Monday, September 29, 2008

Jane Yolen: All Those Secrets of the World

In the Books I Wish Were Still In Print category, let me introduce to you Jane Yolen's All Those Secrets of the World. Sadly, you won't be able to find this book easily. There are a few copies from used sellers on Amazon. And if you're lucky, your library will have a copy, or can track one down. But this lovely little picture book is worth some searching.

The story is roughly based on a true incident in Jane Yolen's life. The little girl in the story (Janie) is 4 years old when her father leaves for World War II, and the ship he boards seems impossibly small when it is far away. This is how Janie learns about perspective, and how things appear bigger or smaller depending on our relationship to them.

When Janie's father returns, two years later, he comments on how much she has grown. Janie quietly explains to him that she only seemed small because he was far away. Now that he's home, she she seems big again.

A simple synopsis can't begin to contain the magic and beauty in this book. Leslie Baker's watercolors bring a thoughtful dreaminess to the scenes. The prose is eloquent, poetic, and moving. Most importantly, this book is extremely relevant. Every child I know has someone they love who is far away (some of my students have a parent in the military just like Janie) and they can relate to this book on an intimate and very deep level.

A short note about the author:
I came across All Those Secrets of the World almost 15 years ago. I didn't buy it (back in those days, my local bookseller was very kind about allowing a mousy high school kid to spend hours reading picture books in her store), but the essence of it stuck with me. I recently tried to track it down but couldn't remember the title (the words Jane Yolen, little girl, perspective, sea do not make a good google search). I naively thought I could just look at a list of Jane Yolen's books and pick out the one I rembembered. Now, Jane Yolen has been one of my author-heroes for quite some time, but even I didn't realize she has authored over two hundred and eighty books. Finally, desparate, I sent an email directly to the email address on Jane Yolen's website, thinking that maaaaybe some intern would have a vague sense of what I was looking for.

Jane Yolen wrote me herself. The same day. She knew exactly what I was talking about, informed me that it was out of print, and even offered her assistant's email address if I had trouble tracking down a used copy. Awfully accessible and kind for such a busy, prolific woman, don't you think?

Here is Jane Yolen's fabulous, informative website.
Here is a recent interview with Jane Yolen on Seven Impossible Things for Breakfast.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Vintage Political Ads

In preparation for tonight's presidential debate, I plan to bake some chocolate chip cookies, pop some popcorn, curl up under a blanket, and get completely swept up in the reality show politics of our time.

In honor of the occasion, here are some entertaining vintage political ads from SlateV. It's fascinating to see how much things have changed (and haven't) in political advertising over the years. I got a big chuckle out of the jingle at the end of the Ford ad:
I'm feeling good about America!
I'm feeling good about me!
I have to say, the cool thing about our current election (no matter how frustrating politics are and will continue to be) is how many people have gotten involved, interested, and engaged. The way we will grow and change as a country *and* as individuals is to think deeply, discuss, imagine, and act on the things we feel strongly about.

Happy debating!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sade: By Your Side

I've had By Your Side in my head a lot this week. It's one of my favorite love songs of all time because it captures so simply the most fundamental nature of love and devotion: Oh, when you're cold/I'll be there. What else is there?

And the second verse is a killer. Combined with the sweet guitars and Sade's smooth, soothing voice, the line I will show you you're so much better than you know just gets me every time.

I'd never seen the video though. Interesting...

You think I'd leave your side baby
You know me better than that
You think I'd leave you down when you're down on your knees
I wouldn't do that
I'll tell you you're right when you want
And if only you could see into me

Oh when you're cold
I'll be there
Hold you tight to me

When you're on the outside baby and you can't get in
I will show you you're so much better than you know
When you're lost and you're alone and you can't get back again
I will find you darling and I will bring you home

And if you want to cry
I am here to dry your eyes
And in no time
You'll be fine

You think I'd leave your side baby
You know me better than that
You think I'd leave you down when you're down on your knees
I wouldn't do that
I'll tell you you're right when you wrong
And if only you could see into me

Oh when you're cold
I'll be there
Hold you tight to me
When you're low
I'll be there
By your side baby

Oh when you're cold
I'll be there
Hold you tight to me
Oh when you're low
I'll be there
By your side baby

Monday, September 22, 2008

Charles Wright: Return of the Prodigal

Photo by bobtravis

Here in Maine, the leaves are beginning to turn, and the sunlight has become a warm, golden glow. Before I completely say goodbye to Summer, I wanted to remember how it all began, so I turned to this lovely poem by Charles Wright, published in June in The New Yorker. I love how he refers to the beginning of Summer as the "Return of the Prodigal." Isn't that just how it feels?

