Saturday, April 29, 2006

Cloud's cloud

Susan posted a link to word clouds at Zoom Clouds and I loved the idea so I went there and made one. Zoom Clouds takes key words from my posts based on frequency and makes them hot links. I am not completely satisfied with how it looks on my page, so I am still tweaking it, but I am so excited with the possibilities! The fonts get bigger the more frequently I have used the term, and if you click on one of them in the cloud you can go to the most recent article containing that term. It updates automatically, so my most frequent key words will always be right there. Cool! Thank you Crunchy Susan for your help!

The College Choice

Well you may remember I mentioned my oldest son and his college search. He is a high school senior so we have been doing the college application process for over a year now. May 1 is the deadline to accept a college offer, and we have been agonizing over it. He has gone on so many
college visits I am afraid his grades have suffered! We have been calling the financial aid offices, trying to negotiate for the best package, and my whole family has been giving advice and praying for his decision. He had narrowed it down to two of the four that accepted him, all really good schools. Well, he has made up his mind. It's not my first pick, but it's his life so I am leaving it up to him. He has to pay back the loans so it has to be something he is totally invested in and believes is best for his future.

It's a very good school.

But it is so far away from us! Sad I am trying to be excited for him, but I don't have my heart in it. Yet. I am trying to think about all the great opportunities he will have there. I am very proud of him and I know he will do well. I know there are so many exciting opportunities out there for him! But we will miss him so much! He won't be able to come home very often, we just can't afford the plane fare. I can't believe my baby is going to college!

I thought when I got to the point of making this announcement I would be more happy and excited. Truth is I don't feel it that way now.

Anyone have any words of wisdom or encouragement?

Friday, April 28, 2006

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

Read the rest of this poem here.

by Langston Hughes

Our Stories, Our Songs: African Children Talk About AIDS by Deborah Ellis

Deborah Ellis traveled to Malawi and Zambia in the summer of 2003 and met with children living in several villages and cities, some on the streets, some with grandparents or extended relatives, some with living parents. All are living with the effects of the AIDS pandemic. In Our Stories, Our Songs: African Children Talk About AIDS they tell their stories simply and with touching candor. Their lives take my breath away. In spite of all that they struggle with, their fear, sadness and loss, they are still often filled with hope and joy. They share their dreams and plans for the future as well as the grim hardships they live with at present. After seeing what poverty, hunger and disease can do, many want to become doctors, nurses, lawyers and teachers in order to make the world a better place. Interspersed with their stories are informational charts telling the facts on AIDS. The illustrations are lovely sepia toned photographs of the children and their families and schools. The book is written for 6th – 9th grades, but I think it’s good for adults too. In the back there are resources for further reading in books and websites of organizations involved in supporting AIDS work.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Late April; Early Morning

Books are for the scholar's idle times. When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men's transcripts of their readings."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson "The American Scholar"

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Laurie Halse Anderson

We had an author visit our school this week: Laurie Halse Anderson, who wrote Speak, Prom, Catalyst, and Fever 1793 for Young Adults and Thank You Sarah and other picture books for the younger set. She was fabulous! I only got to sit in on one of her talks because of my schedule but I learned a lot about writing just listening to what she told the sixth graders. She is witty and candid and really connected with the kids. After talking about her writing process she got them all involved in planning out a character for a possible story. Her web site has a blog and some great links so check it out!

I read Speak last weekend to prep for her visit, and I really liked it. Anderson’s voice rings authentic as her teenage character. She seems a bit more mature and astute than your average teen, perhaps. She sees her teachers with depth and clarity, reading the complexity of their emotional lives. This is somewhat spooky for me as a teacher. I shutter to think that my students read me that easily, although when I think about how much time they have to study me and learn my moods and all my tics and idioms, I realize they may know me better than I know them. The agony of the high school social environment is heartbreaking, and the intensity of this girl’s trauma touched me deeply. This is a book well deserving of the many awards it has won.

I started reading Catalyst and I think it is better for high school more than middle school, because of the mature themes. The leading character is anxious about getting into MIT, which I can really relate to these days as I wait to see where Buster will end up going to collage in the fall.

Fever, 1793 I read a few years ago, and loved it. It is about an epidemic of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia, as experienced by a young woman and her family, and it is very well written. Thank You Sarah is a picture book bought by my library last fall. It tells the story of Sarah Hale, whose hard work established Thanksgiving as a national holiday. It is both amusing and shows the power of all who hold a pen. Prom I haven’t gotten to read yet, because it is always checked out by our students, but it is on my list to snag if I ever see it coming in. I highly recommend this author!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Our second grade is studying colonialism and they are making nine patch quilts. The kids do this every year, and it is a wonderful project. Parents come in to help but the kids do most of the cutting and sewing themselves. The quilts are about 2’ square when they are finished and they are beautiful. I am a quilter myself, so I always like to bring in some of my own quilts to show the children. This one in the picture I made for Punkin last fall.

