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July 2007

Poetry Friday: Song of the Water Boatman

For the longest time I avoided Joyce Sidman's Song of the Water Boatman because I didn't get what it was about. At first glance I did not recognize the big duck foot on the cover and instead assumed it was some kind of expressionist abstract something. Wrong.

Song of the Water Boatman is about ponds, which I could have figured had I read the smaller print: & Other Pond Poems. But I missed that. I clued in once the picture book won a Caldecott honor and later when I read and liked Sidman's follow-up, Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, which won the Cybils poetry book of the year.

Junior and I are still working our way through Song of the Water Boatman, but I can tell you that 1. Beckie Prange's woodblock prints colored with water colors are beautiful, and 2. I love the science rendered as poetry. Junior is into catching tadpoles in a neighbor's pond this summer, so it's fun to recognize some of the creatures depicted here. (A water boatman is a bug, I discovered.) As in Butterfly Eyes, Sidman intersperses bits of factual information with the poetry.

Here is a brief excerpt from the poem "Song of the Water Boatman and Backswimmer's Refrain."

Down through the jolly waters green,
I stroke with legs both long and lean,
like a streamlined class-A submarine
...on a sunny summer's morning.

    Yo, ho, ho
     the pond winds blow
     and upside down in the way to go.

To read the rest, find a copy of this great summer book. Then head to your nearest pond.

Gwenda, at Shaken & Stirred, has the Poetry Friday roundup today.

Technical Aside: Fighting Spam

Because of a truckload of spam, I had to turn on comment moderation here at the blog. It's a bummer because I'd rather have the spontaneity of "live" comments, but if that's what it takes to keep the spammers at bay, I'll have to roll with it for now.

So, if you comment (and please do!), know that I will approve and publish your message as soon as possible.

"Reading Like a Writer"

"If the culture sets up a series of rules that the writer is instructed to observe, reading will show you how these rules have been ignored in the past, and the happy outcome. So let me repeat, once more: literature not only breaks the rules, but makes us realize that there are none."

—€”Francine Prose, in Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

Francine Prose is an advocate of close reading: word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, and so on. She talks about the craft of writing by choosing examples from her reading. The chapter "Words," for example, cites Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," Alice Munro's "Dulse," and Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, among many other excerpts. Prose, who has taught writing for many years, wants her students (and the rest of us) to read, read, read. "...I've always found that the better the book I'm reading, the smarter I feel, or at least, the more able I am to imagine that I might, someday, become smarter."

The idea of close reading is not new (we have T.S. Eliot, Robert Penn Warren, et al, to thank for that), but Prose presents her thoughts in a lively and accessible way, with plenty of citations from current literature (Junot Diaz, ZZ Packer, Deborah Eisenberg). Among its many merits, Reading Like a Writer makes a good gateway book: my library list expanded exponentially from all the tempting stories and novels mentioned.

"May I Pet Your Dog?"

I mention this new picture book by Stephanie Calmenson because it's a practical guide to a common situation. I have a boy who wants to meet and greet every canine in town, and I welcomed the reminders here about safety around unfamiliar dogs.

May I Pet Your Dog? reads like a beginning reader, and it's narrated by a dachshund. A typical sample goes, "Here comes my friend Twigs. Do you want to meet her? Ask her owner, 'May I pet your dog?' "

Readers will also learn what to do when a dog too shy to greet comes along and when a scared dog growls, how to give a treat, and to never go near a dog in a car or truck. Although my son has been around dogs a lot, I saw him apply some of Calmenson's tips after reading the book.

There's no big story line,  just  good advice. Jan Ormerod's simple illustrations clearly depict what the child should be doing in each situation described.

Monday Coffee Talk, June 25th

1. The June Carnival of Children's Literature went up on Saturday. Don't miss "Good News in the Kidlitosphere," over at A Year of Reading.

2. Last week Meg Rosoff's YA novel Just in Case won the Carnegie Medal in the UK (like the Newbery here), and Mini Grey's picture book Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon was awarded the Greenaway (akin to the Caldecott).  Details here. The public voted on their favourite winners of all time and chose Shirley Hughes' Dogger and Philip Pullman's Northern Lights.

3. Book Buds asks, "Is Jack Prelutsky the Joyce Carol Oates of kidlit?"

4. Nancy Pearl recommended "Great Opening Lines to Hook Young Readers," on NPR's "Morning Edition" today. Lisa Yee's novel Millicent Min: Girl Genius is on the list.

