Friday, November 16, 2012

glimmer haiku

leaves in the pool

in a skin of thin ice
caught in muddy path puddles
autumn's gold glimmers

Andromeda Jazmon

Sometimes when you think all hope is lost the tiniest smile or twinkle in a friend's eye catches your heart. And everything changes. I am hoping you find some glimmer this November weekend, friends. The Friday Poetry round up is hosted by Anastasia at Booktalking. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review: Tua and the Elephant

by Chiang Mai, Thailand. While her mother works nights at a restaurant Tua visits all her friends and relations at the night market, sampling sweet treats and helping her favorite vendors with a few chores. It's a village were adventure waits around the corner, and sure enough Tua finds delight and opportunity when she meets a wise eyed elephant begging for friendship and rescue. Phon Phon, the elephant, has been captured by cruelly abusive mahouts intent on milking tourists. In a dashing escape and hair-raising chase through the countryside to the refuge at the Buddhist temple they are aided by an opera singer, ragtag children, barking dogs and a buffalo herding boy all of whom add to a rollicking good story. I can't wait to read this book to a circle of bright-eyed children! The only thing I could suggest that would add to the pleasure of reading this aloud would be a glossary and pronunciation guide for the Thai words sprinkled through out. I would also appreciate few recipes for tasty treats like banana roti with chocolate sauce and condensed milk, rice curries with noodles, sticky rice with mango, green papaya salad with shredded carrots, tamarind ice cream, and crispy banana fritters... all described fragrantly in the course of the story. Yes, this book will make you drool. It's on the Middle Grade Fiction list nominated for a Cybil award this year. You can read the Kirkus review here and get a preview of the first couple chapters at the publisher's site here.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Melancholy Haiku for Autumn

porch edge

three rakes; one in use
on the tide of fallen leaves
another leaf falls

-Andromeda Jazmon

Here's another of my autumn sadness haiku/haiga. Traditional haiku always have a season word and those classic words evoke a typical feeling in the reader; with autumn it is often loneliness, sadness, melancholy. I am not finding it hard to dig that this year, since I am missing some of my favorite people. Our household is a little light this fall. I have three rakes because raking is a huge job all through November. But only one rake has been in heavy use. *sigh* It is looking like a good, clear, sunny weekend perfect for yard work so I really can't complain.

The Friday Poetry roundup is hosted by Ed at Think Kid, Think! Enjoy!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Race and Point of View in Children's Books

I've been reading a lot of middle grade chapter books in the past couple months, and I am noticing a broad range of perspectives in the main character's point of view. I think that's a great trend that I always wished for when I was younger. Of course when I was a girl I loved reading the books about girls like me, and I was devoted to Wilder's Little House... books, but I also really longed to hear the stories from people who didn't look like me.

 I wanted more of Sing Down the Moon and Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. I searched for more of Mildred Taylor's Gold Cadillac and Virginia Hamilton's M. C. Higgins, the Great. A world-opening story from another point of view.

There are a number of books published this year for young readers that are set in periods of racial turmoil and change. Some are written from the white character's point of view and focus on the young person's adjustment in understanding as social rules are challenged and institutions change.

One of the really well written and well received books like this is The Lions of Little Rock by Kristen Levine. Marlee is a 12 year old white girl living in Little Rock, AK a year after the forced integration of the schools by the famous "Little Rock Nine" African American students. She makes friends with a light skinned girl who is "passing" in her Jr. Hi. She gets caught up in the turmoil surrounding the closing of the schools by white parents who believe "race mixing" is akin to communism and the destruction of their society. It is a really good book and I will recommend it to many, for sure. But I am left wondering about how the story would be told if it came from Liz, the light skinned Black girl, or her darker skinned brother, her mom, her boyfriend, the maid that works in Marlee' home...? That's the story I want to hear now, after so many others coming from the white woman's perspective. I am thinking of The Help by Karen Stockett, or Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood.

Not that they are not good books; I read them and enjoyed them and will pass them on. But it's so easy for a white reader to miss the parts left out; the really extraordinary story of what it feels like to experience the Black woman's life. How it plays out when you are a Black teen living through race riots or civil rights demonstrations or desegregation.

Or what it means to be the Black young man caught in a flood or left behind or misjudged. That's a dramatic edge that will draw readers in and widen our view of the world. It's fascinating to read The Whole Story of Half a Girl, where the main character is finding her mixed identity in an America Jewish and Pakistani family, or find out what it's like to be Chinese-American and go visit the grandparents in Taiwan for the summer. How about the story of an African American girl whose family is struggling to survive in a Hobo camp during the depression?

We read in a myopic white world for a long time; it's time to wake up and smell the coffee. I'm really excited about this new crop of books for young people. They are showing a world I never heard about when I was making my way through reading groups and literature courses.

What do you think? What books have you read this year that portrays a point of view that is not white? Who wrote it? What did it do you your perspective and understanding?

Monday, November 05, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday Review: Crow

by Barbara Wright. Random House, 2012. (Library copy). This book was nominated for a Cybils award in the middle grade fiction category. This is a story based on historic events that needs to be told. Moses Thomas is a 12 year old Black boy growing up in Wilmington, NC in 1998. He lives with his parents Mama and Daddy, and Boo Nanny, his beloved grandmother. Boo Nanny was born into slavery and walked off the plantation at emancipation in 1865, with nothing but her 3 year old daughter and a wealth of wisdom. Daddy is a well educated, respected member of the Black middle class and a reporter for the Wilmington Daily Record, a Black owned and operated newspaper. Things get tense as an election approaches and white supremacists are agitating to remove Black leadership from the community. Four of the community's ten aldermen were black and there was a growing middle class. After the riots, where armed militias murdered and chased leading black citizens out of town, segregation took over and American Apartheid began to grow. Wilmington's race riots of 1898 are well documented but little discussed in history books so it may come as a surprise to many that the events in this book are actually based on fact.

In spite of the weighty subject matter the characters are well drawn and fully human. Moses is a normal boy, wanting a bike, a dog, and a best friend. He admires his father and tries to live up to his example. He doesn't understand most of what is brewing in the adult world around him, but offers us his observations and wonder. The story is presented from a young person's point of view and so is appealing to youth who may not have heard of this chapter of our history before. There are moments of joy and playfulness as well as struggle. After the traumatic events surrounding the riots, Moses manages to find a way to go on and seek healing and solice in family, friendship, and the natural world. He has a budding friendship with one of the white boys in town. At the end of the book they begin to forge a partnership in fishing. I particularly like the beauty of this passage:
"I wasn't worried. With the blue sky above and the breeze on my face - warm but not too hot - it was a perfect day. The red shoulders of the blackbirds dotted the marsh grass like cherries. A blue heron took flight, stretching its stilt-like legs awkwardly behind, then tucking them underneath. Above, a circling hawk dove straight down, landing with a splash and coming up with breakfast. All this would change next week, when school ended and I had to find a job. But for this one day, I took in the dizzying joy of complete freedom."
The other thing I really like about this book is the relationship Moses has with his father. Mr. Thomas is a well educated, respected member of the community. He is a man of dignity, integrity and strength of honor that inspires and ignites his son. This is one for my list of Fabulous Fathers in New Middle Grade Fiction for sure!

To find out more on this historic period, see actual photos of historic Wilmington at Wright's website. Read an excerpt from the book. Interviews with Barbara Wright are at School Library Journal,   and Read North Carolina Novels blog and more linked at her website.

Shannon Messenger is doing a round up of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts. Go check it out!


Friday, November 02, 2012

Dawn Revisted; After a Hurricane

 quiet time (rest)

Dawn Revisited

by Rita Dove

Imagine you wake up
with a second chance: The blue jay
hawks his pretty wares
and the oak still stands, spreading
glorious shade. If you don't look back, the rest and listen to it here at Writer's Almanac.

Somehow this gives me a little peace, a little relief to read after the past week of horrors from Hurricane Sandy. I'm hanging this poem up in my library today on my "Friday Poetry" wall.

"...the oak still stands, spreading/ glorious shade." For all the trees down and homes washed away, many still stand. In whatever ways we can, lend a hand and reach out to neighbors in trouble, won't you?

We were fortunate in my family; we are all safe and well. I am hoping for a little sun this weekend to cheer us up while we continue to clean up from the storm.

Enjoy your Friday Poetry, hosted by Donna at Mainely Write.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: Buddy

by M. H. Herlong. Viking, 2012. (Library copy) I nominated this fabulous book for a Cybils in Middle Grade Fiction. Li'l T is a 12 year old boy living in New Orleans with his grandpa, mom, dad, little sister and baby brother. They don't have a lot but they are getting by. Li'l T wants more than anything to have a dog, but his parents say they can't afford it. When his dad accidentally hits a dog with his car on the way to church, the family gets help from their church community to pay for the vet bills and nurse the dog back to health. "Buddy", as Li'l T names him, turns out to be the most wonderful dog in the world. He has to lose one of his legs and learn to walk all over again on three, but he has a heart of gold. Kind, wise, gentle, affectionate and loving, he quickly becomes a member of the family. Li'l T starts working mowing lawns in order to pay for his food. When Katrina hits the family evacuates and has to leave Buddy behind, along with some of their neighbors, simple because they don't have room in their car for anyone else.

Besides the relationship that Li'l T has with Buddy, I really like how this book shows the strength of a father's love for a boy. Not only his father, but his grandfather, who lives with them for the first half of the book, has a major impact on Li'l T's ability to survive and thrive no matter how hard it gets. The discipline, wisdom, mentoring examples and loving humor of both of the elders are paramount in Li'l T's growth and development. Grandpa T is always watching out for Li'l T and knows just when to step in with the right thing to say. Junior T, his father, is there to support him, guide him, protect him, correct him when necessary, and inspire him to take up the hard work of making one's way in the world. I put this book on the very top of my growing list of Fabulous Fathers in New Middle Grade Fiction. (Take a look at that post for me, would you? And make some suggestions for other books to add if you can.)

The writer vividly presents the tragic and devastating aftermath of Katrina, bringing us to the shelter in Mississippi that Li'l T's family inhabits until they can get an apartment. Others in their community suffer more, by losing family members, sinking into despair and drugs, or dying in the floods. This could be an overwhelmingly grim story, but because of the strength of Li'l T's loving family and his intense connection with Buddy, we cheer them on as we are drawn into the force of their struggle and rejoice in their triumphs. This is one of those classic dog stories that you never forget. Li'l T never gives up on loving Buddy, and in the end we see him overcome every obstacle to living a life truly from the heart.

There are a few parts of the story that might be a bit much for the younger elementary audience. There is some drug activity described, the parents discipline style could be considered too physical, and by the end Li'l T is 14 with a street knowledge to match. But for kids living in urban environments or older tweens, I think the dose of reality balanced with vibrant examples of honor, love, faithfulness, the value of hard work and a good education is priceless. I love this book and highly recommend it!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Autumn Creek Walk

slow creek

autumn fires the trees
above a dim sluggish creek;
mud snake seeking sun

-Andromeda Jazmon

brown water snake

Last weekend we took a walk down the valley of a large city park. An ancient creek winds its way below the trees, completely hidden from the rest of urban life. We discovered salamanders under the leaves, spiders spinning across the trail, curious little bugs crawling on the rocks, and this brown water snake.  We wondered what type of water snake lives in this area - poisonous? A quick look up once we were home found this description of the Northern Water Snake:

Northern Water Snakes are not venomous, but have a tendency to defend themselves viciously when threatened. It has strong jaws and can inflict a severe bite. If unable to flee or if cornered it will strike repeatedly.
 Yikes! Glad we gave him plenty of room. Just after I snapped this photo he rose his head out of the water, saw us, and disappeared in a flash of mud.

The Friday Poetry Round up is hosted by Linda at TeacherDance. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fabulous Fathers in New Middle Grade Books

I'm starting a list of Fabulous Fathers in New Middle Grade Books.

I know Jen Robinson has some terrific lists, including 175 Cool Boys in Children's Literature, and 200 Cool Girls in Children's Literature. Memorable Mothers and Fathers is the name of Susan Taylor Brown's list. But those are mostly focused on classics and books that have been around for a long time. I am noticing this year, in reading for the Cybils Middle Grade panel, that there are a lot of really fabulous dads in this year's crop.

What say we work together on a list of the books with really great dads in books for the middle grades (age 8 - 12), that have been published in the past five years or so? I think it's an exciting trend. A lot of books for kids this age have missing or distracted parents, leaving the children to be the heroes in solving their own problems and directing their own adventures. That's fine and good for kids to imagine. But we all know the power of a strong, wise, loving mentor. And we all know how really phenominal and positive an impact is has on a young life when Dad is present and wonderful. So let's celebrate seeing that in the spotlight for a bit, shall we?

Here's the start of my list:

By M.H. Herlong

By Christopher Paul Curtis
Wendy Lamb Books

By R. J. Palacio
Knopf Books for Young Readers

By Carl Hiaasen
Knopf Books for Young Readers

By Amber McRee Turner
suggested by Kelly D. G.

Clementine and the Family Meeting
by Sara Pennypacker
suggested by Jen Robinson

By Barbara Wright
Random House Books for Young Readers

By Kristin Levine
Putnam Juvenile

Who would you add? Leave a comment and I will keep expanding the list.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: Wonder

by R. J. Palacio. Knopf, 2012. (Library copy). This gem of a book is reviewed all over the place. It's a huge hit and everyone is talking about it. I read it for the Middle Grade Cybils panel, and I am so glad to have read it! It's a really wonderful book that stays with you. The more I think about it the more I get out of it. I can see this one being on everyone's list for a long time.

August Pullman is an ordinary fifth grader who feels the same as everyone else on the inside; he loves Star Wars, he argues with his sister, he loves his dog, he misses his best friend who moved away. The thing is, he was born with a facial deformity that has required over twenty surgeries. Unfortunately he still has the kind of face that startles and frightens people. He has been homeschooled up to now, but his parents have decided it is better for him to join the mainstream school and learn to make his way in the world. The rest of the story is how he struggles with friendships and the social hierarchy of middle school and how the other children react to him. What is really precious about this book is the courage, honesty and humor with which he faces all these challenges. I really love how much the value of kindness is emphasised. In the beginning only one girl befriends him by sitting at his lunch table. By the end of the book he has won over the entire school purely by the force of his personality.

August comes from a family with a Brazilian-American mom and a Jewish-Argentinian-American dad. His friend Summer is biracial.  There are some classmates with Chinese and Latina names, although most of the kids sound pretty white. With no spotlights shining on race we can still see a world that is a mix of cultures. Auggies' sister Via has very important memories of her Brazilian grandmother loving her and telling her how special she is in Portuguese. I am always happy to see this kind of natural diversity plopped right in the middle of a book that is a really good story.

The other thing I really love about this book is how wise and gentle and supportive his dad is. This is a loving family that pulls together to face an enormous challenge by sheer love and determination. Auggie's dad is the one pushing for him to go to public school in the beginning, while his mom is more overprotective. When August struggles with fear and anxiety, his dad is there to listen and support him. In a lot of middle grade novels the parents are out of the picture so the protagonist can face his/her challenges as the hero or heroine in the spotlight. This book does a good job of showing how important parents are and how they can stand back and be supportive without overshadowing the young person on center stage.

It's a real treat to see a great father figure portrayed as really important in his son's life. I am noticing several middle grade books this year with great father characters. I wonder if you've seen any as well? I am going to start a list of Fabulous Fathers of Middle Grade Books. Who would you suggest?

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted  at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe.  Go take a look at some other Marvelous books!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wistful Autumn Haiku

porch thru cherry

toys lined up by
his empty laundry basket -
a motionless swing

Andromeda Jazmon

Something about that empty swing frozen on the porch amid the leaves rustling and falling in an autumn breeze gives me a sad, wistful feeling. Like missing a loved child, who hasn't been home for such a long time. This kind of haiku touches on melancholia, homesickness, and loneliness. Issa, whose mother died when he was a child, and who lost his wife and all his children to early deaths, is the master Haiku poet I turn to in such a mood. Somehow it fits a rainy autumn day like today. Here's another good link for themes and moods in classical haiku.

Today's Friday Poetry roundup is hosted by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chocolate and Halloween

chocolate kiss

I'm taking a break from blogging about books today to talk about Chocolate. Mmmm chocolate. We love chocolate at our house! But I've just read the truth about chocolate production and child trafficking at Rage Against the Minivan. Kristen posted this BBC video that documents the horrendous process of using stolen children kept in dangerous conditions to grow, harvest and process the cocoa that turns into our favorite chocolate bars. She says,
"A report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture about cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast estimated there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions.  Some of them have been taken from their families, or sold as servants.  U.S. chocolate manufacturers have claimed they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don't own them.  This includes Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the US division of Cadbury . . . who collectively represent pretty much every snack-size candy bar that will be available in stores this Halloween."

Here's the video:

Game changer. Kristen talks more about it and her family's response in follow up blog posts. She suggests some baby steps her family has taken, including selecting organic, free trade chocolate products and other types of candy, often organic because that industry is more carefully regulated. I am going to takes some hints from Kristen's list of Ethical choices for Halloween candy. These options are a more expensive, but hey, I think we can afford to pay a little more to make the world a better place, and get better chocolate into the bargain, don't you?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: The Diary of B. B. Bright, Possible Princess

by Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams, illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Turner, 2012. (Advance Review Copy). This is a fun twist on the fairy princess story. B. B. Bright, Princess of Light, is living on Bee Isle, floating in "Bright World" between "Other World" and "Raven World", where her parents used to be King and Queen until they got killed in a war. B. B. is cared for by three Godmothers who were recruited from Other World by her mother the Queen. B. B. is being tutored so she can pass the Official Princess Test and become a true Royal. They keep bees on the island, and live a very pleasant, but slightly boring life. B. B. wants a boyfriend, a true best friend, and a little excitement.

The story heats up when she decides on her 13th birthday to take a secret trip across the desert in the middle of the island to explore the East side where there is rummored to be an angry bear and a tower where her mother used to live. What B. B. discovers on the other side of the island makes for an exciting, romantic, enchanting tale.

The story is written in letters to her diary, and charmingly illustrated by Strickland's line drawings. I especially like the map of the island, which really helped me orient myself in the story. I also love the drawing of the quilt made by the God-mommies for B. B.'s birthday. The squares are illustrated with appliques that are symbolic for the Princess and key to solving her mystery. There are little bees and story-related sketches or doodles throughout the book, giving an authentic presentation. I think this book is really going to appeal to tween girls who spend a lot of time dreaming and scheming and gazing out windows. Kind of like the girl I was...

The one thing I didn't really go for in this book is how unbelievably sophisticated B. B. is in developing her own candle making business, by which she immediately makes a fine profit shipping them to Other World. She does a tiny bit of research and decides to donate all the profits to humanitarian organizations. Perhaps a princess would naturally fall into this line of work but I don't see myself as a real girl believing it would work like that. I dunno, maybe as a dreamer I was like that... Come to think of it when I was 12 I did make candles and tried to sell them in my father's bookstore. I think I made about $1.25 total. Anyway, this is a fun book! Nominated for a Cybils award in MG Fantasy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Missing Cat Trimeric

 april 9 013

Missing Cat

Where once he was, but is not now
he left the lingering lap of warmth.
Satin black fur and ice sharp claws
ferocious endless hunger feed.

He left the lingering lap of warmth
to prowl beyond the lamplit round
preferring chills that numb the heart.

Satin black fur and ice sharp claws
leave empty bowl and scratchless post;
a limp and dusty catnip mouse.

Ferocious endless hunger feeds
on nothing less than night’s dark sky
or mousie bones that snap and crunch!

-Andromeda Jazmon

Here's another trimeric poem, a form I learned from Trisha's Monday Poetry Stretch a couple weeks ago. It's a form developed by Dr. Charles Stone, explained here.

Friday Poetry is hosted by Betsy at Teaching Young Writers. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: The Mighty Miss Malone

by Christopher Paul Curtis. Wendy Lamb Books, 2012. (Library copy). If you are as much a fan of Christopher Paul Curtis as I am, you are going to enjoy this book. Deza, the main character in this book, is a 12 year old girl. She had a cameo appearance in Bud, Not Buddy, Curtis' 2000 award winner, when she met Bud in a hobo camp and struck up a brief friendship. In this volume she is the storyteller as her family goes through a roller coaster of changes in fortune and luck. One of the things I like about this book is the way readers follow her changes and maturity over the course of the tale. She starts out very naive, arrogant and over-confident in her intellect. Everyone tells her she is the smartest student in the school. All the adults tell her their hope is in her. Fortunately her teacher challenges her to reach higher and grow better. She is thunderstruck when she receives her first A minus on a school . She expects to always get the BEST grade in the class because she believes she is the best writer imaginable. She can't believe her friend got a higher grade that one time. I have to admit I didn't like her very much the first couple chapters.

After life gives her a few lessons in the school of hard knocks I started to like her better, because even when she and her family got knocked down a bunch of times she always rallied and found a way to look on the bright side and keep on going. It's the Depression and in Gary, IN her dad can't find a job. Her mom works as a maid in a rich white woman's house. Dad gets hurt in a boating accident that traumatizes him and he struggles to regain his spirit. He insists he must leave to find work elsewhere after admitting to his wife that he can't stand watching his children hungry and suffering for lack of his income. Deza's teeth are rotting in her mouth because they can't go to the dentist. Her brother Jimmy has stopped growing for an unknown reason. After dad disappears mom loses her job and the landlord kicks them out of the apartment for a higher paying tenant. Mom decided to take them to Flint MI where her mother-in-law lives. Living this life through the eyes of Deza, who can't bear the thought of eating oatmeal with bugs in it even when her father tries to joke about it, brings home the stark reality of what it was like in the Depression. Riding in boxcars with other families, finding a community made out of cardboard boxes and other folks' struggling to survive, and walking across country to find family members desperate to hang onto each other are all part of Deza's  heart-wrenching experiences. Along the way she finds teachers, librarians, and neighbors who cheer her on and offer aid in any little way they can.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction will find this a fascinating and illuminating. It really is amazing to put yourself in Deza and Jimmy's place and live through such a difficult time in our nation's history. This would be a great book for reading groups & clubs in fourth and fifth grades. It's nominated on the Cybils Middle Grade fiction list.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Cybils nominations are still open until Oct. 15

If you haven't made your choices yet, you only have a few more days to get busy. If you haven't heard before, "the Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for the year's best children's and young adult titles. Nominations open to the public on October 1st" and close on Oct. 15. That's next Monday people!

I have been watching the nominations and putting in my favorite books. I am on the Middle Grade Fiction Round 1 Panel this year. We are going to chose the top five best books and then pass them on to the Round 2 Judges in December, who will select one winner to be announced in February 2013.  I am eagerly anticipating reading all these wonderful books for children ages 6 - 12. If your family's favorite isn't on the list go add it! Cause you know I want to read whatever your kids are loving.

Just remember it has to be a children's or young adult book published in the U.S. or Canada between Oct. 16, 2011 and Oct. 15, 2012. Basically it's the books released within the past year. They are very strict about that so check the release date on your book.

