Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Langston Hughes

Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo, illustrated by Bryan Collier.

February 1 is the birthday of Langston Hughes. He is one of my favorite poets, so I always remember his birthday. I will be posting one of his poems for Friday Poetry this week, and today I am reading two books about him to my second graders.

Visiting Langston was written by Willie Perdomo, who the jacket flap says was raised eight blocks away from Langston Hughes’s house in Harlem, New York. It is illustrated by Bryan Collier, who now lives in Harlem. I wrote about his book Uptown in October.

While we are posting author/illustrator pictures, here is Floyd Cooper. They all qualify for HMOCL don’t you agree?

Visiting Langston is written in verse and tells of a young girl visiting the home of Langston Hughes at 20 East 127th Street, which has landmark status. 127th street has been renamed Langston Hughes Place. The artwork in this book is colorful collage with paintings of Langston, Harlem and the young girl and her father. I particularly like this section:

Langston Hughes
Wrote poems
Like jazz
Sang like love
Cried like blues

It plays on the musicality of his name, which falls off my tongue like water. I like how Harlem is shown to be a place of light and vibrant life. I like how the little girl is spending the day with her father and planning to write poetry just like Langston. This is a beautiful little book for celebrating the life and poetry of a great man. Bryan Collier says, “I dedicate this book to both children and adults. I point you all to the artistry of Langston Hughes because in it there is a mirror, a place for you.” Willie Perdomo, in his preface says, “If you asked him (Hughes) why he started writing he would say that it started when his grandmother used to sit him in her lap and tell him stories.”

I know from reading Coming Home; from the life of Langston Hughes by Floyd Cooper that Langston was raised by his grandmother for many years when his mother was trying to make her name as an actress and his father was living and working in Mexico. His father was a lawyer but left Kansas because of difficulties finding work due to racism. As a young child Langston lived with his grandmother and listened to her stories of family heroes. Her first husband had ridden with John Brown and was killed in the struggle. One of his uncles was a lawyer that was elected to Congress. Two other of his uncles were Buffalo soldiers. She herself had worked on the Underground Railroad. She took Langston to Topeka to hear Booker T. Washington speak.

Langston was able to visit his mother and together they went to Mexico to visit his father. When his grandmother grew older and became too sick to care for him he lived with family friends for two years. He lived in Illinois with his mother and went to high school in Cleveland OH. On one of the adoption forums I visit someone posted a list of famous adoptees and his name was on the list along with Jesse Jackson, Nelson Mandela, and Malcolm X. All of these men lived with adults other than their parents for part of their childhoods, but they weren’t adopted. I think it is doing a disservice to them and their families to label them adoptees. Langston had many hardships to overcome but losing his parents to adoption wasn’t one of them. His father paid for his first year of college at Columbia. His family was a bedrock part of his growing up to be the brilliant poet he became. Floyd Cooper says, “Sometimes Langston’s ma would send for him. He’d ride the train to the Kansas City Bottoms where she’d meet him and off they’d go. They’d see plays, the opera, and visit the library, where Langston was fascinated by the big, bright, silent reading room, the long smooth tables, and librarians who would so kindly get books for him. Sometimes, when she was busy, his mother would leave him at his uncle Des’s barbershop. He liked it there, right in the center of the black district.”

Hughes is known for his celebration of his people. He is known for being an African American who celebrated his race and skin color in his work. His joyful adoration of blackness in the face of hatred and racism is one of the things that attract me to his poetry. Wikipedia says, “Hughes stressed the importance of a racial consciousness and cultural nationalism absent of self-hate that united people of African descent and Africa across the globe and encouraged pride in their own diverse black folk culture and black aesthetic. Langston Hughes was one of the few black writers of any consequence to champion racial consciousness as a source of inspiration for black artists.”

Hughes’s genius for taking his sadness and pain and turning it into a shout of joy is a gift to the world. For many years I have delighted in sharing his poetry with my students, whatever their race. Not only is his poetry inspirational and affirming for black kids, but I think his poetry give an opportunity for little white boys and girls to be able to imagine themselves in this poem:

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

I think maybe Bryan Collier wrote his dedication (quoted above) with black kids in mind, meaning that the mirror of Langston’s artistry would affirm them and their blackness. That is wonderful. But I think the mirror works for me and everyone else as well, because it shows our humanity. In feeling and seeing Langston’s way we become stronger, more compassionate, and wiser. This mirror of his art is how we will come together. Especially for the white kids studying Black History Month who have no black kids in their school or adult black role models in their community. They need to be able to imagine themselves rejoicing in blackness and growing like a tree safe and free and happy in the world. How else will they build a better world together?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain

by Verna Aardema; pictures by Beatriz Vidal. This is a Reading Rainbow book from 1981. I bought it for Buster about 16 years ago because I loved the rhythm and rhyme and the beautiful illustrations. If you google it you will find pages and pages of lesson plans for the ways teachers use it in the classroom to talk about weather, culture, African animals, etc. "Between the Lions", the PBS show, does an episode on it and you can read the whole text of the book here. I was reminded of it this past week after reading Thunder Rose, because of the similar way they bring rain to end the droughts on the plains of Texas and Kenya.

Ki-pat is a boy who herds his family cattle on the dry plains. There are plenty of heavy dark clouds, but the rain never falls. Ki-pat stands on one leg and watches

.. the cows,
all hungry and dry,
Who mooed for the rain
to fall from the sky;
To green-up the grass,
all brown and dead,
That needed the rain
from the cloud overhead –
The big, black cloud,
all heavy with rain,
That shadowed the ground
on Kapiti Plain.

Ki-pat solves his problem in a similar way to Thunder Rose. An eagle drops a feather as he stands watching. He picks it up and makes an arrow, and then makes a bow. He shoots the cloud;

So the grass grew green,
And the cattle fat!
And Ki-pat got a wife
And a little Ki-pat…

Ki-pat doesn’t reach down inside to the bull’s eye target of his heart where love and joy are stored up from his birth song as Thunder Rose does, but he uses his creativity to shoot the sky and bring the rain, just as Thunder Rose used her iron lasso to grab a cloud and bring some rain. I think the two stories go well together.

In the back of the book there is a paragraph telling about the history of the tale. Verna Aardema wrote the story based on a Nandi village story. The Nandi people live in Kenya. You can listen to Nandi men singing dance songs at here. Aardema reworked the story from a version done by anthropologist Sri Claud Hollis, who learned the folktales from the Chief Medicine Man of a Nandi tribe he was studying in the early 1900s. It reminded him of the cumulative nursery rhyme “The House That Jack Built” so he called it “The Nandi House That Jack Built”. Aardema wrote it with a repetitive refrain and brought the telling even closer to the English nursery rhyme. I think that is what makes her story so popular with children and adults alike. It is easy to chant, recall and adapt for story theater. I think it is one of the most well-loved and recommended African folktales of our time. For me the charm is in the creativity and initiative of the child who watches cows and eagles, builds feather arrows, calls the rain and waters the grasslands with his simple, innate abilities. It’s a charming, magical transformation that is with in everyone’s reach. I find that inspiring.

January 30 Haiku

sunset 3.JPG

Fortunate drivers:
mornings go east, evenings west
watching the sky.

This week's prompt at One Deep Breath is to take a closer look at our connection to nature. Some days I only get outside to see the sky during the drive to and from work. I am so grateful that I drive into the sunrise and sunset and commute at just the right time during the winter to witness the glory of the changing sky. Some days I have to pull over and take out my camera. Many of my haiku come together during the drive. Glancing up at the sky is what keeps me grounded in the natural world. How do you connect with nature in your daily busy life?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Thunder Rose

by Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Coretta Scott King Award Honor book 2003.

