Friday, July 8, 2011

A Paris Themed Summer

My first meeting of M. Lisa.
It's a Paris themed summer. Driving between Virginia and Vermont, I listened on CD to R. A. Scotti's Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa. Okay. True confession. I didn't know that the Mona Lisa had once been stolen! I tell you, if this tidbit had been included in high school history classes, I would have engaged.

Mary Jo Murphy's New York Times review of the book is itself a literary work of art. She begins: "Four hundred years before Picasso reassembled women with eyeballs where breasts should be and noses poking out of ears, Leonardo da Vinci put a smile on a woman’s face — right where nature intended and yet unlike any smile before it or since. It was Mona Lisa’s, and on the morning of Aug. 22, 1911, it wasn’t there."

Scotti's well researched account of the crime and its abundant suspects is a history lesson of the Western art world of the early 20th century. We're also introduced to the development of forensic science, the history of the Louvre, and the biography of Mona Lisa -- the painting the French call La Joconde. Since the reader makes or breaks an audio book, I'm happy to say that Kathe Mazur does a good job.

I read Vanished Smile after I'd seen Woody Allen's Cannes applauded Midnight in Paris. The book provides historical details which compliment the film.  They're a great match for a Paris themed summer.

For more on Paris:
Keeping a Personal Promise
Mysteries in Paris
Almost French
The Sweet Life in Paris
What Should I See in Paris?
The List of 35
First Day in Paris!
Paris Jour Deux
Joyce, Hemmingway and Ujka Larson
An American (Library) in Paris
My Birthday in Paris
J'aime Paris!
My Last Night in Paris

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Mount Lives On ... for Now

A few winters ago driving through Massachusetts to Vermont, I looked to my right while at a traffic light and made a surprising discovery. There was the sign for Edith Wharton's home, The Mount. I'd read a few of Wharton's books, and loved them. I had no idea she'd had an estate in Massachusetts. I couldn't visit then because it was closed for the season.

When I returned home, I Googled "The Mount." I was shocked to learn that the estate was threatened with bankruptcy, and I a wrote a blog post about how to help save it. Fortunately, gifts have enabled the historic site to remain open. At least for now.

Returning from Vermont this week, I made my long awaited visit to The Mount. Needless to say, I was thrilled to walk in a favorite author's footsteps and imagine her living there, and awed by the beauty of the home and gardens she designed. In the coming days, I'll take you on a virtual tour with my words and pictures.
Read More At:
Save The Mount
First Woman to Win Pulitzer

Friday, July 1, 2011

Kellogg-Hubbard Library, VT

The Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, Vermont, was dedicated on January 2, 1896. The Classical Revival style building is built of light-colored granite from Dummerston, Vermont. The library is named for Martin M. Kellogg, a New York real estate baron who was born in Barre, Vermont, and his wife Fanny M. Hubbard Kellogg, a Montpelier native. The couple willed their money to build the library. Fanny's nephew John E. Hubbard at first contested the will, but in the end contributed $30,000 more toward the library than the will provided. The Kellogg-Hubbard Library continues as a vibrant center in Montpelier.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Early Morning Writing

Early morning from my east facing window.
The crow calling just outside my window woke me enough to notice how light it was. Must be a least 7. No, only 5:18 a.m. Too early to be up with a long day ahead of me. But as I lay in the guest bed, the quiet was energizing.

I'm staying on top a mountain near East Calais, Vermont, and the beauty of sound and sight and fragrance is balm to my soul. There is no hum of the highway half a mile away; no jarring sirens of emergency vehicles responding to the needs of the one million people living in a single county; no ridiculously heavy footsteps of the family in the apartment above me. Instead, I listen to the calls of birds I can identify (killdeer, crow, robin, some kind of owl) and the songs of those I don't yet know. This quiet is like a drink of cool water on a warm day.

I am inspired to write, energized to do so now. Being in Vermont, I can't help but think of poet Robert Frost. He worked the land, knew the people, and recorded them in verse that grasps their vitality and reality. I feel a kinship to him in shared loves. I am writing in Vermont.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Window Seat of the Perfect Present

The window seat of the "perfect present."
Living in the moment is vital.  Not one of us has any certainty beyond the present.  Yet I find myself thinking of the future.  When I move to Vermont, then I will be happy,  When I publish a book, then I will be successful.  When I make a lot of money, then I will feel secure.  Rarely do I find satisfaction in the moment.  That is why last night was so incredible.  I am in Vermont because my daughter is in the hospital here.  It is a stress filled time of uncertainties and decisions. The kindness of strangers has provided me a place to stay, and last night I experienced, in the midst of a life storm, perfection in the moment.  I sat in a window seat watching a thunder storm transverse the mountains as I read a book about a romance in Paris, eating chocolate, sipping red wine, and patting a purring cat.  The moment was perfect, and I was there in it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Creaky Old House

What a fun book this is.  Creaky Old House: A Topsy-Turvey Tale of a Real Fixer-Upper by Linda Ashman is a rhyming adventure of a simple home-repair taking on bigger and bigger proportions. 

