Waking Up on the Right Side of the Poetry Bed

Bring me all of your dreams, you dreamers, that I may take them and wrap them in a blue cloud cloth, away from the too rough fingers of the world.

~ Langston Hughes

I read somewhere, long ago, that award-winning poet Naomi Shihab Nye not only read her son to sleep, but also read him awake. Here’s the quote I saved: “It is precious for me having poetry be the first thing that rolls off my tongue toward our son every day. I usually read three or four poems, slowly, resonantly, beside his bed.

This image of a mother reading poems to her son “slowly, resonantly, beside his bed” has stayed with me ever since. I have always thought of reading aloud time as any time, but the idea of reading my child awake had never crossed my mind. And yet, how incredibly beautiful and simple: to plant seeds in their sleepy minds that will grow throughout the waking day. Throughout life.

The morning bedtime approach gives a whole new meaning to the idea of bedtime stories: the words and their rhythm seeping slowly into children’s minds, without resistance. T.S. Eliot said that the meaning of the poem is provided to keep the mind busy while the poem gets on with its work. So if the mind is busy dreaming, or caught between alertness and dream state, poetry’s “work”—to nourish, to fortify, to inspire children on their path to emotional literacy—can be done more easily.

This is a far subtler idea than reading to snoring kids. I think we can all celebrate the recognition that sharing poetry with young ones can happen at any time and that many children could use some help waking up on the right side of the poetry bed, so to speak.

So lay your love of language on the line, during Poetry Month and beyond, and watch those dreamers rise up and shine. Young people’s love of poetry may not happen overnight. Or ever. But it could.


Day of the Dead / Dia de los muertos

“We celebrate our ancestors on the Day of the Dead / with offerings of flowers, sugar skulls, and bread”, begins El dia de los muertos/ The Day of the Dead, a bilingual picture book written and illustrated by Bob Barner and translated by Teresa Mlawer (Holiday House, 2010).

This book, with its illustrations of smiley and spirited skeletons, makes for a great introduction to the holiday for young children as a day of happy remembrance in honor of loved ones who have passed away. Its simple and well-crafted rhymes will peak kids’ interest and curiosity about the special foods, music, commemorative altars and parade that the celebration encompasses.

For more stories featuring endearing, not-scary-at-all skeletons, check out Yuyi Morales‘ Just a Minute Señor Calavera, a counting book and trickster tale about Señor Calavera’s (Mr. Skull) failed attempts to “take” Grandma Beetle with him.

November is Hunger Relief Month

The Lunch Thief by Anne C. Bromley, illustrated by Robert Casilla, is the wonderful story of a boy who finds himself homeless and lunch-less and stealing from his friends. This story of compassion and understanding brings awareness to the power hunger has over people.

November is Hunger Relief Month. Learn more about the issue by picking up a copy of this wonderful book. Also check out this powerful exhibit at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell, Maine, running through the month of November.

In grandma’s voice: the joys of e-books

E-books and children’s book-based apps for mobile devices are no doubt popular these days and have been reaching many millions of children worldwide. While reading the reprint of a recent article on Pratham Books‘ website about the release of the iPad in India, I discovered that the following Pratham and Tulika books (since our current focus is India) are available as e-book apps:

By Pratham Books – free download:

Annual Haircut Day (English) – A cumulative tale about a man with very long hair who can’t seem to find anyone to cut it.

Chand Ka Tohfa – An attempt to creatively use technology to combine regional language exposure and entertainment.

By Tulika –

Ekki Dokki (English/Hindi)- A story based on an endearing Marathi folktale about two sisters—one who has only one strand of hair on her head, and one who has two—and what happens to them when they meet an old woman who lives alone in the middle of the forest.

The Runnaway Peppercorn (Tamil/English or Hindi/English) – Amminikutty Amma picks out the last peppercorn from her spice box to make some tasty onion chutney. But little Kurumolagu (the peppercorn) has no intention of being ground and eaten just yet. With a desperate Amminikutty Amma hot on his heels, he hops, jumps, skids, brakes, revs and races his way away.

In addition to making possible to switch between two languages on any page, these apps also allow voice-over recording, so that children can listen to the story, for instance, in grandma’s voice. If I ever needed to be convinced of the positive side of e-book apps, I’m now completely sold on the idea! I can’t wait to record my mom’s voice reading some books in Portuguese to my daughter! I think that adding grandma’s voice to our bedtime routine will help bridge the great distance between the US and Brazil.

Some of the new apps coming out these days include interactive elements and moving illustrations, resulting in something that’s more animated than an e-book and more interactive than a cartoon. And why not pull all stops to bring children and reading together? There seems to be room and reason (and rhyme too!) for all approaches. Many publishers and digital media developers have fully embraced the opportunity to reach out to more readers.

Speaking of new technologies, Marjorie got a taste of a very interesting one while we were in Bologna this year…

Behind the Mask: A Halloween story by Yangsook Choi

For the past few weeks I’ve been hearing children everywhere asking each other the inevitable question: “What are you going to be for Halloween?” Their answers are as varied as the children themselves, and show much creativity and imagination. My daughter’s best friend, for instance, will be an atomic fireball candy.

Every time I hear the question, though, I think of Yangsook Choi’s picture book,Behind the Mask.

Kimin, a young Korean American boy, decides to dress as his grandfather for Halloween after looking through some old boxes of family memorabilia and remembering how grandpa’s masks used to scare him when he was younger. His friends think that dressing “as an old man” is not very scary, but what they don’t know is that Kimin’s grandfather recently passed away, and that he used to be a Korean mask dancer.

This is a lovely intergenerational story that mixes aspects of Korean culture with American Halloween customs. Children will be excited by the illustrations of a masked Kimin dancing on the streets with his friends, and to find out the secret that the old mask holds.

In this 2009 interview, the author tells us what inspired her to write Behind the Mask— and how leaving home [Korea], helped her find her way home.

Old Turtle’s Timeless Wisdom

"Old Turtle" by Douglas WoodTwo of the books I gave my 8-year-old daughter for Christmas were Douglas Wood‘s  Old Turtle (illus. by Cheng Khee-Chee) and Old Turtle and the Broken Truth (illus. by Jon J Muth). I had heard much about these modern-day classics over the years and was looking forward to sharing them with her. I read the books once, before wrapping and putting them under our Christmas tree, but it wasn’t until we read them together, snuggled up in bed, that I realized how truly special they were. Their plea for unity, acceptance and understanding between people and nature got two thumbs up from my daughter.

"Old Turtle and the Broken Truth" by Douglas Wood In Old Turtle, when all creation starts arguing over who or what God is, Old Turtle, their wise and ancient leader, is the only one who accepts and incorporates the beliefs of all the creatures: “‘God is indeed deep,’ she says to the fish in the sea, ‘and much higher than high,’ she tells the mountains.” In Old Turtle and the Broken Truth (Muth’s image of the Truth falling from the sky and breaking in half being an especially poignant one), it’s up to a young, determined girl to help humans see that the truth they are fighting over is broken, and that there is not just one truth, but “truths all around us, and within us.”

The very important ideas these books convey add dimension to our website’s current focus on Respect for Religious Diversity, and the following quote from Old Turtle and the Broken Truth perfectly captures its essence:

Remember this, Little One… The Broken Truth, and life itself, will be mended only when one person meets another—someone from a different place or with a different face or different ways—and sees and hears herself. Only then will the people know that every person, every being, is important, and that the world was made for each of us.

African Library Project “Harambee” a success!

Harembee!- African Library Project fundraiserIt was an honor—and a great joy—to attend Harambee, the African Library Project‘s party and fundraiser event that happened this past Saturday in Menlo Park, CA in celebration of the project’s 5th anniversary.

The very well-attended evening of wonderful African food, music and dance included many highlights, such as founder Chris Bradshaw‘s speech about the project’s mission and accomplishments as well as the work still ahead (they have built over 500 libraries to date, in different countries in Africa, and hope to build countless more). Also inspiring were the testimonials from an African woman about what it was like to grow up in Rwanda without books, and from Becky Banton, from the African Library Project in Lesotho, who told us about the direct impact of ALP libraries in the lives of the children she has come to know and love. She told us, among other things, about one girl who has just started college: the same girl featured in one of the videos they showed in the beginning of the evening reading at her ALP school library (some years ago) and saying she would like to be able to go to college one day.

The evening also included the awarding of three Compassion Award plaques in recognition of individuals, one of them a 13-year-old boy, who have gone above and beyond in their commitment to help ALP build libraries and promote literacy in Africa.

Congratulations to Chris Bradshaw and to all who helped organize such an inspiring evening. We wish you continued success in your efforts to promote literacy and give children in rural areas of Africa a chance of a better life.

“Claiming Face” on Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month 2010 PosterThis year we welcome Hispanic Heritage Month by pointing you to Children’s Book Press‘ guest blog post by  Maya Christina Gonzalez, the first of a series highlighting the author’s “Claiming Face Educator’s Guide” curriculum, published by her own Reflection Press (Maya has published several books with Children’s Book Press). In this first post, which went live on Sep 7, Maya gives us a little background to the project, whose goal is to help children learn to use creativity on their journey to developing a strong sense of self. She says:

I’ve had the opportunity to work with many children over the years. Since I work almost exclusively with children of color, I naturally began sharing with them how art had supported me growing up. This evolved and deepened over the years into a full curriculum I call Claiming Face.

