Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Time Flies!

(Image by Celestine Chua, Creative Commons License

I haven't been here for awhile! Yes, I missed you, and I'm sure you've been busy with this and that, just as I have been. Have you thought about how sometimes time zooms by and other times it crawls? And overall, our human time on earth is just a blip!

One thing I've been doing since I was last here is immersing myself in picture books. You know how much I love them if you've read my book for librarians & teachers, Teach Writing to Older Readers Using Picture Books. And I felt the need to learn what's currently being published.

One fascinating picture book about time was originally published in Portugal in 2008 and made it to this country in 2015 thanks to Enchanted Lion books--The World in a Second by Isabel Minhos Martins and illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvalho

Though reviews bill this book as being for ages 4-8, the style and concept are appropriate for older children and even adults. "While you turn the pages of this book, the world doesn't stop...." And the book shows what happens around the world while you are turning the book's pages. Each spread could be a story unto itself. Visual clues let the reader know where the scene is taking place. The final page shows the locations and times referenced in the book. This is the kind of book that expands one's thinking and sparks wondering about time, other people, other places, and the world around us.

A lilting book for younger readers, By Day, By Night by Amy Gibson and illustrated by Meilo So shows us how alike we are no matter where we live. We all wake up in the morning and go about our various ways of making a living and spending time with friends and families. The illustrations show people of various cultures throughout the day, working, playing, making friends, learning, experiencing life, until it's bedtime--and then another day begins.

If you'd like to be more philosophical about time, here's an article about an experiment that proves time does not exist.

Still, we measure time, both as individuals and as a society. One thing we know--it goes by.

How do you measure time?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Celebrate! Poem in Your Pocket Day, National Poetry Month, or Anything at All!

If you look, you can always find something to celebrate. I thought I'd wrap up National Poetry Month by featuring the brand-new Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, compiled by Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong, published by Pomelo Books

It contains 156 poems for holidays throughout the year by children's poets you've heard of, such as Kenn Nesbitt, Eric Ode, Jane Yolen, David L. Harrison, J. Patrick Lewis, Nikki Grimes, Joyce Sidman, Laura Purdie Salas, and many others! It also includes poems by some not-so-well known poets, including me! I'm thrilled to be in this amazing company!

And here is my celebration poem for International Friendship Day:

Pomelo published a student edition (shown) with poems in English and Spanish and a teacher/librarian version that includes activities, literature connections, standards alignment, and tips for teaching and using poetry with children.

Continue the year 'round celebrating with the following book of poetry and artwork representing the four seasons.

The poems were selected by Paul B. Janeczko, who was featured in my previous blog post. Poems include old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, by poets such as Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, Ted Kooser, and Alice Schertle. In keeping with the book's subtitle, the poems are indeed very short. Melissa Sweet's mixed media illustrations add to the festivities.

Finally, we close National Poetry Month with Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 30. What poem is in your pocket? What poem would you give others for their pockets? 

Keep a poem in your pocket and celebrate, because every day is precious.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A History of Poetry in 50 Objects: Happy National Poetry Month

How has language changed through time? How have human lives changed, as we've greeted new inventions and deemed others obsolete? And how could those concepts be shown in a picture book poetry collection?

Only Paul Janeczko would tackle such a project so successfully! For The Death of the Hat, Janeczko chose 50 poems from the Early Middle Ages to the present. His introduction briefly explains society and language in each time period, which makes this book a great companion to history and language classes. You'll find some favorites here, as well as poems you may never have seen before. For more on how and why Janeczko chose these poems, see this interview from Kirkus.

Thanks to Chris Raschka's artwork, even the old favorites feel new, as he puts his fresh interpretation on the pages. 

Though published and cataloged in libraries as a book for children, all ages will find this book a delight.

Janeczko tells us in the introduction that he has more than 1,500 poetry books, which makes me feel not so odd, after all. I have a lot, but not that many! Here are some of mine. Do you recognize any? What do your poetry shelves look like?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Poetry Found Him: Pablo Neruda: National Poetry Month

“It was at that age
that poetry came in search of me.” 