I found this book in the book store last weekend while looking for a fairy tale for Buddy Boy. It’s not really a fairy tale, but a tall tale. I bought it anyway because I was so enchanted with this powerful heroine. The illustrations by Kadir Nelson are strikingly beautiful. Light glows from the rich brown faces of Rose and her family. Gentleness, loving-kindness, joy in working in the world and family togetherness are celebrated in the colorful, moving paintings. The egg-shell blue of the Texas sky is perfectly balanced with the brown of cattle and dusty streets. Although the text is complex and full of advanced vocabulary like “contemplations”, “cataclysmic”, “devastation”, “parched”, “hooligans”, “cantankerous” and “varmint” a young child can follow the story just by studying at the artwork.

“Thunder Rose was the first child born free and easy to Jackson and Millicent MacGruder.” This opening sentence sets the stage for a girl wonder who transforms their world. It is easy to breeze right over this opening without really thinking about what it means but I think it is significant that she is proclaimed to be the first one born free and easy. She is born during a thunder storm and she sits right up and grabs a bolt of lightening and sets it on her shoulder. The picture echoes a nativity scene, with adoring adults gazing at a child encircled in light. I noticed this same technique of implying greatness by associating the favored child with holiness in Jacob Lawrences’ Harriet and the Promised Land. Thunder Rose speaks from the moment of her birth and chooses her own name. This reminds me of Demi’s The Legend of St. Nicholas, where Nicholas is said to stand up on his first day of life and speak. Nicholas refuses to nurse in order to pray and is known for singing and reciting scriptures. Thunder Rose nurses politely from her mother but needs more sustenance and so she goes out and lifts a cow to drink it almost dry. She was “as pretty as a picture, had the sweetest disposition, but don’t let yourself be misled, that child was full of lightening and thunder.”

Right from the beginning it is clear that she is destined for greatness. Her parents love and adore her, and it their love and “watchful splendor” that enables them to sing a lullaby with such power; “passed down through the ages sweet and true” that Rose takes it into her heart and holds it there for future strength and grace. She says,
“It’s giving me a fortunate feeling rumbling deep in the pit of me. I’ll register it here at the bull’s-eye set in the center of my heart, and see what I can do with it one day!”
This is the key to all her triumphs of the future – her parents’ love has graced her with a song of grace and power. I just love the illustration on this page. Her parents and the doctor’s faces are full of joy and delight as they sing to her. She sits up on the quilted bed with her newborn’s chubby thighs, curved belly, ribs sticking out and her hair in coiling ringlets of beauty bursting out all over her head. She is an infant attuned to receiving their love while at the same time she sits up with a straight and purposeful backbone. Lightening cracks in the window behind them.

As she grows she hums a tune while doing her chores. She grows up “more than good and strong.” She plays with scrap iron, bends it into a thunderbolt and builds a fence at the age of five. She wrestles a stampeding herd of wild longhorn steer and brings them home for her parents. She tames the biggest lead steer with a song, causing him to become her loyal friend. She invents barb wire to make a holding pen for the herd. On her first trip to take the cattle to Abilene she captures a gang of desperadoes, ties them up in iron and drops them at the jail. Having conquered all who stand in her way, she looks to take on the killing drought that causes even the rocks to cry out in thirst. Rose stretches out her lasso made of iron rods and catches a cloud in the sky, squeezing it for water. This results in tornados rising, and Rose meets her greatest challenge.

She stands in the face of two tornados coming at her from opposite directions. This is really the best part of this story; when Rose is faced with her greatest challenge what does she do? She sits back and thinks it through. She admits that it is bigger than her and she doesn’t know what to do. She waits. Zen in a tall tale. She calmly calls out to the storm:
“I could ride at least one of you out to the end of time! But I’ve got this fortunate feeling rumbling deep in the pit of me, and I see what I am to do with it this day!”
Then she opens her arms wide and opens her mouth and begins to sing. She defeats the demons of the air by thinking, talking, opening herself, reaching deep into her heart, and singing.
“Oh how her voice rang out so clear and real and true. It flowed like a healing river in the breathing air around her. Those tornadoes, calmed by her song, stopped their churning masses and raged no more. And, gently as a baby’s bath, a soft, drenching-and-soaking rain fell. …That mighty, mighty song pressing on the bull’s-eye that was set at the center of her heart."
Rose is a hero that transforms her world through kindness, boldness, determined attention, thoughtfulness and song. She receives love, treasures it, opens her heart and releases her power. We need more heroes like Thunder Rose.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

January 28 Haiku

short pine in snow

we sat talking;
out the library window
snow began to fall

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fairy Tale Question

Next week Buddy Boy's preschool teacher is doing a fairy tale theme. She asked the parents to send in a fairy tale book to share with the class. She is doing projects on glass slippers, frog kisses, porridge bowls and ugly ducklings. Buddy Boy said the story should have a princess in it. I am trying to think of a fairy tale with a protagonist that is a person of color. All I can come up with is Sam and the Tigers and Flossie and the Fox. I am not talking about folktales here, but fairy tales. Fairy Tales traditionally include magical creatures or an element of magic. I thought about The Black Snowman, The People Could Fly or Her Stories, but these are four year olds and I think those books would be a little hard to read aloud to this young group. We need something short, fast paced and with brilliant illustrations. What would you suggest?

No Peace, No Vote

Today, Saturday January 27, 2007 there is a big peace march in Washington, with the message for Congress to get together and work on getting our troops out of Iraq. They are the ones to reel in that egomaniac power-monger and we have to tell them we want them to do their job! I am not going because I don't want to put the babies through a full day of travel, but I am writing to my Congress people and raising my voice. Monday is lobby day, when people will be visiting congressional offices urging them to work on to end our participation in Iraq. Even if you can't go, you can support their effort. Join me!

This is from

On Monday, Jan. 29th, we will take our message directly to the new Congress in a lobby day.

Congress has the power to end this war through legislation. National United for Peace and Justice is calling on people from every congressional district in the country to gather in Washington, DC -- to express support for those members of Congress who are prepared to take immediate action against the war; to pressure those who are hesitant to act; and to speak out against those who remain tied to a failed policy.

Even if you can't go, you can participate by helping students and others make the trip with a scholarship donation to: UJP, 55 Norfolk St., Cambridge MA 02139. Earmark for transportation fund.

Friday, January 26, 2007

blues journey

by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers.

I have to admit I have never especially liked blues music. It is often too slow and mournful for me. I get impatient with the repetition and methodical wind down. I would much rather listen to some upbeat praise gospel, wild jazz, baroque classical or fast paced rock and roll. I am getting a new appreciation for the blues though, after reading Myers’ book blues journey. In the introduction Walter Dean Meyers says, “When art from two cultures comes together, the result is often an exciting new experience. Such is the case with the blues. Two elements of African music form the basis for all blues: the singing form of “call and response,” and the pentatonic, or “blues,” scale. In African music the lead singer makes a statement, or “call,” and the chorus responds. In the blues the first two lines represent the call:

Going on a journey, looking for my supposed-to-be
Going on a journey, looking for my supposed-to-be

The blues singer then responds to his or her own call:

I’m riding that blues highway, and lord, it’s riding me”

It is interesting to me to see how the cultures of Africa have blended with European, North American and Asian influences to make-up our modern music. Reading the opening information page, the glossary and the timeline of the blues given in the back of the book have greatly increased my understanding of the development and range of the blues.

Myer’s son Christopher does the art work in this book with blue ink, white paint and brown paper bags. It is amazing what beautiful collages he has created. The browns and blues are perfectly balanced and portray the full range of human experience and feeling; from despair to joy, loneliness and fear to companionship and comfort.

My favorite poem is this one:

I’m half scared of dying, half scared of being strong
I’m half scared of dying, half scared of being strong
Guess that’s why I end up staying in that raging storm too long.

I would love to hear that sung with a strung out guitar and harmonica to back it up. It covers so many of my own experiences. Can you just see yourself singing that tune? If you get a chance look for this book in the library or bookstore and spend some time soaking it in. It is a balm for the soul.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Oprah's Roots

So I am doing all this knitting lately, and I love to watch TV when I am knitting. Last night I was so tickled to chance on watching the PBS show on Oprah’s roots. I like Oprah and her book club but I seldom watch her show because I can’t remember when it is on and I hate the amount of commercials I have had to watch the few times I remembered to turn it on. Anyway, I loved that show last night. (No commercials on PBS) It was really fascinating to watch Henry Louis Gates unwrap the history of her family going all the way back to Africa. She learned that her focus on education, discipline and the importance of land ownership (business sense) goes all the way back to her great-greats. If I am remembering correctly, one of her great grandmothers headed the school board for a school for black children during reconstruction and one of her great-great-grandfathers came from slavery to buy his own land and establish a school on his property for the black children in his community. It made me so hungry to know the history of my adopted black son’s families. After reading Black Baby, White Hands I was filled with sadness at not knowing my sons’ family stories, and now once again I am longing to know – what heroes, struggles, triumphs and sacrifices did their people achieve to bring them here? I pray dear God we someday will know.

Harriet and The Promised Land by Jacob Lawrence

This book was first published in 1968, and redone in 1993. It is truly one of the most beautiful tributes to Harriet Tubman’s life. After seeing that Moses :when Harriet Tubman led her people to freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford received the Caldecott this year, it is nice to go back to Lawrence’s book and view another poetic, artistic rendition of her life and work. Tubman’s faith in God shines out in Weatherford’s book as she is often depicted listening to the voice of God for guidance. Lawrence follows this theme as well. In my amateur art viewer’s opinion she is shown as a Christ figure in several panels:
1. At her birth she is laid out in a manger-shaped bed with her mother and father bending over her in adoration, in much the same way that Jesus is traditionally portrayed at his birth surrounded by Mary and Joseph.
2. The North Star, reminiscent of the Star of David appears in the sky above them and is seen in most of the panels that follow.
3. As a young child Harriet sits at the feet of a wise woman, listening to her teaching about Moses, the Promised Land, and how the Lord spoke to Moses. This reminds me of Jesus sitting in the Temple listening to the teachers of the law.
4.Harriet prays to God in the night, asking for strength, just as Jesus prayed in the garden before his trial.
5. When Harriet gets the sign that the time is right she raises her hand to point to the star and leads her people. She tells them “Believe in the Lord! Believe in me!” just as in John 14:1, Jesus said, "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me."
6. On the way, when Harriet is traveling on the underground railroad she and her band stop at a safe house. The illustration shows black folks around the table eating with a white woman serving food. A white man is washing Harriet’s feet, just as Mary washed Jesus’ feet when he and his disciples ate at the Pharisee’s house.
7. The text goes on to say “Now Harriett grew weary and sick at heart. Now the Lord sent Harriet a chariot! The chariot was sent by the Lord’s own hand, and Harriet rode the chariot to the Promised Land!” The illustration shows Harriet and her people in a wagon pulled by a white horse, rising into the North Star. It recalls to me Elisha riding the chariot of fire into heaven.

So Harriet is compared to Moses, Elisha, and Jesus as she leads her people to freedom. With spare and beautiful text Lawrence tells this story of strength, determination, courage and faith. In using these literary devices to portray Harriet as a prophet and messiah figure Lawrence emphasizes the significance of her work and sacrifice in the fight for freedom and justice. She is said to have lead more than 300 people to freedom in her trips back and forth from North to South and North again. I would say that her unfailing efforts to break the bonds of slavery for those individuals contributed to the work of demanding justice and freedom for the whole of America with effects lasting to this day. Just as Moses’ work lead to the building of a nation and Jesus work brings freedom and life to us all, Harriet’s work brings a legacy that we all, white and black and brown together benefit from every day of our lives, whether we see it or not. That is why Harriet is so important to our history and why this book is so inspiring.

If you are a teacher or home-schooler looking for a really excellent unit of study for Black History Month, check out these links on Jacob Lawrence and go to town! He is one of America’s foremost painters, trained in Harlem during the height of its golden age and a prolific producer of awesome art. Other books by or about him are The Great Migration by Jacob Lawrence, Toussaint L'ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom by Jacob Lawrence, and Complete Jacob Lawrence by Peter T. Nesbett.

History of Tubman:
Great museum site on Lawrence:
Webquest and lesson plans for a study of Lawrence:
NPR tribute/obit:
Lesson plan for grades 3.4:
Amazon review by Allysa A. Lappen: Scroll down to read her review for interesting information about Lawrence, his art training and his career. Also on this Amazon page scroll down to see the “Better Together” section and click the link for the suggested companion volume The Great Migration by Lawrence, and read her review of that. It makes me really want to buy both of these fantastic books!

January 25 Haiku

Kiss his baby cheeks,
get in the car, drive to work -
his tears on my tongue.

The prompt at One Deep Breath this week is "process". The process I use to write haiku starts with searching for a moment in the past day that gives me a strong image. A scent, a touch, a sound or sight; the way light falls or colors shine out. I try to put that one moment in to words, as briefly as possible in a way that will give another person access to my experience. Then I turn it over in my mind, searching for a deeper feeling or a lingering association. I look for a contrast or an insight, searching for the reason that particular moment is held in my attention. I try to think of a photograph I have or could take that fits with the haiku. I move the words around, taking something out or adding a different word, counting the syllables and looking for music. Sometimes it takes all day or longer to get it to fit. With daily practice this process become almost a habit, and I find myself savoring little moments from each day.

The haiku above is significant to me in relation to process because it is about the process of mothering. Yesterday I kissed the baby good-bye at the day care door in the morning. He was crying a little. but then pulled it together and went off to play. When I got in the car I realized I had taken one of his tears on my lips in the kiss, and all during the drive to work I could taste the saltiness it. I was feeling his sadness and anxiety but getting in the car and going to work anyway, because that is my job as his mother. Holding his heart on my tongue in the saltiness of his tears, knowing our bond and hating the separation, but also, driving to work knowing he is in a safe place with people who enjoy him and care for him. The longing to be together and the pull of separation... acknowledging his love and sharing his pain... this is the process of mothering.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Seen But Not Heard

I have been having a terrible time getting into blogger for the past two weeks. I keep getting these error messages that say the server can't be located, try again in a few minutes. It usually happens during the day while I'm at work, but last night it was happening at home. It is so frustrating! I can't even read other blog comments or leave my own comments to your post if you are on blogger. I have so much I want to say and I can't get through - Grrr! Is this happening to you too? Just nod your head because I bet you can't post a comment either...

Last week I was interviewed on the Cybils site since I was on the Non-fiction Picture Book judging committee. If you want to see another picture of my goofy grin take a look over there. They are doing a series of interviews with all the bloggers on the judging committees and it is really fascinating reading if you are interested in kid's books and kidlit bloggers.

For more on that theme, I have a contribution to the 10th Carnival of Children's Lit. at Big A little a. Head on over there and read all the other entries to get a delightful dose of children's book reviews, news and children's literature discussions.

And really, I am still reading your blog. I hope blogger is upgrading their server or something and we will be back to flying commenting soon....

