Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Interview: Candace Fleming

credit: Michael Lionstar

cred­it: Michael Lion­star

Bulldozer’s Big Day is a per­fect read-aloud, with won­der­ful sound and action oppor­tu­ni­ties on most pages. Did those moments affect your deci­sion about what verbs to use?

How love­ly you think it’s a per­fect read aloud. I worked hard at the story’s read­abil­i­ty. Not only did I strive for a pace and cadence, but I want­ed the sto­ry to sound as active as the plot’s set­ting with lots of bump­ing and clang­ing and vroom­ing. Addi­tion­al­ly, I thought long and hard about those work­ing verbs. You know, the shift­ing, mix­ing, chop­ping each truck does. They had to have a dou­ble-mean­ing, apply­ing to both con­struc­tion trucks and bak­ing. And they had to be in groups of three, because… well… three just sounds good, doesn’t it?

While most read­ers and lis­ten­ers will think the “Big Day” is a birth­day, you nev­er use that term. Why?

It was redun­dant.  Read­ers can see that the big trucks made a cake for Bulldozer’s sixth birth­day. They don’t need me to tell them. Inter­est­ing­ly, every time I read the sto­ry aloud to kinder­garten­ers they spon­ta­neous­ly burst into the “Hap­py Birth­day” song. I’m not sure I’d get that response if I’d had the trucks shout the words. It’s one more way for them to find their way into the text – and I did it acci­den­tal­ly.

written by Candace Fleming  illustrated by Eric Rohmann  Atheneum, 2015

writ­ten by Can­dace Flem­ing 
illus­trat­ed by Eric Rohmann 
Atheneum, 2015

There is a per­fect turn-around late in the sto­ry, when we go from “mash­ing, mash­ing, mash­ing” to a qui­eter moment, then the sus­pense­ful “lift­ing, lift­ing, lift­ing.” This sug­gests to me that you are not only skilled at dra­mat­ic nar­ra­tive, but a vet­er­an class­room read­er as you qui­et the stu­dents down from that high-ener­gy mash­ing to get ready for a res­o­lu­tion.  Do you remem­ber your first author vis­it to a class­room? What have you learned over the years about read­ing your books aloud?

I do remem­ber my first author vis­it. I was ter­ri­fied. But the kids and teach­ers were so love­ly, I was imme­di­ate­ly put at ease. And this strange thing hap­pened. I turned into an actor. Seri­ous­ly. Stand­ing in front of that library full of first graders, I sud­den­ly dis­cov­ered a tal­ent for talk­ing in voic­es and act­ing like dif­fer­ent ani­mals. Me?! I became a sto­ry­teller. That’s what I know from years of read­ing my books – and oth­ers’ – aloud. You have to be dra­mat­ic. You have to be sus­pense­ful. You have to lick your chops if you’re read­ing about a hun­gry tiger, or wig­gle your bot­tom if you’re read­ing about a puff-tailed rab­bit. Kids love it. In truth, so do I.

Were you ever dis­ap­point­ed on a child­hood birth­day?

You mean that year I didn’t get a pony?

Do you enjoy birth­day cel­e­bra­tions now?

Absolute­ly! I’m espe­cial­ly enam­ored of the cake. And don’t you dare ask me how old I’ll be on my next one.





Skinny Dip with Emilie Buchwald

bk_FloramelWhat keeps you up at night? 

All that I didn’t accom­plish dur­ing the day. All that I hope to accom­plish the next day.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

The marathon. The long dis­tance per­for­mance inspires me.  I’ve dri­ven a marathon course of 26.2 miles and can’t imag­ine being able to run it. How­ev­er, the idea of a long dis­tance jour­ney of the intel­lec­tu­al or imag­i­na­tive kind is very appeal­ing to me.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done? 

Since I’m a klutz, the bravest thing I’ve done is to learn to ski after the age of 40. I fell a num­ber of times get­ting off the lift at our local ski hill before I suc­cess­ful­ly skied off.  It was worth it to stand at the top of a moun­tain and expe­ri­ence the panorama—and then to ski very slow­ly down.

 What is your proud­est career moment?

The first time I dared to stand up, go to the lectern, and read my poems before an audi­ence. Like learn­ing to ski, the expe­ri­ence of shar­ing those poems was worth going through the trep­i­da­tion.

What TV show can’t you turn off?   

The West Wing.


USBBY Reflections

by Nan­cy Bo Flood 

Books can help read­ers heal. Sto­ries can cre­ate com­pas­sion. Every one needs to find “their sto­ry” in books.

flood_USBBY_Logo_1The Unit­ed States Board on Books for Young Peo­ple (USBBY) is part of The Inter­na­tion­al Board on Books for Young Peo­ple (IBBY), a world-wide orga­ni­za­tion that works to build bridges of under­stand­ing through chil­dren’s and young adult books.  “A child who reads will be an adult who thinks.”

USBBY/IBBY brings togeth­er authors and illus­tra­tors, edi­tors, librar­i­ans, teach­ers, and read­ers who sup­port the cre­ation of books that speak to chil­dren and their par­ents what­ev­er their home coun­try or lan­guage. IBBY’s Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­sen Medal cel­e­brates the best world-wide author and illus­tra­tor whose words and images excite imag­i­na­tion, and its Astrid Lind­gren Memo­r­i­al award is giv­en to authors, illus­tra­tors, sto­ry­tellers, and per­sons and orga­ni­za­tions that work to pro­mote lit­er­a­cy. Each award is select­ed from the nom­i­na­tions of over a 100 par­tic­i­pat­ing region­al units, such as USBBY.


Kate DiCamil­lo ® speak­ing at the open­ing USBBY ses­sion.

This year’s USBBY con­fer­ence was held in New York City, low­er Man­hat­tan. The con­fer­ence is kept small, under 300 atten­dees, so the atmos­phere is friend­ly, like old friends com­ing togeth­er to share new ideas, new trends, and new award-win­ning books from around the world. What a cel­e­bra­tion of books! This year the open­ing speak­er was our very own Nation­al Ambas­sador for Young People’s Lit­er­a­ture, Kate DiCamil­lo. She spoke about her jour­ney from writer to pub­lished author.


Kate DiCamil­lo signed books and took the time to chat with each per­son, even me.

Per­sis­tence! Kate affirmed that with­in each of us we have sto­ries to tell. But to suc­cess­ful­ly move from that first page to a pub­lished book, one needs to believe in one­self, write and re-write, and stub­born­ly pur­sue the quest of find­ing the right edi­tor. With humor Kate described her ini­tial ten years of first think­ing about writ­ing before actu­al­ly hav­ing the courage to put pen to paper and write. Then came 470 rejec­tion let­ters. Now Kate has 22 mil­lion books in print world-wide, trans­lat­ed into 41 lan­guages. She calls her­self a “late-bloomer.” Her first book was pub­lished a few years before she turned forty. Even today, Kate is “still sur­prised that I ever got pub­lished.” When asked why her books are read by all ages of read­ers in coun­tries on every con­ti­nent, she imag­ines that some­how the sto­ries she writes have uni­ver­sal appeal because she writes hon­est­ly of expe­ri­ences and emo­tions we all share – fears and hopes, dis­ap­point­ments and sor­rows. Kate asserts, that “the love of sto­ry is in the core of humankind.” Through sto­ry we step into the heart of anoth­er and walk with­in their jour­ney. Kate also affirms that “every child has the right to learn to read.”


Susan Coop­er sign­ing at USBBY.

This uni­ver­sal love of sto­ry was reit­er­at­ed in a lat­er talk by Susan Coop­er, one of England’s great­est sto­ry­tellers (The Dark is Ris­ing), a cre­ator of many worlds, a writer of fan­ta­sy. Susan asked, “is it pos­si­ble for sto­ry­telling, this basic love of sto­ry that all cul­tures share, to be a way to heal the divi­sions of our world? Through the mag­ic of enter­ing anoth­er place, anoth­er cul­ture, can we increase com­pas­sion and come to accept dif­fer­ences, erase prej­u­dices based on igno­rance?” Yes, both Susan and Kate con­tend, books can build bridges. They can tell uni­ver­sal truths. They can let us walk with­in the heart and skin of anoth­er per­son and feel “both joy and sor­row as sharp as stones.”


