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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Christopher Paul Curtis

Skinny Dip with Eileen Beha

Mad MenWhat TV show can’t you turn off?

I watch very little TV; I will almost always choose to read a good book instead. However, I do admit that I’ve not missed a single episode of Mad Men since the series premiered in 2007 or Downton Abbey, which will end after its sixth season this winter. Lately, I’ve gotten into this strange habit of watching old episodes of Murder, She Wrote on Netflix. Mind candy. I’m inspired by the main character, a retired-teacher-turned-mystery author named Jessica Fletcher, peering through her oversized, horn-rimmed glasses, typing her manuscripts on an old Royal typewriter. (A few months ago, I bought a new pair of eyeglasses that are strikingly similar to hers, I just now realized.)

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

I would like to win a gold medal as a member of the U. S. Olympic women’s soccer team. All of our children—one son and three daughters—played soccer, so I have attended innumerable soccer games in my life. I really do love the sport and wish that I could have played in a league when I was growing up. Watching a soccer game is very much like the process of plotting a story, where every action on the field—pass, kick, shot, or header—is significant and contributes to the final outcome.

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

White Paterson CurtisI would invite children’s book authors E. B. White, Katherine Paterson, and Christopher Paul Curtis to my fantasy dinner. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little; Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins and Jacob I Have Loved; and Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Bud, Not Buddy are books I use as models of quality, substance, voice, and style when I write books for young readers. We would meet at Gramercy Tavern, my favorite restaurant in New York City, or in front of the fireplace in my living room in Minneapolis during a winter snowstorm. I’d serve homemade split pea soup, freshly-baked whole wheat bread, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, made from scratch. I wouldn’t say much, I’d just sit back and listen.

What animal are you most like?

Since my husband, Ralph, knows me better than anyone else in the world, I asked him, “What animal am I most like? Say the first thing that comes into your mind.” He answered, “A black bear.” Of course, I pressed for his reasons. Apparently I’m affable but not Hello-Kitty-cute and remind him of Eva Bear, one of his favorite stuffed toys. My image of that particular mammal is one of a mother bear raising a den-full of rambunctious cubs, which I’ve experienced as a mother, stepmother, teacher, and school administrator.

What is your proudest career moment?

National Blue Ribbon School of ExcellenceMy proudest career moment happened in the mid-1990’s when St. Anthony Middle School, where I served as building principal, was selected as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. I had the honor and privilege, along with representative members of my outstanding staff, of attending a reception at the White House, hosted by President Bill Clinton, Vice-President Al Gore, and U. S. Department of Education Secretary Richard W. Riley. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

What is your favorite line from a book?

My favorite line from a book is: “Life is difficult.” This three-word sentence is the first line of The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. For the past couple of years, a confidante has been teaching me the grace and peace that comes with “radical acceptance” of this not-so-simple truth. 



Teaching the Future

by Rob Reid

Animal Shenanigans

Animal Shenanigans, Rob Reid’s latest resource book for teachers, parents, and librarians.

I am fortunate to teach three sections of children’s literature each semester to future elementary teachers, future special education teachers, and future librarians. It’s truly a fun gig. I was asked by the Bookology folks to share those books and topics I teach to these budding professionals.

I open each semester by introducing myself and reading my current favorite interactive picture book. The last few years, it has been Press Here by Hervé Tullet and the students are delighted to know such a book like this exists. I then ask them to tell me what comes to mind when I say, “Children’s Books.” I write their responses on the board and…the same titles appear year after year. Titles from their school years: Arthur, Amelia Bedelia, Magic Treehouse, Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss—the usual suspects. All good choices but no surprises and nothing recently published. That’s my job then for the next 15 weeks: combine history of children’s literature with the best of the newer stuff, so they can share those with kids down the road.

Next, we look at current trends in children’s publishing: trends I pick up from Publishers Weekly, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, the American Library Association, and my own observations. We also look at the current NY Times bestseller lists for picture books, middle grade books, and series. I read a few of those bestselling picture books to the class as well as selections of the chapter books. (I read aloud children’s books to my college students pretty much every class session.)

I contrast what sells with what wins the numerous awards: quantity vs. quality (and luckily, the two go together with many titles) and how kids need to be exposed to all. Over the semester, my students learn what the following awards are for, who are the most recent winners, and many of the notable past winners: Newbery (and I share my own experience being on that committee), Caldecott, Geisel, Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpré, American Indian Youth Literature, Scott O’Dell, Sibert, Orbis Pictus, and the Schneider Family Award.

Sibk_wonder_140nce that last award originated at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where I teach, and because I have many special education students, we put special emphasis on this award that recognizes portrayals of people with disabilities. As a class, we all read Wonder by R.J. Palacio (before that it was Rules by Cynthia Lord) and I will also be adding El Deafo by Cece Bell this upcoming year as a required read to represent graphic novels (I have been using the first Babymouse and the first Lunch Lady as examples of elementary school graphic novels).

The other required read is Love That Dog, and I introduce the other works of Sharon Creech and Walter Dean Myers (who is a fictionalized character of himself in the book). We look at dozens of poetry books not written by Shel Silverstein (and I have some good Silverstein anecdotes to share) and learn ways to make poetry fun for kids.

Out of My MindStudents pick an elective chapter book from a list I provide (which includes Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Out of My Mind, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Coraline, Tale of Despereaux, Princess Academy, Elijah of Buxton, and several more) and they create a literature activity guide to go with their novel.

Students draw the name of a children’s illustrator and put together a PowerPoint to share with the class what they learned about the various artistic elements present in the picture books.

We also look at the timeline of diversity in children’s literature, traditional folklore from around the world, fantasy and science fiction, controversial books, informational books and biographies, easy readers and bridge books, realistic fiction, historical fiction, and Minnesota and Wisconsin book creators (since most of my students are from these two states and we have so many talented, published, award-winning authors and illustrators here).

Each student also has to tell an oral story to the class based on a folktale. They are sent to the 398 section of the library to look through both the picture book editions and anthologies of folktales, learn one, and share it without notes.

We finish the semester with competitive rounds of Kiddie Lit Jeopardy, they fill out their student evaluations that all read “This was a lot of work!” and I send them off to explore the remaining 99% of the wonderful children’s books we didn’t have time to cover in class.



Chapter & Verse picks the winners … or not

In CLN’s Chapter & Verse, with six of our bookstores reporting, we had no clear winners for our mock Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz Awards. Steve and I have visited many of these locations, talking with the book club members. Each book club has its own character. The members bring different life experiences, different reading preferences, […]

Reading Ahead

A Streak of Gold in the Reading Pile

There are times when the reading pile provides a streak of can’t-put-the-book-down reading. It gets me all whipped up about reading, writing, authors, illustrators … and I respect all the players in this equation, the creators as well as the readers who get to play in the words. I’ve just recently been on such a […]