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Monday, April 20, 2015

Three Beautiful Poetry Collections to help celebrate National Poetry Month, shared with you by Andrea Perry

                                               From " Beastly Verse."

How a Poem Looks
Words and illustrations enrich each other in three books of verse for children
By Daisy Fried

Reprinted from the New York Times Book Review Sunday, April 12, 2015

Poems don’t necessarily need pictures, nor pictures poems. But children — for whom magic is real and logic overrated — love and need both. In three handsome new poetry collections for children, word and image energize and illuminate each other, becoming journeys for the eye and ear.
The word “nursery” in the title “Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes” implies that these poems are for the very youngest children, but my 8-year-old daughter read this book for a long time, saying, “I like that the poems come from all over the world.” Because each of the book’s 77 illustrators gets a two-page spread featuring one to three poems, to turn a page is to shift worlds. Tongue-twisters (“Betty Botter”) segue to spirituals (“Who built the ark? /Noah, Noah”) to Mother Goose (“Little Boy Blue”) to this luminous tercet, accompanied by a desert sunset, from the Southwestern indigenous tribe Tohono O’odham:
How shall I begin my song
In the blue night that is settling?


From "The Death of the Hat."

I will sit here and begin my song.
The illustrations in this book make bridges, helping us, say, to see similarities and differences in animal poems with wordplay from Australia and America. Trinidadian clapping rhyme verses (“Mosquito one, / Mosquito two, / Mosquito jump in de callaloo”) are pasted into a vivid paper collage by Petrina Wright. John Lawrence’s woodcuts of London townspeople seem perfect for the old English bell poem: “When will you pay me? / Say the bells of Old Bailey. /When I grow rich, / Say the bells of Shoreditch.” Pamela Zagarenski’s Chagall-like village features a tiny elephant, a child asleep on a hillside and a giant man blowing cloud-swirls across a monumental moon. The untitled American lyric it accompanies is casually riveting:
Bed is too small for my tiredness.
Give me a hilltop with trees;
Tuck a cloud up under my chin.
Lord, blow out the moon — please.
That contains both mystery and comfort, which might be key to what makes good kids’ poetry good. Diversity helps, too. My daughter and I discovered, reading this book, that the lullaby I still sing her (“All the pretty little horses”) is ­African-American in origin. Holly Sterling’s illustration shows a burly brown man cradling a baby girl as dream horses run through a night sky. Wonderful, but not common, to find dads in a book of children’s poems.
JooHee Yoon’s “Beastly Verse” is very much about its pictures. Three-color illustrations of critters fill up page after intense page, cheerily aggressive, goofy, beastly-friendly. Yoon’s poem selection is economical, intelligent, even hip. Laura Richards’s kid-anthology standard “Eletelephony” (“Once there was an elephant, / Who tried to use the telephant —/ No! no! I mean an elephone / Who tried to use the telephone — ”) is here. So, naturally, is Blake’s sublime “The Tyger” (modernized to “The Tiger”: Why?), and Ogden Nash:
The Eel
I don’t mind eels
Except as meals.
And the way they feels.
“Beastly Verse” also contains sur­prises, like Robert Desnos’s “The Pelican,” involving pelican eggs and omelets, and D. H. Lawrence’s “Humming-bird,” which begins
I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.
That’s characteristic Lawrence — sprawling, neurotically alive. Kids appreciate the bizarre and off-kilter, and are too often denied it when grown-ups edit for positive messages and sweetness. Hooray for Yoon for countering that. Within the book’s visual continuity, Yoon’s selections change mood: “Sunlight, moonlight, / Twilight, starlight — /Gloaming at the close of day,” begins Walter de la Mare’s “Dream Song,” which goes on to talk of “an owl calling” and “lions roaring, / Their wrath pouring. . . . ” I don’t particularly want to read poems in sans-serif type in bright colors or white letters, never in black, but my daughter thought that was silly of me. Certainly it makes visual sense that in “Dream Song,” “Elf-light, bat-light, / Touchwood-light and toad-light. . . . ” emerge golden from the dark forest Yoon has painted behind the words.
Paul B. Janeczko’s excellent selections for “The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects” are mainly grown-up poems that children will like for their emotional authenticity, verbal texture, accessibility and figurative magic. Chris Raschka’s watercolor-and-ink renderings are attractively impressionistic: “gray and batter’d ship” for Walt Whitman’s “The Dismantled Ship”; ethereal scarecrow for Basho’s “Midnight frost — /I’d borrow / the scarecrow’s shirt”; wheelbarrow and puffy white chicken for William Carlos Williams. Organized chronologically from the early Middle Ages to the contemporary ­Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, the book interprets the word “object” broadly. The inanimate includes Neruda’s stamp album, Sandburg’s lackadaisically aphoristic “Boxes and Bags,” Dickinson’s railway train that her speaker likes to see “lap the miles.” Living objects include Sylvia Plath’s “Mushrooms” (“Overnight, very / Whitely, discreetly”), Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “The Cat” (who “sees ghosts in motes of air”) and Tennyson’s “The Eagle,” which my in-house predator-lover liked especially for the metaphors:
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
It may be of moral importance for children to have magic in their lives; metaphor is one way for them to experience that. In “The Death of the Hat,” objects can be cosmic, and political, like Langston Hughes’s “Stars”: “O, sweep of stars over Harlem streets, . . . / Reach up your hand, dark boy, and take a star.” Janeczko doesn’t shy from serious matter. There’s war and pastoral richness in the medieval Arab-Andalusian poet Ibn Iyad’s “Grainfield”:
Look at the ripe wheat
bending before the wind
like squadrons of horsemen
fleeing in defeat, bleeding
from the wounds of the poppies.
Janeczko knows that poetry for kids, as for adults, needn’t be simplistic, that in writing about objects, poets write about people. In the title poem, Billy Collins describes how “the day war was declared / everyone in the street was wearing a hat” and remembers a father coming home from work in a hat with the evening paper. Some poems in this book, like Collins’s, don’t exclude difficult emotions — but deliver them gently:
And now my father, after a life of work,
wears a hat of earth,
and on top of that,
a lighter one of cloud and sky — a hat of wind.


