Tag Archives: Books

Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing


When my daughter was in 3rd grade, she had the most marvelous poetry teacher, who visited the school through a terrific program called California Poets in the Schools, which has been bringing professional poets into K-8 classrooms for 46  years.  The poet, Karen Benke, was extremely special. She had a way of coaxing whimsical language and deep, unconscious connections from children, sometimes with the aid of “word” tickets that would appear from a velvet pouch she carried. When in doubt, the muse could usually be summoned with the help of a word ticket.


Now Karen has published a book, Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing, to help poets young and old summon their muses, with a full range of completely fun poetry exercises and triggers that will work when you’re stuck, or just want to stretch out and have fun. She and a host of well-known poets contribute notes and ideas in a very warm, encouraging and easy-to-read format.

Closer to games than assignments, a lot of the exercises offer ways to slow down and ask oneself questions like, What does that color feel like? What was my favorite age? What’s it really like to be a stone? There are ways to loosen up, such as making lists, creating recipes, using gross-out words, and trying not to make sense. There are encouragements to go deep and write about what hurts, or what you’re grateful for, or something you’ve never told anyone before.

Different forms are played with, such as odes and haiku. Karen shows that words can be visual — They can be piled on top of one another. They can form the shape of an object. They can reach to infinity. Exercises let poets write just for sound, and explore repetition of language. There are illustrations of concepts like similes, spoonerisms, alliteration, juxtaposition, point of view, going beyond cliches, calling on all the senses, and all kinds of tools that poets can use to make their writing more alive and the act of writing more fun.

Rip the Page is definitely fun. It’s about stretching and expressing ones uniqueness with games, prompts and tons of ideas that would encourage even the most reticent writer. Karen’s joy and enthusiasm for writing, children and life are completely contagious. The book unfolds like a series of magic tickets. You could open it anywhere and summon the imagination and courage to do something out of the ordinary like catching a whisper or letting the moon speak.

Karen will be leading a Rip the Page: Poetry Workshop for Kids Saturday, Sept. 25 at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA.

She also recently hosted a poetry, music and performance event as a collection drive for Operation Backpack!, a charity she created to send backpacks to children in Colima, Mexico, a mining town in the mountains south of Puerto Vallarta, where her aunt, Barbara Rounds, volunteers and where children cannot afford backpacks for school. Look for a future post about the Operation Backpack! event, which was, like Karen and Rip the Page, warm, inspiring and fun.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News: The Slow Reading Movement

A University of New Hampshire English professor, a Canadian technology expert, and an Executive Editor at the Harvard University Press are all making the case for slowing down the act of reading, something people are doing more frequently in skims, quick gulps and hyper-linked transgressions.

The professor, Thomas Newkirk, encourages elementary through college students to utilize such techniques as memorizing and reading out loud to allow them to slow down and “taste” the words. John Miedema, a technology specialist at IBM in Ottawa, Ontario, whose book Slow Reading explores the movement, notes that slow reading can foster a closer connection between readers and their information.

Lindsay Waters, Executive Humanities Editor at Harvard University Press has called for no less than a “revolution in reading.” She wrote:

Instead of rushing by works so fast that we don’t even muss up our hair, we should tarry, attend to the sensuousness of reading, allow ourselves to enter the experience of words.

This all sounds right to me. Reading for pleasure involves true and deep immersion in the world of a book, and, for many of us, that requires slowing down. We may need to retrain ourselves and our children to go slowly, savor, and get lost in the written word once in a while.

Read more (slowly) about Slow Reading in this overview. ADDED: Slow Reading, in Depth, with quotes from Tracy Seeley, who blogs about the Slow Movement.

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Books for Adults

The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir, by Katrina Kenison, is a refreshingly honest book in which Kenison re-counts finding herself, at roughly middle age, as her children grow older and gain independence, and the author’s family transitions from an urban to a more rural, and slower, lifestyle. The book’s intimate (but not overly revealing) anecdotes and observations unfold in a way that creates the feeling that one is reading letters from a good friend.

