Mar 30, 2017

Pitter, Patter, Poetry... Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault

With no intent AT ALL to post this today, I woke to the grayness of spring rain with a forecast for it to continue through the next few days. Among the pile of poetry books I intend to feature in coming weeks, the cover facing me from the top on the nearest pile this morning was:

LISTEN TO THE RAIN, written by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault, with illustrations by James Endicott.
Henry Holt & Company, 1988

That's right, an early  book from the magical duo who brought us CHICKA-CHICKA-BOOM-BOOM.

So, I picked it up, read it again for the umpteenth time, and decided to share the text here, now.
My glance at the weather map indicates that there are multi-millions of us facing some  drizzly or stormy gray days. For all of our sakes, I'll share the deceptively simple text here, in praise of it's rhythm, rhyme, and imagery. My praise extends to the design and art of the spreads. it also celebrates the cycle of rain patterns, offering an optimism amid the grayness. Please, let the words inspire you to hold the book in your own hands and share it, sooner rather than  later.

Copyright Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault

Listen to the rain, 
the whisper of the rain,
the slow, soft sprinkle,
the drip-drop tinkle, 
the first wet whisper of the rain.

Listen to the rain, 
the singing of the rain,
the tiptoe pitter-patter,
the splish and splash and splatter,
the steady sound,
the singing of the rain.

Listen to the rain, 
the roaring pouring rain,
the hurly-burly, 
lashing, gnashing teeth of the rain,
the lightning-flashing
sounding pounding roaring rain,
leaving all outdoors a muddle,
a mishy mushy muddle puddle.

Listen to the quietude,
the silence and the solitude
of after-rain,
the dripping, dripping, dropping,
the slowly, slowly stopping
the fresh
of rain.

Who Says Nursery Rhymes Are for Nursery School?
I indicated in the previous post (here) my strong commitment to the importance of poetry in our lives, in lives at any age. As with so many other things we value, there will only be time and space if we PRIORITIZE those personal values. So I'm providing time and space to discuss nursery rhymes here.

Few would categorize traditional nursery rhymes as"poetry", but they lay the groundwork for sharing more sophisticated poetry later. It's where much of reading, listening, and word play   begin. Every time I see or hear a toddler who can rattle off a rap verse, whether age appropriate or not, I marvel at the deep and wide capacity of young minds to recognize and memorize the rhythms and rhymes within playful language. I have to admit, I also wonder if any of those emerging little online "stars" would be able to finish even a single line of a traditional nursery rhyme. Why does that matter? Won't they learn that in school? Should they?

Who's to blame for a lack of attention to traditional nursery rhymes? My glib response points a finger at technology and politics. Wh-a-a-a-t? 

Technology ( including social media, selfies, and digital diversions) offers immature egos (of any age) an irresistible access to attention. While growing up, my sibs and I would challenge our minds and bodies by balancing in stockinged toes on Dad's knees, maintaining our coveted position long enough to recite as many  nursery rhymes as we could before losing our balance and ceding the spotlight (knee-spot) to the next in line. That glow of attention was thrilling, but how does it compare to having a performance posted and "hit" thousands or even millions of times? Would "rapping" a nursery rhyme garner those same numbers as well as ludicrous (or Ludachris) lyrics? 

Technology enhances the role of politics (including local, state, federal) and the impact those pressures have on family expectations. Readily accessible digital data, comparative statistics, and inappropriate comparison of budgetary dollars have led to an educational system that craves points on standardized scores even more than those toddlers crave "views". 
The result of these forces has been parents who may not know the traditional nursery rhymes themselves, and preschool/primary classrooms so focused on mandated test -prep there's not a spare moment to squeeze in a  "Hey-diddle-diddle". Despite the big push for commonality, we're facing a disintegrating shared cultural experience.
Before I plunge off the "grumpy-old-woman" cliff, or imply that British/traditional rhymes should be considered standard culture for a very diverse population, I'll end this rant and share some favorite options with only a few lines of comment to each. Ready?

HIGH DIDDLE DIDDLE: Rhymes from Mother Goose, is designed and illustrated  by Robert A. Propper, (1975). It pairs familiar and lesser-known nursery rhymes with colorful graphic art that encourages attention to counting, colors, shapes, laughter, and experimentation. Look for this one from out-of-print sources.
Houghton Mifflin
Books for Children, 2010

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, is illustrated in needlework by Salley Mavor. I'm saddened to report that this much more recent publication, appears to be out-of-print, or perhaps just out of stock. The various characters and scenes, stitched, stuffed, and arranged in glorious panoramas, simply demand repeated viewing, leading to repeated reading of these nursery rhymes. This is one that is likely to remain a favorite, across generations, even as it becomes threadbare and dog-eared.

There's no lack of books using twists and turns, parody's and puns with nursery rhymes as a launching pad. I hope you'll stifle your groans on my own pun to introduce the first of several variants, including THE SPACE CHILD'S MOTHER GOOSE, with verses by Frederick Winsor and Illustrations by Marian Parry. (Simon and Schuster, 1958). Very dry, very British in humor, and the odd little line drawings are as curious as the is the knowledge and perception of space in that bygone era.
Fans of THE ADDAMS FAMILY will be delighted with THE CHARLES ADDAMS MOTHER GOOSE, including original illustrations and photographs by Addams. (Simon and Schuster, 1967). This version uses the original nursery rhyme wording but elicits giggles and gasps from their interpretation through Addams's art. It's oversized in format, in talent, and in fun.
Add caption

Both familiar and lesser-known nursery rhymes are called into play in MOTHER GOOSE: NUMBERS ON THE LOOSE, illustrated by that award-winning duo, Leo and Diane Dillon. The oversized, double-spread format offers colorful action, animated numerals, and a visual story that will delight. Artful design is child-friendly but intricate and elaborate enough to entice the adults who share the book.

Chronicle Books, 2010

Word play abounds in OTHER GOOSE: Re-Nurseried, Re-rhymed, Re-Mothered, and Re-Goosed.... Author J. Otto Siebold also created the lovable series that began with OLIVE, THE OTHER REINDEER. He adopts a similar level of twist and turn in this take on classic rhymes. Familiar characters like Humpty Dumpty find an entirely new life, such as Mr. Dumpty's four-part excursion to the mall Old King Coal, who's a weary old mole... is another example of twisted humor that teens will enjoy.
The oversized, saturated, exaggerated images, fonts, and elaborate layouts make this a marvelous mechanism to work with both traditional and twisted nursery rhymes for older readers.

Another collection that is as timely and current today as it was when it released in 1969 is THE INNER CITY MOTHER GOOSE,  written by Eve Merriam with photo visuals by Lawrence Ratzkin. This original production was a wrenching but recognizable variant on the traditional rhymes, redone to reflect the reality of so many living in "slums", "ghettos", and desperation. It was intended for adults, as an indictment of our corroding cities, but it made its way into high schools and some middle schools, despite its blunt and street-true language and topics.
This is a book that should never go out of print. I'd prefer the reason for that would be its value as historical documentation of the unjust conditions of the past, conditions that had been eliminated. Sad to say, it continues to be even more relevant now than it was originally or when it was reissued in 1996 with cover and spot illustrations by David Diaz. 
Here's an example of why it is still so sadly significant to current times and to movements like Black Lives Matter:

Take-a-Tour, Take-A-Tour, Congressman

Cover the Ghetto, 
As fast as
You can: 

Whisk through, 
Tsk-tsk through,
And file under P:

Now you're 
An expert

Finally, let's travel back from the 1960's to a little 1980 title that's barely longer than the book itself, but still deserves to be read. MOTHER GOOSE COMES TO CABLE STREET: Nursery Rhymes for Today. Chosen by Rosemary Stones and Andrew Mann of Children's Rights Workshop, with illustrations by Dan Jones. It's very few pages long with diverse and lively lillustrations that are as complex and dense as life itself. On the copyright page is a brief note that "in 1586 Mother Goose was buried in a vault under the communion table" at St. Olave's church near the Tower of London. Really, if that doesn't intrigue kids and invite exploration, I can't think what would. 

Whether you need to seek these out at garage sales, through out-of-print outlets, in libraries, or online, they are worth exploring. If you prefer the latest releases there are plenty of those to choose from and share. Please do. Baby shower gifts come to mind, classroom gifts on your child's birthday, or just checking out the collection at your neighborhood library.
Whatever your approach, I hope you'll jump on my bandwagon and support the sharing of nursery rhymes and their variants at every age. 

Mar 26, 2017

Praising Poetry: Poetry Month and Timeless Classics

A recent Facebook post by poet extraordinaire,  Lee Bennet Hopkins, noted this distressing statistic:
"POETRY UPDATE: Of some 3,400 children's/YA books published in 2016, less than 55 books of poetry appeared. This includes rhyme, original collections, anthologies and verse novels."

That post generated 40+ comments and reactions, all of which expressed praise for poetry in young lives, along with concern for the obvious decline of interest in producing poetry books for young readers from within the publishing industry.

I, too, bemoaned the reduced number of "collections", themed or otherwise. It's true, in the early and mid- decades of the last century there were far fewer books published for children in general. Books tended toward anthologies, retold classics, a few longer novels or series, and poetry collections aimed at young audiences that were often written by poets who primarily wrote for adults.

