Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thinking about alternatives

I was 6 years old when I first heard Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel read aloud by my school librarian. The whole class loved it, and we practiced saying the main character's name: "Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo." The name allegedly meant in Chinese "the most wonderful child in the world." Tikki Tikki Tembo's younger brother, Chang, had a name that meant "little or nothing." The length of Tikki Tikki Tembo's name posed a problem when the character fell into the well. The illustrations by Blair Lent are lovely and the story is top-notch. However, Mosel's story perpetuates a number of Asian stereotypes, mainly the idea that syllables from Asiatic languages are nonsensical and that the elder son is more valued than the younger son. Like Little Black Sambo and The Five Chinese Brothers, the bare-bones of the story itself is compelling but the stereotypes are offensive. (As a side note, some discussion boards point out that Tikki Tikki Tembo is actually based on an old Japanese folktale.)

Before you start to protest,"Oh, stop being so politically correct already!" and "If we get rid of every book that has racism/sexism in it, we'll have nothing left on the bookshelves," be assured that I'm not proposing we get rid of any story. However, we should think really, really hard about the books we read (especially to children) and how the stories affect all of us. At the very least, think about what it would be like to be a Chinese child listening to Tikki Tikki Tembo read aloud in a classroom.

I read about a librarian who used Tikki Tikki Tembo in her storytimes, but instead of the setting taking place in "long ago China," she had the story set on Mars, whereby the Martians all give their children long names. I haven't used Tikki Tikki Tembo in storytimes, but when the time comes where my daughter discovers the story, I'm going to use a similar approach. Still, if the main goal is for children to have a long, amusing name to recite aloud, there are alternatives:

1) Catalina Magdalena Hoopensteiner Wallendiner Hogan Logan Bogan Was Her Name, by Tedd Arnold

I don't care for the illustrations, but the song is great! I can post the chords and a link to the song for a future Song of the Week, if you like.

2) The camp song Eddie Cucha Catcha Camma Toesanara Toesanocka Samma Camma Wacky Brown.

Unlike the protagonist of Tikki Tikki Tembo, the subject of the story does come to a bad end.

In the past, I've deliberately avoided controversial topics. I've wanted to entertain you, after all. Still, I do think about these issues frequently, and want to talk about them with people who also want to talk about them. I've long ago stopped trying to please everyone (it's impossible), but I do have an obligation to present stories that provide fair, non-stereotypical depictions of the people they represent. I have no room in which to say, "Oh, it's just a story."

Do I take stories too seriously? You bet I do! And I'm not about to stop.

Thanks to TadMack for starting this discussion in another forum.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Next Dan Zanes project

I just got word that Dan Zanes and Rankin Don a.k.a. Father Goose are working on an album they hope to release on October 23, 2007. I'm happy. I'm looking forward to Alabama 3's new release this fall, too. I know that in many ways the two groups appear to be on opposite ends of the spectrum (i.e. one band is okay to play in front of my child and the other band I don't even play in front of my friends), but really, they have more in common than one would think. Um, just give me some time to think of what the common ground might be (besides the fact that I enjoy their music).

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Culture Vulture/ Story Quarry

I'm trying to figure out which folktales are okay to tell and which ones I shouldn't bring into my storytimes. Everyone exhorts "multiculturalism" and "world folktales" yet there are so many pitfalls to sharing stories from cultures outside one's own. Then again, just because someone has a particular ethnic background doesn't mean s/he is an expert. My paternal background is Syrian, Eygptian, Russian and Lithuanian. Does that mean I have carte blanche for telling stories from those countries even though I'm not overly knowledgeable of my heritage? (Answer: I think not.)

Some folktales are sacred, and aren't meant to be told outside of those sacred contexts. Many stories have been lifted from other cultures and then tweaked to reflect the values of one's own culture.

As much as I'd love to share some of the stories I've read and learned, I don't want to be a culture vulture looking for story quarry (yeah, I just made up that second part). I want to do the right thing. I wonder: if I find a collection of Iroquois stories published by someone from the Abenaki, does that constitute permission to retell the stories? Or should I just leave alone all stories that come from people who have been oppressed and continue to be oppressed? That's a lot of people and a lot of stories. I'm tired of people being identified by how they've been oppressed... as I am sure are the people who are actually oppressed.

Here's a long article that puts some of the issues in perspective: Swapping Tales and Stealing Stories: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Folklore in Children's Literature, by Betsy Hearne, published in the Winter 1999 edition of Library Trends. Hearn writes,

As more good source notes appear, however, the underlying issue of ownership comes to the fore, sometimes because information makes the question of ownership all too clear. Identifying the source of a story, is only the beginning, it turns out. The next step is considering the broader implications of who tells stories and how they tell them. Indeed, the argument of who owns a story is almost as old and traditional as the stories on which the argument focuses. (page 3 of the article)

And further in the article, Hearn points out that

certainly a culture can simply be omitted because of the complexity of dealing with all these problems, witness Eva Martin and Liszlo Gill's (1987) Tales of the Far North: "The only indigenous folktales of Canada belong to the native Canadian Indian and Inuit peoples. Because these native peoples have such a unique and beautiful tradition of storytelling, no attempt has been made to adapt their stories for this collection. Too often English-speaking storytellers retell native tales only from their own perspective, imposing upon the tales their own vision of life" (p. 123).

True, and conscientiously stated, but now we have a beautiful volume of Canadian tales with no representation of an important cultural group. So how do we deal with folktales crossing cultural and aesthetic borders in the "innocent" fields of children's literature, which on closer examination sometimes resemble battlefields of social values? Is this a no-win situation?
(page 12)

If you read through the article, you'll recognize some familiar names: Debbie Reese, Roger Sutton, Jane Yolen, Julius Lester, and Joseph Bruchac, to name a few luminaries.

07/30/07 update: Debbie Reese commented a couple of times on this post and has just published her own post in response: An often posed question: "Who can tell your stories?"

