Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Few of Our Gift Books

Yesterday afternoon there were a few minutes when I was knitting and all three of my boys were reading. I felt so blessed to have a houseful of reading sons! Even the busy toddler and the active preschooler were completely engaged in reading their new books. I want to share with you some of the books they have gotten as gifts that really have captivated their attention.

Max’s Money by Ken Wilson Max. A little boy named Max has a coin and is looking for ways to spend it. The book comes with a cardboard coin that is stored in a lift-the-flap wallet. You can put the coin in a slot on each page and miraculously when you turn the page, the coin has been put into the wallet on the next page. By moving the coin from page to page you can help the children in the story buy gumballs, use a payphone (what’s that?) and put money in their piggy banks. This is a delightfully clever book. Buddy is mystified as to how the coin always ends up in the pocket on the next page. I am not sure if he realizes it is always the same coin. He sits still and reads it over and over. I need to put in a supply of those coins before we lose the one it came with! Ken Wilson-Max is from Zimbabwe and now lives in London. He has written and/or illustrated a number of wonderful books including the Kwanzaa book I reviewed yesterday (K is for Kwanzaa), and My First Kwanzaa. He is an author to watch!

Animal Match novelty board book from baby einstein. Punkin loves this book because it comes with little animal cards. You are suppose to sort them and put the correct animal card in the pocket on the page with it’s correct habitat (the doggy goes in the doghouse). Punkin just likes collecting all the cards and carrying them around. When I am reading with him and ask him to put a card in the pocket he just smiles and says "No". A couple of times when I was doing something else I saw him going through the book talking to himself and putting the cards in and out. I think the process of matching and sorting and verbalizing about it is particularly compelling at his age. Again, this book needs a backup set of cards because these will get lost pretty quickly I am sure.

Buster is deep into reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen. I bought it on the recommendation of Shannon at Peter’s Cross Station and I started reading it myself. I gave it to him hoping he would finish it over the break and leave it here for me to read when he goes back to college. It is about the food we eat and how production and distribution of our food has changed in the last thirty years or so. Pollen traces the path of food from different sources and shows where everything comes from and how it gets to your table. It is fascinating to see the connections. Last night at dinner Buster was explaining to my parents and me all that he has learned about how prevalent corn is in our diet, and why. You have no idea how many food products depend on corn for sweeteners and starches. Anyone who has getting healthy and making good food choices on their list of New Years’ plans ought to sit down with this book first.

And what am I reading? Well I started Richard Wright’s Black Boy after getting all psyched about his haiku. I found it quite depressing, actually. It’s the story of his boyhood. He somehow survived and thrived in spite of a childhood of constant hunger and violence. It is really hard for me to read about how his mother and grandmother beat him time after time, trying to teach him to behave and stay out of trouble. His family lives in grinding poverty and his mother works desperately just to put bread in their mouths. They move constantly, sometimes to a better situation and often to a worse one. It is a wonder he ever learns how to read and somehow gets an education. It’s a chilling story but one that is true so I want to read it to keep reality in view and find some inspiration in it.

I put that one down last night because my copy of Outsiders Within came into the bookstore and I picked it up on Friday. I couldn’t resist reading the introduction last night. I was blown away. I don’t think this is going to be an easy thing to read. The list of contributors to this anthology of writings by transracial adoptees is long and impressive. Their point of view has been missing from the literature on transracial adoption, and their voices here are strong and passionate. I am sure many of my notions and assumptions about becoming a transracial adoptive parent are about to be challenged and adjusted. I may have to read this book in small bits over a long time in order to digest it all. I am sure I will have several more posts on it as I work through it. Anyone else reading it? I would love to hear your reactions and see links to discussions on it.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Kwanzaa books


Habari Gani! Today is the fourth day of Kwanzaa, the Pan-African festival celebrating family and black culture. Each day of the week long celebration focuses on one of the Ngoza Saba, or Seven Principles. Today the theme is Ujamaa, or cooperative ecconomics. Shopping from local, black-owned businesses is one way to support the local economics of the black community. The red, black and green candles I purchased for our kinara (candle holder) were produced and sold by a local black-owned business.

Since my boys are young we keep our celebration somewhat relaxed. I don't try to go out to events or hold a real feast on the last day, as some families and community groups do. We light the candles, read children's books about the symbols and principles, and talk about what they mean on a child's level. One of my students gave me some bookmarks he and his family had made at their Jack and Jill club Kwanzaa event, illustrating the seven principles. I thought that was lovely of them. Here are some of the books we've read:

Here are some other links, courtesy of Chicken Spagetti. And here is a new-to-me blog I am reading this week with some interesting thoughts on Kwanzaa celebrations and the voices of black men.

I am wondering if any of you participate in Kwanzaa events. Especially those of you in transracial adoptive families, where the parents are white and the kids black. Do you do anything special? What does it mean for your kids?

Blog Update

I moved to the new Blogger yesterday, and spent all my blogging time today fooling around with a new template. I think I like it better, but I am not sure I have all the links correct. If I am not showing you in my blogroll and you want to be linked, leave me a comment here, OK? I am using both Bloglines and Blogroll and I am not sure that is going to work. As far as the new Blogger goes, I love that when I get an email showing new comments it tells me which post the comment is on. That was always a guessing game before. I like the labels option but it has taken me hours to file past posts into catagories and right now I am not sure it's worth it. What do you think?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

Buddy Boy on guitar

My heart is so full of happiness today. Having all three of my boys here with me is so delightful. This is what the first half of our day was filled with:
  • giving each other presents
  • listening to our new music
  • eating my favorite Christmas breakfast of ham & eggs & home fries & coffee cake & Clementine's & dark chocolate & coffee
  • holding Buddy Boy on my lap to give him his first guitar lesson; naming all the parts
  • listening to him explore loud, soft, fast, slow strumming & picking the strings
  • watching Buster play with his brothers on the floor, and then pull off a bit to read his new books and the local paper
  • feeding Punkin one treat after another and hearing him say "let's eat something" and "mmm mmm good"
  • baking more pecan tossies for dinner over at my parents' this evening
  • wrapping a few more presents for the family we will see there
  • naps for everyone
Buster in the hat I knit him.JPG

Every year I have to share this day with Buster's dad and his family. Sometimes I have Christmas Eve and am without him on Christmas day, other years it is the other way around. This year Buster was with dad all day on Saturday and spent Sunday and Christmas day with us. He will go over to dad's tonight, and probably spend several days with them next week. It is always very lonely for me when he is gone. I try to be nice about it because I know he needs to spend time with dad, but I always get depressed when he leaves on Christmas. This year I feel I have a double wealth of time with him... home from college and here with us on this special day. Seeing him laughing and playing with his brothers fills me with joy. The gifts we gave each other this year were simple. We are both trying not to spend money with so many tuitions due. He got me a bunch of New Orleans things: college tee shirt, baseball hat, mom coffee mug, and a book of short stories by New Orleansian writers. Also some cooking things (spices) so I can cook some red beans and jambalaya. And good dark chocolate, of course!

Punkin with comforts.JPG

There is a part of sadness in this day, too. I am thinking about Buddy's and Punkin's first families, and wondering if they are thinking of us. I haven't ever heard a word back from any of them from my updates so I don't know if they are feeling sad, missing their boys, or just numb. I want to send them the pictures of these darling faces and share the day with them, but I don't know if it would just give them a pain they would rather not be reminded of today. We are thinking of them. Buddy asked me where his dad was (again) just the other day. He started telling Grammy about his first mom a few days ago too. In one part of my mind I think it might be possible that they would have found this blog and would come here looking to see how it was with us today. I think that possibility is slim, but you never know.

I just wish you could see the joy here, and know we also miss you.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Our House

Sounds like: duplo blocks, toy whistles, stomping feet, boys wrestling on the floor, laughter
Looks like: greens, candles, books, toy dishes, matchbox trucks, dirty socks
Smells like: cinnamon & brown sugar, pizza, spruce, fresh rolls
Feels like: bear hugs, kissed baby cheeks, slippers, tickles, stepped-on toys

Thanks to Yankee, Transfered for the patterns...


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Stocking Stuffers

The only book I am reading this weekend is Sock Doll Workshop by Cindy Crandall-Frazier. I am having fun making little sock dolls for stocking stuffers and gifts for all my little friends. I happen to have a lot of pairs of novelty holiday socks. I guess I get them as teacher presents... and because I like to wear them. It's fun to see the kids reaction to silly socks. I had a couple pairs I had never had the chance to wear so I made them into dolls. The directions in the book are very clear and easy to follow. I adapted them a little so that I could get a complete doll out of each sock. I just used a fabric pen to draw on the faces. You could get quite elaborate with some of these designs, making dolls in costume, a ballerina, and a complete family group. I think I could really get into this! I'd like to try different types of socks; cotton, terry cloth, wool, felt, fuzzy... You could make animals as well as people. Anyone else ever try this?

red in stocking.JPG

red guy.JPG

heart guys.JPG

pocket people with pine cone.JPG

Click on the pictures to see more at Flickr, some showing how I put them together.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

December 19 Haiku

trike and tree.JPG

trike just stopped; he watched
a tree branch crash in his path
green leaves all trembling.

Buddy Boy was riding his tricycle on the patio on day last July when a freak wind gust brought a huge tree limb down directly in his path. He stopped a few short feet from where it landed. I think he heard the wind and the crack of the tree and looked up and saw it coming down on him. I looked out the kitchen window and saw the branches settle around him, leaves still trembling. I dashed outside as he jumped up and ran in. I scooped him up in my arms and we just stood there shaking until we heard another branch crack. We ran inside. Thank God he was safe.

The prompt at One Deep Breath this week is storm haiku. This is one storm we will never forget! Go here for more storm haiku. Click the picture to see a slideshow at Flickr.


Monday, December 18, 2006

In my dreams...

The coolest kid's bookstore on the planet: Wowza! Bejing's girls and boys get to play here! This is nothing like the Number One Department Store I shopped in in Bejing in 1985. You mei you tu shu ma? (Got Books?)

Thanks to Pixie Stix Kids Pix for the link.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Richard Wright and Haiku

Yesterday I wasn't on the computer at all. I stayed home sick because I and the baby have terrible colds. I decided not to even try to get anything done. I did knit and make sock dolls while the baby slept, which I will post on later. But I missed Poetry Friday completely. Checking technorati today I found someone was searching for "African American Christmas haiku" and found my blog. I was delighted to find a link to another amazing site in the same search list. It's Richard Wright's haiku! Who knew he loved haiku and wrote thousands of them in his last years of life? They are beautiful too - real haiku with sharp images of particular moments of life, referencing nature and human interactions with the natural world. Here is one of my favorites:

Keep straight down this block,
Then turn right where you will find
A peach tree blooming.

Check out this site for three articles discussing Wright's haiku and many, many examples of his beautiful poetry. Here is another review. Now I have a new book at the top of my Christmas wish list: "Haiku: This Other World", by Richard Wright, Arcade Publishing, 1998. Pretty please Santa!


Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Child is Born

by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. I absolutely love this board book and so do Buddy Boy and Punkin. Punkin is old enough now at 20 months to expect and look forward to nightly story hour after his bath each day. I let him pick two board books from his shelf and this one is usually his first pick. We adore the brown baby Jesus. Floyd Cooper’s paintings of the Holy Family and the angels, shepherds and wiseman are just fabulous. Joseph is a handsome black man and Mary is a stunningly beautiful black woman. I wish her hair were natural instead of straightened though.

Margaret Wise Brown’s text is a poem. It is a little awkward to read because it is written in an old fashioned Christmas carol style so sometimes I rephrase it, but Buddy has heard it straight often enough that he can practically quote it himself.

O come, wild birds

Descend, gentle dove

And angels from Heaven

to give him your love

If you only have one board book Christmas story, get this one!

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Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters

by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack. This is another book that is hard for me to read. It is the story of plantation Christmas celebrations in Virginia in 1859. The McKissacks give a lot of historical background to this period just before the Civil War, emphasizing how drastically life was about to change for the plantations of the south. The paintings by John Thompson are really beautiful. I would like prints of several of them to hang on my wall. The portraits of Black families of men, women and children working, playing, dreaming and celebrating are really gorgeous. The pictures of the white family celebrating in contrasting extravagant luxury are disturbing to me, however. . I can’t help see similarities with the modern extravagance of holiday celebrations all around us even as some suffer crushing poverty.

The text does a good job of describing the day to day life of work and planning and compromise as the plantation prepares to celebrate Christmas. Early traditions of Christmas trees, caroling and cooking for the holidays are explained in historical context. The complex interactions between slaves and owners are presented on several levels. As the Big Days approach the slaves are seen working to prepare the big house in all its glory. In the early morning and late at night they work to prepare their own celebrations by sweeping dirt floors, patching together gifts from scraps and scrounging for musical instruments for late night dancing.

They are joyful and exuberant in their anticipation of the days off and then heartbroken and devastated at the end of the holiday on Jan. 1 when Massa tells who will be sold off to another plantation. While it is good to know this history and see the strength and bravery and resourcefulness of the slave families, it is deeply disturbing and saddening to witness the foundational injustice and cruelty. The goodness of the owner’s family is as small and as basic as giving a day off for the field hands (not the house slaves or drivers, of course), a little extra food on Christmas day, and a few simple gifts from their excess. While there is beauty and joy in the celebrations and of course I would not want the slaves to have lived without the simple kindnesses they enjoyed, it hurts to see how meager it was.

As an adult reading this I can see the irony and incongruity but I am afraid the sweetness of the story might cover the tragedy so that children may only see that this lifestyle, while painful for the slaves, worked out OK on the whole. I guess that brings up a bigger question: how much of the ugly truth do children need to hear, and how young? I think this book is a good one to share with middle grade and older children where you can have discussion about these things. Taken on its own I think the depth that is here in the text would be missed by most pre-adolescent children. It is also good to learn the historical background for the songs, traditions and recipes given. Sweet potato pie, holly and evergreen decorations and the simple handmade gifts imbued with family connections become more meaningful when the distant African and Southern slave cultural roots are known. On the whole I think this book is a treasure, but not an easy one to carry.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Video Booking Kidstyle

I have thought about online storytelling a lot, wondering how that is going to develop. Clearly my young sons will spend quantities of time on the web. By the time they get old enough to demand a video game players everything will be wirelessly connected... What will kids' books look like on the web? Jean Gralley wrote about her take on it in Liftoff: When Books Leave the Page in the Horn Book online recently. I would like to be part of this. I saw these links at Read Roger today and I am intrigued. What do you think?

Pecan Tossies and the Gift Exchange

Mary Hunt is my girl. I look forward to reading her column in the paper every day – it’s always my favorite article. The other day I read this one, giving a recipe for these delightful little yummies called Pecan Tossies. Today is our annual faculty gift exchange party and I was thinking of not going because it means I have to leave my kids in daycare an extra hour and I have to come up with some snack treats to bring to the party. After I saw this recipe I thought “I can do that with GF flour and they might taste like pecan pie! Maybe I should go to that party after all…” I am not going to the other after work faculty party and I get such a kick out of our gift exchange. So I made an extra stop at the grocery store for pecans and cream cheese and borrowed my mom’s little tart pans and made them last night. One of the things I thought I would never taste again in this life, after learning I have Celiac disease and can’t have wheat flour any more, is pecan pie. Um um um I love me some pecan pie. *tears* These are heaven.

The gift exchange is a hoot. Everyone brings a wrapped $15 gift and puts them in a pile in the middle of the circle. Each person gets a number. Person #1 chooses a gift to open. Person #2 can then take person #1’s gift or choose another gift to open. Person #3 can take either of those or choose another gift to open. The rules are that you can’t take back a gift that was just taken from you and each gift can only change hands three times before it is permanent. Presents get swapped around all over the room with much teasing, joking and laughter. You see another whole side of your friends and coworkers, as some of us are quite competitive and others concerned with peace-keeping. Some of us just like to keep the game going by taking the most popular gifts… My favorite part is that many of my colleagues make jewelry, ceramics, knitted items or other crafts for their gifts and they are beautiful. The gift I am bringing this year is for the kitchen. It’s wrapped in snowflake fabric gift bag I made after reading another one of Mary Hunts columns on simplifying your holiday gift giving. That year I made dozens of fabric gift bags and use them to wrap gifts for family and friends. Love ya, Mary Hunt!

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kwanzaa Ngoza Saba

This is a little soft quilted book I made my boys a couple of years ago. I wanted a board book for them explaining the seven principles of Kwanzaa and I couldn’t find one. One of the things you do for Kwanzaa is give homemade gifts, so I decided to make them a book. I hadn’t done much appliqué yet and didn’t know how to use freezer paper to get the images sewn on so I used fabric paint around the edges. I read a lot of Kwanzaa books and websites to try to get the principles clear in my mind so I could write little phrases for each one that a toddler could understand.

Please tell me what you think. This one is fabric pages with quilt batting inside, sewn together with a fabric binding. I used fabric pen to write on them. The pictures are quilting fabric cut into simple shapes, with puffy or glitter fabric paint outlines. Have you every tried to make a book? Cloth, paper, or what materials? Suggestions for how to make this one better?

If you celebrate Kwanzaa, what do you do? I have only done things at home with my family, keeping it simple. I would love to go to a bigger gathering and join a community celebration. I wish my church did something. I’m looking for other ways to honor the principles and traditions. Your ideas?

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December 12 Haiku


clouds at dawn;
lid of the world let
light slide in

I have been struck lately with the dazzling beauty of the sky every morning and evening as I make my commute. Today I had to pull over and take some pictures.

The clouds hold in the light, reflect the light, offer us moisture, cover us from the rest of the universe, give us a down quilt of color or obscure the brightness of creation. I have a sense of the sky as upturned bowl today, filled with swirls of light and delight, poured out on our heads.

The haiku prompt for this week at One Deep Breathe is containers. Look here for more haiku on all things held, poured or contained.

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Room for a Little One

by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Jason Crockcroft. I bought this book for my boys last year and it is one of my favorite Christmas stories. The illustrations are amazing. Some of the pages are a little too twinkley in a Thomas Kinkade - esk way. This dog’s eyes, in particular, begin to creep me out. Too human or something.

The story is predictable but satisfying. First the dog comes to the stable looking for a place to sleep and is welcomed by the ox. Then the cat comes, at first afraid but welcomed by the dog. Then a mouse, afraid but welcomed. (Because you see there is always room for a little one…) Mary and Joseph come walking up wearily. The ox welcomes them into their haven. “Tired donkey brought Mary into the stable. Joseph made her a warm bed in the straw, to save her from the cold of the night.”
In the stable the light glows. Mary and Joseph show concern and pain on their faces before (during?) the birth; joy and devotion after. I love the way Joseph has kinky hair and pouty lips. Too many portrayals of this story come in blond and blue eyes. It’s nice to see Middle Eastern/African features.

This is such an archetypical family group; circles in circles of wonder, coziness and comfort. Buddy Boy looks at this and can’t quite grasp the perspective however. The view of the ox from above always elicits the question “what is that?” He’s never seen an animal that big from above and the way the hip and backbone stick out unnerves him. Also in this picture I have to wonder why it is the mouse that is in the exact center of the light, rather than Jesus. The mouse is the littlest one?

