Friday, August 31, 2007

Arabic Apothegm

He who knows not and knows not he knows not, he is a fool -- shun him;
He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is simple -- teach him;
He who knows and knows not he knows, he is asleep -- wake him.
He who knows and knows he knows, he is wise -- follow him.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Frightening coincidences

One of the benefits of having many books going at the same time, as I usually do, is that you occassionally come across coincidences of material that shed light upon one another.

Yesterday morning I read this tale from Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes regarding Mary Wolstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein .

During the summer of 1816 Byron and Shelley were neighbors on the shores of the lake of Geneva. The two poets, together with Byron's friend Dr. John Polidori and Shelley's companions, Mary Godwin and her stepsister Claire Clairmont, spent many an evening conversing. One night Byron initated a discussion of ghosts and the supernatural. . . . Byron suggested that all of them write their own ghost stories. From this evening emerged an effort begun by Byron about the ruins of Ephesus, never completed; a tale by Polidori eventually published as The Vampyre; and, by the seventeen year-old Mary, the tale of Frankenstein - a story that probably has frightened more people and led to more spin-offs than any other ghost story in the world.

Yesterday afternoon I dipped into Charles Pellegrino's Ghosts of Vesuvius and came across this information about that summer.

Throughout the world, the "years without a summer" that followed the eruption of Tambora in 1815 are legendary after nearly two generations. Indonesia's Tambora explosion (which deposited ash layers in the ice of the North and South Poles) had visited July frosts and snow flurries upon New England. . . . From California to Italy to China, the volcanic winter was felt and recorded. In Europe, the false winter ruined the honeymoon of a young poet and his eighteen-year-old bride, driving them indoors from the shores of Lake Geneva. Between hours of marital bliss, while "confined for days," the bride wrote of "the uncongenial summer," during which she took up a challenge "to make-up a ghost story." The bride's name was Mary Shelley, and the story she wrote was titled Frankenstein, Or, the Modern Prometheus .

Author and Illustrator Birthdays

August 27th

C.S. Forester, British author born in Cairo, Egypt in 1899. Famous for his Horatio Hornblower series of novels based on a semi-fictional English sea captain fighting in the Napoleonic wars as well as his novel The African Queen later made into a movie by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Many of his books would be appealing to Young Adult readers interested in adventure and maritime history.

Arlene Mosel, American author born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio in 1921. She was a librarian by profession and wrote two very well received picture books for children. Tikki Tikki Tembo came out in 1968 and won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for picture books. The story is a retelling of a Chinese folktale as to why short names are now preferred in China. The Funny Little Woman was published in 1973, winning the Caldecott Medal. Both books were illustrated by Blair Lent. Another Asian folktale, this one from Japan, recounting the (mis)adventures of a dumpling maker and her ultimate good fortune.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Marking Time

For those of us living away from the Equator, the passing of seasons is something noted but not necessarily noticed. Summer passes at an indefinable point to autumn, autumn to winter but it is the natural scheme of things. But it ain't necessarily so.

I have lived in far northern climes such as Sweden where the change of seasons is very notable, not to say extreme. I have lived in the tropics such as Nigeria where there really are only two seasons: hot and wet and hot and dry. I have lived in extremely temperate climates such as Sydney, Australia where forecasts from one season to the next vary from the depths of winter ("The upper seventies and fine") to the harsh summers ("The upper eighties and fine").

And then there is the correlation between seasons and holidays which seems both natural and necessary. However. For a number of years my family and I lived in Sydney, Australia in the southern hemisphere where the seasons are reversed. While we loved our time there, I never became accustomed to the reversal of the seasons vis-à-vis the holidays. I well remember my continuing sense of discombobulation, sitting in the living room of our house with the sun beaming in, sweltering in the midsummer heat, everyone in t-shirts and shorts, handing out presents from under the Christmas tree on December 25th.

Even getting a tree had been something of a task. Since traditional Christmas trees were neither indigenous to Australia nor part of the local tradition, it was hard to find one in the first place. Unlike the US where every other corner lot seems dedicated to the selling of hundreds of Christmas trees for a month or more before Christmas, in Australia, they were few and far between. Your best bet was a local nursery where you might find one or two dozen trees pathetically parching in the summer sun. Timing was everything. You had to find the nursery, find when their delivery of trees was going to be and then get out there that morning. If you did all that, you stood a reasonable chance, come the day, of not having just the skeleton of a fir tree with a pile of needles beneath it.

The one mitigating factor to this sense of seasonal dislocation was the malicious opportunity to call family in the northern hemisphere, wish them a Merry Christmas and then excuse oneself to go swimming in the pool.

Seasons are really quite a complicated thing when you think about it. They are over-freighted with words, imagery, metaphors, allusions, myths, etc. Pity the poor child trying to make sense of it all. Do you mark the season by the change in temperature or the change in weather or the change in foliage, the progression of holidays or some combination thereof. Our oldest was four when we first moved to Australia and had just begun to associate certain season's with certain holidays (such as winter with Christmas, spring with Easter). Needless to say there was considerable four year old incomprehension when we had to try and reverse those associations and it required an only marginally successful crash-course in astronomy to justify to him why Christmas, despite what he had already learned, was now going to be in the summer.

Children, with their sharp eyes and attuned senses, tend to be much more alert to the changing of seasons, the physical changes that go with the season's changes and of course are full of questions as to why, why, why. For young children, the causes and effects of seasons are fairly complex. G. Brian Karas's On Earth is probably a good place to start a factual explanation to answer the torrent of why's but it is really just a beginning.

I think one of the best starting points is with those picture books that tell a simple story of the passing of the seasons. Stories like In the Small, Small Pond which describes from a frog's point of view, what is happening in the pond as the seasons change. Maurice Sendak's rhyming verse for each month in Chicken Soup and Rice has always been a favorite among our kids with everyone still able to quote some favorite line or other.

n August it will be so hot
I will become a cooking pot
Cooking soup of course-why not?
Cooking once, cooking twice
Cooking chicken soup with rice

Elsa Beskow's Around the Year is another good candidate for explaining the month's and the season's. Her beautiful paintings capture the kind of detail that a child often focuses on and can relate to.

Another essential book for many other reasons is, Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire's The Greek Myths. It is beautifully illustrated and a great introduction to young children of all the major Greek myths (and a good precursor to the more complete myths by Edith Hamilton at the Young Adult level). In this instance, the Persephone and Demeter myth is of course pertinent.

There are two Tasha Tudor books which can work in nice combination, helping children to understand the months and seasons (Around the Year) as well as the seasons and their associated holidays (A Time to Keep).

I am very partial to well illustrated stories especially when the verse or narrative tie closely to the illustrations as I think they do well in David Bouchard's If You're Not From the Prairie, which is really about our relationship with a place but is done in verse form by describing the different times of year. It works especially well in the prairie setting where the seasonal changes are extreme. Nancy Kinsley-Warnock's From Dawn till Dusk which is illustrated with woodcuts from the gifted Mary Azarian is another example of narrative (describing the different chores on the farm associated with each of the seasons, set on a New England farm in the 19th century) and illustrations working well together.

For older children, there are a solid swath of books in which the child moves beyond just recognizing the characteristics of the seasons as with the stories for younger children. In these stories for independent readers, the seasons form the backdrop for the story but are also integral in moving the narrative forward. With this device, children move from identifying seasons to beginning to better understand the implications of seasons.

Not to be too morbid, I hope, but books with a strong season element to them also provide an opportunity to begin laying a foundation for children to understand the cycle of death and rejuvenation. If you are anticipating the loss of an elderly pet for example, it is great some months in advance to have read something like Elsa Beskow's Around the Year , or Helen Dean Fish's When the Root Children Wake Up, where the concept of the cycle of life has already been established. Books with a seasonal element that also include loss such as Jack London's Call of the Wild or Frances Hodgson Bennett's The Secret Garden, are of course more appropriate to older children.

As always, given that teenagers/young adults are fairly incomprehensible beasts, it is somewhat challenging to identify just what would be of interest, or to whom. Seasons and cycles of change are especially relevant to this time of life but they are usually getting a fair exposure to the relevant books and stories in either school or religious instruction. There are a handful of books that tell in an interesting way the story of how we name days, months, developed calendars, etc. including David Ewing Duncan's Calendar and Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens' The Oxford Companion to the Year.

For some there might be interest in one of my favorite lesser known authors, Roger Welsch, a "tree farmer" in Nebraska but in reality one of our finer essayists. His It's Not the End of the Earth But You Can See It From Here is a fine collection of stories about small town living but has a couple of essays describing his adventures and experiences with the local Lakota Indian tribe, and particularly about the deeply divergent cultural comprehensions of time.
Picture Books

The Four Seasons of Mary Azarian by Mary Azarian - Not Available

The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge by Jull Barklem - Not Available

Around the Year by Elsa Beskow

If You're Not From the Prairie by David Bouchard and illustrated by Henry Ripplinger

The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Jim Lamarche

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

The Winter Wren by Brock Cole - Out of Print

My Favorite Seasons by Dandi and illustrated by Teddy Edinjiklian - Out of Print

Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire

When the Root Children Wake Up by Helen Dean Fish and illustrated by Sibylle Olfers - Out of Print

In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming

Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling

Tree in the Trail by Holling C. Holling

On Earth by G. Brian Karas

From Dusk till Dawn by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock and illustrated by Mary Azarian

The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Marc Simont

A Circle of Seasons by Myra Cohen Livingston and illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher - Out of Print

Mousekin's Woodland Sleepers by Edna Miller - Out of Print

McCrephy's Field by Christopher A. Myers and Lynne Born Myers and illustrated by Normand Chartier - Out of Print

When the Frost is on the Punkin by James Whitcomb Riley and illustrated by Glenna Lang - Out of Print

Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak

Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beckie Prange

Woods by Donald Silver and illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne

Around the Year by Tasha Tudor

A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor

Welcome To The Ice House by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Laura Regan

When the Wind Stops by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Stefano Vitale

Independent Reader

The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford and illustrated by Carl Burger

Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner and illustrated by Marcia Sewall

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Seaman by Gail Langer Karwoski and illustrated by James Watling

Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard and illustrated by Bob Kuhn

The Robber Girl by Astrid Lindgren - Out of Print

The Call of the Wild by Jack London and illustrated by Andrew Davidson

Nature in the Neighborhood by Gordon Morrison

Pond by Gordon Morrison

Circle of Seasons by Gerda Muller - Out of Print

Have You Seen Trees? by Joanne Oppenheim and illustrated by Jean Tseng - Out of Print

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder and illustrated by Garth Williams

Young Adult

The Oxford Companion to the Year by Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and illustrated by Tasha Tudor

Calendar by David Ewing Duncan

It's Not the End of the Earth But You Can See It From Here by Roger Welsch

Else Holmelund Minarik

According to Else Holmelund Minarik, although she has degrees in psychology and education, her primary work has been done in her garden where she does her best thinking. In fact, her garden was the place where one of her most enduring ideas came to her: the idea of publishing some of the stories she had written for her daughter, Brooke, who had wanted to learn to read at a young age. Minarik (who was at the time a first grade teacher) recalls:

"I considered one day, while setting out the spring garden, that plants and children
are alike in this respect - they flower beautifully if placed in the right setting, and subjected to no gaps of neglect, either by us, or by nature. I thought of my first graders, all as willing and marvelous as the plants I was tucking into the earth. They had learned the elementals of reading, and yet would, almost to a one, spend the summer without using this fine new skill, and would return in September to astonish their second grade teacher with a seemingly complete lack of memory. Here was a gap that needed mending! I submitted my books to Miss Ursula Nordstrom of Harper and Row, who said this was just what she had been looking for, and promptly began the I Can Read series with my first book Little Bear - so superbly illustrated by Maurice Sendak."
Third Book of Junior Authors, edited by Doris de
Montreville and Donna Hill

Little Bear, published in 1957, was very successful and popular for a variety of reasons. The language was simple enough for a young reader to read and enjoy on his own, yet the stories were not overly simplified or full of repetition. Instead, they were interesting and offered a character (Little Bear) with whom young readers could identify as his experiences with his loving family and friends were similar to those of many young children: visiting grandparents, hearing stories about his parents when they were young, making new friends, going to birthday parties, playing and visiting with old friends, etc. The tone of the stories is gentle, yet humorous. For example, in Little Bear's Visit, when Little Bear asks Grandfather to tell him a goblin story, the following exchange occurs:

"Yes, if you will hold my paw," said Grandfather

"I will not be scared," said Little Bear.

"No," said Grandfather Bear. "But I may be scared."
Else Holmelund Minarik ©

My mother read Little Bear read to me before I learned to read for myself. The stories were particular favorites and I loved poring over every detail of the illustrations. I clearly remember coming home from school one day, picking up one of the Little Bear books just to look at it and finding that I could read it. What a thrill that was!

Minarik's success with early readers for children did not stop with Little Bear and the subsequent books in the Little Bear series. She has over forty five books to her credit and has continued to write books for young readers with the most recent being published within the last couple of years. Some, but not all, of her more recent titles are extensions to the Little Bear series. It should be noted that there was a 30+ year hiatus in the Little Bear series. The last of the original Little Bear books (written by Minarik, illustrated by Maurice Sendak) was entitled A Kiss For Little Bear and was published in 1968. The Little Bear books published more recently (after the Little Bear television show came out in the late 1990's) are still written by Minarik, but are not illustrated by Maurice Sendak, although there does appear to have been an attempt to make the characters look roughly similar to the way they do in Sendak's drawings. They are often focused on a particular problem (Little Bear's Loose Tooth, Little Bear's Bad Day) and read more like a summary of a television show. Maybe it's just me, but I prefer the originals.

No Fighting, No Biting! (another of my personal favorites) was published in 1958. Its appeal lies in Minarik's ability to capture the little squabbles that young children have with their siblings in a very humorous way, comparing the children to little alligators. My mother frequently admonished my siblings and me with the phrase "no fighting, no biting!" when she wanted us to behave nicely and we knew just exactly what she meant.

Else Holmelund Minarik was born in Denmark in 1920, but immigrated to the United States at the age of four. She found learning English daunting and was rather put off by the language. In an autobiographical sketch done for the Third Book of Junior Authors, Minarik states "I hated the language immediately. Father coped by introducing me to cowboy movies. Mother took me almost daily to the park where she taught me to communicate with playmates. In time I became American." Of course, anyone who reads her books will know that Minarik is particularly gifted in telling stories in simple, captivating language - a difficult feat for any writer.

Minarik went on to receive a degree in education New Paltz College of the State University of New York and a B.A. in psychology at Queens College (now Queens College of the City University of New York) in 1942. Both were no doubt useful during her brief career as a newpaper reporter during World War II and, later, as a first grade teacher on rural Long Island, NY. She married Walter Minarik in 1940 and they had one daughter, Brooke, for whom Minarik first began writing stories. She has moved south to North Carolina, but continues to write stories for children. I hope you and your children will enjoy her stories as much as we and our children have. Fortunately, there is a good selection of her work still in print.

Picture Books

A Kiss for Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Cat and Dog by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Bryan Langdo

Father Bear Comes Home by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Father Bear's Special Day by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Teri Lee

Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Little Bear's Friend by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Little Bear's Loose Tooth by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Chris Hahner

Little Bear's Visit by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

No Fight, No Biting! by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Anecdote: Henry Fielding (1707 - 1754)

from Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes.

When he was once in the company of the Earl of Denbigh, whose family name was Feilding, the conversation turned to Fielding's membership in the same family. The earl inquired why the names were spelled differently. Fielding replied that he could give no reason, "except maybe that my branch of the family was the first to know how to spell."

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches

Struwwel Peter
by Heinrich Hoffmann

The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches

Mamma and Nurse went out one day,
And left Pauline alone at play;
Around the room she gayly sprung,
Clapp'd her hands, and danced, and sung.
Now, on the table close at hand,
A box of matches chanced to stand,
And kind Mamma and Nurse had told her,
That if she touched them they would scold her;
But Pauline said, "Oh, what a pity!
For, when they burn, it is so pretty;
They crackle so, and spit, and flame;
And Mamma often burns the same.
I'll just light a match or two
As I have often seen my mother do."


When Minz and Maunz, the pussy-cats, heard this
They held up their paws and began to hiss. -
"Meow!!" they said, "me-ow, me-o!
You'll burn to death, if you do so,
Your parents have forbidden you, you know."

But Pauline would not take advice,
She lit a match, it was so nice!
It crackled so, it burned so clear, -
Exactly like the picture here.
She jumped for joy and ran about,
And was too pleased to put it out.


When Minz and Maunz, the little cats, saw this,
They said, "Oh, naughty, naughty Miss!""
And stretched their claws,
And raised their paws;
"Tis very, very wrong, you know;
Me-ow, me-o, me-ow, me-o!
You will be burnt if you do so,
our mother has forbidden you, you know."

Now see! oh! see, what a dreadful thing
The fire has caught her apron-string;
Her apron burns, her arms, her hair;
She burns all over, everywhere.


Then how the pussy-cats did mew
What else, poor pussies, could they do?
They screamed for help, 'twas all in vain,
So then, they said, "We'll scream again.
Make haste, make haste! me-ow! me-o!
She'll burn to death,- we told her so."

So she was burnt with all her clothes,
And arms and hands, and eyes and nose;
Till she had nothing more to lose
Except her little scarlet shoes;
And nothing else but these was found
Among her ashes on the ground.


And when the good cats sat beside
The smoking ashes, how they cried!
"Me-ow me-o! ! Me-ow, me-oo! !
What will Mamma and Nursy do?"
Their tears ran down their cheeks so fast.
They made a little pond at last.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sampler: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Rain, Steam and Speed The Great Western Railway by J.M.W. Turner, 1844

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Having won twenty guineas at whist, and taken leave of his friends, Phileas Fogg, at twenty-five minutes past seven, left the Reform Club.

Passepartout, who had conscientiously studied the programme of his duties, was more than surprised to see his master guilty of the inexactness of appearing at this unaccustomed hour; for, according to rule, he was not due in Saville Row until precisely midnight.

Mr. Fogg repaired to his bedroom, and called out, "Passepartout!"

Passepartout did not reply. It could not be he who was called; it was not the right hour.
"Passepartout!" repeated Mr. Fogg, without raising his voice.

Passepartout made his appearance.

"I've called you twice," observed his master.

"But it is not midnight," responded the other, showing his watch.

"I know it; I don't blame you. We start for Dover and Calais in ten minutes."

A puzzled grin overspread Passepartout's round face; clearly he had not comprehended his master.

"Monsieur is going to leave home?"

"Yes," returned Phileas Fogg. "We are going round the world."

Passepartout opened wide his eyes, raised his eyebrows, held up his hands, and seemed about to collapse, so overcome was he with stupefied astonishment.

"Round the world!" he murmured.

"In eighty days," responded Mr. Fogg. "So we haven't a moment to lose."

"But the trunks?" gasped Passepartout, unconsciously swaying his head from right to left.

"We'll have no trunks; only a carpet-bag, with two shirts and three pairs of stockings for me, and the same for you. We'll buy our clothes on the way. Bring down my mackintosh and traveling-cloak, and some stout shoes, though we shall do little walking. Make haste!"

Passepartout tried to reply, but could not. He went out, mounted to his own room, fell into a chair, and muttered: "That's good, that is! And I, who wanted to remain quiet!"

He mechanically set about making the preparations for departure. Around the world in eighty days! Was his master a fool? No. Was this a joke, then? They were going to Dover; good! To Calais; good again! After all, Passepartout, who had been away from France five years, would not be sorry to set foot on his native soil again. Perhaps they would go as far as Paris, and it would do his eyes good to see Paris once more. But surely a gentleman so chary of his steps would stop there; no doubt-- but, then, it was none the less true that he was going away, this so domestic person hitherto!

By eight o'clock Passepartout had packed the modest carpet-bag, containing the wardrobes of his master and himself; then, still troubled in mind, he carefully shut the door of his room, and descended to Mr. Fogg.

Mr. Fogg was quite ready. Under his arm might have been observed a red-bound copy of Bradshaw's Continental Railway Steam Transit and General Guide, with its timetables showing the arrival and departure of steamers and railways. He took the carpet-bag, opened it, and slipped into it a goodly roll of Bank of England notes, which would pass wherever he might go.

"You have forgotten nothing?" asked he.

"Nothing, monsieur."

"My mackintosh and cloak?"

"Here they are."

"Good! Take this carpet-bag," handing it to Passepartout. "Take good care of it, for there are twenty thousand pounds in it."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Look and Learn

© Look and Learn Magazine Ltd

England in the 1960's and 70's had some wonderful hybrid children's magazines. By hybrid I mean that they typically carried both standard comic book type material but also carried weightier strips that were informative and well illustrated.

I subscribed for many years to a long since defunct magazine World of Wonder. One of it's competitors was Look and Learn, also long since having passed into memory.

I see that some group has now purchased the rights to the old Look and Learn magazine and are republishing it. As they describe it you can subscribe for "24 or 48 issues of the best of the original Look and Learn, printed to have the same look and feel as the original. Spanning history, legend, literature, art, philosophy, nature, science and geography, the best of Look and Learn showcases the work of the brilliant illustrators and writers who worked on the original magazine over the course of its 20 year run. It also contains a number of extraordinary comic strips, including Don Lawrence's famous ‘The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire'."

If you are an old anglophile (or a new one for that matter), love old-style children's magazines, or want worthwhile reading material in comic magazine format, you might want to visit the Look and Learn website to consider subscribing.


The Monument that Became a Ship
© Look and Learn Magazine Ltd