Lines that Lift Late Summer Blues

Illustrator Julie Paschkis (Through Georgia’s Eyes, 2006, etc.) taps her characteristic vibrant folk-art motifs to enlarge the space for joyous wordplay in her sprightly new bilingual poetry collection Flutter & Hum/Aleteo y Zumbido: Poemas de Animales.
Flutter and Hum by Julie Paschkis
Paschkis’s collection of 12 brief poems, complemented with vivid double-spread illustrations rendered in gouache, glimmers with surprising suppleness. In “Snake,” or “La Serpiente,” the 11-line poem secretes numerous “s” sounds, and her grassy images of twisting tendrils slip in words such as swerve, subtle, shy, and swallow. On the opposing facing page, she highlights such alliterative Spanish words as sombra (shadow), sabia (he/she knows), sorpresa (surprise) and solo. As most of these do not appear in either the English or Spanish poem, they act as extended riffs on the child-pleasing poetry.

For her playful poem “Turtle/La Tortuga” Paschkis focuses on the shell as a secret vault of enchantment: “The turtle hides/in her shell./But maybe there is space,/a place/for hidden treasure.” Embedded in the hard shell are drawings of gems, locks, and keys, while copious pointy teeth embellish the shell’s border. On the English half of the two-page illustration, the shell reveals such words as glow, inside, glisten, while the right-hand side gives us the Spanish gema (gem), adentro (inside), and lustra (he/she polishes). Unhurried, curious readers will relish the correlation between the Spanish words and various related English words.

In her author’s note, Paschkis reveals the singular inspiration of her poetry. While illustrating Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People, a picture-book biography written by Monica Brown (2011), she fell in love with Spanish and immersed herself in the Chilean poet’s work. That led her to create her own poems, first in Spanish and then in English. Some poems, she noted, “are not translated word-for-word; instead I used the phrase that worked best in each language to convey the same meaning.”
This energetic interplay of art and poetry lends itself to multiple creative uses—choral reading, acting, musical adaptations—as well as leisurely literary romps and reveries.

Reprinted with permission from the New York Journal of Books.

Also see …

Poem-Mobiles Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas FlorianPug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie WorthStardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky

Finding Magic in the Bayou

Maddy’s big sisters have warned her about going to Grandmère’s home deep in the Louisiana bayou. It’s boring, they say; there’s no TV, no mall, no microwave, and no indoor plumbing. Not only that, Grandmère’s a witch. Ten-year-old Maddy has a mind of her own, though, and anticipates adventures far from the glass and concrete world of New Orleans.  Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The magic begins on the car ride to the bayou. When a firefly perches on the rim of the car door, Maddy’s imagination is fired; surely it’s some kind of sign.
Grandmère doesn’t look like much of a sage. She’s tiny, “bird-boned,” with “bright-white curly hair, luminous like the moon.”  Maddy and her grandmother settle into a cozy routine of humming together, collecting eggs from the hen, doing dishes, and sitting on the porch. As the days pass, Grandmère tells Maddy stories about her ancestors and teaches her important principles such as … respect yourself … pay attention … and leave space for imagination. Under Grandmère’s guidance, she will, over the course of the summer, discover her own power, her place in a long line of Lavaliers, and an enchanted land replete with helpful fireflies and mermaids.
Maddy gets to know the neighbors and makes herself at home in Bayou Bon Temps. “Folks, all colors, live in the bayou,” she muses. “Some are red-haired, some blond or brunette. A stew. They all feel like kin to me. Like a family I didn’t know I had.”
Perhaps best of all, she meets a wiry, energetic boy called Bear, and the two form a strong bond as they run around, get dirty, and explore the bayou together. Her adventure, or at least her imagination, takes off the day she sees a mermaid rise from the dark waters.
At first, Maddy reveals her secret to no one but Grandmère, who believes the girl has encountered the legendary Mami Wata, who followed imprisoned Africans forced to cross to North America in the dank holds of slave ships. Later, as an environmental disaster endangers the Bayou Bon Temps, Maddy calls upon her own powers, as well as help from fireflies and mermaids, to rescue the community she cherishes.
Middle-school girls with a fanciful flair will snap up this novel imbued with magical mystery and a young heroine’s hopeful imagination.

Reprinted with permission from New York Journal of Books.

Don’t miss Jewell Parker Rhodes’s thoughtful comments on diversity in children’s literature.
And see my previous post on Sugar, winner of the Jane Adams Peace Association book award, and check out the author’s Coretta Scott King honor book, Ninth Ward.Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

On the Road to Respect

Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born with just one leg in rural Ghana, but he defied people’s low expectations by bicycling 400 miles across the country and thereby raised awareness for disabled people in Africa and around the world.

Emmanuel's Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson The engrossing picture book Emmanuel’s Dream opens with his birth: “Two bright eyes blinked in the light,/ two healthy lungs let out a powerful cry,/ two tiny fists opened and closed,/ but only one strong leg kicked.” With childlike, expressive mixed-media artwork, acclaimed illustrator Sean Qualls (Dizzy, 2006) reveals the precarious nature of the baby’s world: the father stoops in despair, while the concerned mother gazes at him, knowingly. Then we read how people in Ghana considered those with disabilities as worthless, or even as a curse.

The baby’s father abandons the family, but the mother, Comfort, graces her child with the name “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” She focuses on her son’s abilities rather than on his one shriveled leg. In time, the child learns to crawl, then hop, then climb coconut trees and fetch water. Mama Comfort carries him to school until he gets too heavy. After that, Emmanuel hops the two miles by himself.

Children will marvel at Emmanuel’s pluck and perseverance. When his classmates scorn him, Emmanuel decides to earn money to buy something special–a real soccer ball–and he earns their respect by playing with one leg and crutches. After his mother becomes too ill to sell vegetables at the market, Emmanuel moves to the big city of Accra to earn money to support his family. Two years later, he returns home, where his mother tells him from her deathbed, “Be respectful, take care of your family, don’t ever beg. And don’t give up.”

With his sharp mind and bold heart, Emmanuel concocts an unusual plan to honor her memory. He would show Ghanians he could accomplish a seemingly impossible feat: ride a bike nearly 400 miles across the nation. We see Emmanuel, his right leg tied to the bike frame and his left foot on the pedal, riding “up, down, across, and around his country, proudly wearing the colors of its flag on a shirt printed with the words THE POZO, or ‘the disabled person’.” And as he bikes, he attracts more and more attention. The children come to cheer; people with disabilities escape their stifling home to greet their hero.

In 10 days, Emmanuel proves his ability to accomplish his goal, but his journey continues. In the author’s note, Thompson points out that Emmanuel maintains a scholarship fund to help children with disabilities attend school, and he speaks to government officials and others about the need to pass laws protecting the rights of disabled citizens. Trust me; you’ll be glowing along with your audience as you share this inspiring, true story with children ages 6 to 9.

See also …

Helen's Big World The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport

Before John Was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford and illus by Sean Qualls

Case for Loving The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and ill by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

 

A Crocodile’s Gift

How lively can Cinderella get? Discover Judy Sierra’s superb picture book The Gift of the Crocodile: A Cinderella Story, and you’ll find a tale that will engage even the most restless young listeners.  Gift of the Crocodile retold by Judy Sierra and illus by Reynold Ruffins

Damura lives in the Spice Islands of Indonesia with her stepmother, stepsister and father. She must do all the chores and sleep on the floor midst the ashes of the fireplace. One day, while washing clothes in the river, she encounters a crocodile and refers to her respectfully as grandmother. When Damura loses her sarong in the river, the crocodile fetches it. In return, Damura tends the crocodile’s stinky little baby and sings it a sweet lullaby. When Grandmother Crocodile reaches the shore, she rewards Damura with a fine silver sarong rather than the worn-out one swept away by the river.