Here are a few books I wish I could add to the other lists: (everyone is only allowed to put in ONE title in each category)

Make sure you check the lists here to see if someone has already nominated it, because you can't double dip and you will get bounced if you try. Go nominate!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Review: Dreaming Up

by Christy Hale. Lee and Low, 2012. (netgalley review copy) Christy Hale has put together a collection of charming concrete poems celebrating children's favorite building toys and activities. Each full page spread shows children engaged in building projects paired with photos of actual buildings that mirror the profile of the children's buildings. Architects including Frank Lloyd Wright, Cesar Pelli, Hassan Fathy, Maya Lin, Kenzo Tange and Moshe Safadie are represented in gorgeous photographs of their buildings and featured with short biographies in the end notes. Each one tells a bit about how they grew interested in building while growing up.

The poems are short and playful. I love how they speak of children creating their own spaces and inhabiting the world built to their dreaming. It shouldn't be a surprise how completely the actual buildings match the play buildings; but it was often a delightful surprise. Take a look at a preview of the following two poems and their illustrations at the Lee and Low site.

Earth and water,
sun and air,
all around
Cold and wet,
hot and dry,
mixed together -
make mud pie.

This poem is written in the round, circling a child making mud pies. Paired with this is a photo of Hassan Fathy's New Gourna Village near Luxor, Egypt.

Here's another one I really like, with an illustration of a girl peeking out of a box she's made into a house. How many times have we done that in my house! Your house?

Open the top
and in I hop,
poke out a square to see who's there,
pull in the flap to hide from view -
Can you see me? I see you!

The facing page shows Maya Lin's Box House in Telluride, CO.

This book will be a big hit with young children who love to build forts, hideouts, or play with construction toys. If you like is as much as I did you might want to nominate it for a Cybils. (I've used my one shot for poetry.) The Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for the year's best children's and young adult titles. Nominations open to the public on October 1st. Have you put in your favorite children's books from 2012? Go take a look at what's on the list so far!

Friday Poetry is hosted this week by Laura at Writing the World for Kids. Enjoy!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Review: Freedom Song

by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Sean Qualls. HarperCollins Children's, 2012. (review copy) In the author's note at the end of this lovely middle grade picture book Sally Walker tell of how she first learned the real life story of Henry "Box" Brown's 1849 escape from slavery. She was a choir member and music lover, and was fascinated to later learn that Henry was a member of his church choir. She decided to tell his story with an emphasis on the power of music. Walker begins her tale with the joy and delight of a family welcoming a new baby:
"When Henry Brown came into this world, his family sang. Mama blew kisses on his soft, brown belly. Papa named him Henry, held him high to the sky. Sisters and brothers tickled his toes."
The story builds as Henry grows tall on Mama's cooking and smart on Papa's stories. The emphasis on family love, community strength, and the power of song to endure the blistering work and cruelty of slavery is what makes this book unforgettable. Henry sings work songs and play songs, and at night he sings sleep songs. His life is held together by songs of hope.
"Henry knew children who'd been sold from their mamas. He'd heard them crying at night. Henry's freedom song promised a place where families stayed together. Sometimes, freedom-song words tried to sneak from his mouth. That was when Henry bit his lips together, held the words inside. His master whipped slaves who sang freedom songs. He even sold them far, far away."
This is a hard truth to read to young ones. But the fact that Henry survived and found a way to escape this grave injustice is a truth that children need to hear. This is more than a story of the horrors of slavery. A life that would make a man desperate enough to risk his life mailing himself in a box. It is also a story of the triumph of the human spirit expressed as music.

When Henry grows up he falls in love, marries and has children. His wife, Nancy, has a different master. He works in a tobacco factory. He is the kind of father that sings to his babies, rocks them and gives piggyback rides. Walker says, "Family songs hushed Henry's freedom song." But when her master sells his wife and children, Henry's song reverberates and forces a creative, desperate escape plan. The trip is perilous and difficult. But when the box makes it to Philadelphia and Henry is released, he bursts into song again, praising God for deliverance with a new song. This book doesn't shy away from the tragedy and suffering of our history of slavery. It frames it with the spirit of faithfulness, love, courage and creativity that allowed people to survive and find grace in its midst.

I nominated this book for a Cybils award in the Nonfiction Picture Book category. The Cybils are the Children's and Young Adult book bloggers awards, in it's seventh year of recognizing the most outstanding books of the year chosen by children's literature lovers. Anyone can nominate their favorite books in seven categories. Go check it out and make sure your favorite books of the year get mentioned!

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Day I Saw Barack Obama Reading Derek Walcott's Collected Poems

by Yusef Komunyakaa

Was he looking for St. Lucia's light
to touch his face those first days 
in the official November snow & sleet 
falling on the granite pose of Lincoln?
If he were searching for property lines
drawn in the blood, or for a hint
of resolve crisscrossing a border,
maybe he'd find clues in the taste of breadfruit.
I could see him stopped there squinting
in crooked light, the haze of Wall Street
touching clouds of double consciousness,
an eye etched into a sign borrowed from Egypt.
read the rest her at 

Or watch this slideshow in Poem Flow at
Whatever your politics, it is fascinating to think of the President of the United States reading poetry. It could be any president; it's just the thought of wondering how it effects him, how he hears it.
Friday Poetry is hosted at Paper Tigers. Enjoy!! 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: The Sky of Afghanistan

by Ana A. de Eulate, Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer. Cuento de Luz SL (May 2012) (Review copy). A little girl in Afghanistan gazes at the sky and dreams of peace, her heart soaring above a grey-brown landscape torn by war. She visualizes peace as a kite of brilliant colors, with tails and strings connecting people of all places, races, and faces. She sees children and adults together, leaning into a longed-for peaceful world. The themes of flight and connection are beautifully illustrated in the flowing of women's burkas, hair blowing in the breeze, trees bending and swaying, and of course kites flying with ribbons trailing through the crowd. This is a moving picture book full of the passion of children for peace in the midst of a history of trauma.

The age recommendation from the publisher is 5-7, but I believe it would also be appropriate and appreciated by older children, perhaps in a discussion group where they can explore current events, the history, geography and culture of Afghanistan, and relate their own dreams of peace to the young girl in the story. It would be a dramatic way to introduce a Middle East focus into a social studies class or writing class with middle grade and upper grade students. Younger children will respond to the illustrations and the intensity of the young girl's dreaminess, but the geo-political setting and history will be largely lost on them. They hear a lot about Afghanistan in the news and know we are at war there. Perhaps many young readers have family members in the service who have been deployed in the region (our family does). It is wonderful to be able to show how the children of Afghanistan are just like we are; longing for peace and treasuring joyful play with friends and family. There is great value in that message, and it shines out from this lovely book.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Train Track Trimeric

Several weeks ago Miss Rumphius gave us a Monday Poetry Stretch challenging us to write a new form of poem called the Trimeric invented by Charles H. Stone. He describes it this way:

Trimeric \tri-(meh)-rik\ n: a four stanza poem in which the first stanza has four lines and the last three stanzas have three lines each, with the first line of each repeating the respective line of the first stanza.  The sequence of lines, then, is abcd, b – -, c – -, d – -.

This week Miss Rumphius asked us to write a poem related to a photograph. Well you know that is right up my alley!! LOL I had to try to play some catch up and use the trimeric form paired with a photo of my son that I took last week on one of our fall hiking days.

A pilgrim is hiking lost
train tracks made to trails
never expecting to reach the end
grown over with weedy scrub.

Train tracks made to trails
scarred with the ghost of historic crashes, 
 explosions of jewel-weed.

Never expecting to reach the end
he’s a one-boy expeditionary force
unable to turn back.

Grown over with weedy scrub
he beats back unseen losses
rubbing against the rust.

The Friday Poetry Round up is hosted by Renee at No Water River. Enjoy this beautiful fall day!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gearing up for the Cybils: Best Children's Books of 2012

October 1, 2012 the nominations open for the Cybils awards: Children's and Young Adult Blogger's Literary Awards. FAQs Anyone can nominate their favorite children's  books released between Oct. 16, 2011 and Oct. 15, 2012. You don't have to be a blogger, author, illustrator, editor, teacher, librarian, big cheese, or anything special. Just know a book you and your children loved! There is only two weeks when you have an opportunity to put in your two cents. What are your favorite children's books this year?

Categories are:
  • Book Apps
  • Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction
  • Fiction Picture Books
  • Graphic Novels
  • Middle Grade Fiction
  • Non-Fiction Picture Books
  • Non-Fiction: Middle Grade & Young Adult
  • Poetry
  • Young Adult Fiction
I have the privilege and joy of being a round two judge for Middle Grade Fiction. Round one judges will narrow the long list of nominated titles down to the top five. Then my committee has to chose just one winner. It's a tough job but someone's got to do it!

I am making my own lists of books that I want to read and consider, because I only get one chance to make my own nomination in each category. Here is my GoodReads list of 2012 Middle Grade Fiction. Most of them I haven't read yet. What would you add to this list? Have you read anything you and/or your kids absolutely loved? The thing that is most unique about this award is that it focuses on KID APPEAL. That means we want to highlight the very books that kids themselves love the most. What holds your child's attention and makes them beg for just one more chapter? One more book? Five more minutes before the lights go out? Those are the books we want to celebrate. So get your list together and check it twice!!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Poetry: Lady, Lady

I am taking a class online this fall on African American Literature from 1900 - 1960. This week our forums discussed poetry Anne Spencer and Gwendolyn Bennett. Here is a poem that particularly grabbed me:

"Lady, Lady"

Lady, Lady, I saw your face,
Dark as night withholding a star . . .
The chisel fell, or it might have been
You had borne so long the yoke of men.
Lady, Lady, I saw your hands,
Twisted, awry, like crumpled roots,
Bleached poor white in a sudsy tub,
Wrinkled and drawn from your rub-a-dub.

