Friday, February 26, 2010

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williamsby Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008

I’ve spent a fair amount of time on this blog reminiscing about my childhood, the books that I read and the books that were read to me. The fact is, I love a lot of the same sorts of books now that I loved when I was young. Biographies are different, though. I did not read many biographies as a child. I assumed they were boring, and I was happy enough with fiction, fairy tales and poetry that I never had the urge to see if that assumption had any basis in fact. But now, as an adult reading to my own children, I love biographies dearly. Well, let me clarify—I still think the biographies of pop icons look boring. But the lovingly-written and illustrated books like this one, the ones about writers, artists, musicians and scientists—those are treasures.

It’s sort of a gift, isn’t it, to get a glimpse of somebody else’s life and trace the path it took? I find both companionship and inspiration in reading a biography, and hopefully my children can find something of that, too. A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams is a wonderful introduction to a man who found peace in writing poetry, even while he maintained a career as a family doctor for forty-plus years. It covers his childhood, the development of his personal style of writing, his friendships with Ezra Pound, H. D. and Charles DeMuth and his busy years of working as a doctor in Rutherford, New Jersey.

I love both the story of Williams’ life and the way his poetry graces the illustrations and endpapers. Melissa Sweet’s collage-illustrations are rich with snippets of poetry, watercolor paintings and pieces of old books and they augment Jen Bryant’s text beautifully. This book is a shining example of what a picture book can be.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Anybody Feel Stuck?

I checked the calendar—it’s still February. Anybody else feel stuck? The grownups around here are tired. The older kids feel completely oppressed by the fact that they have school five days a week and chores every day. Everybody feels completely oppressed by the fact that we’re supposed to put away what we take out, pick up what we drop, and generally be responsible. Plus, you’re not even supposed to eat candy for breakfast. Where’s the magic?

Recently I was reminded of a quote from Shinichi Suzuki, ”If love is deep much can be accomplished.” We try to do what’s best for our kids and for our families, but it’s easy to get bogged down sometimes. Violin lessons, for example, may have started out with a bang, but then you get to a point where in order to improve you have to practice, and to tell you the truth, that’s not always the most appealing thing. It takes a lot of love and creativity on the part of parents to keep things going, keep things positive, keep hold of what is really important.

I have to remind myself constantly that love trumps all, and that that is where I need to start. In everything. When I start there, instead of with the little voices in my head that say, “This needs to happen”, or “We have to get this done”, or “It just can’t be this way”, I find I actually do have some resources for finding a solution, reevaluating a situation or at least shaking things up a little.

What are your solutions to cabin fever/winter doldrums? A couple of years ago I promised myself that the kids and I would dance whenever necessary. And I love Amanda Soule’s Winter Manifesto. What do you do when you get stuck?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Resources for Children: Jazz & Blues

Another list for you! There are some real gems here.  Lots of interesting stories and great illustrations.  Make sure you listen to the music, too, and really get to know the music and the musicians.  Let me know what I’ve missed—this is an ongoing project, and it is always exciting to find new titles.

ArmstrongArmstrong by Claude Nougaro and Maurice Vander, illustrated by Chris Raschka

Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John ColtraneBefore John was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane by Carole Boston Weather

Ben’s Trumpet by Rachel Isadora

Blues JourneyBlues Journey by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers

Bring on that BeatBring on That Beat by Rachel Isadora

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (Live Oak Music Makers)Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop by Chris Raschka

DizzyDizzy by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Sean Quallis

Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His OrchestraDuke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal VirtuosaElla Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Hip CatHip Cat by Jonathan London

If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis ArmstrongIf I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong by Roxanne Orgill

JazzJazz by Walter Dean Myers

Jazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz PortraitsJazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits by Wynton Marsalis, illustrated by Paul Rogers

Jazz On A Saturday Night (Coretta Scott King Honor Book)Jazz on a Saturday Night by Leo & Diane Dillon

The Jazz FlyThe Jazz Fly by Matthew Gollub

John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover))John Coltrane’s Giant Steps by Chris Raschka

Mysterious Thelonious (Live Oak Music Makers)Mysterious Thelonius by Chris Raschka

Satchmo's Blues (Picture Yearling Book)Satchmo’s Blues by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

This Jazz ManThis Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt, pictures by R. G. Roth