From the library...

How To Behave and Why…

It’s been awhile since I wrote about a book, not for lack of books in our world but for overwhelming abundance. The collecting, reading and sharing of books is as essential to life in our house as breathing most days, and sharing all the ones we love would be a full time job!  Sometimes a book comes along, however, that is so important and good and valuable that it must be shared and celebrated. I found this amazing gem during a visit to Citylights bookstore in San Francisco. 

How to Behave and Why” was written by Munro Leaf (most famous for writing “The Story of Ferdinand” – the mild-mannered bull) and published in 1946. 

It’s a deceptively simple looking “children’s book” with a universal message…

Focusing on four essential character traits it explains what the values mean and why they are important in a simple but not pedantic way, so that they are accessible to the very young, the very old and all other ages in between. 

I love that the writing manages to be idealistic and realistic at the same time. If I could buy this book for every child or teacher I know, I would!

We are living in strange and unsettling times, but it is reassuring to know that there are still many good people living fair, honest and kind lives. We need to remind ourselves and each other that these qualities are timeless, and that they can be universal if we keep recognizing their value in ourselves and others. 

A note from the editor of the newly published re-issue:

I hope you read and share it – and tell me what you think! Have you come across any gems at the bookstore lately? 

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From the art room...

Looking…

We don’t spend a lot of time talking about “art” in our house, but we do spend a lot of time talking about how each of us sees things differently, and about how what we see and how we share that with others expresses both personal and universal parts of ourselves…   How we look at things and what we see when we look are so unique to each of us individually. 

With the beautiful summer weather we had this year we spent long hours outside – perfect for chalk art.  The featured image today is a chalk eye drawing by one of my nieces… The detail she captured inspired Miss G. to draw eye after eye for days. It became a circle of looking/drawing/seeing… 

  The eyes inspired an endless variation of chalk body close ups…

…which continued the process of “looking” and thinking about looking… just in time for an amazing and inspiring book to come along and make us take notice.

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This book – How To Be an Explorer of the World – was a birthday gift for Miss G. but had been put on the “when we have time in the summer” pile so as to be properly appreciated.  We have had several of Keri Smith’s books and they are all wonderful, but this one may be my personal favourite.  Right when we might have curled up in the hammock and whiled away the hours it gave us the inspiration to continue seeking art and adventure in our daily life…

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This book is like an encyclopedia of all the things we love.  We had to rise to the occasion.

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So much in the world can inspire us, and sharing our own way of seeing does a lot to inspire others… Look, see, think and pass it on!  The more we share, the smaller our differences are…

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From the library...

Understanding (Peace)…

One of our favourite family pastimes is hanging out in the library.  I have carried this tradition from my childhood, when the library was the centre of all learning and discovery – endless aisles of ideas, culture, knowledge – where the entire universe was waiting to be discovered.  We still visit often and are always rewarded with new inspiration.  On a recent visit I pulled this book (“Shh! We Have a Plan”, by Chris Haughton) off the shelf because the art was wonderful.  I have since read it over and over (to my own children and to many others) and have added it to my ongoing book cart as it seems I will need to have my own copy…

The book tells the story of four characters on an adventure.  There are three “hunters”  and one younger character with a different approach who is chastised often by the elders for not following the plan.  It is a story of transformation, and of the simple wisdom in being oneself in spite of opposition.  It is a story of building understanding by listening and gentleness instead of forging on with a plan that isn’t really working.

   I thought of this story many times in the last month or two, whenever things weren’t really working.  I thought of it often during moments of conflict and during moments of misunderstanding.  I have wondered why more people don’t see the simplest ways of communicating and cooperating; when I have been most disappointed in the chaos created by arrogant human failings this little book has brought some hope.  (That’s a lot to say about a children’s book, isn’t it?  Are you listening, grown-ups of the world?  Are you listening, world leaders?)

 Even more recently, while reading an article on the dire state of our political world (violence, repression, economic dominance and military might…) I read a quote from Gandhi that made me think of the importance of this beautiful book too:

“Everywhere wars are fought and millions of people are killed.  The consequence is not the progress of a nation but its decline… Pride makes a victorious nation bad-tempered.  It falls into luxurious ways of living.  Then for a time, it may be conceded, peace prevails.  But after a short while, it comes more and more to be realized that the seeds of war have not been destroyed but have become a thousand times more nourished and might.  No country has ever become, or will ever become, happy through victory in war.”  (Mahatma Gandhi)

I had read this book several times (and I encourage you to do so too!) before I noticed an inscription at the beginning…

 “Peace can only be achieved by understanding.”  Understanding can only be achieved by communication.  Communication can only be achieved by patience and never with judgment… Have we gone too far on our human quest for power and control?  Can we learn to value cooperation and kindness?  Can we learn to trust and love enough to change the world for the better?  How far into the future can we see?

  

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From the art room...

Homage to Matisse…

When I was very young – probably the same age Miss G. is now – I had a tshirt with abstract colours and shapes that read “homage to Matisse”…

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know and love his work. From the earliest realistic paintings, through the richly textured and coloured impressionist years, to the wonderful paper collages… The art of Henri Matisse inspires and impresses me without fail.

No one knows this more than Mimi, and in our Easter basket this Spring we found this treasure:  Matisse’s Garden is a beautifully illustrated story of Matisse’s later years, when colour and shape drove the artistic muse to make innovative collages and grand scale canvases with striking images.    I loved every page of this book – it reminded me of another lovely paper collage book written and illustrated by a friend of mine from university which I have carried from place to place for the last fifteen years:  

Isn’t it lovely? We had all written books for our literature class and I raved about this friend’s book so intensely that he printed, bound and autographed a copy just for me… I still read it aloud to at least one class every year.

My love of Monsieur Matisse’s abstract expression swells whenever I see children’s art inspired by his example; these collages by first grade artists have just the right balance of modesty and innovation. (The best art by children is always a result of this wonderful combination…)

Simply, beautiful. What is beautiful in your world today?

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From the library...

Patient, Quiet, Sleepy… (Waiting!)

The last few weeks have flown by with seemingly endless tasks to do while welcoming the new season… We have been busy at home and school preparing for Easter – each of us has travelled the Lenten road differently but we all share the same enthusiasm for the very near end in sight.

Yesterday was the last day of school before the Easter break and we spent the time focussing on the details of Holy Week with a variety of different activities/experiences for the children… 

  

As a Resource Teacher I don’t often plan or participate in large scale lessons so I was enthusiastic about the whole process. In the end I spent my day with the intermediate students to learn more about the very end of Lent… 

  

The last Saturday leading up to Easter is somehow the hardest day to comprehend. What do we do at the end of it all, when we’ve waited and waited for so very long? As I often do when trying to get my head around a new or difficult concept I looked to the wisdom in picture books and found all I needed. 

  

A few years ago I bought a beautiful set of books created by a talented author/illustrator team – I found in these gorgeously illustrated books the very simplest explanation… The magical secret of Lent (and life…) is the beauty to be found in waiting… 

 

Illustrating “waiting” for children is sometimes an insurmountable task… Waiting is more philosophy than reality and can be hard to take at any age. 

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These books have captured beautifully the idea of waiting in nature…  A butterfly takes time to become itself. The process is slow, patient and challenging but the result is so very lovely…

  

An egg is an age old symbol of the season. How did it come to represent Easter?

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In the quiet safety of its shell a yolk is transformed into a completely different creature…

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First comes the waiting… Then the revelation!  The tiny bird breaks through the shell to discover the joy of life outside…

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A seed rests all winter in dark and quiet, nourishing a fledgling baby plant until the spring calls it forth…

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The spring has called us all to transform, to break free from our shell, to burst out of the earth, to break open our cocoon and live the life we have earned by all our patient waiting

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One by one we count the minutes we have waited, we reflect on the work we have done…

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We open our hearts and follow the call of Spring…

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You can purchase all these books here, or learn more about the author and illustrator. They are so talented – we hope you enjoy their work as much as we have!

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From the library...

Vulnerability and Change…

A few weeks ago I did something new and outside my comfort zone – I gave a personal speech at an ignite event.  Although the process was slightly scary it pushed me just enough to refresh my thinking – something I think we all need to do once in awhile.  (I often refer to this process as a “gut check” – am I doing what I need to be doing right now, right here?)  When I came home at the end of the evening I found a care package had arrived from Mimi.  In it was an amazing little book that suited the occasion perfectly.  It begins with these words from the author – Seth Godin:

“I’m hoping that this book I created with Hugh MacLeod will help you choose to see the world differently.  Radically differently.  I’m hoping that instead of asking, “How can this book help me do a better job to keep the world as it is?” perhaps you can momentarily choose to see the world as a different place altogether. I’m trying to get under your skin.  I’m trying to get you to stop being a spectator and a pawn in the industrial system that raised us, and maybe, just maybe, to stand up and do something that scares you.  I want you to do what you’re meant to do, what we’re all meant to do, which is the hard work of creating art. The artist wonders, “How can I break this?” and “Is it interesting?” Go break something. -Seth Godin P.S. Read this book out loud to someone you care about.”

