Monday, March 25, 2013

The Center of Everything

We like to think of Bear Pond Books as the center of everything, Linda Urban has a new book called The Center of Everything, and we're bringing the two together April 6th at 11:00 am in the Children's Room upstairs at Bear Pond.

The Center of Everything follows A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Hound Dog True, and the picture book Mouse Was Mad.

Linda's new book features 12 year old Ruby Pepperdine at the great Bunning Day Parade, where she is going to be the Bunning Day Essay girl. And (here we're going to get a bit nerdy) it does great things with using different tenses and perspectives as the parade passes through. Playing with these elements was one of the writers' tools that Linda spoke about on her last visit to Bear Pond Books, last fall. We're looking forward to hearing about more next Saturday!

Where did Linda start creating the stories that would become her books? At a local bookstore, of course. Not our local bookstore, but close enough. Read about bookstores and more about The Center of Everything in this Publisher's Weekly interview. 

Then, join us, with doughnuts, book discounts, and Linda Urban on Saturday, April 6th at 11:00 am. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Exploring Family and Place

Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is ". . . all about history and family stories." Her first book, The Canada Geese Quilt, is based on her grandmother, who made hundreds of quilts - some of which travel with Natalie to school presentations. In addition to over a dozen books already published, Natalie is at work on dozens more (56 different stories, to be exact).

Jenny Land, a teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy, has just published her first book The Spare Room. Like Natalie, she is an enthusiastic promoter of learning about history and building stories from it. Both authors have the particular gift of pulling students' imagination into exploring the past.

Jenny and Natalie covered a lot of ground at their Saturday morning talk at Bear Pond Books. We went from dinosaur bone wars to a bear as babysitter to a sheep who refuses to step in the mud. It's too much for a single post, so we've broken it into three:
While you're exploring information from our March 16th talk, don't forget to mark your calendars for April 6th at 11:00 AM when we'll be joined by Linda Urban with her brand new book The Center of Everything.  There will be doughnuts and discounts on books purchased that morning. We hope to see you there!

Objects that Inspire Writing - Jenny Land

When writing the fictional diary of a young Vermont girl in 1843 that became her first novel, The Spare Room, Jenny Land turned to collections of historical objects for inspiration. Some she found in museums, like the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh (Jenny highly recommends a visit). Others were items she'd collected along the way.

One example is this antique pen that she bought with her first babysitting money, which makes an appearance in the final book.

Another interesting find is old diaries. These two were written by a father and his 11 year old son in 1871 in Randolph. Comparing entries on the same dates provides two very different perspectives on the events of their lives.

You can also find virtual images of objects online. For example, Jenny set her book in 1843, the year Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Vermont. The Library of Congress has a digital archive that includes images of the handwritten notes from Douglass' speeches. Visit The Frederick Douglass Papers online to browse.

Sample Activity for Students: 

Historical objects can be great writing prompts. Jenny has found that for students younger than high school age, she needs to give some structure along with the object, asking questions like who do you think made this? Who found it? Who are the different people who have owned it along the way and what did they think about it?

Jenny provides sample questions in this handout.

This activity is just one example - Jenny's website ( provides activities ideas and this teacher's guide for using her book in the classroom.


Discovering Forgotten Stories with Natalie Kinsey-Warnock

Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is amazed at how many stories get forgotten over the generations.

For example, her great-great-lots-of-greats-aunt Sarah Witcher wandered off as a three year old in 1783. When searchers found bear tracks walking alongside hers in the woods, they gave her up for lost. In fact, the bear was taking care of the three year old (she thought it was a large black dog). On the fourth day after Sarah was lost, a stranger arrived in town saying he'd had a dream of finding Sarah beneath a pine tree three nights in a row - and he found her just as he had dreamed it. Sarah and the searchers all wrote accounts, which Natalie's sister uncovered in the back of the town clerk's office in Warren, NH. Now the story is a picture book: The Bear Who Heard Crying.

When Natalie realized how even the most incredible family tales and local history can be lost over the generations, she was determined to find these stories and make sure that they weren't forgotten. She's traveled to schools around the state to inspire the same interest in collecting history in students.

Recently, Natalie has been working with educators to turn what she's learned over twenty five years visiting classrooms into a curriculum, called Storykeepers. This curriculum introduces research tools  through a class project studying a local historical figure. Then, students take off on their own to apply research skills to learning about a family member, or someone else connected to their community.

Natalie will be teaching a course for educators this August with Bev Davis through the Northeast Kingdom School Development Center. It's a 3-credit course and you can find out more at:

In one pilot project, 4th graders at Glover Community School learned that West Glover was home to Amanda Colburn Farnham Felch. Haven't heard of her? She was a Civil War nurse who visited more battlefields and was arguably more innovative than the famous Clara Barton. After the war, she married Marshall Felch and moved West where they became involved in the Bone Wars, unearthing fossils in a Colorado quarry. The 4th graders didn't know this history in their own town until they started their Storykeepers research. Now, they may be the world's leading experts on Amanda Colburn Farnham Felch.

And yes, those are Wikipedia links for Clara Barton and the Bone Wars. One thing that students learn from Storykeepers is that a quick Internet search may be an easy way to find information, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Natalie works with students to introduce all sorts of research techniques, like interviewing family or community members, unearthing records in the town clerk's office, reading old maps, following old census data, and tracing genealogy. After working with daguerrotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes (all old photographic techniques) one student found a stash of ambrotypes forgotten in her house's attic. In looking through old land records, Natalie discovered that she and Amanda Colburn Farnham Felch grew up on the same farm, more than a century apart. There is a lot to uncover!

Map of the Colorado Quarry where the Felches Hunted for Dinosaur Bones

Natalie's approach to history makes it personal and relevant. "Why do we teach history starting from the oldest time period and moving forward?" she asks. When students learn history first from their relatives and community members, then moving backward through the generations, they understand how they are connected to the past. History becomes a project of exploration involving parents, grandparents, neighbors, seniors, and friends.

Natalie is finishing up her Storykeepers curriculum now. You can get a sneak preview here or contact her at

Family & Place - Resources

Jenny Land and Natalie Kinsey-Warnock use a lot of different resources to research their historical fiction and to help students do their own research. Here are a few ideas:

The Spare Room Website - Jenny has collected activities ideas at
Natalie Kinsey-Warnock's Website
Recommended Historical Fiction 

Vermont Resources
Other Resources
Do you have recommended resources for helping students learn how to research local history? Add them in the comments section!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Telling Family Stories

What's the impact of telling family stories? Here is what author Natalie Kinsey Warnock sees as she works with classrooms across Vermont:
. . .after telling the story of my great-great-grandfather, who fought in the Civil War, and survived the Sultana disaster (this little-known tragedy is our country’s worst ship disaster), I have seen classrooms of students, grades 3-6, storm the school’s library, strip every Civil War book off the shelves to search through them, while the astonished librarian told me that she’d never had a book go off that shelf before.  Reluctant readers and writers have told me, after doing projects on family stories, that they never knew writing could be so much fun, and that they wanted to become writers.   I’ve seen students who had never written more than a paragraph before, suddenly write five pages about a family story that they’d found, and beg to take it home over the weekend so they can keep working on it.   All those sparks of interest began with a family story.
Inspired by these experiences, Natalie worked with curriculum developers and creative teachers in Glover to start the Story Keepers project. In the pilot Natalie saw that
Every week, students have a new artifact they want to show me, or a new family story to tell me.  The teacher commented on how even some of the lower level students, who struggle with reading, comprehension, and writing, are shining with this curriculum---they are excited, enthusiastic, eager to share and participate, and are enjoying success.
Now she's bringing her curriculum to the world to spark a ". . . different kind of history revolution in this country, for students to see that history could be exciting, interesting, and relevant."

Come learn about telling family stories in the classroom - and on your own! - this Saturday, March 16th, at 11:00 am at Bear Pond Books. Natalie will be joined by author and educator Jenny Land (The Spare Room). There will be good refreshments, quite good discounts on purchases, and tremendously good conversation. We hope to see you there! 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Diary of Vermont Before the Civil War

What do the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and Julia Alvarez's Return to Sender have in common?

Well, okay, probably a lot of things but most importantly they have been compared with Jenny Land's debut novel The Spare Room.

Written in the style of a young girl's diary, this book follows the events on a Vermont farm in 1843 as the diary keeper, Susannah, learns about slavery, Abolitionists, and what it means to truly take a stand for something you believe in.

Jenny uses the form of her book, both historic fiction and a diary, to generate possible classroom activities. For example, here are her ideas about keeping a diary. Her website also has ideas for crafts and recipes and a teacher's guide.

Writing about family, exploring history through the eyes of a character living in a different time, and trying out new forms of writing, all engage learners of any age. Come to Bear Pond Books on Saturday (3/16) at 11:00 am to hear from Jenny and fellow author Natalie Kinsey Warnock about how they weave family history and Vermont history into the stories they create . . . and how other writers can do the same thing!

If you're looking for other books that pair well with Jenny's and Natalie's work - check out this story board of recommendations we've put together for Saturday's event.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

All the Books You Need for Women's History Month

From our February speaker, Rebecca Rupp, comes a blog post of resources for exploring Women's History in March (Women's History Month):

Women's History (Not Just for Girls)

Three things you should notice from this list:
  1. It's by Rebecca Rupp our February speaker - since we said this much in the first sentence, we assume you noticed it and this is just a reminder. Check out notes from her talk on Nonfiction With Personality.
  2. One of the books is Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors by Tanya Lee Stone who was scheduled for February and will be rescheduled for the fall.
  3. A lot of these stories are family histories. Some are historical fiction.You can learn all about family stories, historical fiction, and helping students write about their own history on March 16th (this Saturday!) at 11:00 am with Natalie Kinsey Warnock and Jenny Land. Read more here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

March 16th, 11:00 am, Exploring Family & Place

Come to Bear Pond Books on Saturday, March 6th, for an author talk with Natalie Kinsey-Warnock and Jenny Land! 

How many books can one person fill with family stories? Well, according to this Burlington Free Press Article on author Natalie Kinsey, more than 50.

Natalie Kinsey-Warnock is the author of sixteen books for children that all have one thing in common: They are based either on the author's own life or on true stories passed down through the seven generations of her family that have lived in northern Vermont.

Natalie's books include her first novel, The Canada Geese Quilt, an ALA Notable Book, and As Long as There Are Mountains, the 2006 selection for the Vermont Reads program. Her latest book is True Colors, which takes place in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom in the 1950's.

On Saturday, March 16th at 11:00 in the Bear Pond children's room Natalie will be speaking about exploring family and place in historical fiction, including her Story Keepers pilot writing project that combines genealogical research and historical context as a platform for writing. 

Along with Natalie we are particularly happy to welcome Jenny Land and her debut novel The Spare Room.

The Spare Room takes us to a farm in pre-Civil War Vermont in the year when 12 year old Susannah Allen starts to learn about slavery, the abolitionist movement, and how these will affect her life. Vermont author Frank Howard Mosher writes:
"Jenny Land's The Spare Room is a beautifully-written, entirely authentic novel about pre-Civil War Vermont, human freedom, and the most evil institution in mankind's history—slavery. Jenny Land understands her characters inside-out, and writes with the magical touch of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Young people and adults alike will love The Spare Room. What a splendid debut."   
Jenny Land was born in Vermont. After her education at Dartmouth College and the Universities of Oxford and St. Andrews, she returned to Vermont to teach English and creative writing at St. Johnsbury Academy, and to work on farms during the summer. We look forward to seeing more of her books!

This talk will include conversations about activities to incorporate historical research and creative writing into the school classroom - but it's not just for educators. Historians, storytellers, and people who enjoy a good story will all find something to learn!

Get thinking about historical fiction with this story board of some favorite books. 

Please join us Saturday, March 16th, at 11:00 am. There will be refreshments as well as discounts on books purchased that day. And, while you're checking your calendar, don't forget to save the date for April 6th when Linda Urban talks about her brand new (being published this week) book The Center of Everything.