All things literacy — Authors, Books, Connections . . .

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Orange in the Fall - A PreS Program (in the library)

Orange * Orange * Orange* - a library program

Today I took a 21 mo. old "library goer" to the Cedar Rapids Public Library for the library's  "Twenty fun-filled minutes of tiny tales & tunes in interactive fashion for little library-goers!"  Thanks to Karla - the CRPL leader of the session, Mr. PEB had a delightful time.

The theme was the color ORANGE - Karla read two delightful stories to the group of PRE-K attendees.

The first book Move Over Rover! is a delightful tale by Karen Beaumont, with illustrations by Jane Dyer (HMH, 2006).  The tale is a variation of sorts on the familiar Mitten story that can be read in several versions.  For some of those titles see the page associated with Jim Aylesworth's version The Mitten at  Notice the orange flowers that are beside Rover's doghouse.  The shaggy white dog, with brown ears.  Orange flowers -- and animals abound.
Orange flowers are here too.  See the orange flower on the fanciful hat.  Along comes the wind and "Swoosh!" the hat lands on someone else -- "Whose hat is that?"  It fits just fine on a number of animals: an orange cat, a rooster, snake, cow, peacock, horse, or maybe a polar bear.  Only when the fashionable young girl appears in a dress matching the hat's fabric do we find out whose hat is that.
An orange flower on the hat...  Make hats or find some inexpensive hats to decorate with a large orange flower.

Several tie-ins to the concept of orange (adapted here from the CRPL session)
Using the familiar plastic eggs -- orange of course, place a jingle bell inside and superglue the two sections together -- cover the seam with an orange polka dot ribbon.  The musical egg rattles can be used to provide some activity during the session.  Shake your rattle up high, shake your rattle down low, shake your rattle behind you, and shake your rattle in front of you.  Using the rattle provides young children with an opportunity to learn directional language and to learn how to follow directions.
Note that many versions of these rattles can be found on the Internet but they use beans, or rice, or other similar things that would create a rattle when shaken - but I would be fearful that if the seal broke or even if taped with duct tape, that the seam would come apart and the beans or rice would come out.  Thus, the jingle bell is a better option, in my opinion.  Even if the eggs comes apart for any reason, the bell is still safe for young shakers.
 The group talked about other things orange -- here are a few ...

And after the formal session, the group had a short play time with toys and one another.  Mr. PEB found a toy train immediately (well immediately after the multi-colored ball).  But right now he is extremely into choo-choos.

I think the smile on Mr. PEB's face says it all -- a  great session at the Cedar Rapids Public Library - Thanks Karla

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Happy Birthday Helen Beatrix Potter (28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943)

Tomorrow - July 28, 2014,  148 years ago Helen Beatrix Potter was born in England and years later she sought to cheer up the five-year-old son of her former governess Annie Moore so she sent an illustrated letter to Noel Moore. That was in 1893. In 1901 she self-published a revised version. It was so successful (despite several publisher's rejections) that Frederick Warne publishers sought to publish it in 1902. That information is rather well-known. What might not be so well known is that Beatrix Potter was one, if not the first, to create merchandise to promote her writing. In 1903 she created a Peter Rabbit doll as a promotional product to accompany the book.

Beatrix Potter made this Peter Rabbit doll in 1903, a year after publishing her first book "The Tale of Peter Rabbit." She registered the doll at the Patent Office (UK).

Many activities and ideas for sharing Beatrix Potter's tales at

And ...
Visit our  Beatrix Potter Room at McBookwords Manor.

Helen Beatrix Potter was schooled privately and spent a lot of time with animals.  Her parents did not view any relationships with men to be favorable.  She did have one major relationship with Norman Warner (of the publishing firm). In 1905, Potter and Warner became unofficially engaged, despite her parents' belief that he was not suited for her, because he was in a commercial business, rather than belonging to the gentry class.  But one month later Warne died of leukemia.  He was just 37.
Eventually Potter used her income from the books and an inheritance from an aunt to buy a farm, and then purchased other farms including Hill Top Farm.  She often spent time at Hill Top Farm and wrote several of her stories there.  As she purchased more land she asked a local solicitor, William Heelis, who helped her protect her investment.  In 1913, Potter and Heelis were married.  In 1914 her father died, and Potter established Lindeth Howe, a 34 bedroom facility where her mother lived until her death in 1931 (at age 93).  Lindeth Howe, is now a destination hotel restaurant in the Lake district.  Her later life was more involved with raising sheep and she became well-know for her restoration of the Herdwick sheep and was established as one of the major Herdwick sheep farmers in the area.  In 1942 she was named President-elect of The Herdwick Sheepbreeders’ Association, the first time a woman had ever been elected to that office.  However, Potter died but died in December of 1943, before taking office.
Much of her property and literary estate was willed to the National Trust.  William Heelis lived another 18 months beyond Potter's death and when he died he gave the remainder of her property and literary holdings to the National Trust.
The copyright of her materials expired in the UK and other countries when the 70 year after death limit was reached.  The stories are now in public domain.

Happy 148th Birthday, Helen Beatrix Potter.  Thank you for all of your stories.

Updated and added information added to a 2013 post

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Chuck Close: An Artist for Our Times (July 5)

Happy Birthday Chuck Close

Chuck Close • Photo Credit: Gianfranco Gorgoni

Chuck Close (b. July 5, 1940)

Today is the birthday of Chuck Close - a contemporary artist who paints large massive scale portraits of a variety of subjects.  His work is famous for its photorealism quality.  His highly inventive  -- mosaic like -- technique for painting portraits grew out of his need to remember faces.  He has prosopagnosia — an inability for face recognition.  But he is not only a portrait painter but a printmaker, photographer, and tapestries.  In 2000, President Clinton presented him with the prestigious National Medal of Arts.

His career in the art field was formally acknowledged when his work was displayed in the University of Massachusetts Art Gallery in Amherst, MA in the early months of 1967.  Since that time his work has been the subject of many gallery exhibits.  In 1988, Close was in New York to present an award; afterwords he had a seizure, a spinal artery burst.  When he awoke in the hospital he was a quadriplegic.  Extensive therapy helped him regain the ability to paint.  He uses a brush-holding device strapped to his wrist and forearm and has constructed a sophisticated pulley system that allows him to move his canvases into place.  Recently the New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority announced that they have commissioned Close to produce a series of 10-foot-tall mosaics for the future subway station at 86th Street and Second Avenue.  The goal of his work is to "reflect the riding population: old people, young people, people of color, Asians."  The basis of his work will be the photographs of artists that he has taken throughout his career.
Seducitve: Bill Clinton by Chuck Close
Bill Clinton, 2006, Oil on canvas, 108 1/2 x 84 in.
From the book Chuck Close: Work, by Christopher Finch

His work has included well-known subjects such as composer Philip Glass, whose portrait Close painted and showed in 1969 and has become one of Close's most recognized pieces. But he has painted other well-known subjects as well, choreographer Merce Cunningham and former President Bill Clinton, and others.   One of my favorites is the portrait of Clinton which was the subject of an interview by Alastair Brooke for 'The Telegraph" (06 October 2007).

Christopher Finch has written a comprehensive book about Close and his work, in Chuck Close: Work (Prestel Publishing, 2007)

Two books written for a young audience include:
Close, Chuck.  Chuck Close: Face Book. With Amanda Freymann and Joan Sommers.  (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012) and Greenberg, Jan and Sandra Jordan. Chuck Close: Up Close. (DK Children, 1998)
Close, Chuck.  Chuck Close: Face Book.
With Amanda Freymann and Joan Sommers.
(Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012)
Greenberg, Jan and Sandra Jordan.
Chuck Close: Up Close.
(DK Children, 1998)
Finch, Christopher. Chuck Close: Work (Prestel Publishing, 2007)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day Moment

Civil War Statue donated by Thomas S. Simons in
honor of Civil War Soldiers
Statue is in place at Evergreen Cemetery
Delhi, Delaware County, Iowa
When public funding did not raise money
for this memorial statue, Thomas S. Simons
donated the funds to erect the statue.

Memorial Day Moment -
Civil War Statue in Evergreen Cemetery in Delhi, Delaware County.
Civil War Statue erected in memory of the service of Civil War soldiers.  Statue was funded by Thomas S. Simons (1839- 03 Apr 1919) who served with his father (George)   Co. K 21 Iowa Inf.  Thomas S. Simons was the brother of John Edward (1846-1914). John Edward was the father of Thomas Harold Simons (1887-1951) who became the father of Mary Simons McElmeel (1905-2013).  Mary McElmeel was the grandmother to the McElmeel children (Mike, Deborah, Tom, Steve, Matt, and Suzanne),  making this Civil War Soldier and the benefactor who honored his fellow Civil War Soldiers, their great-great-great uncle.

From the US Department of Veterans Affairs:
"Memorial Day History
Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

World Book Night - April 23, 2014

Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein

This basket of books will be distributed on April 23, 2014 in honor of World Book Night -- 

Q. What is World Book Night?
A. World Book Night is an annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person.  Each year on April 23 –Shakespeare’s birthday tens of thousands of people in the U.S. go out into their communities and give a total of half a million free World Book Night paperbacks to light and non-readers.

I am one of those ten of thousands of people who will go forth on April 23, 2014 and distribute 20 of the half-a-million books.  My chosen title is Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Disney Hyperion, 2012).  Elizabeth Wein is an author who writes a WWII tale of a secret agent “Verity” who is arrested by the Gestapo. She thinks she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.  They'll get the truth out of her.  But it won’t be what they expect.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy? 
  Read the book - comment here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lunching with Peter (Rabbit) and Alice (in Wonderland)

A Luncheon

On April 5, 2014 - a local church invited hosts to decorate tables and to invite six of their friends to share a community luncheon. I decided to host two tables and in wanting to make a statement, I choose two literary themes. One was Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit and the other featured Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Here's a peek at the table finery.

Alice in Wonderland
Alice's table featured a mix-matched table setting, but with coordinated dishes in a blue, burnt orange, and taupe.  The plates had a scroll design while the plates (blue or burnt orange) were solid color but with a scalloped edge of sorts. 
The blue/orange/yellow stripped boxes were nut cups, blue napkins, and blue glasses with blue/white striped straws.

In the center of the table was the opened pop-up book created by Robert Sabuda.
It's a marvelous book with 24 pop-ups through out the book.  This page is my personal favorite and The book is often used as a coffee table piece during evenings when friends come to play a favorite card game - Five Crowns.
Although I did not get them for this luncheon, I did find very large playing cards that, if laminated would make great place mats or decorative pieces for a more casual party.  Cards 8-1/4" x 11-3/4" are available at and the same home site has even larger (Colossal Playing Cards) 10-1/2"W x 14-1/2"H available. 
The tea cup tower was comprised of consignment shop pieces of mismatched cups and saucers - with one teacup with the same design as the cups used with the dinner ware but in a different style.  A miniature "Alice" sits under the garden flowers which were places in a blue mason jar.  Along side Alice is a miniature tea pot in a diamond blue/violet pattern.  Also slightly hidden behind the individual vases with a single flower is a tea for one in a Alice in Wonderland motif.  Tea for one sets are convenient sugar and creamer containers for special luncheons/dinners. There are several variations available.  I found mine at Barnes & Noble and it has a white rabbit on the lid.  Others online are similar but I have not found others with the white rabbit.

Each guest was given a swag bag that contained a note book, a magnetic list pad, a copy of Alice in Wonderland to either savor or gift to a young reader.  I found the books for a bargain price at Michael's (the craft store).  Can't find them online but did come across a delightful DIY Alice in Wonderland Birdhouse Mobile -- Someone would have to DIFM (do it for me) if I were to have this -- but a crafty patient person could have a delightful piece.  There was a wildflower seed packet in each swag bag.  A template for the Alice and the Peter wildflower seed packet will be at the end of this blog.

Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit
Plain eggshell white tableware with a beaded pattern around the edge as used with a cup embellished with a Peter Rabbit motif.
In the center was a basket and potted plant, a tin bucket with paper carrot or two.  A popup book  - Peter Rabbit's Lucky Escape was showcased in the table center.
Along with a tea for one featuring the Beatrix Potter characters around the edge.

These bags were found at the Dollar Store; the fabric flowers (as were the ones used on the Alice bags) were found at Michael's.  Each bag contained a copy of The Tale of Beatrix Potter, a Peter Rabbit notebook, a grocery list and a wildflower seed packet very similar to the swag put in the Alice bag.

The flower motif nut cuts were found in a package of 8 at the dollar store.  

Here are the templates for the seed packets.  Click on the picture to get the full sized image, print on standard copy paper.

I purchased the seed in bulk from my local garden shop and then created the packet to picture each of the flowers that were contained in the mixture. There were other tables with other non-literary themes. Watch for another blog post showing some of the other possibilities.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Max Visits Our Blog and Makes a Cake

Max Makes a Cake by Michelle Edwards, with illustrations by Charles Santosa.  

Max's family is preparing for the Passover Seder.  He knows the four questions in both English and Hebrew -- but first he has to make his mother a birthday cake.  His father is supposed to help but he is busy taking care of Max's little sister.  Max's patience is wearing thin, as he waits and waits.  But then his ingenuity kicks in.  He has the solution — a solution that he can handle all on his own.  

The shining star of this book is the spot on text that describes Max Osher's gentle impatience with the delays in his making the planned cake, and the seamless manner that the author is able to put in bits and pieces of Jewish culture into her books.  I featured one of her earlier books Room for Baby in two blog posts on Author, Author, and an Illustrator or Two (Post 1) (Post 2).  In Room for Baby Edwards was able to walk readers through the highlights of the Jewish calendar all the while giving us a great story about a mother who recycles and reuses anything she can.  A delightful story that just happens to include a Jewish family.  So to is this new book, Max Makes a Cake.  In this title Edwards is able to give readers a bit of information about more traditions in the life of a Jewish child.  While surely young readers will pick up on the theme of the Passover Seder the story itself is universal and will resonant with children of all faiths.  Max Makes a Cake is a must have in any library (public or school) that serves young readers ages 2-8.

Good books always promote curiosity about ideas in the book  -- and since much of the culture related information was new to me, I was curious about some things. Michelle agreed to answer some questions for me (and for you who might have some of the same curiosity).
I wondered how the story began—what seeds brought about the telling?  What were the four questions of Passover?  And was there really a Passover cake mix available?  Here are Michelle Edwards's responses.
Max Makes a Cake: The Four Questions and the Passover Cake Mix
by Michelle J. Edwards

After many years of toying with a story I called "A Cake for Mama,"  I found myself writing a Passover story. I had started "A Cake for Mama" when my children were very young and I was close to their day-to-day triumphs and frustrations. The story was a part of an illustrated collection of stories and poems called Now We are Three. The book starred a little girl, who happened to be Jewish. I named her Meera, after my oldest daughter.

Now We Are Three was ready for production at a large publishing house when my editor found out her imprint was being folded into another one. The editor who inherited the project decided to pass on it. Slowly, over decades, I have picked at the individual pieces of the book and reworked them into independent stories.

Rethinking and exploring the spunky main character of "A Cake for Mama" brought me to Max.  As I wrote the opening anchoring paragraph for Max Makes a Cake, it occurred to me that, in addition to Max being an expert at getting dressed and almost a master at tying his shoes, he also “knew the Four Questions for Passover in Hebrew and English.”  With that discovery, Max and the Passover version of my cake story, evolved.

So, in writing Max Makes a Cake with Passover references, I had to make sure that the story still triumphed. I didn’t want the reader to be bogged down by the unfamiliar. Max offers simple explanations for The Four Questions for Passover, the Passover story, and matzo, the unleavened cracker-like bread eaten at Passover. Nevertheless, a curious young reader might take note of Max’s explanations and have more questions. Opening up one’s world to new cultures will do that.

To give you and your readers a jump start in your Max-inspired research, I offer the following information about The Four Questions for Passover and the special Passover cake mix Max and his dad bought at the supermarket.

1) The Four Questions For Passover:

The Four Questions are the same question asked four times:
Why is this night different than all other nights?

Each answer is different, but they all relate to the Passover story, the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Jews are commanded to tell this story every year at Passover.

Why is this night different than all other nights?

The First Answer: Because on all other nights we eat bread or matzah, but on this night, we eat only unleavened bread, matza. (Matzo is the bread of affliction, slavery.)

The Second Answer: On all other nights, we eat any type of herb, but on this night we eat maror. (Maror is bitter, like slavery.)

The Third Answer: On all other nights, we do not dip our    herbs once, but tonight we dip them twice.(The dip is salty water, like the tears shed during slavery.)

The Fourth Answer:
On all other nights, we sit straight in our chairs to eat our meals, on this we recline.(Reclining is a luxury of a free people.)

The Four Questions for Passover are traditionally chanted by the youngest able child at the Passover Seder.  The Four Questions for Passover are sung in Hebrew by Leah onYouTube at
Leah Singing Passover 4 Questions.

2. The Passover Cake Mix

Max and Daddy buy a special cake mix because on Passover Jews are forbidden to use leavening agents, like baking powder or yeast. Although there are ways to bake a cake without them, it’s more complicated. Passover Cake mixes are handy and easy.   

Max’s inventive cake, built by layering matzo with a jam and cream cheese frosting, resembles the matzo layer cakes I first ate when I lived in Israel. They are quite yummy and simple enough for a child to make. To add a little sweetness to your Max reading, try The Shiksa in the Kitchen’s EasyNo-Bake Chocolate Matzo Cake at


 As I finished thinking about Max Makes a Cake I couldn't help but think about some thoughts running through my head.  How clever of the author, she manages to integrate information about the Jewish culture into a very fun book to read with young readers.  In that respect Edwards is similar to Tomie DePaola who broke a barrier by including bits and pieces of Catholicism in his books, including, Merry Christmas Strega Nona.  Jane Kurtz is another pioneer in this area in her recent title Anna Was Here.  In that title the chief protagonist deals with all the trauma of a ten-year-old moving to a new home, but Anna has to do it while in a family with a very public person in the community—the new minister in town is her father.

And another thought - I can't wait to try making the Chocolate Matzo Cake -- I wonder if  I am able to buy Matzo at the store?  Well I am about to find out.  Isn't it fun what even a picture book can teach you while entertaining you too? Well-written picture books know no age limits.   Thanks Michelle - you've given us a great book to share with readers of all faiths.  Knowledge about one another's beliefs and traditions promotes acceptance and respect of one another and helps us know how much we are alike.


Michelle Edwards is a popular speaker in schools and libraries and brings much inspiration for reading and writing.  She is also a master knitter and has written a superb book The Knitter's Home Companion  (see an earlier blog post about this book)— All this in addition to being the author and illustrator of many books for children, one book for adults, and nearly one hundred essays and cards for knitters. In addition to the titles mentioned early in this blog post, Edwards's picture book titles include Chicken Man, winner of the National Jewish Book Award. Michelle lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with her husband, a house full of books, yarn, and the artifacts of their three daughter's childhoods. Her next picture book, A Hat for Mrs. Goldman will be published in 2016 by Schwartz and Wade and illustrated by Brian Karas. I can't wait for that one.

Join Michelle Edward on these stopping spots:   Facebook   Twitter   Pinterest

Next stop on Max's (and author Michelle Edwards's) tour is tomorrow -- stop by at The Brown Girl with Long Hair/ Interview -  March 10, 2014.