"You put down one color, and it calls for an answer. You have to look at it like a melody." - Romare Bearden
My Hands Sing the Blues is the story of the artist Romare Bearden, told in his voice, as he thinks on his time in North Carolina and his move to Harlem, New York. The story is a gorgeous poem starting with Bearden snipping "a patch of color" to make a collage from a picture when a train comes into memory. He follows that train, incorporating it into his artwork and telling us the story of his trip North.
Bearden and his parents leave for New York City in 1914, because of the discriminating Jim Crow laws. And while they are moving North to make a better life for themselves, the sadness of leaving his great-grandparents is palpable.
There are many things I love about this story. The first is Ms Harvey's writing. I wrote about her book, Astro the Steller Sea Lion on this blog and what struck me while reading My Hands Sing the Blues is how varied her story telling is. She writes a musical poem - filled with rhythm and capturing the great sounds of a train - for Bearden's story, all the while telling a great story in his voice. In Astro the Steller Sea Lion she incorporates facts about a sea lion into a touching narrative. In both books she captures these two different beings' stories using different forms of writing.
I also love the illustrations. This is Elizabeth Zunon's first illustrated picture book and the pictures are stunning. As a mother of young children, I spend lots of time looking at picture books. I am always impressed at the way the illustrators bring out the words, enhancing emotions or highlighting a character or a scene. Ms Zunon does this beautifully on every page. You will taste the tomato slices Bearden shares with his great-grandma as they sit on her porch swing in North Carolina. You will feel as though you're on the train headed to Harlem. And you might just try your hand at a collage.
Which brings me to the third thing I love about this book. It is a chance for us to not only read a touching story, but to try and work through a memory of our own using art. When Hadley and I read this story together, we talked about collages and what they are and then I asked her if she'd like to make one of her own. We went through some summer pictures and she picked out this one (which happens to be my favorite):
We put it on a larger piece of paper and talked about what kinds of things she could add to the paper. She began talking about what she remembered about this day: it was a birthday party, it was sunny, there was cake and presents, she named people who were there, etc. I wrote down some words in block letters and cut them out, and Hadley glued them onto the page where she thought they'd look nice.
I also told her that with a collage, you could rip paper to make images instead of drawing something and cutting it out. She thought that was pretty cool. I think getting things "just so" can get overwhelming for her....I wonder where she gets that from. Anyway, she loved ripping paper to make a sun and clouds.
What I hoped I was able to do here was give Hadley a chance to own this memory. That's why I kept my mouth shut and didn't say what I remembered about this day: there was a pinata, a Little Mermaid cake, that Harper and Hadley looked so cute swinging on the swings eating lollipops in their bathing suits, that there was a major brawl when we had to go home. It's not that I don't want Hadley to remember what I remember, but I wanted to give her a chance to process through this event by herself.
I love this from the book:
"Like a flower, I have roots in my Carolina past,
roots sunk deep in my childhood long past.
The people and the places are in my art to last."
How easy it would've been to read "heart" in place of "art." But I love that Walker chose to write "art." To me, she (and Bearden) are saying that the events in our childhood - in our lives - can be molded into art whether it's collage, paint, photography, writing, dance, perhaps even baking. We can take these events and shape them into something so that everyone can see the melody.
When people read My Hands Sing the Blues, I hope they will be inspired to "put down one color" and wait "for an answer." I know Hadley and I were.
I did a guest post over here and I thought I'd share it on the ol' Sit a While blog.
Recently, my family of four took a trip from Washington DC, where we live, to Chicago, where I grew up.This is not a fun trip.Oh, it’s fun once we’re there, but getting there is a marathon with a 2 and 4 year old.There’s DVDs to put in and then fast forward, there’s straws to be put in juice boxes while driving 70 mph, there’s all the turning around and reaching for some toy that dropped and the girls insist they need instantly.
Since we make the trip a lot, I have some tricks up my sleeve that I find useful.My daughters, Hadley and Harper, each have kid sized backpacks with their names on them.I fill them with coloring books and crayons.They also both have small Dora the Explorer lunch box type purses that fit perfectly in their backpacks.I fill these with small toys – Polly Pockets, miniature dinosaurs, stickers, etc.These keep them entertained for at least the amount of time it takes for my Starbucks to cool down to drinkable status.
The other thing I do is raid the dollar aisle at Target.You can find great things to fill travel bags for the kids here.I usually buy several items then surprise the girls with them while we’re in the car, thus giving me adequate time to drink half of my Starbucks coffee.
This last trip, however, I wanted to do something more.Something creative.Something educational.Something awesome.Something that would allow me to drink all my coffee while it was still drinkable.So here’s what I did: I made a map for my oldest daughter, Hadley, to follow.
I printed out our travel route from Google map, cut it into large chunks and glued it to file folders.After highlighting state lines, and different cities we’d travel through, I put several stickers in an envelope, then bound it all together with a ring.This way the stickers would be handy-dandy for Hadley to retrieve when we drove through one of the locations.
Hadley loved it.It was a fantastic tool for a little person who loves checking off things with stickers.It also helped Hadley look closely at the signs to see whether the letters matched what was on her map.
There was one thing I neglected to think about while planning this bodacious activity.That is, Hadley gets carsick.Specifically, Hadley gets carsick somethin’ awful on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.It is best for everyone if she does nothing except sleep or look out the window during this part of the trip.Looking closely at a map and then trying to match that to words on green signs while slaloming in the middle of mountains?Not a great idea.
Needless to say, we were pulled over on the side of the road before you could say, “Change of clothes.”And that is why the rest of the map was filled out in this outfit while we were at a rest stop in Indiana.
The thing is, moms, I don’t really know what I’m doing.But I do know this – I love my girls.I love pointing out the Chicago skyline to them as soon as I can see it.I love watching them play in the neighborhood parks that I used to play in when I was a kid.I love listening to them talk and play with their grandparents.And while I don’t look forward to dealing with a bored, tired, throwing up kid, I’ll deal with it.With or without a map.
It's happened. Hadley's become obsessed with princesses. I'm not completely surprised that she's stepped into this world. I haven't tried to hide the princesses from her. I myself am a bit of a sucker for those dresses. I may or may not have had a life dream of wanting to be Scarlet O'Hara (I know she wasn't a princess but you get the idea).
So Hadley and I are doing a little Cinderella study. We went to the library and checked out as many
versions of the Cinderella story that I could find. The thing I like about reading with my kids is that it gives me a chance to study what it is that interests them. I get an understanding of why Hadley loves princesses so much, or why Harper is fascinated by dinosaurs. And, well, Diego. But that's another post.
Here's what we did: I created a little worksheet for Hadley that had questions like, "What do you remember about this story?" Or, "What did you like about this Cinderella story?" "If you could change one thing what would it be?" I wrote down the responses as Hadley talked. I also had Hadley draw a picture of something she remembered from the story, as well as practice writing the title down.
We looked at the story Cinder Edna first and I noticed Hadley had a hard time copying the letters down (they were in script). When we lookedat another Cinderella story, Hadley breezed through copying the letters down and said, "Whew! I'm real glad these these letters aren't pretty." It took me a second to figure out what she meant, but I figured out it was easier for her to copy block lettering. This seems significant in our study of Cinderella in that not everything that is beautiful is actually appreciated or functional. Just a thought.
This is my favorite picture of Hadley's from our study:
A castle, a carriage, and a "path to get to the castle."
When we were discussing the different stories, I liked that Hadley said things like, "I remember that Cinderedna learned to play the accordion," in Cinderedna. Or, "I didn't like the prince's hair" in the Cinderella that happened to be the Caldecott winner. I'm glad I kept my mouth shut because it was fun to remember why I liked this story so much as well. The gowns, the fairy godmother, the balls, the pumpkin turning into a carriage. I think the idea that anything is possible is what's so appealing in this story.
So that's why I don't react much to the stepsisters' cruelty, or the fact that Cinderella's father doesn't do much to help his daughter out. If Hadley wants to discuss these points, that's fine, but I like exploring this story through her eyes. There's time for these sorts of discussions later.
For right now, we'll focus on tiaras and glass slippers, and all things sparkly.
Last week Hadley made up a story using a twist tie as a main character. You know, those twisty things you use to tie garbage bags or bags of chips with? She twirled it around her finger and apparently this inspired her to come up with a story about a spring who saved a squirrel.
I thought the story was pretty clever so I wrote it down as she said it. She used words like "bobbed" and "rustling" and I couldn't help but be proud.
I wanted to make this story into a book, but the last time I tried this it didn't go too well. I think Hadley got overwhelmed with all the writing and lost interest. So instead of having her rewrite her own words, I typed up the sentences twice, taped one copy on a baggy, then cut up parts of the second copy for Hadley to put together.
She put her words in order, then glued them onto pages I made for her.
Then she illustrated her story.
Here's the story: The Spring Who Save the Baby Squirrel that was Stuck in the Mug of Hot Coffee
One day I heard an annoying rustling sound. It was a squirrel that was stuck in a mug of hot coffee.
So I bobbed along the path to save the baby squirrel.
The baby squirrel was by a cat-o. A cat-o is the Spanish word for cap.*
After I saved the squirrel I bobbed along the path to tell my mommy and daddy all about my adventure.
(*Hadley's likes to make up a words and say "That's Spanish for.....")
I took an idea from the Smart Summer Challenge calendar, which was to make a "me" collage or diorama. Recently, Hadley has requested the story I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont, a delightful story about a little girl shouting about the glorious creation that is HER. She says confidently that no matter WHAT she looks like she will ALWAYS like herself. I love this story and am sensitive to make sure this idea is drilled into my girls' heads as they grow older.
I thought that this book would be a good introduction to a "me" collage, so Hadley and I read it first and then got out the scissors, magazines, and glue.
What I hoped to do with this project, was to get Hadley to start thinking about the kinds of things she is interested in. I asked her what she thought I would put on my collage if I were making one for myself.
"Uhhhh, I don't know."
"Well, what are some things that I like?"
"Uhhhh, I'm not sure."
"What's the first thing I have to have in the morning?"
"Oooo! Oooo! WATER!"
I was going for coffee, and we got there eventually. I told her that if I were to find a picture of a coffee mug, I'd cut it out and glue it on my collage. So Hadley looked for a lot of pink things because that's her favorite color. She also cut out animals and flowers. It was fun for me to see what kinds of things she would pick, and I'm glad I have a little "print" of what she was interested in during June of 2011.
While she was cutting out pictures, I asked her what were some things she liked about herself. Here are some things that she said:
"I like about myself that I like pink."
"I like that I like chocolate milk."
"I am good at running." (her Uncle Geoff would be proud.)
"I like that I can write my name. And do color by numbers."
And my favorite, "I liked it when we started this project."
We also took some time to "map" ourselves using chalk outside. I traced the girls' bodies with chalk, and they filled in what they were wearing using chalk.
Harper (I did the skirt):
Harper wanted to do Bear, too:
What would we do without Bear? He's been a dear friend to both the girls. I think it's appropriate to add him to our collages and "me maps" since he does represent a HUGE part of these girls' lives. I'm happy to have him.
We went to the White House Egg Roll in April and came home with some lettuce and carrot seeds that the girls have wanted to plant. Here's the thing: I know NOTHING about gardening. My last experience with growing something, well, besides two babies of course, was a sunflower in my backyard. It grew so high I needed to get on a ladder to reach the top of it. But I'm pretty sure I had nothing to do with it growing. I think my parents were behind that project.
I'm just not what you'd call an outside kind of gal. It's a major flaw, I know, and I try to work on it. Take this post for example. I garden suited up and we planted us some carrot seeds. (We were going to plant lettuce seeds too, but Harper insisted on carrying the pot we were going to plant them in and promptly dropped it on the sidewalk before we got any soil in it.)
First, we had to go to Home Depot to find pots and soil.
Who knew there were so many kinds of soil? And who knew they were in an "outside/inside" area of the store? With birds and bees? Not Callie. Don't worry, I chose the 25lb bag of soil for a pot this size:
I absolutely know what I'm doing. Nobody had to go back to get a smaller bag of soil, and nobody had to go back for gardening gloves and a small shovel to put the soil in the pot.
"What are we supposed to do with all this dirt, Mom?"
Anyway, we figured it out with the help of my husband. His grandpa was a farmer so I think it's in his blood.
After we saved the day, I do what I do (better) and found some books to go along with our carrot seed- watching.
We took a look at Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, and I'm afraid Hadley has huge expectations now for how big our carrots are actually going to be.
We also read Carrot Soup by John Segal, a cute story about a rabbit who plants carrot seeds in the spring for his favoite dish, carrot soup. Throughout the book, all his friends take the carrots behind Rabbit's back and surprise him at the end with a carrot soup par-tay. Hadley and Harper love this book because at the end all the animals yell, "SURPRISE!"
I had Hadley make a chart so she could track the carrots' progress, also helping her to answer her own question, "Are the carrots here yet?"
The other thing we did while we waited was try to make carrot soup. In the back of John Segal's story, there is a recipe for it and Hadley and I thought it'd be fun to try it out.
Hadley and I also made cheddar/parsley bread to go with it. That's not in the book, but nobody in this family can just have soup for dinner. And by nobody I mean Callie.
Hadley didn't want to crumble the butter into the flour, so she took a picture of me doing it instead.
It all turned out pretty yummy. Plus, it's fun watching the carrots grow. I admit that I'm the first one out in the morning checking on their progress. That seems significant since I'm usually standing behind the porch screen looking for wasps.
When I grow up I want to be a writer. I practice a lot on my two blogs, Notes from Naptime and Sit A While. Sometimes what I write gets into magazines. My work has been in Christian School Teacher, Christian Home and School, the online magazine Mommy Times, and The Banner.
Sit a while. What do you hear? A bird? A bus? A baby's cry? The shouting of a boy? For joy?
Leaves rustling? Trains rattling? Skateboards rolling? A boombox blaring? A mother calling? The droning of a car? Or ten- traveling far, then home again, like your thoughts as you sit with nothing much to do but contemplating it?