Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dorothy Canfield Fisher List

On March 22nd, Grace Greene from the Vermont Department of Libraries visited the Children's Room to give us a review of the newest Dorothy Canfield Fisher book list. She impressively got through 30 books in 50 minutes. . . possibly it will take that long just to read through the summary (below) of what was said.

For a super-short version of the reviews below, check out the event Tweets from Linda Urban (@LindaUrbanBooks). You can find a visual version of this list on our Dorothy Canfield Fisher 2014-2015 Pinterest Board. You can find Department of Libraries DCF resources online. There is also a Dorothy Canfield Fisher website at

Bear Pond Books is offering 25% off for teachers and librarians ordering the entire set of DCF books; 20% off of individual titles. To find out more, contact

Thirty books are a lot, but, as Linda said this means there's something on the list for every 9 - 14 year old. . .

Unofficial Book Category #1: Terrible Things That You Should Know About  

Sullivan, Tara. Golden Boy. Note: This book is probably not appropriate for younger readers. It also happens to be Grace's favorite (but she doesn't get a vote). This book is about a Tanzanian albino boy who is hunted for his body parts, which are thought to bring good luck. The author has teacher resources on this topic, including the facts that she used to form the fictional story, on her website

Swanson, James. “The President Has Been Shot!”: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. A retelling of the 35th president's assassination with plenty of informative resources and archival photographs.

Leyson, Leon. Boy on the Wooden Box. A memoir by a former Schindler's List child, who was only ten years old when Nazis invaded his home in Poland. He never spoke about his past until the movie Schindler's List brought this part of history to popular attention. It tells the story of the narrator while introducing the complicated character of Oskar Schindler. 

Frost, Helen. Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War. This book, you have to see. Set at the start of the War of 1812, it tells the story of two 12 year old friends, Anikwa, of the Miami village of Kekionga, and James, of the trading post outside Fort Wayne. The author has told their story in verse, with the verse by Anikwa mirroring the shape of traditional Miami ribbon craft and James' following the striped pattern of the U.S. flag. A "brilliant" example of words and their form telling a story.

Pileggi, Leah. Prisoner 88. This novel is based on the true story of a ten year old sent to prison in the Idaho Territory for killing a man who threatened his father. The author, primarily a nonfiction writer, keeps a blog at She recently contributed this short article to the Reading the Past blog about the research behind Prisoner 88. If you're interested in teaching historical fiction writing for middle grade students, you might also be interested in this Bear Pond Books post from our Exploring Family and Place event with Jennifer Land and Natalie Kinsey-Warnock.

Stone, Tanya Lee. Courage Has No Color. One of two Vermont authors on this year's DCF list, Tanya Lee Stone's book examines the role of African-Americans in the military through the history of the Triple Nickles, America's first black paratroopers. Tanya came to the store earlier this school year to talk about writing nonfiction - you can read two articles about her event Combining Passion and Research for Compelling Nonfiction and Using the Craft of Fiction to Tell Nonfiction Stories.

Hopkinson, Deborah. The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel. In this historical fiction book, a boy name Eel (fictional) helps Dr. John Snow (not fictional) prove that cholera spreads through water as a cholera epidemic spreads through London in 1854. The author's website for this book has plenty of reading material, background information and classroom materials.

Additional Information: A link from Deborah Hopkinson's site led us to this resource - The Classroom Bookshelf. There are classroom resources here for learning more about The Great Trouble, Courage Has No ColorP.S. Be Eleven, Flora & Ulysses, Far, Far Away, and other notable titles (DCF and otherwise).

Unofficial Book Category #2: Pure Fun

Yes, there are books that are for fun . . .

Kurtz, Chris The Adventures of a South Pole Pig As Linda writes "Sometimes a funny romp is just the ticket. Pig, Flora, wants to be a sled dog. " And Flora thinks she is a sled dog when she's brought on a South Pole expedition. .  . but you can guess what the pig is really there for . . . and since this is in the Pure Fun category, you can guess that she finds a way out of the predicament.

DiCamillo, Kate Flora & Ulysses This time, Flora is a girl, not a pig. Ulysses, however, is a squirrel. . . rescued by Flora from a vacuum cleaner incident. This funny, energetic book won the Newbery Award this year. See all the ALA youth media award winners on our Pinterest Board.

Grabenstein, Chris. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. The famous game maker Mr. Lemoncello has donated an amazing library to his hometown. The hero, Kyle, gets to stay overnight with a group of local 12 year olds ahead of the grand opening - and finds a night full of games and puzzles that they must solve. Needless to say, the author has a Lemoncello-style game for librarians on his website (here).

Vande Velde, Vivian. Frogged. Grace enjoyed the clever, humorous writing in this story of an almost-13 year old princess who kisses a frog, who turns into a boy (not a handsome prince, just a regular person), which in turn causes her to take his place as frog. Now she needs to figure out a way to go back to being a human without turning someone else into a frog. 

Peck, Richard. The Mouse With the Question Mark Tail. This book is a companion book to Secrets at Sea. It's an upstairs / downstairs story - but with mice. It takes place during Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee, with a creative perspective on everyday objects similar to The Borrowers.

Unofficial Book Category #3: Growing Up Books

Urban, Linda. The Center of Everything. Here's the official summary of this book: "For Ruby Pepperdine, the center of everything is on the rooftop of Pepperdine Motors, stargazing from the circle of her grandmother Gigi's hug. That's how everything is supposed to be--until it goes spinning out of control. But Ruby has one last hope. It all depends on what happens on Bunning Day, when the entire town will hear her read her winning essay. And it all depends on her twelfth birthday wish-- unless she messes that up too." You can read lots more about it from this article on the book party we had at the store this spring: Linda Urban and The Center of Everything

Black, Holly. Doll Bones.The growing up story at the heart of Doll Bones is what happens when three friends - Zach, Alice and Poppy - leave behind the make believe games they played with dolls and action figures as children and move into adolescence. This transition is marked by an adventure to bury a china doll make from the ashes of a dead girl whose ghost wants to be laid to rest. (Oddly, this premise does not make it the creepiest book on the list - that honor goes to Far, Far Away)

Kadohata, Cynthia. The Thing About Luck. After a string of bad luck, 12 year old Summer is left with her cranky grandmother and little brother, cooking for harvest workers, while her parents go back to Japan to handle a family emergency. Our DCF-aged audience reviewer, Claire, gave this book two thumbs up because ". . . the family had a lot of problems but you could tell they still really loved each other."

Hasak-Lowy, Todd. 33 Minutes...Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt. Sam's one-time best friend has become a popular athlete who is very capable of beating him up during recess (which he has threatened to do. . . in 33 minutes). Now we're inside Sam's mind in the minutes leading up to the show down as he retraces the changes that led up to this showdown.

Vawter, Vince. Paperboy. An eleven year old boy takes over his best friend's paper route for one summer, and has to work through his extreme stutter as he interacts with people along the route. The format of the text was distracting for some readers; the audiobook version comes highly recommended.

Williams-Garcia, Rita. P.S. Be Eleven. This book is a sequel to One Crazy Summer but stands on its own as well. Here, the Gaither sisters are back in Brooklyn, where changes large and small come to their household as they grow up during the turbulent 1960s. This book won the 2014 Coretta Scott King award. The author is on the Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty and you can read their article about her award here. You can see all the ALA youth media award winners at our Pinterest Board.

Timberlake, Amy. One Came Home. In 1871 Wisconsin, thirteen-year-old Georgia sets out to find her sister Agatha, presumed dead when remains are found wearing the dress she was last seen in. Grace summarizes this book as "mystery, romance, historical fiction, and passenger pigeons."

Marino, Nan. Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace. Musical prodigy Elvis Ruby was supposed to have won a televised talent competition - instead, he freezes completely. His father whisks him away from the media attention that follows by hiding him in the Pinelands of New Jersey. 

Fleming, David. Saturday Boy. Derek is different from other kids. He's called the Saturday Boy by kids teasing him about the time he waited for the school bus without realizing it was Saturday morning. He communicates regularly with his father, who is serving in Afghanistan. Then, his mother's sudden moodiness and bad news he learns from the television create even more challenges.

Unofficial Book Category #4: Books That Make You Think

Technically, all these books will make you think, but some might stay with you longer than others. . .