January 24 Haiku


indoors, the jasmine
stretches slim green fingers
seeking winter sun

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

outsiders within; Writing on Transracial Adoption

Edited by Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinyere Oparah and Sun Yung Shin. I have been reading this book slowly, dipping in to one essay after another with plenty of time between to try to digest as much as I can. It is very hard going. This is a new kind of book on adoption, written by adult adoptees. It is not what we have heard about adoption before. I have read many of the adoption books in the past five years; Inside Transracial Adoption, Journey of the Adopted Self, In Their Own Voices, Primal Wound and others. outsiders within goes deeper and goes down harder. It is shaking me up and challenging everything I thought I knew about my motivations and aspirations for the adoptions of my sons.

I have had many conversations about whether white people can raise black children with a strong racial identity intact, and whether white people should be matched with black or biracial children in adoptions. I thought I had looked at it from both sides; the need for black children to have their racial heritage reinforced in their family and community as well as the overwhelming need for families to adopt waiting children of color in foster care regardless of the race of the adopting family. I thought I had been tutored in the weakness of the “love is colorblind” theory of combating racism. I thought I had found ethical adoptions in situations where the infants were waiting in foster care and no family other than me had been found for them. Their birth parents had made considered, desperate decisions and time had past. If they had regrets they had opportunity to change their minds. If they had the resources or the committed desire to raise their sons they could have done it. These boys needed me. I thought the alternative to me, a single mother adopting these little boys was that they would continue to wait in foster care. I felt lead to give myself to mothering them.

In this book I am reading straight talk that is challenging all that thinking. Perhaps in my acceptance of the surface situation these babies presented I have accommodated a deep and abiding injustice. Perhaps I should have acted or chosen differently. In the introduction to this volume Oparah, Shin and Trenka discuss the debate over same-race placements or transracial adoption. They conclude that
this narrowing of the discussion to a debate between two camps impoverishes our understanding of transracial adoption. It also prevents us from considering other possibilities.

How would the proposed remedies change if we asked about the right of low-income parents to receive adequate economic support to keep their children? …The contributors to this volume do not limit their concerns to the terms of the existing debate. They do not seek to present either exemplary stories of successful adoptions or cautionary tales of disastrous events. Instead they reveal transracial adoption as the intimate face of colonization, racism, militarism, imperialism, and globalization. In so doing, they direct our attention to the need for long-term solutions embedded in struggles for economic, racial, and global justice that address the root causes leading to children of color being removed from their families or surrendered for adoption. They call on us to demand justice for an entire community, rather than claiming to save a single child.

I am convicted by that because I know that white privilege contributes to my ability to achieve the high education and employment history that allows me to gather the resources to adopt these boys and provide a home, health care, material necessities and an excellent education for them. I know that white privilege contributes to my solid network of supportive family, friends and colleagues that back me up and enable me to do this. I think the first mothers of my black sons bore them without the advantages that I have been given. Had they had the benefits of white privilege they very well might not have chosen to give their sons up for adoption. I know racism has effected all of us and has impacted my sons and their families from before they were born. My loving them and giving myself to mothering them does not make up for that.

It is a little ironic to me because I also feel that it is my connections to black friends and community that gave me the confidence to parent my own first biological son born to me as a single woman. When I read the stories of other white young women who gave their babies up to adoption because of the pressure friends, family and church put on them to remain childless when single, I am grateful for the black single mother role models I had that told me I could raise my baby and have a good life as a single mother. In the black community my motherhood was validated and respected in a way that I don’t see reinforced for so many single white women that became “birthmothers”. Part of it may have been that I was in my late 20s, I had an education already, I had work experience. No one said I couldn’t have a successful career if I had a child. But also, I knew women who had children and no husband. I lived with single mothers whose role as mother was deeply valued and respected. I had mentors in the black community who showed me how to do it. The family values of the black community taught me important lessons in parenting.

Getting back to the book; I originally wanted to read it in order to learn what perspectives my growing sons may experience. There are many different stories here, different views and different reactions. There is much wisdom, anger, struggle and insight.

One of the essays in the book is called “Power of the Periphery” by Kim Diehl. She says:
“Being a transracial adoptee may be the most radicalizing force in my life, one that has coursed through me with an intense and raw power. I see parts of myself in so many humans. I share the pain and victories of other displaced, abandoned, and re-birthed people. We on the periphery, learning and watching from the outside, have a particular power with revolutionary roots.”

As I learn more about the history of adoption in the United States, I realize how profoundly and intimately the political forces of women’s rights, children’s rights, and he narrowly framed family values movement have impacted my life. To counter the religious Right’s strategy of stripping resources from already debilitated public services while giving tax breaks to adoptive parents, we have to ask broader questions about family structures. Who gets labeled a family member and who is property? Who really benefits from adoptions? Are children’s rights taken into consideration during the adoption process?

My separation as a brown child from my birthmother was much more sanitized and devoid of blatant political connections. However, I did not have any power in the decision to seal my records; I did not have any power in the decision to take federal money away from social service programs that might have prevented family breakup; I did not have any power in the decision to make it a child placement agency policy to ignore race; I did not have any power to keep from being the physical embodiment of a political process that stamped its approval on transracial adoptions in a country founded on the enslavement and oppression of people of color.

She says so much more I wish I could quote here for you. I read this article over and over and keep seeing new things I want to ponder. And this is just one article… there are others I long to discuss. I will post more on another day. Is anyone else reading this book? I would dearly, dearly love to have a book discussion or book club around this book. If you have any involvement in transracial adoption, please consider reading it. I want to hear what you think of it!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Link Love Monday

Lenten Rose.JPG

Punkin had a fever of 102 this morning so I am home with him. I took Buddy Boy to daycare because it was cold all weekend and we were mostly stuck in the house. I think he needed to run around with his friends for a while. I am planning to rock the baby, run the vaporizer, read, knit and not do much else today.

Dawn reminded me that I love to read all the entries in Literary Mama. I was browsing there this morning and found an essay by Jocelyn Johnson, who writes a (new to me) blog called "JOCELYN'S STORIES: fiction and prose about motherhood and more". She has absolutely gorgeous pictures of her family and her writing is really beautiful.

Another blog I have been enjoying recently is Mrs. J's Our Kind of Parenting. She describes her blog like this: "Magazine maven turned mommy who's lived, worked and played in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Brooklyn, Harlem and LA. Currently resides north of NYC with her husband, five year old daughter and fraternal toddler twins." I think I first saw her commenting at Anti-Racist Parent. She always has something interesting to say.

One more blog to link: I am so happy Being Mama Daily is back to posting again. Jasai finds the most interesting stories to post from mamas raising black children all over the world.

What are your new favorite blogs to read? Send me some links!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I Stink

By Kate and Jim McMullan. This is Buddy Boy’s current favorite book. It is the story of a trash truck, told very entertainingly in the first person. I don’t know what it is about four year old boys and smelly garbage and poop, but if you want to get their attention, that is all you need to mention. He begs me to keep it checked out of the library and wants me to read it over every night. We have also read McMullan’s book I’m Dirty, which is about a front-end loader getting dirty cleaning up an empty lot. He likes that well enough but it doesn’t bring out the passion that the garbage truck does. He has always adored trash trucks, as did Buster when he was young. Something about the size and noise and power of destruction I imagine. I Stink has the trash truck bragging about his wide tires, double steering wheels, blinking lights, power crusher blade and squealing brakes. The illustrations are cartoonish, tending toward the yellow and red spectrum and outlined in black. The text flows and bends like WordArt, changing size and shape to emphasize movement and power. The middle of the book is an alphabet of all the smelliest things you could toss out, including kitty litter, puppy poop, and dirty diapers.

