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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Avi

Mouse Books

We have mice. Hopefully just one, but it’s a brash one, scuttling around the kitchen during breakfast this morning.

This happens in the fall at our house. We’ve certainly tried to find where they might be getting in, but they say a mouse only needs a dime-sized hole, and we obviously haven’t found it. Caught two a couple of weeks ago.

They’re small. Cute, even. Which is good, because otherwise I’d have the heebie-jeebies. And I (mostly) don’t. It’s just a To-Do on the list—and I’m not the one who To-Do’s it even.

But it has me thinking…. We might not want them in our houses, but mice are beloved characters in kids’ books. Certainly at our house they have been. Ralph S. MouseThe Mouse and the Motorcycle…all of Kevin Henke’s wonderful mice picture books…The Brambly Hedge CollectionMrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMHA Mouse Called WolfStuart LittleThe Tale of Despereaux…Brian Jacques’ Redwall Series…Avi’s Poppy and Ragweed books…Bless This Mouse…. And these are just some of the books in which mice play the starring role. Plenty more have mousy “minor characters.” (Think Templeton in Charlotte’s Web, or Mouse in the Bear books by Bonnie Becker.)

I’ve written many Red Reading Boots columns about our favorite mice books. (I just looked back—many!) I look at the shelves in my office, which have been stocked with all of the family favorites I’m allowed to take from the #1 Son’s and Darling Daughter’s shelves, and goodness! It would appear we’ve raised them on mice! #1 Son had imaginary mice friends who accompanied through the trials and tribulations of early childhood—and no wonder! Did we read anything else?!

What is it about mice that are so appealing for storytelling? Is it that they’re the presumed underdog because of their size? Yet in story after story, they prove themselves to be intelligent, resourceful, and courageous—their size even advantageous. Certainly this is a theme worthy of putting before children.

Is it because they are so wee and dear (fictionally!) and lend themselves to illustrations? Some of my most favorite illustrations have mice in them (see the above list for starters!) Their little clothes! 

Or is it because we like to imagine parallel universes in which the smallest animals create homes and villages and worlds from our bits and bobs? Hidden away in the hedgerows, the rafters, beneath the floorboards…all these stories running along beside use.

It might be this last thing for me. When I’m on walks I often see tiny hollows, small pockets, and inviting dime sized (and larger) holes in the walls and hedges and trees. When I see these, I’m immediately furnishing a home for tiny ones inside—scraps artfully repurposed, cozy built-ins, winding passages….

I’m fully aware that other rodents could star in such scenes, but it’s always a bitty mouse with large ears and eyes and flickering whiskers that comes to mind. Perhaps it’s because of what I’ve read over the years? Certainly could be. There’s something about mice that fire our imaginations, I think.

I’m on the hunt for new mouse books. What do you have to recommend?







The Delight of Reading Older Books

Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?

One of my favorite types of reading is to go back and read books I’ve missed from years ago. I once spent an entire summer reading books that were published in the 1950s. I had such a strong feeling of the decade after reading those books that I felt more connected to people who lived then. That feeling of connection is very satisfying to me.

Do you do a similar kind of reading?

This last holiday season, I did another dive into books published in decades past. There’s something very comforting about reading these books. I frequently scout out articles where people talk about the books they’ve loved from their childhood. If I haven’t read them, they go on a list and I seek them out. Sometimes I have to scout used book stores but the books are all easily obtainable.

My most recent delight was Who Stole the Wizard of Oz? by Avi. It was first published in 1981. I hadn’t read it before. It holds up well today. In fact, I would readily put this book in the hands of any child, aged 7 and older, who enjoys a mystery. Set in a small town, twin siblings Becky and Toby set out to solve a crime that’s presented on page one and is wrapped up neatly 115 pages later.

The crime takes place in a library and so does much of the action. Becky and Toby solve the crime on their own, without help from grown-ups. They question adults. They apply their brains. They discuss (and bicker) and ultimately end up on a stake-out.

To arrive at the solution, they read five classic books: Through the Looking Glass, The Wind in the Willows, The Wizard of Oz, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Treasure Island. By the time they’re done discussing what they’ve read, I knew I’d have to re-read each of those books myself! (I’ve never read Winnie-the-Pooh. I know. Gasp!)

What do each of those books have in common? That’s the delicious part of the story so I won’t spoil it for you. Read this book!

We focus on new books because people love to guess which books will win awards.  We forget that there are thousands (millions?) of kids who are reading these books for the first time. Drawing books off the shelf from the rich canon of children’s literature is a gift we can keep giving again and again.

Stay tuned. I’ll share more of my reading-of-books-past in upcoming columns.

Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?
Alfred A. Knopf, 1981
(I read a Yearling paperback.)
ISBN 978-0394849928, $6.99


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.


Wolf Sighting


Our house in the Rocky Mountains. This is a photo, even though it looks like a painting. And that’s our dog McKinley, not a wolf. He’s no longer with us but he was the inspiration for The Good Dog.