"Our house is kind of old and creaky.
Porch is sloping, roof is leaky.
Windows drafty, shutters peeling.
There's a crack across the ceiling.
Paint's a little chipped and faded.
Might say it's dilapidated.
Still, each one of us -- all nine --
thinks the house is fine, just fine."

The family of nine thinks their house is just fine until a doorknob falls to the floor.  They look in the shed for one screw, and that begins a chain of events gone wild.  Michael Chesworth's ink, watercolor and pencil pictures, reminiscent of Richard Scarry's style, provide a smorgasbord of comical images to illustrate the text. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Flag Day

The American Flag is considered the oldest symbol of the United States. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman declared June 14 as Flag Day. It was the day in 1777 on which the Continental Congress designated the making of the first American flag.

Britain’s Union Jack had flown over the colonies in America since 1607. But in 1775, in a show of unity, the colonists designed the Grand Union flag. It had 13 stripes to represent the 13 colonies, and a small Union Jack in the upper right hand corner to represent loyalty to Britain. The Grand Union flag was also called the Continental Colors or Congress flag. Ralph Waldo Emerson mentioned the flag in his Concord Hymn, a poetic commemoration of the first battle of the American Revolution, which took place on April 19, 1775, at the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts.

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world ….”

On July 4, 1776, the colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, and almost a year later, on June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed a resolution stating, “Resolved, That the Flag of the United States be 13 stripes alternate red and white, that the Union be 13 stars white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” That new constellation was the new county.

The first American flag may have been designed by congressman Francis Hopkinson, or by a committee. Although historical evidence proves that Betsy Ross sewed American flags, it is not certain that she made the first one.

While Francis Scott Key watched the fighting in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812, he noticed that once the bombing stopped, the American Flag was still flying. He wrote The Star-Spangled Banner, which in 1931 Congress named the national anthem. The very flag that inspired Francis Scott Key is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in D.C.

In 1831 a Massachusetts sea captain named William Driver nicknamed the American flag “Old Glory.”

As the country grew, Congress decided that after a state was admitted into the Union, a new star representing that state would be added to the flag on the Fourth of July. Since 1777, the flag has changed 26 times. The current 50-star flag has flown since 1960.

For more information about Flag Day and the American flag, consider these children's books:
What’s So Great About … Frances Scott Key? by Marylou Morano Kjelle
The American Flag by Christine Poolos
Meet Our Flag, Old Glory by April Jones Prince

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Picture Books for Father's Day

Special occasions provide reading opportunities. Choosing books related to a holiday teaches children about the event, and adds to the festivities and memories. Try these picture books for Fathers' Day read alongs.

Daddy's Lullaby by Tony Bradman
I Love Daddy by Lizi Boyd
My Daddy's Job by Peter Glassman
Father's Rubber Shoes by Yumi Heo
Daddy Hugs 1*2*3 by Karen Katz
Daddies Give You Horsey Rides by Abby Levine
Father Bear's Special Day by Else Holmelund Minarik
A Father's Day Thank You by Janet Nolan
Father's Day by Anne Rockwell
Daddy All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas
When Papa Comes Home Tonight by Eileen Spinelli
My Daddy and Me by Jerry Spinelli
Driving Daddy by Hope Vestergaard
Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

Do you have others to recommend?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sandra's Recommendations for Fifth Grade Readers

My youngest daughter, now heading to high school, recalled for me her favorite books. Here are her recommendations for readers in fifth grade.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry
  • Peter and the Starcatchers
  • Peter and the Shadow Thieves
  • Peter and the Secret of Rundoon
  • Peter and the Sword of Mercy

The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

A Face First by Priscilla Cummings

Marley, A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan 

Edward's Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

The Story of a Seagull and the Cat who Taught Her to Fly by Luis Sepulveda

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Sandra's Recommendations for Fourth Grade Readers
Sandra's Recommendations for Third Grade Readers

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Book Club is FridayReads

I was fairly new to Twitter when I noticed a message from @thebookmaven (a.k.a. Bethanne Patrick) inviting me to share what I was reading, with the hashtag #FridayReads.  I loved Bethanne's cheerleading and hourly, if not more frequent, count of how many people had participated.  I shared.

Now I greet every Friday with TGI #FridayReads on my Twitter account.  I look forward to sharing what I'm reading, to seeing the count of how many have shared, and to the sometimes clever, sometimes simple reminders to participate.

FridayReads has expanded from Twitter (@fridayreads) to Facebook and Blogspot, too.  The FridayReads blog includes lists of the top titles being read (or listened to) worldwide each week, and synopses of the books which the FridayReads team members* are currently reading.  I've referred to both for ideas of what to read next.  But still my favorite is participating on Twitter.

#FridayReads has become my book group.  I enjoy sharing my reading, greeting other FridayReaders on Twitter each week, and spreading the word.   I think you'd enjoy participating, too. 

*The FridayReads Team
@thebookmaven (Bethanne Patrick)
@erinfaye (Erin Mitchell, In Real Life)
@bookmeme (Ian Lewis, Book Meme)
@bookladysblog (Rebecca Schinsky, The Book Lady's Blog)
@shelfmagazine (Shelf Unbound)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Katie Shea Defines Literary Fiction

Katie Shea works for the Caren Johnson Literary Agency in New York City. It was a tweet that led me to her blog interview with Chuck Sambuchino, editor of Guide to Literary Agents.

As Shea works to build her own client list, she is especially interested in literary fiction. I hadn't heard that term before. Sambuchino defined it as, "'important' works with beautiful writing and envelope-pushing or groundbreaking subjects." He asked Shea to elaborate, and I loved her description:

"Literary fiction involves serious and personal themes, while creating a beautifully written story. First off, I want something I can connect to. I am most interested in stories about family dynamics, motherhood, fatherhood, personal overcome, unexpected relationships, and self-discovery. I truly look for a story that has it all—love, hate, good, bad, tears, laughter, success, failure—showing me that the writer can connect with a vast audience on many levels.

"The tone of the book is also extremely interesting to me. The main character must always set the mood of the story. I like sadness and darkness, but I also like to see positivity and happiness somewhere in the plot. I want to feel the story in my veins."

Friends have suggested that instead of a memoir, I write a fiction book based on fact. It sounds to me that my book should be literary fiction. It's another step toward finishing the project.

Shea said four of her favorite literary fiction titles are:
By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Which of these do you like?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sandra's Recommendations for Fourth Grade Readers

These are my daughter's recommended reads for kids in fourth grade. They were her favorites when she was that age. They're real life fiction, historical fiction and fantasy.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Blood on the River: James Town 1607 by Elisa Carbone

Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Harry Potter books 1 - 3 by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Midnight Rider by Joan Hiatt Harlow

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Warriors: The New Prophecy series by Erin Hunter

See also Sandra's Recommendations for Third Grade Readers.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sandra's Recommendations for Third Grade Readers

My fourteen-year-old is an enthusiastic reader. Recently while waiting for me to finish my shift at the public library, she was browsing the shelves and reminiscing about the books she’s read. So I asked her to make me a list of her favorites; books she’d recommend to readers in different grades. This is the first installment of that project.

How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

Frindle by Andrew Clements

Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
Beezus and Ramona
Ramona the Pest
Ramona the Brave
Ramona and Her Father
Ramona and Her Mother
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Ramona Forever
Ramona's World

The BFG by Roald Dahl

Warriors series by Erin Hunter
Into the Wild
Fire and Ice
Forest of Secrets
Rising Storm
A Dangerous Path

Emily Windsnap series by Liz Kessler
The Tail of Emily Windsnap
Emily Windsnap and the Monster from the Deep
Emily Windsnap and the Castle in the Mist
Emily Windsnap and the Sirens Secret

The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House in the Big Woods
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Heritage Months

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, one of five federally mandated heritage months recognized by The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. According to the Smithsonian Education website, heritage months are held to "pay tribute to the generations who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success." 

The other four heritage months are Black History Month (February); Women's History Month (March); Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 - Oct. 15); and American Indian Heritage Month (November).

Related Posts:
A Pair of Red Clogs
Kids Titles for Asian Pacific Heritage Month
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
The Beckoning Cat

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day: The Same Bright Star

A few years ago, National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore honored mothers on CBS Sunday Morning, sharing that he never gave much thought to Mother's Day -- beyond ordering flowers -- until he heard a mother singing a lullaby to her child. The lullaby turned out to be Baby Mine, written in 1878 by (I believe) Italian-born trumpet player Mike Mosiello. The song was recorded on the Van Dyke label (81878).

"Baby mine, don't you cry.
Baby mine, dry your eyes.
Rest your head close to my heart,
Never to part, baby of mine."

I am reminded of the song Somewhere Out There, written by James Horner, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. It was the theme of the 1987 movie An American Tail.

When I lost full time care of my three children through a divorce custody battle, my heart was shattered. At night when they weren't with me, I'd miss tucking them in and kissing them goodnight. This song played in my mind, and it became for me a lullaby and a prayer for my children across the divide of time and space.

"Somewhere out there beneath the pale moonlight,
Someone's thinking of me and loving me tonight.

Somewhere out there someone's saying a prayer,
That we'll find one another in that big somewhere out there.

And even though I know how very far apart we are, It helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star.

And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby,
It helps to think we're sleeping underneath the same big sky.

Somewhere out there if love can see us through,
Then we'll be together somewhere out there,
Out where dreams come true."

Sartore's tribute to mothers included photographs and a recording of his wife Kathy singing Baby Mine to their son. Sartore said that he now understands that, "There is no greater bond than between a mother and her child." I thank Sartore for reminding the world of this truth. It is my Mother's Day gift.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Social Media and Deep Thinking

Earlier this week I received via email a link to Andrew McAfee’s Harvard Business Review blog post Tune Out, Turn Off: A Mantra Needed for Our Times?

The gist of the blog is that social media can be the enemy of deep thinking. True. But it can also be a conduit to deep thinking. Here’s my example.

