Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April 30 Haiku

april 30 014

evening -
watering new grass seed,
counting bluebells

This is my 30th Haiku in the 30 days of April. I've posted one every day for National Poetry Month. It's been a great month. Looking forward to May!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fusion Stories

CONTACT: website:
FUSION STORIES: New Novels For Young Readers To Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May 2008)
Newton, Ma, April 2, 2008

Ten new contemporary novels by Asian Americans aren’t traditional tales set in Asia nor stories about coming to America for the first time. They’re written by authors who understand two-time Newbery Honor Book author Lawrence Yep’s (Dragonwings and Dragon’s Gate) removal of the ethnic qualifier before his vocation. “I think of myself principally as a writer,” Yep told the International Reading Association’s The Dragon Lode. “I often write about my experiences as a Chinese American, but I’ve also written about faraway worlds. Writing is a special way of seeing.”

Without a doubt, an Asian American vision has moved into the mainstream of the children’s literary world. In 1994, only 65 of the 5,500 children’s books published featured Asian American authors. Last year, that number doubled. Some of these have become national bestsellers that are guaranteed a place on bookshelves for years to come. Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard) and Cynthia Kadohata (Kira Kira) each won the prestigious Newbery Medal, while Allen Say (Grandfather’s Journey) took home a Caldecott Prize. An Na (A Step From Heaven) won the Printz, an award for young adult novels, and Gene Luen Yang garnered a National Book Award for his graphic novel, American Born Chinese.

In 2008, a wave of middle grade novels (ages 7-11) written by Asian Americans is already catching the attention of readers, teachers, librarians, and parents – and not just within multicultural circles. Children’s literature experts are calling Grace Lin’s Year of the Rat (sequel to the popular Year of the Dog) a “classic in the making” along the lines of Besty-Tacy. Janet Wong’s forthcoming novel Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer explores the joys of vacation and friendship, with Jake divulging that he’s a “quarpa,” or one-quarter Korean. Winner of the Sid Fleischman humor award, author Lisa Yee makes kids (and adults) laugh out loud with bestselling stories like Millicent Min: Girl Genius and her newest title, Good Luck, Ivy. When it comes to books like these, as Newbery winner Linda Sue Park told author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Tantalize) during an on-line chat: “At last it seems we’re getting ready to go to stories where a person’s ethnicity is a part but not the sum of them.”

New releases for teens, too, aren’t mainly immigrant stories or traditional tales retold. These YA novels deal with universal themes such as a straight-A teen struggling with a cheating scandal at her school (She’s So Money by Cherry Cheva), a promising athlete coping with a snowboarding injury (Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley), and a Pakistani-born blogger whose father is about to become President (First Daughter: White House Rules by Mitali Perkins). An Na’s The Fold, a novel about a teen considering plastic surgery to change the shape of her eyelids, speaks to all who long to be beautiful, and art-loving teens far and wide will connect with Joyce Lee Wong’s novel-in-verse Seeing Emily. Paula Yoo, a one-time writer for People magazine and television hits like The West Wing, fuses her pop culture savvy and love of music in Good Enough, a novel about a violinist in rebellion. Her brother, David Yoo, connected with hormone-crazed nerds of every race in his funny novel Girls For Breakfast and is offering his fans the forthcoming Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before.

Founder of readergirlz, a literacy initiative for teens, award-winning author Justina Chen Headley notes that these books are relished by readers from many different backgrounds. “There are a ton of interesting cultural trends that make it cool to read about Asian American characters,” she says. “Take manga and anime, for instance. Or Gwen Stefani’s harujuku girls. Mainstream, popular celebrities from actors to athletes are Asian American, and this is filtering into YA and middle grade novels.”

Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Library and Information Services at Texas Woman’s University, isn’t surprised either by the growing appetite for books featuring protagonists of every race: “Most kids live with ethnic and cultural diversity everyday. It just makes sense that books for teens would reflect this too.”

These stories continue to resonate with Asian American readers as well. Lisa Yee remembers the frustration of not finding many books about American girls like her. “When I grew up, there was no fiction featuring contemporary Asian Americans, unless of course the book was about the struggle of immigrants,” she says. Thanks to exciting changes in children’s book publishing, it’s a different world for today’s young readers of every cultural heritage with many choices when it comes to novels.

This year’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month begins May 1, 2008, and ten authors are banding together to offer FUSION STORIES (, a menu of delectable next-gen hot-off-the-press novels for middle readers and young adults. FUSION STORIES' critically acclaimed authors so far include Cherry Cheva (Los Angeles, CA), Justina Chen Headley (Seattle, WA), Grace Lin (Boston, MA), An Na (Montpelier, VT), Mitali Perkins (Boston, MA), Janet Wong (Princeton, NJ), Joyce Lee Wong (Los Angeles, CA), Lisa Yee (South Pasadena, CA), David Yoo (Boston, MA), and Paula Yoo (Los Angeles, CA).

FUSION STORIES aims to be a helpful resource for parents, educators, and young readers, so if you know of a novel that (1) is for middle readers or teens, (2) was published in 2007-2008 by a traditional publishing house, (3) features an Asian American protagonist, and (4) is set primarily in contemporary America, please send a .jpg of the cover, a .jpg of the author, one or two reviews, and a brief description of the novel here. FUSION STORIES would be delighted to add titles and authors to the site.

A press kit package (available at FUSION STORIES, includes downloads, bios of FUSION STORIES authors, information on their books, and conversations with experts about Asian American literature for young readers. For more information, review copies, or interview requests with any of the authors, please contact

Review: The Jade Stone

A Chinese Folktale adapted by Caryn Yacowitz, illustrated by Ju-Hong Chen. Pelican Publishing Company, 2005. (first published by Holiday House, 1992) In the back of this picture book is a word from the author Caryn Yacowitz. She explains that the story was heard by a merchant named A. L. Gump on a trip to Beijing in 1917. He told the story to his son Richard, who put it in a book titled Jade, Stone of Heaven, an expository study of jade. Yacowitz was so entranced by the story she decided to do a retelling. The illustrator of this volume is Ju-Hong Chen, an artist who was born in Shanghai and has lived in America since 1982. He has illustrated several other children's books.

