Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Blind Spots

I love the tex­ture of tree bark, but that isn’t why I took this pho­to. If you take Writing Road Trip | Blind Spots by Lisa Bullarda sec­ond and more scruti­nous look, you’ll see that this is a pic­ture of a well-cam­ou­flaged moth.

Some­times there’s more going on around us than our eyes take in. In dri­ving, they’re called blind spots: areas around the vehi­cle that the dri­ver can’t see with­out mak­ing a spe­cial effort.

Blind spots are a dri­ving dan­ger, but they can also be a read­ing plea­sure. Most (non-aca­d­e­m­ic) read­ers don’t real­ly care what tac­tics the writer has used to cre­ate the book; those read­ers focus on their own response— if they liked the book or not—and if the answer is a pos­i­tive one, it doesn’t real­ly mat­ter to them how the writer man­aged to accom­plish that affec­tion. In fact, over-think­ing the writer’s tech­niques might even spoil things some­what for the read­er, just as know­ing a magician’s tricks can spoil a mag­ic act.

I peri­od­i­cal­ly remind my students—and myself—that the point of learn­ing to become stronger writ­ers is not so that we can show off by per­form­ing a series of fan­cy writ­ers’ tricks. The point is to cre­ate the best mag­ic we can; mag­ic that awes and aston­ish­es the read­er. We want the tricks them­selves to be invis­i­ble to the casu­al read­ing eye. Learn­ing more writ­ing tricks gives a writer a greater reper­toire to draw on, but the point isn’t for the tricks to take over the writ­ing and call atten­tion to them­selves.

Some­times it’s the sim­plest mag­ic that cre­ates the best show.

Read more...

Nonfiction Setting and My Comfy Chair

I’m fussy when it comes to choos­ing where to sit. The com­fy chair or the well-worn red sofa? Lights on high or nice­ly dimmed? Soft throw blan­ket? Some­times even in a restau­rant, I ask to sit at a dif­fer­ent table than the one the host choos­es because it doesn’t feel right. My hus­band rolls his eyes.

Set­ting whether in fic­tion, non­fic­tion, or my own fam­i­ly room, holds a spe­cial place in my heart. I need to expe­ri­ence the place. Its scent, light­ing, sounds, and details. Set­ting is just as much a char­ac­ter in non­fic­tion as the peo­ple or events we write about. Here are a few tips to make the most of that non­fic­tion set­ting.

1. Paint your set­ting with details:

Sergeant RecklessIn Sergeant Reck­less: The True Sto­ry of the Lit­tle Horse Who Became a Hero, the author Patri­cia McCormick begins the sto­ry with a prob­lem. The U.S. Marines fight­ing in Korea are worn out from haul­ing heavy ammu­ni­tion to the can­non named Reck­less up the hill. They found a small mare and set out to train her. The read­er can’t help but be smack dab in the war with the horse now named Sergeant Reck­less.

One day, the marines spot­ted ene­my troops approach­ing; instant­ly, they went into bat­tle mode. Pvt. Mon­roe Col­man sad­dled up Reck­less and led her to the top of the hill. BOOM! Just as they were deliv­er­ing their load, the can­non went off. A blast of hot air sent dust and grav­el fly­ing toward the horse. Reck­less jumped straight in the air—even with six shells on her back…BOOM! The can­non roared again. She jumped, but not so high this time. BOOM! This time, Reck­less just snort­ed. By the next time the gun went off, Reck­less was busy eat­ing a hel­met lin­er she’d found in the grass.”

The scene got my heart rac­ing, as if I were right there. And after the dan­ger, my heart swelled with admi­ra­tion for both the marines and Sergeant Reck­less.

Bold Women of MedicineIn my YA non­fic­tion book, Bold Women of Med­i­cine: 21 Sto­ries of Astound­ing Dis­cov­er­ies, Dar­ing Surg­eries, and Heal­ing Break­throughs, Dr. Cather­ine Ham­lin arrives in Ethiopia: “The fresh scent of euca­lyp­tus mixed with dust in every breath remind­ed them of Aus­tralia. Some­one was sup­posed to have met them. When no one arrived … they walked along the frag­ment­ed road car­ry­ing their lug­gage and see­ing noth­ing but green coun­try­side, loaded-down don­keys, and a few cars.” Details help to pro­vide the back­drop for this set­ting.

2. Use all five sens­es:

Smell brings to mind all kinds of places; a zoo, a cup of bleach in a laun­dro­mat. Sounds like; a ring­ing bell, chug­ging train, or the hum of a crowd­ed mar­ket add to the set­ting. Light; how it bright­ens a gloomy day. Touch: the soft warm blan­ket on a cold night, the silk­i­ness of your dog’s coat.

An American PlagueThe begin­ning of An Amer­i­can Plague by Jim Mur­phy uses the sense of smell com­bined with oth­er details to draw the read­er in. Sight and sound are famil­iar sens­es many writ­ers use. But smell is some­times even more effec­tive.

Sat­ur­day, August 3, 1793. The sun came up, as it had every day since the end of May, bright, hot, and unre­lent­ing.  Dead fish and gooey veg­etable mat­ter were exposed and rot­ted, wild swarms of insects droned in the heavy, humid air.”

The book pulls us in imme­di­ate­ly with the weight of the air and forces the read­er to feel unease. And in the fol­low­ing pas­sage the sen­so­ry words he uses such as clat­tered, squawk­ing, and squeal­ing add to the uncer­tain­ty.

Horse drawn wag­ons clat­tered up and down the cob­ble­stone street, bring­ing in more fresh veg­eta­bles, squawk­ing chick­ens, and squeal­ing pigs. Peo­ple com­ment­ed on the stench from Ball’s wharf, but the market’s own ripe blend of odors—of roast­ing meats, strong cheeses, days-old sheep and cow guts, dried blood and horse manure—tended to over­whelm all oth­ers.”

Sur­round­ing your char­ac­ters with as many sens­es as you can help to estab­lish a sol­id set­ting. When I read this, I want­ed to plug my nose and wipe sweat off my fore­head. If your non­fic­tion is his­tor­i­cal, of course you were not there. It helps to vis­it the loca­tion of the event or walk the streets of your sub­ject.

3. Weath­er:

Miss Colfax's LightTake full advan­tage of the weath­er. A blind­ing bliz­zard sets the sto­ry. A humid day, we feel the slug­gish­ness of the char­ac­ters. Crisp fall weath­er gives us a chill, gets us ready to set­tle in for the win­ter. Aimée Bis­sonette writes about one tur­bu­lent night in her pic­ture book biog­ra­phy, Miss Colfax’s Light.

One stormy night in 1886, when Har­ri­et was more than 60 years old, she set out for the west pier. The wind raged. Dri­ving sleet cov­ered her coat with ice. Sand from the dunes along the lake pelt­ed Harriet’s face, sting­ing her cheeks. She strug­gled with her lantern and her bucket…The bea­con tow­er swayed in the wind as Har­ri­et struck her match and lit the light. Teeth chat­ter­ing from the cold, she hur­ried back across the cat­walk. When she stepped off the cat­walk, a deaf­en­ing screech filled the air. Crash!”

Aimee high­lights weath­er details that incite dan­ger as we move through the scene with Miss Col­fax. We feel the ice on our face and the slip­per­i­ness under our feet. What will hap­pen, will she slip? This scene gives me both the chills and a shaky stom­ach.

Back here in Min­neso­ta, it’s get­ting cold. All the more rea­son for me to set­tle in my snug chair lamps dimmed, next to a toasty fire. Steam­ing cup of tea any­one?

Read more...

A Tough Season for Writing

Page Break by Lynne Jonell

Read more...

Gobble up a Good Time

It is amaz­ing how quick­ly depart­ment stores move all of the Hal­loween items out and bring out Christ­mas lights, wrap­ping paper, reli­gious items, dif­fer­ent sized San­ta Claus­es and orna­ments. Oh, and who can for­get about the start of Christ­mas music at the begin­ning of Novem­ber? I love Christ­mas, but for the longest time, I’ve been con­fused about why depart­ment stores do not ded­i­cate space for Thanks­giv­ing. Thanks­giv­ing is a hol­i­day that sym­bol­izes the impor­tance of gath­er­ing with oth­ers to give thanks. Before we begin to hang a tree or wrap presents, it is impor­tant to give thanks to our friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers. Spend­ing time togeth­er is a great way to give thanks to each oth­er.

