Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Value of Rhythm, Rhyme and Memory

For those who have days when accessing a particular fact in your brain is like chasing marbles across a high-gloss floor, here is a fun little ditty for word lovers. I have called this my one-and-only bar trick, but it was actually taught to me by my 5th grade teacher, Sister Mary Dolorita, in St. Mary's parish school in Bordentown, NJ. I have never forgotten it and I'm happy to sing it upon request. I would love to hear about others who may have learned something this way.

The prepositions in alphabetical order sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle.

About, above, across, after,
Against, among, around, at.
Before, behind, beside, between,
Beyond, by, down, during, except.

For, from, into, near,
Of, off, on, over, past,
Through, throughout, to, toward, under,
Until, up, with.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Review: Let it Shine

Let it Shine by Ashley Bryan exudes joy from front to back cover. Vibrant cut paper illustrations are stylized, intricate and surprisingly powerful. It is one of the best representations I've ever seen of what music looks and feels like. Mr. Bryan has won many awards for his work including the Corretta Scott King Award. It is imposible to choose a favorite page as each one evokes the emotions behind the familar lyrics. These songs are deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of our country. It would be difficult to read the text and not hear yourself humming the melody in your head.

Bryan includes a readers note in the back of the book where he shares the history of the unique "Negro Spirituals" song tradition. He says, "Thousands of these songs have been collected since the end of the Civil War and have been kept alive by generations of singers. Whether sung by field hands or opera singers, the Spirituals have the power to touch singers and listeners alike."

And the people said, Amen.

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is becoming quite the event in the children's literature blogging community. Kelly Herold at Big A Little A is credited with generating the excitment for this often neglected area of literature and her blog is also today's host. A visit will take you to dozens of other sites where you will find a variety of perspectives on poetry today. By the way, Kelly is also one of the co-founders of the Cybils Awards which have just finished up for this year. I was thrilled to be a part of the reading panels this year. See the Cybils' widget on this page for an evolving (I assume totally random) array of submitted titles.

And I have to credit Kelly Fineman, a writer and poet who documents her journey at Writing and Ruminating with introducing me to the wonderful world of kids lit bloggers after I met her at a SCBWI meeting in Los Angeles last August. Meeting her led me to find the community of folks blogging for avid readers and supporters of children's literature and thus to the Cybils, but it also gave me the oomph I needed to start blogging myself.

So, my contribution to Poetry Friday is one of my favorites as a young reader - "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, (1832-1898). I still love its rhythm and its invented words that sound so real because they could have been. Such is Carroll's mastery, I never suspected they weren't real until I was older and studied the poem. It still is one of my all-time favorite read-alouds.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought -
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffiling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Poetry Foundation has a good description of Poetry Friday. We're making new friends and sharing poetry. Join in the fun by checking out today's host site - Big A, Little A.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Review: One City, Two Brothers

Chris Smith and Aurélia Fronty, author and illustrator respectively, tell the story of the city that is the spiritual home to the world's three largest religions. The Jews call the city Yerushalaym, the Arabs call it Al-Quds, and the English - Jerusalem. It is a story of love and generosity handed down through the centuries as a folk tale as a reminder to all that a city and its inhabitants can live in peace with one another.

The author is a professional storyteller and says that he wrote this book "to combine my love of story with the wish for the people of Israel and Palestine to find peace." The illustrations are stylized and saturated with deep, jewel-like colors that evoke the desert landscape and night skies. They provide context for this unique story and evoke the beauty of the various cultures that contribute to this tale that resonates with multiple cultures.

In the end, this story is about love and peace - the two things our world needs more of. This is a healing story that should be shared with many>

2007 Cybils Award Winners

Over many months, reading panels and judges read hundreds of books - stacks and stacks of wonderful books in many categories. The winners were announced on February 14th. Review the winning books for yourself. There is a new widget on this page that the Cybils team and JacketFlap put together. This widget showcases the many entrants to the Cybils Awards. In most cases these are not the same books that won big awards this year, although you will recognize a few titles. There are many excellent choices to make, so choose your own reading adventure. Although mentioned in earlier posts, I was excited and honored to be a member of the fiction picture book category and a part of this wonderful effort to expand the number of books that are highlighted and promoted to childish imaginations of all ages.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Review: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr's newest book, Sweethearts, is the story of how we can be marked by a person or experience and carry that forward in our lives. Also, how that experience defines us, shapes us, and continues to impact us long after we think it should be over.

It's part of the teen experience to reinvent ourselves, try on different clothes, personalities and friends. Or a time to morph into something we've never been before.

Jenna Vaughn, happy, smiling, confident, popular high school senior works very hard to project an image she has constructed for herself. What no one knows is that long ago, she was Jennifer Harris, a young girl who was as different from Jenna Vaughn as is possible to imagine. Poor, hungry, a misfit. Although she has created and lived with this new image of herself for some time, she still has to work hard at pretending that it is her real self. It is not who she feels inside. She still mourns the loss of her childhood friend Cameron. He, more than any other person in her life, including her mother, defines how she views herself. A good part of the story is how Jenna reconciles her past and present selves, and prepares herself for the future.

The catalyst for this? A young man named Cameron Quick which is a stellar name for a character. To describe Cameron and Jennifer as "childhood sweethearts" as much of the book promotion does demeans the depth and character of their relationship. As children, Cameron and Jennifer both lived in unpleasant circumstances and were the social outcasts at their elementary school. However, beyond having this in common, they had a complex and deep connection. They were each other's only friend, two halves of one person - focused on each other to the exclusion of anyone else. In fact, it comes as a surprise to both Jenna and the reader that she was unaware that Cameron had any brothers and sisters even though there were around when she knew him in elementary school.

As a teen, Jenna still mourns the loss of Cameron who she has been led to believe is dead. She always carries with her that sense that he was the very first person to see and accept who she really was. She believes that if her new friends knew about her past, they would see her differently. So, she expends a lot of energy in projecting the right image. Even with a popular boyfriend, a circle of close friends, good grades, great clothes, and a lovely home Jenna feels herself losing her grip when Cameron reappears in her life.

Cameron and Jenna navigate their reacquaintance and the emergence of the truth of what was really happening in Cameron's home with such affirmation of their deep connection that it affects Jenna's perceptions and opinions about her carefully constructed life. The realizations that each make about themselves and the different paths their lives have taken help them both reach conclusions about the kind of people they have become, where they should be headed and what they should be paying attention to.

Zarr writes in a compelling way about the interior life of teens. Jenna is a very self-reflective narrator and perceptive critic of those around her. Jenna and Cameron are struggling with issues that belie their years and should make every adult rethink their assumptions that being young is some sort of shield against the emotional riptides of life. The profound loss of Cameron shapes Jenna's life. His cherished memories of her lead Cameron to find and reconnect with her when he is old enough to leave his home. For him, his friend Jennifer has literally been the light in his continuing darkness.

The story's ending is in keeping with the many layered emotional landscape that the author has drawn for us. Sweethearts is difficult to read at times. It is painful to see children treated cruelly and having to live and relive those experiences. Sweethearts is not a light and frothy book, but in the end, it is a hopeful story and well worth reading.