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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Nikki Grimes


Pippi LongstockingAt Bookology, we believe the adage about “the right book for the right reader.” Those are not necessarily the books that we see in advertisements, in the bloggers’ buzz, or on award lists. Only by listening to each other, and especially to kids, talk about books do we find those gems our hearts were looking for but didn’t know existed.

When you think about your favorite books, what’s your perspective? Do you remember the story first? The characters? The cover? The illustrations?

For many of us, it’s the book cover. Yesterday, I was looking for books about cats. I wanted to recommend some classics. I remember a book from the 1960s that had a boy and a cat on the cover. Both of them were facing away from me, looking at a neighborhood. I remember that the cover is yellow. Do you know the book I’m talking about? I asked Steve, because he frequently talks about this book. When I described the cover, he knew right away: It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Cheney Neville. (I’m not publishing the cover here because I don’t want to give it away. Take a look at the bottom of this article.)

Often it’s the illustrations. Who can forget the thick black outlines of My Friend Rabbit? Or the clear, bright colors of My Heart is Like a Zoo? Or the pen and ink drawings of Lois Lenski?


Sometimes it’s the characters. The book with the spider and the pig. That one with the adventurous red-haired girl with pigtails. That book where the high-school kids share their poetry in class. That autobiography of the author growing up in Cuba and the USA. Those characters are so memorable that, once read, we can’t forget them. (The book covers are posted at the end of this article.)

When we’re meeting with the Chapter & Verse book club each month, the last half-hour is a time to recommend books we’ve enjoyed. I always add to my reading list. Do you have an intentional, set-aside time for talking with other adults about the children’s books they’re reading and are thrilled to recommend? I particularly love it when they’re books that aren’t on the buzzers’ radar. I feel as though we’ve shared a secret.

Chapter & Verse Book Club, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin

Chapter & Verse Book Club, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin

I also hunt through the state lists. These are books that educators and librarians are choosing because they know they have kid appeal. So often, these are not books that have been on award lists … but they’re passed along, buzzed about among child readers, recommended by the adults in their lives.

State Choice Awards

Not all books need to be new. There are fabulous books hiding on the library shelves and in used bookstores. Do a subject search. It’s amazing what you can find by looking at a library catalog or doing an online search.

Everyone’s publishing booklists these days. How do you know which ones to follow? Do the titles resonate with you? Do you find yourself eagerly adding their suggestions to your TBR pile? Then bookmark those lists! Visit them frequently or sign up to receive notifications when they publish their next list.

The award books and books with stars are one way to find good books but don’t rely solely on those sources. Don’t forget the wealth of fabulous books that fly under the radar.

Talk to each other. Adult to adult. Child to adult. Child to child. Adult to child. Old or new. Hidden treasure or bestseller. We learn about the best books when we hear recommendations from another reader, another perspective.

books described in the article


From the Editor

by Marsha Qualey

Welcome to Bookology.

Thank you for coming back, or checking us out for a first look, or for pausing if you landed here by accident.

Chasing FreedomReturning readers know that each month much of our content is connected to the magazine’s monthly centerpiece: the Bookstorm™, a bibliography of books and websites compiled and written by our chief Bookologist, Vicki Palmquist, which has at its starting point a single book. This month that book is Chasing Freedom by Nikki Grimes, in which the author imagines a conversation that might have occurred had Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman sat down for tea. Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman’s “paths frequently crossed one another’s,” Grimes says in our interview with her, but she could find no documentation of an actual shared tea.  Still, “[t]he fact that these historical powerhouses knew one another was exciting.”

The September Bookstorm™ focuses on the 19th century and the early 20th century and the political and social environments and institutions in which Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman lived and worked: slavery, war, Reconstruction, the advent and dawn of Jim Crow, the new century.  If you don’t have time now to look over the bibliography, our Bullet Point Book Talks offers a quick look at some of the books in the ‘storm.

On the lighter side, today we also celebrate the back-to-school season with a Quirky Book List of books involving classroom pets. Cautionary reading for our teacher friends? Perhaps.

Catch You Later, TraitorDon’t forget to return after today, because, as usual, throughout the month you can join us for some skinny dipping and read what our regular book-loving contributors have to say about their latest forays into children’s literature. Want to be alerted to Bookology updates? Please subscribe.

And finally: We have a winner. Last month we encouraged our readers to comment on our articles, and we offered a signed copy of that month’s Bookstorm™ book, Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi as the prize for a drawing for which all commenters would be eligible. Linda B. from Colorado took a moment to comment on our August Literary Madeleine, and it was her name we pulled out of the Bookologist Hat. Congrats to Linda, and thank you to all who commented.

That’s enough. Time to explore Bookology. Thanks for stopping.


Nikki Grimes: Researching and Writing Chasing Freedom

Interview by Vicki Palmquist

Chasing FreedomChasing Freedom
written by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Michelle Wood
Orchard Books, 2014

Did you know more about one of your two characters when you conceived of the book?

 Yes. I knew a fair amount about Harriet Tubman. Hers was one of the few stories about African Americans brought out every year during what, in my youth, was called Negro History Month. I was far less familiar with the details of the life of Susan B. Anthony, though I certainly had a passing knowledge of her place in history.

How did you decide there was a story to be told about these two women? Together?

 In 1988, I was asked to develop dramatic monologues on an assortment of historical figures for a stage production to be done in China later that year. I chose Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass as my subjects. In the process of researching them individually, I learned that they were all contemporaries, and that their paths frequently crossed one another’s. The fact that these historical powerhouses knew one another was exciting, and led me to believe that many new stories were possible, but especially between these two women.

You wrote Chasing Freedom in prose rather than verse, as a fictional story, rather than nonfiction. What led you in those directions for this narrative?

ph_Grimes_3The idea for this book began with the quintessential literary question “What if?” In this case, the question was, “What if Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony sat down together for a long conversation? What would that conversation be like?” The germ of the idea was based on something that, to my knowledge, never actually occurred, so while historical facts shape the bulk of the narrative, the fictional aspect of the conversation itself dictated that this story would be a work of historical fiction. As for the choice of prose, that was dictated by the overwhelming amount of historical material and detail I wished to include in the piece. Poetry would not have given me the room I needed, nor would it have allowed me to work in as many quotes from the subjects, themselves. As it is, the brevity of the picture book format, itself, required a constant paring down of the manuscript. Oh, the stories left untold for lack of space!

When you were collecting quotes from the two women, how did you record them? (e.g., on paper, in the computer, on note cards) What type of notation did you make? How did you organize the quotes so you could find them again?

I made the bulk of my notations on yellow lined pads, in spiral notebooks, and in assorted journals. For the record, I always write in longhand, whether the work is historically based or not. In any case, I did not keep quotations separate from other notes. When I was ready to move from research to writing, I read back through my notes, and marked quotations with colored post-it notes so that I could find them as I needed to.


 Did you include travel in your research? Which sites did you find most useful?

 The story is set against the backdrop of the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and the early suffrage movement. As such, I began research with a trip to Cincinnati, Ohio to explore the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, there. I also spent time in Cincinnati’s main library, which houses one of the best collections of literature related to the Underground Railroad, as well as substantial material by and about Susan B. Anthony. Afterwards, I visited Ripley, OH where several homes on the Underground Railroad have been preserved. The library in Ripley was a worthwhile stop, as well.  I developed my list of reference materials as a result of visiting these sites, but more than that, they put me in the frame of mind to dig deeper into the life stories of these two women.

Are you able to soak up “the vibes” of a visited site in a way that informs your writing?

Always. In this case, the experiences with the greatest impact were two. First, stepping into the reconstructed slave pen, shackles in full view, at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Second, a few days later, descending into a root cellar at The Rankin House, one of the stations of the Underground Railroad in Ripley, where runaway slaves were frequently hidden. Had I been alive in the 1800’s, I could have been one of those slaves, the realization of which was enough to make me shudder in that moment, and even now. I drew on those visceral feelings as I wrote the stories of Harriet’s harrowing journeys to and from the South to rescue slaves desperate for freedom. As an African American author, these stories are close to the bone.


Did you have anything to say about the choice of illustrator?

Yes. I felt strongly that, as this was a book about women, written by a woman, a female artist should be tapped for the illustrations. Michele Wood was first on my list, specifically for her attention to historical detail. I conveyed my thoughts to my editor, who took them into account. Neither of us was disappointed with the final choice, or the stunning work that resulted.

What type of input did you have on the illustrations or the design of the book?

In this book, I had very little to do with either, although I occasionally commented on something in the sketches, which were sent to me early on.

Do you write the back matter or does the publisher have someone to do this?

I research and write all of my own back matter.

If you write the back matter, are you taking notes for this as you do your research or how do you prepare for this part of the book?

I planned to prepare substantial back matter for this book from the very beginning, though I did not assemble this information until the very end. As I went along, I made notations about historical figures or important historical events, or legislation that I might want to include in the back matter. Further research into those subjects came at the end of the project when I was ready to draft that section of the book.

Are there any questions I didn’t ask that you wish I had asked you?

 How long did it take me to create this book? The idea first came to me in 1988. I took my initial research trip in early 2008. Chasing Freedom was finally published in 2015. My point? It’s important to remember that some books take time!








Bookstorm™: Chasing Freedom

Bookstorm Chasing FreedomIn this Bookstorm™:

Chasing FreedomChasing Freedom

The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony, Inspired by Historical Facts
written by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Michele Wood
Orchard Books, 2015

As Nikki Grimes writes in her author’s note for this book, “History is often taught in bits and pieces, and students rarely get the notion that these bits and pieces are connected.” Bookology wanted to look at this book for a number of reasons. We hope that you will consider the remarkable stories of freedom fighters Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony and the moments in history that the author reveals. We hope that you will study the illustrations by Michele Wood and discuss how each spread in the book makes you feel, how African motifs and quilt patterns are made an integral part of the book’s design, and how the color palette brings strength to the conversation between these two women. 

This conversation between these two women never took place. The subtitle reads “inspired by historical facts.” Nikki Grimes imagines a conversation that could have taken place between these two women, solidly drawn from the facts of their lives. Is this a new form of fiction? Nonfiction? You’ll have a meaningful discussion about the differences between fact, fiction, information text, nonfiction, and storytelling when you discuss this with your classroom or book club.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. For Chasing Freedom, you’ll find books for a variety of tastes, interests, and reading abilities. The book will be comfortably read by ages 7 through 12. We’ve included picture books, nonfiction, videos, websites, and destinations for the plethora of purposes you might have. There are many fine books that fall outside of these parameters, but we chose to narrow the selection of books this time to those that followed the fight for women’s right to vote from the 1840s to 1920 and those that followed slavery in America until the Emancipation Proclamation and a few years beyond. These are the major concerns behind the work of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony.


Celebrating Freedom. Two recent books are included, one dealing with the Emancipation Proclamation and the other with how freed people lived in New York City in Seneca Village, which would eventually become Central Park.

Harriet Tubman. We’ve chosen a few of the many good books about this freedom fighter, trail blazer, and spiritually motivated woman.

History. From Booker T. Washington’s autobiographical Up from Slavery to Julius Lester’s To Be a Slave through to Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul: the Story of America and African Americans, you’ll find a number of books that will fascinate your students and make fine choices for book club discussions.

Underground Railroad. One of our truly heroic movements in American history, we’ve selected books that chronicle the work, the danger, and the victories of these freedom fighters, of which Harriet Tubman was a strong, dedicated member. 


Susan B. Anthony. Often written about, we’ve selected just a few of the many books about this woman who understood the hardships women faced and the necessity for them to be able to vote, to have a voice in government.

More Suffragists. Many women around the globe fought for their right to vote and the fight continues in many countries. We’ve selected several books that fall within our time frame.

Let us know how you are making use of this Bookstorm™. Share your discussions, classroom inclusion, or send us a photo of your library display.

(Thanks to Marsha Qualey and Claire Rudolf Murphy for sharing their considerable knowledge and insight about books for this Bookstorm™.)



Skinny Dip with Nikki Grimes

bk_chasingfreedom_140What keeps you up at night?

My brain! I can’t shut it off. I’m constantly bombarded with thoughts about what’s on my to-do list (I live or die by the list), what arrangements I need to make for the next conference, book festival, or school visit; what work I need to do to elevate the relationships of my characters or ways to make them more authentic; what manuscript I need to concentrate on next (I’m always juggling three or four at one time). When those things aren’t keeping me up, it’s one of my mouthy characters, deciding he or she has something to say that just can’t wait until morning!

What is your proudest career moment?

Entering the White House as a guest for the first time, on the invitation of First Lady Laura Bush, as part of the National Book Festival in 2003, with my sister—my oldest fan—on my arm, beaming! Winning the Coretta Scott King Award for Bronx Masquerade is what got me there.

bk_bronx140In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

Ice-skating! I have absolutely no talent in this area, but ice-skating is the one Olympic sport that keeps me glued to the television screen. That combination of lyrical movement and technical skill fascinates me. I especially love those moments of spontaneity when each athlete’s personality shines through. The programs are planned and choreographed, but the performances are very much in the moment. Anything can happen, and I love that! I feel that way when I’m writing a story. Anything is possible. Anything can happen! I put in the work, I lay in the structure, set my character’s back-stories, and then, somewhere along the way, I get into the zone, and—boom! Magic happens, and I score tens across the board—in my mind, at least! Yeah. Ice-skating.

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

Face down an armed robber, high on drugs, in a Swedish boutique I managed in Stockholm. I was working behind the counter when this guy came into the store and confronted me, his hand in his pocket pointing a gun in my direction. He demanded the money in the register and, when I did not comply, he bared a mouthful of yellowed teeth.

“I will blow you straight to hell,” he told me.

“No,” I said. “You’ll blow me straight to heaven.”

That got him off his game, I think. He took a step back from the counter and gave me a long, hard look.

“What? What did you say?” he asked.

I, calm as the proverbial cucumber, explained to him that, as a Christian, when I died, I was going to heaven, not to hell. Then, blanketed in the perfect peace of God, I proceeded to share with him the gospel of Christ, and invited him to accept Jesus.

Now, mind you, this was an out-of-body experience, because part of me was standing back, watching, asking myself, “Are you crazy?! This man’s got a gun!” But, somehow, in that moment, by God’s grace, I felt no fear.

I talked with him quietly, slowly as if I had all the time in the world.

He asked me a few honest questions about faith and forgiveness, which I answered. As the scene played out, his posture changed. His shoulders softened, his head began to bow, the hand in his pocket relaxed and he let the gun drop.  Eventually, with both hands at his side, he shuffled out of the store, whispering a string of apologies. 

Once he was gone, I returned to my body and trembled from head to foot, like a normal person! It was an extraordinary moment that taught me the reality of the power of God and the perfect peace he can offer in any circumstance. Okay, so maybe this is as much a story about faith as it is about bravery. Anyway, there you have it.

What TV show can’t you turn off?

There are a few, but the one that most surprises me is Shark Tank!

There is something riveting about a person baring his heart in pursuit of a dream, and fighting for that dream in a do-or-die moment, when self-confidence is the key to success. I have wrestled in pursuit of my dreams my entire life. Maybe that’s why this show resonates with me.



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