Thursday, November 30, 2006

Richard Wright and the Library Card

by William Miller, illustrated by Gregory Christie.

This is the fictionalized telling of part of the life of Richard Wright. Miller bases it on a scene from Wright's autobiography Black Boy, published in 1945. It is a story of strength and courage and heroism.

“Richard Wright loved the sound of words.”
This is the opening line of the story of his childhood in the segregated South of the 1920s. His family is poor. His mother tells him stories of living on the farm. His grandfather tells stories of fighting in the Civil War after he ran away from his master. They move often, looking for work. Richard didn’t go to school but his mother taught him to read from the funny papers. He couldn’t go to the library because Blacks weren’t permitted in the public libraries.

When he reached adulthood he traveled to Memphis and got a job in an optician’s office, sweeping the floor. He scrapes along eating beans out of a can, but the real hunger is for words.
“There were thousands of books in the public library, but only white people could get a card, could take them out”.
Richard finds a friend working in the office, a white man that is willing to help him check books out of the library. They pretend the books are for the white friend, Jim. They write a note giving Richard permission to get books out on Jim’s library card. When he walks in the library he is terrified and all the white people glare at him.
“Are you sure these books aren’t for you?” the librarian asked in a loud voice when he went to check them out. “No ma’am,” he said. “These books aren’t for me. Heck, I can’t even read.” The librarian laughed out loud and stamped his books. Richard heard the other people laugh as he walked out the door.”

For older elementary or middle school students this book will open dynamic and often difficult discussions. Use it to teach the Quaker testimonies (SPICES) of equality and integrity.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Peace Planet Prayers

sunrise 3

Just as winter turns to spring,
May Earth's dark days
awaken to a new dawn
of renewed life and hope.
We are asking,
Renewed Life
flourish on Earth.

-from Peace Planet; Light for Our World by Nan Merrill & Barbara Taylor

One of my friends has a spiral bound little book full of these peace prayers for countries all around the world, written by Nan Merrill. I thought this one for today was especially beautiful. I took this sunrise picture the other day. One thing about the short days... I see more sunrises and sunsets!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Yesterday I Had the Blues

by Jeron Ashford Frame; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. This is a book you practically have to sing or chant or dance. It trips off your tongue like a jump rope song.

Yesterday I had the blues.
Not the rain on the sidewalk blues,
Or the broken skateboard blues,
Or the outgrew my favorite football jersey blues.

Not even the Monday morning.
Cold cereal instead of pancakes blues.
I had those deep down in my shoes blues,
The go away, Mr. Sun,
Quit smilin’ at me blues.

The hold a pillow,
Wish it was tomorrow blues.
The kind of blues
make you wanna just

But today I got the greens.
The runnin’ my hand along the hedges greens.

The down to the drugstore
and beyond,
dirt in my socks

The kind of
greens make you
want to be somebody.

It goes on through everyone in the family. Daddy has the Grays (lines between his eyes, lookin’ at his watch grays); Sasha has the pinks (“The kind of pinks make me want to catch the next bus”, he says); Talia has the indigos (“saxophone in the subway indigos. The hair hangin’ loose, write a poem that don’t rhyme indigos”); Gram has the yellows, (the mix up some oatmeal raisin cookies I hope yellows); and Mama has the reds (Look out!). But in the end that is all OK because together they are a family; and it’s the “kind of family makes you feel like it’s all golden”. I love the way everyone’s mood is described with color and movement and flavor. This younger brother communicates his insight into every member of this family with his rainbow descriptions. The strength of their bonds and their love shines out. The illustrations are by R. Gregory Christie, whose style I have said is not my favorite. In this book his use of color is delightful even though I still don’t like the way the figures are drawn. The text and pictures go together very well and this book is fun to read. Highly recommend.

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Sam and the Tigers

by Julius Lester; pictures by Jerry Pinkney. When I read this to Buddy Boy I immediately felt it was somehow familiar, but I couldn’t place where I had heard the story before. Was it a folktale that I had heard before? I just knew there was something about it. After Buddy was all tucked in and on his way to sleep I went back and read the fly leaf and the author’s note in the back of the book. Sure enough, Julius Lester explains that his story is a retelling of the Little Black Sambo story written by Helen Bannerman in 1899. Bannerman’s story was written for her daughters when she was living in India. It is about a child named Sambo who outsmarts some tigers and brings home a pot of butter for his mother to make pancakes. When the story was brought to American at the turn of the last century it was used to fuel stereotypes of African Americans and has been considered racist for many years. There is some controversy over a couple of rewrites of the story and many people still associate the Sambo character with racist depictions of Blacks. Lester says, however:
“the story transcended its stereotypes. For almost a century, children have enjoyed it. Jerry Pinkney and I read the story as children and recognized that Sambo was a black hero, but his name and how he was depicted took away his heroic status. … what other story had I read at age seven and remembered for fifty years? There was obviously an abiding truth in the story, despite itself.”

In Lester’s telling of the story Sam is clever, creative, thoughtful, joyful and courageous. He claims his outlandishly colored clothing as expressions of his spirit. His parents allow him to make choices in the marketplace and live with the responsibility entailed. When faced with hungry tigers Sam is able to outwit them and save himself from being eaten. He then manages to avoid further confrontation and successfully regains his prized clothing as the tigers turn on each other. Sam hurries on to school as the tigers chase each other into a blur of melted butter. On his way home he has the presence of mind to collect the butter and bring it home to his mother to make into pancakes for the whole neighborhood to enjoy. Lester’s story follows the original Sambo closely but the language and illustrations are filled with dignity and grace. This is a wise tale that will encourage children to go out into the wide world and come home triumphant. I am so glad Lester and Pinkney teamed up to publish this beautiful book!
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Sunday, November 26, 2006

For Further Reading...

A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy as the roundup of Poetry Friday this week. Check out some great poetry there! At One Deep Breathe there is always a list of haiku links with weekly themes. This past week it was "come to your senses" and there is a long list of poets contributing.

Over at A Readable Feast, find the Thanksgiving edition of the Carnival of Children's Literature. Cool librarians and bookish bloggers have links to their book talks, and they have included one of mine.