The children's section of the library I visited as a child had a pathetic collection. I often spent up to an hour scrounging around for books I might enjoy, most of which had been rebound in dull fabric covers. Once I settled on a few possibilities, I'd hurry to the equally pitiful poetry section. There, I'd check out my favorite and familiar titles, multiple times. Edward Lear (poems), James Thurber (cartoons), William Steig (stories and cartoons) filled my need for word play, humor, and language with the mastery of precision-cut diamonds.

April is poetry month, and I used the lower case for that phrase rather than designating it with caps. As I posted in the early weeks of this blog more than five years ago, theme months are double edged swords. Remembering my childhood willingness to reread old favorites, especially in the absence of other options, I headed over to a used book outlet and ordered a dozen or more of those favorites.

I knew that Lear's work had long outlived his life, but it wasn't until ordering that I realized the original publication date of his BOOK OF NONSENSE was 1846! I get such pleasure out of picturing Abe Lincoln reciting Lear rhymes with his sons. I have no doubt whatsoever that their shared enjoyment of those and other books, rhymes, and stories was in no way bounded by special monthly designations. 
With my position on theme months clearly stated, I'll await delivery of my old friends. I'll be back to share some more recent favorites, too, and will post about multiple poetry titles in special categories. Many of those posts will be in April, but I'll continue throughout the year. 

And here, just for the fun of it, is a link to to access posters and activities.

Mar 15, 2017

Fiction, Fact, and the Funny Side of POOP!

I'll begin here on a personal note. 
The first days of February found me biting back expletives much more harsh than "OH, POOP". I'm ashamed to admit that it was not just the pain and frustration of breaking my leg that had me sounding like a comic strip: 
I was utterly embarrassed by the foolish way it happened- putting on my shoes. And I broke my right leg, which made driving off-limits for 6-8 weeks.

Just as I was adjusting to the consequences of my klutziness, I tumbled back into potty-mouth territory when the orthopedist viewed my x-rays a few weeks later. His verdict... the eight week prognosis instead of six. I indulged in several hours of grumbling and self-pity, before deciding that wasn't helping, even a tiny bit. A late winter snowstorm, cancelled appearances, etc. prompted even more muttering of "OH, POOP!" 
I channeled my frustration into even more reading and writing and decided to share the upside of those downsides, developing a more constructive take on that word "POOP".
Originally 1993, republished by Abrams, 2007

THE STORY OF THE LITTLE MOLE WHO WENT IN SEARCH OF WHODUNIT is written by Werner Holzwarth and illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch. The cover and title launch the plot, or plop, if you prefer. Shortsighted mole is determined to find the source of that sausage-like emoji-ish deposit that greeted him one fine warm day as he lifted his head from his tunnel. 
In a finely paced and humor-laced series of encounters, mole narrows the list of suspects, dodges disastrous demonstrations, and eventually exacts his revenge. 
An animated version of this book can be viewed on YouTube, here, but the physical book allows for even better appreciation of page turns, expressions, and rising tensions. This is a seriously funny book that defies bad moods. It is also a slick and sophisticated example of everything wonderful about picture books. First and foremost, kids and adults alike will return to it again and again. In the process, they'll find effective repetition, clever language, plot twists, and plenty to talk about.

Puffin Books, 2014
Compare this simply brilliant story with the equally inspired nonfiction book, THE TRUTH ABOUT POOP AND PEE:All the Facts about the Ins and Outs of Bodily Functions., written by Susan E. Goodman and illustrated by slightly-wacky Elwood H. Smith. 
(This title is a fairly recent consolidation of Goodman's earlier two volumes, THE TRUTH ABOUT POOP and GEE, WHIZ! IT'S ALL ABOUT PEE.) The titles alone are indicators of the clever wit, wisdom, and wonder explored within the covers of this kid-magnet. 
What's more, author Goodman never let's go of a topic, even after her books have been published or reissued. In this case, her website offers a plethora of additional factoids that reached her after the book went to print. 

I look back on my childhood firmly convinced that I was born knowing how to read. In part, that's because we had few books. From early on I was able to pick up a book and "read" it, knowing all about front-to-back, up-vs-down, page turns, visual stories, and even inserting long strings of words I recalled from frequent bedtime reading. As an early reader I owe even more to having a newspaper plunked onto our doorstep seven days a week. I "read" the funnies every day of my life. Elwood Smith's cartoonish images and speech bubbles offer a huge appeal with their speech bubbles and comic details, offering big ideas even when the text is challenging. 
Here's a sidestep to other frustrating "Oh, Poop" moments-- the proliferation of outrageous statements presented as truths. As incredible as they may seem, Goodman's facts are indisputable. I can say that with confidence for several reasons: the author's reputation for in-depth research and objectivity is undisputed; she cites extensive and reliable resources in the back matter; each and every claim can be reverse-engineered to obtain third party confirmation, should a reader  choose to do so. In other words, even though the content itself and the comical illustrations provide laughable, quotable quips that sound like jokes, they are, in fact, facts. Not half-truths, distortions, or lies, or alternative facts. Readers of any age can and should be reading such surprising content with a skeptical eye and with tools to verify. Recognizing the ability to sort, save, and discard based on reality provides a powerful jolt of self-confidence.

Among those funnies from my earliest readings, I always included a daily dose of RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOTlike this one. You can subscribe on social media for a daily post from their website. I recommend an exercise in  reading with a duality of amazement and skepticism, of challenging extraordinary statements with quick searches for sources and the validity of those sources. This should become as mundane as brushing our teeth, applying a studied eye (or ear) to everything we read (or hear). 
Perhaps even a book like The Story of the Mole...
offers an object lesson in seeking out primary sources to answer our questions. When those searches are unproductive, frustrating, or even too messy, we can seek out authentic experts to resolve our confusions. (What better experts to consult about the origins of poop than flies?)
So, take these three recommendations and run with them, following their leads to seek out truth and facts from among the #$*!% filling our media these days. I challenge anyone who says, "I don't like to read" to try these and find yourself hooked.

Mar 6, 2017

The Case For Loving: Supreme Court Decisions Matter

While serving as a first round panelist for Cybils nonfiction earlier this winter, I read and posted some notes about THE FIRST STEP: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial, written by Susan E. Goodman and illustrated by E. B. Lewis. (Read it HERE.)

As Goodman so adeptly points out, within the text and in the back matter, the court loss described was, in fact, a gain. By laying the foundation for future cases and eventual successes, civil rights cases culminated in the landmark BROWN vs. BOARD OF EDUCATION ruling in 1954-55.
Labeling that last ruling as landmark is not meant to suggest it succeeded in ending segregation and discrimination in education. Nor was that the last case the Supreme Court would face regarding Constitutional protections for civil rights. Far from it. But it, too, was another step, a giant one, in the continuing process of opening hearts and minds to the reality that the only race that matters is the human race. 
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015

The same is true for the Supreme Court ruling described in The Case for Loving:

The Fight for Interracial Marriage, written bSelina Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Although this simple picture book portrays an adult issue (confirming the constitutional right to interracial marriage), the narration and illustration combine to make it a kid-friendly, empathetic experience for even the very young. 
(A 2016 film depicts an adult version of the true story of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter . See a Movie trailer on YouTube, HERE.)
At its core, this compelling and dramatic story is  about family. Alko focuses on the human desire (and right) of all people to pursue happiness through marriage and raising a family, freely and safely, anywhere in our country. From the cover, through the end pages, and winding across every spread, iconic images of happiness and love (hearts, flowers, birds and music) combine with active children engaging in familiar family situations to depict real people living real lives. The illustrations adopt a folkart approach with colorful collage, paint, and stamp art, presenting a child-like take on a mature story. Kids "get" this, they rebel against the injustice, cheer for the strength and validity of of the court challenge, and revel in the eventual victory.
An equally valuable use for this book will be with older readers. It's an ideal way to introduce an immediate experience with the mid-twentieth-century "legal" manipulations and maneuvers that sustained Jim Crow laws for more than a century beyond the emancipation of enslaved people. The inimitable Diane Rehm conducts an outstanding program on the topic of Jim Crow laws, providing voice to several points of view in an interview, here. Another resource to share is the NPR program that examined the official Congressional apology for slavery and Jim Crow laws from the summer of 2008, here. In each case, both the transcript and the recordings are available to allow for careful discussion and review. 
A rude awakening to the reality of those years can be explored by researching the NEGRO MOTORIST GREEN BOOK, an annually updated resource for anyone of color traveling south during the many decades of segregation and unchecked activity by the Klu Klux Klan. This article in Smithsonian Magazine details the origins and need for THE GREEN BOOK.
Carllrhoda Books, 2010
Those sophisticated investigations, though, can be translated to the heart by another picture book, RUTH AND THE GREEN BOOK, written  by Calvin A. Ramsey and Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. In this case, as in Alko's and Goodman's books, the immediacy of individual lives and  the relatable illustrations evoke personal and visceral responses from readers of any age. In each book the back pages provide further insights and explorations from the authors and offers resources for further exploration and research on the topics and characters portrayed. Now, more than ever, providing young people with the facts of our own history and the ease with which individual liberties were distorted and restricted is essential. Actually, it's not a bad time fro adults to review these stories and resources.
(For more on the Supreme Court, check this recent post about Deby Levy's I DISSENT: Ruth bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark.)
Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.