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Mississippi Desperation

After reading this editorial on Jackson Free Press blog, I, too, have copied it verbatim, without permission. It comes from the Sun-Herald, of South Mississippi; I hope the paper will forgive the copyright violation. It is a desperate cry for help. The Red Cross is taking donations, too.

From the Sun-Herald:

South Mississippi needs your help

The coastal communities of South Mississippi are desperately in need of an unprecedented relief effort. We understand that New Orleans also was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, but surely this nation has the resources to rescue both that metropolitan and ours. Whatever plans that were in place to deal with such a natural disaster have proven inadequate. Perhaps destruction on this scale could not have been adequately prepared for.

But now that it has taken place, no effort should be spared to mitigate the hurricane's impact.

The essentials -- ice, gasoline, medicine -- simply are not getting here fast enough.

We are not calling on the nation and the state to make life more comfortable in South Mississippi, we are calling on the nation and the state to make life here possible.

We would bolster our argument with the number of Katrina casualties confirmed thus far, but if there is such a confirmed number, no one is releasing it to the public. This lack of faith in the publics' ability to handle the truth is not sparing anyone's feelings, it is instead fueling terrifying rumors.

While the flow of information is frustratingly difficult, our reporters have yet to find evidence of a coordinated approach to relieve pain and hunger or to secure property and maintain order.

People are hurting and people are being vandalized.

Yet where is the National Guard, why hasn't every able-bodied member of the armed forces in South Mississippi been pressed into service?

On Wednesday reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High School shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw Air Force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics.

Playing basketball and performing calisthenics!

When asked why these young men were not being used to help in the recovery effort, our reporters were told that it would be pointless to send military personnel down to the beach to pick up debris.

Litter is the least of our problems. We need the president to back up his declaration of a disaster with a declaration of every man and woman under his command will do whatever is necessary to deal with that disaster.

We need the governor to provide whatever assistance is at his command.

We certainly need our own county and city officials to come together and identify the most pressing needs of their constituents and then allocate resources to meet those needs. We appreciate the stress that theses elected and appointed officials have been under since the weekend but they must do a better job restoring public confidence in their ability to meet this challenge.

This editorial represents the view of the Sun-Herald editorial board: President- Publisher Ricky R. Mathews, Vice President and Executive Editor Stan Tiner, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Flora S. Point, Opinion Page Editor Marie Harris, and Associate Editor Ed. Tony Biffle.

Paolini's Halo

Eldest, Christopher Paolini's follow-up to Eragon, is now on the bookstore shelves. USA Today profiles Paolini. The journalist Carol Memmott writes,

After the success of Eragon, critics and industry observers asked: Is Paolini the "next" J.K. Rowling? Paolini says the comparisons are "a great compliment, but I don't write books like hers."

Some people say they shouldn't be made at all.

"Any kind of comparison to Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling is unfair," says Joe Monti, a children's book buyer for Barnes & Noble. "He has his own little halo and glamour separate from Rowling."


My heart is broken, thinking of my home state and one of my favorite cities. Quiet Bubble writes that although power is out and there is some damage, Jackson is relatively okay. I know that there was at least one death there from storm damage, in the beautiful neighborhood of Belhaven, home to the late Eudora Welty.

About Last Night is still doing a magnificent job with hurricane coverage.

Back to book talk tomorrow. I promise.

Road Trippin' with Wanda and Jackie

The children's book author and illustrator Wanda Gag (1893-1946) is the subject of a new biography written by Gwenyth Swain. As reported by the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, Wanda Gag: Storybook Artist is  for middle-schoolers, and the story does indeed sound inspiring. Gag grew up quite poor and went on to write and illustrate many works for children. (Registration required for the Pioneer-Press.)

Given that quite a few Top 100 Children's Books lists include Gag's Millions of Cats, I was prompted to read it this summer and listen to  it on a book-on-tape on a long car ride with the family. So far, we're not clamoring for more Wanda, but I will take a look at the picture book classic again someday.

