Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Illinois Reads Essay Contest Winners: Two Young Girls Who Really Love Books

I heard the following award-winning essays read by their authors at the Illinois Reads 2017 launch in Bloomington, IL , on March 11, 2017. They made me want to start writing children's fiction! Enjoy!

For as long as I can remember, I've loved reading! I read almost every day and my parents have told me that when I was three years old, I announced that I wanted to write books. That has never changed.

When I was a baby and a toddler, my mom rocked me and read stories to me and a book that I will never forget is Honey, Honey, Lion by Jan Brett. One day I memorized it so well that I read it back to my parents. It is a book that will stay in my mind forever. When I was five, my dad read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis to me, which I understood pretty well, I loved those books because they were exciting with battles, good against evil! In the summer of 2016, when I was nine going on ten and my younger sister was seven going on eight, we read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling with our dad. I loved that book so much! I had been dying to read the Harry Potter books, and as soon as I read the first chapter, I knew I was in for a treat. At first, things were looking bad for Harry and his life with the Dursleys, but I was so excited for him when he got his letter asking him to come to Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! Now we are on the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

While we read that book with our dad, we read another book with our mom, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'engle, which we are almost done with. I also love that book. It is exciting and adventurous, following fifteen year-old Meg Murry whose world is turned upside down as soon as a stranger knocks on the door and says something very peculiar. Another book I enjoyed thoroughly is Upside Down Magic by Sarah Minyowski, Laren Myracle and Emily Jenkins, about fifth grader Nory Horace, whose magic is very wonky. Her strict father sends her to live with her Aunt Margo to go to Dunwiddle Magic School, which has a program for kids like her. She soon finds not only friends in the Upside Down Magic class, but excitement, love, and comfort. The book encourages kids to embrace who they are.

I think if anyone reads good books that are worthy to be read, they will become pretty smart. I feel like I've learned so much from reading so many books. My favorite author is J.K. Rowling and my two favorite books right now are Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and A Wrinkle in Time. This had led me to a love of writing. Sometimes I even write fan fiction about characters in books, movies and television shows, but I mostly write stories of my own. Reading is very important to me. I honestly don't know what I would do without books!
--Daisy, age 10

Reading is one of my favorite things to do! There are so many books you can read and I love to read because you start to feel like you've stepped into an adventure when it's a really good book. But when I was really little, I never started to read myself until I was about four or five years old.

I have always loved penguins my whole life, and I didn't see too many good books about them. But one day when I was out with my friend and my sister for my birthday party, my friend gave me this book called Mr. Popper's Penguins. I saw that it was twenty chapters and got a little nervous about how long it would take me to read it, but then I discovered that it was one of the best books I had ever read! Even when I had only read the first page, I fell in love with the book. The book is by Richard and Florence Atwater. Now I think they are two of my favorite authors. The reason I fell in love with the book was because just on the second chapter, they started to talk about penguins! When I read the first sentence, boom! I knew this was going to turn into one of my favorite books!

But Mr. Popper's Penguins isn't the only book I love. Another one of my favorite authors is Ellen Miles. She wrote another one of my favorite books, Teddy. Teddy is in The Puppy Place series. The Puppy Place series is about a girl and a boy that foster puppies until they can find the forever home for them. It's a very fun book series for me because I love dogs. They are my second favorite animal after penguins. In the series, the two kids want to get a puppy of their own so in almost every book, they are asking their mom for a puppy saying, "Please? We'll take super good care of it!"

So I just think these are really cute books and I hope there are so many more books out there I didn't read that are as good as these so I might read them. Good stories mean extra fun! Right? I just wish every story in the world was as good as Mr. Popper's Penguins and The Puppy Place series. But that's the fun thing, you get to try new books! They might not be very good, or they could be one of the best books ever! So I hope you liked my essay!
--Ivy, age eight.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Definition of Poetry by Boris Pasternak (trans. Eugene M. Kayden)

Definition of Poetry

It's a summons sternly swelling,
The cracking of shattered icicles,
The night that blasts young leaves,
The contest of two nightingales,

The stifled sweet pea on the vine,
The cry of a world at birth,
Figaro from flutes and the platform
In a crashing fall among rose beds.

It's all that night will reveal
In the steep depths of a pool--
To carry a star to the lake
Alone in its trembling wet arms.

Like dank wood, the stifling air,
When the sky is chocked by alders;
Gay stars could rock with laughter
At blockheads sunk flat in mud.

An English Lesson by Boris Pasternak (trans. Eugene M. Kayden)

An English Lesson

When Desdemona came a-singing,
And a little time to live had she--
Not love, her fatal star, she sobbed:
It was a willow, willow tree.

When Desdemona came a-singing,
With firmer voice and lifted head,
Her demon at her death prepared
A psalm of a weeping river bed.

