Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Review: All the Colors of the Earth

by Shelia Hamanaka. Morrow Junior Books, 1994. This is a lovely little book that sings of the sweetness of all the children of the earth. Children who come in the
"roaring browns of bears and soaring eagles,
The whispering golds of late summer grasses,
And crackling russets of fallen leaves
the tinkling pinks of tiny seashells by the rumbling sea."

The illustrations show children joyfully dancing, playing and exploring their world with abandon. The faces are full of light and the bodies jubilant. The delicate colors wash across the pages with bright accents in just the right balance. See sample pages at Google books here.

There aren't many adults shown but a couple of pages show parents frolicking with their children or adoring them. The families are multi-ethnic and come in a range of skin colors. Hair textures are described as "bouncy baby lambs, flowing like water and curls like sleeping cats." I am enjoying reading this book over and over, just for the music and flavors thrown together.

There is just one thing that bothers me. The last page says "children come in all the colors of the earth and sky and sea." Somehow that struck me as jarring because children don't come in the colors of the sky and sea, unless they are green and purple and blue. I am trying to let that go and not be so literal about it, but I wish it ended on a chocolate, cinnamon and ginger note instead. In any case I think this is a book families with young children will enjoy reading together.

Read an article Hamanaka posted about Racism and Animal Rights here.

Monday, July 30, 2007

July 29 Tanka

water wheel

Five round things:
water wheels, baby cheeks,
drip drop splashes,

flames on birthday candles,
little boy's eyes of wonder.

cupcake candles

(click here for Tanka form explained)

Sunday, July 29, 2007


One of the delights in my garden this month has been butterfly watching. We have three or four large butterfly bushes covered with purple flowers in shades from dark to light. My sister gave them to me five years ago as small sprouts and every year they spread and grow bigger. I keep them pruned short and thin out the branches but they grow so quickly it is hard to keep up with them. I cut off the spent blooms as often as I can in order to encourage more flowers. The butterflies and bees love them.

yellow swallowtail.JPG

Every afternoon while my boys are playing in the sandbox or zooming around on bikes along the side of the house I sit and watch the butterflies and take pictures. The most frequent visitors are monarchs, swallowtails and white spotted skippers. We saw a red spotted admiral the other day but my camera wasn't handy so I didn't get it recorded.

white spotted skipper.JPG

This is a white spotted skipper. I am amazed at how calm they are, letting me get right up in their face with my camera. The swallowtails don't mind me either. The monarchs are a little more skittish and they don't like to rest with their wings open so it is hard to get a really good shot.

monarch 3.JPG

I have found some websites about butterflies and how to attract them to your garden. The Butterflysite.com has beautiful pictures to help you identify what you have seen in your garden. They also have printable coloring pictures. They offer a list of plants that attract butterflies, host plants for the caterpillars and lists of what butterflies live in your area.

The Smithsonian Butterfly Garden site has four distinct habitates set up for visitors to see butterflies living in their natural environment. If you can't visit in person you can take the online interactive tour and see beautiful photographs.

Simply Butterflies is a site with beautiful pictures of butterflies that will help you identify what you are seeing in your garden. There is a brief description of the butterfly's distinguishing marks and notes on what plants they like. You can scroll down the page and compare the photos quickly so it is easy to find the ones you are wondering about.

I would love to hear from you about what butterflies you have seen in your garden and what plants you have that attract them. Leave me a comment with a link to your post if you've blogged about your garden this week. What's growing outside your door?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Summer Camp Talent Show

Small brown arms akimbo,
big red helmet crooked,
knobby knees poking out,
he rides.

Wheels wobbling,
he takes sudden turns
circling the playground
dragging his toes for brakes.

“I’m doing it!”
he cries in delight
right before crashing into a bush.

It was the summer camp
talent show.
He rode his bike.

No training wheels.
He is just five and
his talent is freedom.

The watching children
caught their breath.
A few emerald leaves
twirled in the sunshine.

He rose from the dirt quickly
Hands up, eyes bright,
Brushing off twigs.

"I’m ok!" he proclaimed proudly
ignoring the bright red
trickle of blood from his knee.

The audience cheered.
Who can stop clapping
for these scraped-up knees
and this triumphant grin?

-Andromeda Jazmon
July 2007

Buddy has just learned to ride his bike without training wheels. He begs me to take him to the empty church parking lot around the corner every day so he can ride. His summer camp had a talent show and he brought his bike to show off his new talent. I had to try to write this up in a poem to remember the moment. Do you remember learning to ride a bike? Or being in your first talent show?

The poetry round up is over at Check It Out today, courtesy of MsMac.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

July 26 Haiku


rosemary's gift:
sit in the sun listening
to the drone of bees

rosemary 2.JPG

The Play's the Thing

I am so deep into reading HP VII I forgot to mention:

The Play's The Thing! July 2007 Carnival of Children's Literature

Alkelda's done a fantastic job of putting together this carnival. Great new blogs as well as our old favorites. Find some time to visit and browse.

Also: Kelly just invited me to join Good Reads and I am busy adding books and friends. Wanna be my friend and talk books?

Kelly also had these great Potter links: Kidsreads Harry Potter encyclopedia. YAY! Exactly what I needed! And Shelfari's Seven Days of Harry Potter. I know, another social networking site I can't keep up with. But it looks like fun! Anyone else on shelfari?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Eight things about Harry Potter and Me

Caroline at Food for Thought tagged me with the 8 things meme. I have already done that meme and made up a new variation, so this time I am going to do it with Harry Potter. I have him on my mind this week!
  1. It takes me a long time to read these books. I mean at least a week. I don't know how other people with small children or busy lives can give up a whole night/24 hours to just read. If I did that it would take me a week to recover. Plus I like to stretch out the pleasure and excitement, especially for this last one with no more new HP books coming out. Maybe I'll take two weeks to read it...
  1. I have a mind like a sieve. 90% of what gets in goes right out the bottom. I need a cheat sheet on who all these characters are. I can't remember for five minutes who is a good guy and who is a bad guy in the Ministry of Magic. How do ten year olds keep it straight? If we had a comprehension quiz on these books I know all you intelligent librarian-types would do well but some of us would struggle. I don't think I can write a review of the book because it is too complicated for me. I am looking forward to reading everyone else's review so the books will make more sense to me.
  2. I was complaining to Buster about how when I look HP up on Wikipedia because I need all the spoilers I can get (see #2 above) it doesn't display well on my screen. The blue hyperlinks are all piled up on top of the rest of the text as if the screen resolution were wrong or the window too small. It is really hard to read. He said, "When is the last time you updated your browser?" Duh. Of course. I hate updating my browser. I use Firefox and the last time I updated on a PC at work it was totally screwed. On my Mac at home I decided not to take the chance. But I really need the HP references so I took the plunge and updated to Firefox 2.0. Guess what? It works great and now I have spell check for everything! One of my worst bugaboos is leaving comments on blogs where there is no spell check. I have to copy and paste from Word in order to be sure everything is spelled right. Now Firefox does it for me! YAY! Thanks J. K. Rolling!
  3. I found a great blog that summarized all the previous HP books for me. I don't have time to re-read them (it would take me all summer and I wouldn't get any new books read) but I need to get the main points back in my head. Goddess of Clarity did all six books in backwards order last week. I spent Saturday's blogging time reading them all and getting caught up before I let myself start reading Deathly Hallows. She did such a great job hitting all the important characters and details it is allowing me to make more sense of DH. Thanks to Alkelda for the link.
  4. I didn't pre-order Deathly Hallows as I have for the two previous books. I have been buying them all for Buster. He gets to read them first, which is fine by me because he does it all in one night and then I get to take my week to read. This time Buster found the version that was posted on the Internet last week and he stayed up all night reading it off his computer screen. He said it was great. He wasn't as eager to get the actual book in his hands as he has been in the past. I couldn't decided whether it would be more fun to get one delivered to my door or go to the store on Saturday. Since I couldn't make up my mind I didn't have a plan. Buster kindly offered to babysit the little boys on Saturday so I could go over to the bookstore by myself and pick up a copy. This is the biggest treat I have had in a long time.
  5. I had a gift card for the bookstore, given to me by one of my students, that I had been saving for something special. I was able to get the book and a chocolate bar and a cup of coffee all on the gift card. WooHoo! I felt like a million bucks. I sat in the bookstore coffee shop by myself like a grown up and read the first chapter. Eating chocolate and drinking coffee-shop coffee. This is the best part about the whole HP VII phenomena.
  6. I went to a book party for Order of the Phoenix when it came out. Buster was about 14 or so and he was my only child at the time. He was so excited about it I got caught up in it too. We thought it was a midnight party so we waited till 11:45 to go. When we got there we realized the party started at 10 and it was almost over. We missed all the fun stuff but we got a book. When we went home Buster stayed up all night reading it. For Half Blood Prince I ordered it and had it delivered. It came when Buster wasn't home and I waited for him to come home and stay up all night reading it before I cracked the cover. This time I didn't even consider going to the book parties. I was just happy to get the little boys in bed so I could get to sleep myself. LOL Buster got off work at 9 and he said the line to the bookstore was around the block and down the street. He didn't want to wait in line so he just came home. I guess we are both getting older.
  7. Last of all, I have to tell you something. I really don't like Hermione much. She is too prissy. I think the only reason Harry and Ron are her friends is that she is a walking encyclopedia and she always has the information they need to get out of a jam. She's like the secretary keeping the boss organized so he looks brilliant. In DH she is always bursting into tears. What's up with that?
I am not naming names for this meme because everyone who reads here has probably already been tagged with 8 things. If you haven't, then TAG you are IT. Leave me a comment with a link to your post of 8 things about Harry Potter (or yourself if you'd rather).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Review: The Last Dragon

by Silvana De Mari. English translation by Shaun Whiteside. Miramax books, 2006. This is a fabulous book. Yorsh is a young orphaned elf - the last one on earth. His world has been flooded out and he is wandering, looking for shelter, food and friendship. He meets up with a woman looking for fire and a hunter looking for companions. The book is divided into three parts, with exciting and satisfying adventures all around.

The really wonderful thing about this book is how full of hope and kindness it is. Each of the characters has talents and gifts that they are unaware of, which are revealed by the love and faithfulness of their friends. They all struggle with pain, loneliness and hunger but they triumph over all difficulties supported by courage and compassion. Even in their darkest moments, when disaster seems unavoidable, someone in the group has faith and an open mind to seek opportunity. Yosh has an infinitely tender heart. He believes in life and abhors violence. He teaches peaceful resolution to problems and inspires creativity in his companions. Although they suffer from every imaginable terror the characters in this book all find ways to contribute to a world of growing health and beauty.

I just love this book. I highly recommend it as a read aloud for third, fourth and fifth graders. I can imagine some wonderful discussions with children about the conflicts and solutions to problems that the characters deal with in this story. It has just the right mix of gruesome reality and optimistic, hopeful happy ending. If you like fantasy or know a child who does you have to read this book!

