November 30, 2007

Cybils Review: The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!
created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, written by Adrian Dingle
128 pages; for ages 10 and up
Kingfisher Publications (Houghton Mifflin Co.)
Library copy

I've been looking forward to reading this book ever since I saw it mentioned on Carol's and Rebecca's blogs.

Artist Simon Basher and chemistry teacher Adrian Dingle have created a vivid rogues' gallery of elements guaranteed to bring the periodic table to life and appeal to kids of all ages. I'll be the first to admit I'm the originally fuddy-duddy, but there's something about this anime-style, Facebook approach to the periodic table that's remarkably engaging. Not to mention a sensible approach to making the subject -- indeed, the individual elements -- memorable for everyone from fourth or fifth graders to college seniors (not to mention home educating parents who majored in, say, history).

And memorable is what you want when it comes to learning about the periodic table. Basher, who came up with the idea for the book, has said, "It’s really been designed to engage you on a gentle level and also to act as a memory trigger. There really is no reason to think of science as boring, as I’ve discovered, and I hope readers will see the fun side of it." Echoed by Mr. Dingle, who writes, "This is not an academic book by any stretch of the imagination, but it does offer a window or gateway to getting interested in the elements. I see it as a very accessible opportunity to learn a little about some chemistry." In fact, The Periodic Table takes the "memory trigger" several giant steps further than does another nonfiction book familiar to home schoolers -- Yo, Millard Fillmore -- because the illustrations and text are all about the elements.

The small book -- seven inches square, and 128 pages -- opens with an introduction explaining just what an element is and how (and why) the periodic table is arranged. Then nearly every element gets its own double-page spread, with an illustration and first-person narrative, accompanied by symbol, atomic number and weight, color, standard state, classification, etc. Here's the write-up for Bad Boy lead, depicted as a Roman gladiator:
Don't let my heavyweight status fool you -- at heart I'm a completely malleable softy. I am so easy to work with that the ancient Romans used me for their water pipes. My chemical symbol (and the word "plumbing") comes from by Latin name, plumbum.

Over the years, I've gained a bad rep. People say that I build up in bones as a slow poison and that I have damaged childrens' [sic] development. It's true that I have an unfortunate ability to slip easily into the food chain -- from pipes and cookware, leaded gasoline, and paints to fisherman's weights. I have also been blamed for ending the ancient Roman civilization. Not fair! These days, I am closely regulated. But I am still used as a shield against x-rays, for roofing, and in stained glass.
Adding to the delight is a removable periodic table poster -- definitely stylish, more cool than geeky -- accompanying the book. Just the right thing for your young scientist to hang over the desk (or bed, depending on how much he or she really likes this stuff); though I realize, aside from the home educating crowd, who'll be tempted to post it in the kitchen, most families will be content to borrow the book from the local or school library. Besides the poster, the book also includes an index and a glossary.

For more on the writer and illustrator, see interviews with each at Houghton Mifflin's website. Asked, "Were you good at chemistry as a student? Would a book like this have helped you?" and "Did you have any inspirational teachers who got you excited about science or art?", Basher replies,
I liked the idea of chemistry but found the textbook really unstimulating. I always had more of an interest in art and music.

I was lucky enough to have a great high school art teacher who really encouraged me to look at new art and also introduced me to a lot of great music. My passion for science and math came much later in life. While working on the book I did meet a materials scientist from MIT who really gave me some fantastic ideas and tips for the book. He had a real passion for art as well and he loved the idea.
And my favorite bit, from Mr. Dingle the chemistry teacher,
Science is a serious business, and I think the way to get people engaged is to make it accessible while still presenting hard facts and knowledge. Also, I don’t believe that science is “for all.” Some people will have an academic bent for it, others will not — that’s fine, but the answer is not to dumb down science so that everyone can “get it.”
Now there's something everyone can get.

* * *

More Periodic Table Fun

Further reading, for the younger set:

The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin D. Wiker, with charming illustrations by Jeanne Bendick; a delightful living book, published in 2003 by Bethlehem Books as part of their "Living History Library".

Dawn's favorite chemistry book, It's Elementary: Put the Crackle in Chemistry (look inside the book here)

Further reading, for older children and adults:

Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley (and if you liked that, just for fun don't miss his entertaining -- and "sordid" -- history of phosphorus)

More periodic tables:

The animated version of Tom Lehrer's ditty on The Elements (don't forget to turn your sound up); many thanks to the generous and creative Mike Stanfill

Theodore Gray's Wooden Periodic Table Table (no, that second "Table" isn't a typo), and his very stylish periodic table posters. And don't miss his fun columns at Popular Science.

The Royal Society of Chemistry's Visual Elements Periodic Table, available in Flash or HTML versions, and which you can buy as a wall chart or CD-ROM

The Comic Book Periodic Table of the Elements

Rader's Chem4Kids Periodic Table and clickable Element List

Prof. Mokeur's interactive and printable periodic tables, and his game of Elementary Hangman

An interactive periodic table. And another one.

Chemicool's periodic table

UPDATED to add: From the comments below, Crissy at Soliloquy's favorite periodic table is here. (If you have trouble with that link for some reason, try this one.) She downloaded the PDF and printed a 20" x 30" poster for each of her sons. Many thanks for sharing that one, Crissy!

From Adrian Dingle:

His website, especially handy for AP chem students; don't miss the links page, which includes some other Periodic Tables

His blog, Chemistry Pages

Learning more about the Periodic Table of Elements:

The Resource Room

Mrs. Gibson's Periodic Table Adventure website, with information on the history of the periodic table and how to read a periodic table

We haven't used Ellen McHenry's chemistry curriculum for grades 4-8, The Elements: Ingredients of the Universe, but I've heard very good things about it.

Dawn gave me the idea about using Lego in connection with learning about elements and the periodic table. Here is her post with the photo of her son building elements; he's taking a Lego chemistry class for middle schoolers at MIT, where the curriculum includes using Lego bricks to model the elements. And then I found this this Lego periodic table, as well as this Lego advertisement featuring another Lego periodic table.

The five-disc "Periodic Table for Students" DVD series from Schlessinger.

Articles on the Periodic Table:

It's Elemental, "Chemical & Engineering News celebrates the Periodic Table of the Elements on the magazine's 80th anniversary" in 2003

Periodic Table stocking stuffers, or, you'll never believe what home schoolers will buy:

Periodic Table place mats

And Period Table playing cards...

ElementO, the board game, for ages 10 and up; also available at Carolina Biological Supply

How about a Periodic Table fridge magnet, where each element is a separate magnet?

Or would you believe a Periodic Table shower curtain? Which I suppose you can swap around with your Metamorphosis shower curtain...

And for those who appreciate the mysteries of science, Dr. Camille Minichino, who has
a Ph.D. in physics from Fordham University, is the author of the eight volumes in the Periodic Table Mysteries: hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boric acid, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are all accounted for so far.

And don't forget the gumdrops and marshmallows...

(Let me know if I've goofed up any of the links. I'm just about cross-eyed now.)

Poetry Friday: 'Tis the season... brave the stores.

Enigma for Christmas Shoppers
by Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978)

It is a strange, miraculous thing
About department stores,
How elevators upwards wing
By twos and threes and fours,

How pale lights gleam, how cables run
All day without an end,
Yet how reluctant, one by one,
The homing cars descend.

They soar to Furniture, or higher,
They speed to Gowns and Gifts,
But when the bought weighs down the buyer,
Late, late, return the lifts.

Newton, himself, beneath his tree,
Would ponder this and frown:
How what goes up so frequently
So seldom cometh down.

* * *

Two Writing Teachers are hosting today's Poetry Friday Round-Up. Thanks, and happy reading (and writing)!

November 29, 2007

Fruitcake weather

I know my parents for certain and probably some readers consider the more severe winter temperatures up here (-18C this afternoon, around 0 F, and with a bitter wind) "fruitcake weather". As in, suitable only for fruitcakes like us, content in the ice and snow and it's not even December yet, for Pete's sake.

But when I think of of "fruitcake weather", I think of one of our favorite wintertime, holiday books, Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory, published in 1956 with Breakfast at Tiffany's. If you can, find the children's edition, with beautiful Rackhamesque illustrations by Beth Peck and an accompanying audio CD read by Celeste Holm, who is welcome here any afternoon for a cup of tea or coffee and a plate of fruitcake. If you prefer, you can listen to Capote himself read the story. But we prefer Ado Annie. (Much as I also prefer Capote's writings the closer he sticks to home, but that's another thought for another day.)

This is how it starts,
Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable -- not unlike Lincoln's, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate, too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. "Oh my," she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, "it's fruitcake weather!"

The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something. We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together -- well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other's best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880's, when she was still a child. She is still a child.

"I knew it before I got out of bed," she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. "The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they've gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We've thirty cakes to bake."
And if you're a fruitcake fan, and perhaps especially if you're not yet convinced by the merits of fruitcake, you might want to have a look at this recipe from Gina's Gingerbread; I think I'd use dark rum rather than Grand Marnier, and the darker the chocolate the better.

November 27, 2007

Snow fun

The kids rolled the torso and head up the plank.
Note the saw on the snowman-to-be's hip...

Inserting one of the arms

Adding the nose

Now the celery mouth

Last minute snowman surgery (sawing off some
extra snow on the back of the head)

A new friend...

List of Cybils nominees for Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction

Nominations for the 2007 Cybils awards closed last Wednesday (don't say I didn't warn you). So here's the list of nominated titles in the Middle Grade/Young Adult nonfiction category. All of the and BookSense links Cybils-affiliated and provide a small commission to the Cybils to help pay for (modest) prizes.

1607: A New Look at Jamestown by Karen Lange
National Geographic
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Across the Wide Ocean: The Why, How, and Where of Navigation for Humans and Animals at Sea by Karen Romano Young
Harper Collins (Greenwillow)
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

America Dreaming: How Youth Changed America in the 60's by Laban Carrick Hill
Little, Brown Young Readers
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Another Book About Design: Complicated Doesn't Make It Bad by Mark Gonyea
Henry Holt and Co.
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art, compiled by Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Astrobiology (from the Cool Science series) by Fred Bortz
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Black and White Airmen: Their True History by John Fleischman
Houghton Mifflin
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Dinosaur Eggs Discovered!: Unscrambling the Clues by Lowell Dingus, Rodolfo A. Coria, and Luis M. Chiappe
Twenty-First Century Books
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Face to Face with Grizzlies (from the Face to Face with Animals series) by Joel Sartore
National Geographic
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

From Slave to Superstar of the Wild West: The Awesome Story of Jim Beckwourth by Tom DeMund
Legends of the West Publishing
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Grief Girl by Erin Vincent
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Halloween Book of Facts and Fun by Wendie Old
Albert Whitman
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Jeannette Rankin: Political Pioneer by Gretchen Woelfle
Calkins Creek (Boyd Mills)
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Let's Clear the Air: 10 Reasons Not to Start Smoking by Deanna Staffo
Lobster Press
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Marie Curie (volume 4 in the Giants of Science series) by Kathleen Krull
Viking Juvenile
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail by Danica McKellar
Hudson Street Press
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Morris and Buddy: The Story of the First Seeing Eye Dog by Becky Hall
Albert Whitman & Company
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Muckrakers: How Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens Helped Expose Scandal, Inspire Reform, and Invent Investigative Journalism by Ann Bausum
National Geographic Children's Books
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

My Feet Aren't Ugly by Debra Beck
Beaufort Books
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Ox, House, Stick: The Story of Our Alphabet by Don Robb
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Periodic Table: Elements With Style! by Adrian Dingle, with illustrations by Simon Dasher
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Pocket Babies and Other Amazing Marsupials by Sneed B. Collard
Darby Creek Publishers
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Real Benedict Arnold by Jim Murphy
Clarion (Houghton Mifflin)
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Red: The Next Generation of American Writers -- Teenage Girls -- On What Fires Up Their Lives Today edited by Amy Goldwasser
Hudson Street Press
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Secret of Priest's Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story by Peter Lane Taylor and Christos Nicola
Kar-Ben Publishing
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything by Eve Drobot
Maple Tree Press
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Sneeze! by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Robert E. Peary's Daring Daughter by Katherine Kirkpatrick
Holiday House
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Social Climber's Guide to High School: A tongue-in-cheek handbook by Robyn Schneider
Simon Pulse
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Superfood or Superthreat: The Issue of Genetically Engineered Food by Kathlyn Gay
Enslow Publishers
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Tasting the Sky: a Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Titanic: An Interactive History Adventure by Bob Temple
Capstone Press
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (from the Scientists in the Field series) by Loree Griffin Burns
Houghton Mifflin
Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (from the Scientists in the Field series) Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Ultimate Interactive Atlas of the World by Elaine Jackson et al.
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin by Larry Dane Brimmer
Calkins Creek (Boyd Mills
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The Whale Scientists: Solving the Mystery of Whale Strandings by Fran Hodgkins
Houghton Mifflin
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

What's Eating You?: Parasites -- The Inside Story by Nicola Davies
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Wildly Romantic: The English Romantic Poets: The Mad, the Bad, and the Dangerous by Catherine M. Andronik
Henry Holt
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World
by Marc Aronson and John W. Glenn
National Geographic
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Beatles, Beatlemania, and the Music that Changed the World by Bob Spitz
Little, Brown Young Readers
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

You Can Write a Story: A Story-Writing Recipe for Kids by Lisa Bullard
Two-Can Publishing, Inc.
Available from Amazon or from BookSense (your local independent bookseller)

The rest of the nominees in the other categories are here. Happy reading!

November 25, 2007

Thanksbirthday celebrations under way

Yesterday we celebrated Davy's seventh birthday and Thanksgiving. He was delighted to have turkey with all the trimmings, especially cranberry sauce, for his birthday meal, and I was happy to have a leisurely day to prepare, and a leisurely dinnertime to enjoy, our harvest feast, which included all of the usual suspects along with homemade pumpkin chiffon pie and a homemade lemon meringue pie complete with seven candles.

From the top of his new cowboy hat

to his newly refurbished mukluks (collected in time for his birthday),

Davy, or Gray Elk as he asked me to call him last night before bed, had lots of fun, spending most of yesterday outdoors. Other presents included the Shoot-a-Loop game from Laura; a toy John Deere tractor from Daniel; "Ratatouille", gift #1 from my parents (Pecos Bill, gift #2, having been held up at the border 'til later this week); a small hatchet from his other grandparents; and the much longed for (to complete the collection read endlessly at bedtime in the bunk) Blaze and the Gray Spotted Pony.

Today, after chores are done -- and they'll take a bit longer because it's supposed to be a cold week ahead, going down to -35C tonight and not too much warmer during the day tomorrow -- we're going to hunker down in our warm house that still retains the scents of yesterday's turkey and baking. We have an ample supply of delicious leftovers, the big Grey Cup football on television for Tom that doesn't bother me as long as I have something to curl up with on the couch (and I do, since Film Club finally arrived from the library), and new toys for Davy to share with his siblings.

November 23, 2007

Poetry Friday: Black Friday edition

A Modern Romance
by Paul Engle (1908-1991)

Come live with me and be my wife
And we will lead a packaged life,
Where food, drink, fun, all things save pain
Come neatly wrapped in cellophane.

I am the All-American boy,
Certified as fit for joy,
Elected (best of all the breed)
Hairline most likely to recede.
My parchment scroll to verify
Is stamped in gold and witnessed by
Secretary-Treasurer of
Americans Hundred Per Cent For Love.

You are the All-American girl,
Red toe to artificial curl,
Who passed all tests from skipping rope
And using only Cuddly Soap
To making fire in any weather
By rubbing boy and girl together.

We are the nation's nicest team,
Madison Avenue's magic scheme
To show how boy gets girl: my style
Succeeds by using Denta-Smile.

How merchandised that ceremony!
The minister was scrubbed and bony,
And all was sterile in that room
Except, one hoped, the eager groom.

Married, with advertising's blessing,
We can begin togethernessing.
Before I carry you, my bride,
Across the threshold and inside,
I'll take, to help my milk-fed bones,
Vitamins, minerals and hormones.

Now look how quickly I have fixed
A dry martini (ready-mixed).
So drink to our day, consecrated,
In chairs of leather, simulated.
While you are changing out of those
Nylon, dacron, rayon clothes,
I cook the dinner, without fail
Proving a real American male,
Humble, without too much endurance,
But lots of paid-up life insurance.

From the deep-freeze, to please your wish,
A TV dinner in its dish,
All ready-seasoned, heat it up.
Pour instant water in this cup
On instant coffee from a can.
Be proud, love, of your instant man.
Innocent food, mechanized manna
(Except the delicate banana),
Can you endure -- forgive the question --
The messy horrors of digestion?

Even our love is pasteurized,
Our gentle hope homogenized.

And now our pure, hygienic night.
To our voluptuous delight
Your hair is up, restraints are down,
And cream is patted on your frown.
The brand-name mattress on the bed
Is wrapped in paper like fresh bread.
We can, to make our own campfire,
Turn the electric blanket higher.
We will cry, Darling, I do care,
In chastely air-conditioned air.

We've read the books, know what to do,
By science, wife, I offer you
This helpful, vacuum-packed, live nerve
(Just add devotion, dear, and serve).
Hurry! Out back I seem to hear
The landlord's Plymouth prowling near.

If this efficient plan produces
By chance (those awful natural juices!)
That product of a thousand uses,
A Junior, wrapped in elastic
Inexpensive bag of plastic
(Just break the seal and throw away)
From antiseptic throats we'll say:
It was an All-American day.

from Poetry for Pleasure: The Hallmark Book of Poetry (Doubleday, 1960)

* * *

Susan Taylor Brown at Susan Writes has today's Poetry Friday Round-Up, and a lovely poem by Alfred Kreymborg. Thank you, Susan, from under a sunny sky.

November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving from Farm School

and O. Henry:
There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to. Bless the day. President Roosevelt gives it to us. We hear some talk of the Puritans, but don't just remember who they were. Bet we can lick 'em, anyhow, if they try to land again. Plymouth Rocks? Well, that sounds more familiar. Lots of us have had to come down to hens since the Turkey Trust got its work in. But somebody in Washington is leaking out advance information to 'em about these Thanksgiving proclamations.

The big city east of the cranberry bogs has made Thanksgiving Day an institution. The last Thursday in November is the only day in the year on which it recognizes the part of America lying across the ferries. It is the one day that is purely American. Yes, a day of celebration, exclusively American.

And now for the story which is to prove to you that we have traditions on this side of the ocean that are becoming older at a much rapider rate than those of England are -- thanks to our git-up and enterprise.

Stuffy Pete took his seat on the third bench to the right as you enter Union Square from the east, at the walk opposite the fountain. Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years he had taken his seat there promptly at 1 o'clock. For every time he had done so things had happened to him -- Charles Dickensy things that swelled his waistcoat above his heart, and equally on the other side.

But to-day Stuffy Pete's appearance at the annual trysting place seemed to have been rather the result of habit than of the yearly hunger which, as the philanthropists seem to think, afflicts the poor at such extended intervals.

Certainly Pete was not hungry. He had just come from a feast that had left him of his powers barely those of respiration and locomotion. His eyes were like two pale gooseberries firmly imbedded in a swollen and gravy-smeared mask of putty. His breath came in short wheezes; a senatorial roll of adipose tissue denied a fashionable set to his upturned coat collar. Buttons that had been sewed upon his clothes by kind Salvation fingers a week before flew like popcorn, strewing the earth around him. Ragged he was, with a split shirt front open to the wishbone; but the November breeze, carrying fine snowflakes, brought him only a grateful coolness. For Stuffy Pete was overcharged with the caloric produced by a super-bountiful dinner, beginning with oysters and ending with plum pudding, and including (it seemed to him) all the roast turkey and baked potatoes and chicken salad and squash pie and ice cream in the world. Wherefore he sat, gorged, and gazed upon the world with after-dinner contempt.

The meal had been an unexpected one. He was passing a red brick mansion near the beginning of Fifth Avenue, in which lived two old ladies of ancient family and a reverence for traditions. They even denied the existence of New York, and believed that Thanksgiving Day was declared solely for Washington Square. One of their traditional habits was to station a servant at the postern gate with orders to admit the first hungry wayfarer that came along after the hour of noon had struck, and banquet him to a finish. Stuffy Pete happened to pass by on his way to the park, and the seneschals gathered him in and upheld the custom of the castle.

After Stuffy Pete had gazed straight before him for ten minutes he was conscious of a desire for a more varied field of vision. With a tremendous effort he moved his head slowly to the left. And then his eyes bulged out fearfully, and his breath ceased, and the rough-shod ends of his short legs wriggled and rustled on the gravel.

For the Old Gentleman was coming across Fourth Avenue toward his bench.

Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years the Old Gentleman had come there and found Stuffy Pete on his bench. That was a thing that the Old Gentleman was trying to make a tradition of. Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years he had found Stuffy there, and had led him to a restaurant and watched him eat a big dinner. They do those things in England unconsciously. But this is a young country, and nine years is not so bad. The Old Gentleman was a staunch American patriot, and considered himself a pioneer in American tradition. In order to become picturesque we must keep on doing one thing for a long time without ever letting it get away from us. Something like collecting the weekly dimes in industrial insurance. Or cleaning the streets.

The Old Gentleman moved, straight and stately, toward the Institution that he was rearing. Truly, the annual feeding of Stuffy Pete was nothing national in its character, such as the Magna Charta or jam for breakfast was in England. But it was a step. It was almost feudal. It showed, at least, that a Custom was not impossible to New Y -- ahem! -- America.

The Old Gentleman was thin and tall and sixty. He was dressed all in black, and wore the old-fashioned kind of glasses that won't stay on your nose. His hair was whiter and thinner than it had been last year, and he seemed to make more use of his big, knobby cane with the crooked handle.

As his established benefactor came up Stuffy wheezed and shuddered like some woman's over-fat pug when a street dog bristles up at him. He would have flown, but all the skill of Santos-Dumont could not have separated him from his bench. Well had the myrmidons of the two old ladies done their work.

"Good morning," said the Old Gentleman. "I am glad to perceive that the vicissitudes of another year have spared you to move in health about the beautiful world. For that blessing alone this day of thanksgiving is well proclaimed to each of us. If you will come with me, my man, I will provide you with a dinner that should make your physical being accord with the mental."

That is what the old Gentleman said every time. Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years. The words themselves almost formed an Institution. Nothing could be compared with them except the Declaration of Independence. Always before they had been music in Stuffy's ears. But now he looked up at the Old Gentleman's face with tearful agony in his own. The fine snow almost sizzled when it fell upon his perspiring brow. But the Old Gentleman shivered a little and turned his back to the wind.

Stuffy had always wondered why the Old Gentleman spoke his speech rather sadly. He did not know that it was because he was wishing every time that he had a son to succeed him. A son who would come there after he was gone -- a son who would stand proud and strong before some subsequent Stuffy, and say: "In memory of my father." Then it would be an Institution.

But the Old Gentleman had no relatives. He lived in rented rooms in one of the decayed old family brownstone mansions in one of the quiet streets east of the park. In the winter he raised fuchsias in a little conservatory the size of a steamer trunk. In the spring he walked in the Easter parade. In the summer he lived at a farmhouse in the New Jersey hills, and sat in a wicker armchair, speaking of a butterfly, the ornithoptera amphrisius, that he hoped to find some day. In the autumn he fed Stuffy a dinner. These were the Old Gentleman's occupations.

Stuffy Pete looked up at him for a half minute, stewing and helpless in his own self-pity. The Old Gentleman's eyes were bright with the giving-pleasure. His face was getting more lined each year, but his little black necktie was in as jaunty a bow as ever, and the linen was beautiful and white, and his gray mustache was curled carefully at the ends. And then Stuffy made a noise that sounded like peas bubbling in a pot. Speech was intended; and as the Old Gentleman had heard the sounds nine times before, he rightly construed them into Stuffy's old formula of acceptance.

"Thankee, sir. I'll go with ye, and much obliged. I'm very hungry, sir."

The coma of repletion had not prevented from entering Stuffy's mind the conviction that he was the basis of an Institution. His Thanksgiving appetite was not his own; it belonged by all the sacred rights of established custom, if not, by the actual Statute of Limitations, to this kind old gentleman who bad preempted it. True, America is free; but in order to establish tradition some one must be a repetend -- a repeating decimal. The heroes are not all heroes of steel and gold. See one here that wielded only weapons of iron, badly silvered, and tin.

The Old Gentleman led his annual protégé southward to the restaurant, and to the table where the feast had always occurred. They were recognized.

"Here comes de old guy," said a waiter, "dat blows dat same bum to a meal every Thanksgiving."

The Old Gentleman sat across the table glowing like a smoked pearl at his corner-stone of future ancient Tradition. The waiters heaped the table with holiday food -- and Stuffy, with a sigh that was mistaken for hunger's expression, raised knife and fork and carved for himself a crown of imperishable bay.

No more valiant hero ever fought his way through the ranks of an enemy. Turkey, chops, soups, vegetables, pies, disappeared before him as fast as they could be served. Gorged nearly to the uttermost when he entered the restaurant, the smell of food had almost caused him to lose his honor as a gentleman, but he rallied like a true knight. He saw the look of beneficent happiness on the Old Gentleman's face -- a happier look than even the fuchsias and the ornithoptera amphrisius had ever brought to it -- and he had not the heart to see it wane.

In an hour Stuffy leaned back with a battle won. "Thankee kindly, sir," he puffed like a leaky steam pipe; "thankee kindly for a hearty meal." Then he arose heavily with glazed eyes and started toward the kitchen. A waiter turned him about like a top, and pointed him toward the door. The Old Gentleman carefully counted out $1.30 in silver change, leaving three nickels for the waiter.

They parted as they did each year at the door, the Old Gentleman going south, Stuffy north.

Around the first corner Stuffy turned, and stood for one minute. Then he seemed to puff out his rags as an owl puffs out his feathers, and fell to the sidewalk like a sunstricken horse.

When the ambulance came the young surgeon and the driver cursed softly at his weight. There was no smell of whiskey to justify a transfer to the patrol wagon, so Stuffy and his two dinners went to the hospital. There they stretched him on a bed and began to test him for strange diseases, with the hope of getting a chance at some problem with the bare steel.

And lo! an hour later another ambulance brought the Old Gentleman. And they laid him on another bed and spoke of appendicitis, for he looked good for the bill.

But pretty soon one of the young doctors met one of the young nurses whose eyes he liked, and stopped to chat with her about the cases.

"That nice old gentleman over there, now," he said, "you wouldn't think that was a case of almost starvation. Proud old family, I guess. He told me he hadn't eaten a thing for three days."
from "Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen" by O. Henry (pen name of William Sydney Porter, 1862-1910)

November 21, 2007

Science books and Cybils nominations

Nominations for the Cybils close tonight at midnight.

If you're stuck for some science books in the nonfiction category, Susan at Chicken Spaghetti has a nifty post with the science book prize shortlist for the 2008 American Association for the Advancement of Science Subaru Science Books and Films Online Prizes. I know the Gregor Mendel picture book by Cheryl Bardoe was published in 2006, but most of the rest seem to be from this year's crop.

Thanks, Susan.

November 20, 2007

One more day

to submit your Cybils nominations for your favorite children's books of 2007. You can nominate one title in each category, including Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction. And then you have the rest of the day free to truss the turkey and pie the pumpkin...

School canceled, on account of

snow and hunting.

We were surprised Sunday by a goodly snowfall overnight, and then a bit more Sunday night. Enough for the kids to make this before lunchtime yesterday,

It doubles as a (very) small sledding hill.

Last night the temperature dropped down to about -20C (just below 0F), the coldest weather so far this season; winter is here, no matter what the calendar says.

Tom shot a deer this morning, and he and the kids are at his parents skinning it before taking it to the butcher, who will cut and wrap the meat for us. It started snowing again, so thickly I can barely see the road from the front door, just after they left.

Davy already has plans for the hide, which we'll send to the local taxidermist for tanning (though Davy wants to try tanning it himself, which I don't think he's quite old enough for; I found this online* but figure I'd be buying it at my own peril since he's only seven), and Tom will have his hands full because Davy also wants some of the sinew to make a bow and for various Native sewing projects. Davy lately has been eating, breathing, sleeping (the books live under his pillow) the teachings of W. Ben Hunt, especially his Complete Book of Indian Crafts and Lore (a Golden Book), and Davy knows that Ben would want him to get the sinew. All of it. Of cousre, I mean need that deerskin/buckskin book so I know what to do with that sinew. Besides store it in my deep freeze.

* * *

A W. Ben Hunt library (these are all still in print); if you or your kids like old Boy Scout manuals and the books of Dan Beard and Ernest Thompson Seton, you'll like these:

How to Build and Furnish a Log Cabin

Rustic Construction

American Indian Beadwork

These Ben Hunt titles are out-of-print but worth tracking down:

The Golden Book of Crafts and Hobbies

The Golden Book of Indian Crafts and Lore

Ben Hunt's Big Book of Whittling

* not for the faint of heart or stomach when it comes to book titles, there is also this (consider yourself warned before you click away). I'll admit to being a wee bit intrigued since Davy says that Ben Hunt said that traditional tanning methods yield a leather that's much softer and more waterproof than modern chemical methods. By the way, we hear a lot of "Ben Hunt says" around here, and I've learned that he's usually right.

By the way, the above link at has some nifty things on the "arts and technologies of early peoples", including

a list of primitive living skills gatherings, mostly in the US, and

information on school programs for kids

November 17, 2007

Review: We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin

We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin
by Larry Dane Brimner
48 pages; for ages 8 and up
Calkins Creek Books

Available from or your local bookstore (BookSense) (Cybils affiliate links) or in Canada at Chapters
Review copy from the publisher

We Are One is the handsome new photobiography of Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), the American pacifist and civil rights activist. While Rustin is nowhere near as well known as the leaders he advised -- his mentor A. Philip Randolph and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. -- or the 1963 March on Washington he organized, he has in recent years been the subject of two biographies for adults (this one, and this one), two for high school students, a volume of collected writings, and several documentaries, including one devoted exclusively to his life.

We Are One is a strikingly designed book, inspired by the celebrated March on Washington poster (below) by artist Louis Lo Monaco, complete with matching color scheme and artful torn edging used for sidebars within the volume to highlight photograph captions, quotations, and lyrics from the Negro spirituals and gospel hymns that Rustin sang.

As I was admiring the look of the book, clean, spare, and sophisticated, I found myself wondering exactly for whom this picture book biography is meant. According to the publisher's website, it's intended for children ages 8 and up. But it's a sophisticated story, too, of the civil rights movement in general (including some of the most shameful periods in American history) and the life of Bayard Rustin in particular. For starters, Rustin wasn't one of the famous faces of the movement; organizers laboring behind the scenes rarely are, because all that organizing, while desperately necessary, isn't all that exciting to read about, especially for the younger set. All this organizing also means that We Are One is loaded with details, names, and dates, from the NAACP and Josh White and His Carolinians*, with whom Rustin sang briefly, to the Free India Committee, a good deal of information for anyone under the age of 12 to absorb.

Rustin labored quietly in great part because he was relegated to the sidelines by those in charge, who found troublesome and problematic his early work for the Young Communist League (though presumably not the American Communist Party's early support of civil rights); his refusal, as a Quaker, to register for the draft during World War II or to perform alternate service; and his homosexuality, a subject that Larry Dane Brimner touches on only briefly, in his author's note at the back of the book. Older readers able to appreciate and understand this complex period of American history might be put off by the picture book approach.

But my main reservation is about language. In his author's note, Mr. Brimner writes,
To be true to the times in which Bayard lived, and with the greatest respect, I referred to African Americans as colored, black, and Negro in this book. These were the terms that Bayard used to refer to himself and others of his race.
I do appreciate, very much, that Mr. Brimner didn't shy from these terms in their historical context. However, I found the mixing of the various terms, sometimes in the same sentence --
In the South following the Civil War, laws were passed to prevent blacks from voting, and throughout the United States, Negroes were discriminated against as a way to keep them from enjoying the benefits of freedom.
-- to be jarring verging on confusing. And, given current sensibilities, and for children of all colors who might not have encountered these words in a history book before, seeing them might raise concerns which should be addressed at the beginning of the story, perhaps as a "historical note to readers", rather than as a brief mention tucked in at the back.

As a suggestion to parents of younger readers, I found that my three had an easier time understanding the historical context of We Are One when we started first with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March on Washington from the "All Aboard Reading" series. And if you let them hear and see Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, chances are they'll have a much clearer understanding of just why Bayard Rustin held fast to his ideal that "we are one", and just why he was willing to toil behind the scenes so long and so hard to make the March come to pass.

*A nice musical go-along while reading about the civil rights movement is Josh White's "Free and Equal Blues". And a bit of poking around at Amazon shows that some of the songs Rustin recorded while singing back-up with White's Carolinians appear to be on this CD.

Other Cybils reviews of We Are One:

KT at Worth the Trip

Mindy at Propernoun Dot Net

November 16, 2007

CYBILS: Five days left... nominate your favorite Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction book published in 2007. I know some of you are busy polishing the silverware and preparing the nut cups for Thanksgiving next week, but please consider taking a break to give the nod to your favorite book.

Some titles still awaiting nomination:

The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle by Anne H. Weaver

Einstein Adds a New Dimension
(from The Story of Science series) by Joy Hakim;
Psst, Rebecca! The geeky physics post can wait. Your nomination can't (unless of course there's another title you'd prefer to nominate). Carol, did you get it yet and read it?

The Many Rides of Paul Revere
by James Cross Giblin

The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone and How Early Americans Took to the Road by Cheryl Harness

The Remarkable Rough-Riding Life of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Empire America by Cheryl Harness

Who's Saying What in Jamestown, Thomas Savage? by Jean Fritz

When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs by Hannah Bonner

The Dangerous Book for Boys
(US edition) by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden

Daring Book for Girls
by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz

The Art Book for Children/Book Two, compiled by Amanda Renshaw and the editors of Phaidon Press

Amazing Ben Franklin Inventions You Can Build Yourself
(from the Build It Yourself series) by Carmella Van Vleet

Great Pioneer Projects You Can Build Yourself (from the Build It Yourself series) by Rachel Dickinson

Amazing Maya Inventions You Can Build Yourself (from the Build It Yourself series) by Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt

Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer by Deborah Kogan Ray

Up Close: Robert F. Kennedy, Crusader: A Twentieth-Century Life by Marc Aronson

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II by Lita Judge;
I know Chris Barton at Bartography thought highly of this one. And Karen, who knows a thing or two about good World War II books for children, calls it "fascinating". Of course, Mary at Our Domestic Church could nominate it too. Yoohoo....

River Roads West: America's First Highways by Peter and Connie Roop

Tales of Famous Americans by Connie and Peter Roop

Stories of the Zodiac (from the Dot to Dot in the Sky series) by Joan Marie Galat

600 Black Spots: A Pop-up Book for Children of All Ages by David A. Carter (I'm not 100 percent sure about the category for this one, but it's definitely fun for all ages)

Home schooling for homebodies

It's hard to home school when you're not home much. I wrote last week that "I'm hoping to get back into a homebody routine again, with plenty of time for schooling at home (instead of out and about schooling, as we've been doing)". With various lessons, rehearsals, and meetings (usually mine) occupying our Wednesdays and Thursdays, the rest of the week has become more precious.

We've fallen into a comfortable routine on the days we are at home, well, not including the hour or more it takes us to do winter livestock chores. Davy has been interested in learning more about Natives; what he would really like is to wake up one morning in an Iroquois longhouse c1600, but there's only so much I can manage. Instead I pulled out Evan-Moor's History Pockets: Native Americans. The kids work on their pockets while I read aloud, the latest installment of Paddle-to-the-Sea or some of our Lewis and Clark books. History Pockets has sections on eight nations: Inuit, Tlingit, Nez Perce, Maidu, Sioux, Navajo, Iroquois, and Seminole. Because I always need to fine tune and fiddle, I'm adding extra pockets -- as well as increasing the challenge for Laura -- by incorporating material from Donna Ward's Canada's Natives Long Ago and focusing on the nearby Cree and Blackfoot nations. The kids thought it would be fun to bind their pockets, and also their pocket dictionaries, with strips of leather from the deer and moose hides we've had tanned over the years. And Davy hauled back a deer skull found in the woods near our corrals so that he can make something (I hope not a candelabra for his mother for Christmas) out of it. And arrowheads out of the rest of the skull. As long as it all stays out of my house, I told him.

The kids have been going hunting with Tom early every morning just after sunrise, and again before sunset in the evenings. One morning the boys were trailing Tom when they came upon a doe and a fawn. To their great surprise, and the boys' initial concern, the doe started approaching them, stopping when she was about 20 feet away. So far, no doubt to the great disappointment of my venison-loving mother, these have been more extended nature walks than food gathering expeditions.

Davy found a pair of homemade traditional mukluks, complete with fur and decorative beading, at the Goodwill shop, and I was happy with the price of $5. But he wants to be able to wear them outdoors and they have the same leather on the bottom as on the top, so we found a cobbler who is able to add rubber soles to the bottom and also warm liners. We visited him at his workshop yesterday, and he reports that they should be ready by next week, in time for Davy's birthday.

There were a couple of warm days, but it went right back to being cold enough to skate on the slough, and when the kids finally make it back in the house we drink hot chocolate and eat Anna's Swedish spiced biscuits with almond (thank you, Ikea). We've found that the slough is enormous, covering the better part of our neighbor's pasture, meandering around for over a mile, past muskrat lodges, dried cattails and reeds, the occasional startled deer and snowy owl.

I'm rearranging the linen closet, still moving books around on the new shelves, helping the kids boil and shape their new mouthguards (I learn something new every day), and planning Davy's festivities and figuring out when to cook the turkey, next Thursday not being anything approaching a holiday around here.

To make the most out of all of our time in the truck, we've been listening to audio CDs, including

Story of the World: Early Modern Times, volume 3 (I see a new edition is coming out in January)

Naxos Audiobooks' Famous People in History, volume 1 (Alexander the Great, Queen Elizabeth I, Abraham Lincoln, Columbus, Horatio Nelson, Shakespeare, and Mozart) and volume 2 (with Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, George Washington, Beethoven, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie, and Ghandi); and if you're as nutty as I am and can burn CDs with your computer, you can remix the two volumes so that all the stories are in chronological order.

And, because you're never too young for Stan Freberg, Stan Freberg Presents The United States Of America. I finally broke down the other week and moved it from my wish list to my shopping cart and hit "send". And am I ever glad I did.

November 15, 2007

Poetry Friday: Choosing laughter

I've always liked the idea of Barbara Howes's "carnival hour" so much better than the "arsenic hour" I started hearing about when my three were tots. As the Poetry Foundation's wonderful online biography notes, Miss Howes's "verses paint a world of family, natural surroundings, and the wisdom inherent in natural inclinations" (emphasis mine).

Early Supper
by Barbara Howes (1914-1996)

Laughter of the children brings
The kitchen down with laughter.
While the old kettle sings
Laughter of children brings
To a boil all savory things.
Higher than beam or rafter,
Laughter of the children brings
The kitchen down with laughter.

So ends an autumn day,
Light ripples on the ceiling,
Dishes are stacked away;
So ends an autumn day,
The children jog and sway
In comic dances wheeling.
So ends an autumn day,
Light ripples on the ceiling.

They trail upstairs to bed,
And night is a dark tower.
The kettle calls; instead
They trail upstairs to bed,
Leaving warmth, the coppery-red
Mood of their carnival hour.
They trail upstairs to bed,
And night is a dark tower.

from Poetry for Pleasure: The Hallmark Book of Poetry (1960), selected and arranged by the editors of Hallmark Cards, who did a surprisingly good job, all things considered

* * *

Although Barbara Howes was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry in 1995 for her Collected Poems 1945-1990, her poems were little known during her lifetime. In his New York Times review of Collected Poems, New Criterion poetry editor Robert Richman praised Miss Howes's "ability to sketch domestic scenes" as well as her "formal adeptness and lyric skill" (Early Supper is, after all, a triolet -- not to be confused with the French board game, by the way). He also called her "as obscure a worthy poet as I can think of."