Charles Wright's poems always remind me of paintings...the kind that are so beautiful and rich and perfectly detailed, you feel like you could just step right in and become part of that moment in time.

(Note: My blogging program doesn't seem to like formatting for poetry, so if you'd like to see how the poem should really look, be sure to click on the title which will link you to The New Yorker.)

Return of the Prodigal
by Charles Wright

Now comes summer, water clear, clouds heavy with weeping.

Tall grasses are silver-veined.

Little puddles of sunlight collect

in low places deep in the woods.

Lupine and paintbrush stoic in ditch weed,

larch rust a smear on the mountainside.

No light on ridge line.

Zodiac pinwheels across the heavens,

bat-feint under Gemini.

Friday, September 19, 2008

September 21: International Day of Peace

In 1981, the UN established an International Day of Peace, and in 2002, they set the date permanently for September 21. The resolution reads:
"(The International Day of Peace) offers a cessation of violence and conflict throughout the world"
Here are some small and large things you and your family can do to celebrate this year's International Day of Peace. Have other good ideas? Please post them in the comments below.
  • Light a candle
  • Have a moment (or 15 minutes, or even an hour) of silence
  • Send a kind note to someone you've had a recent conflict with
  • Send a note of comfort or a small care package to a soldier, or to someone you know who is dealing with conflict in their everyday life
  • Check for a Peace Day event in your area (in a town near me, folks are gathering to create "pinwheels for peace" that will be installed as a local public art project)
  • Make a commitment to cut one thing out of your schedule for the year that will lighten your load and bring more peace to your family life
  • Plan and organize a project for peace for your school, your community, or your family
  • Smile at someone you don't know
  • Put up a poster (.pdf) or two at your library, town hall, or supermarket
This last one is from the International Day of Peace website, and it's something each and every one of us can do:
International Day of Peace is also a Day of Ceasefire – personal or political. Take this opportunity to make peace in your own relationships...Imagine what a whole Day of Ceasefire would mean to humankind.
Here's a great audio documentary by a 10 year old boy from Madison, WI, interviewing "the younger generation" about war and peace:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sam Phillips is a Creative Genius

If the title of this post isn't enough to warn you, I'll let you know there's a pretty good chance you're in for some fangirl gushing today. On Saturday, Kevin and I drove 2 1/2 hours down to the Somerville Theater to see Sam Phillips in concert. And was it worth the drive, you ask? Oh, do you *really* need to ask?

She started off the show with my two favorite songs. I mean, what are the odds? The first song was I Need Love from her 1994 album Martinis and Bikinis. It's the one with that phenomenal chorus:
I need love, not some sentimental prison
I need God, not the political church
I need fire, to melt this frozen sea inside me
I need love
And the second song was Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us, off her new album (and recently covered by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant). It was even more striking live, with the sounds of the drums and that crazy violinophone clamoring together over your head.

Which brings me to her band. Ted Reichman played accordian, keyboard, and guitar. Eric Gorfain played violinophone, banjo, a supercool little white electric guitar, and various other stringed instruments. And Jay Bellerose had the coolest drum set I think I have ever seen, equipped with a gigantic vintage wooden kick drum and what looked like a huge sack of bells strapped to his leg.

These guys seemed a little like a trio of mad scientists, each sitting in his corner tinkering away--sometimes holding back so much it left you breathless, and other times letting go with abandon that shook you to the bone. They were intense, and when Sam Phillips' haunting vocals cut through, the effect was extraordinary.

And did Sam Phillips' deliciously quirky personality come shining through? Oh, yes it did. On Shake It Down, the stage manager nonchalantly brought out a gigantic metal shovel for her to bang away on, nonplussed (like people do this in concerts every day). For Animals on Wheels, the band left the stage, leaving her alone, holding a tiny, tinny dictophone to the microphone for her piano accompaniment. Every once in a while, she would shake it to distort the sound before jumping back into the verse.

I have to admit, I got a little teared up during Don't Do Anything. It just hit me during that song that I have been listening consistently to Sam Phillips' voice since I was about 10 or 11 years old. I thought of all the things I've gone through (good and bad) while listening to her music, and how I essentially grew up (and am still growing up) with her lyrics in my head. To sit there in the front row, listening to her sing...well, what can I say? It was pretty profound.

Here are the Sam Phillips tour dates, so you won't miss a concert near you.

Here's a video of Sam Phillips' getting-ready-to-go-on-tour snapshots:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Football Books

Also, if you or someone you love thinks "Fall Means Football," here are some book recommendations from Kevin. (Great gifts for teen or adult sports fans, by the way.)

Nikki Giovanni: Hip Hop Speaks to Children

I'm excited to announce that Nikki Giovanni's brand new book, Hip Hop Speaks to Children is on its way to stores near you (and is already available at Amazon). And guess what? The accompanying CD includes my musical version of Sterling A Brown's poem, Long Track Blues. How cool is that?

Hip Hop Speaks to Children is "a celebration of poetry with a beat." It includes work by Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, The Sugar Hill Gang, Lauryn Hill, and dozens of other poets and musicians.

I've already seen a couple nice reviews online, and of course, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across this little tidbit from Biblio File:
"The hamboning version of "The Pool players" and Josephine Cameron's sung version of Sterling Brown's "Long Track Blues" are tracks I can listen to over and over again."
Other hot-off-the-presses blog reviews can be found at:
Becky's Book Reviews
Publisher's Weekly
School Library Journal

Here's a cool video of Nikki Giovanni introducing the book. You'll get a great glimpse into some of the stellar illustrations by Kristen Balouch, Michele Noiset, Jeremy Tugeau, Alicia Vergel de Dios, and Damian Ward.

Friday, September 12, 2008

How To Compost: Sun-Mar 200: Starting All Over Again

If you've missed any of the excitement, you can view the entire How to Compost series.

So, I guess it begins all over again...

From: Josephine
Date: Wed, Sep 10, 2008 at 2:17 PM
Subject: Sun-Mar 200 Problem


I spoke with someone at customer service on Monday, and she suggested that I send you an email with some photos to describe my problem.

I purchased a Sun-Mar 200 Garden Composter in May 2007. As you can see from the attached photos, it seems that the inner drum is falling out. Each time I turn the composter, the inner drum pushes out more and more. It is bending the arm of the stand so far out that I have to be very careful when I turn it so that the entire tumbler doesn't fall out of the stand (which has now happened twice). If I lift the composter onto its side (difficult to do because the composter is quite full), the inner drum *will* slide back into place, but after a week or so, it begins to inch its way out again. Is there anything that can be done to secure the inner drum in its place?

Additionally, I would like to say that I have not had good luck getting compost in the inner drum. Even though the composter is quite full, and material in the *outer* drum has been balanced and composting nicely all along, there has never been anything but dried, uncomposted garbage in the inner drum. Finally, after more than a year of adding material, a local retailer suggested regularly spraying water into the inner drum which seems like it is helping.

However, now that I can no longer turn the composter without the inner drum falling out, that seems less of an issue.

I'm sorry to say that I have tried your customer service multiple times since May 2007 with either no response (via email) or unhelpful, bordering on rude response (via phone). I hope you will be able to help me out this time. I was very excited to use the Sun-Mar Garden Composter because of its innovative, continuous compost design. Sadly, it has yet to meet my expectations.


