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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | David Small

Libraries in the USA are at Mission Critical

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” —Andrew Carnegie

Hamel Public Library, Minnesota

Hamel Public Library, Minnesota

Libraries in the USA are at mission critical. Those who went before us worked hard to establish free public libraries so we could have access to what we need to know. How can we let their legacy erode?

We’ve already seen our public school libraries damaged by budget shortfalls in which libraries are deemed non-essential and degreed librarians are considered easily replaced by a volunteer.

Public libraries have suffered as well via consolidation, replaced by pick-up-your-book kiosks, and outright closure.

For readers, it is understood how vital libraries are as a free source of education, essential services, and entertainment that might otherwise be too expensive for families and individuals. Beyond books, public libraries offer free programming in education, crafting, music and dance, citizenry, and business. Some libraries have become a place to check out seldom-needed but important items like fishing rods, electric drills, sewing machines, and gardening tools.

gardening tools library

Reading is still at the heart of the library. The ability to learn, whether by fiction or nonfiction, and the privilege of asking a librarian who can help you find what you need and what you don’t yet know that you need—that is a library. No computer algorithm, no matter how well-meaning, can take a librarian’s place.

Many of us take our public library for granted. We walk a few blocks, ride our bikes, drive a few miles or 30 miles to check out books and magazines. We can call the staff on the phone to make sure they know what we’re looking for and have it. If they don’t have it, they can order it from a library far, far away. This is one of the most reliable services of being an American citizen.

This access to information and resources was hard-won. The generations before us recognized how vital books and reading are to a healthy, citizen-engaged country.

Down Cut Shin CreekIn Down Cut Shin Creek: the Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer (Harper Collins, 2001), we learn the riveting true story of women, primarily, who were hired by the Work Projects Administration (WPA) in 1935, during the height of the Depression, to ride horses or pack mules to the often inaccessible small communities and individuals of eastern Kentucky. Eventually these librarians would serve more 100,000 people in 30 counties as part of the Pack Horse Library Project. It’s an inspiring book. Reading the account of how important these librarians were because they knew their communities, their readers’ tastes, and felt a sense of duty … it’s easier to understand why libraries have been so vital in America.

A congressman from Kentucky, Carl D. Perkins, sponsored the Library Services Act in 1956 “that made the first federal appropriations for library service.” More than likely, he was influenced by a Pack Horse Librarian while he taught in rural Kentucky.

That Book WomanFor a picture book about the Pack Horse Librarians, read Heather Henson’s That Book Woman, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum, 2008). Written by a Kentucky native, this story of Cal, living high in the Appalachian hills, depicts a young boy who wants nothing to do with reading until he realizes the extraordinary lengths his Pack Horse Librarian is achieving to bring him books.

Books in a BoxIn northern climes, Stuart Stotts wrote the marvelous Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin (Big Valley Press, 2005). Lutie Stearns grew up near Milwaukee, reading all the time. She is drawn to library service where, thankfully, she has big ideas. She teams up with Frank Hutchins (another big idea person, he started the Wisconsin State Forest Department, and introduced Easter Seals to the Anti-Tuberculosis Association) to create traveling libraries.

Melvil Dewey (he of the Dewey Decimal System) introduced publicly-funded traveling libraries in New York State in 1893. (The first traveling libraries were likely those in Scotland and Wales in the early 1800s, but they were part of a schooling system.)

The next year, Lutie and Frank petitioned lumber baron and Wisconsin state senator James Stout to fund traveling libraries in Dunn County. They wanted him to introduce a bill in the legislature to fun the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. You must read this book for the engrossing experiences Lutie encountered as she tried to establish traveling libraries, books in a box, around the state in post offices and stores.

Later, Lutie would help citizens apply for funds from Andrew Carnegie to construct a library. These Carnegie libraries, some of which are still in use, brought education and entertainment to generations of citizens, taxpayer supported but otherwise free, throughout the United States. Lutie Stearns could celebrate the growth of books-in-a-box to full-fledged libraries through her persistent efforts and those of Frank Hutchins.

Dunn County

Democrat Printing Company – (1897) Free Traveling Libraries in Wisconsin: The Story of Their Growth, Purposes, and Development; with Accounts of a Few Kindred Movements

“The desire to have a good influence and a decent place to go, instead of the many saloons and dance halls, led me to visit one community no less than twelve times before I could get the town president, also owner of a dance hall, to appoint a library board.” (Lutie Stearns, Books in a Box, pg 49)

Twelve times? That’s determination.

Can we do less?


“The earliest libraries-on-wheels looked way cooler than today’s bookmobiles,” by Rose Eveleth,

“Traveling libraries,” by Larry T. Nix, Library History Buff


Two for the Show: How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Phyllis Root and Jacqueline Briggs Martin

It’s high summer in the garden, with an abundance of vegetables to harvest and flowers abuzz with pollinators. Crunchy carrots, leafy kale, sun-warm tomatoes, garlic bulbs, green beans, zucchini (some gigantic) all offer themselves to the gardener. But more grows in a garden than plants. People grow, too, and connections between people take root and blossom. Two lovely picture books about growing things and the people who grow with them are The Gardener by Sarah Stewart with pictures by David Small (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux , 1997) and The Grandad Tree by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Sharon Wilson (Candlewick Press, 2000).

bk_gardner178The Gardener is an epistolary picture book (a category worthy of its own blog post), told in letters from a young girl, Lydia Grace, sent from her home in the country to live in the city with her Uncle Jim during the Depression until “things get better.” She writes first to her Uncle Jim, then back home to Mama, Papa, and Grandma. Although Uncle Jim doesn’t ever smile, Lydia Grace is excited by the window boxes she sees in the city, by learning to bake bread in her uncle’s bakery, and by the store cat Otis who sleeps on her bed.

With help from her family back home who sends her bulbs and seedlings and seed catalogues, from Emma who works in the bakery with her husband Ed, and from neighbors who give her containers in which to plant flowers and call her “the gardener,” Lydia Grace sets about making gardens in pots and filling windows boxes with radishes onions, and lettuce. But what fills her with “great plans” is her discovery at the top of a fire escape of the building’s roof (shown in a wordless spread), littered with trash and just waiting for the dirt she hauls from a vacant lot.

All the while, Lydia hopes for a smile from Uncle Jim.

When her “secret place” is ready, Lydia Grace, Emma, and Ed bring Uncle Jim to the roof garden in a glorious double page wordless spread, which parallels the first view of the roof, now transformed.

A week later, when Lydia Grace learns that her papa has got a job and that she’s going home Uncle Jim closes the shop, sends Ed and Emma and Lydia Grace to the roof garden, and brings Lydia Grace a cake covered in flowers. Lydia Grace writes, “I truly believe that cake equals one thousand smiles.” The last page, also wordless, shows Uncle Jim hugging Lydia Grace as they wait for her to board the train home. In the grim grey city, Lydia Grace has grown more than beautiful flowers and a garden, she has grown a connection with her uncle, Emma, Ed, and the neighbors. As she writes in the P. S. of her last letter, “We gardeners never retire.” In this book, the deepest emotions are not said in words but with flowers, with cake, and with silent hugs. Even the wordless spreads convey the book’s heart—that plants and people can bloom in the grayest surroundings.

bk_grandadtreeLGThe spare poetic words of The Grandad Tree begin,

There is a tree

at the bottom of Leigh’s garden.

An apple tree.

Vin, Leigh’s big brother, said

it started as a seed

and then grew

and grew.

And Vin said

that tree,

where they used to play

with Grandad,

that apple tree

will be there…


The text goes on to tell how Grandad was a baby once, then a boy who climbed coconut trees near the sea where he lived, then a man and a husband and a dad and a granddad for Leigh and Vin. “That’s life,” Grandad would say.

 The apple tree blossoms in spring as the art shows Vin and Leigh playing ball with Grandad. In summer, as the apples grow, Grandad plays his violin for the children under the tree. He watches them harvest apples as the leaves fall, and he watches from the window as they build a snowman in the winter. The text continues,

And sometimes things die,

like trees,

like people…

            like Grandad.

Leigh and Vin and their momma remember Grandad as Vin plays his violin, and Leigh plants a seed beside the apple tree to grow and grow, to go through changes, and for them to love forever and ever

            just like they’ll always love Grandad.

In few words and glowing illustrations, Cooke and Wilson bring together the seasons of a tree and of a life lived and show how while things change, some things, like Leigh and Vin’s love for Grandad and his for them, will last forever.

Comfort, love, relationships can all bloom along with the wide world of growing things. Even when harvest is upon us gardeners, it’s good to remember that seeds will hold next year’s gardens close inside. Who knows what will blossom there beyond fruits and flowers?

Other books about growing things that we love:

  • Cherries and Cherry Pits by Vera B. Williams
  • Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell
  • Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
  • The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins
  • Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter

Going Wild

By Phyllis Root and Jackie Briggs Martin

Who doesn’t go a little wild when spring finally arrives? And even though we set out to choose pairs of books to write about, this month we couldn’t resist a hat trick of three books. At the heart of each is not only wildness but also how those around us react when our wild natures leak out.

cover image

by Maurice Sendak

At the center of the first two books is a yearning to live in the world of one’s own choosing. In Where the Wild Things Are, the book against which we still measure all other picture books, Max, sent supperless to his room for wild behavior, conjures up a forest, a boat, and an ocean and sails away to where the wild things live. The wild things make him their king, and he declares a wild rumpus—until he becomes lonely and wants to be “where someone loved him best of all.” When Max sails back into his own room, his supper awaits him, still hot and proof that his mother does indeed love him. With Sendak’s clear concision of language and syntax, we’ve gone on a wild journey, complete with rumpus, and returned to know we are loved. Best of all.

cover image

by Peter Brown

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild’s eponymous protagonist also yearns to live by his own rules. Even Brown’s art makes the case in the beginning that Mr. Tiger is a more colorful character than the upright townspeople, shown in shades of brown and gray while Mr. Tiger himself is orange down to his dialogue bubbles. Bored with being proper in a proper society, he walks on all fours, roars in public, and swims in a public fountain. When he emerge clothes-free, he has clearly gone too far, and the townspeople strongly suggest he take his wild self off to the wilderness, where he goes complete wild—until he, too, grows lonely. Returning to the town he dons a tee shirt and shorts that his friends provide him and discovers that the townspeople themselves have changed. Some go on all fours, some walk upright, some still dress elegantly, some wear casual clothes. In this changed society (and changed, we infer, because of Mr. Tiger’s actions) “Mr. Tiger felt free to be himself. And so did everyone else.”

by David Small

by David Small

Imogene in Imogene’s Antlers has wildness thrust upon her in the form of an enormous pair of antlers with which she awakens one Thursday. While the antlers complicate her morning routine (“Getting dressed was difficult, and going through a door now took some thinking”) Imogene seems cheerily accepting of the transformation. Not so Imogene’s mother who faints when she sees her daughter’s new appendages. Imogene’s brother Norman takes the academic approach and announces that Imogene has turned into a rare miniature elk. Their mother faints again. An attempt to hide the antlers under an enormous hat leads to still more fainting. Unlike Max’s mother, who loves her wild son best of all, or the townspeople who ultimately accept Mr. Tiger for himself, Imogene’s mother cannot cope. Luckily, the cook and kitchen maid admire Imogene’s antlers, deck her out with donuts for the birds, and look forward to decorating her come Christmas. At the end of her eventful day Imogene kisses her family and heads to bed. The next morning her antlers have disappeared. As she peeks around the corner into the kitchen, her mother is overjoyed that Imogene is back to normal—until a smiling Imogene enters the room, her peacock tail spread behind her. We assume that fainting follows.

While Imogene doesn’t choose her changes and never engages in anything wilder than sliding down the banister, she copes admirably with the unpredictability that marks childhood. At times we all might need to look for support and love beyond the folks from whom we most expect it and remember to love our own wild, clothes-free, or antlered selves.

Wildness, love, acceptance. Who doesn’t want it all? And why not? What’s against it?

So go ahead.

Be a little wild.

Like characters in these books, we promise we’ll still love you.



Skinny Dip with Toni Buzzeo


Available May 2015

What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Although only my father is Italian, I grew up with a strong connection to my Italian heritage. And really, when does one’s heritage shine more brightly than the holidays? So, every Christmas Eve finds me with my family in our Maine farmhouse kitchen making homemade ravioli. My husband Ken rolls out the dough that has been resting on the counter under a bowl for several hours while my son Topher and I wrestle the circles of dough he provides us into folded cushions of deliciousness that we drop into a boiling pot of salted water. Later, we light the candles in our formal dining room and sit down with our grandbaby Camden and our daughter-in-law Caitlin to a feast of baked ravioli, homemade rolls, green salad, and glasses of red wine—the perfect Christmas Eve feast.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

Oh goodness, I was neither teacher’s pet nor teacher’s challenge. Instead, I was the invisible child. If my best friend, Linda Benko, was absent, I spoke to no one the entire day, including my teacher! I was so desperately shy, and lived in a cocoon from which I didn’t emerge until I was sixteen years old when I suddenly and quite unexpectedly metamorphosed into the gal I am now, verbally exuberant and highly interpersonal.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

While I don’t remember writing my first book report, I am absolutely sure that, as an enormously passionate reader, I wrote it with great enthusiasm and ardor.

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

Presents! I adore presents—getting them and especially GIVING them. For me, a deeply satisfying part of preparing a gift for giving is the wrapping, the beribboning, the embellishing. Of course, that means that I keep a five-foot- wide drawer full to the top with a tangle of wrapping paper, ribbons, tags, flowers, gauzy bags, and all manner of doo-dads.

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

“As you gobble those piles and piles of library books, Toni Marie, think about what it would be like to WRITE books like those. Dream the dream of being an author.” Sadly, I was never encouraged to write, even in high school when surely, I’d begun to show signs of talent, which is why it took me so very long to launch my career writing for children. How much earlier I might have begun had I heard that advice!

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

Here’s one of the best things about being a children’s author. I often get to have dinner with my favorite (living) writers. So, given this opportunity, I’d like to go to my childhood favorites and invite 98-year-old Beverly Cleary, author of my beloved Beezus and Ramona and Henry books; Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy books I read over and over; and Carolyn Haywood, author of my other favorite Betsy books. And before that dinner, I would re-read every single one of those childhood favorites.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

For me, there is something completely luxurious about crawling back into bed, of a morning, with a cup of tea and pillows piled all around, and spending an hour or two with a book and not a single electronic device in sight.



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, […]