A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes
Collected by Elizabeth Hammill
Multiple illustrators
160 pp. Candlewick Press. $21.99. (Picture book; ages 2 to 8)


Selected and illustrated by JooHee Yoon
48 pp. Enchanted Lion Books. $18.95. (Picture book; ages 2 and up)


A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects
Selected by Paul B. Janeczko
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
77 pp. Candlewick Press. $17.99. (Picture book; ages 4 and up)

Friday, April 17, 2015

To Read Ahead or Not?

by Marcy Collier

Product Details

My eight-year-old son and I were talking about his day at school. He's the son who makes me work to pull information about his day.

His second grade teacher (who my older son also had) is a voracious reader and tried to read to the class aloud daily. He loves this part of the day because he is also an avid reader. He and I are usually reading several different chapter books together at one time, depending on his bedtime reading preference.

When I asked him what the teacher read in class that day, his eyes lit up as he asked, "Have you ever read The Indian in the Cupboard?"

Being a children's author and enthusiastic reader myself, I said, "No, I actually haven't read that one. Is is good?"

"Oh, Mom, you have to read it." He told me the premise. The boy in the story, Omri, gets a plastic Indian brave for his birthday from his friend Patrick. He puts the Indian in a cupboard and locks it with a strange key that once belonged to his great-grandmother. When he turns the key, the Indian changes from plastic to a real live Indian man.

My son insisted I read the book and asked if we could buy it so he could read ahead of the class. My older son used to do the same thing because he couldn't wait to read what came next. And as a reader myself, I have stayed up most of the night to finish way too many books to name because I just couldn't wait to see what happened next.

When my older son wanted to read ahead, we'd have to make a trip to the library or bookstore, which bought me some time to stay just a wee bit behind where they left off in school.

But now I have a Kindle and a Nook, where I can buy just about any book on the planet instantaneously. What to do?

The reader in me picked up the device that was charged (the Kindle) and within less than a minute, we were reading.

My son is trying hard not to tell me what happens next. He knows how much I enjoy surprises. But I'm usually the one recommending and reading books to him. Ones I've read that he hasn't. It is so much fun for him to share a book that he's read, but I haven't.

Thankfully, even though, we purchased the book right away, we were still able to stay behind the class (who incidentally just finished the book). My son really, really wants to tell me the ending and keeps giving me scenarios and asking me to choose the ending I think will happen.

So the question, do you read ahead of the class or stay slightly behind?

I typically stay slightly behind or on the same chapter. My older son always wanted to finish before the class too. In one book in particular, we were a few chapters ahead of the class, and I thank the stars we were. He was in third grade and had a permanent substitute teacher for the year. She decided to read one of her childhood favorites, Judy Blume's, Superfudge. I like Judy Blume's books. I can remember in middle school passing around someone's older sister's worn copy of Forever (and hiding what we were reading), but I had not read this one. Fortunately, we were a few chapters ahead at home and I saw the foreshadowing of a Christmas scene. I didn't like where it was going, not one bit. See the below link to the reviews of others who felt the same.


Product Details 

That night I emailed the teacher and told her she absolutely had to skip that particular scene or my son and probably at least half of the class would be devastated. Fortunately, she did, and since we were reading this book at home, my son didn't feel the need to take it out of the library and re-read it a third time. And I am thankful we were ahead. Christmas was a month away and wouldn't have been the same for my son or most of those children because the teacher had not read the book ahead of time. She chose this book based on nostalgic memories from her youth. If you're a teacher, you should always read a book before reading it to your students.

So again, thoughts on reading ahead of the class? I have mixed emotions, but I want to know what you think.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It's Not Easy Being Different by Kitty Griffin

Last night on "The Voice" Mia Z got booted off. (She's the gal in the upper left corner with the ponytail)
Her voice was different. 
Her style unique. I don't understand.
Sawyer is getting credit for his unique voice and he's most likely going to win the entire competition.

Okay, so I'm being a bit grumpy. I loved Mia's voice and to support her I bought several of her songs from iTunes. I think this 16-year-old who sounds as though she's possessed by a woman much older is wonderfully talented.

Sometimes though, sometimes being too different doesn't work. 

Especially for a writer and for a writer's first book. There are unwritten rules for emerging writers to follow and if they don't know them they can waste a lot of time. 

And that is so frustrating. And unfair. Because just like the young singer Sawyer is credited with being a genius and something NEW, because Mia choose an old style she finally ended up being voted off the show by America. Her coach, Pharrell, who recognized and delighted in her talent couldn't save her.

Should she have sung familiar pop songs in a familiar style? Because she has the pipes to do it. 

But she wouldn't be staying true to who she was. And Pharrell never ever asked her to change. 

Same thing with writing.

When I teach I always encourage people to be true to who they are and to what they want to write.

I just warn them, that being too different might mean it takes longer to break through.

Mia has a unique talent and fortunately she lives here in Pittsburgh where there is solid support for both live music and her style of the blues.

And i'll be happy for Sawyer. He's just a kid. He is amazing and I'll most likely be buying his albums in the future.

So how about you? Is your voice different? Is it going to help you get published or keep you from being published?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Kevin Brooks


Dave Amaditz

Kevin Brooks is one of my favorite authors. Read a little bit about him, and check out a list of his books here. Http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/kevin-brooks If, however, you haven't yet read anything he's written I suggest that you do. Here's a review of his latest, Bunker Diary. http://librarianwhodoesntsayshhh.com/ If you're like me, you won't want to put it down. And beware,  the ending might surprise you!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Life Lessons from writer Anne Lamott's Facebook post, reposted here because they are FABULOUS

Here is the opening to Anne Lamott's Facebook post on the occasion of her 61st birthday--

I am going to be 61 years old in 48 hours. Wow. I thought i was only forty-seven, but looking over the paperwork, I see that I was born in 1954. My inside self does not have an age, although can't help mentioning as an aside that it might have been useful had I not followed the Skin Care rules of the sixties, ie to get as much sun as possible, while slathered in baby oil. (My sober friend Paul O said, at eighty, that he felt like a young man who had something wrong with him.). Anyway, I thought I might take the opportunity to write down every single thing I know, as of today.

and to read the rest (and please do)

go to Anne Lamott on Facebook

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Pharell Williams sitting in his chair on "The Voice"

This is Pharell.
He’s looking, listening, waiting for the singer who will blow the audience away.
What do they need to succeed?
Something that when they sing identifies them.

What do writers need to succeed?
Something that when they write identifies them.

What do artists need to succeed?
Yes, voice. Because how they choose to express what they see is what they are telling the world. Surely you know the difference between Picasso and Van Gogh. Right?

How do you want the world to see your voice?

What do you want to put in your writing to make it stand out?

Rich, lush descriptions? Like this from “The Disenchanted Widow” by Christina McKenna.

               She blew jets of smoke from her nostrils like a dragon in a fairy     tale, crushed the fag in a prickly pear cactus on the windowsill, yanked the bag from him.

Rich, full of images.

Full of style. Full of voice.

If you ever get stuck with your writing try listening to the sample of music provided on iTunes of the same song by different artists. You will be AMAZED at what they accomplish with their instrument, with their voice.

I didn’t mean to get hooked on “The Voice” this year, but gosh darn, I’m sucked in. I have my favorites and when they sing I get teary-eyed. I love the 15-year-old Sawyer who strengthened his voice by singing to the cows on their farm. I love Tanya who helps prison inmates sing in a choir. I adore crazy-moves Hannah who puts her entire body in her songs. I admire 17-year-old Mia from Pittsburgh (a Yinzer girl!) who gets taken over by the spirit of a smoky-voiced 40 year old experienced woman.

So, as you work with your writing, think about your voice. How do you want to sound to the rest of the world?