Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Online Baby Shower

Afrindiemum has a post up about throwing an online baby shower for a cyber friend of kim-kim and some of the rest of us. I am knitting a baby sweater, what are you doing? Baby shower shopping and gifting is so much fun!!!


A doll like me

The Haiku prompt for this week at One Deep Breath is for the "unseen". I have been writing haiku pretty much every day for the past two months, but haven't posted as much lately. I am reading all the other poets that post at One Deep Breath and trying to keep up with their themes though, and finding it a good exercise and stimulus.

Today I am following my theme of late; seeing the world through my Black son's eyes. I read about this film at Light-skinned girl's blog and watched it the other day. Back before Brown Vs. the Board of Education Dr. Kenneth Clark conducted a study to see what children would say about dolls with brown and black skin compared to dolls with pinkish, peach skin. I read about this study 25 years ago when I was in college, as I am sure many of you did. Kiri Davis, a high school student, decided to try to repeat the same study last year for a film project she was working on. The children in her study show that the messages about beauty, goodness and white skin vs. badness, ugliness and black skin are still being absorbed by today's small children. Where do they get these messages? Surely no adult directly tells them that. It's in the air and water? It's on TV and in the movies and music? It's on the evening news? In their picture books? In their Happy Meals? Don't get me started.

Kohana posted recently about trying to find a brown skinned doll for her son to play with in preparation for their new baby. She looked high and low and couldn't find one. It reminded me about how when Buster, my white oldest son was a toddler I made him a rag doll for Christmas. I had this lovely soft brown brushed cotton material so although I was using the classic Raggedy Ann pattern I made his doll brown skinned and black haired. We lived with an African American mother and child at the time so it actually fit right in with our mixed-race household. That doll became known as "Buddy Boy" for my second son, and he has just about loved it to tatters. I am planning on making a new one for him and Punkin for this Christmas and I will be looking for just the right soft brown fabric. Yesterday at Buddy's daycare I happened to look in the doll cradle in the housekeeping corner and saw nothing but white babies. I wonder if it would be appropriate for me to gift the center with some brown babydolls this holiday season?

October 31 Haiku: Unseen

his preschool classroom-
jumbled in the doll cradle
all pink, blond and blue

Monday, October 30, 2006

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears

By Verna Ardema, pictures by Leo and Diane Dillon. This is a West African folklore tale. It starts off with a mosquito telling an iguana that he saw a farmer digging yams the were almost as big as he was. The iguana is grouchy and doesn’t want to hear about it so he puts sticks in his ear. This alarms a python, who scares a rabbit, and on it goes until a tragedy occurs and a baby owl is accidentally killed. Mother owl is so, so, so sad she refuses to do her job of waking the sun the next day. The king lion holds a council to find out why and traces the blame back to the mosquito. This type of tale is called a cumulative myth, as the sequence of events is repeated over and over, building the story. In oral story telling it is part of the dramatic presentation and also reinforces the teaching impact of the moral wisdom being passed on. In this story amother’s anger and grief cause the community to enact retribution, and the mosquito has a guilty conscious to this day. She goes about whining in people’s ears: “Zeee! Is everyone still angry at me?” when she does that, she gets an honest answer.” I am tempted to relate this story to mother anger and loss, but I think I will let you carry that train of thought on for yourself, if you see a connection.

What I want to comment on is the importance I see in teaching my sons African folktales and wisdom. When I say I want to bathe them in African American culture, literature, history and community, I mean I want to go way back. I feel strongly that African American history should not be presented as starting with slavery and ending with Civil Rights. For one thing, that is shallow and stereotypical and dishonest, and for another it is not appropriate material for very young children.

I don’t think children below the age of say, second grade can get a grasp on what slavery was all about and how racism can be institutionalized as well as local and personal. A young child can not process the ideas that whites held blacks in violence and oppression but not all whites and not all blacks participated in the same ways. I want my sons to have the cognitive maturity to realize the complexity of that before I start teaching it.

But the fact is, African Americans have a rich, complex, fascinating history other than slavery. There is African history, geography and cultures, to begin with. Young children should learn the folklore and traditions, the story and the art of their way back roots. In this day and age that is easy to tap into and exciting even for people who have no African roots. Then I think the wealth of family and moral values of the historic African presence in America should be celebrated and learned by all of us. That African family, moral, cultural, linguistic and artistic values have survived and thrived in spite of centuries of oppression and suppression is miraculous, in my eyes, and I want to drink from that well of strength and hope. The picture books for young children that I have been featuring in the past week or so, and will continue to review in the coming weeks are expressions of the joy and strength I want my sons to absorb from their culture. Family unity, working together, ingenuity, resilience, humor, hope, persistence, faith, creativity, purpose, and self-determination are illustrated in these works. I am surrounding us with them in the hopes that it will chart our course. I invite you to join me in suggesting other works of literature, music or art that will nurture our spirits and refresh our souls.
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Cherries and Cherry Pits

By Vera B. Williams. I love this book. Bidemmi is a young girl who loves to draw and tell stories about her pictures. She also loves cherries, and in this book all her stories are about “eating cherries and spitting out the pits, eating cherries and spitting out the pits”… or about planting the pits to grow more cherries. It is fun to read this rhythmic tale aloud to young children partly because of the musical language and partly because the voice of the main character is so true to their way of thinking. She has a natural sense of dramatic tension, playing out the development of her characters through physical description and the little twists in how they chose to share their cherries. In the dedication Williams says
“Dear Papa,
I still remember how you told me all those stories and how you saved the drawings I made and how you listened to the stories I told you.
Love, Vera”
This tells me that she was nurtured as a writer and artist from her childhood. Cherries starts out being told in the voice of a downstairs neighbor of Bidemmi's, a woman who always keeps markers and paper ready for her and eagerly listens to her stories. This is the type of woman I want to be. If you have read any of Williams other works (A Chair for my Mother, Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart) you will recognize her love of children and her brilliant ability to craft stories that speak to their hearts. I learned from reading her biography online that she lived for a while in an artist community in North Carolina and taught in a progressive Summerhill type school for a while. She also spent time in federal penitentiary for being part of a women’s peace protest at the Pentagon. What an interesting life!

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Sunday, October 29, 2006


There is some coughing and sneezing going on at our house this weekend. A good time to boost the immune system by cooking up a big pot of chili. Garlic, onion, chili peppers and tomatoes are all known for their benefits to the immune system. When I was in China I knew people who would eat a whole, raw clove of garlic every day to ward off colds and keep strong and healthy. I prefer my tonics in the crockpot though. The key is to use very fresh ingredients, a tip I learned from Chinese cooking. It makes a huge difference in taste and impact and is worth the extra effort in chopping those veggies. Here’s my Crock Pot Chili recipe from Better Homes and Gardens All Time Favorite Crockery Cooker Meals:

Tex-Mex Chili

1 lb ground beef or sausage
2 cloves fresh garlic
3 to 4 tsp chili powder
½ tsp. ground cumin
1 15.5 oz. can red kidney beans, drained
1 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped onion
½ c. chopped green sweet pepper
1 to 2 fresh jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 14 ½ oz can tomatoes, cut up
1 10 oz can chopped tomatoes with green chili peppers
1 c. hot-style vegetable juice or hot-style tomato juice
1 6 oz can tomato paste
¼ tsp. salt
Shredded cheddar cheese
Dairy sour cream

In a large skillet cook the sausage or beef and garlic until meat is brown. Drain off fat. Stir in chili powder and cumin; cook 2 minutes more.

Meanwhile, in a 3.5, 4 or 5 quart crockery cooker combine beans, celery, onion, sweet pepper, and jalapeno peppers. Add both cans of undrained tomatoes, vegetable juice or tomato juice, tomato paste, and salt. Stir in meat mixture.

Cover; cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 or 5 hours. Ladle chili into soup bowls. Pass shredded cheese and sour cream with chili. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

It’s been cooking here at our house since before we went to church this morning and the house smells great! My parents are coming over for supper. I always love to serve this chili with the Moosewood Cookbook cornbread. If you work with (germ-ridden) kids or share computers and telephones in a lab or office you need something like this chili. What’s your tonic to strengthen your immune system this fall?


If you read a lot of other librarians or children's book blogs you probably already heard about the Cybils. "The 2006 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards". Several of the big book bloggers got together and decided we need a blogger's book award; sort of like the Caldecott and Newbery awards. Those are given out by librarians, highlighting the best new books each year. Since blogging about books has taken off and is so exciting these days, an award celebrating our best book pics is entirely appropriate! Now is your opportunity to take part in the action. Anyone can nominate their favorite books for 2006. You don't even have to be a blogger or have read a lot of them - it's entirely open to anyone voicing their kid's book opinion. The categories are Fantasy and Science Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade Fiction, Non-fiction (Middle Grade and YA) Non-fiction (Picture Books), Picture Books, Poetry and Young Adult Fiction. If you are not sure what all those terms mean, there is an explanation at the site. If you have even one favorite kid's book this year, get over there and nominate it! I am going to be on one of the committees and I am just thrilled to be part of it. We are giving out medals!!


By Bryan Collier. Here is a picture book that celebrates the life of Harlem. One boy who lives there takes us on a tour of all his favorite places, including a show at the Apollo Theater, Ruckers Park for some hoops, shopping on 125th street, singing with the Boys Choir and watching the sun set over the Hudson river. He tells us his grandfather says “Jazz and Harlem are a perfect match – just like chicken and waffles.” I’ve never tried chicken and waffles but now I want to! The illustrations are a collage of color and vibrant with life. I read on the link below in this post that he learned about color and design as a child watching his grandmother quilt. It shows in this lovely book. The perspective changes on every page and Buddy enjoyed searching for the boy in each scene.

Two of the places he visits that caught my attention were the barbershop and the photographers. I keep hearing about black barbershops being a locus of cultural connection where black men and boys bond and pass on wisdom and strength. Jaiya Johns mentions how delighted he was to finally discover a good barber when he went off to college. His mother always cut his hair and didn’t know what she was doing. Not only did he finally have someone care for his hair correctly, he also relished the scents and laughter and conversations that took place in the shop. I cut my boys hair and I have worked on learning to do it right, but I am wondering if the money saved is a vital opportunity lost. For me to decide I need to budget the $20 a month it would take to bring my boys to a barber would mean cutting something else from the roll, which would probably be food or heat. How do low income African American families find the money to pay for hair care? I know it is a HIGH priority, but it also is expensive! I am not talking about cutting a movie night or one less restaurant meal; those are long gone from my life. One less pair of shoes and we would be barefoot.

I also enjoyed reading that when the boy in this story went to the photographers shop he saw a picture on the wall of his grandparent’s wedding. The family history implication of that simple statement speaks volumes. The picture shows him sitting on a chair waiting somewhat impatiently for his turn with the photographer. Behind him on the wall are a collection of photographs and frames. It is so easy to feel myself and my boys in that moment of anxiety and boredom and also to appreciate the historic importance of those childhood photo sessions.

This is just a perfect example of how simple text and fantastic illustrations do a masterful job of portraying complex human experiences. A great picture book is like a haiku. The more you read it an appreciate it the more you get out of it. I am so glad we give these gifts to children and I am so grateful to be one of the ones who reads them to children! More on Bryan Collier here.


Rap A Tap Tap

By Leo & Diane Dillon. This picture book tells us about Bojangles in poetic language that reads like a dance:
There once was a man who danced in the street.
Rap a tap tap – think of that!
He brought pleasure and joy to the people he’d greet.
Rap a tap tap – think of that!
These simple words convey the magic and delight of his dance, and then go on to tell how he danced for rich and poor alike and found fame through honoring his passion and gift. The illustrations are bold and full of movement and joy. He is shown dancing with cane, tails and top hat for children, families, shopkeepers on the street, and people in parks as well as fancy parties and on stage in musical revues. The afterword tells more about Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. During the great Depression he was the highest paid black entertainer. He was generous and loved by all who knew him. He was in Broadway shows and in several films, sharing the stage with Shirley Temple. In 1989 Congress established May 25, his birthday, as National Tap Dance Day in his honor. I favor biographies of people who impact the world positively through following their passion and I find this one just right for the preschool set.

October 29 Haiku

One day it explodes.
Cattail long picked from the ditch -
Seeds float over us.

Andromeda Jazmon, 2006

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Owl Babies

By Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson. Three little owl babies wake up in their nest and find mother gone. They wonder where she went and when she will come home. The oldest, Sarah, has several reasonable explanations for where mother must have gone. The middle one, Percy, agrees with everything she says. The youngest little fluff ball Bill just keeps saying “I want my mommy!” As the story progresses even Sarah looses confidence and starts thinking of disaster. The illustrations are beautiful. The facial expressions on the little owls are so evocative you don’t even need to read the text to know just what they are feeling. Their loneliness, fear and confusion make me want to cry. When mother finally does come back the simple, direct text (“AND SHE CAME.”) breaks the tension with a huge sigh of relief. The owl babies jump and flap and dance with joy. “What’s all the fuss?” mother asks. “You knew I’d come back.” Of course they all say they knew it.

I read about this book on a forum where adoptive parents were talking about how much their children related to this book and how comforting it was to them. I checked it out of the library as a tonic to read to Buddy before bed along with Coming On Home Soon, also about missing mother. We have been having a lot of weepiness and night fears in need of reassurance so I am treating it with good literature. Any other book suggestions on this theme?


By Donald Crews. This picture book is autobiographical, telling about the summer trips down to Crew’s grandmother’s rural home. It starts with a train ride, which automatically hooks Buddy Boy into the story. The illustrations are bold and warm. The busyness, noise and excitement of the family reunion jump out of the pages. The children rush around happily revisiting all the favorite rooms in the house and places on the farm. The full, large family gathers around the dinner table talking about what they did last year and what they plan to do this summer. Everyone outside looking up at the stars brings a conclusion to the day. Buddy likes to go back and forth between the picture where the boy Donald is catching a fish and the last page, where the adult Donald is in his city apartment, waking up thinking about being “at Bigmama’s with the whole summer ahead of me”. He is not quite sure they are the same person I think. The theme of time passing and the continuity of family connection engages him, as well as the portrayal of all the fun the children have on their grandparent’s farm. We are both enjoying this one immensely.


When I see a brave building
straining high, and higher,
hard and bright and sassy in the seasons,
I think of the hands that put that strength together.

The little soft hands. Hands coming away from cold
to take a challenge and to mold this definition.

Amazingly, men and women
worked with design and judgment, steel and glass,
to enact this announcement.
Here it stands.

Who can construct such miracle can enact
any consolidation, any fusion.
All little people opening out of themselves,

forging the human spirit that can outwit
big Building boasting in the cityworld.

-Gwendolyn Brooks

I am late with my Friday Poetry this week. Buddy hasn't been sleeping well and Thursday night he was up three or four times with bad dreams and night fears. He comes into my room whimpering and I let him stay for a while but then I want him back in his own bed because I can't sleep well with him there snoring and kicking me. I need my space. Last night I just gave up and let him stay with me. I guess he needs the comfort and I did get a little more sleep. Punkin is cutting new molars and was up a couple of times crying too. So Thursday night no one got any sleep. I am a walking zombie. One of our congressmen came to school to talk to the kids on Friday and I couldn't even remember if he was from my district or not I am in such a fog. I told the other librarian I am just trying to stay upright today. I guess I better try to catch up on reading the paper before the election - is it next week or the week after?

Anyway I love this poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. It gives me such hope; those little soft hands working with design and judgment to raise steel and glass. I am always awed, looking at big buildings. How do they do that? And thank God "Who can construct such miracle can enact any consolidation, any fusion. All little people opening out of themselves..." I need that promise, coming in to this election. This month I have been reading the prophet Micah, all about justice. I can't help thinking of our government and injustice. We need all the words of hope and encouragement we can get.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Coming On Home Soon

Written by Jacqueline Woodson; Illustrated by E.B Lewis.

This is a lovely, lovely picture book. During the war a young girl’s mama goes North to work on the railroad in Chicago. The love between mother and daughter, grandmother, daughter and granddaughter are stronger than the worst the cold snap; “more than rain, more than snow” as they tell each other over and over. Waiting for a letter and money from her mother, the young girl and her grandmother take care of each other and make a home for a stray kitten. “It’s a slip of a thing. But its softness is big.” Watercolor paintings full of love and longing and hope illustrate and go beyond the words, bringing tears to my eyes. This is a truly beautiful book about the strength of families and the faithfulness of love. Like the kitten, it’s “warm as ten quilts on my lap.” We treasure this one.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Let's Talk About Race by Julius Lester

Lester starts this picture book for older children with the inviting words “I am a story. So are you.” He goes on to talk about how each person has many elements in their story – from family names and places to likes and dislikes. Race is just part of your story. Many people think and say their race is better than others, but under the skin we are all the same. He explains that people may have those beliefs because they feel bad about themselves or are afraid. He says very clearly that they are wrong about one race being better than others. In writing this book for upper elementary and middle school children I think he is trying to simplify the discussion in order to focus on the common values of humanity. The illustrations by Karen Barbour are vibrant and beautiful.

The one thing that I don’t particularly like about this book is the emphasis he has on race being only skin deep. He says if we all took off our skins we would all look the same and no one would know what race each person was. I think that is too shallow a portrayal of race. It is not just about skin and skin color. If that were true we could all strive to be colorblind and that would solve the problem.

The fact is that race is about a history of violence, oppression and hatred. It is also about struggle, courage, freedom, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and strength. It is not about skin color, which is just a marker. Our race tied up in ethnicity and self-identiy. I am not white because of my paleness and freckles, I am white because I have been raised that way, that is the history of my people and I am marked by my culture. I think if we took off our skin we would still have our racial identity. Don’t you?

One could use this book to teach the Quaker testimonies (SPICES) of equality and community.

Julius Lester has written many other wonderful books including non-fiction, poetry, novels and children's books. He has won numerous awards. Here is a list of his books at his website.

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Mr Williams by Karen Barbour

This is the story of Mr. J. W. Willimas, who was born in 1929 in Arcadia, Louisiana. In the same year Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and Calvin Coolidge was president. Most children worked hard to help their families survive. His story is told by Ms. Barbour, as she remembered from his visits to her childhood home and what he told her before he died. He tells about living on their farm; the animals they cared for, the food they grew and the chores they did. It is a simple and charming tale with Barbour’s evocative paintings illustrating the rural life of this warm, strong, hard working family. The stories of fishing, planting, cooking, eating and going to church together are peaceful and lovely.

On summer evenings, I’d lie on the porch with a pillow. Be so hot sometimes you didn’t want to go in the house. I’d listen to the owls hollering and the whippoorwills calling and the toads and leapfrogs croaking and foxes barking their funny little dog barks. It was still, and the mosquitoes would buzz, and I could smell the gardenias and honeysuckle. The sky was clear, and you could look up and see the stars.
I would love to take this book home and read it to Buddy Boy as another example of farm life, (fitting for the fall and visits to the pumpkin farm) except for the one reference to white people. When Mr. Williams talks about going to school in the cold months he tells of walking five miles to school and back. He has to listen for the car of a young white man driving down the road trying to run him down.
When he got close, I would jump off the road. He’d veer off at the last minute. I was scared of some white people. They’d scare you up pretty good. If you ever saw white people you’d go way around them.
I just don’t have the heart to try and explain that history to Buddy Boy yet. For an older child who has already begun to try to figure out what is going on with racism, it might be a good way to open the discussion. It does show black family life as a positive, enterprising, nurturing environment during a historical period that often gets mostly negative description. I’ll keep it on my list for later on.

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Library Thing

This morning it occured to me that I could keep my list of African American books in Library Thing and put my tag cloud in the side bar here on my blog. That way you can always check what I have in my growing personal library (assuming I keep it up, of course!) So I just spent and hour updating my catalog and putting in tags. It is so much easier than me looking up every book and making links. If you just remember the author or part of the title you can search for it and all the information pops right up in your catalog.

This site is really a wonderful tool for sharing information about books. You can rate them, trade them, recommend them and chat about them in the forums. If you don't use Library Thing yet, I strongly suggest you go over there and check it out. The more people that use it, the better the conversations there! I have only put in the books I have that I want to discuss with others, so don't worry that you have too many books and you will never put them all in... it's not necessary. Just put in the ones you would like to chat about and see who else has the same ones.

Have I given you enough links yet?

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

October 24 Haiku

looking up

Sun breaks through clouds.
Here's the wind a quick cold blast -
gold leaves fill the air!
Andromeda Jazmon 2006

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Starting a List

It was suggested that I start a list of African American history, art, and literature that I am going to be reading and sharing with my sons. I like the idea and I will start here today. Looking over some of the books in my home this morning and last night, I found these anthologies:

The People Could Fly Virgina Hamilton - African American folktales.

African American Children's Stories; A Treasury of Tradition & Pride Publications International, Ltd. 2002. Folk tales, poetry, song, biographies.

Children of Promise ed. Charles Sullivan. Art, literature, poetry, song, historical and biographical sketches. I read about the Revolutionary heros Absolem Jones, Richard Allen and Peter Salem this morning.

In looking those books up I found this fantastic list of great books.

The above books were gifts given to my sons in the past three years. I haven't spent much time reading them yet because they seem a bit advanced for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. I do have many other picture books that I will add to my list in the next few days.

