Sunday, May 16, 2021

Happy National Love a Tree Day!



Happy National Love a Tree Day! Who knew? I love trees every day, and even more so since I read The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom written and illustrated by Lita Judge.

Each beautiful spread, with carefully detailed illustrations, contains a poem about trees on the left side, and information about tree communities' ability to communicate, warn, and protect each other on the right. An author's note tells how this fascination for trees took root, and back matter fills in more details about tree communities. 

Scientists have learned a lot about tree behavior recently, and it is amazing! For example, in "Neighbor, Can You Hear Me?" the poem is a tree calling out to its neighbors. The factual information tells us that when insects attack a tree, the tree sends electrical signals through the fungi living among the tree's roots. When other trees receive the warning, they "pump a bitter-tasting chemical called tannin into their leaves to ward off the insects" (p. 11). 

Enjoy this short video about how the book was made and see its beauty for yourself.

Through the seasons and around the world, Judge shows and tells us how trees take care of each other. We could learn a lot from trees!

          See more about Lita Judge's award-winning books here.  




Monday, February 15, 2021

The Clothesline Code: Celebrating Valentine's Day and Black History Month

I can't think of a better way to celebrate Valentine's Day (well, let's make it a week, shall we?) and Black History Month (let's make that year 'round, shall we?) than to introduce you to award-winning author, Janet Halfmann's, newest book, The Clothesline Code, released February 1.

From the back cover: "Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker didn’t have to risk their lives to spy for the Union army. The couple had already risked everything to escape slavery themselves."

This is a true story of a loving black couple, Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker, who found a unique and daring way to help the Union during the Civil War. Dabney was assigned to an intelligence unit in the Union Army. Lucy Ann was a camp laundress. As formerly enslaved people, neither had been allowed to learn to read or write. How could they sneak behind enemy lines and set up a system for communicating what the Confederates were up to? The clothesline code was born. 

Lucy Ann was the one who would go into enemy territory, learn Confederate secrets, and send them to Dabney, who would look at the clothesline and decode the message. Should they be found out, both of their lives were in danger. Suspense builds as the Walkers send messages back and forth. Readers feel Dabney's distress on days when messages don't come. Was Lucy Ann ok? Would their plan succeed?

The Walkers' determination to help defeat slavery demonstrates the power we all have in using everyday items, courage, and caring to change the world.

Halfmann's vivid writing and Trisha Mason's emotive illustrations bring these little-known heroes to life, engaging youth and adults. Halfmann says that she "strives to make her books come alive for young readers and listeners," and this book proves that she does. 

Find out more about Halfmann and her books here. Find out more about Mason and her art here.

I like Halfmann's writing so much that I have written about her work before here and here.

Halfmann proudly displays The Clothesline Code.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Happy New Year! and Some Un-resolutions for Joyful Living


Happy New Year! For those unfamiliar with northern winter climates, I'll tell you that the image above is snow. This snow is not new, yet has no tracks or marks on it, and it serves as an analogy for the new year. This snow fell last year and remains, just as parts of 2020 remain with us into 2021. But what remains has not marked this snow. Here it is, crisp and untouched. What can we make of it? It's ours to decide. What can we make of our new year? At the end of 2021, will we be glad of the tracks we've made? 

A new year presents challenges and responsibilities. A turn of a calendar page is not magic. I'm sure I'm not alone in making and breaking resolutions year after year. This year, I realized that the things I usually resolved to do felt more like punishment. So I'm going to make some un-resolutions that I can actually keep that will increase my joy. My list is in progress and subject to change, but here are a few items:

Eat a bite of chocolate every day.

Listen more to music.

Read more, generally, and read more poetry, specifically.

Look at--really look at--works of art.

No, these are not SMART goals. These are just life-enriching things that often get pushed aside in daily busyness. How will you add more joy this year? What tracks will you leave in 2021?

"...Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings...." is from the incredible poem by Maya Angelou,"On The Pulse of Morning," written for and delivered at President Clinton's inauguration in 1993. Here is the entire poem: 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

A World Full of Poems: Something for Everyone


It's not too late to order this as a holiday gift for everyone. Yes, I know that it says "for children," but aren't we all children at heart? It also says "Inspiring," and who couldn't use some of that?

Seriously, this volume is destined to become a classic, containing  poems by some of the most well-known poets in the world: Jane Yolen, Jack Prelutsky, Emily Dickinson, Charles Ghigna, Naomi Shihab Nye, Margarita Engle, David L. Harrison, Janet Wong, and so many more (110 in all--see the whole list here). My friend, Eric Ode, and two Minnesota poets (I think of them as neighbors, but we've never met), Joyce Sidman and Laura Purdie Salas are there, too. It also contains poems by lesser-knowns, like me!

Published by DK, edited by the amazing Sylvia Vardell, the book contains poems under these section headings: Family and Friends; Feelings;  Animals and Nature; Cities, Towns, and Travel; Fun and Games; Science and Art; Body and Health; A World of Learning. You can see that it has something for everyone and does, indeed, contain the whole world. The book's child-friendly illustrations by Sonny Ross add to the classic feel.

The book's back matter contains poetry activities from reading, acting, hunting, discussing, and writing poems to poetic styles and terms. 

You'll find me on page 25:

(Yes, this is a reprint that first was published in Pomelo Books' Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations in 2015.)

This book is a treasure to enjoy every day for years to come. 

PS See Sylvia Vardell's celebratory posts here and here.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Hop To It: Poems to Get You Moving!

The official National Poetry Month is April, but for me this year, Poetry Month came in October, with the release of 3 new poetry titles that contain my poems! I'll start by introducing you to this one, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong

Hop To It began pre-pandemic with a focus on physical movement. The editors decided to delay publishing and added poems about social movements and safety movements, making this a well-rounded book of 100 poems to get young people moving in all kinds of ways!

In addition to the poems by some of the top children's poets today, as well as lesser-knowns like myself, the editors included sidebars with extended activities, extra information about the topic or about poetry, and prose books that complement the poem with similar themes or topics.  This book is easy for teachers and parents to use to enrich a class session in a subject area or in language arts. It's aimed at grades K-5, but younger and older kids will enjoy the poems and action, too. 

For example, my poem, "Heartbeat" could be used in a science class talking about the circulatory system. In the sidebar, the editors included a fun fact about the number of human heartbeats per minute vs. the number of hamster heartbeats. But don't let me tell you; let these kids show you. Click the image for sound and action:

Get your own copy here or from your favorite online book seller. See other great Vardell & Wong poetry books for teachers and kids at Pomelo Books.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

International Book Lovers Day: Travel with ResQ!

You may be one of many disappointed people who had to cancel travel plans this year, but we can still travel via books. And what better book to celebrate International Book Lovers Day than with Eva J. Pell's middle grade novel, ResQ Takes on the Takhi, released this June by Tumblehome Books, which specializes in STEM books for kids?  Pell's extensive science background, including her position as Under Secretary for Science at the Smithsonian Insitute, informs her writing. 

Where are we going with the ResQ crew? Mongolia! ResQ is formally comprised of eleven-year-old inventor, Wheaton and his cousin, twelve-year-old naturalist, Stowe. They are accompanied on this adventure by their photographer grandmother, Ariella, who has contacts in Mongolia.

Batar from Mongolia calls to ask ResQ to help round up a stray band of takhi, Mongolian wild horses, and bring them back into the national park where they belong. Wheaton's inventions, Stowe's knowledge of nature, Ariella's wisdom and familiarity with the culture, and the help of their Mongolian hosts give readers an imaginative adventure. 

In joining ResQ's search for the takhi, readers learn Mongolian culture, language, climate, and geography. But Pell isn't writing a textbook. She vividly describes each scene, so that readers feel that they are part of the adventure. Wheaton and Stowe apply critical thinking, Wheaton's inventions, and what's at hand to conduct their mission. Pell amps up the suspense by making this mission time-sensitive. With a blizzard swirling around them, Wheaton and Stowe get separated from their Mongolian guide. How will they survive? Will they get reunited? Will they bring the takhi back to the park? Drawings by Alexa Lindauer enhance the text and show, among other things, what a Mongolian blizzard might be like.

I won't give any spoilers, but I will tell you this--I'd love to have a Dynochute, one of Wheaton's inventions, and I thank Eva J. Pell for an advanced reader copy of this book.

If Mongolia and the takhi don't interest you, maybe you'd like to try ResQ's first adventure--ResQ and the Baby Orangutan, which will take you to Borneo. 

With books, you can go anywhere!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Happy Birthday, America; You're Beautiful!

"As an economic depression spread dark wings across the country, people filled the streets, feeling scared and angry and alone." Sound familiar? These were conditions in the United States in the 1890's, as described by Nancy Churnin in her biographical picture book about Katherine Lee Bates, For Spacious Skies.

Katherine Lee Bates, most famous for her poem that became a well-loved song, "America the Beautiful," strove for reforms to improve conditions for women and workers.

For Spacious Skies emphasizes Bates' desire for education and opportunity. Bates felt the power of words at an early age and was able to channel that power in her speaking, writing, and teaching.

In 1893, she stood at the top of 14,115-foot Pikes Peak, awed by the scenery that unfolded below her, inspired to write her famous poem. It was nationally published and loved, but she never took payment for it. It was a gift to her country.

Author Churnin helps readers understand the person behind the poem--a gracious, determined woman who used her education and words to unite a country. The Author's Note, Timeline, and Selected Sources fill in the story. Illustrator Olga Baumert enhances the theme by showing the beauty of "amber waves of grain," Pikes Peak, and Bates herself. 

Image by B Wellensiek from Pixabay 

While much divides us these days in the U.S., I think we can agree that "from sea to shining sea," the U.S. offers much natural beauty. May Bates' spirit of service inspire us all to use our talents to make the U.S. the best it can be.What beautiful places are your favorites? Let me know in the comments.

Many thanks to Nancy Churnin and Darlene Beck-Jacobsen for gifting me a copy of For Spacious Skies through commenting on Darlene's blog

Happy birthday, USA! Enjoy this version of Katherine Lee Bates' poem sung by Ray Charles: