We March Onward

In the last post, I wrote about our journey—as a human community and a community of readers.

Thank you for marching onward with me. Since my first post, I completed a part of my own voyage in scholarship with the writing of my master’s thesis.

I will leave you in the very capable hands of the Scholastic team and their
“Top 100 Greatest Books for Kids.”


Yes, I know you’ve seen the list before. It is good to see this list and others like it again so that all of us, writers and readers alike, be part of the evolution of great writing for children.

Thank you for reading and for all you do to help children fall in love with stories.

Mary Ann

Our Story: Yesterday and Tomorrow

We have been on a journey, visited with metaphor, rhymed with Mother Goose, viewed picture books, seen fantastic flying books, heard fables and folk tales, myths and legends, met heroes, contemplated Scripture, embraced fantasy and imagined fiction. We read poems, touched the earth, soared the sky, and dove in the sea. And walked with a man and a bear in history. Now we continue our travel to the beginning of our story—the story of mankind. It does not end. We continue to tell it.

Our children can enjoy classic books on travel. Books that take them through direct experience such as The Land and People of South Africa (Lippincott, 1955), In Norway (Viking, 1948), and Here is the Far North (Scribner, 1957). [www.abebooks.com]

These writings present subjects realistically yet with understanding and sympathy.

Books that are an excellent writing of history always have compelling plot. Man is a Weaver by Elizabeth Chesley Baity (Viking, 1942), Never to Die: The Egyptians in Their Own Words by Josephine Mayer and Tom Prideaux (Viking Press, 1938), and George Washington’s World by Genevieve Foster (Scribner, 1941) are shining examples of using topics as a clue to the greater concept of man and progress of man.[i]

Now I present the first Newberry Award winner. The year was 1922. Written by historian Hendrik Willem Van Loon, it invites children to judge their past. It sweeps mankind’s history, not with criticism, but with tolerance and compassion.

The Story of Mankind
“The Setting of the Stage”
Source: Hendrik Van Loon, The Story of Mankind (Liveright, 1921)

Chapter 1 begins,
“We live under the shadow of a gigantic question mark.
Who are we?
Where do we come from?
Wither are we bound?
Slowly, but with persistent courage, we have been pushing this question mark further and further towards that distant line, beyond the horizon, where we hope to find our answer.
We have not gone very far.”

Source: www.bookdepository.com

Van Loon goes on to deftly write about evolution, using earth’s inhabitants as story tellers. It is a fascinating read. This story is about our yesterday.

With Katherine Shippen we continue our story.

the-great-heritageSource: Amazon.com

The Great Heritage
“We Have Tomorrow”
Katherine B. Shippen
Source: Katherine B. Shippen, The Great Heritage (Viking, 1947)

“It is not that I belong to the past, but the past that belongs to me… Mine is the whole majestic past, and mine is the shining future.”

Mary Autin, The Promised Land

The anthology editors introduce us to the chapter of Shippen’s book by quoting Mary Austin’s work, The Promised Land. They write that the past belongs to us. Katherine Shippen states that we have inherited America’s earth and its people. She asks what will become of our future. Shall we explore deeper in the earth or in the sea? What shall we harvest? And then she asks a different question. What if our new achievement is not material, but humanitarian? And the quote she uses from Langston Hughes becomes the title to her chapter, “We Have Tomorrow.”

We’ll end there.

We have tomorrow
Bright before us
Like a flame.
Yesterday’s a night-gone thing
A sun-down name.
And dawn today
Broad arch above the road we came.
We march!
Source: Langston Hughes, The Dream Keeper (Knopf, 1932)

[i] Edna Johnson, Evelyn R. Sickels, and Frances Clarke Sayers, Anthology of Children’s Literature, 4th Edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1970)


A Bear Cub Grand and Great

For those of you who have followed me from the beginning, you might remember an earlier post in which I was visited by my favorite character, Winnie-the-Pooh. Well, what if I told you that we get to talk about the true story behind the famous story that is a modern biography and this year’s Caldecott winner?

As many of you probably know, I am referring to Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

Source: Amazon.com

With art work reminiscent of Virginia Burton, this beautiful book gently and calmly leads us on a journey from Winnipeg, Manitoba to White River, Ontario, Canada to England where the real Winnie lived and met Christopher Robin Milne. Christopher Robin might have literally knocked on Winnie’s door to ask her to come out to play.

