Tuesday, April 28, 2015

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Published: April 28, 2015

Laia is a teenage Scholar girl living with her grandparents and brother in Serra, under the rule of the unforgiving Martial Empire. One night, the Masks (an elite Martial fighting group) raids the house killing her grandparents and taking her brother to prison, claiming he has committed treason. Laia manages to flee and meets the Resistance, who put her in the house of the Commandant, the leader of the Masks, as a slave and spy. Elias is about to graduate as a Mask from Blackcliffe Academy, but is planning his escape from that life. The book alternates between Laia and Elias's viewpoints. Will Laia be able to get her brother out of prison? Will Elias ever escape the Martial military? To find out, read this awesome book. Highly recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars. 

I adored this book! I literally could not stop reading it, and it's hard to believe that this is the author's first book. The author is great at world-building and you can feel yourself totally immersed in the characters and setting. It definitely lives up to the tremendous hype it has gotten so far. The description made it sound like the Martials are Roman, and the Scholars sound Greek or Egyptian to me. I really enjoyed the writing, and even the story was fairly complex, I was able to follow along pretty easily. The violence in the book is pretty graphic, especially in the beginning,so that's why I settled on ages fourteen plus. I can't wait to see what happen next in the series - apparently it is billed as a stand-alone book, but she definitely left it wide open for a sequel and I know many people will be disappointed if she does not!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Kids Cafe Art Lectures

Today is Friday and thank goodness! It doesn't have the same meaning for me as for others, as I work part-time and am usually off three-four days a week anyways, but the sentiment is nice all the same. I was jamming in the car this morning to happy bouncy music (i.e. this song, which was making me laugh and sing along loudly to repeatedly) to get me excited about work. Don't get me wrong, I love my job. I've just been so exhausted feeling lately, that sometimes it takes a bit more encouragement for me to get in the mood. I fell backwards and hit my head on a stool last Friday and it's been hurting, plus making it hard for me to sleep (as I hit the back of it). I finally made it to the doctor yesterday and it turns out I got a first-grade concussion, which is essentially a small but not serious one. It sounds scary though. Mostly just my head hurts every now and then and I keep getting headaches, though I usually get those anyways as I have migraines. The one this morning hurt like a mother but thankfully I had some Motrin in the car. 

My first post on this blog was about Kids Cafe, a program that I'm involved in which I do every week. It's a really great program which I enjoy doing. As I said on that first post, I usually do mini-art or history lectures and then we do a craft. I'd like to start sharing them on this blog, so that will probably be my Friday post (at least until I run out of them). I was rather proud of last week's as I did it on the Dutch Baroque artist Jan Vermeer and his use of the camera obscura (aka pinhole camera). I made my own version of the pinhole camera, which was really cool once I finally figured out how it actually worked. Anyways, the first couple ones I did with a spoken lecture and some pictures on the magnetic board. After a few weeks, I realized that most people couldn't see them so I should make it larger. So I started using a Powerpoint followed by a craft and this is what I've been doing since then. I will try to post images of my personal art examples as well. 

Disclaimer: Most of the writing was done by different people and I just edited it, some is my own; for the text I borrowed, I have included where I got the information from. 

This particular Kids Cafe went over pretty well, considering it was the first program I  did (the first week at least). I'm not sure very many were listen, then as well as now, but I still really enjoy doing them and I think that shows with how much prep goes into them and the way I am presenting them. The good feedback I get from the attendees is usually from parents, though some kids obviously like it too. I really liked the paint chip poetry, but didn't actually do an endangered animals coloring sheet myself. 

Kids Café: Color Wheel and Pop Art - Jan 6th

·         Introduction: Welcome to Kid’s Café. My name is Miss Rachel and we’re going to learn a little about art. Today we’re going to be talking about the color wheel and learn a little about Pop Art.
·         Primary Colors: colors that are not created with any other colors
o   Red, Blue, Yellow
·         Secondary Colors: colors made from mixing two primary colors
o   Orange, Violet, Green
·         Warm Colors (red, orange, yellow) and Cool Colors (blue, purple, and green)
·         Pop Art – from the 1950s – 1960s
o   A famous French artist named Marcel Duchamp said in 1917 “that any object  could be art, as long as the artist intended it as such.” The movement centered around painting, sculpture and printmaking. It has been defined as (see Pop Art quote below). Pop Art uses images from popular culture such as comic, advertising esp product labels, news, and other cultural images. It can also use found objects and tends to be rather kitschy (tacky and cheap)
o   Artists included
§  Andy Warhol: most famous American artist of this period – made printmaking more artistic and less commercial 
§  Jasper Johns: incorporated symbols such as numbers, flags, maps, and targets into his paintings 
§  Roy Lichtenstein: based his early images off comics 
§  Robert Rauschenberg: famous for creating what he called “combines” or mixed media art using found objects; his most famous example is Monogram, which combines a found object painting with a stuffed goat with a tire around its middle and its face painted 
§  Wayne Thiebaud (tee-bow): very colorful paintings of common objects, most famously his cakes 

·         Activities:
o   Andy Warhol Endangered Species Suite 1983
§  Give out kids 4-square images of one of the Endangered Animals used in Warhol’s painting (use coloring sheets - I used a butterfly, tree frog, rhino and elephant) and have them color them in primary colors or complimentary colors (colors that are opposite from each other on the color wheel) - Most kids didn't color them this way, but it was still fun

o   Color Poetry
§  Get kids to fill out Color Poetry sheet and then give them paint chip cards (the square Behr ones) - I only had two kids do this activity, which I was a little upset with because I thought it was really cool; I had originally wanted to include this activity not only because it is cool but because some people, myself included, are better with words than art. The below examples are the ones from the website I found the activity on. 

Warm & Cool Colors

Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain 1917

Pop Art has been called “‘Popular (designed for a mass audience); Transient (short term solution); Expendable (easily forgotten); Low Cost; Mass Produced; Young (aimed at Youth); Witty; Sexy; Gimmicky; Glamorous; and Big Business’.”

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans 1962

Jasper John’s Target with Four Faces, 1955

Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl 1963

Robert Rauschenberg’s Monogram

Wayne Thiebaud’s Confections 1962

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Picture Books and Why They're Awesome

Last week's post was all about National Library Week. I talked about the fill-in-the-blank photos that my library system was displaying in celebration, and I wanted to add that if I was going to do one my would say "Hello, my name is Rachel and I read way more Children and Young Adults books than Adult ones." I have been teased by this fact, but the truth is that I love reading them, and would still do so even if I wasn't a Children's Librarian. I'm a sucker for good illustrations, as my book reviews can attest. I know a lot of people like to poo poo this kind of art, especially if it's for children, but some of the best art I've seen lately has been from these sources. The majority of my children's book collection at home is picture books. A lot of times I can't think about a certain author without thinking about the artwork included in their children's books, like William Joyce,  Mo Willems, Peter Brown, or even Tony DiTerlizzi. I've been sharing picture books with my son since he was a baby, and sometimes I check them out just for me to read. It honestly surprises me to see which picture books my son likes, especially if they are ones I got for me because I didn't think he would like the subject matter or understand what it is about. Case in point, I brought home a haiku poetry book called Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw, which is right now one of his favorite books for me to read to him. 

So when I saw this post today from Nerdy Book Club, I knew I had to include it in a post. In it, 5th grade students made up a list of why they love picture books, all of which I agree with especially number 8, 7, 5 and 1. So I guess the moral of this post is pick up a picture book and enjoy one with your child, or just on your own. 

Our Top Ten Reasons We Love Picture Books

10. Picture books are amazing because they are short enough to teach us something in one class period. 

9. Picture books are amazing because they bring us laughter and make us remember when we were younger. 

8. Picture books are amaing becauase they help us to be creative. 

7. Picture books are amazing becuase they give us a break and chance to relax from reading chapter books. 

6. Picture books are amaing because they are entertaining and don't have as many rules to follow as chapter books. 

5. Picture books are amazing because they allow all of us to feel the joy of reading. 

4. Picture books are amazing because they teach us. Just because they're short doesn't mean they can't teach us a lesson. 

3. Picture books are amazing because they help us learn lessons through them and then we can turn and apply them to our own reading. 

2. Picture books are amazing because they open up the whole world to us in a short text that we can gather around and share together. 