Harrington, Karen. Sure Signs of Crazy. When she was a baby, Sarah's mentally ill mother tried to drown her and her twin brother. Her brother didn't survive. Now, Sarah is navigating being twelve, having her first crush, getting through a small town Texas summer, and being always on the lookout for signs of her mother's illness in her. According to Grace the book is more hopeful than that description makes it sound.

Gewirtz, Adina Rishe. Zebra Forest. Every year, Annie writes down three things she wishes for - to get tall, have an adventure, and meet her father. She lives with her Grandmother and brother in a town where nothing seems to happen. Gran says her father was killed in a bar fight when she was too small to remember. It seems unlikely her wishes will come true. Then, there is a prison break and a fugitive arrives at their house, changing what she thought she knew.

LaValley, Josanne. The Vine Basket. Fourteen-year-old Mehrigul is a member of the Uyghur tribal  group of East Turkestan. The Chinese communist regime is taking over their land and girls are sent away to work at Chinese factories. Mehrigul may have found a way to escape the factories by selling traditional vine baskets that she weaves. Find out more about the people and culture behind this story at the author's website:

Ottaviani, Jim & Maris Wicks. Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas. This biography of three important female scientists is also the only graphic novel on the DCF list this year. The publisher, First Second Books, has resources on graphic novels in the classroom, including activity kits for teachers to use with books they've published and this post from Jim Ottaviani about creating Primates.

Goldblatt, Mark. Twerp. Readers appreciated the creative premise for this book's narrative: twelve-year-old Julian Twerski has gotten in trouble for an undisclosed incident. His English teacher has assigned him to write about what he has done. . . and the journal covers almost everything else he can think to write about from his life in 1960's Queens as he circles around the subject of what actually happened.

Unofficial Book Category #5: Eccentric Characters 

Federle, Tim. Better Nate Than Ever. Nate's life revolves around musical theater and when there's an audition call for a musical version of E.T., he and his best friend are convinced he can audition, get the part, and get home again without anyone realizing he's gone. Of course, New York City is very far away. And Nate has never actually been in a play before. So it may not be the perfect plan. Claire almost made herself late for school reading this one because "the character's voice was so funny and original."

Greenberg, Jan & Sandra Jordan. The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius. Linda summarized this book "Ohr knew he was genius long before rest of the world did". It's the biography of a potter in the first half of the 20th century who made both simple commercial pottery and art pieces that wouldn't be recognized for another generation. Now, his work is the cornerstone of the Ohr-O'Keefe Art Museum of Biloxi, Mississippi.

Sloan, Holly Goldberg. Counting by 7s. The narrator of this story is a genius who is doubly orphaned when her adoptive parents die in a car crash. She is obsessed with plants, medical things, and counting by sevens. This is the story of how she creates a circle of friends and forms a family.

McNeal, Tom. Far Far Away. The creepiest book on the list, Jeremy Johnson Johnson speaks with the ghost of Jacob Grimm, who is trapped between worlds. In a dark version of Hansel and Gretel, children begin to disappear. Jeremy and his classmate Ginger, who has fallen in love with him after eating a special cake from a Swedish baker, need to find a way to rescue themselves and the town. Jane says that this story works on several levels, for both younger and older readers. 

And there's the list. Enjoy your reading!

Grace Greene, VT Department of Libraries

Monday, March 10, 2014

Writing with Kate Messner & Jo Knowles

Many thanks to Kate Messner and Jo Knowles for joining us on March 8th to host a writing workshop. They gave us stories, examples, and ideas that apply both to our own writing and to teaching writing. We covered a lot of ground in just over an hour.

To save a little space in this follow up post, we've updated our initial post about the workshop to include more background information (see it here) and created a list of recommended writing books on this Pinterest Board (or, as we like to call it, our virtual book display). 

Kate's Writing and Revision Process: 

Kate's books start with an idea that, she says, "usually hangs out with me for a few months." She spends those months reading, researching, brainstorming, taking notes and generally playing around with that idea. It may involve field trips, like a recent one to Grand Isle to ask ice fisherman to tell her more about their sport.

After the hanging out with ideas stage, Kate makes a rough outline that she knows will change regularly, possibly daily, but that gives her a starting point to work from. Then she starts to write. Both Kate and Jo use Scrivener as their writing software (there's a free trial if you want to check it out).