Other reviews and plot synopsis:

B&N - scroll down for reviews
Lansing Library

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tree Quiz

For my garden tour today I have a tree ID question for you. Can anyone identify this tree? It is in my neighbor's yard and hangs over our fence. Here are the flowers in spring (May):

white flowering tree

And here are the berries that are on the tree now:

red and purple berries

red berry tree

They are in upright clusters. They start out green, turning red and then black and wrinkled. Punkin has picked all the ones on the lower branches (I don't think he ate any, dear God) but all along the upper branches standing straight up are these rows of berries.

The leaves are somewhat heart shaped and wrinkled. It's about 15 feet tall. I would love it if someone out there can tell me what it is.

Leave me a comment if you have a garden post to share this week and I will do the round up.

Edited to add: Check out Alkelda's Lilies and Sunflowers post for great pictures, including a goth sunflower!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

July 21 Haiku

coming around the flowers.JPG

sky and flowers -
my wings

Crossing Cultural Borders

I just found out via Charlotte's Library that Shen's Blog is doing a six week series on Crossing Cultural Borders. Each week between July 16 and August 20 a different theme will be addressed. Looks interesting!

This past week has been about American kids traveling to other lands or moving between two homes in two different countries. Emily is asking for suggestions of children's books where the characters live in two cultures. Anything come to mind?

Friday, July 20, 2007


This week for Friday Poetry I want to share with you an online poetry zine I just discovered. I am sure others of you are already reading it, but it's new to me. It's called Mamazine and it's full of poetry. Today I am linking to an interview by Kate Hopper with the poet Deborah Garrison, discussing her latest book, The Second Child. She has some poems quoted and they are just lovely. Hopper quotes:
The poem begins with a description of peonies: "tumbled and heavy along/ a fence, fully exploded, nodding/ at the ground…" And it ends like this: "I wasn't sure/ our love would come again,/ and here I am, almost/ kissing the grass like that,/ bursting and rich, cracked/ all over like broken cake—/ makes you cry but still sweet."

I also submitted one of my own poems today to the mothering anthology Kelli Russell Agodon is putting together. (She blogs at Book of Kells.) I have been meaning to submit more this summer but it is always like pulling teeth for me. I can spend a lot of time writing and revising but sending them out there usually doesn't happen. I am getting off my butt now and taking the plunge. Anyone else?

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Mentor Texts today. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Review: Everywhere Babies

by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee. Harcourt, 2001. This is an adorable picture book full of babies of every ethnicity and family profile. The facial expressions are completely endearing. Frazee's simple drawings perfectly capture the way babies show every emotion from surprise, contentment, pleasure, sleepiness and anxiety. The watercolor sketches of family groupings show affectionate, bewildered, exhausted, adoring, and smitten parents, grandparents, siblings and friends. There are traditional pairs, single parents, same sex partners, transracial families, multi-generational families, and neighborhood gatherings scattered across pages of babies being their precious selves.

The text is simple and repetitive: "Every day, everywhere, babies play games ~ peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake, this-little-piggy, roll-the-ball, ride-a-horse, jiggety-jiggy." Little ones listening to the musical rhymes will want to sing along after the first few read-throughs. People with babies or expecting babies will love browsing this book over and over. Big brothers and sisters getting used to the idea of a new baby will delight in studying this book. I especially thought of Jenna, as I remember she was looking for a book for her son that included illustrations of multiracial families including one sibling adopted by another family and a new baby on the way. This book does a beautiful job of including everyone in the joy of living with babies. It would be a wonderful baby shower gift or big sister/brother gift. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

July 18 Haiku

yellow swallowtail 2.JPG

hosta tiny bee.JPG

bee on purple coneflower.JPG

Today's work -
float and gather sweetness.
Start with purple.

Review: Gregor and the Marks of Secret

by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic Press, 2006. This is the fourth book in a great adventure series for 9 to 12 year olds. Gregor has helped to find the cure to the plague that hit the underworld in volume three. (I reviewed Curse of the Warmbloods here.) His mother is still recovering from the plague and living in Regalia, the human's city far below New York. Gregor visits her often and takes echolocation lessons from Ripred, his rat friend. He is beginning to develop a complex friendship with Luxa, the twelve year old queen of Regalia. The sexual tension between these two is a major theme in this volume. Gregor is caring for his family and becoming a warrior, leaving childhood behind and beginning to realize his feelings for Luxa are more than just friendship. She is queen of Regalia and he is a boy from New York. His outlook vacillates between feeling foolish and wondering if she shares his feelings.

When Luxa gets a call from her mice friends for help Gregor insists on coming along. They end up taking a party of friends, including Gregor's three year old sister Boots and Luxa's adopted younger brother Hazard. The funny thing is, all the mice have disappeared. They cannot find an inhabited colony anywhere. They get drawn further and deeper into the Underworld looking for the mice and trying to solve the perplexing problem of what could have happened to them. When they come across hundreds of murdered mice Luxa declares war on whoever or whatever is killing them. Gregor is hoping to find a way to avoid massive violence, in spite of his being a warrior. Another major theme in this volume is the struggle between negotiation/mediation and violence/aggression as problem solving strategies. I find it quite relevant to events in the real world today. I think you could have some very stimulating discussions with kids about how they deal with aggression, rivalry and vengeance in their own lives and what they think Gregor and Luxa should do.

I am enjoying the Underland Chronicles so much! It is making it easier to wait for Harry Potter to arrive. I can't wait to read the fifth and final book Gregor and the Code of the Claw. Anyone else read these?

