My friend Holly, parent of a legally blind child and president of Parents of Blind Children-NJ, alerted me to this very cool piece of news today: Fox and Crow Are Not Friends was the August selection for the Free Braille Books program sponsored by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults.
In 1997 the AAF started this program to provide blind children a free Braille book every month from a popular children’s reading series. The books are for the children to keep and collect for as long as they want them. The titles published every month are the same titles that are available in bookstores and public libraries everywhere. In the past ten years over one hundred seventy titles from popular children’s reading series were distributed to thousands of blind children.
You may remember Holly and her son Hank from my GeekMom piece on their fight for Hank to receive Braille instruction in school.
August 30, 2013 @ 7:35 am | Filed under: Poetry
Seamus Heaney has died. I’m grieved to hear this; I’ll miss the poems he had yet to write.
Six years ago I wrote about how his words have burrowed into my mind and taken root there:
We went to Balboa Park again today. This time we visited the Museum of Man, lingering particularly long in the Egyptian wing. The kids were fascinated by the mummies, but I was a little bothered by the sad remains of the Lemon Grove Mummy, the body of what seems to have been a girl around fifteen years of age, possibly pregnant, curled into a fetal position. Her skin sags loosely around her old, old bones. She was found in a cave near Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1966 by two teenagers, who stole her and smuggled her home to Lemon Grove, California. Apparently she sat in a garage for 14 years because the boys didn’t want their parents to find out what they’d done. Eventually she was discovered and donated to the Museum of Man. She’s a special part of the mummy display, but I felt uncomfortable gawking at her in her glass case: it seems like a violation of her humanity for her to be cached there in public view next to the interactive media display about how scientists determined her age and origin. She’s one of several mummies there, and all the others had struck me as simply fascinating until we got to the Lemon Grove girl. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t wrapped up in linens like the Egyptian mummies. She reminded me of the Irish Bog People, and Seamus Heaney’s poems about them.
Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.
In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach…
(—from “Tollund Man” by Seamus Heaney.)
And that made me think of grad school, where I first read Heaney’s poems, back in the early ’90s when I had no inkling that one day I would stand in a Southern California museum, recalling those lines while watching four blonde heads peer at a long Mexican teenager in a glass case…
(From a post called “Helixes.”)
In a 2009 interview, Mr. Heaney was asked about “the value of poetry was during times of economic recession.”
The answer, he explained, is that it is at just such moments of crisis that people realize that they do not live by economics alone. “If poetry and the arts do anything, they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness,” Heaney said. At first, that may seem like a quaint observation — one of those poet-as-holy-fool lines. Yet an effort to “fortify your inward side,” Heaney explained to another questioner, can act as a kind of “immune system” against material difficulties.
He has certainly fortified mine…his poems like the straw you bake into bricks to make them strong. Like these lines from “Postscript”:
…You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
August 29, 2013 @ 8:14 am | Filed under: Books
Unbelievably awesome. Our beloved old library in Crozet, VA, housed up until now in a tiny ex-train-depot, has just moved to brand new quarters several blocks away. How did they move the books? The citizens of Crozet lined up and passed them hand to hand.
Over three hundred volunteers showed up to help the books along their way.
Here’s a photo essay. My pal Sarah H. and her daughters are among the helpers! What a gorgeous thing for a community to do.
Lots more photos and videos at the Crozet Library website.
August 28, 2013 @ 7:34 pm | Filed under: Books
Illustration by John R. Neill
I loved the Oz books as a kid. Loooooved them. Collected the whole series, the Baum-authored ones plus a couple of the Ruth Plumly Thompson sequels, and enlisted my father’s help to track down the Very Best Editions, the white-bordered oversized trade paperbacks with John R. Neill illustrations.
I reread the entire series regularly all through high school and even on college vacations. Dorothy, Ozma, Tik-Tok, Scraps, the Hungry Tiger, the Glass Cat, Betsy Bobbin, Billina, Polychrome, General Jinjur, the Shaggy Man, Button-Bright: this astonishing array of lively characters peopled my imagination and taught me a great deal about diversity, varying points of view, and fun. They were an outspoken bunch, these Oz folks. They had strong opinions; their perspectives clashed; they worked through conflicts and celebrated one another’s quirks. I adored them. Still do.
Strangely, the Oz books never seemed to take off for my kids as read-alouds. Baum’s prose is, I confess, a bit arch, sometimes saccharine. His genius was for character and plot, not lyricism. My older three girls went through waves of reading the series on their own, but they didn’t seem to catch Oz fever with the intensity I had.
Enter Rilla. Well, first enter Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, who are bringing the Oz books to a new generation of readers via truly gorgeous graphic novel adaptations published by Marvel. Oz, overflowing as it is with colorful, outlandish characters, was made for graphic depictions. Eric Shanower (who has become a friend of mine through Comic-Con and SCBWI) is a true Ozian—why, his own press is called Hungry Tiger, and his contributions to Oz literature and fandom are staggering. His adaptations are faithful, deft, and affectionate. And Skottie Young’s art, while a departure from the John R. Neill images burned into my brain as canon, is wholly delightful. It’s clear he is having tremendous fun bringing these creatures to life.
I’ve mentioned before that Rilla, as a reader, is drawn to books with a heavy illustration-to-text ratio. She prefers Brambly Hedge to Little House, for example; those gorgeous, intricately detailed drawing of tree-stump pantries and attics can occupy her for a full afternoon. She’ll spend an hour talking to me about Eric Carle’s techniques. For her, art is the magic; an accompanying plotline is simply a nice bonus.