1. Picture books have no age limits. (This one is supposed to be said with enthusiasm. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

National Library Week 2015

Ok, so I'm a little late for this as it ends tomorrow, but I figured I would post a little something. We've been celebrating it at the public library I work at this week for basically two reasons. First, it's a library celebration, so why not? Especially if it celebrates both libraries and reading, two very important things in everyone's daily life. Secondly because the system is trying to win the National Medal (we are one of 30 finalists) and I think we're trying to be as fun and community-related as possible, plus it's another way to highlight all the cool things that this system does. This coincidentally also goes with this year's theme, "Unlimited possibilities @ your library". For example, the Media Relations people asked the staff to take pictures with a sign that said "My name is (blank) and I (blank), and called it "Library Confessions". There are some pretty cute ones here

So I just wanted to share some things I thought were cool that relate to libraries and reading. The first are a couple of the ALA's (American Library Association) Read posters. They always get actors and actresses to do them. As I've been playing Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) again lately, I thought I would include this poster with Orlando Bloom (plus he's holding a copy of a JRR Tolkein book, one can only assume it is LOTR. 

I wanted to include this one because A. I thought it was cool and partially in Arabic, and because it was a woman representing Dubai Women's College. 

The next two I just wanted to add because I'm a children's librarian and I think they are not only informative but also very true. Plus the first one is especially important to me because I've actually heard some parents say they don't want to read to their children because they "won't be able to understand the words". 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April 2015 Book Reviews

I've been trying to read more poetry this month as it is National Poetry Month. My attempts at doing poetry for Kids Cafe have kind of fallen flat, but I did write a couple of new things for it, so I'm happy about that. I'm taking a bit of a break from Advanced Reader's Copies, but should be starting up on them in a week or so. I am currently reading How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-To-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman. I am also listening to a more modern version of Geoffrey Chauncer's The Canterbury Tales. Both are slow going but for different reasons, one being nonfiction (and reading a lot of short books while I'm reading it) and the other just being an insanely long epic poem. The crazy thing is with Chauncer is that the poem is unfinished, and it is still over 600 pages already. I have recently finished watching the new Outlander tv series, Season 1 and completely fell in love with it. So I will definitely be buying the book as I do not have cable and probably won't be able to see the next series for about a year and I'm dying to know what happens next (as they left the series on a total cliffhanger ending!). Hopefully the rest of the series will be easy to find at my local library. 

I rate books from 1-5 stars, 1 being the lowest. I will include illustrations from the children's books that I enjoyed. 

Tall by Jez Alborough
     I was looking for books for my Toddler Jungle Storytime. I thought this one was too simplistic, but it was cute. Bobo the little monkey just wants to be tall, so he keeps climbing on the shoulders of his friends so that he can be taller. That is, until he gets up to high and his momma has to rescue him. Then he is glad to be small. Recommended for ages 2-4, 2 stars. 

How to Cheer Up Dad written and illustrated by Fred Koehler 

     This book was super adorable, not only the content but the illustrations too. You can tell the author/illustrator is the parent of small children as this plays out pretty much like a real-life situation. Dad is taking care of his young elephant son Little Jumbo, who is misbehaving and he is, of course, getting super frustrated. Of course, his son has no idea why his dad is so upset, as children never do. Little Jumbo wants to cheer him up so starts doing things to make him feel better, like getting ice cream and hanging out together. Great book for Father’s Day, single dads and maybe just for moms wanting their sons to connect more with their dads. My son and I both enjoyed this book. Recommended for ages 3-5, 5 stars. 

        Mustache Baby written by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang 

     This book has been on to-read list for a while, so finally got a copy. So glad I did, this book was hilarious. Baby Billy was born with a mustache and his parents are obviously worried. But it turns out his mustache is a good one, as exemplified when he pretends to be a cop or a cowboy. But soon enough his good mustache turns into a villainous one with curled up ends, and he starts a life of crime, which is cut short by his parents. The ending of the book hinted at a new book in the series, called Mustache Baby Meets His Match, which I’ve already put on hold. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars. 

Huff & Puff written and illustrated by Claudia Rueda
     My son loved this book, just like I thought he would, as it is interactive. It is a very simply done version of “The Three Little Pigs” story with a twist ending. The interactive part is the kids getting to help the wolf huff and puff through a die-cut hole in the center of the page. Instead of eating the pigs or trying to at least, the wolf blows out his birthday candles on the cake the pigs baked him. Everyone is happy after eating the cake. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars. 

