Sunday, September 30, 2007

Autumn flowers

My garden is dried up and dull these days. But my parents garden is another story...



rose light

three morning glories
Morning Glories


What's in bloom in your garden?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Path to Peace

Last week for Friday Poetry I posted about the Poetry in Place Project our sixth graders are doing. They've post poetry all over the school. This week I found William Carlos William's This is Just to Say posted on the kitchen refrigerator.

Sara Holbrook's paths to peace is posted by the elevator. I emailed Sara and asked her if I could have permission to post that lovely poem here on my blog, and she graciously agreed. It is published in her 2002 collection of poems called isn't she ladylike?, from Collinwood Press. I give it to you here:

paths to peace

...The lone, drone moan of a wandering wind,
the hum of a window fan.
The no horn, well-worn freeway shine
pulled down against the evening sill.
Those long low notes placed side-by-side on lines
drawn across the day's events.
sounds with all the noise wrung out.
Predictable enough to hold me still,
pull the covers tight beneath my chin,
fold my arms across my chest and
close my eyes with gentle fingers, whispering,
...this is peace.

...I dream of love.
As if the two are related. Peace and love, holding hands in the dark.
But love's not won by a constant heart -
.simple, steady, even as white noise.
The still comfort that smiles from the step,
...Goodbye dear, have a nice day.
...Welcome home love, may I draw you a bath?
Nah. Love is won by excitement.
...Isn't it?
...Aren't we supposed to lash ourselves against its bow
with thunderous hearts and flashing eyes,
toss our heads back, and throw ourselves against the winds of

...Survey the crowd and
you'll find peaceful love the preferred destination.
But at the ticket window,
impatience panting anxiously behind us, next in line.
Sweat drooling down our necks, biting our lips,
and forced to choose
between this love that promises to call everyday
rain or shine, rain or shine,
...RAIN OR SHINE (eh?)
...and THIS love -
that maybe will or won't be on time
when maybe it does or doesn't show up,
because maybe (just maybe?) we just might wind up
at Disneyworld, where there maybe a parade with fireworks
and the cotton candy won't melt so fast... this time.
...We hastily put our money
before the ticket taker's frown
and pick the circuitous route to peace - through chaos.
...Makes sense - doesn't it?
...More interesting, wouldn't you say?
...I can get there from here.
...I'm clever.
...Life is short.
...Don't want to miss out.
...After all, you only go around once.
This makes sense, to book our trip to peace
down the path marked pandemonium
...Doesn't it?
...Isn't peace some kind of premium item
that's offered with rocking chairs?
I mean, I'll get there eventually.
...Doesn't everyone?
It's the ultimate mileage program for those of us fools
who can't keep both feet on the ground.
Those who seek a love that's constant and true
by choosing the love that's fickle and false, if we don't know the difference.
As if maps aren't available on every street corner and
we haven't crept behind the buildings on past trips to Disneyworld see that they are shallow and have no rooms.
...And the still comfort that waits
peacefully on the step, still waits.
Because as I listen for that long, low note in the dark?
It suddenly starts to snore and I break out in night sweats
because Peace seems a little too close to that final destination.
...Doesn't it?

....-Sara Holbrook

Other books by Sara Holbrook we have in our collection:
Wham! it's a Poetry Jam
I Never Said I wasn't Difficult
Walking on the Boundaries of Change

It was suggested that bloggers might want to play along with the Poetry in Place idea. We got it from Georgia Heard in her book Awakening the Heart. She calls it an "anthology of the walls". I have asked Kelly of Big A, Little a to put me on the Friday Poetry host schedule in November so I can do a round up with the theme of "poetry in place".

Start thinking about what poems you could print out and hang up on the walls around you. The idea is to find a place where people stand waiting with nothing to do. Put a poem up there and give them something beautiful to think about. Near the elevator... water fountain... vending machines... bus stop... bank machine... crossing light corner...

We could be like Alice's Restauront and start a movement or something!

Today's poetry round up is at AmoXcalli. Go read!


From the Associated Press:

Myanmar Breaks Up Rallies, Cuts Internet
1 hour ago
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Soldiers in Myanmar clubbed activists in the streets and fired warning shots into the air Friday, moving decisively to break up demonstrations before they could gain momentum. Troops occupied Buddhist monasteries and cut public Internet access, moves that raised concerns the crackdown on civilians that has killed at least 10 people was set to intensify.
Witnesses said troops in Yangon aggressively broke up a demonstration of about 2,000 people. Five of the protesters were seen being dragged into a truck and driven away. The clash in an area near the Sule Pagoda was the most serious of the several sporadic — though smaller — protests that were reported in Myanmar's biggest city.
By sealing Buddhist monasteries, the government seemed intent on clearing the streets of monks, who have spearheaded the demonstrations and are revered by most of their Myanmar countrymen. This could embolden troops to crack down harder on remaining civilian protesters.

read more here.

Join me in prayers for Myanmar today.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Quaker Meeting Poem

meeting house.JPG

Quaker Meeting for Worship

In that early, misty hour
we clamber down from each singular tower
wrap up our last clear thought
release what once was fought
still each busy, curious hand
turn from what the day calls grand
open hearts and minds; teeming,
gathering in the meeting’s silent dreaming.

This is a response to The Miss Rumphius Effect’s Monday Poetry Stretch this week. She challenged us with a bouts rimes exercise. The end words Trisha assigned us are: hour, tower, thought, fought, hand, grand, teem, dream.

September 27 Haiku

meeting light.JPG

light spills
into dim meeting house;
gathered silence

September Carnival of Children's Literature

Take a Ride on the Reading Railroad: the latest Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Charlotte's Library. It's an adventure in reading for sure! Go hop on board.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Splendor of Silence

by Indu Sundaresan. Washington Square Press, 2006.

A cold moon washed the skies as the single, black caterpillar line of the night train to Rudrakot cleaved through the Sukh desert.

That's the first line of the novel The Splendor of Silence. I just snuggled down under the quilt and wiggled with pleasure when I read that. I didn't come up for air until it was hours past my bedtime. I just love a juicy novel about complicated, passionate people living in far distance places having dangerous adventures.

