Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Mouse and Bear Books

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

RRB_SnifflesBearWhen I plan a sto­ry­time, I always plan for the kid­dos first and fore­most. But I do like to give a nod to the grownups who have brought them when I can—something they’ll “get” at a dif­fer­ent lev­el than the kids, a trea­sure they might remem­ber from their own child­hood, a book that will make them smile or laugh.

The Mouse and Bear Books by Bon­ny Beck­er, illus­trat­ed by Kady Mac­Don­ald Den­ton, are always an inspired fit. The chil­dren adore these books and the adults can have their entire day turned around when we read one of these. They might come in sweaty and grumpy from try­ing to get every­one out the door, but they’ll leave lighter and with a smile. I’m always con­fi­dent it will be a won­der­ful sto­ry time if I include one or more (it’s hard to stop with just one) in the series. They are reg­u­lars in my rotation—they re-read very well.

RRB_LibraryBearMy favorite might be The Snif­fles for Bear. Then again, it might be A Library Book for Bear. Or the first one, per­haps,  A Vis­i­tor for Bear. Who am I kidding—they are all ter­rif­ic. The read­er must be pre­pared with these books—a monot­o­ne read will not do. The per­son­al­i­ties of mouse and bear are much too won­der­ful for that. No, the read­er must be ready to act—overact, in fact, in the case of Bear, espe­cial­ly.

There is not a mis­placed word in any of these books—each one is pre­cise­ly placed, flows effort­less­ly when read aloud, and paints with words the exact pic­ture that Kady Mac­Don­ald Den­ton has gor­geous­ly paint­ed with paint.

The dia­logue is per­fect for these two friends so oppo­site, and yet so alike some­how. Bear, in par­tic­u­lar, speaks as if he walked out of a Jane Austen nov­el, which con­tributes to much of the humor: I am quite ill—I grow weak­er by the moment…. he says in The Snif­fles for Bear. (“What he has,” one of the delight­ed grand­moth­ers in a recent sto­ry­time said, “is a man-cold.”)

But mouse is not to be out­done: Per­haps we could have just a spot of tea, he says when he meets his friend in A Vis­i­tor for Bear.

I am undone….Bear says after being unable to show Mouse the door.

RRB_VisitorBearThese char­ac­ters are so delight­ful, so true, and so much fun. I’ve nev­er read one of these books with­out the room’s ener­gy chang­ing to a won­der­ful hum and laugh­ter rul­ing the day. I do not know if more Bear and Mouse books are planned, but I cer­tain­ly hope so. They’ve won a ton of awards, but that doesn’t always mean a book is right for sto­ry time; in my expe­ri­ence, though, the acclaimed Mouse and Bear books make that dou­ble play every sin­gle time.


Orange Omelet

Chas­ing Free­dom takes place in the late 1800s—this recipe is one that might have been served at a lun­cheon.

Orange Omelet
Serves 2
A for­got­ten recipe from the 1890s, more of a dessert omelet, resem­bling a sweet crêpe
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  1. 4 eggs
  2. 5 Tbsp sug­ar
  3. Pinch of salt
  4. 2 organ­ic oranges
  5. 2 T but­ter
  1. Grate the rind of one orange on one table­spoon­ful of sug­ar. Pare and cut the orange in thin slices and sprin­kle with two table­spoon­fuls of sug­ar.
  2. Beat the whites of the eggs stiff, add the sug­ar and orange rind, salt, beat­en yolks, and two table­spoon­fuls of orange juice.
  3. Put but­ter in a hot omelet pan and pour in the mix­ture. When it begins to thick­en well, spread over the sliced oranges (no juice).
  4. Fold omelet from the side of the pan over the sliced oranges, turn out on a hot dish.
  5. Put in the oven for two min­utes. Serve imme­di­ate­ly.
  1. At one time, cook­books were infa­mous for not telling the cook how long or how hot or how to par­tic­u­lar­ly cook the dish. If you’ve cooked an omelet before, this should feel famil­iar.
Adapt­ed from Res­ur­rect­ed Recipes
Bookol­o­gy Mag­a­zine

Skinny Dip with Melanie Heuiser Hill

9_30RamonaWhat’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

Ramona the Pest. My ele­men­tary school was vis­it­ed by RIF (Read­ing is Fun­da­men­tal) twice a year—the best days of the year. You had to be in sec­ond grade to peruse the tables of nov­els that were set up in the entry-way to our school. It was enor­mous­ly exciting—so many to choose from! I picked that slim Ramona vol­ume from all the oth­er books piled high on the table and I read it “hid­den” in my lap dur­ing math class that after­noon. I can’t imag­ine I fooled my teacher, Mrs. Perkins, but she had com­mend­ed me on my choice ear­li­er, so per­haps she didn’t mind…even at the expense of math.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

That some­day I would actu­al­ly love being tall. I was 5’10” at the age of ten and it was rough. I’m six feet tall now and real­ly enjoy being tall—but it took a long time to get here. I sup­pose my 10-year old self would have just rolled her eyes—what an adul­tish thing to say to a kid! But it’s true and I wish I could’ve believed it then.

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

Only three?! Well, I’d have to have a series of din­ners, I guess. Here are two in that series: If I could invite three who are no longer liv­ing, I’d invite L.M. Mont­gomery, Arthur Ran­some, and E. L. Konigs­burg. If I had to lim­it myself to the liv­ing (rea­son­able, I sup­pose) I’d invite Vir­ginia Euw­er Wolff, Kevin Henkes, and Deb­o­rah Wiles. Now to plan my addi­tion­al din­ners….

Where’s your favorite place to read?

This week it’s my new bright red Adiron­dack chair in the gar­den. SO com­fort­able, big wide arms for a glass of iced tea and a pile of books, and beau­ty all around. It is bliss.

9_30SwallowsWhat book do you tell every­one to read?

For the last ten years I tell every­one about Arthur Ransome’s Swal­lows and Ama­zons series—mostly because Amer­i­can read­ers have almost nev­er read it and it has been A For­ma­tive Series for my kids. It’s a series of tremen­dous adven­tures with quo­tid­i­an details—somehow a mag­ic com­bi­na­tion. Sev­er­al of the books fea­ture the Walk­er kids—four dear sib­lings who are afford­ed a tremen­dous amount of free­dom on their sum­mer hol­i­days and know just how to use it. In oth­er books in the series there are fright­ful pirates and né’er-do-wells. We have read them almost exclu­sive­ly on vacations—a big nov­el each trip, me grow­ing hoarse read­ing by lantern in the tent, on pic­nic blan­kets, and in hotel rooms. The audio­books done by Gabriel Woolf are tremen­dous and hours and hours of time in the car have been filled with these books.


Middle Kingdom: Suzhou, China

The books that most delight mid­dle school and junior high read­ers often strad­dle a “Mid­dle King­dom” rang­ing from upper mid­dle grade to YA. Each month, Bookol­o­gy colum­nist Lisa Bullard will vis­it the Mid­dle King­dom by view­ing it through the eyes of a teacher or librar­i­an. Bookol­o­gy is delight­ed to cel­e­brate the work of these edu­ca­tors who have built vital book encamp­ments in the tran­si­tion­al ter­ri­to­ry of ear­ly ado­les­cence.

This month’s jour­ney takes us to Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou in Suzhou, Chi­na, where Lisa talks with Head of Libraries and Senior School Librar­i­an Leigh Col­la­zo.


Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou

Lisa: Right off the bat, I’ll clar­i­fy for our read­ers that in this case, “col­lege” means some­thing oth­er than how we use the term in the Unit­ed States. Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou includes stu­dents ages 2–19. Leigh, what are three to five addi­tion­al things our blog read­ers should know about your com­mu­ni­ty, school, or library/media cen­ter?

Leigh: Dul­wich Col­lege Lon­don was the first in our fran­chise, estab­lished in 1619. It has since expand­ed into Dul­wich Col­lege Inter­na­tion­al, which cur­rent­ly oper­ates five addi­tion­al schools and two inter­na­tion­al high schools in Asia.

Dul­wich Col­lege Suzhou stu­dents and fac­ul­ty rep­re­sent over 40 nation­al­i­ties all over the world. Our largest groups come from UK, Korea, and the Unit­ed States. Our stu­dents are ages 2–19, sep­a­rat­ed into three schools: DUCKS (PreK‑1st grade), Junior School (grades 2–5), and Senior School (grades 6–12). We have about 900 total stu­dents across the three schools. Though we do have very nice board­ing facil­i­ties avail­able, the vast major­i­ty of our stu­dents live off-cam­pus with their fam­i­lies.


Lin­ger­ing Gar­den, Suzhou

Suzhou is a beau­ti­ful Chi­nese city! We are locat­ed about 50 miles from Shang­hai, which is easy to access via a 25-minute bul­let train ride. Often called the “Venice of Chi­na,” Suzhou is most famous for its UNESCO World Her­itage gar­dens, water towns, Bud­dhist tem­ples, pago­das, and net­work of canals run­ning through the city. All over the city, we see beau­ti­ful wil­low trees, col­or­ful flow­ers, and lots of sculp­tures. There is a large recre­ation­al lake with a board­walk with­in a five-minute walk from my front door. The weath­er here is very like that of north­ern Flori­da: hot and humid in the sum­mer, cool (but still humid) in the win­ter. We get lots of rain, but it is rarely cold enough to snow. There are many expats from all over the world in Suzhou; I’ve heard the fig­ures are as high as 10% for­eign­ers in this area, most­ly from Europe, Aus­tralia, and the USA.

We have two libraries at Dul­wich Col­lege, locat­ed in the Junior School and Senior School. We have full-time library employ­ees: two librar­i­ans (ful­ly-cer­ti­fied with MLS degrees), one library intern (who will receive her MLS this Decem­ber), and two library assis­tants. Togeth­er, our libraries boast a grow­ing col­lec­tion of 38,000 books and inter­na­tion­al news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines. Our libraries are open from 7:50 am‑4:30 pm dai­ly. Both libraries have com­put­ers and iPads for stu­dents to use in the library. Both libraries have wire­less Inter­net, and Senior School stu­dents are also able to con­nect to the school’s VPN. We sub­scribe to many of the same data­bas­es I used in my Texas library—Encyclopedia Bri­tan­ni­ca, Peb­bleGo, JSTOR, Tum­ble­books, Brain­Pop, and Facts on File.


I think many peo­ple would be sur­prised to hear that I have had few dif­fi­cul­ties with Chi­nese gov­ern­ment cen­sor­ship when pur­chas­ing library books. When we order (from the USA and UK), Cus­toms does inspect our pur­chas­es, but I have not had any books reject­ed. I am able to pur­chase the same books here that I was able to pur­chase in the USA, plus I can pur­chase books from Aus­tralia, UK, and Cana­da, too!

Lisa: What recent changes or new ele­ments are affect­ing the work you do with mid­dle school stu­dents?

Leigh: Last year was my first year at my school, and we spent a large part of the year gen­refy­ing the 15,000 fic­tion titles in our library. It’s been a huge hit with stu­dents and fac­ul­ty, and our over­all cir­cu­la­tion last year increased 89% over the pre­vi­ous school year.

This year, I am thrilled to tell you that we are adding Over­drive e‑books for all our Senior School stu­dents, which I expect to launch by the end of Sep­tem­ber. My library assis­tant has been work­ing on gen­refy­ing our 2,100-title Man­darin sec­tion, some­thing our stu­dents request­ed last year. We plan to gen­refy our Kore­an sec­tion this year as well, which is about 1,200 titles.

In Novem­ber, we are bring­ing illus­tra­tor Matthew Holm (Baby­mouse series, Squish series) to Suzhou to speak to our stu­dents. We also have slam poet Nick Toczek vis­it­ing in Novem­ber. All of our mid­dle school stu­dents will get the chance to hear them speak.

ph_Panda Older ReadersLast, we are par­tic­i­pat­ing in Bat­tle of the Books for the first time this year. We are using books on the Pan­da Old­er Read­ers Book List, plus sev­en more titles select­ed by par­tic­i­pat­ing librar­i­ans in the Shang­hai area. In March 2016, our stu­dents will com­pete against oth­er inter­na­tion­al schools from all over Shang­hai, Wuxi, Suzhou, and Kun­shan. They will also get to meet New­bery Award win­ning author Kwame Alexan­der at the com­pe­ti­tion.

Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often by your mid­dle school stu­dents?


  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • The Selec­tion by Kiera Cass
  • Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renée Rus­sell
  • Half Bad by Sal­ly Green
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Pecu­liar Chil­dren by Ran­som Rig­gs

Lisa: What books do you per­son­al­ly love to place into mid­dle school stu­dents’ hands?


  • The One and Only Ivan by Kather­ine Apple­gate
  • Unwind by Neal Shus­ter­man
  • Rain Reign by Ann M. Mar­tin
  • Touch­ing Spir­it Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
  • The Seer and the Sword by Vic­to­ria Han­ley

Lisa: If you had a new staffer start­ing tomor­row, what piece of advice would you be sure to give them? 


  1. Read the books! You can’t rec­om­mend them if you don’t read them.
  2. Be the weirdo. Be the crazy one who plays the spoons or break­dances or dec­o­rates the library with cat posters. Don’t be afraid to be your­self or be dif­fer­ent from the oth­er teach­ers. You are not them. You are you!

Lisa: What do you like most about work­ing with mid­dle-school­ers?

Leigh: I love their ener­gy and their quirk­i­ness. They are old enough to do many things for them­selves, but they are still young enough to need guid­ance from trust­ed adults. I can joke around with mid­dle school stu­dents, and they (usu­al­ly!) get the jokes. Mid­dle school­ers can be chal­leng­ing some­times, but every day, they make me laugh, give me hope, and even help me see things in a dif­fer­ent way. Who else can say that about their job?


Lisa: Could you share some infor­ma­tion about your most popular/successful/innovative pro­gram for pro­mot­ing books and read­ing to mid­dle school­ers?