Multicultural Books, or Is "Whacking the Pinata" Necessary?

Today at La Bloga, bilingual-picture-book author René Colato Laínez continues a series of interviews with book-industry executives about cultural authenticity. He talks to Kent Brown, the publisher of Boyds Mills Press and Highlights magazine. Boyds Mills is publishing one of Laínez's new works—a fact I wish Laínez had acknowledged; still, the interview is a good one, and contains much food for thought.

[Brown]: What is lacking in a great many stories presented as multicultural is a perspective that lets the reader know more of unique cultural or accurate historical viewpoints.

[Laínez]: Are they full of stereotypes or misconceptions?

[Brown]: Well, the bad ones are.  And there are some instances where an accurate depiction, however accurate, may reinforce stereotypes.
Two examples:

I receive awful lot of stories about Mexican culture that has kids whacking a Piñata. Nothing wrong with this artifact of Mexican holiday celebration, but having stories about piñatas, over and over, as if that the only thing we might identify with Mexican tradition, subtly reinforces that Mexicans are a people who spend their time whacking piñatas.

Another common example: Chinese New Year. We did this in Highlights magazine. Has the advantage of being attractive to illustrate, picking the parade in San Francisco. Surely that is a part of Chinese (on Chinese-American culture and tradition). But its portrayal has the tendency over time to "teach" that Chinese people are people of big parades and big dragons.

Poetry Friday: Star Tile

Com12871_m At the British Museum's web site, I found a photograph of an antique star tile that carries a poetic inscription around its edges. Written in an Arabic script, this is the verse (and I've taken the liberty of breaking the anonymous translator's lines):

Last night the moon came to your house,
filled with envy I thought of chasing him away.
Who is the moon to sit in the same place  as you?

The words are by an unidentified Persian poet. According to the British Museum, "Love poetry is sometimes found on tiles in medieval Iranian shrines. The love it refers to is often the divine love described in Sufi mystical poetry."

You can find more bloggers sharing poetry at A Wrung Sponge's Poetry Friday roundup.

First Day of Summer

Yee ha! Happy summer, everyone.

It's the last day of school here in southern New England, and I have a list of little end-of-the-year gifts to pick up and deliver because why buy them ahead of time and be all organized and everything?

Librarians head to D.C. this weekend for the big American Library Association conference. The kidlit crew is meeting for drinks as well as celebrating the release of Mitali Perkins' new novel First Daughter. Dang. Wish I were there.

So, anyway, I must run, but here is a list of Karen MacPherson's summer reading recommendations. She writes about children's books for the Scripps news service.

Junior Recommends...

My 7-year-old son asked me to blog about a new picture book, Kid Tea. It arrived in a package of review copies from the publisher Marshall Cavendish, and caught Junior's eye immediately. Of course I said yes to his literary request.

Kid Tea opens with a two-page spread of a boy and a girl playing in the mud. (Glin Dibley is the illustrator.) Elizabeth Ficocelli writes,

Monday, fun day
mud-pies-in-the-sun day.
Brown and sticky,
hands are icky,
mud-is-on-my nose day,
squished-between-my toes day.

Then the next page says,

Dunk me in the tub, please,
for brown kid tea!

And, sure enough, the children are soaking in the bathtub and have turned the water brown. Tuesday brings purple popsicles and purple kid tea; as Junior reports, "There's a color for every day of the week," except for Sunday when the children go to church and don't get dirty. My son and his dad say that the words "have a good beat."

This is a book that Junior likes and thinks other children will, too.

Monday Coffee Talk, June 18th

Of all the new Beowulfs for children, Charles McGrath likes Michael Mopurgo's best. See his review in yesterday's New York Times Book Review for details. I do admire the way the NYTBR can snap its fingers and get someone like McGrath, its former editor and former second-in-command at the New Yorker, to write about children's books.

Another promising blog from School Library Journal made its debut last week: Nonfiction Matters. (Please, please, SLJ, get rid of that bouncing ad. It is interfering with the launch of the cool new content.) [Update: Tuesday, June 19: That ad is gone. Yay! You rock, SLJ.]

The deadline for submissions to the June Carnival of Children's Literature is tomorrow, June 19th. More info at A Year of Reading.