Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Bookstorm™: Giant Squid

Giant Squid Bookstorm

Giant SquidGiant Squid pro­vides an excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ty to teach about one of the most myth­i­cal, unknown, and yet real crea­tures on earth, the Giant Squid. The incred­i­ble illus­tra­tions by Eric Rohmann help the reader’s per­cep­tion of how large this deep sea crea­ture is and how mys­te­ri­ous. Found so deep with­in the sea, there is very lit­tle light. How did Eric Rohmann cre­ate the sense of this water dark­ness and the release of ink, a defense mech­a­nism? How did Can­dace Flem­ing write with spare text and yet tell us so many fas­ci­nat­ing details about the Giant Squid?

Our Book­storm will take you into fur­ther explo­ration, study­ing bio­lu­mi­nes­cence, oth­er deep sea crea­tures, ocean ecol­o­gy, oceanog­ra­phers, and more.

There are excel­lent resources in the back mat­ter of the book as well. We trust you will find inspi­ra­tion and resources aplen­ty with­in the Book­storm to accom­pa­ny your study of Giant Squid. 

Downloadable

You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Can­dace Flem­ing on her web­site. And read about illus­tra­tor Eric Rohmann on his web­site.

There’s a Teach­ing Guide avail­able for Giant Squid, writ­ten by nat­u­ral­ist Lee Ann Land­strom.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

  • Bio­lu­mi­nes­cence
  • Deep Sea Crea­tures
  • Fic­tion
  • Giant Squid, in par­tic­u­lar
  • Oceans
  • Rel­a­tive Size
  • Sci­en­tif­ic Explo­ration

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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Santa’s Favorite Story

Ver­i­ly, as if on cue, I have field­ed the year’s first parental ques­tion about San­ta Claus. It is the whis­pered earnest­ness of the askers that keeps me from rolling my eyes. What role, if any, should San­ta have in a Chris­t­ian fam­i­ly….? they whis­per lean­ing away from the baby on their hip, lest that babe be tipped off. It’s always their first child. They want to do things right. They’re absolute­ly so dear, and I feel priv­i­leged that they come to me, even as I think this is large­ly a stu­pid ques­tion. I’m with John­ny Cash: Joy to the world, and here comes San­ta Claus!

I can tell which way they’re lean­ing as soon as I tell them how much I love San­ta. They either blink polite­ly, or look tremen­dous­ly relieved. (Dis­claimer: I respect either, but I’m more inter­est­ed in talk­ing to the lat­ter.) Either way, I tell them some­thing about the his­to­ry of St. Nicholas, which we cel­e­brate each Decem­ber 6th in our house­hold. This gives the man in red some reli­gious cre­den­tials if that seems impor­tant to the fam­i­ly. Then I tell them about San­ta and Coca-Cola, which I find utter­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. (I also find it fas­ci­nat­ing that snopes.com cov­ers the sto­ry.) I usu­al­ly end my impas­sioned speech for San­ta with a poor­ly para­phrased ver­sion of G. K. Chesterton’s views on San­ta, which can be found in the sec­ond half of this med­i­ta­tion. (The first half is excel­lent, as well, but I should mem­o­rize the sec­ond half.)

If they’re still with me—by which I mean they’re true believ­ers in San­ta and they were only tem­porar­i­ly delud­ed into think­ing they need­ed to give that up to be respon­si­ble and faith­ful parents—I tell them about Hisako Aoki’s and Ivan Gantschev’s book, Santa’s Favorite Sto­ry.

This book is so sim­ple, so good, so right. The ani­mals in the for­est dis­cov­er San­ta asleep against a tree and they are alarmed. San­ta! ASLEEP?! They wake him and San­ta explains that he’d gone for a hike to get in shape for Christ­mas Eve. When he got tired, he decid­ed to take a nap. San­ta nap­ping?! He mus­es that maybe all the presents will be too much for him this year.

Does that mean there won’t be a Christ­mas any­more?” the fox asks, giv­ing voice to the wor­ries of the entire forest’s pop­u­la­tion.

That’s when San­ta tells them the sto­ry of The First Christ­mas. Four spreads lay out the sto­ry told in the Gospel of Luke, com­plete with shep­herds and sheep, a bright star, and the babe lying in the manger. San­ta tells his fur­ry audi­ence that God gave love that first Christ­mas and love is the best present there is.

It’s an enor­mous­ly sat­is­fy­ing book, and it’s still in print, I believe—somewhat remark­able giv­en that the orig­i­nal copy­right is 1982. I love how it holds the two most famous peo­ple of Christ­mas togeth­er and deliv­ers a gen­tle cri­tique of ram­pant con­sumerism at the same time. Amen, I say! Get your­self a copy and have a read this Christ­mas. Amen.

 

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Wish

wish200I did not grow up in the south, but my par­ents did, so I like to claim a lit­tle south­ern her­itage. When my kids were younger, I loved read­ing them books set in the south—willing into their souls the humid­i­ty, bar­be­cue, iced tea with lemon, and accents that have the rhythm of rock­ing chairs found on great big porch­es. They enjoyed hear­ing how my grand­par­ents called me “Sug­ar,” and I felt it vital­ly impor­tant they under­stand that Mis­souri peach­es just might be bet­ter than the famed Geor­gia peach­es. (It’s true–no offense to Geor­gia.)

I’m a big fan of Bar­bara O’Connor’s novels—whether they’re explic­it­ly set in the south or not they feel south­ern, and when I pick them up I know I will enjoy them. So as soon as I heard her lat­est book, Wish, was com­ing out, I put a reserve on it at the library, where it was already ordered for when it came out months down the road. This is my sys­tem so I don’t for­get about great books com­ing out. (Which sel­dom happens—for the real­ly great books, anyway—but maybe that’s because I use this sys­tem, who knows?)

By the time the library noti­fied me my copy was in, I’d already bought the book and read and loved it. So I pulled my reserved copy off the hold shelves and went to the check-out desk to let them know I didn’t need it any­more. I took my place in line behind a lit­tle girl stand­ing with her moth­er. She was wear­ing a win­ter coat even though it was about six­ty degrees that day. Min­neso­ta had a love­ly extend­ed fall this year, which Min­nesotans were in awe of as we ran around in our short sleeves almost to Thanks­giv­ing, but new­com­ers still thought it was cold.

I heard the girl’s moth­er talk­ing to the librar­i­an. Her voice was a gen­tle rock­ing chair voice. They were sign­ing up for library cards. The girl stared at me, eye­ing me up and down. Some­what sus­pi­cious­ly, per­haps. Maybe it was my short sleeves.

She looked at Wish, which I was hold­ing down by my side. “Is that book about a dawg?” she asked, tilt­ing her head the same way as the book.

There’s a dog in it, yes. His name is Wish­bone,” I said, point­ing to the beagly look­ing dog on the cov­er.

What’s that girl’s name?” she asked point­ing to the girl on the cov­er with the dog.

Her name is Char­lie.”

That’s a boy’s name,” she fired back.

I hand­ed her the book because I could tell she want­ed to look at it straight on.

Her mama named her Charle­magne. She liked Char­lie bet­ter,” I said. “It’s a real­ly good book.”

What’sitabout?” she asked all in one word.

It’s about wishes…and friends…and home…and fam­i­ly. It’s about a girl liv­ing in a new place and she’s not sure if she likes it or not.”

Does any­thing bad hap­pen to that dawg?” she asked war­i­ly.

Nope,” I said.

She hand­ed the book back to me.

Maybe you’d like to read it?” I said. “I’m not check­ing it out, I’m return­ing it.” It was my turn at the library desk.

I explained to the library work­er that I didn’t need the book and asked if the lit­tle girl walk­ing toward the door with her moth­er could check it out instead. Alas, some­one was wait­ing for it, and things hap­pen in cer­tain order­ly ways at the library, so they couldn’t check it out to her. I decid­ed not to be irri­tat­ed by this and checked it out any­way since it was still tech­ni­cal­ly my turn.

I fol­lowed the girl and her moth­er out the door to the park­ing lot and gave them the book. I told them I bor­rowed it for them and I told the moth­er I thought she’d do a great job read­ing it out loud. I told the girl I thought she would enjoy it a lot. They both thanked me. The moth­er said, “Bless your heart!” about five times.

And my heart was blessed.

What if they don’t return it?” the library work­er said when I walked back in the library. “It’s checked out on your card.”

If they need to keep it, I’ll pay for it,” I said.

We’ll find out in a few weeks, I guess. But I’m not wor­ried.

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Traveling Back Through Time

Photo by Ren at Morguefile.comA few years ago anoth­er Lau­ra Ingalls Wilder fan and I made a pil­grim­age to Wal­nut Grove, Min­neso­ta. Oth­er faith­ful fol­low­ers will remem­ber that tiny town as the set­ting for On the Banks of Plum Creek as well as the TV ver­sion of the books.

Our favorite expe­ri­ence of the day was vis­it­ing the Ingalls Dugout Site. I’ve been to a lot of places with his­tor­i­cal rel­e­vance, all around the world—but almost none of them have giv­en me as much keen plea­sure as this one. Oth­er than a wood­en bridge across Plum Creek and a sim­ple sign, there is almost no evi­dence of human habi­ta­tion. You feel as if you are see­ing the spot exact­ly as it was when Lau­ra first set eyes on it near­ly 140 years ago—but with­out any fear that some­body wear­ing a sun­bon­net is going to spring up and start churn­ing but­ter as some kind of recre­at­ed his­to­ry.

We had the place com­plete­ly to our­selves. We hap­pi­ly dab­bled our toes in the waters of Plum Creek. We plant­ed our­selves atop the sod roof of the dugout (now just a depres­sion in the side of the creek bank), and sight­ed across prairie grass­es that stretched far away to the hori­zon. We rev­eled in a ser­e­nade of song­birds. For one whole hour, we lived between the cov­ers of a book. And then we got back in our car and drove home to the city.

One of my favorite pieces of writ­ing advice comes from author Faith Sul­li­van. I share it here for you to pass along to your stu­dents. When you are writ­ing about a story’s set­ting, don’t leave the read­er feel­ing like a dis­tant observ­er. Don’t go on for para­graph after para­graph with sta­t­ic set­ting details and bor­ing descrip­tions. Instead, have your char­ac­ter inter­act with the set­ting. Give the read­er small, telling details of the set­ting as the char­ac­ter engages with it.

In oth­er words, show a char­ac­ter run­ning through the tall grass­es, pushed along by the sneaky prairie breezes. Give us a char­ac­ter who’s shiv­er­ing because icy fingers are try­ing to poke their way through the walls of their sod home.

Writ­ers who describe their set­ting in this way will make us feel, for that hour or two that we are read­ing, like we are liv­ing between the cov­ers of a book.

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Third Grader Reading at a Sixth Grade Level

Respond­ing to a par­ent request for books that would inter­est her third-grad­er-read­ing-at-a-sixth-grade-lev­el, we crowd-sourced a list. Big thanks to Sara Alcott, Lin­da Baie, Les­ley Man­dros Bell, Karen Cramer, Caren Creech, Melin­da Fant, Ellen Klar­re­ich, Vick­ie LoP­ic­co­lo, Ellen McEvoy, Lau­ra Moe, Tunie Mun­son-Ben­son, Vic­ki Palmquist, Car­rie Shay, Faythe Dyrud Thureen, Cindy Walk­er, and Sharon J. Wil­son.

Unlike our usu­al anno­tat­ed book­lists, we are pre­sent­ing this one in alpha­bet­i­cal order by book title due to the length of the list. We hope you find books here that lead you to read more books by these authors. Of course, there are many more just-right books to sug­gest for this type of reader–we’ve includ­ed only books sug­gest­ed by our “crowd.”

bk_alcaponeshirtsAdam Can­field of the Slash, Michael Winer­ip

Adven­tures of Sir Lancelot the Great (Knights Tales series), Ger­ald Mor­ris

Al Capone Does My Shirts (series of 3 books), Gen­nifer Chold­enko

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Mont­gomery

Bet­sy-Tacy Trea­sury (series, Bet­sy and friends get old­er in the books), Maud Hart Lovelace

BFG, Roald Dahl

Birch­bark House, Louis Erdrich

Black Stal­lion (series), Wal­ter Far­ley

Bog­gart, Susan Coop­er

Catherine, Called BirdyBook of Three (Pry­dain series of 5 books), Lloyd Alexan­der

Bor­row­ers, Mary Nor­ton

Bud, Not Bud­dy, Christo­pher Paul Cur­tis

Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor, Avi

Cather­ine, Called Birdy, Karen Cush­man

Chas­ing Ver­meer, Blue Bal­li­et

Chil­dren of Green Knowe (series), Lucy M. Boston

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

Dark is Ris­ing (series of 5 books), Susan Coop­er

Drag­ons in the Waters, Madeleine L’Engle

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking RatEmmy and the Incred­i­ble Shrink­ing Rat, Lynne Jonell

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Chris Graben­stein

Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Ele­men­tary School, Can­dace Flem­ing

False Prince (series of 3 books), Jen­nifer A. Nielsen

Flo­ra & Ulysses, Kate DiCamil­lo

Frindle, Andrew Clements

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweil­er, E.L. Konigs­berg

Girls Think of Every­thing, Cather­ine Thimmesh

Green­glass House, Kate Mil­ford

Half Mag­ic, Edward Eager

HatchetHar­ri­et the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

Har­ry Pot­ter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (series of 7 books), J.K. Rowl­ing

Hatch­et, Gary Paulsen

Holes, Louis Sachar

Home of the Brave, Kather­ine Apple­gate

How to Steal a Dog, Bar­bara O’Connor

How to Train Your Drag­on (series), Cres­si­da Crow­ell, “It’s fun­ny, sophis­ti­cat­ed, appeal­ing, and has 12 vol­umes.”

Indi­an Shoes, Cyn­thia Leitich Smith

I Sur­vived the Sink­ing of the Titan­ic, 1912 (series), Lau­ren Tarshis

Invention of Hugo CabretInven­tion of Hugo Cabret, Bri­an Selznick

Jen­nifer, Hecate, Mac­beth, William McKin­ley and Me, Eliz­a­beth, E.L. Konigs­berg

Julie of the Wolves, Jean Craig­head George

King of the Wind, Mar­guerite Hen­ry

Light­ning Thief (many books in this series and oth­er series), Rick Rior­dan

Lin­coln and His Boys, Rose­mary Wells

Long Walk to Water, Lin­da Sue Park

Mak­ing Friends with Bil­ly Wong, Augus­ta Scat­ter­good

Mani­ac Magee, Jer­ry Spinel­li

Old WolfMoth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club (series of 7 books), Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick

Mozart Sea­son, Vir­ginia Euw­er Wolff

Mrs. Fris­by and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien

Nation, Ter­ry Pratch­ett. “A bit mature for the aver­age third grad­er, but this doesn’t sound like an aver­age kid. Make it a point of dis­cus­sion.”

Old Wolf, Avi

On My Hon­or, Mar­i­on Dane Bauer

One and Only Ivan, Kather­ine Apple­gate

One Crazy Sum­mer, Rita Williams-Gar­cia

Owls in the Fam­i­ly, Far­ley Mowat

People Could FlyPeo­ple Could Fly, Vir­ginia Hamil­ton

Peter Nim­ble and the Fan­tas­tic Eyes, Jonathan Aux­i­er

Push­cart War, Jean Mer­rill

Ran­doms, David Liss

Savvy, Ingrid Law

Scary Sto­ries to Tell in the Dark (espe­cial­ly around Hal­loween), Alvin Schwartz (these are scary, so please know your child’s abil­i­ty to han­dle this book)

Scoot­er, Vera B. Williams’

Stella by StarlightSin­gle Shard, Lin­da Sue Park

Some Writer! The Sto­ry of E.B. White, Melis­sa Sweet

Stel­la by Starlight, Sharon M. Drap­er

Swal­lows and Ama­zons, Arthur Ran­some

Tales from the Odyssey, Mary Pope Osborne

Tales of a Fourth Grade Noth­ing (Fudge series), Judy Blume

Tom’s Mid­night Gar­den, Philip­pa Pearce

True Con­fes­sions of Char­lotte Doyle, Avi

Tuck Ever­last­ing, Natal­ie Bab­bitt

Uncer­tain Glo­ry, Lea Wait

Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane GoodallUntamed: the Wild Life of Jane Goodall, Ani­ta Sil­vey

Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech

West­ing Game, Ellen Raskin

Whales on Stilts! M.T. Ander­son

When You Reach Me, Rebec­ca Stead

Where the Moun­tain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin

Witch of Black­bird Pond, Eliz­a­beth Speare

Won­der, R.J. Pala­cio

Wrin­kle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

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Drive-by

Adobe Stock 53485590When I vis­it­ed Los Ange­les not long after the 1992 riots, a home-town writer told me a sto­ry that made me feel what it was like to live there in those uncer­tain times.

His dri­ve home passed a large police sta­tion. He was always on alert as he drove by; every­one thought there could be more trou­ble at any time, and he assumed that a police sta­tion might be a key tar­get.

And then one day, when he was still some dis­tance away, he saw smoke bil­low­ing out from the build­ing. This is it, he thought. They’ve set the sta­tion on fire. Visions of esca­lat­ing chaos, this time in his own neigh­bor­hood, raced through his head.

He drove clos­er, on high alert—and dis­cov­ered cops swarm­ing all around the out­side of the build­ing, intent on…

…the burg­ers being cooked on a large bar­be­cue grill.

I think about this exam­ple when I hear a writer advise: “show, don’t tell.” That’s a way of writ­ing that puts read­ers inside of the story’s action.

He could have just told me, “It was a scary time in LA. We thought things might go up in flames at any minute.” How long do you think I would have remem­bered that?

Instead, I can still recall small details of his sto­ry. That’s because he con­veyed his tale (trust me, it was done in a much more riv­et­ing fash­ion than my retelling here), in such a way that I smelled the smoke and felt the sweat that trick­led down his neck—and then shared his bark of laugh­ter when it became clear that the only things to be charred that evening were the burg­ers.

Here’s a way to give your young writ­ers some “show, don’t tell” prac­tice. Ask them to write a scene that fea­tures a char­ac­ter expe­ri­enc­ing an intense emotion—but don’t allow them to use the actu­al word (or any syn­onyms) that rep­re­sent that emo­tion. Instead, ask your stu­dents to make the emo­tion evi­dent through their character’s actions. In oth­er words, if the emo­tion is anger, they can’t use the words “angry” or “mad” or “rag­ing.” Instead, they could show the char­ac­ter stomp­ing his foot, or scream­ing and tear­ing at her hair.

A “show, don’t tell” kind of writer won’t just tell me there’s a dead fish on the beach; he or she will have me smelling it for an entire chap­ter.

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Not One But Four!

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Women Can Be Magicians, Too!

Anything But Ordinary AddieIn a sump­tu­ous pic­ture book biog­ra­phy, author Mara Rock­liff and illus­tra­tor Iacopo Bruno give us the life of Ade­laide Scarcez Her­rmann, a real per­son who lived from 1853 to 1932. Dur­ing her 79 years, she was an actress, a dancer, a vaude­vil­lian, and she was shot out of a can­non. As the title says, she was Any­thing but Ordi­nary Addie. In 1875, Addie mar­ried Alexan­der Her­rmann, a magi­cian, and became his assis­tant. They added oth­er acts to their show and trav­eled the world as Her­rmann the Great. When Alexan­der died of heart fail­ure in 1896, at age 52, Addie decid­ed to car­ry on as the magi­cian in the act. A female magi­cian was uncom­mon, so her first solo show includ­ed a dar­ing and dan­ger­ous mag­i­cal feat. It was good enough to keep her on vaude­ville stages as Madame Her­rmann for 25 years. She kept per­form­ing until she was 75. Four years lat­er, she passed away and out of mem­o­ry.

In the Author’s Note, Rock­liff laments that “Gen­er­a­tions of girls grew up think­ing all the great magi­cians had been men.” With a daugh­ter inter­est­ed in mag­ic, Rock­liff says “This project start­ed when I went look­ing for a biog­ra­phy of a woman stage magi­cian for my daugh­ter and found to my dis­may that none exist­ed.” She began research­ing women magi­cians and ran across a very inter­est­ing research sto­ry. (Yes, I think you should read this in her book.)

It’s an inspir­ing sto­ry appro­pri­ate for chil­dren. It doesn’t include the finan­cial ups and downs of the Her­rmanns, focus­ing instead on Addie’s suc­cess­es. A deter­mined lit­tle girl and woman, she accom­plished admirable feats, includ­ing The Bul­let-Catch­ing Trick. Although the book shares the high­lights of her career, I’m intrigued to find out more. Oth­er read­ers will be as well. Isn’t that what we want out of a good book?

gr_addie_shock_600px

Iacopo Bruno’s illus­tra­tions are rich­ly col­ored with glow­ing ele­ments that light the pages much as foot­lights would light a stage. Addie’s cos­tumes and hair adorn­ments are peri­od-per­fect. Even the let­ter­ing on the hand­bills and posters trans­ports read­ers to the Gild­ed Age era. Bruno has a curi­ous way of pro­vid­ing depth to his illus­tra­tions by sur­round­ing peo­ple and objects in the fore­ground with a thick, white bor­der, almost as though they were cut out of paper. It’s a style that grew on me. It adds focus to the page, direct­ing the reader’s eye to tru­ly see what’s on the page. 

I’d rec­om­mend this book for school libraries, class­rooms, and for homes where mag­ic and accom­plished women are inter­ests.

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Word Search: Presenting Buffalo Bill

Presenting Buffalo BillWhen Can­dace Flem­ing chose William “Buf­fa­lo Bill” Cody as a sub­ject for her lat­est biog­ra­phy, she was intrigued by his sto­ry­telling, exag­ger­a­tion, propen­si­ty for mar­ket­ing, and the truth of his life’s adven­tures and accom­plish­ment. After read­ing her book, we’re intrigued by the man, not the leg­end, who would most like­ly be using Twit­ter and Insta­gram to pro­mote his Wild West shows today. If you love puz­zles and games, we hope you have a good time solv­ing this Word Search. 

Sim­ply use your mouse or touch pad to draw a line over your found words and the pro­gram will mark them off for you. Words can be found for­wards, back­wards, hor­i­zon­tal­ly, ver­ti­cal­ly, and diag­o­nal­ly. As you find a word, it will be high­light­ed on the board and it will dis­ap­pear from the word list.

Have fun!

Hid­den Words

Puz­zle by mypuzzle.org
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Candace Fleming Tames the Wild West

credit: Michael Lionstar

cred­it: Michael Lion­star

Our thanks to author Can­dace Flem­ing for sit­ting still long enough to answer in-depth ques­tions about her con­cep­tion for, research into, and writ­ing deci­sions for Pre­sent­ing Buf­fa­lo Bill: the Man Who Invent­ed the Wild West, our Book­storm™ this month. Fleming’s answers will inform edu­ca­tors, pro­vid­ing direct quotes from an oft-pub­lished biog­ra­ph­er of beloved books that will be use­ful for teach­ing writ­ing and research skills in the class­room. 

