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

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.
Serv­ings: 6


  • 13 cup veg­etable oil plus more for pots
  • 34 cup unsweet­ened cocoa pow­der plus more for dust­ing
  • 12 cups all-pur­pose flour
  • 12 cups sug­ar
  • 12 tea­spoons bak­ing soda
  • 34 tea­spoon bak­ing pow­der
  • 34 tea­spoon salt
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
  • 34 cup but­ter­milk
  • 34 tea­spoon pure vanil­la extract
  • Quick Choco­late Frost­ing
  • 12 cup crushed choco­late wafer cook­ies about 10, for gar­nish
  • Mul­ti­col­ored peb­ble-shaped choco­late can­dies for gar­nish
  • Mint sprigs for gar­nish


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Frost cakes with an off­set spat­u­la; sprin­kle with crushed cook­ies. Top with can­dies; “plant” 1 mint sprig in each cake.


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

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™.


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