Owl Moon

Girl and man on snow hillside under an owl moonYolen, Jane. Owl Moon. Illustrated by John Schoenherr. New York: Scholastic, 1987.

I am over the moon, so to speak, to tell you about Owl Moon.  It seems it is the perfect week to do so.  It was the full moon on Monday that made me remember this book. The moon was large, bright, and lustrous.  This book takes place on a night with a full, bright moon. Here’s how the book opens.

It was late one winter night,
long past my bedtime,
when Pa and I went owling.
There was no wind.
The trees stood still
as giant statues.
And the moon was so bright
the sky seemed to shine.

What else make this a perfect time for this book?  It snowed this evening in central Texas.  If you have friends from central Texas on Facebook, this is probably no surprise to you. Everyone I know in the area has posted a snow picture.  Those of you who live where it is cold and snowy will not be impressed.  I hope you will forgive our giddy pleasure in this skiff of snow.  You will notice this book takes place on a snow covered wintry night.  With a snowy night and a full moon in the same week, I think I was destined to write about this charming book.

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The little girl in this story lives on a farm in a very, snowy part of the country.  She has been waiting oh, so very long to go owling with her Pa. It is late, way past her bedtime, when they head out.  The snow on the fields they pass glistens in the light of the moon.  It is quiet and she can hear sounds from far away as clear as if they were close by.  Have you ever walked on a pristine field of snow with no one around?  It is so quiet and bright.  It crunches as you walk.  If the snow is deep, you have to lift your feet high to walk.  As they walk together their feet crunch in the snow.  It is the only noise they hear.  She knows that if she goes owling with her Pa, she has to be very quiet.  She has to run to keep up with her dad sometimes, but she is still quiet.  They make shadows on the snow, tall and thin, short and round.  They walk to the forest at the edge of the fields.  They stop and Pa gives the call of the Great Horned Owl. They listen and listen, but there is no answer.  She isn’t disappointed as she knows from her brothers that “sometimes there is an owl and sometimes there isn’t.”

As the girl and her pa walk further into the forest, they listen.  There is suppressed excitement and anticipation.  I can almost imagine the little girl bouncing silently up and down as she listens and waits as Pa calls out again. Then they hear it, the faint echo of a returning call.  As they listen the call comes nearer and Pa turns on his big flashlight and catches the owl as it lands on a branch.  Momentarily, they stare at one another, owl to girl and man and back.  Then the owl wings its way back into the forest.  The owling is over and it is time to go home.  She could be loud, she could laugh, but she holds the silence inside as she walks home.  A wise young one, she is.  Here is her final reflection.

When you go owling
you don’t need words
or warm
or anything but hope.
That’s what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies on silent wings
under a shining owl moon.

Jane Yolen is a wonderful storyteller.  She evokes feelings of peace and quiet, just what you need for a night of owling.  When I read it aloud, I almost want to whisper.  I want to keep the serenity I see in the pictures and hear in the words.  I hope you can find this book and add it to your collection.  It would make a restful, reflective read on a wintry, full moon night.

Jane Yolen

Facts about this author.

  1. She wrote her first poem in preschool. Amazingly she still has it.  She recites it to groups of students, “because it was so bad that I tell them that, clearly, they’re writing better poems than that.”¹
  2. She has written over 250 books. They seem to cover many genres and all ages. You can take a look at her website for a full listing: http://janeyolen.com/
  3. Owl Moon was the 1988 Caldecott Medal winner.
  4. She won the World Fantasy Award in 1987 for Favorite Folktales from Around the World. In 2009, she was earned their Lifetime Achievement award. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres.²
  5. She’s been an editor, a teacher, a storyteller, a critic, a songwriter for rock groups and folk singers.³

Here are some websites to visit to learn more about this author.

¹http://www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews/yolen
²http://www.worldfantasy.org/awards/winners/
³https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/authors/jane-yolen/

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A Turkey for Thanksgiving

Book cover with moose, rabbit and turkeyBunting, Eve.  A Turkey for Thanksgiving.  Illustrated by Diane de Groat. New York: Scholastic, 1991.