It is not often that I get a call such as I just did. The call came Larry McCoy, who holds a doctorate in theology, and teaches philosophy at the Steamboat, Colorado Community College. He also builds log houses and has a dog named “Helen.” That’s the way folks are here in Routt County.  He is one of our near neighbors, living about a mile and a half away.

Now my wife and I live on a high ridge (9500 feet up) right on the edge of Rout National Forest. We own forty-five acres, which may seem like a lot if you do not live in Colorado. In fact, while the deed says we own this land, we do nothing with it, save live on it (in a log house) and wander about on snowshoes, or look at the wildflowers. Season depending.

Now the fact that we live on the edge of the national forest might explain what happened and why Larry called me.

“Avi,” said Larry, “I just thought you’d want to know that there have been three sightings—including by me—of a wolf on your land. I saw him, or her, down by your pond.”

In the fifteen or so years that we have lived here, no such sightings in all of Colorado has been reported. And this wolf was a few yards from our home.

Rocky Mountains view

the view from our front window

Something to be frightened about? No. There is NO recorded account of a wolf ever attacking people. Cattle is a whole different question. 

Where did he/she come from? There are wolves to the far north of us, in Wyoming, at Yellowstone National Park. There is plenty of forest between us and that spot. Maybe he came from thataway.

But why?

Is he/she part of a pack? Wolves are intensely social creatures, with fascinating family existences.

A lone wolf?

An old wolf? A youngster seeking new territory?

Not likely we’ll ever know. Or maybe never even see the creature.

But as my wife said, “Oh, Avi!  Our own wolf!  I’ve always wanted that!” 

She really said that, which was news to me.


Middle Kingdom: Denver, Colorado

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

This month we’re visiting Denver Academy in Denver, Colorado, where Lisa talks with librarian Jolene Gutiérrez.

Lisa: What are three to five things our blog readers should know about your community, school, or library/media center?

Jolene GutierrezJolene: I’m the librarian at Denver Academy, a school for diverse learners from elementary through high school.

  • Our school is located on 22 acres and we use the campus as a learning tool, from studying wildlife in our small pond to working out math problems in chalk on our sidewalks.
  • Our campus started as a tuberculosis hospital in the early 1900s, so we have some beautiful historic buildings, including the Chapel where my main library is housed (I also run a small High School Media Center in another building). The Chapel is 90 years old this year and is designated as an historic landmark in the city of Denver. We’re working on a grant application that will help us to preserve and restore certain parts of the building, including the copper cupola and the zinc-camed windows. I’ve done a lot of research over the past few years and have pulled that information together into a website that my students use to create presentations and tours of the Chapel for their parents.

Denver Academy Chapel

  • Our school is comprised of diverse learners, which can mean lots of things. Some of our students are diagnosed with things like dyslexia or ADHD, and some have no diagnoses but do better with smaller class sizes. Either way, many of our students have struggled before coming to Denver Academy, and I think that their struggles and some of the pain they’ve experienced make them some of the most compassionate, respectful kids I’ve ever met. There’s very little bullying on our campus because most of the students know the pain of being bullied or feeling “less than,” and they don’t want others to feel that way.
  • Our students are some of the most creative people I’ve ever met. All of our students are brilliant, and that brilliance includes phenomenal artists, gifted musicians, creative writers, and wonderful actors. Many of our alumni have gone on to make a living as actors, sculptors, and musicians.
  • Some people say our library and other parts of our campus are haunted. A group of our teachers lead a “Haunted Denver” class each year, and the ambiance of our Chapel library coupled with those ghost tales have inspired many student movies and stories.

Denver Academy

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

Jolene: I started working in my library over 20 years ago when we weren’t automated and I was writing out overdue notices by hand. The technological changes in the last 20 years have transformed both the way I manage my library and the skills my students need to have when they graduate from our school. I do my best to keep up with teaching them what they need to know today as well as giving them the critical thinking skills they’ll need in the future (because I have no idea where we’ll be in another 20 years)!

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

Jolene: Dystopian fiction (especially that which has been made into movies like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and The 5th Wave) has been very popular this year, as have books by authors who’ve visited our school recently, including Avi’s Old Wolf and Bobbie Pyron’s books Lucky Strike and The Dogs of Winter. And I know that’s six books, but I became a librarian because I like words better than numbers.

Denver Academy is reading

Lisa: What book(s) do you personally love to place into middle school students’ hands?

