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October 2007

Rainy Day

It's cool and rainy in our corner of New England today. Six years ago on another Tuesday the air was crisp and the sky a brilliant blue. Junior was just a wee fellow, and we had been up for quite a while when a friend called to tell us what was happening in New York. "Was it an accident?" I remember asking. I turned on the TV briefly, then shut it off. But too late to block the terrible images.

Later I heard the news over the radio that the second tower had fallen. People called all day long to check on us as we are not far from the city. Many friends commute daily into New York for work. Many still live there. Our little family was fine. The people we know who worked in and went to school downtown got out safely. Maybe they're telling their stories of that day right now; maybe they're not.

In the afternoon Junior and I went down to the beach. I looked up at the beautiful blue sky, which was empty of air traffic. Junior played at the playground. I couldn't quit looking up, even as I walked, and actually slammed my head on the monkey bars by mistake. When I lived in New York, I used the World Trade Center towers to orient me on my walks, on exits from the subway, any time I needed a quick check of direction. So did everybody else.

Usually we see a lot of planes here, particularly at night. We're on the flight path from JFK to Europe. We often mistake the aircraft lights for stars. For, what was it, a week?, we saw only the moon and the real stars.

In memory of all the voices that were silenced that day, I'll look up tonight and feel grateful for the twinkling lights. If it's still cloudy, I'll do it tomorrow. It's not much.


Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature, Westport, Conn.

The always entertaining Rabbit Hill children's books festival takes place Thursday through Saturday, October 25-27th. This year's edition, "Imagined Worlds," looks at fantasy and features the writers Jeanne DuPrau, Gail Carson Levine, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Rick Riordan, and Neal Shusterman, among others. Leonard Marcus gives the opening address on Thursday evening, October 25th, at the Westport Library, which sponsors the entire convocation. 

From personal experience I highly recommend the tour of Weston Woods Studios on Friday morning, October 26th. That's the outfit—and division of Scholastic—which turns so many good children's books into DVDs and sound recordings. The studios are in nearby Norwalk, about ten minutes from the Westport Library. On Friday evening you can dine with the writers, and Saturday is devoted to symposia by the various writers. All events, except for the dinner and Saturday's lunch, are free, but registration is required. I'm hoping to attend several of the festival offerings.

For more information, visit the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature web site.


The Chicken Gazette: Loretta Crowed

At least we think she did.  Yes, it was awkward, and yes, it could have been a prolonged squawk. Or cough.  ("What was that?" my son asked.) I don't know. More observation is necessary. Hens do not crow.

Back in August I brought four chicks home to live in the yard in a compact little coop and run. Eggs, fresh eggs are what I was after. All the chicks were supposed to be pullets, but the seller said something along the lines of don't get mad at me if they're not. Not a commercial hatchery, needless to say.

Ever since she was a wee chick, I have suspected that Loretta may be a rooster. Her wattles started growing in before everyone else's, even though she was younger than the rest.  She is fond of the flying chest butt with the other chickens. She used to take off like lightning.

Hmm. Perhaps a Rhett is among us?

On the other hand, Loretta (a Black Orpington) is not much of a leader as roosters usually are. That falls more to the Barred Rock Petunia, but perhaps that's just the seniority effect. (The other Barred Rock, Bossy, is the most cautious, which sort of explains her reluctance to free-range last week.) Fuzzy, the Blue Orpington, is the trail-blazer: the first to try yogurt, the first to roost in the rhododendron bush (and the last to leave it), the first to sample grape tomatoes, now a favorite treat.

While we keep close tabs on Loretta,  I can with certainty recommend a picture book: Zinnia and Dot, by Lisa Campbell Ernst. Zinnia and Dot are two fat hens who argue about everything. They've lived together forever but never particularly liked each other. But! An intruder into the coop brings the two together, reluctantly at first, then with growing camaraderie. The picture of the two clucksters sharing nesting duties is worth the trip to the library. Dot looks to be a Barred Rock, by the way, and Zinnia a Rhode Island Red—and definitely both are hens.


Poetry Friday: The Place My Words Are Looking For

The Place My Words Are Looking For:
What Poets Say About and Through Their Work

selected by Paul B. Janeczko
Bradbury Press, 1990
ISBN: 0-02-747671-5

I am loving this anthology of poetry for children, which came highly recommended by my friend Ms. C at the library. It's a perfect Poetry Friday book. Not only is there a range of work by wonderful writers, but the editor Paul Janeczko also includes short prose pieces from many of them about their poems or why they write. Younger children will enjoy many of the poems here, but the book is really meant for a somewhat older reader, aged 10 or 11 and up.

You'll come across William Stafford, Bobbi Katz, X.J. Kennedy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Gwendolyn Brooks, John Updike, Myra Cohn Livingston, and many other names. When Junior comes home from school today, I'm going to read him J. Patrick Lewis's "Mosquito," which begins:

I was climbing up the sliding board
When suddenly I felt
A Mosquito bite my bottom
And it raised a big red welt.
So I said to that Mosquito,
"I'm sure you wouldn't mind
If I took a pair of tweezers
And I tweezered your behind?"

Lewis says of the poem, "...[I]nstead of trying consciously to discover what appeals to a third grader's mysterious mind, I'm more likely to write a poem as seen through the eyes of a giraffe, a crocodile, maybe even a blue-footed booby."

