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January 2008
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Tell Your Representative: Books Are Fundamental

The literacy organization Reading Is Fundamental needs our help. From its web site, a message from Carol H. Rasco, president and CEO:

"President Bush’s proposed budget calling for the elimination of Reading Is Fundamental’s (RIF) Inexpensive Book Distribution program would be devastating to the 4.6 million children and their families who receive free books and reading encouragement from RIF programs at nearly 20,000 locations throughout the U.S.

“Unless Congress reinstates $25.5 million in funding for this program, RIF would not be able to distribute 16 million books annually to the nation’s youngest and most at-risk children. RIF programs in schools, childcare centers, migrant programs, military bases, and other locations serve children from low-income families, children with disabilities, foster and homeless children, and children without access to libraries.  The Inexpensive Book Distribution program is authorized under the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (SEC.5451 Inexpensive Book Distribution Program for Reading Motivation) and is not funded through earmarks. It has been funded by Congress and six Administrations without interruption since 1975.

Continue reading the entire statement here.

It's been a busy week, but this is first on my to-do list tomorrow morning. Find information about contacting your Congressional representatives here.

Hat tip to Jen Robinson's Book Page for alerting us to RIF's plaint. 

Saturdays with the Flock: "Queenie: One of the Family"

Poultry_conventionUsed with permission, the photograph to the left is by Mitzi Cowart, one of my fellow poultry enthusiasts at I think it looks like a chicken convention. Isn't that rooster (in the middle) a beauty? A big thank-you goes to Mitzi.

The picture book of the day is Queenie: One of the Family, by Bob Graham. Caitlin's dad, an earring-wearing hipster, saves a chicken from drowning, and the family takes her home, where the little hen fits in fine. They name her Queenie. She belongs to a nearby farm, though, and Caitlin and her parents take her back to the rightful owners. Queenie returns their kindness by coming back each day "over the fence...along the path...through the woods" to lay an egg for her rescuers. Illustrated in Grahams's humorous cartoon style, this cheerful story is a bit too convoluted to share the pinnacle with the author's well-crafted Oscar's Half Birthday, published 8 years later, but young readers will root for Queenie all the way. The school library copy we borrowed is well-loved and worn.

My own little backyard flock of two hens is doing well, having sorted out their roommate differences. When a new chicken is introduced to the existing ones, they really do go through a pecking-order initiation. It's not easy to watch. Fuzzy the resident hen was very territorial about everything, from the food bowl to individual blades of grass, and reminded Lovey, the new one, of her place by pecking her. A lot. Eventually I gave them a joint project: a spaghetti squash to attack and eat, which they did with relish. After that, things settled down considerably. Fuzzy is the queen of the coop, and Lovey is blooming as the princess, growing in confidence each day.


Queenie: One of the Family
written and illustrated by Bob Graham
Candlewick Press, 1997
ISBN-13: 978-0763614003

Poetry Friday: The Neuroscience of Mother Goose

Anna Maria she sat on the fire;
The fire was too hot, she sat on the pot;
The pot was too round, she sat on the ground;
The ground was too flat, she sat on the cat;
The cat ran away with Maria on her back.

There's no shortage of Mother Goose books on the market. Two that I like are Tomie dePaola's Mother Goose and Rosemary Wells' Here Comes Mother Goose. (The rhyme above comes from the dePaola book.) While I have only one of these on hand at the moment, I'd think there's some overlap; both author-illustrators use Iona and Peter Opie's classic versions of the rhymes. (The Opies, a husband-and-wife team, interviewed thousands of children and compiled The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, among many other titles.) The pictures are distinctly dePaola and Wells, and such visual treats.

I've had Mother Goose on my mind since I've been reading Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, by Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive scientist and professor of child development at Tufts. Her book looks at how children learn to read—or, in some cases, why they don't learn to read. (I've not gotten to the dyslexia part yet.) Early language development is the most important precursor to reading, Wolf states. ("Early" refers to early in a child's life; she's not using it in the sense of "premature.") I was fascinated to hear what she has to say about nursery rhymes' contribution to the young child's reading brain. Keeping in mind that an example of a phoneme is just the /p/ sound in "pot," listen to this:

In addition to writing [with invented spelling, mentioned earlier in the book], there are other, equally entertaining ways to help children develop an awareness of phonemes. Mother Goose is one. Tucked inside "Hickory, dickory, dock, a mouse ran up the clock" and other rhymes can be found a host of potential aids to sound awareness—alliteration, assonance, rhyme, repetition. Alliterative and rhyming sounds teach the young ear that words can sound similar because they share a first or last sound.