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Simpsons avatars and DC Comics superheroes

Here's a bit of Saturday silliness... the Simpsons (TM) versions of the House of Glee:

Thanks to the Goddess of Clarity for the diversion. Now, I've got to tackle the monsters in my room: dust bunnies, stacks of papers that need to be filed or shredded, and possibly cat vomit under the bed. I'm sure it'll inspire a song. Speaking of songs, my guitar teacher said he'll help me record an mp3 of Superhero Teaparty. I'm planning on making some revisions to the song, mainly making the superheroes all DC comics characters (sorry, LoneStarPa, I know you're a Marvel Man). I may put Green Arrow into the song. I've had a thing for the Green Arrow ever since I started watching Justice League Unlimited. I think Green Arrow is quite the hottie in a totally-not-my-type kind of way:

Maybe it's because Oliver Queen/Green Arrow relocated from Star City to make Seattle his new home?

Friday, July 27, 2007

I have a cunning plan...

Ten minutes away from where we live, there is a billboard advertising massive amounts of weight loss through hypnotism. The first time I saw the sign, I stared at it for a moment, and then started to snicker.

"What's so funny?" Bede asked.

"I have a cunning plan. Instead of hypnotizing myself to lose 40 lbs, I'll hypnotize the rest of the world into thinking I've lost 40 lbs!" I said.

I was, of course, referring to the first episode of Blackadder II, set in the Elizabethan age, where Lord Edmund Blackadder (the descendent of Blackadder I, the younger son of King Richard IV) has fallen in love with his servant, Bob, who is secretly a maiden named Kate:

Wisewoman: Hail Edmund, Lord of Adders Black.

Edmund: Hello.

Wisewoman: Step no nearer, for already I see thy bloody purpose. Thou plot is, Blackadder thou wouldst be king and drown Middlesex in a butt of wine. Ah, ah, ah, ah.

Edmund: No, no, no, no. it is far worse than that. I'm in love with my man servant.

Wisewoman: Oh well, I'd sleep with him if I were you.

Edmund: What?

Wisewoman: When I fancy people, I sleep with them. Oh, I have to drug them first of course! Being so old and warty.

Edmund: But what about my position, my social life?

Wisewoman: Very well then. Three other paths are open to you. Three cunning plans to cure thy ailment.

Edmund: Oh good.

Wisewoman: The first is simple. Kill Bob!

Edmund: Never.

Wisewoman: Then try the second. Kill your self!

Edmund: Neu. And the third?

Wisewoman: The third is to ensure that no one else ever knows.

Edmund: Ha, that sounds more like it. How?

Wisewoman: Kill everybody in the whole world. Ah, ha, ha ...

I can tell you're not yet convinced this is funny. Fine. Maybe season 3 is more your style, with Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent:

Poetry Friday: Carl Sandburg's "Be Ready"

Dedication at the beginning of Carl Sandburg's Wind Song:

Dear young folks:
Some poems may please you for half a minute & you don't care whether you keep them or not. Other poems you may feel to be priceless & you hug them to your heart to keep for sure. Here in this book poems of each kind may be found: you do the finding.

I sign this book for you saying love & blessings: may luck stars ever be over you.

Carl Sandburg


Be land ready
for you shall go back to land.

Be sea ready
for you have been nine-tenths water
and the salt taste shall cling to your mouth.

Be sky ready
for air, air, has been so needful to you -
you shall go back, back to the sky.

(--Carl Sandburg (from Wind Song, 1960)

MsMac is rounding up the Poetry Friday posts at Check it Out.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


All's quiet today. I recommend some good reading for today.

P.S. Who's in this photo: baby Lucia or baby Alkelda?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Song of the Week: Old Joe Clark

Even if you don't know the words to today's Song of the Week, (and they range from innocuous to saucy, you probably know the tune to "Old Joe Clark." Listen to this version by the Rosinators....There, now don't you feel an itch to bring your banjo and fiddle out of the closet and throw a barn dance?

The history of the actual Old Joe Clark is that of a shiftless mountaineer with legions of enemies in the late 1800's:

Old Joe Clark, the preacher's son
Preached all over the plain
The only text he ever knew
Was high low jack and the game.

My "Old Joe Clark" is more of an elusive, well-off and slightly eccentric mountaineering guy. If you can actually make it to his house, he'll feed you well, but if you sleep over, forget about getting the comfortable bed. I haven't played "Old Joe Clark" as anything but a warm-up song for the patient early-comers, and have been using Hop Up Ladies as our circle dance. However, the plan is to have the children and grownups dance around in a circle for the chorus and move in and out of the center of the circle (holding hands) for the verses.


Old Joe Clark, he had a house
Eighteen stories high
Every story in that house
D7 G
Was filled with chicken pie.


Round and round, Old Joe Clark
Round and round I say
Round and round, Old Joe Clark
D7 G
Ain't got long to stay.


I went down to Old Joe's house
Never been there before
He slept on a feather bed
I slept on the floor.


I went back to Old Joe's house
He invited me for supper
I stubbed my toe on the table leg
And stuck my nose in the butter.


Eighteen miles of mountain road
Fifteen miles of sand
That’s the way to Old Joe’s house
Find it if you can.

When I lived in West Virginia, I had to walk a mile from where the bus dropped me off to where I actually lived. It wasn't "eighteen miles of mountain road," but it was long enough for short seven-year-old legs.

Our living situation was not typical of those who lived in Cucumber Creek holler: most people had paved roads outside and flush-toilets inside their houses. We didn't live totally off the grid (i.e. we did have electicity), but conditions were rather rustic in spots. If you made it up the dirt roads to our house and didn't get stuck in snow or mud my parents would feed you well. If you got stranded at our house due to floods... well, let me put it this way: we really enjoyed the company.

Can you spot our house?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Interview with Brad the Gorilla (oh yeah, and with me, too)

Brad the Gorilla, my tenant, was jealous and furious when he found out that Jules and Eisha of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast were going to include me in their blogger interview series. You can find my interview here. And here. And here. Whoops, blog fame has gone to my head, as you can see.

