• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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A rare home schooling post: AP Government & Citizenship

As parents, we make choices for our kids when they are very young with — we hope, we believe — their best interests at heart. I made a decision for Laura shortly after her birth that she recently came to realize was not the right choice for her, and we’ve spent a good deal of time and money, along with a recent “field trip” to the nearest U.S. consulate to renounce U.S citizenship, so that Laura could correct that situation and bring her citizenship in line with her reality.

Laura, who is 18-1/2 and just graduated from high school, was born in Canada and is a Canadian by birth. She has never lived in the U.S. and never had a U.S. passport. But she was also — by accident of birth to a (then) U.S. citizen, who then (sigh) applied for a consular Report of a Birth Abroad — a dual citizen. Laura realized over the past year, after much study (her “curriculum” selections and recommended reading list are below) and reflection, that she is not a dual citizen but a Canadian, and a Canadian only, who has only ever lived in Canada, and who does not believe in divided national loyalties. And she wanted to begin adult life with as few impediments as possible. She had read that renouncing is easiest between the ages of 18 and 18-1/2, because the paperwork requirements are much simpler, so she started the process last year around the time of her birthday, and after submitting all of the required paperwork last November, was given an appointment for last week; that’s a wait of more than six months for the appointment and some locations, like Toronto, have even longer waits. At last week’s appointment, she was told the wait time to receive her official Certificate of Loss of Nationality, which will be dated with last week’s appointment date, will be four to six months. For 2013, there was a 221 percent increase, a record number, of dual American citizens renouncing or relinquishing their American citizenship. In 2015, there were approximately 4,300 expatriations.

The past several years have been basically an Advanced Placement course on U.S. government, politics and law, and citizenship, covering early American history (“no taxation without representation” is apparently a variable concept depending on time and place), constitutional law, patriotism, homeland vs. Homeland, just vs. unjust laws, citizenship-based taxation (U.S. and Eritrea) vs. residence-based taxation (the rest of the world), national sovereignty, personal vs. national privacy and security considerations, and what — or what should — determine citizenship (for example, jus sanguinis, “the right of blood”, or the acquisition of citizenship through parentage; or jus soli, “the right of soil”, or citizenship by virtue of being born in a particular territory. There were also discussions about being Canadian and living in Canada, but having U.S. officials consider everything about you, from your Canadian passport to your Canadian address to your Canadian father, “foreign” or “alien”, when to a Canadian they all mean “home”. It was probably as good a way as any for Laura to figure out what, and where, home is.

This is a very complex issue. I’ll try to write about this as simply as I can, because

  1. there’s a lot of information involved, which can be overwhelming and the temptation to avoid it all can be great;
  2. there’s a lot of misinformation (accidentally as well as on purpose) which, if you follow it, can make make your/your family’s situation worse rather than better, including those who would equate Americans abroad with tax cheats who need to brought into “compliance“;
  3. that misinformation and misunderstanding of the situation confuses many Americans living in the U.S. — including extended family and friends — who don’t understand that there might be very real disadvantages to living overseas with U.S. citizenship; who think Americans abroad concerned about this issue are a bunch of whining complainers and/or tax cheats who don’t want to pay our fair share.

Here’s some background about the situation in general, from the very, very good Isaac Brock Society blog (named for the British major general in the War of 1812 who was responsible for defending Upper Canada against the United States):

The United States is one of two countries in the world that taxes its people no matter where in the world they may reside. The other is Eritrea, which the USA has condemened for terrorism and for its diaspora tax. The majority of US persons who live abroad are not aware of their filing requirements. But recently, the US government has decided to crack down on those who are not in compliance.

But what is more, the US government has begun, since about 2004, to apply with great pressure a long-neglected requirement of 35-year old law called the Bank Secrecy Act. That requirement is FBAR, the foreign bank account report, which the United States government expects annually from those who have accounts outside of the United States which exceed $10,000 in aggregate. The fines for failure to file this form are extortionate, and virtually no US person who lives abroad even knew about FBAR, while most of them, over a certain age, own bank accounts with retirement savings exceeding that amount. The threats of fines and imprisonment has frightened many people who as a result have consulted expensive accountants and tax lawyers to get this mess sorted out, only to face high accounting or legal fees on top of potential fines and back taxes. In 2009 and 2011, the IRS offered voluntary disclosure programs (OVDI). Some who entered into the 2009 OVDI, because of fear of the penatlies, were shocked when the IRS assessed them fines in the tens of thousands, essentially treating them as tax evaders instead of a law abiding citizens in their countries of residence.

For many US expats, renunciation now seems like a really good idea. Why not? Many haven’t lived in the US for years and now they have few ties there except perhaps some family members. So they want to renounce their citizenship only to find that the laws regarding expatriation are confusing and that the exit tax requirements are at best complicated and invasive, and at worst, extortionate and utterly in violation of their right to expatriate.

The media coverage of this issue has been uneven. There have a been a few balanced stories, but most of the time, the media has merely publicized the purposes of the US government; this is especially true of US media sources. The Canadian media has generally done a much better job of grabbing the attention of the world about the abuses of the US government. That being said, even the Canadian media sometimes falls into the IRS trap of projecting fear in order to force compliance. Overall, we regret when the media offers only condemnation and fear without telling the story from the side of the victims or informing them of their rights and alternatives.

US persons abroad also face US border guards who are starting to put pressure on all those who have a US place of birth to travel only on a US passport, even if the person has not been a US person for decades–an arbitrary change of policy making those who relinquished citizenship into would-be loyal taxpayers to a profligate government that has to borrow 40 cents on every dollar its spends.

As with a number of bureaucratic decisions, there is a lot of noise about the intent to target “big fish” and tax cheats, and much of the recent legislation including FATCA seems intended as retribution for the decision by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin but the reality is that it’s mostly little fish, with bank accounts and mortgages, and “foreign” spouses and children, who are getting caught in the net.

From Nancy L. Greene’s 2009 article, “Expatriation, Expatriates, and Expats: The American Transformation of a Concept”,

Expatriation was initially a form of nation-building. For the United States to justify its break from Britain, it had, among other things, to legitimate the notion of leaving one’s country of birth. Expatriation was thus seen as a form of inclusion in America, with former British subjects in mind. Like citizenship itself, expatriation was both a theoretical/rhetorical and a practical/legal issue for the early state. The Declaration of Independence, which complained that King George III had impeded the peopling of the colonies (“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither”), was a declaration of the right of emigration. In the ensuing decades, in order to consolidate American independence and citizenship, expatriation from Britain had to be deemed a legal, indeed natural, right for both the state and the individual. The United States had to counter both politically and philosophically the competing British claim that birth- right or perpetual allegiance bound those born under the crown everlastingly to it. This essentially feudal notion, most forcefully expounded by the famous jurist Sir Edward Coke in 1608, regarded expatriation as a moral travesty and a legal im- possibility. It would take several decades for the new nation to impose its view that expatriation was in turn a natural right. The right of exit was the necessary corollary to a right of entry, and a Lockean notion of free will underwrote the definition of the new American citizen. …

The United States may have been founded on a notion of the right to leave, leading Albert O. Hirschman [the German-born economist and author of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty] to speak of a “national love affair with exit,” but attitudes about leave-takers depend on who is doing the exiting, from where, to where, and when.

* * * * * * * * *

A recommended reading list for dual citizens of all ages:

“The Negative Implications of U.S. Citizenship on Those Starting Out in Life”

“My Thoughts on U.S. Citizenship for Young People”

“Letter of a Canadian Businessman to his Dual U.S./Canada Citizen Son on the Occasion of his High School Graduation” (and all comments at the Isaac Brock Society blog are always well worth reading)

Isaac Brock Society blog, and particularly helpful posts from the Isaac Brock Society blog (don’t miss the conversations going on in the comments, which are always helpful):

“Introduction to FATCA for Canadians”

“How to Renounce/Relinquish” (FYI children born dual must renounce, not relinquish)

Introductory Material on: Citizenship-Based Taxation (vs. Residence-Based Taxation), FATCA; A Synopsis of John Richardson’s Info Session (see below for more); A History of Isaac Brock Society

IBS’s consulate report directory and CLN delivery time chart (aka “What to Expect, at the Consulate, When You’re Expatriating”); “currently 240 pages of first-hand accounts of renunciation/relinquishment appointments, arranged by consulate location, along with further information and links to the required Dept of State forms and the Dept of State manuals used by the consulates in processing CLN applications, with an appendix containing a chart of CLN delivery time as reported by consulate location.”

John Richardson’s Citizenship Solutions blog; Mr. Richardson, an American, is a Toronto lawyer who gives frequent, very good information sessions entitled “Information sessions: Solving the problems of U.S. citizenship”. And John himself is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. He also writes for the Isaac Brock Society blog.

A new blog, The Dualist, an early 20-something born in the U.S. who left there at the age of 13 to live permanently in the UK, now dealing with

the options facing me – a UK citizen living, working and paying taxes in the United Kingdom – when I had just discovered that I am subject to US tax rules which say that no matter where I live, I should be annually filing federal income tax returns to the USA’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and reporting detailed information about all of my UK bank accounts to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. These rules apply to me because I am an American as well as a British citizen. The US government considers me to be a US taxpayer not unlike an American living within the States, even if I haven’t lived in the US since I was a child, rarely visit, make no income in the US and have no assets there. The fact that I hadn’t been filing meant I was considered as a delinquent non-filer under US tax policy.

In outlining the different options I had for addressing this newly-discovered ‘delinquent non-filer’ status, I showed that even though I was a young person from a normal background just starting out in adult life, there were no easy solutions or certain outcomes. Briefly, the main options were to stay outside the system, enter the system and try to live compliantly, or enter the system with the intention of renouncing my US citizenship in the future.

American international tax lawyer Phil Hodgen’s blog posts about expatriation, including a recent 10-part series by an Irish-American 17-year-old who renounced as a minor, aka “The Expatriation Chronicles of an Accidental American”

San Francisco tax lawyer Robert Wood’s articles at Forbes, such as this one, this one, and this one

The difference between renouncing and relinquishing explained, at IBS and at Citizenship Solutions blog; children born dual can only renounce, not relinquish

One needs to be be very, very careful about the “help” one seeks with this issue because there are many predatory and ignorant accountants and lawyers whose help will net you only large bills and more rather than fewer headaches. There are good, knowledgeable, helpful people and resources available, often free or inexpensive, and this list includes a number of them. Read widely and ask questions before you make any decisions.

And, on the lighter side:

Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next (2015)

Canadian Bacon, Michael Moore’s fictional precursor to his latest, starring the late, great, Canadian John Candy

Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans, available on YouTube

 

* The fee for renouncing or for relinquishing is currently US $2,350, payable in cash or by credit card (which must be in the renunciant’s name). In September 2014, the U.S. State Department hiked the renunciation fee by 422 percent, from U.S. $450 to U.S. $2,350. The fee to relinquish in recent years went from 0 to $450 to, last year, $2,350. The current fee is more than 20 times the average of other high-income countries, and the U.S. government has collected about U.S. $12.6 million in fees since the Autumn 2014 fee hike.

Family Day fishing derby

Tom and the kids made it home after 10 pm last night, with fish, all sorts of prizes (jackets! ice fishing tackle! exercise equipment! tape measures! a toque!), and leftovers from a very tasty dinner. The weather was lovely, just above freezing, but it made for very slushy, very wet fishing. About 200 people at the lake altogether.

Davy had the best luck, catching two northern pike (known as jackfish in these parts), both over three-and-a-half pounds, the smallest of which won the prize for smallest fish by the youngest angler in the 11-15 age category. The prize for biggest fish caught all day went to a 4 lb, 11 oz jackfish. Davy of course arrived home quite excited and ready to go ice fishing again. Very soon. And fish on the menu here very soon, too.

All photos by Laura, except for the last one (two fish), which is by Davy,

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Winter

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After lolling and lazing about over the Christmas holidays, it was back to work for the New Year. We took several of our finished steers to the packers for customers who wanted organic beef. We’ve been selling halves and whole steers, and also combination packages. The kids helped us with some of the packages and we got a proper assembly line going. Have also sold some of our broiler chickens, and a trailer is coming for a dozen or so finished steers this weekend. Laura’s pullets, which arrived as day-old chicks in August, started laying last month and everyone, family and customers alike, are all happy that our egg drought is over. More January stuff:

:: Lots of curling. The kids have after-schooling curling on Tuesday afternoons, junior league curling Monday night (the three are curling with a friend and doing well, they start playoffs next week), and curling with Tom on Wednesdays for the men’s league. And various bonspiels on the weekend; we just had the local junior bonspiel, and the boys won the junior high division curling with two friends (and got second place overall for points), and Laura got second place in the senior high division. More curling up between now and mid-March, and my mother-in-law won some tickets to the Brier, so Tom and the kids will probably be going to at least one game in the big city.

:: Getting ready for 4H public speaking in two clubs. Laura has two speeches, one on antibiotic resistance in beef and the other on her time at the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop last summer. The boys are doing a presentation together for one club (How to Make Jerky), and speeches for the other (Daniel on M. Bombardier and his snowmobiles, Davy on the history of root beer).

:: I wear two hats for the music festival, promotions co-ordinator (getting information packages with syllabi out to families and teachers) and mother. Registration went well the other week (numbers down a bit), and after 4H public speaking is done, the kids will hit the memorizing hard. I’m going to use Laura’s help again with promotions — last year she baked some chocolate chip cookies which we delivered to the local newspapers with the press releases.

:: The big library remodel is done and it looks wonderful. The library hadn’t had a facelift of any sort since it was first built in the early eighties, so this was long overdue. We were lucky to have a librarian and staff with vision and determination to take this on. I’ve been on the board for years and have thought every now and then of stepping down, but am so glad I stuck around. Well, except for the part about being on the policy committee and starting a review of all our policies this month. Ugh.

:: Planning meetings for the fair for three of us. Committee budgets to approve, hall booklet to change, sponsors to sweet talk.

:: Laura was invited by her aunt to the season home opener of the Edmonton Oilers, great fun even if they didn’t win…

:: I had “pre-ordered” (nasty term) the latest Flavia de Luce novel, Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley, for Laura, and it arrived last week. I also bought her the dvd of the documentary, “Birders: The Central Park Effect”, since we don’t have cable/satellite television, it’s not available on YouTube in Canada, and there’s no chance any of the libraries in our library system will bring in such an American item.

:: latest documentaries for school: “Bowling for Columbine” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

:: latest reading for school: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language”, which I think the kids are all ready for. I’m using my old copy of The Orwell Reader, which I bought because of the introduction by Richard Rovere, the subject of my senior history thesis in university. Happily, The Reader is still in print. I think along with the essay we’ll read this recent Guardian article by Steven Poole, and Frank Luntz’s recent Washington Post piece, “Why Republicans Should Watch Their Language”. And why citizens should watch very carefully when politicians start to watch, and change, their language.

Another book on the list, Mrs. Mike, very Canadian, very gritty, very plucky…

:: More in the learning to be a good consumer department: we’ve started watching a few older TV shows at lunchtime — last month CTV was airing episodes of Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “Til Debt Do Us Part” and then switched over to “Princess”. Quite eye-opening for the kids on the evils of credit and spending more than you make. Followed up with “Property Virgins”, where no-one seems to have heard of starter houses and everyone wants stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

:: The college in town is celebrating its centennial and as part of the festivities they organized what’s hoped to be a Guinness world record giant toboggan run; the toboggan itself was 36′ long (that’s Davy at the top of this post, tucked in just inside the front curve of the giant sled) and had to slide 100 meters. Tom was asked to take official measurements and the kids went along for the fun,

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The kids with the giant toboggan,

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Coming up later this month:

:: dogsledding as part of the 4H Outdoor club

:: a hands-on six-hour calving course for the kids, at the local agricultural college

:: annual organic farming recertification, aka a pile of paperwork, sigh…

Recent nifty discoveries:

Paper roller coasters

Bar Keeper’s Friend; I had used this before moving to Canada but until last fall never saw it on Canadian store shelves, at least not on the prairies. I spotted it at Home Depot a few months ago, and it’s been the best thing for my kitchen sink, which after 14 years, had some pretty stubborn stains after cherry and berry season.  It’s also the best, easiest, and least toxic cleanser I’ve found in 18 years to use on rust stains from our well water.

It’s light out now until at least 5:30. In December it was getting dark just after 4 pm. And sunrise is now around 8 am instead of an hour later, and by the end of the month the sun will be up before 7:30. Hooray!

Blueberry Oatmeal Squares, from CBC’s show, Best Recipes Ever; Laura made these twice in three days, doubling the recipe the second time. The perfect way to use the gallons of blueberries etc I froze last summer.

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Canadian Curlews

After 17 years in Canada, I’m still not entirely up on my CanLit and find lots of surprises. The latest one is Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth, published in 1955. So for anyone looking for some modern CanLit for older students, a living book on extinct/endangered species, and a modern classic movie (adapted from the book) for younger children about extinct/endangered species, we have a couple of recommendations.

A bit of background to explain. For her two 4H clubs, Laura is writing two speeches, one on birds that are extinct, the other on birds that are virtually extinct. Going over her speeches with her, I learned about birds I’d never heard of (not hard for me, since unlike Laura, I don’t sleep with a copy of Sibley’s and read almost exclusively about birds). One of the extinction stories I found quite moving is about the Eskimo curlew. I’ve borrowed a bit from Laura’s speech.

The Eskimo curlew, a medium-sized shorebird in the sandpiper family, is said to have been among the birds that guided Christopher Columbus to the new world. But the curlew is so rare now from overhunting 100 years ago that it’s very probably extinct. If there are any still in existence, scientists think they number fewer than 50 adult birds, when once the population was in the millions and they flew in flocks so thick they formed dark clouds one kilometer wide and long.

If it sounds rather like the story of the passenger pigeon, there are parallels. Nineteenth century American market hunters in need of a replacement for the pigeon, which they had hunted into extinction, looked about and proceeded to do the same sad thing to the Eskimo curlew, which they called “doughbirds” — the birds, heavy from gorging themselves on berries, fruit, and insects in their breeding grounds in the Northwest Territories and Alaska, would put on a thick layer of fat in preparation for their journey. The curlews, again like the passenger pigeons, were so tightly spaced as a flock that a single shotgun blast could easily kill about 20 birds. The survivors had an unfortunate habit of circling back for their injured or dead flockmates, giving the hunters yet another chance. Hunters first starting shooting the birds on their spring migration, then, looking for even more, headed for the curlew breeding grounds, where men would blind the birds with lanterns and then club them.

The Eskimo curlew’s migration, we read, was one of the longest and most complex in the animal kingdom. The winter journey involved a large clockwise circle, starting at the subarctic Canadian tundra, through the western hemisphere, east through Labrador, down through the Atlantic, across the southern Caribbean, and finally to the Argentinian pampas and Chile.

Another strike against the Eskimo curlew, just as it should have been rebounding from overhunting, was the loss of one its important prey species, the Rocky Mountain grasshopper, or locust. If you read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “On the Banks of Plum Creek”, you might remember the almost biblical plague of locusts in the chapter, “The Glittering Cloud”:

The cloud was hailing grasshoppers.  The cloud was grasshoppers. Their bodies hid the sun and made darkness. Their thin, large wings gleamed and glittered. The rasping whirring of their wings filled the whole air and they hit the ground an dthe house with the noise of a hailstorm.

… Grasshoppers covered the ground, there was not one bare bit to step on. Laura had to step on grasshoppers and they smashed squirming and slimy under her feet. …

Then Laura heard another sound, one big sound made of tiny nips and snips and gnawings.

“The wheat!” Pa shouted. He dashed out the back door and ran toward the wheat-field.

The locusts were the farmers’ scourge on the Great Plains in the 1870s, and their obliteration was as accidental as it was complete, as well as devastating for the curlew population. In fact, entemologist Dr. Jeffrey Lockwood has called it “the only complete elimination of an agricultural pest species”. What happened, Dr. Lockwood discovered, is that

Between outbreaks, the locust hid out in the river valleys of Wyoming and Montana — the same river valleys that settlers had discovered were best suited for farming.

By converting these valleys into farms — diverting streams for irrigation, allowing cattle and sheep to graze in riparian areas, and eliminating beavers and their troublesome dams — the pioneers unknowingly wiped out locust sanctuaries. They destroyed the locust’s equivalent of [the Monarch butterfly’s] Mexican forest wintering grounds. They doomed the species.

