Archive for November, 2007

Poetry Friday: Zbigniew Herbert knows just what to say

h1 Friday, November 30th, 2007

“Uncover” by Nicole Dextras - click on photo to see her websiteI may have mentioned it before, but I’m on the Young Adult Fiction Nominating Committee for this year’s Cybils. And let me tell you, with 123 nominated books, it’s becoming quite the challenge trying cram as much reading into my day as possible. As I tear through novel after novel, I’m starting to notice how often the same metaphors and imagery get used over and over. It makes me that much more appreciative when I come across a truly original turn of phrase – a unique combination of words that really captures the emotion or aesthetic that the author is trying to convey. So I sympathize with Zbigniew Herbert in his quest for the perfect word.

Here’s a bit of his poem, “I Would Like to Describe:”

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put it another way
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin

Click here to read the rest. Maybe he didn’t find that one perfect inimitable word, but see if you don’t think ol’ Zbigniew did a pretty good job of putting thought to paper, after all.

Picture Book Round-Up: Gettin’ By With a Little Help From My Friends (And a Few Journals)

h1 Thursday, November 29th, 2007

I have been keeping a list of picture books I read and enjoyed — or at least found noteworthy for one reason or another — this year, but I got a bit busy with the Blogging for a Cure effort (which was well worth my time, and I miss those snowflakes already). So, do you know what I’m going to do right here, which risks making me look exceptionally lazy? I’m going to round-up reviews of some of those titles by folks who also enjoyed them and who can generally be relied upon for thoughtful reviewing. It’s the only way I’ll get caught up with my list, and I don’t want some of these books to pass by without at least mentioning them here at 7-Imp. I love reading reviews and following all-things-reviews, so this is actually rather fun for me. So, here we go.

Wait! Don’t miss MotherReader’s very informative November Carnival of Children’s Literature, posted yesterday. Okay, now here we go:

Starring Miss Darlene
by Amy Schwartz
Roaring Brook Press
August 2007
(library copy)

I consider this the biggest casualty of me getting so busy that I had to push aside some picture book reviews, ’cause I love love LOVE me some Amy Schwartz books. And this is no exception. Darlene, a hippo who wants to be a star, attends acting school and gets to play The Flood in Noah’s Ark, Professor Looney in a science fiction tale, and Sleeping Beauty. Darlene, ever-so unassuming and rather bumbly, manages to goof up each role, yet — as Tasha at Kids Lit pointed out in her review in September — “children are led up to the emotions but not told what to think, which is very refreshing in a picture book. In fact, the children will fret much more than Miss Darlene ever does about her mistakes.” Yes, each mistake Darlene makes is misunderstood as and written up as genius by the local theatre critic. Jessica Bruder also covered this title in The New York Times in November here (though you must register to read it — hey, registration is free):

Schwartz’s text is charming and hilariously understated. Her watercolor-and-ink illustrations are rendered in quiet pastel tones, but their humorous details — Darlene’s cavernous, buck-toothed yawn; animals dressing up like other animals to play parts in “Noah’s Ark”; a beret-wearing fox for a drama teacher — pack a hippo-size wallop. In the end, you have to cheer Darlene’s unlikely success.

What I love about Amy Schwartz is the seeming simplicity of both her writing and illustrations, but there’s a lot going on. I think she’s one of the best contemporary picture book creators. Bonus: Go here to see some illustrations from the book (and her wonderful ’06 title, A Beautiful Girl, which I reviewed here last year).

Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle
by Pija Lindenbaum
Translated by Elisabeth Kallick Dyssegaard
R & S Books (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
September 2007
(review copy)

Oh my, one of my very favorite picture books from this year. It’s from the Queen of Quirky, internationally-acclaimed Swedish author/illustrator of many picture books I love, Pija Lindenbaum (here’s a 7-Imp review of one of my favorites of hers). Mia adores her Uncle Tommy, but then Fergus appears in his life, and Mia thinks he should just go back from whence he came (“He looks boring. And his pants are ugly.” Not to mention he’s monopolizing the time and attention of her beloved uncle). And how refreshing that Lindenbaum does not make a huge issue out of Mia’s uncle’s homosexuality in this title; instead, she focuses on the young protagonist’s jealousy of her uncle’s partner. Betsy Bird reviewed this title here and here (Parts One and Two) in September: “Picture books where the fact that someone is gay is incidental to the action are few and far between. For its subtlety, grace, and ribald sense of humor I’m propping up Lindenbaum’s latest as perhaps my favorite foreign language picture book of the year.” Read the rest of this entry �

Happy Bloomin’ Holidays (as in, christmashanukkahkwanzaa) to You, and . . .
I Need Some Advice

h1 Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

So, I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. On the one hand, I loathe and absolutely dread the materialism, the sugary-sweet Christmas ditties that play well before Thanksgiving arrives, and the ads. Oh the commercials! I think each year that I will become numb to them, but I don’t. Everyone likes to talk up the Grinch’s epiphany — “‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!'” (or, as it might appear in Latin, “Fortasse,” inquit “Laetitia diei festi ex ipsis muneribus non proficiscitur…Fortasse,” inquit Grinchus, “Laetitia diei festi non est res empticia, non est res quaestuosa!” Now, wasn’t that fun?) — but then we have things like this commercial from last year. Remember this?

I get (though it’s a stretch) that some people like her voice and all, but I don’t get why this family isn’t screaming, get the creepy Celine out of our living room floor! It’s 3 a.m., for *$#*!’s sake! This ad plays like a horror movie in my world.

But then, on the other hand, I love trimming the tree with my girls; hearing a really kickin’ Christmas song (that is not sung by the sinister, barely-clad, perfume-spraying, living-room-usurping Celine); baking cookies with my family; finding just the right, perfectly special gift (that is not Celine Dion’s new fragrance) for the people you love; and I have to see “It’s A Wonderful Life” every year. Must. I know, I know. There’s this gem and this gem. And many others. But I have to see the moon-lasso bit (“What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You-you want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey, that’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon…Well, then you could swallow it. And it’ll all dissolve, see. And the moon beams that shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair…Am I talking too much?”). And when Harry comes back to town and says, “to my big brother George: the richest man in town,” well . . . it gets me every time. Blast it! Now, when Zuzu chimes in with “Look, daddy! Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an Angel gets his wings,” it’s a bit much for me, but the richest-man-in-town bit I gotta have. Oh, and every year I have to just, ahem, excuse that “she’s an old maid, and she’s a librarian!” bit {dramatic score follows} when George is looking into the future at the poor, poor Mary. Ah well. No movie is perfect. (Mary, the poor spinster librarian, is pictured above).

See how I’m torn on the holidays?

I also love a challenge. That would be why this year — again (I made a half-hearted attempt last year) — I will be rounding up some new holiday titles. And here’s where I need your help: Read the rest of this entry �

Etiquette That Goes Down Easy

h1 Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Didacticism in children’s literature. Bad. Bad. Or so we’re always taught in our children’s lit and/or library school courses (though, thank goodness we have authors like M.T. Anderson — see this November ’06 interview — and Katherine Paterson to make us think harder on the finer points of the issue). Here’s some subtle and even not-so-subtle moralizing of manners in the form of two very entertaining picture books that I can get behind, books that set out to instruct and give didacticism a big ‘ol bear hug and a noogy.

Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf
by Judy Sierra
Illustrated by J. Otto Seibold
Knopf Books for Young Readers
August 2007
(review copy)

Life is rough when you’re the aging Big Bad Wolf. You might be living the easy life in the Villain Villa Senior Center and have the softest of all hearts in your golden years, but get invited to the library’s Annual Storybook Tea by the terrifically nice Miss Wonderly in the presence of the Gingerbread Boy, the three pigs, and other storybook characters who’ve spent their lives being terrified of you, and, well . . . you’d be a bit nervous, too, eh? “Should I go?” B.B. Wolf asked his best friend, the crocodile. “I don’t think I like tea.” “You don’t go to a tea for the tea,” replied the crocodile. “You go to a tea for the cookies.” My kind of best pal there. So, the crocodile then proceeds to give B.B. a run-down of basic etiquette rules, making a song out of it to help him remember:

