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A World of Cities

A World of CitiesA World of Cities
text by Lily Mur­ray
illus­trat­ed by James Brown
Can­dlewick Stu­dio, 2018
ISBN 978−0−7636−9879−9

Those kids in your life, your school­room, your library who are Fact Hunters? They col­lect facts to savor, share with oth­ers, and build their knowl­edge of the world around them. This is a book for them.

Not every child can trav­el to the major cities of the world, but this book will leave an impres­sion, a yearn­ing for explo­ration.

It’s a Very Big Book, a folio, 10.9″ wide by 14.5″ high. We don’t often include a book’s mea­sure­ments in a rec­om­men­da­tion, but the size of this book makes it fun to open and read, invit­ing read­ers to become wrapped up in the book. Open this to any page and more than one child can enjoy dis­cov­er­ing the facts about each city.

A World of Cities, Rio de Janeiro

illus­tra­tion copy­right James Brown, Can­dlewick Press

The illus­tra­tions are strik­ing, mem­o­rable, invit­ing deep exam­i­na­tion. Aren’t the col­ors gor­geous?

Facts are wound through the illus­tra­tions in a way that will have the read­er turn­ing the page this way and that, seek­ing out each detail. In Rio de Janeiro, we learn that the pic­tured stat­ue of Christ the Redeemer was com­plet­ed in 1931. “The stat­ue is made of con­crete and cov­ered in thou­sands of small stone tiles. All the mate­ri­als had to be car­ried up Cor­co­v­a­do Moun­tain by rail­way.” Cor­co­v­a­do Moun­tain is 2300 feet above sea lev­el. That sparks imag­i­na­tion! 

There are pop­u­la­tion fig­ures, flag facts, hol­i­days, quotes from famous cit­i­zens, and his­to­ry, every­thing that will whet the desire to learn even more. 

Between 1808 and 1821, Rio housed the Por­tuguese roy­al fam­i­ly. In 1815, the city was declared the cap­i­tal of the Por­tuguese Empire.” I did­n’t know that. Did you?

A World of Cities, Paris, Candlewick Press

illus­tra­tion copy­right James Brown, Can­dlewick Press

Vis­it­ing Paris, we learn that “more than 800 years old, the win­dows of Notre Dame Cathe­dral con­tain 50,000 glass pieces” and “Paris’s old­est café, Café Pro­cope, opened in 1686.” Vic­tor Hugo is quot­ed as say­ing “There is no lim­it to Paris.” Find a pho­to of Notre Dame Cathe­dral online. Who is Vic­tor Hugo? This book will launch a scav­enger hunt for more infor­ma­tion.

Geog­ra­phy buffs? Fact Hunters? Bud­ding artists? There are many rea­sons to add this book to your shelves. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

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Marsha Wilson Chall and Jill Davis

I recent­ly had the hon­or of inter­view­ing Mar­sha Wil­son Chall, the author of the new pic­ture book, The Secret Life of Fig­gy Mus­tar­do, and her edi­tor, Jill Davis.

Marsha Wilson ChallMar­sha Wil­son Chall grew up an only child in Min­neso­ta, where her father told her the best sto­ries. The author of many pic­ture books, includ­ing Up North at the Cab­in, One Pup’s Up, and Pick a Pup, Mar­sha teach­es writ­ing at Ham­line Uni­ver­si­ty’s MFAC pro­gram in St. Paul, Min­neso­ta. She lives on a small farm west of Min­neapo­lis with her hus­band, dog, barn cats, and books.

Jill DavisJill Davis has been an exec­u­tive edi­tor in children’s books at Harper­Collins since 2013. A vet­er­an of children’s books, she began her career at Ran­dom House in 1992, and worked there at Crown and Knopf Books For Young Read­ers until 1996, after which she worked at Viking until 2005. After that, she held posi­tions at both Blooms­bury and Far­rar, Straus & Giroux. She is the author of three pic­ture books, edi­tor of one col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, and has an MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren and Young Adults from Ham­line Uni­ver­si­ty

Secret Life of Fiiggy MustardoMark: The Secret Life of Fig­gy Mus­tar­do came about in a dif­fer­ent way than most pic­ture books. You were asked to write a sto­ry based on illus­tra­tions of a char­ac­ter. Could you tell us about this process and a lit­tle about the sto­ry?

Mar­sha: You’re right that this sto­ry evolved dif­fer­ent­ly than my oth­ers. My amaz­ing edi­tor, Jill Davis, sent me Ali­son Friend’s thumb­nails of an adorable canine char­ac­ter she had named Fig­gy Mus­tar­do in a vari­ety of human-like pos­es and cos­tumes. For me, it was love at first sight! So I set about the process of cre­at­ing Fig­gy’s sto­ry based on my impres­sions of him through Alison’s art and then, via Jill, Alison’s writ­ten notions of his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and sto­ry ideas.