And when Ophelia came a-singing,
And a little time to live had she--
Like storms that sweep a hayloft clean
Her soul was swept of misery.

And when Ophelia came a-singing,
Sick with bitter dreams and grief,
What trophies in her grave had she?
Sweet celandine and willow leaf.

Their passions fell away like rags,
And silent into the pool of night
And time they went, with aching hearts,
Their loving forms transfused in light.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eighteen Sixty-One by Walt Whitman

Arm'd year--year of the struggle.
No dainty rhymes or sentimental love verses for you terrible year.
Not you as some pale poetling seated at a desk lisping cadenzas piano,
But as a strong man erect, clothed in blue clothes, advancing, carrying a rifle on your shoulder.
With a well-gristled body and sunburnt face and hands, with a knife in in the belt at your side.
As I heard you shouting loud, your sonorous voice ringing across the continent,
Your masculine voice O year, as rising amid the great cities,
Amid the men of Manhattan I saw you as one of the workmen, the dwellers in Manhattan,
Or with large steps crossing the prairies out of Illinois and Indiana,
Rapidly crossing the West with springy gait and descending the Alleghanies,
Or down from the great lakes or in Pennsylvania, or on deck along the Ohio river,
Or southward along the Tennessee or Cumberland rivers, or at Chattanooga on the mountain top,
Saw I your gait and saw I your sinewy limbs clothed in blue, bearing weapons, robust year,
Heard your determin'd voice launch'd forth again and again,
Year that suddenly sang by the mouths of the round-lipp'd cannon,
I repeat you, hurrying, crashing, sad, distracted year.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Ephemera: The Brontes, Hemingway, and Joe Reader

One day while visiting my local used bookshop, I found a letter inside one of the books dated from the 1960s, I felt like I had found some sort of hidden treasure. Steve, the bookshop owner, was less enthusiastic, saying that these items dropped through his hands all the time on their way to the trash. So he had no problem parting with it. I went home, eager to explore this lost heirloom, something that was certain to shed light on a secret world long gone.

It turned out to be rather tepid: the mother of a college student relating all the social happenings in their obviously affluent world. And though it didn't come close to the interest level of the postcard collection I own from one turn-of-the-other-century woman in downstate Illinois, I still liked it; the address indentation is also something from a bygone era. And the daughter certainly didn't seem to treasure it enough to recall where she'd put it. That in itself is a story. 

Which brings me to the subject of today's post: literary ephemera. Apparently I'm not the only one who finds this sort of thing fascinating: there's an entire book with pictures of similar items called Forgotten Bookmarks. The author is himself a used bookstore owner who has kept a record of these lost bookmarks. What makes Forgotten Bookmarks so interesting is that he not only shows the letters, photos, and other fascinating/dull ephemera found in the middle of books but he also shows the books in which these items were found. Some of them make fascinating connections.

What about the ephemera of famous authors? When I first realized that there was a book on the Bronte's regarding some of their personal items, I somehow imagined a coffee table book. Never mind that the title contains the number nine, as in The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Items (duh!). But once I got over my ignorance-based disappointment, I came to see that The Bronte Cabinet is a brilliant idea for a book. Considering that these beloved authors left behind so little of their actual selves, it's fascinating to view their lives from the prism of some of their belongings, such as their handmade journals, their portable writing desks, etc. The author not only looks at these key items in themselves but as they appear throughout all of the Bronte novels.

And finally, the glossiest, most impressive-looking book in the group belongs to Ernest Hemingway, or at least a group of authors who decided to publish a book on the holdings of the Ernest Hemingway archives in Oak Park, IL, Hemingway's birthplace and boyhood suburb. 

I must admit that I am not a fan of either the man or his writing, even though my husband and I sing at the Birthplace Home each Boxing Day and I've volunteered in the archives. I just can't understand what the fuss is all about and far prefer the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway's tortured compatriot. But the archive holdings certainly tell a story and if The Bronte Cabinet tells a detailed story of three authors from the point of view of a few pieces of ephemera, Hidden Hemingway tells the story of the ephemera. It doesn't necessarily shed any additional light on its subject but fans of the writer will certainly find much to enjoy within its glossy pages. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Alcohol-enjoying librarians are honored in a Barbara Pym quote

"'I think I should prefer a glass of lemon squash,' said Miss Lydgate.

This was a relief, if only a slight one, Digby felt, as he assured Miss Clovis that he and Mark never drank in the middle of the day.

'I feel one shouldn't go into learned societies or libraries smelling of drink,' said Mark, at his most prim. 'It might create the wrong impression.'

'Oh, I hadn't thought of that,' said Miss Clovis, sipping her dark foamy drink. 'I don't suppose anyone would notice. Of course, it's all right for librarians to smell of drink,' she added jovially.

'Of course,' said Digby enthusiastically."

From chapter eight of Barbara Pym's Less Than Angels