Read the rest of this entry �

Get on the Bus with Piper Reed, Navy Brat

h1 Monday, November 26th, 2007

Kimberly Willis Holt is a mighty talented author, in my humble and sometimes not-so-humble-and-rather-loud opinion, and she’s got a whole bunch of awards and honors backing me up on that claim. In her first chapter book, Piper Reed: Navy Brat (Henry Holt; August 2007; review copy), Holt takes her talented muse as well as her own childhood experience as a “navy brat” and brings us a spunky character in the form of Piper Reed (“spunky,” I know, seems overused for many chapter book protagonists, but, hey, the shoe fits).

In twelve short chapters, we read about the ups and downs of being not only a middle child, but also the daugher of a Navy Chief — not an officer, mind you, but the highest rank an enlisted man can be in the U.S. Navy — who is fond of saying, “when a man joins the Navy, his family joins the Navy.” Her father “fixed jets better than anyone,” and Piper prides herself on being the only daughter to repeatedly — and quite playfully and lovingly — salute him (“My sisters needed to learn some respect”). Every couple years and sometimes less, the family has had to move; in the opening chapter, the family is in San Diego, their first home not on a military base, yet before that they lived in Texas, Guam, Mississippi, and New Hampshire — at least in Piper’s lifetime. And there, immediately in that first chapter, we see that the girls’ father (Piper has an older sister, Tori, and a younger sister, Sam) is announcing during dinner a move to “Pepsi-Cola,” Florida — as Sam understands its pronunciation anyway — in two weeks, much to Tori’s disappointment. Even Piper, always up for an adventure, is a bit bummed: She will miss her beloved Gypsy Club treehouse meetings with her friends in the family’s current home — not to mention her neighbor, Mr. Nelson, and his German shepherd, Kip (“If we ever had a dog, I’d want him to be just like Kip”). Read the rest of this entry �

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #38: Featuring Yuyi Morales

h1 Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Jules: Yuyi Morales stopped by 7-Imp today! What a treat! Yes, lots of “!”s, but I’m excited. This is an image from her most recent title, Little Night (reviewed here in August by Yours Truly), a book with such sumptuous, gorgeous, dream-like artwork I can hardly stand it. Truly beautiful stuff.

And it gets better! Yuyi is sharing, not one, but two images from her forthcoming picture book, Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Alphabet Book, a Neal Porter Book, to be released in Fall 2008. Just under the illustrations is what Yuyi had to tell us about the new book.

Read the rest of this entry �

Picture Book Round-Up: Sidekicks, The Finale

h1 Saturday, November 24th, 2007

I really wanted to wrap up this picture-book-round-up-of-sidekicks post earlier (here are parts one and two), but better late than never. Let’s get right to it . . .

Oh, but first: A reminder that the list of final nominations for the Fiction Picture Books category (for which I’m organizer) of the Cybils 2007 is posted at the Cybils blog. They are here — 117 titles total. Whoa. That’s a lot of reading for us nominating committee panelists, but we’re up to the task. And attached above is a new Cybils widget, courtesy of Tracy Grand at JacketFlap. If I can get my 7-Imp tech support husband to show me how to add this to our sidebar, which is really where that belongs, I’ll do so later. For now, notice that if you refresh the page, a new title shows up. Excellent.

Okay, back to sidekicks then:

Half a World Away
by Libby Gleeson
Illustrated by Freya Blackwood
March 2007
(library copy)

I really love this title, one of my favorites from this year. The publisher will tell you it’s “a story for true friends and wondrous dreamers,” and they’re right. Blast it, it even makes me tear up a bit in the end, wrapping the story up as it does on such an imaginative, hopeful note. Amy and Louie are best friends. And I mean, they’re tight, y’all; Gleeson knows how to capture the true intensity of childhood friendships. In fact, no one is really sidekick to the other; I suppose I’m stretching a bit by putting this in the sidekicks category, but oh well. Amy and Louie even have special calls for one another when they’re ready to play but not yet paired up for the day, ready to use their wild imaginations: “Coo-ee, Am-ee!” and “Coo-ee, Lou-ee!”. Read the rest of this entry �

Poetry Friday: Excess and Thomas Merton

h1 Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Thomas Merton

Yeah, I’m one of those dirty freakin’ hippies who acknowledges Buy Nothing Day every November 23rd. Black Friday just ain’t my thing. If you’re one of those people who wakes up at 5 a.m. to get in line for sales at Wal-Mart or Sears on the day after Thanksgiving and you shop all day long, I hope you’ll still have respect for me for celebrating the alternative here and I hope we can try to understand one another when I say: I just. don’t. get. it.

And, this is a bit of a stretch, but as I was looking at Adbusters’ Buy Nothing Day site, I got to thinking about over-consumption. And that got me thinking about one of my favorite poems ever (which I happen to have matted and framed on one of the walls of my home in a lovely Thomas Merton poster I once found in the cobwebbed corner of an old used bookstore, but I digress). It’s called “The Harmonies of Excess,” written by Trappist monk/acclaimed Catholic spiritual writer/poet/author/social activist Thomas Merton, pictured above (his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, is a fabulous read).

So, sure, this has nothing to do with the over-consumption which Buy Nothing Day addresses. And, sure, I just thought of it ’cause of the word “excess,” but it’s always been one of my favorite poems. Just humor me.

“The Harmonies of Excess” by Thomas Merton

* * * * * * *

The hidden lovers in the soil
Become green plants and gardens tomorrow
When they are ordered to re-appear
In the wet sun’s poem

Then they force the delighted
Power of buds to laugh louder
They scatter all the cries of light
Like shadow rain and make their bed
Over and over in the hollow flower
The violet bonfire

They spin the senses of the mute morning
In an abandoned river
Love’s wreckage is then left to lie
All around the breathless shores
Of my voice
Which on the coasts of larking meadows
Invented all these children and their mischievous noises

I found someone who posted the poem in its entirety here, so you can read the rest there if you’re interested. You really don’t want to miss the last stanza.

Whether you’re out shopping today (shudder) or kicking your feet up and buying not-a-damn-thing, happy Poetry Friday!

Poetry and Thanksgiving Pie . . . Mmm. Pie.

h1 Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

In case you missed this on Sunday, where we first mentioned it, the Poetry Foundation feature Eisha and I wrote has been posted. To read it, go here and click on “Lunchbox Poems.” We got a huge kick out of writing for the Poetry Foundation, and we hope you enjoy reading it, if you’re so inclined to do so.

I’m posting that particular lunchbox image just for Eisha, who I’m pretty sure was a Monkees fan as a wee one.

Eisha and I want to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. I posted these words last year, but I’m sorry, they’re the most kickin’, most supreme thanksgiving words there could ever be. Maybe I’ll just post them every year, for that reason. These are the words of Thoreau, writing to H.G.O. Blake, once a Unitarian minister, in December of 1856:

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite — only a sense of existence. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.

If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance, like flowers and sweet-scented herbs — is more elastic, starry, and immortal — that is your success.”

Now go and eat — like Harold — nine kinds of pie that you like best.

Cybils noms closing today . . .

h1 Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Just a quick post (that is probably shorter than this massive image, but isn’t it purty?) to say that Cybils nominations close at midnight Chicago time on Wednesday, November 21. Yes, that is today, friends. So, if you haven’t already nominated your favorite title from this year in every category, go do so!

We will each soon have our final lists of books-nominated in our respective categories — Eisha, Nonfiction Picture Books; Jules, Fiction Picture Books — and we’ll try to share them with you later. Keep checking the Cybils blog, too, where nominations in every category will be posted soon after nominations close.

That’s it for now. Until later . . .