Reflecting on the Super Bowl

One of Daddy’s perks as pastor of a village church was being allowed to pace the sidelines with the coaches at the local high school football games. One night he came home from a contest between two small rural high schools and predicted to Mama that he had seen next year’s starting quarterback for Ole Miss playing for Drew High School. He proudly told of this prophecy through Archie Manning’s four-year career at Ole Miss and then as longtime quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.

I got my love of football sitting with him by the radio every Saturday afternoon listening to the Ole Miss games. Glad to have a companion, he explained the intricacies of the game to me and turned me into a football enthusiast. During close games, I wrung my hands with him but didn’t go so far as to follow his example of nail-biting.

I joined his Archie Manning fan club and have followed through with Peyton and Eli. The only time I cheer against a Manning is when they play each other. (Eli gets the preference here since he followed his father’s footsteps and played for Ole Miss.)

I’ve had a lot of listening and watching over the years to the Manning quarterbacks, sometimes still accompanied by hand-wringing. The prelude to yesterday’s game centered on whether “old man” Peyton could pull off another win. Where but in football does being thirty-nine make you old?

I thought about Daddy as I watched the Broncos win the Super Bowl. I drew myself a mental picture of him getting cable in heaven and watching a Manning, behind a mighty defense, lead his team to a win. The “old man” did well, and I’m thinking the margin was good enough that Daddy’s nails would still be intact.


Winter Days


Winter Day

Bright and clear with

Stark trees of filigree lace

Against cloud-scampering,

Blue-jeweled sky –

An inviting hoax –

Bitter cold sends me inside.



Winter Day

 Gloomy and gray with

Bare trees of ominous lace

Against rain-clouded

Shrouded heavens –

A clear warning –

Raw rain keeps me inside.


Winter Days

Made for roaring fires,

Hot chocolate, a good book,

Anticipating spring

As time draws near

For Punxsutawney Phil,

Forecasting the end of winter chill.


February 2

Squeezing a way into

Iowa caucuses,

Phil makes the news,

Seeing no shadow,

Predicting early spring.

Amid the cheers,

The anchor notes

His accuracy – 31%.


Winter Days

Good times –

Stoke the fire.

Drop a marshmallow in my cocoa.

Slide in finger at the bookmark.


Spring will come when it is ready.



Inventory - 2015

Time for a little “rithmatic,” which I have promised not to do much of in my blog title. I do like to follow the tradition of my father-in-law’s country store and do inventory at the end of January. I don’t make resolutions for the new year, but I do reflect on the past year and make needed adjustments that I notice.
       My job as a writer is to be a reader – one of the reasons I like this job – so I count the books I’ve read for the year. The number was 91 for 2015, the most since I’ve been keeping track starting in 2004 except for the year that I had a friend on the Newbery Committee. She fed me books right and left to evaluate – and then couldn’t tell me how my choices were doing with the committee!
       Of these 91 books, 32 were for adults, 42 for middle grade or young adult, and 17 were for young children. I’m quite sure the younger children count is short of my total since I spent a week with a couple of preschool grandsons and didn’t keep count of the books I read them. The books were 75% fiction and 25% nonfiction. A protagonist that fit in the category of diversity either by culture or some kind of physical challenge made up 27% of the books. Probably for the same number, the protagonist could have been from any culture since the book was generic or some kind of fantasy.
        In recent discussions on the need for diverse books, a caution has been raised that poorer quality should not be accepted just for the sake of diversity. Let me assure you, this was not the case. Some of my most enjoyable reads were Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan and Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle who are Latino writers, The Crossover set in the Black community by Kwame Alexander, and Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstorm that features a blind protagonist.
       As 2015 drew to a close and I began my book count, I received a quote from Word-a-Day (December 28, 2015). “In the case of good books, the point is not how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” – Mortimer J. Adler, philosopher, educator, and author. I’ll have to say 2015 was a very good year for books that got through to me.

The Challenger

Unless you’ve been underground somewhere, you’ve seen pictures in the last few days of the Challenger as it broke apart thirty years ago on January 28. I’m posting a picture mockup of how my TV might have looked at the time if I had done things differently.

I’ve heard a dozen times this week that it was one of those events when people remember where they were when it happened. I can vouch for that. I was teaching second grade at South Polk Elementary School at Ft. Polk, Louisiana. I worked for Mrs. Morgan, a principal who put a priority on “teachable moments” and seemed amused by how quickly I could shortcut administrative busywork filtered down through her from her superiors in favor of planning meaningful lessons for my young scholars.

In this instance, my students and I had followed the news and become enamored of teacher Christa McAuliffe who would be the first civilian in space. Mrs. Morgan gave permission for me to bring my black and white TV to set up for us to watch. My ever cooperative students (really) helped get through morning routines quickly, and we all settled in to follow the preparation and liftoff. The excitement in the room was palpable.

The second graders counted down with NASA and “oohed” at the liftoff. Seventy-three short seconds into the flight the rocket broke apart. Needless to say, the TV was switched off, and we spent a good part of the rest of the day sharing our shock and grief.

Mrs. Morgan and I talked at the end of the day about the wisdom of my bringing in the TV. Hindsight changes things. We both knew the kids would have heard about the tragedy before the day was over. Our question was whether it was worse for seven-year-olds to have seen it as it happened. We didn’t come up with a definitive answer at the time, but we knew we would not have wanted them to have missed seeing a successful launch in real time. We were both grateful that the children were going home to parents with a military perspective who would let them talk and sort through their feelings.

With thirty years of the hindsight, I think if I had it to do over, I would still bring in the TV. Children can’t be shielded from all the hard things in life, and I think there may be some grown second graders out there who answered this week’s question of “Where were you –?” with “I watched with my classmates and teacher when I was in second grade, and we cried together when it was over.”


Awards Season

Awards season is upon us, and no, I’m not talking about the Golden Globe or Oscars though I have noticed a seeming parallel. The observation has been made that the Golden Globes are often precursors to the Oscars. As I listened to the award winner announcements at the midwinter American Library Association meeting, I notice another precursor since a number of award recipients had previously received winner or honor recognition from the Ezra Jack Keats (EJK) New Writer and New Illustrator Awards. 

Bryan Collier, who won the EJK New Illustrator Award for Uptown in 2001, won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and a Caldecott Honor Award for Trombone Shanty. Fittingly, I have heard him say that, when he was a child, his Head Start teacher mother brought home Keats’s The Snowy Day where for the first time he saw someone who looked like him in a book.

Sophie Blackall won the EJK New Illustrator Award in 2003 for Ruby's Wish and this year’s Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. As a lover of Winnie the Pooh, I can’t wait to get my hands on that one!

Meg Medina, who won the EJK New Writer Awardin 2012 for Tia Isa Wants a Car, was an writer honor recipient along with the illustrator of the Pura Belpre Award for Mango, Abuela, and Me. Her portrayals of her Latino heritage are delightful for all children.

Young Christian Robinson, whose 2014 EJK Award winning book Rain became a favorite for my grandsons, illustrated Last Stop on Market Street which won him a Caldecott Honor Award and the author a Newbery. I’m sure we will hear a lot more from him.

While Jerry Pinkney, whose two lifetime ALA awards were listed in my “Nice Guy Finishing First” blog last week, was too experienced to win an EJK award for himself, he was the illustrator for the very first New Author winner when Valerie Flournoy won for The Patchwork Quilt.

Seeing how one of these leads to another increases my anticipation for this year’s EJK Awards, which will be presented at the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival along with a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ezra Jack Keats.

If this or anything else about the world of children’s book intrigues you, check out the rest of the program at WWW.USM.EDU/CHILDRENS-BOOK-FESTIVAL .