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

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Re-Thinking the books on Laura Ingalls Wilder's Birthday

Re-Thinking the Wilder books.

Today - February 7th is the 148th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder's  birthday in 1867.  She died three days after reaching 90 years of age (Feb. 10, 1957). Anyone who "teaches" these books or reads them with children should be aware of some of the concerns about the depiction of American Indians in these books.  Please check out Debbie Reese's blog and search for "Laura Ingalls Wilder" -- I think you will uncover some very thought provoking ideas.  And another essay about Wilder that must be read is Laura June's Parent Rap "No Offense to Laura Ingalls Wilder" -- you will see that the stories are no better to African Americans either (although less frequent in the text).  See page ninety-eight of Little House on the Prairie.    But better than being a writer, she was a strong independent woman at the turn of the century and beyond.  She cared for her husband, wrote a column for a newspaper, and became a nationally recognized writer -- all because she was the strong woman that she was.  I'll celebrate that, but to honor her I will eat gingerbread...
I personally LOVE the Wilder books but I read them as an adult and read them from another perspective -- realizing that Wilder wrote these with memories of her childhood but with the stereotypical perspective of a 65-year-old woman who had the ingrained attitude toward many people that had developed over a life-time.  Just as she described the prairie lands surrounding her Dakota home with flowers that did not exist when she was growing up there.  The memories of some of the flowers she describes came most likely from visions she gathered during one of her adult visits back home to see her family.  Her books are indeed a look into the pioneering spirit but they also are reflective of the prejudices and attitudes Wilder developed as she matured into adulthood.  The value in her books is a look at the attitude and prejudices that exist during the 1930s when she and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane wrote them.
When she was writing these books it was acceptable to have a cigar store Indian in front of your store.  And the genocide of 100,000 NA Children was supported by the citizenry of the USA. -- Certainly these attitudes toward NA provided enhancement to any childhood memories and created situations with a lot of hyperbole.

HarperCollins, her long time publisher has put up a list of 10 things one can learn from reading the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder at  Sadly there are other things one can learn from the books as well. She does not treat Native Americans very well in her writings and that is a product not so much of her childhood but of the time in which she lived and wrote.

Consider the following:  
Try the Birchhouse Series by Louise Ehrlich -- or I can suggest others such as Laurie Lawlor's Addie series.

Just think about it --

Laura Ingalls Wilder

For some little known information about the first editions of the books go to the Purple House Press site and its pages about Laura
The books are definitely fiction -- but do share some very important glimpses of pioneer life.
On Laura's birthday I will celebrate her strength of character with her own favorite cake -- gingerbread.  In her later years she often greeted guests with her well-known gingerbread with a glaze of chocolate frosting and lemonade.

Here's her recipe for the gingerbread --

Laura Ingalls Wilder's gingerbread was
most often served with a thin glaze of
chocolate and a glass of freshly made
1 cup brown sugar blended with
1/2 cup lard or other shortening.
1 cup molasses mixed well with this.
2 teaspoons baking soda in 1 cup boiling water
(Be sure cup is full of water after foam is run off into cake mixture).
Mix all well.

To 3 cups of flour have added one teaspoon each of the following spices:
ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Sift all into cake mixture and mix well.
Add lastly 2 well-beaten eggs.
The mixture should be quite thin.
Bake in a moderate oven for thirty minutes.

Raisins and, or, candied fruit may be added and a chocolate frosting adds to the goodness.

And for Google's take on the legacy of LIW - check out the links on this page

And you may also be interested in this post about LIW's days in Iowa --


Saturday, December 27, 2014

What do Alice Waters and Beatrix Potter have in common?

I'm sure when Tom and Tiffany (I'm betting Tiffany) found this adorable tea set, they had in mind that the theme would fit right in with my love of all things Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit) .  And don't miss the Beatrix Potter guest room.  But I digress.  The set is indeed a great addition to the Beatrix Potter collection BUT I also saw a set that would be well connected to Alice Waters too.  Alice Louise Waters (born April 28, 1944) is an American chef, restaurateur, activist, and author. She is the owner of Chez Panisse, a Berkeley, California restaurant famous for its organic, locally-grown ingredients.  She is also the subject of Jacqueline Briggs Martin's most recent book -- Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious.
So what do Alice Waters and Beatrix Potter have in common -- a connection to cabbages and carrots and all things good to eat.  And although a thin connection both have birthdays that land on the 28th of the month -- Alice Waters was born on April 28 (1944) and Helen Beatrix Potter on July 28 (1866).  Potter died (Dec. 22, 1943) just four months before Waters was born.
I'm thinking in April we just must have an Alice Waters brunch and celebrate her birthday -- using this cabbage tea set. And again in July to honor Beatrix Potter.  Baby carrots in the carrot dish, and using the large peter rabbit decoratively.  Now Peter is supposed to be a tea pot but I'm thinking there might be other decorative ideas that might involve him.  All in all -- I'm loving that these pieces -- so adorable and will be very fun to use. 

Love it.  Love Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious and Beatrix Potter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Norman Bridwell Remembered (Feb. 15, 1928-Dec. 12, 2014) RIP

Norman Bridwell
This picture is one that I used in my book 100 Most Popular Picture Book Authors and Illustrators: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies (Libraries Unlimited/ABC-CLIO, 2000).  Bridwell is featured on 53-56, and the interview for that book is most likely the last time that I spoke with him.  He would have been about 74 at that time and still as interesting as ever.
I first met him in the late 1980s when I contacted him for a contribution to the Iowa Reading Association's t-shirt project.  We asked several noted illustrators for images that we might print on t-shirts and bags; and I had one run made with quilt squares (besides Normal Bridwell, illustrators such as Tomie dePaola, Leo and Diane Dillon, Steven Kellogg, Bill Peet, Aliki, and others contributed).  This image of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Emily Elizabeth was Bridwell's contribution and a 2-year-old in 2014 is still enjoying finding "Big Dog" on his nap quilt.  In the next few years I met him in person as the reading association hosted him at their annual reading conference in April.  I was his liaison and helper during his autographing session that Saturday.  One of the most memorable exchanges was when a young twenty-ish woman brought a book to be autographed but due to time constraints she had to leave it to come back and retrieve it later.  When he got to her request the personalization request read something like:  "To my friend, Mrs. _____________, the world's best teacher and friend to all children."  He turned to me and said, "Do I have to write that?"  I didn't get it at first, and then he said, "If I write that and sign my name and she turns out to be a child predator, how does that make me look -- she's not 'my' friend."  I agreed and we had a good time laughing at the possibilities that might ensue if he had written that inscription.  After that I and he often talked/wrote.
During our conversations he recounted the women who had made his career as Clifford's creator possible.  He was trying to get an illustrative job and Susan Hirschman at Harper & Row (later Greenwillow) was very forthright and told him that she doubted if any jobs would be coming his way, for him to illustrate someone else's books.  But if he developed his own stories maybe there would be some possibilities.  She identified a sketch of a small girl and her BIG dog as a possibility.  Clifford was born.  When in the beginning  "Tiny" was born as it wasn't until his wife suggested he name the dog after his own imaginary childhood friend -- and the red, that just happened to be the color of paint he had on his desk at the moment.
A couple of Clifford books (and some other titles) were published but not to any great acclaim.  Eventually though the first Clifford book made its way to the Scholastic Book Clubs.  At the time Beatrice deRegniers was the acquisition editor there and when Clifford sold well, she asked Bridwell for more stories but with the admonishment that "I just can't take Clifford soup. Don't turn in any old story with Clifford stirred in.  It has to be a real story."  Clifford was a great success and turned into one of Scholastic's best marketing campaigns.
The Bridwells moved to Martha Vineyard where they lived in a house with Clifford red shutters, and a Clifford red door.  He drove a Clifford red car with the license plate that read "Clifrd."
(A side note: The Bridwells were next door neighbors to Don and Carol Carrick and in fact he and Norma were the Carrick's first friends on the street to introduce themselves when the Carrick's moved to Edgartown. Later they became Godparents to the Carrick's second son.  Norman and Norma felt the sorrow of the loss of their friend Don Carrick when he died in 1989; and then when Carol moved, in 2002, to a home in West Tisbury. where she lived until her death in 2013.  But I digress.  The Bridwells and the Carricks and later Carol Carrick and her friend Jack Burton enjoyed a friendship for decades and both brought many books to the world of children's books.)
Clifford debuted in 1963 and was only illustrated in black and white, with the splash of red for Clifford.  At some point Scholastic felt the illustrations should be in color so they interviewed colorists to add color to Bridwell's earlier illustrations.  Bridwell applied for the job himself... but was rejected.  So he continued to draw in black and white and others colored in his illustrations (or at least that is the way he told the story).  I never did know the truth of the story -- was he rejected, or was he just popular enough that the publisher would rather he work on new books as opposed to spending his time adding color?  Either way the books are now published with full color illustrations and have merged into movies, toys, games and many other products that bring Clifford into the lives of young readers.

My oldest grandson whose other grandmother worked at Red Lobster once told his 2nd grade teacher in Massachusetts that he had one grandmother who owned Red Lobster and another grandmother (me) who knew Clifford the Big Red Dog.  It is now my very youngest grandson who feels that his special friend is Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Clifford is an enduring character that has been beloved for decades ... and most likely will be loved for several more decades.

Norman Bridwell - RIP and thank you for your books, including my favorite How to Care for Your Monster (and the story of how that book came about is part of the entry in 100 Most Popular Picture Book Authors and Illustrators: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies).

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."