Thursday, January 29, 2009

Upcoming Michigan Children's Book Author & Illustrator Events

A few Michigan-related children's book happenings to pass along:
  • Illustrator and author (and former Michigander) Matt Faulkner (now of San Francisco) will be at the Orion Township Public Library on Saturday, Jan. 31 at 2:00 to talk with kids about writing, illustrating, and publishing books. He'll be available to sign books after the talk. Details here.
  • Michigan Notable Book awardee Jean Alicia Elster will be presenting a workshop at the Macomb Book Fair and Writers’ Conference (Mount Clemens Public Library) on writing a children’s book series. She’ll also be signing copies of Who’s Jim Hines?. Book Fair Registration info can be found here.
  • Laurie Keller will be at Barnes and Noble at the Rivertown Mall in Grandville on February 21st.
There are lots of other happenings happening -- these were just a few I came across lately and wanted to note. If you happen to know of others, holler and I'll post those, too.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Fishy Round-Up

I always feel a little self-absorbed posting book reviews of The Pout-Pout Fish here, but I figure it's a nice way to draw your attention to some blogs and sites you may not have visited yet. So here goes with a round-up:

Amanda Snow has a great blog called A Patchwork of Books. I love her tagline -- "Children's librarian by day, book reviewer by night!" Despite a great deal of hardship this past year, she has consistently posted regular, thorough, and thoughtful reviews of children's books. You can head over and read her review of The Pout-Pout Fish, or better yet, just head over and read her whole blog, then add it to your blog roll.

Brenda Ferber, author of Jemma Hartman: Camper Extraordinaire and Julia's Kitchen, does a column for The Prairie Wind, the newsletter of the SCBWI-Illinois chapter. She did a nice "book look" feature about The Pout-Pout Fish. Currently, you'll find the piece at the top of this page (as more book-looks are added, you may need to scroll down to find the Pout-Pout entry). You should take a look at all the book-looks, as they're well-written and informative. Brenda's site is here and her blog is here, so be sure to visit.

If you don't mind opening up a PDF file, and scrolling down to page 3, there's a brief review of The Pout-Pout Fish in the Fall 2008 Horn Book Guide. Reviewer Nell Beram is my new best friend for terming the story's rhymes "faultless."

But, in case you think I only link to the good reviews (well, for the most part, I'm guilty as charged; but hey, it's my blog), here's a review by someone who liked, but didn't love, The Pout-Pout Fish. (For the record, I am 100% AOK with that. Books are very personal. What appeals to one person doesn't necessarily resonate with someone else. What matters is not that any one particular book is read. It's just the reading that matters.) Anyway, the blog, Nomadreader, is new to me, but appears to be chock-full of reviews, so head on over and nose around. Lots of good stuff. The review itself is also posted on Amazon, where there are currently 18 available Pout-Pout reviews. While I might quibble just a little bit with this one (which is not to say the review is wrong, just that I have a different philosophy about young kids and vocabulary, especially in read-alouds), I am always thrilled to have honest reviews of The Pout-Pout Fish, and I sincerely thank and appreciate all eighteen of the reviewers! [By the way, if these links to the Amazon reviews don't work, please let me know.]

And one more thing as I catch up on Pout-Pout links: Jay Jackson at the School of Information at the University of Michigan was kind enough to do a nice news piece on yours truly. Click here to read it.

I think that brings us up to date on fishy links!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reading Out Loud, for Cryin' Out Loud!

Jen Robinson's Book Page has a great post about the idea of a campaign to to encourage reading aloud to kids. Her blog post includes her own thoughts on the matter as well as a round-up of some other recent articles and blog entries on the topic. What really stood out to me was this line of hers:
I don't know what the answer is, but it's simply not acceptable that more than half of children under 6 in the US aren't being read to every day.

It's astonishing to me that reading aloud isn't a given. Or, as she puts it, that "13 million children under 6 years old [go] to bed every night without a bedtime story." Set aside the fact that reading to a child is the "right" thing to do (for the child's emotional and educational development), it's also an easy way to parent when all else fails -- personally, it's my fallback technique of choice! Kids misbehaving? Read. Kids fighting? Read. Kids whiny and tired? Read. When in doubt? Read. And it soothes the reader as much as the readee.

I, too, would like to see modeling of reading aloud behavior by prominent public figures. Perhaps every elected official (from President on down), and every celebrity of any sort, could commit to doing one read-aloud story time at his or her local library in the course of the next year.

Wouldn't that be spectacular?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Michigander Monday: Laurie Keller

This week we welcome the wonderfully talented Laurie Keller!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Laurie: I'm originally from Michigan. I always loved art and went to Kendall College of Art and Design and majored in Illustration. I got a job as an illustrator at Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, MO. I worked there for 7 1/2 years then quit to move to NYC to become freelance artist. The week after I quit my job I got a call from Henry Holt and Company that they wanted to publish my first story, The Scrambled States of America. I've worked with them ever since. I loved living in NYC but moved back to Michigan several years ago. I live in a teeny cottage in the woods along Lake Michigan.

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your latest book!

Laurie: My latest book is a sequel to The Scrambled States of America and it's called, The Scrambled States of America Talent Show. This time the states are getting together again for a big talent show. But Georgia learns she's suffering from stage fright and learns to deal with it in an unexpected way.

Debbie: Other books, and and projects on the horizon?

Laurie: I illustrated a book called Me and My Animal Friends (Fall 2009, Henry Holt). It's a song actually by Ralph Covert of Ralph's World. My editor's kids loved his music and she got hooked on it, too, so she contacted him and signed him up for a 4-book contract to turn some of his songs into books. I illustrated the 2nd one in the series. I'm just starting my next book that I'm writing/illustrating. I don't know what it's going to be called yet but it's about the importance and power of smiling.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Laurie: I'll be at Barnes and Noble at the Rivertown Mall in Grandville on February 21st.

Debbie: Your favorite places in Michigan?

Laurie: I love the culture and diversity of Ann Arbor. I love driving north along the coast of Lake Michigan. Just east is Torch Lake which is gorgeous! I haven't spent much time in the Upper Peninsula but very eager to go to Pictured Rocks.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Laurie: I attended the Rothbury Music Festival last summer and that was a whole lot of fun. I enjoy the East Lansing Children's Film Festival and the Ann Arbor Art Fair.

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Laurie: Amy Young, Margaret Willey, Sue Stauffacher, Christine MacLean and Lori McElrath-Eslick are all incredibly talented children's book writers and/or illustrators who live here in West Michigan. Dave Coverly is a nationally-known, syndicated cartoonist who lives in Ann Arbor.

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?

Laurie: How a half-hour walk along Lake Michigan can leave you feeling like you just had a vacation in some exotic location.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Laurie: I used to say Michiganian but now I say Michigander. I guess I just cancelled them both out. I'll commit...Michigander.

Debbie: Laurie, it's been a pleasure! Thank you for joining us today.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Two Random But Related Observations (And Sub-Observations) Which May Or May Not Be The Result of Cabin Fever

1. If you were to look long enough in any room of our house, you would find a Lego somewhere.
(1.a. And this is in addition to those in the vacuum bag.)

2. The sound of a bin of Legos being sorted through by two to four small hands (for the one necessary and important Lego part that lurks deep in the bottom of the bin) is a unique, enduring sound that one might call "annoying" or "grating" after about an hour.
(2.a. After ten years, the terminology for the sound description is slightly altered.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Truly AWFUL News

I don't Twitter, and I don't have any plans to ever Twitter (we won't bring up the fact that I once said that about having a blog), but this evening in my blog-browsing I happened to be over at Andrew Karre's Carolrhoda Books Blog (one of the many blog links in my sidebar) and took a peek at his Twitter page (because if I were to Twitter, I would wish to Twitter as succinctly, wryly, and humorously as he does -- not likely, given the fact that I'm nearly 100 words into this sentence and yet show no signs of coming to a point); and this, dear reader(s), is how I came to learn this truly awful news: Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal has gone out of print!!! (See the 2008 Cuffies; scroll down to "Book You Were Sorriest To See Go Out Of Print.")

