See you here next Tuesday.
Things in Florida are messy, but clean-up is underway. Friends and family are safe. It's close to tourist season!
See you here next Tuesday.
When those waters finally fell away, Cornelius looked out at the mountains of ruins—some as high as the steeple atop St. Louis Cathedral.
. . .
He dried his eyes.
For his spirit and will were waterproof.
from: Marvelous Cornelius Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans
by Phil Bildner
illustrated by John Parra
My older daughter’s cancelled 21st birthday celebration revolved around a potential hurricane. Tropical storm Josephine did not develop into a hurricane, but sustained high winds and even higher gusts called for cancelling classes at Florida State. On her birthday. So no party that evening. As an adult, she took the disappointment in stride and celebrated the following weekend. As an adult, I told her to hide under something heavy and lock her doors.
Hurricane season is June 1 – November 30. A lot of damage can occur in that time frame. Each storm leaves devastation in its wake for miles and months. My husband and I have a very small place in Naples, about 2 miles inland. I’m expecting the worst.
But most of my thoughts are for the places I know so well, and the people who work there. The library and my favorite librarian. The city park. The zoo. The shops owned by local people. The local market and grocery stores. The little Italian restaurant that has the best pizza I’ve ever tasted. All the people whose lives will need to be rebuilt and their homes and businesses that may or may not be. Year-round friends and friends who spend 6-8 months there. An aunt and uncle and several cousins in Tampa. All in Irma’s path.
My ties to Florida are long. Some are deep. I’ve been visiting for over 30 years. Marjory Kinnan Rawlings (who wrote The Yearling) said: There is an affinity between people and places. I feel that affinity with South Florida. Although I don’t want to live in Florida, I love the pelicans, the egrets strutting on their long black legs and bright yellow feet, the sansevieria growing wild, the silhouette of a coconut palm waving good-night to me at sunset. The lapping waves, the wild beauty of The Everglades. The quiet beauty of the sunrise over the gulf. Warm sand. Warm, tropic breezes.
Mother Nature, do what you have to do. For whatever reasons you have or for no reason at all. But please, be kind to the people.
“In distant Karnak lies the Palace of the Crocodile Prince. Go there and bring back the golden Jewel Fish that the Crocodile took from me. If you do this, I will pardon you.”
Jackal and Ibis leapt to their feet. “We will do it!”
from The Jewel Fish of Karnak
written and illustrated by Graeme Base
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011
My parents taught me to say “excuse me” for all the burps, coughs, and other noises my body made. I wondered why I needed to excuse those behaviors since I (nor anyone else for that matter) had control over those sounds.
Bumping into someone or stepping on a toe (literally or figuratively) required a request for a pardon.
“Pardon me,” shorthand for “What did you say?” is a nice way to say “Huh?” or “What?” My parents were pretty strong on teaching us politeness, manners. Those lessons have served me well all these years.
Asking for pardon implied that I had committed a wrongful or thoughtless or potentially embarrassing act, accidentally. It implied that I did something wrong and admitted it. It required accepting the pardon or forgiveness, from the person I had wronged, if it was offered.
It was never okay with my folks to do something wrong or hurtful or hateful on purpose and not feel sorry. I was expected to try to make it up to the person I hurt.
My mom had a story about conscience. I may have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. It is a Native American idea. Mom said my conscience is a pointy triangle in my heart. When I do something wrong, my conscience-triangle turns. It hurts. And like water dripping on a stone, or slowly turning a dimmer switch, finally I will notice the stone has a slight depression, or finally I will notice the light is fading.
The corners of my conscience will wear away like that, and pretty soon, I won’t even feel it turning. I could do any bad thing and not feel the sorry-pain of my conscience-triangle turning in my heart. My mom kept me from going to that scary, bad place with her story.
Some people have conscience-triangles that have completely worn away. Their conscience spins and spins around and around in their hearts and they don’t even notice.
Offering pardon to a person who incites hatred and fear should never be allowed. Accepting that pardon for the purpose of instilling more fear and hatred is despicable.
I’m sure my mom would agree.
Miss Bonkers rose, “Don’t fret!” she said.
“You’ve learned the things you need
To pass that test and many more--
I’m certain you’ll succeed.
We’ve taught you that the earth is round,
That red and white make pink,
And something else that matters more--
We’ve taught you how to think.”
from Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!
by Seuss, Dr. (with some help from Jack Prelutsky & Lane Smith)
Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.
My first grade teacher, Mrs. Zimmerman, was one of a kind. She taught us so much more than how to recognize letters and how to count. She taught us how to think.
