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Reading Books Through the Lens of Peace

Wel­come to Peace-olo­gy. We are two children’s authors team­ing up to review children’s books with peace in mind. 

Caren Stelson

Caren Stel­son, author and edu­ca­tor, peace advo­cate

Caren: After all our inter­views for our book Sachiko: A Nagasa­ki Bomb Survivor’s Sto­ry, I asked the book’s inspi­ra­tion, peace edu­ca­tor Sachiko Yasui, if she had any last words she would like to share with chil­dren.

Sachiko’s response was to think about this:

What is peace?
What kind of per­son should I be?
Keep pur­su­ing answers to these ques­tions.

I haven’t stopped think­ing about Sachiko’s ques­tions. When I met Ellie, we dis­cov­ered we ask the same ques­tions when look­ing for books for kids.

Ellie Roscher

Ellie Rosch­er, author and edu­ca­tor, peace advo­cate

Ellie: I read to my three- and five-year-old chil­dren every sin­gle day. They mem­o­rize lines from books and book char­ac­ters are the basis for our imag­i­na­tive play. I also teach peace lit­er­a­cy to teenagers. I am fas­ci­nat­ed as a par­ent and teacher which books spark curios­i­ty in kids and broad­en their uni­verse. Which books lead to true explo­ration around pow­er and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion? Which beau­ti­ful­ly show human­i­ties unfold­ing with a bend toward jus­tice? I am active­ly on the look-ut for books that inform our imag­i­na­tions about what kind of healed world is pos­si­ble.

Caren and Ellie: In our upcom­ing Peace-olo­gy series, we’ll be on the look-out for peace books we can rec­om­mend to you. What is the lan­guage of peace? Which sto­ries cap­ture peace in ways that inspire inquiry? How can children’s books help adults and chil­dren explore the mul­ti-lay­ers of peace togeth­er… because Mahat­ma Gand­hi said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world … we shall have to begin with the chil­dren.”

PeaceHere is the first book we’d like to share to ring in the New Year: Peace by Wendy Ander­son Halperin, Atheneum Books for Young Read­ers, 2013.

Weav­ing the words from the Tao Te Ching, “For there to be peace in the world …” as well as oth­er quotes from world’s peace­mak­ers, chil­dren explore a peace jour­ney through Wendy’s exquis­ite­ly detailed draw­ings, inspired by ele­men­tary chil­dren. Snug­gle up and togeth­er wend your way from peace in the world to peace in your heart.

What can you do in 2020 to cul­ti­vate peace in your body, your fam­i­ly, and your world? Maybe it’s design­ing a quilt of peace inspired by Wendy’s book, or lis­ten­ing deeply to per­son­al sto­ries of a friend, fam­i­ly mem­ber, or a staff mem­ber in your school. Or maybe it’s slow­ing down, adjust­ing neg­a­tive self-talk, and help­ing our chil­dren appraise the pos­i­tive. Our world needs more peace, and it can start with each of us.


illus­tra­tion copy­right Wendy Ander­son Halperin, from Peace, Atheneum, 2013

Do you have children’s books or ideas with peace themes you’d like to share? Please do.

As we can, we would like to incor­po­rate your rec­om­men­da­tions into upcom­ing arti­cles, and of course, acknowl­edge you. Let’s make Peace-olo­gy inter­ac­tive. Write to either of us and describe your sug­ges­tion, includ­ing your name, con­tact, and pro­fes­sion­al or orga­ni­za­tion­al. www.ellieroscher or

Hap­py New Year to all. We look for­ward to being on this peace jour­ney togeth­er.


Pass the Ps Please – an Evening with Dav Pilkey

Pos­i­tiv­i­ty, prac­tice and per­sis­tence… a pow­er­ful approach to over­com­ing a mul­ti­tude of chal­lenges and unbe­liev­ably bad school expe­ri­ences. The one and only, Dav Pilkey, shared sev­er­al heart­felt sto­ries to inspire kids (and adults) dur­ing his recent stop in St. Paul as part of his “Dog Man, Do Good Tour.”

Dav Pilkey's Do Good Tour

With humor and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, Dav explained that as a kid with both ADHD and dyslex­ia, read­ing was any­thing but pleas­ant. To make mat­ters worse, his 2nd and 3rd grade teach­ers showed lit­tle com­pas­sion or under­stand­ing for fid­gety, day dream­ing, class clowns like Dav.  One of those teach­ers actu­al­ly made fun of him in front of his class­mates for read­ing slow. Unbe­liev­able, but true.

Dav Pilkey and several of the boys from Room 212Giv­ing tremen­dous cred­it to his mom for instill­ing the three “Ps,” Dav point­ed out that we all need some­one in our life who believes in us. Some­one who makes us want to be bet­ter peo­ple. Some­one who ulti­mate­ly helps us make the world a bet­ter place. Dav’s mom taught her son to ask him­self one impor­tant ques­tion any­time he was faced with some­thing bad, “How can I turn this into some­thing good?”

With an obvi­ous tal­ent for draw­ing and lots of time in the hall­way after being removed from the class­room, Dav did just that. Tap­ping into his cre­ativ­i­ty, famil­iar­i­ty with unkind teach­ers and a pen­chant for pulling pranks, he would go onto to make a mul­ti­tude of books loved by kids every­where (80 mil­lion have sold world­wide!).

Although it makes my heart hurt to think that he, and oth­ers like him, have to suf­fer through so many mis­er­able years at school, being a part of Dav’s audi­ence was indeed a treat. And although I sup­pose some teach­ers take issue with the neg­a­tive car­i­ca­tures of the evil edu­ca­tors found in his books, I am grate­ful for Dav and for his work. I am grate­ful that kids who deal with ADHD and/or dyslex­ia can see them­selves and all of their tremen­dous poten­tial, in some­one like Dav Pilkey.  I am grate­ful he had such a wise and car­ing mom.

I was for­tu­nate to be able to share this momen­tous event with six boys from Room 212. Their lev­el of excite­ment, smiles, screams and sheer delight, could quite eas­i­ly be com­pared to the thrill and fren­zy of fans who greet­ed the Bea­t­les on a Feb­ru­ary day back in 1964. The pho­tos and mem­o­ries are price­less and I can only hope that Dav’s mes­sage leaves a last­ing impres­sion. We could all use a gen­er­ous help­ing of the three Ps!

Several of the boys from Room 212


Brenda Sederberg and Her Reading Team
September 2019

Bookol­o­gy read­ers first met Bren­da Sederberg’s Read­ing Team part­ner Sylvie when she was only two days old. At that time the two were shar­ing one of their very first read-alouds. Now Gram and Sylvie have had the chance to share a whole won­der­ful year of read­ing togeth­er!

To cel­e­brate Sylvie’s first birth­day, Bren­da is high­light­ing the three books that have become Sylvie’s favorites over that spe­cial year. As Bren­da says, “Sylvie now brings books to me to read — which is such a joy for me, both as a for­mer ele­men­tary school teacher and as Gram.” Sylvie’s First Birth­day Favorites are: The House in the Night, writ­ten by Susan Marie Swan­son and illus­trat­ed by Beth Krommes; Big Red Barn, writ­ten by Mar­garet Wise Brown and illus­trat­ed by Feli­cia Bond; and “More More More,” Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams.

Bren­da con­tin­ues, “Sylvie loves being read to: when she isn’t feel­ing well, before a nap, and just any­time!”

Bren­da and Sylvie con­duct their read-alouds in Min­neso­ta. Bren­da also shares her pas­sion for children’s lit­er­a­ture by read­ing to an ele­men­tary class­room and by belong­ing to the Duluth branch of Bookol­o­gy’s Chap­ter & Verse Book Clubs, which meets at the Book­store at Fitger’s.


Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion about how to par­tic­i­pate.

About Rais­ing Star Read­ers

The orig­i­nal inspi­ra­tion for this col­umn was Mar­i­on Dane Bauer’s book The Stuff of Stars and her sug­ges­tion for using that book as an ongo­ing scrap­book to doc­u­ment read­ing aloud with a child. More details about that sug­ges­tion can be found on this PDF. The Stuff of Stars is illus­trat­ed by Ekua Holmes and pub­lished by Can­dlewick Press. Bren­da has been hav­ing fun putting togeth­er just such a scrap­book for Sylvie and is delight­ed to share this peek at it with Bookol­o­gy read­ers.


Ask Me About … My Amazing Students!

New year. New grade lev­el. Same class­room filled with same amaz­ing kids from last year (along with sev­er­al love­ly new addi­tions). Just wrapped up the sev­enth day of school and the same ques­tion keeps run­ning through my mind… how did I get so lucky? “Loop­ing” (mov­ing up a grade lev­el) with a class that you absolute­ly adore from the year before is pret­ty much like win­ning the “teacher lot­tery.” Wel­come to anoth­er year of “Teach it For­ward” and a peek into the teach­ing and learn­ing from Room 212!

One of the main chal­lenges and goals in a loop­ing sit­u­a­tion that includes adding a few new stu­dents to the already formed group, is to fig­ure out a way to build and rebuild the com­mu­ni­ty that has already tak­en shape the year before. I searched online, look­ing for fun games and ice-break­er ideas. I asked col­leagues for their best back-to-school, first week team builders. I com­piled my list of must-read pic­ture books for our “class­room book-a-day.” I had plen­ty of fun activ­i­ties to fill those first few days, but I was still try­ing to come up with some­thing spe­cial that might fos­ter more col­lab­o­ra­tion.

What do you do with an Idea?And then it hap­pened! I was stand­ing at the copi­er on day #2 print­ing stu­dent pho­tos from day #1, and it was as if a giant light bulb explod­ed over my head. See­ing all those smil­ing faces slide through the machine inspired a com­plete­ly new idea that made me feel gid­dy! There was a bit of serendip­i­ty in the air as the next-up, class­room-book-a-day title hap­pened to be “What Do You Do With an Idea?” by Kobi Yama­da.

The plan would be to ask stu­dents to think about top­ics, peo­ple, places, basi­cal­ly any­thing they love to talk about. Next, I would give them a name tag design fea­tur­ing “Ask me about….” Once stu­dents fin­ished writ­ing their list, I would tape it to the back­side of their pho­to and lam­i­nate it. And voila! A sim­ple but cre­ative way to do a new greet­ing dur­ing our morn­ing meet­ing.  Stu­dents would part­ner up to exchange their pho­to con­ver­sa­tion cards and use the “Ask me about” lists as con­ver­sa­tion starters.

After shar­ing the idea with my stu­dents, they seemed excit­ed and will­ing to give it a try. Over the years I’ve shared a vari­ety of writ­ing activ­i­ties that involve stu­dents mak­ing lists of top­ics they might like to write about in the future. With­out excep­tion, there have always been kids who strug­gled to gen­er­ate ideas and sat with pen­cil in hand, blank paper star­ing back at them. This time, how­ev­er, the lists came togeth­er in record speed. Maybe it was because I asked them to think about what they want­ed to talk about, rather than write about. Maybe it was because they were eager to share their sum­mer mem­o­ries. Maybe it was because the major­i­ty of the class expe­ri­enced a ton of Joy Write last year and they were more com­fort­able with tak­ing risks. What­ev­er the rea­sons, I was delight­ed with the results. More impor­tant­ly, the kids couldn’t wait to share their pho­to con­ver­sa­tion cards.

I have a feel­ing those “Ask me about” lists will come in handy for some, if not many, of the kids when it comes to writ­ing. I also envi­sion an expan­sion of the idea, with kids cre­at­ing pho­to con­ver­sa­tion cards for their favorite book char­ac­ter friends. I can hard­ly wait to see what Kek (Home of the Brave), Ada (The War That Saved My Life), Mia (Front Desk) or Peter (Pax) might add to their “Ask me about” lists.

Home of the Brave, The War That Saved My Life, Front Desk, Pax

And to top it off, my teacher heart was filled with pride and joy to see so many kids add book relat­ed top­ics to their “Ask me about…” lists! Here is a sam­pling of what we’ll be talk­ing about in Room 212 in the days to come


Deb Andries and Her Off-to-School Reading Team
September 2019

Start­ing kinder­garten is a spe­cial time, and it’s real­ly spe­cial when you get to read books with Gram­my to get you ready! For this addi­tion to our Rais­ing Star Read­ers fea­ture, we’re delight­ed to once again be show­cas­ing Deb Andries, a Nation­al Lit­er­a­cy Con­sul­tant who lives in Wis­con­sin, and two of her grand­chil­dren, who are both start­ing kinder­garten this fall. Emmer­syn, five-and-a-half, will attend in cen­tral Min­neso­ta. Grayson, also five-and-a-half, will attend in north­ern Wis­con­sin.

Reading Off-to-School Books

In prepa­ra­tion, they shared some very spe­cial books at Gram­my’s house. They talked about mak­ing new friends, offer­ing to sit by new friends at lunch, and invit­ing them to play at recess. They talked about how excit­ing it will be to get ready the night before. As the kid­dos stat­ed, “You HAVE to have your back­pack all ready every night!”

The Day You BeginThe team shared many back-to-school books which Deb gath­ered from her per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al library col­lec­tion. There are many great titles to share with read­ers as the school year begins, but one title is a par­tic­u­lar favorite of Grammy’s: The Day You Begin, writ­ten by Jacque­line Wood­son and illus­trat­ed by Rafael López. Deb describes the book this way:

The Day You Begin is a beau­ti­ful sto­ry of a young boy who is start­ing in a new school. As the char­ac­ter tells his read­ers, ‘There will be times.…’ Grayson, Emmer­syn, and I talked about ‘times’ when they may be new to a sit­u­a­tion and how they might respond. I also use this book in my pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment train­ings as a Lit­er­a­cy Con­sul­tant, shar­ing the sto­ry as an inter­ac­tive read aloud, and with teach­ers who may be embrac­ing new teach­ing and learn­ing in the school year.”

Deb con­tin­ues: “I have fall­en in love with the mes­sage of this book! I share it with my grand­chil­dren, friends, col­leagues, and teach­ers because of the idea that new begin­nings offer so much hope for each of us. Or as Jacque­line Woodson’s sto­ry puts it, ‘This is the day you begin / to find the places inside / your laugh­ter and your lunch­es, / your books, your trav­el and your sto­ries, / where every new friend has some­thing / a lit­tle like you−and some­thing else / so fab­u­lous­ly not quite like you / at all.’”

Deb con­cludes with this wish for every­one: “May this school year be the begin­ning of find­ing places of laugh­ter, lunch­es, trav­el, sto­ries, and pro­found friend­ships.”

books and The Day You Begin


Bookol­o­gy is always look­ing for new Read­ing Teams to help us cel­e­brate the joys of read­ing aloud togeth­er. Con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion if you’re inter­est­ed in par­tic­i­pat­ing.


Deb Andries and Her Reading Teams
May 2019

Guess How Much I Love You?For this addi­tion to our Rais­ing Star Read­ers fea­ture, we’re delight­ed to once again be show­cas­ing Deb Andries, a Nation­al Lit­er­a­cy Con­sul­tant who lives in Wis­con­sin, and her grand­chil­dren: Fin­ley and Grayson, who live in Cum­ber­land, Wis­con­sin, and Emmer­syn, who lives in Sartell, Min­neso­ta. Gram­my and her Read­ing Teams recent­ly shared Guess How Much I Love You, writ­ten by Sam McBrat­ney and illus­trat­ed by Ani­ta Jer­am, while enjoy­ing mile­stone read-togeth­ers dur­ing their Mother’s Day cel­e­bra­tions.

Deb explains that the book was giv­en to her by a friend five years ago when she was a lit­er­a­cy coach in Min­neapo­lis and her fam­i­ly was eager­ly antic­i­pat­ing the arrival of both Emmer­syn and Grayson. Deb explains, “My friend knew how excit­ed I was to know that there would be two to love (and they were born five days apart!).”

Deb, Fin­ley, and Grayson read­ing Guess How Much I Love You

The book has become very mean­ing­ful for the fam­i­ly. As Deb says, “When I think about the bond of the love between grand­par­ents and grand­chil­dren, this book sends that mes­sage. As far as our arms can reach, as high as we can hop or jump, all the way up to our toes and across the lane and down the riv­er … our love extends THAT far. When we read the book, the grand­kids are enam­ored by the illus­tra­tions and how Lit­tle Nut­brown Hare and Big Nut­brown Hare share how much they love one anoth­er. Then, we talk about those very same things. ‘I love you, Gram­my, as far as my arms can reach.’ And, ‘I love you, Emmer­syn, Grayson, and Fin­ley as far as MY arms can reach!’

Read­ing Guess How Much I Love You has become a spe­cial tra­di­tion for Deb and Emmer­syn

Deb loves the time spent read­ing aloud togeth­er. As she explains, “This time with a book, snug­gled up tight togeth­er, is spe­cial and cre­ates a bond of love that is like no oth­er. There’s always room on Grammy’s lap for all of us to lean in to lis­ten and share the words, and then our own ‘I love you as much.…’ We also have a tra­di­tion with the book: we trace their hand­print once a year and write their name, as a ‘mem­o­ry mak­er’ of this love and bond.”

Deb adds: “We read the book around Mother’s Day this year, but we also read it many oth­er times dur­ing the year. Any day, and every day, is a good day to spend time togeth­er in books and con­ver­sa­tions around them. Read­ing indoors or out­doors, books are a pow­er­ful way to help my grand­kids learn about the world around them, share sto­ries we love, and find new sto­ries, too.”


We here at Bookol­o­gy wish Deb and her Read­ing Teams many won­der­ful hours of read­ing togeth­er this sum­mer! If you would like us to fea­ture your Read­ing Team when Bookol­o­gy starts up again in the fall, con­tact Lisa Bullard for fur­ther infor­ma­tion about how to par­tic­i­pate.




Suc­cess. offers more than fifty syn­onyms for the word “suc­cess”… accom­plish­ment, fame, hap­pi­ness, progress, tri­umph, and vic­to­ry all have a place on the list. With test­ing hys­te­ria mak­ing the rounds in schools and class­rooms every­where, the def­i­n­i­tion of suc­cess as it relates to read­ing, has like­ly weighed heav­i­ly on the minds and hearts of many teach­ers. How do we mea­sure read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy? How do we mea­sure suc­cess? I firm­ly believe that it is both illu­sive and dan­ger­ous to decide whether a child has been suc­cess­ful by turn­ing only to a score on a high-stakes read­ing test.

Sad­ly, in Min­neso­ta, our leg­is­la­tors have deemed a pro­fi­cient score of 350 on the third-grade read­ing MCA such a sig­nif­i­cant mea­sure of suc­cess that for years our state has used it as a way to reward schools with what they call “Lit­er­a­cy Incen­tive Aid” which is explained in A Pub­li­ca­tion of the Min­neso­ta House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Fis­cal Analy­sis Depart­ment (p. 48):

Schools are eli­gi­ble for addi­tion­al aid based on how well stu­dents in the third grade read (called “Pro­fi­cien­cy Aid”), and how much progress is being made between the third and fourth grades in read­ing skills (called “Growth Aid”). Pro­fi­cien­cy aid is cal­cu­lat­ed by mul­ti­ply­ing $530 times the aver­age per­cent­age of stu­dents in a school that meet or exceed pro­fi­cien­cy over the cur­rent year and pre­vi­ous two years on the third-grade read­ing por­tion of the Min­neso­ta Com­pre­hen­sive Assess­ment, mul­ti­plied by the num­ber of stu­dents enrolled in the third grade at the school in the pre­vi­ous year. Sim­i­lar­ly, Growth aid is cal­cu­lat­ed by mul­ti­ply­ing $530 times the per­cent­age of stu­dents that make medi­um or high growth on the fourth-grade read­ing Min­neso­ta Com­pre­hen­sive Assess­ment mul­ti­plied by the pre­vi­ous year’s fourth grade stu­dent count. [124D.98]

Let’s think about that for a moment. Basi­cal­ly, this “read­ing boun­ty” that is placed on the heads of our stu­dents offers schools with few­er Eng­lish Lan­guage Learn­er stu­dents, schools with few­er stu­dents who receive free or reduced lunch, and schools with few­er Spe­cial Edu­ca­tion stu­dents, a hefty finan­cial boost for every stu­dent who attains that score of 350. There seems to be lit­tle regard for the fact that stu­dents from these demo­graph­ic groups already face a seri­ous oppor­tu­ni­ty gap and that gap is a pre-exist­ing con­di­tion that is fur­ther exas­per­at­ed by this mod­el of school fund­ing. In oth­er words, the rich get rich­er, while the poor con­tin­ue to strug­gle.

How I wish I could con­vince our leg­is­la­tors that defin­ing read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy or suc­cess as a score of 350 on the read­ing MCA is sim­ply not the only, and espe­cial­ly not the best, way to deter­mine whether a diverse group of eight- and nine-year old kids are suc­cess­ful in terms of lit­er­a­cy. I am con­vinced that I have plen­ty of data in addi­tion to the MCA score, both the “hard” and “soft” kind, that paints a bet­ter pic­ture of whether or not my stu­dents have attained lit­er­a­cy suc­cess. You name it, I’ve got it. Sum­ma­tive, for­ma­tive, for­mal, infor­mal, flu­en­cy CBMs, anec­do­tal con­fer­ence notes, run­ning records, NWEA MAP data, essays, opin­ion writ­ing, research reports, writ­ing in response to read­ing … the list goes on and on. A 350 is cer­tain­ly not the only way to mea­sure lit­er­a­cy suc­cess in Room 212. Just as impor­tant (if not more impor­tant) are the con­ver­sa­tions, deep-think­ing, and per­son­al reflec­tions my stu­dents share with me and each oth­er on a dai­ly basis.

Front DeskAs easy as it is to be dis­cour­aged and feel like I’m the one who has failed when some of my bril­liant, hard-work­ing and oh-so-wise stu­dents come up short of that mea­sure of suc­cess, aka a 350, I need only to call up mem­o­ries of a recent read-aloud moment in Room 212. The book, Front Desk, by Kel­ly Yang, tells the sto­ry of Mia Tang, a deter­mined, resource­ful and coura­geous ten-year-old who dis­cov­ers the pow­er of the writ­ten word. Mia and her par­ents are Chi­nese immi­grants, work­ing end­less hours at the Calivista Motel under the scruti­ny of the heart­less own­er, Mr. Yao in the ear­ly 1990s. Mia befriends Lupe, anoth­er immi­grant in her class, whose fam­i­ly came to the Unit­ed States from Mex­i­co. The two girls dis­cov­er they were both hid­ing sim­i­lar secrets that were attempts to cov­er up the harsh real­i­ties of their lives. Once they real­ize they could be vul­ner­a­ble with each oth­er, they share a great deal more about their inner most thoughts and feel­ings. Much like my reflec­tions and won­der­ing about what it means to be suc­cess­ful, Mia shared the fol­low­ing:

I was curi­ous what Lupe thought of as “suc­cess­ful.” Every­body seemed to have dif­fer­ent cri­te­ria. I used to think being suc­cess­ful meant hav­ing enough to eat…

When I asked Lupe, she put two fin­gers to her chin and thought real hard. “I think being suc­cess­ful in this coun­try means hav­ing a liv­ing room with­out a bed in it,” she decid­ed.

After read­ing that excerpt to my incred­i­ble kids, we dug deep­er into the con­ver­sa­tion and opin­ions shared by Mia and Lupe. There was a con­sen­sus that Mia was right about peo­ple hav­ing very dif­fer­ent ideas about what it might mean to be suc­cess­ful. Some kids shared their def­i­n­i­tion and oth­ers were very qui­et. I invit­ed the class to think more about the top­ic of being suc­cess­ful and to con­sid­er writ­ing about what it means to them. A num­ber of kids accept­ed the invi­ta­tion.

If only that “Lit­er­a­cy Incen­tive Aid” could include cri­te­ria beyond an MCA test score of 350. I would like to believe that the thought­ful reflec­tions shared by my stu­dents would con­vince our leg­is­la­tors that pro­fi­cien­cy is more than a num­ber derived from a bunch of cor­rect answers to mul­ti­ple-choice ques­tions about read­ing pas­sages stu­dents may have lit­tle inter­est in read­ing. 

Two of my favorite stu­dent respons­es:

success is

Suc­cess­ful means that you do some­thing you’ve always want­ed to do and it went how you want­ed.

success is

Suc­cess­ful means hav­ing a house and a dog, hav­ing a tree­house, hav­ing a gar­den, learn­ing a lot, going to col­lege.

After all, isn’t being a suc­cess­ful read­er as much about what read­ing does to our heart as it is about what read­ing does to our head? I doubt there will ever be a stan­dard­ized test that can ade­quate­ly mea­sure the impact of read­ing on one’s heart. How­ev­er, if there were such a thing, there is no doubt that all of my stu­dents would sur­pass a 350.


The Arrow of Time

When you walk into our house, you know imme­di­ate­ly my hus­band and I are read­ers. The din­ing room is des­ig­nat­ed as the library, but there are book­cas­es and books in every sin­gle room, includ­ing the bath­rooms. We sub­scribe to The Wall Street Jour­nal and the Sun­day New York Times, as well as Smith­son­ian, Audubon, and Sky and Tele­scope. 

The Enchanted HourMy hus­band has been teach­ing him­self quan­tum physics the last few years. I take books to the movies. Yet we both would have failed the “Goldilocks effect” if that test had been giv­en to us as young chil­dren. In her book, The Enchant­ed Hour: The Mirac­u­lous Pow­er of Read­ing Aloud in the Age of Dis­trac­tion, Meghan Cox Gur­don dis­cuss­es Dr. John Hutton’s research on how read­ing aloud to chil­dren affects their cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment.

Hut­ton, a pedi­a­tri­cian and pro­fes­sor at the Cincin­nati Children’s Hos­pi­tal, dis­cov­ered through MRI scans that the brains of preschool­ers who had been read to on a reg­u­lar basis “lit up” in areas asso­ci­at­ed with lan­guage and pro­cess­ing infor­ma­tion. Com­pared to peers who had lit­tle or no access to books, or who were giv­en screens instead of shar­ing a pic­ture book with a care­giv­er, the sto­ry-rich chil­dren were miles ahead in “lan­guage, emo­tion­al con­trol, vision, hear­ing … lay­ing the path­ways for future thought and rea­son­ing.”

The “Goldilocks effect” per­tains to chil­dren age three to five, when their brains are grow­ing fast. MRI scans showed “too hot” brain activ­i­ty in chil­dren view­ing videos. Not as ter­rif­ic as it sounds, the watch­ers were actu­al­ly pas­sive. Audio — lis­ten­ing to sto­ries through head­phones — pro­duced tepid reac­tions, “too cold.” The “just right” com­bi­na­tion was being read to from a pic­ture book. Chil­dren must process the pic­tures while lis­ten­ing. Their brains are engaged and active. And they have the added ben­e­fit of phys­i­cal con­nec­tion to a per­son.

When I read this study, I remem­bered my own years between two and five. There were no children’s books in the house I lived in. No one read to me. I was sel­dom spo­ken to and heard no sto­ries. Howdy Doo­dy and The Mick­ey Mouse Club (screen) kept me com­pa­ny. At the age of six, I entered first grade. The “look-say” or “whole word” method was still going strong. Read­ing didn’t click with me until sec­ond grade.

Kids Fort

My hus­band was born in the Depres­sion when children’s books were far down on the list of neces­si­ties. Next came the war, and his par­ents were busy with war work. He wasn’t read to and doesn’t remem­ber any books until he start­ed first grade. His sto­ries came over radio waves (audio), Inner Sanc­tum and One Step Beyond.

I can’t say either of us grew up in a time of few dis­trac­tions. For my hus­band, the war ruled everyone’s lives. By the time it was over, he was twelve, well past those vital devel­op­ment years. My life sta­bi­lized when I turned five, but my par­ents had mul­ti­ple jobs. Learn­ing to read and being exposed to books was left to teach­ers.

The Enchant­ed Hour cov­ers oth­er stud­ies that prove the impor­tance of read­ing aloud to young chil­dren, such as vocab­u­lary. Read­ing two pic­ture books aloud to a child each day for a year expos­es him or her to more than 438,000 words of text. Cather­ine Tamis-LeMon­da of New York Uni­ver­si­ty believes that pic­ture book time is the only set­ting in which par­ent and child talk about things oth­er than dai­ly rou­tines. Where else can you dis­cuss the moon or ele­phants or how birth­days are cel­e­brat­ed in oth­er coun­tries?

The book includes test results of chil­dren in low­er socioe­co­nom­ic sit­u­a­tions: book- and word-poor house­holds. My back­ground. And yet I did learn to read, though rather late. Once the door to sto­ries was open, I read and wrote them. Library books had to be returned, but the sto­ries I wrote were mine. No one could take them away from me.

My hus­band did fine in lan­guage arts, but his inter­ests lay in math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence. My moth­er want­ed me to get a desk job. My husband’s father urged him to join his build­ing busi­ness. With­out encour­age­ment, we found our own moti­va­tion and fol­lowed our own paths.

Gurdon’s book made me wist­ful. What would my life had been like if some­one read me bed­time sto­ries? If I was tak­en to the library? If some­one stopped to lis­ten to one of my own sto­ries? But I can’t go back to my preschool years and fill that gap. The arrow of time — a the­o­ry devel­oped by physi­cist Arthur Edding­ton in 1927 — only moves in one direc­tion, for­ward. The past is fixed and immutable.

The Read_Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease and Read to Your Bunny by Rosemary Wells

I wor­ry about chil­dren like me, grow­ing up in word- and book-poor homes. The plea of The Enchant­ed Hour is for par­ents to carve out an hour a day to read aloud to their chil­dren. This isn’t a new idea. Jim Trelease’s 1979 The Read-Aloud Hand­book paved that road for par­ents forty years ago. In 1998, Read to Your Bun­ny by Rose­mary Wells was pub­lished as part of her ini­tia­tive urg­ing fam­i­lies to set aside twen­ty min­utes a day of read-aloud time. Down from an hour to twen­ty min­utes, and yet the prob­lem still exists.

Here we are at the same cross­roads, but now the ene­my is screen time. No one read­ing this col­umn is unaware that screens are in the hands of younger and younger chil­dren. I see babies with cell­phones “to keep them qui­et” and I see the expres­sion­less faces of their par­ents, also on screens. Chil­dren in fam­i­lies that are poor in books but rich in screens — no mat­ter where they land on the socioe­co­nom­ic scale — will strug­gle to devel­op live­ly imag­i­na­tions, to escape the pull of social media, to fol­low their own paths, with or with­out encour­age­ment.

The arrow of time only moves in one direc­tion, for­ward. Once passed by, those impor­tant years can’t be reclaimed and fixed.


Brenda Sederberg and Her Reading Team
February 2019

Sylvie and Gram

Sylvie and Gram begin a read-aloud tra­di­tion togeth­er.

For this addi­tion to our new Rais­ing Star Read­ers fea­ture, we’re hon­ored to be show­cas­ing a brand-new Star Read­er: Baby Sylvie was only two days old when this pho­to was tak­en! She’s pic­tured with Gram (Bren­da Seder­berg), as the two of them share Debra Frasier’s clas­sic pic­ture book On the Day You Were Born at Sylvie’s home in Duluth, Min­neso­ta. The mile­stone they were cel­e­brat­ing was, of course, Sylvie’s safe entry into the world.

Bren­da is a retired ele­men­tary teacher with a pas­sion for chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture. When she retired, she didn’t take much else from her class­room, but she did bring home 24 box­es of books! They are now on shelves in her home, and she takes cer­tain ones out to read to vis­it­ing chil­dren and now her new grand­daugh­ter as well. Bren­da also reads in a 4th grade class each week and belongs to the Duluth branch of Bookol­o­gy’s Chap­ter & Verse Book Clubs, which meets at the Book­store at Fitger’s. 

Sylvie is now five months old and Bren­da cares for her two days a week. They read togeth­er each time. This is impor­tant to Bren­da, being a teacher, and know­ing the impor­tance of books. Her wish for her grand­daugh­ter is to grow up with a love of read­ing, and Bren­da is delight­ed to report that Sylvie is already lis­ten­ing and focused.


We here at Bookol­o­gy wish Bren­da and Sylvie many, many hap­py hours of read­ing togeth­er, and we look for­ward to shar­ing oth­er mile­stones with their Read­ing Team in the future. If you would like us to fea­ture your Read­ing Team, con­tact Lisa Bullard. She can answer ques­tions and pro­vide fur­ther infor­ma­tion about how to par­tic­i­pate.


Deb Andries and Her Reading Teams
January 2019

We’re delight­ed to fea­ture Bookol­o­gy fol­low­er Deb Andries and her grand­chil­dren to kick off our new Rais­ing Star Read­ers col­umn! The column’s goal is to show­case dif­fer­ent Read­ing Teams as they read togeth­er dur­ing mile­stone cel­e­bra­tions.

Reading The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Grayson, Gram­my, and Fin­ley share The Polar Express by Chris Van Alls­burg (HMH Books for Young Read­ers).

Deb, a.k.a. “Gram­my,” was able to enjoy two mile­stone read-togeth­ers to kick off her Christ­mas sea­son. In the pho­to above, Gram­my shares The Polar Express, by Chris Van Alls­burg, with grand­sons Grayson (5) and Fin­ley (3) in Wis­con­sin. In the pho­to below, she shares the same book with grand­daugh­ter Emmer­syn (5) in Min­neso­ta.

Emmersyn and Grammy share a read-aloud tradition.

Emmer­syn and Gram­my share a read-aloud tra­di­tion.

Deb told Bookol­o­gy about the spe­cial rit­u­als her fam­i­ly enjoys as they read this hol­i­day favorite togeth­er every year: “All three grand­chil­dren know the sto­ry and have favorite pages on which we linger and share our thoughts. We also keep our bells in our pock­ets or close by to ring at the end of the sto­ry. My orig­i­nal bell is as old as the book pub­li­ca­tion as that’s when I start­ed read­ing it with my daugh­ters!”

Deb is a retired ele­men­tary teacher and lit­er­a­cy coach of 35 years from Min­neso­ta. Cur­rent­ly, she is a Nation­al Lit­er­a­cy Con­sul­tant for Bench­mark Edu­ca­tion Co. She talks about the impor­tance of books in the life of her fam­i­ly: “Time togeth­er with these spe­cial peo­ple in my life is cher­ished. We all have book­shelves in our homes, and at each vis­it, whether that’s for a day, or a week­end, we make time to cel­e­brate spe­cial books togeth­er. Some­times, we read the same ones over and over, and oth­er times, there’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to read a new trea­sure!”


We here at Bookol­o­gy look for­ward to shar­ing oth­er read-togeth­er mile­stones with Deb and her Read­ing Teams in the com­ing years! And if you would like us to fea­ture your Read­ing Team, con­tact Lisa Bullard. She can answer ques­tions and pro­vide fur­ther infor­ma­tion about how to par­tic­i­pate.



I love the word “serendip­i­ty.” I also love when I actu­al­ly expe­ri­ence the feel­ing of serendip­i­ty. It shows up unex­pect­ed­ly in moments when I feel a sur­pris­ing con­nec­tion or hap­py coin­ci­dence between two seem­ing­ly sep­a­rate things. It makes me believe in the pow­er of the uni­verse and often leaves me ques­tion­ing whether these occur­rences are more than a fluke. I espe­cial­ly love when serendip­i­ty shows up in my teach­ing, learn­ing, and lit­er­a­cy life.

Engaging ChildrenA book I’ve been read­ing the past cou­ple of months has filled me with more serendip­i­tous moments than any oth­er I can recall. Start­ing with the beau­ti­ful blue cov­er and its title Engag­ing Chil­dren, all the way to the last page of Appen­dix G; “Essen­tial Con­di­tions for Engage­ment,” I have felt an over­whelm­ing sense of awe because it seems as if this book was writ­ten espe­cial­ly for me! More than any of my oth­er pro­fes­sion­al books about teach­ing (and trust me, I have an exten­sive col­lec­tion), this trea­sure of a book by Ellin Oliv­er Keene, feels like a cul­mi­na­tion of my teach­ing career as well as a per­fect reflec­tion of my edu­ca­tion­al phi­los­o­phy, my most pas­sion­ate hopes and dreams for kids.

The first chap­ter enti­tled “Let Me Enter­tain You!” imme­di­ate­ly grabbed my atten­tion with the first sen­tence: “A pie in the face: What does it take to moti­vate?” Just days ear­li­er, we had kicked off an excit­ing Rea­dathon fundrais­er at my school and one of the chal­lenges for kids was to meet a cer­tain dol­lar amount to win a chance to toss a pie at our beloved prin­ci­pal. Keene opens her lat­est book with a replay of a con­ver­sa­tion she shared with edu­ca­tors about exter­nal and inter­nal moti­va­tion as it relates to kids’ read­ing. She calls on her read­ers to rethink moti­va­tion. She pon­ders whether our attempts to moti­vate stu­dents, though well-intend­ed, are actu­al­ly fail­ing kids. She also shares research from Mari­nak and Gam­brell about the pit­falls of extrin­sic rewards (some­times hand­ed out in the form of points, piz­zas, or pies in the face) and how these incen­tives have actu­al­ly been shown to decrease moti­va­tion for some kids.  From there, Keene offers var­i­ous def­i­n­i­tions of moti­va­tion and explains impor­tant dis­tinc­tions between four pro­files that impact learn­ing; com­pli­ance, par­tic­i­pa­tion, moti­va­tion and engage­ment.

At this point in my read­ing (still on Chap­ter One!), I was so excit­ed about what this book was offer­ing that I couldn’t keep it to myself. I start­ed tex­ting my teach­ing “soul-sis­ter” Kris. I sent her screen shots of sev­er­al pages of the e‑book, mar­veling at all of the coin­ci­dences I was encoun­ter­ing. In addi­tion to the pie sto­ry, there was a ref­er­ence to moti­va­tion being described as attain­ing a “flow”; in oth­er words, find­ing one­self so immersed in a book or activ­i­ty that all sense of time and place is lost. The term “flow” also hap­pens to be the title of the month­ly newslet­ter our dis­trict super­in­ten­dent sends to staff. Then Keene brought up read­ing logs, a very rel­e­vant top­ic giv­en the recent con­ver­sa­tions Kris and I had shared about our mixed feel­ings and ques­tions about using them effec­tive­ly. Yet anoth­er con­nec­tion popped up when Keene rem­i­nisced about being a third grad­er who loved maps… my bud­dy Kris has often pro­claimed her own love of maps and we both teach third grade! Serendip­i­ty sur­round­ed me as I read on and final­ly stopped tex­ting Kris so she could enjoy her Fri­day evening.

It wasn’t just that this book res­onat­ed with me because it con­tin­u­al­ly referred to top­ics and ideas that were famil­iar and rel­e­vant. It was so much more. You see, through­out my teach­ing career, I have always main­tained that pro­mot­ing an excite­ment for learn­ing was the tick­et. All this time I believed that moti­vat­ing kids was one of the most impor­tant approach­es to teach­ing I could embrace. And now, here was a new take on moti­va­tion. Rather than just hope kids would catch the moti­va­tion bug, I could actu­al­ly teach engage­ment using strate­gies that help kids rec­og­nize when they become dis­en­gaged so that they can reen­gage.

Room 212 White Board

our white­board in Room 212

So that’s exact­ly what I decid­ed to do when we returned to room 212 the fol­low­ing Mon­day. I start­ed by intro­duc­ing my stu­dents to the four pro­files: com­pli­ance, par­tic­i­pa­tion, moti­va­tion and engage­ment. Next, I accept­ed Keene’s chal­lenge to share with my stu­dents some of my most mem­o­rable and engaged learn­ing expe­ri­ences. Since that first attempt to put Engag­ing Chil­dren into prac­tice, we con­tin­ue to talk about the impor­tance of all four pro­files and how to dis­tin­guish the dif­fer­ences between them. I strive to weave engage­ment into our dis­cus­sions on a dai­ly basis. Kids are encour­aged to share their own sto­ries of engage­ment, to offer exam­ples of how they know they are expe­ri­enc­ing engage­ment. I’ve already noticed a dif­fer­ence in how my stu­dents take own­er­ship of their learn­ing and this is just the begin­ning!

Keene has put togeth­er an exten­sive and pow­er­ful col­lec­tion of prac­ti­cal ideas and use­ful tools from which all edu­ca­tors and stu­dents can ben­e­fit. I am con­vinced that Engag­ing Chil­dren has the poten­tial to trans­form the learn­ing tak­ing place in our class­rooms. The appen­dix is full of check­lists, rubrics, record-keep­ing forms, engage­ment reflec­tion guides for book clubs, and so much more.  Please don’t just take my word for it, though. Bet­ter yet, check it out for your­self. Get your hands on this book and see if you dis­cov­er a bit of serendip­i­ty for your­self!

In clos­ing, I offer a few quotes from the book and the uncan­ny con­nec­tions they have to past arti­cles I’ve writ­ten for Teach It For­ward. This my friends, is serendip­i­ty at its finest!

In a large group les­son, a craft­ing ses­sion, for exam­ple … I ask stu­dents to pay atten­tion to what they think, feel, believe and are com­pelled to act upon.” (pg. 84) “Win­dows, Mir­rors, Slid­ing Glass Doors, and Maps

Engage­ment is often born of an emo­tion­al res­o­nance for ideas – engaged chil­dren can describe expe­ri­ences when a con­cept is imprint­ed in the heart as well as the mind.” (pg. 115) “It’s All About the Heart

Chil­dren will devel­op a sense of agency and inde­pen­dence — and engage in learn­ing — if giv­en time and prop­er scaf­fold­ing.” (pg. 71) “The Beau­ty of Imper­fec­tion


Summer Reading

When I say “sum­mer read­ing,” you think about … a good nov­el, right? I have a cou­ple of sug­ges­tions.

Every kid should have these two books tucked in their beach bags, ready for a car trip, or packed for sum­mer camp. Seri­ous­ly.

In between the read­ing out loud of those nov­els you’ve been sav­ing up all year, or the lis­ten­ing to an audio book on the car radio, or the flash­light read­ing in the pitched tent in your back­yard, I hope you will share these books. They’re stuffed with facts pre­sent­ed in the most deli­cious ways.

Some­times a sto­ry is over­whelm­ing dur­ing a busy day but your read­ers and non-read­ers can dip into these books, read one para­graph … and they’ll be hooked. If they only read two pages at a time, so be it, but the dis­cus­sions that will fol­low can be price­less. 

I have not failed 10,000 times; I’ve suc­cess­ful­ly found 10,000 ways that will not work.” (Thomas Alva Edi­son)

Life will be up, life will be down … You can laugh at it or you can cry at it, and laugh­ing feels bet­ter.” (Rachael Ray)

I love that there are inten­tion­al mis­takes on these pages, dar­ing the read­er to find them … and I appre­ci­ate that there’s an answer key.

There are out­ra­geous inven­tions memo­ri­al­ized. Red­di-Bacon? Coca Cola, that headache reliev­er? McDon­ald’s Hula Burg­er?

Many peo­ple stand firm­ly on these pages. Michael Jor­dan. Tina Fey. Albert Ein­stein.

You can read about one top­ic, laugh, learn, ques­tion, dis­cuss … and find it irre­sistible to turn the page for more.

Every­thing is pre­sent­ed in a high­ly visu­al way with graph­ic design and lay­out that makes read­ing eas­i­er.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Happy Accidents from Famous Fails

Hap­py Acci­dents” from Famous Fails, Crispin Boy­er, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids

For your sec­ond mag­ic act, you can add Mas­ter­Mind, anoth­er Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids book. In case any­one won­ders why you’re hand­ing them a book on fail­ures, this book finds your inner genius.

Once again high­ly visu­al, this book relies on read­ing, math, sci­ence, and com­mon sense to address the games and puz­zles. Many of the pages include a lit­tle-know fact. Do you know about super­tasters? Do you sus­pect you are one? Enjoy that next anchovy piz­za.

While you’re play­ing the games and tack­ling the exper­i­ments, you’ll learn about how the brain works … and we all need to fig­ure that out.

It’s anoth­er ide­al book­ing for dip­ping into when time allows, but espe­cial­ly per­fect for lazy days at the cab­in and long car trips. 

Don’t miss out on pro­vid­ing a well-round­ed read­ing expe­ri­ence for your young ones.

Secret Sens­es” from Mas­ter­mind, Stephanie War­ren Drim­mer, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids

Both books will work well for that mid­dle grade, ages 8 to 12 group, but I sus­pect the adults in your fam­i­ly won’t be able to keep their hands off of them either.

Famous Fails!
Crispin Boy­er
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016
ISBN 978−1−4263−2548−9

Mas­ter­mind: Over 100 Games, Tests, and Puz­zles to Unleash Your Inner Genius
Stephanie War­ren Drim­mer
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids, 2016
ISBN 978−1−4263−2110−8


The Coolest Fact

Reports about ani­mals are bor­ing, and they usu­al­ly go like this: Hon­ey­bees are insects. Hon­ey­bees eat nec­tar. Hon­ey­bees live in a hive. See? BORING!

What if we do a lit­tle research, find the most inter­est­ing facts about hon­ey­bees and use them in a sto­ry about one hon­ey­bee? Here is some­thing I learned while research­ing hon­ey­bees. They dance. Like real­ly dance.

Bee Dance illustration by Rick Chrustowski

Bee Dance, illus­tra­tion © Rick Chrus­tows­ki

Okay now we have some­thing to work with. Why do bees dance? Where do they dance? Which bees dance? We can answer all those ques­tions in the sto­ry.

When I work with kids on writ­ing their own nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion sto­ries about ani­mals, I send them a list of ques­tions to research and answer before I get to school. My favorite ques­tion on the list? What is the coolest most inter­est­ing fact you learned about your ani­mal?

Daddy Longlegs

Pho­to: Alexan­der Bon­dar |

One boy learned that Dad­dy Lon­glegs are the most poi­so­nous spi­ders on earth, but their mouths are too small to ever bite a human. Awe­some! A sto­ry start­ed form­ing in my mind as I learned that.

One girl learned that a whale can hold its breathe under­wa­ter for 30 min­utes! 30 min­utes — wow! I can’t wait to read the sto­ry about that whale at the bot­tom of the ocean, swoosh­ing around in the dark­ness look­ing for food.

The most inter­est­ing fact about an ani­mal is a great ful­crum for a sto­ry.

My book Bee Dance took nine years to write. I know that sounds crazy. And it is. But I just couldn’t get the sto­ry right. First I wrote the text in rhyme. It was fine, but some of my rhymes felt forced.

Then I tried to make the top­ic more visu­al­ly inter­est­ing. The illus­tra­tions start­ed out in black and white, then moved to col­or after the scout bee tast­ed the nec­tar of a flower. It made it seem like the bee was trip­ping on psy­che­del­ic drugs! AND it com­plete­ly stepped on the cool fact of the bee dance itself. Feel­ing defeat­ed, I put the book in a draw­er.

After work­ing on sev­er­al oth­er books, I pulled out my old Bee Dance script and real­ized that it need­ed to be a straight­for­ward read about how the bee dance works. The fact that bees dance spe­cif­ic direc­tions to a food source, so all the oth­er bees know exact­ly where to find it, is such a cool fact on its own. It was enough to hold the whole sto­ry togeth­er.

So now, when writ­ing sto­ries with kids I tell them, focus on the coolest fact you learned. Let that guide your sto­ry.


Skinny Dip with Lester Laminack

Lester Lam­i­nack

Lester Lam­i­nack is sought after as a speak­er in school dis­tricts all over the coun­try. A retired pro­fes­sor, active­ly involved in lit­er­a­cy on many lev­els, he’s thought­ful, artic­u­late, and has a sparkling sense of humor.  We’re pleased that this very busy author and speak­er took time to share his thoughts with Bookol­o­gy’s read­ers this month.

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

Well, it isn’t real­ly all that weird, but most of my read­ing hap­pens on air­planes. I fly a lot to work with kids and teach­ers around the coun­try.

Do you keep your book­shelves in a par­tic­u­lar order? 

I do. Most of my books are arranged in alpha­bet­i­cal order by author’s last name. How­ev­er, I have sev­er­al sets of books that I like to keep clus­tered by theme. I have some books on shelves next to my desk and those rotate depend­ing on the project I’m work­ing on at the moment.

How many book­cas­es do you have in your house?

I have a room for books. I call it my library. Then, there is my office and it also has lots of books. And I have books in crates at my house.

Lester Lam­i­nack: book­cas­es and art

Lester Laminack meeting table

Lester Lam­i­nack: a meet­ing table sur­round­ed by books

Lester Laminack books in crates

Lester Lam­i­nack: Books in crates

Lester Lam­i­nack: desk

Lester Laminack a place to read

Lester Lam­i­nack: a place to read

What’s the pre­dom­i­nant col­or in your wardrobe?

Blue. I like lots of col­ors and wear reds and orange and pink and green and gray and black, and I have most­ly plaids and checks, but the col­or you’ll see most in my clos­et is blue.

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

I have spent a lot of time in many libraries, but that word most often con­jures mem­o­ries of the library in the ele­men­tary school I attend­ed as a child — Cle­burne Coun­ty Ele­men­tary in Heflin, Alaba­ma. I can still hear the voice of Mrs. Hand, our librar­i­an, read­ing The Box­car Chil­dren. She had the best read aloud voice.

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

Hmm­mm, I think that would be The Wiz­ard of Oz. When I was in the fifth grade my fam­i­ly moved to Key West for a year. In that year I read The Wiz­ard of Oz and for the first time I fell inside and lived in the book. It was an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence to be there, in the sto­ry, with that cast of char­ac­ters. That expe­ri­ence changed the way I read.

What’s your food weak­ness?

Hmmm, bread. Oh, and did I say bread? OK, and éclairs. I do love a good éclair.

What’s your favorite form of exer­cise?

Walk­ing and yoga, but I have fall­en out of the habit of doing yoga. So, if you don’t do it, does it still count as a favorite? Hmmm, I need to get back into that again. Maybe I’d lose that 20 pounds I found. Note: If you have lost 20 pounds in the last 24 months please con­tact me. I think I found them.

What do you con­sid­er to be your best accom­plish­ment?

My son.  He is a kind, decent, car­ing young man with a love­ly, con­fi­dent, intel­li­gent wife and a beau­ti­ful young daugh­ter.  He is also a col­lege Eng­lish pro­fes­sor. 

What’s your favorite flower?

Daylilies. And dahlias. Oh, and Aza­lea and rhodo­den­drons and moun­tain lau­rel and dog­wood and camel­lia and peony. I almost for­got crêpe myr­tle. Say, did I men­tion zin­nias?


Have you trav­eled out­side of your state? Which state draws you back? (How many states have you vis­it­ed?)

I have trav­eled in 47 of the 50 states, all but North Dako­ta, South Dako­ta, and Mon­tana. But, I’m going to speak in Mon­tana in 2018. I grew up in Alaba­ma, but I have lived in North Car­oli­na since 1982. North Car­oli­na is my home now and no mat­ter where I trav­el I am always delight­ed to return to these moun­tains. With that said, I do love the area around Sedona, Ari­zona,  and Taos, New Mex­i­co.

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

I love Italy. The lan­guage is music. Din­ing is an expe­ri­ence. Art is an essen­tial part of life. I adore Paris. And I’m trav­el­ing to Scot­land in about three weeks, so I may have a new favorite.

Who’s your favorite artist?

Any child who makes art with joy and aban­don. I have long admired the art of Mary Cas­satt. I great­ly admire the art of Jonathan Green in  Charleston, South Car­oli­na. At present I col­lect the art of two artists from the South Car­oli­na Low­coun­try.  Mary Segars and Cas­san­dra Gillens.

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


What’s your favorite word because you like the way it sounds?

Dénoue­ment and aspara­gus and cor­duroy and bour­bon …

What would you wear to a cos­tume par­ty?  

I’m not a cos­tume par­ty guy. I’m sort of a char­ac­ter in reg­u­lar clothes. When I’m work­ing you’ll almost always find me in Levi jeans, a but­ton down shirt, and a bow tie. Oth­er­wise I’m like­ly to be in jeans and a sweat­shirt or t‑shirt.

Who’s at the top of your list of Most Admired Peo­ple? 

Mr. Rogers.

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

Hands down I will go direct­ly to the éclair. And a real­ly good look­ing slice of car­rot cake can eas­i­ly get my atten­tion.

What are your favorite piz­za top­pings? 

Mush­rooms, green and black olives, ham, lots of cheese.

Do you remem­ber your dreams?

Some­times, not always. I don’t usu­al­ly make any sense out of them, but I can some­times remem­ber snip­pets. About once a year I will have a dream that I am rush­ing like crazy and final­ly get to school with all the kids busy at work not even notic­ing that I’m late.

What for­eign lan­guage would you like to learn? 

I took French in high school. I wish I could speak flu­ent­ly. I love the sound of Ital­ian and I’d love to have it flow from my mouth like a water­fall. But, to be prac­ti­cal I would like to learn Span­ish because I believe it would be most use­ful. 

Do you read the end of a book first?

Nev­er. And I nev­er eat dessert before din­ner either.

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

Nei­ther. I am just fig­ur­ing out how to live on this earth. I’ll stay right here if you don’t mind.

Peace symbolIf 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?

A mem­oir writ­ten for adults. 

If you could be grant­ed one wish, what would you wish for?

Peace on this globe. If I could have one wish grant­ed it would be for all peo­ple to have enough, to live in kind­ness and har­mo­ny with oth­ers and to be good stew­ards of this earth.


Skinny Dip with DeDe Small

DeDe Small

DeDe Small shares her enthu­si­asm about books, read­ing, and lit­er­a­cy with her stu­dents at Drake Uni­ver­si­ty in Des Moines, Iowa. We invit­ed DeDe to Skin­ny Dip with us, our first inter­view in the New Year.

When did you first start read­ing books?

I don’t actu­al­ly remem­ber learn­ing to read but I do always remem­ber hav­ing books. I even came up with my own cat­a­loging sys­tem in the lat­er ele­men­tary grades.

Din­ner par­ty at your favorite restau­rant with peo­ple liv­ing or dead: where is it and who’s on the guest list?

I don’t know where it is but I know I am eat­ing a real­ly good steak and we need a big table because I am invit­ing Barak Oba­ma, JK Rowl­ing, Buck O’Neill, St. Ignatius of Loy­ola, Jane Goodall, my par­ents, and my aunts.

All-time favorite book?

This is real­ly hard because there are too many to name! I loved it when my moth­er read The Secret Gar­den to me. As a young child, I loved read­ing Andrew Henry’s Mead­ow by Doris Burn. In upper ele­men­tary, Island of the Blue Dol­phins by Scott O’Dell was my favorite. All-time favorite might have to be the entire Har­ry Pot­ter series because it speaks to choos­ing kind­ness, love, and integri­ty over pow­er and fame.

DeDe Small's favorite books

Favorite break­fast or lunch as a kid?

I was cuck­oo for Cocoa Puffs.

What’s your least favorite chore?

Doing the laun­dry.

What’s your favorite part of start­ing a new project?

I love the feel­ing when every­thing starts click­ing and you can sense where the project might go. That sense of poten­tial is ener­giz­ing.

SocksBare­foot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Bare­foot in warm weath­er and socks when it is cold. You will most often find me curled up on my couch with a book, doing school work or watch­ing a movie. The activ­i­ty changes but my loca­tion does not.

When are you your most cre­ative?

I am most cre­ative when I step back and take the time to let an idea per­co­late a bit.

Your best mem­o­ry of your school library?

My strongest mem­o­ry is actu­al­ly of my pub­lic library. We would go once a week. It became a great bond­ing expe­ri­ence with my moth­er and I came to think of the library as a spe­cial place. I now have four library cards.

Favorite fla­vor of ice cream?

Mint Chip.

Book(s) on your bed­side table right now?

Wishtree by Kather­ine Apple­gate, Wolf Hol­low by Lau­ren Wolk, and La Rose by Louise Erdrich.  I recent­ly read The Under­ground Rail­road by Col­son White­head, Refugee by Alan Gratz and Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds.

Best inven­tion in the last 200 years?


Which is worse: spi­ders or snakes?

Spi­ders. Way too many legs and eyes.

What’s your best con­tri­bu­tion to tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment?


Why do you feel hope­ful for humankind?

I find hope in the char­ac­ters of good books and real-life sto­ries. Lloyd Alexan­der was specif­i­cal­ly ref­er­enc­ing fan­ta­sy but I think it is true of all good sto­ries: “Some­times heart­break­ing, but nev­er hope­less, the fan­ta­sy world as it ‘should be’ is one in which good is ulti­mate­ly stronger than evil, where courage, jus­tice, love, and mer­cy actu­al­ly func­tion.” Books allow us to rec­og­nize our own human­i­ty in oth­ers and that makes me hope­ful. If we read more, con­nect more, and under­stood more, the world would be a bet­ter place.


True Story

Recent­ly I attend­ed a writer’s con­fer­ence main­ly to hear one speak­er. His award-win­ning books remind me that the very best writ­ing is found in children’s lit­er­a­ture. When he deliv­ered the keynote, I jot­ted down bits of his sparkling wis­dom.

At one point he said that we live in a bro­ken world, but one that’s also filled with beau­ty. My pen slowed. Some­thing about those words both­ered me. The crux of his speech was that as writ­ers for chil­dren, we are tasked to be hon­est and not with­hold the truth.

After the applause pat­tered away, the air in the ball­room seemed charged. Every­one was eager to march, unfurl­ing the ban­ner of truth for young read­ers! If we had been giv­en paper, we would have start­ed bril­liant, authen­tic nov­els on the spot.

The keynote’s mes­sage car­ried over into break-out ses­sions. Pan­elists admit­ted to crav­ing the truth when they were kids, things par­ents wouldn’t tell them. Par­tic­i­pants agreed. We should show kids the world as it real­ly is! The impli­ca­tion being that chil­dren lead­ing “nor­mal” lives should be aware of harsh­er real­i­ties and devel­op empa­thy. Kids liv­ing out­side the pale would find them­selves, maybe learn how to cope with their sit­u­a­tions.

I stopped tak­ing notes.

Here’s my truth: I was born into a bro­ken world. By age four, I’d expe­ri­enced scores of harsh­er real­i­ties. At sev­en, I learned the hard­est truth of all: that par­ents aren’t required to want or love their chil­dren. I spent most of my child­hood field­ing one real-world chal­lenge after the oth­er. I did not want to read about them, though few books fifty years ago explored issues of alco­holism, home­less­ness, and domes­tic vio­lence.

Christ­mas Day when I was 11 with my sis­ter and my cousins. I was already a writer at this age.

I read to escape, delv­ing into sto­ries where the character’s biggest chal­lenge was find­ing grandmother’s hid­den jew­els, as in The Secret of the Stone Griffins. Fluff? So what? In order to set the bar, I had to seek nor­mal and didn’t care if Dick-and-Jane fam­i­lies weren’t real. Even Mo, the alien girl in Hen­ry Winterfield’s Star Girl who’d tum­bled from her space­ship, lived a nor­mal life with her fam­i­ly on Asra, climb­ing trees on that far­away plan­et like I did on Earth.

In a fam­i­ly of non-read­ers, I broke free of the norm. Not only did I read con­stant­ly, but decid­ed to be a writer at an ear­ly age. I’d write the kind of books I loved, books where secrets involved buried trea­sure, not things I had to keep qui­et about; books where kids felt pro­tect­ed enough to embark on adven­tures.

My moth­er and step­fa­ther regard­ed me with odd respect, as if unsure what plan­et this kid had come from. So long as “sto­ry-writ­ing” didn’t inter­fere with school­work (it did), my moth­er excused me from chores. Only once did she declare read­ing mate­r­i­al inap­pro­pri­ate.

I was nine and fresh out of library books. I found a True Sto­ry mag­a­zine and was deep into sto­ry about an abused boy when my moth­er caught me. She thought I was learn­ing about sex. I was out­raged by the injus­tice: pun­ished for read­ing about a kid my age! Now I think about the irony.

Judy ScuppernongThen I grew up and wrote children’s books. Most of my fic­tion was light and humor­ous. Yet some brave writ­ers tack­led seri­ous sub­jects. My col­league Bren­da Seabrooke wrote a slen­der, ele­gant verse nov­el called Judy Scup­per­nong. This com­ing-of-age sto­ry touch­es on fam­i­ly secrets and alco­holism. The for­mat was per­fect for nav­i­gat­ing dif­fi­cult sub­jects.

I sat down and wrote a poem called “Nobody’s Child.” More fol­lowed, until I’d told my own sto­ry. My agent sub­mit­ted my book Nobody’s Child. One edi­tor asked me to rewrite it as a YA nov­el. “You’ve already done the hard part,” he said. He was wrong. Each time I revised (many times over the years), I had to crawl back into that dark place. Some peo­ple said that by telling my sto­ry, I’d be able to put it behind me. They were wrong. I nev­er will.

The truth is, I wrote Nobody’s Child to find answers. I already knew the what and the how. I want­ed to know why. But by then every­one involved was gone, tak­ing their rea­sons with them. If I were to fic­tion­al­ize my sto­ry to help anoth­er child in the same sit­u­a­tion, I couldn’t make the end­ing turn out any bet­ter.

In the fan­tasies and mys­ter­ies and books about ani­mals I read as a kid, I fig­ured out I’d prob­a­bly be okay. When I looked up from what­ev­er library book I was read­ing, or what­ev­er sto­ry I was writ­ing, I noticed the real world around me. Not all of it was bro­ken. There were woods and gar­dens and cats and birds and, yes, at last, peo­ple who cared about me.

Author Peter Altenberg said, “I nev­er expect­ed to hold the great mir­ror of truth up before the world; I dreamed only of being a lit­tle pock­et mir­ror …one that reflects small blem­ish­es, and some great beau­ties, when held close enough to the heart.”

Valiant children’s writ­ers will flash the great mir­ror of truth in bold­er works than mine. I’m con­tent to shine my lit­tle pock­et mir­ror at small truths, no big­ger than a starling’s sharp eye, from my heart to my reader’s.


The Sameness of Sheep

Once, when I dis­cussed my work-in-progress, mid­dle-grade nov­el with my agent, I told her the char­ac­ter was eleven. “Make her twelve,” she said. “But eleven-year-olds aren’t the same as twelve-year-olds,” I protest­ed. “Those are dif­fer­ent ages.” “Make her twelve,” she insist­ed. “The edi­tor will ask you to change it any­way.”

I didn’t fin­ish the book (don’t have that agent any­more, either). The age argu­ment took the wind out of my sails. I under­stood the rea­son­ing — cre­ate old­er char­ac­ters to get the most bang for the mid­dle-grade buck by snar­ing younger read­ers. Bet­ter yet, stick the char­ac­ter in mid­dle school.

The true mid­dle-grade nov­el is for read­ers eight to twelve with some over­lap. Chap­ter books for sev­en- to ten-year-olds bisect the low­er end of mid­dle grade. “Tween” books, aimed at twelve- to four­teen-year-olds, strad­dle the gap between MG and YA. If my char­ac­ters are twelve, I hit the mid­dle grade and tween tar­get and every­body wins. Maybe not.

At our pub­lic library, I pulled more than a dozen new MG nov­els off the shelves. Opened each book, checked the age of the main char­ac­ter. Twelve. Twelve. Eleven! No, wait, turn­ing twelve in the next chap­ter. While the char­ac­ters and sto­ries were all dif­fer­ent, there was a sheep­like same­ness read­ing about twelve-year-olds.

It wor­ries me. Pub­lish­ers con­tribute to push­ing ele­men­tary school chil­dren as quick­ly as pos­si­ble into mid­dle school. Where are the mid­dle-grade books about a ten-year-old char­ac­ter? An eight-year-old char­ac­ter? Ah, now we’ve backed into chap­ter book ter­ri­to­ry.

Charlotte's WebSup­pos­ed­ly, kids pre­fer to “read up” in age. This assumes that, say, fifth graders want to know what to expect when they’re in eighth grade. (Lord help them.) Read­ing about a char­ac­ter who is two or three years old­er might gen­er­ate anx­i­ety in some read­ers. And they may dis­dain short­er, sim­pler chap­ter books.

In the past, before pub­lish­er and book­store clas­si­fi­ca­tions, age wasn’t much of an issue. Wilbur is the main char­ac­ter in Charlotte’s Web, although the book opens with Fern sav­ing him. Fern is eight, a fact men­tioned on the first page. Does any­one care what grade Fern is in once he lands in Zuckerman’s rich­ly-depict­ed barn­yard?

The Year of Billy MillerMore recent­ly, Kevin Henkes broke the “age” bar­ri­er with his ter­rif­ic mid­dle grade nov­el, The Year of Bil­ly Miller (2013). Fuse 8’s Bet­sy Bird com­pared it to Bev­er­ly Cleary’s Ramona books. Bil­ly is sev­en and start­ing sec­ond grade, a char­ac­ter nor­mal­ly found in a briskly-writ­ten, low­er-end chap­ter book. Yet Bil­ly Miller clocks in at a grand 240 pages. Bird prais­es Henkes, “[He] could have … upped his hero’s age to nine or ten or even eleven. He didn’t. He made Bil­ly a sec­ond grad­er because that’s what Bil­ly is. His mind is that of a sec­ond grad­er … To false­ly age him would be to make a huge mis­take.”

Tru and NelleAuthor G. Neri took on a big­ger chal­lenge. In Tru & Nelle (2016), the char­ac­ters are sev­en and six. This hefty MG explores the child­hood friend­ship between Tru­man Capote and Harp­er Lee. Neri chose fic­tion rather than biog­ra­phy because, as he states in his author’s note, “[This] sto­ry was born from real life.” He didn’t shy away from writ­ing a lengthy, lay­ered book about a first and sec­ond grad­er.

We need more books fea­tur­ing eight‑, nine‑, ten-year-old char­ac­ters that are true mid­dle grade nov­els and not chap­ter books. Chil­dren grow up too fast. Let them linger in the “mid­dle” stage, find them­selves in books with char­ac­ters their own age.

Let them enjoy the cycle of sea­sons, “the pas­sage of swal­lows, the near­ness of rats, the same­ness of sheep.” Soon enough, they’ll race away from the barn­yard and into mid­dle school.


Skinny Dip with Patti Lapp

Patti Lapp

A ded­i­cat­ed edu­ca­tor in Penn­syl­va­nia, we invit­ed Pat­ti Lapp to answer our twen­ty Skin­ny Dip ques­tions.  

Who was your favorite teacher in grades K‑7 and why?

Mr. Jor­dan was my favorite teacher who taught 7th grade. He was fun­ny and straight­for­ward; all of us stu­dents respect­ed him, and he cer­tain­ly kept every­one in line. I attend­ed a Catholic school, and he was unique in that set­ting.

When did you first start read­ing books?

My mom read to me when I was very young, and because of her ded­i­ca­tion, I could read inde­pen­dent­ly when I entered kinder­garten. I have been read­ing vora­cious­ly since.

Your favorite day­dream?

I day­dream of hav­ing time to write!

Din­ner par­ty at your favorite restau­rant with peo­ple liv­ing or dead: where is it and who’s on the guest list?

The din­ner par­ty would be at Sog­gy Dol­lar in Jost Van Dyke, BVI. The guest list would include: Jesus, of course! This choice is cliché, but how inter­est­ing would this din­ner con­ver­sa­tion be with Him?! At this din­ner, I would also invite Mary Mag­da­lene, Stephen Hawk­ing, David Bohm, Albert Ein­stein, Gregg Braden, Niko­la Tes­la, Edgar Cayce, Nos­tradamus, Shirley MacLaine, Nel­son Man­dela, Charles Dick­ens, Maya Angelou, Avi, Vig­go Mortensen, Paul McCart­ney, and my father and grand­fa­ther, both deceased.

A Tale of Two CitiesAll-time favorite book?

A Tale of Two Cities—bril­liant plot­line, indeli­ble char­ac­ters, and a notable begin­ning and end!

Favorite break­fast or lunch as a kid?

My mom made the best French toast. The key is a lot of cin­na­mon.

What’s your least favorite chore?

Get­ting ready the night before for the next day’s work.

What’s your favorite part of start­ing a new project?


Bare­foot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Bare­foot or socks — sea­son depen­dent.

When are you your most cre­ative?

Sit­ting alone in the qui­et dark at night, decom­press­ing before bed­time.

Your best mem­o­ry of your school library?

When in ele­men­tary school, my best mem­o­ry is of the Nan­cy Drew mys­tery sto­ries that I bor­rowed every week. Now, as a teacher, my best mem­o­ries are dis­cussing nov­els with the many librar­i­ans that we have had over the years. They read a lot; so do I.

Favorite fla­vor of ice cream?

Cher­ry Gar­cia.

Purgatory Ridge William Kent KruegerBook on your bed­side table right now?

William Kent Krueger’s Pur­ga­to­ry Ridge, the third nov­el in his Cork O’Connor murder/mystery series of cur­rent­ly 16 books. I got hooked on his bril­liant sto­ry, Ordi­nary Grace, a stand­alone nov­el. He writes beau­ti­ful­ly.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I can weave.

jacksYour favorite toy as a child …

Jacks—Any­one remem­ber that game?

Best inven­tion in the last 200 years?

Clean water and indoor plumb­ing and the print­ing press and the elec­tric light.

Favorite artist? Why?

I love Van Gogh because of his tex­tured brush strokes, col­or, and cre­ativ­i­ty.

Which is worse: spi­ders or snakes?

Snakes are the worst. I do not kill spi­ders because they will con­sume most of the insects in our homes. If they are big and hairy, they pack their bags and leave — in a cup — to move out­side.

vegetablesWhat’s your best con­tri­bu­tion to tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment?

I am a veg­e­tar­i­an. It takes 15 pounds of feed to gen­er­ate 1 pound of meat; hence, more peo­ple in the world can be fed when peo­ple con­sume a veg­e­tar­i­an diet. Addi­tion­al­ly, ani­mals are saved, many that would be raised in inhu­mane con­di­tions, many that would be treat­ed inhu­mane­ly.

Why do you feel hope­ful for humankind?

Ideas are humans’ most valu­able resource. If we con­tin­ue to invest in inno­va­tion and research that make our plan­et health­i­er and improve the qual­i­ty of life for the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty, we have hope. As a very sim­ple exam­ple, look at the fair­ly new aware­ness of GMOs in our food. With aware­ness, comes demand. With demand, comes change — and human­i­ty clear­ly needs to con­tin­ue to make pio­neer­ing and pos­i­tive changes.


The Book Box

For a fic­tion work­shop, I asked par­tic­i­pants to bring in child­hood books that influ­enced them to become a writer. Nat­u­ral­ly, I did the assign­ment myself. Choos­ing the books was easy, but they felt insub­stan­tial in my hands, vin­tage hard­backs that lacked the heft of, say, the last Har­ry Pot­ter. When it came my turn to talk, I fig­ured I’d stam­mer excus­es for their shab­by, old-fash­ioned, stamped jack­ets. (“Well, this is the way library books looked in the fifties.”)

I want­ed to tuck my beloved books in a box to keep them safe, like baby robins fall­en out of a nest. Real­ly, what is a book, but ideas, adven­tures, peo­ple, and places pro­tect­ed by card­board, shaped like a box? I car­ried this notion with me on a trip to Michael’s, where I found a stur­dy box with a jig­saw of lit­tle box­es stacked under the front flap. I knew just what I’d do with this prize: show­case my favorite books in an assem­blage. 

The Book Box

At FedEx Office, I col­or pho­to­copied the book cov­ers, reduced them sev­er­al sizes, then dashed through A.C. Moore’s minia­ture sec­tion to col­lect tiny endowed objects. Next, I hap­pi­ly sort­ed through my scrap­book and ephemera stash for just-right win­dow dress­ing. I glued on paper, adding the objects. Pic­tures and trin­kets were pret­ty, but not enough. The box need­ed words to set the sto­ries — and their mean­ing — free.

Home for a BunnyI typed quotes and notes into strips fold­ed accor­dion-style. Mar­garet Wise Brown’s Home for a Bun­ny gen­tly remind­ed me that once I had lived “under a rock, under a stone.” Like the bun­ny, I had no home of my own until I was five. This was my first book, my first expe­ri­ence in iden­ti­fy­ing with a char­ac­ter.

The title of Trix­ie Belden and the Secret of the Man­sion con­tained “secret” and “man­sion,” words that made my heart thump. Trix­ie lived in the coun­try like me, and had to work in the gar­den, like I did. Trix­ie stum­bled into mys­ter­ies and I did, too, when I furi­ous­ly scrib­bled who­dun­nits in fourth grade. Just like that, I became a writer.

Diamond in the WindowThe Dia­mond in the Win­dow opens with a quote from Emer­son: “On him the light of star and moon / Shall fall with pur­er radi­ance down … / Him Nature giveth for defense / His for­mi­da­ble inno­cence; / The mount­ing up, the shells, the sea, / All spheres, all stones, his helpers be …” At eleven, I skipped those words, but I didn’t ignore the small lessons from Emer­son and Thore­au sprin­kled through­out this fan­ta­sy / adven­ture / fam­i­ly / mys­tery sto­ry. This book changed my life.

I had to be mar­ried on Valentine’s Day, after the “Bride of Snow” chap­ter (and I was one, too, in three feet of snow!). Our pow­der room has a Hen­ry Thore­au theme and we have a gaz­ing globe (“The crys­tal sphere of thought”) in our back yard, like the Hall fam­i­ly.

Gazing Globe

With some thought and imag­i­na­tion, a book box can be a tan­gi­ble book report. Sup­plies required: a cig­ar box, con­struc­tion paper, glue, and a favorite book. A box cov­ered in red con­struc­tion paper could rep­re­sent Wilbur’s barn. A lid could repli­cate the map of Hun­dred Acre Wood. Or Mr. Lemoncello’s library.

Mak­ing my book box helped me slow down and think about what my favorite books meant to me. How Dia­mond in the Win­dow led me to the works of Thore­au and Emer­son, inspired me to look up from the print­ed page and tru­ly see the great sphere of our world.  

I still fill my pock­ets with rocks, pick up shells at the beach, and stare at the stars. I won­der if the rocks were bro­ken off from ancient glac­i­ers, and what hap­pened to the sea crea­tures inside the shells. The shells and rocks stay in jars and box­es. The stars can­not be con­tained, thank­ful­ly.

Book Box Interior


Knowing My Own Mind

There are times when I don’t know my own mind. Worse, there are times when I think I know my mind per­fect­ly well and then find an entire­ly dif­fer­ent mind on a lat­er vis­it to my opin­ions.

Which feels almost as though I have no mind at all.

Some time ago one of my favorite writ­ers came out with a new nov­el. I had been wait­ing for her next book for years, so, of course, I signed up to have it pop into my elec­tron­ic read­er at the first oppor­tu­ni­ty. It did, and I read it eager­ly.

I was dis­ap­point­ed. Pro­found­ly.

It wasn’t that the nov­el was bad­ly writ­ten. This author isn’t capa­ble of bad writ­ing. It was just that I didn’t care about the peo­ple she explored so deeply. And even know­ing their com­plex­i­ties, one lay­er exposed after anoth­er, didn’t make me want to spend time with them.

I didn’t have to wait near­ly so long for her next book. This time, though, I read it with cau­tion, with my new­ly acquired dis­con­tent. (Once burned.) This nov­el was … okay. But I wasn’t in love. I had been in love with her ear­ly nov­els. Besot­ted, real­ly.

Now anoth­er book is out. In a series of inter­wo­ven short sto­ries my once-favorite author explored many of the char­ac­ters from the pre­vi­ous nov­el, the one I didn’t dis­like but that had nev­er quite cap­tured me.

And before I had quite decid­ed to do so, I had fin­ished the lat­est offer­ing and gone back to reread the pre­vi­ous nov­el. The okay one. And I found myself reread­ing the book I had been so tepid about with new respect, even full-blown appre­ci­a­tion. Obvi­ous­ly, the book hadn’t changed on the page.

Next I intend to return to the first book that dis­ap­point­ed me. Will the change in me, what­ev­er caused it, now make room for that one, too?

As some­one who has for many years men­tored my fel­low writ­ers, I find myself won­der­ing. Is my opin­ion any more reli­able, any less emo­tion­al­ly based when I am eval­u­at­ing a man­u­script than it is when I approach a pub­lished nov­el?

When I cri­tique a man­u­script I always try, if I pos­si­bly can, to read it twice. Some­times a strong­ly held opin­ion from my first read­ing dis­solves on the sec­ond. When that hap­pens, I usu­al­ly trust the sec­ond read­ing. And, espe­cial­ly if it’s a long man­u­script, I rarely risk a third.

Is noth­ing in my mind sol­id, cer­tain? Are my opin­ions based on any­thing except emo­tion? Is all the log­ic in the world sim­ply some­thing I pile around me to jus­ti­fy my mood?

When I’m respond­ing to pub­lished work and the opin­ions I hold are only my own, the ques­tion is mere­ly a mat­ter of curios­i­ty. Some­thing to take out and won­der at in won­der­ing moments. How sol­id is this thing I think of as self with all its sup­port­ing frame­work of opin­ion?

When I’m respond­ing to a man­u­script-in-process, the ques­tion is one of pro­found respon­si­bil­i­ty. My opin­ion will impact anoth­er person’s work. And what if my response is, indeed, a prod­uct of my mood? What harm might I do to a piece of writ­ing in the name of help­ing?

The ques­tion is even more dis­con­cert­ing when I face my own work. Some days I am utter­ly con­fi­dent of this new nov­el I’m peck­ing away at. Oth­ers I’m equal­ly con­vinced that my entire premise is bogus.

I have long known that noth­ing impacts my writ­ing out­put more than my con­fi­dence. If I’m cer­tain that this piece I’m work­ing on is tru­ly good and I’m lov­ing writ­ing it, the words flow. (The true val­ue of what I pro­duce is a mat­ter for lat­er dis­cern­ment, my own and oth­ers.) When I doubt myself, each word arrives after a slog through mud.

How I wish there were a reli­able way to keep my writ­ing flow­ing, to keep my soul brim­ming with con­fi­dence.

Emo­tions are slip­pery, often hard to rec­og­nize and name, cer­tain­ly impos­si­ble to keep march­ing in a straight line, and yet I’m con­vinced this sup­pos­ed­ly log­ic-dri­ven world is more accu­rate­ly an emo­tion-dri­ven one.

It’s a scary thought!


Capitulate vs Conquer

Students readingAs I eager­ly gath­ered up my ideas and insights for a fol­low-up arti­cle about last month’s “Mys­tery Read­er” top­ic, I found myself try­ing to nego­ti­ate two seem­ing­ly incom­pat­i­ble schools of thought regard­ing effec­tive lit­er­a­cy teach­ing and learn­ing. I am a huge pro­po­nent of stu­dent choice and voice (instead of teacher- or cur­ricu­lum-dic­tat­ed text selec­tions), teacher exper­tise (instead of reliance on script­ed pro­grams), and fos­ter­ing a life­long love and moti­va­tion for read­ing (instead of seek­ing the holy grail of high test scores). How­ev­er, late­ly I find myself grap­pling with the ide­al world of what lit­er­a­cy teach­ing and learn­ing could and should look like and the real­i­ty of the world most teach­ers live in, one filled with con­stant pres­sure to meet the stan­dards and pro­duce read­ers who show what they know by pass­ing high stakes tests. Search­ing my the­saurus for just the right words to describe this mixed feel­ing, I set­tled on “capit­u­late” and “con­quer.” Allow me to elab­o­rate.

Capit­u­late, in the strongest sense of the word is to say some­one is cav­ing in. A milder form of the word means to come to terms with some­thing that is per­ceived as unset­tling. It rep­re­sents the neg­a­tive side of the coin. Con­quer, on the oth­er hand, rep­re­sents vic­to­ry. It describes the abil­i­ty to over­come or avoid defeat. Def­i­nite­ly the pre­ferred side of the coin for most folks.

So what do these two oppos­ing words have to do with pro­mot­ing reflec­tion and enhanc­ing com­pre­hen­sion through ana­lyz­ing mis­cues of stu­dents’ oral read­ing (the essence of Mys­tery Read­er)? In shar­ing my enthu­si­asm for such a tech­ni­cal aspect to lit­er­a­cy instruc­tion, I must con­fess that I expect some excep­tion­al edu­ca­tors to dis­miss it because it sounds too dry, too focused on judg­ment of a reader’s per­for­mance, with not near­ly enough empha­sis on ignit­ing a pas­sion or pro­mot­ing read­ing joy. To those who might ques­tion the Mys­tery Read­er approach, it just might feel a bit like capit­u­lat­ing, like accept­ing a prac­tice that tries to quan­ti­fy a process that shouldn’t be used for any kind of mea­sure­ment, espe­cial­ly that of chil­dren.

But here’s the thing, with more than twen­ty-five years of expe­ri­ence as an edu­ca­tor, I can still vivid­ly recall just about every sin­gle for­mer stu­dent who need­ed more than his or her peers to dis­cov­er what it means to be a read­er and to find plea­sure in that expe­ri­ence. For some kids, con­nect­ing them with the right book is para­mount but equal­ly impor­tant is pro­vid­ing effec­tive instruc­tion that builds nec­es­sary foun­da­tion­al skills and strate­gies. Skills and strate­gies that won’t mate­ri­al­ize hap­haz­ard­ly. And that’s why I encour­age you to con­sid­er shar­ing this activ­i­ty with your stu­dents, enabling them to learn and under­stand the ben­e­fits of a pow­er­ful form of feed­back. Flip the coin, choose to con­quer the bar­ri­ers that keep some kids from know­ing what it feels like to get lost and found in a great sto­ry. And while it’s true that not all things that are mea­sured real­ly mat­ter and not all things that mat­ter are always mea­sured, I am con­vinced that run­ning records and mis­cue analy­sis deserve a place in our lit­er­a­cy teach­ing and learn­ing.

As promised in the first install­ment of Mys­tery Read­er, I have a few sug­ges­tions for col­lect­ing audio record­ings of anony­mous stu­dent read­ers to share with your mis­cue ana­lyz­ers. The first is a free app I’ve used exten­sive­ly, called VoiceRe­cord­Pro. With just a bit of explor­ing, I found the app to be user-friend­ly and per­fect for col­lect­ing oral read­ing sam­ples. Once record­ings have been cap­tured, it is easy to rename them, add notes and share them via drop­box, google dri­ve, or email. These options make it pos­si­ble to quick­ly swap record­ings with col­leagues in oth­er grades and schools to ensure anonymi­ty when shar­ing Mys­tery Read­ers with stu­dents.  VoiceRe­cord­Pro can also be used for all sorts of mul­ti­me­dia projects. My stu­dents first uti­lized it when illus­trat­ing and per­form­ing the poem, “If You Give a Child a Book” by Dr. Pam Far­ris. Check out our YouTube video here.

Anoth­er option for col­lect­ing oral read­ing sam­ples is using the “run­ning record” assign­ment tool from Read­ing A‑Z/Raz-Plus. Though I am not one to plug com­mer­cial, for-prof­it sites, I have to say I am a huge fan of this fea­ture and how it lends itself to Mys­tery Read­er. A free two-week tri­al is offered for the Read­ing A‑Z/Raz-Plus site that may be best known for its vast col­lec­tion of ebooks and print­able black­line mas­ter books. The annu­al cost for an indi­vid­ual teacher is close to $200, which is pricey, though dis­counts are offered to schools or dis­tricts sign­ing up for 10 or more sub­scrip­tions. The run­ning record fea­ture on the site allows teach­ers to access a pow­er­ful way to record and ana­lyze run­ning records as well as col­lect oral retellings. Stu­dent record­ings can be saved and shared with par­ents to demon­strate stu­dent growth over the year or they can be used with stu­dents dur­ing read­ing con­fer­ences or inter­ven­tion ses­sions.

I invite you to sub­mit ques­tions or con­tact me for more infor­ma­tion about how to use either method, VoiceRe­cord­Pro and Read­ing A‑Z/Raz-Plus to imple­ment Mys­tery Read­er.

A third col­umn relat­ed to Mys­tery Read­er will be shared in Teach it For­ward next month, with a focus on expand­ing the activ­i­ty to include reflec­tions and con­ver­sa­tions with stu­dents about read­ing con­fer­ences.


Skinny Dip with Suzanne Costner

Suzanne Costner

Suzanne Cost­ner

We’re thrilled to Skin­ny Dip with out­stand­ing edu­ca­tor Suzanne Cost­ner, Thanks to Suzanne for answer our ques­tions dur­ing her very busy end-of-the-school-year hours.

Who was your favorite teacher in grades K‑7 and why?

My favorite teacher was Mrs. Hill in 4th grade. She read to us every day after lunch: Stu­art Lit­tle, Where the Red Fern Grows, James and the Giant Peach. She intro­duced us to so many awe­some writ­ers that I still go back and reread.

When did you first start read­ing books?

I can’t remem­ber a time that I didn’t read. I still have my first lit­tle cloth book that I chewed on as a baby. My grand­moth­er had a set of Dr. Seuss books on the shelf and read them to me when­ev­er I stayed with her. I was read­ing on my own before I start­ed kinder­garten.

Suzan­ne’s first book, a Real Cloth book.

Your favorite day­dream?

In my day­dream, I am liv­ing in a lit­tle cab­in in the woods with my dogs and my books. There is a lit­tle stream gur­gling along near­by and sun­light fil­ter­ing through the trees.

Din­ner par­ty at your favorite restau­rant with peo­ple liv­ing or dead: where is it and who’s on the guest list?

The Restau­rant at the End of the Uni­verse with C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursu­la K. Le Guin, Anne McCaf­frey, Andre Nor­ton, Isaac Asi­mov, and Lloyd Alexan­der. My sis­ter and my nieces would have to be there, too.

All-time favorite book?

The Princess Bride—chas­es, escapes, sword­fights, tor­ture, pirates, giants, mag­ic, true love…

Favorite break­fast or lunch as a kid?

My favorite lunch was a peanut but­ter sand­wich, and I always asked for “a lid on it,” because I didn’t like open-faced sand­wich­es.

What’s your least favorite chore?

It’s prob­a­bly laun­dry, because the wash­ing machine is in the base­ment and it means mul­ti­ple trips up and down the stairs.

What’s your favorite part of start­ing a new project?

Bounc­ing my ideas off my friends and hav­ing them sug­gest ways to make things even bet­ter.

Bare­foot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Bare­foot, and either read­ing a book or lis­ten­ing to an audio book.

Toy RocketWhen are you your most cre­ative?

When I am writ­ing grant appli­ca­tions to fund more STEM activ­i­ties for my stu­dents. I can think of all sorts of ways to tie rock­ets, robots, and gad­gets into lit­er­a­cy instruc­tion.

Your best mem­o­ry of your school library?

I was a library aide in mid­dle school and loved being in the library and help­ing to get the new books ready for the shelf. That “new book” smell when the box was opened should be a sig­na­ture per­fume or cologne.

Favorite fla­vor of ice cream?

O’Charley’s Caramel Pie ice cream from May­field Dairies (the best of both worlds)

What I'm reading nowBook on your bed­side table right now?

Astro­physics for Peo­ple in a Hur­ry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and The Unbreak­able Code by Jen­nifer Cham­b­liss Bert­man.

What’s your hid­den tal­ent?

I have a brain that holds onto triv­ia, so I can come up with a song or movie quote for almost any occa­sion. Some­times at fam­i­ly din­ners we all just speak in movie quotes.

CowgirlYour favorite toy as a child …

I had a lit­tle wood­en rid­ing toy that looked like a giraffe. I rode it up and down the walk behind my grand­par­ents’ house. I also had a cow­girl out­fit, com­plete with boots and hat that I loved to wear.

Best inven­tion in the last 200 years?

Dig­i­tal books so that I can go on vaca­tion with­out tak­ing a sec­ond suit­case just for all my read­ing mate­r­i­al.

Favorite artist? Why?

I love space and stars, so Van Gogh’s Star­ry Night is my favorite paint­ing. I don’t real­ly have one favorite artist.

Which is worse: spi­ders or snakes?

Spi­ders — because my sis­ter Jamie hates them and I have to res­cue her from them.

What’s your best con­tri­bu­tion to tak­ing care of the envi­ron­ment?

Recy­cling. espe­cial­ly trad­ing in books at the used book­store, or using CFL bulbs in my read­ing lamps.

Why do you feel hope­ful for humankind?

Because kids still fall in love with books. If they can lose them­selves in char­ac­ters and set­tings that are dif­fer­ent from their every­day world, then they can learn tol­er­ance and kind­ness.


Mystery Readers

In this col­umn, I’m pleased to share a brief overview of Nur­tur­ing the Devel­op­ment of Reflec­tive Read­ers,” a ses­sion I attend­ed at “Echoes of Learn­ing,” the lit­er­a­cy con­fer­ence at Zaharis Ele­men­tary in Mesa, AZ. Kris-Ann Flo­rence and Megan Kyp­ke, sec­ond and fourth grade teach­ers, shared how they pro­mote reflec­tion and enhance com­pre­hen­sion by using a stu­dent ver­sion of mis­cue analy­sis to help read­ers under­stand the impor­tance of mean­ing-mak­ing. In kid-friend­ly lan­guage, it’s sim­ply called “Mys­tery Read­er.” Kris-Ann and Megan show­cased the pow­er of this engag­ing and fun approach to lit­er­a­cy learn­ing by demon­strat­ing it in action. They were assist­ed by an eager bunch of brave stu­dents who vol­un­teered to spend part of their Sat­ur­day show­ing what they know in front of a group of con­fer­ence atten­dees. The activ­i­ty is usu­al­ly intro­duced and shared with the whole class. How­ev­er, it could cer­tain­ly be done with small groups of stu­dents who need extra guid­ance and sup­port with decod­ing, flu­en­cy, self-mon­i­tor­ing, com­pre­hen­sion, or choos­ing good-fit books.

Teach­ing kids how to effec­tive­ly par­tic­i­pate in mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion about what it means to be a read­er is the ulti­mate goal of “Mys­tery Read­er.” You might agree that being respect­ful and sen­si­tive about cor­rect­ing errors and offer­ing sug­ges­tions for improve­ment requires a degree of tact and finesse that may not be refined in most sev­en- to eleven-year-olds. To counter this, Kris-Ann and Megan stressed the impor­tance of shar­ing audio record­ings of oral read­ing that guar­an­tee to keep the iden­ti­ty of the read­er a mys­tery. They rely on an inven­to­ry of record­ings of anony­mous stu­dents from years gone by as well as excerpts col­lect­ed from audio swap­ping with teacher friends from oth­er schools or dis­tricts.

I was so cap­ti­vat­ed by this unique idea! And as much as I love work­ing as an instruc­tion­al coach, the thought of set­ting up this “Mys­tery Read­er” as a rou­tine lit­er­a­cy prac­tice made me real­ly wish I had my own class­room again. I’m hope­ful that next fall I can sup­port teach­ers who are inter­est­ed with this inno­v­a­tive approach to fos­ter­ing inde­pen­dent, con­fi­dent, and moti­vat­ed read­ers.

Mystery Reader

The steps to imple­ment­ing “Mys­tery Read­er” are sim­ple. I’ve out­lined them as if I were pre­sent­ing them to stu­dents.

First, set the pur­pose. 

In this activ­i­ty we will lis­ten to some­one we don’t know read a short pas­sage as we fol­low along with a copy of the text. We will learn how to take notes about the read­ing so that we can talk about what we noticed and give advice to the read­er. “Mys­tery Read­er” helps us under­stand the text and the read­er. It helps us become bet­ter read­ers because we also learn about how each of us reads on our own.

Mystery Reader

Sec­ond, explain and prac­tice mark­ing the text with stu­dents. 

  • When we read aloud it is impor­tant to read with expres­sion, to sound the way the char­ac­ter would real­ly sound. We’ll call that using “voice.” Any time a mys­tery read­er does a great job of using voice, we will write a “V” on the paper at that spot.
  • When a read­er fix­es a mis­take all by him or her­self, we’ll call that a “self-cor­rect” and will write down an “S/C.”
  • Some­times read­ers pause because they are stuck on a word or are think­ing about the text. Oth­er times read­ers will repeat or reread a word or sen­tence to make it sound bet­ter. If either of these hap­pen, we will write down a “P” or an “R.”
  • If the read­er skips a word, we will write down an “S.”
  • Final­ly, we will lis­ten and watch care­ful­ly for any words that are not said cor­rect­ly. These are called “mis­cues.” If that hap­pens, we will cross out the word and we will write the word the read­er said instead above the one we just crossed out.
  • Lat­er when we talk about the mis­cues, we will decide if the word the read­er said changed the mean­ing or not. If the mean­ing was not changed, for exam­ple say­ing “home” instead of “house,” we will write “QM” for “qual­i­ty mis­cue.” But if the mean­ing did change because of the mis­cue, we will write “MCM” for “mean­ing chang­ing mis­cue.”

Guiding Questions

Third, prac­tice, reflect on, and dis­cuss the process using guid­ing ques­tions.

This year we will be prac­tic­ing, think­ing about, and talk­ing about “Mys­tery Read­ers.” We will share things we notice about what makes each read­er a good read­er. We will real­ly focus on whether the read­er is mak­ing mean­ing or under­stand­ing the text and we will decide if the text was a “good fit.” 

And final­ly, stu­dents demon­strate greater aware­ness and com­pre­hen­sion in their own read­ing. 

As we get more com­fort­able doing “Mys­tery Read­er,” we will see how it helps us with our own read­ing. We will be able to use voice to show good expres­sion when we read aloud. We will also get bet­ter at self-cor­rect­ing our mis­cues. And if we do have mis­cues when we read, we will be able to fig­ure out if they are qual­i­ty mis­cues or mean­ing-chang­ing mis­cues. All of these things will be impor­tant ways to help us learn how to choose “good fit books” and gain mean­ing from the texts we read.

A final note about “Mys­tery Read­er”… For as long as I can remem­ber, I have strived to cap­i­tal­ize on time spent with stu­dents in one-on-one ses­sions involv­ing read­ing con­fer­ences or tak­ing run­ning records. When class­rooms are filled with 25 – 30 stu­dents who range sig­nif­i­cant­ly in their read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy, self-mon­i­tor­ing abil­i­ty, moti­va­tion, and self-con­fi­dence, it is imper­a­tive that teach­ers bring effi­cien­cy and a sense of urgency and fun to the table. “Mys­tery Read­ers” has the poten­tial to do all of these things in one sweet and sim­ple swoop.

The next Teach it For­ward col­umn will offer addi­tion­al ideas for imple­ment­ing “Mys­tery Read­er.” Sug­ges­tions for col­lect­ing oral read­ing sam­ples and adding a com­pre­hen­sion con­fer­ence por­tion to the activ­i­ty will be offered.


The ori­gins of this approach date back to 1996 with “Ret­ro­spec­tive Mis­cue Analy­sis” by Yet­ta Good­man. To learn more, check out these arti­cles and hand­outs:

Ret­ro­spec­tive Mis­cue Analy­sis: Revalu­ing Read­ers and Read­ing” by Yet­ta Good­man and Ann Marek

Ret­ro­spec­tive Mis­cue Analy­sis: An Effec­tive Inter­ven­tion for Stu­dents in Grades 3 – 12,” pre­sent­ed by Sue Haer­tel


Skinny Dip with Aimée Bissonette

Aimée Bis­sonette

We’re thrilled to Skin­ny Dip with Aimée Bis­sonette, who is the author of two acclaimed pic­ture books so far, North Woods Girl (Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press) and Miss Col­fax’s Light (Sleep­ing Bear Press). Thanks to Aor tak­ing time away from writ­ing and work to answer Bookol­o­gy’s ques­tions!

When did you first start read­ing books?

My best friend, Lyn, taught me to read when I was 5 years old.

Fun with Dick and JaneLyn was a year old­er so she went to first grade the year before I did. When she got home from school, she would bring her read­ing books (the “Fun with Dick and Jane” series) over to my house. We’d sit on my front steps and Lyn would teach me every­thing she’d learned in school that day. I am sure I read with mem­bers of my fam­i­ly, too, but Lyn was the one who real­ly taught me to love read­ing.

Favorite break­fast or lunch as a kid?

I always loved Sun­day break­fast grow­ing up. It was the one time of the week we were all guar­an­teed to be in one spot togeth­er. I have six broth­ers and sis­ters, so it was a bit of a chal­lenge to get enough food ready at the right time to feed every­one. (Remem­ber, this was before microwave ovens!) And it was pret­ty chaot­ic. My mom used to joke that when she wrote the sto­ry of her life, she would title it “Raw Eggs and Burnt Bacon.” Maybe I’ll write a book about her some­day with that title.

Sock basketBare­foot? Socks? Shoes? How would we most often find you at home?

Socks! I love socks! In fact, my moth­er-in-law used to laugh at the size of the sock bas­ket in my laun­dry room — you know, the place where you throw all those clean socks from the dry­er so you can pair them lat­er while watch­ing TV? My sock bas­ket is huge.

When are you your most cre­ative?

I am at my cre­ative best when I am out in nature. I love to hike, bike, and snow­shoe.  I walk every day — rain or shine, pud­dles or snow. I need to get away from my desk, smell out­door smells, lis­ten to bird­song. Nature always finds its way into my books.

Favorite fla­vor of ice cream?

Mint choco­late chip. Hands down.


Spring Break 2017

I’m still rel­ish­ing the mem­o­ry of spring break. Sur­round­ed by moun­tains and plen­ty of sun­shine, I stum­bled upon a lit­er­a­cy oasis that up until then, I had only vis­it­ed in my dreams. Almost a month lat­er, I am still intrigued and inspired by what I expe­ri­enced. I knew instant­ly that this mag­i­cal place would be the top­ic of my next Bookol­o­gy con­tri­bu­tion. In fact, I believe I have enough mate­r­i­al for a year’s worth of arti­cles about this very spe­cial sanc­tu­ary of learn­ing. I invite my read­ers to relive the day with me, now and in the com­ing months, as I share my take-aways from Zaharis Ele­men­tary School, a place where peo­ple “clam­or to bring their chil­dren… because of [a] unique approach to teach­ing and learn­ing.”  

Donalyn Miller and Maurna Rome

Don­a­lyn Miller and Mau­r­na Rome

Thanks to the won­der­ful world of Face­book, I seized an oppor­tu­ni­ty that I knew I couldn’t pass up. A few days before I was sched­uled to kick off spring break by board­ing a flight to Ari­zona, Don­a­lyn Miller post­ed that she was also head­ing to the desert to present at the Zaharis Lit­er­a­cy Con­fer­ence, Echoes of Learn­ing, in Mesa, Ari­zona. Those of us who have read The Book Whis­per­er or Read­ing in the Wild or are Nerdy Book Club mem­bers knew that this would be worth inves­ti­gat­ing! I looked up the school’s web­site and quick­ly dis­cov­ered that for just $50 I could attend the one-day con­fer­ence that fea­tured Don­a­lyn along with keynote address­es from Pam Muñoz Ryan and Dr. Frank Ser­afi­ni. I’ve had the priv­i­lege of see­ing all three of these high­ly respect­ed lit­er­a­cy gurus in the past and knew that I couldn’t go wrong. Spring break or not, I would be going back to school on my first day of vaca­tion. If the con­fer­ence had con­sist­ed of just these three excep­tion­al peo­ple it would have been enough. I had no idea that so much more await­ed me.

From the moment I strolled through the front doors and scanned the hall­ways, I could tell that Zaharis Ele­men­tary was not your aver­age, run-of-the-mill kind of school. Through­out the day, lit­er­a­cy con­fer­ence atten­dees were encour­aged to take tours, vis­it class­rooms, and mean­der through the hall­ways to get a clos­er look at the school and how it oper­ates.

The very first thing I noticed was a beau­ti­ful mur­al of two kids read­ing while sit­ting on a pile of books. A pletho­ra of author’s auto­graphs filled the spines and cov­ers of the paint­ed books; Jack Gan­tos, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Patri­cia Polac­co, Grace Lin, Mary Ama­to, Michael Buck­ley, and more than a dozen oth­ers. Clear­ly, I had dis­cov­ered a place where lit­er­a­cy was alive and well.

I round­ed the cor­ner and spot­ted a huge wall filled with framed 8 X 10 pho­tos of Zaharis staff mem­bers. Maybe not such an unusu­al dis­play, until you con­sid­er the large head­ing paint­ed above the frames: Our Lega­cy – A Love for Lit­er­a­ture. Every staff mem­ber was hold­ing their very favorite book in their school pic­ture. “Huh!” I thought to myself, “What a sim­ple and inex­pen­sive way to pro­mote a love of read­ing.” There is a rea­son Scholas­tic Par­ent and Child Mag­a­zine select­ed this school as one of the “25 Coolest Schools in Amer­i­ca.” 

Our Legacy Zaharis Elementary School

Once I signed in for the day and met Nan­cy, one of the friend­liest sec­re­taries ever (she hails from the Mid­west, hav­ing lived in Wis­con­sin and Min­neso­ta), I wan­dered from room to room and vis­it­ed with sev­er­al extra­or­di­nary teach­ers. I learned quite a bit about this amaz­ing school and real­ized that my first impres­sion was accu­rate… this was tru­ly a place where pro­mot­ing a love of lit­er­a­cy gets top billing. I have to admit, it didn’t take long for me to think about pol­ish­ing up my résumé and mov­ing south!

Anoth­er notable dis­play worth men­tion­ing was a wall filled with framed book cov­ers. Cap­tioned Our Men­tors, this siz­able col­lec­tion of pro­fes­sion­al learn­ing titles show­cas­es the com­mit­ment Zaharis staff makes to hon­ing their craft as teach­ers and learn­ers. Since open­ing their class­room doors for busi­ness in 2002, teach­ers at Zaharis have engaged in book stud­ies with near­ly three dozen men­tor texts. Includ­ed are such gems as On Sol­id Ground by Sharon Taber­s­ki, In the Mid­dle by Nan­cy Atwell, Going Pub­lic by Shel­ley Har­wayne, Teach­ing with Inten­tion by Deb­bie Miller, About the Authors: Writ­ing Work­shop with Our Youngest Writ­ers by Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleave­land, and of course, Read­ing in the Wild by Don­a­lyn Miller.

Our Mentors - Zaharis Elementary School

In between break­out ses­sions that were led by class­room teach­ers, I took part in a guid­ed tour of Zaharis led by school prin­ci­pal, Mike Oliv­er.  Mr. Oliver’s unpar­al­leled pas­sion and exper­tise eas­i­ly qual­i­fy him as one of the most sol­id lit­er­a­cy lead­ers I’ve ever encoun­tered. His refresh­ing approach to teach­ing and lit­er­a­cy learn­ing tugged at my heart­strings as I wish every edu­ca­tor and every child could ben­e­fit from this type of mind­set. His words res­onat­ed so strong­ly with my per­son­al beliefs:

What is a read­er? What does it mean to be a read­er? That’s a ques­tion that we ask all the time. The rea­son that ques­tion is so impor­tant and our response to it, is it large­ly deter­mines who our chil­dren become as read­ers, whether or not they pick up a book of their own choos­ing and how suc­cess­ful they are, real­ly resides in our response to ‘What does it mean to be a read­er?’ You look at schools across the coun­try and in so many of them, they drown in a sea of work­sheets… 5 – 6 per day is over 1,000 work­sheets a year. Yet there’s no research that shows that there’s a cor­re­la­tion between how many work­sheets kids do and how suc­cess­ful they are as read­ers.” 

I was also quite enthused about Mr. Oliver’s phi­los­o­phy of how to recruit and hire top-notch teach­ing tal­ent. As we paused in front of the Our Men­tors wall dis­play, he explained that the first sev­er­al inter­view ques­tions always cen­ter on read­ing. Can­di­dates are asked to share what they are read­ing for per­son­al plea­sure and for pro­fes­sion­al growth. If unable to respond eas­i­ly and ful­ly, the inter­view is, quite frankly, over (though the remain­ing ques­tions are still shared out of respect). As Mr. Oliv­er point­ed out, how can we expect some­one who doesn’t appear to val­ue read­ing to be respon­si­ble for instill­ing a love of lit­er­a­cy in chil­dren?

Mr. Oliver's Office

Mr. Oliv­er’s Office

Over­sized class­rooms that look more like fur­ni­ture show­rooms, com­plete with sec­tion­al sofas, cozy read­ing nooks and floor to ceil­ing book dis­plays would make any kid or teacher swoon. As much as I love the idea of relaxed, homey learn­ing envi­ron­ments like those at Zaharis, it might be a tall order to trans­form most tra­di­tion­al class­rooms into such well-appoint­ed spaces.

Primary Classroom, Zaharis Elementary School

Pri­ma­ry Class­room, Zaharis Ele­men­tary School

First grade classroom, Zaharis Elementary School

First grade class­room, Zaharis Ele­men­tary School

How­ev­er, the real heart of the learn­ing that hap­pens in this lit­er­a­cy oasis locat­ed in the Ari­zona desert, comes from the care­ful inte­gra­tion of kids and books, skill­ful­ly woven togeth­er by the teach­ers, not from a script­ed pro­gram or pre-select­ed cur­ricu­lum. Please check back next month for the next install­ment on Zaharis Ele­men­tary, a fea­ture on using pic­ture books with first graders to teach a civ­il rights time­line and an inno­v­a­tive approach called “Mys­tery Read­ers” to help 2nd through 5th graders learn how to ana­lyze oral read­ing.

I’ll close with the words that com­prise the Zaharis mis­sion and val­ues, every bit as elo­quent and uplift­ing as it is child- and learn­ing-cen­tered! 

 Our Mis­sion

Learn­ing, car­ing, rejoic­ing and work­ing togeth­er to cre­ate a more just, com­pas­sion­ate, insight­ful world.

At Zaharis…

Our school is a fam­i­ly. We care for one anoth­er and val­ue each other’s voice.

We are all learn­ers and our pas­sions are con­ta­gious. We unite as we cel­e­brate each other’s growth, achieve­ments and suc­cess­es.

It is impor­tant to share our sto­ries. This is one way we merge heart and intel­lect.

We val­ue children’s bril­liance. Their feel­ings, ideas, gifts and tal­ents are respect­ed and shared.

Smiles and laugh­ter make every­thing eas­i­er. Love serves as a moti­va­tor until desire to learn is cul­ti­vat­ed.

 We under­stand that when learn­ing trav­els through the heart, it inspires greater mean­ing and pur­pose.

Learn­ing is a social expe­ri­ence. We make mean­ing togeth­er through col­lab­o­ra­tive dia­logue.

We learn through inquiry. The learn­ing in our class­rooms mir­rors the work that read­ers, writ­ers, math­e­mati­cians, sci­en­tists and social sci­en­tists do.

Stu­dents and teach­ers have time – time to think, time to won­der, time to explore, and time to share their find­ings — togeth­er.


Everything You Need to Ace Five Subjects

bk_everything_series_300pxI’ve had this TBR pile of five very attrac­tive, come-hith­er-look­ing books beg­ging to be rec­om­mend­ed for weeks now. The spines are bright pri­ma­ry col­ors so I know that even when I shelve them they will be call­ing to me. And I think they’ll be call­ing to your stu­dents as well.

I open what are for me the two scari­est vol­umes (eat your veg­eta­bles first — oops, as an adult, I find I LOVE veg­eta­bles), Every­thing You Need to Know to Ace Sci­ence in One Fat Note­book: Notes Bor­rowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Dou­ble-Checked by Award-Win­ning Teacher) and Every­thing You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Note­book: Notes Bor­rowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Dou­ble-Checked by Award-Win­ning Teacher). Did you catch that? Bor­rowed from the “Smartest Kid” in the class.

When I was a kid I had ency­clo­pe­dias from the gro­cery store of the high­ly visu­al, dip­ping-in-and-out vari­ety. I could sit for hours, flip­ping pages, look­ing at some­thing that caught my eye, devour­ing infor­ma­tion.

These books remind me of those ency­clo­pe­dias although they’re more focused on a sub­ject area.

If you have kids who suck up facts and infor­ma­tion like a vac­u­um clean­er, these are the books for them. They’re also self-chal­leng­ing. Each chap­ter ends with a list of ques­tions which you can respond to before you turn the page to find the sup­plied answers.

bk_everything_science_200pxSo, in the Sci­ence book, my eyes light imme­di­ate­ly on Chap­ter 5: Out­er Space, the Uni­verse, and the Solar Sys­tem, with sub­sec­tions of The Solar Sys­tem and Space Explo­ration (which every self-respect­ing Star Wars nerd needs to study), The Sun-Earth-Moon Sys­tem, and The Ori­gin of the Uni­verse and Our Solar Sys­tem.

In all of the books, impor­tant names and places are bold­ed in blue, vocab­u­lary words are high­light­ed in yel­low, def­i­n­i­tions are high­light­ed in yel­low, and stick fig­ures pro­vide the enter­tain­ment.

Look­ing fur­ther, I dis­cov­er the first chap­ters in the Sci­ence book are about think­ing like a sci­en­tist and design­ing an exper­i­ment. I need a LOT of help with those activ­i­ties, so I’m glad to be put at ease.

It’s a bright and col­or­ful book, with great eye-appeal. Even for the most reluc­tant­ly curi­ous mind, these books hold a great deal of promise.

Everything I Need to Ace Math

In the Math book, we explore ratios, pro­por­tions, equa­tions, prob­a­bil­i­ty, and more. Although my brain bawks at look­ing at this stuff, I find my eye rest­ing longer and longer on some of the high­ly visu­al infor­ma­tion, want­i­ng to under­stand it bet­ter. The book is work­ing its mag­ic.

Everything You Need to Know American History

Vol­umes on Amer­i­can His­to­ry, Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts, and World His­to­ry sim­i­lar­ly offer an overview of many top­ics with­in their dis­ci­plines. The Amer­i­can His­to­ry note­book begins with “The First Peo­ple in Amer­i­ca EVER” and ends with the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion, with many stops along the way for famous and not-so-famous parts of America’s his­to­ry.

Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts explores every­thing from lan­guage and syn­tax to how to read fic­tion and non­fic­tion, includ­ing poet­ry, explic­it evi­dence, and using mul­ti­ple sources to strength­en your writ­ing.

World His­to­ry cov­ers 3500 BC to present times in 502 pages, light­ing on ancient African civ­i­liza­tions, the Song Dynasty in Chi­na, 1830s rev­o­lu­tions in Europe, and so much more.

Everything You Need to Ace English Language ArtsNone of the infor­ma­tion is exhaus­tive. In fact, it’s quite light. Toe-dip­ping is an apt descrip­tion. But the infor­ma­tion is enough to intrigue the read­er and lead them on to oth­er resources.

There are no bib­li­ogra­phies or sources or sug­ges­tions for fur­ther read­ing in the books. I can see where that would have been a mon­u­men­tal task. I sup­pose I’m going to have to look it up myself. Oh, maybe that’s part of the expe­ri­ence? I’m guess­ing it is.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for grades 6 through 9 (the cov­ers say “The Com­plete Mid­dle School Study Guide”) and espe­cial­ly for your home library. I think this would be a per­fect start­ing place for choos­ing a research top­ic or enter­tain­ing your­self with read­ing an expos­i­to­ry text. I envi­sion whiling away many hours look­ing through these books. Good job, Work­man and pro­duc­tion team.



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 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.


Books for My Grandbaby and Me

Reading to my GrandbabyIt’s no secret that I am a big fan of books and read­ing. I am actu­al­ly an even big­ger fan of babies. I am instant­ly smit­ten. I can think of noth­ing bet­ter than cud­dling an infant, blan­ket­ed by that new baby smell, read­ing to an audi­ence of one. You can imag­ine how thrilled I am to announce that there’s a new baby in town! My incred­i­ble daugh­ter-in-law and son are cel­e­brat­ing the joy of tran­si­tion­ing from lov­ing cou­ple to lov­ing fam­i­ly and I am a first-time grand­ma.

A sweet, lit­tle baby boy (well actu­al­ly, not so lit­tle, with a birth weight of 11 lbs. 12 oz. and length of 24”) to bounce on my knee as we cre­ate read­ing mem­o­ries togeth­er! I’ve looked for­ward to shar­ing my pas­sion for lit­er­a­cy with a pre­cious grand­ba­by for a very long time. And so, with my heart full of  more love than I ever thought pos­si­ble, I will set­tle into this esteemed and hon­or­able role as grand­ma by reach­ing for a trea­sured stack of books. Care­ful­ly select­ed books that will begin a life­long adven­ture of dis­cov­ery, won­der, snug­gles, and joy. Books filled with lessons for my grand­ba­by and me!   

Book and Les­son #1: On The Day You Were Born
Books help us cel­e­brate and learn.

On tThe per­fect first book to share with my grand­ba­by offers this sweet greet­ing: “Wel­come to the spin­ning world… We are so glad you’ve come.” Debra Frasier’s love­ly pic­ture book will, with­out a doubt, become a tra­di­tion for us. The mir­a­cle of nature explains the mir­a­cle of a very spe­cial baby’s entrance into the world. Each year on the anniver­sary of his birth, we will mar­vel at the uni­verse as it is depict­ed in page after page of charm­ing nature col­lages. An extra­or­di­nary book to com­mem­o­rate an extra­or­di­nary event in our lives!   

Book and Les­son #2: More! More! More! Said the Baby
Books help us cher­ish mem­o­ries from the past and cre­ate new ones.

More! More! More! Said the BabyLit­tle Guy, Lit­tle Pump­kin and Lit­tle Bird, tod­dlers from More! More! More! Said the Baby, by Vera B. Williams, bring out the silli­ness and play­ful fun that are essen­tial qual­i­ties for grand­mas and grand­pas. After read­ing this delight­ful sto­ry to my grand­son, I will share anoth­er sto­ry, one about his own dad that I will call “Lit­tle Fish.”  Cen­tered on the mem­o­ry of an ener­getic, not quite two- year- old, I’ll rem­i­nisce and recall the gig­gles and squeal­ing “I do gan, I do gan” as my son jumped off the dock into the lake, again and again. You can bet that each time I read this book it will be grand­ma who pleads for “more, more, more” tum­my kiss­es and toe tick­les!

Book and Les­son #3: Snowy Day
Books help us find new friends.

The Snowy DayIntro­duc­ing my grand­son to a curi­ous lit­tle boy named Peter will be the begin­ning of what I hope will be many friend­ships sprout­ing from the pages of a good book. While read­ing Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, we will get to know an adven­tur­er who loves build­ing smil­ing snow­men and mak­ing snow angels. It won’t be long before my grand­son and I enjoy win­ter days doing the same. And though he will be too young to under­stand the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of this book (con­sid­ered to be the first full col­or pic­ture book fea­tur­ing a child of col­or as the main char­ac­ter), it will always be a reminder to me about the impor­tance of pro­vid­ing a pletho­ra of books with diverse char­ac­ters, books that offer “win­dows and mir­rors,” books filled with friends my grand­ba­by has yet to meet.

Book and Les­son #4: Four Pup­pies
Books help us under­stand life and the world around us.

Four PuppiesThis grandma’s “must read to grand­ba­by book­list” would not be com­plete with­out the book that was my very first per­son­al favorite. As a kinder­garten­er, I fell in love with this clas­sic Lit­tle Gold­en Book. My hope is that my grand­son will delight in the antics of this ram­bunc­tious pack of pups as they learn about the chang­ing sea­sons. Even­tu­al­ly my spe­cial read­ing bud­dy and I will talk about the wise red squir­rel and the pos­i­tive life lessons he pass­es on to his young pro­tégés.    

Book and Les­son #5:
The Lit­tle Mouse, the Red Ripe Straw­ber­ry, and the Big Hun­gry Bear
Books help us have a lit­tle fun.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry BearThis deli­cious sto­ry by Don and Audrey Wood pro­vides anoth­er walk down mem­o­ry lane. It seems like just yes­ter­day when my three-year old preschool­er begged for anoth­er read­ing of this high­ly inter­ac­tive tale. This time around, I plan to wear a pair of Grou­cho fuzzy nose and glass­es as I read it with my grand­ba­by. The cap­ti­vat­ing tale that mix­es a bit of fear, mys­tery, humor, sneak­i­ness and, best of all, shar­ing with oth­ers, will like­ly find a spot on grandbaby’s “read it again” list!

Book and Les­son #6: The I LOVE YOU Book
Books help us express our feel­ings.

The I Love You BookUncon­di­tion­al love is a nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­non for par­ents and grand­par­ents all over the world. The I Love You Book by Todd Parr describes the pow­er­ful, unwa­ver­ing affec­tion that I will for­ev­er feel for this child who has cap­tured my heart. With bright, col­or­ful illus­tra­tions, the mes­sage is sim­ple: I love you whether sil­ly, sad, scared, or brave. I love you whether sleep­ing or not sleep­ing. I love you and I always will, just the way you are!

Once Upon a Time BabyBooks for my grand­ba­by and me will offer a wide range of lessons on all sorts of top­ics. How­ev­er, the great­est gift they will pro­vide is a chance to share mean­ing­ful moments, a chance to relive fond mem­o­ries, a chance to cre­ate new mem­o­ries. Books for my grand­ba­by and me are a gift that will last a life­time, a lega­cy of lit­er­a­cy and love, for my grand­ba­by and me.

Two of my favorite baby lit­er­a­cy gift sites:

I ordered a per­son­al­ized copy of On the Day You Were Born with my grandbaby’s name print­ed on the cov­er and through­out the book.

Adorable t‑shirts for my grand­ba­by, encour­ag­ing lit­er­a­cy and learn­ing


Books as Therapy

FrindleI con­fess to using books ther­a­peu­ti­cal­ly. When my kids were lit­tle and the day had gone wonky and none of us were at our best, a pile of pic­ture books was a sure-fire way to reset us all. It was part­ly the snug­gles, but most­ly the shared expe­ri­ence of read­ing the sto­ries we loved. As they’ve grown, I’ve been known to read them hap­py books when they are sad (and some­times sad books, just to help us lean into it) and sil­ly books when anger and tears have had their way with us. I’ve picked “top­i­cal” books when it seemed that approach­ing an issue at a “slant” might be the way to go.  And I’ve picked up books and insist­ed we read when I didn’t know what else to do.

Recent­ly, I heard Andrew Clements talk about his writ­ing life and his books at the Fes­ti­val of Faith & Writ­ing. I reread Frindle, my favorite of his books, on the plane on the way to the con­fer­ence. Pre­dictably, it made me cry, just as the flight atten­dant came by with pret­zels and juice. I was a lit­tle afraid Mr. Clements him­self would make me cry just by, you know, being up there on stage; but he talked about his child­hood and his ear­ly mar­ried years and find­ing his way as a writer…. And it was delight­ful! He was exact­ly as you expect­ed Andrew Clements to be while pre­sent­ing to a group of teach­ers, writ­ers, librar­i­ans, and read­ers (most­ly adults, some kids).

And then, at the end he rifled through some papers, say­ing he wasn’t sure if he’d talk about this next thing…. But he did. Or rather he read it. He’d been pre­sent­ing for an hour extem­po­ra­ne­ous­ly, but now his eyes were glued to the page and he read us pre­pared remarks. He wasn’t even a full sen­tence in before we under­stood why he was read­ing and not telling the sto­ry “off-the-cuff.”

Not long after the Decem­ber 2012 school shoot­ing at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary in New­town, Con­necti­cut, Clements was con­tact­ed with a request he both could not refuse and could not imag­ine. While the world watched and prayed, the school and com­mu­ni­ty worked hard to piece togeth­er life for the kids, teach­ers and staff, and their fam­i­lies. Some­one float­ed the idea of an all-school read — some­thing for all ages, some­thing they might enjoy  togeth­er, some­thing besides the tragedy to help re-define them.

They need­ed a book that took place in a school. A book that both chil­dren and adults who were rid­dled with shock and ter­ror and grief could focus on. A book that was maybe a lit­tle fun­ny — in spots, at least. A book that did not con­tain the names of any of the vic­tims of the vio­lence that had torn apart their school com­mu­ni­ty. They need­ed a book that could bring hope and light to their lives again.

They chose Frindle. They asked Clements to come and so he and his wife went. He told us how he was led through the police check points in the park­ing lot and at the school doors…. How he was escort­ed into the school gath­er­ing by the library work­er who had shield­ed eigh­teen kids in a clos­et in the library dur­ing the shoot­ing…. How they explained the impor­tance of not mak­ing any loud nois­es or sud­den move­ments…. 

And then he read Frindle to those kids and teach­ers. He said he and his wife agreed it was one of the holi­est spaces and times they’d ever expe­ri­enced.

There wasn’t, of course, a dry eye in the audi­to­ri­um. Those of us in the audi­ence could hard­ly breathe while he read this account. I can’t imag­ine the strength it must have tak­en for this beloved author to read his work to those chil­dren and their teach­ers. Such an hon­or, such a priv­i­lege.

Books can be so ther­a­peu­tic — and the read­ing of them togeth­er even more so. I think the idea of an all-school read at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary was bril­liant, the choice of book and author inspired. Read your way into some holi­ness with a kid (or a whole group of them) today if you can. When­ev­er and wher­ev­er we can gath­er over books…holy time and space is found.


Telling a Story the Hard Way

Space Dumplinsby Vic­ki Palmquist

I’ve just fin­ished read­ing the graph­ic nov­el Space Dumplins by Craig Thomp­son, with col­or by Dave Stew­art (Graphix, 2015). I am over­whelmed by the work that went into this book. First off, it’s an engross­ing, turn-the-page sto­ry with an appeal­ing cast of char­ac­ters. As read­ers, we care about what will hap­pen. That’s a good start.

Now, imag­ine that you are sit­ting down with a pen­cil to sketch one of the spreads in this book. Per­haps you’ve picked the pages where Vio­let, our hero­ine, first gets a look at SHELL-TAR, the inte­ri­or of the space sta­tion. You start by draw­ing the intri­ca­cies of the gleam­ing steam­punk time clock and then you draw all of the activ­i­ty going on inside the trans­par­ent trans­port tubes, large enough to accom­mo­date per­son­al space­ships. Next you fill in the many habi­tats, the glob­u­lar trees, the peo­ple at the beach. Then you insert our cast of char­ac­ters into the scene along with the robot­ic Chaper­drone (a babysit­ter). Whew. That’s a lot of draw­ing for two pages.

Of course, you’re pro­vid­ing this as a back­drop for the fast-paced sto­ry of three new friends, quick-wit­ted, learn­ing to work as a team, doing their best to save the peo­ple they love and their cor­ner of the uni­verse. You’ve already writ­ten the sto­ry, the script, and worked through the sur­pris­es that will delight your read­ers, mak­ing it a tight and believ­able hero’s jour­ney set in the Mucky Way.

Vio­let, Zac­cha­eus, and Eliot are unlike­ly heroes except that Vio­let has a wel­com­ing heart, a brave out­look on adven­ture, and an opti­mism as big as out­er space. She can see qual­i­ties in her new friends that they can’t see them­selves. Eliot, the chick­en, is stu­dious, intro­vert­ed, wide­ly read, and some­what psy­chic. Zac­cha­eus, the last of the Lump­kins (well, almost the last, because space whales ate his plan­et) is chaot­ic, impul­sive, and ready for a fight. All three of the friends are good at prob­lem-solv­ing, espe­cial­ly when they work togeth­er. The mil­i­tary can’t defeat the space whales: they can only clean up after them. It’s these three who fig­ure out the true heart of the prob­lem.

Craig Thompson Space Dumplins ballpoint

from Craig Thomp­son’s web­site, copy­right Craig Thomp­son

Once you’ve sketched all of this, applied ball­point pen, then brushed ink, you ask some­one else to col­or every­thing in.  Togeth­er, you’re cre­at­ing a book full of these sto­ry-telling images, rich­ly col­ored, high­ly detailed, and ulti­mate­ly believ­able as a look at life that’s real­ly hap­pen­ing some­where “out there.”

The rest of the main cast of char­ac­ters include Violet’s par­ents, the reformed felon Gar and the fash­ion design­er Cera, Gar’s fish­ing bud­dies Mr. Tin­der and crew, Cera’s boss at the Fash­ion Fac­to­ry, Mas­ter Adam Arnold, and the most inven­tive space vehi­cles I’ve ever seen. Every being (they’re not all human) in this book has a unique look. No cook­ie-cut­ter, repet­i­tive char­ac­ters to save on draw­ing time.

It’s a movie set on paper, except that you’ve had to con­ceive of, write, draw, and col­or every bit of it. There are no cam­eras and crew to bring your vision to life. Exhaust­ed yet?

Even the end­pa­pers are atten­tion-riv­et­ing. The con­stel­la­tions fill the skies of Space Dumplins and they often make an appear­ance, remind­ing us that we share the same space even though the set­ting feels alien and won­drous.

early concept

ear­ly con­cept of space­ship, copy­right Craig Thomp­son

You know those kids who are con­stant­ly doo­dling in class? They’ll love this book. And the kids who stay up long past their bed­times try­ing to fin­ish a chap­ter? They’ll love this book. And the kids who don’t know what to read next but they don’t want it to be bor­ing? Yup, they’re gonna love it. Space Dumplins reads like a TV series, a movie, a video game, and a sol­id, excit­ing sto­ry all between book cov­ers. Bril­liant.


Be sure to notice the homage to a num­ber of cul­tur­al icons in this book. H.A. Rey’s The Con­stel­la­tions? Strange Brew? Space­balls? And the real Trike (it exists!).

Be sure to read Craig Thomp­son’s answers to Five Ques­tions on The Book Rat’s blog. You’ll find out how long it took him to cre­ate Space Dumplins.

For a look at what Craig Thomp­son is work­ing on and where he’s appear­ing, vis­it his web­site.


Don’t get took! Read a book!”

by Vic­ki Palmquist

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


We Didn’t Always Know the Way

by Vic­ki Palmquist

How to Read a StoryA step-by-step, slight­ly tongue-in-cheek but most­ly sin­cere, guide to read­ing a book, How to Read a Sto­ry by Kate Mess­ner, illus­trat­ed by Mark Siegel (Chron­i­cle Books), will have you and your young read­ers feel­ing all warm and cozy and smart.

With advice in Step 2 to Find a Read­ing Bud­dy, we are cau­tioned “And make sure you both like the book.” That makes per­fect sense. Read­ing bud­dies, as drawn in a col­or­ful palette by illus­tra­tor and car­toon­ist Mark Siegel, can be old­er, younger, “or maybe not a per­son at all.” Per­haps a blue dog will wish to read with you.

In Step 6, the sug­ges­tion is to read the dia­logue by say­ing it “in a voice to match who’s talk­ing.” The ink-and-water­col­or illus­tra­tions take up the nar­ra­tive, giv­ing us irre­sistible words with which to prac­tice, a lion, a mouse who says “I am the most POWERFUL in all the land!” and a robot who mere­ly says “Beep.” It’s excel­lent prac­tice for inter­pret­ing pic­tures and putting mean­ing into the words.

We’re invit­ed to try our minds at pre­dic­tion in Step 8, as our read­er and his read­ing bud­dy, the blue dog, con­tem­plate what will hap­pen next.

It’s a book that will make you smile, a good match between well-cho­sen words and play­ful illus­tra­tions, yet it’s a use­ful book for home and school and sto­ry hour. How can chil­dren learn the way to read out loud? How to Read a Sto­ry will have them try­ing before you know it.



Literary Madeleine: A History of Reading

by Mar­sha Qua­ley

A History of Reading coverOne of the great good for­tunes of my life is that I’ve man­aged to cre­ate a pro­fes­sion­al life that requires I read a lot. Read­ing is a pas­sion; the old bumper stick­er says it all: I’d rather be read­ing.

But I also think read­ing is an inter­est­ing top­ic. How and why do we read? Who were the first read­ers? How has read­ing been used to oppress and lib­er­ate? How and why does read­ing — the phys­i­cal act of read­ing — vary from cul­ture to cul­ture? Why — unlike so many out­spo­ken pro­po­nents of one tech­nol­o­gy or the oth­er — does my cat not care whether I read a hard copy book or use my Kin­dle? (He’s hap­py to paw or plop on either when he wants my atten­tion.)

Alber­to Manguel’s A His­to­ry of Read­ing has answers to most of those ques­tions, and it pos­es and answers a great many more. Though won­der­ful­ly illus­trat­ed, the book is text-heavy, and it’s writ­ten for read­ers with some knowl­edge of world his­to­ry. In oth­er words, tough going for young read­ers.

How­ev­er, the his­to­ry Manguel weaves is chock full of gems that could enter­tain and intrigue read­ers of any age if care­ful­ly culled and pre­sent­ed.

Fore­most among them, a cen­ter­fold: A Read­er’s Time­line. Here are just a few of the items on Manguel’s time­line:

  • c. 2300 BC: The first record­ed author, the Sumer­ian high priest­ess Enhed­u­an­na, address­es a “dear read­er” in her songs
  • c. 200 BC: Aristo­phanes of Byzan­tium invents punc­tu­a­tion
  • c. 1010: At a time when “seri­ous read­ing” in Japan is restrict­ed to men, Lady Murasa­ki writes the first nov­el, The Book of Gen­ji, to pro­vide read­ing mate­r­i­al for her­self and the oth­er women of the Heian Court
Eleanor of Aquitaine, reading for eternity

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s tomb lid; read­ing for eter­ni­ty

Also of imme­di­ate val­ue are the exam­ples of the many depic­tions of read­ing in visu­al art through the ages, a list of which could pro­vide a good start for a moti­vat­ed young researcher.

The evo­lu­tion of read­ing and its influ­ence on indi­vid­u­als and soci­eties pro­vides a won­der­ful angle for study­ing his­to­ry. But if that doesn’t work for your young read­ers, there’s always Manguel’s ear­li­er book: The Dic­tio­nary of Imag­i­nary Places, a com­pre­hen­sive and cel­e­bra­to­ry cat­a­logue of fan­ta­sy set­tings from world lit­er­a­ture.

A native of Argenti­na, Alber­to Manguel now lives in Cana­da. 



Reading Ahead: Levitate Your Brother!

Big Magic for Little Hands

by Vic­ki Palmquist

We recent­ly host­ed a Har­ry Pot­ter par­ty for adults for which every­one was asked to per­form a mag­ic trick. Some peo­ple fierce­ly addressed the chal­lenge. Some peo­ple pan­icked. Some peo­ple bought a trick off the inter­net. I turned to Joshua Jay’s Big Mag­ic for Lit­tle Hands (Work­man Pub­lish­ing Co).

Cit­ing all the ben­e­fits of learn­ing to per­form mag­ic, the author reveals that he was­n’t a read­er until he need­ed to know about mag­ic. Learn­ing mag­ic tricks and per­form­ing them gives a child con­fi­dence and helps with pub­lic speak­ing skills. “Oth­ers have inte­grat­ed mag­ic into their jobs, using effects to break the ice or com­plete a sale or relax a jury.”

There are dia­grams and ter­mi­nol­o­gy and sug­gest­ed stage setups. There are help­ful hints (over­com­ing stage fright). There are lists of mate­ri­als need­ed for each feat of pres­tidig­i­ta­tion.

With com­pelling black, white, and red illus­tra­tions, the dia­grams are easy to fol­low, con­vinc­ing even the most skep­ti­cal that they could make these tricks work.

The writ­ing is not just step-by-step instruc­tion­al – Jay writes with humor and an appre­ci­a­tion of what’s prac­ti­cal.

The mate­ri­als are items you prob­a­bly have on hand in your house­hold. When one list includes a top hat, Jay writes “A top hat works great, but you could also dec­o­rate an emp­ty tis­sue box and use that, or use your dad’s cow­boy hat. (Note: This only works if your dad is a cow­boy.)”

Per­haps most of all, I enjoyed the real-life sto­ries of mag­ic such as “Hou­dini’s Great Plane Escape.” When Hou­di­ni was film­ing the movie The Grim Game, a stunt required climb­ing by rope from one plane to the oth­er. Dur­ing the stunt, the two planes col­lid­ed and crashed to the ground. What hap­pened? Well, that would be telling. Accord­ing to Jay, a good magi­cian nev­er shares a secret or tells how it is done. Big Mag­ic for Lit­tle Hands will tell you but I won’t.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for kids aged 8 and old­er (and the adults in their lives who will be just as fas­ci­nat­ed). It’s a large for­mat book with a big heart and plen­ty of fas­ci­na­tion between its cov­ers. A great gift. A good, read­able, and hours-of-fun addi­tion to your library.


I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!

I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!

There has been a lot writ­ten about the brav­ery of cows (no, there hasn’t). Some of it has star­tled us with the sheer audac­i­ty of amaz­ing feats of der­ring-do of which cows are capa­ble (News at 10!). Young chil­dren every­where are pin­ning up cow posters on their bed­room walls, hop­ing to one day be as brave as their cow heroes.… more

The Fourteenth Goldfish

The ver­sa­tile Jen­nifer L. Holm pens a fan­ta­sy this time around, but it’s a sto­ry suf­fused with humor and sci­ence, deft­ly ask­ing a mind-blow­ing ques­tion: is it a good thing to grow old? So what hap­pens when a 13-year-old boy shows up on your doorstep, argu­ing with your mom, who invites him in, and it turns out you’re relat­ed to this kid, only a much old­er ver­sion of him?… more

A Time to Dance

A Time to Dance
Pad­ma Venka­tra­man
Nan­cy Paulsen Books / Pen­guin Put­nam Dis­claimer: I’m a fan of Pad­ma Venkatraman’s books. Each one has charmed me. I know I can always expect a read­ing expe­ri­ence unlike any I’ve had before. Her new book does not dis­ap­point. In A Time to Dance, teenaged Veda has already ded­i­cat­ed her life to dance, much to her mother’s frus­tra­tion.… more

Gifted: Up All Night

My moth­er had the knack of giv­ing me a book every Christ­mas that kept me up all night … after I had opened it on Christ­mas Eve. I par­tic­u­lar­ly remem­ber the “oh-boy-it’s-dark-out­side” year that I received The Lord of the Rings and accom­pa­nied the hob­bits into Woody End where they first meet the Nazgul, the Ring­wraiths.… more

Books Plus: The Goods by McSweeney’s

The Goods by McSweeney’s:
Games and Activ­i­ties for Big Kids,
Lit­tle Kids, and Medi­um-Size Kids

edit­ed by Mac Bar­nett and Bri­an McMullen
fea­tur­ing Adam Rex, Jon Sci­esz­ka, and more
Big Pic­ture Press, an imprint of Can­dlewick Press, 2013 For your hol­i­day gift-giv­ing con­sid­er­a­tion … An over­sized book filled with every imag­in­able dis­trac­tion, this should be on every family’s hol­i­day gift list.… more

Gifted: Walk This World

Walk This World: a Cel­e­bra­tion of Life in a Day
Lot­ta Niem­i­nen, a Finnish-born graph­ic design­er and art direc­tor
Big Pic­ture Press, an imprint of Can­dlewick Press, Novem­ber 2013 As you con­sid­er gifts for this hol­i­day sea­son, we sug­gest … (book #2 in our Gift­ed rec­om­men­da­tions) … Vis­it 10 coun­tries in one book! This styl­ish lift-the-flap book is a chal­leng­ing work of art in all the right ways.… more

Anatomy of a Series: Topps League Books

We’re in post-sea­son, when a lot of fans start to look wild-eyed, won­der­ing how they’ll hang on for three months until spring train­ing starts in Feb­ru­ary. Here in Min­neso­ta, it’s tough for sand­lot base­ball or Lit­tle League games to be played in the snow with an icy base­line. Young fans can keep up the momen­tum with Kur­tis Scaletta’s base­ball books, the Topps League series.… more

Discussing the Books We’ve Loved: Déjà Vu

As I ready this arti­cle for pub­li­ca­tion, I am sit­ting in the cof­fee shop where I first met Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick, now a much-admired author of some of my favorite books. I still enjoy get­ting caught up in a series, accept­ing the like­able and not-so-like­able char­ac­ters as my new-found cir­cle of friends, antic­i­pat­ing the treat of stay­ing with the book as I open the pages of the sec­ond and third and fourth vol­umes in the series.… more

Behind the Books We’ve Loved: A Wilder Rose

Grow­ing up, I loved to read mys­ter­ies, biogra­phies, but espe­cial­ly series books. I did­n’t read Nan­cy Drew or Anne of Green Gables (not until I was an adult), but I fol­lowed most every oth­er series char­ac­ter. I read Cher­ry Ames, Sue Bar­ton, Trix­ie Belden, Beany Mal­one, Janet Lennon, but espe­cial­ly Louisa May Alcot­t’s books, the Lit­tle House books, and par­tic­u­lar­ly Maud Hart Lovelace’s Bet­sy-Tacy books.… more

… who taught me to love books

I’ve just begun read­ing Three Times Lucky by Sheila Tur­nage. Many peo­ple have rec­om­mend­ed it to me, aghast that I have not already eat­en it up. I’ve got­ten as far as the ded­i­ca­tion: For my par­ents — Vivian Tay­lor Tur­nage
and A.C. Tur­nage, Jr. — who taught me to love books. What a gift. How big-heart­ed and under­stand­ing of Sheila to thank her par­ents in such a pub­lic way.… more

No book to print book to e‑book to …

Pub­lish­ers Week­ly report­ed today that Neil Gaiman addressed the fifth Lon­don Book Fair Dig­i­tal Minds Con­fer­ence by say­ing, “Peo­ple ask me what my pre­dic­tions are for pub­lish­ing and how dig­i­tal is chang­ing things and I tell them my only real pre­dic­tion is that is it’s all chang­ing,” Gaiman said. “Ama­zon, Google and all of those things prob­a­bly aren’t the ene­my.… more

Cooking up a bookstorm

One of my favorite gen­res of read­ing is cook­books. It all began when I was ten, the Christ­mas of 1963. My moth­er gave me Bet­ty Crock­er’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1957 by Gold­en Books, illus­trat­ed by Glo­ria Kamen, and writ­ten by, well, Bet­ty Crock­er, of course! A lot of cook­ing hap­pened at my house.… more

This is a wonderful book but …

I hear this all the time from our book club mem­bers. “This is a won­der­ful book but I could nev­er get kids to read it.” Why? That’s my imme­di­ate and fierce reac­tion. Why? Some of the books we’ve dis­cussed in Chap­ter & Verse are Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages, Sweet­hearts of Rhythm by Mar­i­ly Nel­son.… more

Musings of a lifelong reader, part three

When I was in col­lege, work­ing on a project for one of my library sci­ence class­es, I wrote a pro­pos­al for edu­ca­tion­al reform. Thir­ty years ago (gulp) it seemed to me that school did­n’t work very well … at least not for me. I was cer­tain I could­n’t be the only per­son to feel this way.… more

Musings of a lifelong reader, part one

In a com­mu­ni­ty of read­ers, the dia­logue will occa­sion­al­ly drift to “do you remem­ber learn­ing to read?” Do you? I don’t. I have an ear­ly mem­o­ry of sit­ting on the floor in the bed­room at my grand­moth­er’s house turn­ing the pages of The Poky Lit­tle Pup­py. I remem­ber the illus­tra­tions. I don’t remem­ber the words.… more

A gentle nudge

Some­times we get so caught up in dis­cussing the lit­er­ary mer­its of a book that we for­get who the intend­ed read­ers are. Some­times we enjoy play­ing the game of who will win the awards so much that we for­get there are all kinds of read­ers who are touched by books in many ways … and most of them unpre­dictable, even by the experts.… more
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