Saturday, April 25, 2015

Winter Bees

Winter Bees

Picture book
Spring is on the way to Penobscot County, Maine although this
morning with snow just days away from May this might seem like a bit
of a stretch. So I probably should have located and reviewed Joyce
Sidman's Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold say a couple of months
earlier. Oh, well. I'm not going to wait half a year to share this
most delightful discovery.
For the many people, both child and adult, who wonder what
happens to animals in the harsh winter months Winter Bees gives some
intriguing answers. The book covers a span of time beginning when
fall is fading into winter and tundra swans feel the urge to migrate
and ends with the first warming, lengthening days of spring and
emergence of snow fleas. (Nope, not making that up.) In between
you'll read about the winter life styles of a number of fascinating
critters such as snakes, bees, and wolves. For each creature there is
a poem and sidebar of factual information. The poems are true gems.
The one for the winter bees begins:
"We are an ancient tribe,
a hardy scrum.
Born with eyelash legs
and tinsel wings,
we are nothing on our own.
Together, we are one..."
A snowflake waking up:
"...Drops into air,
suddenly soft
and full, a lattice
of stars spinning
silently..."
The sidebars have information that will interest children and teach
adults a thing or two. (I learned quite a bit and for the second time
this year picked up a vocabulary word, brumate.)
The colorful engravings that illustrate this most excellent
volume are nothing short of breath taking. An observant child will
notice that there is a handsome red fox somewhere in most of the
illustrations.
Winter Bees is a most excellent selection for April which is
around for much of next week and is, as I'm sure you know, poetry
month. (Whew! Good save for timing!)
On a personel note, today was one of the sure signs of spring
particular to this neck of the woods--the annual HOPE Festival. A
wide range of organizations devoted to making the world a better place
had tables. There were speeches, music, crafts, and fine food. Who
can ask for more? I was at the Orono Community Garden table most of
the time. But I had plenty of time to visit other tables. I saw old
friends and meet new people. It was wonderful. I always love HOPE
Festival. I've been going since I had babies in diapers.
A great big shout out to all fellow participants, especially Ilze,
Doug, and their gang who work for months to do all the planning,
execution, and publicity without which such a fine event could not
gladden people's hearts each and every year.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Alexander returns

Alexander returns

Picture book
If you're anything like me you fell in love with Judith Viorst's
Alexander ages ago when he had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad
day. (I've heard that has been turned into a movie. Will I watch
it? Your guess is as good as mine.) You probably chuckled, both from
amusement and a slight self recognition while reading the sequels
which do very much live up to the promise of the original. And you
would have snatched up the latest volume (Alexander, Who's Trying His
Best to Be the Best Boy Ever) featuring this tousle haired, grimy
faced every child.
Alexander does not enjoy the consequences (a bad bellyache and a
day without tv or video games--not to mention the taunts of his
brothers) of eating a whole box of doughnuts (and choosing a bad place
to hide the empty box). He decides to stop getting into trouble by
being the best boy ever for the complete and entire rest of his life.
He struggles valiently, encountering quite a few temptations to slip
up, only to be stunned by a realization that any of us who have tried
to lose weight permanently, quit smoking, stop procrastinating, or
keep up with a myriad of other resolutions can relate to.
Isidre Mones' illustrations (in the style of Ray Cruz) are the
perfect accompaniment to the text. Alexander's portrayel in color
with the rest of the picture in black and white helps keep the
emphasis on the struggle the hero is having with himself while
creating a lot of fine visual humor.
On a personal note, I had a very Alexander like experience in March.
I lost my wallet when I misplaced it at the University. As in the
gazillionth thing I've misplaced. I was wondering how to break that
habit. Then I remembered how I have used a date book with meticulous
notations to keep track of all the places I have to go and things I
have to do. So I got a pocket size notebook. Each day I put only
what I need in my backpack and write down what it is. Then each time
I am about to go another place I take inventory. Almost 2 weeks with
nothing lost. Personal best.
A great big shout out goes out to all who struggle with areas of
imperfection.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Winnie

