March 31, 2008

Remarkable Women in History

At the end of Women’s History Month, I celebrate two amazing women in history: Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt.

My favorite literary genre is the mystery. I prefer those written by women featuring women protagonists. I also am fascinated by real life mysteries, hence, my strong attraction to Amelia Earhart: an independent, strong willed woman and the question of what happened to her. Amelia disappeared during her 1937 attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world. There have been many suggested solutions to what happened to her but no definitive answer. She remains an enduring, intriguing mystery. But what is known about her makes her one of my most admired women of history. Earhart was the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo (1932) and the first woman to fly non stop coast to coast across the United States (1933).
Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.
She is known to have been “exceedingly fond of reading” especially in the large family library of her grandparents.

Another of my most admired women is Eleanor Roosevelt as noted in my blog entry of August 29, 2007.

Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery
Russell Freedman
Newbery Honor

New York: Clarion Books, 1993

Eleanor was a First Lady of Firsts. She gave the first ever press conference given on the record by a First Lady. She held regular press conferences for women reporters only. She refused a limousine and bought herself a blue roadster which she drove herself. She flew in airplanes - all over the world, “serving as her husband’s personal investigative reporter and gathering material for her columns, articles, radio talks, and books.” During WWII, Eleanor visited American troops traveling “23,000 miles in a cramped, unheated, four-engined bomber.” She comforted the soldiers in hospitals. After Franklin’s death, Eleanor was asked to serve as a delegate to the first meeting of the United Nations General Council and was elected chair of the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission. She met the leaders of the world including Khrushchev. Eleanor never allowed herself to slow down. “ ‘Life has got to be lived - that’s all there is to it,’ she said.”

How fortunate that we know that these two women met and spent a memorable evening together.

On April 20, 2933 Amelia Earhart and her husband spent the night at the White House at the invitation of Eleanor Roosevelt. During the formal dinner that evening, Amelia and Eleanor eagerly shared their mutual love of adventure and their love of flying which culminated in Amelia arranging a flight over Washington, D.C. that very night while the two ladies were still dressed in their formal best! In Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride Pam Muñoz Ryan allows us to join these remarkable women on a joyous night in April of 1933.

Based on newspaper accounts, diaries, and book transcripts, Ryan's book is a joyous glimpse into a night when two independent, strong willed women shared their dreams in a way few of us will every experience.

Amelia and Eleanor Go For A Ride
By Pam Muñoz Ryan
Scholastic 1999

And by the way, Brian Selznick illustrated this title.

In my book . . . We should all, men and women, boys and girls, be willing to try and to fail and to try again.

March 2, 2008

Dr. Seuss

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!
March 2, 1904 - September 24, 1991

February 22, 2008

Poetry Friday - Pirates

The first grade students who visit my library love pirates - at least the pirates who are in the marvelous books written by Melinda Long and illustrated by David Shannon.

In honor of pirates:

We had buried some treasure (and bodies as well)
And was just sailin' back from the cave,
When he calls fer boiled water
And stomps down below
An' gor' but he comes up shaved.
There's a chickenish stubble and fishbelly skin
On that face once so blazin' and brave
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And things ain't the same
In the piratin' game

Since ol' Captain Blackbbeard shaved.

A selection from “Captain Blackbeard Did What?”
By Shel Silverstein In
A Light in the Attic
Harper Collins, 2001

In my book . . . Life would be good if we could retain our love of the impossible of our imagination.

February 18, 2008

Poetry Friday on Monday

Another Poetry Friday on Monday.

A germ completely wiped out my weekend.
But President’s Day offers a chance to also post a love poem for Valentine’s Day.

John and Abigail Adams are remembered not only as the 2nd President of the United States and the 2nd First Lady but also as loving correspondents over their many forced separations.

A selection from a letter from John to Abigail on May 14, 1789:
I pray you come, as soon as possible. As to money you must if you can borrow enough to bring you here. If you cannot borrow enough, you must sell horses, oxen, sheep, cows, anything. If no one will take the place, leave it to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.
Source: PBS

In honor of great love:
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alterations finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove;
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

In my book . . . True love stands the test of time.

