Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Robert's Snow feature: Rolandas Kiaulevicius

I'm taking a break from costume parades and Halloween parties to highlight another children's book illustrator with a snowflake in the Robert's Snow auction for Dana Farber cancer research. Today's featured artist here is Rolandas Kiaulevicius.

Please take a moment to visit his home page, linked above in his name. This man's art just blows me away! It breath-takingly beautiful. His range of subjects and his variety of projects is amazing. Rolandas was born in Lithuania where he grew up in a family of artists and studied art from a young age. He moved to Connecticut to be with his girlfriend, whom he later married. His wife Laura has helped him with English studies and translation. In 2006 Kiaulevicius graduated from the master's program at the Western Connecticut University in illustration.

While a student at WCU he attracted the attention of Red Cygnet, a publisher specializing in finding new talent in the writing and illustration of children's books. He wrote the book Zoolidays after telling the story to the children of family friends. He describes his book:

"It is the story of zoo animals who paint each other to gain more visitors to the zoo so it won’t close down. I am very excited and proud to have my illustrations published. Red Cygnet chose me as one of 12 winners in a national contest of University students."

Read more about his process in writing Zoolidays here in the publisher Red Cygnet's blog, and more about the great success he has achieved with this book here at CT Central.

Here is a picture of his charming snowflake, based on illustrations from his book. I love the way he has incorporated the six points of the star and the wily expression on this fellow's face!

You have a chance to bid on this and many other snowflakes at the Robert's Snow site November 19 - 23. Mark your calendar and start saving some cash! This is a worthy cause and a very exciting opportunity.

More Robert's Snow posts today:

Wednesday, October 31

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Review: 145th Street Short Stories

Walter Dean Myers. Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2000. This is a collection of short stories telling of the lives of the residents of one block in Harlem. Myers' gifted voice spins one tale after another; of Big Joe, who plans his own funeral and participates in it while still living in order to enjoy the party, and Angela, a young girl who begins to dream premonitions of other people's deaths. Here is an excerpt from Angela's Eyes, speaking about her mother in the opening paragraphs:
"The wind, whistling across the vacant lots and through the redbrick and fire escape canyons of the neighborhood, had taken another summer. Old men brought out their faded suit jackets and moved their domino games inside. Theresa, the mother of Angela Luz colon, finally emerged from her grief and called the factory where she had worked before he husband, Fernando, had been killed. They told her she could come back to work, and she did.
That is not to say that she had stopped crying against the wall at night or stopped reaching out her hand in the darkness to where he had lain by her side for so many years. It was just that she had also begun to rise, once she had watched the gray mist of twilight give way to early sun, and leave for work."
My stars, the beauty and sadness of those paragraphs! Every story in this collection is equally breath-taking.

Myers speaks of what he knows. As a child he was raised in Harlem by foster parents. His mother died when he was young and his father struggled to raise eight children. Walter lived with family friends, the Deans, for much of his growing up years. He sings the song of the community that nurtured him; beats out the pain, raises the joy, flows with the energy of his growth.

I lived in a large city for a number of years in a neighborhood that was as closely intertwined as this one. We sat out on our stoops in the evening and listened to the funny stories of this or that neighbor. We noted comings and goings. We watched each other's children. Myers' story The Baddest Dog in Harlem cuts particularly close to my heart as I remember those years. The story starts out with a group of men on the street talking about who is the greatest fighter of all time; Ali or Joe Louis. Suddenly police cars come screaming around the corner and cops jump out with guns drawn. The men find themselves stuck in the middle of a tense potential shoot-out situation. The story is told with a tender, astute balance of perspective that lets the reader feel the terror and the hesitancy of both the police and the bystanders. Myers' brilliance is in his ability to illuminate and place readers directly in the story even if we have no previous experience. This is such a rare talent.

I put off reading this book for a while because I was afraid it would be yet another book about ethnic youth living in the city, and I didn't want to see that stereotype played out again. I didn't want to blog about it because I was afraid this would be the type of book that white suburban teachers keep on hand to give to the one black kid in class, figuring it covers them for diversity. I didn't want to offer a token ethnic book for anyone's collection. I should have known better, seeing it was written by Walter Dean Myers. His brilliance goes so far beyond my presuppositions I need to blush. Anyone, of any race or ethnicity living anywhere on the planet could read this book and gain a deeper understanding of our human experience. It's not just a book for black kids, although I think a lot of black kids will enjoy it.

There is an interesting biography of Myers at the RandomHouse site, which quotes Myers talking about the difference between the way he was raised and the way his children were raised:
"It seems that one of Myers' greatest struggles was to understand what type of writer he wanted to be. As the years passed and his books became more and more popular, Walter Dean Myers came to believe that his work filled a void for African American youths who yearned for positive reading experiences and role models. He frequently writes about children who share similar economic and ethnic situations with his own childhood. "But my situation as a parent did not mirror that of my childhood," he says. "While my parents were quite poor, my children are thoroughly entrenched in the middle class experience. To them African prints go well with designer jeans, pizzas go down easier to a reggae beat, and shopping malls are an unmistakable part of their culture."
So although Myers clearly is paying attention to the experience of Black youths growing up today, his talent reaches far beyond that to bless us all. Adults as well as young adults who enjoy short stories should look for this collection.

