Friday, February 29, 2008

Review: Miss Crandall's School

for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color. Poems by Elizabeth Alexander & Marilyn Nelson, Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Wordsong, 2007. In 1832 Prudence Crandall, a Quaker schoolteacher and head of The Canterbury Female Boarding School in Canterbury, Connecticut admitted her first Black student. The town's people, who had been very pleased with her running the school up until then, were scandalized. Parents of the white students pulled their daughters out and the school was threatened with closing. Miss Crandall chose to continue to teach African American girls. She recruited students through the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. In the introduction to the book we read
"In the 1830s Connecticut had the most homogeneous population of any state in the Union, mostly white people of British ancestry. Though most blacks were gradually freed from slavery after the American Revolution, the state did not abolish slavery until 1848. In 1830, of the eight hundred African American in Connecticut, twenty-three were still slaves."

Miss Crandall's Black students came from Philadelphia, New York City, Providence, Boston, and throughout Connecticut. Miss Crandall taught them reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar, ancient and modern geography and history, natural and moral philosophy, chemistry, and astronomy. The town fought back by refusing to sell food to them, poisoning their well, throwing eggs and rocks at them, and finally smashing windows and burning the school. In 1834 Miss Crandall closed the school saying "I can no longer protect my students." The building is now a museum and a National Historic Landmark.

Elizabeth Alexander teaches African American literature and culture at Yale University. She lives in Connecticut and is the author of four books of poems, including American Sublime, which was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize and named Notable Book of the Year by the ALA. Marilyn Nelson, poet laureate of Connecticut from 2002-2006, is a three-time national Book Award finalist. Her book Carver: A Life in Poems won the Boston Glove-Horn Book Award, a Newbery Honor Award, and a Coretta Scott King Honor Award. She also lives in Connecticut. These two poets got together to study the life of Miss Crandall and her school. Together they have written this haunting and lovely collection of sonnets on the experiences of Miss Crandall and her students of color.

In the author's notes at the back of the book they say,
"The sonnet is a hardy and evolving form. The constraint of fourteen lines forces a poet to be economical but not sparse.The poem must shift its energy in some significant way in order to essentially turn on its light switch, but in contemporary times that "volta," or turn, can happen in new ways and places within the poem."

Several twentieth-century African American poets who wrote sonnets are mentioned, including Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks, as having used the form innovatively. I've got those names on my list of sonnet poets to study further.

I'd like to share with you two of my favorite sonnets from the book today. The book is divided into sections taking us through the two year period when Miss Crandall first enrolled Black girls as students, the time of reaction and harassment by the town's people, the the violent ending of the school. All the poems are passionate, evocative and powerful. These two especially grab me today:


by Elizabeth Alexander

It wasn't as if we knew nothing before.
After all, colored girls must know many
things in order to survive. Not only
could I sew buttons and hems, but I could
make a dress and pantaloons from scratch,
I could milk cows, churn butter, feed chickens,
clean their coops, wring their necks, pluck and cook them,
I cut wood, set fires, and boiled water
to wash the clothes and sheets, then wrung them dry.
And I could read the Bible. Evenings
before the fire, my family tired
from unending work and New England cold,
they'd close their eyes. My favorite was Song of Songs.
They most liked when I read, "In the beginning."

Fire from the Gods

by Marilyn Nelson

I didn't know how much I didn't know.
Like Brer Mosquito on Brer Elephant,
now I know my capacity for awe
is infinite: this thirst is permanent,
the well bottomless, my good fortune vast.
An uneducated mind is a clenched fist
that can open, like a bud, into a flower
whose being reaches, every waking hour,
and who sleeps a fragrant dream of gratitude.
Now it's "illegal," "illegitimate"
to teach brown girls who aren't state residents.
As if teacher's stealing fire from the gods.
As if the Ancestors aren't tickled to death to see
a child they lived toward find her mind's infinity.

Let that settle into silence for a few solid minutes and go back and read them again. Glory.

I'm taking this book over to a fifth grade classroom right now. They are studying sonnets and they need to read these. Put this book on your list of must finds.

More links for further reading:

Wordsong (publisher)
History of Miss Crandall's School at Yale's Guilder Lehrman Center
Article in NYTimes giving background and history
blog review at Please Come Flying
Prudence Crandall Museum site

Another book we have in our collection is a biography of Miss Prudence Crandall and her school: The Forbidden Schoolhouse; The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students by Suzanne Jurmain. Houghton Mifflin Books, 2005.