This marvelous book includes a family album filled with the history of the story. Reading it you’ll discover the meaning of the book’s title and why this true story is so special.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Next time, we’ll speak of travel and history. Until then, grab a teddy bear and give her a hug and let her hug you!

Composing Someone

“The present generation should be provided with nice, comfortable, decent human heroes with nobility in their souls to look up to, follow, and enjoy.”
—Hendrik Willem Van Loon

Welcome to reading true stories about people. Welcome to biography. The purpose of this category is to witness the author falling in love with his subject and to impart that love to us readers. Biography keeps heroes alive for children, taking them through time and place to re-create a moment where we see living history. The best biography aligns facts with noble purpose and has no room for demeaning comments.

The selection I’ve chosen demonstrates writing with a noble purpose. Boy! How much we need this.

profiles-in-courageSource: Nate D. Sanders

“Profiles in Courage”
Daniel Webster
John F. Kennedy
Harper & Row, 1955

Never mind that the author became the 35th president of the United States, he is a superb writer. So well-constructed was this book that it won the Pulitzer. John Kennedy summarized eight American statesmen who had the moral courage to stand by their convictions, no matter the personal cost.

In this chapter, we meet one such man. The time was January 1850. The circumstances surrounded a political battle of slave versus free—a battle that impassioned those that were determined to win because it meant something more to them than their jobs. This was personal.

President Taylor asked Congress to admit California to the union as a free state, a decision that could tip the balance of slave states versus free. Henry Clay, Whig Senator of Kentucky, knew he must enlist the extraordinary oratory brilliance of Daniel Webster to win over Congress on his behalf because he was co-drafting with Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, a resolution that would become the Compromise of 1850.

It would be a law to preserve the Union and avert war.

Webster bitterly opposed slavery from his youth. But he feared that civil violence would only strengthen slavery and the preservation of the Union was dearer to him than his opposition of slavery. Yes, even before the first shot at Fort Sumter was fired, threats of succession pierced the public landscape.

March 7, 1850 was Webster’s date with destiny as he spoke before the Senate. What came next was his personal cause—as an American. He pleaded for the Union. Two years later, Daniel Webster lay dying. We hear John Kennedy’s narrative:
But to the very end he was true to his character, asking on his deathbed, “Wife, children, doctor, I trust on this occasion I have said nothing unworthy of Daniel Webster.” And to the end he had been true to the Union, and to his greatest act of courageous principle; for in his last words to the Senate, Webster had written his own epitaph:

“I shall stand by the Union… with absolute disregard of personal consequences. What are personal consequences… in comparison with the good or evil which may befall a great country in a crisis like this? Let the consequences be what they will, I am careless. No man can suffer too much, and no man can fall too soon, if he suffer or if he fall in defense of the liberties and Constitution of his country.”

 It is my hope that if this book is not familiar to you, it will soon be. Next time, we will visit modern biography for children. In the meantime, enjoy true stories.

Earth, Sea, and Sky

Please Note: This post is longer than usual in order to give you the context of its theme. Thank you for your understanding.

 We explorer the wonders of nature, with classic narratives telling the story of how parts of the universe work: from wild animals to outer space, to the depths of the sea.

The first selection is from a book written as a result of patient observation of nature, told with beauty.

weaselSource: The Telegraph
“One Day on Beetle Rock” (Knopf)
The Weasel
Sally Carrighar
Source: Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post as “Forest Buccaneer.”

“Night’s end had come, with its interlude of peace, on the animal trails. The Weasel was not tired, and never joined a truce. She was stung only by a sharper fury when she saw the darkness seeping away beneath the trees. On the hillside where she hunted with her young she suddenly pulled herself up, sweeping the slope with her nose and eyes, trying to cup the forest in her ears for the sound of a chirp, a breath, or an earth plug being pushed into a burrow. There was silence—proof that all the quick feet had been folded into furry flanks. She and her kits were alone in a deserted world.

Her nostrils trembled with her eagerness to find an animal odor in the smell of needles, loam, and cool dank funguses.

The intense hope of the Weasel snapped into rage. The young ones saw her swirling over the needles like a lash. If there was another scent trail here she’s find it. She did—at this blended musk and pitchy odor left by a chickaree when he jumped from the trunk of a pine.

The Weasel young had scatted while their mother trailed the squirrel. They came flying back when a high bark told them that she had made a find at last. She was rolling over and over with the body of a chipmunk. The Weasel leapt aside, allowing her kits to close in on the quiet prey.

The mother bounded in among them. Her own strength still was keen but the kits needed rest, so she called them and the little pack moved down the hill…”

We move from earth to sky as the first American astronaut to orbit the earth narrates a day in space.

Source: http://hdwallpapershdpics.com/earth-from-outer-space-dual-monitor-wallpapers/

“We Seven”
Four Sunsets in One Day
John H. Glenn Jr.

Source: We Seven, M. Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Donald K. Slayton
(Simon & Schuster, 1962.)

“I witnessed my first sunset over the Indian Ocean, and it was a beautiful display of vivid colors. The sun is perfectly round and it gives off an intense, clear light which is more bluish-white than yellow, and which reminded me in color and intensity of the huge arc lights we used at the Cape. It was so bright that I had to use filters to look directly at it. Then, just as the sun starts to sink into the bright horizon, it seems to flatten out a little. As the sun gets lower and lower, a black shadow moves across the earth until the entire surface that you can see is dark except for the bright band of light along the horizon. At the beginning, this band is almost white in color. But as the sun sinks deeper the bottom layer of light turns to bright orange. The next layers are red, then purple, then light blue, then darker blue and finally the blackness of space. They are all brilliant colors, more brilliant than in a rainbow, and the band extends out about 60 degrees on either side the sun. It is a fabulous display.

I saw a total of four sunsets before the day was over—three during the flight and a final one after I had landed and been picked up by the destroyer. Each time I saw it set, the sun was slightly to my left, and I turned the spacecraft around a little on its yaw axis to get a better view. One thing that interested me was the length of the twilight. The brilliant band of light along the horizon was visible for up to five minutes after the sun went down, which is a long time considering the fact that I was moving away from the sunset and watching it occur at eighteen times the speed at which we normally watch sunsets from down here on earth.

All in all, a night in space is a beautiful sight. You see the moon shining bright on the clouds far below you and fields of stars silhouetting the horizon for hundreds of miles in each direction. Just like the sun, the moon and the stars declined and finally set at a speed eighteen times faster from my fast-moving, orbital vantage point than they do for us here on earth.”

We end our brief visit with nature by pondering the life of the sea: its depth, its mystery, and its creatures.

: http://energyprosandcons.org/
“The Sea around Us”
The Moving Tides
Rachel L. Carson
Source: The Sea around Us, Rachel L. Carson, (Oxford University Press, 1951.)

“There is no drop of water in the ocean, not even in the deepest parts of the abyss that does not know and respond to the mysterious forces that create the tide. No other force that affects the sea is so strong. Compared with the tide the wind-created waves are surface movements felt, at most, no more than a hundred fathoms below the surface. So, despite their impressive sweep, are the planetary currents, which seldom involve more than the upper several hundred fathoms.

The tides are a response of the mobile waters of the ocean to the pull of the moon and the more distant sun. In theory, there is a gravitational attraction between every drop of sea water and even the outermost star of the universe. In practice, however, the pull of the remote stars is so slight as to be obliterated in the vaster movements by which the ocean yields to the moon and the sun. Anyone who has lived near tide water knows that the moon, far more than the sun, controls the tides. He has noticed that, just as the moon rises later each day by fifty minutes, on the average, than the day before, so, in most places, the time of high tide is correspondingly later each day. And as the moon waxes and wanes in its monthly cycle, so the height of the tide varies. Twice each month, when the moon is a mere thread of silver in the sky, and again when it is full, we have the highest of the high tides, called the springs. At these times sun, moon, and earth are directly in line and the pull of the two heavenly bodies is added together to bring the water high on the beaches, and send its surf leaping upward against the sea cliffs, and draw a brimming tide into the harbors so that the boats float high beside their wharfs. And twice each month, at the quarters of the moon, when sun, moon, and earth lie at the apexes of a triangle, and the pull of sun and moon are opposed, we have the least tides of the lunar month, called the neaps.

The influence of the tide over the affairs of sea creatures as well as men may be seen all over the world. The billions upon billions of sessile animals, like oysters, mussels, and barnacles, owe their very existence to the sweep of the tides, which brings them the food which they are unable to go in search of.

The most curious and incredibly delicate adaptations, however, are the ones by which the breeding rhythm of certain marine animals is timed to coincide with the phases of the moon and the stages of the tide.