Upon returning home, the stepsister notices Damura’s exquisite sarong and seethes with jealousy. She sets out to find the old crocodile so that she, too, can get a fancy new sarong. The selfish stepsister, unlike Damura, treats the crocodile and her baby with disdain and disrespect. When she sings to the crocodile, she says it smells like garbage! (You can bet children will cackle when you sing this line to the tune of “Brahm’s Lullaby.”) In a humorous touch of poetic justice, the lovely-looking sarong the crocodile brings the stepsister turns to garbage the moment the girl touches it — and it sticks to her for a year.

In time, the prince announces he will give a grand party, and Damura envisions wearing her silver sarong to it. Instead, her stepsister grabs it, leaving Damura in her rags. Grandmother Crocodile, however, delivers Damura a splendid gown of gold, with matching slippers. She tells the girl she must leave the party when the first rooster crows and return the garb to the crocodile. Inevitably, the prince falls in love with Damura and wants to marry her. But when the cock crows, she escapes, losing one slipper.

She returns the remaining items to the crocodile, apologizing for the lost shoe. Don’t worry, the crocodile assures her, the slipper will help her to become a princess. And then, we see that the slipper will fit only the kind and lovely Damura.

Headed for the palace, Damura sets off down the river in the company of her stepmother and stepsister, but they push her overboard, and a crocodile gulps her down. The calculating stepsister hopes she will become his bride instead, but the prince refuses this heartless trade. Instead, he goes to the river and calls upon Grandmother Crocodile, telling her the story of Damura’s cruel treatment. In an instant, the grandmother gathers the other crocs and forces the chubby culprit to spit up Damura. Then she lovingly licks the girl’s face and brings her back to life. She commands the other crocodiles to leave Damura alone but to eat the stepsister and her mother if they ever encounter them.

Overhearing the crocodile, the two flee, never to return. Then Damura and her prince go on to live in harmony, raising their children in the shade of the clove and nutmeg trees.

Illustrated by Reynold Ruffins with vivid hues, humorous touches, and plenty of movement, Gift of the Crocodile is a crowd-pleasing Cinderella tale that should enchant any young audience.

See also …

Glass Slipper Gold Sandal A Worldwide Cinderella by Paul FleischmanRough-Face Girl by Rafe MartinElla Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Make Way for Other Cinderellas

Cinderella’s back in the spotlight, and that’s just fine with me. I haven’t seen the current Disney film, but I think its popularity provides a rich opportunity to expose children to some of the fascinating variants of the CiHow Cinderella Was Able To Go to the Ball illustrated by Jessie M King 1924nderella fairy tale (which, by the way, I would argue is not a story that focuses on the girl getting the guy as much as it offers an instructive contrast between helpful and harmful relationships among women).

Of the hundreds of Cinderella stories from around the world, one of the strangest comes from Russia. In Russian Fairy Tales, Aleksandr Afanas’ev includes several bizarre, sometimes meandering stories featuring the brave young Vasilisa and her encounters with the grotesque witch Baba Yaga. Like the French and German Cinderella, this stepdaughter’s kind nature contrasts with the cruelty of a stepmother and her nasty, spoiled stepsisters. In the Grimm brothers’ retelling, the maiden receives help after praying and pouring out her sorrows to her deceased mother. Similarly, Vasilisa’s mother helps her daughter even beyond the grave, only this time it comes in the form of a doll she bequeaths her before she dies. But don’t let the presence of a doll mislead you; this dark tale is neither for the faint of heart nor for the very young.

Somehow, it seems to me no version of this fairy tale is quite perfect, so when I shared this tale with third graders, I would use an illustrated version such as Marianna Mayer’s Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave, with fine, dramatic paintings by Kinuko Y. Craft, and add or substitute a few details from other retellings, such as the one by Jane Yolen in her Favorite Folktales from around the World. Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave by Marianna Mayer illus by Kinuko Y Craft

Vasilisa feeds her doll and keeps her a secret, just as her mother has recommended. From Mayer’s version: “At night when Vasilisa was left to the darkness of her shabby quarters, she would pour out all her hopes and dreams to this small creature. The doll would listen, her eyes glowing like embers; and quietly, so that no one else could hear, she would whisper loving words of comfort and advice.” Isn’t that lovely? There’s a perfect symmetry here, with Vasilisa learning from and enacting the power and reciprocity of love and respect; she takes care of the doll, and the doll does likewise — just as it should be in healthy, loving relationships.

The drama intensifies when the stepmother, who happens to be a witch, demands that Vasilisa go to the other end of the dark forest to borrow a light from none other than Baba Yaga, who is known to eat humans. At the end of arduous journey, the girl confronts a fearsome sight: “a high fence made of bleached bones, and on each fencepost a hollow-eyed skull sat glaring. The gate was also made of bones, the latch was a sharp-toothed mouth, and the bolt was a skeleton’s hand. On the other side of the fence stood Baba Yaga’s hut on its rickety stilts of bones.”

When Baba Yaga sweeps down in her mortar, Vasilisa bows respectfully and states her purpose. The crafty witch reveals that she knows her stepmother and stepsisters and says, “You shall have your light and you may even live to use it. … But first you must live here and work for me.”

Then, in fine fairy-tale tradition, our hero is presented with impossible tasks, which, of course, will require the services of the magic doll. The nurturing doll tells Vasilisa to go to sleep and not to fret. Here’s where I use the refrain in Jane Yolen’s retelling: “Morning is wiser than the evening.”

After Vasilisa accomplishes the irrational, impossible feats dictated by Baba Yaga (separating wheat from chaff and then dust from poppy seeds?!), the witch asks the girl, “Just how did you succeed in doing all the many tasks I set for you?”

Without revealing the presence of her doll, Vasilisa tells the truth: “By my mother’s love.” Now, you might prefer Yolen’s phrasing: “I am helped by the blessing of my mother.” I think it makes more sense for Baba Yaga to be horrified at having a blessed one in her house, but can decide for yourself, based on your audience and on how much time you have to discuss this.

At this point, Baba Yaga pushes Vasilisa out of her house and yard and then offers her much more than she requested. She takes a skull with burning eyes from the fence, puts it on a stick, and gives it to the girl.

Vasilisa arrives home to find her stepmother and stepsisters sitting in darkness. The women rise to take the glowing skull, whose fiery gaze follows first the stepmother … then the stepsisters, burning them to cinders.

In the morning, Vasilisa buries the skull, abandons the house, and manages to find shelter with a kind old woman in town. Again, Vasilisa’s kindness and resourcefulness, aided by her attentive doll, will work to transform the young woman’s life. She weaves the finest linen, which the old woman takes to the tsar. Wishing to reward the needlewoman who has made such remarkable shirts, the tsar arrives at the home of the old woman and Vasilisa and, yes, falls madly in love with our protagonist. Yet, tellingly, to the end of her days, Vasilisa keeps the doll that has helped her so much.

This courageous Cinderella has shown herself to be no passive young lady waiting for someone to rescue her. As Elizabeth Winthrop points out in the end note of her Vasilissa the Beautiful, this “is a tale peopled by women. From Vasilissa’s mother and her deathbed blessing, to the wicked stepmother, to the wily old witch, Baba Yaga, to Vasilissa’s adopted mother, even to the little doll–it is women who challenge Vasilissa to grow, who sustain her in her troubles, and who rejoice with her in her final triumph.”

Works Cited and Recommendations for Further Reading

Forrester, Sibelan E. S, Helena Goscilo, Martin Skoro, and Jack Zipes. Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales. , 2013. Internet resource.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Jack Zipes, translator. New York: Bantam, 1987.
Lewis, Naomi, and Jo Worth. Classic Fairy Tales to Read Aloud. Boston: Kingfisher/Houghton Mifflin Co, 1998.
Mayer, Marianna, and Kinuko Craft. Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1994.
Riordan, James, and Andrew Breakspeare. Russian Folk-Tales. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Sierra, Judy. Cinderella. Illustrated by Joanne Caroselli. The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series. Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx Press, 1992.
Winthrop, Elizabeth. Vasilissa the Beautiful. Illustrated by Alexander Koshkin. New York: Harper-Collins, 1991.
Yolen, Jane. Favorite Folktales from Around the World. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008.

And look for these related stories:
Question of Magic by E D Baker Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll Talking Eggs by Robert San Souci  

 

 

 

(Note: Cinderella image at top of page comes from “Artists and Images,” http://d.lib.rochester.edu/cinderella/artists )

Women Weaving Their own Stories

Perhaps, like me, you recall the days of sitting in a history class bored beyond reach by all the facts figures and battles presented as “history.” Today, as more and more stories emerge from different perspectives, socio-economic backgrounds, ages, genders, races and ethnicities, I find myself at times entranced by the past and what it can teach us.

For the fifth year, librarians and bloggers Margo Tanenbaum, of The Fourth Musketeer, and Lisa Taylor, of Shelf-employed, have compiled a fascinating web resource celebrating women’s history. This year’s theme for Women’s History Month is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” A different writer each day contributes a post featuring a woman who’s made history. The Kidlit site features articles on acclaimed women such as Louisa May Alcott and Mahalia Jackson, as well as interesting, less-heralded women, including the American Revolutionary heroes Betsy Zane and Prudence Wright.

And don’t miss previous posts on opera singer Leontyne Price,  human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. SeedsofChange

Making Music a Little Easier

Yes, the hills might be alive with the sound of music, but how do you teach the elements of music to small children? Teacher/author Leah Wells chooses to use the power of story to do that job in a whimsical, sure-footed manner. Song for the Birds by Leah Wells and illus by Naomi Rosenblatt

In A Song for the Birds, the first of her new picture-book series, she begins with the most basic question: What is melody? To illustrate the idea that a melody is an arrangement of notes, she has created a simple, memorable story featuring birds and a bird-watcher. Each bird sings a particular note on the treble clef: the albatross sings A, the bluebird sings B, the canary sings her C, etc. An attentive bird-watcher listens to the birds but longs for a song instead of individual notes.

When he requests they sing a song, however, the “birds look at each other with confusion.” The bright watercolor images of Naomi Rosenblatt, the author’s sister, add humor and interest to the simple plot, as she skillfully evokes the birds’ various emotions and personalities. They comprehend what the bird-watcher wants after they listen to the mockingbird’s pleasing arrangement of notes.

They provide a brief concert outside the bird-watcher’s window on a starry night. With musical notation included, this final page presents the perfect moment for families and preschool groups to burst into “Twinkle, Twinkle …” And if there’s a piano nearby, why not accompany young singers?

Rainbow Remembers the Music by Leah Wells and illus by Naomi RosenblattIn the just-released second book, The Rainbow Remembers the Music, the author and illustrator show how we can remember music by using notes on a staff. Ms. Wells introduces the treble clef as well as the bass clef and accidentals. Here, the story employs the bird-watcher again, but this time with his two grandchildren as they witness birds singing as a rainbow appears. When the rainbow disappears, how can the birds recall which notes to sing? As the granddaughter begins to draw the lines of a rainbow in the mud, she places pebbles on her rainbow to show the notes of their song. A snail makes its way over and curls into the shape of a treble clef.

Grandpa, however, can only sing lower notes, so his grandson draws another “rainbow” and places two pebbles on it. After Grandpa kicks over the bucket of worms, one crawls over the that second rainbow and settles itself beside the two pebbles. At home the children decide to put the notes on paper, and so can readers, as The Rainbow Remembers the Music provides specially sized paper at the end of the story.

Music teachers and music-loving parents will want to seek out this fresh new child-friendly paperback series, available on Amazon. Please write back if you’d like to share your experiences using these pleasant little books.

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