Friday
Apr292016

Whoosh!

Lonnie’s rocket invention drew a crowd of schoolmates to watch on the playground. His fuel creation caused his mother to send him outside when it caught fire in the kitchen! Whoops! At least, she didn’t make him quit experimenting. 

The team of Chris Barton and Don Tate missed the memo that nonfiction is dry and boring. Together again after The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, they tell the story of Lonnie Johnson in their new book Whoosh, which I read in an advance reading copy furnished by Net Galley. They use words and illustrations woven seamlessly together to add child-appealing humor without compromising the struggles Lonnie faced to fulfill his dreams. A crucial highlight in the book is the way Lonnie Johnson proves wrong the prediction of the exam that he is unlikely to make a good engineer.

The Barton/Tate Team recounts Lonnie’s many recognized achievements in the technical world, including work with NASA scientists. Children who've paid attention to the cover will enjoy the book even before they get to what they’ve been waiting for – the fun comes when Whoops! becomes Whoosh! in the making of the extraordinary water gun that they recognize and may have played with. Then Engineer Lonnie must become Promoter Lonnie or the product will never get into the market and the hands of children.

A bonus for teachers is the author’s note with the opportunity to discuss with students the importance of primary sources as Chris tells about talking to Lonnie Johnson and others who had firsthand knowledge of the story.

This is a book for any child or child-at-heart who loves to see how discoveries are made, to have a good laugh, or to see success follow failure.

Lest you question my praise of this book to be released May 3, since both Chris Barton and Don Tate are friends, Kirkus also gave it a starred review. 

Monday
Apr252016

Transients

For most of my life, moving from place to place has been the norm. I grew up in the years when rural Baptist pastors moved every three years or so, and my father was no exception. Then I married, expecting to spend the rest of my life in the little community of Furrs about ten miles from Tupelo, MS, perhaps best known outside the region for being the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Four years later, my husband was drafted. In this case, the Army put a square peg in a square hole, and a whole career ensued with more moves than Baptist preachers.

Looking back, I wouldn’t trade either section of my life for one more stable, but I often found it hard to uproot and start over. I liked the place and the people I was leaving.

When I read the book Sarah, Plain and Tall, Sarah put words to my feelings. Anna, the narrator, worries that her prospective stepmother will decide to return to her family in Maine. She’s afraid Sarah misses her home and family too much out on the prairie with little company besides the two children and their father until she overhears a conversation between Sarah and her new friend Maggie. Sarah wisely says, “There is always something to miss, no matter where you are.”

I thought about that last week as I was reminded of something I missed (besides the people) in our last home in Leesville, LA near Ft. Polk where we spent nineteen years, the longest stay of our marriage. Al retired from the Army after our first five years there to work in the post office so I could finally keep a job I loved in a community that felt like home.

Our Leesville yard was a stopping ground for a band of indigo buntings that traveled through every year. One year I went so far as to write a haiku about them.

               Feasting in the yard

            An indigo bunting crowd

               Sprinkled with cardinals

For the almost fifteen years we have been here, I’ve missed them in the spring. The indigo buntings are also transients, on their way to somewhere else. Last week, a miracle happened, and a flock found my yard again. A few days later, they were on their way. I enjoyed the respite, complete with cardinals who stay year round and consider this their permanent home. I hope the travelers spread the word that gourmet food is served at the Butler Bunting Inn with an easy on and off exit for buntings on the move. As for me, I plan to be right here where my roots are growing deep, waiting for their return.

Friday
Apr222016

Only in Naples

Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law hints of upcoming recipes. Chapter titles (Pasta e Fagioli, Gelato alla Nocciola, and Insalata di Polipo) add confirmation of Italian repasts to come. Remembering a long ago Italian landlady named Jenny who thought she adopted us when we rented her upstairs apartment, I was ready to read.

Lines from Katherine Wilson’s introduction foretold that more than recipes would follow. Referring to Greek mythological sirens hanging out on the rocky cliffs near Naples, she says, “I did not arrive in Naples tied to a mast. I arrived on a packed Delta flight from Washington, D. C. in the fall of 1996 . . . I saw Naples and started to live.”

