Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor and Choices

Although I mentioned this a few days ago in the other blog, I actually got to watch the full TED talk this morning.

This is a remarkable woman, who has been through a somewhat unimaginable challenge, and emerged as an advocate for making--every day--personal choices that are worth making. (This short paragraph will be clearer, methinks, once you watch her presentation.)

An added plus: for a moment, in the presentation, you get to see a real live brain (but not in, any longer, a real live person). I think this is mammothly cool, but, if you get queasy about such stuff, just close your eyes and listen. It will be worth your time.

Remember, as you watch, that she is a brilliant physician that has been through a near-death experience that few of us (I hope) will ever have, and that she was able to categorize and catalog (to an extent) the brain's information as she went through the stroke. She has emerged, 8 years later, a changed person. She actually has, as they say, seen the light.

Also, here, a wonderful article about Dr. Taylor in the New York Times. So...what does all of this have to do with kids and books? It has to do with the choices we all make, the choices we teach our children to make, and the way we live our lives. That counts, right?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Stumbling on Flip, ADD, BoingBoing, and a Nuked Camera

I am borrowing from BoingBoing the idea of passing along this Nuked Camera video, because: (a.) I've been reading about how fabulous the Flip is, and thinking it would be a good graduation present for one or more of the three graduates in our house, or their brother who is off to Europe in a month and b.) distraction is kicking in and I can't remember (b.) and (c.) I wanted to get at least one post out today.  Well, yesterday. Well, whatever.  

Anyhow: the Flip looks flippin' wonderful, and when else are you ever going to see the inside of one of those TSA xray thingees at the airport?  When?  

Now. That's when.

Happy Birthday, Ian Fleming, and thank you for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Without Chitty Chitty Bang Bang there would be no Truly Scrumptious, Caractacus Potts, and--unthinkable--none of the magical John Burningham illustrations in the book nor the terrific movie that more of the great ones worked on--including (deep curtsy here please, we are in the presence of such brilliance!) Roald Dahl.

So, thank you, Ian Fleming.  Responsible for James Bond and Truly, who would've thought?  

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stumbling on Happiness

Next "must read."

Stumbling on Happiness.  Recommended highly.  Once I run out and get it, will let you know more.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Prayer for Parker Boyd

I have a request: please take a few moments to say a prayer for a beautiful boy, Parker Boyd, and for his family. Parker has been battling cancer for several years now, and his mother--while working at a full-time job in the Fairfax County Public School system, and doing all the other various and sundry things that full-time moms (i.e., moms who work at home all day and moms who also work outside the house) do--has spent countless days and nights, by his side, in the hospital.

In the last few months, Parker's battle finally seemed, at times, to have been won; but things are not always as they seem. Last Saturday--May 21st--Parker eagerly participated in the "Relay for Life:" nearing the end of a particularly grueling round of radiation treatments, his mother wrote that, "we remain hopeful that the finish line is in sight." On Sunday, Parker woke up and was almost unable to stand.  He is attended, right now, by hospice volunteers.  

Please say a prayer for Parker, for his mother, Karin, father, Mark, and for his big brother, Austin. 

Growing Up and Other Vices

"It is a wise child knows its own mother."

Saturday, May 24, 2008


We have
to see our children 
for the hope that they are.

This is really worth watching. Education, our children, and the future. Is anything more important?

"If you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original." 
Sir Ken Robinson, on Schools and Creativity...
"we're running national education systems where mistakes are the worst things you can make...we get educated out of {creativity}..."

{The coolest thing is, too, that he's wonderfully funny while he's making a frighteningly important point.}

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What if...

...we begin to look at books for children in a whole new light:  we acknowledge that books, like everything else in our media-saturated world, are about to undergo a profound metamorphosis.  Many, I hope, will soon begin to be made out of sustainable materials...yes, my copy of Cradle to Cradle (signed, no less, by William McDonough) just arrived in the mail.  The pages, which are actually plastic resins and inorganic fillers, have the look and feel of paper.  The entire design (as you would expect, coming from McDonough, Braungart, and crew) is very pleasing...and, it seems, the concept of creating books out of these materials ("Cradle to Cradle" was bound into a book format created by Charles Melcher of Melcher Media) would be especially well suited to books for children.  One wonders why more publishers aren't moving toward this, faster...a plastic book for a child, one that looks and feels like paper...doesn't it seem ideal?  They would be far hardier; less prone to damage from spilled apple juice, and peanut butter smudges, and trips to the pool...

On other fronts, there is a subject about which my book group knows I am quite passionate: getting books to children via the screen, like the one you're looking at right now.  Take note of the $100 laptop featured on the TED site...and the photo in which two children are reading a book.  These laptops will go to children who might not, otherwise, ever own a book.  On this laptop, they will have access to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books.  This is good.  Very, very good.

I don't think that anything can ever replace the glory that is a beautifully bound, gorgeously produced, exquisitely designed GOOD book.  A book stitched together, in the old way, and created with great love and care.  There will, I believe, always be a place for these books.  There will, I am sure, always be a market for them.  That said: we need to add room for the new, and make way for formats that continue to spread literacy in every way possible.  The thing that seems most clear is that the book world is changing: it simply has too...our newest generation, the youngest children, will experience their books in ways we never dreamed can we best facilitate these changes?  Will we do our best, keeping up with this new world of books? Let's hope so.  

There is so much to be gained by it, so many new ways to learn.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

...have those smart people come out of the room yet?

"If you could change any aspect of children's publishing what would it be?"

"Returns, without a doubt.
I believe that some day 
some very smart people 
are going to lock themselves in a room
and figure out 
how to eliminate the monumental waste
 brought on by returns."  

Doug Whiteman, of Penguin Young Readers Group, on (c. 2004?) 

Just stumbled upon this quote, and think that it may--still--be pertinent.  Which seems a little odd, in this day and age.  Do you suppose a locked room would really work?  Has it?  I wonder.

{Illustration, above, is the magical "Eloise," by the marvelous Hilary Knight.}

How do I look?

Have just changed both the title of this blog and some of the fonts...since this is all in the experimental stage, it will be part of the plan--in the future--to make sure that the bits and pieces are complimentary and co-exist in peace. For now, though, I'm still working with a technological learning curve that doesn't get me nearly up to the speed I'd like to be.

It's always nice to know that there's an awful lot more to learn. Learning is good.

On the right, a delightful old house in Weimar that is also waiting for bit of touch up, like our little blog...but is, nonetheless, still beautiful in it's bones.

(note to self: the title of the blog was, originally,
words and pictures)

Lighter Fare, A Sweet Relief: Mrs. Mustard's Baby Faces

On a lighter is the book no baby should be without: 
by the glorious Jane Wattenberg....
it's the absolute must-have board book for any and every baby. Period. The end.  Just take a look at it and you'll see why.  

We, in this house, loved the book to pieces (which is pretty hard to do with a board book). Well, it wasn't really pieces, but we loved it so much and so well that I had a good excuse to go out and get another one.  And every time there is a new baby in our lives, one more "Mrs. Mustard" is purchased and placed in the wee one's trundle bed (or what have you), because every baby needs a good book to chew on--and think about.  This is the book for them.  

You should go out and get yours now. "Mrs. Mustard's Baby Faces" is a glorious romp through baby land, with all of it's wild, endearing--and, sometimes, exasperating--emotions...these Mustard babies, they have it all!  

(And there's much more 
where that came from..
each one a new treat for the eyes!)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"The Search," by Eric Heuvel

As much as I adored real books as a kid, I was equally smitten with comic's pretty certain that most of my allowance (and any other pocket money I had) was spent at the Stars and Stripes bookstore, which was located right next to the Post Exchange, which was situated smack in the middle of Kelley Barracks (the little Army post that my family called home during our first three years in Europe).  Kelley Barracks is in Stuttgart,'ll see why this is important if you can plow through the next few paragraphs.

