Monday, March 29, 2010

A Sweet and Secret Fire

Bok Chitto is a river that divides Mississippi. Before the Trail of Tears or the Civil War, this river separated Indian land from slave land. If a slave crossed the river into the land of the Indian nation, he did not have to return to his plantation owner. As we are told, “that was the law.”

CROSSING BOK CHITTO by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges. Cinco Puntos Press, 2006.

Author Tim Tingle is a member of the Chocktaw Nation of Oklahoma. He is a renowned story teller and a collector of Chocktaw lore in his state. Illustrator Bridges is of Cherokee ancestry and is a well known award-winning ilustrator. This is her first book illustration.

In his author’s note, Tingle writes, “We are proud of who we are. We are determined that our way, shared by many of all races, a way of respect for others and the land we live on, will prevail.”

His story of the river crossing is documented in the way he calls, “the Indian way, told and retold and then passed on by uncles and grandmothers.” His printed and illustrated book (language and painting) is a new way to pass on Indian stories and “tells” both for the Indian and the non-Indian so they will realize the “sweet and secret fire that drives the Indian heart.”

What I liked: the interaction of the two groups. They are different in many ways, but alike in the way they respected and took care of each other, their fellow members of the human family. The art is as telling and characterizing as the words on each page.

Two artists have united in a solid effort. The story will resonate on several levels, for both young listeners, young readers, and parents who participate in the joy of reading with their kids.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Return of Green

It's spring at last! For some reason, this past winter seemed longer, more entrenched, reluctant to leave us. Today's book choice grants promise and hope to all seasons, winter included.

RED SINGS FROM TREETOPS A year in colors. By Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. 2009

Can you feel color, hold it in your hand, hear it sing? What if you could?

Author Sidman’s flowing rhymes and artist Zagarenski’s vivid and playful art join hands and skip through a year of seasons.

Turn your senses loose and enjoy!

My favorite quote from the book: "Where is green in winter? Green waits in the hearts of trees."

Welcome back, Green!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In Memory of Sid Fleischman

Make no mistake about it. Angels in heaven are smiling more these days now that Sid Fleischman is among them. Attesting to the theory that humor adds length to our lives, Sid celebrated his 90th birthday before he moved to a more celestial setting than sunny California.

Some people leave the world a better place. Sid left it a happier place.

You'll find a list of his books on his website.

Read each one for the first time or again

and smile.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Meet Author Irene Latham

Picture a back porch swing and daffodils bobbing in the yard. Welcome into this cyberspace setting author Irene Latham. Her debut novel, LEAVING GEE’S BEND, is written for readers ten and up, and it’s garnering much attention. Our Book Log visit with Irene was postponed due to an accident which showed how vulnerable our high tech world is to man’s missteps. Tree service workmen accidentally broke our Charter cable Friday and cut off our entire side of the street from the internet. No email. No web surfing. No TV. No March Madness!

Now back to the scene of the swing, the flowers, and the delight of meeting one of today’s most personable authors. Pour a cup of hot, spicy tea and pass the lemon bars. If you are reading this, the world in my neighborhood is back to normal

It was my pleasure to attend Irene Latham’s book launch. Two Gee’s Bend quilt makers opened her program. Their stories, songs, and soft, gentle humor lifted us from a crowded, standing-room-only community meeting room and settled us into an armchair somewhere on the edge of their lives. Then Irene read excerpts from her book. The voice of her main character, Ludelphia, wrapped around us. If we hadn’t already read her story, we knew we must.

A week later, Irene appeared at a bustling library where a million items circulate annually. Their newly dedicated modern and inviting plaza was packed with parents, kids, media specialists, teachers, and writers like me. This time Irene talked about how she researched her book. Then a class of children took the stage with the author and charmed the audience with their account of how they performed Irene’s book as a play.

Since then there have been bookstore signings, conference appearances, classroom visits, and other gatherings with Irene as the center of attention. So my first question of Irene, here in my imagined setting, is

“How do you do this? How do you manage to be wife, mom, and writer of a successful book?”

This is what Irene says: “As I answer your questions from a hotel room in Fairhope, Alabama, that I am sharing with my mother–who at this very moment is ripping strips of fabric for a quilt project, I am struck by what a wonderful opportunity this time has been to share experiences with my loved ones. It’s not without its challenges, of course. And a distinction must be made between writing, which I am able to work into the cracks of everyday life, and promoting, which is more of a highwire act, requiring a skilled partner. Fortunately, I have one of those in my husband. I could not be out promoting this book in all the ways that I have without his steadfast support. I mean, someone’s got to get those kids to school!”

I wanted to know more about Irene’s kids. I wondered what they read and what books they’d recommend to their peers.

Irene said, “All three of my sons, ages 10, 13, and 15, love stories, although my youngest would rather be read TO than read himself. The teenagers have recently enjoyed THE HUNGER GAMES series by Suzanne Collins, THE RANGER’S APPRENTICE series and Kathleen Duey’s SKIN HUNGER series. (Key word: series.) My youngest son loves the GREGOR THE OVERLANDER series by Suzanne Collins (also a favorite of the other two when they were younger) and has recently been on a Barbara O’Connor kick, with HOW TO STEAL A DOG and THE SMALL ADVENTURES OF POPEYE AND ELVIS being tops on the list.”

At this point I’d like to stop and send congratulations to Irene’s son, Andrew, who was recently accepted into the Math/Science program at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Surely all that reading is significant.

My next question was about the books Irene read as a child. “Did you have a favorite?”

Irene’s answer: “While I can’t claim my father’s amazing book-a-day average (last year he logged some 385 books!) I have always been a voracious reader. My first love was the poetry of Shel Silverstein. Then I moved to the Little House books and anything with animals: THE BLACK STALLION, MRS FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, and WATERSHIP DOWN. By age 12 my main criteria for a book was length–the longer the better! I loved books like GONE WITH THE WIND (over and over), THE MISTS OF AVALON and THE LORD OF THE RINGS."

Now we’ve come full circle and back to writing books. My last question for Irene is, “What now? Will there be a sequel to LEAVING GEE’S BEND?”

Irene’s response: “I am currently on a 500 word a day plan for a new midgrade project that is too raw yet to really talk about. As for a sequel to LEAVING GEE’S BEND, I would love to write a story about Etta Mae, a secondary character in the current novel who has had all sorts of adventures of her own that I’m just dying to know about! Also, I’m curious about life changes for Ludelphia when government housing comes to Gee’s Bend in 1937.”

With the last drop of tea and the last lemon bar crumb, Irene and I must leave this spring cybersetting and return to our real lives. You can keep up with Irene’s busy schedule by visiting her web page

I’ll be catching up on my email. I must say catching up after the cable is back is a lot more fun than catching up after the washing machine is fixed.

My thanks and all best wishes to Irene!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Honor of the Quiltmakers

Summary from LEAVING GEE’S BEND by Irene Latham, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010:

"Ludelphia Bennett, a determined, ten year old African American girl in 1932 Gee’s Bend, Alabama, leaves home in an effort to find medical help for her sick mother, and she recounts her ensuing adventures in a quilt she is making."

Writers know they must be able to summarize their stories in one sentence or likely, their focus is off. It’s also a handy device for pitching a book to an editor. New writers learn to study the summaries in the front of published books to learn how to write that all important encapsulating sentence.

But there is so much more–and there must be to hold the reader’s interest. Author Latham does not disappoint. She keeps her readers turning pages while her main character struggles with all sorts of life challenging and yes, even life threatening adventures.

The setting is Gee’s Bend, made famous by the artistry of the talented Gee’s Bend quiltmakers whose work now hangs in museums. It’s a parallel struggle. The fictional Ludelphia and her family come to life in the skillful hands of the author. In the real Gee’s Bend, a sharecropping community made up of descendants of slaves, the people battled grinding poverty and unconscionable brutality from white bullies.

Against the backdrop of an historical raid on Gee’s Bend and a rescue by the Red Cross, Ludelphia’s family suffers but also celebrates the joys of loving and caring for each other. The fictional stories were inspired by the living quiltmakers who welcomed the author into their midst with warmth and enthusiasm. These are hugging people.

The songs, smiles, and struggles of these strong people who demonstrate an unshakable faith is captured in their art. The artists themselves never expected their quilts to make them famous.

The quilts of Gee’s Bend are a labor of love. They always were.

Tomorrow: Meet author Irene Latham, who found a way to bring the story of Gee’s Bend to young readers.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Coming soon...

This week is spring break for many. What a great week to discover new books!

Thursday I'll be reviewing LEAVING GEE'S BEND by Irene Latham. Friday I'll interview the author herself. Be sure to stop by.

