Wednesday, February 28, 2007


A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson. National Geographic Society, 2006.

Last summer I read and wrote about the book North! By Donna Jo Napoli. In it a 12 year old boy named Alvin becomes inspired by the life of Matthew Henson and he leaves home to travel to the North Pole in Henson’s footsteps. I enjoyed that book very much.

Reading Onward! brings to mind the excitement that Alvin felt in reading about an African American hero who worked most of his life to achieve a dream. He accomplished great things through hard work, dedication and talent but the world didn’t recognize him until the very end of his life. Perry, the white expedition leader and Navy Commander, was given the National Geographic Hubbard Medal in 1909, the year their expedition reached the North Pole. He was “promoted to Rear Admiral in the Navy and retired on a pension of almost $8,000 a year (&156,000 today).”

Henson’s name was not mentioned at those awards ceremonies. He was honored by the African American community but the “general public considered Henson to be only the “Negro manservant” who went with Admiral Perry…” After they returned from their successful expedition to the North Pole he found a job parking cars in Brooklyn until some of his friends found him a job as messenger boy at the U.S. Customs House in NYC. He wrote his autobiography “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole” while working there. In 1937, 35 years after Perry retired, Henson retired from the messenger job at the age of 70 with a pension of $1,020 a year.

Over the following years he gradually began to receive more honor for his work as explorer, being included with the entire expedition party to receive a Congressional medal and Navy Medal in 1944 (after the death of Perry). President Eisenhower honored him at a White House reception in 1954. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1955, at the age of 88. He was buried by his wife Lucy in the Bronx, New York but was later reburied with full honors beside the grave of Admiral Perry in Arlington National Cemetery. Lucy is buried beside him.

Onward! tells the story of their many attempts to reach the North Pole. It is a fascinating quest that took them over 16 years and eight journeys. Photographs and quotes from journals illustrate the story and bring it to life. Henson proved to be skillful, intelligent, brave and resourceful through out their years of struggle. He became known as the best dog sledge driver and often was the one to build an igloo shelter quickly or bring home game for food. At the end of their final march to the pole Henson and two Inuit named Ootah and Ooqueah broke the trail for the last 133 miles. On April 6, 1909 Henson, Ootah and Ooqueah were 45 minutes ahead of Perry and were first to reach the North Pole.

The explorers’ relationships with Inuit who became their friends and family (both Perry and Henson fathered children with Inuit women, and Henson adopted a son) are shown to be instrumental in their success. Living with the Inuit and learning their way of life kept them alive on many occasions, not surprisingly. One of the things that Alvin, in Napoli’s North, really relates to is the close connections Henson formed with the Inuit who accepted him as one of their own. One of the disappointing things, from my point of view, is that when Perry and Henson returned to the United States the last time in 1909 they left their Inuit friends and families in the Arctic Circle and never returned. There is a picture in the book of Henson’s son Anaukaq visiting Henson’s grave site in the Bronx at the age of 81 on his first visit to the United States.

Henson struggled through out his life to earn a living and gain respect for his accomplishments. Although he was intelligent, hard working, dedicated, ambitious and driven to success he spent many years working at menial jobs for low pay because that was all that was open to him as a black man. I am glad to see this National Geographic book telling his story and bringing these photographs to another generation. It is a fine tribute to a truly great American.



So, I just have to ask. What's your favorite Dr. Seuss book??

Mine's gotta be One Fish Two Fish. I can remember being excited about learning to read that book in first grade. It must be the one I drove my parents crazy with, toting it around all the time and begging them to listen to me read. I fell in love with the magical poetry of:

My hat is old
my teeth are gold
I have a bird
I like to hold
my shoe is off
my foot is cold

Buster loved Hop on Pop in first grade; Fox in Sox is the one he drove me crazy with... always asking me to read it as fast as possible until I was spitting and tripping over my tongue. Why is it that I can remember so much of these books by heart? Must be that Geisel tapped into the soul of the English language and wrestled our archetypes into children's rhymes.

You know, of course, that Friday is March 2. Theodor S. Geisel's birthday (he's Dr. Seuss). And it's Read Across America Day celebrating the 50th birthday of The Cat in the Hat. Go send them a birthday card and help put more books into kid's hands.

And please, for the love of Pete, plan to read some Dr. Seuss books with a child or two! Leave me a comment with a quote from your favorite book. No peeking now, just from memory....


Happy Birthday to the Cat in the Hat
Geek take off on One Fish Two Fish
Ted Geisel Biography
Sculpture Garden
Grinch song links
Seuss Parody Page - Spam-I-Am, If a Packet Hits a Pocket, Dr Seuss Meets Star Trek, all the good ones are here (not all G-rated).
Who's Who and What's What in the World of Dr. Seuss from Dartmouth (his Alma mater)
Teacher Stuff

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

February 27 Haiku

icy branches, red column 2

a cardinal calls out:
ice covers the cherry tree
start the day slowly

The prompt this week from One Deep Breathe is "color". We have woken up to ice several days in a row lately, and today it is all fog. February is fading away into a wash of gray. It's nice to remember that Chinese New Year is full of red colors this week too...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

On the Launching Pad

Tea Cozy has a post up with pictures of her groaning bookshelves. I can absolutely relate... mine are double-stacked and I was just thinking I need to set some of them free....

But when I heard there might be a snow storm Sunday night into the morning rush hour on Monday (read "Snow day possible!!") I had to grab a bunch of books from the library. Not that I actually have any chance of getting in extra reading time with my two little guys wanting attention, but.... it's just a few chapter books everyone is talking about that I haven't gotten to yet...

Then of course the other thing is I need to write 250 report cards and the boy's daycare has chicken pox going around so we might be looking at some very itchy sick days coming up... and suddenly I feel the need for a new stack of books. So here is what I have on my headboard bookshelf:

library books.JPG

See anything you are interested in? Where should I start?

Young Children and TV

Jen Robinson's Book Page posted a link to a study written up in icWales about the risks involved in letting kids watch too much TV. Here are the problems listed in the study:

"The report also notes these research findings:

Early childhood television viewing may be a trigger for autism;

Permanent eyesight damage has been 'strongly linked' to television watching;

Viewing television may be a bigger factor in causing obesity than diet or exercise;

The risk of developing Alzheimer's disease increases with each extra daily hour of television viewing among people aged 20 to 60;

TV viewing is associated with irregular sleeping patterns among infants and toddlers;

Watching television significantly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes."

