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Tag Archives | Gennifer Choldenko

End Cap: Chasing Secrets

Chasing SecretsAs a new fea­ture this month, we’re adding a Word Search puz­zle using names and terms found in Gen­nifer Chold­enko’s his­tor­i­cal fic­tion book, Chas­ing Secrets

Sim­ply use your mouse or touch pad to draw a line over your found words and the pro­gram will mark them off for you. Words can be found for­wards, back­wards, hor­i­zon­tal­ly, ver­ti­cal­ly, and diag­o­nal­ly. As you find a word, it will be high­light­ed on the board and it will dis­ap­pear from the word list.

Have fun!

Hid­den Words

Puz­zle by mypuzzle.org
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Gennifer Choldenko

Bookol­o­gy is proud to fea­ture Gen­nifer Choldenko’s Chas­ing Secrets as its Book­storm™ this month, shar­ing themes, ideas, and com­ple­men­tary book rec­om­men­da­tions for your class­room, lit­er­a­ture cir­cle, or book group dis­cus­sions.

Gennifer CholdenkoWere you a curi­ous child? How did this man­i­fest itself?

I was an eccen­tric child. I was curi­ous to the extent that I could find out new facts to feed my imag­i­nary world. I adored school and loved my teach­ers. I used to come home from school with an aching arm from rais­ing my hand with such unbri­dled enthu­si­asm.

When you grew up, where did your curios­i­ty lead you?

You know the clas­sic I Love Lucy episode with the can­dy con­vey­or belt? I once had a job squish­ing indi­vid­ual serv­ings of toma­to ketchup and mus­tard with a big mal­let. The goal, believe it or not, was qual­i­ty con­trol. You had to bang them hard. If they didn’t open, they were con­sid­ered secure enough to send out. Boy was it a messy job.

Chasing SecretsLizzie Kennedy, the hero­ine of Chas­ing Secrets, is a curi­ous child of thir­teen. She’s inter­est­ed in sci­ence and math­e­mat­ics, in find­ing out the truth. What do you admire most about her?

I admire how cer­tain she is about the right­ness of the world. I’ve had peo­ple tell me that Lizzie reveals her naïveté because she’s so sure she can make every­thing work out. That gave me pause. In Lizzie’s world­view, the truth pre­vails. I believe that to my very core. Maybe, that’s why I write for ten-, eleven- and twelve-year-olds.

Jing and Noah are Chi­nese immi­grants. Only part of their fam­i­ly has trav­eled to San Fran­cis­co. Jing has aspi­ra­tions for his son. What drew you to writ­ing these char­ac­ters into the book?

I’m inter­est­ed in the Chi­nese, in part, because my daugh­ter is Chi­nese. We adopt­ed her from Chi­na when she was eight months old. She was a very small immi­grant. And not sur­pris­ing­ly, I adore her. Because of her I’ve become more aware of the anti-Chi­nese sen­ti­ment in today’s world and that in turn made me more inter­est­ed in the his­to­ry of the Chi­nese in Amer­i­ca.

You intro­duce the key play­ers in the sto­ry in the ear­ly chap­ters. We even get a glimpse of Bil­ly on the docks, long before he inter­acts with Lizzie. The rats have Chap­ter 3 named after them. Is this some­thing that hap­pens as you’re writ­ing the first drafts, or do you go back to set up the sto­ry dur­ing revi­sions?

Every book seems to evolve in a dif­fer­ent way. Chas­ing Secrets was built almost entire­ly in revi­sion. The only part of the book that was there from the get-go involved the rats. Bil­ly evolved with each draft. It took me a long time to per­suade him to come onto the page.

The num­ber “6” fig­ures promi­nent­ly in Chas­ing Secrets. There are Six Com­pa­nies, Six Lead­ers, and Six Boys. What is the sig­nif­i­cance of the num­ber 6 for you?

The Six Com­pa­nies actu­al­ly exist­ed. They held con­sid­er­able pow­er with­in the Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ty. The Six Com­pa­nies remind­ed me of my brother’s group of friends who all lived in a house in Mar­ble­head and called them­selves “Six of Six.” That gave me the idea it would be fun to have Noah be a part of a group of six kids who were lead­ers in the kids Chi­na­town com­mu­ni­ty.

There’s an exchange between Lizzie and Noah where we dis­cov­er that each of them has prej­u­dices. Lizzie has her notions about ser­vants and the Chi­nese, but Noah has his ideas about girls not being as smart as boys. He believes girls lie because one girl did. This feels like an impor­tant pas­sage in the book. Why did you include it?

If you are writ­ing about San Fran­cis­co 1900 and every char­ac­ter has the sen­si­bil­i­ty and mind­set of San Fran­cis­co 2016, then real­ly what you’re doing is putting your twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry char­ac­ters into his­toric dress. A cos­tume ball is fun but it isn’t his­toric fic­tion. On the oth­er hand, there is no such thing as a gener­ic 1900s sen­si­bil­i­ty any­more than there is a gener­ic 2016 sen­si­bil­i­ty. (Does Pope Fran­cis view our world in the same way as Lady Gaga? I don’t think so.) There always have been, and there always will be, peo­ple who are “ahead of their time,” peo­ple who are “behind the times,” and peo­ple who are whol­ly orig­i­nal thinkers. But every­one is formed to some degree from the time in which they exist.

Lizzie was more open-mind­ed than most of her peers. But the prej­u­dice against the Chi­nese was deeply embed­ded in San Fran­cis­co cul­ture. Lizzie had to have absorbed some of it. And, of course, Noah’s world was sex­ist. Almost no one ques­tioned either of these prej­u­dices in 1900.

Did you have trou­ble decid­ing which of the main char­ac­ters would get sick with the plague?

RatsHow did you know? I felt strong­ly that the per­son who got sick was not going to be Chi­nese only because many peo­ple believed that the plague only affect­ed Asians, which was and is false. But whom should I choose? It was a ghoul­ish ques­tion.

 It seemed log­i­cal that some­one like Mag­gy would get sick because she spent a lot of time clean­ing and there were an inor­di­nate amount of dead rats around in 1900, many of whom died of the plague. But I real­ly loved Mag­gy and I didn’t want her to suf­fer much less die. So ini­tial­ly I gave her a light dust­ing of the plague, from which she recov­ered pret­ty eas­i­ly.

 Then I got a let­ter from my edi­tor. She did not believe this was real­is­tic. I hap­pened to be on tour when I got the let­ter. I remem­ber wak­ing up one morn­ing in Nashville with the real­iza­tion that one char­ac­ter who I had mak­ing the “right” deci­sion would not have made that deci­sion at all. And from then on the book wrote itself.

There are many inter­est­ing real-life char­ac­ters in your book (Dr. Kiny­oun, Donal­d­ina Cameron). Did you vis­it muse­ums and libraries to do your research?

I spend half my life at the library. And of course I went to muse­ums in San Fran­cis­co and in New York in addi­tion to every his­tor­i­cal tour I could find in San Fran­cis­co and Sacra­men­to and in New York. His­tor­i­cal tours rarely give me a pic­ture of the exact time, place, and social sta­tus I’m look­ing for, but they are a leap­ing-off place. I pep­per the tour guides with ques­tions and source mate­ri­als and begin to devel­op a pic­ture of what the homes of my char­ac­ters might have looked like.

Chinatown

The Gate­way Arch today, San Francisco’s Chi­na­town, chen­siyuan, GFDL

Anoth­er thing I love to do is walk the neigh­bor­hoods I’m writ­ing about. Of course, San Fran­cis­co now looks noth­ing like San Fran­cis­co in 1900 and yet some things are the same. Weath­er, prox­im­i­ty to the bay, seafood, wildlife, birds, nat­ur­al geog­ra­phy are all large­ly the same. I spent a lot of time in Chi­na­town. Chi­na­town now is almost noth­ing like it was, except for one thing: it still feels like its own city in the mid­dle of San Fran­cis­co. By walk­ing the city now and study­ing old maps and old pho­tos, I was able to con­jure up Chi­na­town in 1900.

Chinatown today

The Street of Gam­blers (Ross Alley), Arnold Gen­the, 1898. The pop­u­la­tion was pre­dom­i­nant­ly male because U.S. poli­cies at the time made it dif­fi­cult for Chi­nese women to enter the coun­try. Pho­to by Arnold Gen­the, Fine Arts Muse­um of San Fran­cis­co. Trans­ferred from en.wikipedia to Com­mons.

Research is an ongo­ing detec­tive game. A syn­er­gy between what I can find out and what I can imag­ine. I research before I begin writ­ing, while I’m writ­ing, and while I’m revis­ing. My hus­band says when I’m in the mid­dle of a book I am pos­sessed. I can’t get enough infor­ma­tion. But I find the entire process thrilling. There is noth­ing like dis­cov­er­ing a juicy source that tells me exact­ly what I need to know.

Gus Trot­ter and his sis­ter, Gem­ma, are intrigu­ing friends who embrace Lizzie and her escapades. Were they in the sto­ry from the very begin­ning?

Al Capone Does My ShirtsNo! Gem­ma and Gus Trot­ter came lat­er. In the begin­ning, Aunt Hort­ense and Uncle Karl had a daugh­ter who was very close to Lizzie. But some­where around the third draft I real­ized she got in the way of the sto­ry. So I kicked her out of the book and as soon as I did Gem­ma and Gus appeared. The same thing hap­pened with Al Capone Does My Shirts. Ini­tial­ly, I had a dif­fer­ent group of kids on the island. I liked them, but they didn’t work very well with Moose, so I fired them. And when I did up popped Jim­my, There­sa, and Annie.

Writ­ing a book is a bit like hav­ing a din­ner par­ty. I’ve had din­ner par­ties where I invit­ed guests I know and love but the din­ner par­ty didn’t quite work because the dynam­ic between the guests fell flat. And then there have been oth­er par­ties where the guests bounced off each oth­er and the cumu­la­tive effect was incred­i­ble. This is, of course, what I’m look­ing for when I audi­tion char­ac­ters for my nov­els.

Do you find it sad to say good­bye to your char­ac­ters when you’ve fin­ished writ­ing the book?

Yes! I real­ly loved the world of Chas­ing Secrets. I found it utter­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. It takes a long time to devel­op a his­tor­i­cal set­ting to the point that it becomes quite that believ­able to me. At first the details sit on the sur­face and then grad­u­al­ly, draft by draft, they sink into the core of the book. And when that hap­pens I become so invest­ed in that world that it is quite chal­leng­ing to let go.

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Thank you, Gen­nifer, for shar­ing your thoughts and writ­ing jour­ney with us. 

For use with your stu­dents, Gennifer’s web­site includes A Writ­ing Time­line, a series of videos and pod­casts about Chas­ing Secrets.

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Bookstorm™: Chasing Secrets

 

Bookmap for Chasing Secrets Bookstorm

Chasing SecretsDon’t you love a good mys­tery? Set it in an exot­ic but famil­iar city like San Fran­cis­co at the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Cre­ate a main char­ac­ter who’s a smart and adven­tur­ous young girl with inter­ests frowned upon dur­ing that time: sci­ence, math­e­mat­ics, and pur­su­ing a col­lege edu­ca­tion. Pro­vide a fam­i­ly and friends who are immense­ly inter­est­ing because they’re so vivid that you’d like to know each one of them. Research the his­to­ry of the times so that these peo­ple are believ­ably liv­ing in the midst of impend­ing dis­ease, short tem­pers over immi­gra­tion, and the clash between the very wealthy and the very poor … and you have this excit­ing sto­ry. When our Bookol­o­gists read it, we couldn’t put it down!

We are pleased to fea­ture Chas­ing Secrets as our Feb­ru­ary book selec­tion, writ­ten by the tal­ent­ed Gen­nifer Chold­enko.

In each Book­storm™, we offer a bib­li­og­ra­phy of books that have close ties to the the fea­tured book. You’ll find books for a vari­ety of tastes and inter­ests. This month, we’re focus­ing on books for mid­dle grade read­ers. We’ve includ­ed some books for adults with good pho­tographs of the era and more infor­ma­tion to help you set con­text for your stu­dents. 

Downloadables

 

 

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Women in Sci­ence. There are excep­tion­al fic­tion and non­fic­tion books about the women in many fields such as botany, astron­o­my, chem­istry, and zool­o­gy who have applied their inter­ests, hard work, and cre­ativ­i­ty to change the world. 

Ear­ly Women in Med­i­cine. Female med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers were frowned upon until recent­ly. Some of them found ways to tend to their com­mu­ni­ties with­out degrees, by being mid­wives and herbal­ists. Oth­ers fought their way into med­ical school and set out to estab­lish them­selves as val­ued doc­tors and sci­en­tists. We’ve sug­gest­ed a mix­ture of fic­tion and non­fic­tion you and your stu­dents will find enlight­en­ing and engross­ing.

Infec­tious Dis­eases. Plagues, fevers, influen­za … they’ve wreaked hav­oc with var­i­ous pop­u­la­tions up to the present day. The authors of these books have writ­ten com­pelling nar­ra­tives to inspire future sci­en­tists and doc­tors, nurs­es and aid work­ers.

Chi­nese Immi­gra­tion. San Fran­cis­co was the major port for Chi­nese immi­grants com­ing to “Gold Moun­tain” in the 1800s and ear­ly 1900s. As with so many eth­nic groups arriv­ing in Amer­i­ca, they were not wel­comed with cour­tesy and kind­ness, but with sus­pi­cion and resent­ment. There are a num­ber of books for both chil­dren and adult read­ers includ­ed.

Chi­na­town. Along with a fine book by Lau­rence Yep, we rec­om­mend two books for adults to give you back­ground and pho­tographs as you pre­pare to dis­cuss Chas­ing Secrets in your class­room or book group.

Detec­tive Fic­tion. Our Bookol­o­gists put their heads togeth­er to rec­om­mend their favorite books in this genre, some of them clas­sic and some of them brand new. Mys­tery read­ers will set­tle in for sev­er­al weeks of page-turn­ing!

Let us know how you are mak­ing use of this Book­storm™. Share your ideas and any oth­er books you’d add to this Book­storm™.

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Skinny Dip with Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing Secrets

Avail­able August 2015

What keeps you up at night?

Gen­er­al­ly I wake up wor­ry­ing about my kids or my career. The mid­dle-of-the-night sce­nar­ios are dire: acci­dents, Alzheimer’s, awful reviews, abject humil­i­a­tion in one form or anoth­er. Unfor­tu­nate­ly I’m a world-class wor­ri­er, so there I am lying in a pool of sweat whipped into a fret­ting fren­zy when sud­den­ly an idea pops into my head. A good idea. An idea that solves a writ­ing prob­lem I’ve been grap­pling with for days. But I don’t know it because mid­dle-of-the-night ideas come in dis­guise. An image, a line of dia­logue, a name, a char­ac­ter I hadn’t thought was impor­tant that sud­den­ly begins to speak to me. I write every­thing down but I often don’t under­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of what I’ve writ­ten until the next morn­ing.

What is your proud­est career moment?

I’m the kid in the back-back of the sta­tion wag­on. The one who tries hard and every­one says: is such a nice girl. I’m not the star. I don’t have a his­to­ry of win­ning any­thing. The day I won the New­bery Hon­or changed my life. It made me believe in my dreams in a way noth­ing else ever has.

Describe your favorite pair of paja­mas.

My favorite PJs look like an 18th cen­tu­ry orphan’s rags. They are worn to threads, the elas­tic frayed down to one thin rub­ber band. I live in fear that some­one out­side my fam­i­ly will see me wear­ing them, but I sim­ply can’t give them up. They feel like me.

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

I’d like to win a gold medal in gym­nas­tics or ten­nis although in my mind’s eye I look good in those skimpy lit­tle out­fits. Clear­ly, I have a great imag­i­na­tion.

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

Putting the Monkeys to Bed

Avail­able June 2015

Once, I spoke to 1500 mid­dle school kids in a gym­na­si­um the size of the state of Texas. The screen where my lap­top pro­ject­ed the images essen­tial for the pre­sen­ta­tion was the size of a for­tune cook­ie. The audi­ence could not see it. I was the only speak­er for an entire hour. I thought I was going to faint when I walked into this sit­u­a­tion but the kids had read my books. They want­ed to hear what I had to say. You could have heard an ant cross that gym­na­si­um floor. I will always be indebt­ed to the teach­ers who pre­pared those kids so well.

What’s the first book you remem­ber read­ing?

The Car­rot Seed by Ruth Strauss and Crock­ett John­son. I still remem­ber hold­ing it in my chub­by lit­tle hand, read­ing it for the very first time. I believed I was the main char­ac­ter. In one hun­dred and one words, Strauss and John­son told a pow­er­ful sto­ry that spoke to me on the deep­est lev­el. Incred­i­ble!

What TV show can’t you turn off?

Inter­est­ing the way you phrased this ques­tion: “can’t turn off” which implies that you should be turn­ing TV off. Or in fact you shouldn’t turn it on in the first place. Hon­est­ly, I think that’s a dat­ed point of view. The best writ­ing is in books. No doubt about that. But a close sec­ond is writ­ing for tele­vi­sion. The Sopra­nos, House of Cards, Break­ing Bad, The Left­overs, Mad­men, Trans­par­ent . . . this is fine, fine char­ac­ter writ­ing. Writ­ing for movies, on the oth­er hand, is not near­ly as strong as it was ten years ago.

What book do you tell every­one to read?

Not sur­pris­ing­ly I have a lot of favorite books so I will just talk about this month’s favorite books. For YAs: All the Light We Can­not See by Antho­ny Doerr. For MG read­ers: Nest by Esther Ehrlich.

 

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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 Coöper­a­tive 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.

[Reid-Rob-bio]

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Monday Morning Roundup

We’re a lit­tle behind time today. CLN has entered the world of cloud com­put­ing … Steve spent the week­end mov­ing all 25,000 pages, pho­tos, blogs, and pho­tos to the CLN Cloud. Doesn’t that sound rest­ful? For you, we hope it means the pages will load faster, videos will run more smooth­ly, and you’ll enjoy hang­ing […]

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Bank Street’s 2010 Choices

We eager­ly await the annu­al list of books cho­sen by the Bank Street Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion as books that work well with chil­dren from birth to age 14. Each year, the Children’s Book Com­mit­tee reviews over 6000 titles each year for accu­ra­cy and lit­er­ary qual­i­ty and con­sid­ers their emo­tion­al impact on chil­dren. It choos­es the […]

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