Friday, February 27, 2009

Review: My People

by Langston Hughes, photographs by Charles R. Smith, Jr. Simon & Schuster, 2009. Advanced Review Copy.

I was so excited to get the chance to look at this beautiful picture book matching stunning photographs with one of my favorite Langston Hughes poems "My People". When I was teaching first grade I used to have the children learn this lovely poem in Readers-Writers Workshop. It is so perfectly balanced, lyrical and joyful the children were delighted to read it over and over until they had it memorized. We put it up on the big screen, printed it out on paper and illustrated it, copied it into their notebooks, and read it in chorus or individually through out the day. As Charles R. Smith Jr. says in his afterword in this volume, "At just thirty-three words total, the poem is a study in simplicity..." It is Hughes at his best. I think my favorite lines are:

"Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also are the souls of my people."

(read the full poem here)

Celebrating the beauty of African American people, it is a natural for a book of photos of people laughing, gazing, thinking deeply, loving each other and delighting in wonder. Smith says, "To me, the words celebrate black people of differing shades and age, so I wanted to show skin color as bright as the sun and as dark as the nights: I wanted to show the newness of a newborn smile and the wisdom of wrinkled skin." I have read over "My People" again and again, drinking in the poetry and the beauty. This is a book to share with the children in your life and also to pull out on a rainy day and soak in the sunshine all on your own. Keep it handy.

Charles R. Smith, Jr. is a poet as well as a photographer. He's written a long list of books for children from infants to teens, including board books full of charming baby photographs, to poetry for all ages (many about sports, particularly basketball) and a Young Adult novel. He has a great website where you can listen to him read his poetry (scroll halfway down that page and click on "I am a Poet Remix" from the album "Portrait of a Poet" for a real treat), view a list of his books, and find out about school visits. He's also got a page of activities for kids writing poetry in the classroom. He is definitely on my list of poet/authors I'd like to have come to my school. You can read his bio, find out how handsome he is, and read an interview where he talks about his writing process and poetry at the Library of Congress website.

If you are looking for more great children's books on the African American experience take a look at this list at School Library Journal.

The Friday Poetry round up is over at Mommy's Favorite Children's Books today. If you are posting about poetry please join in. Everyone please take some time today to read and Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

February 25 Haiku

feb 20 008

boys with sticks
breaking the pond's skin of ice;
keeping their shoes dry

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sijo for Friday Poetry

Monday’s poetry stretch this week is to write a Sijo poem. Trisha explains: “Originating in Korea, sijo are poems divided into three or six lines. These poems frequently use word play in the form of metaphors, symbols and puns. Here is a description from AHApoetry.

More ancient than haiku, the Korean SIJO shares a common ancestry with haiku, tanka and similar Japanese genres. All evolved from more ancient Chinese patterns.Sijo is traditionally composed in three lines of 14-16 syllables each, totaling between 44-46 syllables. A pause breaks each line approximately in the middle; it resembles a caesura but is not based on metrics.

Here are my attempts:



Like lemon slices full of zing
to bathe my winter weary eyes;
Daffodils shout “Wake up! Stretch!
Push the heavy quilts away”!
Forced in a pot on a grocer’s shelf
They’re just a cold mid-winter tease.



Flip tail bushy paws twinkle nose trouble coming squirrel!
Some call him cute that scrabbling clawed hungry chomping gnawer!
He’s in my kitchen wall. Peanut butter & banana baits my trap.

.....-Andromeda Jazmon

If you want to try some it's not too late to join in. The Friday Poetry round up is hosted by Cuileann at The Holly and the Ivy. The hosting schedule is found in the sidebar at A Year of Reading for the next couple months. Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Review: Nation

by Terry Pratchett. HarperCollins, 2008. Printz Honor Book, 2009. Library copy. Living in an alternate world 150 years ago, Mau is a boy in the midst of his isolated stay on the Boy's Island, trying to complete the survival tasks that will make him a man. With the help of one clue carved into the trunk of an huge tree, which says "Men Help Other Men", and an ax left there by the men in his family, Mau manages to carve himself a canoe and begin the return journey. Unfortunately a huge earthquake causes an enormous tsunami to overtake his island home, destroying his village and killing every other member of his community. He is the sole survivor. In his blinding grief and confusion he begins the dreadful task of burying the bodies of everyone he knows and loves, by dropping them into the sea so that their souls can become dolphins.

He soon discovers that there is one other person on the island. A young British girl has survived the crash of a sailing ship that was smashed into the island's valley rain forest by the tsunami. She has been raised as a lady and never allowed learn anything practical. She is also in line for the throne, although she doesn't know how close that responsibility has come. She calls herself Daphne and quickly sheds her ignorance for the chance to learn what is useful. He one strength is that she is intelligent and her father has indulged her curiosity by training her to think scientifically. In her new environment, outside the influence of her dowager grandmother, she begins to flourish.

Together these two begin to develop a friendship, learning each other's language and contributing to finding fire, food, fresh water and shelter. Gradually more people come to the island, looking for survivors and community strength. Mau hears the voices of his ancient Grandfathers demanding that he re-establish the "god stones", sing the traditional mystical songs, and feed them beer. He rages against them, questioning the gods on why such tragedy has happened to him and his loved ones. Because he has not completed the welcoming home ceremony with his people he has not yet become a man. He feels himself caught in the in-between stage, like a hermit crab moving to a new shell that is interrupted and left stranded. His confusion and turmoil opens for him the possibility of questioning the wisdom and ways of the past. As the book trailer states, "When much is taken, something is returned."

These two young people find their strengths in their creative, thoughtful, courageous responses to the challenge of survival and rebuilding their world. Key to their success is the willingness to discard what doesn't make sense to them from the old ways. They are also at an advantage because they both have a deeply held dedication to valuing and protecting the life of other people. They are kind and honest and willing to risk their own safety in order to protect and nourish others. Mau goes to extreme lengths to procure milk from a wild pig in order to keep a starving infant alive. Daphne chews dried beef jerky to feed to a toothless old woman, who turns out to be a wise woman with the spiritual and medical knowledge to bring Mau back from the dead.

The really wonderful thing about this book, other than it's cleverness and sharp wit, is the way goodness, kindness, and faith triumph over the blind cruelty of nature, the wickedness of pirates, and the terror of darkness and ignorance.

Pratchett is a well known author of the Diskworld series, with over 25 books to his credit. Nation is not part of this series. He was recently given knighthood by the queen of England, and also has just announced that he suffers from early onset Alzheimer's disease. Nation has been adapted for the stage. This is my first Pratchett novel and I am looking forward to reading more. Highly recommended for young adults and adults that enjoy fantasy and science fiction.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Diversity Rocks! Challenge Update

Back in January I signed up for the Diversity Rocks! Challenge. I committed to reading at least 12 books by authors of diverse culture/ethnicity/nationalities, preferably authors new to me. I want to update my list of books read and what's on my list for the next couple weeks.

Read and reviewed here on the blog:

My Life as a Rhombus

Red Scarf Girl

No Mush Today

Bringing in the New Year

Here is what is on my TBR stack:

Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree (Paperback) Ali, Tariq

The Twentieth Wife: A Novel (Paperback) Sundaresan, Indu

Song Yet Sung (Hardcover) McBride, James
Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to the Present (Paperback) Naylor, Gloria

Black American Short Stories (American Century Series) Clarke, John Henrik

I also checked these out of the library, which are about cross cultural situations even if the author is white like me:

Don't Let's go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, vol. 1 & 2 by M. T. Anderson

What's on your To Be Read list? Are you reading for the Diversity Challenge?
It's not too late to join!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love Poem

rock wall
Love Poem

When that other friend said
I should just get over you,
you said “He's never known love.
He doesn't know what he's talking about.”
How is it you were the one to comfort me?
You said it really was that good.
You quoted Newton's third law of motion:
“Every action has it's
equal and opposite reaction.”

Twenty eight years later
I am standing on the top
of a mountain of shale
looking down into an
abandoned quarry.
The sun glints off the distant mirror
of an ice cold bottomless lake.
Occasional chipped rocks slide
skittering toward brackish water
through the careless empty air.
Signs are posted:
No Swimming.

..........-Andromeda Jazmon

The Monday Poetry Stretch at Miss Rumphius this week was "to write a love poem without explicit words of love—no terms of adoration or endearment." Check out all the other entries here.

Today's Friday Poetry round up is Big A, Little a today. If you are posting poetry or looking to read some go ahead over and jump in!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Two Novels Involving Women and Cancer

In the last two days I've read two adult novels:

Anne Tyler's Digging to America is about two families in Baltimore that adopt infants from Korea. They meet in the airport lounge waiting for the baby's plane to arrive. The book takes us along with them over the next six years as their friendships develop. The Donaldson family is Caucasian American and the Yazdun family is Iranian American. The book is not so much about adoption as it is about belonging, knowing oneself and one's culture, and what it means to be American. I was a bit annoyed that everyone in the book, whether Caucasian American or Iranian American used the term "American" to mean Caucasian. The "Third Culture Kid" theme is strong and I find it quite interesting. There is also a lot about how to make and maintain friendships and the balance between being open or reserved about one's sense of self. One of the grandmothers dies of cancer in the course of the story and Bitsy Davidson-Donaldson, one of the adoptive mothers, is fighting breast cancer at the end of the book. This is Tyler's 17th novel.

Anita Diamant's Good Harbor is about two women living in a small town in Massachusetts. Kathleen is a 59 year old children's librarian undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer and 42 year old Joyce has just bought a summer home in the village in order to work on writing a novel. They become friends and find both comfort and challenge in the development of their friendship. From reading this novel I learned something about what radiation therapy is like, which I checked out on medical sites on the web and which seems to be a pretty accurate picture. Sounds like it is not as bad as chemo. I am in that in-between stage after surgery and waiting to hear what the oncologists think I should do next in dealing with Uterine cancer. Diamant is author of The Red Tent, which I read years ago.

These books have been on my TBR list for ages. this is the first time in years, it seems, that I've had time to read something not related to graduate school or being a children's librarian. I've enjoyed both books very much. I was surprised to discover, however, that both novels involve women dealing with cancer and its treatment. I don't think I would have chosen books on that theme purposefully, but now I realize that it is actually helpful at this stage of my healing. What other really good novels involving women fighting cancer would you recommend?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review: My Life as a Rhombus

by Varian Johnson. Flux, 2008. Review copy. Rhonda is a high school senior, math wiz, and volunteer at the community tutoring center. She is shocked when one of the popular girls from her private school comes in and requests her help. After initially resisting, she begins to feel attached to Sara, especially since she recognizes the signs that girlfriend might be expecting. Rhonda herself had been through an abortion three years ago, at her father's insistence, so she has some sympathy and wisdom to offer her new friend Sara. I enjoyed reading this book very much and wondered how the author, a man, could write with such a strong feminine voice. I read in his interview at Cynsations last summer that one of his favorite books as a child was Judy Bloom's Are you there God? and thought "of course it was". Then I read further that his research included being friends with a woman dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, and that he hired a female writing coach during the revising process to help him refine his voice.

The conflicts between parents and teens are particularly well explored in My Life as a Rhombus, as well as the complexity of friendships. Anger, hurt, disappointment, tenderness, longing, forgiveness, compassion and maturity are all dealt with in insightful ways. I was able to relate to the young women in this book on many levels and I really appreciated the sensitive way they were presented. I did think, after having finished the book, that on some levels it was too simplistic. There is no way to adequately cover the vast range of emotion and confusion for a young woman in such a difficult decision making situation, but I think Johnson does a pretty good job. I would recommend this book to all sorts of teens and to adults that care about them.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Review: Red Scarf Girl

by Ji-li Jiang. Harper-Collins, 1998. This true memoir of a 12 year old girl coming of age during China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) is breathtaking and amazing. Ji-li tells her story in simple, direct language that cuts straight to the heart. She was a happy, successful, well-loved sixth grader in 1966, respected and accomplished in school and the cherished oldest daughter in a well-off family of three children, two parents and her grandmother. All that was turned upside down when Chairman Mao started calling for drastic reforms and granting unrestrained power to the teenaged Communist Red Guards, who were charged with purifying their schools, homes and communities from any bourgeois capitalist Western influence.

Ji-li's grandfather, whom she can barely remember, was a land-owner many years ago. Because of this she and her family are classed as "landlords", and are persecuted mercilessly. The downward spiral of their places in school and community is heartbreaking to read. I lived in China for two years in the mid 80s, teaching English, and I often heard similar stories from my students. The scope and magnitude of the societal upheaval is almost incomprehensible, even when listening to first-hand accounts.