Pablo Neruda, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair

Poetry found Pablo Neruda, born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, at an early age--an age where his father opposed Neftali's poetry writing and politics, but Neftali published his first poems as a teenager under his real name. To escape his father's disapproval, by the time he was 20, he wrote under the name for which he gained universal fame--"the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language," according to novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Not only was he wildly popular as a poet, he became a diplomat and ambassador for his native country, Chile. 

Here are some of his well-known lines:

“Then love knew it was called love. 
And when I lifted my eyes to your name, 
suddenly your heart showed me my way” 

“To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life.” 

“And one by one the nights between our separated cities are joined to the night that unites us."

“Laughter is the language of the soul.” 

“Love is the mystery of water and a star.” 

Pam Muñoz Ryan's fictional biography of Neruda's boyhood and coming of age shows young readers how Neruda overcame his father's opposition and followed his dream. Written in heartfelt poetic prose, The Dreamer, illustrated by Peter Sís, encourages young people to be who they are and use the talents they are given. 

The back matter explains fact and fiction and includes some of Neruda's poetry.

And finally, a caution:

Advice to a Young Woman with Bad Judgment in Men

Pablo Neruda and Shakespeare,
E Barrett Browning and Keats,
Elvis (Costello & Presley)
Wrote of love and its infinite sweets

And its cruelty and heartache and cheating,
Its pain, sure to last evermore.
With such a great love in your life, girl,
Why wouldn’t you show him the door?

He wooed you with promises plenty,
“Red wine for red lips,” so he said.
Not quite the Khayyam--still you bought it--
The words going straight to your head.

Now Nazareth, Joan Jett, and Petty
Sing love’s truer tale to you.
Watch out for poets, my darlin’,
Or they’ll get the better of you.

~Jane Heitman Healy ©2010

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What’s Your Superpower? (Part 2)

My last post featured brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, a coming-of-age memoir in verse. In this book, we learn that Woodson discovers that her “brilliance” is telling stories. We encounter a similar theme in a different memoir for young people that, like Woodson’s book, has earned many awards. A 2015 Newbery Honor Book, El Deafo by Cece Bell is often referred to as a “graphic novel” in consumer reviews. It is, however, a graphic memoir--non-fiction.

When Bell becomes deaf at an early age, she must learn to cope not only with her deafness, but others’ reactions to it. Making true friends is hard, and teasing and bullying sadden, anger, and frustrate her until she takes a bully’s name for her, “El Deafo,” and embraces it as her superpower. What a great way to turn something intended as bad into something good!

You’ll have to read the book to find out how that works out. Read my young friend Haley's review to whet your appetite:

“This touching graphic novel uses bunnies as characters to show how the main character (Cece) is deaf.  This was very clever to help express how different she feels.  This story not only tells about how she learns to deal with her disability but also how she goes through elementary school.  She has the same friend problems as any elementary kid! But she handles them by going into her own creative world where she helps others.  El Deafo has its ups and downs but you'll want to read it to the end!” ~ Haley, 8th grade 

If you aren't sure what your superpower is, see what kinds of programs your public library offers this summer and get your whole family involved. Some libraries across the country are using the theme of heroes and superheroes. Maybe participating will help you find your superpower!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What’s Your Brilliance? (Part 1)

The dust is settling on the book awards season, and winners’ covers proclaim their awards. I was fortunate to get my hands on two very popular titles for young people. While they are completely different, they have one theme in common—a young person’s discovering what’s special about  themselves. Here are my reflections on the first book:

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson has been awarded the 2014 National Book Award—Young People’s Literature, the 2015 Newbery, a 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor, an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Work—Youth/Teens, and others. Why all the accolades? And what can I possibly add to the many more learned reviews that have already been written?

-brown girl dreaming has historical significance. It is a coming-of-age memoir written in free verse about growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s partly in the North and partly in the South. These were historic times in the Civil Rights Movement, and this book shows what a young girl thought about living in those times in those places. How to behave in certain places to avoid trouble—or should you go ahead and make trouble?
“At the fabric store, we are not Colored
or Negro. We are not thieves or shameful
or something to be hidden away.
At the fabric store, we’re just people.” (from “the fabric store,” p. 90-91)

By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 -It is a book about who we are as family, and the ways family influences our identity. Aunts, uncles, brothers, sister, mother, father, and grandparents all played a part in making Woodson who she is today. Especially poignant is Woodson’s love for her maternal grandfather, expressed throughout the book, as in “sometimes, no words are needed:”
 “…My head against/my grandfather’s arm,
a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing.
Its whine like a song.”