Leigh: I am a huge pro­po­nent of gen­refi­ca­tion of fic­tion sec­tions. Gen­refi­ca­tion bet­ter reflects the way stu­dents browse the library. Front-fac­ing library books (where the entire front cov­er is vis­i­ble) also real­ly helps stu­dents select books, as does mul­ti­ple themed book dis­plays. My favorite and most suc­cess­ful book pro­mo­tion tool is read­ing and book­talk­ing a LOT of titles. I book­talk all day long!

Lisa: How have books or oth­er things changed for mid­dle king­dom read­ers dur­ing your time as a librar­i­an?

Leigh: I start­ed work­ing as a librar­i­an in 2004. Since then, I’ve seen a huge increase in the num­ber and accep­tance of graph­ic nov­els. I’ve sep­a­rat­ed my graph­ic nov­els into their own sec­tion (rather than 741.5) since 2011. They were tak­ing over the 700 sec­tion! That said, I think graph­ic nov­els still have a long way to go before many peo­ple con­sid­er them “real read­ing.”


Melissa Stewart: A Different View

9_30BubblesRecent­ly, I spent sev­er­al weeks strug­gling with a work in progress. Day after day, the words just wouldn’t flow.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there’s no way to force a stub­born man­u­script. I just have to focus on some­thing else until my mind some­how sorts things out. Some­times I begin work on a dif­fer­ent book, but in this case, I decid­ed to tack­le a long-neglect­ed task—organizing my dig­i­tal pho­tos.

As I sort­ed images, I stum­bled upon this fun pho­to of my nieces when they were 6 and 8 years old. What are they doing? They’re dis­cussing the rain­bow pat­terns in the soap bub­bles they just blew—a pur­suit I approve of whole heart­ed­ly.


See­ing this pho­to remind­ed me of anoth­er expe­ri­ence I had with my nieces the same sum­mer. We were out in the back­yard doing som­er­saults and cart­wheels (Well, they were doing the gym­nas­tics. I was the delight­ed audi­ence.) when my younger niece sud­den­ly stopped mid-tumble—butt in the air, head between her legs.

Wow,” she said. “I nev­er looked at the sky like this before. It’s beau­ti­ful. Try it, Aunt Mis.”

Sure, I want­ed to uphold my sta­tus as her favorite aunt, but I was also curi­ous. So I walked out onto the grass and mim­ic­ked her posi­tion. And do you know what? She was right. The sky real­ly was extra­or­di­nar­i­ly beau­ti­ful.

My oth­er niece joined us, and all three of us stayed in that posi­tion, just gaz­ing at the stun­ning  blue sky for quite a while—until the blood rushed to our heads.

Think­ing about that day remind­ed me that look­ing at some­thing from anoth­er point of view—turning it upside down or inside out—can help us appre­ci­ate it in a whole new way. Inspired by that mem­o­ry, I decid­ed to read por­tions of my trou­ble­some man­u­script while lying on my back with my head dan­gling upside down off the edge of the bed.

Sounds crazy, right?

But guess what. A few hours lat­er I was sud­den­ly struck by an idea, an insight. Some­thing had shift­ed in my mind, and I was able to see my writ­ing in a whole new way. Eure­ka!

For the last few days, I’ve been revis­ing like mad. I’m still not sure if this new approach will work, but I’m feel­ing opti­mistic.


Interview: Ann Bausum

bk_Bausum_CourageClothWith Courage and Cloth: Win­ning the Fight for a Woman’s Right to Vote
Ann Bausum
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2004

inter­view by Vic­ki Palmquist

You state that you weren’t taught women’s his­to­ry in school. (Nei­ther was I. I remem­ber read­ing and re-read­ing the few biogra­phies in the library about Mol­ly Pitch­er, Clara Bar­ton, and Flo­rence Nightin­gale.) When you went look­ing for infor­ma­tion for With Courage and Cloth, how did you start?

I start­ed by vis­it­ing the places where the his­to­ry hap­pened. I went to Seneca Falls. I returned to the Sewall-Bel­mont House so that I could study it with adult eyes (hav­ing met suf­frage leader Alice Paul there when I was a child). I tracked down the loca­tion of the Nation­al Woman’s Par­ty at the time of the pick­ets and retraced the steps suf­frag­ists made on their dai­ly protest march­es to the near­by White House. I climbed on the base of the stat­ue to Lafayette, as women had done in 1918, and dis­cov­ered what it felt like to be perched just above the grounds of Lafayette Park on this slant­ed foun­da­tion. All of these things gave me the spa­tial ground­ing I need­ed to bet­ter under­stand the accounts of his­to­ry that I began to devour and study. It always helps to put your­self in the places and spaces of the peo­ple you’re try­ing to bring to life.

With Courage and Cloth was the third book you had pub­lished. Since then, you’ve had nine more books pub­lished. How has your process changed? If you wrote With Courage and Cloth today, would you approach it dif­fer­ent­ly?

bk_BausumDinosaurMany of the tech­niques I start­ed using for With Courage and Cloth remain at the foun­da­tion of my research and writ­ing process. I still trav­el to the places I’m writ­ing about when­ev­er pos­si­ble. I did my first research in the Library of Con­gress for this book, and I con­tin­ue to return there when­ev­er top­ics fit the col­lec­tions. I con­tin­ue to do exten­sive pho­to research on top­ics, some­thing I’d begun with my first book, Drag­on Bones and Dinosaur Eggs. I began orga­niz­ing my research on note cards with my third book, which I still do, even though it is a painful (lit­er­al­ly) and time-con­sum­ing process. So in many ways I enhanced and honed my writ­ing process through With Courage and Cloth. If I took up this top­ic with fresh eyes, I sus­pect I’d find myself on a famil­iar research road map.

There’s so much to write about on this top­ic, many approach­es to take. How do you devel­op cri­te­ria for nar­row­ing down your con­tent?

I write about what inter­ests me and what I think is impor­tant. I write about what hasn’t been writ­ten about before. I write with con­text so that some­one young can step into the past and not feel dis­ori­ent­ed. Although I write non­fic­tion, I think of myself as a storyteller—a sto­ry­teller where all the con­tent is true. So when I write, I’m con­struct­ing a nar­ra­tive that not only has to make sense and be accu­rate; it has to be engag­ing. I can’t let tan­gents dis­tract us from the tra­jec­to­ry of our sto­ry. Even favorite facts and side-sto­ries have to be left out, if they don’t con­tribute to the for­ward momen­tum. (Leav­ing things out is painful, but it’s part of the job.) I sus­pect that my process is akin to the process of edit­ing a film, where favorite scenes end up on the cut­ting room floor because they don’t con­tribute to the over­all sto­ry. Or it’s com­pa­ra­ble to build­ing a house where you have to keep the tim­bers in bal­ance.

In the end, I’m writ­ing for myself and the girl I was at 10 or 12 or maybe 14. And I’m writ­ing for the young peo­ple I meet dur­ing author vis­its to schools. I keep the read­er in mind and try to con­struct a sto­ry that sat­is­fies me at my core and will, I hope, inspire a new gen­er­a­tion of read­ers to love his­to­ry and feel empow­ered to take action in their own lives.

From the ear­ly chap­ters of your book, you include women’s suf­frage and the efforts to end slav­ery as often over­lap­ping. In your choic­es on focus­ing the nar­ra­tive, why did you decide to include the anti-slav­ery move­ment?

I found that I couldn’t iso­late one of these efforts from the oth­er. The two caus­es were linked in his­to­ry, and so they had to be linked in my chron­i­cle. Although the link­age might seem inci­den­tal before the Civ­il War, it became crit­i­cal after­wards because it helped to divide the woman’s suf­frage move­ment. There were peo­ple, such as Lucy Stone, who took com­fort in the grant­i­ng of vot­ing rights to for­mer male slaves, but there were oth­ers, such as Susan B. Antho­ny and Eliz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton, who resent­ed the omis­sion of women from the 14th and 15th Amend­ments. In order to under­stand why we end­ed up with two woman suf­frage orga­ni­za­tions after the Civ­il War, we have to under­stand how the pre-war alliance of activists was shak­en by this post-war out­come for vot­ing rights.

Your descrip­tion of the 1913 suf­frag­ist march in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., held at the time of the Pres­i­den­tial Inau­gu­ra­tion, cul­mi­nates with spec­ta­tors, near­ly 500,000 of them, pri­mar­i­ly men, inter­rupt­ing the parade in force­ful and dis­re­spect­ful ways, not stopped by police. You write that news­pa­per reports of the parade “trans­formed overnight” the suf­frag­ist move­ment into a “nation­al top­ic of dis­cus­sion.” Years after first read­ing your descrip­tion of this parade, I remem­ber it vivid­ly and think of it often when hear­ing about low vot­er turnout. What works well for you in build­ing that type of ten­sion in your nar­ra­tive?

It takes the right moments in his­to­ry. If an occa­sion held dra­ma at the time, one can rekin­dle it in the retelling. The secret is in the research. The more I know and the more I’ve seen, the bet­ter I’ll be able to bring the events to life. This is where I think my inter­est in pho­to research real­ly helps. I stud­ied every image of that parade that I could find (and it was well-doc­u­ment­ed). I vis­it­ed the route of the march. I read mul­ti­ple accounts of it—from news­pa­pers, from mem­oirs, from his­to­ri­ans. It’s detec­tive work, in a way, as if I’m recon­struct­ing a crime scene. After I’ve stud­ied the his­to­ry from all these angles, I can breathe life into a fresh por­tray­al of what tran­spired. The facts are at my fin­ger­tips, lit­er­al­ly, with note cards, and that frees my brain to share them through the lens of sto­ry­telling, dra­ma and all, as sup­port­ed by the his­tor­i­cal record.


If all the women in this coun­try went to the vot­ing booth, it would change his­to­ry. Yet, as you wrote, “That said, vot­er participation—the prac­tice of actu­al­ly voting—has rarely been low­er. Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, which are always the most pop­u­lar, rarely draw more than about half of eli­gi­ble vot­ers to the polls. Many cit­i­zens nev­er even reg­is­ter to vote.” What can your read­ers do to encour­age women to vote?

Read­ers can share their knowl­edge with oth­ers about how hard women fought to achieve this right, and they can lead by exam­ple. Even read­ers who are too young to vote can par­tic­i­pate in peer elec­tions, vol­un­teer with orga­ni­za­tions such as the League of Women Vot­ers, and advo­cate for fur­ther change. A few states have begun to offer or are dis­cussing poli­cies that auto­mat­i­cal­ly enroll peo­ple as vot­ers when they obtain state forms of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, such as dri­ver licens­es. These poli­cies make vot­ing a one-step process. Any­time we reduce the com­plex­i­ty of vot­ing, we encour­age vot­er par­tic­i­pa­tion. Con­cerns over vot­er fraud are great­ly exag­ger­at­ed and tend to mask efforts to dis­cour­age broad vot­er par­tic­i­pa­tion. Fight for the right to vote!

bk_Bausum_StonewallYour most recent book, Stonewall, is again about human beings fight­ing for their rights, in this case LGBT cit­i­zens. What ignit­ed your inter­est in human rights?

I grew up dur­ing the 1960s and 1970s, an era dri­ven by fights for human rights and social jus­tice, and I’m sure that frame­work helped to deter­mine my mind­set, helped to set my moral com­pass so that sto­ries of injus­tice res­onate for me. I have always believed in the pow­er of peo­ple to effect change, whether it’s through sci­ence, or lead­er­ship, or social action. I grew up in the South dur­ing the time of inte­gra­tion, the daugh­ter of for­ward-think­ing par­ents, and so the quest for equal­i­ty wasn’t just an abstract con­cept to me. I couldn’t appre­ci­ate the dimen­sions of it ful­ly at the time, but I am con­fi­dent that the strug­gle that played out in every­day ways around me helped to incul­cate me in the con­cept of equal­i­ty. It was part of the air I breathed, and it set me on a course where I’ve always felt empa­thy for sto­ries of injus­tice, and out­rage over sto­ries of injus­tice. I fight with my fin­gers. I hope my words can remind read­ers that the quest for equal­i­ty is nev­er-end­ing. Com­pla­cen­cy is not accept­able. Each gen­er­a­tion must car­ry on the fight.


Beyond the Page


by Vic­ki Palmquist

Quentin Blake: Beyond the PageI’ve been savor­ing Quentin Blake: Beyond the Page (Tate Pub­lish­ing, 2012), a book that is replete with pho­tos, illus­tra­tive art, and all the many ways Mr. Blake’s art has adorned many aspects of life “beyond the page.”

In his own voice, we hear of the places illus­tra­tion has tak­en him. With some­thing near a state of won­der, Mr. Blake reflects on all the ways illus­tra­tive art can be trans­formed. He talks about the man­ner in which illus­tra­tions are often dis­missed by fine art con­nois­seurs because they mere­ly serve the sto­ry. Yet his own art puts the lie to that pejo­ra­tive think­ing.

His art is every­where: greet­ing cards, mugs, scarves, t‑shirts, wall­pa­per, fab­ric (his art has become toile!), linens, and even a book bus.

Quentin Blake wallpaperMr. Blake talks about his thought process for cre­at­ing wall-sized murals for hos­pi­tals, some­thing he has done often. Rem­i­nisc­ing about his work at the Ker­shaw Ward for elder­ly res­i­den­tial patients, “they [trees] also indi­cat­ed that we were in a not quite par­al­lel real world where a cer­tain vivac­i­ty of move­ment reflects, I hope, the men­tal enthu­si­asm of my spec­ta­tors.” His old­er peo­ple engage in youth­ful activ­i­ties, some­thing every old­er per­son under­stands imme­di­ate­ly.

Wide­ly read, trained orig­i­nal­ly to be a pro­fes­sor of lit­er­a­ture, Mr. Blake has trav­eled wide­ly, accept­ed chal­lenges that have broad­ened his life and art, and he shares his enthu­si­asm for liv­ing.

This is not a book to be rel­ished by chil­dren, but rather adults. The select­ed art illus­trates Mr. Blake’s mus­ings, enrich­ing our under­stand­ing of what it takes to be a world-famous illus­tra­tor.