Alison FriendAn imag­i­na­tive, spir­it­ed fel­low, Ali­son visu­al­ized Fig­gy zip­ping through many adven­tures on his scoot­er. In the book, I took the lib­er­ty of chang­ing the scoot­er to a race car and also cast Fig­gy as a rock star and a piz­za chef who orga­nizes and stars in a neigh­bor­hood rock con­cert, pizze­ria, and stock car race with his ani­mal friends. Lots of Fig­gy fun, but this did not a sto­ry make. I need­ed to know why these activ­i­ties mat­tered to Fig­gy and how he grew as a char­ac­ter.

Secret Life of Figgy MustardoI also had to think about the nuts and bolts of how Fig­gy might trans­form from dog to dilet­tante. I was fair­ly cer­tain of my own dog’s bore­dom and lone­li­ness while our fam­i­ly is away, so I start­ed my sto­ry explo­ration there. We all know that dogs, as social crea­tures, dis­like being left alone and are often fraught with anx­i­ety lead­ing to cer­tain not-so-flat­ter­ing behav­iors and/or the escape of sleep. A sto­ry with a sleep­ing dog would not be too inter­est­ing, so I chose the much more excit­ing, destruc­tive route. What if Fig­gy ate things – any things – in his frus­tra­tion, fell asleep, and dreamed about him­self as a man­i­fes­ta­tion of what he ate? We all know “you are what you eat,” so in Fig­gy’s case, for exam­ple, he eats Mrs. Mus­tar­do’s Bone Appetit mag­a­zine, falls asleep, and dreams of being Ital­ian Piz­za Chef Mus­tar­do serv­ing Muttsarel­lo and Figaro piz­zas to ador­ing gour­mands. When he wakes, he knows his dream is a sign, so he makes a real one of his own, “Free Piz­za,” and serves his entire ani­mal neigh­bor­hood at Fig­gy’s Pizze­ria.

Most impor­tant­ly, I need­ed to devel­op a moti­va­tion for Fig­gy’s adven­tures; how were these events con­nect­ed to him? What did they mean? How would they affect Fig­gy’s world out­side and inside? The answer arrived in the form of loss; every ani­mal neigh­bor came to Fig­gy’s con­cert and pizze­ria and car race except Fig­gy’s fam­i­ly, the Mus­tar­dos, espe­cial­ly George (his boy). In des­per­a­tion, Fig­gy cre­ates the sign “Free Dog” to find a fam­i­ly who will talk and walk and play with him like all the oth­er fam­i­lies he sees through his win­dow. Where are the Mus­tar­dos? The fam­i­ly Mus­tar­do arrives in time to show Fig­gy how much they care with a promise to take him wher­ev­er they can and to pro­vide him com­pan­ion­ship when they can’t in the form of new pup named Dot. Fig­gy and Dot go on to enliv­en the neigh­bor­hood with Free Shows night­ly.

Mark: What kind of revising/editing process did you and Jill go through?

Mar­sha: Once I knew my char­ac­ter and his prob­lem, I dashed off the sto­ry, sent it to Jill who loved it at first sight, then sat back sat­is­fied with a good day’s work.

Ha! Not the way it hap­pened, but I did write a first draft with­in a few days that Jill found promis­ing. So many drafts lat­er that I can’t even recall the orig­i­nal, Jill exer­cised plen­ty of patience wait­ing for the sto­ry she and Ali­son hoped I could write. I know she’ll protest my trib­ute, but I have nev­er worked with an edi­tor so open to my tri­al and error. Her abun­dant humor car­ried us through the process that I think would have oth­er­wise over­whelmed me.

Mark: Will there be any more books with Fig­gy and his fur­ther adven­tures?

Mar­sha: Fig­gy hopes so and so do Jill, Ali­son, and I. For now, I hope Fig­gy wags his way into the hands and hearts of many human friends where he belongs.

WOOF!

Mark: How was this project dif­fer­ent hav­ing a char­ac­ter first and then hav­ing to find a writer to tell his sto­ry?

The Secret Life of Figgy MustardoJill: It was kind of hard. The illus­tra­tor had invent­ed this lit­tle dog who she want­ed to be an adven­tur­er — yet she wasn’t sure how to make the sto­ry hap­pen. When I saw the dog, I thought of Marsha’s One Pup’s Up—and I knew how tal­ent­ed she was. Seemed like a slam dunk! But all of us — Mar­sha, myself, and the illus­tra­tor, Ali­son Friend, had  to share plen­ty of feed­back, edit, and revise a bit before Mar­sha was able to tell both the sto­ry she envi­sioned as well as the sto­ry Ali­son had in mind. Mar­sha pic­tured Fig­gy at home, and real­ly loved the idea of using signs. Ali­son seemed to feel Fig­gy was some kind of James Bond. So how were those two visions going to meet? They final­ly did when Mar­sha real­ized that Fig­gy would go to sleep and dream about his excit­ing alter-ego. And we all loved the idea. The book may seem a lit­tle bit sad because Fig­gy is always being left at home, but Mar­sha told it in such a great way that Fig­gy showed his grit! If he’s hun­gry, he eats what’s there — but then the mag­ic hap­pens and he goes to sleep and dreams of some­thing relat­ed to what he ate. It’s so fun and so imag­i­na­tive. I love what Mar­sha did with Figgy’s sto­ry, and Ali­son did, too.