Interestingly, one of the first times we read it Buddy said “diapers aren’t trash!” Score one for green living; what he knows of diapers are cloth and washable. Putting poopy diapers in a landfill doesn’t make sense to him. He is also fascinated by the page that shows the city drowning in uncollected garbage, which is what would happen if we didn’t have trash trucks doing their job. Buddy likes to repeat “You’d be on Mount Trash-o-rama, baby” even though he is still trying to figure out what that means. Not only does this book amuse him, it is also introducing him to environmental and sustainability issues and teaching him beginning reading principles like sound-symbol correspondence, decoding and sight words.

After I read it he goes back through it and can recite many of the pages. He has learned to read some of the sight words. I can hear him reading and/or reciting it over to himself at naptime, his intonation and enunciation mirroring the way I read it to him. Yesterday he pointed to the large A in ROAR and asked me why it was in the middle of the word. He recognizes Stop, Burp, Plop, and ZZZZZZZ. After I explained to him that the z’s meant snoring or sleeping, he has referred to that in several other contexts. Because all this foundational reading is so exciting, I don’t even mind reading about all the nasty garbage that the trash truck rejoices over eating for breakfast. The more squeamish I react, the more he loves it. Who said you can’t get boys to read? Just bring on the stink!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Beginner's Mind


I have a little book called 365 Zen Daily Readings by Jean Smith that I found at a library used book sale several years ago. It is full of quotations from the Zen masters. I used many of them when I was writing a technology handbook for our staff and faculty a few years ago. There are a couple in particular I love because they put clearly into words one of my greatest pleasures in life; that of being a beginner and being open to learn new things.

Learning new things really jazzes me. I feel fully alive and energized and happy when I discover something new, see something I think I could make and then do it or serendipitously solve a problem. Keeping a "beginner's mind" is keeping yourself open to those possiblities. Here are two quotes from the book that ring a bell with me:

Shunryu Suzuke said “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

He also said “In Japan we have the phrase ‘shoshin’, which means, “beginner’s mind.” The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind….Always be a beginner. Be very careful about this point. If you start to practice zazen (mindful meditation), you will begin to appreciate your beginner’s mind. It is the secret of Zen practice.”

Today I learned a new technique in knitting. I have been knitting for 35 years but I have never before tried to knit cables. Those are the lovely twisty ropes that go up and down some sweaters, hats or mittens. I always thought it was too complicated for me to do. I like to knit without having to count stitches or think about the pattern, so I usually stick to simple things. But I saw this really lovely pattern for fingerless gloves at Whoopsy Daisy. She had a link to Knitty, where there is a free pattern for these gorgeous wool fingerless gloves. I think Kateri made some too. In my library office my desk is right under the AC vent and cold air pours down on me all year round. (The cool air circulates all year because of all the computers.) I wear wool sweaters and my hands are still always freezing. I was drooling over those gloves. So last weekend I bought some beautiful lavender wool/cotton blend yarn and I decided to try to learn to do cables so I could make these gloves. They are knit in the round on double pointed needles, the way mittens and socks are made. I used the smallest needles I have, size one, even though the pattern called for bigger ones. I couldn’t get the stitch gauge right and I wanted them small because my hands are small so I also reduced the stitch count to 40 instead of 45. I actually had a cable needle already. I had bought it from a sale bin years ago, thinking I would someday get the courage up to learn to do cables. It was perfect for this project. They knit up so quickly I finished one glove today and it is so delicious I can hardly believe it!

One of the things I really love about blogging is all the new things I am learning. It is such a delight for me to see and hear what other people are thinking and doing and then find ideas about how I can try something new to me. My knitting, photography, poetry, writing and reading, teaching and librarian skills have all been stimulated by what I have learned in blogging in the past nine months. My parenting is much better too, and I think I am a more compassionate, empathetic and thoughtful person because of what I have read on other people’s blogs. What have you learned lately that gives you a renewed “beginner’s mind?”

lavender jasmine fetching.JPG

Friday, January 19, 2007

Little Stevie Wonder

by Quincy Troupe, illustrated by Lisa Cohen. This is a biography of one of the greatest musicians of our time. It is written in poetic verse, incorporating phrases from many of the well-known songs written by Stevie Wonder. Quincy Troupe is a poet who has published 14 books, including seven volumes of poetry. He has won many awards and was featured on PBS’s Bill Moyers's Power of the Word in 1989. He has read his work all over the world and taught writing in universities in several African countries as well as the United States. Read more about him and Lisa Cohen at this Houghton Mifflin site press release.

Lisa Cohen was born in Cape Town, South Africa and has traveled between SA and the US for most of her life. She has illustrated four children’s books. In an interview with the editors at Houghton Mifflin Cohen says,

“I grew up in South Africa and visited my father in California on school breaks. This turned out to be a great opportunity to get in touch with all the new music coming out of America. It took forever for American records to get to our stores, so it was my "responsibility" to bring home the latest releases. My friends and I would have regular jam sessions at my house, spinning records. One year I bought Stevie's Songs in the Key of Life album. My best friend, Sally, and I played it over and over and danced! I was so ecstatic when offered the chance to illustrate Little Stevie Wonder that I called my friend Sally in South Africa and we cried for joy, marveling at how it had all come full circle. Thus I've dedicated this book to her."

These two have teamed up to produce a beautiful and inspiring tribute to Stevie Wonder’s musical talent and joyful, exuberant life. Troups says, “He is a magical boy, this blind little boy. What he can’t see, he knows through touch, through his seeing-eye fingertips, through his big, warm heart that thumps in time with the music like an old African drum. …through his ears he sees more clearly than most people do with their eyes.”

Cohen’s vibrant paintings exude the energy and bounce of Wonder’s music. I especially like that the hair styles and dress of Wonder and his fans progress through popular styles of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. As you read titles like “Fingertips”, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, “Isn’t she lovely”, Happy Birthday” in honor of MLK, Jr., and “We are the World” you can see Stevie and his fans dancing across the pages dressed in period appropriate clothing. Stevie’s hair starts out short, grows into a huge ‘fro, and then lengthens into his signature braids. His clothes go from conservative button down shirts and jackets to brightly colored dashikis.

Troupe ends by saying,

“a sequoia tree of a man.
He takes his INNERVISION,
his words,
his voice,
and spreads joy and peace,
telling everyone
that “We are the World”
and harmonizing “Ebony and Ivory.”
He keeps growing with a smile bright
As a clear daybreak on his dark, luminous face,
The words of his songs now dazzling stars,
Shining diamonds in the night sky,
Like words of Braille his fingers touch.”

This edition comes with a CD recording of two songs: “Fingertips Pt. 2” from 1962; one of his first hits, and “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” from 1966. Stevie was 11 years old when he got his first recording contract with Motown, and continues to perform today. In the final pages of the book are an Author’s note summarizing highlights of his life and career, a chronology of his life and a select discography of his popular recordings. This is a great book for children interested in music and popular culture. Both of my little boys love music and I look forward to sharing it with them as I am sure they will be inspired and delighted with it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Leopard's Drum by Jessica Souhami

This Ashanti folktale tells of Osebo, the leopard, who is proud of his magnificent drum. He refuses to share it with the other animals and even refuses Nyame, the Sky-God’s request to borrow it. Nyame is angry and tells the other animals to find a way to bring him the drum and get a reward. Python, Elephant, Monkey all try to get the drum but they are not successful. Finally Achi-cheri, the tortoise is clever enough to trick Osebo and bring the drum to Nyame. This is a classic trickster tale pattern, where the smaller and weaker character is clever enough to outsmart the bold, arrogant stronger characters. Because it is an Ashanti tale the Sky-God Nyame is portrayed as a handsome, powerful Black man.

This combination of the humble tortoise’s creative problem-solving, the boastful leopard’s foolish blindness and the kind justice of the Sky-God is what makes folktales so satisfying for children. They recognize the values of fairness, generosity, cleverness and humility. They relate to the poor stature of the little tortoise when the other animals say “You haven’t got a chance, not a titchy little, weedy little creature like you.” We are certainly cheering for the tortoise when she replies “Well, I am going to try anyway.” In the end, when Nyame wants to reward Achi-cheri for bringing the drum he asks what she would like. “Achi-cheri looked round. All the other animals were looking jealous and cross. She thought for a moment. “Please, Nyame,” she said, “most of all I would like a hard shell to protect me from fierce animals.” Nyame laughed and gave her a tough, hard shell. And Achi-cheri the tortoise still wears it today.”

This is the perfect ending for this little gem of a story. My boys love it and your children will too. The illustrations are beautiful brightly colored cutouts reminiscent of the shadow puppets that Souhami has studied and used in puppet shows in London, where she now lives.

The edition we have in our library is told in both English and Bengali. It is published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books of London. They have other multicultural titles published in dual languages, including Rama and the Demon King by Jessica Souhami and Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Caroline Binch. It’s nice to expose young children to well loved stories in other languages. Just seeing the Bengali text printed on the page alongside the English can impress upon young ones that our ways are not the only ways, and our words are not the only words. It’s great to be able to share an African tale that is cherished by children in India, England and the United States, as well as many other countries.

While looking for links for The Leopard’s Drum I found this great site for buying books: Letterbox Library. If you are interested in building your collection of multicultural books and don’t know where to start, this can be a great resource for you. Check out their list of books recommended for Black History Month. Here’s how they describe their mission:
About Us - Letterbox Library is a non-profit driven workers co-operative. It was started twenty four years ago by two single mothers operating from home, who wished to provide multicultural and non-sexist books to children - offering essential topics and titles which were sadly neglected by mainstream booksellers. Over the years we have expanded but still hold firm to our co-operative values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. Our books can be found within educational institutions, libraries and homes throughout the UK and abroad. Customers come to us primarily for our unique book selection service.

This sounds like just the place for me to start shopping!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Now Is Your Time!

I have been reading Now is Your Time! by Walter Dean Myers. It is a 1992 Coretta Scott King award winner. This book is fascinating. I can remember my seventh grade American History teacher reading aloud to us from a book on the Civil War. He was a wonderfully expressive reader and he loved his subject so we were all enthralled. His class is one of the few that I have clear memories of from Jr. High school. Reading again about the Civil War has brought back the way he told us about the battles at Manassas, Antietam and Appomattox. Watching him read with such excitement taught me that history is about real people and is significantly connected to our lives today. Myers book shows me that in a whole new way.

One of the things that impressed me is Myer’s explanation of the economic structure of Southern agriculture and Northern manufacturing which reinforced the dehumanization of African people. They became economic possessions whose labor was worth more that the (non-human) physical holdings of many landowners. “A person who held an African, even if he didn’t have use for the labor of that person, realized the value he held. An African who escaped was a serious monetary loss.” Reading about how the social system worked to enslave, subdue, and subjugate Africans into a slave labor force controlled by brutal oppression and backed up by law over the course of two centuries of our history is humbling and sobering.

Now Is Your Time is written beautifully. It is simple and clear and easy to understand, but shows a personal style that makes the history come alive. Myers starts in 1762 when an African prince named Abd al-Rahman Ibrahima is kidnapped into slavery and taken from Africa to the New World. Myers then follows the ancestors of several families through the generations as they live our American history, showing how the circumstances and decisions of their lives intersect the historical events that have shaped our country. In the preface he says: “History has made me an African American. It is an Africa that I have come from, and an America that I have helped to create.” Myers has a bold and personable voice as an African American telling the history of his people.

About half way through the book Myers is describing life in the South during the Civil War. He talks about a plantation called The Bower that was located a short ride from Harpers Ferry. It was owned by a family named Dandridge, one of the families whose history Myers traces and whose members were closely connected to his own ancestors through the institution of slavery.

“Somewhere on the Dandridge estate, as Stuart’s men were enjoying the hospitality of Stephen Dandridge, there was also a little girl named Dolly whose job it was to take care of the many babies produced in the quarter. She was of African descent but very fair skinned, listed on later census records as a mulatto… Much of African-American history has never been written down but has been passed from generation to generation in quiet family gatherings. I first learned of the horrors of African captivity while helping my mother snap beans in a Harlem tenement. The stories were not just information; they scared me so badly I couldn’t sleep at night for thinking about them. It pained me to know that so many in my family had shared this experience. Dolly was from my mother’s family, but I remember my grandfather on my father’s side telling us how he knew his age.

“I was born just before the war,” he said. “They didn’t allow none of us to do no reading or writing, but my mama took a newspaper, folded it up, and saved it so she could remember how old I was. After the war she folded the front page of that paper up and put it in the Bible.”

…I have been to The Bower and I have walked among the same oak trees that my great-grandmother, Dolly Dennis, must have seen when she was there… Dolly is part of the heritage of all African Americans and of my family in particular. It is a heritage I deeply cherish.”

I have found his book to be enjoyable and illuminating reading. He covers the years from 1762 through 1968. He gives detailed examples of the wisdom, strength, courage and love of freedom of men and women such as Ibrahima, James Forten, George Latimer, Lewis H. Latimer, Ida B. Wells, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King.

In his Afterword he says:

“We are a people capable of understanding our own nobility, and our own failures. We have seen who we can be and know that those who have gone before us, who lived their lives well so that we might be free, would demand that we be no less than we can be. An Ancient symbol in Ghana is the Sankofa bird. “Sankofa” means to turn back and get what you have left behind. The people of Ghana use it to remind themselves that before you can go forward, you must know where you have been.”

Because of Myers research and writing we all can know more about where we have come from and build on the vision of where we might go. This book is highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

January 16 Haiku

ducks in the creek

snowflakes spiral down,
ducks circle in dark water -
evening rush hour

The prompt at One Deep Breath this week is reflection. See other haiku here.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

We All Went on Safari:

A Counting Journey through Tanzania by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Julia Cairns.

This is a charming counting book. Arusha, Mosi, Tunmpe and several of their Maasai friends go out onto the grasslands looking for animals. We learn the Swahili numbers and the names of the animals as we go along with them. Repetition, rhyme and rhythm give the text a musical flow. The pictures are beautifully balanced with vibrant colors and graceful portrayals of the children on the Serengeti. In the back of the book there is a map of Tanzania with information about the country, the animals and the Maasia. Pronunciation and meanings for the Swahili names and words are given as well. As we have just learned the Ngoza Saba for Kwanzaa Buddy Boy is interested in Swahili and was delighted with this book. It is a beautiful introduction to Tanzania, the largest country in East Africa. Mount Kilimanjaro, Lake Victoria, the Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge and the Serengeti are all in Tanzania along with more than 100 distinct tribes of African peoples. I think this book will be appealing to very young children all the way up through middle grade students studying African nations.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Project 365


I learned from Geeky Mom that there is something called Project 365, where people take at least one photo a day for a whole year and post it. She started a new blog to post her (fantastic) photos. I don't think I can keep up with two blogs. This one sucks enough time as it is! I love the idea of disciplined photography though. I think I can get used to taking my camera everywhere and taking a few photos every day, posting the best one. I am going to tag them "365" and keep them in a set called "365 2007" on Flickr. I put a badge to that set in my sidebar which you will see if you scroll down. I just started yesterday so I don't have a photo for everyday in January, but hey. Maybe I'll catch up. Apparently a lot of other folks do this too so it should be fun looking for new photos every day. I added a photo section to my bloglines links on the sidebar too. If you'd like some eye candy on your coffee break, take a looksee.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Personal Penguin

Like Davy Jones from the Monkeys? Like Sandra Boynton? Try this. Thanks to Peter's Cross Station for the link.

