Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

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.

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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.

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Getting Started

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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

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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.

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Catalyst Press

Catalyst PressCat­a­lyst Press has a bold and dar­ing mis­sion. 

As a new inde­pen­dent press, Cat­a­lyst Press brings to Amer­i­can read­ers books from the African con­ti­nent writ­ten by Africans and/or about Africa, con­tem­po­rary and his­tor­i­cal. One of Catalyst’s first books is the star­tling graph­ic nov­el, Sha­ka Ris­ing: A Leg­end of the War­rior Prince.  It is writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Luke W. Molver, and is the first of an African Graph­ic Nov­el series. It re-tells the sto­ry of Sha­ka, the most famous king of the Zulus in South­ern Africa, who con­sol­i­dat­ed dif­fer­ent clans into one  strong king­dom to pro­tect his peo­ple from the slave trade. It’s quite a book. Sha­ka Ris­ing is a grip­ping sto­ry with strong dar­ing graph­ics. What an oppor­tu­ni­ty to expand one’s knowl­edge of Africa, its his­to­ry and its peo­ple, beyond the his­to­ry of apartheid in South Africa.Jessica L. Powers

Jes­si­ca L. Pow­ers, the cre­ator and pub­lish­er, plans to expand Catalyst’s mis­sion to not only pub­lish authors from Africa but also indige­nous writ­ers from oth­er parts of the world, all with the goal of pub­lish­ing lit­er­a­ture that expos­es the truth and pur­sues jus­tice and peace.

Her goal is to bring to West­ern read­ers books that reveal the world from dif­fer­ent perspectives—tilting, revers­ing or tweak­ing the stan­dard West­ern under­stand­ing of what’s real, true, nec­es­sary, or beau­ti­ful. Her moti­va­tion to cre­ate this press is her belief that books can be the fire and fuel for change. One book in the hands of one child can change—and has changed—the world for many.

Story Press AfricaI asked Jes­si­ca Pow­ers to explain her press’s imprint, Sto­ry Press Africa, and describe its rela­tion­ship to Jive Media Africa.

Sto­ry Press Africa, as an imprint of Cat­a­lyst Press (USA) and Jive Media Africa (locat­ed in South Africa), is a col­lab­o­ra­tive lit­er­ary plat­form for shar­ing African knowl­edge. Both press­es pub­lish sto­ries by Africans about Africa for a glob­al audi­ence; both pub­lish sto­ries that are authen­tic, chal­leng­ing, and some­times express controversial& visions of the con­ti­nent that birthed humankind.

Jes­si­ca, what is your back­ground that fuels your inter­est in the African con­ti­nent and cul­tures and how did it ignite your pas­sion to risk cre­at­ing a press to bring books about Africa to West­ern read­ers?

I have two master’s degrees in African his­to­ry and have spent sig­nif­i­cant time in East and South­ern Africa. But it wasn’t until my son was born that the seeds for Cat­a­lyst Press and its imprint Sto­ry Press Africa were plant­ed. As I spent time in my library look­ing for books that would intro­duce young read­ers to Africa, I real­ized that there are not enough good children’s books about Africa and/or writ­ten by Africans. What is rep­re­sent­ed? Folk tales/animal tales and Nel­son Man­dela. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love folk tales and I love Nel­son Man­dela but come on. Africa is the cra­dle of humankind. It is an enor­mous con­ti­nent with many coun­tries and cul­tures, thou­sands of lan­guages … yet in the Unit­ed States we often fail to see val­ue in expand­ing our knowl­edge of coun­tries and cul­tures beyond our own bor­ders.

What is your own expe­ri­ence as an author and edi­tor that has helped make this dream endeav­or pos­si­ble?

I’ve been writ­ing for young adults and chil­dren for a long time—my four young adult nov­els, The Con­fes­sion­al (2007), This Thing Called the Future (2011), Ami­na (2013), and Bro­ken Cir­cle (2017) were rec­og­nized with a vari­ety of awards. I’ve also been work­ing for the inde­pen­dent mul­ti­cul­tur­al pub­lish­er Cin­co Pun­tos Press since 2002. So the world of books and the real­i­ty of pub­lish­ing are not mys­te­ri­ous to me. Armed with pas­sion, expe­ri­ence, and knowl­edge, I decid­ed to go for broke and start this endeav­or, which launched in 2017. I wish “going for broke” was just a phrase. Pub­lish­ing is a very expen­sive propo­si­tion!

Cat­a­lyst Press began in 2017 and already has launched sev­er­al books. Please tell us about them.

Cat­a­lyst and its imprint, Sto­ry Press Africa, are still very new so we don’t have a lot of books out yet, but our books are unique, emerg­ing pri­mar­i­ly from Africa—by Africans about Africa. I’ll men­tion two that came out this year.

  • Shaka RisingSha­ka Ris­ing: A Leg­end of the War­rior Prince, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Luke W. Molver, is the first of an African Graph­ic Nov­el series. It re-tells the sto­ry of Sha­ka, the most famous king of the Zulus in South­ern Africa, who fought many bloody bat­tles to bring trib­al nations togeth­er to his peo­ple from the slave trade. In pre­vi­ous tellings of Sha­ka, the slave trade was nev­er a promi­nent or even vis­i­ble part of the sto­ry. Euro­peans feared Sha­ka and demo­nized him in their por­tray­als, large­ly because they want­ed to jus­ti­fy col­o­niza­tion of south­ern Africa and he was a major threat. We specif­i­cal­ly approached this from a non-Euro­pean under­stand­ing and once you remove Euro­pean por­tray­als of Sha­ka, you find a much dif­fer­ent pic­ture and under­stand­ing. Of course, sources about Sha­ka are scant, so we can’t claim to be telling THE true ver­sion of Shaka’s sto­ry, but we based this sto­ry on the most recent his­to­ries of Sha­ka and the Zulu nation as his­to­ri­ans have tried to unrav­el Euro­pean bias in writ­ten sources as well as being cre­ative and look­ing at arche­o­log­i­cal, geo­log­i­cal, and oth­er types of records to pro­vide more nuance.
  • We Kiss Them with RainWe Kiss Them With Rain by Futhi Ntshingi­la. Set in a squat­ter camp out­side of Dur­ban, South Africa, this grit­ty young adult nov­el presents us with a tru­ly bit­ter­sweet com­ing-of-age sto­ry that involves HIV-AIDS, teen preg­nan­cy, child aban­don­ment, and poverty—but does so with humor and enor­mous hope! Kirkus gave it a starred review.

Jes­si­ca, will you share with us your hopes for the future of children’s lit­er­a­ture?

I have a deep com­mit­ment to devel­op lit­er­a­ture that rep­re­sents all chil­dren, and to build a canon of tru­ly diverse lit­er­a­ture, both as a writer myself and as a pub­lish­er. One of the things that I think gets left out of that equa­tion some­times is world lit­er­a­ture for chil­dren. As a pub­lish­er of African-authored and African-based books (writ­ten by writ­ers from all over the world), I would love to see a strong cel­e­bra­tion and embrace of inter­na­tion­al lit­er­a­ture with­in the Amer­i­can children’s lit com­mu­ni­ty. It’s such a dif­fer­ent and unique and won­der­ful world and we have a real oppor­tu­ni­ty to open Amer­i­can youth’s eyes to issues, cul­tures, and ways of life out­side of North Amer­i­ca.  If you’re not sure where to start, you can go to USBBY’s won­der­ful annu­al list of the best inter­na­tion­al­ly pub­lished books.

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Virginia Euwer Wolff: The Guys’ Clubhouse

Catcher in the RyeI didn’t even ask why I was turn­ing into Hold­en Caulfield. I was fif­teen, a brochure girl for post­war inno­cence. And I was a farm kid, three thou­sand miles away from Holden’s Man­hat­tan; I took vio­lin lessons, rode my bike through orchards, mem­o­rized social stud­ies facts, picked straw­ber­ries to make mon­ey, earned Camp Fire Girl hon­or beads. I also sought the right bras, the right pim­ple med­i­cine, the boys most like­ly to alarm my fam­i­ly.

The Catch­er in the Rye came into my life at a rum­mage sale, and I read it in one evening. With­in the next few days, I heard myself recit­ing whole para­graphs from mem­o­ry, and in doing so I began to notice that I was dri­ving near­ly every­one away. My usu­al­ly affec­tion­ate fam­i­ly loathed Hold­en and me enough to shoot scorn­ful looks over to our side of the din­ner table and for­get to pass us the pota­toes. It went on for months.

The gen­der dif­fer­ence didn’t occur to me.

Why not? I now ask myself. Didn’t it seem real­ly, real­ly, real­ly odd that I was this boy who was hang­ing Sunny’s sad green dress on a hang­er in a New York hotel room? I don’t think I gave it a thought.

I look back on whom I was choos­ing to be: an aca­d­e­m­ic fail­ure who had done near­ly every­thing wrong that he’d been asked to do right; a boy who was mak­ing his own jour­ney into the under­world and tak­ing metic­u­lous note of its sin­is­ter mien; a nar­ra­tor whose flair for vul­gar­i­ty was almost choral and who was inti­mate­ly attuned to the sanc­ti­ty of life; a soli­tary wan­der­er who, like many teenagers, was just learn­ing how to take the full mea­sure of his undis­ci­plined tem­pera­ment; a pro­tag­o­nist who want­ed to save falling chil­dren and who was saved by his lit­tle sis­ter; a bor­row­er and a lender who was teach­ing me about respons­es to defile­ment, a les­son I would con­tin­ue to need as the belea­guered twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry stum­bled for­ward.

Some­how I’ve got­ten through the inter­ven­ing years with­out ever exam­in­ing whether or not I was uncon­scious­ly seek­ing a gen­der change (no, I was not), whether or not I had penis envy, whether or not I want­ed to try on boy­hood. But as I ask these ques­tions even now, it seems that it was a lit­er­ary iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of con­ve­nience. Get­ting to be Hold­en let me use his brain, which was so much more inter­est­ing than mine. When I was Hold­en, I had form, shape, demeanor. He gave me some­one to be.

I had loved liv­ing with Bet­sy and Tacy, had enjoyed bustling around solv­ing mys­ter­ies with Nan­cy Drew, but I hadn’t become them. They were book friends, and they didn’t give my moth­er the migraines that my immer­sion in Holden’s life gave her.

What I do know at this dis­tance: Hold­en was teach­ing me about struc­ture and nar­ra­tion, about the sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, the turn-on-a-dime bias inher­ent in fic­tion. I had heard cer­tain kinds of sto­ry­telling all my life. His kind was new, allur­ing in its imper­ti­nence, the per­fect vehi­cle for me to use as an armored car in an ado­les­cence that real­ly didn’t need one. And there was a poignant grav­i­ty to Hold­en that has nev­er left me. Could I have guessed that the mere men­tion of his name could still upset peo­ple, all these decades lat­er? Not a bit.

As a grownup read­er I love the sweet agony of becom­ing Jane Eyre, Claris­sa Dal­loway, Natal­ie Babbitt’s Win­nie Fos­ter, and some of Alice Munro’s exquis­ite­ly sculpt­ed char­ac­ters. But I think my ear­ly sub­ver­sive part­ner­ship with Hold­en has also made it pos­si­ble for me to come clos­er to becom­ing David Cop­per­field, Jer­ry Renault, Jesse Aarons, Will Par­ry, King Lear, and my favorite, Gogol’s Akaky Akakievich Bash­machkin. Hold­en let me sneak briefly into the guys’ club­house, and I’ll always be grate­ful.

[This arti­cle first appeared in The Horn Book in 2007. It is repub­lished here with the author’s per­mis­sion.]

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A World of Cities

A World of CitiesA World of Cities
text by Lily Mur­ray
illus­trat­ed by James Brown
Can­dlewick Stu­dio, 2018
ISBN 978−0−7636−9879−9

Those kids in your life, your school­room, your library who are Fact Hunters? They col­lect facts to savor, share with oth­ers, and build their knowl­edge of the world around them. This is a book for them.

Not every child can trav­el to the major cities of the world, but this book will leave an impres­sion, a yearn­ing for explo­ration.

It’s a Very Big Book, a folio, 10.9″ wide by 14.5″ high. We don’t often include a book’s mea­sure­ments in a rec­om­men­da­tion, but the size of this book makes it fun to open and read, invit­ing read­ers to become wrapped up in the book. Open this to any page and more than one child can enjoy dis­cov­er­ing the facts about each city.

A World of Cities, Rio de Janeiro

illus­tra­tion copy­right James Brown, Can­dlewick Press

The illus­tra­tions are strik­ing, mem­o­rable, invit­ing deep exam­i­na­tion. Aren’t the col­ors gor­geous?

Facts are wound through the illus­tra­tions in a way that will have the read­er turn­ing the page this way and that, seek­ing out each detail. In Rio de Janeiro, we learn that the pic­tured stat­ue of Christ the Redeemer was com­plet­ed in 1931. “The stat­ue is made of con­crete and cov­ered in thou­sands of small stone tiles. All the mate­ri­als had to be car­ried up Cor­co­v­a­do Moun­tain by rail­way.” Cor­co­v­a­do Moun­tain is 2300 feet above sea lev­el. That sparks imag­i­na­tion! 

There are pop­u­la­tion fig­ures, flag facts, hol­i­days, quotes from famous cit­i­zens, and his­to­ry, every­thing that will whet the desire to learn even more. 

Between 1808 and 1821, Rio housed the Por­tuguese roy­al fam­i­ly. In 1815, the city was declared the cap­i­tal of the Por­tuguese Empire.” I didn’t know that. Did you?