What we did like on our road trip was the storyteller Jackie Torrence's CD Classic Children's Tales, particularly "Three Billy Goats Gruff." Having enjoyed her warm voice and Southern cadences, I was  sad to discover that this gifted teller of tales passed away last November. She was only sixty. I'll see if our library has her B'rer Rabbit stories.


To all our friends and everyone else in New Orleans: We hope you are safe and dry and away from the path of the storm. The same to everybody on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and wherever Katrina is headed.

Interrupting their arts and cultural coverage at About Last Night, Terry Teachout and his colleague, Our Girl in Chicago, have an excellent post on Katrina, with links to breaking news and  to bloggers close to the hurricane.

Bug Life

If I lived in Chicago, I would look for the book Illinois Insects and Spiders, by Peggy Macnamara. The "editor's choice" in this morning's Chicago Tribune, this guide, evidently notable for its beautiful watercolor plates, is for the general reader, but I'd bet young bug enthusiasts would like to see it, too. (Registration required for the Trib.)

Around here, we usually have a tiny population of praying mantises, but frankly, our feelings are little hurt because so far this year they have shunned our yard. Thank goodness the dragonflies still find the place attractive. I can do without the yellowjackets, but Junior admires the ants greatly. A large green grasshopper likes to look at its reflection in the front window each evening; I wonder if he stays there all night. Daddy long-legs spiders and their kin also keep us company outdoors.  Don't get me started about the deer, the beautiful pests of the neighborhood.

In Class with Danitra Brown

The last week of summer vacation is bringing out the back-to-school theme everywhere, including book reviews. This morning the San Francisco Chronicle bundles up a package for us, led off by  a look at Danitra Brown: Class Clown, written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Regan McMahon, an assistant book editor at the Chronicle, writes that Grimes's novel for intermediate readers

...explores the everyday experiences and feelings of two African American girls: the exuberant, bespectacled, totally comfortable with herself Danitra and her more introverted best friend Zuri, our narrator, who has a tough time dealing with the world but gets through each day with Danitra's help.

In the same piece, McMahon also reviews Judy Sierra's Schoolyard Rhymes: Kids' Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing and Just Plain Fun, "with appropriately zany illustrations by Melissa Sweet."

Community Building

My father sent me the following list, which I traced to the Syracuse Cultural Workers publishing house, where it's available as a bookmark, card, etc., in English and  Spanish.  Dad's list helped inspire an activity that I will  post about soon. Thank you, Dad!

How To Build Community

Turn off the TV. Leave your house.

Greet people.

Look up when you’re walking.

Sit on your stoop. Plant flowers.

Use your library.  Play together.

Buy from your local merchants.

Share what you have.  Help a lost dog.

Take children to the park. Honor elders.

Support neighborhood schools.

Fix it even when you did not break it.

Have pot luck suppers. Garden together.

Pick up litter. Read stories aloud.

Dance in the street.

Talk to the mail carrier.

Listen to the birds. Put up a swing.

Help carry something heavy.

Barter for your goods.

Start a tradition. Ask a question.

Hire young people for odd jobs.

Organize a  block party.

Bake extra and share.

Ask for help when you need it.

Open your shades. Sing together.

Share your skills.

Take back the night.

Turn up the music.  Turn down the music.

Listen before you react to anger.

Mediate a conflict. Seek to understand.

Learn from new and uncomfortable angles.

Know that no one is silent though many are not heard.

Work to change this.


Starting Kindergarten

Mo Willems isn't the only "Sesame Street" alumnus writing books for children, of course.  Norman Stiles, former head writer for the PBS show, has penned On My Very First School Day I Met... Stiles, whose wife teaches kindergarten in Manhattan,  told USA Today's Bob Minzesheimer, "I wanted to do a joyful book that was fun and would relieve the tension [of the first day of school], if there was any, and open discussions with parents."

The USA Today article suggests other books for soon-to-be kindergarteners, too. My advice? Choose one carefully, and don't get carried away. (I say that because I am always getting carried away.) I regret reading any book to Junior before his first dental appointment when he was three. The dentist was so cool, with magic tricks, a trinket machine, and so on, that you'd barely know that he had examined Junior's teeth. One of the books (which I should have previewed before reading aloud) featured a kid who ran off down the street rather than going to the dentist.