I was at home this week preparing for the upcoming holiday.  In the mornings, I listened to the newscasts.  I was completely amused by the two early morning news anchors on Monday. There was a filler article on the annual Presidential Turkey Pardon.  Did you know there was an annual Turkey Pardon?  I don’t know, why turkeys need a pardon.  What is their crime, not enough dark meat? At any rate, the male news anchor was pretty disgusted by the whole idea.  He thought that it was a significant waste of resources.  Evidently the two turkeys, in this case Beau and Tye, were put up for a few days at the Willard Hotel to await their pardon.  The other news anchor commented on the turkeys’ names.  The male anchor noted that better names for the turkeys would have been Lunch and Dinner.  At 6 am, I thought this was hysterical (housework and early hours can warp the mind). The pardoned turkeys live out the rest of their days at Gobbler’s Rest at Virginia Tech.   A most peaceful end for each of them.   Soon after this segment, I went to look for a Thanksgiving book for this blog.  I found this one and thought it would be a perfect book to share for the holiday.

In this story, Mr. & Mrs. Moose are preparing for Thanksgiving dinner.  Their friends, Sheep, Rabbit, Porcupine, and Mr. & Mrs. Goat are coming and they are making everything just so for their friends.  They were looking over their decorations and all looked good, especially the paper turkey.   Alas, Mrs. Moose was sad.

Mrs. Moose sighed. “Yes. But I wish we had a real turkey for Thanksgiving. Everyone always has a turkey for Thanksgiving. Everyone but us.”

Mr. Moose nuzzled Mrs. Moose’ head. “Well that won’t do. I will go this minute and find you a turkey for Thanksgiving.

Off he goes to find Mrs. Moose a turkey for Thanksgiving. As he wanders to find one, he enlists the help of all his friends.  They find the turkey in his nest.  The turkey runs away despite Mr. Moose sweetly telling him they want him for Thanksgiving dinner.  Is there a happy ending for Mr. Turkey? Why yes there is!  A chair at the table for Mr. Turkey right next to Mrs. Moose!  He surveys the table of all the good food Mrs. Moose has prepared.

“I hope you find something her to your liking, Mr. Turkey,” Mrs. Moose said.  “I wasn’t sure of your taste.

“You are so kind to worry about my taste,” Turkey said. “I thought you’d be worrying about how I’d taste.”

“Heavens, no!” Mr. Moose smiled his big-toothed smile…. “It’s so nice to have friends around the table at Thanksgiving.”

It was a Happy Thanksgiving for Mr. Turkey.  He was at the table and not on it.  He has new friends for Thanksgiving.

What an amusing take on the turkey and Thanksgiving! Perhaps, Beau and Tye, will meet new turkey friends at Gobbler’s Rest?   They will be at the table and not on it, too!

I liked this charming book.  Eve’s words along with Diane’s lovely watercolor pictures make it a pleasure to read.  I bought it to share with my preschool class.  They loved the story.

Whether a turkey is on your table or at your table (sometimes it can be both), I hope all of you have a lovely Thanksgiving Day.

Texas Book Festival 2017

Books covers for Soonish, It devours, Welcome to Nighvale, Santa Calls, Creepy Carrots, Spy School, Space Case, How to avoid extinction, Symphony for the city of the dead, Last stop on market stree

The first Saturday of November, Jim and I attended the 22nd annual Texas Book Festival in Austin.  The book festival began in 1996 about the same time my family moved to the Central Texas area.  It is prestigious, large, and mostly free.  It promotes literacy and reading across all ages.  There are events for the youngest children through adults.  There is something of interest for everyone. The money raised at the book festival through book sales, donations, and other fundraising goes to library and literacy programs in Texas.  This year there was a special fundraising effort for public and school libraries effected by Hurricane Harvey.  I participated by attending and purchasing lots of books.  Once I started it was hard to stop!!!

One of the first events of the day was the announcement of the new Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List for 2018-2019.  We missed the announcement, but I collected a copy of the list.  As I have said in the past, I like this award as Texas school children in grades 3-6, who have read (or have heard read out loud) at least 5 of the books on the list, vote for the winner.  The 2016 winner was Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl. The 2017 winner will be announced this spring at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference. I picked up a book from the list How to Avoid Extinction.  It quirky title made we want to see what is inside!

