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.

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.

Roaring Good Times in Second Grade

The second grade class I read to each week is so smart! The students are doing double-digit addition, with re-grouping. "Get out!" I said. "Re-grouping, too?" One girl nodded, then whispered that they could do triple-digit addition, too. She raised her eyebrows as she said it, knowing I'd be impressed. I was. Back in the day, that was third-grade stuff, at least.

In terms of read-alouds, lions have been very popular. I should definitely take in Jerry Pinkney's The Lion & the Mouse; the kids could pore over the visual details in the 2010 Caldecott winner.

Meanwhile, they loved Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, in which a lion becomes a story-time regular until some rules are broken. More text-heavy than the usual picture book, it's perfect for the second grade.

What surprised me, though, was the reaction to Lions, a nonfiction title from Hodder Wayland's "In the Wild" series. I'd tossed it into my bag, thinking, if I have time, I'll read this one. You could have heard a pin drop as the class listened intently. I had forgotten that what lions eat, how the mama carries the cubs, what a mane looks like, etc., were all very interesting things to consider. Sometimes a straight-up informational book is just what you want to hear. That's why in the next few weeks I'll be searching for good ones on snakes, whales, dolphins, and iguanas, all requested. Suggestions welcome!

The Trouble with Chickens


The Trouble with Chickens
written by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Kevin Cornell
Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2011
128 pages
For children 7-11

A hard-boiled private eye. A dame in distress. A missing, er, relative (or two).


Readers will find no Maltese Falcons in Doreen Cronin's new mystery, just chickens and dogs and some funny storytelling. The chapter book opens with J.J. Tully, the reluctant detective and a former search-and-rescue dog, meeting his client for the first time:

She was a short, tired-looking bird with a funny red comb on her head.

It looked about as useful to her as a spoon is to a snake.

An excellent read-aloud for any age, The Trouble with Chickens is the first book in a new series starring J.J. Tully. Doreen Cronin, who also wrote such picture books as Diary of a Worm and Click, Clack, Moo, has made a successful leap into middle-grade fiction.

A Kids' Book Site--for Kids

Today the UK's Guardian newspaper launches a new site for children's books—and it's for children themselves, not the gatekeepers. (However, this gatekeeper has already spotted several intriguing titles.)

The site will encourage child-to-child sharing with older children discussing their favourite books and authors with the younger ones.

Guardian Books Editor, Claire Armitstead, views the child-to-child sharing element of the site as vital. She said: "When you think of the resource that older friends or siblings represent, it seems astonishing that child-to-child reading gets so little attention. A sibling or a friend stand outside the circle of school, parent and child: you obey a parent, but you look up to an older sibling and you share enthusiasms with friends. In a culture with many different models of what family means, the resource of other children becomes even more valuable. It's with this in mind that the Guardian is launching a children-only website." 

Read the entire press release here.

One of the many wonderful things that I discovered when I started blogging was the Guardian's excellent online literary coverage. I wish the new venture well. Cheers!

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.

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,

"The transformation of the foreign into the familiar"

"Translation expands our ability to explore through literature the thoughts and feelings of people from another society or another time. It permits us to savor the transformation of the foreign into the familiar and for a brief time to live outside our own skins, our own preconceptions and misconceptions. It expands and deepens our world, our consciousness, in countless indescribable ways."

from Why Translation Matters, by Edith Grossman. Yale University Press, 2010. A paperback edition comes out next month.

The American Library Association sponsors a prize that honors translation (into English) in children's literature. The 2011 Mildred A. Batchelder Award went to the publisher of A Time of Miracles, written by Anne-Laure Bondoux and translated from the French by Y. Maudet. Honors were awarded to the publishers of Departure Time, written by Truus Matti and translated from the Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier, and Nothing, written by Janne Teller and translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken.

The most recent kids' works in translation that we've read are probably the middle-grade novels of Cornelia Funke's Ghosthunters series.  In very small type on the copyright pages you'll see that Helena Ragg-Kirkby translated the books from the German. I noted a while back that the Ghosthunter books are good read-alouds, and I'm now more aware, after reading Why Translation Matters, that part of the credit, at the minimum, must go to Ragg-Kirkby. Edith Grossman points out, "[w]hat should never be forgotten or overlooked is the obvious fact that what we read in a translation is the translator's writing."

Maple Syrup, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Snow

Reading this post from March 2007, I remembered how much fun it was making maple candy. We have the syrup, we have the snow, maybe we'll try this again. Meanwhile, I'm going to have to hitch up the team of horses to the sleigh to fetch Jr. at school today. The flakes are really coming down right now at 11 a.m.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Inspires Kitchen Mess

Img_0126 Our house smells so good right now, like maple syrup, because we did it! We made maple candy just like Grandma Ingalls did in Little House in the Big Woods. The weather cooperated by providing us with fresh snow this morning. We boiled up maple syrup into the "soft ball" stage, which candy makers evidently know about, and which, by luck, we managed. Junior was great about stirring the syrup and then, when the big moment came, running outside for plates of snow. Because the mixture was so hot, I (not Junior) drizzled it onto the fluffy snow. And, lo, there was candy! The taste is subtle, a gentler maple flavor than I expected. Perhaps that's attributable to my store-boughten syrup; I don't know.

Our plan was to follow Grandma Ingalls's example and make maple sugar when our caImg_0128ndy syrup started to "grain." That was not to be; the potion burned. No flames, don't worry.  I should have turned down the heat, or congratulated myself on the first success and stopped.  Still, it was fun, and a good activity for a snowy day.  And our kitchen got very messy and sticky.

Img_0123 Here is the picture of a modern-day sugar house, at a local organic farm. You can click on the photo to enlarge it. Yesterday I wrote about some great books for children on maple sugaring, in addition to Little House.