Last year at the school book fair I showed one of my teacher friends that I was planning on buying this for my two little adopted sons and she burst out laughing at me. “There better not be room for another little one at your house!” She said. Yeah, OK so I just like the concept is all. And the pictures are so beautiful. If you only have one book telling the Christmas story in your home this should be the one.
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Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas Gif': An Anthology of Christmas Poems, Songs, and Stories

I try not to link to Amazon too often just because I like to support small business owners and local bookstores. But I like to read the reviews and every time I Google a book you know who comes right up. Now they have list mania where folks can keep lists of their interests. Today I found a page called “So you like to… Dream of a Black Christmas!” It is a list of music and books about African American celebrations of Christmas and has some wonderful selections. The book I am reading today is on the list – Christmas Gif’; An Anthology of Christmas Poems, Songs, and Stroies Written by and About African Americans compiled by Charlemae Hill Rollins and illustrated by Ashley Bryan. We have this book in our library and I love dipping into it for a short story or poem. Ms Rollins was a librarian in Chicago for many years and she was disappointed that there were so few written resources to pass on the African American Christmas traditions she knew as a child. She wanted to share literature of the black experience with children and so she compiled this anthology. Read more about her legacy here.

My favorite short story here is How Come Christmas by Roark Bradford. It tells the story of the baby Jesus’ birth in a southern black dialect. I haven’t tried reading it aloud to children but I wish I could. It’s not that I can’t imagine how it would sound but that I just feel kinda silly putting on that dialect when I don’t look the part. Do any other white teachers or librarians read in dialect? How does that work for you?

The story is really funny. Sandy Claus and Miz Sandy Claus are sitting around talking about Miss Mary’s Poor Little Jesus baby and wishing they could go visit. They don’t have a good enough present to bring so Miz Claus thinks they shouldn’t go. Sandy insists on going out and brings the Poor Little Jesus a big red apple. “And de Poor Little Jesus reached up and grabbed dat apple in bofe hands, and laughed jest as brash as you please!” Sandy Claus tickles him under the chin and gets him laughing some more. The Lawd is so impressed with Sandy’s way with children that he gives him the job of bringing them joy and keeping them happy. It makes a nice bridge from the Santa story to the Jesus birth story. I am going to work on my reader’s theater voice and get up my courage and read it out loud one of these days. Maybe I can get a coach to work with me.

Not all the stories are in dialect. Some are in very old fashioned proper English. I also like several of the spirituals included, especially What You Gonna Name That Pretty Little Baby? and Rise Up Shepherd and Follow. In addition, there is a section of recipes in the back that look really good. This book is on my Christmas wish list.

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Mississippi Morning

by Ruth Vander Zee, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. James Williams is a white boy who lives in Mississippi in the 30’s. He is proud to be able to help his family out by doing all the farm chores while his father runs the store in town. His life is idyllic until he starts to hear about the Klan. He has two friends that he hunts and fishes with from time to time. Red is a white boy who first tells him that the “colored preacher who lives way out of town got what was coming to him” when his house was burned down. James Williams doesn’t believe at first that anyone would do such a thing on purpose. Then he learns from his black friend LeRoy about the Klan riding around in white hoods tarring and hanging black men. He asks his father about it but gets no answer. It makes no sense to him that some folks would hate others and treat them so bad. He accepts that black can’t eat or drink from the same places as whites and must wait for permission to be served or sit in the balcony of the theater. That is “just the way things are” to him. But he can’t imagine any of his father’s friends wearing a pointed hood or burning somebody’s home.

Finally one morning he wakes very early and does the milking before dawn. He sees a white hooded figure coming down the road and is shocked when the man turns into his driveway. The hood slips off and he sees it is his own father. “He never spoke to me about that morning. I never asked. I couldn’t find the words. After that, I still went to the store. I didn’t want to but I did it… I still loved my pa. But I never really looked into his eyes again. And he never really looked into mine.”

Most of the book leads up to this startling realization as James Williams learns of the existence of the Klan and the hatred that grows just under the surface of his small town home. This is a story of lost innocence and learned accommodation of evil. I am disappointed by the ending, because we are left with only the boys discomfort and dismay over his father’s actions. James Williams’ only response to the evil he finds in his town and his family is silence and avoidance. What happens next? They just never talked about it? What kind of man did James Williams grow up to be? It does say he “still hung around with Red and fished occasionally with LeRoy, but somehow everything was different.” That is not enough for me. I want to know how he chose to live his life in that town or what he did to challenge that racism. Perhaps the books’ ending is a more realistic portrayal of how it is or was; perhaps that is the point. Reading this book with children aged nine and up could open some very good discussions of what a more appropriate or courageous response would be. Maybe it is too much to ask of children though, that they would see another way to respond to their parent’s hatred and violence.

I just hate that this is our history. I hate that some day I will have to read this book and many more like it to my boys. The only good is that at least we are at the point where there are these books for children. We do have more choices than silence and accommodation.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christmas workshop

I am not posting as much these days because I have to spend every spare moment working as a Christmas elf. Here is one of my weekend projects. If you are on my Christmas list, don't look too closely or you might see your future gift. If you click on the pictures you can go to Bubbleshare and see them bigger and read the captions.


Friday, December 08, 2006

listen children

listen children
keep this in the place
you have for keeping
keep it all ways

we have never hated black

the rest of the poem is here

-Lucille Clifton

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

December 7 Haibun

moonset with tree 2

moon a flake of ice
sinking into day's blue sky -
the bare trees reach up

The other day when we were driving home we took the short cut through the high school campus. We drove around the football field and up the hill. I looked over my shoulder when I stopped at the intersection and there was the moon - huge and pale red, floating over the distant hills as it rose. It was breath-taking. Of course I didn't have my camera.

The next morning when I got to work, as I turned into the parking lot I got a sweeping view across the fields. Hanging just above the trees in the deep blue sky was the moon, huge and white as ice as it set. Breath-taking. I didn't have my camera.

So yesterday I brought my camera with me. I stalked the moon. I took several good shots but none were as dazzling as the ones I missed. I kept walking out in the frosty air across the frozen grass, waiting for the moon to get huge and hang in that spot right over the trees. My colleagues must think I am nuts.

Ice in the sky -
the moon a brilliant white blaze.
Each blade of grass; iced!

leaf in grass with frost

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Free at Last! Stories and Songs of Emancipation

by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Shane W. Evans. This book is the second in a series of three books by Rappaport chronicling American history as related to Black Americans in the years 1863 to 1954. In the introduction she says:

Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass hoped that the end of the Civil War marked the beginning of equality for black Americans. In his newspaper, The New National Era, he intended to detail black progress. But the equality that black Americans hoped for quickly vanished with a series of “legal” injustices and violence that made life for Southern blacks more fragile than it had been unde slavery. The daily humiliations and continuous brutality against black men, women, and children during this time make it one of the most shameful periods in American history.

Nevertheless, the black community found strength and determination to sustain itself and to fight back. This book traces their courageous struggle to re-create family life and economic independence in the face of over whelming danger and uncertainty.

This is a large book (10”x11.5”) with beautiful full-color illustrations painted by Shane W. Evans. The print is large and the history told as stories, songs and poetry. I think it would be an ideal way for middle grade students to learn the history of the struggle for equal rights and freedoms of black Americans during the time. Rappaport intersperses facts about laws and court cases with stories about famous Americans participating in the struggle.

Some of the people she highlights include:

Fredrick Douglas - He rejoiced with the choir at Boston’s Tremont Temple when the Emancipation Proclamation was announced on January 1, 1863.

Jane Kemper - In Maryland ten months later slaves were freed but many white former owners kidnapped and hid black children from their now-free parents. Jane snuck back to her former master’s root cellar and freed her four children in the dead of night. It was not until 1867 that the Supreme Court struck down the apprenticeship laws that allowed as many as ten thousand black children to be held against their parent’s wishes.

Booker T. Washington – He was nine years old when his family was freed from slavery on the plantation. He grew up to establish a school in Tuskegee, Alabama that became the Tuskegee Institute. He was known for his moderate speeches bringing white and black together. He was greatly praised by white people but criticized by many blacks as being too accommodating.

Harriet Postle – In May 1866 white Southerners had written laws such as the Black Codes restricting the rights of blacks. The KKK was riding to terrorize and murder blacks. Harriet Postle showed great courage in hiding her husband from the Klan and protecting her children at her own expense.

John Solomon Lewis – He lead his family and friends across the Mississippi river from Louisiana to Kansas to start a new life. The ship’s captain refused them passage until Lewis insisted that as veteran of the Union army he knew his rights and would sue for damages if denied. The captain gave way.

Ida B. Wells – Ms. Wells successfully challenged segregated trains, insisting that she be allowed to sit in the ladies coach with white women. She was forcibly removed from trains a couple of times, sued and was granted monetary damage awards. She took her legal battle all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which ruled against her. She continued to fight “separate but equal” rules and spoke against injustice her entire life. She wrote about lynchings as a newspaper reporter in Memphis. She had her office ransacked and her life threatened but that did not stop her.

Langston Hughes – poet of the Harlem Renaissance in the 20s. He spoke of the segregation and racism of the North. He wrote many poems celebrating the beauty, strength, hopes and dreams of black people.

Jackie Robinson – He played baseball for the Brooklyn dodgers for ten years, breaking the color line. In spite of the taunting and harassment of many he played well and was named National League Rookie of the Year in 1947.

Thurgood Marshall – The lawyer who spoke to the Supreme Court in 1952 arguing the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education. He successfully convinced them that separate was not equal education, winning the landmark decision.

None of this history is easy to read. I think far too many white people have never heard these tales and so our perspective on our own history is sorely skewed. In my study of the Reconstruction Era as a young student I don’t believe I was given the full picture. I think even as an adult I need to read and reread this history. Over at Race Changers last week the theme was on learning about lynching. I didn’t follow the links given there because I thought it would be too horrible for me to fully grasp. This truly is one of the most shameful periods in American history. Maybe it says something about me and why I am a children’s librarian, that I need to learn the hardest truths from a child’s level of instruction. I find that this volume is a good way to begin to catch up on the truths that have so long been obscured.

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6:30 am, December 6

st. nick 002

Buddy Boy: "Mom! There's chocolate in my shoes!"
Me: "Really?"
BB: "There is chocolate in Punkin's shoes!"
Me: "Remember I told you it is the feast of St. Nicholas?"
BB: "MOM! There is chocolate in YOUR shoes!"
Me: "Yes! Today we celebrate St. Nicholas. He was a bishop that lived a long time ago and he was good to children. It's part of the celebration to get chocolate in your shoes in the morning."
BB: "But how did he get in here?"
Me: "He didn't. He isn't alive anymore. He is in heaven with God. We remember he was good and kind and gave gifts to children so we give gifts of chocolate."
BB: "But how did he put chocolate in our shoes?"
Me: "I did that, to remember how St. Nicholas gave gifts and to celebrate."
BB: (Goes over to the door and opens it. Leans out into the frosty air and shouts) "Thank you St. Nicholas!"

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Putting Our Shoes Out Tonight

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Nicholas. The tradition in Germany and Scandinavian countries is to put your shoes out and St. Nicholas will come to your house and leave candy in your shoes. Some children put hay in their shoes for his horse. I am going to start this tradition because I like giving my boys chocolate and I want them to have an alternative story to connect with Santa Claus. I really don’t like how Santa is so connected with shopping in our country these days. In Holland Dutch children put their wooden shoes out for St. Nick. My cousins lived in Holland for several years when we were children and when they came back to New York they all had several pairs of wooden shoes. The every-day ones they used to do their chores and take out the trash. I was so jealous of that! The nice, beautifully painted ones they put out on Dec. 6 for St. Nick. I always wished I had such nice wooden shoes. My mother has a pair her sister brought back for her. One of these days I am going to get some.

We have The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi in our library. The artwork is stunningly beautiful. The paintings are in the style of gilded wood cuts. The story of the saint’s life starts out with his birth in the year A.D. 280 in Patera, Lycia (Turkey). He performs his first miracle on the first day of his life when he stands up in the bath and prays to God. It is a little hard for me to read this to children because it seems so ridiculous. It says as a toddler he refused to nurse on holy saint’s days in order to fast. That is just silly. The thing I like about the story is that as an adult he inherited great wealth from his parents and he gave it all away. He is the patron saint of children, seafarers, prisoners and captives, pilgrims, travelers, maidens, choirboys, firefighters, stonemasons, weavers, and butchers. The book goes through his life as a priest and bishop and tells of his travels and miracles. It is very informative although some of the miracles I would skip if I were reading it to young children. (A time came when Myra suffered a great famine and people were starving to death. A wicked innkeeper kidnapped three little boys, killed them, and salted them in a tub of brine, intending to serve them as food. But Nicholas, who loved children, learned of the evil deed and imprisoned the innkeeper. Then, praying to his Lord, Nicholas raised the boys’ bodies from the brine and restored them to life. From then on, Nicholas became the patron and protector of children.” I think we will just focus on the gifts and the chocolate.

Here are some interesting sites about St. Nicholas.

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December 5 Haiku

oak leaves

froth of ice at dawn
oak leaves brined in cold;
dark wet prints on grass.

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Coming from a Presbyterian background, we didn't know about celebrations of Advent when I was very young. My father started us lighting an advent wreath and doing family devotions around the theme of waiting for the Christ child when I was in my early teens. It quickly became a family tradition, and I think I got an Advent candle holder before I ever got a tree of my own as an adult. One of the most coveted jobs for us as children was lighting and putting out the Advent candles at dinner time in December. As Episcopalians now, Advent is a major part of our Christmas celebration. The four weeks leading up to December 25 are filled with prayers, songs and stories from the Old Testiment of the Bible looking forward to the coming of the Christ. We light one candle every night for the first week, two candles the second week, then three and finally all four the week before Christmas.

This year we are doing a new devotional booklet we picked up at church. It is from Creative Communications. There is a poster of Bethlehem we put up on the fridge and every night Buddy Boy gets to add a sticker that has something to do with the story. It also comes with a little book of prayers for each day. What a great way to count down the days to Christmas!

We also got another booklet from church for our family dinner devotions. It's called A Revealing Light, by Mark Neilsen. The family on the cover is multicultural, which attracts me right away. Every day there is a prayer for a child to read or recite, a short scripture to be read and a few paragraphs for reflection and sharing. We light a candle in our advent wreath and read and talk about it. I really love this time of the year when we have rituals to make time for contemplation and discussion of the things that matter the most. I love that there are materials available that are designed for young children to fully participate. What do you do in your family traditions to celebrate this month?

Online Advent Calendars:
Christmas Around the World
History of Advent Calendars
Daily Bible verses
Kid's activities (not religious): crafts, games, recipes
Daily Music from the German Embassy

Monday, December 04, 2006

Holiday Books for December

For my library classes in December I try to read books I don’t think they will hear in their classroom. Some of my favorites are not here for that reason… but these are good too!


The Story of Hanukkah by Norma Simon, illustrated by Leonid Gore. Tells the story of the Maccabees and traces the Menorah to modern times. A little long for Kindergarten; I skipped parts.

Little Tree by e.e.cummings, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray. A lovely poem about two little children who find a bedraggled tree on a city sidewalk and bring it home to adorn.

Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant & Diane Goode. Traditional celebrations including helping grandparents decorate their country house, writing a note to Santa, waking up to presents under the tree, going to church, sharing a huge meal with a crowd of relatives and cleaning up the pine needles the week after. Sweet and nostalgic.

Little Owl and the Star; A Christmas Story by Mary Murphy. The Christ child’s birth told by a little owl that follows the star with the wise men, the shepherds and the angels. I especially like that the holy family has brown skin. Baby Jesus’ smile blesses everyone with happiness and light.

K is for Kwanazz: A Kwanzaa Alphabet Book by Juwanda G. Ford and Ken Wilson-Max. “Kwanzaa is a non-religious holiday that honors African-American people and their heritage. Everyone can join in the Kwanzaa celebration, which lasts for seven days from December 26 until January 1”. Bright colorful illustrations and a Kwanzaa word explained for each letter of the alphabet. Many of the words are Swahili, illustrating the principles and values taught through the celebration. This is an attractive book that teaches a great deal with a very simple format.

Beni’s First Chanukah by Jane Breskin Zalben. Beni is a little bear and this is the first Chanukah that he will be old enough to remember celebrating. The story takes us through his day of anticipation and preparation for the evening celebration. He helps to make the latkas, applesauce and doughnuts. He searches the house for gifts but finds none. He goes out in the snow with his sister and visits his friends Sasha and Christopher, helping them decorate their Christmas tree. He invites his friends home to the Chanukah celebration when the whole family comes over for the lighting of the menorah, the prayers and songs, the gifts and stories. A very warm and cozy book full of love and sharing.

First Grade:

Kwanzaa by Dorothy Rhodes Freeman & Dianne M. MacMillan. Explains the history of the holiday and the elements of the celebration. Nice illustrations. All seven of the principles are explained and the rituals described. It also includes description of the symbols, definitions and pronunciation for the Swahili words in a glossary and suggestions for things to do during Kwanzaa.

The Tree of Cranes by Allen Say. Set in Japan, this is the story of a young boy learning of his mother’s Christmas tree tradition while recovering from an illness. This is one of the sweetest, most beautiful, and most peaceful Christmas books I know. The illustrations are magical.

The Night Tree by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Rand. A family goes out into the woods at night to find their Christmas tree. Instead of cutting it down they decorate it with popcorn, seeds, millet and honey balls. They scatter nuts and breadcrumbs underneath for the creatures that can’t climb. They spread a blanket and have hot chocolate and sing songs. Then they go back to the truck and go home. The next day while celebrating with family the boy thinks of the birds and little creatures having their Christmas dinner in the quiet woods. It’s nice to share a book about the sweetness of giving joy on Christmas, with no thought of what you are getting. It’s nice to think of their tree growing in the forest every year and not needing to be cut down to be decorated. What a lovely tradition.

A Great Miracle Happened There; A Chanukah Story by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. A boy explains to his friend and neighbor what Chanukah is all about. He defines the Hebrew words, describes the prayers with the lighting of the menorah candles and tells the story of Antiochus and Mattathias. The story of the Maccabbees fighting and rededication of the temple is framed by the family celebration and festive meal. A warm and satisfying telling of the miracle.

Elijah’s Angel by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynne Robinson. An African American barber and wood carver befriends a young Jewish boy. The boy loves to visit the barbershop and watch him carve. One day Elijah, the barber gives him a carved angel for Christmas. Michael is afraid it is a graven image and God and his parents will be angry. His parents see it as an angel of friendship, however, and encourage him to respond by giving Elijah a menorah as a gift. Elijah puts it in the window of his shop and lights another candle every night. This is a beautiful story of friendship and reaching across the differences that divide us. I love how honest Michael is in his fear and misunderstanding. I love the wisdom and grace shown in Elijah’s wood carving artwork. This is a wonderful story bringing together celebrations of the two holidays.

Second Grade:

The Trees of the Dancing Goats, Patricia Polacco. A family with Babushka from the Ukraine and Grampa from Soviet Georgia celebrates Hanukkah on their farm in Michigan. Grampa carves little toys out of wood to give as gifts. When their friends and neighbors come down with a sickness and can’t celebrate Christmas the whole Jewish family steps in and takes care of the neighborhood, bringing them chicken dinners, little Christmas trees they decorate with the carved wooden toys and Babushka’s homemade Hanukkah candles. The neighbor family returns with a menorah they have carved out of wood and together they watch the miracle of the candles burning. A delightful story.

Norman Rockwell’s Christmas Book, Molly Rockwell consulting editor. This anthology has many of my all time favorite Christmas stories and poems. I am reading ”Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus” from On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder and “Christmas Every Day” by William Dean Howells. There are too many other lovelies here to name them all…

The Power of Light; Eight Stories for Hanukkah by Isaac Bashevis Singer, pictures by Irene Lieblich. I like to read “The Power of Light” or “A Hanukkah Evening in My Parents’ House” for second thru fifth graders. These stories are of the European Jewish community celebrations, tales passed down through families. They are of hardships and family life in Warsaw and Brooklyn during my student’s grandparent’s days. It’s a nice balance from all the history of Hanukkah stories, to hear about how another generation celebrated the miracles and traditions. Singer is a master storyteller.

I might not have time to read all these to my students in the next two and a half weeks, but I am going to try to squeeze in as many as possible. I will be reading more and different ones at home, and will post on that later. What are your favorite holiday stories?

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

One Thing You Can Do Right Now

I missed posting about World AIDS day. It's not too late to light a candle though. For every candle clicked on at Light to Unite Bristol Myers Squibb will donate $1 to the National AIDS fund. You can read stories and learn more at the site. Take a moment and make a difference.

Thoughts on Blogging

I have pulled back a bit here in talking about personal life and my kids, I don’t know if you have noticed. A couple of things have happened that make me feel less like sharing. For one thing, I am a computer teacher and when I teach my students about using the internet one of the cardinal rules is Don’t Give Out Identifying Personal Information. Don’t ever use your real name or say where you live. We had a victims’ assistance group come in the other week to talk with the 4th, and 5th graders about the Internet. They showed a little film about some kids meeting a guy through a chat room. He was supposed to be another kid wanting to sell them video games and he turned out to be a really evil child snatcher. It was so creepy watching that with them and hearing their innocent questions. Why is it bad for grown ups to pretend to want to play kids’ games? Why did he want them? What is he going to do to them? Questions it is so hard to answer without introducing them to evil. We tell them that most of the people in the world are good and kind but there are some bad guys out there. The bad guys are sometimes very clever and willing to work hard to seek out victims. One of the things our visitor said is that all it takes for a person to find you on the Internet is your zip code, your gender and your age.

I watch my site meter and every once in a while I see some really creepy person has been searching for something horrid and somehow found my blog. I try not to use any red flag terminology in my writing but it is impossible to completely avoid it. I read a lot of parent blogs where people talk about all sorts of body parts and functions and then post pictures of their cute kids. If you do that, do you watch the traffic to see who is looking at your kids? Do you just figure it is unavoidable and ignore it? I can’t stand the thought that icky people might be browsing and find a picture of my kids. I am horrified to think that predators might find my school through my blog and target the kids here.

For these reasons I have tried really hard to keep all identifying information out of this blog. I notice that most librarians, writers, editors and book people use their real names. A lot of parents reveal names and locations and post pictures of their kids. Most teachers don’t use real names. We just can’t take the chance of exposing the children to the underside of the Internet. If you know my name, location or the name of my school or have pictures of us please don’t ever use it or post it or refer to it anywhere online. Really. I’d appreciate it so much!

In the past couple of weeks I have found my name in a couple of places I didn’t plan to have it posted. I asked to have it removed, but I know it is still in the caches and search engines somewhere. Once something is up it is impossible to get it completely erased. I don’t ever mention my school by name but I have seen it linked to me in places where I was unaware that it would be revealed. Once you have registered for hundreds of different sites (yahoo, Amazon, bookcrossing, Flickr, to name a few) your real name is out there. If you Google yourself you might be surprised to see how many times you have been identified. I have also seen parts of my blog posts, reviews of different books, linked or reposted in a couple places. Not that I mind that. I like getting the exposure and referrals that that brings. I like getting more readers interested in book reviews. But it occurs to me that anything I write or post is open to copy and paste… including my Haiku, pictures, personal rambling…. I am not comfortable with those possibilities. Another book reviewer recently found that her reviews on Amazon were plagiarized by another librarian in her blog. I read about a woman whose pictures of her kids were taken and posted by another woman claiming to have adopted them. There are no limits to what people can and will do.

There is one other completely different reason I feel funny about posting pictures of my little boys. Since they are both adopted, they have biological families out there. Their first parents probably use the Internet. I can’t imagine how it would feel to be reading a mommy/adoption blog and see pictures of the child you gave birth to, gave up to adoption, and miss terribly – posted on someone else’s blog. I think it would be a stab to the heart. I don’t want to do that to my boys’ first families… letting them stumble across a picture of a child who looks the spitting image of his grandparents or uncle or something on a stranger’s blog. Can you imagine? I just feel like they should get to see the pictures first, before the whole world can browse them.

So anyway, I have been pondering what I really want/need this blog to be about. I really like writing about the books. I also love writing about my personal life and my kids and I love reading all your comments. (I always feel a little disappointed if I get on after a day away and there are no comments at all. I need to hear a response!) I am just not sure those two things (books/personal life) should be in the same blog. I am thinking about splitting into two blogs. One for the librarian/teacher and one for the mother/woman. The trouble is, I am not sure I have the time to keep up with posting in two places. I really don’t have time to read blogs much anymore, and I have fallen way behind in keeping up with your blog. I only read adoption/parenting blogs on the weekends and some evenings. I don’t have time to comment on a lot of what I do read. So what makes me think I can post to two blogs? I think of a lot of posts I never write just because there is no time. Also because I am trying to keep a line between my thoughts on my reading and the rest of my personal life. I would like to write more about adoption and single parenting but I don’t want to put that in with my more professional writing. I think I have two audiences (at least two, maybe more). I notice I get very few commenters on the book posts. Most of the commenting is on posts about my kids and adoption. I have a lot more I could say about adoption (and my kids) but I feel a little uncomfortable going on about it if most of my readers are coming for the books. Since my co-workers, family and school families read this blog, I am a more reserved than I would be if my readers were people I don’t know in real life or professionally; other parents interested in adoption and raising kids.