(l‑r) Hol­ly Thomp­son, Mar­gari­ta Engle, Pad­ma Venka­tra­man pre­sent­ed a pan­el on verse nov­els.

A child might sit in a class­room, on a park bench, or snug­gled under bed cov­ers with a flash­light, and become lost in a book. Or a child might sit in front of a tent in a refugee camp or a deten­tion cen­ter near a bor­der cross­ing. Books let us enter new worlds, con­sid­er new ideas, rethink old hates. Both Kate DiCamil­lo and Susan Coop­er agree that sto­ries help us laugh and give us hope.

Flood_war panel

(l‑r) The war pan­el: me, Lyn Miller-Lach­man, and Ter­ry Far­ish.


This year at the con­fer­ence I was part of a “war pan­el.” The smil­ing trio in the pho­to, “the war pan­el,” pre­sent­ed dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives about war and the effects on chil­dren. Today over forty mil­lion chil­dren live as refugees. Here in the Unit­ed States, more veterans—mothers and fathers of children—die from sui­cide than from com­bat. How do their chil­dren make sense of war? We need well-writ­ten books about war so chil­dren can find their sto­ries and begin to heal.

Thank you, Col­orado Author’s League, for sup­port­ing me with a trav­el grant to attend this USBBY con­fer­ence. I encour­age writ­ers and illus­tra­tors to become a mem­ber of this inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion. Through­out the year USBBY is involved in a vari­ety of projects that bring appro­pri­ate books to chil­dren and par­ents. As Kate DiCamil­lo stat­ed: “Every child has the right to read.”


Liza Ketchum: Serendipity


Liza Ketchum

Serendip­i­ty is one of my favorite words. I love its dance­like sound and the way it trips off the tongue. Accord­ing to my dic­tio­nary, serendip­i­ty means “the fac­ul­ty of mak­ing for­tu­nate dis­cov­er­ies by acci­dent.”

I find the ety­mol­o­gy of words fas­ci­nat­ing. Even as a child, I liked to study the maps that show the rela­tion­ship and ori­gins of Indo-Euro­pean lan­guages. (Here’s an ani­mat­ed ver­sion.) So where does the word serendip­i­ty come from?

My Amer­i­can Her­itage dic­tio­nary traces the word’s ori­gins to the Eng­lish writer Horace Wal­pole, who sup­pos­ed­ly coined the word in a 1754 let­ter to a friend. Wal­pole described a Per­sian fairy tale he had read, con­cern­ing three princes from Serendip. The brothers—highly accom­plished, smart, and artistic—were ban­ished from their king­dom by their father, the king. Wan­der­ing in a for­eign land, they encoun­tered a mer­chant who had lost his camel. The broth­ers used pow­ers of deduction—which we now asso­ciate with detec­tive fiction—to find the camel. Wal­pole said, “They were always mak­ing dis­cov­er­ies, by acci­dent and sagac­i­ty, of things they were not in quest of.” 

Things they were not in quest of. This phrase made me think of oth­er famous dis­cov­er­ies that hap­pen by accident—such as the peni­cillin mold that grew when Alexan­der Flem­ing left a Petri dish on his win­dowsill by mis­take, or the burrs that attached them­selves to George de Mestral’s clothes on a moun­tain hike, giv­ing him the idea for Vel­cro. Serendip­i­ty also makes me think about moments in our writ­ing lives when inci­dents, events, and ideas merge to trig­ger a Eure­ka! moment.

bk_When-Women-Were-BirdsThree years ago, at a Ham­line Uni­ver­si­ty sum­mer res­i­den­cy, I opened a new note­book late one night, and scrawled these words: “The Last Gar­den.” The title had come to me after I read the first two entries in Ter­ry Tem­pest Williams’ bril­liant book, When Women Were Birds, a gift from Phyl­lis Root. Williams wrote the mem­oir after her moth­er died and she uncov­ered a shock­ing truth about her life. I had recent­ly lost both par­ents, so Williams’s top­ic pulled me in. I was also drawn to the book by its for­mat: a series of short vignettes, fork­ing off a sin­gle idea like branch­es on a tree. Vignettes seemed like a man­age­able, less daunt­ing way to deal with per­son­al sub­ject mat­ter. But wait—since when was I plan­ning to write about gar­dens?

That same morn­ing, as we dis­cussed our work­shops, Phyl­lis told me that she planned to ask her stu­dents that great ques­tion: “What would you write if you knew you could not fail?” It made me think of Mary Oliv­er, who demands, in her poem “The Sum­mer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and pre­cious life?” 

For years I had tried to write a mem­oir about my rela­tion­ship with my grand­moth­er, and the Ver­mont house where I spent my child­hood sum­mers, but I couldn’t find a uni­fy­ing thread. When I wrote those words—“The Last Garden”—I real­ized that gardens—and gardeners—could pro­vide that uni­ty. My hus­band and I had just pur­chased a sweet house, down the road a mile from my grandmother’s old place. The prop­er­ty came with over­grown lilacs and tan­gled, over­grown gar­dens that con­cealed peonies, fox­gloves, and an aspara­gus bed. Though I have gar­dened all my life, I real­ized this would be the last gar­den I would cre­ate from scratch.

Since that moment at Ham­line, the focus of my writ­ing has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly. In addi­tion to the mem­oir, I’ve been writ­ing essays and arti­cles about nature and the envi­ron­ment. I’m work­ing on two non-fic­tion projects, focused on envi­ron­men­tal sub­jects, with my dear friends Phyl­lis Root and Jack­ie Brig­gs Mar­tin. All thanks to serendip­i­ty.

Per­haps the best thing about serendip­i­ty is that we can’t explain how it hap­pens. Who could pre­dict that the loss of my par­ents, the gift of a wise book writ­ten in an appeal­ing form, and the right ques­tion at the right time—would coin­cide with ideas I was “not in quest of”?

ph_camelMean­while, as I wres­tle with the memoir’s final vignettes, I can’t help think­ing of that miss­ing camel that—as the Serendip broth­ers predicted—was lame, blind in one eye, and lum­bered under the weight of a leak­ing sack of hon­ey, a bag of but­ter, and a preg­nant woman.

Uh oh. Doesn’t that sound like a pic­ture book, wait­ing to hap­pen?


Home Away from Home

by Lisa Bullard

10_22I like to play a cer­tain game when I’m trav­el­ing. I pre­tend that the place I’m vis­it­ing is my home, and I imag­ine how my life would have been altered if I had in fact tak­en root in that oth­er envi­ron­ment.

How would things be dif­fer­ent for me if my world swirled amidst New York City’s self-ful­fill­ing ener­gy? If my abode was perched atop a fog-shroud­ed island in the Pacific North­west? If I was plant­ed on the lip of a tall-grass prairie, with the world drop­ping off into noth­ing­ness on the oth­er edge of the great grass sea? If I dreamed my dreams in a twig-built hut?

Part of a writer’s task is to cre­ate alter­na­tive home­lands, to build dis­tinc­tive worlds for each of our char­ac­ters to inhab­it. Once we have our world craft­ed, we invite read­ers to make them­selves at home there too. We hope that they will want to hun­ker down into this habi­tat that we have fash­ioned and make it a part of them­selves; to allow it to take up res­i­dence in their hearts and imag­i­na­tions.

One of the eas­i­est ways to teach young writ­ers about envi­sion­ing an envi­ron­ment is to talk with them about the worlds they have wan­dered through in their fan­ta­sy read­ing. Good fan­ta­sy writ­ers are mas­ters at the art of world-build­ing, and stu­dents can learn a lot by mean­der­ing through the key­board­ed land­scapes of these writ­ers who have built worlds before them.

Once you have had a chance to help stu­dents rec­og­nize the impor­tance of “place” in the sto­ries that they have loved read­ing, start them writ­ing with the Fan­ta­sy Land activ­i­ty found here. It will help your young writ­ers begin to visu­al­ize a “home away from home”—a place where they might house their next sto­ry.



Flowerpot Cakes

Flow­er­pot Cakes
Serves 6
We used six unglazed, untreat­ed ter­ra-cot­ta flow­er­pots (each with a six-ounce capac­i­ty, about 3 inch­es tall and 3 12 inch­es across the top). Thor­ough­ly wash the new pots in hot water before using.
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  1. 13 cup veg­etable oil, plus more for pots
  2. 34 cup unsweet­ened cocoa pow­der, plus more for dust­ing
  3. 1 12 cups all-pur­pose flour
  4. 1 12 cups sug­ar
  5. 1 12 tea­spoons bak­ing soda
  6. 34 tea­spoon bak­ing pow­der
  7. 34 tea­spoon salt
  8. 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
  9. 34 cup but­ter­milk
  10. 34 tea­spoon pure vanil­la extract
  11. Quick Choco­late Frost­ing
  12. 12 cup crushed choco­late wafer cook­ies (about 10), for gar­nish
  13. Mul­ti­col­ored peb­ble-shaped choco­late can­dies, for gar­nish
  14. Mint sprigs, for gar­nish
  1. Pre­heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush inside of each flow­er­pot with oil, and line bot­tom with parch­ment paper round. Brush parch­ment with oil, and light­ly dust with cocoa.
  2. Sift cocoa, flour, sug­ar, bak­ing soda, bak­ing pow­der, and salt into the bowl of an elec­tric mix­er fit­ted with the pad­dle attach­ment. Add egg and yolk, 34 cup warm water, but­ter­milk, oil, and vanil­la; mix on low speed until smooth, about 1 minute.
  3. Divide bat­ter among pre­pared pots, fill­ing each about two-thirds full. Trans­fer to a rimmed bak­ing sheet. Bake, rotat­ing sheet about halfway through, until a cake tester insert­ed into cen­ters comes out clean, 45 to 50 min­utes. Let cakes cool com­plete­ly in the flow­er­pots on a wire rack.
  4. Frost cakes with an off­set spat­u­la; sprin­kle with crushed cook­ies. Top with can­dies; “plant” 1 mint sprig in each cake.
  1. At a spring con­fer­ence we orga­nized back in 2004, Karen Ritz, author, illus­tra­tor, and bak­er extra­or­di­naire, made one of these for each of our guests. They were a hit! We think they’d work well with a con­struc­tion-themed par­ty or sto­ry­time, too.
Adapt­ed from from Martha Stew­art’s web­site
Bookol­o­gy Mag­a­zine

Skinny Dip with Diana Star Helmer

What ani­mal are you most like?

My answer to this ques­tion could unwind like an end­less ball of yarn! But I shall try to be brief.

For as long as I can remem­ber, I have loved cats. Look­ing back at my life, I can see how I am cat-like. I watch; I always have. When I first went to school, I was an “elec­tive mute” for some time, just watch­ing and fig­ur­ing things out. (A cat may look at a king, you know.) Like cer­tain cats I have known, I can do things that absolute­ly must be done, even things I’d rather not do. But I am hap­pi­est to sim­ply be, with the sun and the rain and the grass and the trees, and all the mys­te­ri­ous crea­tures.

bk_Dog'sBestFriendWhich book of yours was the most dif­fi­cult to write?

My Kin­dle nov­el, A Dog’s Best Friend, is by far the most dif­fi­cult writ­ing I’ve under­tak­en to date. There are a few rea­sons:

First, the sto­ry’s hero is a dog, and I have lived only with cats. Yet, I felt this char­ac­ter need­ed to be a dog: dogs seem, to me, to be Every­man.

Sec­ond­ly, A Dog’s Best Friend is my first long work. I had been writ­ing for news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines for many years when I began the nov­el. I’d become quite sure of my abil­i­ty to tell an entire sto­ry in 600–800 words. I thought such skills would trans­late eas­i­ly to nov­el-writ­ing.


Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

bk_threescroogesI cross my fin­gers and hope that all of my sto­ries would make good movies, because good sto­ry­telling is cin­e­mat­ic: visu­al and con­cise.

Because most of my nov­els are about non-human ani­mals, this means ani­ma­tion would be mar­velous, and I love ani­ma­tion! The voic­es could then be any fan­tas­tic performers—no famous names required.

A Dog’s Best Friend would be nice as a film because it’s a buddy/road trip, a clas­sic film sit­u­a­tion.

Elsie’s Afghan would be amaz­ing because of the mag­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion required.

The Three Scrooges would be a great can­di­date because half of its inspiration—the Stooges, of course—began as film char­ac­ters!

What’s your favorite line from a book?

Good heav­ens, that’s like ask­ing what is my favorite shell on the beach!

I’ll try to nar­row it down:

Favorite line from anoth­er writer: 


My life is the poem I would have writ / but I could not both live and utter it.”

My favorite line from the book I’m work­ing on:

Oh, do not seek wis­dom, my dear. If you find it, you’ll nev­er be fit for mixed com­pa­ny.”  

What book do you tell every­one to read?

I sel­dom rec­om­mend books. It seems so per­son­al! But I have men­tioned to a few peo­ple The Book, by Alan Watts. I have gone back to it many times over the years.


Museum Feast

curat­ed by Richard Wilkin­son and Jo Nel­son
Big Pic­ture Press, 2015

by Vic­ki Palmquist

In a large, folio-sized book, the cura­tors of His­to­ri­um present a print­ed-page trip through a muse­um, grouped by cul­tures and described in detail so you can under­stand what you are see­ing with­out being rushed along by the crowd. Much like those rentable muse­um audio tapes or the plac­ards on the wall, it’s an enhanced expe­ri­ence of the arti­facts. Unless you are a well-trav­eled muse­um habitué, many of these items will be unfa­mil­iar to you.

There are arti­cles from cul­tures all over the world over a great length of time, rep­re­sent­ed for con­text by a time­line. From one mil­lion years ago, a Stone Age hand ax to the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, a stone stat­ue from Poly­ne­sia, trav­el­ing to Melane­sia, The Lev­ant, Ancient Islam, The Hopewell, and the realm of the Vikings.

This muse­um is open 247, with­out the need for sign­ing a field trip per­mis­sion slip or pay­ing for park­ing.

Historium Ancient Egypt

On page 35, a beau­ti­ful­ly dec­o­rat­ed jug from the Pueblo is explained in this way: “pot­tery skills and designs were passed from moth­er to daugh­ter. Each Pueblo set­tle­ment would try to keep the loca­tion of its clay deposit a secret, to pre­vent it from being plun­dered … they often refer to the clay as female.” This kind of detail pro­vides depth for our under­stand­ing of the world.

On page 50, there is a dou­ble-head­ed ser­pent mosa­ic from the 15th or 16th cen­tu­ry, “intend­ed to both impress and ter­ri­fy the behold­er.” We learn that “the crafts­men best known for their turquoise mosaics were not Aztecs but Mix­tecs …” which results in a tan­gen­tial search to find out more about the Mix­tecs, just as a bricks-and-mor­tar muse­um would do.

I’m not sure I under­stand why the arti­facts are pre­sent­ed against dark­ly-col­ored back­grounds … some­times the con­trast makes it hard­er to study the items, but over­all this is a book that will sat­is­fy the curi­ous in your fam­i­ly or class­room. Like all good muse­ums, it is the begin­ning to a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery.


Keeping Track

img_RRBJournalI’ve not kept track. Not real­ly. I mean, I can peruse our many book­shelves and make a sort of list, but it would be miss­ing things. What about all the library books we’ve read togeth­er?

I was in a book dis­cus­sion ear­li­er this week with a woman who keeps A Read­ing Jour­nal. She writes as she reads—notes and quotes, ques­tions and lists, impres­sions and rec­om­men­da­tions, etc. She has, she con­fessed under my too eager ques­tion­ing, mul­ti­ple vol­umes of these jour­nals. I imag­ine them sit­ting with their straight spines and gild­ed pages all on one book­shelf. I am jealous—not envi­ous, but flat out jeal­ous. She insists their res­i­dence is not so neat, that the prac­tice is not that admirable. She says the note­books are not all the same, that some are falling apart, that she keeps them in mul­ti­ple places etc. She says this as if she’s real­ly not so orga­nized and dili­gent, but she doesn’t fool me. She’s been keep­ing A Read­ing Jour­nal since she was eleven.

I’ve always want­ed to keep A Read­ing Jour­nal. I’ve nev­er kept A Read­ing Jour­nal. Not so much, even, as a list of the things I’ve read. I can for­give myself for this, but I’m envi­ous of those who do man­age to jot down the titles, even if noth­ing else.

img_RRBAuthorHenkesHowever…on the heels of meet­ing this won­der­ful read­er, I read this inter­view. Because I would read any­thing hav­ing to do with Kevin Henkes, on whom I might have a small writer­ly-crush. (Some­times, when I have a rough day, I watch the Meet Kevin Henkes video on his web­site. It’s bet­ter than a glass of wine. I watch him draw Lilly…and my thoughts set­tle. I lis­ten to him talk about the col­ors of Lil­ly and Ginger’s dresses…and I feel like I can go on. He flips through his note­books show­ing us how his ideas become books…sigh…and I am inspired and ready to work. I’m eas­i­ly moved by the keep­ing of note­books, appar­ent­ly.)

I adore this man’s books—especially the mouse pic­ture books. When I think of this won­der­ful author-artist in his book-lined, light-filled stu­dio cre­at­ing books for us, my heart is glad. I think I vague­ly knew he had a fam­i­ly, though I nev­er gave them a thought until this inter­view. Here, I learn that he read to his kids at break­fast. “Which was a great thing,” he says in his Kevin Henkes way, “because I would read to both of them and my wife would be mak­ing the lunch­es so all four of us had this shared expe­ri­ence.”

img_RRBmouseWelcomeI sigh. He reads to kids at break­fast and his wife makes the lunch­es and they have a Shared Expe­ri­ence. Do they know how lucky they are? And then I think: I read to my kids at break­fast some! My hus­band wasn’t mak­ing the lunch­es while I was doing so, since he leaves before the rest of us are up, but we as a fam­i­ly have oth­er Shared Expe­ri­ences around books, yes we do! So, Kevin Henkes and I have some­thing in com­mon! There’s that!

Then I learn that they’ve kept a list in the back hall of all the books they read togeth­er, “120 and some books.”

My heart sinks. We do not have a back hall. I have not kept a list. I’m sure we’ve read 120-some books togeth­er, but I do not have a list in a back hall to prove it. I find myself won­der­ing how the list was kept in the back hall. I imag­ine Kevin Henkes’ chil­dren scrib­bling titles on the wall, his wife wall­pa­per­ing with book­cov­er pho­tos, him slip­ping small scraps of paper with titles in a chinked wall of rock. Can you have a back hall made of rocks?

I call myself back to real­i­ty. It doesn’t mat­ter how Kevin Henkes and his lucky fam­i­ly keep their list. It doesn’t even mat­ter that they’ve kept the list. Not real­ly. What mat­ters is the Shared Expe­ri­ence. I feel sure Kevin Henkes would agree with me. And my fam­i­ly and I have the Shared Expe­ri­ence of books read together—hundreds of books read togeth­er, espe­cial­ly if you count all the times we read Kevin Henkes’ mouse books.

img_RRBmouseFlowerThere’s a part of me that wants to recre­ate the list—find a wall some­where in the house (I’m quite tak­en with the “back hall” aspect of this) to scrib­ble all of the titles of books we’ve read togeth­er. But it wouldn’t be accurate—it’d be like mark­ing the kids’ heights as they grew on the kitchen door­frame now that they’ve grown. (Anoth­er nos­tal­gic record keep­ing I wish I’d done.)

So I will kvell in the Shared Experience—I’m so grate­ful for all the time we’ve read togeth­er, whether I have a list in the back hall or in a jour­nal to show for it or not.


Two for the Show: What Scares You?

Note to read­ers: we are try­ing a new for­mat this month. We want to make our blog more con­ver­sa­tion­al. Let us know what you think.

Phyl­lis Root:
What scares you? How do you deal with that fear? And why do so many of us like to scare our­selves sil­ly, as long as we know that every­thing will be all right in the end?

An arti­cle in The Atlantic, Why Do Some Brains Enjoy Fear,” explains how the hor­mone dopamine, released dur­ing scary activ­i­ties makes some of us feel good, espe­cial­ly if we feel safe. If we know those ghosts in the haunt­ed house aren’t real­ly ghosts, we can let our­selves be as scared as we want by their sud­den appear­ance.

In Ramona the Brave Ramona hides a book with a scary goril­la pic­ture under a couch cush­ion when the book becomes too ter­ri­fy­ing. She’s in charge of how scared she wants to be, and books offer us that oppor­tu­ni­ty: we can close them if they’re scary, or even look ahead to the end to be sure every­thing will be fine.

Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin:
We can give our­selves lit­tle dos­es of scare. Dos­es that feel like fun because we are watch­ing events hap­pen to some­one else.

The Lit­tle Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Any­thing by Lin­da Williams, illus­trat­ed by Megan Lloyd, is a deli­cious­ly scary expe­ri­ence. On her way home through the for­est as it starts to get dark, the lit­tle old lady meets two big shoes that go CLOMP, CLOMP. Since she’s not afraid of any­thing, she con­tin­ues toward home—but the shoes clomp behind her, as do, even­tu­al­ly, a pair of pants that go WIGGLE, WIGGLE, a shirt that goes SHAKE, SHAKE, gloves that go CLAP, CLAP, and a hat that goes NOD, NOD. To all of them she says “Get out of my way!” because, of course, she’s not afraid of anything—although she does walk faster and faster. When she meets the scary pump­kin head that goes BOO, BOO! she runs for home and locks the door. Then comes the KNOCK, KNOCK on the door. Because she’s not afraid of any­thing she answers the door and sees the whole assem­blage of cloth­ing and pump­kin head. “You can’t scare me,” she says. “Then what’s to become of us?” the pump­kin asks. The lit­tle old lady’s idea for a solu­tion makes every­one hap­py. Part of the genius of this book is that it invites lis­ten­ers to join in on the sound effects, giv­ing them an active part in the sto­ry as well as an out­let for build­ing ten­sion.

bk_TwoSeussThe nar­ra­tor in What Was I Scared Of?, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Dr. Seuss, only has to con­front a pair of emp­ty pants (a fun twist on hav­ing the pants scared off of one), and like the old lady, this nar­ra­tor claims he isn’t scared of any­thing. Still, when the pants move, he high­tails it out of there, and each time the pants show up again, whether rid­ing a bike or row­ing a boat, the nar­ra­tor runs from them. When he unex­pect­ed­ly encoun­ters the pants and hollers for help, the pants break down in tears; it turns out they are as scared of him as he is of them. The nar­ra­tor responds empa­thet­i­cal­ly by putting his arm around the pants’ waist and calm­ing the “poor emp­ty pants with nobody inside them.” Nei­ther is scared of the oth­er any longer.

This book has always been a favorite at our house. Who would not be scared of such pants? And this list of fright­ened respons­es is so inclusive—and so fun to read out loud:

I yelled for help. I screamed. I shrieked.

I howled. I yowled. I cried,

Oh save me from these pale green pants

With nobody inside!”

Dr. Seuss’s lan­guage in this sto­ry fre­quent­ly makes us laugh. One of my favorites:

And the next night, I was fish­ing

for Doubt-trout on Roover Riv­er

When those pants came row­ing toward me!

Well, I start­ed in to shiv­er.

I’m not a fish­ing per­son, but I might head out to Roover Riv­er for a cou­ple of Doubt-trout.

bk_TwoNightmareAnoth­er sto­ry in which the fear­some is also fear­ful is There’s a Night­mare in my Clos­et. I can’t believe this Mer­cer May­er book is forty-sev­en years old. It seems as cur­rent a child­hood wor­ry as step­ping on a crack in the side­walk. Mayer’s illus­tra­tions are perfect—we can almost hear the silence in the illus­tra­tion in which the kid tip­toes back to bed, after clos­ing the clos­et door.

Fac­ing your fears and befriend­ing them runs through all of these sto­ries. Vir­ginia Hamilton’s Wee Win­nie Witch’s Skin­ny, an orig­i­nal tale based on research into black folk­lore and illus­trat­ed by Bar­ry Moser, involves actu­al­ly out-wit­ting a very scary being. With more text and a more sto­ry-telling tone, the tale relates how James Lee’s Uncle Big Antho­ny is attacked by a cat who is real­ly Wee Win­nie Witch in dis­guise and who rides him through the sky at night. As weeks pass, Uncle Big Antho­ny “got lean and bent-over tired. He looked like some about gone, Uncle Shrunk­en Antho­ny.” Mama Granny comes to the res­cue with her spice-hot pep­per witch-be-gone.

bk_TwoWeeWitchWhen Wee Win­nie Witch takes off her skin that night to ride Uncle Big Antho­ny, she snatch­es James Lee from his win­dow and takes him rid­ing with them through the sky where he is both ter­ri­fied and thrilled. When Wee Win­nie Witch returns to the ground and puts on her skin again, she finds that Mama Granny has treat­ed the skin’s inside with her spice-hot pep­per witch-be-gone. The skin squeezes Wee Win­nie Witch so hard that she shriv­els into pieces on the floor. Uncle Big Antho­ny grad­u­al­ly returns to his for­mer self, and although James Lee nev­er wants to see a “skin­ny” again, the thought of the night-air ride up in the twin­kling stars still makes him say “Whew-wheee!”

This tale is gripping—and for me, a bit dis­turb­ing, or maybe thought-pro­vok­ing. I was trou­bled by the thought and image of the Wee Win­nie Witch rid­ing Big Uncle Antho­ny with the bri­dle in his mouth. But, as I thought about it, I won­dered if Hamil­ton was pos­si­bly remind­ing us of the degra­da­tion that slav­ery brought to black peo­ple. So many were bri­dled and lashed and worked to death. Hard to say. In any case this sto­ry has plen­ty of scare and a strong hero in Mama Granny.

Ter­ri­fied, thrilled, and brought back to a sense of safe­ty again: these sto­ries do all that but with dif­fer­ent lev­els of bk_TwoHamburgerter­ror. And because pic­ture books are usu­al­ly read aloud by a com­fort­ing adult and because we’re free to shut them and even put them under the couch cush­ion, we can choose how scared to be, know­ing that we can safe­ly close the book. But like James Lee, we might also say “Whew-wheee!”—then open the book to read it again.

And what kinds of sto­ries do ghosts tell to scare them­selves? Read The Haunt­ed Ham­burg­er by David LaRochelle and find out.


Skinny Dip with Amy Baum

gr_sleepy-hollow-moonWhat keeps you up at night?

The Dis­ney ver­sion of The Leg­end of Sleepy Hol­low. I had to sleep in my sister’s room for 6 months after that ter­ri­fy­ing car­toon.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

Lit­tle Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik. I loved Lit­tle Bear and his very func­tion­al fam­i­ly. Also, I thought it was sim­ply mag­i­cal that all of the let­ters spelled out a sto­ry. I am still a fan of large type (though that could be my age).

Dis­claimer: There was one sto­ry that caused many sleep­less nights: “Gob­lin Sto­ry” in Lit­tle Bear’s Vis­it. I high­ly rec­om­mend read­ing this sto­ry dur­ing a clear, bright day. A big shout out to Kim Fau­rot at the Saint Paul Pub­lic Library Children’s Room.

What’s Your favorite hol­i­day tra­di­tion?

Giv­ing Presents for all occa­sions – I am most cer­tain that there is a hol­i­day packed into every week of the year.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s chal­lenge?

Oy, such a chal­lenge. I have dyslex­ia, but that wasn’t a “thing” back in the six­ties – hence I was trun­dled off to speech ther­a­py. It was great fun. We did a lot of pup­pet shows with Steiff pup­pets – and while they were very itchy I was a proud por­cu­pine.

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

gr_aaxmanwithlogoYes, shop­ping, presents and hol­i­days all go hand-in-hand. I have a clos­et full of cool gift wrap which I buy all year round. I must admit to using gift bags on unwieldy items. Though one can get some swell box­es at The Ax-Man sur­plus store. It also delights me to watch the painstak­ing mea­sures some recip­i­ents will go to in an effort to pre­serve the wrap­ping paper. You peo­ple know who you are.

What 3 children’s book authors or illus­tra­tors or edi­tors would you like to invite to din­ner?

Such an unfair ques­tion. I would require the capac­i­ty of the Algo­nquin Round Table and I would try to accom­mo­date SOME list of some of my heroes:

  1. Mau­rice Sendak
  2. Ursu­la Nord­strom, aside from being a fab­u­lous edi­tor she wrote one of my favorite books of sec­ond grade, The Secret Lan­guage.
  3. Edward Gorey
  4. ph_wedgewoodMar­garet Wise Brown
  5. A.A. Milne
  6. E.L. Konigs­burg
  7. Eric Car­le
  8. Nan­cy Ekholm Burk­ert
  9. Wal­ter Dean Myers
  10. Beat­rix Pot­ter – I eat off her Peter Rab­bit Wedge­wood every day
  11. E.B. White
  12. Tomi Unger­er
  13. Char­lotte Zolo­tow
  14. Dr. Seuss
  15. M.E. Kerr

I am quite cer­tain that I am leav­ing sev­er­al impor­tant guests out. By the way – I would not cook out of def­er­ence of my guests – cater­ing all the way! I do not use my stove – I occa­sion­al­ly dust it.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

It is not often that some­one comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”– Charlotte’s Web

What book do you tell every­one to read?

The Phan­tom Toll­booth, Mr. Rab­bit and the Love­ly Present, The Nut­shell Library, The Moon Man, A Proud Taste for Scar­let and Miniv­er. It depends on who my audi­ence is and what their needs are at the time.

Are you a night owl or an ear­ly bird?

Both – night­time is for read­ing and hang­ing with my faith­ful dog. Morn­ing is for “catch­ing up.”


Avi: Bags of Cement

ph_CementBagsFor rea­sons both bor­ing and com­plex, I cur­rent­ly find myself under oblig­a­tion to deliv­er four nov­els before the next twelve months are out. Two are writ­ten, but under­go­ing revi­sions. A third has start­ed. The fourth has noth­ing on paper; only in my mind. Is it an acci­dent that my shoul­ders have been aching, as if I had been car­ry­ing bags of cement up a lad­der? 

When friends hear of this they ask, “How you going to do that?” The answer is, by sit­ting in front of my com­put­er and work­ing from about sev­en AM until sev­en PM. I’ll take Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas off. Joke.

There is some­thing to be said for dead­line writ­ing, espe­cial­ly when you make your liv­ing that way. Yet, I sus­pect the term “dead­line” came about because when you reach the fin­ish­ing line, you are dead. Then again, one of my sons is a jour­nal­ist, and he has dai­ly, some­times hourly dead­lines. I admire that, from a dis­tance. He con­sid­ers my pace “leisure­ly.”

That said, work­ing obses­sive­ly has its own rewards. You do not put up with your own non­sense. Pro­lix­i­ty means more work. Rep­e­ti­tion is to be dread­ed, and cut. Lean, sharp writ­ing flows. Bad writ­ing is a like a wash-board road. You become so immersed in your sto­ry you think about it all the time, which can be very pro­duc­tive. (Wait! What if she does this? Shouldn’t he say that?)

ph_WashboardRoad_smYou can, if you write a lot, move quick­ly on to the next project because you have no choice. You can’t fall in love with your work because you are not engaged in a life-long rela­tion­ship. Hon­est­ly, when I read about the writ­ers who spend ten years (or more) on a nov­el, my heart goes out to them. Ground­hog Day was a fun­ny, clever movie, but I for one would not like to live my writ­ing life that way.

More­over, if you are always writ­ing, it is hard to feel riv­et­ed to the out­come of your just-pub­lished work. Sure, it’s fun to read the reviews (the good ones that is), but by the time that book is being pub­lished, I am so involved in the next book, it is not so very impor­tant. I feel sor­ry for the writer who can­not move on until the full cycle (writ­ing-revi­sion-pub­lish­ing-response) is com­plete.

And yet … and yet, I have the respon­si­bil­i­ty (to my read­ers, my pub­lish­ers, and myself) to make each book good, as good as I can. This is dif­fi­cult because no book is ever tru­ly done. I can always find ways to make it bet­ter. Not so long ago I picked up a just-pub­lished book (I had worked on it for more than a year) and read the first para­graph. Instant­ly I real­ized I should have added an ele­ment to the plot that would have made it a much bet­ter book. Too late.

Would I rather work on one book at a time, work on it from start to fin­ish, before mov­ing on to the next? Sure. 

But no mat­ter how you do it, writ­ing is rather like car­ry­ing bags of cement up a lad­der. The real prob­lem is—I love doing it.