"Long ago in China there lived a stone carver named Chan Lo. Chan Lo spent his days carving birds and deer and water buffalo from the colored stones he found near the river.
"How do you know what to carve?" his young apprentice asked.
"I always listen to the stone," replied Chan Lo. "The stone tells me what it wants to be."

So opens the story of Chan Lo. His skill reaches the ear of the Emperor of All China, and when the Emperor is given a gift of a perfect piece of green-and-white jade stone Chan Lo is summoned to carve it. The Emperor demands a dragon of wind and fire to be carved. Chan Lo promises to do his best. However, as he listens to the stone, what he hears are water sounds, not dragon sounds. What is he to do? The Emperor will not be satisfied unless he carves a dragon. But he can not go against what he hears from the stone.
"Chan Lo could not carve what he did not hear, but he was afraid to disobey the emperor. His fear weighed heavy in him like a great stone as he picked up his tools and began to carve. He worked slowly and carefully for a year and a day."

Chan Lo is true to his vision and to what he hears from the stone. The Emperor is angry at first, but in the end he is won over by the loveliness of the stone itself in it's true form. Pacing his garden in the moonlight he hears the stone singing its water song and he realizes the wisdom of the jade carver, who is rewarded instead of punished. This is a fine story for children and adults struggling with questions of how to become their truest selves and use their gifts to the best expression. Use it to teach the Quaker testimonies (SPICES) of integrity and service.

The artwork in the book is beautiful ink and watercolor painting on handmade rice paper. Each character in the story is illustrated uniquely and identified on the title page and frontispiece, from the Third Imperial Adviser to the Horse Master and Spectators. The facial expressions and delicate details of their clothing are complimented by Chinese character "chops" labeling them through out the story. In close examination the depth of the landscape become continually revealing, but in a large group read-aloud some of the details will be missed.

The story is adapted into a children's play in the book Enter The Dragon by Leslie Li.

April 29 Haiku

shaggy bark birch

shaggy bark birch
puts out new leaves;
recess bells ring

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Week (More or Less) Without TV

Last week was TV Turn Off Week and we participated in our house. Most of the time, anyway.

By that I mean during the week we left the thing off and didn't really miss it much. I wished I could watch the PA primary election results, but it turned out listening on the radio was good enough.

The weekends we weren't as successful. The thing is, on Saturday and Sunday mornings my littlest one gets up at his usual 6 am. I like to be blogging at that time, and I just couldn't bear to miss my weekend poetry reading time. I let him watch a couple videos (Veggie Tales) while I read Friday Poetry posts. When Buddy got up at 7 am he started watching too, but soon he said "Hey! It's no TV week! What are we doing?" We turned it off at the end of that video and ate a nice breakfast together before heading off to gymnastics at the Y.

During the week Punkin, my three year old, asked for videos a couple days when we got home from school. Usually when I am cooking dinner he likes to watch a video. I like him to be planted on the sofa where I can keep my eye on him. Otherwise I have a hard time not burning the dinner because he gets into everything. He's hungry and tired and so am I. Buddy is happy to be out in the backyard riding his bike or roller skating. I can see him out the kitchen window and I know he will stay in the yard. Punkin is not as reliable so I can't let him outdoors while I'm busy in the kitchen.

I think we could do without TV completely if I was better at managing them while cooking, and if I could give up blogging. Cutting back on screen time for a week felt good. Mom Unplugged is rounding up posts about everyone's experiences in Turn Off TV week. Go see how it went.

April 28 Haiku

still ball, open grass -
moving players focus on
closing distance

Sunday, April 27, 2008

April 27 Haiku

bikes and tulips

children in motion,
still blossoms

Saturday, April 26, 2008

April 26 Haiku

April 25 009

my path winds
between blooming redbuds;
no hurries

Friday, April 25, 2008

April 25 Haiku

fence post

dandelions crowd
around the playground fence posts;
children's circle games

Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop

I've been hearing a lot about sestinas lately, a form I was oblivious to just a few months ago. The other marvelous poets that worked on the Sonnet Crown with me are beginning to talk of writing sestinas together. I am studying the form. It's intimidating to say the least. Wikipedia says,
"A sestina is a highly structured Poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet envoy or tornada, for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time."

The order of the end words is woven in a complex patterned further described as "kneading bread", where the first and middle end words of each stanza fold over and under repeatedly in a braid. I can not visualize this or keep it in my head even with an ABC diagram, so I was happy to find this site that is an end word generator for sestinas. You chose your six end words carefully, making them flexible and broadly definable, and then you go to town.

I playing with it. I don't have anything pounded out yet, but we'll see what happens. Today I want to share this sestina written by Elizabeth Bishop. Here is just the first 14 lines:

Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears

you can read the rest here.

Friday Poetry is at Trisha's Miss Rumphius Effect today. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fiddlehead Ferns

April 23 059

Esperanto: Ode to Green

Fiddlehead fern!
Malachite blossom-
unfurl your sweet
head and wave
delicate jade fingers;
you darling jewel of
veridian tang.
My tongue sweats
at the very first
hint of your rising
I'll not salad you;
I'll only vest
myself in emeralds
of your ordinary
Spring ahead to
magenta bloom,
fall back to
a green ray;
one of the universally
good things.
You, Vert,
flag of glory!
-Andromeda Jazmon

Trisha's Poetry Stretch this week is a challenge to write a color poem. This is my Ode to Green - my favorite color. I found definitions, idioms, cultural references, etc. here. Read the color poems others have written here.

April 24 Haiku


under the redbud in bloom;
bumblebee heaven

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

123 Book Meme

Laura Purdie Salas tagged me for the Nearest Book Meme. These were the rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.

