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Beethoven in Paradise

Beethoven in ParadiseFresh Lookol­o­gy fea­tures books pub­lished sev­er­al years ago that are too good to lan­guish on the shelf.

Mar­tin Pittman takes a reader’s heart and runs with it. He lives in a trail­er park called Par­adise, but his home life is any­thing but. Martin’s father is abu­sive, his moth­er com­plete­ly cowed. He has no sib­lings. His grand­ma, Haze­line, who comes on Sun­days to take him to the Howard John­son Prince of Wales buf­fet, is quite a char­ac­ter — one the read­er is unsure of at first. She’s a leath­ery, give-you-a-piece-of-my-mind, smok­ing, cack­ling sort of grand­moth­er — but she’s on Martin’s side, thank good­ness. So is his reclu­sive friend Wylene, a grown woman who can tol­er­ate only Martin’s gen­tle pres­ence in her trail­er and her life. And so is Sybil, the new girl who comes into town — Sybil is unlike any­one Mar­tin has ever met before.

Mar­tin needs these good peo­ple on his side. He faces bul­ly­ing at school, in town, and on the base­ball field, in addi­tion to the abuse at home. What keeps him going is music. Mar­tin loves music — all kinds — lis­ten­ing to it, mak­ing up tunes in his head, play­ing his har­mon­i­ca. Wylene says he has a gift. Haze­line and Sybil echo this encour­age­ment. Mar­tin wants to play a real instru­ment like a piano or a vio­lin, and when a vio­lin shows up at the local pawn shop, he can think of lit­tle else out­side of mak­ing it his own.

The prob­lem is his father. For some rea­son Ed Pittman thinks music — and espe­cial­ly the play­ing of it — is for sissies. He’s furi­ous with Mar­tin for his lack of base­ball skill, his love of music, and his friend­ship with Wylene. He’s furi­ous with life, real­ly. Haze­line con­firms this for Mar­tin. Ed doesn’t like any­one, she says — not Mar­tin, not him­self.

In the course of this short nov­el — and with the help of Haze­line, Wylene, and Sybil — Mar­tin learns that, although he can’t change his father, he can learn to stick up for him­self. He can live into being who he real­ly is. He can find a way to make music.

There are many jump­ing off points in this nov­el for social-emo­tion­al learn­ing. Beethoven in Par­adise is replete with scenes show­ing empa­thy, anger, sad­ness, hap­pi­ness, and wor­ry. It’s all about new and unex­pect­ed friend­ships. Although there is bul­ly­ing and abuse, Mar­tin expe­ri­ences kind­ness­es and shows kind­ness to oth­ers, as well. He learns that he can’t change peo­ple, but he can change how he reacts to them. He does not have to become like his father.

A class, read­ing group, or book­club could have fun learn­ing about dif­fer­ent kinds of music. Wylene and Mar­tin lis­ten to a diverse array of music, which is men­tioned by title/composer/performer — easy to look up and play. There are inter­est­ing details about har­mon­i­ca play­ing, musi­cal prac­tice (Mar­tin plays by ear), vio­lin, sax­o­phone, and Beethoven, as well. Music might actu­al­ly be con­sid­ered a char­ac­ter in this book.

Beethoven in Par­adise was pub­lished in 1997, but its time­less­ness — in theme, cir­cum­stance, and emo­tion — makes it an excel­lent pick for read­ing with mid­dle-grad­er read­ers today. With good humor, hon­est looks at hard things, and a won­der­ful cast of char­ac­ters, Bar­bara O’Connor gives us a com­ing-of-age sto­ry of friend­ship, com­mu­ni­ty, and genius that deserves a Fresh Lookol­o­gy here in 2019! 


Friends, Friends

Jack­ie: We two friends have been doing this blog since 2015. Yet, we’ve nev­er done a col­umn on books about friends. We know there are many, and many clas­sics, such as the always-sat­is­fy­ing Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel, or William Steig’s Amos and Boris, or James Marshall’s George and Martha. But today we want to look at three, one by one of our favorite writ­ers Lucille Clifton. (We are still hop­ing — cam­paign­ing — for a re-issue of her out-of-print Everett Ander­son books.) And two new­er “friend” books.

My Friend JacobMy copy of Lucille Clifton’s My Friend Jacob is a library copy that became avail­able because a library “with­drew” it from its own col­lec­tion. I don’t know why any­one would not want this book in their col­lec­tion. A child nar­ra­tor tells us: “My best friend lives next door…We do things togeth­er, Jacob and me. We love to play bas­ket­ball togeth­er. Jacob always makes a bas­ket on the first try.” (We see that Jacob is taller, old­er, than the nar­ra­tor.) …” My moth­er used to say, ‘Be care­ful with Jacob and that ball, he might hurt you.’  But now she doesn’t. He knows that Jacob wouldn’t hurt any­body, espe­cial­ly his very very best friend.”  And Jacob’s moth­er once said, “’You don’t have to have Jacob tag­ging along with you [to the gro­cery store] like that, Sam­my.’ But now she doesn’t. She knows we like to go to the store togeth­er. Jacob helps me to car­ry, and I help Jacob to remem­ber.’”  These two friends accept each oth­er for just who they are. Sam­my learns the makes and names of cars from Jacob, who knows them all. Jacob needs help remem­ber­ing what the street lights mean. He needs help remem­ber­ing to knock before enter­ing Sammy’s house. And the tri­umphal moment comes when he does remem­ber. “Next day at din­ner­time, we were sit­ting in our din­ing room when me and my moth­er and my father heard this real loud knock­ing at the door. Then the door popped open and Jacob stuck he’s head in./’I’m knock­ing, Sam!’ he yelled.”

Clifton does here what she often does so well — makes a sat­is­fy­ing sto­ry out of hum­ble accom­plish­ments. Her moments involve the stuff of all our lives, count­ing cars, shoot­ing bas­ket­balls, remem­ber­ing to knock. And we cheer for her char­ac­ters’ achieve­ments. And admire her abil­i­ty to present, with­out apol­o­gy or awk­ward­ness, a kid for whom it is sev­er­al afternoon’s work to make a birth­day card, or prac­tice to remem­ber to knock. Clifton cares about Jacob. And she helps us to share Sammy’s affec­tion for him. I want to live in Lucille Clifton’s world.

Phyl­lis:  Could I live there, too, please? My copy of My Friend Jacob, too, had been removed from a library (I’ve since passed it on to oth­er read­ers). Clifton’s books hon­or the lives, strug­gles, and hearts of the peo­ple who were not often found in pic­ture books at the time she wrote. It’s easy to dis­tance our­selves from peo­ple who seem dif­fer­ent; it takes a friend to see how we are not so dif­fer­ent and how we help hold each oth­er up.  Sam­my is that friend to Jacob, and Jacob is that friend to him.

The Lion and the BirdJack­ie: The Lion and The Bird by Mar­i­anne Dubul (trans­lat­ed by Clau­dia Zoe Bedrick, pub­lished by Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2014) fea­tures a lion who has a mod­est cot­tage, a gar­den, and a con­tent­ed life. One fall day, while work­ing in his gar­den he spots an injured bird. He ban­dages the bird’s wing and they both watch as the oth­er birds fly away. Lion invites the bird to spend the win­ter. “There’s more than enough room for both of us.” The bird eats at Lion’s table, lis­tens by the fire while Lion reads, and sleeps cozi­ly in one of Lion’s slip­pers. “They spend the win­ter togeth­er, enjoy­ing each day.” And we see them sled­ding, ice-fish­ing, Bird tucked snug­ly in his own place in Lion’s hat. Come spring, Bird flies away with his peers. We see Lion feel­ing small­er and lone­li­er. “And so it goes./Life is some­times like that.” Word­less pic­tures show Lion resum­ing his soli­tary life — emp­ty slip­pers, eat­ing alone. He grows his gar­den, fish­es, pass­es the sum­mer. And in the fall, Bird returns! ‘Togeth­er we’ll stay warm again this win­ter.”

This is a qui­et, love­ly sto­ry of kind­ness, friend­ship, shar­ing, and kind­ness returned. The illus­tra­tions so clear­ly reflect Lion’s emo­tions. I would love to read this with a child and talk about feel­ings.

Phyl­lis:  I love how Lion puts Bird ten­der­ly up on top of his mane to keep him warm, cov­er­ing him with his hat (with appro­pri­ate cut-out win­dow) in win­ter. “Win­ter doesn’t feel all that cold with a friend,” Dubul writes, and those of us in win­try cli­mates (as I write this there’s an April bliz­zard blow­ing out­side) espe­cial­ly rec­og­nize that warmth. Spring returns, and as the migrat­ing flock of birds fly over, Lion tells Bird he knows Bird must go. And even though “life is some­times like that,” some­times life also brings our friends back to us, just as Bird returns and choos­es to spend the win­ter again with Lion.  The soft spare art per­fect­ly match­es the spare text.  Spring’s return is a sin­gle flower open­ing on a dou­ble page spread, and a sin­gle note on a dou­ble page spread her­alds Bird’s return. Dubul does not gloss over the sense of loss Lion feels; like Lion, we yearn for Bird’s return, and that absence and yearn­ing makes the return even more sat­is­fy­ing.  I love that friend­ships can sur­vive dis­tance and time.

