Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bouncing Around

Last night I was looking for my copy of Camilla Gryski's Cat's Cradle book.  I want to relearn the "Yam Thief" series of string figures.  I did not find the book - sigh - AGAIN.  But I found Finding Day's Bottom by Candace Ransom.  I got this book directly from Candace at the 2006 Book Expo and- astonishment of astonishments! I never read it!!!

So, last night, I read it.  It is a slight book - size wise - about an 11 year old girl adjusting to the changes that happen after her father is killed in an accident at the sawmill.  She misses her Daddy immensely.  And her grandfather moves down off the mountain into their home because, her mother tells her, "It's not good for old people to stay by themselves."

Jane-Ery, the heroine, learns a lot from her Grandpap.  She learns folklore about plants and planting and she learns how to weave pine needle baskets.  And she learns about people and their choices through the stories her grandfather tells.  And she gets all the way to Christmas, worrying about the unpaid bills under the sugar bowl, and how to earn her mother's approval, and where in heaven or earth is this "Day's Bottom" her grandfather is always talking about.

I gobbled this book up - the folk wisdom, the moods, the grief, the work and chores and endless worry. - I have been a fan of just-getting-by fiction forever, especially books that take place in rural areas.

It started with the stories in our grade school readers that detailed the lives of the pioneers - how they grew their food and wove their cloth.  And there was a book about Cody; he made himself a fiddle while his sister made a quilt and hid it from him the whole time.  Then, there are the Little House books.

But the books I enjoy the most are the stories of more modern day people -the books about how hard scrabble patches of earth got their owners through the Great Depression or the 1950s or the 1980s or last week.  Or stories like Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor or the books of Rebecca Caudill, Robbie Branscum, Ruth White.

One of the things that I most appreciate in this genre is the role that oral tradition, storytelling, plays in the books.  Rather than telling a child that he shouldn't be jealous, a father or grandmother or big sister tells a fairy tale about something happening to a jealous character.  Teach and entertain.  That's just part of what stories do.

Talking about stories, the National Storytelling Network has entered the blogosphere with a new presence on the web - up there in my list of blogs in the upper right hand corner.  The first post is an essay on how hard it is for our digital youngsters to "talk" and the essayist isn't writing about storytelling.  She's writing about oral communication, just the art of looking a person in the eye and telling them something. Think about all those young ones staring at their phones, thumbs at the ready.  And sometimes the people they are texting are within sight.  Put the digital communicators away, please.  Let's tell some riddles.

Bouncing right along here - I did tell some riddles this morning at the Stories in the Schools program I did with amazing teen volunteers, Alisha, Raj, Anushka and Natalie.  We read books, made string figures, played games, blew bubbles, had a fun time.  We even had a string figure expert in our audience. This is all part of the Parkland Community Library's Summer Reading Club.

Tomorrow, the same activities but a different cast of volunteers will join me at Parkway Manor School at 1:30 pm and Thursday, we head over the Schnecksville School at 10 am.  If you are in the area, you should drop by.  I'll do some string figures for you.

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