Why not include a few crafts and a sci­ence exper­i­ment as part of your cel­e­bra­tion? Read on! You’ll find a few tips on how you can involve the entire fam­i­ly in each craft project.

leafCraft 1: Giv­ing Light to Leaves

The chang­ing of leaves is the sign that autumn has arrived. For this craft, you will first need a lunch bag. Go out­side and spend time walk­ing around look­ing at all of the fall­en leaves. Ask ques­tions like, “what do they feel like?”, “what col­ors do you see?”, or “are they smooth or rough?” Grab a few larg­er-sized leaves and put them in your lunch bag. Head on indoors. Gath­er the fol­low­ing:

Sup­plies

  • The leaves you brought in
  • Glue ($2.28 for two, priced online)
  • Tis­sue Paper (Could be no cost if you have some left over from wrap­ping presents, $10.43, priced online)
  • Waxed Paper (Could be no cost if you have it in your kitchen, $2.94, priced online)
  • Crayons (Could be no cost if you have them at home, $5.04 for a pack of 12, priced online)
  • Scis­sors (Could be no cost if you have them at home, $4.50 per one, priced online)
  • Twine ($3.50 for one roll of twine, priced online)

Total esti­mat­ed cost: $28.69 if you need to buy every­thing new

tissue paperSteps

  1. On a sheet of paper, tape down a leaf and work with your child to trace the leaf’s out­er shape. Remem­ber, the shape does not need to be per­fect. Just like snowflakes, all leaves do not look the same.
  2. Help your child cut the leaf pat­tern out.
  3. Work with your child to tear dif­fer­ent col­ors of tis­sue paper and put them in a pile.
  4. Glue the leaf pat­tern on wax paper and help your child cut around the leaf to make a leaf shape.
  5. Put glue in the mid­dle of the leaf.
  6. Work with your child to glue the tis­sue paper pieces to the mid­dle of the leaf.
  7. Let it dry.
  8. Glue twine on the back of the leaf and find a win­dow to hang it from
  9. Wait for the sun­light and be amazed.

Con­nec­tions

  1. Con­nect the leaf project by first read­ing the book, Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
  2. Show them a book with the types of trees to help them learn how to iden­ti­fy the type of leaves they find out­side. I sug­gest Trees, Leaves, & Bark by Diane Burns.
  3. Dis­cuss: “when I look at my leaf this is what I see, what do you see?”
  4. Talk with your child about the col­ors that the sun­light is shin­ing through.
  5. Talk with the child about the shape of the leaf.

pumpkinCraft 2: The Tube Pump­kin

Jack-O-Lanterns are a sym­bol for Hal­loween, how­ev­er, pump­kins are also a sta­ple at a Thanks­giv­ing table. From pump­kin pie to pump­kin bars, pump­kins are an impor­tant ingre­di­ent for Thanks­giv­ing din­ner. Pump­kin-themed crafts are also a fun way to cel­e­brate the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day. This craft is called The Tube Pump­kin because all you need is a paper tow­el tube to make the pump­kin shape.

Sup­plies

  1. Paper tow­el tube
  2. Orange and green paint (Could be no cost if you have them at home, cost, $2.32 for one, priced online)
  3. Plain white paper
  4. Paint Brush (Could be no cost if you have them at home, cost, $7.96 for a pk of 10, priced online
  5. Tape

Total esti­mat­ed cost: $10.28 if you need to buy every­thing new

Steps

  1. Help your child make a pump­kin shape using a paper tow­el tube. I found it best to bend one of the ends of the tube inward.
  2. This will act as a stamp.
  3. Pour some orange paint on a plate.
  4. Take the paper tow­el tube and dip it in orange paint.
  5. Place the paper tow­el tube on the paper to make your pump­kin shape.
  6. Help your child paint the pump­kin using a paint brush.
  • It is impor­tant to note that if your child decides to use a dif­fer­ent col­ored paint besides orange that is just fine. Allow­ing for cre­ativ­i­ty is impor­tant.

The RUnaway PumpkinCon­nec­tions

  1. Read the book, The Run­away Pump­kin by Kevin Lewis before you do the craft.
  2. Ask them what oth­er things are also orange (or what­ev­er col­or they used to cre­ate their pump­kin).
  3. If you have a pump­kin at home and it is cut open, have them smell it and describe what they smell.
  4. Con­sid­er roast­ing and eat­ing the pump­kin seeds. Talk about how seeds grow into plants.

Apple Volcano suppliesApple Vol­ca­noes,
a Fall Sci­ence Exper­i­ment

Apples are also impor­tant to a Thanks­giv­ing menu. From apple pie to apple crisp, apples are a crunchy delight. This fall sci­ence exper­i­ment uses apples, not for bak­ing, but for sci­ence.

Sup­plies

  1. Apples, any kind will do (Could be no cost if you have them at home, cost for 1 apple is $.076, price from Wal-Mart).
  2. Bak­ing soda (Could be no cost if you have it in your kitchen, cost for 1 store brand box, $0.98, price from Wal-Mart).
  3. Dish soap (Could be no cost if you have it at home, cost for small store brand dish soap, $3.75, price from Wal-Mart).
  4. Food col­or­ing (Could be no cost if you it in your kitchen, cost for 1 box of Wilton food col­or­ing, $3.19, price from Wal-Mart)
  5. Knife

Total esti­mat­ed cost: $8.68 or free if you have the items on hand

Steps

  1. Use a knife to cut a small hole in the top of the apple about half way down.
  2. Place the apple on a cook­ie sheet with a rim or in a cake pan.
  3. Have the kid­dos put a cou­ple spoon­fuls of bak­ing soda in the hole.
  4. Add a drop of dish soap to the bak­ing soda for a foami­er reac­tion.
  5. Add a drop of food col­or­ing.
  6. Pour vine­gar into the hole of the apple and wait to be amazed!
  7. Search on YouTube for apple pie vol­cano to view the exper­i­ment.

Con­nec­tions

  1. Pair this activ­i­ty with the sto­ry, The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall. Read the sto­ry before the exper­i­ment.
  2. Ask your child what col­or apple they enjoy the most.
  3. Ask, “are apples chewy or crunchy?”
  4. Ask, “do apples grow in the ground or on a tree?”
  5. Ask, “why do you think the apple began to fizz?”

Cel­e­brate fall! Give thanks! Have fun!

Read more...

The Quiltmaker’s Journey

Ear­li­er this week I pulled out our small stash of Thanks­giv­ing pic­ture books. The kids are old­er now, but they seem to like it when the old favorites come out. I got lost, as I always do, in The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brum­beau, illus­trat­ed by Gail de Mar­ck­en. I’ve writ­ten about that book for Red Read­ing Boots—you can find that here.

I went in search of its com­pan­ion, The Quilt­mak­ers Jour­ney, which wasn’t with the Thanks­giv­ing books for some rea­son. Found it—and lost myself in it, as well. It’s a pre­quel, real­ly. Explains how the Quilt­mak­er came by her val­ues of gen­eros­i­ty, beau­ty, and love of peo­ple, not things.

When the Quilt­mak­er was a young girl, she lived a mate­ri­al­ly advan­taged and priv­i­leged life.  Because every­one in her town was rich, the girl assumed every­one in the world was. This was by design, we learn. A wall had been built—a stone wall, thick and high—around the town. The chil­dren in the town nev­er saw what was out­side, but they were warned by their elders that hor­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble things were on the oth­er side of the wall….

When I read this in sto­ry­time to kids, you can see them imag­in­ing what’s on the oth­er side of the wall. Their sweet faces morph into trou­bled ones—brows fur­row, eyes wor­ry, thumbs and fin­gers trav­el to their mouths…. Which is exact­ly what hap­pened to the chil­dren in the town. And so they under­stand­ably stay inside the wall where every­thing and more was pro­vid­ed and where an obscene abun­dance reigned; but not, we learn, the assumed hap­pi­ness that would come from such lux­u­ry.… Our young hero­ine grows rest­less!

The girl who becomes the quilt­mak­er goes out, of course—beyond the wall—that’s the main sto­ry. And she learns that the ter­rors on the oth­er side of the wall are noth­ing like what she’d imag­ined. No mon­sters or ghouls, witch­es or drag­ons. Rather, extreme pover­ty. And though she sees the rav­ages of hunger and unhap­pi­ness, she also wit­ness­es extra­or­di­nary gen­eros­i­ty and kind­ness. She learns that it’s not the peo­ple who are fright­ful, but the cir­cum­stances in which they live.

When she returns to her life inside the wall and makes a plea before the town elders for their town to help those who are out­side the wall…she faces resis­tance. Ignore the poor, she’s told. “If they want­ed to be rich, they shouldn’t have been born poor.”

This does not sit well with the girl who has now had her eyes, ears, and heart opened. She’s been out­side the wall—she knows things the elders do not. She leaves her life of com­fort and makes a new life out­side the wall as she strug­gles to fig­ure out what her gift to the world will be. Even­tu­al­ly, she sells the ring her moth­er gave her to buy bright cloth and thread…and she uses the skills bequeathed to her by the kind old seam­stress who sewed her gowns when she was a child…and she makes quilts. Thick and warm quilts. Beau­ti­ful quilts. Beau­ti­ful, warm quilts she gives, not sells, to those who need them most.

The Quiltmaker’s Jour­ney takes longer to read than many pic­ture books, but her jour­ney is an impor­tant one. Try read­ing the book dur­ing your Thanks­giv­ing fes­tiv­i­ties this week­end. It will not dis­ap­point. It’s an inspir­ing way to begin this sea­son of hol­i­days.