Another program that the book festival supports is the Reading Rockets Program. This is a literacy outreach program for students in Title I elementary schools, like the one where our daughter teaches.  It brings bilingual and award-winning children’s authors to these schools for presentations.  This program donates a signed copy of the author’s book to each student and a set of the author’s books to the school’s library.  How cool is that!

Because I love children’s books, we had to spend time in the Children’s tent.  We stopped to see the PreK class from my daughter’s school introduce Aaron Reynolds.  He had been at their school earlier in the week. I also wanted to hear his new book.  It had an interesting title, Creepy Underwear. This book is hysterical and so was the author.  Have you ever talked with a group of young children?  You must bring your A-game!  You never know what they will say.  He was funny, charming and energetic.  He told the group that he was an author and most of the time he was a grown up.  The kids in the tent were delighted!  They loved his book.  Alas, I delayed going to the books sales tent and all the copies of the book were gone.  As an alternative, I purchased his book, Creepy Carrots. You will hear about it in another blog.

I decided to stay for the next session as I was intrigued by Chris Harris’ book title, I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups. Here was another delightful author.  The local class that introduced him recited one of the poems from the book.  He thanked them and told them how much he had enjoyed visiting their school.  Wow, you must really love to talk with children to be on this circuit.  They asked him all kinds of questions.  As you might have guessed, he began this book for his own children and it just grew.  His poetry, rhyming or not, is captivating and the poems have appealing titles. Here’s a title from one he showed the audience, “Alphabet Book (by the Laziest Artist in the World)”. The illustrator for this book is also one of my favorites, Lane Smith.  The pictures in this book are fantastic, just like the poems.  There will be more to come on this book in another blog.  I have to read the book first!

I learned an interesting fact from both Chris and Aaron. Authors and their illustrators rarely meet.  I was under the wrong impression that they collaborated during the entire process.  That must only happen when the author and illustrator or illustrator and author are very close or the same person.  According to Aaron and Chris, you write your book and you send it off to the publisher.  They look it over and then decide, who might be the best person to illustrate it.  They send the book off to the illustrator to see, if he/she wants to illustrate it.  Aaron said he never met his illustrator, Peter Brown, until after his first book, Creepy Carrots, was published.  Jim and I wondered what happens when the author hates the illustrations?  Our question will have to wait for another time as both these authors appeared to enjoy the illustrations in their books.

These two children’s authors presented in the mid-afternoon and as I am not a husband torturer, we split the day between what he thought might be interesting and what I wanted to see. He is interested in science and science fiction, so we took a flyer and attended Kelly and Zach Weinersmith’s session.  Their book title looked curious, Soonish: A Funny Future of Technology: Ten Technologies That Will Improve/Ruin Everything.

I thought this was a delightful session!  Zach has two degrees one in literature and the other in physics.  Kelly, who could not attend, has a degree in parasitology.  Between the two of them, they work on the ideas and research for their books.  Their book combines interesting theories and Zach’s cartooning. In this presentation, Zach talked about two technologies from their book: Cheap access to space and robots.   In the section on “Cheap Access to Space”, he discussed carbon nanotubes that could be used for a space elevator.  As soon as he started on this topic, I thought about Arthur C. Clarke’s story The Fountains of Paradise.  I haven’t read the book so I don’t know, if they reference his story.

He also discussed robots and how it will end for humanity.  He talked about some interesting recent robotic experiments.  We, the people, are so gullible. Seems if a robot tells us something, it is true. To the best of my narrative ability, here’s how the experiments went.  In experiment one, on a campus, near a locked dorm lurked a robot.  The robot would stop students and ask them to let it into the dorm.  A very, few students let the robot into the dorm.  On the other hand, around 80% of the students stopped and would let that same robot in the dorm, if it robot had cookies and offered one to the student.   Makes you wonder what people will do for cookies!

