January 27, 2007

Latest from art lessons

Laura's been taking art lessons for about a year and a half now, and Daniel since September. Since I'm playing with the digital camera, I thought I'd try my hand at their latest efforts, completed this month:

Cowboy and horse by Daniel
This is his second or third project since September; he
used a grid and acrylic paints, copying a photograph from
an old calendar I saved.

Snow leopard by Laura

Pastels and charcoal; she copied freehand from an old
Ranger Rick magazine.

January 26, 2007

Poetry Friday: Burma-Shave

Not much time for Poetry Friday this week either but I've decided that if I choose something short and sweet, I can swing it. And so......

The Poetry of Burma-Shave:

Shaving brushes
You'll soon see 'em
Way down east
In some

To kiss
A mug
That's like a cactus
Takes more nerve
Than it does practice

We've sold
Six million others
We still can't sell
Those coughdrop

Prickly pears
Are picked
For pickles
No peach picks
A face that prickles

If you
Don't know
Whose signs
These are
You can't have
Driven very far.

This is not
A clever verse
I tried
And tried
But just
Got worse

For Benjamin Franklin types:
Early to bed
Early to rise
Was meant for those
Old fashioned guys
Who don't use

For Shakespeare types:
Said Juliet
To Romeo
If you
Won't shave
Go homeo

Some patriotic entries:
Hinky dinky
Parley voo
Cheer up face
The war
Is thru
Burma-Shave (1930)

Let's make Hitler
And Hirohito
Look as sick as
Old Benito
Buy defense bonds
Burma-Shave (1942)

Maybe you can't
Shoulder a gun
But you can shoulder
The cost of one
Buy defense bonds
Burma-Shave (1942)

More than a few warnings against drinking and driving:
If every sip
Fills you
With zip
Then your sipper
Needs a zipper

Sleep in a chair
Nothing to lose
But a nap
At the wheel
Is a permanent snooze

Don't lose
Your head
To gain a minute
You need your head
Your brains are in it

To car
Gates ajar

A girl
Should hold on
To her youth
But not
When he's driving

From Burma-Shave historian Frank Rowsome (see below), an unofficial entry, c1965:
Farewell, O verse
Along the road
How sad to
Know you're
Out of mode

And an appropriate way to end this, from the 1949 advertising campaign:
Just this once
And just for fun
We'll let you
What we've begun
? ? ?


For you youngsters, Burma-Shave was, at the time of its 1925 introduction, a newfangled brushless shaving cream developed by Clinton Odell's Burma-Vita Company. It was promoted with humorous verses on newfangled billboards, in staggered sequence, along newfangled highways for newfangled automobiles . But while the ad campaign was one of America's most memorable, and the company at one point the second most popular manufacturer of shaving cream, by the 1960s faster speeds on four-lane interstate highways did in the jingles and then, the company, which was sold to Phillip Morris in 1963, and then became an operating division of a subsidiary, American Safety Razor Products. Which for some reason now sells under the Burma-Shave label a soap-and-brush set. And this is progress? But I digress.

I found my rhymes in an old copy of Frank Rowsome, Jr.*'s The Verse by the Side of the Road: The Story of the Burma-Shave Signs and Jingles, still in print, hurray, hurray; You can buy the book or find all of the jingles online at this website, where you can even register for the jingle of the day. For more on the life and times of Burma-Shave, here are links to an NPR story (don't miss the picture of penguins in Antarctica perusing the signs), and another book, Burma-Shave: The Rhymes, the Signs, the Times by Bill Vossler.

Now if I could just figure out how to put a nickel in my computer and get out a piece of pie...

*The versatile Mr. Rowsome was Managing Editor of Popular Science Monthly, head of the Technical Publications section at NASA, and also wrote Trolley Car Treasury, They Laughed When I Sat Down: An Informal History of Advertising in Words and Pictures, and Think Small: The Story of Those Volkswagen Ads.


Susan at Chicken Spaghetti has today's Poetry Friday round-up. Thanks, Susan!

January 24, 2007

From wisteria: "If your child could own only 25 picture books...

what would they be and why? I challenge!"

wisteria is thinking about buying, culling, and rereading books.

I decided to take her up on her challenge. Although wisteria asked about a single child, I decided instead to base the list on all three children's favorite picture books, and a few of my own favorites as well. But for the four of us, I just couldn't get the list down to 25. Thirty was the bare, non-negotiable, minimum between the four of us, and I'm sure we forgot a few. I'd like to see what others are able to come up with, and if they can keep to the 25.

So here's the list, highly subjective, in no particular order, and influenced by the fact that when the kids were born our home library included all of my old children's books. A big thank you to my parents in a small NYC apartment who never considered not saving them. Well, almost never. And yes, I still have a dim memory of going to the Willy O'Dwyer book signing on Fifth Avenue, upstairs I think, at Brentano's or Rizzoli, I think...

1. Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty
2. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
3. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
4. Little Farm by Lois Lenski
5. Cowboy Small by Lois Lenski
6. Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle
7. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
8. Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton
9. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
10. Harold and the Purple Crayon
11. The Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown
12. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
13. The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter
14. Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
16. Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall
17. Pelle’s New Suit by Elsa Beskow
18. Roxaboxen by Barbara Cooney
19. Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack
20. Babar the King by Jean de Brunhoff
21. Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
22. The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier
23. Willy O'Dwyer Jumped in the Fire by Beatrice Schenk and Beni Montresor
24. Cinderella by Marcia Brown
25. Little Wild Horse by Hetty Burlingame Beatty
26. A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban
27. The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes by Phyllis Krasilovsky
28. Five Minutes' Peace by Jill Murphy
29. The Little Brute Family by Russell Hoban
30. What Do You Do, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin

January 23, 2007

More CDs, less radio

Yesterday was the first day of the Pickton murder trial in British Columbia, and if you don't get Canadian radio, including CBC, and you're really interested in the gory details (and I do mean gory) you'll just have to Google it. But if you do and you click on any links, make sure your kids aren't in the room.

Those of us with a radio tuned to CBC plunked on the kitchen counter got quite the unexpected, graphic, earful at the close of the first day's testimony; fortunately, the kids were in a bedroom playing while I was near enough to hit the off-switch, though not until I had heard something I didn't need or want to hear. Interestingly, much discussion on CBC radio in the days leading up to the planned year-long trial on the traumatic effects of the testimony on jurors. But no thought at all given to listeners, and their children, who don't want the latest details on the depths of human depravity and evil broadcast every hour on the hour.

I know I'm not the only disappointed, displeased listener, and yes, I did share my thoughts with the Powers That Be, along with the suggestion of establishing a dedicated page on the website with the gruesome nitty gritty for those who want it. Since we have only two TV channels, watching the national news only after 10 pm, and don't get a daily newspaper, radio is our main concern. But if we did read a paper every day, I'd want it to be The Vancouver Sun, which has made thoughtful plans for its reporting:
To assist you, our readers, in assessing the day's Pickton trial stories, we will publish every day on page A2 a short and sanitized version of the previous day's testimony.

When the more complete story inside the paper contains disturbing information, a warning to that effect will appear on page A2. A warning will also appear on the top of any story that might require reader discretion.

You, our readers, will be able to choose to avoid stories that you think might offend you. You will be able to keep the stories out of the hands of your children should you choose to do so.

I also shared with CBC our family's Plan B, developed during the Bernardo/Homolka trial, which was considerably shorter and took place, for us at least, Before Children: unless the editors and producers iron out their coverage and learn to exercise discretion by the end of the week, it's CD-city for us for the next 12 months. Music, recorded books, you name it. But no radio broadcasts with news coverage.

January 22, 2007

Joyful influences: More thoughts on poetry and literature for children

this time from Willa at everywakinghour in this post (I'm still catching up on my blog reading as you can tell). Some of the highlights, but go read the entire piece:
Children aren’t born knowing what we consider “accessible” to them. They find it out based on their experience of what’s around them, what we let them have access to and what they make of it with their own minds and hearts. Sometimes adults can expect both less and more of the child than he is capable of. They can give him material that Charlotte Mason would call “twaddle” and then expect him to be able to work with it on a level more suitable of an older student. A lot of teaching errors come from one or both of these mistakes.
Probably the bottom line is that children aren’t dumb. They are as intelligent as we are, but their intelligence works through their hands and senses and creativity. So we don’t have to dumb down things to make them accessible. Perhaps we think that letting them explore with their hands and imaginations, and “play” with the experience, is dumbing down, but that’s just because adults have a limited idea of what intelligence is.
Lovely to read about Willa's daughter, now a teenager: "Obviously she wasn’t [at age six] comprehending the full story but Shakespeare and Tolkien have continued to be big and joyful influences on her life."

January 21, 2007

More bits and bobs: algebra, kidlit, Dickens, and Chaucer

This post, "Have algebra books changed?", by Maria at the always worthwhile Homeschool Math Blog, caught my eye. Good to read read even if your kids aren't quite ready for algebra.

Kelly at Big A little a is ready with the 10th Carnival of Children's Literature. Lots of good stuff, or "toasty posts" as Kelly calls them, to read on a cold winter's day (or night)!

A classical homeschooling friend sent me a copy of this article from The Christian Science Monitor about more Charles Dickens for children. Columnist and parent Janine Woods gives some tips at the end for adding more great books, and Great Books, to your child's life. I'd just add that for many, Dickens is a wonderful family tradition at Christmas, whether it's reading A Christmas Carol aloud on Christmas Eve, or watching one of the many movie versions (we're partial to Alistair Sim). And you can't go wrong starting even young kids with simplified versions or abridged editions, such as Marcia Williams's comic-strip style Charles Dickens and Friends, which includes, as the subtitle says, "Five Lively Retellings": Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, and A Christmas Carol.

Marcia Williams's classic retellings -- of Shakespeare, King Arthur, Don Quixote, the Old Testament, and more -- are so popular at our house and with friends that I was delighted to discover, while poking around Amazon for links, her just-published version of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which I also just discovered The Globe & Mail's Susan Perren calls "a delightful introduction to Chaucer." Another good review earlier this week in The Columbus Dispatch. And thumbs up too from The Washington Post; as Elizabeth Ward wrote last week about what she calls "exceptional picture books [that] tell of life and love": "At first blink, Chaucer seems unlikely to appeal to children."

January 19, 2007

Poetry for Friday

Nothing from me today for Poetry Friday -- too busy, so I'll shoot for a Poetry Saturday, I hope -- but I wanted to make sure to post the link to my fellow Cybils panelist Elaine's fabulous Poetry Friday post today, complete with fabulous poems (including one by Farm School favorite Eleanor Farjeon) and links (including one to even more Farjeon poetry), over at Blue Rose Girls, on "The What and Why of Poetry", with poems and prose about poetry.

January 18, 2007

Raising hep cats: Reading about, and listening to, modern American music

Children's author and home educating father Chris Barton at Bartography is mulling over choices for picture books about modern American music and musicians, mostly for his almost three-year-old son, and wrote the other week, "As for those books already on the shelves, there are far more worthy titles than one family can take on in a single month. These that I've listed below are simply those that caught my eye. If you've read them already, what did you think? Which others would you recommend?" I started writing up my suggestions for the comment box at Bartography but when they started to grow like crazy I thought I'd better put them up here to avoid an unintentional hijacking.

Of the picture book list Chris posted, the ones we've read and liked the best, probably not so coincidentally, are the ones that come with an audio CD: Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land; When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson; What Charlie Heard (book with CD), about Charles Ives, by the always elegant and poetic Mordicai Gerstein; and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (book with CD). You might want to add a few more CDs to the mix, especially Guthrie's "Songs to Grown on for Mother and Child" and as much Pete Seeger as you can manage, especially the American Favorite Ballads series.

And just a few more book suggestions, based on my own gang:

Aaron Copland pairs well with Ives, plus the cowboy ballets are particularly appealing to young children. The only dedicated picture book about Copland I can think of is the Mike Venezia volume in his "World's Greatest Composers" series. But Copland is included in The Story of the Orchestra: Listen While You Learn About the Instruments, the Music and the Composers Who Wrote the Music! (book with CD) by Robert Levine; and also in Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought) (book with CD) by Kathleen Krull; meant for older kids so you might want to preview this for younger ones. Ives is also mentioned in The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (book with CD) by Anita Ganeri, which is a bit heavy for most toddlers and preschoolers but great for slightly older siblings.

I'd be a very bad Cybils poetry panelist if I didn't suggest the recent poetry picture book Jazz by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by his son Christopher, and I'm glad to see that my fellow panelist Elaine was quick to suggest this one. Very nice when accompanied by the non-poetry picture book The Sound That Jazz Makes by Carole Boston Weatherford. And if you want to stick to a Myers & Myers theme, their Blues Journey (book with CD) is lovely; read it while listening to "Leadbelly Sings for Children".

Davy found the new This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt at the library recently. It's a counting book based on the song "This Old Man" (you know, the one with the knickknack paddywhack business), but even though he's six and playing around with multiplication, he -- and the rest of us -- got a big kick from the book. For kids who don't know jack about scat, this is a wonderful introduction, especially if you're going to read the Ella Fitzgerald book and listen to her music.

I know I probably don't have to say this, but especially when the subject is music, books -- no matter how great they are -- are just part of the picture. CDs and movies are a wonderful way to saturate your kids with the music, and, maybe even more importantly, to expose them to the original, real stuff rather than the kiddie version. With younger kids, you can always fast forward through the talky bits and head straight to the singing and dancing. I have three ardent Frank Sinatra (and Gene Kelly) fans, and their love of the music came about not from any books but from hearing the music around the house and watching old movies, especially Anchors Aweigh (and what could be more appealing than Gene Kelly dancing with Tom & Jerry?), High Society (with some great music by Louis Armstrong...), and, the best of the bunch, On the Town. For Gershwin (see below, too), it doesn't get any better than An American in Paris, where you get the benefit of more Gene Kelly, whose athletic dancing appeals greatly to boys; and then you may as well get Singin' in the Rain, which is about singing, dancing, and the early history of the moving picture.

Some other fun, older movies about music for the kids:

Ball of Fire: Barbara Stanwyck as a nightclub singer who moves in with eight old fogey professors, including the appropriately wooden Gary Cooper and the always charming S.Z. Sakall, to help explain "slang" for the encyclopedia they're working on. Stanwyck performs a couple of numbers with jazz great, drummer Gene Krupa. It's actually a 1940s screwball comedy version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with which it would pair nicely (though you might want to make sure it won't scare your toddler/preschooler). Not to be confused, especially if you're watching with the kiddies, Great Balls of Fire! about Jerry Lee Lewis, who, you might remember, married his 13-year-old second cousin.

As long as you're watching Snow White, you should line up the classic Fantasia, which combines animation beautifully with classical music, including Igor Stravinksy's "Rite of Spring" and Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain". Again, you probably won't want to let little ones, or sensitive older ones, watch either Snow White or Fantasia without you nearby.

There are a bunch of movies about the birth of jazz that are fairly cheesy and have dubious historical accounts, but the music is wonderful: two of the better ones are New Orleans (1947) with Billie Holiday singing "Do You Know What It Means (to Miss New Orleans)" accompanied by Louis Armstrong and an all-star band; and Syncopation (1942), with Bunny Berrigan, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, and Harry James.

Irving Berlin's Alexander's Ragtime Band is great fun, and so are some composer biopics, which tend to be rather stronger on the music than the actual biographical facts:

St. Louis Blues, the biography of W.C. Handy, played by Nat King Cole; with Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, and Cab Calloway

Rhapsody in Blue, the story of George Gershwin, played by Robert Alda (Alan's dad); pair it with the picture book and An American in Paris with Gene Kelly

The Glenn Miller Story, with James Stewart, and appearances by Gene Krupa and Louis Armstrong

The Benny Goodman Story starring Steve Allen

One of my kids' all-time favorites, Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney as composer and entertainer George M. Cohan

Another patriotic toe-tapper, Stars and Stripes Forever, with Clifton Webb as composer and bandleader John Philip Sousa

Movie musicals are a whole 'nother post (don't hold your breath right now), but if you're interested, to wet your whistle try That's Entertainment and the website for the 2004 PBS series The American Musical.

Not a movie, but now on DVD and one of the best ways to teach young children about music is the classic Leonard Bernstein television series, "Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts with the NY Philharmonic"; check your library. The series, on nine discs, includes 25 of the programs, such as "What Does Music Mean?", "What is Orchestration?", "What Makes Music Symphonic?", "What is Classical Music?", "What is American Music?", "Humor in Music", "Folk Music in the Concert Hall", "Jazz in the Concert Hall", "Happy Birthday, Igor Stravinsky" (see Fantasia, above), and much more. Bernstein's passion for the subject and love of children come shining through.

Beyond movies, there are some useful websites. The PBS "Jazz" series by Ken Burns is wonderful, and the website is still up, including pages for younger children, with some lesson plans and activities for those in grades K through 5.

The Smithsonian has a jazzy website, too, which offers "Smithsonian Jazz Class" for children and is divided into two sections, each titled "Groovin' to Jazz", one for ages eight to 13 and the other for ages 12 to 25.

And just for fun, for a swinging Christmas next December, keep these in mind and don't forget to have the kids compare and contrast the versions of their old favorites: Verve Presents the Very Best of Christmas Jazz, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, An Oscar Peterson Christmas, A Dave Brubeck Christmas, Ray Charles's The Spirit of Christmas, and Mahalia Sings Songs of Christmas! Though I'm not brave enough, with or without kids, for Christmas with the Rat Pack.

Speaking of fictionalized versions of history in the movies, don't miss Chris's recent post about fictionalized versions of history in children's picture books. Good reading for those of us who enjoy historical fiction.

And happy listening!

The Growing with Grammar collection is growing

My friend Tamy Davis finished just before Christmas with the latest in her Growing with Grammar (GWG) series, the combined First & Second Grade volume, and we just received it in the mail.

I used First Language Lessons with Laura for first and second grade, and while she was quite enthusiastic about the book, there was an awful lot of eye-rolling from her brothers at all the repetition, and that was with a fair amount of judicious pruning on my part.

I'll definitely start Davy with the new book after we get back from our trip, and just might switch over Daniel, who's in second grade and has been working slowly through the third grade GWG book.

I haven't had the chance to look very closely at the new GWG so far, but here's what I do know: unlike the 3rd grade and 4th grade programs, for the Grade 1 & 2 program, the student's manual and workbook are combined. Tamy writes at the website, where you can also view the new book's index and some sample lessons for each grade, that the Grade 1 & 2 program
is based on a 36-week school year for both grades (72 weeks in all), and there is a new concept introduced each week. There are three lessons to reinforce each concept. This program assumes a three-day work schedule for grammar. The
program, however, is easily modified to suit your family’s needs. At the beginning
of the book, we have assembled an index that lists the 72 concepts (36 per year)
and the lessons that pertain to each. Review questions are strategically placed
throughout this book. There are also comprehensive review lessons at the end of
each section.
Just as with the Grade 3 and Grade 4 books, what I like best about the GWG programs is that they foster independent work from the start. The books are all spiral-bound at the top (especially handy for lefty Davy) and stay open easily, and the text is addressed to the child. And the new volume is printed in a nice large font perfect for first graders just beginning to read on their own. For instance, the examples for the first lesson, Introduction to Sentences, are

"Linda ate peas."

"The frog hopped."

Perfect for new readers or those just learning.

Davy is excited to start, and I'm excited to have one more high-quality secular, classical program available for our home education adventure.

January 17, 2007

Bits and bobs

Blogging will be intermittent and sporadic for the next, possibly long, while. We're planning to visit my parents, and Tom and I have a ton each to do before we get on the planes (not to mention locating 100mL/100g/3oz. mini bottles of unguents, potions, and toothpaste for onboard use).

Here are some fun and useful things I've found in the past few days:

The indefatigable Kelly at Big A little a has ready the January issue of The Edge of the Forest online magazine of children's literature; of special note is the article on leveled reading, Helping Children Choose Books Beyond Level by Franki, a teacher and mother of two:
I am a mother of a first grader and a tenth grader. Both have learned to read during the era of, what I call, Level-Mania. I want both of my daughters to have more than going higher/higher, faster/faster in their reading lives. I want them to find the joy in reading and to read because it sustains them. I think it is time that we think about what messages these leveling systems are giving to our children. What are we teaching them about lifelong reading, book choice, and learning? What can they learn if they are scoring points and getting prizes for reading? How can they fall in love with a character when their goal is to get to the next level?
Next month, February 10, is the Edge's anniversary issue.

LaMai, a single working indefatigable mother in NYC, has a great post about why homeschooling is for you; take a look at her previous post to see that for her son, homeschool rarely means staying home.

I know there are other things I meant to post about, but after our third trip to town yesterday (morning/appointment; afternoon/homeschool gym day for the kids; evening/4H meeting for Laura followed by remnants of homeschool support group meeting), this is all I can recall for now. Besides, I'm supposed to be buying five plane tickets. Back with more as I remember...

January 15, 2007

The siren call of pirates

Bruce at wordswimmer, one of my fellow Cybils panelists, has a terrific review of the terrific poetry book, Blackbeard, The Pirate King by J. Patrick Lewis, published in 2006 by National Geographic.

As Bruce writes,
"Even if you already know the story of Blackbeard, who returns to life in all his trembling and fearsome glory in Blackbeard The Pirate King, J. Patrick Lewis' remarkable account of his life, you'll relish the chance to sail with Lewis as he captains this sturdy ship of verse through the stormy seas of Blackbeard's many voyages."
How could you possibly resist such an invitation? Blackbeard is one of my kids' favorites poetry books -- I'm fairly certain it's Daniel's absolute favorite, since he's been known to sleep with the book, which rarely makes it back to the shelf -- and one of the titles they expressly asked to keep at home on our own shelves. It was one of the best collections of original children's poetry of 2006 and deserves a wide readership, whether one's interest is pirates or poetry.

Homeschoolers in particular will marvel at the talent and interests of J. Patrick Lewis, who has cleverly and memorably versified everything from extinct animals to castles to world travels. Not to be missed is his pop-up poetry biography of Galileo. I'm looking forward to his The Brothers' War: Civil War Voices in Verse, to be published in the fall by National Geographic, just in time for our continuing American history studies.

And Susan at Chicken Spaghetti reviewed Blackbeard last fall here.

(Painting, "The Duel on the Beach" by N.C. Wyeth, 1931, to illustrate the swashbuckling Rafael Sabatini story of the same name; this illustration and many others accompany the poems in Blackbeard.)

January 14, 2007

BookCloseouts January sale

Just remembered to post about BookCloseout's new January "coupons" (actually discount codes) that were announced on January 4th, good through the end of the month, where you can save $5 off a minimum order of $25, $10 off a minimum order of $50, and $20 off a minimum order of $100.

Some nice things at BookCloseouts right now include: books by Jim Arnosky, Cheryl Harness, David Macaulay, David McCullough; Melissa Wiley's Martha Years and Charlotte Years books; poetry by Naomi Shahib Nye; several Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science series titles; several Books of Wonder illustrated children's classics; a good selection from the Viking Portable Library (Portable Plato, Louisa May Alcott, Abraham Lincoln, Conrad, Emerson, Chaucer, and more); and quite a bit of children's nonfiction (history, art, science, reference) from Peter Bedrick publishers. I haven't provided BC links because quantities are so variable, but you can search by name (author or publisher), or just poke around by category, through new arrivals, and for your favorite authors and subjects.

