Goodbye Flip Phone, Hello Moto

The technology in our house is undergoing a transformation.

My husband, who works for a communications company, has always had his finger on the pulse of new: new product, newest update, latest gadgets. I, however, knowing he’s doing enough worrying about it for the two of us, have gotten progressively further out of the loop with each subsequent year past college. With the exception of my blog and attendant accounts, I haven’t added any new technology ammo to my arsenal.

When my husband was issued an iPhone for his job, I inherited his personal ruggedized flip phone. It did the job. It stored important numbers. It texted – after you hit the same alpha-numeric button a kajillion times for one character. It took grainy photos. I actually impressed my husband with the amount of functionality I squeezed out of that embarrassingly outdated piece of equipment.

Only, its days were numbered.

He sent me a text one day that read, “I love you ??” I countered with, “What, you don’t know?” He explained it was supposed to be some cute emoji blowing me a kiss, but our antiquated tech couldn’t decipher it. I still thought it was rather suspect. He thought it was one more reason to get a new phone.

Then, due to restructuring at work, his iPhone would no longer be standard issue. He began shopping for two brand-spanking new smartphones for us. He told me I’d like them so much better. I vacillated between not caring and not wanting one.

I liked the ability to go incommunicado when I left the house. I enjoyed not having Hal summoning me throughout the day and night. I liked not having a technological tether.

And then he forced me to set it up and play with it.

My head nearly exploded the first time I swiped down and a list of updates from all my social media accounts appeared on one screen. I could comment on my blog in real-time. I could find out who that new follower on Twitter was instantaneously. I could add new events to my calendar without deleting two others because the memory was full. Hell, I could even ask Moto what song was playing on the closing credits of the movie that just ended.

The ability to synch and stream and search does make life a lot easier. In a world where everyone else is ‘smart’, it does give me an edge – or at least a fighting chance. It will help me build my platform and online presence with a sense of immediacy that taking a photo with my flip phone, emailing it to myself, and posting it five hours later simply can’t.

There are, however, drawbacks.

To write this, is the first time I’ve opened my laptop in five days. Sure, swiping my smartphone can make me a Twitter phenom, but it ain’t gonna get any writing done.

There are other ways it could hurt my writing, too. Grammar. Syntax. Spelling. Holy God. I already feel myself getting dumber. When I have to stuff my fat thumbs onto those tiny little virtual squares, the least amount of tapping is optimal, but my grammar dander is up big time. I don’t think I’ve tapped a complete sentence yet. With texting, this isn’t as much of an issue, but when you can access email as well, there is a significant drop in quality of communications. I feel like I need to prostrate myself in front of my junior high English teachers.

Smartphones also rob us of another basic language skill: alphabetical order. When my husband imported some contacts for me, I wondered why they were alphabetized by first name or prefix (ie Uncle Josephat). I was going to lambaste him for his shoddy abc order, when I realized new additions filed the same way. When I questioned him on the reason for this, he agreed it was strange, but that didn’t stop me from a lengthy diatribe on how this little feature was killing the skill-set of the next generation. (Yes, tech gurus, I understand you’ve studied the metrics of keystrokes and all that crap, but you’re killing our linguistic scaffolds!)

Last, but certainly not least, smartphones rob us of life. Designed to save precious moments, they steal many others from us. I, myself, in short order became a rampant offender – of that crime of staring into the tiny screen rather than the expanse in front of me. Of running to the notification beep like Pavlov’s drooling dog. In our desire of being up-to-the-minute, in-the-know, we don’t do any of the living ourselves. How stupidly sad.

In an ironic twist of fate, as I prepared to flip my phone shut for the last time, this news broke:

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Anna Wintour and her flip phone

Proof that if you hold onto something long enough, it will come back around again.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hasty to kick my flip phone to the curb.  But then, I never would’ve known my flip phone was still in vogue if it hadn’t trended on my husband’s smartphone.

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The Imaginative World of Words

Free App: Poetry from the Poetry Foundation.

 

It’s National Poetry Month.  Woo Hoo!  Hang sonnets from the sashes and couplets from the cupolas.  Let a ballad be your banner flapping in the brisk April breeze.

I would join in your revelry and pen my own poetic masterpiece, alas, I got distracted playing with this fabulous app.  It doesn’t have flappy fins or diced fruit, but you can spin TWO wheels and garner a fortune of carefully crafted verse.  It is a goldmine for logophiles like me, for it brings merit to the world of technophilia.