And then if you are looking for lists of the best children's books published in 2006, go over to the Cybils page and browse the nominations for YA Graphic Novels, Middle Grade Fiction, YA Fiction, Non-fiction ( YA and Middle Grade), Picture Books, Non-Fiction Picture Books and Poetry. Bloggers have named their favorites and the lists are long!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

November 25 Haiku

evening stars twinkle,
sink full of dirty dishes;
"sit down, have some pie"

Here is the Gluten Free cherry pie my brother brought to Thanksgiving dinner. I made one too but his looks much better! We had to learn to make pie crust with rice flour, which is grainy and doesn't stick together the way wheat flour does. It is very hard to get the pastry in the pan and he did such a lovely job! My mom taught us how to make wheat flour pie crust when we were kids and it is one of my favorite memories of childhood in her kitchen. We always got the scraps of left over dough and made our own little tiny pies. This is the first pie I have had in three years. Pie is my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. I was in heaven eating this one! After we cleared the main course and made coffee, my mom came in the kitchen and saw me trying to clean up the pots and pans and put away the leftovers. She said "leave that and come in here and sit down and have some pie." It brings tears to my eyes, thinking of that. Silly, no?


New Board Books

I realized I haven't reviewed any baby board books for a while, and the other day we unpacked a box of new ones from Brighter Minds, so I thought I would talk about a few today. Punkin and Buddy Boy have been helping me break them in and I am going to pick their favorites here.

Hickory Dickory Dock, illustrated by Tammie Lyon, from Penny Candy Press is the first one out of the box. This book has an adorable plush grandfather clock puppet built into the cover. You slip two fingers into his hands in the back of the book and when you clap them together he talks. The pages of the book have a cut out center so as you turn them the clock puppet sticks out of each page. My boys love this book. They are entranced by it and want to hear it over and over again. I wish it were a little longer and included more Mother Goose rhymes to keep the fun going. I am amazed at what cleverness there is in children's books these days, and the combination of a classic rhyme with a battery powered voiced puppet is a winner.

Rainbow Duck by Yvette Lodge, illustrated by Simone Abel is a charming book focusing on color words. The pages are enhanced with fuzzy accents that invite small browsers to explore the pictures with sensitive fingers and find what is red? what is green? what is blue? The duck on the cover is furry and cute. I like how touch, sound and sight work together to engage readers with several senses at once.

Guess Who I Am.. a fold-out animal surprise book, photographs by Phoebe Dunn. This riddle book has fold out pages that open as you read the clues, making giant 16 inch poster revealing the hidden animals. Buddy loves shouting out his guesses as I read the lines "I have yellow feathers...I have webbed feet..." and open the flaps. The photographs of baby farm animals are adorable. We have two other of Phoebe Dunn's books, Farm Animals and The Little Kitten. My boys love them.

Animal Sight Words by PBS Kids is not a book, but a set of 10 giant Touch-and-Learn-Cards. They come in a box with a wipe-off marker. Buddy just loves these cards! He sat right down and got to work practicing writing the words and coloring over the pictures. They are simple three and four letter words like "cow", "pig", "bird". Buddy has writing practice in his daycare and knows most of the letters. He doesn't follow good handwriting practice as I used to teach it though - he refuses to start letters at the top and work down. It frustrates me a bit that he is starting handwriting so young with teachers that give him worksheets but don't teach him the proper sequence and direction for letter writing. As his mother, when I try to correct him of course he resists me and wants to do it his way. I taught first grade for nine years and did countless handwriting lessons so I know how important it is to start with good technique and habits that will build muscle coordination. If it were up to me I wouldn't start him with handwriting practice or worksheets until he was six, but nowadays they start them much younger. One good thing about these letter cards is that they have a cut out pattern of the letters to trace with your finger or pen so you can learn the shape with touch as well as visually. It is also wonderful that they are easily erased to try again. Both of these features are really helpful for young children learning to write. I wish the cards had little arrows and dots showing where to start your pen and which direction to move so that Buddy would know it isn't just me being bossy when I tell him "Always start top - down, left - right". In my experience, learning the right way from the beginning saves years of frustration and poor handwriting. One other improvement is to use a better quality pen. Ours dried out after two days and I had to hunt up another pen for Buddy already. Punkin is so eager to get his hands on this box full of cards and the pen that we have to hide it from him. He also loves to chew on crayons, so I think we have a budding graphic artist in the house. It is really great to have all these new books to explore on our long weekend!


Friday, November 24, 2006

An Iroquois Prayer for Thanksgiving

leaves in water 2.JPG

We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us.
We return thanks to the rivers and streams,
which supply us with water.
We return thanks to all herbs,
which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases.
We return thanks to the corn,
and to her sisters, the beans and squash,
which give us life.
We return thanks to the bushes and trees,
which provide us with fruit.
We return thanks to the wind,
which, moving the air,
has banished diseases.
We return thanks to the moon and the stars,
which have given us their light
when the sun was gone.
We return thanks to our grandfather He-no,
who has given to us his rain.
We return thanks to the sun,
that he has looked upon the earth
with a beneficent eye.
Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit,
in whom is embodied all goodness,
and who directs all things
for the good of his children.


One of the kids at school read this in assembly last Monday. The line that struck me the most was one that was read differently than is written here. He said:

We return thanks to the wind,
which, moving the air,
pushes away sadness.

I found that so comforting and lovely. Still giving thanks over here.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

GF bread.JPG

Lori at Third Culture Kid has this meme up for Thanksgiving:

Ten Shallow Things I am Grateful for:

1. Gluten Free bread
2. GF pasta
3. GF muffins
4. GF coffee cake
5. GF chocolate cake
6. GF chocolate chip cookies
7. GF green bean casserole made by my BIL
8. GF pie made by my brother
9. GF pizza made by me
10. GF pancakes with maple syrup

Three years ago I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disease. The treatment is to give up all gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats. It is absolutely amazing the positive changes in my life since I went on this diet. Unfortunately it means I had to say good bye forever to some of my favorite foods and restaurants. You wouldn't believe how many things have gluten in them: salad dressing, gravy, marinades on meats, sauces, flavorings, drinks, toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, makeup, medicines, vitamins... it goes on and on. I am still coming across things I realize I will live without forever - girl scout cookies. KFC. Whoppers. Even Chinese food, because soy sauce is sometimes made with wheat. The good news is I have spent the last three years getting healthier and feeling much better than I ever have in my life. I have learned to cook a whole new way, and I can have all the things on my list on a regular basis. I am so thankful for that! I am cooking the Thanksgiving feast today for my family because I did the research and shopping to find a GF turkey (they sometimes have flavorings injected that contain gluten) and am making everything else GF except the stuffing (which I don’t like) and the rolls, which I can live without. This is the first year I have had the courage to try to learn to make pie with GF crust. I am trying a cherry today, made with rice flour. Wish me luck… it might not turn out.

