Tuesday, April 27, 2010

LOST in Thought

With LOST on a week-long hiatus this week, I find myself musing on the weeks just past and wondering (again!) just how they will manage to wrap up the sprawling epic of this show in just a mere five more hours. It's been a while since I've posted any LOST musings, but I thought I'd throw a few out there again for fun. But be warned, I'll be all over the map with these thoughts ~ perhaps because the non-linear nature of the storytelling has my popcorn-brain reeling. In a good way. I think.

I find myself caring again about the whole romantic triangle between Kate-Jack-Sawyer. I know that most people have been sick of this since...well, pretty much since it started. And I know it's gotten old at times, especially with Kate seeming to yo-yo back and forth in her heart's affections, not able to make up her mind. My husband and I are in agreement that LOST has not done nearly as well by its female characters as it has by its male, with the possible exception of Juliet's character arc, which impressed us. It looks like Juliet's role is mostly over, though I certainly wouldn't rule out seeing her again in the next five hours, at least in sideways world. (Does anyone else think it's still possible she could be Jack's ex? The writers have certainly been holding that secret close to their chests, and there aren't too many female characters left that it could be...and have the reveal make any sort of a dramatic splash.)

I also feel, like most people I suspect, that Sawyer and Juliet are right for each other. Deep down, they seem to be soul-mates in a show suddenly run amok with the idea of soul-mates. I don't know if sideways Sawyer and Kate, currently flirting at the police station, will have any cause to wind up at the hospital where so many of our castaways are currently congregating, but what if they do? And what if Juliet is Jack's ex and ends up there as well, maybe to pick up their son David, who is currently hanging out in the waiting room while his doctor Dad performs surgery on sideways John Locke? I'm just trying to imagine a scenario in which Sawyer and Juliet could run into either other. If she is his soul-mate/constant, then I'm guessing that Sawyer is in for a revelatory epiphany, the likes of which some of our other castaways have had when they've run into their other halves in sideways world. Note that, although sideways Sawyer and Kate clearly find one another attractive, they don't seem to be having major revelations yet -- though that could be because neither of them has suffered a major trauma (or kissed the other).

So that's one reason I'm intrigued by the whole Kate-Jack-Sawyer triangle again, because of what "true love" connections have come to mean in sideways world. And meanwhile, back in Island reality, the triangle has again become interesting, not so much because of its romantic overtones, but because at the moment Jack and Sawyer are pursuing such entirely different paths. Despite her inherent leadership qualities (and she's got em' in spades) Kate is still quite young, and still tends to follow the lead of others (or chase after them to tag along). So I think her ultimate heart allegiance may matter in the end, especially if it comes to her needing to decide whether to go with Sawyer or Jack. Will she fight or flee? Will she play a part in rescuing Jack from the clutches of Smokey? And will Sawyer and Jack, perhaps because of their mutual love for Kate, finally end up working together to accomplish...well, whatever it is they're supposed to accomplish, assuming they can agree on what that is?

Of course, some of my musings about Kate have been sparked by the fact that I've been listening to Patsy Cline a lot this week. I love her music and recently stumbled onto a nice tribute album done by several popular female vocalists. As I've been warbling my way through songs like "Why Can't He Be You" I find myself remembering that Patsy was the soundtrack for Kate's pre-island life. And I find myself wondering, if Kate was singing this song, would Jack be the he or the you?


Do Claire and Sayid still live?

Yes, I know they're still alive, in both realities, at the moment. But at least in island world, neither has been doing so well since coming under the throes of Smokey. Claire has clearly been mentally unstable for the better part of three years (small wonder, since she's been traipsing around the island in Smokey's wake that whole time, at least part of the time with him apparently masquerading as her long-lost father); Sayid has been acting like a zombie for most of season 6, and has seemingly been completely under Smokey's control that whole time, at least since his dip in the pool (if we can trust Sayid's crediting Smokey for that). Seriously folks, if we need any other evidence that Smokey is not a good guy, should Claire and Sayid leave us in any doubt? This is what happens to you when you become Smokey's friend, or when you owe him any sort of debt.

But last week, something happened with both Claire and Sayid that gave me at least momentary hope. Both of them showed signs of life. Small signs, yes, but signs that there are at least tiny flickers of the old Claire and Sayid left there somewhere, buried under all the darkness. Claire crumbled enough to listen to Kate and defy Smokey's will. Sayid, though we don't know for sure, seemed to defy Smokey's direct orders to kill Desmond. I don't know what this might mean for either character ultimately, but I was relieved to see even tiny morsels of possible redemption for either. I've missed the real Sayid this season particularly. I think Claire is as much a victim of bad writing as she is of Smokey, and I suspect the first may be harder to overcome, but we shall see.


Doc Jensen's eleven-page recap last week had me reeling, as usual. I don't agree with all of his theories at this point, and I'm not sure even he knows which ones might turn out to be correct, but he's always fascinating. I especially love his literary insights into the show, and last week he tapped a great one when he talked about the resonance of Flannery O'Connor's work for this final season.

