Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Poodle and Doodle

A couple of weeks ago we had a house guest who brought along her 90 pound Malamute mix dog. I had expected Suds, our meek, 11 pound poodle/Bischon mix to be scared of the playful big one, but instead she intimidated him, establishing right away that the house was her territory.
That reminds me of something I recently read.
Poodle and Doodle by Donna J Shepherd is an adorable picture book about a tiny poodle who is upset when her humans bring home a gigantic labradoodle named Scruffy. At first the dainty little dog is upset by the new dog's clumsiness and lack of manners, but eventually she realizes living with Scruffy has advantages.
The book is told in rhyme that's comfortable and not artificially forced, unlike some rhyming picture books I've seen. The colorful illustrations by Jack Foster are perfect portrayals of the cute and amusing story.
Poodle and Doodle would appeal to most young kids but it would be especially appropriate for those who love dogs and children coping with sibling rivalry.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Medieval Rap?

Last summer I mentioned that nursery rhymes were often originally disguised political statements from an era when freedom of speech didn't exist. I understand people at fairs and street markets would chant or sing them in public to gather support without endangering themselves. Of course lots of non-political rhymes were probably also shared that way.
Ordinary people in those days didn't know how to read and write spoken language, much less music notation. Although the words of many rhymes and both words and melodies of many folk songs were passed on by oral tradition we have no record of tunes to go with most nursery rhymes. Even those we now sing were usually set to music in the last century or two.
It seems likely to me that the ones we now call nursery rhymes were probably not sung at all, but called out in rhythmic speech, possibly accompanied by instruments like hand drums and tambourines. If so, they must have sounded a lot like what we now call Rap music. Even the meter is often similar. Can't you imagine "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall" done as rap?
It's not likely ever to happen, but I'd love to hear a modern Rap group perform nursery rhymes.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

London Calling

Can you imagine a novel for kids about ghosts, time travel, WWII history and Christian religion? I've recently read one that incorporates all of those things into the plot, and does so seamlessly. London Calling by Edward Bloor is about a Catholic boy who is transported to London, England before the United States entered the Second World War. Bloor does an excellent job of also transporting the reader to that time and place.
I was fascinated by the characters and the exciting story and couldn't put the book down until I finished reading it.
Although some people, especially those who lived during those times, might not like the iconoclastic statements by some characters about famous leaders like Churchill, FDR, and the Kennedys, London Calling manages to combine fantasy and religion in a way that shouldn't offend anyone. And nobody is likely to disagree with the book's emphasis on the importance of helping others and doing as much good as we can.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Books

At bedtime on Christmas Eve my brother and I always heard The Night Before Christmas and the Bible passages about the birth of Christ read to us. Those Bible verses were in a book of Christmas Carols and we would sing some of those, too. Even when we became old enough to read by ourselves and knew the stories by heart, sharing the books as a family was a tradition in our home. That tradition was one of many things that helped shape who we are today.
There are lots of Christmas books for children available now, and I hope parents who celebrate that holiday will carefully select some of the best to share with their children every year. I don't want to sound conceited, but I believe my picture book, Secret Service Saint, would be a good choice for many families because it helps children understand the importance - and fun - of helping others and giving without expecting to be thanked and praised.
But no matter what books are chosen, hearing the same ones read at every holiday season will help strengthen family ties.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Grandparent and Parents

What's the main difference between parents and grandparents?
I don't mean grandparents necessarily have more of that, although they might if they've retired from their jobs and haven't taken on too many other obligations.
While some grandparents have much less time to spend with their grandchildren than the kids' parents have, especially if they live far away, others live with their grandchildren or take care of them while the parents are at work, so they spend as much time with the kids as their parents do. Obviously that's not the biggest difference.
But grandparents have the benefit of a different perspective because they have lived longer. They know from experience that problems like potty training and teenage rebellion, while difficult to deal with, only occupy a small part of a person's life. They also know the good things, like the fun they share with youngsters who think the adults in their lives are wonderful, won't last forever. As a result, while parents do appreciate such things, grandparents appreciate them even more.
When those kids are grown the people who are their parents today will appreciate their memories of those early years and realize they will always be parents, just as today's grandparents never stopped loving their own children who became parents themselves.
This holiday season is a wonderful time to create memories for all generations. But if families can't be together now, I hope they'll find time to spend with each other and create lasting memories at other seasons of the year.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thunder and Lightning