It wasn't just a few crazy leaders who persecuted the common people. It was regular neighborhood folks who had known each other all their lives. It was the fear of personal shame and the unquestioning trust in the common emotional tide that drew everyone into a cruel, ravenous insanity. The passion which which the people loved and worshiped Chairman Mao is startling and gives one pause at this time in our own political life, when so many of us are enamored of our shining new president. The extremes of what a people can embrace is stunning.

This book is written for young adults in middle and high school. The publisher has several study aids available on their website and more lesson plans, web quests, and book guides can be found online. Background information on China's history and culture, as well as on the Cultural Revolution, would help students really understand the life Ji-li was living in Shanghai in the late 1960s. Anyone interested in human social phenomena, history or in China in particular should read this book. The author, Ji-li Jiang, lives in Hawaii now and has written a couple other books for children.

Today's Nonfiction Round Up is at Charlotte's Library. If you are posting about a nonfiction children's book go ahead and add your link. And by all means, go check out what everyone else is reading!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Black History Month featuring Langston Hughes

looking down into the water

I've gotten to the point where I check my Twitter stream before I check my email every morning. It's fun to find out what my friends have been up to over night. I find the best links to curriculum resources, websites and applications.

Today I saw a tweet from Jon Bard linking to Black History Month resources at the blog of Sullivan University Library in Lexington, KY. They had a link to the Yale Library Tribute to Langston Hughes that is a really fascinating time line of the life of Langston Hughes, with poetry, photographs and audio excerpts. I listened this morning to his talk in the children's garden in Harlem in 1955, found by scrolling over the photos in the "poet" stream. He explains rhythm and song from crickets to Mother Goose to heart beats and drum beats. You may also chose to explore the "observer" and "artist" strains by clicking the links in the lower right of the time line. This site is a gold mine for anyone studying Hughes, Harlem, and Black History. The exhibit was displayed in the Yale Library in 2002, and the web site continues to give access to this phenomenal centennial celebration of his birth (Feb. 2, 1902).

The opening screen gives us an audio of Hughes reading one of his most well known poems:

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world an older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

read the rest here at and listen to the poet read it and give background on how he wrote it.

Read more about Langston Hughes at wikipedia and The Poetry Archive.

The Friday Poetry roundup is at Wild Rose Reader today. Everyone can join in! If you are posting poetry go add your link and please enjoy browsing what poems other bloggers are celebrating this weekend!

Elaine linked to this cool site where you can make your own candy heart:

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Feb. 5 Haiku

feb 5 035

sun light slides
along the petal's edges;
tea kettle whistles

How to Write a Hit Children's Book

BOOK BY BOOK: the making of a monkey man from Jarrett Krosoczka on Vimeo.

Saw this on Miss Rumphius and had to share it. Hilarious! And True!!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Review: No Mush Today

by Sally Derby, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell. Lee & Low, 2008. Review copy. Nonie is a little girl who is tired of eating cornmeal mush every day for breakfast. She is also fed up with her little brother's crying and getting all the attention. Fortunately her grandmother's house is just around the corner. Grandma calls her "Sweet Pea" and takes her to church. After church the congregation heads to the park for a picnic. Nonie goes boating with her father and enjoys the swings. By the time they come home to Mama and baby brother Nonie is happy again and ready to share her favorite toy duck.

My three sons have all benefited from having their grandparents living close to us. There have been many times when a visit over to Grammie and Grampa's house have been the magic ticket to needed extra TLC. As soon as I saw No Mush Today! I knew it would become a family favorite. There is just nothing like Grandparent's love!

Jama pointed out in her review that the little ducky is carried with Nonie on every page of the story and acts as a transitional object holding Nonie's family affections. By the end of the story she is cheerfully sharing ducky with her baby brother, just as the adults in her family have shared their attention and affection with her.

The story is told simply, with language and details that young children will delight in and instantly connect with. The illustrations are beautiful and emotive. Tadgill has recently been profiled on Lori Calabrese's blog and on The Brown Bookshelf. Be sure to scroll down to the end of the page at Lori Calabrese's blog to see a widget that scrolls photographs of Tadgill at work in her studio. At the publisher's site you can click on links for coloring book pages to print and a booktalk with Tadgill. If you live in the Worcester, MA area you can catch an art exhibit of Tadgill's work in this book at the Quinsigamond Community College: Administration Building between Feb. 3 and March 7, 2009. Great opportunity!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Review: Ratha's Courage

The Fifth Book of the Named by Clare Bell. Imaginator Press, 2008. Review copy. Clare Bell's teen fantasy series The Named was published in books one through four from 1983 to 1994. They went out of print but fans kept the stories alive online and demand for more has brought them back into print. I was delighted at the opportunity to read books one and two, Ratha's Creature, and Clan Ground, before reading Ratha's Courage.

This is the type of fantasy book I really get into. Ratha is a prehistoric cat that is leader to a clan of sentient large cats. They live in community and herd grazing beasts as a source of food. They can talk, which distinguishes their race from the other large cats living in the area that are not able to speak or think rationally. I was tickled to realize that they often had more empathy and social finesse than I could expect from myself. I think I learned something of family and friendship ties, as well as good leadership skills, from reading about how Ratha (the clan leader) and her friends dealt with conflict, trauma and aggression. I wish there was another volume for me to read right now cause I could really enjoy spending more time in Ratha's world.

One thing I really enjoyed was the sensual way Bell describes the world from the cat's perspective. Scents, movement, and tactile sensations are a vibrant part of the character's awareness of their environment and activities. When they get upset their fur itches or whiskers twitch. They frequently get important sensory information from their cat's Jacobson's organ in the mouth, which allows them to detect pheromones in the air. Bell's cats use this information to make decisions about behavior, bonding, and problem solving. By observing how the cats relate we can become more aware of how our own interactions and decisions are effected by our sensory awareness.

For more about the story in this volume, links to reviews and the author's blog, click here. Read sample chapters from the books here.

If you or your teen readers are interested in fantasy and alternate prehistoric worlds this book is highly recommended. It does contain scenes dealing with cats in heat and rape conflicts, so I would not recommend it for younger teens or below.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Review: Bringing in the New Year

by Grace Lin. Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Review copy.

The Lunar New Year was last Monday, Jan. 26. I was distracted by my health issues last week so I completely missed the celebrations. Fortunately the holiday can last for 15 days so I think I'm not too late to look for lantern festivals and dragon dance parties on Feb. 9.

Grace Lin's book Bringing in the New Year is a gorgeous picture book that tells how her family celebrates the Chinese New Year. From sweeping out the house to get rid of the old year, to hanging spring happiness poems, getting a hair cut and making good luck dumplings her Jie Jie (older sister), Ba Ba (father), Ma Ma (mother) and Mei Mei (little sister) prepare to celebrate. Then comes the fireworks, the feast and the dragon dance.

The simple text and lively, brightly colored illustrations in Lin's signature style of paintings come together to make this a delightful book for sharing the festivities with young children and their families. The end papers are scattered with further illustrations of symbolic New Year's elements such as red envelopes (holding monetary gifts for all the children), drums, oranges, gongs, spring couplets (poems of good fortune), and a whole fish for the feast. The last two pages of text are a clearly worded outline of the customs and traditions of the Lunar New Year as it has been celebrated around the world. This book is a treasure to add to your collection and to share!

Visit Grace Lin's website to see her other books. Check out her project for 2009: Small Graces, where is auctioning off a painting a month with proceeds going to the Foundation of Children's Books to support author visits in low-income schools.

More on the Lunar New Year:

Info Please
Spring Festival
Lantern Festival
Chinese Zodiac predictions for 2009 (by birth year)

Fortunately for me I don't follow the zodiac predictions for the Year of the Ox or take it too seriously, because I am born in the year of the Pig by this calendar and it doesn't look good for us. It's a good thing I put my hope in the Lord! :)

Monday's Nonfiction round up is at Picture Book of the Day. If you are blogging a nonfiction book review today go join in and Enjoy!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Black History Month celebration

If it's February, it must be time for 28 Days Later! The Brown Bookshelf blog is highlighting some of the very best "under the radar" authors and illustrators of color in children's literature. Check out this schedule of features and make sure to check in every day! Today's post is on Sharon Draper. Celebrate Black History Month by reading these interviews and features.