February 9, 2008

Poetry Friday On Saturday - Sunflowers

This is getting to be a habit, but the truth is that Saturday morning is the best time for me to think about what to write. So, maybe I will break the tradition of Poetry Friday and have Poetry Friday on Saturday.

Thursday, February 7th, was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday. In August 1923 she wrote:
Out in the meadow, I picked a wild sunflower, and as I looked into its golden heart, such a wave of homesickness came over me that I almost wept. I wanted Mother, with her gentle voice and quiet firmness, I longed to hear Father’s jolly songs and to see his twinkling blue eyes; I was lonesome for the sister with whom I used to play in the meadow picking daisies and wild sunflowers. . . .
The real things of life that are the common possession of us all are of the greatest value - worth far more than motor cars or radios, more than lands or money - and our whole store of these wonderful riches may be revealed to us by such a common, beautiful thing as a wild sunflower.
from Writing to Young Women From Laura Ingalls Wilder: On Life As A Pioneer Woman
edited by Stephen W. Hines

“Two Sunflowers
Move into the Yellow Room”
from A Visit to William Blake’s Inn
by Nancy Willard
"Ah, William, we’re weary of weather,”
said the sunflowers, shining with dew.
“Our traveling habits have tired us.
Can you give us a room with a view?”

They arranged themselves at the window
and counted the steps of the sun,
and they both took root in the carpet
where the topaz tortoises run.
“Keep your face to the sunshine
and you cannot see the shadow.

It’s what sunflowers do.”
by Helen Keller

In My Book . . . The shadows have been chasing my family this week. We need to face the sunshine!

February 2, 2008

Poetry Friday on Saturday

I purposefully postponed Poetry Friday until today in order to celebrate Groundhog’s Day!

The earliest reference to Groundhog’s Day in American was made by a storekeeper in his diary on February 4, 1841 referring to February 2nd as Candlemas Day which to the Germans’ is Groundhog’s Day. Candlemas Day was celebrated by early Christians as the day Jesus was presented in the Temple, traditionally 40 days after Christmas. It is also a cross quarter day, the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and may be considered the beginning of Spring. In western Europe is was a time for preparing earth for first plantings. Since many hibernating animals such as bears and in Europe hedgehogs were thought to peek out of their dens to see if it was time to wake up, it is perhaps natural that this day became known as Groundhog’s Day by early settlers of North America. There were no hedgehogs there; but there were the chubby, furry rodents called groundhogs.

Margaret Hillert’s
“Is It True?”
The groundhog plays a little game
(Woodchuck is his other name.)
If he finds no shadow here,
Spring is very, very near.
But if he sees his shadow small,
Winter isn't done at all,
And back into his hole he'll creep
For six more weeks of winter sleep.

Robert Herrick’s
“The Ceremonies for Candlemas Day”

Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn;
Which quench'd, them lay it up again,
Till Christmas next return.

Part must be kept, wherewith to teend
the Christmas log next year;
And when 'tis safely kept, the fiend
can do no mischief there.

Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning. But Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee did not. General Lee’s predictions over the years have proven to be 93% to 37% more accurate that Phil’s.

In my book . . . Though I enjoyed the surprise snow day here in south Mississippi, I think that I will choose to believe the General’s point of view.

January 25, 2008

Poetry Friday - Edgar Allan Poe

A cipher - a code - secret writing - played an extremely important part in The Case of The Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery. One of my favorite poets, Edgar Allan Poe, was a celebrated cryptographist. He is considered one of the first to write a detective story which in a sense is breaking the code of mystery surrounding a crime - solving the question of who committed it; so it is perhaps natural that he contributed to the popularity of cryptography during his lifetime. Poe’s short story “The Gold Bug” published in 1843 relates the story of a man who finds buried treasure by solving a secret code or cipher. His "Valentine" is not only contains a cipher but much word play.

