Poetry Friday -- Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes

I am off to the Lake District in England later today (see exciting poetry related contest at end of post!) Seeing as this is Beatrix Potter country, I decided to look at Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes (1922, Number 23 in our set of the complete works of BP, which I have never reached in my attempts to read her complete ouvre. I always get stuck at Little Pig Robinson).*

CP's Nursery Rhymes is a collection of 8 "mother goose-esque" poems. As is the case with the earlier Apply Dapply's Nursery Rhymes, the poems and pictures were collected/painted over many years, and seemingly arbitrarily selected for this book. Some of the poems are common (This little pig), some very obscure (the eponymous Cecily Parley, who "lived in a pen, and brewed good ale for gentlemen"). BP spread the poems out over several pages, so there are many more pictures than poems--we get four pictures of the pigs, for instance, and since BP's pictures are charming and pleasantly detailed, this is just fine. However, they are very small pictures, which need to be looked at closely, so I wouldn't choose this book for a soothing read aloud. Instead, I might choose it for an exploration of how magnifying glasses work.

All this being said, here was a poem that was new to me and very sweetly illustrated with, I think, guinea pigs:

We have a little garden,
A garden of our own,
And every day we water there
The seeds that we have sown.

We love our little garden,
And tend it with such care,
You will not find a faded leaf
Or blighted blossom there.

Typing this in, I realized how uninspired this poem is without the guinea pigs...sadly it was not possible to get a picture of them before I went to England.


Be the first to answer this question correctly and win a random ya paperback to be imported from England in the coming week!*

Why does the famous poem Casabianca (The boy stood on the burning deck...) make me, and many others, think of the Lake District?

I will be back week after next, and will announce the winner, if any, then...

*sorry, because of funding constraints this contest is open only to US residents...


Non Fiction Video Thursday--Eyewitness

Today I'm falling back on a tried and true series of non fiction videos -- DK's Eyewitness series.

These are very, very good. They are short and snappy, they present facts coupled with brilliant images, and there are lots of them so it is pretty easy to find one about a subject that interests your child. They combine real images with computer graphic to excellent effect. We started with Ocean, and it remains one of our favorites; Planets is another good one that both boys like. It's my impression that the less obvious the subject (titles like Sight, Survival, Human Machine as opposed to Cat, Bear, Amphibian) the less engaging the episode--they are more like pastiche than purposeful progress. I don't include Flight in this category, however--it's a good one. The introduction (soaring through the Eyewitness Museum) is worth watching for its own sake. Often there is a Making--an informative behind the scenes look at how they did it which I think is a wonderful thing for children to see--because then they have a basis of understanding videos as things that are created and manipulated rather than straight reality (at least that's what I hope they are getting out of it).

These are available as videos and dvds. Here's a link to the DK site where they are listed; if you click on the "more" part of each problem, it will indeed tell you more about that episode.

Potential problem--Inappropriate regurgitation of knowledge:

Like many other parents of non-fiction video watching children, I can quote "The distinct style of the Eyewitness books forms the basis..." "clarity and super-realism" "bringing the world into sharper focus." The quotes my older son remembers are mostly facts. For instance, a few years ago he said, "Mama, let me tell you about the mating habits of the vampire salamander." It is an ugly, ugly story, but one he wanted to tell. To everyone he met. I guess his day care teacher already knew him well enough to take it in stride, but still.

DK is currently having a couple of contests; here's one where you can win some sticker books and an encyclopedia; here's another, via Fuse #8, for a set of 100 books...

If you have a favorite Eyewitness video, let me know!


National Independent Booksellers Month

This month, I just learned, is National Independent Booksellers Month. Shrinking Violets, a lovely blog which in general celebrates introverts* but which at the moment is celebrating NIBM, asks readers for Reasons to Shop at Independent Bookstores (and there is a prize for the best!). Here are my reasons, which I also left in a comment at Shrinking Violets:

1. They have used books for sale as well, intershelved with the new (I like bargains).

2. When my children and I go to the independent book store, we are going for Books, not for a have a snack in the cafe-play with Thomas the wretched tank engine toys-run around on toy stage extravaganza. It is good to find occasion to make Books the whole point of an expedition.

3. The children's section, perhaps because of (2), is much much tidier and more appealing (although I blame the parents for this, not the chain book stores...)

4. When you ask for A Seed is Sleepy they don't look at you like you are crazy.

5. Because independent book stores are smaller, one is less likely to loose one's children. One can also keep an eye on the children while looking at other sections.