Read more...

Books about Somali Immigrants/Refugees

In an effort to help my chil­dren under­stand more about their own her­itage, I have searched far and wide for books by or about Soma­li immi­grants or refugees. Here are some of the best ones we have found. Though a num­ber of these titles have not been writ­ten by Soma­lis, they have at least been informed by input from mem­bers of this com­mu­ni­ty.

The Colour of Home  

The Colour of Home
Writ­ten by Mary Hoff­man
Illus­trat­ed by Karin Lit­tle­wood
Frances Lin­coln Pub­lish­ers Ltd., 2002

For ages 5 to 8, The Colour of Home shares the sto­ry of Has­san, a young Soma­li who had recent­ly arrived in a cold, gray, unfa­mil­iar coun­try. At school Has­san paint­ed a pic­ture of the home he missed, com­plete with a bright blue sky, all the mem­bers of his fam­i­ly, their sheep and goats, and this cat. His teacher com­pli­ment­ed his work, but then Has­san made the sky dark, and added a man with a gun and blotch­es of red on the walls of their home. He smudged out one of the fam­i­ly mem­bers. Hassan’s teacher arranged for a trans­la­tor to help him share more about his paint­ing with his teacher. With a hope­ful end­ing, the sto­ry offers a sen­si­tive treat­ment of a dif­fi­cult sub­ject and hints at the pow­er­ful role art can play in help­ing chil­dren heal from trau­ma. It per­son­al­izes the tragedy of fam­i­lies hav­ing to leave their homes in order to sur­vive, a nar­ra­tive too-often replayed in var­i­ous coun­tries around the world.

Come Sit Down  

Come Sit Down (Soo Fari­ista)
Writ­ten by Soma­li Youth in Muse­ums par­tic­i­pants
Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety, 2018

Nine high school stu­dents who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Soma­li Youth in Muse­ums pro­gram devel­oped this Soma­li Amer­i­can cook­book as “an invi­ta­tion to get to know us through our sto­ries about our lives, our fam­i­lies, and our kitchens.” Stu­dents inter­viewed fam­i­ly mem­bers and test­ed recipes as they set out to pre­serve their culi­nary lega­cy. The hap­py result is a book of sev­en­ty recipes, acces­si­ble to those in the mid­dle grades and above. The book opens with a brief intro­duc­tion to Soma­li cul­ture and his­to­ry as well as infor­ma­tion about the Soma­li dias­po­ra. Many of the recipes are quite authen­tic, though oth­ers have been adapt­ed based on “Amer­i­can real­i­ties.” Most of the recipes are easy to make, though a few of them lack the lev­el of speci­fici­ty need­ed to suc­cess­ful­ly com­plete the recipe, unless you have pri­or knowl­edge of the cui­sine. If you and your kids want to try one dish from this book, choose the aro­mat­ic rice (page 134). It’s the real deal — but you’ll prob­a­bly want to cut the recipe in half at least, unless you’re hav­ing a par­ty.

Dhegdeer  

Dhegdeer, a Scary Soma­li Folk­tale
Retold by Mar­i­an A. Has­san
Illus­trat­ed by Bet­sy Bowen
Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Com­mis­sion, 2007

The most well-known sto­ry from Soma­li folk­lore, the tale of Dhegdheer, has tra­di­tion­al­ly been used to scare chil­dren into good behav­ior. Dhegdheer is a can­ni­bal with a long pointy ear and excep­tion­al­ly good hear­ing. In fact, she can “hear even the gait of camels a half-day’s jour­ney away.” Hassan’s ver­sion of this sto­ry has been toned down some­what to make it a lit­tle less scary, but the illus­tra­tions may be a bit much for young chil­dren with strong imag­i­na­tions. Still, good wins over evil, and the book touch­es on the theme of uni­ver­sal jus­tice at work in the world. This is one of four bilin­gual books in the Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Commission’s Soma­li Bilin­gual Book Project, most suit­able for ages 5 to 8 years. A down­load­able PDF of the book is avail­able from The Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Cen­ter.

From Somalia, With Love

 

From Soma­lia, with Love
Writ­ten by Na’ima B. Robert
Frances Lin­coln Children’s Books, 2008

This young adult nov­el begins with 14-year-old Safia learn­ing that her father, from whom she had been sep­a­rat­ed for over a decade due to the Soma­li civ­il war, is com­ing to join his fam­i­ly in East Lon­don. Rather than feel­ing joy­ful, like her moth­er and old­est broth­er, Safia is anx­ious. How would things change when she’s reunit­ed with the father she doesn’t know? Many of the ques­tions and doubts that emerge in this fic­tion­al account will res­onate with near­ly any­one who has ever had con­cerns about fit­ting in among peers (most of us). Though clas­sic ele­ments of the immi­grant expe­ri­ence are con­tained in the nar­ra­tive, there are added lay­ers of chal­lenge because out­ward appear­ance pre­vents Safia from eas­i­ly blend­ing in with the host cul­ture.

The moth­er in the sto­ry astute­ly describes how many Soma­li immi­grants feel when she states, “Now, we live in Britain, Cana­da, Amer­i­ca, Hol­land, and we look at our chil­dren and we see strangers. We don’t under­stand the ways of these coun­tries; they are not our ways…”

Her daugh­ter sum­ma­rizes the feel­ing of the next gen­er­a­tion when she replies, “But we’re the ones who have to live here…We’re the ones who have to find who we are…and it’s hard to be dif­fer­ent all the time, it’s hard to feel like you don’t belong any­where.”

The Lion's Share  

The Lion’s Share
Retold by Said Salah Ahmed
Illus­trat­ed by Kel­ly Dupre
Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Com­mis­sion, 2007

In this fable about the mis­use of pow­er, the lion demands a share of food he didn’t even help cap­ture. The oth­er ani­mals learn that the lion is not one with whom they can argue, so they give in to his demands, all the while chant­i­ng, “The lion’s share is not fair.” This is one of four bilin­gual books in the Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Commission’s Soma­li Bilin­gual Book Project, most suit­able for ages 5 to 8 years. A down­load­able PDF of the book is avail­able.

The Ogress and the Snake  

The Ogress and the Snake
and oth­er sto­ries from Soma­lia
Retold by Eliz­a­beth Laird
Illus­trat­ed by Shel­ley Fowles
Frances Lin­coln Children’s Books, 2009

Author Eliz­a­beth Laird apt­ly calls the cre­ation of this book a “sto­ry-col­lect­ing project.” Accom­pa­nied by a trans­la­tor, Laird trav­elled to the Soma­li region of Ethiopia to hear the sto­ries first hand, in their orig­i­nal con­text, and then pro­duced this 97-page book. It is prob­a­bly one of the best col­lec­tion of Soma­li folk­tales in print. After read­ing the book togeth­er as a fam­i­ly, we have come to incor­po­rate ref­er­ences to sev­er­al of the char­ac­ters into our fam­i­ly dis­course, most notably Daya Ali, the tricky fox, and two under­hand­ed shop­keep­ers, Slip­pery Hir­si and Crooked Kabaalaf, who were both out­smart­ed as they attempt­ed to out­smart each oth­er. Any of the sto­ries in this mid­dle-grades col­lec­tion would be a fun read-aloud, reveal­ing aspects of Soma­li cul­ture and val­ues while enter­tain­ing lis­ten­ers.

Travels of Igal Shidad  

The Trav­els of Igal Shi­dad
Retold by Kel­ly Dupre; Soma­li trans­la­tion by Said Salah Ahmed
Illus­trat­ed by Amin Amir
Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Com­mis­sion, 2008

A nomadic herder, Igal Shi­dad roamed the land in order to find water and grass for his camels and sheep. Among the Soma­li peo­ple, Igal Shi­dad is known as a wise cow­ard. In this sto­ry, his fear turns out to be unfound­ed — he’s afraid of a lion that turns out to be only a tree stump. In the end, he’s able to shrug off his mis­take, thank­ful that his prayers had been answered. This is one of four bilin­gual books in the Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Commission’s Soma­li Bilin­gual Book Project, most suit­able for ages 5 to 8 years. A down­load­able PDF of the book is avail­able.

When I Get Older  

When I Get Old­er: the Sto­ry Behind “Wavin’ Flag”
Writ­ten by K’naan with Sol Guy
Illus­trat­ed by Rudy Gutier­rez
Tun­dra Books, 2012

Song­writer and hip-hop artist K’naan wrote an auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal sto­ry about hav­ing to leave Soma­lia at 13 years of age because civ­il war had bro­ken out. His grand­fa­ther, who stayed behind in their home coun­try, had giv­en the boy a poem of hope before they were sep­a­rat­ed: “When I get old­er, I will be stronger. They’ll call me free­dom, just like a wav­ing flag.” This is the poem the boy hung on to while he stayed with his uncle in Harlem and then when he and his fam­i­ly set­tled in Toron­to, Cana­da. K’naan described some of the dif­fi­cul­ties he encoun­tered liv­ing in a new land, but he also showed how his poem set to music helped bridge the dif­fer­ences between him and his class­mates. This song, “Wavin’ Flag,” was select­ed as the anthem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. (Con­sid­er lis­ten­ing to the song after read­ing this pic­ture book.)

Wiil Waal  

Wiil Waal: A Soma­li Folk­tale
Retold by Kath­leen Mori­ar­ty;
Soma­li trans­la­tion by Jamal Adam
Illus­trat­ed by Amin Amir
Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Com­mis­sion, 2007

Wiil Waal is a folk­tale tru­ly root­ed in nomadic Soma­li cul­ture. Some of the details, such as the sym­bol­ism of a sheep’s gul­let as some­thing that can divide or unite peo­ple, may be lost on the aver­age West­ern read­er. What is clear in the sto­ry, how­ev­er, is that the daugh­ter of a poor shep­herd advances to a lead­er­ship posi­tion because of her wis­dom and her father’s choice to trust in that wis­dom. This is one of four bilin­gual books in the Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Commission’s Soma­li Bilin­gual Book Project, most suit­able for ages 5 to 8 years. A down­load­able PDF of the book is avail­able.

 

Read more...

The Finish Line

I periodically remind my students—and myself—that the point of learning to become stronger writers is not so that we can show off by performing a series of fancy writers’ tricks. The point is to create the best magic we can; magic that awes and astonishes the reader.Noth­ing is a big­ger thrill for the young writ­ers I men­tor than what we have come to call their “pub­li­ca­tion par­ties.” For my reg­u­lar ses­sions with the three of them, I plan a mix of writ­ing warm-ups and short and long-term writ­ing projects. When the long-term projects are final­ly finished—often after months of draft­ing and revising—we invite their par­ents to a for­mal read­ing. Dur­ing our tougher ses­sions, when the kids are bored with revis­ing, look­ing ahead to this par­ty is a great incen­tive to keep them push­ing through this tough stage of writ­ing. Instead of giv­ing up and say­ing their work is “good enough,” they keep pol­ish­ing because they know that the pub­li­ca­tion par­ty is always so much fun. And it’s not just because we have piz­za or cup­cakes: they beam with pride as their fam­i­lies lis­ten to and cel­e­brate the writ­ing they’ve worked so hard on.

Any­one with kids has like­ly attend­ed a piano recital or the school play or a sport­ing event. But as the sis­ter to two hock­ey-play­ing broth­ers (back in a time when there weren’t girls’ teams), I can tell you that there are far few­er for­mal chances for young writ­ers to read their work out loud to an audience—to have their achieve­ment cel­e­brat­ed in a pub­lic forum. If you have young writ­ers at home, why not plan ahead for a pub­li­ca­tion par­ty of your own? Invite Grand­ma or the neigh­bors and make it a true event!

Or if you have a class­room, I’ve put togeth­er a Pin­ter­est board with many sug­ges­tions for cre­at­ing a writ­ing unit. It plays on the “cook­ing up a sto­ry” theme that I use through­out my book You Can Write a Sto­ry: A Sto­ry-Writ­ing Recipe for Kids, and my Pin­ter­est board includes ideas for an official pub­li­ca­tion par­ty. But you can also use the board to inspire you in brain­storm­ing ideas for total­ly dif­fer­ent writ­ing themes that you might use in your class­room or home.

Stick­ing with the process of revis­ing their work until it’s tru­ly pol­ished is a daunt­ing prospect for most young writ­ers. It’s not so dif­fer­ent than musi­cal kids play­ing scales over and over, or ath­let­ic kids doing end­less drills for their sport. Why not make the process of “rinse, repeat” more tol­er­a­ble for young writ­ers by pro­vid­ing a spec­tac­u­lar pub­li­ca­tion par­ty “fin­ish line” they can race towards?

Read more...

A Long-Term Slog

Page Break

Read more...

Storm

Storm by Sam UsherThat irre­sistible urge to jump into a cush­ioned pile of waist-high leaves, sink­ing into the vivid col­ors, the smell of earth and sky, the sounds of nature embrac­ing you?

Don’t miss Storm by Sam Ush­er (Tem­plar Books). The glow­ing reds and golds of fall jump off the cov­er, invit­ing you to open the book and set­tle in for an autumn sto­ry. Grand­son and Grand­dad rev­el in the approach­ing storm.

When I woke up
this morn­ing,
the wind was rat­tling
the win­dows.

I couldn’t wait to
go out­side.”

Ush­er cre­ates his sto­ry with illus­tra­tions rem­i­nis­cent of Quentin Blake, with a line that’s firmer, more defined. They’re yum­my.

This is a book about leaves and love and mem­o­ries and adven­tures. The col­ors are bright and invit­ing. The approach­ing storm is the star of the book. As blus­tery clouds gath­er, kite fly­ing becomes dan­ger­ous. Time to go home. Home, safe from the storm.

Storm by Sam Usher

illus­tra­tion copy­right Sam Ush­er, Storm, Can­dlewick Press

This is a gor­geous, heart­warm­ing book. Ush­er pre­vi­ous­ly cre­at­ed Rain, Sun, and Snow, all set in the same loca­tion. They are reas­sur­ing books. Good read-alouds for weath­er dis­cus­sions or a cozy day at home.

Storm
Sam Ush­er
Tem­plar Books / Can­dlewick Press, 2018
ISBN 978−1−536202−823

Read more...

The Books We Keep Forever

J.R.R. Tolkien Maker of Middle-EarthA few weeks ago, I stood at the cor­ner of 37th and Madi­son Avenue in New York City and gazed long­ing­ly at the ele­gant pink mar­ble build­ing that housed J.P. Morgan’s library, now the Mor­gan Library and Muse­um. In late Jan­u­ary 2019, the Mor­gan will host the “Tolkien: Mak­er of Mid­dle-earth” exhib­it. I’m too ear­ly.

I only trav­el to New York every three or four years, but I’ll come back to see this exhib­it, even if I have to crawl. You see, I read The Lord of the Rings when I was thir­teen. After­ward, I moved to Mid­dle-earth and stayed the next eleven years. I drew pic­tures of hob­bits and Gan­dalf and thumbed to page 126 in The Return of the King again and again to expe­ri­ence the most thrilling sen­tence in Eng­lish literature—“Rohan had come at last.”

I have sev­er­al copies, includ­ing the 70s hard­cov­er edi­tions in slip­case, a heavy one-vol­ume edi­tion I read with the book propped on a pil­low, and the movie-based ver­sions. But the books I prize most are the 1967 Bal­lan­tine mass mar­ket paper­back edi­tions with Bar­bara Remington’s strange cov­er art. Orig­i­nal­ly, I checked out each vol­ume from the library, read it in school, in bed, in the car, as I walked, and returned it fever­ish­ly pray­ing the next vol­ume would be on the shelves. When I found the paper­backs in the first book­store in Fair­fax, I near­ly faint­ed. My very own Lord of the Rings!

Lord of the Rings

The fan­ta­sy made me want to tell every­one about the tril­o­gy and at the same time tell no one. I want­ed Tolkien’s mas­ter­piece all to myself. This is a com­mon notion among bib­lio­philes. In her mem­oir, My Life with Bob: Flawed Hero­ine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, Pamela Paul writes, “I con­sid­ered cer­tain books mine, and the idea that oth­er peo­ple liked them and thought of them as theirs felt like an intru­sion.” I also want­ed more Lord of the Rings, but there wasn’t any. And The Hob­bit didn’t cut it.

Those paper­backs went every­where with me, house to house, state to state. In each move, things got left behind: year­books, my high school diplo­ma, my mother’s kitchen table, the dress I was mar­ried in (not a wed­ding dress). But nev­er Lord of the Rings.

boy reading while walking to school

On my last morn­ing in New York, I wan­dered around the Upper West Side with chil­dren walk­ing to the var­i­ous P.S.’s and pri­vate schools I’d read and won­dered about in books like Har­ri­et the Spy. They walked with par­ents and nan­nies and baby broth­ers. They walked with friends and dogs and sib­lings on scoot­ers. These three chil­dren stayed ahead of me. At first I thought the boy was star­ing at a device. But he was read­ing a book! He wasn’t catch­ing up on home­work, he turned the pages too fer­vent­ly. His book was so engross­ing, he couldn’t put it down.

In an essay in the Octo­ber Harper’s, William Gass writes of his beloved Trea­sure Island, a cheap paper­back that saw him through “high school mis­eries,” went with him to col­lege, and was stowed in his Navy duf­fle dur­ing WWII. Despite the yel­lowed, brit­tle pages, Gass admits, “That book and I loved each oth­er.” He doesn’t mean the text, but the phys­i­cal book. Books on a screen, he main­tains, “have no mate­ri­al­i­ty … off the screen they do not exist … they do not wait to be reseen, reread; they only wait to be remade, relit.” I can’t imag­ine squint­ing at The Lord of the Rings on a Kin­dle, try­ing to find page 126 in the third vol­ume, unable to lose myself in Remington’s cov­er art that forms a trip­tych when the indi­vid­ual books are lined up.

