Category Archives: children’s books

Popsicles and pastimes of summer.

“Grandma, look at that wasp!” This colorful insect was resting near us on a geranium leaf.

“I’m impressed that you know that is a wasp, Ivy. Lots of people call all bees and wasps ‘bees.'”

“Bees have hair,” she informed me, “and wasps don’t.” The supposed wasp had floated away to a lamb’s ear flower, but not before I’d snapped its picture, wondering why it was so lazy and unthreatening, unlike our ubiquitous yellow jackets who seem only to rest when they perch on the rim of my fountain for a drink. We zoomed in on my picture to see that indeed, it was pretty bald — but maybe not entirely. After looking at more pictures of wasps online, I’ve decided this is very likely not a wasp after all, but a syrphid or hover fly. It’s more like a fly in its shape and wings, and pictures of syrphid flies came up as “yellow jacket look-alikes.” On the other hand, this insect approaching the salvia has more the look of a wasp, with its legs dangling down:

But as an example of hairy bees, I showed Ivy a picture of my favorite bee of all, which you might have seen here recently in a slightly different pose. She definitely has the darling fuzzy hairs:

It’s always fun for me if the grandchildren are visiting during hot weather. Popsicles and water play and the play house keep them happy outdoors, where I can play also, doing little garden tasks and walking back and forth to the clothesline with the towels and swimsuits. And many pairs of shorts, because Jamie was too tidy a boy to endure having popsicle drips drying, as I thought harmlessly, on his clothes. Eventually I gave him a bib, a largish bowl for his lap, and a spoon, so he could enjoy the treat to the fullest.

When the sun is baking all the air and sucking up moisture, I think it the most fun ever to wash a little shirt or whatever in the kitchen sink and hang it on the line. One shirt didn’t get that far, but dried in no time draped over a pomegranate bush.

I clipped my fast-growing butternut vines to the trellis, and swept the patio while the children sat in the old galvanized trough we call the Duck Pond, named for its use in another time and place, keeping three ducks happy in what was mainly a chicken pen.

Ivy played in the “pond” by herself one afternoon while Jamie napped, and I sat nearby rereading passages in Middlemarch. She found the tiniest spider floating in the water and held it on her finger, wondering if it were dead. “Why don’t you put it on a hydrangea leaf, and maybe it will revive,” I suggested. Of course, I took a picture of it on the leaf, because neither of us could see the minute creature very well with our eyes only.

When I zoomed in on my photo, it revealed a flower with eight petals. 🙂

At the patio table a few feet away I trimmed my six Indigo Spires salvia starts that I had propagated from a branch I accidentally broke off several months ago; I’m reluctant to transplant them to 4″ pots during this hot month, but that’s probably what they need…

Having gained confidence about African violets from a Martha Stewart video that I watched a few weeks ago, I tackled my plant that had grown two baby plants, one of which was already blooming. The babies I managed to cut off with roots attached, and potted them up snugly.

 

We thought to walk to the library, but the tires on the Bob stroller were too flat and I didn’t feel like pumping them up, so we drove. It happened to be a craft day there, and Ivy wanted to do all the things — but first, to design a Loch Ness monster from clay, because she said she had recently watched a video about that creature. Jamie patiently held the monster and observed, while she went on to make a jeweled crown and a flag.

 

The children actually looked up unprompted into the dome of the kids’ room at the library, and we talked about the stories pictured. I picked out some books to borrow but wasn’t thrilled with the three we read later at home. What I did love was a book someone gave me recently — was it one of you? — titled Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, by Simms Taback. I read it twice to the children, because they liked it, too.

Joseph seems to be a Jewish man, and his overcoat gets tattered, so he cuts it down to a jacket, and when that gets overpatched, into a scarf, and so on. When he ends up with nothing at the end, it seems he doesn’t exactly have nothing after all. Good-natured resourcefulness and humor make for a charming story. I loved the ending, and the proverbs and sayings, and the many unique outfits and beard styles and colorful details. Joseph looks like this every time he realizes that his garment needs altering>>

Some of the artwork includes photographs in collage. I think if I were Jewish I might enjoy the book even more because I suspect that the photographs might be of famous people pertinent to Jewish history and culture.

A typical proverb quoted in a frame on the wall of Joseph’s house,
showing barely over an inch square on the page:

Over four days I read lots more books, like In Grandma’s Attic, The Ugly Duckling, Finn Family Moomintroll, a Thomas the Tank Engine collection (not my favorite, but a chance for Jamie to share with me his vast knowledge about that series), and one that I’ve read more than once to them via FaceTime, How Pizza Came to Queens. I got out my collection of costume jewelry, much of which used to be my grandma’s, and which I keep in her broken down jewelry box; and my small group of Moomin figures, and puzzles that are many decades old, but The Best and treasured.

One morning we cleaned in and around the playhouse
before eating a breakfast of sourdough pancakes in the garden:

With more washing up afterward…

As I was showing Ivy some rosemary and oregano she might pick for pretend cooking in the playhouse, I glanced up and gasped so that she started. “My milkweed bloomed!” She looked on admiringly and I told her that I had seen the same species of milkweed growing wild near her house up north.