Winnie

Picture book
It would probably be next to impossible to go through childhood
and parenting these days in America without enccountering Winnie the
Pooh, either A. A. Milne's original or Disney's commercialization.
But how well do you know that bear of very little brain? Do you
realize, for example, that there was a very real bruin who spent most
of his cubhood as a mascot for a Canadian vetinary regiment in World
War I? (Winnie is short for Winnipeg, their home town).
In Winnie, Sally Walker makes just about everyone's favorite
bear come alive from the day a soldier named Harry Colbourn saw him
through a train window and couldn't resist buying him, through his
stint serving as beloved mascot on two continents, and on to a day
when peril became too real and be was given to the London Zoo where he
would become a favorite of legions of children...including a very
young Christopher Robin who wanted a bedtime story about his new chum...
...the first of many.
Jonathan Voss' colorful and sometimes quite amusing
illustrations help bring this tender and quite unusual love story to
life. The book is a read aloud neither parent nor child will tire of.
On a personal note, Joey cat, whose self appointed duties include
checking out every object brought into the house, had quite a
challenge recently. Our dryer had broken and our washing machine was
on its last legs. Eugene was able to acquire practically new ones
from a work friend along with a vacuum cleaner and four kitchen
chairs. Joey must have found examination especially ardurous. When
he had explored to his satisfaction he settled down in top of the new
dryer for a well deserved nap.
A great big shout out goes out to the non human sentient beings who
bring so much joy to our lives and to all people who engage in the
bartering and passing on of useful goods.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Seeds Of Freedom

Seeds Of Freedom

Picture Book
In 1962 Huntsville, Alabama, like just about every southern city
and town, Jim Crow ruled. Black citizens couldn't eat in restaurants,
try on clothes in stores, or use the public library. Can you imagine
being barred from the library? Schools for black and white children
were separate and anything but equal. Imagine how it would feel to
have your beloved sons and daughters denied while white peers had
seemingly everything.
Black people were becoming fed up with the status quo, angry
enough to take risky actions. Students tried to be served at lunch
counters. Families marched around the courthouse carrying signs.
Residents boycotted businesses instead of buying Easter clothes in
what came to be known as Blue Jean Sunday...
Similar actions were going on in many other cities, leading to
escalating tension and violence. In Huntsville, however, the worst
conflict was avoided. The why of this is told quite eloquently in
Hester Bass' Seeds Of Freedom. Her spare, eloquent prose says just
what needs to be conveyed--no more, no less. For example, in a two
page spread about sit ins you read,
"Young black men and women--students--sit at lunch counters in
the stores downtown. They have money and can buy anything in the
store, except lunch. Can't use the restrooms either.
Just the way it is."
Her words are complimented perfectly by E. B. Lewis' paintings.
Take the one that accompanies those words. Several students bear
expressions of determination and fear except for one boy, radiating
calm, with eyes closed and hands clasped in prayer. The white woman
besides them is openly gazing at them with an expression of concern
and sympathy. The white man beside her, fingering his chin, seems to
be thinking "This can't end well." The last customer drinks her coffee
resolutely. Nothing to do with her. The server, resplendent in white
cap and shirt and black bow tie, is embodying the expression, if looks
could kill. In contrast to the loving care bestowed on the actors,
the background is sparse, bland, bespeaking universality.
Seeds Of Freedom is the perfect book to help children understand
the power of peaceful protest.
On a personal note, in Maine after an especially long winter we are
feeling seeds of hope for springs. Most lawns are snow free with
green shoots popping up. My front yard daffodils are a couple of
inches tall...and being baptized by rain. Mr. John Jemmison has just
sent word round to his community garden crew that we'll be getting
down to business pretty soon.
A great big shout out goes out to the Jemmison family (including
garden dog Mika Star), the people who will form our crew this year,
and all others who treasure this vital connection to the earth.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Perfect

Perfect

YA fiction
Saturday night a middle ear infection wiped out my sense of
balance so that not only did the world spin any time I made the
mistake of trying to stand up, but when I did have to walk I stumbled
as if I'd downed a fifth of whiskey. Not a pretty sight! I cancelled
my ride to church and explained to my director why I could not make
rehearsel (thank goodness for cell phones) and hit the sack. The next
morning I picked up a book I'd selected at the library. Once again I
was stunned, only this time in a good way.
Perfect by Ellen Hopkins is just exactly that. It is a
masterpiece in my favorite genre, one I aspire to publish in someday:
the novel told in verse--622 pages of paradise.
Of course the four high school students whose narratives
alternate aren't anywhere near paradise. Each is trying to work his
or her way through complicated and painful life circumstances. You'll
get to meet:
*Cara Sierra Sykes whose twin brother, Conner, attempted suicide in
their posh and perfect house. He has been institutionalized. Now she
is alone to face the pressure of parents who will never accept
anything but the best. Her boyfriend is one of the most popular guys
in her private school. As her ice queen mom is fond of saying,
appearances are everything. They make the perfect couple. Too bad
she has no clue who she really is under the perfect facade;
*Kendra Melody Mathieson, Connor's ex girlfriend who can't seem to get
over him. Instead of being pressured to get into an elite college
like Cara, she's being groomed for Miss Teen Nevada. Her mom has
entered her in beauty pageants since she was too little to walk.
Since then her life has centered around pageants and developing the
skills to win then. Her stepfather is about to spring for a nose
job. Too bad that at 5'10" and 122 pounds she feels like she needs to
get a lot thinner;
*Sean Terrence O'Connell, the other half of the Cara/Sean perfect
couple. He lives with his aunt and uncle because his mother bled to
death giving birth to his brother (He was there when it happened) and
his football coach father was killed in a crash that took out his
team. He's a logical thinker, a man with a game plan he follows
dilligently. Baseball has been his life since his tee ball days.
He's going to be the best first baseman ever and go off to college
with Cara. Too bad the illicit steroids that help give him an edge
may be having unintended side effects;
*and Andre Marcus King III, black heir to a family that's been moving
on up. His grandfather grew up in urban Oakland within sight of
hillside mansions which he coveted, went through college on
scholarship, and became an award winning inventor. His father added
to the family wealth by becoming an investment banker with a thick
stock portfolio. (Mom is the plastic surgeon who is about to "fix"
Kendra's nose). The family expects Andre to follow in his father's
gilded footsteps. Too bad they would never understand that he lives
to dance.
Each character has not only a distinct voice, but a unique rhyme
pattern. Sean's sections, for example, are told in five line segments
that look like vees of migratory geese. What's most amazing is that
Hopkins rocks her poetic proficiency without it ever feeling
artificial, without the amazing style ever overpowering the powerful
messages.
Seriously if you or your kids (high school and up) are anything
like me from the moment you meet you meet the characters on a school
cancelling snow day you will not want to put the book down. You will
be totally blown away by a verse novel that is as rich and satisfying
as dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt. Yowza!
On a personal note, my day in bed getting rid of the infection was a
real treat. Lying down I didn't feel all that bad. With such an
amazing book to read and gourmet chocolates (paid 83 cents for a $26
dollar box at Kohls thanks to a gift card and seasonal discount) I was
probably having more fun that people who were perfectly well. :) I
learned more from reading that book than I could have from a college
class. I am seriously going to read every book Hopkins has published
and continues to put out.
A great big shout out (along with a sincere apology for missing
rehearsel) goes out to the amazing cast, crew, and, of course,
director of Jungle Book. It is a privilege to be a member of this very
memorable ensemble. Keep on doing your best and we'll be nothing less
than amazing.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Stella by Starlight

Stella by Starlight

Juvenile historical fiction
Imagine you're an 11-year-old black girl living in rural North
Carolina. The year is 1932. It's the middle of the night. You and
your little brother are standing by a pond, chilled by the bone and
not just from the night air. Across the pond you see a burning cross
surrounded by nine figures in white KKK hoods and robes.
That's the scene with which Sharon Draper opens Stella by
Starlight. From the first chapter on the tension is tangible. The
Klan is making its presence felt after a relatively long period of
silence. Could this have anything to do with the upcoming elections?
"'Now you know they don't want us to votin''," Spoon Man chided,
tipping his chair back on two legs. 'Maybe that's why they all of a
sudden wearin' the bedsheets off their clotheslines again.'
'Look, I'm not lookin' for trouble. I just think I ought to be
able to vote,' her father said evenly."
When Stella's father and two of his friends do register to vote
they are told to be on the lookout for trouble because it's on the
way. Sure enough one of the men, the father of 13 children, has his
house torched. The election is coming closer. And all three men are
determined to cast their ballots.
Along with the suspense, there are other layers to the story.
There's the resilience and loyalty of a community that pulls together
through thick and thin. Together they try valiently to put out the
fire and then acquire for the large burnt out family what they need to
survive. (Remember there's no Red Cross or other agency to help out
and the other families are just barely getting by.) They also know how
to get together spontaneously when there are good times to be had. In
one of the most wonderful parts of the book a traveling salesman and
story teller, Spoon Man arrives, bearing not only merchandise, but
news of far off friends and family and entertainment. Stella and
brother Jojo are sent out to invite neighbors to a pot luck, an event
all plunge into in a spirit of joyous anticipation.
And then there is Stella, a child most of us can relate to. She
loves stories but struggles to put her thoughts down on paper. After
one essay she gets a bad grade on she fears that her teacher will stop
by a talk with her mother. She is thrilled when her mother buys her
her very first bracelet the night of Spoon Man's visit.
This is a really good introduction to the ugly face of prejudice
for our younger children. It should by now be a thing of the past.
But it sticks around. When white police officers get away with
shooting unarmed black men and boys and black students are much more
likely than white peers to be suspended or expelled from school or
even jailed you know we aren't as far as we should be. Add in the
surge in neo Nazism, the profiling of anyone who looks remotely
Islamic, the religious freedom laws which try to keep people from
having to serve the LGBT community...when will we ever learn?
On a personal note, I'm one of the school committee members on a
principal search committee. Mr. Scott Nichols is resigning after 23
years. So we're in the process so that hopefully the best woman or
man wins.
A great big shout out goes out to the committee, our candidates, and
the children, teachers, and staff who will go through a hopefully not
too turbulant transition.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Monday, April 20, 2015

brown girl dreaming

brown girl dreaming

YA autobiography
"Name a girl Jack
And people will look at her twice, my father said.
For no good reason but to ask if her parents,
Were crazy, my mother said."
I adore works by Jacqueline Woodson--both her poignant picture
books and her offerings for older readers. She combines settings many
young readers would have no access to with the most universal of
feelings to bring readers to walk in the shoes of children many would
not be allowed to play or hang out with in real life. Through her
words they can visit a parent in prison or be separated from a beloved
sibling through separate foster care placements. So when I saw her
autobiography told in free verse on a shelf in Orono Public Library I
snapped it up faster that I grabbed my candy bag at the volunteer
appreciation breakfast.
Not surprisingly Woodson's life was anything but orthodox from
the very beginning as evidenced in the above quote where her parents
quarrel about what to write on her birth certificate. Her mother
agreed on Jackie but wrote Jacqueline after her father left the
hospital. The family was living in Ohio then, a place where her
father's family had worked their way into prosperity. Her mother's
roots remained attached in the Southern soil of Greenville a place she
returned to yearly with her children, a place she took them to settle
in after her final fight with her husband.
South Carolina was at that time a place where Jim Crow laws and
attitudes hung on to the bitter end and black women bussed cross town
to be maids for white families. For a young child, though, it was a
place of belonging, of roots and extended family, of a grandmother's
Bible stories, of trips with a grandmother to a candy lady's house, of
garden seeds planted carefully by loving hands. It was a place where,
ironically, her mother switched her children when they lapsed into
southern speech.
It was not where Woodson would spend her whole life forever.
Just before she was about to start school her mother moved the family
including a new baby brother to New York. It was a place where the
children would stand out as different, not only for their newness to
the North, but for their strict adherence to their Jehovah's Witness
ways. It was a place where Woodson struggled with school and dreamed
of becoming a writer.
Just as she does with her fiction, Woodson picks the perfect
details to create a tangible sense of time and place. Whether you are
a fan of hers or just want a most excellent coming of age story, you
will not be able to put down brown girl dreaming. Anyone like me who
has struggled to find her place in the world will discover in Woodson
a kindred spirit.
On a personal note, I so enjoyed the dear carnival that was up to the
University last week. It was the second year. There were all kinds
of games including my favorite, the tricycle races. There was a place
to make stress bags out of cloth and rice. And there was all kinds of
food: fruit, cupcakes, popcorn, cotton candy. Just so much fun. It
was a great stress buster for students heading into the final stretch
of school semester.
A great big shout out goes out to all who worked dilligently to make
this special event happen.
Julia Emily Hathaway





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