Saturday, February 20, 2010

BHM: Earth Mother, by Ellen Jackson

The story is a lovely sort of joke. Man thanks Earth Mother for yummy frogs, but wishes she hadn't made mosquitos. Frog says the same about mosquitoes (yummy) and man (bad), and of course Mosquito agrees, sort of.

What a sweet introduction to the complexity of ecological awareness!

Friday, February 19, 2010

BHM: 5 books for 5 days

Oh dear, I don't do well with assignments. I love these books, and I enjoy writing about them, but I don't find the time to do it daily. If anyone's following me, I apologize for the fits and starts...

I'm sort of working my way up now, from our favorite baby books last week, to our favorite young kids books today, and on back into the world next week.

Yo, Jo! by Rachel Isadora is a simple book. Mama tells big brother Franklin to watch Jomar until Grnadpa gets home, and the two boys hang out on their front steps. All their friends come by, and each says a different sort of hello. My son loves this book because of all the interactions between the different kids.

Christopher Changes His Name
, by Itah Sadu, is another favorite. There are lots of scenes at Christopher's school, as his teacher deals with his repeatedly changing name.

Lily Brown's Paintings take her to a whole new wonderful world, but at the end of the day she comes back to her own world, also wonderful. (Angela Johnson wrote it, and E.B. Lewis illustrated it.)

Regina, in Regina's Big Mistake, is drawing, and wants to do it perfectly. After she crumples up one sheet of paper, and her teacher says not to crumple another, she has to figure out how to rescue her drawing when her sun comes out lumpy. (Written and illustrated by Marissa Moss.)

In The Car Washing Street, Denise Lewis Patrick shows us a hot Saturday morning in the city. Matthew loves his block, because everyone comes out to wash their cars together on days like this. And my son loves the playfulness of these books.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

BHM: Today is Family Day for us

Seven years ago today, my son came home to live with me. He was 9 months old; we had been visiting for about 3 weeks. Every year on February 14th we celebrate Family Day. We go out to dinner early, so we can avoid those hordes of people celebrating that other holiday that comes on February 14th. ;^) (We have a thing about multi-tasking holidays - he was born on Mother's Day and we finalized the adoption on my birthday.)

When my son came home to live with me, his foster mom gave me a big suitcase full of his clothes and toys, and a few books. Goodnight, Baby, by Cheryl Hudson of Just Us Books, was one of those books. I memorized the whole thing and recited it to him every night when I put him to bed. I still get shivers when I recite it:
Baby's getting sleepy.
You had such a busy day.
You played with toys
And made much noise
With friends who came to play.

You splashed and sang
Some bath-time songs,
And made them sound just right.
And now a story ends your day.
It's time to say good night.

Good night, Baby,
Sleep tight.
There was also one of those little books with a photo of a baby on each page, each one with a different skin color. In my experience, those books of baby faces are the first books babies really look at.

Before I adopted my son, I had been collecting books with stories of strong girls and women. When I became a mama, I immediately began expanding my collection, and spent a lot of time at Cody's Books looking for good ones. (Sadly, Cody's is gone now...) One of the first ones I found, Baby Dance, became my all-time favorite board book. The text comes from a poem by Ann Taylor, written in the 1800's. It's been changed some, and I like this version from our book better than the original:
Hush little baby, don't you cry
Hush little baby, Mama's nearby.

Dance, little baby,
move to and fro
Coo and crow, baby,
there you go.

Up to the ceiling,
down to the ground
Backward, forward,
'round and 'round.

Dance, little baby,
dance and sing
Dance along, sing along
The illustrations by Marjorie van Heerden are so luscious, and the story they tell warms my heart. Mama's napping on the sofa, and Daddy's holding the baby, who has a tear in her eye. Daddy dances the baby around, she cheers up, and at the end Mama wakes up, and Baby and Momma are reaching out to one another.

We found Billy and Belle, by Sarah Garland, more recently. It's about an interracial family (Black dad, white mum) in England. Belle, about 3, comes to school with Billy, because Mum is going to the hospital to have a baby. My son loves this book, perhaps because it's one of the few we have that shows a boy like him with a white mama.

In Do Like Kyla, by Angela Johnson, the little sister tells of her day. As they wake up, dress, and walk through the snow to the corner store, she watches and then, "I do like Kyla." At the end, Kyla follows her lead. In James Ransome's paintings, you can just see how hard she's working at getting dressed and walking through the snow. But she keeps up with Kyla just the same.

If you've been reading along as I write these, you may remember James Ransome did the illustrations in Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, too. I just now looked at his website, and he's done lots more! His website also led me to an intriguing project he's involved in. Children's book authors and illustrators are collaborating on a story, started by Jon Scieszka, called The Exquisite Corpse, in which each author writes one chapter, and no one knows what will come next.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

BHM posts coming soon

I wasn't able to post on Thursday and Friday, because I was working on a deadline. Today I was just too busy having fun with my sweet boy. Tomorrow I'll review 4 books and tell a story. The books: Baby Dance, Goodnight Baby, Billy and Belle, and Do like Kyla.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hmm, Google is not making me happy today

They've got this buzz thing on my gmail screen. It said there was one message, so I clicked it and saw a bunch of twitter like stuff from people whose blogs I follow. I thought, "Maybe on a slow day" and closed it.

Just now I start reading the stuff in my Google Reader, and there were a bunch of things I haven't subscribed to. Turns out I'm allegedly 'following' 10 people. I figured out how to 'unfollow' them, so maybe that's the end of this nonsense. But, geez, whatever happened to asking first?

Ok. Rant over.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

BHM: Joy, by Joyce Carol Thomas

My copy of Joy is a board book. It was one of the first books my son and I shared, and it became a deep part of our lives. Often, when I'm moved by my love for my boy, I'll tell him, "You are my joy."

You are my joy

In every season
Summer, fall, winter, spring
You touch my heartstrings
You are my joy

It was published by Jump At the Sun, a division of Hyperion Books for Children. Hyperion's site seems to have no information about children's books. Apparently Disney Hyperion Books for Children is a separate company completely, with its own website, completely unconnected to the first Hyperion I looked at. (Did Disney buy out the children's section?) Jump At the Sun is part of DHBfC, but Joy isn't easy to find there.

In fact, no books are listed when you first click on Jump At the Sun, just a video about how great JAtS is. There's one clickable phrase that will take you to a page of 6 books, and there you can find a small button to take you to more books. That page has no pictures. Hmm, if I were an author with Jump At the Sun, I'd feel like there was a serious lack of marketing going on.

I giggled when I saw the description. It says, "Throughout the year, a grandmother expresses her unconditional love for her grandson." And I thought it was the mommy - an older mom, like me. Maybe it is.

Joyce Carol Thomas has written dozens of books - this site offers a good bio and bibliography. While reading it, I found out that... she worked at my college!! ("She remained at San Jose until 1972, when she moved to Contra Costa College.") Now I want to find out more.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BHM: Corduroy and Whistle for Willie

The books I've highlighted so far are about Black History. The books I intend to highlight this week do not relate to historical events. But they speak of an aspect of Black History by their very existence. The first two (for yesterday and today) are books whose main character is Black, but they are both written by white authors. Tomorrow I'll bring us closer to the present with a book by a Black author. I haven't done any serious research, but I'm guessing there wasn't much support for Black authors in the 60's when these first two books were published.

Written in 1968 by Don Freeman, Corduroy is the story of "a bear who once lived in the toy department of a big store. Day after day he waited … for somebody to come along and take him home.” Lisa wants him but mom dissuades her. She comes back later with the money from her piggy bank, and takes him home. Corduroy is a simple story of the friendship between a girl and a stuffed bear. My son has loved it for most of his life.

Written in 1964 by Ezra Jack Keats, Whistle for Willie is about Peter and his dog, Willie. Peter wants to be able to whistle for Willie, but he can't quite get it. The book follows Peter and Willie in their day's adventures.

Does anyone know of any good picture books with Black protagonists, written by a Black author before 1970? I'd be eager to find more 'classics'.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

BHM: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Hmm, yesterday I said I'd tell about this book today, but it's not a picture book. Maybe I can figure out a picture book that goes with this one somehow.

In Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor, Cassie Logan tells us about her family. They own a farm in Mississippi, and it's the 1930's. Impressively, at the beginning of the story Cassie has no notion that whites would consider her family inferior. But when she goes to a store in town and the shopkeeper waits on every white person in the store before dealing with her, she is faced with the ugly reality. I haven't been able to find my copy today, so can't tell much more of the storyline. But the solidity and courage of her family in the face of racist attacks has stayed with me for many years.

I hope to raise my son with as solid a sense of himself and as much courage as Cassie Logan showed.

Taylor has written a sequel, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, and a wide range of other books (most shorter) about the Logan family. In my search for more information, I found this biographical site, where Mildred Taylor said, "As a small child, I loved the South. In my early years, the trip was a marvelous adventure, a twenty-hour picnic that took us into another time and another world." And that reminds me of a thoroughly delightful picture book set in the south - Bigmama's, by Donald Crews. I think he'd describe his trips south in the same way. This book is the best vicarious experience of the pleasures of summertime I ever had.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

BHM: Escaping Slavery, Sweet Clara

Ok, I promise, this is the last post on escaping slavery, and then I'll move on. Like Big Jabe, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson, with paintings by James Ransome, is fiction. Big Jabe is like the stories people told themselves to keep up their courage (like the folk history of The People Could Fly, by Virginia Hamilton), while Sweet Clara's story is more realistic - like the stories people told each other to share the path to freedom.

Oney Judge and Henry Brown had unusual circumstances. Most people did not have the same sorts of opportunities to escape that they did. And their need for secrecy means that we have less evidence of their lives. So most of the stories told about them almost have to be fictional. And then, even real people like Harriet Tubman show up in some great fiction, like Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, by Faith Ringgold. The quilt in this story tells whether it's safe to approach a house for shelter, while Sweet Clara's quilt makes a map.

Sweet Clara was taken away from her momma before she was twelve, to work in the fields of another plantation close by. She was taken in by 'Aunt' Rachel, who helped her learn to sew, and got her moved from the fields to the Big House. While she sewed, she thought, and listened. And one day she began to sew a quilt from scraps, "blue calico and flowered blue silk for creeks and rivers, and greens and blue-greens for the fields, and white sheeting for roads."

This story of a quilt, and of a journey, is very moving. Deborah Hopkinson has written an equally moving sequel in verse. Under the Quilt of Night is also supported by James Ransome's moving illustrations.

One last quilt story: In Show Way, Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of her own family's memories of sewing messages about the path to freedom into quilts.

Tomorrow: Sometimes we help our children become strong by protecting them from the painful realities around us.

PSA: Wear Your Seatbelt, a Video

I got tears in my eyes when I watched this video. It’s perfect.

(I wonder if it works well for kids, too. I’d expect ads that get kids bugging their parents to wear a seatbelt to be wildly effective.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

BHM: Escaping Slavery, Big Jabe

Unlike the last two books I reviewed, this one is fictional ... as far as we know. In the tradition of tall tales, Jerdine Nelson tells the story of Big Jabe, with the help of Kadir Nelson's powerful illustrations.

Addy has gone fishing and hasn't caught "nary a one", when she sees a boy floating down the river in a basket. He hands her a golden pear, and plants its seeds after she's eaten it. Then he calls the fish to jump in her wagon, which they obligingly do. There's feasting that night, at the Big House, and in the Quarters.

By June, Jabe is a full-grown man "with the strength of fifty. He could weed a whole field of soybeans before sunup, hoe the back forty by midday, and mend ten miles of fence by sunset." With all that help, there's time for leisure, and Addy gets to fish more, under that new pear tree.

The overseer gets mad and tries to punish some of the other slaves, but they keep disappearing. The story keeps me on the edge of my seat every time I read it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

BHM: Escaping Slavery, Henry Brown

Henry's Freedom Box, by Ellen Levine, tells the story of Henry Brown. Born a slave in Virginia, he was taken away from his family when he was about 15, to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond, Virginia. While living there he married Nancy, and they had 3 children together. They were owned by different masters, and one day her master sold her and their children away to a plantation in North Carolina - Henry could do nothing about it. He was devastated, and eventually determined to escape to freedom. With the help of two friends, who nailed him into a box, he mailed himself to Philadelphia, where he was able to live as a free man.

We love Kadir Nelson's illustrations. Tomorrow, another book warmed by Nelson's illustrations.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

BHM: Escaping Slavery, Oney Judge

As the white (single) mama of a Black and Latino son, it's important to me to tell him of the strength of his people. We've enjoyed lots of books about people escaping from slavery. A few are true stories.

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's Slave Finds Freedom, by Emily Arnold McCully, tells a fascinating bit of history. The young Oney Judge was Martha Washington's seamstress, and at 16 had to leave her mother behind when George Washington assumed the presidency and the Washingtons traveled from Mount Vernon to New York City. A few years later they moved, along with the nation's capital, to Philadelphia. Although the Washingtons had slaves with them there, there were also many free Blacks in the city, and a law that said that an adult slave living there for 6 months must be freed.

When Oney found out that upon Martha Washington's death she would be given to Martha's son-in-law, she knew she needed to escape. Free Black friends helped her arrange passage on a ship, to New England, and one day she simply walked away. She lived in New Hampshire, and still had to worry about the possibility of being taken back. That would have been a public relations problem for George Washington - it didn't happen. She married and had three children. (Here's more information.)

Tomorrow, the story of a slave who mailed himself to freedom.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

BHM: Josephine Carroll Smith

I've been following the blog Like A Whisper for maybe 6 months now. It keeps on educating me. (Professor Susurro is very interested in media issues, and sometimes I skip the analysis of TV shows and movies, since that's just not a part of my life.) She's got some sharp analysis of race, gender, and class issues, and tells great stories too.

From her post today on Black History Month:
I think we often shrink black history down to key figures in moments that ultimately celebrate dominant narratives (what a good country the U.S. is for abolishing slavery or embracing civil rights or making millionaires, etc.) and erase the harder questions, struggles, and failures of the nation in the face of powerful opposition by black women and girls.
So the book I'm picking today is about a woman who did a lot of good in a realm where the U.S. is still failing Black children terribly - education. Josephine Carroll Smith worked in the Washington DC public schools throughout her professional life, retiring as a Director of Elementary Education. Over the years, she "opened her home, her heart, and her purse to numerous young Black men who were struggling to educate themselves."

That quote is from the biographical page at the end of Pictures for Miss Josie, by Sandra Belton. The story is written from the point of view of a young boy whose father takes him to meet the delightful but intimidating (for him) Miss Josie, who helped Dad make it through college. By the end, he's grown and is introducing his own son to Miss Josie, who helped him through college, and helped him follow his passion.

My son and I love this book.

I wanted to find a page or two online that tells more of her story. Shockingly, I haven't succeeded. Here's a challenge for those who like searching online. Find us more information on the life of Josephine Carroll Smtih!

(I did find a page that has lots of good children's books, and a great mission: Embracing the Child. When I have time to read something more than math books, I'll go back there for inspiration.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Happy Black History Month...

... of course, I think Black History deserves more than a month. But I'll start with what I've got.

I just found out that today is the 50th anniversary of the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, NC. Here's an NPR story on it. There's also a great picture book about it, Freedom On the Menu, by Carole Boston Weatherford.

And Democracy Now had a great segment on the Freedom Riders, who rode busses into the south and sat together interracially, braving police violence for breaking the crazy laws of the time.

I'll see if I can post on a cool book each day this month.