­nie and Clyde: The Mak­ing of a Leg­end, due out in August 2018. It’s a cru­cial pic­ture, the first time she became known to the pub­lic. What do you think about her when you see this? What do you think she’s like?

Now com­pare it to the glam­our shot below, tak­en just a few years before. Does it change your per­spec­tive at all?

Maybe one way to make stu­dent research and non­fic­tion more engag­ing is to con­sid­er our assump­tions and bias­es by bring­ing images into the process. Some ideas:

Bon­nie Park­er (from the col­lec­tions
of the Dal­las His­to­ry and Archives Divi­sion
of the Dal­las Pub­lic Library)

  • Ask stu­dents to make assump­tions about a book from the cov­er. Then com­pare to what the sto­ry is inside. Did their per­spec­tive change?
  • Pull out a sin­gle image and try to guess what it means to the sto­ry. Then, read that chap­ter (or pic­ture book) and test it.
  • Ask stu­dents to search for a pho­to sep­a­rate­ly from their research on a sub­ject. Did the pho­to enforce or change their point of view?

What oth­er ways can you address how a reader’s expe­ri­ences can impact under­stand­ing?

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Pickle Voice

When I was a kid I got lost while par­tic­i­pat­ing in a sum­mer recre­ation pro­gram. I was ter­ri­fied. So the first thing I did when the group lead­ers found me was to laugh.

I was laugh­ing out of pure relief at being found. And because even as a kid, my emo­tion­al stress relief valve was set to “humor.” I’m hard­wired in such a way that I often laugh even while I’m cry­ing.

I got in big trou­ble that day for laugh­ing, and I con­tin­ued to get in trou­ble when­ev­er oth­er peo­ple thought humor was an inap­pro­pri­ate response. Which led me to believe that if I want­ed to be tak­en seri­ous­ly as a writer, I need­ed to use a seri­ous tone. Humor, I had learned, would like­ly get me into trou­ble.

Guess what? None of those oh-so-seri­ous things I used to write got pub­lished. The writ­ing felt life­less and arti­fi­cial; it wasn’t reflec­tive of who I real­ly am. It wasn’t until an edi­tor encour­aged me to pur­sue the “hid­den fun­ny sto­ry” that she found buried in a man­u­script of mine that I let humor back into my work.

That reworked sto­ry, com­plete with lots of “fun­ny,” went on to become my first pub­lished book.

I think that what we mean when we talk about “writer’s voice” is a writer’s per­son­al­i­ty show­ing up on the page. It emerges through many diverse writ­ing choic­es, rang­ing from word usage to tone to rhythm. It’s a tough con­cept for stu­dents to grap­ple with. Yet edi­tors say it’s a major fac­tor in what they look for in a pub­lish­able piece, and writ­ing pro­grams include it as a key com­po­nent. We can’t ignore voice just because it’s hard to teach and learn. So how do we help stu­dents find their voice, espe­cial­ly giv­en that some of them may have been told that the voice that comes nat­u­ral­ly to them should stay lost?

I use an activ­i­ty that encour­ages stu­dents to play with voice. I first choose a group of things that exist as a col­lec­tive, with­in which the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents have “per­son­al­i­ty” with­out being con­tro­ver­sial. Exam­ples are the four seasons—winter and sum­mer have dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties; or it might be colors—we can assign per­son­al­i­ties to green and pink with­out com­ing to blows over it; or you could even use food flavors. Then I have stu­dents write about a sim­ple top­ic using con­trast­ing choic­es from the group. In oth­er words, I might ask them to describe the town they live in, first using a dark choco­late voice, and then using a pick­le voice.

It sounds odd, but I’ve seen it have sur­pris­ing results. Some­how play­ing with voice in this way can set stu­dents on a path to find­ing the writer’s voice that was lost inside them all along.

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Revision Letter

Lynn Jonell's Page Break

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Skinny Dip with Susan Yutzey

Susan Yutzey

Susan Yutzey

Susan Yutzey worked as an Ohio school librar­i­an for many years, serv­ing in local, state, and nation­al lead­er­ship posi­tions. Now retired, she con­tin­ues to be a tire­less advo­cate for school libraries and librar­i­ans.

Who was your favorite teacher in grades K-7 and why?

Ms. D’Angelo was my sev­enth grade teacher. I was a new stu­dent at Edith A. Bog­a­rt Ele­men­tary School and Ms. D’Angelo made me feel wel­come. From encour­ag­ing me as a left-han­der to posi­tion the paper the way I felt most com­fort­able to serv­ing as my piano accom­pa­nist at the annu­al tal­ent show as I sang selec­tions from my favorite musi­cal “Gigi,” Ms. D’Angelo was always my role mod­el.

Nancy DrewWhen did you first start read­ing books?

My first book was a gift from my grand­moth­er—The Lit­tle Engine that Could. From that point on, I remem­ber read­ing every Nan­cy Drew book, rel­ish­ing my Sat­ur­day morn­ings as I devoured The Secret of the Old Clock, The Mys­tery of Lilac Inn, The Secret at Shad­ow Ranch, and all the rest. To keep track of my books I cre­at­ed “check­out” cards and attached them to each book. Play­ing librar­i­an at the ten­der age of ten should have been my clue that twen­ty-nine years lat­er I would embark on a career as a school librar­i­an.

The Poisonwood Bible Barbara KingsolverAll-time favorite book?

The Poi­son­wood Bible by Bar­bara King­solver.

Your best mem­o­ry of your school library?

The library in my high school was a two-sto­ry library with shelf after shelf of books and peri­od­i­cals. From the sec­ond floor to the first floor was a wind­ing stair­case. Dur­ing the two years I was a stu­dent at North­ern High­land High School, I was sec­re­tary of the Library Coun­cil. The offi­cers of the Library Coun­cil had their year­book pho­to tak­en on that wind­ing stair­case. I also have fond mem­o­ries of Mrs. Enos, the school librar­i­an, and her assis­tant Mrs. Holm­strup who pro­vid­ed a sup­port­ive envi­ron­ment for stu­dents and encour­aged inde­pen­dent think­ing and action.

Turtles All the Way DownBook on your bed­side table right now?

I seem to being going through a British mys­tery phase so on my bed­side table you’ll find Friend Request by Lau­ra Mar­shall. I just fin­ished read­ing John Green’s Tur­tles All the Way Down. I usu­al­ly have two books going at the same time so my non­fic­tion read is The Pow­er of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Busi­ness by Charles Duhigg.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

As an ele­men­tary school stu­dent I dis­cov­ered that as a left-han­der, I could write back­wards. I would write my name or a phrase back­ward, hold it up to a mir­ror and there it was—able to be read by any­one! It was great for pass­ing notes to friends.

Graeter's Ice CreamFavorite fla­vor of ice cream?

Graeter’s Ice Cream is a Cincin­nati-based cream­ery. My favorite fla­vor from Graeter’s is black rasp­ber­ry choco­late chip.

What’s your best con­tri­bu­tion to tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment?

Walk­ing wher­ev­er and when­ev­er I can and recy­cling plas­tics and paper in our neigh­bor­hood recy­cling pro­gram.

Susan Yutzey, library advocate

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The Sameness of Sheep

Once, when I dis­cussed my work-in-progress, mid­dle-grade nov­el with my agent, I told her the char­ac­ter was eleven. “Make her twelve,” she said. “But eleven-year-olds aren’t the same as twelve-year-olds,” I protest­ed. “Those are dif­fer­ent ages.” “Make her twelve,” she insist­ed. “The edi­tor will ask you to change it any­way.”

I didn’t fin­ish the book (don’t have that agent any­more, either). The age argu­ment took the wind out of my sails. I under­stood the reasoning—create old­er char­ac­ters to get the most bang for the mid­dle-grade buck by snar­ing younger read­ers. Bet­ter yet, stick the char­ac­ter in mid­dle school.

The true mid­dle-grade nov­el is for read­ers eight to twelve with some over­lap. Chap­ter books for sev­en- to ten-year-olds bisect the low­er end of mid­dle grade. “Tween” books, aimed at twelve- to four­teen-year-olds, strad­dle the gap between MG and YA. If my char­ac­ters are twelve, I hit the mid­dle grade and tween tar­get and every­body wins. Maybe not.

At our pub­lic library, I pulled more than a dozen new MG nov­els off the shelves. Opened each book, checked the age of the main char­ac­ter. Twelve. Twelve. Eleven! No, wait, turn­ing twelve in the next chap­ter. While the char­ac­ters and sto­ries were all dif­fer­ent, there was a sheep­like same­ness read­ing about twelve-year-olds.

It wor­ries me. Pub­lish­ers con­tribute to push­ing ele­men­tary school chil­dren as quick­ly as pos­si­ble into mid­dle school. Where are the mid­dle-grade books about a ten-year-old char­ac­ter? An eight-year-old char­ac­ter? Ah, now we’ve backed into chap­ter book ter­ri­to­ry.

Charlotte's WebSup­pos­ed­ly, kids pre­fer to “read up” in age. This assumes that, say, fifth graders want to know what to expect when they’re in eighth grade. (Lord help them.) Read­ing about a char­ac­ter who is two or three years old­er might gen­er­ate anx­i­ety in some read­ers. And they may dis­dain short­er, sim­pler chap­ter books.

In the past, before pub­lish­er and book­store clas­si­fi­ca­tions, age wasn’t much of an issue. Wilbur is the main char­ac­ter in Charlotte’s Web, although the book opens with Fern sav­ing him. Fern is eight, a fact men­tioned on the first page. Does any­one care what grade Fern is in once he lands in Zuckerman’s rich­ly-depict­ed barn­yard?

The Year of Billy MillerMore recent­ly, Kevin Henkes broke the “age” bar­ri­er with his ter­rif­ic mid­dle grade nov­el, The Year of Bil­ly Miller (2013). Fuse 8’s Bet­sy Bird com­pared it to Bev­er­ly Cleary’s Ramona books. Bil­ly is sev­en and start­ing sec­ond grade, a char­ac­ter nor­mal­ly found in a briskly-writ­ten, low­er-end chap­ter book. Yet Bil­ly Miller clocks in at a grand 240 pages. Bird prais­es Henkes, “[He] could have … upped his hero’s age to nine or ten or even eleven. He didn’t. He made Bil­ly a sec­ond grad­er because that’s what Bil­ly is. His mind is that of a sec­ond grad­er … To false­ly age him would be to make a huge mis­take.”

Tru and NelleAuthor G. Neri took on a big­ger chal­lenge. In Tru & Nelle (2016), the char­ac­ters are sev­en and six. This hefty MG explores the child­hood friend­ship between Tru­man Capote and Harp­er Lee. Neri chose fic­tion rather than biog­ra­phy because, as he states in his author’s note, “[This] sto­ry was born from real life.” He didn’t shy away from writ­ing a lengthy, lay­ered book about a first and sec­ond grad­er.

We need more books fea­tur­ing eight-, nine-, ten-year-old char­ac­ters that are true mid­dle grade nov­els and not chap­ter books. Chil­dren grow up too fast. Let them linger in the “mid­dle” stage, find them­selves in books with char­ac­ters their own age.

Let them enjoy the cycle of sea­sons, “the pas­sage of swal­lows, the near­ness of rats, the same­ness of sheep.” Soon enough, they’ll race away from the barn­yard and into mid­dle school.

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Mouse Books

We have mice. Hope­ful­ly just one, but it’s a brash one, scut­tling around the kitchen dur­ing break­fast this morn­ing.

This hap­pens in the fall at our house. We’ve cer­tain­ly tried to find where they might be get­ting in, but they say a mouse only needs a dime-sized hole, and we obvi­ous­ly haven’t found it. Caught two a cou­ple of weeks ago.

They’re small. Cute, even. Which is good, because oth­er­wise I’d have the hee­bie-jee­bies. And I (most­ly) don’t. It’s just a To-Do on the list—and I’m not the one who To-Do’s it even.

But it has me think­ing…. We might not want them in our hous­es, but mice are beloved char­ac­ters in kids’ books. Cer­tain­ly at our house they have been. Ralph S. MouseThe Mouse and the Motor­cy­cle…all of Kevin Henke’s won­der­ful mice pic­ture books…The Bram­bly Hedge Col­lec­tionMrs. Fris­by and the Rats of NIMHA Mouse Called WolfStu­art Lit­tleThe Tale of Des­pereaux…Bri­an Jacques’ Red­wall Series…Avi’s Pop­py and Rag­weed books…Bless This Mouse…. And these are just some of the books in which mice play the star­ring role. Plen­ty more have mousy “minor char­ac­ters.” (Think Tem­ple­ton in Charlotte’s Web, or Mouse in the Bear books by Bon­nie Beck­er.)

I’ve writ­ten many Red Read­ing Boots columns about our favorite mice books. (I just looked back—many!) I look at the shelves in my office, which have been stocked with all of the fam­i­ly favorites I’m allowed to take from the #1 Son’s and Dar­ling Daughter’s shelves, and good­ness! It would appear we’ve raised them on mice! #1 Son had imag­i­nary mice friends who accom­pa­nied through the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of ear­ly childhood—and no won­der! Did we read any­thing else?!

What is it about mice that are so appeal­ing for sto­ry­telling? Is it that they’re the pre­sumed under­dog because of their size? Yet in sto­ry after sto­ry, they prove them­selves to be intel­li­gent, resource­ful, and courageous—their size even advan­ta­geous. Cer­tain­ly this is a theme wor­thy of putting before chil­dren.

Is it because they are so wee and dear (fic­tion­al­ly!) and lend them­selves to illus­tra­tions? Some of my most favorite illus­tra­tions have mice in them (see the above list for starters!) Their lit­tle clothes! 

Or is it because we like to imag­ine par­al­lel uni­vers­es in which the small­est ani­mals cre­ate homes and vil­lages and worlds from our bits and bobs? Hid­den away in the hedgerows, the rafters, beneath the floorboards…all these sto­ries run­ning along beside use.

It might be this last thing for me. When I’m on walks I often see tiny hol­lows, small pock­ets, and invit­ing dime sized (and larg­er) holes in the walls and hedges and trees. When I see these, I’m imme­di­ate­ly fur­nish­ing a home for tiny ones inside—scraps art­ful­ly repur­posed, cozy built-ins, wind­ing pas­sages….

I’m ful­ly aware that oth­er rodents could star in such scenes, but it’s always a bit­ty mouse with large ears and eyes and flick­er­ing whiskers that comes to mind. Per­haps it’s because of what I’ve read over the years? Cer­tain­ly could be. There’s some­thing about mice that fire our imag­i­na­tions, I think.

I’m on the hunt for new mouse books. What do you have to rec­om­mend?

 

 

 

 

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Tiny House, Cozy Cabin

A few months ago, my hus­band and I sold our home of 30 years and decid­ed to live full-time in our cozy cab­in in the woods. We left behind greater square footage, a quaint and some­times bustling vil­lage on the water­front, and a home with lots of fam­i­ly mem­o­ries.

But it was time for a change.

Time for more sim­plic­i­ty.

Ever since our kids left home, we’d been jug­gling life between our house and cab­in, leav­ing us feel­ing frag­ment­ed and bur­dened. Some­thing had to go. The deci­sion wasn’t easy. A com­fort­able, well-appoint­ed and spa­cious home? Or a tiny house / cozy cab­in with a spa­cious out­doors? We opt­ed for less house, more nature.

Mary Casanova cabin

On these 60 acres, the aspen and maple have near­ly shed all their leaves. Win­ter is com­ing, and we heat our cab­in with hand-split fire wood in our wood­stove. Morn­ings start with cof­fee by the crack­ling fire, then we head out to feed three hors­es, clean stalls and pad­dock, gath­er eggs, and hike with our dogs to the riv­er.

After break­fast, I like to tidy up my home before get­ting to my writ­ing desk, which is in the loft. In a tiny space, clean­ing takes min­utes. Of course, mov­ing into this small­er home first meant down­siz­ing our pos­ses­sions. We went on a cru­sade to rid our lives of clut­ter. We donat­ed, trashed, recy­cled, and gift­ed away every­thing we could.

