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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection

thomas-200pixOnce upon a time, we had a lit­tle boy who was com­plete­ly enthralled with all things hav­ing to do with trains. When he fell for Thomas the Tank Engine, he fell hard, and he was not yet two. We have an exten­sive col­lec­tion of Thomas and friends (thanks to the grand­par­ents) com­plete with a liv­ing room’s miles worth of track, cor­re­spond­ing sta­tions, bridges, and assort­ed oth­er props. That boy is now in engi­neer­ing school, and I can’t help but think that Thomas and friends (as well as Legos® and blocks etc.) had a hand to play in his education/career choice.

It had been awhile since the trains roamed the liv­ing room for days on end, when my daugh­ter brought her babysit­ting charges over last spring. They could not believe their eyes when they saw our train paraphernalia—I’d not met such Thomas fans in near­ly fif­teen years. The 8×10 oval rug was soon trans­formed into a set for Thomas adven­tures and stories—both those famil­iar from books and shows and those made up on the spot.

I now have sev­er­al young friends in sto­ry­time who love Thomas. Slow­ly I’m remem­ber­ing the names and per­son­al­i­ties of the train cars. It gives me an “in” with these preschool­ers, I think—I speak their lan­guage. I know about cheeky Per­cy and wise Edward. I know that Thomas has the num­ber one on his engine, where­as Edward has a two—although both are blue, it’s a beginner’s mis­take to mix them up. I know that James, the Red Engine, can be a real pain at times—he’s a bit of a snob and a lit­tle too proud of his red paint. I know Annie and Clara­belle are Thomas’ friends (his coach cars, actu­al­ly).

I took the giant Thomas the Tank Engine: The Com­plete Col­lec­tion off my shelves the oth­er day. It instant­ly made me sleepy. We read Thomas sto­ries after lunch, before nap, with a great reg­u­lar­i­ty. They are not ter­ri­bly sophis­ti­cat­ed sto­ries. They tend to be more than a bit preachy. And there’s an aston­ish­ing lev­el of detail about train bits and their work­ings. I was always half asleep by the time we were fin­ished read­ing.

I think of the Thomas sto­ries with the same sort of fond­ness with which I think of Mr. Rogers—gentle, rhyth­mic, sleep-induc­ing, post-lunch won­der­ful­ness. And, my good­ness, do I love the very seri­ous con­ver­sa­tions to be had when dim­pled lit­tle hands hold up the cars and tell me all about the parts and per­son­al­i­ties of each of the trains and trucks and dig­gers. These con­ver­sa­tions don’t make me sleepy at all, though they do make me nos­tal­gic for the days when it took a whole morning’s worth of nego­ti­a­tion to get my boy to move Thomas and his friends so I could vac­u­um. Vac­u­um­ing days were hard and sad days, gen­er­al­ly reclaimed only with an extra sto­ry from The Com­plete Col­lec­tion. And then a nap…for all con­cerned.

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Coming Home to Safe Harbor

Lake Superior

Phyl­lis: This sum­mer I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sail for a week in Lake Supe­ri­or, so we are turn­ing our thoughts to books about the sea (includ­ing the great inland sea that bor­ders Min­neso­ta, so vast it makes its own weath­er).  If we can’t go sail­ing right now, we can at least read about it in a fleet of good pic­ture books.

Jack­ie:  And I am a self-con­fessed water gaz­er. I’m not a boater of any kind but I can’t get enough of being next to water, watch­ing and lis­ten­ing.

The Mousehole Cat

Phyl­lis: I can­not tell you how much I love The Mouse­hole Cat by Anto­nia Bar­ber with lumi­nous art by Nico­la Bay­ley.  As many times as I’ve read it, the sto­ry still gives me shiv­ers and makes me want to cry. Mouse­hole (pro­nounced Mowzel by the Cor­nish peo­ple who live there) is a small town where the peo­ple go out every day through the nar­row break­wa­ter open­ing into the ocean to fish for their liv­ing. Old Tom and his cat Mowz­er fish as well, for Mowz­er in par­tic­u­lar is par­tial to a plate of fresh fish. 

One day a ter­ri­ble win­ter storm blows in. “’The Great Storm-Cat is stir­ring,’ thinks Mowz­er,” and although the Great Storm–Cat flings the sea against the break­wa­ter and claws at the har­bor gap, the boats are safe “as mice in their own mouse­hole,” but the peo­ple are hun­gry because no one can go out into the ocean to fish.

Final­ly, on Christ­mas Eve, Old Tom decides he should go out to try to fish, for he can­not stand to see the chil­dren starv­ing at Christ­mas. Mowz­er goes with him, “for he was only a man, she thought, and men were like mice in the paws of the Great Storm-Cat.”

The Mousehole Cat

illus­tra­tion copy­right Nico­la Bay­ley

And it is Mowzer’s singing that dis­tracts the Great Storm-Cat long enough for the boat to escape the har­bor and play out the nets in the ocean. All day Mowz­er sings to the Great Storm-Cat, but she knows he will strike when they run for the har­bor and safe­ty.  As she thinks of the food they might make with the catch they have hauled in, Mowz­er begins to purr, a sound the Great Storm-Cat has not heard since he was a Storm-Kit­ten. They purr togeth­er, the seas calm, and Old Tom and Mowz­er come into the har­bor on the “small­est, tamest Storm-Kit­ten of a wind” where the whole town is wait­ing with lit can­dles to guide them home.  (Even writ­ing this gives me shiv­ers of delight.) 

Every year since then the vil­lage of Mouse­hole is lit with a thou­sand lights at Christ­mas time, “a mes­sage of hope and a safe haven to all those who pass in per­il of the sea.”

Jack­ie: The lit can­dles that guide them home after the adven­ture is such a won­der­ful touch. Don’t we all want to be guid­ed home after a great strug­gle? The plot is so sat­is­fy­ing as well. It’s the small cat that saves them because she begins to purr.  As I was think­ing about Mowzer’s purr I real­ized how calm­ing a cat’s purr is.  I think we all become more relaxed if we have a purring cat on our lap. Same for the Great Storm Cat.

This is a love­ly illus­trat­ed short sto­ry that I think would charm mid­dle graders, as well as pri­ma­ry graders.

Amos and BorisPhyl­lis:  Anoth­er favorite is William Steig’s Amos and Boris, the sto­ry of a mouse who builds a boat, chris­tens it the Rodent, pro­vi­sions it with a delight­ful list of items, and sets sail on the ocean. Amos is less lucky than Old Tom and Mowz­er; one night, gaz­ing at the vast and star­ry sky while lying on his boat, he rolls over­board, and the Rodent in full sail bowls along with­out him. Amos man­ages to stay afloat through the night, lead­ing to one of my favorite com­fort­ing lines in all of pic­ture books: “Morn­ing came, as it always does.” And with morn­ing comes Boris the whale, just as Amos’s strength is fail­ing. Boris gives Amos a ride home by whale­back, and on the week­long jour­ney they become “the clos­est pos­si­ble friends.”

Jack­ie: I just love that!

Phyl­lis:  When they near shore, Amos thanks Boris and offers his help if Boris ever needs it, which amus­es Boris. He can’t imag­ine how a lit­tle mouse could ever help him.

Amos and Boris by William Steig

illus­tra­tion copy­right William Steig

Years pass. Hur­ri­cane Yet­ta flings Boris ashore right by Amos’s house. Boris will die unless he gets back in the water, and Amos runs off to get help: two ele­phants who roll the whale back into the ocean while Amos stands on one of their heads, yelling instruc­tions that no one can hear. Soon Boris is afloat again, whale tears rolling down his cheeks. Know­ing they might nev­er meet again, the friends say a tear­ful good-bye, know­ing, too, that they will always remem­ber each oth­er.

In anoth­er writer’s hands, I might make some com­ment about the con­ve­nient “ele­phants ex machi­na” that Amos finds, but I accept it com­plete­ly here, because Steig makes me believe. And cry, again.

Jack­ie: There is so much to love in this sto­ry. First, the list of items: cheese, bis­cuits, acorns, hon­ey, wheat germ [Steig must have includ­ed wheat germ because he liked the sound. Wheat germ?] fresh water, a com­pass, a sex­tant, a tele­scope, a saw, a ham­mer and nails and some wood, … a nee­dle and thread for the mend­ing of torn sails and var­i­ous oth­er neces­si­ties such as ban­dages and iodine, a yo-yo and play­ing cards.” I just love the notion of a mouse on a boat prac­tic­ing his yo-yo tricks. And I think read­ers will be called to ask them­selves what they might find essen­tial for a sea jour­ney.

And I’m admir­ing of the nuanced way Steig moves the plot along. Amos doesn’t roll off the boat because he falls asleep, or because a high wind blows him off. He falls off because he is “over­whelmed by the beau­ty and mys­tery of every­thing.” His own capac­i­ty for awe is what caus­es the prob­lem.

You have talked about the won­der­ful back and forth of help­ing between Amos and Boris. I want to men­tion, too, Boris’s won­der­ful voice. When the mouse meets the whale, he says. “’I’m a mouse, which is a mam­mal, the high­est form of life. I live on land.’

Holy clam and cut­tle­fish!’ said the whale. I’m a mam­mal myself, though I live in the sea. Call me Boris,’ he added.” [A lit­tle nod to “Call me Ish­mael?”]

Some­times good luck hap­pens. When the worst looks inevitable, fate inter­venes. And some­times fate gives us life-sav­ing ele­phants. They are such a relief. And so out­landish. It’s as if Steig is say­ing, “I’m the author. I can do this.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea CaptainPhyl­lis:  Edward Ardiz­zone wrote and illus­trat­ed a series of eleven books about Lit­tle Tim, who goes to sea, begin­ning with Lit­tle Tim and The Brave Sea Cap­tain and end­ing with Tim’s Last Voy­age. We loved these books when my chil­dren were grow­ing up, and we still do. Vis­it this site so you can hear a sam­ple of Lit­tle Tim and The Brave Sea Cap­tain read aloud and see Ardizzone’s won­der­ful art. 

Jack­ie:  I love the lan­guage of this book: “’Some­times Tim would aston­ish his par­ents by say­ing, ’That’s a Cunarder’ or ‘Look at that bar­quen­tine on the port bow.’” [I want to say that again and again.] When his par­ents say he is much too young to go to sea, Tim is “so sad that he resolved, at the first oppor­tu­ni­ty, to run away to sea.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain

illus­tra­tion copy­right Edward Ardiz­zone

But best of all, I had the sense through­out this sto­ry that the sto­ry­teller was going to give me a won­der­ful yarn and that, with or with­out ele­phants, Lit­tle Tim was going to get through this adven­ture safe­ly.

Keep the Lights Burning, AbbiePhyl­lis:  Keep the Lights Burn­ing, Abbie by Peter and Con­nie Roop is a book for those who pass in per­il of the sea. Based on the true sto­ry of 16-year old Abbie Burgess, whose father was the light­house keep­er on Matini­cus Rock off the coast of Maine, the book tells how Abbie’s father heads out one morn­ing to get much need­ed sup­plies from Matini­cus Island and is storm-bound there for weeks before he can return. Abbie takes care of her three younger sis­ters and her ail­ing moth­er and “keeps the lights burn­ing” so that ships can pass safe­ly by. She lights the lamps, scrapes ice off the win­dows so the lights can be seen, trims wicks, cleans lamps, fills them with oil, and saves her chick­ens when waves threat­en to wash them away, all until her father can safe­ly sail back to the light­house. A won­der­ful strong char­ac­ter for girls and boys to know about.

Jack­ie:  There is some­thing so allur­ing about light­hous­es and islands. I won­der how many kids have fan­tasies of liv­ing in a light­house on an island. I sure did. I real­ly enjoyed the mat­ter-of-fact tone of this sto­ry. As Abbie is first light­ing the lamps a match blows out, but the next one doesn’t, nor the next and she goes on to light them all, night after night for a month. No dra­ma, just a telling of what she did. No dra­ma but touch­ing emo­tion at the end when we learn that her father was watch­ing for those lights every night as evi­dence that his fam­i­ly was still there. That detail almost made me tear up.

In a Village by the SeaPhyl­lis:  We could sail on through sea sto­ry after sea sto­ry. A more recent book, In a Vil­lage by the Sea by Muon Van is a ele­gant­ly sim­ple and love­ly sto­ry that begins, “In a fish­ing vil­lage by the sea there is a small house.” Each page moves clos­er in, from the house to the kitchen to the fire to a pot of soup to a woman watch­ing the soup to a sleepy child to a dusty hole in the floor where a crick­et is hum­ming and paint­ing a pic­ture of a fish­er­man in his storm-tossed boat hop­ing for the storm to end so that he can return to his vil­lage by the sea where in a small house, his fam­i­ly waits for him to come home. April Chu’s beau­ti­ful art con­cludes the book with the crick­et paint­ing a pic­ture of that fish­er­man and his boat sail­ing home into a calm har­bor.

Jack­ie:  This book is so art­ful and so sat­is­fy­ing in the way we cir­cle in on the sto­ry and then cir­cle back out. And I agree about April Chu’s illus­tra­tions. They are won­der­ful­ly expres­sive. I almost expect the dog to talk.

In a Village by the Sea

illus­tra­tion copy­right April Chu

Thanks for choos­ing these books, Phyl­lis. I’m sit­ting at my desk on a qui­et, cloudy day but feel as if I have been on adven­tures. My head is stretched, and I look at my house and yard with new appre­ci­a­tion. The sea, or sto­ries about the sea, take us out of our lives, our kitchens, toss us around a bit, and with hope and help—and occa­sion­al elephants—bring us back home, where, as Lit­tle Tim might say, we are ever so glad for warmth and choco­late.

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Driving After Dark

Driving after Dark | Lisa Bullard's Writing Road TripAs an ele­men­tary school kid, my most vivid recur­rent dream fea­tured a road trip.

In it, I’m in the driver’s seat, although it’s the car that’s in con­trol. My two-years-younger broth­er and our two best neigh­bor­hood friends are also along for the ride. We are on a straight stretch of the two-lane high­way that leads out of town, our head­lights pierc­ing the oth­er­wise intense dark­ness. The beams snag on the hun­gry arms of the crag­gy pines that crowd along the edge of the road. The grasp­ing trees try to pull us back, but they nev­er catch us; instead, the car just keeps bar­rel­ing ahead, faster and faster down the high­way.

I always woke up before we reached a des­ti­na­tion, feel­ing puffed up with expec­ta­tion, as if the wind whip­ping through the open win­dows of the vehi­cle had inflat­ed me in antic­i­pa­tion of what­ev­er wait­ed for us at the end of that night­time ride.

I dreamt this often enough that I can still recap­ture the feel­ing of it, immers­ing myself again in the emo­tions of a

time when it was start­ing to seem like each year, my own stur­dy lit­tle vehi­cle was pick­ing up speed as it raced towards an unknown place called “being a grown up.”

One of my best writ­ing prompts for young writ­ers taps into the pow­er of the much-antic­i­pat­ed state of adult­hood, that accom­plish­ment that kids cov­et or fear, some­times in equal mea­sure. Even bet­ter, the prompt works well for a wide range of stu­dents: those who are bare­ly through the open­ing para­graphs of their lives, and those who are a few chap­ters fur­ther along into life’s sto­ry.

Ask your stu­dents to write for a few min­utes about where they hope to be in ten or fifteen years (or what­ev­er num­ber will have them just enter­ing their ear­ly twen­ties). What do they want their lives to look like? Who do they want to be shar­ing their time with? What ambi­tions do they hope to be work­ing towards at that point?

Writ­ing can help them tap into that place deep inside where our sub­con­scious keeps its secrets, the place where it hides both our dreams and our futures.

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Skinny Dip with Debby Dahl Edwardson

For this inter­view, we vis­it with Deb­by Dahl Edward­son, author of the Nation­al Book Award final­ist My Name is Not Easy and co-founder of the Loon­Song Writ­ers’ Retreat.

Debby Dahl EdwardsonWhich celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

Anne Lam­ott. I feel like I already know her so well though her books that I would actu­al­ly feel com­fort­able with this kind of meet­ing, which is a bit out of my com­fort zone, for sure. Lam­ott seems like the kind of per­son you could talk to about anything—from your strug­gles with spir­i­tu­al­i­ty to your awful first draft—and she’d empha­size, hav­ing just dealt with these same issues like yes­ter­day morn­ing or in the mid­dle of the night last week.  

Most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry? 

Get­ting lost in books. When I was 12 years old, my god­moth­er gave me a book for Christ­mas. It was a book that had won the New­bery award that year and it cap­ti­vat­ed me. Clichés aside, I was pulled imme­di­ate­ly into the dark and stormy night with which the book opened and I found myself instant­ly inside that lit­tle attic bed­room where Meg Mur­ry was just begin­ning to awak­en to the series of strange and won­der­ful events. I remained immersed in that book for sev­er­al days. I reread it imme­di­ate­ly upon fin­ish­ing it. I sim­ply did not want to leave that world. I am talk­ing, of course, about A Wrin­kle in Time, by Made­line L’Engle. Enter­ing new worlds through the world of books are among my most cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ries.

Debby Dahl Edwardson and George Edwardson

Deb­by Dahl Edward­son and her hus­band, George Edward­son

Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

Fall. It’s always been my favorite. I love the col­ors and the smells of fall every­where, even here in Alas­ka, where I live on the tree­less tun­dra. I love the way the tun­dra turns rus­set and the air tin­gles with the promise of snow. I remem­ber, as a child in north­ern Min­neso­ta, watch­ing the sky dark­en with geese call­ing out their rau­cous calls, head­ed south. And now that I am in the fall of my life, I love that, too!

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

I have about a hun­dred dream vaca­tions. Most of them involve ocean beach­es because I love the ocean and I love to swim. But one non-beach place I’d love to vis­it and spend time in is north­ern New Mex­i­co, the region where Geor­gia O’Keeffe lived and paint­ed. I have a pic­ture of hers in my writ­ing room. It’s one you’ve nev­er seen: a sin­gle blue trail lead­ing up into pas­tel blue and gin­ger moun­tains. I want to go there. I love adobe, too, the way the red hous­es seem to grow from the red earth—and there’s a hot spring there, too: Ojo Caliente. I love hot springs. Above that pic­ture of O’Keeffe’s paint­ing in my writ­ing room is a pho­to­graph of her with the words that have pret­ty much become my writ­ing mot­to: “It belongs to me. God told me if I paint­ed it enough I could have it.” I am attract­ed to land­scapes that hold that kind of pow­er.  

Proud grandparents Debby Dahl Edwardson

Proud grand­par­ents!

My Name is Not EasyYour hope for the world?

That peo­ple will learn true empa­thy and devel­op, from a young age, the abil­i­ty to see the world through mul­ti­ple lens­es. I think many of the prob­lems we face in the world come from an increas­ing ten­den­cy to see the world mono­lith­i­cal­ly. This kind of inflex­i­bil­i­ty is extreme­ly dan­ger­ous in pret­ty much every way you can imag­ine. One of my favorite quotes is this one, from Wade Davis:  “Oth­er cul­tures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique man­i­fes­ta­tions of the human spir­it. The world in which you were born is just one mod­el of real­i­ty.” We will not begin to find true solu­tions to our deep­est prob­lems until we devel­op the abil­i­ty to see mul­ti­ple ways of con­fig­ur­ing real­i­ty.”

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My Work-Study Internship

World Telegram photo by Al Aumuller, Library of Congress, Creative Commons

World Telegram pho­to by Al Aumuller, Library of Con­gress, Cre­ative Com­mons

The first col­lege I attend­ed was Anti­och Col­lege in Yel­low Springs, Ohio. It had a work-study cur­ricu­lum in which half your year was spent work­ing off-cam­pus on some job relat­ing to your pro­fes­sion­al aspi­ra­tions. At that time, being inter­est­ed in the the­atre, I was offered and took a job at a Cleve­land tele­vi­sion sta­tion. A few days before the job began it was can­celed. I was offered a job at a book­store, but decid­ed to find a job on my own.

A fam­i­ly friend was Lee Hays, the bari­tone singer for the pop­u­lar folk group, The Weavers. Lee also was a men­tor to me and my would-be writ­ing career. I don’t recall the cir­cum­stances but hav­ing learned that I was look­ing for a job, he sent me to Harold Lev­en­thal, who man­aged The Weavers. Lev­en­thal offered me a job.

It appeared that Mr. Lev­en­thal was involved in some way with the estate of the late Woody Guthrie. What was the job? Guthrie was not just a famous per­former, and a song writer, he was a writer. In 1943, he had pub­lished a “par­tial­ly fic­tion­al­ized” auto­bi­og­ra­phy. Indeed, he left box­es of man­u­scripts. What job was I offered? Read through all those box­es and let Mr. Lev­en­thal know if any­thing was worth pub­lish­ing. I was next inter­viewed by Pete Seeger who was also involved in the Guthrie estate.

I got what I thought was a glam­orous job. If this seems an odd job to be giv­en to a nineteen-year-old—I would, in ret­ro­spect, agree The many box­es arrived.

I held myself to work­ing an eight-hour day.

The prob­lem was that Guthrie had Huntington’s dis­ease, which is “a fatal genet­ic dis­or­der that caus­es the pro­gres­sive break­down of nerve cells in the brain. It dete­ri­o­rates a person’s phys­i­cal and men­tal abil­i­ties dur­ing their prime work­ing years and has no cure.”

Thus the Guthrie writ­ing I had to read—from his late years—was at best errat­ic, and often dis­turb­ing. What­ev­er hero wor­ship I might have had about this vital, huge­ly cre­ative and impor­tant man, rapid­ly dis­in­te­grat­ed. But being the age I was, I dogged­ly read on, eight hours a day for three months.

When, after the three months were up and I came in to report to Mr. Lev­en­thal, he asked, “Is there any­thing worth pub­lish­ing?” To which I replied, “Noth­ing.”

Why these folks trust­ed my judgment—or even if they did trust my judgment—I nev­er learned. But I am per­haps one of the few peo­ple who—ever since—cannot bear to lis­ten to the dis­tinc­tive voice of Woody Guthrie. I had got­ten too much into his ill mind.

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Those Alluring Comics Storytellers

Comics ConfidentialWhen I began work­ing as, and think­ing of myself as, a graph­ic design­er, I assumed that all of my ideas would have to spring out of my mind … and that was ter­ri­fy­ing. (Think of the oft-asked ques­tion, “Where do your ideas come from?”) I didn’t think I was cre­ative enough or wide­ly trav­eled enough or even edu­cat­ed enough as a graph­ic design­er to come up with ideas that would trans­late into smart, pleas­ing designs on paper or a com­put­er screen.

Then I talked and worked with oth­er graph­ic design­ers. I learned that they had fold­ers full of “ref­er­ence mate­r­i­al,” designs they admired, cut out of mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers, along with pho­tos they’d tak­en and words type­set in inno­v­a­tive ways. And that sound­ed liked cheat­ing to me. Were they just copy­ing oth­er people’s designs?

I began col­lect­ing my own ref­er­ence mate­ri­als (books, mag­a­zine pages, type, col­or swatch­es) and orga­niz­ing them into fold­ers and note­books.

As I became more expe­ri­enced, I under­stood that look­ing at ref­er­ence mate­ri­als was not copy­ing because some­where dur­ing the cre­ative process my brain added its own con­cepts and my design sel­dom looked any­thing like the ref­er­ences I had used for a project.

So many young peo­ple are inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing their own comics and graph­ic nov­els. They have sto­ries to tell and they want to do it in a visu­al way. There’s a learn­ing curve. They’ve prob­a­bly read enough “ref­er­ence mate­ri­als” when they begin, enough that they intu­itive­ly under­stand sequence, the gaps in time and sto­ry, and the con­ven­tions of dia­logue bub­bles and frames. They may begin by copy­ing their favorites, but what they’ve read informs their sto­ry­telling and what they cre­ate will be entire­ly their own.

Leonard Marcus

Leonard S. Mar­cus

How refresh­ing to have Leonard Mar­cus’ book of inter­views, Comics Con­fi­den­tial: Thir­teen Graph­ic Nov­el­ists Talk Sto­ry, Craft, and Life Out­side the Box (Can­dlewick Press). It’s a ref­er­ence mate­r­i­al of a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent type, invalu­able real­ly, because it shares how these thir­teen much-admired artists tell their own sto­ries. We get a peek into their lives, their expe­ri­ences, their notions of art and the work they’ve done before they achieved their much-admired sta­tus.

Every inter­view, whether I know the work of the artist or not, held me riv­et­ed to their sto­ry, their expe­ri­ences, their gain­ing of knowl­edge. I loved read­ing that many of them worked with a group of like-mind­ed comics artists, learn­ing and devel­op­ing togeth­er. These inter­views instill con­fi­dence and sure­foot­ed­ness. As a young and bud­ding sto­ry­teller, I know that tid­bits from these biogra­phies would change how I work and how I think about my images and scripts.

For instance, Dan­i­ca Nov­gorod­off shares that, for The Under­tak­ing of Lily Chen, “I would envi­sion each scene as a scene in a film. Some­times I would have to stop myself and real­ize, ‘This is not going to work in a draw­ing. I am going to have to write it dif­fer­ent­ly.’ I wrote a scene, for instance, with an emp­ty gray stone city in which mist was ris­ing through the streets. I thought, ‘You can’t actu­al­ly make mist rise in a draw­ing, can you?’ I tried it and it didn’t work out near­ly as well as it had in my mind! It would have looked beau­ti­ful in a film.”

What you see clear­ly in your mind fre­quent­ly doesn’t trans­late well into your draw­ing or screen. You have to do a lot of eras­ing. Much as the con­cept of revi­sion is taught by edu­ca­tors in thou­sands of class­rooms, this idea of work­ing on the frames in a com­ic book page until they are telling the best sto­ry pos­si­ble, both in words and pic­tures, can be enor­mous­ly free­ing and encour­ag­ing.

Comics Confidential, Danica Novgorodoff

Dan­i­ca Nov­gorod­off, “Turf,” Comics Con­fi­den­tial, inter­views by Leonard Mar­cus (Can­dlewick Press)

In this book, each inter­view sub­ject cre­at­ed an orig­i­nal two-page sto­ry. Both the fin­ished com­ic and an orig­i­nal sketch are shared. Mar­cus tells us in the cap­tion for the “Turf” sketch that Nov­gorod­off “not only spec­i­fied more back­ground detail but also moved more action to the fore­ground and turned more of her char­ac­ters to face us.” That’s essen­tial infor­ma­tion!

Comics Confidential James Sturm

James Sturm, self-por­trait, from Comics Con­fi­den­tial, inter­views by Leonard Mar­cus (Can­dlewick Press)

The com­ic artists telling many of our favorite graph­ic sto­ries are inter­viewed for this book:

  • Kazu Kibuishi, who keeps his fans breath­less with antic­i­pa­tion for the next vol­ume in the Amulet series.
  • Hope Lar­son, astound­ing sto­ry reteller of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrin­kle in Time.
  • Matt Phe­lan, who has graced us with excep­tion­al sto­ry­telling and art in books like Bluffton and The Storm in the Barn.
  • James Sturm, the bril­liant sto­ry­teller and instruc­tor behind the Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing series.
  • Sara Varon, well-loved for Odd Duck and Pres­i­dent Squid and Robot Dreams.
  • Gene Luen Yang, whose Avatar, Shad­ow Hero, and Secret Coder series all show the bril­liance for which he was award­ed a MacArthur Genius Grant.

These are just a few of the mighty tal­ents inter­viewed for Comics Con­fi­den­tial. Mar­cus, who is a mas­ter at ask­ing ques­tions that bring forth the infor­ma­tion Every Read­er wants to know, has cre­at­ed a book for­mat­ted beau­ti­ful­ly, brim­ming with ele­ments that read­ers will pore over, with a help­ful bib­li­og­ra­phy in the back mat­ter.

If you’re an edu­ca­tor, this book will open your eyes to the skill and imag­i­na­tion and well­springs of cre­ativ­i­ty from which our very best graph­ic nov­el­ists for young read­ers draw (tired pun, but apt). You’ll under­stand and appre­ci­ate graph­ic nov­els and com­ic books in a way you haven’t done before read­ing these inter­views.

Your youngest bud­ding artists may have a hard time read­ing the book if their read­ing lev­el doesn’t match the book’s vocab­u­lary but Comics Con­fi­den­tial is also a pow­er­ful incen­tive to per­se­vere so you can learn from the mas­ters.

If you have a small group of inter­est­ed comics cre­ators in your room, read­ing the inter­views out loud and dis­cussing them, par­tic­u­lar­ly with some of that artist’s books at hand to review, would inform those stu­dents … and make you look awful­ly smart.

Donald Duck Officer for a DayI have loved comics since I read my first Don­ald Duck com­ic book in the first decade of my life. I quick­ly became enam­ored of super­hero comics. I wasn’t allowed to buy them but thank­ful­ly my cousins were. I often spied one under a cof­fee table and took myself sur­rep­ti­tious­ly into a qui­et room to read it before we went home. As an adult, I con­tin­ue to love the visu­al nature of the sto­ries and the dif­fer­ent, inven­tive ways in which sto­ries are told by comics artists. Comics Con­fi­den­tial is a dream-come-true, allow­ing me to “meet” the visu­al sto­ry­tellers I admire great­ly. I con­sid­er this book an essen­tial pur­chase for every library and class­room.

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The Weasel Whisperer

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Word Search: Let Your Voice Be Heard

Let Your Voice Be HeardPete Seeger was a mas­ter musi­cian, a long-time pro­po­nent of peo­ple and racial equal­i­ty and fair wages and work­ers’ rights and ecol­o­gy and con­ser­va­tion. He cared about the world you and I live in and want­ed it to be a bet­ter world for every­one. We’re hon­or­ing Ani­ta Silvey’s biog­ra­phy this month, Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. It’s a book that will inspire you to do more to help the world … and to sing. If you love puz­zles and games, we hope you have a good time solv­ing this Word Search. 

Sim­ply use your mouse or touch pad to draw a line over your found words and the pro­gram will mark them off for you. Words can be found for­wards, back­wards, hor­i­zon­tal­ly, ver­ti­cal­ly, and diag­o­nal­ly. As you find a word, it will be high­light­ed on the board and it will dis­ap­pear from the word list.

Have fun!

Hid­den Words

Puz­zle by mypuzzle.org
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Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Slow Cook­er Beef Stew
Serves 8
Inspired by our Book­storm fea­ture this month, Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, there was a pot of stew bub­bling in many a hobo camp dur­ing the Great Depres­sion and many a hoo­te­nan­ny in the ’50s and 60s’. This quick-to-assem­ble ver­sion can stay in your slow cook­er until you’re ready to eat.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 hr
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 hr
Ingre­di­ents
  1. 3.5 lb bone­less chuck or round, or stew meat
  2. 1 Tbsp Kitchen Bou­quet
  3. 1 (12 oz) can flat beer
  4. 1 enve­lope onion soup mix
  5. 1 enve­lope brown gravy mix
  6. 1 tsp Worces­ter­shire sauce
  7. 1 can cream of mush­room soup
  8. 4 cups assort­ed frozen veg­eta­bles of your choice
Instruc­tions
  1. Cut beef into 1.5” cubes. Place them in the slow cook­er and mix in Kitchen Bou­quet. Add beer, onion soup mix, brown gravy mix, and Worces­ter­shire sauce. Set pot to 200 degrees (low) and let cook for 8 to 10 hours. Stir in mush­room soup and veg­eta­bles and cook an addi­tion­al 30 to 40 min­utes. Makes about 8 serv­ings.
Bookol­o­gy Mag­a­zine https://www.bookologymagazine.com/
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One North Star, Three Creative Artists

One North Star

Bet­sy Bowen’s book, Antler Bear Canoe: a North­woods Alpha­bet, has been a favorite alpha­bet book for the last 25 years, remind­ing every read­er about the things they love in their unique envi­ron­ment.

Now, a count­ing book will sit allur­ing­ly on the book­shelf next to that title. One North Star: a Count­ing Book (Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press) has been writ­ten by Phyl­lis Root, and illus­trat­ed with wood­cuts by Bet­sy Bowen and Beck­ie Prange. We’re so tak­en with the book that we asked to inter­view the inspir­ing team who cre­at­ed it.

Phyllis RootPHYLLIS ROOT, writer

Which came first, the idea for the illus­tra­tions or the idea for the text? They’re both filled with so much won­der and imag­i­na­tion.

The text came first.  The book began when an edi­tor at Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press was inter­est­ed in a count­ing book, and we decid­ed on one about the flo­ra and fau­na and habi­tats in Min­neso­ta.  Ever since I moved to Min­neso­ta years ago I’ve been fas­ci­nat­ed with the vari­ety of places, plants, and ani­mals in the state along with all the still-wild places, so the book was great fun (and, as it turned out, a great chal­lenge). When in my research I learned that the Min­neso­ta mot­to is l’Etoile du nord, the star of the north, the struc­ture of the book took shape.

This is a cumu­la­tive tale in that we count num­bers, begin­ning at one, “one north star,” and add oth­er north woods crea­tures or geol­o­gy or flo­ra until we’re count­ing back­wards from ten. Unlike many cumu­la­tive tales (think A Par­tridge in a Pear Tree), the words aren’t repeat­ed each time, except for “under one north star.” How were you able to include such a vari­ety?

Lots and lots and lots of research and lots and lots and lots of writ­ing and rewrit­ing. One of the chal­lenges was fig­ur­ing out what lived where at what time of year and what num­ber you might see. You prob­a­bly wouldn’t see ten moose togeth­er, for exam­ple, and even if you did, I couldn’t imag­ine them all squeez­ing them into a pic­ture along with nine of some­thing, eight of some­thing, etc.

Bog, One North Star

How did you go about orga­niz­ing this book? Choos­ing which flo­ra and fau­na you would include?

First was the research. I learned so much read­ing about all the habi­tats and what you might see there and vis­it­ing places to see for myself. (I’d nev­er been to the bog, for exam­ple, and fell in love with the Big Bog when I did visit—enough to write a book just about the bog.) Once I had an abun­dance of infor­ma­tion, I began fit­ting the plants and ani­mals into num­bers and also into sea­sons so that the book fol­lowed through the year. So it made sense that in win­ter you’d have few­er plants and ani­mals avail­able, while lat­er in sum­mer you’d have many dif­fer­ent ones to choose from. Also, I tried to include fish, amphib­ians, rep­tiles, birds, and mam­mals along with flow­ers, trees, and fun­gi. I want­ed the book to be as inclu­sive as pos­si­ble. The whole book became a puz­zle to fig­ure out. And when I had a draft I checked with a nat­u­ral­ist friend and found out just how much I had got­ten wrong (a lot) and had to reor­ga­nize again—and again.

How did you work on your active verbs and your adjec­tives to get them to be so evoca­tive of the sights, sounds, and smells of the North Woods?

I decid­ed that, just to make the book a lit­tle more chal­leng­ing (what was I think­ing?) that I would try to nev­er use a verb more than once, and I want­ed each verb to be as strong and evoca­tive as pos­si­ble, to work as hard as it could so that the book would be fun to read as well.

When you were doing your research, did you dis­cov­er that any of the ani­mals or plants would not be grouped in the num­bers you wrote?

Plen­ty of times. More times than I can count.

Were there any descrip­tions that the illus­tra­tors asked you to change because they would be too hard to depict?

There were descrip­tions I was asked to change because they were incor­rect, for which I’m very grate­ful. I learned a lot about phe­nol­o­gy from Beck­ie, what you might see at the same time in the same place, and I learned even more from my nat­u­ral­ist friends. I’m awestruck and delight­ed at how the artists solved the prob­lem of fit­ting so many images on the lat­er pages of the book. I count­ed up rough­ly 220 images depict­ing 55 dif­fer­ent species in the book itself. The art­work and the artists are beyond amaz­ing.

You have exten­sive back mat­ter, divid­ed by the type of ecosys­tem, such as Aspen Prairie Park­land and Bog, with descrip­tions of each liv­ing crea­ture or plant you’ve includ­ed in the text of One North Star. Did you have a set of cri­te­ria so you could be  suc­cinct with those short para­graphs?

Just try­ing to write spar­e­ly, some­thing pic­ture book writ­ers are always strug­gling to do. I also tried to focus on what was the essen­tial or most inter­est­ing fea­ture about a place or a species, such as north­ern prairie skinks being able to break off their tails to escape cap­ture.

What do you find most sat­is­fy­ing about adding One North Star to your deep list of books?

I love how beau­ti­ful the artists have made the book, and I’m very glad to have a book that cel­e­brates Minnesota’s rich nat­ur­al diver­si­ty. I hope the book will make folks want to go out and see these places for them­selves.

Beckie PrangeBECKIE PRANGE, illus­tra­tor and wood­cut artist

How were you asked to work on One North Star? Why did you agree?

I was approached by a for­mer UMN Press edi­tor and was excit­ed about Phyl­lis’ con­cept for One North Star, and its scope.

When you work on a book like this, how much plan­ning goes into the illus­tra­tions before you begin to make your wood­cuts?

The amount of plan­ning and research is mas­sive. The for­mer edi­tor want­ed the illus­tra­tions to be real­is­tic scenes, which meant find­ing a way to fit all of the species into an image of what you could pos­si­bly see from a par­tic­u­lar view­point in nature.

For this book, there were two of you con­tribut­ing wood­cut illus­tra­tions. I know that you have been teacher and stu­dent in the past. Did that help when you worked on this book togeth­er?

Due to the quirks and tim­ing of life events I was unable to fin­ish the illus­tra­tion work on One North Star. There was a gap in the progress on the book after I had com­plet­ed most of the work on the draft illus­tra­tions. By the time we could get start­ed again, I had a full time posi­tion in a field I’m excit­ed about and found that I was unable to con­tin­ue as illus­tra­tor. I’m very thank­ful that Bet­sy was able to pick up so skill­ful­ly where I left off.

How did you work togeth­er to make the illus­tra­tions a cohe­sive whole?

All I can say here is that Bet­sy is total­ly awe­some, and did a beau­ti­ful job with the final illus­tra­tions with­out any help from me.

Was it chal­leng­ing to com­pose the chock-full, two-page spreads that includ­ed many crit­ters? How did you make deci­sions about where to place every­thing in the illus­tra­tion?

Cre­at­ing sin­gle scenes from one view­point which includ­ed all of the organ­isms Phyl­lis wrote about, while being faith­ful to those organ­isms’ habits and habi­tats was incred­i­bly chal­leng­ing. It was espe­cial­ly tough with the high­er num­bers, but there were chal­lenges with low­er num­bers too. For exam­ple, how do you put a noc­tur­nal crea­ture and a diur­nal crea­ture in the same scene and have it look at least mar­gin­al­ly believ­able? Lit­tle brown bats and rough-legged hawks just don’t hang out in the same space and time. I just had to play with it, and let it go until some­thing came to me.

Have you worked on projects before with this many dif­fer­ent objects includ­ed?

No! Nowhere close.

Number Three, One North Star

Which two-page spread in the book gives you the most sat­is­fac­tion?

I love all of them, but the one that makes me hap­pi­est right now is num­ber three, with the black bears, grouse and lynx. When I was draw­ing that one, I strug­gled with it. I could not get it to feel right. The per­spec­tive was both­er­ing me. I nev­er did solve it to my sat­is­fac­tion. Bet­sy trans­lat­ed what is basi­cal­ly the same lay­out into an image that real­ly works. It looks per­fect.

A big thanks to all three of you for shar­ing the way you worked on this book that all who are fond of the north woods will cher­ish.

Betsy BowenBETSY BOWEN, illus­tra­tor and wood­cut artist

How were you asked to work on One North Star? Why did you agree?

This is my third book with Phyl­lis, and I real­ly enjoy her lyri­cal and infor­ma­tive lan­guage.  I also like work­ing with Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press.

When you work on a book like this, how much plan­ning goes into the illus­tra­tions before you begin to make your wood­cuts?

In this case, Beck­ie had made the lay­outs in pen­cil and water­col­or for the num­ber pages.  I joined the project lat­er on, and so I used her designs. I added ideas for the parts before and after the num­ber sec­tion. And then I made the final ver­sion of the art.  Plan­ning and sketch­ing is a big part of the work (and the fun!).

Was it chal­leng­ing to com­pose the chock-full, two-page spreads that includ­ed many crit­ters? How did you make deci­sions about where to place every­thing in the illus­tra­tion?

This was Beckie’s doing, I think it must have been tricky.

Illus­tra­tors often use pho­tographs to plan their com­po­si­tion or get the details right. Is it the same when you’re carv­ing wood?

I like to look at pho­tos to help inform the draw­ing, and study the way ani­mals and plants real­ly look.  That is if I can’t get the moose to stand still long enough …

Betsy Bowen woodcut for One North Star coverHow long does it take to cre­ate a wood­cut for one two-page spread?

The carv­ing took me a few days for each spread.

Do you make mis­takes? Do you have to start over with a fresh block of wood?

Most mis­takes I can fix with either Elmer’s Glue® or a Band-aid®. Rarely I do start over with a new carv­ing. I try to shake out the ques­tions in the drawing/design phase before start­ing the longer process of carv­ing and print­ing. It’s not very easy to just move some­thing over  ”just a lit­tle” once the whole pic­ture is made.

Have you worked on projects before with this many dif­fer­ent objects includ­ed?

These were detailed pages! I think all more intri­cate than I have done before.

Number Seven, One North Star

Which two-page spread in the book gives you the most sat­is­fac­tion?

The Sev­en page, view­ing from under­wa­ter, was tricky for me.  I would try to see how the light came through water while I was swim­ming at the local pool.  I real­ly liked the result more than I expect­ed.

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A Story for the Ages

For the past two years my hus­band and I have had the good for­tune to spend the wan­ing days of sum­mer in Door Coun­ty, Wis­con­sin. There we have dis­cov­ered a vibrant arts com­mu­ni­ty. A boun­ty of the­atre, music, and fine arts is there for the pick­ing.

The Rabbits Wedding by Garth WilliamsThis year, as I scanned the pos­si­bil­i­ties for our vis­it, I was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in the Penin­su­la Play­ers’ Mid­west pre­mière of a new play by Ken­neth Jones called Alaba­ma Sto­ry. The play comes from actu­al events which occurred in Alaba­ma in 1959. Based on the Amer­i­can Library Association’s rec­om­men­da­tion, State Librar­i­an Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed pur­chased copies of the pic­ture book, The Rab­bits’ Wed­ding by Garth Williams, for state libraries. The Rab­bits’ Wed­ding con­cerns a black rab­bit and a white rab­bit who mar­ry. Though Williams, an artist, chose the col­ors of the rab­bits for the con­trast they would pro­vide in his illus­tra­tions, they became sym­bol­ic of much more when seg­re­ga­tion­ist Sen­a­tor E.O. Eddins demand­ed that the book be removed from all state library shelves. Eddins believed that the book pro­mot­ed the mix­ing of races. Alaba­ma Sto­ry tells this sto­ry of cen­sor­ship, jux­ta­posed with the sto­ry of a bira­cial rela­tion­ship.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellMy hus­band and I both had tears in our eyes sev­er­al times through­out the August 31st per­for­mance of Alaba­ma Sto­ry. Cen­sor­ship was some­thing we know inti­mate­ly. Though Alaba­ma Sto­ry takes place in 1959, it could have tak­en place in 2013 in Anoka, Min­neso­ta, with a teen book enti­tled Eleanor & Park by Rain­bow Row­ell. My high school Library Media Spe­cial­ist col­leagues and I had planned a dis­trict-wide com­mu­ni­ty read for the sum­mer of 2013. Based on our own read­ing of the book, and based on the fact that the book had received starred reviews across the board and was on many “best” lists for 2013, we chose Eleanor & Park as the book for the sum­mer pro­gram. All stu­dents who vol­un­teered to par­tic­i­pate received a free copy of the book. Rain­bow Row­ell agreed to vis­it in the fall for a day of fol­low-up with the par­tic­i­pants. Short­ly after the books were hand­ed out, just pri­or to our sum­mer break, par­ents of one of the par­tic­i­pants, along with the Par­ents’ Action League (deemed a hate group by the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter) reg­is­tered a chal­lenge against the book. Their com­plaint had to do with the lan­guage that they deemed inap­pro­pri­ate in the book and with the sex­u­al con­tent in the book. They demand­ed that the par­ents of all par­tic­i­pants be informed that their child had been “exposed” to the book (they were not), that Rain­bow Rowell’s vis­it be can­celled (it was), that copies of the book be removed from the shelves of all dis­trict schools (they were not), that our selec­tion pol­i­cy be rewrit­ten (it was), and that the Library Media Spe­cial­ists be dis­ci­plined (we received a let­ter). The sto­ry gained nation­al atten­tion in the late sum­mer and fall of 2013. 

Emily Wheelock ReadOne of the most strik­ing aspects of Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed’s sto­ry was the sense of iso­la­tion she felt. She received no sup­port, par­tic­u­lar­ly from the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion who had pub­lished the list of rec­om­men­da­tions which she used to pur­chase new books for Alaba­ma state libraries. These feel­ings of iso­la­tion were famil­iar to me. Though my col­leagues turned to each oth­er for sup­port, we received no sup­port from the dis­trict school board or the dis­trict admin­is­tra­tion. This was the most dif­fi­cult time in my thir­ty-six career as a high school edu­ca­tor. Though I had won the district’s Teacher Out­stand­ing Per­for­mance award, was a final­ist for Min­neso­ta Teacher of the Year, and won the Lars Steltzn­er Intel­lec­tu­al Free­dom award, choos­ing Eleanor & Park as the selec­tion for a vol­un­tary sum­mer read­ing pro­gram felt like a threat to my career and to my job. As Toby Gra­ham, Uni­ver­si­ty of Georgia’s Uni­ver­si­ty Librar­i­an, asks in a video for the Free­dom to Read Orga­ni­za­tion, “Who are the Emi­ly Reeds of today, and who will stand up with them in their pur­suit to insure our right to read?” Thank­ful­ly, the media, the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter, our local teach­ers’ union, and oth­ers were sup­port­ive in many ways. In addi­tion, the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, the Free­dom to Read Orga­ni­za­tion, and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions now offer tools ded­i­cat­ed to Library Media Spe­cial­ists who find them­selves in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions.

Eleanor & Park went on to be named a Michael J. Printz Hon­or book—the gold stan­dard for young adult lit­er­a­ture. It is the mov­ing sto­ry of two out­cast teens who meet on the school bus. Eleanor is red-head­ed, poor, white, bul­lied, and the vic­tim of abuse. Park is a bira­cial boy who sur­vives by fly­ing under the radar. The two even­tu­al­ly devel­op trust in each oth­er as the world swirls around them. They them­selves don’t use foul lan­guage. They use music as a way to hold the rest of the world at bay. They fall in love and con­sid­er hav­ing an inti­mate rela­tion­ship but decide, very mature­ly, that they are not ready for sex. As a Library Media Spe­cial­ist, there were “Eleanors” and “Parks” who walked into my media cen­ter each and every day. Their sto­ry need­ed to be on the shelf in my library, so that they could see them­selves reflect­ed in its pages, to know that the world saw them and val­ued them, even if their lives were messy. For those more for­tu­nate than these Eleanors and Parks, the sto­ry was impor­tant as well. By look­ing into the lives of oth­ers via books, we devel­op empa­thy and under­stand­ing, even when the view­points reflect­ed there are not our own.

Carmen Roman as librarian Emily Wheelock Reed, a librarian who stood her ground for the right to read during the onset of the civil rights movement and refused to remove "The Rabbit's Wedding" from the shelves. Photo by Len Villano for The Peninsula Players

Car­men Roman as librar­i­an Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed, a librar­i­an who stood her ground for the right to read dur­ing the onset of the civ­il rights move­ment and refused to remove The Rabbit’s Wed­ding from the shelves. Pho­to by Len Vil­lano for The Penin­su­la Play­ers

As artists—teachers, writ­ers, actors, musi­cians, painters, dancers, and sculptors—it is our job to tell and pre­serve sto­ries, the sto­ries of all indi­vid­u­als, even when they rep­re­sent beliefs dif­fer­ent from our own. Knowl­edge tru­ly is pow­er. When we cen­sor sto­ries, we take away pow­er. One need only look at his­to­ry, and the burn­ing of books and the destruc­tion of libraries by those in pow­er, for exam­ples of the dan­gers of cen­sor­ship. As we cel­e­brate Banned Books Week (Sep­tem­ber 25th–October 1st), it is impor­tant to reflect on the val­ue of artis­tic free­dom and on the val­ue of our free­dom to read.

Though Garth Williams did not intend for The Rab­bits’ Wed­ding to be a sto­ry about race and, thus, become a sym­bol of the Civ­il Rights Move­ment, it did. Though Rain­bow Row­ell did not intend for Eleanor & Park to become a sym­bol of cen­sor­ship, it did. Alaba­ma Sto­ry took place in 1959 but could just have eas­i­ly tak­en place in 2001 with a book called Har­ry Pot­ter, or in 2006 with a book called And Tan­go Makes Three, or … in 2013 with a book called Eleanor & Park. Cen­sor­ship still occurs in 2016.

Peninsula Players, Door County

Penin­su­la Play­ers The­atre host­ed Door Coun­ty library staff to a dress rehearsal of the Mid­west pre­mière of “Alaba­ma Sto­ry” by Ken­neth Jones. Jones was inspired by librar­i­an Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed’s defense of a children’s book in 1959, Mont­gomery, Alaba­ma. From left are cast mem­bers and librar­i­ans Byron Glenn Willis, actor; Tra­cy Vreeke, Stur­geon Bay Library; Pat Strom, Fish Creek Library; Hol­ly Somer­halder, Fish Creek Library; Greg Vin­kler, Penin­su­la Play­ers Artis­tic Direc­tor; Kathy White, Stur­geon Bay Library; Har­ter Cling­man, actor; Hol­ly Cole, Egg Har­bor Library; James Leam­ing, actor; Car­men Roman, actor and Kather­ine Keber­lein, actor. Vis­it www.peninsulaplayers.com Pho­to by Len Vil­lano.

As the audi­ence stood that evening, my hus­band and I applaud­ed the Penin­su­la Play­ers’ artis­tic staff, cast, and crew for telling Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed’s sto­ry. It is a sto­ry that needs to be told over and over again—for every “Eleanor” and every “Park” among us.

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Kingfisher Treasuries

unknown-3There was a time—although it seems like it’s becom­ing a tiny dot in the rearview mirror—in which one birth­day child or the oth­er received the birth­day-appro­pri­ate book in the King­fish­er Trea­sury series of Sto­ries for Five/Six/Seven/Eight Year Olds. Those beloved paper­backs reside on my office shelves now, but it was not so long ago that they were opened on the appro­pri­ate birth­day to big smiles—there was some­thing sort of mile­stone-like about receiv­ing them. Near as I can tell from the inter­webs, we’re only miss­ing Sto­ries for Four Year Olds—I just might have to com­plete our col­lec­tion, because I’ve pret­ty well lost myself this morn­ing while look­ing at these books again.

They are hum­ble paperbacks—I don’t believe they were ever pub­lished as hard­backs, let alone with gild­ed pages and embossed cov­ers. But the sto­ries between the col­or­ful cov­ers are of that cal­iber, cer­tain­ly. Cho­sen by Edward and Nan­cy Blishen, these sto­ries are from the likes of Rud­yard Kipling, Bev­er­ly Cleary, Isaac Bashe­vis Singer, Arthur Ran­some, and Astrid Lind­gren. Oth­ers, too—in addi­tion to sev­er­al folk tales retold by the com­pil­ers.

What I loved about these sto­ries when we were read­ing them aloud was that they were from all over the world—many cul­tures and places rep­re­sent­ed. We often were look­ing at the globe after read­ing from these books. Some are tra­di­tion­al sto­ries, some contemporary—an excel­lent mix, real­ly. Short sto­ries for kids—loads bet­ter than the drea­ry ones in grade-spe­cif­ic read­ers.

What my kids loved, curi­ous­ly, was how the illus­tra­tions were tucked into the text. Every page has a clever black and white drawing—something drawn around the story’s title or run­ning along the bot­tom of the page, a char­ac­ter sketch set in the para­graph indent, a crowd scene span­ning the spread between the top and bot­tom para­graphs on both pages, a bor­der of leaves or animals—very detailed, even if small. You don’t see illus­tra­tion place­ment like these much. The books have a unique feel because of them.

unknown-4The illus­tra­tors for each book are dif­fer­ent, but all are won­der­ful, and because every­thing is print­ed sim­ply in black and white and cre­ative­ly spaced on the pages the books look like they go togeth­er. Some of the draw­ings are sweet, cute—some you can imag­ine as fine art. Which is what makes me wish these had been pro­duced in a larg­er hard-back ver­sion with col­or plates, etc.

But the fact is, the paper­back trim size made it easy to slip these in my purse, tuck in the glove com­part­ment, pack for the plane ride, etc. A lot of read­ing hap­pened on the fly dur­ing those ear­ly ele­men­tary years—these books were some of the eas­i­est to car­ry around and pull out at the doctor’s office, the sibling’s game, and the bus stop.

I thought about putting them out in our lit­tle free library in the front yard, but I’ve decid­ed to keep them on my shelf. Maybe tuck one in my purse for when I’m sit­ting out­side the high school wait­ing for my girl, or read­ing out­side the dress­ing room while she tries on clothes. The days are fly­ing by—I’m glad I have books to remem­ber the sweet ear­li­er days, too.

Per­haps I’ll buy anoth­er set to share in the library…..

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Skinny Dip with Heidi Hammond

For this inter­view, we vis­it with Hei­di Ham­mond, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at St. Cather­ine Uni­ver­si­ty in the MLIS pro­gram, long-time school librar­i­an, and author of Read­ing the Art in Calde­cott Award Books: a Guide to the Illus­tra­tions, along with co-author Gail D. Nord­strom.

Heidi HammondWhich celebri­ty, liv­ing or not, do you wish would invite you to a cof­fee shop?

I would love to enjoy a cup of tea with Michelle Oba­ma and find out what the first fam­i­ly plans to do after Pres­i­dent Oba­ma fin­ish­es his sec­ond term of office.  

What’s your favorite late-night snack? 

I don’t usu­al­ly stay up late, but my favorite after sup­per snack is pop­corn (unbut­tered) and ice cream (Coconut Explo­sion), not togeth­er, but in that order. Some­times I just have pop­corn and ice cream for sup­per.

Favorite city to vis­it?

Lon­don! I’ve been there six times. “…when a man, (in my case, a woman), is tired of Lon­don, he (she) is tired of life; for there is in Lon­don all that life can afford.” —Samuel John­son

Moonstone Castle MysteryMost cher­ished child­hood mem­o­ry?

One of my favorite child­hood mem­o­ries is receiv­ing a stack of Nan­cy Drew mys­ter­ies for Christ­mas and hav­ing all of the Christ­mas hol­i­day to read them.  

Tea? Cof­fee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

I drink tea and water. That’s pret­ty much it. I learned to drink tea after my first year of teach­ing. I chap­er­oned a group of 12 junior high stu­dents (What was I think­ing?) on a four-week exchange pro­gram with a school in Wales. I stayed with the deputy head­mas­ter and his fam­i­ly, and every morn­ing he made his fam­i­ly tea and served it to us in bed. I would hear a knock on my door and the ques­tion, “Tea, Hei­di?” It was a love­ly way to begin the day.

Favorite sea­son of the year? Why?

My favorite sea­son on the year is fall. Hav­ing been an edu­ca­tor or school librar­i­an all my pro­fes­sion­al life, fall always seems like a new begin­ning with the kick­off of the school year. It’s like hav­ing two New Years, one in Jan­u­ary and one in Sep­tem­ber. That means two fresh starts.

Ouzel Falls

Hik­ing to Ouzel Falls, Rocky Moun­tain Nation­al Park

What’s your dream vaca­tion?

A dream vaca­tion for me is one that involves some hik­ing. In the sum­mer of 2015, I hiked Hadrian’s Wall from coast to coast in north­ern Eng­land, all 84 miles. In spring I hiked in the Grand Canyon. This past sum­mer I hiked in Rocky Moun­tain Nation­al Park. This Sep­tem­ber I’m hik­ing the Great Glen Way in Scot­land from Fort William to Inver­ness, all along Loch Ness. That part of the world just hap­pens to be the set­ting for “Out­lander.”

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I am a very good par­al­lel park­er. It seems I’ve been attend­ing the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta off and on from 1974 to 2009. I couldn’t often afford to pay for park­ing in one of the lots, so I’d par­al­lel park on the res­i­den­tial streets sur­round­ing the uni­ver­si­ty and walk blocks and blocks to class.

Your favorite can­dy as a kid?

Milk Duds. I still like them, but I think red licorice is my favorite can­dy now. And, dark choco­late caramels. I like pret­ty much any kind of can­dy. I have a sweet tooth. They are open­ing a new Abdallah’s can­dy store about a mile from my house in Sep­tem­ber. I’m not sure this will be good for me.

The MarvelsWhat’s the strangest tourist attrac­tion you’ve vis­it­ed?

I don’t know if this qual­i­fies as strange, but it was very dif­fer­ent and won­der­ful. The last time I was in Lon­don, right after I read Bri­an Selznick’s book The Mar­vels, I vis­it­ed the Den­nis Sev­ers’ House. I had heard Bri­an talk about his new book at the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion Annu­al Meet­ing in San Fran­cis­co a few weeks before I left for Eng­land in 2015 to hike Hadrian’s Wall. If you know the book, you know the house is an impor­tant fea­ture. When I entered the house, I told the young man at the door that I had come because I’d read the book and heard Bri­an speak. He said I was the first per­son to vis­it who had read the book (I had an advance read­ing copy). Unbe­knownst to me, he told the cura­tor David Milne about me, and David found me and spent quite a bit of time with me talk­ing about Den­nis and the house. He even went and got the book and showed me an illus­tra­tion of one of the rooms while I was in that room. It was one of the most inter­est­ing places I’ve ever vis­it­ed in Lon­don.

Dennis Severs House

Den­nis Sev­ers House, Lon­don [pho­to: Matt Brown, Cre­ative Com­mons]

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

Every­one express­es good in his or her own indi­vid­ual way. See the good­ness in oth­ers and appre­ci­ate it.

Your hope for the world?

Like Rod­ney King, I wish we could all get along.

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Driver’s Ed

Adobe Stock ImageIt’s amaz­ing that I passed my driver’s test on the first try, since I can see now that I was a pret­ty bad dri­ver. But I was an excel­lent test-tak­er, and the State of Min­neso­ta sent me home with a score of 96 out of 100. Mere weeks lat­er I backed the fam­i­ly van into the mail­box.

It’s not that my par­ents didn’t try their best to improve my dri­ving skills. In fact, they each logged enough hours of behind-the-wheel train­ing with me that I learned to trans­late their two very dif­fer­ent approach­es to cor­rec­tive feed­back.

My mother’s pri­ma­ry feed­back was to ini­ti­ate the fol­low­ing sequence when I made a dri­ving mis­take: 1) make a hor­ri­fied face, 2) suck air in wet­ly over her teeth, 3) clutch the dash­board, and 4) stomp her foot onto an imag­i­nary passenger’s side brake.

My father was more ver­bal, but prone to under­stat­ed com­men­tary such as: “Did you hap­pen to notice that was a red light you drove through?”

It’s hard to find just the right way to give some­body help­ful feed­back. And it’s just as tricky an issue when it comes to giv­ing stu­dents feed­back on their writ­ing.

Praise for what is work­ing well is always a good start­ing point. But then I also try to pro­vide some­thing con­crete that stu­dents can work to improve. Lead­ing ques­tions are a great tool for this: queries such as, “How could you help read­ers bet­ter under­stand the character’s prob­lem?” or “Can you make the read­ers feel more like they’re inside the set­ting of the sto­ry?”

You also want to avoid impos­ing your own voice over the student’s voice. The key is to remain in the role of edi­tor rather than “re-writer.” I point out where changes could improve the writ­ing, but then give stu­dents some room to learn to rewrite for them­selves.

It’s total­ly tempt­ing to stomp on the brake your­self, and just tell them how you would do it. But if you do that too many times, they might nev­er learn how to dri­ve with­out you in the car.

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Below the Surface

Our park ranger, Earl, which is pro­nounced in three syl­la­bles in south-cen­tral Ken­tucky, asks one last time to recon­sid­er this jour­ney if any­one suf­fers from a bad heart, high blood pres­sure, or claus­tro­pho­bia. He waits at the steel door at the base of a sink­hole. On this “Domes and Drip­stones” tour at Mam­moth Cave Nation­al Park, no one objects. We are silent in antic­i­pa­tion.

As the park ranger unlocks and opens the door, the cave emits a blast of icy cold air. With a moment of hes­i­ta­tion, I leave the for­est of leafy green behind and begin the descent into dark­ness. My eyes begin to adjust. Peri­od­ic bat­tery-pow­ered lights illu­mi­nate the cave. Ahead, the guide’s flash­light beams. I grip the met­al tubu­lar rail­ing, moist with humid­i­ty. Here and there, the cave plum­mets into fore­bod­ing chasms. I take each steel step with care.  A hun­dred years back, tourists fol­lowed this same path, but the steps were made then of wood, prone to slip­per­i­ness.

Photo: Navin75 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/navin75/162066494/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

pho­to by Navin75

In spots, the cave press­es in around me, and I squeeze through pas­sages. Where its ceil­ing drops low, I duck to avoid bash­ing in my fore­head. There is the per­pet­u­al plink, plink, plink of water. It per­co­lates down the sink­hole, carv­ing into sand­stone, it drips from the cave walls into pud­dles, rivulets, and streams that flow down, away, deep­er and deep­er into dark­ness. Our group is silent. We are in a sanc­tu­ary, a place of awe and deep mys­tery where eye­less fish and translu­cent shrimp nav­i­gate the cave streams, where bats have birthed their young for eons, where humans stepped foot 2,000 years ago.

Around us, sta­lag­mites cre­ate tow­er­ing fairy­land cas­tles. Above us, sta­lac­tites appear as ici­cles in var­i­ous hues. Earl reminds us that the last inch formed on each sta­lac­tite took 100–300 years, drop of water by drop of water—cavernous rooms with a labyrinth of daz­zling for­ma­tions resem­bling cream-col­ored silken drapes, walls of can­died pop­corn, frozen gold­en water­falls, a swish of a many-lay­ered skirt, a cav­ernous dragon’s mouth.

Earl checks his watch. We find our way out of the cave and into the world of trees and sky. The tour con­cludes. But I keep think­ing of the caves and the slow con­stan­cy of change. With the pass­ing of time, new caves form daz­zling worlds while old caves even­tu­al­ly fill in and “die.” Each drop of water, each grain of sand leaves its mark. Vis­it­ing a cave means bear­ing wit­ness to the artistry found in the accu­mu­la­tion of time.

This gives me com­fort. I like to think that each foot­step we take leaves its mark, too, in an ongo­ing colos­sal work of cre­ation.

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Life does not stop …

Lynne Jonell Page Break

 

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Anita Silvey

Let Your Voice Be HeardWe are so pleased to have author and edu­ca­tor Ani­ta Sil­vey talk with us about her book Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, our Book­storm this month.

Do you remem­ber when you were first aware of Pete Seeger as a child or teenag­er?

In my sopho­more year in col­lege, I came down with mono and had to be sequestered from oth­er stu­dents. So I taught myself gui­tar as a way to pass the long con­va­les­cent hours. That was the semes­ter I fell in love with Pete Seeger.

What made you want to write a book about Pete Seeger?

I had inter­viewed Pete for Every­thing I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book. I was talk­ing to Dinah Steven­son of Clar­i­on about that inter­view, and she men­tioned that she had tried, unsuc­cess­ful­ly, to get one of her writ­ers inter­est­ed in a book on the Weavers. I myself didn’t see the Weavers as the sub­ject of a book but men­tioned that a biog­ra­phy of Pete, with a chap­ter on the Weavers, would be an excit­ing project. That con­ver­sa­tion began an eight-year pub­lish­ing process.

You begin the book with the Peek­skill con­cert which turned out to be life-threat­en­ing. Why did you choose to begin there?

Pete always talked about the Peek­skill con­cert and the ride home as among the most fright­en­ing moments of his life. That inci­dent show­cas­es one of the themes of the book. No mat­ter what hap­pened to him, Pete Seeger did not allow any­thing to keep him from singing.

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, 2011, Cre­ative Com­mons

Were there any “truths” you thought were true but your research proved were oth­er­wise?

There were so many things I didn’t know: for 10 years he was harassed dur­ing the McCarthy era; he had dif­fi­cul­ties appear­ing on tele­vi­sion, even after he was cleared. The extent of his activities—for unions, civ­il rights, peace, the environment—amazed me. I could have writ­ten 10,000 words about any year in Pete’s life.

Did you find a lot of fac­tu­al mate­r­i­al that you had to check in sev­er­al sources before you includ­ed it in the book?

You have just described the process of writ­ing nar­ra­tive nonfiction—lots of sources, both pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary, lots of bal­anc­ing opin­ions. Basi­cal­ly I had to do that for every sen­tence that I wrote.

How do you plan an inter­view with the sub­ject of a biog­ra­phy?

With Pete it was easy. I would have a cou­ple of ques­tions that I need­ed clar­i­fy­ing. He would do all the rest. Two hours lat­er I’d be off the phone with infor­ma­tion I didn’t even know I need­ed.

When you inter­viewed Pete Seeger, what sur­prised you the most in his respons­es?

His gen­eros­i­ty of time. And he sang to me.

Pete Seeger's banjo

Pete Seeger’s ban­jo, Cre­ative Com­mons

What proved to be the hard­est infor­ma­tion for you to find about Pete Seeger?

Toshi Seeger and Pete clear­ly tried to keep fam­i­ly infor­ma­tion out of the press. In the end I hon­ored that desire and kept details about the fam­i­ly to a min­i­mum.

In your After­word, you write, “Biog­ra­phers have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to exam­ine the facts, remain as unbi­ased as pos­si­ble, and tell the truth about their sub­jects.” You fol­low this up by shar­ing that “When I read the files that the FBI had gath­ered about Pete Seeger, and I stud­ied the com­plete tes­ti­mo­ny of Pete Seeger’s appear­ance before the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee, I became angry and dis­turbed.” In con­clu­sion, you stat­ed, “I offer up his sto­ry in the hope that as a nation we nev­er again turn on our own cit­i­zens and do them the same kind of injus­tice.”

After writ­ing this book, do you feel that tak­ing a stance in a non­fic­tion book is accept­able for an author?

I think writ­ers for chil­dren need to admit to a bias if they have one. I didn’t make this type of state­ment in Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall. For that book, I remained much more impar­tial through­out the process. Alert­ing chil­dren to the bias of a writer helps them inter­pret non­fic­tion and can send them to oth­er sources. Some­times when asked by an adult friend about some­thing, I remind them that I am not impar­tial on this top­ic. I believe chil­dren deserve the same respect.

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Windows, Mirrors, Sliding Glass Doors, and Maps

There seems lit­tle chance of devel­op­ing the humil­i­ty so urgent­ly need­ed for world coöper­a­tion, instead of world con­flict, as long as our chil­dren are brought up on gen­tle dos­es of racism through their books.” —Nan­cy Lar­rick

When chil­dren can­not find them­selves reflect­ed in the books they read, or when the images they see are dis­tort­ed, neg­a­tive or laugh­able, they learn a pow­er­ful les­son about how they are deval­ued in the soci­ety of which they are a part.” —Rudine Sims Bish­op

Per­haps this exclu­siv­i­ty, in which chil­dren of col­or are at best back­ground char­ac­ters, and more often than not absent, is in fact part of the imag­i­na­tive aspect of these books. But what it means is that when kids today face the real­i­ties of our world, our glob­al economies, our inte­gra­tions and over­lap­pings, they all do so with­out a prop­er map. They are nav­i­gat­ing the streets and avenues of their lives with an inad­e­quate, out­dat­ed chart, and we won­der why they feel lost.” —Christo­pher Myers

Three pro­found quotes, all con­tem­plat­ing the trou­bling real­i­ty of the pre­dom­i­nant­ly white world of children’s lit­er­a­ture. These quotes appeared in three sep­a­rate arti­cles that were writ­ten decades apart in 1965, 1990 and 2014, respec­tive­ly. It has been more than 50 years since Nan­cy Lar­rick penned “The All White World of Children’s Books.” And then, 25 years lat­er, Rudine Sims Bish­op addressed the same trav­es­ty in her arti­cle “Mir­rors, Win­dows and Slid­ing Glass Doors.” Skip ahead anoth­er two dozen years and we hear from Christo­pher Myers when he dis­cuss­es “The Apartheid of Children’s Lit­er­a­ture.” It is a sad real­i­ty that so lit­tle progress has been made over so many years.

bk_courageeousconversationsYet, I am com­pelled to feel opti­mistic. I have sin­cere hopes and dreams that big­ger change is pos­si­ble. One rea­son for this pos­i­tiv­i­ty comes from the invest­ment and effort my new school dis­trict has made towards racial equi­ty and pro­mot­ing the equi­ty jour­neys of every dis­trict employ­ee. The two-day “Beyond Diver­si­ty” work­shop I recent­ly attend­ed, based on the work of Glenn Sin­gle­ton and his book Coura­geous Con­ver­sa­tions About Race, was one of the most pow­er­ful “back to school” pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment ses­sions I have ever expe­ri­enced. Sim­ply put, race mat­ters, and so do our dis­cus­sions, beliefs, feel­ings, thoughts, and actions relat­ed to race. 