They said more than half of kids today have TVs in their bedrooms. We only have one TV and I used to keep it in the attic so it would be less used. Now it is in the living room so I can cook dinner with only one child hanging onto me at a time. Buddy loves those late afternoon pbs shows, but Punkin is too young to have much of an interest in it. I am glad about that because he is not yet two and pediatricians say under two there shouldn't be any TV viewing. I know they learn so much more by messing around entertaining themselves... even if they are just playing with empty boxes or trying to help stir the soup pot. I have read before that the combination of fast food, soda and watching TV is very damaging to a child's health. Here is more evidence that it is even more harmful than I thought.

The thing is, for young kids there are a lot of shows on pbs. But once they get a little older their tastes change and then they want the shows that have the worst commercials... not to mention all the violence and mature themes... I am really trying to shield my boys from that as long as possible. I am sure by preteen years we will be talking about how to deal with all that is in the media, but if I can keep it out of their brains for a few more years and give them a change to develop a creative intellect I think that will be a life long advantage. I am going to try to cut back on what we are watching. It really is hard, isn’t it?

How do you manage TV and media in your house?

Friday, February 23, 2007


cherry tipsJPG

february shifts
the air; dripping trees in bud
and children run wild

Copywrite Questions

I got a comment from an anonymous poster on my last post about Head, Body, Legs asking if I wasn't violating copywrite. My response is that a book review is considered "fair use" so I don't think so. But what about the pictures? I photographed the open book in order to show the beautiful illustrations. Is that a copywrite violation? I notice the Amazon page for that book has illustrations in their new "share your customer images" feature. I didn't share those images and I have no idea who did. Are they posted by Amazon with author's permission or did another customer send them in?

I notice in my sitemeter that a lot of people visit here after searching Google images for book pictures. When I review a book I usually post an image of the cover by copying a link from a bookstore or publisher's site into blogger's upload image window. I am not actually uploading the image from my computer and I don't have control over it - the linked site could take it down at anytime, leaving my blog with an empty hole in the image slot. But if someone is looking for a picture of The Other Side, for example, they find my blog. I don't really understand why that is... shouldn't they find Amazon, like I usually do?

Another question is why they get the whole archive of November when that image is searched. That's the new blogger and I don't think it's all that helpful. Who wants to have to scroll through the whole month to find that one post at the bottom of the page? But that's a whole other issue...

Anyway I would love to hear your opinions about whether I am breaking copywrite by posting pictures of the books I review. What do you think?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Head, Body, Legs; A Story from Liberia

retold by Won-Ldy Paye & Margaret H. Lippert, illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Henry Holt, 2002.

This is a really cute story about how we need each other. The introduction in the front of the book says “Head, Body, Legs is a traditional creation story from the Dan people of northeastern Liberia in Africa. Dan mothers and grandmothers tell it to children to illustrate the importance of cooperation.”

Head starts out long ago, all alone. He rolls around eating things off the ground. He dreams of cherries but the tree is too high. When he meets a pair of arms they team up and suddenly Head can reach the cherries. Head thinks that is perfect.

As the story goes on Head gets together with Body and Legs, and when everyone is sorted out in the right place Head realizes better and better states of “perfect”. I really like the simple, direct dialog and vibrant, colorful artwork. It gets the message across clearly and is also quite funny. Young children will be delighted with the incongruity of Head thinking life is perfect once he has a couple of arms attached near his ears. They will be able to predict where the story is going, which is one of the things good readers seek to do. That the body parts assemble in unexpected places at first (head attached to body at the belly button) just adds a little drama and makes the ending, when everyone is finally in the right place and enjoying sweet mangos, that much more satisfying.

This is a wonderful book to read when conversations about unity, cohesion, community and cooperative problem solving are on the table. It’s also lots of fun to read just for the pleasure of seeing a body come together. I am looking forward to sharing it with Buddy and I’d love to hear how the children in your life respond to it as well.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Three Fun Blogs

I am reading MultiMedia & Internet Schools online newletter this morning. I found some great blogs from Discovery Educator Network. Here's the summary:

Discovery Educator Network Launches Three Blogs

Discovery Education's Discovery Educator Network has announced the launch of three new educational technology Weblogs. The blogs, Media Matters, Digital Passports, and Digital Storytelling, are designed to share insights from leading educational technology experts on how to incorporate the latest digital assets in the classroom to help meet the challenges of teaching 21st century learners.

Media Matters ( focuses on all things related to Digital Media and education and is hosted by Hall Davidson, who joined the Discovery Educator Network team in 2006 after serving as the Director of Education Television Services at a California PBS affiliate for 15 years. Hall has served as a technology advisor for software manufacturers, commercial and PBS broadcasters, organizations including the California School Library Association and Technology for Results in Elementary Education and taken part in numerous technology education task forces and committees.

Digital Passports ( features explorations into new and interesting online technologies that are used by today's technology-savvy generation, including Web 2.0 Websites. The blog is managed by Steve Dembo, who has worked as a kindergarten teacher and Director of Technology at the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago before joining Discovery Education in 2006. As the Online Community Manager for the Discovery Educator Network, he oversees the DEN virtual community, including a network of over 20 educational blogs. Steve's personal blog,, is renowned in the EdTech community and his Teach42 podcast was one of the first educational podcasts, serving as the inspiration for many other educators to create their own shows.

Digital Storytelling is managed by Joe Brennan (, an expert in digital storytelling who has over 30 years of classroom experience, the last 12 serving as the AV/Media Coordinator at Niles West High School in Illinois before retiring last June. Every week, Joe reviews resources and blogs and provides insight into the world of digital storytelling.

The Discovery Educator Network ( is a global community of educators who are passionate about the power of digital media. The DEN Website provides a forum for educators to exchange ideas, resources, and best practices on integrating multimedia content in their classroom curricula. The network also provides professional development opportunities for users of Discovery Education products and services, including meetings and events, interactive online workshops, teaching tips, best practice videos and project demonstrations.

Source: Discovery Education,

I am fascinated with the Digital Storyteller links and the web 2.0 applications described in the Media Matters blog. Even if you have nothing to do with technology in the schools I bet you will find some new toys that interests you there....

The 11th Carnival of Children's Literature is up!

Gung Hei Fat Choy

Go to Mother Reader to see a list of awesome links in the round up of kidlit blogs for the month of February. You might discover a few new blogs and will certainly enjoy some fascinating reading!

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Six Fools

by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Ann Tanksley. HarperCollins, 2006. Zora Neale Hurston is the acclaimed author of Their Eyes Were Watching God. In the 1930s she toured the Gulf States collecting and recording folk stories told by the people she met. The Six Fools was published as part of the anthology Every Tongue got to Confess, her third volume of folklore. It is charmingly retold here by Joyce Carol Thomas, the author of the Coretta Scott King Honor Books Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea and I have Heard of a Land.

The story opens with a “dashing young man” in love with a “pretty young woman.” He comes to talk to her parents and they all sit down in the living room. Her mother and father are pleased with him, and send the young woman to the cellar to get some sparkling cider to celebrate. Unfortunately she is a silly girl and forgets the spigot is open as she starts to dream about her future children. In stages her mother and father come down to the cellar to join her and become lost in their own daydreams, thinking of what to name their first grandchild. The cider floods the cellar as they sit making plans. The young man finds them and immediately recognizes the foolishness of the family he is about to join. He says he will go travel the world to see if he can find three people more foolish than them. So we go on his journey with him and find, yes of course, three people even sillier and more foolish. In the end he says “Well, well, w-e-l-l, I have found three folks as foolish as the three fools I left. So I might as well go back and get married.” On the final page the illustration shows a bon voyage party as they go off on a cruise.

The illustrations are brightly colored and humorous in their own right. They add to the story by showing us the details such as a cellar full of cider barrels. How many kids today can visualize that on their own? And in the end, Hurston doesn’t give information about how the wedding is accomplished but Tanksley shows us that they are going off together as bride and groom. Children will be satisfied with that final illustration as it fills in some of the implied ending. Bride and Groom, still in their wedding clothes, are on the deck of a cruise ship as family and friends wave goodbye. The cow is in the picture, in reference to the journey the young man took. The Statue of Liberty is in the distance, placing the celebration in New York’s harbor. The final text is simply “By that time I left”, which the back of the book explains to be a colloquial Caribbean expression meaning “The End”. I think young children will appreciate that as they always like to hear a satisfying, firm ending to a story.

I like that the young man is portrayed as strong, hard working, thoughtful and direct in his conversation. He loves a foolish woman from a foolish family and wisely decides to go see how her foolishness compares to the rest of the world. When he sees how simple others are he realizes that his beloved’s foolishness is something he can live with. I think he values his love and trusts himself to make up for her lack. None of this needs to be said overtly because the poetry of the storytelling communicates the deeper meaning. Children will love the silliness of the adults seen forgetting to turn the spigot off, trying to pull a cow up onto a barn roof and attempting to haul sunshine into the house in a wheelbarrow. They will intuitively understand the precious value of loving people no matter how foolish, as they themselves love adults that often behave in inexplicable ways for unexplainable reasons. I admire Hurston for her ear in hearing this story and her voice in sharing it with us. What a gift she had, to bring us this wisdom!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Brown Angels

by Walter Dean Myers. Harpercollins, 1993. Walter Dean Myers has been collecting photographs of African American children for years. He finds them at antique shops, garage sales, yard sales and second-hand stores. The children aren’t identified; their families lost touch with these photos long ago. Somewhere a grandchild may come across this book and spot a family resemblance. Maybe one of your people is here, captured in their childhood solemnity or silliness. They could be the long-grown children-now-grandparents of anyone. Their clothing is old fashioned but their eyes speak of now.

Myers wrote poems inspired by these photographs and they are lovely and compelling. My favorite is one that Sharon Creech included in her book Love That Dog:

Love That Boy

Love that boy,
Like a rabbit loves to run
I said I love that boy
Like a rabbit loves to run
Love to call him in the morning
Love to call him
“Hey there, son!”

The boy in the photo has the same pouty lips that my son has and it brings tears to my eyes.

Another one I just can’t get enough of is here:


Shout my name to the angels
Sing my song to the skies
Anoint my ears with wisdom
Let beauty fill my eyes

For I am dark and precious
And have such gifts to give
Sweet joy, sweet love,
Sweet laughter
Sweet wondrous life to live

Read more about Walter Dean Myers here and here.

Lissy's Friends

Grace Lin sent me a review copy of her new book Lissy’s Friends. It’s not coming out until May 17, which happens to be Grace’s birthday. I love her other books, including Year of the Dog, Dim Sum for Everyone, and The Seven Chinese Sisters. I am just thrilled to be one of the ones to get a first look at this! The packaging for Lissy’s Friends was so beautiful it made me feel doubly special. She wrapped the book in a gold paper ribbon and included a handmade Origami paper crane.

Lissy (pronounced “lee-she” according to Lin’s website) is a little girl who is new in school. She doesn’t have any friends. No one talks to her or sits with her at lunch. Since she has no one to talk to she finishes her lunch quickly and folds the paper menu into an Origami crane and names it “Menu”. To her surprise and delight, Menu blinks at her and flutters his paper wings to fly into her pocket. Lissy happily makes dozens more friends and takes them everywhere with her. She isn’t lonely anymore. One day she takes her paper friends to the playground and whirls them around the merry-go-round. A gust of wind comes and whisks them up into the air… and away they go! Lissy sits down to cry until another girl comes up and says “Hey, is this yours?” She is holding Menu! The smiling girl becomes her first new human friend, soon to be followed with all the other neighborhood children as Lissy shows them how to make Origami animals. On the last page is a postcard from the rest of the animal friends with a picture of them having tea at a sidewalk cafĂ© in Paris. They say,

“We are having fun traveling the world. We miss you!
*heart* your
PS Tell Menu Hello!

This is a very sweet story that I am sure every child who has ever been in a new environment will appreciate and enjoy. I changed school often as a child and I know exactly how Lissy feels. I used to pretend my balloons were my friends as they followed me down the street bobbing at my shoulder. I love how Lissy’s paper friends all have wide open eyes looking at her and what she is doing on every page. It is clear they are devoted to her as the center of their world; a perspective consistent with the way children think. Everything in Lin’s artwork is made from Origami paper; so the sky, the floors, the wallpaper, the furniture, and everyone’s clothing follows the theme of a fantasy world meeting Lissy’s real world.

Another thing I really like about this book is that although Lissy is clearly Asian, the story is not about being Asian. There is no reference to her ethnicity, which puts her Asian identity squarely in the realm of ordinary. We can assume she is Chinese if we know Grace Lin writes about Chinese kids in America, but she could also easily be Japanese or Korean or something else… There are children of every skin tone in her world and nothing particularly remarkable about it, although I also notice there are no other obviously Asian kids. That she knows how to fold a paper crane might be a special quality of her Asian identity, but soon all the other children want to learn how to fold paper animals as well and she easily teaches them. It’s nice to see a story where an individual child finds a creative way to express and address her feelings of loneliness that capitalizes on her unique abilities and at the same time attracts friends who admire her and want to share her play. That’s a good story for everyone. Remember to look for this book coming out in mid-May and get a hold of your own copy!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

February 15 Haiku


marker gripped with
open-mouthed concentration,
my son writes my name.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The results are posted!

