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Melissa Wiley is the author of The Martha Years books about Laura Ingalls Wilder's great-grandmother, Martha Morse Tucker, and The Charlotte Years books, about Laura's grandmother, Charlotte Tucker Quiner.
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1. BLACKOUT update

I’m at 90% and I THINK I JUST FIGURED OUT A THING

about someone

but I won’t say yet

don’t tell me

I bet I’m right

maybe

It’s a good theory

***

Also: this morning I figured out how to manage my Definitive LMM list

the post is underway

but sorry I can only think about Blackout right now

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2. Thursday reading notes (plus happy anniversary to us)

It’s our 21st wedding anniversary (though we begin our official count from our first date, five years earlier) and San Diego celebrated with RAIN, which you know is a huge big deal here these days. Glorious.

I can’t find our copy of Winnie the Pooh. Where is it hiding? So after Pooh Corner (sans final chapter) I had to (eventually) give up the search and pick something else. I’ll get Pooh from the library, I guess. IT’S JUST I KNOW IT’S RIGHT HERE UNDER MY NOSE SOMEWHERE. I bought a boxed set of Milne way back before we got married (we’d been an item for three years, though, so you know I was envisioning a house full of rugrats by then…Ingleside, to be precise) because my part-time job during grad school was at a children’s bookstore and I felt compelled to take full advantage of the employee discount. Hmm, someday I should comb our shelves for all the books I bought that year. Dear Mr. Blueberry, I remember that for sure, and every single L.M. Montgomery title I didn’t already own. I had Anne and Emily but not Pat, Jane (Jane!!), The Story Girl, or Valancy. (Valancy!!!!) Nor any of the short story collections, and I recall deciding it would be worth living on ramen for a while in order to procure every last morsel of LMM. I was right.

(Total digression: one of these days I need to do a post on LMM books in order of perfection. It might kill me to pick a #1, though. The bottom of the list is a piece of cake. Sorry, Kilmeny.)

ANYHOO. Back to the temporarily abandoned Pooh Search. In lieu of the silly old bear, I reached for McBroom. I wanted something fast-moving and full of laughs. Plus we’ve been reading Tall Tales this spring (I love the Mary Pope Osborne collection) and was in the mood for more wild yarns. Let’s see, in three days I think we’ve devoured five McBroom books. Started with McBroom Tells the Truth, of course, and then (in order of whatever the kids picked next) McBroom and the Big Wind, McBroom the Rainmaker, McBroom Tells the Truth, and McBrooms Ear. I hope they pick McBroom’s Zoo next–that’s my favorite. Our copy is the one I had when I was a kid, with the sturdy Scholastic book club binding.

Sid Fleischman’s language–his rich, hilarious, colorful turn of phrase–is simply unbeatable. And every whopper McBroom tells is funnier than the last. Oh, such good stuff.

***

As for my own reading, I’m halfway through Blackout and am FINALLY keeping all the dates and locations straight (more or less). And things are beginning to go crackerbots for Polly, Mary, Eileen, and Mike…You know, one of my favorite things in life is when I’m enjoying a book so much I can’t wait for bedtime (the only time of day I can count on a chunk of dedicated reading time…all the other minutes must be stolen, snatched, and squoze-in).

***

I meant to fill this post with throwback pictures in honor of our anniversary, but Scott just got home with a celebratory pizza. Photos, schmotos.

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3. The grass is always greener…

Poor, deprived Huck is enumerating for me the vast number of important life experiences he is missing out on because we have, and I quote, “just a big tree and sticks in our front yard instead of nice fake grass like Miss Lily up the street.”

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4. Thoughts on ‘teaching’ reading (and why I don’t do it)

reading comics at the piano

Reading a Bird and Squirrel book by James Burks

I chimed in on a discussion on my local homeschooling list about one mom’s concerns that her son had stalled on the learning-to-read process. As usual I found I had a lot to say, so I’m scooping it here (and expanding a bit) in case it’s of interest to others. 

I’ll second what E. said: Six is really very young and at this point (and every point, really), the VERY BEST thing you can do is to read aloud a great deal. There are lots of studies to back up what many of us have been discovering and advocating for years about the immense and rather extraordinary benefits of reading aloud.