     Have You Ever Seen a Sneep? Written by Tasha Pym, and illustrated by Joel Stewart
     A young boy is just trying to enjoy his summer day by having a picnic, reading some books, swinging across a swimming hole, and other adventures, and he keeps getting interrupted by the Sneep and his mischievous friends. He is amazed that none of these creatures live where the reader is, and so is determined to move there to get away from them, but the Sneep and his friends want to move with him! Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars. 

      Chameleon’s Colors by Chisato Tashiro
     I originally picked up this book as a possibility for a Jungle Toddler Storytime, but quickly realized it was too long. My son liked all the crazy color combinations the little chameleon came up with in the story. Chameleon hates blending in to everything, so when Hippo tells him how jealous he is of his changing colors, Chameleon agrees to help him change. Soon all the animals in the jungle want to change colors, which is fine until they realize that this affects how they eat and hunt! So they demand Chameleon change them back, but he is thankfully saved by a rainstorm, which washes all their colors away. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars. 

      My Teacher is a Monster! (No I Am Not.) written and illustrated by Peter Brown 

     Bobby has a problem. He thinks his teacher is a monster, until the day he runs into her in the park outside of school. He helps rescue her hat and they end up running around and playing together. Their perception of each other naturally changes after this. My son didn’t pick up on all the nuances of the book, but enough to appreciate it. My son loves "reading along" with me while I read him this book, even the author's comment in the back. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars. 

             Bats (Scholastic Science Readers: Level 1) by Lily Wood
    I'm using this book, and other beginner's books like it, as an incentive for my son. We're trying to finish potty-training him and I figure giving him these books is two-fold. Besides being a surprise incentive, they are also a cool nonfiction book that is easy to read, so when he does start reading (which will hopefully be soon), he can start with this book. We both like bats, so I figured this would be a fun topic. It is a very basic book about bats and tells the reader a little bit about them and features a lot of great huge pictures. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

          An Island Grows by Lola M. Schaefer
      I picked this book for my Volcano Preschool DiscoveryTime because it was a was a cool way to describe the way an island forms from an underwater volcano. The magma comes out of the volcano into the water, where the lava cools and hardens building up layer by layer until it comes out of the water and becomes land. Then plants, animals and people come to the island and soon it is thriving. It’s almost a nonfiction picture book except that it is describing islands in general and not one in particular. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars. 

Snoozefest written and illustrated by Samantha Berger  

     Oh my goodness I loved this book! I mean how can you not love a book about sloths, sleeping as an event and the cutest name ever for a book character, Snuggleford Cuddlebuns. Plus the illustrations were great. Snuggleford is the best sleeper in town, and can do it for months at a time. Her favorite event of the year, Snoozefest is coming up, and she's so excited. She gets on the bus, goes to the festival, settles into her hammock, buys the swag and gets ready for a great snooze. They have performers guaranteed to put you to sleep (on purpose), they sell hot milk and honey, and there is a designer fashion show, with pun-y names like Diane von Firstinbed. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

      The Circus Ship written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

I will say that I picked this one up for my Toddler Circus Storytime, quickly realized that it was way too long, but thought it would be a fun read for my son. He enjoyed it too. It is a rhyming book, based off a true story, about a ship full of circus animals that crashes off the coast of Maine. The animals make it to a small island in the state and are adopted by the locals after the tiger saves a young girl. When the angry circus owner comes to claim them, the locals hide the animals and they end up staying there forever. This was a very fun book to do accents with, especially the angry British one for the circus owner. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars. 

       If Not For the Cat written by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Ted Rand
     I usually don't like Jack Prelutsky stuff all that much, with a few exceptions. This is one of them. I love these haikus and the watercolor and ink illustrations are amazing. They are all about animals, so would be a great way to introduce haikus to kids. My favorites are the one about the hummingbird, the jellyfish, and the sea otter. Recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars. 

