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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Joseph Bruchac

That Lovely Ornament, the Moon

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root

Jackie: We’ve passed the Solstice but we still have more night than day. We can watch the moon with our breakfast and with our dinner. We thought we’d celebrate this season of the moon by sharing some stories featuring that lovely ornament.

Phyllis: And Christmas Eve we saw an almost full moon casting shadows on the snow before the clouds blew in. Moonlight really is magical.

Papa Please Get the Moon For MeJackie: There’s lovely magic in Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle. This book has been a favorite of mine since my days as a preschool teacher. It never fails to please the sit-on-the-rug crowd. What’s not to love? There’s Eric Carle’s wonderful moon, and a father so dedicated that he finds a “very long ladder” and takes it to “a very high mountain.” Then he climbs to the moon and waits until it’s just the right size. He brings it back and gives it to his daughter. She hugs it, jumps and dances with it—until it disappears.

The combination of fantasy and real-moon, family affection and joy is just timeless. This thirty year old story could have been written yesterday.

Kitten's First Full MoonPhyllis: In Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes, Kitten, too, yearns for the moon, mistaking it for a bowl of milk. “And she wanted it.” Closing her eyes and licking toward the moon only gives her a bug on her tongue, jumping at the moon ends in a tumble, and chasing the moon ends with Kitten up a tree and the moon no closer. After each attempt, the text reminds us of Kitten’s yearning: “Still, there was the little bowl of milk, just waiting.” When Kitten sees the moon’s reflection in the pond and leaps for it, she ends up tired, sad, and wet. Poor kitten! She returns home… to find a big bowl of milk on the porch, just waiting for her to lap it up.

Thirteen Moons on Turtle's BackJackie: Kittens and children and all of us are fascinated by the moon. Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: a Native American Year of Moons (Penguin, 1992) by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London is a collection of thirteen poems about the seasons of the moon from “each of the thirteen Native American tribal nations in different regions of the continent [chosen] to give a wider sense of the many things Native American people have been taught to notice in this beautiful world around us.” The noticing is one thing I love about this book. Reading these poems makes me want to walk in the woods and see something in a new way.

Moon of Popping TreesIt feels as if we are in the season of the “Moon of Popping Trees.”

Outside the lodge
the night air is bitter cold.
Now the Frost giant walks
with his club in his hand.
When he strikes the trunks
of the cottonwood trees
we hear them crack
beneath the blow.
The people hide inside
when they hear that sound….

And that is much better than saying, “it’s cold.”

Phyllis: In “Baby Bear Moon” we learn how a small child lost in the snow was saved by sleeping all through the winter with a mother bear and her cubs. The poem concludes:

“when we walk by on our snowshoes
we will not bother a bear
or her babies. Instead
we think how those small bears
are like our children.
We let them dream together.”

Who wouldn’t want to sleep the winter away sharing dreams with bears?

Jackie: I love the poetry of this book—

“…Earth Elder
made the first tree,
a great oak with twelve branches
arching over the land.
Then, sitting down beneath it,
the sun shining bright,
Earth Elder thought
of food for the people,
and acorns began to form.”

Perhaps the best is that Bruchac and London encourage us to see more than trees and grass, to imagine a landscape, a thrumming with history, community, and the spirits of sharing.

MoonlightJackie: Moonlight by Helen V. Griffith (Greenwillow, 2012) is also a poetic text—and spare:

Rabbit hides in shadow
under cloudy skies
waiting for the moonlight
blinking sleepy eyes.

But he goes into his burrow and doesn’t see “Moonlight slides like butter/skims through outer space/skids past stars and comets/leaves a butter trace.”

What a wonderful image! “Moonlight slides like butter.” Who can look at moonlight the same again?

Phyllis: I love the spare language of this book, and I love Laura Dronzek’s luminous art as well, where moonlight really does butter every tree and slips into Rabbit’s dreams, awaking him to dance in the moonlight. So few words, but so well chosen—verbs such as skims and skids and skips and skitters. A wonderful pairing of words and art that makes me want to dance in the moonlight, too.