Ten More Significant Things I am Grateful for:

1. Knowing God’s love – the author and finisher, the strength and hope of my life.
2. My darling, loveable, amazing and wonderful boys
3. My job; a job I love that gives me time with kids, books, and computers while at the same time pays me, gives me good hours, benefits, sick days and lots of vacation. Thank you Jesus!
4. My parents; the most wonderful parents I have ever seen or heard of.
5. My brothers and sisters. I have a great family.
6. My friends, also wonderful.
7. My house. I love this little old house. I love the yard, the porch, the sunroom, the garden, the sweet little rooms, the walls I painted my favorite colors, the attic, the laundry in the basement, the dishwasher, the woodwork….
8. The Internet – blogs, writing, photography, poetry, new friendships, all I am learning from other moms and bloggers and librarians…
9. My creative abilities – mind, spirit, eyes, voice & hands that love to arrange, form, create & apply ideas, words, color and shape into something new and beautiful…
10. All kinds of music: Black Gospel, Jazz, Classical, old Rock, Reggae...

Your turn now. What are you thankful for this Thankgiving?


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Selavi: That is Life - A Haitian Story of Hope

by Youme Landowne. I read this beautiful little picture book while standing in the book fair at my school yesterday. Selavi is a child living on the street in Haiti. His family has been killed and his home burned. He takes the name “Selavi” which means “that is life” after making friends with another street child. He is welcomed and becomes part of a loose family of children living in a banyan tree and helping each other survive. One day the military police come and chase them all away. Selavi runs into a church and begs for help. A family there offers to take him home and make him their son, but he asks “what about my friends?”. Several adults then band together to make a home for all the children in his group. Sadly, again the military police come and burn down the house and chase the children away. They are not defeated though, and with the help of their adult friends they build another home and start a radio station to air their story.

This book is based on true stories of the street children of Haiti. Youme Landowne visited Haiti after hearing about the children’s radio station and decided to write a children’s book about it to spread the word of hope. In this book children and adults studying peace and justice issues can get inspiration from the children of Haiti and see the power of people coming together to create change. Landowne’s web page offers links and activities for families and schools. Her illustrations are brightly colored and full of life in spite of the sobering truth of the story.

While in college I visited Haiti for a three week service project. We helped to build an additional classroom building for a school and also put a roof on a new building for another school for the deaf. I have vivid memories of working long days under a sweltering sun, and of driving around Port-au-Prince standing in the back of a pick up truck with my fellow college students. We visited markets and traveled up into the cool green mountains. We visited an orphanage full to overflowing with beautiful, charming children. I fell in love with a handmade rocking chair in the iron market that was too big for me to bring home, so I bought it and donated it to the orphanage. I hope they got a lot of use out of it but I sometimes wonder who had time to sit down and rock those children with all the work they had to do. The children love to fly little kites they make themselves out of brightly colored paper. I still remember the Creole words to some of the children’s songs we learned. I almost took a job in the school we went to help build after I graduated from college, but decided to go to China instead.

Edwidge Danticat has an informative essay in the back of this book on the history of Haiti. In 1780, under French rule, Haiti was one of the wealthiest regions in the Western Hemisphere. In 1791 there was a successful slave revolt and in 1801 Haiti became the first free black democracy in the New World. Unfortunately most of the rest of the history is one of abuse of power, exploitation and economic chaos. The mahogany forests were stripped off the mountains resulting in the loss of top soil and the ruin of the agriculture needed to feed the people. More of the history is here and here. Haiti is now the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Selavi impresses me with the determination of the children of Haiti to build a better future by committing to work together, and I highly recommend this book.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

For You Are A Kenyan Child

By Kelly Cunnane, art by Ana Juan. This is a charming picture book about a Kenyan boy who is greeted by this kind of day:

Roosters crow, and you wake one morning in the green hills of Africa, sun lemon bright over eucalyptus trees full of doves.

His chore for the day is to take his grandfather’s cows to the pasture and watch them. He has good intentions but like any child he gets distracted by all the interesting things and friendly people in his village. He travels from adventure to adventure, calling out a cheery “Hodi? Anybody home?” and hearing “Karibu! Welcome!” in return. At last he remembers the cows and rushes back to find them gone. On the path home he sees grandfather with the cows, doing what he should be doing. He hangs his head in shame but grandfather simply says “Twende nyumbani sasa - let’s go home”. Once home he is greeted with open arms, receives his supper and curls up in his hut to sleep. I absolutely love the illustrations with their warm colors, vibrant movement and big-eyed adorable children. I love the a scattering of Swahili words and phrases, and am glad there is a brief glossary with pronunciation notes in the opening page to assist me with reading it out loud. The author has such a wise and loving understanding of this boy’s spirit of joy and curiosity I can’t help wishing I could visit with him a while and learn his games and songs.

I wanted to nominate this book as best picture book of 2006 at the Cybils, but someone else beat me to it. It really is a gem and it is on my Christmas wish list.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Shop for Joy

Baggage has a great idea for spreading holiday joy. Check out her links and do some of your shopping in a way that will give happiness to some kids who really need Santa to remember them. Little Wishes is a program that directly benefits kids in foster care and you can contribute just by shopping through the links provided.

Put a link to Baggage in your blog passing on this idea and she and Bug will donate another $5 to the cause.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Black Baby, White Hands; A View From the Crib

by Jaiya Johns. I have written about this book a few times in the past month, as I was reading it. Last weekend I had some friends over and we were talking about it. They are adoptive parents from two other families like mine: white parents and a mixture of white biological and black adopted children. Each of these families have four kids, with toddlers the same age as Punkin and black sons the same age as Buddy Boy. What a great group to discuss this book with! We had all been reading it and a couple of them had the opportunity to hear Johns speak a few months ago. They said he was a wonderful speaker and he shared his poetry with them, which was powerful and beautiful.

I was glad to hear that about the poetry because as I was reading this book I really didn’t like his prose style. It is what my high school English teacher would call “verbose”. The first third of the book was a struggle for me because his flowery descriptions and overdone similes drove me crazy. He needs an editor – bad. I had to re-read the first couple of chapters several times to understand what he was talking about as he describes his family’s loss of their house to a fire in Los Alamos, New Mexico. After a while I got the hang of his style and it started to make more sense. By half way through the book it was no longer distracting. He is repetitive and works the central themes continually, so that helped me get his points.

He was the first African American baby to be adopted by white parents in New Mexico. He was born in 1965. He grew up in a white community and sorely missed the African American role models, friendships, history, cultural heritage and extended family that he should have known. His book is his autobiography of his journey to find his identity as a black man. It is painful for me to read as a person, an American, a mother, and as a white adoptive mother of black sons. It is good for me to read for the same reasons. I hope I have learned enough from this book and other books and my own experience not to repeat the mistakes his parents, teachers and community made for him, even in all their love and with the best intentions.

One of the points we discussed the other night was the very real need for our black sons to have black community. The role models of how to become a black man and how to deal with racism must come from other black families, adults and children. My friends’ families both live in the city and their children attend schools where there are many other Black, Hispanic and Asian children. My son’s school is all white, and my school, where he will attend next year, is mostly white. He might go through it being the only or nearly only Black boy in his class. This is not a good thing and I want that to change.