For the rest of the fascinating story, you can read Dr. Lockwood’s article here.

Last summer, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service said it is seeking any information about the Eskimo curlew, and will review whether the bird should continue to be classified as endangered or formally designated as extinct. The last sighting confirmed by the Fish and Wildlife Service was in Nebraska in 1987.

Getting back to the point of this post, while helping Laura, we discovered a celebrated Canadian novel written in 1955, Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth, which is part of Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart’s New Canadian Library line; I just ordered a copy. I like the idea of the book as a bridge to fiction, especially modern classic Canadian fiction, for her since she reads so much nonfiction (especially so much bird-related nonfiction), and also as an entree into CanLit for an older student who’s ready for a bigger challenge, but not quite ready for some of CanLit’s heavier offerings — though like most CanLit, this book is sad.  Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One:

The Arctic day was long, and despite the tundra gales which whistled endlessly across the unobstructed land the day was hot and humid. The curlew alternately probed the mudflats for food and patrolled his territory, and all the time he watched the land’s flat horizons with eyes that never relaxed. Near mid-day a rough-legged hawk appeared far to the north, methodically circling back and forth across the river and diving earthward now and then on a lemming that incautiously showed itself among the reindeer moss. The curlew eyed the hawk apprehensively as the big hunter’s circling brought it slowly upriver towards the curlew’s territory. Finally the roughleg crossed the territory boundary unmarked on the ground but sharply defined in the curlew’s brain. The curlew took off in rapid pursuit, his long wings stroking the air deeply and his larynx shrieking a sharp piping alarm as he closed in on the intruder with a body weight ten times his own. For a few seconds the hawk ignored the threatened attack, then turned back northward without an attempt at battle. It could have killed the curlew with one grasp of its talons, but it was a killer only when it needed food, and it gave ground willingly before a bird so maddened with the fire of the mating time.

The sun dipped low, barely passing from view, and the curlew’s first Arctic night dropped like a grey mist around him. The tundra cooled quickly, and as it cooled the gale that had howled all day suddenly died. Dusk, but not darkness, followed.

The curlew was drawn by an instinctive urge he felt but didn’t understand to the dry ridge of cobblestone with the thick mat of reindeer moss at its base where the nest would be. In his fifth summer now, he had never seen a nest or even a female of his kind except the nest and mother he had briefly known in his own nestling stage, yet the know-how of courtship and nesting was there, unlearned, like a carry-over from another life he had lived. And he dozed now on one leg, bill tucked under the feathers of his back, beside the gravel bar which awaited the nest that the bird’s instinct said there had to be.

Tomorrow or the next day the female would come, for the brief annual cycle of life in the Arctic left time for no delays.

It sounds as if it would make a wonderful living book choice for conservation and natural history studies, too. There’s another edition, a 1990s reissue, which came about because “Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin found this slim 1955 novel on a shelf in the house of friends, and, struck with the ‘plain, succinct evocation and beauty’ of Fred Bodsworth’s writing, suggested its reissue to a publisher.” That volume has a foreword by Merwin and an afterword by Murray Gell-Man, with J.J. Audubon’s painting of Eskimo curlews on the cover.

And for younger children, Last of the Curlews was made into a one-hour animated movie in 1972 to teach children about conservation. I was surprised to learn that it not only featured Vincent Van Patten (I’m old enough to remember “Apple’s Way”), but was also the very first ABC Afterschool Special, winning an Emmy for children’s broadcasting. I don’t read entries at IMDB much, but the reviews for, and memories of, Last are poignant. The animation by Hanna-Barbera is lovely, not at all what comes to mind when I think of H-B (primarily the Flintstones, etc.). We were hopefully optimistic when we heard about this, and delighted to find that it’s available, in several parts, on YouTubePart 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. But a warning that the cartoon version doesn’t sugarcoat the story, which is not a happy or hopeful one. Extinction is extinction. We found a box of Kleenex helpful.

Also on YouTube is a little video blurb by Canadian eco-photographer Edward Burtynsky on Last of the Curlews for the Toronto Public Library.

Digging around online, we learned that Charles Frederick (Fred) Bodsworth is an internationally renowned naturalist, journalist, and novelist. Born in Port Burwell, Ontario, in 1918, after apparently spending some time working on tugboats and in tobacco fields, he became a reporter for the St. Thomas (ON) Times-Journal at the age of 22 and later was a writer and editor both at The Toronto Star and at Maclean’s magazine. Mr. Bodsworth left Maclean’s in 1955 to focus on magazine and nature writing, and novels. He also served as president of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists from 1964 to 1967. In 2002, he received the prestigious Writer’s Trust Matt Cohen Lifetime Achievement Award. I didn’t see any mention online of an obituary or his death, so I hope he is still hale, hearty, and watching birds at 94.

In other school-related news, work on the other speeches and presentation is going well, we’re in the midst of musical festival registration (both as registrars and registrants), the kids are happily galloping through more of Life of Fred, and in the phys ed department, curling season has picked up dramatically and the kids are curling quite well. Laura is also working on a summer internship application, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for that. Oh, and roles have been handed out for Spring’s theater production of “Alice in Wonderland” so there is lots of singing throughout the house.  That and Davy’s cooking — he made baking powder biscuits yesterday and today some delicious gravy from our moose roast — are keeping us warm in this week’s cold snap. And -51 is verrrry snappy.


Those pesky outdated and inaccurate books

Oh, Canada.

From today’s Globe and Mail,

Today, many Canadian children have never even seen a school librarian and never will. Nova Scotia has none, and the full-time equivalent of just three are left in all of New Brunswick. At least one school board in Ontario hasn’t had a teacher-librarian in 15 years, and numbers have declined in Alberta and British Columbia as well [certainly in our part of Alberta].

Spring is a hard season for bibliophiles, as school boards across the country set their budgets for next school year. In recent weeks at least two Ontario boards have decided to cut library staff.

Teacher-librarians have been among the first to be sacrificed when boards make cuts, and the digital innovations they help students navigate are now being used as the justification for eliminating their jobs, and Canada is bucking an international trend of investing in school libraries.

People for Education, an Ontario advocacy group, will release a special report on the decline of school libraries on Monday.

The study shows that less [erm, fewer…] than 12 per cent of Ontario elementary schools have a full-time librarian, and small communities, particularly in the north, are most likely to go without. Today, barely half have even a part-time librarian, down from 80 per cent in 1997/98.

The group’s concerns are about more than nostalgia: School libraries and librarians have been linked to several measures of student achievement, including standardized test scores and a love of reading. Most studies have come out of the United States and Australia, but Canadian researchers confirmed in 2006 that these benefits transcend borders and remain strong in a post-internet world.

“It’s not surprising that when you’ve got engaged teacher-librarians, they’re going to engage the students more and the more they engage our children the better they learn,” said Donald Klinger, the Queen’s University professor who led the new study.

What did surprise Prof. Klinger was the strength of the association between students’ performance on standardized tests and the presence of school librarians: His study showed scores were boosted by as much as 8 per cent.

If reading all of that makes you sad, this will make you even sadder [boldface mine]:

In April, declining enrolment forced the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board in southern Ontario to make up a projected $8-million to $10-million reduction in provincial funding. Trustees voted to lay off 16 secretaries, several teachers, and nearly all 39 library technicians. At the same time, Peterborough’s Catholic school board, east of Toronto, also said it is cutting library staff.

“We have to get past the old concept, the old tradition of what libraries used to be…” said Cathy Geml, associate director of education for the WECDSB. Books quickly become outdated and inaccurate, and the board is focusing its resources on internet research.

“We have people in various capacities in the secondary schools that are teachers and administrators who could support and teach digital literacy throughout the day.”

It gets worse.  According to The Hamilton Spectator, the decision was made behind closed doors and with no public input:

In a controversial decision — which even some students are protesting — the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board has laid off all but four of its library technicians and is dismantling all its libraries.

It has started to divvy up the library books in its elementary schools and distribute them to individual classrooms instead.

Among the board’s reasons, according to Ms. Geml:

schoolchildren spend time walking to the library, choosing books and returning to class. “That’s lost instructional time,” she added.

Lost, indeed. I’m not quite sure how much anyone in the Windsor-Essex Catholic school district has been learning over the past few generations if school board members believe that that books are purely for research, reference, and information. Whatever happened to wisdom, knowledge, and a great story?  How disappointing that there are trustees who think it comes down to Stephen Leacock vs. Google, Jane Austen vs. the current edition of the World Almanac, Billy Budd vs. Bing.  Am I really surprised to find that there are school board members who believe this?  No.  It’s one of the reasons we home school, and one of the reasons we’ve made a good home library a priority.

The good news, if there is any, is that not everyone in Windsor agrees:

“We believe students’ physical well-being is important, so we have a gym. As a Catholic school, we believe religion is important, so we have a chapel. If we believe literacy and reading is important, why wouldn’t we have a library?” said Windsor-area parent Donna Tonus, who is banding together with others to fight the board’s decision. A student protest is also planned on Monday.

Interestingly, one of the links provided by The Globe & Mail in a sidebar is for a story last December about Victoria, B.C.’s booming public libraries — because, as reporter Tom Hawthorn wrote, “The Greater Victoria Public Library embraces technology while respecting the time-proven value of that fine medieval invention, the printed book”.

A little light reading

Very funny, very wicked — wickedly funny and funnily wicked — and very Canadian (featuring a Mountie and set on an island much like Salt Spring), not to mention very suitable for older children:

Let’s Kill Uncle by Rohan O’Grady

From which, a bit about the children, Christie and the orphaned Barnaby, delivering bread,

And then on to Lady Syddyns. Wearing her faded purple velvet dressing gown and floppy-brimmed hat, she was, as usual, doctoring her roses.

She opened her arms to them and declared they must stop for tea.

Barnaby only smiled absently and did not answer, but Christie, pointing to the undelivered bread, declined with regret.

Surely next week then, said the old lady.  They would have cucumber sandwiches and plum cake.  She thumped both their heads affectionately with an insecticide sprayer, gave them each a rose and went on with her gardening.

The title page of the Bloomsbury edition is the original cover with art by Edward Gorey, which is marvellous,

[PS Edward Gorey fans should go to Boston for the new exhibition at the Athenæum, “Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey”, running through early June

PPS Gorey illustrated an earlier book by Miss O’Grady, Pippin’s Journal, republished as The Curse of the Montrolfes, still in print thanks to Second Chance Press]

When I read that The Bloomsbury Group would be republishing the 1963 classic Let’s Kill Uncle in July 2010, I put it on my wish list.  I was never a fan of the movie version, which is not only a very bad movie and poor adaptation, but is more malice than mischief.

According to Bloomsbury’s author page, “June Skinner [aka Rohan O’Grady] did not publish her first book until she was nearly 40, and she did her writing alone in suburban West Vancouver while raising three children.”  Shades of Shirley Jackson and Life Among the Savages

This biography at abcbookworld, complete with picture, seems quite comprehensive. The ending is moving: “Discouraged by minimal recognition, a lack of literary fellowship and slim earnings, June Skinner put away two unpublished manuscripts in the early 1970s, and stopped writing altogether. At 81, she does not regret giving up the writing life. ‘The creative juices don’t need to flow through a pen’, she says.”

Thoroughly deserving of more recognition — buy a copy of Let’s Kill Uncle and The Curse of the Montrolfes today.

You can find the new edition of Let’s Kill Uncle

at Chapters in Canada

at Amazon.ca

at Amazon.com

at Book Depository

The Lemonade Geography Tour

As you may know from the second to last post, 2010 wasn’t one of our better years.  Or as I recently overheard my husband explaining to a friend on the phone, “She’s had a hard time going from two parents to no parents in 11 months.”  Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, but because of circumstances, I spent the day busily preparing to leave home again, to clear out my parents’ apartment.

Thanks to the vagaries of New York City’s rent control, we have 90 days from the date of death to empty the Upper West Side apartment.  We started making plans after Christmas, having had a bit of time to unpack, rest, and sort through three months of mail.  I also started stocking up on bubble wrap (which I had sent to a friend and neighbor in my parents’ building), audiobooks (the CD version, so we can play them in the truck out loud), rolls of stretch wrap, and tape.  I also joined the Canadian Automobile Association and ordered a stack of maps and Trip Books, all of which arrived with incredible speed.

But the best feature of all at CAA/AAA is the online TripTik Travel Planner, which is free and immediate. For someone who remembers trundling down to the NYC office at Lincoln Center where a staff member would pull out a little printed plastic comb-bound map of, say, the Northeastern United States and then proceed to mark the best route with a highlighter, the online planner is a revelation and great fun.  You can find out instantly how many miles/kilometers and hours between locations, among other things. And allows me to show you our route to the east,

and back home, to the west,

We’re going to drive as long as we can each day without making ourselves crazy, and stop every night to sleep in a motel, preferably, the kids say, with a swimming pool, so I’ve packed the bathing suits.  We figure it that, weather permitting, it should take us about five to seven days there, and five to seven days back.  Some of our tentative stops on the east include Brandon, Manitoba; Dryden, Ontario; Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario; Sudbury, Ontario; and Toronto, to see Tom’s sister and her family quickly.  On the way back, our tentative stops are Cleveland (our first stop after NYC); Beloit, Wisconsin; Alexandria, Minnesota; then into Canada by way of Winnipeg; Regina; and home.

We are going to spend most of our time looking out the window to see the sights, and listening to CBC Radio and various US stations across the continent, for news as well as weather and road conditions. UPDATED to add: I just found out at their website that the helpful folks at NPR offer NPR Road Trip for those planning a long drive.  You can “print turn-by-turn directions for your drive and know which NPR stations are available throughout your driving route.”  Or just get a printable list as a PDF.  Nifty.

But for evenings once it gets dark and that long, rather less interesting stretch across the Canadian shield, we have the following audiobooks:

::  Simon Winchester’s Atlantic (unabridged, read by the author); we all enjoyed “Krakatoa”, and Winchester is a marvelous reader

::  Several from Richard Peck, a big favorite with all of us: A Long Way From ChicagoA Year Down YonderA Season of Gifts

:: Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf, a new Naxos production

:: Watership Down, new on audio CD, which I’ve been waiting for for years now

:: Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes an Returning to America after Twenty Years Away

It’s been liberating planning a cross-country drive — no plane departure times to make at the airport three hours away; all the toiletries where they belong without separating out liquids and gels, nail files and clippers; no planning of meals to combat inedible and expensive airline food, since whenever we get hungry we’ll stop at a supermarket, cafe, or coffee shop for provisions; and, compared to our trips to the small island, no laying in a supply of particular things we can’t find there.

When we get home, aside from arranging for a Sea-Can container in which to store my parents’ furniture and other belongings, we are going to distract ourselves by commencing our long-awaited kitchen addition, which will give us more eat-in kitchen space and storage for some of our home school books, and then finalizing blueprints for our new house.  We were going to break ground last spring until we were overtaken by events and I ended up out of the country for much of the first few months of the year.  The main thing that helped me through all that happened, aside from reading and gardening, was planning my new kitchen and my new bathroom in my head.  If your tastes run that way, I highly recommend this kitchen book (I got my copy cheap at BookCloseouts), which makes dandy and relaxing reading with a cup of of Mariage Frères Rouge Bourbon Vanille tea.

Cross your fingers, please, that the weather behaves and the roads are clear. We’ll be making the trip with our Ford F250 pickup truck and a 16′ cargo trailer, and a stack of maps…

Today in Canadian History

A new podcast from Calgary radio station CJSW: Today in Canadian History.  The podcasts began on July 1, Canada Day, and will last a year. The series is produced by Joe Burima and Marc Affeld. Original music created by Calgary jazz musicians Simon Fisk, Steve Fletcher, and Jon May, and original (very cute) artwork, which you can see at the blog, is provided by Reid Blakley.

From the initial blog post,

Today in Canadian History was launched on Canada Day of 2010. Each episode of the series contains an interview with a Canadian professor, journalist, author, or “everyday” historian and focuses on a unique event or moment that took place on that day in Canadian history. To date, the series has received contributions from over sixty individuals from across Canada.

As a podcast and radio series, Today in Canadian History presents Canada’s past in a unique and accessible manner. The series is designed to be a first step to learning more about our past. We would like to remind Canadians not just about what makes our country great, but what makes it complicated, beautiful, diverse, and ours.

Podcast subjects since the beginning of the month have included Canada Day, the Battle of the Somme, hockey player George Edward “Chief” Armstrong, Norman Bethune, Roy McGregor on the 1917 disappearance of artist Tom Thomson, Pierre Berton’s birthday, Rupert’s Land, and the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Think of it as a maple leaf a day…

Fast and loose with sticks and stones and rocks and sticks

After Ann Coulter cancelled her speech in Ottawa, and before her travelling circus headed west thisaway, she told Maclean’s news magazine that the police

had been warning my bodyguard all day that they were putting up [messages] on Facebook: “Bring rocks, bring sticks, you gotta hurt Ann Coulter tonight, don’t let her speak.” And the cops eventually said, we’ve got a bad feeling, this isn’t gonna happen. And they shut it down.

She wrote yesterday, interestingly dropping the bit about rocks and sticks, that

The police called off my speech when the auditorium was surrounded by thousands of rioting liberals — screaming, blocking the entrance, throwing tables, demanding that my books be burned, and finally setting off the fire alarm.

Sadly, I missed the book burning because I never made it to the building.

The truth, unfortunately for Coulter, who has been quoted as saying “Frankly, I’m not a big fan of the First Amendment”, is nowhere near as violent or exciting.  I for one would be intrigued to find that I live in a country where the left is so lively that we have “rioting liberals”.  John Baglow, in The National Post of all places, has a very entertaining and accurate piece on what happened in Ottawa. He writes,

Now the Speech Warriors(TM) are outraged, or so they want to appear. Actually, I strongly suspect, they’re pleased as punch. They have a fresh new martyr, even if they’ve had to spin like mad to create one. Because Ann Coulter and her organizers, confronted by demonstrators exercising their own rights of freedom of assembly and of expression — pulled the plug on her themselves. …

Baglow also points to a CTV report that

CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian said “a combination of overcapacity and utter disorganization” contributed to the collapse of the event.

Prior to the cancellation, Hamamdjian said only a small number of students were tasked with verifying the names of the people who had signed up to attend Coulter’s talk.

“It was a disaster in terms of just organization, which is probably one of the reasons why it was cancelled,” Hamamdjian told CTV News Channel from Ottawa on Wednesday morning.

Police eventually showed up to the scene and blocked the door to the building, but Hamamdjian said she doubted whether the combination of protesters and disorganization actually constituted “a physical risk to Ann Coulter.”

The event fuelled news stories that ran across the country, all of which fed on the apparent uproar Coulter’s visit caused on the Ottawa campus.

He concludes,

So is it fair to conclude, based upon mostly right-wing accounts, the following?

Ann Coulter had to brave 1) a polite note from the University of Ottawa Provost; 2) chanting demonstrators, mostly outside the lecture hall; and 3) a fire alarm, turned off after a few minutes.

Personally, I would have preferred to have her speak, and arrested if she broke Canadian law, by, say, advocating genocide. But when you look at the welter of accounts, some of which I have linked to above, what was stopping her?

Sounds like she encountered a robust, healthy exercise of free expression, except of course for the juvenile fire alarm prank, which was quickly remedied. But it was all too much for Coulter and her team. And now the myth will be perpetuated forever–count on it–that protesters “shut down” her speaking engagement.

Like hell they did.

And here’s Kady O’Malley’s piece for CBC, in which she notes that she spoke with

Ottawa Police Services media relations officer Alain Boucher this morning, and he told me, in no uncertain terms, that it was her security team that made the decision to call off the event. “We gave her options” — including, he said, to “find a bigger venue” — but “they opted to cancel … It’s not up to the Ottawa police to make that decision.” …

As for Coulter’s claim that the police “had been warning my bodyguard all day that they were putting up [messages] on Facebook: ‘Bring rocks, bring sticks, you gotta hurt Ann Coulter tonight, don’t let her speak,'” Boucher confirmed that the police were monitoring the situation – although how, exactly, he didn’t specify – but was unable to provide any example of such a threat, as he did not have that information, although he assured me that if a complaint were lodged, the police would “surely” investigate, but he didn’t know whether or not that had occurred. I haven’t been able to turn up any of those alleged threats — not on Facebook, and not on the unspecified “liberal blogs” that she has since cited as the source, so if anyone can point me to an example, please do so in the comments. …

Finally, an observation from a CBC reporter who was in the Foyer while Coulter was being interviewed by CTV’s Power Play: At approximately 5:15pm, he overheard a member of her security team tell a Conservative MP that her event “may be cancelled,” which would suggest that the decision to do so was already being considered before more than half the crowd had assembled outside the venue — hopeful speech-goers and protesters alike. Coulter herself, meanwhile, told Cosh that she never actually left the Rideau Club — where she was the guest of honour at a $250 per head private reception — for the university. Given the travel times involved, and the 7:30 pm start time, she would likely have had to do so by 7pm at the latest in order to make it in time.

Is it just me, or does Coulter seem to be shocked, shocked at the apparently engineered happenings the other night?  Because it wouldn’t lead to huge coverage and big ticket sales for today’s speaking engagement, where the topic as it’s been all week not so coincidentally (I’m shocked, shocked) is “media bias and freedom of speech”, would it?  You can’t buy this sort of publicity, but nowadays you don’t really need to.

If you want to see what threats of violence look like, try this.

For Canadiana fans

To be published in May, Picturing Canada: A History of Canadian Children’s Illustrated Books and Publishing by Gail Edwards and Judith Saltman (University of Toronto Press, May 29, 2010); $25.04 in paperback, $59.57 in hardcover.

I’ve already placed my order.

According to this press release for a grant the authors received in 2008, the book

is the first interdisciplinary history of children’s publishing in Canada from 1800 to the present, interweaving Canadian history with the history of Canadian literature and publishing, illustration and design, childhood and education, and children’s librarianship. Not only historically situated, Picturing Canada documents recent developments in children’s publishing and the book trade, the emergence of Aboriginal Canadian publishing, Canadian publishers in the US market, the decline of school libraries, and government funding to libraries and publishers.

The book sounds like a very useful resource for those of us who like, or need, to use older, out-of-print books in our studies, especially illustrated ones to use with younger children.  And when it comes to children’s books on Canadian history, unfortunately most of the better books tend to be out-of-print.

And I love the cover illustration.

Sunday surprise

We’re off tomorrow to see Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe, the CBC radio show which is on its spring tour through western Canada.  The surprise is that five tickets, together, were still available when I decided to call on Tuesday evening (having determined that the kids’ theater rehearsal had been canceled).  I had bought tickets last August for the Christmas show in Edmonton, which Tom, his mother, and the kids attended.

Also on the tour are The Good Lovelies, who found out on the tour bus this week that they’ve been nominated for a Juno, the Canadian version of a Grammy.

We’re all looking forward to the concert, and to listening to The Vinyl Cafe on the radio as usual on Sunday at noon before heading out to hear it live.  Twice in one day, and live to boot!

National Poetry Month 2010

April, as always, brings May showers and…

National Poetry Month

brought to you as always by the Academy of American Poets.  You can request your own poster, designed by Canadian artist (and recent TEDTalk 2010 speaker) Marian Bantjes.

Here are some bits and pieces from some of my previous posts on National Poetry Month, with a few updates, and at the end links to various Farm School poetry posts (most of which you can find at the green “Poetry” tab at the very top of the blog on the right):

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in Spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets.

New for 2010:

The CD “Poetic License”, featuring 100 poems read by 100 performers, comes out April 2, in time for National Poetry Month.  It’s the first project from the new label GPR Records (Glen Roven, Peter Fitzgerald, and Richard Cohen), which will record and distribute Broadway, classical, spoken word, and children’s music.  Poems and performers on the new CD include Louis Zorich with Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”, Michael York with Kipling’s “Tommy”, and Barbara Feldon with Margaret Atwood’s “I Would Like to Watch You Sleep”.

My old blog friend Gregory K. at GottaBook celebrates the month with his second annual 30 Poets/30 Days celebration.  You can find last year’s celebration here.

This year’s Cybils children’s poetry book winner is Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarensky; winner too of a 2010 Caldecott Honor award.  The list of all the poetry nominees is here, and Ms. Sidman has a free online reader’s guide to the book for students in grades 1-4 here.

Poet J. Patrick Lewis asked last month, “Can Children’s Poetry Matter?” in the journal Hunger Mountain. It’s aimed toward parents with children in school, but there’s still much that parents who home school can learn:

American children grow up in a country that poetry forgot—or that forgot poetry. The reasons are not far to seek. I have visited four hundred American elementary schools here and abroad as a latter day Pied Piper for verse, and I can confirm that too many teachers still swear allegiance to an old chestnut: the two worst words in the language when stuck side by side are “poetry” and “unit.” …

Children rarely gravitate to poetry on their own. It’s an acquired taste. They must be introduced to it early and often by their teachers and parents, the critical influences in their lives. And not in the way Billy Collins has memorably described — and vilified — by tying poems to chairs and beating them senseless until they finally give up their meaning. We do not look to poetry to find answers or absolutes. Nor do we investigate verse with calipers and a light meter, though at least one benighted school of thought has tried. …

But any genre buried in unread books is useless. Make poetry a habit with students. If children are reading poetry they find insipid or pointless, they naturally reject it for the playground. Let them choose their own verse favorites. Encourage volunteers to read them. Open a Poetry Café, no textbooks allowed. Ask students to ask their parents for their favorite poems. Then invite the parents to the classroom/café to read them.

Go to the source:  Seek out the poetry lovers among teachers and discover the strategies that have worked best for them.

Read the rest of Pat’s essay here, and then go back to the list of the Cybils children poetry book nominees, write them down or print them off and head to your favorite bookseller or library.

Crayola’s activity pages for National Poetry Month 2010 include coloring pages of Langston Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe and a Poem in My Pocket craft.

Poetry Friday is celebrated in the blogosphere all year, every year, and you can read more here and here.  For all of the Farm School Poetry Friday posts, just type “Poetry Friday” in the search box above.

Some of our family’s favorite poetry resources:

Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work, from Tennyson to Plath (book and three CDs), edited by Elise Paschen (2007 saw a new expanded edition)
Poetry Speaks to Children (book and CD), edited by Elise Paschen

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry (book and CD), edited by Michael Driscoll and illustrated by Meredith Hamilton

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, edited by Caroline Kennedy and illustrated by Jon J. Muth
The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, edited by Caroline Kennedy

Poetry Out Loud, edited by Robert Alden Rubin

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Eric Beddows

Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris

The Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work (audio CD); ignore the publisher’s sloppy labeling job and just sit back and listen

Seven Ages: An Anthology of Poetry with Music (audio CD) by Naxos AudioBooks

Voice of the Poet: Robert Frost (audio cd), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series
Voice of the Poet: Langston Hughes (audio CD), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series. Search for “Voice of the Poet” at Powell’s, Amazon, B&N for the rest of the series.

Poetry for Young People series; includes volumes of poetry by Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Coleridge, Longfellow, and more.  Very nicely done and perfect for strewing about the house.

Emily by Michael Bedard and illustrated by the marvelous Barbara Cooney
The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires
“The Belle of Amherst” on DVD; Julie Harris in the one-woman stage production about the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson

“The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (1934) on video, starring Norma Shearer as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Frederic March as Robert Browning
The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, illustrated by Kate Greenaway

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi and illustrated by the fabulous Edward Gorey
How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi

Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People, edited by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children by Kenneth Koch
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry by Kenneth Koch
Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch

Beyond Words: Writing Poems with Children by Elizabeth McKim and Judith Steinbergh

A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra and Diane Boardman

Magnetic Poetry (something for everyone)

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

New from my old blog friend Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children: poetry podcasts

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

*  *  *

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures and Happy National Poetry month!

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli

Poetry sings

More poetry aloud, with PennSound

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light (National Poetry Month 2008)

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (NPM 2006)

“Feed the lambs”: On the difference between poems for children and children’s poetry, Part 1 and Part 2

Thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

An appreciation of John Updike and light verse

Langston Hughes, the “social poet”

Eugene Field, “the children’s poet”, and his plea for the classics, for ambitious boys and girls

Robert Browning, with another plea and an explanation of how children learn best

You can also use the “category” clicker on the sidebar at left to find all of the Farm School Poetry and Poetry Friday posts

Knickers in a twist

We fly back to Alberta on Sunday, and I’m disheartened though not surprised at new regulations that require we spend the entire flight from NYC to Toronto, and the last hour from Toronto to Edmonton, in our seats, without anything in our laps, not even a book; being allowed to go to the bathroom only with an escort; and with our one carry-on bag each in the overhead compartment unavailable to us for the duration of the flight. I plan to stuff my pockets with Tylenol (for adults and children — goodness knows we’ll need it) and lip balm. I don’t want to even think of my three children, ages nine, 10, and 12, being patted down. I suppose it would be too much to ask for the airports to quit patting down children and concentrate instead on lone adults with no luggage and one-way tickets paid for with cash. Just an idea.

Of course, given that previous would-be terrorists have used liquids and shoes, which are now allowed on-board only in limited quantity and after a security check, respectively, I suppose I should be happy that Air Canada and the Canadian Transportation Safety Board have, at least not yet, neither required checks of underpants nor limited solid substances.

However, given the latest updates from Transport Canada —

Passengers travelling to the US are advised that no carry-on baggage will be permitted, with the exception of a small purse, diaper bag, laptop bag. Roller bags and backpacks must now be checked in. Carriage of any carry-on item will result in lengthy security delays for the customer. To minimize inconvenience, airlines strongly recommend that customers travelling to the United States travel with no carry-on items whenever possible.

If travelling with a laptop bag, diaper bag, camera bag or other such item, the bag may only contain items confined to the bag’s original function. (For example, a laptop bag can only contain computer equipment, or a diaper bag can only contain infant necessities.) As a guideline for purse size, the footprint of the bag should be similar to that of a letter size sheet of paper (216mm x 279mm or 8.5″ x 11″).

— I can only imagine that more travellers will be inclined to stuff what they can in their pockets and underpants. Patented panty pockets, perhaps?

Today

On the radio: CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition”, finally back from a long summer holiday, featured an interview with Winifred Gallagher, author of the new Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, who writes, “Few things are as important to your quality of life as your choices about how to spend the precious resource of your free time.”  I was busy concentrating on the discussion and so didn’t write anything down, but afterwards found something similar from her New York Times interview in May,

 

“Multitasking is a myth,” Ms. Gallagher said. “You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.” She points to calculations that the typical person’s brain can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime.

“People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,” she said. “Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.”

During her cancer treatment several years ago, Ms. Gallagher said, she managed to remain relatively cheerful by keeping in mind James’s mantra as well as a line from Milton: “The mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”

“When I woke up in the morning,” Ms. Gallagher said, “I’d ask myself: Do you want to lie here paying attention to the very good chance you’ll die and leave your children motherless, or do you want to get up and wash your face and pay attention to your work and your family and your friends? Hell or heaven — it’s your choice.”

On the streets of Canada:  the Terry Fox annual run.  Laura sang O Canada before the run, and she’s pleased and proud to have been asked.  Terry Fox was 18 in 1977 when he was diagnosed with bone cancer, and his right leg amputated six inches above the knee.  He decided to begin a “Marathon of Hope” across Canada to raise money for cancer research, one of the first such cross-country charity efforts.  He began his marathon in April 1980 in St. Johns, Newfoundland.  But after 143 days and 3,339 miles, of running, Terry Fox had to stop on September 1, at Thunder Bay, Ontario, because the cancer had reappeared in his lungs. Terry was forced to stop running outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario because cancer had appeared in his lungs. He died 10 months later at the age of 22. But the marathon continues.  Terry Fox would have been 50 this year, the same age as Tom.

 On the Plains of Abraham: This weekend marks the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Quebec in the Seven Years’ War (aka the French and Indian War).  The province weaseled out of a planned re-enactment of the Battle when separatists threatened to disrupt the proceedings, which I wrote about here back in March. Then the province weaseled out of the replacement activity, a weekend “Moulin a paroles”, a 24-hour readathon of 140 documents about the province’s history since 1759, because one of the documents was the FLQ’s 1970 manifesto. Much scope for all sides in rewriting history in Quebec and making a mockery of the provincial motto, Je me souviensFrom yesterday’s editorial in The Globe & Mail,

If it wasn’t for the controversy, tomorrow’s 250th anniversary of the Battle on the Plains of Abraham might go entirely unnoticed. There have been no stamps, no coins and almost no recognition from Ottawa that anything important might have happened on Sept. 13, 1759.

This official disregard for the Battle of Quebec, born of a fear of angering a few perpetually aggrieved separatists, is unfortunate. Not only does it represent a crucial moment in the modern history of Canada but, more importantly, it marks the birth of the great Canadian spirit of cultural accommodation.

From a purely historical perspective, it is impossible to ignore the significance of the battle. It settled, once and for all, the question of which crown would control Canada. Further, the cost of winning the war proved so onerous for the British treasury that it necessitated a host of new taxes on American colonies — setting in motion the events of 1776. The trajectories of both Canada and the United States were determined that day.

More than the historical fact of Canada was decided on the battlefield, however. Our character was defined there as well.

In draft articles of capitulation drawn up before the battle, the victor, Major-General James Wolfe, sketched a new model of British occupation. Despite his reputation as a brutal military leader, Maj.-Gen. Wolfe was prepared to preserve Quebec’s unique cultural character and population.

“There shall be no innovations in religious matters or any interruption of Divine Service, as it is now preach’d in the Colony,” he wrote. Such generosity had not been found at the fall of Louisbourg a year earlier, where the British razed the city and expelled the citizenry. Maj-Gen. Wolfe’s more liberal position has proven enduring. It defined the official surrender of Quebec City after his death, as well as the capitulation of Montreal a year later. It found its way into the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and, later, Canada’s Constitution.

This was not an arrangement inspired entirely by generosity. The British army hoped to avoid the hassle of becoming an occupying force. Co-operation was far more appealing than further confrontation. After the battle, French hospitals served the wounded from both sides, with bilingual British soldiers conscripted as orderlies.

Of course not every French habitant willingly accepted British rule, just as today many Quebec nationalists still cling to an emotional connection with the Conquest, in spite of more rational arguments.

Nonetheless, the events of Sept. 13, 1759 and its immediate aftermath marked the origin of minority rights and religious freedom in Canada, as well as the acknowledgment that governing this diverse country requires an appreciation for what may be possible, given the circumstances. It is certainly cause for commemoration.

You can help commemorate the battle by watching the 1957 National Film Board production, Wolfe and Montcalmhere; watching the CBC documentary Battle for a Continent; and by reading the current issue of the Canadian history magazine, The Walrus. In his introduction to this month’s issue, Editor John MacFarlane writes,

The history of Canada is, for many Canadians, terra incognita. In far too many of the country’s high schools, the subject is now, like music and drama, an “option.” This would explain the Angus Reid survey in which 61 percent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24 were unable to distinguish between Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Laurence Olivier. And yet even these poor souls — young people who probably could not recall the date of Confederation (1867), the name of the last province admitted (Newfoundland), or the year we repatriated the Constitution from Great Britain (1982) — even they might know a thing or two about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

What took place on September 13, 1759, on a plateau overlooking the St. Lawrence River, upstream from Quebec City, is an iconic moment in the country’s historical narrative: literally the beginning of the story of Canada. Britain and France were vying for North America; Wolfe attacked Montcalm; Wolfe prevailed, although both generals were mortally wounded; the British went on to capture Montreal; New France was dead. But there is so much more. I was never taught, for instance, that Montcalm, badly outnumbered, joined the battle without waiting for reinforcements. Or that Wolfe, who had already led the British to a great victory at Louisbourg, had numerous detractors, including the Duke of Newcastle, who told King George II that Wolfe was mad. The king is said to have responded, “Mad, is he? Then I hope he will bite some of my other generals.”

The battle’s rich narrative detail was not lost on Helen Humphreys as she set out to reimagine it on this its 250th anniversary (“On the Plains of Abraham,1759,” page 22). … She is a brilliant writer — The New Yorker has called her work lyrical — and an obvious choice for this assignment. While she was born in England, where schoolchildren are more familiar with the Battle of Agincourt than the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, she came to Canada when she was three and has emerged as one of the country’s foremost creators of historical fiction. …

We asked Humphreys to write the story after learning that the National Battlefields Commission, a federal agency, had cancelled plans to mark the anniversary with a re-enactment. Quebec sovereignists had threatened to disrupt the event, calling it “federalist propaganda.” The commission’s capitulation illustrates what is wrong with the teaching of history in Canada — namely, that we would rather not teach it if there is a chance that doing so might cause offence. This, as the historian Jack Granatstein laments, diminishes us as a nation. You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts. The outcome of the battle on the Plains of Abraham 250 years ago is a matter of historical record. What is up for debate is its meaning.

Read the rest of Mr. MacFarlane’s introduction here, and read Helen Humphreys‘ story of the battle here.  You can also read the aforementioned Jack Granatstein on “How We Teach History Matters Most”. For more on the subject, get his book, Who Killed Canadian History?

Star party

On Saturday night Tom, the kids, and I attended a stargazing party at our provincial park to help celebrate the International Year of Astronomy. It was our town’s “Galileo Moment”. While we live in a rural area and don’t have a local astronomy club, observatory, or planetarium in where we live — though we do have the benefit of almost no light pollution  — we do have some passionate amateur  astronomers who put together two presentations (including the video “Eyes on the Skies”, more here on it) and set up eight telescopes, including a Celestron 14″ in diameter.

The kids ran from telescope to telescope, viewing the moon, Saturn and its ring, nebulae, and more.  Just after 11 pm, we watched an iridium flare as the sun shone briefly on a travelling satellite. We’re planning on keeping our eyes open for more, since the bigger ones are visible to the naked eye.

As with all the best parties, ours had refreshments (hot chocolate, juice, and cookies to keep everyone warm on a cool Spring evening) and party favors, most courtesy of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada: an assortment of AstroCards to collect (one from each telescope owner); Star Finders; the May/June issue of SkyNews, the Canadian Magazine of Astronomy & Stargazing*, which has a constellation chart for late spring and a 2009 summer star party calendar; promotional postcards and brochures (one for 2-for-1 general admission to Edmonton’s science museum, and Cosmic Journey at the Strathcona Wilderness Center); “Become a Sidewalk Astronomer” booklet, also available to download; and also a copy of a new Canadian children’s astronomy book, aimed at those from grades 1-6, Mary Lou’s New Telescope by Don Kelly and illustrated by Michael McEwing, which can also be downloaded and printed.

If we had such a stellar happening in our little town, I can’t imagine all the offerings and special events available in larger cities to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s use of the telescope, wonderful ways to introduce, or further studies in, astronomy for your kids and your family. At the International Year of Astronomy website, click on your flag to your country’s IYA website and see what’s available in your country; this is Canada’s offering.

And no matter where you live, you can supplement your stargazing with starlistening, with the podcasts at 365 Days of Astronomy, Astronomy Cast, The Jodcast, and Slacker Astronomy.

* For anyone not familiar with the magazine, the editor is astronomer and writer Terence Dickinson, author and co-author of a remarkable selection of astronomy books, including The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide, Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the UniverseExploring the Night Sky: The Equinox Astronomy Guide for Beginners, Exploring the Sky by Day: The Equinox Guide to Weather and the Atmosphere, and Summer Stargazing: A Practical Guide for Recreational Astronomers

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A history of Canada in folksong

Shortly after the Music Festival wrapped up earlier this month, Laura started talking about song choices for next month.  While I was tempted to ask her to change the subject after weeks and months the practicing, rehearsing, and performing, I was happy to see her excited about the festival and interested in finding some new and different songs.

For a while now I’ve been looking for a good source of Canadian folk music, because the songs are part of my children’s heritage and because they’re such a fascinating way to study history.  But it’s not a particularly popular subject for some strange reason.  Finally, poking through the library system’s database, I stumbled across “A Folksong Portrait of Canada”, an out-of-print three-CD set of songs compiled by Samuel Gesser, the impresario and record producer who had been the Canadian distributor for Folkways Records in the fifties and sixties, now part of Smithsonian-Folkways (which has a nifty Tools for Teaching page for educators).  The songs had all appeared on such LPs as “Canada’s Story in Song” by Alan Mills and Edith Fulton Fowke, “Songs and Ballads of Newfoundland” by Ken Peacock, “Folksongs of Ontario” by Edith Fowke, “Folksongs of the Canadian North Woods” by Samuel Gesser and Wade Hemsworth.  Many of these can still be found and purchased as CDs at, or downloaded from, Smithsonian-Folkways, but for us the three-CD set through the library is an easier, more affordable option, especially after factoring in the exchange rate and shipping.

The CDs are arranged geographically, with songs of the Atlantic Provinces and of Quebec on the first disc, songs of Ontario and of the Prairie Provinces on the second disc, and songs of British Columbia & Yukon of Native Peoples on the third disc.  The three discs include 94 songs by 70 singers, including Alan Mills, Wade Hemsworth, Kenneth Peacock, and Hélène Baillargeon (the star of the celebrated early Canadian children’s television show, “Chez Hélène”).

The set (Smithsonian-Folkways, 1994) is delightful, perfect for anyone with an interest in folk music, Canadian history, and Canadian singers. Check your library when you have the chance.  And a belated thanks to Mr. Gesser, who died about a year ago at the age of 78, for his efforts to preserve, protect, and promote Canadian music and Canadian history.

And a worthwhile link, Teachwithmusic.ca. Here’s the Canadian history section.

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and  Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets, where this year’s theme is “Poetry Planet”.

Of course, we wouldn’t need a special month if we lived on a Poetry Planet…

And if we did live on a Poetry Planet, I have no doubt I’d find there my old Poetry Friday and Fib Friend, Gregory K. who blogs at GottaBook and who is planning to announce, on Monday March 23, his monthlong Poetry Party, with new poetry every day of the month and much much more.  For all sorts of wonderful original poetry by Greg, from his poems to his fibs to his very funny Oddaptations, check his sidebar.  UPDATED March 23 to add: Greg’s monthlong poetry party is “30 Poets / 30 Days”, where he’ll be posting a “previously unpublished poem by a different poem” for each day of April.  Check his blog, GottaBook, for details and the list of celebrated contemporary children’s poets.

Greg also has an update on what else is going on in the Kidlitosphere (which now has its own planet, er, website) to celebrate National Poetry Month:

* Sylvia Vardell at her Poetry For Children blog, which has a wealth of information year-round,will be reviewing a new children’s poetry each day for the entire month of April

* Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader has some plans up her sleeve for the month too (she’ll be offering some lovely books as prizes), as well as a new blog of political poetry and a long, rich post from early March featuring her updated Resources for National Poetry Month (including some tidbits for teachers and home schoolers).

* Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect is featuring interviews with three dozen poets for her series, Poetry Makers.

* Anastasia Suen at the Pencil Talk blog will celebrate by the month with school poems written by children, posting one every day.

Former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky will spend the month of April blogging about Poems Out Loud.  You can sign up to join him.  As Poet Laureate, Mr. Pinsky created the Favorite Poem Project to encourage Americans to read their favorite verses aloud. April will see the publication of Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, a book and CD set edited by Mr. Pinsky. Also good to read: the 2007 Mother Jones article on Robert Pinsky the poetry popularizer; and Mr. Pinsky himself, “In Praise of Difficult Poetry”, and on “Poetry and American Memory”.

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

Some wonderful new, newish and newer poetry books to share with your children:

The Cuckoo’s Haiku: and Other Birding Poems by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows (Candlewick, March 2009)

A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing and Shout, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick, March 2009), from the same pair who brought us A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms in 2005.  And really, what better way to celebrate poetry every day of the year, not just in April, than to speak, sing, and shout poetry aloud?

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.   A Caldecott Honor picture book biography of the American poet and physician (1883-1963) who wrote “A Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say”

The Visions in Poetry series from Canadian publisher Kids Can Press, where classic poems are combined with new Canadian artists, sometimes in startling ways, especially on the cover of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, illustrated by Murray Kimber.  Other volumes include Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by Joe Morse; Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch; The Lady of Shalott by Tennyson, illustrated by Geneviève Côté; My Letter to the World and Other Poems by Emily Dickinson, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault; Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch; and The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, illustrated by Ryan Price.  And not new but fabulous from Kids Can Press: their picture book editions of Robert Service’s poems, illustrated by Ted Harrison. Canadian classics.

Douglas Florian‘s brand new Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings (and his not new but entirely seasonally appropriate, his energetic exploration of the vernal equinox, Handsprings)

The lovely new picture book version, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, of The Negro Speaks of Rivers, written by a very young Langston Hughes (Hyperion, January 2009)

I haven’t yet seen Rabbie’s Rhymes: Burns for Wee Folk newly out for the Robbie Burns 250th anniversary, but think it looks adorable.

UPDATED to add: Indefatigable children’s poet J. Patrick Lewis, one of the participants in Greg at Gottabook’s April 30 Poets / 30 Days poetrypalooza, was kind enough to send me a very sweet note complete with ruffles and flourishes — rather than the plank walk at swordpoint I deserved for the omissions — to remind me of his many varied works coming out in 2009:

The Underwear Salesman, And Other Jobs for Better or  Verse by J. Patrick Lewis, illusrated by Serge Bloch (Atheneum, March 2009)

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Ethan Long (Little, Brown, July 2009)

Spot the Plot! A Riddle Book of Book Riddles by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Chronicle Books, September 2009)

The House by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Creative Editions, October 2009); I’m excited to hear about this one because I loved their previous collaboration, the beautiful, marvelous The Last Resort.

If you or your children aren’t familiar with the poetry of J. Patrick Lewis, I urge you to run to the library or your favorite bookstore.  Pat has written so many illustrated books of verse on such a wide variety of subjects — art, biography, history, science, holidays, bible stories, animals, general silliness, general spookiness, arithmetic, geography, music, reading and libraries, folk tales, castles and pirate kings, and more — that I dare you not to find something appealing. Also his timely tome on Galileo for this year — it’s a pop-up too, great fun.  Best of all, Pat has free printable bookmark poems (or poem bookmarks).  If you’re going to carry a poem in your pocket (an idea sparked in New York City), I can’t think of a handier way to do it!

Coming out soon:

A Mirror to Nature: Poems About Reflection by Jane Yolen, with photographs by Jason Stemple (Wordsong, April 2009)

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

You don’t say

The New York Times discovers after 75 years that in hard times, people “just want to hide in a very dark place”, particularly a movie theater.

Researchers have discovered the shocking news that children learn better if they’re allowed to have recess, and “other research suggests that all children, not just those with attention problems, can benefit from spending time in nature during the school day.”

— However, all bets are off if you live in the North where recess is apparently dangerous. According to another study, this one in the Journal of School Health based on 2002 figures, more “than 4,000 children between the ages of five and 19 were injured in a year in Ottawa-area schools”. Then again, this is no longer the country of the intrepid Sam Steele and  Laura Secord (she could have put an eye out or twisted an ankel running through the woods) but the safety tuque and the campaign to wear helmets while sledding.

— Apparently the “most popular” emailed article at The New York Times this weekend was Friday’s op-ed column, “The Great Solvent North” by Theresa Tedesco, chief business correspondent of the Canadian newspaper, The National Post, in which she writes, “Canada, whose banking system had long been notorious for its stodgy practices and government coddling, is now being celebrated for those very qualities.”  Of course, there’s banking and then there are pension funds, and interestingly this week brought news that “Canada’s largest pension fund — Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec — lost a quarter of its $155-billion pension fund asset” in 2008.  According to The Toronto Star, the Caisse’s “recent ambitions have led it to aggressively sink billions into novel financial instruments, such as nonbank asset-backed commercial paper – short-term corporate debts that turned toxic.”

— Not surprisingly, not many Canadian politicians or oil and gas executives seem to subscribe to National Geographic.  Which is the only way to explain why the hullabaloo over the current issue’s photo essay on Alberta’s tar sands, “Scraping Bottom”, was raised only when the issue hit the newstands last week, not when it hit mailboxes earlier.  What is surprising is how the lines have been drawn over the article, though it helps to remember that line about politics and bedfellows: new Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff* not coincidentally looking for votes on a swing through Alberta and quirky CBC commentator Rex Murphy calling foul, and the Alberta government and The Edmonton Journal‘s editorial page calling fair.  And silence from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, last seen at an Ottawa press conference with President Obama throwing the Bush regime under the bus,

We will be watching what the United States does [regarding the environment] very — with a lot of — with a lot of interest for the obvious reasons that, as we all know, Canada has had great difficulty developing an effective regulatory regime alone in the context of a integrated continental economy. It’s very hard to have a tough regulatory system here when we are competed with — competing with an unregulated economy south of the border.

Also interesting to note that it’s an article with photographs, including two large foldouts, that makes such a splash.  And not any of the equally dramatic but more or less pictureless articles on the oil sands over the years, such as Elizabeth Kolbert‘s “Unconventional Crude” for The New Yorker in 2007 and The Guardian‘s “Mud, sweat and tears” the same year.  A thousand words, indeed.

Better late than never department: I have a post in my draft folder about this, but each time I pull it up I start to gnash my teeth.  Here’s what the non-Canadian The Economist has to say on the subject, with less teeth-gnashing and garment-rending on my part (I’ve added some links to the original article),

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was brief and not all that bloody, but it was historic. On September 13th 1759, France’s loss of its colonial territories in North America was set in motion when British redcoats scaled cliffs protecting Quebec City and defeated troops and militia loyal to Louis XV. A modern-day battle over the battle, which concluded on February 17th, lasted somewhat longer and ended very differently. It flared up over plans to mark the battle’s 250th anniversary with a re-enactment, and ended with Quebec separatists crying victory and Canada’s federal government beating a hasty retreat.

The re-enactment was to have been the centrepiece of a summer-long commemoration of 1759’s events. But to some Quebeckers commemoration sounded like celebration. “Dancing on the graves of our ancestors,” was how the Réseau de Résistance du Québécois (RRQ), a group of sovereigntist hardliners, described it. They demanded the re-enactment’s cancellation. For several weeks debate raged. The re-enactment was an exercise to pay tribute to the fallen and educate the living about one of Canada’s most important episodes, said its supporters. These included 2,000 or so mostly American “re-enacters”, the federal government and Quebec City’s mayor, who was loth to lose millions of dollars in tourist spending.

Opponents, and most of the French-language press, cursed the proposed re-enactment as a “repugnant federalist propaganda operation”. When it reached a point where its organisers were receiving threats—including having “our bayonets shoved up our butts”, according to their leader—the National Battlefields Commission, which administers the Plains of Abraham, cancelled the mock battle and other activities planned for the summer. Or, as the Gazette, Quebec’s only English daily, wrote, it “cravenly surrendered the field”.

If there was an edifying component to the brouhaha, it lay in displaying the different light in which the Conquest, as it is known, is seen by those on opposite sides of the Quebec independence debate. For many sovereigntists it was the beginning of domination by the wretched English, and of the struggle for cultural survival. Federalists, however, both Francophone and Anglophone, argue that after the Conquest the French of New France got rights they could only dream of under the exploitative, authoritarian ancien régime.

Whatever the case, the re-enactment was probably doomed from the moment in mid-January when the RRQ pledged “to go on the warpath” against it. Support for Quebec’s sovereignty spikes whenever it is felt that English Canada is taking it for granted or not respecting it. Wise federal politicians are thus wary of anything that may rile Quebec sensitivities. Nevertheless, a few cabinet ministers took opposing positions on the re-enactment.

Quebec’s premier, Jean Charest, was shrewd enough not to get involved. He simply announced that he would not attend. This is a decision Generals Wolfe and Montcalm, the commanders of the British and French forces in 1759, should probably also have made; both died of wounds suffered on the Plains of Abraham

A few thoughts. First, outside of Quebec in the rest of the country this article didn’t make much of a splash at all. Second, how disappointing to live in a country, a world, where some can confuse commemoration with celebration, and where hundreds of years later there are still such sensitivities over historical facts. I can’t help but think of the bicentary commemoration of the Battle of Trafalgar four years ago, when the famous sea battle was re-enacted, as the BBC noted, “between a blue and a red team, rather than Britain versus France, in order not to offend the French”.  And yet there’s the feeling that confusion has been raised over the meaning of words, the prospect of insult to ancestors has been raised and bandied about merely to make separatist, sovereigntist hay. And the rest of the country, especially the part scratching its collective head every so often over Quebec, doesn’t know enough of its own history to care.  As Hugh MacLennan wrote in Rivers of Canada in 1974 (almost 30 years after his Two Solitudes), “Ours is not the only nation which has out-travelled its own soul and now is forced to search frantically for a new identity. No wonder, for so many, the past Canadian experience has become not so much a forgotten thing as an unknown thing.”

Anyone moved to learn more might be interested to know that the other weekend The Ottawa Citizen excerpted part of D. Peter Macleod’s new book, Northern Armageddon: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham.  You can read the excerpt here.

UPDATED to add: I knew I forgot something. Here’s a birthday present from the National Film Board of Canada: “The Fate of America: Two well-known Quebec artists, a filmmaker and a playwright, look at various aspects of the story of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Whose version should prevail? Is history best served by documentary or fiction?”

Polar bears, Prime Ministers, and basic math

Rick Mercer is a Canadian satirist, and one of our smartest public figures; think Jon Stewart in a parka.  Today on his blog and in the national newspaper The Globe & Mail, he has an an opinion piece, “It’s Not the Economy, Stupid”, from which:

Not long after Stephen Harper took office as Canada’s 28th Prime Minister an infant polar bear was born in a Berlin Zoo. Known as Knut, this cub was summarily rejected by his mother and so was nursed by human beings. Now two years later animal psychologists admit that he has become so addicted to human laughter and applause that the instant those things disappear he becomes desolate and cries for attention. This has lead to irrational behaviour never seen before in a polar bear. Experts fear that without constant applause Knut the polar bear could simply lose the will to live.

Enter Stephen Harper.

During our current crisis, Conservative staffers are being ordered to stand outside 24 Sussex Drive starting at 6:15 in the morning. Their job is to stand there in dark, in temperatures well below zero. Their instructions are to applaud, wave and sing Oh Canada loudly as Stephen Harper’s motorcade pulls out of the gates and drives him to work. Harper, by all accounts, actually believes that the young people are there on their own accord and represent a ground swell of love and support for his actions. It’s easier this way. Nobody wants to suffer at the hands of the inconsolable bear.

Enter Stephane Dion.

Stephane Dion is a humiliated and beaten man. Nothing prepared him for the thrashing he took in the last election, and the subsequent rejection by his own party just made matters worse [it continues today, courtesy of former Liberal deputy Prime Minister John Manley]. The applause and cheering stopped for this man a long time ago. Given the chance to exact revenge he will seize it at any cost.

And so is it any surprise that these damaged men are the architects of a crisis in Canada the likes of which we have never seen?

With leaders like this we shouldn’t be blamed for asking why bother.

But I do know this. If this parliament was a dog it would be brought out behind the shed and shot. Rabid dogs aren’t reformed, given second chances or trusted ever again.

At first this little crisis of ours in Ottawa was nothing but good old fashioned fun. For political junkies it was simply blood sport and made for great entertainment.

It began of course with the economic statement, a colossal misstep for Prime Minister Harper. The nastiness and partisanship caught everyone off guard – including the Conservative cabinet that once again were kept in the dark. Sane cabinet ministers were forced to grin and bear it as the leader revealed a strategy that not only highlighted the very worst elements of his personality, but reinforced the nagging cliché that this Conservative party cares more about inflicting pain on those they dislike then offering support for anyone in need.

For most casual observers it seemed like a game of hardball Stephen Harper would easily win. The opposition under Stephane Dion is, without a doubt, the weakest official opposition that Canada has ever seen. The leader is on his way out, the party is broke, and discipline is non-existent.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the vote in the House of Commons.

Stephane Dion may lack the basic skills needed by all political leaders but he seems to have a grasp on basic math, something Stephen Harper, the economist, seems to have lost.

Dion crunched the numbers and quickly realized that if his party, along with the other two parties in the house, opposed Harper the government would fall – in theory Dion could even become Prime Minister.

The only problem with that scenario was that no Liberal leader would ever consider such a gambit because it would mean getting in bed with both separatist and socialist forces in the House of Commons.

The difference this time around is that those forces didn’t spend the last two years destroying this Liberal leader’s personal reputation. That was Stephen Harper’s doing. A coalition could ruin Stephen Harper and that’s the only motivation Stephane Dion needs.

This is personal.

Stephen Harper loves being the Prime Minister of Canada. Under Harper the motorcades have gotten longer, the office more presidential, the trappings more grand. The idea that within a week he could be standing in line at the airport with regular Canadians, photo ID at the ready, attempting to board an Air Canada jazz flight to Moncton so he can explain to party faithful why he now travels in a Jiffy Taxi gnaws at his very being.

Knut the polar bear could not survive such a humiliation and nor can Stephen Harper. So Stephen Harper tore up his economic update; he blinked and backtracked – behaviour not before seen in this political animal. …

Read the rest here.  And you can have fun watching Rick here.  Because at this p0int, we can laugh or we can cry.  We certainly don’t seem to be able to explain to “outraged” Canadians here in the conservative Prairie Provinces — many of whom didn’t even bother to vote in October — that Stephen Harper arranged all of this, not the Liberals, NDP, or Bloc Quebecois.

Remembrance Day 2008

Library and Archives Canada, in conjunction with Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), has an online exhibition, Oral Histories of the First World War: Veterans 1914-1918 featuring audio interviews and written transcripts, as well as photographs.  The exhibition is organized into seven “interview themes”: Second Ypres, Vimy Ridge, War in the Air, The Somme, Trench Warfare, Passchendaele (Third Ypres), and Perspectives on War.

The exhibition is based on the CBC‘s 1964-1965 radio broadcasts In Flanders Fields, a series of interviews with veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

The Library and Archives Canada website includes a number of other online virtual exhibitions, including The Battle of Passchendaele, Canada and the First World War, and Faces of War.

Also online: The Canadian Letters and Images Project, a virtual archive of the Canadian war experience, from the Riel Rebellion and Boer War to World War I, World War II, and the Korean War (one letter).  The project began in 2000 at the Department of History at Vancouver Island University. In November 2003 the Project was very pleased to bring in as partners the History Department at The University of Western Ontario.

The following is a letter in the collection written by Flight Sergeant Harry Hansell of Vulcan, Alberta.  He was 19 when he enlisted with the RCAF in 1942. He was 20 years old when he and his crew were shot down on a raid over Germany in September 1943.

May 21st, 1943

Dear Dad:

I received your letter of the 20th and was very glad to have got one. I haven’t received any letters yet for about 2 weeks. I am glad that Mary got my picture. I have never met a girl that could stand up to her yet, and I don’t think I ever will.

I can’t tell you what l am doing, but I am not in the tail, but in the mid upper turret. I might say I am in the front line now, please don’t worry.

I received mother’s letter and got the address but I only had 5 days’ leave and that was taken up by travelling to the next station. I wish mother would send me some parcels. All the lads are getting them but me. I found my kit bag just as I was leaving the other station. So I got all my personal belongings. It’s all just about dirty laundry. I haven’t stayed in one place long enough to get it all done. I have a very fine crew of fellows. They are all Sgt. just as I. There is seven in the crew all together. I hope my picture turned out all right in the paper. I sure want to see it.

I am not going to write to Mary so much because you can’t tell what may happen, but I will nevertheless continue to write very often. I sure am very proud of her. By the way, I would like to know why Ruth is quitting school. I am doing my part so that she can have the privilege to go to school. I wish now that I was still in school. You tell her that she can’t quit school just as she likes. What do you think the war is for? You tell her she just can’t do as she likes along the lines of education. I realized too late about my education and I don’t want her to do the same. Well, there is no more paper.

I will write soon.
Love to all,

Harry

Half of Sgt. Hansell’s file includes family and government letters after his death.  One RCAF letter three years later finally gives the complete details of the fate of Sgt. Hansell and his crew:

The aircraft crashed on the night of 27th September, 1943 about 1.5 miles South of Eberholsen in a forest. This town is located approximately 22 miles South of Hanover, Germany. The aircraft exploded when it hit the ground and unfortunately individual identification of the crewmen was not possible. Your son, together with his crew, were laid to rest in the Town Cemetery at Eberholsen in a Communal Grave located in the North East corner of the cemetery. The grave is nicely kept and marked by a cross upon which is inscribed the names of the crew.

Previous Farm School posts marking the day:

Remembrance Day 2007

Poetry Friday: Remembrance Day Edition (2007)

Remembrance: “Nothing forgotten” (2006)

Remembrance Day II (2005)

Remembrance Day 2005