Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Marion Dane Bauer

Mar­i­on Dane Bauer and her books are respect­ed and loved by chil­dren, par­ents, edu­ca­tors, librar­i­ans, edi­tors, and writ­ers. She began her career as a nov­el­ist, turn­ing to pic­ture books lat­er in her career. Cel­e­brat­ing the release of her newest pic­ture book, the charm­ing Win­ter Dance, we were curi­ous about how she writes these short books so we asked! And this long-time teacher of oth­er writ­ers pro­vid­ed heart­felt answers.

Marion Dane Bauer

Mar­i­on Dane Bauer (pho­to cred­it: Kather­ine Warde)

If You Were Born a KittenWhen you sit down to write a pic­ture book, what has inspired you?

Some­times I begin with an idea I want to share.  If You Were Born a Kit­ten, for instance, comes out of my very impas­sioned belief that the mir­a­cle of birth is hid­den from most young chil­dren in our soci­ety — from most of us, real­ly.  I want­ed to cel­e­brate birth in a way that would show it both as mir­a­cle and as part of our sol­id, every­day real­i­ty. 

Some­times the con­cept comes from some­thing I read or some­thing some­one says to me. Win­ter Dance came from an editor’s say­ing, “What about cel­e­brat­ing the first snow?” 

But the actu­al pic­ture book begins, always, with lan­guage.  I can’t even begin to flesh out my idea until the open­ing line is singing in my head.

The Longest NightDo you know the end­ing of your pic­ture book before you begin to write?

I always know the end of a nov­el before I begin to write, and if a pic­ture book is a sto­ry, I know the end of that, too. So when I began writ­ing The Longest Night, I knew before I put down the first word that the lit­tle chick­adee would bring back the sun. When I write con­cept books, though, like How Do I Love You?, I have to find my end­ing in the play­ing out of the lan­guage.

Do you write with a spe­cif­ic child in mind?

I write always for a child, and in the case of pic­ture books for the adult who will be shar­ing the book, but I have no par­tic­u­lar child in my heart … except maybe the small child I was so many years ago.

Do you envi­sion the illus­tra­tions while you are writ­ing?

I envi­sion space for the illus­tra­tions, which is a very dif­fer­ent thing. I don’t think what the illus­tra­tions will depict, specif­i­cal­ly, and I cer­tain­ly don’t think about what they will look like. That’s the artist’s ter­ri­to­ry. But I make sure I have cre­at­ed an active chang­ing world for the illus­tra­tor to take hold of.

How much do you con­sid­er the lev­el of the reader’s vocab­u­lary when you write a pic­ture book?

Hon­est­ly? Not at all. Because pic­ture books are usu­al­ly read to a child rather than by the child, I nev­er con­sid­er vocab­u­lary. Some­times a total­ly new word is, in itself, a kind of enchant­ment for a child. Think of Peter Rab­bit for whom let­tuce had a “soporif­ic” effect! No, I’ve nev­er used the word soporif­ic or any­thing like it, but isn’t it a won­der­ful­ly res­o­nant word? 

I should add, though, that there is one basic rule I use with all of my writ­ing.  I believe the best word in any piece of writ­ing for any audi­ence is always the sim­plest one.  Some­times, though, that best word might just hap­pen to be soporif­ic.

Winter DanceDo you ever begin a pic­ture book feel­ing at a loss for how to write it?

Yes, and when I do I always stop, set it aside, give it time. When it begins to sing to me—if it begins to sing to me — then there will be no more loss.

Win­ter Dance, my newest pic­ture book, actu­al­ly began with an editor’s com­mit­ting to a pic­ture book I had writ­ten about spring.  For a com­pli­cat­ed series of rea­sons the text the edi­tor con­tract­ed had to be altered sub­stan­tial­ly, and dur­ing that process, my drafts got far­ther and far­ther away from any­thing the edi­tor want­ed.  I men­tioned ear­li­er, it was the edi­tor who final­ly came up with the idea that I write about the first snow instead.  Great idea, but first I had to find my fox, and I had to dis­cov­er that fox­es mate in win­ter so he would have a rea­son to rejoice over snow.  And then, of course, I had to find the song to car­ry him through.

What is the word length you aim for in a pic­ture book?

A max­i­mum of 450 words.  Even that can be too long for some books. 

You were best known for your nov­els for mid­dle grade and teen read­ers. What influ­enced you to try a dif­fer­ent book form for a dif­fer­ent read­er?

The truth is I always want­ed to write pic­ture books. In the begin­ning, I sim­ply didn’t know how to write them, even though I had read them end­less­ly to my own chil­dren and to var­i­ous fos­ter chil­dren in my home. Pic­ture books are a bit tech­ni­cal to learn, and I had no one to teach me. In fact, I start­ed out try­ing to write pic­ture books and dis­cov­ered I didn’t know what I was doing. So I moved on and found it eas­i­er, not know­ing what I was doing, to mud­dle through a nov­el. 

The oth­er piece, though, was that my first edi­tor, at a time when we  writ­ers were owned by our first edi­tors, said to me when I showed him what I thought was a pic­ture-book man­u­script, “Mar­i­on, you are not a pic­ture book writer.” Now, he could legit­i­mate­ly have said, “Mar­i­on, that’s not a pic­ture book.” Because it wasn’t. But even when the pub­lish­ing world opened up and I did learn and began pub­lish­ing suc­cess­ful pic­ture books with oth­er hous­es, he refused to alter his vision of me as only a nov­el­ist. So I have him to thank for my career get­ting estab­lished in nov­els. Pic­ture books are so much fun, if he had been open to younger work from me, I prob­a­bly would have been off play­ing with pic­ture books much soon­er.


Thank you, Mar­i­on, for shar­ing your thoughts about pic­ture books in such an instruc­tive way. We’re always hap­py to learn from you.

Learn more about Mar­i­on Dane Bauer.


A Kindle* of Cats



Phyl­lis Root’s cat, Luna

*Even though kin­dle means cats born in the same lit­ter, the allit­er­a­tion was hard to resist.

All my work is done in the com­pa­ny of cats,” writes Nico­la Bay­ley, won­der­ful pic­ture book artist and writer, in her book The Nec­es­sary Cat.

I know what she means. Right now my cat Luna is sit­ting on the open copy of The Kit­tens’ ABC, clear­ly a cat of dis­cern­ing lit­er­ary taste.

Cats and writ­ers seem to have a par­tic­u­lar rela­tion­ship. Cats wan­der in and out of our pic­ture books, take naps on our key­boards, and curl up in our hearts. This month we looked at a few of the many pic­ture books where cats play a role.

The Kittens' ABCI was intro­duced to Claire Turlay New­ber­ry when I found a used copy of The Kit­tens’ ABC and was enchant­ed by her draw­ings of cats in which she cap­tures them with a few lines in char­coal, pen­cil, and pas­tels. (Of her sev­en­teen pic­ture books, all but three are about cats.) The rhymes with each let­ter of this ABC are sim­ple, but I could linger over those wise, play­ful, cozy pic­tures for hours. And if Luna has her way, curled up now on N is for Nap, I will.

Kit­tens like to take their naps
In box­es, bureau draw­ers, and laps;
Or else, along the sofa pil­lows,
In rows, like lit­tle pussy­wil­lows.