When did you first sus­pect that you’d like to write about William Cody?

Buffalo Bill Cody 1875

William “Buf­fa­lo Bill” Cody, ©1875

My first inkling occurred the morn­ing I opened my email to find a mes­sage from edi­tor Neal Porter. The sub­ject-head­ing read: “Yo, Can­dy, want to do a book?” Neal had just returned from a trip to Cody, Wyoming, where he’d bumped into Buf­fa­lo Bill. Neal was not only intrigued by Bill, but he also real­ized that it had been decades since an in-depth biog­ra­phy of the show­man had been writ­ten for young read­ers. But who should write it? He thought of me. Even though Neal and I had nev­er worked togeth­er before, we’d been mak­ing eyes at each oth­er for years. He hoped this project would final­ly bring us togeth­er. But I wasn’t so sure. Buf­fa­lo Bill Cody? In my mind, he was just anoth­er dusty fron­tiers­man. A myth. A trope. Still, I decid­ed to give him a shot (no pun intend­ed) and ordered up his auto­bi­og­ra­phy through inter-library loan. As I opened the book’s cov­er, I remem­ber giv­ing a lit­tle yawn. My expec­ta­tions were low. And then … I fell into his life sto­ry. What a self-aggran­diz­ing, exag­ger­at­ing, exas­per­at­ing, endear­ing, amus­ing, ques­tion-pro­vok­ing sto­ry­teller! The man who wrote that book mys­ti­fied me. Who was Buf­fa­lo Bill? Was he a hero or was he a char­la­tan? Was he an hon­est man or a liar? Was he a real fron­tiers­man or was he a show­man? I found myself sud­den­ly brim­ming with ques­tions. And I was eager to dis­cov­er the answers. ©

At what point did you know that you’d present his life in terms of truth and maybe-not-so-true?

Buffalo Bill Cody by José Maria Mora

Buf­fa­lo Bill Cody by José Maria Mora

I knew right away that I would have to address the ambi­gu­i­ties in Will’s sto­ry. In fact, it was one of the rea­sons I was drawn to the project. I love the gray areas in his­to­ry. I’m not just talk­ing about gaps in the his­tor­i­cal records. You know, those places where we don’t know for sure what hap­pened. I’m talk­ing about those places where we don’t know what to make of the his­tor­i­cal truth. For exam­ple, Ben­jamin Franklin owned slaves. How do we fit that with with our image of the jovial, wit­ty inven­tor and states­man? What are we to make of that? Or, take Amelia Earhart. Many of the most often-repeat­ed sto­ries about her aren’t true. Amelia made them up out of whole cloth. She lied. How does that jibe with our image of the dar­ing, but doomed avi­a­tor? What are we to make of that?

Too often, espe­cial­ly in non­fic­tion for young read­ers, we avoid the gray areas. We don’t include these truths because we’re wor­ried what kids will make of them. But I believe these areas are espe­cial­ly impor­tant for young read­ers … and most espe­cial­ly for mid­dle school and teen read­ers. These are read­ers who are strug­gling to dis­cov­er who they are and what they can be; they’re strug­gling to fig­ure out their place in the world.

What’s right?

What’s fair?

What’s moral?

The last thing they need is anoth­er san­i­tized, pedestal-inhab­it­ing, nev­er-do-wrong per­son from his­to­ry.

Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West ShowAnd so I decid­ed to include both Will’s ver­sions of events, as well as accounts that con­flict with his. I inten­tion­al­ly incor­po­rat­ed oppos­ing view­points from both his­tor­i­cal fig­ures and mod­ern-day his­to­ri­ans. And I pur­pose­ly refrained from draw­ing any con­clu­sions from the his­tor­i­cal evi­dence. Instead, I chose to just lay it before my read­ers. Why? Because I want them to wres­tle with the ambi­gu­i­ties. I want them to come to their own con­clu­sions. I want them to see that stories—especially true sto­ries from history—are not black and white. They’re gray.

Who was right?

Who was wrong?

I don’t think it’s my job to tell them. I’m not sure I could tell them.

Rather, I choose to tell all sides of the Wild West story—Will’s side, the Native per­form­ers’ side—with what I hope was equal clar­i­ty and com­pas­sion. What choic­es do each make under pres­sure? Why? No one is all good. No one is all bad.

You see, it’s in the gray area between those oppos­ing val­ues that I hope read­ers will ask them­selves: What would I do in this sit­u­a­tion?

By includ­ing history’s ambi­gu­i­ties, I am “kick­ing it to the read­er,” as my friend Tonya Bold­en likes to say.

And this, I believe, is the pur­pose of non­fic­tion in the 21st century—to encour­age thought, not sim­ply to pro­vide facts for reports.

When you begin your research, how do you lay out a strat­e­gy for that research?

I con­fess I nev­er have much of a strat­e­gy plan when I begin research­ing. Instead, the process is pret­ty organ­ic. I start with archival sources. What’s already been writ­ten and col­lect­ed? I focus on pri­ma­ry sources: let­ters, diaries, mem­oirs, inter­views. This is where defin­ing, inti­mate details are found. As I read, I keep an open mind. I’m curi­ous and nosy and I ask lots of ques­tions. I actu­al­ly write those ques­tions down on yel­low ledger pads. And let me tell you, I end up with lots of ques­tions. I won’t find the answers to all of them. I may not even try to find the answers to all of them. But in this way, I remind myself that I’m explor­ing, mak­ing dis­cov­er­ies. In truth, I have no spe­cif­ic idea of what I’m look­ing for or what I’ll find. I let the research lead me. And, slow­ly, I begin to under­stand what it is I want to say with this par­tic­u­lar piece of his­to­ry.

In those ini­tial stages, do you use the library? The inter­net? Oth­er sources?

In the first throes of research, I’ll use the Inter­net to dis­cov­er the col­lec­tions and archives that hold my subject’s papers. I’ll search for auto­bi­ogra­phies and oth­er first­hand accounts of the person’s life. I’ll note the names of schol­ars or his­to­ri­ans whose names pop up in asso­ci­a­tion with my sub­ject. That’s the very first step.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Did you vis­it the McCrack­en Research Library or the Buf­fa­lo Bill Cen­ter of the West?

The McCrack­en Research Library is part of the Buf­fa­lo Bill Cen­ter of the West. In fact, the library is just down the stairs from their muse­um. Yes, I vis­it­ed both. And I spent a week in the library, culling through years of scrap­books kept by Will, and Annie Oak­ley and oth­ers, read­ing mem­oirs and let­ters and diaries.

Would you rec­om­mend that your read­ers vis­it those loca­tions?

I would def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend the muse­um to my read­ers. So much of the detri­tus of Will’s life is on dis­play: his buf­fa­lo skin coat, his favorite rifle that he named Lucre­tia Bor­gia, the famous stage­coach from the Wild West. They even have his child­hood home moved in its entire­ty from Iowa to Cody! The place real­ly brings Will and his times alive.

Buffalo Bill's personal saddle

Buf­fa­lo Bill’s per­son­al sad­dle

What do you find to be most help­ful about vis­it­ing a muse­um where arti­facts are on dis­play?

Those artifacts—leftovers of a person’s life, if you will—are so human. Some­times we for­get that a per­son from his­to­ry was real flesh and blood. But then we’ll see that person’s well-worn car­pet slip­pers, or read a love let­ter he wrote to his wife, and we’re remind­ed of that person’s human­i­ty. Despite his place in his­to­ry, he still suf­fered from both love and sore feet, just like all of us do.

How do you go about find­ing an expert to con­sult with about your book?

 Dur­ing research, cer­tain names start­ing appear­ing again and again. I will not only note these names, I’ll do a quick Google to check on qual­i­fi­ca­tions, as well as how up-to-date their schol­ar­ship is. For exam­ple, a name that’s cit­ed again and again in Cody research is Don Rus­sell. But Rus­sell wrote his sem­i­nal work almost forty years ago. Cer­tain­ly, his work is valu­able, but it’s no longer the most recent schol­ar­ship. Young read­ers deserve the lat­est dis­cov­er­ies and newest inter­pre­ta­tions. His­to­ry is, after all, an ongo­ing process, one in which new facts are dis­cov­ered, and old facts are recon­sid­ered. So I turned to Dr. Louis S. War­ren, a high­ly respect­ed schol­ar of the West­ern US his­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis, as well as author of the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed Buf­fa­lo Bill’s Amer­i­ca. He very gen­er­ous­ly offered to read the man­u­script, mak­ing sev­er­al sug­ges­tions for changes, as well as point­ing me in the direc­tion of the lat­est Cody schol­ar­ship. He also sug­gest­ed I con­tact Dr. Jef­fery Means, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Native Amer­i­can His­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wyoming and an enrolled Mem­ber of the Oglala Sioux Tribe for his unique per­spec­tive on my book, par­tic­u­lar­ly in regards to Great Plains Indi­an cul­ture.

Do you research the pho­tos you’ll include in the book at the same time as you research the his­tor­i­cal and bio­graph­i­cal ele­ments? Or is that a sep­a­rate process at a sep­a­rate time?

I do my own pho­to research. While research­ing, I keep an eye open for things that might make for inter­est­ing visu­als. I keep a list, and in most cas­es, a copy of those images. But I nev­er know what I’m going to use until I start writ­ing. The text real­ly does deter­mine what pho­tographs end up in the book. Because of this, I always end up search­ing for pho­tos late in the project.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West show poster

How did you write the dra­mat­ic scenes from the Wild West Show? They’re filled with ten­sion, vivid descrip­tions, and a movie-like qual­i­ty. Were these actu­al scenes in the Show? And were you present to see them per­formed? It sure seems like it.

Presenting Buffalo BillIt was impor­tant to open each chap­ter of the book with a scene from the Wild West. Not only was I try­ing to show the par­al­lels between Will’s per­son­al expe­ri­ences and the acts that even­tu­al­ly sprang from them, but also I want­ed read­ers to have a clear under­stand­ing of what the show entailed. The best way to do this, I decid­ed, was to write those scenes in a way that would make read­ers feel as if they were actu­al­ly sit­ting in the stands. I want­ed them to feel the ten­sion, the excite­ment, the dra­ma of the per­for­mance. I want­ed them to expe­ri­ence (at least in a small way) the awe that show goers felt when they watched those re-enact­ments of buf­fa­lo hunts and Pony Express rid­ers. After all, this is vital to the book’s theme—that the Wild West cre­at­ed our col­lec­tive mem­o­ry of the Amer­i­can West; that we still tend to think in tropes, and those tropes come direct­ly from Buf­fa­lo Bill Cody. So, I wrote those scenes in great detail, almost in slow motion. Not a sin­gle descrip­tion is made up. Every­thing comes from the his­tor­i­cal record, includ­ing thoughts and com­ments from the peo­ple in the bleach­ers. I mere­ly used present tense to make the action feel more imme­di­ate. But the action real­ly and tru­ly hap­pened just as I’ve pre­sent­ed it.

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Vinegar Pie

Vine­gar Pie
Serves 8
As Martha Stew­art explains, “This dessert gets its apple-pie-like fla­vor from cider vine­gar, a tech­nique used in cov­ered wag­on days, when fresh pro­duce was scarce.” The cooks in Buf­fa­lo Bill’s day would have been famil­iar with this recipe. Don’t miss read­ing more about those days in Pre­sent­ing Buf­fa­lo Bill by Can­dace Flem­ing.
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Prep Time
35 min
Total Time
3 hr 25 min
Prep Time
35 min
Total Time
3 hr 25 min
Ingre­di­ents
  1. 2 table­spoons all-pur­pose flour, plus more for sur­face
  2. 2 table­spoons unsalt­ed but­ter
  3. 12 cup light-brown sug­ar
  4. 12 tea­spoon ground cin­na­mon
  5. 12 tea­spoon ground gin­ger
  6. 16 tea­spoon fresh­ly grat­ed nut­meg
  7. 14 tea­spoon salt
  8. 2 table­spoons cider vine­gar
  9. 1 cup plus 1 tea­spoon water, divid­ed
  10. 3 large eggs, divid­ed
  11. 1 table­spoon turbina­do sug­ar or sand­ing sug­ar
  12. Vanil­la ice cream, for serv­ing
Instruc­tions
  1. Roll out 1 disk of dough into a 12-inch round on a light­ly floured sur­face. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, and trim edge of dough to rim. Roll out remain­ing disk of dough to a 12-inch round. Trans­fer to a parch­ment-lined bak­ing sheet, and refrig­er­ate, along with dough in pie plate, until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Pre­heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt but­ter in a bowl set over a saucepan of sim­mer­ing water; remove from heat. Whisk in brown sug­ar, flour, spices, salt, vine­gar, and 1 cup water. Light­ly beat 2 eggs, and whisk into mix­ture. Return bowl to pan of sim­mer­ing water, and cook, stir­ring often, until mix­ture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 10 to 12 min­utes. Remove from heat, and let cool to room tem­per­a­ture, about 20 min­utes, stir­ring occa­sion­al­ly.
  3. Pour fill­ing into crust, and place top crust over fill­ing. Trim excess, leav­ing a 1/2-inch over­hang. Fold under bot­tom crust. Press to seal, and crimp as desired. Beat remain­ing egg with remain­ing tea­spoon water; brush top of pie with egg wash, and sprin­kle with turbina­do sug­ar. Use a sharp knife to slash 6 vents radi­at­ing out from cen­ter of pie. Bake pie until gold­en and sur­face has puffed, about 45 min­utes. Let cool on a wire rack 45 min­utes. Serve slight­ly warm with ice cream.
Adapt­ed from http://www.marthastewart.com/939300/pioneer-vinegar-pie
Adapt­ed from http://www.marthastewart.com/939300/pioneer-vinegar-pie
Bookol­o­gy Mag­a­zine https://www.bookologymagazine.com/
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The Tapper Twins Run For President

tapper-twins-200-pixMy own flesh and blood accused me of steal­ing the oth­er day. When it was I, not she, who pro­cured the book, and I, not she, who was part way through it…and then she stole it from me! Hid it, real­ly, inten­tion­al­ly or un- beneath her bed. I prac­ti­cal­ly had to clean her room to find it. It’s gone back and forth this whole week. (I’ve been try­ing to extend my read­ing of it and not just gulp it down all at once—I sus­pect she’s doing the same.) Last night I fin­ished, and I put it in my To-Do pile (casu­al­ly, under a few things) so that I could write about it today.

And it was gone this morn­ing. I imme­di­ate­ly went across the hall to my daughter’s room. Found it after a brief search. I con­sid­er myself lucky, because the book­mark indi­cates she’s almost done—I’m sur­prised she didn’t squir­rel it away in her back­pack.

Speak­ing of squir­rel, there’s a squir­rel in The Tap­per Twins Run For Pres­i­dent. But she’s not to that part yet, I see from the book­mark. The squir­rel is pret­ty much the cher­ry on top of some pret­ty elab­o­rate icing and sprin­kles on a very fun cup­cake. (Clau­dia Tap­per, one of the Tap­per twins, uses many slight­ly over-the-top metaphors—I think it’s catch­ing.)

I’ve writ­ten about The Tap­per Twins before; but I must again, because this book has the pow­er to rekin­dle your sense of humor about pol­i­tics in the midst of this hor­ren­dous cam­paign sea­son we are cur­rent­ly sub­ject­ed to. The premise is this: Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment elec­tions are tak­ing place at Cul­vert Prep and both Clau­dia and Reese Tap­per wind up run­ning for sixth grade pres­i­dent.

As it says on the author Geoff Rodkey’s web­site: A pres­i­den­tial elec­tion between a thought­ful, pol­i­cy-mind­ed female and a guy with­out a shred of expe­ri­ence who’s con­stant­ly spout­ing off the first thing that comes to his mind. The real­ly great thing? You can laugh at this one with­out expe­ri­enc­ing a gnaw­ing sense of exis­ten­tial dread for the future of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy. (Watch the 42 sec­ond trail­er!)

It is prac­ti­cal­ly an alle­go­ry, friends. And it’s hilar­i­ous. And your kids can read it with­out you fear­ing “mature themes.” Clau­dia and Reese are so well drawn—as are their friends. The very best of the mid­dle school mind and tem­pera­ment, I assure you. There is zani­ness (not just the squir­rel) through­out and you can’t help but keep read­ing.

As I said the last time I wrote about the Tap­per Twins, this is not the usu­al kind of book I’m drawn to. It’s part screen-play, part mixed media, part…scrapbook, maybe. When I stray off of the tra­di­tion­al nov­el form, which I don’t do that often, it’s gen­er­al­ly some­thing in the epis­to­lary genre. The Tap­per Twins offers some­thing else all together—these books have expand­ed my hori­zons con­sid­er­ably.

Do your­self a favor—find a copy and then find a mid­dle-school (or old­er) kid and fight over who gets to read it first. It’s a quick read and a fun one. This is the third Tap­per Twins book I’ve more or less inhaled—ditto for Dar­ling Daugh­ter. It makes me smile to even say Tap­per Twins. I’m thrilled to see anoth­er is com­ing.

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Skinny Dip with Cynthia Grady

Cynthia GradyFor this inter­view, we vis­it with Cyn­thia Grady, author and librar­i­an, at her home in New Mex­i­co.

Which celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

Oh, most def­i­nite­ly Beat­rix Pot­ter. My ear­li­est lit­er­ary hero.

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Back­man. I turned back to page 1 as soon as I fin­ished read­ing it.

 Whirley-Pop Hand Crank Popping MachineWhat’s your favorite late-night snack?

Popcorn—fresh popped on the stove in a Whirley-Pop Hand Crank Pop­ping Machine –with lots of but­ter and salt. But I will pop it and eat it any­time.

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

I wouldn’t call this my most cher­ished mem­o­ry exact­ly, but one that I’ve been revis­it­ing lately—is how a friend and I roamed sev­er­al neigh­bor­hoods, cross­ing streets we weren’t allowed to cross, by way of creeks and drainage pipes.  

Tea? Cof­fee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Am I allowed to say Irish whiskey? Straight up? After that comes laven­der lemon­ade. Mmm­mm. Deli­cious.

Necco wafersWhat gives you shiv­ers?

The dark. Since age 3.

Your favorite can­dy as a kid …

Neccos—at the movies.

What’s the strangest tourist attrac­tion you’ve vis­it­ed?

The Muse­um of Ques­tion­able Med­ical Devices, now locat­ed with­in the Sci­ence Muse­um of Min­neso­ta. A fright­en­ing expe­ri­ence of med­ical quack­ery!

RabbitsBroth­er and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

Ah. I am num­ber six of nine chil­dren. Being the youngest of the first six, the eldest of the bot­tom four, and near­ly in the mid­dle over­all has shaped every sin­gle bit of my life, from my abil­i­ty to sleep any­where to my absolute love of silence.  Plus, I dis­play all of the char­ac­ter­is­tics on those birth order charts.

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

A house rab­bit or two.

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Fitting in with the Locals

Writing Road Trip by Lisa Bullard | Bookology MagazineThe way we talk can be a dead give­away that we’re from else­where.

Google the phrase “pop vs. soda,” and you’ll find col­or-cod­ed maps that divide the coun­try like elec­tion night results. Test this research on the road and you’ll dis­cov­er that there are haters out there who scorn the term “pop” when unsus­pect­ing out-of-town­ers (like me) order fizzy bev­er­ages.

If you are a “pop” per­son in a par­tic­u­lar­ly frag­ile state of mind, you might even be tempt­ed to avoid ridicule by down­load­ing one of the maps and adjust­ing your word choice based on the region you’re trav­el­ing through.

Most like­ly few of us will decide to take this extreme mea­sure.  But the truth is, we do choose our words dif­fer­ent­ly, depend­ing on who we’re talk­ing to. If I’m going to tell some­one the sto­ry of my ter­ri­ble week­end, it’s going to be edit­ed dif­fer­ent­ly if I’m describ­ing it to my moth­er or my best friend or my pas­tor.

Which leads to a fun way to help young writ­ers learn some­thing about the nuances of dia­logue. At some point while your stu­dents are work­ing on a sto­ry, ask them to write three scenes that draw on their sto­ry. Each scene should be a dia­logue-heavy exchange that involves the main char­ac­ter talk­ing with one oth­er per­son about the conflict that the main char­ac­ter is fac­ing.

But in each of the three scenes, the per­son that the main char­ac­ter is speak­ing to will change. First, it will be a par­ent, teacher, or some kind of author­i­ty figure. Then, it will be their best friend or some­one they trust. Final­ly, it will be some­one they don’t like—a sworn ene­my, or some­one they per­ceive to be a rival.

Depend­ing on the age of your young writ­ers, you might have to give them addi­tion­al help with this activ­i­ty. But the goal is for them to rec­og­nize that peo­ple choose what they say—and what they leave unsaid—in part based on the iden­ti­ty of their lis­ten­er.

Just like a “pop” per­son might choose to mas­quer­ade as a “soda” per­son when they real­ly want to fit in with the locals.

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Big and Blank

Lynne Jonell Page Break

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Everything You Need to Ace Five Subjects

bk_everything_series_300pxI’ve had this TBR pile of five very attrac­tive, come-hith­er-look­ing books beg­ging to be rec­om­mend­ed for weeks now. The spines are bright pri­ma­ry col­ors so I know that even when I shelve them they will be call­ing to me. And I think they’ll be call­ing to your stu­dents as well.

I open what are for me the two scari­est vol­umes (eat your veg­eta­bles first—oops, as an adult, I find I LOVE veg­eta­bles), Every­thing You Need to Know to Ace Sci­ence in One Fat Note­book: Notes Bor­rowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Dou­ble-Checked by Award-Win­ning Teacher) and Every­thing You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Note­book: Notes Bor­rowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Dou­ble-Checked by Award-Win­ning Teacher). Did you catch that? Bor­rowed from the “Smartest Kid” in the class.

When I was a kid I had ency­clo­pe­dias from the gro­cery store of the high­ly visu­al, dip­ping-in-and-out vari­ety. I could sit for hours, flip­ping pages, look­ing at some­thing that caught my eye, devour­ing infor­ma­tion.

These books remind me of those ency­clo­pe­dias although they’re more focused on a sub­ject area.

If you have kids who suck up facts and infor­ma­tion like a vac­u­um clean­er, these are the books for them. They’re also self-chal­leng­ing. Each chap­ter ends with a list of ques­tions which you can respond to before you turn the page to find the sup­plied answers.

bk_everything_science_200pxSo, in the Sci­ence book, my eyes light imme­di­ate­ly on Chap­ter 5: Out­er Space, the Uni­verse, and the Solar Sys­tem, with sub­sec­tions of The Solar Sys­tem and Space Explo­ration (which every self-respect­ing Star Wars nerd needs to study), The Sun-Earth-Moon Sys­tem, and The Ori­gin of the Uni­verse and Our Solar Sys­tem.

In all of the books, impor­tant names and places are bold­ed in blue, vocab­u­lary words are high­light­ed in yel­low, def­i­n­i­tions are high­light­ed in yel­low, and stick fig­ures pro­vide the enter­tain­ment.

Look­ing fur­ther, I dis­cov­er the first chap­ters in the Sci­ence book are about think­ing like a sci­en­tist and design­ing an exper­i­ment. I need a LOT of help with those activ­i­ties, so I’m glad to be put at ease.

It’s a bright and col­or­ful book, with great eye-appeal. Even for the most reluc­tant­ly curi­ous mind, these books hold a great deal of promise.

Everything I Need to Ace Math

In the Math book, we explore ratios, pro­por­tions, equa­tions, prob­a­bil­i­ty, and more. Although my brain bawks at look­ing at this stuff, I find my eye rest­ing longer and longer on some of the high­ly visu­al infor­ma­tion, want­i­ng to under­stand it bet­ter. The book is work­ing its mag­ic.

Everything You Need to Know American History

Vol­umes on Amer­i­can His­to­ry, Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts, and World His­to­ry sim­i­lar­ly offer an overview of many top­ics with­in their dis­ci­plines. The Amer­i­can His­to­ry note­book begins with “The First Peo­ple in Amer­i­ca EVER” and ends with the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion, with many stops along the way for famous and not-so-famous parts of America’s his­to­ry.

Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts explores every­thing from lan­guage and syn­tax to how to read fic­tion and non­fic­tion, includ­ing poet­ry, explic­it evi­dence, and using mul­ti­ple sources to strength­en your writ­ing.

World His­to­ry cov­ers 3500 BC to present times in 502 pages, light­ing on ancient African civ­i­liza­tions, the Song Dynasty in Chi­na, 1830s rev­o­lu­tions in Europe, and so much more.

Everything You Need to Ace English Language ArtsNone of the infor­ma­tion is exhaus­tive. In fact, it’s quite light. Toe-dip­ping is an apt descrip­tion. But the infor­ma­tion is enough to intrigue the read­er and lead them on to oth­er resources.

There are no bib­li­ogra­phies or sources or sug­ges­tions for fur­ther read­ing in the books. I can see where that would have been a mon­u­men­tal task. I sup­pose I’m going to have to look it up myself. Oh, maybe that’s part of the expe­ri­ence? I’m guess­ing it is.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for grades 6 through 9 (the cov­ers say “The Com­plete Mid­dle School Study Guide”) and espe­cial­ly for your home library. I think this would be a per­fect start­ing place for choos­ing a research top­ic or enter­tain­ing your­self with read­ing an expos­i­to­ry text. I envi­sion whiling away many hours look­ing through these books. Good job, Work­man and pro­duc­tion team.

 

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Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection

thomas-200pixOnce upon a time, we had a lit­tle boy who was com­plete­ly enthralled with all things hav­ing to do with trains. When he fell for Thomas the Tank Engine, he fell hard, and he was not yet two. We have an exten­sive col­lec­tion of Thomas and friends (thanks to the grand­par­ents) com­plete with a liv­ing room’s miles worth of track, cor­re­spond­ing sta­tions, bridges, and assort­ed oth­er props. That boy is now in engi­neer­ing school, and I can’t help but think that Thomas and friends (as well as Legos® and blocks etc.) had a hand to play in his education/career choice.

It had been awhile since the trains roamed the liv­ing room for days on end, when my daugh­ter brought her babysit­ting charges over last spring. They could not believe their eyes when they saw our train paraphernalia—I’d not met such Thomas fans in near­ly fif­teen years. The 8×10 oval rug was soon trans­formed into a set for Thomas adven­tures and stories—both those famil­iar from books and shows and those made up on the spot.

I now have sev­er­al young friends in sto­ry­time who love Thomas. Slow­ly I’m remem­ber­ing the names and per­son­al­i­ties of the train cars. It gives me an “in” with these preschool­ers, I think—I speak their lan­guage. I know about cheeky Per­cy and wise Edward. I know that Thomas has the num­ber one on his engine, where­as Edward has a two—although both are blue, it’s a beginner’s mis­take to mix them up. I know that James, the Red Engine, can be a real pain at times—he’s a bit of a snob and a lit­tle too proud of his red paint. I know Annie and Clara­belle are Thomas’ friends (his coach cars, actu­al­ly).

I took the giant Thomas the Tank Engine: The Com­plete Col­lec­tion off my shelves the oth­er day. It instant­ly made me sleepy. We read Thomas sto­ries after lunch, before nap, with a great reg­u­lar­i­ty. They are not ter­ri­bly sophis­ti­cat­ed sto­ries. They tend to be more than a bit preachy. And there’s an aston­ish­ing lev­el of detail about train bits and their work­ings. I was always half asleep by the time we were fin­ished read­ing.

I think of the Thomas sto­ries with the same sort of fond­ness with which I think of Mr. Rogers—gentle, rhyth­mic, sleep-induc­ing, post-lunch won­der­ful­ness. And, my good­ness, do I love the very seri­ous con­ver­sa­tions to be had when dim­pled lit­tle hands hold up the cars and tell me all about the parts and per­son­al­i­ties of each of the trains and trucks and dig­gers. These con­ver­sa­tions don’t make me sleepy at all, though they do make me nos­tal­gic for the days when it took a whole morning’s worth of nego­ti­a­tion to get my boy to move Thomas and his friends so I could vac­u­um. Vac­u­um­ing days were hard and sad days, gen­er­al­ly reclaimed only with an extra sto­ry from The Com­plete Col­lec­tion. And then a nap…for all con­cerned.

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Bookstorm™: Presenting Buffalo Bill

Bookmap Presenting Buffalo Bill

Presenting Buffalo BillPre­sent­ing Buf­fa­lo Bill pro­vides an excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ty to teach dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion between fic­tion and non­fic­tion, mythol­o­gy and fact, as well as the dis­cern­ment, research, and dis­cus­sion skills that are nat­u­ral­ly born out of this type of close read­ing. Buf­fa­lo Bill’s life and Wild West Show are excit­ing and the author makes them all the more vivid and engag­ing with her writ­ing. In her sec­tions on “Pan­ning for the Truth,” the dif­fer­ences between myth (or sto­ry­telling or mar­ket­ing) are called out for fur­ther exam­i­na­tion.

Our per­cep­tions of the Wild West have changed as we have lis­tened to voic­es from many cul­tures, shar­ing their expe­ri­ences, open­ing our eyes, com­mu­ni­cat­ing in ways those who immi­grat­ed to Amer­i­ca didn’t have avail­able. West­erns, movies and books set in the “Old West” can now be looked at with dif­fer­ent eyes and more under­stand­ing minds. Thought­ful papers on then and now can encour­age height­ened aware­ness. A Tall Tale Con­test might point out how exag­ger­a­tion and decep­tion work in mar­ket­ing and inter­net arti­cles.

We’ve includ­ed books on truth and lies, mythol­o­gy ver­sus authen­tic­i­ty, as well as fic­tion and non­fic­tion writ­ten at var­i­ous points in our his­to­ry. There are excel­lent resources in the back mat­ter of Can­dace Fleming’s book as well. We trust you will find inspi­ra­tion and resources aplen­ty to accom­pa­ny your study of Pre­sent­ing Buf­fa­lo Bill. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Can­dace Flem­ing on her web­site.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Buf­fa­lo Bill. He was once one of the most famous men in the world. Hun­dreds of dime nov­els were writ­ten about him. Sev­er­al ver­sions of his auto­bi­og­ra­phy are avail­able. Many authors have cho­sen to chron­i­cle his life and his Wild West Show. We’ve cho­sen a few that will pro­vide a means for stu­dents to con­trast and com­pare. Online resources will add depth to research.

Art of the 19th Cen­tu­ry. Buf­fa­lo Bill’s most famous por­trait was paint­ed by the French artist Rosa Bon­heur. Hun­dreds of posters from the Wild West Show can be stud­ied to reveal how they tell a per­sua­sive sto­ry or influ­ence the audi­ence to attend the shows.

Exag­ger­a­tion, Lies, and Sto­ry­telling. One of the most thought-pro­vok­ing aspects of Pre­sent­ing Buf­fa­lo Bill is the atten­tion Can­dace Flem­ing pays to the verac­i­ty of the sto­ries Will Cody told and oth­ers told about him. We’ve includ­ed cur­rent books about truth, lying, decep­tion, and mar­ket­ing. An in-depth study that car­oms off Candace’s book will fas­ci­nate your stu­dents.

Mythol­o­gy ver­sus Authen­tic­i­ty. Com­par­ing oth­er myths to that of the Wild West, includ­ing folk heroes of the same era such as Davy Crock­ett, and mod­ern-day myths such as Star Wars and Star Trek, will help with com­par­a­tive analy­sis.

Native Amer­i­cans. Buf­fa­lo Bill employed hun­dreds of Amer­i­can Indi­ans in his Wild West shows. He inter­act­ed with famous chiefs and brought entire fam­i­lies into his show encamp­ments. We’ve includ­ed biogra­phies of heroes such as Sit­ting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Red Cloud, as well as con­tem­po­rary nov­els and non­fic­tion.

The West Dur­ing Bill Cody’s Life­time. Flem­ing sets the Wild West Show and Bill’s life with­in the con­text of geog­ra­phy, his­to­ry, and pol­i­tics. The Book­storm includes books about the chil­dren, women, men, and pol­i­tics of Bill’s life, those who lived in the authen­tic West.

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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Coming Home to Safe Harbor

Lake Superior

Phyl­lis: This sum­mer I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sail for a week in Lake Supe­ri­or, so we are turn­ing our thoughts to books about the sea (includ­ing the great inland sea that bor­ders Min­neso­ta, so vast it makes its own weath­er).  If we can’t go sail­ing right now, we can at least read about it in a fleet of good pic­ture books.

Jack­ie:  And I am a self-con­fessed water gaz­er. I’m not a boater of any kind but I can’t get enough of being next to water, watch­ing and lis­ten­ing.

The Mousehole Cat

Phyl­lis: I can­not tell you how much I love The Mouse­hole Cat by Anto­nia Bar­ber with lumi­nous art by Nico­la Bay­ley.  As many times as I’ve read it, the sto­ry still gives me shiv­ers and makes me want to cry. Mouse­hole (pro­nounced Mowzel by the Cor­nish peo­ple who live there) is a small town where the peo­ple go out every day through the nar­row break­wa­ter open­ing into the ocean to fish for their liv­ing. Old Tom and his cat Mowz­er fish as well, for Mowz­er in par­tic­u­lar is par­tial to a plate of fresh fish. 

One day a ter­ri­ble win­ter storm blows in. “’The Great Storm-Cat is stir­ring,’ thinks Mowz­er,” and although the Great Storm–Cat flings the sea against the break­wa­ter and claws at the har­bor gap, the boats are safe “as mice in their own mouse­hole,” but the peo­ple are hun­gry because no one can go out into the ocean to fish.

Final­ly, on Christ­mas Eve, Old Tom decides he should go out to try to fish, for he can­not stand to see the chil­dren starv­ing at Christ­mas. Mowz­er goes with him, “for he was only a man, she thought, and men were like mice in the paws of the Great Storm-Cat.”

The Mousehole Cat

illus­tra­tion copy­right Nico­la Bay­ley

And it is Mowzer’s singing that dis­tracts the Great Storm-Cat long enough for the boat to escape the har­bor and play out the nets in the ocean. All day Mowz­er sings to the Great Storm-Cat, but she knows he will strike when they run for the har­bor and safe­ty.  As she thinks of the food they might make with the catch they have hauled in, Mowz­er begins to purr, a sound the Great Storm-Cat has not heard since he was a Storm-Kit­ten. They purr togeth­er, the seas calm, and Old Tom and Mowz­er come into the har­bor on the “small­est, tamest Storm-Kit­ten of a wind” where the whole town is wait­ing with lit can­dles to guide them home.  (Even writ­ing this gives me shiv­ers of delight.) 

Every year since then the vil­lage of Mouse­hole is lit with a thou­sand lights at Christ­mas time, “a mes­sage of hope and a safe haven to all those who pass in per­il of the sea.”

Jack­ie: The lit can­dles that guide them home after the adven­ture is such a won­der­ful touch. Don’t we all want to be guid­ed home after a great strug­gle? The plot is so sat­is­fy­ing as well. It’s the small cat that saves them because she begins to purr.  As I was think­ing about Mowzer’s purr I real­ized how calm­ing a cat’s purr is.  I think we all become more relaxed if we have a purring cat on our lap. Same for the Great Storm Cat.

This is a love­ly illus­trat­ed short sto­ry that I think would charm mid­dle graders, as well as pri­ma­ry graders.

Amos and BorisPhyl­lis:  Anoth­er favorite is William Steig’s Amos and Boris, the sto­ry of a mouse who builds a boat, chris­tens it the Rodent, pro­vi­sions it with a delight­ful list of items, and sets sail on the ocean. Amos is less lucky than Old Tom and Mowz­er; one night, gaz­ing at the vast and star­ry sky while lying on his boat, he rolls over­board, and the Rodent in full sail bowls along with­out him. Amos man­ages to stay afloat through the night, lead­ing to one of my favorite com­fort­ing lines in all of pic­ture books: “Morn­ing came, as it always does.” And with morn­ing comes Boris the whale, just as Amos’s strength is fail­ing. Boris gives Amos a ride home by whale­back, and on the week­long jour­ney they become “the clos­est pos­si­ble friends.”

Jack­ie: I just love that!

Phyl­lis:  When they near shore, Amos thanks Boris and offers his help if Boris ever needs it, which amus­es Boris. He can’t imag­ine how a lit­tle mouse could ever help him.

Amos and Boris by William Steig

illus­tra­tion copy­right William Steig

Years pass. Hur­ri­cane Yet­ta flings Boris ashore right by Amos’s house. Boris will die unless he gets back in the water, and Amos runs off to get help: two ele­phants who roll the whale back into the ocean while Amos stands on one of their heads, yelling instruc­tions that no one can hear. Soon Boris is afloat again, whale tears rolling down his cheeks. Know­ing they might nev­er meet again, the friends say a tear­ful good-bye, know­ing, too, that they will always remem­ber each oth­er.

In anoth­er writer’s hands, I might make some com­ment about the con­ve­nient “ele­phants ex machi­na” that Amos finds, but I accept it com­plete­ly here, because Steig makes me believe. And cry, again.

Jack­ie: There is so much to love in this sto­ry. First, the list of items: cheese, bis­cuits, acorns, hon­ey, wheat germ [Steig must have includ­ed wheat germ because he liked the sound. Wheat germ?] fresh water, a com­pass, a sex­tant, a tele­scope, a saw, a ham­mer and nails and some wood, … a nee­dle and thread for the mend­ing of torn sails and var­i­ous oth­er neces­si­ties such as ban­dages and iodine, a yo-yo and play­ing cards.” I just love the notion of a mouse on a boat prac­tic­ing his yo-yo tricks. And I think read­ers will be called to ask them­selves what they might find essen­tial for a sea jour­ney.

And I’m admir­ing of the nuanced way Steig moves the plot along. Amos doesn’t roll off the boat because he falls asleep, or because a high wind blows him off. He falls off because he is “over­whelmed by the beau­ty and mys­tery of every­thing.” His own capac­i­ty for awe is what caus­es the prob­lem.

You have talked about the won­der­ful back and forth of help­ing between Amos and Boris. I want to men­tion, too, Boris’s won­der­ful voice. When the mouse meets the whale, he says. “’I’m a mouse, which is a mam­mal, the high­est form of life. I live on land.’

Holy clam and cut­tle­fish!’ said the whale. I’m a mam­mal myself, though I live in the sea. Call me Boris,’ he added.” [A lit­tle nod to “Call me Ish­mael?”]

Some­times good luck hap­pens. When the worst looks inevitable, fate inter­venes. And some­times fate gives us life-sav­ing ele­phants. They are such a relief. And so out­landish. It’s as if Steig is say­ing, “I’m the author. I can do this.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea CaptainPhyl­lis:  Edward Ardiz­zone wrote and illus­trat­ed a series of eleven books about Lit­tle Tim, who goes to sea, begin­ning with Lit­tle Tim and The Brave Sea Cap­tain and end­ing with Tim’s Last Voy­age. We loved these books when my chil­dren were grow­ing up, and we still do. Vis­it this site so you can hear a sam­ple of Lit­tle Tim and The Brave Sea Cap­tain read aloud and see Ardizzone’s won­der­ful art. 

Jack­ie:  I love the lan­guage of this book: “’Some­times Tim would aston­ish his par­ents by say­ing, ’That’s a Cunarder’ or ‘Look at that bar­quen­tine on the port bow.’” [I want to say that again and again.] When his par­ents say he is much too young to go to sea, Tim is “so sad that he resolved, at the first oppor­tu­ni­ty, to run away to sea.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain

illus­tra­tion copy­right Edward Ardiz­zone

But best of all, I had the sense through­out this sto­ry that the sto­ry­teller was going to give me a won­der­ful yarn and that, with or with­out ele­phants, Lit­tle Tim was going to get through this adven­ture safe­ly.

Keep the Lights Burning, AbbiePhyl­lis:  Keep the Lights Burn­ing, Abbie by Peter and Con­nie Roop is a book for those who pass in per­il of the sea. Based on the true sto­ry of 16-year old Abbie Burgess, whose father was the light­house keep­er on Matini­cus Rock off the coast of Maine, the book tells how Abbie’s father heads out one morn­ing to get much need­ed sup­plies from Matini­cus Island and is storm-bound there for weeks before he can return. Abbie takes care of her three younger sis­ters and her ail­ing moth­er and “keeps the lights burn­ing” so that ships can pass safe­ly by. She lights the lamps, scrapes ice off the win­dows so the lights can be seen, trims wicks, cleans lamps, fills them with oil, and saves her chick­ens when waves threat­en to wash them away, all until her father can safe­ly sail back to the light­house. A won­der­ful strong char­ac­ter for girls and boys to know about.

Jack­ie:  There is some­thing so allur­ing about light­hous­es and islands. I won­der how many kids have fan­tasies of liv­ing in a light­house on an island. I sure did. I real­ly enjoyed the mat­ter-of-fact tone of this sto­ry. As Abbie is first light­ing the lamps a match blows out, but the next one doesn’t, nor the next and she goes on to light them all, night after night for a month. No dra­ma, just a telling of what she did. No dra­ma but touch­ing emo­tion at the end when we learn that her father was watch­ing for those lights every night as evi­dence that his fam­i­ly was still there. That detail almost made me tear up.

In a Village by the SeaPhyl­lis:  We could sail on through sea sto­ry after sea sto­ry. A more recent book, In a Vil­lage by the Sea by Muon Van is a ele­gant­ly sim­ple and love­ly sto­ry that begins, “In a fish­ing vil­lage by the sea there is a small house.” Each page moves clos­er in, from the house to the kitchen to the fire to a pot of soup to a woman watch­ing the soup to a sleepy child to a dusty hole in the floor where a crick­et is hum­ming and paint­ing a pic­ture of a fish­er­man in his storm-tossed boat hop­ing for the storm to end so that he can return to his vil­lage by the sea where in a small house, his fam­i­ly waits for him to come home. April Chu’s beau­ti­ful art con­cludes the book with the crick­et paint­ing a pic­ture of that fish­er­man and his boat sail­ing home into a calm har­bor.

Jack­ie:  This book is so art­ful and so sat­is­fy­ing in the way we cir­cle in on the sto­ry and then cir­cle back out. And I agree about April Chu’s illus­tra­tions. They are won­der­ful­ly expres­sive. I almost expect the dog to talk.

In a Village by the Sea

illus­tra­tion copy­right April Chu

Thanks for choos­ing these books, Phyl­lis. I’m sit­ting at my desk on a qui­et, cloudy day but feel as if I have been on adven­tures. My head is stretched, and I look at my house and yard with new appre­ci­a­tion. The sea, or sto­ries about the sea, take us out of our lives, our kitchens, toss us around a bit, and with hope and help—and occa­sion­al elephants—bring us back home, where, as Lit­tle Tim might say, we are ever so glad for warmth and choco­late.

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Skinny Dip with Debby Dahl Edwardson

For this inter­view, we vis­it with Deb­by Dahl Edward­son, author of the Nation­al Book Award final­ist My Name is Not Easy and co-founder of the Loon­Song Writ­ers’ Retreat.

Debby Dahl EdwardsonWhich celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

Anne Lam­ott. I feel like I already know her so well though her books that I would actu­al­ly feel com­fort­able with this kind of meet­ing, which is a bit out of my com­fort zone, for sure. Lam­ott seems like the kind of per­son you could talk to about anything—from your strug­gles with spir­i­tu­al­i­ty to your awful first draft—and she’d empha­size, hav­ing just dealt with these same issues like yes­ter­day morn­ing or in the mid­dle of the night last week.  

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry? 

Get­ting lost in books. When I was 12 years old, my god­moth­er gave me a book for Christ­mas. It was a book that had won the New­bery award that year and it cap­ti­vat­ed me. Clichés aside, I was pulled imme­di­ate­ly into the dark and stormy night with which the book opened and I found myself instant­ly inside that lit­tle attic bed­room where Meg Mur­ry was just begin­ning to awak­en to the series of strange and won­der­ful events. I remained immersed in that book for sev­er­al days. I reread it imme­di­ate­ly upon fin­ish­ing it. I sim­ply did not want to leave that world. I am talk­ing, of course, about A Wrin­kle in Time, by Made­line L’Engle. Enter­ing new worlds through the world of books are among my most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ries.

Debby Dahl Edwardson and George Edwardson

Deb­by Dahl Edward­son and her hus­band, George Edward­son

Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

Fall. It’s always been my favorite. I love the col­ors and the smells of fall every­where, even here in Alas­ka, where I live on the tree­less tun­dra. I love the way the tun­dra turns rus­set and the air tin­gles with the promise of snow. I remem­ber, as a child in north­ern Min­neso­ta, watch­ing the sky dark­en with geese call­ing out their rau­cous calls, head­ed south. And now that I am in the fall of my life, I love that, too!

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

I have about a hun­dred dream vaca­tions. Most of them involve ocean beach­es because I love the ocean and I love to swim. But one non-beach place I’d love to vis­it and spend time in is north­ern New Mex­i­co, the region where Geor­gia O’Keeffe lived and paint­ed. I have a pic­ture of hers in my writ­ing room. It’s one you’ve nev­er seen: a sin­gle blue trail lead­ing up into pas­tel blue and gin­ger moun­tains. I want to go there. I love adobe, too, the way the red hous­es seem to grow from the red earth—and there’s a hot spring there, too: Ojo Caliente. I love hot springs. Above that pic­ture of O’Keeffe’s paint­ing in my writ­ing room is a pho­to­graph of her with the words that have pret­ty much become my writ­ing mot­to: “It belongs to me. God told me if I paint­ed it enough I could have it.” I am attract­ed to land­scapes that hold that kind of pow­er.  

Proud grandparents Debby Dahl Edwardson

Proud grand­par­ents!

My Name is Not EasyYour hope for the world?

That peo­ple will learn true empa­thy and devel­op, from a young age, the abil­i­ty to see the world through mul­ti­ple lens­es. I think many of the prob­lems we face in the world come from an increas­ing ten­den­cy to see the world mono­lith­i­cal­ly. This kind of inflex­i­bil­i­ty is extreme­ly dan­ger­ous in pret­ty much every way you can imag­ine. One of my favorite quotes is this one, from Wade Davis:  “Oth­er cul­tures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique man­i­fes­ta­tions of the human spir­it. The world in which you were born is just one mod­el of real­i­ty.” We will not begin to find true solu­tions to our deep­est prob­lems until we devel­op the abil­i­ty to see mul­ti­ple ways of con­fig­ur­ing real­i­ty.”

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My Work-Study Internship

World Telegram photo by Al Aumuller, Library of Congress, Creative Commons

World Telegram pho­to by Al Aumuller, Library of Con­gress, Cre­ative Com­mons

The first col­lege I attend­ed was Anti­och Col­lege in Yel­low Springs, Ohio. It had a work-study cur­ricu­lum in which half your year was spent work­ing off-cam­pus on some job relat­ing to your pro­fes­sion­al aspi­ra­tions. At that time, being inter­est­ed in the the­atre, I was offered and took a job at a Cleve­land tele­vi­sion sta­tion. A few days before the job began it was can­celed. I was offered a job at a book­store, but decid­ed to find a job on my own.

A fam­i­ly friend was Lee Hays, the bari­tone singer for the pop­u­lar folk group, The Weavers. Lee also was a men­tor to me and my would-be writ­ing career. I don’t recall the cir­cum­stances but hav­ing learned that I was look­ing for a job, he sent me to Harold Lev­en­thal, who man­aged The Weavers. Lev­en­thal offered me a job.

It appeared that Mr. Lev­en­thal was involved in some way with the estate of the late Woody Guthrie. What was the job? Guthrie was not just a famous per­former, and a song writer, he was a writer. In 1943, he had pub­lished a “par­tial­ly fic­tion­al­ized” auto­bi­og­ra­phy. Indeed, he left box­es of man­u­scripts. What job was I offered? Read through all those box­es and let Mr. Lev­en­thal know if any­thing was worth pub­lish­ing. I was next inter­viewed by Pete Seeger who was also involved in the Guthrie estate.

I got what I thought was a glam­orous job. If this seems an odd job to be giv­en to a nineteen-year-old—I would, in ret­ro­spect, agree The many box­es arrived.

I held myself to work­ing an eight-hour day.

The prob­lem was that Guthrie had Huntington’s dis­ease, which is “a fatal genet­ic dis­or­der that caus­es the pro­gres­sive break­down of nerve cells in the brain. It dete­ri­o­rates a person’s phys­i­cal and men­tal abil­i­ties dur­ing their prime work­ing years and has no cure.”

Thus the Guthrie writ­ing I had to read—from his late years—was at best errat­ic, and often dis­turb­ing. What­ev­er hero wor­ship I might have had about this vital, huge­ly cre­ative and impor­tant man, rapid­ly dis­in­te­grat­ed. But being the age I was, I dogged­ly read on, eight hours a day for three months.

When, after the three months were up and I came in to report to Mr. Lev­en­thal, he asked, “Is there any­thing worth pub­lish­ing?” To which I replied, “Noth­ing.”

Why these folks trust­ed my judgment—or even if they did trust my judgment—I nev­er learned. But I am per­haps one of the few peo­ple who—ever since—cannot bear to lis­ten to the dis­tinc­tive voice of Woody Guthrie. I had got­ten too much into his ill mind.

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One North Star, Three Creative Artists

One North Star

Bet­sy Bowen’s book, Antler Bear Canoe: a North­woods Alpha­bet, has been a favorite alpha­bet book for the last 25 years, remind­ing every read­er about the things they love in their unique envi­ron­ment.

Now, a count­ing book will sit allur­ing­ly on the book­shelf next to that title. One North Star: a Count­ing Book (Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press) has been writ­ten by Phyl­lis Root, and illus­trat­ed with wood­cuts by Bet­sy Bowen and Beck­ie Prange. We’re so tak­en with the book that we asked to inter­view the inspir­ing team who cre­at­ed it.

Phyllis RootPHYLLIS ROOT, writer

Which came first, the idea for the illus­tra­tions or the idea for the text? They’re both filled with so much won­der and imag­i­na­tion.

The text came first.  The book began when an edi­tor at Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press was inter­est­ed in a count­ing book, and we decid­ed on one about the flo­ra and fau­na and habi­tats in Min­neso­ta.  Ever since I moved to Min­neso­ta years ago I’ve been fas­ci­nat­ed with the vari­ety of places, plants, and ani­mals in the state along with all the still-wild places, so the book was great fun (and, as it turned out, a great chal­lenge). When in my research I learned that the Min­neso­ta mot­to is l’Etoile du nord, the star of the north, the struc­ture of the book took shape.

This is a cumu­la­tive tale in that we count num­bers, begin­ning at one, “one north star,” and add oth­er north woods crea­tures or geol­o­gy or flo­ra until we’re count­ing back­wards from ten. Unlike many cumu­la­tive tales (think A Par­tridge in a Pear Tree), the words aren’t repeat­ed each time, except for “under one north star.” How were you able to include such a vari­ety?

Lots and lots and lots of research and lots and lots and lots of writ­ing and rewrit­ing. One of the chal­lenges was fig­ur­ing out what lived where at what time of year and what num­ber you might see. You prob­a­bly wouldn’t see ten moose togeth­er, for exam­ple, and even if you did, I couldn’t imag­ine them all squeez­ing them into a pic­ture along with nine of some­thing, eight of some­thing, etc.

Bog, One North Star

How did you go about orga­niz­ing this book? Choos­ing which flo­ra and fau­na you would include?

First was the research. I learned so much read­ing about all the habi­tats and what you might see there and vis­it­ing places to see for myself. (I’d nev­er been to the bog, for exam­ple, and fell in love with the Big Bog when I did visit—enough to write a book just about the bog.) Once I had an abun­dance of infor­ma­tion, I began fit­ting the plants and ani­mals into num­bers and also into sea­sons so that the book fol­lowed through the year. So it made sense that in win­ter you’d have few­er plants and ani­mals avail­able, while lat­er in sum­mer you’d have many dif­fer­ent ones to choose from. Also, I tried to include fish, amphib­ians, rep­tiles, birds, and mam­mals along with flow­ers, trees, and fun­gi. I want­ed the book to be as inclu­sive as pos­si­ble. The whole book became a puz­zle to fig­ure out. And when I had a draft I checked with a nat­u­ral­ist friend and found out just how much I had got­ten wrong (a lot) and had to reor­ga­nize again—and again.

How did you work on your active verbs and your adjec­tives to get them to be so evoca­tive of the sights, sounds, and smells of the North Woods?

I decid­ed that, just to make the book a lit­tle more chal­leng­ing (what was I think­ing?) that I would try to nev­er use a verb more than once, and I want­ed each verb to be as strong and evoca­tive as pos­si­ble, to work as hard as it could so that the book would be fun to read as well.

When you were doing your research, did you dis­cov­er that any of the ani­mals or plants would not be grouped in the num­bers you wrote?

Plen­ty of times. More times than I can count.

Were there any descrip­tions that the illus­tra­tors asked you to change because they would be too hard to depict?

There were descrip­tions I was asked to change because they were incor­rect, for which I’m very grate­ful. I learned a lot about phe­nol­o­gy from Beck­ie, what you might see at the same time in the same place, and I learned even more from my nat­u­ral­ist friends. I’m awestruck and delight­ed at how the artists solved the prob­lem of fit­ting so many images on the lat­er pages of the book. I count­ed up rough­ly 220 images depict­ing 55 dif­fer­ent species in the book itself. The art­work and the artists are beyond amaz­ing.

You have exten­sive back mat­ter, divid­ed by the type of ecosys­tem, such as Aspen Prairie Park­land and Bog, with descrip­tions of each liv­ing crea­ture or plant you’ve includ­ed in the text of One North Star. Did you have a set of cri­te­ria so you could be  suc­cinct with those short para­graphs?

Just try­ing to write spar­e­ly, some­thing pic­ture book writ­ers are always strug­gling to do. I also tried to focus on what was the essen­tial or most inter­est­ing fea­ture about a place or a species, such as north­ern prairie skinks being able to break off their tails to escape cap­ture.

What do you find most sat­is­fy­ing about adding One North Star to your deep list of books?

I love how beau­ti­ful the artists have made the book, and I’m very glad to have a book that cel­e­brates Minnesota’s rich nat­ur­al diver­si­ty. I hope the book will make folks want to go out and see these places for them­selves.

Beckie PrangeBECKIE PRANGE, illus­tra­tor and wood­cut artist

How were you asked to work on One North Star? Why did you agree?

I was approached by a for­mer UMN Press edi­tor and was excit­ed about Phyl­lis’ con­cept for One North Star, and its scope.

When you work on a book like this, how much plan­ning goes into the illus­tra­tions before you begin to make your wood­cuts?

The amount of plan­ning and research is mas­sive. The for­mer edi­tor want­ed the illus­tra­tions to be real­is­tic scenes, which meant find­ing a way to fit all of the species into an image of what you could pos­si­bly see from a par­tic­u­lar view­point in nature.

For this book, there were two of you con­tribut­ing wood­cut illus­tra­tions. I know that you have been teacher and stu­dent in the past. Did that help when you worked on this book togeth­er?

Due to the quirks and tim­ing of life events I was unable to fin­ish the illus­tra­tion work on One North Star. There was a gap in the progress on the book after I had com­plet­ed most of the work on the draft illus­tra­tions. By the time we could get start­ed again, I had a full time posi­tion in a field I’m excit­ed about and found that I was unable to con­tin­ue as illus­tra­tor. I’m very thank­ful that Bet­sy was able to pick up so skill­ful­ly where I left off.

How did you work togeth­er to make the illus­tra­tions a cohe­sive whole?

All I can say here is that Bet­sy is total­ly awe­some, and did a beau­ti­ful job with the final illus­tra­tions with­out any help from me.

Was it chal­leng­ing to com­pose the chock-full, two-page spreads that includ­ed many crit­ters? How did you make deci­sions about where to place every­thing in the illus­tra­tion?

Cre­at­ing sin­gle scenes from one view­point which includ­ed all of the organ­isms Phyl­lis wrote about, while being faith­ful to those organ­isms’ habits and habi­tats was incred­i­bly chal­leng­ing. It was espe­cial­ly tough with the high­er num­bers, but there were chal­lenges with low­er num­bers too. For exam­ple, how do you put a noc­tur­nal crea­ture and a diur­nal crea­ture in the same scene and have it look at least mar­gin­al­ly believ­able? Lit­tle brown bats and rough-legged hawks just don’t hang out in the same space and time. I just had to play with it, and let it go until some­thing came to me.

Have you worked on projects before with this many dif­fer­ent objects includ­ed?

No! Nowhere close.

Number Three, One North Star

Which two-page spread in the book gives you the most sat­is­fac­tion?

I love all of them, but the one that makes me hap­pi­est right now is num­ber three, with the black bears, grouse and lynx. When I was draw­ing that one, I strug­gled with it. I could not get it to feel right. The per­spec­tive was both­er­ing me. I nev­er did solve it to my sat­is­fac­tion. Bet­sy trans­lat­ed what is basi­cal­ly the same lay­out into an image that real­ly works. It looks per­fect.

A big thanks to all three of you for shar­ing the way you worked on this book that all who are fond of the north woods will cher­ish.

Betsy BowenBETSY BOWEN, illus­tra­tor and wood­cut artist

How were you asked to work on One North Star? Why did you agree?

This is my third book with Phyl­lis, and I real­ly enjoy her lyri­cal and infor­ma­tive lan­guage.  I also like work­ing with Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press.

When you work on a book like this, how much plan­ning goes into the illus­tra­tions before you begin to make your wood­cuts?

In this case, Beck­ie had made the lay­outs in pen­cil and water­col­or for the num­ber pages.  I joined the project lat­er on, and so I used her designs. I added ideas for the parts before and after the num­ber sec­tion. And then I made the final ver­sion of the art.  Plan­ning and sketch­ing is a big part of the work (and the fun!).

Was it chal­leng­ing to com­pose the chock-full, two-page spreads that includ­ed many crit­ters? How did you make deci­sions about where to place every­thing in the illus­tra­tion?

This was Beckie’s doing, I think it must have been tricky.

Illus­tra­tors often use pho­tographs to plan their com­po­si­tion or get the details right. Is it the same when you’re carv­ing wood?

I like to look at pho­tos to help inform the draw­ing, and study the way ani­mals and plants real­ly look.  That is if I can’t get the moose to stand still long enough …

Betsy Bowen woodcut for One North Star coverHow long does it take to cre­ate a wood­cut for one two-page spread?

The carv­ing took me a few days for each spread.

Do you make mis­takes? Do you have to start over with a fresh block of wood?

Most mis­takes I can fix with either Elmer’s Glue® or a Band-aid®. Rarely I do start over with a new carv­ing. I try to shake out the ques­tions in the drawing/design phase before start­ing the longer process of carv­ing and print­ing. It’s not very easy to just move some­thing over  ”just a lit­tle” once the whole pic­ture is made.

Have you worked on projects before with this many dif­fer­ent objects includ­ed?

These were detailed pages! I think all more intri­cate than I have done before.

Number Seven, One North Star

Which two-page spread in the book gives you the most sat­is­fac­tion?

The Sev­en page, view­ing from under­wa­ter, was tricky for me.  I would try to see how the light came through water while I was swim­ming at the local pool.  I real­ly liked the result more than I expect­ed.

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A Story for the Ages

For the past two years my hus­band and I have had the good for­tune to spend the wan­ing days of sum­mer in Door Coun­ty, Wis­con­sin. There we have dis­cov­ered a vibrant arts com­mu­ni­ty. A boun­ty of the­atre, music, and fine arts is there for the pick­ing.

The Rabbits Wedding by Garth WilliamsThis year, as I scanned the pos­si­bil­i­ties for our vis­it, I was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in the Penin­su­la Play­ers’ Mid­west pre­mière of a new play by Ken­neth Jones called Alaba­ma Sto­ry. The play comes from actu­al events which occurred in Alaba­ma in 1959. Based on the Amer­i­can Library Association’s rec­om­men­da­tion, State Librar­i­an Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed pur­chased copies of the pic­ture book, The Rab­bits’ Wed­ding by Garth Williams, for state libraries. The Rab­bits’ Wed­ding con­cerns a black rab­bit and a white rab­bit who mar­ry. Though Williams, an artist, chose the col­ors of the rab­bits for the con­trast they would pro­vide in his illus­tra­tions, they became sym­bol­ic of much more when seg­re­ga­tion­ist Sen­a­tor E.O. Eddins demand­ed that the book be removed from all state library shelves. Eddins believed that the book pro­mot­ed the mix­ing of races. Alaba­ma Sto­ry tells this sto­ry of cen­sor­ship, jux­ta­posed with the sto­ry of a bira­cial rela­tion­ship.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellMy hus­band and I both had tears in our eyes sev­er­al times through­out the August 31st per­for­mance of Alaba­ma Sto­ry. Cen­sor­ship was some­thing we know inti­mate­ly. Though Alaba­ma Sto­ry takes place in 1959, it could have tak­en place in 2013 in Anoka, Min­neso­ta, with a teen book enti­tled Eleanor & Park by Rain­bow Row­ell. My high school Library Media Spe­cial­ist col­leagues and I had planned a dis­trict-wide com­mu­ni­ty read for the sum­mer of 2013. Based on our own read­ing of the book, and based on the fact that the book had received starred reviews across the board and was on many “best” lists for 2013, we chose Eleanor & Park as the book for the sum­mer pro­gram. All stu­dents who vol­un­teered to par­tic­i­pate received a free copy of the book. Rain­bow Row­ell agreed to vis­it in the fall for a day of fol­low-up with the par­tic­i­pants. Short­ly after the books were hand­ed out, just pri­or to our sum­mer break, par­ents of one of the par­tic­i­pants, along with the Par­ents’ Action League (deemed a hate group by the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter) reg­is­tered a chal­lenge against the book. Their com­plaint had to do with the lan­guage that they deemed inap­pro­pri­ate in the book and with the sex­u­al con­tent in the book. They demand­ed that the par­ents of all par­tic­i­pants be informed that their child had been “exposed” to the book (they were not), that Rain­bow Rowell’s vis­it be can­celled (it was), that copies of the book be removed from the shelves of all dis­trict schools (they were not), that our selec­tion pol­i­cy be rewrit­ten (it was), and that the Library Media Spe­cial­ists be dis­ci­plined (we received a let­ter). The sto­ry gained nation­al atten­tion in the late sum­mer and fall of 2013. 

Emily Wheelock ReadOne of the most strik­ing aspects of Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed’s sto­ry was the sense of iso­la­tion she felt. She received no sup­port, par­tic­u­lar­ly from the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion who had pub­lished the list of rec­om­men­da­tions which she used to pur­chase new books for Alaba­ma state libraries. These feel­ings of iso­la­tion were famil­iar to me. Though my col­leagues turned to each oth­er for sup­port, we received no sup­port from the dis­trict school board or the dis­trict admin­is­tra­tion. This was the most dif­fi­cult time in my thir­ty-six career as a high school edu­ca­tor. Though I had won the district’s Teacher Out­stand­ing Per­for­mance award, was a final­ist for Min­neso­ta Teacher of the Year, and won the Lars Steltzn­er Intel­lec­tu­al Free­dom award, choos­ing Eleanor & Park as the selec­tion for a vol­un­tary sum­mer read­ing pro­gram felt like a threat to my career and to my job. As Toby Gra­ham, Uni­ver­si­ty of Georgia’s Uni­ver­si­ty Librar­i­an, asks in a video for the Free­dom to Read Orga­ni­za­tion, “Who are the Emi­ly Reeds of today, and who will stand up with them in their pur­suit to insure our right to read?” Thank­ful­ly, the media, the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter, our local teach­ers’ union, and oth­ers were sup­port­ive in many ways. In addi­tion, the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, the Free­dom to Read Orga­ni­za­tion, and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions now offer tools ded­i­cat­ed to Library Media Spe­cial­ists who find them­selves in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions.

Eleanor & Park went on to be named a Michael J. Printz Hon­or book—the gold stan­dard for young adult lit­er­a­ture. It is the mov­ing sto­ry of two out­cast teens who meet on the school bus. Eleanor is red-head­ed, poor, white, bul­lied, and the vic­tim of abuse. Park is a bira­cial boy who sur­vives by fly­ing under the radar. The two even­tu­al­ly devel­op trust in each oth­er as the world swirls around them. They them­selves don’t use foul lan­guage. They use music as a way to hold the rest of the world at bay. They fall in love and con­sid­er hav­ing an inti­mate rela­tion­ship but decide, very mature­ly, that they are not ready for sex. As a Library Media Spe­cial­ist, there were “Eleanors” and “Parks” who walked into my media cen­ter each and every day. Their sto­ry need­ed to be on the shelf in my library, so that they could see them­selves reflect­ed in its pages, to know that the world saw them and val­ued them, even if their lives were messy. For those more for­tu­nate than these Eleanors and Parks, the sto­ry was impor­tant as well. By look­ing into the lives of oth­ers via books, we devel­op empa­thy and under­stand­ing, even when the view­points reflect­ed there are not our own.

Carmen Roman as librarian Emily Wheelock Reed, a librarian who stood her ground for the right to read during the onset of the civil rights movement and refused to remove "The Rabbit's Wedding" from the shelves. Photo by Len Villano for The Peninsula Players

Car­men Roman as librar­i­an Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed, a librar­i­an who stood her ground for the right to read dur­ing the onset of the civ­il rights move­ment and refused to remove The Rabbit’s Wed­ding from the shelves. Pho­to by Len Vil­lano for The Penin­su­la Play­ers

As artists—teachers, writ­ers, actors, musi­cians, painters, dancers, and sculptors—it is our job to tell and pre­serve sto­ries, the sto­ries of all indi­vid­u­als, even when they rep­re­sent beliefs dif­fer­ent from our own. Knowl­edge tru­ly is pow­er. When we cen­sor sto­ries, we take away pow­er. One need only look at his­to­ry, and the burn­ing of books and the destruc­tion of libraries by those in pow­er, for exam­ples of the dan­gers of cen­sor­ship. As we cel­e­brate Banned Books Week (Sep­tem­ber 25th–October 1st), it is impor­tant to reflect on the val­ue of artis­tic free­dom and on the val­ue of our free­dom to read.

Though Garth Williams did not intend for The Rab­bits’ Wed­ding to be a sto­ry about race and, thus, become a sym­bol of the Civ­il Rights Move­ment, it did. Though Rain­bow Row­ell did not intend for Eleanor & Park to become a sym­bol of cen­sor­ship, it did. Alaba­ma Sto­ry took place in 1959 but could just have eas­i­ly tak­en place in 2001 with a book called Har­ry Pot­ter, or in 2006 with a book called And Tan­go Makes Three, or … in 2013 with a book called Eleanor & Park. Cen­sor­ship still occurs in 2016.

Peninsula Players, Door County

Penin­su­la Play­ers The­atre host­ed Door Coun­ty library staff to a dress rehearsal of the Mid­west pre­mière of “Alaba­ma Sto­ry” by Ken­neth Jones. Jones was inspired by librar­i­an Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed’s defense of a children’s book in 1959, Mont­gomery, Alaba­ma. From left are cast mem­bers and librar­i­ans Byron Glenn Willis, actor; Tra­cy Vreeke, Stur­geon Bay Library; Pat Strom, Fish Creek Library; Hol­ly Somer­halder, Fish Creek Library; Greg Vin­kler, Penin­su­la Play­ers Artis­tic Direc­tor; Kathy White, Stur­geon Bay Library; Har­ter Cling­man, actor; Hol­ly Cole, Egg Har­bor Library; James Leam­ing, actor; Car­men Roman, actor and Kather­ine Keber­lein, actor. Vis­it www.peninsulaplayers.com Pho­to by Len Vil­lano.

As the audi­ence stood that evening, my hus­band and I applaud­ed the Penin­su­la Play­ers’ artis­tic staff, cast, and crew for telling Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed’s sto­ry. It is a sto­ry that needs to be told over and over again—for every “Eleanor” and every “Park” among us.

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