The series will go on for a few months, with one post per month, so head on over to read the first installment now—and, while you’re at it, make sure to bookmark the Children’s Book Press’s website and blog, as you will want to visit often to keep abreast not only of new posts in this series, but also of their new releases and 35th anniversary festivities happening this month and next.

Just released: The Good Garden, by Katie Smith Milway

The Good Garden, book coverFirst came the very special One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference, which taught kids about microfinance. Now, Katie Smith Milway brings us another powerful book: The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough (Kids Can Press).The Good Garden tackles the topic of food security and is the inspiring story of a Honduran young girl and her family’s journey to growing enough food to meet their needs (you can watch a book trailer here). The book is accompanied by a Good Garden Enrichment Program, an online resource developed by One Hen, Inc.

A portion of all book sales go to fund One Hen, Inc.’s programs in disadvantaged communities.

Refugee Children and Their Stories

SuitcaseOfStoriesI recently found out, via the Library Boy blog, that the UN Refugee Agency has teamed up with Google maps to allow internet users to locate refugee camps in remote areas of Chad, Iraq, Colombia, Sudan’s Darfur region, and more. Now, with a few clicks, one can “see, hear and start to develop an emotional understanding of what it’s like to be a refugee.”

Reasons for displacement and relocation, as history and the news show, can be various (war; religious and cultural persecution; intolerance on grounds of race, sexual orientation, etc) and the challenges facing refugee children, in particular, are many, since they find themselves swept up in the consequences of adult conflicts and intolerances they don’t necessarily understand. World Refugee Day, coming up on June 20, is a good reminder for us to do what we can to educate others about these issues and to support efforts to lighten the plight of refugees around the world.

The term “refugee” is one that, unfortunately, still carries many negative connotations for both governments and individuals, being often associated with distrust, rather than distress. Books, as usual, can help counteract stereotypes and promote true understanding, so here are some titles that come to mind on this difficult topic – because the earlier we start children on the path to empathy, the better:

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Williams and Khadra Mohammed (Eerdman, 2008). Ages 4-8

This book was inspired by a refugee girl’s question to co-author Khadra Mohammed about why there were no books about children like her in the US. You can read our review here. And on the author’s website you can read about how the book was received by a group of children at a refugee camp in Pakistan.

Refugees by David Miller (Lothian, 2004). Ages 5-8

In this gentle introduction for very young children to the plight of dislocation, two wild ducks become refugees when their swamp is drained and they have nowhere to swim, eat or sleep. Their search for a new home takes them to areas where they are not welcome or where they cannot find shelter or food. The ducks are close to giving up when “the intervention of an unknown person changes their fate.”

The Breadwinner Trilogy by Deborah Ellis (The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey and Mud City. Groundwood Books, 2000, 2002, 2003). Ages 9-12

The Breadwinner trilogy, set in Afghanistan, is inspired by the author’s experiences helping at an Afghan refugee camp at the Pakistan border, in 1997, when she had a chance to interview many women and children. Royalties from the book go to the Canadian not-for-profit organization “Women for Women” (formed just after the Taliban take-over of Kabul), which promotes education for women and girls in refugee camps in Afghanistan.

The Suitcase Stories: Refugee Children Reclaim Their Identity by Glynis Clacherty (Double Storey Books, 2008). Ages 12+

To help a group of unaccompanied refugee children deal with the trauma of their flight and arrival in South Africa, the author, who is a researcher specialized in participatory work with children, provided them with suitcases on which to paint their personal stories and recent history. Photographs of the painted suitcases and accompanying accounts of hardship, resistance and hope make this a touching and important book.

This slideshow, from a 2007 National Geographic Museum exhibit called “Through the Eyes of Children: Refugee Life in Pictures” presents sixty photographs taken by children and young adults ages 12-20 at a refugee settlement in Uganda. These images capture the pain and struggles of life as a young refugee and, by seeing things through their eyes, we come closer to understanding what it means to walk in their shoes and what we can do to help.

Tara Books: The Night Life of Trees

The Night Life of TreesEven before going to the Bologna Book Fair this year I had heard of the book The Night Life of Trees, by Chennai-based Tara Publishing, as it had won the Bologna Ragazzi “New Horizons” Award (the first title from India to do so). The award  spotlights the cultural heritage and innovative drive coming from children’s book publishing in the Arab world, Latin America, Asia and Africa, so I knew the book was bound to be a treat. But nothing could have prepared me for the jolt I experienced when I finally saw it.

When you flip through the book’s pages you understand why it has won a prestigious children’s book award even though it was originally created as an art book. The book rekindles one’s sense of wonder. Everything about it invites closer inspection: the wonderful ink smell; the texture of the handmade paper; the intricacy of the majestic trees inhabited by creatures; the myths and folktales accompanying them…

Tara Publishing’s website states that their books are “largely visual in nature – and radical, witty and informed in spirit.” The Night Life of Trees is, no doubt, one such book. Silk-screened and hand-bound, with its luminous trees jumping out of the pages’ black backdrop, this book offers a glimpse into the world views of three of the finest artists from the Gond tribe of Madhya Pradesh, in Central India, namely, Ram Singh Urveti, Durga Bai and Bhajju Shyam.

The idea for the book, we learned from a presentation given by Tara founder Gita Wolf and editor Sirish Rao on the first day of the book fair, came out of one of Tara’s illustrators’ workshops. Participants from the Gond tribe kept including trees on every single one of their drawings. “When asked to draw a bird, they would draw a bird on a tree; when asked to draw a person, they would draw a person next to a tree; when asked to draw clouds, they would draw clouds over a tree, and so on,” Sirish told an enraptured audience. The reason was simple: because they are traditionally forest dwellers, Gong people believe that “trees stand in the middle of life, and that the spirit of many things live in them.” Tara then decided to put together a book of these trees (traditionally drawn on walls with homemade paints) to capture, in book format, this tribe’s ancient way of relating to nature, and to, as Gita put it, “push tradition forward.”

Included in the publisher’s presentation was a short video about the making of the book, from which we003-132.jpglearned very interesting facts: that a 5,000 print run equals half a million pulls of ink over screen; that each page is “lovingly blow-dried” by hand; that the artisans are able to print over 30,000 books a year and are fully-booked to print these magnificent trees until 2009. No small feat for only twelve pairs of hands. But with its special and unique line of handmade books, created in their own workshop by a commune of twelve craftspeople from local villages, using hand processes like silk-screen and letterpress printing, Tara Publishing is no novice at creating books of high visual impact: they’ve been doing it for 11 years.

Gita Wolf and Sirish Rao receiving the Bologna New Horizons AwardGita Wolf and Sirish Rao received the Bologna Ragazzi “New Horizons” Award plaque at a ceremony that took place at the architecturelly stunning Archiginnasio library, at Piazza Galvani, in downtown Bologna. A special exhibit in honor of Tara’s innovative work, titled “A Bus with a Trunk,” was also on display at the Del Monte Foundation, making Tara’s work a real focus point in our Bologna experience. (If you are interested in hosting a “Night Life of Trees” exhibitof original art from the book, contact Tara. They supply the artwork and the exhibitor only needs to bear the freight and insurance costs.)

Gita has said in an interview to PaperTigers, from 2004: “The India we come from is neither a timeless fount of wisdom, nor just another struggling, developing country. It is dynamic, frustratingly contradictory, often bleak and always interesting. This is our location. (…) We’d like to take our place in the publishing world not as representatives of an exotic niche, but with self assurance, as a part of world literature.”

This award, coupled with all the other recognitions Tara Publishing has received through the years, proves they have done just that.

It’s all about variety!

Oakland Public Library “Children’s Room” librarian, Nina Lindsay, has an article published in the School Library Journal called “Bringing Home the World: A librarian puts forth a shopping list for international literature” (SLJ 2/1/2006), where she talks about the need for more children’s international literature in translation on publisher’s catalogs and in everyone’s bookshelves. She encourages one’s bookshelf to be like a food-rich refrigerator, packed with a variety of goodies: “Our reading lives should be like this: varied, changing, exciting––foreign.”

I love when a librarian can mix children’s books with food for thought!

Read her article and then go ahead and add some new, foreign flavors to your children’s bookshelf. And feel free to look through our refrigerator for ideas.

What the World Eats – Part 1

EverybodyCooksRiceAuthor and storyteller Norah Dooley‘s four-part series of “Everybody” books, illustrated by Peter Thornton, explores the similarities between different cultures through food. The titles in the series, published by Carolrhoda/Lerner are:Everybody Cooks RiceEverybody Bakes BreadEverybody Serves Soup andEverybody Brings Noodles. Widely read in homes, libraries and schools throughout the United States, these stories follow young Carrie as she discovers a strong sense of community – and the role food plays in bringing her and her neighbors together – while going around her multiethnic inner-city neighborhood in search of something else (her brother, a rolling pin, a gift for her mom). The neighborhood featured is the author’s own: “Most of the characters in Everybody Bakes Bread and Everybody Cooks Rice are based on my friends and their families. The mutual affection and respect we have for one another is, to me, the most important ‘ingredient’ in these books.” Recipes are included at the end of each title.