This post is submitted to the November Bookworms Blog Carnival. Here's how
you can join in:

First, the host for the November Bookworms Carnival has had to bow out, but fortunately, the intrepid Myrthe has stepped in to take his place. The theme this month is short stories. You may want to submit a post about short stories, or you may want to submit a short story of your own. The deadline for submission is November 9th. All you have to do is email the link to your post.

Please send your submissions to: armenianodar at yahoo dot com and please also thank Myrthe for stepping in at the last minute!

(copied from the hidden side of a leaf)

October 30 Haiku


from green shadows;
autumn's amber fire

One Deep Breath's prompt this week: change

Monday, October 29, 2007

October 29 Haiku

shady fountains

be still, and listen:
sunshine splashes on duck weed
Sunday afternoon

Robert's Snow, week 3

Copied from Jen Robinson's Book Page:

As you know if you've been visiting any children's book blogs for the past few weeks, Robert's Snow is an online auction that benefits Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over 200 children's book illustrators have created art on individual snowflake-shaped wooden templates. The snowflakes will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to cancer research. You can view all of the 2007 snowflakes here. Jules and Eisha from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast have found a way for bloggers to help with this effort, by blogging about individual illustrators and their snowflakes. The idea is to drive traffic to the Robert's Snow site so that many snowflakes will be sold, and much money raised to fight cancer. The illustrator profiles have been wonderful so far - diverse and creative and colorful. And there are lots more to go.

Here's the schedule for Week 3, which starts Monday. As previously, this early schedule links to the participating blogs, instead of to the individual posts. You can find links to the posts themselves, and any last-minute updates, each morning at 7-Imp. Jules and Eisha have also set up a special page at 7-Imp containing a comprehensive list of links to the profiles posted so far. Also not to be missed is Kris Bordessa's post summarizing snowflake-related contests to date over at Paradise Found.

Monday, October 29

Tuesday, October 30

Wednesday, October 31

Thursday, November 1

Friday, November 2

Saturday, November 3

Sunday, November 4

Please take time out to visit all of these blogs, and read about these fabulous illustrators. And, if you're so inclined, think about bidding for a snowflake in the Robert's Snow auction. Each snowflake makes a unique gift (for yourself or for someone else), and supports an important cause.

See also the following note from Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader:

Note to Blog Readers about Blogging for a Cure: When Jules of 7-Imp put out her call in September for bloggers to interview/feature artists who had created snowflakes for Robert’s Snow 2007 at their blogs, a number of artists had not yet sent in their snowflakes to Dana-Farber. As time was of the essence to get Blogging for a Cure underway, we worked with the list of artists whose snowflakes were already in possession of Dana-Farber. Therefore, not all the participating artists will be featured. This in no way diminishes our appreciation for their contributions to this worthy cause. We hope everyone will understand that once the list of artists was emailed to bloggers and it was determined which bloggers would feature which artists at their blogs, a schedule was organized and sent out so we could get to work on Blogging for a Cure ASAP. Our aim is to raise people’s awareness about Robert’s Snow and to promote the three auctions. We hope our efforts will help to make Robert’s Snow 2007 a resounding success.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Review: When Gorilla Goes Walking

by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Shane Evans. Orchard Books, 2007. We just got this book into our library and it is a charmer. The story is told in poetry, of a cat named Gorilla and two girl friends each named Cecilia. One Cecilia has three brothers and the other (the story's narrator) has none. She begs her mother for a pet and gets a cat; not just any cat but a fierce, independent, clever, "rain-cloud gray" cool cat named Gorilla.

Cecilia has to learn the rules of playing ball with Gorilla, but "housebreaking was a snap." She buys him a collar decorated with the colors of the African flag (red, green and black) and takes him walking around the neighborhood. Gorilla loves it, the neighbors laugh. The best part is how well Gorilla takes care of Cecilia when she is sick. She checks her forehead, listens to her heart and curls up peacefully to be her "feline nurse".

Each page of the book has a lovely, clever painting of Cecilia and Gorilla and a poem telling us about their lives together. The simple drawings are full of dramatic expression. My favorite:


On my birthday I had
a big party
with cheesecake
and strawberry tea.
We played Pin-the-Tail
Gorilla, and learned
what a rocket
a kitty can be.

In the illustration Gorilla has a fierce scowl and wide green eyes. Cecilia is blindfolded, dreds joyfully askew under her party hat, and arms stretched toward Gorilla with a tail pin. This book is funny and touching. Every child who loves animals and has a pet, or wishes for a pet will adore this book.

No one has nominated this book for a Cybil yet! Who can step up?

Today's Friday Poetry Round up is over at Literary Safari


My youngest is sick, it’s raining, my schedule is full to bursting today, and I woke up at 3 am with a sinus headache. BUT! I won the door prize at Sam Riddleburgers!!!! A KONO SKETCH!!

Now I have to announce the winners here at A Wrung Sponge for my Linas Alsenas drawing. I interviewed him last Saturday and highlighted his Robert's Snow snowflake. I promised a copy of one of his books to two lucky commenters on that post.

And the winners are...

Jama wins a copy of Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation

Elysabeth wins a copy of Peanut.


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Today I joined the NAACP. It's open to folks of any color, race, or ethnicity; did you know that? From the web site:
For more than ninety five years, the NAACP has been growing on the courageous shoulders of thousands of people. People of all races, nationalities and faiths united on one premise ----that all men and women are created equal.

Are you a member?

I read on Black Threads in Kid's Lit that Jabari Asim is the new editor of the NAACP magazine The Crisis. I'm looking forward to reading my first issue!