Jerome by HeartJack­ie: Jerome By Heart by Thomas Scot­to with illus­tra­tions by Olivi­er Tal­lec (trans­lat­ed from the French by Clau­dia Zoe Bedrick and Karin Snel­son; Enchant­ed Lion Books, 2018) gives us a sto­ry told with humor and poignan­cy, of two friends who know they are friends. “He always holds my hand./It’s true./Really tight.” And we see two boys, bicy­cling, hold­ing hands as traf­fic backs up behind them. And the one dri­ver whose face we can see looks rather grumpy. They are friends every­where, “On field trips to the art museum,/it’s me he choos­es as his bud­dy.” Rafael loves Jerome. Rafael’s mom likes Jerome, but doesn’t real­ize that Rafael feels pro­tect­ed by Jerome’s friend­ship. Rafael’s Dad wish­es Jerome would play soc­cer.

Jerome is kind — sees Rafael and speaks to him when he’s with oth­er friends, defends Rafael when oth­er kids make fun of him (we don’t know why), and tells “sto­ries that are so good/they seem real…”

When Rafael tells his par­ents, “I had the best dream last night!/It was good in a Jerome kind of way,” his Dad stares at his shoelaces. His Mom says, “’Eat your cere­al, Rafael.’” Rafael replies, “Maybe I’ll just eat my dream on toast! … That way all you’ll hear is crunching/and it won’t both­er your ears so much.”  And Dad responds, “Now that’s enough!”

Rafael goes to his room, look­ing for a present for Jerome. He imag­ines them on vaca­tion togeth­er, rid­ing in a race car. “I cir­cle around and around my bed./Around and around my table./Around and around my ques­tions.”  At the end he affirms his true friend­ship, in spite of his par­ents. “And I say — yes./Rafael loves Jerome./I can say it./It’s easy.” And we cheer for him.

Phyl­lis: I love this book so much — it’s one of those books that cap­ti­vat­ed me and insist­ed I buy it. The title page of Jerome By Heart quotes French poet Jacques Prévert, who wrote the enchant­i­ng How to Paint the Por­trait of a Bird (illus­trat­ed by Morde­cai Ger­stein, Roar­ing Brook Press, 2007). Prévert wrote, “And the passers-by point­ed fin­gers at them.  But the chil­dren who love each oth­er aren’t there for any­one else.”

Jerome and Rafael are “there” for each oth­er. Raphael’s mom says Jerome is polite and charm­ing. “But she nev­er says any­thing about how warm his smile is. She doesn’t seem to notice that I have a secret hide­out there, where I feel pro­tect­ed by Jerome’s two eyes.” Jerome always sees Raphael, even when Jerome is with his friends. What do we real­ly want but to be seen and loved for who we real­ly are? And to love that per­son back. Raphael says it for us: “’I for­get my mom and dad./ I think only about Jerome/ who I know by heart.”

In The Lit­tle Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry the prince says, “And now here is my secret, a very sim­ple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see right­ly; what is essen­tial is invis­i­ble to the eye.” Friends like Sam­my and Jacob, Lion and Bird, Jerome and Rafael see what is essen­tial but invis­i­ble to the eye. May we all have such friends. May we all be such friends, see­ing and know­ing each oth­er heart to heart.

P.S. Two of these three books are pub­lished by Enchant­ed Lion, a press that’s bring­ing out books that quick­ly become some of our favorite book friends.


Pie and Gratitude

Novem­ber is a month of grat­i­tude — and, for us, a month to cel­e­brate Pie. We all have a favorite. Many of us have child­hood mem­o­ries of good times and pie. We all wait for the days when we can eat pie for break­fast. So we two thought this would be the per­fect month to look at pic­ture books about pie. We so con­sis­tent­ly think of pie in Novem­ber that we also reviewed pie books last year. But we have a cou­ple of new ones this year. And who can think of pie too often?

How to Make an Apple PieWe want to start with the clas­sic—How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Mar­jorie Price­man (Drag­on­fly, 1994). We both love this book, love the idea of teach­ing geog­ra­phy through pie. If you want to make an apple pie and the mar­ket is closed what can you do? Well, you can go to Italy for wheat for your pie crust, France for an egg, Sri Lan­ka for cin­na­mon. Pick up a cow in Eng­land and on and on until you have col­lect­ed the ingre­di­ents for the pie. The two-page spread show­ing the mak­ing of the pie is charm­ing. And the last spread of shar­ing pie with friends — and the cow, the chick­en, a dog and cat is enough to make you want to get out and make a pie. And of course the book includes a recipe for an apple pie.

How to Make a Cherry PiePrice­man did anoth­er book—How to Make Cher­ry Pie and See the U.S.A. (Knopf, 2008) — which focus­es not on ingre­di­ents, but tools involved in pie mak­ing — pothold­ers, pie pan, rolling pin. It fea­tures the same spright­ly illus­tra­tion style and the same inde­fati­ga­ble char­ac­ter who will go to any lengths for pie.

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie by Rob­bin Gour­ley (Clar­i­on, 2000) is a “pie-shaped” sto­ry fea­tur­ing one of the stars of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry food world — African Amer­i­can writer and chef, Edna Lewis. The book fol­lows the child Edna through­out the sea­sons as she enjoys and com­ments on the foods that come with each. Spring brings wild straw­ber­ries and for­aged greens. Each sea­son also fea­tures a rhyme from Edna:

But I have nev­er tast­ed meat,
nor cab­bage, corn, or beans,
nor milk or tea that’s half as sweet
as that first mess of greens.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieSum­mer is hon­ey from the bees, cher­ries, berries and peach­es. “Six per­fect peach­es make a per­fect pie.” And then of course, toma­toes, corn, and beans. This is a book to get read­ers think­ing about foods and sea­sons. In a time when we can buy toma­toes and peach­es all year long, it’s good to remem­ber the best fruits and veg­eta­bles are the ones we find in their sea­sons.

When apple sea­son comes Edna’s poem reads:

Don’t ask me no ques­tions,
an’ I won’t tell you no lies.
But bring me some apples,
an’ I’ll make you some pies.

We learn in an Author’s Note that in her writ­ings Edna Lewis extolled the virtues of “pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of grow­ing and prepar­ing food and of bring­ing ingre­di­ents direct­ly from the field to the table … For Edna, the goal was to coax the best fla­vor from each ingre­di­ent, and the reward was the taste and sat­is­fac­tion of a deli­cious meal.”

Pie is for SharingPart of the sat­is­fac­tion of a deli­cious meal is in the shar­ing. And that is dou­bly true for pie. If we should ever for­get that and dream of eat­ing a whole pie all by our­selves Stephanie Pars­ley Led­yard and Jason Chin have writ­ten a book to jolt us back to com­mu­ni­ty—Pie is for Shar­ing (Roar­ing Brook, 2018). “Pie is for shar­ing,” this book begins. And we see kids and fam­i­lies gath­er­ing for a pic­nic. The best part is that the kids are all col­ors, all eth­nic­i­ties, and they are play­ing and eat­ing pie togeth­er. No one stands alone. No one is exclud­ed. They also share books, balls, even trees. They laugh and swim and build sand cas­tles. They are a flock of friends on a sum­mer day togeth­er.

This cel­e­bra­tion of pie and com­mu­ni­ty ends with, “Many can share one light. /And a blanket?/A breeze?/The sky?/These are for sharing./Just like pie.”

Gator PieShar­ing pie is the prob­lem and the solu­tion in Gator Pie by Louise Math­ews (illus­trat­ed by Jeni Bas­sett, pub­lished by Dodd, Mead 1979). We hope you can find this book. It is a charm­ing math les­son told with pie. Alvin and Alice are alli­ga­tor friends who hap­pen to find a pie “on a table near the edge of the swamp. /It was a whole pie that had not been cut. /’ I won­der what kind it is,’ said Alice. /’Let’s eat it and find out!’ cried Alvin.” But before they can cut it, an alli­ga­tor “with a nasty look in his eye” stomps up and demands some pie. They real­ize they will have to cut the pie into three pieces. Then comes anoth­er gator — four pieces. And four gators show up, “swag­ger­ing like gang­sters.” We see a pie cut into eight pieces. Then more gators — a hun­dred in all. Very tiny pieces of pie. Alice cuts the pie into one hun­dred pieces and you’d think that would be the end, but Alvin has an idea…

Per­haps we can tell this is an old­er book because it’s Alvin who’s in charge here. Alice could have had that brain­storm and if we were writ­ing this book now, she would. Still they are good friends, the math is fun, and so is end­ing up with a pie for two friends to share.

This month let’s be grate­ful for friends, for inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty in a world rat­tled with oth­er­ing, and for the chance to make and eat pie.