Liza Dalby’s East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir Through the Seasons is an extremely special book that I find myself dipping into throughout the year. Dalby, who has spent a great deal of time in Japan and is the author of Geisha and other books, as well as a passionate gardener, weaves together observations about various topics — gardening and the natural world, poetry, eastern and western cultures, gender identity, life with small children — and she does so by structuring the book according to the 72 seasonal units of the ancient Chinese almanac. Each piece is beautiful in itself and delightful to read, as well as often quite insightful, funny or deep. Perhaps, as with the Kenison book, the best memoirs (and this is one, although it’s so quirky and brightly observed that “memoir” doesn’t quite do it justice) make you yearn to be the author’s friend or over-the-fence neighbor, or at least sit down for some tea.

Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm, by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann, stands out among this year’s crop of farm-to-table cookbooks. This is a stunningly photographed book that focuses on eating locally and in tune with the seasons. The recipes feel as fresh as the food pictured. Crump is a Canadian Slow Food pioneer and chef, and Schormann is a pastry chef, and the resulting book is enriched with their experiences in restaurants and in organic farming.

Every project in Betz White and John Gruen’s Sewing Green: 25 Projects Made With Repurposed and Organic Materials is adorable, colorful, and fun, and contains simple step-by-step instructions that a novice fabric crafter can follow. Best is the inspiration that comes from seeing all these ideas for repurposing and recreating with materials you may already have on hand or could easily locate. The book also contains a very thorough resource list. It’s a guaranteed winner for someone who’s interested in fabric crafting, especially one on the hunt for easy, do-able ideas.

You could do no wrong with any title by Rachel Carson, the pioneering environmental writer whose work managed to infuse the modern environmental movement, as well as educate and inspire wonder about all aspects of the natural world.  Her 1951 classic, The Sea Around Us, is a fine place to introduce a reader to Carson, or to simply experience her lustrous prose as she describes the awe-inspiring, continually mysterious world of the oceans, their history, their habitat, and the special place where water and land meet. The new edition contains added material by marine biologists about the deterioration of the oceans and their life, as well as some prescriptive ideas for its greater care.

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Books for Children

While, for many, Winter’s major celebrations have come and gone, others are still celebrating — in ways lavish or cozy – whether by giving and receiving gifts on the 12 days that have just begun, or by simply relaxing together with a little time off from work and school.

Either way, there is hardly a better time to enjoy a book, the most beloved of which provide beauty and provoke thought in a measure that far surpasses their price. I’ve uncovered a few wonderful books for children that share a message of stewardship and of slowing down. In my next blog post, I’ll do the same for adults.

All in a Day, by Cynthia Rylant and Nikki McClure, is a very sweet and beautiful book that illustrates some of the simple things that can be done in a day – planting a seed, gazing at the sky. With pleasing rhymes and gentle and lovely two-color cut out illustrations, the message becomes clear, though never heavy-handed: A day is a gift, full of possibility, companionship and simple beauty. This is a book to be read again and again.

The message is somewhat similar in One Morning in Maine, by Robert McCloskey, an older sweet favorite that follows a girl, her father, and her little sister for a day of boating and clamming on Maine’s shore, only to lose a tooth and have the day go a little differently, but no less adventurously, than planned. It’s a lovely, gentle book (as are McCloskey’s other titles) that’s full of wonder, both of the natural world and in the relationships that pepper a family’s life.

The setting in Jason Chin’s new book, Redwoods, is the U.S.’s west coast, where a boy emerges from a city subway into an ancient, and awe-inspiring redwood forest. Chin offers an adventure story and a lot off information, along with great watercolor illustrations that capture the misty beauty and intensity of these giant trees.