We talked about our churches being mixed race, and how important that is. The other families mentioned several black friends they knew from church that had offered suggestions about hair styles and skin care that were helpful and supportive. I told about how I have changed churches to belong to a mixed-race church, and how good that has been for us.

We talked about hair cuts too. Both of the other mothers cut their son’s hair, just like me. We talked about the possibility of taking them to the barber shop and how hard it is to find a good one where we would be comfortable. I told them how I had gone to two places in the past week to see if I could find a barber to cut my son’s hair. I place I thought was a neighborhood barber where Black men and boys go turned out to be under new ownership and now is being remodeled into a chrome and woodwork salon. The barber is an Italian guy with a toupee and he wanted cash only so I excused myself. For now I am going to continue to cut them myself, at least until they are out of daycare and I have a more balanced budget.

We also talked about how although John’s teacher could offer him no information about African American historical heroic figures, our boys were already being exposed to Black history. Their sons and daughters are getting it in their schools and I told them how I reacted to John’s story about being in the Thomas Jefferson play and my determination to read and provide African American literature and history for myself and my sons.

My friends laughed at me because my copy of the book is stuck full of sticky notes for all the passages I thought were important. I told them that is one of the strategies we use to teach reading and that I wanted to be able to remember where different points were discussed. Some of the ideas I thought were central to the book are:

When Johns is talking about his great-grandfather’s love for him but general prejudice against the Black race he says: “My great grandfather saw no contradiction between his attitudes toward Blacks as a group and his feelings for Greg (adopted Black brother) and me. This was a perceptual dichotomy that would prove one of my central sources of wounding.” He says as a child he was extraordinarily sensitive to the subtle shading of love and acceptance coming from the adults around him. When someone said they loved him but underneath they didn’t acknowledge his Blackness, it hurt him. When white adults tried to be colorblind and see him as good-but-not-Black it felt to him like a central part of him was annihilated. “The racial ingredient of my persona was blotted out. But thinking they were only blotting out a portion, a fragment of me that I could exist independently from, they committed an erasure of my entirety.” He says he knows they loved him and weren’t trying to hurt him, but by their inability to recognize, name, claim, and celebrate his Blackness he was deeply, deeply traumatized. He touches on this theme over and over through out the book. Anyone who thinks they are doing well to be colorblind should read this and consider how it feels to hear statements like “He’s just a great guy to me, I don’t think of him as Black” or “you are my friend, I don’t think of you at Black” or “you are not like other Black people, you are just a regular guy”….

Another of his themes is that of our cultural fear of Blackness and Black men. One of his Grandfathers had a special love for him that included and embraced his Blackness. He says “Grandpa Potter was engaged in loving me in that moment in a way that bypassed my race and swallowed my being, whole and unconditional…His love had rushed through me like a freight train, but not because he was colorblind. He was very aware of what I was. Grandpa reached through to my essence so cleanly and unencumbered for another reason. His comfort with me was composed of two ingredients. One part was a natural human respect for Blackness in its broader self, even those people extending beyond me, his grandchild. The other part was a lack of fear of that greater Blackness..” In another chapter he tells of the last Halloween he goes trick or treating, when he is nine years old. He goes out happy and confident, a child looking eagerly for candy. He encounters an old lady at one house who tells him he is too old to be trick or treating, and slams the door clearly in fear of him. He realized then that in becoming a Black man he is becoming an object of fear and loathing in our country. It is a devastating realization. He says several times that he always tries to present himself as happy, good, friendly and non-threatening because he doesn’t want people to be afraid of his Blackness. He says he hated himself. He felt like a balloon stuck on the faucet too long, about to explode. I am very aware of this in our culture too. Black men are shown in the media as criminals, rude, ignorant, lazy, violent, uneducated, abusive, and dishonest. This is what I hate most of my son’s inheritance as growing Black young men. When they are babies they are cute to strangers in the grocery store. When they are teenagers they will be feared and suspected no matter how strong and wonderful their character. Is there any way to prepare them for that?

He doesn’t start to have Black friendships and role models until he goes to college. Finally he begins to connect with the Black community and builds his Black identity. Although he still struggles with finding his way and still feels turmoil, he is able to form significant friendships and mentoring relationships that enable him to love being Black. In adulthood he meets his first mother’s family and biological siblings, and then his biological father and that whole extended family. He is delighted to find those connections and revels in spending time with them. He is filled with joy and relief to see how they are similar and to learn the history of his original grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I want so much for my sons to know those connections. I pray they don’t have to wait until they are adults. If anyone doubts that knowledge and relationship with one’s first, biological roots is important they should read his testimony and take it to heart.

By the end of the book Johns is sharing his vision of what foster care and adoption should look like. He has a vision of the child welfare system as honoring familial and cultural roots. It is a “model of concentric placement. There is a circle of life, through which a child and all living things come to the world. That circle has purpose. The closer to the circle center a child is – womb, woman, family, community – the higher the concentration of those ingredients crucial to healthy development.” I have to agree with him. I think those circles are exactly the way God built families and to honor that pattern is to care for all of us. That is why I think in our family, connections to the African American community – and by that I mean real, significant, living relationships with all sorts of people – are essential. I also feel strongly that my son’s need to have connections and really know their first, biological families. I will do whatever I can to encourage and support that.

All through his growing up in the white community and family Johns feels lost, alone, not understood, and as if he doesn’t really belong. This in spite of him knowing he was loved and never questioning that his parents were doing their best for him. He says many positive things about his adoptive parent’s love and care, but it was not enough. This book is not bitter, and not a diatribe to white parents adopting Black children. It is just one man’s story of the love, family, separation, struggle, trauma, pain and healing he lived through. It has much to teach us if we can accept it and really listen.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Simple Holiday

One week until Black Friday. What do you do on that day? Get up early armed with the newspaper circulars and go out in the dark to wait for Wal*art to open? I hope not. I like to honor that day as National Buy Nothing Day, a celebration I have enjoyed for the past three or four years. It is so relaxing and lovely to plan on going to the park or playground on that day. No one else is there and the sky is big.

I have noticed that some bloggers are starting to talk about holiday gift giving. I wanted to share my strategies for gifts. I really don’t like the commercialization of Christmas. I don’t like the way Santa is used by advertisers to teach children to be greedy. I actually don’t like Santa at all. One year when I was teaching first grade I forgot who I was talking to and I actually said that out loud to a room full of children. We were rushing through wrapping their handmade clay things for family gifts. The room was chaotic and I was beyond frazzled, hoping desperately that I had all the correct children’s names on the right tissue paper bundles. The children were discussing Santa and one of them asked me if I believed. Without thinking I said “I don’t like Santa”. The room came to a screeching halt. Silence. I looked up to see 18 pairs of shocked eyes staring at me. What?

“ah….” I said. “I mean I don’t like how Santa is used in all the commercials trying to get you and your parents to buy more stuff.” Still silence. I have their complete attention. They are thinking, waiting for me to say what they really want to know; if I think Santa is real.

“Santa is about showing people how much you love them. Santa is not about shopping. I just don’t like seeing him on TV. That’s why I think the best gifts are the ones you make yourself, and I think Santa agrees with that.”

Sigh. We all relaxed after that and the room got noisy again. No more questions because they knew just what I meant.

I love Christmas. I love giving gifts. I love the excitement, the secrets, the planning and preparing. I love the giving and receiving. I love the celebrating, the music, the food, the time with family and friends. I just don’t like the pressure to spend a lot of money and get a pile of more stuff. I hate the crowds rushing around in a panic trying to throw debt at obligation. I want to simplify my life. How many of you even remember what gifts you got or gave last year? Do you have stuff jammed in your closets that came as gifts that you don’t even want? Or did you give most of it away already?

I try to make as many presents as I can because I think most of us have more stuff than we need and it is much more satisfying to me to give something I have made specially for the person. If it is something like a gift exchange at work that is more about obligation and social connection than personal love I give something that I have made a lot of over the summer or fall in preparation. I make it a year round project, planning and producing. I know that comes easier to some people than others. You may be thinking “fine for her but I am not creative. I can’t make anything” But I don’t believe that is true. So I challenge you to help me make a list of alternative gifts that take little or no shopping. Things you can make or offer or promise that show your connection/relationship/love has value but don’t result in another overstuffed closet.

I know we are told that shopping is important for our economy and it is a patriotic act. But I don’t believe that. I believe that American was built by thrifty, creative, resourceful people and we need to practice those abilities still in order for our country to remain strong. We need to teach our children to give from the heart. We need to teach them to create and build and assemble beautiful things and give them joyfully in love. They don’t need any help learning to want more.

Of course I do buy a few things for my boys. A toy or two, books certainly, maybe an electronic game or movie. I give my neices and nephews gift cards from their favorite stores. Moderation is the key for shopping in my plan.

Here is my seasonal plan:

To start out; declutter. Sort, toss and donate. Go through the closets or attic or wherever you stash stuff and get rid of everything you don’t use or want that you are likely to get more of. If you usually get presents of sweaters or books or kitchen gadgets and you already have too many, clean it out. That way when you come home from Christmas gift exchanges there will be room to store the new gifts.

Second: Turn off the TV. At least cut back a little. You and your family are being inundated with messages of greed, desire, gluttony and extravagance. The world doesn’t need more of that. Your children will be happier and your family more peaceful with fewer commercials assaulting you. Practice other ways to relax and de-stress. Go outside or pick up a book. Or start making gifts together!

Third: Consider starting a round-robin gift exchange with your family and friends. In our family, with my brothers and sisters, we pick a name from a hat and everyone gets a gift for one family member. The cousins do the same thing. It makes it so much more balanced and enjoyable for everyone. At work we have a party where everyone brings a $10 gift and we play a game where you can trade gifts in a kind of lottery. It is so much fun! And you don't go crazy trying to get a gift for everyone in sight.

Here is my list of gift giving ideas:

  1. Consider giving donations through UNICEF, World Vision or the Heifer Project.
  2. If you prefer to have a thing to wrap, shop from fair trade venders who directly benefit the artisans, like The Greater Gift or Ten Thousand Villages. You can give chocolate, jewelry, clothing, art objects, home furnishings, etc. made beautifully by crafters in third world countries and give them the profits.
  3. If you like to cook, make food gifts. Bread, cookies (ever try a cookie exchange party with friends?) jams and jellies, a basket of tea and treats are gifts I have given and received that I love.
  4. Knit, sew or craft something. Give me some ideas here! I have made sweaters, jewelry, quilts, scarves, mittens, socks, pot holders, dolls, cloth balls, handmade books, poetry, stories, lavender sashes, herbal concoctions…
  5. Give gift certificates for a service you can perform. Clean, cook, repair, rake leaves, shovel snow, baby-sit….
  6. Computer help. Offer to install and run virus and adware software or clean up a hard drive for someone who is techno-phobe.
  7. Make stuff on your computer: business cards, calendar, note cards with lovely photos, stationary, photo albums, movies or slide shows…
  8. Plants. Start cuttings or seeds or cultivars from your garden or houseplants. Decorate a pretty pot. Include directions for light and water.
  9. Preserve fruit and vegetables from your garden or make sauces and soups from your harvest.
  10. Teach your kids to make gifts. Ideas here and here.
  11. Time. Promise to take the person out somewhere, for whatever they love to do. Or make it possible for them to go out and play…. A trip to the city? Golfing? Beach? Hike? Playground? Try to keep it inexpensive though. You are giving them TIME, and ATTENTION, not money.
  12. Teach them something. What do people tell you you are good at? Who tells you that? Offer to give them a piece of it.
  13. Offer to take them shopping in the post-Christmas sales. Maybe you are saying "but what I am really good at is shopping!" so teach someone else that skill!

I am hoping many of you will chime in with your ideas. Please, even if you are usually just a lurker. Add your thoughts in the comments! What do you think about all this holiday shopping and gifting? What is your strategy? How do you wish it were different? What is your plan for this year? What can you add to my list? What can you make or assemble or offer that does not require shopping or going into debt?

Friday, November 17, 2006

the Big Box

by Toni Morrison with Slade Morrison. This picture book is a poem to a child’s vision of freedom. Three children who make grown ups nervous are locked in their rooms with all sorts of toys and treats and sweets.

The opening stanza:

Patty and Mickey and Liza Sue
Live in a big brown box.
It has carpets and curtains and beanbag chairs.
And the door has three big locks.

Oh, it’s pretty inside and the windows are wide
With shutters to keep out the day.
They have swings and slides and custom-made beds
And the doors open only one way.

As it goes on each child is described in all their wild glory, having way too much fun. The teachers and parents who love them have meetings and decide how to contain them.

The refrain:

Oh, parrots scream
And rabbits hop
And beavers chew trees when they need ‘em
But Patty and Micky and Liza Sue –
Those kids can’t handle their freedom.

This is a great book for kids who feel rebellious towards adults’ good intentions. It would make a wonderful jump rope chant. I can almost hear them singing it on the playground right now…

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Hot city

by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Mimi and her little brother Joe are hanging out on the front steps on one of those steamy sizzling hot city summer days. “Watcha wanna do?” says Joe. “Nothin” she says. Of course Joe can’t do nothin’; he’s got “jumps in his skin”. They try spying on the blah blah ladies but that is boring. They buy snow cones but can’t eat them fast enough before they drip all over. Down the street, they finally hit upon the public library.

YAY library as the hero of the book!

It’s cool in the library. The coolest place in the city. They have big old chairs. You can be a princess or ride a dinosaur. Out the window the people on the street are sizzlin’ hot. But in the library? It’s all good in here.

I love this book because it shows kids figuring out that the library is the best place to be to find their sweet spot for adventure. I love the colors of the illustrations and the “smooth urban voice”, as it is described on the flyleaf. It is a great story. There are several wordless pages in the middle of the book showing Mimi’s fantasy as she becomes a princess and rides a unicorn through the forest. The story shows her as creative, resourceful, kind and thoughtful.

One thing I am not crazy about is the artistic style of the illustrations, particularly the way the people are drawn. Their heads are too big and their hands are tiny. Their eyes and mouths are huge. Their necks are skinny and they stand disjointed and awkward. The facial expressions are realistic and evocative, but they don’t look healthy and whole. Looking at them is disconcerting and uncomfortable for me, even when they are smiling and happy. On his web page Christie says: "The disproportional figures bathed in planes of color are meant to be a directional device and to serve as visual rhythm contained within the restrictions of a book's pages." We have several other books illustrated by Christie in our library (see his webpage in the link on his name to view covers) but I don't like his figures. To me they are ugly. I want the children to be beautiful, not jarring. What do you think about this style of illustration?

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At the Crossroads

by Rachel Isadora. This is a satisfying story of longing, anticipation, joy and reunion told with simplicity and beauty. Children all over the world know the same anxiety of waiting for parents to return, and the sweet celebration of family coming together again after separation.

Rachel Isadora’s beautiful paintings and sweet, spare text tell this story of South African children waiting and celebrating the home-coming of their fathers. The fathers have been away, working in the mines, and it is a long journey home. The children wake up early in the morning and start to prepare to greet them at the Crossroads. The other adults in the community go about their daily chores washing and feeding and leading the children through the school day. All day long the children chant and sing “Our fathers are coming home! Our fathers are coming home!” After school the tension really starts to build as the children pull together scraps and make musical instruments to form a band. People begin to gather at the crossroads and there is singing and dancing in anticipation. As the evening lengthens the adults begin to drift away, but the children hang on. In the dark there are only six children waiting under the stars. Mother brings them dinner. Still the fathers don’t come. All night long they wait and the next dawn the rooster crows and the shop owner opens up. At last they hear the rumble of a truck and jump up. “Wake up Zolani! Our fathers have come!” shouts the narrator. On the last page they march home together singing and dancing.

Isadora’s illustrations of life in the segregated townships of South Africa show children living in corrugated tin shacks and mothers drawing the day’s water in buckets. The grimness of this life is contrasted dramatically with the joy and exuberance shown in the children’s faces. Their happiness explodes off the page while they are making musical instruments and preparing the party. Their sadness and worry and fear show clearly in the dark night. When the fathers at last return in the morning arms are outstretched and reaching for embraces. The final illustration shows them walking together toward the sunrise, arms raised in triumph. The youngest children are carried on their father’s shoulders and light washes over them.

This story is beautifully written with just the right balance of emotion and realism. For students learning to write this would be a perfect example of plot tension, climax and resolution. I can see using this book in a class discussion of story elements to show students how character, dialog, diction, setting, plot and description make a powerful story with universal appeal. To illustrate the principal of “show, don’t tell”, I would present this page:
Warm night winds blow.
The crossroads are very dark.
We see our mother coming.
She wants us to come home,
but she knows we will not.
She has brought us food.
In the picture a lonely woman figure is walking across a dark, empty plain. She carries a baby on her hip and a large bowl on her head. She is walking under a red moon toward the lights of the city crossroads. You know her mother’s heart in the words of her son, saying that although she wants them to come home she knows they need to stay waiting for their father. She has come prepared to feed them and comfort them in the long dark night. The loneliness, longing, fear, faith, hope and determination of the mother are also felt in her children and in their absent father. In their separation the family is together. The absent father travels across the same dark landscape in a rumbling truck; in our imaginations he is also filled with longing and anticipation.

This would be a great picture book to use in launching the writer’s workshop. I would love to hear the responses of a group of young story writers discussing this book, and read their subsequent stories. I think younger children would love to draw pictures of their own families coming together after a long day of work and school. In our family the daily drama of evening reunion is filled with stress, impatience, hunger, exhaustion and anxiety as well as joy, relief, affection, rest and satisfaction. Reading this book and writing about it gives me some insight to the bigger picture.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

November 16 Haiku

sand box 2

sun breaks through clouds
left on the quiet playground;
castles in the sand

-Andromeda Jazmon, 2006

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

November 15 Haiku/Renga

dooryard 001

Rain, day after day.
Leaves pile up beside the door;
one cricket still sings

- Andromeda Jazmon, 2006

How is it that some songs are freshened,
not worn, with singing?

Shelley Krause added this lovely couplet, making this a Renga. Thanks Shelley! Anyone else want to add a stanza in the comments?

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006


I writing report cards this week, so no book reviews for a day or two. The haiku poetry prompt at One Deep Breathe this week is for a renga on "friends and companions". Renga is linked haiku verses written by more than one person. It should be about nature, season, color, a strong visual image of one moment, with a surprising twist in the last line. The readers' mind should 'leap' from one image to another as the stanzas progress, but all the images should be concrete.

I invite you to team up with me if you are interested... post your haiku or two 7-syllable line stanza here in the comments or send me an email: cloudscome AT yahooDOTcom if you want to work on some haiku with me.

cat bath.JPG

morning window light -
African Violets in line;
cat hair covered leaves.

- Andromeda Jazmon, 2006

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November 14 Haiku

November geranium.JPG

she goes out in rain
three bags, two packs, one baby -
still geraniums!

Andromeda Jazmon, 2006

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

November 12 Haiku


raking fallen leaves -
sun lights gold, red, brown &
one glowing pink rose

Andromeda Jazmon, 2006


Happy Birthday Dad!