Green EyesAnoth­er used book find is Green Eyes by A. Birn­baum, win­ner of a 1953 Calde­cott hon­or. The sto­ry fol­lows the first year of a spring­time-born kitten’s life, from scram­bling out of a large box to explor­ing the farm life around him — chick­ens, cows, pigs, goats. By the time leaves fall, fol­lowed by snow, the now almost grown cat fits more snug­ly in his box. The art is superb, strong black lines and bright col­ors. This is the only pic­ture book Birn­baum both wrote and also illus­trat­ed, but his work appeared on The New York­er cov­ers over more than forty years. Scrolling through images of those cov­ers, I found myself wish­ing he had illus­trat­ed a whole stack of pic­ture books (two of my favorite images:  the wood­peck­er rat­tling away after a bug to feed the nest of lit­tle wood­peck­ers and the exu­ber­ant cro­cus in a pot).  

It’s hard for YouTube to do jus­tice to the art, but you can see and hear Green Eyes, now reis­sued.

Millions of CatsMil­lions of Cats, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Wan­da Gag, with dou­ble page spreads, black and white lith­o­graph prints, and hand let­tered text has been called the first true Amer­i­can pic­ture book. Mil­lions of Cats won a New­bery hon­or in 1929 (the Calde­cott did not yet exist) and has been in print ever since. The text and art roll rhyth­mi­cal­ly through the sto­ry, and the small­est cat, who didn’t con­sid­er her­self pret­ty enough to argue with the oth­er cats about who was pret­ti­est, is the only one left after the hun­dreds of cats, thou­sands of cats, mil­lions and bil­lions and tril­lions of cats fight so much they eat each oth­er up. The lit­tlest kit­ten, adopt­ed  and loved by the lit­tle old lady and the lit­tle old man (cat own­ers might say the peo­ple were adopt­ed by the kit­ten) becomes the pret­ti­est cat of all.

Cats in Krasinski SquareCats are the heroes in The Cats in Krasns­ki Square by Karen Hesse, a fic­tion­al sto­ry based on a true sto­ry of cats help­ing out­wit the Gestapo and smug­gle food into the War­saw ghet­to dur­ing World War II.

The cats
from the cracks in the Wall,
the dark cor­ners,
the open­ings in the rub­ble

With her old­er sis­ter (all that is left of her fam­i­ly) the nar­ra­tor, who escaped the Pol­ish ghet­to and now lives out­side its walls, is part of the resis­tance smug­gling food to Jews still impris­oned inside the ghet­to, includ­ing her friend Michael.  When the resis­tance learns that the Gestapo is com­ing with dogs on leash­es to sniff out the food arriv­ing by train to be smug­gled behind the walls, the nar­ra­tor knows what to do:  round up as many cats as pos­si­ble and take them to the sta­tion.  As the train arrives, the nar­ra­tor and her friends  release the cats, which dri­ves the dogs wild; dur­ing the dis­trac­tion the food van­ish­es  from the sta­tion

through the Wall, over the Wall,  under the Wall,
into the Ghet­to.

Wendy Wat­son, one of my favorite artists, illus­trat­ed the books in somber tones reflect­ing the grav­i­ty of the sto­ry, where acts of great courage can resist great dark­ness.

So many more cat books to love!  Here are a few to check out:

Cat books

All Archie says to the stray cat on the city side­walk is, “Hi, Cat!” in Hi, Cat! by Ezra Jack Keats, but the cat fol­lows him and man­ages to ruin every act of the show Archie and his friend Peter are putting on. Still, Archie decides that the cat “just kin­da liked me!”

Cats aren’t men­tioned in This is Our House by Hye­won Yum, but gen­er­a­tions of cats and kit­tens weave in and out of the art of this decep­tive­ly sim­ple sto­ry of immi­gra­tion, fam­i­ly, and home.

Gin­ger writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Char­lotte Voake, is a tale of “sib­ling” rival­ry when the cat of the house must deal with a new kit­ten.

Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes tells of a kit­ten who thinks the first full moon of her life is a bowl of milk in the sky, but all her efforts to drink that milk end in dis­as­ter.  Luck­i­ly, when she returns home, a bowl of milk is wait­ing just for her.

Lola and the Rent-a-Cat, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ceseli Jose­phus Jit­ta, tells how Lola, whose hus­band of many years has died, finds a cat to belong to (and keep) through the Inter­net. Lola choos­es num­ber 313 Tim:

  • Home­ly, slight­ly old­er cat
  • Loves atten­tion and care
  • Fond of diet food

Lola and Tim are togeth­er all the time, and she is able to recall the good mem­o­ries as she and Tim sit on a bench in the evenings, and Tim purrs as she strokes him. 

Octo­ber 29 is Nation­al Cat Day, but any day is a good day to curl up with a cat book (and a cat, if one is handy).


A Vehicle for Change

Fallout ShelterI’d heard my mom talk about “duck and cov­er”: hid­ing under her school desk from a poten­tial nuclear attack. And I’d par­tic­i­pat­ed myself in tor­na­do drills dur­ing my own school days, lin­ing up in a base­ment hall­way with our arms cov­er­ing our heads.

None of that pre­pared me for a lock­down drill. I was on one of my reg­u­lar gigs as a vis­it­ing author when the teacher pulled me aside and prepped me on what to expect. Except it turns out there’s no prep­ping for the feel­ing that comes over you when you’re locked into a dark room with twen­ty-some kids crouch­ing under desks, rec­og­niz­ing that you’re prac­tic­ing in case some­day, one of them decides to show up to school with a gun hid­den under a peanut but­ter sand­wich. It ranks as the most unset­tling moment I’ve expe­ri­enced dur­ing a school vis­it.

I’m cer­tain­ly not alone in wish­ing we could find the way to per­ma­nent­ly erase the need for lock­down drills. The one sug­ges­tion I can offer is some­thing I know from first­hand expe­ri­ence: writ­ing can pro­vide a valu­able out­let for young peo­ple who are grap­pling with life’s harsh­est real­i­ties. When I go into a school, I might be there for only a day or a week. And yet even in that very brief chance to work togeth­er, I’ve had stu­dents who’ve used their sto­ries to share all sorts of sad and scary real­i­ties from their lives: pain over their par­ents’ divorce, bul­ly­ing, betray­al by a friend, death, abuse, and fear. These stu­dents fol­low a long human tra­di­tion of using art to shed light into the dark cor­ners of our exis­tence.

And because I’ve seen what a dif­fer­ence it can make for a young per­son to share their own dark cor­ners, I also believe that we could use art as one of the vehi­cles of change we’re look­ing for. As much as I under­stand the unhap­py neces­si­ty for lock­down drills, I can only hope that we also remem­ber to give stu­dents enough time to sit at their desks with the lights on, writ­ing and cre­at­ing the kind of art that illu­mi­nates us all. Maybe some­how giv­ing them those oppor­tu­ni­ties will prove even more impor­tant than teach­ing them to crouch under their desks, wait­ing for the dark­ness to come and find them.




Pigs Galore

This past Sep­tem­ber, after years of writ­ing and teach­ing the writ­ing of real­is­tic YA fic­tion, I was pleased to launch into the world a set of four ear­ly chap­ter books. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, the chal­lenge of telling a sto­ry in 1000 words instead of 60,000 was huge. It was not the only chal­lenge.

Instead of focus­ing on a teen girl in tur­moil, I was now writ­ing about a talk­ing pig. An ath­let­ic one, to boot: Gra­cie LaRoo, the youngest mem­ber of a cham­pi­onship syn­chro­nized swim­ming team. I can just hear the younger writer me: Anthro­po­mor­phism? You’re real­ly gonna go there?

While devel­op­ing Gra­cie and while writ­ing her sto­ries I was keen­ly aware she was join­ing a crowd­ed field. There are a lot of pigs in chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, and many of them have reached one-name celebri­ty sta­tus. Okay, Piglet, Fred­dy, Wilbur, Babe, and Olivia only ever had one name, but since their arrival on the scene have they ever need­ed more than that?

Char­ac­ter is every­thing in lit­er­a­ture, and I was delight­ed to dis­cov­er some fine new and new-to-me pigs. Like almost all the books I read and reread, my list can be divid­ed into two types of books: farm pigs and pigs-as-peo­ple (i.e., full-blown anthro­po­mor­phism).

Pigs Might Fly  

Pigs Might Fly
writ­ten by Dick King-Smith

(Mary Rayn­er, illus; Puf­fin, 1990)

I loved this nov­el by the author of Babe: The Gal­lant Pig, and not just because the pro­tag­o­nist Dag­gie is a swim­ming pig like my Gra­cie. There’s a love­ly bal­ance of real­is­tic farm life and talk­ing-ani­mal whim­sy. Like most of the farm-sto­ry pigs, Dag­gie appears des­tined for the break­fast table. How can he avoid that fate? Dag­gie is a won­der­ful char­ac­ter; his delight in cool­ing off in a stream on a hot day is vis­cer­al. And does he ever fly? You think I’d tell you?

Adventures of a South Pole Pig  

The Adven­tures of a South Pole Pig
writ­ten by Chris Kurtz

(Jen­nifer Black Rein­hardt, illus; HMH, 2015)

An out­door sur­vival sto­ry with a female pro­tag­o­nist – what’s not to love? Okay, Flora’s a pig, but still. Per­haps because the nov­el begins on a farm, I had no hes­i­ta­tion in accept­ing that what hap­pens lat­er in the sto­ry is pre­cise­ly what would hap­pen were a pig ship­wrecked at the edge of Antarc­ti­ca. One warn­ing: the ship­board rats are very fright­en­ing.


The Pirate Pig


The Pirate Pig
writ­ten by Cor­nelia Funke

(Ker­stin Mey­er, illus; Year­ling, 2015)

Funke is of course the imag­i­na­tive author of many mid­dle grade and YA nov­els. This sto­ry about a trea­sure-sniff­ing pig who is shang­haied into labor by two evil pirates is great fun; also, how can you resist a pig pirate named Julie?

Poppleton Has Fun  

Pop­ple­ton Has Fun
by Cyn­thia Rylant

(Mark Teague, illus; Har­court School Pub­lish­ers, 2006)

Ani­mals of all types abound in stepped-read­ing sets and series, and pigs are espe­cial­ly well-rep­re­sent­ed. I pored over many and quick­ly tossed some aside. Thanks to New­bery win­ner Rylant’s deft char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and pitch-per­fect lan­guage, Pop­ple­ton emerges as the best, and in this book he quilts and takes a nice bath. Fun, indeed.


Did I miss your favorite pig? Please com­ment!


Skinny Dip with Anne Broyles

Anne BroylesAuthor Anne Broyles is a world trav­el­er, explor­er, and social jus­tice advo­cate who writes books about his­tor­i­cal jour­neys, fam­i­ly tra­di­tions, and the immi­grant expe­ri­ence.  

Who was your favorite teacher in grades K‑7 and why?

My fifth grade teacher at Schu­mak­er Ele­men­tary School, Mr. George Willems, encour­aged me to think of myself as a writer through our week­ly writ­ing assign­ments. One week he put on a scary piece of music called “Danse Macabre” and asked us to write the sto­ry that came to us as we lis­tened to the music. My sto­ry was about skele­tons in the grave­yard. Anoth­er week, he took us out on the play­ground to lie on our backs and use the clouds for inspi­ra­tion. I still have a lot of the work I did in his class.

I have few regrets in life, but I do wish I had returned to the school to thank him for his encour­age­ment, but by the time I was old enough to real­ize that this might have meant some­thing to him, he was already gone.

What is your favorite part of start­ing a new project?

I love the ini­tial inspi­ra­tion of a new project, then the research into mak­ing sure my ideas, set­ting, lan­guage, and details are all accu­rate. For instance, in my research for my mid­dle grade nov­el-in-progress, Plen­ty Pow­er­ful, I spent two week­ends in Arthurdale, West Vir­ginia, a planned com­mu­ni­ty that Eleanor Roo­sevelt helped found dur­ing the Depres­sion. I spent time with the real-life peo­ple who, had my char­ac­ter been an actu­al per­son, would have been her class­mates. They told me what it was like to move from extreme pover­ty in min­ing camps to a place where they had homes, run­ning water, elec­tric­i­ty, and a sense of com­mu­ni­ty. Those are the kinds of details I love to include in writ­ing fic­tion..

grilled cheese and tomato soupFavorite lunch as a kid?

Toma­to soup and grilled cheese sand­wich.

Bare­foot or shoes?

I grew up in Tuc­son, so I am def­i­nite­ly a thongs/sandals per­son. I feel sad when sum­mer is over and I have to start wear­ing “real shoes.” Though I back­packed through Europe for sev­en months right after col­lege and loved my heavy hik­ing boots so much, I some­times slept in them after I got home!

Why do you feel hope­ful for humankind?

Like Anne Frank, I “believe, in spite of every­thing, that people& are tru­ly good at heart.” I try to look for and find the light that is in every­one I meet.

Best inven­tion of the last two hun­dred years?

The tele­phone, because it gave peo­ple oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­mu­ni­cate with fam­i­ly and friends who were not geo­graph­i­cal­ly close. I use email and texts to stay in touch, too, of course, but there’s noth­ing as sat­is­fy­ing as hear­ing the voice of some­one I love, and get­ting to have a back-and-forth con­ver­sa­tion when we are apart.

Long Way DownBook on your bed­side table right now?

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, which I just picked up today. I look for­ward to see­ing how he pulls off the con­cept of “a nov­el that takes place in six­ty potent sec­onds — the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to mur­der the guy who killed his broth­er.”

Your most cher­ished accom­plish­ment?

I received a Youth Men­tor Award from the League of Unit­ed Latin Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens.


From Gridlock to Road Trip


If you were stuck in bumper to bumper grid­lock, head­ing south on Hwy 100 last week, you may have noticed a woman laugh­ing all alone in her car as she wait­ed patient­ly (with eyes on the road) for things to start mov­ing again. The very next day you might have caught a glimpse of that same lady wip­ing a tear or two from her cheek, again, stay­ing atten­tive to the traf­fic. This emo­tion­al dri­ver wasn’t react­ing to the road con­ges­tion or the fact that her time behind the wind­shield was dou­ble what it should be. The source of her amuse­ment and sad­ness was com­ing from her car radio speak­ers, more specif­i­cal­ly, the audio­book Gone Crazy in Alaba­ma, writ­ten by Rita Williams-Gar­cia, nar­rat­ed by Sisi A. John­son. That cap­ti­vat­ed listener/careful motorist was me, mak­ing the most of rush hour by savor­ing a sto­ry that begs to be heard in audio for­mat.

Gone Crazy in AlabamaThe Gaither sis­ters, Del­phine, Vonet­ta and Fern, along with Big Ma, their grand­moth­er, and Ma Charles, their great grand­moth­er, joined me for the com­mute down Hwy 100 for about a week. The com­bi­na­tion of exquis­ite writ­ing by Ms. Williams and enthralling nar­ra­tion by Ms. John­son trans­formed sev­er­al days of dif­fi­cult maneu­ver­ing on the inter­state to an extend­ed road trip with some of my very best friends. There was even one morn­ing when I final­ly arrived at the school park­ing lot only to have to pull myself away from my vehi­cle, after telling myself “Just five more min­utes to fin­ish this chap­ter!”