Which brings me to the book I just finished reading (and shows just how distracted I am today): Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  Though at times in the plot there are contentious arguments about the merits of print vs. technology, Sloan, for the most part, has created a loving universe where both coexist in meaningful and appreciative ways.  The last lines, though, do give a good ol’ what what to my beloved book:

“A man walking fast down a dark lonely street.  Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need.  A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes.  A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”

 

May you always find exactly the right book, at exactly the right time.  And may the spinning poetry wheel of fortune be ever in your favor.  Happy reading!

Kenneth Josephson, Chicago (blurred book pages) 1988

 

** Big shout-out to iGameMom for tipping me off to this app!

Sky Magic

I grew up with many students who hated poetry.  Talented students.  Intelligent students.  Students who could write well themselves.  But understand what a poem was really saying?  And enjoy the process?  No way.

And then I became a teacher.  I worked with many teachers who avoided poetry, either because they had experiences similar to my former fellow students or because they figured their students would react in much the same way.

Somewhere between the playful lyricism of picture books and class study of extended texts, readers lose the magic of words, metaphor, and imagery, which is a missed opportunity for all.  Poetry uses words in beautiful and economical ways, providing teachable moments for literary terms and succinct expression.

That’s why when I find a children’s anthology of poetry, I am more than happy to check it out.  The latest one I’ve discovered is Sky Magic, a compilation by Lee Bennett Hopkins.  His volume, My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States, with lovely illustrations by Stephen Alcorn, once part of my classroom library, is now part of the special collection I plan to share with my own children.  So I was eager to check out this other volume, illustrated by Mariusz Stawarski.

Every poem in Sky Magic evokes the dreamy nature of stargazing and sunny mornings.  Every one is accessible, even those written by ‘adult’ authors.  An excerpt from Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo mixes well with a poem by children’s author and poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich (whose poems in There’s No Place Like School, compiled by Jack Prelutsky, I love).  All are accessible because they use sparse language to tell stories.  All good poetry does so, through phrases and symbols, examples and metaphors.  And there is no child – young or old – who cannot appreciate a story.  Poetry anthologies made specifically for children have the added bonus of illustrations to add yet another dimension to the story.  Stawarski’s paintings are so evocative of dreamy days and nights, they bring figurative language to literal life.

Share a book such as Sky Magic with the young readers in your life – or the poetry phobes – and usher in the dawn of a new era: another form of storytelling and verbal vision accessible to all.

Legends

In the language of stars
lie stories of old
brilliant legends
told; retold.

Spelling out sagas,
spilling out light,
a mythical manuscript
filling the night.
– Avis Harley

On My Way to Buy Eggs

“May I go outside and play?” Shau-yu asks.
“I need you to go to the store first,” her father replies.

On My Way to Buy Eggs by Chih-Yuan Chen starts simply enough.  In this father-daughter exchange, it seems Shau-yu’s intentions for the day are reversed, but her trip to the store becomes the play, not a postponement of it.  She chases shadows, greets neighborhood animals, transforms found objects into treasures and the back alley ways of her surrounding area into magical places.  Imagination allows her to see her ordinary path in a new light – that and the discovery of a blue marble and lost pair of glasses.

The everyday nature of this story is where its power lies.  Not only does it showcase childlike wonder and the power of play, On My Way to Buy Eggs proves that life occurs in the small moments.  The true experiences occur in the in-between.

Shau-Yu returns home at the end of the book.  The two final pages of the book, a spread of illustration, show her playing in the background while her father prepares supper with the eggs in the foreground.  The wordless scene incorporates all the facets of her journey.  Whimsy and the necessary intersect.  Real life and the imaginary merge.

Children form identity through a sense of belonging, a place to call home, a combination of play, responsibility, and autonomy – all of which Shau-Yu encounters on her way to buy eggs.

Under the Big Sky

Apparently I’m drawn to morbid and depressing children’s books.  Save a sweep of the memoir section on our walk in, the children’s section is the only one I get a chance to truly explore while at the library.  So perhaps it is some deep-seated need for adult content even if it must come in child format.

Ironically, I try to keep my ‘child’ selections from my own children, keeping them with my books rather than their stack of picture books.  But if they look like ducks . . . my kids expect them to waddle like ducks and inevitably find them.

One such duck is Under the Big Sky by Trevor Romain.  The main character is sent on a journey by his grandfather, approaching the end of his years, to discover the secret of life.  If he does so, the boy will receive all of his grandfather’s riches.  Not a bad carrot to waddle after, and so, the boy sets off, querying objects, animals, and people as he goes.  The answers he collects are rich examples of metaphors, which present wonderfully teachable moments for young readers in trying to suss out both their literal and figurative meanings.

Understandably, there is no one easy or straightforward answer.  Expecting that there was one, the boy becomes discouraged.  He finally crosses the world and many years, searching.  Upon his return to his grandfather (who, honestly, I was surprised had not died by this point), he reports that he has not found the secret of life.

“But you did find it,” said his grandfather.  “Your journey itself was the secret of life.  And along the way you have learned everything you will need to enjoy a full and rich life.”

And so the boy does attain his grandfather’s riches; in fact, he had them all along.  As do all of us on this journey of life. Apparently it takes an adult reading of a child’s book to remember this.  Who knows?  Perhaps if children do read books like this, they will discover the secret sooner.

Bluebird

I hate books with sad endings.  But I love Bob Staake’s.

The Donut Chef is in heavy rotation in our house.  I cannot eat a donut without proclaiming, “There’s nothing quite like glazed, I think!”

So when I spied a new title, Bluebird, on prominent display in my child’s library at open house, I couldn’t resist removing it from its perch for a peek.  My first grader came home with it a few weeks later much to my delight.

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Every workshop on children’s writing I’ve attended, particularly those on picture books, says you must have a happy ending or at least end on a positive note of some sort.  Kids need to know they will prevail in some fashion.  Lately, I‘ve been finding many books that are heartbreaking!  After reading Bluebird, I have to say, my excitement in finding a new Staake book was quelled somewhat by the poignant moments at the end of it.

A lonely boy begins a new school year.  Two bullies have him pegged from the moment the class queues up outside.  After school, he heads in one direction, the rest of the children, the other.  He is all alone save the bluebird that has been quietly watching him all day – from tree branches and windowsills.  Immersed in his solitary confinement, he does not notice the bird flit along beside him, until she swoops in low over his head and engages him.  With a fun mixture of tag, hide-and-seek, and follow-the-leader, the two become friends as they move through the city.  These are the only times we see the boy smile.  As he floats a boat in the park, the bird perched upon its mast, drawing the attention and friendship of a nearby boy and girl, readers rejoice with the boy and finally relax.  He will be okay.  He has found happiness, even if one bright spot of it.

And then he passes under the bridge – where three bullies want not friendship, but his beloved toy boat.  At first, the bird hangs back, watching from atop the bridge.  I wanted the bird to rescue him, but the workshops have also taught me that protagonists need to solve problems for themselves.  Still, I was angry that his new friend was seemingly hanging him out to dry.  But when the situation turns dire and the boy truly needs him, she swoops in.  She blocks the blow the boy would’ve received from a stick thrown by the bullies, but sacrifices her own life in the process.  To their possibly redeeming credit, the bullies are appalled by the result of their actions.  A flurry of rainbow-hued birds lifts the boy and the bluebird into the sky for the spiritual denouement.

His friend dies?  He finally has someone that makes him smile and she’s dead?  This is not the gooey goodness of a glazed donut!  But it does adhere to that positive tenet of children’s literature: through the process of nurturing this friendship and finding what makes him happy, the boy can now fly on his own.  The bluebird has taught him how to find happiness on his own.

The plot of this book is riveting and transcendent.  What is astounding is that there is no narrative text whatsoever.  Staake tells this incredibly intricate and rich tale with nary a word.  It is a true testament to his amazing graphic skills.

This book may not have been what I was expecting, but happiness rarely is.  Bluebird joins Bob Staake’s catalog as another superb example of children’s literature.

Neville

It starts with a colorless world.

The only color comes from the belongings he’s brought with him to this foreign land.

An unsanctioned move, an unfamiliar school, and unknown classmates, who most certainly won’t become friends.

This is the bleak landscape in which a young boy finds himself at the beginning of the picture book, Neville, by Norton Juster.

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At the beautifully gentle suggestion of his mother, he takes a walk down the street on the off chance of meeting someone.  Reaching the end of the block, he looks skyward and bellows a name.

Neville

Is this the name of a friend he’s left behind?  A pet who’s wandered off into this new neighborhood?

It’s unclear who he’s summoning, but first one, then a whole slew of children answer the call.  They all begin to seek out Neville without even knowing who he is.  Not exactly synchronized, but part of a collective effort to find this unknown friend.

“Hey, I don’t know anyone named Neville who lives around here.  Is he new?”

“I guess so,” the boy said uncertainly.  “Everyone has to be new sometimes, don’t they?”

The anxiously-sought-after Neville becomes a great source of curiosity, the children clamoring for information and hoping to meet him soon – though they’re pretty impressed with his friend, perhaps even more so than the mysteriously absent Neville.

Returning to his new house, it looks a little less bleak.  Closing his eyes that night, his mother wishes Neville goodnight.

The surprise reveal of Neville’s identity is a clever twist.  The entire book is a poignant look at the void a move can create; what is left behind is no longer accessible, but it’s unclear yet how to access the new resources available.  The tentative way Neville approaches it all is such a realistic depiction – for children and adults alike experiencing a move.  Readers will feel for Neville’s plight (even before we know it’s him), but not just because he’s a nervous kid; because he represents the ambiguity we all face when we experience a move.

We’ve all been tempted to raise our face to the sky and bellow our own name to see what comes back.

In the case of Neville, it’s all good.

First the Egg

My newly minted six year-old, about to enter first grade, chose this book from the bins at the library.

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I often wonder at her book selection process, as it seems to be hunt and peck, plucking a book after rifling through just a few.  Maybe something about the cover piques her interest, sometimes it’s one I later find out she’d read with her beloved kindergarten teacher – once, it was because it had the country Swaziland in the title, whose name sent her into peals of laughter the first time she heard it pronounced (no disrespect, Swaziland).  But most times, it seems she chooses a book simply because it seems as good as any other, with a shrug, an impatience with the process.

Whatever her motivation, First the Egg was a great choice.

Starting with a spin on the proverbial question of origin, First the Egg introduces and reinforces many important literacy skills.

Cause and effect, Sequencing, Prediction, Sight words/recognition for emerging/early readers, Parts of a Whole.

Graphically, it is a treat.  Cut-outs on each page hint at what comes next, further reinforcing prediction skills and creating excitement, anticipation for young readers.  Sequencing and staging of processes is reinforced as well, for on every ‘then’ page, there is an illustration in the middle of the phase.  For example, the egg hatching before the chicken appears on its own page.  My favorite, of course, is the Word > Story series.  So exciting to see all that typeface take shape into a story.

And my six year-old isn’t the only one who can read it.  My three year-old, after hearing it a few times from her sister, started “reading” it.  It most likely was memorization and parroting, but I can’t help but feel that she’s starting to put those patterns together.

Ironically, when I took a break from writing this post, my daughter told me that she had, indeed, read this in kindergarten.  So she may not be as brilliant as I thought in picking out this book, but maybe her teacher is!  And at least the lessons stuck with her.  Most importantly, the joy of a good book.

The Scar

The title drew me in.

The way the red background swallowed the illustration of the small boy on the cover.

I was in tears by the time I was partway through the book.

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The Scar, by Charlotte Moundlic, is the story of a young boy preparing for, experiencing, and ultimately surviving the death of his mother.

This leaves a metaphorical and literal scar on him.  When he falls and scrapes his knee after his mother’s death, he remembers how she used to soothe him.  When the scrape starts to heal before he does, the boy keeps scraping at it to keep the comfort of his mother alive.

It was around this point that I really started crying.

Death, loss, self-mutilation – what kind of children’s book was this?

For the child who’s lost a parent, exactly the kind that needs to be written.

There’s no shielding those children from the pain, the hurt, the ugly truth.  They live the nightmare.

I was reminded of a man in a writer’s intensive that I took who told the story of student with special needs who found nearly every task throughout his day difficult.  He wanted students like him to read a story about them.  Even though it might be a difficult story to tell, a difficult story to read, there were children who needed a narrative to which they could relate, a way to know they weren’t the only ones to have experienced this.  They were not alone in the universe.  Maybe there were even people who overcame their difficult obstacle.

And while extremely poignant and slightly heartbreaking, The Scar does end on a positive note.  The boy, though always sure to miss his mother, allows the scar to begin to heal.

So what on the surface once seemed revolting, is now something we can look at without cringing – and, for some children, is absolutely essential.

An Unexpected Beaver

A dancing dragon and a firefly met on a moonlit night.  They began to talk and play when suddenly out popped a beaver.  They jumped, then laughed and laughed.  Their unexpected visitor added fun and excitement to their meeting.images

 

The above scene transpired in the puppet theatre at the library yesterday.  My three year-old, in the guise of the beaver, taught me an important lesson about humor in story.

While the dancing dragon and firefly were compelling enough in their budding friendship and moonlight dance, the beaver’s unexpected entrance added another layer of depth that hadn’t been there.

Even the dragon and firefly, as played by her sisters, laughed – not just me in the audience.

It is the unexpected or turning of conventions on their heads that makes the best humor.  It also makes for fresh, unpredictable plots.

Novel, indeed.

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