As a child in the 80s, Pamela Paul sought vin­tage “yel­low back” Nan­cy Drews. The orig­i­nal 30s blue spine books were too old, and the new paper­backs were “loath­some.” She pre­ferred the 60s edi­tions with their inte­ri­or draw­ings and “broody cov­er paint­ings.” The qual­i­ty of the paper, the bind­ing glue, the end papers made the book a trea­sured object, “the vase as much a plea­sure as the flow­ers.”

The books we keep for­ev­er are the ones we owned back when buy­ing a book was a big deal. When we made the effort to track down spe­cial edi­tions. When we would walk and read because the book would not leave our hands. I hope the book that New York school­boy was read­ing was chang­ing his life, that it was his, and that he would keep it for­ev­er, no mat­ter where he went in life.

After high school, I got a job as a sec­re­tary. I hung a poster of Remington’s Lord of the Rings cov­er art over my desk. (Clear­ly, I was not your aver­age sec­re­tary). At the age of 24, I decid­ed it was time to leave Mid­dle-earth. This com­ing Jan­u­ary or Feb­ru­ary, I’ll return to New York to see Tolkien’s orig­i­nal papers and draw­ings and maps. Mean­while, I’ll re-read my Bal­lan­tine paper­backs. The door to Mid­dle-earth is always open.

Read more...

The Princess and Her Panther

Last week, I was work­ing on my WIP, a sprawl­ing mess of a nov­el. I’d hit a rough patch and I set myself the assign­ment to just type away for ten minutes—ten min­utes of non­stop typ­ing just to Get Words Down—I wouldn’t let my fin­gers stop. I sim­ply need­ed some words to work with, I told myself. 

I do not usu­al­ly resort to this, but it was not a par­tic­u­lar­ly good writ­ing day. And so I typed and typed—and I knew it was dreck, but at least it was maybe (hope­ful­ly) a start­ing point for this piv­otal scene between two cousins…. Type­type­type­type­type…. And then, my fin­gers typed this line:

Signe was brave, and Riya tried to be.

I stopped typ­ing.

I’d writ­ten 873 words. 865 were lookin’ pret­ty use­less. But these eight…maybe these eight had some­thing I could work with? There was a rhythm to them, a qui­et spark of some sort. Some­thing famil­iar.… Com­fort­ing. They made me smile. I couldn’t quite put my fin­ger on it, but I high­light­ed the line so I wouldn’t lose it, then I con­tin­ued. The words that came after these were bet­ter, eas­i­er. The con­flict unknot­ted itself just a bit and I could begin the work with­in it.

This after­noon, I fig­ured out what was so famil­iar about the line. It’s basi­cal­ly a pla­gia­rized line from a favorite pic­ture book of mine: The Princess and Her Pan­ther by Wendy Orr, Illus­trat­ed by Lau­ren Stringer.

I love every­thing about this book.  I love the red “O” on the very first page, which begin “One after­noon…”.  I love the sto­ry told in the pic­tures. I love the imag­i­na­tions of the Princess and her Panther—sisters, the old­er one in charge, the younger fol­low­ing the nar­ra­tive that is set.

In the back­yard, the princess and her pan­ther cross the desert sand (sand­box), drink from the waters of wide blue lake (wad­ing pool), and pitch a red silk tent (red blan­ket over a tree branch.) Dar­ling Daugh­ter loved the tent when she was the panther’s age.

Through­out there is this won­der­ful per­fect refrain: The princess was brave, and the pan­ther tried to be. Wa-la! The source of my line!

This book is a won­der­ful read-a-loud—every word is pitch-per­fect. And the illustrations…well. The illus­tra­tions make us feel the con­fi­dence of the princess, the ner­vous­ness of the pan­ther. And we see when the princess los­es a lit­tle of her confidence—it’s the too-whit-too-whoo­ing and screechy hoo-hoo­ing that does it.

Then comes the vari­a­tion on the per­fect line, itself per­fect: The princess tried to be brave, and the pan­ther tried to try.

And then they both regain their brav­ery—the princess was brave, and the pan­ther was too—and togeth­er they shout “Enough is enough!” van­quish­ing the imag­ined wolf, mon­ster, witch, and slith­ery snakes. The sis­ters go back to their red silk tent, “and the full moon smiled as it shone its soft light on two sis­ters sleep­ing…”

It’s an immense­ly sat­is­fy­ing book—a pic­ture book extra­or­di­naire as both the pic­tures and the words are nec­es­sary for the full effect. The sto­ry arc is per­fect and that line—my favorite line!—put things right some­how for this frus­trat­ed writer. Just the sound of the words strung togeth­er. It’s exact­ly what my book need­ed this week.

I haven’t read The Princess and the Pan­ther in sto­ry­time for quite some time—it used to be in reg­u­lar rota­tion and received rave reviews, by which I mean my young sto­ry time friends sat rapt. I don’t know how it got parked on the book­shelves for so long. But I’ve pulled it off the shelf now and it’ll be head­lin­ing the very next sto­ry­time I do.

I’m grate­ful I still read to kids regularly—it helps this writer’s writ­ing. Good pic­ture books are like poetry—the lan­guage seeps in.

Read more...

A Match Made in Heaven

A lit­tle more than two years ago I shared a Teach it For­ward col­umn enti­tled “Books for my Grand­ba­by and Me.” As I cel­e­brat­ed the arrival of my first grand­child and mar­veled at the joy of becom­ing a first-time grand­ma, I embraced the chance to share my love of read­ing with this most pre­cious future book lover. It was a match made in heav­en … a lit­tle one to hold gen­tly on my lap while shar­ing book after book. We would read, read, and read some more.

Grandbaby No. 1

A year lat­er, a sec­ond sweet­heart would arrive and the hap­pi­ness in my heart would expand even more than the room on my lap for anoth­er pre­cious lit­tle read­er. My sum­mer break from the class­room would be filled with week­ly vis­its to see grand­ba­by #2. Anoth­er match made in heav­en … anoth­er lit­tle one to hold gen­tly on my lap while shar­ing book after book. We would read, read, and read some more.

Grandbaby No. 2

And just like that, my heart is filled with even more grand­ma joy as grand­ba­by #3 makes his debut. This grandma’s heart and her read­ing lap know no lim­it and yet, again, we will dis­cov­er a match made in heav­en … anoth­er lit­tle one to hold gen­tly on my lap while shar­ing book after book. We will read, read, and read some more. 

Grandbaby No. 3

Show­er­ing my beau­ti­ful grand­ba­bies with love and lit­er­a­cy is one of the most exquis­ite expe­ri­ences I know I will encounter in this life­time. As a read­ing grand­ma I also know there is some­thing sort of mag­i­cal that hap­pens when you com­bine a pas­sion for grand­ba­bies and a pas­sion for books. The rest of the world and all its demands fall to the way­side and float on by. All that mat­ters is the lit­tle one on my lap and the time we have to read, read and read some more.

book coversIf you’re a read­ing grand­ma like me (or you know some­one who is), you might be inter­est­ed in the fol­low­ing list which comes high­ly rec­om­mend­ed by my absolute favorite almost 1-year-old and near­ly 2½-year-old. These are the books we read, read, and read some more!

First 100 Words Book by Roger Prid­dy

Pic­ture Me with My Grand­ma by Cather­ine McCaf­fer­ty

I’m Wild About You by San­dra Magsamen

Elmo Says by Sarah Albee and Tom Leigh

Dog­gy Kiss­es 1 2 3 by Todd Parr

The I Love You Book by Todd Parr

Glob­al Babies by The Glob­al Fund for Chil­dren

The Dog I Love Best Fin­ger Pup­pet Book by Par­ragon

I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Ros­set­ti-Shus­tak and Car­o­line Jayne Church

Baby Touch and Feel Ani­mals by DK

 

 

 

Read more...

Pie and Gratitude

Novem­ber is a month of gratitude—and, for us, a month to cel­e­brate Pie. We all have a favorite. Many of us have child­hood mem­o­ries of good times and pie. We all wait for the days when we can eat pie for break­fast. So we two thought this would be the per­fect month to look at pic­ture books about pie. We so con­sis­tent­ly think of pie in Novem­ber that we also reviewed pie books last year. But we have a cou­ple of new ones this year. And who can think of pie too often?

How to Make an Apple PieWe want to start with the clas­sic—How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Mar­jorie Price­man (Drag­on­fly, 1994). We both love this book, love the idea of teach­ing geog­ra­phy through pie. If you want to make an apple pie and the mar­ket is closed what can you do? Well, you can go to Italy for wheat for your pie crust, France for an egg, Sri Lan­ka for cin­na­mon. Pick up a cow in Eng­land and on and on until you have col­lect­ed the ingre­di­ents for the pie. The two-page spread show­ing the mak­ing of the pie is charm­ing. And the last spread of shar­ing pie with friends—and the cow, the chick­en, a dog and cat is enough to make you want to get out and make a pie. And of course the book includes a recipe for an apple pie.