We learned about directions. The kind that get you from one place to another. We learned that if we faced the big window in our classroom, we faced east. I brought this lesson home as I stood in front our big living room window and announced I was facing east. Of course since our house faced south, Mom corrected me. It took a long time to figure out that east was different looking out different windows. Or really, east stays the same, just the windows point in different directions. What is my word of the year? Perspective? Oh..
In first grade, we learned how to get along together. Mrs. Zimmerman made me her helper. Since my birthday is in November, I started school in January. When we moved, I’d already finished the first half of first grade. Mrs. Z. had just the right balance of confidence in me and knowledge of my six-year-old self, that I felt good about helping her, but the rest of the class didn’t think I was too special. That was tricky, but not for Mrs. Zimmerman.
We learned how to have fun. Mrs. Zimmerman taught us to play with language. She once told our class the story of Prinderella and the Cince, a spoonerism version of Cinderella. I loved that story so much! I asked her to write it down for me so I could learn it, too. She did. She helped me figure out the big words, too. I kept that ditto sheet until the purple ink blurred and the folds turned into little tears. But I had it down pat and performed for my parents. My dad laughed till he cried when the "at the stottem bep, she slopped her dripper" came, every single time. My brother and sister sat through untold numbers of performances, too. Years later, as a children’s librarian, I got to tell that story (and so many others!) again. Thanks, Mrs. Z!
As my grandchildren head off for their first days of school, I send out a big thank you to all teachers. The ones who know how to help a crying Kindergartener stop crying, the ones who help new sixth graders learn how to work those twisty combination locks, the ones who guide high schoolers to good decisions.
Most teachers love children and most teachers love what they do. The best teachers aren’t afraid to let that show.
To all teachers out there: Have a great year!
To all students out there: Have a great year!
I . . . remember wondering about the marching singers and the firemen and the policeman’s dog, and, last of all, I remember Jelly asking –
“Daddy, what color does a person have to be to get a taste of colored water?”
from: The Taste of Colored Water
written and illustrated by Matt Faulkner
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008
1968, I was finishing my sophomore year of high school. I had in my mind I might be an elementary school teacher after college. Head Start, a new Federal preschool, was looking for summer volunteers. I didn’t tell my parents I would be expected to go into a dangerous neighborhood three times every week for most of the summer. Although I suspect they knew that, I never will understand why my parents, both of them, said yes. But I’m glad they did.
Head Start was in its infancy, created in 1964, as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's “War on Poverty.” A summer volunteering at a school seemed like a good idea to me. I would be around children. I loved that. I would have the mentorship of a certified and qualified teacher, dedicated to the education of the children in her care. I could learn from her.
1968, a difficult year for Cleveland, and many other major U.S. cities. The Hough Riots were history, but just barely. My assigned school was in the middle of this calmed-down, but still-tense area. I arrived on my first day, ready for work, but far from ready to understand how my experience would change my life.
My parents moved to a mostly Jewish neighborhood when I was entering first grade. They wanted me to be around people with similar backgrounds and values. Back then, I didn’t know I was a minority. I remember being surprised when I discovered I am.
Back in my Head Start classroom, I was a minority. If my teacher was surprised to see a young, white teenager, she didn’t show it. All the children were black. If they were surprised to see someone who did not look like them, they didn’t show it either.
We got on with the business of education. We played games to learn numbers, shapes, colors, and letters. We learned how to line up to go to the restroom, go outside to play, and to buddy-up to go on “nature” walks in the neighborhood. We listened to birds, paid attention to the shapes of the leaves on trees, and watched squirrels chase each other.
Especially on these neighborhood walks, I was very aware of looking different from everyone around me. I felt like an outsider, someone not familiar. Maybe even someone to fear.
My classroom, though, was a haven of safety and acceptance. We practiced good manners and took turns. The children loved to get hugs and I loved to give them.
One time a little girl, who I’d played with for several weeks, drummed up enough courage to ask me if she could touch my arm. She was very relieved to discover my skin felt just like hers. I’m not sure what she expected, but I told her only the color is different. Then we got on with the rest of our day.
I’ve thought about our shared experience many times since then and what she taught me:
How we really are all the same on the inside: organs, blood, bones.
How we are alike is so much more important than how we are different.
How seeing color and learning about it is so much better than pretending to be "color-blind."
I learned that from a 4-year-old, one summer, a long time ago.
Totality will only last for a little over three minutes, and while that’s a pretty solid duration for an eclipse, it’s not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things.
from: Every Soul a Star
by Wendy Mass
Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, 2008
Next Monday, August 21, at about 1:30 in the afternoon, I’ll be outside with my eclipse glasses watching an unlikely phenomenon. The full moon will orbit between our Earth and sun in such a way that the moon’s shadow will pass directly in front of the sun and obliterate it. For a few minutes.
That was going to be my topic this week, the eclipse. Probably something about needing special glasses and a little about the science. But our nation is crying and the whole eclipse thing turned into a metaphor for me.
We have a president who instills fear and hatred. He permits free-flowing anger to be expressed in horrible and tragic ways. Maybe it’s not *all* his fault. After all, many people just haven’t gotten over the fact that the North won Civil War and all that implies. The Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, The Emancipation Proclamation, Brown vs. the Board of Education (1954), The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (at least what’s left of it), Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and the Supreme Court’s ruling that gay marriage is legal in all states (2015) demonstrate that we, as a society, are becoming more inclusive, accepting, and maybe even more understanding of each other.
Not everyone agrees.
Robert E. Lee was a good, maybe even great general. He was a tragic leader, though, who fought for the perpetuation of an evil institution. Does he really deserve a statue in a major U. S. city? Or any city? Can anyone really justify murder, especially when it is done in the name of hate?
We cannot allow White Supremacy, Klan members, Neo-Nazis and other hate groups to thrive and spread their fear of others. Anger, violence, and murder are not the opposite of love, kindness, and beauty.
The opposite of hate is indifference.
Cat Stevens’s song “Moon Shadow” expresses his sense of optimism. Even in the darkest time, he accepts that tragedy is part of life and adjusts his course to be able to move past it, changed for the better. You can read the lyrics and even listen to the song here: http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/12778/#comments
Just as the moon’s shadow will block out our view of the sun, it will expose the corona, that breathtakingly beautiful, glimmering circle of flares only visible during totality. Just as free-flowing anger, fear, and hatred expose violence, even murder, they can only blot out goodness, love, and the kindness of strangers for a brief moment, in the whole scheme of things.
If our nation’s tragedy in this very dark and scary time moves us to individual and collective action, if violence moves us toward compassion, then the sun really will come out tomorrow.
--stay curious (and active!)
The war ended. Only the father returned. He was thin, with sad eyes, as he padded through the annex like a living ghost.
The woman helper gave him the girl’s writing. They cried.
from: The Tree in the courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window
by Jeff Gottesfeld
illustrated by Peter McCarty
Our legacy is not what people remember about us after we’ve left this earth. It’s the difference we make while we’re here, whether or not anyone remembers or even knows about it.
Judith Jones is the common denominator between Anne Frank, Julia Child, and Anne Tyler (among many others). Judith Jones was an extraordinary editor and according to Anne Tyler, a remarkable human being. Ms. Jones passed away last week after spending her life in the publishing world. If you know of her at all, it is probably because of the movie Julie and Julia, starring Merle Streep. Erin Dilly played a version of Judith Jones as Julia’s editor.
According to an NPR story, Judith was in the middle of writing rejection letters when she stumbled upon Anne Frank’s diary in the discard pile. She convinced her boss to acquire it for Doubleday.
By 1957, she convinced her bosses at Knopf to acquire another reject, The Art of French Cooking by an unknown writer and chef, Julia Child.
Judith Jones’s legacy is a remarkable one of editing authors’ work and bringing it into the world. Who doesn’t think of Julia Child when we hear bon appetit! Who can forget the innocence in the famous words of Anne Frank’s wonderful, tragic diary, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are good at heart.” Whatever else we remember about her, Anne’s most important legacy is her optimism.
Judith Jones was an excellent cook and a gourmet. But she changed the world by making it more accessible to all of us. She brought us a world not our own and let us explore through the words of her authors. In Anne Tyler’s words, “I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place.” Judith Jones’s insight has made the world better.
I can’t control what people will or will not remember about me after I’m gone. But I can learn from Anne Frank’s optimism, Julia Child’s passion, Anne Tyler’s wisdom, and Judith Jones’s ability to sense what is true and make it come alive.
One friend agrees to help.
The women cut bags into strips and roll them
into spools of plastic thread. Before long, they teach
themselves how to crochet with this thread.
from: One Plastic Bag:
Isatow Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia
written by Miranda Paul
illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
2015, Millbrook Press
My newspaper has a factoid block on the inside of page 1A. Last Monday the heading read 9B+ tons. It went on to say
The amount of plastic the global plastic industry has made since 1950. (That’s my lifetime!)
Our society, indeed the whole world, I think, is dependent on plastic. From its uses in medical procedures and instruments, to bags of frozen fruits and vegetables and, when we don’t eat it fast enough, the bags we wrap our garbage in. And now, 3-D printing. We can’t seem to find a bad use for the stuff.
I use the bag my newspaper comes in to hold the scooped contents of my litterboxes. Even the boxes (all three of them) are plastic. Oh! I’ve even been known to line my plastic trash can with a plastic bag, for convenience.
Al Gore’s new movie, An Inconvenient Sequel, was released this past Friday. It doesn’t appear to be coming to my home town. If I want to see it, I’ll need use gas (my little Prius sips, not guzzles, but still) and travel to a nearby big city.
At the risk of sounding like a highfalutin’ alarmist, I’m sharing some current, inconvenient facts about plastic recycling I found here: https://www.thebalance.com/plastic-recycling-facts-and-figures-2877886
So for better or worse, we have lots of plastic. Useful, convenient, cheap, no doubt. But, maybe enough is enough. Re-purposing, recycling, replacing with re-usables will make a difference.
Plastic is the most produced and least recycled man-made material on our Earth. It is crucial to pay attention to that, take action, and find substitutes for plastic whenever we can.
You might even want one of those Gambian plastic bag purses. Go here: http://gambiahelp.org/get-involved/shop/
If you got all the way to the bottom of this post—thanks!
Mama read the note.
I saw this doll when I was shopping.
I thought you would love her.
I hope you will.
Hugs and kisses,
from: Penny and Her Doll
written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books, 2012
I’m pretty sure I’ve admitted to my sneaky Barbie play-dates. All my friends were allowed to have Barbie dolls, and many had clothes and other go-withs. I’d play with their Barbies at their houses and no one was the wiser.
But my mom was not dumb. Far from it. I’m pretty sure, looking back, she was on to me. In many ways, my mom was ahead of her time. She believed in strong, independent women. Although my mom loved me the way only a mother can, I think she longed for me to become stronger and more independent than I am.
I grew up in the 1950s and 60s. Times were simpler (and more complex) then. Mixed messages were the norm. Women in bouffant hairstyles and aprons assured me I could be anything I wanted to be.
I was seven years old when Barbie made her debut. The years after saw Astronaut Barbie, Surgeon Barbie, TV News Reporter Barbie, Veterinarian Barbie, Army Officer Barbie, Fire Fighter Barbie, Engineer Barbie, and many more. She had all the right clothes, and accessories, all the right friends, and cool transportation. I had all of it from afar.
Mom could not reconcile the controversy surrounding the grown-up look of a Barbie doll. For Mom, even though Barbie had all those professions and accessories, as a doll, she was particularly unsuitable for young children. I had baby-dolls. I loved them. And I’m still wrestling with my mom’s own mixed message.
Besides the very fact of Barbie being controversial in 1959, even her birthday is controversial. A diagram dated July 24, 1959, is posted on http://barbie.mattel.com/en-us/about/our-history.html. But, most websites agree Barbie first appeared on March 9, 1959, at the opening of the American Toy Fair in New York City. Barbie’s official birthday is March 9.
In the whole scheme of controversies plaguing early 21st century America, Barbie and her birthday seem pretty inconsequential. But according to http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/barbie-makes-her-debut “since 1959, more than 800 million dolls in the Barbie family have been sold around the world and Barbie is now a bona fide global icon.”
So whileeven though the ideal is still beauty and the message is still mixed, more women are reaching their potential. We move forward slowly.
“I’m the bestest spier in the whole world,” I said to my bestest friend named Grace.
Then I took off my shoes. And I showed her my sneaky sock feet.
“See?” I said. “See how quiet they are? You can hardly even those those guys.”
After that, I breathed in and out for her.
“And see? My nose doesn’t whistle, either,” I said.
That Grace smiled. “I’m good at spying, too,” she said.
I patted her. “Yeah, only too bad, Grace. But you can’t be as good as me. ’Cause I said it first.”
from Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying
by Barbara Park
llustrated by Denise Brunkus
Random House, 1994
Russia is in the news. That’s not news. The Russian government treats its people badly. That’s not news, either. Russia’s been treating its people badly for a long time. In fact, that’s the reason my grandparents moved away from there.
My grandparents and their friends spoke English like Boris and Natasha from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Spies, criminals no-goodniks doing dastardly misdeads.
Boris and Natasha always got caught.
Like Junie B., spies are sneaky tip-toers. They lurk. They try to trick us out of our most carefully guarded secrets.
Unlike Junie B., real spies distract us from doing and thinking about what is really important, taking care of ourselves and each other and our planet.
Like Boris and Natasha, spies do bad things.
Unlike Boris and Natasha, real spies don’t always get caught.
The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show aired from 1959 to 1964. I was young and missed most of the satire and irony. I think I liked the show because of the accents. Something felt familiar in a kinda crazy way.
It’s a crazy world we are sharing. The Cold War is over. Now the news is just plain chilling.
I’d like to end on a positive note, but I’m having a hard time in my little piece of the world. A lot of my anger has turned into fear. I’ll work on rolling up my sleeves and doing something useful.
I'm a children's writer and poet intent on observing the world and nurturing those I find in my small space .