Laughter and Grief

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Dragons in the WatersThere are books we remem­ber all of our lives, even if we can’t remem­ber the details. Some­times we can’t even remem­ber the sto­ry, but we remem­ber the char­ac­ters and how they made us feel. We recall being trans­port­ed into the pages of the book, see­ing what the char­ac­ters see, hear­ing what they hear, and under­stand­ing the time and spaces and breath­ing in and out of the char­ac­ters. Do we become those char­ac­ters, at least for a lit­tle while, at least until we move on to the next book? Is this why we can remem­ber them long after we’ve fin­ished the book?

This col­umn is called Read­ing Ahead because I’m one of those peo­ple oth­ers revile: I read the end of the book before I’ve pro­gressed to that point in the sto­ry. I read straight through for as long as I can stand it and then I have to know how the sto­ry ends. I tell myself that I do this because then I can observe the writ­ing and how the author weaves the end­ing into the book long before the last pages. That’s par­tial­ly true. But I also admit that the ten­sion becomes unbear­able for me.

When I find a book that is so deli­cious that I don’t want to know the end until its prop­er time, then I know that I am read­ing a book whose char­ac­ters will live on in me. Their cells move from the pages of the book into my arms and shoul­ders, head­ing straight to my mind and my heart.

The Wednesday WarsFor me, those books are The Rid­dle­mas­ter of Hed by Patri­cia McKil­lip, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (but not The Hob­bit), The Wiz­ard of Earth­sea by Ursu­la K. LeGuin, The Dark is Ris­ing by Susan Coop­er, Drag­ons in the Waters and Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle, and every one of the Deep Val­ley books writ­ten by Maud Hart Lovelace. 

There are some new­er books that haven’t yet been test­ed by time. I could feel that I was absorb­ing The Wednes­day Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor by Avi and Absolute­ly, Tru­ly by Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick.  There are many, many oth­er books that I admire and enjoy read­ing but I don’t feel them becom­ing a part of me in quite the same way.

I sus­pect that you have a short list of books that make you feel like this. They are an unfor­get­table part of you.

Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken HeartI’ve just fin­ished read­ing Isabelle Day Refus­es to Die of a Bro­ken Heart by Jane St. Antho­ny (Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press). It is a fun­ny and absorb­ing book about learn­ing to deal with grief. That’s a place I’ve lived for the last four years in a way I hadn’t expe­ri­enced before. When my moth­er died, my all-my-life friend, an essen­tial part of me was trans­formed into some­thing else. I don’t yet know what that is.

Isabelle Day is learn­ing about this, too. Her father, her pal, her fun­ny man, her let-me-show-you-the-delights-of-life-kid par­ent has died short­ly before the book begins. Her moth­er is in the throes of grief, pulled inward, not com­mu­ni­cat­ing well. Isabelle and her moth­er have moved from Mil­wau­kee, where close friends and a famil­iar house stand strong, to Min­neapo­lis, where Isabelle’s mom grew up. They are liv­ing upstairs in a duplex owned by two elder­ly sis­ters who imme­di­ate­ly share friend­ship and food and wis­dom with Isabelle, some­thing she’s feel­ing too prick­ly to accept. There are new friends whom Isabelle does­n’t trust to be true.

But for any­one who has expe­ri­enced grief, this book will reach out and touch you gen­tly, soft­ly, let­ting you know that oth­ers under­stand what you are feel­ing. Isabelle comes to under­stand that she doesn’t have to feel alone … the world is wait­ing to be expe­ri­enced in oth­er, new ways.

It’s a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten book in that the words fit togeth­er in love­ly, some­times sur­pris­ing, some­times star­tling ways. There is great care tak­en with the sto­ry and the char­ac­ters. And yet the unex­pect­ed is always around the cor­ner. Isabelle is a com­plex per­son. She does not act pre­dictably. There is no sense of “woe is me” in this book. There’s a whole class of what I call “whiny books” (most­ly adult) and this isn’t one of them. This book is filled with life, won­der, humor, and most­ly under­stand­ing.

Isabelle and Grace and Mar­garet, Miss Flo­ra and Miss Dora, they are all a part of me now. When I am feel­ing sad and miss­ing the peo­ple I have lost, I will re-read this book because I know it will pro­vide heal­ing. And I can laugh … it’s been hard to do that. Thank you, Jane.


Of Knitting and Books and Tattoos

I met her while knit­ting. She worked at the children’s book­store next to the yarn store I fre­quent. I was knit­ting with the usu­al group gath­ered around the table at the yarn store when she came in. Cat!” my table­mates called out that day. (I’m embar­rassed to admit I don’t know if she spells it with a C or a K.… more
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