January 13, 2007

More thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?
Or what's a poem for?
-- from Stephen Fry's nifty Ode Less Traveled: Unlocking the Poet Within (original quote from Robert Browning)

On the heels of my guest review at Chicken Spaghetti of The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, I'm still agitating and cogitating about the book, a wonderful and luminous volume I thought -- heck, my kids thought -- was one of the best children's poetry books of 2006 and yet failed to make it into the top five of the Cybils poetry titles. Go figure. I'm still trying.

In fact, for some time now I've been trying to figure out the current politics of poetry for children, which nowadays means that most folks aren't interested, or think that children won't be interested, in poems that aren't "relevant", "accessible", or scatalogical. Admittedly, to many children and parents, the idea of poetry, especially the classic variety, is about as welcome as the thought of a plate full of broccoli (unless, of course, you figure that both are just an acquired taste, and the thing to do with your kids is to start acquiring those tastes while having fun, which isn't particularly sneaky, mean, or difficult). And the fact that some of the poems and poets in The Barefoot Book aren't usually found in children's books, or that some of the authors could be considered "dead white males" will no doubt cause some parents, especially those who tend to underestimate the little dears and their abilities, to gnash their teeth and grumble.

But as I learned a few years ago during Laura's brief foray into public education, just before we started home schooling, it's a mistake and a terrible disservice to children to underestimate them, or to foist on them one's own prejudices, against either Auden or eggs. I've long taken inspiration from the educational philosophy of Marva Collins, who believes that children are naturally ambitious and rise to a challenge; and I've been heartened recently to read both author Mitali Perkins's fond remembrance of Wordsworth and my friend JoVE's post on Accessible Poetry, about modern children and classic works. The vocabulary and exact meaning of some lines may not always be obvious to children, and yet the rhythm and poetry still speak to them. When children are older, they'll already be familiar with some of the great writers and great books, greeting the original works as old friends rather than viewing them with fear or displeasure. And as adults, they'll be able to join in the Great Conversation, as educational philosophers Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler called it, rather than just joining in the latest gossip. In a 1970 interview, Hutchins said,
[I]t seemed to me that the Great Books were the most promising avenue to liberal education if only because they are teacher-proof. If there were a Socrates behind every teacher's desk, you would not need to worry about the curriculum. ... I am sorry to repeat that the striking thing about young people today is that they are frightfully ignorant of the past. I don't see how this can ever be an advantage. I understand the advantages of innocence but I do not understand the advantages of ignorance. ... They are ignorant of the fact that there is a Great Conversation echoing back through history on the subject of justice. You are quite right that they are not ignorant in the sense that they do not lack information. They have more information than any previous generation, but having a great deal of information has little to do with knowledge. Knowledge is organized information, and an institution pursuing knowledge is not simply trying to hand out the latest dope on everything; it is trying to put this current information into a context of ideas that can be useful for analyzing the problems of daily life.
While some of my Cybils colleagues had concerns that the poetry in the book is too "old" to be suitable for kids, I tend to consider poems ageless, as I wrote in a post to the group. I don't really think of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll as children's poets (I remember a surprising and glorious English class in 11th grade studying Alice) or "A Child's Garden of Verses" as children's poetry -- the latter, in fact, seems to speak to me more now that I have children of my own -- any more than I think of Yeats and Emerson as poets for adults. So I was happy to reread recently Harold Bloom's introduction to his Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of Ages:
...I do not accept the category of "Children's Literature," which had some use and distinction a century ago, but now all too often is a mask for the dumbing-down that is destroying our literary culture. Most of what is commercially offered as children's literature would be inadequate fare for any reader of any age at any time. I myself first read nearly everything I have gathered together in this book between the ages of five and fifteen, and I have gone on reading these stories and poems from fifteen to seventy. My title is meant to be precise: What is between these covers is for extremely intelligent children of all ages. Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, and Edward Lear are blended with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nicolai Gogol, and Ivan Turgenev, because all of them -- in the poems and stories I have chosen -- make themselves open to authentic readers of any age. There is nothing here that is difficult or obscure, nothing that will not both illuminate and entertain. If anyone finds a work here that does not yield immediately to their understanding, I would urge them to persevere. It is by extending oneself, by exercising some capacity previously unused that you come to a better knowledge of your own potential [emphasis mine].
As I wrote in our panel discussions, and I have a feeling my impassioned pleas for The Barefoot Book went well beyond mere discussion (though my fellow panelists are a forgiving bunch), I'm not quite sure when "classic" became a pejorative term or started to mean only heavy, serious, somber works. I've always understood the word to mean something -- whether art, music, movies, or literature -- that has stood the test of time and avoided the faddish, and informed an understanding of the human condition, and children are very, very human. The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems is genuinely a book to grow with, with a wide range of poetry and a variety of voices to appeal to children of all ages, abilities and interests, the sort of book a son or daughter might take along when it's time to leave home, not just because it contains sentimental old favorites from childhood, but because the poems in the book still have things to say, and explain, to the reader. Carol Ann Duffy, one of England's most popular living poets, writes in her introduction to the anthology, "The poems here are 'classic' because, although their authors are no longer living, they continue to shine brightly in the English language -- true stars. ... Poetry, of all the arts, offers us moments in language that preserve or celebrate, explore or elegize, transform or enhance our human joys and sadnesses."

Her words remind me of William Faulkner's when he collected his Nobel Prize for literature: "The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail." Which is why I think there must be room for classic poetry, especially glorious collections like The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, in the lives of children, too. Especially in the lives of children. But do them a favor. Don't just give them the book. Sit down and read it to them, with them, and let them read aloud to you and each other, too. That's how classic poetry lovers, and sometimes even poets, are born.

Putting in a guest appearance at Chicken Spaghetti

My review of The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, compiled and illustrated by Jackie Morris, is up at Chicken Spaghetti today. Many thanks to Susan for asking me be a guest reviewer chez Chicken!

Stay tuned for some more thoughts here at Farm School on classic poems and children, probably later today...

January 12, 2007

Poetry Friday with Ian Serraillier

The Hen and the Carp
by Ian Serraillier (1912-1994)

Once, in a roostery
there lived a speckled, and when-
ever she laid an egg this hen
ecstatically cried:
'O progeny miraculous, particular spectaculous,
what a wonderful hen am I!'

Down in a pond nearby
perchance a fat and broody carp
was basking, but her ears where sharp --
she heard Dame Cackle cary:
'O progeny miraculous, particular spectaculous,
what a wonderful hen am I!'

'Ah, Cackle,' bubbled she,
'for your single egg, O silly one,
I lay at least a million;
suppose for each I cried:
"O progeny miraculous, particular spectaculous!"
what a hullaballoo there'd be!'


Ian Serraillier was an English author and poet who wrote often for children. His works are much beloved by many North American home schooling families, more for his retellings of classic tales and legends than for his adventure stories and poetry. After World War II, Mr. Serraillier and his wife established the New Windmill Series, published by Heinemann Educational Books, to provide inexpensive editions of good stories for children. Some of my Serraillier favorites, of the few that remain in print:

Escape from Warsaw (originally The Silver Sword); based on a true story, three Polish children and their parents in World War II are separated and struggle to reunite.

Beowulf the Warrior, reprinted by Bethlehem Books as part of their "Living History Library"

The Road to Canterbury, a reworking of Chaucer's tales


Updated to add that Kelly at Big A little a has the week's round-up here. Thanks, Kelly!

January 11, 2007

Snow snaps

(abandoned barn on neighbors' adjacent property)

Tom clearing snow with the tractor so we can get
in to the corrals to feed the animals (as of 6 Feb.
2007, the snow in the ditches now forms a wall
at least eight feet high on both sides. The kids
have taken to calling it the Great Wall of China.
I call it claustrophobic.)

Blizzard boy (Daniel at -30 C)

A band of merry tobogganers (from left,
Daniel; Davy, kneeling; and Laura); with
their favorite present from Santa, who knew
just what to bring for a snowy Christmas).
I moved this photo here for Dawn's upcoming
Frosty Field Day
, to put all my Frosty Fotos
in one place.

January 10, 2007

Rough day in the west

If it's heading for you now, if you can't stay in the house, at least dress warmly and stay in your vehicle. Please.

Musical accompaniments for Ben and Me (and Davy Crockett, too)

I was at Amazon looking for a CD version of the old LP Davy Crockett -- Western Adventures with Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen, and Gene Autry when I chanced upon Davy Crockett's Fiddle, music from Crockett's time performed on Crockett's own fiddle by Dean Shostak, who began playing violin at Colonial Williamsburg at age of 14. About 15 years ago, Mr. Shostak
became involved in the revival of the rare and beautiful glass armonica, invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. Today, there are only eight glass armonica players in the world. Dean is credited with bringing the glass armonica to Williamsburg, where it was performed on many occasions over 200 years ago. Instead of using an electric motor to spin the glasses, Dean is the only glass armonica player since the 18th century to use a flywheel and foot treadle as Franklin originally designed.
Which made me think of JoVE and of my own Davy, and while he's a banjo fan, I think this would be mighty appealing for him.

And that led me to Mr. Shostak and friends performing Colonial Fair: Songs, Stories, and Riddles. From the Amazon website: "Humor, history and music come together on this new 55-minute recording as kids get a chance to hear unusual instruments like Ben Franklin's glass armonica, hurdy-gurdy, fife and drum and harpsichord, as well as sing along to favorites such as 'Yankee Doodle', 'Old King Cole', and 'Simple Simon'. Among the colorful characters kids will meet are merchants singing street cries, fortune tellers, and even fiddlers in a contest. Kids also get to test their wits by solving riddles taken from the 18th century."

And finally, for a Ben Franklin Christmas (no, not now -- save it for next Christmas), Mr. Shostak's Crystal Carols, traditional Christmas carols arranged for the glass armonica, with violin, piano and harp accompaniment.

Though, drat it all, can't seem to find any of them at either Amazon.ca or Chapters.ca. Will have to contact Mr. Shostak directly to inquire about Canadian distributors, or shipping to the north*.

* Thanks all for your kind (and warm) blizzard wishes. The kids and I are safe and indoors, though the wind is still blowing and the snow swirling around. It's all supposed to be over by the end of the day.

January 09, 2007

Hang on to your hats

The wind began to switch, the house to pitch
And suddenly the hinges started to unhitch
Now just add snow.

Not much sign of an impending blizzard in town just before heading home, 12 minutes away, but oh what a difference those 12 minutes can make. I removed the wind chimes and wreath and brought them in, just in case. Laura closed the garage door for the dog and the cat, so they can keep warm and so that too much snow doesn't blow in.

Fortunately, I had a great big box from BookCloseouts to carry into the basement, which helped me from blowing away.

And it's only the beginning. Oh my stars.

Carnival of Children's Literature and Edge of the Forest

Oops, I almost forgot to write about two important things, so I hope Kelly will forgive me. And Kelly, I did try to comment on your computer woes but Blogger won't let me in for some reason; after my own laptop's recent unauthorized encounter with a beverage, I can definitely sympathize.

The latest edition of The Edge of the Forest has been out for a while now, with all sorts of goodies, including A Day in the Life with children's author Debby Dahl Edwardson of Barrow, Alaska, and a new "Sounds of the Forest" podcast.

And it's time to send in your submissions for the upcoming 10th Carnival of Children's Literature. The deadline is January 15th, and the Carnival will be hosted by Kelly at Big A little a on January 20th. Thanks, Kelly!

Blizzard a-comin'

All of central Alberta is under a blizzard warning. The snow is supposed to start later this morning, and by midnight "blizzard conditions" are expected -- snow, very high winds, and sharply plunging temperatures, from just under freezing to -30 C. We'll head to town a bit early today in advance of music lessons to make sure we can run all of our errands for the week and be home before the roads are too awful.

Tomorrow afternoon's 4H public speaking workshop and meeting, and the Theater for Kids information meeting later in the evening will likely be canceled. Revamped plans, for us at least, call for Ben Franklin and lots of Lego while I read aloud. Oh yes, and those double chocolate chip mini M&M cookies Laura made for her meeting...

January 07, 2007

Seymour Martin Lipset, 1922-2006

The political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset died on New Year's Eve. Over his long and distinguished career, he wrote a great deal worth reading if one wants to understand the United States and its place in the world, including American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword.

But especially for Canadians, and American-Canadians, you can't do better than his Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada, published in 1989, which does a tremendous job explaining Americans to Canadians and themselves, and Canadians to Americans and themselves. In fact, with the kids beginning their studies about the American Revolution, I think it's time for me to pull those two of the shelves for a rereading.

January 06, 2007

Myrtle's new blog

Myrtle, formerly of Romans Go Home!, has a new, equally exclamatory classical (or is that classical exclamatory?) blog, Drat These Greeks! And from a comment she left down below, she is still homeschooling her children and continuing with the Greek. Gaudeamus igitur!

Home in Kenya is where the school is

Since I have family who live in Kenya, every once in a while I check the online edition of The Standard for the latest news. I was surprised this week to find an article, and a positive one at that, on homeschooling in Kenya, "Home is where the school is". Here's some of what reporter Kevin Mwachiro wrote, and you can read the rest here:
When I first heard about home schooling some years back, I dismissed the concept, believing that the particular missionary family was sheltering its children from the real world.

I pitied the children, believing they led a boring life with their mother-cum-teacher in a life where bedrooms doubled up as classrooms. Looking back, I recognise that my ideas were formed from a point of ignorance.

The concept of home schooling may be new to many, and one that we believe is only practised by foreigners and we quickly dismiss the concept. Truth be told, there is a small but growing number of Kenyans who are opting to educate their children within the comfort of their homes. ...

The Gitongas have three children, Gloria (9), Stano (5) and Joy (15 months). Patrice is self-employed and Liz is a teacher. They had never considered homeschooling as an option for their children. They had struggled to find a school for Gloria, with Liz having strong reservations about putting her children through the heavy workload of the 8-4-4 system.

The schools that they considered would require a trans-Nairobi commute or a full day at school and the notion that her three-year-old was to face a full day at school was too premature for the Gitonga’s [sic]. Liz remembers describing the suggestion of homeschooling as ridiculous, when it was offered to them by an American friend. Patrice was more welcoming to the idea. After some thought, they agreed to give it a try for a year.

By the time the year was over, Liz found herself on an adventure that she could only describe as exciting. With the aid of resource materials and teaching ideas offered to them by the same American friend, she witnessed her Gloria blossom at a rate that shocked them. This was a confidence booster for her, "If I could teach my child to read I could do anything," says Liz.

When Gloria was ready for standard one, the Gitongas found themselves questioning what education was and whether the education being offered in Kenya would empower their children to be that best they could be. The teacher-student ratio was also another concern for them.

The pull to continue homeschooling was easy. Liz and Patrice felt that they would be able to impart solid foundational values onto their children. They strongly feel that parents expect too much of teachers by expecting them to discipline their children, give them values and teach them as well.

"It’s just too much to expect of the teachers. We can influence our children by being examples for them, imparting values, monitoring their learning and giving them a holistic education," says Liz. For Liz and Patrice, the important thing is to expose their children to a world bigger than themselves, and show them that they can actively contribute to society not only now, but in the future.

"There is no rigidity to their learning. One day we will be learning about photosynthesis and the next thing we are out in the garden seeing how it works. We want to expose our children to an education that shows them the interconnectivity of life. Learning is better remembered in this way. When I started off with Gloria, we went through many biographies, so that we could expose them to individuals who achieved great heights and made a difference in their society. We want to expose them to what they can achieve as human beings. One of Gloria favourites is the children’s version of Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom," explains Liz. ...
And my favorite part of the article,
Liz and Patrice have faced criticism from people who question the sensibility of actions. They have no apologies to offer to anyone, citing that homeschooling is an option and is similar to choosing private or public schools. When I asked whether she would describe themselves as being over-protective, she smiled, stating that they were only playing the role of parents.
I would quibble with the reporter's contention about the disadvantages "to having the parent as the teacher": "If the child is home-schooled from the start, the child will always have the same teacher. If you have the same teacher year after year, eventually the teacher’s strengths will become the student’s strengths, and the teacher’s weaknesses become the student’s weaknesses." Aside from the fact that this doesn't take into account a child's natural ability for a particular subject, if the parent as teacher is doing a proper job, each year the child becomes more and more of an independent learner and thinker.

But by the end of the article, even Mr. Mwachiro seems to have second thoughts about the perceived disadvantage as he writes, "As a teacher, you learn as you teach; parents can grow as teachers, while the children grow as students."

January 05, 2007

Look what you can do when you take the digital camera out of the sock drawer

(and borrow some of your son's rechargeable batteries):

A merry band of tobogganers; from left, Daniel, Davy (kneeling), and Laura

A cat may look at a king... (Daniel's calico cat, enjoying the Christmas garland and lights)

Poetry Friday: Happy Winter Fudge Cake

While editing my last comment on the previous post for too many italics (I forgot to turn them off), I discovered Elizabeth's comment yesterday in last month's Solstice post, asking for the Happy Winter Fudge Cake recipe mentioned. I'm happy to oblige, especially because it includes a bit of poetry.

(PS If you you ever have a question, please just email me offblog at the address to the left under the meadowlark; Blogger doesn't notify me about new comments, so if I haven't checked on an old post, which I rarely do, or tried to fix one of my mistakes at Haloscan -- which is what I did last night -- chances are any questions will languish.)

Here's the passage about the cake (you have to imagine tiny pictures of butter, sugar, mixing bowl, beaters, etc. printed right after each line, just as it's done in the book) from Karen Gundersheimer's Happy Winter, followed by the recipe on the facing page:
"Happy Winter, time to bake
Some really yummy kind of cake.
So Mama flips through recipes
Just like she does for company
And reads them all -- her favorite ones
Are Sunshine, Marble, Angel, Crumb.
But we pick Fudge, and no nuts, please --
Now tie on aprons, roll up sleeves.

The butter, sugar, eggs go in
A mixing bowl, then beaters spin
To stir up yogurt, thick and sour,
With baking chocolate, salt and flour.
The batter's made, the oven's set,
The cake's popped in, and then we get
To scrape the bowl and beaters, too --
Last licks for me and slurps for you.
The timer pings! The cake is done --
Let's slice it up and all have some."
Happy Winter Fudge Cake

Please ask a grown-up to help you make this yummy cake.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease tube pan (9-1/2" x 3")
3. Cut up 3 squares semisweet baking chocolate. Melt over very low heat or in double boiler. DO NOT BURN. Set aside to cool. [I use the microwave; follow directions on the Baker's chocolate box.]
4. Get a medium-sized bowl and mix dry ingredients (with wooden spoon):
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
5. Get a big bowl and mix wet ingredients (with electric mixer):
2 eggs
1/4 cup soft butter or margarine, cut into small bits [please, please, choose the butter]
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups plain yogurt
Cooled melted chocolate (from step 3 above)
6. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring with spoon to blend.
7. Add 1 cup chocolate chips. Stir them all in.
8. Pour batter into greased pan and place in preheated oven (350 F)
9. Bake for 45 minutes or until cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Cake may need another 5 minutes.
10. Let cool 30 minutes before turning out onto plate.
11. Slice it up and enjoy.
I bought the late, great Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking shortly after it was published in 1993, and ran across Happy Winter at one of our library's semiannual sales about five years later, shortly after Laura was born. It became an instant favorite for each of us, probably more for me since she was so young and I found something terribly sweet and nostalgic about the book. Since I reread Colwin's cooking books every year, it didn't take too long to twig to the fact that, omigosh, we have a copy of Happy Winter. As happy as I was to own what Laurie Colwin calls the "small, charming volume", mostly I'm delighted to have one small link to her life and an even smaller way of keeping her alive. Here's what Laurie Colwin had to say about the book and recipe,
You never know where you will find a recipe. They are often hidden in unexpected places. I did not anticipate finding a chocolate cake in a children's book, but in a small, charming volume titled Happy Winter, written and illustrated by Karen Gundersheimer, I did. This book, which was one of my daughter's early favorites, tells a story in rhyme about two sisters on a snowy day. when they have finished playing dress-up and going outside to make snow angels, they come indoors to help their mother make a fudge cake. The recipe is given in rhyme and then written out on the facing page. It is easy, wholesome, and delicious and has now become my daughter's standard birthday cake.


I make this cake in a springform tube pan with a scalloped bottom, and so it has a lovely scalloped top when it is is turned out. If you own one of those fancy cake-decorating kits that come with a pastry nail and dozens of tubes you will never use because you can't figure out what they do, for this occasion you might produce some passable-looking roses and scatter them among the scallops, connecting them with green leaves. (Leaves are easy compared to roses.) The result is eccentric looking in a sort of demented Victorian way, but this cake is a hit with children who do not mind an uniced cake if it has tons of sugar roses. (A good rule for any birthday party is: a rose for every child.)
Really, what more could you ask for on a snowy winter day than a bit of Laurie Colwin, some Karen Gundersheimer, and fudge cake? Happy Winter, Elizabeth!

PPS Elizabeth, Happy Winter is sadly out of print. If you check Abebooks, you can find the original 1982 hardcover edition as well as the 1987 paperback reprint around $10 including shipping. Much as I prefer butter to margarine, I say go for the hardcover, which is just plain nicer and lies flat for following the recipe.


First round-up of the year, courtesy of Elaine, is chez Blue Rose Girls. Thanks, Elaine!

January 03, 2007

More on disappearing books and the vanishing American independent bookstore

Via my father, this latest from The New York Times (use Bug Me Not if necessary), that Micawber Books in Princeton, NJ is closing its doors after more than 25 years. Some cherce passages from the article, emphases mine:
Logan Fox can’t quite pinpoint the moment when movies and television shows replaced books as the cultural topics people liked to talk about over dinner, at cocktail parties, at work. He does know that at Micawber Books, his 26-year-old independent bookstore here that is to close for good in March, his own employees prefer to come in every morning and gossip about “Survivor” or “that fashion reality show” whose title he can’t quite place.

“It kills me,” Mr. Fox, 53, said over coffee on Friday afternoon, shaking his head. “The amount of time spent discussing culturally iconic shows has superseded anything in the way of books that I can detect. Discussing books is very much one on one. It just hurts me.”

Mr. Fox is bracing himself for an emotionally wrenching few months. In December Micawber announced that it would close, after years of fighting not only the tyranny of other media but also the steady encroachment of big-box retail competitors and the Internet. ...

But beyond those factors, Mr. Fox said, he blames a change in American culture, in the quickening pace of people’s lives, in the shrinking willingness to linger. During the 1980s, in the store’s early days, customers would come in and stay all afternoon, carefully inspecting the books that were packed tightly together, spine to spine.

No longer. “The driving force of all of this is the acceleration of our culture,” Mr. Fox said. “The old days of browsing, the old days of a person coming in for three or four hours on a Saturday and slowly meandering, making a small pile of books, being very selective, coming away with six or seven gems they wanted, are pretty much over. If you go to the Strand or to Micawber Books today, it’s a whole different gear, where society wants satisfaction and fulfillment now.”

The other crisis for independent booksellers, Mr. Fox said, is the current state of publishing. The job of building writers’ reputations and nurturing them has fallen to agents, he said. Publishers are concerned only with the bottom line, he added, looking for the home run instead of the single.

And there is the question of quality. Though Micawber carries a few, Mr. Fox laments the rapid growth of the celebrity cookbook genre. Children’s books, in particular, are driven by marketability instead of creativity, said Bobbie Fishman, the children’s books buyer at Micawber. “It’s either pirates, wizards, one of a series, or written by Katie Couric,” she said. ...