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Anne Lamott's Lagniappe

Do pardon while I take a break from kid lit today.

Earlier this week some friends and I went to hear Anne Lamott read from her latest book of essays, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. Prior to the author's taking the podium, a Super Store representative must have announced 53 times that Ms. Lamott would be signing books afterward but not personalizing any messages. Armed with book bags and late-winter pallors, we evidently looked like a rowdy crowd who would any minute begin to chant, "Write my name! Write my name!"

As my friends and I expected, Anne Lamott is dry and funny in person. She read two essays from Grace (Eventually), "The Ski Patrol" and "At Death's Window." She got a lot of laughs from the first, but the second essay, which is about assisted suicide, did not connect with me. That one starts, "The man I killed did not want to die, but he no longer felt he had much of a choice." Given the seriousness of her topic, I found that beginning glib. Lamott said that she expected criticism for the piece, and several friends had urged her not to publish it. As much of a fan as I am, I agree. The 8-page essay with a self-referential opening falls short of conveying the subject's complexities and lacks emotional resonance.

I did buy the book a couple of days later, and am slowly perusing and enjoying the other pieces, which cover some familiar Lamott territory (her church, her writing life, her son). The author ended her appearance at the Super Store by reading Galway Kinnell's "Saint Francis and the Sow" (which can be found online at the Poetry Foundation's archive). When Lamott finished that poem, you could feel the audience's inaudible sigh, a recognition of Kinnell's art. Instead of inscribing our names in her books that evening, Anne Lamott gave us that, and it was a lovely gift.

Top Ten Books of the Week (Reading with a Second Grader)

1. My second grader likes picture books, so that's what we're reading much of lately. Kane/Miller sent me a review copy of Who's Hiding?, and the boy just thinks this book, which is really targeted at preschoolers, is the cat's meow. (Big A little a ran a thorough review back in January.) Junior likes the humorous animals and the bold graphics. With one sentence per page, the interactive book (you find the hidden creatures) is very easy for him to read, and he often chooses it for his school-mandated 15 minutes of reading time at home. He reads it quickly, so I urge him to seek out additional titles, too.

2. Which brings us to Rat Attacks. This one travelled home in the backpack from the classroom library, and Junior has kept it for a long time. I am so skanked out by rats that I have nothing to do with the book, about which Alibris says, "Discusses the history of rat attacks on humans and other animals as well as descriptions of rat species, their life cycle, and habitat." Part of a series, "Animal Attacks," aimed at reluctant readers  aged 9 to 12. So far I haven't seen the ones on tigers, coyotes, and sharks, and that's fine by me.

3. Moving right along, both of us read and enjoyed A Sock Is a Pocket for Your Toes, a rhyming picture book by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon, who has stopped by Chicken Spaghetti to visit and who blogs over at Liz In Ink. The sweet book, with whimsical illustrations by Robin Preiss Gleisser, encourages children to look at familiar objects in a different way. "A sock is a pocket for your toes,/a vase is a pocket for a rose." Perfect for kindergarten and perfect as an antidote for #2.

4. In the middle of allegedly getting dressed this morning, Junior sat down to examine Seashore, a DK Eyewitness Book that he got from Santa Claus and had heretofore spurned. Why, he can't possibly go to school; he needs to read! Right now! (I think he has Mom's number.) Santa found Seashore less frenetic than some other DK Eyewitness titles, and in fact it's a nice addition to the library for Beach School, the perfect hands-on school of my imagination.

5. Bunny Cakes, written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells. Surely you know bossy big rabbit sister Ruby and her brother, Max. There's now a whole TV show about them. Ruby wants to bake a cake for Grandma, Max keeps messing things up, Ruby keeps sending him to the store for more ingredients, Max doesn't communicate so well... We have almost worn this book out from repeated readings, and it recently made a reappearance in the beloved stack after a prolonged absence.

6. Swine Lake, written by James Marshall and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. My personal favorite book of the year so far; it was published in 1999. You'll have to trust me when I say that Swine Lake is about the transformative power of art. It's hilarious. The wolf, from the Three Little Pigs, goes to a ballet performed by porkers. Another one Junior chooses often for reading time.

7. The Story of Jaguar, by Jim Mezzanotte. A neat little book about the fancy auto, with photos, good suggestions for further reading and places to visit, web sites, and a glossary—all in 24 pages. Gareth Stevens publishes the "Classsic Cars" series, and Junior, who reads this independently, has already requested the ones on Thunderbirds and Porsches.

8. Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song, by Les Beletsky, has built-in recordings that you can play as you look at the pictures of different birds.  Since we're now participants in Cornell's Backyard FeederWatch program,  Beletsky's guide has come in handy, though I rely more on Roger Tory Peterson's Eastern Birds for identification. Our whole family loves watching the birds (and the squirrels and the deer) at the feeders, and I don't push the i.d. thing at all, lest I drain the fun out of the experience. Junior does enjoy playing the bird songs, though.

9. In the photo-essay/picture book Just for Elephants, Carol Buckley tells the true story of the arrival of a circus elephant, Shirley, at Tennessee's Elephant Sanctuary. Another elephant, Jenny, immediately recognizes her from their carny days. There  is joy, there is elephant trumpeting, there is an elephant sorority reunion.  Recommended by our friend P. at the library (thank you!), this book is one we'll have to buy for ourselves.

10.  Gina Wilson's Ignis, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, is a perennial favorite. A dragon must search for his inner fire. I used to have to read it to Junior; now he can read it himself.

Upcoming Kid Lit Carnival + What Is a Blog Carnival?

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Today is the last day for submissions to the March Carnival of Children's Literature, which takes place at the blog Midwestern Lodestar on Monday. Here are the details at Midwestern Lodestar.

A little more than a year ago, the author Melissa Wiley started the Carnival of Children's Literature.  Blog carnivals have been around the Internet for some time. A "carnival" takes place at one blog; it is a conglomeration of links (from many different blogs) to posts on a certain theme.  Children's books and reading are the focus of the Carnival of Children's Literature. Carnivals generally include one post from each blog who wants to join in.

Do you have a post on children's books or reading that you want everyone to see? Your blog does not have to focus solely on kid lit/children's books for you to participate. The theme of the post is what's important—children's books and reading. You can submit an entry (the URL for one post on your blog) to carnival host of the month, and in fact, Melissa set up a super easy device at the mega-blog-carnival site called Blog Carnival (catchy!) to simplify submissions. You can access that by clicking here.

Many bloggers have participated in past kid-lit carnivals, including but not limited to parents, teachers, librarians, scholars, homeschoolers,  illustrators, authors, editors, and various combinations thereof. So far no school principals that I know of, but we would certainly welcome Lamar J. Spurgle (of The Cut-Ups) and his ilk.

Some carnivals are put together by the same person each month (or week) and many are constructed by a rotating group of volunteers. The latter is the case for the Carnival of Children's Literature, which takes place monthly. Since she is the founder, Melissa coordinates the carnival hosting. I put together the  March 2006 carnival, and had a blast.

If you have any questions, please ask away. The comments are open and waiting. When I first started blogging, I was confused by any number of things, and asking questions is a good way to gain knowledge.  If you want to spread the word about the Carnival of Children's Literature, feel free to copy this post; please credit Chicken Spaghetti (no need to link back here, though).

Poetry Friday: Janet S. Wong

"When I was a child, I never thought I would be a poet. I hated poetry! I never imagined that I would be an author. I did not love books."

That delightfully honest beginning sets the tone for Before It Wriggles Away, a short autobiography that Janet S. Wong wrote for children. (The publisher gives the age range as 7 to 10.) After I read it, I thought, wow, this is the Bird by Bird for fourth-grade poets. (Do you know Bird by Bird, the guide to writing by Anne Lamott? Great book.) Janet Wong illuminates her writing process in a way that children will understand, and dispenses simple, helpful advice for young writers by sharing her personal story.

What was the turning point for the "regular kid" who became an attorney but wasn't happy with the law? She gives credit to her "great teacher," the poet Myra Cohn Livingston, and cites Livingston's Poem-Making as an influential book.

"Myra Cohn Livingston...showed me that I really didn't know enough about poetry to hate it. I thought I hated poetry, but what I hated was studying poems, picking them apart, trying to find a hidden meaning."

Won't kids be able to relate to that? The autobiography includes photographs of the author as a girl and shots of her today—visiting schools, reading, writing, hanging out with her husband and son. With National Poetry Month coming up in April, I'd be sure to read this one to the class if I were a teacher or school librarian.