Young Adult
Rivals in the City (The Agency #4) by Y.S. Lee
     Mary Quinn and James Easton are engaged to be married, but Mary has to sort out a few things first. She loves him, but is enjoying her independence. The Agency has asked her to find Mrs. Thorold, who has tried to kill James before. On top of all that, she believes she may be related to a Chinese fighter that has recently come into town. Will she be able to bring Mrs. Thorold to justice, save James, and find out about her family? To find, read the exciting conclusion to this amazing mystery series. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.
     I have been waiting forever for this book to come out, only to realize that my library only had the first book in the series and had no plan to get the fourth. So I had to get an inter-library loan, but it was worth the wait. I really love Mary’s need to be independent, and was glad she wasn’t pining over James the whole book (like a lot of other YA books). I missed the banter between James and Mary though, it was there but they were separated for the majority of the book so there wasn’t as much of it. I enjoyed the twist ending, and Mrs. Thorold really did think her plans through. I’m sad to see this series end, as it is hard to find a well-written strong multicultural female character these days. I hope the author’s next books are just as awesome. 
       Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay
    I thought this was a very fascinating re-working and combination of two fairytales, i.e. "Sleeping Beauty" and "The Six Swans".  The book starts out with the death of Princess Aurora's mother, the Sleeping Beauty, who transfers her fairy magic to her daughter. Only it doesn't work like it did for mother. Aurora (known as Ror) is never allowed to have romantic love, only platonic. Ror and her brother Jor are raised by the fairies, but constantly being hunted by the evil troll queen Ekeeta. One day, her brother is captured and Ror must dress as a boy to find an army that will help free him. On the way, she meets Prince Niklaas who is desperately looking for Princess Aurora so that he can break his curse. If he does not marry before dawn on his eighteenth birthday, he will meet the same fate as his ten older brothers. Ror blackmails him into helping her find an army to free her "sister" from the Troll Queen. Will Niklaas be able to be free of his curse? Will Aurora be able to rescue her brother in time? Will she ever tell Niklaas the truth about herself? To find out, read this fabulous book. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars
     I had originally wanted to read it when it was just an Advanced Reader's Copy, but I didn't have the time. This review has taken me forever to write because I kept forgetting about it. I love fairy tale re-tellings and this one was really good. It had some great quotes in it, like this one on page 54, where Ror is talking about herself: "Sometimes it seems a small price to pay for my fairy gifts. Sometimes it makes my body ache with a loneliness so profound I fear my soul will forever be bruised. I am a prisoner in a cell of my mother's good intentions and I will never, ever escape." Or this one on page 122, where Ror and Niklaas are talking about women and Ror wonders why any woman should have to learn the truth about the world and he responds "Because they are strong enough to know the truth, and proving that to themselves will make them stronger. And perhaps, if men were brought up to be gentler people, women wouldn't have need of protectors." And then there's this profound quote about love, which Niklaas tells to Ror on pages 252-53: "...that's what searching for love is like. You keep pushing on, breaking and being broken, until you find the person you want to hold safe, the only one who knows how to keep you in one piece." Le sigh. And when Ror and Niklaas finally did kiss, it was magical and then sad. Hard to explain without giving away storyline, but believe me when I say this book is definitely worth a read.
    Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms written and illustrated by Fumiyo Kouno
      I had been looking for a book on the atomic bomb from the Japanese perspective for a while, and this was one of the books I had come up with in my search. It tells the story of the Hirano family told over the span of about sixty years, from 1945-2004. The first part, Town of Evening Calm, is about a young girl named Minami who works in a dress shop in Hiroshima ten years after the bomb dropped, but it keeps flashing back to ten years before and how the Hirano family faired on that day. Minami has survivor’s remorse because her father and sister passed away either on the day or shortly afterwards, but she and her mother survived. The book does go into some details about what it was like when the bomb dropped, and that part was hard to read. One of the most powerful parts of the book is when Minami says “All I know is that somebody wanted us dead. They wanted us to die, but we survived. Nobody talks about it. I don’t really understand what happened even to this day.” Minami is soon courted by a young man who works at the shop named Uchikoshi. She suddenly gets really sick from delayed radiation sickness, and dies.
     The next section, broken into two parts, is Country of Cherry Blossoms. The first part starts in 1987 with a seemingly unconnected family who have just moved to a new city. The daughter Nanami is about ten years old and is obsessed with baseball, and joins the local team. Nanami and her friend Toko sneak away to the hospital to visit Nanami’s brother Nagio, who has asthma. The second part is set seventeen years later, and Nanami is convinced that her father is senile as he keeps disappearing for days and racking up the phone bills. So one day she follows him and runs into Toko at the train station. While she is following her father, the story flashes back to his youth and how he met Nanami’s mother. Eventually we find out that he was visiting Hiroshima because he is Asahi, the brother of Minami, the girl from the first story. The book includes explanations of the text (which really explain a lot because I was rather confused as to the identity of all the characters and how they were connected), as well as a map of Hiroshima, and an afterword by the author/illustrator. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars. 

