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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Katherine Paterson

Raymie Nightingale

rn200pixDar­ling Daugh­ter and I host/participate in an occa­sion­al par­ent-child book­group for mid­dle-grade read­ers and their par­ents. We call it Books & Bagels and we meet at the bagel shop down the street from church and nosh on bagels while talk­ing about books. I think we can safe­ly say the bagel aspect of things increas­es participation—but all the kids who come are great read­ers and we love talk­ing with them and their par­ents about books. We’ve read many of our favorites again with this group and they’ve intro­duced us to some we’ve missed in the last few years of pub­li­ca­tion. (Dar­ling Daugh­ter is, alas, out­grow­ing the mid­dle-grade genre.)

We saved the read­ing of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightin­gale for Books & Bagels. I sched­uled it not hav­ing read the book, in fact, which is not usu­al­ly how I do things. But DiCamillo’s books lend them­selves to good dis­cus­sion, I’ve found, so I was sure it would work well for us.

And it did. We talked about the heart­break and the hope, the crazy char­ac­ters and their friend­ships and flaws, and the unlike­ly events that could absolute­ly hap­pen. We talked about how it was sim­i­lar to some of DiCamillo’s oth­er books and how it was dif­fer­ent, too. Good dis­cus­sion all the way around.

I noticed as we talked, how­ev­er, that one of our regulars—I’ll call him Sam—seemed a bit dis­grun­tled about the book. Sam and I have been dis­cussing books for a long time—he reads both wise­ly and wide­ly and we have intro­duced each oth­er to many books over the years. He has just turned ten and he’s hon­est about what he thinks, though always kind. He’s been taught to speak his mind, but nev­er in a way that would hurt some­one else’s feelings—including, say, the author of the book who is not even present.

Sam,” I said, “it looks like you have some­thing you want to say.”

Yeah…well,” said Sam. “It was a great book and all…. Well-writ­ten, of course. And, I mean, the friend­ship of Raymie and those oth­er girls was great, I guess. And the lousy adults were inter­est­ing…. But—” He paused and looked at his Mom out of the cor­ner of his eye.

Go ahead, Sam,” she said. “Tell us what you real­ly think.”

It’s just that…I mean it’s fine…but it’s just…it’s such a girlie book.” He looked both relieved and ashamed at hav­ing con­fessed this. “Not that there’s any­thing wrong with that, of course.”

I asked gen­tle clar­i­fy­ing ques­tions. I’m sort of fas­ci­nat­ed and appalled by the idea of “girl books” and “boy books.” I want to vehe­ment­ly argue that those cat­e­gories don’t exist…or shouldn’t exist…or must not be allowed to exist…or some­thing like that. But before me was a read­er insist­ing that he under­stood this was a great book, but it just had way too much “girl stuff” in it to be inter­est­ing to guys like him.

Like what kind of girl stuff?” one of the girl read­ers asked.

Batons. Bar­rettes. Dress­es.” Sam said. He shrugged apolo­get­i­cal­ly.

Oth­er kids perked up. Right, they said. Lots of girl stuff. No boy stuff what­so­ev­er, in fact.

I was afraid to ask what “boy stuff” they thought was miss­ing. Instead, we talked about whether var­i­ous (tra­di­tion­al­ly under­stood) girl and boy trap­pings were lim­it­ed or lim­it­ing. These kids know how to have good and hon­est con­ver­sa­tions around per­cep­tions and assump­tions and stereo­types. We talked about whether the char­ac­ter of each of the girls was “girl-only.” No, every­one agreed—they knew boys who were painful­ly shy/anxious, or show-offy, or stub­born, just like each of the three ami­gos DiCamil­lo con­jured up. They knew both boys and girls who car­ried heavy loads of expec­ta­tion, or fam­i­ly dis­tress, or who had trou­ble mak­ing friends. They knew them­selves what it was to feel like every­thing, absolute­ly every­thing, depend­ed on them. They could iden­ti­fy with the book—on many lev­els that had noth­ing to do with gen­der. And yet…this was a girlie book—on this they all agreed, as well.

It was a won­der­ful dis­cus­sion, real­ly. Hon­est. Respect­ful. I thanked Sam for being brave enough to say what he thought. He won­dered if Kate DiCamil­lo made Raymie, Bev­er­ly, and Louisiana girls because she was a girl and that’s what she knew best. I said I didn’t know, but I knew that she’d also writ­ten books that fea­tured male char­ac­ters. I told him I’d share my copy of Tiger Ris­ing with him.

As we cleaned up the bagel and cream cheese detri­tus I asked if any­one could sug­gest a book or two for our fall Books & Bagels book­group. Sam eager­ly bounced up and down.

I have two to sug­gest!” he said. “Bridge to Ter­abithia and The BFG.”

Two ter­rif­ic books. Two ter­rif­ic books that hap­pen to have strong girl char­ac­ters. I point­ed this out and Sam said, “But not only girl char­ac­ters. The giant is a boy!”


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. 



The Power of Fiction to Help Kids Grow

by Eliz­a­beth Fixmer

bk_SaintTrainingThe years I spent in pri­vate prac­tice as a psy­chother­a­pist spe­cial­iz­ing in work with chil­dren pro­pelled me to become a children’s writer. My use of books as a ther­a­py adjunct evolved over time, as did my respect and even­tu­al awe for the pow­er of fic­tion as a change agent. My young clients intro­duced me to mid­dle-grade and young-adult nov­els. But it was a few years into my prac­tice before I start­ed to appre­ci­ate what sto­ries had to offer these kids.

It start­ed when a nine-year-old excit­ed­ly brought me a mid­dle-grade nov­el and begged me to read it because, “It says exact­ly how I feel.” She, like most kids, had been strug­gling to find words to express her feel­ings. She was relieved to find the words right there on the page, and to rec­og­nize that her feel­ings were shared by oth­er chil­dren. When kids have words to express them­selves they can bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate their own. And when sto­ries show a way for them to appro­pri­ate­ly express those feel­ings, they begin to devel­op tools for their own expres­sion. But this was only the begin­ning of what sto­ries could offer.

bk_down_mountain_160At first I tried using self-help books that matched the child’s main issue—divorcing par­ents, bul­lies, and behav­ioral prob­lems, to name a few. The child’s eyes would glaze over and her atten­tion would drift. Sim­i­lar­ly, when I tried to dis­cuss the issue direct­ly, my young clients would say, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

But when I tried using sto­ries, made up, or through pub­lished fic­tion, kids start­ed to make progress. Kids were riv­et­ed and they start­ed to make progress. They laughed and cried with the char­ac­ters. They offered advice to the char­ac­ters or asked what I would do to help in this, all with­out reveal­ing how and why they relat­ed to the pro­tag­o­nist.

Sto­ries also offer dis­tance between the character’s and child’s strug­gles. The child lives vic­ar­i­ous­ly through the pro­tag­o­nists’ adven­tures and strug­gles, feel­ing what the char­ac­ter is feel­ing and, if the sto­ry is com­pelling enough, chang­ing right along with the pro­tag­o­nist. This made per­fect sense because, as a ther­a­pist I knew that change would not occur through intel­lect alone. Emo­tion­al growth requires engag­ing the emo­tions. And I saw that what the fic­tion­al child con­cludes about his or her problem—and how he or she moves for­ward, can become a road map for the real child.

bk_GillyA great exam­ple of this is Kather­ine Patterson’s nov­el, The Great Gilly Hop­kins. Gilly starts out as an oppo­si­tion­al child who refus­es to believe that her moth­er doesn’t want her and bucks the fos­ter care sys­tem with incor­ri­gi­ble behav­ior. Through the firm hand and lov­ing kind­ness of her new fos­ter moth­er, Gilly’s behav­ior changes and when she final­ly has a chance to spend time with her birth moth­er, she comes to under­stand and accept her mother’s lim­i­ta­tions. I would ask my client to do role plays in which we’d act out pos­si­ble con­ver­sa­tions between Gilly and her fos­ter mom, Mrs. Trot­ter so that my client could express her anger about mov­ing from fos­ter home to fos­ter home giv­ing my young client the oppor­tu­ni­ty to express her feel­ings about hav­ing so many fos­ter place­ments. Then we’d role play Gilly con­vers­ing with her bio­log­i­cal moth­er. My client would play both roles and when I played the moth­er I’d make sure “Gilly” was grant­ed per­mis­sion to go on with life and be hap­py.

Anoth­er sto­ry that I found par­tic­u­lar­ly help­ful with adop­tion issues was The Last Bat­tle, by C.S. Lewis. Adopt­ed chil­dren who have lived with their bio­log­i­cal par­ents and/or have had mul­ti­ple place­ments will often reject their new par­ents even though the par­ents’ have an abun­dance of love to offer. The Last Bat­tle offered me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to help kids see that no one could make them, or help them, take in what was offered.

bk_LastBattleI would share the scene in which Lucy had died and found her­self back in Narnia—a per­fect Nar­nia. Every­one was hap­py except for a lit­tle group of gnomes who seemed to be suf­fer­ing ter­ri­bly. Lucy begs Aslan (a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Christ) to for­give their offens­es and let them enjoy this heav­en. Aslan takes Lucy to them. He offers them beau­ti­ful trays of fruits and nuts and var­i­ous meats. They reject it, see­ing it as dog dung and they con­tin­ue to starve. They com­plain of the cold so he offers them furs, but they per­ceive the furs as por­cu­pine nee­dles. The offers and rejec­tions con­tin­ue until Aslan turns sad­ly to Lucy and reminds her that we all have free will and no one can make us take the good we are offered. Time and again, my young clients would, them­selves link this to how they were reject­ing their adop­tive par­ents. They would sob. They knew that deep inside they longed for the love and dis­ci­pline their adop­tive par­ents offered. These ses­sions with Lewis’s book proved to be a turn­ing point for sev­er­al kids.

I no longer prac­tice psy­chother­a­py. Instead I write. My clin­i­cal expe­ri­ence con­vinced me that what I want­ed to do was cre­ate of sto­ries with the pow­er to change lives. My two pub­lished books include Saint Train­ing and Down from the Moun­tain. These two, and a third in progress, are about issues of social jus­tice, and the young lives affect­ed by these issues. They help to devel­op a social con­science.

Because of my pro­fes­sion­al back­ground, I’ve also been giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cre­ate and write social/emotional guides for teach­ers, par­ents and coun­selors to use with spe­cif­ic books — pic­ture books through YA—that will fos­ter dis­cus­sion, iden­ti­fy and label feel­ings, and will pro­mote pro-social val­ues and cross-cul­tur­al appre­ci­a­tion. This is excit­ing for me because it’s anoth­er avenue to help kids grow through fic­tion.

I’m for­ev­er grate­ful to the young clients who intro­duced me to the nov­els they loved and in doing so, placed in my hands pow­er­ful and per­son­al agents of change.


Gifted: Giving Thanks

Giv­ing Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs for Thanks­giv­ing edit­ed and with reflec­tions by Kather­ine Pater­son illus­tra­tions by Pamela Dal­ton Hand­print Books / Chron­i­cle Books, 2013 ISBN: 978−1−4521−1339−5 The sea­son when we focus on giv­ing thanks will quick­ly be here. If you are look­ing for a gift to take to your hosts, to give to […]


When I Was Your Age

When I was a small child, I spent a lot of time around adults. Hav­ing no broth­ers or sis­ters, no cousins liv­ing near­by, and spend­ing sum­mers and vaca­tions with my grand­par­ents, I went where they vis­it­ed. Many of those peo­ple were their age. So I heard this phrase often: “When I was your age …” […]