Sam is on a four day leave from the American OSS in 1942. He has just returned from Burma and is on his way to the fictional northwestern Indian state of Rudrakot. He is healing from a shoulder injury he sustained while rescuing a missionary from behind Japanese lines. He is also looking for his younger brother Mike, who is on a secret mission of his own. Sam stays at the home of the Indian political agent Raman, who is in charge of the state of Rudrakot in the Raj's absence. Sam falls breathlessly in love with Raman's daughter Mila, who is promised to the Raj.

Their four day love affair results in a daughter, Olivia, who learns of her mother's life and legacy when she receives a trunk full of her belonging for her 21st birthday. Sam has died in a car crash just five days previously, so Olivia never gets to put the pieces of her life's story together with her beloved father present.

I agree with Major Bedhead, this book would be a fabulous book club read. You've got the historical background, the war, the Indian cultural and political climate on the cusp of independence, as well as the sharpness of the love story. What holds it all together is the intrigue and the tension between expectation and desire.

Here are links I found to give you a better picture:

Other reviews:

The Hindu: "A Raj tale that bubbles at a measured pace."

Indian Tribune

Interview with Indu Sundaresan

This post is part of a Mother Talk blog tour. Go read what other bloggers have to say about it here.


I just took a tip from Mom Reviews (she's another Mother Talk review blogger) and joined BlogRush. I have a new widget on my sidebar there that updates links to other Writing and Literature blogs. I will get new readers from other bloggers linking on my feed, and I will find new blogs from watching the updated widget. Pretty Cool!

You can join too. It's FREE. It brings you more traffic. It introduces you to more bloggers. Sounds good, huh? Just click this link:

to go sign up. If you follow this link I will get a credit for sending you. I'm not quite sure what that means yet, but I think it's good. Then when you start referring people, you get credits. I think that translates into more readers and more connections to other bookish bloggers. It's too bad there is no KIDLIT category, but maybe we can work on that if we all join.....

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cybils are coming!

Six days until the nominations open for best books of 2007!!

The Cybils awards are off to a great start in our second year. This is the book award for Best Books of the year nominated and chosen by bloggers. Last year I served on the Non-fiction Picture Book judging committee. This year I am ecstatic to be on the POETRY judging committee! WhooHa!!! Rush over to the Cybils blog and read up on all the categories and committees:

The Cybils Website

The Cybils Blog

The 2007 Cybils Nominating and Judging Panels

The Cybils Forum

Nominations open on October 1, 2007!

(Many thanks to Wild Rose Reader for gathering these links, which I shamelessly copied and pasted right into this post.)

bonus haiku


I am experimenting with putting my haiku directly on the photo with photoshop software. What do you think?

September 25 Haiku

purple wildflower 2

autumn heat;
outside cool quiet libraries
crickets in hot grass

Monday, September 24, 2007

Review: Little Skink's Tail

by Janet Halfmann, illustrated by Laurie Allen Klien. Preview it on the Sylvan Dell site here. This story is based on the real life ability of skinks (small blue tailed lizards) to lose their tail in order to escape danger. The sweet little skink in the story is happily sunning on a rock and eating ants when she is attacked by a crow. She loses her tail and makes her get away, leaving the crow to chase her wiggling tail.

Little skink then starts to daydream about what it would be like to have different sorts of tails. A white-tailed dear? A cottontail rabbit? A squirrel, a skunk or a porcupine? She imagines herself with each and then decides they are not quite right a skink like her. Imagine her delight when she notices she has regrown her very own tail!

Buddy adores this story. He has requested it every night for the past week, ever since our review copy came in the mail. He laughs out loud to see the skink with a skunk, porcupine or owl tail. He pours over the gorgeous, vibrant illustrations, taking in all the carefully drawn details of the variety of animal and plant life of the forest and field. His quick five-year-old eyes immediately noticed the hidden monarch caterpillar on several pages, crowing with delight to see it weave a cocoon and then emerge a beautiful butterfly on the last page.

In the back of the book there are a few activity pages which we both enjoy. Buddy is learning to match animals with their footprint as well as read a grid and a compass rose from studying the footprint map. He gets pleasure out of matching up the animal tails with the names of the animals and the brief description of how each animals tails serve them. On the Sylvan Dell website I found additional activities and links to extend our learning, which I am looking forward to sharing with him.

This is a charming picture book that introduces the lives and habitats of real animals. The large print text, detailed illustrations and extended learning activities will satisfy young children as well as inviting them to continue to explore and expand their understanding of their world.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Picture Book Carnival

Mentor Texts is hosting the next Picture Book Carnival, coming up in a week or so. She says:
"Let's put together a compendium of great books that we use to help lift the level of children's writing. Submissions for grades K - 8 are welcome. Be sure to include a grade level, as well as a description of how you use the book to make kids' writing better (i.e., what does the author do that you want your students to do) in your post. I am looking forward to yoursubmissions, which are due by 10/5/07.
Submit a book for a great mentor text to Picture Book Carnival Part III

Go to the Carnival site to submit a link to one of your picture book posts related to encouraging writing in the past month. The deadline is October 5!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Touch Typing Blues

This week Miss Rumphius challenged us to try writing a Blues Poem. She suggested starting by thinking about something that depresses you. This year I am teaching keyboarding in the computer lab to grades kindergarten through fifth. I can't say it really depresses me, but it might effect my students that way. I remember back in Jr. High, when I first took typing class, how hard we were on our teacher Mr. H. My girlfriends and I used to make up romance novellas about poor nerdy Mr. H. and pass them around as notes between the typewriters. I never, in my wildest imagination, dreamed that I would one day be the typing teacher. Here's my first attempt at a Blues Poem:

Touch Typing Blues

Touch typing in the lab,
got my fingers on the keys.
Said touch typing in the lab,
got my fingers on the keys.
Got a pain in my neck;
goes way down to my knees.

Teacher says keep my eyes
up on the screen.
Oh that teacher says keep yo
eyes up on the screen!
My teacher she’s got a
right wicked kind of mean.

She said increase your accuracy now;
don’t worry about your speed.
Said increase your accuracy child;
no need to worry ‘bout no speed.
Fingers on the home row &
keep them working till you bleed.

Been typing so long I
lost the feeling in my toes.
Typing all the long day
while the cold wind blows.
Got the touch typing blues
way down here in my soul.

Well my eyes are blurry
and my shoulders in a hunch.
Got my eyes all blurry
and my shoulders in a bunch.
Those touch typing blues will
carry me straight through lunch.

Touch typing in the lab,
got my fingers on the keys.
Teacher says keep your
eyes up on the screen.
These touch typing blues
come to carry my poor soul away.

Go on over to Miss Rumphius to read other Blues Poems, and check out the Friday Poetry round up at Read, Write, Believe.

Poetry in Place

The sixth graders in my school are doing something the teacher calls "Poetry in Place". They have chosen poems they enjoy and they are posting them all over the school in what they feel are appropriate places. In the library, near the check out desk is Myra Cohn Livingston's Quiet. On the fish tank in the lobby is Aquarium by Valerie Worth. Next to the elevator is Sara Holbrook's Paths to Peace.

The sixth grade teacher found this project idea in Georgia Heard's book Awakening the Heart; Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School. I have mentioned this book before when I was posting about Nanci Atwell's Lessons That Change Writers. Heard tells about how she first encountered the New York City Poetry in Motion Project when she found a poem posted on a public bus. She also found poems posted in the women's rest room at the Columbia University's Teachers College. A secretary started doing it at the Teacher's College. Every week she posted a different poem. She had women from all over the college coming in to her office and asking for copies of the poems she posted. Once a man came in and when she asked if he had been in the woman's restroom he admitted that he was the window washer and he was reading the poems through the window as he worked. He wanted a copy of one for his daughter.

In Awakening the Heart Heard tells a story of when she was teaching a poetry class to a group of third graders one day. She says:
"Instead of collecting poems we love and putting them in a book, we'll make an
anthology out of the walls and spaces around the school. It will be our jobs to
make sure poetry is all around the building so other students and teachers can
have a chance to read some poetry. in a few minutes, we'll take a tour of the
building to search for good places to put poems. To start with, we'll look for a
place where people wait in line with nothing to do, a place where they could
just as well read a poem that's right there on the wall."
They gather clip boards and search the school for likely places to post poems. Then they choose poems, make posters and stick them up all over the place. I think this is a fabulously exciting exercise for school children to do. It reminds me a lot of bloggers doing Friday Poetry every week. Have you ever printed out a poem and hung it up somewhere? What if we all started doing that In Real Life, in print as well as in blogs? Extend the movement people!

Friday Poetry is being rounded up at Sara Lewis Holme's blog Read, Write Believe today. Go read!


Ten Lessons

Awakening the Heart

Teaching Poetry Ideas

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Day of Action: The Jena 6

I made a few phone calls today, to Louisiana Governor Blanco and the Louisiana Department of Tourism. I wanted them to know I was paying attention to the case of the Jena 6, and I expect some positive news about our call for justice.

Some people attended rallies, or wore black and white, or wrote letters and emails. Join us! sign the petition, make a few calls, attend a rally. Every voice counts.

Review: Green as a Bean

by Karla Kushin, illustrated by Melissa Iwai. Laura Geringer Books, 2007. This adorable picture book in rhyme is a poem, a song, a philosophical invitation. If you could be green...square...soft...small, what would you be? Each open-ended question takes a childhood characteristic and stretches our expectations to invite imaginative expression. My favorite verse:

If you could be loud
would you be the sound
of thunder at night
or the howl of a hound
as he bays at the moon
or the pound of the sea?
Tell me, proud loud one,
what would you be?"

Iwai's illustrations are full and luscious in soft pastels and vibrant rainbows. From the youngest children learning their color words to older children studying poetry and writing their own additional verses to extend the book, this is a wonderful addition to any collection.
I can see a class of poetry students pulling descriptive words out of a hat and writing poems in this style...
If you could be tall.... round.... a wisp.... winged... invincible...
What would your children write/dream/ wonder?

Mother Reader is asking for lists of our Favorite Books of 2007 (So Far...) and this one tops my list of picture books. It is a joy!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

September 19 Haiku

openning milkweed pod

frothy milkweed pods
stand where startled crickets rise;
the path toward home

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Could You? Would You?

I've seen it on a lot of blogs this week: 7-Imp is featuring the art of Trudy White. Her book Could You? Would You? is the prize for a contest. To enter the contest, you have to answer these questions. What would you say to this?

How would someone find you in a crowd?

If my boys are with me it's pretty obvious; we are a transracial family (I and my oldest son are white, the little boys are black) and all three of my boys are gorgeous. We always turn heads. If I am alone, you probably won't find me in a crowd. I'm kinda quiet and average looking. I'm usually off to the side watching everyone else and daydreaming.

If your house had a secret room, what would be in there?

A really nice quilting sewing machine, work table, and shelves full of fabric and yarn. Drawers full of equipment. A comfy couch, a book case half full, and a good lamp. A big window looking out on the garden, the sky and the trees. A bose sounddock for my ipod. No clocks or phones.

Where do you like to walk to from your house?

The library, the post office and several playgrounds.

How will you change as you grow up?

I hope I will have a clearer vision, a more delicate touch and a deeper well.

What sort of animal would you like to be?

A small brown bird with a sweet song.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Review: The Wright 3

By Blue Balliet. Scholastic Press, 2006. This is the second book by Balliet featuring Petra and Calder, two twelve year old students in the sixth grade at the University School in Hyde Park, Chicago. Their teacher is the wonderful Ms. Hussey, who Calder's friend Tommy describes as having "long hair and lots of earrings, and yesterday she had worn pajamas. Tommy didn't think she looked like a teacher at all, but to his amazement the class paid close attention to her." Tommy has returned to the neighborhood and the school after briefly moving away with his mother and his new stepdad, who turned out to be a disappointment and was criminally involved in the disappearance of the Vermeer painting in the previous Balliet book Chasing Vermeer. Tommy is a little uncomfortable with the changes in his friend Calder and Calder's new friendship with Petra. As the story progresses the trio work through their difficulties and form an investigating, crime-fighting team.

