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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | China

Saying “Yes!”

Trying new things makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like to take risks; I like the familiar. That’s why when I was asked to give several author presentations at international schools in Beijing, my gut reaction was to shout, “Not on your life!” Sure, I knew other authors who had traveled overseas and had wonderful experiences visiting schools in India and Saudi Arabia, but I’m not as brave or as competent as these friends.

Still, something inside me whispered that I would regret saying no to this opportunity. The whisper continued to nag until finally I told the inquiring school a hesitant “yes.”

It didn’t take me long to imagine all the things that could go wrong. I could miss my flight. The Eastern food could disagree with my Midwestern stomach. My driver in Beijing might not show up.

My brave friends assured me that all of these worries were unfounded.

And you know what?

They were wrong.

All of these worries came true.

My departing flight was delayed multiple times until I was sent home and told to come back tomorrow and try again. When I eventually made it to Beijing a day late, two bites of an innocent looking “pancake” from the hotel’s breakfast buffet left me with instantaneous “digestive issues” (aka explosive diarrhea). And midway into my trip as I waited (and waited and waited) one morning for my driver to arrive, it became clear that he was never going to show, leaving me (without a cell phone) to frantically find a way to contact the school.

David LaRochelle AbroadWith all these setbacks, the trip should have been a disaster for a worrywart like me. But it was nothing of the sort. I brought back incredible memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything: standing on the Great Wall, visiting with preschoolers who had baked a giant cake shaped like one of the characters from my picture books, learning how to make Chinese dumplings from one of the teachers. None of these things would have happened if I had stayed at home.

Version 2

And all those mini-disasters? They turned out to be blessings in disguise. When my worst worries materialized and I found a way to work around them, I discovered that I was braver and more competent than I thought.

Though I’m reluctant to admit it, some of the most rewarding moments of my career have come when I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and attempted things I didn’t think I could do: write for teenagers, illustrate a book with tricky paper engineering, tackle nonfiction. I’ll never be an enthusiastic risk-taker like some of my friends, but I’ve learned that being a little uncomfortable is worth the benefits I reap when I stretch myself.

Recently I was asked to visit schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg. As I remembered my time in Beijing, I visualized all the things that could go wrong on a trip to Russia. Then I swallowed my fears, took a deep breath, and said, “Sure, I’d love to go!”

David LaRochelle in Moscow


Bookstorm: The Shadow Hero


In this Bookstorm™:

Shadow HeroShadow Hero

written by Gene Luen Yang
illustrated by Sonny Liew
First Second, 2014

As we become a culture adapted to screens, visuals, and moving pictures, we grow more accustomed to the storytelling form of the graphic novel. For some, their comfort with this combination of visuals and text telling a story satisfies a craving to “see” the story while they’re reading. For others, the lack of descriptive detail and measured, linear momentum through the story feels like a barrier to understanding. With the variety of graphic novels available and the inventive ways in which they’re assembled, we encourage you to keep trying. Find a story that intrigues you and persevere … we believe you’ll grow accustomed to this form. In time, you’ll add graphic novels to the depth of offerings you eagerly recommend to students, patrons, and friends.

We selected Shadow Hero for our featured book this month because the superhero has been present in comics since the early 1900s and current films and television have reawakened an interest among children that we believe can easily transport them into reading. Yang and Liew have given a back story to a superhero, The Green Turtle, originally created by talented comic book artist (and fine artist) Chu Fook Hing in the 1940s. There’s plenty of action, humor, mystery, and suspense in this new book … all the right ingredients for the best reading.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. For Shadow Hero, you’ll find books for a variety of tastes, interests, and reading abilities. Shadow Hero 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.

Graphic Novels About Superheroes. With the popularity of The Avengers and X-Men, Iron Man and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there are a number of graphic novels about superheroes available for different ages. Some have mature content. Many are accessible for younger readers. Whether or not they’re wearing capes, superheroes are appealing because of the possibilities.

Graphic Novels About Mythology. The Green Turtle is a part of Chinese mythology. We hear a lot about Greek and Roman mythology, but there are compelling myths around the world. Graphic novels make those traditions and stories available to readers who might have trouble with straight text.

Fiction about Superheroes. Longer texts, without illustrations, often hold as much attraction for comic book readers if the stories are engaging. And there are picture books that are just right for the readers who are too young for graphic novels but have the interest.

Comic Books, Nonfiction. Whether it’s learning how two boys came to invent Superman, the superhero from Krypton, or examining infographics and statistics, or listening to a podcast with Gene Luen Yang on public radio about his inspiration, The Green Turtle, there’s a lot of research and learning to be done with superheroes.

Drawing. For those kinetic and visual learners, telling a story through drawing, populating a page with characterization and setting and voice is a way to use comic book art for developing writing skills.

Chinese History. There are many, many books, some of them quite scholarly, about Chinese history. We’ve selected just two, both of which are also visual histories.

Chinese Art. China is such a large country, with a civilization that is thousands of years old, that these books organize the information in order to present the diversity of arts in a way that makes sense.

Chinese Immigration. There are fine books about the immigration of Chinese and Asian Pacific people to America, the Golden Mountain. We’ve selected a few, from picture books to novels to memoir. 

Chinese Food. Readers learn a great deal about different cultures from the food they eat, their traditions for preparing food, and the ways they share it with their community. We’ve found cookbooks for both learning and eating, for adults and for children.

Chinese Geography. It always helps to have a good map to reinforce the visual knowledge of a country. You’ll find suggestions for maps, downloads, photos, and facts about this large country in Asia.

Techniques for using each book:



The World in Birdy’s Time, 1290 AD

The year of Birdy’s story in Catherine, Called Birdy is more than 700 years ago. It might be hard for us to imagine what it was like to live then, before technology and planes and even the printing press! Reading the book gives us an opportunity to put ourselves into that world and time. Here’s what was going on throughout Birdy’s world to help us place the book within its reference points. We know you’ll enjoy the book … and learning more about history.

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The Curious Child: writing and books

Catherine, Called Birdy

by Vicki Palmquist

After reading Catherine, Called Birdy, readers will wonder about Edward, Birdy’s brother, and the books he was scribing at the monastery. In what type of book did Birdy keep her journal? Who taught her to write? Did she write in the same fancy script that her brother did at the monastery?

Birdy gives the reader clues about her journal: “The skins are my father’s, left over from the household accounts, and the ink also. The writing I learned of my brother Edward, but the words are my own.”

The author, Karen Cushman, describes the scriptorium in the monastery for us, “Edward works in Paradise. Beyond the garden, near the chapel, is a room as large as our barn and near as cold. Shelves lining the wall hold books and scrolls, some chained down as if they were precious relics or wild beasts. In three rows sit fifteen desks, feebly lit by candles, and fifteen monks sit curled over them, their noses pressed almost to the desktops. Each monk holds in one hand his pen and in the other a sharp knife for scratching out mistakes. On the desks are pens and quills of all sizes, pots of ink black or colored, powder for drying, and knives for sharpening.”

Catherine, Called Birdy is set in 1290-91 AD, a time when writing methods and scripts were changing a great deal. Life was moving from the medieval period to the Renaissance, although no one alive then would have known that or given those names to their lives. In the Author’s Note, Ms. Cushman writes, “Most people did not know what century it was, much less what year.”

It’s hard for us to think of the effort it took to create one book, the hours and hours of painstaking drawing of letters, which not only had to be readable but had to satisfy the fashions of the day, the standards for art and beauty that defined penmanship in that era.

This was approximately 200 years before the first book would be mechanically printed in England.

In the year in which Catherine, Called Birdy is set, the fashionable calligrapher used the penstrokes of Textura Quadrata, so called because its rhythmic vertical strokes created a texture on the paper … and was very difficult to read. There are many modern samples of this style on The Pensive Pen, a blog about calligraphy by Jamin Brown.

gothic textura quadrata

“The Gothic manuscripts … used the same pen stroke for many letters, and thus a word like “minimum,” with its unrelieved parade of vertical strokes, was almost impossible to read.” The Smithsonian Book of Books by Michael Olmert, Smithsonian Books, 1992, pg 75.


Here is an excellent video of a scribe, with a quill pen, creating letters in the Textura Quadrata or Blackletter style. Here are more samples.

In the classroom, you might talk about the differences between the way we write today and the time and care it is taking for the scribe in the video to write the alphabet.

Enjoy this sample page of calligraphy from John Stevens Design, a master calligrapher whose documents are created for special occasions as works of art.

Today, we open up our word processing program and scroll through the choice of fonts, making selections based on our mood or the message we’re hoping to convey. We may choose Fritz Quadrata or Caslon or Brush Script, most likely being unaware of the deep history behind each of these fonts. Today, Gothic Textura Quadrata is a font one can purchase for $12 online. Compare this to the art and care and skill of the scribe creating a page (without benefit of spellcheck or the delete key) to satisfy a rich patron who wanted a book in their house and paid for it to be handwritten.

 “In the early middle ages literacy was viewed with some suspicion; actions definitely spoke louder than words, especially written words. These attitudes changed as the middle ages progressed; government became more dependent on records, and correspondingly the rest of society became increasingly aware that memories were not enough. It became important to have written proof of ownership or events. Latin was the language of government and official business, but by the fourteenth century an increasing amount of writing was being conducted in the vernacular.” A Medieval Book of Seasons, by Marie Collins and Virginia Davis, HarperCollins, 1992, pgs 25-26.

textura quadrata

“From about 1150, however, all this began to change. Professional secular scribes and illuminators started to take over the book business. There is tantalizing evidence from the mid-12th century of traveling craftsman who must have hired themselves out to those who wanted manuscripts made.” The Smithsonian Book of Books by Michael Olmert, Smithsonian Books, 1992, pg 10.

“If a copyist made a mistake he put a series of fine dots under the offending word and then continued with his text. This avoided the creation of a horrific black cross-out, which would spoil the normal density of the letters on the page. Mistakes commonly occurred when the scribe was interrupted and then cast his eye forward or backward to a word similar to the one he had just finished. Christopher de Hamel, an expert in medieval manuscripts, says this usually happened when the scribe lifted his pen from the page for more ink (scribes tried to do a single sentence with each refill.) The Smithsonian Book of Books by Michael Olmert, Smithsonian Books, 1992, pg 74.

 “Monastic scribes engaged in a variety of jobs. They prepared official documents, copied or recopied ancient or contemporary texts, produced missales for use in church or books of hours for rich patrons. Such lengthy, meticulous work was obviously a strain on the eyes, o it is not surprising that the first glasses were worn by monks. Manuscripts could be consulted in the library, but to prevent their being purloined by too individualistic monks they were sometimes changed to the shelves, as at Herford. This explains why in some monasteries copyists either worked in the library or in a scriptorium provided for compiling and copying texts.” Life in the Middle Ages, by Robert Delort, Edita Lausanne, 1972.

Movable type is credited to Bi Sheng, who lived in Bianilang during the Northern Song Dynasty. Somewhere between 1045 and 1058, he fashioned “3000 of the most common letters” out of clay, baked them in a kiln, and used them to print pages of type.

In 1234, Korean printers invented metal moveable type, which was more durable, and they printed the “oldest extant metal printed book” in 1377.” Be sure to take a look at the UNESCO Memory of the World for more details about this milestone that changed the world forever.

Here’s a fact that many of us learned in school: Johannes Gutenberg published the 42-line Christian Bible in 1455. His accomplishment was to invent a screw-type press that could use movable type to print pages quickly.

The first book to be printed in England was William Caxton’s edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur in 1484. Caxton published “about 100 books, a number of which will live forever. The Canterbury Tales (1476-1478) was nearly a century old when Caxton printed them (Chaucer died in 1300). He probably printed them not because they were “literature” but because they contained popular, appealing stories. Caxton was a businessman. Entertainment was more important to him than erudition.” The Smithsonian Book of Books by Michael Olmert, Smithsonian Books, 1992.

And what happened to those books? Did Birdy’s house have a shelf with books on it, script written by Edward? Here’s a public library 400 years later at Wimborne Minster in England.

“Situated within the Minster, this was one of Britain’s first public libraries, established in 1686 in the room previously the Treasury, which housed the wealth of the Minster until it was confiscated by Henry VIII.

“Among the earliest collections of the library, which we see here, were donated by Rev. William Stone on condition that the books were chained to the shelves—he wished that his items be available not only to the clergy but also to ‘the better class of person in Wimborne.’  He provided money for the chains and also stipulated that the existing works also be chained, lest they be pilfered by the less scrupulous. 

Wimborne Minster public library


“Stone’s collection is entirely ecclesiastical, but later collections have a variety of subjects, from architecture to wine pressing and even how to kill an elephant.

“These are Victorian chains but there are two originals remaining. Because the chains are attached to the edges of the book covers, rather than the spines which would become easily damaged, the books face inwards.” From Geograph: Wimborne Minster, Dorset, Great Britain.


Art of Calligraphy

Alphabet Gothique, Textura Quadrata. Gerard Caye. YouTube video.

Art of Calligraphy: a Practical Guide to the Skills and Techniques. David Harrison. DK Books, 1995.

Catherine, Called Birdy. Karen Cushman. Clarion Books, 1994.

China, “Bi Sheng.”

Friendly Korea, my friend’s country. “The Greatest Invention, Movable Metal Type Printing and Jikji.”

Geograph website.

Life in the Middle Ages. Robert Delort. Edita Lausanne, 1972.

Malory Project. Facsimile version of William Caxton’s 1485 edition of Le Morte d’Arthur.

Medieval Book of Seasons. Marie Collins and Virginia Davis. HarperCollins, 1992.

Memory of the World. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. 

Oregon State University Libraries, Special Collections & Archives Research Center. “Treasures from the McDonald Collection, the Incunable Era, the Gutenberg Press.” 

Pensive Pen, a blog about calligraphy. Jamin Brown.

Smithsonian Book of Books. Michael Olmert. Smithsonian Books, 1992.


My New Hero

I am a fan of superhero comics. After reading about talking ducks, precocious teens at Riverdale High, and an equally precocious rich kid, I wanted something with a real story, not a situation. I wasn’t allowed to buy comic books, so I had to rely on the kindness of cousins. Whatever I could scrounge up […]