But the link between tide and living creature I like best to remember is that of a very small worm, flat of body, with no distinction of appearance, but with one unforgettable quality. The name of this worm is Convoluta roscoffensis, and it lives on the sandy beaches of northern Brittany and the Channel Islands. Convoluta has entered into a remarkable partnership with a green alga, whose cells inhabit the body of the worm and lend to its tissues their own green color. The worm lives entirely on the starchy products manufactured by its plant guest, having become so completely dependent upon this means of nutrition that its digestive organs have degenerated. In order that the algal cells may carry on their function of photosynthesis (which is dependent upon sunlight) Convoluta rises from the damp sands of the intertidal zone as soon as the tide has ebbed, the sand becoming spotted with large green patches composed of thousands of the worms. For the several hours while the tide is out, the worms lie thus in the sun, and the plants manufacture their starches and sugars; but when the tide returns, the worms must again sink into the sand to avoid being washed away, out into deep water. So the whole lifetime of the worm is a succession of movements conditioned by the stages of the tide—upward into sunshine on the ebb, downward on the flood.

What I find most unforgettable about Convoluta is this: sometimes it happens that a marine biologist, wishing to study some related problem, will transfer a whole colony of the worms into the laboratory, there to establish them in an aquarium, where there are no tides. But twice each day Convoluta rises out of the sand on the bottom of the aquarium, into the light of the sun. And twice each day it sinks again into the sand. Without a brain, or what we would call a memory, or even any very clear perception, Convoluta continues to live out its life in this alien place, remembering, in every fiber of its small green body, the tidal rhythm of the distant sea.”

Thank you for taking this mysterious and fascinating journey with me. Our next visit will be with my second favorite genre. Enjoy reading and sharing with the children in your life stories about nature.

Echoes Out of Time

Oh, please indulge me one last visit with poetry before we continue along our way?

Life is a journey. We meet many people. Let’s meet two couples, an Indian boy, and one who sings about the music of nature.

the-keys-to-canterbury                                                                Source: YouTube

The Keys to Canterbury

If poems are the music of literature, then we, its audience, dance. This ancient traditional ballad is a dance between a gentleman courting a lady and the lady accepting the invitation. Discover this lilting poem (it is also a song) and feel its peaceful rhythm:


We keep the theme of journeying in this brief and old Irish or Scottish folk song about a girl and her love, Johnny.

I Know Where I’m Going
Author Unknown

I know where I’m going.
I know who’s going with me,
I know who I love,
But the dear knows who I’ll marry.

I’ll have stockings of silk,
Shoes of fine green leather,
Combs to buckle my braid,
And a ring for every finger.

Feather beds are soft,
Painted rooms are bonny;
But I’d leave them all
To go with my love Johnny.

Some say he’s dark,
I say he’s bonny.
He’s the flower of them all,
My handsome, coaxing Johnny.

I know where I’m going,
I know who’s going with me,
I know who I love,
But the dear knows who I’ll marry.

Listen to its beautiful music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWHxreWIBZ8

From ancient England and Ireland we travel back to ancient America to hear a Native American song,

A Song of Greatness
(A Chippewa Indian Song)
Transcribed by Mary Austin
Source: Anthology of Children’s Literature, 4th Edition, Mary Austin, Children Sing in the Far West (Houghton Mifflin)

When I hear the old men
Telling of heroes,
Telling of great deeds
Of ancient days,
When I hear them telling,
Then I think within me
I too am one of these.

When I hear the people
Praising great ones,
Then I know that I too
Shall be esteemed,
I too when my time comes
Shall do mightily.

Its message is simple, direct, and sincere—a young man’s aspiration.

Finally, we come to see the greatness of nature in

Measure Me, Sky!
Leonora Speyer
Source: Anthology of Children’s Literature, 4th Edition, Leonora Speyer, Slow Wall, Poems, together with Nor without Music (Knopf)

Measure me, sky!
Tell me I reach by a song
Nearer the stars;
I have been little so long.

Weigh me, high wind!
What will your wild scales record?
Profit of pain,
Joy by the weight of a word.

Horizon, reach out!
Catch at my hands, stretch me taut,
Rim of the world:
Widen my eyes by a thought.

Sky, be my depth,
Wind, by my width and my height,
World, my heart’s span;
Loveliness, wings for my flight.

To share these with the middle school children we know is to share words in music and classics that come alive.
Next time, we’ll continue to explore nature in narratives.