Well I would like your opinion. What do you like reading here the most? Do you come for the books or the adoption stuff? Would you like more Haiku and garden pictures or do you want to read about transracial adoption? Would you follow me to a new blog about my personal life? Or do you think it works just fine to have them all mixed up but a bit vague on the details? Also I would really like to see comments on how you feel about the wildness of the Internet. What do you think about posting pictures? Identifying information? If you post your real name and pictures of your kids, why? What do you know about security and the Internet? Can you share any tips? Please let me know what you think!

Friday, December 01, 2006

It Aint No

it aint no
in de berry
where i lives

teacher say read
mama say read granma say
read evythin you get yo
hans on boy
it just aint no bookstos
in de Berry
where i lives
lady in de liberry
say she aint got
no books on black folks
uncle jake (he wento collige)
he say read books on blacks
say evythin else aint bout me
lady she say try de booksto
guess uncle jake dont know
guess lady dont know neivah

aint no bookstos
here aint no
bookstos where i lives
in de Berry

-Bob O'Meally in My Black Me edited by Arnold Adoff.

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How Many Days to America?

by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Beth Peck.

“It was nice in our village. Till the night in October when the soldiers came.”

Here are the opening lines in this story of refugee immigration told by a small child whose family flees a Caribbean island in the middle of the night. Father insists they leave with nothing but a change of clothes and all the money and jewelry they own. Mama mourns the loss of the chair where she sat to nurse her children and the quilt her mother stitched by hand. They use her wedding ring and garnets to buy passage on a small boat full of other refugee families and set out on the open ocean. The boat’s engine fails soon after and they rig a sail from clothing. Men shoot at them from the cliffs of their own shore as they navigate away. For many days they drift and run short of food. At night mother rocks them in her arms and father sings of freedom. This is their only comfort. Thieves find them. They come to an unfriendly shore where soldiers throw them food but will not let them land. The family shares “two papayas, three lemons and a coconut with milk that tasted like flowers”.

At last they come to a new shore where people wait on the dock. Lines are thrown and the boat drawn in. They hear “Welcome to America!” Father wonders how they knew to be there to greet them. “Perhaps people come every day,” mother said. “Perhaps they understand how it is for us.” Low and behold it is Thanksgiving day and they join a celebration and feast.
On the flyleaf Eve Bunting says “I came to America myself as an immigrant from Ireland many years ago. I like to think that all strangers who come are welcomed as I was. And that life in the new land will be as good for them as it was for me.” I’d like to think that too, but of course it is not always true. I think fourth grade is a common year to study immigration and American Expansion. This is a good story that can easily be connected to current stories in the news of refugees coming to America. Not all of them are welcomed, certainly, but that is a good discussion to have with middle and upper grade students. It think it should be balanced with discussion of the Native Americans that were displaced by early immigrants – the Pilgrims’ arrival being not such good news for the Wampanoag Indians in actual fact.

My family can trace our line back to the Mayflower several times. I am the eleventh generation of my family here from England, although there are also more recent arrivals among my ancestors from Germany, Ireland and Scotland. My adopted sons of course have the African American experience, which is another more complicated discussion. Buddy Boys’ biological family includes American Blacks that presumably have a heritage including abduction from Africa and generations of slavery in America. He also has a Cuban American grandfather that may have been a refugee or simply an immigrant. I am sure Buddy is going to be very interested in learning about it as he gets older. I would love to someday meet his Cuban American Grandfather and hear his story. I pray Buddy has that opportunity.

I found Buntings’ story and the illustrations by Beth Peck to be moving and thought provoking. I would recommend this book as a discussion starter or study catalyst for students and families considering shared and divergent heritage in America. I offer it the week after Thanksgiving because I think it is so much more than just another Thanksgiving story.

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Where"s Jamela?

The other day I had a late meeting and we were coming home from school a little later than usual. The moon was out in a sky that was growing dark. Buddy Boy said, “The moon is following us. Why is the moon following us?” I tried to explain that the moon is up so high that we can always see it. He insisted that it was following us. He thinks it shines in his window specially.

In the book Where’s Jamela? by Niki Daly Jamela thinks the stars outside her bedroom window are hers and they are looking down at her. She isn’t happy when her mother joyfully announces that she has a new job and they are moving to a better place where her Grandmother Gogo can live with them. She doesn’t like the fuss and bother of packing and she doesn’t want to loose all that she loves about their home. She thinks of how much she will miss her friends and the neighbors, the dogs barking, the chickens running around, the smells of cooking. Nevertheless, Mama and Gogo proceed with the packing and loading their friend Greasy Hands’ truck. In the confusion Jamela curls up inside her packing box and goes to sleep. The whole neighborhood is turned upside down with frantic looking for her, as you can imagine. When she wakes and pops up out of the box there is much rejoicing. Gogo climbs up in the truck and starts playing the piano. The neighborhood breaks out in dancing. They drive off with everyone singing a good-bye song and tears in Mama’s eyes.

At last they arrive in the suburbs and it turns out their new house is indeed very nice. Jamela finds new things to delight her and discovers that it is not so different from the old house. Even the stars that are looking in her window are the same. At night Mama and Gogo tuck her in and she drifts off to sleep in her new room under the same old sky.

That this is a story set in South Africa in the years after Apartheid is not immediately apparent, but in the rich illustrations one can see clues that this is not America. A close observer will note the fashions, the chickens, the occasional Zulu or Xhosa words and phrases, and the indication that they are moving up from a township to a suburb. One reviewer noted that there is a South African flag decorating Jamela’s purse on the opening page, a sign of the new South Africa.

An American child reading or hearing this story will not find it foreign because the story and the feeling are universal. Buddy Boy and Buster hate change just as much as Jamela. When Buster was five we moved into a new apartment and after he had been there about a month he started saying he was never going to leave. He planned to grow up and get married and rent the apartment directly above me if there wasn’t room for his wife and kids in ours. When I bought this house six years ago he hated the idea. It was a few years after we had been living here that he admitted to me that I had made the right decision. Change is never easy.

Niki Daly has an essay on the South African Children’s Forum from the 2004 IBBY Congress telling about how his picture books in the last 20 years cover “a tortured, insane, inspirational and never dull period that spans the last brutal years of Apartheid to ten giddy years of freedom in South Africa.” Although he is a middle aged white South African male people often think he is a Black woman. He says,

“Without becoming too reverent about books, I believe that good books have some power to heal. Better still, good books offer some protection against damage to the mind and soul of a child; in that good stories are always filled with a sense dignity and a message of hope. I certainly hope that my books do no harm and that in some way, what is good in them says something good about me that causes people to confuse me with a black woman - who in my mind remains a symbol of caring and compassion.”
I find that quite inspiring and I look forward to reading many of his other books.

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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.