In our library I have built up our quilt book collection for this unit, and we have some lovely new additions this year.

The Quilt-Block History of Pioneer Days by Mary Cobb; Illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis. Gives a nice overview of American pioneer quilts, techniques and popular patterns. Each chapter has projects kids can make, from lap quilts to bookmarks, greeting cards, box and book covers, and a hanging windmill star.

Eight Hands Round; A Patchwork Alphabet by Ann Whitford Paul, illustrated by Jeanette Winter. Nineteenth century patchwork patterns from American history, for every letter of the alphabet. Nice illustrations and a brief explanation of each design and how it fit with everyday life.

The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brunbeau and Gail de Marcken. Beautifully, vibrantly illustrated fable about a talented quiltmaker that rejoices in giving her quilts away and a greedy king that is never happy with what he has. Clues for the story action are given in quilt blocks imbedded in each pages’ illustrations. Lovely!

Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson and James E. Ransome.
This one tells the story of a girl and her family running from slavery, taking the Underground Railroad to freedom. An important part of our history is the way quilts were used to give signals to those escaping and seeking the way to freedom. In this story a quilt hung on a fence tells of safe haven by the color of the center squares on a log cabin pattern. I love how the color of the illustrations moves from dark and frightening to light and joyful as they make progress on their journey.

Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbott. This gorgeous book tells the story, the Show Way, of Woodson’s family history in quilts. Mother tells daughter, mother tells daughter “There’s a road, girl, there’s a road…” And each one finds a way to love their babies up and pass on the knowledge. I love this book. It makes me cry and gasp at the beauty of her quilts, her story, and her poetry. You’ve got to read this book!

Excuse me, is this India? By Anita Leutwiler and Anushka Ravishankar. Another book showing how quilts tell stories and pass on family history. A girl’s aunt comes back from India and makes quilt blocks to tell the story of all she had seen in India. Gives a different perspective on quilting, as these are mainly appliqué and embroidery of scenes from India. Charming and engaging.

Luka’s Quilt by Georgia Guback. This story takes place in Hawaii and shows the traditional Hawaiian style of quilting. Luka and her grandmother learn to work together and find beauty in each other’s point of view, as well as make a quilt together. It’s nice to balance the variety of quilting books, showing that quilts have been used and enjoyed in cultures all over the world in so many different times.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Isabel Allende

I have always been enchanted by Isabel Allende. I absolutely loved The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna. So I was eagerly looking forward to reading her new Young Adult novels, starting with City of the Beasts. What a shock. It just doesn’t sound like her voice. It is bland and washed out. I kept reading because I got attached to the characters and wanted to find out what happened to them and who the beasts were, and gradually it grew on me. But it didn’t move me like Allende.

Compare the language with me here. This is from The Stories of Eva Luna, which I had to get out and reread in order to see if my memory of her loveliness matched her actual writing.

From Two Words:

She explained that for every fifty centavos a client paid, she gave him the gift of a word for his exclusive use. The Colonel shrugged. He had no interest at all in her offer, but he did not want to be impolite to someone who had served him so well. She walked slowly to the leather stool where he was sitting, and bent down to give him her gift. The man smelled the scent of a mountain cat issuing from the woman, a fiery heat radiating from her hips, he heard the terrible whisper of her hair, and a breath of sweetmint murmured into his ear the two secret words that were his alone.
“They are yours, Colonel,” she said as she stepped back. “You may use them as much as you please.”
El Mulato accompanied Belisa to the roadside, his eyes as entreating as a stray dog’s, but when he reached out to touch her, he was stopped by an avalanche of words he had never heard before; believing them to be an irrevocable curse, the flame of his desire was extinguished.

Now here is a passage from the beginning of City of the Beasts:

Alexander looked at the clock: six-thirty, time to get up. Outside, it was beginning to get light. He decided that this was going to be a terrible day, one of those days when it’s best to stay in bed because everything is going to turn out bad. There had been a lot of days like that since his mother got sick; sometimes the air in the house felt heavy, like being at the bottom of the sea. On those days, the only relief was to escape, to run along the beach with Poncho until he was out of breath. But it had been raining and raining for more than a week – a real deluge – and on top of that, Poncho had been bitten by a deer and didn’t want to move. Alex was convinced that he had the dumbest dog in history, the only eighty-pound Labrador ever bitten by a deer.

What is missing? Where are the magic words? It is trite. Clichéd. Predictable.

Maybe I am just picking a really good old passage and a really bland new passage, but I think these are fairly typical of the whole works.

I have been thinking about it a lot, puzzling it out. What did she do differently? Get someone else to write it for her?