Friday, November 10, 2006

November 10 Haibun

sunrise 012

My day starts in the dark. I have my alarm set for 4:45 and I am almost always already awake these days. Punkin is teething and Buddy Boy has nighmares. He comes in my room afraid of monsters, snores for a while and takes my blankets, then wakes up again and goes back to his own bed. Night after night of this routine has worn me to a frazzle. Last night I took my quilt and pillow and went into his room and slept in his abandoned bed. It was the best 6 hours of sleep I have had in a month. There is no alarm in that room so I woke without knowing if I was insomniac or late for coffee.

the cat cries gently
waiting outside the closed door -
clock down the hall

I go down in the cold house and start the coffee, feed the cat and reach for my Bible. I plan to sit for half an hour but often get lost in daydreams and wind up late for my shower. I have started eating Irish oatmeal (gluten free) for breakfast and waking the boys later and later. If they go from bed to me dressing them to a bagel in the car there are no temper tantrums, miraculously. I used to think we should eat together and I endured at least one blow-out over shoes or coats or what to eat....

she stands at the sink -
quiet; dark window; oatmeal;
then wakes the children.

The kitchen is mine and the cat's. By the time I am dressed and ready to start the day-long rush I can see the eastern sky growing rose and gold. Taking a risk at being late for work, I run up to the attic with my camera, trying to avoid the phone lines and traffic lights. The open window brings in cold crisp air and I take several deep breaths.

attic window
above the morning stirring -
lean into the light

Andromeda Jazmon, 2006

Read more about Haibun as a poetic form, and other poet's haibun at One Deep Breath.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

I dream of trains

by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Loren Long. This is a story of a boy who loves trains. He lives at the turn of the century with his share cropping family on the Mississippi Delta. He dreams of his hero “Casey” Jones, a famous engineer who drove the Illinois Central’s Cannonball between Mississippi and Tennessee. In April of 1900 Casey Jones, a white man, crashed his train on a dark and stormy night and died. He became a hero by saving the life of his Black fireman Sim, blowing the whistle and pulling the brake while telling Sim to jump to safety as the train ran out of control.

Life as a share cropper is hard work for the boy in this story and his family, and he dreams of getting on a train and going out “over the mountains, past the desert, and to the ocean”. When his dad tells him of the world waiting for him to explore, he knows another hero walks with him. Listening to the whistle of trains as they work the fields, he dreams of the life ahead of him. The illustrations are poignant and filled with muted colors. The light gathers on the faces and the horizon, portraying the hope that fills this story. At the back of the book there is a note telling that indeed Casey Jones was a real hero and many of the share cropping families along his route listened to his whistle and longed for more opportunities in the world. It says “Casey’s life and death became the stuff of songs and stories for the black rail workers who worked on the IC Line. It was one of those workers, Wallace Saunders, who authored the ballad that is still sung in countless versions to this day.” This is a beautiful book passing on to us the legend of the train man Casey Jones.

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I'm On Roll

Someone mentioned to me last week that they are enjoying all the African American books I am writing about lately. She added that she also like to read books that have brown-skinned characters as part of the story, but aren’t particularly about African American history or experience. Books that just make being black a normal part of everyday life. I agree with that, I like to read those books myself and I have always looked for books with brown-skinned characters. But actually the more I have thought about that lately the more uncomfortable with the idea I have become.

As I read these books with an African American historic or cultural emphasis I am realizing all over again that being black is more than just having brown skin. If you are a Black child the world presents in a different way than it does for a White child. You can’t separate the experiences of discrimination and racism from normal, everyday life. So to read my son’s books where the normal little doggy stories and lessons in sharing are the same except for the darker skin of the cute little boys and girls would be missing out on something huge. I am even wondering if it might be glossing over the very real experience of living as an African American.

It is not enough to just try to be “multicultural” and present a diverse playgroup in the story. The Black experience has to be portrayed honestly and that takes a range of literature. I like the baby board books we have that include babies of every skin tone and ethnicity. I like the stories of children like Sam by Ann Herbert Scott and Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day, where the children just happen to be Black. But that is not enough. We need to dig deeper and learn a wider view of the world. We all need to know that Black history, because it is our American history. We need the stories that reflect the Black experience in cultural contexts, with all the diversity within those experiences of Blackness (because you know, there isn’t just one way to be Black or one Black experience…). And then of course we need the Asian stories, the Latino stories, the Indian stories…. And on and on.

I want to read books with characters of all colors/races doing their thing, living their lives, being friends or whatever. I also want to read the biographies and poetry and history and fiction that directly confront and name the racism in our lives. Happily that is getting easier. The more I search my library for books on these themes the more I am finding. Yesterday I started pulling more African folktales and I quickly realized that I need to hold off on checking those out because there are too many and my desk is already covered with books I haven’t written up yet. Then there will be the fiction for middle grades and young adult, and then biography and poetry… I think I can be on this theme for the next few months, at least. I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Osa's Pride

By Ann Grifalconi. Osa is a seven year old girl living in a village of round houses in Cameroon. She is very proud and brags to the other children about her father’s heroism. They soon tire of her and she ends up playing alone. Her uncle and grandmother notice her dilemma, and grandmother calls her over to tell her a story. The story is illustrated on a panel of cloth grandmother is embroidering. As she unfolds the cloth the story of a girl who looses all her eggs on the way to market is revealed and Osa learns a lesson about being proud and haughty. I love how the grandmother gently teaches her that what others see of our foolishness can return to us as a gift of the community and that being willing to laugh at ourselves is an opportunity to grow. And I love the artwork of grandmother’s sewing and storytelling.

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A Story, A Story

By Gail E. Haley. This is the retold African folktale of how we received stories from Nyame, the Sky God. Ananse the Spider man asks for the golden box full of stories and then has to use his cleverness to bring the requested gifts for Nyame. This is the beginning of the Ananse tale of the Spider/trickster of West African folktales. Ananse’s quick wit and clever ingenuity gain him the victory over many challenging situations. Many times the African storyteller begins this way: "We do not really mean, we do not really mean that what we are about to say is true. A Story, a story; let it come, let it go."

Story telling in this tradition is a way of passing on wisdom and teaching children strategies for problem solving and living successfully in the world. I find it endlessly fascinating to observe how different cultures pass on their knowledge and values to the next generation. Story is the vehicle many times, and the moral of the tale is absorbed in the closeness of community, family love, humor, and art. Haley did the gorgeous wood cuts for this volume after traveling and studying African art and story telling traditions. This Caldecott medal winner is one of the classics and should be in every child’s library.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Earth Mother

I like to use visualization when I pray. I don’t remember where I learned it, but somewhere along the line when I was in a particularly painful period I started putting myself to sleep by imagining God as a warm, pulsing glow of light and color. Kinda like the angels in A Wrinkle in Time, hovering in the space above me. Or, if that wasn’t working to comfort me I would picture God as a black woman with dreds. Whoopie Goldberg, in her Star Trek wise woman/bartender role. She would tell me jokes and laugh with her big goofy teeth showing. However much I was hurting and scared Whoopie God made me feel safe and loved and hopeful. Like my mother, God would rub my back and say soothing things. Sometimes God would sit in the rocking chair by the bed knitting and singing lullabies.

