Friday, November 28, 2008

Poetry Friday -- R.G. Vliet

Who that life was

is clear: the wrist that moved

near the table, the white dress

in the shadow, sidestepping the square

sunlight on the floor lest it burn

the hem of it. Apples are pared

and notes sent and the black

stud is kept in the stable.

Fires light her pillow.

Morningtimes the garden smokes.

September. September. September.

Doors are kept ajar,

but only so. The circus is outside

the windows. The bread rises,

jelly is put in jars,

the hand is on the newel.

Shoes glide up the stairs,

and the small attic burns.”

Emily Dickinson

-- R.G. Vliet

And one more from Vliet:

“We all live

in the same garden, the iris stalks

that squeaked when we pulled them,

the weighted brambles, over hands stained

by raspberries. Sunlight rustles the grass

and the angel waits with his hands in his lap.

--from Passages

This week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is at Lisa's Blog.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Woman of . . . Wednesday

I've been thinking about Ruth a lot lately, because I've been working on her profile. It will appear in The Write Sisters' upcoming title Women of the Golden State: 25 California Women You Should Know. Last week I wrote about Ruth Law's historic, record-breaking flight.

After Ruth broke the record for flying farther than any American man or woman (and second in the world only to a British pilot), she became quite the celebrity. She was asked to fly over the Statue of Liberty as it was lighted for the first time. This was December 2, 1916.

As thousands watched, Ruth did a loop to loop over the statue as the flood lights came on. Her little plane sported magnesium flares on its wingtips. A heavy load of electric lights, strung under her airplane, spelled out LIBERTY. Thousands of people cheered her from the shore as she zoomed through a shower of sparks. They continued their cheering as a line of dignitaries made their way to the Waldorf-Astoria where Ruth sat at the dais with the honored guests -- including president and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.

Despite her skills as a pilot, Ruth was not allowed to fly during World War I. She'd been flying air missions for Liberty Bonds and The Red Cross Ambulance Service -- dropping paper 'bombs' urging people to buy bonds or donate to the service.

Ruth wanted to serve. She even wrote a provocative article for the Chicago Herald -- "Go Get the Kaiser." The piece told what she would do if she ha a chance to bomb Germany.

In December of 1917, a democratic congressman from New York introduced a bill to congress. It asked that women be allowed to serve in the military. He felt women, especially pilots -- especially Ruth Law -- could serve the US in meaningful ways.

Ruth was eager to serve. She lobbied congressmen wearing the Non Commissioned officer's uniform she wore during her work for bonds and the ambulance service. She even flew upside down over the White House, landing on Pennsylvania Avenue. Ruth felt that women were probably not ready to fly in combat, but could provide "plain, unspectacular flying."

Ruth had demonstrated her awesome flying skills -- she had set two altitude records for women, and could loop, spiral, and dive with her little plane. Despite this, she would not change the congressmen's minds. Women would not fly in the military until World War II (see Nancy Harkness's bio in Women of the Bay State.)

After the war, flying lost its charm for most Americans. Many considered airplanes merely weapons of war. The fliers who would always be fliers kept the public interest by flying exhibitions that included more and more dangerous stunt flying. By 1921, Ruth had her own show -- Ruth Law's Flying Circus. Ruth and her two male pilots kept the crowds pleased by stunting on a rope ladder that hung from the plane -- dropping into a race car. They did some wing-walking, too. Ruth was famous for standing on the top of her plane as it did the loop to loop. The harness kept her upright for the first three loops, but after that, the pressure of the stunt laid her flat.

Eventually, Ruth's husband -- who'd been her biggest supporter and also her manager -- couldn't take it any more. He released the news to the media. Ruth Law was retiring from flying. Ruth read it in the newspaper. She obliged her patient husband. The two moved to Caifornia where Ruth lived until her death in 1970.

The Rape of Europa

This week, PBS airs The Rape of Europa, a very powerful documentary on Adolph Hitler's systematic plundering of the world's art. The story is absolutely epic in proportion.

Most people find Hitler incongruous. He loved animals, and abhorred the killing of them. He became a vegetarian for that very reason. He loved art, and fancied himself an artist. He possessed only a mediocre talent, however, and failed to get into Vienna art school. As he later wrote in Mein Kampf:

"That gentleman [the rector] assured me that the drawings I had submitted incontrovertibly showed my unfitness for painting."

It was how he responded to that rejection that showed a glimpse of a man who would become the most evil dictator of all time -- a man who went from creator to destroyer in a short lifetime. His friend August Kubizek, wrote that when Hitler received the news of his art school rejection "his face was livid, the mouth quite small, the lips almost white. But the eyes glittered. There was something sinister about them. As if all the hate of which he was capable lay in those glowing eyes . . . Hitler never ceased to feel ashamed of what his dream of being a painter had become."

So, how does a children's writer tell a story of such overwhelming proportions? It's an important story to tell -- with both its villains and its heroes. If I were going to tackle this one, I think I might tell Rose Valland's story.

Rose was an art historian, a member of the French Resistance, and a captain in the French military. She was a Parisienne hired by the Nazis to help catalog the art they plundered. Rose had a prodigious memory, and when she returned home at night, she'd write in her journal the names of the art she cataloged that day, its provenance, and where it was going. She spoke German, but never let on that she did -- so much better for her spying activities. She'd pass her information on to the French Resistance, which kept the allies from bombing the trains on which some of the greatest works of art were being transported to Germany. In the end, this information helped recover 20,000 works of art.

