Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Riding Around the Block

Writing Road Trip by Lisa Bullard | Riding Around the BlockMy mom was a huge wor­ri­er. But when I think back to my child­hood sum­mers, what stands out is not the safe­guards she imposed, but the aston­ish­ing free­dom we had. I remem­ber long seg­ments of time that belonged exclu­sive­ly to the under-ten crowd: our moms shared the vague under­stand­ing that we were “out­side,” but they had no clue exact­ly where in the big world of out­side we were at any giv­en moment. We might be in someone’s back­yard, under the watch­ful eye of one of those moms, but we were just as like­ly to be off on some grand adven­ture.

One of my favorite adven­tures was “rid­ing around the block,” although tech­ni­cal­ly it was much more than just a block. Each side of the square that my friends and I trav­eled had a favorite ele­ment. The first side was three blocks of homes, com­plete with oth­er kids we knew from the school bus. The sec­ond side’s best fea­ture was the pond where we caught tad­poles by the buck­et­full when they were in sea­son. The third side bor­dered a farmer’s fields, and we loved to play cas­tle high atop his hay­mows. The fourth side always required a sec­ond wind to start: the cor­ner was anchored by the haunt­ed house, and every­one knew you had to bike past that as fast as you pos­si­bly could. Once we dared slow down, we scanned the ditch with eagle eyes, always con­vinced we would once again find mys­te­ri­ous dry­ing bones as we had on a pre­vi­ous jour­ney.

There are many reasons—some of them sad and scary—that kids today don’t all share those long hours of unsu­per­vised free­dom from adult gov­er­nance. But writ­ers know that this can make it tough to ramp up the very ele­ment that an excit­ing sto­ry requires: risk-tak­ing and the result­ing con­se­quences. Adults who write for chil­dren have learned to cre­ate clever ways to get the grown-ups out of the sto­ry (hence the aston­ish­ing num­ber of orphans that lit­ter the lit­er­ary land­scape). That way, kids can get them­selves into, and out of, the kind of inter­est­ing trou­ble that makes us want to keep read­ing. But young writ­ers, often being raised them­selves in an always-super­vised child­hood, some­times strug­gle to place their char­ac­ters at risk. Which means their sto­ries stag­nate while their char­ac­ters sit around stay­ing safe.

Safe­ty, I am here to tell you, is the bane of good sto­ry-writ­ing. If you notice this trend emerg­ing, give your young writ­ers per­mis­sion to intro­duce risk and danger—physical, emo­tion­al, tangible—into their sto­ries. Help them brain­storm ways to get rid of the character’s cell phone. Help them imag­ine how their char­ac­ter, while not nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad kid, might still find him or her­self in the kind of predica­ment their par­ents wish they’d stay far away from. Encour­age them to push their char­ac­ter out of the back­yard, and out from under the watch­ful eyes of Mom, and set them loose on an adven­ture of their own.


Dogman© Unleashed

Encour­age kids to be cre­ative with­out wor­ry­ing about being per­fect.

—Dav Pilkey

 At the start of the fall pro­gram sea­son, I asked our youngest patrons what pro­grams they would like the library to offer. I heard a child yell out, “DOGMAN”! I smiled and I told him that was a great idea. Dog­man© is a graph­ic nov­el series writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Dav Pilkey that tells the sto­ry of George and Harold’s new­ly cre­at­ed hero of jus­tice. Dog­man© is part dog, part man, sniff­ing out crime to save the world.  The series is hilar­i­ous and it helps read­ers learn the impor­tance of empa­thy and hav­ing con­fi­dence. We launched our first Dog­man© pro­gram on Wednes­day, Sep­tem­ber 4, 2019. The fol­low­ing pro­vides the objec­tive and steps you can take to cre­ate your own pro­gram.

Dav Pilkey books

Vis­it Dav Pilkey’s web­site for a full list of book titles and series.

Pro­gram Objec­tive:  Our Dog­man© pro­gram pro­vides chil­dren the oppor­tu­ni­ty to read the sto­ry aloud with oth­er fans and to design and cre­ate their own graph­ic nov­el based on the series. Cur­rent­ly, the pro­gram occurs once a month and lasts between 1 to 1.5 hrs. It is geared for chil­dren in grades 2 to 4, but we wel­come all Dog­man© fans and those who are inter­est­ed.

DogmanSup­plies: Dog­man© books, com­put­ers, mark­ers, pen­cils, pens, LEGO© bricks, and plain paper.