I was stunned when sideways Desmond, the only character who seems to be fully and consciously aware of both timelines/realities at the moment, mowed down wheelchair-bound John Locke in sideways world. Poor John. How many times have we mourned this man and the terrible things that have happened to him? Wherever your speculations might lead you as to why lovable Desmond, of all people, would do such a thing, it seems obvious that a big part of the reason was to try to bring Locke back to awareness of the island. Why it had to be such a major trauma, I don't know, unless Des knows more than we realize he knows. (Could he have posited that it might land Locke in the hospital, to be operated on by Jack? Did he want Ben to see it happen? Does he somehow think/hope/know that at least some of the sideways castaways can't be killed...maybe the ones who are already dead in island world? Remember Charlie's casual walk against the traffic a couple of weeks back...)

Anyway, Jensen didn't spend much time positing why Desmond did such a thing, at least from the point of view of "inside" the story. But from the point of view of why the writers might have made this move, he raised this fascinating insight from Flannery O'Connor's writing about her fiction, a point that strangely resonates with what Desmond seems to be trying to do in sideways reality:

"I suppose the reasons for the use of so much violence in modern fiction will differ with each writer who uses it, but in my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world." (Mystery and Manners, p. 112)

Wow. Now that's worth chewing on. It's also worth noting that, when you apply this quote to the artistry and story of LOST (no big stretch, is it? it really does seem to fit!) Desmond here seems to stand in for "the writer." He is essentially trying to alter people's stories, much as a writer alters a character's story by what she chooses to have that character go through. It dawns on me that Des has the knowledge of a sort of omniscient narrator right now. And he is acting as -- an ambassador? a wake-up call? -- to the people of sideways world with whom he has shared some life-altering experiences. He wants them to "return to reality" even if there is "considerable cost" involved. So part of the question for us, in LOST, becomes: what is reality for these castaways? And how much do we trust Desmond and what he's willing to do to return them to it?

The whole notion of non-gratuitous violence being utilized as a call to grace is a very O'Connor'ish theme. I keep her book Mystery and Manners on my writing desk at all times, so it was easy to look up the quote Jensen used. I was fascinated to see that it came within the larger context of her discussion of her much-read and oft-misunderstood short story "The Misfit." If you ever had to read one O'Connor story in Lit. 101, that was probably it, and more than likely it left you baffled, as it leaves most of us the first few times through. What she goes on to say about the story is very revealing, and also has some resonance (I think/hope) for LOST. I'm going to quote parts of it at length, from pgs. 112-114 (emphases mine)...

"I don't want to equate the Misfit with the devil. I prefer to think that, however unlikely this may seem, the old lady's gesture, like the mustard-seed, will grow to be a great crow-filled tree in the Misfit's heart, and will be enough of a pain to him there to turn him into the prophet he was meant to become. But that's another story.

This story has been called grotesque, but I prefer to call it literal. A good story is literal in the same sense that a child's drawing is literal. When a child draws, he doesn't intend to distort but to set down exactly what he sees, and as his gaze is direct, he sees the lines that create motion. Now the lines of motion that interest the writer are usually invisible. They are lines of spiritual motion. And in this story you should be on the lookout for such things as the action of grace in the Grandmother's soul, and not for the dead bodies.

We hear many complaints about the prevalence of violence in modern fiction, and it is always assumed that this violence is a bad thing and meant to be an end in itself. With the serious writer, violence is never an end to itself. It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially, and I believe these are times when writers are more interested in what we are essentially than in the tenor of our daily lives. Violence is a force which can be used for good or evil, and among other things taken by it is the kingdom of heaven. But regardless of what can be taken by it, the man in the violent situation reveals those qualities least dispensable in his personality, those qualities which are all he will have to take into eternity with him; and since the characters in this story are all on the verge of eternity, it is appropriate to think of what they take with them..." (Mystery and Manners, pp. 112-114)

I know that it's easier to see this in the literary work of one "serious" and Christian author than it is in a weekly television show written by multiple writers, some of whom may or may not be Christian. But I still think the overall quality of story-telling in LOST hints at this kind of artistry, and I'm thankful to Jensen for making the connection. It's given me a whole new way to approach these last five hours of the story, on the lookout, as it were, for mustard-seed gestures, invisible lines of spiritual motion, the action of grace (no matter what the body count), and the revelation of essential and indispensable qualities in characters faced with violent situations who just may be on the verge of eternity. Not a bad way to watch television.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Homeschool Group Poem: Spring

I've been enjoying sharing poetry wherever I go this month. On Friday, I had a few minutes to share some springtime poems with our homeschool group. Then three of the girls (including the sweet girl) tried their hand at writing a poem together.

I love doing wordplay exercises with kids. These three girls, ages 6-10, had so much fun just playing with words. I liked seeing their eyes spark with creativity as we brainstormed ideas together. I loved catching their energy as they watched their web of words grow as I jotted them down on newsprint. I threw out all sorts of sensory and imagination sparking questions about spring: what does it look like? sound like? what are the colors of spring? if it had a taste, what would it taste like? if it was a girl dressing up for a party, what would she wear?

That last question really got them going. As the answers poured forth, so did the first line of their poem. I recognized it as soon as I heard it. And once that line came together, the rest of it tumbled out from them in excited exclamations. They watched their joint-poem grow on the page, and then all three of them proudly signed it.

Here's what they came up with:


Spring is a lady
with a leafy hat.
She dances with
the wind.
She sings and whistles
with the birds.
She bows with the trees
and sways with
the flowers.

~by S, A & A, three very creative girls!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Poetry Postcard 3

So many of my favorite poetry moments this month have come through reading the excellent interviews in The Poetry Makers series at the Miss Rumphius Effect. I especially love the quotes on poetry and writing I'm getting to add to my collection. Some of these come in the section where the poet is asked to share their own favorite quotes, but many others just jump off the page in the midst of the conversation. Here are a few I've especially enjoyed chewing on:

“Poems are not meant to be solved; they are meant to be savored.” --Allan Wolf

"I write so that I might become a better reader." --Allan Wolf (isn't that a delicious reversal from how we usually hear it?)

"I have a little notebook in my back pocket and a pen in my front pocket at all times. I actually get a little panicky when I’m without them." -- Allan Wolf (I resonate with this one!)

"...poems are for noticing, for wondering, for describing something so interesting you want to capture it in words, save it forever, share it with the world, make people see what you see, feel what you feel." -- Heidi Mordhorst

"...it’s fun for me to go through three or five or eight drafts of a poem. I like to watch it change and muscle me into where it wants to go instead of where I think I want to take it. Some people like to drive poetry around. I like to be poetry’s passenger." -- Ron Koertge

"My basic approach when I write is to waste no words." -- Charles R. Smith Jr.

"Fingers hover over the keyboard, brain chases down words, lassoing them like stray calves. Thesaurus, rhyming dictionary close at hand. If I get stuck, I push away from the desk – take a nap, eat some chocolate, take a walk. Shake the words loose. Return to the desk. And, to steal Ms. Yolen’s line, keep B.I.C. (Butt In Chair) until I’ve got something." -- Stephen Swinburne, on describing his writing process.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Final Musings on Top 100 Children's Novels & My Personal Top 20

I can't seem to break the habit of going over to Fuse#8 each morning. Even though the countdown of the top 100 children's novels finished a week ago, Betsy has rewarded her readers with all sorts of goodies in the past several days, including a peek at what just missed the cut (books 101-120) and a long list of every book that garnered even one vote, a fascinating glimpse of beloved books ~ a mix of well-known, never heard of, half-forgotten.

One of the things that intrigued me about that list was how certain authors showed up again and again. Even though they might be known for one book in particular, their other books are also loved. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing (or imagining hearing!) the shrieks of glee in the comments among readers who assumed they were the only ones who had voted for something, only to find that at least one other person shared their passion for a certain title. It's how I felt when I realized I was not alone in voting for Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, the only one of the top ten I voted for that didn't make the top 100 list.

In case you're interested, here are the ten books I voted for. They're ranked in the order in which I placed them (1-10) with their actual final ranking on the poll in parentheses.

1. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (#1)
Our family discussions about whether or not CW would indeed come in first sparked a new love for Charlotte at our house. The sweet girl and I re-read it aloud (with her Daddy listening in as he was able) and she's now reading it on her own for the first time. S. also got curious about those initials -- what did E.B. stand for? -- which got me curious too. I never knew until the other day, but E.B. stands for Elwyn Brooks.

2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (#4)
I was happy to see this come in as high as it did, and to note that lots of readers lavished love (and votes) on Magician's Nephew and Dawn Treader as well. The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle all got one vote apiece too. Only Prince Caspian missed out in the vote-getting.

3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (#25)
I feared it might not make the list because of its age, but I should have known better. One of only a handful of 19th century titles to make the list, LW has stood the test of time.

4. Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill by Maud Hart Lovelace (did not make final poll)
I had a feeling that this wouldn't make it, if only because I assumed that the original Betsy-Tacy would (and it did, at #70). I came close to voting for the first book myself, but in the end felt swayed by the fact that this was supposed to be the best books for mid-grade readers (ages 8-12). As much as I love the first two Betsy-Tacy books, and have gone back to them again and again at many different ages, I think they work best for readers 5-8. But Betsy ages along with her stories, and by the time you get to Big Hill, the girls are celebrating the grown-up wonder of having two digits in their age. Plus I just flat-out love the way the girls scramble for votes to see who will be the queen of summer!

5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling (#3)
I actually thought it would come in at #2. It appeared high on my own list, otherwise mostly full of books I gobbled and re-gobbled as a child, or at least have loved for a couple of decades. Harry may be relatively new, but he is already dear to my heart. I was glad to see how much love he got in this poll, though frustrated by how often people feel a need to apologise for how much they love Harry, or explain why the books are so good in spite of their popularity or the critics' dislike of them or J.K. Rowling's writing, etc. I sometimes feel like saying, albeit in a nice way, "get over it, people, these are just fantastic stories. And they're gonna last."

6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (#2)
I was so happy to see this book come in as high as it did. I wonder if it's not at least in part due to its resurgence in popularity as a result of Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, the reigning Newbery champion that came in at a surprising #39. Stead’s book reads like a love song to Wrinkle. Regardless, I think Wrinkle would have ended up in the top five anyway, especially given how many of us feel gratitude for the gift of protagonist Meg Murry during our pre-and-early adolescence.

7. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (#90)

8. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (#23)

9. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (#12)

10. Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson (#13)

Choosing a top ten was so difficult, I went ahead and ranked my personal #11-20, prior to the poll, although I couldn't officially vote for them. Here they are, again with actual poll results in parentheses after.

11. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary (did not make final poll)
The Cleary votes were clearly split. Small wonder: she's written so many gems, how do you choose just one favorite? Many people chose different books, with the result that a lot of worthy Cleary titles didn't make the final list. But don't cry too hard for Ramona, who managed to come in at #43 (Ramona the Pest); #57 (Ramona Quimby, Age 8); and #89 (Ramona and Her Father). And Henry Huggins, who would have made my husband's top ten for sure, came in at #66.

The sweet girls' favorite Ramona title (so far) didn't make the top 100 either. It's Ramona the Brave, and she put it at #1 on her top 10 list. Yes, she made one too, though not until we were part-way through the poll (when she started to get really interested). She still asked me to send it to “the lady who was doing the poll” and I happily did. I received a thoughtful note back from Betsy Bird, who told me it was one of the best kids' lists she'd gotten!

12. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (#15).

13. Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley (did not make the final poll). I'm beginning to feel achingly alone in my love for Bella. She didn't get a single vote anywhere, and I came darn close to moving this book into my own top ten. Any other fans out there?

14. The Moffats by Eleanor Estes (#120) That no Estes title made the top 100 baffles me. If I had considered The Hundred Dresses a mid-grade novel (its length subconsciously made me neglect it for this category) I might have put it in my top ten. I cut my reading teeth on all the Moffat books and have become a recent delighted fan of Ginger Pye, which won a Newbery. I hope Estes isn't going out of fashion, though if my daughter's response to her books is any indication, I shouldn't worry.

15. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (#65)

16. A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban (did not make final poll) I know this one is pretty new, but I think it will last. I was glad to see it did garner some votes, just not enough to push it into the top 100.

17. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (#82) Though I really wanted to put the whole Prydain series on my list.

18. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (#27)

19. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (did not make final poll) Another relatively new book that I think will make a poll like this ten years from now.

20. Heidi by Johanna Spyri (did not make final poll). I guess its age is against it, but this is a classic I was hoping would make the list.

I had several other books I would have loved to put in the top twenty, such as Jenny and the Cat Club; The Penderwicks; Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion; The Door in the Wall; All-of-a-Kind Family; Babe the Gallant Pig; Paddington Bear; Hattie Big Sky. Some made the poll, some didn’t, but all are books that have meant a great deal to me over the years.

What a fun ride this has been! There were some delightful surprises and some interesting omissions. People sure do love their Dahl and Blume, two writers I must confess I never really went for. Nancy Drew made the list but Trixie Belden didn’t ~ no surprise there, though it did make me want to gnash my teeth. Two verse novels made it but hardly any realistic animal stories. Did you notice? No Sounder, Old Yeller, Bambi, Misty of Chincoteague (or many of the other Marguerite Henry books that might have been chosen) Black Beauty, or any of the Black Stallion books.

And because it’s too much fun not to mention ~ here's a link to 100 Scope Note’s “Wordle” of the Top 100 Children’s Novels. I loved Scope Note’s chortle-worthy observation that, based on this poll, “the most successful children’s book of all time” will likely be called “Little Harry Potter and the Green Witch Ramona Mountain Game.” Wonder if I could borrow that title? Based on Eric Carpenter’s statistics about authors’ ages, I’m in my best decade to write a great children’s book. 52 of the top 100 titles were written by authors between the ages of 38-51. So I’ve got nine years ~ I’d better get cracking!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mother-Daughter Poem: Shell

We've been reading lots of wonderful poetry this month, but on Friday we tried our hand at writing a joint poem. The sweet girl has been playing a lot with her shell collection lately (a number of beautiful shells her Dad picked up on the beach in South Carolina last year) and we spent a while just doing some wordplay exercises with the shells (what do they look like? what do they feel like? what colors are they?) before we wrote this poem together.


The long silver shell
is swirled.
It looks like it has
a window.
When I look through it
I think I can see
the sea.

~EMP & SBP, April 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

So There

The sweet girl and I were out for a beautiful spring walk this afternoon when she tripped and fell. It was a pretty major trip (on a bit of busted sidewalk that had been pushed up higher than the walk around it by some big tree roots) and the concrete ripped right through her jeans. She got a scrape and fairly deep cut and of course she screamed.

Now my kid can scream, really scream. As someone at church said oh so politely when she scrunched a couple of sandal-clad toes in a heavy door, "she tends towards...hysteria...doesn't she?" Well, yes.

My initial response, of course, is to comfort her when she's hurt but then that's often chased by the need to try to get her to calm down and stop screaming bloody murder. When you're out on a street with other people and your kid is hollering that loudly, they tend to think there's a lot more wrong with her than just a scraped knee. This time around, we only had a couple of blocks to go till home, thank goodness. I carried her part of the way but then had to put her down (she's quickly catching up to me size-wise!) and let her limp/hop the final stretch to the door. She managed to punctuate at least every other hop with a loud agonized "Ow!"

Finally, in exasperation, I asked her to please be a little quieter. "I know it hurts," I said calmly, "but there's no need for you to scream like it's the end of the world."

She lifted an indignant, tear-stained face. "I know it's not the end of the world," she said. "And Mommy, I will NOT scream on the day the world ends. Because then we'll get a new heaven and a new earth and that's a GOOD thing."

Hee. So there.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Three Cheers for Charlotte!

Although we probably-abably-abably all knew it would come to pass, I was still delighted when I saw the number one posting at the 100 Top Children's Book poll today. E.B. White's Charlotte's Web is so deserving of this honor, and any other honors it's ever received. Perhaps the best part was reading all the comments (and Betsy posted every comment she got!) which read like a love song to this loveliest of books.

I think I'm particularly glowing since the sweet girl and I just finished a re-read of Charlotte's Web last week. Every time I read this book aloud again (and I've done it many times, beginning with an out-loud read my sister and I once did on cassette tape for our nephew ~ now grown and married and with kids of his own!) I find myself loving the way the elegant prose flows. We love truly great books not just because they offer characters we care about and a story that compels us to turn pages, but because they have a music of their own. Charlotte's music has to do with the sights and smell of a small barnyard, an unlikely friendship, and the ordinary sweetness of the everyday.

I was especially struck this time through by White's propensity for lists. He frequently moves (I almost said "lapses" but that implies a lack of planned artistry, and I think this artistry is exquisitely planned) into lists of ordinary things: the different kinds of food scraps that make up Wilbur's slops, the paraphernalia of a barn, the "veritable treasure" a rat can find in the garbage at a county fair. Charlotte's Web is full of quiddity: White the storyteller is interested in the bits and pieces that make up the world, the names of things, their particularity. By listing them, he draws our attention to them, making us notice them, picture them, smell them. By listing them, he provides a rhythm that reminds us of poetry, litanies, counting blessings.

And of course these lists come in the context of a story that's all about the human propensity to overlook the ordinary, to take wonders for granted. Charlotte's plan to save Wilbur is necessary because the Zuckermans don't see, as she sees (or as Fern sees in the early chapters, when she's still operating out of a child-like wonder) that Wilbur is a wonderful creature: a lovely pink and white pig with a charming, modest personality, someone who makes a good friend. The Zuckermans look at Wilbur and only see, at least at first, what they can get out of him. They look at Wilbur and see bacon. In the same way, few see Charlotte for what she is: an amazing spinner-artist, someone with a talent for words, an ingenious food-gatherer, a loyal friend. She's just a "common" gray spider (White uses that word to describe her more than once, I think) who spins an ordinary web in the corner of an ordinary barn. She's just a spider -- the kind of creature that little boys like Avery poke at with sticks -- and her web is just a web, the kind we've all swept from ceiling corners with brooms.

Something else that struck me this time around is White's interesting realism. It's funny to talk about realism, perhaps, in a story that features talking animals, but it's there. One of the most difficult parts of the book, I think, and one that gets inevitably altered in every screen version, is the subtle difference we see in Fern at the end of the story. At the beginning, she's "up before dawn to rid the world of injustice" and for months her whole word seems to center on the joy of raising a baby pig. The animals are her best friends, and Fern can see and hear so much that the adults can't. By the end of the book, she's so focused on taking another ferris wheel ride with Henry Fussy (her growing interest in boys is viewed with deep relief by her mother, who spends part of the book wondering if Fern will ever grow up and get out of the barn) that she doesn't even hang around at the grandstand to see Wilbur's greatest triumph.

Does that make you sad? I think it's supposed to, even though I think we're supposed to understand that at least for many people, it's a natural and inevitable part of growing up -- this widening of interests, this turn from the simplicities of early childhood to the complexities of later childhood (and adolescence and adulthood). I also don't think we're supposed to see it as a tragedy: Fern's growing interest in boys may make her, at least for the moment, less in tune with her younger self, more self-absorbed and self-conscious and even a bit less caring (she doesn't even have time to give Wilbur a reassuring pat or a congratulatory hug) but that doesn't mean it will always be the case. Fern doesn't have to get stuck there and there's nothing to indicate she will.