Emmanuel's DreamSo how do I grap­ple with the cur­rent real­i­ty, my role as a white woman work­ing in class­rooms with a mix­ture of pre­cious brown, black, and white faces, eager to share a side of children’s lit­er­a­ture that hon­ors each and every one of them? We are in our sec­ond week of school, estab­lish­ing class­room com­mu­ni­ties, dis­cussing our hopes and dreams. I pull out a trea­sured book, one that packs a pow­er­ful mes­sage about the impor­tance of not let­ting dis­abil­i­ties become inabil­i­ties. A true sto­ry that deliv­ers an uplift­ing mes­sage of brav­ery, respect, deter­mi­na­tion and love. As I read the first few pages of Emmanuel’s Dream by Lau­rie Ann Thomp­son, the lit­tle guy right in front of me asks the ques­tion, “Hey, how come every­one in that book looks like me?.” I dream of a day when this expe­ri­ence, the shar­ing of a pic­ture book filled with chil­dren and adults of col­or, does not prompt a child, any child, to feel this is an unusu­al occur­rence, but rather one that is com­mon­place and expect­ed.  

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Apples, Well-Being, and Family

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieBring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Sto­ry about Edna Lewis is a mem­o­rable book about grow­ing food through­out the sea­sons and liv­ing off the land in Vir­ginia. Wild straw­ber­ry, purslane, dan­de­lions, sas­safras, hon­ey. As spring rides the breeze into sum­mer, this extend­ed fam­i­ly tends to their larder, tak­ing full advan­tage of the fruits, nuts, and veg­eta­bles grow­ing around them. Sum­mer sub­dues itself into fall. Time to bring in the corn and beans, take a last har­vest of pecans before win­ter sets in.

This way of life may be unfa­mil­iar to a large per­cent­age of chil­dren, but even though the book is set in the 1920s, every­thing about the sto­ry feels con­tem­po­rary. Per­haps it is a way of life that with­stands time.

Food is the focus because this is a glimpse of the ear­ly life of Edna Lewis, renowned chef and South­ern cook­book author. As the author and water­col­or illus­tra­tor Rob­bin Gour­ley writes, “But her most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion was to make peo­ple aware of the impor­tance of pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of grow­ing and prepar­ing food and of bring­ing ingre­di­ents direct­ly from the field to the table.” With our cur­rent resur­gence of inter­est in a farm-to-table lifestyle, this book is a good way to talk about food and nutri­tion with your chil­dren.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Bake You a Pie

Quite a few tra­di­tion­al say­ings are includ­ed in the book:

Rac­coon up the pecan tree.
Pos­sum on the ground.
Rac­coon shake the pecans down.
Pos­sum pass ‘em round.”

Your mouth will water so much while you’re read­ing this book that you’ll be glad there are five recipes in the back of the book, from Straw­ber­ry Short­cake to Pecan Drops.

The water­col­or illus­tra­tions through­out are charm­ing and infor­ma­tive, warm and lov­ing. The col­or palette of clear, bright tones adds to the feel­ing of health and well-being.

It’s a worth­while addi­tion to your home, school, or pub­lic library.

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Raymie Nightingale

rn200pixDar­ling Daugh­ter and I host/participate in an occa­sion­al par­ent-child book­group for mid­dle-grade read­ers and their par­ents. We call it Books & Bagels and we meet at the bagel shop down the street from church and nosh on bagels while talk­ing about books. I think we can safe­ly say the bagel aspect of things increas­es participation—but all the kids who come are great read­ers and we love talk­ing with them and their par­ents about books. We’ve read many of our favorites again with this group and they’ve intro­duced us to some we’ve missed in the last few years of pub­li­ca­tion. (Dar­ling Daugh­ter is, alas, out­grow­ing the mid­dle-grade genre.)

We saved the read­ing of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightin­gale for Books & Bagels. I sched­uled it not hav­ing read the book, in fact, which is not usu­al­ly how I do things. But DiCamillo’s books lend them­selves to good dis­cus­sion, I’ve found, so I was sure it would work well for us.

And it did. We talked about the heart­break and the hope, the crazy char­ac­ters and their friend­ships and flaws, and the unlike­ly events that could absolute­ly hap­pen. We talked about how it was sim­i­lar to some of DiCamillo’s oth­er books and how it was dif­fer­ent, too. Good dis­cus­sion all the way around.

I noticed as we talked, how­ev­er, that one of our regulars—I’ll call him Sam—seemed a bit dis­grun­tled about the book. Sam and I have been dis­cussing books for a long time—he reads both wise­ly and wide­ly and we have intro­duced each oth­er to many books over the years. He has just turned ten and he’s hon­est about what he thinks, though always kind. He’s been taught to speak his mind, but nev­er in a way that would hurt some­one else’s feelings—including, say, the author of the book who is not even present.

Sam,” I said, “it looks like you have some­thing you want to say.”

Yeah…well,” said Sam. “It was a great book and all…. Well-writ­ten, of course. And, I mean, the friend­ship of Raymie and those oth­er girls was great, I guess. And the lousy adults were inter­est­ing…. But—” He paused and looked at his Mom out of the cor­ner of his eye.

Go ahead, Sam,” she said. “Tell us what you real­ly think.”

It’s just that…I mean it’s fine…but it’s just…it’s such a girlie book.” He looked both relieved and ashamed at hav­ing con­fessed this. “Not that there’s any­thing wrong with that, of course.”

I asked gen­tle clar­i­fy­ing ques­tions. I’m sort of fas­ci­nat­ed and appalled by the idea of “girl books” and “boy books.” I want to vehe­ment­ly argue that those cat­e­gories don’t exist…or shouldn’t exist…or must not be allowed to exist…or some­thing like that. But before me was a read­er insist­ing that he under­stood this was a great book, but it just had way too much “girl stuff” in it to be inter­est­ing to guys like him.

Like what kind of girl stuff?” one of the girl read­ers asked.

Batons. Bar­rettes. Dress­es.” Sam said. He shrugged apolo­get­i­cal­ly.

Oth­er kids perked up. Right, they said. Lots of girl stuff. No boy stuff what­so­ev­er, in fact.

I was afraid to ask what “boy stuff” they thought was miss­ing. Instead, we talked about whether var­i­ous (tra­di­tion­al­ly under­stood) girl and boy trap­pings were lim­it­ed or lim­it­ing. These kids know how to have good and hon­est con­ver­sa­tions around per­cep­tions and assump­tions and stereo­types. We talked about whether the char­ac­ter of each of the girls was “girl-only.” No, every­one agreed—they knew boys who were painful­ly shy/anxious, or show-offy, or stub­born, just like each of the three ami­gos DiCamil­lo con­jured up. They knew both boys and girls who car­ried heavy loads of expec­ta­tion, or fam­i­ly dis­tress, or who had trou­ble mak­ing friends. They knew them­selves what it was to feel like every­thing, absolute­ly every­thing, depend­ed on them. They could iden­ti­fy with the book—on many lev­els that had noth­ing to do with gen­der. And yet…this was a girlie book—on this they all agreed, as well.

It was a won­der­ful dis­cus­sion, real­ly. Hon­est. Respect­ful. I thanked Sam for being brave enough to say what he thought. He won­dered if Kate DiCamil­lo made Raymie, Bev­er­ly, and Louisiana girls because she was a girl and that’s what she knew best. I said I didn’t know, but I knew that she’d also writ­ten books that fea­tured male char­ac­ters. I told him I’d share my copy of Tiger Ris­ing with him.

As we cleaned up the bagel and cream cheese detri­tus I asked if any­one could sug­gest a book or two for our fall Books & Bagels book­group. Sam eager­ly bounced up and down.

I have two to sug­gest!” he said. “Bridge to Ter­abithia and The BFG.”

Two ter­rif­ic books. Two ter­rif­ic books that hap­pen to have strong girl char­ac­ters. I point­ed this out and Sam said, “But not only girl char­ac­ters. The giant is a boy!”

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Bookstorm™: Let Your Voice Be Heard

Bookmap Let Your Voice Be Heard

Let Your Voice Be HeardWhether you include social jus­tice, com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice, activism, or social action in your cur­ricu­lum or at your library, this is the ide­al book for you. A biog­ra­phy of Pete Seeger, recip­i­ent of our Nation­al Medal for the Arts, and cham­pi­on of the peo­ple for his 94 years, our Book­storm this month, Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, cel­e­brates his life while it inspires each read­er to car­ry on his work. At once infor­ma­tive and enter­tain­ing, Ani­ta Sil­vey has writ­ten a book that looks at Seeger’s child­hood, his evo­lu­tion from singer to world­wide change leader to deeply admired man. Emi­nent­ly read­able, this would be a good book to share with stu­dents as  you lead into deep­er dis­cus­sions about involve­ment and ser­vice in your own com­mu­ni­ty.

The book is writ­ten at a lev­el for 4th to 6th grade read­ers, so you can use this with these stu­dents, but we also encour­age you to use the book in mid­dle school, high school, and with adult groups. It’s an excel­lent choice for a book club dis­cus­sion.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books, arti­cles, web­sites, and videos for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. This month, we’re focus­ing on books about the ways in which Pete Seeger influ­enced our world. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more infor­ma­tion about Ani­ta Sil­vey on her web­site.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

About Pete Seeger. To sup­ple­ment the infor­ma­tion Ani­ta Sil­vey has includ­ed in her biog­ra­phy, we’ve sug­gest­ed a few oth­er books that offer anoth­er per­spec­tive.

Writ­ten by Pete Seeger. He was remark­ably pro­lif­ic in writ­ing books, or intro­duc­tions, or col­lab­o­rat­ing on quite a few books. You’ll cer­tain­ly rec­og­nize Abiy­oyo but there are more books for study, enjoy­ment, and for singing!

Pete Seeger’s Music. He’s so well-known for his music and he record­ed a great num­ber of folk songs for chil­dren and all ages. We’ve point­ed you in the direc­tion of some of the best that you can share in your class­room or library. 

Civ­il Rights. Well-known for his efforts on behalf of the Civ­il Rights Move­ment, for over  70 years, we offer rec­om­men­da­tions so you can gath­er a shelf full of paired books includ­ing fic­tion, true sto­ries, and poet­ry.

Labor Move­ment. Sep­tem­ber is the month when we hon­or the hard work of those who have fought for work­ers’ rights, out­law­ing child labor, ensur­ing health and vaca­tion and sick leave ben­e­fits. Pete Seeger was a tire­less pro­po­nent of this work. You’ll find a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions to sup­port this aspect of his biog­ra­phy, cer­tain­ly engen­der­ing dis­cus­sion. We’ve includ­ed rec­om­men­da­tions for songs to accom­pa­ny this study.

Folk Music, Col­lect­ing, Play­ing, Singing. Do you know the work of Alan and John Lomax, Woody Guthrie, Charles and Ruth Seeger, Smith­son­ian Folk­ways, and oth­er musi­col­o­gists? This is a fas­ci­nat­ing aspect of Pete Seeger’s life that can lead to dis­cus­sions of pre­serv­ing cul­ture, the intrin­sic place of music with­in a cul­ture … and more singing! Sug­ges­tions are made for fur­ther study of many indi­vid­u­als impor­tant to the preser­va­tion of folk music.

Pol­i­tics: Under Sus­pi­cion and Black­list­ed (Cen­sor­ship). Dur­ing those times of the year when your class­room or library is focus­ing on cen­sor­ship, Ani­ta Sil­vey focus­es on the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee of the 1950s, Com­mu­nism, and black­list­ing. All of these can be com­pared to the polit­i­cal cli­mate in con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­ca. We have includ­ed a vari­ety of fic­tion and non­fic­tion rec­om­men­da­tions.

Protest­ing War (Viet­nam). The protests of the 1960s and 1970s in Amer­i­ca left an indeli­ble change on the coun­try that a num­ber of anthro­pol­o­gists argue con­tin­ues to affect Amer­i­ca today. Pete Seeger was active in this protest move­ment. Books on the war, its after­math, and songs of protest are a part of this Book­storm.

Think Glob­al­ly, Act Local­ly. Pete Seeger’s social action with The Clear­wa­ter Project, gath­er­ing com­mu­ni­ties to clean up The Hud­son Riv­er in New York, was accom­plished through song, com­mu­ni­ty gath­er­ings, fundrais­ing, and hard work. We pro­vide quotes, videos, web­sites, and a lot of books for stu­dents to use for learn­ing more and mak­ing their own plans for involve­ment.

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

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A Few Tall Tales from the Land of Rampaging Zucchini

zucchiniJack­ie:  Phyl­lis, the zuc­chi­ni seeds you gave me have grown into a plant that knocked on our back door this morn­ing. I gave it cof­fee and it retreat­ed to the yard, head­ing toward the alley.

When I was a kid one of my favorite sto­ries was the tall tale of Paul Bun­yan. I laughed at the exag­ger­a­tion, the total wack­i­ness of an ox so large his foot­prints made the Great Lakes. As an adult, I real­ized that Paul Bun­yan was actu­al­ly a clear-cut­ter and that took some of the lus­ter off the sto­ries. But I still love tall tales. What fun to come up with a rol­lick­ing tale of exag­ger­a­tion! We found some old favorites—and some new favorites.

Swamp AngelSwamp Angel by Anne Isaacs, (illus­trat­ed by Paul O. Zelin­sky, (Dut­ton, 1994) is a win­ning com­bi­na­tion of under­state­ment and exag­ger­a­tion: “…when Angel­i­ca Lon­grid­er took her first gulp of air on this earth, there was noth­ing about the baby to sug­gest that she would become the great­est woodswoman in Ten­nessee. The new­born was scarce­ly taller than her moth­er and couldn’t climb a tree with­out help…she was a full two years old before she built her first log cab­in.” Of course it’s the Swamp Angel’s bat­tle with the huge bear Thun­der­ing Tar­na­tion that is at the heart of the sto­ry. The bear dis­patch­es four woods­men before Swamp Angel sets out. But real­ly, who cares who wins? It’s the out­sized odd­i­ty that’s fun: Swamp Angel las­sos the bear with a tor­na­do; they cre­ate the Great Smoky Moun­tains from the dust of their fight­ing; their snor­ing cre­ates a rock­slide. The unfor­tu­nate Tarnation’s pelt became the Short­grass Prairie. 

This sto­ry calls us all to look around and imag­ine what won­der­ful larg­er-than-life char­ac­ter cre­at­ed our rivers and hills, caves and prairies.

Phyl­lis:  I love this book, with its out­size sto­ry and out­size art. And I love that this is a woman who can lift a whole wag­on train out of Dejec­tion Swamp (which is how she got her name Swamp Angel). When the men sign­ing up to hunt Thun­der­ing Tar­na­tion tell her to go home and quilt or bake a pie, Swamp Angel responds that quilt­ing is men’s work and that she aims to bake a pie—“A bear pie.”  When Thun­der­ing Tar­na­tion meets his end under a tree that Swamp Angel snores down while they are fight­ing in their sleep, she “plucked off her hat, bowed her head, and offered up these words of praise: ‘Con­found it, varmint, if you warn’t the most won­der­ous heap of trou­ble I ever come to grips with!’” Not only does she bake bear pie, she also makes “bear steaks and bear cakes, bear muffins and bear stuf­fin,’ bear roast and bear toast,” enough for a feast and to restock the all the root cel­lars in Ten­nessee just in time for win­ter.

Jack­ie: All sto­ries cre­ate a shared com­mu­ni­ty between writer, or teller, and read­ers, but it seems to me that tall tales have the added advan­tage that we are shar­ing a joke. We all know that a bear and a fight­in’ woman did not cre­ate the Great Smoky Moun­tains. We are all in on the joke. We get it. And that is fun in a world where there is so much we don’t get.

Burt Dow, Deep-Water ManI have always loved the title of Robert McCloskey’s Burt Dow Deep-Water Man. And the book has a musi­cal­i­ty to it that makes me want to read it aloud. Burt is a retired deep-water man with two boats—one he fills with gera­ni­ums and sweet peas (McCoskey calls them “Indi­an peas,” I can’t find ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the sweet peas, but they are climbers and the flow­ers look like sweet peas.) And the oth­er is Tide­ly-Idley with a “make-and-break engine.”  Burt says, “She’s got a few ten­der places in her plank­ing, but you can’t see day­light through her nowhere.” 

One day Burt takes out the Tide­ly-Ide­ly and has an unex­pect­ed adven­ture. He’s fish­ing for cod and hooks a whale. “’Ahoy there, whale!’ bel­lowed Burt. ‘Hold your hors­es! Keep our shirt on! Head into the wind and slack off the main sheet!’ But the whale couldn’t hear because his hear­ing gear was so far upwind from his steer­ing gear.”  This is just the begin­ning. Burt has to hitch a ride inside the whale, paint his way out, then escape a school of whales demand­ing band-aids on their tales. It might have been too much for a younger fish­er­man, but not Burt Dow. He pla­cates the whales and makes it home just as the cock begins to crow.

This book is so much fun. It’s a Mainer’s retelling of Jon­ah with a lit­tle “whale insid­er” art thrown in for fun. And I have to men­tion the lan­guage. McCloskey wrote a sto­ry that should be read out loud on someone’s porch. Burt’s roost­er crows  “Cock­ety-doo­d­ly;” his water pump goes “slish-cashlosh, slish-caslosh;”  Burt always keeps a “firm hand on the tiller;” and the make-and-break engine always goes “clack­ety-bangety.”

An entry on Wikipedia notes that there was a Bert Dow, deep-water man, on Deer Isle where McCloskey lived. He is buried in a Deer Isle ceme­tery. His tomb­stone says: “Bert Dow, Deep Water Man, 1882–1964.”  Robert McCloskey helped pay for the stone.

Phyl­lis:  Burt isn’t phys­i­cal­ly larg­er than life in the way that Swamp Angel or Paul Bun­yan are, but his prob­lems are whale sized, and as with oth­er tall tale fig­ures, no prob­lem is so big Burt can’t solve it.  Along with lan­guage that delights and tick­les, McCloskey makes good use of page turns. Once Burt acci­den­tal­ly hooks the whale’s tail and his gig­gling gull waits to see “what would hap­pen next,” so does the read­er, since start­ing on the next dou­ble-page spread and on many of the fol­low­ing spreads, McCloskey breaks off his sen­tences in the mid­dle. “But the very next moment it came to Burt’s atten­tion that he’d pulled up a”….

We turn the page to fin­ish the sen­tence and read WHALE OF A TAIL. Spread after spread, McCloskey builds sus­pense, and spread after spread, while the sit­u­a­tion seems to wors­en, Burt is nev­er dis­mayed, even when he real­izes that when he asked the whale to swal­low him to save him and his boat AND gull from “a gale of a wind,” he doesn’t know for sure that the whale heard the part where they were sup­posed to be “tem­po­rary guests, so to speak.” Once they are burped free and also sat­is­fy all the oth­er whales who want bandaids on their tales, pump out the Tide­ly-Idley, slish-caslosh, slish-caslosh, crank up the make and break, clack­ety-BANG! Clack­ety-BANG! Burt and his gull sail home in time, we assume, for break­fast. A rol­lick­ing sto­ry full of rol­lick­ing lan­guage and fun.

Lies and Other Tall TalesJack­ie: We are also con­sid­er­ing an inter­gen­er­a­tional effort. Christo­pher Myers illus­trat­ed some of the “Lies and Oth­er Tall Tales” col­lect­ed by Zora Neale Hurston (Harper­Collins, 2005). These are not long sto­ries but are won­der­ful­ly rich in play with lan­guage and exag­ger­a­tion, so won­der­ful that we want to include it even though it’s a fair­ly recent book. “I seen a man so short he had to get up on a box to look over a grain of sand.” That’s one-upped by “That man had a wife and she was so small that she got in a storm and nev­er got wet because she stepped between the drops.” 

This live­ly book might work best for old­er chil­dren. Younger chil­dren could be dis­turbed by some of the exag­ger­a­tions (a man so mean he swal­lows anoth­er man whole).  For those who are ready, this book will bring some smiles—and some under­stand­ing of the ver­bal games of the African Amer­i­can cul­ture. Christo­pher Myers notes that these tales, “were used in some ver­sion of play­ing the dozens…an African Amer­i­can cul­tur­al prac­tice, which if you haven’t heard about it, you bet­ter ask your mama! It includes mama jokes and humor­ous diss­ing, which if you don’t know what diss­ing is, you don’t have the sense God gave a flea.”

Phyl­lis:  As Christo­pher Myers writes, “Liars, back in the day, could tell a lie so good, you didn’t even want to know the truth.” And these lies are so delight­ful and fan­cy-tick­ling that I agree with him. One of my favorites is the folks who built a church on “the poor­est land I ever seed” and had to use ten sacks of fer­til­iz­er before they could “raise a hymn on it.” An author’s note tells how the illus­tra­tions are made from found bits of fab­ric  and paper that Myers has trans­formed into “’quilts’ as wit­ty and beau­ti­ful as the phras­es Zora Neal Hurston found.”

Paula BunyanJack­ie:  Phyl­lis, I can’t quit with­out men­tion­ing your tall tale—Paula Bun­yan (Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2009). Paula has way more sense than God gave a flea. She actu­al­ly replants trees where oth­er log­gers have cut them down. And she’s fast. “Paula could run so fast that once when she for­got to do her chores, she ran all the way back to yes­ter­day to fin­ish them.” It must have been fun to re-tell the Paul Bun­yan sto­ry as a green­ing of the earth.

Phyl­lis:  It was fun. The sto­ry start­ed as some­thing my kids and I told one fall while rid­ing on a hay­wag­on to pick Har­al­son apples, our favorites.  And why not anoth­er tall tale woman? What’s against it?

None of us may be as large or fight as fierce­ly as Swamp Angel, we may not know a man so hun­gry he swal­lowed him­self, we may nev­er have to fig­ure out how to get on the out­side of a whale. But these tales remind us that even in our ordi­nary lives we can keep a firm hand on the tiller, come to grips with what­ev­er “won­drous heap of trou­ble” comes our way, and still make it home in time for break­fast.

And speak­ing of break­fast, I don’t mean to brag, but my zuc­chi­ni pound­ed on the door this morn­ing and demand­ed a lat­te and a cin­na­mon crois­sant.  With but­ter.

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