-It is a book about finding one’s unique gift and figuring out what to do with it. Woodson’s brother could sing. Woodson’s sister was brilliant. Fortunately for us, Woodson found her gift in writing.
“I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them
then blow gently, watch them float
right out of my hands” (from “gifted,” p. 169).

The free verse format makes for easy reading that I want to read over and over again. On learning to write her name at age 3:
Will the words end, I ask
whenever I remember to.
Nope, my sister says, all of five years old now,
and promising me

infinity.” (from “the beginning,” p. 62-63)

Indian Girl Child 4970
By Biswarup Ganguly (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Like any life, there is stuggle and triumph, joy and sorrow.
“Maybe, I am thinking, there is something hidden
like this, in all of us. A small gift from the universe
waiting to be discovered” (from “hope onstage,” p. 233).

Woodson’s words are sure to help other young people—of any color—look for and find their own brilliance.

For more about Woodson, here's an NPR interview.

(Stay tuned for Part 2)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscars, Alzheimer’s, and What Flowers Remember

Chances are good that you know someone with Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association says that every 67 seconds someone is diagnosed with the disease, more than 5 million Americans are living with it, and 1 in 3 senior citizens in America dies from Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

Awhile back, I won the book What Flowers Remember from author Shannon Wiersbitzky. In the book, the main character, Delia, learns about Alzheimer’s as her elderly friend, Old Red, goes through changes caused by the disease. Wiersbitzky graciously offered to answer a few questions about this book for young people.

Jane: Your story is set in Tucker’s Ferry, a nice small town in West Virginia that reminds me somewhat of Mitford, Jan Karon’s made-up town. How did you go about creating Tucker’s Ferry, and what other writers influenced your own writing?
Shannon: Tucker’s Ferry is modeled after the small town of Culloden, West Virginia. Growing up, I spent all my summers there. It was where my grandparents lived. It had a little post office where everyone met to get mail and share news, one little grocery store, a gas station and a fire department. And that was about it. The fictional Tucker’s Ferry is an idealized version I suppose, and that fits the story. 

I think everything you read influences you in some way. As a child, it was probably more about learning the arc of story. Growing up I loved Robert C. O’Brien books, Judy Blume, Noel Streatfeild and all her dancing shoes, there was the Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher and the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The person who has influenced my writing the most though is probably my editor Stephen Roxburgh. He is simply brilliant.  

Jane: I love the intergenerational aspects of this book. People of all ages do things together and learn from each other, whether or not they’re related. Our society tends to lump people together by age, so that young people don’t mix with senior citizens unless they are grandparents. What are some benefits of intergenerational activities, and how can we promote them in our own communities?
Shannon: You’re absolutely right. And it is such a loss for everyone! I was fortunate in that I lived with my grandparents three months of every year from the age of about seven until I was almost out of high school. We’d visit the requisite amusement park and such, but most of the time it was just regular life. I remember my grandfather heading off to work and coming home in the evening. I’d help my grandmother clean. We’d talk to neighbors. And my grandfather had a big garden. He didn’t grow flowers like Old Red, he grew vegetables, and then my grandmother would preserve hundreds and hundreds of jars for winter. I really got to know them as people, which is such a gift. 

Today I think too many young people only see their grandparents or other senior citizens as old. Every older person was young once! They had first kisses and got in trouble, they’ve been scared or brave, and they are usually more than happy to share their stories. And the stories can be so surprising and wonderful.

I wish there were more ways to connect the generations, through real conversation, not lecture. We should absolutely invite senior citizens into schools. Have them lend real context to an era or a war, read books aloud, listen and mentor, participate in activities. If kids are describing what they want to be when they grow up, have seniors answer that same question based on their own younger dreams. Ask children to interview a senior they know and give them some prompts. Tell me about a time when you got into big trouble as a kid. What were you most scared of when you were my age? What did you do for fun? 

When a young person can discover the personality behind the age, that is the key. From there, anything is possible.  