How to Make a Cherry PiePrice­man did anoth­er book—How to Make Cher­ry Pie and See the U.S.A. (Knopf, 2008)—which focus­es not on ingre­di­ents, but tools involved in pie making—potholders, pie pan, rolling pin. It fea­tures the same spright­ly illus­tra­tion style and the same inde­fati­ga­ble char­ac­ter who will go to any lengths for pie.

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie by Rob­bin Gour­ley (Clar­i­on, 2000) is a “pie-shaped” sto­ry fea­tur­ing one of the stars of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry food world—African Amer­i­can writer and chef, Edna Lewis. The book fol­lows the child Edna through­out the sea­sons as she enjoys and com­ments on the foods that come with each. Spring brings wild straw­ber­ries and for­aged greens. Each sea­son also fea­tures a rhyme from Edna:

But I have nev­er tast­ed meat,
nor cab­bage, corn, or beans,
nor milk or tea that’s half as sweet
as that first mess of greens.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieSum­mer is hon­ey from the bees, cher­ries, berries and peach­es. “Six per­fect peach­es make a per­fect pie.” And then of course, toma­toes, corn, and beans. This is a book to get read­ers think­ing about foods and sea­sons. In a time when we can buy toma­toes and peach­es all year long, it’s good to remem­ber the best fruits and veg­eta­bles are the ones we find in their sea­sons.

When apple sea­son comes Edna’s poem reads:

Don’t ask me no ques­tions,
an’ I won’t tell you no lies.
But bring me some apples,
an’ I’ll make you some pies.

We learn in an Author’s Note that in her writ­ings Edna Lewis extolled the virtues of “pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of grow­ing and prepar­ing food and of bring­ing ingre­di­ents direct­ly from the field to the table … For Edna, the goal was to coax the best fla­vor from each ingre­di­ent, and the reward was the taste and sat­is­fac­tion of a deli­cious meal.”

Pie is for SharingPart of the sat­is­fac­tion of a deli­cious meal is in the shar­ing. And that is dou­bly true for pie. If we should ever for­get that and dream of eat­ing a whole pie all by our­selves Stephanie Pars­ley Led­yard and Jason Chin have writ­ten a book to jolt us back to com­mu­ni­ty—Pie is for Shar­ing (Roar­ing Brook, 2018). “Pie is for shar­ing,” this book begins. And we see kids and fam­i­lies gath­er­ing for a pic­nic. The best part is that the kids are all col­ors, all eth­nic­i­ties, and they are play­ing and eat­ing pie togeth­er. No one stands alone. No one is exclud­ed. They also share books, balls, even trees. They laugh and swim and build sand cas­tles. They are a flock of friends on a sum­mer day togeth­er.

This cel­e­bra­tion of pie and com­mu­ni­ty ends with, “Many can share one light. /And a blanket?/A breeze?/The sky?/These are for sharing./Just like pie.”

Gator PieShar­ing pie is the prob­lem and the solu­tion in Gator Pie by Louise Math­ews (illus­trat­ed by Jeni Bas­sett, pub­lished by Dodd, Mead 1979). We hope you can find this book. It is a charm­ing math les­son told with pie. Alvin and Alice are alli­ga­tor friends who hap­pen to find a pie “on a table near the edge of the swamp. /It was a whole pie that had not been cut. /’ I won­der what kind it is,’ said Alice. /’Let’s eat it and find out!’ cried Alvin.” But before they can cut it, an alli­ga­tor “with a nasty look in his eye” stomps up and demands some pie. They real­ize they will have to cut the pie into three pieces. Then comes anoth­er gator—four pieces. And four gators show up, “swag­ger­ing like gang­sters.” We see a pie cut into eight pieces. Then more gators—a hun­dred in all. Very tiny pieces of pie. Alice cuts the pie into one hun­dred pieces and you’d think that would be the end, but Alvin has an idea…

Per­haps we can tell this is an old­er book because it’s Alvin who’s in charge here. Alice could have had that brain­storm and if we were writ­ing this book now, she would. Still they are good friends, the math is fun, and so is end­ing up with a pie for two friends to share.

This month let’s be grate­ful for friends, for inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty in a world rat­tled with oth­er­ing, and for the chance to make and eat pie.

Read more...

Elements of a Nonfiction Booktalk

Not long ago, I saw this list of rec­om­mend­ed com­po­nents for a book­talk:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Genre
  • Main char­ac­ter
  • Plot bit

And boy, did it frost my britch­es.

Why? Because the per­son who wrote it assumed the book­talk­er was rec­om­mend­ing a fic­tion title. What about non­fic­tion? It’s impor­tant to book­talk these titles too because many kids pre­fer non­fic­tion.

So here’s my list of sug­gest­ed com­po­nents for a non­fic­tion book­talk:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Audi­ence
  • Cat­e­go­ry
  • Text struc­ture
  • Writ­ing style
  • Voice choice
  • Con­tent bit

Great Monkey RescueAnd here are a cou­ple of exam­ples:

The Great Mon­key Res­cue: Sav­ing the Gold­en Lion Tamarins by San­dra Markle is a spe­cial­ized non­fic­tion title per­fect­ly suit­ed for stu­dents in grades 4–7. Sand­wiched between a nar­ra­tive begin­ning and end­ing, engag­ing expos­i­to­ry text with a prob­lem-solu­tion struc­ture describes how sci­en­tists and Brazil­ian cit­i­zens worked togeth­er to save endan­gered mon­keys from extinc­tion. Vibrant pho­tos, a dynam­ic design, and rich back mat­ter fur­ther enhance the book.

Creature FeaturesCrea­ture Fea­tures: 25 Ani­mals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenk­ins and Robin Page is an engag­ing con­cept pic­ture book writ­ten for stu­dents in grades K-3, but old­er stu­dents will enjoy it too. Appeal­ing ani­mal por­traits, first-per­son nar­ra­tion with occa­sion­al bits of humor, a fun ques­tion-and-answer text struc­ture, and inter­view-style for­mat make this book unique. Young read­ers won’t be able to resist the cor­nu­copia of facts about how an animal’s facial fea­tures help it sur­vive.

Why not invite your stu­dents to cre­ate a book­talk for their favorite non­fic­tion title?

Read more...

Getting Started

Read more...

History’s Mysteries

History's Mysteries Freaky PhenomenaYou pick up the bright­ly col­ored book lying on the table and open it near the mid­dle. What’s this book about? In 1848, the HMS Ere­bus and the HMS Ter­ror set out to find the link between the Pacif­ic Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean by sail­ing into the Arc­tic waters. The ships and the crews dis­ap­peared in the Arc­tic. The search to find them went on for 11 years. It wasn’t until 2014 that one of the ships was found; the sec­ond was found two years lat­er. The captain’s nick­name was “the man who ate his boots.” What hap­pened to them? Facts are pre­sent­ed, the­o­ries are offered, and the accom­pa­ny­ing illus­tra­tions make every­thing real. (pages 50–53)

Turn­ing to anoth­er page far­ther into the book, you come across Paul Kruger, who was pres­i­dent of South Africa from 1883 to 1900. He led the resis­tance to British rule near the end of the Anglo-Boer War. He gave orders to bury the nation­al trea­sury, “mil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of gold and sil­ver bars, coins, and dia­monds,” if the British attacked Pre­to­ria, the cap­i­tal, in 1900. No one knows what hap­pened to that trea­sury. The short write-up offers “the details, the clues, and the the­o­ries,” among pho­tos and draw­ings, the for­mat for the entire book. (pages 122–125)

It’s an excit­ing, fast-paced book, pre­sent­ing teasers of infor­ma­tion that will inspire fur­ther research. Many of the mys­ter­ies are new to this read­er. Some of them are famil­iar but I learned more in this com­pact pre­sen­ta­tion than I had known before.

China’s clay war­riors, with a won­der­ful draw­ing of the bur­ial plot, labeled with par­tic­u­lars such as “sec­ondary palaces” and “office for sac­ri­fi­cial offer­ings.” What have sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered? What about the curse that some believe was cast over the site?

King Tut’s tomb? Lord Carnar­von, its dis­cov­er­er, is said to have died from this tomb’s curse … from an infect­ed mos­qui­to bite. Or did the tomb con­tain killer tox­ins? Details, clues, and the­o­ries. A pho­to of Carnar­von and Howard Carter draws the read­er into the tomb. (pages 126–129)

Crazy craters in north­ern Rus­sia, the Uff­in­g­ton White Horse in Eng­land, the lost city of the Turquoise Moun­tain in Afghanistan? There’s even an inter­view with a mod­ern-day Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Explor­er, Jørn Hurum.

This book will set imag­i­na­tions on fire. It’s per­fect for every read­er because the con­tent and the for­mat make it irre­sistible for dip­ping in and get­ting lost inside the infor­ma­tion. It would make a sat­is­fy­ing read-aloud on a car trip, a good con­ver­sa­tion starter at home or in the class­room, and a great gift for any­one ages 8 and up.