Then I realized what is missing. When she wrote for young people she left out the fertility. The musk of women. The steam and mystery of jungle. The Beasts story goes to the jungle and has lush vegetation and mysterious creatures, but it leaves out the passion. I guess she thinks since the main characters are a teen-age boy and a 10 year old girl that is out of place? I have to say I am disappointed. Very disappointed. It’s a good story but not what I expect from Allende. I haven’t decided if I will keep reading the next two volumes in the series.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Wendell Berry

One of the truly sad, unbearable, nitty gritty parts of being a librarian is that you have to weed on a regular basis. When librarians say “weed” we mean throwing books away.

AWK! What did she say?

It’s true. Librarians throw books away. Some of us do it better than others. My colleague, who is a fabulous jewel at the heart of our library, is a vicious weeder. She unpacks the boxes of new books and does a lot of the purchasing, so she knows full well that we have a very generous budget for new books and we have a physically limited amount of shelf space. We can only hold so many books. This is an undisputable fact of life.

So some of the older, less circulated, less attractive, less child-desired books have to go.


I am not a good weeder. I tend to rescue as many as I can. I haven’t been a librarian long enough to be a good weeder. I drag a book cart full of the ones I just can’t bear to see go away into the teacher’s lounge and beg teachers to take them into their classrooms. I look for places to give them away. But bottom line, some of these books are out of date and even just plain inaccurate. Pluto was the eighth planet when Buster was in third grade, but it was the ninth when I was in third grade.

So yesterday I had to drag a huge dolly full of boxes of books out to the dumpster and throw them in. Heartbreaking but also somehow oddly liberating, the way scratching poison ivy makes you feel good.

One book I did rescue in intense, passionate, scandalous revolt and keep for my own overflowing bookshelves. It is Wendell Berry’s Collected Poems 1957 – 1982.

How dare she delete Wendell Berry?

Oh. My. Stars.

Berry is a farmer and poet. Here is my favorite one from this volume.

The Familiar

The hand is risen from the earth,
the sap risen, leaf come back to branch,
bird to nest crotch. Beans lift
their heads up in the row. The known
returns to be known again. Going
and coming back, it forms its curves,
a nerved ghostly anatomy in the air.

Kids; Reading, Writing, Using the Internet

I read a great article yesterday. It’s called “Reading adventures online: five ways to introduce the new literacies of the Internet through children’s Literature” by Jill Castek, Jessica Bevans-Mangelson, Bette Goldstone. It’s in The Reading Teacher. Vol. 59, No. 7. April, 2006. There are some very exciting things happening with kids and books and the Internet. The basic idea of the article is that you can use connections between kids, books, authors and web sites to teach kids some of the new ways they need to use reading and thinking in today’s media rich world. There are new skills involved in reading, as everyone who reads a lot off a computer screen can attest too, and kids need to broaden their reading abilities to take advantage of all that’s available. The article gives a lot of detailed information about the needed skills, and suggests five ways teachers can use the Internet to teach them.

The five suggested ways:
1. Explore stories on the Web.
2. Invite students to become authors on the Web.
3. Participate in virtual book clubs.
4. Collaborate on Internet projects.
5. Add informational websites to your study of literature.

Here are some of the best links included in the article that I enjoyed exploring and bookmarked to use later:

Published authors’ stories, read by some well known actors.

Stories and poems written by Children, published on the Web.

Electronic portfolios - people telling their stories online.

Scholastic’s Writing With Writers: publisher authors give instruction, examples and advice for children writing.

Book reviews by kids, for kids.

Student-written book reviews of well known children’s literature.

It is just so exciting to see how the Intenet opens new worlds of information and continues to allow people to build bridges of communication and collaboration. It keeps getting better and better!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bus Duty Books

I am an elementary school librarian, so one of my extra duties is to supervise a bus room at the end of the day. When the children are dismissed they go to their assigned bus room to wait for their buses to be called over the intercom, or to after school care in the gym, or to the car pool room to be picked up by the line of cars in the parking lot. I have the joy of going to the fifth grade classroom to wait with a bunch of rambunctious boys whose bus is always late. I usually have about 20 minutes to ignore them wrestling and throwing pillows from the reading corner at each other, so I read the books the fifth grade teacher has so invitingly left out on display. I put a tiny piece of sticky note on the page I have to stop on each day, as a secret bookmark. Sometimes I have trouble stopping, and once or twice the classroom teacher caught me still reading when she came back from her bus duty. She just laughs and shakes her head at me.

This week I am reading So B. It by Sarah Weeks. I read it once before, last year, and I loved it then as much as I am loving it now. 12 year old Heidi has lived with her mentally challenged mother and agoraphobic neighbor all her life. She has no idea where she and her mother came from, if they have any other family, or how they ended up living in their apartment in Reno, Nevada, which has all its bills mysteriously paid without any visible means of support. She has only two clues: one of her mother’s words, soof; and a few pictures she discovers in the back of a sock drawer of someone who looks like her mother in a home in upstate New York. She decides to take a bus trip alone across country to try to discover the meaning of soof and find her history. She sets out alone, relying on her good luck and ability to “fly under the radar”, a skill taught to her by her neighbor Bernadette. Heidi tells her adventure story simply and sweetly, with genuine emotion and honesty. I feel as though I am on her journey with her, rooting for her and searching for family roots with all of my own twelve year old’s excitement, passion, fear, curiosity, and desire. This is a book I hate to come to the end of, and would love to read aloud to a fourth or fifth grade class.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Philip Pullman

The Scarecrow and His Servant is the latest book I’ve read by Philip Pullman. I really like Pullman, especially the His Dark Materials trilogy. The Scarecrow is a quick read, very entertaining and light. The scarecrow is predictable foolish/wise and gets himself into and out of all kinds of trouble from one page to the next. The servant is a resourceful boy who knows when to keep quiet and when to say just the right thing… a trait I would do well to learn. I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book and I think 4th through 6th graders would love it.

The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials series) I read a few years ago and I really loved them. They are much more complex and challenging than the scarecrow story. They should be read in order, as the characters and plot continue to develop through out the series. It takes a while for readers to get into the language and imagery of the story, but once it grabs you, you won’t be able to put the books down. It completely absorbed me until I got through all three of them. Lyra and Will, the children in the center of the saga, are in an alternate universe that looks very much like our own, except that everyone there has a spirit/animal companion called a daemon. Lyra is living at a university in a city like Oxford at the beginning of the story, being raised by scholars as she has lost both of her parents. As the story progresses she meets both her mother and father and struggles with the coldness and cruelty she finds in them. In The Subtle Knife Will is also looking for his father. These two main characters team up on a quest to save the universe from evil and destruction by solving the mystery of why things are disintegrating. The only thing I really didn’t like was the ending in book three, where God is revealed to be a wizard-of-oz type little man hiding behind a curtain. It was anticlimactic and very disappointing. The rest of the philosophical viewpoint was interesting and thought provoking. I would recommend these books to 5th grade – 8th.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Walk in the Woods

At the end of a lovely, lovely weekend, we had the perfect family walk in the woods. I am happy!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

What's in our Easter Baskets

Buster: Walden, Henry David Thoreau, gift card to his favorite bookstore, his stuffed bunny, and two kinds of special dark chocolate.

Buddy boy: Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White, DK Lift-the-flap book Things That Go, his stuffed bunny, chocolate, Pez & jellybeans.

Punkin: Curious George Rides a Bike, H. A. Rey, Flossie and the Fox, Patricia C. McKissack, a bunny puppet and three dark chocolate eggs.

Mine: Our ham dinner, the flowers in my garden, the alleluias in church, and my three boys.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Book A Year Meme

Rather than doing 100 things about me, I decided to try listing a book for every year of my life. It might tell just about all you want to know about me! LOL So here's my meme:

List a book for each year of your life. It has to be one you read that was significant for you. When I mentioned one book I probably read as many others by the same author as I could find.

I was going to tag people to pass this on, but I hate the thought of all those groans echoing around cyberspace if I give you homework, so it’s extra credit. Take the challenge if it grabs you!

1. Dr Spock’s Baby and Child Care – my mother is a fanatic
2. The Westminster Shorter Catechism for Children – dad’s a pastor, OK?
3. Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter
4. Winnie the Pooh –A. A. Milne
5. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish - Dr. Seuss
6. The Bible
7. The Wizard of Oz – Frank L. Baum
8. On the Banks of Plum Creek – Laura Ingles Wilder
9. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis
10. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
11. Sing Down the Moon – Scott O’Dell
12. Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury
13. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret – Judy Blume
14. My Side of The Mountain – Jean Craighead George
15. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
16. A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin
17. Stranger in A Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
18. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
19. Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
20. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M. Persig
21. The Norton Anthology of English Liturature
22. The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Basho
23. The Chinese; Portrait of a People – John Fraser
24. The Mill on the Floss – George Elliot
25. Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster
26. Teacher – Silvia Ashton Warner
27. Your Baby and Child – Penelope Leach
28. Death at an Early Age – Jonathan Kozol
29. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
30. The Clan of the Cave Bear – Jean M. Auel
31. The Courage to Heal – Ellen Bass and Laura Davis
32. The Book of Common Prayer
33. The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
34. The Tao of Tai-Chi Chuan – Jou, Tsung Hwa
35. Macs for Dummies – David Pogue
36. The Essential Rumi – translations by Coleman Barks
37. Driven to Distraction – Edward M. Hallowell, M.D, and John J. Ratey, M.D.
38. You Mean Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo
39. Teaching Children to Care – Ruth Sidney Charney
40. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
41. omiyage – Kumiko Sudo
42. Lifting the White Veil – Jeff Hitchcock
43. Transracial Adoption – Gail Steinberg & Beth Hall
44. Debt Free Living – Mary Hunt
45. I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla – Marguerite A. Wright
46. What’s Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life – Lise Eliot, Ph.D.
47. The Wonder Weeks - Hetty Vanderijt, Ph.D., & Frans Plooij, Ph.D.

