March 30, 2007

Poetry Friday: A post for my father, who thinks I fell off the blogging earth

Written in March
by William Wordsworth

(from our copy of Favorite Poems Old and New, selected by Helen Ferris and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard)

The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter,
The green field sleeps in the sun;
The oldest and youngest
Are at work with the strongest:
The cattle are grazing,
Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one!

Like an army defeated
The snow hath retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the bare hill;
The ploughboy is whooping -- anon -- anon --
There's joy in the mountains;
There's life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing,
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!


With apologies for the extended absence and lack of posts -- in the past and no doubt to come for at least the next month or so. Spring is springing, there are bluebird nesting boxes (and museums) to clean, pianos to tune, windows to wash (and new ones to order), mud to wipe, cows to calve, sweet peas (and 900+ new saplings...) to plant, noses to grindstone, plays to rehearse, great books to read (and converse about), swim clubs to restart, morels to hunt, lambs to visit, cinnamon buns to deliver to neighbors, bicycles and cap pistols to retrieve, 4H projects to complete, fairs to plan, birthday cakes to bake, and, as the kids would no doubt add, forts to build and holes to dig. Preferably in aforementioned mud.

Add a little more poetry to your family's life next month and for the rest year. Here are some of my poetry posts from last year at this time. And don't limit your kids, or anyone else's, to Young People's Poetry Week, the third week of National Poetry Month. Be a sport and give 'em, at the very least, the whole month. When my sister and I were children celebrating Mother's Day and Father's Day, we'd always ask about Children's Day. To which my father quite rightly always responded, "Every day is Children's Day". So should it be with poetry.

March 21, 2007

Festival report

We spent most of yesterday at the first day of the town's arts festival. The boys each recited a poem in the morning for Speech Arts, and in the evening Laura performed her musical theater number, "I Have Confidence" from The Sound of Music.

For the past few years, the kids have entered just the Speech Arts part of the program. This year, I gave Laura a pass on that part, since her voice teacher wanted to enter her in the singing portion, and her piano teacher wanted her to enter the piano portion (tomorrow morning, with "Home on the Range", like a good cowgirl); plus she had two speeches to give for 4H. But I feel as if we're letting down the Speech Arts program, which yesterday had only 11 entries (down from a recent high of 26 in 2004, and, in earlier years, as many as eight days of entries compared to today's two hours). Part of the problem is that poetry, and memorization, are no longer included in most provincial school curricula (in part because neither is included on provincial exams, which goes to prove the unfortunate importance of teaching to the test) -- which no doubt explains why six of the 10 entrants yesterday are home educated -- and as we see all around, there's just not much worth nowadays, you know, in like being able to talk good and stuff. Whatever.

But the kids who came out yesterday did an amazing job. In addition to my two boys (whose archy and mehitabel selections by Don Marquis are at the very bottom), the entrants included

a seven-year-old girl reciting Roald Dahl's "Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker",

a 10-year-old boy reciting "Abou Ben Adhem and the Angel" by Leigh Hunt,

his eight-year-old sister doing a brilliant job with Charles Dickens's "The Ivy Green",

an 11-year-old boy reciting "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Lawrence Thayer,

a 14-year-old boy reciting "The Policeman's Song" by Gilbert & Sullivan,

a marvelous rendition of Alfred Noyes's "The Highwayman" by a 16-year-old homeschooled girl, who brought the piece to life before our eyes,

a prose recitation of Something from Nothing, one of our favorite picture books, by a 14-year-old friend of ours, who also gave a public speaking solo, her 4H speech from last month about her exchange trip to Japan. I'll try to add links to most of the poems later.

All in all, a wonderful morning, even without Davy winning the prize for the six- and seven-year-old category (from the adjudicator's report: "That is quite the smile! What a wonderful job you did with all of those big words! You have a very clear and easy sound. Great work!"), and Daniel managing exceedingly well with his first stab at free verse. The kids have each had a chance at winning festival awards now, and it was heartening to see Laura and Daniel so pleased for their little brother. Best of all, because the kids didn't have classrooms to run back to as did some of the other competitors, we were free to spend the entire morning at the church hall, listening to (and learning from) all of the other recitations.

We stepped out of the church at lunchtime to unexpected heavy snow (happy spring to you, too), got home as fast as we could under the road conditions, ate lunch, relaxed as much as we dared, and an hour or so later, hopped back into the truck and drove back to town for music lessons, an abbreviated Fiddler rehearsal, and then dinner at a restaurant in town at 5 p.m. so Laura could be back at the church for the Vocal program just after 6. Her voice instructor arrived for a bit of a warm-up, and she changed into her costume. Only to discover that she had left her straw hat on her bed. Thank goodness for some dear friends, homeschoolers too, who live literally across the street from the church and saved the day with the loan of a hat five minutes before show time.

Laura and her accompanist did a terrific job -- simple, appealing, enjoyable -- all the more impressive since, as the youngest as the category, Laura was the first to go on. The adjudicator, the same one from Speech Arts earlier in the day, enjoyed it too, and gave Laura a very good critique. She was followed by a selection of Disney Princesses, which after L's comment on the other day's hot-to-trot-tot post, with this link to Off-Duty Disney Princesses (the play) from Breed 'Em And Weep), seemed more even more disturbing than usual (relevant, L? You betcha). There was Beauty minus Beast, the mermaid complete with shockingly bright wig and homemade tail, and Aladdin's midriff-baring princess pal, all complete with not particularly memorable -- nor easy to sing or suitable for 10- and 11-year-olds -- Alan Menken drivel. Why do mothers and women teachers do this to their girls? Which only made the good stuff -- including the only boy's performance of Chim Chim Cheree (the same lad who had given us Casey at the Bat earlier in the day), an 11-year-old girl performing a number from "Annie" and a 12-year-old's "Just You Wait ('enry 'iggins)" from "My Fair Lady" -- stand out that much more.

There followed some classical vocal solos, including oratoria, and a rousing finale from two local adult choruses. Beautiful stuff. A late night, but the kids were still singing on the way home -- mostly selections from Singin' in the Rain -- and planning their entries for next year.

Today we're recovering with a quiet, unschooly day, with plans to reread Something from Nothing, which ties in nicely with the kids' Fiddler on the Roof production; Casey at the Bat (there are more than a few good picture book editions to choose from), and a few other stories. Tomorrow morning Laura bangs out "Home on the Range" for the piano part of the program. And we stop off at the hospital afterwards to have Daniel's stitch removed.

Daniel's excerpt from "some maxims of archy" by Don Marquis (from archy and mehitabel)

i heard a
couple of fleas
talking the other
day says one come
to lunch with
me i can lead you
to a pedigreed
dog says the
other one
i do not care
what a dog s
pedigree may be
safety first
is my motto what
Ii want to know
is whether he
has got a
muzzle on
millionaires and
bums taste
about a like to me

Davy's prize-winning excerpt from "some natural history" by Don Marquis (from archy and mehitabel)

the patagonian
is a most
he lives on
and his tongue
is always furred
the porcupine
of chile
sleeps his life away
and that is how
the needles
get into the hay
the argentinian
is a very
subtle gink
for when he s
being eaten
he pretends he is
a skink
when you see
a sea gull
on a bald man s dome
she likely thinks
she s nesting
on her rocky
island home
do not tease
the inmates
when strolling
through the zoo
for they have
their finer feelings
the same
as me and you.

(Yes, we talked about that last line and why it was needed for the rhyme. Ha. And about the saying "a needle in a haystack". Both poems got the biggest laughs of the day, so it seems Don Marquis was a big hit on the prairie.)

March 17, 2007

March issue of The Edge of the Forest

has been out now for a bit. Hurray, and thanks to Kelly Herrold and all the contributors. Features that have caught my eye so far, since I just started reading through it:

Liz's interview with Kirby Larson, author of Hattie Big Sky (historical fiction set in 1918 Montana, and a 2007 Newbery Honor book)

Nonfiction reviews of Diego, a picture book biography (1994) of artist Diego Rivera conceived and illustrated by Jeannette Winter, with text (in English and Spanish) by Jonah Winter; and John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement, a picture book biography (2006) for older children

Sherry at Semicolon surveys a group of homeschoolers at her bowling alley for the latest Kid Picks column

This month's In the Backpack features an interview with author Elizabeth Bluemle, who is also the co-owner of the independent Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, one of my favorite towns

And there's oodles, just oodles, more.

Hot to trot tots and their pole-dancing mamas

A couple of months ago, after seeing the Macleans magazine cover story about "dressing our daughters like skanks", I wrote,
What continues to surprise me is how many mothers around here, and remember, I'm far away from liberal east coast urban types, so your experience may be wide of my mark, are the ones who choose to pimp put their daughters in (often matching) stripper chic not because it's the path of least resistance but because it's the path to popularity, to approval, and -- hey, a bonus -- makes the mothers themselves look or at least seem hip and trendy and young. Well, younger at least. When Laura was in kindergarten and first grade at the local public school, one of her classmates was often dressed by her mother (who in the past few years decided to return to the classroom and now teaches first grade) in fashion-conscious "mini me" style -- feather boa trim on sweaters and matching short skirts and dressy suede boots. Not good for the playground at recess or those messy arts and crafts projects, but certainly eye-catching. And this classmate was in good company.
So I was interested to discover, lurking behind today's Times Select firewall (email me at farmschool at telus dot net if you'd like to see the article), the latest blog installment from Judith Warner,"Hot Tots, and Moms Hot to Trot"; here's a Select selection:
Bling-Bling Barbies and pouty-lipped Bratz. Thongs for tweens, and makeover parties for 5-year-olds. The past couple of shopping seasons have brought a constant stream of media stories — and books and school lectures and anguished mom conversations — all decrying the increasingly tarted-up world of young girls and preteens. Now the American Psychological Association has weighed in as well, with a 67-page report on the dangers of the “sexualization” of girls.

The report takes aim at the music lyrics, Internet content, video games and clothing that are now being marketed to younger and younger kids, and correlates their smutty content with a number of risks to girls’ well-being. It finds that sexualization — turning someone into “eye candy” — is linked to eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression in girls and women. Adopting an early identity as a “Hot Tot” also has, the researchers wrote, “negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop healthy sexuality.”

This isn’t surprising, or even new. But what did surprise me, reading through the A.P.A.’s many pages of recommendations for fighting back (like beefed-up athletics, extracurriculars, religion, spirituality, “media literacy” and meditation), was the degree to which the experts — who in an earlier section of the report acknowledge the toxicity of mother-daughter “fat talk” — let moms themselves off the hook as agents of destruction requiring change.

I know that sounds pretty nasty. We’re not supposed to be judgmental these days. We’re not supposed to blame parents — especially mothers. I also know that what mothers do or don’t do (short of out-and-out abuse) doesn’t, single-handedly, “cause” much of anything. But I think it’s fair, even necessary, to wonder: how can we expect our daughters to navigate the cultural rapids of becoming sexual beings when we ourselves are flying blind? How can we teach them to inhabit their bodies with grace and pleasure if we spend our own lives locked in hateful battles of control, mastery and self-improvement?

We all tend to talk a good game now on things like body image and sexual empowerment. We buy the American Girl body book, “The Care and Keeping of You,” promote a “healthy” diet and exercise, and wax rhapsodic about team sports. But do we practice what we preach?

Not when we walk around the house sucking in our stomachs in front of the mirrors. Not when we obsessively regulate the contents of our refrigerators in the name of “purity.” (Did you know that there’s a clinical word for the “fixation on righteous eating”? It’s called “orthorexia.”) Our girls see right through all our righteousness. And they hear the hypocrisy, too, when we dish out all kinds of pabulum about a “positive body image,” then go on to trash our own thighs. ...

Maybe it’s time to take a break from bashing the media and start to take a long, hard look instead at the issue of mothers’ sexuality, which is, apparently, after a long and well-documented dormancy, enjoying a kind of rebirth — thanks, it is said, to things like pole dancing classes and sports club stripteases. These new evening antics of the erstwhile book club set are supposed to be fabulous because they give sexless moms a new kind of erotic identity. But what a disaster they really are: an admission that we’ve failed utterly, as adult women, to figure out what it means to look and feel sexy with dignity. We’ve created an aesthetic void. Should we be surprised that stores like Limited Too are rushing in to fill it? (Now on sale: a T-shirt with two luscious cherries and the slogan “Double trouble.”)...
"Smart Is Sexy" likely wouldn't sell as many t-shirts, though I suppose you could try a "Double trouble" version with Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson, or Plato and Aristotle, especially if you decide to trade in that pole dancing class for a Great Books discussion group. I don't always agree with Warner, or with Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabees, whom Warner quotes at length in her post, but there are some good thoughts in Warner's post today.