A World of Cities, Paris, Candlewick Press

illus­tra­tion copy­right James Brown, Can­dlewick Press

Vis­it­ing Paris, we learn that “more than 800 years old, the win­dows of Notre Dame Cathe­dral con­tain 50,000 glass pieces” and “Paris’s old­est café, Café Pro­cope, opened in 1686.” Vic­tor Hugo is quot­ed as say­ing “There is no lim­it to Paris.” Find a pho­to of Notre Dame Cathe­dral online. Who is Vic­tor Hugo? This book will launch a scav­enger hunt for more infor­ma­tion.

Geog­ra­phy buffs? Fact Hunters? Bud­ding artists? There are many rea­sons to add this book to your shelves. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

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Being Your Own Boss

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The Beauty of Joy Writing

If you dropped into Room 212 for a vis­it between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. you might won­der what kind of “Writer’s Work­shop” was under­way. It’s not that you wouldn’t find evi­dence of writ­ing … the ques­tions raised might cen­ter on the gen­res of writ­ing you would be hard pressed to detect. No per­sua­sive essays. Not a sin­gle five-para­graph essay. Zero per­son­al nar­ra­tives.  And where are the friend­ly let­ters?

What you would dis­cov­er in Room 212 is a refresh­ing approach to Writer’s Work­shop that is intent on cul­ti­vat­ing JOY among the two dozen aspir­ing writ­ers spread around the room. What you would also dis­cov­er is a cel­e­bra­tion of indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, cre­ativ­i­ty, choice and voice …

An anniversary wish to an amazing school cook on 25 years of service

An anniver­sary wish to an amaz­ing school cook on 25 years of ser­vice

______________________________________

An eclectic list of favorite bands

An eclec­tic list of favorite bands

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A sincere and well-thought out list of “Things I Hate”

A sin­cere and well-thought out list of “Things I Hate”

______________________________________

a heartfelt note to a friend praising their virtues

a heart­felt note to a friend prais­ing their virtues

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Joy Write Ralph Fletcher

Ralph Fletcher’s lat­est con­tri­bu­tion to the world of teach­ing writ­ing, Joy Write, is one of the loveli­est approach­es to Writer’s Work­shop I’ve ever encoun­tered. It’s about set­ting aside the for­mal, com­mon core, stan­dards-based, often ener­gy-drain­ing ways we sti­fle kids in the Writer’s Work­shop. Instead, teach­ers are encour­aged to be inten­tion­al about cre­at­ing a “green­belt” space (an anal­o­gy relat­ed to com­mu­ni­ty plan­ning and land man­age­ment) that allows kids the free­dom to make writ­ing “per­son­al, pas­sion­ate, joy­ful, whim­si­cal, play­ful, infused with choice, humor, and voice” and best of all, “reflec­tive of the quirk­i­ness of child­hood.”

In addi­tion to extend­ing an abun­dance of ideas on what to do to dur­ing Writer’s Work­shop, Fletch­er cau­tions teach­ers on what NOT to do, such as cor­rect, grade, assess, quan­ti­fy pages or cri­tique messy hand­writ­ing.

If this peek into the Writer’s Work­shop in Room 212 leaves you won­der­ing just what the teacher could and should be doing to pro­mote the beau­ty of joy, you must get your hands on a copy of Joy Write, by Ralph Fletch­er, pub­lished by Heine­mann (down­load a free chap­ter of the book).

As my wise 3rd grade friend Will points out, “Joy Write means to write fre­aly. you don’t haft to write per­fect­ley. it doesn’t mat­ter now mat­ter what!”

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The Penderwicks

I have a mixed his­to­ry with The Pen­der­wicks books by Jeanne Bird­sall. The first book, The Pen­der­wicks: A Sum­mer Tale Of Four Sis­ters, Two Rab­bits, and a Very Inter­est­ing Boy came out in 2005 when #1 Son was eight and Dar­ling Daugh­ter was three. It won the Nation­al Book Award that year and there was much flur­ry over it.

It’s the sort of book I love—a fam­i­ly sto­ry, gen­tle adven­tures, quo­tid­i­an details—and with a mod­ern set­ting, as opposed to the more dat­ed books that had inspired it like The Melendy Quar­tet, The Mof­fats, and the E. Nes­bit books.

Peo­ple pressed The Pen­der­wicks upon me. “Look at the cov­er!” they said.

It was an adorable cov­er. So we read it.

I must’ve been in a mood or some­thing…. I just didn’t love it. The kids liked it just fine. I was…very crit­i­cal. I won­der now if I was jeal­ous, actu­al­ly. It’s the kind of book I might like to write. 

Fast for­ward six years or so…. I was work­ing toward an MFA in writ­ing for chil­dren and young adults. I had to do a crit­i­cal thesis—a schol­ar­ly work of in-depth analy­sis and crit­i­cism. I decid­ed to write my crit­i­cal the­sis on The Twen­ty-First Cen­tu­ry Hap­py Fam­i­ly Sto­ry. I looked at the his­to­ry of the genre (the “Hap­py Fam­i­ly Sto­ry” was a rec­og­nized genre at one time) and many of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry exam­ples, which were all on my shelves as they are beloved works I’d read as a child and to my chil­dren.

After ana­lyz­ing these old­er books I loved so much, I pro­posed cer­tain changes—tweaks, really—that might be need­ed to make the genre appeal to twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry kid read­ers. In that process, I looked at The Pen­der­wicks again. Was it a good mod­el of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry hap­py fam­i­ly sto­ry I was propos­ing? Two more books had come out in the series in the mean­time. I read those, too, stub­born­ly hold­ing to my most­ly crab­by stance. Of course these books had their charms, but I picked apart places where I thought they’d fall­en short. I learned a lot doing this. I’d be grate­ful to Ms. Bird­sall if this was all I got from her books.

Mean­while, peo­ple con­tin­ued to press the Pen­der­wicks books upon me. My writ­ing teachers…librarians and book­sellers who know me well…my agent…my agent’s adorable daugh­ter…. “Why don’t you love the Pen­der­wicks?” they’d say. I start­ed to feel like a heel. And I had to admit it didn’t make sense. (This is when I formed the jeal­ousy hypoth­e­sis.)

Still, I didn’t pick them up again until just recent­ly. I opened the first book to look at how Bird­sall uses point of view since I was stuck on a POV prob­lem in my own novel…and this time, for what­ev­er rea­son, I fell into the book. I asked my nieces who live just around the cor­ner to read it with me. Their moth­er had just ordered the book for them—it being exact­ly the sort of book they would love. (It’s genet­ic, this love of hap­py fam­i­ly sto­ries.) And they did love that first Pen­der­wicks book—we read the first chap­ters togeth­er this sum­mer and they fin­ished on their own, unable to wait for me.

Last week, while my sis­ter and broth­er-in-law were out, I had a chance to do one of my favorite things: sit on the floor in the hall­way between my nieces’ bed­rooms and read them to sleep. Only they couldn’t go to sleep. We are now on the sec­ond book in the series, The Pen­der­wicks on Gar­dam Street, and it was entire­ly too absorb­ing to put any­one to sleep. I even­tu­al­ly had to say, “It’s late. We real­ly need to be done for now….”

Today after school they came over for anoth­er cou­ple of chap­ters. Who knows how these things hap­pen, but I’m in love with the Pen­der­wicks at last! The fifth book came out this fall. We’re plan­ning on read­ing the whole series togeth­er.

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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.

 

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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.

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Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

Danger signWhen I was a young teenag­er my fam­i­ly made a road trip from Min­neso­ta to Texas to vis­it my father’s par­ents. The long trip south most­ly fea­tured one kind of civ­il war: the end­less bick­er­ing of my two broth­ers and the male cousin who’d come along for the ride. For the trip back north, I staked out a hidey-hole in the far back of the sta­tion wag­on and crammed myself in amongst the lug­gage, still-wet-from-the-hotel-pool swim­suits, and snack foods.

It wasn’t that my fam­i­ly wasn’t con­cerned for my safe­ty, it was just that it didn’t occur to any­one that my new trav­el­ing berth might be unsafe. This was a time when seat­belts were con­sid­ered extra­ne­ous and “The Brady Bunch,” television’s mod­el fam­i­ly of the day, some­how crammed two par­ents, six kids, and a stout house­keep­er into one sta­tion wag­on with nary a qualm for high-impact crash sur­vival. So I curled up out of reach of the boys’ wrestling match­es and read a weighty nov­el about the actu­al U.S. Civ­il War called House Divid­ed. It was my first 1,000+ page book, and I was elat­ed that the war I was now immersed in was a war of words on paper and not the ongo­ing back­seat bat­tle.

Occa­sion­al­ly a truce was declared so that we could all play a road trip game. One favorite was when we each worked our way through the alpha­bet, in order, lim­it­ed to col­lect­ing only one let­ter per sign, in a race to see who could pass “z” first. If you weren’t par­tic­u­lar­ly watch­ful, wait­ing for a “q” or an “x” could take you halfway across a state.

As a fol­low-up to the road trip writ­ing activ­i­ty I sug­gest­ed in my last post, here’s a writ­ing vari­a­tion on that alpha­bet game we used to play. Have your young writ­ers col­lect inter­est­ing words from a series of bill­boards or signs they spy out the back­seat win­dow or while stretch­ing their legs dur­ing pit stops. Chal­lenge them to col­lect a spe­cif­ic word count, and encour­age them to watch for the most intrigu­ing, humor­ous, or muse-wor­thy words. When they’re done col­lect­ing words, ask them to cre­ate a poem out of their lan­guage sou­venirs.

The pho­to above is a sam­ple sign I found on my Writ­ing Road Trip trav­els; I’m sure as can be that there’s a fun­ny poem hid­den inside this lia­bil­i­ty warn­ing, just as there are count­less poems trapped in bill­boards along an inter­state near you.

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Tonight is the Night …

… when dead leaves fly like witch­es on switch­es across the sky … 

In the cen­ter of our Wegman’s is all the stuff that is not food. Of course, I head there first. Brows­ing tea tow­els and sun­flower coast­ers is my reward from hav­ing to shop in the too-big gro­cery store. 

Halloween plate

Recent­ly I found a plate among the Hal­loween décor. I didn’t need a Hal­loween plate but this one made me stop. The design remind­ed me of the lit­tle treat bags peo­ple gave out on Hal­loween, filled with pop­corn balls or home­made cook­ies (yes, the old­en trick-or-treat­ing days were bet­ter).  Hal­loween was my favorite hol­i­day when I was a kid. I pulled out my witch cos­tume in August. I drew pic­tures of haunt­ed hous­es. At nine, I want­ed to be a witch liv­ing in a haunt­ed house.

Blue-Nosed WitchAfter I grew up, Hal­loween, slammed against Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas, slid back. (East­er is now my favorite hol­i­day, because you don’t have to do any­thing, because it’s spring, because the col­ors and bun­nies are cheer­ful.)

As I stared at that orange and black plate, a door opened, just a sliv­er and just for an instant. I was nine again, flap­ping through our house in my pur­ple (prob­a­bly flam­ma­ble) witch’s cape, eager for Hal­loween even though school hadn’t start­ed yet. What a deli­cious feel­ing, all shiv­ery and excit­ing at the same time.  Then the door shut, and I had to think about let­tuce and cat food and show­er clean­er.

Although I’ve been writ­ing children’s books for near­ly forty years and have spent more years read­ing children’s books or writ­ing about children’s lit­er­a­ture, I have increas­ing­ly lim­it­ed access to my own child­hood. Mem­o­ries fade due to age, med­ica­tion, and Great Big World Prob­lems. It’s hard­er to keep the door to child­hood open when you’re wor­ried about lab results, tax­es, and frack­ing.

This past sum­mer, I taught my last sum­mer term at Hollins Uni­ver­si­ty. My final class in the Children’s Lit­er­a­ture Grad­u­ate Pro­gram was the his­to­ry of children’s book illus­tra­tors. My stu­dents, most­ly young illus­tra­tors, set­tled into this course as if they’d come home.  

Bedknob and BroomstickThey loved see­ing the ground-break­ing work of Wan­da Gâg and Vir­ginia Lee Bur­ton. They loved the sur­prise of Leo Lion­ni and oth­er mod­ernists. They loved the ver­sa­til­i­ty of Mar­cia Brown and the Dil­lons. In each class, a stu­dent would gasp or smile with recog­ni­tion dur­ing the dis­cus­sion of an artist or spe­cif­ic pic­ture book. I could almost see the door swing open. “My moth­er read me that book!” Or, “My grand­moth­er had that book! I for­got about it!”

Most of my stu­dents weren’t that far removed from their child­hoods. But they were so tight­ly focused on learn­ing craft and tech­nique that they had lost track of why they chose this field. It’s not enough to “love children’s books” (though we do). As cre­ators, we must stay con­nect­ed to the child inside.

One of my stu­dents pref­aced her final paper with this quote by Howard Pyle, illus­tra­tor and founder of the Brandy­wine School: “The sto­ries of child­hood leave an indeli­ble impres­sion, and their author always has a niche in the tem­ple of mem­o­ry from which the image is nev­er cast out to be thrown on the rub­bish heap of things that are out­grown and out­lived.” 

HalloweenThose sto­ries may be for­got­ten, buried at the bot­tom of mem­o­ries that are more imme­di­ate, until the unex­pect­ed moment that sin­gle, indeli­ble image ris­es to the top. For me, a $7 plate in a gro­cery store gave me a glimpse of past Octo­bers, and the mem­o­ry of the books I read back then that let me expe­ri­ence shiv­ery, excit­ing feel­ings any day of the year.

Yeah, I bought the plate I didn’t need, but some­how did. My old Hal­loween books keep it com­pa­ny, along with Har­ry Behn’s Hal­loween, illus­trat­ed by Greg Couch, a poem some of us remem­ber from school … 

…When elf and sprite flit through the night on a moony sheen.

It’s delight­ful­ly witchy—look the rest of it up for Hal­loween! 

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The Writer and the Refrigerator

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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.

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That’s How I Roll

Pretend wagon trainAs a kid I was the one who insti­gat­ed a lot of the fun. It might be play­ing pirates in the tree house, or cops and rob­bers in my mom’s parked sta­tion wag­on, or spies who wrote secret code in lemon juice (lat­er reveal­ing the mes­sage by hold­ing it over the toast­er). Often our make believe reflect­ed what­ev­er sec­tion of the library I hap­pened to be work­ing my way through at the time. So after I binge-read every pio­neer tale I could find, I cre­at­ed a new game for us called “wag­on train.” We’d stock my youngest brother’s lit­tle red wag­on with sup­plies and head out across the prairie, fac­ing dan­ger at every turn.

The Inter­net tells me that on a good day, a real wag­on train might have cov­ered fifteen miles in a day. Fam­i­ly road trips move along at a much brisker rate nowa­days. When peo­ple trav­eled fifteen miles a day, they couldn’t help but take note of even the small­est details of the jour­ney. When we’re rac­ing along an inter­state at sev­en­ty miles an hour, it’s much eas­i­er to miss all the pecu­liar and intrigu­ing sights along the way.

But quirky details are always there to be noticed if we only remind our­selves to adopt the right out­look. Here’s a sim­ple trav­el writ­ing game you can play with the kids you have packed into your “cov­ered wagon”—whether you are on a long dri­ve dur­ing the upcom­ing hol­i­days or just a trip around town. Give every­one their own small note­book and writ­ing uten­sil at the start of the trip. Tell them it’s their job to “col­lect” at least three unusu­al things dur­ing the course of the day; they don’t need to phys­i­cal­ly col­lect the items, sim­ply make note of them in their note­book (or take a pho­to with their cam­era). It can be any­thing that catch­es their atten­tion: a per­son, an ani­mal, a build­ing, a bizarre tourist attrac­tion. Then the next day in the car, tell the kids that it’s their job to write a sto­ry or a poem fea­tur­ing the three items they col­lect­ed the day before. Plus they need to col­lect three new items for the fol­low­ing day. Along with encour­ag­ing every­one to take note of their sur­round­ings as you trav­el, they’ll each end the trip with a unique memen­to.

The truth is, I would have made a hor­ri­ble pio­neer: I’m too big a fan of my crea­ture com­forts. I’m sure I’d like­ly have been vot­ed “first per­son we should eat if we get trapped by win­ter bliz­zards” by my fel­low pio­neers, because they would have grown so weary of my whin­ing about need­ing a show­er. But despite my inabil­i­ty to fit into those times, I rec­og­nize that trav­el­ing only fifteen miles a day has a huge advan­tage for a writer: you can nev­er for­got that the time spent get­ting there—not just what hap­pens after you arrive—is in itself the real adven­ture.

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Death and Grief

Our Chap­ter & Verse Book Clubs read three books about death, writ­ten for chil­dren, in April of 2017. We’ve updat­ed this list with new­er books in Octo­ber, 2018. Sev­er­al of our librar­i­an mem­bers stat­ed that they receive many requests from patrons for books that help chil­dren under­stand death. Our mem­bers around the coun­try put their heads togeth­er to make rec­om­men­da­tions of books they felt are excel­lent sto­ries and dis­cus­sion starters for fam­i­lies. They are pre­sent­ed in alpha­bet­i­cal order by title. There are books sug­gest­ed for many age ranges from pic­ture books to books for teens. And, as with most good children’s books, these are good read­ing for adults as well.

After Life  

After Life: Ways We Think about Death
writ­ten by Mer­rie-Ellen Wilcox
Orca Pub­lish­ing, 2018

For ages 8 to 12 (and old­er), a look at the sci­ence and cul­ture of death, dying, and grief. Each chap­ter includes a brief telling of a death leg­end, myth or his­to­ry from a dif­fer­ent cul­ture or tra­di­tion, from Adam and Eve to Wolf and Coy­ote, and ends with a sec­tion on a com­mon theme in our think­ing about death, such as rivers and birds in the after­life, the col­ors that dif­fer­ent cul­tures use to sym­bol­ize death, and, of course, ghosts. The final chap­ter is about grief, which is both a uni­ver­sal human expe­ri­ence and unique to each per­son. The text offers sug­ges­tions for ways to think about our grief, when to ask for help and how to talk to friends who are griev­ing.

All Around Us  

All Around Us
writ­ten by Xele­na Gon­za­lez, illus by Adri­ana M. Gar­cia
Cin­co Pun­tas Press, 2017

For ages 3 to 7, a young girl and her grand­fa­ther look at the cir­cles in nature and the cycles in life. They dis­cuss the earth, plant­i­ng and har­vest­ing, and life, from birth to death. It’s a book filled with images that will stay with you for a long time.

All Three Stooges  

All Three Stooges
writ­ten by Eri­ca S. Perl
Knopf, 2018

The close friend­ship of two best friends, Noah and Dash, is heav­i­ly test­ed when Dash’s father com­mits sui­cide. Dash with­draws from Noah and Noah isn’t sure how to breach the wall. The two have always shared a love of com­e­dy and Noah tries his best because he needs his friend book. Noa, a girl in Dash and Noah’s Hebrew class, adds to the tex­ture of the sto­ry, as does an inter­wo­ven his­to­ry of famous Jew­ish come­di­ans. This book is full of humor, heart, and under­stand­ing … share this as a fam­i­ly read-aloud.

Badger's Parting Gifts  

Badger’s Part­ing Gifts
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Susan Var­ley
Harper­Collins, 1992

When Bad­ger dies, his friends are very sad. Each of them finds a gift that Bad­ger gave them and shares the sto­ry of the gift with the oth­ers, which helps them all to under­stand what made Bad­ger so spe­cial to them.

Beat the Turtle Drum  

Beat the Tur­tle Drum
writ­ten by Con­stance Greene
Viking Pen­guin, 1976

Two sis­ters, one gre­gar­i­ous and one more intro­spec­tive, are best friends, explor­ing life togeth­er. One of them is horse-crazy and the oth­er tries to under­stand what it is about a horse that makes her sis­ter so entranced. Then one day, there’s an acci­dent, and life changes dra­mat­i­cal­ly for this fam­i­ly. 

 

Bridge to Terabithia

 

Bridge to Ter­abithia
writ­ten by Kather­ine Pater­son
Harper­Collins, 1977

Jess Aarons has been prac­tic­ing all sum­mer so he can be the fastest run­ner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, out­paces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchant­ed land called Ter­abithia. One morn­ing, Leslie goes to Ter­abithia with­out Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his fam­i­ly and the strength that Leslie has giv­en him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief.

Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole  

Care and Feed­ing of a Pet Black Hole
writ­ten by Michelle Cuevas
Dial Books, 2017

When Stel­la Rodriguez vis­its NASA to con­tribute to the Gold­en Record, a black hole fol­lows her home. Mean­ing to become a pet, it swal­lows up every­thing it touch­es (as a black hole would). That’s con­ve­nient for get­ting rid of gifts she doesn’t love … and for things that remind her painful­ly of her father who has recent­ly died. When the black hole eats her, her broth­er, and her dog, she comes to a real­iza­tion about grief. At turns fun­ny and touch­ing, this is a good empa­thy-build­ing book for ages 8 to 12.

Clayton Bird Goes Underground  

Clay­ton Bird Goes Under­ground
writ­ten by Rita Williams-Gar­cia, illus by  Frank Mor­ri­son
Amis­tad, 2017

Clay­ton res­onates with his grandfather’s music, the blues. Although Clay­ton is young, Cool Papa Byrd lets him play his blues harp (har­mon­i­ca) when he and the Blues­men per­form. Clay­ton emu­lates his grand­fa­ther, loves him com­plete­ly, wants des­per­ate­ly to under­stand the blues. But Clayton’s moth­er har­bors resent­ments about her dad and his always being on the road when she was grow­ing up. When Cool Papa Bird dies unex­pect­ed­ly, Clay­ton knows he must play the blues … and his moth­er for­bids him. Clay­ton runs away from home, try­ing to find the Blues­men so he can join them on tour. Things don’t go quite as planned and sud­den­ly life, and the blues, take on new mean­ings.

Cry Heart, But Never Break  

Cry, Heart, But Nev­er Break
writ­ten by Glenn Ringvedt, illus by Char­lotte Par­di
Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2016

This is one of the books we read for Chap­ter & Verse. Peo­ple felt it tells the sto­ry of death quite sen­si­tive­ly. Aware their grand­moth­er is grave­ly ill, four sib­lings make a pact to keep death from tak­ing her away. But Death does arrive all the same, as it must. He comes gen­tly, nat­u­ral­ly. And he comes with enough time to share a sto­ry with the chil­dren that helps them to real­ize the val­ue of loss to life and the impor­tance of being able to say good­bye.

Death is Stupid  

Death is Stu­pid
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Anas­ta­sia Hig­gin­both­am
Fem­i­nist Press at CUNY, 2016

In a starred review, Pub­lish­ers Week­ly wrote, “It’s [an] exact mix of true-to-life humor and unflinch­ing hon­esty that makes Higginbotham’s book work so well, and many of the plain­spo­ken sen­ti­ments she includes, as well as sev­er­al includ­ed ideas for how to remem­ber and hon­or those who have depart­ed, may be eye-open­ing for read­ers fac­ing grief them­selves.” If your child, ages 4 and up, will ben­e­fit from direct respons­es, share this book with them. 

 

Dog Heav­en
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Cyn­thia Rylant
Blue Sky Press, 1995

Specif­i­cal­ly writ­ten for very young chil­dren who are griev­ing the loss of a dog, Rylant por­trays heav­en as a place where dogs are free to roam and play and God is a kind­ly man dis­pens­ing dog bis­cuits. The details are plen­ti­ful, cre­at­ing a lov­ing pic­ture of a rest­ful place. There is a com­pan­ion vol­ume, Cat Heav­en.

Duck, Death and the Tulip  

Duck, Death and the Tulip
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wold Erl­bruch
Gecko Press, 2016

When Death appears behind Duck one sum­mer day, Duck is alarmed. Has Death come to claim Duck? But they spend the sum­mer togeth­er, grow­ing com­fort­able with each oth­er, offer­ing advice and ges­tures of friend­ship. When it is time for Duck to die, Death shows great respect, send­ing Duck afloat down a riv­er with a red tulip on its breast. The art and the sto­ry work beau­ti­ful­ly togeth­er in this book for ages 10 and up. 

Fall of Freddy the Leaf  

Fall of Fred­dy the Leaf: a Sto­ry of Life for All Ages
writ­ten by Leo Buscaglia
Stack, Inc., 1982

This sto­ry tells about death through the metaphor of leaves on trees. Fred­die and his com­pan­ion leaves change with the pass­ing sea­sons, final­ly falling to the ground with winter’s snow, an alle­go­ry that illus­trates the del­i­cate bal­ance between life and death.

The Funeral  

The Funer­al
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Matt James
Ground­wood Books, 2018

Going to her great-uncle’s funer­al, Nor­ma is look­ing for­ward to a day off of school and a chance to play with her favorite cousin. She is “prac­tic­ing her sad face in the mir­ror of her par­ents’ room. Though she was, in fact, pret­ty hap­py.” The seri­ous nature of the day takes hold as Nor­ma observes and con­tem­plates oth­er people’s feel­ings and ques­tions: “Is Uncle Frank still a per­son?” This is a good book for chil­dren attend­ing their first funer­al or memo­r­i­al ser­vice. The art­work is nuanced and evoca­tive.

The Goodbye Book  

The Good­bye Book
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Todd Parr
Lit­tle, Brown, 2016

Told from the per­spec­tive of a lone­ly fish, this book deals with the big ques­tions and emo­tions of los­ing some­one close to you, whether it’s a human or a pet. The Good­bye Book is reas­sur­ing that pain will ease with time and mem­o­ries and the sup­port of oth­ers around you.

Hey, Al  

Hey, Al
writ­ten by Arthur Yorkins, illus by Richard Egiel­s­ki
Gold­en Books, 1986

Al, a jan­i­tor, and his faith­ful dog, Eddie, live in a sin­gle room on the West Side. They eat togeth­er, they work togeth­er, they do every­thing togeth­er. So what’s the prob­lem? Life is hard. When a mys­te­ri­ous bird offers to lead them to par­adise, they agree. They’re soon liv­ing a life of lux­u­ry. But things aren’t as green as they seem.

My Father's Arms Are a Boat  

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat
writ­ten by Stein Erik Lunde, illus by Oyvind Torseter 
trans­lat­ed by Kari Dick­son
Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2013

It’s qui­eter than it’s ever been. Unable to sleep, a young boy climbs into his father’s arms. Feel­ing the warmth and close­ness of his father, he begins to ask ques­tions about the birds, the fox­es, and whether his mom will ever wake up. They go out­side under the star­ry sky. Loss and love are as present as the white spruces, while the father’s clear answers and assur­ances calm his wor­ried son. 

The Heart and the Bottle  

The Heart and the Bot­tle
writ­ten and illus by Oliv­er Jef­fers
Philomel Books, 2010

There is a won­der and mag­ic to child­hood. We don’t real­ize it at the time, of course … yet the adults in our lives do. They encour­age us to see things in the stars, to find joy in col­ors and laugh­ter as we play.

But what hap­pens when that spe­cial some­one who encour­ages such won­der and mag­ic is no longer around? We can hide, we can place our heart in a bot­tle and grow up … or we can find anoth­er spe­cial some­one who under­stands the mag­ic. And we can encour­age them to see things in the stars, find joy among col­ors and laugh­ter as they play. This is a book that address­es loss, painful emo­tions, and find­ing one’s way back.

Ida, Always  

Ida, Always
writ­ten Car­ol Levis, illus by Charles San­toso
Atheneum, 2016

In this pic­ture book, two polar bears are best friends and they know they will always be. But then Ida gets sick and it’s clear that she is dying, and Gus real­izes he will be alone. They talk and cud­dle and share their love for each oth­er. Gus real­izes that Ida will be with him always, even after she has died. It’s a gor­geous book with an equal­ly beau­ti­ful sto­ry to tell.

Lifetimes  

Life­times: The Beau­ti­ful Way to Explain Death to Chil­dren 
writ­ten by Bryan Mel­lonie, illus by Robert Ing­pen
Ban­tam, 1983

For ages 5 to 8, this book was rec­om­mend­ed by sev­er­al child psy­chol­o­gists because it looks at the life cycles of plants, ani­mals, and humans in an under­stat­ed but com­fort­ing way, accom­pa­nied by sooth­ing illus­tra­tions.

The Memory Box  

The Mem­o­ry Box: a Book about Grief
writ­ten by Joan­na Row­land, illus by Thea Bak­er
Beam­ing Books, 2017

I’m scared I’ll for­get you…” From the per­spec­tive of a young child, Joan­na Row­land art­ful­ly describes what it is like to remem­ber and grieve a loved one who has died. The child in the sto­ry cre­ates a mem­o­ry box to keep memen­tos and writ­ten mem­o­ries of the loved one, to help in the griev­ing process. Heart­felt and com­fort­ing, The Mem­o­ry Box will help chil­dren and adults talk about this very dif­fi­cult top­ic togeth­er.

Memory Tree  

Mem­o­ry Tree
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Brit­ta Teck­en­trup
Orchard Books, 2014

Fox lies down in his beloved for­est and takes his last breath. As ani­mal friends gath­er around him, they share their favorite sto­ries about the ways Fox was impor­tant in their lives. As they speak, a tree grows behind them, a mem­o­ry tree, that will pro­vide for and pro­tect them, just as their friend Fox did. A pic­ture book for ages 5 and up.

Michael Rosen's Sad Book  

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
writ­ten by Michael Rosen, illus­trat­ed by Quentin Blake
Can­dlewick Press, 2005

Some­times sad is very big. It’s every­where. All over me.” Sad things hap­pen to every­one, and some­times peo­ple feel sad for no rea­son at all. What makes Michael Rosen sad is think­ing about his son, Eddie, who died sud­den­ly at the age of eigh­teen. In this book the author writes about his sad­ness, how it affects him, and some of the things he does to cope with it—like telling him­self that every­one has sad stuff (not just him) and try­ing every day to do some­thing he can be proud to have done.

Mick Harte Was Here  

Mick Harte Was Here
writ­ten by Bar­bara Park
Ran­dom House, 1995

I don’t want to make you cry. I just want to tell you about Mick. But I thought you should know right up front that he’s not here any­more. I just thought that would be fair.” Phoebe’s broth­er, Mick, was one of the fun­ni­est, coolest kids you’d ever meet—the kid who made you laugh until your stom­ach hurt, even if you were mad at him. He was the kid you’d want to be friends with. So how can he be gone? And how will Phoebe’s fam­i­ly sur­vive with­out him?

Missing May  

Miss­ing May
writ­ten by Cyn­thia Rylant
Orchard Books, Scholas­tic, 1992

When May dies sud­den­ly while gar­den­ing, Sum­mer assumes she’ll nev­er see her beloved aunt again. But then Summer’s Uncle Ob claims that May is on her way back–she has sent a sign from the spir­it world.

Sum­mer isn’t sure she believes in the spir­it world, but her quirky class­mate Cle­tus Underwood–who befriends Ob dur­ing his time of mourning—does. So at Cle­tus’ sug­ges­tion, Ob and Sum­mer (with Cle­tus in tow) set off in search of Miri­am B. Young, Small Medi­um at Large, whom they hope will explain May’s depar­ture and con­firm her pos­si­ble return.

Missing Mommy  

Miss­ing Mom­my: a Book about Bereave­ment
writ­ten by Rebec­ca Cobb
Hen­ry Holt, 2013

Writ­ten from a young boy’s point of view, with words and draw­ings appro­pri­ate for some­one his age, this is a straight­for­ward sto­ry that explores the many emo­tions a bereaved child may expe­ri­ence, from anger and guilt to sad­ness and bewil­der­ment. Ulti­mate­ly, Miss­ing Mom­my focus­es on the positive―the recog­ni­tion that the child is not alone but still part of a fam­i­ly that loves and sup­ports him.

A Monster Calls  

A Mon­ster Calls
writ­ten by Patrick Ness
Inspired by an idea from Siob­han Dowd
Can­dlewick Press, 2011

At sev­en min­utes past mid­night, thir­teen-year-old Conor wakes to find a mon­ster out­side his bed­room win­dow. But it isn’t the mon­ster Conor’s been expect­ing, the one from the night­mare he’s had near­ly every night since his moth­er start­ed her treat­ments. The mon­ster in his back­yard is dif­fer­ent. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants some­thing from Conor. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-win­ning author Siob­han Dowd—whose pre­ma­ture death from can­cer pre­vent­ed her from writ­ing it herself—Patrick Ness has spun a haunt­ing and dark­ly fun­ny nov­el of mis­chief, loss, and mon­sters both real and imag­ined.

My Father's Words  

My Father’s Words
writ­ten by Patri­cia MacLach­lan
Kather­ine Tegen Books / Harper­Collins, 2018

In the midst of a lov­ing fam­i­ly, Finn and Fiona are secure in their par­ents’ love and car­ing. When their father meets with an acci­dent, they must learn how to cope with­out him. A friend sug­gests they work at an ani­mal res­cue shel­ter, which may be their way out of the sor­row. A car­ing, gen­tle book. 

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs  

Nana Upstairs & Nana Down­stairs
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Tomie de Pao­la
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1997

Tom­my is four years old, and he loves vis­it­ing the home of his grand­moth­er, Nana Down­stairs, and his great-grand­moth­er, Nana Upstairs. But one day Tommy’s moth­er tells him Nana Upstairs won’t be there any­more, and Tom­my must strug­gle with say­ing good­bye to some­one he loves. This is a qui­et sto­ry about a lov­ing fam­i­ly.

The Next Place  

The Next Place
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by War­ren Han­son
Wald­man House Press, 2002

Sev­er­al librar­i­ans rec­om­mend­ed this book as one that brings com­fort after loss. With words and paint­ings, it depicts a jour­ney of light and hope to a place where earth­ly hurts are left behind.