Plotting Your Route

by Lisa Bullard

10_8PaulBunyanUsing an “I’ll just see where the road takes me” approach has led me on all sorts of adven­tures. But it’s also meant I’ve arrived at mid­night and dis­cov­ered every hotel room in town is rent­ed to lum­ber­jacks.

I still don’t plan ahead for lum­ber­jack influxes—I figure one of those per life­time is prob­a­bly my quota—but that expe­ri­ence has forced me to rethink my approach a bit.

I’ve learned the same thing about writ­ing road trips. My ear­li­er, short­er projects didn’t trav­el enough dis­tance to require plan­ning ahead. I always had a final des­ti­na­tion in mind (the end­ing of a sto­ry is clear to me ear­ly in the process). But I didn’t wor­ry over the how-to-get-there details. A few unex­pect­ed detours just meant more fun.

It was dif­fer­ent when I began draft­ing a nov­el. I jumped in with my usu­al spon­ta­neous approach, steer­ing towards the end­ing but explor­ing all the intrigu­ing side roads. Then my char­ac­ter dug in his heels and refused to move for­ward. I sud­den­ly rec­og­nized what a vast expanse stretched between the begin­ning and the end­ing, and I com­plete­ly stalled out.

I reluc­tant­ly rec­og­nized it was time to plot my route. As soon as I had that out­line in place, I began writ­ing again at full speed. I’m not a full out­line con­vert, but I now see that a road map can be an impor­tant writ­ing tool.

Some young writ­ers are nat­ur­al out­lin­ers. Oth­ers are like me, dragged to it only by neces­si­ty. You can help these “out­line resis­tant” stu­dents devel­op their out­lin­ing skills. For exam­ple, you can work togeth­er as a class to out­line a pub­lished sto­ry. Or you can out­line a “typ­i­cal” human life or a cal­en­dar year for prac­tice.

Some­times even the most spon­ta­neous writer needs to stop and plot their route in order to make for­ward progress.


Skinny Dip with Nancy Bo Flood

ph_popcornWhat keeps you up at night?

Pop­corn in the brain. Ideas are pop­ping and images are stream­ing through my brain. I know that if I don’t get up (ugh, real­ly, 3 am?) and write them down, I won’t have a clue in the morn­ing what they were. All those bril­liant ideas, gone! I like to read a chap­ter from my cur­rent work just before I go to bed. The thoughts stir up new ideas, some­times even solu­tions to prob­lems. Of course some­times I look at what I’ve writ­ten in the mid­dle of the night and there are no trea­sures, just stale pop­corn. Some­times there are some real jew­els, like find­ing the mag­ic ring in a box of Crack­er Jacks.

What is your proud­est career moment?

Cowboy Up!Two very hap­py moments—from this past year. I was asked to read from Cow­boy Up! Ride the Nava­jo Rodeo at the Poet­ry Roundup ses­sion of the Texas Library Con­fer­ence. Me, a poet? Watch­ing kids race hors­es around bar­rels, throw a las­so from on top a gal­lop­ing horse to snag a dodg­ing calf’s back hoof—now that’s poet­ry. My favorite is watch­ing the “mut­ton bust­ing” three– and four–year-olds ride a buck­ing sheep. That was the inspi­ra­tion for my favorite poem. When I shared this poem with about 200 librar­i­ans at their Texas con­fer­ence, they all kind­ly stood up and pre­tend­ed to ride along. Librar­i­ans are hero­ic. They got right on that imag­i­nary sheep, held one hand up high, and grabbed tight onto a fist­ful of wool.

My hap­pi­est career moments hap­pen when I’m with stu­dents, espe­cial­ly the respons­es I’ve received from Nava­jo school chil­dren. Dur­ing author vis­its they give me a big smile and say, “You wrote Nava­jo Year? That is my favorite book.” The very best moment of all occurred while read­ing from Cow­boy Up! Ride the Nava­jo Rodeo to a class­room of sec­ond-graders at Many Farms Ele­men­tary. This lit­tle guy wear­ing a too-big tee shirt, jeans, and cow­boy boots, looked at me, grinned, and raised his hand. Then he said, “I am in your book.”

Less than 1% of the books pub­lished for chil­dren are by or about con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can Indi­ans. Child­hood is short; chil­dren grow up fast. All chil­dren need to see them­selves in books, now.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Eques­tri­an! I have imag­ined com­pet­ing on the com­bined eques­tri­an event which includes dres­sage, cross-coun­try, and jump­ing. As a child I wished for, begged for, even plot­ted for get­ting a horse of my own. No luck. But as soon as I was grown up and liv­ing in the coun­try with room for a horse, I bought a horse, a strong beau­ti­ful, calm gold­en palomi­no, Natchee. My next dream was to be become a “real rid­er,” which meant not being scared of the horse. I want­ed to be able to walk out into a pas­ture through wild wav­ing grass, catch my horse with just a rope hal­ter, slip on a bri­dle, and ride. Fast. Leap over ditch­es and splash through creeks. And I did. Once I even jumped over a pic­nic table! Natchee and I were rid­ing in the Olympics.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

bk_BoFloodWarriorsSwim with sharks. As part of my research for War­riors in the Cross­fire, I need­ed to pad­dle my kayak over the reef, leave the safe calm lagoon behind, and head to the open ocean. I loved snor­kel­ing in the lagoon. I could see bottom—white sand 30 or 40 feet below with fish of all col­ors nib­bling on coral heads. But in the open ocean, when I looked down, there was blue that con­tin­ued until it became black. That alone sent shiv­ers up my back. But my main char­ac­ter in War­riors jumps out of his out­rig­ger to save the life of his friend. They had been hunt­ing tur­tle in the open ocean and, mean­while, a shark had begun hunt­ing them.

So I pad­dled out. I put on mask and snorkel and slipped over­board. The rise and fall of the waves made me a bit nau­se­at­ed. I was so scared my heart was pound­ing, and I was still hold­ing on to the side of the kayak. I need­ed to let go and drift around a bit. Every shad­ow and shift of light under the sea’s sur­face looked like the sil­hou­ette of some kind of hun­gry sea crea­ture. I kicked away from the kayak and then I saw them. Beneath me. The sleek backs of three reef sharks! I watched them cir­cle around and then one shark slow­ly come direct­ly at me. There was no time to haul myself back into the kayak. If I could have walked on water, I ph_Grey_reef_shark2would have. The shark was so close I couldn’t think, I auto­mat­i­cal­ly did what I’d been taught in those bor­ing div­ing lessons. I fist­ed my hand and punched him in the nose. He turned and dis­ap­peared. Would he return? With my arms pum­mel­ing like a crazed wind mill, I swam to the kayak, with­out breath­ing, with­out car­ing how much I was splash­ing. I pulled myself up over the side expect­ing to feel teeth chomp through my legs. Final­ly all of me was in the kayak. My whole body was shak­ing but I pad­dled back over the reef and straight to shore. I lay on the warm wet sand, closed my eyes, felt the safe, hot sun.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

Bugs and Insects, the World Book Ency­clo­pe­dia, and com­ic books.  I grew up in a rur­al farm area of Illi­nois. We did not have a library or a book­store. My par­ents val­ued edu­ca­tion and the first step was learn­ing to read. My old­er broth­er could read and I was deter­mined to read, too. But there wasn’t much avail­able. My par­ents bought a set of World Book and Child­craft Ency­clo­pe­dias. My dad was a bas­ket­ball coach and the team earned extra mon­ey to pay for “away” tour­na­ments by col­lect­ing news­pa­pers for recy­cling. Dad drove a pick-up truck and my broth­er and I got to help load tied-up stacks of news­pa­pers into the back of the truck. Our pay­ment was when we unloaded the stacks, we could search through the piles of news­pa­pers for dis­card­ed com­ic books.

I read one book of the ency­clo­pe­dia at a time, alter­nat­ing with Bugs and Insects, and com­ic books. For many years that was my sum­mer read­ing!


Authors Emeritus: Virginia Lee Burton

ph_VirginiaLeeBurtonVir­ginia Lee Bur­ton was born on August 30, 1909 in New­ton Cen­tre, Mass­a­chu­setts. She stud­ied art at the Cal­i­for­nia School of Fine Arts and the Boston Muse­um School. One of her ear­li­est jobs was as a “sketch­er” for the arts sec­tion of the Boston Tran­script.

