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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | history

Not One But Four!

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The Birthday Surprise

I had pretty much given up on finding an appropriate gift for my dad’s 82nd birthday; the last thing he needed was more stuff. So I headed off to the family lake cabin for the 4th of July holiday (also his birthday weekend) with the thought that I’d figure out a clever celebratory idea at the last minute. Maybe some kind of game that everyone would enjoy?

The problem with that was the “everyone” involved. My brother’s four kids each brought a friend along, so 13 to 20-year-olds made up the clear majority. All of them travel at a speed that far outdistances their grandpa, and their lives revolve around completely different cultural touchstones. Not to mention that two of them seemed to have self-identified as space aliens sent to catalog the peculiar behavior of earthlings, sitting apart and observing the rest of us with a dissecting air. What kind of game could I possibly come up with that would work for this multi-generational (not to mention multi-planetary) crew?

Out of desperation, I decided to just go for it, and I scratched out a series of 10 questions about Grandpa. What major world event radically changed his life when he was a kid? What dangerous animal did he capture when he was a teenager? How many colleges kicked him out? How did he meet his wife (the Grandma we were all still mourning)? In other words, questions that translated Grandpa’s life into the concerns of a 13 to 20-year-old. Then I told the kids that they were going to work as pairs (grandchild plus friend) to answer the questions, and whoever got the most correct would win a small prize. Partway through the game, each team would have a chance to privately ask Grandpa to share stories to provide two of the answers they didn’t know.

ph_lb_dad_erinThey’re good kids. I figured they would hide their eye-rolls and play along for courtesy’s sake. Meanwhile, Grandpa would be the center of attention for a few minutes, getting to share a few of the details from his first 81 years, and it would make him feel like we’d at least taken notice of his birthday.

In all my worry about finding an appropriate way to celebrate my dad’s life, I had inexplicably forgotten the power of his stories. I’d momentarily overlooked stories’ facility for bridge-building—their capacity to create a connection between someone whose childhood was altered by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the grandson whose childhood was shaped by 9/11. My little quiz turned into a fierce battle for story supremacy; even the space aliens couldn’t get enough. Everyone was a winner.

And this children’s book writer went home from the weekend with a reminder about the importance of the work I do on an everyday basis. Just wait, world: have I got a story for you!


“Don’t get took! Read a book!”

by Vicki Palmquist

bk_bookitchI go crazy when I hear that Vaunda Michaux Nelson has another book coming out. I’m a fan. For my own reading life, No Crystal Stair: a documentary novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem bookseller, is one of my top ten books in the last ten years. I found every aspect of that book satisfying. I learned a great deal. Ms. Nelson’s writing style is well suited to narrative nonfiction: she makes it exciting. 

So, when I heard that a picture book form of No Crystal Stair was on the horizon, my expectations were high. It would be illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, whose work I have loved ever since his Stars in the Darkness (written by Barbara M. Joosse) found me sobbing. But how would they compress all of the great true stories in No Crystal Stair into a picture book?

They’ve done it. Even the title appeals to younger readers: The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore (Carolrhoda, 2015).

The book is narrated by Michaux’s son, Lewis H. Michaux, Jr., who is justly proud of his father. It opens with Muhammad Ali’s visit to the store. Jump right in!

With the longer text in No Crystal Stair, Nelson builds a depth of understanding for Michaux’s commitment to books. In The Book Itch, she knows this is not needed for young readers. We learn the parts that will interest this crowd. Michaux started with five books, selling his reading materials out of a pushcart. He couldn’t get financing from a bank because the banker said “Black people don’t read.” Michaux believed otherwise. His store became a place to find, and read, books by and about black people.

Lewis Michaux was a good friend to Malcolm X. They were both political and believed “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Nelson includes the heartbreaking scene that recounts Michaux’s reaction to the assassination of Malcolm X. His son had never seen his father cry before that day.


This book keeps history alive and vital by connecting us to The National Memorial African Bookstore, a place which was, in Michaux’s words, “The House of Common Sense and Proper Propaganda.” Christie’s illustrations are at once a record and a ribbon reaching from the past, showing us how people felt. We often forget about this in our look back … and it’s essential to remember that important historical figures were just like us, thinking, acting, laughing, hurting.

Ms. Nelson’s place in my list of Best Nonfiction Authors is firm. This is a book that belongs in every library, classroom, and on family bookshelves. Books bring us freedom.


Fashion Forward and Backward

by Vicki Palmquist

Where Did My Clothes Come From?(A) If your kids are plugged in to Project Runway or
(B) if you come from a tradition of sewing clothes in your family or
(C) if you’ve ever been asked about where jeans come from … 

this is the right book for your 5- to 8-year-old. Where Did My Clothes Come From? by Chris Butterworth, with illustrations by Lucia Gaggiotti (Candlewick Press, 2015) is a nifty book with words and drawings that combine to give satisfying answers.

From jeans to fleece jackets to party dresses, from cotton to silk to polyester, each fabric is created from natural fibers grown as plants or sheared from animals or else it’s created from a “sticky syrup” made up of chemicals. The author and illustrator walk us through the process from the cloth’s origin to the cleaning to the factory to the fabric.

Where Did My Clothes Come From?

Ms. Butterworth’s language is clear in a straightforward story that will answer questions and stimulate interest. Ms. Gagliotti’s illustrations provide vital information. When the author, writing about jeans, says that “the cloth is cut into shapes,” she gives us a drawing of someone who is doing that cutting on a well-detailed table, followed by the cut pieces laid out in a before-you-sew-the-jeans diagram with labeled parts. For this reader, everything makes sense.

I’ve never wanted to know too exactly where polyester and fleece come from but, thanks to this book, now I know. A section on recycling encourages us to recycle plastic beverage bottles to be made into fleece jackets and cut down jeans for a skirt when the knees are worn.

From Rags to RichesAnother book on this subject is From Rags to Riches: a History of Girls’ Clothing in America by Leslie Sills (Holiday House, 2005). The book is out of print but you may find it in your library or as a used book. It’s worth tracking down. Excellent photo choices and lively descriptions and facts will inform kids about the fashions that have come and gone and still inspire us. Even better, the author looks at history through fashion, a particular viewpoint that will find kids thinking more deeply about their current experiences.

History of Women's FashionThis just in: History of Women’s Fashion by Sanna Mander (Big Picture Press, 2015). What an astounding book! It has just one page which folds out to 6-1/2 feet! That one page is printed on both sides. On the front, there is a timeline of clothing and accessories women have worn from 1900 to the present, with approximately 15 drawings on each section of that page. It all folds down to fit within the pages of a folio-sized book.

We see women wearing the clothes so we get the idea of how bodies were affected by the dresses and pants and corsets! The first item on the timeline is a corset. We are shown a bathing suit from 1917 (modestly covering the entire body), a Coco Chanel pleated skirt and jacket from 1924, a Land Girl Uniform from 1939, a Christian Dior Black Dress from 1955, a punk dress from 1980, and an Alexander McQueen ensemble, with plenty of styles in between. On the back side of that one page are silhouettes of the drawings on the front with text explaining what we’re seeing and the significance of the style.

I love this book now but I would have especially loved it as a teen because I was endlessly designing clothes and drawing them on models. Think how much fun your budding designer would have! This gets top marks from me for inventiveness and a fun way to absorb information. 

Anna KareninaAnd then, because I can’t resist board books for adults, you might look at Anna Karenina: a Fashion Primer the next time you’re in your favorite bookstore. Written by Jennifer Adams, with evocative art by Alison Oliver (Gibbs Smith, 2014), this book is part of the publishers’ BabyLit series. I’m still puzzling over this one. With quotes from Leo Tolstoy and focusing on fashion words and images, perhaps instilling love of great adult literature is starting (too) early? But it would be a great conversation starter at your next literary dinner party or book club.

Anna Karenina



Hands-on History for Spatial Learners

Making HistoryWhen I was in elementary school, I was never more excited than when the teacher told us we could make a diorama or a miniature scene of a pioneer settlement. The concept, planning, and building were thrilling for me. Even though my finished work seldom approached the dazzling display I could see in my head, I learned a great deal about history, engineering, science, and cardboard from my forays into building a small world in three dimensions.

We know that some kids learn best this way. They are not only hands-on, but they are spatial and visual learners, people who learn best by seeing and doing.

If you know children like this, they’ll be delighted with Making History: Have a Blast with 15 Crafts (written by Wendy Freshman and Kristin Jansson), published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

With a short historical lesson, thorough supplies list, excellent photographs, and step-by-step instructions that include a call-out for adult involvement (using scissors or a hot glue gun) your favorite kids can make a Makak Generation Basket or an Ice House (model) or a Día de Los Muertos Nichos (a small shadowbox with skeletons depicted on them for the Day honoring the Dead).

metal repousse pendant

Introducing a Metal Foil Repoussé Pendant, the authors share that Alice and Florence LeDuc formed Hastings Needlework in 1888 to create and sell embroidered household items that were treasured by many as artwork. Bought by influential families and featured on magazine covers, their needlework was known worldwide. The Minnesota Historical Society has more than 800 of their patterns in its archives.

With metal foil, a foam sheet, and household supplies such as a pencil, pen, and scissors, your students can make a necklace or box ornament from a Hastings Needlework pattern, included in the book and thoughtfully supplied online.

Paul Bunyan Action FigureFor your visual and spatial learners, building a Twister Tornado (did you know that the Mayo Clinic was founded as the result of a tornado?) or a Paul Bunyan Action Figure is a sneaky but effective way to make learning memorable and engaging.








Gifted: The Matchbox Diary

When a young girl visits her great-grandfather for the first time, her imagination swirls with everything she sees in his antique shop. He asks her to pick out her favorite item and he will tell her a story about it. She chooses a cigar box filled with match boxes. As it turns out, this is […]