The Speaker for the Dead written by Orson Scott Card, script written by Aaron Johnston, art by Pop Mhan and Veronic Gandini

I enjoyed this graphic novel a lot more than the regular book version of  Ender's Game. It is a lot easier to explain complicated sci-fi ideas in graphic form versus in print, at least in my opinion. The graphic novel is set about twenty-two years after the first book, and Ender is now a Speaker for the Dead, one that tells the truth about a dead person's life. While Ender's only aged an additional 22 years, because of light-speed travel, it is now 3500 years in the future. He is called to the remote planet Lusitania to find out the truth about the death of two Xenobiology researchers who studied the native inhabitants of the planet, the Pequeninos. They have been accused of murdering the two scientists, so it is up to Ender to figure out if that is true or not. The Pequeninos seem to know Ender's true identity and want him to leave the Hive Queen Egg (of the insect race, the Formics, which he killed off at the end of Ender's Game). What really happened to the xenobiologists? How are the Pequeninos connected? Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars. 

This was a very fascinating book. It was interesting that all the names were Portuguese sounding and that the Catholic Church was so prevalent there, and they were essentially the ruling class with the help of the Congress. The Descolada disease element was also intriguing, and that is even more true with the Pequininos (or "Piggies" as they are more coloquially known), their religion and birthing system. I hope there are more graphic novel versions of his books, if so, I would be very interested in reading them. 

I Could Pee on This And Other Poems By Cats written by Francesco Marciuliano
I had originally picked this up to use with Kids Cafe, but decided it was a bit too adult for that program. It was a cute take on what cats would write about, were they actually able to write poetry. Chapters are broken down into Family, Work, Play and Existence. I think my favorites are "Something's Wrong" about moving to a new place, "Unbridled Love" about the ways cats show affection, "Tripped" about kitty assassins, and "Most Amusing" about what makes cats laugh. This would be a good gift for cat lovers. 3 stars. 

Shojin Ryori: The Art of Japanese Vegetarian Cuisine by Danny Chu
     I've read this sort of cookbook before, so I pretty much knew what to expect. This type of vegetarian (actually vegan since it doesn't include meat, dairy or eggs) cuisine originally came from Buddhist temples, and depends entirely on seasonal fruits and veggies. The chef and author divided the food up into seasons, and like most Japanese food, the plates are very small, but there are a lot of them. I kind of wished that they would put all the basic recipes in the front, not just stocks and sauces, and not repeat them with every section. The food is simple and beautiful, and there were a few recipes that I would like to try at home like the asparagus with white miso and walnut sauce. Most of the recipes are ones that I would rather try at a restaurant. 3 stars.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Atom Bombs and Sakura Blossoms

I just finished reading the historical fiction manga Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno. It was a little hard to read, but I figured it would be given the subject matter. Let me explain. The book is about one family's journey from 1945-2004, and talks about the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb explosion and how the family survived it. I've always felt a bit weird about the Hiroshima bombings as my paternal grandfather fought in the Pacific for all of World War II and he was not a fan of the Japanese as a result. I never really got to know him because he died when I was three. Anyways, after reading the children's book Hiroshima No Pika or The Flash of Hiroshima, was a true story about a seven year old and her family witnessing the explosion and what it did to people, I was firmly against nuclear proliferation and against the American government for doing what they did. I know there are many people who will argue for dropping the bomb. I would ask them to check out these testimonies from people who survived it before saying yes to doing it again in the future. 

So I figured to counter all the depressing and sad aspects about Hiroshima, I should think about something beautiful. I've always loved cherry blossoms. I used to live right outside of Washington D.C. and loved being able to watch the cherry blossoms bloom and then fall in delicate pink showers on your hair and clothing. It is one of the most stunning things I have ever seen. These cherry trees were originally given in friendship from the Japanese people to the Americans, so it is this image I will end with. I found this poem about a Buddha sculpture in a beautiful garden which included sakura (cherry) blossoms as well. 