She mar­ried George Demetrios, a sculp­tor and her teacher at the Muse­um School, in 1931. They set­tled in Glouces­ter, Mass­a­chu­setts, where they had two sons. “I lit­er­al­ly draw my books first and write down the text after “I pin the sketched pages in sequence on the walls of my stu­dio so I can see the books as a whole. Then I make a rough dum­my and then the final draw­ings, and at last when I can put it off no longer, I type out the text and paste it in the bk_mikedum­my.”

Thir­teen pub­lish­ers reject­ed her first man­u­script about a dust par­ti­cle, Jonif­fer Lint. When her three-year-old son fell asleep on her lap while she read it to him, she stopped send­ing it to pub­lish­ers, and there­after relied on chil­dren as her pri­ma­ry crit­ics.

Her clas­sic books have nev­er been out of print and are cur­rent­ly embraced by a fourth gen­er­a­tion of ear­ly read­ers. She won the 1942 Calde­cott Medal for The Lit­tle House. Vir­ginia Lee Bur­ton died Octo­ber 15, 1968.

For more infor­ma­tion on the author, her books, and her design work, please vis­it Vir­ginia Lee Bur­ton, The Film.



Interview: Eric Rohmann

Bull­doz­er’s Big Day
writ­ten by Can­dace Flem­ing
illus­trat­ed by Eric Rohmann
Atheneum, 2015

inter­view by Vic­ki Palmquist

What’s the illus­tra­tion tool you turn to more than any oth­er?

Graphite pen­cil. Sim­ple, effi­cient, erasable, feels good in the hand, makes a love­ly line with infi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties for line vari­a­tion. Did I men­tion that it’s erasable? Always for­giv­ing!

What illus­tra­tion tech­nique haven’t you tried that keeps call­ing out to you?

Relief print­mak­ing. The tech­nique gives you so much—the qual­i­ty of the mark, the lay­er­ing of col­or look dif­fer­ent than any­thing I can make with any oth­er tech­nique.

What do you do when you’ve run out of inspi­ra­tion? What gets you going again?

Mak­ing some­thing. Look­ing at some­thing oth­ers have made. It’s a big world out there and there is plen­ty to see.


Eric’s stu­dio

Who is your favorite illus­tra­tor who is no longer with us? And it could be more than one per­son.

William Stieg…and  Helen Sewell, Wan­da Gag, Mau­rice Sendak, Crock­ett John­son, Robert McCloskey, Vir­ginia Lee Bur­ton, James Marshall…just to name a few.

Did win­ning the Calde­cott (medal and hon­ors) change how you think about your work?

Yes. It made me more atten­tive, more ded­i­cat­ed, more aware of my audi­ence. It also took off the pres­sure of ever think­ing about such things again!

How and where do you and Can­dy talk over a new project?

bk_OhNoEvery­where and any­where. Bulldozer’s Big Day was begun on a car ride from Indi­anapo­lis to Chica­go. Giant Squid at an ALA hotel room. Oh, No! in Bor­neo while walk­ing in the jun­gle.

If you could sit down with four oth­er book artists, liv­ing or dead, and have din­ner and a con­ver­sa­tion, who would they be?

This is not fair! Just four? Hmmm… William Stieg, Beat­rix Pot­ter, M.T. Ander­son, Mau­rice Sendak. 


Laughter and Grief

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Dragons in the WatersThere are books we remem­ber all of our lives, even if we can’t remem­ber the details. Some­times we can’t even remem­ber the sto­ry, but we remem­ber the char­ac­ters and how they made us feel. We recall being trans­port­ed into the pages of the book, see­ing what the char­ac­ters see, hear­ing what they hear, and under­stand­ing the time and spaces and breath­ing in and out of the char­ac­ters. Do we become those char­ac­ters, at least for a lit­tle while, at least until we move on to the next book? Is this why we can remem­ber them long after we’ve fin­ished the book?

This col­umn is called Read­ing Ahead because I’m one of those peo­ple oth­ers revile: I read the end of the book before I’ve pro­gressed to that point in the sto­ry. I read straight through for as long as I can stand it and then I have to know how the sto­ry ends. I tell myself that I do this because then I can observe the writ­ing and how the author weaves the end­ing into the book long before the last pages. That’s par­tial­ly true. But I also admit that the ten­sion becomes unbear­able for me.

When I find a book that is so deli­cious that I don’t want to know the end until its prop­er time, then I know that I am read­ing a book whose char­ac­ters will live on in me. Their cells move from the pages of the book into my arms and shoul­ders, head­ing straight to my mind and my heart.

The Wednesday WarsFor me, those books are The Rid­dle­mas­ter of Hed by Patri­cia McKil­lip, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (but not The Hob­bit), The Wiz­ard of Earth­sea by Ursu­la K. LeGuin, The Dark is Ris­ing by Susan Coop­er, Drag­ons in the Waters and Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle, and every one of the Deep Val­ley books writ­ten by Maud Hart Lovelace. 

There are some new­er books that haven’t yet been test­ed by time. I could feel that I was absorb­ing The Wednes­day Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor by Avi and Absolute­ly, Tru­ly by Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick.  There are many, many oth­er books that I admire and enjoy read­ing but I don’t feel them becom­ing a part of me in quite the same way.

I sus­pect that you have a short list of books that make you feel like this. They are an unfor­get­table part of you.

Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken HeartI’ve just fin­ished read­ing Isabelle Day Refus­es to Die of a Bro­ken Heart by Jane St. Antho­ny (Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press). It is a fun­ny and absorb­ing book about learn­ing to deal with grief. That’s a place I’ve lived for the last four years in a way I hadn’t expe­ri­enced before. When my moth­er died, my all-my-life friend, an essen­tial part of me was trans­formed into some­thing else. I don’t yet know what that is.

Isabelle Day is learn­ing about this, too. Her father, her pal, her fun­ny man, her let-me-show-you-the-delights-of-life-kid par­ent has died short­ly before the book begins. Her moth­er is in the throes of grief, pulled inward, not com­mu­ni­cat­ing well. Isabelle and her moth­er have moved from Mil­wau­kee, where close friends and a famil­iar house stand strong, to Min­neapo­lis, where Isabelle’s mom grew up. They are liv­ing upstairs in a duplex owned by two elder­ly sis­ters who imme­di­ate­ly share friend­ship and food and wis­dom with Isabelle, some­thing she’s feel­ing too prick­ly to accept. There are new friends whom Isabelle does­n’t trust to be true.

But for any­one who has expe­ri­enced grief, this book will reach out and touch you gen­tly, soft­ly, let­ting you know that oth­ers under­stand what you are feel­ing. Isabelle comes to under­stand that she doesn’t have to feel alone … the world is wait­ing to be expe­ri­enced in oth­er, new ways.

It’s a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten book in that the words fit togeth­er in love­ly, some­times sur­pris­ing, some­times star­tling ways. There is great care tak­en with the sto­ry and the char­ac­ters. And yet the unex­pect­ed is always around the cor­ner. Isabelle is a com­plex per­son. She does not act pre­dictably. There is no sense of “woe is me” in this book. There’s a whole class of what I call “whiny books” (most­ly adult) and this isn’t one of them. This book is filled with life, won­der, humor, and most­ly under­stand­ing.

Isabelle and Grace and Mar­garet, Miss Flo­ra and Miss Dora, they are all a part of me now. When I am feel­ing sad and miss­ing the peo­ple I have lost, I will re-read this book because I know it will pro­vide heal­ing. And I can laugh … it’s been hard to do that. Thank you, Jane.


Authors Emeritus: Lynd Ward

ph_LyndWardBorn in Chica­go on June 26, 1905, Lynd Ward, the son of a Methodist min­is­ter, grew up mov­ing around and liv­ing close to new immi­grants. Ward was a sick­ly baby and the fam­i­ly moved to north­ern Cana­da for sev­er­al months hop­ing his health would improve.

Upon the family’s return, Ward, now a health­i­er child, nev­er lost his bond with the wilder­ness. While at col­lege he met and mar­ried his wife, May McNeer, and left for Leipzig, Ger­many with her short­ly after grad­u­a­tion.

bk_BiggestBearWard’s illus­tra­tions show his respect for all peo­ple and the effects of his stay in the Cana­di­an wilder­ness. Among his books are Calde­cott Medal win­ner, The Biggest Bear (1952), The Sil­ver Pony: A Sto­ry in Pic­tures (1973), a word­less pic­ture book, sev­er­al biogra­phies of famous Amer­i­cans, and one of Mar­tin Luther. A num­ber of these books were writ­ten by his wife, May McNeer.