I'm hoping this is just a rumor, unsubstantiated by fact (though a little googling took me to a mention over on Fuse #8 of this same news). Insert wailing and keening here. How could this be allowed to happen?

I absolutely adore Blueberries for Sal. I enjoyed it so much as a child that I conflated the story with my own childhood, and spent many, many years thinking that my mother and I had once encountered a baby bear and his mama while we were out picking blueberries. And didn't our kitchen, where we canned all those beautiful blueberries after we were reunited on the hillside, look just like Sal's? I'm quite sure it must have.

Maybe someday I can Twitter the story to my grandchildren, one sentence at a time. Sigh. The world's gone all wibbly-wobbly on me.

But in other news... I have some nice Pout links to post, which I will do tomorrow or Friday (after I've recovered from the blueberry shock). In the meantime:




Necessity, Invention, and the Lure of Sensory Deprivation Chambers

If earplugs had not already been invented, the new edition of this classic kids game would now necessitate their creation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Poetry Tuesday -- For Isn't Today A Sort of Poem?

In The Presence Of The Event

In the presence of the event,
we are small,
and humbled;
we are tall;
and larger than life.

We are fear;
and we are trembling;
and we are hope stripped of restraint.

Somber and joyous
in one sweeping breath of nation –
close-up, and a thousand miles beyond –
we are the grandeur of ceremony
and the deep dignity
of the uncredentialed, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd.

We stand,
each of us together
and are sworn in

yet again

and at last.

Note: I heard the phrase "In the presence of the event" this morning on NPR by someone covering the inaugural crowd. I'll track down who said it and give credit where credit is due when I have a chance.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Michigander Monday: Sarah Miller

I'm pleased to welcome Sarah Miller to Michigander Monday!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Sarah: My friends would tell you I'm quirky, slightly obsessive, and rather irreverent. I majored in linguistics, minored in Russian, and was the undisputed fingerspelling champ in my ASL classes. I can also read Braille - very, VERY slowly.

A few of the things I like best: Anne Frank, opera, the Romanovs, cameras, daffodils, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, I Love Lucy, Jeopardy, the Titanic, Bette Davis movies, and goofy socks.

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your book!

Sarah: Ultra short version:

Miss Spitfire tells the story of Helen Keller from Annie Sullivan's
point of view.
Here's the jacket blurb:
Annie Sullivan was little more than a half-blind orphan with a fiery tongue when she arrived at Ivy Green in 1887. Desperate for work, she'd taken on a seemingly impossible job -- teaching a child who was deaf, blind, and as ferocious as any wild animal. But Helen Keller needed more than a teacher. She needed someone daring enough to work a miracle. And if anyone was a match for Helen, it was the girl they used to call Miss Spitfire.

For Annie, reaching Helen's mind meant losing teeth as raging fists flew. It meant standing up when everyone else had given up. It meant shedding tears at the frustrations and at the triumphs. By telling this inspiring story from Annie Sullivan's point of view, Sarah Miller's debut novel brings an amazing figure to sharp new life. Annie's past, her brazen determination, and her connection to the girl who would call her Teacher have never been clearer.
It's also available in an audio edition, which you can hear a smidgen of

Debbie: I'd like to point out to folks to the great reviews and honors the book has received, some of which can be found here. So, other books and projects on the horizon?

Sarah: I have a novel about the last imperial family of Russia (Tsar Nicholas II, Anastasia, Rasputin, etc.) scheduled for release in 2011. It doesn't have an official title yet, but I'm calling it OTMA: Daughters of the Tsar for the time being. After that, all I have to say is "circus."

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Sarah: None. I'm shy.

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?

Sarah: Pooh's Corner children's bookshop in Grand Rapids.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Sarah: I haven't been to it in a bazillion years, but I'm crazy about the Boar's Head Festival at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Saginaw.

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Sarah: Sarah Stewart and David Small. I'd like to live under their porch, rather like the critters from The Underneath. (Except Sarah and David are WAY nicer than Garface.)

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?

Sarah: This is dumb, but I tend to feel a little smug when I look at one of those US maps without state borders because I always know EXACTLY where my state is, no matter what. People in, say, Nebraska don't have it so easy in that regard.

Debbie: Very true! (How many of us could look at this map ((or this one)) and confidently point to Nebraska?) Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Sarah: Michigander. Just because it sounds completely ridiculous and poultry-inspired.

Debbie: Sarah, it was great having you here today! Thanks for joining us.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Vision of Revision (aka "Photographic Evidence of Debbie's Unhealthy Relationship With Her Printer")

As is the case for most writers, my writing process varies widely from project to project. But, generally speaking, for picture book stories, I begin with a rhyming kernel scribbled on a scrap of paper. Then I progress to a stanza or two written on a notepad. Once I've got a few stanzas and a general idea of where I'm going with the story, I head over to my computer and create a scaffolding, which usually consists of a few complete stanzas and a lot of blank lines to fill in.

I then work with pen or pencil to add to it, type up what I have, reprint, read what I have out loud over and over, write more, type it up, print, read aloud, change words, change stanzas, scribble, mutter, then type up again, print again, write and mutter again, type and print again, lather, rinse, repeat, over and over, twenty or forty or eighty (billion) times.

Here's a general idea of what collects along the way. Each of the stapled sets here is a four or five page draft of my current work in progress. (Not pictured are about half of the drafts, as they're scattered in miscellaneous places around the house. Also not pictured are the marked up drafts from my critique group, from two different critiquing sessions.)

Bear in mind that the complete story consists of a total of 424 words. I've probably gone through half a ream of paper already, and it's not done yet.

I'm thinking a large donation to the Arbor Day Foundation might be in order...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Happily Ever After, Please (At Least 80% of the time)

Boni Ashburn recently pointed out an article about the current trend of parents not reading fairy tales to their children, especially stories that parents think might upset their kids. After I read the article, I found myself thinking about the topic a great deal. (Boni has a follow-up post on this, which I haven't read yet, because I thought it would be a fun exercise to find out how much our opinions on this differ, or don't. But after I do read her post, I'll link to it at the end of this one).

I’m of two minds on this topic. (UPDATE: Before I go any further, I should clarify that what I'm about to say here applies to me/my children only. It's a "here's where I stand personally" statement -- not a "here's where everyone should stand" declaration. In fact, I'm quite happy that mine is probably the minority view on all this. And another clarification is that what I say applies to what I choose to read to them, not what they choose to read to themselves. They're much more adventurous than I am, which I applaud. Anyway. Back to my two minds...)

Mind One, which is about 80% of my opinion, thinks that it’s AOK – and probably in fact a good thing -- for parental discretion to err on the side of caution, and for parents to avoid reading/sharing stories (be they traditional or contemporary) that have a dark undercurrent, or a potentially upsetting plot, or irredeemable characters. I happen to be a card-carrying member of the Happy Ending Club, so what I share with my kids reflects that. I feel uncomfortable reading aloud or offering up books to young children in which people die or are in great peril or are eaten or almost eaten or are tricked by grown-ups or are abandoned by parents. And I have been known to elide over sections of text that I think aren’t going to go over well with my kids for whatever reason.

I also bring to my Mind One thinking the fact that unfortunately, not all kids grow up in great situations. These kids, especially, deserve stories that reinforce the idea that good things can and should happen, and stories that give them a place to go that welcomes them.

But a corollary of this is what brings me around to Mind Two, a small but important part of my thinking on the matter.

Mind Two is where I consider the socio-cultural implications of a large mass of loving-caring parents reading only loving-caring stories to their well-loved, well-cared-for, well-off children. That scenario is lovely, indeed, but for one thing: the potential for those well-loved, well-protected children to conclude that life is always fair and that anything short of a happy ending is an unacceptable failure. Grown-ups who hang onto this sort of thinking tend to make themselves miserable (by blaming themselves for not measuring up) or make others miserable (by blaming them for not providing them with the happy-ending life they're "entitled" to.) Certainly, this sort of mindset stems from more than just the books that a child hears and reads, but it's also true that stories feed into that.

For kids who have a happy childhood, it truly is important to introduce at least a little understanding that life doesn’t always go smoothly. Not only does this help kids cope later with some of their own bumps-in-the-road, it also helps develop empathy for others. Literature is a "safe" way to introduce some of these concepts. Perhaps this is why fairy tales which include unsettling elements have been so enduring.

Which is why maybe, just maybe, those of us who are strongly inclined to avoid them entirely might want to at least occasionally reconsider that.

As a child, I read the story of the little match girl. All through the story, in the back of my mind, I was waiting for the happy ending plot turn or the new character who would rescue the little girl from the wretched cold. But that's not how the story ends. The little match girl lights her last match and then dies in the cold. I cried when I got to the ending, and the story has always haunted me.

But for what the story taught me of compassion, I have never once regretted it.

UPDATE: Here's Boni's post (which, despite what she says, is not bombastic!). I have to say, I agree with most of what she says, even if we sorta disagree (but also sorta agree, if that makes sense). EJ at Mi Mi Mi Mi also has a great post. And the Read Roger post and comments are here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Must See

I had originally embedded a fun, "educational" film here for your viewing pleasure, but the embedding seems to be causing some problems. So instead, follow this link:

Fear of Fairy Tales?

Over on Boni Ashburn's blog, Boni has a post about an article she read about children and fairy tales. Her post (and she has another one to come on the topic) has had me thinking about kids and books and what's "appropriate" and what's not.

I'm going to hold off a bit on posting my own thoughts (as I wait for them to fully coalesce); but it's an interesting topic to mull over. So I thought I'd toss it out for your consideration.

If I can catch a bit of free time tomorrow evening, I'll write up some of my own opinions on the matter. In the meantime, Boni has given us a great topic to think about. Thanks, Boni!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Michigander Monday: Cyd Moore

This week we welcome Cyd Moore to Michigander Monday!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Cyd: I grew up on a peanut farm in south Georgia 7 miles from the nearest town. The world was simple and laid back. My brothers and I built a lot of forts and tree houses in the woods around our house and we played in the creek during hot summer days. We only had 2 TV stations and my high school graduation class had only 18 students! I went to the University of Georgia, moved all around the south, including Birmingham, AL and then moved to Birmingham, MI. I've been here for 18 years. I've been a graphic designer, a web designer, a writer, a painter, and most of all a children's book illustrator. When I'm not making art, I'm usually doing yoga, reading, walking the dog, gardening or cooking. My 2 boys are grown and now I live in Sylvan Lake, MI with my favorite man, 3 cats and 1 dog.

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your latest books!

Cyd: Several new books came out this past year:

  • Your Kind of Mommy is for very young kids. It has a dog and puppy, a baby whale and a mommy whale, a baby kangaroo and a mommy kangaroo. It's very sweet, "If I could be an octopus, I'd wrap eight arms around you. But I'm not that kind of mommy, so my hugs will always do."

  • Granny's Dragon was really a blast. The little red haired girl visits her Granny. Granny has a wonderful dragon with swirly green eyes and special power to banish all of the scary monsters back to their monster worlds forever. A nice bedtime story for sleep overs at grandma's house!