Site of the Week

In case you don't have enough to do online...

Here's a new time suck:
(Text copied from a review sent to me in an email by a friend)

'Google Sky' turns computers into telescopes

The heavens are only a few mouse clicks away with Google's latest free tool: A new feature in Google Earth, the company's satellite imagery-based mapping software, allows users to view the sky from their computers. The tool provides information about various celestial bodies, from stars to planets, and includes imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope and other sources. It also allows users to take virtual tours through galaxies, including the Milky Way. "By working with some of the industry's leading experts, we've been able to transform Google Earth into a virtual telescope," said Lior Ron, a Google product manager. The new software also promises users the ability to see planets in motion and witness a supernova explosion. Current Google Earth users must download a new version. The software works on computers running Microsoft Windows, Apple's Mac OS X, and Linux operating systems. Google, the leading internet search engine, already provides surface images of Mars and the Moon through its web site, along with animated and satellite-based maps of Earth.

I immediately looked up the Andromeda Galaxy in Google Sky, and then an old boyfriend in Google Earth, of course. What did you look up?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County

by Janice N. Harrington, pictures by Shelley Jackson. Melanie Kroupa Books, 2007.

This book is a wonder. Ms. Jackson is a poet, a librarian and a storyteller, and she shines in crafting the music of this story. The word choice is exquisite and the timing is perfect.

The chicken chasing queen is a young girl who lives on a farm and loves to chase Big Mama's chickens. Especially one chicken:
"Her feathers are shiny as a rained-on roof. She has high yellow stockings and long-fingered feet, and when she talks - "Pruck! Pruck! Pruck!" - it sounds like pennies falling on a dinner plate. I call her Miss Hen, and she's plump as a sSunday purse - just waiting for me to pick her up."
The queen comes up with one plan after another; grab quick, run fast, drop bait, "shimmy-shaking corn bread from my pocket, crumbs falling like a yellow necklace.", hide and dash, think like a chicken. Nothing beats Miss Hen!

The illustrations done by Shelley Jackson absolutely match the pacing of the text. First we see the queen being admonished by Big Mama to leave the chickens alone, then she is dashing about, then sitting still thinking, and then the page explodes with feathers. The combined talents of author and illustrator are brilliant. This is a book I will read aloud over and over to delighted children, and have a hard time not laughing myself silly each time. Highly recommended!

Other reviews:
Kids Lit
Fairrosa's Reading Journal
Fuse # 8
Read, Read, Read
Chicken Spaghetti

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

October 23 Haiku & a game

late afternoon

October sunshine;
maple leaves flag the breeze with
warm honey drizzle

I cross-posted this at the Autumn Haiku 2007 blog I just joined. It's a group blog full of haiku, senryu, tanka, haiga, or haibun and open to all haiku poets. Check it out!

My new addictive online vocabulary game: Free Rice! Play, learn, donate to hungry people. Watch out, you won't want to quit. Thanks to Finding Wonderland for the link.

Monday, October 22, 2007

October 22 Haiku

purple asters

purple asters flame -
shooting sparks of autumn sun
into cool shadows

Robert's Snow - Week 2

Many thanks to Trisha at Miss Rumphius Effect for this weekly schedule of blog features! If you'd like to learn more about the illustrators of some wonderful children's books this is a great opportunity. Take a look at what is in store:
Robert's Snow is an online auction that benefits Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over 200 children's book illustrators have created art on individual snowflake-shaped wooden templates. You can view all the 2007 snowflakes here.

Leading up to the auctions, the creators of these snowflakes will be highlighted on various blogs. Here are the illustrators that will be highlighted this week.

Monday, October 22

Tuesday, October 23

Wednesday, October 24

Thursday, October 25

Friday, October 26

Saturday, October 27

Sunday, October 28

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Robert's Snow: Interview with Linas Alsenas

I have been so delighted this week to read all the wonderful posts about Robert's Snow featuring children's book illustrators and their lovely snowflakes. Robert's Snow is an online auction to raise money for Dana Farber Cancer Institute research. I am thrilled to be part of this Blogging for a Cure blog fest started by Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and inspired by Grace Lin and her fund raising efforts. Sadly Grace lost her husband Robert this past August to Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Grace and Robert started the Robert's Snowflake auctions in 2004 and it has continued to grow over the years. They have raised over $200,000 already! Read more about it here.

For my part, I have the great pleasure to introduce you to Linas Alsenas. (The photo here was taken by Ceen Wahren)

Linas is the author and illustrator of two books so far: Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation was published in 2006. Click the picture to see a sample page spread from Scholastic's site.
Linas has painted a beautiful snowflake for the Robert's Snow auction with illustrations based on this book.

His second book Peanut
came out in 2007. Click here to read an interview with Linus at Monica Wellington's blog about the making of Peanut.

I have more about his snowflake below, and news of a contest you will want to pay attention to, but first you must hear a little about Linus and where he lives.

Interview with Linas Alsenas

Linas, you have written and illustrated two adorable children's books. What are your favorite authors or favorite kids' books ?

I am completely in love Maurice Sendak's work. From his early collaborations with Ruth Krauss, to WILD THINGS, to HIGGLETY PIGGLETY POP, to WE ARE ALL IN THE DUMPS, to BRUNDIBAR, I marvel at how Sendak has consistently pushed picture books in new, exciting directions. I'm jealous of Jules Feiffer's books, a favorite being THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET. I'm also a fan of Brian Selznick's illustration work, his picture-book biographies are a tremendous inspiration. But I guess I'm not picking anything off the beaten path, am I?

