2.28.2011

It Was a Dark and Stormy Afternoon . . .

It is an apocalyptic grey outside, and the dog is shaking and panting under my desk.  There is most certainly a storm on the way, but we are currently just balanced on its precipice, peering over the edge at it. I've been reading The Berenstain Bears Play T-Ball and listening to my son play in the "rocket" he and his sister concocted this morning before school.

I'm still in the midst of Jess Walters' The Zero, which is fascinating and intriguing and wonderful and fine and riveting and disturbing, but I won't post about it until I've finished.  I'm also preparing a talk on poetry and writing and craft, so I wandered the stacks and came home with Auden's The Shield of Achilles, The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, a collection of essays called Can Poetry Matter?, and a tiny 1919 Cambridge UP publication entitled The Measures of the Poets.  I'm feeling pretty geeked out.  Plus, I played 'pileated' (yes, all 7 letters) last night on Words for Friends (on my first play - I'm intimidating like that) and can support my knowledge of that word with personal photos of a pileated woodpecker.  Ubergeek.

The first lines of the titular essay in Can Poetry Matter? offer some interesting comments on the state of poetry in contemporary America:
American poetry now belongs to a subculture.  No longer part of the mainstream of artistic and intellectual life, it has become the specialized occupation of a relatively small and isolated group.  Little of the frenetic activity it generates ever reaches outside that closed group.  As a class, poets are not without cultural status.  Like priests in a town of agnostics, they still command a certain residual prestige.  But as individual artists they are almost invisible. (1)
Though I agree with much of what the author, Dana Gioia, is saying here, I disagree with the notion that poets have retained a prestige or higher status; in fact, I would go so far as to argue that poets are often considered the lowest forms of writers.  Like the old (and patently false) adage, "those who can't, teach," many would argue, "those who can't write a great american novel write poetry."  (For the record, I also take issue with his statement about priests in a town of agnostics; outsiders they most certainly would be, but I do not see how that relationship would grant them prestige.)  As a poet (albeit perhaps a bad one), I lament the distance that has grown up around poetry as an enjoyable art.  And unfortunately, I'm not sure what, if anything, can be done to stop the decline.


Do you read poetry?  If so, who?  And do you agree poetry has become a marginalized subculture?  Or does it still retain an aura of prestige?

2.24.2011

Author Interview: Erin E. Tocknell

Daylight had come in earnest, and we were downtown, below shining glass skyscrapers that were supported by steel and housed technology firms enjoying the dot-com boom. Fresh from the ruins, seeing the world as I did, I wondered what separated technology from industry besides a few decades and a stretch of river. The bridges were golden and flared pink in the morning sunlight. Everyone in Pittsburgh could see the skyscrapers, the bustle of commerce, the traffic streaming across the bridges. Only we rowers were treated daily to a view of what was holding everything up: steel bolts passing through steel plates, like massive knuckles gripping an arm, and long girders, where pigeons made their nests. The sunlight came through the railroad bridges and backlit a grid of triangles and rectangles. Form and function: Rowers dream of this at night, seek it in the morning. It was all around us, like water molecules. How long until this, too, would be abandoned?
My friend Erin has just published her first book, a creative nonfiction collection that handles such issues as race, class, home, family, and self.  It's called Confederate Streets after some of the street names in the suburban Nashville neighborhood of her childhood.  The passage at top is from the closing chapter, which was originally an award-winning essay entitled "Rowing Through the Ruins."  You can read it in its entirety here.  I'm thrilled to be able to provide a guest review of Erin's book on SavvyVerse&Wit next week, and I'll post a link to the full review at that time.  Until then, I thought I'd whet your appetites with an informal interview with the author.

A little background: Erin is a teacher and Assistant Director of the Writing Center at The McCallie School, a boys' boarding school in Chattanooga, TN.  She coaches crew, advises the literary magazine, and somehow finds time to write like the professional she is.  She earned her BA from Carnegie Mellon and her MFA from WVU.  Her book has been published by Benu Press.

SC: Why creative nonfiction?  What is it about this genre that especially speaks to you?

