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Dear Readers,

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

This summer while babysitting three of my adorable grandsons, I read the oldest grandson Charlotte’s Web for the first time.  He is a bright little guy for 7 years old, who loves Simagestar Wars (he practically has all the movies memorized), action figures, Cars, Planes (both movies) and generally boyish stuff.  I had some reservations as to how much he would enjoy the story of Fern, Wilber, and Charlotte, (there being no Jedi Warriors, Luke Skywalkers, or battles with light sabers).  What will he think of this old-fashioned tale of barnyard animals, tender affection and lasting friendship?

I needn’t have worried.  Even for a tiny 7 year-old Jedi warrior, this classic still strikes a chord.  It was a joy to see him (not much of a cuddler) cuddle close and listen attentively to this sweet story.  He asked all the right questions and we had a special connection for those precious few days.  It is a memory I’ll treasure and I trust he will too.

So it was with delight that I heard about the publication today of Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet.  You can hear the full broadcast here and I think you’ll find the collage illustrations enticing and enchanting!  I’m so happy that E.B. White is getting some well-deserved attention.  The enduring nature of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan and his contributions to other children’s writers make this a wonderful homage to a writer who should have won a Newbery Medal.  The year Charlotte’s Web was published it lost the Newbery Medal to The Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark–a book seldom read today. (It did garner a Newbery Honor). In The New York Times, Eudora Welty wrote of Charlotte’s Web, “As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done”.  And the astounding sales (78 million copies) and the book’s translation into 23 languages proves that simple, tender, and old-fashioned stories can still capture the heart of a boy–even a Jedi warrior.

White wrote everything on a manual typewriter. The author typed up all White's poems on a manual typewrite to include them as parts of the illustrations.

E.B. White wrote everything on a manual typewriter. Melissa Sweet typed up all White’s poems on a manual typewrite to include them as parts of the illustrations.

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Dear Readers,

How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott Sampson

How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott Sampson

Today on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point, the host interviewed the author of How to Raise a Wild Child: the Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott Sampson.  (This was actually a re-broadcast of an earlier recording, but it was the first time I heard it). I have the book on my bed stand and have been reading it in fits and starts.  This has been a very humbling read, as I’ve recently been convicted about how little I’ve had my 16 year-old daughter outside enjoying nature and seeing the wonder of the created world around her.  There are a number of reasons for this (she is a ballet dancer which necessitates lots of time in ballet studios–these don’t exist outside, in addition to a very time-consuming online curriculum which stole about 7 or 8 hours a day!)  So, like Rip Van Winkle, I feel I’ve woken out of a long winter’s (technology) nap and am awake to real life again!  I’ve also been blessed and inspired by Ainsley Arment through her work at Be Wild and Free and have determined that this coming school year will be different.  So we’ve quit the demanding online academy and are taking a less stressful, more relaxed approach to our home education next year, including regularly scheduled outdoor times!  I’m so looking forward to this!

In that endeavor here are a few of the key points of Scott’s How to Raise a Wild Child book and interview:

• children today spend on average of 4-7 minutes outdoors and 7-10 hours at screens

• this phenomenon has reduced life expectancy, increased obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc.

• this dramatic cultural shift has been driven by a “fear factor” wherein parents fear child abduction, when in reality the likelihood of child abduction is no greater than it was in 1950.

• the “busy factor” of “over-scheduled children”– who go directly from school to sports, music lessons, etc., with no time to play.

• finally, the “lure of technology” robs countless hours that previous generations of children spent outdoors, running, climbing trees, building forts, exploring and creating adventures.

What Scott Sampson sees in these modern trends is that we keep out children under a veritable “house arrest” where “free range children” are a dying breed!

The solution isn’t complicated or sophisticated, or only for the privileged.  It merely necessitates getting outside!  As one of the guests stated, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!”  Children can be kept warm and dry no matter the weather with thoughtful and wise preparation. This resonates so beautifully with the philosophy of Charlotte Mason who advocated that children spend a minimum of 3 hours per day outside–rain or shine.  In spring and fall she insisted on even more time outdoors!

To be wild and free boys only need some water, rocks and trees. My adorable grandsons this weekend.

To be wild and free boys only need some water, rocks and trees. Two of my adorable grandsons this weekend.

In an age of helicopter parenting, where children are habitually supervised and smothered by parental involvement, I love the words of my eldest daughter’s parenting philosophy of “benevolent neglect!” There is so much truth to the notion that children need to be left alone to muse, create, ponder and reflect.  Charlotte Mason advocated the importance of free play noting,

Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.”

Scott Sampson likened it to “hummingbird parenting” where parents stay on the periphery and only zoom in when needed and just as quickly zoom out.  And when we are outside with our children, give place for them to explore and discover on their own.  Let’s not badger them with questions or facts, or “educational moments.” Let’s let the wonder and awe of creation in all its profound intricacy and majesty, work its magic on us and our children.

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Dear Readers,

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The giant clock at Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

On Saturday, June 27th I’ll be holding my annual Summer Reading Soirée! 

The theme will be “Summer Reading”–exploring the world of children’s picture books, folk and fairy tales, and best picks for family read-alouds. We will also explore the deeper meanings available in children’s literature as we look at how great stories have the power to bring catharsis, anagnorisis (self-knowledge), and promote the practice of a self-examined life.  As Socrates so poignantly recognized, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Children’s books can help us cultivate self-knowledge and lead our children to establish an understanding and recognition of this in their lives too! 

For those with teens, cultivating the family read-aloud time becomes more and more difficult–sports, evening activities, and homework all tend to take precedence.  Because teen’s opinions and perspectives are solidifying, these years can be some of the most rewarding for reading aloud together as we share more complex literary works. These times build emotional, spiritual, and intellectual bridges in our relationships–bridges that help us cross over the tumultuous tides of teen life into the adult world.  We’ll explore ways to continue the practice of sharing the best literature even as our children move through the teen years.

Those who attended last summer will remember that we had the distinct pleasure of having Bernadette Speakes bring the poetry of Marilyn Nelson’s Carver: A Life in Poems, to dramatic life through her powerful readings.  Bernadette will delight us with her art once again! So, if you have a poem or a literary passage you’d like to suggest for Bernadette’s reading, please feel free to make a suggestion.  See Bernadette’s bio below.

Date: Saturday, June 27, 2015
Time: 9:30 am -3:30 pm
Place: 1306 Mill Street, San Luis Obispo
Cost: $30 (which includes lunch)
Make your reservation here.

Finally, I am currently reading the ancient philosopher Seneca’s “On the Shortness of Life.”  Hereshortnessoflife is a passage that has really made me ponder how we use our time:

I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response.  Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself–as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap–in fact, almost with out any value” (12).

 This sentiment has made me more cognizant of the incredible gift you are giving me (and hopefully yourselves) when you heroically carve out a full day of time to attend a literature Soirée.  I want to value your time as it should be valued.  In that light I intend to focus on the things that really matter–i.e. the things that can cause us to respect each day we are given, to nurture and build the relationships that are near and dear to us, and to focus on transcendent things. Because ultimately “when time is no more”, only those will have enduring value. I hope to see you on Saturday, June 27th!

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Bernadette Speakes graced the stage last winter, in the Elephant Theatre’s West Coast Premiere of the comedy, North Plan, directed by David Fofi. In the 2013 Fringe Festival, she portrayed Tituba, in The Crucible.  She created and produced the successful Get Up Stand Up . . . Clean Comedy 4 A Change–a showcase bridging the gap of laughter and charity together. Bernadette Bernadetteappeared in several acclaimed shows such as The Elephant Theater’s In Arabia We’d Be Kings, and The Fountain Theater’s West Coast Production of Direct from Death Row . . . The Scottsboro Boys. Bernadette will be furthering her film and TV credits with a key role in the upcoming film The Woods; A New Beginning. Other Film and TV Credits include: The Soloist, Heroes,  Parenthood, To Sir with Love II with Mr. Sidney Poitier, and the 1997 Sundance Festival Winner Love Jones. Awards include an Emmy Nomination for A Stage of Our Own with James Earl Jones, The LA Drama Critic’s Circle, and the LA Weekly.  Bernadette is a wife and mother of 2 beautiful children. She presently lives in Los Angeles.

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Marilyn Nelson's tender, poignant and inspiring life of a man of faith and science.

Marilyn Nelson’s tender, poignant and inspiring poetry portrays the  life of a man of faith and science.

Dear Readers and friends,

August 9, 2014 will be my Summer Literature Soirée, which many of you have attended in the past.  Normally I like to do a summer reading event at the beginning of the summer and then a Back-to-School event at the end of August, early September.  But due to speaking engagements and other life commitments (2 new grandchildren born this spring!), I am only able to provide one this season. Regardless, I am very much looking forward to spending this special time discussing literature, nurturing friendships, and making new acquaintances too!

So, I am mixing it up a bit this time, as I’d like to spend a bit more concentrated time digging into literary analysis with all of you!  Don’t panic if you’ve never analyzed literature before as this format will empower you to feel confident and equipped to discuss literature with your children/students on a deeper level.

Richard Kim's memoir of his childhood in Korea is one of the most beautiful an moving coming-of-age stories I've ever encountered.

Richard Kim’s memoir of his childhood in Korea is one of the most beautiful and moving coming-of-age stories I’ve ever encountered.

Here’s the literature we will discuss on August 9th:

Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson

Water Buffalo Days by Quang Nhuong Huynh

Lost Names by Richard Kim

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey

The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown

For convenience sake, Beautiful Feet Books will offer anyone who signs up for the soirée, an opportunity to purchase the above books discounted and have them shipped  to your home, in the next week or so,  to give you enough time to read them before August 9th (yeah for summer lazy days to read and rest!).  If you are interested in this, please visit the this link to order as soon as possible. The book pack is featured at the bottom of the page. We will offer  the above set of books at a 25% discount, but this offer will only be available until Friday, July 11.   And of course, bring the books with you on August 9th, so you can work directly with the text!

McCloskey's classic summer story evokes the pathos and innocence of childhood days spent on salt water, enchanted by the beauty of nature and the freshness of summer showers.

McCloskey’s classic summer story evokes the pathos and innocence of childhood days spent on salt water, enchanted by the beauty of nature and the freshness of summer showers.

So here are the details:

Date: Saturday, August 9, 2014

Place: my home: 1306 Mill Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Cost: $35.00 (which includes lunch)

Time: 9:30 am – 3:30 pm.

Registration here.

Hoping you’ll join me for this sweet summer time event!

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Harriet Beecher Stowe's home from 1852-1863

Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s home in Andover  from 1852-1863

I have the fortune to have a dear friend who lives just a couple doors down from 80 Bartlet Street in Andover, Massachusetts.  While visiting there recently, I was delighted to learn that this address was the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe.  The author lived there just after the publication of her seminal novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Indeed, she applied her first royalty check from the novel toward the renovation of the home for her large family.  Her husband, Calvin Stowe, taught Sacred Literature at Andover Theological Seminary, and it was this position that precipitated the move of the family there.

Born into a notable family devoted to faith and education, one of the ironies of Harriet’s childhood, is that when she was born, her father was disappointed that she was a girl!  A preacher himself, her father wanted sons who could follow in his footsteps, which a number did. While a few of the Beecher sons made names for themselves during their lifetimes, it was Harriet who had the most dramatic and lasting impact upon the fate of the natthe_annotated_uncle_toms_cabin.large_-1ion and upon the history of the world. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a runaway best-seller, selling 10,000 copies in the United States in its first week; 300,000 in the first year; and in Great Britain, 1.5 million copies in one year. It was subsequently translated into 60 languages and impacted other nations still under the bondage of serfdom and slavery.

Gazing at the place Harriet called home for eleven years, I enjoyed imagining the happy chaos that must have often filled the halls and chambers of this lovely stone dwelling. It is easy to romanticize the life of someone from the past, but I know better than to do so with her.  Harriet has always been an inspiration for me, because, not only was she the mother of seven children, but she often parented alone, as her husband was sickly and given to melancholy and depression.  Because of her husband’s frequent illnesses, financial matters were always a concern, which was another of Harriet’s motivations for writing, as she was often forced to supplement the family income.  But despite the tremendous pressure upon her as wife and mother, she found time to devote to her passionate desire for abolition, and became a driving force through the dramatic words that flowed from her pen.  So convincing was her characterization in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that Americans all over the country were able to identify vicariously with the suffering slaves and their brave liberators.  This identification became a catalyst for change, and through the power of Harriet’s pen the nation grew ripe for emancipation.

When the AmeriHarriet-Beecher-Stowe-and-the-Beecher-Preachers-9780399226663can Civil War broke out in 1861 Stowe wrote “It was God’s will that this nation—the North as well as the South—should deeply and terribly suffer for the sin of consenting to and encouraging the great oppressions of the South”—(The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe).  It was to her a direct breach of the second great commandment as she noted, ” . . . the enslaving of the African race is a clear violation of the great law which commands us to love our neighbor as ourself”.

If you have never enjoyed the moving experience of reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, consider picking it up as a summer read-aloud.  Though the language can seem a bit archaic at first, a little diligence will be rewarded handsomely, as the dramatic plot will quickly pull readers in. Most importantly, the lessons of compassion, empathy, and justice will linger long in listener’s hearts and minds.

A wonderful companion to the study of Stowe’s novel is Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Beecher Preachers by Jean Fritz. The stories of the rambunctious household that Harriet grew up in, and the tales of her own seven children, may have a familiar ring to contemporary families who have made home education a choice and a lifestyle.  In the often humdrum duties of daily life, it is easy to forget that sometimes, future greatness can be hidden in an unlikely package.  Though her father and her culture could not have imagined it, Harriet’s preaching turned her world upside down and helped bring justice to untold millions.

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No idle wish

To rival her compeers;

Of her own passing loveliness, e’er stirs

Her tranquil soul.  She brightly shines

Amid the lesser lights that round her beam,

Eclipsing all with her effulgent rays.

–MRS. CUSHING

This will be an unusual post from me, and since I am no photographer, and not a highly skilled gardener either, the results will be questionable!  But I had to share my joy with all of my readers as I have recently begun a new love affair.  No, I’m still happily married to my darling husband Russ, but in May I began a quest for dahlias.  This was in view of my dear son Josh’s upcoming wedding, as the reception was to be held in our backyard.  His lovely fiancée Grace, had decided upon an unusual color–hot chocolate roses, with which I wanted to try to coordinate the garden flower beds.  So dahlia’s seemed the logical choice to give some whimsy and vibrant color to the event.  I ordered 25 different varieties in the red and coral genre and planted away.  When the tubers arrived, I was struck by the unpromising (and downright hideous) aspect of a dahlia tuber as it stands in remarkable contrast to what its unassuming seed state portends.  Brown, shriveled and humble, this tuber has something to say about the nature of transformation.

And transform they did!  The glorious color, variety, and shapes of dahlias astound and thrill me every time I return to the garden to fertilize, trim and deadhead.  Not to say that getting them to this point didn’t take heroic efforts.  It did.  I have gone from being an organically green fundamentalist to a free-wheeling chemical and pesticide nazi.  I mean all of this figuratively, of course.  While I have always maintained a strict pesticide and chemical free garden ethos, my dahlias forced me into denying everything I have hitherto maintained about being green.  Dahlias are high maintenance flowers and at least this summer (which was unusually cool on the central coast of California), are subject to every pest and disease known to the botanical world.  So I sprayed, fertilized, dusted, and sprayed some more.  I did seriously doubt my own sanity when I found myself on successive mornings literally scrubbing powdery mildew off of my dahlia leaves with a toothbrush.  Oh, the lengths we (well, I ) will go to have a nice garden for a wedding!  But now, my hard work is paying off and so I am delighted to share some dahlia pictures I took this morning.  By the way, the wedding was beautiful and the dahlias were eclipsed into the background of all the other lovelinesses, especially the bride herself!

Finally, since this is in reality a blog devoted to children’s literature, I must have a tie-in to some aspect of children’s lit.  So, I’m happy to share that Monet too, loved dahlias and Renoir painted Monet in his garden painting dahlias.  Here it is!  Which brings to mind that there is a wonderful children’s book on the topic of Monet’s garden entitled Linnea in Monet’s Garden.  Check it out!


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Dear Readers,
My daughter Rebecca recently sent me the following link regarding how educational paradigms are being challenged across the globe.  This is due to countless factors, but for those who have chosen to depart from institutionalized education, to create their own educational experience, I think you’ll find this talk by Sir Ken Robinson inspiring, challenging, and motivational.  Robinson is the author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, which is on my book list for summer reading. His talk on new educational paradigms seems timely for me personally, as I have determined to devote this summer to a neglected pursuit of the arts in our home.  I intend to intentionally pursue music, drawing, art history, and literature in a new and fresh way.  Robinson’s presentation has further convinced me of the importance of the arts and I think you’ll see why.  One thing he notes is that children are being anesthetized in unprecedented numbers through the overuse of Ritalin; this presumably to enable them “to learn.”  But Robinson notes that the opposite of anesthetization is aesthetic experience.  This occurs through the arts (and even through science and math) when the human faculties are totally engaged, “senses are operating at their peak  . . . when you’re resonating with the excitement of the thing you’re experiencing . . . when you’re fully alive.” This is what art, drama, music, and literature can do for us, and should do for us.  So by way of encouragement, consider how you might devote this summer to a pursuit of the kinds of engagement that Robinson advocates here.  Remember that the parts of the brain  developed through engagement with the arts, can eventually help to build the capacity for those lagging academic connections.  And even if that were not true, the emotional and spiritual connection provided by  times of renewal, reflection, and refreshment through art, will be a beautiful end in and of itself.  Here is the link.  Let me know what you think!

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