Edited to add: I have to admit I came back and changed a few. It is so hard to pick only one per year!!

Friday, April 14, 2006

spring poetry

Another Sarah
for Christopher Smart

When winter was half over
God sent three angels to the apple tree
Who said to her
“Be glad, you little rack
Of empty sticks,
Because you have been chosen.

The rest of this poem is here.

Ann Porter b. 1911

Portrait of the Artist

Buster is reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce for a term paper he has to write. He is taking AP (Advanced Placement) English in high school. In May they take an exam and if they score high enough some colleges will give credit for the course. All the kids are taking these courses now, which we didn’t have in my day. I read the book in college. I am having to sit on my hands and bite my lips to keep from jumping in and starting to do his research for him. Just imagine what resources there are on the Internet these days!!! It sets my English-major-librarian heart racing just bringing the subject up.

The other night at dinner we were enjoying a pretty grown-up conversation about his trip to Baltimore, and Buddy Boy wanted to have a turn as center of attention. So he started telling a fascinating, long drawn out story about what he did at his friend’s house, all imaginative and rambling and not making much sense, but very amusing. I looked over at Buster and he smiled and said “he’s so stream of consciousness”. I am going to miss him so much next year!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Book Meme

I got this from Angela, but it originated here.
Instructions: Bold the ones you've read. Italicize the ones you've been wanting/might like to read. ??Place question marks by any titles/authors you've never heard of. *Use an asterisk if you've read something else by the same author.

Alcott, Louisa May--Little Women
*Allende, Isabel--The House of Spirits
*Angelou, Maya--I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
*Atwood, Margaret--Cat's Eye
*Austen, Jane--Emma
??Bambara, Toni Cade--Salt Eaters
??Barnes, Djuna--Nightwood
Beauvoir, Simone--The Second Sex
*Blume, Judy--Are You There God? It's Me Margaret
Burnett, Frances--The Secret Garden
*Bronte, Charlotte--Jane Eyre
*Bronte, Emily--Wuthering Heights
*Buck, Pearl S.--The Good Earth Oo oo I love her!
JByatt, A.S.--Possession
*Cather, Willa--My Antonia
*Chopin, Kate--The Awakening
*Christie, Agatha--Murder on the Orient Express
*Cisneros, Sandra--The House on Mango Street
JClinton, Hillary Rodham--Living History
??Cooper, Anna Julia--A Voice From the South
Danticat, Edwidge--Breath, Eyes, Memory
JDavis, Angela--Women, Culture, and Politics
Desai, Anita--Clear Light of Day
*Dickinson, Emily--Collected Poems
Duncan, Lois--I Know What You Did Last Summer
DuMaurier, Daphne--Rebecca
*Eliot, George--Middlemarch
??Emecheta, Buchi--Second Class Citizen
Erdrich, Louise--Tracks
Esquivel, Laura--Like Water for Chocolate
Flagg, Fannie---Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
Friedan, Betty---The Feminine Mystique

Frank, Anne--Diary of a Young Girl
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins--The Yellow Wallpaper
*Gordimer, Nadine---July's People
Grafton, Sue---S is for Silence
Hamilton, Edith---Mythology
Highsmith, Patricia---The Talented Mr. Ripley
*hooks, bell---Bone Black
*Hurston, Zora Neale--Dust Tracks on the Road
Jacobs, Harriet--Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Jackson, Helen Hunt--Ramona
Jackson, Shirley--The Haunting of Hill House
Jong, Erica--Fear of Flying
Keene, Carolyn--The Nancy Drew Mysteries
Kidd, Sue Monk--The Secret Life of Bees
*Kincaid, Jamaica--Lucy
Kingsolver, Barbara--The Poisonwood Bible
*Kingston, Maxine Hong--The Woman Warrior
JLarsen, Nella--Passing
*L'Engle, Madeleine--A Wrinkle in Time
*Le Guin, Ursula K.--The Left Hand of Darkness
Lee, Harper--To Kill a Mockingbird
*Lessing, Doris--The Golden Notebook
Mitchell, Margaret--Gone with the Wind
*Montgomery, Lucy Maud--Anne of Green Gables
??Morgan, Joan--When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost
*Morrison, Toni--Song of Solomon
JMurasaki, Lady Shikibu--The Tale of Genji
Munro, Alice--Lives of Girls and Women
Murdoch, Iris--Severed Head
*Naylor, Gloria--Mama Day
Niffenegger, Audrey--The Time Traveller's Wife
*Oates, Joyce Carol--We Were the Mulvaneys
*O'Connor, Flannery--A Good Man is Hard to Find
*Piercy, Marge--Woman on the Edge of
Picoult, Jodi--My Sister's Keeper
Plath, Sylvia--The Bell Jar
*Porter, Katharine Anne--Ship of Fools
*Proulx, E. Annie--The Shipping News
*Rand, Ayn--The Fountainhead
?Ray, Rachel--365: No Repeats
?Rhys, Jean--Wide Sargasso Sea
?Robinson, Marilynne--Housekeeping
?Rocha, Sharon--For Laci
Sebold, Alice--The Lovely Bones
Shelley, Mary--Frankenstein
Smith, Betty--A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Smith, Zadie--White Teeth
Spark, Muriel--The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Spyri, Johanna--Heidi
Strout, Elizabeth--Amy and Isabelle
*Steel, Danielle--The House
*Tan, Amy--The Joy Luck Club
*Tannen, Deborah--You're Wearing That
??Ulrich, Laurel--A Midwife's Tale
??Urquhart, Jane--Away
*Walker, Alice--The Temple of My Familiar
*Welty, Eudora--One Writer's Beginnings
*Wharton, Edith--Age of Innocence
*Wilder, Laura Ingalls--Little House in the Big Woods
*Wollstonecraft, Mary--A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Woolf, Virginia--A Room of One's Own

