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Written and Illustrated by Uri Shulevitz
Sunburst Books, 2004
The story opens with a familiar bleakness, the kind that one often finds in winter, before the snow falls:
"The skies are gray.
The rooftops are gray.
The whole city is gray."
But, then, some hope:
"Then one snowflake."
Written by Pat Mora
Illustrated by Raul Colon
Dragonfly Books, 2010
Doña Flor is the story of a giant-sized woman who could. Who could do anything. As a child, Flor's size often made her the brunt of jokes. But, as she gets older, the people of her village come to respect her. Doña Flor is a beautifully poetic story of courage and generosity, of looking at one's weaknesses and seeing how they can become one's strengths. In Doña Flor's case, it is her gargantum size. She takes her ginormousness and plays it up as a strength to help the people of her pueblo. Flor, an expert tortilla maker, makes tortillas for her pueblo's peeps. And they find other uses for the huge ones: "People used the extra ones as roofs. Mmmm, the houses smelled corn-good when the sun was hot. In the summer, the children floated around the pond on tortilla rafts." But her biggest claim to fame is saving her pueblo from the wild mountain lion who roars loudly, wildly around town.
The poems in Mites to Mastodons, from Pulitzer Prize winner Maxine Kumin, are seriousness about play. The language and the rhythms found in each one are fun and original and dance off the page with delight. One of my favorite poems, about an owl, reminds me of a story I once heard from a friend who told me that, when owls hoot at night, their call sounds like they're saying, "Who cooks for you?" So, as you can imagine, I was smitten when I came across this poem:
My favorite barred owl, who lives in the woods
nearby, wakes me, hooting, "Who cooks for you-u-u?"
And if I could hoot I'd answer, "I do-oo-oo
but I wish you could, you could, you could."
The Desert Is Theirs
Written by Byrd Baylor
Illustrated by Peter Parnall
It's hard to write a thematic reading list about the desert without including a handful of Byrd Baylor books. And who better than Byrd Baylor--a resident of both Tucson and Arivaca--to describe firsthand the sights and sounds of the desert. The Desert Is Theirs is the perfect book to get this reading list started. The book opens with poetic text, describing what the desert is not:
Written by e.e. cummings
Illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1989
If all-hallow's-eve could be summed up in two syllables, it would be e.e. cumming’s hist whist. Accompanied by taut illlustrations from Deborah Kogan Ray, this reinterpretation delivers a mouthful that we’ll be chewing on for some time.
The book is one of the most sensory works of art that I’ve come across in a while, and it’s also the most simplistic. It takes us through a cast of some of Halloween’s greatest: ghosts, witches with warts, toads, mice, and, to top it all off, devils. In that sense, it’s traditional in its subject, but there is nothing traditional about e.e. cumming’s approach. The writing is quick and playful, especially with its cadence, rhyme, and onomatopoeia, as in the following: “histwhist/ little ghostthings / tip-toe / twinkle-toe.” You have to see it on the page to fully appreciate the affect. It’s skintight. It’s an image of three ghosts in bed sheets hovering over a moonscape of blue, one with a bright, yellow circle of light. Minimalistic in both language and imagery, it strikes a sort of primeval cord that’s the basis of fear and really the basis of Halloween.
Written by Lewis Carroll
Illustrated by Graeme Base
Harry N. Abrams, 1989
Graeme Base's take on this classic poem is eye-poppingly good. His pop-up book rendition of Jabberwocky fire-breathes new life into the old tale. The paper cut-out are layered three times, each time with new imagery and scene. This triple-imagery creates not only more complex imagery, but also more layering to the poem, as it were. Base's vision of the Jabberwocky seems more absurd than scary, but, seeing as this is a children's book, that's probably a good idea. That said, with bulging eyes and a huge orange beak, with sharp white fangs and repitalian claws, Base does in fact create a monster. But alas: we forgot the language! I forgot how lively and interesting, how sound based and folly based is his language. It's a treat for the ears:
'Twas briilig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were teh borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The fruminous Bandersnatch!"
For this "Pre-historic" themed Family Days, we welcomed a hoard of young time travelers, who took poetry into their own hands with a variety of fun and exciting activities: they tapped out poetry on vintage typewriters, molded ancient fossil impressions, made early paper out of iron age materials, jammed at a stone age dance party, and added their voices to live songs and storytelling groups. They re-energized with snacks and dove right back in to our dress-up boxes, our bucket of leaves and petals, and our stacks of poetry.
We caught a few of these rare adventurers on camera as they passed through a curtain of vines and entered our video booth staffed by UA Honors students enrolled in a service learning course in partnership with the Poetry Center. Take a peek at one of the videos from our past Family Days! We'll be sure to post more of these videos, as we gear up for our next Family Days on Saturday, October 26th!
Written and Illustrated by Janell Cannon
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005
What happens when a crooked-winged cockroach, who moonlights as a skilled sculptor, gets bullied? Anything. Written by popular children’s author and illustrator, Janell Cannon, who’s famous for her book Stellaluna, Crickwing follows the journey of a little cockroach-fellow by the same name, who finds himself getting bullied by animals larger than him. In his angst, he starts to pick on animals—a colony of leaf-cutter ants, to be exact—who are smaller than him. This is a great book to read when discussing themes like bullying and friendship with youth. In addition to a strong and captivating story, Cannon’s artwork is absolutely breathtaking. She creates such tactile images in her art—the monkey's fur actually seems soft to the touch; the green tree leaves look like they’re covered with a mossy fuzz. Youth and adults alike will be charmed by this story and its incredible illustrations.
I came to this thinking while researching the work of teaching artist Tony Blackhawk, who uses abstract art like that of Cy Twombly to lead his students in loose ekphrastic writing exercises. In “Third Mind,” Blackhawk quotes Nancy Gorrell, who used Ekphrastic writing to help students learn about history by “entering” into another perspective. In my own practice, I’ve asked students to write from the perspective of an object in a painting, or from the position of the artist creating it. I’ve found that this practice in “entering” from a different angle seems to offer students an open-mindedness and explorative quality in a creative space that then leaks into the larger world.
This reading list is about entering that very practice—one of stepping into another perspective, and inhabiting the life of an “other” by peeking into their daily life, and seeing where you relate. I’m of the opinion that empathy is one of the most important skills an artist can develop—it’s useful across genres and mediums—and that it’s also a significant life skill. Oftentimes, it’s through the eyes of others—a flowerpot, a three-legged dog, the kid with roller skates—that we first begin to understand the world, and more fully engage with it ourselves.
Crazy to be Alive in such a strange World: Poems About People
selected by Nancy Larrick
This is a collection celebrating the details of individual, unique personalities. The collection’s titles reflect the variety of voices contained in one small volume (“Hey, this little kid gets roller skates.” “Well son, I’ll tell you.”), and its accompanying photographs provide the poetic portraits with a visual accompaniment of faces across generations and cultural backgrounds.
My full, complete, legal name is Allison Marie Leach. My parents named me Allison because they wanted to give me a name similar to my paternal grandmother's, which is Aldora. Her name was formed in a combination of her parents' names. Her Dad's name was "Al" and her Mom's name was "Dora." Al + Dora = Aldora. My wonderful grandmother. I love this story.
Aldora's nickname, dubbed by my older sister, Mary, is Gong-Gong Strawberry. She was given this moniker because she and my Grandpa grew strawberries in their green backyard in Missouri. And Gong-Gong? Who can explain. I don't even think Mary can recall. It was a name that she invented when she was a toddler; it was a name that was easier to say than "Grandma," or perhaps she just thought it more interesting and original. I tend to think the latter.