Poetry Friday is over at Kelly R Fineman's Writing Ruminating go read more poetry!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Poetry links

I've been trying to keep up with my blog reading but am failing miserably. This is report card writing season so I have to keep blogging as a reward for good teacherly behavior. This morning I am doing well so I got to read up on Poet Mom's blog. She linked to these interesting sites on Boarders bookstore's websites:

"Borders (the book-store chain) had created a sort-of interactive section on their site for poetry. Open-Door Poetry is a stylized video presentation on poets discussing poetry and reading their works. The series includes readings by Donald Hall, Paul Muldoon, Patricia Smith, and Mark Strand, yet most of the poets featured are "transformative" poets who do not fit the clich├ęd image of a poet.

There is a free poetry contest: the top five poems submitted in text and video will be published with Strand in a "Best of" collection. And you can get free poetry advice from Paul Muldoon. The site also has a blog, which, I believe, doubles as a space for freewriting."

Woo Hoo! Sounds like fun. I submitted a couple of my poems just for the heck of it. Thanks for the inspiration Poet Mom!

And then there's Greggory K., over at GottaBook. He's started a Fib "lens"at Squidoo. Another interesting online addiction for me? Perhaps...

Now I'm going over to get some free poetry advice. Who's with me?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sonnet for my Grandmother

Miss Rumphius's Monday poetry stretch this week is calling for apostrophe poems. "An apostrophe is a poem which directly addresses a person or thing that is generally absent." Since I've been taking quilt pictures for my 365 photo blog I've been spending a lot of time looking at my grandmother's quilts and I've been thinking about her. I wrote a sonnet for her this morning.

grammy's nine patch 2

Grammy in heaven with your mean string
look down on my anger and forgive. Your brown
dresses make my quilt. I carry your frown.
I hate the storm of my anger. This wild thing
takes me away in a hot explosive fling -
I rage. My babe's wide eyes throw me down.
Tell us the story of when you left town.
Grampy's church sent you off that spring
with a quilt composed of old feed sacks,
their hope of peace and comfort for the road.
They wrote their names in fading ink. I trace
the seams, my tired finger on history's tracks.
Gather our childhood pouts that showed
grace coming at her own sweet pace.

feb 26 012

Interview with Susan K. Mitchell

Kersplatypus by Susan K. Mitchell, illustrated by Sherry Rogers. Sylvan Dell, 2008. (review copy from publisher) In our house we've been enjoying this latest book by Susan K. Mitchell. It's a quest story of a little platypus looking for his place in the world. He wanders through the Tasmanian countryside asking other animals to help him find where he truly belongs. My five year old son enjoyed the story and had fun doing the extended learning activities in the back of the book. I was delighted to be able to interview the author here as part of her blog tour.

Interview with Susan K. Mitchell:

Cc: Hi Susan! I've just finished reading your great website and I feel like I am already getting to know you. You've told us that you loved reading and writing as a child and your favorite authors were Laura Ingals Wilder, E. B. White and "ANYTHING by Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume". Me too! I was tickled to hear your parents kept your old books for you. Mine did too! :) Do your girls love those books now? I imagine you reading the old favorites out loud to them and I have to smile. What else do your kids delight in?

SKM: My oldest daughter is just getting into the Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books. She LOVES Charlotte’s Web. And I discover new favorites as they find books they enjoy. We just read the entire Spiderwick Chronicles (all 5 books) outloud in one Saturday. It was so much fun!

Cc: I read your book Kersplatypus to my five year old son last night and he was fascinated. I am curious about how you chose the Australian theme. All the animals in the story are Australian and somewhat new to us. Is that a particular place of interest for you?

SKM: The Australian theme chose me! That story was born out of one single word. When my youngest was 2, she fell down one day. Being the dutiful Mommy, I scooped her up, dried her tears, and said, “Oh baby! Did you fall and go kersplatypus?” I instantly loved the word and just ran with it.

Cc: When I was a child my uncle and aunt lived in Australia for many years. They often told us of their trips to the Outback and I loved hearing about the strange-but-familiar life they lead. Have you ever been to Australia? It's interesting to me how so many things are much the same for us in America (similar European cultural roots) but at the same time completely foreign, being the other side of the world. How did that impact your writing process?

SKM: I have never been to Australia or the Rainforest (my other book). However, if I had REALLY been thinking I’d have taken a trip. My writing process is impacted by the weirdest place on Earth --- my mind *lol*.

Cc: I think North American children will be delighted to learn about the unique attributes of Australian animals. I can remember being particularly interested in the platypus when I was a child. Tell us more about how you researched the characters in your book. Did you already have a good knowledge of the ways of the platypus, the kookaburra and the blue-tongued skink?

SKM: Believe it or not, even a fictional story has to be well-researched. I had to make sure that every animal in the book would actually be found in the same habitat as the platypus (in this case it is Tasmania). I also had to research weather, flora, and fauna … the whole lay of the land to make it accurate. Librarians will spot an error very quickly. I want to be as accurate as possible. Of course, all of the Sylvan Dell books are vetted for accuracy – so I had someone else watching out for me as well.

Cc:I have to admit I only knew some of the terminology in your book from knowing the song "Waltzing Matilda". Words such as "walkabout", and "billabong", for example. Did you consciously include vocabulary from the song into the story as a bridge for bringing us into the setting?

SKM: Yes, it was very deliberate. I wanted it to have an Aussie feel without being too corny. Plus, I love that song!

Cc: My son and I are also enjoying the supplemental materials in the back of the book. Although some of the information is beyond his kindergarten-level skills, he loved doing the matching activity and learning facts about the animals in the story. I found it to be a nice range of activities for a variety of ability levels.Can you tell us how that was developed?

SKM: Sylvan Dell Publishing is SO wonderful! They put education first and foremost --- second only to a good story that is well written. They develop the Creative Minds section for each book. Since I am a teacher as well, I particularly love it. It adds a great depth to the book in my opinion.

Cc: We had fun exploring the activities on the website of Sylvan Dell as well. What a great way to supplement the book! How did you get involved in this project?

SKM: Again, that is all Sylvan Dell. They are amazing! To have that type of support as an author is almost unheard of in the publishing industry.

CC: I have to say I think the whole package is brilliant. The story is charming and complex. My son was enthralled by the lost platypus seeking home. The helpful animals and the mocking skink all added depth to the story. The illustrations are engaging and the refreshing choice of Australian animals gave it a special zing. What are you working on next?

SKM: *blushes* That is so sweet of you to say. I am honored! I do have some picture books in the works but nothing under contract right now. I actually write a great deal of non-fiction for older readers – upwards of 8 books/year. I am developing a brand new animal series for the educational market. Those will join the more than 15 non-fiction books already out there.

Cc:Thanks so much for speaking with me today and coming to A Wrung Sponge on your blog tour!

SKM: Oh, it is absolutely my pleasure!

Author interview at World of Words
Susan K. Mitchell's website
Other reviews of Kersplatypus
blog reviews on JacketFlap

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Review: Rickshaw Girl

by Mitali Perkins. This lovely little middle grade novel is on the 2007 ALA Amelia Bloomer Project list of recommended reading for books with strong girl characters. From the ALA site:
"the 2008 Amelia Bloomer Project honors the authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers who give life to books that encourage readers young and old to push the envelope and challenge what it means to be a woman, regardless of ethnicity or social-economic background."
Ten year old Naima lives in Bangladesh with her mother, younger sister and father. Because women and girls do not work outside the home, the family is completely dependent on her father's work as a rickshaw driver. He is overworked, exhausted, and barely making enough money to pay back the loan on his new rickshaw while keeping Naima's younger sister in school for one more year and paying the family's living expenses. Naima, who's won the village competition for painting alpanas decorations on the side of their house for the past few years, wants desperately to be able to help him earn money.

February 21 is International Mother Language Day and on this day the whole country celebrates the beauty of the Bangla language. Naima has a special talent for painting the intricate pattern work. Although she is impulsive and manages to crash her father's rickshaw the first time she tries to drive it, she is able to find a way to use her strengths in surprising ways to help her family. She is blessed with a father that supports and values his daughters so that although in the beginning of the book she wishes she were a boy, by the end of the book she is proud to be a girl.

You can see examples of alpana painting in a lesson conducted by Mitali Perkins' mother, Madhusree Bose, at the PaperTigers blog here. I read this book last Saturday afternoon, not realizing that it was just past International Mother Language Day. What a great way to learn about it! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for middle grade (8-10 year old) readers, as a read aloud, or a kid's book club book. The line drawing illustrations by Jamie Hogan are charming and add just the right touch to the engaging story line. The back of the book includes a glossary, explanation of typical Bangladeshi clothing for boys and girls (including a lungi, salwar kameez, and sari), and explanation of how microfinancing loans are benefiting women, girls and families in Bangladesh as small home business are set up and expanded.