We brought Eric and Skottie’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz home from SDCC last month, and Rilla—well, you’d have thought we gave her an actual trip to the Land of Oz, she was so excited. It’s the longest, hardest book she has read on her own. Oh yes, it’s a graphic novel, but the text is quite sophisticated: there’s some nice meaty vocabulary in the dialogue. Baum didn’t talk down to his young readers, and neither does Eric Shanower. (And of course I’ve written volumes before about the excellent reading skills imparted by comics: there’s a lot of complex decoding going on as a young reader navigates those panels.)
“Bad news,” she told me mournfully one day. “I finished the best book in the world.”
“Guess what,” I whispered. “There are more.”
Her gasp, her shining eyes: no Princess of Oz was more radiant.
The next week’s worth of bedtimes saw her poring over The Marvelous Land of Oz, one of my favorite books in the series (both the original and the graphic adaptation). Every morning, she narrated the previous night’s events to me, dancing with suspense as the story unfolded, and belly-laughing over the ending.
Then came Ozma of Oz, a book for which my deep affection renders me nearly incoherent. Even that sentence is on shaky grammatical territory. Imagine a lot of squealing noises and some Rilla-esque bouncing around. I mean, I mean, Tik-Tok and the Wheelers! The lunch-pail trees! The loathsome, fabulous Princess Langwidere and her collection of interchangeable heads. SHE WANTS DOROTHY’S HEAD FOR THE COLLECTION, YOU GUYS. Come on. And then the Nome King and his high-stakes guessing game (shades of Heckedy Peg), and Billina the Hen’s surprising trump card. Oh, oh, oh.
Don’t tell Rilla, but I’d already given a copy of Ozma to my goddaughter, Vivi, whose mother is, if anything, an even bigger Oz fanatic than I am. She even looks like Ozma. (Krissy, why why why didn’t we ever go as Ozma and Polychrome for Halloween?)
Polychrome, the Rainbow’s Daughter, meets Princess Ozma. Illustration by John R. Neill.
Rilla hasn’t met Polychrome yet. She will swoon, mark my words. The Rainbow’s Daughter? Polly of the swirling robes and floaty hair? Rilla’s a goner. Like Ozma, she’ll make Polly’s acquaintance in The Road to Oz. I can’t wait to see what Skottie Young does with Polychrome and the Shaggy Man. Both characters are bubbling over with the whimsy he captures so well.
But first comes Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Even for Baum, this is a bizarre tale. Dorothy gets caught in a San Francisco earthquake and falls all the way to the center of the earth, where weird vegetable people (as in, they grow on vines) called the Mangaboos are on the verge of executing her when, whew!, who should float down in his balloon but Dorothy’s old acquaintance, the Wizard?
After that comes The Emerald City of Oz. Rilla and I may not be able to wait for the collected edition; we might have to start picking up the floppies from our local comic shop.
August 27, 2013 @ 8:44 pm | Filed under: Books
More round-the-house reading:
Rose—is between books, craving Native American legends; we’ve a library trip planned.
Beanie—The Second Mrs. Giaconda by our beloved E.L. Konigsburg. Just the thing to enjoy when you’re hearing all about Da Vinci in the Story of Science.
(I’d love to dig up our copy of The Apprentice, another good Renaissance middle-grade novel, but can I find it in the stacks? Of course not!)
She enjoyed Diane Stanley’s picture-book biography of Michelangelo last week.
Wonderboy—recently immersed in Lily and the Runaway Baby.
Rilla—Peter Pan. (Its opening chapters are some of my favorite read-aloud material ever, I must say. Just. So. Funny. Rose is listening in and we’re both in stitches the whole time. Rilla, for whom this book is new, is wholly enchanted.)
Huck—oh my. This arrived in the mail for review. He took one look at the cover and cast aside the iPad.
Me—Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War, because I’m wild and crazy like that.
Scott—Earth Abides by George. R. Stewart. A post-apocalyptic novel written in 1949.
August 26, 2013 @ 7:39 pm | Filed under: Books
She’ll perch on a stool and play with the wooden dolls on my shelves by the hour. This is how Sunday afternoon unfolds: her soft doll-chatter murmuring beside me while I’m reading, studying, or (as was the case this weekend) cleaning out closets.
I see Joanna Trollope’s Other People’s Children peeking out from one of the stacks; I read it on (I think it was) Lesley’s recommendation and found it wholly absorbing, thoughtful, vivid, a bit sad. I liked it very much. Those shelves are a jumble of things I’m eager to read but haven’t had a chance yet (Green Dolphin Street, borrowed from my friend Carmen; The Light Between Oceans, a gift from my publisher last Christmas; Brideshead Revisited, because I still—still! still!!1!!—haven’t, among others) and books I love so much I need to keep them close. (A Far Cry From Kensington; One Man’s Meat; Dear Genius; etc. etc. etc.)
Notable picture-book reads of late: The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse—a top-ten favorite of Rilla’s, and she’ll talk your ear off about the highlight colors in the paintings, if you like; Miss Suzy, back in frequent rotation; Open This Little Book, of which Huck cannot get enough; and to Huck for the very first time—oh! this particular milestone has been one of the most delightful I’ve experienced with each of the kids, one by one—Make Way for Ducklings. You can tell he’s the sixth child, not getting his full measure of McCloskey until the ancient age of four and a half. Scandal!
August 20, 2013 @ 6:42 pm | Filed under: Books
“…any book. It’s hard to think of a really bad book this way, but think of a good book, one of your favorite books ever, as like a newborn child, a newborn child brought into the world. A book. Probably a lot more planning and thought and design and construction, at least intellectually, goes into that book than goes into most babies. Books have a cover. They have beginnings, middles and ends. They’re somebody’s dream, they’re somebody’s creation. They never satisfy—just like people—but they’re in some ways the greatest things we have, and sometimes it’s nice to remind ourselves of that, in the places where we take them most for granted.”
—David W. Blight