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Posts Tagged ‘Summer Reading’

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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. . . the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.~Pearl S. Buck

One of the topics of discussion during our soirée the Saturday before last was the way in which the dystopias of today–The Hunger Games, the Divergent trilogy etc., present disturbing scenes of violence between children.  While violence against children has always been a component of fairy tales, fantasy, science fiction etc., what the astute Samantha Riddering pointed out was the way in which that violence has traditionally been perpetrated by the evil adult antagonist.  Obviously, sometimes that antagonist was a monster, a dragon, an ogre, a wicked stepmother, or an evil Sméagol.  From  fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, to sophisticated Pulitzer-prize winning fictions like To Kill a Mockingbird,  violence against children is presented as the work of evil personified–the Big Bad Wolf to Bob Ewell respectively.  The difference in some of today’s young adult dystopias is how often  the ogres perpetrating evil against children are the children themselves. While these dystopias are the literary grandchildren of William Golding’s–The Lord of the Flies–the groundbreaking novel that first featured this disturbing literary trope, the nature of Golding’s brutal images did not popularize it to a youthful audience. In the US it Image result for hunger gamesonly sold a few thousand copies before going out of print. Today it is mandatory reading in high school. Unlike The Lord of the Flies, the trilogies of Divergent and Hunger Games, replete with graphic violence between children are wildly popular with young readers who seem inured to a level of violence that seems extreme.

Additionally layering the complexity of child-to-child violence is that the teen protagonists become hardened and highly skilled warriors perpetrating acts of war at a young age. Sometimes these actions involve gut-wrenching cruelty like the Divergent character Peter plunging a knife into Edward’s eye while he’s asleep. Though youth becoming skilled warriors isn’t new in children’s lit–Frodo and Sam Gamgee are young hobbits when they fight the evil forces of Mordor, and Peter and Edmund become warriors in Narnia–again, what is new is war between rival youth.  Perhaps the real-life counterpart is gang warfare, which would beg the question of how books like the trilogies mentioned may contribute to an already violent gang culture. Oh, but gang members don’t read, so not to worry.   I think it’s interesting to note that the film scene of Peter’s nocturnal knifing of Edward was cut from the movie.  Director Neil Burger denied that the scene was cut because it was too graphic, but rather because it “disrupted the flow of the story.”   Hmmm.  Gratuitous perhaps?

As I was finishing writing this my daughter Rebecca posted a wonderful blog entry on the “Loveliness of Reading Aloud” which I think you’ll enjoy.  She links in her article to another by Meghan Cox Gurdon which may further inspire the effort it takes to develop this practice in your home.  Gurdon is the children’s literature critic for the Wall Street Journal and as a mother of 5 has her finger firmly on the pulse of the kinds of books most parents want their children to enjoy.  For parents reading this that have YA readers, I think you’ll find her article on this genre enlightening.

For those that attended the soirée who might have thoughts they didn’t share that day or any others who would just like to comment on this topic, please feel free to do so below.  What are the thoughts ruminating around in your mind when you confront the issues of violence in children’s lit today? Let’s continue this discussion!  In the meantime I’ll close with this beautiful quote from Tolkien on the function of fairy-tale as it reminds us of the limitless power of the well-crafted tale to cultivate the best in the human heart.

The eucatastrophic tale [one with a happy ending] is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.  The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true endImage result for tolkien to any fairy-tale: this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist”, nor “fugitive.”  In its fairy-tale–or otherworld–setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur.  It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, or sorrow or: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief. –Tolkien, Tree and Leaf (68-69).

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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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Our youngest daughter recently had a friend for a summer sleep over and before I tucked the two little ones into bed (knowing it would probably be some time before they actually slept) I read them some family favorites hoping to encourage some sleepiness.  One of my all time best loved children’s books is The Wreck of the Zephyr by Chris VanAllsburg.  While VanAllsburg is most popularly know for The Polar Express, it is my humble opinion that his previous works surpass his Christmas tale in both substance and artistic richness.  If you’ve never read this gem, check it out of the library soon, or find a used copy online.  The artwork alone is stunning, and the story is subtle and clever for the close reader.  It involves a young aspiring sailor (in a gorgeous, but simple New England seaside town) who has quite an amazing adventure which I won’t spoil for you.  The other VanAllsburg title that we’ve loved forever is Jumanji.  Both these stories have great twists at the end that will intrigue the young reader.

We also pulled out Madeline, as our little friend had never heard of the precocious French orphan who has captured the hearts of little girls for over half a century! Each book of the series begins with, “In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines . . . the smallest one was Madeline.” The author, Ludwig Bemelmans had a life as colorful as his protagonist, and incidentally, his wife’s name was Madeleine.  Madeline’s Rescue, the second book in the series won the Caldecott Medal in 1954.  For those who live near New York City or visit it regularly, one of the city’s most famous hotels, The Carlyle has a mural painted by Bemelmans in its Bemelman’s Bar.  It is the artists seasonal depiction of New York’s Central Park and includes the characters from his delightful stories.  Fortunately, when the hotel was planning to remodel and forever lose Bemelman’s work, it was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that came to the rescue of this delightful work of art.

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For those of you who love the D’Aulaire biographies I think you’ll be interested to read the following article which concerns the New York Public Librarian who first established the children’s library in America–Anne Carroll Moore. While she was the inspiration for Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire to first write and illustrate children’s books, her relationship with another beloved author–E.B. White was less than amiable. After having urged him for years to write a children’s book, she became his most stalwart critic and literally banned Stuart Little from the NY Public Library. Interesting and distressing, but true. E.B. White’s ability to stand in the face of her unremitting resistance to his work is a lesson for all of us in staying true to your mission and vision. If he hadn’t, one of the world’s most priceless and beloved children’s tales–Charlotte’s Web, would never have been written. Here is the link:
The Lion and the Mouse (more…)

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I’ve just returned from CHEA–which for those readers outside of California is the California Home Educators annual conference held in Pasadena.  I spoke there a number of times and had the delightful opportunity to connect with many of you and I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog so we can continue to keep in touch!  We talked and talked and talked some more about good books and it was wonderful to hear your stories about how good books have changed your lives!  One beautiful young mother came up and shared how hearing me talk about the power of good books a few years ago had totally changed the direction of her family’s home schooling journey and delightfully so.  They decided to scrap the textbooks and entered on the wonderful journey of literature!  Thank you, Monica for sharing!  Loretta persevered in her commitment to the power of literature over a traditional academic approach despite the often disparaging comments of friends–you know, the “What do you actually do for school?” “Well, we read great literature.”  “Oh . . . really–is that all?”  Loretta’s disparaging friends were quite surprised to find her literature rich son accepted to West Point where he is currently in his third year.  Many testimonials like this encouraged us to continue to press on sharing our passion and commitment to the canon of literature for its own sake.

So here’s another all-time favorite for summer reading, family read-aloud, character building books.  This one is particularly dear to my heart because it offers fathers a sure bet for a read-aloud experience they will look forward to each night!  Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers is the powerful true story of young Ralph Moody, who in 1906 moves from New Hampshire to Colorado with his family.  Through young Ralph’s eyes we experience the hair-raising adventures of a passionate, impetuous young boy as he and his father attempt to carve out a ranching life amidst the perils of tornadoes, water wars, flash floods, and grinding poverty.  Ralph’s perspective offers a lens into the character of a father committed to raising Ralph to be honest at his core. The tender pathos of their conversations, the father’s profound strength when faced with overwhelming difficulties and his devotion to his son all offer lessons rare in our day.

The sequel to Little Britches is Man of the Family.  Following this there are 5 more titles in the series.  Every family should experience the wonder of these books at some time in the life of their family.  We are currently reading Man of the Family to our daughters aged 10 and 15.  They love them and beg for more most nights (excepting the ones where we don’t get to read-aloud time till after 9 or 10 pm!  Well, it is summer after all!).  For our family, this is probably the third time over the years reading this series and repeated readings only increases our devotion. If you’ve enjoyed these books with your family, please let us know your thoughts and how these books impacted you.

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