As an aside, last summer I read both Queen Bees and Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher and much preferred the latter. I read them on the recommendation of a good friend, who happens to be the mother of three daughters, ages six to almost 15; as she put it succinctly in a letter about a year ago,
it's Mary Pipher's "Fence at the Top of the Hill" metaphor that differentiates the aim of the books. QB&W is the ambulance at the bottom of the precipice. RO is the fence on the hilltop. QB&W's focus on cliques is just one manifestation of a much larger problem, instructing parents how to deal with the situation at hand, not how to avoid it.
Good fences make good families as well as good neighbors. And you can start building that fence with the pole that used to be in the living room.

St. Patrick's Day: One thing leads to another, and the mist that do be on the bog

Last year's more conventional entry

This year's less conventional one, from 'Tis by Frank McCourt, which I'm rereading while awaiting the arrival via ILL of his Teacher Man:
I walk through Woodside to the library to borrow a book I looked at the last time I was there, Sean O'Casey's I Knock at the Door. It's a book about growing up poor in Dublin and I never knew you could write about things like that. It was all right for Charles Dickens to write about poor people in London but his books always end with characters discovering they're the long-lost sons of the Duke of Somerset and everyone lives happily ever after.

There is no happily ever after in Sean O'Casey. His eyes are worse than mine, so ad he can barely go to school. Still he manages to read, teaches himself to write, teaches himself Irish, writes plays for the Abbey Theatre, meets Lady Gregory and the poet Yeats, but has to leave Ireland when everyone turns against him. He would never sit in a class and let someone mock him over Jonathan Swift. He'd fight back and then walk out even if he walked into the wall with his bad eyes. He's the first Irish writer I ever read who writes about rags, dirt, hunger, babies dying. The other writers go on about farms and fairies and the mist that do be on the bog and it's a relief to discover one with bad eyes and a suffering mother.

What I'm discovering now is that one thing leads to another. When Sean O'Casey writes about Lady Gregory or Yeats I have to look them up in the Encyclopedia Britannica and that keeps me busy till the librarian starts turning the light on and off. I don't know how I could have reached the age of nineteen in Limerick ignorant of all that went on in Dublin before my time. I have to go to the Encyclopedia Britannica to learn how famous the Irish writers were, Yeats, Lady Gregory, AE and John Millington Synge who wrote plays where the people talk in a way I never heard in Limerick or anywhere else.

Here I am in a library in Queens discovering Irish literature, wondering why the schoolmaster never told us about these writers till I discover they were all Protestants, even Sean O'Casey whose father came from Limerick. No one in Limerick would want to give Protestants credit for being great Irish writers.

Project Beagle (and Science in School)

I've added a new button to the right for Project Beagle, which I discovered at the Beagle blog. You can read more there and at the Project Beagle website; the actual ship plans are here. As the website notes,
we aim to provide the most compelling event of Charles Darwin's 2009 bicentenary by building a sailing replica of HMS Beagle and sailing in Darwin's wake. The build and Beagle's arrival in the Galapagos in 2009 will be two of the central events of the Darwin200 celebrations. The Beagle intends to fire a new generation of scientific imaginations, and to play a central role in celebrating the life and work of Charles Darwin, one of the greatest biologists ever to live.
Don't miss the website's Links Page, which includes a link to Science in School, a free online (and, in Europe, print) journal that
addresses science teaching both across Europe and across disciplines: highlighting the best in teaching and cutting-edge research. It covers not only biology, physics and chemistry, but also maths, earth sciences, engineering and medicine, focusing on interdisciplinary work.

The contents include teaching materials; cutting-edge science; education projects; interviews with young scientists and inspiring teachers; European education news; reviews of books and other resources; and European events for teachers.
(And in Serbo-Croatian, too.) The current issue includes articles (science in film) as well as book reviews and teaching activities (build your own spectrometer). Worth a peek in any language.

March 16, 2007

Poetry Friday II: A new(ish) resource for literature

With many thanks to the person on one of my Sonlight groups for posting the link to the American literature page at AOL@School (with some interesting looking literature guides), which led me to these Emily Dickinson links (here, here, and here). Though I wonder what Ms. Dickinson would think about her modern transformation.

And AOL's page on World Literature has a section with "World Poets", featuring links for Dante Alighieri, Goethe, Homer, James Joyce, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Pablo Neruda, and Yeats (and, yes, I've already written to AOL about the typos I've found on the page). For tomorrow, scroll down the page for the little corner on "Irish Literature".

Poetry Friday: A unicorn for spring

Laura, the one child who isn't reciting anything in the speech arts part of the arts festival next week (because she's up to her eyeballs in 4H public speaking), selected this because "it makes me think of Spring":

by Anne Corkett

Unicorn, Unicorn,
where have you gone?
I've brought you some silver dew
out of the dawn.
I've put it in buttercups
for you to drink
and brought you some daisies
to wear round your neck.

Silver and gold
and petals so white,
these are the colours
saved from the night.

Unicorn, Unicorn,
where have you gone?
I've brought you nine sunbeams
to wear for a crown
and made you a blanket
of new thistledown
embroidered with lilies --
O where have you gone?
Unicorn, Unicorn,
I can't stay long.

Petals so white
and silver and gold,
these are the colours
that never grow old.

From Til All the Stars Have Fallen: Canadian Poems for Children, selected by David Booth (author of Even Hockey Players Read) and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, recently available in paperback as a Scholastic school book club edition, perfect for handing out to your nieces, nephews, and children's friends who need some more Canadian children's poetry in their lives.


My own kids have had a bit more trauma than poetry in their lives this past week. First, Laura's voice teacher almost ended her festival season before it started, thinking to yank her because, having left it too long, he couldn't find an accompanist for her. Tuesday evening, after class, after had he told her (in costume as mini Maria in "The Sound of Music") that he'd be making the call in the morning to pull her out, her face quivered and her shoulders sagged but she was stoic, I made phone calls as I made supper, and finally located an acquaintance who agreed to give it a try. They rehearse together this afternoon before art class. "I Have Confidence", indeed.

Daniel's trauma involved a trip to the hospital the other afternoon for a stitch near his right eye, and I was as surprised as anyone to learn that it didn't happen during the boys' two-hour outdoor hockey game on ice and concrete. The doctor on call at the emergency room, a genial and capable young man, a locum on loan to our little hospital from Edmonton, in turn was surprised to learn he didn't need to talk me into a suture. I explained that this was the fifth occasion for stitches between the three kids (though two of the three occasions never received them -- one incident overseas with a very small nose was treated by Tom with tape to avoid a larger scar, and a two-year-old's thumb, the one that was nearly cut off, was neatly mended with magic purple glue at the doctor's suggestion) -- and I don't drive into town just before suppertime (especially when there's a roast in the oven) unless it's for something I can't manage on my own. And I draw the line, for now at least, at stitching up my own kids.

But all trauma has been forgotten while enjoying the first DVD in The Mr. Wizard's World collection from The kids are entranced with Mr. Wizard's version of a volcano, which involves not namby-pamby vinegar and baking soda but a match and a fuse. Which I suppose sounds like a recipe for some more home doctoring.


Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy has the Poetry Friday/Saturday roundup, not to mention a passionate Celtic love story, for the week -- thanks, Liz!

March 12, 2007

New from the Edmonton Public Library system

I heard on the radio this morning that the Edmonton Public Library system has started offering OverDrive, so that patrons can download hundreds (I think 700 or so) of audiobooks and music CDs from home: "Browse and search hundreds of great titles from OverDrive and download them to your computer, transfer them to a portable device, or burn onto a CD for your reading and listening pleasure anywhere, anytime. You can also find these titles in the EPL Catalogue." A recent addition to the list includes the unabridged edition of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson, and also see on there Catherine Bruzzone's French on the Move for Kids.

Unfortunately, OverDrive works only with Windows, not Macs, so if you have an iPod or Apple computer at home, you're out of luck. And even if you burn your selection to a CD, it "expires" on your MP3 player after three weeks: "At the end of the loan period, titles will expire and be automatically 'returned' to the library. At this time, you can delete the expired file(s) from your machine."

I don't know how popular OverDrive is in North America or if it's the only system available, but I can see, especially when the weather is lousy or the family schedule busy, that it could be a handy way for some patrons to get audiobooks and music.

March 11, 2007

What not to wear

to court for Lord Black of Crossharbour's trial, starting Wednesday.
(Though perfectly lovely for taking the March air.)

March 09, 2007

Poetry Friday: The Friday whirl

The kids and I dashed off to the Goodwill shop yesterday after lunch to find a few things to add to the kids' "Fiddler on the Roof" wardrobes. In addition to two vests for the boys, and a polyester lace tablecloth from which I plan to cut a shawl for Laura, I found a small paperback, The Arrow Book of Funny Poems, collected by Eleanor Clymer (whose books we love) and published by Scholastic in 1961. It includes some poems that probably wouldn't be included in modern children's collections, if only because you would have to explain to most children about shipping clerks and dry goods (though not, in this case, pneumatic tubes). One of the milder ones is

The Revolving Door
by Newman Levy (1888-1966)

This is the horrible tale of Paul
MacGregor James D. Cuthbert Hall,
Who left his home one winter's day
To go to work, and on his way
In manner that was strange and weird
Mysteriously disappeared.
He left no clue, he left no trace,
He seemed to vanish into space.
Now listen to the fate of Paul
MacGregor James D. Cuthbert Hall.

He worked, did James, as shipping clerk
For Parkinson, McBaine & Burke,
Who in their store on North Broadway
Sold dry goods in a retail way.
And at the entrance to their store
There was a large revolving door
Through which passed all who went to work
For Parkinson, McBaine & Burke.

Upon this day, accursed of fate,
MacGregor James, arriving late
Dashed headlong madly toward the store,
And plunged in through the spinning door.
Around about it twirled and whirled
And Paul was twisted, curled and hurled,
And mashed, and crashed, and dashed and bashed,
As round and round it spun and flashed.
At times it nearly stopped, and then
It straightaway started up again.
"I fear that I'll be late for work,
And Parkinson, McBaine & Burke
Will be distressed and grieved," thought Paul
MacGregor James D. Cuthbert Hall.

He raised his voice in frantic cry,
And tried to hail the passers-by.
He tried in vain to call a cop,
But still the door refused to stop.
And so he spins and whirls about,
And struggles madly to get out,
While friends, heartbroken, search for Paul
MacGregor James D. Cuthbert Hall.

You can find more Newman Levy and other fun stuff in one of my favorite poetry books, American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, an American Poets Project. Online, there's a fascinating account by Stewart Hendrickson from the website of St. Olaf College (familiar to my late grandmother, a Golden Girls fan) about Newman Levy:
an interesting man who lived a double life. He was a former Assistant District Attorney of New York City, trial lawyer, and a writer of light verse who loved opera and theater. His father, a highly successful lawyer, insisted that his son become a lawyer, but Newman really wanted to become a writer, lyricist, and a musician like his cousin Richard Rogers. In fact he studied music composition with Deems Taylor and composed musicals as a college undergraduate before going to law school.

In the course of a successful law career, he also became a writer of light verse for The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post and other popular magazines of the early 20th century. He also wrote several books of light verse including Opera Guyed, Theatre Guyed, Saturday to Monday, Gay But Wistful, and an autobiography, My Double Life – Adventures in Law & Letters. ...

Newman is said to have replied to George Gershwin's question, "I wonder if my music will be played a hundred years from now?" with the answer, "Yes, if you're around to play it!" Quite a wit, he deserves to be better known to a later generation.
Another page from Dr. Hendrickson with a number of Newman Levy's longer works is here. Levy was also a contributor to Franklin P. Adams' celebrated "Conning Tower" column, and, according to this 1931 article in Time,

Author-Lawyer Levy ("Flaccus") wrote in 1923 what has since become the Conning Tower's "most requested" poem for reprinting, a rollicking narrative called "Thais".
But I digress (and even more than usual)...


The day's roundup is over here at Big A little a -- thanks, Kelly!

March 07, 2007

A child's introduction to classic art and classical music

New to me, from the March 2007 issue of Canadian Family magazine, found yesterday at the library:

Can You Hear It?, book and accompanying audio cd, by William Lach of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (published by Abrams); suggested for ages four to ten. From the Met Store website:
A bustling cityscape full of cars and people; the interior of a circus teeming with wild animals; ice-skaters gliding on a frozen pond in winter; a fascinating underwater world swimming with fish and sea creatures—classical music can inspire the imagination to envision scenes within melodies. Our book includes 13 pictures that set the stage for the music on the CD. A Japanese print by Ando Hiroshige of a hovering bee illuminates the trilling flutes in The Flight of the Bumblebee, while a Jazz Age painting by Kees van Dongen of a traffic jam at the Arc de Triomphe captures the rousing opening of An American in Paris, and a gilded Mughal watercolor of an elaborately-costumed elephant by an unknown artist gives life to the majestic creature from The Carnival of the Animals. Accompanying each image are guided questions and a CD track number that prime readers to listen for specific sounds. When the track is played, readers will look and listen as never before. The CD includes American and European orchestras playing 13 short works or excerpts of longer works by various composers like Rimsky-Korsakov, Vivaldi, Saint-SaĆ«ns, Gershwin, and others. Also included in the book is an introduction to musical instruments, illustrated with beautiful and historically significant examples from the Museum's collection, including a Stradivarius violin, a crystal flute, the oldest piano in the world, and one of Segovia's guitars. Following this section are notes on each artist and composer, and information on the visual and musical works presented both in the book and on the CD.
From the Met's "Can You Find It?" series of art books for children.

March 05, 2007

A Landmark decision

While starting to put together a list of children's books set in and around Boston (what I really want is what doesn't exist, the Boston version of Leonard Marcus's Storied City), I came across some good news (requires free registration) in last week's Boston Globe, "An adventure in finding books for boys" (emphases mine, as usual):
For years, the thinking in the book world was that adolescent boys don't like and won't read nonfiction books. Steven D. Hill and Peggy Hogan think that opinion is wrong, and they're out to prove it.

Hill and Hogan, president and editorial director, respectively, of newly founded Flying Point Press, spent years in the 1980s and '90s at Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Co., he as head of the trade and reference division, she as marketing manager for children's books. A couple of years ago they met to talk about new ventures and hit upon the idea of publishing nonfiction books for boys ages 10 to 15.

They had noticed there's a strong nonfiction market for men -- adventure books such as Sebastian Junger's "A Perfect Storm" or Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air." But, said Hill, "it was clear that publishers were ignoring adventure, history, and nonfiction for 10-to-15-year-old boys." Hogan said, "If you look at what men read, there was no springboard for boys. If they want to read the kind of books they will read as adults, there is nothing to lead them into that area."

Then Hill, 57, remembered a series of books he had loved as a boy: the old Random House Landmark Books. Started in the 1950s by Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf, they featured narrative nonfiction, mostly history and biography. Cerf signed up such adult stars as John Gunther, C.S. Forester, Alistair MacLean, and William L. Shirer. The series sold millions of books, but Random House (which still publishes several Landmark titles) let many of the classics go out of print. Hill and Hogan got the idea of bringing them back. ...

Hill and Hogan sought out the out-of-print Landmark rights-holders, usually the authors' estates, signed new contracts, and are putting the books back in print. The first eight came out last fall, eight more are coming this spring, and another eight next fall. The list includes: Bruce Bliven's "Invasion: The Story of D-Day," MacLean's "Lawrence of Arabia," Forester's "The Barbary Pirates," and Shirer's "The Deadly Hunt: The Sinking of the Bismarck."

"A single book is not going to make a difference," said Hogan, 65, "but a series for children is a powerful concept, as it was with Landmark. The idea is to have a list of all the titles in each book, so that if you like one, you know you can find something similar."
Read the rest of the article for various thoughts (including some from Leonard Marcus) on the venture. Landmarks are particularly beloved, and often collected, by a number of home educating families, secular and religious, who treasure what Charlotte Mason called "living books" -- quality children's historical nonfiction -- so this is great good news indeed; I'd be remiss not to mention that I have a child who lives, or at least sleeps, with Holbrook's "Davy Crockett" under his pillow. A hearty thanks to Mr. Hill and Ms. Hogan, and great good luck to Flying Point Press.

March 03, 2007

Rendered edible?

As disturbing as the news that 8,000 cattle and farmed deer in Saskatchewan are under quarantine after receiving tainted feed containing now-banned* ruminant meat meal and bone meal is the fact that what they were supposed to receive was "feather meal"**. The newspaper article in the previous link describes feather meal as "a protein source originating from poultry -- which is legal to be fed to cattle and deer". Or, in other words, the ground-up feathers plucked from chickens at the start of the butchering process. Which, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Service, is completely legal to feed to animals such as cattle. Which are then fed to humans.

Talk about an omnivore's dilemma.


* From the Center for Food Safety,
Under FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulations issued in 1997 [and updated in 2005], it is illegal to feed protein made from cows, sheep, deer, and other so-called ruminants to other ruminants. As of January 2004, beef blood and beef fat are no longer permitted in calf feed. But it is still legal to feed rendered cattle protein to pigs, chickens, and other animals. Those animals in turn can be rendered and fed to cows or sheep.
In Canada, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency which oversees such things,
Canadian producers may only feed their ruminants approved animal protein products such as pure porcine, equine, poultry and fish. Banned as ingredients in ruminant feeds are "prohibited materials" -- protein including meat and bone meal from mammals other than pigs and horses. Milk, blood, gelatin, rendered animal fats or their products have not been banned [Emphasis mine].
Mmmm, mmmm good.

** More than you want to know about feathers as food:

1) A 2003 article from the Journal of Animal Science on the "Effect of feather meal on live animal performance and carcass quality and composition of growing-finishing swine". Worth noting, even at the risk of spoiling tonight's dinner, that the feather meal in the study was hydrolyzed; specifically, (and all emphases mine)
Hydrolyzed FM containing 8% blood was contributed by Tyson Foods, Inc., Specialty Products Division, and was obtained from their protein plant in Noel, MO. Briefly, fresh poultry feathers were spread evenly on a conveyor, passed through a metal detector, and hydrolyzed under pressure (2.11 to 2.81 kg force/cm2) in a batch hydrolyzer for 30 min at 76.7°C. Feathers were hydrolyzed in a batch hydrolyzer to break keratin (long-chain proteins) into more digestible, smaller-chain proteins and to reduce microbial contamination. Blood was coagulated and added to the hydrolyzed feathers in the batch hydrolyzer to increase protein content of the product.
Not surprisingly, at the end of the study is the note that "The authors wish to express their appreciation to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association for financial support of this project".

2) "Recycling Poultry Feathers: More Bang for the Cluck"; how Big Chicken (i.e. Tyson and Perdue) make Big Bucks furnishing feathers for, um, " high-quality animal feed" (all emphases mine):
For the competitive poultry industry, the challenge is to turn the white plumes into valuable new products that add to the company's bottom line. Though there has been significant controversy in recent years over the human health effects of poultry wastes, especially used litter and processing plant wastewater that ends up in waterways, chicken feathers are relatively clean and do not generally pose a health risk. Contamination of feathers with chicken blood and feces can present a problem, but in general feathers are continuously removed from the processing area to make room for new feathers as more chickens are processed. An average chicken processing plant churns out 4,000 pounds of feathers an hour and has a low profit margin per bird, so feathers must be moved or processed quickly and very inexpensively.

March 02, 2007

Children's entertainment that isn't prechewed

One of the joys of traipsing in and out of Toronto's Pearson Airport over a weekend is being able to stock up on the Saturday editions of The Globe & Mail and National Post, and the Sunday edition of The New York Times. In the G&M book review, I found a brief mention of the new title, The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together by Ty Burr. The Christian Science Monitor's review calls it "an excellent guide for parents looking for entertainment that isn't prepackaged, pre-sold, and prechewed". Also according to the CSM, "The Boston Globe film critic has a reputation as "The Man Who Showed 'The Seven Samurai' to His Kids. And They Liked It." Which means that I'm pretty Mr. Burr and I -- the mother who showed her preschool children "The Magnificent Seven" and then bought them the soundtrack CD, and whose three kids dressed up as Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, and Harpo Marx last Halloween -- would get along just fine.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", the kids' choice (thanks, Grandpapa), before dinner. And more thanks for the 1959 Kenneth More version of "The 39 Steps", enjoyed by everyone last night.

Some of my favorite homeschooling with movies resources include, in no particular order:

Leonard Maltin's annual Movie & Video Guide; the link is for the 2004 edition, which is the most recent one I have.

Leslie Halliwell's Filmgoer's Companion; the Amazon page suggests that this book has been "superseded" by Ephraim Katz's The Film Encyclopedia, which I just might try to find at the library, since my copy of Halliwell's is falling apart.

Rebecca Rupp's Complete Home Learning Sourcebook, which lists movies for the various subjects, including math and science.

Paula's Archives Movies for History list, a nifty list

Trip snaps

Palm tree (friend's garden)

Roots of a West Indian almond tree (friend's garden)

Another palm tree (friend's garden)

Strelitzia (Bird-of-Paradise) in my parents' garden

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007)

From his obituary in yesterday's New York Times:
Young Arthur first attended public schools in Cambridge, but his parents lost faith in public education in his sophomore year after a civics teacher informed Arthur’s class that inhabitants of Albania were called Albinos and had white hair and pink eyes. He was shipped to the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.