  1. Read Aloud: At the start of the pro­gram, have chil­dren read aloud to the group from one of the Dog­man© titles. Let them know that if they strug­gle with a word to ask for assis­tance. 
  1. Brain­storm: Encour­age the chil­dren to use Pilkey’s sto­ries as inspi­ra­tion for their sto­ry. Dur­ing this step, chil­dren will devel­op their char­ac­ters, choose a plot and set­ting. They can expand on one of Pilkey’s sto­ries or cre­ate an entire­ly new sto­ry. They can draw or sketch their ideas. I pro­vide LEGO© bricks as an option if they want to cre­ate 3D mod­els. It is impor­tant to let chil­dren know that per­fec­tion is not the key.  Encour­age them to have fun and explore their imag­i­na­tion.
  1. LEGO© Sto­ryS­tarter: LEGO© Sto­ryS­tarter is part of LEGO© Edu­ca­tion, pro­vid­ing a vari­ety of cre­ative writ­ing tem­plates for chil­dren to cre­ate, doc­u­ment, and share their sto­ries. It is a free down­load. After the brain­storm­ing stage, chil­dren will use the Sto­ryS­tarter pro­gram to for­mat their sto­ry and use LEGOs©, their draw­ings, or a free image web­site such as Pix­a­by for char­ac­ters and scenes.  They can upload every­thing to Sto­ryS­tarter and every­thing can be saved to a desk­top or flash dri­ve. View this video for more infor­ma­tion: LEGO Edu­ca­tion Sto­ryS­tarter Build­ing the Sto­ry.
  1. Print and Share: At the com­ple­tion of this pro­gram, print the sto­ries off and have chil­dren share them with the group. I plan to cre­ate a com­mu­ni­ty open-house where their sto­ries can be on dis­play for the pub­lic to read and enjoy.

Arti­cles Sup­port­ing the Impor­tance of Graph­ic Nov­els:

  1. 5 Great Rea­sons to Read Graph­ic Nov­els from Play­ful Learn­ing
  2. The Research Behind Graph­ic Nov­els and Young Learn­ers by Leslie Mor­ri­son
  3. The Case for Graph­ic Nov­els in Edu­ca­tion by Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion
  4. In Defense of Graph­ic Nov­els by Dr. Kathryn Strong Hansen

Mr. Z’s Graph­ic Nov­el Top Picks:

  1. Dog­man by Dav Pilkey
  2. Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
  3. Per­cy Jack­son series by Rick Rior­dan
  4. Smile by Raina Tel­ge­meier
  5. El Deafo by Cece Bell
  6. Bone by Jeff Smith
  7. Cora­line by Neil Gaiman
  8. Sand War­rior by Alex­is Siegel
  9. Lunch Lady by Jar­rett Krosocz­ka
  10. Roller Girl by Vic­to­ria Jamieson

Books to Gen­er­ate Ideas:

Dav Pilkey books




Beethoven in Paradise

Beethoven in ParadiseFresh Lookol­o­gy fea­tures books pub­lished sev­er­al years ago that are too good to lan­guish on the shelf.

Mar­tin Pittman takes a reader’s heart and runs with it. He lives in a trail­er park called Par­adise, but his home life is any­thing but. Martin’s father is abu­sive, his moth­er com­plete­ly cowed. He has no sib­lings. His grand­ma, Haze­line, who comes on Sun­days to take him to the Howard John­son Prince of Wales buf­fet, is quite a character—one the read­er is unsure of at first. She’s a leath­ery, give-you-a-piece-of-my-mind, smok­ing, cack­ling sort of grandmother—but she’s on Martin’s side, thank good­ness. So is his reclu­sive friend Wylene, a grown woman who can tol­er­ate only Martin’s gen­tle pres­ence in her trail­er and her life. And so is Sybil, the new girl who comes into town—Sybil is unlike any­one Mar­tin has ever met before.

Mar­tin needs these good peo­ple on his side. He faces bul­ly­ing at school, in town, and on the base­ball field, in addi­tion to the abuse at home. What keeps him going is music. Mar­tin loves music—all kinds—listening to it, mak­ing up tunes in his head, play­ing his har­mon­i­ca. Wylene says he has a gift. Haze­line and Sybil echo this encour­age­ment. Mar­tin wants to play a real instru­ment like a piano or a vio­lin, and when a vio­lin shows up at the local pawn shop, he can think of lit­tle else out­side of mak­ing it his own.

The prob­lem is his father. For some rea­son Ed Pittman thinks music—and espe­cial­ly the play­ing of it—is for sissies. He’s furi­ous with Mar­tin for his lack of base­ball skill, his love of music, and his friend­ship with Wylene. He’s furi­ous with life, real­ly. Haze­line con­firms this for Mar­tin. Ed doesn’t like any­one, she says—not Mar­tin, not him­self.

In the course of this short novel—and with the help of Haze­line, Wylene, and Sybil—Martin learns that, although he can’t change his father, he can learn to stick up for him­self. He can live into being who he real­ly is. He can find a way to make music.

There are many jump­ing off points in this nov­el for social-emo­tion­al learn­ing. Beethoven in Par­adise is replete with scenes show­ing empa­thy, anger, sad­ness, hap­pi­ness, and wor­ry. It’s all about new and unex­pect­ed friend­ships. Although there is bul­ly­ing and abuse, Mar­tin expe­ri­ences kind­ness­es and shows kind­ness to oth­ers, as well. He learns that he can’t change peo­ple, but he can change how he reacts to them. He does not have to become like his father.

A class, read­ing group, or book­club could have fun learn­ing about dif­fer­ent kinds of music. Wylene and Mar­tin lis­ten to a diverse array of music, which is men­tioned by title/composer/performer—easy to look up and play. There are inter­est­ing details about har­mon­i­ca play­ing, musi­cal prac­tice (Mar­tin plays by ear), vio­lin, sax­o­phone, and Beethoven, as well. Music might actu­al­ly be con­sid­ered a char­ac­ter in this book.

Beethoven in Par­adise was pub­lished in 1997, but its timelessness—in theme, cir­cum­stance, and emotion—makes it an excel­lent pick for read­ing with mid­dle-grad­er read­ers today. With good humor, hon­est looks at hard things, and a won­der­ful cast of char­ac­ters, Bar­bara O’Connor gives us a com­ing-of-age sto­ry of friend­ship, com­mu­ni­ty, and genius that deserves a Fresh Lookol­o­gy here in 2019! 


The Night the Forest Came to Town

The Night the Forest Came to TownThe Night the For­est Came to Town
Charles Ghigna
illus­trat­ed by Annie Wilkin­son
Orca Book Pub­lish­ers, 2018
ISBN 978−1−4598−1650−3

A city can be all hard sur­faces, con­crete, brick, pave­ment, and glass. Adults can be pre­oc­cu­pied with their devices. Bill­boards, street lights, every kind of dis­trac­tion. There’s a dis­tinct sep­a­ra­tion from nature, a dis­con­nect.

In this semi-mag­i­cal book, nature blows into town overnight, wind-borne seeds take root, and birds and ani­mals fol­low. A cen­ter spread gives us a glimpse into apart­ment win­dows where we see indi­vid­u­als engaged in their arts, notic­ing what’s chang­ing out­side their win­dows.

Ghig­na’s rhyming poet­ry invites read­ers and sto­ry­tellers to turn the pages. 

Beneath the swirling shroud of night
A fer­tile field was found
Where once there was a vacant lot
new seedlings held their ground.”

He helps us notice details with his descrip­tive lan­guage, his rev­er­ence for nature.

Wilkin­son cre­ates a shad­ow-filled, deeply-toned night­time city. Her tex­tures evoke a tac­tile expe­ri­ence. Touch these pages, reach into nature, appre­ci­ate the star-filled sky, the life-sprout­ing rain, the charm­ing ani­mals. But it’s the panoply of flow­ers, sophis­ti­cat­ed but rem­i­nis­cent of those a child would draw that tie togeth­er text and images into a sooth­ing, con­tem­pla­tive sto­ry of the dif­fer­ence nature brings into our lives.

Com­bine the read­ing of this book with plan­ning for a school or com­mu­ni­ty gar­den. Plant a flower seed that will grow indoors and can be tak­en home once it’s estab­lished. Take pho­tos of your neigh­bor­hood and print them out on full sheets of paper so stu­dents can add their own flow­ers and ani­mals and trees. Then have them try a poem with Ghig­na’s struc­ture to tell the sto­ry of their own vision of the for­est com­ing to town.

This is a charm­ing book.


Ask Me About … My Amazing Students!

New year. New grade lev­el. Same class­room filled with same amaz­ing kids from last year (along with sev­er­al love­ly new addi­tions). Just wrapped up the sev­enth day of school and the same ques­tion keeps run­ning through my mind… how did I get so lucky? “Loop­ing” (mov­ing up a grade lev­el) with a class that you absolute­ly adore from the year before is pret­ty much like win­ning the “teacher lot­tery.” Wel­come to anoth­er year of “Teach it For­ward” and a peek into the teach­ing and learn­ing from Room 212!

