Monthly Archives: November 2012

When You Reach Me

I love when I read a book’s last page and think wow, and I want to go back to page one and start over, looking for clues and re-working the mystery.  Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me is one of those books. My daughter and I took turns reading it to each other. Lucky kid: She got to stay up late all those nights because I couldn’t put the book down. (A precedent has been set. Now, when I tell her lights out, she insists, “But I can’t put it down!” Captain Underpants? Really?)

Stead’s middle grade novel is like Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife for tweens. That description, however, underrates the book’s sophistication. Stead writes a clever guessing game I couldn’t figure out. When the end finally reveals all – in its quiet way – I was thrilled. There were no tricks or ridiculous plot turns.

When You Reach Me is the book you want your friends to read so you can discuss its complexities over several glasses of wine. And with fancy cheese so you feel refined in your writing uniform (jeans and a sweatshirt).

I didn’t discover the library’s best-kept secret. Stead won a Newbery and, from a quick scan of the inside cover, about a thousand other honors. When my daughter brought home her book order sheet last month, she couldn’t make a decision. She asked for my input. I pointed out the books with the gold circle on them. “That’s a Newbery,” I told her. “The gold circle means you’ll probably love it.”

And that’s how When You Reach Me came to us.

So, for all of my (three) readers, buy the book. Stead deserves the royalty.

Of course she’s got a cool web site. Check it out here.


National Book Award Winners

The National Book Award is like one of those big movie awards shows, only it’s not on TV. And most people have never heard of it. Tell most people you won the National Book Award, you’ll get a blank stare. Tell them you won the Super Bowl, they’ll buy you a beer.

Here are the winners!

Louise Erdrich – she’s from Minnesota, you know – won for her novel The Round House. In nonfiction, Katherine Boo won for Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Slum, won the nonfiction award.

And for poetry: David Ferry, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations.

And for literature for young people: William Alexander for Goblin Secret. Another Minnesota writer, by the way.

Read NPR’s coverage here.

Mankato Free Press features Little Rock Girl

My first newspaper interview about Little Rock Girl. Tomorrow, I’ll blog about my first radio interview.

Here’s the story:

Local author, publisher win accolades for portrayal of Little Rock Nine

MANKATO — Powerful visuals and descriptions form a look into the historic events of the Little Rock Nine in the Capstone Press book “Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration.”

North Mankato author Shelley Tougas put words to the pictures that opened the eyes of the world to the struggle of integration in schools across America. And literacy organizations around the country have taken notice.

Continued here.

Book Fair blues

The poodle skirt

“No,” I said. “No, no, no, no.”

My daughter’s pigtails drooped with her face. She’d been dancing all night in her poodle skirt at the school sock hop. On our way to the car, we’d stopped at the school’s book fair. And she’d found books – lots of them, too.

What mom says no to book purchases at the school book fair? Especially an author mom!

This author mom. Why?

  • To make sure she learns she can’t get everything she wants with her very cute pout.
  • To make sure she understands money has its limits, especially before Christmas.
  • To make sure she learns to budget her allowance and plan for things she wants.

No, no, no, no.

Then I felt that sense of floating I always get at a bookstore. Like I’ve been sprinkled with happy dust. In those bookstores, I want to grab big carts and dump random books into them and then mow over the other customers as I  stampede to the cash register with my credit card. Whew.

No, no, no, no.

Then I saw the envelopes. Every teacher has one, filled with the students’ book fair wish lists. I looked at my daughter’s list. The new Captain Underpants. Phineas and Ferb. And Magic Tree House, Magic Tree House, and more Magic Tree House. My daughter’s wish list. For books. In her adorable second-grade handwriting.

But parents have to be consistent, right? I’ve read more than my share of parent advice books. If you no yes no yes no no no yes, your child turns into a crack addict or something awful.

So my no stuck.

But this is a week-long book fair. And after all, tomorrow is another day …

Curious George: the curious kids book

My daughter and friends sharing their love with Curious George.

Curious George is older than my parents. The beloved monkey, created by H. A. and Margret Rey, is a 70-year-old children’s book superstar. Little kids love formula. There’s nothing more formulaic than the little monkey ignoring orders – because he’s sooooo curious – and getting into a jam only to make a last-minute fix with help from the Man with the Yellow Hat.

An aside: Can’t a man with enough money to travel the world afford another suit?

My daughter went through a Curious George stage. We’d go to the Blue Earth County Library for a morning of reading, and the only books she’d read, the only books she’d check out, were Curious George.

Here’s what I found fascinating. If you find the original Curious George book, the Man with the Yellow Hat captures George in Africa and brings him to a zoo. Modern readers find that disturbing. Not only are there issues around ecosystems, the plotline is eerily reminiscent of Africans being captured and sold into slavery.

Later versions of the books suggest George encountered the Man with the Yellow Hat and followed him to America.

Our sensibilities change, and the books that defined our childhood evolve with them. They’re released again, after an editor inserts of dose of sensitivity. Kids don’t notice. I tried to explain to my daughter why I had concerns about the original book, but she didn’t understand. That part of her brain wasn’t ready to process the complexity of social issues.

So, the new and improved (and parent-approved) Curious George, along side old George, continues to occupy two or three shelves at our local library.

This brings me to a summer festival in Mankato, Minnesota. A big costumed “Curious George” arrived and was immediately swarmed by kids. Hugs. Hand holding. Laughter. More hugs. Curious George was a rock star. Or, should I say, Curious George has evolved into a new kind of rock star.

P.S. The best-kept secret only kids know: The Man with the Yellow Hat does have a name. It’s Ted.

Some cool Curious George links:

Curious George Saves the Day at the Jewish Museum

 Curious George on PBS

Curious George at Houghton Mifflin

Dear Google

Dear Google,

Please find me here. Right here, on WordPress.

You are the king of search engines but, with all due respect, I haven’t served on the Parents United Board since 2009. (It’s a wonderful group that empowers citizens to be advocates for Minnesota students. Check them out here.)

I haven’t worked for the Minnesota School Boards Association since 2008. (Another great organization – here.) My gig pitching the media for Education Minnesota lasted nine months. Nine months! That shouldn’t even register on your big search engine radar.

I haven’t been on Twitter in years, either, so I’m not sure why my tweet “Going to the play festival!” shows up in your search lists before my blog. So does another ridiculous tweet, “Just got paid. Cub, here I come.” See why I quit tweeting?

And yes, I’m an alum from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. A lovely campus in a lovely town. But so what?

You found my ex-husband before this page. And my ex-husband’s first wife. You’re good. You’re very, very good.

Then I gave up. I was tired, and the new episode of “Big Bang Theory” was rolling.

But fair is fair. I owe you a big thanks, dear Google, for flagging my books. Writing is my job, after all. I feel so proud when I see the titles online, except for the ones selling on ebay for nine cents.

Just think about it. That’s all I’m saying.


Shelley “Four Eyes” Tougas

I normally wear glasses. I took them off for some of my author portraits. (The glasses-free pic is a few posts below.)  I don’t know why I took them off. Probably for variety. Probably because I never see myself without them.

Maybe I’m wondering if I look younger without the specs. Maybe I’m wondering if I look smarter with the specs. More worldly? More readerly? (Yes, I know readerly is not a word. I’m a writer so I make stuff up.)

I’ve worn glasses for so long, I feel naked without them. Nudity is forbidden on WordPress. So here’s my portrait with glasses. Wow. I look smart, don’t I?

My childhood book collection

For years, I’ve saved a box of my favorite books for the daughter I might have someday. I brought them from home to Mankato, Minnesota, where I was hired as a reporter. I moved seven times in 20 years and lugged that box with me.


Now I have that daughter, and she loves reading. Several months ago, I searched the garage and found the box. Dust covered the books and, yes, there were a few mouse turds. So what? I gently wiped down the books with a damp cloth and gave her some of my favorites: The Dollhouse Caper, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Little House in the Big Woods, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Fudge and more. The pages are yellow, and some of them actually crack and dissolve if you’re not careful.

The stories didn’t dissolve with age. They’re just as wonderful. She’s a fan, even though she doesn’t understand some of the generational things.  (Why don’t they watch a DVD? Can’t she call her mom with her cell phone?)

I’ve set part of the collection aside for a few years. She’s too young for books like Outsiders and Go Ask Alice. It won’t be long, though. It seems like we just read little board books about color and letters, books that she’d promptly put in her mouth for a good chew session.

Share your books. Share them with friends, with parents, with siblings, with the person who just moved across the street. Books build relationships and deepen friendships. They help daughters understand their mothers – and mothers understand their daughters.