• 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."

    "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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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Beowulf: Everything really, really old is new again

Beowulf is back. Again. No, I’m not talking about the recent movie version, which came hard on the heels of the film Beowulf & Grendel (and its “making of” documentary, Wrath of Gods, which I’ve heard is supposed to be quite good).

I was reminded by Mary Lee‘s recent post of a few recent items I wanted to mention. Mary Lee at her blog A Year of Reading posted a review of the two recent children’s versions of the tale nominated for Cybils this year in the graphic novel category,

Beowulf Monster Slayer: A British Legend by Paul D. Storrie and Ron Randall (Lerner)

Beowulf, adapted and illustrated by Gareth Hinds (Candlewick Press), who has tackled Beowulf before in true comic format. Hinds, by the way, takes on Shakespeare next (here and here).

And last month at Geek Dad, Michael Harrison had a post, Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Beowulf?:

This weekend, my wife and I went to see the Robert Zemeckis-directed, Neil Gaiman/Roger Avary-scripted Beowulf film. Needless to say, we didn’t bring the kid along.But this got me thinking about ways to introduce the little guy to epic stories of ancient heroes. When I was a kid, I was all about Greek mythology, and I took my first baby steps through the lavishly illustrated pages of the glorious D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. What about something like that, but for Beowulf?

Michael’s suggestios include the new Gareth Hinds title, above, as well as Michael Morpurgo’s recent retelling (2006, Candlewick), illustrated by Michael Foreman; and also the cartoon Grendel Grendel Grendel, narrated by Peter Ustinov; Michael mentions a bootleg DVD and I see it’s also at Blockbuster online.

Other 2007 offerings for children:

Beowulf: A Hero’s Tale Retold by James Rumford; this New York Times review from last June compares the Gareth Hinds, Rumford, and Morpurgo versions; and an interview with Hawaii author Rumford in The Honolulu Advertiser is here.

Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes, retold by Nicky Raven, and illustrated by John Howe; this one is Candlewick’s third entry (at least) on the subject, the selling point for this one being that John Howe was a lead artist for the Lord of the Rings movies.

Beowulf: Grendel the Ghastly, Book One by Michelle Szobody and Justin Gerard. From Portland Studios, which is new to me, and which has this interesting blog entry on the book, with references to G.K. Chesterton.

A special mention for one of my more favorite picture book retellings for younger children, the quite gentle The Hero Beowulf by Eric A. Kimmel, and illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005); and don’t forget that Dover has a coloring book of the tale, for drawing while listening along.

And, saving the best for last, Camille at Book Moot had a post not too long about the best way “to experience Beowulf” — via Benjamin Bagby, and the news that Bagby’s Beowulf, performed at Helsingborg, Sweden, is now on DVD; here too.

* * *

Updated to add: Monica at educating alice notes in the comments below, “I also did a post on this sometime back in which I provided a couple of links to articles that might be of interest, one by Morpurgo in the Guardian and the other comparing LOTR and Beowulf in Salon.” Thanks, Monica!


Figuring out if Cybils-nominated titles are child-friendly

Over at the Cybils blog, Cybils co-founder Kelly Herold wrote a post earlier this week, “Who Put the Kid in Kid-friendly?“:

When [Cybils co-founder] Anne and I led a panel session on the Cybils at the 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference this [past] weekend in Chicago, one theme in particular kept popping up during discussions: How do we decide if a book is child-friendly or not?

This is an important question for the ninety panelists and judges evaluating the hundreds of children’s and YA books nominated this year. One of our main goals is to find quality books children will love. In other words, we’re looking for well written, intelligent, and kid-friendly titles.

But how do we — a group of 88 adults and 2 [3?] teens — decide what is child friendly? What are our criteria? Will we know child-friendly when we see it?

Tell us what you think. How does an adult reader recognize a child-friendly book? What are your tell-tale signs of a fun and compelling read? Feel free to answer in the comments or on your own blog.

One of the reasons I was eager to participate in the Cybils again this year is that my kids had so much fun with all of the poetry books that arrived last year. With yet another package slip from Canada Post in the mailbox requiring a trip to the post office to pick up a brown box or padded envelope, the kids started squealing, “It’s just like Christmas!”