Among the awards received by Ward are the Regi­na Award in 1975, the Carteret Book Club award for illus­tra­tion, and oth­ers. Two New­bery win­ners were illus­trat­ed by Ward and anoth­er six books with Ward’s illus­tra­tions were named New­bery Hon­or books.

bk_GodsManWard was also an inno­v­a­tive cre­ator of books for adults. He made the first Amer­i­can word­less nov­el, Gods’ Man, which was pub­lished in 1929. He made five more such works: Mad­man’s Drum (1930), Wild Pil­grim­age (1932), Pre­lude to a Mil­lion Years (1933), Song With­out Words (1936), and Ver­ti­go (1937).

The Lynd Ward Graph­ic Nov­el Prize, spon­sored by Penn State Uni­ver­si­ty Libraries, is pre­sent­ed annu­al­ly to the best graph­ic nov­el, fic­tion or non-fic­tion, pub­lished in the pre­vi­ous cal­en­dar year by a liv­ing U.S. or Cana­di­an cit­i­zen or res­i­dent.

Lynd Ward died in 1985.


Slideshow: Block Print Illustration

Eric Rohmann’s won­der­ful illus­tra­tions for Bulldozer’s Big Day were made using block prints, also called relief prints.  This tech­nique has long been used to illus­trate children’s books, espe­cial­ly ear­ly ABC books such as the The Lad­der to Learn­ing by Miss Lovechild, pub­lished in 1852 by the New York firm R.H. Pease.


The Bookol­o­gist has put togeth­er a slide show of some of our more recent print-illus­trat­ed books. Many of these are Calde­cott medal or hon­or books. You can find an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion of Calde­cott books illus­trat­ed with print­mak­ing tech­niques here.


From the Editor

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

written by Candace Fleming  illustrated by Eric Rohmann  Atheneum, 2015

Atheneum, 2015

Wel­come! It’s the first Tues­day of the month and time to launch a new month of Bookol­o­gy. Our Octo­ber Book­storm™ has as its cen­ter­piece the won­der­ful pic­ture book Bulldozer’s Big Day, the first time we’ve focused on a pic­ture book for young read­ers.

Bulldozer’s Big Day was writ­ten by Sib­ert hon­or author Can­dace Flem­ing and illus­trat­ed by Calde­cott Medal­ist Eric Rohmann. We will fea­ture inter­views with both, begin­ning today with our con­ver­sa­tion with Eric Rohmann.

Rohmann’s block print art for Bull­doz­er trig­gered a dis­cus­sion between var­i­ous bookol­o­gists about oth­er print-illus­trat­ed children’s books, and put togeth­er a slide show of some of the stand-outs of the last cou­ple of decades. Have your own favorite? Let us know.

Our reg­u­lar colum­nists will be writ­ing through the month about their lat­est book or writ­ing dis­cov­er­ies; today: Read­ing Ahead author Vic­ki Palmquist on Isabelle Day Refus­es to Die of a Bro­ken Heart, a new mid­dle grade nov­el by Jane St. Antho­ny and many oth­er books that deal with “Laugh­ter and Grief.”

Don’t for­get to check out our two lat­est Authors Emer­i­tus posts about Vir­ginia Lee Bur­ton and Lynd Ward, who both used block print tech­niques in their illus­tra­tion work.  


Eric Shabazz Larkin, illus.
Read­ers to Eaters, 2013

Octo­ber is a month of change in the north­ern hemi­sphere, so why not change a world record? Two orga­ni­za­tions are look­ing to claim the world record of most chil­dren-read-to-in-a-day.

On Octo­ber 19, 2015, Points of Light, a Hous­ton-based non­prof­it, will attempt to estab­lish a new world record by ral­ly­ing vol­un­teers to read to over 300,000 chil­dren in 24 hours. The cam­paign book for this attempt is Farmer Will Allen and the Grow­ing Table, writ­ten by Bookol­o­gy colum­nist Jack­ie Brig­gs Mar­tin!

The cur­rent world record is held by the non­prof­it Jump­start, which in asso­ci­a­tion with Can­dlewick Press, has for ten years run a glob­al cam­paign, Read for the Record® that gen­er­ates pub­lic sup­port for high-qual­i­ty ear­ly learn­ing by mobi­liz­ing mil­lions of chil­dren and adults to take part

Noah Z. Jones, illus. Candlewick, 2005

Noah Z. Jones, illus.

Can­dlewick, 2005

in the world’s largest shared read­ing expe­ri­ence. This year’s attempt is sched­uled for Octo­ber 22; the cam­paign book is Not Nor­man: A Gold­fish Sto­ry, by Kel­ly Ben­nett.

And, final­ly, it is a truth uni­ver­sal­ly acknowl­edged that any Octo­ber issue of a mag­a­zine must include some­thing relat­ed to Hal­loween.  We’ve got that cov­ered with this month’s Two for the Show col­umn: “What Scares You?,” in which Phyl­lis Root and Jack­ie Brig­gs Mar­tin dis­cuss the role of fear in books for young read­ers and spot­light a few books that deliv­er on a scary promise. Look for their con­ver­sa­tion Octo­ber 14.

As always, thank you for tak­ing the time to vis­it Bookol­o­gy.


Bookstorm™: Bulldozer’s Big Day


written by Candace Fleming  illustrated by Eric Rohmann  Atheneum, 2015

writ­ten by Can­dace Flem­ing 
illus­trat­ed by Eric Rohmann 
Atheneum, 2015

It’s Bulldozer’s big day—his birth­day! But around the con­struc­tion site, it seems like every­one is too busy to remem­ber. Bull­doz­er wheels around ask­ing his truck friends if they know what day it is, but they each only say it’s a work day. They go on scoop­ing, sift­ing, stir­ring, fill­ing, and lift­ing, and lit­tle Bull­doz­er grows more and more glum. But when the whis­tle blows at the end of the busy day, Bull­doz­er dis­cov­ers a con­struc­tion site sur­prise, espe­cial­ly for him!

An ide­al book for a read-aloud to that child sit­ting by you or to a class­room full of chil­dren or to a sto­ry­time group gath­ered togeth­er, Bull­doz­er’s Big Day is fun to read because of all the ono­matopoeia and the won­der­ful sur­prise end­ing.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. For Bull­doz­er’s Big Day, you’ll find books for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. The book will be com­fort­ably read to ages 3 through 7. We’ve includ­ed pic­ture books, non­fic­tion, videos, web­sites, and des­ti­na­tions that com­ple­ment the book, all encour­ag­ing ear­ly lit­er­a­cy.

Build­ing Projects. There have been many fine books pub­lished about design­ing and con­struct­ing hous­es, cities, and dreams. We share a few books to encour­age and inspire your young dream­ers.

Con­struc­tion Equip­ment. Who can resist lis­ten­ing to and watch­ing the large vari­ety of vehi­cles used on a con­struc­tion project? You’ll find both books and links to videos.

Birth­day Par­ties. This is the oth­er large theme in Bull­doz­er’s Big Day and we sug­gest books such as Xan­der’s Pan­da Par­ty that offer oth­er approach­es to talk­ing about birth­days.

Dirt, Soil, Earth. STEM dis­cus­sions can be a part of ear­ly lit­er­a­cy, too. Get ready to dish the dirt! 

Lone­li­ness. Much like Bull­doz­er, chil­dren (and adults) can feel let down, ignored, left out … and books are a good way to start the dis­cus­sion about resilien­cy and cop­ing with these feel­ings.

Sur­pris­es. If you work with chil­dren, or have chil­dren of your own, you know how tricky sur­pris­es and expec­ta­tions can be. We’ve includ­ed books such as Wait­ing by Kevin Henkes and Han­da’s Sur­prise by Eileen Browne.

Friend­ship. An ever-pop­u­lar theme in chil­dren’s books, we’ve select­ed a few of the very best, includ­ing A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by the Steads.

Let us know how you are mak­ing use of this Book­storm™. Share your ideas and any oth­er books you’d add to this Book­storm™.