Jolene: No specific titles; just the right book for each kid, including books that students love because they make the task of reading a little easier to tackle:

  • Graphic novels are great for kids who have a tough time visualizing as they read because the pictures are pre-supplied. I also suggest graphic novels for the students who always ask for the novelizations of movies or books that movies are based on—these students may have issues with visualizing and picturing things and might want to read about something that they’ve seen visually, like a movie. Movies are CliffsNotes for kids who struggle with visualization, and they often want to read something they’ve already seen because they now have the images that go with the story.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure and similar books are wonderful for reluctant readers because they get to feel like they’re cheating at reading (so are graphic novels and nonfiction books with lots of photos). Now that there are so many CYOA-ish book series out there, students can find both nonfiction and fiction books, and when I show students that they can skip around and not really read the entire book, they get really excited and a lot of them actually end up reading most of the book because they try to get a positive ending to their story.
  • Series books give anxious students the answer to “What do I read next?” and help them to grow as a reader as they work their way through each book in the series.
  • Audio books and/or large print books allow students who struggle with print other options for accessing books. If students have a learning difference, they can work on growing their reading and comprehension skills in a less intimidating manner with these resources.

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

Jolene: Some of our students don’t love books or reading, and that’s okay. We’re here to help them at least learn to like libraries and trust librarians. Teaching students to access libraries teaches them a life skill. And once students begin to trust you, they may become more open to exploring books with you. There’s nothing more fulfilling than finding the right book for a reluctant reader. Oftentimes, there is that one magical book that will unlock the world of reading for kids, and that is one of the most rewarding parts of being a librarian. If you can find that perfect book, you can help change a life forever.

Denver Academy

Lisa: What do you want your students to remember about your library in ten years?

Jolene: I want them to remember the magic of this space and the fun we’ve had here! I hope our library teaches students the joy of learning and books. I want our library to provide some warm fuzzy memories for students once they’re grown, and I hope my students’ good memories of their library will cause them to be lifelong library users.


Avi: Bags of Cement

ph_CementBagsFor reasons both boring and complex, I currently find myself under obligation to deliver four novels before the next twelve months are out. Two are written, but undergoing revisions. A third has started. The fourth has nothing on paper; only in my mind. Is it an accident that my shoulders have been aching, as if I had been carrying bags of cement up a ladder? 

When friends hear of this they ask, “How you going to do that?” The answer is, by sitting in front of my computer and working from about seven AM until seven PM. I’ll take Thanksgiving and Christmas off. Joke.

There is something to be said for deadline writing, especially when you make your living that way. Yet, I suspect the term “deadline” came about because when you reach the finishing line, you are dead. Then again, one of my sons is a journalist, and he has daily, sometimes hourly deadlines. I admire that, from a distance. He considers my pace “leisurely.”

That said, working obsessively has its own rewards. You do not put up with your own nonsense. Prolixity means more work. Repetition is to be dreaded, and cut. Lean, sharp writing flows. Bad writing is a like a wash-board road. You become so immersed in your story you think about it all the time, which can be very productive. (Wait! What if she does this? Shouldn’t he say that?)

ph_WashboardRoad_smYou can, if you write a lot, move quickly on to the next project because you have no choice. You can’t fall in love with your work because you are not engaged in a life-long relationship. Honestly, when I read about the writers who spend ten years (or more) on a novel, my heart goes out to them. Groundhog Day was a funny, clever movie, but I for one would not like to live my writing life that way.

Moreover, if you are always writing, it is hard to feel riveted to the outcome of your just-published work. Sure, it’s fun to read the reviews (the good ones that is), but by the time that book is being published, I am so involved in the next book, it is not so very important. I feel sorry for the writer who cannot move on until the full cycle (writing-revision-publishing-response) is complete.

And yet . . . and yet, I have the responsibility (to my readers, my publishers, and myself) to make each book good, as good as I can. This is difficult because no book is ever truly done. I can always find ways to make it better. Not so long ago I picked up a just-published book (I had worked on it for more than a year) and read the first paragraph. Instantly I realized I should have added an element to the plot that would have made it a much better book. Too late.

Would I rather work on one book at a time, work on it from start to finish, before moving on to the next? Sure. 

But no matter how you do it, writing is rather like carrying bags of cement up a ladder. The real problem is—I love doing it.


Skinny Dip with Vicki Palmquist

Rice Lake Carnegie Library

Rice Lake Carnegie Library

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

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

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

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

From what public library did you get your first card?

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

Did your elementary school have a librarian?

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

What’s on your nightstand?

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



From the Editor

by Marsha Qualey

Welcome to Bookology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Skinny Dip with Avi

bk_OldWolfWhat keeps you up at night?

Meeting deadlines.

What is your proudest career moment?

When, after fourteen years of trying to write, I published my first book, Things that Sometimes Happen (1970).

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

I don’t know if the game of Squash is part of the Olympics, but if so, that would be it.

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

Becoming a step-parent.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

Otto the Giant Dog.

What TV show can’t you turn off?

I don’t turn any show on.