It's thrilling, to me, to see the continued rise of graphic novels and watch as the lines between written words/illustrations/comic books and high falutin' literature become increasingly blurred.  We live in such a tremendously visual society that it seems crucial that we accept these changes, and the literary uncertainty that they bring, with open arms.  I find myself thinking, often, that the children who are growing up with the internet are becoming much more visually literate than we can actually comprehend...and, as long as we who are teaching them get to throw great ideas and good words into the mix, I believe this will be a very good thing.  Change is the one thing we can count on.

This brings me to "The Search."  As usual, I recommend the New York Times (02.27.08) for a well-considered and fascinating article on the topic.  "The Search," is--as the article says--"to be exact, a comic book about the Holocaust."  It's being used in trial programs in Germany as a text.  

It is, clearly, an unusual way to teach history, especially when one considers the gravity of the subject.  

The reason that the article stopped me in my tracks, though, was that it was published within a week of one of the most amazing conversations I have ever had: it was with a delightful and brilliantly talented illustrator (we had just met, through a mutual friend) who had grown up in Germany, only a few cities away from little Kelley Barracks.  {We are about 10 years apart in age, I think...when I was 12 and spending all my change on Scrooge McDuck comics--they were, I thought, the most well-drawn...something I became obsessed with early on--well, when I was 12, kindergarten was just a twinkle in my new friend's eye.}

What this brilliant illustrator said I cannot easily recount here, but I do remember that it brought tears to my eyes, and made me hope that, someday, should we become good friends (and I hope we might), she can tell me more of these stories so I can know what it must have been like for her to grow up, German, in Munich, in the 1970's, while I was growing up, American, in Stuttgart.  Also, so that--through her stories--I may learn more about many things that seem like they should be fairly clear-cut...but never, really, are.

I'd hoped this would be a short post.  Clearly, it ain't.  Still encouraging you to read the article from the New York Times,  I'd like you to remember that, if we really listen to children, we will often hear the most important truths.  I'll leave you with this, from--of course--the NYT:

"Ask many Germans now in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and they will describe elementary
 and high school history classes that virtually cudgeled them into
 learning about Nazis and the holocaust...'Students had to fight to talk freely
 about the war,' {Jutta Harms} recounted, 
'and, being confronted in class by the emotions of the teachers,
 there wasn't any space to feel for ourselves.'  The comic book, 
she went on, is therefore
 a welcome change."

Put together by the Anne Frank Haus in the Netherlands, "the comic is more heartbreaking for being understated and cautious about violence."  

Let's hope for one more thing: 
that great work like this will continue 
to encourage dialogue
between children and those who teach them.

Where the Wild Things Are

If, which I hope is never the case with any child, we were to only ever give one book to any young person we loved (dearly, truly, with every fiber of our being!),  I suppose that one book would HAVE to be "Where the Wild Things Are." 

There are far too many reasons (to list here) WHY this is the case, but it is the case, nonetheless.  (As far as I can see, anyway.)

Suffice it to say that, when the four children in our house were still little enough to wear their own size 6 wolf suits, this was the book that would come out when it was time to sit all together and end our own wild rumpus and enjoy another one, with Max (who we visited so often he seemed, eventually, to be another member of our family) and the wonderous Wild Things in a land that is "in and out of months and almost over a year" away.  

The movie comes out...soonish?  But, pleasepleaseplease, read the book first.  (For a quick fix, click on the post title, at top, for a lovely rendition of the story.) 

In the immortal words of Maurice Sendak: Let the wild rumpus begin.   

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chrysanthemum Chrysanthemum Chrysanthemum

Kevin Henkes has always been, and always will be, one of my absolutely favorite author/illustrators.  The magic he brings to every story, and the vibrant life he gives to every line, is remarkable.  Even more remarkable is his uncanny ability to profoundly recall childhood memories--memories which many of us mere mortals often seem to sort of gently our glasses, or keys.  

Kevin is among the great ones--the truly magnificent authors and illustrators--who seem, somehow, to still see and feel childhood with a clarity and precision that is simply uncanny.  And even more astonishing, he's just about the nicest guy you'll ever meet.  {Well, once you read "Chrysanthemum," that won't seem astonishing at all.}

You'll have to take my word on this one....or the words of Mrs. Delphinium Twinkle:

"Yes," said Mrs. Twinkle, "I'm named after a flower, too!"  
"You are?" said Victoria.  
"Yes," said Mrs. Twinkle.  
"My name is Delphinium.  Delphinium Twinkle.  
And if my baby is a girl, I'm considering Chrysanthemum as a name.  
I think it's absolutely perfect."
I, too, think Chrysanthemum is an absolutely perfect name.  

Here's to the Chrysanthemums of the world, 
with good cheer and all best wishes...  
from a Victoria.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

No Smoking: Optics, Jena, and A Brilliant Tagger

This piece speaks, eloquently, for itself.

Great art, like great truth, can be found in some unexpected places.

Like the Bauhaus photos, I took this, also, last a sweet town a few klicks away from Weimar:  Jena, Germany.

Jena is lovely, in so many ways; a university town, a town with historical importance--Ernst Abbe and Carl Zeiss were instrumental in ushering in our modern world here, thanks to their work with optics--and it is a town where, it seems to me, the economy is still very difficult, even twenty years after the Wall came down.  

East Germany could not have been an easy place to live...and even today, some people who might be great graphic artists here--in Silicon Valley--seem to be taggers in Jena.  

At least, I suppose, they have found a voice.  This bright voice, above, remains stuck in my head, and seems quite charming, indeed.

Great art is in the eye of the beholder; the great truths are in your heart.

Happy Birthday, Walter Gropius

These photos, again, are from the Bauhaus Museum in Weimar.  

Life in Weimar really wasn't that easy for the Bauhaus crew.  They didn't quite mesh with most of the citizens of the city, due (in large part) to their religious persuasions and art|design proclivities.  Famously, it was, mostly (from what I remember reading) that little religous problem that shut the school down far too soon.  

Walter Gropius and his crew persisted, and we are all the beneficiaries.  To go to the museum, and see just how much of the 20th century was birthed in that little city, is purely astonishing.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Gropius, and thanks for your vision.  So very glad it wasn't just a dream.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Blogger and Bauhaus

Let us take a moment, or maybe a few eons, to praise the work of bunch of folks who have given us a bit of truth and beauty and clarity in this crazy world.

Blogger.  Where else can someone who is a complete neophyte actually navigate toward a somewhat comprehensible blog (even if I do try to be succinct but inevitably turn into the long-winded lady...), a blog that even gets to have some of the bells and whistles?  The product is so clear, so beautifully put together, so intuitive, that even I can do this.  You guys rock.  All of your hard work makes this look easy...which brings me to the next thought...

Gropius & Bauhaus.  For the past few months, every road I have taken seems to have brought me back to Bauhaus.  Weimar, Albers, Gropius, Jena...and I find myself with only the beginning of understanding.  But, to be in Weimar last summer, and stand in the Bauhaus Museum, and see what these amazing men and women created: it is still too stunning to me, the breadth of it. Many of the photos that dot my blogs are from the museum and surrounds.  Again, their desire to bring clarity and beauty, combined with form and function, to all those who use design--i.e., everyone--continually reminds me that we are all indebted to these folks...and, as I wish to truly thank those at blogger, past and present, for their amazing work, I'd like to put you guys in the company of the great ones.  Thanks, again.

Jonathan Cott's "Pipers at the Gates of Dawn"

Love this quote from Iona and Peter Opie that Jonathan Cott has included in "Pipers at the Gates of Dawn"

"...It seems to us that something is lacking in our understanding of the child community, that we have forgotten Cowper's dictum that 'Great schools suit best the sturdy and the rough,' and that in our continual search for efficient units of educational administration we have overlooked that the most precious gift we can give the young is social space: the necessary space--or privacy--in which to become human beings."

The First Graphic Novel for Children, circa 1941?

And some folks think graphic novels (novellas? children's lit novellas?) are new....look at what an eminently talented, and cool, mom did in 1941. 

If "Millions of Cats," by Wanda Gag, appeals to you, you'll probably LOVE this goodie....Burton created "Calico" to appeal to her boys, who loved the comic books that were so prevalent (and continue to be) so popular at the time.

What Memory, Saints and Poets, my Grandparents, and the SFMOMA have to do with each other.

Emily, sitting in the graveyard with the other dead souls of Grover's Corners, utters the first half of one of the most poignantly exquisite (according to me) moments in English literature...the Stage Manager answers her, if I remember correctly, with the second half...and I can't find my copy of the book right now. So, it goes something like this...

Emily:  do they (the living) every realize it, do they?  (re: the temporal beauty of life)

then the stage manager says something simple and wonderful, about:  the saints and poets,  they do

well, I was supposed to be Emily in the Boblingen Junior High School presentation of "Our Town" and--let me tell you--I was very very excited about whiting out my face with good makeup and mushing my red "I -am-supposed-to-be-one-of-the-dead" hair all up crazy-like with twigs and leaves (this presaged a significant obsession with hair and make-up, unfortunately, that still haunts me to this day)...anyhow, my family had to go to Italy (don't cry for me, I know) and I didn't get to be the star, but I will always, always love my connection to the magnificence that is Emily...

So, a few years ago, I did a funny little piece for an event for the SFMOMA that was built around the saints and poets quote: an homage to my grandparents (Vivian Ann and Robert Lincoln Lee)--who, brillant souls that they were, adored San Francisco--and what does this have to do with anything?

Well, if I hadn't gone to Italy, and I had memorized the lines, I'd probably be able to recite them for you at this moment.  But, then again, probably not.  Because I did star in "Visit to a Small Planet" (you saw me in it, in the Boblingen Junior High Gymnasium, right?), by Gore Vidal, and I don't remember a single word of it.  

Richard Jackson and the Bapa Raja

That said (about Katherine being the true Lupine Lady), I must give a shout out to Richard Jackson, who saw (as he has so often seen so much of so many wonderful things) her extraordinary is a man who sows the lupines, too.

Richard Jackson, our hat is off to you.  Always.  You are an editor and writer (oh, the exquisite yumminess of "A Year is a Window," with paintings by Erik Blegvad) and visionary that makes the world a more beautiful place.   As a splendid king, the Bapa Raja, once said, "You will remain in my heart," forever.

Miss Rumphius & "When the Library Lights Go Out"

On the wonderous Katherine Tillotson (seen at right, on the right hand side of the additionally perfectly wonderous Peter Sis, who wrote 
"The Wall," and if you don't have THAT you should get it right this very second, and then come back here...)  

I have been in love with Barbara Cooney's splendid masterpiece, "Miss Rumphius," since I worked at the marvelous, magical Hicklebee's Bookstore (in little Willow Glen, on Lincoln Avenue, in San Jose, California).  

Valerie Lewis and Monica Holmes and Jan Gottlieb are responsible for that (Hicklebee's and "Miss Rumphius").

Miss Rumphius spends a good deal of her life making the world a more beautiful place.  {She does an exceedingly good job of doing so.}  

She made me love lupines (and want to live on the coast of Maine). dear and honored friend Katherine Tillotson (a magnificent illustrator, herself)...just between you and I, it must be said: I think she is really Miss Rumphius, come to life.  