Monday, July 16, 2007

July 16 Haiku


late afternoon;
sipping sweet tea in the shade,
watching monarchs

Review: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods

by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic Press, 2005. I was saving this book and the fourth one in the series, Gregor and the Marks of Secret to read this summer. I read the first two, Gregor the Overlander and Gregor and the Prophesy of Bane last year. (Another blogger review.) I really love this series. It is completely captivating. If you are obsessed with Harry Potter this week you ought to love these books as well.

Gregor is a 12 year old New Yorker. He lives in an apartment with his mom, dad, two sisters and grandmother. He travels under the city to have adventures and battles in a whole different civilization filled with nibblers (mice), gnawers (rats), violet eyed humans (living in the City of Regalia), crawlers (cockroaches) and flyers (bats). He takes his two year old sister with him on the adventures. Gregor is such a well drawn character he comes alive. He speaks with a genuine mixture of humor, wit, uncertainty, hope and confusion.

There is a brief mention of him being African American and the books are listed in collections of African American fiction for children, but his race is not apparent in most of the story. I am glad to see a character of color in a story not about race but I wish his ethnicity was a little clearer in these books. There is barely any mention of it at all and it is easy to miss. I didn't notice it at all until another reader pointed it out to me. I think it would be good for young African American readers to know this hero was black. It would be good as well for everyone else reading to see a black kid star in a fantasy adventure. In the interview with Suzanne Collins on her site it is not mentioned at all. If they make it into a movie I wonder who they would cast as Gregor?

In this volume he becomes one of a party on a quest to find the cure to a plague that is decimating all the warmbloods. His closest friends, his partner in the bat world and his mother all become infected wit this horrible and fatal disease so he is desperate to find the cure. As well as seeking the cure for the plague he is discovering his strength and courage as a warrior and exploring the tension between seeking peace, establishing alliances and identifying reasons to go to war. The story has depth and humor. I highly recommend the series for readers between 9 and 12 who love adventure stories.

I finished volume four yesterday and I will write about it tomorrow. Volume five is out now as well and I look forward to reading it as soon as we get it into our library. Jen Robinson has reviewed it here.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Watering the Garden

I can't think of a better way to start the day than waking up before my boys and taking my coffee out to the garden. I take the hose around watering everything and checking on all my favorites.


This is a new rosemary plant just potted this summer. I think I bought a prostrate variety this time and it is coming along nicely.


My Tomato Bush Big Boy. They are not getting as tall as I expected but they are covered with little green gems. My mouth is watering already!

sage flowers.JPG

Variegated Sage flowers. I bought this variety just to add color to the herb pot. I haven't tried it in any cooking yet. I am really enjoying cooking with the other sage and the Italian herbs in the pot. I made a killer meatloaf this week with basil, oregano, marjoram, and parsley. It is gluten free and has Parmesan cheese instead of bread crumbs to hold it together.

first fig.JPG

Our first fig to ripen. The tree is covered in tiny green figs. Buddy has been watching them and begging to try one. He is going to be so happy to see this one!


Dark-leaved Hosta flowers. How delicate and lovely these flowers are! I don't usually get up close to really appreciate them.

What's in your garden today?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Black Threads

Kyra E. Hicks, author of Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria and Black Threads: An African American Quilting Sourcebook the blog Black Threads in Kid's Lit is collecting a list of all the children's picture books written or illustrated by an African American and copyrighted in 2007. She is compiling monthly lists. She started the project after noticing there were no discussions of mock Coretta Scott King awards, as there are for the Caldecott and the Newbery. She's asking for suggestions of books you would add to her lists. What do you think?

Thanks to Devas T. for the heads up.

July 13 Haiku


On the cusp of five,
discovering new passions;
fresh cantaloupe.

Rainer Maria Rilke

I first heard Rilke's poems from my priest in a sermon about the difficulty of knowing we could know God. She quoted some poems from Rilke's Book of Hours and I was so taken with them I went right out and bought my own copy of the book. Today I am reading some of my favorite selections, including this one (where I happen to keep the bookmark):

Was irren meine Hande in den Pinseln?

Why am I reaching again for the brushes?
When I paint your portrait, God,
nothing happens.

But I can choose to feel you.

At my senses' horizon
you appear hesitantly,
like scattered islands.

(read the rest of the poem here.)

Rilke was born in Prague on December 4, 1875. He wrote The Book of Hours in German on a trip to Russia in 1905. This translation is by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, 1996. The publisher Penguin describes the book like this:

"While visiting Russia in his twenties, Rainer Maria Rilke, one of the twentieth century's greatest poets, was moved by a spirituality he encountered there. Inspired, Rilke returned to Germany and put down on paper what he felt were spontaneously received prayers. Rilke's Book of Hours is the invigorating vision of spiritual practice for the secular world, and a work that seems remarkably prescient today, one hundred years after it was written.

Rilke's Book of Hours shares with the reader a new kind of intimacy with God, or the divine—a reciprocal relationship between the divine and the ordinary in which God needs us as much as we need God. Rilke influenced generations of writers with his Letters to a Young Poet, and now Rilke's Book of Hours tells us that our role in the world is to love it and thereby love God into being. These fresh translations rendered by Joanna Macy, a mystic and spiritual teacher, and Anita Barrows, a skilled poet, capture Rilke's spirit as no one has done before."

Listen to an audio-file of another poem read here.

Today's Friday Poetry round up will be hosted at Chicken Spaghetti..

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Review: Endymion Spring

by Matthew Skelton. Delacorte Press, 2006. I just finished reading this, months after so many other kidlit bloggers have already reviewed it. I liked it quite a bit, and kept thinking about the characters days later, wondering what they were up to in Oxford. That's always a good quality in a book, if it makes me think the characters are still having adventures after I've finished reading.