Lady, Lady, I saw your heart,
And altered there in its darksome place
Were the tongues of flames the ancients knew,
Where the good God sits to spangle through.
-Anne Spencer (1882-1975)

I found the allusion to "tongues of flames" in line eleven to refer to the coming of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, chapter 2 from the Bible. I saw the star in her dark face from line two to foreshadow this indwelling spirit. I enjoyed how the poem builds a scaffold of imagery from the work worn, struggling outer darkness to the spark of eternal fire on the alter within to be inspiring and hopeful. Some of my classmates thought it was a depressing picture of a woman responding to injustice with hate. What do you see in this poem?

The Friday Poetry Round up is hosted by Diane at Random Noodling. Enjoy your weekend! 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: Clubhouse Mysteries

Lost in the Tunnel of Time by Sharon M. Draper. Aladdin, 2011. This middle grade adventure book is one in a series by Draper focusing on four high spirited boys living in Cincinnati. They've have been friends since first grade. In this story they are 10 years old and excited to go on a field trip to the Ohio River with their classmates and teacher Mrs. Powell. They are delighted to discover she has invited an older gentleman they know from the neighborhood to accompany them to the river. Mr. Greene shares a story of family history and mystery when he tells the boys and girls about his grandfathers' midnight journey to escape slavery on the Underground Railroad. Later in the week he lends them an actual map of the tunnels under their school that have been abandoned for a hundred years. You can imagine what happens when the boys decide to just take a look under the mysterious trap door behind the school stage. This is a really masterful telling of the history of the Underground Railroad in a way that makes it come alive to modern kids who love adventure, are amazed at the lives of heroes, and are still a little scared of the dark.

What I like best about this book is the lively, natural, and thoroughly believable voices of the four boys. Each one has a clearly articulated and celebrated character with strengths and weaknesses. I can almost hear them speak aloud from the pages, with all their likes and dislikes, fears and foibles. Ziggy is a little wild and unpredictable, always forgetting his homework and dipping pickles in his hot chocolate. Rico likes to keep his notebook papers in order and is careful to plan everything out following the rules. Jerome is a problem solver and thinker, who notices cute girls. Rashawn is a little shyer and likes to appear tough and loves to laugh. Ziggy is scared of monsters, Jerome is scared of bugs, Rico is scared of the dark, and Rashawn is scared of tornadoes. What the boys love to eat and what they are scared of is important in the stories, just as it is important to real boys and girls who read them.

I've read a couple of the books in the series and really like the pacing, the strong character development, and the humor. The boys I've read the stories aloud to are hooked from the first page and eager to follow the  the end. This series is a really great launch for readers about to take off in independent reading. There are six books in the series. Sharon M. Draper is a really great writer with exciting books for teens too.

Friday, August 31, 2012

A poem for the first day of school

I was inspired this week by Trisha and her Monday Poetry Stretch at The Miss Rumphius Effect blog. She always comes up with fun poetic forms to try out, many of which I have never even heard of before. I used to be such a "free verse" girl LOL. Since getting so involved with the kidlitosphere and Friday Poetry I have rubbed up against many new challenges; one of which is the Monday Poetry Stretch. This week I am naturally thinking about the kids going back to school. Our district starts the Tuesday after Labor Day, but many of you may already have had your first day (or week!)

walking to school

This year I am not starting up again after a long summer vacation. I've been working in a college library and have been here all summer enjoying the slower but still intense pace of summer college students. My boys are going back next week though, so we have all the excitement and jitters that school shopping brings on. It has filled my mind with the sounds of lockers slamming, the smell of chalk dust and lunchrooms, and the happy smiles of eager teachers and students. The cries of friends who've missed each other all vacation, the static from the morning loud speaker... I could go on. Here's my first attempt at a Lai, a French poetic form explained in detail by Trisha here. Basically, it's 9 lines in a stanza with a rhyme scheme of a-a-b-a-a-b-a-a-b. The first two lines ("a" rhymes) are five syllables each, the third line ("b" rhymes) is just two syllables.

off to school.JPG

The Kids Go Back to School

White shirt tucked neatly,
lunchbox filled sweetly -
new shoes!
Moms kiss discreetly,
bus fills completely -
no snooze!
Rules call obliquely,
we come uniquely -
school crews!

........-Andromeda Jazmon 

 school bus

Go on over to Trisha's blog to see the other Lai poems made this week, and check out the Friday Poetry round up done by Sylvia at Poetry For Children. And have a GREAT school year all around!