Sunday, May 24, 2020


During this time of COVID-19, my library is closed, and I am one of several staff who have been reassigned to Parks (more on that another time), which must be why I think about grass more than usual--mowing, trimming, weeding, and admiring grass.

Carl Sandburg wrote his poem "Grass" and recites it here:

Which brings me to Memorial Day, a day to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. My family has a story that harks back to WWI and the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. My great-uncle, the co-owner of a general store in our hometown, was very popular and highly regarded there. He was drafted into the Army in WWI and sent overseas. As you might expect, the folks back home worried about him and prayed for his safe return. And return he did! Growing up, I heard the story's ending as "and then he caught the Spanish Flu and died." Years later, a relative said that it was actually scarlet fever. Regardless, the result was the same. My great-uncle, who had fought in WWI half a world away returned safely only to die soon after from a disease in 1920. We remember.

In 1905, George Santayana's famous words, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" were published in The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. While we vow to remember, time and generations pass, and the grass does its work. 

We have work to do, too, to tell the stories so that we can learn from the past and make the world a better place. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Happy National Poetry Month! Celebrating Nests

Birds are hopping, and flying, and singing, and --nesting! Yes, it's spring. The nest in the picture above is from last year, and I wonder if the same birds will come back to it. Time will tell. In the meantime, here's a poem I wrote for David L. Harrison's Word of the Month poetry challenge. (You are welcome to play along. Write a poem containing the word of the month and post it on that page.) 


                                                              Held high
                                                              In the branches,
                                                              A woven wonder
                                                              Of twigs, grass, mud;
                                                              Large enough
                                                              To shelter eggs,
                                                              Shield hatchlings
                                                              Launch chicks.
                                                                              © 2020 Jane Heitman Healy

A cozy rhyming picture book by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple reinforces the theme of nest as home in You Nest Here With Me. The book shows a variety of birds and their amazing nests, with the title as comforting refrain for human chicks, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

A brand new picture book about nests, released this March, by Randi Sonenshine, illustrated by Anne Hunter, is getting good reviews. Written like a rhyming "House that Jack Built," the text and pictures of The Nest That Wren Built detail the building of a wren's nest and life cycle.

How are you celebrating spring, nests, and poetry?


Saturday, February 22, 2020

After Dark: Poems about Nocturnal Animals Blog Tour Stop #3 AND A GIVEAWAY!

I'll be in touch about address.

I'm so excited to share the news of David L. Harrison's newest book, After Dark: Poems about Nocturnal Animals, releasing on 2/25! (You can order it now here or from your favorite book seller.) And excited to be the third stop on the After Dark blog tour! Toot! Toot!

David is a well-established, award-winning writer and poet for children and educators, so it's no surprise that After Dark is receiving great reviews from the likes of Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly

Yes, it's a picture book, but this is truly one for all ages, and one that kids can grow with. Young children will appreciate and learn from Stephanie Laberis' vivid illustrations depicting scenes from the poems, each set against the dark of night. A great example is the ominous illustration for "A Night's Work (Deer Mouse)" which emphasizes the mouse's need to beware of predators.

As children wonder more about the world outside, After Dark will answer their questions about what goes on while they are asleep. The 22 poems draw the readers into a scene with each animal, and fact pages in the back give extra information in easy-to-read bullet points.

Something I love about this book is that its poems feature creatures from a variety of environments, so that readers can learn more about animals that live where they do and learn about animals that are alien to them. My granddaughters readily identified the cougar, noting that we call them mountain lions. The armadillo is something they have only seen in pictures.

David gave his poems tantalizing titles, often using word play, to pique readers' interest. For example, "Don't Let Him Needle You" for the porcupine and "Armored Night Knight" for the armadillo. His poems' vocabulary stretches young readers. An example is his use of the word "pilfer" rather than the simpler "rob" in "No Fooling (Raccoon)": "Know how to pilfer, when to climb,/an escape artist, one of a kind." Readers can understand "pilfer" by using context clues from previous lines: "Light-fingered nighttime thief,/dines in style on what you leave" and interpreting the illustration.

I asked David about his sense of word choice, and here's what he said, "I can’t say I have a set rule or system. Word choice is probably a combination of experience, sense of fit, concern about my reader’s vocabulary, goal of keeping my language fresh, and occasionally choosing between the familiar and a stronger alternative that is more or less defined within the text. Sometimes I feel confident that even if my word choice isn’t in my reader’s reading vocabulary it’s probably in his speaking vocabulary, which should help him decode the word in print."  

Each poem takes the form it needs to tell its story. Some poems rhyme and some are free verse. I enjoy David's poetic language and the observations he makes about each animal. For example, from "Mouth of Doom (Flathead Catfish)": By night--/silent submarine,/solitary stalker...." 

David began his studies and adult career in biology. You may not think that science and poetry have much in common, but in fact, both require keen observation and the ability to describe what one observes. David said that the kernel for this book started when he was 6 years old camping with his parents, and it has finally come to fruition. In this, David's 97th book (!), he combines his love of nature and his mastery of poetry into a book that all ages can enjoy and learn from. 

David L. Harrison’s books for children and teachers have received dozens of honors, including Society of Midland Authors award for best children’s nonfiction book, 2016; Missouri Pioneer in Education Award; and Missouri Library Association’s Literacy Award. His work has been widely translated and anthologized more than 185 times. His poems have been set to music and sandblasted into a library sidewalk. He has been featured at hundreds of conferences, workshops, literature festivals, schools, and colleges. David holds two science degrees and two honorary doctorates of letters. He’s Drury University’s poet laureate. David Harrison Elementary School is named for him. 

He also encourages other poets of all ages and sponsors the Word Of the Month poem on his website. I've played there for many years, sometimes with greater success than others, but always with interest in seeing how other writers treat the word. (This month's word is AGE if you want to play along.)

GIVEAWAY INSTRUCTIONS--Yes, you want this book! And wouldn't it be fun to WIN it? Thanks to WordSong for making this giveaway possible. To enter, please leave a comment on this blog post by midnight CST on Friday, February 21, and a way to contact you if you win (email, FB, twitter handle). Available to those living in the US only. And spread the good news about this book in your own networks!

Catch a ride on the After Dark Blog Tour train! Next stop, Poetry for Children! All aboard!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Brave Women You've Never Heard Of: Black History Month

To commemorate Black History Month, I'd like to introduce you to two brave black women you've never heard of--Lilly Ann Granderson and Sarah E. Goode.

In Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and her Secret School, author Janet Halfmann tells Granderson's story in this picture book biography from the time Lilly was an enslaved child working in the master's house. She played school with the master's children when adults were not watching. She knew that she needed to hide her learning, but her desire to learn was unquenchable. Illustrations by London Ladd show Lilly teaching reading and writing to other enslaved children. Soon people of all ages attended her lessons. All of them knew the risks they faced if caught, but they continued. Lilly's students went on to teach others, creating a ripple of education. Halfmann makes clear the difficulties and risks Lilly took to create a good life for her family and help others learn. The difference between being enslaved and free before, during, and after the Civil War is stated directly. The Afterword fills in the historical record, and selected references show readers Halfmann's scholarship and places where they can find more information.

Vivian Kirkfield's picture book biography of Sarah E. Goode, Sweet Dreams, Sarah, shows a determined young black woman in pursuit of a dream. In lyrical language, Kirkfield describes Sarah's childhood as a slave and her dreams for something better: "A husband, A family, A job that she loved." Kirkfield continues to tell how Sarah achieved all three by moving to Chicago after emancipation, marrying Archibald Goode, starting a family, and opening her own furniture store. That might have been enough, but Sarah was skilled with people and with woodworking tools. She found a need--to make room for more beds in small apartments--and set to work. The furniture in her story wouldn't work: "Too boxy! Too bulky! Too big!" But she had an idea that led to Sarah Goode being the first black woman to hold a patent. Kirkfield shows Sarah's failed attempts at creating a cabinet bed (a forerunner of the Murphy bed) and the denial of her first patent application. After those trials, her patent acceptance and sale of her cabinet beds were a sweet dream come true. The illustrations by Chris Ewald show Sarah in action and emotion, helping readers to feel the depth of her dreams and understand the difficulties of her challenges.The back matter fills in more of the story with an Author's Note, an explanation of what a patent is, and a timeline of Sarah's life.

Both books are good for the older picture book reader through adults because of  their empowering facts and emphasis on persistence in pursuing one's dreams. 

And stay tuned! Next week, I get to host David L. Harrison and tell you about his forthcoming book as part of his book launch blog tour!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Always Give Thanks: Thanku: Poems of Gratitude

Today in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving, but giving thanks is for every day, not just one. 

     "....We need to give thanks
     every dawn
     for the gifts of life,
     for each breath drawn...."

So opens Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, with "Giving Thanks" by Joseph Bruchac.

This book, edited by Miranda Paul, includes poems by top children's poets who give thanks for creation, birds, sky, stars, the number zero, friends, puppies, and more. Each poem is written in a different form, defined in the back matter for readers who want to know more or try their own. You have probably heard of quatrains, but how about a fib?

Contributors are a list of who's who in children's literature including (in addition to Bruchac named above) Margarita Engle, Kenn Nesbitt, Jane Yolen, Diana Murray, Renee M. LaTulippe, Charles Ghigna, Traci Sorrell, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Charles Waters, Carole Lindstrom, Sylvia Liu, and current Young People's Poet Laureate, Naomi Shihab Nye, as well as many others.

Editor Paul and publisher Millbrook Press sought and got diversity among poets, formats, and topics. The book, released in September is winning awards and being named to "Best of 2019" lists.

I was especially thrilled to meet illustrator Marlena Myles at this fall's Northern Plains Indian Art Market! We were able to chat for some time about her part in the book's creation. She said that the publisher let her voice opinions and design spreads the way she wanted them, though this was sometimes challenging because of the disparate topics juxtaposed on either side of the page. She kept her primary audience--kids--in mind as she worked.

The story of the page on the right below, illustrating "Nothing to Be Grateful For" by Padma Venkatraman, was amazing to me. Myles said she translated the poem, about the number zero, into binary code!

This is an extraordinary book about gratitude for ordinary things. The details will keep me coming back to it over and over. 

I am thankful for Thanku!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

What Really IS Happily Ever After? A Review of STEPSISTER by Jennifer Donnelly


                Halloween week seems an appropriate time to review Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly. I got this book from the library after it was recommended by a local high school librarian as the best thing she had read all summer (and she reads a LOT).  Think back to the Cinderella story you know. This ain’t it.
                The key is on the front and back covers—“Beauty isn’t always pretty”(front), and “Don’t just fracture the fairy tale. Shatter it" (back).
                Donnelly has rewritten the Cinderella story with a focus on the ugly stepsisters. The story begins with the two stepsisters, Isabelle and Octavia, each cutting off part of her foot so that it would fit the glass slipper. As in the original tale, that ploy doesn’t work, and Ella, the good, beautiful, cast-aside stepsister, gets the prince. She rides off in his carriage and lives happily ever after—or does she? As we read, we learn more about the motives of each stepsister and other characters, which furthers our understanding of their personalities.
                This story can be read on different levels. To heighten the fantasy, Donnelly has Fate, Chance, and Isabelle’s free will duking it out. With help and a challenge from a shift-shaping godmother, Isabelle learns what her true heart’s desire is. She grows from having the narrow view of a female’s role imposed by her mother, making her vain and selfish, to becoming her country’s heroine. Yes, this is a story of female empowerment, suitable for older preteens and up.
                Turning the traditional tale on its head, readers ponder:  What is beauty? What is “a female role” in society? How do we respond to jealousy—our own and that of others? What is strength? How can we work together with people we may not like?
                The writing is excellent and full of surprises. One of my favorite passages demonstrates why you would want to keep reading:

                                “Isabelle put her weapon down and her hands up. A sword was no match for a gun. Chest heaving, she stood, then slowly turned around, certain that another deserter had come up behind her and was pointing the pistol straight at her head.
                                Or maybe a burglar. A brigand. A cold-blooded highwayman.
                                Never, for a second, did she expect to see a monkey wearing pearls.” (p. 89)

                When I researched the Cinderella story for my book for teachers and librarians, Once Upon a Time, I learned that this is considered a universal story. That means that instead of originating in one place and traveling to another, this story has versions that have originated in cultures around the world. 

                A couple of other good sources for fairy tale information are The Classic Fairy Tales by Iona and Peter Opie and the Sur la Lune website, as well as the work of Maria Tatar and Jack Zipes.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Dear Poet--a Wisdom Book for Creatives and Dreamers


           When I received a digital copy of Charles Ghigna’s Dear Poet courtesy of the publisher, I read it. I immediately reread it. And then I read it again. I ordered a print copy, so that I can more easily refer to it, mark it, and highlight it. Just before setting down these words, I read it. And I immediately reread it. It’s that good.
            Dedicated to his artist son, Chip, and writer wife, Debra, Ghigna wrote this slim book of poems with them in mind. He also looked back and wrote the advice he wished he'd received as a young poet.
            Taken together, the title and subtitle, Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer, may seem exclusive to those involved with poetry. The rest of the title opens up the book’s true purpose and includes a larger audience: A Poetic Journey into the Creative Process for Readers, Writers, Artists, & Dreamers.
            This is a book of wisdom for creatives and persons following their own dreams at any age. Replace the word “poem” with your dream, and the advice will apply to you. I read the entire fifty-six page book in twenty minutes. I will absorb it over the course of the rest of my life.
            Ghigna includes poems about recognizing limits, dealing with difficulties, keeping hope, and getting out of one's own way. Using metaphor and simile, he defines the undefinable—style, voice, inspiration, and poetry itself. You will find an echo, a firefly, a sunset, and other ordinary things to guide, encourage, and give purpose to your creative journey.

I highly recommend buying this wisdom book and keeping it handy to read and re-read to soak in inspiration.

A look back: I reviewed Charles Ghigna's book for children, First Times, here.