Ivy and Jamie departed with their mama this morning, and I’ve been transitioning back into my quieter life. They all were the best company for kicking off summer.

A boy and his loves.

Liam was with me for a couple of days last week. He is almost six and suddenly reads with astonishing fluency. Reading is downright fun for him, I guess that’s why, and the more you do something you love, the better you get at it. I was pleased to realize that he would be just the person at just the stage to appreciate The Disappearing Alphabet by Richard Wilbur, so I searched through my bookshelves to find it. We read it together with many giggles.

The artwork, by David Diaz, is much more pleasing to me than that in The Pig in the Spigot, another of Wilbur’s books for children which I wrote about here once. Each page is devoted to a letter of the alphabet, with a short verse musing on what would happen to our beloved world if that letter were no more.

After reading the book, then eating dinner, we went on one of my creek walk loops. Immediately we began to practice our mutual love of plants and their names. My grandson is starting to understand that I don’t know every plant, and our nature study is more of a joint effort now, with him not saying, “What is this?” so much, and saying, “Grandma, look!” more.

But he brought up the subject of the alphabet also, as we walked along, saying, out of the blue, “If there were no letter N, we wouldn’t have pain! or lanes! — or extensions!”

Our walk took longer than I planned, because I had forgotten about how it’s our habit to meander and pick things, as I had started out with Liam in Flowery Town years ago.

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We ate quite a few new-green wild fennel fronds on this walk, and even some slightly older ones, comparing the flavor. And several times he reminded me that we must take the route home that passes by the pineapple guava hedge, because he was eager to taste the flowers I’d mentioned.

We ate flower petals, and got to bed late, and the next morning the boy picked more right next to my garden dining spot, which he added to our breakfast feast. Rarely is it truly the right weather to eat breakfast outdoors here in my city, and this may have been my first time to do it with company so agreeable.

The middle of this second day was spent at my church, where the end of the children’s week-long summer program featured a long session of water play, and Liam was delighted to get all wet and to eat a popsicle.

Even here, he drew my attention to a tree blooming right above, which I’m sure I’d never noticed before. Our rector said he planted it himself “way back.”

Australian Silver Oak or silky oak, Grevillea robusta

While children were settling down for the Bible lesson that morning, another boy showed me this fly that he was admiring on his hand. I think Liam was already waiting patiently on the other side of the circle so he didn’t see it.

Later that afternoon I had planned to have him help me clean the greenhouse, but then realized he’d like better to pick sweet peas to take home to his mother. I have only a little patch that I didn’t pull out yet. He was diligent about that task for nearly an hour, and collected a large jarful. I made headway on the greenhouse, and we took breaks to study the bumblebees that only recently decided to mob those flowers.

One day we had read Monarch and Milkweed, and the other, I showed him my milkweed plants; the Showy Milkweed is in a jungle behind the fig tree, where I hope, if Monarch caterpillars hatch out, the birds might not notice them…?

Liam helped me to see my flowers without a magnifying glass. As we were looking at some tiny succulent flowers, and I was trying to get a good picture of them, I began to notice little black dots on them. “Are those holes in the petals, can you see?” I asked him. He squatted down and looked hard, and told me that they were things on the ends of hairs coming out of the middle of the flower. Ah, stamens! When I enlarged the photo, I could see, too:

We washed rocks! Liam had been examining and organizing one of my collections of pebbles and cones and such in the house, and out here I had him put these larger stones from the Sierras and from the Sacramento River through some sudsy water and a rinse, so they could wait presentably until I find a use for them.

What other things did we both like to do while he was visiting? Eat ice cream cones, and judge matchbox car races, and read Winnie-the-Pooh. Many times during his last hours with me, lines from Pooh or The Disappearing Alphabet would come to his mind and he would say them again, looking at me with a twinkle in his eye, knowing I liked them, too. He especially liked these from the page about the letter L:

“Any self-respecting duck
would rather be extinct
than be an uck.”

I was so grateful to Liam’s parents for making this intimate visit work out. Next time I see him, he will be more grown up, and a different boy. But probably not all that different. I hope we can always find a way to share our love for words and plants and many more details and gifts of this vast world in which our loving Father has placed the two of us as grandma and grandson.

My winding path to the key.

gl P1050286One thing leads to another. I had the sudden and unusual urge to clean my shower door this morning, and ended up spending hours on the bathroom, the bedroom, the laundry area in the garage…. I made myself stop at six o’clock so I could take a walk, which was a more of a chore than some evenings, because I had already been on my feet most of the day.

Even so, I didn’t want to take the shortcut, because the sight of the slant rays through the redwood trees at the park is not to be missed. This is where my children played soccer and softball, and climbed those trees, before they were trimmed of their lower branches. I like experiencing the park this way more than the former version, when we used to stand around shivering on the damp sidelines to watch an hour of soccer.