Bookstorm: Catch You Later, Traitor

Catch You Later Traitor Bookstorm

In this Bookstorm™:

Catch You Later, TraitorCatch You Later, Traitor

written by Avi
Algonquin Books for Young Readers, 2015

The early 1950s in the United States was a time when soldiers and medical personnel had returned home from the two theaters of World War II, Communism was talked about as something to be feared, and colleagues and neighbors were asked to testify against people who were suspected to be Communists in America. The nation was caught up in reports from the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Federal Bureau of Investigations was concerned about citizens who were disloyal to America. The air was heavy with suspicion and people were encouraged to fear intellectuals, immigrants, and Hollywood.

It was a time when baseball soared. The Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants, and the New York Yankees were the most famous teams of the day. Radio was the primary source for news and entertainment. Televisions weren’t yet a part of every household. 

In Avi’s novel, 12-year-old Pete Collison is a regular kid who loves Sam Spade detective books and radio crime dramas, but when an FBI agent shows up at Pete’s doorstep accusing his father of being a Communist, Pete finds himself caught in a real-life mystery. Could there really be Commies in Pete’s family? This look at what it felt like to be an average family caught in the wide net of the Red Scare has powerful relevance to contemporary questions of democracy and individual freedom.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. For Catch You Later, Traitor, you’ll find books for a variety of tastes, interests, and reading abilities. Catch You Later, Traitor will be comfortably read by ages 10 through adult. We’ve included picture books, novels, and nonfiction for the plethora of purposes you might have. This Bookstorm™ has a few more books for adults than usual, believing that a background in the era will be helpful for educators who weren’t alive during, or wish to brush up on, the time in which this book takes place.

McCarthy Era, also known as the Red Scare. Surprisingly, there aren’t very many books written for young readers about this intense time in history, but we’ve selected a few that will align well with Catch You Later, Traitor.

Nonfiction. There are a greater number of nonfiction books available about the early 1950s, including lifestyle books, the Cold War, fashion, the Hollywood Ten, and spies.

Communism, Socialism in the United States. Were you aware that a group of Finnish-Americans moved to Russia to set up a Utopian community based on promises from Russian leader Joseph Stalin?

Witch Hunts. A classic book, a classic play, and a fascinating look at an incident of the “Red Scare” in children’s books.

Mid-Century United States. Superb recommendations for books, both fiction and nonfiction, set in the 1950s. Reading several of these along with Catch You Later, Traitor will give students an excellent flavor of the time, which offers a mirror for other periods in history as well as the present.

Baseball in the 1950s. It was the most talked-about sport in the country, claiming headlines and tuning radios in to listen to “the game.” We’ve gathered a wide-ranging set of books that will include something for every reader, from picture books to books for adults.

Noir Detective Fiction. We mentioned Sam Spade, but what exactly does “noir” mean? Here are good examples, spanning early chapter books such as Chet Gecko to a graphic novel like City of Spies to Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon.

Old-Time Radio. There are whole radio programs online to be shared with your classroom, along with a series on YouTube that depicts the workings of a radio studio, and Avi’s own novel about the heyday of radio serials.

Techniques for using each book:



From the Editor

by Marsha Qualey

Catch You Later, TraitorWelcome to the sixth issue of Bookology.

This month’s Bookstorm™ Book is Catch You Later, Traitor, the latest novel by Newbery medalist Avi. Set in the 1950s in New York City during the era of communist-hunting, the novel explores the long and frightening reach of government into private lives under the guise of security and patriotism and how a pointed and accusing finger can cause so much damage.  Accompanying the Bookstorm™ is a conversation between Avi and Newbery Honor author Gary D. Schmidt and our usual bullet point book talks for some of the Bookstorm™ companion books.

After prepping and reading for this month’s 1950s-influenced Bookology, I’m ready to claim the podium and assert that the most important year in American Children’s publishing was 1957. Thanks to two of that year’s events, everything changed.

  1. bk_cat-hatThe publication of The Cat and the Hat. In one fell swoop, reading instruction and the type of books early readers could encounter would never be the same. Dick and Jane would hold on for a few years, but not much longer.
  2. The launch of Sputnik. According to author and children’s literature scholar Anita Silvey, after this salvo in the space race the “school market for children’s books surged into the forefront of children’s publishing” (Children’s Books and Their Creators, p. 5 43). This surge was strengthened a year later with a tremendous increase in the federal funds available for purchasing school books—texts and general reading material.
Sputnik 1

Sputnik 1

Everything changed.

Well, that’s a bit of hyperbole, isn’t it? It’s also quickly refuted because one big thing that didn’t change was the whiteness of American children’s literature.

The world of children’s book writing and publishing is now engaged in a needed and wonderful campaign for diversity in the topics and subjects of the books and in the voices creating, publishing, and promoting those books.

A wonderful campaign, but not a new one, though the definition of diversity has expanded in ways the early proponents might never have imagined. One of those proponents was Nancy Larrick, whose 1965 Saturday Review article “The All-White World of Children’s Books” brought the topic to the general public’s eye, much like Walter Dean Myers’s 2014 article in the New York Times shortly before his death.