Poets' autobiographies and books of letters have made up some of my favorite reading over the years. I happily add this one to the shelf with the others. You can visit Janet Wong's web site and read some of her work, and her books are available at online stores and in the library. Before It Wriggles Away is part of the "Meet the Author" series published by Richard C. Owen.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Inspires Kitchen Mess

Img_0126 Our house smells so good right now, like maple syrup, because we did it! We made maple candy just like Grandma Ingalls did in Little House in the Big Woods. The weather cooperated by providing us with fresh snow this morning. We boiled up maple syrup into the "soft ball" stage, which candy makers evidently know about, and which, by luck, we managed. Junior was great about stirring the syrup and then, when the big moment came, running outside for plates of snow. Because the mixture was so hot, I (not Junior) drizzled it onto the fluffy snow. And, lo, there was candy! The taste is subtle, a gentler maple flavor than I expected. Perhaps that's attributable to my store-boughten syrup; I don't know.

Our plan was to follow Grandma Ingalls's example and make maple sugar when our caImg_0128ndy syrup started to "grain." That was not to be; the potion burned. No flames, don't worry.  I should have turned down the heat, or congratulated myself on the first success and stopped.  Still, it was fun, and a good activity for a snowy day.  And our kitchen got very messy and sticky.

Img_0123 Here is the picture of a modern-day sugar house, at a local organic farm. You can click on the photo to enlarge it. Yesterday I wrote about some great books for children on maple sugaring, in addition to Little House.

An Explanation of Poetry Friday

For readers who hear talk about Poetry Friday and may not know what it is, here is an explanation.

Kelly Herold, who blogs at Big A, little a, brought Poetry Friday to the children's book blogging world. She had seen a similar tradition at some of the academic blogs.

At the end of the week  many children's book aficionados and bloggers contribute favorite poems or chat about something poetical in an event called Poetry Friday. At their own sites, people talk about both works for children and/or works for adults.  In the past I've written about rhyming picture books, posted links to poems at copyright protected sites, and rambled on about this or that tangentially related to poetry. Someone usually volunteers to round up all the posts on the subject, so that poetry aficionados can read more posts on a favorite subject. Today the round-up is at the blog A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy; that blogger will post something poetry-related and then she will list the others who are participating. Anyone can participate by leaving a link to one's own post, in the comment section at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy.

I advise adhering to copyright fair-use restrictions; if a poem is under copyright protection (and most contemporary ones are), I can quote only a couple of lines and then link to the rest of the poem. Otherwise, I am violating copyright. It is unlikely that a publisher's attorney will come after me if I post, say, a whole poem by Mark Doty (and I so admire Mark Doty's work), but that still wouldn't make it right. If I quote an entire poem, I am possibly depriving the poet of income from that poem.

Enough with the legal stuff!  I am going to concoct a more lyrically inclined post later, but wanted to encourage all readers interested in poetry to contribute to the conversation. The more, the merrier.

P.S., if you would like to spread the word about Poetry Friday, feel free to lift this entire post. That's what it's here for. I promise I won't come after you with a cease & desist order!

Maple Syrup Season

9781563978104 As I mentioned before,  Little House in the Big Woods is our latest read-aloud here at home. Although I didn't plan it, the timing is good because Laura Ingalls Wilder writes a lot about tapping maple trees and making maple syrup and sugar. That's exactly the season that our part of New England is nearing the end of. Last Sunday we went to a farm and saw the new-fangled shiny machine that has replaced the iron pot over the constantly burning fire for boiling down the sap. We may even get a chance to make our own maple candy soon; there's the possibility of six inches of snow before Saturday. (You boil down the syrup to a sticker version and then ladle it into a plate of snow, according to Mrs. Wilder.)

Ininatig's Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking, written by Laura Waterman Wittstock, concerns a modern-day Ojibway elder who still practices the old ways of setting up camp in the sugarbush each spring to make syrup. Wittstock also recounts the story of Ininatig, the "man tree" who helped a family survive the end of a treacherous winter. With maps, drawings, and photographs, this book clearly demonstrates the old craft and lovingly portrays the community of sugar makers. I read this one aloud too, as it's a little difficult (and long) for the average 7 year old reader.

Ininatig's Gift is part of a series called "We Are Still Here: Native Americans Today," put out by Lerner Publications. I've heard good things about Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters, and I'm also interested in Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition.

The Big Tree, written and illustrated by Bruce Hiscock, follows a maple tree over time from 1775 to the present.  You'll find tree-tapping descriptions in this colorful and appealing picture book, of course. By the way, we also like The Big Rock, and will hunt down The Big Storm and The Big Rivers, all by Hiscock.

Speaking of snow, I almost forgot to mention the delightful picture book Terrible Storm. Written by the late Carol Otis Hurst and illustrated by S.D. Schindler, it's a humorous account of the famous blizzard of 1888, which took place in, uh oh, March! Hurst tells it from the points of view of her grandfathers, who lived through the storm and told stories about it from there on out.