I usually have a stack of books near my elbow, but this is the one I am thinking about even when it's not open: Can We Talk About Race? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D. She's the president of Spelman College and has also written Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

Page 123, the fifth sentence and the three following:
"These were the students who initiated dialogue groups on campus, brought a multicultural perspective to their student organizations, and began to expand their own horizons by seeking out friendship networks more diverse than those they had before taking the course, and still had two more years to practice those skills before they moved on to the next phase of their lives. Courses that actively encourage cross-group dialogue can be very useful, but they need to happen early in the young person's college experience for maximum benefit. A great example of a first-year seminar that affirms identity, builds community, and cultivates leadership is the African Diaspora and the World (ADW) course at Spelman. Established in 1992 as a writing-intensive seminar required for all first-year students, its creation was a faculty-directed effort to re-imagine the World Civilization (History) and World Literature (English) core course requirements in ways that would (1) place the African Diaspora at the center of the student's socio-historical, literary, and cultural studies; (2) reflect the shifting demographics of the United States and the world; and (3) prepare Spelman women for a new era of diversity and global interaction."
This sentence is in the heart of the chapter called, "What Kind of Friendship is That?: The Search for Authenticity, Mutuality, and Social Transformation in Cross-Racial Relationships." Fascinating stuff! I'm tagging five bloggers that I would love to sit down with to discuss this book:
Los Angelista,
Lone Star Ma
But Wait, There's More
Growing Family

What are you reading?

April 23 Haiku

april 22 011

mowing the lawn
under the cherry; scattered
blossom petals

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Review: Mama Rock's Rules

Ten Lessons for Raising a household of Successful Children by Rose Rock, with Valerie Graham. Collins, May 2008. (Advance Review Copy) I was eager to get my hands on this parenting guide written by Chris Rock's mom. She's the mother of ten and foster mother of 17 additional children and she has a lot to say about how to raise strong, resilient, successful, happy children.

She speaks directly with a forceful, confident voice. She presents ten sections in this book focusing on ten major principles that guided her and her husband Julius in the parenting of their children. The rules cover the whys and hows of setting boundaries, discipline, structure, respect, positive communication, routines and traditions, integrity, education, expectations, responsibility, inspiration and determination. I found her no-nonsense approach to be heartening and based on common sense.

I have to say that nothing in this book was a surprise to me, since I have been blessed with two parents that taught me all the same lessons. It's good to hear it all again, however, and laid out in a down to earth, comfortable style. You could imagine yourself sitting down in her kitchen listening to her wisdom while she brews you some coffee and dishes out cookies. Even if you came to realize that, yeah, maybe you do let the kids watch a little too much TV and you hate homework time yourself, she's right that those are important and worthwhile things to keep trying to improve on. Eating dinner together, feeding the kids and listening to them chatter about their days; those are the blessing times. It's worth all the clean up to take the time to teach them table manners and there is no substitute for family laughter.

Since this is an early reviewer's copy I noticed there are a few places where it could use a little more editing. Some of it is repetitive and some of her folksy talk is distracting to someone as "cut to the chase" as me. Others may enjoy it more but I tend to be impatient. I just want to know the bottom line: how did she raise all those fine Black men? Give me the code.

She says in chapter one that sometimes we need to "pull out that can of Whup-Ass". Exactly how does she do it? She says,
"Let me be real clear" my whup-ass expands far beyond just a physical punishment. It's about whatever I can do to change a negative behavior. It is about taking something away from a child and how he feels about it. Believe me. I've got a lot of tricks up my sleeve for making that happen. I can unleash whup-ass disciplinary techniques like nobody's business."

I need to see that action. After 25 years of teaching and 20 years of parenting I think I have a pretty good range of whup-ass my own-self, but sometimes it just doesn't feel like enough. I need her to come over here and show me, because I want my kids to turn out like hers.

I have one other question. Maybe someone can help with this. On page 91 Rose Rock gives her recipe for biscuits, which she says she is known for as they are really good. I'm puzzled though, because her ingredients only list flour, milk and Crisco. I always have made biscuits with baking powder and salt as well. Can you make biscuits without any leavening? Wouldn't that be a cracker or a pie crust? And no salt at all? I think it might be a typo. Does anyone make biscuits this way? Please comment with your recipe.

You can read an interview with Rose Rock on the Today Show here and visit the publisher's page here. This review is sponsored by the MotherTalk blog tour. See other reviews here.

April 22 Haiku

april 19 056

these cupped tulips
offer the strongest wine -
long afternoon light

april 19 029

Monday, April 21, 2008

Review: Paul Laurence Dunbar

by Tony Gentry, Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. This biography written for grades 6 through 12 covers the life of one of America's greatest poets. It is written in a flowing style, starting from Dunbar's graduation from high school, covering his successful career as a writer and going up to his death in 1906 at the age of 33. Numerous black and white photos of Dunbar and the important people in his life supplement the pages filled with stories from the life of this great man.

His parents each escaped from slavery and ended up in Dayton, Ohio. His father fought in the Civil War on the Union side and was a hero. His mother taught herself to read in middle age, when the mother of three and working full time to help support the family. She instilled in her youngest son Paul her love and respect for education.

Each of his parents had their own gifts for storytelling. Paul benefited from listening to his father's tales of slavery, his escape to Canada and his harrowing army days. His mother preferred to focus on good times in humorous stories of family life on the plantation. Gentry says, "Years later, the stories that Paul's parent told him would find their way into his poems; he would keep both his father's fury and his mother's humor intact."

Dunbar's first poem to be published was printed in the Dayton newspaper Herald when he was 16 years old and still in high school. He was well liked by his classmates in the public high school where he was the only Black student in his graduating class. He wrote and edited for the school paper and was voted class poet. Just a few years after graduating he convinced a local publisher to produce his first volume of poetry titled Oak and Ivy. At the cost of one dollar per book, he managed to sell enough copies to repay the printing costs and still make a profit. Gantry says,
"Here, in his first book, Dunbar had already struck a balance between a clear-eyed look at the way things are and a more forgiving glance at the way they had been. He would maintain this balance throughout his career and eventually find people willing to part with far more than a dollar to hear it. [...] Whether writing in his own voice or in the dialect of a farmhand, he always aimed his work at any individual confused and pained by the quickly changing world."