One of the buildings on in Hyde Park, on the edge of the University of Chicago, is Frank Lloyd Wright's famous 1910 masterpiece the Robie House. The novel setting is based on reality and you can learn more about the Robie House online. One of the major features of Wright's house is the many huge art glass windows lining the walls. To me personally this is the most beautiful and compelling aspect of the house. The windows play a large part in the story as they wink, move and speak to the children in code. This window in particular becomes important in the story.

The Robie House is owned by the University of Chicago and in this story it has not been kept up. It hasn't been occupied for many years and the cost of restoration is prohibitive. The University has decided to sell the house in pieces to four museums. Ms. Hussey, her students and many other people are greatly disturbed by this idea and they decide to save this historic work of architecture.

This book is full of mysterious puzzles, codes and hidden treasure. Just as in Chasing Vermeer, the illustrations by Brett Helquist are full of hidden clues in a surprising pattern. Calder is fascinated with pentominoes and in this book he is playing with a three dimensional set. He finds an eerie similarity between the small structures he builds with his puzzle pieces and the shapes embedded in the Robie House. When the children hear that Wright is said to have included a secret image of himself in the house they are determined to get inside the closed building and investigate. What they uncover in the dead of night, racing up and down the open spaces filled with patterns of moonlight and shadow will ultimately affect the fate of the house and their own lives.

I think kids in grades four through six will love this book. It would be a great follow up read aloud to Chasing Vermeer, or can stand alone, especially if you and your kids are particularly interested in Frank Lloyd Wright and architecture. The puzzles, the mysterious voices coming from the house and the intensity of the character's interest in spooky coincidences, unexplained "accidental" injuries and ghostly movements of the house itself will appeal to young readers that like a touch of paranormal in their reading. It is an enjoyable book that invites critical thinking on a deeper level to those who are alert.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

September 16 Haiku

buddleia, originally uploaded by cloudscome.

common flowers
at the height of summer;
jewels come autumn


I have decided to start posting my daily photos for Project 365 in a photo blog. Last January I thought it would be too difficult to keep up with another blog, but I have discovered that it is really quite easy to post directly from Flickr. I like how other bloggers display their daily photos in dedicated blogs so I set up Sandy Cove 365 for that purpose, starting with September. I know, the year's three quarters over, but better late than never! I'd love to get some traffic over there... and please comment so I know you're visiting!

Review: Book of Rosemary

by Jackie French. Angus&Robertson, 1993. My mom gave me this charming little volume, knowing how much I adore growing herbs. Last winter my large pot of rosemary was neglected and failed to thrive through the spring so I bought a new plant to try again. This most recent one is a prostrate variety that is beginning to trail over the sides of the pot. I have it outside in the afternoon sun, next to the kitchen door where it is very happy. When it gets colder I will bring it in and keep it in my sunniest dinning room window. I always have a rosemary plant around because they are so fragrant and beautiful.

Sept.16 2007 007

French gives delightful background history for the rosemary plant, including lore and quotes from Shakespeare, Culpeper, Robert Herrick ("Grow it for two ends, it matters not at all; Be't for my bridall or my buriall), Sir Thomas More, and Thomas Robinson ("Rosemary is for remembrance/Between us day and night/Wishing that I might always have/You present in my sight." Nosegay for Lovers, 1584.)

Rosemary originally came from the Mediterranean and was brought to northern Europe by the Romans. It is used in cooking, as a medicine, and as a pest control. It has been considered an herb of romance and faithfulness throughout the centuries. It is used in wedding decorations, as a charm ensuring fidelity and remembrance and given as gifts. Legend says that a man who doesn't like the scent of rosemary will be a lousy lover. A home where rosemary thrives is ruled by a woman.

rosemary on rocks

Sprinkled throughout the book in the margins are recipes for cooking with rosemary, including marinated olives, cauliflower, potatoes and onions. Baked apples with rosemary and served with "masses of whipped cream" is my favorite recipe. Rosemary apple jelly and rosemary rhubarb fool also look particularly alluring to me. You can include a sprig of rosemary in the roasting pan for lamb or chicken. The scent will fill the house and flavor the meat without it becoming too strong. Use a sprig to baste grilled meat or prawns with olive oil or throw it into the barbecue fire under grilled meat.

French includes a chapter on the medicinal uses of rosemary. Directions for rosemary honey, bath oil, toilet water, shampoo, hair conditioner, and deodorant are given. Other suggestions: grow a hedge of rosemary under and around your clothesline pole. Spread handkerchiefs or other small items on the bushes to dry and absorb the scent. If you live in a warm, dry climate grow a hedge of rosemary or grow the prostrate variety in between paving stones on the patio.

French gives tips for growing rosemary. It is a hardy perennial in some regions, tolerating drought and frost, stony soil, and clay. In my area the winters are too harsh to keep it outdoors, although I saw it once at a university arboretum growing in a huge bush that was several years old. It was in a protected garden in full sun and I think they covered it in deep winter. Rosemary doesn't need a lot of fuss; it doesn't want much fertilizer and likes to keep it's feet dry. If you start to lose leaves or see rot or wilt you are watering it too much. Once a problem develops it is hard for rosemary to recover and you ought to start over with a new plant. It's hard to grow from seed but easy to propagate with cuttings. Just cut a strong stem from a lower side, including a bit of old wood in late summer or early autumn. Put it in sandy soil and keep it moist. New roots will develop in the next six months. Don't try to transplant it for at least that long, as new growth may appear on top before the roots really set. You can also start a new plant from a growing tip in the spring or layer young stems under lose dirt and wait for roots to grow. French says,
"I have success just hauling out sticks of rosemary and thrusting them in the ground in autumn or spring. They mostly grow. Rosemary is slow growing at first, then it seems to leap away. A good bush will last for thirty years."