A tweet offering a free issue of World Literature Today, a publication I’d never heard of, caught my attention. I requested a copy. The cover story of the issue I received (July/August 2010) is on Sherman Alexie, “named one of the New Yorker’s twenty top writers for the twenty-first century” (page 35).

I’d read Alexie’s young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but I had no idea that he is such a prolific and well-known writer – until I read the article.

Because of the article, I checked-out his collection of poems and short stories entitled War Dances. It won the 2010 PEN / Faulkner Award for Fiction. In addition to laughing out loud and otherwise enjoying the book, Alexie also inspired deep thinking.

“Back in college, when I was first learning how to edit film – how to construct a scene – my professor, Mr. Baron, said to me, ‘You don’t have to show people using a door to walk into a room. If people are already in the room, the audience will understand that they didn’t crawl through a window or drop from the ceiling or just materialize. The audience understands that a door has been used – the eyes and mind will make the connection – so you can just skip the door.’”

“’Skip the door’ is a good piece of advice – a maxim, if you will – that I’ve applied to my entire editorial career, if not my entire life. To state it in less poetic terms, one would say, ‘An editor must omit all unnecessary information’” (page 5, from the story Breaking and Entering.)

Now for some of you this may seem like elementary advice. But for me, it inspired deep thinking about writing in general and my writing specifically.

There is a risk with social media’s constant stream of information to skim the surface and jump to the next thing. As McAfee writes, “This is potent, addictive stuff, and as Nick points out it does not lend itself to deep thinking and sustained concentration.”

But if we use social media to provide ideas, and then take time to pursue the ideas -- even unplug to think -- then social media can be a conduit to deep thinking. It is for me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Can Libraries Keep Up?

Over the past three years, staff and material budgets for local libraries in the United States have been decimated by the government entities that fund them.  Yet a study by the American Library Association and the Gates Foundation found that over the past year, "Americans are making use of their libraries at steady or increasing rates" (The State of America's Libraries: A Report from the American Library Association). Can public libraries keep up with the demand for services and resources without the money to fund them?  I'm beginning to doubt it.

Internet stations in my local public library are installed with Microsoft Office 2003.  More and more customers are coming to the library with flash drives and documents more advanced than the library computers are able to handle.  There is no money for computer upgrades.  At what point will the library's  infrastructure become obsolete?

“Computer and Internet access at public libraries connect millions of Americans to economic, educational, and social opportunity each year, but libraries struggle to replace aging computer workstations and provide the high-speed Internet connections patrons need,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “As demand for these services rise, public and private investment to support public access technology at libraries is more critical than ever.” (From The State of America's Libraries.)

Where will this public and private investment come from?  We hear that the economy is improving, but as gas prices and rents are on the rise, salaries are not.  Neither are library budgets.  Even print materials are becoming outdated.  For example, the most recent edition of a book on blogging that I found in my library system was published in 2006.  I discovered that many of the links referenced in the book are now obsolete.  If public libraries aren't funded at a level that enables them to keep their resources current, will they ever be able to catch up? What do you think?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Poems to Pictures

In honor of National Poetry Month, I hosted a poetry workshop entitled Poems to Pictures. Author and poet Ruth Baja Williams read the poems she'd set to a series of watercolors by artist Jane Andrle Gillette, photos of which we're projected for viewing.  Workshop participants then chose from a selection of magazine and postcard pictures set out on a table, and crafted their own poem to picture. The results were stunning. In just 30 minutes, drafts were completed, read aloud, and appreciated. My favorite is Remember the Lake, by George Mason University creative writing student Benjamin Renne.  He chose a magazine photo of Morning, Lake George, an 1871 oil on canvas by A T Bricher.

Morning, Lake George. Oil on canvas by A T Bricher 1871
Remember the Lake
By Benjamin Renne

Remember the lake
That swollen Autumn morning
When you and me and Jack went
Out for a row. We brought
The tackle box and the rods and
A paper bag full of fried egg sandwiches.

Remember the rocks
In the middle of the silent
Pond, frost covered and slick. They
Were the giants and the sirens,
Enticing fantasies and chimeras which
Even brave Ulysses can’t avoid.

Remember the shoreline,
How it seemed so far away
When we were alone, the three
Of us in the middle of the peaceful lake.
The pebble beach, littered with goose
Shit, was far away. So far.

Remember the trees,
Bare of life and slanted
Like an old man with a broken
Back. The birds, which used to
Call those dead trees home, would
Sing to us on that frosty morning.

Remember the sky
And the mountains gray,
Fading into the background, where the
Fog blends everything together
So that the future is masked
With the low clouds, fuzzy and unpredictable.

Remember the car,
The smell of fish
Which permeated the leather seats,
And Jack complained the whole way back.
My boots were wet and stunk still
Of the lake, but I smiled.
Remember the lake?

Other posts on poetry:
April is National Poetry Month
Franz Schubert and Friedrich Rückert: Poetry and Music
Late Wife
When Writing a Poem
MLB, Opening Day

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

If You Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, You Might Like These, Too!

Kids love series. If you think about it, so do adults. Whether in books or broadcast, series provide us characters we’ve come to know. We want to see what they’ll do next.

