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April 2008
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June 2008

Poetry Friday: Seeking Recommendations for the Party People

The Friends group at my local library not only sponsors an enormous sale in July but also maintains book-sale shelves throughout the year. They raise a ton of money. The other day I lucked out, buying The Random House Book of Poetry for Children for only three dollars. I'm glad to have a copy of my own since this book gets recommended repeatedly when I talk to people about children's poetry. My first-grade reading buddies at a nearby city school liked hearing a couple of poems from the book, but two of the girls wanted a poem on 1) princesses, and 2) parties. I couldn't find much that fit the bill at quick notice. Parties have been a huge topic with the first-graders this year. We reminisce about birthdays, look forward to barbecues, and talk excitedly about festivities during their town's Puerto Rican Day parade. The children love to draw pictures of parties on their dry-erase boards after they write out some words from the books we read.

If any readers have suggestions of poems about parties or princesses, I'm all ears. The 811 section in the children's section of the library is vast, so poems from older books are fine, too. I'm not looking for poems at the kids' reading level necessarily but ones I could read to them. Short, funny, and relatively simple are especially welcome.

Read more poetry-related posts by visiting Wild Rose Reader's Poetry Friday roundup.

Graphic Novel Ideas

Here's an interesting article in the Star-Telegram about using graphic novels in the classroom; one Fort Worth teacher told journalist Sue Corbett that the genre "hooks my really strong readers and my struggling readers... They're just wild about them." If you've wondered about the genre, this is a good introduction.

Corbett's piece also mentions Toon Books, Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman's new line of comics for beginning readers. I haven't seen the books yet, but the word on the street is great. Also noteworthy, but not mentioned in the Star-Telegram article, are Innovative Kids' Phonics Comics, which fly off the shelves at our neighborhood school's library. Updated to add: Wait, wait! Perhaps I spoke too soon about the "great"ness of the Toon books; over at The Excelsior File, David E. wrote, "As comic books for emerging readers, these are fine. The problem I have is that they don't aspire to be anything more than comic book material, and to that end I find it hard to understand how they can justify their packaging and price." Read more from the always intelligent Mr. E. here.

Recently A Year of Reading, a blog written by two elementary-school teachers, devoted a week to discussing graphic novels. Begin with this post and keep reading for a good exploration of the subject.

Book Links, a publication of the American Library Association, offers a handy bibliography of graphic novels for younger kids.

Your Own Summer Reading List?

So, what's on your summer list? My mother tells me that schools are already out in my Southern hometown, and that got me to thinking about the subject.

When third-grade is done, Junior wants to start a collection of books by Patricia Polacco and hopes to read a new graphic novel in a favorite series, Sardine from Outer Space #5: My Cousin Manga and Other Stories. His school encourages everyone to read during vacation, but does not specify which books.

Maybe I'll pick up T.H. White's Once and Future King, which I avoided the summer it appeared on the tenth-grade reading list. Should I write a book report and email it in late...very, very, very late? Right now I'm into Selected Stories by Alice Munro. When I finished Jhumpa Lahiri's latest collection, Unaccustomed Earth, I knew I had to read something just as good or better next, so I turned to a master short-story writer. I'm not disappointed at all. In her review of The Progress of Love for the New York Times, Joyce Carol Oates wrote, "Like her similarly gifted contemporaries Peter Taylor, William Trevor, Edna O'Brien and some few others, the Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro writes stories that have the density—moral, emotional, sometimes historical—of other writers' novels." Amen to that.

The Selected Stories will keep me busy for a while, but what after that? My blogging pal Tanita S. Davis's young-adult novel, A La Carte, coming from Knopf in June, is definitely a must-read for me. Other suggestions are welcome. And I'm curious to hear what's on your summer list.

Poetry Friday: "Teaching Them a Thing or Two"

For Poetry Friday, it's my pleasure to share a poem by my friend Sherry Keller. This one comes from her chapbook "Drawn to Water." The poem's copyright belongs to Sherry, who generously granted permission to reprint it here. All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced without permission.

Teaching Them a Thing or Two

by Sherry Keller

Miss Fannie was my second cousin
though much older—in her fifties.
I was fourteen.
She pounded that piano as if she were trying
to kill it.
Tinny chords in a
mesmerizing miasma of
Roooock of Aaaaages.
Sleep inducing chinking chords so
slow molasses caught up to it.
I jittered.
I tapped.
I wanted it to move.
Church was boring enough
without Miss Fannie's arthritis-wracked fingers
sort of finding the notes in the
slowest progression of one note after the other possible.
It seemed like days,
then church was out.

My piano lessons progressed.
Week after week.
And then a miracle happened.
Miss Fannie was up north
to see her daughter.
Would I play for church today?
Here I go.
I won't be slow.
Rkuv Ages
at a steady clip.
I was bent
on keeping the beat.
They're straining,
they're sounding surprised.
I am determined not
to give in.
I finished
a whole measure ahead.

Sherry Keller lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband of 41 years, Tom. She has two grown children, Eric and Robyn, and an adorable 6-year-old granddaughter, Lily. She helps run the Constant Reader group on GoodReads. Many of her photographs are online here.

I thought of the teenage pianist in "Teaching Them a Thing or Two" as I read Note by Note: A Celebration of the Piano Lesson, by Tricia Tunstall, a longtime piano teacher. Last week Roger Sutton, editor-in-chief at The Horn Book, recommended this book (for grown-ups) at his blog, Read Roger, and readers chimed in with memories of lessons. Publishers Weekly said of Note by Note, "... for those tempted to dismiss this slim volume because they've never had a music lesson or read a score, this too short memoir offers a rare glimpse into a fascinating world." Note by Note has me thinking of piano lessons again after many, many years.

See Becky's Book Reviews for links to other Poetry Friday blog posts. (I'm posting early, but the roundup ought to be available by Friday morning.)

Reading Around, May 22nd

Snip, Snip! A Talk with Michael Rosen, the Children's Laureate of Britain, at the Poetry Foundation. Bruce Black (of the Wordswimmer blog) interviews the author.

"Exposed," by Emily Gould, at The New York Times Magazine (5/25/08). The perils of living your life online, by a former Gawker employee.

Blog watch: 1. The Book Bench, "Loose leafs from the New Yorker's Books Department." 2. Sentences, at Harper's Magazine. (via GalleyCat)

Lit Talk with an 8-Year-Old Boy

The scene: the dining room table, where books are piled at one end. The most visible is a paperback of "The Waste Land and Other Poems," by T.S. Eliot. The edition features a photograph of Eliot on the cover.

Dramatis personae: Junior and me

Junior: You know, if you spell that guy's name backwards, it's almost "toilet."

Me: Hmm.

Junior: Yeah. [Pause.] Who is that guy?

Me: T.S. Eliot. He was a famous poet.

Junior: Is he dead?

Me: Yes.

Junior [suspiciously]: Where's he buried?

Me: In England, I think. But he was American.

Junior: I don't see why they'd ever put the name "toilet" on a book.

Me: Most people don't read it backwards.

Junior: Oh. Yeah.

YA Awards & Blog Tours

The following books are semifinalists for the Independent Publisher Book Award in the best juvenile/young adult fiction category. Take a look at the entire list; there are several other groups of children's books vying for prizes. Winners will be announced at the BookExpo trade show, in Los Angeles, on May 29th.

Songs for a Teenage  Nomad, by Kim Culbertson (Hip Pocket Press)
Tips on Having a Gay (ex)  Boyfriend, by Carrie Jones (Flux)
The Ghost in Allie's Pool, by Sari Bodi (Brown Barn Books)
The Nightmare Tree, by Richard Rene (Coteau Books for Kids)
The Night Wanderer, by Drew Hayden Taylor (Annick Press)
Perch, Mrs. Sackets, Crow's Nest, by Karen Pavlicin (Alma Little)

Also, fans of young adult literature should know about the Summer Blog Blast Tour, a series of interviews with authors Laurie Halse Anderson, Barry Lyga, and Robin Brande, among many others. You'll find several picture-book people on the full schedule, too, which is at Chasing Ray.

Poetry Friday, May 23rd

Img_0596 On Fridays a number of the children's literature bloggers write about poetry, post original poems, or link to poems you can read online. Two days ago I recommended Secret Places, a picture-book anthology of poems for children. You can read that entry here.

Over at the blog Two Writing Teachers, you'll find a roundup of links to the other Poetry Friday posts today. At noon, there were already 33 entries.

Photograph: Fuzzy the backyard hen considers the teeter-totter.

Hip Hip Hurray for Hippos

Sandra Boynton's beloved counting book Hippos Go Berserk! was first published some thirty years ago, and while some new hippo-starring books don't quite reach the Boynton level of inspired insanity, they're appealing in their own way. They do tread some of the same ground, but surely there's room on the shelf for more hippopotami.  

Key Porter Kids, a Toronto-based outfit, has published a series of board booksOne Hippo Hops, Hip Hippos, and Sad, Mad, Glad Hippos—with simple rhyming texts by Jane Yolen. The first one, a counting book, begins, "One hippo hops. Two hippos jump. Three hippos jog. Four hippos bump." Gosh, now I've given away almost half the plot; there's only one sentence per sturdy page—which is just right for babies and toddlers, of course.

Drawimageaspx_3 Illustrator Vlasta van Kampen's lovable animals are the best part of the series. She uses watercolor to give her hippos depth and dimension. It's a fat, happy bunch (except in Sad, Mad Glad Hippos, which concerns feelings), whether they're crowded onto a sled in One Hippo Hops or trying on green dresses Hip Hippos (about colors). Lounging near the beach and batting her eyelashes at two fishermen, a hippo mermaid (in Hip Hippos) is priceless.

The  series would make good birthday presents for very little people, and if you really want to get hippo-crazy, you could add to the box such classics as Veronica, George and Martha, and You Look Ridiculous Said the Rhinoceros to the Hippopotamus. 

"Secret Places"

Img_0258 When I was four or five, I had a hideout in the front yard, behind a shrub and next to the front steps. With enough room for myself and a couple of stuffed animals, this little spot made an ideal retreat. The dirt was powdery and fine and comfortable to sit in; azaleas and other flowers grew nearby if I wanted to jazz up the decor. I could peak around the greenery and be available in a flash if anything interesting happened: my neighbors' arrival home from school, or the appearance of the "fog machine" (a city truck that sprayed insecticide for mosquitoes) on our street.

In the picture book Secret Places (Greenwillow, 1993), Charlotte Huck collected nineteen short poems about such "joyful places that we love intensely, or places of refuge where we run to hide, or places visited in our imaginations." The anthology came highly recommended by my son's third-grade teacher, who uses the poems here—by Aileen Fisher, Karla Kuskin, and David McCord, among others—as writing prompts for her class.  The titles of the works chosen by Huck—"The Maple," "A Path to the Moon," "The Chair House," "If Once You Have Slept on an Island"—indicate some of the irresistible locales that children claim as their own.   

An excerpt from Byrd Baylor's Your Own Best Secret Place captures the spirit of the Huck's book and of the long-ago places that I remember, too.

It was just
a sandy gully
cutting through
the hard
Texas earth,
but that gully
a whole world
by itself
and I was
the only

I checked out Secret Places from the library, and Junior and I looked at it together recently. Usually sparking with energy, my boy grew more and more still as I read, and kept asking me to continue. Having remembered the book from school, he wanted to hear every poem. I was happy to oblige.