What books do you love that have African American history, art, folk tales, cultural themes or characters? I will continue to update this list over the next few weeks as titles come to my attention. I would appreciate all your recomendations with title, author and a brief description. Please leave a comment if you have books you would add.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Black History

I am reading Black Baby, White Hands; a view from the crib by Jaiya Johns now. I am about 1/3 of the way through it and there is so much here to talk about! I am trying to organize a book discussion at my house in November with some other families in the area that have adopted transracially. The book is an autobiography by the man who was the first black infant in New Mexico to be adopted by white parents. He was born in 1967 and grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico. He talks candidly about the love of his family and the struggle he had to develop a healthy black identity in an all white community at a time when it wasn’t polite to talk about race. I am going to blog more about the book over the next week or so, but one thing in particular really struck me while I was reading Sunday afternoon.

He tells about when he was in fifth grade and was the only black student in the class. The teacher decided to have them do a play about Thomas Jefferson with everyone taking parts cast by their physical similarities to the characters. Jefferson was played by a tall, red headed boy. John was horrified because he immediately realized the only part he could play was that of a slave, and he definitely did not want to portray a slave. He approached the teacher with his concerns, saying there were no black characters for him to be in the play. Her response was to say that he should “Make believe. You are smart, and everyone loves your smile…” It was in the 70s in a white community with no black history education. The attitude was that he should blend in and everyone was trying to be colorblind to make him feel like part of the group. The teacher had no information for him about Black Americans that contributed to the founding of our nation. Reading this upset me so much I had to jump up off the bed and search my house for books on Black History in order to make a list of Black Americans he should have been educated about.

I went to jr. high and high school in Ohio in the 70s. My schools were Black and getting blacker as I went up through the grades. We had Black History teaching. We celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. day before was a national holiday. As a white girl in that environment I didn't question the value of learning Black history; it made sense to me that it was part of my history too. Being American means knowing about all of our ethnicities and recognizing - mourning, celebrating and respecting the contribuitons of all of us. I want my white son to know it as well as my black sons.

I have also informally studied Black History as an adult and I remembered from when Buster was in third grade and they had to portray historical characters in his school. He was Thomas Jefferson and I made his wig out of cotton balls. They learned that there were Black Americans prominent in the Revolutionary times and his African American teacher included some names on the list of characters the children could chose from.

I am terrible at remembering specific names and dates. The only name that popped into my head on Sunday was Benjamin Banniker, and I couldn’t remember exactly who he was. I was certain I had books in my house that would remind me, and with a little bookshelf searching I found several children’s biographies of Black Americans. I wrote all over the margins of Jaiya John’s book about Crispus Attucks and Banniker and Phillis Wheatley. It made me so angry that Johns didn’t have that information. I decided that one of my immediate jobs as a parent of black boys was to make sure they got an education in Black History, starting now.

This morning in my library I searched the catalog and printed out a list of books to read, study and teach to my sons. I decided to read the history, biography and middle grade fiction myself and start bringing home the picture books and poetry appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers. My list of books for me to read in the next few weeks includes:

A Pictorial History of Black Americans by Langston Hughes, Milton Meltzer & C. Eric Lincoln
Now Is Your Time by Walter Dean Myers
Into the Land of Freedom by Meg Greene
Tell All the Children Our Story by Tonya Bolden
Many Thousand Gone by Virginia Hamilton
Free at Last! By Doreen Rappaport
Let’s Talk about Race by Julius Lester
A Dream of Freedom by Diane McWhorter
Freedom Riders by Ann Bausum

The picture books I am bringing home this week include:

Rap A Tap Tap by Leo and Diane Dillon
Yesterday I had the Blues by Jeron Ashford Frame
Big Mama’s by Donald Crews
A Story, A Story by Gail E. Haley
Uptown by Bryan Collier
Osa's Pride by Ann Grifalconi
Where's Jamela? by Niki Daly
For You are a Kenyan Child by Kelly Cunnane

I am going to make a concerted effort to baste these boys in positive Black images, history, music and art. I feel fortunate to be a librarian in a library that already has a pretty strong collection, with the ability to buy whatever else I identify as being needed. What do the rest of you think? Any suggestions of other resources to look for? If you are a parent or work in education or a library, what do you do to teach Black history? Have you been taught it yourself? Do you think it is important or necessary?

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Friday, October 20, 2006

I Pledge a Lesson

In Buddy Boy’s four year old daycare classroom they are learning to pledge allegiance to the flag. Whoever is the star of the week gets to hold up the flag and everyone puts their right hand on their heart and recites. We have a little flag hanging around in the back seat of our car, left over from last summer’s parade, and on the way to school Buddy likes to wave it and say the pledge. This morning he said: “OK everyone, right hands up! Right hands! Say the pledge!” This is unusual because he normally won’t let me take either hand off the wheel. If I scratch my nose he calls out “Two hands! Two hands!” I have no idea where he learned that… possibly watching my mother watch my father drive…

We have discussed the different phrases and their meaning, unlocking the complexities of allegiance, republic, indivisible, liberty, and justice on what I hope is a four year old’s level of understanding. His pronunciation is approximate at best, and it reminds me of the way Bette Bao Lord portrays her Chinese-American character Shirley’s interpretation of the Pledge in her book In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson:

“I pledge a lesson to the frog of the United States of America, and to the wee puppet for witches’ hands. One Asian, in the vestibule, with little tea and just rice for all.”

I used to keep that quote posted by my desk when I was teaching first grade, just to keep in mind who I was dealing with. Of course I was teaching in a Quaker school, and Quakers don’t recite the pledge because they believe they should only pledge allegiance to God and not to human institutions. Buster, my oldest son, went to Quaker school up through third grade and never knew of the pledge until he switched to public school in fourth. At the end of the first day of fourth grade when he came home I asked him how his day was. He said it was good yadda yadda and they had to stand up and say something to the flag. He wondered what that was all about. Whoops! In all my planning to ease his adjustment I forgot to tell him about the pledge of allegiance! Buddy is going to a Quaker school next year so I guess its good he is getting his pledge lessons in right now.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Year of the Dog

Grace Lin is a successful writer and illustrator of many picture books. Her first novel The Year of the Dog is as masterfully crafted as the most exquisite Chinese banquet. With a delicate balance of sweet and tart, smooth, crunchy and tender it is delightful, satisfying and enriching. The story is told by Pacy, whose American name is Grace, a second grade Taiwanese-American girl. She lives with her mother and father and two sisters, with extended family close enough to visit. The handwriting font and charming line drawings give it the feel of a personal journal and make it easy for readers to identify with Pacy. The family celebration of the Chinese New Year and the ups and downs of elementary school make the story appealing to middle grade readers (3 -5).

The heart of this book is the telling of the experiences of racism she encounters in her everyday life. Pacy learns her Chinese culture at home and learns to blend in as an American at school. It seems a bit surprising at first to think such a difficult subject is addressed in a simple book for young readers, but since it is written based on Lin’s real life experiences the shattering truth of the prejudice she encounters is entirely appropriate. She speaks with the innocence and candor of a young girl. She is the only Asian in her school until a new girl joins their class. Pacy feels the loneliness and confusion of being both Chinese and American, the only one of her ethnicity in a crowd, and the frustration of trying to find her unique identity. Pacy, who is called her American name “Grace” at school, is accused by the lunch lady of trying to take two lunches and in this way she discovers there is a new Chinese girl in the school. She happily makes friends with Melody, the new girl, and is able to shrug off the uncomfortable realization that to the adults in her lunchroom they are indistinguishable.

A few chapters later another incident is portrayed. When the class prepares to put on the play The Wizard of Oz Pacy hopes to be chosen as Dorothy. Her Caucasian classmate Becky looks at her in shock.

"You can’t be Dorothy,” she said. “Dorothy’s not Chinese.” Suddenly, the world went silent. Like a melting icicle, my dream of being Dorothy fell and shattered on the ground. I felt like a dirty puddle after the rain. All the girls continued singing, but I didn’t hear them. Becky was right. Dorothy wasn’t Chinese. I was SO dumb. How could I have even thought about being Dorothy? I’d never get chosen. It was stupid to even try.

Pacy never tells the teacher or her mother why she is so disappointed when she gets chosen as a Munchkin instead. She doesn’t explain to her mother why she doesn’t want to be seen on stage as the Munchkin who gives Dorothy a gift. She wants to be invisible but can’t articulate to anyone why, because she thinks she is dumb for feeling that way.

Later she attends Taiwanese culture camp in the summer with her family. She tries to make friends with the other Chinese girls in the art room there, but they are just as cruel and punishing in their judgment of her.

“You can’t speak Chinese OR Taiwanese?!?!” the girl said.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know” I mumbled.

“I know why,” one girl said, her nose arching toward the ceiling. “It’s because you’ve been Americanized. My mother says she would never let me become Americanized. She said that when you’re Americanized you don’t have any culture.”

“You’re a Twinkie!” another girl said. “My brother said
Chinese people who are Americanized are Twinkies. Yellow on the outside but
white on the inside!”

The girls cackled and jabbered at each other in Chinese like mockingbirds. I felt like a helpless fish frying in oil, with a red-hot heat burning my face and stinging my eyes. I turned around so they wouldn’t see me cry.

Transracial families and adopted children will certainly see their own experiences of being stuck between two cultures in these portrayals of Grace's dual worlds. The love and strength of her family gives her the chance to heal from these wounds and the hope to go on seeking her way. Grace’s story highlights the values she learns from her family, many given to her as moments of family history as her mother, father, grandfather and aunts and uncles share stories from their childhoods. Her mother’s way of teaching and comforting her daughter is the telling of tales from her childhood, sharing problem solving strategies, humor and togetherness.

In the prologue Lin says of her childhood “life was a constant whirling of East and West that spun the threads of my identity. At the time, I felt these different threads twisted my life into knots. Now I know that the fabric of my life is richer for them.” Read more of her thought in this essay posted on her website. Lin also writes on amazon.com:

This is the book I wished I had when I was younger. Being a bookworm at a young age, eagerly eating up Carolyn Haywood (B is for Betsy) or the Betsy- Tacy books, I was always saddened that I could never see myself, an Asian-American, in those books. The Year of the Dog is for all those girls who haven't been able to see themselves reflected in the books they love and also for those curious to see their lives through a slightly different lens.

Pacy is an eager reader and searches for Chinese characters in books and movies just as Lin says she did as a child. Her favorite classes are art and library. One shining moment of understanding herself and visualizing her future comes as a result of a school project when the art teacher and the librarian team up to introduce the kids to Written and Illustrated by… The National Awards Contest for Students. The children will write and illustrate their own books for this national contest. Grace is enchanted with the idea of writing her own book, but has a hard time thinking of a topic. Then she gets the idea of making a book about a Chinese American girl. She struggles to get past an initial writer’s block by helping her mother in the garden and thinking about the funny, ugly vegetables her mother grows to make a delicious soup. The story gets written and she tells about the long rewriting process and the joy she finds in painting the pictures for the illustrations. She gets an A on the project and has to wait till the next fall to find out she won fourth prize in the national competition. The prize is $400. With delight she realizes she is rich, lucky and has found her talent. She will become a writer and illustrator when she grows up! The book ends with her family and friend’s family celebrating the Chinese New Year again, welcoming in the year of the pig. It is a very satisfying way to round out the story. Low and behold, as an adult she did write a book called The Ugly Vegetables.

I found this book delightful. I enjoyed reading about the Chinese food and traditional customs. I loved seeing how the family nurtured and supported each member. I wept to witness Grace’s harsh treatment as she learned to navigate her way. This is a great book for children and adults loving, raising or working with children in a diverse world. Highly recommended! Grace Lin is also a blogger, by the way. Check her out here.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

October 17 Haiku

morning sky.JPG

Early morning rush
lift your eyes above traffic -
clouds flung with glory!

Andromeda Jazmon 2006

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Monday, October 16, 2006

October 16 Haiku

row of cones

teaching keyboarding:
heads bowed over curled fingers -
pine cones on a branch

Andromeda Jazmon 2006

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Weekend Reading

Beyond Good Intentions by Cheri Register was recommended by Zoe a while ago. Here is another blog post at To China and Back with an extensive review summarizing all the chapters. I requested the book from the library and started reading it the other day. It is very good; very challenging and giving me a lot to think about. Actually, it is making me sad because it is reminding me how difficult this transracial parenting stuff is. Mainly, she is telling us again in the first few chapters that we can't take away our children's pain; loving them and being good enough parents is a good goal but it will not guarantee that they do not suffer deeply from their own pain. Even really good parents are going to have children that are suffering and struggling and acting out sometimes. You can do all sorts of supportive things and give them the best environment but they have to walk their own path and find their own way through their trauma. It is making me sad to think these happy, delightful, charming, beautiful children are going to struggle through adolescence and I am going to have to witness their struggle and share their pain. Not news to anyone, I know, but still it feels heavy on my heart these evenings when I finish all my chores and curl up with my book in the quietest time of my hectic day.

Register takes ten different assumptions or beliefs that parents enter adoption with and shows how they might harm your children, in spite of your good intentions and loving hopefulness. I am beginning to see that quite a few of them seem to be built on fear and the desire to avoid acknowledging the pain our children may carry. I am really glad to have the chance to look at these ideas with the perspective of a mom who has raised two adopted Korean daughters. She has such wisdom and grace in her words. I highly recommend this book to everyone in a transracial family or raising adopted children. As I continue reading the book I may have more to say in further posts. I welcome your comments if you have read the book or have any reaction to my thoughts here.


Thursday, October 12, 2006


Last night I dreamed I was getting married. I was trying on my wedding dress in front of the mirror and my mom was there. The dress was a brown flower print and I didn’t like it at all. We were talking about changing the neckline to make it prettier and I was very dissatisfied. I had thought the dress would be beautiful but the more I looked at it the uglier it got. I started thinking maybe I should cancel the wedding because I hated the dress. Did I really want to get attached to some man for the rest of my life? I couldn’t even remember what he looked like, actually. I told my mom I was going to cancel and at first she said “no you can’t” but then the more we talked about it she started to agree with me. At the end of the dream it was settled and I felt I could breathe again. It was such a relief to take off that dress and know I didn’t have to go through with it.