When you see the art for Roald Dahl’s books, you most cer­tain­ly know Quentin Blake’s work. I found it enlight­en­ing to read, “I have at one time or anoth­er illus­trat­ed all of Roald’s books, with one excep­tion, and the canon is effec­tive­ly closed. We know who the char­ac­ters are, we are acquaint­ed with the accept­ed image of each character—this is one of the advan­tages which was no doubt fore­seen in Pen­guin Books’ ini­tia­tive to get all the books illus­trat­ed by the same per­son.” (page 136)

Quentin Blake: Beyond the Page

There are many styles of art in these pages beyond those fine and sketchy line draw­ings, bright­ly col­ored, that we asso­ciate with the Dahl books. It is the depth of his work and his will­ing­ness to share his per­cep­tion of what he cre­ates that make this a Lit­er­ary Madeleine. I will pull this off the shelf when­ev­er I want to take a jour­ney with a mas­ter. Lucky me! When you read this, lucky you! (My copy was a gift, but you can find this book in both hard­cov­er and paper­back.)

Quentin Blake: Beyond the Page


Round Trip

by Lisa Bullard

9_24One of life’s great sat­is­fac­tions is return­ing home after a long jour­ney. We rejoice in the famil­iar clasp of our own bed, in the brac­ing taste of our home air. Every­thing seems com­fort­ing­ly the same, yet also fresh and remark­able.

This is because, even if home has stayed the same, jour­ney­ing has changed us. The cat’s sus­pi­cious inves­ti­ga­tion of our for­eign smell confirms it: We have returned to the place our old self lived, altered by the world. You can go home again, but it will be a dif­fer­ent “you” that you bring there.

This think­ing comes in use­ful when I talk with stu­dents about sto­ry end­ings. Strong sto­ry end­ings have two impor­tant ele­ments. Even young writ­ers seem to intu­itive­ly grasp the first: some kind of sat­is­fy­ing res­o­lu­tion to what­ev­er con­flict the char­ac­ter is fac­ing.

But stu­dents often over­look the sec­ond ele­ment. That ele­ment focus­es on the way the char­ac­ter has been trans­formed by fac­ing the con­flict. How have they been changed by tak­ing the long and com­pli­cat­ed jour­ney through the sto­ry?

A sto­ry that doesn’t include this sec­ond ele­ment is eas­i­ly for­got­ten. The sto­ries that do explore char­ac­ter trans­for­ma­tion can linger in our imag­i­na­tions long after we’ve returned the book to the library. Moments from these tales may peri­od­i­cal­ly spring up to sur­prise us, like the unex­pect­ed whiff of sun­tan lotion the next time you open the Mia­mi suit­case.

Here’s a way to explain it to your stu­dents: A mer­ry-go-round only cir­cles us back to the place where we start­ed. But before the ride is over, we’ve been through a whole lot of ups and downs. A ride like that alters a per­son.

Great sto­ry end­ings have two parts: First, the writer gets the char­ac­ter off the horse. Then, the writer shows us how tak­ing that wild ride has changed the char­ac­ter for­ev­er.


Interview: Rita Williams-Garcia

Inter­view by Vic­ki Palmquist

photo by Jason Berger

pho­to by Jason Berg­er

When you wrote One Crazy Sum­mer, did you already know you had a longer sto­ry to tell? And if you didn’t know then, when did you know?

I was so focused on telling the one sto­ry of children’s involve­ment in the Black Pan­ther Move­ment. As I dug into my char­ac­ters’ back­sto­ries and pro­ject­ed their actions into the future, I knew I had anoth­er book to write. This hap­pened in the mid­dle of One Crazy Sum­mer when I was explain­ing Cecile’s choic­es and his­to­ry to myself. I could see those ear­ly days so clear­ly. How she came to live with Pa and Uncle Dar­nell. There’s some­thing about know­ing the past that allows you to project into the future. Before I knew it, the seeds were begin­ning to spring up for P.S. Be Eleven. Then as I began to work out the plot for PSBE, I played my actions and con­se­quences game. What are the short term con­se­quences of these actions? What are the long term con­se­quences? This helps me to real­ly con­struct real­ism in the plot, espe­cial­ly in a sto­ry where all things can’t be resolved. Some things have to con­tin­ue on in a nat­ur­al way in the read­ers’ minds. Well, those darn con­se­quences became food for Gone Crazy in Alaba­ma. I didn’t plan three nov­els, but the char­ac­ters had more sto­ry life in front of them. I believe this is the end. I didn’t get that sense of rays shoot­ing out into anoth­er sto­ry.

How did you decide which episodes to place in each of your three books about the sis­ters?

I didn’t have all three sto­ries. One Crazy Sum­mer was its own sto­ry. When I real­ized there would be a Book 2, I thought more about the over­ar­ch­ing theme, which would be change which seemed to explode dur­ing the late 60s, ear­ly 70s. Change in the fam­i­ly, change in the polit­i­cal struc­ture, the unspo­ken but under­ly­ing change in the black com­mu­ni­ty as a result of return­ing trau­ma­tized Viet­nam vet­er­ans and drug use, the change the women’s move­ment brought to homes, coun­try and com­mu­ni­ty, and most impor­tant, those deeply per­son­al changes of our nar­ra­tor.  The trick was to com­press all of those changes, even cheat time a lit­tle to give young read­ers a sense of what it was like to be in the midst of those changes and see­ing how they weren’t just abstrac­tion, but changes that had direct impact. The third book allowed me to talk about what we in the black com­mu­ni­ty talk about amongst ourselves—holding onto fam­i­ly amid the break­down and evo­lu­tion of fam­i­ly. The plot­ting and focus of each sto­ry is dif­fer­ent. It is the incre­men­tal growth of the sisters—and even the fam­i­ly members—that is the con­tin­uüm that stretch­es across all three sto­ries. So, you can read any of the sto­ries in whichev­er order you chose, but you see and feel the change and growth of the char­ac­ters when the sto­ries are read from sum­mer to sum­mer.

Are you a busy, noisy-places writer or a qui­et-spaces writer?

I do a lit­tle of both. I need absolute qui­et at home. No radio, TV, inter­net, phones. When I’m out and about, I can work with the buzz and sirens of the city around me. My ears hear it as one noise. Cell phone noise, par­tic­u­lar­ly loud cell phone noise is hard­er. I car­ry ear plugs in my bag.

You’ve made this fam­i­ly so real, from when we first meet Del­phine, Vonet­ta, and Fern in One Crazy Sum­mer to the part­ing scene in Gone Crazy in Alaba­ma. I found myself want­i­ng to become a friend, stay­ing in their lives for­ev­er. What is the most impor­tant aspect of this family’s sto­ry for you, the writer?

I like the way that every­one feels they are right. This is good for me as a writer. It promis­es con­flict. But isn’t this at the source of most fam­i­lies and famil­ial con­flict? I hope in that way, I’ve asked the read­er to under­stand what they might not agree with. Oh, what a cool trick, if we can do this in gen­er­al!

Does writ­ing a first draft come quick­ly for you or do you weigh each word care­ful­ly as you’re writ­ing it?

bk_GW_PSI have a long incu­ba­tion peri­od. I spend a lot of my wak­ing hours day dream­ing the sto­ry. Telling myself the sto­ry. As I research and day­dream I begin to feel more con­fi­dent about the sto­ry. I start writ­ing a month or so lat­er. When I’m writ­ing the first draft the words are unim­por­tant. Occa­sion­al­ly, the con­nec­tion between myself and the nar­ra­tor is so strong that I’m a good 60%-75% close to final as I slog through the first draft. But I real­ly use my first draft to con­firm proof of sto­ry. To nail down direc­tion. But hon­est­ly, there are so many false starts. But the lan­guage of the sto­ry, the voice and tone of the sto­ry begins to take shape. I’m less anx­ious when I feel the sto­ry has its own voice and not just the few words I know. As I get clos­er to the final drafts I work hard on lan­guage. When the sto­ry is in good shape, I con­cen­trate on the lan­guage.

At what point do you revise your man­u­script?

I revise after I have my clear direc­tion. After I have the first draft. I write in my note­book by hand, and make notes along the way (“Nah”, “deal with this lat­er”, “not work­ing”, etc.). Some­times I stop the for­ward move­ment to nail down a few ear­ly chap­ters because they anchor the sto­ry. But I try to push for­ward to con­firm that the sto­ry works, or what I call “proof of sto­ry.” I revise chap­ters sev­er­al times and drafts sev­er­al times. I should say, I don’t begin typ­ing the sto­ry until it is a sto­ry. I don’t know if I rec­om­mend that prac­tice. It’s just the way I do it.

I want to so bad­ly to ask you if these three books are bio­graph­i­cal and yet my ratio­nal brain knows they are fic­tion. As a read­er, I want this fam­i­ly to be real. I want to hear Miss Trotter’s laugh and Ma Charles’ laugh and I want­ed to be in that room with the whole fam­i­ly after the storm. Can you tell us what per­cent­age of these sto­ries comes from your own back­ground?

Who will read this inter­view? Hope­ful­ly, not my young readers—no offense!! I don’t think my young read­ers want to hear this clin­i­cal thing about my char­ac­ters. Any­way, I con­struct them all and tend to stay clear of bas­ing them on actu­al peo­ple. The char­ac­ters have to mag­net­i­cal­ly fit into the fam­i­ly and sto­ry. If I have a respon­si­ble char­ac­ter, like Del­phine, I give her a rea­son to acti­vate her super pow­ers. Enter Vonet­ta and Fern—in their dis­tinct ways. If Big Ma is fear­ful, tra­di­tion­al, a good Chris­t­ian (at least in her mind), her daugh­ter-in-laws must be in oppo­si­tion to that in their dis­tinct ways. Big Ma’s moth­er must be a source of con­ster­na­tion. Her son, who is in between tra­di­tion and change, must be her ally at times and her oppo­si­tion at oth­er times when it comes to his daugh­ters and his mates. See how it works? I might take an aspect of my moth­er and drop it into Cecile—but as strong and off kil­ter as both can be, they are two dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent moth­ers and per­sons. My moth­er was into her Jimi Hen­drix and Janis Joplin, but she was the woman of the house­hold and there was no mis­tak­ing that. She did absolute­ly every­thing, while my sibs and I were respon­si­ble for home­work, play­ing and mak­ing our beds.

If you know me at all, you know that I love mak­ing things.  Mak­ing char­ac­ters is the best Play-Doh™ ever!

Del­phine and I were born the same year, so I was aware of the world spin­ning and chang­ing dur­ing the late six­ties, ear­ly sev­en­ties. I kept a diary that not­ed sev­er­al events like assas­si­na­tions of Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Sen­a­tor Robert F. Kennedy—as well as the man­hunts of their assailants. Apol­lo 11, etc., etc. I didn’t write these grand or pre­co­cious insights. I saw things as a child, so I kept that in mind as I wrote Delphine’s nar­ra­tive.

My own fam­i­ly isn’t like the Gaithers in the spe­cif­ic sense, but my par­ents migrat­ed from the south to Queens, New York in the 30s and 40s. My ear­ly life up until twelve was as an army brat. My father served in Vietnam—no drug involve­ment, but that’s not to say he wasn’t affect­ed by the war.  There were three of us kids, all thir­teen months apart. My sis­ter Ros­alind is the old­est, broth­er Rus­sell is the mid­dle, and I’m the youngest. Am I Fern? Nah.  My ear­ly life up until twelve was an army brat liv­ing on army bases and army towns.  

I lived through this same era but not in the same neigh­bor­hoods (Oak­land, New York City, Alaba­ma). After read­ing these books, I feel that my under­stand­ing of my own his­to­ry got larg­er. Do you feel that way as the writer?

bk_GWGoneCrazyAbsolute­ly. There is so much untold his­to­ry. One of the parts of his­to­ry that Gone Crazy tells, is of the cross­ings between peo­ple, be they through bru­tal­i­ty, neces­si­ty or choice. We are made up of so many peo­ple and his­to­ries. It seems ridicu­lous to con­tin­ue to tell a sin­gu­lar sto­ry. The best his­to­ry, to me, is fam­i­ly his­to­ry. We are all wit­ness­es to our times, and most of us main­tain con­nec­tions with our elders. We should take note of what we see, feel and think dur­ing our time, but also take in the sto­ries of our elders while they’re with us.

How does Gone Crazy in Alaba­ma relate to the past?

Even though Gone Crazy  is set in the sum­mer of 1969, its reach extends back to the 1830s, up until the 1870s, through the turn of the cen­tu­ry, and so on. My grand­moth­er was raised by her great-grand­moth­er, who was a slave and whose father fought and died in the Civ­il War. My grand­moth­er was our family’s link to this peri­od. I thought about these human links and that they dis­ap­pear. So, I began to think about the Charles-Gaither-Trot­ter fam­i­ly tree.  I esti­mat­ed approx­i­mate­ly when the ances­tral char­ac­ters would be born and what was hap­pen­ing dur­ing those times. I immersed myself in Alaba­ma his­to­ry to bet­ter weave the cross­ings between African Amer­i­cans, Native Amer­i­cans and Euro­pean Amer­i­cans. (If not for every oth­er of my African Amer­i­can class­mates brag­ging about their “Indi­an” roots, I would have missed the Native Amer­i­can branch in this Alaba­ma his­to­ry!) My sis­ter even jumped on the “we’re part Chero­kee” band­wag­on, although I knew bet­ter. Alaba­ma was the per­fect set­ting! It had the rail­road sys­tem run­ning from the Okla­homa Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ries through Aug­tau­ga Coun­ty dur­ing Recon­struc­tion, plus a tex­tile mill dat­ing back to the 1800s. (The tex­tile mill was where Louis Gaither Sr., as well as Uncle Dar­nell worked—although I scrapped that fact from the nov­el.) The KKK was active in Alaba­ma from post-Civ­il War, peter­ing out in the late 1800s and then resurg­ing in the 1920s, and active through the 1960s in George Wallace’s Alaba­ma. So even though the three sis­ters were not raised in the Jim Crow South, and most of the “Whites Only” signs have been removed, they are breath­ing the air of the past that still has its pres­ence dur­ing their time.

I thought about the two sis­ters whose lives hadn’t changed much from the time their father was alive. They retain a lot of that past. Ma Charles wouldn’t have indoor plumb­ing if not for her neigh­bor. The idea of sub­sist­ing and shar­ing with neigh­bors is how both sis­ters lived, per­haps fol­low­ing the ways of their moth­ers. Ma Charles talks about how “oth­er folks” (you know she means white peo­ple) jumped out of win­dows dur­ing the 20s because of the mar­ket crash, while poor peo­ple with gar­dens sur­vived it. Her purist free-range eat­ing and organ­ic gar­den­ing is now all the rage. Both she and Miss Trot­ter keep true to the lives they lived as chil­dren born in the late 1800s, down using “sad irons” that are placed on a hearth or on a stove, instead of elec­tric irons. The bonus is, for Del­phine, who is serv­ing her penance while iron­ing the sheets she refused to iron ear­li­er, Del­phine is also touch­ing hands with his­to­ry. Hold­ing hands with women who knew slav­ery and eman­ci­pa­tion. She doesn’t know that, but I do! My hope is that the read­er does also.

I’m about change, but I love that nei­ther Ma Charles nor her half-sis­ter, Miss Trot­ter don’t want to change who they are. These are women who were edu­cat­ed in a one-room school, with kids from five to fif­teen, and as young women they prob­a­bly remem­ber when Okla­homa became a state.  They have to feel those times when Native Amer­i­cans need­ed work pass­es to work out­side of their des­ig­nat­ed ter­ri­to­ries and reser­va­tions. The 82 year-old sis­ters have to feel those times when African Amer­i­cans tes­ti­fy­ing in court would have pro­vid­ed enter­tain­ment for white peo­ple. And I have to under­stand what would have been humil­i­at­ing for them, their moth­ers and their father. I have to feel those times and what they mean to the char­ac­ters with links to the past. Mind you, it all can’t go inside the sto­ry, but time, place, and peo­ple must be a part of me while I write.


Skinny Dip with Candice Ransom

9_23SkinnyRebelDo you like to gift wrap presents?

Yes! I’ll buy the gift wrap before I buy the present! Years ago when I was a teenag­er, Hall­mark start­ed car­ry­ing their prod­ucts in Dart Drug. I lath­ered over the Hall­mark sec­tion, spend­ing my allowance on Peanuts cards and gift tags and wrap­ping paper, yarn and fan­cy bows. My sis­ter once said that I always spent more on the wrap­ping than the actu­al gift.

Even now I buy beau­ti­ful paper in muse­um gift shops. In April I took a trip to New York. I bought so many paper goods I had to buy an extra suit­case. My favorites? Sheets of Cav­alli­ni gift wrap from the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry. I car­ried the rolled tube on the train like the Holy Grail.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

I don’t remem­ber the very first book report, but I do remem­ber writ­ing a won­der­ful book review of The Year­ling for eighth grade Eng­lish. And then, the teacher low­ered the boom. Instead of turn­ing them in, we had to give them oral­ly. I froze. At that time, I was so shy I couldn’t even answer the phone. Only a cer­tain num­ber of stu­dents read each day. Each day I wait­ed in ter­ror for my name to be called. On the fourth day, it was. I could not—simply could not—get up in front of the class. So I lied and told my teacher I hadn’t done my report, even though it was in my note­book, beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten, and I took a zero.

What book do you tell every­one to read? 

9_23DiamondWhen I was eleven, the most won­der­ful book ever fell into my hands, A Dia­mond in the Win­dow, by Jane Lang­ton. Even now, I chase every­one down and beg them to read this fan­ta­sy-mys­tery-his­tor­i­cal-fam­i­ly sto­ry lib­er­al­ly sprin­kled with Thore­au, Emer­son, and Louisa May Alcott. It changed my life. I had to be mar­ried on Valentine’s Day because of a chap­ter in the book (try explain­ing that to your hus­band-to-be dur­ing the Bliz­zard of ’79—three feet of snow on the ground, but we made it).

Ten years ago I met Jane Lang­ton and told her how much her book meant to me. I was so eager, so, I don’t know, hero-wor­ship­ful that I was not ready when she said in her kind voice, “Oh, every year peo­ple tell me the exact same thing.” The breath left my body. No! Her book only changed my life!

Well, I still tell every­one to read it, if they can get hold of a copy. It might change their life, but not the way it changed mine.

Describe your most favorite pair of paja­mas ever. 

I was five and we had just moved into a house in the coun­try (read: sticks). I had my own bed­room for the first time, and my own bed (until then, I lived in some­one else’s house and slept in a crib—that’s why I’m so short). My moth­er bought—or made, she sewed all of our clothes—a pair of Don­ald Duck paja­mas. The print was turquoise and yel­low. I loved those paja­mas beyond all rea­son. When I final­ly out­grew them, my moth­er tucked them in her bot­tom dress­er draw­er with her sewing sup­plies.

When I was in my twen­ties and on my own, my moth­er made me a twin-size quilt. Not a fan­cy quilt­ed quilt, just a nine-patch tied off. She’d used fab­ric from some of clothes she’d made me. There in the cen­ter is a piece of the Don­ald Duck paja­mas. I still have the quilt. I love it beyond all rea­son.

What do you wish you could tell your ten-year-old self? 

9_23FitnessOh, my. She was such a brave, fun­ny girl. Shy and yet adven­tur­ous. Smart but she failed math and the President’s Phys­i­cal Fit­ness tests (she was proud of walk­ing the 600, earn­ing the slow­est time in the his­to­ry of field day—over 13 min­utes). She want­ed so many things, that girl. She want­ed to be a writer and a detec­tive and maybe a vet and, secret­ly, a bal­le­ri­na even though she was stiffer than barn wood and had nev­er had a dance class in her life. She also want­ed to be an artist and she believed she could do all of those things!

Part of me wants to warn her of what’s com­ing, but a big­ger part of me wants her to stay in the dark, let her be her­self as long as pos­si­ble. I wouldn’t tell her that she won’t be able to do all the things she want­ed: the sight of blood makes her faint, she can’t stay up long enough to be a detec­tive (all those night stake-outs), and, sad­dest of all, that she won’t be able to go to art school. Or any school, real­ly, until she’s 50. No, I won’t tell her that.

I think I would tell her to remem­ber bet­ter where she lived, every lit­tle bit of it. The trees, the gar­den, the straw­ber­ry patch in June, the mar­tin house she asked her step­fa­ther to build but stayed emp­ty, the blue can­dle lights in the pic­ture win­dow at Christ­mas, the can­ning-jar smell of the base­ment, the rumbly sound of Half-Pint purring, the taste of fried squash washed down with sweet iced tea on a hot July evening, the feel of the brush as Mama worked the tan­gles from my hair.

Yes, that’s what I’d tell her. Remem­ber bet­ter, girl, because your six­ty-three-year old self will have trou­ble. And she needs the gifts of those mem­o­ries to get through the day. They don’t even have to be wrapped in fan­cy paper.


The Classics, Galdone-Style

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Folk Tale Classics Treasury GaldoneAre you look­ing for a show­er or baby gift that will be appre­ci­at­ed for a long time? A good birth­day present for a young child?

The Folk Tale Clas­sics Trea­sury, inter­pret­ed and illus­trat­ed by Paul Gal­done (HMH Books for Young Read­ers, 2013), is a good place for par­ents to start with retellings of west­ern Euro­pean folk tales. The sto­ries includ­ed here are impor­tant for cul­tur­al aware­ness. Through­out their lives, chil­dren will hear ref­er­ences to the Three Lit­tle Kit­tens (“and you shall have no pie”) and Goldilocks and the Three Bears (“that por­ridge was just right”) so it’s good to intro­duce them to these sto­ries ear­ly.

The Three Little Kittens

In his Lit­tle Red Hen, won­der­ful depic­tions of the cat, dog, mouse, and an alarmed and frus­trat­ed hen add insou­ciance to the sto­ry that both chil­dren and adults will enjoy. Deli­cious details in each draw­ing make it fun to read with some­one by your side.

Little Red Hen

In his ver­sion of The Three Lit­tle Pigs, the big, bad wolf is wily but Pig No. 3 is even smarter, in a sat­is­fy­ing way that will have you cheer­ing.

The bears in his Goldilocks tale are hand­some and smart. We see their tale from the point of view of a fam­i­ly who is wronged by a mis­chie­vous lit­tle girl with gold­en locks who is both unthink­ing and care­less. Where are her man­ners?!

The Three Bil­ly Goats Gruff and The Gin­ger­bread Boy round out the sto­ries includ­ed in this vol­ume. These are tales that have been passed down for gen­er­a­tions, remem­bered fond­ly, but also under­stood.

Pig No. 3 was cau­tious and clever, the lit­tle Red Hen indus­tri­ous and just, and the biggest Bil­ly Goat Gruff proves that you should be care­ful who you chal­lenge.

Paul Gal­done was born in Budapest, Hun­gary, in 1907, but after 1928 lived in New York and Ver­mont where he illus­trat­ed more than 300 books. His first illus­trat­ed book was Miss Pick­erell Goes to Mars in 1951. In the sec­ond half of the last cen­tu­ry, his work was ubiq­ui­tous, and much loved. Reis­su­ing this vol­ume will cre­ate a new gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren who pic­ture these sto­ries with his illus­tra­tions. Mr. Gal­done died in 1986. You can find more infor­ma­tion about him at the Ker­lan Col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, where a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of his orig­i­nal art and work­ing mate­ri­als is pre­served. You’ll also find a good deal of infor­ma­tion on his memo­r­i­al web­site.


The Berenstain Bears

RRB_BearsLast night, I was remind­ed of our family’s love of The Beren­stain Bears books. (Hap­py Sigh.) Before I go any fur­ther in my homage, please understand—I’m not claim­ing these books are stel­lar lit­er­a­ture. I’m just say­ing that we read a lot of Beren­stain Bear books at our house once upon a time, and we loved, loved, loved them. And the we includes me. Absolute­ly. Yes, I know they are for­mu­la­ic, preachy, and moral­is­tic. Obvi­ous­ly, they flaunt fla­grant gen­der stereo­types. And nor­mal­ly, I steered clear of such books for my young impres­sion­able readers…but good­ness, we loved those Beren­stain Bears!

My daughter’s piano teacher remind­ed us of them—she, too, adored the books. We’ve been reor­ga­niz­ing clos­ets and rooms late­ly and she com­ment­ed how much The Beren­stain Bears and the Messy Room informed her own (now adult) need for orga­ni­za­tion and tidi­ness. Instant­ly, we all remem­bered how won­der­ful the peg­board Papa Bear made was, and how sat­is­fy­ing and inspir­ing the neat­ly labeled and stacked box­es full of Broth­er and Sis­ter Bear’s trea­sures were.

RRB_BearsRoomWe con­tin­ued our love fest, remem­ber­ing togeth­er oth­er impor­tant books in the series—the mile­stones and tran­si­tions books, the anx­i­ety-address­ing books, the healthy habits series, and the behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion titles—we loved them all! The list of titles is long. (I was amazed how long.) We didn’t have near­ly as many as there are, but we had a lot—purchased for pit­tance at garage sales, inher­it­ed from old­er friends, res­cued from the trash bin at the library…. And I must’ve passed them on, because in the recent reshuf­fling of the book­shelves not a Beren­stain Bear book was to be found.

But the lessons remain: kind­ness and grat­i­tude are impor­tant, too much junk food or TV is just too much, tak­ing the time to do things right yields bet­ter results, and new sit­u­a­tions are less daunt­ing when we know some­thing of what to expect. We nev­er watched the TV shows or bought any of the mer­chan­dise etc., but I’d say Beren­stain Bears were a sig­nif­i­cant part of our kid­dos’ child­hood. And I am not ashamed.

Are there books you read with kids (or have read with them) that you’re just a little…shy about admit­ting to? Books you found in the check-out lane at the gro­cery store, in a bin of dreck at the library, or for week after week in your kid’s back­pack? You know the ones I’m talk­ing about.

Now, how many of those did you secret­ly love? How many did your kids adore? Did you have a ____________ stage in your household’s read­ing? ‘Fess up! I’ve led the way—WE LOVE (present tense!) THE BERENSTAIN BEARS!


Skinny Dip with Vicki Palmquist

Rice Lake Carnegie Library

Rice Lake Carnegie Library

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year-old self?

A good many things, but most emphat­i­cal­ly I would tell myself to not lis­ten to the com­ments about being too smart or show­ing off by using big words or being too curi­ous. I have always enjoyed learn­ing about new things and shar­ing what I’ve learned. I love dis­cussing ideas and unknown-to-me cor­ners of the world and peo­ple who have accom­plished great things and shown great imag­i­na­tion. In hind­sight, my 10-year-old self would have found more joy in school and in life with­out accept­ing those lim­i­ta­tions. “To thine own self be true” is some­thing I’ve learned to live by, but it’s tak­en many years.

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

Start my own busi­ness in part­ner­ship with my hus­band. There’s the work­ing-with-your-hus­band aspect twen­ty-four/­sev­en, which I’m hap­py to say has been reward­ing and enliven­ing. Being in busi­ness (which was always anath­e­ma to me when I was in my teens and twenties—I may have coined the term “suits”) has been a process of con­tin­u­al­ly rein­vent­ing our­selves, keep­ing ahead of the changes in a rapid­ly glob­al­iz­ing world, and learn­ing every sin­gle day. Most of all, it’s been the kind of chal­lenge I’ve need­ed for the past 27 years.

From what pub­lic library did you get your first card?

The Rice Lake Pub­lic Library in Rice Lake, Wis­con­sin. I was ten. I could ride my bike there dur­ing the sum­mers when I vis­it­ed my grand­par­ents. They gave me a wick­er bike bas­ket for my birth­day in June. I rode to the library every oth­er day and filled up that bas­ket with new trea­sures. It was a Carnegie library, upon a hill, with the adult col­lec­tion upstairs and the children’s col­lec­tion down­stairs. We weren’t allowed to go upstairs. Who knows what trou­ble we might have got­ten into!

Did your ele­men­tary school have a librar­i­an?

I adored my ele­men­tary school librar­i­an at Ethel Bas­ton in Saint Louis Park, Min­neso­ta. I don’t think I ever knew her name. Is that pos­si­ble? She always had a new book to rec­om­mend when I ran out of steam. I remem­ber read­ing the Box­car Chil­dren books, rac­ing through the mys­ter­ies, and the Land­mark His­to­ry books. When I’d fin­ished all of them, she had won­der­ful new sug­ges­tions. In sixth grade, our librar­i­an and my teacher, Mr. Gor­don Rausch, cooked up a scav­enger hunt in the library, ask­ing us all kinds of ques­tions that could only be found in spe­cif­ic books in that library. It was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever par­tic­i­pat­ed in. Then and there, I decid­ed that I would become a librar­i­an, too. I’m not but I do have a minor in library sci­ence.

What’s on your night­stand?

My Kin­dle. A clock radio that plays inter­net sta­tions. It’s on all night, play­ing jazz or clas­si­cal music. A beau­ti­ful coral rose that a friend brought me today.  Samu­rai Ris­ing, a new book by Pamela S. Turn­er and Gareth Hinds. The Most Impor­tant Thing by Avi. Grayling’s Song by Karen Cush­man. I’m a very lucky woman—I have to read for my job!



Debra Frasier: A Series of Mistakes

Fif­teen years ago my ten year old daugh­ter came home with a sto­ry.

Mom, “ she said, “today I fig­ured out that “mis­cel­la­neous” is NOT a per­son.”

9_15CreamettesI burst out laugh­ing. “So who did you think it was?” I asked.

I thought she was that woman on the green spaghet­ti box…”

I saved her gift-of-a-mis­take in my lit­tle jour­nal and end­ed up unwrap­ping it in a lone­ly hotel room in south­ern Wis­con­sin after a par­tic­u­lar­ly mis­er­able book sign­ing of three peo­ple. I was also lick­ing my wounds from a failed grant attempt of huge pro­por­tions, so the book sign­ing had only added insult to injury. I stayed in my lit­tle hotel room that night and to escape my own life I opened my jour­nal and start­ed to play with mis­cel­la­neous = Miss Alaineus.

9_15miss-alaineus_250I did make my daughter’s gift into a sto­ry and only fierce deter­mi­na­tion by my edi­tor at Har­court at the time, (Allyn John­ston, now with her own imprint, Beach Lane Books, at S&S), did it get pub­lished despite being deemed: “too long, too smart, to weird­ly illus­trat­ed.” Fif­teen years and over 150,000 copies lat­er it remains in print and has inspired what may be my proud­est con­tri­bu­tion to ele­men­tary schools:

The Vocab­u­lary Parade!

In the sto­ry our vocab­u­lary-smart hero­ine mis­takes the word mis­cel­la­neous, for Miss Alaineus, and great embar­rass­ment ensues. But! Like a lot of mis­takes and way­ward paths, it sparks a cre­ative leap and she enters the annu­al Vocab­u­lary Parade as Miss Alaineus, win­ning the gold award—and prov­ing her moth­er right:

There is gold in every mis­take.

To my aston­ish­ment the Vocab­u­lary Parade is now repli­cat­ed in schools all over the world. I nudged this along with sup­port mate­ri­als in the back mat­ter of the book and at my web­site. Take a look at the slew of inge­nious cos­tumes for words like PARALLEL, or PHASES, or VOLUMINOUS. When I enter a school as the class­rooms are prepar­ing for a Vocab­u­lary Parade I still get goose bumps and teary-eyed. Cre­ativ­i­ty lit­er­al­ly bursts around me like fire­works and the ener­gy in the school lifts the roof ever so slight­ly off its rafters. Par­ents come and line the halls to watch the parade of cos­tumed words, (or like Cedar Lake School, sit in lawn chairs sur­round­ing the school’s out­door walk­way, 400+ par­ents strong after six con­sec­u­tive annu­al events). Kids talk about their cos­tumes and words for weeks before. Pho­tos keep the words alive in the air for weeks after. It is a mirac­u­lous vocab­u­lary enrich­ment event dis­guised as an art project: the BEST kind of learn­ing!

Remem­ber: all this grew out of a series of mis­takes! This is my liv­ing proof that it is not “the event” but how we han­dle the event that mat­ters. My daugh­ter could have buried her mis­take instead of laugh­ing with me, I could have drowned my sor­rows that night in Wis­con­sin instead of writ­ing my sighs away, my edi­tor could have joined the doubters…on and on. 

Fall brings cos­tumed events around the Unit­ed States. Cel­e­brate a Vocab­u­lary Parade in your com­mu­ni­ty and see exact­ly what I mean: the con­ta­gious cre­ativ­i­ty in stu­dents and fam­i­lies will delight and inspire you. Send me a pic­ture of any cos­tumes that makes you smile—that’s the gold I col­lect, year after year.


East, or West?

by Lisa Bullard


I think road-trip­ping togeth­er should be a require­ment for every cou­ple con­tem­plat­ing life part­ner­ship. There are few oth­er cir­cum­stances that allow you to so quick­ly learn about how some­one nav­i­gates through life.

Would you rather plan the whole trip in advance, or just get in the car and dri­ve? Do you stop and ask for direc­tions, or go ahead and get lost? Hotel room or camper? Talk radio or hip hop? Speed lim­it or speed­ster? Healthy or unhealthy foods? Good tip­per or bad?

Rid­ing togeth­er tells me almost every­thing I need to know about a per­son.

So does writ­ing togeth­er. In fact, one of the quick­est tricks I have for get­ting to know a new group of stu­dents is to pose a “would you rather…?” writ­ing prompt for them.

For exam­ple, I might prompt: “If you had to choose, would you rather have the pow­er of invis­i­bil­i­ty, or flight?” Then I’ll ask them to write about their choice for ten min­utes. Here’s what I’ve found:

Invis­i­bil­i­ty” kids often wor­ry that things are being kept from them, that there are impor­tant secrets they don’t know. Some­times they love being sneaky. Some­times they want to become invis­i­ble to bul­lies. Invis­i­bil­i­ty can be about revenge, or pow­er, or com­pil­ing infor­ma­tion.

Flight” kids often crave free­dom. They sense that they don’t know enough about the world. Some­times they feel supe­ri­or. Some­times they crave escape. Flight can be about expand­ing their hori­zons, or see­ing a dif­fer­ent point of view, or push­ing them­selves beyond the lim­its.

In oth­er words, by writ­ing out an answer to this one sim­ple ques­tion, stu­dents end up telling me an enor­mous amount about who they are and what they want from the world.

Would you rather go east or west? Think care­ful­ly: your answer might tell me more than you could ever guess.



Skinny Dip with Augusta Scattergood

What is your proud­est career moment?

bk_Destiny_5x8_300My proud­est career moment? Being invit­ed to the Amer­i­can Library Association’s mid-win­ter con­fer­ence to intro­duce my new book. As a career librar­i­an turned mid­dle-grade nov­el­ist, it doesn’t get much bet­ter than that.

I was also hon­ored to have my first nov­el, Glo­ry Be, which takes place dur­ing Free­dom Sum­mer, cho­sen by sev­er­al groups high­light­ing the fifti­eth anniver­sary of that event. Como, Mis­sis­sip­pi and Oxford, Ohio were both impor­tant to the Civ­il Rights move­ment, and both places invit­ed me to their com­mem­o­ra­tive events.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

A green, over­sized Bet­ter Homes and Gar­dens Sto­ry­book col­lec­tion. Clas­sic children’s books, poet­ry, a few orig­i­nal sto­ries. I can still quote almost the entire poem that begins “The Goops they lick their fin­gers. The Goops they lick their knives…”

What TV show can’t you turn off?

bk_BetterHomesWay too many to con­fess to. Break­ing Bad would be at the top of that list.

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

Kir­by Lar­son, Bar­bara O’Connor, and Susan Hill Long. Because I’ve had a cou­ple of din­ners with them and the fun nev­er end­ed.

Were you most like­ly to vis­it the school office to deliv­er attendance/get sup­plies, vis­it the nurse, or meet with the prin­ci­pal?

Deliv­er atten­dance and get sup­plies while chat­ting with the prin­ci­pal.



Two for the Show

by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and Phyl­lis Root

9_9TwoForMufaroWe want to start by say­ing that we are lov­ing the chance to look at for­got­ten books or won­der­ful clas­sics from the past that this blog has giv­en us. And this time, when we were think­ing of what we might look at, John Step­toe came to mind— maybe because we were con­sid­er­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties in August and he died in August of 1989. We all remem­ber Step­toe was one of the first African Amer­i­cans to write and illus­trate children’s books. He was bril­liant, wrote his first book, Ste­vie, when he was six­teen years old, and was only eigh­teen when it was pub­lished. He wrote and illus­trat­ed many oth­er books in his short life. (He died at age 39).

One of his best known is Mufaro’s Beau­ti­ful Daugh­ters (1987). We think this is a clas­sic. The daugh­ters are indeed beau­ti­ful, the set­ting is beau­ti­ful and so care­ful­ly ren­dered that we want­ed to touch the stones and caress the birds. For this re-telling of a Zim­bab­wean folk­tale Step­toe researched the flo­ra and fau­na of Zim­bab­we for two years. And though it reads like a folk tale, the illus­tra­tions are done with such care that when we read it we almost believe it had hap­pened. Of course a green snake could become a hand­some African king.

The sto­ry is love­ly. Mufaro has two daugh­ters who look beau­ti­ful but only one who acts with beau­ty and grace. Man­yara is “almost always in a bad tem­per. She teased her sis­ter when­ev­er their father’s back was turned, and she had been heard to say, ‘Some­day, Nyasha, I will be a queen, and you will be a ser­vant in my house­hold.’” Nyasha grows veg­eta­bles, and is so kind that birds are not afraid to be close and a snake becomes her com­pan­ion. Because her beau­ty is inter­nal and exter­nal, she is the one cho­sen by the king and Man­yara becomes her ser­vant.

It’s a great expe­ri­ence to read his books now and think back on how rev­o­lu­tion­ary they must have seemed when they were pub­lished. He was rev­o­lu­tion­ary and vision­ary. He want­ed to write books in which African Amer­i­can chil­dren could see them­selves and be proud of their cul­ture. And that is so sim­i­lar to what we want today with the cam­paign We Need Diverse Books. We found our­selves pro­found­ly wish­ing that he had lived to give us more books, lived to com­ment on the read­ing lives of chil­dren.

Wendy Wat­son did a love­ly appre­ci­a­tion of John Steptoe’s art in her blog in August 2014.

9_10TwoForBeautyWe found a more recent re-telling of an old tale on the Kirkus “Best Books of 2014 Which Fea­ture Diverse Char­ac­ters” list–Beau­ty and the Beast by H. Chuku Lee and illus­trat­ed by his wife Pat Cum­mings. Once again we have beau­ti­ful daughters–three who present their father with a long list when he goes to the city and one who only asks for a rose. The sto­ry is set in West Africa and is told in the first per­son by “Beau­ty,” in direct and expres­sive lan­guage. And the illus­tra­tions are fas­ci­nat­ing, full of detail and pat­tern, done with care and respect. This is what H. Chuku Lee said about writ­ing this book in The Horn Book (June 2015):

Our ver­sion of “Beau­ty” is an act of hope, the belief that when giv­en a new and dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on an accept­ed sto­ry with uni­ver­sal themes of love, mag­ic, and promis­es made, we can tran­scend the notion that only some peo­ple are equipped for change. That uni­ver­sal feel­ings like love, fear, and hope are in fact found in all peo­ple. And that the sto­ry is just as pow­er­ful no mat­ter what the cul­tur­al set­ting. Most audi­ences appre­ci­ate and even cheer at the idea that some­one would sac­ri­fice her own safe­ty in the hope of pro­tect­ing some­one she loves. And that kind­ness and love can mag­i­cal­ly trans­form a beast into a prince.

And Pat Cummings’s com­ments:

His [H. Chuku Lee’s] ver­sion, told from Beauty’s point of view, seemed ele­gant and con­tem­po­rary. And I want­ed to update Beau­ty as well, to show her as a young woman of col­or whose world clear­ly evokes Africa. The Beast’s scar­i­fi­ca­tions even sug­gest a par­tic­u­lar tribe. But although clas­sics tran­scend time, trends, and cul­tures, some ele­ments of the sto­ry seemed etched in stone: it had to be a rose, and the Beast had to be part ani­mal. “Beau­ty and the Beast” has more than its share of clas­sic themes: love con­quers all, true beau­ty lies with­in, appear­ances can be mis­lead­ing, mag­ic can save the day…But Chuku hit upon one I hadn’t con­sid­ered before, one that res­onat­ed with me while illus­trat­ing the sto­ry. For me, it has become the new time­less theme at the heart of the sto­ry: the pow­er of a promise.

Our only com­plaint is that the Beau­ty on the cov­er is quite a bit lighter than the Beau­ty in the book. It will be a won­der­ful day when that is not so. But we have hope. And the pow­er of the promise to strive to do bet­ter, to val­ue all the peo­ples of the world and all the col­ors of the world.



Fashion Forward and Backward

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Where Did My Clothes Come From?(A) If your kids are plugged in to Project Run­way or
(B) if you come from a tra­di­tion of sewing clothes in your fam­i­ly or
© if you’ve ever been asked about where jeans come from … 

this is the right book for your 5- to 8‑year-old. Where Did My Clothes Come From? by Chris But­ter­worth, with illus­tra­tions by Lucia Gag­giot­ti (Can­dlewick Press, 2015) is a nifty book with words and draw­ings that com­bine to give sat­is­fy­ing answers.

From jeans to fleece jack­ets to par­ty dress­es, from cot­ton to silk to poly­ester, each fab­ric is cre­at­ed from nat­ur­al fibers grown as plants or sheared from ani­mals or else it’s cre­at­ed from a “sticky syrup” made up of chem­i­cals. The author and illus­tra­tor walk us through the process from the cloth’s ori­gin to the clean­ing to the fac­to­ry to the fab­ric.

Where Did My Clothes Come From?

Ms. Butterworth’s lan­guage is clear in a straight­for­ward sto­ry that will answer ques­tions and stim­u­late inter­est. Ms. Gagliotti’s illus­tra­tions pro­vide vital infor­ma­tion. When the author, writ­ing about jeans, says that “the cloth is cut into shapes,” she gives us a draw­ing of some­one who is doing that cut­ting on a well-detailed table, fol­lowed by the cut pieces laid out in a before-you-sew-the-jeans dia­gram with labeled parts. For this read­er, every­thing makes sense.

I’ve nev­er want­ed to know too exact­ly where poly­ester and fleece come from but, thanks to this book, now I know. A sec­tion on recy­cling encour­ages us to recy­cle plas­tic bev­er­age bot­tles to be made into fleece jack­ets and cut down jeans for a skirt when the knees are worn.

From Rags to RichesAnoth­er book on this sub­ject is From Rags to Rich­es: a His­to­ry of Girls’ Cloth­ing in Amer­i­ca by Leslie Sills (Hol­i­day House, 2005). The book is out of print but you may find it in your library or as a used book. It’s worth track­ing down. Excel­lent pho­to choic­es and live­ly descrip­tions and facts will inform kids about the fash­ions that have come and gone and still inspire us. Even bet­ter, the author looks at his­to­ry through fash­ion, a par­tic­u­lar view­point that will find kids think­ing more deeply about their cur­rent expe­ri­ences.

History of Women's FashionThis just in: His­to­ry of Wom­en’s Fash­ion by San­na Man­der (Big Pic­ture Press, 2015). What an astound­ing book! It has just one page which folds out to 6−1÷2 feet! That one page is print­ed on both sides. On the front, there is a time­line of cloth­ing and acces­sories women have worn from 1900 to the present, with approx­i­mate­ly 15 draw­ings on each sec­tion of that page. It all folds down to fit with­in the pages of a folio-sized book.

We see women wear­ing the clothes so we get the idea of how bod­ies were affect­ed by the dress­es and pants and corsets! The first item on the time­line is a corset. We are shown a bathing suit from 1917 (mod­est­ly cov­er­ing the entire body), a Coco Chanel pleat­ed skirt and jack­et from 1924, a Land Girl Uni­form from 1939, a Chris­t­ian Dior Black Dress from 1955, a punk dress from 1980, and an Alexan­der McQueen ensem­ble, with plen­ty of styles in between. On the back side of that one page are sil­hou­ettes of the draw­ings on the front with text explain­ing what we’re see­ing and the sig­nif­i­cance of the style.

I love this book now but I would have espe­cial­ly loved it as a teen because I was end­less­ly design­ing clothes and draw­ing them on mod­els. Think how much fun your bud­ding design­er would have! This gets top marks from me for inven­tive­ness and a fun way to absorb infor­ma­tion. 

Anna KareninaAnd then, because I can’t resist board books for adults, you might look at Anna Karen­i­na: a Fash­ion Primer the next time you’re in your favorite book­store. Writ­ten by Jen­nifer Adams, with evoca­tive art by Ali­son Oliv­er (Gibbs Smith, 2014), this book is part of the pub­lish­ers’ BabyLit series. I’m still puz­zling over this one. With quotes from Leo Tol­stoy and focus­ing on fash­ion words and images, per­haps instill­ing love of great adult lit­er­a­ture is start­ing (too) ear­ly? But it would be a great con­ver­sa­tion starter at your next lit­er­ary din­ner par­ty or book club.

Anna Karenina



Brambly Hedge

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

bk_BramblyStripWhen they were lit­tle, both of our kids had a fas­ci­na­tion with anthro­po­mor­phic mice. One actu­al­ly had a set of imag­i­nary mice friends who pre­ced­ed us into anx­i­ety pro­duc­ing sit­u­a­tions, of which there are many when you are a small child. These benev­o­lent mice (who had names, spe­cif­ic jobs, and amaz­ing vehi­cles of trans­porta­tion) went ahead and checked out wed­dings, Mom­my-and-Me music class, doctor’s offices, camp­sites, kinder­garten, etc. They pro­vid­ed infor­ma­tion as to what to expect and sit­u­a­tions to watch out for. Amaz­ing­ly (and for­tu­nate­ly), they always gave favor­able courage-pro­vid­ing reports. They were an impor­tant part of our life for sev­er­al years.

As I look back, it feels like a chick­en-or-egg sit­u­a­tion. Did the love of mice come first, or did the Bram­bly Hedge books spark that love?

Do you know the Bram­bly Hedge books? They’ve been around for quite a while. I actu­al­ly found the first ones at Tar­get, which seems all wrong as they would more right­ly be found in a tiny book­shop that serves tea and is full of nooks and cran­nies, wild­flow­ers and gor­geous books, some­where in the British coun­try­side. But I’m glad Tar­get car­ried them when my kids were small—chancing upon one enlivened an oth­er­wise unin­spir­ing trip for dia­pers and toi­let paper etc. We have an almost com­plete set of the books. (I found out about the miss­ing ones just now when I searched on-line—that will be rec­ti­fied short­ly.). And I see that you can buy all the sto­ries in one vol­ume today. Which I might. For my (very) future grand­chil­dren, you know.

As orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished, the books are small. They are easy to find on the book­shelf because no oth­er books are their par­tic­u­lar size and shape. Jill Barklem’s art is so astound­ing­ly detailed that it would seem they could have made them over­sized, but they are not. If any­thing, they are under­sized, and that seems just right. Lends to the cozi­ness of the books.

And these books are COZY, let me tell you. Even the names of the rodent heros and hero­ines there­in are cozy: Mrs. Crusty­bread, Dusty Dog­wood, Old Mrs. Eye­bright, Pop­py Eye­bright, Basil Bright­ber­ry, Mr. and Mrs. Toad­flax, Prim­rose Wood­mouse…. They are the sweet­est char­ac­ters you can imag­ine and their adven­tures in Bram­bly Hedge are excit­ing (in a calm and pur­pose­ful way) as they scur­ry around the com­mu­ni­ty through secret pas­sage­ways, tun­nels, and amaz­ing rooms.

I love the quo­tid­i­an details and so did the kids—the pic­nics packed, the sur­prise cel­e­bra­tions, the sea­son­al food prepa­ra­tions! The research Barklem did is obvious—she didn’t just dream up the flour mill that grinds the flour for the mice’s bread; the mill is a part of Britain’s agri­cul­tur­al his­to­ry. The Bram­bly Hedge mice are a resource­ful bunch. They use wind and water­pow­er, know how to “make-do” with what is avail­able, pre­serve and fix things, and they cel­e­brate the many turn­ing points of life with delight­ful par­ties. These mice are self-suf­fi­cient, kind, and cre­ative. Their sto­ries are heart-warm­ing and the details of their dai­ly lives are inter­est­ing in ways that you don’t often find in books for small chil­dren. Through­out the sto­ries there’s an empha­sis on self-suf­fi­cien­cy, courage, and the tend­ing and nur­tur­ing one’s com­mu­ni­ty. These are beau­ti­ful things to put before a child, I think.

When I pulled these well-loved books off the book­shelf this morn­ing, I lost myself in them for a bit. I then had the over­whelm­ing urge to make a pie, tidy the gar­den, and sweep the porch so as to have a neigh­bor over for a cel­e­bra­tion of some kind that we would just…create! Per­haps I should read a Bram­bly Hedge book once a day. Alas, they are unde­ni­ably bet­ter with a small per­son on your lap, and those are in short sup­ply around our house these days. So I com­mend them to you: find a wee one, find the friends of Bram­bly Hedge, brew a prop­er cup of tea, and enjoy! You will not be dis­ap­point­ed.



Skinny Dip with Anita Silvey

bk_UntamedWhat keeps you up at night?

Usu­al­ly one of my beau­ti­ful Bernese Moun­tain Dogs. My girl devel­oped a love affair with the local rac­coon and woke me every time he came near the premis­es.

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

Left a nine to five job with ben­e­fits to become a full-time writer.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

 Seuss’s Hor­ton Hatch­es the Egg

What TV show can’t you turn off?

News­room or Nashville

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

I’m dan­ger­ous with scis­sors and tape, so as few as I can.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

Relax and enjoy the jour­ney; it is going to be okay.


Creating a Classroom Community with 31 Letters

by Mau­r­na Rome

Long gone are the days of “Don’t do this or that or the oth­er thing” lists of class­room rules. At least I hope they are long gone… The influ­ence of “respon­sive class­room,” greater aware­ness of the pow­er of being pos­i­tive and much research on effec­tive class­room man­age­ment have ush­ered in a new approach to estab­lish­ing expec­ta­tions in our schools. Most edu­ca­tors know that in order to learn, there has to be order in the court. Most edu­ca­tors know that “buy in” from the kids is the short­est route to arrive at the des­ti­na­tion. Most edu­ca­tors know that it is a worth­while invest­ment of time and ener­gy to lay a sol­id foun­da­tion at the start of each school year that incud­es dis­cus­sion about goals, hopes and dreams (see First Six Weeks of School, Respon­sive Class­room). 

Yet after 24 years (this year marks the begin­ning of my 25th !) I have just recent­ly real­ized how much eas­i­er it will be to estab­lish and rein­force the shared class­room agree­ments we will be cre­at­ing using some of my favorite lit­er­ary trea­sures. My vision includes a fair amount of “guid­ed dis­cov­ery,” AKA, I know what I want the out­come to be but I want the kids to feel like they have come up with it on their own. Here’s my plan…

The 31 let­ters are scram­bled on the wall. This invi­ta­tion is post­ed above.

  Dear Stu­dents,

   Please think about the kind of class­room where cool kids make

   awe­some things hap­pen every day. A place where we are all mak­ing   

   our hopes and dreams come true. The type of envi­ron­ment where  

   learn­ing and look­ing out for each oth­er are the name of the game.

   Using the 31 let­ters below, can you help build the 9 words that will

   guide us as shared agree­ments on this won­der­ful jour­ney togeth­er?   

   Thanks!  Mrs. Rome

My hope is that my stu­dents will think, dis­cuss and work togeth­er to take 31 let­ters and turn them into our class­room creed con­tain­ing just nine words. Nine pow­er­ful words that when com­bined become five sim­ple and short, yet pow­er­ful sen­tences. Just 31 let­ters that will guide us all year long as we design and nav­i­gate the roadmap to suc­cess in our 4th/5th grade Human­i­ties class­room.

Be safe. Be kind. Work hard. Have fun. Grow.

These nine pow­er­ful words encom­pass all that I hope to accom­plish with each one of my 50 schol­ars in the com­ing year. I am con­vinced that this mantra is some­thing we can all agree on. Bring­ing these words to life, mak­ing them a part of our dai­ly actions and most impor­tant­ly, what we feel com­pelled to do in our hearts, is anoth­er order of busi­ness. A tall order of busi­ness. Yet this IS my busi­ness… to keep kids safe, to help them be kind and devel­op a strong work eth­ic, to expe­ri­ence joy as often as pos­si­ble, and always, to cul­ti­vate their tal­ents so they can grow and devel­op.

As is most often the case, when I find myself search­ing for wis­dom from a reli­able friend, I turn to the vast col­lec­tion of books in our class­room library. As I begin my 25th year as an edu­ca­tor, I mar­vel at just how impor­tant my books and the lessons they pro­vide are. Allow me to share how my treasures—picture books and chap­ter books—will pave the way to cre­at­ing our class­room com­mu­ni­ty in Room 123.

I will begin by shar­ing some of my favorite pic­ture books, sto­ries that can be shared in the first week or two of the new school year to help us estab­lish the impor­tance of our 31 let­ters. I don’t hes­i­tate to read aloud these books that are usu­al­ly reserved for the younger crowd, because I know that the big kids ben­e­fit from pic­ture books just as much. The insights and dis­cus­sions that come from these ter­rif­ic titles help my stu­dents learn more about how our shared agree­ments will sup­port our learn­ing. The chap­ter books will unfold over days, weeks, months, yet again, the sto­ries will illus­trate how those 31 let­ters take our fic­tion­al friends through many life lessons.

At this very moment, edu­ca­tors all across the coun­try are care­ful­ly plan­ning or pre­sent­ing lessons that are designed to pro­mote enthu­si­asm for read­ing. At the same time, those ded­i­cat­ed indi­vid­u­als are work­ing on build­ing a pos­i­tive class­room com­mu­ni­ty. Most edu­ca­tors know that the right book in the hands of the right kid can make an enor­mous dif­fer­ence. Some of us even believe books have the abil­i­ty to changes lives. I am grate­ful to know, love, and share these books with my col­leagues.

Rome_stripBe Safe

The Huge Bag of Wor­ries by Vir­ginia Iron­side

The War That Saved My Life by Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley

Be Kind

Each Kind­ness by Jacque­line Wood­son

The One and Only Ivan by Kather­ine Apple­gate

Work Hard

Amaz­ing Grace by Mary Hoff­man and Thank You Mr. Falk­er by Patri­cia Polac­co

Long Walk to Water by Lin­da Sue Park

Have Fun

Wum­bers (or any­thing by Amy Krause Rosen­thal)

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Christo­pher Graben­stein


Beau­ti­ful Oops by Bar­ney Saltzberg and Beau­ti­ful Hands by Kathryn Oto­shi

Won­der by RJ Pala­cio


Authors Emeritus: Tom Feelings and Virginia Hamilton

Authors Emer­i­tus, a com­pi­la­tion of short biogra­phies of deceased children’s lit­er­a­ture cre­ators, is a Bookol­o­gy Children’s Lit­er­a­ture resource.  When a Book­storm™ includes books by authors and illus­tra­tors in the index we like to high­light those biogra­phies. This month: Tom Feel­ings (The Mid­dle Pas­sage) and Vir­ginia Hamil­ton (Many Thou­sand Gone).



ph_feelingsTom Feel­ings, born on May 19, 1933, was a native of Brook­lyn, NY. He attend­ed the School of Visu­al Arts for two years before join­ing the Air Force, work­ing as a staff artist. He then worked as a free­lance artist, pub­lished in Look mag­a­zine, trav­eled to Ghana to work for the African Review, and returned to the U.S. in 1966 to con­cen­trate on illus­trat­ing books with African and African-Amer­i­can themes.

He cre­at­ed the com­ic strip “Tom­my Trav­el­er in the World of Negro His­to­ry” in 1958 for New York Age, a news­pa­per based in Harlem. He col­lab­o­rat­ed with tal­ent­ed black writ­ers such as Julius Lester, Eloise Green­field, Nik­ki Grimes, and Maya Angelou.

bk_MiddlePassageIn his life and work he tried to por­tray the real­i­ty of life for African Amer­i­cans while depict­ing the beau­ty and warmth of black cul­ture. Feel­ings won numer­ous awards for his work. Moja Means One, a Swahili count­ing book, and Jam­bo Means Hel­lo, a Swahili alpha­bet book, were cho­sen as Calde­cott Hon­or Books in 1972 and 1974. Some­thing On My Mind won the Coret­ta Scott King Award in 1978. The Mid­dle Pas­sage was award­ed the Coret­ta Scott King Award for Illus­tra­tors and the Jane Addams Chil­dren’s Book Award. Feel­ings referred to him­self as a sto­ry­teller in pic­ture form.

Mr. Feel­ings died August 25, 2003 at the age of 70.


ph_HamiltonVir­ginia Hamil­ton was born on March 12th, 1936, on a farm in Yel­low Springs, Ohio. As a writer, she achieved crit­i­cal suc­cess from the start with the pub­li­ca­tion of her first book, Zeely.

Her 1974 nov­el M.C. Hig­gins the Great won the New­bery Medal, mak­ing Vir­ginia the first African Amer­i­can author ever to receive this hon­or. In addi­tion, the book won the Nation­al Book Award, Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, Lewis Car­roll Shelf Award, the Peace Prize of Ger­many, New York Times Out­stand­ing Children’s Book of the Year and Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­sen Hon­or Book, among oth­ers. This marked the first time a book had won the grand slam of New­bery Medal, Nation­al Book Award, and Boston Globe–Horn Book Award.

In 1992 she was award­ed the Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­sen Award for Writ­ing, the high­est inter­na­tion­al recog­ni­tion bestowed on an author or illus­tra­tor of children’s lit­er­a­ture. At the time she was only the fourth Amer­i­can to win the award, which has been pre­sent­ed every oth­er year since 1956.

In addi­tion to the awards for M.C. Hig­gins the Great, her work has won New­bery Hon­ors, Coret­ta Scott King awards and hon­ors, an Edgar Allen Poe award, and has been on mul­ti­ple “best of the year” lists.

Hamil­ton said of her work:

bk_ManyThousandI see my books and the lan­guage I use in them as empow­er­ing me to give utter­ance to the dreams, the wish­es, of African Amer­i­cans. I see the imag­i­na­tive use of lan­guage and ideas as a way to illu­mi­nate the human con­di­tion. All of my work, as a nov­el­ist, a biog­ra­ph­er, cre­ator and com­pil­er of sto­ries, has been to por­tray the essence of a peo­ple who are a par­al­lel-cul­ture soci­ety in Amer­i­ca. I’ve attempt­ed to mark the his­to­ry and tra­di­tions of African Amer­i­cans, a par­al­lel cul­ture peo­ple, through my writ­ing, while bring­ing read­ers strong sto­ries and mem­o­rable char­ac­ters liv­ing near­ly the best they know how. I want read­ers, both adults and chil­dren, to care about who the char­ac­ters are. I want read­ers to feel, to under­stand, and to empathize. I want the books to make a world in which the char­ac­ters are real.”

She died on Feb. 19, 2002


Chasing Freedom Companion Booktalks

To get you start­ed on the Book­storm™ Books …


Alec’s Primer

Mil­dred Pitts Wal­ter
illus­trat­ed by Lar­ry John­son
Ver­mont Folk­life Cen­ter, 2005

  • Based on the true sto­ry of Alec Turn­er (1845−1923), who learned to read as a boy with the help of his own­er’s daugh­ter

  • Sup­ple­ment the sto­ry with sto­ries and songs from tape-record­ed inter­views with Daisy Turn­er, Alec’s daugh­ter

  • A Carter G. Wood­son hon­or book from a Coret­ta Scott King-win­ning author


All Dif­fer­ent Now: June­teenth, the First Day of Free­dom

Angela John­son
illus­trat­ed by E.B. Lewis
Simon & Schus­ter, 2014

  • Per­fect­ly and pow­er­ful­ly, 289 words evoke a mon­u­men­tal event

  • Back mat­ter includes author and illus­tra­tor notes, impor­tant dates list, short his­to­ry of June­teenth, and a glos­sary

  • Coret­ta Scott King Award-win­ning author and illus­tra­tor


Cross­ing Bok Chit­to: A Choctaw Tale of Friend­ship and Free­dom 

Tim Tin­gle
illus­trat­ed by Jeanne Rorex Bridges
Cin­co Pun­tas Press, 2006

  • Set in the Old South, Cross­ing Bok Chit­to is an Indi­an book, writ­ten by Indi­an voic­es, and paint­ed by an Indi­an artist” (from the author’s note)

  • Sev­en slaves cross to free­dom, led by a young Choctaw girl; adds a new per­spec­tive to the estab­lished escape lit­er­a­ture

  • Back mat­ter includes short pro­file of the Choctaw nations and a note on Choctaw sto­ry­telling


Eliz­a­beth Leads the Way: Eliz­a­beth Cady Stan­ton and the Right to Vote

Tanya Lee Stone
illus­trat­ed by Rebec­ca Gib­bon
Hen­ry Holt, 2008

  • The girl­hood and young adult years of a lead­ing famous suf­frag­ist

  • Author’s note includes a brief overview of Cady Stanton’s life and pub­lic image

  • ALA Notable, Junior Library Guild Pre­mier Selec­tion, 2009 Amelia Bloomer Award Book


Har­ri­et Tub­man, Secret Agent: How Dar­ing Slaves and Free Blacks Spied for the Union dur­ing the Civ­il War

Thomas B. Allen
illus­trat­ed by Car­la Bauer
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Chil­dren’s Books, 2006

  • Com­bines the sto­ry of Har­ri­et Tub­man’s post-Under­ground Rail­road work as spy and mil­i­tary leader with a his­to­ry of the abo­li­tion­ist move­ment and the Civ­il War

  • Back mat­ter includes time line, a bib­li­og­ra­phy, and notes and quote sources

  • Includes some secret codes to deci­pher!


Heart and Soul: the Sto­ry of Amer­i­ca and African Amer­i­cans

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Kadir Nel­son
Balzer+Bray, 2012

  • …a grand and awe-inspir­ing sur­vey of the black expe­ri­ence in Amer­i­ca, deliv­ered in 108 pages” (Wal­ter Dean Myers)

  • Coret­ta Scott King win­ner (author) AND Coret­ta Scott King hon­or (illus­tra­tor)

  • Back mat­ter includes author’s note, time­line, exten­sive bib­li­og­ra­phy


I Could Do That! Esther Mor­ris Gets Women the Right to Vote

Lin­da Arms White
illus­trat­ed by Nan­cy Car­pen­ter
Far­rar, Straus& Giroux, 2005

  • Pic­ture book (some­what fic­tion­al­ized) biog­ra­phy of woman who was instru­men­tal in the suc­cess­ful fight for women’s suf­frage in Wyoming—51 years before it was won nation­al­ly

  • Back mat­ter includes author’s note and resources

  • Humor­ous  illus­tra­tions expand the kid-appeal of the sto­ry


Many Thou­sand Gone: African Amer­i­cans from Slav­ery to Free­dom

Vir­ginia Hamil­ton
illus­trat­ed by Leo and Diane Dil­lon
Knopf, 1993

  • Giant-heart­ed book from three children’s lit­er­a­ture giants

  • 250 years of slav­ery in the U.S. told through pro­files of slaves and freed peo­ple

  • Pre­sent­ed in chrono­log­i­cal order, each chapter/profile includes a stun­ning black and white illus­tra­tion by the Dil­lons



March­ing with Aunt Susan: Susan B. Antho­ny and the Fight for Women’s Suf­frage

Claire Rudolf Mur­phy
illus­trat­ed by Stacey Schuett
Peachtree, 2011

  • The nar­ra­tive is from the point of view of Bessie Kei­th Pond, a (real) ten-year old Cal­i­for­nia girl, which cre­ates engag­ing imme­di­a­cy to the his­to­ry

  • Exten­sive back matter—perfect for report writ­ing

  • Amelia Bloomer project 2012 book list


Moses: When Har­ri­et Tub­man Led Her Peo­ple to Free­dom

Car­ole Boston Weath­er­ford
illus­trat­ed by Kadir Nel­son
Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 2006

  • Calde­cott-hon­or for Nelson’s stun­ning illus­tra­tions; most are dou­ble-page spreads

  • Unique three-voiced nar­ra­tive that is easy to fol­low and con­veys the pow­er of Tubman’s per­son­al mis­sion; we hear the sto­ry­teller, Har­ri­et Tub­man, and the voice of God as she hears it

  • Author is an NAACP image award final­ist and Carter G. Wood­son Award win­ner; author’s note includes con­cise biog­ra­phy of Tub­man


Trav­el­ing the Free­dom Road: From Slav­ery and the Civ­il War through Recon­struc­tion

Lin­da Bar­rett Osborne
Hen­ry N. Abrams, Inc., 2009

  • Pub­lished in asso­ci­a­tion with the Library of Con­gress, it’s loaded with pri­ma­ry sources—documents and images

  • Nar­ra­tive focus­es on young peo­ple and includes many first-per­son rec­ol­lec­tions of the time peri­od

  • Library of Con­gress author video and oth­er resources to sup­ple­ment read­ing


With Courage and Cloth: Win­ning the Fight for a Wom­an’s Right to Vote

Ann Bausum  
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2004

  • Detailed, pho­to-illus­trat­ed his­to­ry of women’s suf­frage in the U.S. from a Sib­ert hon­or and Carter Wood­son Award author

  • Just why is “cloth” so impor­tant? A per­fect top­ic for research and dis­cus­sion

  • Back mat­ter galore for reports


From the Editor

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

Wel­come to Bookol­o­gy.

Thank you for com­ing back, or check­ing us out for a first look, or for paus­ing if you land­ed here by acci­dent.

Chasing FreedomReturn­ing read­ers know that each month much of our con­tent is con­nect­ed to the magazine’s month­ly cen­ter­piece: the Book­storm™, a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books and web­sites com­piled and writ­ten by our chief Bookol­o­gist, Vic­ki Palmquist, which has at its start­ing point a sin­gle book. This month that book is Chas­ing Free­dom by Nik­ki Grimes, in which the author imag­ines a con­ver­sa­tion that might have occurred had Susan B. Antho­ny and Har­ri­et Tub­man sat down for tea. Susan B. Antho­ny and Har­ri­et Tubman’s “paths fre­quent­ly crossed one anoth­er’s,” Grimes says in our inter­view with her, but she could find no doc­u­men­ta­tion of an actu­al shared tea.  Still, “[t]he fact that these his­tor­i­cal pow­er­hous­es knew one anoth­er was excit­ing.”

The Sep­tem­ber Book­storm™ focus­es on the 19th cen­tu­ry and the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry and the polit­i­cal and social envi­ron­ments and insti­tu­tions in which Susan B. Antho­ny and Har­ri­et Tub­man lived and worked: slav­ery, war, Recon­struc­tion, the advent and dawn of Jim Crow, the new cen­tu­ry.  If you don’t have time now to look over the bib­li­og­ra­phy, our Bul­let Point Book Talks offers a quick look at some of the books in the ‘storm.

On the lighter side, today we also cel­e­brate the back-to-school sea­son with a Quirky Book List of books involv­ing class­room pets. Cau­tion­ary read­ing for our teacher friends? Per­haps.

Catch You Later, TraitorDon’t for­get to return after today, because, as usu­al, through­out the month you can join us for some skin­ny dip­ping and read what our reg­u­lar book-lov­ing con­trib­u­tors have to say about their lat­est for­ays into children’s lit­er­a­ture. Want to be alert­ed to Bookol­o­gy updates? Please sub­scribe.

And final­ly: We have a win­ner. Last month we encour­aged our read­ers to com­ment on our arti­cles, and we offered a signed copy of that month’s Book­storm™ book, Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor by Avi as the prize for a draw­ing for which all com­menters would be eli­gi­ble. Lin­da B. from Col­orado took a moment to com­ment on our August Lit­er­ary Madeleine, and it was her name we pulled out of the Bookol­o­gist Hat. Con­grats to Lin­da, and thank you to all who com­ment­ed.

That’s enough. Time to explore Bookol­o­gy. Thanks for stop­ping.


Nikki Grimes: Researching and Writing Chasing Freedom

Inter­view by Vic­ki Palmquist

Chasing FreedomChas­ing Free­dom
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Michelle Wood
Orchard Books, 2014

Did you know more about one of your two char­ac­ters when you con­ceived of the book?

 Yes. I knew a fair amount about Har­ri­et Tub­man. Hers was one of the few sto­ries about African Amer­i­cans brought out every year dur­ing what, in my youth, was called Negro His­to­ry Month. I was far less famil­iar with the details of the life of Susan B. Antho­ny, though I cer­tain­ly had a pass­ing knowl­edge of her place in his­to­ry.

How did you decide there was a sto­ry to be told about these two women? Togeth­er?

 In 1988, I was asked to devel­op dra­mat­ic mono­logues on an assort­ment of his­tor­i­cal fig­ures for a stage pro­duc­tion to be done in Chi­na lat­er that year. I chose Har­ri­et Tub­man, Susan B. Antho­ny, and Fred­er­ick Dou­glass as my sub­jects. In the process of research­ing them indi­vid­u­al­ly, I learned that they were all con­tem­po­raries, and that their paths fre­quent­ly crossed one anoth­er’s. The fact that these his­tor­i­cal pow­er­hous­es knew one anoth­er was excit­ing, and led me to believe that many new sto­ries were pos­si­ble, but espe­cial­ly between these two women.

You wrote Chas­ing Free­dom in prose rather than verse, as a fic­tion­al sto­ry, rather than non­fic­tion. What led you in those direc­tions for this nar­ra­tive?

ph_Grimes_3The idea for this book began with the quin­tes­sen­tial lit­er­ary ques­tion “What if?” In this case, the ques­tion was, “What if Har­ri­et Tub­man and Susan B. Antho­ny sat down togeth­er for a long con­ver­sa­tion? What would that con­ver­sa­tion be like?” The germ of the idea was based on some­thing that, to my knowl­edge, nev­er actu­al­ly occurred, so while his­tor­i­cal facts shape the bulk of the nar­ra­tive, the fic­tion­al aspect of the con­ver­sa­tion itself dic­tat­ed that this sto­ry would be a work of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. As for the choice of prose, that was dic­tat­ed by the over­whelm­ing amount of his­tor­i­cal mate­r­i­al and detail I wished to include in the piece. Poet­ry would not have giv­en me the room I need­ed, nor would it have allowed me to work in as many quotes from the sub­jects, them­selves. As it is, the brevi­ty of the pic­ture book for­mat, itself, required a con­stant par­ing down of the man­u­script. Oh, the sto­ries left untold for lack of space!

When you were col­lect­ing quotes from the two women, how did you record them? (e.g., on paper, in the com­put­er, on note cards) What type of nota­tion did you make? How did you orga­nize the quotes so you could find them again?

I made the bulk of my nota­tions on yel­low lined pads, in spi­ral note­books, and in assort­ed jour­nals. For the record, I always write in long­hand, whether the work is his­tor­i­cal­ly based or not. In any case, I did not keep quo­ta­tions sep­a­rate from oth­er notes. When I was ready to move from research to writ­ing, I read back through my notes, and marked quo­ta­tions with col­ored post-it notes so that I could find them as I need­ed to.


 Did you include trav­el in your research? Which sites did you find most use­ful?

 The sto­ry is set against the back­drop of the Under­ground Rail­road, the Civ­il War, and the ear­ly suf­frage move­ment. As such, I began research with a trip to Cincin­nati, Ohio to explore the Nation­al Under­ground Rail­road Free­dom Cen­ter, there. I also spent time in Cincin­nati’s main library, which hous­es one of the best col­lec­tions of lit­er­a­ture relat­ed to the Under­ground Rail­road, as well as sub­stan­tial mate­r­i­al by and about Susan B. Antho­ny. After­wards, I vis­it­ed Rip­ley, OH where sev­er­al homes on the Under­ground Rail­road have been pre­served. The library in Rip­ley was a worth­while stop, as well.  I devel­oped my list of ref­er­ence mate­ri­als as a result of vis­it­ing these sites, but more than that, they put me in the frame of mind to dig deep­er into the life sto­ries of these two women.

Are you able to soak up “the vibes” of a vis­it­ed site in a way that informs your writ­ing?

Always. In this case, the expe­ri­ences with the great­est impact were two. First, step­ping into the recon­struct­ed slave pen, shack­les in full view, at the Nation­al Under­ground Rail­road Free­dom Cen­ter. Sec­ond, a few days lat­er, descend­ing into a root cel­lar at The Rankin House, one of the sta­tions of the Under­ground Rail­road in Rip­ley, where run­away slaves were fre­quent­ly hid­den. Had I been alive in the 1800’s, I could have been one of those slaves, the real­iza­tion of which was enough to make me shud­der in that moment, and even now. I drew on those vis­cer­al feel­ings as I wrote the sto­ries of Har­ri­et’s har­row­ing jour­neys to and from the South to res­cue slaves des­per­ate for free­dom. As an African Amer­i­can author, these sto­ries are close to the bone.


Did you have any­thing to say about the choice of illus­tra­tor?

Yes. I felt strong­ly that, as this was a book about women, writ­ten by a woman, a female artist should be tapped for the illus­tra­tions. Michele Wood was first on my list, specif­i­cal­ly for her atten­tion to his­tor­i­cal detail. I con­veyed my thoughts to my edi­tor, who took them into account. Nei­ther of us was dis­ap­point­ed with the final choice, or the stun­ning work that result­ed.

What type of input did you have on the illus­tra­tions or the design of the book?

In this book, I had very lit­tle to do with either, although I occa­sion­al­ly com­ment­ed on some­thing in the sketch­es, which were sent to me ear­ly on.

Do you write the back mat­ter or does the pub­lish­er have some­one to do this?

I research and write all of my own back mat­ter.

If you write the back mat­ter, are you tak­ing notes for this as you do your research or how do you pre­pare for this part of the book?

I planned to pre­pare sub­stan­tial back mat­ter for this book from the very begin­ning, though I did not assem­ble this infor­ma­tion until the very end. As I went along, I made nota­tions about his­tor­i­cal fig­ures or impor­tant his­tor­i­cal events, or leg­is­la­tion that I might want to include in the back mat­ter. Fur­ther research into those sub­jects came at the end of the project when I was ready to draft that sec­tion of the book.

Are there any ques­tions I did­n’t ask that you wish I had asked you?

 How long did it take me to cre­ate this book? The idea first came to me in 1988. I took my ini­tial research trip in ear­ly 2008. Chas­ing Free­dom was final­ly pub­lished in 2015. My point? It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that some books take time!








Quirky Book Lists: Classroom Pets

Think­ing about adding a class­room pet? Read and think again!


8 Class Pets + 1 Squir­rel [÷] 1 Dog = Chaos
writ­ten by Vivian Vande Velde
illus­trat­ed by Steve Bjork­man
Hol­i­day House, 2012

Squir­rel likes liv­ing near a school play­ground. He’s not so sure about going inside, though, espe­cial­ly when he’s chased there by a dog and all the class­room pets get involved. Each ani­mal gets to tell its side of the sto­ry.


Arthur and the School Pet

writ­ten by Marc Brown
illus­trat­ed by Marc Tolon
Ran­dom House (Step into Read­ing 2), 2003

Speedy, the class ger­bil, needs a home over Christ­mas vaca­tion. D.W. vol­un­teers to take care of Speedy. Sur­pris­es ensue.


Chick­en, Pig, Cow and the Class Pet  

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ruth Ohi
Annick Press, 2011

When Girl takes Chick­en, Pig, and Cow to school with her one day, the three friends meet the class ham­ster. One of sev­er­al Chick­en, Pig, Cow pic­ture books by the acclaimed Cana­di­an author-illus­tra­tor.


Emmy and the Incred­i­ble Shrink­ing Rat
writ­ten by Lynne Jonell
illus­trat­ed by Jonathan Bean
Hen­ry Holt, 2007

Emmy hard­ly sees her par­ents, she doesn’t like her new nan­ny, and she feels invis­i­ble in her new school. Then she dis­cov­ers  she can under­stand the class pet—a rat—and every­thing changes.


I.Q. Gets Fit

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed Mary Ann Fras­er
Walk­er & Com­pa­ny, 2007

Dur­ing Fit­ness Month, I.Q., the class pet, learns impor­tant lessons about stay­ing healthy as he tries to win a gold rib­bon in the School Fit­ness Chal­lenge.


Mal­colm at Mid­night

writ­ten by W.H. Beck
pic­tures by Bri­an Lies
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2012

Mal­colm the rat is the new class pet at a school were all the class pets have formed a secret soci­ety, the Mid­night Acad­e­my. When the Academy’s igua­na leader is kid­napped, Mal­colm must prove his inno­cence and dis­prove the Acad­e­my mem­bers’ belief that rats can’t be trust­ed. (There’s also a sequel, Mal­colm Under the Stars.)


Mis­sy’s Super Duper Roy­al Deluxe #2: Class Pets

writ­ten by Susan Nees
Scholas­tic, 2013

Mis­sy wants to take home the class pets, but anoth­er girl, Tiffany, has already asked their teacher. Can Mis­sy and her friend Oscar come up with a plan to make Tiffany change her mind? Book two in a series.


Smashie McPert­er and the Mys­tery of Room 11

writ­ten by N. Grif­fin
illus­trat­ed by Kate Hind­ley
Can­dlewick, 2015

Ham­ster feet are creepy, and that’s one rea­son Smashie’s not a fan of Room 11’s beloved, Patch­es. But when Patch­es goes miss­ing, Smashie suits up and with her best friend, Don­tel, launch­es an inves­ti­ga­tion to bring the thief to jus­tice.


Stop That Frog (Here’s Hank #3)

writ­ten by Hen­ry Win­kler and Lin Oliv­er
illus­trat­ed by Scott Gar­rett
Gros­set & Dun­lap, 2014

When the prin­ci­pal has to be away from school at a con­fer­ence, Han­k’s class agrees to take care of the prin­ci­pal’s spe­cial pet frog, and Hank is cho­sen to take the frog home for the week­end.


Teacher’s Pets

writ­ten by Dayle Ann Dodds
illus­trat­ed by Mar­i­lyn Hafn­er
Can­dlewick, 2010

One by one the stu­dents in Miss Fry’s room bring a pet for shar­ing day. And one by one, the pets get left behind. What will hap­pen when the school year’s over?  


The Wacky Sub­sti­tute

writ­ten by Sal­ly Der­by
illus­trat­ed by Jen­nifer Her­bert
Mar­shall Cavendish, 2005

When Mr. Wuerst, the sub­sti­tute kinder­garten teacher at Mer­ry­vale School, drops his glass­es into the fry­ing pan one morn­ing, he ends up wear­ing a dish tow­el to school instead of his scarf and he mis­takes the class ger­bils for fur caps.


The World Accord­ing to Humphrey

writ­ten by Bet­ty G. Bir­ney 
Put­nam and Sons, 2004

Humphrey, pet ham­ster at Longfel­low School, learns that he has an impor­tant role to play in help­ing his class­mates and teacher. First book in a series. 


Bookstorm™: Chasing Freedom

Bookstorm Chasing FreedomIn this Bookstorm™:

Chasing FreedomChasing Freedom

The Life Jour­neys of Har­ri­et Tub­man and Susan B. Antho­ny, Inspired by His­tor­i­cal Facts
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Michele Wood
Orchard Books, 2015

As Nik­ki Grimes writes in her author’s note for this book, “His­to­ry is often taught in bits and pieces, and stu­dents rarely get the notion that these bits and pieces are con­nect­ed.” Bookol­o­gy want­ed to look at this book for a num­ber of rea­sons. We hope that you will con­sid­er the remark­able sto­ries of free­dom fight­ers Har­ri­et Tub­man and Susan B. Antho­ny and the moments in his­to­ry that the author reveals. We hope that you will study the illus­tra­tions by Michele Wood and dis­cuss how each spread in the book makes you feel, how African motifs and quilt pat­terns are made an inte­gral part of the book’s design, and how the col­or palette brings strength to the con­ver­sa­tion between these two women. 

This con­ver­sa­tion between these two women nev­er took place. The sub­ti­tle reads “inspired by his­tor­i­cal facts.” Nik­ki Grimes imag­ines a con­ver­sa­tion that could have tak­en place between these two women, solid­ly drawn from the facts of their lives. Is this a new form of fic­tion? Non­fic­tion? You’ll have a mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion about the dif­fer­ences between fact, fic­tion, infor­ma­tion text, non­fic­tion, and sto­ry­telling when you dis­cuss this with your class­room or book club.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. For Chas­ing Free­dom, you’ll find books for a vari­ety of tastes, inter­ests, and read­ing abil­i­ties. The book will be com­fort­ably read by ages 7 through 12. We’ve includ­ed pic­ture books, non­fic­tion, videos, web­sites, and des­ti­na­tions for the pletho­ra of pur­pos­es you might have. There are many fine books that fall out­side of these para­me­ters, but we chose to nar­row the selec­tion of books this time to those that fol­lowed the fight for wom­en’s right to vote from the 1840s to 1920 and those that fol­lowed slav­ery in Amer­i­ca until the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion and a few years beyond. These are the major con­cerns behind the work of Har­ri­et Tub­man and Susan B. Antho­ny.


Cel­e­brat­ing Free­dom. Two recent books are includ­ed, one deal­ing with the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion and the oth­er with how freed peo­ple lived in New York City in Seneca Vil­lage, which would even­tu­al­ly become Cen­tral Park.

Har­ri­et Tub­man. We’ve cho­sen a few of the many good books about this free­dom fight­er, trail blaz­er, and spir­i­tu­al­ly moti­vat­ed woman.

His­to­ry. From Book­er T. Wash­ing­ton’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Up from Slav­ery to Julius Lester’s To Be a Slave through to Kadir Nel­son’s Heart and Soul: the Sto­ry of Amer­i­ca and African Amer­i­cans, you’ll find a num­ber of books that will fas­ci­nate your stu­dents and make fine choic­es for book club dis­cus­sions.

Under­ground Rail­road. One of our tru­ly hero­ic move­ments in Amer­i­can his­to­ry, we’ve select­ed books that chron­i­cle the work, the dan­ger, and the vic­to­ries of these free­dom fight­ers, of which Har­ri­et Tub­man was a strong, ded­i­cat­ed mem­ber. 


Susan B. Antho­ny. Often writ­ten about, we’ve select­ed just a few of the many books about this woman who under­stood the hard­ships women faced and the neces­si­ty for them to be able to vote, to have a voice in gov­ern­ment.

More Suf­frag­ists. Many women around the globe fought for their right to vote and the fight con­tin­ues in many coun­tries. We’ve select­ed sev­er­al books that fall with­in our time frame.

Let us know how you are mak­ing use of this Book­storm™. Share your dis­cus­sions, class­room inclu­sion, or send us a pho­to of your library dis­play.

(Thanks to Mar­sha Qua­ley and Claire Rudolf Mur­phy for shar­ing their con­sid­er­able knowl­edge and insight about books for this Book­storm™.)