A lot of older children are appropriately concerned about the environment and wondering how they can contribute toward making things better. Heroes of the Environment: True Stories of People Who Help Protect Our Planet,
by Harriet Rohmer, offers a dozen inspiring tales about real people, of all ages, who decided to truly make a difference in their world. They include a teenage girl who acted to remove an industrial pollutant from the Ohio River and a teenage boy who helped his state recycle electronic waste and keep it out of the landfill. Photos and illustrations help carry the stories, which let readers know that they can each have an impact.

Two very lovely and colorful tried-and-true books help children understand the cycle of nature in the garden: Lois Ehlert’s Planting a Rainbow and Ruth Heller’s The Reason for a Flower. Both are brightly illustrated, and simply and wonderfully show nature’s variety and the way each aspect of the ecosystem helps one another.

Aunt Ippy’s Museum of Junk, by Rodney Alan Greenblat, features the highly original Aunt Ippy, an early recycler and highly creative individual who never met an object she couldn’t make something useful and fun from. This is a delightful book, brimming with wonder, resourcefulness and an offbeat style of cheer that speaks to the free spirit in a lot of kids.

Marilyn Singer’s On The Same Day in March: A Tour of the World’s Weather takes readers on a round-the-world tour at a time of year when dramatic and contrasting weather events are occurring. Bold illustrations and simple prose help explain how and why different types of weather occur on the same day, and also help make the planet feel a little more familiar and connected.

Happy exploring through books!

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Huffington Post’s First Book Club Pick: In Praise of Slowness

Ariana Huffington, publisher of the impressive Huffington Post online news source, has announced the first book for her new book club: Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.

slowcover

I initially wrote about this very important book when I was creating my blog. Written in 2004, it has taken an even speedier world and a new level of introspection — perhaps spurred by the soured economy, the dwindling of natural resources — for some of us to catch on to Honore’s terrific disease-and-prescription work. I wrote about my own experiences reading the book and beginning to seek a balanced family and community life, and about the rise of the entire Slow Movement, from Slow Food to Slow Cities. My growing resource page reflects the many people and groups attempting to slow life down to a moderate and meaningful speed.

Triangletree

I recommend taking a look at Carl Honore’s own writing about In Praise of Slowness. You also won’t want to miss this terrific newer piece from Honore about the Slow Movement today and his response to having his book chosen for the HuffPo Book Club.

Ariana Huffington nails why In Praise of Slowness is so vital. She writes:

One of the things I especially love about In Praise of Slowness is Honore’s tone throughout. Far from a lifestyle guru who’s preaching his enlightenment from on high, Honore himself is a pilgrim, trying to learn how to slow down and enjoy the journey.

She also notes that Honore is no extremist Luddite. He, in fact, seeks a middle ground, writing:

I love speed. Going fast can be fun, liberating and productive. The problem is that our hunger for speed, for cramming more and more into less and less time, has gone too far.

fall-leaf

Huffington writes movingly about her own conversion to relative slowness and mindfulness. She also gets macro, and I love the parallels she draws between the cults of capitalism and of speed — what is lost in the process when greed overtakes peoples desires to behave humanely, and what can be gained in our economy, as well as our culture, from a general slowing. To that point Honore wrote (in 2004!):

Modern capitalism generates extraordinary wealth, but at the cost of devouring natural resources faster than Mother Nature can replace them. Capitalism is getting too fast even for its own good, as the pressure to finish first leaves too little time for quality control.

Honore calls this phenomenon “turbo capitalism,” in which people exist “to serve the economy, rather than the other way around.”

I think the choice of book for the HuffPo Book Club will bring these thoughts into greater prominence. I hope a lot of you will participate in the ongoing Slow dialog — here and elsewhere — and that some of the book’s ideas will enrich your own fulfilling lives.

Johanna Maaghul’s The Prodigal Family

Prodigal Family

My friend, Johanna Maaghul, just completed a book, The Prodigal Family: A Spiritual Roadmap for Family Reconciliation.

It’s a guide to transforming one’s relationships with family members and with oneself, in order to reach a place of greater forgiveness and ultimate healing. It’s about creating a new way to think about and thrive with those we love.