In experiment two, began with student who were volunteering for a study waiting in a building’s lobby.  They were met by a robot and led to a room.  Sometimes the robot went straight to the room.  Sometimes the robot took what was obviously a long, circuitous route.  Sometimes the robot would walk into a wall and go the wrong direction and have to correct itself on the way to the room.  Sometimes the robot would move very slowly.  The robot left the students in the room where the experiment was to take place. After they had been in the room for a few minutes, the room began to fill with smoke and the fire alarm went off. A robot appeared in the doorway and told the students to follow it to safety.  It is interesting that in every case, people followed the robot.  It didn’t matter, if they could see the exit door, or if the robot had made mistakes in getting them to the experimental room and was making obvious mistakes getting them back to the outside door, the students followed the robot.  I think that is a scary thought that they would so blindly follow robots.  After all they were built by people.  During the Q&A session someone asked this related question, what would you do to prevent a robot apocalypse?  His answer: “Don’t let it get started!”  It was a most amusing presentation.  Did I buy his book? Why yes and “soonish”, after I read it, I will blog about it.

Jim and I listen to the news on the way to and from work every day.  It gives us a chance to talk about current events.  Discussing current events led us to this session with its intriguing title, “Falsehoods, Forgeries, and Fake News” in the C-SPAN Book tent.  This session featured Kevin Young and Jared Yale Sexton.  They discussed how PT Barnum and his use of the Penny Press was similar to the way the internet is used now.  It was a lively, but somewhat distressing topic.  They offered us hope.  We must learn about each other and find common ground so that civil discourse can continue.

After that heavy topic, we were ready for lunch.  We walked down to six street and had lunch at BD Riley’s Irish Pub.  Books (a discussion), a brew (Guinness Stout), and BD Riley’s Irish stew (best ever) made lunch heaven.  I am glad that we had the second half of our day at the book festival to walk off all that yummy goodness.

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To cap off our book festival day, we intended to try the festival’s lit crawl.  Unfortunately, all the lit crawl venues were too far from us.  We had our own lit crawl. We used two of our newly purchased books (Tom Hank’s Uncommon Type and Zack and Kelly Weinersmith’s Soonish) to play the game, “Bring Your Own Book.”  We had a blast and it was a lovely end to a perfect day at the Texas Book Festival.

Possum Come a Knockin’

Possum knocking on a doorVan Laan, Nancy. Illustrated by George Booth.  Possum Come a Knockin’. New York: Trumpet Club, 1990.

Conversation around the lunch table this week, made me remember this book.  I have a friend, who lives near the edge of a small town.  Like many of us, who live on the fringe of town, she had a possum visit her yard.  She was worried that it might carry off one of her small dogs or they might try to eat it.  Her story made me think about this book and how I inadvertently tormented my niece and nephews with it.  It is a standard joke at our house.  As a matter of fact, my husband just wandered by and said, “Oh, Possum Come a Knockin!  Going to scare more, small children, are you?”

I first heard this book, when I was teaching in a private preschool.  We had an itinerant music teacher, Mr. David.  He read my students this book.  I understood why he chose it.  It had a wonderful cadence and rhythm. It was almost musical.  I recorded myself reading this book (https://goo.gl/ZvigbY) to give you a feel for it.  Here, also, is a link to a video of a teacher using this book in class: https://goo.gl/zcSZ6Y.

I thought it was such a wonderful, musical type of book that for the next gifting occasion I figured it was perfect for my brother-in-law and his family.  He and his wife were both musicians so I thought they and their children would enjoy this book as much as I did.  Alas, I forgot that they too lived at the edge of town. While they didn’t have a possum come a knockin’, they did have a possum get under their house. It made a lot of  creepy scratching noises.   That possum terrified my niece and nephews and unfortunately so did this book! They didn’t think it was musical or rhythmic, they thought it was scary!

Hopefully, you won’t encounter any possums and you can enjoy the cadence written into this story.

Nancy Van Laan

While I was looking at information on this author, I found someone who described her books as good for reading aloud.  This book is terrific for reading aloud, I am not certain I could keep it to myself.   Here are a few fun facts about this author.

  • She read to pass the time on long trips.
  • She wrote and illustrated her own stories when she was young.
  • Her first love was ballet, but an injury ended her careers
  • She has been an English teacher in a private school, a creative writing teacher at Rutgers, and a network censor at ABC.
  • She has an MFA from Rutgers and has painted murals for schools and private clients
  • In 1989, she began to write full-time.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/26331.Nancy_Van_Laan

Never Spit on Your Shoes: A Book for the First Day of School

NeverSpitCazet, Denys. Never Spit on Your Shoes. New York: Orchard Books, 1990.

