Friday, April 22, 2016

The Creation: Earth Day, National Poetry Month

(photo Earth-Western Hemisphere, public domain, NASA)

Happy Earth Day! Happy National Poetry Month! I pondered what to post for today. There are so many wonderful, worthy books to highlight and poems to read. Just troll around Facebook, twitter, and author's blogs.

I decided to go back to the very beginning and share "The Creation" by James Weldon Johnson. I love it for it's strong sense of story, it's poetic language, and it's powerful tenderness.

It begins:

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I'm lonely--
I'll make me a world.

Read the rest here.

Hearing poetry recited well is an experience. Take in "The Creation," recited by Wintley Phipps.

How do you celebrate Earth Day?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Cheers for Dewey Decimal: National Library Week & National Poetry Month

(Photo by Maggie Appleton, CC by SA 2.0)

I grew up with the Dewey Decimal System, which is still used in many school and public libraries. Certain Dewey Decimal numbers feel like home to me. Here's a poem about my favorite. What's yours?

Dewey Decimal, the Library Guide

Dewey Decimal helps me find
Just the books I have in mind.
Zeros are the books on media,
Computer books, encyclopedias.

Next come one hundreds and twos,
Books on thoughts, beliefs, and views.
Three hundreds cover human groups—
Families, schools, and army troops.

Books on language make up fours,
Fives are animals and more.
Sixes tell of health and cooking—
Not what I want. I’ll keep looking.

Seven hundreds are the arts—
Music, painting, acting parts.
Nine hundreds cover every place
In history of the human race.

Eight hundreds, here I am at last.
Stories told from ages past,
Poems and plays I read with pride.
Dewey Decimal is my guide.
                  --Jane Heitman Healy, c2015

Happy Reading! Happy National Library Week! Happy National Poetry Month!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Celebrate Your Library and Be Transformed! National Library Week, 4/10-4/16, 2016

"Libraries Transform" is 2016's National Library Week theme. Libraries stand for equal access to information for all. They educate. They provide refuge. They are a place to explore. They offer community. 

Many authors have written odes to libraries in poetry and prose, such as:

Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.-Ray Bradbury


People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.–Saul Bellow

A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life.–Norman Cousins
Here's a true story. A man came into his public library, day after day, week after week, using an online practice test resource to improve his academic skills. Finally, he announced to the librarian that he had passed his GED test because of the practice test program provided there at no charge. She congratulated him and was even happier when he came in again to announce that he'd gotten a good full-time job.  

Sometimes, librarians and their patrons transform together! Click here to see Carmen Agra Deedy read her book The Library Dragon.
How have libraries transformed your life?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Lee Bennett Hopkins, National Poetry Month, & National Library Week!

I was nervous to say "hello" to Lee Bennett Hopkins when I met him before a breakout session at an International Reading Association (IRA--now ILA) Conference years ago. He was like a rock star to me. In fact, he IS a rock star of children's poetry, having written and anthologized nearly 200 books of children's poetry! He is a champion of the genre, encouraging beginners and generously supporting awards to children's poets. And of course, he has won numerous awards himself.

But I shouldn't have been nervous, because in spite of his children's poetry rock-stardom, he is also a very kind and gracious person who welcomed me to the room where he was set to introduce children's poet Kristine O'Connell George, an IRA/Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet award winner.

One of Hopkins' recent anthologies, Jumping Off Library Shelves, is a perfect match for National Library Week, April 10-16, 2016. It contains poems by well-known poets Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Nikki Grimes, Michele Krueger, Cynthia Cotten, Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lewis, X.J. Kennedy, Joan Bransfield Graham, Deborah Ruddell, Alice Schertle, Kristine O'Connell George, Ann Whitford Paul, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, and Lee himself. The poems are about the power of story, the role of libraries as refuge and places to explore. Librarians, books, and the internet are all featured here.

Here is Lee reciting his poem, "Good Books, Good Times"

As Lee says, "Be happy with poetry"! (and I would add "and libraries!")

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Welcome Spring! Welcome Back, Birds!

It's funny that during the winter I don't think about missing the birds' songs. But as soon as they're back, I am so happy to hear them!

To celebrate both spring and birds, I'd like to introduce you to 3 books that, though published for children, are great for all ages. These books are fun to read, beautifully illustrated, and full of information.

Every Day Birds by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Dylan Metrano, is brand new and already receiving acclaim, including being named a Junior Library Guild selection. Rhyming text and paper-cutting illustrations teach about birds that many of us see every day.

What makes a bird a bird? Feathers, of course! Melissa Stewart has written Feathers: Not Just for Flying to help us understand what feathers are used for. This multiple-award-winner, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, When you find a feather on the ground where you walk, you'll think about this book. What bird dropped it? How did the bird use this feather?

Finally, what's better than a reassuring, rhyming good-night book that features birds? By masterful storyteller poet Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, You Nest Here With Me describes the the nests built by 14 different birds, ending each stanza with the comforting title refrain.

I hope you appreciate bird songs this spring and share the joy with friends young and old. Where I live, we get excited to see the first robin--a true spring harbinger. Enjoy this song by Kaija Bondi and East of Westreville: 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Once Upon a Time: National Tell a Fairy Tale Day!

February 26 is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day! So many great tales; which ones will you tell? Traditional, adaptations, fractured fairy tales, and mashups make the fairy tale repertoire rich with choices.

A mashup picture book out last year has given me a new favorite saying for this season--"Oh, slippery slush!" Tara Lazar's Little Red Gliding Hood puts Little Red on skates to take on the wolf. The humorous text and clever illustrations (see title link for sample pages) by Troy Cummings  make this a book you want to read again and again. See how many other fairy tales are alluded to, mentioned, or pictured in this book.

Another fairy tale favorite with a new twist is Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt. Imagine Cinderella as a mechanic in space. Her interaction with the prince is anything but traditional!

As you know, many fairy tales began orally and then were written down by the likes of the Grimm Brothers. When I was researching for my book Once Upon a Time: Fairy Tales in the Library and Language Arts Classroom,
I learned that some tales were specific to certain geographical places, and all adaptations of that tale could be traced to that place. Other tales were more universal, with similar stories springing up across the globe. Cinderella is a universal tale, as she appears in some form in many cultures.

One of the best sites I've found for fairy tales, their history, and their adaptations is SurLaLune.

Now that I've given you some resources, which fairy tale will you tell on National Tell a Fairy Tale Day? What is your favorite fairy tale?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Spending Time in the Tropics with Margarita Engle's Books

My last post was all about cold. And then it got colder! What's a person to do but think warm thoughts and read award-winning books by Margarita Engle set in warmer climes? So for the past week, I've been dreaming about drumbeats, digging in Panama, and conquering dyslexia--all thanks to Engle's verse novels. Engle's ability to step into another's shoes makes her historical works for young people go straight for readers' hearts.

Like most of Engle's work, Drum Dream Girl is based on an historical person, Mila Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who dreamed of playing the drum--an activity reserved for boys & men only. Mila refuses to give up her dream, paving the way for girls and women to be drummers today. Engle uses research and imagination to tell Mila's story, which is beautifully and creatively illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  So beautifully, in fact, that this book won the Pura Belpre Illustrator Award for 2016. The book has won many other awards, too. Get a feel for the book here:

Both the setting and the girl's courage to follow her dream warmed me.

What did you learn in history about the Panama Canal? Probably something about the importance of building the canal to improve trade routes. Maybe a little about malaria. But what would it have been like to be the people who did the work? Engle's verse novel, Silver People, introduces us in alternating poems to Mateo, a young Cuban; Henry, a Jamaican; Anita, a local Panamanian, and others. They soon find out that the work recruiter's promises are false. They--and we-- learn that the world is divided into Gold People (whites, who are paid with gold) and Silver People (people of color who are paid with silver). The Silver People are further divided by the darkness of their skin, with the darkest skinned men doing the hardest, most dangerous work. To make matters worse, the Silver People see the Gold People living and working in comfort, while they struggle. Engle includes the environmental impact on the Panama Canal project by including poems from the forest--the howler monkeys, the sloths, the vipers, and the trees themselves. This book has earned many awards, including the Bank Street Center for Children's Literature 2015 Best Children's Book of the Year. While reading in sub-zero temps, I was sweating with Mateo in the jungle, and hoping he would make it out alive.

In The Wild Book, we read a fictionalized account of how Engle's grandmother overcame word-blindness, or as we know it today, dyslexia, by writing in a blank book her mother gave her. In a time of Cuban bandits following Cuba's independence from Spain, what Fefa learns helps save her family and their farm. Engle develops Fefa's character well, allowing her to go from an unsure girl to a confident young woman. Fefa and her mother both love poetry, but at first Fefa can only see them as "towers so tall/that I could never/hope/to climb/all the wispy/letters." Later, she flies "to the truth of words" and outs the villian. When things have settled down, she reflects that she has "grown/just a little bit/stronger/and wiser." A testimony to the power of reading and strength of character, The Wild Book has received honors including Kirkus Reviews New & Notable Books for Children, March 2012.

Enjoy these and other books by Margarita Engle and listen to her tell about her writing about Cuba:

Books can warm hearts even on the coldest days! What books warm you?