Saturday, September 24, 2005

Safe and sound

We are thanking the Lord that Houston managed to escape a direct hit from Rita. It was a close, narrow, last-minute scrape by, but... whew! It's over. I'm relieved beyond words that Rita didn't cut a path through our (Katy's) back yard, as it was expected to do at one very unnerving point in the weather forecast.

We thought about packing up and heading north to stay with my parents in Illinois, but decided not to fight the traffic from the mass evacuation (we're talking 2 million strong) and risk winding up stuck on the road. Instead, we boarded up, gathered food, water, and other supplies, preparing for the worst. We were glued to the continual television coverage of Rita, keeping a close eye on where it was expected to make landfall. It was with bated breath that we waited and watched as it slowly move to the east of us.

All we wound up with was a windy night, maybe a few trees down around town. The lights flickered a few times, but we never even lost power. (Well, OK, our internet connection went pfft on Thursday, but that I can live without--air conditioning is another beast!) Even better news is that so far, there haven't been any reported deaths directly caused by the hurricane, even in the Lake Charles/Beaumont area where Rita hit straight on. Not that there won't be any reported tragedies as a result of the storm, but it's a relief not to have the massive loss of life that was seen with Katrina repeated with Rita.

Thanks so much for the comments of concern in the post below. It's good to be "back" (read: alive, well, home intact, online again, and no longer focused on storm survival!) Camille, I'm glad you guys came through the storm OK as well.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Omnibeasts and Insectlopedia

Poet/Illustrator Douglas Florian has written and illustrated a good many poetry collections, and I can hardly wait to read them all. We are currently borrowing--and thoroughly enjoying--two of his books from our library: Omnibeasts and Insectlopedia. This afternoon my son and I sat side by side reading, each animal poem inspiring him to act out a lively immitation. (Who knew that reading was a good form of exercise?)

Both books feature a full page illustration for each insect or animal, with its highly entertaining and descriptive poem on the page opposite. I fell in love with the playful poetry in both books. Words are almost acrobatic, leaping from line to line with alliteration and other fancy poetry tricks I couldn't put a name to. Overall, they just have great read-aloud quality. Florian's illustrative style is distinct and earthy; lots of texture and warm, striking colors. He has a knack for highlighting parts of the poems with his artwork, capturing the mood and humor of each poem and critter, not just a physical likeness.

One thing that stands out about Omnibeastsis the selection of, well, beasts. Which is to say that there are a wide and wild range of them, including a boar, newt, jaguarundi, ocelot, vulture, walrus, and various species of insects. My favorite poem was "The Glass Frog", for it's sheer sense of humor:

Upon a tree
It's hard to see
Which part is leaf
And which is me
Which part is me
And which is leaf
I've lost myself again--
Good grief!

Generally speaking, I'm not into bugs--or books about them. But Insectlopedia is appealing to even the bug-reluctant. I was pulled in by Florian's unique way of looking at and describing the insects... part humor, part information, part fun with words. The illustrations are rich and engaging, and the bugs are full of personality. The squeamish will appreciate that, while realistic, the bugs aren't so detailed as to evoke a shudder or the desire to arm yourself with a shoe.

The typeography also adds to the visual appeal (this is true of Omnibeasts as well as Insectlopedia). The words move around the pages where it works for their descriptees. For example, the text for the poem The Inchworm creeps up and down the page, taking on a distinct inchworm shape. "The Inchworm" also happens to be another humorous selection:
I inch, I arch, I march along. I'm just a pinch, a mere inch long. I stroll and stick on sticks in thickets, and never pick up speeding tickets.

Douglas Florian has a sure spot on my list of favorite children's authors/poets.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hummingbird Nest: A Journal of Poems

If you've ever set out a hummingbird feeder to attract these fascinating backyard guests, you can imagine how memorable it would be to closely observe a hummingbird family from nest-building to the first flight of baby hummingbirds. What began as the journal detailing just such an exerience for one family eventually became Hummingbird Nest. Written by Kristine O'Connell George and illustrated by Barry Moser, Hummingbird Nest is a collection of poems chonicling the progress of a hummingbird mother and her two hatchlings. The book's inspiration was a mother hummingbird who decided the ficus tree on the author's front porch was a perfect place to build her nest one spring, a story George goes into in more detail about at the end of the book.

George's poems had a sweet simplicity that I enjoyed; They captured both the wonder and delight of observing the tiny jeweled birds while keeping a short, descriptive style befitting of an homage to hummingbirds. There are humorous observations (the mother hummingbird described as "a feathered missile streaking by" as she defends her territory), including two from the perspective of the dog and cat--neither of whom were very happy about this new visitor. The dog doesn't appreciate the bird using his water bowl as a bird bath; the cat is a bit disgruntled at being imprisoned in the house so as not to disturb the mother and offspring.

The illustrations are gorgeous. Moser captured the delicate beauty of these small birds with a deft artistic hand. This is a book that would be worth buying even if the story was missing. As it is, I've already flipped through it several times just to admire the paintings--an amazing combination of deep color and feathery lightness. Watercolor magic.

For more details on the book, visit the Kristine George's website, which contains a link to a poem and illustration from the book.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Books for the youngest Katrina victims

Kelly of Big A, little a posted about an organization called First Book. They will match every $5 donation with one book to be sent to children affected by Katrina. From their website:
No one knows how long it will take to completely restore the areas hardest hit. In the meantime, books can help children discover new and exciting information, escape to worlds of fantasy and adventure or simply find a smile.

For those who live along the Gulf Coast, I'm sure you could donate books at one of the many relief organizations. Here in Houston, they were asking for children's book donations for the thousands of children currently housed in the Astrodome as there isn't much for them to do. However, it might not hurt to call your local organizations before dropping off any books; many will give you a list of supplies most needed right now.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Katy and Katrina

So far, I haven't posted on the tragedy that left the Gulf Coast--and so many lives--in shambles. But I can't help but notice the good that has come from the bad, and I wanted to share just one link that testifies to this locally, even though it has nothing to do with children's books.

Amidst the devatstating loss of home and life caused by Katrina, I have been greatly encouraged by the tangible hope that is a result of people pulling together to help one another. Help has come locally, nationally, and the world around. Here in Katy (West Houston), folks offering assistance in the form of money, donations, prayers, and even their homes are not in short supply. This weblog touches on just some of the stories of generosity and help Houstonians have shown to our neighbors in need.

Over the past week I have felt an upsurge of pride, not just at being a Houstonian, but an American. Whatever our detractors may say to the contrary, America is a people with a heart for people; A beautitful truth that shines even brighter in times of national crisis, when in so many ways things couldn't look worse. And that, I believe, is the real test of an individual (or entire country's) character--a positive repsonse in the face of overwhemling, unimaginable, and horrifying circumstances. As a country, we certainly have our share of problems to overcome. But as a nation, there is something to be said for the fact that by and large, we are, indeed, united.

Monday, September 05, 2005

J.K. Rowling as illustrator

Big thanks to Create/Relate, who posted a link to this article from the Guardian. What made me let out a little squeal of delight was that the article included a drawing done by one J.K. Rowling, that depicts Hagrid, Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, and the boy who lived himself. A snippet of description:
The drawing shows how closely the casting and make-up of actor Robbie Coltrane as Hogwarts' caretaker, Hagrid, came to reproducing Ms Rowling's original idea. The black-and-white sketch was intended for the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which introduced the oddly- numbered King's Cross platform used to travel to Hogwarts. It leaves Harry's features to the imagination - he is just a baby about to be left by Hagrid and Professor Dumbledore with the Dursley family.

If you follow the link and take a peek at the drawing, I think you'll agree that writing isn't Jo Rowling's only talent. Too bad the image is so small, I'd love to see a bigger version of it. Ah well, maybe I'll get the chance to travel one day, and will stop by the Seven Stories National Centre for Children's Books, where the drawing will be displayed.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Surfacing at last

I've found myself wishing back my 3-year-old's dinosaur obsession over the past couple of weeks. He's still very into anything having to do with the towering reptilian beasts that lived so long ago, but his primary book love lately has been all about spying. Right now we have at least 15 borrowed library books, and all of them are either from the I Spy or Can You See What I See series, by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick, respectively.

Don't get me wrong--they are a lot of fun, and quite a bit less hard on the eyes than, say, the Where's Waldo? books. And it's wonderful to see my son find favorites of his own choosing as his love for books grows. But there are limits to how many times a mom can read a stack of I Spy books--and I tend to have to go beyond what is in the rhymes because the boy remembers everything he spots, so I find new things for him to spy in the interest of keeping up the challenge--without becoming bored and/or permanently cross-eyed. The riddles are intriguing, but read over and over for days on end, and I find myself missing the element of STORY!

Now that he's letting up on the number of requests to have them read each day, I'm almost overwhelmed by the joyous prospect of sneaking them out of the house and back to the library at the first opportunity. No easy feat, as he seems to be able to smell a stack of books, no matter how well camouflaged, that are about to be returned.

And with that, I'm off to log on to our library system's website and put some new children's books on hold. Books with stories--stories!