The final section of the book is a collection of poetry for rosemary. My favorite comes from Shakespeare's Winter's Tale:
"For you there's rosemary and rue; these keep
Seeming and savor all the winter long."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

September 15 Haiku

Spider plant flowers on porch

delicate blossoms
sway in the breezy shadows;
traffic rushes by.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Pantoum: Jetty


He's waltzing on slick rocks -
a boy on the edge of water.
Splashed with salt spray,
he spirals on toes electric.

On the edge of water, he's
in the crash and slam of surf.
He spirals on electric toes;
dancing beyond my cautious reach.

In the crash and slam of surf,
he's balanced on the edge of earth.
Dancing beyond my cautious reach, he's
on the threshold of tentacle and claw.

Balanced on the edge of earth,
splashed with salt spray,
on the threshhold of tentacle and claw,
he's gloriously waltzing on slick rock.

-Andromeda Jazmon

Trisha at Miss Rumphius Effect has been running a series of poetry challenges highlighting different forms of poetry. This poem is written in the pantoum style, with a pattern of repeated lines. Read more about pantoums here at and try one yourself.

The Friday Poetry round up is over at HipWriterMama's today. Go read some great poetry!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Robert's Snow; coming auction

One of my favorite kidlit blogs Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has this post up today:

By now, you have probably read the very sad news of the death of Robert Mercer, Grace Lin’s husband, at the end of last month, due to cancer.

You may remember from our May ’07 interview with Grace that she was the driving force behind the Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure fundraising effort after Robert was initially diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma and after writing Robert’s Snow (Viking Books; 2004) soon after that diagnosis. The fundraising effort entailed the auctioning off of special snowflakes, created by children’s book illustrators, whom Grace had gathered together in the name of raising money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI). The auction raised a great deal of money in its first year after the publication of this book, which features these illustrators, many of them award-winning, and their creatively and uniquely designed wood snowflakes for the cause. One hundred percent of the royalties from the book’s sale went to the DFCI to support sarcoma research. Robert’s Snow is in its third year and has already raised more than $200,000 for Dana-Farber. (You can see the 2005 snowflakes here).

This year, more than 200 well-known children’s book illustrators from around the world have been given a five-inch wooden snowflake to decorate at will. Like actual snowflakes, each design is unique. The 2007 online auctions for bidding on these hand-painted snowflakes will take place in three separate auctions, open to everyone, from November 19 to 23, November 26-30, and December 3-7. You can read here for more information (the image above is a publicity image for the upcoming auctions, used with permission from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. You may click on the image itself to launch the Robert’s Snow site).

Jules is organizing a blog blitz tour featuring the children's book illustrators and their snowflakes. I am hoping to join the tour so look for more to come in the coming months. If you would like to join in by featuring children's book illustrators on your blog in the tour just contact Jules at 7Imp. Everyone's welcome! For now, go visit 7Imp and read the rest of her post and visit the Robert's Snow site to learn more. Cancer affects all of us and here is something we can do about it. My greatest sympathy and prayers go out to Grace and her family.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Review: Chasing Vermeer

by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist. Scholastic Press, 2004. I read this book in the last few weeks of summer vacation, after having it recommended by several students and teacher friends. I was looking forward to it and it lived up to all the anticipation. The main characters, Calder and Petra, are two sixth graders living in Chicago and attending the University School in Hyde Park. The school was begun by John Dewey, who "believed in doing, in working on relevant projects in order to learn how to think", as the author describes him.

Their teacher is named Ms. Hussey, and she stands tall with all the other Cool Teachers of Children's Literature in A Year of Reading's List. She is introduced thus: "It was a strange thing for a teacher to say. By the sixth week of sixth grade, Ms. Hussey still wasn't a disappointment. She had announced on the first day of school that she had no idea what they were going to work on that year, or how. "It all depends on what we get interested in – or what gets interested in us," she had added, as if this was obvious. Calder Pillay was all ears. He had never heard a teacher admit that she didn't know what she was doing. Even better, she was excited about it."

Calder and Petra live on the same street a few blocks from school, but they haven't been friends up until now. They are a bit awkward with each other at first but eventually discover that they are similar and complimentary in their individual strangeness. Petra is a bookish girl who wants to be a famous published writer and Calder is a boy who loves puzzles and carries a set of pentominoes in his pocket at all times. They are both described as "hybrid kids", meaning their parents come from different ethnicities and cultures. Calder's dad is from India and his mom is Canadian and Caucasian. Petra is a "club sandwich of cultures". Her father has relatives from North Africa and northern Europe and her mother is from the Middle East. She has a bunch of little brothers and sisters, making her home a "tornado where life swirled in noisy circles." The story is not about their ethnicities but it is nice to see it mentioned as part of their normal family life.

The story revolves around Petra and Calder's preoccupation with the artist Vermeer. Calder has a wooden box with a painting titled The Geographer on the top of it and Petra dreams of the lady in the painting A Lady Writing a Letter. Ms. Hussey is assigning homework around the theme of investigating "communication" in letters and in art. The two kids keep stumbling across coincidences that bring them back to Vermeer's work. When the Lady painting gets stolen in transit from the National Gallery in Washington D.C. to the Chicago Institute of Art they become intent on finding the painting and solving the mystery.

As well as information about art, artists, mathematical patterns, puzzle solving, and codes, the author frequently refers to language arts skills. Petra finds an intriguing book in a second hand shop and she struggles to comprehend what she is reading. Her reading strategies are identified and explained in a natural way in the course of her seeking to enjoy her book. The author quotes a confusing passage from the book Petra is reading and says, "Petra read this twice and turned a few pages. [more confusing quotes from her book] Petra struggled with this language and had to look up the words "credulity" and "premises." Rereading each sentence in pieces, she began to get a grip on what Fort was saying…" Petra pauses to think over the implications of what she is reading, comes up with questions of her own in response to the text, and then turns to her notebook to write out her thoughts. Her reading spurs her thinking, inspires her writing, and leads her into conversations with her friends, parents and teachers that come together in the solving of the mystery. It is a language art's teachers dream to see such a beautiful example of an active reader making meaning from the text and using reading and writing to investigate the world, build relationships and bring together a wide range of thoughts and experiences. It is lovely to see how Balliet has created such a fascinating story with living characters that exemplify vibrant learners.

What I like most about the book is the way the characters are drawn. They have strong personalities with quirks and talents that set them apart. They are kind and genuine, with insecurities, fears and wishes that are expressed in their friendship. Art and literacy are deftly woven into the story of solving an enticing mystery. The author has sprinkled clues throughout the book in codes and hints, which alert readers will be collecting and sifting. The illustrator has joined the game by hiding hints in some of the frequent drawings scattered throughout the book. I was not as interested in decoding the secret messages sent between Calder and his other friend Tommy but I got caught up in searching for the clues hidden in the illustrations. I think kids who are intrigued by mysteries will love this book and those who are looking for personable characters struggling with the familiar developmental issues of preteens will be drawn into the story as well. The book is beautifully crafted and a pleasure to read. I think it would make an excellent read aloud for a fourth or fifth grade classroom. There is another book with the same characters solving an equally interesting mystery, called Wright 3, which I will review next. Blue Balliett's books are highly recommended.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Goals Update

Last June Suzanne tagged me with the Summer Goals Meme. I was to write a list of ten goals for the summer. I have been challenged to revisit these goals and check in with how well I've done. I put this off as long as possible to see if I could accomplish a few more, but since we are decidedly back into the school schedule I guess it's time to weigh in.

Here is what I wanted to do this summer:
  1. Pick blueberries and strawberries with my boys. I remember what strawberries taste like in the field, and it's not anything like those red monstrosities in the supermarket. Picked Blueberries and Raspberries and they were delicious!
  2. Go to the swimming pool three or four times a week and make some new friends from our neighborhood. We went to the pool at least three times a week up until the middle of August, when we hit a cold spell and would rather go biking. We made some new acquaintances, and we'll see how the friendships develop.
  3. Get Buddy swimming lessons. Done. He did great and loved it.
  4. Help with Vacation Bible School at our church. I got put on the snack committee and I think I can totally do that. Done. We all enjoyed it.
  5. Read and blog about at least one chapter book a week. Done. I reviewed over 20 books between the end of June and the end of August.
  6. Work on my writing. I mean read writer's texts, practice the craft, keep a writer's notebook, polish some pieces and submit. Done. See the writing label in my sidebar.
  7. Print photos of my kids and catch up on scrapbooks. Worked on this but didn't finish.
  8. Print photos matched with my haiku and make a book of them. Worked on this but didn't finish.
  9. Keep up with weeding and watering (especially the potted plants). More or less. The rest of the yard and garden dried up but I kept the pots watered.
  10. Get Buddy music lessons (Suzuki violin? Any suggestions or tips?). Still working on this.
  11. Learn to make gluten free fig newtons with our home grown figs. Done and they were GREAT!
  12. Research library schools and make a plan to finish my degree. Still getting around to this one.
  13. Find time to relax: play, laugh, watch and listen. Done!! I did the best on this one.
  14. Learn how to work with the school website; update library and class project pages. Plan to assist teachers with this next year. Done. A little more tweaking to do, but pretty much done.
So only two out of ten weren't done, with another two half done. I count that as a summer well spent. So glad I made these goals! How did you do on yours? Have you posted about it yet?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

In 1998 I went to hear Madeleine L'Engle speak on the topic "Garbage and Grace: the Ecosystem of the Soul". She spoke for an hour in the morning about how we chose what, of all our experiences, possessions, relationships, thoughts, and ideas we chose to "throw away" or release from our lives. We broke for lunch and then she spoke for another hour about what we ought to "learn to keep". She was brilliant. I wish I had taken written notes so I could share her original wisdom with you here, but what really stands out in my memory is the intensity with which she impressed on us the eternal impact of those choices.

We stood in line for an hour afterward to get her to sign our books. Later I realized that I should have bought new copies of A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door for her to sign, instead of the old paperbacks I brought. Sigh. They are two of very few author-signed books that I own. She was one of my favorites and I read those books (and her others) over and over growing up. She past away at the age of 88 last Friday. I look forward to meeting her on the other side.

More to read on Madeleine L'Engle:

Thanks to ChickenSpaghetti for these great links.


red tailed hawk

About ten years ago in the winter I was looking out the back door at a huge snow fall and a Red Tailed Hawk swooped down right in front of me and snatched a sparrow off the fence. I was so shocked and amazed! As soon as the roads cleared after that storm I went out and bought some binoculars and started watching for birds. I put up some bird feeders and read up on garden plants that the birds would like. I signed up for a birding class with my dad. For about four years we took the same class every spring with a great teacher. We went out to different parks early in the morning on Saturdays looking for warblers and other spring birds. I kept that up until Buddy came along and it got too difficult to get out for those long rambles. Now with two little ones I haven't spent much time on birding, but as they get older I plan on getting back into it. Birding is a great thing to do with kids. Here are my favorite birding books:

Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds by Roger Tory Peterson. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1980. This is the absolute best bird book. You have to start here. Peterson's illustrations are complete and precise. If you are trying to tell the difference between a Krider's Red Tailed Hawk and a Harlan's Red Tailed Hawk you need the detailed descriptions and carefully drawn markings (with seasonal and age-related developmental differences) that Peterson gives. Also included is important range information, maps, habits, migration patterns and a description of the song or call of each bird. I take this paperback into the field with me and keep my life list of birds sighted on the included check list.

The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley. Knopf, 2000. This is another wonderful bird book with fabulous illustrations painted by David Allen Sibley. This type of book, with hand drawn or painted bird illustrations shows the markings with seasonal variations, views of the bird in flight and comparisons with similar-looking birds that you just don't get in the field guides that use photographs. Often when you see a bird it is just a flash of color and movement that is hard to identify. A field guide has to give you clues like Sibley does: "this large, conspicuous hawk often perches along roadsides. It hunts mainly mammals from a perch or by kiting... wing beats rather stiff, pumping...soars with wings in slight dihedral or broad U..." These descriptions are accompanied with silhouettes that show the wing shape while soaring. See this link on Sibley's homepage for an example of the identification tips he gives.

