Monday, June 23, 2008

Book Review: River Friendly, River Wild

It is a sad thing indeed to see the destruction caused by flooding in our Midwest. It is hard to fathom how people recover from the loss of everything they own--including their homes. I am recommending the following book as one to share with children whose lives have been affected by this kind of “natural” tragedy.

Written by
Jane Kurtz
Illustrated by Neil Brennan
Simon & Schuster 2000

River Friendly, River Wild, classified as a picture book, is really a collection of free verse poems about the actual flooding of the Red River in North Dakota in April of 1997. The fact-based poems relate the experiences of author Jane Kurtz and other people who lived in Grand Forks before, during, and after the flooding of their city.

The book opens with a description of the Red River by the young girl narrator and of her memories of happy days spent watching the river flow past or of playing on its banks or walking across its frozen surface in winter.

From The Red River

The river wiggled
like a fat brown thread
along the flat quilt of the Red River Valley,
stiching North Dakota and Minnesota together.
My friend Sarah and I
ran races up and down the dike.

In early April, the city is beset by a big blizzard. When the snow begins to melt, the river rises…and everyone begins to fill sand bags to put on top of the dikes. The girl’s family decides it must leave home and pack for their stay at a shelter. They must leave their pet cat, Kiwi, behind. The girl relates her thoughts after spending two weeks away from home.

From Ocean of Feelings

Two weeks of waiting
to find out if we have anything left.
My parents don’t know what to do.
They wander around like balls of string,
winding and unwinding.
My mom makes lists
of everything she might have lost.
I wonder where Sarah is
and if Kiwi is scared in our island house
with a rush of water all around.

When the girl’s family is finally allowed back into the city, this is what they see “snowbanks of garbage and sandbags” lining every street--as well as many of the contents of people’s houses: mattresses, lamps, water heaters, sleds, etc.

Now people must deal with the devastation the flood has left in its wake. Families are warned to take care when returning to their home because…

The steps could be crumbled.
The floors could be buckled.
The stairs could be slick.
The windows could be broken,
and snakes could be inside.

Life back at home is not what it was before the flood. There is no heat, no electricity, no warm water.

The Christmas Box is one of the most touching poems in the book. The family dons rubber gloves and reaches inside the box to check its contents: “The stockings Aunt Emily cut and sewed/the year that I was born…The wreath that Max made with five-year-old handprints/and lots of green paint.” Most of the contents must be disposed of. It’s not easy. As mother says, “It’s hard to throw out memories.”

The young girl feels anger at the flood for all she has lost. She’s mad because her cat is missing and her friend Sarah now lives with her grandmother.

By May 20th, the family’s lawn is strewn with violets and the mother’s “drying papers.” That same day their cat Kiwi appears. Kiwi was rescued by their next-door neighbor--a man who has lost his store and is now planning to start over somewhere else.

The book concludes with the poem Memories and on a note of hope and of looking forward into the future. This is a poem in which the girl tells us she knows that …

some memories live in things--
in old clothes and photographs,
drawings and trees.
Some of those memories we’ll have to let go.
But Mom and Dad and Max and Kiwi
and Sarah and I
will make new memories
and hold tight to the ones that stick.

The poems in this book open readers’ eyes to the obstacles people face both during and after a flood in a more personal way than by just watching a report on the television. We experience this flood through the thoughts and emotions of a young child whose world has been turned topsy-turvy by an act of nature.

The Nonfiction Monday Roundup is a Picture Book of the Day.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Crickets: An Original Acrostic

Last Friday, I posted three original poems about the sounds of summer. Here’s another original poem about crickets that I wrote about the sounds of summer.

Chirping in the dark, their song


In the still air. A

Chorus of summer night strummers in concert with


Entertaining warm evenings with


Symphony of wings.

My husband and I will be heading for New Mexico next Tuesday for a wedding. We decided to spend several days out there so we could do some sightseeing. We’re even hoping to go hot air ballooning one morning. We’ll be staying at a resort in the Santa Ana Pueblo--where the wedding and reception will be held. New Mexico has been at the top of my list of places to visit since I retired four years ago. I can’t wait to do some exploring out there!

Since I’ll be on vacation next week, I doubt I’ll be posting on Poetry Friday.

At Blue Rose Girls, I have a poem by Wendell Berry entitled The Country of Marriage. I’m posting it for the special young couple whose wedding my husband and I will be attending.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Semicolon this week.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Poetry Writing Update

I read no excuses by Grace Lin at Blue Rose Girls this morning. It inspired me to write up this post for Wild Rose Reader today:

Back on June 2nd, which happens to be my husband’s birthday, I posted Time to Write the Poems. Yes, I finally realized I had to commit more of my time and energy to writing poetry. My good friend Grace Lin had decided that helping me to get published would be one of her New Year’s resolutions for 2008. Grace thought she and I could work on a poetry project together. At first, we didn’t have an idea for a book. Then, in April, I thought of a subject--which is to remain top secret for now--for a collection of poems that Grace could illustrate. I began work on the book immediately. Then Grace and I went on a research field trip together in late May. We were inspired. We returned to my house and talked about all our ideas. Grace gave me some great suggestions. I’m happy to tell you that I finished writing that collection a couple of weeks ago. Grace’s agent is now looking for a publisher who’d be interested in our project.

Grace Lin

Since I finished that collection, I have gotten back to work on another book of poems that I began writing last fall--at the suggestion of Grace and another friend, Janet Wong. I’ve done lots of research for the book and have now completed thirteen poems.

That’s the update…and one reason why I haven’t been writing many book reviews or posting as often here at Wild Rose Reader.

I have to admit it’s fun writing poetry when I’m inspired and focused and excited about a subject. I just hope I can continue writing at this same pace for a long time.

Monday, June 16, 2008

This Was My Desk!

Last week’s Question of the Week at Blue Rose Girls was “What’s on Your Desk?” Names were drawn from those who entered the contest and got the correct answers to see who would win an autographed copy of Grace Lin’s book The Year of the Rat.

You can find out who the prize winner is here.
FYI: Here's how my desk looked on Sunday, June 8th.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Sounds of Summer: Three Original Poems

Here are three original poems about the sounds of summer. Bed in Summer (previously posted at Wild Rose Reader last July) and Sing a Song of Summer were written for a collection of unpublished poems entitled Tasting the Sun. I wrote Summer Music for another unpublished collection of memoir poems called A Home for the Seasons.

Bed in Summer
by Elaine Magliaro

Dark drifts in when I'm in bed.
Dreams whisper to my sleepy head.
Ice cubes clink into a glass.
Our sprinkler whirs and wets the grass.
Shouts of children still at play
Spark the night...then fade away.
Mosquitoes drone, crickets cheep.
Wrapped in summer sounds I'll sleep.

Summer Music
by Elaine Magliaro

I live on a busy main street.
In summer our open windows
bring us the whoosh and rumble of traffic
we don’t hear during the colder seasons.
I often fall asleep counting cars, not sheep.

I love to spend summer nights
sleeping in my grandparents’ spare room,
with crickets serenading me to sleep
and mourning doves cooing softly
before the sun has kissed the sky awake.

Sing a Song of Summer
by Elaine Magliaro

Sing a song of seasons,
A pocket full of June
A field of chirping crickets
Making music 'neath the Moon
Strum their wings in concert
And play a melody,
A lovely lilting lullaby
Of summer…just for me.

At Blue Rose Girls, I have a poem by Richard Brautigan entitled Gee, You're So Beautiful That It's Starting to Rain.

Cloudscome has the Poetry Friday Roundup at A Wrung Sponge this week.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Blue Rose Girls Question of the Week Contest Prize

We've decided to make the Question of the Week at the Blue Rose Girls blog a contest! Guess whose desk is whose correctly and you can win a free book by Grace Lin! You can enter the contest as many times as you like! Check out this post at Blue Rose Girls for more details.

Poem for a First Grade Teacher

I often write poems for special occasions. I’ve written several to read at the retirement parties of teachers and other staff members who worked at my school. I posted the following poem, Here Is Her Room, at Blue Rose Girls last May. The poem was written several years ago for one of our first grade teachers. I thought I’d post it again at Wild Rose Reader for Tricia’s Poetry Stretch-School’s Out, Summer’s In.

Here Is Her Room
by Elaine Magliaro

Here is her room—
dark and dusty,
bare of bright pictures,
plastic bins empty
of thick primary pencils
and silver-scaled scissors,
its cardboard alphabet
hidden in a dim cupboard.
The painted whales
have swum away for summer.

Here is her room—
hollow and lonely,
its door shut tight
on uncounted memories.
Turn the brass knob
and enter softly.
Listen to the echoes
of downy chicks
cheeping in a corner,
merry young Pilgrims
celebrating the first Thanksgiving,
children singing songs
and reciting well-loved poems,
the snip of busy scissors
cutting colored paper
for a winter collage.

Here is her room—
four walls holding a happy history,
a world of words and wonder
she opened to boys and girls
before she gave them

Monday, June 9, 2008

What's on My Desk???

The Blue Rose Girls have resurrected the “Question of the Week” at the Blue Rose Girls blog. This week’s question is What’s on Your Desk? Four of us BRG posted pictures of our desks on Sunday. Can you find which desk is mine?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems

Here is a children’s poetry book just right for summer reading:

Written by Kristine O’Connell George
Illustrated by Kate Kiesler
Clarion, 2001

I am sure that children who have camped out with their parents or gone away to summer camp will relate to the poems in this book. But a child doesn’t have to spend a summer vacation camping in order to appreciate Kristine O’Connell George’s book Toasting Marshmallows. In this collection, George uses the voice of a young girl to “tell” the book’s poems--poems that take readers into the outdoors and help them experience the wonder and peacefulness of nature through her eyes.

This collection of camping poems begins with the girl’s family setting up camp. Tent, a concrete poem written in the shape of tent, is where the books begins.

From Tent

Smooth dirt.
No rocks or roots.
Next, sharp stakes, poles,
Strong nylon rope. Shake, snap.

In addition to Tent, the girl tells about/the following things:

  • a sleeping bag in which she is “a caterpillar/in a cozy cloth cocoon”
  • an abandoned cabin with a “dirt floor carpeted in damp green moss”
  • a bait shop with “faded snapshots/of folks with the fish/they caught at this lake”
  • a cave that “breathes icy and ancient/measuring time with slow drips”
  • an old truck whose “chrome grille is a shy, wistful grin”

The book also includes poems about animals a camper might typically encounter while out in the wild: a doe, a chipmunk, a moose, an owl, as well as smaller creatures--an annoying mosquito and gray spiders “spinning silver/looping silky lines/through smoky wisps/of campfire, coffee steam/and early morning mist.”

Not all the poems are about animals and things…there are poems about the girl’s camping experiences and her communing with nature. She tells of sitting around the campfire, toasting marshmallows, spending time alone in a field, going fishing, rowing a boat out to an island with her mother, wading through a hillside of wild mustard, going for a walk in the forest, skipping rocks on a river, and sleeping outside under the stars.

From Sleeping Outside,

Small me,
still wide awake
under a wide starred sky,
almost--almost--feeling the earth

It is evident that the young girl has enjoyed her time spent camping with her family. In the final poem, Flannel, the girl speaks about her plaid camping shirt that still holds the scents and reminders of her wonderful vacation.

From Flannel

I keep it hidden
in my bottom drawer--
where no one will find it
and wash away
my memories.

The thirty poems in Toasting Marshmallows evoke the sights, sounds, and experiences of a summer camping trip well. The tone is quiet and respectful of nature--just like the young girl narrator.

Kate Kiesler’s oil paintings complement George’s text beautifully. The night scenes really transport one to the country where many more stars are visible in the dark sky. Text and art pair well to take readers on this “virtual’ camping trip.


Click here to read my review of two other books of summer poems: Douglas Florian’s Summersaults and Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s Lemonade Sun and Other Summer Poems.


At Blue Rose Girls, I have a poem by Marge Piercy entitled More Than Enough.

Sarah Reinhard has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Time to Write the Poems!

Back in mid-March, one of my favorite bloggers, Robin Brande, decided she needed to take time off from blogging to focus her attention on writing books. Well, like Robin, I recently decided that it was time for me to focus more of my energies on writing new poems for publication and on polishing the poetry manuscripts I have written to date. I’m not going to be teaching my children’s literature course any I will be able to do just that.

At present, I am working on two new poetry collections--one I began writing last fall and one I just started writing in April. Both of these collections require me to do a lot of research and reading. It’s fun--but time-consuming. I still plan to blog--but working on my poetry will be my top priority for some time.

There are two special ladies I want to thank for their support and advice...and for encouraging me to write and submit my work to publishers.

Thank you, Janet Wong! Thank you, Grace Lin!