Thursday, May 31, 2007

May 31 Haiku


little girl
in the pink swirly skirt;
legs full of grace

Here she is.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bear on a Bike

by Stella Blackstone, illustrated by Debbie Harter. Bearfoot Books, 2002. This is one of the first books I bought for Buddy. I love the vibrant colorful paintings and the whimsical busy-ness of the big brown bear. The boy in the story is always chasing after him wanting to be a part of it all. Just like my Buddy! Small children love stories where the the grown-up characters exaggerate the way their parents act and the child characters reflect their own actions and feelings. Blackstone and Harter teamed up on a few other Bear books too, without the boy.
The stanzas are rhythmic, rhyming and repetitive in large bold print, making it a good beginning reader. The bear is traveling on bikes, boats, rafts, wagons, trains, carriages and rockets. He discovers fruits and flowers in the market, fearsome creatures in the forest, wild buffaloes on the prairie, magic star fruits on an island, bright winged parrots on a rainbow, princes and princesses dancing in a castle, and stars and planets soaring through the sky. The boy goes on an exciting romp through all of this, sharing the adventure with his friend and mentor.

I read this book to Buddy last night and I was struck with how much he has learned in the past couple of years. I can remember pointing to the oranges and marigolds in the marketplace illustration, teaching him basic vocabulary. Now he points to the word marigold in the text. He is asking why the boars and foxes in the forest are so scary to the boy and he is counting the vehicle pattern illustrations in the endpapers. He is becoming a scientist and a mathematician as well as a budding reader and literary connoisseur.

One interesting comment Buddy had now that he is four-going-on-five is the question "Why is the boy wearing lipstick? That's for girls!" The boy in the illustrations does have really large, dark lips. His hair is in dreads or twists too. I guess that is part of the "island" flavor, but I could do with a little less accent on the ethnicity factor. He looks almost like Sambo. A couple of the princesses in the story have dark skin too and they have regular line-drawing lips.

In any case we love this book. As you can see there are layers in both the story and the illustrations, keeping interest and interaction going over several years of reading. Do you have another favorite picture book that does that for your young readers?

Support Our Troops

What he said. I hear that!

And this.

Where is our rage?

8 Things Meme

I have been tagged by Chicken Spaghetti, Mother Reader and HipWriterMama for the 8 things meme going around. The problem with that meme is that you have to think of 8 new odd things about you and then you have to tag 8 people. That is getting harder to do! So I am taking the liberty of changing the meme.

*Gasp!* Can she do that? Yes she can!

My new meme is called "4 New x 2". You have to share four things that were new to you in the past four years. I mean four things you learned or experienced or explored for the first time in the past four years. New house, new school, new hobby, new spouse, new baby, whatever. Then you have to say four things you want to try new in the next four years.

My four in the past:
  1. Blogging. Of course.
  2. Getting diagnosed Celiac and giving up all wheat, rye and barley
  3. Learning to cook Gluten Free: bread, muffins, pizza, chocolate cake, pancakes, etc.
  4. New baby! Punkin is 26 months old now
My four for the future: (what I want to do that's new to me)
  1. Study Spanish
  2. Get a children's picture book or poetry book published
  3. Travel to a Spanish speaking country during my sabbatical
  4. Learn to eat on the 100 mile diet, as organic and vegetarian as possible.
Now for tagging: I tag you back Susan and HipWriterMama! Ha Ha! And also Elaine, Chasing Ray, Miss Rumphius, Robin, and Mother Reader. Four x Two all of you!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Lessons That Change Writers

by Nancie Atwell. Heinneman, 2002. I am reading this book as part of my commitment to HipWriterMama's 30 day challenge. She is encouraging us to make a promise to work on developing good habits that will enable us to reach a goal and make our dreams come true. I want to work on learning the craft of writing. I decided to challenge myself to read this book through out the next few weeks and spend time every night writing in a writer's notebook, focusing on learning to write "small moments" of memoirs.

Atwell is a seventh and eighth grade writing teacher in an experimental school she founded in Maine. She has been teaching for over 25 years and has distilled her ideas about what works in teaching kids to write well. She has put together the key principals along with specific lessons in this book Lessons that Change Writers. The teachers at my school use this text as a major influence in our writing program so it is good for me as librarian to know it inside-out in order to be able to support their curriculum. Individually I want to learn these lessons because I want to take my writing to the next level. I haven't had a writing teacher in 20 years and I haven't been in a writer's group for at least 10. I need more structure to support more growth.

In the past week, the first week of the challenge, I have had mixed success meeting my goal. The first few days I didn't manage to borrow the book or write every day. I was reading Fletcher's book, Breathing In, Breathing Out, which helped to inspire me to track down Atwell's book. I borrowed it from the sixth grade teacher at my school and took it home on Thursday. I found a small chunky spiral notebook a student had given me a few years ago and got to work.

Atwell's book starts out telling how she gets her student's started keeping a notebook to record the content of her writing mini-lessons. She presents an idea and then gives them an exercise to do to practice the technique. This is perfect for me; I am reading a chapter that contains one mini-lessons a day and then doing the exercise in my notebook. Putting myself in the eight grader's position is just about ideal for me at the end of a long exhausting day!

This week I have covered:
  1. Reading the introduction, mini-lesson basics, writing workshop rules
  2. Writing territories - listing passions, ideas, obsessions, experiences, itches, aversions, and feelings that might be followed as writing topics
  3. Questions for memoirists - "...big, specific questions that push writers to look at their lives both broadly and deeply, to identify meaningful events and incidents, and to learn about themselves through the art of memoir." Made a list of childhood/young adult memories.
  4. Making a heart map -idea taken from the poet Georgia Heard. Draw a shape of a heart across a clean page. Fill it with all the words and phrases that tell what is in your heart. People, experiences, obsessions, loved objects, places, memory prompts, needs, desires, loves, regrets, longings, aches, events. When you are finished you have a treasury of ideas for poems and stories.
I am really excited about how this book and these exercises are stimulating me to work on my writing and uncover significant topics. This feels deep and serious. I think I've turned a corner.

If you are following this challenge, I look forward to reading how it is going for you. If you are interested in joining, go read HipWriterMama. It's not to late to jump on the bandwagon!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Irises in Bloom


For two weeks in May my garden puts on a fabulous show. I live in a duplex and fortunately we are on the sunny side. Our side yard gets full sun all afternoon. There is just a strip on land between the walkway and the fence. As soon as we moved in I started filling that land in with shrubs and perennials to build a privacy screen between my dining room window and the apartment parking lot next door. After five years it is really filling in.


The front of the house slopes down to the street, making most of the front yard a hill. When we moved in that hill was a garden on one side of the steps, and there was a nice collection of bearded irises growing there. Did you know that the name iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow? The previous owner's father was a collector so there was a variety of colors. I waited eagerly for the next spring to see how beautiful it would be. They never bloomed. I realized it was because the trees next door shaded that garden most of the afternoon and the irises just didn't get enough sun. In the fall I moved them over to my side yard. This was the fall that Buddy was an infant and I was hoping to adopt him. I worked my tail off putting in perennials because I was thinking I might have a baby and then a toddler in the next few years and I wouldn't have time to garden. I was right Thank God! All the ground cover, shrubs and perennials I put in that fall have filled in and covered my little yard with green growth and seasons of flowers. The irises are my favorite.


They require very little care. I need to divide them this fall because they are getting too crowded and that will cut down on the blooms next year if I don't. Anyone want a cutting? In a week or two when they finish blooming I cut back the foliage and just leave them till the fall when they will be divided. I have Black Eyes Susans growing up through them, which will be ready to bloom just as the irises are finished.


Each bloom only lasts a day or so, but they have multiple blooms coming out on each stem so the show goes on. All my life I have loved irises, but never had them so abundantly or so beautifully. What a blessing came with this house!

white iris.JPG

I am doing my Sunday Garden Stroll meme again today. If you have a garden post up in the past week I hope you will join in! Just put the URL of the particular post in the Linky below to participate. Then come back later and click on everyone else's link to take a garden tour. What is blooming and growing in your garden this week?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

May 26 Haiku

orchid iris.JPG

Flowers have tongues
to tickle the bumblebees;
foam petals catch sun

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Neighborhood Mother Goose

by Nina Crews. Greenwillow Books, 2004.

I wonder why nursery rhymes are so easy to memorize and why they come back so clearly with just the prompt of a first line. Georgie Porgie. Itsy Bitsy Spider. Diddle Diddle Dumpling, My Son John. Little Miss Muffet. My boys loved these rhymes even before they make any sense to them. Punkin laughed with delight to Pat A Cake when he was only 11 weeks old and we had to clap his hands together for him. Is it because we are drilled in them by parents and playful, adoring adults that these poems claim such significance?

Nina Crews has done a beautiful job chosing some of the most musical and popular nursery rhymes for her collection. I just love the photographs of real children that accompany them. We have several volumes of Mother Goose but this one is my favorite because the children are so beautiful and the setting for each rhyme is modern. Somehow it makes even the archaic references to death and destruction into joyful dances; Ring Around the Rosie is always a favorite and here it is a romp in the park. Rock a Bye Baby, where the baby falls out of the tree in the rhyme, is celebrated by a father adoring his chubby baby wrapped in a hammock. I have to admit that one makes me uneasy - does that man know the baby could really fall out with just a kick or two?

When I was a girl my mother always sang this one to me:

There was a little girl,
who had a little curl
right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,
she was very, very good
and when she was bad
she was horrid!

I thought it was about me and my own special brand of naughtiness. It wasn't till I was a grown up that I realized a lot of little girls thought that. Here it is illustrated by a lovely African American girl with her hair perfectly styled, the curl pressed on her forehead. She is cutting the hair off her doll with such a mischevius expression you have to laugh.

What's your favorite Mother Goose rhyme?

I am doing the poetry round up today. I am trying something new for us this week. I signed up for a Mr. Linky account so that we could use the widget to make autolinks. Just put the url of your poetry post in the linky box below. Make sure you use the address of the particular post and not your main page, so others can quickly find your poetry post for today. Also, if you mark your post with this tag others can find you on the technorati page: . Be sure to come back later in the day and follow the links to everyone else's poetry posts. Please leave me a comment about how this works for you so we can evaluate and tweak it for the future.

Enjoy your long weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Breathing In, Breathing Out

Keeping a Writer's Notebook by Ralph Fletcher. Heinemann, 1996. I am re-reading this because I want to work on writing more intentionally this summer. I have kept writer's notebooks for years but I don't really like them. Fletcher suggests using a notebook as a place to save ideas, questions, quotations that catch your ear, lists, images, or short pieces that are seeds for greater things. Just a sentence or description of an important moment can be enough to later spark finer writing. I know he is right, but I find keeping to a notebook hard to do.

The thing is, I hate my handwriting. I am dyslexic and I get really frustrated with spelling difficulties, errors crossed out and botched sentences. I hate how ugly the first draft is and I hate going back to read what I wrote. Since I've been writing on the computer I am much happier. Spell check has made me a better speller and the editing options are so much more graceful and smooth with a word processor. I'd much rather keep my journal on the computer. I type faster than I write.

But Fletcher makes a case for keeping a pen and paper journal. This slim volume is a series of short chapters giving key points to the benefits and techniques that work best for a variety of writers. I am finding it inspiring. It is challenging me to broaden my vision for writing, while at the same time zooming my focus down to the small moments of daily life that hold intense emotion and meaning. This is a book to savor and keep close at hand for the times when my well is dry and my edges feel dulled.

What writing books do you keep close at hand? What is your experience with a writer's notebook? Do you find it helpful, challenging, inspiring?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ayah, that's me!

Your Personality is Very Rare (INTP)
Your personality type is goofy, imaginative, relaxed, and brilliant.

Only about 4% of all people have your personality, including 2% of all women and 6% of all men.

You are Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Perceiving.

Thanks to Kelly, who is also INTP, for the link!

May 22 Haiku

purple & white iris.JPG

Evening rain;
purple-tipped iris opens

Monday, May 21, 2007

14th Carnival of Children's Literature

Fiesta time!! Chicken Spaghetti has the 14th Carnival of Children's Literature up at her blog. The theme is multicultural children's literature.

She says, "The Chicken Spaghetti fiesta takes place in the Lone Star State. Get aboard the party train, y'all. This fiesta is rrrolling."

Go check out stimulating posts from all over the kidlitosphere and explore some new ideas, new authors, new reads. Spice up your Monday!

30 Day Challenge

iris bud.JPG

This iris bud is to remind me of my potential. Yesterday it was a bud; this morning when we ate breakfast it was open in loveliness.

HipWriterMama has been writing inspiring posts every Monday. She is doing a 30 day challenge to encourage anyone who wants to participate to work on establishing a new good habit. She says, "...with every productive new habit, you'll find more motivation and determination to work toward your dream. And that is what I'd like this Challenge to show you. Your ability to work towards your goal no matter what."

I am joining in this week with my goal for the next month: My 30 day challenge goal is to study Nancie Atwell's "Lessons that Change Writers" and practice writing my own small moments of memoirs. I mean I will read her book in stages through out the month and write every day.

I have been intrigued by how teachers are using Atwell's ideas on teaching writing. I would like to learn to write those "small moments" that take a seed of experience and nurture it into a little sprout of beautiful writing. One step beyond haiku, if you will.

I am going to borrow the book from a teacher friend and work my way through the lessons, with myself as the student. Atwell is a seventh and eight grade writing teacher. I am putting myself in the learner's position to see how much I can get done. I am going to spend time every night writing - not for the blog or work or anything other than learning the practice of crafting memoirs in small pieces. Here is a sample lesson from the book.

I'll be checking in with Vivian every Monday to report how it's going. I invite you to join in and work on developing a habit of your own. It can be any little thing you want to practice... Go read and see what others are doing.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday Garden Stroll

orchid azalea.JPG

Four years ago this spring I brought my second son home on Maundy Thursday, right before Easter. He was eight months old and I had been working on adopting him for six months. It was a beautiful spring. Flowers were in bloom everywhere I looked. The first weekend in May my parents and my two sons and I went on a garden tour at a place known for it's fabulous azaleas. We walked through the estate marveling at all the shades and textures of these gorgeous flowers, from palest cream, lemon yellow, soft mauve, salmon, vibrant orange, hot pink to deepest lavender and violet. They stretched out under stately trees, meandered along forest paths and snuggled up against the brick of garden walls around the old manor. My eldest son carried my youngest in a back pack. My parents were delighted with their grandsons and it was pure pleasure to spend the time together.

That afternoon is a precious garden memory of mine. When we left they gave us a slip of an azalea bush as a gift. I planted it in the backyard along the fence. I have mulched it every spring with compost made from coffee grounds, leaves and horse manure. This year it is finally starting to look like a bush. It was covered in double blossoms this spring and I just couldn't get enough of looking at it.

buddy's azalea.JPG

I used to work at a daycare that was held in an old estate in the city. All around the front of the building were porches surrounded by huge azalea bushes two stories high. They were at least fifty years old and put on a show every spring. I wonder how many years Buddy's little azalea will be delighting us?

I am trying out a new widget here. Last year all summer I posted about my garden on Thursdays and encouraged others to join in. This year I think I am going to post about my garden on Sunday, because that is the day that I have the most time to enjoy it. I am going to try using Mr. Linky to invite you to send me links to your gardening posts. If you have a post about flowers, planting your vegetable garden, visiting gardens, gardening books, your problems with gardening, your dreams of gardening, your failures... whatever! I would love to hear about it. Pictures are even better - I love flower pictures!

Share a link to your garden post from the last week in the Mr. Linky below and tell us about it. Let the roundup begin!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Search Question

I have a couple questions for the group. Every time I check my site meter I find several searches for this image. Last winter I posted about St. Nicholas day and putting out shoes out, and I linked to this image. I didn't even post the actual picture, just a link. Now lots of other people are looking for that picture. Why? What is the big deal with this picture? I am telling you two or three people a day come to my site looking for this picture. Can anyone explain this mystery to me?

Another question I have about image searches: sometimes in my sitemeter I see people have been searching for my pictures on Flickr. How do they do that? And why? Do they see the picture on Flickr and wonder where it's been posted on the web? It looks to me like the search term is the url of the photo on Flickr, so that must be what they are doing. Why?

One thing I hate about the new blogger; when someone does a search they don't get the actual post in the results, they get a page with the archive of the month the post appeared. So instead of getting something about the author/book they are looking for they get to read a month of my blog. That would annoy me if I was the searcher. Why can't they just get the thing they are looking for, instead of having to continue to search a month's worth of posts to find it? For example: this search term, "thelma cooke unseen companion" gets you this as the fifth entry in the Google search results: Then you have to scroll down through all the July posts to find the one about Unseen Companion. Annoying! Why can't a Google search come up with the individual post?

Thoughts anyone?

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Summery Saturday Morning

by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Selina Young. Puffin Books, 2000.
A woman walks down to the beach with four children and two dogs on a breezy, sunny morning. The story is told in a rocking rhythm and rhyme, making this an excellent choice for a Friday Poetry morning on the edge of summer. The meter of each stanza reminds me of the book Whiffle Squeak by Caron Lee Cohen, which has been a standing favorite in my house. You just can't help yourself chanting these verses once you get started - the pace carries you along. Listeners tend to jump in on the repeating refrains:

"Bad dogs, bad dogs chase the cat,
Chase the cat, chase the cat.
One dog's thin and the other dog's fat
On a summery Saturday morning.

They chase the boy on the rattly bike,
The rattly bike, the rattly bike.
Chasing things is what dogs like
On a summery Saturday morning."

Those bad dogs just can't help themselves chasing everything that moves, of course, and when a family of geese is roused out of the tall grass the "walk" goes haywire. Hilarity ensues, as we say.
My favorite parts of the book are in the illustrations. Young has drawn watercolor cartoon style pages that completely capture the personalities of each character. The dogs have their tongues hanging out in excitement and somehow even the goose manages to look startled, flustered and then riled. The children are a mixture of ethnicities, which is nice but never mentioned in the text. I like how the brown skinned girl's hair is bouncing around in joyfully free corkscrews.

Mahy is a New Zealander. She was born in Whakatane, the northern island of New Zealand, in 1936. She now lives in Lyttelton on the south island. She has two dogs that look quite a bit like the ones in the illustrations of this book. Her daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters live next door. I bet they walk down to the beach just this way on many a sunny morning. We have the autobiography titled My Mysterious World that Mahy wrote for the "Meet the Author" series done by Richard Owen Publishing in 1995. Our second graders do a unit on author's biographies and hers is a favorite. She describes how she lives in the crater of a million year old volcano which is now Governor's Bay, Lyttelton Harbor. She describes her work day, starting in the dark before dawn, and tells how she finds her stories and works them through many versions of text. She likes to visit schools and draws pictures to answer the letters she receives from children all over the world. She says "mysterious" is one of her favorite words because "it is the word that most truly descibes the world around me.."

Mahy has written over a hundred books for children of all ages and adults. New Zealand's Storylines website tells of her awards: "In 1993 Margaret was made a member of the Order of New Zealand, New Zealand's highest honour, which is limited to 20 living persons at any one time. Her entry on the Honours' website states: 'She is regarded as one of the foremost authors of children's literature and is said to be one of the best living authors in the English language'. In 2006 Margaret Mahy received the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the world's premier prize for children's writing. Often called the Little Nobel, the award is given biennially by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) to honour an author who has made a lasting contribution to international children's literature."

Mahy is a librarian too! Here are a few more links, including a lists of books, a teacher resource file, lesson plans for Summery Saturday Morning, and an author interview focusing on her YA books. I am planning to do an author study of her work next year with my kindergarten so I will be coming back to revisit these excellent sites. Which of her books have you enjoyed reading and sharing?
Today's Friday Poetry roundup is at Big A, little a. Next week it's my turn again!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

May 17 Haiku

first yellow iris.JPG

outside the kitchen door
one iris holds the sun

Flower Garden

by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. Voyager Books Harcourt, Inc., 1994.
This is a lovely book for spring time to read with young children and those just starting to read independently. It is a beautifully illustrated picture book telling the story of a young girl and her father planting a window box garden for her mother's birthday. They live in the city and take the bus home from the grocery store carrying the box filled with flowering plants and supplies. People on the bus smile at them and you can just feel the excitement the young girl is enjoying. She carries the heavy box all the way up the apartment stairs and they spread everything out on newspapers on the floor to assemble the garden. Once it's in the window she contemplates the perspectives from looking out the window high above the street, finding friendly ladybugs among the flowers, to "walkers down below (who) lift their heads and see purple, yellow, red and white; a color jamboree." The story ends with a surprised and delighted mother, a birthday cake and the family snuggled in an embrace looking out the window at the sun setting over their flower garden.

The text is written large and there are plenty of context clues for early readers to use with a predictable, engaging vocabulary. There is a rhythm to the phrasing with plenty of repetition and just the right amount of rhyme. The family is warm and loving and living in a friendly, clean, beautiful city neighborhood. They are African American and their ethnicity adds to the beauty of the story but doesn't define it. I find this book to be a charming celebration and I highly recommend it.

Find other books like this on LibraryThing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

More Beginning Readers

lady bug 1

Yesterday on the way home from daycare my four year old Buddy said, "We did bugs today. I can spell bugs: B-U-G-S!"

I said, "That's right! That's great! I didn't know you could do that. We will have to find a book with bugs in it for you to read."

He grinned into my rear view mirror. All evening he kept telling me how to spell bugs. We did find a couple of books with bugs in them, including Mercer Mayer's These Are My Pets and one of the little books in the My World series by Nora Gaynos. With a little help Buddy could read most of them. This is such an exciting time for me - watching someone learn to read is a tremendous thrill. I am looking closely at my home early reader book collection and scanning the shelves of my school library for summer books. I am looking for books at the early levels that include children of color in the illustrations. Here are a few I picked out this morning:

Yo Yes! by Chris Raschka. Orchard Books, 1993. When I was teaching first grade this was a favorite of many children, especially boys, who thought they couldn't read. The text is so simple (Often just one word on the page like "Yo!") and it is perfectly natural and compelling dialog. Two children on the street meet and hesitantly begin to form a friendship. The children are illustrated in shades of brown. Their facial expressions and body language is evocative. This book is a poem.

The Pup Speaks Up by Anna Jane Hays, illustrated by Valeria Petrone. A Step into Reading level 1 book by Random House, 2003. Level one books are intended for preschool to kindergarten children considered "ready to read". They include big type, easy words, rhyme and rhythm, and picture clues. This is a cute story that is full of animals. Bo is a little brown skinned boy (Hispanic? Native American?) with a new puppy friend. They live in the southwestern desert. They go for a walk and listen to what everyone they meet says, such as a bee that goes buzz, and train that goes choo choo, and so on. Pup doesn't speak until they meet a cat at the end of the book, which raises the readers curiosity; what will the pup say? This book is new to me and I can't wait to see how Buddy is going to like it.

Loose Tooth by Anastasia Suen, illustrations by Allan Eitzen. Based on the characters created by Ezra Jack Keats. Viking, 2002. A level 2 reader, for grades Kindergarten through second grade. This story and the others in the series take the characters from Keats beloved books and bring them into grade school. It's picture day and Peter has a loose tooth. He meets his friends Archie and Amy at the bus stop and they discuss whether the tooth will come out before the school pictures and how Peter feels about that. In the middle of the story there is a basketball game that is a little street rough, and of course the tooth gets knocked out. Peter smiles for his picture because he is planning to use the tooth fairy money to buy a basketball and that makes him happy. Suen has done a good job keeping the characters in the personalities that Keats gave them. It is amusing to see them growing up just like real children. The story is not quite as brilliant as Keat's own writing, but it is pleasing and engaging. I am going to keep this book in mind for Buddy in a year or two. Click on the book title above to go to the author's page with more of her books (lots of diversity there), coloring pages, lesson plans, videos, etc.

Small Wolf by Nathaniel Benchley, pictures by Joan Sandin. Harper Trophy, text copyright 1972, illustrations copyright 1972, 1994. A level 3 book for grades 2 -4. Small Wolf is a native American living in the Brooklyn/Manhattan area in the 16th century. He stumbles across the Dutch settlers who believe they have "bought" the land from the Canarsee Indians. Small Wolf and his father don't understand how this can be, that people would think they can own the sky or the land. Benchley does a fine job of presenting the injustice of the white settler's land acquisition and the peaceful, nonviolent strategies that Small Wolf and his family employ to deal with their loss of hunting ground, cultivated land and living space. The end of the book shows the Native American families attempting to move away from the Europeans again and again. I would love to have a discussion with young readers about the implications of this story and see how they connect it with what else they are learning in American history. What a great text to read around Thanksgiving!

I'll continue to post about what I find in early readers and I invite you to comment on books that have delighted you in the beginning reader isle. Let me know what you are finding!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Edge of the Forest is up!

The May issue of The Edge of the Forest is packed with great articles and book reviews.

I am most interested in investigating JacketFlap. I signed up for JacketFlap last fall after seeing it in my sitemeter, and then forgot about it. I signed up again last month when I saw is linked around. I am still learning to use it effectively but the potential is huge. Connect with everyone interested in children's book publishing, read blogs, learn about what publishers are interested and what books are hot. Anyone here know more? Leave me a comment with your tips please!

Kelly tells us there's more in TEOTF:

Allie (Little Willow) discusses The Bermudez Triangle: Too Cool for School? and profiles author Deb Caletti.

Kim Winters talks to children's writers on retreat about what they are reading and why for the In the Backpack column, and gets personal about writing for children in A Day in the Life.

Kelly Fineman interviews David Lubar in our Blogging Writer feature.

Reviews in all categories--from Picture book to Young Adult. (There are tons of reviews this month.) They've added an interview archive for your convenience.

Best of the Blogs covers THE scandal of the month (you know which one...)

Don't forget to subscribe to The Edge of the Forest with the Subscribe feature. Just enter your name and e-mail address and you'll receive notification when each new issue is published.

The Edge of the Forest will return June 10. Please let Kelly know if you would like to contribute a feature story or a review.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Carnival coming up!

The 14th Carnival of Children's Literature will be posted at Chicken Spaghetti on Monday, May 21st. The deadline for submissions is Thursday, May 17th.

There's a theme: Fiesta! A Multicultural Celebration. If you have a book-related post on another subject, you can submit that, too.

The focus of each Carnival is children's books and reading. One entry per person is welcome. Go ahead and look over your posts for the past month and pick your favorite one.

Submit the link to your Fiesta! post by sending an email to c_spaghettiATyahooDOTcom (Replace the AT and the DOT with the real things.) Write "Carnival of Children's Literature" in the email's subject line.

Or use the form at the Blog Carnival site. I sent mine in today.

If you're wondering what a blog carnival is, Susan wrote an explanation back in March. Also check out Jen Robinson's wonderful April Carnival of Children's Literature.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

May 12 Haiku


Gold covers his hill;
his dandelions send me
a few scattered coins.

My friend Shelley from But Wait told me about a site that has a monthly haiku contest. This month's theme is dandelion, so I have been writing dandelion haiku every day. I didn't publish them here because I was waiting to pick the best one to send in. It is not to have been published anywhere else, of course. I'll let you know if it gets in and where you can see it when I know.

books with salt and pepper

I am particularly interested in books that involve Black, Asian, Native American and Hispanic kids as well as White kids. I have been trying to think of a way to say in the header that this blog is mostly about books by, about, or including people of color. That is a mouthful of a phrase but I couldn't figure out how to reduce it and mean the same thing. I don't particularly like the terms "multicultural" or "diversity".

When I was growing up I remember hearing the term "salt and pepper" as meaning a mixed family or group. Salt is white and pepper comes in a lot of shades of brown and black. That's the kind of books I am reading and writing about here so I think it is a good description. What do you think? Does it give you the picture of my kind of books?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Memories of Sun

Stories of Africa and America. Edited by Jane Kurtz. Greenwillow Books, 2004.

This lovely collection of short stories and poems is divided into sections; Africa, Americans in Africa, and Africans in America. Switching across perspective and oceans gives a dramatic contrast that continues the cross cultural themes of many of the stories. The poems are written in voices full of passion and wonder. I want to quote from one of them by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah:

an african american your ears
my children
and listen to this griot
talk of history
being made
i wanna tell you this story
of my life

the blood which flows
through the left side of my body
is the mississippi river
every day i wake it croons
"lift every voice and sing"
the anthem of the american negro

the blood which flows
through the right side of my body
is the nile river
every day i rise it screams out loud
"africa, oh africa, cry freedom
for all your children"...

This is part of the central section of this poem telling of life lived on two continents. I wish I could link to the whole poem, but I couldn't find it on line. Danquah came to America at the age of six. Read about her other writings here.

Jane Kurtz, the editor of the collection, grew up in Ethiopia. Her family arrived in East Africa when she was just two years old. Her parents worked for the Presbyterian Church. Her family came back to the States when she was seven, when she was in eighth grade, and again when she went to college. She says in the introduction to this collection that she often felt lost between cultures. She never knew how to answer the American questions about what it was like to live in Africa, and in Africa she didn't know how to answer the questions about America. As an adult she found her way through this by writing. She has written over 20 books for children and adults. Visit her web site and read her biography, information about school visits and the Ethiopian Books for Children Foundation.

I noticed Cynsations had a link to Ethiopia Reads book drive in the past week, She interviewed Kurtz back in September and you can read it here. In it she explains how this collection came together and how important she thinks it is for everyone to share in the experiences of struggle, celebration and beauty that come with living with the cultures of Africa and America. I am very impressed with her courage and determination to share her stories.

This collection is full of short stories and poems written by Africans and Americans living between and across the cultures. The range of experience is amazing and the variety of voices is rich and stimulating. I am spending the weekend reading one story after another whenever I can grab a quiet moment. It is bringing back memories of my first college room mate who grew up in Ethiopia with missionary parents as well as the Ethiopian families I knew living in the city twenty years ago.

There are newly published authors here as well as established names. Each piece draws me in and I delight in the sounds, flavors, and sensations half a world away. Whether you know Africa yourself or have no experience at all this book will capture your imagination take you there. It's written with older children and young adults in mind. Many of the protagonists are young people themselves. This collection would be a rich addition to a family or classroom collection. I can see these stories sparking discussion and inspiring student writing around the themes of memoirs and cross cultural experiences.

The Friday Poetry round up is at HipWriterMama today. Go take a look!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

In the Small, Small Night

by Jane Kurtz, pictures by Rachel Isadora. Greenwillow Books, 2005.

"In the middle of the night, when the stars are walking, Abena opens her eyes to find a lump beside her in her strange new bed." Abena and her little brother Kofi have moved to America from Ghana, and they each have some fears to overcome. Fortunately Abena knows the stories of Anansi and she tells them to Kofi again, to help them both remember where they came from.

"Anansi was tricky. He was sure he was the wisest person on the whole earth. But sometimes in the small, small night he stayed awake, like you, and worried. He worried about who else was lying awake thinking of tricky things to do. He didn't want anyone to be wiser than he was..."

Abena tells her brother these stories by the light of her flashlight, remembering the moon that shines over her grandmother's house and the fireflies flickering in the night. She can hear the storyteller's call through the village. In the storytelling tradition of her people the storyteller calls the children from around the village by calling out "Anansi is a cheat!" The children run toward the fire, calling "Come and say what you know." She calls again, and they answer and gather around her. At the end of the story Abena repeats the traditional closing phrases, saying "This story I told, if it's nice or if it's not nice, I carry the story to the next teller. Are you asleep yet?" No, Kofi needs another story. Eventually he is tucked back into bed and falls asleep. Abena watches out the window to see the stars, thinking of how they will "keep walking all the way across the sky until her grandmother and cousins halfway across the world will look up and see them, too." She falls asleep comforted.

In the author's note at the back of the book Kurtz tells that a friend of hers from Ghana used to tell these Anansi stories to her children. She learned from him about village life in his childhood home and wove his memories into her story of Abena and his little brother. Kurtz grew up in Ethiopia herself, and has written 22 books for children and adults based largely on her own experiences. She has a wonderful website full of links, stories, and biographical information. I am going to post more on her in my Friday Poetry post, so I will save the rest of my comments for later.

I am bringing home In the Small, Small Night to share with my boys this weekend. Buster is coming home from college for the summer, so Buddy is moving back into sharing a room with Punkin. I think this story will resonate with them as they share a room in the small, small summer nights. The illustrations in this book, done by Rachel Isadora (who also did At the Crossroads, which I reviewed and loved) are beautiful. The cover image of the two children hugging looks so much like my boys it gives me a warm feeling. As Punkin becomes more verbal and actively interactive they are developing a sweet, competitive, supportive brotherhood that I am enjoying. They fight in the backseat, takes each other's food and toys, and show compassion for each others' boo boos. This book is just right for where we are now!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Stories Julian Tells

by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Ann Strugnell. Knopf, 1981.

This time of year we start to get a lot of talk about summer reading lists. What are you recommending? I am gathering my own list of beginning readers, story collections and preschool age story books, thinking ahead to extra time cuddling with my sons and reading the afternoons away. Today I picked up The Stories Julian Tells to peruse while waiting for my next class to come to the library. It's one that causes me to laugh out loud even in the quiet library.

Julian is a boy with a big imagination and a quick wit. His little brother Huey is the perfect foil for all his exploits, and together they get in and out of trouble on every page. When their father makes a special lemon pudding for their mother, saying it will taste like "a whole raft of lemons. It will taste like a night on the sea" Julian and Huey are set to guard it while he takes a nap. It is too good to resist tasting, however, and they boys end up shivering under the bed waiting for him to wake up and discover what happened. Fortunately their father knows just how to encourage them to replenish the supply.

In another chapter their father decides to order a garden catalog and teach them about growing vegetables Julian teaches Huey about the garden cats that come from catalogs. Once again their father is able to bring that around to a clever and satisfying resolution.

These stories are highly recommended by Jim Trelease in his Read Aloud Handbook, and for good reason. They are written on about a second grade level, so if your early elementary child is looking for some good independent summer reading it might work well for that too. There are seven books in the series all about the Bates family and their friends and neighbors. Ann Cameron says,
"I always thought of Julian as Everychild, having experiences that belong to children the world over. Julian, his brother Huey, and his friend Gloria are African-American children, but the text never says so. This book has a richness of language that children love, and its black-and-white drawings--by the artist Ann Strugnell--are some of the most beautiful I've ever seen in a children's book. "
Cameron has a web page with links to her philosophy of literacy and teaching reading, suggestions for teachers and parents, and stories from her own life. She tells about the library in Guatemala that she helped rebuild in the 22 years she lived there. It's really fascinating reading, and filled with lovely pictures.

If you want funny stories about clever, loving, strong children who are full of wonder and delight, check out The Stories Julian Tells.

Monday, May 07, 2007

May 7 Haiku

dandelion puff 2.JPG

With one small hand he
reaches for me; the other,
dandelion puffs.

Uncle Remus

Somehow growing up I got the feeling that there was something racist, and therefore shameful, about the Brer Rabbit stories. Maybe it was the way black people are portrayed in The Song of the South. Maybe I heard friends scorning the southern black dialect written into the Tales of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris. In any case, I have avoided them for most of my life. What treasures I have been missing!

I have been reading Julius Lester's How Many Spots Does A Leopard Have? to my first graders and we love it. The children are on the edge of their seats. The language is beautiful and clever. Every story sparks discussion.

Since I am looking for a new author study to carry the kindergarten through to the end of the year I decided to look into Lester's Tales of Uncle Remus. I learned from reading Augusta Baker's introduction to The Adventures of Brer Rabbit that the stories had been told to her by her mother, who had heard them from her mother. Ms. Baker is the former Coordinator of Children's Services of the New York Public Library and Storyteller-in-Residence at the University of South Carolina. She says,

"It wasn't until several years later, in college, that I learned about the importance of these stories as true American folklore. Dr. Harold Thompson, a leading American folklorist, gave a lecture on people from the West Coast of Africa who had been captured and sold as slaves. Some were settled in the southern states where they took stories from home about a hare - Wakaima - and adapted them to their new surroundings. Wakaima became Brer Rabbit and the clay man became the Tar Baby."
She says she tried reading Harris' books several times, but never could get past the dialect which was like a foreign language to her.
"Despite the drawbacks in Harris’s text, I still loved the stories and appreciated Brer Rabbit as a cultural hero and a significant part of my heritage. However, I was telling the stories less and less often because of the dialect.... How could I represent our African Background and the relationship between Africa and black America to primary grades? How could I show the fusion of the different African cultures and the cultures existing in American and the West Indies?"
When she first reads Lester's The Knee-High Man and Other Tales in 1972 she found them to be "black folktales told perfectly." Lester went on to publish four volumes of Brer Rabbit tales, as well as many other books for children.

Lester gives a history of the Uncle Remus stories in his forward to The Adventures of Brer Rabbit. He gives the background of the stories coming from West African folktales. He says,
“Uncle Remus became a stereotype, and therefore negative, not because of inaccuracies in Harris’s characterization, but because he was used as a symbol of slavery and a retrospective justification for it… If there is one aspect of the Uncle Remus stories with which one could seriously disagree, it is the social setting in which the tales are told. Uncle Remus, and sometimes other blacks, tell the stories to an audience of one – a little white boy, the son of the plantation owner. While such a setting added to the appeal and accessibility of the tales for whites, it leaves the reader with no sense of the important role the tales played in black life. The telling of black folktales, and indeed tales of all cultures, was a social event bringing together adults and children. That folktales are now considered primarily stories for children is an indication of our society’s spiritual impoverishment. Traditionally, tales were told by adults to adults. If the children were quiet, they might be allowed to listen. Clearly, black folktales were not created and told for the entertainment of little white children, as the Uncle Remus tales would lead one to believe.”
Lester goes on to explain what adaptations he has made in telling the tales, and what important elements he has retained.

To give you a taste of my new found delight here is a link to some of Lester’s tales online. The first three I read this morning and just about spit my coffee across the library they are so funny. If you haven’t read any of Lester’s folktales you are in for a treat!

I believe a whole new window has opened for me on the folklore of America. I am so delighted to have the summer ahead of me that includes a front porch, lazy afternoons when the baby will be sleeping while the preschooler is in the mood to hear stories, and a bookstore gift certificate that will start me on my plan to acquire a stack of Lester’s Uncle Remus books. All we need is some lemonade and a porch swing…

Edited to add: I found out from reading a comment on Alkelda's blog that Lester read his tales for Recorded Books. I requested it from the library and I am looking forward to hearing the stories in his own voice. Bring on that lemonade!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Lucille Clifton

blessing the boats

(at St. Mary's)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear...


This poem first appeared in Quilting: Poems 1987-1990. Read the rest of this sweet little poem here.

In 2000 Ms. Clifton won the National Book award for "Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000". Read the NYT article.

More links:
Thoughts of a woman by Sarah Brooks
Biography and Story: On Strength Gotten From Others
More of her Poems

The Friday Poetry round up is over at Big A, Little a today. Enjoy!

May 4 Haiku

Virginia bluebell.JPG

baseballs in the grass,
the shouts of boys swinging bats;
bluebells tremble

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Beginning Readers book list

Kelly, at Big A, little a, asked for suggestions for early readers to give her son for summer reading. A lot of folks commented with their favorites and she said she would publish a pdf tomorrow so we could all print it out. I am looking forward to seeing that!

It got me thinking about working on my list of beginning readers on LibraryThing. I have been meaning to post a link to some book lists here in the sidebar. I love LibraryThing. You can sort your own books by tags, find other people who own the same books, get suggestions for other books in the same genre or author, read and post reviews and chat about just about anything.

I have quite a few beginning readers around my house. Buster, who is nineteen now, enjoyed them when he was in Pre-k through second grade. We spent those summers doing extra reading and writing work together. I taught kindergarten and first grade for many years, and I am a children's librarian now so this level of books is one of my special interests. Now Buddy is starting to read them and I have been buying more. Many of my favorites are quite old, so I am particularly interested in finding new books with diverse ethnicities represented.

If you click this link to my LibraryThing Beginning Readers list you can see our favorites. You can experiment with the different views to see book covers, ISBN and LC numbers, subject headings and my ratings. If you click the column headings you can sort them several ways. I think view E is the best one for printing, but I like view A the best because I love seeing the book covers. If you click a tag you see all the other books I have with that tag. If you click a book title see detailed information about that book. You can also see a list of similar books recommended.

If any of you have a LibraryThing account I would love to add you to my watch list. Or if you have another way of keeping and sharing book lists I'd love to hear about it! So far for me LibraryThing is the easiest, coolest, most versatile way to share lists. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring

by Lucille Clifton, pictures by Brinton Turkle. E.P. Dutton, 1973.

I first discovered this book when Buster was in kindergarten. Two boys about six years old decide to go exploring down their city street to look for evidence of spring. The boys names are King Shabazz and his friend Tony Polito. What wonderful names! The story includes characters of a variety of ethnicities without calling attention to being "multicultural" for any teaching purpose.

They walk down a busy city street full of purposeful people going about daily life. I like how the city is depicted as busy and full of interesting people, tantalizing smells like fresh baked buns and BBQ. It's not a dangerous place, but it's exciting because the boys venture farther from home than they ever have when they cross a big street. They are each determined to show their friend their courage and persistence in looking for signs of spring even though they have insisted that it is all a myth told by grown ups.

King Shabazz's mama has been talking about crops and the teachers have been talking about blue birds. I can just here the boys talking on the stoop:

"King Shabazz decided he had just had enough. He put his jacket on and his shades and went by for Tony Polito.

"Look here, man," King said when they got out to the bottom step,"I'm goin to get me some of this Spring."
"What you mean, man?" Tony asked him.
"Everybody talkin bout Spring comin, and Spring just round the corner. I'm goin to go round there and see what do I see."

As their adventure unfolds, they come to a vacant lot that is empty except for an abandoned car. For these boys it is beautiful and exciting. The hear a whispery sound coming from it and creep up to peek inside. They take courage from each other, although each secretly hopes the other will want to go home instead. Together they tiptoe across the lot.

"When they were halfway to the car, Tony tripped and almost fell. He looked down and saw a patch of little yellow pointy flowers, growing in the middle of short spiky green leaves.

"Man, I think you tripped on these crops!" King laughed.
"They're comin up," Tony shouted. "Man, the corps are comin up!"

Even twenty years after first reading this I crack up every time. The boys are so earnest and full of wonder under their careful bravado. When I first read this story to Buster we were living in the city and found spring just the way these boys do - growing in vacant lots and sidewalk cracks. The joy of sudden color and vibrant new green life is the same wherever you find it, but somehow more startling and precious in an empty lot beside rushing traffic.

When the boys get to the car they find a bird's nest full of sky blue eggs. They whisper in reverent awe over the miracle. Then Tony's older brother shows up looking for him and threatening his mother's punishment for going off on their own. Buster was a bit put off by that bit, as he is young enough to take it literally. I had to explain that "Mom is going to kill you!" was more of a threat than a real prediction. We have read this book together several nights in a row and he is fascinated with the boys and their point of view. The illustrations of city life and the boy's wide eyed faces are touching and engaging. Clifton and Turkle have collaborated in a beautiful synchronicity in this little book. It's a treasure.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


I can't quite believe it but I won the random drawing for an Amazon gift certificate in the TV turn off week challenge! I never win anything! I am so thrilled. That is just the frosting on the cake for the last few days of sunshine and good vibes. Go read the final post of all the other participants linked here. We have all learned a lot and found new things to enjoy with loved ones. Congratulations to everyone who put effort into trying it!

April Photo Mosaic

April 365 mosaic

Yay for May 1st! Here is my mosaic from the last month of daily photos in my 365 set. I am doing the Project 365, posting one a day. I skipped a few days in this collection because I am keeping my son's pictures private. I really like all the green and new flowers that I captured this month.

I learned how to do close focus with this camera, which I was really clumsy with before all this practice. My camera is a Kodak Z730 Z00m. It's not a particularly good camera, but I am learning to use the mode settings and find it does a pretty good job. I would like to be better at taking close ups of my kids and doing portraits, so I am toying with the idea of spending a whole month taking just that. If I do that I won't be posting them here for privacy reasons, so I am afraid you won't get to see them. The good news is May is great for flowers!

I am keeping all my photos in a Flickr set because I can't keep up with another whole blog. Browse other 365 blogs:

Rev. Dr. Mom
Bright Star

Follow their links to lots more.