Ocean Meets Sky  

Ocean Meets Sky
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ter­ry Fan and Eric Fan
Simon & Schus­ter, 2018

In a tour-de-force of illus­tra­tion and sto­ry­telling, the Fan Broth­ers share the sto­ry of Finn, who planned an ocean voy­age with his beloved grand­fa­ther. After grandfather’s death, Finn builds a boat to take that voy­age on what would have been his grandfather’s 90th birth­day. With this ges­ture of hon­or and respect, sail­ing to the place where the ocean meets the sky, Finn finds com­fort, sail­ing through pages of won­der until his moth­er calls him home.

The Rough Patch  

Rough Patch
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Lies
Green­wil­low Books, 2018

Evan, a fox, and his dog share many adven­tures, includ­ing gar­den­ing and the coun­ty fair. When his dog dies, Evan is incon­solable. He neglects his gar­den and it becomes over­grown and weedy. In a cor­ner of the gar­den, a giant pump­kin begins grow­ing and soon it becomes clear it must be entered in the coun­ty fair. Evan returns to one of his favorite places, meet­ing up with friends, old and new.

The Scar  

The Scar
writ­ten by Char­lotte Moundlic, illus by Olivi­er Tal­lec
Can­dlewick Press, 2011

When the boy in this sto­ry wakes to find that his moth­er has died, he is over­whelmed with sad­ness, anger, and fear that he will for­get her. He shuts all the win­dows to keep in his mother’s famil­iar smell and scratch­es open the cut on his knee to remem­ber her com­fort­ing voice. He doesn’t know how to speak to his dad any­more, and when Grand­ma vis­its and throws open the win­dows, it’s more than the boy can take–until his grand­moth­er shows him anoth­er way to feel that his mom’s love is near. 

Something Very Sorry  

Some­thing Very Sor­ry
writ­ten by Arno Bohlmei­jer
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1996

For ages 12 and up, this is the true sto­ry of a young girl’s strug­gle to come to terms with a tragedy. This sober nar­ra­tion reveals the pri­vate voice of a girl as she copes with the after­math of a car acci­dent: her mother’s death, the injuries of her father and sis­ter, and her own grief, anger, and fear of the future. It’s a poignant sto­ry of a dif­fi­cult fam­i­ly sit­u­a­tion.

A Summer to Die  

A Sum­mer to Die
writ­ten by Lois Lowry
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1977

Meg isn’t thrilled when she gets stuck shar­ing a bed­room with her old­er sis­ter Mol­ly. The two of them couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent, and it’s hard for Meg to hide her resent­ment of Molly’s beau­ty and easy pop­u­lar­i­ty. But Molly’s con­stant grouch­i­ness, chang­ing appear­ance, and oth­er com­plaints are not just part of being moody. The day Mol­ly is rushed to the hos­pi­tal, Meg has to accept that there is some­thing ter­ri­bly wrong with her sis­ter. That’s the day Meg’s world changes for­ev­er. Is it too late for Meg to show how she real­ly feels?

Tear Soup  

Tear Soup: a Recipe for Heal­ing After Loss
writ­ten by Pat Schweib­ert and Chuck DeK­lyen
illus by Tay­lor Bills
Grief Watch, 2005

An inspi­ra­tional book of wis­dom about liv­ing and grow­ing with grief. After expe­ri­enc­ing loss, tears are a part of life, some­times for months and some­times for years. This book is meant to bring com­fort for ages 12 through adult. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed by edu­ca­tors, librar­i­ans, and par­ents for griev­ing chil­dren.

The Thing About Jellyfish  

The Thing About Jel­ly­fish
writ­ten by Ali Ben­jamin
Lit­tle, Brown, 2015

Every­one says that it was an acci­dent, that some­times things “just hap­pen.” But Suzy won’t believe it. Ever. After her best friend dies in a drown­ing acci­dent, Suzy is con­vinced that the true cause of the tragedy was a rare jel­ly­fish sting. Retreat­ing into a silent world of imag­i­na­tion, she crafts a plan to prove her theory—even if it means trav­el­ing the globe, alone. Suzy’s aching­ly heart­felt jour­ney explores life, death, the aston­ish­ing won­der of the universe—and the poten­tial for love and hope right next door.

Tuck Everlasting  

Tuck Ever­last­ing
writ­ten by Natal­ie Bab­bitt
Rine­hart and Win­ston, 1999

The Tuck fam­i­ly is con­front­ed with an ago­niz­ing sit­u­a­tion when they dis­cov­er that a ten-year-old girl and a mali­cious stranger now share their secret about a spring whose water pre­vents one from ever grow­ing old­er. A clas­sic sto­ry, this book is much dis­cussed in homes and class­rooms, from ages 10 and up through adult. It’s a sto­ry so well told that you can’t help con­sid­er­ing the big ques­tions.

What is Goodbye?  

What is Good­bye?
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes, illus by Raúl Colón
Dis­ney-Hype­r­i­on, 2004

This is the book I rec­om­mend most often for chil­dren ages 9 through adult. Jer­i­lyn and Jesse have lost their beloved old­er broth­er. Each of them deals with Jaron’s death dif­fer­ent­ly. Jer­i­lyn tries to keep it in and hold it togeth­er; Jesse acts out. But after a year of anger, pain, and guilt, they come to under­stand that it’s time to move on. It’s time for a new fam­i­ly picture—with one piece miss­ing, yet whole again. Through the alter­nat­ing voic­es of a broth­er and sis­ter, Nik­ki Grimes elo­quent­ly por­trays the griev­ing process in this gem of a book that is hon­est, pow­er­ful, and ulti­mate­ly hope­ful.

When Dinosaurs Die  

When Dinosaurs Die: a Guide to Under­stand­ing Death
writ­ten by Lau­rie Kras­ny Brown, illus by Marc Brown
Lit­tle Brown, 1998

No one can real­ly under­stand death, but to chil­dren, the pass­ing away of a loved one can be espe­cial­ly per­plex­ing and trou­ble­some. This is true whether the loss is a class­mate, friend, fam­i­ly mem­ber, or pet. In this book, wis­dom is shared by dinosaurs, pro­vid­ing answers to kids’ most-often-asked ques­tions, explor­ing the feel­ings we may have regard­ing the death of a loved one, and the ways to remem­ber some­one after he or she has died.

Whirligig  

Whirligig
writ­ten by Paul Fleis­chman
Hen­ry Holt, 1998

When Brent Bish­op is out­raged at a high school par­ty, he dri­ves away hurt, furi­ous, and out of con­trol. He dri­ves reck­less­ly, deter­mined to kill him­self, but kills a girl instead, a high school senior with a bright future. Filled with guilt, Brent wants to make resti­tu­tion. The girl’s moth­er asks him to cre­ate whirligigs and set them up in the four cor­ners of the Unit­ed States. We fol­low Brent on his jour­ney, meet­ing the peo­ple whose lives he affects and who change his life.

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