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Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson

Richard Jack­son

We are hon­ored to inter­view the high­ly respect­ed Richard Jack­son, who is on to his next career as a writer. His most recent­ly pub­lished book is all ears, all eyes, a lush and irre­sistible read-aloud book, illus­trat­ed by Kather­ine Tillit­son (Simon & Schus­ter). We thought we’d take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk with him about the pro­gres­sion from his edi­to­r­i­al career to his writ­ing career and the four books he has writ­ten.

Edi­to­r­i­al Career

Will you please tell us a bit about your edi­to­r­i­al expe­ri­ence?

After Army ser­vice, I grad­u­at­ed from NYC in 1962 with a Master’s degree in edu­ca­tion. I worked first at Dou­ble­day, not with children’s books, then at Macmil­lan and David White.

In 1968, you co-found­ed Brad­bury Press. You moved to Orchard Books in 1986 and then began the non­fic­tion pub­lish­ing imprint DK Ink in 1996. Three years lat­er, in 1999, you had your own imprint at Simon & Schus­ter with the ven­er­at­ed Atheneum Books. Has this jour­ney tak­en you around unex­pect­ed bends in the road?

I’ve nev­er been sub­ject­ed to a job inter­view.

As you were gain­ing expe­ri­ence, which edi­tors do you feel taught you the most?

Frances Keene and then Susan Hirschman at Macmil­lan.

Do you think most pic­ture book edi­tors are equal parts visu­al and ver­bal?

Most like­ly. For me, as writer, as edi­tor, the words are of first impor­tance.

What did your authors teach you?

Empa­thy.

While you were an edi­tor, did you always have a yen to write your own books?

No. But retirement—in so much as I am retired; I still work on a few books annu­al­ly by old pub­lish­ing friends—suddenly stretched rather bland­ly before me. I began tin­ker­ing with words, with play, with word­play…

You’re work­ing with an edi­tor now, a col­league. What do you look for from your edi­tor?

Effi­cien­cy. A sense of humor. Taste. Candor—i.e., a will­ing­ness to see the pos­si­bil­i­ties of some­thing not yet final.

Con­sid­er­ing the Books You’ve Writ­ten

Have a Look, Says Book

inte­ri­or spread for Have a Look, Says Book by Richard Jack­son, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kevin Hawkes

Have a Look, Says Book

Have a Look, Says Book
illus­trat­ed by Kevin Hawkes
Cait­lyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schus­ter, 2016

Kevin Hawkes illus­trat­ed this book that is play­ful­ly focused on adjec­tives. The text rhymes but not in a way that feels read-aloud con­fin­ing. How do you work on the poet­ry in a pic­ture book?

In my head, often while dri­ving.

Sto­ry­time librar­i­ans are focus­ing more than ever on teach­ing. This book offers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about the plea­sure of books, the love of words. Have you always been fond of words?

A ver­bal child was I. As opposed to ath­let­ic.

What sparked the idea for this book?

The sim­ple but enor­mous word “touch” has at least two mean­ings… There are many see, hear books, a few smell and taste books—hardly any about touch. Watch­ing chil­dren and grand­chil­dren touch the pages and pic­tures of a book, I thought…let’s see if I can hon­or that young-kid impulse: to point out, to make con­tact with a fin­ger, to search a book for a tac­tile dimen­sion equal to see­ing and hear­ing.

In Plain Sight

inte­ri­or spread for In Plain Sight, by Richard Jack­son, illus­tra­tion copy­right Jer­ry Pinkney

In Plain SightIn Plain Sight
illus­trat­ed by Jer­ry Pinkney
Neal Porter Books
Roar­ing Brook Press, 2016

The sto­ry in this book is uni­ver­sal, a grand­fa­ther and grand­daugh­ter who enjoy each other’s com­pa­ny. Grand­pa, who lives in a bed­room in Sophie’s house, always has some­thing for them to do togeth­er, to find some­thing he’s hid­den In Plain Sight.

What inspired this uni­ver­sal sto­ry of love?

Well, I was the Grand­pa, I think. Sophie, a sis­ter who died at four. She always announced her pres­ence with “Here I ahm.” In my imag­i­na­tion, the game ele­ment was as impor­tant as any­thing, so it was based upon a game my father played on us, his chil­dren, on Christ­mas night—find objects hid­den in unlike­ly places, such as a dol­lar bill wrapped around a book’s spine in a bookcase—very tricky!

It’s so impor­tant for chil­dren who have old­er gen­er­a­tions liv­ing with them to see them­selves in books, to under­stand that fam­i­lies extend them­selves when need­ed.

Was it your idea to have Grand­pa sup­port­ed by a wheel­chair?

Jerry’s, I think. As was Grandpa’s ath­let­ic and mil­i­tary past, as was the cat.

This man­u­script was inter­pret­ed by the much-admired author and illus­tra­tor, Jer­ry Pinkney. How was he brought into this project?

Neal Porter’s idea, at Roar­ing Brook. They had not worked togeth­er before. I asked Neal, quite casu­al­ly, I remem­ber, if this fam­i­ly might be black (they weren’t while I was fol­low­ing the con­ver­sa­tion which accounts for the sto­ry here). Jer­ry widened and deep­ened every image; note Sophie’s school clothes, for instance. Or the illus­tra­tion on the bind­ing of the book—not a repeat of the jack­et, but some­thing new and on its own; that’s Grandpa’s nature, don’t you think; there’s always a lit­tle more to give.

all ears, all eyes

inte­ri­or spread, all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jack­son, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kather­ine Tillot­son

all ears, all eyesall ears, all eyes
illus­trat­ed by Kather­ine Tillot­son
Cait­lyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schus­ter, 2017

Your text for this book is so evoca­tive of being out­doors at night, par­tic­u­lar­ly in a forest­ed or wild area. Why did you want to share that expe­ri­ence with read­ers and lis­ten­ers?

The set­ting is a bit of woods, across a brook near our house in the coun­try north of New York City. Real coun­try, if you can believe. One night a yodel­ing fox awoke me and my wife. Moon and most­ly dark­ness. Still­ness, except for Mr. Fox. Mag­i­cal. We got the chil­dren up (they are part of my ded­i­ca­tion for this book) and, bare­foot, we went out­side, across the grass, up to the brook’s bank. We lis­tened and with­out enter­ing the woods, let the woods enter us. I hoped to write a poem to that night, that fox, that fam­i­ly expe­ri­ence.

When you wrote the text for all ears, all eyes, did you have an illus­tra­tor in mind? Why?

Yes indeed, the text was for Kather­ine Tillot­son always, once the open­ing words sprang from my mem­o­ry. She sug­gest­ed the project some­how, and inspired it all along, from a very ear­ly ren­di­tion of a lurk­ing owl. Next came Cait­lyn Dlouhy and Ann Bob­co (Atheneum’s bril­liant art direc­tor), and the four of us played for months and months. Until quite close to the “end,” I was fuss­ing with rhymes and line breaks. Such fun.

Many peo­ple who want to write books for chil­dren have been told that they’ll nev­er work direct­ly with their illus­tra­tor. Did you include instruc­tions for how the text might be illus­trat­ed? As an edi­tor, does your mind work that way?

I give a lit­tle guid­ance when the artist will need it—the main boy wears glass­es, for exam­ple. And I break the text into page and page turn units. In my head I’m imag­ing a movie. But the illus­tra­tor is the cam­era­man (or woman), and often comes up with total­ly sur­pris­ing and often just-right new views.

Don’t miss read­ing our inter­view with Kather­ine Tillot­son about this book.

inte­ri­or spread from This Beau­ti­ful Day, by Richard Jack­son, illus­tra­tion copy­right Suzy Lee

This Beautiful DayThis Beau­ti­ful Day
illus­trat­ed by Suzy Lee
Cait­lyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books
Simon & Schus­ter, 2017

In August of this year, we’ll be treat­ed to anoth­er book you wrote, this one filled with humor and whim­sy. It begins with a bor­ing, rainy day, but the atti­tude of the three chil­dren and their moth­er brings out the sun.

With your con­sid­er­able expe­ri­ence as an edi­tor, do you reflex­ive­ly envi­sion your text on the page?

Reflex­ive­ly? I think not. I do imag­ine page turns—and often, as sug­gest­ed above, an illus­tra­tor will have a bet­ter idea and I’ll be tick­led.

When you were an edi­tor, did you look for­ward to the sur­prise of the illustrator’s rough sketch­es, their inter­pre­ta­tion of the author’s sto­ry?

Father Time and the Day BoxesYou bet! I once pub­lished a pic­ture book, George Ella Lyon’s and Robert Parker’s Father Time and the Day Box­es (o.p), using the sketch­es, which were per­fect as they were. Had I imag­ined them as Bob pre­sent­ed them? No way. It’s ide­al to be sur­pris­ing and just right from the get-go.

Now that it’s your man­u­script being inter­pret­ed, how does that expe­ri­ence dif­fer?

Not much dif­fer­ent. I hadn’t imag­ined a rainy begin­ning to this day, so was tak­en aback at first; even­tu­al­ly, I have come to see the wis­dom of giv­ing the nar­ra­tive this “hinge” in mood. What you sug­gest (that sun is atti­tude induced) is irresistible—and com­plete­ly Suzy’s idea.

____________________

Thank you for shar­ing your thoughts with us, Richard Jack­son!

I’ve admired the books he’s edit­ed, some of the finest in the children’s lit­er­a­ture canon, so it’s a plea­sure to hear from him as he walks his next path as a writer. 

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Books about Chickens

Whether a chick­en makes you cluck, BAWK! or cheep-cheep-cheep, books about chick­ens make us laugh. We may not have been intro­duced to a chick­en in real life but, trust me, some peo­ple keep them as egg-lay­ing won­ders and oth­er peo­ple keep them as pets. These fowl have been around in many col­ors, types, and breeds in most coun­tries in the world … and quite recent­ly they have become the sub­ject of many books. Go, chick­ens! We’ve sug­gest­ed 19 books. What would you add as the 20th book on this list?

The Perfect Nest  

The Per­fect Nest
writ­ten by Cather­ine Friend
illus­trat­ed by John Man­ders
Hen­ry Holt, 2011

Farmer Jack, the cat, is build­ing a nest to attract a chick­en who will lay eggs for his mouth-water­ing omelet. Things don’t go quite as planned. Oth­er birds find the nest to be per­fect, too. The eggs hatch and Jack is sud­den­ly tend­ing to lit­tle chicks who think he’s their father. The book is laugh-out-loud fun­ny and makes a great read-aloud. Each of the per­fect nest’s occu­pants speaks with a dif­fer­ent accent.

Hoboken Chicken Emergency

 

The Hobo­ken Chick­en Emer­gency
Daniel Pinkwa­ter
illus by Jill Pinkwa­ter
Simon & Schus­ter, 1977

A clas­sic book that will keep your kids laugh­ing with every page turn. Arthur Bobow­icz is sent to get the Thanks­giv­ing turkey but there are none to be had. On the way home, he sees a sign in Pro­fes­sor Mazzocchi’s win­dow (you know him, the inven­tor of the Chick­en Sys­tem). Arthur ends up tak­ing a chick­en home but it’s a 266-pound live chick­en named Hen­ri­et­ta. She gets loose … and caus­es dis­as­ter all over Hobo­ken, New Jer­sey. A good read-aloud but also the per­fect book for 9- and 10-year-olds to read.

Beautiful Yetta  

Beau­ti­ful Yet­ta: the Yid­dish Chick­en
Daniel Pinkwa­ter
illus by Jill Pinkwa­ter
Fei­wel & Friends, 2010

Yet­ta, the chick­en, escapes from a poul­try truck in Brook­lyn and is soon lost, lone­ly, and hun­gry, shunned by the rats and pigeons she encoun­ters. Hero­ical­ly, she saves a lit­tle green bird, Eduar­do, from a cat, win­ning the grat­i­tude of his friends, the par­rots. They teach Yet­ta how to find food and how to get along in an unfa­mil­iar place. The book is filled with Yid­dish, Span­ish, and Eng­lish phras­es and Yetta’s speech appears in both Hebrew and Eng­lish alpha­bets. Your kids will soon be exclaim­ing about the “farsh­tunken katz”!

The Little Red Hen  

The Lit­tle Red Hen
Paul Gal­done
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2011 (reis­sued)

When the Hen asks for help plant­i­ng wheat, the cat, the dog, and the mouse all say “No!” They won’t help her water it, or har­vest it, or grind it. They are quite lazy. When the Lit­tle Red Hen bakes a deli­cious cake, who will be invit­ed to eat it? Ages 4 to 11.

Chicken Man  

Chick­en Man
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Michelle Edwards
1991, repub­lished in 2009 by North­South Books

Rody lives on a kib­butz in Israel, where he is assigned to tend to the chick­ens. He comes to love them and they him. He sings loud­ly with joy. And thus oth­er kib­butz work­ers think the chick­en house must be the best place to work and Rody is re-assigned to anoth­er job.  The chick­ens stop lay­ing eggs. And Rody miss­es his chick­ens.  How will Rody find his way back to his favorite job? A good look at life on a kib­butz.

Chickens to the Rescue  

Chick­ens to the Res­cue
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by John Him­mel­man
Hen­ry Holt, 2006

On the Green­stalk farm, things are con­tin­u­al­ly going wrong. Mon­day through Sat­ur­day, when things need to be done, it’s the chick­ens to the res­cue! In hilar­i­ous attire, with laugh-out-loud results, the good-inten­tioned chick­ens help ani­mals and humans alike. Except on Sun­day. Then they rest. The illus­tra­tions in this book are delight­ful.

Interrupting Chickens  

Inter­rupt­ing Chick­en
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by David Ezra Stein
Can­dlewick Press, 2010

Papa is good about read­ing bed­time sto­ries to Lit­tle Red Chick­en, but she can’t help but inter­rupt his read­ing to warn the char­ac­ters in the books about what’s to come. Which, of course, brings an abrupt end to the sto­ries. Papa asks Lit­tle Red to write her own sto­ry but Papa inter­rupts … by snor­ing. It’s a charm­ing book, sure to cause gig­gles … and it brings some clas­sic tales to life. Calde­cott Hon­or book.

First the Egg  

First the Egg
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lau­ra Vac­caro Seeger
Roar­ing Brook Press, 2007

It’s a book of trans­for­ma­tions, from cater­pil­lar to but­ter­fly, from tad­pole to frog, from egg to chick­en, and more. Illus­trat­ed with lus­cious col­or and sim­ple die-cuts, this is an engag­ing con­cept book for the preschool crowd. Calde­cott Hon­or book.

Chicken Cheeks  

Chick­en Cheeks
Michael Ian Black
illus­trat­ed by Kevin Hawkes
Simon & Schus­ter, 2009

Bear enlists all the oth­er ani­mals to make a tow­er so he can get at some elu­sive hon­ey. The hilar­i­ty comes from the view of many ani­mal bot­toms, 16 ways to refer to those bot­toms, and the unsta­ble, improb­a­ble, tee­ter­ing tow­er of gig­gle-wor­thy ani­mals.

Chicks and Salsa  

Chicks and Sal­sa
Aaron Reynolds
illus­trat­ed by Paulette Bogan
Blooms­bury, 2007

The ani­mals on Nuthatch­er Farm are bored with their food. The roost­er looks around and hatch­es a plan. They will eat chips and sal­sa made from the ingre­di­ents on the farm! The sal­sa recipe changes to accom­mo­date each animal’s pref­er­ences. It’s so excit­ing they decide to have a fies­ta! But when the day comes, the humans have abscond­ed with their ingre­di­ents to enter into the state fair. What will the ani­mals do? Thanks to the quick-think­ing roost­er and a resource­ful rat, the par­ty goes on!

Chicken in the Kitchen  

Chick­en in the Kitchen
Nne­di Oko­rafor
illus­trat­ed by Mehrdokht Ami­ni
Lan­tana Pub­lish­ing, 2015

Set in Nige­ria, a young girl awakes to a noise in the mid­dle of the night. When she inves­ti­gates, she dis­cov­ers a giant chick­en in the kitchen. Hilar­i­ty ensues. Noth­ing is quite what it seems. Will Anyau­go be able to pro­tect the tra­di­tion­al foods her aun­ties have pre­pared for the New Yam Fes­ti­val? Gor­geous illus­tra­tions and a good look at the mas­quer­ade cul­ture of West Africa. 

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?  

Why Did the Chick­en Cross the Road?
illus­trat­ed by Jon Agee, Tedd Arnold, Har­ry Bliss, David Catrow, Mar­la Frazee, Mary Grand­Pre, Lynn Mun­singer, Jer­ry Pinkney, Vladimir Kan­dun­sky, Chris Rasch­ka, Judy Schachn­er, David Shan­non, Gus She­ban, and Mo Willems
Dial Books, 2006

When 14 illus­tra­tors are asked “why did the chick­en cross the road?” their answers are fresh and fun and var­ied. They’ll delight you with their orig­i­nal takes on this old chest­nut.

Hattie and the Fox  

Hat­tie and the Fox
Mem Fox
illus­trat­ed by Patri­cia Mullins
Simon & Schus­ter, 1987

In a cumu­la­tive tale with plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ty for dif­fer­ent voic­es and great ener­gy while read­ing out loud, we learn that Hat­tie, the black hen, spies a fox in the bush­es. She tries to warn the oth­er ani­mals but they don’t believe her. A won­der­ful pas­tiche of antic­i­pa­tion, rep­e­ti­tion, and the illustrator’s vivid use of tis­sue paper col­lage and con­te cray­on make this an excel­lent choice for sto­ry­time and any­time.

Hen Hears Gossip  

Hen Hears Gos­sip
Megan McDon­ald
illus­trat­ed by Joung Un Kim
Green­wil­low, 2008

Psst. Psst. Psst.” Hen is addict­ed to gos­sip, espe­cial­ly about her­self. When she over­hears Pig whis­per­ing a secret to Cow, Hen spreads it around until it returns to her with a not-so-nice ren­di­tion. Read­ing this book pro­vides a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about the ways gos­sip hurts. 

Big Chickens  

Big Chick­ens
Leslie Helakos­ki
illus­trat­ed by Hen­ry Cole
Dut­ton, 2006

When a wolf threat­ens the chick­en coop, the chick­ens RUN! They’re ter­ri­fied and they want to get away. The fun ensues as they get into one hilar­i­ous predica­ment after anoth­er. It’s the exact kind of sil­ly kids love and Hen­ry Cole’s illus­tra­tions rein­force the goofy chick­ens’ reac­tions to the chaos they cre­ate.

Chicken Followed Me Home!  

A Chick­en Fol­lowed Me Home:
Ques­tions and Answers about a Famil­iar Fowl
Robin Page
Beach Lane Books, 2015

What would you do if a chick­en fol­lowed you home? You’d learn to tell what kind of chick­en it is, what it would like to eat, and how to keep it safe and healthy. You’d observe how many eggs a chick­en lays in a year and how a chick­en is dif­fer­ent than a roost­er. With bold illus­tra­tions, this book will appeal to both younger and old­er chil­dren.

Kids Guide to Keeping Chickens  

A Kid’s Guide to Keep­ing Chick­ens:
Best Breeds, Cre­at­ing a Home,
Care and Han­dling, Out­door Fun, Crafts and Treats
Melis­sa Caugh­ey
Storey Pub­lish­ing, 2015

Filled with won­der­ful pho­tos and prac­ti­cal advice for kids who would like to raise chick­ens … whether in the city or out in the coun­try.  The book sug­gests ways to con­sid­er chick­ens as pets, offer­ing crafts to con­nect with your barn­yard beau­ties: build them a fort, learn to speak chick­en, and cre­ate a veg­gie piña­ta for them. Egg-celent egg ecipes are avail­able, too.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer  

Unusu­al Chick­ens for the Excep­tion­al Poul­try Farmer
Kel­ly Jones
illus by Katie Kath
Knopf Books for Young Read­ers, 2015

Mov­ing from Los Ange­les to a farm her fam­i­ly inher­it­ed, Sophie Brown and her moth­er and father are reluc­tant farm­ers. Sophie feels iso­lat­ed, which she tack­les by writ­ing let­ters to her abuela and to Agnes of Red­wood Farm Sup­ply. You see, Sophie’s great-uncle kept chick­ens. One-by-one they come home to roost and Sophie dis­cov­ers they are not ordi­nary chick­ens … they have pow­ers. Are they mag­i­cal? Super­nat­ur­al? They’re cer­tain­ly unusu­al and neigh­bors will do just about any­thing to claim them. A fun­ny, mid­dle-grade nov­el, Unusu­al Chick­ens will have read­er want­i­ng to become Excep­tion­al Poul­try Farm­ers.

Prairie Evers  

Prairie Evers
Ellen Air­good
Nan­cy Paulsen Books, 2012

Prairie Evers moves from North Car­oli­na to upstate New York, where her fam­i­ly claims an inher­it­ed farm. She’s going to attend a pub­lic school for the first time. Up until now, Prairie has been home­schooled and hav­ing class­mates is a new expe­ri­ence. When Ivy Blake becomes her first-ever friend, Prairie real­izes Ivy’s home life is not a hap­py one. The Evers invite Ivy to spend time with them … and Prairie finds that a new expe­ri­ence, too. This mid­dle-grade nov­el  has great infor­ma­tion about the chick­ens Prairie is rais­ing … and a lot about friend­ship, opti­mism, and loy­al­ty.

Cheater for the Chicken Man  

Cheat­ing for the Chick­en Man
Priscil­la Cum­mings
Dut­ton, 2015

A seri­ous YA nov­el set on a chick­en farm, this is a com­pan­ion to two ear­li­er books in the Red Kayak series. Now Kate is deal­ing with her father’s death, her mother’s grief, and her broth­er J.T.’s return home from a juve­nile deten­tion camp where he served a sen­tence for sec­ond-degree mur­der. She wants to give her broth­er a chance at a fresh start but it’s a daunt­ing task.

My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me  

My Paint­ed House, My Friend­ly Chick­en, and Me
Maya Angelou
pho­tographs by Mar­garet Court­ney Clarke
Crown, 2003

Hel­lo, Stranger-Friend” begins Maya Angelou’s sto­ry about Than­di, a South African Nde­bele girl, her mis­chie­vous broth­er, her beloved chick­en, and the aston­ish­ing mur­al art pro­duced by the women of her tribe.  With nev­er-before-seen pho­tographs of the very pri­vate Nde­bele women and their paint­ings, this unique book shows the pass­ing of tra­di­tions from par­ent to child and intro­duces young read­ers to a new cul­ture through a new friend. Thanks to Nan­cy Bo Flood for sug­gest­ing this title.

 

Our com­menters have added:

  • The Plot Chick­ens by Mary Jane and Herb Auch
  • Wings: a Tale of Two Chick­ens by James Mar­shall
  • Chick­en Squad: the First Mis­ad­ven­ture by Doreen Cronin, illus by Kevin Cor­nell
  • Hen­ny by Eliz­a­beth Rose Stan­ton

chicken books

How about you? What’s your favorite chick­en book?

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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 […]

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