Here are some more I have just thought of:

6. I like to shop at my local IBs for the same reason I like driving a Prius--a soothing sense that I am doing the Right Thing.

7. Someday when I grow up and stop being an archaeologist (and boy it was a vexing afternoon here in Archaeologyland what with bones eroding out of river banks and all) I am going to open a new and used children's bookstore of my own (my son wants me to call it The Friendly Dragon). So careful and critical shopping at IBs -es is an important educational experience, and there should be some way I can take it off my taxes given that it's job related.

* Kelly at Big A little a had a personality quiz up a few days ago. Isn't it interesting how many kidlit bloggers are introverts? I have a bone to pick with the quiz, however--my Meyer-Briggs book told me that my type, INFP, is much much rarer than the 6% this quiz tried to sell me. Another thing my book told me was that, for INFPs, "metaphors come easily, but may be forced." I have been thinking about this at odd moments for the past 25 years.


Still learning to read...

My 6 year old continues to doggedly read his book a day/15 minutes...Last week actually went fairly well, and in a spirit of solidarity with the other parents in the same circs., here's what he read:

Newt by Matt Novak I don't particularly care for amphibians in clothes myself, but whatever. He read it, all three chapters (good for 2 days worth). There were "lessons" for those who like books to teach on multiple levels; the one I liked best was "don't dig up flowers growing wild and take them home." There were good vocabulary words (and how frustrating it is when your child rattles off polysyllabic words and then stumbles over "it").

Small Pig by Arnold Lobel. It only recently occurred to me that, although there were no other Frog and Toad books to find, Lobel presumable wrote other things that might be good. Small Pig is no Frog and Toad, but it is a brisk little story. When a small pig's mud puddle is cleaned up by the zealous Farmer's Wife, off he goes in a huff in search of mud. The illustrations are somewhat muted, which I think is a perfectly reasonable thing for an early reader. When the illustrations are too engaging, the Reading Advisor has to repeatedly draw the child's attention back to the words. I just learned from Sherry at semicolon that today is Lobel's birthday...

The Sun Shone on the Elephant by Gywneth Mamlok (1967) This is a book I loved as a child (how lucky I am that my parents didn't throw out our children's books, although they were no so kind to the paperback books of our middle childhood). This one was a bit of a challenge, but we made it through. It is the story of an elephant who thinks he is ugly. He sees the parrot, and imagines himself with feathers, sees the monkey and dreams of doing tricks, sees the tiger, and wishes for stripes. At last he meets a cat, who happens to know the unhappiest princess in the world--unhappy because she is so tiny. The elephant becomes the princess's Royal Elephant, and bedecked with gems he now thinks he is beautiful. This is, admittedly, an awful message that would probably never sell today. But the pictures are lovely. The elephant does look magnificent...and after the book is finished, one can start yammering on about Asian vs African elephants, what country the book might be set in, etc etc.

Our fifth evening was a Scooby Doo early reader of no literary or artist merit.


New book coming from Diana Wynne Jones

I was just visiting the website of Diana Wynne Jones, and was very pleased to see that she is working on a new book in which the magician Howl will be making an appearance...It is always nice to know that favorite authors are busily working away, preparing future gratification.

Rules of The Road

I had the pleasure this weekend of reading Rules of the Road, by Joan Bauer (but if I'd known what a fun fast read it was going to be I would have saved it for the upcoming 48 hour reading challenge at MotherReader).

The basic plot is this--Jenna, a 16 girl working in a shoe store, is whisked away by the elderly woman, Mrs. Gladstone, who owns the shoe company and put behind the wheel of a Cadillac, heading south from Chicago the share holders' meeting in Dallas. On the way, they will be checking the various branches of the companies shoe stores, with Jenna playing the role of industry spy. Jenna is glad to be escaping from her alcoholic father, but nervous about her skills as a driver (as is the reader) -- "It is customary," says her employer, "to open the garage door before backing out" (or words to that effect--the book's at home, sorry). Mrs. Gladstone is worried because her son wants to oust her and start selling cheap shoes. Once on the road, Jenna and Mrs. Gladstone become friends, Jenna gains maturity and a new hair style, meets inspirational people, and saves the day at the shareholder's meeting. Mrs. Gladstone gets to stay on as Director of Quality. And finally, Jenna confronts her alcoholic father.

