Finally, it's National Drink Beer Day. So drink some beer, but put it in your cake (or cookies or bread), too, because baking with beer can yield delicious results.
I wrote what I think is a tremendous post on the basics of baking with beer: what types of recipes you can use, some different methods, and general tips. Hopefully it will inspire you to try your hand at baking with beer!
A guest post by Melissa Joulwan Five years ago, my husband Dave and I decided to self publish our first cookbook, Well Fed. We had only the vaguest idea of what we were getting ourselves into. I’d written a previous book for a major publisher and didn’t enjoy the experience, so we knew what we didn’t want. […]
The post 5 Things I Learned From Selling Almost 300,000 Cookbooks appeared first on Dianne Jacob, Will Write For Food.
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Of course, some of the titles are ones I have already read, but I attempt to read as many on the Top Ten List each year as possible. Why, you might ask? In part, I am sure it is because I am perverse when it comes to someone trying to keep me from something. Tell me NOT to do something, and I am just as likely TO DO it. But the more important part of this reading is that a good defense is a strong offense.
Often when I am reading a book, problematic content gets past me. Much of the time it should get past EVERYONE. However, those who challenge books are on the lookout for the red flags: cursing, sexual content are among the top flags. Here is a chart showing the major reasons for challenging a book:
About the only time I will note problematic content is when it seems inauthentic. The characters do or say something that does not seem to fit their characters. I know this seems rather vague, and it is. Sometimes it is tough to pin down when something does not work within the story, when something pulls you out of the story.
So, on this Tuesday of Banned Books Week, let me note some of the most frequently challenged books of 2015 I have read. If you have not, buy a copy (because putting our money where our beliefs are is powerful). Better yet, buy several and share them with others.
All 3 of these appear on the Top Ten list for 2015.
This is not an emergency, I say
when Mom picks up. She answers, Hold on, we’re getting a page.
Two electronic tones, the call numbers
that follow. As a teenager, I listened
to the police scanner in our kitchen,
taught myself the radio codes
that told me where she was, what she
was putting right. Today I wait
without hearing anything I understand.
She’s used to waiting—for calls
to come in, units to go out, her shift
to end. She says she doesn’t miss
the ambulance, hefting cots and equipment,
the urgent drives. As a dispatcher,
she gets to stay inside, wear
her own clothes, go home unbloodied.
On the night shift, she reads cookbooks
and crime novels next to her keyboard,
wanting and not wanting something
to happen. Mornings at my desk,
I imagine her voice sending sirens
exactly where they’re needed.
I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned-away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted dull haired
past Jim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and he ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him,
some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.
Each of Julie Schronk’s whimsical folk art paintings feels like a big-hearted welcome, a friendly invitation to step right into the scene to join all the fun.
Fancy an old fashioned church picnic, quilt show or yard sale? Maybe you’d prefer a lazy afternoon at your favorite fishing hole, a stroll down main street, or a quick bite at the local diner. Julie’s cheery, engaging slices of old-timey Americana, rendered in vibrant colors and bustling with activity, brim with just the kind of quirky details that beg a closer look.
Originally from Dallas, Julie now lives in Hillsboro, Texas, where she paints traditional, Black, Bayou and bohemian folk art. She calls herself a memory and storyteller painter who kindles memories of bygone days and inspires people to imagine their own stories in her pictures.
Julie’s now in her 16th year of creating and selling her acrylic originals, which have been shipped to almost every state in the union and to countries such as France, Singapore, Canada and New Zealand.
I love the warmth and convivial vitality in Julie’s pieces, which are like mini cultural history lessons with their depictions of cotton gins, juke joints, country stores, Amish barns, farmyards, and city skylines.
I’m so happy to welcome Julie to Alphabet Soup today to tell us more about her joyous paintings and a bit about her children’s books. I know you’ll enjoy stepping back in time and hearing how this talented artist works.
* * *
MEET JULIE SCHRONK
Name of shop or business: Just Folks (Because my paintings are about just folks, farming, going to church, frequenting old country stores, etc. It seemed to fit nicely).
Year established: 2000
Items you make: One of a kind original folk art paintings
Studio Location: Hillsboro, Texas
Three words that best describe your art: Nostalgia, Memories, History
Self taught or formal training? Completely self taught
Tools of the Trade: Acrylic paints, brushes, canvases. The most essential tool I use each day I paint is a Cotman 222 liner brush. I use it for all my tiny details. The brushes last a long, long time.
Inspirations and influences: the Great Mattie Lou O’Kelley, who was a self taught folk artist, Grandma Moses, Clementine Hunter (Black folk artist)
Three significant milestones in your career: College degree, deciding to teach myself how to paint folk art, and having my paintings auctioned in the prestigious Slotin Folk Art Auction (by invitation only)
Food that inspires your best work: Fruit, old recipes like Grandma made . . . banana pudding, pies, cobblers
What is your earliest memory of being creative? What is the first thing you ever made as an “artist”?
Junior High School when the school was putting on a Christmas Pageant and they needed a huge painting of Santa and his sleigh, and the teacher asked me to create it (I was so honored that they believed I was that talented).
Third grade we made papier-mâché planets as a school project; it was so fun.
How and when did you develop a passion for American folk art/primitive painting?
In 2000 when I began selling cat paintings on Ebay, then realizing my real passion was for folk art, then I stumbled across the great folk art of Theresa Prokop on Ebay, began studying her work and the work of others. I love primitive painting because it tells a rich cultural story with lots of memories.
Most of your paintings are populated with lots of happy, busy people working, eating, and playing together in rural settings. Do you come from a big family?
No, I grew up an only child in Dallas, Texas, but had many relatives who would sit around and tell tall stories about farm life and politics and my mother told me stories about playing with Black children on the farm when she grew up there in Holland, Texas.
What kinds of life experiences have informed your creative vision?
Loving nostalgia, old signs, taking photos of old barns, and traveling.
Are there any particular references you’ve found to be especially helpful for creating your scenes of nostalgic Americana, or do most of the details (buildings, clothing, interior objects, signage, etc.) come from your imagination?
I sometimes take photos of old barns, towns, buildings, houses, but most of my paintings come from “Memories” and my rich imagination as a writer. I sometimes look at a blank canvas and see a painting just begging to be painted.
Sometimes movies inspire me of old towns, places, like “Bonnie and Clyde,” which was filmed here very near where we live (the old Dallas Highway), is still here in Hillsboro.
How long does it typically take you to complete a painting? What is your favorite part of the process?
A 12×16 in an afternoon session
A 16×20 2 afternoon sessions
Putting in all the tiny little details of the buildings, the people, etc.
Which type of paintings are the most popular with your buyers? Any plans to sell prints in addition to originals?
Quilt paintings, snow paintings, and Black folk art, which they love.
We have looked into it, but it is too expensive, but I would love to offer prints someday.
Since your folk art paintings tell wonderful stories, it’s no surprise to hear you’re also a writer who’s published several e-books. Could you please tell us more about them?
I tried to become a children’s book writer for years, wrote many children’s books and had lots of agents and editors, including Arthur Levine, who published Harry Potter.
I turned my best children’s books into Kindle books some years back; they are very funny and I did a whole series of humorous books based on classic horror stories, the titles of which are The Werewoof (based on The Werewolf), Catula (based on Dracula), The Bantam of the Opera (based on The Phantom of the Opera), and Dr. Frankenswine (based on Frankenstein).
Who are some of your literary heroes? What are some of your favorite children’s books?
Roald Dahl, whom I learned much from, Neil Gaiman, who wrote The Graveyard Book, Anne Rice (have read all her books and all the books about her, once visited her famous St. Elizabeth’s Church in New Orleans where her personal library is).
My favorite children’s books: BFG, Matilda, The Twits, Esio Trot, Lemony Snicket series
Describe your studio or workspace. How have you fashioned your work environment to enhance creativity and maximize productivity?
It’s just a large desk in the corner of my bedroom, surrounded by my favorite paintings of Frida Kahlo, the Virgin of Guadalupe, images I am crazy about.
If I listen to music as I paint I like to hear Don Mclean – “American Pie” and “Vincent,” and Joni Mitchell’s Blue album to inspire me, also Simon & Garfunkel, especially “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Billy Joel and Elton John.
What’s the most interesting piece of commissioned work you’ve done so far?
I did a church picnic scene for a lady who grew up in Kentucky; it was an old wooden church and she wanted herself pictured in the painting along with the Preacher saying the blessing at the table (16×20). I also did a painting for the famous folk art gallery Around Back at Rocky’s for their big anniversary celebration – they took the painting and had t-shirts and postcards made from the painting (I was so honored).
Do you have a dream job?
Becoming a successful full-time writer, which was my dream for years and years.
Any new projects you’re especially excited about?
A new 16×20 painting I am finishing depicting the sinking of the Titanic, very whimsical.
How can we purchase your work?
It’s posted each week to Ebay at auction, I list all new paintings to Facebook each week, I have a shop on Etsy (the Gypsy Peddler) with my paintings on it, though I haven’t done much with the shop. Ebay mostly is how you can purchase my paintings. I also have a website for my art: http://www.juliesfolkart.com.
Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America by Constance Lombardo
And Mr. Puffball himself stopped by to tell us that author/illustrator Constance Lombardo is here to tell us a bit about herself and her latest book.
From the publisher:
In Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America (Harper/Collins), Mr. Puffball, El Gato and the gang take to the road in search of some
fantastic footage for their buddy film. Hop aboard this fast-paced travel adventure – It’s van-tastic!
What is it with you and cats?
Funny you should ask, Barbara. When I started writing, my books were about turtles and snails, two animals I can totally relate to. But my cat Myrtle kept giving me that penetrating ‘Why don’t you write about cats?’ look. So I did. Also, cats are furry, whiskered, and they have pointy ears!
Interesting! Next question: you have a knack for getting inside a cat’s head. Have you ever been a cat psychic?
Not exactly. I get my insights into the feline mind by watching, listening and belly-rubbing. My cats are Myrtle the Elder and Gandalf the Grey, the mischievous kitten. G.G. was the inspiration for Pickles, the adorable, but irritating kitten, who is in my new book, Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America.
When did you start drawing?
My first drawing of Three Men in a Tub, done when I was only four years old, is the stuff of legends. Unfortunately, it has gone missing. (Have you seen it?) When I was about ten, my sister Rita did a drawing. Not to be outdone, I did my own drawing, and I haven’t stopped since. I used to draw people. Now cats. What’s next? Maybe I’ll draw one of those scary jumpy bugs my cats keep killing and leaving lying about. But probably not.
Tell me more about your latest book, please.
Sure thing! My illustrated middle grade novel, Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America, is the second in the Puffball series. Mr. Puffball and his BFF El Gato film a buddy movie demo reel at American landmarks such as the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, the Coney Island Cyclone, and Paul Bunyan’s Onion Ring Ranch. Rosie is the director, and the rest of the gang is along for the ride. It’s a wild road trip adventure with lots of chase scenes, rodeo numbers, diner mishaps, and litter box stops.
In writing and illustrating this book, what was the most challenging part?
I love to draw cats, people, donuts, and other round-ish things. Drawing cars, vans and road signs requires straight-ish lines. I did my best, and I’m very proud of my drawing of the funky road trip vehicle – a VW microbus. It has wheels and everything!
Is it true there’s a character in Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across Americanamed Benedict Cumbercat?
Yes! I’m a huge Benedict Cumberbatch fan, and I love all things British. In my book, Benedict Cumbercat does some not very nice things, but in the end we understand his motivation. There’s even a visit from the Queen of England! I drew this character as a corgi, since evidently Queen Elizabeth II loves corgis.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to know about Mr. Puffball?
I’d like them to know that Mr. Puffball is a good-hearted, loyal, and fun cat with a big dream-to be a movie star! I think we should all dream big! My dream is to write and illustrate books that kids of all ages will love and that make them laugh. I think my dreams are coming true!!
What’s the best part of being a published author?
The absolutely best part is getting fan mail!! (after my first book,Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars) It’s such a thrill to hear from kids who love Mr. Puffball! Some say they don’t usually like reading, so if I can get a kid into reading through my books – wow!! Some include drawings, which is wonderful. Either way, I just love hearing from my readers.
The second best part is going into my local bookstore or library and finding my book on the shelves. What an amazing feeling!
I’m working on Mr. Puffball book three!! More adventures are on the way…
Thanks for stopping by, Constance.
To celebrate this new addition to the Mr. Puffball series, Constance is giving away a signed copy!
Just leave your email address in the comments by 9 p.m. Sept 27.
Constance Lombardo enjoys drawing and writing about cats who
are famous and infamous. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, daughter, Myrtle the Good Cat and Gandalf the Grey the Mischievous Kitten.
Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America (HarperCollins) is on shelves today. Visit your local independent bookstore to get your copy.
This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6. This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016 and continue through the 2016-2017 school year.
I received a review copy of A Bike Like Sergio's from Candlewick. I immediately fell in love with the book and was anxious to share it with my students. The picture book is perfect for inviting talk around important issues and decisions. The book trailer is a good sneak peek into what kids might talk about.
When I shared the book with our literacy coach, Lynsey Burkins she reminded me that this author, Maribeth Boeltz also write Those Shoes , a favorite of mine from last school year. I looked up the author and then remembered that she also wrote Happy Like Soccer I had never thought about the 3 books together but I pulled them out as Lynsey suggested and planned the week's worth of mini lessons around these three book.
My big goals for the week were to deepen our conversations around books and to begin to understand the ways books can change our hearts a bit. I also wanted my students to look across an author's work to deepen their understanding around individual books and issues across books. I knew we'd do rereading of one or two of the titles and I wanted to introduce the idea that rereading helps us deepen understanding. I knew those were my big goals and I also knew that I would have to listen to student thinking to move the conversation forward from where they were in their thinking.
On Monday I read aloud A Bike for Sergio. The big question throughout the book was whether or not Ruben would get the bike or not. At the end of the book (SPOILER ALERT) when Ruben does not get the bike, my students were livid--I heard comments like "There must be a sequel!" and "That's the worst ending ever." and "He'll get the bike in the next book." I left the conversation there and told kids that this was a book I'd been thinking about since I 'd read it last week and maybe they'd find themselves thinking about the book and the characters later too.
The next day, I told my kids that I had been thinking about the book again and that there were some questions I had as a reader that I just didn't have answered yet. My biggest question was, "Was this a book with a happy ending?" I put that on a chart and asked them if there were things they were wondering now that we had had time to think about the book. Our chart looked like this.
Was it a happy ending?
Did Ruben do the right thing?
Was Sergio happy or sad that Ruben didn't get the bike?
Is Ruben's family poor?
Will he ever get the bike?
Will the lady in the blue coat ever give him something as a thank you?
Each of these questions gave us a great deal to talk about and because there was no "right answer, we could agree, disagree, and change our thinking as the conversation moved on.
We moved onto the next two books by Maribeth Boelts. We read Happy Like Soccer next and the children felt better about the ending. One child said, "When we read A Bike Like Sergio's, I didn't feel right at the end. When you read a book, you start to really like the character and I didn't feel good about how that one ended but I this ending seemed like a happy ending."
We read Those Shoes on Wednesday. Our conversations before reading the book focused on what we might expect now that we knew Maribeth Boelts better as a writer. The kids predicted that family would be important in this book. They predicted that by looking at the cover, the child wanted something everyone else had like Sergio. They thought maybe the character would have to decide something important.
After reading all 3 books, my students shared the following insights about Maribeth Boelts:
She has a way of writing about characters who figure out how to solve their own problems.
She writes about kids who want things that other people have.
Her books are realistic.
Family is important in her books.
And they still can't decide whether the families were poor or not. This was a topic of conversation each day and they never came to an answer they were sure of--or what they actually meant by "poor".
We reread A Bike for Sergio on Friday. By Friday, the class had pretty much come to a consensus that the book did have a happy ending. They still hope that Ruben gets the bike someday but they have a better understanding of the decision he was faced with. In this last read, kids stopped me on almost every page, asking me to reread a line that gave them a clue into something they were thinking about--lines they didn't quite get during the first read.
Reading these 3 books together was a great idea (Thanks Lynsey!). We didn't do much writing or recording during these lessons as I really only wanted to deepen the ways in which we talked about books. Reflecting on the week, I think we certainly deepened our conversations and the ways we talk about books. We also changed our expectations of books and how they impact us. We learned to use what we know about an author to understand important ideas in new ways. And we know that there are some books and some things that we'll think about long after we are finished reading. This week, we came to love Ruben and Sierra and Jeremy, characters who I think will come into our conversations throughout the year.
(You can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLficuciaryTRead or you can join us for a book chat on Facebook that began this week by joining our group here.)
Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released last week!
Historical fiction is boring. Right? That’s the common wisdom on the matter, certainly. Take two characters (interesting), give them a problem (interesting), and set them in the past (BOOOOOORING!). And to be fair, there are a LOT of dull-as-dishwater works of historical fiction out there. Books where a kid has to wade through knee-deep descriptions, dates, facts, and superfluous details. But there is pushback against this kind of thinking. Laurie Halse Anderson, for example, likes to call her books (Chains, Forge, Ashes, etc.) “historical thrillers”. People are setting their books in unique historical time periods. And finally (and perhaps most importantly) we’re seeing a lot more works of historical fiction that are truly fun to read. Books like The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, or One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, or My Near-Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp, or ALL of Louise Erdrich’s titles for kids. Better add Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet to that list as well. Doing what I can only characterize as the impossible, Nesbet somehow manages to bring East Germany in 1989 to full-blown, fascinating life. Maybe you wouldn’t want to live there, but it’s certainly worth a trip.
His name is Noah. Was Noah. It’s like this, one minute you’re just living your life, normal as you please, and the next your parents have informed you that your name is a lie, your birth date is wrong, and you’re moving to East Berlin. The year is 1989 and as Noah (now Jonah)’s father would say, there’s a definite smell of history in the air. His mother has moved the family to this new city as part of her research into education and stuttering (an impediment that Noah shares) for six months. But finding himself unable to attend school in a world so unlike the one he just left, the boy is lonely. That’s why he’s so grateful when the girl below his apartment, Claudia, befriends him. But there are secrets surrounding these new friends. How did Claudia’s parents recently die? Why are Noah’s parents being so mysterious? And what is going on in Germany? With an Iron Curtain shuddering on its foundations, Noah’s not just going to smell that history in the air. He’s going to live it, and he’s going to get a friend out of the bargain as well.
It was a bit of a risk on Nesbet’s part to begin the book by introducing us to Noah’s parents right off the bat as weirdly suspicious people. It may take Noah half a book to create a mental file on his mom, but those of us not related to the woman are starting our own much sooner. Say, from the minute we meet her. It was very interesting to watch his parents upend their son’s world and then win back his trust by dint of their location as well as their charm and evident love. It almost reads like a dare from one author to another. “I bet you can’t make a reader deeply distrust a character’s parents right from the start, then make you trust them again, then leave them sort of lost in a moral sea of gray, but still likable!” Challenge accepted!
Spoiler Alert on This Paragraph (feel free to skip it if you like surprises): Noah’s mom is probably the most interesting parent you’ll encounter in a children’s book in a long time. By the time the book is over you know several things. 1. She definitely loves Noah. 2. She’s also using his disability to further her undercover activities, just as he fears. 3. She incredibly frightening. The kind of person you wouldn’t want to cross. She and her husband are utterly charming but you get the distinct feeling that Noah’s preternatural ability to put the puzzle pieces of his life together is as much nature as it is nurture. Coming to the end of the book you see that Noah has sent Claudia postcards over the years from places all over the world. Never Virginia. One could read that a lot of different ways but I read it as his mother dragging him along with her from country to country. There may never be a “home” for Noah now. But she loves him, right? I foresee a lot of really interesting bookclub discussions about the ending of this book, to say nothing about how we should view his parents.
As I mentioned before, historical fiction that’s actually interesting can be difficult to create. And since 1989 is clear-cut historical fiction (this is the second time a character from the past shared my birth year in a children’s book . . . *shudder*) Nesbet utilizes several expository techniques to keep young readers (and, let’s face it, a lot of adult readers) updated on what precisely is going on. From page ten onward a series of “Secret Files” boxes will pop up within the text to give readers the low-down. These are written in a catchy, engaging style directly to the reader, suggesting that they are from the point of view of an omniscient narrator who knows the past, the future, and the innermost thoughts of the characters. So in addition to the story, which wraps you in lies and half-truths right from the start to get you interested, you have these little boxes of explanation, giving you information the characters often do not have. Some of these Secret Files are more interesting than others, but as with the Moby Dick portions in Louis Sachar’s The Cardturner, readers can choose to skip them if they so desire. They should be wary, though. A lot of pertinent information is sequestered in these little boxes. I wouldn’t cut out one of them for all the wide wide world.
Another way Nesbet keeps everything interesting is with her attention to detail. The author that knows the minutia of their fictional world is an author who can convince readers that it exists. Nesbet does this by including lots of tiny details few Americans have ever known. The pirated version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that was disseminated for years throughout the German Democratic Republic? I had no idea. The listing of television programs available there? Very funny (did I mention the book is funny too?). Even the food you could get in the grocery store and the smell of the coal-choked air feels authentic.
Of course, you can load your book down with cute boxes and details all day and still lose a reader if they don’t relate to the characters. Noah could easily be reduced to one of those blank slate narrators who go through a book without a clear cut personality. I’m happy to report that this isn’t the case here. And I appreciated the Claudia was never a straight victim or one of those characters that appears impervious to the pain in her life. Similarly, Noah is a stutterer but the book never throws the two-dimensional bully in his path. His challenges are all very strange and unique to his location. I was also impressed by how Nesbet dealt with Claudia’s German (she makes up words or comes up with some Noah has never heard of and so Nesbet has the unenviable job of making that clear on the page). By the same token, Noah has a severe stutter, but having read the whole book I’m pretty sure Nesbet only spells the stutter out on the page once. For every other time we’re told about it after the fact or as it is happening.
I’ve said all this without, somehow, mentioning how lovely Nesbet’s writing is. The degree to which she’s willing to go deep into her material, plucking out the elements that will resonate the most with her young readers, is masterful. Consider a section that explains what it feels like to play the role of yourself in your own life. “This is true even for people who aren’t crossing borders or dealing with police. Many people in middle school, for instance, are pretending to be who they actually are. A lot of bad acting is involved.” Descriptions are delicious as well. When Claudia comes over for dinner after hearing about the death of her parents Nesbet writes, “Underneath the bristles, Noah could tell, lurked a squishy heap of misery.”
There’s little room for nuance in Nesbet’s Berlin, that’s for sure. The East Berliners we meet are either frightened, in charge, or actively rebelling. In her Author’s Note, Nesbet writes about her time in the German Democratic Republic in early 1989, noting where a lot of the details of the book came from. She also mentions the wonderful friends she had there at that time. Noah, by the very plot in which he finds himself, would not be able to meet these wonderful people. As such, he has a black-and-white view of life in East Berlin. And it’s interesting to note that when his classmates talk up the wonders of their society, he never wonders if anything they tell him is true. Is everyone employed? At what price? There is good and bad and if there is nuance it is mostly found in the characters like Noah’s mother. Nesbet herself leaves readers with some very wise words in her Author’s Note when she says to child readers, “Truth and fiction are tangled together in everything human beings do and in every story they tell. Whenever a book claims to be telling the truth, it is wise (as Noah’s mother says at one point) to keep asking questions.” I would have liked a little more gray in the story, but I can hardly think of a better lesson to impart to children in our current day and age.
In many way, the book this reminded me of the most was Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. Think about it. A boy desperate for a friend meets an out-of-the-box kind of girl. They invent a fantasyland together that’s across a distinct border (in this book Claudia imagines it’s just beyond the Wall). Paterson’s book was a meditation on friendship, just like Nesbet’s. Yet there is so much more going on here. There are serious thoughts about surveillance (something kids have to think about a lot more today), fear, revolution, loyalty, and more than all this, what you have to do to keep yourself sane in a world where things are going mad. Alice Through the Looking Glass is referenced repeatedly, and not by accident. Noah has found himself in a world where the rules he grew up with have changed. As a result he must cling to what he knows to be true. Fortunately, he has a smart author to help him along the way. Anne Nesbet always calls Noah by his own name, even when her characters don’t. He is always Noah to us and to himself. That he finds himself in one of the most interesting and readable historical novels written for kids is no small thing. Nesbet outdoes herself. Kids are the beneficiaries.
How fantastic is it that the theme for this year's Banned Books Week (Sept. 25 - Oct. 1) is Frequently Challenged Books with Diverse Content? We are all about books with diverse content here (well, not ALL, but it's one of the themes we feature frequently), and books with difficult, important themes are often found among the banned and/or challenged book lists.
This year's list of Frequently Challenged Books with Diverse Content and more info can be found at this link, but I've also reprinted it below. How many have you read? I've only read 13! And parts of a couple others (y'know, lit class excerpts and such). It is an interesting list. Take a look, and let loose in the comments.
A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines
A Hero Ain't Nothin But a Sandwich by Alice Childress
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
Always Running by Luis J Rodriguez
Am I Blue?: Coming Out from the Silence by Marion Dane Baue
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Girl
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X; Alex Haley
Baby Be-Bop by Francesca Lia Block
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Black Boy by Richard Wright
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A Anaya
Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa
Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
Geography Club by Brent Hartinger
George by Alex Gino
Habibi by Craig Thompson
Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman
Hoops by Walter Dean Myers
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
King & King by Linda de Haan
Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino
My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
Nappy Hair by Carolivia Herron
Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter
Palestine: A Nation Occupied by Joe Sacco
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor
Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox
This Book is Gay by James Dawson
This Day in June by Gayle Pitman
Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
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So, I’m staying at Amanda Palmer’s house, and it’s big, and we’re both on slightly different schedules, so I’m here alone a lot, in the SpookyHouse doing Top Sekrit Things (that are not Top Sekrit if you are part of her patreon) and this afternoon I go back to the house and I notice there’s a towel laying on the floor in my bathroom where I didn’t leave one. And I realize that it’s a folded towel that was on a shelf when I left. It’s just jumped two feet to the floor. And I’m really puzzled. And then I notice that there are two rolls of toilet paper laying on their sides that were previously stacked up. And then I notice a washcloth also on the floor.
Was there an earthquake??? I think.
Then this is starting to freak me out. I start to notice stuff all over the place that’s been moved slightly or has fallen over. There’s a trail of magazines spilled out of piles and sofa cushions that weren’t where they were….
Is Amanda doing this? Why would Amanda do this? She wouldn’t do this. She’d leave half a banana on the kitchen counter, or a teabag in the sink, but she wouldn’t pull out three National Geographic’s and shove them into a boot.
It’s a goddamn ghost! I think. I’m staying in a freaking haunted house! Something has come up from the spooky basement and moved things around. Not a lot, but everything’s just a bit off from where it was.
So then I'm all like What do you fight a ghost with? You can swing a baseball bat a ghost all you want and it's just going to shoot ectoplasm at you or crawl out of your TV and scare you to death or whatever. Like you need to call an exorcist or something, or solve the riddle of it's untimely death or whatever.
And I’m seriously worried for like five minutes, wandering around the house looking at all the stuff that moved until I realize that there’s a baby living in the house and that they crawl around and knock stuff over and shove fistfulls of oatmeal into your socks. This is, in fact, their job.
On Saturday, I was at the Baltimore Book Festival, where I was invited to read inside the Story Share - a new tent that is a cozy reading spot. It is also a cool art installation, designed by my super-talented cousin Stewart Watson, who is written up in Baltimore Magazine this month along with Area 405 (the art space she manages).
The name of the installation is Goodnight Moonlight Nightlight, and the tent featured a HUGE nightlight that changed colors and involved a moon cover that Stewart made . . . somehow. I neglected to ask. The tent was lined with colors and patterns inside, and contained beanbag chairs and poufs and pillows, plus bins of books for the reading.
Heres are some photos:
Here's me, before getting to the reading.
Stewart Watson and me inside the Story Share
My sweetheart, Morris, next to the giant nightlight
It was a great day - I got to read my picture book, At the Boardwalk, a number of times for people who stopped in, and also read poems from other anthologies and from my chapbook, along with fielding questions about writing for children and visiting with an aspiring picture book author who was really fun to talk with.
Glad I rested all last week in advance of it, and not sorry that I'm still wiped out because of it!