In addi­tion to Gone Crazy in Alaba­ma, I have enjoyed near­ly three dozen oth­er audio titles in the past year. My top rec­om­men­da­tions stand out for their mem­o­rable and engag­ing nar­ra­tions. Oth­er than The Hate U Give (most appro­pri­ate for age 12+), these audio­books would be great addi­tions to mid­dle grade (4th-6th) class­rooms.

All Amer­i­can Boys by Bren­den Kiely and Jason Reynolds

Crossover by Kwame Alexan­der

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esper­an­za Ris­ing by Pam Muñoz Ryan

The Hate U Give by Angela Thomas

Listen, SlowlyLis­ten Slow­ly by Thanhha Lai

One Crazy Sum­mer by Rita Williams-Gar­cia

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Gar­cia

Refugee by Alan Katz

Reign Rain by Ann M. Mar­tin

Stel­la by Starlight by Sharon Drap­er

The War that Saved My Life by Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley

My all-time favorite audio­book adven­ture was Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan. With a run­ning time of ten and a half hours, this mas­ter­piece is well worth every minute spent tak­ing in the cap­ti­vat­ing tale of mag­ic, mys­tery and har­mon­i­ca music. The fate of three chil­dren is inter­wo­ven from Ger­many to the Unit­ed States, from the Rise of Hitler to post-Pearl Har­bor as the har­mon­i­ca plays an inte­gral role in the char­ac­ters’ con­nec­tions and the book’s con­clu­sion. I am con­vinced that the audio pro­duc­tion of Echo offers a unique and mem­o­rable expe­ri­ence that is beyond com­par­i­son to either the read aloud or inde­pen­dent read­ing option. Whether Echo becomes your first audio­book or lands at the top of your exist­ing “to be lis­tened to” list, you will not be dis­ap­point­ed (well, per­haps you will be, but only because it has to come to an end).

If you are look­ing for oth­er great audio picks, con­sid­er the award win­ners cho­sen by YALSA and ALSC.

The Odyssey Award spon­sored by YALSA (Young Adult Library Ser­vices Asso­ci­a­tion) rec­og­nizes the best audio­book pro­duced each year for chil­dren and/or young adults. In 2016, the Hon­or Record­ing was Echo.

In addi­tion to the Odyssey Award win­ners, a longer list of exem­plary audio record­ings are offered annu­al­ly on the Notable Children’s Record­ings list, select­ed by the ALSC (Asso­ci­a­tion for Library Ser­vice to Chil­dren). In 2011, One Crazy Sum­mer was rec­og­nized.

Late­ly, I’ve been reflect­ing on a pow­er­ful quote from Kylene Beers from Notice & Note: Strate­gies for Close Read­ing; “Non­fic­tion lets us learn more; fic­tion lets us be more.” This is what I want most for young read­ers and I bet you do as well.  Yet, like me, you might won­der just how many of our kids have ever expe­ri­enced this pow­er­ful aspect of fic­tion? I believe that for some, if not many, excep­tion­al audio­books may be the tick­et to help­ing kids be more through the books they expe­ri­ence. There was a time in my teach­ing career when I didn’t give audio­books and their lis­ten­ers the cred­it they deserve. I have come to appre­ci­ate the aur­al read­ing expe­ri­ence both per­son­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly. I hope you feel the same.

Resources that pro­mote access to audio­books:


Epic! is the lead­ing dig­i­tal library for kids, with unlim­it­ed access to an incred­i­ble selec­tion of 25,000 high-qual­i­ty books, learn­ing videos, quizzes and more. You can access Epic! on any device, includ­ing your smart­phone, iPad or com­put­er — FREE for edu­ca­tors!


Bor­row eBooks, audio­books, and more from your local pub­lic library — any­where, any­time. All you need is a library card.


Scribd is a read­ing sub­scrip­tion that is avail­able any­time and on any device. Enjoy access to 3 books and 1 audio­book each month — plus unlim­it­ed access to mag­a­zines and doc­u­ments — for $8.99/month.


Sky­brary is a care­ful­ly curat­ed, ever expand­ing inter­ac­tive library of dig­i­tal books and video explo­rations designed to engage young read­ers and fos­ter a love of learn­ing.


Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

I have had the plea­sure of enter­tain­ing a few young writ­ers in my office in the last cou­ple of months. They come with a Mom, usu­al­ly. (My office doesn’t real­ly hold more than three peo­ple at a time.) These Moms are so thank­ful that I would do this “gen­er­ous thing” of hav­ing them over that I feel almost guilty. Because I do it for me. These writ­ers, most of whom have not hit the dou­ble dig­its in age yet, are such an inspi­ra­tion for me.

We often share our WIPs (works-in-progress). Theirs is beau­ti­ful, because they are almost always illus­tra­tors as well as writ­ers. Some write pic­ture books only, but some cross over into illus­trat­ed chap­ter books, fill­ing note­book upon note­book. I usu­al­ly show them some mess I’m work­ing on, and although they’re polite, I can tell they’re star­tled (or amused) that I don’t have my act more togeth­er.

We dis­cuss process. I ask them if they write most every day and they say things like, “Of course.” And “I use my free time in class effi­cient­ly.” These kids leave and I have the urge to clean my office, start a new note­book and cal­en­dar, and get my act togeth­er. They are good for my soul.

They usu­al­ly try my Wesk (Walk­ing Desk) and they spend a lot of time look­ing at my book­shelves. This is how I know they’re seri­ous writ­ers — they’re seri­ous read­ers. I tell them this. And they nod smart­ly or look at me with the “Duh!” look on their face. Most­ly we talk about new­er books — those pub­lished with­in their life­time — that we love. But I had one young writer recent­ly who kept remark­ing on the books of my child­hood.

Ramona the Brave! I love Ramona…. The Bor­row­ers! Remem­ber when we read that when we were vis­it­ing your friend, Mom? Wind in the Wil­lows! I like Mr. Toad….”

And then she spied Mrs. Fris­by and the Rats of NIMH. She pulled it off the shelf and scru­ti­nized the cov­er. “Is this the same Mrs. Fris­by we have?” she asked her moth­er, doubt and sus­pi­cion in her young voice. Her moth­er answered that it was, this one just had a dif­fer­ent cov­er. “Was this yours when you were a girl like me?” she asked, her eyes dart­ing my way but then imme­di­ate­ly back to Mrs. Fris­by in her mod­est red cloak on the cov­er.

No,” I said. “This was my son’s copy.” The cov­er says: Cel­e­brat­ing the 35th anniver­sary of NIMH. It’s not near­ly as well done as the art on the orig­i­nal, which I had — the book is near­ly as old as me.

This does not look like Mrs. Fris­by,” she said, her nose scrunched up in dis­ap­proval.

I don’t think so either,” I said. For the life of me, I do not know why they redid the cov­er. Zena Bernstein’s gor­geous (pen and ink?) draw­ings are still inside the book. Why did they change the cov­er to some­thing that looks so…blah for the 35th anniver­sary?

She looks…pre­tend.

Right. I remem­ber so clear­ly being this young writer’s age, and my sec­ond grade teacher, Mrs. Perkins, read­ing us the sto­ry after recess each day. This was my favorite part of the day. I just fell into the world of Mrs. Fris­by and her wee fam­i­ly in such dan­ger in their cozy cin­derblock home. There was noth­ing pre­tend about it. Young Tim­o­thy had pneu­mo­nia — I’d had pneu­mo­nia and I knew exact­ly what that felt like. I wheezed along with Tim­o­thy in sol­i­dar­i­ty. I remem­ber vis­it­ing the Rats of NIMH with Mrs. Fris­by, and my heart pound­ing with hers as she deliv­ered the sleep­ing pow­der into the cat’s dish.