My inner twelve year old guffawed at the deadpan examination of boy-girl differences in "What I Remember About the 6th Grade," by Mark Vinz. The second stanza goes,

The Scarlet Tanager edged out the Wood Duck
in our balloting for the State Bird
because the girls liked red and organized.
I voted for the Bluejay or maybe the Loon.
Weird Charlie voted for the Crow.

Isn't it great to have the weekend ahead and a good book to read? Now I'm going to run so I can sneak in a few more pages of The Place My Words Are Looking For.

Friday is the day when lots of the children's literature bloggers talk about poetry. Semicolon rounds up all the Poetry Friday posts this week. If you want to know more about Poetry Friday, check this article at the Poetry Foundation. To volunteer for roundup duties, see Big A, little a, the blogger who started the tradition in the kidlitosphere.


The Thursday Reader, 9.06

"Fighting Over Deck Chairs: Print vs. Online," at The Millions

"Little Australians need more than Harry Potter," at the Sydney Morning Herald

Five books editor Sam Tanenhaus (New York Times Book Review) thinks all reviewers should have in their libraries, at Critical Mass. (I hope Critical Mass will ask Julie Just this same question. It would be fun to hear what the NYTBR children's books editor thinks.)

Adam Gopnik eats local—in New York City, at The New Yorker

More problems of the "Shattered Glass" ilk for The New Republic, at Vanity Fair

Terry Teachout on Arthur Miller and artists' "dirty moral laundry," at About Last Night

Former Gawker writer regrets snark, endured harsh treatment from anonymous readers, at Women's Wear Daily (via Romenesko)

Booker Prize shortlist, at The Guardian

"Creating Readers: Part I," at Teacher Magazine (via The Miss Rumphius Effect)


Ocean Housekeeping: Get Involved, Sept. 15

0618581316 Tracking Trash: Flotsam Jetsam, and the Science of
Ocean Motion

by Loree Griffin Burns
Houghton Mifflin, 2007
ISBN-13: 9780618581313
For readers aged 10 and up

One of the year's best books for children is Loree Griffin Burns' Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion. Burns writes about a scientist who studies ocean currents by keeping tabs on "flotsam and jetsam, floating trash that falls or is thrown from ships at sea." Augmented by full-color photographs, discussions of giant sneaker spills, masses of plastic netting bigger than school buses, and a Pacific ocean garbage dump the size of Alaska clearly illustrate not only water-current patterns but also the enormous toll that pollution is taking.

Some 80% of the Garbage Patch's contents comes from materials that wash into our oceans from land-based rivers and storm drains. (The Garbage Patch, by the way takes a week to get through by ship.) "What can I do?" a reader is likely to respond. Reduce, reuse, recycle, of course, and more. Loree is a blogging friend, and through her site, I found out about International Coastal Cleanup Day, scheduled in most places for Saturday, September 15th. You can find a cleanup site near your home, at the Ocean Conservancy's web site. The organization Save the Sound is coordinating all the efforts in Connecticut, for example.


25+ Great Science and Nature Books for Five to Eight Year olds

In the last two years, I've written about many science and nature books for five to eight year olds. The following list contains links to the Chicken Spaghetti reviews, some of which are lengthy and some only a sentence or two. (The info in parentheses indicates when I wrote about the book.) All of the books on the list are kid-tested and kid-approved by my resident junior scientist, now a third-grader.

Beetle, by Rebecca Stefoff (June 2006)

Bird books for children (June 2007)

Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song (February 2007). For older kid readers and adults.

Books from various National Science Teachers Association lists. Comments on Compost! Growing Gardens from Your Garbage; Lightning; Tornadoes; All About Deer; From Caterpillar to Butterfly; Honeybees; Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds. (May 2005)

Brief reviews of An Egg Is Quiet; Volcanoes and Earthquakes; The Magic Schoolbus: Inside a Hurricane; If a Dolphin Were a Fish; Compost Critters; Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow (December 2006)

Busy, Busy Squirrels (May 2007)

Caves: Mysteries Beneath Our Feet, by David L. Harrison (September 2005)

Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool (July 2007)

Danger: Earthquakes, by Seymour Simon (October 2006)

A Gathering of Garter Snakes, by Bianca Lavies (August 2005)

Hello Fish! Visiting the Coral Reef, by Sylvia Earle. (June 2005)

It's an Amadillo! by Bianca Lavies (June 2006)

Little Lost Bat, by Sandra Markle (November 2006)

Maple-sugaring books: Ininatig's Gift: Traditional Native Sugarmaking, and The Big Tree (March 2007)

A miscellaneous roundup, including Big Bugs; Dive! A Book of Deep Sea Creatures; and Shadows of Night: The Hidden World of the Little Brown Bat (April 2006)

One-line reviews of The Seaside Switch; Shells! Shells! Shells!; One Small Place by the Sea; Once Around the Sun (July 2007)

Our Seasons, by Grace Lin (November 2006)

Rat Attacks (March 2007)

Recycling and garbage. Brief reviews of a few books. (September 2005)

Sea Critters, by Sylvia Earle (August 2006)

Sea Stars: Saltwater Poems (December 2006

DK's Seashore (March 2007)

Seeds, by Ken Robbins. Brief review. (August 2005)

Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline B. Martin (January 2006)

Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems (June 2007)

Starting Life: Ladybug (March 2006)

Super Storms, by Seymour Simon (October 2006)

Tentacles!: Tales of the Giant Squid (August 2006)

Terrible Storm (March 2007)

Volcano books (April 2007)

Why Do Snakes Hiss? (September 2006)

The Works: Anatomy of a City. For adults; good for read-alouds to children interested in science and engineering, too. (January 2007)