ET: I've always been obsessed with true stories - I remember librarians, teachers, and my parents used to ask me, "Don't you want to read this novel?" Nope, I wanted the Childhoods of Famous Americans series and those horrid "Drama in Real Life" stories in Reader's Digest and encyclopedias.
When it came time to choose a career path, I went with journalism, but after a couple years of being a newspaper reporter, I came to realize that, for me, truth wasn't enough unless I could ascribe some sort of meaning to it.   That's what I really like about creative nonfiction. The fact that you can find symbol, metaphor, and recurring motifs in real life somehow makes both life and literature feel more relevant and necessary and beautiful.

SC: You once called your MFA program "The Little MFA Program That Could" because of the recent success of the participants in your class.  What made the WVU MFA experience so important to you?


ET: I think the MFA program at West Virginia University reflects the general ethos of the state - work hard to reach your goals but don't get arrogant. The faculty is devoted, and my peers and I were collectively focused on taking our work very seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.  That created an environment where people really did help each other with their writing in direct, constructive ways. The first time I went to a writers' workshop after grad school, I encountered the arrogant, self-aggrandizing types I'd heard about but never witnessed first-hand. I would never have become a decent writer with those people around me. Ugh  

Oh, and "The Little MFA Program that Could?"  Seriously. I was just at a 10th Anniversary celebration for the WVU MFA during AWP, and it's ridiculous.  Just from the people in my workshops alone we have a Pushcart Prize winner, something like three notables in the Best American Essays, two guys who are running lit journals, a woman who just edited an anthology of essays about Mennonite martyrs, and three book publications.  Oh, I know I'm leaving some stuff out.  And we were all sitting around, drinking wine and quoting snatches of each others' work that we'd read and remembered from workshops that were 5 or 6 years ago.  That's some genuine support and interest there. Let's go, Mountaineers! 

SC: Your book focuses on Nashville, TN, where you grew up.  You live now in Chattanooga, TN, but you've lived in other parts of the country.  How important is landscape and region to your writing?

ET: This is hard to articulate, really. I can't imagine not being tuned into the landscape or a sense of the region around me. I've always lived around hills or mountains and I love the mystery of them - the way a mountain can both augment and obscure your view.  Landscape inspires me.  In most of my pieces, describing landscape is the foundation I begin with and I build it up from there, just as, I think, landscape is at the core of our identities, no matter how much we build over it or believe we've "overcome" it with modern conveniences.

SC: What can you tell us about your writing process?  Is there a special place?  A certain writing instrument?  Any quirky habits or tendencies?

ET: I have this thing about being up high and being able to watch movement when I write. My apartment in grad school was tiny, freezing, and dingy, but I miss it because it was an attic apartment in a house at the crest of a huge hill.  I never wrote at my desk, which was tucked into a corner. Instead, I always sat at the kitchen table and watched the traffic go by, people walking in and out of the Dairy Mart, etc. When I got stumped, I'd walk to another set of windows and look out at the mountains and the town. My first apartment here in Chattanooga was in a valley in a very quiet neighborhood. I had no view, my productivity went all to heck, so I would actually drive 45 minutes to Sewanee and sit in the top floor of the library.  Eventually, I moved to another house. 

I also find people-watching to be very inspiring, almost necessary, but if I can't have that, I'll just watch the wind in the trees.  My compulsions concern me a bit. :)

Oh, and my pen of choice? Pilot Precise V-5 Extra Fine. However, they recently changed the design, those philistines, so I've been converting over to the Uni-ball.  Very nice heft, good ink flow, yeah.  Those babies do some nice work in a journal, I tellyouwhat.  

SC:  Have you ever thought about writing about your dog?  He's pretty great. 

ET: See, the thing with writing about Winston is that it's hard to come up with any sort of conflict. "Once there was a terrier who loved chasing tennis balls and eating scrambled eggs.  He could also jump very high and continuously. The End."  Well, there is that time he detonated an entire can of bear spray in the house.  But I imagine that Winston is preparing a rigorous screening process for whomever he chooses to pen his memoirs. He is a noble and exacting fellow when he's not being a total goober.

SC: Thanks, Erin.  It's pretty cool knowing you.

ET:  Likewise.

2.22.2011

Small People Books

The kids and I go to the library just about every week, but I rarely comment on what we bring home.  Sometimes, though, the haul is so impressive as to warrant a word.  Our last trip was like this.  The girl chose Little House in the Big Woods for our nightly read, and we have been enjoying the panthers and bears and pig bladders and calicos immensely.  But that one was a sure bet.  The others were more risky, and that risk is exactly what I love about the library.  I rarely go in with a list.  I like to just browse, pulling off whatever strikes my momentary interest. Sometimes it's a winner, and other times, a dud.  But with kids' books, you haven't invested much, so a disappointment is easily forgotten as you're off in search of the next big score.

One such score was Kathi Appelt's Keeper.  Someone mentioned this book in a blog (not mine, but whose?) comment, so when I happened upon it on the shelf, I knew I wanted to know more.  The cover suits my artistic temperament just fine, and the title intrigued me, so I decided to give it a try.  We have one of Appelt's books for wee ones, but I didn't realize she was a Newbery honoree in 2009.  Where have I been?  This one, published in 2010, was magical as Brent Hartinger writes in his blurb:
When I finished Kathi Appelt's joyous new novel Keeper, I didn't want it to be over.  I wanted to go on living in its magical world of talking crabs and mystical totems and wise old cats and dogs.  Then I realized that I already do live there: The world is exactly magical as we allow it to be.  Hold this one up to your ear and have a long, good listen.
I love that idea of the world being as magical as we allow it to be, and I loved this book.  It tells the story of Keeper, a 10-year-old girl living in unusual circumstances on the Texas coast near Galveston.  It could be read as a traditional, or even tired, storyline.  Keeper does something bad, everyone gets mad at her, so she decides to run away.  But in Appelt's hands, this universal experience has been transformed into something unique and profound and beautiful.  There is so much more here, and because I didn't know anything about the book when I began, I am resisting telling you anything at all.  I will tell you that unlike Hartinger, I would not classify this book as joyous.  It has layers of pain, and it even brought me to the brink of tears.  You know in Castaway when Tom Hanks' character loses "Wilson?"  That's how sad I was.  I will also tell you that it is not an automatic recommendation for younger kids.  It is marked ages 8-12, and I'd push for the upper end of that. Do read it, won't you?

Right next door to Appelt's fat book was Allan Ahlberg's lithe book My Brother's Ghost.  Perhaps because it was so short, this one was forgettable.  It was actually a rather well-written story about a girl dealing with the death of her older brother (and the subsequent presence of his ghost), but it lacked depth.  Again, for its length, it does quite a lot, but the subject matter deserved more somehow.

You might think that was all, but I haven't even gotten to the picture books yet.

First, Barry Moser takes the traditional Rumpelstiltskin story and paints it with an Appalachian brush in Tucker Pfeffercorn.  It is dark, and the art is actually scary at times, but the skill of this writer/artist is undeniable.  This is one I want to own.



Speaking of traditional tales redone, Lauren Child (of Charlie and Lola fame) has created a fascinating and fun retread of The Princess and the Pea.  It basically tells the familiar story, with a little bit of Lola thrown in somehow, and the art is an eclectic and interesting blend of paper and miniatures and photography.  Check it out, especially if your kids think this is fun.



 Nancy Willard (1982 Newbery Medalist) joined artist John Thompson to create The Flying Bed.  This one started so strong, with an interesting storyline about a baker and his wife and their financial difficulties.  It had a very traditional feeling to it, but it was new, and the art was breathtaking (see above and at top of post).  Unfortunately, this book was terribly uneven, too long for picture book readers (word for word, I bet it's as long as the Ahlberg), and confusing and abrupt at the end.  Though it was not a winner, the art made me glad to have encountered it.



Finally, for something that is not at all traditional, not at all familiar, and altogether wonderful: The Girl in the Castle inside the Museum by Kate Bernheimer and illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli.  The story here is interesting, but the art ~ oh, the art!~ is otherworldly.  It would remind you of a Tim Burton film or some other dreamy, alt-fairy tale realm.  Just look.


 So cool!  Please, go to your local library, wander the stacks, touch the spines, and thumb through some unfamiliar titles (picture book or otherwise).  It is a risk worth taking.

Tuesday First Drafts

Villanelle

This tightrope walk between boy and man
Your rank unknown from my distant shore
You hold my eyes; he took my hand

What rite to pass and how alone?
Leather office chair or college tour
This tightrope walk between boy and man

A gesture, yes, your words, perhaps tone
Will expose your youth, his age, no more
You hold my eyes; he took my hand

Will I see it in her son, my own?
The switch flipped sometime after four
This tightrope walk between boy and man

My son steals my lap, head crown to chin bone,
A locker room, a bedroom door
You hold my eyes; he takes my hand

Now you have found that point to hone
Returned victorious from aging war
This tightrope walk between boy and man
You held my eyes; he took my hand.

2.21.2011

Unfinished Business

I had a severe case of the unfinisheds this weekend.  I had two or three posts I wanted to get going, and all I accomplished was getting some photos uploaded.  I abandoned a book I had barely started (a big step for me - I'm actually very proud) and drafted a still unfinished guest review for Serena at SavvyVerseandWit (more information to come).  I left the house this morning with the dishwasher full of clean dishes, the counter and sink full of dirty ones, the dryer full of clean, unfolded clothes, the ironing board and iron still out, and the toilet brush still in the toilet. As you can see, I wasn't completely unproductive, but I did not complete much either.  What I did get done reveals further lack of gumption:

Friday night, I finished a fantastic book for young people: Keeper by Kathi Appelt.  Of course, I didn't get around to writing it up yet.  Maybe tomorrow?

On Saturday, I watched Finding Neverland and had to agree with Thomas of My Porch that Kate Winslet is a very fine actress in an equally fine movie.  Have you seen it?  Someone recommended it me, perhaps this summer when I was reading Peter Pan with the children, and it was wonderful.  Give the trailer a watch:



I thought about writing a bookish movie review but just gushed to my husband instead.  And thanks to Thomas, I've added The Reader to my Netflix queue as well.

I moved some books around on my desk and realized I still haven't reviewed The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  I want to take it off my desk but feel I must write up some thoughts before I can let it go. 

Then, Simon of StuckinaBook wrote a beautiful review of Robinson's Gilead (see here for my feelings on the subject), which made me glad I hadn't gotten any reviews up this weekend.  They certainly wouldn't have measured up.  Such lovely writing for such a lovely book!

All in all, I feel very undone this Monday morning, but perhaps it wasn't all a waste.  I did make chocolate chip cookies last night, after all.  That's got to count for something.

2.18.2011

Friday Frivolity: Now With Added Braininess! (it's like fiber, but better)

I showed this amazing TED talk to one of my classes yesterday and was reminded just how ridiculously funny it is.  It also geeks me out entirely and gives me little goosebumps and energizes me to the point where I get all Jed Bartlett-esque with my rhetoric.  Just watch.  And enjoy.

2.12.2011

A Dripping Jawful of Marl (TPR #11 redux)


Elizabeth Bishop.  I've been reading Elizabeth Bishop since early December.  Perhaps I will keep reading Elizabeth Bishop until late November.  But today, finally, today, I felt I could adequately begin again this post on the amazing and beautiful words of Elizabeth Bishop.