If I could read it aloud to you, I would.  Instead, I will give you a tiny glimpse into the wonderful worlds of Seth Godin and Hugh MacLeod. I encourage you to explore more… IMG_0168 IMG_0174 IMG_0169 IMG_0173 IMG_0170 IMG_0172 IMG_0171 (Super meaningful for my colleagues – we are halfway through a year of living the joy.  Are you living it?) IMG_0175 IMG_0176 IMG_0177 IMG_0178 IMG_0179 IMG_0181 Perfect timing.  I have read this book several times since receiving it – including more than a few to my children who love the illustrations – and have been inspired over and over again.  I have since searched for more inspiration from both the author and illustrator (Hugh MacLeod), and have found that they are strong voices for purposeful optimism and innovation in our modern world… Much of their work is available free online.  One of my favourite “manifesto” pieces from Seth Godin –Brainwashed– has this mantra for all:

“Do work that matters.”

It goes on to list seven steps towards that goal – each one integral to the purpose: Connect, be generous, make art, acknowledge the lizard, ship, fail and learn.  They are well crafted and I hope you have the time to read them but just in case you don’t I will leave you with the finale as it is so meaningful to me as a teacher in particular:

“To bring the school-as-event mindset to work today is to court certain failure.  School isn’t over.  School is now.  School is blogs and experiments and experiences and the constant failure of shipping and learning.  You already took a first step.  You read something that challenged you to think differently.  The path to reinvention, though, is just that – a path.  The opportunity of our time is to discard what you think you know and instead learn what you need to learn.  Every single day.” (Seth Godin)

Bring on the connecting, the art, the failure, the learning… we are ready to do work that matters!

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From the library...

Wildwood…

One of my first and favourite summer activities is to dig in to the backlog of books I have piled up during the busy-ness of the school year. This year I started with the Wildwood Chronicles. I had been waiting to give proper time and attention to the first book in this series for a couple of years, and now there are three!

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As a west coast girl I am in love with the city of Portland. Since our first trip in 2004 we have been back several times and always discover something new. Our last visit included Pittock Mansion (in Southwood!) and quite a bit more of the “Impassable Wilderness”… The way it has been represented so richly in this series of books is a testament to the talents and creative marriage of the author and illustrator:

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The story, language and images are all wonderful. Goose-bump inducing actually! I would guess the books are written with a sophisticated upper-elementary school target audience but they are really timeless/ageless… While I was reading the first book I discovered that two of my (adult) girlfriends were reading and loving the series as well. My eight year old loves the stories, although she finds parts to be “too scary”* and my four year old enjoys having passages read aloud.

*This is the same child who has read Anne of Green Gables and The Little House on the Prairie series but who refuses to read any Nancy Drew books as “they might be scary…”

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I read through all three books in quick succession – the adventure is compelling, the vocabulary is brilliant, and the images are lovelier from each to the next:

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“From the direction of the river, Prue heard a distinctive metallic lowing, an ancient groan of a hundred thousand tons of metal and iron settling into place.

She looked up to see that the fog over the river had erupted into a dense plume of cloud; it towered above her, blotting out the dim blue of the early morning sky. Slowly, shapes began to emerge from the cloud: a distant green arch, a giant coiling cable. The cloud of fog began to dissipate, revealing more and more of this hidden structure until a massive bridge stood before Prue, spanning the distance from the bluffs to the far shore. Its vast span was interrupted by a pair of wide, flat towers, hundreds of feet high, each inset with a series of cathedral-like arches of varying sizes. On either side, tree-trunk-sized cables anchored the tops of the towers to the bridges span.

Prue looked around her quickly to see if anyone else was witnessing this spectacle, but saw that she was alone in this cool dawn of the morning. The fog continued to fall away from the bridge until it pooled just beneath the surface of the span, revealing the awesome edifice in its entirety. The river remained covered in mist.”

(Wildwood)

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The story continues with Under Wildwood and then with Wildwood Imperium…

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I know I’m not the only fan – readers, writers and artists from all over have enthused about the world of Wildwood:

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The elaborate magic-realism reminds me a bit of The Wind in the Willows, and of Narnia, and then also of these three gems from our own library:

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…which is my very favourite part of being a reader: making connections to a text; connecting that to other texts; reading, rereading, savouring and sharing; celebrating the process.

Today I am grateful for the luxury of summer and the time to read, and for great creative people who give us stories like Wildwood to journey into.

Happy reading!

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