Today I read Earth Mother by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon.

In Jackson’s beautiful story Earth Mother, the Creative Force takes the form of a woman walking across the land singing. Men, frogs, and mosquitoes each thank her for her kindness and then complain to her about each other. They all think the world would be better off without the characters that plague them. Earth Mother sighs at their foolishness and still takes delight in her creation. She loves all her creatures and she sleeps knowing the world is perfect in its own way. I love the illustrations here, showing Earth Mother as a Black woman with an afro. She is beautiful and wise and powerful. She walks through the world loving and seeing and listening to each one of her creatures. She smiles and caresses, feeds and encourages. Leo and Diane Dillon’s illustrations of this original folktale make this a vision of God/Goddess that I can hold onto.

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Get Out the Vote

I am too late with my political sign for this contest, so I am just sharing it with you. This is my kind of politician!

Last night the governor called me. He sent me a letter on personal-looking stationary too, reminding me how important my single vote is today. My mom said Bill Clinton called her. Who's been calling you?

My boys are both sick, over at my parents house. Thank God for grandparents who will take two sick kids while I try to squeeze in another day of work, get a sick doctor appointment and figure out when I can get out to vote. I have been trying to get a haircut too, but I guess that won't be today. What time will I see you at the polling place?

Monday, November 06, 2006


By Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. Here is another gorgeous picture book with poetry for text. Walter Dean Myers does a nice job giving the historical background for the development of Jazz in American, starting from the African music brought over to our shores with the slave trade. In the introduction he explains just what Jazz is by saying:

When we use the term jazz, we are talking about an approach to music that is exciting and creative – one that relies on improvisation and spontaneity. American in its origins, today jazz is played throughout the world in performances that celebrate both the history of this rich music as well as its immediacy.

The jazz musician might begin with a well-known melody and then interpret it according to his or her own personality and musical training. In every instance, improvisation is a key element of jazz.

The second major element of jazz is rhythm. Early jazz often served as dance music, but even as the music and performances grew increasingly complex and abstract, its strong rhythm continued to pull in the listener.

A blending of two musical traditions, African and European, contributed to the development of jazz.

He goes on to explain how that blending developed and how jazz is an expression of the American experience of African and European cultures together. I have listened to jazz with great appreciation for the last 20 years or so, and I never knew a lot of what is contained in this volume. I wish this book came with a CD of jazz to listen to while exploring the poems and the historic information. I have a sound track in my head but I would appreciate the real thing too.

The body of the book is a series of poems focusing on the different styles of jazz (blues, be bop, rag time, fusion, etc.) and the major instruments (horn, piano, sax, drums…). Black experience and emotion shout off the pages. The illustrations, done by Meyers’ son Christopher, move with the passion and color of the music. Bold color and contrast of light and shadow bring out the emotion and hint at the drama of the music. My favorite lines come from the poem "Twenty-finger Jack”:

Well, the walls are shaking,
And the ceiling’s coming down
‘Cause twenty-finger Jack
Has just come back to town
The keyboard’s jumping,
And the music’s going round
And round
If he had any sense,
He left it in the lost-and-found
Here he go
Be ba boodie, be ba boodie, boo
Be ba boodie, be be be be, boodie, boo

At the back of the book are a glossary and a timeline of jazz development. For music students this book would be an excellent resource. For all music lovers and for all Americans it is a beautiful tour of one aspect of our national treasury.

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Skin Again

by bell hooks, illustrated by Chris Raschka. I always Google books that I am reading to see what other people are saying about them. Then I always go to Amazon to read the reviews. If you scroll down below the basic information you can see what other similar books people are buying and then they list the School Library Journal and Booklist reviews. I always learn something interesting about the book or the author this way. I also look for links to the publisher’s author page for more information.

In reading the reviews on Skin Again my attention was caught by the descriptions of the way Raschka’s illustrations back up and expand on the text. This is a lovely book about how we are all complex individuals under our skin. hooks (who spells her name with no capitals) says:
If you want to know who I am
you have got to come
Be with me
inside the
me of me,
all made up
of stories present, past,
some true to life
and others all
fun and fantasy,
all the
I imagine me.
The illustrations start out showing children of various hues looking more or less normal, in regular clothing. As the verse progresses you begin to see a patchwork of designs and symbols replacing body parts and growing increasingly complex and interesting. The faces are drawn simply but show real expression in features and hair styles. The more you study these pictures the more you see to think about and discuss. The text is poetic and musical. I find myself reading it over and over and getting more and more into it. I can see primary grade children enjoying it in just that way, and older children using it as a jumping off point for discussion and writing. It presents race and ethnicity as a fascinating and beautiful feature of being human. It gently invites us to move deeper into knowing and celebrating our individuality and our community. hooks dedicated this book to “all the joy of the love community – to knowing each other from the inside!” Her book is a wonderful vehicle to start that journey.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

November 4 Leaf Work Haiku


today's work the leaves;
leaf blower herding the pile -
thousands still above


golden waves above
bown carpet across the grass
one by one they fall

burried in leaves

I make two leaf piles
one my mulcher's compost pile
one for my son's joy

Andromeda Jazmon, 2006


Saturday, November 04, 2006

What Makes You Happy Today?

fading the sky.JPG

Yesterday was cold enough to see your breath. When we stepped outside in our dash for the car and late as usual, I glanced up at the maple tree and was awestruck. The sky was a brilliant saphire blue and the sun was blazing through the golden yellow of the maple leaves. It was dazzling. I took a deep breath and said a prayer of thanks. I want to start every day with a moment of pure happiness like that; standing on my step with my baby in my arms, Buddy Boy joyfully racing across the grass, our lunches in hand and the sun lighting everything up in praise.

Sunday School Rebel wrote a post last Monday that I am just getting to read today, Saturday. She challenged us to write a list of 25 things that make us happy. Here's my list for today:

1. Waking up early, before everyone else
2. Hot, fresh coffee
3. Gluten Free muffins
4. Fast, uninterrupted internet access
5. Blogs to read
6. A good breakfast with plenty of time to eat - no rushing!
7. Time to read the paper
8. Sunshine streaming in the (clean) windows
9. Trees full of light
10. Taking pictures
11. Crisp air and warm clothes
12. A walk in the woods
13. A stream rushing over rocks
14. Cooking good food
15. Birds singing
16. Listening to my boys' laughter
17. Seeing them hug each other
18. Rocking my baby and holding him close, with his head on my shoulder
19. Walking up to my porch at the end of the day with my boys
20. Black Gospel music
21. Reading in bed
22. Chocolate
23. A Hot shower
24. My flannel PJs, terry cloth bathrobe, and slippers
25. Knowing God

I challenge you to post your own list; here in the comments or make it a meme and pass it on...