No wonder reciting poetry helped some six year olds with dyslexia! That was the subject of a study I mentioned last summer. I've also noticed that some of my first-grade friends who struggle with reading do not know what a rhyme is.

Based on what I've read so far, I highly recommend Proust and the Reading Brain. Parents, classroom teachers, reading specialists, and everyone interested in children's literacy will find it particularly relevant. Kids will turn the pages of the dePaola and Wells books with glee because the rhymes are fun to hear and the pictures are delightful.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at AmoXcalli.

More Natasha Trethewey

Don't miss the current issue of the online journal Bookslut, where you'll find a good interview of the poet Natasha Trethewey, the Emory professor who won a Pulitzer for her collection Native Guard.  Wendy Anderson asks, "Do  you think a lot of people today live lives bereft of poetry?" Trethewey answers,

I try to inculcate in my students a love for  poetry, so that when they leave the class they think they like it.

One of the most wonderful things happened to me. I had a reading in Charleston, North Carolina [after she won the Pulitzer], and my husband went with me -- it was my birthday. We needed maintenance on the air conditioner of our hotel. A man came and fixed it, and waited with us for 10 to 15 minutes to see if it would kick in. We had a bottle of champagne a friend had sent, and this man asked about it. My husband told him, and he was very impressed. He opened my book to my poem “Incident.” He looked at it and read it out loud. Then he put it down and folded his hands in front of him, and recited Countee Cullen’s "Incident" [a short, powerful poem from 1925 that still resonates, about an African-American boy remembering only of his visit to Baltimore that a white boy he smiled at called him a derogatory name]. I found that stunning. This guy carried around in his memory that poem. I like to think lots of people carry around poetry.

As I noted before, Trethewey writes for adults, not children, but I think that teenagers would be interested in her work.

Thanks to the blog Quiet Bubble, for alerting readers to this interview.

Buzz, Buzz

MotherReader is thinking about the differences between fiction and nonfiction picture books and how some titles toe the line between the two categories. Being certain that a book is nonfiction, she says, is "certainly easy when your book is titled Bees and it's all facts about, you know, bees."

Her comment sent me scurrying to the shelves for Honeybees, written by Deborah Heiligman and illustrated by Carla Golembe. Sporting good information and lots of bright colors, it's a picture book that my son and I read often a few years back. Bees haunted Junior's preschool playground in the summer, and he was terrified of them—and found them endlessly compelling and worthy of many conversations. He still can watch those honeycomb things with live bees that you see in nature centers forever. I bet that when he spots Honeybees this afternoon, he'll want to read it again.

Honeybees is straight-up nonfiction; it's not one of those line-toers that MotherReader mentions. For more facts, don't miss the Nonfiction Monday roundup at Picture Book of the Day, which will be posted later this afternoon.

by Deborah Heiligman
National Geographic Society, 2002; 2007 (paperback edition)
32 pages
ISBN: 9781426301575

Poetry Friday: Quilt Alphabet

Quilt Quilt Alphabet
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
illustrated by James E. Ransome
Holiday House, 2001
32 pages
ISBN: 0-8234-1453-1

This morning as I was sitting in the aisles and reading shelving books at Junior's school library, I came across a beautiful volume of alphabet poems. I knew this husband-and-wife team's work from a later picture book, Quilt Counting, which is equally appealing. In the abecedarian book, each letter is represented by a quilt square, and each poem is a riddle, containing clues to what an accompanying illustration shows. With one or two exceptions, four to six year olds should be able to guess the answers quickly from James Ransome's vivid pictures. Take "T," for example: 


Push Pull Plow Plant
Trudging through the land
Heave Haul Heft Heap
A farmer's helping hand

Looking at the illustration, a young listener can tell immediately identify the machine plowing rows of earth: tractor! Of course.

In keeping with the quilt theme, the book's setting is rural, and it evokes a warm-colored, Vermonty-looking life: apples, cows, fresh eggs, jack o'lanterns, and brilliant yellow leaves. I have to return Quilt Alphabet to the library next week, but it's one I'll definitely pick up again for a baby gift or kindergartener's birthday present.

For more verse talk among the children's book bloggers, see the Poetry Friday roundup at Karen Edmisten's place.