Plot-wise, it felt a bit as though "big issues" were stuck in to add depth; I wasn't much moved. It reminded me of a Meg Cabot novel--teenage girl in unrealistic situation rising to the occasion.

But what I really really liked was Jenna in her role of shoe salesman--knowledgeable, helpful, and brave. I loved all the shoe detail (and I am not a "shoe person"). I was sad that toward the end we didn't get to spend more time with Jenna inside shoe stores. And I am now a smidge worried about what my own low-end shoes are doing to my feet.


For Poetry Friday--Waiting at the Window

The rainy weather today made me think of a favorite poem from Now We are Six, by AA Milne.

Waiting at the Window

there are my two drops of rain
Waiting on the wndow-pane.

I am waiting here to see
Which the winning one wll be.

Both of them have different names.
One is John and one is James.

All the best and all the worst
Comes from which of them is first.

James has just begun to ooze.
He's the one I want to loose.

John is waiting to begin.
He's the one I want to win.

James is going slowly on.
Something sort of sticks to John.

John is moving off at last.
James is going pretty fast.

John is rushing down the pane.
James is going slow again.

James has met a sort of smear.
John is getting very near.

Is he going fast enough?
(James has found a piece of fluff.)

John has hurried quickly by.
(James is talking to a fly.)

John is there, and John has won!
Look! I told you! Here's the sun!

Milne's poetry got short shrift in my mind when I was a child; I prefered to read Pooh. But even then there were poems that I enjoyed tremendously . The charming cat poem Pinkle Purr, for instance, and the powerful (I mean it) King John's Christmas. My favorite poem, however, is from When we Were Very Young. It's called Disobedience---it's the one about James James Morrision Morrison Weatherby George Dupree. If you haven't read it, do! It's too long to type here. And don't skip the introductions. Milne is a great essayist, who would doubtless have a wonderful blog if he were alive today.

The poetry round up is at Big A little A today.

Audio Picture Books-- help wanted

The children's librarian at my library has asked us Friends to buy some audio picture books--apparently, patrons have been asking for them, comparing us unfavourably with our neighbouring libraries. I myself wonder what the point of a picture book is without the pictures (think how much cheaper they would be to publish, though...). But anyway. The catalogue she showed us has them for about $29 a cd. This seems like a lot. Does anyone out there have any suggestions for a. particular titles that give a lot of bang for the buck and that fly off the shelves b. a place to get them cheaply.



Goodbye, Lloyd Alexander

I just learned that Lloyd Alexander has died. I remember the first of his books that I ever read--I was ten years old, and my father took me, sans sisters, to Toys-R-Us and bought me a book--The Black Cauldron. It was the only time I can remember that this happened, as my mother (liking book shopping herself) was the one that bought us books. I still have the very, very ratty paperback...

The Black Cauldron is the second in the Chronicle of Prydain, and is not my favorite of the five books in the series. But there are some books that you read as if hypnotized, emerging only with glazed eyes for more tasty snacks. I'd read and loved the Lord of the Rings, so this wasn't my first foray into the world of fantasy quests, but The Black Cauldron, perhaps because it was less "epic," engaged me on a much more personal level. Here's the review of it from the 1965 Horn Book.

Taran Wanderer is my favorite book of the series. It is one of the best books about growing up that I know of.

One of the most memorable scenes in the final book, The High King, comes on a snowy mountain pass, when all hope is fading. To keep the fire going, the bard, Fflewddur Fflam, smashes his harp. All night it burns, and as it burns, it sings. (shoot. I can't do it justice but it brings tears to my eyes every time) .

Thank you for these books, Mr. Alexander. It was good to grow up with Taran and Eilonwy, and I will read you to my own children.

Here is a full bibliography of his work, including mention of a new book coming out in August.

Non-Fiction Video Thursday: Mars, Dead or Alive

Mars, Dead or Alive (NOVA)

This program first aired just hours after the rover Spirit landed on Mars (January 3, 2004). As a result, its title is somewhat misleading. It is not actually about Mars, but rather is about the development of the Mars rovers that are currently exploring it. It documents the months that preceded the landing on Mars, as the technicians and scientists struggle here on Earth to create workable rovers. A lot was riding on this mission--50 percent of previous missions to Mars had been disasters. NASA had to get it right this time, to show that it was capable of doing something right. And it worked--in a glorious finale, Spirit arrives safely on Mars.

This documentary is, essentially, a "boys and their toys" thing. It is very male dominated, and very machine focused (with a smidge of exo-geology). This is not to say that it is not good--for those who love robots, and anyone interested in the process of creating machines that will survive the hostile conditions of an alien world, this is a great video. It carries the useful message that if at first you don't succeed, try try again (like a Dragon Tales video, or such like, only more educational). And it is also interesting to see all the hard, hard work and hope and disappointment that is behind every space mission.

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers turned out to be a phenomenal success, so much so that people like myself have become a bit blase about them. I used to follow their progress assiduously; not so today. This documentary was released before we knew how stupendous the information sent back by the rovers would be, so it is more a background to what today's kids might already know. Because this is a very techie video, kids interested in Mars qua Mars might not be engaged, but kids interested in really cool machines should be engrossed.

A second documentary, Welcome to Mars picks up where Dead or Alive leaves off (shown above is Spirit's parachute), but we haven't watched it yet.

Here's the show's webpage, for those who want more information.


What I'm Reading

I've been tagged by Els over at Book Book Book with the "What are you reading meme." And like Els, I find it a nice relaxing one...

Here's what I'm reading out loud: A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond. First of a long long series about a small bear from Peru that is adopted by a London family. While looking unsuccessfully for a picture of the 1970s English paperback I'm reading (there's a new American cover and I don't like it), I came across this rather interesting piece by Bond about the books and their publishing history- 75 pounds, he got for it. I also "learned," via wikipedia, that vendors sell Paddington finger puppets by the shores of Lake Titicaca. The children are enjoying the book, but the same doubts that assailed me as a child when I first read it are still with me. Why is this bear so human? Why is there always so much stickiness (marmalade, cream buns, egg on whiskers). Why can't the Brown family see that treating him as human is a recipe for disaster (imagine taking a 2 year old, who's not safely strapped into a stroller, shopping in London. Then imagine it even worse). I really don't like books that feature disaster after disaster; what I enjoy is peaceful escapism.

Which is why I am reading Miss Buncle, by D.E. Stevenson. She is a mid 20th century English writer, often classified as Romance. I think this is a bit unfair (since I have a snobbish knee jerk reaction against Romance). Anyway, she writes entertainingly about the lives of well-off (but not super rich and titled) inhabitants of English and Scottish villages (plus some in isolated farms and in London). Similar to Angela Thirkell's pre-war books, but lighter.

I am saving all the books I really want to read for the 48 hour reading challenge....

This meme's been around for a while, and I'm not sure who to tag...so if you haven't done it yet, please feel tagged!


Dragon Books

My boys are both dragon obsessed, and over the years we've amassed quite a few books featuring the creatures (not counting Guidebook to Mythical Creatues genre). I toyed with the idea of making a list of dragon picture books, but checking on google showed it had already been done here. But here are some dragon books that didn't it make it into that list (I think--there were so many books listed I floundered) :

The Sons of the Dragon King: A Chinese Legend (2004) by Ed Young

The 9 sons of the Dragon King have left home and gone their seperate ways, but word comes to their father that none of them are behaving as his sons should! Disguised, the Dragon King visits each one in turn, and sees in what each son is doing a chance for a meaningful contribution to the kingdom. Each son still caries out his job to this day. For instance, one son spends his time staring off into space--his father realizes he can become a watchman, and his character can be seen decorating the tops of buildings. Another son spent his time challenging peasants to feats of strength; today he can be seen on columns hold up trememdous weights. 9 sons, 9 paternal visits, 9 worthwhile jobs to do; 9 basically seperate stories on the same theme. The ink and cut paper illustrations show each new dragon before his new role, and after.

I was surprised to see that the reviews of this book on Amazon are somewhat less than enthusiastic about the chances that this book will appeal much to kids--not enough neat dragon pictures to carry the book for young kids, not enough "story" for older kids. I dunno. My small boys like it a lot as a read aloud book--I think small children are more prepared than some of us readers-out-loud might realize to accept books that come in bits, like separate beads on a string, where overarching narrative and character development are not important. And the theme of this book should resonate pretty powerfully--it is all about parental approval, and children finding their proper place where their talents are appreciated. I imagine them thinking, as each son finds his role, "good, there's another one all set." Comforting for them. An older child, reading it alone, might not get that same level of emotional reassurance from it.

The Book of Beasts by E. Nesbit and Inga Moore

Young Lionel is very surprised to find himself being made king--his ancestor had spent so much money on books that the crown had been sold, and only now had enough money been raised to by a new one and crown a new king. In the magnificent royal library, Lionel finds, and opens, The Book of Beasts. Out comes a dragon, who begins eating Lionel's unfortunate subjects...With the help of a beautiful hippogryph a few pages further, Lionel tricks the dragon back into the book and slams the cover shut, and all the people who had been eaten are squeezed back out again. Beautiful pictures, fun story. It's an abridgement of a longer story by E. Nesbit. There's another version of this illustrated by Michael Hauge Lionel and the Book of Beasts (2006), but I haven't read that one yet.

And finally, here's an out-of-print English chapter book (I figure new and in print books get plenty of room elsewhere)--Green Smoke, by Rosemary Manning. 8 year old Susan, vacationing at a beach in Cornwall, meets a dragon who lives in a cave. Lots of story telling (mainly King Arthur stories) and bun eating (many different flavours), with a visit to a mermaid thrown in. I liked it lots when I was young, and it worked well as a read aloud to my oldest boy. Don't bother with the sequels, though--not only are they even less available and more expensive, they are not as good. They have more Plot, which is not nearly as fun as the artless episodic charm of Green Smoke.

Teen Wizards and High School

This interesting call for papers was posted at a list I'm on:

"A Dragon Wrecked My Prom: Teen Wizards and High School"

'The Dead rose--we should at least have an assembly.'- Xander, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

High School is difficult enough to negotiate without having to save the world, but, as a whole genre of teen fiction has explored, teens seem able to do both. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the novels of Diane Duane, Tanya Huff, and Mercedes Lackey, as well as numerous comics, graphic novels, and cartoons, all present audiences with teens who wield extraordinary powers while battling the everyday demons of adolescence. This collection will explore the unique figure of the teen wizard--a category broad enough to encapsulate Nita Callahan and Kit Rodrigues, the spellcasting teens of Duane's 'Young Wizards' series, as well as Diana, the teen heroine of Tanya Huff's 'Keepers' series, Willow Rosenberg (of Buffy), Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Vanyel Ashkevron (the last herald mage of Mercedes Lackey's 'Valdemar' novels) and numerous other mystical teens span a whole array of different media. How do magic and adolescence go together, and how are mystical energies bound up with the pain, turmoil, and abjection of being a teenager? And why is the figure of the teen wizard so manifestly popular?

Please submit a 500-1000 word abstract, along with a CV, to: jbattis_at_gmail_dot_com. Deadline: August 30, 2007. Grad student submissions are welcome, as are creative/critical and multimedia mixtures. Publisher information will be forthcoming, but I anticipate strong interest from a press.
Any questions/queries can be directed to: Jes Battis: mailto:jbattis@gmail.com
Postdoctoral Fellow, City University New York

It seems to me (based on my own experience) fairly obvious that teenagers, especially younger ones, might like to read about kids their own age with magical powers and such because of feeling rather powerless and directionless themselves...quests and such certainly add structure and purpose to one's life.


For Poetry Friday: if Flower Fairies, why not Weed Fairies?

When I was young, a book I savoured was The Flower Fairy Alphabet, by Cicely Mary Barker. How happy I was that I was C for Columbine (shown at left, and about to bloom in my garden). The Alphabet was the only Flower Fairy book we had, but there are many others. The Cicely Mary Barker site isn't working, but there is an introduction to her here. CM Barker sure could draw flower fairies--and I find it rather wonderful how close the costumes are to the actual flowers. In fact, the illustrations are a good guide to common flowers of the (English, although many grow in America as well) garden. The books are widely available these days, doubtless delighting a fresh lot of little girls (I haven't yet introduced my boys to the flower fairies. Gender stereotypes are pretty powerful things).

A poem accompanies each picture. Sadly, CM Barker's poetry is not as good:

The Song of The Columbine Fairy

Who shall the chosen fairy be
For letter C?
There's Candytuft, and Cornflower blue,
Chrysanthemum so bold and fine,
And pretty dancing Columbine.

Yes, Columbine! The choice is she;
And with her, see,
An elfin piper, piping sweet
A little tune for those light feet
That dances, among the leaves and flowers
In someone's garden.(Is it ours?)

The coyness at the end especially makes me wince.

In homage to CM Barker, as I contemplate the state of my lawn, I have written the first poem of my own volume, Weed Fairies of the Spring.