Blacklist coverThe whiteness of children’s literature came into sharp relief as I was reading and reading about books included in this month’s storm.  We include several Red Scare novels on the list, but they are centered on white lives; I’d love to hear about books that explore what a child or teen of color experienced. In the terrific book The Other Black List, author Mary Helen Washington writes “Because J. Edgar Hoover suspected that anyone working against segregation or in the field of civil rights also had communist ties, the FBI (in league with Joseph McCarthy’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the House Un-American Activities committee) persistently targeted the black intellectual and cultural community of the 1950s” (pp. 22-23). At least some of those targeted adults must have had young people in their lives who were affected.  I want to read their stories.

bk_FreeWithinIn her excellent book Free Within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children’s Literature, Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita at Ohio State University, states there is a surprising dearth of children’s novels about the organized civil rights events of the fifties (and by extension, I suppose, the Red Scare).

Which brings me back to 1957 and yet another momentous event: the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock. At the center of that were nine teenagers:  Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo. Perhaps one reason there are so few fictional explorations of the 1950s civil rights period is that the real stories and people involved tend to blow everything else out of the water. Still, desegregation is one civil rights era experience that many authors HAVE tackled in novels, and our timeline this month shares some of those.

The upheavals of the 1960s, on the other hand, have inspired many writers, and later this month we’ll have an interview, “Writing History,” with Kekla Magoon, author of How it Went Down, Fire in the Streets, The Rock and the River, and many more books for teens and middle grade readers.

And of course throughout the month we will run our regular features and columns, beginning today with a Knock Knock column: “Being Ten” by Candace Ransom.

We also have a contest! Anyone who comments (on any article in Bookology) during the month will be entered into a random drawing to win a signed hardcover of Avi’s book, and our featured Bookstorm, Catch You Later, Traitor.

And by all means…if you disagree with me about the year 1957, tell me why. In a comment, please. You might be a winner.

Thanks for visiting Bookology.





A Conversation Between Avi and Gary D. Schmidt

Avi and Gary D. SchmidtWhen Avi published his 1950s’ era novel, Catch You Later, Traitor, he dedicated the book to Gary D. Schmidt, fellow author, fellow reader, fellow connoisseur of noir detective novels and history. The Bookologist is privileged to listen in on this conversation between two authors who are so greatly admired for the depth and texture within their books. Enjoy!

Gary D. Schmidt:
Ray Bradbury once wrote a short article entitled “Memories Shape the Voice” in which he talked about the powerful ways that his childhood memories affected the making of his Greentown, Illinois. It wasn’t just the details that would come back to him as he created the world of his short stories—it was how he felt about those details: the beauty (to him) of the town’s factories, the terror (to him) of the gullies. It seems to me that this is true also of your evocation of 1951 Brooklyn. Is that fair to say?

It is fair. It’s been many years since I’ve lived in NYC, but I confess I still think of myself as a New Yorker. I’ve written more about the city than any other place, from City of Light, City of Darka dystopian graphic novel—to Sophia’s Wara tale of the American Revolution. It’s not just “home” in a physical sense, it’s my emotional home. And yet, I now live in the Rocky Mountains, nine thousand feet up, in a community of thirteen, the nearest neighbor a mile away.

When writing Catch You Later, Traitor, which is set, for the most part, in my boyhood neighborhood, it was easy for me to walk home from school, play stoopball, go to the local movie theater. I easily recall sitting on the front stoop reading comic books with my friends—even which comic books.

Gary D. Schmidt:
One part of that world is the physical setting: Pete’s apartment, the streets, the nursing home, the school. Though I suspect that being in these settings brought a great deal of nostalgic pleasure, how did these settings play a part in the plotting of the book?

I think all writers depend on sensory memory. Consider Ritman’s Books where, in the book, Pete hangs out. There was such a bookstore in my neighborhood, which I loved to go to. The same for that movie theater where I would go for the Saturday morning kids’ shows. My Brooklyn was very much a small town. There was everything I needed, and all I needed to construct the book. Even when I had to go beyond, by subway—I love the city subways—it gave me great pleasure to write about them.

Brooklyn Heights SchoolGary D. Schmidt:
The school is particularly intriguing to me, since it seems to me to be acting in interesting thematic ways. School, for Pete, is a place of monolithic power: the teacher. There is one point of view, one way of responding to America, one way of sitting and responding and behaving. Toward the end of the book, Pete calls his teacher, Mr. Donavan, a bully—and it seems at that point that Mr. Donavan represents all of the school. But does it seem to you as well that the school, with its insistent power, also represents the way the country was acting toward dissent at this time?

Mr. Donavan is based on a teacher I did have. I describe him as I remember him. But don’t forget Mr. Malakowski, who is also real, and a nice guy. He was, in fact, my favorite teacher. Parents think they know about their children’s schools, but I think in some way schools constitute a parallel universe to home life. They don’t always intersect. Pete’s parents don’t really know what’s going on there, and Pete doesn’t want them to get involved. That, I think, is typical. In today’s world, the older a kid gets the less he/she wants parents to be involved in school. Yes, the school does represent the country at that time, but it’s important to remember that it was not the whole country.