Kate loves revising but is "terrified" of drafting. Which might explain why she wrote an entire book on the revising part (Real Revision). She has a lot of tools she uses to shape the revisions, depending on the situation. She shared as examples:
  • A timeline tracking important events from now to 2050 for Eye of the Storm
  • Short timelines to follow all the characters through 48 hours in Capture the Flag
  • Idea maps as well as regular old maps to track characters through chase scenes
  • Very, very large charts to track important characters and objects and where they appear in a book and whether they appear regularly enough for readers to know that they're important (or at least not forget anyone). 

Kate Messner is serious about charts
Three to four drafts later, Kate is ready to share her work with a critique partner and then get the book ready to go to an editor.

Jo's Process for Read Between the Lines (yes that is a book about the middle finger)

To illustrate her writing process, Jo took us through the creation of her most recent, not yet published, book Read Between the Lines.

This book began in a journal she kept a decade ago, when an aggressive driver gave her family the finger when driving through Norwich (presumably other things were also happening in her life a decade ago, but this is the one that led to a book). The idea of the middle finger as a way to express anger and also a way to cause anger stuck in her imagination. Over the years, when she had any ideas for middle-finger-related stories Jo added them to a file for this book idea that was "just for fun."

Jo also likes having an interesting structure for her books. The structure of a book taking place in one day, with 10 chapters and 10 points of view, all related to giving someone the finger (of which we have 10), appealed to her. She began to write chapters to share with her critique group.

At the same time that Jo played around with her book idea, she also had a contract for an unnamed second book that came from a previous book deal. She decided to turn the pieces she'd collected into a full manuscript.

Putting together this manuscript required new writing tools. Usually, Jo writes a "discovery draft" without an outline, then uses a storyboard sketch to think more systematically about her manuscript. 

Each box is a chapter with a picture of the strongest image that comes to mind from that chapter. The writing on one side is the strongest emotion in that chapter, the writing on the other is a brief phrase saying what the chapter is about (everything in the chapter should drive towards that purpose)
Read Between the Lines, with its many different points of view from characters with overlapping lives, didn't fit into the storyboard system. Instead, Jo made pages for each character in a notebook and filled it in with relevant details (when they show up, what time of the day their point of view takes over, other characters that appear, etc.). On each page she also listed each character's primary Want, Obstacle, and Way to reach the "want" or overcome the obstacles (W.O.W., borrowed from Cynthia Lord).  

With so many different characters, and a book intended to show how their lives overlapped, it also made sense to do a chart like the one Kate shared, mapping out when each character appeared throughout the book.

Both Kate and Jo agreed that every book is different. Both authors learn tools from what they've tried themselves, or what other writers share, then match the tool to the writing project at hand. 

Writing Exercises:

Writing exercises can provide a framework that, by asking you to look at something new or look at familiar things in a new way, unlocks memories, creative ideas, and stories that might not otherwise have occurred. Jo uses writing prompts as a warm up exercise.

In our workshop on Saturday, Jo took us through a writing prompt about kitchen memories - recalling the appearance, objects, people, events, sounds, smells, and both most and least favorite things, from a childhood kitchen. But you don't need to use just that one. She posts a new prompt every week on her blog under the tag Monday Morning Warm-Up

While Jo took us through a detail-oriented writing exercise, Kate introduced a fun exercise for exploring new story ideas. You can try this one too:
  • Divide a piece of paper into three columns
  • 1st column: Things I love / want to know more about / that scare me
  • 2nd column: List of Setting (places you know well, want to visit, wish were real)
  • 3rd column: Big Ideas (themes to explore, genres)
  • Now, brainstorm for each
  • And then, mix and match
So, for example, you might end up with a ghost at school with secrets. Or fossils in the kitchen with a theme of memories replaced over time (from Jo's prompt). Kate does this exercise for about half an hour every few months to generate new ideas.

Learn More

Kate and Jo both have great resources available online for exploring more about writing and teaching writing. See examples from this earlier post.  

And there are many great books to read about writing and teaching writing. Here are a few of our picks.

Join us for our next Author-Educator event in the Children's Room on March 22nd at 11:00 am from Grace Greene from the Vermont Department of Libraries discusses the brand new Dorothy Canfield Fisher list.