When I was a little tyke we lived on the East Coast where thunderstorms happened often in the summer. They terrified my mother, who was from California, but she didn't want me to be afraid. Once when she screamed and I asked what was wrong she told me she was trying to yell louder than the thunder.
I was never allowed to shout inside our apartment otherwise but from then on every time I heard thunder I was allowed to yell, "BOOM!" What fun!
As a preschool teacher I used the same technique with my classes and children who had been frightened by thunder usually came to enjoy it. Most kids love shouting as loudly as they can with adult approval.
Now I live in California where thunderstorms are rare and usually only happen in the winter. Although I know the storms can be dangerous, especially in wooded areas where they can start forest fires, I still love thunder and lightning. If I'm lucky, we might have some soon.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Be Kind to Animals

When I was a kid my mother used to call me "The little mother of all the world" because I loved animals and little kids and was always concerned about any who were hurt. I guess some things are never outgrown because I'm still that way.
Our milk cartons all say the milk comes from cows not treated with rBST and I had no idea why they thought it important not to use it. RBST is an artificial growth hormone and I figured it was just one more thing people concerned with their health try to avoid. I've heard drinking milk from those cows might make kids reach puberty earlier.
Now I know using the growth hormone is cruel to cows. It doesn't just make them grow or reach maturity faster, it makes them produce so much milk their udders become huge enough to drag on the ground when the cow walks. If you've ever nursed a baby you can imagine how painful that must be.
Using RBST actually tortures cows so their owners can sell more milk and make more money. I'm glad the milk we buy isn't from cows treated so cruelly and from now on I'll never buy another brand without making sure it isn't either.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dog Language

How to Speak Dog, Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication by Stanley Coren is one of the most fascinating books I've ever read. After reading a library copy I bought one to keep because it's worth reading and referring to many times.
Coren's book reminds me of Brenda, a deaf dalmation we once had who learned to understand over 350 American Sign Language signs and taught us lots of the canine language Coren mentions in his book.
Anyone interested in animal sciences or linguistics would probably like reading the book, but, although Coren is a professor, the writing style is not academic. Families with pets can learn a lot about how to communicate with them and get them to behave from the book. How to Speak Dog also includes some information about communication with cats and, as we found from our experience with Brenda, many dog gestures are also used by other animals.
I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Author Visit

Recently I've visited several schools to talk about my books, Secret Service Saint and The Peril of the Sinister Scientist and talk to the kids about writing. Because I used to be teacher I find that a fun way to spend a few hours and hope the students learn some helpful information from me.
Because I was a substitute teacher for a few years I can tell a lot about schools in a short time and have been positively impressed with the ones I've visited. It occurred to me that parents might like a few hints about how to judge the quality of a school where they might be considering enrolling their kids. Even though the school year is under way, sometimes children need to change schools because of moving or other reasons.
When entering a school you're considering the first thing to do is listen. If you stand in the hallway you should be able to hear a murmur of children's voices. Excessive shouting, adults yelling and scolding, or total silence may be warning signs that something is wrong. Of course those sounds (or lack thereof) are likely to be heard in any school from time to time, but if you hear them when you enter the building and again when you leave or return for another visit something might be wrong.
Next, use your eyes. Are there interesting posters and student work on display? Are those worn and yellowed with age or do they seem to have been updated recently? Is the building relatively clean?
As you walk along the corridors try to glance into each classroom as you pass by. Are most of the kids focused on what is being taught? Do some of them raise their hands and ask questions? Do most of them seem to care about what is happening?
If it's time for recess or the end of the school day and the kids are leaving the classrooms how do they behave? Do they walk in lines or run and shove? Are they kind and considerate or at least polite to each other?
Things like that can tell you a lot about the quality of the teaching.
I'm pleased to say the schools where I've done author visits have all passed these tests with flying colors and seem to be excellent.