Dunbar went on to publish many more books of poetry, short stories, plays and novels. During his lifetime and in the years following he was sometimes criticized for relying on stereotypical portrayals of Black life but in recent years his work has regained a position of respect. At the Poetry Foundation Nikki Giovanni is quoted: "For Giovanni, as for other Dunbar scholars, his work constitutes both a history and a celebration of black life. "There is no poet, black or nonblack, who measures his achievement," she declared. "Even today. He wanted to be a writer and he wrote.""

The thing that impressed me the most in this telling of his life is the emphasis on how focused and passionate he was about his writing. When he graduated high school he was confident that he could get a job as a journalist. No paper in Dayton would hire him because he was Black. He finally got a job as an elevator operator. He kept that job for several years, supporting his mother and continuing to write and submit his work to be published. His first couple books came out while he held the elevator job. His mother wanted him to be a lawyer and at one point he got a job as a clerk, training for the law in this position working for a Dayton lawyer. He quit that job after about a year because it didn't give him enough time to write. He went back to being an elevator operator to pay the bills while spending all his free time writing and continuing to submit his work for publication.

This biography is a discarded book from our library because it is not as attractive to today's students as newer published works with numerous color graphics. You can still get it from online booksellers. Gentry has another more recent biography of Dunbar published in 1996. I would also recommend the newer Black Americans of Achievement series at Chelsea Publishers.

Read several of Dunbar's poems here.

The Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Picture Book of the Day.

April 21 Haiku

april 19 076

suddenly blessed
by every common tree;
open hands

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Leaf Birthday Haiku

april 19 077

first hot day;
maple leaves snap open
shade parasols

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Video Poetry

Did you read this on Cuentecitos' Friday Poetry post? Poetry Everywhere is "A series of short poetry films featuring poets reading their own work, animated interpretations of much-loved poems, and celebrities reading personal favorites, produced by WGBH and David Grubin Productions, and student filmmakers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's docUWM media center."

Read more at the Poetry Foundation site.
PBS says this:
"These 12 animated films were created by students working with docUWM, a documentary media center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the University's creative writing program, in association with the Poetry Foundation."
Look at these videos:

Weeping cherry on my step

spring breeze

blossom net
swing over the step -
catch me

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Poetry: Kyrielle

Trisha has the form "kyrille" as her Monday Poetry Stretch this week. She explains it:

"A kyrielle is a French from that was originally used by Troubadours. In the original French kyrielle, lines had eight syllables. Written in English, the lines are usually iambic tetrameters. The distinctive feature of a kyrielle is the refrain in which the final line of every stanza is the same. The name of the form comes from the word kyrie, a form of prayer in which the phrase "Lord have mercy" (kyrie eleison) is repeated.

A kyrielle can be any length as long as it is written 4 line stanzas of iambic tetrameters. A kyrielle also has a rhyme scheme. Two popular forms are aabB/ccbB/ddbB etc. or abaB/cbcB/dbdB etc., where B is the repeated refrain."

Last Friday Elaine at Wild Rose Reader interviewed Janet Wong. It's a great interview. The two of them invited (challenged?) us to write a poem including the three words "ring, drum, blanket". I had been pondering it and decided to try to work the two challenges together. Here's my attempt:

April 15 023

First the Flower, Then the Leaf

I found it hard when it was dark
and frozen rain drummed barren bark
to know again we'd find relief
in first the flower and then the leaf.

Long cold and empty was the world
when all that breathed kept tightly curled;
our sun's round ring played dim and brief
but then came flower recalling leaf.

Drear days are past, the shadow flees
bright mornings come to light the trees
that spread their boughs to ease our grief
in first the flower and then the leaf.

The hidden sap has been reborn
to rise and blanket hearts forlorn;
a balm that gently builds belief
till comes the flower and then the leaf.

On hopeful afternoons we roam,
we plant our gardens in dark loam;
denying once again time's thief
might fade the flower and bruise the leaf.

But if in summer's wrenching heat
our fear returns of cold defeat
soon comes the autumn's harvest sheaf
from passing flower, unfolding leaf.
.....................................- Andromeda Jazmon

*Edited to add: You can hear me read this poem aloud at VoiceThread.

It's not to late to join in and try one yourself. Hop over to The Miss Rumphius Effect and Wild Rose Reader to see what others wrote (including the fabulous Kelly R. Fineman of Writing and Ruminating and Janet Wong's response.)

Here's more excitement! 7 Imp hasn't got enough of the Poetry Seven - we are interviewed about our writing process in the Crown of Sonnets unveiled last week. Go check it out! Jules and Eisha are unbelievable.

The Friday Poetry round up is at The Well Read Child.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Turn Off Your TV 2008

The second annual TV Turn-Off Challenge is going on at Unplug Your Kids. Next week, April 21 - 27 is Turn Off the TV week. Ad-Busters calls it "Mental Detox Week".
The idea is simple: take your TV, your DVD player, your video iPod, your XBOX 360, your laptop, your PSP, and say goodbye to them all for seven days. Simple, but not at all easy. Like millions of others before you, you’ll be shocked at just how difficult - yet also how life-changing - a week spent unplugged can really be.

This will be my second year in a row participating in the Mom Unplugged Challenge. Last year I won a prize in her random drawing!

We will turn off the TV on Sunday and unplug it until next weekend. No videos or TV for us. I told my kids about it last night at dinner and they were less than enthusiastic. But I remember how nice it was last year to have all that extra time to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, work in the garden, or just sit and watch them play after dinner.

I am pulling together a list of alternate activities for our high screen times.
  1. Playdough
  2. Help wash dishes
  3. Help with cooking dinner
  4. Coloring
  5. Painting
  6. Sort pots and pans
After dinner:
  1. Ride Bikes
  2. Sidewalk chalk
  3. Water the gardens
  4. Go for a family walk
  5. Play board games
  6. Read extra stories
  7. Cut and paste
  8. Plant seeds in paper cups
  9. Help vacuum and dust
  10. Sandbox
  11. Swings

Weekend projects:
  1. Wash the car
  2. Vacuum the car
  3. Sort and Weed toys
  4. Reorganize train tracks & trucks
  5. Do puzzles
  6. Look for new/old toys in attic
  7. Play cards & board games
  8. Count, sort, clean coins
  9. Bake cookies, muffins, etc.
  10. Fruit Salad
I have found in the past 15 years that the more I cut back on screen time and spend that time playing and listening to my kids the happier we are. There is just no substitute for face to face time with the people you want to love the best. TV, computers, video games and the like get in between us and distract us from what is most precious in our daily lives. Giving them up for one week is hard but reaps tremendous rewards.

I actually don't watch much TV anyway, but I do spend a lot of time on the computer. I've decided that for that week I will only go on the computer from home to put up my daily photo and haiku posts (usually in the early morning). At work I have to be on all the time as part of my job, but when I'm with my family I don't really need to. I am looking forward to feeling more relaxed and easy as I use the extra time to stretch and be in the moments. What would you do with the "empty" time if you turned off the electronics? You don't actually have to go cold turkey. If you just want to cut back on a portion of your screen time you can make the challenge fit your life and your family. Even a little done mindfully can make a huge difference!


A list of 100 things to do instead of TV
Center for Screen Time Awareness
Alliance for Childhood
Smart Guide for Kid's TV

April 17 Haiku

April 15 029

meadow narcissus -
in a yellow crinoline
petticoats flash

April 15 030

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Operation Teen Book Drop


YALSA and readergirlz are partners in Operation Teen Book Drop (TBD). To celebrate April 17, 2008, Support Teen Literature Day, we've organized a massive, coordinated release of 10,000 publisher-donated YA books into the top pediatric hospitals across the country!

From the Press Release:
"Justina Chen Headley, co-founder of readergirlz and award-winning novelist, wanted to find a way to support teen patients going through such difficulties through a massive book drop. “While touring my local children’s hospital to research my novel, Girl Overboard, I couldn’t help noticing that teen patients didn’t seem to have the comfort objects that the little ones did,” she said. “As an author, I knew that YA books—books with exceptional characters and fabulous stories—could provide teen patients with some of the escape and inspiration they needed. And I knew that readergirlz and YALSA were just the groups to spearhead a teen literacy program of this magnitude.”

Operation TBD also aims to encourage teens to choose reading for pleasure as a leisure activity, as young adults now have many options for entertainment and often choose reading less often.

To help incite the broader teen community to participate in Operation TBD in its drive to spur reading on a national scale, readergirlz has invited all teens and YA authors to leave a book in a public place on April 17. When visiting, participants can download bookplates to insert into the books they’ll leave behind, which explain the surprise to the recipient and tell them to read and enjoy."

I plan to take part in this massive book party by leaving a couple of fantasy novels at the local fast food joint where teens hang out after school. I'm pasting the bookplate downloaded from Readergirlz in the front cover. You can do the same - just choose a book or two to donate that you think teens will like, download the bookplates and bookmarks, put the button on your blog, and Rock the Drop!

Then join the party:
" We invite all readergirlz and authors to join our online two-hour book party hosted at the readergirlz MySpace group forum (, on April 17th (Support Teen Literature Day), from 6-8pm Pacific/9-11pm Eastern. The chat will be in a thread titled "TBD Post Op Party." The readergirlz divas will be giving away books and prizes, and chatting with teens and authors from around the world. We've invited so many authors and girlz you just never know who you might end up chatting with!"

Read more here and here.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

At my school we celebrated Poem in Your Pocket Day a few days early because it fit our schedule better. I had made sure every classroom was stocked with a stack of poems copied out on half sheets of paper and the classroom teachers worked with their kids to write or chose poems they would like to carry around to share all day long. The middle school kids went out with sidewalk chalk and wrote their poems all over every flat surface of the campus.

sidewalk poem

I had so much fun finding out which poems different kids had chosen. The adults in the building were smiling and giggling over the slips of paper in their pockets too. At dinner that night I shared my poem with my two little boys.

I had chosen a lovely poem from Brown Honey and Broomwheat Tea by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. HarperCollins, 1993. I love every poem in this book. It is overflowing with strength, joy and family closeness. From "Cherish Me, "Magic Landscape", "Hide Me in the Cradle of Your Love", and "I Am a Root" to "Bitter" and "Becoming the Tea" it is an afternoon on the porch with grandmom or a walk through the wildflower fields with dad going fishing. It makes me sigh with delight and long for summer days. Not that they are sweetness without a cautious warning; the leading poem from which the book takes its title says, "there are those who/ have brewed a/ bitter potion for/ children kissed long by the sun..." The poem I folded up to carry with me:


The fields are emerald now
....Royal with birds
....the bees hum loud enough remind us
They've always known
Ice melts
Gray skies turn blue and
honey's been here long
....before we opened our mouths to drink
and will be forever and ever.

.....................................Joyce Carol Thomas

Isn't that the balm for an April day when you are not sure if you will need your winter coat or not? On the opening page of the book we have this description: "Broomwheat tea: good for what ails you, especially when poured by loving hands." If you are looking for a poetry book to share this spring you must get this one.

1994 Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book for Nonfiction
1994 Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book for Illustration
1994 Teachers' Choices (IRA)
Notable 1994 Childrens' Trade Books in Social Studies (NCSS/CBC)
1994 Notable Trade Books in the Language Arts (NCTE)
100 Books for Reading and Sharing (NY Public Library)
1993 "Pick of the Lists" (ABA)

Biography of Joyce Carol Thomas at Poetry for Children

Commuter's Haiku

little cherry tree

morning cherry tree
beside the rushing road
holding light

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

April 15 Haiku

april 13 010

prodigious maples
throw out scrappy flowers;
fling ruddy keys

April 14 005

Monday, April 14, 2008

7 Imp Interview

If you read kidlit blogs you probably know about Jules and Eisha's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and how they like to do fabulous interviews with children's authors and illustrators. If you're not reading there every day you need to.

They also interview bloggers and it is one of the highest honors to be featured in a 7 Imp interview. Today they chose me! I am floating on cloud nine to be so noticed and flattered. They've packed the post with photos and links to some of my favorite people and things as well as highlighted a few of my favorite bloggers. Go see!

April 11 016

afternoon sunshine;
leaning on the barnyard wall
weeping cherry blooms

Sunday, April 13, 2008

April 13 Haiku for Edna St. Vincent Millay

april 12 004

lilac leaves
snap open stickily;
empty cups

When I saw these lilacs burst into leaf this weekend I couldn't help think of Millay's poem Spring.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

April 12 Haiku & Poem in Your Pocket

april 8 003

lacy froth
of petals round
bruised hearts


At my school we are celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 15, since that fits our schedule better than the established date of April 17. As librarian I took it upon myself to collect poems for each classroom teacher. I made copies on half sheets of paper so that everyone in the school could chose one and fold it up and carry it in their pocket.

When I told my five year old about it last night at dinner he fell out of his chair laughing at "Poet in your Pants" day. My three year old was having fits over "Poet in Your Sock Day". Maybe I didn't explain it right...

I am getting a kick out of imagining the kids sitting down to dinner and hearing the usual, "What did you do at school today dear?"

Only to jump up and pull a tattered paper out of their jeans and read a poem to their delighted family. Can't you just see it?

I found a lot of great poems to print out in this week's Friday Poetry round up. How about you? What are you carrying in your pocket next week?

Friday, April 11, 2008

April 11 Haiku

April 11 011

a tangy sweetness;
house finch trill brings showers of
cherry blossoms

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Friday Poetry: A Crown of Sonnets

You may have noticed I write a lot of haiku (for April's National Poetry Month I'm writing at least one a day here). In my youth I was a free verse girl. But last fall I was thrilled to receive an invitation from Liz Garton Scanlon to participate in something called a "Crown of Sonnets" The idea is that each of us in the group would write one sonnet on a similar theme and they would all be hooked together. Here is where she shared another sonnet she had written in a different group: The Seventh Sonnet

This is how Liz explained it to us in her proposal:

"A Crown Sonnet is a string of seven interconnected sonnets. Each sonnet after the first one will use the last line from the preceding sonnet as its first line. The final sonnet (#7) uses the last line of sonnet six as its first line AND the first line of the very first sonnet as its last line. The perfect book-end."

Last winter at Writing and Ruminating Kelly explained how to write a Sonnet.

Well I have never been known for thinking over much before leaping and I saw this as a mind-blowing opportunity to work with some high caliber poet bloggers. I clicked "reply" and typed "yes please, count me in" before the email was lost in my inbox. Then I started to hyperventilate and terror set in.

Fortunately these other poets are thoughtful, responsible, nurturing souls. They are all proven poets and patient teachers. I am so humbled and blessed to be part of this group. I still have to pinch myself to know I am awake.

We chose a theme. We drew straws to establish the writing order. We worked all winter. One by one we plunged into the abyss and came up with a working sonnet. We were delighted over and over as each poem took shape. We opened a common document to read each other's work, offer suggestions for word choice and meter, and we revised. The thoughtful comments I received from the other poets drew my work from a rough attempt to an actual poem. After six months of effort we have pulled together a crown that I am proud and privileged to announce here.

The whole crown "Cutting a Swath" is presented in it's entirety at Liz Garton Scanlon's blog Liz in Ink.

Here are the the participant poets, in order, with the first lines of their sonnets (click to read at each one's site):

As shoes untied, you drag frayed words in trail - Sara Lewis Holmes

As lacy skirts, unbound, leap free and spark - Laura Purdie-Salas

Flying through life’s grand chaos, bright and vast - Tricia Stohr-Hunt

Because I live and breathe, to be set free - Liz Garton Scanlon

My name will be too small to hold me soon -TadMack

My eyes now disenchanted; my soul frees - Andromeda Jazmon

Through open window, past a well-scarred sill - Kelly Fineman

You've really got to go to Liz in Ink and read them right straight through all together! Then visit each poet's site and congratulate them. Here is my contribution to the crown:

My eyes now disenchanted; my soul frees
one stifled cry - then peace behind the door.
My room, my sacred space above the floor
is all that shields me from their strident pleas.
They've chosen out the path of life for me;
their scholarship a prize I would ignore.
I spurn the grind of their required score.
I cut them off. I beg them. Let me be!
I mark the time and hide myself away,
no greater plan than lay about and dream
within the walls that guard my fractious will.
My music pounds. The restless shadows play.
Light curls across a ceiling cracked and mean.
My window opens past a well-scarred sill.

The Friday Poetry round-up is here today. Leave your link in Mr. Linky below and be sure to come back later in the day to visit all the other poetry posts.

April 10 Haiku

april 8 004

tight fists hold
the tenderest pink;
crab apple

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

April 9 Haiku

she told me
drive this way and look
for blue fields

april 8 039

roadside treasure -
a farmer's fallow field

april 8 017

From Gardens Ablaze: "Grape Hyacinth, otherwise known as Muscari, are actually not Hyacinths at all. They are members of the Lily family, and are native to the Mediterranean area and Asia Minor."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Review: The Sky Village

Kaimira: Book One by Monk & Nigel Ashland. Candlewick Press, July, 2008. (Advance Review Copy) This YA fantasy novel is set in the future where humans compete with intelligent beasts and ruthless "meks" (intelligent machines). 12 year old Mei's mother has been kidnapped by meks and her father leaves her with relatives while he joins the battle. Her mother's people live in a hot air balloon village floating over China. Mei has to learn to maintain the balloons, walk the ropes and cooperate in village tasks which include surviving thunder and lightening storms, avoiding the beasts, collecting information from the birds and fighting off meks.

On the surface our other hero 13 year old Rom is taking care of his younger sister and scrounging for food in the ruins of Los Vegas after they are abandoned by his legendary genius fighter father. He is led underground when his sister is taken by demonic beasts. There is a thriving gambling culture going on where human fighters battle beasts and machines under the control of a warlord. Rom gets sucked into the gladiator fights and reveals a startling talent for intuitively controlling his demon.

