The Occasional Book Review and Recommendation
Whenever a picture book written by Marion Dane Bauer is delivered to my doorstep, I wait before reading it. I wouldn’t call it ritual, exactly, but I make sure I have some hot tea or lemonade nearby. And plenty of time before I sit down to read. I don’t even read the flap copy. I wait because I want to immerse myself in the entire experience from front flap copy to the end, savoring every rhythmic sentence and its companion art throughout.
Just the other day, when I went out to the front courtyard to see how the roses survived the latest monsoon rainstorm, lying on the table beside the front door, was a package stamped “media mail.” I hadn’t heard the familiar chime alerting me to someone at my door, so I don’t know if it was delivered that day or the day before.
It was a new picture book: The Animals Speak: A Christmas Eve Legend, written by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Brittany Baugus, and published by Beaming Books. It will release in October, and I’m telling you, it is a gem.
There are numerous legends and stories about animals being granted the power of speech, often at midnight. Ms. Bauer has retold the story of the animals that speak the night Jesus, the Christ Child, was born.
The story is familiar, the animals are familiar, but Bauer’s spare, sonorous retelling, and Baugus’s luminescent illustrations make it new again. Bauer’s repetition of “Long and long the story has been told …” with all those “o’s,” a favorite vowel of mine, gives the story the gravitas it requires.
And here, “ … angels, sheep, the wooly sheep” and “..of … magi, camels, the swaying camels ….” These rhythmic, repeating asides slow the story down, getting us ready for midnight, the first Christmas Eve, a night filled with “silent awe until the animals found words of praise.”
Interestingly, the animals do not speak in the text, except for one “Rejoice!” though they speak in the illustrations. It is not only the sheep and cows and camels around the manger that gather to rejoice. Animals on every continent gather, from elephants on the savannas to whales swimming in the seas. Bauer, too, brings the story into the present with the story told in churches today, and including the pets in our homes, rejoicing, thus connecting all living creatures past and present, who celebrate the Christmas season.
Marion Dane Bauer is a master of the prose poem, those stories with the concision and intensity of poetry. I urge you to seek out The Animals Speak: A Christmas Eve Legend for the children in your life. The story has been told and retold, but this retelling is worth its weight in gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We all saw a rabbit …
Commemorate and Celebrate Juneteenth!!
A new chapter …
There are writers who teach and teachers (and librarians) who write. I’ve done both. For the first part of my working life, I taught and then later became a librarian. I wrote in the summers and on school breaks. During that time I had numerous poems, essays, and articles published, and finally, my first book of poems: I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY. Also during that time, I wrote professional book reviews, sat on award committees, and later started a poetry blog. I stopped reviewing around 2007, stopped blogging around 2012.
In 2015, I became a writer who teaches. I left my day job, and began writing full time and teaching poetry workshops for adults and tutoring middle schoolers in reading and writing, part-time. I’ve had more poems published in print and online, and two more books were published: LIKE A BIRD: THE ART OF THE AMERICAN SLAVE SONG and WRITE TO ME: LETTERS FROM JAPANESE AMERICAN CHILDREN TO THE LIBRARIAN THEY LEFT BEHIND.
I am at a crossroads again. The pandemic has changed many of our lives, including mine. I’m not sure what’s coming next. As my mom would say, “We’ll have to wait and see.”
One year later …
Joseph’s Coat climbing rose … our first pandemic project, along with the trellis …
A surprise delivery from UPS yesterday!
Write to Me is now available in Japan, published by Hyoronsha
As part of the 2020 One Book One San Diego celebration, I had TWO television spots: a short segment on CBS 8 Morning Extra, and I was part of a one-hour program on KPBS!
Every year on February 19th, the Japanese American community, along with its allies, note this anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the sweeping roundup and incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans.
Homes, farms, and businesses were stolen, vandalized, and destroyed over the next 3 1/2 years of World War II. The political climate and the racism seen today parallels that of the 1940s in many ways.
It is important to learn and remember our history so that we can evolve into a better people, a better nation, a better world. Join the Las Cruces Public Library in their BIG READ 2021 this month to honor, commemorate, and remember the national tragedy.
I’m interviewed here by Carson Williams, Youth Services Librarian in Las Cruces. We talk about the war, the children from San Diego who were incarcerated, my work as a librarian, and how I came to write my most recent book, Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind.
I had wonderful news this week!
The city of La Mesa, in San Diego county, has issued a proclamation that January 30 shall be known as the FRED KOREMATSU DAY OF CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE CONSTITUTION.
La Mesa is one more city joining numerous cities and states across America honoring the civil rights work and legacy of Fred Korematsu and his family as they protested the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII.
Within the proclamation, the public is urged to read Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind, along with George Takei’s graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy.
Truly, One Book, One San Diego has become the gift that keeps on giving!
“may the blessing of light be on you …”
step into the light
as if wrung from the morning rain …
A long, trying year is coming to an end, but the pandemic is still with us. I like to start each day reading and then writing a poem. Here’s an old one that dropped out of a notebook I grabbed this morning. Enjoy.
HAVE YOU SEEN GRACE?
Do you know– does grace nest low to the ground,
hiding in the weedy grasses?
Or high in the branches that sway over the river?
Does grace wear a splash of yellow across its breast?
Does it migrate each fall?
Does it fly at all?
I do know this– I have heard it.
I have heard it singing:
serenading the sunflowers
until they rise up dancing from the dusty, desert floor.
I have heard it coaxing the plum blossoms
with its feathery coos and hums.
Some say grace thrums, low and long–
a song sneaking up behind you.
Every once in a great while,
grace warbles so far beyond blue,
it bends and bounces its way through the sound barrier;
and I shake and I blink and I think:
I won’t always wake to a world colored pink,
but the song of grace will always be ringing.
Today’s the day!
One Book One San Diego has chosen Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind as their 2020 children’s book selection.
The Adult/Young Adult & Spanish language selection is George Takei’s graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy– the first time all selections have been on the same topic.
Celebrate! Read books! Buy books! Support the Festival!
In these dog days of summer, we have watermelon!
Almost ready to be picked!
Celebrating African American
Music Appreciation Month
Did you know that each poem in I Lay My Stitches Down contains a musical reference or a line from an African American spiritual? Part of the joy of reading poetry is discovering unexpected pleasures.
Can you name the spiritual contained in this poem?
Birds in the Air
At morning’s hush, when stars begin to fall,
she’ll toss a pan of corn down behind the
quarters, whistling pure and sharp. Like the wren’s
song, she hits the grace note just so. Soon, we
see wings aquiver; sky fills with birdsong.
Through a thick weave of Western clouds comes a
feathery carpet of birds. In makeshift
nests, they leave us their eggs. She makes her way
to the Big house to work, but not ’til we’ve
given thanks for her heavenly breakfast.
Commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, June 19, 1865, when those enslaved in Texas were the last to be freed.
It is June, 2020, and many of us are still…
sheltering at home because of corona virus and COVID-19; we are still grieving and protesting the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and so many other African Americans whose lives have been cut short by police brutality; it is the month the LGBTQ community would be celebrating with PRIDE their own lives and protests against discrimination.
The presidential election campaigns are about to ramp up and it is almost a given that the campaigns will be unforgivably mean; teachers and their administrators are meeting and planning to figure out if and when the school year should begin; parents don’t know how their children will be cared for when they return to work if the schools do not open; recent graduates, from high school, college, and graduate school do not have the opportunities that they normally would have.
There will be an end to this chaos, confusion, and fear. But until then, here are a few links that may help you get through the next few months.
Teachers, Parents, Friends!!
As Asian Pacific American Heritage Month draws to a close, be sure to catch me reading Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children from the Librarian They Left Behind over at the Charlesbridge website. It will be up through the month of June. Lots of Charlesbridge authors are reading their work!Check them all out.
The first roses make their appearance, just in time for a mid-April snowfall.
In times of uncertainty, I like to keep busy. Keep my hands busy. I’ve been cleaning, gardening, painting, gardening, playing ping-pong, gardening, and petting our rabbits. When it warms up, we’ll paint the garage with some leftover paint from another project. So far, my family and friends remain healthy, though I’m worried about a few.
To my readers, I wish you good health, hope, love of family and friends, and something to do that soothes your heart.
Early March Late March
New Mexico friends! Come see Gospel star, Kelontae Gavin, and accompanying Gospel choir (of which I am a new member, along with a few other writers) singing Sunday, February 16, to mark New Mexico Black History Month.
And while you’re at it, consider purchasing either one
of my first two books–still in print!!
And after that, wander over to Erica’s at What Do We Do All Day? for more books to celebrate African Americans.
February 19 marks the anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, when more than 120,000 Japanese American citizens were imprisoned by the US government for the duration of World War II.
In honor and remembrance of this day, I will be reading, signing, and speaking about Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind.
Friday, February 7: Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary, Albuquerque
Saturday, February 8: Special Collections Library, Albuquerque. Program begins 10:30 a.m.
wishing you a warm and safe holiday…
see you in the new year
I have one more event scheduled in 2019!
December 7: Barnes and Noble, Coronado Mall, Albuquerque
On this anniversary of the bombing of Peal Harbor, I’ll be sharing Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind.
Not only did the US enter what would become known as World War II on this day, but the lives of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans would be changed forever.
While you’re here, shop around. The New Mexico chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) will receive some of the day’s proceeds, which enables us to provide scholarships to conferences and offer free workshops on writing and illustrating.
I’m excited to announce that Write to Me will be released in paperback in mid-October, and released in Japan in November!
It has recently received two awards: Virginia Library Association’s Jefferson Cup, and the International Reading Association’s Social Justice Award.
Over the next couple of months, this is where you’ll find me:
September 17: Albuquerque, NM – Bachechi Open Space, teaching Poetry through the Seasons – Autumn
October 23-24: Norfolk, VA – Virginia Library Association Annual Conference – Jefferson Cup for Children’s Biography!
October 27: Albuquerque, NM – Page One Books, 3 pm.
November 16: Albuquerque, NM – Return of the Crane Festival, Open Space Visitor Center – Migration and Poetry Workshop, 10:00 am-2:00 pm.
December 4: Albuquerque, NM – Bachechi Open Space, Poetry through the Seasons – Winter
Offline for the rest of summer ~ enjoy.
Next week . . .
Poetry through the Seasons (Summer)
Bachechi Open Space, Wednesday, July 17, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m.
Celebrate the moon…
Celebrate the 50th(!) anniversary of the first lunar landing with Moonstruck! Poems about Our Moon, an anthology of poems for young readers. Twenty classic moon poems and 20 new poems, including one by yours truly. Available June 1.
4 February: Adobe Acres School, Albuquerque, New Mexico
29-30 March: New Mexico Historical Society Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico
13 April: Gallup Book Festival, Gallup, New Mexico
18 April: Back to Adobe Acres!
24 April: Poetry Workshop — Bachechi Open Space, Albuquerque, NM
27 April: New Mexico Battle of the Books, Rio Rancho, NM