One of the most asked for series by boys currently coming to me in the library is Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. The series began in 2004 as daily posts on The first in book format, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, was published in April 2007. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules followed in February 2008; The Last Straw in January 2009; Dog Days in October 2009; and The Ugly Truth in November 2010.

According to Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid Website, the first three books were based on the Internet version but, “The print version of the books have improved stories, better drawings, and new surprises for those who have already read the online version.”

Series draw kids from book to book. But as one father said to me, “the challenge comes when the series ends. What do we read next?” Guiding kids to the next series when one is finished, or to a similar series while waiting for one with many holds, is a challenge for librarians, too. To help, I’ve produced my own list -- "If You Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid You Might Also Like …” It includes the series title, series author, and number of books currently in the series. A librarian or book seller can help you identify each individual title in the series. Or, you may want to visit Mid-Continent Public Library’s database of Juvenile Series and Sequels.

Andrew Lost by J. C. Greenburg (36 books)
Andrew and his friends encounter unusual adventures while exploring science.

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilky (10 books)
A school principal transforms into superhero Captain Underpants.

Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist by Jim Benton (7 books)
Franny K. Stein’s experiments are meant to improve life at school, but that’s not exactly how it goes.

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen (2 books)
A 12-year-old inherits his Grandpa’s riding lawnmower and turns a big business.

Melvin Beederman, Superhero by Greg Trine (8 books)
Crime in Los Angeles has met its match with Melvin Beederman, superhero and snack food lover.

My Weird School by Dan Gutman (21 books)
At Ella Mentry School, the adults are a little weird.

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot by Dav Pilky (6 books)
Ricky is a little mouse with a big Robot, and their adventures span the universe.

Rotten School by R. L. Stine (16 books)
Bernie Bridges always looks for inventive ways to rule at his boarding school.

Shredderman by Wendelin Van Draanen (4 books)
Nolan hides behind his Shredderman identity to fight for justice.

Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka (16 books)
Joe, Fred, and Samantha time-travel throughout history.

Wiley & Grampa’s Creature Features by Kirk Scroggs (10 books)
Wiley and his Grampa face monster tornadoes, vampire trucks, and other horrors.

The Zack Files by Dan Greenburg (30 books)
Zack, his father, and Spencer share zany adventures.

This is not an exhaustive list, and it’s not meant only for boys. Anyone who likes the fun of Diary of a Wimpy Kid might like these, too.  Do you have suggestions for others to add to this list?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Can Save the Ocean!

Who am I to disagree with The Horn Book Magazine! But I do. The reverenced publication of children and teen literature reviews disses Alison Inches picture book I Can Save the Ocean! The Little Green Monster Cleans up the Beach (2010 by Little Simon). The July 1, 2010, review says, "The cartoony illustrations of Max are mildly amusing, but the story is bland and the eco-friendly message is ham-fistedly delivered."

I say rubbish! When Max the little green monster realizes that his habits are contributing to the pollution of the oceans, he determines to change his ways and educate his friends, too. The book presents kids with things they can do to contribute to the care of our environment, and encourages personal responsibility for ones actions. I fail to see any "ham-fisted" delivery or bland story line. And I believe the colorful illustrations are kid friendly. I recommend this book for all library collections -- school, home and private.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Poem in Your Pocket Day

Photo by Susan Ujka Larson
 It's Poem in Your Pocket Day, sponsored by The Academy of American Poets as part of National Poetry Month.  Since it is a beautiful day here in the D.C. area, I've chosen Today by Billy Collins as the poem I will carry with me to share.

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don't)

With clever humor, Barbara Bottner introduces Miss Brooks and the first grader who is rather bothered by this school librarian's book fervor. "I think Miss Brooks gets a little too excited," she says in Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don't). She finds the librarian's enthusiasm so "vexing" that when she gets home, "I ask my mother if we can move to a new town. My mother says there's a librarian in every town." In the end, this stubborn student learns that there are books for even the most discriminating reader. The illustrations by Michael Emberley add to the fun of the story. The book was published in the U.S. in 2010.

It's National Library Week, and each year I like to share a few picture book titles having to do with libraries and librarians. In addition to Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don't), here are two others to enjoy.

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.
When a lion entered the library, no one knew what to do because, "There weren't any rules about lions in the library." Miss Merriweather, the librarian, decides that the lion can stay if he is quiet. The lion comes daily to volunteer and attend story time. But one day when the lion can't be quiet, because he has a very good reason to roar, he is scolded for breaking the rules. He leaves the library, disgraced, and doesn't return until . . . . Library Lion is a wonderfully written and illustrated picture book published in 2006.

Lola Loves Stories by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw.
Every Saturday Lola and her daddy go to the library and choose books to read throughout the next week. The books she picks influence her play. Lola might be a fairy princess, or a tiger, or pilot. The simple text and bright pictures of this picture book, published in 2010, will appeal to younger readers.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Late Wife

Thursday on twitter, January O'Neil (@januaryoneil) shared that she'd posted three new poems on her blog Poet Mom, in response to National Poetry Writing Month (#NaPoWriMo). NaPoWriMo challenges poets to write a poem a day during April, National Poetry Month.