It turns out both Mei and Rom carry a mysterious gene that allows them to communicate with beasts and machines. They share the chaotic, powerful rage and ferocity of the beasts as well as the chilling intelligent logic of the machines. They also each have been given a strange journal that speaks to them and connects them through stories. As they discover that they can directly speak to one another through the journal they begin to understand their unique powers and their extraordinary roles in the future of humanity.

I found this novel to be fascinating and thought-provoking. After reading how the beast and machine elements are blended with humanity in Mei and Rom I began to see these elements in balance and in conflict within myself. When I am trying to get my little ones organized and out the door on time for work in the morning I feel the beast rage rising in me and struggle to bring cool mek intelligence to bear. I begin to visualize the little control panel triangle of light Rom sees under his helmet and try to balance the red and green corners to achieve mastery.

"Rom was still somehow connected to Spot. His vision returned, and he could see the controls in his mind. The power bar ticked up. The triangle flashed green. Cold rationality spoke to him: Calculate a victory; do not jump up in a blind rage. A whirl of emotions came over him, blending together. A brute instinct to survive. A desire to save Riley. A comprehensive understanding of Muddy and his weaknesses. For the first time, all three aspects were in harmony. Could he control the demon without the triggit? Ramirez had said his father could control his demon naturally, without the use of technology. Did Rom have the same ability?"

I need to practice this strategy to achieve mastery of my daily organization. Or perhaps I'm a little nuts...

I was drawn into the story so much that I found myself thinking about it during the day and looking forward to finding out what was happening to Mei and Rom when I finally got my kiddos into bed and could get back to my book. I resisted the urge to read straight through in one night, but instead paced myself to spread it out over a week so I could prolong the pleasure. I can't wait till the next volume of this five book series comes out.

The official Kaimira Code website

The author's blog where he shows us the process from first chapter to back matter to "pretty much done except..."


The Edge of the Forest

The March/April 2008 issue of The Edge of the Forest is up! "The Edge of the Forest" is the kidlit e-zine put together by Kelly Harold of Big A little a. It's a wild mix of recommended book lists, reviews, author interviews, podcasts and articles about blogging and children's literature.

There are many exciting features for you this month:

If you're interested in submitting an article or review, you can check out the About Us page for details. Kelly is always happy to include more.

The next issue of The Edge of the Forest will come out the first week of May.

April 8 Haiku

lesser celandine

each blossom
leans a little closer -
we shift

Monday, April 07, 2008

Review: Marian Anderson

A Voice Uplifted by Victoria Garrett Jones. Sterling Publishing Co., 2008. (advanced review copy) This volume from the Sterling Biography series focuses on the life of Marian Anderson. She was born in Philadelphia in 1897 to working class parents and died in 1993 in a family home in Portland, Oregon. She rose to international fame on the power of her remarkable voice, her hard work and her dedication to her art.

She began singing in church choirs as a child and was performing for paying audiences in her teens. Although she suffered from discrimination and racism all of her life she never let it limit her achievements. She studied under a variety of gifted teachers, traveled around the world and worked with highly talented accompanying musicians of all ethnicities. She was the first African American to record spirituals with a major American record company and the first to sing for the Metropolitan Opera of New York. In 1939 when the DAR refused to allow her to sing in their Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. she sang outside on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000. She was often denied seating in restaurants, rooms in fine hotels and first class traveling accommodations because of the color of her skin, but she won the highest accolades for performing before kings and presidents around the world over a life-time career.

I like how Jones emphasises Marian's insistence on perfecting her technique through hard study, including living in Germany for a while in her twenties to learn the language so she could sing German lieder properly. I also admire Ms. Anderson's ability to focus positively on her music while allowing allies (including Eleanor Roosevelt) to champion her causes and combat the racism that would hold her back. This book shows Marian's monumental talent as well as the overwhelming challenges she faced.

This clearly written biography is complemented with a wealth of photos of Marian, her family and her colleagues. Numerous sidebars and focus articles give context and explain background information on topics such as Jim Crow laws, Northern Migration, Black Jews, Voice types, Spirituals, German Lieder, Arturo Toscanini, Daughters of the American Revolution and The Metropolitan Opera. A time line of her life is included in the beginning of the book and a glossary, bibliography and index are at the end.

I found it to be a fascinating read, very clearly and compellingly stated. Recommended for grades four through eight. Check out other biographies in the series here at Sterling Biographies.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Picture Book of the Day.

I want this shirt

Or this one:

How about you?

April 7 Haiku

cherry blossoms in sun

one day on the tree
then scattered across the grass;
blossom petals

Sunday, April 06, 2008

April 6 Haiku

my steps

house wren's song
blesses my weekend retreat -
falling petals

Saturday, April 05, 2008

April 5 Haiku

cherry in rain 2

I would not
live without these tears -
plum blossom

I got a comment from Kim Wheedleton on my National Poetry Month post telling me about her poetry contest at her blog Bugs and Bunnies. I entered this haiku so go vote for me please! Enter your own poem and tell us about it so we can vote for you.

Friday, April 04, 2008

April 4 Haiku

vine close up

a ravenous vine
planning new territories
uncurls tenderly

April is National Poetry Month. I plan to post a haiga (haiku and image) every day. It's not to late if you want to join in! Just let me know what you are doing and I'll add you to my list of blogs featuring poetry this month.

Today's Friday Poetry round up is at Becky's Book Reviews.

Next week I am hosting the roundup for Friday Poetry right here at a wrung sponge. I've been involved in an exciting sonnet project with some other poet bloggers over the past winter. During next Friday's poetry posting extravaganza we are going to let everyone know what we've been up to and it's really exciting! Make sure you stop by for the unveiling.

Review: Healthy Child, Healthy World

Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home by Christopher Gavigan of Healthy Child Healthy World.

