Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thank You, Sarah

The pen is mightier than the sword."  
Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Emmy and I recently discovered a very persistent woman in history who helped to save Thanksgiving for all Americans - Sarah Josepha Hale.  This discovery was thanks to author Laurie Halse Anderson and her funny and inspirational book Thank You, Sarah The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving.  Anderson has written many children's and young adult books based on American history with an upcoming book in the works about one of her heroes Abigail Adams.  With lively illustrations by Matt Faulkner that often resemble caricatures, the story of Sarah Hale comes to life as a woman who means business.

"Way, way back, when skirts were long and hats were tall, Thanksgiving was fading away.  
Sure, the folks up in New England celebrated it.  They'd roast a turkey and invite 
the relatives when the harvest came in.  But not in the South, not in the West, 
not even in the Middle Atlantic states.  More and more, people ignored the holiday.  
Thanksgiving was in trouble.  It needed...A SUPERHERO!  No, not that kind.  
Thanksgiving needed a real superhero, someone bold and brave and stubborn and smart.  Thanksgiving needed Sarah Hale."  

I love the message that putting pen to paper is a way to create change by getting others to hear your point of view and perhaps persuade them to change their way of thinking.  It took Sarah Hale thirty-eight years and thousands of letters to persuade our top leaders to declare the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving.  Four presidents denied Hale's request, but not Abraham Lincoln.  In the year 1863, President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
If you are interested in reading Hale's letter to President Lincoln, you can find it here

And so Emmy and I give thanks this Thanksgiving to Sarah Hale for using her pen to stand up for what she believed in and creating change.  Sarah Hale's life has made a tremendous difference in the culture of our country.  Both Emmy and I have enjoyed getting to know who she was.  These are the facts that Emmy would like everyone to know:
*  She was the first American female magazine editor.  The Ladies' Magazine was where she published fashion, household and educational articles alongside poems and short stories that she wrote as well as some of the most famous authors of her day...Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Nathaniel Hawthorne to name a few.  She then went on to become editor for the magazine Godey's Lady's Book where she worked for forty years.
* She wrote the popular nursery rhyme Mary Had A Little Lamb in the year 1830 after a lamb followed one of her students to school one day.
* She pushed hard for the education of girls and for women's colleges and helped found Vassar College
* She strongly believed in play and physical education and helped to build playgrounds
* She raised money to preserve and build monuments honoring historical figures and events such as George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation and Bunker Hill in Boston, MA.

We both highly recommend the book Thank You, Sarah as it helped Emmy to realize that children have a great deal of influence.  By writing letters to the head of school, the city council, the mayor and newspaper editors, she can make her opinions heard and perhaps create change.

To give you a little taste of the book, here is Emmy reading the first few pages.  Enjoy!

To read our other posts about Thanksgiving click on the following:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Amazing Sunflowers

"Keep your face to the sunshine 
and you cannot see the shadow.  
It's what sunflowers do." 
Helen Keller

Emmy and I recently explored an amazing sunflower field at Colby Farm in Newbury, MA. This field is planted annually and tended to by the Colby family.  The sunflowers were absolutely gorgeous.  Emmy couldn't believe how tall the flowers were and how many of them were in the field. We estimated in the 1,000's.  There were so many honey bees busy at work collecting pollen to take back to their hives and beautiful butterflies resting on the sunny heads of the flowers. We spent a long time exploring this field taking in the beauty and relishing the quiet.

After our visit, I was inspired to show Emmy Vincent Van Gogh's paintings of sunflowers.  This allowed us to talk about Van Gogh's technique of using vibrant colors and swirling brush strokes (post-impressionism) as well as still life painting.  Emmy and I will be working on our own still life paintings of a vase of sunflowers and will share them at a later time.
Still Life: Vase With Twelve Sunflowers 1888

Emmy has always been interested in Van Gogh's paintings especially his most famous work The Starry Night (1889).  In a previous post, I talked about how we kept a picture frame in Emmy's bedroom that held a different postcard each week of a famous painting. She always wanted The Starry Night to be in the frame.  With our renewed interest in Van Gogh, we decided to check out a book about Van Gogh from our library.  I had learned of a series of books by Laurence Anholt (Anholt's Artists Books For Children) that focused on stories of real children who had actually met famous artists. There are nine books in the series and we would like to read them all, but we began with Van Gogh and the Sunflowers.  This story focuses on Van Gogh's time spent in Arles, France. A young boy named Camille befriends Van Gogh when he moves into the yellow house at the end of his street.  Camille brought sunflowers to his new friend and watched him paint.  Others in the town thought that Van Gogh was odd and that Vincent and his paintings didn't fit in with the town.  Emmy and I appreciated Camille's father's explanation,
"People often laugh at things that are different, 
but I've got a feeling that one day 
they will learn to love Vincent's paintings." 
Not only are Anholt's illustrations wonderful to look at, but the book also includes reproductions of works by Vincent Van Gogh.   For another recommendation of a book about art, check out this post.  

A wonderful book celebrating sunflowers is Eve Bunting's Sunflower House.  This story shares the lifecycle of the sunflower beginning with a boy planting sunflower seeds into a circle which creates a sunflower playhouse to the flowers wilting and the seeds dropping to the ground.  The story is told in rhyming verse and the illustrations, by Kathryn Hewitt (who also illustrated Bunting's book Flower Garden), are exquisite. Emmy's favorite part is when the boy and his friends sleep in the sunflower house.  She is determined that she will plant a similar house and have her friends over to sleep among the giant flowers.  

Whenever the topic of gardening with children comes up, I always suggest Sharon Lovejoy's books as resources. In her book, Sunflower Houses: A Book for Children and their Grown-Ups, the pages are filled with terrific suggestions of flowers to plant and projects to make and also with Lovejoy's beautiful drawings and whimsical poems. I remember making clover chains and firefly lanterns when I was a child.  I also remember picking dandelions for my mom. Emmy and I enjoy stringing dandelions together to make crowns to wear and bouquets to give.  Gardening is not something that is easy for us as we live in an apartment building in town, but I am determined to create an indoor garden with Emmy.  If you are interested in other books about gardening, check out the following posts:

Here's a song that Emmy and I have been enjoying since our visit to the sunflower field...
Sunflower ~ written by Neil Diamond and recorded by Glen Campbell in 1977.  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Celebrating Poetry and the Outdoors

Being outdoors has always been Emmy's favorite thing to do.  From a very young age, her curiosity led her to explore nature in wide open spaces and in little nooks and crannies. Today Emmy still enjoys being outside, but I am starting to see a difference in how she relates to nature.  The magic of fairies and gnomes hidden amongst the flowers and leaves is disappearing and in its place is more of a scientific approach to life around her.  I hear things like, "Did you know that sand is made up of millions of tiny rocks?  Did you know that the anther is the part of the flower that produces pollen?  Did you know that there are more than 1,500 active volcanoes on Earth?"  I know that these facts are important and am grateful that she is interested in learning these things, but I am a believer that life is magical and will continue to encourage her to look at things in a variety of different ways (not black or white).  For example, we know that an orb web is made of spirals and is used to catch prey, but seeing an orb web in the early morning mist is magical as the first rays of the morning sun hit its spirals and creates shimmers of gold.

Emmy has attended a Montessori school for the past six years (pre-school through second grade). Going out and exploring nature has always been a part of her school day.  It is understood that fresh air along with children's natural desire to explore their surroundings is beneficial to their growth and learning. Montessori believes that to delight in the wonder of the natural world at a tender and impressionable age is to become a steward to the earth in the years to come. I will be forever grateful to all of her Montessori teachers for gifting Emmy with the awareness that nature doesn't belong to us, but rather that we are responsible for its care.  

This past school year, Emmy spent a lot of time immersed in poetry.  It wasn't just a unit to teach, a box to be checked off, but rather a time to delve into the beauty of words - sweet, juicy, interesting words.  Through read alouds, the poems came to life begging Emmy to dive in.  Through writing, poetry became a way for Emmy to express herself.  By using mentor texts, Emmy began to understand the different ways that poets put words together. Through reciting poems, Emmy realized that the rhythm and rhyme of poetry was a fun way to play with words.  Through drama, Emmy took her love of poetry to a dramatic level by creating little skits to go along with the poems.  In the spring, the children helped to organize a Poetry Tea as a celebration of all that they had learned.  From the invitations to the set up of the classroom, the children were involved in the process.  It may have been lacking a smoky atmosphere and the adornment of berets, but it felt very "beatnik" anyway.  The children each took a turn reading from their hand sewn poetry books where they had written five types of poems such as a couplet and a diamante.  The look of pride on their faces as they stood before a large group of adults and read their poems was a joy to witness.  Also part of the Poetry Tea was food and drinks.  When we arrived, Emmy greeted us and showed us to our table.  She then went and got the snacks and served us hot tea with honey, lemon and/or sugar.  It was such a sweet celebration.  Emmy continues to find poetry wherever we go from noticing words that rhyme to making very poetic remarks such as, "Doesn't the color of the sun have a shade as deep red as a beautiful Poppy in spring."  When she carries what she has learned in school into her day to day life, I know that learning has really occurred. A love of poetry has truly been instilled in her being and I, again, thank her teachers for helping to facilitate this love.  Please take a moment to watch this video of Emmy as she reads her poems at Inn Street Montessori's Lower Elementary Poetry Tea.


Ever since her work with poetry at school, Emmy has become interested in books that hold collections of poems.  We have quite a collection of poetry books including Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Shel Silverstein and Mattie Stepanek.  Stepanek has been described as a peacemaker, a philosopher and a prophet.  He suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy and died in 2004 at the age of thirteen. His poems are full of messages of peace and love.  Stepanek called his poems heartsongs.  
"A heartsong doesn't have to be a song in your heart, " he said.  "It doesn't have to be 
talking about love and peace.  It can just be your message.  It can be your feeling.  
Some people might even call it a conscience."  
At a very early age, Stepanek developed his personal life philosophy summed up in the following quote,                                              "Remember to play after every storm."  
You can read more about Mattie Stepanek and his books of poetry and essays titled, Heartsongs, (all NY Times bestsellers) on his website.  

With Emmy's love of the outdoors,  I searched for poetry books that focused on nature. These two books stood out as winners.

The first one is A Stick is an Excellent Thing (poems celebrating outdoor play) by Marilyn Singer with illustrations by LeUyen Pham.  
This book of poetry celebrates universal types of play that are timeless and engaging no matter what generation is participating.  From organized games like jumping rope, hop scotch and hide-and-seek to imaginative games like making mud soup and turning sticks into magic wands, the poems held within these pages invite children to join in the fun.

A Stick is an Excellent Thing

A stick is an excellent thing,
If you find the perfect one.
It's a scepter for a king,
A stick is an excellent thing.

It's a magic wand, It's yours to fling,
To strum a fence, to draw the sun,
A stick is an excellent thing,
If you find the right one.  

(Click HERE for our post about the book Not a Stick)

The second one is Outside Your Window (a first book of nature) by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld.  Hearld's juicy layered collages bring the poems to life.  Davies, a zoologist and best known for writing books about science, finds a way to bring amazing facts and fun things to do in her poetry writing. The book cycles through the seasons with a good number of poems focused on each one.  I like that the poems do not always follow a rhyming format, but instead bring about vivid images through colorful language.  
Buzzzzzzz zzzzzzzz
It's coming from the beehive
It sounds like sweetness
And the sleepy, sleepy summer

Hmmmm mmm
The bees bring nectar from the flowers
For miles around and in the hive,
They make it into honey.

Buzzzzzzz zzzzzzzz
Hmmmmm mmm
The sound of sweetness and the smell of flowers
Of sunny, sleepy summer -
The sound of honey.

Emmy and I hope that we have inspired you to enjoy the poetry of nature!  I leave you with a quote by one of my favorite philosophers and the person that my Emmy is named after, Ralph Waldo Emerson.    
"Nature always wears the colors of the spirit."