My simple answer for how I recognize a child-friendly book is that my kids enjoy that particular book. And I don’t expect all three kids — a ten-year-old girl who prefers historical fiction and stories about horses, an eight-and-a-half-year-old boy who likes best Asterix and how-to manuals, and an almost seven-year-old who enjoys stories about horses, pioneers, and how-to manuals — to enjoy the same books, either. One out of three is good enough for me, provided that that one child thinks the world of that one book.

Last year, the easiest way to find which books the kids really liked was to search their beds. The books they didn’t like — that didn’t catch the kids’ interests or left them cold — stayed in the designated “Cybils piles” in the living room. The books the kids enjoyed were discovered in their respective beds, under pillows and stuffed animals and on top of quilts, and with bookmarks (sometimes just torn slips of paper) between the pages.

This year, with middle grade and young adult nonfiction on my plate, it won’t be quite as easy for me to read all the books with my children, since some titles will certainly be too advanced in language or emotion (or both) for them, at least for the boys whose combined age is 15; often, I’ll use one book on a subject for Laura and something simpler, usually a picture book, for the boys. From all the review’s I’ve read of Grief Girl, Erin Vincent’s memoir about her adolescence following the death of her parents in a traffic accident more than 20 years ago when she was 14, it seems the sort of book I would gladly give Laura in a few years, but not now at age 10.

But even with some books meant for older readers, the kids in general and Davy (not quite seven) in particular have made their way by looking at the pictures and reading, or having me read aloud, the captions. And after all the books we’ve read together, I have a pretty good idea what their thoughts and tastes will be in a few years, which books will be worth keeping, and even adding to our home school studies. As home schoolers, too, we have the luxury of adding any books that arrive to our late autumn/early winter curriculum, or just to our afternoon and bedtime readalouds. We can set aside for the moment Farmer Boy or our study of Lewis & Clark, to spend a few afternoons and evenings reading about trash, dinosaur eggs, and James Beckwourth.

One thing I found interesting last year was how some of the titles that tried too hard to appeal, and be appealing, to kids — whether they are “educational” (a definite concern in this particular category, where a lot of the titles are purchased by libraries rather than individuals and many tend to be the kind of book children use “just for reports”) or simply (and sometimes scatalogically) underestimate children’s senses of humor and sophistication and awareness of what’s clever were among those that did not make it to kids’ favorites lists. Which is why, last year, Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich — a true Halloween delight, by the way, which you still have time to order from your favorite bookseller or via interlibrary loan — made a considerably larger impression on the assembled Farm School children than, say, Hey There, Stink Bug!

* * *

By the way, speaking of children and nonfiction, don’t miss author Marc Aronson‘s current post, “I Want to Be a Historian” at his blog Nonfiction Matters on the subject, or the conversation to which he refers over at Alison Morris‘s ShelfTalker: A Children’s Bookseller’s Blog, with her latest post, “Who’s Borrowing? Who’s Buying?”.

Time to nominate your favorite children’s books of the year

over at the Cybils. The nomination period began on Monday (October 1st), and runs through Wednesday, November 21st.

You can nominate your favorite children’s books published in 2007 in the following eight categories:

Nonfiction Picture Books
Fiction Picture Books
Middle Grade and Young Adult Nonfiction
Middle Grade Fiction
Young Adult Fiction
Fantasy/Science Fiction
Graphic Novels

Just click on the appropriate category link above and leave your nomination in the comments. Just remember, please: nominate only one book in each category, and make sure the title hasn’t already been listed.

Gearing up for the Cybils

As I wrote last week, the Cybils are back, the Cybils are back!

I’m delighted to be on the Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction committee, wrangled and organized by Jen Robinson, on the nominating panel along with

Mindy at Proper Noun Dot Net
Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti
KT Horning at Worth the Trip
Vivian at HipWriterMama

Following up later will be the Judging Panel, comprised of

Tracy Chrenka at Talking in the Library
Emily Mitchell at Emily Reads
Camille Powell at Book Moot
Alice Herold at Big A little a
Jennie Rothschild at Biblio File

As a reminder about how wonderful this category is, last year’s winner was

Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman

and the rest of the short list included

Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman
Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh
Immersed in Verse: An Informative, Slightly Irreverent & Totally Tremendous Guide to Living the Poet’s Life by Alan Wolf
Isaac Newton by Kathleen Krull (from her Giants of Science series)

For information on all of the other categories, including poetry (which has a fond place in my heart, and where I see Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader and Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children are holding down the fort!) and interviews with various participants, head over to the Cybils blog.

Nominations in all categories open on Monday, October 1st, so put your thinking caps on. The categories include picture books (fiction), picture books (nonfiction), poetry, middle grade & young adult nonfiction, middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, graphic novels, and fantasy & science fiction.

A final note: I usually include links from Amazon.com when I write about books, not because I think that’s where you should buy your books, but because their listings seem to be the most comprehensive of the ones online, more so than the wonderful Powells which continues to be a dandy place to buy books in the US and the terrific Chinaberry which is thorough but highly selective (not a bad thing at all), and more so even than Amazon.ca, whose website is a shadow of its American self. Amazon.com’s “Search Inside this Book” feature is pretty nifty, too, especially for those of us living in the back of beyond, far from any bookstores, independent, big box/chain or otherwise. Well, as long as we’re not limping along with dial-up service.

Fall fun around the kidlitosphere

All aboard to Take a Ride on the Reading Railroad, the latest Carnival of Children’s Literature hosted by Charlotte’s Library. So put away the Monopoly board for now and get reading!

And a bit late (sorry…) — the September issue of The Edge of the Forest is up, with many features. I was delighted to find Kelly Herold‘s discussion of the different Anglo-American versions of Baba Yaga tales in her article, “Baba Yaga Heads West“. Lots of other good stuff, too!

Also, a reminder that the deadline for LiteracyTeacher‘s Picture Book Carnival, Part 3 is coming up. Submissions are due by Friday, October 5.

And two new blogs of note from new-to-me homeschoolers,

Learning. Living. Books!, with two posts so far, “What Are ‘Living Books’?” and “Twaddle Dee, Twaddle Dum”

A Storybook Life, KalexaLott’s thoughts on nature, children’s literature, poetry, and simple wonder.

Cybils Season

It’s Cybils season again, the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards celebrating the best titles of 2007. Established and organized by Anne Boles Levy of Book Buds and Kelly Herold of Big A little a, the Cybils are ready for year two!

As of October 1st, you’ll be able to leave your nominations for the different categories — picture books (fiction), picture books (nonfiction), poetry, middle grade & young adult nonfiction, middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, graphic novels, and fantasy & science fiction. It’s time to start reflecting on your, and your children’s, favorite new books of the past year.

I’ve started going through our interlibrary loan titles from the year to put together our own list of favorite new books of 2007, and a few of the very best the kids are still talking and talking about. Though we don’t have a bookstore in our nearby town, everyone in the family gets very excited walking into the library to see the goodies glittering on the new arrivals table, or reading reviews in the newspapers and blogs and adding them to our wish lists and shopping carts.

If you’re not familiar with the Cybils, you can read about last year’s finalists here, and last year’s winners here.

And lastly, a special thanks to Kelly and Anne for letting me participate again this year. I’m on Jen Robinson‘s middle grade and young adult nonfiction book panel, which I’m very much looking forward to.

(Sneaking back to the fields now…)

Latest edition of the Carnival of Children’s Lliterature is up

Mary Lee and Franki have the June edition of the Carnival of Children’s Literature ready at their blog, A Year of Reading. Good news, indeed!

March issue of The Edge of the Forest

has been out now for a bit. Hurray, and thanks to Kelly Herrold and all the contributors. Features that have caught my eye so far, since I just started reading through it:

Liz‘s interview with Kirby Larson, author of Hattie Big Sky (historical fiction set in 1918 Montana, and a 2007 Newbery Honor book)

Nonfiction reviews of Diego, a picture book biography (1994) of artist Diego Rivera conceived and illustrated by Jeannette Winter, with text (in English and Spanish) by Jonah Winter; and John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement, a picture book biography (2006) for older children

Sherry at Semicolon surveys a group of homeschoolers at her bowling alley for the latest Kid Picks column

This month’s In the Backpack features an interview with author Elizabeth Bluemle, who is also the co-owner of the independent Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, one of my favorite towns

And there’s oodles, just oodles, more.

And the Cybils winners are…


The winners include Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman with illustrations by Beth Krommes (Poetry category — hurray, hurray, hurray!); An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Aston with illustrations by Sylvia Long (Non-Fiction Picture Books); and Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman (Non-Fiction, Middle Grade and Young Adult category). For all the rest click the link above.

Many, many thanks to our fearless leaders, Anne and Kelly, and poetry wrangler Susan at Chicken Spaghetti. Being part of the Cybils, especially in this very first year, was great good fun!

By the way, I was quite thrilled to see the Cybils mentioned in an email announcement from the folks at Chronicle Books announcing their Best Chronicle Children’s Books of the Year Contest. Two of the books — Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow and Tour America — are listed as “Cybils finalists” and in fact made it to our Poetry short list. Hop over to the contest and enter your name, or your child’s, for a chance to win a gift basket of books. Besides the two mentioned, other titles include Ivy and Bean, Mom and Dad Are Palindromes, Emily’s Balloon, and, especially some of my kids’ especial library favorites last year — Ton and Tools, both by Taro Miura, and Masterpieces Up Close: Western Painting from the 14th to 20th Centuries by Claire d’Harcourt (Art Up Close).

Getting Ready

Our flight leaves Friday at 1 pm. For the past few years on our annual trip to see my parents, we’ve left home at 8 am, after finishing farm chores and tidying the kitchen, for the drive to the city. That gives us about two-and-a-half hours to get to the airport, and some extra time there to check ourselves in, a new wrinkle since last year which I loathe because there are always glitches and never any sort of price reduction, which you’d expect since I and not a salaried employee am doing the grunt work. I know a racket when I see it.

Over the weekend, however, Tom and I started thinking about leaving Thursday evening and staying with friends just outside of Edmonton, since the weather lately has been exceedingly cold, snowy, and windy. We spoke with our friends last night and they kindly offered not just to put us up for the night but to drive us to the airport and keep our truck for the duration. Just in time. It snowed all day here, with freezing rain in and around Edmonton, with lots of vehicles in the ditch along the city highways. And not too many flights in or out of the airport either, but that’s another concern. So at this point we’re almost certain about leaving late Thursday rather than early Friday, though it means an extra day of farm chores for Tom’s parents. Plane is scheduled to arrive at 7 pm, then free shuttle bus to the delightful Courtyard by Marriott with the excellent Greek restaurant next door that offers room service, clean duvets, and a bountiful buffet breakfast. And no bedbugs, I hope (yes, I check).

Packing has turned into a mini-spring cleaning. As the kids tried on summer clothes and picked books to bring along, we discovered oodles of things that didn’t fit or weren’t wanted any more, and I have boxes and bags to pass along to friends and the Goodwill tomorrow.

Our hens decided that this would be a good time to molt, and I’m happy at their timing, because my mother-in-law won’t have too many eggs to wash or any to deliver in our absence.

Since we’ll be gone for only two weeks, I decided that I’m not going to make the kids take or do any schoolwork, aside from Laura learning by heart one of her two 4H speeches and the boys learning their two archy the cockroach poems for the Arts Festival next month. Last year I brought the Singapore Math books, which the kids distractedly worked on on my parents’ veranda before they could go swimming each morning. But we were there longer, and I want them now to be able to spend as much time as possible enjoying the delights of their holiday, especially time with my parents.

After much thought and several weeks of shifting around piles, we’re taking these for our readalouds, but may not get through all of them:
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day by Donald J. Sobol
Encyclopedia Brown Shows the Way by Donald J. Sobol
Feldman Fieldmouse: A Fable by Nathaniel Benchley, with drawings by Hilary Knight; my old copy, from the old school Book Fair
The Burgess Seashore Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess (alright, a little bit of sneaky school)

Up, up, and away. We hope.

PS Just remembered: I probably won’t be blogging even irregularly, so if I don’t pop back in, February 14th is not just Valentine’s Day but the day the Cybils winners are announced. Chocolate and children’s books — no wonder it’s my favorite holiday!

More bits and bobs: algebra, kidlit, Dickens, and Chaucer

This post, Have algebra books changed?, by Maria at the always worthwhile Homeschool Math Blog, caught my eye. Good to read read even if your kids aren’t quite ready for algebra.

Kelly at Big A little a is ready with the 10th Carnival of Children’s Literature. Lots of good stuff, or “toasty posts” as Kelly calls them, to read on a cold winter’s day (or night)!

A classical homeschooling friend sent me a copy of this article from The Christian Science Monitor about more Charles Dickens for children. Columnist and parent Janine Woods gives some tips at the end for adding more great books, and Great Books, to your child’s life. I’d just add that for many, Dickens is a wonderful family tradition at Christmas, whether it’s reading A Christmas Carol aloud on Christmas Eve, or watching one of the many movie versions (we’re partial to Alistair Sim). And you can’t go wrong starting even young kids with simplified versions or abridged editions, such as Marcia Williams’s comic-strip style Charles Dickens and Friends, which includes, as the subtitle says, “Five Lively Retellings”: Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, and A Christmas Carol.

Marcia Williams’s classic retellings — of Shakespeare, King Arthur, Don Quixote, the Old Testament, and more — are so popular at our house and with friends that I was delighted to discover, while poking around Amazon for links, her just-published version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which I also just discovered The Globe & Mail‘s Susan Perren calls “a delightful introduction to Chaucer.” Another good review earlier this week in The Columbus Dispatch. And thumbs up too from The Washington Post; as Elizabeth Ward wrote last week about what she calls “exceptional picture books [that] tell of life and love”: “At first blink, Chaucer seems unlikely to appeal to children.”

Bits and bobs

Blogging will be intermittent and sporadic for the next, possibly long, while. We’re planning to visit my parents, and Tom and I have a ton each to do before we get on the planes (not to mention locating 100mL/100g/3oz. mini bottles of unguents, potions, and toothpaste for onboard use).

Here are some fun and useful things I’ve found in the past few days:

The indefatigable Kelly at Big A little a has ready the January issue of The Edge of the Forest online magazine of children’s literature; of special note is the article on leveled reading, Helping Children Choose Books Beyond Level by Franki, a teacher and mother of two:

I am a mother of a first grader and a tenth grader. Both have learned to read during the era of, what I call, Level-Mania. I want both of my daughters to have more than going higher/higher, faster/faster in their reading lives. I want them to find the joy in reading and to read because it sustains them. I think it is time that we think about what messages these leveling systems are giving to our children. What are we teaching them about lifelong reading, book choice, and learning? What can they learn if they are scoring points and getting prizes for reading? How can they fall in love with a character when their goal is to get to the next level?

Next month, February 10, is the Edge’s anniversary issue.

LaMai, a single working indefatigable mother in NYC, has a great post about why homeschooling is for you; take a look at her previous post to see that for her son, homeschool rarely means staying home.

I know there are other things I meant to post about, but after our third trip to town yesterday (morning/appointment; afternoon/homeschool gym day for the kids; evening/4H meeting for Laura followed by remnants of homeschool support group meeting), this is all I can recall for now. Besides, I’m supposed to be buying five plane tickets. Back with more as I remember…

More thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?

Or what’s a poem for?

— from Stephen Fry‘s nifty Ode Less Traveled: Unlocking the Poet Within (original quote from Robert Browning)

On the heels of my guest review at Chicken Spaghetti of The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, I’m still agitating and cogitating about the book, a wonderful and luminous volume I thought — heck, my kids thought — was one of the best children’s poetry books of 2006 and yet failed to make it into the top five of the Cybils poetry titles. Go figure. I’m still trying.

In fact, for some time now I’ve been trying to figure out the current politics of poetry for children, which nowadays means that most folks aren’t interested, or think that children won’t be interested, in poems that aren’t “relevant”, “accessible”, or scatalogical. Admittedly, to many children and parents, the idea of poetry, especially the classic variety, is about as welcome as the thought of a plate full of broccoli (unless, of course, you figure that both are just an acquired taste, and the thing to do with your kids is to start acquiring those tastes while having fun, which isn’t particularly sneaky, mean, or difficult). And the fact that some of the poems and poets in The Barefoot Book aren’t usually found in children’s books, or that some of the authors could be considered “dead white males” will no doubt cause some parents, especially those who tend to underestimate the little dears and their abilities, to gnash their teeth and grumble.

But as I learned a few years ago during Laura’s brief foray into public education, just before we started home schooling, it’s a mistake and a terrible disservice to children to underestimate them, or to foist on them one’s own prejudices, against either Auden or eggs. I’ve long taken inspiration from the educational philosophy of Marva Collins, who believes that children are naturally ambitious and rise to a challenge; and I’ve been heartened recently to read both author Mitali Perkins’s fond remembrance of Wordsworth and my friend JoVE’s post on Accessible Poetry, about modern children and classic works. The vocabulary and exact meaning of some lines may not always be obvious to children, and yet the rhythm and poetry still speak to them. When children are older, they’ll already be familiar with some of the great writers and great books, greeting the original works as old friends rather than viewing them with fear or displeasure. And as adults, they’ll be able to join in the Great Conversation, as educational philosophers Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler called it, rather than just joining in the latest gossip. In a 1970 interview, Hutchins said,

[I]t seemed to me that the Great Books were the most promising avenue to liberal education if only because they are teacher-proof. If there were a Socrates behind every teacher’s desk, you would not need to worry about the curriculum. … I am sorry to repeat that the striking thing about young people today is that they are frightfully ignorant of the past. I don’t see how this can ever be an advantage. I understand the advantages of innocence but I do not understand the advantages of ignorance. … They are ignorant of the fact that there is a Great Conversation echoing back through history on the subject of justice. You are quite right that they are not ignorant in the sense that they do not lack information. They have more information than any previous generation, but having a great deal of information has little to do with knowledge. Knowledge is organized information, and an institution pursuing knowledge is not simply trying to hand out the latest dope on everything; it is trying to put this current information into a context of ideas that can be useful for analyzing the problems of daily life.

While some of my Cybils colleagues had concerns that the poetry in the book is too “old” to be suitable for kids, I tend to consider poems ageless, as I wrote in a post to the group. I don’t really think of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll as children’s poets (I remember a surprising and glorious English class in 11th grade studying Alice) or “A Child’s Garden of Verses” as children’s poetry — the latter, in fact, seems to speak to me more now that I have children of my own — any more than I think of Yeats and Emerson as poets for adults. So I was happy to reread recently Harold Bloom’s introduction to his Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of Ages:

…I do not accept the category of “Children’s Literature,” which had some use and distinction a century ago, but now all too often is a mask for the dumbing-down that is destroying our literary culture. Most of what is commercially offered as children’s literature would be inadequate fare for any reader of any age at any time. I myself first read nearly everything I have gathered together in this book between the ages of five and fifteen, and I have gone on reading these stories and poems from fifteen to seventy. My title is meant to be precise: What is between these covers is for extremely intelligent children of all ages. Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, and Edward Lear are blended with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nicolai Gogol, and Ivan Turgenev, because all of them — in the poems and stories I have chosen — make themselves open to authentic readers of any age. There is nothing here that is difficult or obscure, nothing that will not both illuminate and entertain. If anyone finds a work here that does not yield immediately to their understanding, I would urge them to persevere. It is by extending oneself, by exercising some capacity previously unused that you come to a better knowledge of your own potential [emphasis mine].

As I wrote in our panel discussions, and I have a feeling my impassioned pleas for The Barefoot Book went well beyond mere discussion (though my fellow panelists are a forgiving bunch), I’m not quite sure when “classic” became a pejorative term or started to mean only heavy, serious, somber works. I’ve always understood the word to mean something — whether art, music, movies, or literature — that has stood the test of time and avoided the faddish, and informed an understanding of the human condition, and children are very, very human. The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems is genuinely a book to grow with, with a wide range of poetry and a variety of voices to appeal to children of all ages, abilities and interests, the sort of book a son or daughter might take along when it’s time to leave home, not just because it contains sentimental old favorites from childhood, but because the poems in the book still have things to say, and explain, to the reader. Carol Ann Duffy, one of England’s most popular living poets, writes in her introduction to the anthology, “The poems here are ‘classic’ because, although their authors are no longer living, they continue to shine brightly in the English language — true stars. … Poetry, of all the arts, offers us moments in language that preserve or celebrate, explore or elegize, transform or enhance our human joys and sadnesses.”

Her words remind me of William Faulkner’s when he collected his Nobel Prize for literature: “The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” Which is why I think there must be room for classic poetry, especially glorious collections like The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems, in the lives of children, too. Especially in the lives of children. But do them a favor. Don’t just give them the book. Sit down and read it to them, with them, and let them read aloud to you and each other, too. That’s how classic poetry lovers, and sometimes even poets, are born.

Carnival of Children’s Literature and Edge of the Forest

Oops, I almost forgot to write about two important things, so I hope Kelly will forgive me. And Kelly, I did try to comment on your computer woes but Blogger won’t let me in for some reason; after my own laptop’s recent unauthorized encounter with a beverage, I can definitely sympathize.

The latest edition of The Edge of the Forest has been out for a while now, with all sorts of goodies, including A Day in the Life with children’s author Debby Dahl Edwardson of Barrow, Alaska, and a new “Sounds of the Forest” podcast.

And it’s time to send in your submissions for the upcoming 10th Carnival of Children’s Literature. The deadline is January 15th, and the Carnival will be hosted by Kelly at Big A little a on January 20th. Thanks, Kelly!

Happy New Year [aka the Cybils shortlists are here!]

So happy new year, happy sledding, and happy reading ahead!

We’re off sledding today with friends from out of town, so in the meantime I’ll point you toward the Cybils website, where the five finalists for each of the children’s literature categories are being posted today. First up — Poetry!

It was a pleasure and an honor, not to mention a lot of hair-tearing hard work, to serve on the poetry nominating panel alongside Bruce, eisha, Elaine, and Sylvia, and under the able stewardship of Susan. And we had nowhere near the number of books to consider that some of the other panelists did. I’d also like to thank my three guinea pigs in the target demographic, who devoured about as many poems as candy canes in the past month. A special thanks to Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold for coming up with the idea of the Cybils and organizing everything.

I’ll have to figure out what we can and can’t post about our choices and negotiations, and write up a post or two on the consideration process, which I believe another blogger (I don’t think on the poetry panel) compared to “sweating blood”.

Another bonus of the Cybils: just before Christmas, the guinea pigs and I delivered a box of chocolates and some of the lovely hardcover children’s poetry books of 2006 to a surprised and delighted librarian.

The year-end list of "100 Cool Teachers in Children’s Literature"

Mary Lee and Franki at A Year of Reading have posted their complete list of
the top 100 wonderful teachers in children’s books
. At this time of year, I tend to get listed out, but this is a fun one, and I’m happy to see so many of my favorites here, from Little Women‘s Jo March, Caddie Woodlawn‘s Miss Parker, Roald Dahl’s Matilda‘s Miss Honey, and Great Aunt Arizona, to Nicholas Nickelby, Stuart Little, Anne Shirley, Miss Stacey, and Laura Ingalls.

Christmas on Huckleberry Mountain

Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book (HB), offers his blog readers a very fair, well-reasoned review by Melinda Cordell, of the new Charlotte’s Web movie, over at the HB website.

While at the website, I happened to notice on the sidebar a link to a special Holiday Posting of Lois Lenski‘s memories, entitled “Christmas at Huckleberry Mountain Library“, published by The Horn Book in 1946, the year Miss Lenski won the Newbery for Strawberry Girl:

Huckleberry mountain library — the only rural library in Henderson County, North Carolina — is open for two hours every other Sunday afternoon to the mountain children, and was to be open on December 23. Packages of books from three of my publishers arrived on the 22nd, just in time for library day.

The library is a small log building, with a rock chimney at one end, sitting at the foot of the mountain, shaded by long-leafed pines. There had been three deep snows — more than this locality experiences in an entire winter — so the low-hung branches of the pine trees and the roof were white and glowing in the bright winter sun.

The children always come early, the young librarian, an educated mountain girl, said. The hours are from two to four, but often they are there by one-thirty. She has to open the door as soon as she gets there and keep it open, even at the risk of being very cold because the open door is a sign of welcome. If the children see the door closed, they may turn around and go home!

Through the weekdays, the building is unheated. So we went over early, to put up some greens and a little Christmas tree, and to get a fire started. Some young pine trees had been cleared out of the woods near by, and these Stephen chopped up. We had brought some dry wood, kindling and newspapers with us. The fireplace was filled with snow, and the chimney was very cold, so in spite of all our efforts, we never did get what you would call “a roaring fire” or any noticeable amount of heat in the room.

Read the rest here. A warm holiday thank you to the folks at The Horn Book for rekindling and sharing the memories.

Ah, welladay

Trying to distract myself from the sparkly movie poster and today’s, erm, grand opening (not unfavorably reviewed in today’s New York Times, by the way), I’ve been rereading The Letters of E.B. White. Sometime during the week, while looking up something in the book, I stumbled across the new revised edition published under the direction of granddaughter Martha White, with a new selection of letters through Mr. White’s death in 1985 (the original volume left off in May 1976, with a visit from, of all people, Bette Davis’s former husband, actor Gary Merrill) as well as a new introduction by John Updike.

From my unrevised edition, worth pondering on this day when Oprah Winfrey and Cedric the Entertainer give voice to The Barn’s geese:

  • “I think The Second Tree will do all right without club sponsorship, and that there will be pleasure and profit in it for both of us. There are other things in life besides twenty thousand dollars — though not much.” (October 1953; White’s book “The Second Tree from the Corner” was a collection of his essays. The club is the Book-of-the-Month Club.)
  • “My secretary sent me only one disk [the LP record of Julie Harris reading Stuart Little], failing to notice they were in sets of two. So I still have the first half of the story to listen to. NBC, you may be amused to know, is at work on a television version of the story, and I feel in my bones that it will end with Stuart’s finding Margalo — thus bringing to an abrupt close the quest for beauty in America. As Don Marquis used to say, “Ah, welladay.” (October 1965)
  • “It is the fixed purpose of television and motion pictures to scrap the author, sink him without a trace, on the theory that he is incompetent, has never read his own stuff, is not responsible for anything he ever wrote, and wouldn’t know what to do about it even if he were. I believe this has something to do with the urge to create, and the only way a TV person or a movie person can become a creator is to sink the guy who did it to begin with. I’m not really complaining about NBC [which developed a TV production of Stuart Little in 1965], because by and large they set out to be fairly faithful to the general theme of Stuart, and they did not try to corrupt or demolish it. But there were a hundred places that, if they had wanted to take me into their confidence, I could have bettered for them. It was their choice, not mine.” (March 1966)

  • From a letter to his lawyer representing White in negotiations with John and Faith Hubley, whose plans to make an animated version of Charlotte’s Web ultimately fell through and gave way to the Hanna-Barbera version: “In [the contract’s item] 4, I don’t know what ‘merchandising rights’ means. Does this refer to my right, subsequently, to make other deals, or does it refer to objects of merchandise — dolls, pigs, sweat shirts? Again excuse ignorance.
    There should probably be a clause somewhere prohibiting the publication in book form of the screenplay or any other adaptation of my book. When Disney made ‘Mary Poppins’ he got out a book, ‘The Walt Disney Mary Poppins.’ I’m against anything of that sort.” (May 1967)
  • From another letter to his lawyer: “The purpose of the ‘right of approval’ clause is two-fold: it should protect me from a motion picture version of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ that violates the spirit and meaning of the story, and it should protect the Hubleys from obstructive behavior of an author.” (May 1967)

Perhaps the best way to bring Charlotte’s Web to life is the audiobook version recorded by E.B. White himself. Laura in particular has listened to the CDs so often that at times she’s picked up his accent, and does an unnervingly good impression of the geese. (The link has that garish poster, which startled me, but I’m sure it’s the audio CD edition from about five years ago).

Goodbye, Garth

From Fuse #8, a link to the Publishers Weekly article, “Little House Under Renovation“:

The prairie landscape of Laura Ingalls Wilder will soon be changing. HarperCollins, in an effort to keep the classic Little House on the Prairie series relevant to a new generation, is repackaging the paperback editions, and will replace the familiar covers by Garth Williams with photographic covers, and remove the inside art, starting in January. …

…according to Tara Weikum, executive editor of HarperCollins Children’s Books, sales of backlist properties in the competitive middle-grade market have been lagging. “For readers who view historical novels as old-fashioned,” says Weikum, “this offers them an edition that dispels that notion and suggests that these books have all the great qualities of a novel set in a contemporary time.”…

Kate Jackson, editor-in-chief at HarperCollins Children’s Books, … believes that Harper’s responsibility is to keep the books “relevant and vibrant for kids today. A childhood book is an emotional, tactile object, and you want it to be as it was,” she says. “But Laura Ingalls was a real little girl, not a made-up character. Using photographs highlights that these are not history but adventure books.”

I had heard a bit about the changes afoot some time after I heard about the plans for Anne-before-Green Gables, and one has to think that the HarperCollins tag line “Come home to Little House” will probably be replaced too, no doubt with something more, erm, contemporary, relevant, vibrant, and adventurous.

I realize that Garth Williams wasn’t the original illustrator of the Little House series. He was hired in the 1950’s by Harper editor Ursula Nordstrom, who didn’t think that the original illustrations, by Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle beginning in 1932, suited the books; this page has an interesting comparison of the two styles, and I think an argument could be made that Williams’s illustrations do have a, yes, vibrancy that Mrs. Sewell’s lack, a vibrancy shared by the young Laura Ingalls herself. (Some might recollect Helen Sewell as the illustrator of two Alice Dalgliesh classics, The Thanksgiving Story and The Bears on Hemlock Mountain.)

new computer on the way


cutting and pasting getting very old

a few good and new things:

The Late Autumn Edition Field Day

The November edition of The Edge of the Forest

new blog from Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord, Making Books with Children; the first post is about constructing a medieval book. HT Chicken Spaghetti

tired now.