With less to man­age and main­tain, we low­er our stress and free up more space for things that mat­ter to us.

The cabin’s cool­ing a bit as I write this.

Time to stoke the fire and grab a good book.

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Marion Dane Bauer

Mar­i­on Dane Bauer and her books are respect­ed and loved by chil­dren, par­ents, edu­ca­tors, librar­i­ans, edi­tors, and writ­ers. She began her career as a nov­el­ist, turn­ing to pic­ture books lat­er in her career. Cel­e­brat­ing the release of her newest pic­ture book, the charm­ing Win­ter Dance, we were curi­ous about how she writes these short books so we asked! And this long-time teacher of oth­er writ­ers pro­vid­ed heart­felt answers.

Marion Dane Bauer

Mar­i­on Dane Bauer (pho­to cred­it: Kather­ine Warde)

If You Were Born a KittenWhen you sit down to write a pic­ture book, what has inspired you?

Some­times I begin with an idea I want to share.  If You Were Born a Kit­ten, for instance, comes out of my very impas­sioned belief that the mir­a­cle of birth is hid­den from most young chil­dren in our society—from most of us, real­ly.  I want­ed to cel­e­brate birth in a way that would show it both as mir­a­cle and as part of our sol­id, every­day real­i­ty. 

Some­times the con­cept comes from some­thing I read or some­thing some­one says to me. Win­ter Dance came from an editor’s say­ing, “What about cel­e­brat­ing the first snow?” 

But the actu­al pic­ture book begins, always, with lan­guage.  I can’t even begin to flesh out my idea until the open­ing line is singing in my head.

The Longest NightDo you know the end­ing of your pic­ture book before you begin to write?

I always know the end of a nov­el before I begin to write, and if a pic­ture book is a sto­ry, I know the end of that, too. So when I began writ­ing The Longest Night, I knew before I put down the first word that the lit­tle chick­adee would bring back the sun. When I write con­cept books, though, like How Do I Love You?, I have to find my end­ing in the play­ing out of the lan­guage.

Do you write with a spe­cif­ic child in mind?

I write always for a child, and in the case of pic­ture books for the adult who will be shar­ing the book, but I have no par­tic­u­lar child in my heart … except maybe the small child I was so many years ago.

Do you envi­sion the illus­tra­tions while you are writ­ing?

I envi­sion space for the illus­tra­tions, which is a very dif­fer­ent thing. I don’t think what the illus­tra­tions will depict, specif­i­cal­ly, and I cer­tain­ly don’t think about what they will look like. That’s the artist’s ter­ri­to­ry. But I make sure I have cre­at­ed an active chang­ing world for the illus­tra­tor to take hold of.

How much do you con­sid­er the lev­el of the reader’s vocab­u­lary when you write a pic­ture book?

Hon­est­ly? Not at all. Because pic­ture books are usu­al­ly read to a child rather than by the child, I nev­er con­sid­er vocab­u­lary. Some­times a total­ly new word is, in itself, a kind of enchant­ment for a child. Think of Peter Rab­bit for whom let­tuce had a “soporif­ic” effect! No, I’ve nev­er used the word soporif­ic or any­thing like it, but isn’t it a won­der­ful­ly res­o­nant word? 

I should add, though, that there is one basic rule I use with all of my writ­ing.  I believe the best word in any piece of writ­ing for any audi­ence is always the sim­plest one.  Some­times, though, that best word might just hap­pen to be soporif­ic.

Winter DanceDo you ever begin a pic­ture book feel­ing at a loss for how to write it?

Yes, and when I do I always stop, set it aside, give it time. When it begins to sing to me—if it begins to sing to me—then there will be no more loss.

Win­ter Dance, my newest pic­ture book, actu­al­ly began with an editor’s com­mit­ting to a pic­ture book I had writ­ten about spring.  For a com­pli­cat­ed series of rea­sons the text the edi­tor con­tract­ed had to be altered sub­stan­tial­ly, and dur­ing that process, my drafts got far­ther and far­ther away from any­thing the edi­tor want­ed.  I men­tioned ear­li­er, it was the edi­tor who final­ly came up with the idea that I write about the first snow instead.  Great idea, but first I had to find my fox, and I had to dis­cov­er that fox­es mate in win­ter so he would have a rea­son to rejoice over snow.  And then, of course, I had to find the song to car­ry him through.

What is the word length you aim for in a pic­ture book?

A max­i­mum of 450 words.  Even that can be too long for some books. 

You were best known for your nov­els for mid­dle grade and teen read­ers. What influ­enced you to try a dif­fer­ent book form for a dif­fer­ent read­er?

The truth is I always want­ed to write pic­ture books. In the begin­ning, I sim­ply didn’t know how to write them, even though I had read them end­less­ly to my own chil­dren and to var­i­ous fos­ter chil­dren in my home. Pic­ture books are a bit tech­ni­cal to learn, and I had no one to teach me. In fact, I start­ed out try­ing to write pic­ture books and dis­cov­ered I didn’t know what I was doing. So I moved on and found it eas­i­er, not know­ing what I was doing, to mud­dle through a nov­el. 

The oth­er piece, though, was that my first edi­tor, at a time when we  writ­ers were owned by our first edi­tors, said to me when I showed him what I thought was a pic­ture-book man­u­script, “Mar­i­on, you are not a pic­ture book writer.” Now, he could legit­i­mate­ly have said, “Mar­i­on, that’s not a pic­ture book.” Because it wasn’t. But even when the pub­lish­ing world opened up and I did learn and began pub­lish­ing suc­cess­ful pic­ture books with oth­er hous­es, he refused to alter his vision of me as only a nov­el­ist. So I have him to thank for my career get­ting estab­lished in nov­els. Pic­ture books are so much fun, if he had been open to younger work from me, I prob­a­bly would have been off play­ing with pic­ture books much soon­er.

___________________

Thank you, Mar­i­on, for shar­ing your thoughts about pic­ture books in such an instruc­tive way. We’re always hap­py to learn from you.

Learn more about Mar­i­on Dane Bauer.

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A Vehicle for Change

Fallout ShelterI’d heard my mom talk about “duck and cov­er”: hid­ing under her school desk from a poten­tial nuclear attack. And I’d par­tic­i­pat­ed myself in tor­na­do drills dur­ing my own school days, lin­ing up in a base­ment hall­way with our arms cov­er­ing our heads.

None of that pre­pared me for a lock­down drill. I was on one of my reg­u­lar gigs as a vis­it­ing author when the teacher pulled me aside and prepped me on what to expect. Except it turns out there’s no prep­ping for the feel­ing that comes over you when you’re locked into a dark room with twen­ty-some kids crouch­ing under desks, rec­og­niz­ing that you’re prac­tic­ing in case some­day, one of them decides to show up to school with a gun hid­den under a peanut but­ter sand­wich. It ranks as the most unset­tling moment I’ve expe­ri­enced dur­ing a school vis­it.

I’m cer­tain­ly not alone in wish­ing we could find the way to per­ma­nent­ly erase the need for lock­down drills. The one sug­ges­tion I can offer is some­thing I know from first­hand expe­ri­ence: writ­ing can pro­vide a valu­able out­let for young peo­ple who are grap­pling with life’s harsh­est real­i­ties. When I go into a school, I might be there for only a day or a week. And yet even in that very brief chance to work togeth­er, I’ve had stu­dents who’ve used their sto­ries to share all sorts of sad and scary real­i­ties from their lives: pain over their par­ents’ divorce, bul­ly­ing, betray­al by a friend, death, abuse, and fear. These stu­dents fol­low a long human tra­di­tion of using art to shed light into the dark cor­ners of our exis­tence.

And because I’ve seen what a dif­fer­ence it can make for a young per­son to share their own dark cor­ners, I also believe that we could use art as one of the vehi­cles of change we’re look­ing for. As much as I under­stand the unhap­py neces­si­ty for lock­down drills, I can only hope that we also remem­ber to give stu­dents enough time to sit at their desks with the lights on, writ­ing and cre­at­ing the kind of art that illu­mi­nates us all. Maybe some­how giv­ing them those oppor­tu­ni­ties will prove even more impor­tant than teach­ing them to crouch under their desks, wait­ing for the dark­ness to come and find them.

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Pigs Galore

This past Sep­tem­ber, after years of writ­ing and teach­ing the writ­ing of real­is­tic YA fic­tion, I was pleased to launch into the world a set of four ear­ly chap­ter books. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, the chal­lenge of telling a sto­ry in 1000 words instead of 60,000 was huge. It was not the only chal­lenge.

Instead of focus­ing on a teen girl in tur­moil, I was now writ­ing about a talk­ing pig. An ath­let­ic one, to boot: Gra­cie LaRoo, the youngest mem­ber of a cham­pi­onship syn­chro­nized swim­ming team. I can just hear the younger writer me: Anthro­po­mor­phism? You’re real­ly gonna go there?

While devel­op­ing Gra­cie and while writ­ing her sto­ries I was keen­ly aware she was join­ing a crowd­ed field. There are a lot of pigs in children’s lit­er­a­ture, and many of them have reached one-name celebri­ty sta­tus. Okay, Piglet, Fred­dy, Wilbur, Babe, and Olivia only ever had one name, but since their arrival on the scene have they ever need­ed more than that?

Char­ac­ter is every­thing in lit­er­a­ture, and I was delight­ed to dis­cov­er some fine new and new-to-me pigs. Like almost all the books I read and reread, my list can be divid­ed into two types of books: farm pigs and pigs-as-peo­ple (i.e., full-blown anthro­po­mor­phism).

Pigs Might Fly  

Pigs Might Fly
writ­ten by Dick King-Smith

(Mary Rayn­er, illus; Puf­fin, 1990)

I loved this nov­el by the author of Babe: The Gal­lant Pig, and not just because the pro­tag­o­nist Dag­gie is a swim­ming pig like my Gra­cie. There’s a love­ly bal­ance of real­is­tic farm life and talk­ing-ani­mal whim­sy. Like most of the farm-sto­ry pigs, Dag­gie appears des­tined for the break­fast table. How can he avoid that fate? Dag­gie is a won­der­ful char­ac­ter; his delight in cool­ing off in a stream on a hot day is vis­cer­al. And does he ever fly? You think I’d tell you?

Adventures of a South Pole Pig  

The Adven­tures of a South Pole Pig
writ­ten by Chris Kurtz

(Jen­nifer Black Rein­hardt, illus; HMH, 2015)

An out­door sur­vival sto­ry with a female protagonist–what’s not to love? Okay, Flora’s a pig, but still. Per­haps because the nov­el begins on a farm, I had no hes­i­ta­tion in accept­ing that what hap­pens lat­er in the sto­ry is pre­cise­ly what would hap­pen were a pig ship­wrecked at the edge of Antarc­ti­ca. One warn­ing: the ship­board rats are very fright­en­ing.

 

The Pirate Pig

 

The Pirate Pig
writ­ten by Cor­nelia Funke

(Ker­stin Mey­er, illus; Year­ling, 2015)

Funke is of course the imag­i­na­tive author of many mid­dle grade and YA nov­els. This sto­ry about a trea­sure-sniff­ing pig who is shang­haied into labor by two evil pirates is great fun; also, how can you resist a pig pirate named Julie?

Poppleton Has Fun  

Pop­ple­ton Has Fun
by Cyn­thia Rylant

(Mark Teague, illus; Har­court School Pub­lish­ers, 2006)

Ani­mals of all types abound in stepped-read­ing sets and series, and pigs are espe­cial­ly well-rep­re­sent­ed. I pored over many and quick­ly tossed some aside. Thanks to New­bery win­ner Rylant’s deft char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and pitch-per­fect lan­guage, Pop­ple­ton emerges as the best, and in this book he quilts and takes a nice bath. Fun, indeed.

 

Did I miss your favorite pig? Please com­ment!

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On Growing Older … Old

Growing OlderWhy is “old­er” an accept­able word and “old” almost for­bid­den?

To answer my own ques­tion, I sup­pose it’s because we’re all grow­ing old­er, even the four-year-old next door. But old … ah, old smacks of incom­pe­tence, of irrel­e­vance. Even worse, old smacks of that tru­ly obscene-to-our-soci­ety word … death.

I am approach­ing my birth­day month. It won’t be a “big” divid­able-by-five birth­day, but still one that feels sig­nif­i­cant for the num­ber it stands close to. I will be 79 next month.

Can you name the num­ber?

Forty didn’t trou­ble me a bit. I had a friend, sev­er­al years old­er than I, who, when I turned forty, said, “Forty is such a fine age. It’s the first num­ber you reach that has any author­i­ty, but you still feel so young.” And she was right! I sailed into 40 feel­ing mature, con­fi­dent … and still young.

Six­ty-five slipped past with­out much fan­fare. As a work­ing writer I wasn’t fac­ing retire­ment, after all. More­over, I could sign up for Social Secu­ri­ty and Medicare, and for the self-employed that is no small thing. I’d been pay­ing in, both the employ­ee and the employ­er side, for a long time, and at last it was going to come back to me. Giv­en the dif­fi­cul­ty and expense of buy­ing health insur­ance that isn’t hand­ed down through an employ­er, being able to get Medicare was an even big­ger deal. (I will nev­er under­stand the flap in this coun­try about “social­ized med­i­cine.” That’s what Medicare is, and it works! It works bet­ter than any oth­er pay-for-care sys­tem this back­ward sys­tem offers.)

When I turned sev­en­ty my daugh­ter threw me a big par­ty … at my request, I should add. It was a love­ly par­ty, and it exhaust­ed me. Most­ly it remind­ed me that I’ve nev­er liked par­ties.

I won’t ask you to do that again,” I said.

She, who has always been a lov­ing and will­ing daugh­ter, said, “Good!”

But this is 79! And yes, I might as well name the num­ber. Eighty is a very short hop, skip and hob­ble down the road!

It’s the first time I find myself fac­ing changes in my body that I know I don’t have the pow­er to fix. Not that I’ve giv­en up try­ing. I walk vig­or­ous­ly two of three times a day. I do Pilates three times a week. I stretch and I med­i­tate and I eat health­ful­ly and I prac­tice excel­lent sleep hygiene. Actu­al­ly, my sleep hygiene is bet­ter and more reli­able than my sleep. But my body con­tin­ues on its ever-so-pre­dictable down­ward tra­jec­to­ry.

From time to time, bits fall off.

And my mind? That’s hard­er to define and even hard­er to talk about. I can still pro­duce a work­able man­u­script. I can still offer a use­ful cri­tique of some­one else’s man­u­script, too. But I find myself too often going back to the refrig­er­a­tor to locate the eggs I’ve just set out on the counter or strug­gling in the evening to remem­ber some detail of what I’ve done that morn­ing.

My omelets still please the palate, though, and I’ve shown up wher­ev­er I was expect­ed to be in the morn­ing and done what­ev­er I said I would do.

Arriv­ing at a place called old in this cul­ture is a mat­ter for some amaze­ment. Who is ever pre­pared? After all, old has nev­er been some­thing to aspire to … despite the alter­na­tive. A friend said recent­ly, “I went from wolf whis­tles to invis­i­bil­i­ty in a heart­beat.” And I went from “cut­ting-edge” to “vet­er­an author” in the same incom­pre­hen­si­bly short time.

I find I want more than any­thing else to use these years I’ve been gift­ed, how­ev­er many or few they may be. I want to use them to deep­en my accep­tance of my own life, blun­ders and accom­plish­ments all. I want to use them to enrich the peace my pres­ence brings to a room.

I want to use these years to live. Not just to move through my days stack­ing accom­plish­ments, one on top of anoth­er. I have enough of those. We all have enough of those.

I want to use these years to breathe, deeply and mind­ful­ly. And now, being old, I want use these final years to be grate­ful for every, every breath.

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