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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Gary D. Schmidt

Skinny Dip with April Halprin Wayland

April Halprin WaylandToday we welcome author and educator April Halprin Wayland to Bookology. Her most recent picture book, More Than Enough, is a story about Passover. April was one of nine Instructors of the Year honored by the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, Creative Writing.

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

I would LOVE to have coffee (one-shot latte with extra soy, extra foam) with Crockett Johnson, author/illustrator of Harold and the Purple Crayon but most notably for me, author/illustrator of Barnaby, a comic strip that ran during WWII (actually 1942-1952). I think of it as the predecessor of Calvin and Hobbes. Barnaby stars five-year-old Barnaby Baxter and his fairy godfather Jackeen J. O’Malley. Mr. O’Malley continually gets Barney into trouble. It’s brilliant.

Which book do you find yourself recommending passionately?

You’re joking, right—one book? I’ll tell you right this very minute what books (plural) I recommend. But ask me in half an hour and my list will be completely different.

Favorite city to visit?

NYC! And Poipu, Kauai! And let’s not forget London, for heaven’s sake. And anywhere my husband, my son, or my best two friends are.

Most cherished childhood memory?

One August when I was nine or ten, I found a raft by the Feather River, which ran by our farm. I repaired it (I don’t remember if an adult helped me or not), then climbed aboard and lay back. The next month, at the beginning of the school year, my teacher asked us to choose a word and define it by writing about something that happened that summer. I wrote about that hot summer day on the river. My word? Bliss.

What’s your dream vacation?

Like my favorite books, this will change in the next half hour. For right this minute it would involve my husband, our lanky, knuckle-brained dog, Eli, our son and his girlfriend, hiking, biking, meadows, forests, and arriving at a different bed-and-breakfast each evening with farm-fresh, just-harvested food for dinner, a down quilt each night, and a one-shot latte with extra soy, extra foam each morning. 🙂

April Halprin Wayland in the classroom

Best tip for living a contented life?

I ask myself a central, touchstone question: Will this action or thought help me to like myself?

So, for example, each day I might ask myself: Should I say yes to this invitation to speak? Should I eat this whole bag of (fill in the blank)? Should I spend an extra half-hour with this person, even though I have a pile of work at home? Should I go to this political gathering? Should I volunteer to help put on an event? Should I skip meditation (or exercise or walking the dog) today? Should I pick up that piece of trash I just passed? Do I really need to eat the whole jar? Should I floss my teeth? Should I work on this poem or this book? Should I go to a meeting tonight? Should I turn off the computer and spend time with my husband, who just got home from work?

If I ask myself that question, the answer is always clear. I may not choose to act on the obvious answer, but if I do, I feel more content.


Monkey and Eli read poetry together.

Your hope for the world?

That we will be kind to each other.


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.


In God’s Hands

by Melanie Heuiser Hill

In God's HandsThis week, I am reading (for the umpteenth time) what I think of as The Very Most Favorite Book of the children in my church. They call it That Book About Bread. The book is In God’s Hands by Lawrence Kushner and Gary Schmidt and it resonates deeply with these kids.

I know how it will go. I’ll pull it out of my bag and a general clamor and harangue will go up.



“Me, too!”

You haven’t read that book in a long time!” (Delivered with a pouty face.)

“You should read That Book About Bread EVERY week.”

Now, this is a very well-read group of kids—they are a terrific storytime audience. But they do not say these things about every book. Some books I pull out (especially if they are books “about God”) illicit these responses:

“You already read that one.” (Pouty face.)

“Aahhh…not that one!”

“Are you just reading that one first and then a better one next?”

“Can you read That Book About Bread?”

“Yeah! Read That Book About Bread!”

In God’s Hands begins like this:

When the sun sets and stars fill the sky, the square in the little town grows quiet and still. The cool air of distant hills mingles with the sweet scent of baking bread. The moon rises and glows softly. It’s the sort of place where miracles could happen.

The children grow quiet and still as I read. You can practically see them inhale the sweet scent of baking bread. They are ready to hear (again) about the miracle that happens in this book. They love that it’s called a miracle, because what happens in this book is a quotidian mix-up–and the kids figure it out before the characters do. 

Jacob is a rich man, David is a poor man. Jacob, half asleep in synagogue service, hears God call him to bake twelve loaves of challah and set them before The Lord in two rows, six in each row. (What he actually hears is the day’s Torah reading from Leviticus.) Obediently, Jacob does this—he bakes twelve beautiful braided loaves and places them in the synagogue’s ark, where the holy Torah is kept, since that seems to be the closest place to God.

Soon after, David, the caretaker of the synagogue, comes before the ark and prays a prayer of quiet desperation. His family is hungry and they are out of food.

When I turn the page and David opens the ark to find twelve loaves of braided challah, the children all but cheer. They listen in delight as the miracle continues. Jacob, astounded that God has received his twelve loaves, continues to bake; and David, his children ever hungry, continues to receive with deep gratitude the miraculous loaves that appear in the ark. Neither man realizes what is happening—they quite appropriately call it a miracle. But the kids know what is going on, and they love it!

I love the message of this beautiful book—the wise rabbi explains that God’s miracles often work like this. “Your hands are God’s hands,” he says. And now that David and Jacob know this, they will have to keep acting as they have—doing God’s work with their hands.

“Read it again!” the kids say.

My copy is well-worn. I intend to read it until it falls apart. Then I’ll get a new one.



An Artful Storyteller

In person, Gary D. Schmidt is a storyteller. Sometimes that’s an internal aspect of an author and it doesn’t extend to conversation or presentations. Gary shared a story at Spotlight on Books that came from his growing-up neighborhood on Long Island, NY. He engaged his listeners by giving them the responsibility for preserving the story, […]