And some additional books, courtesy of mamaloo:
Bank, Melissa-Girls' Guide To Hunting And Fishing
Cherryh, CJ- any
Diamant, Anita-The Red Tent
Fielding, Helen-Bridget Jones's Diary
Gedge, Pauline-Child Of The Morning
Klein, Naomi-No Logo
Laurence, Margaret-The Stone Angel
*Mccullough, Colleen-The Thorn Birds
McDonald, Anne-Marie-Fall On Your Knees
Nin, Anais-Little Birds
Rice, Anne-Interview With A Vampire
Shields, Carol-The Stone Diaries
??Winterson, Jeanette-Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
??Wolf, Naomi-The Beauty Myth
??Banana Yoshimoto-Kitchen

April Picture Books

Several new titles in the library this week, and a few old favorites for Easter. Buddy Boy is still stuck on Bernstein Bears and I am trying to break him of it, so I’m hunting around for fodder in the battle. Good stuff here. We have a long weekend at home and I am bringing home some library books!

Renchenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco. Polacco is a masterful writer and artist. Her illustrations glow with joy. Her stories are often autobiographical and full of genuine folk history and humor from her family’s roots in the Ukraine, Russia and Ireland. She grew up very close to her grandparents and writes most of her stories about the magical relationships between older and younger people. She didn’t start illustrating and writing children’s books until she was in her 40s, another reason I like her! This particular story is full of miracles and revolves around Easter themes. Many of her picture books are very appropriate for middle grade and older children.

The Story of Easter by Aileen Fisher, illustrated by Stepano Vitale. This is a beautiful book that simply and clearly explains the whole story of Easter. The Holy Week saga of Jesus from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday is beautifully told and illustrated, as well as other ancient spring rituals and the reasons we use eggs and bunnies to celebrate the return of spring. I really love the illustrations in this book and I am going to bring it home to share with my boys this weekend.

Clara and Asha by Eric Rohamann. A lovely story about a very imaginative little girl who has a friend that is a big blue fish. He comes to play with her and takes her on adventures right before bedtime, but returns her to her room when mother calls. Very sweet and beautifully illustrated.

Bess and Bella by Irene Haas. Another imaginative story about a little girl looking for a friend. This time it is a bird with a magical suitcase full of treats and entertainments. They throw quite a party until mom calls Bella in for supper. My little guys are going to love this one.

April Foolishness by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. When the grandkids come to the farm on April 1st they try to trick an old grandpa who is much to smart for them. Not too smart for grandma though!! This one will have us all in giggles. The illustrations fit perfectly with the text.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Baby Signs

Two years ago with Buddy Boy I discovered the book Baby Signs; How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. They present a system of teaching sign language to babies starting around six to nine months old, on the theory that babies know what they want and are much happier, easier to live with, and learn faster when they can communicate their thoughts and desires. I started teaching Buddy Boy when he was about nine or ten months old. He was right around a year when he really took off with using signs. Especially at meal time, when he knew what he wanted and would tend to scream and throw things out of frustration if he couldn’t get his meaning across, the signing really made a huge difference in our lives. I believe it helped him develop more sophisticated language skills at a younger age, which is what this book says will happen.

So now I am working with Punkin on learning some signs. So far he waves bye-bye and blows kisses. His only other sign is one he made up himself independently. When he is really hungry he bangs his left fist against his chest repeatedly. He stands at the kitchen gate while I’m cooking supper, peering through the bars whimpering and banging his little fist against his chest as if to say “Oh Ma, come on hurry I am about to faint here! I’m starvin’ like Marvin!”

Breakfast every morning is ‘O’ cereal and milk and bananas, so we are working on the signs for those things first. He claps his hands together when he wants more, which I think is pretty close to the sign for it. We also have two board books showing baby signs, Baby Signs for Meal Times and First Baby Signs. We have the Baby Einstein tape Wordsworth, which is all about baby signs too. He is not much into watching videos yet, and doesn’t sit still long for books, but I think it’s good to keep presenting the ideas in little doses all throughout the day. I lent the books and tape to my mom for her to use while doing day care too, and next year when I move Punkin to Buddy Boys’ daycare I am going to try to get them to use baby signs too.

In my experience it is one of the really wonderful developments in understanding child development in the last 20 years. They really do understand so much more than they can express at around a year old, and being able to communicate with their family and care givers makes a huge difference. The research done by the NIH showed that 24 month olds who used baby signs were communicating like 27 or 28 month olds, giving them a 3 month advantage on their age mates. 36 month olds were talking like 47 month olds, giving them almost a full year’s advantage. Eight year olds who had used baby signs scored an average of 12 points higher in IQ tests. They concluded that baby signs help children develop both language and cognitive skills. From my point of view, if it cuts down on screaming, whining and throwing food off the high chair tray it is worth it!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday has always been one of my favorite days of the year. Sometimes my birthday falls on Palm Sunday, and as a child I always rejoiced in that. Maybe because my first children’s Bible had a picture of Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey surrounded by children waving palms and singing and dancing, and I thought it was a special day celebrating how much Jesus loved to hear children singing.

I grew up in a strict, conservative Presbyterian tradition, where they say every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection and Easter gets no special festivities. No egg hunts, no bunnies, no chocolate. No baskets, no yard decorations, no parties. We did get new dresses and new shoes, and we did get to start wearing white shoes and straw hats. My mom went against the tide a bit and usually got us a smallish chocolate bunny and a few eggs, placed on the breakfast table. I think she couldn’t stand for us to be left out of the celebrations completely.

I didn’t understand Easter as a festival celebration for the church until I was in my late 20s and went to an Episcopal church during Holy Week. Starting with Palm Sunday, and including services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and finally Easter Sunday, it is the pinnacle of the church year and it was a complete surprise to me. It took me several years of practice before I started to get what was going on and really participate. I didn’t understand the whole Lent thing at all, until I had an Episcopal friend that I could watch and learn from. It really is one of those wide and deep rituals that become wider, deeper, and more significant the more you experience it. That is why, in my late 40s, I feel like I am just learning how to celebrate Easter, and why I still find Palm Sunday and the week following, culminating in the Saturday night Easter Vigil and the joyful Easter Sunday morning celebration to be my favorite time of the year.

This year I am reading two books that my mom gave me. The first is Strength for the Journey: a Pilgrimage of Faith in Community by Diana Butler Bass. In it she tells the story of her faith journey through eight different Episcopal churches. She compares the various faith traditions she has been exposed to and embraced over the course of her life and shares her growing insights. In chapter two she talks about how she first came to experience the power of celebrating Lent and Holy Week and it is really speaking to me. She describes the Easter Vigil, which is celebrated Saturday night before Easter morning and the dramatic effect it has on her.

After the Thursday evening service the church is stripped of all alter decorations, flowers, candles, etc. and is kept in quiet all day on Friday and Saturday. Saturday evening you come to a dark, quiet church and everyone is given a candle as they enter. The priest kindles a new fire in a hibachi in the back of the church, as the symbol of new, resurrected life. The large Paschal candle is lit, and prayers are sung. As the priest and acolytes and choir process down the center of the church everyone’s little candle is lit and each person turns and lights a neighbor’s candle. Slowly the light spreads through out the congregation. The priest sings “The light of Christ” and the people answer, “Thanks be to God”. It is very dramatic and impressive. Occasionally at other times in the year I can hear that chanting in my mind and it brings back the anticipation, the contained joy, the wonder of seeing how God’s light and love is passed from one to another and light conquers darkness.

Then in the service there are many long readings as the history of God’s people is retold from the Old Testament. Finally the time comes when Christ’s resurrection is announced and the whole church breaks forth in light and bells ring and everyone shouts for joy. This is the most amazing, breath taking, joyful release of praise and exultation. It is most deeply felt and experienced as part of the whole ritual cycle of Ash Wednesday thru the Great Vigil. There is nothing else like it in my experience.

My mom gave another interesting book to me on my birthday. It is called Chapters of Gold; The Life of Mary in Mosaics by Rachel Billington. It is a series of her essays and photographs by Gered Mankowitz of the Lady Chapel mosaics in Westminster Cathedral, London. I had no idea of their existence until I read this book.

It amazes me how sweetly and delicately the emotional expressions of Mary and the others are shown in these mosaics, which are really just little pieces of ceramics. But these pictures show Mary in all her humanity and grace and beauty. Meditating on them and the accompanying essays of this book has deepened and expanded my Lent and Easter experience this year.