Of O'Neil's three poems, I loved Loser. As I read, I could picture it all, and relate.

"I whisper it under my breath like a little prayer
as we pass through the front door,
you going in, me coming out,
crowding the threshold
in a weird game of chicken.
We both have right of way
but neither is willing to yield.
A heart-skipped beat. A bottled misery.
The word ripples from the underground
spring of the diaphragm where a fissure
has opened once again, the trauma
of old love that never heals.
I brace myself for unavoidable contact,
avert the eyes, move through the stiff air
like a cloud wedged between clouds.
Say it, that mantra of the highest order.
I hold my breath as your windbreaker
brushes against my three-quarter length,
my 100 wool against your polyester blend.
What more is there to do but go through?
L for loser, double L for lost love.
The Motels had it right,
“Take the L out of lover and it’s over,”
because the body gives up what it no longer needs.
This is how I walk through without looking back."

This poem reminded me of another poet. Claudia Emerson won The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2006 for her collection titled late wife. I agree with another poet's praise of the collection. Henry Taylor says of late wife, "They [the poems] are deeply absorbing because their author has brilliantly observed brief but powerful moments, and rendered these miracles of observation with secure craftsmanship."

There are many poems in Emerson's collection that I read again and again. They are striking in their realness. Here is Frame.

photo by sul
"Most of the things you made for me—armless
rocker, blanket-chest, lap desk--I gave away
to friends who could use them and not be reminded
of the hours lost there, the tedious finishes.

But I did keep the mirror, perhaps because
like all mirrors, most of these years it has been
invisible, part of the wall, or defined
by reflection—safe—because reflection,

after all, does change. I hung it here
in the front, dark hallway of this house you will
never see, so that it might magnify
the meager light, become a lesser, backward

window. No one pauses long before it.
This morning,though, as I put on my coat,
straightened my hair, I saw outside my face
its frame you made for me, admiring for the first

time the way the cherry you cut and planed
yourself had darkened, just as you said it would."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Lady of Shalott

Reading Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy when I was 17 -- The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment -- sparked my interest in Arthurian legend. Years later I encountered Anne Shirley, the fictional character in Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, reciting stanzas of a poem as she floated in a boat down a river. I took those stanzas to my local library, and a generous librarian helped me find their source. The lines are from English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson's (1809 - 1892) ballad The Lady of Shalott.

John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott, 1888 (Tate Gallery, London)
The ballad is a masterpiece in poetic storytelling. Tennyson's poem is based on the legend of Elaine of Astolat, a character in the thirteenth-century Italian novella Donna di Scalotta, who dies of her unrequited love for Sir Lancelot, one of the greatest knights in King Arthur's Round Table.

In the first four stanzas of The Lady of Shalott, Tennyson describes the setting.

"On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

"Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

"By the margin, willow-veiled,
Slide the heavy barges trailed
By slow horses; and unhailed
The shallop flitteth silken-sailed
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

"Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to towered Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers "'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

In stanzas five through eight, Tennyson describes the Lady's life.

"There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

"And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

"Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-haired page in crimson clad,
Goes by to towered Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

"But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott."

Stanzas nine through 12 tell of Sir Lancelot.

"A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling through the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneeled
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

"The gemmy bridle glittered free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazoned baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

"All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burned like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often through the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

"His broad clear brow in sunlight glowed;
On burnished hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flowed
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

In the last seven stanzas, Tennyson tells the effect seeing Sir Lancelot has on the Lady of Shalott.

"She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott."

"In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over towered Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

"And down the river's dim expanse,
Like some bold seër in a trance
Seeing all his own mischance--
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

"Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right--
The leaves upon her falling light--
Through the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

"Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turned to towered Camelot.
For ere she reached upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

"Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

"Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott is one of my favorite poems. The beauty of the language ("Willows whiten, aspens quiver") enthralls me, and the sadness of the story enchants me.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Franz Schubert and Friedrich Rückert: Poetry and Music

Franz Schubert received his death sentence in 1823. Already the love of his life, Therese Grod, had married another. His father had banished him from home. And his finances were in ruin. Now he was diagnosed with syphilis. In the 19th century, that was a death sentence.

A year earlier, well-known German poet Friedrich Rückert had published a collection of poetry by the title Ostliche Rosen (Eastern Rose). It is possible that Schubert read this book. One of the poems therein, Du bist die Ruh became the text for his lied (song) by the same name.

You are the rest,
The gentle peace,
You are the longing
And what it quiets.

I dedicate to you
Full of pleasure and pain
As a dwelling here
My eyes and heart.

Come to me,
And close
Quietly behind you
The gates.

Drive other pain
Out of this breast!
Full may be this heart
Of your joy.

This temple of my eyes,
By your radiance
Alone is brightened,
Oh fill it completely!

Schubert’s musical interpretation of Du bist die Ruh, here sung by Soprano Sylvia Schwartz, captures the passionate longing of the poet’s words. Considering the struggles of Schubert’s life at the time of its composition, the music seems to reflect the composer’s own heartfelt desires for life and love.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Bulldog's Face

This is Elle. She is the beloved pet of my friend Lydia. I'm honoring them with this poem for National Poetry Month.  The poem is written about a male dog.  My apologies, Elle, but I don't believe I can take liberties to change the poet's "his" to "hers".

A Bulldog's Face
Nothing on a bulldog's face
Seems to have a proper place
His eyelids droop
His jaws are square
His jowls are beyond compare
His nose looks like he's had a fight
He's got a great big underbite
You look at him and have to hoot
He's so ugly that he's cute
by Marilyn Singer

The poem is included in the book Read A Rhyme, Write A Rhyme, a selection of poems for kids by Jack Prelutsky, the Poetry Foundation's first Children's Poet Laureate (2006). The book is illustrated by Meilo So.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April is National Poetry Month

I'm trying to understand what it is about poetry that excites me. Each year I make a big deal of National Poetry Month at whichever library I happen to be working. Yet, there are many poems that I do not understand. So what is it about poetry that I like?

I began thinking about this as I planned blog posts, tweets, displays and programs for National Poetry Month 2011. When I read the poems that I consider favorites, I see that it's the art of the words that I love. In poetry, words are carefully chosen and strategically arranged to produce a sight, a sound, a smell, a feel, a memory. Following are examples, a few of my favorite poetic lines.

"...sensing only the pale humidity
of the night and the slight zephyrs
that stir the tops of the trees"
from Night Letter to the Reader by Billy Collins.

"Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot."
from The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson

"He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake."
from Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Recently someone suggested to me that the written word is an impersonal form of communication compared with face-to-face conversation. I see it differently. I'm a writer and a reader, and words are the most intimate, most lovely, most heartfelt form of communication. This is what I like about poetry: The precisely chosen beautiful words and the pictures they paint.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

I've always thought of Amelia Earhart as a legend. Candace Fleming's 2011 biography about the aviator presents her as a real person who followed her heart.  There are details in the book that make Earhart's disappearance less of a mystery and more of a tragedy of poor judgment.

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart tells in alternating chapters the story of Earhart's life and what happened in the hours, days and weeks following her disappearance. The biography is written for kids age 8 - 12, but it's so well done that adults will appreciate the book.

At 10 a.m. on July 2, 1937, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan took off from Lae, New Guinea, heading for Howland Island, a minuscule piece of land in the Pacific Ocean. It was the most difficult leg of their 27,000 mile journey. Finding the island would be akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

Howland Island was within flying distance of both New Guinea and Hawaii. When planning her trip, Earhart at first had considered requesting help from the Navy to refuel in the air between New Guinea and Hawaii. But then she asked President Roosevelt to build her an airstrip on Howland Island. He authorized the funds, and asked that it be built swiftly and secretly. "After all, commented one Earhart biographer, 'the American taxpayer -- in the throes of the Great Depression -- might not have understood the necessity of building an entire airport for one-time use by a private individual'" (90).

Before reaching Howland Island, Earhart and Noonan disappeared.  I didn't know until reading this book that Earhart was heard on radio transmissions after the disappearance.  The U.S. military searched for 16 days.  They covered 250,000 square miles and spent what today is the equivalent of about $58 million dollars.  But neither Earhart or Noonan, or any wreckage, were ever recovered.

Earhart's technical advisor Paul Mantz and communications expert Joseph Gurr thought that Earhart needed more practice with her new plane before attempting her around the equator flight.  Gurr recalled that Earhart spent only one hour with him going over the communications system.  He said, "We never covered actual operations such as taking a bearing with the direction finder, [or] even contacting another radio station" (92).  Some aviation experts speculate that understanding how her plane's radio worked may have saved her life and the life of Fred Noonan.

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart is a welcome addition to biographies for children.  The writing is good, the layout is attractive, and the photographs are interesting.  Sidebars present  additional facts.  My only complaint is that I found it difficult to read the black type on the pages and sidebars colored grey.

Amelia Earhart was an icon for American women.  "Wrote biographer Mary S. Lovell, '[It] is the legend of an ordinary girl growing up into an extraordinary woman who dared to attempt seemingly unattainable goals in a man's world'" (110).  For that, I am thankful.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why Your Librarian Doesn't Like You

A while back LISNews shared a blog post on twitter by titled This Is Why Your Used Bookstore Clerk Hates You.  I tweeted back, "I could write the list for why librarians hate you!"  Most of what I deal with day-to-day working at a public library was never covered in graduate school.  If it had been, I would have probably transferred to underwater basket weaving ... or at least IT.  So here are 12  reasons why librarians wish certain people would go elsewhere.

1 - You consider us a babysitting service.
I noticed a young boy wandering the stacks alone for more than 30 minutes, so I went to talk with him.  He was four-years-old.  "My Mommy went to get gas for the car and then she is coming back," he told me.  This is one of the worst cases I've encountered.  Most of the time, the caregiver is at the Internet stations while their young child pulls all the DVDs off the shelves looking at the cover pictures, or plays tag in the stacks with a sibling.  Sometimes it's an eight year old caring for their three year old cousin.  As one mother told me when I called her to come pick up her two very young children, "I've taught my children how to behave in a library, and my babysitter knows that they're here, so what's the problem?"  The problem: Librarians are not babysitters.  We can't keep track of your kids and do our job.  And we know all to well what you obviously don't -- not everyone in the library is a trustworthy member of society there to conduct library business.

2 - You cruise in and out several times a day to see who's hanging out.
There's nothing in the library you want, except to see who's hanging out.  You case the joint, leave, and return an hour later.  We notice you, and wonder at how boring your life must be.  Why not grab a book and read?  Or just go to the park across the street. 

3 - You want to use the Internet computers but don't have a library card, any identification to obtain a free library card, or $2 for a guest pass. 
All businesses require an ID and/or money in exchange for goods and services. The same is true at a library. It doesn't help if you argue.

4- You smell.
When I began working in libraries, I was told that, "body odor is not a problem behavior."  We're taught to grin (meaning hold your breath) and bear it.  Please.  Your body odor is highly repulsive.  It's difficult to assist you when we can't breathe in your presence.

5 - You put lots of books on hold then never come for them.
It's not a magical process.  When you place a book on hold, that information appears on a daily report.  Staff go to the stacks to look for each book placed on hold, take them to the back to scan, place hold identification slips in each book, cart them to the hold shelf, and shelve them alphabetically by your last name amidst the hundreds of other holds.  If you don't pick up a hold, the title shows up on another report, and the process is reversed.  It's a lot of wasted time and energy, reminiscent of moving rocks from one pile to another and back again.

6 - You take the DVDs out of the cases, put the cases back on the shelves, and smuggle the DVDs into your personal collection.
It's called stealing, and it reduces the amount of free material others can borrow.

7 - You use the library as your telephone booth.
Remember those?  The library is not a telephone booth.  We can hear your entire conversation, and it's disrupting those who are reading, studying, and working on the computers.  Go outside.  If it's raining, go sit in your car. If you don't have a car ...

8 - You use the library to conduct job interviews.
You're having a conversation.  We can hear you, and so can everyone else who is there to conduct library business. 

9 - You flirt with the library staff on your every visit.
If you're George Clooney or the like, we're okay with this.  Otherwise, leave us alone.  We don't want to see a picture of your chick magnet car.  We don't want to be invited to accompany you to the Bahamas.  We don't want to have coffee with you, or give you our telephone number, or hear about your marital problems. 

10 - You don't silence your cell phone.
Once, it's a mistake.  But twice, three, four, ten times -- so that by the time you leave we have your ring-tone memorized -- you're being disrespectful of all those in the library.  We've posted signs to remind you: "Please silence your cell phone."  As I tell my colleagues, when I become Library Queen, I'm going to ban cell phones from all libraries.

11 - You argue about every fine, every time.
You signed an agreement when you registered for your FREE library card.  You agreed to pay fees on materials returned late, and to pay for the replacement of materials lost or damaged while checked-out on your card.  What's amazing about this one is that usually those who owe big bucks -- like more than $50 -- pay up without any mouth.  Those owing less than $1 usually argue the most.

12 - You are the reason we have to call the police.
Your young child is left at the library and we can't reach you; you kick the window in on the front door because we wouldn't issue a free guest pass; you yell loudly at staff to make an exception for you because no one will know -- except that everyone is now gathered around listening; you drop a bunch of uncased DVDs while heading toward the door; you get into a fist-fight with someone you cruised in to look for.   Police calls result in stress and mountains of paperwork, which result in loss of sleep, which result in us liking you even less the next day when we're tired.

And you thought librarians worked with books!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Always Kafka

My high school and college years were repetitive in their reading assignments. It was always Franz Kafka.  To be specific, it was always The Metamorphosis. Which is why today when waiting in a doctor's office, the New York Time's Magazine caught my attention. There on the front was that name. Kafka.

It turns out that the September 22, 2010, cover story is about the legal wranglings over Kafka's materials. Elif Batuman's article, Kafka's Last Trial, is rich with the history of Kafka's friendship with Max Brod; of Brod's disregard for Kafka's instructions to destroy all his writings upon his death; and of the travels those writings have taken since Kafka's death at age 41 in 1924.

While Batuman provides an insightful and interesting retrospective, Max Fisher gives this overview in his article Kafkaesque Court Fight over Kafka's Estate, printed in The AtlanticWire.

"One of the most frequent uses of the word "Kafkaesque," evoking the dark absurdity of Franz Kafka's fiction, is in reference to his 1925 novel The Trial, which describes an illogical and convoluted court case that stretches on forever. Now 85 years later, in exactly the kind of dark irony that Kafka would have appreciated, an international and deeply Kafkaesque court case has raged for 50 years over the ownership of a large piece of Kafka's papers."

I was unaware of this literary intrigue until today. More than reminding me of my school assignments, it has put a human face on a writer I once only thought of as weird.