Song of the Crabgrass Fairy

Nah nah, nah nah nah.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at HipWriterMama today.


Non Fiction Video Thurs.-- Henry's Amazing Animals

Today I offer Henry's Amazing Animals, a series available as videos and also shown on tv. This is more maintream than previous reviews, but heck, my children (6 and just turned 4) like them.

Premise: A animated lizard named Henry, who is very silly, is taught by an unseen male voice about the wonders of the natural world. Henry gets things wrong, gets into trouble, makes bad jokes; the narrator presents clips of animals and discusses their behavior.

Here's what's good about this series:

There are lots and lots and lots of titles in this series. So if your child enjoys them, the novelty can last for a long time as you track down the various videos in your state's library system (they also come up on ebay, but tend to be more expensive than the 3 dollars or so I like to spend).

The parts where we are shown real animals are interesting and informative. The language is clear enough so that very young children can follow what's happening.

They are not long--only half an hour or so, so they work well for keeping the children happy while you are trying to cook supper/keeping the children happy while eating your own supper (although of course every meal in our house is Family Togetherness Time ha ha), and the trauma of turning of the tv halfway through a video is avoided.

Here's what's indifferent about the series:

The creators tried really really hard to make Henry the lizard funny. My husband and I find this aspect painful; the children are sometimes amused, sometimes unmoved.

The use of an animated lizard and supplemental "humorous" animated bits possibly serves as a entre into non-fiction for kids used to cartoons; I'd rather have mine watching the real thing.

The show is very segmented--we jump from clips of real animals, to cartoon episodes, to Henry's Golden Gecko Awards for Best xxxx Animal. This possibly holds the young viewers attention, but also dumbs the whole thing down.

Here's what's possibly negative:

The jokes are bad.

The omnipotent narrator, being male, reinforces the non-fiction video stereotype that men are the arbiters of scientific knowledge.

They're being shown on the Discovery Channel at 8:30 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon (ET)...It almost makes me wish that our tv could get channels, instead of simply serving as a portal to videos. But on the other hand, we are not home at 8:30 in the morning anyway. Someone else must agree with me that this series works well for kids 5 and under, since they're the only ones home.

There's a list of Henry titles here.


Searching for early readers--The Happy Hockey Family

My son has to read for 15 minutes every night for school, which means finding 5 or so books a week that he can read. Strangely (sarcasm alert), over the past few years of bringing home armload after armload of children's books, we ended up with very few Early Readers, because mostly they are unappealing paperbacks (with exceptions). But anyway, every fortnight or so I run through the shelves looking for candidates for the coming week, working on the assumption that he is making progress, so books too hard in April might be possible now, and perhaps we'll be trying Tolstoy by August. Not that we actually own any Tolstoy. I feel I can always get it from the library if I need to.

This week I found The Happy Hockey Family, by Lane Smith. I love this book. It is brilliant. I have read it aloud to my children often, coaching them in the appreciation of ironic humor (so important). I checked the copy at our library (bought by me using Friends' money; I think it was one of my first acts as an official Friends of the Library Member), and it does not have an "easy reader" sticker on it. But it is. Short, clear sentences, some repetition, illustrations that support the text. It was perfect. Of course, since I had read it aloud to him before, he was probably reading from memory, but that's not my fault.
Lane Smith has a website here that is well worth visiting, but he's taking a break from it until his next book comes out...

For more suggestions of books for a six year old to read, visit Kelly at Big A little a for a nice list.


For Poetry Friday- The Germ

We had one in our house this week--

The Germ, by Ogden Nash

A mighty creature is the germ,
Though smaller than the pachyderm.
His customary dwelling place
Is deep within the human race.
His childish pride he often pleases
By giving people strange diseases.
Do you, my poppet, feel infirm?
You probably contain a germ.

I found this poem in a rather nice anthology, Whisper and Shout--Poems to Memorize, edited by Patrice Vecchione. Some of the poems I knew already, others, like this one, were new to me. The poems here are divided into clusters--poems of family and friends, the natural world, wisdom and wonder, etc., which adds structure and provides food for thought. An anthology of poems is a lot like some else making for you a bag of mixed candy--they might put in coconut creams, instead of chocolate caramels. So having been provided with categories, it is fun to play the "what would I include game."

One thing I liked a lot about this book is that it is not illustrated. This book places great importance on the memorization of poems, something I think is wonderful. This week I am of the opinion that children should be free to imagine their own pictures, as an aid to memorization....