1. A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines 2. A Hero Ain't Nothin But a Sandwich by Alice Childress 3. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines 4. Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie 5. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds 6. Always Running by Luis J Rodriguez 7. Am I Blue?: Coming Out from the Silence by Marion Dane Baue 8. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell 9. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Girl 10. Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden 11. Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X; Alex Haley 12. Baby Be-Bop by Francesca Lia Block 13. Beloved by Toni Morrison 14. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin 15. Black Boy by Richard Wright 16. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A Anaya 17. Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa 18. Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite 19. Drama by Raina Telgemeier 20. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Last April at TLA, it was my good fortune to meet and serve on a poetry panel that included Kwame Alexander. Here's the group shot:
I've since seen Kwame (somewhere -- where was it?) wearing a t-shirt that said "I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie," which I thought was super fun but didn't know it had significance related to his new book BOOKED. Well, the t-shirt-- along with other equally clever book-love t-shirts -- appears in the book thanks to one dynamic librarian Mr. Mac who pretty much changes main character Nick's life. (I have met a real-life Mr. Mac in Florence, Alabama!)
Confession: I was about 3/4 of the way through the book before I realized the different meanings of the book's title. Sometimes I'm slow like that! But then Nick took a while to turn into a bonafide book-nerd, so I guess it's never too late, right?
Anyhow, I'd like to share with you a poem from the book. It's a response to an amazing poem by Langston Hughes called "Harlem" that begins with this line: "What happens to a dream deferred?"
Fun fact: "Harlem" also inspired one of my forthcoming picture books: POP BAM BOOM - Exploding Poems. So I especially loved seeing this poem. Enjoy! And if you want to read a story about a boy who learns to love books (among other things), read BOOKED!
What happens to a dream destroyed? Does it sink like a wrecked ship in the sea?
As the days grow shorter in the Northern Hemisphere and the temperatures cool, it will soon be time for more indoor activities, including adult coloring (while listening to an audiobook, of course!) And if you live south of the Equator, no fear . . . you can color out on your deck or porch or while sitting by the pool.
Here are four coloring book to get you started. (Click on the images to see them more clearly.)
Johanna Basford is known for her intricate, fanciful drawings, each of which is includes a treasure. In Magical Jungle, you'll find monkeys, butterflies, frogs, and more hidden in the leafy pages. Basford has been dubbed "the queen of coloring," and this book strengthens her reign. I particularly like the tiger face, which is one of the simpler coloring pages. (From Penguin Books, August 2016)
Wendy Piersall has taken the idea of an adult coloring book to a new level with her Coloring Flower Mandala Postcards. The pullout pages are printed on sturdy card stock, which can be sent through the mail. One side has a lovely mandala for you to color in and other side has a space for the name and address, the stamp, and even a spot for some extra decoration. I know quite a few of you are in postcard or snail mail groups, and I think these pretty cards are a nice change from store bought. Don't do a lot of snail mail? Use these mandalas as gift cards, as thank-yous, as pretty little extras in lunch boxes, or to decorate your office instead of popping them in the mail. (From Ulysses Press, May 2016)
Sometimes all those tiny spaces and intricate drawings can be intimidating, especially for people new to adult coloring. Creative Escape's Country Life coloring book takes a simpler approach. Each perforated page contains a rural scene depicting animals, vistas, forests, and farm life. Besides the black and white coloring pages, the book also shows examples of finished drawings. I really love this ocean scene (sorry for poor photo). (From Racehorse Publishing, September 2016)
Adult coloring reaches a new dimension with Daria Song's stories through art books. In The Night Voyage, a little girl falls asleep on the night before her birthday and dreams of adventures and presents and fanciful creatures. As with Song's other coloring books, the drawings are beautiful and spark one's imagination. Dare to dream! (From Crown Publishing, August 2016)
I cannot lie: I do. And I'll bet that if you're human, you too have trouble resisting the sweet siren call of a big, beautiful bundt cake.
And who would want to resist a cake like this? The chocolate cake that acts as the base is made with olive oil, which gives it a rich flavor yet light texture. A layer of luxuriant chocolate buttercream comes next, made with bittersweet chocolate for a full, not too-sweet flavor. It’s finished off with a unique olive oil-chocolate ganache; the nutty-sweet-rich combination of flavors in this icing contribute to the robust chocolate flavor, yet also adds a level of sophistication and complexity to the dessert.
Optional garnish: sprinkles or candy-coated chocolates
Line the inside of the same bundt pan you used to bake the cake with plastic wrap, taking care to cover every portion of the inside of the pan with a slight bit of overhang.
Spoon the buttercream into the lined bundt pan, taking care not to upset the plastic wrap. Spread the buttercream so that it is as smooth and even as possible. Place the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes, or until the buttercream is very firm.
Meanwhile, using a serrated knife, gently slice off the top third of the bundt cake. You will not need this portion of the cake, so you can put to the side (see ideas for using this cake in the recipe notes).
Once the buttercream has become quite firm, gently invert the buttercream on top of the cake (let the plastic stay on top for the moment). Gently press the buttercream into the cake to seal them together. Gently Peel off the plastic. The buttercream should rest fairly flush on top of the cake. Place the entire cake back in the freezer for about 20 minutes, so that it will be completely firm when you ice it.
Ice the cake with your prepared ganache topping, spreading smoothly and confidently as the ganache will begin to firm quickly as it makes contact with the cold buttercream. Place special emphasis on covering up the “seam” between the buttercream and cake on the sides, so that the cake.
Garnish as desired. Keep this cake chilled, but serve at cool room temperature.
Chocolate olive oil bundt cake
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus cooling time
2 cups granulated sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting the cake pan
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces plain yogurt (or sour cream)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease and dust with cocoa powder a 10-inch bundt pan, and place it on top of a baking sheet.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Add the eggs, yogurt, milk, olive oil, and vanilla extract. Using the paddle attachment, beat the mixture on low for a few moments to moisten the ingredients, then increase the speed to medium-high. Beat for 2 minutes, pausing to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and lump-free. It will be a fairly liquid batter.
Pour the batter in your prepared cake pan, and place the bundt pan (still on the baking sheet) in the oven.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Chocolate buttercream filling
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 bar (3.5 ounces) good quality bittersweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and chocolate until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes on medium speed.
Stir in the salt, and add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing each addition on low so as to avoid a sugar snowstorm in your kitchen, then increasing the speed to high as the sugar is moistened. This will be a rather stiff buttercream.
In the top of a double boiler set atop simmering water, or in the microwave, melt the chocolate. Once melted, remove from heat and whisk in the olive oil until the mixture is smooth and cohesive.
Let the mixture sit at room temperature, whisking or stirring every 20 minutes or so, until it has set enough to ice your cake. This can take between 1 and 2 hours, depending on how warm your kitchen is. If the mixture becomes too firm, beat it with a hand or stand mixer to smooth it out again.
Both the cake and the buttercream filling can be made ahead. The cake can be baked the day before, or it can be made up to two weeks in advance and frozen; if freezing, let the cake come to room temperature before assembling the cake. The buttercream can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Let come to cool room temperature, and vigorously mix, before preparing the recipe.
In Step 3 of the cake assembly, you’ll notice that a portion of the cake is cut off. This portion of the cake is not used in the recipe, but it doesn’t mean you have to throw it out. This cake can be cut into small pieces and used as an ice cream topping, transformed into cake pops, or cut into slivers and dipped in chocolate olive oil for a sophisticated snack.
Which One Doesn't Belong? is a brilliant new math book from Stenhouse. A MUST-HAVE if you teach math at any age I think. The book is a picture book to use with kids along with a Teacher's Guide that is really a professional book by Christopher Danielson (whose website is also brilliantly amazing and one you'll want to visit often if you are a math teacher.)
Which One Doesn't Belong? is a book of conversation starters around geometry. Each page of the picture book gives readers 4 shapes and asks the questions, "Which One Doesn't Belong?" I know this opener and love it and have used lots of the resources on the website Which One Doesn't Belong? and other resources and I've always found the routine to be a good one for math learning and supporting conversations around math.
But there was so much I didn't know! This teacher guide--which is not so long but long enough to have depth and lots of new learning--helped me to understand how much more powerful this routine could be if I were more intentional as a teacher. The focus on geometry is interesting to me because it is an area of math teaching that I need to learn more about. The book has an entire chapter called "How Children Become Geometers". This chapter helped me see the big jump kids do from elementary school to high school geometry and how much better we can do to help them build understanding by understanding the levels of understanding kids have and build around geometry.
The book is not a teacher's manual. Instead it is a way for teachers to use this routine in ways that empower students. Christopher Danielson shares language he uses when he introduces Which One Doesn't Belong. He shares examples from classrooms and he helps us better understand how children make sense of geometry through inquiry. He also puts the teacher in the decision-making chair as he invites us to make our own decisions about which pages to introduce to children when. He also has tips for creating your own WODB set.
I love the answer key in this book. The thing about this WODB sets is that they are designed so every answer could be the correct answer. So the answer key shares insights kids may notice about each shape and how they might respond. It is a great resource and a great place to understand how to create your own sets (and help kids create their own.)
I love so much about this set of books. We had a conversation around the first page of the picture book last week and it was incredible. I introduced it as Danielson suggests in the book and we could have gone on for a very long time with ideas and thinking around these 4 shapes. I am excited to see where the conversation goes over the next several months. This was a great way for me to take a routine I know and really deepen my understanding of it which will help my students. Not only that but it helped me understand geometry in general and I now see the connection between this and several of Danielson's blog posts. I can't recommend this book enough. If you are interested in inquiry based thinking and routines that empower kids AND if you want to learn more about quality talk in the math classroom, you need this book immediately!