Gary D. Schmidt:
And of course, there are the characters that are so vivid—an Avi trademark. I think especially of Mr. Ordson, the blind man to whom Peter reads. He reads the newspaper, because Mr. Ordson wants to keep up with current events. And he is a wise and good friend to Pete. You’ve written that Mr. Ordson is based on a real person to whom you, as a young adolescent, read. Are there other characters based on folks from your past? Perhaps Pete’s father, a noble character? Have you, as William Faulkner once advised, cut up your relatives to use them in your plot?

How can I say this? Pete’s father is based on what my father was not. My father was not a nice man. Very hard on me. Abusive. Don’t get me going. Anyway, I think Pete’s father is what I would have liked my father to be. I bet you’ve worked from that kind of opposite, too. Cathartic, perhaps. On the other hand, Pete’s older brother is somewhat based on my own older brother who, like many older brothers, can be patronizing to younger brothers. That said, a major part of the story is not about families that pull apart—there is some of that—but how families stay together. And Kat—a key fictional character in the book—is drawn to Pete’s family as much as she is to Pete.

Gary D. Schmidt:
One other element from the past: the noir voices, the sounds of the hard-boiled detective fiction that you read, that I read, that we both still read. At times, Pete leaves the first-person narrative to go into that hard-boiled voice. I think you probably had a lot of fun with that, right?

I adored writing those sections. I think there is something uniquely American in that noir voice. The tough love. The sarcasm. The wit. The truth-telling. The very careful literary construction, all of which masks a deep-rooted sentimentality, an embarrassed, if you will, searching for love. Very complex. The thought that I can share that—introduce it—to my readers gives me great pleasure.

Gary D. Schmidt:
In this McCarthy–era novel, Pete is thrown into a world in which fear inspires hatred. As news spreads that his father does not accept an easy vision of a perfect America but believes that the stories of workers and African Americans also need full play in tales of the development of the country, Pete is ostracized, since it is assumed that his father must be a Commie! Since all historical fiction is written both about a time in the past and for readers in the present, it seems to me that your novel is a powerful warning against assuming that any narrative about our country is simple and uncomplicated.

One of my favorite notions about historical fiction is expressed in the opening lines of L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between. “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” I find that a fascinating idea because I don’t entirely agree with it. What I mean is, yes, the past is a different country, but they do not always do things differently there. I know, from what I’ve read of what you’ve written, you understand this. Our goal is to make the past meaningful to the present, right? To give it life. America has such a complex and fascinating history. But how little people know of it! How many great stories there are yet to tell!

Gary D. Schmidt:
Pete must deal with some hard truths: in the novel, he develops strong anger toward both his brother and his great-uncle, anger which does not get resolved in the narrative. At the same time, he comes to understand that his father lives a life that is larger and perhaps more noble and honorable than he had imagined. Is it fair to say that in one way, this novel is about the limits of knowledge—that we cannot truly know someone else completely?

Pete’s father tells Pete: “Nothing is simple. Know that and you know half the world’s wisdom.” Oh, how I believe that! Bet you do, too. Somewhere I read, “Poor writing makes what you know simple. Good writing makes it complex.” Right?

Gary D. Schmidt:
Perhaps this is the hubris of the McCarthy era as well—the assumption that I have the right to know everything about someone else. I note this in the context of a world in which it seems to be the growing assumption that we do have the right to know what we want to know about another person—something that Pete’s father insists is not true at all.

Hey! Privacy, the last frontier! It’s one of the most important things about book reading. It’s truly private. Far more so than even digital reading! The other day—in San Francisco—I passed a used book store. Out front was a box labeled “Free Books.” Think of it! No one would know if I picked up a book. Or read it. Or thought about it. Or what I thought. No one. And yet, and yet—and I know you believe this, too—nothing is more intimate than sharing thoughts. That said, one of the most powerful things a person can have—for good or ill—is a secret. As a kid I recall playing a game we called Secrets. The idea being that you and your friend each shared a real secret. A dangerous game, when you think about it.

You Never Heard of Willie Mays?Gary D. Schmidt:
Pete decides that he will be a Giants fan, going against Brooklyn’s fanatic loyalty to the Dodgers—who, we know, will one day betray that loyalty. I know this is, on one level, simply Pete’s desire to get back at the others around him for their hatred. But it also seems to me that Pete is asserting his right to be different—exactly what McCarthyists feared and prosecuted, and, perhaps, exactly what our own culture seems to fear: the person who does not buy into the current vision of the American dream: to acquire. This is not a message novel; it first does what E. M. Forster claims the writer must do: make the reader turn the page. But at the same time, you are making some powerful suggestions that warn against a too easy acceptance of the culture’s claims upon us.

Being loyal to a false ideal can be very destructive. Being loyal to high ideal can be very dangerous. Pete’s shift from being a Brooklyn Dodger fan to a New York Giants fan is something that came right out of my life—and, yes, in 1951 when the Giants won the National Pennant just as I recount it in the book. It was my first step in becoming independent from my family. But when you become independent of your family—or your culture—you pay a price. More often than not you are rejected, told that you have abandoned them, whoever or whatever them might be. But being different, being independent, is liberating. In Catch You Later, Traitor, the word traitor becomes a code word for “being different.” In the story being different enriches Pete’s life. The story begins by his no longer being a kid. It ends by his becoming a kid again—but far deeper in experience. Hey, that’s why I dedicated the book to you. You’ve lived your life that way. Right?

Thank you both for this interview. It opens many paths to explore and ideas to consider, but we expected no less from the two of you.


Catherine, Called Birdy Companion Booktalks

A baker’s dozen to get you started on the April Bookstorm™  books …

Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction ManualAviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual, Kate Samworth. Clarion Books, 2014

  • Winner of the 2014 Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature
  • Fantastic illustrations of fantastical creatures
  • Build your own birds!


Backyard BirdsBackyard Birds by Karen Stray Nolting, Jonathan Latimer, and Roger Tory Peterson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999

  • Color photographs and drawings
  • Easy guides on how-to-identify common birds
  • Great supplementary material for reports 


Blood Red HorseBlood Red Horse by K.M. Grant. Walker, 2006 (Book 1 of a trilogy)

  • 13 year old rides a beloved horse into battle during the crusades
  • Narrative follows both Christian and Muslim characters
  • What does it take to become a knight? 


CastleCastle, written and illustrated by David Macaulay. Candlewick Press, 2005 edition

  • Caldecott Honor book
  • Step-by-step construction of fictional 13th Century castle
  • Easy Reader version available 

Castle DiaryCastle Diary: the Journal of Tobias Burgess by Richard Platt, illustrated by Chris Ridell. Candlewick Press, 2003

  • Daily life in a castle from an 11-year-old servant’s point of view
  • Jousting, sword fighting, archery, horse-back riding
  • What was it like to live in a castle? 

FleasCreepy Creatures: Fleas by Valerie Bodden. Creative Paperbacks, 2014

  • Under-the-microscope photographs with amazing details
  • Great back matter for report writing
  • One in a set of Creepy Creatures books 

Crispin: The Cross of LeadCrispin: Cross of Lead by Avi. Penguin, 2002

  • Newbery winner
  • Page-turning action
  • Falsely-accused boy goes on the run in 14th century England


Doodle StitchingDoodle Stitching: Fresh and Fun Embroidery for Beginners by Aimee Ray. Sterling Publishing, 2007

  • Easy-to-follow patterns for a variety of projects (book covers!)
  • “Doodles” appealing to boys and girls
  • Many designs that even beginners could finish in a short block of time 

Good masters, Sweet LadiesGood Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Robert Byrd. Candlewick Press, 2011

  • Linked stories told through monologues, perfect for readers theater or solo reading
  • Newbery winner
  • Village map and other illustrations by Robert Byrd and Laura Amy Schlitz’s author notes provide a wealth of detail to support the stories

Oxford Dictionary of SaintsOxford Dictionary of Saints by David Farmer. Oxford University Press, 5th edition, 2011

  • Easy-reading biographies of 1300 saints, with emphasis on most familiar and English saints
  • Gives folklore associated with saints as well as history
  • Just-the-facts approach—doesn’t judge or proselytize


A Proud Taste for Scarlet and MiniverProud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, by E.L. Konigsburg. 2001 reprint

  • Historical fiction from two-time Newbery-winning author
  • Meet one of the most powerful women in history: Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • Fast-moving, dialogue-rich narrative


SaladinSaladin: Noble Prince of Islam by Diane Stanley. HarperCollins, 2002

  • Biography of an Islamic hero and ruler during the Crusades
  • Beautiful illustrations evoke medieval Islamic art
  • Great back matter for report writing 


Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13-3/4Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13-3/4 by Sue Townsend. HarperTeen, 2003

  • First crush, acne, a royal wedding, being broke—through the eyes of British teen
  • First in a series of humorous diaries
  • 1980s Britain—details of setting might be unfamiliar to today’s readers but emotions won’t be 



Avi: We Need to Honor That

Catch You Later, TraitorEvery parent, teacher, and librarian wants children to read. The reasons they wish for this are endlessly varied, ranging from educational skills, entertainment, to learning a lesson. Sometimes, however, we need ask, what is it about reading that children like?

I’ve come to believe the answer lies in the different way kids and adults read books. When adults read a book, they encounter a situation, a character, a detail, which enables them to say, “That’s something I have experienced.” Or, “How interesting. I have seen that happen.” “Oh, I’ve done that.” And so forth. That’s to say, they see the fiction as a confirmation of their own lives, something they recognize as true.

When young people read fiction, they absorb the depicted experience as if it were about them. Just the other day I asked a seventh grader why she liked fantasy so much. “Because I’m always in the clouds, dreaming,” she said. “Those books are what I want to do.”

In other words, young people engage with reading best when they can put themselves into a book. The experience related in a story becomes their experience. Yes, literary quality can enhance that experience, but it’s mostly what happens in a story that engages kids.

When one writes for young people, you have to find a way to allow your reader to connect to your story in this very personal way. The young reader must recognize himself/herself in the tale. The story must—ultimately—be about them, their world, even if they cannot articulate that fact. Indeed, sometimes what engages the young reader is that they want the experience depicted in the story.

WouldbegoodsYears ago, for bedtime, I was reading E. Nesbit’s, The Would-Be-Goods (1899), a charming British Edwardian novel, to my six-year-old boy. As far as I could tell, there was absolutely nothing in the book which was similar to his life. All the same, he was enjoying it immensely.

One night—having learned that kids wrote to authors, he said, “Can I write to the author (Nesbit) and tell her how much I love this book?”

Me: “That would be nice, but I’m afraid she died many years ago.”

My boy sat bolt upright in bed. “That’s impossible!” he cried.


“Because she knows so much about me!”

It was a great book—for him—because it was, in some way, about him.

I did not know that. I doubt if he could have explained it to me. I rather suspect he identified with the characters in the book because they constantly got into some kind of mischief. It’s the kind of life he would have liked to have lived.

That’s why it’s so important to allow kids to choose the books they wish to read. Something about the title, the image on the book, the opening paragraph, something, has caught the attention of the young reader. They wish to connect to that. We need to honor that.





From the Editor: Welcome

by Marsha Qualey

Welcome to Bookology.

WelcomeWhat began almost a year ago as a conversation among colleagues has now taken shape and arrived on your virtual doorstep: an e-magazine dedicated to nurturing the essential conversation about the role of children’s books in the K-8 classroom.

That meeting was convened by Vicki and Steve Palmquist, owners and founders of Winding Oak and perhaps more familiar to many of you as the founders and heartbeat of Children’s Literature Network, an organization they rolled up last year after providing 12 years of leadership as well as an unparalleled online platform for communication between children’s book creators and the adults who love those books.

Vicki and Steve wanted to create a similar online presence, one that would not only highlight the work of Winding Oak’s many clients, but which would also invite a larger network of readers, writers, illustrators, teachers, and librarians into the conversation.

A quick guide to what you’ll see each month:

A Bookstorm ™.  Each “storm” begins with one book. From there we spin out a cross-curriculum array of subjects and provide titles for each category. Common Core, STEM/STEAM, state standards—any curriculum structure will be served by the Bookstorm™ bibliography. But we also go beyond a simple list, and each month much of the Bookology content we present will emanate from the Bookstorm™ titles.

Columns.  Whether written by one of our regulars or a guest writer, these posts are intended to share the voices of people immersed in the world of children’s literature. We are especially delighted to launch “Knock Knock,” a blog collective from Winding Oak’s many clients that will appear on alternate Tuesdays. Heather Vogel Frederick gamely accepted the assignment to write the inaugural column; she’ll be followed up later this month by Melissa Stewart and Avi.

Interviews and articles. We will be visiting with illustrators, writers, teachers, librarians and others in order to expand what we all know and understand about children’s literature. We’ll also be offering a lighter, more humorous getting-to-know-you interview venue: Skinny Dips, in which we ask about almost anything except the creative process.

We will scatter about the magazine features and incidentals we hope will be of interest, such as Literary Madeleines—discoveries that even the veteran readers on the staff savored—and Timelines, quick at-a-glance looks at seminal books in a genre or subject. Contest, quizzes, and book-giveaways will also appear throughout the month.

What you won’t see are book reviews. While many of our articles and columns will of course discuss and recommend books, those recommendations will always be in context of a larger topic. There are plenty of book review forums available, and we weren’t interested in adding to those voices.

And for now you won’t see “Comments” sections. This is ironic of course in view of our stated mission of nurturing a conversation; we’ll open those, and soon. In the meantime, should you have a comment or suggestion or request, send me a note.

Thanks for your time and interest. Now please go explore Bookology.



When I Was Your Age

When I was a small child, I spent a lot of time around adults. Having no brothers or sisters, no cousins living nearby, and spending summers and vacations with my grandparents, I went where they visited. Many of those people were their age. So I heard this phrase often: “When I was your age …” […]


Summer isn’t over yet, the next part …

For older readers, grades four through seven, there are great series choices. How many books do a series make? I’m thinking three or more—I have no idea if there’s an official classification. In July, I heard three excellent speakers on children’s literature, Anita Silvey, Judy Freeman, and Barbara Swanson Sanders. They couldn’t get their book […]