Last year, I "ran away from home" (any semblance of ordinary home-life) and into a 1969 Oasis travel trailer. My trailer was parked in the driveway of a lovely and tolerant friend in Portland, Oregon and not in the prickly burr-filled, hot as heck Hard Pan, California desert, but it made me feel scrappy and salt-of-the earth anyway--a bit like I was living in a middle-reader book à la Susan Patron's Newberry award-winning The Higher Power of Lucky.
I decided to revisit this honest and inspiring pebble of a book because of it's resemblance to this year's winner--the unstoppable Jack Gantos' Dead End in Norvelt. Each takes place in a Podunk town, and each offers readers a rare and refreshing dose of realism. It is her eavesdropping on the rock-bottom stories of 12-Steppers at Hard Pan's Found Object Wind Chime Museum that occasions 10-year-old Lucky's quest for her own higher power, for example.
Having grown up dad-less and dirt-poor, having faced the sudden death of her mother, having adjusted (mostly) to trailer life with a new loving but flawed French legal Guardian, having befriended outcasts, and having committed herself wholeheartedly to the field of entomology (she takes Darwin for her role model!), I would argue Lucky never lacked any power but the power to see that power, and belief in the love of her friends and new-found family. Lucky fearlessly fends of killer snakes for Pete's sake!
It takes a harrowing head-long odyssey into a dust storm, during which Lucky straight-up saves a five-year-old, reviving him with cold beans, ketchup and fig Newtons, and a final informal and impromptu send off for her mother for Lucky to find some faith in the strength of her own spirit!
The Higher Power of Lucky is the perfect book for anybody building a new life in the wake of change big or small, or running away to figure out what to come back to.
Check out the NYTimes article
about the uproar instigated by Patron's inclusion of a particular male body part on the FIRST PAGE of the book! I totally side with Patron on this one--I found Lucky's fixation on the word to be a pretty awesome illustration of the
utterly normal curiosity about new language and bodily functions common to all adolescents (and grown-ups too)!See also From the Mixed-Up Files of Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler, my favorite book and another unforgettable runaway story!
As long as there have been children's picture books, there have been talking animals. Talking animals and their equally talkative friends. Who wear clothes. Or possibly ride bikes. Or go to school. So ubiquitous are our fictional, anthropomorphized friends
, that we hardly notice the trends in popularity of certain animals over the years.
Bunnies were a beloved subject in the early years of the picture book. Ducklings too. There was the exotic animal and insect trend of the eighties. The great llama and wombat crazes of the 2000's. Bears and dogs never really go out of style. Last year was a particularly good one for not-quite-animals: friendly monsters, aliens, zombies and the like. This year, the sweet and humble porcupine seems poised for takeoff.
When publishers release their catalogs for the season, I can't help but flip through and notice which animals have fallen out of favor and the new ones who are taking center stage. Who will be next? Last night, after watching these adorable videos
about a pair of twin sloths in Costa Rica for the four hundred millionth time, it finally hit me: SLOTHS. At least I hope so. Where are all the sloth picture books?! Think of all the untapped picture-book-potential in those huggable, plucky (and endangered) little creatures.
Sure, "Slowly, Slowly , Slowly," Said the Sloth
, by Eric Carle is a classic. The lesser known but totally hilarious, Slow Loris
, by Alexis Deacon, has always been a Green Bean favorite, even if it isn't exactly
about a sloth. Last year saw the release of Wake Up, Sloth!
, a gorgeous, imported pop-up book by Anouck Boisrobert that does a wonderful job of explaining habitat loss to little ones.
But there aren't many others. The majority seem interested only in the sloth's pokey nature (for obvious reasons). But did you know that sloths also love to hug things? And that rescued babies like to clutch stuffed animals at all times in lieu of their mothers? Or that they are amazing climbers
? Untapped potential, I say. Let's hope the picture book folks are listening, because:
Do you have a favorite underrepresented animal? Hedgehogs? Lizards? Worms? Which animals do you think deserve a little time in the spotlight?
We've been talking a lot about poetry lately at Green Bean, and with good reason: April is National Poetry Month
, and we're still receiving submissions for our Green Bean Poetry Zine
! We also have a ridiculously cool event and poetry reading
with Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen
coming up on Sunday April 22, at 2pm.
With all this poetry talk, it's hard not to post exclusively about the gorgeous new illustrated poetry collections for younger readers arriving at the store every day, but what about collections for older kids? It's true that your average middle-grader would rather read fantasy novels from morning to night if given the choice, but finding the perfect book of poetry for them can be as rewarding as it is challenging.
Based loosely on a poem by Walter Dean Meyers
and the Red Wheelbarrow poem
by William Carlos Williams, Love That Dog
by Sharon Creech is a favorite with both kids and adults. Slim and easy to digest (but packing the emotional wallop of a freight train), it is the perfect verse-novel for introducing older kids to different poets and forms of poetry
without seeming obvious. The young narrator's voice is so authentic and effortless and his poetry so heartfelt, that kids may even be inspired to write a poem or two of their own.
Maybe I'm just biased because he happens to be my favorite poet, but there does seem to be something about William Carlos Williams' poetry
that resonates with readers of all ages. The new middle grade poetry collection by Gail Carson Levine, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It!
owes a similar debt to WCW. You may already be familiar with his perfect, hilarious, and smug little poem about the frozen plums:This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
Levine has crafted an entire series of "False Apology Poems," in the same vein, including her own version of This Is Just To Say
The result is a collection of poems that is as deep and engaging as it is laugh-out-loud funny. It would be the perfect book for a middle-grade book club, or as an anytime read for that picky young reader in your life.So what about you? Do you have a favorite middle grade poetry collection or verse novel? Silverstein? The Make Lemonade trilogy?
Feel free to share in the comments or at Sunday's poetry reading! And don't forget that tomorrow is the last day for kids to submit to the zine for publication! We can't wait to see what everyone creates!*Andrea
Bringing the outdoors indoors with a stack of Elsa Beskow this afternoon. Elsa was aptly knighted "The Beatrix Potter" of Scandinavia for her sweet and sprouting stories! Wouldn't it be great to be the Beatrix Potter of someplace! Elsa was also an active member of the Scandinavian women's movement and you can find hints re. rights like freedom of speech in many of her books! She was also an early champion of holistic education!
"Lisa and her grandmother lived on the edge of the wood in a cottage with a garden all around it. Beyond the garden was their vegetable patch and a meadow sloping down to the lake, where the Water Lilies were just out. Behind the cottage was the real forest, full of Twinflowers, Bilberries and Wintergreen."