December 1, 2010

Remembering Johnny

Melvin John NIkolai, 1974-2010

I will never forget Johnny Nikolai. He was seven years old when I first moved to Telida, Alaska. I was his teacher from 1981-1984, and he taught me more than I taught him.

Johnny’s ears were sharp and he always knew exactly what he was hearing; he could tell how far away an airplane was, and interpret the sound of sticks breaking in the woods. He could read the movement of the river and the stories told by animal tracks, which meant he could catch more fish and snare more rabbits than most people three times his age.

Reading words on a page didn’t come quite so easily to him, and after I tried all the things I had learned in my education courses, I finally thought to ask Johnny if he knew why reading was hard for him. He looked at me with a surprised expression and said, “When I need to know how to read, I’ll learn.” (I talked this over with his mother and she said, “I’ll stop telling him what’s in the soup cans.”)

Likewise in math, Johnny was often two or three steps ahead of me. Once we were doing a math exercise to learn patterns. Using stamp pads and rolls of adding machine tape, the idea was to stamp repeating patterns such as: dinosaur, dinosaur, fox; dinosaur, dinosaur, fox; dinosaur, dinosaur, fox. I looked at Johnny’s tape and thought he was just having fun stamping randomly–his tape was about fifteen feet long, and I could see no pattern. Until he pointed it out to me–something like: dinosaur, fox, daisy, shoe, sun, moon, star; dinosaur, dinosaur, fox, fox, daisy, daisy, shoe, shoe, sun, sun, moon, moon, star, star; dinosaur, dinosaur, dinosaur, fox, fox, fox…etc. See if you can figure it out faster than I did.

Johnny could be full of mischief, but he could also be kind-hearted and thoughtful, patient and attentive. I feel lucky to have known him.

Helen Frost

September 30, 2010

I’ve raised a black swallowtail butterfly from an egg I saw a butterfly lay on queen anne’s lace in my backyard on September 20, and today it made its first flight!

September 27th, 2010

Candlewick will publish Step Gently Out, a picture book collaboration with Rick Lieder. His nature photographs are as magnificent as his other artwork. The book will come out Spring, 2012.

August 13, 2010

Hidden will be a spring 2011 title on Frances Foster’s list (FSG/MacMillan). I can’t wait to see what the cover will be.

Monarchs are emerging from chrysalises every day. That first flight is always so beautiful.

Pears are ripening. Lots of them.

July 23, 2010

(Celebrating 27 years of a joyful marriage to Chad.)

The past two weeks, I’ve participated in two camps for Miami children:

–an overnight camp at the Indiana Dunes, and

–a day camp on the IPFW campus (here in Fort Wayne, Indiana). The children were learning the myaamia language and culture from enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers.

You can see photos of the day camp here.

Neewe (thank you) to everyone involved.

And this week, I’m enjoying the monarchs as they rest on the flowers and milkweed I’ve planted for them. At the moment, I’m caring for 4 monarch eggs, two small caterpillars, and seven chrysalises. In about a week, the monarchs will emerge.

June 2, 2010

My book has changed shape several times, and is now finished, except for final polishing. It will come out next spring, in time for summer reading (part of it is set in a summer camp).

I’m taking a few deep breaths before embarking on the journey to discover my next book.

Off for a family reunion on the Oregon coast tomorrow!

March 2, 2010

Yesterday a Carolina Wren and an Eastern Bluebird visited our backyard, and today a small white bird I don’t recognize. It was turning its head almost like an owl would, but it’s way too small to be an owl.

Other visitors are: cardinals, grackles, blue jays, finches, woodpeckers, nuthatches, sparrows, and then the chipmunks and squirrels scampering everywhere. A squirrel must have run off with one of the feeders–a metal stick that goes through a cylinder of suet and seeds, and hooks onto the feeder. I can’t find it anywhere.

February 8, 2010

Friday afternoon, I received a wonderful phone call letting me know that Crossing Stones is an honor book for the 2010 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.

Congratulations to Alice Schertle, who won the award, and Betsy Franco and Mary Ann Hoberman, whose books are also honored. Such wonderful company!

Sylvia Vardell writes about it on her blog: Poetry for Children.

Huge thanks to:

* Lee Bennett Hopkins

* this year’s committee

* the Pennsylvania Center for the Book.


Here’s a Christmas recipe I make almost every December. It comes to me from my father’s mother, and probably came with her and her family from Norway in the mid-1800’s. I have an electric Krumkake iron, which makes two cookies at a time, in about 40 seconds (once the iron is hot).

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 eggs, well-beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Cream sugar and shortening.

Add eggs.

Add flour/baking powder and milk a little at a time, alternating wet and dry ingredients.

Put about a tablespoon of batter in the center of the iron and bake until golden brown (less than a minute for each pair).

Roll quickly over a dowel or wooden cone-shape.


October 8, 2009

I’ve been working hard to finish a book, and now that it’s almost finished, I’m finding it hard to let go of the story and characters. There will be lots more interaction with these two girls as the book goes through the editing process, and the process of book design–but for a few more days here, the story is “mine” in a way it won’t be once I send it off to my editor next week.

It’s wonderful to see Crossing Stones coming through the doorway, entering the world–a full-fledged book now, finding its readers, its place in our conversation, our community of readers and writers.