Good evening!  This was the first day of school for many children in central Texas.  Parents worked hard to get their children ready to go back to school. Teachers did their part, working hard preparing their classrooms for their new students. It was a significant day for parents and students.  For young children and their parents going to school for the first time can be a little scary.  They don’t know what to expect.  For older students and their parents, the first day of school marks the beginning of a new year of activity.  For me it signaled the passing of a year in a more significant way than New Years.

While I was considering which book to share, I stopped to have a conversation with my daughter.  She grew up to become a music educator and now works in an elementary school here in central Texas.  She had been busy setting up her classroom. She told me her plans for the first day of school.  This year, she will be asking her student to help craft the classroom rules.

That amusing conversation made me remember this book.  I am certain I purchased the book for its title, Never Spit on Your Shoes, when I was teaching preschool. How could I resist? It is a good piece of advice.  Take a look at the cover of this book. Like my daughter, this teacher is developing the class rules for the first day of school.

Denys Cazet has shared the first day adventures of a little puppy named, Arnie.  Arnie is making the transition from kindergarten to first grade.  As the book opens we see Arnie drag himself into the house, throw himself into a chair, and gasp out for milk.  The first day of school has been exhausting.  His mom brings milk and cookies and they proceed to have a conversation about his first day of school.

I like the way this book is designed!  On the double-spread pages of the book, you see an inset of Arnie and his Mom.  The rest of the page shows the details of what happened at school. Here’s an example.  At the top of the inset picture, Arnie tells his mom, “We had to sit together in a circle and help the teacher make the rules.”  The rest of the double page shows the classroom, with the students in the circle working on ideas for rules.  Mrs. Hippowitz got some of these helpful suggestions: “Waste not, want not. Always keep your tools dry! Just say no to catnip. Never spit on your shoes. Keep your feet dry.  Is it time to go home?” The inset picture shows Arnie whispering to his mom.  Under the inset picture Arnie tells his mom, “Never spit on your shoes.”  Mom replies, “I promise.” Good advice, but I doubt it made the list. It clearly impressed Arnie. I am looking forward to visiting with my daughter to hear what interesting suggestions Ms. Reimund received for her classroom rules.

This book is very funny! It is evident that Mr. Cazet has spent some time in a classroom.  There are many amusing things to discover and discuss.  I don’t know, if I would read this book to my child before or after the first day of school.  It might be fun to read after and discuss how the child’s day was the same or different from Arnie’s. When you read this book, you need to pay close attention to the words and pictures or you will miss the jokes.  Pick up a copy of this book and share it on the first day of school with a youngster you know.

Denys Cazet

Here are five fun facts about this author.

  1. He’s been a gardener, mail carrier, teacher, librarian and media specialist.¹
  2. His characters are based on some of his friends and family.
  3. The title Never Spit on Your Shoes was an actual contribution to a teacher’s class discussion on rules.
  4. He was inspired to write the Minnie and Moo stories, when he drove past a herd of cows. All the cows were facing the same direction except two.2
  5. He lives and works near Napa in California3.

¹http://biography.jrank.org/pages/1785/Cazet-Denys-1938.html
²https://www.harpercollins.com/cr-100163/denys-cazet
³http://www.patriciamnewman.com/kidlit-creators/denys-cazet/

My Trip to the Science Museum

Mayer, Mercer.  My Trip to the Science Museum.  New York: Harper Festival, 2017.

Happy Sumer!  Here in Texas we are in our triple digit weather.  At this time of year, we spend lots of time indoors in the air conditioning, because it is just too “gol dern” hot to do anything outside.  When we do venture out of the house or office, we look for other cool venues like movies or museums. When we send out children to summer camp, we check the schedule to make certain that they will be spending the hottest part of the day inside. It is just too darn hot!

This summer my daughter is working a science camp.  After looking at her camp’s schedule, I see they employ this strategy.  They work inside in the cool and spend small amounts of time outside conducting experiments (like water rockets) that can’t be done safely inside.

