15 August 2012

Not So Brave: Why Pixar's Latest Falls Short

I have watched a lot of children's movies.  Even before Isaac was born (or old enough to watch movies), Matt and I would go see movies meant for children if we thought they would prove to be a good film overall, not just typical kid fare.  Pixar has always been a company whose movies we look forward to seeing.  Over the years Pixar movies have been strong not just technically, having amazing animation, but also in their storytelling, with well thought out plots and subplots and thoroughly developed major and minor characters.  They have had some misses lately (don't bother with Cars 2), but their reputation is enough to get us to the theater.  For the most part, Pixar gets that kids can handle sophisticated, complicated plots and characters.

Pixar's history of strong character development is one of the reasons we found their latest film, Brave, so disappointing.  Brave has been touted as breaking ground in children's movies because the main character is a princess who doesn't need a prince.  There is no romantic story line and the main plot centers around the princess's relationship with her mother.  It is supposed to provide girls with a new kind of fairytale female role model.  Merida, the princess is question, is physically strong and independent.  She takes care of herself and works through a difficult relationship with a very strong-willed mother.

What I have found so appealing about other Pixar films is that all the characters are fleshed out and you get a sense of their motivation and understand how they fit into the story.  In Brave, that level of character development is missing.  I understood Merida and her mother, the two principle characters, but all of the other characters (and note that they were all men) were relegated to the background or used as comic relief. As a modern, strong-willed woman I was glad to see Pixar breaking the mold of the damsel-in-distress-send-a-prince-to-save-her model.  As the mother of a young boy, I was distressed by the portrayal of men in the movie.

Even in their movies with male main characters, Pixar is not known for portraying women as weak.  In many of their movies the women have been equals of the men.  If the women are not equals, they are at least developed to the point that there is a purpose for them being in the movie.  Pixar has done an excellent job in the past of making their movies universally appealing.  A review that we listened to debated whether it was fair to hold Pixar to higher standards than other filmmakers -- if Brave had been a Disney movie it would be considered one of their better ones, but for Pixar it was sub-par.  And yes, I do think they should be judged based on their past work.  They have raised the bar in children's movies and we should continue to expect a high level of film-making from them, rather than accept lower standards because that is the kind of children's movie everyone else is making. We should also judge other children's films on the same standards and push for better movies with strong characters and sophisticated plot lines.

It was disheartening to watch Brave and get the feeling that the filmmakers had gotten lazy or just didn't put in the time or effort to make us understand the male characters in the movie.  It was is if they were so focused on getting the women right and making a different kind of princess movie that they forgot that good storytelling is about more than the title character.  It is important for girls to have strong role models, in art as in their everyday lives.  But isn't it also important for boys to see strong men and isn't it even as important for boys and girls to see strong male and female role models together?  I cannot think of one male character from Brave that I would want Isaac to emulate.  They were all buffoons (the Clan Chieftans, even the father) or thrown in for comic relief and no other purpose (the brothers).  What message is that sending to boys and girls?  That if a woman is strong she should surround herself with weak men?  That strong men will only be attracted to weak women?  In Brave, Pixar put all of their effort on the two women and the men ended up being nothing more than caricatures of every negative male stereotype.  That is lazy storytelling and Pixar can do, and has done, much better.  And children, boys and girls, deserve better from their movies.

Character development was not my only problem with the movie (the plot just didn't seem well planned and even the main relationship between the mother and daughter wasn't resolved effectively), but it was the main one.  There are many arguments for and against the film, but two good reviews/commentaries can be found on Slate's Spoiler Special podcast from June 21 and the Double X podcast from June 28.  The Slate podcast is just about everything I could say about the movie.  Many think that Brave will end up being a movie that is very popular with girls, with the focus being on the mother/daughter relationship.  And I am glad that maybe makers of children's films will begin to break away from the traditional princess roles.  But I hope that we can also find a model that portrays men and women/ boys and girls as equals rather than sacrificing the strength of one for the other.  Pixar has an established reputation, and is sure to continue to create good films.  But my expectations will be lower for the next one.

15 June 2012

A Couple of Boys (and a girl) Have the Best Week(end) Ever

Summer is here. School is out.  The pool is open. Vacations are planned.  Let the lazy days begin!

I had Marla Frazee's book A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever on my mind this past weekend.  It is a celebration of summer and boyhood.  The title kept running through my head as we began our summer vacation with a weekend trip to the mountains.  School finished up (for the students) on Thursday and we scooted out of town on Friday to ride the Creeper Trail in Damascus, VA.

It was not an idyllic weekend (too many bumps and scrapes and stings for that), but it will live in my memory as one of my favorites.  We stopped in Boone for dinner Friday night on our way to Damascus, walked around the small town after we arrived while Isaac rode his bike, spend hours on bikes riding down the mountain on Saturday, relaxed on the porch while Isaac played in the river, played board games, window shopped, and did an impromptu tour of Yadkin Valley wineries on our way home Sunday afternoon.

Some moments will live because of the stress they caused -- Matt's head-over-handlebars tumble, Isaac's two  bee stings with accompanying blood-curdling screams, Isaac's face plant off his bike in the middle of the trail -- but they do not detract from the overall enjoyment of the weekend.

I am trying to build in more weekends like this, especially this summer when our weekends are not taken up with soccer and week nights are not devoured by homework.  We may not get away for an entire weekend, but a day or night here or there to escape the routine and enjoy each other's company is a reasonable goal.

Isaac is going to camps for a few weeks and may very well have "the best week ever" with one of his friends.  But I will remember our weekend away that started our summer off at a relaxing pace and look forward to a few more like it before the routine begins again in August.

Happy Trails.

07 June 2012

Time It Was and What A Time It Was

The school year is over.  Isaac made it through first grade and is now officially a "rising 2nd grader."  Where has the time gone?  I know it is horribly cliche to ask that, but I am really having trouble grasping that the boy I picked up from school today is the same one I brought home almost seven years ago.

Isaac has grown so much this year, not just physically -- though he is several inches taller now than he was last summer.  He is maturing into an honest-to-goodness KID and it won't be long before he is a YOUNG MAN.

When I was pregnant, I promised myself that I would not wish time away and would do my best to appreciate each stage of Isaac's development.  Some have been easier than others to be thankful for.  And at times it was hard to focus on what was "now" and not think about "soon" or "in a few months" or "next year."  I tell friends that while I do not want another child, especially not another baby, I would gladly relive those days and years with Isaac.  I miss HIM as a baby -- nursing him and cuddling him -- I miss HIM as toddler -- exploring and creating havoc -- I miss HIM discovering language and skills and learning about the world around him.  He is not my "baby."  He has become my "son."  And there are times that I am not sure how we have arrived at this place.

One thing Isaac loves to do is look through the albums I have of each year since his birth.  He will flip through them on his own or with Matt or I.  He is filled with curiosity about what he was like when he was a baby and toddler.  I like looking at the albums with him -- it's almost like reliving his early years, but without the lack of sleep.  I am not sure that Matt and I are doing this "parenting" thing correctly or even very well, but as we look at the photographs of the past six years and at the person Isaac is becoming I think that maybe we are at least adequate.

In a few years, when I am wondering again how we have gotten to where we are, I think I will look back on year seven as one of my favorites.  Seeing Isaac tackle more tasks on his own, watching him ride a bike for the first time, answering his questions and listening to his observations about the world -- all of these things converge in a kid that I enjoy spending time with and look forward to getting to know better.

Isaac's eighth year will bring with it many changes and plenty of challenges.  I look forward to watching him grow and have new experiences.  But for now I will enjoy where we are and remember where we have been.  And wonder where the time has gone.

03 June 2012

Let's Make Some Noise

Isaac's reading has improved exponentially this year.  I credit his teacher . . . everyone who knew her told us when they heard who Isaac would have for 1st grade that he would be reading by the end of the year . . . they were right.

He is more confident and much more willing to read at bedtime.  He will even try reading something new on his own.  The other weekend, Isaac took a book up to our bedroom to read while he waited for Matt to get ready for soccer.  He sat and read Calvin and Hobbes comics, even trying to sound out words like "salubrious."  This is not the same child who cried when I asked him to read last summer.

I have been bringing home books that are on his reading level to make sure he had plenty of books he could read independently.  One recent one was Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells.  This was one of my childhood favorites.  I remember reading about Nora and all the trouble she caused when I was Isaac's age.

Like me, he laughed when Nora's father yelled to be quiet after she dropped the marbles all over the floor and when her sister asked why she was so dumb after she flew the kite down the stairs.  Isaac liked the book so much that we read it two or three nights in a row.

I didn't laugh as much this time as I re-read the book, at least not at Nora's antics.  I laughed quite a bit with Isaac just because his laughter was contagious.  But, now that I am an adult, Nora seems like a much more sympathetic character.  She is a forgotten middle child who is vying for attention.  She makes noise and creates messes to get a reaction out of her parents who are consumed with the needs of her older sister and baby brother.

I was not a forgotten middle child and Isaac does not have any siblings with whom to vie for attention.  We are not Nora.  But children who feel forgotten by busy parents or supplanted by a new baby will empathize with Nora, though they will hopefully find less messy ways to get attention and also feel loved as Nora finally does in the story.

12 May 2012

On to the Wild Rumpus In the Sky

Maurice Sendak died this week.  We pulled Where the Wild Things Are out of the book bin to read Tuesday night after hearing about his death earlier that day.  We had not read it in a while as Isaac works on his own reading and requests chapter books most nights when we read to him.  But Tuesday evening was sad for a couple of reasons and Sendak's classic fit the mood perfectly.

The classic story of childhood mischief and search for acceptance and security is one that resonates through the ages and will remain a childhood staple.  It has been dramatized, surprisingly well, and mass-marketed, but it has not lost its impact.  The text seems simple but it speaks to people of all ages, at every stage of life.

Shortly after his death, articles about his life appeared, remembrances were broadcast on talk shows, classic interviews were posted, and Facebook statuses were updated with quotes from his book.  I thought back on my own association with his work, mostly connected to his most well known book -- the times I have read it aloud to classes and the lessons that have accompanied it, reading it to Isaac since he was an infant, making Isaac's wolf costume so he could be Max on Halloween when he was a toddler, seeing the movie and reflecting on how the meaning of the story shifts as a person's world view expands.

The remembrances are important.  Sendak is an important author/illustrator in the history of children's literature.  But when I told Isaac that Sendak had died as we prepared to read Where the Wild Things Are the other night, I couldn't help but wonder how many other families might be doing that same thing in other houses across the country.  It seemed like the most fitting remembrance of the day.

01 May 2012

What Is Marriage?: A Letter to Our Son Explaining Why We Will Vote Against Amendment One

Dear Isaac,

As we write this, you are 6 and one half years old (we know that that half is very important to you).  You have been asking some questions recently that we have tried to answer in such a way that your 6 ½ year old brain will understand.  But your questions have brought up issues that you will have to wrestle with long past your next birthday, so we are writing this letter to help you find the answers you will need later.

When you asked us what “marriage” is your father told you what we believe.  It is a partnership; a commitment that two people make to each other; an invitation for another person to permanently become part of your family.  When you asked us who can get married we told you that legally a man and woman can be married, but there were other couples that wanted to be able to marry each other.  And we told you that we believe they should be able to be married because any two people who want to be in a marriage partnership and make a commitment to each other and create a family should have the right to do so.

Marriage for any couple is not easy.  It requires work and communication.  We work very hard at our marriage, as do many other people.  We each bring strengths to our partnership and we try to balance out each other’s weaknesses.  You do not realize it now, but you recognize our strengths and weaknesses, even though you are still only 6 ½ years old.  When you ask tough questions, like the one that this letter is trying to answer, you usually ask your father first, while you go to your mother for more practical needs.  Your dad is the thinker, you mom is the doer.  But never think that your father speaks only for himself when he answers your questions.  If we do not have time to talk about how to respond before he gives an explanation, then we talk about what he told you afterwards.  Because parenting you is an important aspect of our relationship and before you were born we agreed that we would be partners in raising you just as we are partners in our marriage.

Marriages are not static, Isaac.  They change and evolve, just as people change and evolve.  We are not the same people who married each other almost 15 years ago, and our relationship has gone through many phases.  We would probably have answered this question differently when we were first married because we had not taken the time to think and question and debate then as we have since.  And that is one important lesson that we hope you take away from this letter.  We want you to be able to find your own answers.  We are giving you our thoughts and explaining our beliefs, but you need to decide for yourself as you grow what you will believe and what you will tell your own children when they ask what marriage means.

You asked about marriage because you have observed and overheard us talking about an issue that upsets us.  It has been proposed that an Amendment be added to our state constitution which would state that some of the people that we believe should be able to be married would never have the right to do so.  Isaac, what you cannot fully understand right now is how important it is to comprehend what this Amendment will do and how it is different from simply passing a law.  A law can be changed by the people whom we elect to represent us.  An Amendment has to be approved by the people of the state and cannot be changed again unless the people want it to be.  A law can be temporary; an amendment is all but permanent or, at the very least, hard to change.  Throughout history there have been laws that have taken away rights from groups of people and there have been other laws that have given back those rights.  Historically, amendments are used most of the time to protect rights or give people more rights.  Rarely are amendments used to take away rights.  But that is what Amendment One does and that is why we and so many other people that you know are upset about it.

We told you that a legal marriage is between a man and a woman and there is a law in our state that says that only men and women can be married.  So, passing an amendment to the constitution is not necessary and will not change anything that couples can do in our state.  But it could take away rights and protections from a lot of people that would be almost impossible to give back.  This is called discrimination.  It is a word that you will hear again and again because, unfortunately, there will always be people who want to take away rights or privileges from another group.  What you will need to do, Isaac, is learn to recognize discrimination and decide how you will respond to it.  

We are not political people.  We vote because we believe it is our responsibility as citizens, but we don’t put candidates’ yard signs in front of our house, we don’t put stickers for political issues on our cars, we don’t wear buttons or t-shirts supporting political parties.  We typically just don’t get involved because our everyday lives are very often not much affected by the outcome of the contest.  But for this vote, this question, we feel differently.  On this issue we have decided that we will post the sign and wear the buttons and speak out because this time the issue is personal and, while it does not affect our marriage, it hurts people that we care about.  And we believe it is wrong.

Many times when issues like this marriage amendment are being debated, people on both sides will try to use God and religion to support their arguments.  It will be up to you, Isaac, to listen and discern where the truth lies.  And ultimately, to come to your own decision about what is right.  Don’t be manipulated by emotional ploys or messages meant to make you fearful.  As your parents, we will guide you for as long as we can, but we will try not to tell you what you have to believe.  We hope that you will follow our example, which is one of the reasons we are being more vocal about the marriage amendment than we have been on issues in the past.  But there will be times when your beliefs clash with ours or you disagree with positions we take.  You may ultimately disagree with us about this very issue.  But one thing we want you to always remember is that even if we disagree, you are our son and we love you.

We will be honest, Isaac, and tell you that we are worried that this Amendment will pass.  If it does, then there is more work to do to try to repeal it.  But, there is work to do even if it does not pass, because, though the Amendment may not be added to the state constitution, there will still be people who believe it should be and there will still be laws that discriminate. One day, many years from now, we hope to see you in a partnership with a person to whom you choose to make a commitment and invite into our family.  You may decide to make the relationship a legal marriage, or you may not.  What we want for you is to have that choice without the fear of losing the rights that choosing marriage would give you.   

So, son, we hope this helps you understand what we believe about marriage.  We are glad you asked the question because formulating our response helps us think through the issue and refine our beliefs.  It also shows us that you possess enough confidence in us as parents to ask tough questions and that you trust us to tell you the truth.  Thank you for that and for challenging us to be better parents and better people.

With Love and Laughter,
Mom and Dad

30 April 2012

The End

April is ending and my experiment is over.  I met my challenge of posting a poem a day and I hope you have enjoyed them.  May the rest of your spring season be beautiful.

"The Spring Wind"

The summer wind
is soft and sweet
the winter wind is strong
the autumn wind is mischievous
and sweeps the leaves along.

The wind I love the best
comes gently after rain
smelling of spring and growing things
brushing the world with feathery wings
while everything glistens, and everything sings
in the spring wind
after the rain.

by Charlotte Zolotow (from Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young, pg 56)

29 April 2012

The Best of Days

"That Kind of Day"

It's that kind of day
and that kind of season
when the breeze is sweet
and the cool air calls
"Come out!"
It beckons the folks
who come out of doors
and wander about
pretending at first
to look for chores
although they know
they just want to walk
in the breeze and the pale
it's that kind of day

by Eloise Greenfield (from Under the Sunday Tree, pg 1)

28 April 2012


We are going to MerleFest this weekend and will hear Alison Krauss sing tomorrow.  She sang this song on "Raising Sand" with Robert Plant.  It was written by Doc Watson and his wife, so there is a second MerleFest connection.

It is one of my favorites and makes me think of my grandparents.

"Your Long Journey"  

God's given us years of happiness here
Now we must part
And as the angels come and call for you
The pains of grief tug at my heart

Oh my darling
My darling
My heart breaks as you take your long journey

Oh the days will be empty
The nights so long without you my love
And when god calls for you I'm left alone
But we will meet in heaven above

Oh my darling
My darling
My heart breaks as you take your long journey

Fond memories I'll keep of happy ways
That on earth we trod
And when I come we will walk hand in hand
As one in heaven in the family of god

Oh my darling
My darling
My heart breaks as you take your long journey

by Doc and Rosa Lee Watson

27 April 2012


Book Fair is ending today.  It is a relief for me, but I know the students enjoy it and look forward to it coming back next year.

"Good Books, Good Times!"

Good books
Good times.
Good stories.
Good rhymes.
Good beginnings.
Good ends.
Good people.
Good friends.
Good fiction.
Good facts.
Good adventures.
Good acts.
Good stories.
Good rhymes.
Good books.
Good times.

by Lee Bennett Hopkins (from Good Rhymes, Good Times, pg. 28

26 April 2012

Cleaning Up

It's Poem in your Pocket Day, so here is my favorite childhood poem . . .

"Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout 
Would not Take the Garbage Out!"

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout 
Would not take the garbage out! 
She'd scour the pots and scrape the pans, 
Candy the yams and spice the hams, 
And though her daddy would scream and shout, 
She simply would not take the garbage out. 
And so it piled up to the ceilings: 
Coffee grounds, potato peelings, 
Brown bananas, rotten peas, 
Chunks of sour cottage cheese. 
It filled the can, it covered the floor, 
It cracked the window and blocked the door 
With bacon rinds and chicken bones, 
Drippy ends of ice cream cones, 
Prune pits, peach pits, orange peel, 
Gloppy glumps of cold oatmeal, 
Pizza crusts and withered greens, 
Soggy beans and tangerines, 
Crusts of black burned buttered toast, 
Gristly bits of beefy roasts. . . 
The garbage rolled on down the hall, 
It raised the roof, it broke the wall. . . 
Greasy napkins, cookie crumbs, 
Globs of gooey bubble gum, 
Cellophane from green baloney, 
Rubbery blubbery macaroni, 
Peanut butter, caked and dry, 
Curdled milk and crusts of pie, 
Moldy melons, dried-up mustard, 
Eggshells mixed with lemon custard, 
Cold french fried and rancid meat, 
Yellow lumps of Cream of Wheat. 
At last the garbage reached so high 
That it finally touched the sky. 
And all the neighbors moved away, 
And none of her friends would come to play. 
And finally Sarah Cynthia Stout said, 
"OK, I'll take the garbage out!" 
But then, of course, it was too late. . . 
The garbage reached across the state, 
From New York to the Golden Gate. 
And there, in the garbage she did hate, 
Poor Sarah met an awful fate, 
That I cannot now relate 
Because the hour is much too late. 
But children, remember Sarah Stout 
And always take the garbage out!

by Shel Silverstein (from Where the Sidewalk Ends, pg. 70)

25 April 2012

Don't Be Late

"I'm Going to the Library"
I’m going to the library,
and moving very slow,
despite the fact that it’s a place
I’ve always liked to go.
But I’m not looking forward now
to being there at all,
and that is why I’m heading there
at practically a crawl.
I’m going to the library,
and I’m a bit afraid.
It’s all because of one mistake
I’ve accidentally made.
I’m filled with trepidation
mixed with downright misery,
convinced that the librarian
is furious with me.
I know that I’m in trouble,
so I’m in a frantic state.
I also know it’s all my fault,
and I deserve my fate.
I’m going to the library,
and shaking through and through—
the book I’m finally bringing back
is four years overdue.
by Jack Prelutsky (from My Dog May Be A Genius, pg 144)

24 April 2012


"There Is No Frigate Like a Book"

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

by Emily Dickinson

23 April 2012

So true . . .

It's book fair week, so how about a poem each day about books or reading?

"A Classic"

A children's book is a classic
If at six, excitedly
You read to another kid
Who just turned sixty-three.

by J. Patrick Lewis (from Please Bury Me in the Library, pg 14)

22 April 2012

Earth Day by Isaac

Here are Isaac's Earth Day poems.


Recycle  paper,
metal,  plastic,  glass  bottles, 
and  cardboard  boxes.

Lantern Poem:


round,  big
it’s  our  home
take  care  of  it


Every body            
Take  care

21 April 2012

Earth Day by Erwin

This past week we did a One School / One Book project using Here Comes the Garbage Barge by Jonah Winter.  It connected to our school-wide recycling service learning project which is on-going.  We chose this week to implement the project because of Earth Day.

Classes talked about how much trash they produce, buried garbage to see what will decompose and how fast, and read the book which is a fictionalized account of the barge of garbage from Islip, Long Island that floated around the Atlantic in 1987 looking for a place to be dumped.

Each class I worked with throughout the week read an Earth Day related book and wrote poems in different formats.

I have put those poems into Glogs for you to enjoy.

Happy Earth Day!

20 April 2012

Earth Colors

Earth Day is this weekend.  We have been celebrating it at school this week with a book study,a parade, by planting gardens and picking up trash.

So how about a poem celebrating nature? . . .

"Crayons: A Rainbow Poem"

This box contains the wash of blue sky,
spikes of green spring,
a circle of yellow sun,
triangle flames of orange and red.

It has the lime caterpillar
inching on a brown branch,
the shadow black in the center
of a grove of trees.

It holds my pink
and your chocolate
and her burnt sienna
 and his ivory skin.
In it are all the colors of the world.

All the colors of the world.

by Jane Yolen (from Color Me a Rhyme: Nature Poems for Young People, unp)

19 April 2012

Spring Cleaning

Isaac helped me dust yesterday.  It's become our thing since I have been trying to manage my housework load by doing 30-45 minutes a day in different rooms of the house.  He offered to vacuum, too, but couldn't quite manage the vacuum cleaner.

He has come a long way from the little boy who would sit on the stairs and try to yell over the noise of the vacuum begging me to turn it off.

"Me vs. Vacuum"

When the vacuum
starts its roaring,
I start calling
to be heard.

Dad can't hear me;
he keeps pushing.
Vacuum swallows
every word.

I try shouting
even louder.
Now it's rumbling
by my feet.

Vacuum cleaner
sucks my voice up.
Vacuum cleaner's
got me beat.

by Betsy R. Rosenthal (from My house is Singing, unp)

18 April 2012

Outside Time

I had lunch with a student yesterday and we sat at one of the outside picnic tables.  Then we walked on the school track for a little while.

It was nice for a lot of reasons, but especially because it was a beautiful spring day and I enjoyed being outside rather than cooped up in my fresh air-less library.

"What I Love About Spring"

Trees are growing
Streams are flowing
Cool Spring showers
Blooming flowers
Caterpillars creep
Peepers peep
Playing sports
Wearing shorts
April Fools'
Swimming pools
Going places
Relay races
Days are longer
Sun is stronger
Every morning songbirds sing --
I love nearly everything!

by Douglas Florian (from Handsprings, pg 18)

17 April 2012

Are You My Family?

With the debate going on in my state right now, this poem hits the spot.

"What is A Family?"

What is a family?
Who is a family?
One and another makes two is a family!
Baby and father and mother: a family!
Parents and sister and brother: a family!
All kinds of people can make up a family
All kinds of mixtures can make up a family
What is a family?
Who is a family?
The children that lived in a shoe is a family!
A pair like a kanga and roo is a family!
A calf and a cow that go moo is a family!
All kinds of creatures can make up a family
All kinds of numbers can make up a family
What is a family?
Who is a family?
Either a lot or a few is a family;
But whether there's ten or there's two in your family,
All of your family plus you is a family!

by Mary Ann Hoberman (from Grandad's Tree: Poems About Families, pg 8)

16 April 2012

As Good As Carl Kasell's

I am going to have my students write some simple poems this week. Hopefully the process goes better than this. . . though it does sound worthy of "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me."

"Poetry Assignment"

I'm having a terrible time,
I never will learn how to rhyme,
There must be a gimerick
To writing a limerick,
I can't even think of one line.

by Joan Horton (from I Brought My Rat for Show-and-Tell and Other Funny School Poems, pg. 26)

15 April 2012

A Brighter World

At our church the Sunday after Easter we observe Bright Sunday.  It's a contrast to the season of darkness and deprivation that has passed and a celebration of the joy and light that has come.

People are so small
next to you, God.
You put the stars and the moon
in the sky, and the birds in the air
above the cows and the horses in the fields,
and the fish that swim in the seas.
You created all the beauty
in the world!

Psalm 8 (from Psalms for Young Children)

14 April 2012


Spring Break is almost over.  We have kept busy with trips to the amusement park, hiking at a state park, the zoo, baseball games, the science center, and play-dates.  Today we take one last excursion to the mountains before settling back into our familiar routine.

My house is not as clean as I planned it would be.  I have barely opened my bag of school work.  Isaac is not quite done with his Earth Day project.

It's been a good week.

"Behind the Museum Door"

What's behind the museum door?

     Ancient necklaces,
     African art,
     Armor of knights,
     A peasant cart;

     Pioneer wagons,
     Vintage cars,
     A planetarium


          with stars;

     Priceless old coins,
     A king's golden throne,
     Mummies in linen,


     A dinosaur bone.

by Lee Bennett Hopkins (from Good Rhymes, Good Times, pg. 6)

13 April 2012

Hanging Out

We went to the zoo earlier this week.  There is a statue that Isaac likes to play on every time we go.  This poem made me think of it.

"The Bison Returns"

Midnight and the world so cold.
The sky is holding snow.
On the stone flank of a buried cave
an old fire-smear awakes
and walks out, down the drifted miles,
down the smothered hills.

It steps into the yard to graze
just as snow begins
falling soundless in a dream
upon the shaggy ghost.
What will I say to keep it here?
What song will I sing?

by Tony Johnston (from Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art, pg 11)

12 April 2012

Fickle Feet

It's April that is teasing us this year.  I have traded the short sleeves and sandals for sweaters, socks and sneakers this week.

"Salena's Sandals"

March teases me
With spring,
Dishing up
A day of sun,
Of warmth and fun:
Summer picnics
At the beach,
In easy reach,
Cruising town
In sandaled feet,
Slurping ice cream
Cool and sweet.
Water fights,
Humid days,
Muggy nights.
Then I recall --
Spring's just a tease.

And cover my toes
Before they freeze.

by Nikki Grimes, (from Shoe Magic, pg 21)

11 April 2012

Blowin' in the Wind

We have had a couple of glorious days hiking in the mountains and going to the zoo with friends.  The weather was perfect, sunny and breezy, and it was wonderful to be outside and able to enjoy it.

"The Wind"

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you;
But when the leaves hang trembling
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I;
But when the trees bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.

by Christina Rossetti

10 April 2012


I told myself I wouldn't miss it this year.  I would pay attention each day to mark the changes and wouldn't be surprised by the branches full of leaves one morning when I looked up.

I missed it.  And looked up the other morning wondering where all the leaves had come from and how I hadn't noticed them before that day.


A tiny veteran satchel,
the color of pale cream,
is perched on the tip
of this bare branch.

Snap open the clasp ---
and you will find,
inside this tiny valise,
one rolled and folded
neatly packed


by Kristine O'Connell George
(from Old Elm Speaks: Tree Poems, pg. 7)

09 April 2012

Spring Break

Not a poem you may expect a librarian to champion, but it illustrates how I start to feel at this point in the school year when the weather is perfect for being outside rather than cooped up indoors.  It is Spring Break this week, and I intend to take this poem to heart.


UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?
The sun, above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless--
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

by William Wordsworth, 1798.

08 April 2012

New Life

Music is poetry.  Or some of it is anyway.  
Here is a song for a beautiful Easter morning . . . 
"Morning Has Broken"
Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day
lyrics by Eleanor Farjeon, 1931

07 April 2012

Thrill Rides

We rode roller coasters yesterday.  Matt was excited that Isaac is tall enough to ride some of the bigger rides.  Isaac was nervous, but brave.  It was a good day.

"Roller Coaster"

S L O W and steady,
hold on,
get ready,
oh so
slow it climbs,
               turtling up,
you know the drill
of the thrill:
how it creeps,
for a spell ---
an almost-stop
on top ---
     then WHOOOSSSHHH,

    (into) the dip,
back up,
the armored
humpback track;

by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
(from In the Spin of Things: Poetry of Motion, pg. 31)

06 April 2012


Even though it was originally a satirical poem, and it has become a bit trendy after it was used in Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994, I think this poem fits the mood of the day rather well. 

Not a children's poem, but one of my favorites.

"Funeral Blues"

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and, with muffled drum,
Bring out the coffin. Let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message: “He is dead!”
Put crepe bows around the white necks of the public doves.
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my north, my south, my east and west,
My working week and Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song.
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one.
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

by W H Auden

05 April 2012

Batter Up!

Baseball season starts for our local minor league team tonight.  So here is a classic for you.  Isaac has the version illustrated by Christopher Bing that we love to read.

"Casey at the Bat"

The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
And its likely they'd a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike two."

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.

by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, 1888

04 April 2012

Happy School Library Month

I had a difficult time choosing a poem tonight.  I flipped through our Jack Prelutsky books and came across quite a few that could have worked for today.  I finally narrowed it down to two, and couldn't decide between them. So you luck out and get double the poems for the price of one.

It is School Library Month and our local school librarians professional organization did our annual presentation to our school board yesterday.  Schools were recognized for their reading accomplishments, Battle of the Books Teams were honored and the Employee of the Month was a school librarian.  These poems seemed appropriate after an evening focused on literacy . . .

“Look! Look!”

Look! Look!
A book!
A book for me,
a book all filled
with poetry,
a book that I
can read
and read.
A book!
what I need.

Look! Look!
A book
to open wide,
and marvel
at the words inside,
to sit
and savor
Look! Look!
A book!
A book for me.

"Boys are Big Experts"

Boys are big experts
At looking for trouble,
They climb over fences,
They tunnel through rubble.
Boys take their time
When they're called to the table,
Boys have to eat
Like they live in a stable.

Boys love to throw things
And get into tussles,
Make nasty noises,
And show off their muscles,
Lots of stuff leading
To bruises and bleeding,
Why don't they stop for a while...
And start READING?

by Jack Prelutsky (from My Dog May Be A Genius, pg. 43 and 99)

03 April 2012

Growing Dreams

I came across this poem a few years ago.  It is by a local poet whom I have had visit my school a couple of times.  It's makes me think of some of my former students.

"Where I Live"

Where I live
there are no trees
to climb, but I still
reach for the stars.
My dreams take root
in concrete,
and my branches
lift the sky.

by Carole Boston Weatherford
(from Sidewalk Chalk, pg 31)

02 April 2012

I Know, I Know . . .

I promised this would not be a daily homage to Shel Silverstein.  Notice, please, that yesterday's poem was by Ken Nesbitt.  And I know that it is no longer April 1st, but this poem was too fun not to include.  No foolin'.
Oh have you heard it’s time for vaccinations?
I think someone put salt into your tea.
They’re giving us eleven-month vacations.
And Florida has sunk into the sea.
Oh have you heard the President has measles?
The principal has just burned down the school.
Your hair is full of ants and purple weasels—
                APRIL FOOL!

(from Where the Sidewalk Ends, pg 75)

01 April 2012

Fooling Around

Here's one to get us started . . . Thank goodness April 1st falls on a Sunday this year.  


April Fool's Day

Mackenzie put a whoopie cushion
on the teacher's chair.
Makayla told the teacher
that a bug was in her hair.

Alyssa brought an apple
with a purple gummy worm
and gave it to the teacher
just to see if she would squirm.

Elijah left a piece of plastic
dog doo on the floor,
and Vincent put some plastic vomit
in the teacher's drawer.

Amanda put a goldfish
in the teacher's drinking glass.
These April Fool's Day pranks
are ones that you could use in class.

Before you go and try them, though,
there's something I should mention:
The teacher wasn't fooling
when she put us in detention.

--Kenn Nesbitt
(from Revenge of the Lunch Ladies)

31 March 2012

Rhyme Time

Apparently I need a challenge to make sure I post regularly.  So, I am giving myself one, again.  April is National Poetry Month and I will be posting a poem a day.  Most of them will be children's poems, but some will not.

Though I was an English major, poetry is not my thing.  I was one of those who had any love of poetry that was in me thoroughly crushed in high school, then college, English classes.  But, to be honest, there wasn't much poetry love there to start with, so the crushing process was fairly simple.  I am a realist ( I resist the pessimist label) -- give me a good ole American Realism novel by Twain or Dreiser any day over an obscure line of verse.  The darker the better.

I have rediscovered poetry since I began teaching, children's poetry anyway.  I have even been meeting with some students this year in a Haiku club and have planned events at school to celebrate National Poetry Month. So I will be posting some of my favorite poems over the next 30 days, and some that I will discover as I am sure I will run out of poems by the middle of the month.  And I will try to make sure I am not just going through our collection of Shel Silverstein poems -- variety is the spice of life after all.

This idea came to me after I read to Isaac from Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, which contains my overall favorite poem from my childhood.  (You will have to check back each day to find out which one it is.)  The last poem I read was "Merry . . ." (pg 164).

No one's hangin' stockin's up,
No one's bakin' pie,
No one's lookin' up to see
A new star in the sky.
No one's talkin' brotherhood,
No one's givin' gifts,
And no one loves a Christmas tree
On March the twenty-fifth.

The night I read that to Isaac was March 25th. Hmmmmmm.  If I weren't such a realist/pessimist, I might have taken that to be some kind of sign.  Instead, I just decided to challenge myself to post a poem a day.  So, let's get started  . . . . and feel free to share some of your favorite poems as the month progresses.

30 March 2012

Something Different

During Lent, our pastor challenged us (as in the entire church membership, not just our family) to look for the Laughter of Love in places that are outside our normal sphere.  We were supposed to go somewhere or do something that we had never done before or do not do often, and we had to be an active participant.  He calls these experiences "Cultural Pilgrimages."

I have no problem, usually, going someplace new.  It is the "active participation" that I get hung up on.  I am an introvert and am more comfortable observing from the sidelines or the back of the room than I am being in the thick of things.  But I did try . . . .

For those who know us, reading here that we are not a basketball family is not a surprise.  We are from SEC country and football reigned in the town where Matt and I met.  Moving to Greensboro 15 years ago and realizing that finding an SEC football game on the TV was nearly impossible was true culture shock.  And we haven't been converted.  There have been a couple of years that our team made it to the NCAA Championship (and won) and we followed along and were excited about their success, which we basked in and gloated over as well as any Duke or UNC fan.  But then it was over and I just didn't care anymore.  I barely register each year that the ACC finals are played in the town where we now live.  But this year, Isaac brought home a coupon for buy one get one ticket free for the Women's ACC Tournament semi-final games.  Matt was out of town that weekend and I wanted to do something with Isaac that was kind of special and different, so to the semi-finals we went. 

I knew our tickets were for both games and I didn't really know if we would make it through.  But Isaac loved it.  We have no allegiance to any ACC team and Isaac picked the team we routed for based on their uniform or their mascot.  He intently watched the game, tried to catch t-shirts, ate his way through a bag of kettle corn, and was surprisingly settled during the hours we sat watching the action on the court.  Unfortunately, both teams we chose to support lost. (If you want to be sure your team is going to win, make sure we route for the opponent -- works every time.)  I am not a basketball convert now (I could have left after 90 minutes -- 4 hours of basketball is a lot!), but I loved sitting with Isaac, talking about the game and spending time with him that was relaxed and removed from the everyday worries over getting homework done or running to the next practice or going to bed at a reasonable time.

So does this meet the requirements of the "Cultural Pilgrimage" as defined by my pastor?  I don't know.  It is definitely something I wouldn't normally do, especially if Matt is not dragging me along.  I wasn't a participant in the game, but I cheered along with the crowd and waved my hands for the free t-shirts (because Isaac really wanted one).  I spent time with my son and watched him enjoy an experience that was new and exciting.  That is what I value about the day.

Since we had watched the semi-finals and actually knew what teams would be in the finals on Sunday, Isaac and I sat down to watch the last game of the tournament after church.  Once again, the team we routed for lost (I'm tellin' ya -- fool proof system).  But it was a nice ending to the weekend, for us at least.

04 March 2012

A Seussical Week

Friday was Dr. Seuss' birthday.  It was also Read Across America Day.  I haven't planned any school-wide activities for this day the past few years.  Just didn't have the energy.  But this year I wanted to try and get some fun activities planned for the students.  So a few weeks ago I sat down with a couple of other teachers to map out a plan for daily themes to catch the students' attention.

Monday was Silly Foot Day.  I wore my orange flame tights in honor of the occasion.  Tuesday was Sparkle Word Day.  I made a glittery sign with the word OBFUSCATE boldly glued on the front.  Wednesday was Cat in a Cap Day.  I decided to go stylish in my black fedora rather than wear the tall red and white striped hat all day.  Thursday was Oh the Places You'll Go Day and I proudly wore my LIBRARIAN t-shirt.  Friday was Blue Ribbon Day.  I wore a blue shirt and blue jeans.  Caldecott Books took center stage on Friday.

Each day I displayed books that fit in with the theme of the day for students and teachers to check out.  One difficulty with stretching the celebration out to a full week is that the Dr. Seuss books were all checked out by Tuesday morning.  Students who came in on Friday looking for Cat in the Hat were disappointed.

The activities were a nice break from the regular school routine.  The kids had fun and I think the teachers did, too.

26 February 2012

Red Carpet Books

The ALA awards were announced a few weeks ago.  Some familiar names are on the lists and some new ones.  Since it is Oscar night, I thought it would be an appropriate time to highlight the winners (since I hadn't gotten around to it yet).

The Caldecott Medal for excellence in illustration went to a wordless picture book by Chris Raschka, A Ball for Daisy.

The Geisel Award for beginning reader books went to Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider.  (Mo Willems had an honor book on the list -- just wanted to point that out.)

The Sibert Medal for informational books went to Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet.

The Corretta Scott King Author Award for outstanding contribution to African-American literature went to Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson.  The Illustrator Award went to Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom by Shane Evans.

The 2012 Notable Children's Books list is also available.  Many of the books that were awarded recognized in the above awards are also on this list, but there a lot of other very good titles.

Happy Reading!

11 February 2012

Parenting Lesson # One Thousand and Something

Each year on Super Bowl Sunday our church hosts a Male Bake-off.  It's a pretty big deal, with some of the entrants spending weeks planning their desserts and hours, if not days, preparing them.  Matt has entered every year but one since we have been members, and has come away with some kind of prize from every contest.  His aspirations are always high, with the Weirdness Cup or Poison Control award his goal.  His dreams are often fulfilled and his desserts are, mostly, memorable.  (Many people still talk about the Cat Box cake over ten years later.)

Isaac entered the contest for the first time last year and received First Place in the Boys category for a peanut butter pie we had seen in an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network.  Matt came away with his second Weirdness Cup in a row for  . . . something.  Isaac was hooked and when the contest was announced this year he started talking about wanting to win First Place again.

The catch was that he and Matt had already decided on the desserts they would make -- Candy Sushi for Isaac and Pineapple Rum Cake for Matt.  We thought the Rum Cake might have a fighting chance for something other than Burnt Offering, but we doubted that Candy Sushi would garner a First Pace trophy.  So we began preparing Isaac for something less.  We talked about how he would feel to get a Weirdness Cup like his dad, or to get the Most Creative Award.  We even showed him the Burnt Offering trophy that morning, which had a lot of coolness points with its blazing inferno and fireman.

So, I vacated the house while the dessert prep was taking place last weekend and we hauled the sweets to church Sunday morning.  I should probably mention that it is written in the rules that certain entries will automatically win something, with kids being assured of a trophy.  It is a contest, but it is also good fun.  I should also probably mention that we are good friends with two of the three people who judged the contest this year and I was babysitting their 5 month-old son while they judged the contest.  But their ethics are impeccable, really.

As the awards were being announced, I watched Isaac to see how he was reacting.  The Boys category passed and he was not recognized.  No big surprise . . . Matt and I were sure Isaac had a lock of Weirdness Cup.  Matt won Men's 1st Place much to our, and everyone else's, surprise.  Then the Weirdness Cup was awarded, but not to Isaac.  I was a little worried, but there were a few other trophies I thought he could get.  Then Most Creative went by as did Poison Control and Burnt Offering.  Not much was left and I was getting anxious.  There was always the possibility that they had left him out of the list and I did not want to consider the ramifications.

When it got down to the last two prizes, Judge's Award reserved for the judges' favorite dessert, and Best In Show, I just knew we were going to have a meltdown.  I felt horrible.  Worse than Isaac because he did not realize at that point that his chances for a trophy had passed.  I ached for him and his disappointment.  I don't want him to grow up expecting to win or feeling like he deserves it just because he enters.  I want him to have a healthy view of competition, and losing is part and parcel of competing.  But the Male Bake-off is safe, at least for a few years. It was supposed to be a sure thing, and when it looked like the safety net was failing I realized how hard it would be for me to see him disappointed.  I did not feel prepared to comfort him or know what to say to make him feel better.  He would be hurt and there was nothing I could do about it.  At that moment, it hit me how hard being a parent can be.  I have realized it before, but the reality can dim.  Right then, it was crystal clear.

It seems silly that I was that worked up over a baking contest trophy.  Especially now with Isaac's Judge's Award sitting on his dresser downstairs.  It turned out that the one judge that we did not know absolutely loved the Candy Sushi, especially the cocoa crispy version with the candied bacon. (Our friends are vegetarians and deferred to the third judge when this decision was made.)  But I hope that Isaac and I both learned a lesson from this year's contest.  I will never underestimate the power of doing something different and daring that makes you stand out from the crowd.  Isaac's dessert was definitely unique among the chocolate confections and more traditional desserts and it paid off.  And I hope Isaac will remember that being able to have fun and laugh, even at your own expense, during the process is more valuable than the ultimate reward.