One more book my kids and my students have always enjoyed browsing is the Eyewitness Birds of the World by Colin Harrison and Alan Greensmith (DK Publishing, 1993). This one includes helpful information about the hobby of birdwatching, the anatomy of birds, how to identify different species, what equipment you need, and so on. The birds are shown in photographs, with accompanying sketches and silhouettes and short descriptive paragraphs. The Red Tailed Hawk is described as, "A typical open-country bird of prey, this species commonly seeks out rising air currents (thermals) on which it circles and soars while looking for prey." This book includes birds from all over the world, so there are many birds here that you are not likely to see and some of the variants from your region will not be described.

The Red Tailed Hawk in my photograph above was in my neighbor's tree yesterday. I was out on my porch taking pictures of the flowers and I heard a sudden commotion next door. The sparrows were squawking and fluttering around and then the Hawk zoomed around the corner of the house and landed in the pine in a flurry. He sat there for a couple minutes and then flew off. Hawks are very common around residential neighborhoods these days. They wait for roadkill beside the highways and stake out busy bird feeders around homes. They range from Canada to Central America. If you are seeing a bird of prey around your North American home there is a good chance it is a Red Tailed Hawk. The tail stripes and the light band along the bottom of the tail on this bird is a clear marking of a Red Tail.

What birds do you see around your home and garden?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pay It Forward winner for September

Today Buster drew a name from Buddy's cap to pick the winner for this month's the Pay It Forward Book Exchange. I got the idea for this from Overwhelmed with Joy. I plan to give away a book to one of my readers in the first week of every month until I run out of books. Here's how it is played:

1) Once a month I'll pick a book to give away to one lucky reader (you don’t have to have a blog to enter). It may be a book that I’ve purchased new or used, or it may be a book that someone has shared with me that I really like. It’ll probably be a paperback, just to make things easier, but no guarantees.

2) All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave me a comment on this post. I'll draw names out of a hat on Saturday, September 8.

3) If you’re the lucky winner of the book giveaway and you have your own blog I ask that you,in turn, host a drawing to give that book away for free to one of your readers, after you’ve had a chance to read it (let’s say, within a month after you’ve received the book). If you mail the book out using the media/book rate that the post office offers it’s pretty inexpensive. If you're a non-blogger who has won the book, please consider donating the book to your local library or shelter after you're done with it.

4) If you’re really motivated and want to host your own “Pay It Forward” giveaway at any time, feel free to grab the button above to use on your own blog. Just let Overwhelmed know so she can publish a post plugging your giveaway and directing readers your way!

The Pay It Forward Book Exchange is designed to encourage people to read, to share good books, to possibly get you out of your reading comfort zone, and to get fun stuff in the mail instead of just bills!

This month I am giving away Copper Crown by Lane von Herzen. It's a really great book that I loved reading. I reviewed it here.

And the winner is.... Lorie!! Lorie's Stitch in Time is her blog. Send me your snail mail Lori and I will post your book ASAP. Come back in the first week of every month for another book give away everyone!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

September 5 Haiku

roadside weeds

a nameless flower
bends to blooming's joyful task
in roadside scree

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Review: Maximum Ride; Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports

by James Patterson. Little, Brown and Company, 2007. This review is part of the MotherTalk blog tour. Patterson is the well known author of 17 bestsellers for adults, including the Alex Cross detective series, which is the inspiration behind the movies "Along Came a Spider" and "Kiss the Girls".

Maximum Ride
is a Young Adult title, the third in a series. Book four is scheduled to come out in January 2008. There is a movie in the works as well, to be produced by Avi Arad and Steven Paul.

The story centers around five characters; four are teens or children and one is a talking dog. They have all been genetically engineered in experiments, and in a series of adventures they escaped from the "school" where they were the subject of numerous unpleasant experiments. The four humans have some bird DNA, giving them wings that allow them to fly. They also have other super powers that are still being discovered and developed.

The "Flock", as they call themselves, are being hunted down by "Erasers", another type of genetically engineered beings that act as soldiers for the group that runs the program and calls itself the "Re-Evolution". The organization is planning to take over the world and destroy all their past experimental life forms. Their master race will then usher in an age of peace and prosperity.

Max, the oldest of the flock and their leader, is on a mission to save the world. She is fourteen, very intelligent and good at making plans on the spur of the moment. She talks fast and uses a lot of slang, with a constant stream of sarcastic asides to readers. This may be a draw for teen readers, but it dates the book and makes it appear shallow to older readers. Max is strong and opinionated, but as she progresses through the story she begins to come up against some of the more complex and confusing aspects of her relationship with Fang, the fourteen year old boy that is her closest friend and second-in-command to the Flock.

Fang writes a blog. The Flock also has a MySpace page. The blog links to the main site, articles and forums where fans discuss the books and the coming movie. Trailers and music from the movie are posted on YouTube and embedded in the blog. Wikipedia covers it. The book has taken on a cult following it seems, with teen readers accessing Max's world in the mediums they feel most at home. It's more than a print novel; it's a Web 2.0 phenomena.

I found the book to be an exciting, fast paced read. I stayed up late a couple nights in a row to finish it and found myself thinking about the Flock during the day, wondering what adventures they were getting into and what would happen next. I found some writing style a bit annoying at times, when the author threw in hip jargon. To my ears Patterson sounds a bit like a grown up trying to be cool, but I haven't seen any teens complaining about it. Maybe I am showing my age.