  • Willow was released by a publisher here in Michigan, Sleeping Bear Press. The authors are sisters, Denise Brennan Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan, and they live in Michigan also. I love this book because the main character is a creative little free spirit who loves to paint and draw WAY outside the lines! Willow's generosity, kindness, and joyful creativity warm the heart of her most rigid art teacher. The story encourages kids and adults to live with a little more endless possibility in life! It's a good one.

Debbie: Other books, and and projects on the horizon?

Cyd: I'm working on illustrations for a book about Arbor Day for Peachtree Publishing, to be released in 2010 and 2 Stinky Face early readers, based on the extremely popular series, I Love You Stinky Face published by Scholastic. These will be published in 2010 also. In between, I'm writing new stories and making dummy books, and painting a lot. Soon, I'll have prints and original art available on my website:

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Cyd: I'm headed to Florida for school visits in January. I'll be at the Michigan Reading Association in March, and I'm booked for quite a few school appearances around the midwest in the spring. Making presentations at schools is one of the perks of my job! It's such a kick to meet all of the kids and teachers. We talk about making books, and finding stories in every day life. I tell them wild stories of my own childhood (which almost always involve alligators, goats, & armadillos!) I draw pictures and sign books and we all have a great time. The goal is to inspire kids to walk away from the tv's and video games for a little while each day to have adventures in the real world!

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?

Cyd: I traveled to Marquette last year for an Author Festival and was so happy that I was asked to come. I probably would have never taken the time to explore there. What a beautiful part of the world! Locally? I'm a gardening addict, so I love Goldner Walsh Nursery and Detroit Garden Works. I've also walked thousands of miles around Cranbrook over the years—so beautiful. I also enjoy the Oakland Co. Farmers Market in Waterford, MI. The produce is the freshest and healthiest you can get, it's the best price you can get, and you're helping our local community by buying from local growers instead of those in California or even South America. The apples right now are scrumptious!

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Cyd: I love when the lake freezes and everyone comes out to skate, ride snow mobiles, and even ski behind four wheelers. For a while, life seems suspended for nothing but fun. The lake is dotted with smooth patches shoveled off for hockey games with friends. People ice fish and dogs slip and slide across the surface, so happy to be free of leashes. During a rare winter sunset, walking across that quiet wide open snowy space is absolute magic.

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Cyd: If anyone is interested in martial arts, t'ai chi, and meditation, I highly recommend the School of Martial Arts in Berkley, MI. People travel from far away to study martial arts with Sifu Robert Brown. He's is one of the best teachers in the country. It's a jewel right here in our neighborhood. They have the most amazing program for getting your body and your head and spirit in shape! They also have an energetic kid's program that develops self discipline and leadership skills. (

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state?

Cyd: I didn't know what to expect about Michigan, since I had never visited before I moved here. Maybe I thought of corn fields and flat plains like some other parts of the midwest. I certainly didn't expect the lush green watery world that it is. An outsider doesn't comprehend exactly how "great" the Great Lakes are. My southern friend came up to Harbor Springs with me, and was overwhelmed. It truly is spectacular. The ocean appeals to me more than anything, but Lake Michigan and Lake Superior feel as vast as the Atlantic sometimes. Summers are glorious. You can find beaches that are practically deserted—way better than Florida in the summer and there are no shark attacks! Going across Lake Michigan on a ferry is really fun. In winter, there's also so much to do. Ski clubs are fun for kids, cross country skiing, snow mobile trails. I even saw a kid ice surfing last year. People sometimes ask if I miss living in the South. I really don't. I like that you can be outside in every season. I like that you only have to water your pots of flowers a couple of times a week, instead of a couple of times a day in the summer. In Georgia, you have to be up for your morning jog at 5 am, just to avoid having a heat stroke!

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Cyd: I suppose I could be a Michigander, but I've never used that term for myself. My accent is still pretty strong, so most people never guess I've been here for 18 years. In my heart, I guess I'll always feel like a southern belle.

Debbie: Cyd, thanks for joining us today! And any of you reading who might want to hear an interview with Cyd (southern accent included!), head over to

Friday, January 9, 2009

Poetry Friday: TCPOCS pp. 3-13

As mentioned last week, for a time this year I'll be forgoing my Friday habit of posting an original poem. Instead, I'm taking some time to work my way through my Christmas gift of The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg. I'll be posting some of my thoughts and responses. I come to the informal project not as a person well-versed in poetry or poetry criticism, but rather simply as a person who has long found something about Carl Sandburg that resonates, and as a person who would like to explore that resonance a little more. I offer my observations simply as my two cents, overvalued at that.

This week, I read aloud over the course of several evenings pages 3-13 of The Complete Poems. Here are some random observations:
  • The poem "Chicago" is so well known that its familiarity takes away some of its strength and sharpness. I couldn't read the poem without sensing the range of its renown. I would like the poem better if I didn't know it so well already.
  • In "Sketch," I particularly like the phrase, "an arm of sand in the span of salt." This is what I love about Carl Sandburg's writing: the way the words feel so full and right as they are said aloud.
  • In "The Harbor": "I came sudden, at the city's edge, on a blue burst of lake..." Again, so lovely to say, to think of.
  • In "Passers-By": "Lips written over with strivings" -- what a remarkable piece of description. I stopped on that one. And, "Records of great wishes slept with,/Held long/And prayed and toiled for."
  • And how about this set of lines, in "The Walking Man of Rodin": "Legs hold a torso away from the earth./And a regular high poem of legs is here." I'm not sure what "a regular high poem of legs" is, and yet I think I know without knowing, at least perhaps.
  • And how about the fish crier "with a voice like a north wind blowing over corn stubble in January" in "Fish Crier"?
  • In "Picnic Boat" we have a night "dark as a stack of black cats." A stack of black cats! And then later in the poem, "the hoarse crunch of waves." The words and images bring the poem alive.
  • I was fully prepared not to like the poem "The Right to Grief." The Chicago Poems, taken too quickly in one reading, become Too Much. Too harsh and raw, too much of a time one hopes has passed, but one fears hasn't really. In this poem, I wanted to keep my arm's distance from the grief of a family over a lost child. But read this, and tell me, can you walk from it?: "I have a right to feel my throat choke about this./You take your grief and I mine -- see?/Tomorrow there is no funeral and the hunky goes back to his job sweeping blood off the floor at a dollar seventy cents a day./All he does all day long is keep on shoving hog blood ahead of him with a broom." (That's probably a longer quote than is allowed by fair use, but it's worth reading I think.)
I'm not a poet in any true sense of the word, and I know little formally of poetry. But I know that the words of Carl Sandburg move me profoundly. I look forward to working my way through his poems as the year goes on.

A Heads Up for Jazz Lovers in the Detroit Area

The Miller-Nelson Jazz Quintet is playing at the historic Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit on Friday, January 16 at 8 pm. For further information, head to the web page for Baker's Keyboard Lounge, and click on "Events."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Blog Post Shortage

About the only rule of blogging, as I understand it, is "Make blog posts regularly." Careful readers will note that I have not done much regular posting of late. Apologies. Been a busy stretch. Hopefully I'll be back to more regular posts soon.

While I'm logged on, though, one nice thing to note: This evening, my husband, sons, and I went out cross-country skiing in the falling snow. Twas very nice. Times like that, I actually like winter.

(But only while skiing!)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Michigander Monday: Lisa Wheeler

This week I'm thrilled to welcome the fabulously talented Lisa Wheeler!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Lisa: I grew up near Pittsburgh, PA but have been in Michigan since I was almost 16. Though I have written all my life, I didn’t attempt publication until the age of 32. It took nearly 4 years and about 225 rejections before I sold my first book.

With the support and encouragement of my husband, Glen, I took those first baby steps and have never looked back. I totally love the world of children’s books and cannot imagine any other life.

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your latest book!

Lisa: My newest book is called Boogie Knights. It is illustrated by the wonderful Mark Siegel, (who is a genius I think), and published by the inimitable Richard Jackson at Atheneum. It is the last book I that I will be doing with Richard Jackson as he has semi-retired. He is such a terrific editor and this last book is bitter-sweet.

Boogie Knights is a picture book about a party taking place in a spooky castle at midnight. All the local monsters sneak in to attend the Madcap Monster Ball, awakening the ‘guards’. The guards happen to be seven Knight brothers (suits of armor) asleep in the upstairs hall. One-by-one each brother wakes and ends up joining the party. I’ve included two of the things my books are best known for…puns and a musical element.

Mark’s art is terrifically unique and has garnered the book 3 starred reviews. The book has also been optioned by Dreamworks. Very exciting!

Debbie: Other books, and projects on the horizon?

Lisa: In Fall of 2009 I will have Dino Soccer in book stores. It is the much awaited sequel to Dino Hockey. I get letters every week from parents and teachers asking if there will be a Dino Soccer and when it is coming out. Lerner has asked me for more Dino Sports and I just finished a revision of Dino Baseball.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Lisa: I am doing an informal Q&A session for people who want to write children’s books. This will take place on January 14, 2009 at 7 pm at the Trenton Veteran’s Memorial Library in Trenton, the town where I live. On Feb. 21 I will be doing a Picture Book Bootcamp in Nashville, TN for SCBWI-Midsouth. I will also be speaking at MRA in Grand Rapids next March and doing a storytime and book signing at Literary Life Book Store in Grand Rapids on May 2nd. Other than that, I have school visits scheduled and some out-of-state events.

Debbie: Your favorite places in Michigan?

Lisa: Since I travel so much, my favorite place is home. My husband and I have a weekly ritual. We walk over to George’s, our favorite little diner in Trenton, every Friday for fish. When I am traveling, I have to miss many Friday dinner nights. So when I get back home, I look forward to sitting in a booth, being waited on by our favorite waitress, Beth, and having rice pudding for dessert. That really feels like home to me.

I also love Big Manistique Lake in the upper peninsula. My mother-in-law has a house on the lake and my husband’s family all live in walking distance from each other up there. He has a great family so I enjoy visiting.

I can never forget to mention that I love crossing the Mackinaw Bridge heading north. Every time I do, I imagine those giant glaciers carving out the Great Lakes and the land. It gives me goosebumps.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Lisa: SPRING, SPRING, SPRING!! (I answered this questionnaire on a cold snowy December evening.)

Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Lisa: I was going to say Ann Tompert, but I see Nancy Edwards beat me to it. Dang!

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state.

Lisa: It’s very nerdy, but did you know Michigan once had a large mastodon population? Mastodon bones have been found in many places around the state. You can visit Cranbrook Museum to see the bones and find out more.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: Are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Lisa: Michigander, of course! I have a collection of Mother Goose books and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t get a goose pun in this questionnaire.

Debbie: Lisa, thank you so much for joining us today! It's been both a pleasure and an honor. I admire your writing tremendously, and count you as one of my writing heroes. I thank you for your willingness to be part of Michigander Monday!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rev Up Your Writing With Shutta

Those of you in the Farmington area, if you're an aspiring writer, you should know about Shutta Crum's upcoming writing program, January 17 at the Farmington Community Library.

Details here:

Pre-registration is required, so don't delay!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Poetry Friday: My Year With Carl Sandburg

Regular readers of Jumping the Candlestick know that during 2008 I frequently posted original poems on Fridays. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it; but I'm going to be taking a break from that for a while. In its place, I've got something new in mind.

For Christmas, I was quite pleased to receive a copy of The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg. The collection is 700+ pages in length, so my plan is to savor my way through it this year, reading (aloud) a couple of poems a day. Then, most Fridays, I'll write at least a little bit about what I read.

(Or at least, that's the plan. We'll see how it goes!)