Blake and his little sister Duck are in Oxford with their mother while she does research. Their father is still back in the States, a rift in the family that bothers them both tremendously. They are left to their own devices for hours while their mother pursues her work. They spend most of their time wandering around the libraries of the university under the eye of the friendly librarians. Heh.

One day a book jumps out and bites Blake. It turns out to be a magical book that appears to have blank pages but is actually full of prophesy. The story goes back and forth between modern Oxford and the children we know to fifteenth century Germany where Gutenberg is inventing the printing press and the magical book is first being created.

Of course the book has chosen Blake because he is destined to complete the quest of reuniting the scattered parts of the mysterious and powerful book. There are evil characters trying to steal it from him and helpful wise mentors offering assistance. It's an exciting and fanciful read. I was completely absorbed in it and enjoyed reading it immensely.

The only thing I found disappointing was the ending. The plot builds to Blake's figuring out where the missing parts of the book are hidden and his piecing together the clues. The mystery is resolved when he finds all the scraps and brings them together before a wicked professor is able to snatch it from him. The only thing is, all the book really wants to do is stitch itself back together. It seems alive, wiggling in his backpack and whispering to him, urging him along. It flies through the air and stitches its pages back into place when they are reunited. Then... nothing happens. Prophecy fulfilled. The scene switches to Blake's parents getting back together and his family happiness. This ending leaves me feeling flat. The story closes with Blake reading the healed book. Perhaps the story will continue in a sequel?

Other reviews:
Chasing Ray
The Guardian
Not to miss:
Endymion Spring website with an interview with the author, excerpts from the book and audio files.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Review: Zeely

By Virginia Hamilton. Macmillan Publishing Company, 1967. Paperback by Aladdin Books, 1986. Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney.

I took this off the discard shelf in my library and put it on my summer book list. It is one of the first highly acclaimed African American children's novels. It was her first novel, written as a short story while in college at Ohio State and later made into a short novel. I found the language to be a bit old fashioned. Geeder, the young girl who is the main character, speaks like Shirley Temple. "Goodness sakes, everyone in the whole place will think we're just little babies!" she says in the train station as they wait for the train taking her and her younger brother down South to her Uncle's farm. "Aren't train stations just grand?" she said. "Look at those pillars - I bet they're all of three feet around. And the windows! Did you ever see anything so very high up?" It was a bit off-putting at first, until I got used to it. Once I got to know Geeder I became drawn into her imaginative inner life and developing sense of self as a strong, beautiful, independent young woman. I had to keep reading to find out how her crush on Zeely, a tall, beautiful, dark-skinned, mysterious woman farming hogs with her father on Geeder's uncle's land would turn out.

Geeder and her brother Toeboy take the train to Uncle Ross's farm for the summer. They have complete freedom to roam the farm, with their only responsibility to take care of feeding the chickens. Uncle Ross is kind and wise, turning up just when they need a little reassurance or a bit of help in figuring out the puzzle of Zeely's heritage. Geeder finds a picture in a magazine of a Watusi queen. She is struck by how similar the Watusi queen looks to Zeely. She becomes convinced that Zeely is of royal blood and is obsessed with finding out more about Zeely. In a typical pre-adolescent crush she makes up wild stories about her and watches for clues to her identity. She wanders around in a daze looking for opportunities to get closer to Zeely, who doesn't speak to her or acknowledge her presence until near the end of the story.

One of the surprising things for me is the lack of adult supervision Geeder, Toeboy and the other children of the town have. This is a story from another era. On their first afternoon on the farm Geeder and Toeboy wander around exploring. They find the pond at the end of the pasture, take off their clothes and go swimming. When they get tired of swimming they put their clothes back on and wander off to another activity. I can't imagine letting my kids just decide to jump in a pond without an adult watching them. Later in the story they go out at night to a house in town where all the children are gathering at night for a bonfire. The children pile fuel on the fire and dance around it, singing and playing games daring each other to get as close to the flames as possible without burning their clothing. The only adult around is one child's father, and he is in the house. Geeder and Toeboy walk across town in the dark, play with the other kids around the fire and then walk home. Their curfew is twelve o'clock. I can sort of see this happening in the country 40 years ago, but I can't quite believe it.

The middle of the book has a really exciting scene when Zeely and her father drive the hogs to market. They stampede through town full of squealing and stink. Geeder of course gets herself right in the middle of the action, trying to get close to Zeely and help her coax along a sow that falls under the stampede. The description is so vivid it turns my stomach a bit. I think kids will love reading it. I think this book will appeal to both boys and girls in grades three and four. I imagine there would be some great class discussions about what Geeder is thinking and feeling, and the difference between her views and Toeboy's. This book was an ALA notable book. Read a review by a ten year old student here at the Spaghetti Book Club.

Hamilton died in 2002. Her obituary, written in Black Issues Book Review, March-April, 2003 by Maisha L. Johnson discusses Zeely and the impact the novel had when first published. Hamilton's home page is here.


I am participating in several blog carnivals in the next few weeks. You should think about sending in a link or two yourself; it's fun and you find cool new blogs as well as new readers for your blog.

Miss Rumphius is hosting the next Learning in the Great Outdoors Carnival. Submissions are due August 3rd. Here's the current one at Alone on a Limb. There are a couple of reviews of Last Child in the Woods. I reviewed it last summer.

Mentor Texts is hosting a Picture Book Carnival. This is the first one so you get in on the ground floor! Deadline is July 31st. Click here to submit your article for this Carnival.

Saints and Spinners is hosting the July Carnival of Children's Literature. The theme is "the play's the thing..." Deadline is Friday, July 20th.

Chicken Spaghetti shares these tips: Need a tutorial on blog carnivals? See this post from the spring. (It's very easy to participate—don't worry!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

July 10 Haiku


July heat
thicker than wine spilled
from dizzy cups

Review: Happy Birthday Jamela!

Story and pictures by Niki Daly. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006. We found this latest adventure of Jamela in the library this week. Last winter I reviewed Where's Jamela? and found it to be delightful. In Happy Birthday Jamela she is up to her old tricks. She goes shopping with her mother and grandmother Gogo to buy a party dress and shoes for her birthday. She finds the perfect pair of princess shoes but her mother wants her to have strong sensible school shoes. When they get home Jamela "wished that, somehow, when she opened the box, she'd find the Princess Shoes inside. But when she looked, a pair of strong black school shoes lay there like heavy bricks. They smelled nice - but they could never, ever be birthday girl shoes." This is an example of the poetry and charm of Daly's writing. He manages to capture the child's point of view perfectly.

She gets an idea to decorate the shoes with sparkly, glittery treasure bits. She is so excited to show her mother the decorated shoes, but her mother reacts with anger and sends her out of the house. Siting on the curb Jamela talks to the neighbors about her predicament. Fortunately Lily, the artist living down the road happens by and she is delighted with the decorated shoes. She suggests they make more to sell in the market and the next day they do. The shoes are a big hit and they make enough money for Jamela to pay her mother back and then some. She ends up getting both party and school shoes for birthday presents. I really like how Jamela is creative and bubbly and bursting with the joy of life. I adore Daly's illustrations of her. His watercolors perfectly capture the soul and spirit of this charming little girl. Daly is one of those artists you just have to wonder over - how can he make such evocative, expressive paintings of their faces with just a few lines and a wash of color? It's a beautiful mystery to me.

This book was just published last year but it reminds me a bit of what I have read about Daly's older book Jamela's Dress. In that one Jamela was dancing around in some beautiful fabric her mother had purchased to make a special dress. Jamela ruined the fabric, angering her mother. As it happens a photographer took pictures of her dancing and sold them for a good price. Jamela gets part of the profit and is able to pay her mother back. I like the theme of joyful creativity, celebrating beauty with abandon, and ingenious schemes for making money to make up for extravagant mistakes. Jamela is a strong, thoughtful, vibrant girl character who makes a dramatic impact on the world for good. She runs into difficulty but always find a way to salvage the situation, with the help of the loving adults around her.

Another particularly nice thing about these books is that they are so multicultural. Because they are set in modern South Africa they are populated with adults and children of every skin tone and ethnicity. There is no special mention of this diversity, it is just part of normal life. There are a scattering of Xhosa words and phrases in the book, including the Happy Birthday song, which makes it clear that this is a particularly South African story. Buddy likes that about the book and wants me to sing Happy Birthday to him in Xhosa at his birthday coming up. I hope I am up to the task.

I thought it might be possible that Buddy would not be interested in a picture book about a girl shopping for party dresses and shoes, but that was not the case. I think he was willing to roll with that theme because it is so interesting to see how Jamela will deal with her mother's anger and her shoe predicament. He has begun to express desire to have the clothes, shoes and toys of his five year old peers, and is becoming aware of the difference between what I want to buy and what he wants me to buy for him. It is a fascinating dilemma for a child. There is also an illustration of the birthday party where Jamela is trying on her gift party shoes. One of her guests, a boy about five or six, is quietly observing the sparkly shoes with a contemplative look on his face. Buddy and I speculate that this little boy would like to try them on, even if they are girl's shoes. The depth of that conflict is enough to put this book on the golden shelf for us.

Daly is an award winning author of a long list of books and a brilliant career. Take a look at some of his other titles whenever you get a chance. If you would like to see some of the illustrations and text of this particular one go to this link for Google books and see a preview. I am loving this new feature of Google books. Have you explored it yet?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Review: Global Babies

A board book by the Global Fund for Children. Charlesbridge Publishing, 2007. A review copy of this delightful little board book came in the mail this week. With very simple, sweet text and photo after photo of adorable babies from around the world it is a huge hit in our house. I had to hunt through the boy's room to find it squirreled away by Punkin, where he was holding it for further reading.

Babies from Guatemala, Thailand, Greenland, Mali, India, South Africa, Afghanistan, the USA, Spain and Iraq are shown close up in their precious finery. I know my boys are attracted to the vivid smiles and charming wide-open eyes of these cuties, but I am most struck by the tenderness of the way they are dressed. Some are in regular every-day play clothes but many are in their most colorful and carefully chosen finery. I can't help but see their parent's love and admiration in the ways they are held and presented to the camera. This little gem of a book is one to cherish. The message that children all around the world are beautiful, special and loved comes through loud and clear whether you read the text or just gaze at the photos.

On the back cover is this message:
Global Babies was developed by the Global Fund for Children, a nonprofit organization committed to advancing the dignity of young people around the world. Part of the proceeds from this book's sales will be donated to The Global Fund for Children to support innovative community-based organizations that serve the world's most vulnerable children and youth.

Click here for more of their books.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Carpenter Ants

Tree from the swing.JPG

This is the view from our new swing. We used to have a toddler swing hanging from this branch, but since Punkin is just about outgrown it and Buddy can't fit it at all we replaced it with a big kid swing. The great thing is all four of us can use that swing. It is so relaxing to sit back and gaze up at the tree while you stretch out and sail over the garden.