I had worried, you see.  I had not been enjoying my time with her even as I knew I loved her writing.  What was happening?  So, I stopped reading and decided not to write about her for a bit.  I felt I owed her at least that.  And whatever it is that time does, it has once again done it with me.  I sat this morning with Bishop's The Complete Poems and fell in love all over again.  See, Bishop's prose was at times interesting, but more often tiresome, and I couldn't wrap my mind around that lack.  I used to teach "The Farmer's Children," and I love it still, but many of her prose pieces were utterly forgettable to me.  Once I thumbed back through The Collected Prose, though, I was reminded of how thought-provoking and delicately fragmented "In the Village" is.  According to the introduction by publisher Robert Giroux, Bishop did not like "The Farmer's Children," probably for its maudlin quality, and "In the Village" is considered by some to be her "best" prose effort.  Her story is almost autobiographical as it recounts the experience of a child dealing with a mother's mental illness, the very thing Bishop experienced until age five when her mother was permanently institutionalized.  This story has such a poetic sensibility; consider the following passages:
The dressmaker was crawling around and around on her knees eating pins as Nebuchadnezzar had crawled eating grass.  The wallpaper glinted and the elm trees outside hung heavy and green, and the straw matting smelled like the ghost of hay. (252)
In the blacksmith's shop things hang up in the shadows and shadows hang up in the things, and there are black and glistening piles of dust in each corner.  A tub of night-black water stands by the forge.  The horseshoes sail through the dark like bloody little moons and follow each other like bloody little moons to drown in the black water, hissing, protesting. (253)
There is the observant power of the poet in those descriptions and much to admire and savor.  So, I'm glad to have encountered Bishop's collected prose, though I am still convinced it was not her prime medium.

I also listened to a podcast interview with Helen Vendler regarding the friendship and correspondence between Bishop and Robert Lowell.  Vendler provided a lovely complement to the letters between the two (found in their entirety in Words in Air) that I sampled in One Art (her selected letters published by Giroux).  I did not read this collection in full (it is over 600 pages in length), but enjoyed dipping into it for little flavors at different times.  I am thinking I'd like to have Words in Air, so I can have more leisure to continue this practice.  Like Bishop, I love letters.  I love to reread old letters (those I've received and those I've written), and I love what letters tell us about an author, balancing the intimacy of the journal with the veiled openness of publication.  Here, I offer only one of many examples of the treasures to be found in these correspondences:
And one thing more - what on earth do you mean when you say my perceptions are "almost impossible for a woman's"?  "Now what the hell," as you said to me, "you know that's meaningless."  And if you really do mean anything by it, I imagine it would make me very angry.  Is there some glandular reason which prevents a woman from having good perceptions, or what? (12)
No.  Apparently, you need one more:
What I meant about Shakespeare: it was he who gave that beautiful, slightly sad lilt to the sonnet form, the impressiveness of first lines and the importance and finality of last lines - an atmosphere easy to crawl into without really having the right to be there, and a pillow for any number of weary ideas. (13)
But enough of that business. The poems are what we came here for.  It is what she came here for.  The collection I read spans 30 years, but it stops at 1969.  Though she died in 1979, she was productive in those final years, so the true "complete" poems is the one that is subtitled 1927-1979.  And because of this lack, my collection doesn't have one of the finest poems of its kind: "One Art."  You can read it here, and you should.  It is a villanelle, and though I am not typically a fan of the strict forms, I find this poem to be astonishingly good in the way it uses that rigid form to say something so transparent, so seeking, so provocative.  It is so fine.

In the collection I hold, there are many such instances of finery.  From "The Map": 

These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger                                                                       like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

Or from "A Cold Spring": 

and the blurred redbud stood
beside it, motionless, but almost more
like movement than any placeable color.

And the poem from which I take my post's title: "The Bight"

Some of the little white boats are still piled up
against each other, or lie on their sides, stove in,
and not yet salvaged, if they ever will be, from the last bad storm,
like torn-open, unanswered letters.
The bight is littered with old correspondences.
Click. Click. Goes the dredge,
and brings up a dripping jawful of marl.

Bishop was a perfectionist.  She would work a poem until she felt certain it was what it needed to be, and as a result, she was not a highly prolific writer.  But her patience provided some lasting evidence of the necessity of observation, the sadness of lyric, and the power of the unexpected word.  I'm glad I finally returned to her work and returned to my senses.

2.08.2011

Tuesday First Drafts

The Transaction

When Shaquan sits in her mother's kitchen
The grease-coated metal of the chair
Presses the flesh of her thighs
Not so much supporting her -
Her life a burden upon it -
Rather an assault, a public
Stoning in reverse.

She stares emptily at her mother's back
Stares while her mother raises the
Stench of morning eggs
Stares while her daughter's bare feet
Strike the chair legs
Stares while her boys fuss on the floor
And her mother fusses at the stove
Like a short-order cook who knows
She's about to be shorted a tip.

Her mother pays the child support
Supporting her child - now grown -
Her child's children growing,
Feeding them, sheltering them,
Letting them squander her investments,
A daily disregard which is paid back
With her only currency:
Her words reminding Shaquan
Of all she's lost - the job at Dairy-O,
The father of these children, the money
For shoes on what should be
The little girl's first day of school. 

The air was thick the night before
When her mother withdrew her legal tender
Acting instead as judge and jury
Her back now turned to the stove
To face Shaquan and her failure.
She stopped hearing the words long ago,
But they leach out of her mother
And she continues absorbing them,
Feeding on them,
Aspirating them,
Drawing an awkward strength from them.

Once her mother was asleep,
She went to the boys' room
And stopped their breath,
Silenced their cries,
Then lay between them, dozing,
Before waking in a terror,
Lifting them quietly onto the porch,
And fastening their limp former selves
Into their car seats, ironically
Securing them against automotive harm.
She did not linger, nor
Smooth their hair, nor
Touch their brows, nor speak
Their names one last time.
She just drove in the raw light
To the Edisto River boat ramp,
Opened her door, released the brake,
And walked to the trunk,
Turned her back on her children,
Assuming her mother's posture,
And leaned just firmly enough
To feel the wheels begin to turn.

After, she said she wanted to be free,
But I think she wanted them to be free.
She made the only possible deposit,
Buried her talents in the field,
Rather than see them lost
In the words of her mother,
Rather than see them be killed in that way.
She has been denied all power, but this
She could choose, this outcome she controlled.

2.05.2011

TPR Challenge #11 (ish) - Elizabeth Bishop

If you've been paying attention, you'll know I've been in a reading bog.  Really, I've been in a work bog that has curtailed my reading time drastically, but I've also been rather stuck in what reading I have been doing.  I have mentioned before that I am a one-book woman.  I know that behavior is rather anomalous in this book-blogging world, but it is true for me.  I am also STILL rather reluctant to leave a book unfinished.  I've tried (and improved somewhat), but I just can't abandon with ease.  So, I've been taking my measly reading scraps and trying to sustain myself on things that are not totally enjoyable.  Little surprise that I feel a little anemic and wasted.

The something that started the bog-gedness is TPR Challenge #11 - Elizabeth Bishop.  In December and January, I read The Complete Prose, some of The Complete Poems, and the TPR interview (volume 2), but I still didn't feel ready to write anything thoughtful about it.  So, I have actually put this project on hold for awhile and have been pursuing supposedly more interesting reading matter.  I plan to return to Bishop (and soon!), but I'm not making any promises.  In the meantime, I took down The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz with a certainty of purpose about me: I was going to make sure I enjoyed the next book I read.  I had been gushed at over this book by various trusted souls (NOT the girl down the street who thinks I would just LOVE Shopaholic and Baby if you know what I mean), and I selected it knowing it was a ringer.

And I don't like it.

Is there something wrong with me?  This feels like when you're young and you know you're supposed to like this guy, he's just perfect for you, and all signs point to happily-ever-after until you realize you don't actually have a thing for him at all.  It really makes you wonder if something is wrong.  And I'm wondering.  I'm reassured somewhat by the passion I still experience reading the short stories I teach and the excitement I feel over my kids getting to experience Vonnegut's Player Piano.  But I still can't help but wonder why I'm not enjoying any of the books I read.  Is it becoming too much of a job?  I don't feel that blogging has changed the way I read at all, but could it be affecting my enjoyment? 

The thing about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is that I don't think all signs pointed to happily-ever-after for me if I'd known more about it in advance.  So maybe it was just bad luck.  Maybe if I'd encountered it in an otherwise fruitful reading time, I wouldn't have seen it as some portent of doom.  Maybe if I'd known how much of it was Spanish or fragmented or otherwise not careful language, I would have recognized it as not a great fit for me.  But I didn't, so I'm left wondering.

I'm not finished yet, though, so I'm holding out judgment and a full post until that time.  Maybe it will end up meaning something more to me in the end.  Or maybe I'll just have to try even harder to find the next book that will shake me out of my reading doldrums.  I know it's out there.  I just have to find it.

2.04.2011

Friday Frivolity

Things that made me laugh this week:

        
and
        
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Gordita Supreme Court
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

and finally, from the newspaper this week:

Apparently, a Minneapolis woman decided it would be cool to mail a puppy . . . to GA.  Click here to read our local coverage of this disturbing story.  Though I am appalled at the danger the dog was put in, since it is safe, I feel comfortable laughing hysterically at all the choice bits from this story, especially where she told the receiving postal worker not to worry if the box made noise because it was a toy robot.  And THIS JUST IN:  She wants the dog back!  What?

Happy Friday, friends!
                  

2.02.2011

2011 Caldecott and Newbery Medal Awards and Honors

Regular readers of this blog know something of my mild fascination (see here or here or even sort of here for evidence) with these awards for children's literature.  Perhaps you assume it is because I have small children?  Though it makes perfect sense, my kids are not the root of my love of children's literature.  Perhaps it's because I'm a teacher? I did cultivate my particular leaning toward this body of work during my brief stint as a teacher of upper elementary and middle school students, but as I teach university students now, my job-related exposure to this works is practically nil.  Perhaps it's because I have always loved to read, and I read many of these as a child?  I think we're getting closer here because, certainly, the nostalgia factor can't be ignored.  I think, though, it is something more than nostalgia.  I think writing for a younger audience opens an author to create in a unique way, and when it is successful, it is supremely successful.

Consider E. B. White's Charlotte's Web.  I have gushed over this book before, about my children's responses to it.  But I believe wholeheartedly that this book is wonderful for more than just its appeal to children.  Adults everywhere will tell you how important it is (not just was) to them.  There are countless others, too.  Take a look at Brenna's post at Literary Musings about kids' books; the comments make my point for me. 

And though there are detractors and areas of certain failing, the Newbery Medal and Caldecott Medal recipients often are excellent representations of the best of the best in children's lit.  January brought us the announcement of the 2011 award winners and honor books, and though I try to pay attention to these things, I was caught off guard by almost all the selections.  See the list below:

Newbery Medal - Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool


Honors - Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia



Caldecott Medal - A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Phillip Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead


Honors - Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Interrupting Chicken written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein

I have read exactly none of these.  How humbling.  The Stein was on my radar at least, but I didn't consider it a contender.  The Vanderpool is a debut novel (What an amazing trip that must be!).  Turtle in Paradise has been highly recommended to me.  But to have read none of these books, even with weekly trips to the library and regular consideration of such things, is just evidence to me of the wonder and beauty of children's books.  That's why I love these awards.  Try as I may, I can't read everything, and I bet at least one of these will change me in some important way.  Had they not been granted this distinction, I might never have had the honor of reading them.  So, I have my list; I must go see what my libraries have available.  What about you?  Do you have comments on any of these?  What about past winners or honorees?  Do you have favorites?  Let's share some kid book love, people!

2.01.2011

Tuesday First Drafts

High Winds

Outside my window, the night is impossibly still
Not even winking at the calamity
Forecast for later tonight:
Buses and SUVs are at risk
For rollover.  Use extreme caution.
Prepare for possibly lengthy 
Power outages. 
One time, with no severe weather alert,
the deck gate was ripped off its hinges.
What can you do to prevent such a thing?

There was no meteorologist to
Predict your tempest this evening
When the bath was over
And the water turned off.
I opened the drain and unknowingly
Destroyed your emotional center
Tilted you at the windmills of sanity
Caged you in your suffering rage.
I was not prepared, but I did
Try to contain the whirling dervish of
Your tiny naked body, tried to
Quiet the demonic storm in you.

We've put the bikes and toys inside
And lowered the bird feeders.
We've parked the high risk SUV and
Laid the patio umbrella beneath the benches.
We've made the preparations,
Boarded the metaphorical windows.
And somehow, I doubt it will blow.
I've already weathered tonight's storm.