Sunday, January 15, 2012

Donald Hall and a Step in the River

No man ever steps in the same river twice, so Heraclitus philosophized, and it was a hot, dry summer that I happened to step into that proverbial river at just the right moment.

I was living in Los Angeles and I had just come home one evening from my job as a library assistant at UCLA.  I turned on the television and by chance landed on a documentary about two poets, a husband and wife, who lived in an old ancestral farm house in New Hampshire.  Later I would come to find out that this was the Emmy award-winning documentary Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon:  A Life Together, but for that hour or so I was entranced.  Perhaps I was just homesick for New England or perhaps it was simple the wonder of hearing how extraordinary poetry can sound when it is spoken by its creator.

A couple of years later, back on the East Coast, I was reading an issue of the New Yorker and was shocked to see Jane Kenyon's birth and death dates listed after her poem.  Unbeknownst to me she had just died of leukemia at age 47.

I immediately wrote to Mr. Hall.  I think I addressed the envelope something like "Donald Hall, poet, Wilmot, New Hampshire".  I'm sure my letter was incoherent and I think it contained several typographical errors.  I received a note back from him barely a week later.  It had even been postmarked on my birthday.  He was kind, caring, gracious and personal in his letter, mentioning his wife Jane and mentioning my comment about naming horses.

Years later, when my son was born, I sent Mr. Hall a copy of his book Ox Cart Man (together with a self-addressed stamped envelope, of course) asking would he please autograph it for my son.  Sure enough, in just a couple of weeks the book was literally signed, sealed and delivered to my doorstep.

He did the same for my daughter, when she was born, signing a copy of Old Home Day.

I own almost every book that Mr. Hall has written.  I read in the news recently that at age 83 he has proclaimed himself done with poetry.  

When he was selected as United States Poet Laureate in 2006, I went to see him at the National Book Festival on the National Mall.  As I stood by while he signed one of his books for me, I mentioned that he had once signed books for my children.  He didn't respond for a moment but then he looked up at me and said, "I'm glad I did that."  So am I.

How fortunate for me that I stepped into the river at that exact moment in time, that warm, jacaranda-scented night in Santa Monica.  A step in the river that changed my life.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pura Belpré Challenge: Grandma's Gift by Eric Velasquez

Today I read the 2011 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner to my own two children who are in first and second grade.  They seemed to love it and my son even made a text-to-text connection to Too Many Tamales (awwwwwww!).

What was it... {drumroll please}

Title:   Grandma's Gift
Year Published: 2010

Author/Illustrator:  Eric Velasquez
You May Know Him:  as the author/illustrator of Grandma's Records and illustrator of I, Matthew Henson
You May Find Him:  at his blog

Review You May Not Have Seen: 

The Delta/Plus
I had recently purchased Grandma's Gift for my own school library's collection, but I had not realized that it was a Pura Belpré winner.  I also had not read it (blush, blush).

This book may have won an award for its rich, realistic illustrations, but to me the story was just as compelling.  This is a wonderful book that both teachers and librarians can use in many ways.  Pair with "Too Many Tamales" to discuss holiday traditions.  Read along-side "The Story-Teller's Candle" to talk about Puerto Rican Christmas traditions, both past and present.  Use it to discuss the concept of "gifts".  What was Grandma's gift?  You could also use this book to study community or illustrate the differences between city life and country life.  The list really does go on.

This book is one that I will be reading to my students year after year.  

Now to find that copy of Grandma's Records... 

15 Second Book Talk in the Stacks (These are when I'm in the book stacks with my students and they hold out a book to me and say, "Have you read this one, Mrs. Blaine?".  I have about 15 seconds.):  

"This is one of my new favorite books that recently won an award for best illustrations.  It's about a boy who spends Christmas break with his grandmother.  First he helps her make a yummy traditional Puerto Rican recipe and then they go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where they see a self-portrait of an important artist.  Can you guess what artist that might be?  Do you think you can guess what language he and his grandmother share?  Have you spent any special times with your grandmother or grandfather?  If you have, you'll love this book as much as I do."

From the the award-winning illustrations to the story itself, Grandma's Gift gets five out of five Dog Ears from me!

Thank you My Own School Library for providing me with this copy of Grandma's Gift.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Goals for the New Year

Ah, goals for 2012. Sounds frighteningly like resolutions, doesn't it? Meh, I'm not so big on resolutions, but I do like to set a goal or two...

In 2011 I fell short on some and surprised myself with others.

For example, when I look at my GoodReads goal for 2011 I want to laugh myself silly. This year I don't think I will be too worried about meeting a number goal, but rather a genre goal. I am woefully inattentive to fiction "for boys" and I need to remedy this. I'm starting off the year with book one of the Ranger's Apprentice Series and so far I'm enjoying it.

Another goal didn't sneak up on me until October: NaNoWriMo. And that minor goal (to write at 50,000 word novel during the month of November) took me until the end of December. December 31st to be exact. But I did it. Will wonders never cease?

I've joined the Nerdy Book Club members in their quest to read copious amounts of award winning books, but decided that instead of the Newberys or the Caldecotts I was going to choose the road less taken and read the Pura Belpre award winners and honor books. I don't suppose that reading the delightful "The Storyteller's Candle" to my third grade students in December had anything to do with it, but perhaps...

And finally the wonderful Page in Training has cooked up a scheme to introduce more non-fiction to students, both young and old. I'm happy that she's allowed me to work with her on this year-long project called Passport Nonfiction. I'm excited to see where it takes us and how it evolves. Join us!
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