The Garden Buddha
by Peter Pereira

Gift of a friend, the stone Buddha sits zazen, 
prayer beads clutched in his chubby fingers.
Through snow, icy rain, the riot of spring flowers, 
he gazes forward to the city in the distance--always

the same bountiful smile upon his portly face. 
Why don't I share his one-minded happiness?
The pear blossom, the crimson-petaled magnolia,
filling me instead with a mixture of nostalgia

and yearning. He's laughing at me, isn't he? 
The seasons wheeling despite my photographs
and notes, my desire to make them pause. 
Is that the lesson? That stasis, this holding on,

is not life? Now I'm smiling too--the late cherry,
its soft pink blossoms already beginning to scatter;
the trillium, its three petaled white flowers
exquisitely tinged with purple as they fall. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Short but lovely spring

I live in Arizona, and summer is the predominant season here. It lasts from about April-November, and we may get a brief but warm winter and short but lovely spring. In the summer, it's not just hot, it's usually over 100 degrees with dry heat.  Don't let people fool you, it's still bloody hot. I grew up in the Southeastern US, so I'm more used to a more humid heat, but both will make you sweat a lot. Dry heat just means the sun is way more intense. So if you have fair skin like I do, you will sunburn if you are outside for any length of time. You pretty much have to either travel with water everywhere or at least have water in your car. Getting away from my original point, I love spring. I love watching the irises and roses bloom and here in Arizona, it is 70 to 80 degrees F (21-26 C) usually with a breeze. The nights and early mornings are cool. Spring training baseball games are going on. They have just finished here and the temperatures are already starting to climb towards 100. 

I love the visual imagery of this poem. It reminds me of what spring should be like, and what an English spring is like, which I haven't seen in a really long time. 

Magdalen Walks
by Oscar Wilde

The little white clouds are racing over the sky, 
   And the fields are strewn with the gold of the flower of March, 
   The daffodil breaks under foot, and the tasselled larch
Sways and swings as the thrush goes hurrying by.

A delicate odour is bourne on the wings of the morning breeze, 
     The odour of deep wet grass, and the brown new-furrowed earth, 
     The birds are singing for joy of the Spring's glad birth, 
Hopping from branch to branch on the rocking trees. 

And all the woods are alive with the murmur and the sound of Spring, 
     And the rose-bud breaks into pink on the climbing briar, 
     And the crocus-bed is a quivering moon of fire
Girdled round with a belt of an amethyst ring. 

And the plane to the pine-tree is whispering some tale of love
     Till it rustles with laughter and tosses its mantle of green, 
     And the gloom of the wych-elm's hollow is lit with the iris sheet
Of the burnished rainbow throat and the silver breast of a dove. 

See! the lark starts up from his bed in the meadow there, 
     Breaking the gossamer threads and the nets of dew,
     And flashing adown the river, a flame of blue!
The kingfisher flies like an arrow, and wounds the air. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Kids Cafe and The Kraken

We have a program that the library is co-sponsoring with a local food bank and the USDA called Kids Cafe. Basically we give a wholesome snack to children 0-18 with an enrichment program. I doesn't have to be fancy, just has to be vaguely educational. I like to make an effort with my programs and have been using them as an opportunity to expose kids to art. My undergraduate degree was in Art History and I love to be able to use it when I can, plus I like to teach people about art. In addition, I know a lot of schools have cut art programs because of all the budget cuts, so I figure that they will be predominantly learning something new. Overall, I have really enjoyed the mini-lectures I have given, despite the time constraints, as I am limited to basically 10-15 minutes, and then we do a craft. I've gotten to research cool artist like Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Chihuly, Matisse, and even cool historical periods/cultures like the Ancient Egyptians. 

Dale Chihuly's The Sun and Black Nijima Floats

This month I'm am attempting to do some programs around poetry as it is National Poetry Month. Last year, I blogged every day with a different poem. I don't have as much time this year. Today's programs was on "Haikus and Origami". Needless to say the origami was more popular, even though I was super excited about the haikus as they are one of my favorite poetical forms. Anyways, I have decided to post this poem today because I recently found it while reading a children's nonfiction book with my son on the Kraken entitled Here There Be Monsters: The Kraken and the Giant Squid by H.P. Newquist. I highly recommend the book. 

The Kraken
by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Below the thunders of the upper deep, 
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea, 
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millenial growth and height; 
And far away from the sickly light, 
From many a wonderous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep, 
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep; 
Then once by man and angels be seen, 
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.