Other reviews:
Author spotlight, chapter preview, discussion and activity guide from publisher Charlesbridge
Jen Robinson (great review! Links to many other blog reviews.)
Shelf Elf
Paper Tigers
Mitali's Fire Escape
Author interview at HipWriterMama
Author interview at Big A, little a

Monday, February 25, 2008

February 25 Haiku

crossed branches

bowed branches
lined with ice;
sun splash

Sunday, February 24, 2008

5 Interesting Things

I've been tagged by Ms. Flamigo for the 5 interesting things meme. Here are the rules:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

For my five interesting things I am going to post photos taken this weekend.

1. The trees behind my house and my attic window:

feb 22 058

2. The cherry tree in front of my house:

feb 22 111

3. I am one of those parents that believes in making kids help with the chores, starting at age two:

feb 22 014

4. I also believe in play.

feb 22 065

5. And here is the last person (other than my kids) that I kissed.

feb 22 023

I am going to break another rule here and not tag five people. If you have five interesting things to share, or five photos, jump in! Leave me a comment linking to your post so we can all come see.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Poetry: February

by Margaret Atwood

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.

...Read the rest here at the Poetry Foundation.

We've a snow day from school today - the first one this winter. I left the book I was going to review for poetry Friday at school so I went looking for snow poems. This one wasn't what I had in mind but it grabbed me anyway. My cat always wakes me up by breathing in my ear or chewing on the plants; things she knows annoy me. Her hunger is what gets me out of bed. Something about February requires an extra goading...

Friday Poetry round up is at Big A, little a today. Don't know how much poetry I'll be reading between putting snow suits on and off, but what fun we'll have!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

February 21 Haiku

harbs in snow

soup on my stove
flavored with dried marjoram;
snow on the garden

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

At the Library Reference Desk


Second graders in the library (while flipping through Time magazine):
Kid 1: "Who do you want to win, the girl or the brown guy?"
Kid 2: "The girl, because her husband was president already."
Kid 3: "No he wasn't because if he was a president before now he would be dead."
Kid 2: "No he isn't. But I want the brown guy because my mom wants me to be the first mixed girl president when I grow up."

And for something completely different, here is your helpful link of the day:
Websites to Learn Web 2.0

Review: Hiromi's Hands

by Lynne Barasch. Lee & Low Books, 2007. Hiromi Suzuki's father was born and raised in Japan. He was trained in the male sushi tradition in Japan and came to New York in 1964 to work at his company's NY restaurant. He married and had a daughter. His American life influenced the way he raised his daughter. When she began to beg him to take her to fish markets and let her help in the restaurant kitchen he was persuaded. He ended up training her to be a sushi chef and Hiromi became one of the first female sushi chefs in New York.

Hiromi's Hands is a delightful picture book telling her story. The author, Lynne Barasch tells in the final note that she first met Hiromi as a kindergarten student in her daughter's class. She gives us a brief history of the development of sushi along with an outline of Hiromi's life.

The story is told in Hiromi's voice and is filled with intersting details about traditional Japanese life as well as daily events in their family life. In February, for example, they celebrate "Setsubun, the day before the first day of spring." The third of March is "Girl's Day", when everyone prays for the health and happiness of girls and dolls and peach blossoms are displayed. When I was a young girl I had some Japanese dolls that were given to my mother by my grandmother and I always delighted in the idea of celebrating a Girl's Day. What I really like about this book is that it shows how a family moves from the traditions and ways of the past that limited their roles into a future filled with hope and prosperity. When Hiromi's father comes to New York he finds it "abundant and plentiful in so many ways." His prosperity and enjoyment carry over into his daughter's life and bless all of us in the story.

This is a picture book for all ages. The fine watercolor illustrations are intricately detailed portrayals worthy of long study. It's perfect for reading this Spring on Girl's Day, Women's History Month, or any time!

booktalk at Lee & Low and author's biography
interview with Barasch at cynsations
review in The Edge of the Forest
review at The Well Read Child and supplimental teaching ideas

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Review: The Absolutely True Dairy of a Part Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie. Little, Brown &Co., 2007. This is successful author Alexie's first young adult novel and he has hit the ground running. I've been reading high praise for it for months so I was looking forward to getting my hands on it and none of the hype was overdone. It's great.

Junior Spirit is a fourteen year old boy living on the Spokane reservation in Washington state. He lives with his grandmother, father, mother and older sister in a family mired in generations of poverty and racism. He speaks with an honest, biting voice infused with humor and pain. His character is drawn from real life, as Alexie himself is Native American and grew up on a reservation in Washington. Junior is a budding cartoonist and the book is illustrated throughout with cartoons drawn by Ellen Forney. They appear to be drawn in black pen on lined paper torn out of a school notebook and perfectly match the tone of the text.

In spite of the deep pain expressed in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian I found myself laughing out loud over and over again. The way Junior explains it, Indians love to laugh and use their laughter to express and contain their deepest anger and anguish. Time after time, when tragedy arrives, Junior's response is to laugh. He tells about how his family celebrates Thanksgiving with a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings. He says,
"I always think it's funny when Indians celebrate Thanksgiving. I mean, sure the Indians and Pilgrims were best friends during that first Thanksgiving, but a few years later, the Pilgrims were shooting Indians.
So I'm never quite sure why we eat turkey like everybody else.
"Hey dad," I said. "What do Indians have to be so thankful for?"
"We should give thanks that they didn't kill all of us."
We laughed like crazy. It was a good day."

Junior realizes he lives in a pretty hopeless place. One of his Indian school teachers comes to visit him after he gets in trouble at school. Mr. P. tells him to get out; get off the reservation, go find a place with hope. He starts crying as he tells Junior that he and every other adult on the reservation is defeated and hopeless, but Junior has a chance and he must take it before they defeat him too. When Junior later asks his parents who has the most hope they look at each other for a long moment and then both say, "White people." When Junior says he wants to transfer to the white high school they give him all the immediate arguments against it and let him knock them down. Then they find a way to send him and support him as best they can, scraping together just enough money to keep him there in cheap tennis shoes. Some days there is no gas money and Junior has to walk 22 miles to and from school.

Junior speaks with the candor about all the things 14 year old boys are concerned with. In some places it is a little to much information for my interests. Since I am a middle aged librarian lady I imagine those are some of the spots that teenagers will like the best. I found Junior's direct way of speaking about racism, poverty, alcoholism, anger, sadness, loss and desperate hope to be inspiring and encouraging. As hard as the sadness is in this book, the poetry of Alexie's writing brings it as alive as an afternoon with your best friend.

Other reviews:
LA Times
New York Times
National Book Award winner, 2007

Best Book list hits:

Kirkus Young-Adult (2007)
PW's Best Books of the Year (2007)
SLJ Best Books (2007)
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults (2007)
YALSA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2007)

Monday, February 18, 2008

February 18 Haiku

daffodils emerge

winter thaw;
the faith of daffodil bulbs
moves mountains

Friday, February 15, 2008

i love you much(most beautiful darling)

m & m s

by e. e. cummings

i love you much(most beautiful darling)

more than anyone on the earth and i
like you better than everything in the sky

-sunlight and singing welcome your coming the rest here.

Nobody writes love poems like e. e. cummings. The Friday Poetry round up is over at Hip Writer Mama today. Spread the love.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Natural Superwoman

By Uzzi Reiss and Yfat Reiss Gendell. Penguin, 2007. (review copy) When I saw that Mother Talk was hosting a blog tour for this book I jumped right in. I am always interested in books about how to live healthier. Natural Superwoman is the kind of book that is loaded with information about nutrition, diet, exercise, and supplements that are recommended to optimize your energy and renew your health.

Riess structures his program on something he calls the "four basic principles, or four pillars woman can arm herself with: the nutrition pillar, the activity maintenance pillar, the hormone balance pillar, and the mind and mood pillar." The book is broken down into sections describing and explaining the details of each "pillar". I found much of the information to be very basic things that are commonly presented as principles of good health. Whole foods, less caffeine, moderate regular exercise, deep, relaxed breathing, visualization for stress-reduction, healthy social connections, and knowing your own body's signals for good health are all discussed extensively. I didn't find anything particularly new on these subjects.

Reiss has a lot of information on bioidentical hormones, which he highly recommends. He says, "Once you understand how powerfully and safely your hormones can support you and your goals when their lives are optimized, you will understand why I believe that all Natural Superwomen should make the personal decision to supplement their hormones." Later he adds, "I invite you to consider what it would be like to recapture the parts of yourself that you consider to be the best; that is, aspects of your identity that you may no longer be able to experience. You can begin recapturing that power today." To me that reads like an informercial. I'm at an age where I have begun to pay attention to the debates over hormone replacement and I am interested in his theories and programs. I have to say though that I'm skeptical of his claims because of his presentation. He strikes me as a mite condescending.

I'll tell you the things he says that I like to hear:

In the chapter on Stress he recommends a three fold approach to managing stress.
  1. Identify the onset and source of stress.
  2. Visualize: acknowledge your agitated reaction with an inner discussion and with visualization of a calm scene.
  3. Breathe - take several deep and full breaths.
He says that just by recognizing, acknowledging and responding to stress triggers we can make a difference in how our body manages daily stress. Addressing the underlying causes allows you to make necessary changes to reduce the stress. Reintroducing calm, relaxing activities into your life keeps you healthier. Makes sense to me.

In the chapter on how to use diet to control depression her recommends high-quality, high-cocoa-content chocolate (among other things). YES. I am down with that.

For the rest of the book, I could take it or leave it. You can read more reviews from other women that liked the book more than I did at the Mother Talk blog tour here. You can read about it at these links too:

I'd love to hear what books you've read about women's health. What have you found that you really love? What would you suggest? What are you looking for?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

RIF in Danger

I read this at Chicken Spaghetti today:

"The literacy organization Reading Is Fundamental needs our help. From its web site, a message from Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO:

"President Bush’s proposed budget calling for the elimination of Reading Is Fundamental’s (RIF) Inexpensive Book Distribution program would be devastating to the 4.6 million children and their families who receive free books and reading encouragement from RIF programs at nearly 20,000 locations throughout the U.S.

“Unless Congress reinstates $25.5 million in funding for this program, RIF would not be able to distribute 16 million books annually to the nation’s youngest and most at-risk children. RIF programs in schools, childcare centers, migrant programs, military bases, and other locations serve children from low-income families, children with disabilities, foster and homeless children, and children without access to libraries. The Inexpensive Book Distribution program is authorized under the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (SEC.5451 Inexpensive Book Distribution Program for Reading Motivation) and is not funded through earmarks. It has been funded by Congress and six Administrations without interruption since 1975.

Continue reading the entire statement here.

Find information about contacting your Congressional representatives here."

We all need to get together and speak up about this one. I just followed the contact link above and sent emails to the President, VP, congressmen and reps from my district. It took me about 3 minutes. Go ahead and do it!

Thanks to Susan and Jen Robinson for alerting us!

Metaphor Poem

flower seeds in snow

In February

the bones of flowers
dance above the snow
arms flung wide

little parasols
their silk long gone -
still a treasure

.....-Andromeda Jazmon

Miss Rumphius's poetry stretch this week asks for a metaphor poem. Over at Laura Salas's blog I've been reading the comments to her haiku post last Friday and thinking about the difference between images of direct experience and metaphoric images. Since the argument there is that haiku does not use poetic devices like metaphor let me be clear: this is not a haiku (or two haiku). It's just a short poem. Or two. :)

Candy Hearts

Make your own candy heart here. I was tempted to steal Sara's blog name as a slogan, but I figured I ought to let her do her own. What's yours say?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Harlem Stomp!

A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance by Laban Carrick Hill. Little, Brown and Company, 2003.

If you've been reading African American biographies and histories focusing on slavery and civil rights this month, and are ready to read a little farther, you ought to check out this book. If you've never heard of the Harlem Renaissance you need to read it. In the forward by Nikki Giovanni we read, "One of the most exciting periods in American history, if not in the history of the world, is the Harlem Renaissance. In the early part of the twentieth century, Harlem was a hotbed of intellectual, artistic, literary, and political blossoming for Black people."

Starting in 1900 and stretching over the next 35 years, this volume highlights the struggles, innovations, celebrations and achievements of Black Americans in and around Harlem, New York. The opening section documents the violent and oppressive climate in America at the turn of the last century, setting the stage for northern migration and the rise of Black creative energy. In music, literature, visual arts, movies, social life and political organization these communities broke through to a new arena.

This book is a delight for middle school and high school students and adults who've heard the names of these great Americans and are interested in seeing where they came from, what they accomplished and how they emerged. Supported with time lines, background information, news articles, playbills, photographs and quotes from the major players. It is colorful, engaging and fascinating to read. This book should be at hand for browsing, shared reading, reference and enjoyment.

Teacher's Guide
Author bio
Laban Hill on JacketFlap

Visit Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day for her Nonfiction round up today.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The same green

feb 8 006

your rice field
my rice field
the same green
-Issa, 1815

I have to balance that other Issa haiku
I published earlier this week.
This is the creek near the boys' daycare,
looking like the world thinks it's spring.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Haiku poet: Basho

National Geographic magazine has a feature article on the 17th c. Japanese poet Basho this month. Basho is often called the Shakespeare of Japanese poetry. Michael Yamashita, the photographer and author of this article, says, "My late friend Helen Tanizaki, a linguist born and raised in Kyoto, told me, “Everyone I went to school with could recite at least one of Basho’s poems by heart. He was the first writer we read in any exciting or serious way.” Today thousands of people pilgrimage to Basho’s birthplace and burial shrine and travel parts of Basho’s Trail. After three centuries his Narrow Road, in print in English and many other languages, still speaks to readers around the world."

My online name "cloudscome" is taken from my favorite Basho haiku:

clouds come from time to time
giving us a chance to rest
from looking at the moon

Basho wrote in the form of haibun, a narrative with haiku sprinkled throughout. The haiku nails the images and the prose tells the story of a place or a journey. Basho's most famous book is called The Narrow Road to Deep North. It is a travelogue of a walking journey he took through Japan. You can read an English translation of it here.

Yamashita has followed the route Basho took in this book. He photographed and kept a journal of his trip. You can read along and see his stunning photos at the site here. If you get the print magazine you'll enjoy reading the article, but the online version has greater depth and detail. I particularly enjoyed clicking on the map here and reading about each stop in his journey. The "Field Notes" link is great too because in it Michael tells the back story of how he took some of the photos, including the gorgeous little frog sitting on the lily leaf here.

I'll leave you with another of Basho's haiku paired with a photo I took last fall at my favorite nature center:

silence of a temple -
a cicada's voice alone
penetrates the rocks.

trees and pond

The Friday Poetry round up is at AmoXcali today.

Issa haiku for lent

curled beech

even on a fast day
this world's hell
is hell
-Issa, 1820

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Haiku for Judy

snow drops 3

she turns away
from tear drops, sheds old leaves;
breaks out new buds

My dear blogging friend Judy at Just Enjoy Him is fighting cancer. Her strength, courage and beauty inspire me. I've added the pink star to the sidebar to show my support of her and her family in this fight. This one's for you Judy:

"Flying toward thankfulness, you become
the rare bird with one wing made of fear,
and one of hope."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Review: Elijah of Buxton

by Christopher Paul Curtis. Scholastic Press, 2007. 2008 Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award. It took me a couple weeks to finish this book. It starts out kind of slow, with the easy charm of an afternoon fishing on the river. Elijah is a twelve year old boy living in the free Black colony of Buxton, Canada, just across the river from Detroit. It is the mid 1860's and Elijah is the first free born member of the community. He is a bit of a rascal, putting toady-frogs in his mother's knitting basket and complaining about his Sunday School teacher. He is also a sensitive boy, what his mother calls "frag-ile". He can't help bursting into tears or running in terror at snakes or the sight of grown-ups crying. He is desperate to prove himself grown. I enjoyed the story so far alright, but it didn't grab me. I put it aside for a few nights to read something else.

I almost abandoned it. Then I read a review at book, book, book which blew me away. She had exactly the same reaction to the first third of the book. She kept reading and found the heart of the story to be powerful and intense. She says,
"I've been thinking about why it took him so long: the book is 341 pages, and the real plot doesn't get rolling until page 181, and only kicks into high gear around 270. That's about 2/3 of the book spent on setup and back story and voice. Curtis's voice is compelling enough, and his characters are strong enough, that he can carry it off, but why does he?"

The thing is, once you get really comfortable with Elijah and his family and friends rolling along living their lives, you start to forget about what they really lived with. It takes a few incidents like when Elijah has to take a letter to Mrs. Holton, a woman who escaped slavery but left her husband behind. She's saving her money, and he's working towards buying his freedom, when they get a letter from his mistress down south. Elijah knows the letter written in the white woman's handwriting is the absolute worst kind of news as soon as he sees it come from the post office. Since most of the adults can't read it is his job to deliver it and read it aloud. When his parents see the letter in his hand they know the contents too. As they walk toward Mrs. Holton's house all the women of the town begin to come along. Elijah starts to feel "frag-ile". Curtis writes:
"Mostly I think I didn't bawl 'cause once Ma and them women bunched up 'round Mrs. Holton with their watching, waiting eyes and hands, it felt like a whole slew of soldiers was ringing that parlour with swords drawed and waren't no sorrow so powerful it could bust through."

Now it starts to hit you; what those adults have survived. What they know, that you don't know. What Elijah is coming to understand.

In another scene Elijah is walking with Mr. Leroy, a neighbor who is working long days to earn money to buy his wife and daughters out of slavery. He's telling a story about something that happened at school. Elijah starts to call himself and his schoolmates "little nigg-" When Mr. Leroy explodes with righteous anger. He smacks him so hard Elijah falls to the ground. Mr. Leroy cuts into him with a fury, shouting and slapping him.
"He shouted, "Is you out your mind?"
... He said, "What you think they call me whilst they was doing this?"
He opened the front of his shirt and showed me where a big square with a letter T in the middle of it was branded into him. The scar was raised up and shiny and was real plain to see even if there waren't no moonlight atall.
"What you think they call me?"

Three pages later Mr. Leroy has cooled down and shaken Elijah's hand in peace. Elijah has learned a lesson he will never forget and so have we. The story meanders a little more in gently rising hills of conflict, but we still haven't gone deep enough to get the full impact. It's not till the final five or six chapters that I started loosing sleep. I couldn't put it down.

Again, from the blogger book, book, book:
"It's not a new thing, to take a big historical event and make it human-sized. It's what every decent historical novel ever written has done. But I'm not sure how many people have done it by writing as little as possible about the elephant in the room until close to the last minute of the book."

Here is Curtis' genius. He has crafted a brilliant novel touching the deepest heart of our human condition. He's started with the surface, then gone on to shown us our beauty, our ugliness, and our potential. He is a master.

I don't want to give any spoilers here, if you haven't read it yet, but it is devastating. It involves shocking treachery, stolen money, murder, lynching, chained and beaten slaves, despair, hope, love stronger than death, and a mother giving her child to strangers to save her life. I try to imagine myself reading this out loud in school and I think I couldn't do it without crying. I couldn't lift my eyes off the page and look at the wide-eyed horror of a room full of ten year olds listening to this. Someone's got to do it though. This is something they've got to hear from someone who loves them.


Elijah of Buxton at B&N
Lindsay Foster's blog
Please Come Flying blog
Christopher Paul Curtis at the Brown Book Shelf
book, book, book
Buxton Museum website
Christopher Paul Curtis' R.E.A.D Program and Kenya School Project

Monday, February 04, 2008

Monday Poetry Stretch Haiku

yams bake in the sun
watched over by cloaked women
hugging the shade

-Andromeda Jazmon

This photograph was taken by Mark Knobil, a freelance video/film photographer from Pittsburgh. The image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.


by Sneed B. Collard III, illustrated by Phyllis V. Saroff. Charlesbridge publishing, 2008. (review copy) This is another wonderful nonfiction picture book by the award winning author of Wings, which I reviewed last week. Sneed does a fine job of showing all the ways teeth are important to a variety of earth's creatures. Teeth "slice, stab, crack, grind, mash and munch." Mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish sport amazingly adapted teeth to fit their needs for food and defense.

Whether they are hunting or harvesting, teeth are good for digging, grabbing, ripping, holding, biting, chewing, and swallowing. Creatures from bats to frogs, snakes, trout and rays use their teeth to full advantage.

Different types of teeth are examined in detailed illustrations. The way they grow, are replaced, or maintained is shown to fit the lifestyle and needs of each animal. Some of the facts I have learned in reading this book:
  • Walruses use their tusks to haul themselves up onto the ice and attract a mate.
  • Horse's and hippo's teeth grow through-out their lives as they wear down their teeth grinding grasses.
  • Hyenas use their teeth to crack and crush the bones of zebras and other large prey.
  • Vampire bats use their razor-sharp front teeth to bite through a cow's skin and then lap up the blood as it drips out of the wound.
  • A ray has teeth lining it's throat to crack open shell fish as it swallows them whole.
  • Cutthroat Trout have teeth on their tongue to hold on to prey.
  • The difference between antlers, horns and teeth are explained as well as the human traditions around the loss of baby teeth.
The illustrations are soft water-color paintings showing bright highlights and careful details. Animals are shown using their teeth in all their glory. From screaming snow leopard to grinning chimpanzee and diving narwhale, teeth are central. Sneeds' friendly conversational style makes the text interesting and easy to follow for readers of all interests. This is another book that will be a frequently consulted volume in your home or school library.

Anastasia Suen has begun a series called Nonfiction Books on Mondays . I am planning to focus on nonfiction on Mondays in order to take part in her round up. Be sure to check her blog Picture Book of the Day on Monday afternoons!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Happy Birthday Langston Hughes

Today is the birthday of Langston Hughes: February 1, 1902 - May 22, 1967. Here's what I posted last year for his birthday: Reviews of Visiting Langston and Coming Home.

Here's a haiku I wrote about him last year.

More links for his biography and several poems online:

Poetry Foundation
Gale Group biography
Modern American Poetry articles

"Winter Moon" is a poem of his that I love so much and am thinking of today. I used to have a poster of it up in my first grade classroom and we all memorized it. It is a wonderful poem for beginner readers to learn. I took this picture while sharing the poem with my boys. Read "Winter Moon" online here. (scroll down the page)

jan 31 004

The Friday Poetry round up is at Karen Edminsten's place today.