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October 2008
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December 2008

Poetry Friday: A Bill Peet Picture Book

I like Bill Peet's goofy picture books. The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock still makes me laugh until I cry. The visual joke in that book ranks right up there with the chicken with the egg in its britches in Judi and Ron Barrett's Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing. The wordplay is pretty dang funny, too. "But this was an entirely different tail..."

For many years Peet (1915-2002) was Disney's top animator. From the Bill Peet web site I learned that he did all the storyboards for both "The Sword in the Stone" and "One Hundred and One Dalmatians"—the only "story man" in Disney history to accomplish such a solo feat. He also wrote some thirty books for children. An exhibit of his work, "The Bill Peet Storybook Menagerie," is currently running at the Art Institute of Chicago through next May.

My Poetry Friday selection is from Kermit the Hermit, about a crotchety crab who hoards junk so that no one else can have it. Not all of Peet's picture books rhyme, but this one does. Kermit has his reasons for his selfishness; alas, the reasons eventually become plain old excuses.

And his cave was soon crammed without one inch to spare
There was just enough space left for Kermit in there.
Like any old miser he wanted a lot
Of something or other, he didn't care what;
And he'd have been greedy the rest of his days
If an odd twist of fate hadn't changed Kermit's ways.

Kermit is in for some big adventures, not to mention redemption. But I'll let y'all read the book to find out the particulars. While you're in the library's Peet section, check out Prewitt, too.

Yat-Yee Chong's blog will have a list of all the Poetry Friday particpants at some point today. Not familiar with the Poetry Friday? Everyone is welcome, and you can read more about the tradition here.

The Little Red Hen, and Other Chickens

IMG_0873 If you have come here very sensibly looking for children's literature information, I have a book for you: The Little Red Hen, by Paul Galdone. Esme Raji Codell recommended seeking out Galdone's versions of folk tales, and our family likes this one very much."...[T]he little red hen had to do all the housework," and her lazy housemates don't help out. We are always tickled at the illustration of the dog lying in a hammock and dreaming of bones.

In news of our own backyard chickens, Fuzzy the Hen is having some constitutional problems. Chickens need free-speech protection, too. Ha. Just kidding. Not that kind of Constitution. She is a wee bit under the weather, and it has been hard to figure out what is wrong exactly. She molted (lost her feathers) a few weeks ago, and is still missing a tail. Aside from the fact that she looks oddly abbreviated, that is not the problem.

I actually took Fuzzy to the vet, where she panted dramatically and flapped her wings in the face of the startled receptionist, who was attempting to weigh her. "I'm dying I'm dying you are trying to kill me I just know it!" I am used to the wing-flapping; it's like being caught up in the wind caused by a helicopter. Those wings can stretch out pretty big.

I left the vet with a hole in my pocket. I expected that. I once owned a sweet cat who was both asthmatic and diabetic; I know about holes in the pocket. Practical people do not take a chicken who cost all of $5 to the vet. Whatever.

So I am now giving Fuzzy a dropper-ful of medicine once a day. She does not care for it. Unless the liquid drops onto the ground and looks like something else. Oh, I see a slug! Maybe a worm! Then she'll sample the concoction. She may need some minor surgery. Braver chicken owners than I often perform the surgery themselves. Even the stitches. However, I will make peace with a hole in the other pocket before I do that.

Fuzzy's coop-mate, Lovey, is looking better than ever. We compliment her on her hair-do every day. All it took to restore the coif to its former lustrous glory was a molt. Cross your fingers that Fuzzy returns to her lustrous glory soon, too.

The photo of the two chickens was taken last summer.

Zoom, Boom, Huh?

Zoom! Boom! Bully is a 24-page beginning reader in a series called Jon Scieszka's Trucktown. Scieszka, the author of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, is also known for  1. serving as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and 2. founding Guys Read, which promotes boys' literacy.

Zoom! Boom! Bully opens with a smiling red truck named Jack. With his rear end in the air, he unloads four barrels. They appear to go every whichaway. Big Rig, a grimacing blue eighteen-wheeler, then smashes through the barrels. "Zoom! Boom!" A pink truck, sporting eyelashes on her headlights and a horn that looks like a bow, comments about Big Rig, "He is such a bully."

More vehicles assemble items, with the same results by Big Rig. Splinters of a crate fly apart; tires bounce akimbo. However, it turns out that the other trucks were making a birthday cake for Big Rig. That's what all those things were for.

Big Rig speeds off with the cake (made of barrels, crates, tires, and concrete) on his flat bed. He jack-knifes, and somehow crashes through the cake. "...this was my best birthday ever!"

The Level 1 reader aims for "recognizing words," with "word repetition, familiar words and phrases, and simple sentences." Those elements? Check. But why are the trucks making a birthday cake for a bully? How can they use ingredients that have been zoomed and boomed? No check for the storyline, which could have used a good tune-up.

Zoom! Boom! Bully is a nominee in the Easy Reader category for the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils).

One Fish, Two Fish, Create a New Fish

Over at the blog LaPaz Home Learning, you'll find some terrific ideas for creating creatures inspired by Dr. Seuss books. A Montessori-inclined home-educator, Theresa posts generous details and photographs of her children's learning experiences. Her easily assembled "Dr. Seuss Creature Creator" set-up looks like so much fun that we're going to try it soon. Do read the follow-up post, too, to see the actual Seussian animals that were made. When I read the La Paz entries, I am reminded of how far a little prep work can go.

Speaking of prep work, lots of it in another case, I located the Dr. Seuss Cake Challenge from the Food Network earlier this year. Many thanks to Sara Lewis Holmes for pastry tip.

On the Books, with Susanna Reich

9780618714704_hresfrontier Susanna Reich's new book, Painting the Wild Frontier: The Art and Adventures of George Catlin, tells of the "premier nineteenth-century painter of Native Americans." Originally trained as a lawyer, the Pennsylvania-born Catlin made his way not only to the American West but also, eventually, to Europe and South America, all in the name of art—and commerce. It's an engrossing, true story about "a complicated period of American history." 

This morning Susanna stopped by Chicken Spaghetti to say hello, winding down her blog tour for the book. Of course, I had a question for her, "What are you reading lately?"

Like most authors, I'm a voracious reader. I start my day with the New York Times Book Review, which I read while I'm having breakfast. It helps me keep up with what's being published and with the different approaches that writers are taking. I learn all kinds of interesting things about a wide range of nonfiction topics, and I hear what critics have to say about the latest novels. 

I end my day with children's and YA books, both new and old. There's always a big pile on the bedside table. I'm currently reading Impossible, a YA suspense/fantasy/romance novel by Nancy Werlin. Other fiction favorites I've read recently: Alabama Moon, by Watt Key, Dogsong, by Gary Paulsen, and Peeps, by Scott Westerfeld. In nonfiction, I just finished Minders of Make-Believe, by Leonard Marcus, a fascinating history of children's literature in the U.S. And I enjoyed Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku, by Ellie Crowe, illustrated by Richard Waldrep, and We Are the Ship, by Kadir Nelson.  I've also been poring over Ed Young's beautiful collage illustrations for the picture book, Wabi Sabi, by Mark Reibstein. What an amazing artist.

When I go on vacation, I like to take a break from children's books. This year I read an ARC [advance reading copy] I picked up at ALA [American Library Association], The Toss of a Lemon, by Padma Viswanathan. It's a multi-generational novel set in southern India.  Perfect for getting totally immersed in a different time and place.

A note for those in the New York area: Susanna will be talking about George Catlin at the Borders in Mount Kisco, New York, on November 16th at 2. Read more from the Painting the Wild Frontier blog tour at Becky's Book Reviews, Tales from the Rushmore Kid, Mitali's Fire Escape, Original Content, and One Book Two Book. November is American Indian Heritage Month; read more about that here.

Additional posts about nonfiction books for children can be found at Picture Book of the Day.

I'm Calling from Eudora Welty's Basement

Eudora welty house photos2 001Once, while leading a tour of Eudora Welty's house in Jackson, Miss., docents and their group had to wait out a tornado warning in the historic home's cellar. One woman, evidently unfamiliar with the fact that one should never fuss with Mother Nature, was reluctant to troop down the stairs, but finally persuaded by her hosts' gracious insistence, she relented. The first thing she did upon entry was to fish out her cell phone and dial up a friend, saying, "I'm in Eudora Welty's basement."

That was one of several delightful anecdotes I heard on a morning tour of Eudora Welty's house in Jackson's Belhaven neighborhood. The house has been restored to look the way it did in the 1980s, when Welty, who died in 2001, was still working—as if "she just stepped out to go to the grocery store." Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable sits next to her reading chair in the living room, books sprawl over part of the sofa, and a framed fan letter from E.M. Forster hangs in the sitting room. Her literary prizes will eventually be displayed in the visitors' center next door; she did not  put them up on the walls of her home. After she died and the house was being prepared for restoration, her Pulitzer Prize (for The Optimist's Daughter) was found in a cardboard box in a closet. 

Eudora welty house photos 002  Built by her parents, 1119 Pinehurst Street was Eudora Welty's home for 76 years. She was sixteen when the family moved in. Her high-school graduation tea was held in the Camellia Room, or the side yard, while the house was being finished. (That's the side porch, on the left, which is near the camellia bushes, one of which can be seen on the right.) Although she travelled widely, Welty lived here permanently from the time her father took ill in the Depression and she came home from New York, where she had been studying business at Columbia. (She already earned an undergraduate degree from Wisconsin.)Eudora welty house photos 010

Along with the many books in the living room is an upright Steinway piano (pronounced "pee-anna," if you're from Jackson), which came from the family's first home, on Congress Street. (I couldn't take a picture of the piano; no photography is allowed inside the house.) It seems that Mrs. Welty felt that young Eudora ought to take music lessons, but both the lessons and the instrument were expensive. So, Mrs. Welty bought a cow, and sold milk in the neighborhood, which Eudora delivered. That raised enough money for Eudora's musical education.

Eudora welty house photos 008 At the back of the property is the boys' clubhouse, which belonged to Welty's two brothers. Welty used to go back there to chew gum, which her mother didn't care for. You can kind of see the club house in the picture on the left, which is taken from the rose garden.

Eudora welty house photos 011 On the right is a photograph of the new visitors' center, formerly just the house next door. The Eudora Welty Foundation's offices are in this building. Before the neighbors' house was acquired, visitors had to sit in the author's garage to watch a DVD about her life and work. There are still a couple of bottles of bug spray on a shelf in the movie room, perhaps left over from those days. Incidentally, the whereabouts of Welty's last car are known, and some would like to see the auto back in its rightful place, now that there's space again in the garage.

On the sleeping porch, I did spot the set of Our Wonder World, the children's books that Welty refers to in her memoir, One Writer's Beginnings. (I mentioned those books last spring.) You can see the sleeping porch's four windows in the view of the house from the back, below left; the room is on the second floor, on the left-hand side. Like other houses built in the 1920s, the Weltys' home had no central air-conditioning. In fact, only one room in the house, the sitting room, even had a window unit later on; Welty's nieces called it "the cool room."

Eudora welty house photos 006I counted several works by V.S. Pritchett in the Pinehurst collection. Welty and the English author and literary critic became friends after she had reviewed his work. Writing about Pritchett's Selected Stories for the New York Times Book Review, Welty said, "Each story's truth is distilled by Pritchett through a pure concentration of human character. It is the essence of his art. And, of course, in plain fact, and just as in a story, it is inherent in the human being to create his own situation, his own plot. The paradoxes, the stratagems, the escapes, the entanglements, the humors and dreams are all projections of the individual human being, all by himself alone." If you're ever in Jackson, my hometown, I recommend paying a call on the Eudora Welty House to see where short-story master and novelist created her own situation and her own plot. The basement isn't usually part of the guided tour, but if you come in the spring (tornado season), you never know.

A Scientist in the Making

The 1940 Handbook for Boys, which I purchased for half a dollar, became my most cherished possession. Fifty years later, I still read my original annotated copy with remembered pleasure. Richly illustrated, with a cover by Norman Rockwell, it was packed with useful information on the subjects I liked most. It stressed outdoor life and natural history: camping, hiking, swimming, hygiene, semaphore signaling, first aid, mapmaking, and above all, zoology and botany, page after page of animals and plants wonderfully illustrated, explaining where to find them, how to identify them. The public schools and church had offered nothing like this. The Boy Scouts legitimated Nature as the center of my life.

from the remarkable memoir Naturalist, by the Harvard-based scientist Edward O. Wilson (Island Press/Shearwater Books, 1994)

Take a Camera to the Polls

I love this idea: check out the New York Times Polling Place Photo Project.

The Polling Place Photo Project is a nationwide experiment in citizen journalism that encourages voters to capture, post and share photographs of this year’s primaries, caucuses and general election. By documenting local voting experiences, participants can contribute to an archive of photographs that captures the richness and complexity of voting in America.

Blog the Vote: The White House


The following excerpt is from David McCullough's introduction to the must-have new book Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, created by 108 authors and illustrators and the National Children's Book and Literary Alliance:

The White House is the most important, the most famous, the most historic, the most beloved house in all the land, and it is filled with—no, overflowing with—stories...stories reflecting and embodying the drama of mighty historic events without, and of altogether human stories within...Indeed, little there is in the infinite range of human experience that has not happened there. But then, that is what history is—human—and that is why we can never know enough about it.


By voting, I help write history. Please join me at the polls on Tuesday.


Chasing Ray has links to all the Blog the Vote posts at the book blogs.

I borrowed the White House logo, which is a public-domain image, from Wikimedia Commons.