De-Lurk Yourself!

I am trying to catch up on my blog reading and I keep seeing that it is National Blog De-lurking week. Is there anyone out there willing to de-lurk here for me right now? Please? How about telling me what great book you are reading or planning to read that you think I would like? I am feeling kinda left out over here folks! Just to let you know, I first started blogging because I was persuaded to de-lurk myself on Kim-kim's blog last year. You never know where it will take you so go ahead, jump in!

Haiku Poetry Friday

I try to write a haiku every day. Sometime when I am driving or cooking I am muttering to myself and counting syllables with my fingers tapping on the steering wheel or counter. Buddy Boy says “are you making a poem again?” Then he wants to hear it when I get it ironed out. Often he will then make up one of his own and recite it to me in a sing song voice. I wish I was quicker with a pen so I could write his poems down. They always sound fantastic but he can’t repeat them for me because they are completely extemporaneous and I am not sharp enough in the memory to get them down.

I brought a few haiku books home from school to write up my Friday Poetry post. Buddy wanted to hear If Not For the Cat, haiku by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Ted Rand tonight for his story time. He is really developing an ear for haiku. Prelutsky’s haiku focuses on animals and tells quirky little qualities related to each one. There are no season words, a requirement of classical haiku, but several of them do have the sharp, clear images of a single moment and the contrasting perspectives between second and third lines that give good haiku its depth. Really good haiku paints you a picture in one or two brush strokes and rings like a bell. It shows you a whole new world in one snap. Here are my two favorites from this collection:

Moth -

How foolish I am.
Why am I drawn to the flame
Which extinguishes?

Mouse -

If not for the cat
And the scarcity of cheese,
I could be content.

Jellyfish –

Boneless, translucent,
We undulate, undulate,

That last one really shows Prelutsky’s love of multi-syllabic words. He cracks himself up with his five syllable kickers I think. It’s a real talent when writing haiku, I admit.

I wish I could give you a good picture of Ted Rand’s illustrations because they really make this book spectacular. I tried taking a photo but the lighting is terrible in my room tonight and it is not happening. You’ll just have to look for this book in the library or bookstore and sit down and enjoy it. Buddy liked it so much he wanted it twice and then went back over it one more time. He learned a few new animals I think, like the ant-eater and rattlesnake. This book is the perfect introduction of haiku for young children. They will love making some of their own after studying this collection.

Visit Big A little a for a round up of Poetry Friday posts this week.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

January 10 Haiku

this cherry blossom

his smooth round head is
snuggled close against my neck -
blossom petal cheeks

Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan

This retelling of a folktale from the Ila-speaking people of Zambia is truly beautiful and inspiring. Ashley Bryan’s bold, colorful paper-cut collages dance off the pages. His aviary of rainbow birds full of life and energy remind me of a playground full of children. During the day they are busy and noisy and full of enthusiasms, while at night they cozy up together in family nests to rest and dream of black. The love their colors but think that the blackbird is the most beautiful of all because “his feathers gleam all colors in the sun.” They dance around blackbird singing and doing the Show Claw Slide:

“Beak to beak, peck, peck, peck
Spread your wings, stretch your neck.
Black is beautiful, uh-huh!
Black is beautiful, uh-huh!

Tip tap toe to the left, spin around,
Toe tap tip to the right, stroke the ground.
Wings flip-flapping as you glide,
Forward and backward in a Show Claws Slide.”

This text is so musical it begs to be read aloud and sung in a chant. I think children hearing this a few times will be saying it at recess while they skip rope or hop down the path. Ashley is such a wonderful storyteller. There is an audio book available with him reading this and other folktales that I have requested from the library. I think we are going to love listening to this in the car on the way to school or in the kitchen while I am cooking dinner.

As the story goes on the birds beg Blackbird to share his beautiful blackness with them all. To the Ringdove who asks: “Blackbird, Blackbird, coo-coo-roo, coo-ca-roo, would you color me black so that I’ll be black like you? My neck is plain and that’s a shame, ‘cause Ringdove is my given name.”

He says “Color on the outside is not what’s on the inside. You don’t act like me. You don’t eat like me. You don’t get down in the groove and move your feet like me. But come tomorrow to the Sun-Up-Dance. I’ll brew some blackening in my medicine gourd. Then I’ll swing a ring around your neck to go with your name.”

Sure enough, in the next few days he mixes up some black in his pot and uses a feather to paint patterns and designs of black on all the birds. How delightful to see the host of heaven sporting their new designs and patterns of black! I just love the message that each one of us is an individual with our own internal beauty AND we can generously share all of our beauty, inside and out, with everyone around us. This is a joyful, uplifting tale for every one, child or adult.

Best Books:
• Best Children's Books of the Year, 2004; Bank Street College of Education; United States
• Capital Choices, 2003; The Capital Choices Committee; United States
• Choices, 2004; Cooperative Children's Book Center; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:
• Coretta Scott King Awards Winner 2004 Illustrator United States

Audio book available, this and other folktales read by Ashley Bryan.

Publisher’s author page with biography and list of books.

Review in the Journal of African American Children’s Literature

Great biography of Bryan, a resident of Maine

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have two biographies for Dr. King’s birthday. Because of the power of his words and the significance of his life’s work I have found that elementary school children are fascinated to learn about his life and death, just like the rest of us. There are many aspects of the Civil Rights movement that are hard to explain to young children. The injustice and cruelty of racist laws of segregation are horrifying and incomprehensible to preschoolers and kindergarteners. For that reason I think it is better to focus on King’s words of peace and unity and hope without giving a lot of details about the depth of the struggles. Older children can intuitively relate to the injustice of separate water fountains and being forced to ride in the back of the bus so more details are appropriate for primary and middle grade children. I found first and second graders to be particularly interested in his “I Have A Dream” speech and the hope for black boys and girls to one day play and go to school with white boys and girls, especially when they can look around the room and see that it is a dream that has somewhat succeeded.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney is the book I am planning to read to Buddy Boy this weekend. He is four years old and just beginning to understand ideas of justice and fairness. Marzollo’s gentle and affirming way of presenting King’s life is just right for four to six year olds. She emphasizes his strong family roots, his nurture and education and his following in his father’s footsteps as a Baptist preacher. She shows Dr. King caring for people in the hospital, leading them in prayer and song in church and helping children learn to solve problems peacefully on the playground. Marzollo explains that Rev. King became famous because he worked to change some of our country’s laws that were unfair. She gives examples of riding in the back of the bus and drinking from segregated drinking fountains. She talks about how Rosa Parks and many other people worked together with King to make our country better. The protest marches and the speech in Washington are explained as examples of his great leadership and dream of a “world where people live and work together without being mean to one another.” King’s death and his funeral are mentioned simply. In the Forward to Parents and Teachers at the beginning of the book Marzollo explains that King’s murder may be something your child is not ready to deal with and you might want to change the words to just say he died. I appreciate her sensitivity and understanding that children are individuals and parents or teachers should be prepared to adjust the reading of the book to accommodate their development and emotional maturity. Time enough for them to grow into understanding of the most terrible realities. Mazollo ends with words of hope and beauty, celebrating his work and honoring his life.

Martin’s Big Words; the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier is another lovely book. It has won many awards and deserves a place of honor in every library. In the introduction Rappaport says that in preparing to write the book she read that “as a child he was determined to use “big words.” I reread his autobiography, speeches, sermons, and articles. I found his “big words.” They are simple and direct, yet profound and poetic. His words continue to inspire me today.” Through out the book she quotes Dr. King’s words, putting them in large and colorful print.
“Everyone can be great.”
“Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
“Love is the key to the problems of the world.”
I think the full text of this book, which goes into more detail about the Montgomery Bus Boycott with the jailings and beatings and hatred they faced is more appropriate for middle grades and older. I would like to show this book to Buddy for the evocative, beautiful pictures and just read the quotes of Dr. King. I think he will be entranced by the power and emotion shown in the faces of Dr. King and his family and followers. Bryan Collier in his introduction talks about how he was inspired by the image of stained glass windows in a church and the ability of collage to bring together different elements to form a new and deeper oneness. The faces shine with determination, joy, hope and conviction. In the back of the book are two pages of information, including a timeline of King’s life and a list of additional books and websites for further study. Older students can use these leads to extend their reading and learn about his life work and the Civil Rights movement in depth. Rappaport and Collier have each done a masterful job and together their book is genius.

We are planning to take part in an MLK day of service event this weekend in our community with other families of adoption. What are you planning to do to honor King’s life time of service?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

January 9 Haiku


Sit in the dark.
The slightest rose of morning
will define the trees.

The prompt at One Deep Breath this week is to write haiku about subtle change. Look here for more haiku by contributing poets.

Duke Ellington

by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born in 1899 in Washington D.C. His parents signed him up for piano lessons as a child but he wanted to play baseball instead. He gave up the piano until he discovered ragtime as a young man. He taught himself to play and went on to become a brilliant and accomplished band leader, entertainer, composer and recording artist. He has been called the greatest composer in American history. Pinkey’s telling of his development as a musician is musical and poetic:
“When Duke was nineteen, he was entertaining ladies and gents at parties, pool halls, country clubs, and cabarets. He had fine-as-pie good looks and flashy threads. He was a ladies’ man, with flair to spare. And whenever a pretty-skinned beauty leaned on Duke’s piano, he played his best music, compositions smoother than a hairdo sleeked with pomade.”
As a read aloud for younger audiences (I read it to second grade) there may be some vocabulary to explain. I suggest you read it aloud to yourself a few times to get familiar with the flow of rhythms and picturesque language. In describing some of his most popular radio broadcasts of the 20s Pinkney says “Duke’s Creole Love Call was spicier than a pot of jambalaya. His Mood Indigo was a musical stream that swelled over the airwaves.” The text covers his life from childhood, through early band performances and through the development of his Orchestra from the Cotton Club days in the '20s to Carnegie Hall in 1943 when he was recognized as a master maestro. Duke used his music to celebrate the history of African Americans, expressing pride in his heritage, the beauty of his skin and the triumphs of the struggles of Black people.

Brian Pinkey’s scratch pad illustrations are vibrant colors filled with energy and movement. Together the text and the artwork bring out the full glory of Ellington’s accomplished life. I wish this were a book that came with a CD because it would really be wonderful to be able to hear his music as I read the book. I guess I’ll just have to find a recording and let it rip!

For further background on his life and accomplishments check out these links:

Literature Learning Ladders site with great list of links and lesson plans for primary and middles. Links for Andrea Davis Pinkney, Brian Pinkney and Duke Ellington.

PBS kids on Duke Ellington, grades 2 – 4.

The Ken Burns Duke Ellington Biography film companion site with sound files.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Many Thousand Gone

by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon.

This is an excellent, easy to read historical account of Black Americans struggling against slavery in the years from 1619 to 1861. Hamilton is a brilliant writer and story teller. She uses all her talent and experience and the wealth of her grandfather’s storytelling legacy to put together this collection of short biographies of African Americans who made a difference in our nation’s history. The focus in this book is not about what White people did to Blacks; it is the history of what Blacks did to seek freedom and justice for themselves and their families. There were free Blacks living in America during all of these years. Let no child or adult think that Blacks living in slavery just accepted it as their lot in life. Here is a long list of real life people who worked and fought and struggled to gain power and change the laws of the land. They used their education, their creativity, their faith and their communities to bring about change through legal channels and, when necessary or desperate, through covert or strategic methods.

These names should be known:

Jenny Slew
James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw
Crispus Attucks
Olaudah Equianna Gustavous Vassa
Elizabeth Freeman AKA Mom Bett
Chloe Cooley
Gabriel Prosser
Denmark Vesey
Josiah Henson
Tice Davids
Nat Turner
John Malvin
William Still
Robert Purvis
Sojourner Truth
Solomon Northup
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey (Frederick Douglas)
Harriet Tubman
Henry Box Brown
Anthony Burns
Margaret Garner
Dred Scott

Hamilton writes simply and clearly, giving the important points and adding details that bring the characters to life. Reluctant readers will be drawn in and children who love adventure or drama will be quickly engaged. Read more reviews of the book at this site and biographical information on Hamilton here. Virginia Hamilton writes for a wide range of ages in a variety of genres. If you haven’t experienced her yet, you have a treat in store!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My Little Yellow Taxi

by Stephen T. Johnson. I bought this book for 4 year old Buddy Boy after reading this review on Fuse #8 Production. He absolutely loves it. It is a rather large book of heavy cardboard and he carries it around the house. He has never ridden in a taxi and didn’t know what one was until last August when his big brother went off to college and reported to us on the phone that he had taken a taxi from the airport to his college campus. He sees them occasionally now and always exclaims “There’s Buster’s taxi!” We have been reading Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus a lot lately too so the idea of gaining permission to drive an impressive machine has taken root. (Not sure I like those Pigeon books myself, but Buddy sure does).

My Little Yellow Taxi is an interactive book filled with cut outs that one can remove and pretend to use as tools. You can put gas in the tank, look under the hood to check the oil, use the tire gauge to check the pressure, open the driver’s door, put the key in the ignition, adjust the rear view mirror, put things in the glove box, raise the fair flag and turn on the headlights and wipers. All these things are made out of heavy cardboard. They move with a series of tabs and folds and inserts. It is a fabulous toy for a child who loves vehicles, but I find myself wishing it were made out of something sturdier than cardboard. I bent the oil gauge tab the first time we read it and it won’t fit back in the slot now. The ignition key is made of several layers of cardboard glued together and they separated so the key no longer fits its slot. Then again, that problem was quickly bypassed by the potential for parts to go missing. Buddy learned the hard way that one does not throw the car keys during a temper tantrum when one’s mother says it’s time to park the taxi and go to bed. Sooner or later I guess we are bound to find that key again.

The other weakness in the book in my opinion is the text. There isn’t much of a story here. Perhaps a child driver only wants to be handed the book and let to explore driving without the need of adult interpretation. I would have liked to see something a little more imaginative in the writing. Perhaps a story about a taxi driver preparing to drive and then picking up passengers or having a flat or something. Because the text as it is written is pretty boring, just listing the tools and the tasks involved in getting ready to drive, we tend not to read it. We make up our own stories. In the first story one of us is the taxi driver taking the other one to the airport to go to college. In the other story one of us begs to be allowed to drive the taxi and the taxi driver at first refuses and then relents and lets the pigeon –I mean the child drive. The child goes too fast and ignores traffic rules. There is a terrible crash. The ambulance comes, the police come and arrest someone, someone goes to jail, the child comes and bails her out, they drive off in the taxi. Or maybe it’s not quite like that, I am probably mixing things up. In any case Buddy is having a ball driving his taxi.