Friday, August 18, 2017

Let's Not Forget - Diana Wynne Jones

The summer before I turned nine I didn't get to the library nearly enough. I read the books my parents had saved from their childhood since we were not really book buying people. (Hint: we couldn't go very many places since child #6 was an infant. It's hard to travel with five rangy kids and an infant. Also, buy books? That's why we have libraries. 'Nuff said.) And I read ONE book* 22 times.

I still re-read books but more than three times? Ha! There are too many books in the world for that!  EXCEPT.... for The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones. 19 times and counting.  Every so often, I remember that scene in World (I forget which world it was.  Is it time to re-read the book?) when Christopher must stand firm and haughty in order to save Tacroy's life. And I ask myself, "What did he say? How did that scene go?" Because, that scene is truly wonderful. Every detail means something.
Proud and haughty!

Fantasy lovers everywhere; raise your water bottles high in praise and remembrance of Diana Wynne Jones.  Her plots are so complex that re-reading is never a waste of time. She was the almost first fantasy author I ever read that moved fantasy into the modern world. (I keep forgetting Edward Eager's books and E. Nesbit's Sand Fairy.) OK, so Dianna Wynne Jones was the first fantasy author that I NOTICED had moved fantasy into the modern world.  Witch WeekThe Homeward Bounders! Howl's Moving CastleThe exclamation marks are mine, not part of the titles.  I could read them ALL again. 

Four (or more) books follow the career of Christopher Chant, Chrestomanci.  One, my favorite, (see above) shows how he became the administrator of all magic in his world - a job his arrogant nature is not well-suited for. He plays pivotal parts in the The Magicians of Caprona  and Charmed Life. In Witch Week, Chant arrives to smooth out magic gone awry - still a pivotal part but you don't get a feel for his personality.  I only read Conrad's Fate once but Chrestomanci had influence there as well.

Oh, the Goddess!  And those Milly books! Yes.  Just thinking about her books makes me break out in happy memories. 

She left this world in 2011.  We might find her impression as a time ghost in Time City (A Tale of Time City), should we be lucky enough to travel there. 

*That 22 times-read book was Little Men by Louisa May Alcott. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Secret Agents of Good - Booklists

Little Blue Bunny does not watch the news.  If he did, he'd be very sad this week. People all over the world are hurting and killing other people for no good reason.  (The details make my heart ache too much to go into.)

How can I explain all this to a Little Blue Bunny who only wants to be a Secret Agent of Good?  I can't.  I can only say what Mr. Rogers quoted his mother as saying.  "Look for the Helpers, Little Blue Bunny."
Can that Panda be a helper?

I can also share lists of books on the fight for equal rights, on kindness, and on diversity.  Here are those lists.

In December of 2016, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted an article titled 1. "New Books for Young Readers Tackle Kindness and Friendship.  THIS LIST IS AWESOME.  The list is a wild mix of stories, history, slice-of-life, coming-of-age,  novels, graphic novels that tackle every aspect of kindness.  From something as ordinary as the day to day life of a cowboy, to different species combining resources to survive the wild, to learning how to fit in,  every title increases the readers understanding of the complexity of human problems and the simplicity of being kind.  LOVE 💖
(Warning: You might have to fill out a short survey to read the entire article.  My survey was on what kind of cheese sauce I buy.)

Social Justice Books put together 2. this 2017 summer reading list for readers of all ages.  The titles are 2016 and 2017 copyrights.  Check out the other booklists on this website. There are dozens of lists.

Brightly offers a list of 3. "Books To Help Kids Understand the Fight for Racial Equality".  The list is a good place to start.  From picture books, through memoirs the list traces voting rights, the "separate and equal" myth, and biographies of influential rights workers.  This list is too short.  Add to it, please.

NNSTOY (Nation Network of State Teachers of the Year) produced a lovely illustrated and annotated 4. booklist on Social Justice.  The list is 42 pages long and covers racism, sexism, different abilities, gender bias, abuse, slavery, war, apartheid, the Holocaust, religious freedom.  Print it out and carry it with you the next you take your children to the library.

Today's Parent (a Canadian parenting magazine) offers 5. 12 Kids' Books That Combat Anti-Semitism.  This slide show offers short descriptions of 12 books that explain Jewish holidays, culture and most importantly, history.  Books about the Holocaust and more recent acts of anti-semitism (although not all that recent) allow children of all faiths to see models of kindness and character.

The Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin developed this bibliography of children's books on social justice in 2003 and updated it twice, most recently in 2016. 6. 50 Books about Peace and Social Justice.

Back in November, less than a week after my birthday, the day after the 2016 elections (sigh),  I put together this little list of booklists about diversity.  Diversity and Stuff.  

Little Blue Bunny and I will continue to spread joy and kindness where we can.  You are loved.  Pass it on.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Let's Not Forget - Edward Ardizzone

He was seven.  I was a librarian.  I brought home Sarah and Simon and No Red Paint. We became enamored with the stories and the art of Edward Ardizzone.

The plight of the hard working and deserving artist (semi-autobiographical?  Who knows?), the kind, well-behaved and selfless children - a brother and sister who do not fight! - and the gruff uncle who sees the error of his ways - all the makings of a Victorian melodrama are found in a book published in 1965.

Most of Ardizzone's books follow this template.  His Tim and Ginger books always cast Tim as the hero, although he is often misunderstood.  Ginger falls prey to foolishness and sometimes cowardice.  Still, he manages to redeem himself with an act of bravery, kindness, cleverness or all three!  There is nothing but the very best kind of honor among Ardizzone's heroes - honesty, humility and respect.

There is also a ridiculous amount of independence and an unbelievable amount of quick-thinking and heroism.  That's the third H!  Honesty, humility and heroism!

If you look at the body of Ardizzone's work, he illustrated the work of a great many fine children's authors and other authors as well, Dylan Thomas and Charles Dickens among them.

Ardizzone won the very first Kate Greenaway prize in 1956, the British equivalent of the Caldecott Medal, for his book Tim All Alone.

5 odd memes in children's books

Hamsters.  Piano Hamster, notwithstanding, the presence of so many hamsters in children's books makes me very suspicious.  Are our children's minds being prepared for a cute tubby rodent takeover??? AAAAAAAAAHHH!  Hamster Princess, Hamstersaurus Rex.
Which one is the hamster?

Cystic Fibrosis.  All chronic illnesses are distressing.  Being born with something that threatens to end your life earlier than ever wished adds urgency and angst to your normally care-free childhood days.  Raina Telgemeier's Ghosts and Caleb and Kit, both deal with major characters who suffer from cystic fibrosis. 

Parentified children - This one is not new.  But it showing up more and more.  When parents become overwhelemd with anxiety, work stress, depression or illness, the children start to take on caretaking duties.  Children as young as seven serve as organizers and cooks. None of these children are quite so young. Caleb and Kit; Mrs. Bixby's Last Day; See You in the Cosmos

Lying - not new, either.  We tell lies to protect ourselves, to deflect blame, to hide, to manipulate and to gain power. Lying is so very prevalent these days. - We Were Liars, The Lie Tree

Wishing on trees.  This is a great idea.  We should all treasure our trees.  If superstition makes us take better care of oxygen producing plants, I say, Huzzah!  Wishing Day seriesThe Wishtree.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Her Right Foot

I never stood at the base of the Statue of Library but millions of people have.  One person noticed that her right foot is caught in the act of stepping.  One person noticed.  One person wondered.  A book was born.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Secret Agents of Good Training

Little Blue Bunny wants to be a spy.  But, he doesn't want to lie, or steal, or hurt people.  Sometimes spies have to do those things.  Oh, the moral dilemmas a little bunny can find himself in!
Secret Hideout?