The Cybils 2007 winners are announced! Click over there right now and read all the details. The long lists of great books nominated by bloggers are here, in the sidebar under Nominations, and the short lists of the top five in each category are here. If you are wondering what fantastic new reads you may have missed in the past year, take a look at those links and see what other bloggers are excited about.

Jen Robinson's Book Page has a great idea for how we can get the word out about the Cybils and the difference bloggers can make. By making a splash now we can make our love of kid's books known and promote great books.

I worked as one of the judges on the committee to chose the Non-fiction Picture book winner, and I have to say it was a wonderful experience. I want to thank my fellow committee members for their enthusiastic hard work, and I want to thank the publishers for sending us review copies of the short list books so quickly and generously. Most of all I am grateful to the authors and illustrators for making such fabulous books for us to read. I can't wait for this year's Cybils season to begin!


The Cybils winners are announced! 4 pm EST.

Check back!!!! Lots of anticipation building.... What have bloggers chosen as the best books for children published in 2006? You are just on the edge of your seat, aren't you?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Gung Hei Fat Choy

Chinese New Year falls on Feb. 18 this year, the year of the pig. I spent a couple of years living in China in the mid-80s and I still remember the fantastic celebrations we enjoyed at New Year's. There really is nothing like the fireworks displays in Hong Kong and Beijing for Chinese New Year. Don’t get me started on the fabulous food….

Planet Esme has a very funny resource describing how the Chinese zodiac interacts with classroom management, for you teachers. When I taught first grade we always did a big China study in February and January. We studied folktales, art, music and calligraphy. We learned a little history and geography and always tried to have some parents come in to help with a festive Chinese long-life noodle luncheon. I gave out Red Envelopes and had so much fun teaching Origami (Japanese but also well known and practiced in China, where even the littlest kids can make a paper crane), counting in Chinese with an abacus (still used for totaling purchases and making change in the department stores and markets in China in the 80s), and writing Chinese characters. I have some books to suggest that go a bit beyond celebrating Chinese New Year if you are interested in exploring a little…

Folktales: Just a few of my favorites, out of hundreds…

The Emperor and the Kite by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Ed Young. Philomel Books, 1988. This is a retelling of an old tale about Princess Djeow Seow, the youngest and smallest daughter of the Emperor. She loves making and flying kites and finds a way to become a hero through her passion. Ed Young’s full color illustrations are based on the traditional Chinese paper cut technique. The delicate colors of the outlined figures float across the white pages giving them a magical quality.

The Greatest Treasure by Demi. Scholastic Press,1998. “Long ago in China there lived a rich man named Pang….. Not far away lived a poor man named Li…” So begins this story of riches and poverty, and how these neighbors shared the greatest gift. Interspersed with Chinese proverbs and beautifully illustrated with Demi’s gorgeous artwork, this book is a treasure. Look for all her other books too.

Ten Suns; A Chinese Legend retold by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Youngsheng Xuan. Holiday House, 1998. This story is one of the oldest Chinese myths, dating back to the Shang dynasty (c. 1523 B.C. – 1027 B.C.) according to the author’s note in the back of the book. It is the story of Di Jun, the eastern emperor of the sky, his wife Xi He, and their ten sons. The sons’ job was to march across the sky every day being suns for the earth. Because they are selfish, thoughtless children they cause a problem that can only be solved through their parent’s sacrifice and their own transformation into crows. Eric A. Kimmel is a wonderful storyteller. He has also published the Caldecott Honor Book Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, which is another of my favorites. Youngsheng Xuan is a renowned artist working in a variety of mediums. He was born in Shanghia, China and now lives and works in Canada. His beautiful paintings in a traditional Chinese style give an authentic context for the story.

Other arts:

Voices of the Heart by Ed Young. Scholastic Press, 1997. Ed Young is a fabulous artist. I love all of his books. In this one Young has chosen to explore 26 Chinese characters that include the symbol for heart through paint, collage and language. “Grace”, for example, means “the heart shows pity” and is the combination of the symbols for confined, man and heart. The illustration interprets the traditional pictograph into a man standing behind bars on top of a heart. The text says “A man who is confined is oppressed. When the heart feels empathy for the oppressed, it has been touched by grace.” This book is something to meditate on; to share and discuss and linger over. Adults and children together will find it a deep well of inspiration and illumination.

My Chinatown; One Year in Poems by Kam Mak. Harper Collins, 2002. These poems follow a young boy through the year in Chinatown. He has come from Hong Kong with his family and is seeing everything with fresh eyes. The illustrations are truly lovely. The visual perspective is varied and the faces show the feelings and connections between family members and sympathetic strangers. The colors are at once both soft and vibrant. The poetry is exquisite. It is in the clear, honest, tender voice of a child and cuts right to the heart. I really love this book. Kam Mak grew up in New York’s Chinatown. He has illustrated numerous other books and lives in Brooklyn now with his family.

Cooking the Chinese Way by Ling Yu. Lerner Publications, 2002. This book gives a lot of background information on Chinese festivals, history, cooking techniques and traditions. It in interspersed with nice photographs of people in China and close-ups of the delectable dishes. Plan on time to read and absorb the text portions.

The Young Chef’s Chinese Cookbook; Step-by-Step Fun Recipes for Young Chefs. Crabtree, 2001. This volume has pictures of the equipment, ingredients, techniques and children actually cooking. It may be easier for youngsters to follow and complete the tasks by following the step-by-step directions. The children in the photos are about ten years old and of various ethnicities.

These two cookbooks are almost constantly checked out of our library. They are both written with children in mind. Even if you have never done any Chinese cooking and don’t have any special equipment you can have fun in the kitchen and learn to cook yummy Chinese food with these books. I try to sneak them out for my own family every once in a while… like maybe tonight!

Kids in China:

Kids Like Me In China by Ying Ying Fry, with Amy Klatzkin. Yeong & Yeong Book Co., 2001. This book is written by eight year old Ying Ying, a Chinese American girl adopted from China. She tells her story with frankness and tenderness. There are many beautiful photographs on every page of her and her family. She tells the whole story of her life so far, as they go back to visit China and she reunites with the people in her orphanage. Photos of the infants and children (many of them older children, and just as many boys as girls) still living in the orphanage are beautiful and touching. She explains the entire situation from a child’s point of view. Children and families who share this history will be especially fascinated with this book, but everyone interested in Chinese adoption will want to spend some time gazing at the lovely pictures and studying the text. Ying Ying’s mom is Amy Klatzkin, a contributing editor to Adoptive Families magazine and the editor of A Passage to the Heart; Writings from Families with Children from China.