I mean, I know it is pre­tend,” said my young vis­it­ing writer. “Tech­ni­cal­ly. But it doesn’t feel pre­tend when you’re read­ing it.” She pushed the book back into my over­crammed book­shelf. “That’s the kind of book I want to write.”

Me, too, sweet­heart. Me, too.








Why Young Writers Need an Authentic Audience

bored writerFor me, writ­ing non­fic­tion is a fun adven­ture. A game to play. A puz­zle to solve. A chal­lenge to over­come.

But many stu­dents don’t feel the same way. Accord­ing to them, research is bor­ing. Mak­ing a writ­ing plan is a waste of time. And revi­sion is more than frus­trat­ing. It’s down­right painful.

Why do young writ­ers have a point of view that’s so com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent from mine? While there’s prob­a­bly no sin­gle answer to this ques­tion, one thing that’s miss­ing for young writ­ers is an authen­tic audi­ence.

When I begin writ­ing, I know exact­ly who my audi­ence is — kids, of course, but also the adults who put the books in the hands of chil­dren. I’m excit­ed to share infor­ma­tion with my audi­ence, and I hope they’ll find it as fas­ci­nat­ing as I do.

I know peo­ple are read­ing my books because I see reviews online and in jour­nals. Even­tu­al­ly, I see sales fig­ures. Kids respond by send­ing me let­ters, by ask­ing prob­ing ques­tions at school vis­its and, some­times, by drag­ging their par­ents to book sign­ings. Teach­ers and librar­i­ans respond via social media and by invit­ing me to their schools and con­fer­ences.

These respons­es are dif­fer­ent from the ones I get from my cri­tique group and edi­tors. Sure, they read my work too, but it’s their job to find fault with it. While I appre­ci­ate and depend on their feed­back, it’s far less reward­ing than the reac­tions I get from my true audi­ence, my authen­tic audi­ence.

Stu­dents often don’t have an authen­tic audi­ence. Their teacher is like my edi­tor. And if peer cri­tiquing or bud­dy edit­ing is part of their writ­ing process, those class­mates are like my cri­tique group.

How can we give young writ­ers the kind of expe­ri­ences pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers have when they write for and get respons­es from an authen­tic audi­ence? Here are a cou­ple of ideas:

  1. Share writ­ing with younger stu­dents. Encour­age the younger stu­dents to respond with writ­ing of their own or by draw­ing pic­tures or mak­ing an audio or video record­ing.
  1. Cre­ate a class blog and encour­age stu­dents in oth­er class­es and/or par­ents to read the posts and leave meaty com­ments.

If you have oth­er sug­ges­tions, please share them in the com­ments below or via social media. I know there are lots of ways we can cre­ate an authen­tic audi­ence for our stu­dents.


On Growing Older … Old

Growing OlderWhy is “old­er” an accept­able word and “old” almost for­bid­den?

To answer my own ques­tion, I sup­pose it’s because we’re all grow­ing old­er, even the four-year-old next door. But old … ah, old smacks of incom­pe­tence, of irrel­e­vance. Even worse, old smacks of that tru­ly obscene-to-our-soci­ety word … death.

I am approach­ing my birth­day month. It won’t be a “big” divid­able-by-five birth­day, but still one that feels sig­nif­i­cant for the num­ber it stands close to. I will be 79 next month.

Can you name the num­ber?

Forty didn’t trou­ble me a bit. I had a friend, sev­er­al years old­er than I, who, when I turned forty, said, “Forty is such a fine age. It’s the first num­ber you reach that has any author­i­ty, but you still feel so young.” And she was right! I sailed into 40 feel­ing mature, con­fi­dent … and still young.

Six­ty-five slipped past with­out much fan­fare. As a work­ing writer I wasn’t fac­ing retire­ment, after all. More­over, I could sign up for Social Secu­ri­ty and Medicare, and for the self-employed that is no small thing. I’d been pay­ing in, both the employ­ee and the employ­er side, for a long time, and at last it was going to come back to me. Giv­en the dif­fi­cul­ty and expense of buy­ing health insur­ance that isn’t hand­ed down through an employ­er, being able to get Medicare was an even big­ger deal. (I will nev­er under­stand the flap in this coun­try about “social­ized med­i­cine.” That’s what Medicare is, and it works! It works bet­ter than any oth­er pay-for-care sys­tem this back­ward sys­tem offers.)

When I turned sev­en­ty my daugh­ter threw me a big par­ty … at my request, I should add. It was a love­ly par­ty, and it exhaust­ed me. Most­ly it remind­ed me that I’ve nev­er liked par­ties.

I won’t ask you to do that again,” I said.

She, who has always been a lov­ing and will­ing daugh­ter, said, “Good!”

But this is 79! And yes, I might as well name the num­ber. Eighty is a very short hop, skip and hob­ble down the road!

It’s the first time I find myself fac­ing changes in my body that I know I don’t have the pow­er to fix. Not that I’ve giv­en up try­ing. I walk vig­or­ous­ly two of three times a day. I do Pilates three times a week. I stretch and I med­i­tate and I eat health­ful­ly and I prac­tice excel­lent sleep hygiene. Actu­al­ly, my sleep hygiene is bet­ter and more reli­able than my sleep. But my body con­tin­ues on its ever-so-pre­dictable down­ward tra­jec­to­ry.

From time to time, bits fall off.

And my mind? That’s hard­er to define and even hard­er to talk about. I can still pro­duce a work­able man­u­script. I can still offer a use­ful cri­tique of some­one else’s man­u­script, too. But I find myself too often going back to the refrig­er­a­tor to locate the eggs I’ve just set out on the counter or strug­gling in the evening to remem­ber some detail of what I’ve done that morn­ing.

My omelets still please the palate, though, and I’ve shown up wher­ev­er I was expect­ed to be in the morn­ing and done what­ev­er I said I would do.

Arriv­ing at a place called old in this cul­ture is a mat­ter for some amaze­ment. Who is ever pre­pared? After all, old has nev­er been some­thing to aspire to … despite the alter­na­tive. A friend said recent­ly, “I went from wolf whis­tles to invis­i­bil­i­ty in a heart­beat.” And I went from “cut­ting-edge” to “vet­er­an author” in the same incom­pre­hen­si­bly short time.

I find I want more than any­thing else to use these years I’ve been gift­ed, how­ev­er many or few they may be. I want to use them to deep­en my accep­tance of my own life, blun­ders and accom­plish­ments all. I want to use them to enrich the peace my pres­ence brings to a room.

I want to use these years to live. Not just to move through my days stack­ing accom­plish­ments, one on top of anoth­er. I have enough of those. We all have enough of those.

I want to use these years to breathe, deeply and mind­ful­ly. And now, being old, I want use these final years to be grate­ful for every, every breath.