Having come to the city to intern at the US consulate, Katherine gets more than she expected as she meets a good-looking scholar named Salvatore. When he introduces her to his mother Raffaella and the entire Avallone family, the fun begins.

I sometimes wondered as I read whether she was falling in love with Salvatore, the food, the beauty of Naples, or Raffaella’s irrepressible personality. The answer was probably “all of the above” as she makes her way through a different life in Naples. Katherine’s lighthearted voice as she embraces new customs, foods, and traditions brings the reader on her journey that outlasts the internship as those things with which she falls in love bring attachment to her new Italian environment and family.

The recipes take a while to show up, but there they are near the end with directions embroidered by Raffaella’s voice and instructions. The complicated and time-consuming recipes may not send you to the kitchen, but they will entertain.

If you need angst and trauma in a memoir, this one is not for you. On the other hand, if you love good food, a fine romance, and laughter, you don’t want to miss it.

Monday
Apr182016

Prepare for Poem in Your Pocket Day!

Fittingly, the “Put a Poem in Your Pocket Day” comes right in the middle of poetry month. In case you hadn’t heard about either the day or the month, I’m posting today so you will have time to get your pocket poem ready for Thursday.

The day coincides with the third McGee girl birthday on April 21. That has nothing to do with pocket poems, but happy birthday to Gwyn, anyway.

I’m sharing the poem I have ready to put in my pocket to be pulled out and read during the day Thursday. It comes from Joyce Sidman’s Newbery Honor winning book Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. I chose it because I have a beloved oak tree in my back yard. The tree has its flaws, and we’ve been warned since we came here that it needed to go. I’ll let you guess which tree was still standing after those around it fell to Hurricane Katrina’s winds and greened up nicely again this spring more than ten years later. In its honor and thanks to Joyce, here is my pocket poem that I will be carrying on the 21st. She calls it “Oak After Dark.”

As nighttime rustles at my knee,

I stand in silent gravity

 

and quietly continue chores

of feeding leaves and sealing pores.

 

While beetles whisper in my bark,

while warblers roost in branches dark,

 

I stretch my roots into the hill

and slowly, slowly drink my fill.

 

A thousand crickets scream my name,

yet I remain the same, the same.

 

I do not rest, I do not sleep,

and all my promises I keep:

 

to stand while all the seasons fly,

to anchor earth,

       to touch the sky.

 

Joyce has multitudes of other poems in her other award-winning books in case you are short of sources for your own pocket poem.

Friday
Apr152016

Politician Report Card?

“Plays well with others” ranked high in importance for me as I marked report cards and for the parents who received them when I taught kindergarten. I’ve been looking for politicians during this mad election season who would have received a “U” (usually) or even an “S” (sometimes). Unfortunately, what I have seen most of the time would have had me marking an “N” (never).

“Legislative ‘odd couple’ forms bond,” a recent inside page headline in The Hattiesburg American, via The Clarion-Ledger, brought me up short. It seems that first-termers Joel Bomgar, described as conservative Republican, and Kabir Karriem, described as liberal Democrat have formed a bond over the need to reform the criminal justice system and end mass incarceration. The article goes on to talk about how they are seriously working together on this crucial issue. It recounts their efforts to get out into communities this summer to communicate what can be done and to draft legislation together in the fall.

Who knew that legislators could still work together to accomplish good for our state or nation? That is so rare that I would have moved the headline to the front page! As a self-labeled independent voter, I have been searching, without much success, for those who learned the lesson of “playing well with others” in kindergarten. At the moment, neither of these Mississippi legislators is in my district, so I can’t even vote for them if they run for reelection. However, who knows what the future holds? I’ve made myself a note that they are willing to talk across the aisle for the common good so I don’t forget in case either of them ever seeks a statewide office.

I’ve avoided the political fray for the most part in my blog. I have friends from one end of the political spectrum to the other, and I can’t buy into the current attitude that those who disagree with me are evil nor work myself into hatred, even for the politicians who behave more like spoiled brats than like statesmen. I continue my search, which has been about as successful as Diogenes search for an honest man, for those who can get beyond their labels and work together to solve the problems in our society. I am grateful for this small light in a very dark tunnel.