I've been making an effort in the past several years to get my life greener; use less energy and go natural or organic as much as possible. I'm doing it for the planet, for my children and grandchildren, and because I think it makes my life more pleasurable and satisfying. I've tried to reduce the amount of paper products we use (cloth napkins, cloth diapers), I compost and garden organically most of the time, and I recycle everything possible. I am planning to join a Community Supported Agriculture garden this summer (see the "eat well" widget in my sidebar to find one near you) so that we can get organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables at a reasonable cost.

However, the more I try to adjust my lifestyle to become "greener", the more complicated and confusing it can become. That's why I was so delighted to take part in this opportunity to review the book Healthy Child, Healthy World. From the publisher:

"Filled with easy steps and simple solutions to improve family living without wreaking havoc on schedules or budgets, this book includes inspiring ideas for safe, eco-friendly cleaning methods, choosing healthier food, pet and garden care, nursery and home building materials, plus extensive tips for energy saving and family fun. With contributions from environmental science and public-health experts such as Dr. Harvey Karp, as well as many celebrity supporters (including Gwyneth Paltrow, Brooke Shields, and Tom Hanks), Healthy Child HealthyWorld is the essential guidebook for parents and children’s health advocates. "

It's a quick read and very direct. I finished in in two evenings. Simple, dramatic changes in the products you use around your house and yard can make a big impact on the health of your family and the environment. I am glad to have a guide to making the quickest, most effective changes.

My favorite chapters were the ones on toys and food. We have a fabulous new grocery store opening right down the street from us and I was delighted to see they have a large gluten-free and organic section. After reading this book I decided to buy all organic produce on the "Dirty Dozen" list. (listed in the book on page 69) These are the ones most likely to bear high levels of dangerous chemicals; the ones most important for young children to eat organic. They include: peaches, apples, bell peppers, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, grapes (imported), pears, spinach, and potatoes. I loaded up my cart with my son's favorites and bought some other gluten free items like cookies and bread that cost more than the average products. Yikes! My grocery bill almost doubled. I was glad to feed my kids organics that week but I don't know how I will sustain it. Maybe we'll have to cut back on some items and hope the CSA is more affordable.

I also went toy shopping for my youngest son's birthday right after reading the book. The chapter on plastic toys really spooked me.
"The plastic used in so many cheap, colorful toys, especially PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic, releases toxic fumes into the air (known as off-gassing), exposing kids to the risks of inhalation. Soft plastic toys are particularly troublesome -rubber ducks, bath books, plastic cars, inflatable figures, dolls, and learning toys also contain phthalates, softening agents used to make PVC pliable, the same stuff used in vinyl flooring. Studies have proven that phthalates can be hormonally disruptive in animals, and can easily leach out when kids suck or chew on a toy, like flavor out of gum."

Lord Have Mercy. I threw out the rubber duckies sitting beside our tub immediately. But what toys to buy for my three year old? I searched for the perfect tricycle, only to end up buying a hard plastic one that I could afford and I thought would fit him. I'll just have to make sure he doesn't suck the handle bars, right? I am going to work on getting more of the plastic out of our house.

One thing I was glad to see is the chapter on improving indoor air quality. Using "green" cleaning products, wood floors with area rugs, and keeping house plants are all things we already do. I feel pretty good about those aspects.

I really appreciated the last chapter on how to "grow your impact". There is a list of things you can start doing right now to make a difference. Smart ways to make simple changes; that's exactly what I want to have at my fingertips. The back of the book has an extensive list of resources for products, services and information. The index is helpful when you have a specific question and you're in a hurry.

This book was very helpful and inspiring, and I recommend it to anyone interested in improving the health of their living environment. I plan to keep working on improving things for myself and my family little by little. I invite you to join me and share what you have discovered.

This review is part of the MotherTalk blog tour for the book.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Review: The Three Little Wolves

and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Triviza. This is a "fractured fairytale" reversing the story of the three little pigs. "Once upon a time, there were three cuddly little wolves with soft fur and fluffy tails who lived with their mother." She sends them into the world to build a house for themselves.

Unfortunately the Big Bad Pig comes prowling around and destroys their houses one after another. When their brick house won't blow down he gets a sledgehammer and destroys it. The pigs build in concrete, adding barbed wire, thirty seven padlocks and a video entrance phone. Big Bad Pig doesn't give up till he's blown everything sky high with dynamite.
"Something must be wrong with our building materials", the pigs said. "We have to try something different. But what?"

Herein lies the kernel of radical wisdom. The pigs do something few people would imagine. When a flamingo comes down the road with a wheelbarrow full of flowers the pigs decide to build a house of flowers. Seems crazy, right? The walls are made of daffodils, roses, and cherry blossoms.
"They had water lilies in their bathtub, and buttercups in their refrigerator." It was a rather fragile house and it swayed in the wind, but it was very beautiful."

My favorite part of the book is what is not said here. Readers are immediately wondering what will happen when you-know-who starts to huff and puff. The wolves are reveling in beauty, apparently not concerned at all. We are left to contemplate the wisdom or foolishness of their strategy.

When Big Bad Pig takes a deep breath to blow the house down "he smelled the soft scent of the flowers." A transformation occurs that changes everything.

The illustrations by Helen Oxenbury are just right for this refreshing twist on an old tale. The personality of the wolves and the pig is shown in every tail kink and cocked eyebrow. It's delightful to see the stereotypes of good/bad character turned on their heads. Without being heavy-handed with moral teaching this story shows children alternatives to escalating shows of force and terror-induced security obsessions. It's a great tale for starting conversations about peaceful conflict resolution. Use it to teach the Quaker SPICES of Peace and Community.

Lesson Plan: compare/contrast with Three Little Pigs

Get it from Quaker Books Online

Podcast at Just One More Book

April 3 Haiku

tete a tete 2

nodding to one another;
are they watching me?

This photo was taken in the garden outside the middle school. Little clumps of tiny tete-a-tete daffodils are scattered over the mulch. I couldn't help thinking they looked like groups of friends whispering and laughing and checking each other out. At the same time, of course, extremely conscious of how they look to others - beautiful? good enough? dressed right? God's gift to the world?

April is National Poetry Month. I plan to post a haiga (haiku and image) every day.