Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Giant-Slayer

Iain Lawrence's book, The Giant-Slayer is excellent! It's part historical fiction, part fantasy, and ... oh, oh! If it's part historical fiction that means I'm really old because I actually remember things that happened at that time. My father died of polio when I was six years old. Polio truly was like a terrible giant threatening everyone.
The book takes place in the early 1950s during the polio epidemic and is about a girl, Laurie, who uses her amazing storytelling ability to inspire kids in a contraption called the iron lung. (That machine was used to help polio victims breathe by contracting their chests when muscles in that area had become paralyzed.)
As someone who lived during the era I can testify that the details are realistic.
But the important part of the book is the fantasy. Laurie's stories, involving mythological creatures from many cultures, carry the other kids and the reader away from the medical unit and into an exciting other world. As the children participate in the story, they become part of it.
But what will happen when Laurie, herself, gets polio? Can she survive?
Anyone who appreciates the value of Story or who simply wants to be carried away to other worlds will enjoy reading this book.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


According to my old Webster's New World Dictionary, an heirloom is "a valuable or interesting possession handed down from generation to generation."
Heirlooms help people in families remember their history and the people who made it.
Some of the interesting things that were handed down to me are my mother's high school yearbook and my grandmother's hand painted salt and pepper shakers.
I've also saved toys and books from my own childhood, shared them with my kids, and now they're available for my grandchildren.
While some heirlooms may be too valuable or fragile to use, it seems wasteful to keep most of them tucked away for protection. If the platter my great aunt painted gets broken someday I'm sure she'd rather have that happen than for it to remain hidden and unused. And my mother would be pleased to see me actually wearing the costume jewelry that reminds me of her.
I believe some things exist for purely practical reasons, but many others are here to be appreciated for their beauty, and because they remind us of people we love.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Rabbits

Bunnies are a symbol of Easter because they have lots of babies, which symbolizes new life.
What if a rabbit had actually witnessed the resurrection?
Of course it probably wouldn't have thought about it at all and, after a moment of being startled and hiding, simply gone on nibbling on leaves.
But I'm a writer and my imagination can't help picturing the little bunny getting excited and running off to tell all his friends. That might even make a good picture book.
Okay, other writers, if you decide to use that idea please give me credit. :-))
I hope you have a wonderful Easter and even if you don't celebrate that holiday I wish you a happy day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Worrying About Worrying

Okay, I admit it. I'm a worrier.
I tell myself it's wrong to worry and that I should just have faith that things will work out as they're supposed to, but I worry anyway and then I worry more because I know I shouldn't worry.
But what if worrying isn't evil? What if it's part of having a creative mind that tends to think "what if..." in every situation? Most of my writer friends tell me they, too, tend to worry a lot.
And if people didn't ever worry they wouldn't take precautions. Imagine if everyone in Japan had simply decided not to worry about what the earthquake did to the nuclear power plant? What if the oil spill had been allowed to remain in the Gulf of Mexico and nobody had bothered to clean it up? What if nobody prepared their homes with smoke alarms, had disaster preparedness kits, or got medical check ups and immunizations?
In all those examples there's something practical to be done as a result of worrying and worrying about things we can't control is a total waste of time. But if our creative minds keep worrying we can find ways to use that negative imagination in positive ways. For example, how about using them as plot suggestions? And maybe some of us worriers will figure out practical ways to prevent possible future problems and make the world a better place.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Weaver

Kai Strand sent me a copy of her newly published book, The Weaver, and I enjoyed reading it.

It's a fantasy about Mary, who lives where storytelling is extremely important to the culture but can't tell stories well. She meets a magic creature who gives her a wish but, as in many fairy tales, the wish turns out to be more of a curse - or is it?

The plot is good and original, the characters are believable, and the language is often poetic without calling unnecessary attention to itself. The Weaver has a message kids need to hear but it doesn't hit them over the head with it.

The book is shorter than most for the nine to twelve age group, but many kids want books they can read quickly so they'll probably like this one.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Bilingual babies have a great advantage; when they're older it will be much easier for them to learn additional languages.
Since infant and toddler brains are programmed to learn language, that's the ideal time to expose them to more than one. I've read that in a bilingual family it's easiest for the baby to learn if the mother always uses one language and the father always uses the other when speaking to the baby. It's easier for the baby's brain to separate the languages when they come from different people.
When my daughter was born we both used Total Communication (speaking and signing at the same time) because that was recommended by the school our deaf foster kids attended and she easily learned both. However speaking and signing are obviously different.
The older kids get the harder it is for them to learn a new language because their brains are changing.
Back when signing was forbidden in schools for deaf kids, or even more recently when those kids didn't start learning to sign until Kindergarten, the ones who were not from deaf families were at a great disadvantage because they were past the ideal learning age. I've heard of a few "feral" children, supposedly raised by animals without human contact for several years, who couldn't learn to talk, but don't know if those stories are accurate.
By the time humans reach puberty language learning has become quite difficult. It's too bad many school systems don't teach languages until high school.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Words Away

Just before my fifth birthday my family moved from New Jersey to California and I was amazed at the difference in how people talked.
In a previous post I mentioned baby carriages and buggies, but that was only one of several differences I noticed. For example, back East we had a sofa in our living room, but out West people sat on couches. One friend, whose family was from the South, had a Chesterfield instead.
The little store in New Jersey where my mother shopped only had a small freezer and sold different kinds of popsicles depending on the season. The ones everyone in the neighborhood called Summer Popsicles were the fruit kind and Winter Popsicles were chocolate covered vanilla ice cream.
After we moved we were visiting another family on a hot, Summer day. I was shy and didn't know any of the kids. When one of them told me there was a whale waiting for me on the kitchen table I assumed she was teasing. An hour or so I learned that "Whale" was what she called a Winter Popsicle, but mine had completely melted by then. I later learned Whale was a brand name and most California kids referred to fruit popsicles and ice-cream popsicles.
Missing out on that treat was probably one reason I later became interested in linguistics.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pink And Blue

I was two-and-a-half years old when my brother was born and loved having a baby brother. He was cute and I loved being allowed to hold him and give him his bottle.
Whenever we went out walking to the store or to visit a neighbor our mother would push my little brother in his baby carriage. (We lived on the East coast so they were called carriages, but out West everyone called them baby buggies.) Unlike today's strollers, the carriages had no straps and needed high sides so the babies couldn't fall out.
I enjoyed the walks except for one thing; nearly ever adult person we encountered would ask my mother if the baby was a boy or a girl and she would have to stop and tell them. Often the person would then waste time oohing and aahing over my brother. I found that very irritating and wondered why people cared about the gender of babies they didn't even know.
I decided when I grew up I'd get someone to invent colored baby carriages. All boy babies would have blue ones and all girl babies would have pink carriages. That way nobody would need to stop people to ask about their babies and life would be much simpler - at least life from a two-year-old's point of view.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cooking With Kids

Lots of kids enjoy cooking and that can be good for them.
When they're too young to use knives, turn on stoves, or read recipes it's a way to have some together time with an adult.
Sometimes a fussy eater will try something he or she helped to prepare.
As kids become more independent they're proud of foods they cooked all by themselves.
Following recipes can help kids develop math and reading skills.
Experimenting with recipes can be creative and educational. There's lots of science involved.
Sharing yummy things they've made shows love to others and makes kids feel good about themselves.
And cleaning up after cooking teaches them responsibility.
What are some experiences you've had regarding kids cooking?