Good news: once this book has been devoured, there’s a com­pan­ion title, History’s Mys­ter­ies: Curi­ous Clues, Cold Cas­es, and Puz­zles from the Past, also writ­ten by Kit­son Jazyn­ka.

Go for it!

History’s Mys­ter­ies: Freaky Phe­nom­e­na
Kit­son Jazyn­ka
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Part­ners, LLC, 2018
ISBN 9−78142633164−0

Read more...

The BIG Umbrella

I am extra­or­di­nar­i­ly lucky in that I have a group of wee ones who join me for sto­ry­time most weeks. They’re little—age three and under, with sev­er­al babies in the mix—so we don’t tell long sto­ries or read great doorstop­per books. But with pic­ture books, some of the best ones are pret­ty spare in terms of words.

I have a new favorite—new to the world, even—that I want to share wide­ly. The BIG Umbrel­la writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Amy June Bates, co-writ­ten with Juniper Bates. (A moth­er-daugh­ter pair, the daugh­ter being quite young, which is its own love­li­ness.) This book is an anti­dote for our ugly, con­tentious times. It is a sto­ry of inclu­sion and gladness—an “All are wel­come, please come!” invi­ta­tion leaps off its pages.

By the front door…

            there is an umbrel­la.

It is BIG.

It is a big friend­ly umbrel­la.

There’s a page turn with each of those lines—the bet­ter to show off the won­der­ful art. The bright red umbrel­la catch­es even the youngest’s eyes.

The umbrel­la fea­tures a smil­ing face. The eyes are smil­ing, too. I think it’s the first anthro­po­mor­phic umbrel­la I’ve seen, now that I think about it. The umbrel­la is being tak­en out and about by a child in a yel­low rain slick­er. We are told—and see—that this big friend­ly umbrel­la likes to help, likes to spread its arms wide, “lives” to shel­ter those who need shel­ter.

In the next sev­er­al page turns, the big umbrel­la takes in one friend after another—a blue jack­et­ed child first…then a tutu-clad dancer…and a red sneak­ered sports star.

And that is only the begin­ning of who the big red umbrel­la shel­ters. We learn it can take in the tallest among us (giant bird feet appear and are cut-off at the top of the page before we’re to the knee) as well as the hairi­est (a benev­o­lent hairy beast.) It takes in those clad in plaid and those with four legs. The umbrel­la just keeps get­ting big­ger as they all crowd under it togeth­er.

Towards the end of the book there is a gen­tle reminder that although some wor­ry there won’t be enough room, there always is.

I almost cried when I read it. But I was saved by the smiles around the circle—those wee ones got it! They can’t pro­nounce umbrel­la, many of them, but sit­ting in a crowd­ed space on their par­ents’ laps, with their young friends…they got it. There’s always room.

Read more...

Literary Madeleine: Sing a Song of Seasons

Sing a Song of SeasonsI believe this book belongs in every class­room, every home, and in every child’s life. It is a won­drous book to read, to look at, to mem­o­rize, and to talk about with the chil­dren around you. It is a Lit­er­ary Madeleine, scrump­tious in every way.

The full title is Sing a Song of Sea­sons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year, edit­ed by Fiona Water and illus­trat­ed by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non, it is a won­der. Can you tell I’ve fall­en in love?

Imag­ine in your class­room, or in your home, that you have a rit­u­al of read­ing this book each day at a cer­tain time. The chil­dren will look for­ward to it. There are 333 pages in this large-for­mat book. You’ll find a poem for each day. Some­times there is one poem on two pages and some­times there are three poems on one page. They are often short poems (mem­o­riz­able) and once in awhile there’s a longer poem. The poet­ry ranges from “Who Has Seen the Wind?,” by Christi­na Roset­ti (Jan­u­ary 17th), to “April Rain Song,” by Langston Hugh­es (April 4th), to “Squishy Words (to Be Said When Wet),” by Alis­tair Reid (August 4th), to “At Nine of the Night I Opened My Door,” by Clive Caus­ley (Decem­ber 24th), 

I love the poet­ry selec­tions but I mar­vel at the illus­tra­tions. They are two-page spreads, paint­ed by one artist, and each one is a reward for turn­ing the page. A new sub­ject! Paint­ed with a new palette of col­ors! And the poem for that day is reflect­ed beau­ti­ful­ly in the sea­son­al­ly appro­pri­ate paint­ing.

SING A SONG OF SEASONS. Text com­pi­la­tion copy­right © 2018 by Fiona Waters. Illus­tra­tions copy­right © 2018 by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the pub­lish­er, Can­dlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Kate Wil­son, the pub­lish­er of this book, writes this in her intro­duc­tion: “For my sev­enth birth­day, my par­ents gave me a book that–like this one–contained hun­dreds of poems. It was a small, fat book with­out pic­tures. At first I found it daunt­ing: with­out pic­tures, there was noth­ing to catch my eye, noth­ing to lead me into the book. But one rainy  day after school, I took it down and began to read. And that was it for me: I fell in love with poet­ry, with rhyme, with rhythm, with the way that poet­ry squashed big feel­ings, big thoughts, big things, into tiny box­es of bril­liance for the read­er to unpack. It became my favorite book. I have it still. It is stuffed with lit­tle slips of paper that I used to mark the poems I liked best. As I grew old­er, those poems changed: a poem that baf­fled and bored me when I was sev­en revealed itself to me years lat­er. I learned many of them by heart and could still recite them to you now.”

I had a book like that: Favorite Poems Old and New: Select­ed for Boys and Girls, by Helen Fer­ris. I have it still. It brought me to poet­ry, which I start­ed writ­ing when I was in third grade. I have a respect and love for poet­ry to this day. And isn’t that what we want for our chil­dren? A steady path to con­nect with the beau­ty of words and big thoughts?

Sing a Song of Seasons

SING A SONG OF SEASONS. Text com­pi­la­tion copy­right © 2018 by Fiona Waters. Illus­tra­tions copy­right © 2018 by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the pub­lish­er, Can­dlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

The book’s design is thought­ful. There is a shiny rib­bon to mark your place. There is a Table of Con­tents for the book, a Table of Con­tents for each sea­son, an index of poets, an index of poems, and an index of first lines! You can find your favorite poem again and again. 

As your child grows to love poet­ry, as they get old­er, remem­ber to sup­ple­ment this book with oth­er slim vol­umes of poet­ry such as If You Were the Moon by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, One Last Word: Wis­dom from the Harlem Renais­sance by Nik­ki Grimes, World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um, edit­ed by Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins, and Imag­ine by Juan Felipe Her­rera and Lau­ren Castil­lo. There are hun­dreds of won­der­ful books of poet­ry … but Sing a Song of Sea­sons will be a com­pelling door to that world.

Imag­ine each morn­ing in your class­room, pulling this book down from its spe­cial shelf, open­ing it to the day’s poem, show­ing your stu­dents the art for that day, and read­ing the poem out loud. If your stu­dents are old enough, per­haps a round-robin of chil­dren would read the day’s poem.

At home, what bet­ter way to start or end each day than with a few moments of qui­et while you read the book togeth­er?

Sing a Song of Seasons

SING A SONG OF SEASONS. Text com­pi­la­tion copy­right © 2018 by Fiona Waters. Illus­tra­tions copy­right © 2018 by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the pub­lish­er, Can­dlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Of course, you will open the book imme­di­ate­ly to find your birth­day poem and anniver­sary poem. Oak trees and acorns fig­ure large in our family’s life. We were delight­ed to find that the two-page illus­tra­tion for our anniver­sary is filled with oak leaves and acorns! Did I men­tion that I am in love with this book? You will be, too.

 

Read more...

Lucille Clifton: All About Love

Lucille Clifton, poet and author

Lucille Clifton, poet and author

Poet Lucille Clifton in a 1998 inter­view “Doing What You Will Do,” pub­lished in Sleep­ing with One Eye Open: Women Writ­ers and the Art of Sur­vival, said, “I think the oral tra­di­tion is the one which is most inter­est­ing to me and the voice in which I like to speak.” Asked about the most impor­tant aspect of her craft, she answered, “For me, sound … sound, the music of a poem, the feel­ing are most impor­tant. I can feel what I can hear.”

Clifton was a poet, but as any writer or read­er or hear­er of pic­ture books knows, pic­ture books and poet­ry are kin. Both are meant to be read out loud, savored by the ear and by the tongue.  Both depend on sound, on image, on emo­tion. Every word mat­ters in a poem and in a pic­ture book. So is it any won­der that Lucille Clifton, amaz­ing poet, was also a con­sum­mate pic­ture book writer?

Some of the Days of Everett Anderson

illus­trat­ed by Eva­line Ness

Clifton’s sto­ries hon­or both the every­day lives and also the emo­tion­al lives of chil­dren. Eight of her pic­ture books are about Everett Ander­son, a fic­tion­al African-Amer­i­can boy with a sin­gle moth­er who lives in a city apart­ment, a boy so real to read­ers that chil­dren wrote him let­ters. Some of the Days of Everett Ander­son intro­duces us to Everett Ander­son and takes us through his week, with themes of miss­ing dad­dy, of mama need­ing to work, of a boy who real­izes being afraid of the dark would mean being afraid of the peo­ple he loves and even afraid of him­self.

Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming

illus­trat­ed by Eva­line Ness; a lat­er edi­tion was illus­trat­ed by Jan Spivey Gilchrist

Everett Anderson’s Christ­mas Com­ing joy­ful­ly cel­e­brates a city Christ­mas through the days of expec­ta­tion and excite­ment for a boy who lives “In 14A  … between the snow that falls on down­er lives.” He thinks about what he would want if his Dad­dy was here, and how he should try hard­er to be good, and how boys with lots of presents have to spend the whole Christ­mas day open­ing them and nev­er have fun. When a tree blooms with col­or in his apart­ment, and Everett, we see from the art, gets a drum for Christ­mas, Everett Ander­son sees how “our Christ­mas bounces off the sky and shines on all the down­er ones.”

Everett Anderson's Year

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

Everett’s Anderson’s Year takes Everett Ander­son from Jan­u­ary when his Mama tells him to walk tall in the world through the months and events of Everett’s Anderson’s year: wait­ing for Mama to come home from work, want­i­ng to make Amer­i­ca a birth­day cake except the sug­ar is almost gone and he will have to wait until pay­day to buy more, miss­ing his Dad­dy wher­ev­er he is, not under­stand­ing why he has to go back to school again, and real­iz­ing, at the end of the year

It’s just about love,”
his Mama smiles.
“It’s all about Love and
you know about that.”

Everett Anderson's Friend

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

With Everett Anderson’s Friend his world expands. A new neigh­bor in 13A turns out to be a girl who can out­run and out­play Everett at ball, and he isn’t inter­est­ed in being friends. Then one day he locks him­self out of his apart­ment, and Maria invites him in to 13A where her moth­er “makes lit­tle pies called Tacos, calls lit­tle boys Mucha­chos, and likes to thank the Dios.” Everett real­izes he and Maria can be friends even if she wins at ball. “And the friends we find are full of sur­pris­es Everett Ander­son real­izes.” A sub­tle thread through­out the sto­ry is Everett Ander­son miss­ing his father, who if he were there when Everett locks him­self out, would make peanut but­ter and jel­ly for him and not be mad at all. We don’t know where Everett’s dad­dy is, but we feel his yearn­ing for his father even as Everett dis­cov­ers a new friend. 

Everett Anderson's 1-2-3

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

His world expands again in Everett Anderson’s 1−2−3 when Everett Anderson’s mama and a new neigh­bor, Mr. Per­ry, hit it off. One can be fun, Everett thinks, but one can be lone­ly if Mama is busy talk­ing with the new neigh­bor. Everett likes just the two of them, he and Mama. Mama tells Everett that while she miss­es his dad­dy two can be lonely–and things do go on. Everett thinks he can get used to being three, but the sto­ry refus­es a pat solu­tion. 

One can be lone­ly and One can be fun, and
Two can be awful or per­fect for some, and
Three can be crowd­ed or can be just right or
Even too many, you have to decide.
Mr. Per­ry and Everett Ander­son too
Know the num­ber you need
Is the num­ber for you. 

Everett Anderson's Goodbye

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

In Everett Anderson’s Good­bye we learn that Everett’s father has died. The spare and ten­der sto­ry takes Everett through the five stages of grief list­ed at the begin­ning of the book:  denial, anger, bar­gain­ing, depres­sion and, after a while, accep­tance. In the begin­ning Everett Ander­son holds his mama’s hand and dreams of “just Dad­dy, Dad­dy for­ev­er and ever.” An angry Everett declares he doesn’t love any­body, or any­thing, and a bar­gain­ing Everett promis­es to learn his nine times nine and nev­er sleep late or gob­ble his bread if Dad­dy can be alive again. Everett can’t even sleep because “the hurt is too deep.” After some time pass­es Everett comes to accep­tance of his daddy’s death and says, “I knew my dad­dy loved me through and through, and what­ev­er hap­pens when peo­ple die, love doesn’t stop, and nei­ther will I.”

Everett Anderson's Nine Month Long

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

The library’s copy of Everett Anderson’s Nine Month Long has a splen­did sur­prise on the title page: Lucille Clifton’s sig­na­ture and the inscrip­tion, For Ian—Joy! 281. The sto­ry tells about Everett deal­ing with a com­ing new baby in the fam­i­ly and ten­der­ly shows his feel­ings, from antic­i­pa­tion to feel­ing left out. Mr. Per­ry, who is now Everett’s step­fa­ther, helps Everett know that his mama

… is still the same
Mama who loves you what­ev­er her name
and what­ev­er oth­er sis­ter or broth­er
you know you are her
spe­cial one,
her first­born Everett Ander­son.

One of the Problems of Ann Grifalconi

illus­trat­ed by Ann Gri­fal­coni

Over the course of these sto­ries Everett Ander­son grows in empa­thy and under­stand­ing. In the last book One of the Prob­lems of Everett Ander­son he wor­ries  about what to do when a friend shows up every day “with a scar or a bruise or a mark on his leg” and has the “sad­dest sad­dest face like he was lost in the loneli­est place.”  When Everett tells Mama he doesn’t know how to help his friend Greg, she lis­tens and hugs him hard and holds his hand. 

and Everett tries to under­stand
that one of the things he can do right now
is lis­ten to Greg and hug and hold
his friend, and now that Mama is told,
some­thing will hap­pen for Greg that is new.

Some­times the lit­tle things that you do
make a dif­fer­ence.
Everett Ander­son hopes that’s true.

Clifton’s sto­ries rec­og­nize that not all prob­lems are eas­i­ly solved, but in the del­i­cate strength of this telling, Everett learns that doing lit­tle things might make a dif­fer­ence for his friend. We hope so, too.

From 1970 until her death in 2010 Lucille Clifton made poet­ry of every­day lives and hearts. Read some of the books of Lucille Clifton. Read them all.

They’re all about love, and we know about that.

P.S. Anoth­er month we want to share some of the oth­er won­der­ful children’s books by Lucille Clifton.

Read more...

School-Themed Books That Build Empathy

Dur­ing one of our vis­its to our local library in late sum­mer, sev­er­al of the books on dis­play caught my eye. School was the com­mon thread, and my fam­i­ly found some good con­ver­sa­tion starters among the titles. I’ll high­light three that have mer­it as texts that help build empa­thy and/or broad­en children’s views about school and edu­ca­tion.

Hannah's WayBased on a true sto­ry, Hannah’s Way by Lin­da Glaser is set on Minnesota’s Iron Range dur­ing the Depres­sion. Hannah’s fam­i­ly had moved from Min­neapo­lis to North­ern Min­neso­ta so her father could work at his brother’s store. Han­nah was the only Jew­ish child in her new school. When the teacher announced the school pic­nic, she was hope­ful that attend­ing the pic­nic would help her fit in and make friends. She was crest­fall­en to learn, how­ev­er, that the school pic­nic would be on a Sat­ur­day. “You know that Sat­ur­day is our day of rest. We don’t work or dri­ve on the Sab­bath,” her father remind­ed her. When she real­ized that her par­ents wouldn’t bend on this rule, she end­ed up talk­ing to her teacher about the sit­u­a­tion. She was afraid peo­ple at school sim­ply would not under­stand, but was sur­prised by her class­mates’ kind ges­ture that helped ensure she made it to the pic­nic.

Letter to My TeacherA Let­ter to My Teacher by Deb­o­rah Hop­kin­son is writ­ten as a thank you note to a sec­ond grade teacher who made a last­ing impres­sion on the writer. The nar­ra­tor admits she found it hard to sit still and lis­ten when she was in sec­ond grade. She described sev­er­al spe­cif­ic events that illus­trat­ed how “ornery” and “exas­per­at­ing” she was, but also showed that this teacher, who is the recip­i­ent of the let­ter, was patient and gave her extra help and encour­age­ment as need­ed. She then dis­closed that she’s start­ing her first job now and will “try my best to be like you.” This could be an encour­ag­ing book to pass along to an impor­tant edu­ca­tor in your life.

School Days Around the WorldIn School Days Around the World by Cather­ine Cham­bers, sev­en chil­dren pro­vide an account of what it is like to go to school in their respec­tive coun­tries: Aus­tralia, Japan, India, Ghana, Eng­land, the Unit­ed States, and Peru. There is plen­ty to com­pare and con­trast in this book, which reveals impor­tant aspects of the dif­fer­ent cul­tures as it pro­vides details about each child’s before-school rou­tine, their school sched­ules, lunch time, and the activ­i­ties they do at recess. The book shows that though the schools in dif­fer­ent coun­tries have some marked dif­fer­ences, there are quite a few sim­i­lar­i­ties. For exam­ple, chil­dren all around the world play games, cel­e­brate Earth Day, and do math in school.

Read more...