In the meantime, I'm reading a couple of middle grade novels with summer camp settings. Hope to finish soon and share with you.

If you're at the beach-I wish I were there, too. Enjoy!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Meet Author Jan Godown Annino

SHE SANG PROMISE, The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal leader is just out this month, published by National Geographic Children’s Books. Let's have a drum roll and a clash of cymbals because this is a book launch! (If you didn't get a chance to read my review yesterday, it follows this piece, so do keep reading!)

Meet the author, who should take a bow, Jan Godown Annino.

When Jan was 15, she read an article about Betty Mae Jumper, the first female elected leader of the unconquered Seminole Tribe of Florida. Now, years later, Jan’s book about this extraordinary woman introduces her to young readers,3rd and
4th graders.

In an email exchange, Jan talked about the life of this book before we were able to choose it from the library or bookstore shelf. Enjoy!

Joan: In the section of your book, “Why I wrote this story.” You begin, “One reason I wrote this story...” This makes me wonder about other reasons. Care to tell?

Jan: Yes! Beyond serendipity in a chance encounter with an important person whom I had seen in newspapers when I was a teen, but whom I didn’t consider further until we met, I like over-looked aspects of history. Of course, in any part of the universe, Betty Mae Jumper is an amazing person. Despite the fact that she had written her memoir twice, I could find no biography of her and felt young readers deserved a picture book about her.

Joan: SHE SANG PROMISE is an empowerment story for girls. Do you see this as a recurring theme in your work?

Jan: I’m interested in empowering all children. I hope Mrs. Jumper’s childhood outdoors, alligator experiences, interest in comic books, and other adventures prove magnetic to girl and boy readers.

Joan: What was the most difficult part of writing SHE SANG PROMISE?

Jan: Mrs. Jumper’s complex background, traditions and achievements meant that all couldn't be included and some distinct life moments and events would be excised from the manuscript. I felt a pang for each one. I’m grateful that I could lean on editor Jennifer Emmett for patient, honest, solid guidance and experience in that

Joan: And what was most satisfying?

Jan: I loved seeing her story, via the typed words I felt fortunate to write, shimmer alive in the artwork of Lisa Desimini, who spent some of her childhood in Florida, by the way. Having a ticket to perch around that creative process, well, it must be in the echelon of assisting on the set when a fabulous film comes together. Lisa is generous in sharing ideas, sketches, and everything. I have a Lisa shrine on a bookshelf.

Joan: Your book is thoroughly researched and delves deeply into the lives and culture of the Seminole Indians. Both the manuscript and illustrations were vetted with the staff of the Seminole museum, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, and more can be learned from their website: During your hours of research, you must have discovered many stories begging you to give them voice in children’s books. Will you?

Jan: Wow! Many thanks for that, Joan. My research for a worthy unknown biography topic has sent me delving into several lives. With the info I’ve collected to date, none measure up to Betty Mae Tiger Jumper. I’m currently writing about history in fictional formats. My biggest project is a chapter book set in the 1960s, inspired by a circumstance of my New Jersey home town in which my parents participated.

Joan: That’s something we can look forward to. Best of luck. We’ll follow you on

Thanks for sharing, Jan.
Or, as I learned from your book, Sho na’ bish.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Begging to Go to School

She was already 13 when Betty Mae Jumper discovered that books could “talk.” She begged to go to school to learn to read and write and learn to speak English, too. This girl child from the Florida Everglades grew up to be a Seminole tribal leader, but she came close to not growing up at all.

SHE SANG PROMISE, The story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader, by Jan Godown Annino, illustrated by Lisa Desimini. National Geographic Children’s Books, 2010.

As a young child, Betty Mae was almost thrown into the swamp to destroy her”bad spirits.” Fortunately, the family escaped to a safer place where Betty Mae grew up learning the ways and stories of her people, stories from when the animals could talk; stories like the Corn Lady, the Twins, How Little Dog Came to Be; stories of greed and stealth; stories she says showed the people how to live.

An eager student, Betty Mae learned quickly and well. She became a nurse, helped start a newspaper, interpreted in courtrooms and emergency rooms, and was elected one of the first female tribal leaders in modern times. She became a voice for her people as well as a protector of animal life in the Everglades. In her words, “Every living thing has a purpose and that’s not to make it dead.”

Author Godown’s prose flows into poetic phrases, almost a siren song to the word traveler. The illustrator's artwork is lush and deep as the night. Designed for 3rd and 4th graders, the book is a complete package: chronology, glossary, and bibliography. Readers of all ages will be lured into the Florida Everglades, unaware of how much they are learning about a multi-storied culture.

One more thing: Betty Mae could wrestle an alligator!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Last Magic Hour Before Sunset

The day fades. Evening’s spread is gentle, lulling the world, softening edges. If anyone could capture this fragile, fleeting time on paper or canvas, it would be painter Walter Anderson. His pursuit was quiet. What he accomplished is left to others to discover and share. Here is a book that does just that.

THE SECRET WORLD OF WALTER ANDERSON by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, Candlewick, 2009.

Hester Bass is an artist with words. E. B. Lewis is a much honored illustrator with thirty children’s books to his credit. Together they celebrate the genius of a man whose need to paint carried him deeply into his own world, a private world whether it be the room he shared with no one or the island where he spent weeks alone.

The author was introduced to Anderson's work in 1996 when her husband became executive director of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. She learned of the artist's desire that art be affordable so everyone could enjoy it in their homes. This book is the realization of her dream to share Walter Anderson’s life, his art and his vision with children and families.

In words and watercolors, these artists have created a fitting tribute to another artist.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Campfire Tales

I doubt we could count the number of books written about a boy and his dog. But what if the dog is really a pig named “Dog”?

LUCKY JAKE, by Sharon Hart Addy, illustrated by Wade Zahares, Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

And what if this Gold Rush story is itching to escape onto the page from an author who knows how to spin a yarn just right for young listeners? And what if Jake's western adventures are not quite what you'd expect? And what if the illustrator leads readers with sure steps from vivid sunsets to purple blue shadows that blanket Jake and his gold panning father and Dog at the end of each day?

Well then, you’d be lucky, too–-you and that young listener on your lap.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Week Ahead

Exciting news!

On Thursday a newly published book, SHE SANG PROMISE, The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Semiole Tribal Leader, will be reviewed.

On Friday I'll post an interview with Jan Godown Annino, the author of this delightful biography.

The author and illustrator combine talents to introduce readers in third and fourth grade to an inspiring woman and an amazing culture.

Be sure to stop by!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Giraffe’s Travels

If you’re short like me, you look up, up, at the giraffe in the zoo and wonder what it’s like to look down on so many people and places. And what lovely curly eyelashes! Of course, a giraffe with a cold could be highly uncomfortable if he has a sore throat. I’m not the only one who thinks a giraffe is as special as he or she is tall. Once there was a king who...

ZARAFA, THE GIRAFFE WHO WALKED TO THE KING by Judith S. George, illustrated by Britt Spencer, Philomel, 2009.

The king of France was about to receive a wonderful gift from the ruler of Egypt, but the behind the scenes story is a gift to the reader. Follow the travels of Zarafa, and the people who loved and cared for her. From a small African village to a palace in Paris, Zarafa made friends and spread love, lovely love, wherever she went.

In Arabic, Zarafa means “charming.” Do you think the king of France was charmed by his gift?

Wouldn’t you be?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

What are you doing to celebrate?

Here's a suggestion from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE):

In Urbana, Illinois NCTE staff members hosted an activity that had young authors smiling over busy pencils. Hundreds of child visitors were invited to make and decorate "a book about me...and what I like to read, when I like to read, and who I like to read with."

DO try this at home!

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Gift From Carnival

Carnival and Mardi Gras are over. They aren’t forgotten, however. One remembrance is the steel drum or street pan which was probably invented in the late 1930's during Carnival in the Caribbean. The sweetness and purity of its music needs to be heard to be truly appreciated. Steel pan music on your Ipod? Lucky you!

STEEL PAN MAN OF HARLEM by Colin Bootman, Carolrhoda Books, 2009

Rats everywhere. Rats! The story will sound familiar and it should. It’s a retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. This one is set in the Harlem Renaissance, a rich cultural celebration of art and rhythm. Lively illustrations dance off the page, enticing readers to follow. Although the book is recommended for readers aged 5-9, older readers and parents, too, will find much to enjoy. Author/illustrator Bootman and his steel pan man demonstrate the importance of doing the right thing and keeping one’s word.

The steel pan is now considered Trinidad’s national instrument and a symbol of Caribbean unity and culture. Its sound is guaranteed to cure the winter doldrums.

Will it bring spring?

Hillview School Library