Non-Fiction Video Thursday: Building Big

Building Big is a five episode series about building big things--bridges, domes, dams, tunnels, and skyscrapers--narrated by David Macaulay. It first appeared as a PBS show in 2000, and is now available on dvd and vhs. The series focuses on the engineering challenges of each type of structure, but it includes so much history, geography, and general cultural literacy that even those who find engineering problems unappealing will find much to enjoy. In Dams, for instance, we travel to Egypt to learn about the Aswan dam, placed nicely in cultural and geographic context, with a look at the ancient Saad El Kafara as well, we explore the Hoover dam, the Itaipu Dam of Brazil and Paraguay, and are alarmed by the description of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania 19th-century dam disaster. Domes might appeal to a kid who likes baseball, because it looks closely at the Houston Astrodome, among others.

At the end of each program is a do-it-yourself presentation for kids. On screen, I think this is great; in practice less so. We did, however, get a kick out of making popsicle stick dams and pouring buckets of water around.

In short, this series is very well presented, eclectic, and informative without being didactic! However, there are lots of disasters (not as bad as a Thomas the Tank Engine episode, but close), so these might not be appropriate for younger kids who are bothered by these things. My six year old loves them, my three year old could care less.

The six year old has been a huge fan of David Macaulay for most of his young life. When he was four, he wanted me to find D.M.'s address, so we could go sit outside his house, preferably for days at a time. So when I stumbled across the videos of his Building Big series in a library far from our home, I knew I had to get them for our own library. Thanks to generous donations from our patrons, we acquired the boxed set of 5 dvds, and check them out every 6 months or so (I hope other patrons are checking them out too...).

If you want to read more particulars about the show, look here; there are more related activities on the website for reading kids. There is an excellent companion book by David Macaulay, also called Building Big.


The 48 Hour Book Challenge = Nothing to read today

Mother Reader is bringing us a 48 hour book challenge in June-- how many books/pages can one reader read in 48 hours? Along with 50 or so other brave readers, I have signed up.

Now I have nothing to read. I'm sitting in the library, surrounded by books, and there's nothing to take home with me...I'm saving all the books I really want to read till the contest so that I will read faster. I want to have a stack of 25 books I can't wait to read right on hand. So far I am saving Emma Jane Lazarus Fell out of a Tree, The Lightning Thief, the two Clementine books, Fannie Flagg's latest book for that grown up touch, and a couple of others...nothing to read today.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 36 years ago

Like others, I have followed the link to the Horn Book's history archives to check out Elinor Cameron's scorn for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Dahl's rebuttal (Here). To Cameron's mind, Charlie was as horrible as television--disastrous junk food for growing young minds (she also had serious, and totally warranted, objections to the enslavement of the Oompa Loompas-- wandering off track, anyone else deeply troubled by the enslavement of the sentient engines on the Island of Sodor?). I went on to read the letters to the editor, and found one by Ursula Le Guin (here). She didn't care for the book either, certainly not enough to spend her time reading it out loud to her children, but she recognized its escapist appeal for the young. This, in turn, reminded me of an article written by Le Guin in the New Statesman last December (here), in which Le Guin writes about lifelong reading of fantasy, how many grown-ups return to books loved as a child because of "their [the books'] strict standard of emotional honesty."

36 years have gone by since Cameron attacked Charlie. Many of us who read the book in the 1970s have grown up to become life long re-readers of children's books, and many of us have become the ones who read out loud to children. I remember reading Charlie when I was 8 or so, and can vividly recall my almost horrified fascination with it (it was grotesque, overdone, with so many incredible, marvellous details...all those fantastic details). But even at the time, I didn't think it has much of the numinous in it -- that transcendent moment when a book socks you in the heart-- nor does it have much emotional honesty (which I think I'd know if I saw it, but can't quite define). I haven't re-read it in decades, and there are certainly many other books higher on the list of things to read to my boys.

The parallels between Charlie and Harry Potter are obvious, especially the "it encourage reluctant readers to read" bit. I'm not in any hurry to read Harry to my boys either. Some books, I think, are just meant to be escapist indulgences. And if their main merit is encouraging reading, let the kids read it themselves. In the same vein, I will not read Captain Underpants out loud.

However, I'd be perfectly happy to have either Charlie or Harry as audio books on long car trips of the future, when escaping takes on more importance with every mile.

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