One of the main chal­lenges and goals in a loop­ing sit­u­a­tion that includes adding a few new stu­dents to the already formed group, is to fig­ure out a way to build and rebuild the com­mu­ni­ty that has already tak­en shape the year before. I searched online, look­ing for fun games and ice-break­er ideas. I asked col­leagues for their best back-to-school, first week team builders. I com­piled my list of must-read pic­ture books for our “class­room book-a-day.” I had plen­ty of fun activ­i­ties to fill those first few days, but I was still try­ing to come up with some­thing spe­cial that might fos­ter more col­lab­o­ra­tion.

What do you do with an Idea?And then it hap­pened! I was stand­ing at the copi­er on day #2 print­ing stu­dent pho­tos from day #1, and it was as if a giant light bulb explod­ed over my head. See­ing all those smil­ing faces slide through the machine inspired a com­plete­ly new idea that made me feel gid­dy! There was a bit of serendip­i­ty in the air as the next-up, class­room-book-a-day title hap­pened to be “What Do You Do With an Idea?” by Kobi Yama­da.

The plan would be to ask stu­dents to think about top­ics, peo­ple, places, basi­cal­ly any­thing they love to talk about. Next, I would give them a name tag design fea­tur­ing “Ask me about….” Once stu­dents fin­ished writ­ing their list, I would tape it to the back­side of their pho­to and lam­i­nate it. And voila! A sim­ple but cre­ative way to do a new greet­ing dur­ing our morn­ing meet­ing.  Stu­dents would part­ner up to exchange their pho­to con­ver­sa­tion cards and use the “Ask me about” lists as con­ver­sa­tion starters.

After shar­ing the idea with my stu­dents, they seemed excit­ed and will­ing to give it a try. Over the years I’ve shared a vari­ety of writ­ing activ­i­ties that involve stu­dents mak­ing lists of top­ics they might like to write about in the future. With­out excep­tion, there have always been kids who strug­gled to gen­er­ate ideas and sat with pen­cil in hand, blank paper star­ing back at them. This time, how­ev­er, the lists came togeth­er in record speed. Maybe it was because I asked them to think about what they want­ed to talk about, rather than write about. Maybe it was because they were eager to share their sum­mer mem­o­ries. Maybe it was because the major­i­ty of the class expe­ri­enced a ton of Joy Write last year and they were more com­fort­able with tak­ing risks. What­ev­er the rea­sons, I was delight­ed with the results. More impor­tant­ly, the kids couldn’t wait to share their pho­to con­ver­sa­tion cards.

I have a feel­ing those “Ask me about” lists will come in handy for some, if not many, of the kids when it comes to writ­ing. I also envi­sion an expan­sion of the idea, with kids cre­at­ing pho­to con­ver­sa­tion cards for their favorite book char­ac­ter friends. I can hard­ly wait to see what Kek (Home of the Brave), Ada (The War That Saved My Life), Mia (Front Desk) or Peter (Pax) might add to their “Ask me about” lists.

Home of the Brave, The War That Saved My Life, Front Desk, Pax

And to top it off, my teacher heart was filled with pride and joy to see so many kids add book relat­ed top­ics to their “Ask me about…” lists! Here is a sam­pling of what we’ll be talk­ing about in Room 212 in the days to come


Moving Books

Many momen­tous things have gone down in our house this sum­mer. #1 Son grad­u­at­ed from col­lege in May, is gain­ful­ly employed (local­ly!) as a soft­ware engi­neer, and has recent­ly moved to an apart­ment. Dar­ling Daugh­ter start­ed her senior year of high school last week and is busy work­ing on col­lege appli­ca­tionsIt makes me a lit­tle light head­ed to think of it.

It’s all good and right and as it should be, and we are proud and excit­ed for all these new life stages, etc. It is also hard some days. This relent­less grow­ing up thing that chil­dren will do…at times it makes this Mama’s heart catch.

But I’ve had my eye on #1 Son’s bed­room for a while now. It’s the largest bed­room in our house. He was five when we moved in and he lob­bied hard to have our room because he liked the idea of hav­ing his own attached bath­room. (This was hilar­i­ous then and now.) Our counter argu­ment was that his actu­al room would have the biggest closet—more room for Legos®—and we would paint two of the walls the bright­est bold­est red we could find. It worked. He gave up the per­son­al bath­room.

My office all these years has been in the small­est bed­room. The stacks of books and the paper that seems to go with writ­ing books has been crash­ing and slid­ing down around me in this wee room for quite some time. So we took this past week­end and cov­ered the red walls in the big­ger room with a sun­flower yel­low (sev­er­al coats!) and start­ed mov­ing things in.

You don’t real­ize just how many books you have until you’re forced to touch them all as you move them. As mov­ing books goes, this was an easy gig—I just car­ried arm­loads of books from one room to the other—a mere six feet of hall­way. I logged over four miles doing this one day. So it did not escape my notice that I have A LOT of books. Also, I inher­it­ed a large, over­packed, floor-to-ceil­ing book­case in #1 Son’s room. (He took some books, of course—as well as a small­er bookcase—but felt com­fort­able leav­ing the major­i­ty of them because he knows it is unlike­ly I’ll get rid of many.)

It was a trip down mem­o­ry lane, all that book mov­ing. In gen­er­al we don’t buy books we don’t love, and once you love a book it is hard to get rid of it. So we have…well, two children’s child­hoods of books. It was bit­ter­sweet to revis­it the mem­o­ries as I traced my steps up and down the hall­way.

I could prac­ti­cal­ly feel the kids nes­tled up against me when I moved the Pooh books…. Could remem­ber the tea I drank as #1 Son and I poured over David Macaulay’s Cathe­dral book every day for an entire snowy win­ter….  I remem­bered many of the spe­cif­ic books read dur­ing child­hood ill­ness­es, a fevered list­less body on my lap…. I teared up remem­ber­ing read­ing aloud The Sword in the Stone to the new­ly mint­ed big broth­er in those weary days/weeks after his sister’s birth. (NOTE: It’s a dif­fi­cult book to read aloud when utter­ly exhaust­ed!) When I moved the Bet­sy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, it was as if Dar­ling Daughter’s entire tween years flashed through my mem­o­ry at top speed. We read many of those books snug­gled up under the cov­ers in one of our beds, her long skin­ny legs draped over mine.

So many of our favorites trans­port­ed me back to nights camping…long road trips and vacations…medical appointments…new mile­stones. There are sev­er­al book series I have con­nect­ed to these ear­ly weeks of fall when the kids head­ed back to school. Sep­tem­ber is always an excit­ing but stress­ful time. We chose books care­ful­ly for those weeks to pro­vide com­fort and routine—Narnia, Har­ry Pot­ter, The Mof­fats, Swal­lows and Ama­zons….

It was exhausting—both phys­i­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly. I’m glad I write for kids—I have an excuse to keep all these books! And I’m absurd­ly grate­ful for these read­ing mem­o­ries. The kids have them, too. There was a lot of “Oh! I remem­ber this one!” And they enjoyed hear­ing things like this: We read that in Dr. Ott’s office the day you were test­ed for aller­gies.

How do you remem­ber that?” they ask me. I don’t know—it’s vis­cer­al for me, I guess. What we read was a huge part of their child­hoods, and in these days when they’re grow­ing up and mov­ing on, these books that stay behind pro­vide me great com­fort and sweet mem­o­ries.


Back-to-School Favorites

This list was con­tributed by Deb Andries and Mau­r­na Rome, friends, edu­ca­tors, and col­leagues!

Favorites from Deb Andries:

Alma and How She Got her Name by Jua­na Mar­tinez-Neal

Dream­ers by Yuyi Morales

A Qui­et Place by Doug Wood and Dan Andreasen

The Day You Begin by Jacque­line Wood­son and Rafael López

Tru­man by Jean Rei­di and Lucy Ruth Cum­mins

Drum Dream Girl by Mar­gari­ta Engle and Rafael López

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexan­der and Melis­sa Sweet

Why by Lau­ra Vac­caro Seeger

Each Kind­ness by Jacque­line Wood­son and E.B. Lewis

A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts and Hye­won Yum

From Mau­r­na Rome:

Favorite back to school books to encour­age pos­i­tiv­i­ty and com­mu­ni­ty in my class­room:

Courage: Thun­der Rose by Jer­dine Nolen and Kadir Nel­son

Empa­thy: I Am Human, A Book of Empa­thy by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

Patience: Wait­ing for the Bib­liobur­ro by Mon­i­ca Brown and John Par­ra

Cre­ativ­i­ty: The Secret King­dom: Nek Chand, a Chang­ing India, and a Hid­den World of Art by Barb Rosen­stock and Claire A. Nivola

Humor: Be Qui­et by Ryan T. Hig­gins

Kind­ness: I Walk with Vanes­sa by Karas­coët

Curios­i­ty: What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yama­da and Mae Besom

Growth Mind­set: Drum Dream Girl by Mar­gari­ta Engle and Rafael López 

Per­se­ver­ance: Lui­gi and the Bare­foot Races by Dan Paley and Aaron Boyd

Accep­tance: I Am Enough by Grace Byers and Ketu­rah A. Bobo


Deb Andries and Her Off-to-School Reading Team
September 2019

Start­ing kinder­garten is a spe­cial time, and it’s real­ly spe­cial when you get to read books with Gram­my to get you ready! For this addi­tion to our Rais­ing Star Read­ers fea­ture, we’re delight­ed to once again be show­cas­ing Deb Andries, a Nation­al Lit­er­a­cy Con­sul­tant who lives in Wis­con­sin, and two of her grand­chil­dren, who are both start­ing kinder­garten this fall. Emmer­syn, five-and-a-half, will attend in cen­tral Min­neso­ta. Grayson, also five-and-a-half, will attend in north­ern Wis­con­sin.

Reading Off-to-School Books

In prepa­ra­tion, they shared some very spe­cial books at Gram­my’s house. They talked about mak­ing new friends, offer­ing to sit by new friends at lunch, and invit­ing them to play at recess. They talked about how excit­ing it will be to get ready the night before. As the kid­dos stat­ed, “You HAVE to have your back­pack all ready every night!”

The Day You BeginThe team shared many back-to-school books which Deb gath­ered from her per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al library col­lec­tion. There are many great titles to share with read­ers as the school year begins, but one title is a par­tic­u­lar favorite of Grammy’s: The Day You Begin, writ­ten by Jacque­line Wood­son and illus­trat­ed by Rafael López. Deb describes the book this way:

The Day You Begin is a beau­ti­ful sto­ry of a young boy who is start­ing in a new school. As the char­ac­ter tells his read­ers, ‘There will be times.…’ Grayson, Emmer­syn, and I talked about ‘times’ when they may be new to a sit­u­a­tion and how they might respond. I also use this book in my pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment train­ings as a Lit­er­a­cy Con­sul­tant, shar­ing the sto­ry as an inter­ac­tive read aloud, and with teach­ers who may be embrac­ing new teach­ing and learn­ing in the school year.”

Deb con­tin­ues: “I have fall­en in love with the mes­sage of this book! I share it with my grand­chil­dren, friends, col­leagues, and teach­ers because of the idea that new begin­nings offer so much hope for each of us. Or as Jacque­line Woodson’s sto­ry puts it, ‘This is the day you begin / to find the places inside / your laugh­ter and your lunch­es, / your books, your trav­el and your sto­ries, / where every new friend has some­thing / a lit­tle like you−and some­thing else / so fab­u­lous­ly not quite like you / at all.’”

Deb con­cludes with this wish for every­one: “May this school year be the begin­ning of find­ing places of laugh­ter, lunch­es, trav­el, sto­ries, and pro­found friend­ships.”

books and The Day You Begin


Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion if you’re inter­est­ed in par­tic­i­pat­ing.


The New Book is Filling My Head



Enchanted Points of Entry

Only House, Margaret Wise Brown

Little Island by Margaret Wise BrownMy first glimpse of Mar­garet Wise Brown’s house on Vinal­haven Island, Maine, was from a boat. It topped a gran­ite slope, clap­board sid­ing paint­ed the same gray-blue as the sparkling Hur­ri­cane Sound. I was so excit­ed I near­ly fell over­board. We’d just passed the Lit­tle Island that Mar­garet had made famous in her Calde­cott-win­ning book and I’d spot­ted a seal doz­ing on the rocks.

Margaret’s Only House was not the only house on that end of the island, but it was to me. I’d been work­ing on a biog­ra­phy of Brown and was look­ing for the real Mar­garet. My pil­grim­age to Only House was pro­fes­sion­al, pri­ma­ry research. I came to Margaret’s work as an adult and placed her in her house, not myself as a child in the fic­tion­al site of one of her books.

I was not a Pot­ter fan clam­or­ing to find Plat­form 9 ¾ at King’s Cross sta­tion, or some­one with fond mem­o­ries of Eloise scop­ing out the lob­by of the Plaza. As a kid, I longed to see Sleep­y­side-on-the-Hud­son, the fic­tion­al set­ting of my beloved Trix­ie Belden mys­ter­ies, because I believed it was real. Recent­ly I learned the vil­lage was real, based on Ossin­ing, New York, where the author had lived.

Each year, thou­sands tour lit­er­ary hous­es such as the Bronte Par­son­age in York­shire or Hemingway’s home in Key West. When I went to Con­cord, Mass­a­chu­setts, I wad­ed in Walden Pond in hon­or of Thore­au, an author I admire as an adult. I think it requires a dif­fer­ent mind-set to vis­it the fic­tion­al sites of favorite children’s books and come away sat­is­fied.

If you loved the Anne of Green Gables books, a trip to Prince Edward Island may dis­ap­point with its bus­loads of tourists and mod­ern inter­pre­tive exhibits. How­ev­er, chil­dren still read­ing those books might eager­ly embrace fic­tion and real­i­ty in that lim­i­nal space, thrilled to see Anne’s tiny bed­room with her stock­ings draped over the bed­stead. Schol­ars main­tain that when chil­dren vis­it lit­er­ary sites, the expe­ri­ence enhances re-read­ings of those books.

The Wilder LifeBut how do adults fare on these jour­neys? I loved Wendy McClure’s The Wilder Life: My Adven­tures in the Lost World of Lit­tle House on the Prairie. The Lit­tle House books McClure devoured as a child car­ried her to new places, new sights, new adven­tures. She found in those land­scapes “enchant­ed points of entry into a fan­ta­sy world,” as Nico­la Wat­son writes in The Lit­er­ary Tourist.

McClure craved to churn but­ter and play with a corn­cob doll. She imag­ined help­ing Laura—magically trans­port­ed to the 1970s—on the esca­la­tors of North River­side Mall. Then, like so many of us, she grew up and left her child­hood book friend behind. After the death of her moth­er, McClure re-read the books and decid­ed to trace Laura’s path, home­stead by home­stead.

The Wilder Life con­cludes with McClure remem­ber­ing the dif­fer­ent hous­es her moth­er, who grew up in a move-every-few-years-mil­i­tary fam­i­ly, tracked down on sum­mer vaca­tions. “I … thought of Lau­ra, too, of one lit­tle house after anoth­er form­ing the sto­ry of a life.” At last she declared to her patient hus­band that they were done Lau­ra-jaunt­ing. Home was with him, she real­ized. Time to re-enter the sto­ry of their life togeth­er.

Misty of ChincoteagueSarah Maslin Nir recounts a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence in her New York Times arti­cle, “All the Pret­ty Ponies.” Grow­ing up “most­ly horse­less” in New York City, she trav­eled to Chin­coteague Island, Vir­ginia, on the trail of Mar­guerite Henry’s Misty of Chin­coteague. Misty had “stoked [her] eques­tri­an fan­tasies as a girl. Maslin Nir arrived dur­ing Pony-Pen­ning Days, when the wild hors­es swim from Assateague Island to Chin­coteague to be auc­tioned, a tra­di­tion dat­ing from 1925 to thin the herd and raise funds for the fire depart­ment.

She sat on her hands dur­ing the auc­tion to keep from bid­ding on adorable, shag­gy ponies. Then she vis­it­ed the Muse­um of Chin­coteague Island and saw taxi­der­mied Misty on dis­play. The expe­ri­ence was “crush­ing.” When she learned that Misty had nev­er been a wild pony, she knew “the crea­ture Hen­ry had con­jured on the page had nev­er real­ly lived.” She bought a copy of Misty of Chin­coteague as a sou­venir of her trip, pre­fer­ring her child­hood ver­sion to real­i­ty.

Diamond in the WindowWhen we as adults try to repos­sess a fic­tion­al land­scape that meant every­thing to us as chil­dren, we risk tram­pling the enchant­ed point of entry. On my trip to Con­cord, I was sore­ly tempt­ed. Not only is Con­cord the home of Emer­son, Thore­au, and the Alcotts, it was also the set­ting of my favorite child­hood book, The Dia­mond in the Win­dow, by Jane Lang­ton. The neo-Goth­ic house depict­ed on the cov­er was on 148 Walden Street. I could go there. I could take a pic­ture!

The lure was pow­er­ful. But I know that won­der­ful old hous­es were often parceled into apart­ments, added on to, changed. I didn’t couldn’t bear to see Eric Blegvad’s 1961 illus­tra­tion marred by the 21st cen­tu­ry.

In his 1935 trav­el mem­oir, In Search of Eng­land, H.V. Mor­ton climbed the rock steps to Tin­tagel, the rumored birth­place of King Arthur, even though he felt the cas­tle “was one of those places which no man should see.” Tin­tagel wasn’t the gaunt rocky ruins, but “a coun­try of dreams more real than real­i­ty.” Exact­ly so.

Not every­thing has to be seen, not every speck of curios­i­ty must be sat­is­fied, espe­cial­ly in a world where Google pro­vides the answer to any­thing. I remem­bered my first read­ing of Dia­mond, that sin­gu­lar moment when my imag­i­na­tion sprout­ed wings and I soared into the clouds. I didn’t go to 148 Walden Street. I would not ruin the mem­o­ry.


My Grandma and Me

My Grandma and MeMy Grand­ma and Me
Mina Java­herbin
illus­trat­ed by Lind­sey Yankey
Can­dlewick Press, 2019
ISBN 978−1−4263−3304−0

If you were for­tu­nate to have one or two or three lov­ing grand­moth­ers, this book will touch your heart. Grand­mas can be the most lov­ing peo­ple in our long lives, teach­ing us about life, pass­ing along tra­di­tions, shar­ing sto­ries, help­ing us become whole­some adults.

While the grand­ma in this book is Iran­ian,  read­ers will find sim­i­lar­i­ties to their own grand­par­ents, with exquis­ite details about a spe­cif­ic cul­ture.

Grand­mas are often our faith teach­ers. Here prayers, atten­dance at mosque, and Ramadan are an inte­gral and heart­warm­ing part of the sto­ry.

The illus­tra­tions are stun­ning. Iran­ian motifs, rich fab­rics, woven rugs, and embroi­dery are all woven into the sto­ry­telling, sub­tly giv­ing depth to grand­moth­er and grand­daugh­ter’s rela­tion­ship.

The nar­ra­tor, a young girl who is first depict­ed with a space poster above her bed, inspires lat­er art of con­stel­la­tions and the moon that are breath­tak­ing, in con­trast with the soft col­ors of life at home.

Make sure you seek out this book. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.



Some­thing that has always stuck with me from pio­neer tales is the images of the keep­sakes and oth­er non-manda­to­ry items pio­neer fam­i­lies often had to dis­card on the trail as the trip became hard­er and the oxen grew weary of pulling the over­loaded wag­ons.

This is just one of the rea­sons on the very long list of why I would have made the world’s worst pioneer—I can’t pack for a week­end with­out schlep­ping along half my house­hold goods. So in an effort towards sav­ing some pack­ing space, I have a cos­met­ics bag already stocked with trav­el-sized bot­tles of the essen­tials I know I’ll need for any road trip.

story-wheel-fair-lettersOn the note of being stocked with the essen­tials, I was remind­ed of a fan­tas­tic day I spent as one of the res­i­dent authors in the Alpha­bet For­est at the Min­neso­ta State Fair. I was­n’t there this year (anoth­er record atten­dance year!), but I love sup­port­ing this won­der­ful lit­er­a­cy-dis­guised-as-play area at the State Fair. Each day, a guest author or illus­tra­tor is fea­tured. Dur­ing my turn, I focused on teach­ing young vis­i­tors the essen­tials need­ed for a writ­ing road trip. Sure, there’s a wide array of ele­ments that can make a sto­ry stronger. But some­times it’s good to review the basics; draw­ing on just three easy-to-under­stand ele­ments, I’ve watched thou­sands of kids cre­ate sto­ries dur­ing my many years of school vis­its and work­ing with young writ­ers.

TState Fair Story Wheelhe three core sto­ry ele­ments I focus on are char­ac­ter, set­ting, and conflict (a prob­lem). At the State Fair, I set up the Sto­ry Wheel with exam­ples of the char­ac­ters, set­tings, and prob­lems that a State Fair vis­i­tor might encounter—then the kids spin the wheel to col­lect a ran­dom mix of the three ele­ments and incor­po­rate them in their own sto­ries.

I’ve also cre­at­ed a sim­ple play-at-home ver­sion of the Sto­ry Wheel that kids can make from a paper plate—check for direc­tions here. You can also down­load the Mys­tery Ingre­di­ents activ­i­ty that I’ve shared; page 2 pro­vides long lists of pos­si­ble char­ac­ters, set­tings, and prob­lems that young writ­ers could use for their own Sto­ry Wheels.

Focus­ing on these three basic ele­ments (think of it as the trav­el-sized ver­sion of sto­ry writ­ing) makes it pos­si­ble for almost all stu­dents to cre­ate sim­ple sto­ries.