The thing about this tree is that it is full of ants. I couldn't take a good picture of the ants so I am showing you the tree they are chewing from the inside out. This is also the tree that dropped a huge limb almost on top of Buddy last summer while he was riding his tricycle. I blame the ants.

Our front lawn is also full of ants. The hedge has its roots in the ant hills. I can see birds out in the grass every day squabbling over the feast of ants. You can't walk across that lawn without getting ants crawling up your legs. The grass is dying around the highest traffic areas. I believe they are carpenter ants. I have had pest control people tell me that carpenter ants are endemic in this part of the country. You can't ever get rid of all of them. The hive is huge, covering blocks underground. The workers travel up and down the street, searching for food for their queen. Even if you spray poison on the ones in your yard, the hives is chock full of more eager workers right next door.

If they start chewing on your house you are doomed. The first question the pest control people always ask is, "Have you seen any ants in your house?" Up until this summer the answer was no. This week I saw one in the dining room, crawling up the wall. I think that is really bad news.

I don't want to have the pest control people come and spray my house and yard with poison every month. Not only because I have young children eating off the floor at times, but because I don't want my land to be a sterile wasteland. I want to be organic as much as possible. I am a granola cruncher, after all. I have been looking for a healthier alternative. Last week Stephanie suggested this web site. I read that boric acid is good because the ants take it home and feed it to the queen and the whole hive dies. I am going to try mixing it with a sugar solution to make it attractive to the ants. Has anyone done this? What do you do for carpenter ants? I don't want to just keep them out of the house at this point. I'd like to get them out of my yard too!

What is going on in your garden this week? Leave a link in the Mr. Linky below and then tour the other gardens linked here. Has it been a good week?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

June 7 Haiku

first job;
he takes his pay
in shoes

Friday, July 06, 2007


I've said before that every craftsman
searches for what's not there
to practice his craft.

A builder looks for the rotten hole
where the roof caved in. A water-carrier
picks the empty pot. A carpenter
stops at the house with no door.

Workers rush toward some hint
of emptiness, which they then
start to fill. Their hope, though,
is for emptiness, so don't think
you must avoid it. It contains
what you need!
Dear soul, if you were not friends
with the vast nothing inside,
why would you always be casting you net
into it, and waiting so patiently?

- Rumi VI (1369-1420) from 'Rumi : One-Handed Basket Weaving. Read the rest here.

I am reading Rumi this weekend, and thinking about the creative process. Kelly, at Big A little a has been without a computer and she asks us how we write. There is a really interesting conversation going on in the comments.

This month Literary Mama is asking the question "Where do you write?" There is a great essay posted by Jennifer Ruden about a desk she loved to sit at to do her writing. This poem by Rumi is helping me realize that whether I sit at my desk or stand under the shower, the place I am writing is inside.

The round up is at Farm School today. Click over there for more poetry.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Video games?

My son Buddy is going to be five years old at the end of the month. He is begging me for a Gameboy Advance. He found his older brother's old Gameboy from 10 or more years ago in a drawer and he has been playing Super Mario on it. I am pretty clueless about video games, as my oldest son is not really interested and I have pretty much ignored them all. I'd much rather have my kids messing around outside, riding bikes and playing ball.

Anyway I am thinking about getting Buddy a Gameboy for his birthday. Can anyone help me figure out what type to get? What games are good for a five year old? I know Pokemon is huge, but is it good? Do they learn anything from that (other than wanting to buy more games and stuff)? If he is going to be plugged in to a game machine I want it to be non-violent and not a big consumer-hook. I'm not crazy about movie tie-ins. I'd want it to be educational, challenging and creative. I teach computer to kids and I always try to choose creative, communicative, problem-solving, challenging and thoughtful games for my students so I know they are out there. I just don't know what's available for Gameboy. What do your kids play? What do you think of it?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4 Haiku

Echinacea 3.JPG

Purple cone flower
face pointed at the sun -
arms flung wide in joy!

What is this?

spider 3.JPG, originally uploaded by cloudscome.

Anyone? It was on the blinds in the sunroom. The slats are 1/4" wide so it is about 1/2 inch long. Brown stripes on her legs, white marks on her back. Very hairy, with two big eyes and a bunch of smaller eyes. Green mouth parts! I am thinking a wolf spider?


spider 2.JPG

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Review: Father and Son books

Bigger Than Daddy by Harriet Ziefert, pictures by Elliot Kreloff. Blue Apple Books, 2006. This is a story about a boy and his dad. Mom is not in the book. The little boy wants to be as big as his dad. They play at the playground and then go home for dinner. Before dinner the boy asks daddy to play a pretend game with him, where the boy is big and daddy is little. It's fun until the boy wants a drink and gets hungry and daddy says he's too little to get him anything. Then the boy has to insist that they stop pretending. After dinner (which daddy gets on the table in ten minutes!) daddy gives him a bath and tucks him into bed. Buddy's reaction to this story the first time we read it: "That's not right. They didn't do the bedtime story. How come he didn't read the story?" I had to agree - the bedtime story is missing and that's not right. I am also wondering how dad got the boy home from the playground so easily, played so cheerfully at the end of the day and got dinner ready in just ten minutes. I'd like to be that kind of dad!

Daddy Goes to Work by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Aaron Boyd. Little, Brown and Company, 2006. In this story a girl goes to work with her dad. He works in an office and he seems to be the boss. He is very patient with her, letting her wake him up early, cooking French toast for breakfast, and sharing the paper with her on the subway. When they get to the office building he has to show his ID to the guard in the elevator. I wondered about this; if every one in the office already knows the girl (and they greet her warmly), why doesn't the guard know her dad? Once in the office he lets her help send an email to an overseas client. That seems a bit of a stretch to me. Then they have a meeting and she gets to help hold up the charts and graphs while everyone smiles and laughs. I think this is more of a child's fantasy than a realistic "bring your daughter to work day", but then I've never done that so I don't know. The pictures are nicely warm and bright. I don't especially like the rhyming text. Jabari Asim wrote two board books we absolutely love but this is the first regular picture book by him that we've read.