Here are a couple of recent news items about young people and Alzheimer's patients: 
Let Me Be Your Memory is a school curriculum to link kids to seniors to gather and record memories and create memoirs. 

Jane: The heart of the book is about young Delia and Old Red, who have a flower seed business together. Old Red has been teaching Delia about flowers, seeds, and gardening. Where did you get the expertise to write accurately about flower gardening?
Shannon: I’m so glad it all seems accurate! As I said, my grandfather grew vegetables, so I knew a tiny bit about tending to plants and such. The rest I learned through research. I did my best to get it right for all the real gardeners out there. I’m not very good at it myself. I love the IDEA of gardening, but I don’t love all the hard work it actually requires. My own gardens start out beautiful and then end in a tangle of weeds. It’s shameful. 
Jane: Delia takes over more and more of the work, as Old Red becomes unreliable. He finally must be moved to a senior care center. This process is difficult for everyone in town, but they try to help each other cope with Old Red’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Delia uses creativity to help Old Red hang onto his memories. I read on your website that your grandfather had Alzheimer’s. Did you use a similar tactic? If not, where did you get the idea?
Shannon: My grandfather did have Alzheimer’s and eventually he forgot me. That was horrible, and very hard to comprehend, even as an adult. And I’m certain that is why I was drawn to write about the topic. My grandfather and I never talked about his disease. And not once did I think to record as many memories as I could. Delia’s bravery and ability to confront the problem head on is so admirable. I love her for it. 
The idea for the memory wall that Delia creates in Old Red’s room just popped into my mind one day. I’m a very visual writer. I tend to imagine scenes first and then write them. I knew she was capturing all these stories and folks were giving her photos and I could see this entire wall of Old Red’s life, there for everyone to see. The thought was so beautiful it made me cry. Which meant I absolutely had to get it on paper.   

Jane: The contrast between flowers bursting into bloom and dropping seeds as Old Red loses his faculties and fades away is very poignant. What DO flowers remember? What would you like to tell people who know someone with Alzheimer’s?
Shannon: I would like to think that flowers do remember the people who tended them and the stories they’ve told. Certainly as humans we have the ability to carry stories forward. To tell them to our own children or grandchildren. Perhaps we’re both the flowers and the seeds. 

Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease. It hurts everyone it touches. In the early stages, if I could do it over, I would have asked more, listened more, recorded more. In the later stages, prepare the best you can for the day when your loved one won’t remember you. And simply know you're not alone. So many have been touched by it. Read, talk, ensure you have a support system. 

Jane: I hope we’ll hear more from Tucker’s Ferry. I have a feeling Delia and her friends might have more to learn—and more to teach us. Thanks for talking with me.
Shannon: Thank you! 

Alzheimer’s makes an appearance in the glamour of Hollywood, too. One of tonight’s Oscar nominees is Julianne Moore for Best Actress in “Still Alice.” Moore portrays a college linguistics professor with a happy home life who starts forgetting words and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She is only 50, and the disease progresses quickly, affecting herself and everyone around her. Is she still Alice?  

Avid reader and friend, Jan Mullin, wrote this about the book Still Alice by Lisa Genova: "A Novel." Really? The voice of Alice feels like it comes from my own heart and head and couldn't be more real. Genova writes in such a personal way (Oh my God, what's happening to me?) Her poignant phrases--"She’d rather die than lose her mind" or " Who was she if she wasn’t..." professor, wife, mother, researcher--bring home the realities of the monster under the bed. Alzheimer's is something Alice can't fight, "a demon in her head, tearing a reckless and illogical path of destruction, ripping apart the wiring…" Through diligent research, interviews and personal interactions (and great writing), Genova gives a heart-rending view of the fear, isolation, and confusion as the disease evolves. On the brighter side, Genova includes very positive actions such as early diagnosis and intervention, support groups not just for the caregiver, but also the AD person, and how Alice's family comes to care for and about her in her new reality. The title isn't a question, but through the entire book Alice questions the concept of still being AliceAt the end, the question remains: Still Alice?
Here’s a clip of Moore’s performance in the movie trailer:
 A portion of the sales from Wiersbitzky’s book goes to the Alzheimer’s Association. See how you can help or receive help: