Monday, January 31, 2011


by Amy Gibson

Way up high atop the Andes
(land that's mountainous
and hilly)

lives a silky silver rodent
hurrying, scurrying

When the mercury starts dropping,
does he worry?
Don't be silly!

Though it's winter,
he's so furry,
the chinchilla's not

Monday, January 24, 2011

Snowy Night

by Mary Oliver

Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
an indeterminate number

of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.

I couldn't tell
which one it was--
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air--

it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren't there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,

so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more

than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else's story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable--would have hurried

over the fields
to name it--the owl, I mean.
But it's mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out

my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,

whatever is name--
and I wish good luck t o the owl,

whatever its name
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.

Monday, January 17, 2011


by Mary Oliver

Now comes the white-striped, sharp-nosed digger of dampness
in her black and oily coat.
All night in the moonlight she has been wandering
the stony beach; now she steps
into the gardens and under the street lights
like a flat cat.

Her eyes are gleaming and her tail aloft, she is afraid
of nothing--not dogs, not policemen who see her
and do not remove themselves from their cruisers, but sail on
down the dark roads.

Everything is famous for something: the eagle for power,
the fox for cunning.
This one we know for her temper and also her smell,
which comes from the wicks of fire.
Yet once I watched and heard her, deep in the woods,
humming to herself as she carried
leaves into her humble house, that was nothing
but a scratched-out hole.

Take care you don't know anything in this world
too quickly or easily. Everything
is also a mystery, and has its own secret aura in the moonlight,
its private song.

If you meet her
don't be afraid, just stand still.
And, while you let her stare you down,

notice how she stamps her pretty, little feet.
Notice how she shines.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Early Snow

by Mary Oliver

Amazed I looked
out of the window and saw
the early snow coming down casually,
almost drifting, over

the gardens, then the gardens began
to vanish as each white, six-pointed
snowflake lay down without a sound with all
the others. I thought, how incredible

were their numbers. I thought of dried
leaves drifting spate after spate
out of the forests,
the fallen sparrows, the hairs of all out heads,

as, still, the snowflakes went on pouring softly through
what had become dusk or anyway flung
a veil over the sun. And I thought
how not one looks like another

though each is exquisite, fanciful, and
falls without argument. It was now nearly
evening. Some crows landed and tried
to walk around then flew off. They were perhaps

laughing in crow talk or anyway so it seemed
and i might have joined in, there was something
that wonderful and refreshing
about what was by then a confident, white blanket

carrying out its
cheerful work, covering ruts, softening
the earth's trials, but at the same time
there was some kind of almost sorrow that fell

over me. It was
the loneliness again. After all
what is Nature, it isn't
kindness, it isn't unkindness. And I turned

and opened the door, and still the snow poured down
smelling of iron and the pale, vast eternal, and
there it was, whether I was ready or not:
the silence; the blank, white, glittering sublime.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Uncommon Biographies of Exceptional Men (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Examining this small selection of now-famous personalities supplies readers with a window into several unconventional lives. Remembering that each of us is unique as well, we can consider how our own contributions make this world a better place.

The Brothers Kennedy: John, Robert, Edward

by Kathleen Krull

illustrated by Amy June Bates

Simon & Schuster, $16.99, Ages 6-9

This remarkable shared biography is also a story of three brothers whose intertwined lives made it possible for them to help shape the world we know today. While the book begins with Joe, the eldest of the nine Kennedy children (all of whom are mentioned by name on the first page of the story), the focus is on the three brothers who held public office.

Before he ever “had a chance to run for office,” Joe died, a World War II fighter pilot. His loss shadowed the entire family and contributed to the strength of the values they shared -– hope, compassion, and loyalty. These values become a theme not only in the book, but characterize the life of public service each brother chose.

John, often sick, was also the biggest reader. As the youngest elected president of the U.S., he spoke about equal rights for African Americans, started the Peace Corps and, sadly, was assassinated only 1000 days after taking the oath of office.

Robert, the quiet one, noted injustices he saw, and began to ask questions. As both Senator and presidential candidate he marched with migrant workers, saw appalling living conditions of Native American Indians, and lost his life to an assassins bullet as well.

Edward, the youngest, who often made the others laugh, was passionate in his family loyalty. As one of the longest serving U.S. Senators in history (more than 46 years), he worked to pass laws protecting the most needy, and in fact helped nearly every man, woman and child in America.

With additional pages of Further Information, a Time Line, and Sources at the end, this beautifully illustrated book uses subdued watercolor, gouache, and pencil to interactively support the strength of the well-written text. The portraits of the brothers as children, as adults, and whether thoughtful, grieving, at work or play, demonstrate the active contributions characteristic of the brothers Kennedy, whose lives continue to inspire.

The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Suzy)

by Barbara Kerley

illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

Scholastic, $17.99, Ages 8-11

What makes this book’s title accurate is not only that it’s subject (Mark Twain, also known as Samuel Clemens) is extraordinary, but its author and co-author are also extraordinary – all three, outstanding writers, capable of capturing their subjects with characteristic authenticity and charm. Author Kerley quotes liberally and with humor, from Clemens’ daughter Suzy’s little brown notebook, kept also as a diary during her thirteenth year (spring 1885 through summer 1886). She also employs Clemens’ comments, inserted into Suzy’s original manuscript, to inform her text.

Suzy studied Papa by day, noticing his habits, what he did, and said, and writing it down at night, before hiding it under her pillow. She wrote about his early years, his public and private life, distractions from his own writing, the complications of his fame, and anecdotes to summarize her observations. She mentions his work on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; followed by nightly readings to the family of the pages he had written that day. Especially she notes the work Mamma did, at Papa’s request, to “expurgate” “questionable passages.”

Book designer, Marijka Kostiw’s skill is also evident as smaller pages of a journal in imitation of Suzy’s handwriting are included multiple times throughout the book, accenting Kerley’s storytelling in the book’s larger pages. Additionally, artist Fotheringham’s over-sized illustrations lure readers’ attention, reinforcing the energy of the story.

This humorously told biography is engrossing for its engaging language, informative sidebars, changing text type to denote quotes, digitally produced illustrations with active movement, absorbing page arrangements and fascinating back matter.

The latter includes an Author’s Note, which incorporates a section on Papa, another on Suzy, and a third describing, in easy-to-use details and tips, how to gather information and write a biography. Additional end material comprises A Selected Time Line of Mark Twain’s Life, a family photo, and Sources.

Racing Against the Odds: The Story of Wendell Scott, Stock Car Racing’s African American Champion

by Carole Boston Weatherford

illustrated by Eric A. Velasquez

Marshall Cavendish, $17.99, Ages 7-10

A former cab driver, World War II veteran, and self-taught mechanic, Scott bought his first car (a Ford Model T) for $15 when he was fourteen years old. He used his many car related skills to put his sister, and all of his children through college.

Award-winning author and college literature professor Weatherford draws readers into this action-packed biography of NASCAR racing’s first and only African American winner. Cars were his passion, whether he was driving taxi, running moonshine, making repairs in his garage, building or racing stock cars. “And when Hollywood made a movie about his life” (Greased Lightening, 1977), “he built three cars for the film and even drove in action scenes.”

Using pastels, artist and award-winner Velasquez makes careful choices of both bright and dark colors, to shape his illustrations toward high-powered movement. Sometimes tilting the paintings, other times framing several on a double page spread, his canny work invests the visuals with brisk vitality. The successful marriage of text and image forms a dynamic biography of a dreamer who worked full-time, competing on the side, making his love of cars and racing the center of his life and work. (A Note from the Author supplies additional information at the end.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Where the Map Begins

by Jan Richardson

This is not
any map you know.
Forget longitude.
Forget latitude.
Do not think
of distances
or of plotting
the most direct route.
Astrolabe, sextant, compass:
these will not help you here.

This is the map
that begins with a star.
This is the chart
that starts with fire,
with blazing,
with an ancient light
that has outlasted
generations, empires,
cultures, wars.

Look starward once,
then look away.
Close your eyes
and see how the map
begins to blossom
behind your lids,
how it constellates,
its lines stretching out
from where you stand.

You cannot see it all,
cannot divine the way
it will turn and spiral,
cannot perceive how
the road you walk
will lead you finally inside,
through the labyrinth
of your own heart
and belly
and lungs.

But step out,
and you will know
what the wise who traveled
this path before you
the treasure in this map
is buried not at journey’s end
but at its beginning.