Owl MoonJane Yolen’s Owl Moon, which won a Caldecott for its evocative wintry art, is a story of an owl, patience, hope, and love. On a snowy night the narrator sets out to go on a long-awaited outing owling with Pa. She knows, because Pa says, that when you go owling you have to be quiet, you have to make your own heat, and you have to have hope. Their hope is finally rewarded when they spot an owl and stare into the owl’s eyes as it stare back before it flies away. The last image shows the small narrator being carried toward the lights of home by her pa. The book concludes:

When you go owling
you don’t need words
or warm
or anything but hope.
That’s what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shining
Owl Moon.

Jackie: “When you go owling/you don’t need words/or warm/ or anything but hope.” The shining moon, a light in the night, a lamp of hope that we turn into a friend in the sky. These books make me grateful for long nights.

Phyllis: And for moonlight and dreams and dancing.

 

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Two for the Show: Winter Stories

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root

Jackie: Ah winter. Season of holidays and snow. Such a richness of stories.

Phyllis: I have a shelf full of favorite Christmas books. What most of them have in common is story, not just about Christmas itself but also about families celebrating their connection to each other.  They meet my own test for a good Christmas story—take away Christmas from the setting and the story still has a strong heartbeat about love, family, community, and caring for each other. 

bk_Two_EmmetOne of our family favorites is Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas by Russell Hoban with pictures by Lillian Hoban (Parents Magazine Press, 1971). Emmet’s dad has died. His mother takes in washing while Emmet does handyman chores to help make ends meet, using the toolbox his father left him.

With Christmas coming, both Emmet and his mother wish they could make the day special for each other, even though, as Irma Coon says, “It’s a bad year for that.” Emmet yearns to buy a used piano for his mother, and she hopes to give him a second hand guitar. 

Jackie: Hoban’s language brings the story to life. Emmet’s mother says: “It’s been such a rock-bottom life for so long, just once at least I’d like to bust out with a real glorious Christmas for Emmet—something shiny and expensive.” Rock-bottom life. What a useful phrase!

Phyllis: Ma and Emmet both see a way to “bust out” when they hear of a talent show with a fifty-dollar prize. They each secretly make plans to win the prize money,  Ma pawning Emmet’s tool box to get fabric for a dress to sing in and Emmet putting a hole in Ma’s washtub to make a string bass to play in the Jug band with his friends—actions which stake everything on winning.

But alas, the Nightmare band with electric instruments, a light show, and wailingly loud music wins the prize. Yet walking home, Emmet and his Ma and his friends realize they are glad that, like Pa who took a chance on selling snake oil, they took a chance on the prize.  And when they sing their joy outside of Doc Bullfrog’s restaurant they are rewarded by him with dinner and a regular gig.

Jackie: This plot is so satisfying. Despair, then relief—and reward.

It struck me reading this book this time that Russell Hoban was writing about the same kinds of characters that Vera B. Williams wrote about—families who loved each other but didn’t have a lot of money, had to make do.

Phyllis: And who wouldn’t love the pastel world Lillian Hoban creates in the art?  In her obituary she is quoted as saying, that what she liked better than anything is “just messing around with color.”

Jackie: And we should also mention that this book was made into a movie by Jim Henson.

bk_Two_MolePhyllis: The Hobans also wrote and illustrated another favorite, The Mole Family’s Christmas (Parents’ Magazine Press, 1969), in which Delver [Russell Hoban is still laughing about that name], a mole whose family does “straight tunneling work,” learns of the stars which he can’t see. At the same time he learns about telescopes and the existence of a fat man in a red suit who brings presents by way of chimneys. The mole family builds an above-ground chimney in hopes of a visit, but each also secretly makes presents for the others just in case the man in the red suit doesn’t bring gifts to animals.  As they build their chimney they are plagued by Ephraim Owl, who goal is to catch and eat them some night. “If not this time, then some time,” he hoots.

Yet when the moles all fall asleep on the chimney waiting for the fat man in the red suit and Ephraim spots them there, he decides it would be funny if the moles woke up and found themselves not eaten—which is exactly what they do find come morning, along with a telescope from the man in the red suit. Again, a family that wants to meet each other’s needs and make each other happy.

