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Phyllis Root

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reading guide

I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Valentine's Day, 1949, and grew up among green grass, gardens, trees, open fields, and books, books, books. My father says he remembers me reading in my high chair. I used to make up stories in bed at night when I couldn't sleep and my parents had caught me with my book and flashlight. Of course, I was the heroine in all those stories. My cousins loved the ghost stories I would tell them. By fifth grade I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I did not start writing books until I was thirty, when I took a class that taught me all those tools of writing I had never encountered before, tools like character, setting, plot, tension, dialogue, and so on. I have been writing for over twenty years now and still love messing around with stories.

In those years I have published thirty books, starting with Moon Tiger in 1985. In 1997 Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble, an original tale about a female trickster, won the Minnesota Picture Book text award. What Baby Wants was cited as a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year in 1998. Big Momma Makes the World won the 2003 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for picture books.

I am currently teaching in the MFA Writing for Children program of Hamline University. I live in Minneapolis with my two cats, and numerous butterflies in season amid prairie plants, trees, lakes, and books, books, books. In my spare time I love canoeing, sailing, gardening, and of course reading.

Plant a Pocket of Prairie Plant a Pocket of Prairie
Illustrated by Betsy Bowen
Published by Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2014
ISBN 9780816679805

Author Phyllis Root and illustrator Betsy Bowen last explored the vast, boggy peatlands of northern Minnesota in their book Big Belching Bog. Now, in Plant a Pocket of Prairie, Root and Bowen take young readers on a trip to another of Minnesota’s important ecosystems: the prairie.

Once covering almost 40 percent of the United States, native prairie is today one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Plant a Pocket of Prairie teaches children how changes in one part of the system affect every other part: when prairie plants are destroyed, the animals who eat those plants and live on or around them are harmed as well. Root shows what happens when we work to restore the prairies, encouraging readers to “plant a pocket of prairie” in their own backyards.

By growing native prairie plants, children can help re-create food and habitat for the many birds, butterflies, and other animals that depend on them. “Plant cup plants,” Root suggests. “A thirsty chickadee might come to drink from a tiny leaf pool. Plant goldenrod. A Great Plains toad might flick its tongue at goldenrod soldier beetles.” An easy explanation of the history of the prairie, its endangered status, and how to go about growing prairie plants follows, as well as brief descriptions of all the plants and animals mentioned in the story.

With Betsy Bowen’s beautiful, airy illustrations capturing the feel of an open prairie and all its inhabitants, readers of all ages will be inspired to start planting seeds and watching for the many fascinating animals their plants attract. What a marvelous transformation could take place if we all planted a pocket of prairie!

Lilly and the Pirates

Lilly and the Pirates
illustrated by Rob Shepperson
Boyds Mills Press, 2010
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-1590785836

A sighting of the rare frangipani fruit fly sends Lilly's scientist parents off in search of the fabled Shipwreck Islands. Lilly awaits their return at the home of her great-uncle Ernest, the chief librarian of Mundelaine, a town that seems to have more than its share of piratical-looking characters lurking about. When news comes that her parents' ship has wrecked, she must overcome her fear of the sea, find the hidden island, and outsmart a bunch of treasure-hungry pirates to save the day.

Big Belching Bog

Big Belching Bog
illustrated by Betsy Bowen
University of Minnesota Press, 2010
ages 4 to 8, ISBN 978-0816633593

In Big Belching Bog, Phyllis Root lets us in on the secrets of the mysterious bog, describing such special inhabitants as plants that eat insects, bog lemmings, and frogs that stay frozen through the winter and thaw out in the spring. But what's that coming up from the bottom of the bog? The biggest bog secret of all is the remarkable process of methane gas belching out of the bog. The gas is created by decaying peat moss and forms a bulge in the surface of the moss six inches or taller before breaking through.

Creak! Said the Bed

Creak! Said the Bed
illustrated by Regan Dunnick
Candlewick, 2010
ages 4 to 8, ISBN 978-0763620042

It’s the middle of the night. Everyone’s snoozing in bed when out of the darkness, squeak goes the door. Mama’s eyes fly open. Who is awake? Evie? Ivy? Little Mo? On a stormy night in a little house, only Papa keeps snoring away—snurkle, snark—unaware of the wild weather outside and the growing number of nervous bedmates within. Can nothing wake him? Creak! says the bed. . . . With a cumulative series of comical events, this delightful story sends readers barreling toward bedlam.

Toot Toot Zoom!

Toot Toot Zoom!
illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Candlewick, 2009
ages 4 to 8, ISBN 978-0763634520

Poor Pierre! He lives all alone at the foot of a mountain, and his heart, how it longs for a friend. Perhaps if he hops in his car—toot, toot, zoom!—he will find a friend on the other side of the mountain! On the road— SCREECH!—he meets Goat, who kindly offers to help. And that, says Pierre, is exactly the sort of thing his friend will do when he finds him! Up, up they zoom, collecting an amiable Sheep and Bear along the way. Will the car make it to the top? Will it get safely down? Will Pierre ever find a friend?

Paula Bunyan

Paula Bunyan
illustrated by Kevin O'Malley
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
ages 4 to 8, ISBN 978-0374357597

Bounding with oversize visual and verbal humor, here is the previously untold story of Paul Bunyan’s “little” sister, who was as tall as a pine tree, as strong as a dozen moose, and could run so fast that she once ran all the way back to yesterday. As she heads to the North Woods in search of freedom and adventure, Paula uses her brains and brawn to surmount every challenge that comes her way, proving to ferocious animals that she’s their friend and becoming protector of a wild wonderland.

Flip, Flap, Fly

Flip, Flap, Fly! A Book for Babies Everywhere
illustrated by David Walker
Candlewick, 2009
ages baby to preschool, ISBN 978-0763631093

Little readers are invited to join these baby animals as they fly, swim, wiggle, and slide, all with the help of their mamas. But what these babies like best, of course, is spotting other baby animals!

Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome Visitors

Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome Visitors
illustrated by David Parkins
Candlewick, 2007
ages 4 to 8, ISBN 978-0763630744

Come on in and stay a spell! Aunt Nancy outwits four unwelcome guests in these trickster tales from a masterful storyteller.

It would take a real pesky visitor to make himself unwelcome to Aunt Nancy. But just her luck — not one but FOUR bothersome folks come knocking at her door! From Cousin Lazybones to Old Man Trouble, from doleful Old Woeful to sly, slick Mister Death, Aunt Nancy’s visitors nearly try her patience. But Aunt Nancy’s head isn’t there just to keep her ears from fighting, and see if she doesn’t get the best of all her guests! Here in one volume are Phyllis Root’s irresistible trickster tales, illustrated with David Parkins’s droll silhouettes and full-color paintings.

Lucia and the Light

Lucia and the Light
illustrated by Mary GrandPre
Candlewick, 2006
ISBN 978-0-7636-2296-1

In a cozy cabin high in the mountains of the Far North, Lucia and her family live a snug and contented life. But one day the wind screams fiercely and the sun does not rise over the mountain. Someone has stolen the sun! "Perhaps it has lost its way," says Lucia, who despite her mother's pleas sets out to find it with only a bit of bread, a tinderbox, and her milk-white cat to keep her company. In dramatic pastels, Mary GrandPré illuminates troll-pocked frozen mountains and wraps Lucia's family in a blanket of warmth. Inspired by Nordic lore, Phyllis Root spins a golden yarn of courage, love, and the age-old longing for the return of light.

Who Said Boo?
illustrated by Ana Martín Larrañaga
Little Simon, 2005
ISBN 978-0-689-85408-8

Someone said boo! But who? Lift the flaps of this silly mystery to find out who's the spookiest character of all!

The House That Jill Built
illustrated by Delphine Durand
Candlewick, 2005
ages 4 to 8, ISBN 978-0-7636-1008-1

Flip the flaps, open a fun foldout, and peek inside a final pop-up to find out what happens when Jill’s nursery rhyme friends move in!

illustrated by Holly Meade
Candlewick, February 2005
ISBN 978-0-7636-1794-3

Baby bunnies bump and bumble. Cottontails take a tumble. Hop and jump with the baby bunnies as they romp on the grass, hide in their hole, and come out again in a bunch, find some clover ... nibble lunch!

llustrated by Holly Meade
Candlewick, 2005
ISBN 978-0-7636-1793-6

Mama Duck calls quack quack quack! Ducklings hatching crack crack crack! Join these little ducklings as they flip their wings, wobble their tails and follow their mother in a dash, find a puddle, splish splosh splash!

If You Want to See a Caribou

If You Want to See a Caribou
illustrated by Jim Meyer
Houghton Mifflin, 2004
ISBN 978-0-618-39314-5

Reading Guide available from Minnesota Storytime

If you really want to see a woodland caribou, you might try going to a place forgotten by time. It should be a hushed place, with perhaps rocky green hills and blue water, home to loons and beaver, lichen and yellow buttercups. With every step, this gentle journey brings us to a deeper and more unique connection with nature. Phyllis Root"s mesmerizing text, together with Jim Meyer"s outstanding woodblock prints, makes the very heart of the forest come alive and reveals that if you are patient and quiet, sometimes what you are seeking will, in the end, find you.

Ten Sleepy Sheep

Ten Sleepy Sheep
llustrated by Susan Gaber
Candlewick Press, 2004
ages 4 to 8, ISBN 978-0-7636-1545-1

One by one ten sheep reluctantly fall asleep in the barnyard.


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