Mei-Mei Loves the Morning by Margaret Holloway Tsubakiyama, paintings by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu. Albert Whitman & co., 1999. Mei-mei wakes up in the morning and helps her grandfather feed the bird and make breakfast. They go together to the park on Grandfather’s bicycle with his songbird. They have a wonderful time meeting friends, doing Tai Chi and drinking tea. The paintings are beautiful and show the full life of the city. This is a charming book about the delights of spending the morning with a loving, attentive grandfather in a modern Chinese city.

Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding by Lenore Look, illustrations by Yumi Heo. Athenuem Books, 2006. Jenny feels like “an umbrella turned inside out” because her favorite uncle is getting married and she is afraid she will no longer be his special girl. She tells us all about the amazing preparations for this traditional Chinese wedding while she mourns the loss of her precious friendship. Stella, the bride…”is the sun and everyone else is the rest of the universe. The camera follows Stella’s every move. She twinkles and shines. I feel like cosmic dust” Jenny wails. Since she is in charge of the all important tea ceremony, maybe she can do something to halt the inevitable… but somehow Stella manages to win her over in a very special way. The illustrations are drawn in kid style and the voice of Jenny is mischievous and endearing. This book is really a gem and I am surprised it hasn’t gotten more press this year. I think it’s one of the great ones!

I have left out so many great books from this really long post. What are your favorites?

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Edge of the Forest

Happy 1st Birthday to The Edge of the Forest! The Forest (aka TEOTF) is a monthly online journal devoted to children's literature. Edited by Kelly Herold, of Big A little a, the contributors gather some of the best of what's out there every month in kidlit. This month I have a review of The Road to Paris (a Coretta Scott King Honor book, 2007) on the Middle Grade Fiction page. Go take a look see!

Here's what in the Forest this month:

Books Not About Race

Dawn, in her recent article on Anti-Racist Parent, has asked the question: What are the good chapter books that have main characters that are people of color, but the story is not about their race or ethnicity? She gives this as her “rule for inclusion - The child’s race isn’t a plot-device even if it has some bearing on his/her experience. In other words, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson didn’t make it in because Shirley Temple Wong is trying to assimilate into the United States, which makes it an issue book albeit a good one.” I have been mulling this over for a few days. It’s pretty hard to think of books with non-white characters where ethnicity is not a main part of the plot. Issues of identity, assimilation, dealing with racism or living in an environment stereotypical of a particular race (the ‘hood, Chinatown, and internment camp, wrong side of the tracks in a small southern town, etc.) are so common in books with non-white characters. Dawn’s question is a really good one. What books would you recommend? I have started this list just from scanning our library shelves:

Grades 1 -3
The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron
Later, Gator by Laurence Yep
Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World by Mildren Pitts Walter
Suitcase by Mildren Pitts Walter
Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look

Grades 3 - 5
Drita My Homegirl by Jenny Lombard
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Sing a Song of Tuna Fish by Esme Raji Codell
M.C. Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton
The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes

Grades 5 - 7
Small Steps by Louis Sacher (sequel to Holes)
Hush by Jaqueline Woodson
Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
LeGuin wrote her Earthsea series with a variety of races in mind. It isn’t stressed in the books, but skin color is occasionally mentioned. When the movies were made she wasn’t consulted about who should play the parts. In this Slate article LeGuin discusses how the TV mini series changed her characters from a variety of shades of skin tone and ethnicity to white guys: “Most of the characters in my fantasy and far-future science fiction books are not white. They're mixed; they're rainbow. In my first big science fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, the only person from Earth is a black man, and everybody else in the book is Inuit (or Tibetan) brown. In the two fantasy novels the miniseries is "based on," everybody is brown or copper-red or black, except the Kargish people in the East and their descendants in the Archipelago, who are white, with fair or dark hair. The central character Tenar, a Karg, is a white brunette. Ged, an Archipelagan, is red-brown. His friend, Vetch, is black. In the miniseries, Tenar is played by Smallville's Kristin Kreuk, the only person in the miniseries who looks at all Asian. Ged and Vetch are white.”

The trouble with writing a story with non-white characters where their ethnicity isn’t stressed is that most white people don’t register the possibility that normal life includes all ethnicities. If the book cover doesn’t have a picture of a brown face on it and the plot doesn’t revolve around racism and ethnic identity, it doesn’t enter our minds that the character might not be white like us. I was looking through Codell’s book Sahara Special, for instance. Is the main character white? I can’t tell. Someone suggested that Gregor the Overlander had non-white characters. I hadn’t noticed that at all when I read it. Did you?

Take a look over at the original article and the comments at Anti-Racist Parent and then leave a comment with your book suggestions please.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

February 11 Haiku

looking east.JPG

baking bread;
evening curtains drawn,
come to the table.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Pocket Full of Poems

by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. Clarion Books, 2001.

This is a delightful little haiku poetry book. A girl named Tiana carries a pocket full of her favorite words and uses them in haiku. It would be a wonderful addition to a children’s study of haiku. Tiana lives in the city and finds beautiful things to write about with her favorite delicious words. I like that the haiku is both urban and related to nature, uses seasonal references and contains sharp, concrete images with surprising contrasts. At the end of the book the author gives a brief explanation of haiku style and invites the reader to try writing some. The illustrations are collages made with a variety of materials from paper to beads and toothpicks. They are brightly colored and take off from the images suggested in the haiku. The haiku words dance and swirl across the page as part of the pictures. Here are my favorites:

Hot days send me to
The water fountain where my
Face goes for a swim.

Magic! Evening snow-
Drifts turn each streetlight into
A star on a stick.

(As a girl balances on a ladder to put the angel on top of the Christmas tree)
Christmas – one angel
Atop the tree, one waiting
Below to catch me.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Hunterman and the Crocodile

In the January 2007 issue of Book Links there is an article about Baba Wague Diakite (ba–ba wah–GAY DJAH–kee tay), a story-teller, writer and artist from Mali, West Africa. He grew up in a large extended family in a small village. He came to the US in 1985 and settled in Portland, Oregon. He is called “Wague”, which means “man of trust”, after his grandfather. He made puppet shows for the children in his neighborhood as a young man, and when he became his father he started making up stories for his daughter. They would make books together every week. His most recent published book, I Lost My Tooth In Africa is written with his daughter. I reviewed it last fall.

The Hunterman and the Crocodile is his first published book. It is a story he based on one of the proverbs he learned as a child. He says that it,
“teaches that man must live in harmony with nature and not place himself above it. In this tale, both the hunterman and the crocodile need something from each other in order to solve a problem.”
It starts out with a crocodile family going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. They run out of food and water and are lying under a baobab tree resting when the hunterman comes along. Although he is afraid of being eaten they convince him to tie the whole family together and carry them back to the river on his head. Of course once they are back in the water their hunger takes over and they threaten to eat him. He calls out for help but one after another a cow, a horse, a chicken and a tree denounce him because man has not been good to them in the past and doesn’t deserve their help. Finally a rabbit appears and cheerfully tricks the crocodiles into demonstrating how they were tied up and carried. Now the man can take them home and eat them up! He invites the rabbit home to share the feast of course. But that is not the end of the story. When the man gets home his wife is sick and dying. The healer insists that the only way to cure her is to give her crocodile tears to drink. Hunterman offers to free the crocs in return for some of their tears, which causes them to cry with joy. The man never forgets the lesson he has learned.
“From that time forward he has reminded people of the importance of living in harmony with nature and the necessity of placing Man among – not above – all living things.”

The artwork is stunning. The black silhouettes are dramatic. Wague explains in Book Links, “Even though these are painted pictures on clay tiles, I am referencing the look of mud cloth painting, with white outlines around the black silhouette figures. Mud cloth is a unique textile technique of the Bamana people of Mali. Designs are painted with dark mud on treated woven cotton cloth.” The backgrounds are brilliant orange and yellow skies, with some blue and green for water and vegetation. The hand-painted tiles are bordered with traditional mud cloth patterns. The sun wears a smile, which Wague says, “reminds me of my grandmother. She told me so many stories when I was young, and by putting the sun in the picture it is as if she is looking down on me, and is always there.” It is wonderful to have this treasure of a book which passes on to us the wisdom of Wague’s parents and grandparents. Enjoy the artwork and read the book online here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Underground Railroad Quilt Block Code?

I have been reading about the Underground Railroad and the “secret quilt codes” controversy for the past few days. It is very intriguing to me to read different opinions. It seems that a book was published in 1999 called Hidden in Plain View. It was written by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, based on the stories told to them by an elderly quilter named Ozella McDaniels. I haven’t read that book, but from reading the reviews on the Amazon site linked above I think it is a collection of family stories, songs and theories about how quilts might have been used by slaves to pass on oral history and tradition about escape pathways to the North. Scroll all the way down to the bottom and read all the reviews. They are very interesting! Many historians today are saying the code of secret quilt blocks is hogwash. There was an article in the NY Times last month discussing the tribute to Fredrick Douglas planned for Central Park that would have a mosaic tile at the base depicting supposed Underground Railroad secret code quilt blocks. I have read in a few blogs and historian’s articles that the ideas are being debunked as urban legend.

It is interesting to me because I am a quilter. Several years ago I attended an event at the Mercer Museum during Black History Month. An African American woman named Christina Johnson, who is a quilter, gave a presentation about the quilt blocks said to be used as signals for escaped slaves. She gave examples in photographs of quilts that contained blocks in some the patterns mentioned in the current critiques, along with the proscribed meanings. Some of the block patterns were Log Cabin, Shoofly, Flying Geese, and Jacob’s Ladder. I took a lot of notes because the idea was so fascinating to me. It seemed a bit of a stretch to me to use the Flying Geese pattern to point north when the quilt could be hung at any angle, but I thought she must know what she was talking about. She said she had years of experience researching African American quilts.

The thing is, a lot of these ideas are based on oral history passed down through families. The secrets of the Underground Railroad are by their nature hard to document with written text. It seems to me if you can take it as traditional folk knowledge you can give it some leeway and not need to have everything nailed down so tightly. The problem comes when school curriculums start teaching it as historical fact or romanticize the escape from slavery. Books like Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, Under the Quilt of Night and Almost to Freedom are so beautifully written and illustrated the happy endings overshadow the horror of human beings in shackles. It is easy to teach them as the foundation of a slavery unit in black history month for young children without going into detail of how life actually was for those living in cruel bondage. Books like Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters give a better, more balanced view of the degradation and the heroes, in my opinion. Do you think there is a danger in making the study of slavery and the Underground Railroad too entertaining by using fanciful ideas and possible mysterious messages in folk-art? Do you think it is it a problem when pretty kid’s fiction books make escaping slavery look like an adventure? Or does it simply offer children a way to imagine themselves in the lifetime of previous generations, connecting with real historical events?

More Good Strokes

Yesterday I told you about two new board books at our house. I received two other new books in the same package for my boys. They are on the theme of giving black children positive strokes for building a strong self-esteem. With all the negative images in the media you just can’t give children too many messages about how precious and beautiful they are.

I posted a few months ago about how Buddy Boy, my African American four year old son has already asked me if black is bad. He heard his teachers complaining about how hard it was to clean up black paint after a craft project and understood that to mean all black is bad, including his skin and ethnicity. After that conversation I started making a serious effort to reinforce positive, joyful, appreciative messages of the beauty and value of blackness in all it’s forms; skin color, ethnicity, African American literature, history, art & music, natural elements, poetry, etc. That focus has pretty much taken over this blog I guess. I am enjoying it and continue to find new things to explore and share. I am particularly looking for children’s books by and about people of color. I have to say I think these books are a wonderful addition to every child’s library. White children will benefit from the positive portrayals just as black and brown ones will; after all whites are also harmed by the oppression of racism as it is passed down in our culture. Without black art and literature in our daily lives we are all that much poorer and more ignorant of the richness of our world. If children grow up thinking that books with brown-skinned characters are just for black kids or Black History Month projects they are losing a big part of their own humanity and our common heritage.

Today I want to tell you about a board book called Joy by Joyce Carol Thomas, with pictures by Pamela Johnson. (Jump at the Sun, 2001). This little volume is a delightful song of thanksgiving for the joy a mother feels over her son.

“You are my joy
In every season
Summer, fall, winter, spring
You touch my heartstrings
You are my joy”

The poem goes on to give examples of mother and son enjoying each season. We see them together enjoying the porch swing in summer, rolling in the leaves in fall, playing with snowmen and icicles in winter, and pointing at rainbows and flowers in spring. These activities are so similar to what my youngest boys and I have relished together in the last four years it is as if the book was written for us. I imagine many other families (yours?) will feel the same. The illustrations are warm and happy. There is nothing particularly “African American” about this book except that the family shown is brown-skinned. It could be any mother and child of any race. The mother and son gaze at each other’s beautiful brown faces with such adoration and delight it makes you feel their smiles all the way inside. What a precious gift to share with the children who hold your heart! I think this book will take its place on the favorite shelf in our house.

I am really excited to share with you this next book. The illustrations in Black All Around are done by my blog buddy Don Tate. I have wanted to own one of his books for a while now, and this one is delightful! It is written by Patricia Hubbell (Lee & Low books, 2003) and is a tribute to all that is black and beautiful. It opens with a little girl looking out her window at the night and thinking of all that is beautiful and black:

“Look high,
Look low,
Look everywhere…
The wonderful color black is there!

Sleek and jazzy,
Warm and cozy.
Beautiful black,
Black all around…”

The rest of the book is a poem cataloging beautiful and fascinating things such as:

“The headlines in the daily news.
Patent leather party shoes.
Clarinets and piano keys.
The fuzzy stripes on bumblebees.
A polished stone.
A licorice twist.
Tall trunks of trees in the morning mist.”

The rhythm of the text flows like a song or a chant. I can see children getting into the groove and adding their own contributions of what they see around them that is valuable and intriguing and black. This book can be a spark that lights a fire of satisfaction and celebration. The pictures go perfectly with the music of the text. Bright orange, purple, blue and red compliment and accentuate the glorious black elements that are highlighted. The faces are expressive and vibrant. Swirls of color and movement wrap the characters in delight. This book is just a pleasure to read. Partner up with a child you know and run with it!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pretty Baby Books

Whose Toes Are Those? by Jabari Asim, illustrations by LeUyen Pham. Little, Brown & Co., 2006.

Whose Knees Are These? by Jabari Asim, illustrations by LeUyen Pham. Little, Brown & Co., 2006.

I ordered these two board books online for Christmas and they just came today. I guess they will be Valentine's Day gifts! I always enjoy Jabari Asim's column in the paper. He writes editorials for the Washington Post that are syndicated in my local paper. I didn't realize he wrote children's books too until I heard about these two board books.

They are really adorable little board books that I am so looking forward to sharing with my boys. Whose Toes Are Those? plays on the nursery rhyme This Little Piggy, but starts out with an endearing tribute to those darling toes:

"Whose toes are those?
Who do you suppose
has such fine toes?
So brown and sweet.
Who could have such darling feet?"

The little girl in the story is only shown in parts so that you are playing peek-a-boo with her though the first half of the story. Her identify isn't revealed until the final two-page spread. She has lovely light brown skin and pony tails, with a delightfully charming smile. I can practically hear her giggling as we try to identify the owner of her toes.

Whose Knees Are These? is equally humorous and engaging. We start out seeing a boy's knees up in a tree, rolling past a duck, hanging out of a rowboat.

"Knees like these
don't grow on trees.
So brown and strong,
to whom do these fine knees belong?
I've searched the world and seven seas.
Never have I seen such charming knees."

It is not until the end of the book that we see the cheerful face of the boy whose knees we have been adoring. Punkin loves to play with identifying facial features and body parts, pointing to eyes, ears, etc. and having me say the names. I think these two affectionate tributes to brown-skinned toddlers will be among his new favorite books.

One reason I am confident he will love them is that his current favorite book is Pretty Brown Face by Andrea and Brian Pinkney. (1997) This book has a similar pattern of question and answer, identifying the beautiful toddler who is the subject of a parent's adoration.

" Whose face is that
staring back at me?
It's a pretty brown face.
There's so much to see.
Look at that hair,
curly and soft..."

Punkin loves to touch his hair at the appropriate place in the story. The last page of the book is reflective like a mirror, so he can see his own pretty brown face when I read:

"That pretty brown face
is special as can be.
That face in the mirror
belongs to me!"

At this crucial time in the development of self awareness, when toddlers are learning about their bodies and forming a basic self image, it is so important to give positive affirmations. Peter's Cross Station recently had a couple of posts about how they are stroking their daughter with positive comments about her beauty and worth. I think boys need that just as much as girls do; the specific words may be different but the need for reinforcing the message of treasured, valued beauty and worth is the same for every human. Front loading a positive self-image starts with babies. Plus it is one of the most fun things you can do with your toddler. They just soak it in and shine with pleasure. For myself, I can't think of a better way to spend ten minutes than playing with those darling little piggies! If you have a young one, you need books like these.

February 6 Haiku

sunset 2.JPG

they stand still -
bare black bones of trees holding
the clouds at sunset

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sukey and the Mermaid

by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Sukey is a young girl living in a sagging cabin on an island off the coast of South Carolina. Her mother is married to “Mister Jones” but to Sukey he is “Mr. Hard Times”. He forces her to work all day hoeing the garden and doing chores around the house. She escapes one day to sit beside the sea and meets the mermaid Mama Jo, who is lovely; brown-skinned, black-eyed and green-haired. Mama Jo becomes her friend and gives her gold coins every day to give to her parents so she will be able to come and spend the day with her. Sukey’s ma spies on them and tells the step father. They try to capture the mermaid but fail. Sukey runs away and Mama Jo takes her under the sea to live in comfort and beauty. Sukey is happy at first but she misses other human voices and begs to be returned to her home. Mama Jo brings her back reluctantly and sends a bag of gold with her. She tells Sukey that many men are going to court her but she must only marry a man named Dembo.

Sure enough, Sukey is welcomed home by her joyful ma and mean-hearted step-pa. When he sees the bag of gold he decides to steal it. Many men come courting her, but soon enough Dembo shows up and Sukey falls in love with him. Mister Jones kills Dembo and grabs the gold. Sukey runs to the mermaid for help and receives a pearl that brings Dembo back to life. Mister Jones is chased into the sea and swallowed up by a sudden storm. In the closing scene Sukey and Dembo are sitting on the beach together discovering the mermaid’s last gift of gold coins.

This is a satisfying story in the fairy tale tradition, with a poor, overworked girl finding love and happiness at the kind hand of a magical friend. She starts out as the abused child suffering under a step-pa and ends up the joyful wife of a kind, honest man. She is given the choice of life in the magical realm of peace and beauty but follows her heart to return to her own people and endure the suffering of poverty and oppression. These themes of suffering, escape, reunion, struggle, freedom and love fulfillment are classic elements of folklore worldwide. As a child I always loved mermaid stories and I enjoyed this story. I just wish getting married wasn’t the only happy ending. What if Sukey used those gold coins to buy some land and start her own business? Then when Dembo comes along she can marry him if she wants, but she has made her own life. That’s the story I want to read.

This is one of the few mermaid tales with a black mermaid. San Souci has traced a folktale fragment from its roots in Caribeean and West African folklore, building on the story told in South Carolina’s sea islands. Brian Pinkney’s scratchboard and oil pastels are very effective in setting the tone. The way the winds, water and luxurious green hair of the mermaid are rendered shows movement and power. I am happy to be able to share this treasure of a book with the children in my life.

Make sure you visit San Souci's webpage. He has one of those distracting little mouse tails that dance around the screen..... and a lot of other fun stuff!

Here are the awards this book has collected:

1992 Coretta Scott King Honor Book
International Reading Association Teacher's Choice for 1993
Parenting Magazine 1992
"Reading Magic" Award1992
ALA Notable Book for ChildrenSchool Library Journal
"Best Books of 1992
South Carolina Children's Book Award for 1994-95
Shawnee Readers' Award from The Missouri Association of School Librarians for 1995

Sunday, February 04, 2007

One Month of Project 365

My creation

Billie at Parts n Pieces 365 did a retrospective of her photos from January and Inaqui followed her lead. I was inspired to try to look back over what I have done. 365 is a photo project that involves posting one photo every day for a year. Many participants started a blog devoted to those photos, but I didn’t think I could keep up with posting on another blog so I am just putting them in a Flickr set with a badge on the sidebar of this blog.

After the first full month of daily photography, I have been watching for patterns, I am also wondering when or if I will get tired of looking for subjects. I see the way the light falls on the walls and furniture in my house and I want to capture the feeling of contentment and happiness that sunshine brings, but I don’t know how to get the camera to show it. I watch the way the cat holds her head, and notice the jasmine stretching out long leggy branches toward the window. If I took the same picture every day, would it show me how these things change?

I am wondering if people looking at my photos are learning something about me, or if it's just me that sees the parts of my life there. I am noticing the shapes and colors that catch my eye. I am getting pleasure from looking for beauty everyday. I am thinking more about angles, backgrounds, frames and balance. I am learning more about the preset modes on my Z730 and wishing I had a better camera.

February 4 Haiku

sunny spot.JPG

The north wind blows cold -
re-caulk all windows and doors,
seek a spot of sun.

Killer cold temperatures here today and predicted for all next week. I checked the weather-stripping on all the windows and added some around the front door. We keep the thermostat low and stopping the drafts makes such a difference!

I am hoarse and coughing so I stayed home from church. My parents picked Buddy Boy up and took him to their church and then home for lunch. It was so nice to stay home with Punkin and not have to talk! Thank God for grandparents. And little spots on sun... and cozy quilts.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Anansi and the Talking Melon

retold by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Janet Stevens. Holiday House, 1994.

Anansi stories are trickster tales from West Africa and the Caribbean. Anansi won the title of King of the Stories from Nyame, the sky god in A Story, A Story. In Eric A. Kimmel’s version of Anansi and the Talking Melon Anansi crawls inside a round ripe melon and eats until he is too fat to climb back out the hole he made. He hears an elephant coming to the garden patch and decides to have some fun with him. When Elephant hears a voice coming from the melon he is amazed and impressed. He decides to take it to the king. Other animals join in the procession, each one becoming insulted and impressed by the talking melon. The King is surprised and interested, but at his inquiry Anansi becomes silent. After holding out until the king was ready to give up, at last he speaks to insult the king. The king becomes angry and throws the melon all the way back to Elephant’s house, where it bounces into a thorn tree. The melon breaks and Anansi happily crawls out and up a tree to start eating bananas. Pretty soon elephant thinks he is standing near talking bananas.

Buddy boy enjoyed this story very much. He laughed at the foolish animals and was delighted with Anansi’s clever trickery. He wondered why the animals couldn’t see the hole where Anansi was hiding in the melon, since it was clearly visible to us in the illustrations. I think it was a literary device to make sure we understood that it was Anansi inside the melon that was talking and not the melon. Each animal holds the fruit up with the spider hole facing toward the reader and away from the characters in the story. I don’t think Buddy Boy has enough abstract reasoning to realize that the story characters have a different visual point of view than the reader. I tried to explain it to him but I am not sure he got it. He thought it was hilarious that the spider ends up talking for the bananas and Elephant is taken in by the same trick that started the whole story. Circular stories are so satisfying.

I think there is something attractive about Anansi being small and frail compared to Elephant, Rinno, Hippo, Warthog and the Gorilla king. Young children can appreciate the need to use cleverness in getting sweet melons out of the Elephant’s garden, since they themselves are in that daily struggle in their own kitchens. That Anansi ate himself too fat to escape is also a familiar problem that children can relate to; they are often getting stuck in a situation through over-indulgence and lack of planning. I found Janet Stevens’ illustrations to be whimsical and amusing. Elephant leaps up in the air in surprise and dances down the road with Hippo. The facial expressions are well done and add a lot to the story for non-readers. The only difficulty I had with this book was that on some pages the text was printed on top of the patterned illustrations (such as the melon skin itself), which made it difficult to read. On the whole I would recommend this book and I expect it will be one that Buddy regrets returning to the library.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Links for you your Internet Librarian Buddy, I just have to share this with you.

Links from the AASL Hotlinks Newsletter:

The Official Monthly E-mail Newsletter of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Vol. 5, No. 11 February 2007

The Notable Books Council of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of ALA, has compiled its 2007 list of outstanding books for the general reader.
These titles have been selected for their significant contribution to the expansion of knowledge and for the pleasure they can provide to adult readers.
Get "The List for America's Readers" at

RUSA announces Best Free Reference Web Sites
The Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) of RUSA is pleased to announce the Best Free Reference Web Sites Combined Index from 1999-2006 created to recognize outstanding reference sites on the World Wide Web.
The 2006 Best Free Reference Websites list includes online information sources as varied as the Big Cartoon Database, the Encyclopedia of Chicago, and from the U.S.
Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Get the details at

Black History Month Resources:

Encyclopedia Britannica's Guide to Black History
Lessons to celebrate Black History Month
Black History educational resources from
Black History Month Lesson Plans
Black History from
Black History Month resources from ReadingRockets
African American World, by PBS
Celebrating Black History
PBS series "African American Lives"
Culture & Change -- Black History in America

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Haiku for Mr. Hughes

That black poet
wrote of the stars that sparkle
in my sons' eyes.

Langston Hughes: Feb. 1, 1902 - May 22, 1967

Some favorite poems:

April Rain Song

To You

Dream Variations (partial quote in biography discussion)

My People