No worries!  He will be a Secret Agent of Good!  He will secretly learn ways to secretly help his neighbors and friends, on the sly (which means secretly).

But first he has to TRAIN:  All spies (or SAOG, Secret Agents of Good) must be very good at observation, memory and being inconspicuous.

Training Session #1:  Observing things with your eyes.

Game #1: Spies play this game all the time.  Put 6 or more items on a tray.  Study the tray for 15 seconds.  That's not very long.  The trainer takes the tray away and removes one or more items.  Now, the SAOG trainee must remember what was taken from the tray.
Variation:  The trainer ADDS something to the tray.  The trainee must notice what was added.

Don't look in there!
Game #2: The trainer places objects around a room or yard.  The objects should NOT be hidden in or behind anything.  The trainee has a list of the items and walks around the area until she finds them.  Then she reports to the trainer where each item is. 
Variation:  The trainee doesn't have a list.  The items are things that do NOT belong in the room they are placed in.  For example, pots in the living.  Sofa cushions in the yard. 
- OK, this is harder, especially in Little Blue Bunny's house where things routinely are out of place.
Variation #2:  The trainee studies the room.  Then the Trainer adds something in plain sight, or moves things around.  The trainee returns and finds the changes. 

Training Session #2:  Observing things with your ears.

Game #1.  The trainer stands behind the trainee and uses different items to make noises.  The trainee must guess what they are.

Game #2:  The trainee is blind folded.  The trainer calls from different places in the space.  The trainee has to point in the direction the sound comes from.

Game #3:  The trainer claps a rhythm and the trainee has to copy the rhythm.

Game #4:  The trainer stands out of sight and says the same phrase in different voices; sad, happy, angry, surprised, shy, scared.  The trainee must identify the emotion.  This is tricky! The trainer better be very good at expressing emotions with her voice.

LBB plans with other SAOG.

There are other ways of observing things.  Scent is one.  Touch is another way of observing things.

When you have passed these two trainings, Little Blue Bunny will be back with training on scent and touch.

What Good will you do once you complete your Secret Agents of Good Training?  Little Blue Bunny wants some ideas.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Let's NEVER Forget - Lloyd Alexander

“In whatever guise — our own daily nightmares of war, intolerance, inhumanity; or the struggles of an Assistant Pig-Keeper against the Lord of Death — the problems are agonizingly familiar,” he (Lloyd Alexander) said in his Newbery acceptance speech in 1969. “And an openness to compassion, love and mercy is as essential to us here and now as it is to any inhabitant of an imaginary kingdom.” (From Lloyd Alexander's obituary in the New York Times, May 19th, 2007.)

The Prydain Chronicles are Alexander's most famous books.  Based loosely on - or inspired by - The Mabinogion, the huge Welsh mythology, the books follow the fate of an Assistant Pig-Keeper, Taran, as he fights for survival against a growing evil.  The final book, The High King, won Alexander his Newbery Award.

My favorite series by Lloyd Alexander was the Vesper Holly series.  17-year-old Vesper leads her guardian on a merry chase through several continents, hunting down the research that Vesper's late father left undone;  and barely escaping the clutches of the evil Dr. Helvetious at every turn.  Raiders of the Lost Ark was still very popular when the Vesper Holly books were published.  Indiana Jones had NOTHING on Vesper Holly. 

If you want insight into Lloyd Alexander's boyhood, you might read The Gawgon and the Boy.   Alexander claimed that it was not autobiographical.  Still, I suspect the Boy shares a lot with the young Alexander.

5 Things I Know About Lloyd Alexander

1.  He died a mere two weeks after his wife died.
2.  He never saw either of his parents read a book.
3.  He went to Haverford but only attended for a term.
4.  He claimed that he modeled the character, Fflewdur Fflam, on himself - his appearance and his propensity for breaking things.
5.  He died before his final book was published, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio.

Lloyd Alexander was an American treasure - and a proud Philadelphian, to boot.  Huzzah!