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But getting back to earlier in the day: Before indulging in the flurry of vacuuming and scrubbing, I had followed other, quieter prompts, in the realm of poetry. I was reading some recommendations for anthologies, when the collection Come Hither showed up on my mental path. This was probably the first book of poetry I ever bought. We were homeschooling and I had borrowed Walter de la Mare’s anthology from the library. But I couldn’t renew it forever, and it was clearly a book that one would like to delve into forever. So I splurged on a copy of our own, and my students would leaf through its pages week by week to find an appealing poem to memorize.

Walter de la Mare
Walter de la Mare

In the last months I had forgotten about this book; I knew it was in the spare bedroom on a shelf full of poetry books, and I made a note to myself to get it down and enjoy it again. After this evening’s walk I did that, but I had to limit myself to reading only the first poem, so that I will get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight. I also discovered a wonderful article by David M. Whalen, about the anthology and its editor: “Walter de la Mare’s Come Hither.”

He explains the frontispiece address to the “Young of All Ages”: “Anthologies of children’s verse usually fall into sentimentality. They reflect their editors’ attempts at indulgence in feelings that have become unreal to editors and readers both. Come Hither: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages is markedly free of this blot as de la Mare, a Twentieth-Century British poet and author, never left behind the numinous sense of mystery that characterizes childhood.”

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British author Alice Thomas Ellis is quoted in the article as saying that if she could have the Bible and Shakespeare and one other book, when stranded on a desert island, the third book would be Come Hither. The copious notes alone I find fascinating; they are obviously written with the older and even oldest Young in mind, and they lead me always to one more musing .

Here is that first poem of the collection. As the turning of the page will reveal a different offering, and another following that, I feel certain that I will have more to share with you in the future. But as Whalen points out, this one poem already contains everything.

THIS IS THE KEY

This is the Key of the Kingdom
In that Kingdom is a city;
In that city is a town;
In that town there is a street;
In that street there winds a lane;
In that lane there is a yard;
In that yard there is a house;
In that house there waits a room;
In that room an empty bed;
And on that bed a basket–
A Basket of Sweet Flowers
Of Flowers, of Flowers;
A Basket of Sweet Flowers.

Flowers in a Basket;
Basket on the bed;
Bed in the chamber;
Chamber in the house;
House in the weedy yard;
Yard in the winding lane;
Lane in the broad street;
Street in the high town;
Town in the city;
City in the Kingdom–
This is the Key of the Kingdom.
Of the Kingdom this is the Key.

The presence of crows and persons.

On one of our foggy summer mornings recently I was doggedly walking my most frequent loop around the neighborhood. It’s almost an hour’s outing if I don’t take the shortcut. For the first fifteen minutes I was lost in thought, that is to say, my mind in a different place and/or time from where my body was… and then suddenly I remembered to pray. Immediately as I “tuned in” to the present and His presence, I became aware of the cawing of crows nearby, and I looked up and saw them in the trees.

I think it was the fine mist, combined with the noise of crows, that made me think of Japan, perhaps a classic painting of misty mountains, like the mountains in which the character “Crow Boy” lives, in the book named for him.

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You will notice that in my mind I’d already left my body again! So why not jump back across the Pacific Ocean to a time some years ago, and to the crows that destroyed my daughter-in-law’s deck planters when she and Soldier were first married. 😦

Closer to home, I hear the crows’ harsh kind of talk on my block sometimes, but only in the mornings. Occasionally I wonder if they will descend on my garden and start pecking at my flowers as they did Joy’s. They aren’t the sort of birds I wanted to attract.P1050182

In Taro Yashima’s children’s story, Crow Boy, the birds do not themselves figure strongly in the plot. The book is about a little boy Chibi whose classmates make fun of him because he is shy and strange and not bright in the school-y way. The teacher evidently writes him off, but for five years he treks to school faithfully every day from “the far and lonely place” where he lives with his family. And it turns out he’s always learning.

Maybe because he is rejected by the other children, and ignored by the teacher, he can in his solitude really pay attention to his surroundings.

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mr sobe

 

Then a new teacher comes, someone who is able to appreciate the gifts that have been developing in the boy, because he takes the time to be fully present with Chibi for long periods. And to hear what Chibi knows from his own being present, on his journeys to and from school and everywhere, over the course of his short life.

Mr. Sobe is an inspiration to me. Some people have this ability to give you their full attention. Certainly Jesus was not distracted by random thoughts, but in being one with the Father He was always fully present with the people he met. Those rare people who have acquired the Holy Spirit to the degree that He fills their minds and hearts, leaving no room for lesser things — they also are able to attend to the moment and all who are in it to a degree I can hardly imagine.

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I could not even stay with the crows for one minute. But at least I had begun to use my mind for something productive, the creating of this little lesson for myself, and the promotion of a good book.

If the creatures I had met on my walk had been human, I know I would have kept my mind and heart on them somewhat longer. I don’t have much heart for crows yet, even though Crow Boy is one of my favorite children’s stories. I’ve already told you enough about that short book and why it is worthy of your acquaintance, so I will stop short of giving away the ending, which often makes me cry, as I vicariously experience its drama and happiness.

If any of my readers can tell me something about crows that will help me in my attitude toward them, I will be glad to hear it! Then next time we meet, maybe I will love them enough to stay with them for a whole minute.

gl crow only