Previous month:
February 2009
Next month:
April 2009

Strunk and White's "Elements of Style" Celebrates a Birthday

E.B. White's revised version of William Strunk, Jr.,'s grammar and usage guide turns 50 in April, and the Ithaca Journal reports on the classic's history. E. B White was a student of Strunk's at Cornell in 1919.

Strunk's [original] "Elements of Style" probably would have vanished for good had not someone stolen one of the two copies in the Cornell library in 1957 and sent it to White. In his "Letter From the East" column for July 15, 1957, White trumpeted "the little book," recalling its "rich deposits of gold" and eloquently ruminating on the valuable lessons he learned, lauding Strunk and his devotion to lucid English prose. Jack Case, an editor at Macmillan, was enticed by the column and persuaded White to revise, expand and modernize Strunk's book.

Read the whole story here.

Speaking of Ithaca, the home of Cornell, I read Justin Souza's interesting poem about the town, which dips into history, too; it's linked at the blog Seven Impossible Things today. All of today's Poetry Friday entries can be found at The Drift Record, author Julie Larios's spot on the web.

More links: The Elements of Style (50th anniversary edition and Maira Kalman-illustrated version), at Powell's Books

Rhyme Crazy

Good heavens. The GottaBook blog is going absolutely rhyme crazy. For National Poetry Month (April, to civilians), GottaBook's proprietor is promising new work by some of the finest kids' poets in the land. Take a look at the lineup, which I've borrowed directly from GottaBook:

Every month is fun on the children's literature sites, but April is especially festive, what with the verses and such popping up like daffodils. Teachers, including home educators, should also take a look at the extensive list of resources that the Farm School blog provides. The list includes new and newish titles of poetry books for children.

In the Library

Yesterday I spent a half hour reading in the children's section of the local library while the nine year old played some games on the computer. The games are infinitely more interesting there than at home; it's one of those rules of the universe for nine year olds, I suppose. Each computer was taken. One of the two librarians on duty kept good track of the waiting list, and checked in on everyone periodically. My son and the boy next to him exchanged recommendations. Junior also recognized a teacher from school and waved.

In one corner, a whole family—three boys and a grandpa—camped out and looked at picture books, while the mom buzzed in and out of the area on various missions. Near my table several tutors coached students through the rigors of homework. Their upbeat approach to their task hummed in the background as I read.

The librarians continually accompanied children back to the fiction stacks to help them look for books. One provided a kid with a "read-alike" list; another filled out an purchase request (from a child) for a book the library didn't own. Someone wanted to know more about Beethoven; relevant books were found and delivered. Squeals from the toddler area hinted at unknown delights, and a boy who looked to be around four selected a student dictionary and carried it away, clutched to his chest like a prize. His mother and three siblings trailed behind him.

A busy place, needless to say.

"Is it always like this?" I asked one of the librarians, as she sought out an audiobook for a patron.

"Every afternoon," she said.

I know there are days when brothers and sisters shriek at each other, someone pukes on the rug, and a three year old bawls because she can't take home the library's doll house. But you know what? They make up, get well, and dry their tears—and eventually return. Literacy is ultimately about connection. Everywhere I looked yesterday, I could see it.

An Unsung Civil Rights Era Heroine

Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, a number of others, including a teenage girl, had done the same thing. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose, tells that one teen's story. (She is now in her late sixties, and lives in the Bronx.) Last weekend National Public Radio ran a piece on Colvin and the new book, which was written for young adults. (I've requested the book from the library, but haven't read it yet. Sounds quite interesting.)

news via the Child_Lit listserv

Coraline Off Broadway

Via Monica Edinger's Twitter feed, I found out that Coraline has been made into a musical. It will premiere in New York in May, and tickets go on sale on March 23rd. Adapted from Neil Gaiman's spooky novel for kids and presented by the MCC Theatre, the show features music and lyrics by Stephin Merritt and a book (that's the spoken part) by David Greenspan. More details here. The movie version of Coraline came out last month, not long after Gaiman won the Newbery Medal for The Graveyard Book. A picture book by the author, Blueberry Girl, recently hit the shelves, too. See this story at the Daily News.

Reviewing the Reviewers

Publishers Weekly reports on a recent panel of children's book reviewers at the New York Public Library. Moderated by Elizabeth Bird (who also blogs at A Fuse #8 Production), the discussion featured Julie Just, the children's book editor for the New York Times Book Review, and other writers for that publication.

From the PW article:

And although [Julie Just], along with the other panelists, agreed that reviewers had to be careful to focus on the positive instead of the negative, Just also made it clear the Book Review is not there just “to give children’s books a pat on the head.” The goal of a good review, she believes, is to get people to rush out and buy the book right after finishing the review.[...]

What We're Reading, 3.10.09

We're reading lots these days. Junior, now in 4th grade, is very enamored of Jeff Smith's Bone series of graphic novels. He has all nine, and enjoys re-reading them multiple times. He wants me to read the first, and I have promised that I will.

The kiddo also likes the Lee J. Ames "Draw 50..." series. The current one, checked out from the school library, is Draw 50 Creepy Crawlies. Step-by-step drawings of stink bugs, spiders, fleas, and their ilk.

I'm trying to return to read-alouds here at home. I think it's such a nice tradition. Last night we started a classic—Beverly Cleary's Ribsy.

Another recent read-aloud was One Beetle Too Many, Kathryn Lasky's excellent picture book biography of Charles Darwin. Meant for older readers, say aged 9 and older, it makes a great introduction to both Darwin's life and his theories, with focus on his childhood (of course) and five-year voyage on the Beagle. Lively, colorful illustrations by Matthew Trueman are a plus. Lasky's dedication reads, "In celebration of children, whose boundless curiosity gives them a right to know their history on Earth." Cool, eh?

The first-grade buddies of mine are proud of reading a longer book—Theo. LeSieg's Ten Apples Up On Top!, which I liked as a kid, too.

Moving on to grown-ups' books, I finished up Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead; next up is Elizabeth's Spencer's The Salt Line, which I found at a book sale. It's about a town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and takes place just after Hurricane Camille.

Junior's dad recommends Lark & Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips. It's about a girl and her disabled brother, and their extended family.  I read it, too, and was a little reminded of Caddy and Benjy  in The Sound and the Fury.

Maple Syrup Season, One More Time

 It's maple syrup season, so I am re-running a post from last year. Hie thee to a sugar shack. Then make some pancakes, and enjoy.


Here in southern New England, we will not see maple-sugaring season until the end of the winter, but Junior and I always look forward to it. We've latched onto the tradition as if we were members of the Ingalls family, always showing up for the sugaring demonstration at the nature center and discussing the logistics of one day tapping the (very skinny) maple trees in our yard.

I've also read aloud many books on the subject, and a cheerful new picture book makes a sweet addition to the list. Maple Syrup Season, written by Ann Purmell and illustrated by Jill Weber, takes young readers through the whole process. Using sugaring terms (and a glossary), the factual book depicts an extended (fictional) family's experiences:

Dad helps the uncles pour sap from the tree buckets into gathering buckets and then into a giant barrel on the sled.

Weber renders the winter scenes with whimsical, folk-art style illustrations, and in her pictures, even the family pets and animals in the woods get in on the action. Weber and Purmell also teamed up for 2006's Christmas Tree Farm.

For more recommendations, see also

"Maple Sugar Season," Chicken Spaghetti, 3/15/07

"Laura Ingalls Wilder Inspires Kitchen Mess," Chicken Spaghetti, 3/16/07