Pumpkin Muffins

Choco­late Crois­sant Bread Pud­ding
Yields 9
Eat dessert first! Inspired by Rube Gold­berg’s love of Cool Whip (and Sarah’s love of writ­ing what makes her hap­py!)
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
  1. 2 eggs plus 4 egg yolks
  2. 2 cups whole milk
  3. 12 cup unsweet­ened cocoa pow­der
  4. 1−1÷2 cups heavy cream
  5. 1−1÷2 tsp cin­na­mon
  6. 1 tsp salt
  7. 8 oz bit­ter­sweet choco­late
  8. 1−1÷2 cup sug­ar
  9. 1 tsp vanil­la
  10. 6 to 8 crois­sants
  11. Cool Whip!
  1. Pre­heat oven to 325 deg F.
  2. Whisk 2 eggs plus 4 egg yolks togeth­er. Set aside.
  3. Over a low flame, com­bine 2 cups whole milk, 12 cup unsweet­ened cocoa pow­der, 1 12 cups heavy cream, 1 12 tsp cin­na­mon, and 1 tsp salt in a sauce pan until smooth.
  4. Add 8 oz bit­ter­sweet choco­late, 1 12 cup sug­ar, and 1 tsp vanil­la .
  5. Stir.
  6. Slow­ly add milk-and-choco­late mix­ture to the eggs. Don’t be aggres­sive! (If you do, you
  7. will get scram­bled eggs.)
  8. But­ter an 8″ x 8″ bak­ing dish.
  9. Cut 6 – 8 crois­sants into cubes and place in dish.
  10. Pour choco­late mix­ture over crois­sants. Let them sit to soak up all the choco­latey good­ness. Be patient!
  11. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 – 50 min­utes.
  12. Scoop on some Cool Whip and eat!
Bookol­o­gy Mag­a­zine

Shifting Gears

Darth Vader with Light SaberThe only argu­ment I’ve ever wit­nessed between Teenage Nephew 1 and Long­time Girl-friend was a doozy.

And I couldn’t help chortling with glee because the basis of their dis­agree­ment was so close to my heart: What makes for the best pos­si­ble sto­ry?

Actu­al­ly, the way they put it was, “What’s bet­ter, ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Har­ry Pot­ter’?” But don’t let the fact that they were com­par­ing two fic­tion­al worlds fool you: this was a white-hot debate, the com­peti­tors more impas­sioned in their argu­ments than politi­cians at a pre-elec­tion pic­nic.

Nei­ther was giv­ing ground; they had dug their heels in, and the “wiz­ard vs. space war­rior” dis­pute looked as if it was com­ing per­ilous­ly close to derail­ing Young Love, when Teenage Nephew 1 sud­den­ly shrugged and said, “All I know is, lightsabers are big­ger than wands,” in a defin­i­tive way that sig­naled that in his mind, at least, he’d had the final word.

And they say that size doesn’t mat­ter.

Size may not, but sto­ries do mat­ter. We all have sto­ries that have become an inte­gral part of us; we car­ry them around and they help shape who we are. Cap­tur­ing sto­ries on paper, how­ev­er, can be tricky, and leads some stu­dents to dread sto­ry-writ­ing. So one of the tricks I’ve found to gen­er­ate class­room enthu­si­asm for writ­ing sto­ries is to first get stu­dents talk­ing about the sto­ries that have mat­tered most to them per­son­al­ly. What are their favorite books or movies, and why? Does their favorite song tell a sto­ry, maybe about love gone right or love gone wrong? What are their most trea­sured per­son­al sto­ries: the scary thing that hap­pened on their fam­i­ly vaca­tion? The mem­o­ry of that time their dog ate the hol­i­day din­ner?

Based on the age of your stu­dents and the size of your group, you might choose to have them share favorite sto­ries in a big group, or break them into small­er groups. The point is to have them real­ize how much cer­tain sto­ries have mat­tered in their own lives, or even to extend the dis­cus­sion to talk about how a big a role sto­ries have played in shap­ing human his­to­ry.

Once all those great sto­ries have filled the room, it becomes a whole lot eas­i­er to shift gears into hav­ing them write sto­ries of their own.


Skinny Dip with Patti Lapp

Patti Lapp

A ded­i­cat­ed edu­ca­tor in Penn­syl­va­nia, we invit­ed Pat­ti Lapp to answer our twen­ty Skin­ny Dip ques­tions.  

Who was your favorite teacher in grades K‑7 and why?

Mr. Jor­dan was my favorite teacher who taught 7th grade. He was fun­ny and straight­for­ward; all of us stu­dents respect­ed him, and he cer­tain­ly kept every­one in line. I attend­ed a Catholic school, and he was unique in that set­ting.

When did you first start read­ing books?

My mom read to me when I was very young, and because of her ded­i­ca­tion, I could read inde­pen­dent­ly when I entered kinder­garten. I have been read­ing vora­cious­ly since.

Your favorite day­dream?

I day­dream of hav­ing time to write!

Din­ner par­ty at your favorite restau­rant with peo­ple liv­ing or dead: where is it and who’s on the guest list?

The din­ner par­ty would be at Sog­gy Dol­lar in Jost Van Dyke, BVI. The guest list would include: Jesus, of course! This choice is cliché, but how inter­est­ing would this din­ner con­ver­sa­tion be with Him?! At this din­ner, I would also invite Mary Mag­da­lene, Stephen Hawk­ing, David Bohm, Albert Ein­stein, Gregg Braden, Niko­la Tes­la, Edgar Cayce, Nos­tradamus, Shirley MacLaine, Nel­son Man­dela, Charles Dick­ens, Maya Angelou, Avi, Vig­go Mortensen, Paul McCart­ney, and my father and grand­fa­ther, both deceased.

A Tale of Two CitiesAll-time favorite book?

A Tale of Two Cities—bril­liant plot­line, indeli­ble char­ac­ters, and a notable begin­ning and end!

Favorite break­fast or lunch as a kid?

My mom made the best French toast. The key is a lot of cin­na­mon.

What’s your least favorite chore?

Get­ting ready the night before for the next day’s work.

What’s your favorite part of start­ing a new project?


Bare­foot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Bare­foot or socks — sea­son depen­dent.

When are you your most cre­ative?

Sit­ting alone in the qui­et dark at night, decom­press­ing before bed­time.

Your best mem­o­ry of your school library?

When in ele­men­tary school, my best mem­o­ry is of the Nan­cy Drew mys­tery sto­ries that I bor­rowed every week. Now, as a teacher, my best mem­o­ries are dis­cussing nov­els with the many librar­i­ans that we have had over the years. They read a lot; so do I.

Favorite fla­vor of ice cream?

Cher­ry Gar­cia.

Purgatory Ridge William Kent KruegerBook on your bed­side table right now?

William Kent Krueger’s Pur­ga­to­ry Ridge, the third nov­el in his Cork O’Connor murder/mystery series of cur­rent­ly 16 books. I got hooked on his bril­liant sto­ry, Ordi­nary Grace, a stand­alone nov­el. He writes beau­ti­ful­ly.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I can weave.

jacksYour favorite toy as a child …

Jacks—Any­one remem­ber that game?

Best inven­tion in the last 200 years?

Clean water and indoor plumb­ing and the print­ing press and the elec­tric light.

Favorite artist? Why?

I love Van Gogh because of his tex­tured brush strokes, col­or, and cre­ativ­i­ty.

Which is worse: spi­ders or snakes?

Snakes are the worst. I do not kill spi­ders because they will con­sume most of the insects in our homes. If they are big and hairy, they pack their bags and leave — in a cup — to move out­side.

vegetablesWhat’s your best con­tri­bu­tion to tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment?

I am a veg­e­tar­i­an. It takes 15 pounds of feed to gen­er­ate 1 pound of meat; hence, more peo­ple in the world can be fed when peo­ple con­sume a veg­e­tar­i­an diet. Addi­tion­al­ly, ani­mals are saved, many that would be raised in inhu­mane con­di­tions, many that would be treat­ed inhu­mane­ly.

Why do you feel hope­ful for humankind?

Ideas are humans’ most valu­able resource. If we con­tin­ue to invest in inno­va­tion and research that make our plan­et health­i­er and improve the qual­i­ty of life for the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty, we have hope. As a very sim­ple exam­ple, look at the fair­ly new aware­ness of GMOs in our food. With aware­ness, comes demand. With demand, comes change — and human­i­ty clear­ly needs to con­tin­ue to make pio­neer­ing and pos­i­tive changes.


The Book Box

For a fic­tion work­shop, I asked par­tic­i­pants to bring in child­hood books that influ­enced them to become a writer. Nat­u­ral­ly, I did the assign­ment myself. Choos­ing the books was easy, but they felt insub­stan­tial in my hands, vin­tage hard­backs that lacked the heft of, say, the last Har­ry Pot­ter. When it came my turn to talk, I fig­ured I’d stam­mer excus­es for their shab­by, old-fash­ioned, stamped jack­ets. (“Well, this is the way library books looked in the fifties.”)

I want­ed to tuck my beloved books in a box to keep them safe, like baby robins fall­en out of a nest. Real­ly, what is a book, but ideas, adven­tures, peo­ple, and places pro­tect­ed by card­board, shaped like a box? I car­ried this notion with me on a trip to Michael’s, where I found a stur­dy box with a jig­saw of lit­tle box­es stacked under the front flap. I knew just what I’d do with this prize: show­case my favorite books in an assem­blage. 

The Book Box

At FedEx Office, I col­or pho­to­copied the book cov­ers, reduced them sev­er­al sizes, then dashed through A.C. Moore’s minia­ture sec­tion to col­lect tiny endowed objects. Next, I hap­pi­ly sort­ed through my scrap­book and ephemera stash for just-right win­dow dress­ing. I glued on paper, adding the objects. Pic­tures and trin­kets were pret­ty, but not enough. The box need­ed words to set the sto­ries — and their mean­ing — free.

Home for a BunnyI typed quotes and notes into strips fold­ed accor­dion-style. Mar­garet Wise Brown’s Home for a Bun­ny gen­tly remind­ed me that once I had lived “under a rock, under a stone.” Like the bun­ny, I had no home of my own until I was five. This was my first book, my first expe­ri­ence in iden­ti­fy­ing with a char­ac­ter.

The title of Trix­ie Belden and the Secret of the Man­sion con­tained “secret” and “man­sion,” words that made my heart thump. Trix­ie lived in the coun­try like me, and had to work in the gar­den, like I did. Trix­ie stum­bled into mys­ter­ies and I did, too, when I furi­ous­ly scrib­bled who­dun­nits in fourth grade. Just like that, I became a writer.

Diamond in the WindowThe Dia­mond in the Win­dow opens with a quote from Emer­son: “On him the light of star and moon / Shall fall with pur­er radi­ance down … / Him Nature giveth for defense / His for­mi­da­ble inno­cence; / The mount­ing up, the shells, the sea, / All spheres, all stones, his helpers be …” At eleven, I skipped those words, but I didn’t ignore the small lessons from Emer­son and Thore­au sprin­kled through­out this fan­ta­sy / adven­ture / fam­i­ly / mys­tery sto­ry. This book changed my life.

I had to be mar­ried on Valentine’s Day, after the “Bride of Snow” chap­ter (and I was one, too, in three feet of snow!). Our pow­der room has a Hen­ry Thore­au theme and we have a gaz­ing globe (“The crys­tal sphere of thought”) in our back yard, like the Hall fam­i­ly.

Gazing Globe

With some thought and imag­i­na­tion, a book box can be a tan­gi­ble book report. Sup­plies required: a cig­ar box, con­struc­tion paper, glue, and a favorite book. A box cov­ered in red con­struc­tion paper could rep­re­sent Wilbur’s barn. A lid could repli­cate the map of Hun­dred Acre Wood. Or Mr. Lemoncello’s library.

Mak­ing my book box helped me slow down and think about what my favorite books meant to me. How Dia­mond in the Win­dow led me to the works of Thore­au and Emer­son, inspired me to look up from the print­ed page and tru­ly see the great sphere of our world.  

I still fill my pock­ets with rocks, pick up shells at the beach, and stare at the stars. I won­der if the rocks were bro­ken off from ancient glac­i­ers, and what hap­pened to the sea crea­tures inside the shells. The shells and rocks stay in jars and box­es. The stars can­not be con­tained, thank­ful­ly.

Book Box Interior


Bookstorm™: Giant Pumpkin Suite

Giant Pumpkin SuiteCom­pe­ti­tion is a part of young peo­ple’s lives: art, sports, music, dance, sci­ence, cup-stack­ing … many chil­dren spend a good part of their day prac­tic­ing, learn­ing, and striv­ing to do their best. Giant Pump­kin Suite is about two types of com­pe­ti­tions, a Bach Cel­lo Suites Com­pe­ti­tion and a giant pump­kin grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Rose and Thomas Bruti­gan are twelve-year-old twins … but their per­son­al­i­ties and inter­ests are quite dif­fer­ent. It’s a book set with­in a neigh­bor­hood that pulls togeth­er when a seri­ous acci­dent changes the tra­jec­to­ry of their sum­mer. We meet so many inter­est­ing peo­ple, chil­dren and adults, in this book. It’s full of hold-your-breath plot turns. 

The book is writ­ten at a lev­el for 5th to 8th grade read­ers (and adults) and it has many ties to pop­u­lar cul­ture, math­e­mat­ics, gar­den­ing, and the nature of com­pe­ti­tion. It’s an excel­lent choice for a book club dis­cus­sion.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books, arti­cles, web­sites, and videos for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests.  




You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Melanie Heuis­er Hill on her web­site.


Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach. Rose Bruti­gan focus­es on an upcom­ing Bach Suites Com­pe­ti­tion by prac­tic­ing … a lot. Who was Bach and why is his music still with us 260 years after his death? Resources include books and videos of our best cel­lists play­ing the Bach Cel­lo Suites.

The Cel­lo. More about the instru­ment Rose plays, with a num­ber of videos you can share with your class or book club.

Char­lot­te’s Web. This book is a favorite of Rose and her neigh­bor Jane. Char­lot­te’s Web pro­vides a major turn­ing point in Giant Pump­kin Suite. Learn more about the book and its author, E.B. White.

Giant Pump­kins. Thomas and his neigh­bors work togeth­er to grow a giant pump­kin. Today, these pump­kins (not grown for eat­ing) can way over 2,000 pounds — more than one ton. Books, videos, and arti­cles share sto­ries and how-tos for grow­ing giant pump­kins com­pet­i­tive­ly.

Japan­ese Tea Cer­e­mo­ny. Mrs. Kiyo shares this beau­ti­ful cer­e­mo­ny with Rose. The Book­storm sug­gests a video for your stu­dents to watch.

Math­e­mat­ics and Bach. Are you aware that Bach used math and physics when cre­at­ing his com­po­si­tions? Your stu­dents can delve into this fas­ci­nat­ing aspect of the com­pos­er!

Movie Musi­cals. The music from musi­cals of the 1940s and 1950s is very impor­tant to Jane and Mrs. Lukashenko — they sing and tap dance at the least sug­ges­tion. We pro­vide three sug­ges­tions for watch­ing these movies.

Music Com­pe­ti­tion (Fic­tion). There are a num­ber of excel­lent books about young peo­ple prepar­ing for, and play­ing in, music com­pe­ti­tions! 

Music in Mid­dle Grade Books. And more nov­els in which music is an impor­tant part of the plot. 

Neigh­bor­hood Books. We sug­gest books in which the peo­ple and places of a neigh­bor­hood are inte­gral to the plot of a book. Per­haps you’ll find your favorites.

Tap Danc­ing. Who can resist a good tap dance? Anoth­er strong plot point, we sug­gest books and videos to share with your stu­dents.

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


E.B. White

A cou­ple of weeks ago I was in the base­ment of the Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing Library at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta get­ting a lit­tle writ­ing in before work. It’s a good spot — there’s a nice cof­fee shop, noth­ing in the stacks is intel­li­gi­ble to me on that floor so I’m not dis­tract­ed, and it’s qui­et and out of the hordes of uni­ver­si­ty traf­fic. Only those look­ing for seri­ous qui­et go all the way down in the base­ment.

When I was done with my jolt of cre­ativ­i­ty caf­feine, I packed up to head out. As I walked through the library’s secu­ri­ty gate, I set off the alarm. I turned around and looked at the sleepy scruffly young man at the check-out desk. He looked as sur­prised as I did.

I didn’t even go into the stacks this morn­ing….” I said.

Huh,” he said.

Can I just go through then?” I asked.

Well…I’m sup­posed to look in your bag.” He gri­maced.

Okay,” I said, heav­ing my giant bag up on the counter in front of him. He peeked in. Didn’t even touch it. Clear­ly, this was not some­thing he did often.

Would you like me to pull stuff out?” I asked.

Yeah, sure.” So I pulled out the detri­tus that is my com­mut­ing bag — a cou­ple of fold­ers and note­books, my knit­ting, sun­glass­es, The Horn Book mag­a­zine and two small books, a peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich, a bag of mark­ers and col­ored pen­cils, the pouch of meds/lipstick/emergency sup­plies, some hand lotion, my wal­let and phone, a pair of socks, the gra­nola bar I couldn’t find the day before, my water bot­tle, lots of Kleenex and tick­et stubs, and the pro­gram from my daughter’s band con­cert the night before. I threw out a cou­ple of receipts while I was at it, and tidied the col­lec­tion of post-it notes and recipe cards etc. while he stared at the pile. He looked to be com­plete­ly over­whelmed.

I can live on the streets for three weeks out of this bag,” I said.

Wow,” he said.

I’m kid­ding,” I said.

He looked at me ner­vous­ly and then ran his hand half-heart­ed­ly over the paper items and picked up one of the books. The Wild Flag by E.B. White. (I wrote about it in Red Read­ing Boots a few weeks ago.) It’s the per­fect size to slip into a purse and I’ve been car­ry­ing it around since I pur­chased it this sum­mer. It’s also a plea­sure to hold — worn, but sol­id linen-esque cov­er, com­fort­able size and shape etc.

What’s this?” he asked, turn­ing it over in his hands. He even sound­ed sus­pi­cious.

It’s called The Wild Flag,” I said. “I pur­chased it in an antique store in Ston­ing­ton, Maine this sum­mer. The receipt is serv­ing as a book­mark, I believe.” He pulled out the receipt, glanced at it, and then stuck it in some­where else. Not that it mat­ters. You can open this book up to most any page and start read­ing. It’s a col­lec­tion of edi­to­ri­als.

Who’s it by?” he asked.

E.B. White.”

Is that the dude that wrote Charlotte’s Web?” he asked, look­ing sud­den­ly awake.

The very dude,” I said.

My Mom read that to me a bunch of times when I was lit­tle.” He smiled. “I loved the rat.”

Tem­ple­ton,” I said.

Yeah, Tem­ple­ton!” He hand­ed me the book back.

So, may I repack my bag?”

Sure!” he said. “You have a lot of stuff. But I know you didn’t find that book down here.”


Wher­ev­er this man-child’s moth­er is — she should be proud. He woke up ear­ly one morn­ing and remem­bered Tem­ple­ton all these years lat­er. That’s the pow­er of read­ing to a child.





Getting Inside the Head of the Long Dead

Samurai RisingDon’t be alarmed by the ghoul­ish­ness of my title. Try­ing to res­ur­rect the life of some­one who turned to dust cen­turies ago is a chal­lenge, espe­cial­ly if the per­son left behind no per­son­al writ­ings such as let­ters or diaries. But it can be done. In prepa­ra­tion for writ­ing Samu­rai Ris­ing: The Epic Life of Minamo­to Yoshit­sune, I read all the aca­d­e­m­ic and pri­ma­ry sources I could find about late-twelfth-cen­tu­ry Japan. And while what-hap­pened-when is the basis of biog­ra­phy, you can chal­lenge stu­dents (or adults) to dig deep­er. If you real­ly want to try to get into the head of the long dead, go beyond the obvi­ous. Try answer­ing these ques­tions.

What did this per­son believe was going to hap­pen after they died?

No, I don’t mean what they thought might hap­pen to their king­dom or their rep­u­ta­tion. I mean: did they believe in an after­life? How would such a belief (or lack of belief) col­or their per­cep­tion of the world? Twelfth-cen­tu­ry Japan­ese of Yoshit­sune’s social class were Bud­dhists. In all like­li­hood, at the very end of his life Yoshit­sune accept­ed that his fate was deter­mined by kar­ma (the sum of good and bad deeds dur­ing his cur­rent and past lives). He hoped that his next life would be kinder and he would be reunit­ed with his friends and fam­i­ly.

What assump­tions did this per­son have about their place in soci­ety?

In oth­er words … there was prob­a­bly some­thing about this per­son­’s role or sta­tus that they nev­er ques­tioned. What was it?

We are all mem­bers of human soci­ety. Each soci­ety, in each time peri­od, has some under­ly­ing assump­tions that are rarely (if ever) ques­tioned. Nobody in Yoshit­sune’s time ques­tioned the notion that the Emper­or was semi-divine … or that some peo­ple were bet­ter than oth­ers because of their impe­r­i­al descent … or that loy­al­ty should be based on blood­lines. I think it’s safe to say that Yoshit­sune enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly believed in his own supe­ri­or­i­ty. If you insist­ed to him that “all human beings are equal” he would’ve thought you were nuts.

(Extra cred­it if you can artic­u­late an assump­tion from con­tem­po­rary cul­ture that may seem real­ly bonkers to your great-great-great-great grand­chil­dren.)

How was this per­son impact­ed by tech­nol­o­gy (or lack of it)?

Here’s an exam­ple. The tech­nol­o­gy of war­fare in twelfth-cen­tu­ry Japan demand­ed that samu­rai lead­ers dis­play per­son­al brav­ery and cred­i­ble mar­tial skills. In those days you had to get up close and per­son­al to kill your ene­my — with­in ten yards to be real­ly accu­rate in horse­back archery, and much clos­er with spear or sword. There were no guns, no can­nons, no sit­ting in HQ and phon­ing orders to your troops. To be an effec­tive leader Yoshit­sune had to be will­ing to risk his life.

What’s under­neath all that armor?

What kind of under­pants did this per­son wear?

What’s under­neath all that armor?

Some­one actu­al­ly asked me this about Yoshit­sune. Amus­ing­ly triv­ial? Well, as it turns out, you can’t answer the ques­tion with­out an under­stand­ing of the mate­r­i­al cul­ture spe­cif­ic to the soci­ety and time peri­od. So here we go.

When Yoshit­sune was an appren­tice monk, he would have worn a loin­cloth (a strip of cloth wrapped and tied around his pri­vates). It would’ve been made of hemp cloth because that’s what poor peo­ple used as fab­ric in twelfth-cen­tu­ry Japan. (Cot­ton was­n’t intro­duced until cen­turies lat­er.) When Yoshit­sune was old­er and liv­ing in Hiraizu­mi, Kamaku­ra, and Kyoto, he would have had clothes ben­e­fit­ting his sta­tus, and high-sta­tus Japan­ese wore silk. How­ev­er, I strong­ly sus­pect that when dressed in full armor, wear­ing a loin­cloth under his haka­ma (wide-legged trousers) would’ve made reliev­ing him­self quite a has­sle. In that case I think Yoshit­sune would’ve gone com­man­do.

See how much fun bio­graph­i­cal research is?

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