Thankfully most of us aren't "done" growing at eight, or eighteen, or even thirty-eight. We learn about new joys, but we don't have to lose our awareness of or gratitude for the older joys. I'd like to think that, because of her hours spent in the barn listening to animals talk, Fern will grow into an adult with a wider propensity for wonder, the kind of grown-up who can see amazing things in the ordinary...perhaps like E.B. White. And that if she ever has a daughter who gets up at dawn to rid the world of injustice, and who claims that the sheep are talking to her, she'll hug the dickens out of that kid. I find it strange, however, that nobody ever seems to take White to task for the changes he introduces into Fern's character, especially given how similar they are (in some ways) to what C.S. Lewis is saying and doing with the character of Susan Pevensie. For years critics and writers have yelled at Lewis about that, refusing (it often seems to me willfully refusing) to understand what he meant, and often indicating ridiculous things they assume he meant. And never stopping to think about the ways that Susan, shaped by her experiences in Narnia as a child, might yet change and grow as an adult.

Well, I've wandered far afield...but then, a great book will do that to you too. Even the familiar, ordinary books you think you've read so many times that they couldn't possibly contain any more surprises. Maybe especially those.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Woo-Hoo for Wrinkle!

Yes! And number 2 in the Top 100 Children's Novels is indeed A Wrinkle in Time. Given my deep love for Madeleine L'Engle's work, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I decided to let out a big "Whoop!" right here.

In fact, let's give this one "O, wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! and yet again wonderful, and after that out of all whooping." I love that quote, from Shakespeare's As You Like It. And guess where I learned it?

Yep. Thank you, Madeleine.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Hooray for Harry!

Well, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (so nice to see it written with its proper title) came in today at #3 in Fuse #8's Top 100 Children's Novels poll. I had to give it a shout-out here because I was so delighted to see it!

With The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe coming in at #4 yesterday, I am 2 for 2 on my top four predictions, though now a bit out of order. My American/British pattern didn't pan out, but that's okay. It will be fun to see both A Wrinkle in Time and Charlotte's Web in the top two spots (she says with supreme confidence...while she keeps her fingers crossed)!

It's also fun to read people's comments about Harry Potter. Everyone seems nostalgic to remember where they were when they read the first one. When you first fell for Harry, where were you?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Poetry Review: The Mouse of Amherst

I just posted a review of Elizabeth Spire's book The Mouse of Amherst. It's a charming tale told through the eyes of a little white mouse who lives in a hole in the wall in Emily Dickinson's room.

It's been an Emily Dickinson kind of month. With the sweet girl, I read the Emily Dickinson volume in the Poetry for Young People series. Late in the evenings, a bit at a time, I've been watching a video version of Julie Harris' one-woman play The Belle of Amherst, recorded sometime in the late 1970s, I think. It's a fascinating (somehow both funny and sad) portrait of the reclusive genius. I've also been meandering my way through a lovely book called Emily Dickinson's Gardens, as much about her flowers as it is about her life and poems, hence good springtime reading (though it actually cycles through all four seasons).

I'm hoping to pull together a unit study on Dickinson soon, as I keep getting ideas for supplemental activities and learning trails. Some of her poems definitely spoke to the sweet girl, who surprised me by choosing the poem "A Letter to a Bee" (the one that begins "Bee, I'm Expecting You...") for memorization. Not the easiest of Emily's poems to memorize, and yet she's done it and done it well. I think we'll definitely return to Dickinson again in the years to come!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Patchwork Post

I wasn't sure what to call this post ~ just so many bits and pieces that are too small to make posts of their own!

Fuse #8's 100 Children's Novels countdown is heading into the homestretch. Four spots left, and all four of my "must-be-there" books have yet to be named. So once again I'm predicting/hoping that here's what we'll see, counting down from 4-1: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; A Wrinkle in Time; Sorcerer's Stone; Charlotte's Web. I actually have no clue about order and am basing my predictions on the random thoughts that a) I've had a funny feeling all along that Charlotte/Sorcerer would come in as 1 and 2 (and my husband reached the same conclusion independently, leading me to believe we can't both be wrong!) and b) if the American/British pattern holds for books in the first two spots, it may hold for books in the third and fourth spots as well. I know...that makes little logical sense. Just humor me!

The sweet girl is loving the 30 Poets/30 Days over at Gotta Book. Just like last year, one poem in particular has totally captured her imagination. This year it's the poem "Re:Me" by Calef Brown. She's read it five or six times (and it's a long poem) and chortles her way through every time. We both appreciate its sense of fun, clever rhymes and wordplay. She's now trying to write a funny poem in imitation. Last night she got down from the dinner table and brought back paper and pencil. "I need to begin writing my poem," she explained. And then she asked, "Does it have to have punctuation in it?"

The taxes are alllmoooossstt done. Have I mentioned how much I don't enjoy having to work out self-employment taxes? And yet I love the freedom of working from home, which allows me to do other things I love, like homeschool. So I will try not to complain. Though I must say that I did a lot of sighing over the utterly un-downloadable forms on the state website. All I really have to do tonight is assemble the forms, write the checks, and make copies for the files. And I can do that while...

watching Scarecrow and Mrs. King! How utterly delighted I was to get the Season 1 DVD (which for some reason had never been released until this year) from my sister for my birthday. Scarecrow is just about my favorite television show of all time, perhaps recently dethroned by LOST (though let me wait on that judgment until the finale) and it's been so much fun to see these early episodes again. I even finally got to see the season 1 Christmas show, one of the few episodes of the entire series I'd never seen. Like the rest of them, it was sweet and sentimental in that wonderful early 1980s/Cold War/spy adventure sort of way.

I'm in a real reviewing slump at present, but last week did finally post my review of Eric Metaxas' book Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. If you know anyone looking for an introduction to the life and work of the great Wilberforce (perhaps someone who saw the recent movie and is intrigued to know more) point them to this excellent book.

Sherry over at Semicolon kicked off her classical poems postings with a reflection on Psalm 23. That happened to be on the list of favorites I sent her. She's going to be posting about poems that got multiple votes/mentions, and in chronological order. I especially smiled to see that she posted a link to Keith Green singing "The Lord is My Shepherd." This Easter week has definitely been colored by Keith's music for us, especially this live recording of "The Victor" on youtube. I both tear up and smile whenever I watch it.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Poetry Postcard 2: Synchronicity and Process

I’m loving the synchronicity of my daily forays into poetry this month. Yesterday I checked in at Poetic Asides for the prompt of the day, which happened to be “write a history poem.” It could be the history of anything. I remembered my rough draft attempt, a few years back, to write a poem about my personal history (based on this template ~ the “Where I'm From” poem) and thought it might be fun to try to capture similar roots by writing a poem called “A Selective History of Me.”

What form that might have taken I don’t know, but then I stumbled upon this post at Wild Rose Reader, celebrating list poems. I think I’ve had poetic lists on the brain lately, since I’m re-reading Charlotte’s Web to the sweet girl…and E.B. White does delight in lists. Though his lists come in the midst of prose, they are their own bits of poetry. I decided I would try writing a list poem about my life.

The process has been interesting so far. I set out with no specific thoughts about how to shape the list, what limits to place on it. I began with an image from the day I came home from the hospital, an image of a welcome home banner on the wall of my family’s living room. I’ve actually seen that image in old home movies taken on Dad’s old Super-8 movie camera. Since I was starting at the beginning, my homecoming as a baby, the list began to flow naturally from there and move forward chronologically. The stanzas began to break themselves naturally into seasons of my life: babyhood and preschool, early school years, etc. I hadn’t consciously made the decision to do that, but it seemed to make sense, and I could tell (by my swift crossings-out, when I sensed that events or images felt out of order) that chronology matters to this poem.

So does concreteness. At first I toyed with naming significant people in my life, or at least significant relationships somehow, but it soon became clear that I needed to stick primarily to images (sights, sounds, smells) and artifacts. It’s been interesting to sense how many people and events stand behind those things, and to pick and choose which ones matter most. It’s also been interesting to note how much easier it was to zero in on a few key images from childhood. The farther I go into the past, the more starkly a few key images or events stand out as the ones I remember best or feel formed me most. The closer I get to the current-day, the more cluttered and richly layered things get, and the harder it is to pick and choose. I do find myself returning, like a migrating bird, to certain kinds of images, especially those drawn from nature and from books. And some recurring bits of language are cropping up as I revise, lending the whole exercise a bit more structure.

And then of course I found this quote, from poet Gene Fehler, over at the Poetry Makers series: “As far as ideas for writing poems, my favorite way to begin is to think of these four words: "What I remember most" -- and go from there.”

Sweet synchronicity.

Easter Monday Gratitude

It's been a while since I've posted a Monday blessings list. I thought I'd jump right in with gratitude on this Easter Monday!

So grateful for:

45) Easter! Not just this particular Easter day, though it was a beautiful one. But for Easter life...the risen life of our Lord, who defeated death once and for all, and who reigns in victory! I am especially thankful that he invites me into the power and joy of his risen life.

46) The sweet girl's joy upon receiving her first Communion yesterday. It was such a lovely moment, and such a right one. After prayer, we decided to use this Lent as special preparation time with her. The preparation time was good, and when the time came yesterday to go forward, and our priest spoke the welcome to the table, her face was just alight with joy. I loved seeing her listen so intently all during Holy Week, and really move into the joy of the resurrection yesterday. Is there anything more beautiful than seeing your child's hands cupped to receive the bread?

47) Spring, spring, spring! Did I mention it's really spring? Sunshine, daffodils, budding trees, and the beauty of the rain.

48) My birthday week before last. Yes, it has been a while since I've posted a gratitude list, and I had so much to be thankful for on this particular birthday. Most especially the love of my wonderful husband and daughter, who gave me such a beautiful day. Breakfast in bed (bagel, juice and cereal drowned in milk by my seven year old!) and a gorgeous morning/afternoon at Phipps Conservatory, my favorite birthday tradition. We were able to do it this year because of a thoughtful gift from my parents. Other gifts, loving notes, and cards made the day so special. And yes, it was capped off by Chinese food and a homemade cake.

49) My parents 56th wedding anniversary just a few days before my birthday. And my mom also just turned 78. I am so blessed that they are healthy and vigorous and happy, enjoying life, each other and the Lord. As my Dad told me the other day, he feels like every day is a gift.

50) Miraculous provision, right when we needed it. Our financial struggles are so stressful and of such long duration, I try not to mention them here. But I have to recount the marvelous works of God! Sometimes our ongoing, long-term stresses meet short-term crisis/needs. We had one of those times lately. Hardly before we'd had time to pray, and thankfully before I'd had time to slip into a huge stretch of anxiety (my tendency) provision arrived. It was amazing...down almost to the exact penny of what we needed. Except, of course, that the Lord (in his beautiful way) gave just a little extra. About seven dollars extra! Most of all, he used loving friends to bless us, showing us again the beauty of his body.

So much to be thankful for this Easter Monday.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Poetry and Holy Week

Perhaps more than any other week in the year, Holy Week invites us into the gospel story. As we walk through the week, we step into the story of the final week of Jesus' life and walk through it again: watching, listening, remembering, mourning, loving, praying, confessing, and finally celebrating.

Over the years I've discovered that one of my natural responses to the rhythm of Holy Week is writing, especially the writing of poetry. Most especially the writing of narrative poetry, where I imagine scenes from that final week of our Savior's life on earth, or where I step into the scene in some way.

This year, after listening to a powerful Maundy Thursday sermon, I found myself contemplating how lonely Jesus must have felt in the garden, especially following moments of such deep communion and fellowship in the upper room. Our pastor described the events of the Last Supper as "the eye of the storm" -- so much conflict and pain swirls around that event, both before and especially after, but in many ways the supper itself is a moment of relative peace and calm, as Jesus prepares his friends for what lies ahead and helps them understand what he is about to do.

I found myself thinking about the moments immediately after the Last Supper, as Jesus and the disciples left the upper room and headed toward the garden, back toward the raging storm. This poem (still a draft) is the result. I hope it blesses you on this Holy Saturday evening. And I pray that you will have a joyous celebration of the resurrection tomorrow morning! Oh how he loves us!


The door to the upstairs room
shuts behind them.
The last one out closes it softly,
as though to capture echoes
of the last hymn.
Notes reverberate in their minds,
hum in their hearts,
as silently they file down the stairs,
one by one,
each trekking carefully in the footsteps
of the One ahead,
listening for his voice.
They think they know where
they are going
but aren't fully sure until they see
the looming shapes of olive trees,
dark branches even darker
than the starlit sky above.

He has come to pray --
for guidance, strength, help --
and they mean to keep him company,
to accompany his prayers
with their own whispered petitions.
Only the night is growing cold,
and fear, wonder, sorrow
all press like a blanket
around their wine-warmed bodies
which one by one
drop down and rest --
just for a minute --
only to be dragged beneath
an ocean of sleep.
He is alone. He is left to think
about the cup just handed around
the table, the cup from which
all drank, the literal cup
he will not drink again
until another feast,
far distant but assured.
He is alone, though not alone,
as his prayers rise
like incense in the starry night,
the calm before the storm,
the moment before the breaking wave,
the clutching hand of earth
clasped in the strong hand of heaven.

He feels taut, alert, alive in every
muscle, every sinew, gritty-eyed with pain.
He glances at his scattered friends
who love him so, who mean so well.
But with the world about to quake,
not one of them has stayed awake.

(EMP, 4/2010)

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Poetry Postcard 1

I've been trying to think about how I'd like to post during this poetry month. As promised, I'll be posting links to some favorite places in the blogosphere where I'll be stopping and visiting and reading during April. But I don't just want to post links, many of which you can pick up elsewhere anyway (including some round-ups with lists).

What struck me as a I contemplated how I enjoyed poetry month last year, and how I meandered, enjoyed and ruminated on first of the month poetry posts this morning, is that I often find myself delighting in small snippets. Lines from poems, or lines from poets talking about poetry, often seem to jump out and grab me. Last year I sometimes jotted those lines down in my journal, though more often than not I simply noted them mentally and rushed on. This year I'd like to be more intentional about capturing some of those moments that celebrate language and the love of language.

And I decided it would be fun to share them. So think of these poetry posts as postcards. I may only have time to jot a few lines, but jot I will -- and I will send them off into cyberspace where I hope you will enjoy them too.

Today's postcard comes courtesy of The Miss Rumphius Effect, which is reprising its wonderful "Poetry Makers" interview series this month. This year Tricia kicked off with an interview with Mary Ann Hoberman, current children's poet laureate (or as she calls her "the big kahuna"). Lots of wonderful things in that interview, especially on the importance of sharing poetry with children and the joys of poetry memorization. But I think my favorite line was this:

"...a poem is an object made out of words that carries, like a brimful cup, the mystery of language."

A brimful cup of the mystery of language. Can't you see a chipped, thick handled-mug, heaped up with words, frothy as whipped cream? Or perhaps a crystal clear glass, full of something cool and refreshing, the words clinking around like ice cubes or sliding down the sides in tiny streams of condensation.

Happy Poetry Month!