Some tricks we have used

• We always turn on the captions when our children watch TV. And it’s amazing how much reading they can pick up from scrolling through the DVR. Huck could distinguish between “Little Bear” and “Little Bill” at age three—his first sight words.

• Video games! or apps, etc. My kids have all picked up a lot of reading just from encountering the repeated text instructions and captioning that is a part of many games.

• Comics and graphic novels. Great reinforcement of decoding skills and incentive to read. My 3rd child learned to read from Tintin Comics. Her older sisters read them and she pored over the pictures until she began to pick up words. (I read them to her whenever she asked but that stage didn’t last long–she just loved to explore them them on her own!)  (I’ve written more about this here.)

• Word games and puns. We are a wordy, wordy family. Dinner-table conversation will often involve why a thing is called what it’s called–what the root word is, where it came from. Someone will hop up to look up a word origin. And scarcely a day passes without some terrible, groan-inducing pun trotting around the house. When I teach kids’ writing and lit classes (I’m teaching three different groups of kids at present), I begin every class by soliciting contributions to our ‘Word Hoard’—asking the kids to look out for interesting words during the week to add to our collection. They really get into the spirit of the game and we have amassed some splendid word piles over the weeks. The boys in my Friday afternoon class have turned it into a competition of sorts, unfurling mile-long words to impress their classmates. I’ve learned a lot of obscure medical terms in the past month, let me tell you.

• Riddles, jokes, joke books!

I am not a fan of 100 Easy Lessons because of so many similar stories of kids getting turned off to reading, or stressed/intimidated/bored–all feelings I don’t want kids to associate with reading.

Books of facts are great for young kids–early reader science stuff, etc. Again, lots of pictures to draw them in & help with decoding.

My primary advice is to not try to “teach” a child to read.

The process can be more organic, less structured. Help them along the way you helped and encouraged them to learn to talk. Read together, allowing lots of conversation and lingering and interruptions to hyperfocus on some little piece of a picture.* Looking for street signs (kids will pick those up as sight words very quickly and naturally). Or names of stores, etc. Text is all over our world, not just in books, and reading doesn’t have to be a Capital R academic exercise. People naturally want to find things out, and reading becomes a means of doing that–so sooner or later, every child will have an interest that drives literacy. What you can do is support that interest. Feed it! Rustle up some intriguing-looking books on the topic, preferably ones with a lot of art.

(Here I come back to video games: one of my girls got so interested in a certain game that she wanted to look up guides for it online, and HER reading took a huge leap forward as she began to devour information about this game. My role was to help her safely find resources on the internet, print out useful pages, provide supplies for assembling a binder (her idea)…so you can see there are many ways for a parent to be involved in the process, guiding, facilitating, without it looking like formal reading instruction–an activity that is so stressful for many children. Lots of so-called ‘reluctant readers’ will inhale anything you give them that’s about their favorite video game. Let them hunt for cheat sites. Who cares if they don’t figure out a game level on their own? They are learning crucial research skills–how to frame questions and find answers, and how to apply that information to a practical task. Hurrah for game cheats!)

Current example: Huck is obsessed with Rose’s Snap Circuits set. This morning I stood in the living room for the longest time, watching him—his back was to me—deeply absorbed in assembling one of the projects in the guidebook. He has worked his way through the entire project book with minimal help, following the picture instructions but also puzzling out chunks of text. Sometimes he asks for help with a mouthful word like “capacitor”—no self-consciousness, no sense that he is young to be expecting to be able to read a word like that. He can’t figure it out, he asks for help. But poring over this book, casually encountering these giant words that tell him things he wants to know, has catapulted his reading skills forward in a way no teacher, no matter how good, how patient, could reproduce. If I made him sit down to a reading curriculum, I can guarantee he would be restless and fretful within minutes. But he’ll spend the whole afternoon immersed in building projects out of this book, interacting with the pictures and text, following complex directions—and consider it ‘playing.’ As in, “Can I play with your Snap Circuits again today?” he’ll ask his big sister.

tuesdayinmay

*********

*Let me elaborate on what I said above about “allowing lots of conversation and lingering and interruptions to hyperfocus on some little piece of a picture.” This is a mistake I’ve seen many adults make. A lot of adults have difficulty tolerating interruptions during a readaloud. There’s a whole big conversation to be had about how much background activity to allow — like, Legos keep little hands busy but can be very noisy. There are ways to work around that (spread out Legos on the floor before reading, since the noisiest part is the digging through the bin–things like that). But what I want to focus on right now are the interruptions that come when a child is looking at the book with you and starts talking over the narrative–pointing at things in the art, or otherwise being chatty about the book instead of listening to the story. This activity may actually be an indication of a big leap forward in skill acquisition–but we adults don’t always see it that way!

Here’s an example — when Rose was five or six, I remember reading her My Father’s Dragon. She was right at the point of emergent literacy, beginning to recognize words like street signs and store names as I mentioned above. We were about halfway through this short novel as a readaloud when she started pointing out Elmer’s name on every page. And “the dragon” and “the cat” — words repeated often in the story. But mainly it was the word “Elmer” (the main character). It got to where I couldn’t get through a page, because she kept pointing at the name all over the place. And I had a moment of being irritated and wanting to hush her–now now, let’s listen to the story. But it hit me in a flash that what we were doing together — what SHE was experiencing in this moment — had changed. It had started out “listening to a story.” Now it was READING. She had learned a sight word and was putting this new skill to use, with numerous opportunities to “practice” it on every page. No curriculum in the world could top this skill practice, because it was completely voluntary and completely absorbing her. It was HER activity, not one imposed upon her from the outside.

So, in that hour snuggled beside her on her bed, I let go of the whole listen-to-this-story concept. I kept on reading to her, page after page, but that was merely a background activity providing the vehicle for her discovery. “Elmer…Elmer…the dragon…” — little finger pointing, skipping around the page. We finished the book that way, with Rose only half paying attention to the words I was reading. When I got to the end, she said it was the best book ever and asked me to start it over. The second time through, she listened raptly to the narrative. :) Her brain had finished its self-assigned task. By the time I finished the book for the second time (a week or two later), she was reading very well on her own.

So that’s what I mean about stepping back to reassess an activity and your objectives….if a child is hyperfocusing on some part of the story that isn’t your voice reading the words, there is probably a very good reason. A wonderful thing about homeschooling is we have the luxury of time and space to allow this process to unfold at the child’s pace–there is no pressure to ‘get through’ a certain amount of material by a set date.

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5. Sasquatch Award Nomination for The Prairie Thief

I was delighted to learn that The Prairie Thief is a nominee for the Washington Library Association‘s 2015-2016 Sasquatch Award, the chapter book award for grades 3-6 in Washington State. Here is the whole lineup—a fine batch of contenders, I must say!

sasquatch

 

How many have you read?

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6. Actually, it did

Me: OUCH

Rose: Are you okay?

Me: Bit into what I thought was potato, turned out to be half a peppercorn.

Rose (sympathetically): Aw! Would it help if I told you the Icelandic word for potato?

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7. A Little Smackerel of Nothing

“I like that too,” said Christopher Robin, “but what I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say ‘Oh, nothing,’ and then you go and do it.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.

“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.

tuesdayinmay

We order wonderful little homemade soaps from Julie at The Parsonage, whom I met via Lesley Austin’s Wisteria and Sunshine community. Julie’s soaps smell heavenly and last a long time (much longer than the bottles of liquid soap we used to tear through). One of my favorite things about them is that they come wrapped in strips of fabric—so simple and pretty. Rilla saves these cloth strips and this morning she started to sew them into a little blanket. I was reading our chapter of House at Pooh Corner (we’re almost finished, sob!) and got such a smile out of the scene at my feet—these two each so intent on their separate pursuits. I couldn’t resist laying down the book and snapping the moment with my phone. Rose allowed Huck access to her Snap Circuits set a couple of weeks ago and he has played with almost nothing else since. He has worked through all the projects in the book and is beginning to invent his own whirring, buzzing, siren-blaring arrangements (and to drop extremely broad hints about needing more parts).

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was Still looking at the world with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!”

“Yes?” said Pooh.

“When I’m–when– Pooh!”

“Yes, Christopher Robin?”

“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”

I think I’m not going to read them the final chapter of Pooh Corner just yet. We started with this volume because I couldn’t find our copy of Winnie the Pooh, which comes first. But now I want to go back and read them that one (it’s bound to turn up). I flipped ahead to the end of Pooh Corner today and got teary at the goodbye scene…I’m not ready for these two, my last small fry, to contemplate leaving behind the Hundred Acre Wood. At least I know that no matter how Old they get, and how Busy with Important Things, they’ve been raised to appreciate the value of Nothing.

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8. Little Happy Lists, Redux

1. Piano recital: accomplished. And swimmingly, I might add. Particularly sweet this year because the music school divided the recital students into smaller groups (fewer classes lumped together into each recital), which meant our girls’ three classes were part of a five-class recital consisting mostly of good friends, families in our homeschooling circle. Best part: the way Huck (not yet a student) gasped in delighted recognition at the songs played by the beginner class (a level below Rilla’s group), because he recognized all the songs from last year when Rilla was learning them. Next year it will be his turn to begin! Hard to believe.

2. The drought, oh the drought, it has hit my garden hard. I’ve planted a lot of drought-tolerant natives over the years, so things are limping along, but still, it’s pretty grim out there. As it must be: flower-gardening will have to be one of the indulgences we let go in the new normal that is our hot-and-getting-hotter world. At least here in this dry-and-getting-drier state. Some of my work this year has involved a lot (a LOT) of research into California’s drying aquifers and the truly shocking lack of Sierra snowmelt and its impacts, and the sobering percentage of reduction of water deliveries to certain small towns from the State Water Project, and, well, you can’t face those facts and go on lavishing water on delphiniums. I’m becoming something of a vicarious gardener once again—the way I was in grad school when I confessed to the poet Robert Pinsky, whom I was tasked with picking up at the airport for a reading, that my habit while driving around town was to re-imagine the landscaping of all the yards I passed. Only now I’m mentally tearing up all the thirsty lawns around me in this desert. But I may have to find room for an annual trip to Portland in the spring, to soak myself for a few days in the glories of lush blossom and unfurling ferns. For now I must apply the tactic I used with much success back in those garden-deprived grad-school days: houseplants require very little water. Rilla and I went to work this week, taking cuttings and clippings to bring a bit of the bright outside indoors. And (influenced by Anne Shirley, of course) I’ve always kept windowsill geraniums with their cheery blooms perched on my kitchen sink—you can never go wrong with good old pelargonium. Thus this item belongs on a happy list even though its genesis is a bleak climate situation.

3. Kate Winslet does a smashing job with the voices in the Matilda audiobook. Rilla and I have one chapter left. We may not be able to wait for our Saturday-night ritual (audiobook + sketchbook time while the older girls watch S.H.I.E.L.D. with Scott) to finish. Which means I’d better come up with our next listen before Saturday…

4. Broadchurch Season 2. Wow.

5. Last night we watched a movie called Begin Again. Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, and yet I had somehow failed to hear about it until Scott queued it up. (He has unerring instincts for films that will delight me.) I loved it. A lovely, thoughtful piece by the writer/director of Once. I’ll watch it again.

What I’m reading this week

To the kids: House at Pooh Corner (still)

Myself: Connie Willis’s Blackout (Determined to finish this time! The other times I’ve begun and set it aside, it wasn’t because I wasn’t interested. Other things just kept crowding in. We’ll see if this time around is different.)

Photo of the week

San Diego children's authors

My friend Edith Hope Fine shared this photo, taken at last weekend’s Greater San Diego Reading Association awards breakfast, on Facebook, and our pal Salina Yoon dressed it up with everyone’s book covers. What a fantastic community of writers and illustrators we have here in San Diego! (Thanks, Edith, Salina, and—wait, who took the photo? I can’t remember!)

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9. Celebrate Literacy Award from GSDRA

11182190_10206896361590253_7744657160582015565_n

Photo by Lori Mitchell and used with gratitude!

Yesterday I had the fun of attending an awards breakfast hosted by the Greater San Diego Reading Association, a branch of the International Literacy Association (formerly the International Reading Association).  Along with fellow children’s authors Suzanne Santillan, Lori Mitchell, Virginia Loh Hagen, and Joy Raab, I received a Celebrate Literacy Award for my contributions to literacy in San Diego. Such an honor!

Greater San Diego Reading Association Authors Fair

From left to right: Suzanne Santillan, me, Edith Hope Fine, Joy Raab, Virginia Loh Hagen, and Lori Mitchell at Pacific Beach Elementary, March 2014

The GSRDA are the folks who host the annual Authors Fair I have participated in these past two years—hands-down some of the best events I’ve ever attended. These were the schools (Pacific Beach Elementary in 2014 and Kimball Elementary in National City this year) where the teachers had spent weeks preparing their students for my visit—reading The Prairie Thief aloud (and saving the last chapter for me!) and doing some amazing writing and art projects. There is nothing, nothing like seeing kids’ art and poetry inspired by your books, let me tell you. :)

Student art and writing at Kimball Elementary

 

IMG_8169

Prairie Thief project by 5th-grader Isabella D.

 

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10. All the Busy

inkblot rhino

ARGH, when did I go from being a daily blogger to a weekly one? When I took on so much extra work, I suppose. It’s just so. very. busy. right now. But busy is good—busy is kids with full lives and writers with full workloads.

Busy is I got my manuscript back from my editor, so I’m in revision territory now, and that’s absorbing.

Busy is Journey North Mystery Class! Which we finished today with our usual awesome party full of lively presentations and unusual food. Delicious in every way.

Busy is the three (!) homeschooling classes I’m teaching! Two literature and one writing class—I suppose if you count Journey North, which I lead (but my friend Erica hosts at her house, and in my opinion that’s the hardest part), that makes four classes. Except (as I mentioned) JN is done now, so only three. We’re having a lot of fun. I teach because I love. The reading, the discussion, the kids—oh, most of all, these energetic, deep-thinking kids.

Busy is my roster of Other Jobs—the grantwriting gig, the website maintenance gig, the editorial gig. You know, the day jobs that make the writing life possible.

Busy is Sketchbook Skool and my commitment to daily drawing. (The rhino up there was for an assignment—splatter some ink on the page and turn it into a drawing. He’s scribbly on purpose. Also because I’ve never drawn a rhino before and I was winging it.)

Busy is when the neighbor kids are on spring break and therefore practically living at my house during daylight hours. We have become That House!

Busy is evening IM chats with Jane and full days with the rest of the gang. And morning walks with Scott, because no matter how busy All the Busy is, it’s never too busy for that. :)

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11. All in a blur

Nine years, can you believe it?

Wonderboy and Rilla, June 2006

rillaaug06

birthdayrilla09

rillablur

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12. I was going to say “Sam” but that’ll do just fine

Huck and I are cuddled up in the big brown chair. His hair is getting long again, all rumpled curls on top. Face a little dirty, because it’s after nine in the morning. Big sweet eyes smiling up at me, waiting for a story.

“Once upon a time,” I begin, “there was a boy named—”

“ACID FIRE,” he interjects.

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13. A Monday snapshot

eeyore14

 

Small child straddling two barstools, running toy cars up and down the high counter. Another child sprawled on floor, drawing a picture. A third hovering by the cedar chest at the far end of the sofa, at loose ends. A leggy teenager spidering sideways in the comfy armchair. A perfectly typical scene of mild morning chaos.

I curl up in my rocking chair with House at Pooh Corner. The younger set hasn’t heard it yet, in that way that shocks me. They are six, almost nine, and eleven, for Pete’s sake! How could such a thing have happened? Answer: SO. MANY. BOOKS. With no fanfare, I open it and start reading.

The child on the floor flashes a starry grin and scoots closer, her pencils rolling under my feet. The child at loose ends looks up, ears perked. The small one zooming his cars around seems not to notice, but all the engines appear to have undergone sudden tuneups: their roars diminish to silky purrs.

It takes me a minute to find Pooh’s voice. It’s been a few years, after all. Piglet is easy and Eeyore—this revelation would no doubt astonish him—is a delight. It’s snowing, tiddley pom, but at least there hasn’t been an earthquake.

The cars have abandoned the counter and are crossing a bridge of air toward the Hundred Acre Wood. The teenager’s limbs have been transferred to the sofa. The no-longer-hovering child has claimed ownership of the big brown armchair. Nobody knows, tiddley pom, how cold my toes are growing. The postman rattles the lid of the mailbox, delivering the day’s contingent of recyclables. Pooh’s voice has settled down, and the wind must have blown Eeyore’s house over the wood because there it is, just as good as ever, and better in places.

It’s a beautiful house, tiddley pom.

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14. Progress

One of the earliest lessons of having a special-needs child was learning to recognize his progress not by comparing him to typically-developing children of the same age, but by comparing him to his own earlier self. I say ‘lesson’ and ‘learn’ but in truth this was something that happened naturally and almost instantaneously after his multiple diagnoses and the beginning of various therapies—physical, occupational, speech. As soon as I had an understanding of his developmental challenges, I was able to rejoice over each increment of progress, each small accomplishment along with the big ones. It was like my brain was wiped free of comparisons to other babies, including my first three, and all that existed was this baby, making these tremendous (even when tiny) strides.

That mental shift keeps popping into my mind lately as I keep working (and working and working) on drawing. Only here, it isn’t natural and instantaneous. Here, I have to keep relearning the lesson; some days I practically have to shout it at myself. The trouble, of course, is that I have so many friends who are spectacularly good artists. Years of training, years of dedication and work. Hundreds or thousands of pages of finished art under their belts. If I compare my drawings—or my slow progress—to them, I feel bleak. I don’t have it, that thing they have. Vision, natural talent, hand-eye coordination, vast knowledge of technique—you name it, I don’t have it. All I have is…earnestness. A belief that everyone can learn to draw, and that includes me. And this long-simmering desire to learn, kindled last fall into a full-boil determination.

So I keep reminding myself, baby artist, to compare myself to the even babier artist I was a few months ago. I remember when my son was finally able to climb up stairs on his own. He was well past a year old. He had motor planning issues, and we spent hours and hours over a period of several months, moving his limbs for him up stair by stair by stair. Hand, knee, hand, knee. Or was it hand, hand, knee, knee, I don’t remember now. Either way, it took so much practice. Until one day his brain figured it out. The pattern was learned. The pathways were formed. Soon after that we could hardly remember what it was like before he learned to climb stairs. We had to scramble to help him learn how to climb down.

Stair by stair, I’m making progress. For every ten drawings I hate, I make one that I like. But I like looking at the bad ones, too, because I know that the fact that I can see what’s wrong with them is another sign of my progress. My eye is improving along with my hand. (“Your taste is killer. Your taste is why your work disappoints you.”)

Today I looked at something I’d done, a couple of quick, surreptitious gesture sketches of some women in a meeting, and realized I’d attempted people—in complex postures, no less—without even thinking about it. Six months ago, I wouldn’t have done that. It’s nice to know I’ve made it up a stair or two.

IMG_8355

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15. Beep

Huck came to me with How to Read a Story by Kate Messner and Mark Siegel. “Mommy, will you be my reading buddy?” Of course I will!

He starts reading me the book. And then, halfway through, only a few pages after the sneaky video I took below, he…stopped reading out loud. Got sucked into the story and read silently for the first time. Thanks to this charming picture book, I got to be there for the moment of transition. It was magical. And yes, since he’s my youngest, a little bittersweet–the last one to cross the bridge to solo, silent immersion. But only a little bittersweet. Mostly just magical.

 

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16. Color me stumped

“Mommy, guess what I am. It starts with the.”

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17. Things I have done in the past few days

Louisa by Isabelle, grade 5

Louisa by Isabelle, grade 5

• Melted at the artwork and poems created by the three classes of fifth- and sixth-graders who welcomed me to the Greater San Diego Reading Association’s annual Authors Fair.

• Read aloud the last chapter of The Prairie Thief to a roomful of eager fifth-graders. Such a delight. I so seldom get to read the end of the book to a school group—I don’t want to give anything away! Exceedingly fun to discover the teacher had been reading the book to the class and saved the finale for my visit. :)

• Had a marvelous time swapping book suggestions with the kids during the Q&A after my readings. Hot tip: they are loving The Unicorn Chronicles at the moment.

• Tried out a new voice for Fox in my Storytime at Carmel Valley Public Library on Saturday. Gotta keep it fresh, you know.

• Wrote my tail off all day yesterday.

• Rejoiced with the gang as our monarch butterfly emerged from its chrysalis this morning. We missed the big entrance but not by much. Later, when it was ready to fly, we took it out to the milkweed patch in the backyard, and it rested there long enough for Rilla and me to sketch it. I had just finished adding watercolor when it soared away to the cape honeysuckle, and from there out into the blue. Bon voyage, little dear.

monarch

Yes, aphids galore

 

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18. Saturday Event: Storytime at Carmel Library

foxandcrowarenotfriends1

Join Fox and Crow and me for Storytime at Carmel Library in North County Saturday, March 14 at 4pm!



Authors Virginia Loh and Sid Shapira will also be reading from their books tomorrow afternoon (check with the library for their event times).

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19. Education junkie

coursera

I’m always amused when the Coursera “recommended for you” email arrives and I get to see who their algorithm thinks I am this time. Coursera-Melissa has wonderfully eclectic tastes, doesn’t she?

I must say that Australian literature class looks mighty enticing. I’m sure the Planet Earth course came up because of the several climate change classes I’ve taken. Proooobably not going to squeeze any Econ into my schedule, though. ;) And as for learning C#, I’ll leave that to my daughter the computer science major.

If you’re looking for a lit class, I can highly recommend “Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction” with UVa prof Bruce Holsinger. I took that one last year and found it top-notch. Holsinger is an engaging lecturer and he brought in a lot of interesting writers for Q&A interviews.

I’m afraid to click around on the site too much right now, since I have a crazy amount of stuff on my plate this spring and I’m not likely to have much extra reading time. Still…I find the course lectures are most excellent listening material while I’m cleaning or (lately) sketching. Couldn’t hurt just to sign up for the Aussie lit class, could it? A little something to listen to while I’m scrubbing the bathroom floor?

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20. Upcoming Events

March 4 is World Read-Aloud Day

Inch and RolyI’ll be celebrating with several special events in the San Diego area this month.

March 7, 2pm
Storytime at The New Children’s Museum to celebrate Reading Week. Join me for a read-aloud of Fox and Crow Are Not Friends!

March 13, all day
Greater San Diego Reading Association Author’s Fair, Kimball Elementary School, National City

March 14, 4pm
Learn2Earn Readathon Event at Carmel Valley Library

March 19, 5:30pm
Toler Literacy Night • featured speaker

***

Join me in Mankato, Minnesota this June for the
Deep Valley Homecoming

June 26-30, 2015
I will be a featured speaker at this very special Betsy-Tacy event. Hope to see you there!

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21. We bite stupid people

That was the sign tacked onto the rail at Oceanside Pier, right next to this fellow. I was within arm’s reach before I noticed him.

pelican

Rose wants to know if she can hang the same sign on her bedroom door.

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22. Join Me Saturday at the New Children’s Museum in San Diego

Inch and RolyI’ll be doing a Storytime event at 2pm tomorrow (Saturday, March 7). Hope to see you and your kids there!

 

 

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23. Danny Gregory interviewed me about one of my favorite subjects: making art with kids

Sketchbook Skool Q&Art video interview

Well, this was quite a treat. My recent post on ways to encourage a family art habit caught the eye of folks at Sketchbook Skool, which led to my being interviewed by Danny Gregory for a Q&Art video. As an eager viewer of this excellent video series, I was delighted to find myself chatting with an artist whose books and classes (I mean klasses) have been a tremendous source of inspiration and education for me. What a joy. Danny asked me for advice on encouraging creativity in children—one of my pet topics, as you know!

(Not included in the video: the two minutes of Rilla bouncing up and down in her overwhelming glee at meeting Danny, one of her heroes, via Skype just before we began the recording. She was absolutely starstruck. :) )

(direct link)

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24. March Moments

sakura

Taken at the Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park. No filter on that sky! Just pure San Diego blue.

 

I started to write a list of all the things that have kept me too busy to blog in the past week, and just contemplating such a mammoth catalog of events was exhausting—forget writing about it. Suffice to say it’s a good busy?

But I ought to jot down the highlights before they blur away into the past.

1. The last first loose tooth. ::sniffle::

2. After being rained out several Mondays in a row (to our vast astonishment, for we had all but forgotten such a thing as rain exists), we finally got to take Beanie on a promised trip to Balboa Park—just Bean, Scott, and me—for a museum ramble and lunch at the Japanese Tea House. Utterly delightful day. Rose stayed home and baked cookies with the littles, so there was contentment all round. We meant to visit the Mingei but I forgot to check its hours and yep, Monday’s the day it’s closed. Not a problem—not at Balboa Park. We walked across the way to the Museum of Man, which we hadn’t visited since our first year here. (A visit that sparked what is probably my favorite post I’ve ever written on this blog.)

3. Saturday’s Reading Week event at the New Children’s Museum was loads of fun. Wound up reading a total of five books (four of them mine, plus a Peter Rabbit board book that one little girl begged for most earnestly, and who can resist that?) to two groups of children. What a gorgeous space. And the Learn2Earn folks, who organized the author visits, were awesome. Enjoyed chatting with them. Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame had a slot earlier in the day.

I have several more events scheduled this month. I’ll be ready for some low tide in April! Though not perhaps on the homeschooling front. We’re having too much fun with Big History Project (Bean & Rose) and American Tall Tales (Huck & Rilla).

I dunno, do you guys think I'm wearing my wings too low?

I dunno, do you guys think I’m wearing my wings too low?

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25. “…wake to the wonder of this grass”

christmascactus0315

Ours is in bloom this very day, as it happens

“Our Christmas cactus has predictably bloomed each December for three decades and some years when it has been colder for longer, as is the case this year, it often blooms more than once a year. Our Christmas cactus is alive and growing 365 days of the year, most of which it is rarely seen by me but only looked at.”

That’s Owen Swain in his post “Blooming Cactus / blooming an illustrated life / and, what I learned in Sketchbook Skool.”

In his drawing of the cactus, he includes a quote which sent me immediately dashing for my commonplace book (which is to say, this blog).

“While drawing grasses I learn nothing ‘about’ grass, but wake to the wonder of this grass and its growing, to the wonder that there is grass at all.”

—Frederick Franck

That. Yes. Exactly. Or at least, I suppose I would say I learn something about grass when I’m drawing it, I learn something about everything I look at closely. But that kind of learning is implied in the quote. I get what he means by ‘about.’ And yes, the waking to the wonder of a thing by observing it quietly, moving your pen along its paths, or by writing a poem about it (“This grasshopper, I mean—/ the one who has flung herself out of the grass,/ the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—/ who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes…”)*; even, I daresay, by blogging about it—the combined act of observing, pondering, and then expressing, in word or line—these endeavors shift your relationship with the humble object; they awaken you to the wonder the thing actually is.

The very first revelation that struck me about drawing, way back in college during a too-brief foray into sketching, was the passage in the Betty Edwards book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain in which one of Betty’s students mentioned that after she began trying to draw faces, “every face I looked at seemed beautiful to me.” I have written before about the enormous impact that statement had on me, not just in relation to drawing but to an overall view of life.

The drawing lessons taught her to really look at people, and when she did, she saw beauty everywhere.

I know I’m going all over the place here, but in my mind these things are all connected: this way of really looking, really seeing, noticing what is interesting and important and even beautiful about things many people whisk by without noticing. And what I can do for my children is refuse to fill up their lives with things they must patiently endure until a better moment comes. I can savor the moments as they happen, and give them the time and space to find what’s interesting and beautiful in every face the world shows them.

As I was writing that last sentence, Beanie appeared in front of me with a big smile and a present: a bracelet made of safety pins linked together, each pin shining with green and blue beads. “It’s for you, Mommy,” she breathed, so proud and excited. “Jane showed me how.” How patiently (the good kind of patience) she must have worked to slide all those beads in place.

I never noticed before what a work of art a safety pin is!

I’ve written so many times on this blog about how my approach to education is to keep the focus on the process, not the product. The lesson is renewed for me every time I take pencil in hand and try to capture the lines of a thing on my page. In the end, it doesn’t matter at all how my drawing ‘turns out.’ The magic is in the doing.

*From “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

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