Friday, March 30, 2007

There's a Flower at the End of My Nose Smelling Me

by Alice Walker, illustrated by Stefano Vitale. Harper Collins, 2006. This is a beautiful little book. It reads like a song. The images are juxtaposed just enough to make you sit up and notice your everyday experiences as fresh and wonderful. In the back of the book Walker writes that she wrote the poems all in a rush after taking a walk in the woods one day with her dog. The glory of the world filled her with joy and delight. She wrote the book as a thank you note to the universe. It makes me love Alice Walker and the world all over again. The illustrations are perfect too. *Sigh*

I would so much love to copy the whole thing here, if not for those darn copywrite laws. I'll just have to restrain myself and only put a snippet here. My favorite page says:
There's a poem
in the cradle of my soul
rocking me.
You need to run out and get this book and read the rest!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Su Dongpo

by Demi. Lee & Low books, 2006. As always Demi's fabulous paintings illustrate this beautiful book. For more in depth information on Demi and her amazing work read this link.

Demi's biography of Su Dongpo tells of the accomplishments and adventures of China's greatest genius. In the introduction she states "He was a statesman, philosopher, poet, painter, engineer, architect, and humanitarian who approached everything with joy and grace." At the low times in his life he lived in poverty in a forgotten corner of the back country, where he learned to appreciate the beauty of a simple, fulfilling life of farming. At other times in his life he was acknowledged to be a great leader in the Emperor's court and lived in elegance and luxury. He worked as a magistrate, governor, judge, financier and social reformer. He was also a brilliant poet and painter. Demi also says "His life embodied the enlightenment of Buddhism, the simplicity of Taoism, and the wise teachings of Confucianism."

Aside from the beautiful artwork, which Demi is known for, the thing I like best about this book is the way Demi incorporates the influence of Su Pongpo's parents during his childhood. He mother and father were both established scholars. His mother taught him and his younger brother the classic Chinese stories when they were small. She told them "As a little seed one day will become a great tree, as a flowing river can carve a mighty rock, neither of these can you see at work with your own eyes. But one day their effort will show! One day the work you do will show too!" Su's father taught the boys to read and recite the classics in training for the official examinations. When they were young men they traveled to the capital at Kaifeng. Su Ziyou, the younger brother, passed the exams with high honors and Su Shih (Dongpo) achieved the highest score of anyone in the country. He was designated the First Scholar of the land. Both of them were guaranteed official careers.

Su Dongpo lived in the Song era, from 1037 - 1101. This is one piece of information that Demi leaves out of the book, as she neglects to include a time line. One of the interesting facts that she does include is that he designed the causeways crossing the West Lake of Hangzhou, still in use today. When I visited Hangzhou twenty some years ago West Lake was memorable for its beauty and peace. There is a statue of Su Dongpo there in commemoration of his great work.

One thing I didn't like about the book is the bias she shows against the residents of Hainan Island. Su Dongpo is dismissed to live there outside the realm when in disgrace after his patron the dowager empress dies. Su learns to appreciate the simplicity of life there and becomes quite happy. Demi describes the island as "a place inhabited only by natives." I am sure it was a shock after living in the heart of the life at court, but those who called it home must have found it to be not without its own charm and value. By referring to them as "natives" Demi repeats the traditional disdain of Han Chinese for outsiders.

On the whole I found this to be a lovely book and I look forward to sharing it with everyone interested in learning about China and this great scholar, poet and statesmen.

Other reviews:

Book Buds
Big A little a
A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy
Paper Tigers review

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What would you suggest?

I have a teacher here making up a summer reading list for her seventh and eight grade students. She is asking me for book suggestions where there is diversity that is not stereotypical; we have enough of the pregnant basketball playing teenagers living in single parent families in the ghetto, thank you. Oh, yeah and they have to be new books. These kids have read all the books we already have here. My YA reading is woefully behind. Can anyone jump in here and help me out?

March 28 Haiku

lilac buds.JPG

at first light
the house finch calls out -
lilac buds!

Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile

by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert, illustrations by Julie Paschkis. Henry Holt and Company, 2003.

I read this story to my first graders yesterday and they clapped when it was over. They were delighted with the cleverness of Mrs. Chicken. She is vain and foolish in the beginning of the story, trying to see her own beautiful reflection in the river. She gets caught by a hungry crocodile and is held captive. In desperation, to avoid being eaten Mrs. Chicken insists that she and Mrs. Crocodile are sisters. The problem is she has to come up with a way to convince Mrs. Crocodile while she fattens her up. With a delightful plan she is able to prove herself just in time and even manages to go home with all her chicks intact.

This is a funny story that has just the right amount of tension and a satisfying ending. When I read the part where Mrs. Chicken says the two are sisters the class burst out laughing. The children just loved the incongruency. They were waiting on the edge of their chairs to find out how she would show that it was true. I think they were a little bit unsure about whether there was a scientific explanation, in spite of all they know about animals. When they saw how cleverly Mrs. Chicken tricks Mrs. Crocodile they were delighted.

Julie Paschkis teamed up with Won-Lyd Paye on a couple other books which I also enjoy. Her illustrations are bright and bold. Their dramatic colors are well balanced with simplicity, moving the story along without overwhelming the text.

I have previously posted about another Won-Ldy Paye book (Head, Body, Legs). I really love his story telling. He is from Liberia and learned the art of storytelling from his grandmother. I highly recommend all his books.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Questions About Book Links

A couple weeks ago I read an interesting post at Book, Book, Book on the pros and cons of linking to Amazon in book reviews. She linked to a conversation going on in the comments to this post at Fuse #8. The questions Els posits are: should one link to Amazon in a book review? Is that selling books for them? Is is better to link to an independent bookstore or another site?

I often link to Amazon for pictures of the book cover (see Mitali's Fire Escape here for a discussion of copywrite). Sometimes I link Amazon if the reviews there are interesting or helpful. Sometimes they are written by people who obviously haven't read the book, however. I prefer to link to the author and illustrator's website directly, to the publisher's site, or to other reviews of the book.

There is another option that I am exploring. You can link to WorldCat, the world wide online catalog of library books. I like to think of it as a way to encourage people to use their local library. You can read about it here on Wikipedia which starts out saying, "WorldCat is the world's largest bibliographic database, built and maintained collectively by libraries that participate in the OCLC global cooperative". Here's a link to the search page at WorldCat. You can put a widget in the sidebar of your blog by getting the code here. Then instead of worrying about which bookstore you are hosting you can promote libraries!

I haven't used it extensively myself yet so I am not sure how well that will work. As a librarian I can easily look up books and use the statewide network for interlibrary loan, so that is what I usually do to find books for personal reading. I am going to try linking WorldCat for book reviews for a while and see how that goes. I would appreciate your feedback. Try searching for some books and let me know if you find them in your local library. I put the widget in the sidebar.

I am teaching my students how to use the online libraries in our area for research and to find books and I am sad to discover that many of them don't have library cards. They don't realize that they can search, reserve and renew books online by putting in their card number and password. It seems that would be an obvious possibility for these kids that expect to do everything else online. How many of you go to the library online? If you see a great book review would you rather quickly find it in a local library or order it for purchase?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Favorite Non-Kidlit Blog Meme

Mother Reader tagged me to do the Favorite Non-KidLid Blog meme. I have to chose five of my favorite blogs to share with you. I have been clicking around reading the blogs everyone else is choosing and I am finding a lot of fascinating blogs. This could eat up my entire life! I already am hopelessly behind in reading and commenting on the blogs in my feed reader. I am going to have to cut back on the time I devote to healthy stuff like exercise and tooth brushing in order to read more blogs, that is clear. What did you give up to read more blogs?

Here's a few more you really should read:

  1. My Topography: She's a teacher, writer, artist, wife and mom. She delights in beauty and grace and love. She is refreshing and joyful. If you want a moment of peace and beauty go see her.
  2. Writing as Jo(e): She's a teacher, writer, wife and mom. She is brilliant at giving us small moments that sparkle like diamonds. She loves the woods. Her kids are smart, funny and almost grown. Don't miss this one.
  3. Whoopsy Daisy: She's a knitter, photographer writer, wife and mom. Beauty is here; soak it in.
  4. Paragraphein: She's a writer, thinker, wife, mom, and passionate soul. She's the one who introduced me to blogging. Her honesty stops me cold and her kindness thaws me.
  5. But Wait, There's More: She's a poet, teacher/administrator, and mom. She posts haiku on Monday or Tuesday and more poetry on Thursday, with more great writing in between. She's a Quaker and a thinker and a wide open soul.
Looking back over these choices I am amazed at the fabulous writing I have to enjoy every day. I am so blessed! Now I tag five more of you: Devas T., Saints and Spinners, Shaken and Stirred, Repressed Librarian, Planet Esme. What are your favorite non-book blogs?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Thinking Bloggers

ThirdMom tagged me with the Thinking Blogger Award. I have to say first of all that I am so flattered to be included in her list of blogs that make her think! It's an honor to be put in a group with all the other great blogs that have been tagged with this award.

She has charged me with naming five other blogs that make me think. I have so many blogs that I love to read because of the way they challenge me to think that it is hard to chose only five. I hope you enjoy reading from these that are delighting me today:

1. Cynsations: Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog includes "interviews, reading recommendations, publishing information, literacy advocacy, writer resources, news in children's and young adult literature". She has a great web page listing children's and adult literature resources at with a whole section on books with themes of adoption, diversity and multiculturalism.

2.'s reunion writings:
"I am a jazz singer, artist, vocal coach, migrant, pug owner... exiled family member and most blessed of all I am mother in reunion to a wonderful young woman. ...I am just a woman. A yoga fanatic. A semi vegetarian, a hater of fur, a lover of animals, a speaker of other languages, a piano player, a terrible cook, a dodgy poet, a secret song writer..." writes one of the first blogs I got hooked on. She always has something amazing to write about.

3. This Woman's Work: Dawn writes about writing, getting published, mothering and adoption. She has a lot of interesting things to say about race/ethnicity and kid's books too.
She's teaching me a lot about all of these things!

4. Light-Skinned Girl: "a mixed chick's thoughts on a mixed-up world". She's a writer and a thinker. Lately she's been traveling a lot, and posting pictures. She writes about writing, race, adoption and living with two cultures.

5. Mitali's Fire Escape:
Mitali says, "Let's chat about life between cultures. Or life in general. Books. Writing. Movies. Whatever strikes our fancy. Out here on the fire escape, anything goes. So chime in. Pass the tea and biscuits. Sit back and take in the view. Can't wait to hear what you have to say." Not only does she write challenging posts, she starts fascinating conversations.

Now according to the meme rules, these five bloggers should pass on the award to five of their favorite thinking bloggers. I can't wait to read the blogs they read!

Links that make me think before breakfast...

By reading Semicolon's Saturday roundup I found two great new resources for bloggers: Blogging Basics 101 found through Painted Rainbows and Chamomile Tea; and Scribbit's custom search. She has developed "a custom search engine powered by Google that searches select blogs on parenting, crafts, cooking, gardening and blogs by women." I think we ought to get her to include kidlit blogs, don't you? So many times when I start to write a book review I wish I could quickly find all the other blogger's posts on the same book. I search Google and Blogger and that finds a lot. But a focused custom search engine for kidlit blogs would be just about perfect. What do you think? I emailed her and got the code to put the widget in my sidebar and asked her to include my blogs in the database. Try it out!

I have been tagged for two great memes by ThirdMom and MotherReader. I'll have to come back and work on them after we eat breakfast cause the kids are awake and hungry. These are going to be challenging and fun to do!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday Poetry: Spring

<span class=

NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing; 5
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning 10
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

-Gerard Manley Hopkins
from "Poems." 1918

I absolutely love that line "What is all this juice and all this joy?" It could be my theme song. I fell in love with Hopkins the first time I read this poem. You can go read more of him on Bartleby. You can find more Friday Poetry rounded up by Elaine Magliaro at Blue Rose Girls. If you have a poem come to mind today go ahead and drop her a comment and she'll add you to the mix!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

March 22 Haiku

crocus cluster.JPG

slowly melting snow
thrust aside by green spears &
bruised purple petals

Africa Dream

by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Carole Byard. John Day Company, 1977.
1978 Coretta Scott King Award

Eloise Greenfield is one of my favorite poets and writers of children's books. This one, Africa Dream, was a library discard that I snapped up. It's been around a long time but it is just as beautiful and well-loved as ever. Here is link to a review written by a nine year old girl from the Bronx, posted on the Spaghetti book club site in 2001. I can't add much to that.

The illustrations are black and white pencil drawings, which isn't common in 21st century books, so perhaps the shelf glamor has faded a bit and kids might need to be enticed into exploring it. Once they hear it read aloud I am sure it will be a favorite re-read. Greenfield's voice sings as a child dreaming of crossing the ocean in "a slow, smooth jump" to land in "long ago Africa." She reads old books with "magic eyes" and explore cities and donkey caravans. She stands "lonesome still" in a village...
"Till my long-ago granddaddy
with my daddy's face
stretched out his arms
and welcomed me home.

"He knelt on one knee
And planted one seed
That grew into ten tall trees
With mangoes for me..."

She dances with uncles and travels with cousins, exploring the full breadth and depth of the continent. Then at last...
"When I got tired
I turned into a baby
And my long-ago grandma
With Mama's face
Held me in her arms
And rocked me
Rocked me
To sleep."
The figures swirl in a fluid dream scape that rocks readers in the rhythm of Greenfield's song. Here is a story that gives depth to the blessing given in the dedication page: "To all children of African descent; May they find in their past the strength to shape their future." I am so glad to be able to bring this book to my sons!

Yak Contest

Do you like to write children's stories? Have you ever written an easy reader? Do you think you could write an anecdote set in the morning in 75 words or less?

Buried in the Slush Pile is having a contest and tomorrow is the last day to send in your entries! She is giving away a copy of K. Pluta's new book There's a Yak in my Bed to the winner. All you have to do is write a short, short story (75 words or less) using mostly words from the Dolce Word List. Get all the details here on her blog.

I am writing mine up today and sending it in. Here's your chance to get your work in front of a children's book editor... so get cracking!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Happy Happy Joy Joy

You can not imagine how happy I am right now.

I am home alone. I don't have to work today.

The sun is shining.

I am lying on my bed with a new (to me) book cracked open. It's a highly recommended book I have been waiting to get to.

I just found an almost full box of French Mint chocolates that I forgot I had.

I have two hours before I have to go pick up my boys.

Did I say the sun was shining in the window and the cat is napping at my elbow?

I am happy.

A Seed is Sleepy

by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long. Chronicle books, 2007. Review copy.

Aston and Long have done it again. Their 2006 book An Egg is Quiet won a Cybils award in February and they have teamed up again this year to put out another stunning non fiction book, this time on seeds. I served on the committee that chose Egg from among the best of last years’ non fiction picture books and we had very little debate about the outstanding excellence of that beautiful volume. I was thrilled to be offered the chance to review A Seed for chronicle books.

Aston and Long have put together the perfect balance of poetic wonder, interesting facts and practical information on seeds in all their variety. Each page includes a general statement on the nature of seeds, such as “a seed is secretive… fruitful… naked… adventurous… inventive…" The text for these intriguing lead-ins is in large handwriting script, making it appear as if you are reading a naturalist’s field journal full of observations. In smaller print the technical details are elaborated upon, such as this on the page illustrated by giant coast redwoods:
“Scientists call gymnosperms – seed that aren’t clothed in fruits – naked seeds. Most naked seed hide themselves on the scales of cones until they’re ready to make a dash for the ground.”
In mid-sized print more poetic descriptions are found on some pages, including this one illustrated by the stages of germination for beans and corn:
“Once a seed has shed its coat, it drinks in the rain, the dew, and yesterday’s icicles. It feasts on minerals in the soil. It knows to seek the sunlight… to push itself up, up, up through the soil. But it must wait awhile before that happens.”
Every aspect of a seed’s life and make-up is covered, from the range of sizes, shapes, dormancy periods, methods of dispersal, and carefully illustrated germination development into a baby plant.

The illustrations are works of art. They are so carefully in tune with the thoughtful text each page is a dance and a song of delight. Children who are alert and hungry for accurate scientific information about the world on their level will eagerly absorb this book. Whether you have an artist, a scientist, an engineer or a poet this book will intrigue and satisfy. With the snow melt running and warm breezes calling all seeds to sprout around my neighborhood this is the perfect time of year to cuddle up with a child and explore this lovely book. Then I think we should go plant some seeds and imagine them gracefully awaking under their warm soil covers to burst into the light right around Easter weekend… This is the book for Spring!

Edited to add: I just learned of this contest that Chronicle books is running. All you have to do is send them an email to put your name in a drawing to win autographed copies of both books An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy. Read more about the author and illustrator, download posters of both books and learn more about their process in creating these stunning books.

In our house we find books in our Easter baskets, and this year Buddy and Punkin are going to be so delighted with these gorgeous gems!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

March 20 Haiku

green in snow.JPG

green rises;
dripping water fills the air
slush under foot


by Cat Weatherill, illustrated by Peter Brown. Knopf, 2006.

This is the story of Barkbelly, a wooden boy. He starts out as an egg which falls from an airship on the way to market. The egg lands in a farmer’s field and is thrown up during the harvesting, hitting a kindly farmer on the head. He takes it home and gives it to his wife because it is beautiful and strange. No one in that village has ever heard of or seen a wooden person that hatched from an egg. By accident they happen to stimulate the egg to hatch by throwing it into the fire. When Barkbelly emerges from the egg the farmer’s wife, who is childless, falls in love with him and adopts him as her son.

Barkbelly has a pretty happy childhood with his new family, growing up in a few weeks and going to school. He makes friends. He is strong and seemingly indestructible. He loves playing games with the other children, but when he misjudges his strength tragedy occurs and he is forced to flee the village to save his life from angry crowd. He runs off into the world and travels for days until he stumbles into a large town where he finds work in a factory. Because he is wooden he can work harder and longer under dangerous conditions and he excels at his job. He is doing fine until there is a fire in the factory and he rescues the owners’ daughter. He becomes a hero and they want to put his picture in the paper. He becomes frightened that his name will be known and his terrible secret will be revealed so he flees again.

After traveling alone and frightened for many days he comes across a traveling circus. He is delighted with his new amazingly kind and entertaining friends and is able to join the circus as a worker and later an entertainer. He makes friends with some of the older members of the troupe and one of them tells him that wooden people such as himself are from a place called Ashenpeake. Ashenpeakers are well known all over the world as wooden people that hatch from eggs and are frequently sold into slavery. Barkbelly is floored. His people are known? There are others like him? A whole island home of them? And sold into slavery???? He immediately wants to find his homeland and his family. He makes plans to leave the circus and travel to the coast to find a ship that will take him to Ashenpeake.

Unfortunately, the ship with which he finds work and passage turns out to be a slave ship. By accident, stumbling around in the hold looking for supplies for the cook, he comes across crates full of eggs from Ashenpeake and he puts two and two together. The friendly, respectable captain that he has been admiring is in the slave trade and is shipping his people toward bondage. Barkbelly tries to free the eggs by throwing them overboard. The captain turns on him and has him thrown into a cage, to be sold with the eggs at the next port. While Barkbelly is sitting in the cage trying to think a of way to escape pirates take over the ship. There is a fire in the hold that gets all the eggs to hatching. The pirates free Barkbelly and treat him well. Barkbelly tries to convince them that the eggs and the now rapidly growing toddler wooden children should be freed from impending slavery.

At this point the story really jumps the shark for me. Up until now I was enjoying it immensely and willing to go along with the improbable. I wondered at the way no one had ever heard of wooden people in Barkbelly’s hometown but yet accepted him as a person without batting an eyelash. I wondered at how the man in the circus could be the first time Barkbelly ever heard of Ashenpeake. What about the factory where he worked? They never heard of Ashenpeake slaves? The ship’s captain took him on as crew without wondering about a free Ashenpeaker? But when Barkbelly stands up on a crate and give his one impromptu speech about freedom and morality to the pirates, and they listen thoughtfully, I lost the willing suspension of disbelief. The pirates are lazy, sure, and cheerful and easygoing, OK. But sentimental? Compassionate? Easily persuaded to give up their hard won booty? Impulsive enough to get a kick out of throwing gold overboard just for the rush? I don’t think so. My enthusiasm for this book deflated like a day old party balloon.

After that Barkbelly and the wooden toddlers are put ashore on Ashenpeake. I don’t remember what happens to the toddlers, set loose on the island with no families or tutors. The pirates go off to their hideout to rest up and reunite with their happy families. Barkbelly goes on with his quest to find his family. I’ve lost interest in the story here and can’t get the inconsistencies out of my head. I won’t tell you the ending because it is just too disappointing. I can’t even discuss the adoption theme because it is so stereotypical and trite. Since I have adoptions in my family I have become far more critical of stories about adopted kids and orphans that are written with little relevance to reality. Barkbelly has a lot of angst about being adopted and not knowing his biological family in this story, which I appreciate. But the shallowness of his adoptive family and the negative stereotype of his first family really bothers me.

I was recommending this book to others for the first half of my reading it. I was enthusiastic and delighted with the writer’s charming style. The language and imagery is fine. I just don’t think the story holds together. I don’t usually write reviews about books I don’t like. I just felt that after my initial burst of gushing over it I ought not to let you hanging. Has anyone else read this book? Liked it? Agree with me? Have another take on it? I’d love to hear your opinion.

Monday, March 19, 2007

12th Carnival of Children's Literature

This month's Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Midwestern Lodestar. Get a cuppa and sit back and enjoy cause it's a doozy! I was going to post a book review here today but I don't think I'll make it... This month so many wonderful posts are in the links it's going to take me a while to read them all. I'm putting aside some quality "me" time and looking forward to it.

If you are new to the Carnival concept, it's a lot of fun and worth looking into. There are so many great blogs out there and new ones popping up every day. No one can keep up with them all! When you participate in a carnival you chose one of your recent posts that you think other's would enjoy or you would like to share with a wider audience, and you send the link in to whoever is hosting the carnival for the month. That's it! Everyone is welcome to participate and no one who submits gets left out. I have joined in to the last three carnivals and I have found some great new blogs that way.

This month I actually forgot to send anything in but somehow or other ZG picked up my meme post for the Torn Up Books and included it. I am tickled that she remember me. I am looking forward to getting a few more stories of other people's favorite torn up books from that! Do you have a book around your house that you or your family has torn up with reading and rereading? You should take a picture and post about it following my meme - I'd love to hear what books you've loved to tatters. Leave me a comment so I'll know where to find you.

Next month the Carnival is at Jen Robinson's Book Page, so start thinking of what you want to contribute. It can be anything even remotely concerned with books, kids, reading, teaching, writing, blogging... I'm going to be looking for your link!

Friday, March 16, 2007

W. B. Yeats; St. Patrick’s Day Poetry Friday

Spring and St. Patrick’s Day always bring my mind and heart back to those heady days of college English courses when I spent so many torpid hours in the college library with my head bent over the Norton Anthology of English Literature. We had it only in print, of course. The onion skin pages of those heavy volumes are so thin and crisp they always made me feel as if I were handling holy scriptures. I don’t know what it is about the spring that recalls those days; the torturous anticipation of days alternating freezing rain and then finally warm breezes calling me outside, the very first delicate buds slipping open on the spice bushes, or the faintest tinge of green on the willows along the road…

Something in the early air reawakens memories of the man who stole my heart freshman year. He is a poet and philosopher who disappeared into a mental illness he never recovered from, leaving me forever single. In those golden days of joy we used to study together and sneak up the dark bell tower to kiss after the library locked its doors. He taught me to read poetry and to be a poet. It wasn’t the English literature professors that tutored me in rhyme and meter; it was his joyful laugh and the light in his eyes when he tipped back his head.

I still have the syllabus from freshman survey of English literature tucked in volume two of my Norton, on the bottom shelf of one of my living room bookshelves. The paper is yellowed and creased and marked all over; we read Yeats on March 27, 1980, just a few days after my true love’s 22nd birthday. I wrote in the margins with stars and arrows, underlining the words that rocked my soul:

“Man can embody truth but he cannot know it.”

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

And these, my favorite two of all his beloved poems:

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear the water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

And of course this one hit me in the gut when I was just a teenager in love, and still hits me now that I am old and lost from my one shining boy-o:

When You are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

He did love the pilgrim soul in me, and showed it to me, and fled. This one’s for you, Perseus.

Yeats links:
Wikipedia biography
Yeats Society Slingo
more poems

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Retold African Myths

I showed you the broken spine and cover of my copy of Retold African Myths in my previous post Torn Up Book Meme, but I didn’t tell you the story. I first bought that book at the 1993 NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference in Pittsburgh. I was teaching first grade that year. A bunch of us from my school attended and it was a great conference. I enjoyed cruising the vender’s tables, picking up that book and a few others at the table of the publisher Perfection Learning.

Retold African Myths is a collection of African myths going back 2000 years retold by Eleanora E. Tate, who was the president of the National Association of Black Storytellers at the time. It is illustrated by her nephew Don Tate. Who knew back then that I would someday be reading and commenting on his blog and he mine?

I used to read these short tales to my first graders in the few minutes we had between math and going to lunch, or at the end of the day when they were all packed up and just waiting for the school busses to come. The book is divided into sections for “creation”, “death”, “gods and mortals” “tricksters”, “how and why”, and “right and wrong”. The kids would be wide-eyed and hanging on the edge of their seats to hear me read the Yoruba tale “How People Came to Be Different”, “Tortoise Cracks his Shell”, the Hausa tale “Brother Spider Get Stuck”, the Kono people of Sierra Leone’s tale “Why the Bat Sleeps Upside Down” and the Swahili tale “Hare Causes Big Trouble”. Sometimes we were late for lunch because they were begging me to finish just one more. My only disappointment is that the binding isn’t sturdier. It is the paperback version and I really ought to have gotten the hardback library binding. After our heavy reading it started to split. I have taped and glued it back together now, so I can read it to my own small sons. Or maybe I should just buy a new copy and a few of Ms. Tate’s other books!

I loved reading the stories of books you and your family have loved to tatters. Anyone else have one to share?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

American Slave, American Hero;

York of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. By Laurence Pringle, illustrations by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. Calkins Creek Books, 2006.

Our fourth grades do a study of the Lewis and Clark expedition every year. The students chose five members of the Lewis and Clark expedition to research write about and present for their project. In our school York is always one of the most popular and compelling figures. There isn't as much information available about him. Because of his status as a slave and because he was not allowed to learn to read and write his journals never existed. It was against Virginia law, where he was born and raised, to teach a slave to read and write. For that reason his point of view cannot accurately be told and his life story must be pieced together from the records kept by others.

Laurence Pringle begins his book American Slave, American Hero by pointing that out in the introduction. He says, “In the 1770s, two boys were born on a Virginia plantation. One became a famous explorer and leader whose name is still celebrated to this day. Today the other is also considered a national hero but few know his name: York. Little is known about some times in his life, so you will find the word “Probably” used occasionally in this, the true story of York.”

Pringle tells about his early life with the William Clark family, as he became William’s personal slave at the age of 12 and worked alongside him in setting up a new family homestead in the Ohio River valley. York married his sweetheart, a slave woman from a neighboring farm, in his late 20s. His wife’s name is not known, nor whether they had any children.

When Clark received the call to join Meriwether Lewis on the great expedition in 1803, York was chosen to go with him. Pringle points out that “As a slave, York could not volunteer, or refuse, to go on the expedition. Whether he went was up to his master.” Clark wanted him along so there he was. Clark writes in his journal of all the work York contributes to, including gathering food for the party and attending to the sick or injured. He was known as a good hunter and a reliable help in difficulty.

On several occasions when the expedition met with Native Americans York was considered “big Medicine” and greatly admired. York again and again shines as capable, industrious and adaptable. The Shoshone (Sacagawea’s tribe) in particular admired York because of his dark skin, which they considered to be the mark of a great warrior. York is also mentioned as being instrumental in rowing and navigating the river boats and trading with the Nez Perce for food and supplies.

In September of 1806 the expedition finally returned to St. Lewis, Missouri. York was praised as a hero right along with the rest of the party, but he was not rewarded with land and money as the free white men were. He still belonged to Clark as a slave for another ten years before he was given his freedom. His wife lived far from him and although he asked permission to return to live with her he was refused. When her owner moved to Mississippi he lost contact with her. York died of cholera in 1832. His place of death and burial is unknown. Pringle says, “Like the other explorers, York endured extreme heat and cold, suffered injuries and illness, risked his life many times, and contributed to the success of an expedition that is still considered the greatest in United States history. He was both a slave and an American hero. In 2001, long after his death, York was promoted to the rank of honorary sergeant, Regular Army, by President William Jefferson Clinton.”

In the author’s note at the back of the book Pringle points out that in researching for this book he found more than a dozen books about Sacagawea and at least six about Seaman the dog that went on the journey but few about York. It is clear that this volume is much needed and makes a valuable contribution to our American history. This book is well written, beautifully illustrated and highly recommended. Bartography reviewed this book here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Torn Up book meme

goodnight gorilla.JPG

Here is a book my boys loved to death. Do you have any of those around your house? A book that you or your family has read over and over again until it is falling apart and you tape it back together and read some more? Post a picture of it on your blog and tell the story. If you can't get a picture, just tell the story. A kid's book or a grown up book, from back in the day or today. What are you wearing out with reading?

African myths.JPG

Here's another one that I read to my first graders until it fell apart. This one's for Don Tate.

Now I tag Don, Akelda, Mitali, Chicken Spaghetti, Jen Robinson, Geeky Mom and anyone else who wants to play!

The Edge of the Forest, March 2007

I am still getting caught up after everyone came down sick last week so I am blogging lite. I did want to let you know I started a new book that is GREAT. I'll put a review later in the week.

Also: The March 2007 Issue of The Edge of the Forest is now up. I have a couple of book reviews in the Non fiction section and one in the Poetry section. The main features include:

Don't forget to subscribe to The Edge of the Forest with theSubscribe feature. Just enter your name and e-mail address and you'll receive notification when each new issue is published. Thanks to Kelly at Big A little a for putting it all together and sending out the links.

Friday, March 09, 2007

March 9 Haiku

geese taking flight

students line the field,
geese take flight

Treading water

I haven't been blogging as much this week because everyone in my house is sick. We have antibiotics now, so things should be looking up. I have been reading The Loud Silence of Francine Green, or trying to, but I have to admit I am not really into it as much as some bloggers have been. It made the Cybils list of nominations for best middle grade fiction of 2006. It's about a 13 year old girl in Catholic School. I have no experience with Catholic school so it doesn't really resonate with me. I may abandon it for something else on my launch pad.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Playing Not Katie Couric

Repressed Librarian sent me these interview questions in her role as Not-Quite-Katie-Couric. She got the meme from Profgrrrrr, who got it from Greg, who got it from.... well you'll have to follow that trail yourself. If you want to play just leave me a comment and I'll think up some juicy questions for you. Then you invite your readers to play and on we go!

Here are my questions:

If you could acquire a skill or ability that you do not currently have, what would it be? I wish I could speak Mandarin. I lived in China two years and I studied the language and practiced it in immersion. I'm just lousy at learning languages. I taught English but I'm not a good language student. I had to drop out of French in jr. high because I was getting a D. It's pitiful.

What inspires you? I just made a list of my muses on another blog:

Anything in the woods.
Always, the sky.
Children doing whatever they do.
Water moving.
An unexpected sight.
Color, texture and soft sounds coming together.
A reason to make a list.

I'd have to add to that knowing God's love and grace constantly inspires me.

What is your favorite flower? Crocus, Daffodil, Cherry Blossoms, Lily of the Valley, Roses, Violets, Iris, Dahlia

Describe your idea of the perfect meal. Yummy, gluten-free, balanced with sweet/spicy/savory/crunchy/smooth, no clean up. People I love to share it with. No rushing.

What is your favorite part of a typical day? Early morning; a half an hour with my coffee and Bible. That or after the kids are asleep at night when I can get in my PJs and read a great book in bed.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Little Brown Jay; A Tale from India

retold by Elizabeth Claire, illustrated by Miriam Katin. Mondo Publishing, 1994.

Often when first graders come to the library they ask me for princess stories. They are studying fairy tales from China and India now in their classrooms, so I am taking the opportunity to read an Indian princess story. Little Brown Jay is a pourquoi story about a princess living in India about 300 years ago. She is beautiful to look at but has an ugly voice. Her beloved Prince Rama is blind. Ah, what a difficulty! How can she get his attention?

She meets a little brown jay in the garden that has a beautiful singing voice and is told by him that if she picks a magic lotus flower from the pond at midnight she can make a wish. With this magic the princess exchanges her voice for the jay’s. In gratitude she wishes that he would become as beautiful and blue as her silk scarf. In the end the Prince and Princess are happy together and the jay was even happier as a beautiful little blue jay.

At the back of this edition of the book there are several pages of information on the pourquoi story form, which occurs all over the world as people tell stories to explain natural phenomena. Pictures from the traditional telling of this fairy tale, lotus flowers and modern Indian lifestyles and art work are also included. This additional information sets the story in context for North American children. The illustrations throughout the book are beautiful soft paintings filled with swirls of color.

One question that comes to mind for me is the depiction of the blue jay at the end of the story. He looks just like the typical North American Blue Jay, whose characteristic harsh voice screams across wooded areas whenever his territory is intruded upon. I don’t believe he lives in India, however. There is another type of blue jay that lives in India, also called the “Blue Roller”. I wonder why the illustrator didn’t use that bird? The two birds could easily have been explained and compared in the informational pages at the end of the book. It seems a missed opportunity for a science tie-in at the least. Well, it’s a great story and we enjoy the book immensely anyway.

March 5 Haiku

icy leaf.JPG

ice skins the puddles,
our footsteps crunch shadows;
sunshine warms our backs.

Monday, March 05, 2007

My Important Books

I got this Meme from Big A, Little a:
Tricia over at The Miss Rumphius Effect has created a new book meme. It's a hard one too! Here are the questions:
1. What are your 5 most important books?
2. What is an important book you admit you haven't read?
3. What classic (or childhood favorite) was a little disappointing on rereading?
4. What book do you (or did you) care most about sharing with your kids?
5. Name an acclaimed book, either classic or contemporary, that you just don't like.

I am going to have to work hard to answer these!

5 Most Important books:
1. The Bible. I’ve been reading it all my life. My senses of language, story and poetry are formed by it; it guides my life.
2. Annie Dillard’s The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She woke me up and validated my perception of the physical world.
3. The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings. I am counting the whole saga as one book. It’s all burned in my brain.
4. Haiku by R. H. Blythe. This two volume set taught me the craft.
5. Your Baby and Child by Penelope Leach. This one balanced out my mother’s highly recommended Dr. Spock and let me relax and trust my parenting instincts.

An Important book I haven’t read: War and Peace

Disappointing childhood classic: The Indian in the Cupboard

The book I care most about sharing with my kids: Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows (can’t limit myself to just one)

An Acclaimed book I don’t like: Moby Dick.

What about you? Think you can answer these questions?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Higher Power of Lucky

by Susan Patron, illustrations by Matt Phelan. 2007 Newberry Medal winner.

I just finished this book. It has been talked all over the kidlitosphere not only because it won the Newberry this year but also because of the controversy over Paton’s use of the word scrotum in the story. I was pretty much ignoring the whole thing as silly until I read what Pixie Stix Kids Pix had to say about it and then I understood more of the implications. It seems some librarians on a list serv were discussing the book and it’s surprise winning of the Newberry (I was just as surprised as anyone). Some of them mentioned that they might feel uncomfortable reading the book out loud to kids because the word scrotum is right on the first page and used off and on through out the story. Well, fine. I can understand that hesitation. You never know how a group of kids is going to react; much less their parents. That has nothing to do with censorship. But some journalists picked up the conversation from the list serv and put it in the news. It wound up on the front page of the New York Times. It got blown way out of proportion such that it can now be called “Scrotumgate”. Sheesh. Who knew that an honest conversation on a list serv with a specialized membership would be taken so far? It makes me wish I knew how to keep my own mouth shut. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to apologize for what I have posted on adoption forums by spouting just off the top of my head. Makes me think even little ol’ me could say something worthy of media spin.

I wouldn’t even have thought much about the use of the word scrotum in the story if it wasn’t such a big issue. Lucky is a sweet girl whose mother died and whose father is too busy to raise her. She is living in a trailer in a tiny little town on the edge of the dessert in Arizona with her guardian, who happens to be her father’s first wife. Her father married her in France (she’s French), decided he didn’t want kids when she did, and divorced her. He came back to America, married Lucky’s mother and still didn’t want kids. Lucky happened anyway and her parents got divorced. Tragically her mother was electrocuted in a thunderstorm when Lucky was eight. Her father asked his first wife Brigitte to come to America and take care of her until he could figure something else out.

Lucky is the kind of girl you never forget. She reminds me of Opal in Winn Dixie, Heidi in So B. It, or Ramona Quimby. She is smart, passionate and thoughtful. She comes up with all sorts of brilliant plans to improve her life. She works sweeping the patio at the place where the town 12 step meetings are held and she listens in to the stories people tell about hitting rock bottom and finding their Higher Power. She wants to figure out how to find her own Higher Power so she can figure out how to get Brigitte to want to adopt her. If Brigitte goes back to France Lucky is “wondering about some way to trap and catch the exact right” mother.

One of the stories she hears from the AA meeting is about a man who stops drinking after his dog gets bit in the scrotum by a rattlesnake but doesn’t die. Lucky wonders what a scrotum is and doesn’t know who to ask. Now that I think about it, if she is in fifth grade it is a little odd that she doesn’t know that word. I remember in Ohio in the 70s we had s*x education every year from fifth through twelfth. I am sure we learned the vocabulary in fifth if we didn’t know it sooner. I teach my sons those words right along with all the other body words, as well as the ones for the female parts as soon as they ask at about two years old. Lucky knows enough biology to refer to her brain as being covered with wrinkles and crevices full of thoughts and questions. She refers to her “meanness gland” and her “hunger gland” and thinks they respond to environmental stimulus. She thinks her friend Lincoln’s brain squeezes out “a powerful knot-tying secretion that went through his capillaries and made his hands want to tie knots.” Seems like she would have run across that word in a textbook somewhere.

I think it is a very sweet story. The language is beautiful. Lucky’s honesty and tenderness toward hers friends is touching. The line drawings scattered through-out the book are poetically delightful and really add to my understanding of the character’s point of view. The story line is interesting and the ending even surprised me a little. Briggite is described from Lucky’s poignant and hopeful point of view so you are not sure what she is really planning to do until the very last chapter. I wish her father wasn’t a useless shadow figure, but that is her point of view too so it fits. Lucky and her friends are people I would like to know in real life. This is a gem of a book and I highly recommend it.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Bird songs

Yesterday morning when we got out of the car at the daycare we heard a distinctive cardnial whistle. He was in the high treetop right beside the car. His red profile stood out sharply against the grey sky. We stood and watched him for a while, listening to his call and knowing, with gladness, that spring is coming...

Yesterday on the way home we passed lawns full of robins bobbing their heads and pulling worms from the grass. Robins stay year round these days, with the winters so mild. But yard after yard, full of them, and the grass soft enough for worms to rise? Spring is coming...

Here are some spring bird poems for Poetry Friday:

Emily Dickinson:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops —
at all –
read the rest and more of her poems here.

and from

There Will Come Soft Rains
Sara Teasdale
(War Time)

There will come soft rains
and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

continue reading the poem here.

Toddler Computer Time

TechLearning newsletter has a great article about young children and the Internet. Buddy Boy hardly ever goes on the computer and doesn't own any video games, believe it or not, even though I am a computer teacher/library media specialist. In my job I teach kids to use computers and the Internet, but I am in no hurry to put him in front of a screen. I think young children need to interact with the physical world before they learn with the magic box. I think they need to use their bodies, their physical senses and other people to orient themselves in the universe before they spend a lot of time absorbing the virtual, abstract world on the screen. I want my boys to build with blocks, play with sand and water, draw, paint and mess around with play dough and use their bodies to learn and explore before they learn from a mouse and keyboard. I want them to learn to negotiate, play, create worlds, argue, problem-solve, pretend, initiate conversations and laugh with other people in real life before they start chatting with friends online. I think kindergartners and first graders are too young to spend much time on the computer. I know they have plenty of time to learn computer skills, they'll pick them up fast (faster than we did) and by the time they get to second grade it will be a whole new world anyway. Who knows what technology they will master by the time they get to fourth grade, when current nine year olds need to learn to keyboard.

So, with all that said, I am reviewing some really fun and amazing websites designed for young children. This article in TechLearning has a list of important Online Safety Rules to teach children before they get online. (Don't skip that or assume someone else is teaching your child those rules) Then it gives links to nine really well done websites full of games, learning activities, reading lessons, math explorations, and science experiments. If you have young children or teach them you will want to plan to spend some time trying these sites out. I have only looked at the first three in the list and I am very impressed. I might even put Buddy Boy on these sites to see what he thinks.

Here are the three that I have looked at so far: (description and links copied from TechLearning)

Chateau Meddybemps
Created to help parents and teachers strengthen the learning and playing skills of young children, Chateau Meddybemps explains how children learn, how to help develop a variety of skills, and how to make learning enjoyable for children. With its colorful images, games, and stories, children will find learning fun at this site!
Primarily designed for pre-kindergarten through second grade and approved by CyberSitter, Starfall contains resources for parents and teachers to help children with letter sounds and learning to read. This site is one of the best resources for early childhood education.
Lil Fingers
Developed for toddlers, Lil' Fingers is a computer storybook, game, activity and coloring site. This wonderful site has color animations, stories, and activities to keep young children edutained for hours.

There are six other sites listed that I haven't had time to look at yet. Please take a look and let me know what you think. Leave a comment and tell me which site you liked the best and why. I'd love to hear what you think about kids and computers too!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Readergirlz and being a grown-up on MySpace

I joined MySpace today. I have been getting excited about Readergirlz, the new ezine about and for girls and what they are reading. Check out the current issue highlighting Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen Headley. The page is playing the novel's theme song in an mp3 player. There's party food! Author chat! Links to! OK here's the ezine manifesta. I am so impressed. You are going to love this.

This looks like so much fun I just had to join MySpace so I could see their page and get connected. I have been avoiding MySpace for some cranky old person reason.... are there any other librarians there? Apparently yes.
Tips please.
What's good about it for a 40-something library lady?
We keep it blocked at school so I'll have to explore a bit on the weekend...
Will anyone be my friend? That I know, I mean. I am not interested in Tom, who signed up as my friend in the first 10 seconds and was promptly deleted.
Do you lie about your age? I did at first and then I thought oh, who cares.
Do you put your picture up there?
What's the most fun about it?
Tell me all please!

Lock down

icy fence.JPG

Yesterday when I tried to publish I got a message from Blogger saying that my blog was tagged as a possible Spam robot. They locked me down! The scary thing is the message said that if I responded with an email within 24 hours they would have a real person check my blog and if it read like a real person wrote it they would unlock it. BUT if I didn't respond within 24 hours they would delete the whole blog! What is up with that? What if I was sick or busy or just didn't feel like posting yesterday and didn't read the message? 24 hours? Has this happened to anyone else?