Miss Katherine would throw back her lovely head and softly laugh at this notion, but I think it is true.  She is the gentlest of souls, and has the most exquisite way of approaching life and friendships and children and flowers and everything else that matters, as these things matter that matter most of all.

{Do you want to know how I know the undeniable proof about the "Miss Rumphius" part?  Katherine has the green coat, and the very exactly the same hair, and her eyes are just perfectly like the Lupine Lady's.  It is an irrefutable factiod, to be sure:  I promise you.}  

So, there you have it, Miss Rumphius is alive and well and living in San Francisco and illustrating books.  And the world is much more beautiful for it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Robert L. Lee & The Long-Winded Lady

"At home or away, we are homesick for New York not because New York used to be better and not because she used to be worse but because the city holds us and we don't know why."

"The Long-Winded Lady:  Notes from the New Yorker" 
by Maeve Brennan
William Morrow & Co., Inc., 1969

Cookbooks and Kids

The New York Times has a lovely article in yesterday's paper about cookbooks for kids.  Why is this important?

Great solace can be found in a cookbook, whether one cooks or not.  There was a certain 9-year-old redhead who, while her father was worlds away, spents hours--actually, probably, weeks and months--poring over Betty Crocker's NEW Boys and Girls Cookbook.  

Could Ice Cream Flower Pots and Kookie Kat Sundaes keep the guerillas in black pajamas from hurting her dad?  Of course not.  Would the Enchanted Castle Cake ever, in her lifetime, be created, no matter how many times she studied the instructions?  Doubtful.  Would, once I really truly had grown up, I be adept at Crisp Relishes ("Fancy little extras like these always look tricky.  But they're really easy and fun to make."!).  Nope.  Didn't happen.

But Betty, and the kids within, and the Flopsy Mopsy Carrots were soothing, a blissful relief in a mad mad world where Daddy was sent to a place of fierce, whirring helicopters, and bandaged men on stretchers, a place that we used to watch on the evening news (but suddenly stopped, once he left). Now, Mom passed the long night hours typing article after article for the local papers, typing letters--with an APO address--to be sent to Vietnam.  How many evenings did my sister and I fall asleep to the clacking of the Remington typewriter...visions of Clown Cupcakes dancing in my head, a book clutched in one hand, a soft blanket in the other, my sister a whisper away?  

Somewhere around 365 nights, until the day Dad was waiting in the living room for us, after we ran home from swim practice, and we knew he was safe and sound and we were back in his arms and his helicopter wouldn't go down, forever, into a dark and far away jungle, like Uncle Lon's did.

Perhaps the key was on page 141.  If I read the book hard enough, and well enough, and learned all of it's secrets, page one forty one would come true.  It was a cure, magic words and pictures in a dark forest: the light that only a loved and trusted treatise can provide.  

Page 141, "Feast for Father":

"Dad will be so very pleased and proud if his Father's Day or birthday dinner is cooked by you! Switch jobs with Mother and let her be your assistant for such a special occasion.  She'll be happy to set the table, make the coffee, and give any other help needed with these recipes for a family of four."

We were a family of four, and it was my job to bring Daddy home, safely: all I had to do was read the NEW Boys and Girls Cookbook, and study it, and plan, and--when the time arrived--have a feast for father waiting when he got home.

Cookbooks are good for kids.  

A Book by The Cover

It is the union of beauty and truth that create a masterwork.  Were a masterpiece of literature to be adorned with an ugly cover...could we still call it a masterpiece?

It seems we should, but it also seems that extreme care must be taken in manifesting a great work of art, and book covers are best when created with the highest possible intention  by true artists, to complement the work within, and not done by committee for the benefit of pleasing a multitude of (sometimes questionable) aesthetics.  

{At this juncture we must tip our hat to Chip Kidd, who walks with the giants--including Paul Rand--on this front: long may you reign, Mr. Kidd.}

Herewith, a great cover wraps a great work, in Weimar (again).

I Am Home

"Looking deeply in to reality, you can discover many things. You can surmount so much suffering and counter many wrong perceptions. If we can abide peacefully in the ultimate dimension, we will not drown in the ocean of suffering, grief, fear and despair."  (Thich Nhat Hanh, "No Death, No Fear.")

On Monday, earthquakes in China and coffee in Menlo Park.  On Tuesday, Robert Rauschenberg passes on to his next magnificent work.  On Wednesday, rest.  On Thursday, Andrew Ogus is a happy camper.  What might Friday bring?  "I am home."

"When we live in the present moment, it is possible to live in true happiness." (Hahn)

Look around, for beauty is often found in places you might not expect...

A manhole cover in Weimar, Germany.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

" 'sits poetry..."

"It's the way of looking at something different that artists give...the blindness to convention, the search for the new, the willingness to toe or breach the boundaries..."

from the youtube video of Robert Rauschenberg, speaking about his erasure of de Kooning's work...and as soon as I am more technically astute, I will link it to this site...(and it is from a blog link on Eric Case's "Vedana," just to add to the current confusion of this post)...


suppose I should mention what Emily has to say about Saints and Poets, but I will do that soon enuf...

The photo is of my grandmother's scrapbook, made while she was in Nursing School, sometime in the 1920's, I surprised me, in it's similarity to things I have done, and her lovely graphic is "scraps and readymades...something out of nothing," a few years before Robert R. got there (quote: NYT obit, 14May08).

One never knows, do one?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

For the Beautiful Things on the Misty Sea: Thank You, Ann and Eric

"'Twas all so pretty a sail, it seemed
As if it could not be;
And some folk thought 'twas a dream 
they'd dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea;
But I shall name you the fisherman three,
and Nod....

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one's trundle-bed;
So shut your eyes while Mother sings 
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock on the misty sea..."

Never has there been a Mother's Day weekend like this.  The pipers at the gates of dawn are dancing. A thousand thanks for the beauty of yesterday's misty sea.  

Excerpts from "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod," by Eugene Field

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Marvelous Mr. Cott

If you were to only ever read one book about books that most people call "children's books," (disclaimer:  I believe that the best children's books stand amongst the world's greatest literature, in every sense of the word--and then some--and, to quote the back cover of the book I'm going to mention at some point in this paragraph after this too-long sentence, these best children's books "are not meant only for children but are significant sources of delight and wisdom for grown-ups as well").  Alrighty.   The book?  "Pipers at the Gates of Dawn," by the amazing Jonathan Cott.  

If I were to write a dissertation, it would somehow have this book holding the center (is that how you say it? I will have to ask the brilliant Dr. Bev Hock how to say this, at a later date).  Mr. Cott has conversed and/or presented the work-behind-the-work of Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, William Stieg, Astrid Lindgren, Chinua Achebe, P. L. Travers, and the ICONIC Opies.  All in 301 pages.  Amahhhhzing, as Seth Rudetsky is wont to say.

I purchased the book in the summer of 1989, at Chanticleer, in Los Gatos. It was a few short weeks before a substantial earthquake shook the little bookstore in Los Gatos loose from it's foundations...and my life changed, with this book and that little shaken store and the riding that rootin' tootin' earthquake out in a fourth-grade catechism class I was teaching in Saratoga.  {But that is for later, that story...I suppose...and for now, I simply must say unto you that Jonathan Cott's masterful interpretation of 'the Wisdom of Children's Literature' is simply not to be missed, if you care about these things.}

And, while you are at it, check out "The Roses Race Around Her Name:  Poems from Fathers to Daughters"...but not from the West Springfield High School library (I still have their copy, unfortunately).  

It was years...sometime well into the '90s, surely...before I realized that Mr. Cott was responsible for two of the most seminal books in my life: one purchased at the soon-to-be-epicenter of an earthquake, another softly swiped in 1976 from my high school library, because I could simply not bear to part with it. 

Cheers to the marvelous Mr. Cott: long may he write.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

this started off as "simplicity," and turned into a bit o' a manifesto

A book, a pencil; paper and glue; a photograph, a moment of song or dance or anything that could be viewed and reviewed and loved for years to come...

The way in which media currently cross-pollinates and the broad definition of what might be art: these will, inevitably, redefine the way children look at books in the coming generations.  Hundreds of years ago, hornbooks were used to teach in school rooms...these gave way to chalk-covered slates, which gave way to papers and pencils and piles of texts...and, as I type this on my well-loved macbook, I think of what the near future holds for classrooms...  Evolution happens.  As we embrace the long tradition of great books, so should we embrace the change that is coming about, and the implications it has for the children of the world.   

The discomfort in the newsroom and the publishing houses today (thus, my little "sigh") will give way to, I hope, a new understanding: the acceptance that children are going to be finding text and illustration in a variety of formats, and it will be a good thing.  

We must embrace the democratization of art and media; through this portal, great things shall pass.  

Children who might never have received a book will find the pictures and words online, if we put them in the right places.  The literary reach that can be created, should we allow ourselves to envision it, can be broad and far.  It is the job of the generation that is reading this to extend the capabilities of literature for children: to bring the product to the consumer in a variety of fashions, all of which are preferable to no literature at all (which is what far too many children receive).  

As for the literature that is available:  there are such magnificent, wonderous artists out there... illustrators and authors who could become, I hope, household words.  

That every child might know Maurice Sendak and "The Wild Things" is good, and that they might be introduced to them through the magic of books or film or storytelling...all of this is forward movement, for it gives the stories to the children.  

My children grew up with "Mrs. Mustard's" baby faces strewn about the house...we literally adored the books to bits, and had to go out and get more.  To meet the real Mrs. Mustard--the amazing and erudite Jane Wattenberg--several years ago was a surprise and a delight...she is every bit as fabulous as her books.  

In Connecticut, when our children were still in highchairs and onesies, it was Thacher Hurd who saved many an afternoon...a raucous late-lunch version of "Mama Don't Allow" would bring the house down and quiet the crowd (there were three little ones then, and it could be quite a task to settle everyone).  Once they were all thoroughly enveloped in the world of rollicking, guitar-playing, bayou-dwelling alligators, the my three little red-cheeked rowdies would listen in rapture...and the blissful moment of joy that accompanies the last page of a well-loved book would lead us into a quieter afternoon.

The glorious, shifting chaos that is media today...the re-structuring of the way we think about books and words and pictures now that we are well past the dawn of the internet...the possibility of bringing these forms of art, in a variety of media, to children throughout the world (especially children who might never have had exposure to the magnificent literary gifts that so many talented authors and illustrators give us)...these can be harbingers of great good.

We have the opportunity to bring great art to many children.  If we can let go of previous notions about how this literature should be delivered, we can move forward, through the chaos--and toward a more literate future, at a respectable pace.  

Words and Pictures: Living with Books

Few joys in childhood equal the moment one opens a book, looks at a page, and sees something so delightful it seems that it was put there just for you.  

For a child who lives in a house full of books, there are moments of joy all simply has to open one and fall in...  

That was the kind of house I grew up in, and it is the kind of house I have now.  

It is the kind of house I wish every child could live in, for reading and looking and thinking and loving books are great things for children to do, and these things are often much easier when there are books to love on every shelf and table, books in every room, books being read at night before bed and books being brought to the breakfast table because you simply don't want to be without them.... 

It's a world I wish all children could have, this world of books.  

To create an little living room full of books, that's the aim here.  

Spend a moment browsing, take a second to look at a sweet story you might have loved long ago or will love long into the future: an old story, a new one...well-loved and well-brought up, shiny and new or tattered and soft from years of rapt attention. 

They'll drift in, bit by bit, these books; I hope they seem delightful, and--best of all--put there just for you.