Poet Dana Gioia wrote wrote in his review of Collected Poems and appreciation of the poet,
Howes's current obscurity is difficult to understand. Before A Private Signal [a finalist for the 1978 National Book Award], she had published five books of poetry, each of which met with a very favorable reception: The Undersea Farmer (1948), In the Cold Country (1954), Light and Dark (1959), Looking Up at Leaves (1966) and The Blue Garden (1972). Her admirers constitute an impressive club that has included Richard Wilbur, Stanley Kunitz, Carolyn Kizer, Robert Phillips, Robert Penn Warren, and Katherine Anne Porter. Reviewing her second book, Louise Bogan [The New Yorker's poetry critic for 38 years] called her "the most accomplished woman poet of the youngest writing generation—one who has found her own voice, chosen her own material, and worked out her own form," an opinion she repeated in subsequent reviews of Howes's work. Yet over the year Howes's reputation has not grown. She has become a poet known mostly to other poets of her own generation.
Miss Howes was born in 1914 in New York and adopted by a Massachusetts family. She was raised outside of Boston in Chestnut Hill and attended Bennington College in Vermont; according to her New York Times obituary, "While she was a student, she sought, and learned, the identity of her natural parents and found that her ancestors included Anne Bradstreet, the 17th-century American poet." After graduating in 1937, she worked for a time for the Southern Tenant Farmer's Union in Mississippi, founded three years earlier.

Miss Howes later moved to New York, living in Greenwich Village and working as an editor; she was literary editor of the magazine Chimera from 1943 to until her marriage in 1947 to the poet William Jay Smith. The following year saw the publication of Barbara Howes's first volume of poetry, The Undersea Farmer.

The couple, who had two sons, Gregory Jay Smith and David Smith, lived for a time in England and Italy while Smith studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and the University of Florence. William Jay Smith has written of their life together,
In the year 1947 everything that I had been working toward for some time seemed to come together. I had spent a year at Columbia University as a graduate student in English and comparative literature while at the same time teaching classes in beginning and intermediate English and French. I had applied for a Rhodes scholarship from Missouri. The age limit for applicants for the scholarships had been extended so that veterans might apply. In the spring I went out for interviews in St. Louis and in Iowa and I was one of those chosen to enter Oxford in the fall. At the same time my friends Claude Fredericks and Milton Saul, who had founded the Banyan Press in New York, came to ask if I had a book of poems ready for publication. I quickly put together what I thought were my best twenty-one poems and just as they were completing the printing of the book, which I had called simply Poems, a letter was forwarded to me by the editors of the little magazine Furioso, which had printed a poem of mine entitled "Cupidon." The letter from poet Marianne Moore stated that she considered this poem "a permanence, a rare felicity." Marianne Moore gave us permission to quote her and although the book had no dust jacket a special band with her statement was made to wrap around each copy. The result was that she really launched my poetic career: her recommendation meant that the book was reviewed by the New York Times and other important newspapers and magazines, which was very unusual for a first book by an unknown poet published by a new and unknown press. Then just three days before leaving for Oxford I married the poet Barbara Howes. We had met in New York when she accepted a poem of mine for Chimera, the literary quarterly that she edited. The rules for Rhodes scholars had been changed, and for the first time, because of the dislocation of the war years, members of our class were allowed to be married. I arrived in Oxford as a married man and a published poet. Stephen Spender, whom I had met on his first trip to New York, had accepted a poem of mine for publication in Horizon, which he edited in London with Cyril Connolly. We had introductions to some of the leading poets, among them the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who was then living near Oxford. We used to see him and his wife Caitlin regularly along with other Oxford friends such as Enid Starkie, a lecturer in French, the historian A. L. Rowse, and Lord David Cecil. Living in Oxford at the time was not easy; food was still rationed and heating was difficult. But I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet such talented writers and scholars.

I went on writing poetry, but rather than stay on at Oxford to complete my doctorate, we left at the end of the year to take up residence in Florence, where we had gone to visit friends. Florence at the time was like Paris after World War I: it attracted a great number of American artists and writers. Living was inexpensive and we were able to rent a villa on the outskirts of the city while I studied Italian language and literature at the university. We stayed for two years and our elder son David was born there. We returned to America to settle in Pownal, Vermont, in a farmhouse that Barbara, who had attended Bennington College nearby, had purchased before our marriage. I then began teaching part-time at Williams College, just over the border in Massachusetts. But Italy drew us back again and we spent a second two-year period in Florence from 1955 to 1957. ...
The couple divorced in 1965. Thereafter Miss Howes lived at her Vermont farm, spending time as well in the Caribbean. She continued to write -- her works often appeared in The New Yorker -- and to edit; some of her best compilations of the time include From the Green Antilles: Writings of the Caribbean (1966) and The Eye of the Heart: Short Stories From Latin America (1973). Her final volume of her own verses, Collected Poems 1945-1990, appeared in 1995. Barbara Howes died the following year at age 81 in Vermont. Reflecting on her writing, the poet Richard Wilbur remarked, "Some of her poems have the tartness of up-country New England, yet she can speak fantastically, to evoke the fantastic clamors of New York; and in many a southerly poem, she speaks, for our pleasure, the tongue of pure felicity."

For a bibliography and more of her poems, see the Poetry Foundation page for Barbara Howes.

* * *

Today's Poetry Friday round-up is hosted by Kelly Herold at Big A little a. Speaking of choosing laughter, Kelly's Poetry Friday selection is Bruce Lansky's "Confession". Thanks for hosting, Kelly, especially because this sounds like a very busy weekend!