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Poetry Friday…

… puts me in the mood to read Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman. 

I often tell my students that when editors say they don’t want rhyme, they mean they don’t want BAD rhyme. THIS kind of rhyme is delicious.

I love reading this book aloud; it’s another gutbuster.

“…Creamy oatmeal, pots of it!
Homemade bread and lots of it!
Peeling apples by the peck,
Mrs. Peters was a wreck!

She wiped her brow and heaved a sigh;
Another year was passing by. 
In fact, she realized with sorrow,
Her birthday would arrive tomorrow!
Drearily she shook her head
And wearily went up to bed.

She thought the children had forgot
Her special day — but they had not!
At crack of dawn they all began
To carry out their secret plan:
Mrs. Peters would be fed 
A birthday breakfast in her bed!
A breakfast made of all the food
That kept them in such happy moods…”

And that’s when things really get crazy.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Flakes float down as big as pie plates. Ice mimics each vein of each leaf on the Asian jasmine. The back deck is a skating rink.
 
Every ½ an hour or so, runny-nosed daughters and neighbors rush in, hungry and chilled; we pop hats and gloves into the drier so they’ll  be ready for the next jaunt out.  
 
The weather folk are calling it ICE STORM ‘O7 (read with a threatening boom) but heck, I just call it vacation. Mind you, I’m posting from AUSTIN, TEXAS, where we’re more accustomed to burning our hands on the heat of our steering wheels.
 
The delight of this unfamiliar weather – keeping us home together, reading and cooking, taking baths, playing cards, and did I mention reading and cooking? – it’s enough to shake up the most routinized among us, it’s a new new year.
 
Our 2nd grader’s science fair project suddenly entails freezing a whole variety of liquids in an ice-cube tray – outside, on our front porch! Nobody’s trying to fry an egg out there today. Her dad (who “should” be at work) has fresh pizza dough rising in the kitchen and his guitar is freshly tuned. My semester remains un-started. Even our 12-year-old dog feels frisky.
 
We are ill-equipped, to be sure. Our fleece jackets, so toasty most Texas days, seem pathetic, even doubled up. Our shoes are porous and slippery, and our windows and doors don’t seal like they ought to. The highway department reports hundreds of wrecks and the Blockbuster shelves were stripped of everything but the crankiest videotapes yesterday by noon.
 
But we ignore the bluster, crank up the cocoa to a full boil and sing, I swear, more Christmas carols. ‘Cause why not? There’s a bright white light in the air and it’s winter, even in Texas.
 

MLK

All of the MLK events planned for Austin have been cancelled because of ice. Outdoors. Clinging to the trees and wires. So we’ll be home in our sweats and slippers, reading and baking, which sounds swell.
 
My kids, though, had hoped to march – were even willing to bundle up.
 
When I collected them at school on Friday, King’s “I Had a Dream” speech boomed from the PA system. In the car, on the way home, they explained why we oughta call him “Dr. King”, to show respect. I like that.
 
But there’s also something so intimate about his legacy, isn’t there? His was a looming figure that one could imagine being at home with, over dinner or the morning paper.
 
I think it’s the serenity he held, in the face of everything impossible and abhorrent. There he stood in the storm that was the civil rights movement while the rest of us bring anxious hysteria to airline ticket counters and afternoon traffic.
 
I cannot imagine the yogic practice it must take to embody one’s beliefs that completely.
 
What if we moved more peacefully and spoke with less shrill? What if our decisions were more intuitive and less rash? What if we learned “to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools”?
 
Dr. King was shot to death on my birthday, in April, 1968. I turned one, ate cake with my plump hands, laughed in the light of the flashbulbs burning. King was dead, we were at war in Vietnam, and the sixties were exploding into the seventies. But I was full of hope. Full of hope.
 
Today, ice sheening on our streets, King’s voice like music on our radio, I still am.
 
  

Pssst…

Muchos gracias to Tasha at Kids Lit (http://www.greenlakelibrary.org/kidslit/ ), DonTate at Devas T. (http://devast.blogspot.com/ ), and Kelly at Big A little a (http://kidslitinformation.blogspot.com/ ) for calling out my blog to their fine and faithful readers. So happy to share the airwaves with you all…
 
Kudos to Baranoff Elementary School for hosting a really vivid Young Author’s Conference today. What a delight – working with all those wide-eyed kids, and chatting with so many shining writer-folk. My students crafted some real metaphoric gems, including: “horns like ski poles”… “orange as honey”… and “a dollar bill, green like a leaf and crinkly.”
Lucky Austinites: Rumor has it that my own personal and fabulous illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser is coming to town in late March. Living and breathing, up close and personal. Yea!! Stay tuned – I’ll fill you in on details when I’ve got them.
 
Hurrah for my clever friend and children’s writer Polly Robertus (The Dog Who Had Kittens, Holiday House, 1992) who’s just sold a middle grade novel to the same house. Perseverance paid off and we’ll all be the luckier for it.
 
Deep bows to the wise Carrie Contey (http://www.earlyparenting.com/index.html ) for offering her amazing insights to my beloved group of Goodness gals. She’s agreed to work with us in making the most of our art and our lives. There was firecracker energy in the room the other night as we got started. Don’t you love being around people who’ve got great big dreams?
 

Once More With Feeling

Lately, when one of my daughters physically mauls or maims the other – be it in a blameless bunkbed accident or a purposeful fit of rage – the hurter ends up crying harder than the hurtee.

These aren’t tears for fear of consequence ‘though I’m familiar with those, too. (I remember wailing after my sister as she ran toward home to tell about the big kids unjustly clobbering the little ones in a snowball fight.) Nothin’ like the sorrow of being badly busted. We’ve seen our fair share of that kind of ‘remorse’ around here, too.

But these tears of late? They’re genuinely pained distress signals, the awful clarity that comes with the caption “I-can’t-believe-I’ve-hurt-my-sister.” And as sad as it is to witness, I find some solace in the palpable human empathy between them.

There’s debate about whether we all come equipped with an empathic heart or whether it needs teaching, and I think I’ll let the social scientists hash that one out. But one thing I know for certain is that books are the perfect proving ground. There is safety in feeling deeply for the folks we read about; it’s a risk-free way to love and worry, grieve and celebrate. So we do – with less reserve than we might in stickier, more personal situations – and, as a result, we come out the other side with more practiced hearts.

I remember way back, tucking into my parents’ bed for another chapter of Little House, only to be put on hold as the reader, my mother, stopped to cry – for Mary, for Laura, for the bulldog. We’d stare and nudge and sometimes giggle as she gathered herself and began again. 

I’d stopped the nudging and the giggles by the time I read National Velvet, Deenie, Misty of Chincotegue, Anne Frank. The list could run waist deep, I assure you.

Later, when I met my future husband, one of our first important synchronicities was the discovery that we’d both wept over Dan and Little Ann in Where the Red Fern Grows.

What I know now – what I learned in my mother’s bed – is that crying (or laughing) over books is a way of saying, “I’m in tune with the human condition, with the state of the birds and the bees, with this writer and all of her readers. I am in tune with you (daughter, lover, student, son).”

What an affirmation.

So, on that note, I offer up a sinfully short list of some of the good laughs and cries around our house lately:

Tearjerkers

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery – We were on an airplane when Matthew Cuthbert died and my god, they almost had to drop the oxygen masks for us.

Ruby’s Wish, by Shirin Yim – I’m not going to give away the punch but it’s tender and requires a couple of tissues, to be sure.

Togo, by Robert J. Blake – Did you know the Iditarod sled race commemorates a treacherous serum run made during a diphtheria epidemic in Alaska? Me neither. This is just one of the myriad dog stories out there that’ll get you straight between the eyes.

Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers, by Kathi Appelt – That part where a young LBJ sends Ladybird a love-letter and she is “dazzled”? Golly.

When Jessie Came Across the Sea, by Amy Hest – Toil and troubles, true love, a good grandmother and a happy ending. What else do you need?

Gutbusters

Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard Atwater and Florence Atwater – This book about a housepainter and his penguins is hilarious. But don’t take my word for it. Read it. Aloud.

At the Hotel Larry, by Daniel Pinkwater and Jill Pinkwater – Utterly absurd. I literally could not catch my breath for laughing the first time I read one of the Larry books.

Judy and the Volcano, by Wayne Harris – The teacher’s name is “Mrs. Be-the-best-you-can.” Need I say more?

Double Whammies

I can’t help it. Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books and all of Kevin Henkes’ picture books make me mist up and, a moment later, laugh out loud, every single time. Praises be!

So, what’re you reading???