Can you solve the mystery of

"A Valentine"
For her this rhyme is penned, whose luminous eyes,
brightly expressive as the twins of Loeda,
Shall find her own sweet name, that, nestling lies
Upon the page, enwrapped from every reader.
Search narrowly the lines! - they hold a treasure
Divine - a talisman - an amulet
That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure -
The words - the syllables! Do not forget
The trivialest point, or you may lose you labor!
And yet there is in this no Gordian knot
Which one might not undo without a saber,
If one could merely comprehend the plot.
Enwritten upon the leaf where now are peering
Eyes scintillating soul, there lie perdus
Three eloquent word oft uttered in the hearing
Of poets, by poets - as the name is a poet's too.
Its letters, although naturally lying
Like the knight Pinto - Mendez Ferdinando -
Still form a synonym for Truth. - Cease trying!
You will not read the riddle, though you do the best you
can do.
from Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Poems
(Library of Classic Poets)

Note from the text:
[To translate the address, read the first letter of the first line in connection with the second letter of the second line, the third letter of the third line, the fourth of the fourth, and so on to the end. The name will thus appear.]

If you solved the cipher, you might enjoy knowing that the address was an American (1811-1850) poet and one of the most popular women writers of her day who exchanged romantic poems with Poe.

In my book . . .
Ah - Sweet mystery! Yet, the untangled mystery hints at more mystery. It sent me searching for information about Osgood. It seems that Poe’s young wife approved of their flirtatious poetry exchange and was even friends with Osgood. A valentine can be simply a tribute or warm praise through words. So, to Poe, whose birthday was January 19th, I send this valentine!

January 23, 2008

Enola Holmes

As previous posts have indicated, I am a great fan of Sherlock Holmes. I am also a purist when it comes to my favorite characters. I am not a great fan of adding to or taking away from their known history. Therefore, I was very hesitant to read an Enola Holmes mystery. As conceived by Nancy Springer, Enola is the much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. My curiosity finally won out and I read The Case of The Missing Marquess. I was pleasantly surprised and extremely glad that I did.

The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery
by Nancy Springer
A 2007 nominee for the Edgar Best Juvenile Mystery

Enola is everything that you would imagine a Holmes family member to be - intelligent, resilient, self-reliant, and quick witted.

The first few chapters are a little slow moving but necessary to prepare the reader to accept and understand why a younger sister of the famous brothers could be unknown to their admiring public. But when the action eventually begins, it begins with a bang and never lags until it reaches a satisfying conclusion.

On her fourteenth birthday, Enola Holmes’ mother mysteriously disappears. Enola has for all intents and purposes been left to take care of herself on the Holmes' country estate, Ferndell Hall. She has had no contact with her brothers since their father’s death ten years earlier. But her telegram to them telling of their missing mother brings them back into her life. They arrive to find things very different from what they expected. The estate is neglected. There are only two servants. As Enola tells her horrified Victorian siblings, she had educated herself by reading “every book in Ferndell Hall’s library, from A Child’s Garden of Verses to the entire Encyclopedia Britannica” including Shakespeare, Aristotle, Locke, and the essays of Mary Wollstonecraft. This was definitely not the proper education for a young lady of those times.

Mycroft and Sherlock reached the conclusion that their mother had embezzled all the funds they had been sending for the upkeep of Ferndell Hall and the care of Enola and had run away to live a life of freedom few women at that time could have. They decided to transform Enola into a proper Victorian young lady. She was to be dressed appropriately (corseted) and sent to boarding school. However, Enola had other plans. Her name, as her mother had often reminded her, spelled backwards reads alone and that Enola was capable of caring for herself - alone. Which she did, ingeniously escaping her brothers’ clutches to begin her own search for their mother.

Ciphers have been very popular in young adult books in recent years - Chasing Vermeer and The Mysterious Benedict Society are two that come to mind. For Enola’s birthday, her mother left her a gift that made no sense to Enola - drawing materials, a hand made book entitled the Meaning of Flowers, and a book on ciphers. Enola would cleverly learn that this was her mother’s cipher - clues to a means that would allow Enola to continue her independent lifestyle. Enola eventually arrived in London where after rescuing a missing young lord she decided on a course that would completely change her life.
I knew things Sherlock Holmes failed even to imagine. . . . In fact, while Sherlock Holmes dismissed 'the fair sex' as irrational and insignificant, I knew of matters his 'logical' mind could never grasp. I knew an entire world of communications belonging to women, secret codes of hat brims and rebellion, handkerchiefs and subterfuge, feather fans and covert defiance, sealing-wax and messages in the positioning of a postage-stamp, calling cards and a cloak of ladylike conspiracy in which I could wrap myself. I expected that without much difficulty I could incorporate weaponry as well as defense and supplies into a corset. I could go places and accomplish things Sherlock Holmes could never understand or imagine, much less do.

And I planned to.

I enjoy well researched mysteries. They allow me to be an arm chair traveler not only of beautiful geographical locals like national parks and the architectural wonders of distant cities but also of fascinating time periods both past and future. This is a well researched mystery. Springer took me into the dark areas of late nineteenth century London in a most realistic way. Young readers should be aware that this is a London of danger and cruelty and horrors.

In my book . . . Enola is a worthy Holmes, a worthy early warrior in the battle for the recognition of women as beings capable of intelligent thought and decisions, and a worthy sister to be adopted by Nancy Drew. I eagerly look forward to more of her adventures. Let the games begin!

January 11, 2008

Poetry Friday - Strange Weather

What a week here in south Mississippi - a very warm week - reaching 80° on Tuesday. It is 58° today, and the predicted high for next week, seven days from that 80° day is also 58°. How about that? Thursday afternoon the students of my elementary school spent two hours in their safe places because of tornado warnings. Heat, torrential rain, scary wind, and now extreme cold - all in one week of this new year.

Ironically, first grade students at my school started their Ezra Jack Keats study with
A Snowy Day this strange week. So in honor of snow:

"Winter Morning"
by Ogden Nash
Winter is the king of showmen,
Turning tree stumps into snow men
And houses into birthday cakes
And spreading sugar over the lakes.
Smooth and clean and frost white
The world looks good enough to bite.
That's the season to be young,
Catching snowflakes on your tongue.

Snow is snowy when it's snowing
I'm sorry it's slushy when it's going.

"Snowy Morning"
by Lilian Moore
gently this morning,
to a different day.

There is no bray
of buses,
no brake growls,
no siren howls and
no horns

There is only
the silence
of a city
hushed by snow.

both poems from
Snowy Day: Stories and Poems edited by Caroline Feller Bauer

I have been lucky enough during my lifetime to experience a city hushed by snow - this very self same city which experienced 80° this week.

In my book . . . the silence is preferable to the howl of the wind.

January 4, 2008

Poetry Friday

Two Poems in honor of stalagmites in my bird bath (Here in south Mississippi we had a morning with a temperature of 14°!):

"Welcome to the New Year"

by Eleanor Farjeon
Hey, my lad, ho, my lad!
Here’s a New Broom.
Heaven’s your housetop
And Earth is your room.

Tuck up your shirtsleeves,
There’s plenty to do-
Look at the muddle
That’s waiting for you!

Dust in the corners
And dirt on the floor,
Cobwebs still clinging
To window and door.

Hey, my lad! ho, my lad!
Nimble and keen -
Here’s your New Broom, my lad!
See you sweep clean.
from All the Silver Pennies
edited by Blanch Jennings Thompson

"Fire and Ice"
by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
from the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry
edited by Richard Ellmann and Robert O’Clair

Eleanor Farjeon an English author was a friend of Robert Frost whose summer home near Middlebury, Vermont was vandalized December 28, 2007. The Associated Press reported that many items were damaged or burned by vandals who apparently broke into the home for a drinking party. Frost summered at the home from 1939 until his death in 1963. Thankfully, the cabin located on the property where Frost wrote was not damaged.

The phrase “a new broom sweeps clean” was used quite frequently by my mother to encourage me to begin anew - appropriate for a new year. Farjeon’s poem certainly infers this. Frost’s words were somewhat prophetic. Hate almost destroyed his home on a cold winter’s night.

In my book . . . Our world needs a new broom.