You know the best when you see it! What are your hobbies?

Does procrastinating online count?

Oliver, my black-headed caique, takes up a lot of time. He's generally very sweet, but if he doesn't get enough attention, he can get cranky. I read as many YA novels as I can, and I am very interested in urban planning and architecture. Otherwise, I bought a tiny cottage this summer with Jan, my boyfriend, on an island in the archipelago outside Stockholm. We spend pretty much all of our weekends out there, enjoying the landscape (--oh, yeah, and doing renovation work. Lots and lots of painting, sawing, hammering...).

That sounds delightful. Tell us more about your island house so we can daydream a weekend visiting you… What's the weather like in October? Is there a beach? Can you take us out on your boat or fishing off the rocks?

The house is actually kind of funky, it was designed by an architect for himself in the 1961, and we're now trying to bring out the "Jetsons" feel of it. The highlight of it is a huge round fireplace that looks very futuristic and retro at the same time--I'm looking forward to some cozy nights once the snow begins to fall. Actually, the weather has now gotten pretty chilly, so we've already been firing it up, especially after our walks in the countryside. The house overlooks a small valley, about 175 meters from the water. We spent a lot of time this past summer just hanging out on the rocks at the shore--I find the water to be too cold to swim in, even in the summer, but Jan is always trying to convince me otherwise. We used to have a boat that we kept in the city, but we decided to sell it this summer once we realized that we were spending all our time working on the house (our island has ferry and bus service, thankfully). Hopefully we'll have a different boat by the time spring rolls around, and then we'll be able to spend more time exploring all the other islands in our area—there are thousands of islands in the archipelago, so--happily--it's a never-ending project.

Wonderful! Tell us more about what it is like to live in Stockholm. What kind of house do you live in and where is your studio?

Stockholm is largely made up of islands, and we are lucky enough to live in Gamla Stan, the "Old Town" island in the very center of the city. Most of the buildings in Gamla Stan are from the 17th century, including ours, which was built in 1632 (!). Cars are only allowed on the edges of the island, which is made up of narrow cobblestone streets dotted with antiques shops, restaurants, and cafes. (And lots and lots of tourists, of course.) My studio is a ten-minute walk away, in the section of town known as Södermalm. That's where a lot of artists and musicians live, and hipsters galore. The space I rent is essentially just a desk in the basement of a clothing store, which is actually a cooperative of independent fashion designers (so all the people working for the store are selling their own designs). There are others who rent spaces with me: a photographer/designer, a product designer, and a writer/comics artist. It's a really laid-back, creative environment, full of social and fun people, so it's perfect for me.

That is so beautiful! Now I want to live in Stockholm. You just can't get better than living under a rainbow. Tell us more about your adorable snowflake. Where did you get your inspiration?

I was trying to come up with a way to use both sides of the snowflake equally, which made me think of my first book, MRS. CLAUS TAKES A VACATION, in which Mrs. Claus decides to travel the world herself instead of sitting at home in the North Pole all year. The book ends with Santa doing his Christmas Eve trip--but this time asking Mrs. Claus to come along, a sort of lesson in equal partnership in marriage, I suppose.

At the same time, I've also always been intrigued by cabinet photos from the 19th century, those small "daguerreotype" portrait photos you sometimes see in elaborate frames at antique shops. So I was thinking a double portrait of the Clauses, each with his/her own side (--but inseparable!), would make a nice snowflake/ornament.

That is completely charming! Tell us a little about Christmas in Sweden. Is this your first year there during the holidays? Will the Clauses be a big part of your celebration?

This year will be my third Swedish celebration of Christmas, and I'm very much looking forward to it. Every apartment window will soon boast a star-shaped paper lantern, and the city literally twinkles with light. (Which is particularly nice this far north, considering how short the days become in December!) Gamla Stan will be flooded with Swedes from all over the country, as it's a big tradition to visit the Christmas market there—you can get anything from reindeer furs and hand-crafted wooden toys to roasted almonds and "glögg," Sweden's traditional spiced wine, served piping hot.

Rest assured, there will be cookies laid out for Santa at our apartment on Christmas Eve, as well as a separate plate for Mrs. Claus.

What do you remember about holiday celebrations as a child? Did you look forward to Santa's visits?

I grew up just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, in a Lithuanian-American family during the 1980s, so our celebrations always involved a traditional 12-course Christmas Eve meal (which contains no meat) and a lot of heated grown-up talk involving "glasnost" and "perestroika"—certainly not the standard Christmas tradition in America. But Santa's visit was, of course, always the highlight.

Linas' snowflake will be up for the auction starting on November 26 to the 30th. Bookmark this site!!!

Don't forget to go back and take a good look at all the other snowflakes you might want to bid on as well. There are many others that haven't been shown on the more than 70 blogs planning features. Just to get you going I have a contest right here, right now.

Yes! You have a chance to win on of Linas' books. All you have to do is find one other snowflake at the Robert's Snow site that grabs your fancy and leave me a comment. Let me know which one (Besides Mrs. & Mr. Claus) catches your eye. I'll pick two lucky winners next Wednesday to receive one of Linas' books.

Here is the schedule of other Robert's Snow blog features for today and tomorrow:

Saturday, October 20

Sunday, October 21

Friday, October 19, 2007

Review: A Mystic Garden

Working with Soil, Attending to Soul. By Gunilla Norris. BlueBridge, 2006. This sweet little book is a series of short meditations and poems following the garden throughout the year. Norris writes about caring for her own garden in Mystic, Connecticut. The book is divided into sections by the seasons. It is just right for dipping into when you have only a moment to sit still and reflect. Reading Norris' thoughts on Harvesting, Seed Keeping, Pruning and Raking this fall has brought me back again and again to a place of peace, gratitude and resolution. I offer you one short poem of hers that comes with her meditation "Harvesting" in this book, and humbly pair it with a photo I took yesterday:

Whether witnessed,
received, used, or wasted,
the joy of fruiting
hums even in the tiniest autumn berry.

Join the joy!
You are invited.

-Gunilla Norris


The Friday Poetry round up is at Kelly Fineman's Writing and Ruminating today.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Discussion: The Secret Life of Bees

By Sue Monk Kidd. Penguin, 2003.
Indulge me here. I don’t usually blog about books until I’ve finished them, but I want to know your opinion while I’m still in the middle of this one. People have been telling me for years that I would love this book and it was on my "to read" list. I thought they were recommending it because it was about adoption or orphans or something. No one told me it is about black/white relationships and racism.

The Story is set in South Carolina in 1964. Lily is a 14 year old girl with an abusive father and a mother who died in a gun accident when she was four. Lily has a nanny, Rosaleen, a black women who stands in as her surrogate mother. When Rosaleen is attacked by racist men in town while trying to register to vote after the Civil Rights Act she spits her chew on their feet and she is arrested and thrown in jail. After being beaten and sent to the hospital Lily sneaks her out and the two run away. They head for another small town that Lily has found written on the back of a picture of the Black Madonna that was in with her mother’s things. She thinks there must be a connection between her mother and the town, which she is determined to discover.

Once they arrive in Tiburon they are taken into the home of the "calendar sisters", beekeepers named May, June and August. The sisters and their friends and associates are all black. Lily is the only white person in the story that shows and respect or affection for them. The story is told from her point of view, and although she looks to them as mother figures it is clearly a very stereotypical white point of view.

In reading reviews online to find some perspective I came across some very interesting comments on Amazon. Most of the discussion and reviews are blindly positive, but here a few folks spoke up with the same feelings I am having.

Part of my comments at the end of that thread: "The black women are nanny figures, not mother figures. They are just as powerless and victimized as the child Lily in the face of racism. I am wondering what the story would be like if the Calendar sisters and Rosaleen were white women? The whole book falls flat unless they are in the rigidly preconceived warm, nurturing, forgiving, folksy-wise-woman, but ultimately powerless black servant role, doesn't it?"

I am wondering if there is something that is comforting to us white women to see black woman as nurturing, forgiving, and warm mother-figures while at the same time acknowledging that they are living victimized and powerless lives with no recourse when their own children and men are threatened. (Where are Zach's parents?)

Lily, at 14, is victimized by her (white) father. It is she, however, and not her adult "nanny" that takes decisive action, rescues them and leads herself and Roseleen to freedom. Why is that the child's role?

I am wondering if Sue Monk Kidd was aware of the white point of view in Lily's voice, or if she, like many of us whites, is unaware that whiteness is a point of view. Was she conscious of the one-dimensional role these black women are playing? Is that part of the message?

Or is she really just writing a "powerful story of coming-of-age, of the ability of love to transform our lives, and the often unacknowledged longing for the universal feminine divine. Addressing the wounds of loss, betrayal, and the scarcity of love, Kidd demonstrates the power of women coming together to heal those wounds, to mother each other and themselves, and to create a sanctuary of true family and home." (from Penguin)

I would suggest that the Black Madonna and the black women worshiping her are not representative of the feminine divine. They are wooden, powerless, and oppressed. They subside into silence in the face of violence, injustice and despair. If it is a sanctuary they are building, is it there to serve Lily?

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

October 17 Haiku


The old barn;
a collection of roof peaks
where shadows play.

Balance. The prompt by One Deep Breath Haiku

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Review: This Little Light of Mine

Traditional African-American Spiritual, illustrated by E. B. Lewis. We had this book at our school book fair last week and I fell in love with it. The text is the traditional song and as I stood there browsing the books I had the chorus running through my head.

It made me smile to remember a little boy I knew when Buster, my 20 year old son was a baby. Junior is grown now and a daddy to his own daughter, but when he was four years old he hated that song. We used to sing it loudly through the house just to get a rise out of him. He would wait till we paused for breath and shout "Junior light ain't gonna shine! Junior light ain't gonna shine!" We would bust up laughing until he gave in and joined us. I trust his light is shining strong now, whatever comes his way.

E. B. Lewis is the award winning illustrator of a long list of stunning picture books, including Jacquline Woodson's Coming On Home Soon, Margot Theis Ravin's Circle Unbroken, Gavin Curtis's The Bat Boy and His Violin, and Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard's Virgie Goes to School With us Boys. I just adore the grace and beauty he depicts in his characters. So many of the newer picture books done by others have a style that makes human faces caricatures with a jarring tone. Lewis' natural, realistic style shows love and respect for the children he paints and it shines out of them. I want to surround my own children with these positive stories and their illuminated faces.

In This Little Light of Mine the illustrations carry the story of a young boy in a loving family. He eats breakfast with his mom and goes out to play ball with his buddies. He greets the people sitting out in front of the shops on the street and finds another boy sitting alone, looking sad. He makes friends with him and invites him to play ball with the group. The sad boy recieves his light and joy begins to fill his face. At the end of the afternoon the new boy goes off with the group while our friend returns to his family for a joyful dinner. All through the day of this boy's song is about sharing the light and protecting his spirit from harm. The kindness and gentleness of his spreading light fills the book with sweetness. He reminds me of my own sons and the eagerness of their love. I have this book on my Christmas list and I look forward to reading it over and over with my sons. I highly recommend it to everyone!

October 16 Haiku

friend of birds

The smallest bowl
held open to the sky
collects raindrops.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Pay It Forward: Sugar Cage Winner

I had such a busy weekend I never got around to posting the winner to my October Pay It Forward winner. I featured the book Sugar Cage by Connie May Fowler. This morning I cleaned out my coffee cup after the second cup and put in the names of all the Sugar Cage post commenters (not myself of course). Guess who's name I pulled out?

(Drum Roll...)

Briggie from Jehovah Roi, come on down!! You are my winner!!

Just send me your snail mail and I will pop this fascinating novel in the mail to you.

Everyone - Come back next month for another book give away, and don't forget to check out Overwhelmed! for more Pay It Forward book giveaways.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Robert's Snow: Press Release

From the Dana Farber Robert's Snow site:

Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure exhibits and online auction

Robert's Snow logo

Art galleries in New England will become a winter wonderland starting this October as Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure, a benefit for sarcoma research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Mass., gets underway. More than 200 well-known children's book illustrators from around the world, including Mo Willems (Knuffle Bunny series), Kevin Hawkes (The Library Lion) and Patricia Polacco (Rotten Richie and the Ultimate Dare), have been given a five-inch wooden snowflake to transform into an original piece of art to be auctioned off online. Like actual snowflakes, each design is unique.

The snowflakes will be on display at the Have a Heart gallery in Newburyport from Oct. 3 - 22, with an open house all day on Oct. 6. Then the snowflakes will be on exhibit at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham from Oct. 30 - Dec. 2, with a kick-off reception on Nov. 4, at 4 p.m.

The snowflakes will be auctioned off to benefit Dana-Farber during three online auctions, on Nov. 19 - 23, Nov. 26 - 30 and Dec. 3 - 7. To preview the pieces online and to place a bid, go to The artwork is great for a holiday gift and bidding is open to everyone. Gallery hours and admission prices for the exhibits are online too.

The program was developed by children's book author and illustrator Grace Lin a few years ago. Just after getting married, her husband Robert Mercer was diagnosed with sarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue and bone. While Mercer was receiving treatment, Lin told him a bedside story about a mouse that couldn't go outside to play in the snow. The story grew into a children's book, titled "Robert's Snow." When Lin was finishing the artwork for the book, her husband had a relapse, so her colleagues rallied to create Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure to increase awareness about sarcoma and to raise research funding. Mercer passed away in August 2007, but Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure continues as a legacy to his life.

Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure is in its third year and has already raised more than $200,000 for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which is recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a world leader in cancer research and care. Dana-Farber is renowned for using its discoveries to improve cancer treatment for children and adults around the world.


Elizabeth Chernack
(617) 632-4687

Elaine at Wild Rose Reader posted pictures of this gallery open house on October 6th in Newburyport, Massachusetts. If you are in the MA area, there will be a second exhibit of the 2007 snowflakes at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, Massachusetts. In addition to the exhibit, there will be an artists' reception on Sunday, November 4.

Robert's Snow: first week schedule

I am very excited to be part of the Robert's Snow blog fest starting this week. This is an online auction to benefit the Dana Farber Institute for cancer research. Bloggers are highlighting the children's book illustrators that have contributed beautifully designed and created snowflakes. You can view all the 2007 snowflakes here. The whole blog fest is organized by Jules and Eisha from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Jules explained recently:

"Over 150 illustrators were chosen by approximately 65 bloggers, and they will be featuring the snowflake-making illustrators (some of them, but not all of them, by any means) for the Robert’s Snow 2007 online auctions, starting October 15 and all the way up until the day before the first auction, November 18. That means that during that time, about four or five illustrators a day will be featured at various blogs, even on Saturdays and Sundays."

At the Robert’s Snow 2007 online auctions you can see the snowflakes and bid on the ones you like. All the proceeds go towards cancer research so it is a wonderful cause to support and a great way to start holiday gift shopping!

Visit these blogs this week to read about the illustrators and see their snowflakes. Here is this week's schedule of blog highlights:

Monday, October 15

Tuesday, October 16

Wednesday, October 17

Thursday, October 18

Friday, October 19

Saturday, October 20

Sunday, October 21

(Thanks to Jen Robinson for compiling all these links.) Please notice that I am interviewing Linas Alsenas right here at A Wrung Sponge on Saturday, October 20. WOO HOO!! I am so thrilled to be a part of this and I look forward to really learning a lot about all these fabulous children's book illustrators as well as helping support Robert’s Snow.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Review: Wing Nuts: Screwy Haiku

by Paul B. Janeczko and J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Tricia Tusa. This book is really delightful. Janecko, Lewis, and Tusa have teamed up to create some very clever senyru, a type of haiku focusing on people that is clever and funny that is brilliantly illustrated. The watercolor pictures tell a story woven on top of the haiku, as a boy chases his blue ball down a rabbit hole and across an increasingly silly landscape where hippos are couch potatoes and cows wear purple boots. Here are a few of my favorite senryu:

Swift punishment
for drinking from milk carton...
mouthful of curdles

Irksome mosquito,
kindly sing your evening song
in my brother's ear

Noah Webster had
no choice except to put
the cart before the horse

On every page spread an increasingly bewildered brown-skinned boy follows his bouncing blue ball through scenes of disorder and hilarity. He is finally ushered out a window by a jester, trips over the marshmallow heads of powdered and be-wigged ladies, climbs a ladder and emerges back on the grass with his playful pup. Phew! This book is a giggle fest for sure.

A senryu goes
bouncing along into...
a giant poet-tree!

The Friday Poetry Round up is at Two Writing Teachers today. Go take a look!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My Wish List

We are having our book fair this week and I have been hanging out in the auditorium. I have to be there all day today and tomorrow so I spend a lot of time drooling over the books. I am always dismayed over how many great books I haven't read yet. I love chatting with kids, parents and teachers about what books they've read and what is on their wish lists.

I found out one of our new staff people is a self-described "bookaholic" She says she knows it's bad when the bookstore sends a Christmas card and they greet her by name. I said that's better than the casino sending you cards! We were standing at the grown-ups book table and she was pointing out all the great books she's already read. She said she is happy to lend them out so I got real friendly after that. She's been feeding books to the music teacher. I told her I would be her new best friend if I could get on that circulation list....

I added the Shelfari widget to my sidebar. It's showing my wish list, which I just updated today. I am a bit embarrassed to admit it, but all the books on my Shelfari list here are ones I haven't read yet. I know! You are saying "I can't believe she hasn't read Secret Life of Bees yet! I read that years ago!" Well I have it now. Girlfriend went home at lunch and brought it back for me and I am getting in my jammies tonight at 8:30 and cracking it open.

I also have my wish list on Goodreads, and a button farther down the side bar. I feel like a player, running both book sites, but it's fun so far. Friend me!

What's on your wish list?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

October 9 Haiku


i thought it was dead;
pushed to the back of the porch
this aloe thrives

Monday, October 08, 2007

October 8 Haiku

two pink roses.JPG

in the dooryard;
roses in autumn sunshine
hold... breathe... release

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pay It Forward: Sugar Cage

This month's give away book is Sugar Cage by Connie May Fowler. This novel is set in 1945 in southern Florida. Inez Temple, a Haitian woman working as a hotel maid meets Rose and her new husband Charlie and their friends Junior and Eudora. Inez reads their future in the bottom of Rose's tea cup and finds the ominous prediction to be carried out in surprising ways over the next twenty years in their marriages, carriers and children. Read more reviews here and here.

I found this captivating novel on a book share shelf and I would love to pass it on to one you! I got the idea for this from Overwhelmed with Joy. I plan to give away a book to one of my readers in the first week of every month until I run out of books. Here's how it is played:

1) Once a month I'll pick a book to give away to one lucky reader (you don’t have to have a blog to enter). It may be a book that I’ve purchased new or used, or it may be a book that someone has shared with me that I really like. It’ll probably be a paperback, just to make things easier, but no guarantees.

2) All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave me a comment on this post. I'll draw names out of a hat on Sunday, October 14.

3) If you’re the lucky winner of the book giveaway and you have your own blog I ask that you,in turn, host a drawing to give that book away for free to one of your readers, after you’ve had a chance to read it (let’s say, within a month after you’ve received the book). If you mail the book out using the media/book rate that the post office offers it’s pretty inexpensive. If you're a non-blogger who has won the book, please consider donating the book to your local library or shelter after you're done with it.

4) If you’re really motivated and want to host your own “Pay It Forward” giveaway at any time, feel free to grab the button below to use on your own blog. Just let Overwhelmed know so she can publish a post plugging your giveaway and directing readers your way!

The Pay It Forward Book Exchange is designed to encourage people to read, to share good books, to possibly get you out of your reading comfort zone, and to get fun stuff in the mail instead of just bills!

So just leave me a comment if you'd like to be part of this month's drawing. Remember, you have until next Sunday, October 14!! And stop by Overwhelmed to see what other books are being given away this month.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Review: Families; Poems Celebrating the African American Experience

I really love my job. Sitting right next to my desk is a book cart full of kid's poetry books, pulled from the shelves for the sixth grade "Poetry in Place" project. The kids are searching for poems they love and collecting them in their notebooks. I get to sit next to this wonderful collection of poetry all day long. Truth is, it's a bit distracting (in a very nice way).

I had a book all picked out for my Friday Poetry post; I have been planning to use it for a couple weeks. But this morning my eye was caught by another book that completely charmed me so I changed my plan.

I just couldn't resist posting a Langston Hughes poem from the anthology Families; Poems celebrating the African American Experience. This collection is selected by Dorothy S. Strickland and Michael R. Strickland, with illustrations by John Ward. Published by Wordsong in 1994.

The poets include Naomi F. Faust, Gwendolyn Brooks, Julia fields, Nikki Grimes, Nikki Giovanni, Eloise Greenfield, Lucille Clifton, Arnold Adoff And Lindamichellebraron, as well as Langston Hughes. The poems focus on every aspect of family life; from stories told on front porches to dinner times, bed times, visiting, traveling, missing loved ones, and bringing home new babies. They are sweet and joyful, inspiring and comforting. The illustrations are warm and inviting, showing brown skinned black children shining with love, wonder and pride. I put this book on our Christmas wish list right away.

Here is an example of a poem in this collection:

(For a Black Mother)

My Little dark baby,
My little earth-thing,
My little love-one,
what shall I sing
For your lullaby?

A necklace of stars
Winding the night.

My little black baby,
My dark body's baby,
what shall I sing
for your lullaby?

Moon, Moon,
Great diamond moon,
Kissing the night.

Oh, little dark baby,
Night black baby,

Stars, stars,
Night stars,

for your sleep-song lullaby!

-Langston Hughes

You can hear this lullaby sung by Val Gray Ward here. It's a recording titled "Rhapsody in Hughes 101". She sings several Langston Hughes poems in jazz, blues and spoken poetry. Scroll down to read the comments posted about the music and note that Nikki Giovanni speaks very highly of her work.

This week I have had two sick little boys in my family. On Tuesday night we had to make a midnight trip to the Emergency Room for my youngest due to a cough that wouldn't quit. Now he is on a nebulizer for what is probably allergy-induced asthma. I didn't sleep much at all that night and have had interrupted nights ever since. This morning at 4 am I was sitting with him, rocking him back and forth listening to him breath while staring out the window at the dark night. The warm weight of him in my arms and the sweet smell of his hair filled me with gratitude. I wish I could have sung him this lullaby the way Val Gray Ward does. I'll have to put that CD on my iPod!

The Friday Poetry round up is over at Whimsy Books today. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Nominate your favorite books of 2007

I just made my first book nomination to the 2007 CYBILS. Don't know what that is all about? Here's what they say over at the CYBILS blog:

"Nominations Are Now Open

Welcome to the 2007 Cybils, the only literary awards by bloggers. We're seeking nominations from book lovers in eight genres:

Fantasy/Science Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction: Middle Grade and Young Adult
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Young Adult Fiction

Want to nominate your favorite books of the year? They must've been published in 2007:

  • Only one book per category;
  • Click on a category and read the description;
  • Click on "comments" and type in the author and title;
  • Make sure your book isn't already listed, please.
What books have you been salivating over this year? Go on over and add them to the nominations lists! Join the party!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


cosmos with bee

in autumn's
sweetest offering;
today is enough for today.

Miss Rumphius has given us another Monday Poetry Stretch. This week it's fibs. Greg K. from GottaBook developed this form based on 1/1/2/3/5/8 – the classic Fibonacci sequence. This is my first attempt. Go over to Miss Rumphius to read what others have done.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

October 2 Haiku

firetruck pjs

just knowing they're there -
sirens heard on a cold night,
stories in pjs

This haiku is in response to the One Deep Breath prompt: boyhood.

Monday, October 01, 2007

September 365

Sept. 2007 365

Here is a mosaic of my September 365 Project. I started blogging the photos individually at my other blog Sandy Cove 365. I thought I wouldn't like keeping up with that, but after seeing all the other cool bloggers do it for eight months I decided I was missing out on the fun part. I'll keep posting photos over there.

Review: BOB Books

by Bobby Lynn Maslen & John R. Maslen. This is a series of beginning readers that come packaged in a cute little box. They are each about eight pages long and tell a funny story in just a few short words. They are much more clever than many beginning readers, leaving space for the reader's creative leap of comprehension between simple text and minimalist line drawings. Much of the interest and humor come from the child's understanding of, for example, what a dog is likely to do with a lady's hat.

With monochromatic sketches and a maximum of three words per page this story is told: Dot has a hat, a lovely floppy hat with a big flower on it. Mag wants a hat too. When he gets a hold of Dot's hat, it starts looking damp and droopy. The text doesn't need to explain that the hat ended up in Mag's mouth. When Dot gives up on the hat in discouragement Mag is still happy to wear it with a doggy smile. My five year old son Buddy loves that story and reads it with plenty of giggles. He reads it with a combination of emerging decoding skills (focusing on beginning and ending sounds, sounding out the short vowel words, and guessing from context clues.) His eyes track from text to illustration and back to text. I can see the wheels turning in his head, culminating in a star-burst smile when he gets to the end of the book and reads with proud satisfaction "The End."

My oldest son Buster loved these books fifteen years ago when he was starting to learn to read. He was stuck for a while at the letter-by-letter sounding out stage. When we found BOB books he took great delight in the humor. They were books he could read with a limited sight word vocabulary and shaky decoding skills, but they involved some complexity in story line. At first reading some of the stories are hard to "get". They aren't obvious. They require some thinking and some inference. That's a difficult thing to include in a book with such a limited vocabulary. Buster appreciated the respect the authors gave him in honoring his wit and experience of the world by writing stories that required his intelligent participation to bring to life.

After I found this series for Buster I started using them in my first grade classroom. At the time I was a first grade teacher with a broad range of abilities represented in my students. That is usually the case in any classroom. I found it particularly challenging in teaching reading because their tender egos come hard up against the increasing pressure from parents and teachers to succeed in reading. Anyone not excelling begins to feel like a failure. Maslen & Maslen are masters at reaching the four to seven year old audience with a delicate balance of presentation, reinforcement, enticement and celebration.

There are five sets in the BOB Book series, focused on short vowels, word families, compound words and long vowels. The website has links and printable activity pages as well.We have used the first to sets most heavily, finding them just right for readers on the verge of sounding out short words and building a sight word vocabulary. If you have a beginning reader aged four through seven these books are right on target.

This review is part of the Mother-Talk BOB Book blog tour.