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

Page Break

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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

______________________________________

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

______________________________________

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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