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From the Poetry Friday Archives: Updike's "Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children"

The following post is a revised version of one that ran in 2009. You'll find more links to poems at the Poetry Friday roundup, hosted by Great Kid Books today.

John Updike died two years ago at the age of 76. All of the obituaries and tributes mentioned that he was a true man of letters, writing novels, short stories, criticism, essays, and poetry. The New Yorker's February 9 & 16, 2009, issue featured excerpts from his wide-ranging work. Plus, the magazine made his classic sports story "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" (about Ted Williams' retirement) available online.

In another instance of a farewell, Updike's short, wistful "Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children" is online at the Poetry Foundation. The poem begins, "They will not be the same next time. The sayings/ so cute, just slightly off, will be corrected." It ends with a reflection on "how this world brave with hellos turns all goodbye."

Talking Cheetahs with Second Graders

Aa_cheetahs_cover The second graders and I, their volunteer weekly reader, knew that cheetahs are the fastest land animals, but we did not know that a group of cheetahs who hunt and hang out together is called a coalition.

The teacher Ms. B. had mentioned that her class really enjoys nonfiction. I found a new book, Cheetahs, written by Kate Riggs, at the public library, and reading it aloud led to lots of discussion about the big felines ("cousins of lions, right?") and talk about other animals, too. I loved listening to the group think out loud.

I did dodge the question, "How do cheetahs give birth, Ms. T.?" by responding with a happy "Like other mammals!" It turned out that the questioner really wanted to give his own answer, which was imaginative but off the mark. I left it to Ms. B. to correct, or not, at another time.


Part of a Creative Education series called "Amazing Animals," Cheetahs makes a great second-grade book, with large photographs (including, aww, baby see where the question came from), large print and short paragraphs, lots of white space on the page (making it easy on the eyes), and definitions of possibly unfamiliar terms, like savanna, right there on the page. Many of the children can read it themselves, too. The book ends with a little recap of an "African" myth (I wish the author had been more specific; Africa is pretty large) of how the cheetah got its tear lines near its eyes.

The "Amazing Animals" series spotlights elephants, koalas, dolphins, and more; the kids want to hear Lions next. I have not read the others, but to judge from the response to Cheetahs, our friendly, non-hunting coaltion is onto something good.

From the Poetry Friday Archives: Tempest


Take trip to Ireland. Read Edna O'Brien. Drink lots of tea. Return home. Think of nothing but tea. Make tea with tea bags. Terrible. Not it. Unable to read Edna O'Brien. Lunch with friend who spent year in Australia drinking tea. Friend says bought teapot after similar tea experience. Friend also recommends English Breakfast. Resolve to purchase teapot. Find two-cup teapot for eight dollars. Bargain. Realize loose tea is key. Milk and sugar cubes, too. Buy loose tea in tin at fancy deli. Have never in life made tea without tea bags. Have never made much tea, period. Cast yearning glance at unresponsive Mr. Coffee. Panic. Australian adventurer unavailable for counsel. Remember not knowing how to bake potatoes. Who knew? Fannie knew. Consult Fannie Farmer Cookbook on tea. Fannie knows. Fannie tells. Love Fannie. Boil fresh water. Warm teapot with boiling water. Pour out. Add big spoon of tea, more water. Strategy involved but do okay. Let pot, tea leaves, water sit. Five minutes later—tea. Breathe sigh of relief. Read Edna O'Brien.

by Susan Thomsen

During this snowy, icy winter, I've re-discovered the habit of afternoon tea, so I dug the prose poem "Tempest" out of the archives. (I ran it here back in 2006.) It was originally printed some years ago in Tea: A Magazine (the only poem I've ever had published!).

For more poems today, see the Poetry Friday roundup at the blog Rasco from RIF. Carol H. Rasco is the CEO of Reading Is Fundamental, "America’s oldest and largest nonprofit children’s and family literacy organization." Carol is a huge supporter of the children's book blogs. Go say howdy, and stay for the poetry.

The Prison Library

"Some people even used books to read. For education, entertainment, therapy, a way of making sense of the world. Sitting at the library's circulation desk, I saw more than one woman on the verge of tears while checking out a favorite children's book that she hadn't seen in years—Charlotte's Web or Curious George. For many in prison, childhood memories were very difficult or nonexistent."

from Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian, by Avi Steinberg (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2010)

Other Languages (in English)

I'm on a new reading kick. Using Three Percent's longlist of best translated fiction 2010 (for adults), I started with Jenny Erpenbeck's Visitation, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky. Megan O'Grady at Vogue writes, "Infused with an arrestingly immediate understanding of Berlin’s past, it’s the tale of a grand summer house on a lake just outside the city whose inhabitants have much to reveal about the ravages and battling ideologies of the twentieth century." An excellent book. I highly recommend it.

Three Percent is an online resource for literature in translation and international literature. It's part of the University of Rochester's translation program. Words Without Borders: The Online Magazine for International Literature is another good site.

Meanwhile, Zoe at Playing by the Book reminded me of the UK's Marsh Award for Children's Literature in Translation. Achockablog highlights the shortlist and winner, announced recently.

Good Reading & Happy New Year

Happy Year of the Rabbit! First up, check Wild Rose Reader's archives for some good books on the Chinese New Year. InCulture Parent presents a reading list, and School Library Journal chimed in last year, too. Time Out Kids offers the details on Sunday's Lunar New Year parade in New York's Chinatown and a free lion dance performance at the China Institute on East 65th Street.

At GeekDad, Jonathan Liu shares a few thoughts on the Lunar calendar and new year.

Looking back at 2010 on the Gregorian calendar, I grabbed a few of the newish "best books" lists.

Books for children

Charlotte Zolotow Award. For best writing in a picture book.

Amelia Bloomer Project recommendations. Feminist books for children and teens.

Edgar Award nominations, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. Actually, books for adults and kids are on this list.

National Science Teachers Association: Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12. One of my favorite lists, available earlier than usual this year, in a PDF format.

Sydney Taylor Book Awards, presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Books for adults

Best science books. John Dupuis at Confessions of a Science Librarian has compiled a good master list of 2010 titles.

Best Translated Book Awards: Fiction Longlist,