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

Gen­nifer Chold­enko’s Chas­ing Secrets takes place in the late 1800s — this recipe is one that might have been served at a lun­cheon. From the Boston Cook­ing School Cook­book:

Orange Omelet

orange slicesIngre­di­ents:
3 eggs
Few grains salt
1 tea­spoon lemon juice
12 table­spoons orange juice
12 table­spoon but­ter (for pan)
2 oranges
2 table­spoons pow­dered sug­ar

Sep­a­rate yolks from whites. Beat yolks until thick and lemon col­ored; add salt, lemon juice and orange juice. Beat whites until stiff and dry, cut­ting and fold­ing them into the first mix­ture until they have tak­en up mix­ture.

Heat pan, and but­ter sides and bot­tom. Turn in mix­ture, spread even­ly, place on range where it will cook slow­ly. When well “puffed” and del­i­cate­ly browned under­neath, place pan on cen­ter grate of 350°F oven to fin­ish cook­ing. Omelet is cooked when firm to the touch when pressed by the fin­ger.

Remove skin from oranges and cut in slices, length­wise. Fold in one-third of the slices of orange, well sprin­kled with pow­dered sug­ar; put remain­ing slices around omelet, and sprin­kle with sug­ar.


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™.)