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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Mouse and Bear Books

by Melanie Heuiser Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Orange Omelet

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

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

Skinny Dip with Melanie Heuiser Hill

9_30RamonaWhat’s the first book you remember reading?

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s your favorite place to read?

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

9_30SwallowsWhat book do you tell everyone to read?

For the last ten years I tell everyone about Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series—mostly because American readers have almost never read it and it has been A Formative Series for my kids. It’s a series of tremendous adventures with quotidian details—somehow a magic combination. Several of the books feature the Walker kids—four dear siblings who are afforded a tremendous amount of freedom on their summer holidays and know just how to use it. In other books in the series there are frightful pirates and ne’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 continuum 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
(C) 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_ManyThousand“I 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™.)