Jackie: Russell Hoban once said, “People say that every artist has a particular theme which he goes through over and over again, and I suppose mine has to do with … finding a place.”

bk_Two_SnowDanceIn James and Joseph Bruchac’s tale Rabbit’s Snow Dance (Dial, 2012) Rabbit (whose tail is long) has his place and he wants it covered with snow, more and more snow, so he can eat the tasty buds and leaves up in the trees.

Phyllis: I love the word he chants, AZIKANAPO, which the Bruchacs explain means “It will snow foot wrappers, great big flakes of snow.” Even though it’s summer, Rabbit sings his snow song, reasoning that if a little snow is good, more is better. The other animals aren’t pleased, but Rabbit sings snow down as deep as the tree tops, then falls asleep on the top of a tree.  While he sleeps, sun melts snow, and when Rabbit wakes up he sleepily steps off into what he thinks is snow and tumbles to the ground, losing bits of his tail on the branches. By the end of the book he has lost his tail, gained patience, and only sings his snow song in the winter. 

Jackie: This YouTube video in which Bruchac talks about the origins of the story and the kind of tree rabbit might have been trapped in is charming and reminds us all to look closely at the world.

bk_Two_LatkesAlso a seasonal family story, Papa’s Latkes by Michelle Edwards (Candlewick, 2004) portrays a family that must cope with loss. Mama has died “before school started” and Papa and Selma and Dora must make the latkes for Chanukah. Papa goes at it with gusto and plenty of potatoes, onions, and oil. But his latkes look like mudpies and Selma just can’t accept a Chanukah without Mama. Papa brings the family together in a long family hug and Selma brings her mother into the picture by lighting the Chanukah candles just the way her mother had taught her. This is a lovely story, for all families, where loss is not denied or glossed over but lived and loved through.

bk_Two_Willoughby Another story about community, unintentional community, is Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry (McGraw-Hilll, 1963) Mr. Willowby lives at the other end of easy street from Emmet Otter and Ma. He’s got a big house and orders a big Christmas tree, too big.

But once the tree stood in its place

Mr. Willowby made a terrible face.

The tree touched the ceiling then bent like a bow.

“Oh, good heavens,” he gasped. “Something must

go.”

Moving the word “go” to the next line—chopping it off— is a subtle touch that made me laugh out loud. 

The butler trims off the top and takes it to the upstairs maid. But her tree is too big—and so on through Mr and Mrs. Timm, a bear family, a rabbit family and finally a mouse family who live just behind the wall in Mr. Willowby’s parlor. 

Though this book, if written today, would include more kinds of families, not more animals but different configurations than the “Mr. and Mrs. and kids,” there is still something joyous in the rhymes, the successive trimmings, and each new group’s delight in their section of green.

Phyllis: I love how the characters all make something from what’s been tossed away—it’s another story about making do and celebrating what we have.

Happy Celebrations to you all and wishes for many good story times.

 

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Turtles in Children’s Literature

Our Bookstormbook, The Shadow Hero, is the origin story of a superhero, The Green Turtle. While this character is not an actual chelonian—though that would be an awesome super hero—there are many turtles and tortoises in children’s literature. Some might even be, technically, terrapins. Here are some notables.

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Peace

Peace is elusive. It is a goal of some people at some time in some parts of the world. As John Lennon wrote: “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people sharing all the world …” Is […]

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When I Was Your Age

When I was a small child, I spent a lot of time around adults. Having no brothers or sisters, no cousins living nearby, and spending summers and vacations with my grandparents, I went where they visited. Many of those people were their age. So I heard this phrase often: “When I was your age …” […]

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Written in code

Having just finished a terrific new book called J.R.R. Tolkien, by Alexandra and John Wallner (Holiday House), I was reminded about codes. I spent a good number of hours during my junior high days fashioning notes in Elvish and leaving them in my friends’ lockers. The runic writing fascinated me and, of course, the idea […]

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Baseball Crazy

Yup. I admit it. I am baseball crazy. I have been since my mom took me to games at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, to see the newly arrived Minnesota Twins. And this year the Twins have outdoor baseball for the first time since 1982. It’s no wonder “baseball awareness” is heightened at this time […]

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