I started reading Lois Lowry’s new book Gossamer today. It is about little nighttime messengers that bring us dreams. Littlest One is a young thing learning the ways of the spirits that flit around the house at night gathering memories, scents, pieces of our lives so they can give them back to us in dreams. Littlest annoys the older spirit who is training her because she asks too many questions. She loves words too - she makes a tongue twister of the instructions... "flutter, flicker, and trickle; flutter, flicker and trickle". She reminds me of the little ones around my house.

I love Lowry and I am so happy to be at the beginning of a new book of hers. She is a blogger, too!

*Edited to add: I should never write about a book before I finish reading it. This one made me cry at my desk in the librarian's office today. There is so much more I could say, but it's time to rush off and pick up the kids... we have a Dr.s appointment and then a visit to the fire house for their annual open house of fire prevention week this evening. Anyone else read this book want to talk about it? It is just beautiful and heart wrenching, really. Sigh.

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October 11 Haiku


cold draft under door
drizzle down the window pane -
sock knitting weather!

Andromeda Jazmon 2006

The knitting book here is one my grandmother gave me about 30 years ago. It is how I learned to knit (my mom tried to teach me but I understood the book better). I still rely on the directions that are in this book for knitting socks !

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Secret Daughter; A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother who Gave Her Away by June Cross

I borrowed this book from the library because I read about it at Dawn’s blog. It is a fascinating autobiography of June Cross, an award winning journalist and television producer. Her mother Norma is white and her father Jimmy Cross, a famous comedian is black. She grew up in the 60s and 70s moving between her mother’s life in NYC and her black foster family in Atlantic City, NJ. Her mother was always afraid of what people would think if they found out she had a half black daughter, so she tried to keep her a secret. June grew up learning to pretend her mother was an aunt and that she was adopted either by her foster family Aunt Peggy and Uncle Paul or by her mother Norma and her husband Larry Storch (an actor well known for his role in the 70s TV show “F Troupe”). June’s writing about it sheds a lot of light on racial attitudes. She writes about learning to be black and the life lessons given her by her family in Atlantic City. They lived in a middle class black neighborhood and her Aunt Peggy was an elementary teacher. Uncle Paul worked two jobs. Her stories about learning manners, expectations, school lessons, and hair care as a black child are contrasted with stories of being in New York on the edge of her mother’s socialite party life.

As she gets into adulthood and moves through college into a journalism career she struggles with her identify as a black woman, still longing for recognition and acceptance. Her mother is still ashamed to call her daughter in public, afraid her rich friends will shun her if they knew she had a black daughter and had lived with a black man. June has many successes in her career as a TV producer. She worked on PBS’s “Frontline”, CBS News, and the “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour”. She made a documentary film about her life called “Secret Daughter” which won an Emmy. In doing research for the film she learned a great deal about her own life and mother’s life which she had never before understood.

I have learned so much from this book about the social climate of our country in the years when I was growing up. I went to high school in a suburb of Cleveland that changed over from about 80% white to 95% black in the ten years I was in that school district. Considering the turmoil in the rest of the country in the 70s our little school district made a pretty smooth transition, but there was definitely white flight and I was very aware of it while coming of age. I dated black men and had a friend who was shunned from her Italian family because she dated a black man, became pregnant and bore his children. She moved out of home in our senior year of high school and moved in with him. She was my boyfriend’s sister as well as my friend and I remember fondly the fun times we had over at her and her boyfriend’s apartment. He was the only member of the family still talking to her.

One of the themes throughout the book is the importance of hair and hair care to black women. The pain and struggle to find an acceptable, livable style and to know you are beautiful the way you are is a heartache I have witnessed in many of my friends. I don’t think I would know how to keep up with the expectations if it were me and my daughters dealing with black hair. I am not much of a fashion girly girl; I barely can keep myself reasonably presentable. My own hair is kept as easily and inconspicuously as possible. I am glad I have only sons and I find the challenge of keeping their heads cut and styled enough of a problem.

Another of the themes that capture my interest is the disjoined perspectives of race in the middle class black community of Atlantic City and the socialite New York and showbiz Hollywood worlds of June’s mother. For one person to move between these worlds and make sense of it all is amazing to me. It is no wonder it takes June until her 40s to begin to feel grounded and sure of who she is. Never mind that she never felt completely claimed and owned by any of the adults that raised her. She was loved, nurtured, cared for and supported in many different ways but the fluidity of which family she belonged to was tremendously unsettling. When she was born she was light enough that her mother hoped she could pass. Aunt Peggy warned Norma “They get darker as they get older, honey”. Norma kept June with her until her skin darkened enough that people noticed, and then she brought her to Peggy to raise. Norma later told her she didn’t seem black to her and that she couldn’t see anything of her black father in her. She wasn’t adopted but her mothers and she herself told people that she was all of her life. What a crazy, in between way to live.

Norma had two other children. Lary was born when she was 18 and single. Norma shared the raising of him with her mother, whom the children called Granny. Five years before June was born she had another child, a girl they named Candie. Candie was put up for adoption and they had no contact with her for forty years. At the end of the book the reunion story is told and it is quite touching. Candie’s father is Larry, the man Norma ended up marrying years later (after a relationship with Jimmy, June’s father and their break-up). Norma and Larry stayed for the rest of their lives. At the time of Candie’s birth he did not want to settle down and have a family so he insisted she be given up for adoption.

Anyone in a transracial family, a family of adoption or an unconventional family arrangement will find a lot to identify with in this story. Anyone even remotely interested in race in the US should read this book. Ms. Cross is very gentle, compassionate and fair in presenting all the members of her families and the factors that lead up to their behaviors. She really tries to present the story from an emotional distance, even when describing her own hurt and confusion. I found it very tender, wistful and loving. She expresses her frustrations and regrets at different members of her family, but then she digs a little deeper to reveal each person’s unique struggles and the paths that lead them together. Her love and the love of her family shine out even in their painful mistakes and failings. The lesson I am taking away most clearly from this book is the urgent need to affirm my children for who they are; to nurture their talents and allow them to find their roots and their wings… It is clearer than ever to me the need for them to know and connect with their biological families and the cultures of their births.

Another thought: Racism has deeply wounded all of us, reaching back throughout our history. Every member of our families is affected, whether we realize that or not. Whatever our ethnic of racial identity, if we look we will find the pain. We are all in need of healing. Telling our stories and listening to each other is part of that journey.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Green Pastures


A friend was sharing the other day about a way she seeks peace and comfort when under stress. So many times we are rushing from one thing to another, just trying to stay on top of our lists that we don’t even realize how stressed we are. I have been noticing lately that I have a really hard time slowing down and enjoying a moments’ relaxation. Even on a long weekend, when all my housework is done and I have no where to rush off to, I feel urgency and a need to hurry up and enjoy every minute of free time. I had a day off from school for Columbus day and the weather was perfect. I was caught up on all the laundry and had done all my weekend chores. I did some yard work that had been waiting for me to get to it, and then forced myself to sit down in the shade and just enjoy looking at my boys playing and just watch the wind in the trees. The tension in my neck and arms and stomach only became more apparent. The voice in my head never lets up saying hurry up get the next thing done.

Crickets’ singing stops;
The gardener comes by clipping –
She moves, he sings again.

My friend had said there was a time when she was stressed out and she went for a walk to try to calm down. She was walking and saying the 23rd Psalm to herself over and over. The words “he leads me beside the quiet waters, he makes me lie down in green pastures…” sunk in and she realized God wants us to find the green pastures and enjoy the quiet waters. That to be healthy we need to find those places often and that God leads us to them if we are willing.

Down by the water
Throwing rocks, dragging their sticks
Boys find the center

Yesterday morning I took the boys to a nature center near our home. It is a little place in the middle of a residential neighborhood, right beside the commuter train tracks. We don’t go there often because it is not the best one around here. I hardly ever see good birds there, although they have a bird blind and lots of feeders. They do have a cute little nature center building with animals (rabbits, turtles, snakes, a dove…) and bones and feathers and stuff for little kids so it is perfect for preschoolers. Yesterday was a holiday so the building wasn’t open but we walked the paths. They are just the right length for short legs to make a satisfying loop and come home hungry. Punkin and I saw a garden snake on the path (I almost stepped on it) while Buddy Boy ran ahead to thunder across a bridge over a tiny stream. The lower loop of the path goes right by the train tracks and there was a crew there cutting brush. The trucks and chipper and chain saws were making an awful racket so of course that drew the boys like a magnet. I will never get enough of looking at trees. Sun, shade, mist, green, gold, red and orange… I don’t care what the weather or season there is nothing more soothing and stimulating for me on which to rest my gaze.

Chain saws rip the air
Birds and boys watch brush come down;
Light filters through dust

I think I need to plan to take the boys out to the woods every weekend as long as I can stand the weather this fall. It revives us and gives us such joy. It is the only place I feel like I really breathe deeply and let my muscles fall into place. There are no chores, no deadlines, no schedules, no clocks, no to-do lists in the woods. Just light and air and the moment right now to enter and exalt. I am so grateful to have my boys with me walking these paths.

small child runs ahead
shakes a snake from sunny leaves
oh! the ground slithers

*This type of journaling can be called haibun; prose interspersed with haiku.


October 8 Haiku

pruning the high hedge
a short woman with dull tools -
Andromeda Jazmon 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

Reading Further

I seems I have a new study topic to pursue. The more I think about it, the more I realize I need to be more informed and educated about Cuba and what it might mean for Buddy Boy to be Hispanic/Latino. Turns out it's Hispanic Heritage Month - great timing. This morning I went to ask.com and started reading. I usually use Google but I wanted to search by question and I like how ask.com gives you a list of other people's search questions down the right side of the page. Good browsing if you are not sure what your question is or what you are looking for!

Race data in 2000 census

Race and ethnicity explained

2000 census site

Hispanic heritage month


Preference for racial terms survey

2010 Latino race census question

I would love to hear what others have read about race and ethnicity and what questions you have. How do you define your own race? How do others perceive your race and ethnicity? I come from Irish/German/English stock. Every St. Patricks day I wonder about what makes one Irish and what a meaningful celebration for me would be. I am about 1/8 Northern Protestant Irish, so it seems silly for me to wear green or to wear orange. Both? Neither? Ignore the whole thing? Think about it once a year? I can spend a lot of time pondering these things... how about you?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

October 8 Haiku

seen through the window -
gold leaf caught in spent seed heads,
sporatic rain showers.

Andromeda Jazmon 2006

Race and Ethnicity

I participating in a National Institutes of Health study about families of adoption and the "inherited and environmental factors on development, particularly in how environmental and genetic factors operate together through interaction and correlation." (taken from the participant's FAQ sheet) They are studying adopted infants, their adoptive parents and their first parents over a 2.5 year period. Punkin and I are subjects in the study. We had our second interview yesterday. A woman researcher came to our house and watched how Punkin played and interacted. It is interesting and I am looking forward to seeing the final reports, but that is not what I am posting about here.

My part of the study is mostly to fill out questionnaires about my parenting and feelings and health, etc. I work on a laptop while the researcher is playing with Punkin. (They paid for babysitting for Buddy Boy, since he is not part of the study and would obviously be a distraction). One of the sections of questions is collecting data about everyone in the household. They asked the race and ethnicity of each family/household member. I was fascinated by the way they asked as it seemed a unique way to define everyone. I am not clear in my mind about the difference between ethnicity and race. I thought ethnicity had more to do with learned culture and personal identity, and race was more biologically based, coming from the genes of your parents. This questionnaire seemed to use the terms differently, just to separate Hispanics into black or white.

First I was asked about each individual's ethnicity: Hispanic or Non-Hispanic? Then the next question was what race, with a list of possibilities to check off. When I answered about Buddy Boy, I asked the researcher if she thought having one grandparent from Cuba makes a person Hispanic, because Buddy's biological father's father is Cuban. I have never been clear about this and I don't know any Cubans to ask. If you are one quarter Cuban, does that make you Hispanic? Biracial? Mixed? Anyone have an opinion? Cause when people ask me what Buddy Boy is I never know what to say. Usually I just say African American because it is simpler than explaining my whole confusion.

The researcher, who is a woman of light brown skin and tightly curled hair, with an ethnic name that could be Muslim, Indian, or something else I can't identify (I don't want to ask her what she is...) said 1/4 is Hispanic, no question. I told her I hadn't seen ethnicity and race defined that way, broken out with two questions. Hispanic yes/no, and then white, black, Asian, anything else... She said the census does it that way but I don't remember it that way. In that case I have misrepresented Buddy Boy in the census and other documents. I guess he is Hispanic, Non-white and African American. What a mouthful. What's the short answer? Black and part Cuban? I feel like that is too much for a kid to have to explain. If people ask him if he is mixed (a question I get) should I teach him to say something about his Cuban grandfather? Then people are going to ask all about his adoption, his "birthfamily"... etc. and I would like him to have an answer that doesn't invite all those questions all the time. I guess he could just say he's African American and has some Cuban and change the subject. He is going to have to learn how to explain his family so maybe that is just part of it.

While we are on the topic, I don't know what terms to use for his biological father. Birthfather sounds ridiculous to me. He had nothing to do with birth. First father doesn't work for me either, because there is no second or third father. Biological father sounds kinda cold and... judgmental? Like I am implying something negative. Just plain father seems misleading, since we have no contact and he doesn't function in any way as a father. Sperm donor definitely has negative connotations to me. Any thoughts? I want it to be respectful and acknowledge his importance and also sound natural, simple and clear about the relationship.


Friday, October 06, 2006

The Amish Story

I have been thinking a lot about the Amish school shooting this week. I know that area and I treasure the beauty of their lifestyle. It cuts me to the heart to hear about the killer and his plans. I want to block it all out and turn away. It’s impossible. As I feed my children, dress them and put them to bed I keep thinking about those families and their losses. I see lines of black buggies between green fields… not just simplicity this time, but funeral marches.

One thing that bothers me a lot is that we are getting used to these tragedies. The news is full of one story after another that brings us to national mourning. Refusing to live in fear is a full time job. I don’t watch much TV anymore, but I did still love to watch the national news. I rarely watch it anymore because it seems there is always a sensational story I don’t want my boys to see. There must be another way to be informed and to participate in a national life without having to defend my sensibilities against the way everything is presented as titillating horror dramas. No solutions or strategies, just the gory details, then cut to commercial. I want to be in conversations about how not to go on like this; how to change the violent course we are on; how to bring up children that won’t learn these ways. TV and the newspapers are clearly not the places for that type of information.

What I have gleaned from the news I have heard: The Amish community doesn't want to be in the media attention. They are being protected with a 2.5 mile no fly zone above their air space, where no media helicopters are allowed to fly during the days of funerals. The roads surrounding the community affected by this tragedy are closed to outsiders for these few days of mourning. They are dealing with their grief in their own way. The newspaper articles, and of course we have them, protection or no, are telling of forgiveness and community solidarity. I hope we can learn something from them, something about another way to respond to terror. Instead of increasing the security level they are offering forgiveness and kindness to the shooters’ family.

Amish families don’t carry health insurance and they don’t ask for monetary donations. But the Mennonite Central Committee is collecting funds for them anyway, and their bishop has said he will accept them for the victim’s families and the community. You can help ease their financial burdens by sending something here. It’s something to do, other than shake our collective heads. Maybe it is a vote for peace and forgiveness in the world.

Haiku Poetry Friday

the Full Moon
promenading the pond
the whole night through.
-- Basho

The harvest full moon is tonight, and in it's honor I want to post this Haiku. Here are few lovely links if you want to wander farther through the garden...

Photo Haiku by Carol Raisfeld

Haiku Poets' Hut

The Haiku Society of America

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Zoned Out Reading

Buddy Boy is facinated with the book Danny and the Dinosaur by Sid Hoff. I have had to read it three nights running. I think he loved the idea of a friendly dinosaur (cool! and BIG!). He always asks about where Danny's mother is at the end of the book when Danny walks home alone. Approaching his house he looks much bigger than the house, as it is in the distance, and there is no visable mother. I told him she is inside cooking dinner but he wonders why Danny went out alone, without her.

Tonight while reading aloud to him I realized that I didn't remember the whole section from page 22, where they start walking down the street, to page 33, where they visit the zoo. I have absolutely no memory of reading those pages for the last three nights. I almost asked him if we had been skipping them, but I feel certain he would have said so if that were true because he would surely notice. I have been zoning out while reading! I have been thinking about what I want to do next, as soon as he is asleep. Put in another load of laundry, knit, read my book, or blog? That is what I am pondering while I am doing a pretty good job of reading with drama and excitement. It comes from having read this book a million times to Buster and to first graders over the last 20 years. I can do it while sleeping or day dreaming. I find that a little scary. What else do I do while I'm thinking of something else? It's like having black outs while reading. Yikes! Have you ever done that?


October 5 Haiku

hand-me-down board book
the pages loved to tatters
he turns, looks, turns, looks...

Andromeda Jazmon 2006


October Picture Books

We opened two boxes of new books this week so I am reading and enjoying a whole new crop. Here are some of the picture books that have tickled my fancy;

Cookies; Bite–Size Life Lessons. Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Illustrated by Jane Dyer. A dictionary for words like Patient (waiting and waiting for the cookies to be done) and Respect (offering the very first cookie to you grandmother). Some of the illustrations capture my heart and I adore them. One little thing bothers me enough to not keep coming back; some of the illustrations are of animals dressed up like people and that just rubs me the wrong way. It’s a shame because I love the text and the illustrations of children and adults.

Unlikely Pairs; Fun with Famous Works of Art. Bob Raczka. This is a work of genius! Photos of art work side by side that you would never find together in a museum. The stories suggested by these combinations could be whimsical and thought-provoking. Children are going to love this book and want to go out to see the art in person. It would be great for classroom story starters, discussion, and inspiration. Information about the art work is included in the index.

Hooway for Wodney Wat. Helen Lester. Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. “Poor Wodney. Wodney Wat. His real name was Rodney Rat, but he couldn’t pronounce his r’s. To make matters worse, he was a rodent. A wodent.” This is a darling book about getting along on the playground. It gives me courage to see how little Wodney champions his weakness and becomes a hero. I had to laugh, reading it to myself so I know the kids are going to love it. The illustrations are charming as well.

. David Wiesner. A boy who likes to look for stuff on the beach finds an underwater camera. He gets the film developed and you will not believe what pictures he discovers! This is an amazing book, as all Wiesner’s are. My second graders are studying the ocean now, and I am going to share this book with them. There is no text, so I can’t read it to them, but I am going to encourage their teachers to check it out to the classrooms so the kids have time to study and discuss it. The more you look, the more you see!

First Day Jitters. Julie Danneberg. Illustrated by Judy Love. The first day at a new school… don’t we all hate that? I changed schools four times by fourth grade, so I know all about those jitters. As a teacher I have walked into countless new classrooms (teaching ESL for years you are like an itinerate peddler) and I have a love/hate response to new environments. Sarah Jane Hartwell wakes up on a sunny morning the first day of a new school and she doesn’t want to get out of bed. Thank Goodness Mr. Hartwell is there to egg her on and get her to the school steps where the principal greets her and ushers her in to meet the hubbub of eager children. If you are like me you will be identifying so much with Sarah you won’t be surprised a bit by the ending! This is a great book for September and a new start.

Thelonius Monster’s Sky-High Fly Pie; A revolting rhyme by Judy Sierra with delicious drawings by Edward Koren. It is a revolting rhyme but is sings so well you won’t be able to help yourself enjoying it as much as the little boys who are giggling and wiggling while you recite. If you have ever thrown a dinner party with a scrumptious desert that took all day to make and turned out completely different than you planned, you will so get this book! And who could be happier on such an occasion than to hear “your creepiest cousin declare with a roar, ‘A dessert like this never existed before – a pie that could sparkle, could sing, and could soar. It’s despicably sweet (with a slight hint of fly). You’re a fabulous cook! You’re a wonderful guy!” It’s a silly book but it gets to the heart of what we all want to hear. Another great one to share with the children.

Team Moon; How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon. Catherine Thimmesh. This is a fabulous non-fiction book telling the real story of how much work and how many people were involved in that first moon landing. If you think you know about Apollo 11 you will be delighted to read all this back story, and if you know very little you will begin to be fascinated. My favorite pages are in the middle of the book, with photos of the earth as that small blue marble taken from the moon. I have always loved that view of the earth so when flipping through the book I had to stop there to begin reading. The story of how the astronauts were trained to be photographers and how the film was decontaminated from imagined “space bugs” is a real head-shaker. Those pictures changed the way we saw our “water planet” as Jacques Cousteau said. “We are all in the same boat”, he wrote. That boat is spaceship earth, a blue jewel glowing in the night of space, radiant and shining with the fluid of life – the all-encompassing sea.” As I am reading his biography to the second graders I will have to show them this book as well, and let them see how the exploration of space connected with the work of Cousteau exploring the undersea world. It’s amazing. Here’s what Chris Barton blogged about the book.

Snapshots; the wonders of Monterey Bay. Celeste Davidson Mannis. Here is another beautiful non-fiction book full of gorgeous photographs. The text explains the ecosystem and the life forms found in tide pools and breakers. The stunning full page photos are breath-taking. This is another book our second graders are going to pour over. "The Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary is the largest federally protected marine environment in North American", say the author, who often visited there as a child. What a treat for us that she grew up to be a writer and photographer determined to share her joy.