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June 2011

Chickens, Gardens, (sub)Urban Homesteaders

"But the things I flat-out enjoy the most [about owning chickens] are not about virtue or use—they are about having them. Naming them, feeding them, talking to them (which is stupid I know, and I don't care) and just plain watching them."

Laura Cooper, as quoted in The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen (Process Media, 2010)

As someone who tells her hens good night, I can totally relate to the the "stupid I know, and I don't care" part. Chicken keeping is increasingly popular around here. We went to a ribbon cutting for some friends' big beautiful new coop recently, and one of the hens looked exactly like our Queenie. Exactly! She turned out to be Queenie's sister. Small chicken world.

We live in the suburbs, not the heart of the city, but there's plenty of practical advice in The Urban Homestead no matter where one lives. I've spent the better part of May (when it wasn't raining) in the yard with J., planting tomatoes, herbs, okra, flowers, radishes, and other things. He is going to saw down some of our abundant bamboo for poles for Kentucky Wonder Beans. 

Meanwhile, the Harry Potter audiobooks have taken us through a school year's worth of car rides. What a gift! We're now on #5. The Goblet of Fire, #4, was my favorite so far. So much is happening. I also noted how J.K. Rowling paints an absolutely awful portrait of the journalist Rita Skeeter. She lies, sneaks around, misquotes. Ouch. The Goblet movie is waiting for us at the library, so I'd better run and pick it up.

Happy Memorial Day to all.

J. Patrick Lewis, Laureate

Congratulations to J. Patrick Lewis on being named the new Children's Poet Laureate. We've been fans for years!

See Chicken Spaghetti posts "An Original Poem by J. Patrick Lewis!""Poetry Friday: The Snowflake Sisters";  and "Poetry Friday: Pirate Book." I mentioned Lewis's poem "Mosquito" in an entry about Paul B. Janeczko's anthology The Place My Words Are Looking For, and listed the picture book Once Upon a Tomb among our favorite reads when Junior was a second grader. 

Lewis has a great sense of humor. Here's an excerpt from an interview by Sylvia Vardell, at the Poetry Foundation, sponsors of the children's poet laureateship.

SV: How did you come to the writing of poetry for children when you’re also a scholar of economics and Russian history?

JPL:  My usual answer (a joke) is that an economist can become a children’s poet only after a very delicate operation. Actually, I wanted to be a writer first, and so I wrote for nearly 30 years in economics. But very few people read economics unless they are roped to a chair. Happily, when I was still a pup (but almost 40!), I discovered poetry— “the road not taken . . . and that has made all the difference.”

For Mom: A Herrible Hoffalump

One of my favorite childhood memories of reading with my mom was the time she could not quit laughing as she read "Piglet Meets a Heffalump" from Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh and his friend Piglet are trying to catch an elephant, or heffalump, in a Very Deep Pit. Little does Piglet know that Pooh has ended up there, with his head caught in a honey jar. Piglet leans over the pit to see what's causing the commotion.

"Help, help!" cried Piglet, "a Heffalump, a Horrible Heffalump!" and he scampered off as hard as he could, still crying out, "Help, help, a Herrible Hoffalump! Hoff, Hoff, a Hellible Horralump! Holl, Holl, a Hoffable Hellerump!" And he didn't stop crying and scampering until he got to Christopher Robin's house. 

Thanks, Mom! And Happy Mother's Day to all.

Reading to the Second Grade

I'm a volunteer reader for a second-grade class in a nearby city, and our latest read was Keep Your Ear on the Ball, written by Genevieve Petrillo and illustrated by Lea Lyon (Tilbury House, 2007). The book is about a class (my group guessed third or fourth grade) who deal with a difficult situation: one of the classmates, a very independent boy who's blind, has a lot of trouble playing kickball. The children themselves figure out a solution that everyone is happy with. 

The author had left me a note here on the blog, saying that she thought my young friends would enjoy the book. They did! Reading it led to a good discussion about blindness and sight impairment, and being kickball players themselves, the second graders could understand the dilemmas faced by Davey, the boy who's blind, and his pals. I especially appreciated the fact that Keep Your Ear on the Ball's multicultural class, as painted by Lea Lyon, looked a lot like mine. (Well, mine for a half hour each week.)

Next up are Not Norman: A Goldfish Story, by Kelly Bennett, with art by Noah Z. Jones (Candlewick, 2005), and a poem or two from Douglas Florian's Handsprings (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2006). The second-grade class is not big on poetry. I don't know exactly why. Sometimes poets pack in too many new (and incomprehensible) words, and I end up translating English into English. (B-o-r-i-n-g.) That's not the case with Handsprings. I'm thinking the kids will appreciate the joy expressed by Florian and the cool way the lines in the concrete poem "Rain Reign" are printed: vertically, like rain drops coming down.