The ending comes together swiftly and a little too easily, with just enough left hanging to let you know there is another book coming. I enjoyed this volume enough that I will definitely look for that coming novel though - I need to know what happens to Max, Fang, and the Flock!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Pay it Forward: Copper Crown

It's the beginning of another month, and that means it's time for another Pay It Forward Book Exchange! Overwhelmed with Joy started this fun trend last month. I plan to give away a book to one of my readers in the first week of every month until I run out of books. Here's how it is played:

1) Once a month I'll pick a book to give away to one lucky reader (you don’t have to have a blog to enter). It may be a book that I’ve purchased new or used, or it may be a book that someone has shared with me that I really like. It’ll probably be a paperback, just to make things easier, but no guarantees.

2) All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave me a comment on this post. I'll draw names out of a hat on Saturday, September 8.

3) If you’re the lucky winner of the book giveaway and you have your own blog I ask that you, in turn, host a drawing to give that book away for free to one of your readers, after you’ve had a chance to read it (let’s say, within a month after you’ve received the book). If you mail the book out using the media/book rate that the post office offers it’s pretty inexpensive. If you're a non-blogger who has won the book, please consider donating the book to your local library or shelter after you're done with it.

4) If you’re really motivated and want to host your own “Pay It Forward” giveaway at any time, feel free to grab the button above to use on your own blog. Just let Overwhelmed know so she can publish a post plugging your giveaway and directing readers your way!

The Pay It Forward Book Exchange is designed to encourage people to read, to share good books, to possibly get you out of your reading comfort zone, and to get fun stuff in the mail instead of just bills!

This month I am giving away Copper Crown by Lane von Herzen. I picked this book up on the share shelf at school last year and I loved it. Here's what I said about it in my blog review:
..."the writing is so beautiful it won me over quickly. The dialog and the descriptions of the landscape roll like a song. The characters are clear and tender. The truths here run deep and powerful. The author lays out a part of the heartbreaking, gut wrenching reality of America’s history. You will come away from this book a different person."
Here's what the publisher says on the cover:
“At its heart is the story of Cass and Allie, two young women – one white, one black – sharing a friendship amid the divisive and violent racism of rural 1913 Texas. But when a murder turns the town of Copper Crown into an inferno of lynching and riots, Cass and Allie make a startling decision – to strike out on their own in search of a life where a person’s heart, not race, is what counts.”

This is a really fabulous book. All you have to do to be in the drawing to win it is leave a comment on this post before Saturday, September 8!

Sunday, September 02, 2007


ripe fig

About five years ago one of my bookclub friends gave me a little fig tree that was a volunteer from the fig tree in her yard. I planted it in the sunniest spot in my side yard and waited to see what would happen. I didn't know anything about figs and didn't even know they could grow in this zone 7 area. The first winter it was hit hard by ice and snow. That spring it didn't put out new leaves and I thought it was gone. Late in the spring I saw new shoots coming up out of the ground, and sure enough it regrew from a new trunk. The next year it grew a little bigger, but still no figs appeared. It gradually got bigger every year since. Last year was the first year we had figs. There were fewer than 20 total for the whole season, and I let Buddy eat them right off the tree because he loves them. I wasn't particularly impressed with the flavor or texture.

This year we saw our first small green fig in April. It didn't get ripe until June. Then a new batch appeared, not ripening till now. I am surprised at how long they stay little and green. I need to do more research on growing figs. The picture in my blog header is of a green fig on the tree, BTW.

yummy figs

This is the first year I have tried to cook with figs. I searched online for recipes for gluten free fig cookies and borrowed from all the ones I found that looked really good. I used Pamela's Ultimate Gluten Free Baking mix, and took the cookie recipe off the bag for the core of my own creation. If you want to make these cookies with regular flour (not gluten free), just add a tsp. of baking powder, half tsp. of baking soda and half tsp. salt to the recipe. It's basically the same as chocolate chip cookies, but pressed in a pan with a layer of fig jam in between layers of cookie dough. Here's what I did:

Fig Bar Cookies

Fig Jam:
2 c. figs, quartered with stems cut off
1/2 c. sugar
1 T. lemon juice

Simmer on low for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Jam will thicken. Cool.

cooking the figs

Cookie Dough:
1 1/2 c. Pamela's Gluten Free Baking & Pancake Mix
1/2 c. Butter Flavored Crisco (you can use butter or margarine)
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Cream Crisco, sugar, eggs & vanilla. Add flour and mix. Dough will be stiff. Spread half dough in a 9 x 11 inch baking pan.

Spread fig jam over dough.

putting it together

Roll our other half of dough between two layers of plastic wrap. Remove top piece of plastic wrap, turn dough onto fig jam, remove plastic wrap, press down around the edges. Prick with a fork.

Bake @ 350 for 20 minutes. Cookies should be dark brown around the edges and toasty looking all over. Leave in for 5 more minutes if they don't look dark enough. Cool in the pan. Cut into squares when still warm.

fig cookies

I wish I had started with more figs so I could have a thicker jam filling layer the first time I made these. The figs only ripen one or two a day and they only keep in the fridge for a couple days, so it's tricky collecting enough to make really satisfying cookies. I think I should make the jam every two or three days and store it in the fridge to bake with later. Anyone else make yummy things with figs? What else are you harvesting these days?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

August 365 Mosaic

August 365 Mosaic

This month I decided not to try to be perfectly equally balance in how many pictures I post of each of my sons. The littlest is around me most when I am taking pictures, so there he is. I admit I usually have an internal critic asking if I favor one over the others and what that says about me. Ah well.

This month I decided to take more pictures of myself. I was profoundly disappointed in 95% of them. The face I see in the mirror is softer, kinder, prettier, more alert and happier than the face I see in the photos I take of myself. Why is that?

This month I took a lot of pictures of food. I was conscious of myself intentionally stocking up on goodness and sweetness, preparing for a stressful fall and a long dark winter. I sought out bright bold colors. I tried to record this month of summer. I watched the light fall on different types of surfaces.

This month I felt frustrated with my camera. I long for a better one. This one is a moderately priced point and shoot. The close focus is not good. I am frequently disappointed in my shots in anything but bright sunshine.

I am doing the Project 365, posting one a day. I am keeping all my photos in a Flickr set because I can't keep up with another whole blog. Browse other 365 blogs:

Bright Star

Follow their links to lots more.