All this discussion brings me to my book for today. Written and illustrated by one of my favorites, it is a Little Critter story.  They always make me smile. If you have ever been to summer camp or have sent your children to one, you might remember that once or twice you went some place special.  Around here you might get to go to Natural Bridge Caverns, or the Bob Bullock Museum, or the Doctor Pepper Museum, or the Thinkery.  These are all terrific places that make a good day outing in our area.  While I think this book is about a school field trip, I think it would also make a great summer camp outing so I am working it in here.

I admit that I bought this book for myself.  I haven’t read it with a young friend or with my own daughters or with a class.  I have shared it with my husband and he chuckled along with me.  What drew me to the book? It was the curiously familiar illustration of Dr. DaBison.  Yes, it was Neil deGrasse Tyson in illustrated, animal form. That wonderful, science and knowledge advocate was in a Little Critter book!  The dedication sealed the deal for me: “Dedicated to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Thanks for making the universe so much fun!” As I admire both men (Mayer & Tyson), it was mandatory to add this book to my collection.

Little Critter’s class and his teacher, Miss Kitty, take a field trip to the science museum.  They get to check out all the cool experiments. It was cool to see Miss Kitty’s hair stand up all over when she touched the plasma globe.  Little Critter enjoyed exploring the tornado machine.  With Dr. DaBison’s help they explore even more cool science experiments.  They end their day in the planetarium where Dr. DaBison shows them the wonders of the universe.  As Miss Kitty is rounding up her class to board the bus, Dr. DaBison poses this question to the class, “What do you want to be when you grow up”.  Little Critter’s response is the perfect end to the book. “When I grow up I want to be you, Dr. DaBison.  You have the best toys in the universe!”

My sentiments exactly!  Pick up this book, read it, and take yourself and some children, if you are so inclined, to the nearest science museum.  Stay cool, think hard, wonder, and have a great time!

Museums for Science in Central Texas

Arrow to the Sun – Happy July 4th

arrowsunMcDermott, Gerald.  Arrow to the Sun. New York: Puffin Books, 1974.

I know this is late, but Happy July 4th! Yesterday was the birthday of our nation.  We are fortunate to live in a country with a diverse population.  Our varied backgrounds, ancestry,  and stories combine to create a rich narrative for all of us.

The book I offer today, Arrow to the Sun is based on a Pueblo Indian tale.  According to the synopsis, “it is a retelling of how the Spirit of the Lord was brought the world of men”.

This is an exciting tale.  If I were a better storyteller, I would learn to tell this story. It would be a great one to share around a campfire. This book is a visual treat as well.  It has bright colors and stylized drawings based on the Pueblo Indian’s mythology.  I have enjoyed following the story with my eyes as well as my ears.

The Lord of the Sun sends his spark to the earth to a young Pueblo Indian maiden.  The Boy is born. He is rejected by his peers as his father is unknown.  He leaves home to seek his father.  A wise Arrow Maker recognizes the Boy and sees his connection to the Lord of the Son.  He offers his help and makes the boy into an arrow and shoots him to the sun.  The Boy meets the Lord of the Sun but must prove himself.  Find a copy of this book to read to a young friend or even for yourself.

Gerald McDermott

McDermott’s illustrations are dominated by bright, stylized forms, which often draw from indigenous art and highlight his fascination with the origins of stories!¹

I agree with this assessment of his work!  Here are some other interesting facts about this author.

  1. This author was a reader and artist from a young age.
  2. He had an avid interest in world mythologies.
  3. He was a film maker before he became an author. He made some of his films into books.
  4. He won the Caldecott Award for Arrow to the Sun in 1975. He also holds Caldecott Honors for Anansi the Spider (1973) and Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest (1994).

Here are some websites where you can discover more about this author.

  1. http://www.slj.com/2013/01/industry-news/gerald-mcdermott-a-legacy-of-magical-storytelling/#_
  2. https://www.booklistonline.com/Books-and-Authors-Talking-with-Gerald-McDermott-Nancy-J-Johnson/pid=3993803
  3. https://www.booklistonline.com/Books-and-Authors-Talking-with-Gerald-McDermott-Nancy-J-Johnson/pid=3993803
  4. http://www.academia.edu/12211133/Master_Artist_Master_Storyteller_An_Interview_with_Gerald_McDermott_Independent_Filmmaker_Author-Illustrator_of_Childrens_Books_

¹https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-authors/article/55452-obituary-gerald-mcdermott.html