Mark: What was it like to work with Mar­sha in this new role as edi­tor after being her stu­dent in the MFA in Writ­ing for Chil­dren pro­gram at Ham­line Uni­ver­si­ty?

Jill: It felt very won­der­ful and nat­ur­al. Mar­sha does not use intim­i­da­tion as a tac­tic in gen­er­al. She’s the rare com­bi­na­tion of bril­liant and super sil­ly. That’s one rea­son she’s so loved at Ham­line and in the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing.

There were times when she should have been frus­trat­ed or want­ed to spit at me, but she was cool as a cucum­ber in the freez­er in the North Pole. So pro­fes­sion­al and what I loved also about work­ing with her is how much I learned. I learned how she makes use of rep­e­ti­tion, allit­er­a­tion, and very care­ful edit­ing. I can be slop­py, but Mar­sha walked straight out of Strunk and White. She’s exact and won­der­ful­ly detail-ori­ent­ed. She was also involved at the sketch stage. Actu­al­ly at sev­er­al sketch stages. We worked on the phone, we worked at Ham­line, and we worked until we thought it felt per­fect. And she loved it because she could use it in her teach­ing! And I just loved work­ing with Mar­sha!

Mark:  Thank you Mar­sha and Jill for tak­ing the time to tell us about your col­lab­o­ra­tion on The Secret Life of Fig­gy Mus­tar­do. The book is now avail­able at every­one’s local inde­pen­dent book store.

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End Cap: Miss Colfax’s Light

Miss Colfax's LightWe hope you’ve enjoyed learn­ing more about light­hous­es and their hero­ic keep­ers through the books rec­om­mend­ed in June’s Book­storm, and most par­tic­u­lar­ly Miss Col­fax’s Light. 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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Eileen Ryan Ewen

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to share with you our inter­view with Eileen Ryan Ewen, the illus­tra­tor of Miss Col­fax’s Light, our Book­storm™ this month. This book is a per­fect exam­ple of the text and illus­tra­tions enhanc­ing each oth­er to make a pic­ture book biog­ra­phy that is more than the sum of its parts. Have the book open near you when you read Eileen’s respons­es. With our inter­view, we hope to help you look more deeply at the illus­tra­tions.

In the first few pages of the book, when Har­ri­et is walk­ing through the door, why did you decide to draw her with one foot poised on the thresh­old? And was this pic­ture always like this?

Yes, as I look back through my ear­ly sketch­es, Harriet’s foot is always on the thresh­old. Lit­tle is known about Harriet’s per­son­al­i­ty (though a bit comes through in her logs), and I was try­ing to imag­ine what it must have been like for her on that, her first day at the light­house. I tried to think about what it must have been like to be a woman in the 1860’s. How many women would have stepped away from a job as demand­ing as a light­house keep­er? How many women (and men, for that mat­ter) would have vol­un­tar­i­ly stayed on for as long as Har­ri­et did, as well as com­plet­ed the job so thor­ough­ly each day? I have to imag­ine that most women of that era nev­er would have enter­tained such a liveli­hood. Yet Har­ri­et, a for­mer music teacher and type­set­ter, didn’t step away. She stepped up.

Miss Colfax's Light

You have many peri­od details in your art­work, from a five-pan­el door to a log hold­er to changes in cloth­ing styles. How do you do your research?

I love his­to­ry! My father was a his­to­ri­an, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the sub­ject. As far as research, I had the good for­tune to vis­it the actu­al Michi­gan City Light­house, where won­der­ful docents gave me a tour, and pro­vid­ed great infor­ma­tion about what the light­house looked like back in Harriet’s day (it wasn’t as large!), cloth­ing from her era, and the tools she used. Com­bined with that infor­ma­tion, I used the good old inter­net to make sure the fash­ions I was using were appro­pri­ate. For instance, if you search women’s cloth­ing from the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, very for­mal ball gowns will be the most like­ly results. Har­ri­et would have worn no such thing. So then a more refined search is need­ed, often with trips to the library to scour books that might fit the time peri­od I’m try­ing to cap­ture. I know some illus­tra­tors who look to peri­od movies, and will study the cos­tumes and sets for inspi­ra­tion. In the end, I usu­al­ly have loads of infor­ma­tion about the time peri­od, and only end up using a small frac­tion of it in my illus­tra­tions — just enough to hope­ful­ly give the piece an authen­tic feel, and accu­rate­ly cap­ture the era. The research side can be tedious and time con­sum­ing, but because I find it so inter­est­ing, it’s a lot of fun as well!

Are you in charge of decid­ing where you have two fac­ing pages with dif­fer­ent scenes and where you’ll have a two-page spread? What deter­mines this for you?

It’s prob­a­bly dif­fer­ent for each Art Direc­tor and pub­lish­er. I have great appre­ci­a­tion for the trust that my Art Direc­tor at Sleep­ing Bear Press showed me. She gave me the man­u­script with the text some­what arranged on each page, and let me loose. I was allowed to move text if I want­ed to, in order to fit my illus­tra­tion ideas, and I had free rein to chose vignettes, full-page illus­tra­tions, or two-page spread illus­tra­tions. Now, all that said, I had to run all of my ideas and sketch­es by the Art Direc­tor, Edi­tor, and Pub­lish­er, as well as a few oth­er peo­ple, before I could start the final art. Some­times they approved my deci­sions, and some­times I had to tweak some­thing small, and oth­er times I had to do an entire illus­tra­tion over. The cov­er of Miss Colfax’s Light was done twice.

Miss Colfax's LightIn the scene where Har­ri­et is fill­ing the lantern with whale oil, the light is shin­ing up from her lantern on the floor. How do you deter­mine where the light will orig­i­nate, and where it falls, in your illus­tra­tions?

If I have to be hon­est, this is some­thing I’m still work­ing on — lights and darks. For the illus­tra­tion men­tioned above, I guessed. I revert­ed back to my fig­ure draw­ing days in col­lege, remem­ber­ing stud­ies of the planes of the face and folds of fab­ric, how sub­tle angles can be thrust into com­plete dark­ness, while a slight curve can cre­ate a sharp, bright con­trast. Look­ing at illus­tra­tors and artists who’ve mas­tered lights and darks also helps (and intim­i­dates!). I know of sev­er­al illus­tra­tors who actu­al­ly make mod­els of their char­ac­ters, and then place lights to mim­ic the light­ing of their piece, and draw from that. This is some­thing I hope to try in the future.

Miss Colfax's Light

In the dou­ble-page spread filled with small vignettes of Har­ri­et work­ing, how did you think how to lay out that page?

This was a chal­leng­ing one for me! A lot of impor­tant infor­ma­tion is being revealed, and all deserv­ing of a visu­al com­po­nent. One illus­tra­tion per page just wouldn’t cut it. Add the fact that Aimée is describ­ing the typ­i­cal work Har­ri­et would do in any one day, made me want to cap­ture the feel­ing of what it was like for Har­ri­et from sun up to sun down. For this rea­son, I chose to arch the vignettes around the words, start­ing with Har­ri­et tend­ing the light at the first crack of dawn, to Har­ri­et light­ing it again at dusk. But until I came up with that solu­tion, I strug­gled with this spread quite a bit. I’m not sure why the solu­tion came to me when it did, but it sort of popped up as I was walk­ing my daugh­ters home from preschool. I imme­di­ate­ly had the image of clock hands, the pass­ing of time, how the hands (and sun) arch and rotate from Point A, to Point B. It dawned on me to try to use this move­ment in the piece. Just goes to show that some­times ideas pop up at the strangest moments. I wasn’t think­ing about the prob­lem that fall morn­ing, or so I thought, but appar­ent­ly some lit­tle part of my art brain was still churn­ing, unbe­knownst to me.

I love how woe­ful the post­mas­ter looks when Har­ri­et is read­ing the let­ter telling her she’s being replaced. When you begin an illus­tra­tion, do you have in mind what the expres­sions will be on var­i­ous char­ac­ters’ faces?

Yes and no. Some­times, I feel like I know the char­ac­ter right away, and oth­er times I real­ly have to sit back and let the scene mar­i­nate in my mind, cre­ate a few real­ly awful sketch­es before I start to feel the true spir­it of a char­ac­ter, even a minor one, like the post­mas­ter. I remem­ber read­ing Harriet’s obit­u­ary, which described the peo­ple of Michi­gan City as absolute­ly lov­ing her, and hold­ing her in high regard. So while there were some naysay­ers at the begin­ning of Harriet’s career, it seems as if almost every­one felt she was a beloved, stal­wart fix­ture by the end of her career. The lat­ter feel­ing is what I was try­ing to cap­ture in the postmaster’s face.

You begin and end the book with that door­way. When did this idea for fram­ing the sto­ry come to you in your process?

I think it came fair­ly nat­u­ral­ly, and the fram­ing is large­ly in Aimée’s writ­ing, which made my job easy! And of course, doors make such nice analo­gies, don’t they? Com­ings and goings, begin­nings and end­ings. I almost feel like this aspect of the sto­ry­line was a gift. It just made sense to me to start and fin­ish the book with that door.

What did you want read­ers to know from the pages of illus­tra­tions you cre­at­ed for this book?

His­to­ry can be such a dry sub­ject. Until we real­ize that it’s all just a series of sto­ries, made up of real peo­ple doing extra­or­di­nary things. So I hope that when peo­ple read Miss Colfax’s Light, they see a per­son who was coura­geous, and tired, and deter­mined, with cal­loused hands and a smile for a friend or a cat who’s chas­ing the chick­ens again. I hope that I helped to make Harriet’s world a real, tan­gi­ble place for read­ers, espe­cial­ly chil­dren. I hope to inspire some­one to try some­thing that might be out of their com­fort zone, or to not back away from some­thing they want to try just because some­one says it’s not meant for them. There is so much to be learned from Har­ri­et and her life. In some ways, her sto­ry is a small one, his­tor­i­cal­ly speak­ing. In oth­er ways, it’s huge, and absolute­ly deserves to be told. It has been such an hon­or to be entrust­ed in help­ing bring her sto­ry to life!

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Aimée Bissonette

Aimée BissonetteIn this inter­view with Aimée Bis­sonette, author of Miss Col­fax’s Light, our Book­storm™ this monthwe asked about writ­ing and research­ing this non­fic­tion pic­ture book biog­ra­phy. 

Aimée, thank you for shar­ing your expe­ri­ences and dis­cov­er­ies with our read­ers. We’re excit­ed about this book that show­cas­es an Every­day Hero, one of Amer­i­ca’s female light­house keep­ers.

Miss Colfax's LightWhen you were writ­ing this book, do you remem­ber edit­ing to include few­er details so the illus­tra­tor could do her work?

Yes, indeed! In fact, that’s half the joy of writ­ing pic­ture books — know­ing the illus­tra­tor will fill in so many details. Eileen Ryan Ewen’s  illus­tra­tions in this book pro­vide won­der­ful fac­tu­al mate­r­i­al. Harriet’s cloth­ing and house­hold items in the book are just like the things Har­ri­et would have worn and owned in the late 1800’s. I did not need to include descrip­tions in the text. Eileen includ­ed so much his­tor­i­cal detail in her illus­tra­tions.

How did you learn that some peo­ple in the city felt Har­ri­et “got her job only because her cousin was a U.S. Con­gress­man”?

In writ­ing the book, I did a lot of research. There were sev­er­al writ­ten accounts of Harriet’s life and the docents at the Light­house Muse­um had a trea­sure trove of infor­ma­tion about Har­ri­et. My favorite source of infor­ma­tion was Har­ri­et her­self. She kept a dai­ly jour­nal, called a log, start­ing in the 1870’s. The idea that Harriet’s cousin, Schuyler Col­fax, a U.S. Con­gress­man who lat­er became Vice Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, helped Har­ri­et get her job was men­tioned fre­quent­ly in my sources. Specif­i­cal­ly, it is men­tioned in a 1904 Chica­go Tri­bune news­pa­per arti­cle by a reporter who inter­viewed Har­ri­et right before she retired.

Miss Colfax's Light log book

The author and illus­tra­tor chose to include depic­tions of Miss Col­fax’s log book through­out the book.

There are short seg­ments of entries from Harriet’s jour­nal includ­ed through­out the book. Did you have to get per­mis­sion to use those? How did you know who to ask?

Those short seg­ments are entries from the “log” I men­tioned above. Har­ri­et main­tained that log as part of her offi­cial light­house keep­er duties so the log tech­ni­cal­ly is “owned” by the U.S. Gov­ern­ment. Her log is kept in the Nation­al Archives. I did not need to get per­mis­sion to use it because it is not pro­tect­ed by copy­right. Keep in mind, though, much of the mate­r­i­al a writer uncov­ers while doing research for a non­fic­tion book is pro­tect­ed by copy­right. Writ­ers need to be aware of this and ask per­mis­sion when they use oth­er people’s copy­right­ed work in the books they write.

Did you have to research the Light­house Board and the Light­house Inspec­tor before you could write this book?

The ref­er­ences in the book to the Light­house Board and Light­house Inspec­tor are based on Harriet’s log entries. There are many more log entries than are includ­ed in the book — 30 years’ worth, in fact! Read­ing them was tremen­dous­ly eye-open­ing. Har­ri­et referred often to the Board and the Inspec­tor in her entries. I did addi­tion­al read­ing about the Light­house Board and how light­hous­es were man­aged in the 1800’s, but most­ly relied on Harriet’s own words when writ­ing about the Board and Inspec­tor.

Oth­er than “I can do this,” there is no dia­logue in the book. Why did you choose to leave out dia­logue?

That’s a good ques­tion! I think the main rea­son is that, although I had Harriet’s log entries and her let­ters and I had a sense of what she might say and how she might say it, I didn’t know exact­ly what she would have said in a con­ver­sa­tion. I felt if I made up dia­logue, it would take away from the fac­tu­al accu­ra­cy of the book. We can’t even be 100% cer­tain that Har­ri­et would have thought or said “I can do this.” But giv­en all I learned about Har­ri­et — her dri­ve, her intel­li­gence, the hard­ships she faced — I felt it fit and I allowed that one excep­tion.

Miss Colfax's Light

What do you want read­ers to know that they didn’t know before from the text you wrote?

I want read­ers to think about Har­ri­et and oth­ers like her — the every­day heroes whose work makes life bet­ter for all of us. We don’t often think of light­house keep­ers as “heroes,” but the work Har­ri­et did was crit­i­cal to sea cap­tains and sailors and the peo­ple of Indi­ana who depend­ed on the goods brought in by ship. I also want read­ers to think about how Har­ri­et and many oth­er women of that time defied the restric­tions placed on women and did incred­i­ble things — all with­out the cool tech­nol­o­gy we have today.

Would you have cho­sen to do Harriet’s job if you were alive then?

I like to think that I would have, yes. I think there is a lit­tle bit of me in Har­ri­et. Like Har­ri­et, I love a good chal­lenge!

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Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten

Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten

Rose meets Mr. Win­ter­garten by Bob Gra­ham has been around for awhile. I’ve been read­ing it to kids for almost as long as it’s been on this side of the pond. But I’ve read it two dif­fer­ent ways, and I’m ready to con­fess that now.

I love most every­thing about this sweet pic­ture book. I adore the Sum­mers­es — what a great hip­pie-like fam­i­ly! — espe­cial­ly Mom in her loose fit­ting dress and san­dals and crazy ear­rings. I love the illus­tra­tions — par­tic­u­lar­ly the gobs and gobs of flow­ers. And I expe­ri­ence noth­ing but delight with the mar­velous con­trast pro­vid­ed by Mr. Win­ter­garten — his dark house that the sun nev­er hits; his cold, gray, uninvit­ing din­ner with float­ing gris­tle and mos­qui­toes breed­ing on top; his dusty coat­tails and huge emp­ty din­ing room table. I think the not-so-sub­tle puns found in the neigh­bors’ last names (which a four-year-old had to point out to me) are bril­liant.

And the sto­ry itself! Sweet Rose, brave enough to ven­ture over to her neighbor’s house despite the neigh­bor­hood children’s sto­ries of Mr. Wintergarten’s mean and hor­ri­ble rep­u­ta­tion, his wolf-dog and salt­wa­ter croc­o­dile, his pen­chant for eat­ing chil­dren…. I love it all.

Except that last bit. “No one ever goes in there,” said Arthur, “in case Mr. Win­ter­garten eats peo­ple.” I hate that. And it func­tions almost like a spell in the sto­ry, because as soon as Arthur deliv­ers this worst-of-the-worse news, Rose’s ball goes over Mr. Wintergarten’s fence.

For a long time, I just left off the incaseMr.Wintergarteneatspeople part of what Arthur says. I thought it suf­fi­cient­ly excit­ing for my wee sto­ry-lis­ten­ers that nobody ever went in there…(drumroll!)…and now Rose would go in there. It was but a small change — a tiny omis­sion, I rea­soned. It’s not like I total­ly changed the sto­ry.

Rose Meets Mr. WintergreenWhen Rose goes to ask her moth­er what to do and her moth­er sug­gests, like all good hip­pie-moth­ers, that she sim­ply go ask Mr. Win­ter­garten to give her ball back, Rose says she can’t  “Because he eats kids.” To which her no-non­sense hip­pie-moth­er says, “We’ll take him some cook­ies instead.”

Again, the can­ni­bal­is­tic innu­en­do was just too much for me. I’d look at those sweet lit­tle faces, rapt in the sto­ry I was read­ing them…and it was just eas­i­est to have Rose remain silent when her moth­er asks why she doesn’t just go make the prop­er inquiry. Then all I had to do was leave off the word “instead” when her moth­er sug­gests the cook­ie idea. The book taught hos­pi­tal­i­ty among neigh­bors — excel­lent!

I read it like this for years. I didn’t feel bad about it at all. I was pro­tect­ing the chil­dren! And then one day, amongst the crowd of chil­dren at my feet, there was a read­er.

Hey!” he said. “You skipped a line.”

I did?” I said.

The boy stood and approached. “Yeah, right here. “No one ever goes in there,” said Arthur, “in case Mr. Win­ter­garten eats peo­ple.” He under­lined the words with his index fin­ger. I feigned sur­prise upon see­ing them. I com­pli­ment­ed him on his astute read­ing skills.

Ner­vous­ly, I checked on the rest of the wee vul­ner­a­ble sto­ry­time chil­dren at my feet. They were look­ing up at me in what I can only describe as thor­ough­ly delight­ed hor­ror.

He EATS kids?” a lit­tle girl said.

For real?” said anoth­er.