Ahem. As promised, here is my blogger interview with Brad:

The origins of Brad the Gorilla are dubious indeed. If you ask Brad about his biographical history, he’ll tell you that he arrived in the United States after living in Rwanda, Scotland, Antarctica, and various islands in the South Pacific.

Ulric, my brother, tells it a bit differently:

“When I was a little boy, I had a gorilla named Fred. Fred was quiet, loyal and steadfast. Then, my grandparents sent me Brad. Brad arrived with a goofy grin on his face and a plate of spaghetti on his head. He proceeded to influence Bart [the youngest child in our family] and me to do terrible things. Remember when we threw stones at cars? What about when we burst into your room, smashed your china tea-cups and broke the head off your Princess Leia action figure? That was all because of Brad’s coaching.”

As Brad grew older, he appeared to mellow out: he adopted some children [Ulric said that it was because Brad passed so much gas at the sock-monkey adoption agency that they wanted to do anything they could to get Brad out of the room] and settled down as a noodle-chef. Alas, the quiet life was not to be. There was a good reason Brad had appeared in our home wearing a bowl of noodles: people often threw food at Brad. In their defense, Brad would throw the food first, but still…

The year after our brother Bart died, Ulric traveled out to Seattle and moved into the House of Glee’s basement. Ulric specifically refused to take Brad on the road trip because he knew Brad would only cause trouble. [Ulric had enough trouble as it was, when his car died on the I-90 ramp in Medford, Oregon.] When Ulric arrived, there was Brad, sitting in the basement, grinning away. There was just no escaping Brad.

Since then, Brad the Gorilla has participated in the Elvis Invitationals, invented a board game, reunited with his old friend, Mr. McFeely of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and conducted a series of seminars on gorilla etiquette.

And now, on to this long overdue interview:

Saints and Spinners: What do you do for a living?

Brad the Gorilla: I do a number of things. I am trained as a chef, and I am also the CEO of my own business, Bradley Enterprises. I spend much of the day shouting at my employees and firing them. I'm also in a band called the Deadbeat Crawdads.

S&S: How long have you been blogging?

Brad: I’ve been blogging since August 9, 2005. I was on a roll for awhile, and I even quit blogging a couple of times. Right now, the blog is at a crawl, with just a few loyal readers, but there was a time when, I had up to eight readers, including the notorious Cute Little Box (now defunct).

S&S: Why did you start blogging?

Brad: I hacked into my Landlord’s blog a number of times, and when I was finally banned for life, I decided it was time to start my own blog. The only reason I continue to blog now is because I keep hoping my readers will send me whisky.

S&S: Which blog would you take to the prom to show off and you love it so much you could marry it?

Brad: I don’t go for such mush. But if I had to choose one blog, I’d choose three: Lost In Wonderland, The Tip of the Iceberg, and Friday’s Web. I would never take Yorkshire Pudding to the prom because the idea makes my fur crawl.

S&S: What are your favorite things to do?

Brad: Insult people in Latin, insult people in English, cook vegetarian meals, go skydiving, impersonate Elvis, drive sports-cars (though I don’t have a license), smoke stinky cigars that make everyone run from the room, conduct puppet shows.

S&S: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

Brad: I used to spend summers with my older brother, Shad the Gorilla, at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The last time I was there, I got permanently banned from that southernmost continent because I tried to usurp the job of Santa Claus.

S&S: What’s in heavy rotation on your stereo/iPod as of late?

Brad: Elvis, Elvis, Elvis.

S&S: If you could have three living authors over for coffee or a glass of rich red wine, who would they be?

Brad: I’d only have one author over, we’d drink whisky and he would be Harlan Ellison. Harlan Ellison and I would have a rude-insult contest. I’d win, of course, but I’d like to see him try to best me.

The Pivot Questionnaire:

Favorite word: Outrage

Least favorite word: Smooch

What turns you on creatively, spiritually, emotionally?

What drug are you on? What? You’re not on drugs? Then why are you asking me such a squishy question?

What turns you off?

Questions that only sensitive new age guys would answer.

What’s your favorite curse word?


What sound or noise do you love?

Electric guitars

What sound or noise do you hate?

Kissing noises

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?


Brad as Gorilla Grodd

What profession would you like not to do?

Anything that involves wearing clothes

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

“I never thought you’d actually make it, man. You’ll be pleased to know that Bart is already here, and he’s made you a big plate of bananas flambĂ©.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

My Silly Avatar

I can't actually play banjo, but if I were, I'd be playing "Foolish Frog" or "Old Dan Tucker."

The Play's The Thing! July 2007 Carnival of Children's Literature

Boys and girls, come out to play.
The moon doth shine as bright as day!
Leave your supper and leave your sleep,
And come with your playfellows into the street.
Come with a whoop, come with a call,
Come with a good will, or not at all.
Up the ladder and down the wall,
A half-penny loaf will serve us all;
You find the milk, and I'll find the flour,
And we'll have a pudding in half an hour.
--Mother Goose

You are about to start a text adventure for a night out at the theatre. Here is a list of the items you'll need:

*One posh hat or tiara
*One dapper suit or fancy gown

*Elegant yet comfortable shoes
*A walking stick or a fan
*White gloves
*A horse-drawn coach (or an engine-powered limousine)
*Spending money for refreshments, theatre momentos, buskers

Okay, you're all set. The text adventure begins:

Congratulations! You have scored tickets for the July 2007 premiere of the theatrical pastiche called The Carnival of Children's Literature. The buzz-phrase surrounding this production is "The Play's the Thing." Despite the surface glitz and glamour of all the publicity and press, you know that the core values of the play involve the passion and dedication of some of the most talented actors, directors, costume designers and lighting specialists in the business.

As you walk up to the Will-Call booth to obtain your tickets you notice the OUTSIDE ENTERTAINERS performing:

On one side of the ticket window, Little Willow of Bildungsroman recites her favorite passage from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On the other side, Praveen of Tao of Simplicity reveals bon mots of wisdom about the nursery rhymes we thought we knew so well. As you walk by, you learn the Taoist meaning of Little Bo Peep. Meanwhile, some juggler dressed in motley unicycles up and down the sidewalk calling out jokes to anyone who will listen. You drop coins into each of their hats before the ushers whisk your entourage into


Some of the lobby posters advertise reviews of upcoming productions: Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page reviews a Beacon Street Girls Adventure about children attending a summer film camp: Maeve on the Red Carpet, by Annie Bryant. Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews reviews a compelling drama involving Hebrew School, Catechism, and Shakespeare: The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt. You also admire the costumes of productions past: Robin Brande's account of Stephenie Meyer's Eclipse Ball in May reveals many dresses that sparkle and swish. Since Meyer's book Eclipse is coming out in August, the costume display is more than timely.

One of the reasons this theatre is so well-attended is that it shows 48 millimeter films during the week. The lobby has several gilt-framed film reviews: Lone Star Ma's offshoot blog Daughter and a Movie, contains a review of "Nancy Drew". J. L. Bell of Oz and Ends speculates how wretched the film version of Susan Coopers's book The Dark is Rising will be. Lucynda Riley of The Traveling Man presents Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

You find your seats and glance at the program. However, you don't want to spoil any surprises for yourself, so you talk quietly with your companions until the lights dim and the curtain rises upon


Scene 1.
A man walks out onto the stage. He is dressed as a tomato. The tomato-man is video-blog celebrity Hank Green, interviewed by Jules and Eisha of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Then, Anne L. of Book Buds reveals in a soliloqy that she believes Children's Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky is the Joyce Carol Oates of kidlit. "What does it all mean?" you whisper to your companions, but they reply, "Shhhh! Laurie Bluedorn of Trivium Pursuit is about to sing her Podcast #4 Interview with Eloise Wilkin’s Daughter, Part Three." Then, the plot begins to reveal itself to you as Jay of The Disco Mermaids speaks of the two actors who interpreted the lead characters in his novel during the audio recording of Jay's first published novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. Silvia of Po Moyemu--In My Opinion closes out the scene with a review of the audiobook of Rick Riordan's "The Lightning Thief."

Scene 2.
The next musical numbers are all about that wild, happy-go-lucky fellow, Harry Potter. "Urgh!" one of your companions moans, "Why do they always think they have to bring in the big show-off names in order to put on a production?" Now it is your turn to shush your companion. You thwack him lightly over the head with your program as Scott of College and Finance provides insight into the human psyche via song in Harry Potter's Guide to the People You Meet in College. Seafarer of Family Travel: See The World With Your Kids responds with some out-of-town alternatives for Harry Potter when you travel with kids. Then, the stage-lights cool to blues and greens. Bobbarama tapdances with the finesse of Bob Fosse as he sings Harry Potter and the Shouters, a ditty explaining why he really doesn't want to be pestered until three days after the release of Book Seven. "I think this is going to be the breakaway hit!" you whisper. The people in front of you turn around to glare, and you vow that you will make no more utterances throughout the rest of the program.

Scene 3.
Megan Germano of Read, Read, Read skips onstage to laud The Schernoff Discoveries by Gary Paulsen. Cloudscome of A Wrung Sponge shimmies as she sings about books that celebrate Fathers and Sons. The final number for this act, Chris Barton's collection of James Marshall memorials, brings a thundrous round of applause as the ensemble from Act I dance across the stage wearing cardboard cutouts of George, Martha, Miss Nelson and other beloved James Marshall characters.

The lights come up for


With your companions, you head out to the LOBBY again and search for refreshments at the concession stand called The Pink Refrigerator (named after the book by Tim Eagan), headed by Tasha of Kids Lit. Tasha smiles at you and says, "You should really try these new confections created by Yvonne Russell of Grow Your Writing Business. They're all named after different Folktale Categories." You snag three Noodlehead scones, one Pourquoi madeleine and two Beast biscuits. You apologize for accidentally dropping one of the slippery Trickster tarts. The drink of the evening is called the Big News, and Mary Lee of A Year of Reading is the bartender. "Bones!" one of your companions say when she hears what the ingredients are. "There is no possible way that the drink concoction actually exists in this dimension." Mary Lee's co-bartending friend Franki says, "Why don't you try an Ellie McDoodle instead?" Your companion smiles, and soon everyone is cheerfully swilling drinks and munching yummy treats.

The bells chime the three minute warning, and you return to your seats for

Act II

Scene 1.
The romantic portion of the show commences. Adrienne of What Adrienne Thinks About That, reveals that Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. Lindsey of Zee Says=Film Addict + Teen Librarian belts out The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart. Tension mounts as Dana of Mombian rejoins with the perils and pitfalls of romance as she recounts the Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend, by Carrie Jones. "What mush!" one of your companions says. "I wish Sam Riddleburger would burst onto the scene with Great Robots of Kidlit (that aren't Transformers)." Moments later, Riddleburger's robots appear and chase everyone off the stage. "How did you predict that? You need therapy!" you whisper to your companion (forgetting your earlier promise not to talk during the show) as stage props are whisked away and the display is set for

Scene 2.
Your companion replies, "Oh, Everyone Needs Therapy," just as TherapyDoc enters stage-right to ruminate about Children's Books, Mannies, and Waiting Rooms. Soon after, Tricia of The Miss Rumphius Effect launches into a power-ballad of a song called Reconsidering Ten Little Rabbits – Evaluating Books From the Viewpoint of Other Cultures . After the song, there is quiet except for a murmuring in the audience. Then, much to everyone's surprise, the great diva herself, the founder of this very theatrical series, Melissa Wiley of Here in the Bonny Glen takes the stage. Slowly, with the melodic mezzo-soprano voice for which she is so renowned, Wiley sings, "Feeling My Way to the Write Side of the Desk." The audience claps and sings along.

Scene 3.
At the edge of a cardboard lake, Susan Thomsen of Chicken Spaghetti waxes poetically about a place called Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool, by Doug Wechsler. In response, Summer of Mommy Babble begs Susan to consider Environmentally friendly kid’s books. Samir of Samir Bharadwaj.com launches into a quick reminiscence about Moon-faced men and multi-layered amphibians. For the finale, Camille of Book Moot sings Goodbye, Lady Bird Johnson and everyone on stage joins in the chorus to celebrate Texas wildflowers.

The curtain drops, the lights brighten, and everyone cheers repeatedly as the actors join hands, bow, then bow again. "Encore!" the audience calls out. "Encore!" And behold-- there will actually be an encore. The lights dim and the curtain comes up once more to reveal


Charlotte of Charlotte's Library is the puppeteer for Wiggle and Waggle. Two humble worm puppets keep the audience mesmerized. Then, the curtain drops for the final time, the actors come out to take one last bow, and the production is over.

As your companions walk with you out through the LOBBY and into the warm, breezy night, you remember Prospero's words from The Tempest by Shakespeare:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

"What a production!" you marvel as you all head to the restaurant hosting the post-show potluck. "What a production indeed!" your companions agree. "At first, we were hesitant to attend the show, as we'd heard rumors of the director's wild and eccentric temper . It's funny-- we didn't even see the director tonight." As you talk, the brightly-colored juggling unicyclist passes in front of you once more. You toss her your last few coins and walk on. Your companions continue talking. "We want to return for next month's production of The Carnival of Children's Literature," they say. "Do you know who is directing it?"

The answer to that question is: no one... yet.

Shall it be you? Say yes!

If you would like to host The Carnival of Children's Literature for August (or other future carnivals), please contact Melissa Wiley via this link.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sunflowers and Lilies

It's been awhile since I've participated in a Sunday Garden Stroll. First, the weather was so hot that the sun scorched some of our blueberry plants and made everything fall over on its side. Then, the rains (blessed rains!) came, revived most of the plants, coaxed new crops of dandelions out of the ground, and made the flowers bloom:

I've forgotten the name of this type of Asiatic lily

Sunflower Girl with Mommy

Sunflowers of a traditional bent

Our first "goth" sunflower

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Give 'em the old Razzle-Dazzle

Make your own at ProfilePitstop.com

The carnival is done! Yes, there were late entries, and no, I did not include them. I am a curmudgeon, after all. "Alkelda the Grumbly," that's what they call me (and other adverbs).

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Goddess of Clarity reads so I don't have to

Hey! The Goddess of Clarity is rereading the Harry Potter books so you don't have to. When I last checked, she had just posted her summary of HP* and the Goblet of Fire. I know, some of you actually wanted to read them yourselves. That's fine. Just remember how I spectacularly flubbed the 48 Hour Book challenge, and you'll understand why I appreciate The Goddess o' Clarity's herculean efforts.

*Not HP Sauce, though.

Poetry Friday: "Anthem"

Guernica, by Pablo Picasso

Whenever I hear Leonard Cohen's song "Anthem," I think of Picasso's Guernica... and vice versa:

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be

The wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

Read the rest of Leonard Cohen's lyrics here.

This week's Poetry Friday Roundup is at Mentor Texts.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Eric Herman and his Invisible Band

This evening, the House of Glee went to hear Eric Herman of Cool Tunes for Kids play at the Shoreline Library. Eric's wife and kids were there too, and Lucia enjoyed dancing with the two Herman girls. Afterward, the House of Glee and the RV of Herman all went out for frozen yogurt. The three girls all chose the rainbow frozen-yogurt and ended up with purple chins. It was pretty cool to hang out with a fellow blogger who happened to be a full-time musician. I picked up Eric's cds (some of them for free! How cool is that?) and for the first time, thought maybe I really should think about recording a cd of my own someday. (It would be a vanity cd of course, but finally the world a few curious blogger friends would be able to hear what "Superhero Teaparty" and "The Potty Train" actually sound like.) In the meantime, I'm looking forward to listening to Eric Herman's new album, Snail Pace. One of the songs on the album, "For the Beauty of the Earth," was a hymn Bede and I had at our wedding six years ago.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Carnival of Children's Literature Submissions

Friday, July 20 is the last day to submit entries to the July Carnival of Children's Literature. On that day, you have until 9 PM Pacific Standard Time to send me links to your favorite posts on your blogs. If you have any questions as to when that is in relation to where you are, you can check out this handy Time Zone Converter for you. I won't accept any late entries, even if your name is J.K. Rowling and your post is called "Naked Snape and the Wobbly Broomsticks." If you want to submit an article after the deadline, consider submitting it to the August Carnival of Children's Literature.

Hey, I was co-editorial editor on the high school newspaper. There were a number of times when I'd have to trim and winnow the opinions so that they fit just right-- only to have my teacher/advisor come in at the last minute and say, "A teacher wrote this, so you have to put it in." Then, I'd trim the opinions even more, and the writers the next day would complain, "You cut the wrong paragraphs."

Bones! I've been a Grouchy Ladybug about late submissions ever since.

Song of the Week: Ten in the Bed

There were ten in a bed
And the little one said,
"I'm crowded! Roll over!"
So they all rolled over
And one fell out

There were nine in the bed
And the little one said,
"I'm crowded! Roll over!"
So they all rolled over
And one fell out...

[Count down to one.]

There was one in the bed
And the little one said,
"I'm lonely! I'm lonely!"
So they all rolled over

And got back in
There were ten in the bed
And the little one said,
"Good night! Sleep tight!"

Ten in the Bed Midi File

Guitar chord: E
That's it! You only have to play one chord. I do alternate finger-picking, but still, all you need is this one chord (or whichever one is most suited to your voice).

I always plan to do this song for storytimes, and I've not yet gotten to it. I often have it on my song list, but because I always prepare more than I need, I haven't even tested it out on anyone except Lucia. I have the construction paper teddy-bears all cut out for a test run in which I'd have 10 children stand up in a single-file row, then sit down as each bear rolls out of bed. At the end, the plan is for all of them to stand up again. I don't know. Any ideas from the blogosphere?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cool Tunes for Kids by Eric Herman

Eric Herman visited my blog yesterday. Herman runs the Cool Tunes for Kids blog and is a performing musician based in Washington State. He's here in Seattle doing some shows, and I'm hoping to make it to at least one performance with the House of Glee. Um, Eric, you thanked me for posting your video of "The Elephant Song" awhile back. I can't find that post! Still, it's very silly of me that I would have not posted it before now (though I can hardly see you as the one pointing the Finger of Silliness), sooooooo....

Here is the animated video of "The Elephant Song." It's a bit evocative of the Lazy Jack motif of the fool who follows directions literally and bases every decision on the last piece of advice given by someone wiser than he (in this case, Eric Herman's somebody else's daughter):

Here is a live-action video of Herman juggling produce and going "Crazy Over Vegetables." I would've loved to have been a fly on the wall (or the zucchini) while Herman was filming this video:

Pssst... while you're at it, read some good advice about performing for children.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Seven Tips for Successful Storytelling at Parties

I had a good time telling stories and singing songs at my two birthday party gigs over the weekend. Both parties were outside. During one gig, a train went by as the birthday group was dancing in a circle to "Hop Up Ladies." Everyone could hear me play and sing over the train noise, but it was still one of those distractions that make outdoor celebrations such a challenge. As a side note for those planning to get married outside in one of Seattle, Washington's balmy gardens, I have just one word of caution for you: airplanes.

Anyway, I thought now would be a good time to outline some guidelines for people who are considering having a performer come to their child's birthday party. Here are seven tips to help make the experience a good one:

Here are seven tips for everyone to enjoy a storytime at your party:

1) Have a comfortable, specific place for the children to sit, preferably away from distractions like toys (especially the battery-powered ones), balloons, and media devices.

2) Grownups often only get a chance to talk to each other when their kids are occupied. Have a separate space for the grownups’ conversations so that the children can listen attentively to the stories and songs.

3) If the party takes place outside with an excess of background noise, have the storytelling program be in a place with the option to plug in a sound system.

4) Have the storyteller perform before the hosts bring out the cake. Even the most enthralling performer can’t compete with a group sugar-high!

5) Small children (ages 2-3) often need to be accompanied by attentive adults. Older children (4 and up) are fine on their own but it’s a good idea to have an adult check in on the group every now and then. Storytellers are good at crowd control, but sometimes an audience member needs to leave the circle for a few minutes. It’s best for another adult to spend calming time with that child until the child is ready to return to the group.

6) Before the storytelling performance, make sure the children know where the bathrooms are. If the program takes place outside on a warm day, it’s also a good idea to have drinking water nearby. Singing and dancing is thirsty work.

7) Young children (ages 2-3) have relatively short attention spans, while older children can go for longer periods of time listening to stories and songs. I pay close attention to the group dynamics and prepare more than I need for a single storytime in order to provide the most flexibility. If I notice children getting restless during the story, then the next item is almost always a song involving movement.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Saints and Spinners is taking a break from posting until Monday, July 16. Here's what I'm going to do in the meantime:

1) Prepare for my 3 storytelling gigs over the next four days
2) Do some preliminary sorting and planning for the 16th Carnival of Children's Literature
3) Catch up on my blog reading and commenting

Please leave all compliments, virtual gifts, words of encouragement, ideas for future blog posts and other kind, considerate things in the comments box.

I leave you with a picture of the apricot rose in my garden. Currently, it is wilting from the heat. Today's temperature was 97 degrees Fahrenheit. I watered all my plants this evening, but clearly some of them are not going to make it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Song of the Week: Grey Goose

Song of the Week has been moved from Thursdays to Wednesdays.

Huttie Ledbetter's (aka "Leadbelly") 2 chord song "Grey Goose" is similar to the Thai "Freedom Bird" storyline: no matter how much anyone shoots the grey goose, plucks the feathers, boils the meat, saws the bones, the bird refuses to die. The punchline of the song is perfection, as the baby goslings in essence thumb their beaks at the people below (that is, if they were to have thumbs).

Here are Leadbelly's lyrics:

Well, las' Monday mornin', Lawd, Lawd, Lawd,
Well, las' Monday mornin', Lawd, Lawd, Lawd

My daddy went a-huntin'
Well, he carried along his zulu
Well, along come a grey goose
Well, he throwed it to his shoulder,
an' he ram his hammer' way back
Well, he pulled on de trigger
Well, down he come a-windin'
He was six weeks a-fallin'
He was six weeks a-findin'
An' he put him on de wagon,
An'he taken him to de white house
He was six weeks a-pickin'
Lordy, your wife an'my wife,
Oh, they give a feather pickin'
An' they put him on to parboil
He was six months a-parboil',
An' they put him on de table,
Now, de fork couldn' stick him,
An' de knife couldn't cut him
An' they throwed him in de hog-pen,
An' he broke de ol'sow's jawbone
An' they taken him to de sawmill,
An' he broke de saw's teeth out
An' de las' time I seed him,
Well, he's flyin' across de ocean,
Wid a long string o' goslin's,
An' they all goin': quank quink-quank!

Full audio with stills of Leadbelly.

This song has two chords (three, if you want to get fancy, but two will do). Start on an A chord and switch to the E chord with the first "Lawd, Lawd, Lawd," and then keep it on E until the last "Lawd" of the second line. For example:

Well, las' Monday mornin', Lawd, Lawd, Lawd,
Well, las' Monday mornin', Lawd, Lawd, Lawd

Keep going! If you're playing this song on a 12 string guitar, so much the better.

There are many covers of this song. I like the Dan Zanes one in particular because he so obviously relishes the "Quank-quanks" of the song that he brings them around a couple of times. A link to a sound sample is here (Track #15).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Picture Book Carnival

Literacy Teacher is hosting the first kidlitosphere Picture Book Carnival. Check it out and maybe submit one of your wee gems. I submitted an entry from one of my "Picture Books That Never Were" posts. Speaking of which, I need to create more of those...

Almira and the Robbers (in Felt)

After my last storytime gig, I decided that my Jack and the Robbers story needed sprucing up. I made some flannel-board figures:

Jack is now Almira (my princess finger-puppet) and the cow traditional to the tale became a camel. The robbers in the story are never specified, but I've made them three animals known for stealing: a raccoon, a rat and a crow. Those 6 colorful blobby things are bags of gold.

Margaret Read MacDonald once said that, after she taught this story in a seminar, one of the teachers complained that Jack and the animals were taking gold that actually belonged to other people. The teacher decided to change the story so that Jack and the animals brought the gold to the police before heading home.

Hiss! Boo! Grumble. In other words: please don't try to make a two-dimensional folktale into a three-dimensional contemporary fiction story. If I ever encounter the objection to the travelers' claims of the gold, I will explain sweetly that Almira went out to seek her fortune. What the audience didn't know beforehand was that the very robbers they met had stolen Almira's fortune before our story began. When the animals scared the robbers away, Almira merely reclaimed what was rightfully hers.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Ages of Humor

Lucia has discovered the knock-knock joke. While she has the basic form down, the majority of her punchlines end in, "Zup! Zup! Zup!" Many times we laugh out loud. Her glee is contagious. As the arrival of the joke-book is imminent, I've started thinking about the different ages and stages of humor. This is what I came up with:

Ages 0-12 months:
Peek a- boo.

Ages 12-24 months:
Catch me if you can.

Age 3:
Everyone poops!

Age 4:
Who’s there?
Ice-cream who?
(The most amusing part of this original joke is watching how much the 4 year old finds the exchange hilarious).

Age 5:
Who’s there?

Age 6:
Shake my hand (buzzer in hand sounds off).

Age 7:
How do you get 5 elephants to fit into a WV Beetle?
Two in the front, three in the back.

Age 8:
Why did the skeleton refuse to cross the road?
He didn’t have the guts.

Age 9:
Once upon a time there was a cornflake named Cecil.
[Teller recounts the long, arduous history of Cecil the cornflake. When the listener finally asks, “When is this going to end?” the teller replies, “It doesn’t end. It’s a serial.”]

Age 10:
What do you get when you pour boiling water down a rabbit hole?
Hot cross bunnies.

Age 11:
If frozen water is iced-water, then what is frozen ink?

Age 12:
Once upon a time there was a man who worked in a pickle factory. One day, he made an appointment with a psychiatrist. He said, “Doctor, doctor, there’s something wrong with me. I have this terrible urge…"

Age 13-19:
Jokes are much, much more off-color than the pickle-slicer scenario.

Age 20:
What do you call a good-looking guy/girl in church?
An out-of-town visitor.

Age 21 and onward:
A Protestant man moved into a Catholic neighborhood. Every Friday, the Protestant man would cook steak on the grill, and the scent would drive the Catholic men crazy with longing for red meat. Finally, the Catholic men got together and said, “We’ve got to do something to stop this. We’ve got to convert the Protestant to Catholicism.” They cornered the Protestant guy. After much convincing, Protestant finally agreed to convert.

That Sunday, the priest baptized the Protestant man and said, “You were born Protestant, you were raised Protestant, and now I baptize you -- Catholic!”

The Catholic men were so relieved. No more would they be tormented by the scent of steak on Fridays. Imagine their surprise when, the following Friday, their formerly Protestant neighbor was cooking steak on the grill yet again! Incredulous, the men peered over the fence. There was the former Protestant sprinkling water on the steak, and saying, “You were born a cow, you were raised a cow, and now I baptize you— fish!”

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Pajama Storytime at Island Books

I've got a storytime gig coming up on Thursday, July 12, at 7 pm. It'll be at Island Books in Mercer Island, Washington. The title of my storytime gig is Wise Fools and Wily Tricksters: Folktales and traditional songs to add adventure to your dreams. I have it on good authority that milk and cookies are part of the deal. This is good news for the goats (though they're not invited, as they are wont to nibble at the book displays).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

July Carnival of Children's Literature update

Submissions are starting to trickle in, but as the baby said-- "More, More, More!"

Please, don't make me ask Brad the Gorilla to storm your blogs and trawl for good posts to submit.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Poetry Friday: Putting the Good Things Away

Putting the Good Things Away, by Marge Piercy

In the drawer were folded fine
batiste slips embroidered with scrolls
and posies, edged with handmade
lace too good for her to wear.

Daily she put on
fit only to wash the car
or the windows, rags
that had never been pretty

even when new: somewhere
such dresses are sold only
to women without money to waste
on themselves, on pleasure,

to women who hate their bodies,
to women whose lives close on them.
Such dresses come bleached by tears,
packed in salt like herring.

Yet she put the good things away
for the good day that must surely
come, when promises would open
like tulips their satin cups

for her to drink the sweet
sacramental wine of fulfillment....

Read the rest of the poem here

My grandmother on my father's side bought a blue silk kimono in case she ever had to go to the hospital. She didn't want to wear the hospital gowns, after all. My grandma tucked away the blue silk kimono, but when one of her daughters admired it so, my grandmother gave it to her. Some time after, my grandmother found a green silk kimono to wear for that day in the future when she might have to go to the hospital. Her other daughter admired it so, and thus my grandmother gave away the green kimono. My grandmother then bought a bright red kimono. She showed it to me, and told me about how she had already given away the other two kimonos. "It is indeed a lovely kimono," I said.

"You should take it then," she said.

"But what about when you go to the hospital?" I asked.

"Eh!" she said with scorn, and made me take the red kimono.

Some time after that, my grandmother did have to go to the hospital. She wore the hospital gowns. A year later, when I was in college, I ruefully sent her "Putting the Good Things Away" and my own response poem about my grandmother, written in my Women's Poetry and Performance class.

Today's Poetry Friday Roundup is at Farm School.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Song of the Week: There Ain't No Bugs on Me

My guitar teacher has been teaching his students of the single-digit age-range the song There Ain't No Bugs on Me using the ukulele. There are only two chords (C and G7), and on the ukulele, they're quite easy to reach. To guitar players: if you want to practice ukulele without actually buying one, place your capo on the 5th fret of your guitar and play strings 1 through 4.

So far, my favorite version of the song is on the album Not For Kids Only, by David Grisman and Jerry Garcia (track #9). There are many verses to the song, but the ones I plan to use for storytimes deal directly with insects...most of the time. Here are the verses:

Oh there ain't no bugs on me
There ain't no bugs on me
There may be bugs on some of you mugs
But there ain't no bugs on me.


Well, the Juney bug comes in the month of June
The lightning bug comes in May
Bed bugs come any time at all
But they're not going to stay.


Mosquito, she fly high
Mosquito, she fly low
If old mosquito lands on me
She ain't a gonna fly no mo'!


Well, little bugs have littler bugs
Up on their backs to bite 'em
And the littler bugs have still littler bugs
And so ad infinitum.


Oh there ain't no flies on me
There ain't no flies on me
There may be flies on some of you guys
But there ain't no flies on me.

Oh there ain't no lobsters on me
There, ain't no lobsters on me
There may be lobsters on some of you mobsters
But there ain't no lobsters on me.


Here are the chords to the song:

Oh there ain't no bugs on me
There ain't no bugs on me

There may be bugs on some of you mugs
But there ain't no bugs on me.

You're all set. Go play!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Good Job!!!

One of my least favorite things to hear is “Good job!” Grownups usually say it breathlessly and in a sing-song manner, as if they’re overawed by each and every piece of artwork a child produces. They utter “Good job!” every time a child puts on a pair of trousers correctly (or not), makes a mud-pie, or builds a small-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. There is this idea that we are supposed to react to everything our charges do and make sure that their self-esteem is bolstered, boosted, and buttered.

I don’t advocate tearing down children’s self-esteem. Far from it. I just think we’re going about dispersing accolades in such a way that genuine appreciation for our children’s work gets lost in all the treacle. When we pour on the excessive praise, we encourage our children to become performers for us, the adults, rather than letting them focusing on the actual work (i.e. play) they need to do.

* * *

In first grade, my teacher would sometimes write “Prize” at the top of certain assignments. At the end of the week, students would take all of their “Prize” papers up to the teacher’s desk and select an object from the prize-jar. The prizes were trivial plastic objects, but they were rewards, so I wanted them.

One day, I spent a lot of time on a handwriting assignment with the specific goal of getting the “Prize.” A week later, I got back my assignment, and there was no “Prize” written at the top. I was furious. I took my own red crayon, wrote “Prize” on the handwriting assignment, and brought it up to retrieve a plastic spider ring from the reward jar. I was old enough to know that what I did was deceitful: after all, the teacher was the one dispensing the prizes, and it was up to her to decide who got them. On some level, though, I realized that her system was arbitrary, and didn’t have much to do with the actual quality of my work.

Early experiences shape how we think and relate later on. After writing “Prize” on my own paper, I didn’t start a life of embezzlement and fraud, but I gradually became more resistant to jumping through other people’s hoops. Even in graduate school, I did what I needed to do to get A’s, but much of the time I felt I wasn’t learning anything as much as I was giving the various professors what they wanted (i.e. memorizing portions of the text-book). The learning happened on my own. My system. My hoops.


In the comments section, Melangell links to a page of articles by Alfie Cohen. One of the articles is called "Five Reasons to Stop Saying 'Good Job!'" It's the seventh article down from the top. Also, take a look at this article in New York Magazine regarding research on the subject of over-praising kids.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Law Man Woman Blogger

Thanks to Liz B. of A Chair, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy, for the link to the 12 Important U.S. Laws Every Blogger Needs to Know. I've just added a disclaimer to my sidebar regarding comments on my blog.

Speaking of additions, what do you think of my new banner? Honestly, now, if you have some ideas for improvements, I want to hear them. I wanted to stretch the banner further across the page, but Blogger disagreed with me.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Re: July Carnival of Children's Literature

Memo to those submitting entries for the July Carnival of Children's Literature: If I have access to your email address, I plan to send you a note acknowledging that I received your submission. If you don't receive the note after you submitted an entry, please let me know.

On My Way to Chicago

It's official! I've booked my passage for the First Annual Kidlitosphere Conference.* It'll be held in Chicago, Illinois, USA, on October 6, 2007. Here's the RSVP list.

Just think: if you go too, then I'll get to meet you. You do want to add joy, merriment and glee to my life, don't you?

*For "conference," read "Food, drink and conversation extravaganza."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Edibles and admirables

I'm heading on over to a wrung sponge for the Sunday Garden Stroll. In the meantime, take a look at the East garden these days:

In the South garden, Lucia's sweet-pea tent is flourishing:

And lo and behold, there are actually sweet-peas growing:

Lucia doesn't care too much for vegetables and salad-like ingredients unless they're actually growing in the garden. Several times a day, she clamors, "More nasturtium please!" and cheerfully munches on the spicy leaves of our nasturtium plants. She is going to enjoy picking her own cucumbers, too:

Unedible but fascinating to Lucia are the ginger-scented geranium and the orange coleus:

The orange coleus was a plant Lucia picked out herself. When I pointed out to her that the plant was getting bigger, she said, "The plant wants to stay little." That was a telling comment, I thought.