My favorite dad-and-me book is still Just the Two of Us by Will Smith, with pictures by Kadir Nelson. Scholastic Press, 2001. The text comes from a song written by Ralph MacDonald, William Salter, and Bill Withers. Smith did an arrangement on his 1997 album "Big Willie Style" that I really like. The problem is every time I read this book I want to sing it. I want to sound like Will Smith singing it and of course that ain't happening. I think I will have to get the tune and just play it when we read the book. I adore the illustrations in this book. The father and son are so in tune with each other; the father so tender and the son growing up in the glow of his love. My favorite pages are when the dad is awake in the middle of the night, bent over the bassinet adoring his baby son, hands outstretched to cradle his tiny head. Mom is fast asleep behind him. I also love the page where dad is on the computer and the son is standing behind him waiting for him to figure out how to put the DVD in the drive and start the movie. The words are full of wisdom:
"Throughout life people will make you mad
Disrespect you and treat you bad.
Let God deal with the things they do
Cause hate in your heart will consume you too.

Always tell the truth, say your prayers
Hold doors, pull out chairs, easy on the swears
You're living proof that dreams come true
I love you and I'm here for you.

When the world attacks
And you slide off track
Remember one fact
I got your back."

Of the three books here I would say get the first two from the library but you really need to purchase the Will Smith book and the song. here it is on YouTube.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Review: Writing Motherhood

A couple months ago Mother Talk had a blog tour of reviews of Lisa Garrigues book Writing Motherhood. I was really interested because as it happened I had just received a review copy in the mail. I hadn't started reading it yet because I was in the middle of a couple other books, and also because I was a bit put off by the cover. It's bright orange and has a line drawing of a white mother with a peach infant in her arms. I know it's petty and silly but orange is not my color. Perhaps there was a tad of resistance to another book about how to get started as a writing mother. I had to wait till I could gather my courage and dig below my pride, ego and fear to put myself in the learners' seat for this one.

I am there now and enjoying reading it. It is written mostly for beginning writers, which I don't think I am, but I always find it works for me to use the beginner's frame of mind if I want to really learn something. I feel like Dawn and Susan do, in that I don't like cute little gimmicky games and exercises. I want to write about the itches bothering me; I don't want an assignment to write about how I chose my children's names or tell my birth story again. BTDT. So I am ignoring the specific assignments and trying to use some of the advice to strengthen my writing habit and push myself to work when it feels difficult.

I am only a third of the way through the book so I imagine I will post more on this book as I work through it. A couple of responses to the first few chapters:
  1. Garrigues is really strong on the idea that you should write your "mother's pages", or daily writer's notebook entries in long hand on paper. She give "13 Reasons to Write Your Mother Pages by Hand" on page 30. I want to argue with every one of them. She says writing with a pen is a physical effort and working with your hands is a craft that connects your brain with the medium. I am a keyboarding teacher and I say typing is also a physical effort. I think you use more muscles in your hands to type. I think I can focus more on my thoughts and what I am saying when typing, because it is smoother and easier. I type faster and more fluidly than I write. I have dyslexia, though, and dysgraphia. Perhaps it's different for people whose brains work differently than mine. I really HATE writing with a pen on paper. It makes me angry and frustrated.
  2. In spite of this, I have (again) started a writer's notebook (on paper) in the past two months. I have done some of the exercises she suggests, and it is working OK. Last night instead of going on the computer I wrote up a "small moment" of a train trip I took with the boys. It was frustrating and took a long time but it went OK. Now I have to rewrite it to type it up as a blog entry, which is a tiresome thought. If I had typed it to start with I could just edit it some and post it. I like keeping lists and prompts in the paper notebook, but do all my drafting on the computer. The only good things I can see about keeping a paper notebook is that it is portable and easier to keep accessible for a long time. I don't see myself having time to write during the day when I am out and about (as Garrigues suggests) anyway, as my kids are too young to be occupied without needing attention.
  3. I do like the idea she has of writing a disclaimer in the front of your notebook. I always hear that internal critic saying "your handwriting it terrible. Your spelling is atrocious. This is ugly. You have nothing to say. That sounds dumb." and on and on. After I wrote the disclaimer admitting that and turning off the editor I felt so much better!
I have more to say about this book but right now my kids are calling me. Read these other reviews on the book: Half Changed World, Three Kid Circus, Postcards from the Mothership, Kateri, and Lilian.

Plastic Water Bottles?

I heard a great interview on NPR the other day. It was (Bottled Water: A Symbol of US Commerce, Culture) with Charles Fishman, author of an article published in Fast Company magazine about the bottled water industry. His article is entitled "Message in a Bottle." I was going to try to write a post about what I learned about bottled water, but then I saw another blogger already did a great job so I am just linking her.

Unplug Your Kids heard the same interview and did a great post.

Then there is this information about plastics leaching chemicals into your water. Read this if you and your kids drink from plastic bottles especially!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

In Bloom the last week of June

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Petunias in hanging baskets on the porch

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Rose of Sharon

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From Dad's garden. Anyone know what this is?

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Dad's clematis

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New holly leaves

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What's happening in your garden? Add a link to a garden post in the Mr. Linky below and join the garden round-up.