Monday, August 29, 2011


by Ann Wagner

We don't have wars.

We have

preemptive strikes.

We don't have soldiers.

We have

peace keepers

We don't have mistakes in combat.

We have

friendly fire
flawed intelligence

And we don't have death.

We have

loss of life
collateral damage.

What we do have is

a careful vocabulary.

from America At War selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2008, Simon & Schuster

Sunday, August 28, 2011


When it's first born as a tiny black grasshopper, less than half an inch long, with a single red stripe across its back, it's one of about fifty babies. It loves to eat the leaves and bulbs of amaryllis flowers. As it grows, its colors change to green, yellow, and orange just like the one in this photo. I took this picture of the grasshopper on the stem of a large white-flowered lily. It munches on the lily leaves turning them into tattered green lace. Come visit in March to watch the black babies after they hatch!

Monday, August 22, 2011


by Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

from America At War selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2008, Simon & Schuster

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Black Lizard

This lizard was on the porch outside our room on Casey Key, Florida's west coast, where we were last weekend. So far unsuccessful locating what kind of lizard.

To grandboy Layton, who is nearing his three-year birthday, and interested others, let's name it!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

DREAMS (Monday Poem)

by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

from America At War selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2008, Simon & Schuster

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Chicago Zen Garden

Bark crackles --
a sharp ironic contrast --
on an arch
curved by disaster.

What do you see? Please share.

Monday, August 8, 2011

MISSING (Monday Poem)

by Cynthia Cotten

My brother is a soldier
in a hot, dry,
sandy place.
He's missing--
missing things like
baseball, barbecues,
fishing, French fries,
chocolate sodas,
flame-red maple trees,
blue jays,
and snow.

I'm missing, too--
his read-out-loud voice,
his super-special
banana pancakes,
his scuffed up shoes
by the back door,
his big-bear
good night

There are people
with guns
in that land of sand
who want to shoot
my brother.

I hope
they miss him,

from America At War selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2008, Simon & Schuster

Friday, August 5, 2011

Numbers Can Tell Stories (FAMILY magazine reviews)

If you’re looking for summer ways to engage your brain, these books are both absorbing and entertaining.

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature
by Sarah C. Campbell
photos by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell
Boyds Mills Press, $17.95, Ages 5-11

First written about in India, the pattern of numbers found in nature and featured in this book is actually named after an Italian mathematician, Fibonacci. Starting with a small photo of a seed, the text gradually leads readers into a beginning understanding of patterns formed in the natural world. As this nonfiction book unfolds, the author and her husband make intriguing and careful use of photos of plant and animal life to expand the text, featuring the famous chain of numbers as spiraling shapes of building blocks.
Using blocks of boxes to demonstrate the pattern of increasing numbers, this compelling book shows spiraling shapes in pinecones, pineapples, sunflowers and more. Campbell’s text shows the different number effects created as parts of plants spiral first in one direction and then in a different direction.
Demonstrating the pattern using the outside sections of a pineapple, the author shows how these sections actually grow in three different directions and can be counted as 5,8, and 13 in the familiar sequence. The author/photographer invites the reader/listener into her exploration and discovery of the literal building blocks in creation.

How Many Donkeys? An Arabic Counting Tale
retold by Margaret Read MacDonald and Nadia Jameel Taibah
illustrated by Carol Liddiment
Albert Whitman, $16.99, Ages 5-7

Jouha, the famous wise fool or trickster beloved in many Middle Eastern cultures (called Goha in Egypt, Hodja in Turkey, and the Mullah in Iran), is the main character in this retelling from Saudi folklore. Taibah, and well-loved master storyteller MacDonald, collaborate to shape this tale from Taibah’s family. Although variants of this folktale can be found in cultures as widely spread as Syria, Romania, Spain, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, India, and Indonesia, this Saudi version is especially amusing.
Before leaving for a market trip, Jouha asks his young son to help him count his donkeys loaded with dates to sell. The Arabic words for the numbers from one to ten are included along the bottom of several double page spreads, reading from right to left, perfect for children in a storytelling circle to count along with the storyteller/reader. (A pronunciation guide is included on an early page.)
Enroute, Jouha forgets to count the donkey he is seated on, especially when he stops for water, for lunch, at the market itself, and sleeping on the way home. Someone is always there to remind him to “Count again, Jouha!” Especially his son when he gets home and thinks he’s lost a donkey on the return trip.
Artist Liddiment uses bright colors in her sunny paintings, capturing the light and shadows as Jouha crosses the desert and arrives at the shady oasis and later, the tree covered marketplace. It’s a silly tale, but one which young children love because, unlike Jouha, they can see the dilemma in the illustrations, as Jouha gets on and off his donkey.

Mary’s Penny by Tanya Landman
illustrated by Richard Holland
Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 7-10

In this feminist retelling of a traditional tale, award-winning author Landman sets her story in the “long, long ago, golden, olden days.” A farmer father devises a clever plan for determining which of his two sons will inherit the farm. He does not intend to include his daughter, Mary, in this competition, since “everyone thought girls couldn’t run farms.”
In this long past era, the value of purchases is quite different from today and each of the sons uses a penny gift from their father to purchase something to fill the entire house. The eldest, Franz, buys a load of straw, but it’s not enough. Neither is the load of feathers, bought by the second son, Hans. The family sleeps in the barn each night. And the farmer becomes sad and anxious about what to do and what will happen to the farm when he is gone.
Holland’s mixed media illustrations supply important information; worried, relieved, happy facial expressions, bright red and yellow accents to contrast with greys and tans, background details especially at the market, and a comedic sense of timing. Adding to the book’s folkloric quality is the simplicity and lack of clutter in the double page spreads and the use of multiple font stylings, including a strategic use of capitalizations, lower case letters and cursives.
Finally when Mary asks, her father reluctantly gives her his “very last penny.” After her trip to market and when dark falls that night, she lights a candle and plays a melody on her knife-shaped river reed. The farmer takes her hand, speaking quietly, “You have filled the house many times over . . . . You shall run the farm . . . .”
While this book makes use of simple math and money ideas, it also communicates that intelligence and wisdom require a different measure. Text and art together craft a satisfying ending in this beautifully cadenced storybook with a “nugget of old wisdom” at its heart.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

TO YOU (Monday Poem)

by Karla Kuskin

I think I could walk
through the simmering sand
if I held your hand.
I think I could swim
the skin-shivering sea
if you would accompany me.
And run on ragged, windy heights,
climb rugged rocks
and walk on air:

I think I could do anything at all,
if you were there.

from America At War selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2008, Simon & Schuster