Josephine Cameron

---------- ---------- ---------- ---------- ----------
Date: Wed, Sep 10, 2008 at 5:13 PM
Subject: RE: Sun-Mar 200 Problem
To: Josephine

Hi Josephine,

It looks like the screws that hold the inner drum in have let go. This was an issue with earlier models of the Garden Composter 200. I am going to replace the unit under warranty. Your new unit should arrive in approximately 2 weeks.


Donna Seabrook
Sun-Mar Corp.

Here is the complete How to Compost series in case you'd like to catch up or review:

Step 1: Make it a Priority
Step 2: Choose a System
Interlude: Nature Tried to Kill My Composter
Step 3: Collect Organic Material
Step 4: Mix the Materials
Step 5: Moisten the Mixture
Step 6: Wait
Interlude: The Lightbulb Change
Interlude: The Yogurt Change
Interlude: The Sponge Change
Interlude: The Leftover Change
Interlude: The Napkin Change
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part One
The Sort-of Sun-Mar 200 Review Part Two
Sun-Mar 200 Compost Update
Sun-Mar 200: Starting All Over Again

Step 7: Use Your Compost
Step 8: Sun Mar 200 Garden Composter Review

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Aretha Franklin, Mary J Blige, Harlem Boys Choir: Never Gonna Break My Faith

This weekend, Kevin and I watched Bobby, the movie about the day Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. The movie was so-so, but the *song* at the end swept me off my feet.

I missed the Grammys this year, but apparently Never Gonna Break My Faith, the final song of the movie (penned by Bryan Adams), won the award for Best Gospel Performance. Well, obviously. Aretha Franklin. Mary J. Blige. The Harlem Boys Choir. And a *killer* chorus. It's a breathtaking, moving song, and when you put it in the context of the Kennedy assasination, it's almost too much.
You can lie to a child with a smiling face,
Tell me that color ain't about a race
You can cast the first stone,
You can break my bones
But you never gonna break,
You never gonna break my faith
Faith and hope ain't yours to give
Truth and liberty are mine to live
Steal a crown from a king,
Break an angels wings
But you never gonna break ,
You never gonna break my faith
Someone posted the song on YouTube so you can listen to it here:

Monday, September 8, 2008

Lauren Tarshis: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

So this month, I guess I'm catching up on books I should have read more than a year ago but didn't. Lauren Tarshis' debut middle-grade novel falls right into that category.

I'd been reading about Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree for quite awhile:
  • Fuse #8 called it "memorable and supremely interesting."
  • Brookeshelf called it "both funny and heartbreaking."
  • Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast said, "Tarshis has absolutely and categorically nailed the day-to-day drama of your contemporary middle-school student."
  • My favorite catalog, Chinaberry, wrote a rave review, "Funny, honest, and tender, this is the best book I've come across in a long time about the sometimes excruciating world of middle school."
  • Even Oprah has chosen it for her Kids Reading List.
Can a thin little debut middle grade novel live up to all the hype?

Yes, it can.

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree is quirky, fresh, funny, and honest. The story is told from the point of view of two seventh grade girls: Emma Jean, an exceedingly logical and pragmatic girl who never bursts into tears at the drop of a pin; and Colleen, who above all, just wants to be nice.

Emma Jean observes her classmates in the same way that she observes trees and other natural phenomenon: with a detached sense of scientific curiosity. She finds her fellow seventh graders illogically messy and unpredictable, and she prefers to watch from the sidelines. But when she comes across a tearful Colleen in the bathroom one day and decides to throw all caution to the wind and help her, Emma Jean's tightly controlled universe begins to unravel at the edges.

This book is filled with surprises, thoughtful spots, and laugh out loud moments. There's a particularly satisfying and lovely moment at the end about the edges of a quilt that I won't spoil for you, but I for one, got a little misty-eyed.

There are some great resources on Lauren Tarshis' website, including some information about characters in the book that are based on real people (or animals), a nice biography, and an encouraging little piece about writing. There's even a notice on the front page about a new book, "Emma Jean Lazarus Falls In Love," due out May 2009. I won't be waiting over a year to read that one.