There are short essays from Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, and Muslim leaders on the importance of Mary in their spiritual traditions and symbolism. As the mother of God she carried Word of Life in her body, gave birth to the Word/Life, followed and worshiped the Christ, witnessed and shared the agony of sword and cross, believed and rejoiced in resurrection, shared the founding of the church, and now sits in glory with God. She becomes the mother and advocate for us all. Even if we cannot literally accept all the fanciful stories of her life we can take comfort and courage in her grace and spirit, seeking her love and strength for our own journeys.

Friday, April 07, 2006

In Honor of Cherry Blossoms, some Haiku

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms

Come out to view
the truth of flowers blooming
in poverty

To learn how to die

watch cherry blossoms,
observe chrysanthemums

On the old plum tree,

one blossom by one blossom,
the spring thaw is born

By the barn, snow flies
In the field, cherry blossoms….
Walk which way, which way?

Our classroom window
Cherry petals drifting past...
Oh No! It’s snowflakes!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

From The Soul

From The Soul: Stories of Great Black Parents and the Lives They Gave Us by Phyllis Y. Harris is an encouraging book full of true stories told in the voices of people raised by excellent parents. Each chapter tells of another family that triumphantly raised wise, responsible, loving, grateful children to successful adulthood. It is fascinating to hear of the key elements in the parent’s choices and priorities as they nurtured and cared for their families. Many of the parents’ marriages ended in divorce, but in each case the love and commitment of both parents continues to be a key factor in the confidence and accomplishments of the children. The families come from every social and economic strata of society, but high expectation, hope, education, sacrifice, discipline and intense family loyalty are bedrock values for them all. Each story is accompanied by photos of the families. One of the most interesting stories is of a family from Swaziland, exiled from South Africa. This young woman’s parents were freedom fighters with the ANC, and hearing the story told from the child’s perspective is fascinating and illuminating. Every chapter has taught me something of what it means to be an excellent parent, and has challenged me to give my sons the very best. Anyone raising children should read this inspiring book.

It's the Little Things

It’s the Little Things; Everyday Interactions That Anger, Annoy, and Divide the Races by Lena Williams is “candid and enlightening – what blacks and whites say about each other, but not to each other”. Having lived most of my life in diverse environments, I found this book illuminating and a bit amusing at times. Williams has collected stories, opinions, pet peeves and complaints from blacks and whites about the cultural and social differences between the races. Everyone ought to read this book and then we could have some really interesting conversations!! I am going to put my copy on the faculty share shelf and see if anyone else will pick it up and discuss it.

The most amusing chapter IMO was the one about parties. I went to a black high school and I later lived in a city neighborhood that was mostly black. When I think of a party, I think of a room jumping with music and laughter and great food, where the party starts revving up around 9 or 10 and goes all night. Since I moved to the suburbs most of the parties I have been invited to are white, quiet, over early, made up of mostly chit chat and finger foods and really boring. I used to think it was because I lost my good friends or got old or had kids and that was the end of good parties. But now that I read this book I think I am just not getting invited to the right parties these days!! J

Another interesting chapter talks about how white girls with long straight hair tend to finger it a lot and flick it over their shoulders or behind their ears in a habitual way. Many of the blacks in this book complained that they found that offensive and rude. As if it were a power play or an arrogant display intended to claim the top spotlight. I can see how it would easily be taken as arrogance and rudeness to folks for whom hair care and hair issues are a major heartache.

Other chapters cover public places, school, home, workplace, and the mass media. I find it is hard for many white people to start these discussions because we are afraid we will be taken as racist. Maybe black feel the same, or feel they won’t be listened to or taken seriously? I really believe if we had more books like this, more information sharing and more discussion on these subjects we would have better relationships, friendships and work alliances across the racial lines. This is a book to read and share and pass on.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sahara Special

Esme Raji Codell write so beautifully I want to cry when the book is over because I just hate to have to stop reading. Last year I read Sing a Song of Tuna Fish out loud to my fifth grade classes and it was exquisite. I had to stop and laugh or weep every once in a while. Reading her books is like taking your best friend out for coffee and staying up half the night to have another cinnamon roll. I mean it, I love her.

Sahara Special is about a girl who is struggling and has to repeat fifth grade. She has decided to do nothing at all at school so that the grown ups will have no more paper to put in her file. Then she gets a new and wacky teacher and everything changes. This book takes me right back to when I was a child, and makes me a better grown up at the same time. It is poetry and music and hopscotch and skinned knees.

We have put in a request to interlibrary loan for another of her books that is a first year teacher's diary, called Educating Esme. The other librarian here and I both want to read it next. Also I would recommend you visit her web site. Besides telling about all her books there are teacher's activity guides, discussions and book list recommendations for kids of all ages. She gives tips for how to get kids reading more and a lot of great links for anyone who loves children's literature.