Category Archives: children’s books

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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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.

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Maps, juice, and puzzles.

  • 2016-07-05 17.30.57I’m improving my mind this week, as I play with the two grandboys whose own minds are soaking up knowledge about their world at a fast rate. I brought their family two large Lauri puzzles that our family of 15 years ago must have acquired too late for them to be of much interest to our own children. In any case, I hadn’t been called upon before to help assemble them, and I was frankly in trepidation about this Fit-a-State puzzle, because I don’t “know my states” very well.

I had forgotten that behind the unmarked pieces is an outline drawing of all the states with their names. Neither of the boys can read those, though, and they were better than I at some important aspects of jigsaw puzzling, such as having a good sense of spatial relationships.

I have always been on the low end of the scale for that kind of perception, and have noticed that many grandchildren are quicker. Laddie who is only two doesn’t even seem to be looking very hard at the spaces to be filled, or at the piece he is holding, but he quickly takes in the view and without hesitating places the piece in the right place.

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The detail on this map is amazing. Every state is its own piece. Yes, even Rhode Island. You know we haven’t assembled the puzzle many times because neither Connecticut nor Rhode Island has been lost!

I think I’ve probably learned a bit more United States geography through this exercise. I like doing puzzles with the boys because although they are often rambunctious as you would expect healthy boys to be, they both are able to concentrate for long periods on detail work such as coloring and puzzles.

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Yesterday I did some grocery shopping for the family and I  brought back something from Target’s $1 aisles for each of the older boys. Liam got a puzzle consisting of sticks to be laid side by side in alphabetical order. I knew it would be easy for him because he knows the A-B-C song perfectly. He soon wanted to make words with the lettered sticks, or to sing the song with the alphabet mixed up but the notes in perfect order. We did that together for a while to gales of laughter. And today we made some of our own “sticks” with extra letters so we can now form words.

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Yes, we mix up lower case and capitals. Liam prefers the latter. I hadn’t thought of adding pictures to the new strips but he thought that essential. So I took courage and tried to draw a quail and a glue stick, which were the pictures he suggested.

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Little Brodie is here, of course, lending his newborn sweetness to the atmosphere. At four weeks he’s healthy and growing fast, though he hasn’t yet reached his due date. He is a pretty “easy” baby at this point. Does it seem that third-borns are often like this? I think they like having all the noises of the other children in the house.

Perhaps the loudest commotion happens  when a fire truck leaves the station house a block away and turns on its siren. The boys drop whatever they are doing and run to the nearest window screaming like banshees, in hopes of seeing the truck wailing past.

I’m enjoying the neighborhood walks, and I’ve taken the boys up and down different residential streets every day. Every day I see something I don’t know, and/or a plant that I saw years ago when visiting this area. Soldier and Joy and our good friends Mr. and Mrs. Bread lived very close to each other back then.

For example, this plant that I think is an aloe of some kind…? Mrs. Bread probably told me before what it is. Every specimen I have seen is gigantic, and at first I called it the spidery plant, which made Liam laugh, but then I changed it to I’ve taken to the Octopus Plant. It looks to me like a good place for rats and spiders to breed.

2016-07-05 11.55.46Along the sidewalks where I push Laddie in the stroller and Liam walks, if flowers or foliage hang over the sidewalk we will take a sample to sniff. With the help of the Internet I identified a butterfly bush in Soldier apurple flowernd Joy’s back yard. They have a great yard for having a passel of boys — all the ornamentals are of the sort that can’t be destroyed.

A large flock of Canada geese hangs out at one park we have frequented. We have studied their herd movements and don’t understand them at all. Below you can see part of the group nibbling near the swings where Liam is pushing his little brother.

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So much hands-on learning is happening around here all day long. I brought bags of oranges from our family’s groves in the Central Valley, and my juicer, and one of the boys’ favorite things is to make the juicer go, and the juice to flow, by bearing down hard on the cut orange. While they are doing such real and necessary work they behave in a very grown-up manner and don’t squabble at all.

I brought a big basket from home full of some of my favorite children’s books, including Down Down the Mountain and The Maggie B. As I was typing this blog post last night I could hear Soldier in the boys’ bedroom reading The Clock by Esphyr Slobodkina, a book that I read to him in ages past.

Sleepy People by M.B. Goffstein has been loved. It puts even the reader in a somnolent mood with its brief but evocative tale of a family who “are always sleepy.”  Several line drawings depict parents carrying limp children in their arms, and descriptions of people whose eyes are closing as they eat their bedtime milk and cookies.One evening I was asked to read this book as we all clustered around Liam and Laddie’s beds, and we all smiled as our own yawns involuntarily happened, and before long our whole household was on the way to dreamland and restoration and energizing, for the explorations and challenges of another busy day in Monterey.

Grandma Stories

IMG_2399Today I read the early reader Mouse Soup to the grandchildren. In the first pages a mouse is caught by a badger who is planning to make soup out of him. But the mouse thinks fast and tells the badger, “This soup will not taste good. It has no stories in it. Mouse soup must be mixed with stories to make it taste really good.”

Stories do make life tasty. I wish I had the skill to share the many humorous and heartwarming stories that have filled my days this week while I am at Pippin’s in the northern reaches of our fair state. Many people who haven’t been to California have the impression that there is not much northward beyond the San Francisco Bay Area, but I live beyond that, and I still have to drive six hours to get to Oregon. It’s about five hours to Pippin’s.

The weather has been a constant source of interest and conversation, of course, being the thing we live in, assaulting or caressing or charming my senses by turn. There was the melting day of my arrival when it was 105°, all the way to refreshing thundershowers that started a cooling trend, so that this week the highs have been in the 80’s and 90’s.

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The cats are draped all over the house because it’s a bit cooler indoors. Duncan considers Jamie his special responsibility and often sleeps on the changing table. If Jamie were comfortable lying on such a lump, the cat would be content to stay in place while I change the baby. But Jamie complained, so I shoved Duncan to the side.

When I step outdoors at night I start to imagine that it is 30 years ago and our family is camping in the mountains, because in the warmth the trees are expressing their individual and familiar flavors, taking me back. The stars are just as bright, too — and I don’t even have to sleep in a tent.

sprinkler 6-16It was Sunday upon returning from Oregon and Pathfinders’ family that the thunder and lightning foretold the dumping of rain. It splashed down just after we got the sleepy children in the door. That gave Pippin some help in keeping the zinnia seedlings watered.

I might yet do that job, but for several days I’ve been barely keeping up with my main reason for being here, to mind the children ages 6, 3, and 1. Today was my last day of being the only adult on duty for twelve hours at a time.

The six-year-old is the sort of person A.A. Milne was writing about in the poem in Now We Are Six: “Now that I’m six, I’m as clever as clever. I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.” I could see that if I didn’t want to be constantly on the receiving end of his management, carrying out his ideas, I had to have a plan of my own.

So I told Scout we were going to have Grandma Camp for three days. He insisted on changing the name of the program, to something like Grandma Half-Camp, and I conceded that it was not what one normally thinks  of as camp, given that activities have to accommodate the shifting needs and schedule of a toddler.

I stayed up late the night before Day 1 planning our activities: periods of quiet, such as me reading to the children, or them playing with play dough, alternating with dancing or jumping on the trampoline. We would take walks, maybe two a day, for Grandma’s sake mostly.

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Jamie peruses Bearskin.

Scout does not enjoy Alone Time, though his home here in the forest and his liberty to explore would be any boy’s dream. Even jumping on the trampoline is only fun if someone is throwing balls at you or providing a listening ear to the expounding of your thoughts. It’s a challenge to meet the needs of other members of the family when someone like that is sucking all the attention and airspace.

One of my favorite things to do with children is to read aloud, so I made sure to schedule in lots of time for that. This week we have read dozens of books, including many fairy tales, some of which were not very familiar to me, like a lovely version of The Snow Queen by Susan Jeffers, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Bearskin by Howard Pyle.

Ivy loves the book of nursery rhymes Pocketful of Posies, illustrated by the amazing Sally Mavor, and we like to examine the details of the pictures, like the flower petals and leaves that make up skirts of many of the ladies, especially Mary, Mary’s “pretty maids all in a row.” It was the selection for our Poetry Time one morning, which followed Prayer and Bible and me trying to teach them the simple song, “Isaiah Heard the Voice of the Lord.”

A Far-Fetched Story by Karin Cates is a favorite of mine since I gave it to this family four years ago. It’s actually more appropriate to read in the fall, because the story revolves around the gathering of firewood in preparation for winter. But it’s a lot of fun, and if my husband had read it he’d have said I am like the woman of whom we hear in the first paragraph:

“Early one autumn, long ago and far away, the woodpile was higher than the windowsills. But even so, there was not enough firewood to suit Grandmother.”  When one after another of her family sent to get a few more pieces for the wood box come back with nothing more than a tall tale, she says, “Well, that’s a far-fetched story!” Now Ivy has taken to trying out this comment in various conversations.

We only took one walk — so far. It was too hot much of the time, and at other times it seemed that either Ivy or Jamie was napping. But on that walk Scout found lots of lichens that he laid in a row on the back of the stroller along with a branch that Ivy said looked like a seahorse.

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I danced most days with the children to some rousing instrumental music from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, as is their routine. Their style is quite untaught and hyperkinetic, involving lots of running around the perimeter of a rug in the living room.

But this evening they were dancing without me, and after a while Scout came proudly into the kitchen where I was making dinner, wanting to show me the results of his efforts. “Grandma, feel the back of my head!” I felt his damp hair. “Does it feel wet? That’s just my sweat, from dancing! It’s Swinging Man Sweat!” And off he went to swing some more.

My pace of life of late, combined with my inability to understand my various mobile devices, have frustrated my documentarian desires, and I had to stay up till midnight, after both parents returned, to get this post done.  I may have some more “stories” to tell before I go home, and I hope they will be good food for our souls.