Here's an interview with Lauren Tarshis on Barnes & Noble's website.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Michael's Birthday Well

Remember my friend Michael who was in Sri Lanka the last time I wrote about him? Well, it was his birthday recently, and instead of gifts, he has asked his friends and family for a well.

There is a great project called Born In September that Michael is taking part in. Last year, people born in September asked their friends and family for birthday donations to charity:water, an organization dedicated to bringing clean drinking water to the 1.1 billion people in the world who don't have access to safe water. They raised enough to bring clean water to 150,000 people. According to charity:water,
  • Each day, millions of people drink unsafe water infested with leeches and worse.
  • Each day, millions of children walk miles to collect drinking water instead of going to school.
  • Each week, 42,000 people die from drinking unsafe water and living in conditions with a lack of sanitation. 90% of those are children under the age of five.
There is something simple we can do. Bringing safe drinking water to a community can make a real, concrete difference in the world.

If you know someone who is born in September, please consider giving a donation to charity:water in their honor. If you don't know anyone born in September, please consider a $32 donation in honor of my friend Michael's 32nd birthday. 100% of your donation goes directly to the costs of construction and maintenance of the well.

This video gives a great explanation of the project:

The September Campaign Trailer from charity: water on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Laura Gibson and The Portland Cello Project: Hands In Pockets

The cello has always been my favorite instrument (elegant, earthy, soaring, grounded), so it's no surprise I was drawn to Hands in Pockets on NPR's Song of the Day this week. Portland, Oregon (the *other* Portland) musician Laura Gibson teams up with The Portland Cello Project and the result is delicate, lilting, and simply pleasant in every way.

I was going to give you a little bio information, but I loved this blurb so much that I decided to just lift it from Laura Gibson's website:
Laura Gibson lives in Portland, sings songs and plays a nylon-stringed guitar. She grew up in a small isolated logging town called Coquille, in the South Coast region of Oregon, the daughter of the town’s kindergarten teacher and a forest ranger. She couldn’t tell you what band put out what particular album in what year, but she could probably describe where she was, how she felt and what you talked about, when she first met you, or what the trees looked like the last time her heart was broken...she likes trees.
You can read about and listen to Hands In Pockets at NPR's Song of the Day.

Here's a YouTube video of a live version of the song:

Monday, September 1, 2008

Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin: Three Cups of Tea

"The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger.
The second time, you are an honored guest.
The third time you become family."

Last winter, it seemed like everyone I knew was reading Three Cups of Tea. And now I know why. It's not a gripping page-turner. It's not a literary masterpiece. It's a simple, inspiring, true story about how one person with vision and determination can truly make a difference in the world.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time follows the story of Greg Mortenson, a young man who fails in his attempt to climb K-2, the world's second tallest mountain. Very ill after his climb, Mortenson is taken in by residents of Korphe, a small Pakistani village. Moved by their hospitality and stunned by the absence of a school in the area, Mortenson vows to return to Korphe and build a school for the village. A school that, against the grain of custom, will teach girls as well as boys.

Greg Mortenson sold everything he owned and wrote letters asking for donations. Things began to come together when a group of school children in River Falls, Wisconsin heard about his cause and collected over $600 worth of "Pennies for Peace." Mortenson has spent the last 15 years building schools for girls and boys in Pakistan and Afghanistan, sometimes at great risk and danger to his own life. Today, his schools educate more than 26,000 girls and boys in Central Asia.

Mortenson argues that the education of girls in particular is the key to the end of the "war on terror." While educated boys often leave their villages to work, girls stay home, take care of their families, engage their communities. He quotes an African proverb: “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl, you educate a community.”

There's an interesting quote from a September 2007 article about Mortenson in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Consider the word “jihad.” We know about that word in one context — a violent quest. But the word has other meanings — reflecting other pursuits. But before beginning a jihad, you ask permission from your mother, Mortenson said. If she is educated — she’s less likely to give approval for a violent mission.

Those who dismiss education say that many of the 9/11 hijackers were educated — and that’s true, Mortenson said. “But none of their mothers were educated.”

For more information and to get involved:
Central Asia Institute
Pennies for Peace