Rose Meets Mr. WintergartenProb­a­bly not,” said the read­ing child. “They prob­a­bly just think he eats kids.”

Oh….” Big eyes looked at me and the old­er, wis­er, more world­ly read­ing boy.

So when Rose’s Mom says they’ll take cook­ies, I, of course, put in the word “instead.”

That’s a good idea,” said a sweet lit­tle girl with dark curls. She nod­ded vig­or­ous­ly. “A real­ly good idea.”

Yeah,” said her lit­tle broth­er. “Every­one likes cook­ies.”

As you might guess, Rose’s brave over­tures earn her a new friend in Mr. Win­ter­garten. Turns out her old neigh­bor hadn’t even opened his drapes in years. Once he goes out­side and kicks Rose’s ball back over the fence — los­ing his slip­per in the process — he’s pret­ty much a new man. As are the chil­dren, who learn their reclu­sive neighbor’s rep­u­ta­tion might be a bit exag­ger­at­ed.

I’ve not omit­ted the can­ni­bal­is­tic lines since. I bite my tongue so I don’t soft­en them with a “Oh that’s just sil­ly, isn’t it?!” I just read it straight. Kids love this book — I think, much as it pains me to admit it, all the more so because of the pre­vi­ous­ly cen­sored lines. They can take it, I guess. Who knew?

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Worm Loves Worm

Worm Loves Wormfinal­ly had a chance to read one of my new favorite pic­ture books—Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Aus­tri­an, illus­trat­ed by Mike Cura­to — to a group of kids. It was Valentine’s Day — the kids were mak­ing valen­tines, learn­ing origa­mi, and lis­ten­ing to love sto­ries read by moi.

My mis­take was try­ing to call them away from the origa­mi and stick­ers and scraps by say­ing: Hey kids! Let’s read some love sto­ries!

A cou­ple of them looked up and made a face, but most ignored me. The adults came to my aid and tried to get every­one to cir­cle up, but the assur­ances that every­one could go back to their craft­ing did lit­tle to per­suade. They’re read­ers, but they’re also crafters. Unfair to make them choose, but I did. I announced grand­ly, “The first book is about worms….”

That got their atten­tion.

Worms?” they said.

I thought you said you were read­ing love sto­ries,” said one child (who will be a lawyer some day.)

Yes,” I said. “This is a love sto­ry. About worms.”

A few left their scraps and stick­ers and came over to see. I start­ed the sto­ry.

Worm loves Worm.

Let’s be mar­ried,” says Worm to Worm.

Yes!” answers Worm.

Let’s be mar­ried.” 

I didn’t know worms could get mar­ried!” said one child. More joined our cir­cle.

I turned the page. Worm and Worm’s friend Crick­et vol­un­teers to mar­ry them, because you have to have some­one to mar­ry you — “that’s how it’s always been done.”  

That’s How It’s Always Been Done is a major refrain in this book.

Now can we be mar­ried?” asks Worm.

But no, not yet. Bee­tle insists on a best bee­tle, and vol­un­teers him­self for the role. The Bees insist on being bride’s bees. And then there are the rings to con­sid­er — because, of course, “that’s how it’s always been done.”

It goes on and on — the usu­al trap­ping of a wed­ding, the ways “it’s always been done” — are trot­ted out as hur­dles, if not quite objec­tions. Patient­ly the worms adapt. Their friends see how things can be dif­fer­ent. They’ll wear the rings like belts, not hav­ing fin­gers. They’ll do The Worm at the dance, not hav­ing feet to dance with. Their friend Spi­der will attach the hat and flow­ers with sticky web and eat the cake “along with Crick­et and Bee­tle,” since worms do not eat cake.

Now, the adults in the room under­stood the sto­ry as a clever way to turn the same-gen­der vs. dif­fer­ent-gen­der mar­riage debate upside down. They were delight­ed. These are par­ents who have raised their kids to sup­port mar­riage for all — indeed, some of the kids in my audi­ence are being raised in a fam­i­ly with two moms/dads.

The kids under­stood the more sub­tle mes­sage behind the sto­ry, though. It’s about change. It’s about learn­ing to see past How It’s Always Been Done. They didn’t even blink when one worm wore a veil and tux and the oth­er wore a dress and top hat. This is how kids play dress up, after all. Details do not stymie chil­dren the way they do adults.

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The end­ing to this book is hap­py. When Crick­et objects that “That isn’t how it’s always been done.” Worm says, “Then we’ll just change how it’s done.” The oth­er worm said, “Yes.”

And the chil­dren said, “Yes.” And then they went back to their Valen­tines.

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I’m not ready for school!”

Dad's First DayI minored in the­atre in col­lege, where I crossed the street from Augs­burg to attend Arthur Bal­let’s leg­endary his­to­ry of the­atre class at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta.

Lessons learned in that class came rush­ing back as I savored Mike Wohnout­ka’s Dad’s First Day because it struck me how well this book would play as the­atre of the absurd.

Mike is a keen observ­er of behav­ior, know­ing what will delight kids … and their par­ents. Turn­ing that first day of school on its ear, show­ing that, truth­ful­ly, par­ents are just as wor­ried as the child is, pro­vides good fun, dis­cuss­able emo­tions, and a nat­ur­al lead-in to con­ver­sa­tions.

The dad’s behav­ior is drawn in friend­ly, real­is­ti­cal­ly com­ic style with a var­ied palette of gouache paint. His reac­tions are absurd. Kids will rec­og­nize that and whoop with acknowl­edg­ment. Dad is endear­ing and so is the lit­tle boy who non­cha­lant­ly, even dis­play­ing con­fi­dence, can’t wait to expe­ri­ence his first day at school. 

Word choic­es make this a good read-aloud while the illus­tra­tions make this a good side-by-side book. And you must find the ref­er­ences to three of Mike’s pre­vi­ous books in the illus­tra­tions. I found six … can you find more?

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for par­ents, grand­par­ents, care­givers, and preschool edu­ca­tors.

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When a Prince Needs a Mechanic

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Interstellar CinderellaWith a deft sto­ry and oth­er­world­ly art, Deb­o­rah Under­wood and Meg Hunt bring us Inter­stel­lar Cin­derel­la, a fresh and wel­come take on the famil­iar fairy tale with a bit of Andro­cles and the Lion and The Jet­sons thrown into the mix.

In this ver­sion, Cin­derel­la loves fix­ing any­thing mechan­i­cal. She has her own set of spe­cial tools, all care­ful­ly drawn and named on the end­pa­pers for the kids who love iden­ti­fy­ing things. Her com­pan­ion is a robot mouse, small and seem­ing­ly insignif­i­cant but he saves the day when the wicked step­moth­er tries to keep the Prince from see­ing Cin­derel­la.

The illus­tra­tor used “gouache, brush and ink, graphite, rubylith, and dig­i­tal process” to cre­ate a world that is read­i­ly iden­ti­fi­able as being set in the future, with touch­es of Ara­bi­an Nights and super­cool space­ships, which Cin­derel­la dreams of fix­ing when they break down.

When her fairy godro­bot (don’t you think she’s a nod to Rosie on The Jet­sons?) gives her a brand new space­suit and a pow­er gem to join the Prince’s Roy­al Space Parade, the Prince’s space­ship springs a leak and Cin­derel­la is there to fix it.

I took a “Pow­der­puff Mechan­ics” class when I was in col­lege (I didn’t name the class, folks), and I was mighty proud to be able to work on my own car. I know the thrill of fix­ing a leak and fig­ur­ing out how to get bet­ter per­for­mance out of an engine, so Cin­derel­la is my kind of gal.

I’m espe­cial­ly fond of the way this book ends. No spoil­ers here. Let’s just say that this isn’t your grandmother’s Cin­derel­la sto­ry. In a rhyming pic­ture book, the author cre­ates a hero­ine who is tal­ent­ed and wise. The book sparkles and crack­les with the pow­er of the stars. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Inter­stel­lar Cin­derel­la, writ­ten by Deb­o­rah Under­wood, illus­trat­ed by Meg Hunt, Chron­i­cle Books, 2015

 

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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 her great-grandfather’s diary, assem­bled from items, each stored in a match box, that remind him of a cer­tain part of his life … cre­at­ed when he could nei­ther read nor write.… more
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Gifted: Arlo’s ARTrageous Adventure!

Arlo’s ARTra­geous Adven­tures!
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by David LaRochelle
Ster­ling Children’s Pub­lish­ing, 2013 If you’re con­sid­er­ing gifts for the hol­i­day sea­son … (book #1 in our series of Gift­ed rec­om­men­da­tions) … No mat­ter how unin­ter­est­ing Arlo’s elder­ly rel­a­tive insists on mak­ing their trip to the muse­um with her warn­ings to be seri­ous and qui­et and not to touch any­thing, Arlo can’t help but find the oppo­site to be true.… more
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Packing up the tent?

Summer Reading No. 2 Many of you are mak­ing plans to get out of Dodge when your kids are out of school for the sum­mer. I imag­ine thou­sands of peo­ple mak­ing a list: tent, sleep­ing bags, mini-grill, rain pon­chos, clothes­line (from our camp­ing expe­ri­ence, some­place to hang things up to dry is essen­tial), cool­er, GPS, and back­up maps.… more
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Best Truck Stop Ever

Summer Reading No. 1 Trav­el sea­son begins now. Resorts and road­side attrac­tions and Dairy Queens are all spruced up. The OPEN signs are once again flipped to the side that mat­ters. Will you be trav­el­ing the high­ways and back­roads, look­ing for adven­ture? I’ve read a new pic­ture book that made me look dif­fer­ent­ly at some­thing trav­el­ers take for grant­ed: truck stops.… more
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