Here is what Johanna has to say about The Prodigal Family:

“Many of us can identify with the prodigal son’s story, following a desire to leave the life in which we were raised to seek out a reality that more closely aligns with our authenticity. We may even have been fortunate enough to find a moment of real awakening and a return to ourselves on this journey.

Ironically, however, it is once reunited with our true essence that we are often met with an unrelenting desire to return home. Suddenly we realize that our authenticity includes the family we grew up in. They were not just a reflection of our false life – they were part of who we really are all along. Yet it is this return home that is often the most difficult as we revisit relationships with family members who are far away, emotionally unavailable or even no longer with us. As we contemplate the challenges of such a return, we may want to consider the following:

What we leave on the table with our family relationships may well prove to be some of the most powerful and spiritually healing material available to us during our earthly journey – our grist for the soul mill. As with the prodigal son, the role our family has played in our life is an important one and what our family brings out in us offers us great opportunities for further personal growth. They are at the heart of our learning, essential to the ‘soulular’ transformations that we came here to embody. As we trace and even rebuild these connections, we may come to see and appreciate these individuals as members of our own spiritual Olympic team on our journey here on Earth.”

Johanna recently discussed the book on KSVY radio in Sonoma, CA, where she lives with her husband and children, ages 10, 12 and 14. “We have to find forgiveness within each other and try to heal,” Johanna said.

She added that after undergoing treatment for breast cancer two years ago, she truly realized the power of love in ones life and the role it plays in healing. In order to heal, Johanna said, “You have to have access to people who love you and find that love in yourself.” She added, “Going through the cancer and coming out on the other side has shown me that there is an element to healing beyond the medical world.”

She also talked about the example that her journey has set for her children. “The Greatest gift to children is your ability to have humility, to set an example for them so that they can go out into the world realizing that they don’t have to be perfect.” In other words, that forgiveness, to self and others, comes from within.

Johanna will be at Reader’s Books, 130 E. Napa St. in Sonoma Thursday, September 24, 7:30 pm.

You can order The Prodigal Family here or on Amazon.

johanna

Thank a Teacher with a Book or Other Gift

The end of the school year is again upon us. In the flurry of activities for the students, it’s always good to take a moment and thank the teachers who give so very much of their wisdom and their time throughout the year.

teacherbooks

The middle school my daughter attends has a wonderful tradition I wanted to pass on. At the annual school Book Fair in Spring, teachers are invited to take a look around before its opening and create wish lists of books. Each teacher/book combination is written on a library due date card and filed in a pocket, which is mounted with the others on a board.

Parents can attend the fair and shop for their teachers, in what is the ultimate win-win situation: Teachers receive some books they want, just in time for Summer; parents know they are choosing a wanted gift; and, in our case, some proceeds from the book fair go to the school. (The card is a nice touch, as it serves to remind the giver which book is intended for each teacher.) These needn’t be high-end gifts. Most teachers requested books under $10 in their mixes.

Anna’s elementary school also provided a gift wrapping service, which was also a fundraiser for a specific class. The children in that class had hand-stamped and decorated the wrapping paper, as well.

Most people don’t have a lot of money to spend on teacher gifts, especially as children get older and have multiple teachers. We’ve given teachers homemade soap and jam, thinking that those are both things we’re able to make at home that someone would really use and appreciate. For certain teachers, homemade, personal art pieces or cards are very meaningful. If you don’t want to give a teacher another “thing”, gift cards are always welcome.

And if you really want to think outside the box, you might consider making a donation to a charity in a teacher’s name. Justgive.org is a fantastic organization that lets you do just that. Minimum donations are $10. There is a wide variety of organizations at the site, which is very easy to navigate and explore. Many are relevant to education, and some would apply to a teacher’s passion, as well. Let your child help pick the gift to learn more about helping others, and the kinds of groups that are available to do so.

Happy Summer to all, especially our hard-working teachers.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman