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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Minnesota

Skinny Dip with Laura Purdie Salas

Laura Purdie Salas

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas is a poet, a researcher, and a pop­u­lar vis­it­ing author in ele­men­tary and mid­dle schools. Sev­er­al of her books have turned heads and stirred up a buzz, includ­ing Water Can Be … and If You Were the Moon. She has pub­lished many books about writ­ing for chil­dren and fre­quent­ly speaks at con­fer­ences. We’re pleased that this very busy author is spend­ing some time with Bookol­o­gy this month.

What’s the weird­est place you’ve ever read a book?

Perched in a tree and lying under­neath a tram­po­line in the shade were two favorite spots when I was a kid grow­ing up in Flori­da. I have also read books on bor­ing car­ni­val rides, dur­ing recitals (don’t tell!), and while canoe­ing. There is pret­ty much no place I would not be hap­py to read a book.

Laura Purdie Salas, reading in a tree

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, read­ing in a tree

What is the pre­dom­i­nant col­or in your wardrobe?

Black, but that sounds so sad! I live in yoga pants in my dai­ly life, and black ones are the most flat­ter­ing. My top half is usu­al­ly more colorful—I swear!—and blues and pur­ples are my favorite col­ors to dress in.

Which library springs to your mind when some­one says that word? What do you remem­ber most about it?

The orig­i­nal Win­ter Park, Flori­da, Library. I would ride my bike to the small, ancient-look­ing build­ing once or twice a week. When I would walk between the tall white columns to go inside, it was like enter­ing anoth­er plan­et. Big wood­en card cat­a­logs. The bustling hush of peo­ple walk­ing pur­pose­ful­ly around. The children’s area, where I knew I was sup­posed to be. The rest of the library, where I wan­dered around and learned about the world beyond the hap­py lit­tle children’s books. I can still pic­ture the wall around the cor­ner that had all the mys­ter­ies, where I worked my way through the Agatha Christies. I felt like every­one there was smart and hap­py, and I knew books were the rea­son. l always checked out as many books as I could jug­gle home. Halfway through my child­hood, they built a new library, which was very nice and mod­ern­ized and big­ger. I know I used that one con­stant­ly, too. But my mem­o­ries are all of the first one—my very first library.

Which book that you read as a child has most influ­enced your life?

The Figure in the Shadows John BellairsI devoured books like they were pota­to chips, and I went for quantity—and escapism. I lost myself in books, and they were sort of like lost dreams after­ward. I don’t remem­ber too many indi­vid­ual books, but The Fig­ure in the Shad­ows, by John Bel­lairs, was a big favorite. It showed me that fam­i­ly isn’t restrict­ed to your bio­log­i­cal fam­i­ly. And it scared the bejee­bers out of me—I loved it! Two oth­ers I read around (I think) 7th grade, Crooked House, by Agatha Christie, and Flow­ers for Alger­non, by Daniel Keyes, still haunt me a lit­tle. SPOILER ALERT: In Crooked House, the mur­der­er is a child, which total­ly shocked me. Not a mis­un­der­stood child. Not a men­tal­ly ill child. A greedy, self­ish child the same age I was when I read the book. It made me think about the enor­mous capac­i­ty for good and evil human beings have. Flow­ers for Alger­non, which I recent­ly reread, shaped my thoughts about love, intel­li­gence, kind­ness, and the lim­its of sci­ence. And it broke my heart.

Have you trav­eled out­side of the Unit­ed States? Which coun­try is your favorite to vis­it? Why?

In the past ten years, I’ve got­ten to vis­it Scot­land twice, Ire­land, France, Aus­tria, the Czech Repub­lic, and Ice­land. So far, Scot­land is my favorite—so beau­ti­ful and with so much his­to­ry. Famil­iar enough to be com­fort­able, but for­eign enough to be an adven­ture. But see­ing the North­ern Lights in Ice­land was my favorite sin­gle event while trav­el­ing. This world is just so amaz­ing.

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, on the shore of a loch in Scot­land

Lau­ra Pur­die Salas with her hus­band, Randy Salas, tour­ing a lava tube cave in Ice­land

the north­ern lights as viewed from Ice­land

What’s the last per­for­mance you saw at a the­ater?

Improv com­e­dy at Com­e­dyS­portz in Min­neapo­lis. Improv is so much fun—watching peo­ple cre­ate sto­ries, live, in the moment, is incred­i­ble. It’s like being thrown into a thun­der­storm of a first draft, and you nev­er know when light­ning will strike.

When you walk into a bak­ery, what are you most like­ly to choose from the bak­ery cas­es?

Some­thing frost­ed! Or with gooey caramel. Or with a mousse. When I buy cup­cakes, I always ask the bak­er to choose the one with the most frost­ing for me. It dri­ves me nuts on bak­ing shows when a judge will say with dis­dain, “This cream cheese frost­ing is just too sweet.” Or “You have way too much but­ter­cream on this cake.” Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly impos­si­ble state­ments, in my opin­ion.

If you had a choice, would you live under the ocean or in out­er space, and why?

Out­er space fas­ci­nates me, but I’d want to live in the ocean. The idea that there are still so many mys­ter­ies and unex­plored places on our very own plan­et is crazy! Plus the ocean is so … water­col­ory and gor­geous and tran­quil. Out­er space seems less hospitable—all dark­ness and sharp­ness and emp­ty space.

If you could write any book and know that it would be pub­lished and tens of thou­sands of peo­ple would read it, which book would you write?

I would write a pic­ture book, maybe a poem, that would reas­sure kids that they are who they choose to be. They are not defined by their home, their fam­i­ly, or their family’s jobs, income, cars, edu­ca­tion lev­el, ill­ness­es … But with­out sound­ing preachy, of course! :>)

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Skinny Dip with Brenda Sederberg

Brenda SederbergBren­da Seder­berg is the cur­rent facil­i­ta­tor of the Chap­ter & Verse Book Club in Duluth, Min­neso­ta. She’s an enthu­si­as­tic read­er and won­der­ful­ly avid about shar­ing the books she reads. A retired teacher, she con­tin­ues to inspire learn­ing wher­ev­er she goes.

How many book­cas­es do you have in your home?

Oh … soooo many! When I retired from 34 years of teach­ing I brought very lit­tle home from my class­room, but I did bring 24 box­es of children’s books! I’m just not ready to part with them. They take up book­shelves on an entire wall in my house. From time to time I will be chat­ting with some­one about some­thing, and end up say­ing, “oh … you should see this book by .…”, and I find the book and loan it out. When guests with chil­dren vis­it they often end up read­ing books from my shelves.

I also have shelves of books in anoth­er room in our house, orga­nized:

  • nature and out­doors books
  • books by His­pan­ic authors (I taught mid­dle and high school Span­ish for a num­ber of years … before teach­ing ele­men­tary school)
  • trav­el books
  • an assort­ment of Nobel Prize win­ning lit­er­a­ture
  • children’s books from places I’ve vis­it­ed (Maine, Texas, Rhode Island, France, Ger­many)
  • favorite fic­tion and non­fic­tion books I’ve read or want to read

Brenda Sederberg's bookcases

Have you trav­eled out­side the Unit­ed States?

I love to trav­el, and when I do I look for children’s books from the area I’m vis­it­ing, or read a book while I’m there that was writ­ten by an author from that region. I read Hei­di in Switzer­land last fall, and Pinoc­chio in Italy the year before. I enjoy hik­ing and bik­ing in the wide open spaces in these coun­tries, the small towns … and I stay away from the big cities.

Mt. Royal Public Library, Duluth, MN

Mt. Roy­al Pub­lic Library, Duluth, MN

Which library springs to mind when some­one says that word?

It’s hard to choose one! We lived in a small town in North Dako­ta when I was young, and I biked to the Pub­lic Library there and checked out as many books as the book clamp on my bike would hold. It was a beau­ti­ful build­ing, of course, as libraries are! There were large steps lead­ing up to the door, and columns along­side the steps. The old pub­lic library near Lin­coln Park School was a favorite when I went to school there, and now I LOVE the Mt. Roy­al Library in Duluth. When I was in col­lege in Duluth, I worked 10 hours a week in the Children’s Library at UMD, run by Lor­raine Bis­sonette. She arranged books beau­ti­ful­ly, with stuffed ani­mal book char­ac­ters next to books, col­or­ful mobiles hang­ing above the shelves, green and flow­er­ing plants through­out, and com­fort­able chairs in which to sit and read. It was a library like no oth­er, to be sure … more like some of the won­der­ful children’s book­stores … the Wild Rum­pus, for exam­ple.

Do you read the end of a book first?

NEVER. I do not usu­al­ly read any infor­ma­tion on the flap or the back, either. I like to start with the ded­i­ca­tion, and then the first line of the book, and con­tin­ue from there. I want to read it and let it speak for itself, I don’t like to know much at all about a book before I read it! First lines are impor­tant to me … I sort of “col­lect” first lines!

"In the Carpenter Shop," Carl Larsson

In the Car­pen­ter Shop,” Carl Lars­son

Who is your favorite artist?

It is hard to choose one … I like the art of Carl Lars­son, Swedish painter, and vis­it­ed his home in Swe­den where one can see the paint­ing he did IN his home, above door­ways, around walls. I copied a “say­ing” he paint­ed in his house, above a door­way in our home: “Whef Du Vad, Var God Och Glad,” in Swedish (for­give any errors!), in Eng­lish: “I’ll tell you what, be good and glad.” I love Bet­sy Bowen’s wood­cuts, and the prints of Rick Allen, who has a stu­dio in Canal Park in Duluth and each spring releas­es a new print of “The Trapper’s Daugh­ter”! He has prac­ti­cal­ly writ­ten a book in print­ing her many adven­tures! The let­ter­ing and text he some­times incor­po­rates in his work is won­der­ful, and often humor­ous.

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Skinny Dip with Loni Niles

Loni Niles

Loni Niles

We inter­viewed Loni Niles, K-12 media spe­cial­ist in the Wade­na-Deer Creek pub­lic schools in west cen­tral Min­neso­ta. She shared her thoughts about books and life.

What is your favorite late-night snack?

I love pop­corn and can eat it any time dur­ing the day, even for break­fast!

Favorite city to vis­it?

Chica­go. Even though we moved from there when I was just a baby, I still take some pride that I was born there!  Now I love to vis­it there because my step­daugh­ter and her hus­band are such won­der­ful hosts—they show us all kinds of won­der­ful things the city has to offer.  Oh yeah, and there’s that grand­son there, too! He def­i­nite­ly is a draw for me to vis­it this won­der­ful city!

First date?

My hus­band and I do not real­ly agree on when our first date was. For­tu­nate­ly, we agree on some of the more impor­tant things in life!

Which book do you find your­self rec­om­mend­ing pas­sion­ate­ly?

I find myself pas­sion­ate­ly rec­om­mend­ing the nov­els The Lot­tery Rose by Irene Hunt and A Wrin­kle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Miss Steim­le, my fifth grade teacher, read both of these out loud to my class in the 1970s, but today’s kids love them, too!

The Lottery Rose, A Wrinkle in Time

This is NOT a Cat!Illustrator’s work you most admire?

Mike Wohnout­ka. My favorite book of his work is writ­ten by one of my favorite authors, David LaRochelle. It’s a final­ist for the Min­neso­ta Book Awards this year and called This is NOT a Cat! Check it out! 

Tea? Cof­fee? Milk? Soda? What’s your favorite go-to drink?

Got­ta have my cof­fee in the morn­ing!

Favorite sea­son of the year?

Although I love them all, it’s win­ter! Min­neso­ta is the per­fect place for me!  We typ­i­cal­ly get a real win­ter here and we def­i­nite­ly get four sea­sons!  At age 48, I start­ed to down­hill ski.  But I love to watch high school hock­ey, go snow­mo­bil­ng and sled­ding, and when my sons were younger we used to love play­ing in the snow!

Marathon candy barFavorite can­dy as a kid?

Any­one remem­ber the Marathon can­dy bar?! A yum­my caramel braid cov­ered in choco­late.

Broth­ers and sis­ters or an only child? How did that shape your life?

I’m in the mid­dle of two broth­ers. I always told my two sons that I’m the best mom for them because I know what it’s like to have that big broth­er pound­ing on you and that lit­tle broth­er pick­ing at you!  I used to lament not hav­ing sis­ters, but I have been sur­round­ed by won­der­ful women (and girls, too—I have three grand­daugh­ters) in my life—so it’s not so much an issue any­more. 

Loni Niles and her brothers

Best tip for liv­ing a con­tent­ed life?

I do live a very con­tent­ed life, but I don’t real­ly have a tip on how to do it. See­ing the good in things and peo­ple comes pret­ty nat­u­ral­ly to me.  I try to remem­ber my mom’s advice to always assume the best. This is the same woman who once told me as a teenag­er com­plain­ing about my acne that I should just be hap­py I have a face. That still makes me chuck­le! 

Hope for the world?

My hope for the world is that we begin to rec­og­nize each oth­ers’ tal­ents (and our own!) and appre­ci­ate each other—even our dif­fer­ences.

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A Story for the Ages

For the past two years my hus­band and I have had the good for­tune to spend the wan­ing days of sum­mer in Door Coun­ty, Wis­con­sin. There we have dis­cov­ered a vibrant arts com­mu­ni­ty. A boun­ty of the­atre, music, and fine arts is there for the pick­ing.

The Rabbits Wedding by Garth WilliamsThis year, as I scanned the pos­si­bil­i­ties for our vis­it, I was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in the Penin­su­la Play­ers’ Mid­west pre­mière of a new play by Ken­neth Jones called Alaba­ma Sto­ry. The play comes from actu­al events which occurred in Alaba­ma in 1959. Based on the Amer­i­can Library Association’s rec­om­men­da­tion, State Librar­i­an Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed pur­chased copies of the pic­ture book, The Rab­bits’ Wed­ding by Garth Williams, for state libraries. The Rab­bits’ Wed­ding con­cerns a black rab­bit and a white rab­bit who mar­ry. Though Williams, an artist, chose the col­ors of the rab­bits for the con­trast they would pro­vide in his illus­tra­tions, they became sym­bol­ic of much more when seg­re­ga­tion­ist Sen­a­tor E.O. Eddins demand­ed that the book be removed from all state library shelves. Eddins believed that the book pro­mot­ed the mix­ing of races. Alaba­ma Sto­ry tells this sto­ry of cen­sor­ship, jux­ta­posed with the sto­ry of a bira­cial rela­tion­ship.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellMy hus­band and I both had tears in our eyes sev­er­al times through­out the August 31st per­for­mance of Alaba­ma Sto­ry. Cen­sor­ship was some­thing we know inti­mate­ly. Though Alaba­ma Sto­ry takes place in 1959, it could have tak­en place in 2013 in Anoka, Min­neso­ta, with a teen book enti­tled Eleanor & Park by Rain­bow Row­ell. My high school Library Media Spe­cial­ist col­leagues and I had planned a dis­trict-wide com­mu­ni­ty read for the sum­mer of 2013. Based on our own read­ing of the book, and based on the fact that the book had received starred reviews across the board and was on many “best” lists for 2013, we chose Eleanor & Park as the book for the sum­mer pro­gram. All stu­dents who vol­un­teered to par­tic­i­pate received a free copy of the book. Rain­bow Row­ell agreed to vis­it in the fall for a day of fol­low-up with the par­tic­i­pants. Short­ly after the books were hand­ed out, just pri­or to our sum­mer break, par­ents of one of the par­tic­i­pants, along with the Par­ents’ Action League (deemed a hate group by the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter) reg­is­tered a chal­lenge against the book. Their com­plaint had to do with the lan­guage that they deemed inap­pro­pri­ate in the book and with the sex­u­al con­tent in the book. They demand­ed that the par­ents of all par­tic­i­pants be informed that their child had been “exposed” to the book (they were not), that Rain­bow Rowell’s vis­it be can­celled (it was), that copies of the book be removed from the shelves of all dis­trict schools (they were not), that our selec­tion pol­i­cy be rewrit­ten (it was), and that the Library Media Spe­cial­ists be dis­ci­plined (we received a let­ter). The sto­ry gained nation­al atten­tion in the late sum­mer and fall of 2013. 

Emily Wheelock ReadOne of the most strik­ing aspects of Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed’s sto­ry was the sense of iso­la­tion she felt. She received no sup­port, par­tic­u­lar­ly from the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion who had pub­lished the list of rec­om­men­da­tions which she used to pur­chase new books for Alaba­ma state libraries. These feel­ings of iso­la­tion were famil­iar to me. Though my col­leagues turned to each oth­er for sup­port, we received no sup­port from the dis­trict school board or the dis­trict admin­is­tra­tion. This was the most dif­fi­cult time in my thir­ty-six career as a high school edu­ca­tor. Though I had won the district’s Teacher Out­stand­ing Per­for­mance award, was a final­ist for Min­neso­ta Teacher of the Year, and won the Lars Steltzn­er Intel­lec­tu­al Free­dom award, choos­ing Eleanor & Park as the selec­tion for a vol­un­tary sum­mer read­ing pro­gram felt like a threat to my career and to my job. As Toby Gra­ham, Uni­ver­si­ty of Georgia’s Uni­ver­si­ty Librar­i­an, asks in a video for the Free­dom to Read Orga­ni­za­tion, “Who are the Emi­ly Reeds of today, and who will stand up with them in their pur­suit to insure our right to read?” Thank­ful­ly, the media, the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter, our local teach­ers’ union, and oth­ers were sup­port­ive in many ways. In addi­tion, the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, the Free­dom to Read Orga­ni­za­tion, and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions now offer tools ded­i­cat­ed to Library Media Spe­cial­ists who find them­selves in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions.

Eleanor & Park went on to be named a Michael J. Printz Hon­or book—the gold stan­dard for young adult lit­er­a­ture. It is the mov­ing sto­ry of two out­cast teens who meet on the school bus. Eleanor is red-head­ed, poor, white, bul­lied, and the vic­tim of abuse. Park is a bira­cial boy who sur­vives by fly­ing under the radar. The two even­tu­al­ly devel­op trust in each oth­er as the world swirls around them. They them­selves don’t use foul lan­guage. They use music as a way to hold the rest of the world at bay. They fall in love and con­sid­er hav­ing an inti­mate rela­tion­ship but decide, very mature­ly, that they are not ready for sex. As a Library Media Spe­cial­ist, there were “Eleanors” and “Parks” who walked into my media cen­ter each and every day. Their sto­ry need­ed to be on the shelf in my library, so that they could see them­selves reflect­ed in its pages, to know that the world saw them and val­ued them, even if their lives were messy. For those more for­tu­nate than these Eleanors and Parks, the sto­ry was impor­tant as well. By look­ing into the lives of oth­ers via books, we devel­op empa­thy and under­stand­ing, even when the view­points reflect­ed there are not our own.

Carmen Roman as librarian Emily Wheelock Reed, a librarian who stood her ground for the right to read during the onset of the civil rights movement and refused to remove "The Rabbit's Wedding" from the shelves. Photo by Len Villano for The Peninsula Players

Car­men Roman as librar­i­an Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed, a librar­i­an who stood her ground for the right to read dur­ing the onset of the civ­il rights move­ment and refused to remove The Rabbit’s Wed­ding from the shelves. Pho­to by Len Vil­lano for The Penin­su­la Play­ers

As artists—teachers, writ­ers, actors, musi­cians, painters, dancers, and sculptors—it is our job to tell and pre­serve sto­ries, the sto­ries of all indi­vid­u­als, even when they rep­re­sent beliefs dif­fer­ent from our own. Knowl­edge tru­ly is pow­er. When we cen­sor sto­ries, we take away pow­er. One need only look at his­to­ry, and the burn­ing of books and the destruc­tion of libraries by those in pow­er, for exam­ples of the dan­gers of cen­sor­ship. As we cel­e­brate Banned Books Week (Sep­tem­ber 25th–October 1st), it is impor­tant to reflect on the val­ue of artis­tic free­dom and on the val­ue of our free­dom to read.

Though Garth Williams did not intend for The Rab­bits’ Wed­ding to be a sto­ry about race and, thus, become a sym­bol of the Civ­il Rights Move­ment, it did. Though Rain­bow Row­ell did not intend for Eleanor & Park to become a sym­bol of cen­sor­ship, it did. Alaba­ma Sto­ry took place in 1959 but could just have eas­i­ly tak­en place in 2001 with a book called Har­ry Pot­ter, or in 2006 with a book called And Tan­go Makes Three, or … in 2013 with a book called Eleanor & Park. Cen­sor­ship still occurs in 2016.

Peninsula Players, Door County

Penin­su­la Play­ers The­atre host­ed Door Coun­ty library staff to a dress rehearsal of the Mid­west pre­mière of “Alaba­ma Sto­ry” by Ken­neth Jones. Jones was inspired by librar­i­an Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed’s defense of a children’s book in 1959, Mont­gomery, Alaba­ma. From left are cast mem­bers and librar­i­ans Byron Glenn Willis, actor; Tra­cy Vreeke, Stur­geon Bay Library; Pat Strom, Fish Creek Library; Hol­ly Somer­halder, Fish Creek Library; Greg Vin­kler, Penin­su­la Play­ers Artis­tic Direc­tor; Kathy White, Stur­geon Bay Library; Har­ter Cling­man, actor; Hol­ly Cole, Egg Har­bor Library; James Leam­ing, actor; Car­men Roman, actor and Kather­ine Keber­lein, actor. Vis­it www.peninsulaplayers.com Pho­to by Len Vil­lano.

As the audi­ence stood that evening, my hus­band and I applaud­ed the Penin­su­la Play­ers’ artis­tic staff, cast, and crew for telling Emi­ly Whee­lock Reed’s sto­ry. It is a sto­ry that needs to be told over and over again—for every “Eleanor” and every “Park” among us.

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End Cap: Turn Left at the Cow

Turn Left at the CowWe hope you enjoyed read­ing Turn Left at the Cow, solv­ing the mys­tery. Did you fig­ure out who­dunit before the cli­mac­tic scene? If you love puz­zles and games, we hope you have a good time solv­ing this Word Search. 

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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Lisa Bullard

Lisa BullardIn this inter­view with Lisa Bullard, author of Turn Left at the Cow, our Book­storm™ this monthwe asked nine ques­tions to which she gave heart­felt answers. 

Lisa, thank you for your will­ing­ness to share your writ­ing process and your thoughts about mys­ter­ies with us. Mys­ter­ies have rabid fans and you’ve writ­ten a book that’s not only smart and fun­ny and sassy, but it’s a taut thriller. We appre­ci­ate hav­ing such a good book to read and to share with oth­er fans.

Turn Left at the CowAt what point in writ­ing your nov­el, Turn Left at the Cow, did you know it was going to be about an unsolved bank rob­bery?

That’s a great question—it makes me think back to the whole excit­ing process of how this sto­ry evolved over time! When I first set out to write this book, I actu­al­ly imag­ined it as a mur­der mys­tery for adult read­ers. And then one day, when I had about 5 or 6 chap­ters writ­ten, I was revis­ing the open­ing to the sto­ry, and a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent voice marched in and took over the first-per­son narration—and it was the voice of a young teenage boy. He had so much ener­gy, and I could “hear” him so clear­ly, that I knew this was tru­ly his sto­ry to tell. And of course he want­ed to talk to oth­er kids more than he want­ed to talk to adults! But that meant I had to rethink many oth­er ele­ments of the nov­el to instead make it a sto­ry for young read­ers.

I thought it seemed unlike­ly that a 13-year-old would be able to get involved in a mur­der inves­ti­ga­tion in a way that felt real­is­tic, so I brain­stormed oth­er pos­si­ble mys­ter­ies. At about the same time, I read a news­pa­per arti­cle about a man who was con­vinced that infa­mous hijack­er D.B. Coop­er was actu­al­ly his broth­er. I used one of my great­est writ­ing tools—the ques­tion “What if?”—and start­ed think­ing along the lines of “What if my char­ac­ter dis­cov­ers that one of his rel­a­tives was involved in a noto­ri­ous rob­bery?”

You’ve set Turn Left at the Cow in a small, rur­al town. Trav’s grand­ma lives in a cab­in on a near­by lake. Why did you decide that the “place” for this sto­ry should be in this locale?

This loca­tion was at the heart of this sto­ry from the very begin­ning; it stayed the same no mat­ter what oth­er details changed, and to me, this set­ting speaks so loud­ly that it’s like anoth­er char­ac­ter in the book. It’s based pri­mar­i­ly on the loca­tion of my family’s lake cab­in, which is on Green Lake (near two very small Min­neso­ta towns, Spicer and New Lon­don), in west cen­tral Min­neso­ta. Since my fam­i­ly moved around when I was a kid, it’s the one place that I’ve con­sis­tent­ly returned to since I was a very small child, and it’s a place that has sunk deep into my bones. Our lake cab­in orig­i­nal­ly belonged to my grand­par­ents, and I’ve spent some of the most impor­tant times in my life there with fam­i­ly and friends. It’s even where my par­ents had their hon­ey­moon, so I’ve tru­ly been vis­it­ing there my entire life! But of course, my sto­ry is fic­tion, so I did take some lib­er­ties with the setting—for exam­ple, I gave the town in the book a (nonex­is­tent in real life) giant stat­ue of a bull­head (fish), because many of my oth­er favorite Min­neso­ta towns fea­ture giant stat­u­ary.

Parade in Spicer

Travis, your pro­tag­o­nist, is a 13-year-old boy whose dad died before he was born. This serves as a strong moti­va­tion for him run­ning away from his moth­er in Cal­i­for­nia to his grand­moth­er in Min­neso­ta. Does your sure-foot­ed knowl­edge of Trav’s moti­va­tion come from your own expe­ri­ence?

I have been so lucky to have a dad who has always been very active in my life. To this day, we still talk and laugh and argue with each oth­er like we did when I was a lit­tle kid and a teenag­er. But many of the peo­ple I’ve been clos­est to through­out my life are not so lucky. I’ve been close friends with sev­er­al peo­ple who lost their father when they were quite young, and my clos­est uncle died the sum­mer I turned nine—so my cousins no longer had a father of their own. As my mom explained to me, that meant I need­ed to “share” my dad with them.

As I men­tioned ear­li­er, one of my great­est writ­ing tools is the ques­tion “What if?” It chal­lenges me to expand my sto­ries beyond my own per­son­al expe­ri­ences and to live inside the expe­ri­ences of a char­ac­ter who is very dif­fer­ent from me. One of the biggest “What if” ques­tions in my own life has always been: “What if I didn’t hap­pen to have the dad that I was lucky enough to have?” I decid­ed that this sto­ry was the place for me to try to imag­ine what it might be like for some­one to des­per­ate­ly crave a rela­tion­ship with a lost father.

Read­ers are fas­ci­nat­ed by the “red her­rings” in a who­dunit, the clues that could, but don’t, solve the mys­tery. At what point in writ­ing the sto­ry did you con­scious­ly work with (plant your) red her­rings?

walking catfishI love quirky details, and I built a lot of them into the sto­ry: for exam­ple, there’s a human head carved out of but­ter, a walk­ing cat­fish, and a game where the win­ner is cho­sen by a poop­ing chick­en. But I don’t want to give away any clues to read­ers who haven’t yet had a chance to read my sto­ry, so I’m hes­i­tant to tell you here which details are red her­rings and which details are key clues! I’ll just say that some of the red her­rings were in place before I wrote a sin­gle word of the sto­ry, some of them wan­dered in out of the mys­te­ri­ous depths of my sub­con­scious as I was writ­ing the first few drafts, and oth­ers were things I cre­at­ed quite delib­er­ate­ly when I was revis­ing and reached a point where I felt I need­ed to mis­lead read­ers from fig­ur­ing out the solu­tion too eas­i­ly.

Since that’s a real­ly vague answer, how about this? After you’ve read the sto­ry, feel free to vis­it the con­tact page on my web­site (lisabullard.com) and send me an email with any ques­tions you have about the spe­cif­ic red her­rings in my story—I’d be delight­ed to send you an answer!

Your sto­ry is very tense as it approach­es its cli­max. Did you have to re-work your man­u­script to achieve this?

Yes, absolute­ly! The entire sto­ry required many rounds of revi­sion, but I received some key advice that real­ly helped me make this sec­tion more dra­mat­ic and sus­pense­ful. The nov­el took me about 3 years total to write, but one year in par­tic­u­lar was very pro­duc­tive. Dur­ing that year I took a series of class­es from mys­tery writer Ellen Hart, and got great advice and feed­back from her and the oth­er stu­dents in the class. One of the things I learned was that you should write in short, chop­py sen­tences when you want to cre­ate a scene that feels chaot­ic and quick-mov­ing. Those short sen­tences push the read­er for­ward through the sto­ry more quick­ly because they read more quick­ly. In my first draft, I had includ­ed lots of long and mean­der­ing sen­tences, and those had to be bro­ken up or delet­ed alto­geth­er.

No time to think!I had also writ­ten a lot of reflec­tive pas­sages in those tense scenes—paragraphs where my char­ac­ter was doing a lot of think­ing along the lines of “How did this even hap­pen?” But in real life, when some­thing real­ly high-action and stress­ful is hap­pen­ing, a per­son usu­al­ly doesn’t have time to stop and think too hard—they only have time to react and keep mov­ing. Stop­ping to fig­ure out exact­ly where things went wrong comes after­wards. So I went back and took out all of those places where my char­ac­ter was “over-think­ing,” and just had him respond­ing to the dan­ger of the moment as best he could.

When you write a mys­tery, how do you know that it’s mys­te­ri­ous enough?

Wow, that’s anoth­er great ques­tion. I’m not sure that I know how to answer it exact­ly, but I’ll do my best! To me, mys­tery sto­ries are puz­zles: as the writer, your job is to hand the read­er all the pieces of the puz­zle, but to do it in such a way that the puz­zle isn’t over­ly easy to solve. So for exam­ple, I’ve nev­er liked mys­ter­ies where the answer is some­thing the read­er couldn’t pos­si­bly have fig­ured out—when there’s some impor­tant clue that the author has held back, and then on the last page, the detec­tive says some­thing like, “This let­ter that was locked in a bank vault until 5 min­utes ago proves that the thief was Mr. Vil­lain!” As a read­er, I want a fair chance to put togeth­er all the puz­zle pieces for myself—and if the writer still fools me after play­ing fair, then good for them!

Clue MapSo when I was writ­ing this mys­tery, I knew I had to play fair—I had to give the read­er all of the impor­tant clues. It was okay if I spread out the clues over the whole book. And it was total­ly okay if I mis­lead the read­er into think­ing that some of those clues weren’t as impor­tant as they turned out to be in the end! After all, it’s the reader’s job to put the puz­zle pieces togeth­er to get the right answer—I trust my read­ers to be smart, so I don’t have to make it TOO easy for them!

As far as the actu­al writ­ing process, I made a long list of all the clues I knew in advance, and I thought about how I could work them into the sto­ry at inter­vals so there would be clues all through­out. I also built in things that seemed like fake clues to height­en the sus­pense and to make the puz­zle more excit­ing. Final­ly, as I was writ­ing, at any point where I felt like the sto­ry was slow­ing down too much, I would ask myself, “What is some­thing real­ly unex­pect­ed or sur­pris­ing that could hap­pen to my char­ac­ter next?”—and that approach pro­vid­ed some addi­tion­al clues.

I also worked to think of metaphors and set­ting details that would add a spooky atmos­phere to the whole sto­ry, and I tried to put my char­ac­ter into sit­u­a­tions that seemed dan­ger­ous. After all, anoth­er big part of mys­ter­ies is that they’re more fun if they’re kind of scary!

Do you read mys­ter­ies? How old were you when you began read­ing them? Can you remem­ber some of the first mys­ter­ies you read?

Three InvestigatorsI love mys­ter­ies! They’re still some of my absolute favorite books, and they’re some of the first books I remem­ber read­ing. When I was in ele­men­tary school, I was lucky enough to be giv­en a huge box full of books that had belonged to either my mom or my old­er girl cousins when they were younger. The box held a lot of mys­tery series, some of them pret­ty old-fash­ioned but still won­der­ful. The dif­fer­ent series includ­ed Judy Bolton, Trix­ie Belden, Nan­cy Drew, and the Three Inves­ti­ga­tors. And some of the first “grown-up” books I ever read were Agatha Christie mys­ter­ies and sus­pense sto­ries by Mary Stew­art. As a kid, I loved mys­tery sto­ries so much that I made up my own mys­ter­ies and forced my broth­er and friends to “play” Three Inves­ti­ga­tors in our basement—we even wrote secret mes­sages in invis­i­ble ink (lemon juice) and then decod­ed them by hold­ing them over the toast­er.

What is there about a mys­tery that you think appeals to kids?

puzzleIt’s fun to get that lit­tle spine-tingly feel­ing that comes when some­thing is a lit­tle bit scary, so that’s part of it. Many mys­ter­ies are action-packed and fast-mov­ing (rarely bor­ing), so that’s anoth­er part of it. But I think a big rea­son is that work­ing to put togeth­er the puz­zle of the sto­ry is kind of like a game—and if, as a read­er, you man­age to fig­ure out the mys­tery before the story’s detec­tive does, then you also feel pret­ty darn proud of your­self, and smart!

Can you share with us what you’re work­ing on now? Is it anoth­er mys­tery? (We hope so.)

I’ve writ­ten sev­er­al non­fic­tion books since Turn Left at the Cow was pub­lished, and now I’m wrestling with anoth­er mys­tery. My writ­ing process is pret­ty slow when it comes to nov­els (and my life in the last few years has been real­ly complicated)—plus I write a lot of my first draft in my head before any of it actu­al­ly hits paper—so there isn’t a whole lot actu­al­ly writ­ten down yet. But I can tell you that this sto­ry is set in the north woods of Min­neso­ta, and like Turn Left the mys­tery has to do with a com­pli­cat­ed fam­i­ly sto­ry and a lot of quirky small-town char­ac­ters. Includ­ing Big­foot, by the way—now there’s a mys­tery for you!

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Theater: “The Story of Crow Boy”

 

Story of Crow Boy Bruce Silcox Minneapolis Star Tribune

In the Heart of the Beast play In the Heart of the Beast, pho­to cred­it: Bruce Sil­cox, Min­neapo­lis Star­Tri­bune

There are sev­er­al excel­lent, insight­ful reviews of The Sto­ry of Crow Boy, on stage Feb­ru­ary 18–28, 2016, at Min­neapo­lis’ (MN) In the Heart of the Beast Pup­pet and Mask The­atre. Links to these reviews are below, and I won’t restate their con­tent here except to reit­er­ate that the work tells the sto­ry of the Calde­cott Hon­or (1956) book Crow Boy’s author and illus­tra­tor, Taro Yashima (the pen name of Atsushi Iwa­mat­su).

Crow Boy, Taro YashimaWhat I do wish to remark upon in this lit­er­ary venue is the gen­e­sis of this show, a seed plant­ed decades ago through the pages of a pic­ture book into the cre­ative, bril­liant, inspired mind and spir­it of a teenaged Sandy Spiel­er (one of the founders of In the Heart of the Beast Pup­pet and Mask The­atre, and its artis­tic direc­tor since 1976). The book even­tu­al­ly brought Spiel­er to the larg­er sto­ry of its author/illustrator, which she and her amaz­ing col­lab­o­ra­tors bring to joy­ful, painful, pierc­ing, and ulti­mate­ly hope­ful life on the stage.

Take heed and take heart, those of you who are mak­ers of books for the young. Your sto­ries mat­ter, these works of first Art you cre­ate for chil­dren through text and through pic­tures. Write and draw truth and joy and friend­ship and pow­er and over­com­ing and the exquis­ite nat­ur­al world and human expe­ri­ence. Your sto­ries bur­row and blos­som in still-mal­leable young minds; they are busy nur­tur­ing roots of strength and pur­pose and hope and trans­for­ma­tion long after you have turned your own atten­tion toward oth­er tales.97

If you are able to attend the Heart of the Beast show, please know that there are some extreme­ly intense and soul sear­ing seg­ments in the work, doc­u­ment­ing por­tions of this world’s evil his­to­ry that must be remem­bered. The stag­ing expands our under­stand­ing of atroc­i­ties as they affect indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies, even though we can’t pos­si­bly com­pre­hend the true mag­ni­tude of loss and dev­as­ta­tion behind those flash­es with which we are pre­sent­ed. The show is def­i­nite­ly not for chil­dren. (The theatre’s pub­lic­i­ty states that the “show is rec­om­mend­ed for age 11 and old­er.”)

The intri­cate inter­play of pup­petry, pro­jec­tions, masks, human actors, and music in the show is seam­less, inspired and often mag­i­cal. Small moments such as the book-lov­ing boy pup­pet Taro snug­gling to sleep lit­er­al­ly between the cov­ers of a book, and lat­er launch­ing into a brief moment of flight from his perch on the pages will trans­fix any bibliophile’s heart.

The Story of Crow BoyThe pro­gram notes cite Taro Yashima’s ded­i­ca­tion “against all odds, to a tena­cious belief in the abil­i­ty of art to trans­form the world.” Cer­tain­ly Art that is made espe­cial­ly for children—and actu­al­ly for children—does have this capac­i­ty, since chil­dren are the ones who may be able to ulti­mate­ly trans­form this world. Thank you, children’s book mak­ers, for giv­ing them seeds of inspi­ra­tion and strength through your books.

At Heart of the Beast, a Children’s Book Grows Up” by Euan Kerr, Min­neso­ta Pub­lic Radio News

Crow Boy Takes Flight at Heart of the Beast,” by Gray­don Roye, Min­neapo­lis Star Tri­bune

Heart of the Beast Pup­pet The­ater Takes Flight with Crow Boy,” by Chris Hewitt, St. Paul Pio­neer Press

HOBT’s Much Antic­i­pat­ed The Sto­ry of Crow Boy on Stage Feb 18–28,” press release, Phillips West News

A descrip­tion of the play from In the Heart of the Beast’s web­site:

The Sto­ry of Crow Boy explores the intrigu­ing life sto­ry of Taro Yashima who wres­tled with human bru­tal­i­ty, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, and the rav­ages of WWII to build work of social con­science, com­pas­sion­ate insight, poet­ic visu­al form, and ultimately—of joy. Yashima reminds us what it means to be human, and offers under­stand­ing into the com­plex­i­ties of cul­tur­al sur­vival. This pro­duc­tion draws on his auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal and fic­tion­al books includ­ing the Calde­cott Hon­or Award-win­ning Crow Boy (1956) about a young boy who learns to sing the “voic­es of crows” in defi­ance of his years of being bul­lied.

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Middle Kingdom: Shakopee, Minnesota

The books that most delight mid­dle school and junior high read­ers often strad­dle a “Mid­dle King­dom” rang­ing from upper mid­dle grade to YA. Each month, Bookol­o­gy colum­nist Lisa Bullard will vis­it the Mid­dle King­dom by view­ing it through the eyes of a teacher or librar­i­an. Bookol­o­gy is delight­ed to cel­e­brate the work of these edu­ca­tors who have built vital book encamp­ments in the tran­si­tion­al ter­ri­to­ry of ear­ly ado­les­cence.

This month’s jour­ney takes us to East Junior High in Shakopee, Min­neso­ta, where Lisa talks with media spe­cial­ist Amy Sticha.

Lisa: What are three to five things our blog read­ers should know about your com­mu­ni­ty, school, or library/media cen­ter?

ph_shakopeeeastAmy: East Junior High is one of two junior high schools in Shakopee, Min­neso­ta, a rapid­ly grow­ing sub­urb of the Twin Cities. Because of our district’s growth over the past sev­er­al years, we have gone through a lot of recon­fig­u­ra­tion of grade lev­els at all of our build­ings. Cur­rent­ly, our junior highs house stu­dents in grades 7–9, but with the pas­sage of a ref­er­en­dum to build an addi­tion to our high school a few weeks ago, we will be chang­ing to grades 6–8 by 2018.

As a result of all this shuf­fling, the EJH library has been split twice in the last eight years to accom­mo­date oth­er schools’ libraries. It has been chal­leng­ing to main­tain a rel­e­vant col­lec­tion with the loss of so many mate­ri­als, but thanks to a sup­port­ive admin­is­tra­tion and com­mu­ni­ty, we are in the process of adding tech­nol­o­gy like medi­as­capes, charg­ing tables, Chrome­book carts, and 1:1 iPads, and updat­ing our district’s media cen­ters to add mak­er­space areas and oth­er spaces to stay cur­rent with­in the chang­ing scope of a school library/media cen­ter space. I invite you to vis­it my media web­page

Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often? 

Amy:

  • the Miss­ing series by Mar­garet Peter­son Had­dix
  • I Hunt Killers by Bar­ry Lyga
  • the Michael Vey series by Richard Paul Evans
  • the Broth­erband Chron­i­cles series by John Flana­gan
  • the Mor­tal Instru­ments series by Cas­san­dra Clare

Lisa: What book(s) do you per­son­al­ly love to place into stu­dents’ hands?

Amy:

  • Won­der by R.J. Pala­cio
  • Bruis­er by Neal Shus­ter­man
  • Every Day by David Levithan
  • Swim the Fly by Don Calame
  • Drums, Girls, and Dan­ger­ous Pie by Jor­dan Son­nen­blick
  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  • Emako Blue by Bren­da Woods
  • Black Duck by Janet Tay­lor Lisle
  • The Scor­pio Races by Mag­gie Stief­vater

Lisa: Could you share some infor­ma­tion about your most popular/successful/innovative pro­gram for pro­mot­ing books and read­ing?

Amy Sticha's list

Amy Sticha’s list

Amy: Pro­mot­ing read­ing is prob­a­bly one of my favorite things to do as a junior high media spe­cial­ist.  In addi­tion to book talks and dis­plays, my para and I work close­ly togeth­er to come up with a vari­ety of fun and inter­ac­tive read­ing pro­mo­tions through­out the year. We use Face­book and Twit­ter accounts to announce con­tests, spe­cial events, and updates about new books or what we are cur­rent­ly read­ing. I actu­al­ly just fin­ished putting up my favorite dis­play of the year, which is our Top 10 Sum­mer Must-Reads and is made up of my para’s and my favorite books we have read through­out the year and would sug­gest for fun sum­mer read­ing. Both stu­dents and staff mem­bers around the school make com­ments about our lists every year. Sev­er­al times over the last few hours today, I have looked up from my desk to see some­one tak­ing a pic of our lists with their phone. 

Para's List

Para’s List

Every month, we have a stu­dent book club that is led by a dif­fer­ent staff mem­ber. At the begin­ning of each year, I ask for staff vol­un­teers who would be inter­est­ed in lead­ing the club for one of the months of the school year. In prepa­ra­tion for the upcom­ing month’s book club, the staff mem­ber and I decide on which book they would like to choose, and stu­dents who par­tic­i­pate get a free copy of the book and free break­fast at the two meet­ings held dur­ing the month. Some months have bet­ter par­tic­i­pa­tion than oth­ers, but over­all, it is a fun way to show stu­dents that staff mem­bers read for plea­sure out­side of school, too.  

We also have a Tour­na­ment of the Books every March to coin­cide with the NCAA bas­ket­ball tour­na­ments. Thir­ty-two books take on each oth­er in our annu­al tour­na­ment to see which one is cho­sen by our stu­dent body to be the ulti­mate win­ner. This year’s win­ner was The Lost Hero by Rick Rior­dan.  

This year for the first time, we had a spring break read­ing com­pe­ti­tion dur­ing which we encour­aged stu­dents to take pics of them­selves read­ing in unique, strange, fun, or inter­est­ing places. Our over­all win­ner took a pic of him­self read­ing in front of a moun­tain range while vis­it­ing his grand­par­ents in Ari­zona. This year we also par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Young Adults’ Choic­es project spon­sored by the Inter­na­tion­al Lit­er­a­cy Asso­ci­a­tion and were intro­duced to a num­ber of real­ly great titles!  

We have a great time pro­mot­ing read­ing to EJH stu­dents!

 

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Traveling In-Word

For this week’s writ­ing road trip, I jour­neyed to the Alpha­bet For­est. For those who haven’t had the plea­sure of vis­it­ing, the Alpha­bet For­est is the remark­able cre­ation of author/illustrator/innovator Debra Frasi­er, who through pure pas­sion and per­sis­tence, man­aged to carve out an oasis for words in the midst of the con­sum­able crazi­ness that is the Min­neso­ta State Fair.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the State Fair. I just don’t think of it as a place to sit qui­et­ly and muse deeply. And yet, Debra’s love of fair let­ter­ing start­ed her on a jour­ney that led to cre­at­ing this enchant­ed place: in the midst of sun­burn, sore feet, and stom­ach aches, here is a cor­ner where there’s shade and plen­ty of places to sit down and peo­ple who offer you fun for free. But bet­ter yet, there are words enough to stuff your imag­i­na­tion even more than those mini donuts have already stuffed your stom­ach.

Lisa Bullard

Last year, I watched as my niece ignored every oth­er fair offer­ing (okay, with the excep­tion of that giant brown­ie) as she obses­sive­ly filled out her Fab­u­lous Fair Alpha­bet Game Card. This year, I had the plea­sure of serv­ing as author-in-res­i­dence at the Alpha­bet For­est for a day. I worked with oodles of kids who set­tled in at my table and prompt­ly became utter­ly absorbed in writ­ing or draw­ing. It didn’t mat­ter that the parade was pass­ing them by (lit­er­al­ly!) and that there were still corn­dogs and cot­ton can­dy to be eat­en: when giv­en the option, their num­ber one pri­or­i­ty was to lose them­selves in the cre­ative act.

It remind­ed me, all over again, why I do what I do: giv­ing kids the gift of words and sto­ry is like hand­ing them the mag­ic key to life. Even kids who think they hate read­ing and writ­ing can be won over eas­i­ly once you find the right key for them. A for­est full of words can beat a clutch of corn­dogs any day.

If you’re near Min­neso­ta, and you’re going to the fair, you can be inspired with ideas for how to cre­ate an Alpha­bet For­est in your own class­room or din­ing room. If not, there are a myr­i­ad of amaz­ing down­load­able resources to help you, start­ing at this link and mov­ing on from there to Debra Frasier’s web­site.

You’ll be mighty glad you made the jour­ney.

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Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge

Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge

In down­town Min­neapo­lis, Min­neso­ta, span­ning the Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er, there is a “Stone Arch Bridge” that resem­bles a roman viaduct with its 23 arch­es. Built at a time when Min­neapo­lis was a pri­ma­ry grain-milling and wood-pro­­duc­ing cen­ter for the Unit­ed States, Empire Builder James J. Hill want­ed the bridge built to help his rail­road reach the […]

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Alongside the Books We’ve Loved: Venom and the River

This week, join me as we con­tin­ue to look at books that orbit the con­stel­la­tions of children’s series books much-loved by adults: Louisa May Alcott’s books, the Lit­tle House books, the Anne of Green Gables books, and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Bet­sy-Tacy books. A brand new nov­el, Ven­om on the Riv­er, is now avail­able from my favorite […]

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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, […]

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