I might tell the story of the Monument Men who were dispatched by the allies to help preserve the great art and architecture of Europe even as the allies moved in. These men and women were museum curators, artists, and architects. They did their work with very little resources, and much controversy. What is more important? Art or the soldiers who fight? Two of the Monument Men were killed in action, but the group managed to return over five million cultural items after the war. Their work continues today.

I can find no mention of this story for children. If you don't write it, perhaps I will . . .

If you'd like to watch The Rape of Europa, check your local listings for Nova on PBS.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Poetry Friday: One More Week!

And we’ll be celebrating our national holiday: Thanksgiving. I’ll only provide a little bit of self-promotion on this topic. Did you know that the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving is because of the efforts of a 19th century widow?

Sarah Josepha Hale, who was also a novelist, America’s first woman editor, the author of Mary Had a Little Lamb, and the mother of 5 children worked for nearly 40 years to get the national holiday made into law. She did live to see the holiday celebrated from the Civil War era until her death. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the law making Thanksgiving a national holiday during World War II, a full 100 years after Hale began her quest.

So, next week, as you travel or host, cook, overeat, clean, and attend Black Friday sales, take a minute to thank Sarah. You can learn more in my book: To My Countrywomen: The Life of Sarah Josepha Hale.

In the meantime, since this is poetry Friday, I looked for a poem that truly expresses what I’ll be feeling next week. Since it’s a long poem, I’ve included just the relevant parts. And, in case you don’t get the connection—I’m cooking.

Thanks, Sarah…

Twas the Nite Before Thanksgiving

by Jolene Christopher

Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the kitchen;
I was cooking and baking and moaning' and *****in'.
I've been here for hours, I can't stop to rest,
This place is a disaster, just look at this mess!

Tomorrow I've got thirty people to feed,
They expect all the trimmings - who cares what I need!
My feet are both blistered, I've got cramps in my legs,
The dog just knocked over a bowl full of eggs.

There's a knock at the door and the telephone's ringing.
Frosting drips on the counter as the microwave's dinging.
Two pies in the oven, dessert's almost done;
My cookbook is soiled with butter and crumbs…
Now what was I doing, and what is that smell?
Oh, darn, it's the pies!! They're burned all to hell!!

I hate to admit when I make a mistake,
But I put them on BROIL instead of on BAKE.
What else can go wrong?? Is there still more ahead??
If this is good living, I'd rather be dead.

Lord, don't get me wrong, I love holidays;
They just leave me exhausted, all shaky and dazed.
But I promise you one thing, If I live 'til next year,
You won't find me pulling my hair out in here.

I'll hire a maid, a cook, and a waiter;
And if that doesn't work, I'LL HAVE IT ALL CATERED!

This week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is at Holly Cupala's Brimstone Soup

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That Amazing Woman and Her Flying Machine

Today, I'm thinking of Ruth Law. .

Law was one of the daredevil girls -- women who seemed to have no fear of physical risks. As children, she and her brother, Rodman -- who later became known as "The Human Fly" for some of his feats, were keen adventure seekers. Mrs. Law often told people she felt like a hen who'd hatched two ducks.

In her early twenties, Ruth was bitten by the flying bug. Not surprisingly, she was denied flying lessons by the best and most famous. Both Glenn Curtiss and Orville Wright felt women didn't belong flying aeroplanes. That didn't stop Wright from selling Law her first one -- a machine made of little more than wood and canvas, strung together with wire. Law sat in front of the engine -- a whopping 100 hp motor -- about the same power as today's Harleys.

After some time spent flying exhibitions and doing aerial aerobatics, Ruth decided she would do something for herself -- she would break a flying record. In early November of 1916, the famous aviator, Victor Carlstrom, set a US record for longest flight -- a flight from Chicago to New York State -- a total of 420 miles. He did it in a little more than eight hours.

Only a few weeks after Carlstrom's record-breaking flight, Law would attempt to go farther. Of course, she wouldn't have the advantage Carlstrom had. Unlike Carlstrom's bigger, closed cockpit airplane, Law was still flying her little Curtiss Pusher. Glenn Curtiss couldn't sell her a bigger plane -- World War I was raging in Europe. Besides that, Curtiss didn't believe she could handle the bigger plane.

Ruth decided to go with the plane she had -- modified of course, with an added tank to hold an extra fifty-six gallons of fuel. She had a windshield outfitted to block the frigid air she'd encounter. A map holder she designed, would be strapped to her leg to leave both hands free to steady the controls. Food would just add to the airplane's weight, and besides that, would have frozen anyway. She wouldn't bring it. Law trained for the event by exercising vigorously. She slept for several nights in a tent on the roof of a Chicago hotel to acclimate herself to the cold temperatures.

On the morning of her departure, Ruth's plane wouldn't start. The weather was just too cold. Finally, an hour later than she planned, Ruth Law took off in her little plane. It barely made it over the trees at the end of the grassy landing strip. One of the plane's mechanics cried as she went, believing the young woman would never make it.

Ninety two years ago today, Ruth Law did make it -- landing in the record books. She flew 590 miles -- the longest non-stop cross country flight by an American and and the longest world flight by a woman. Her longest flight before this had been only twenty-five miles.

Today, I salute Ruth Law and her amazing feat.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Is it Possible to do a Pre-Review?

I haven't read the book yet but it's next on my list: A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink. I just read Oprah's interview with Pink in her December 2008 magazine. The title of the book fascinated me because my husband used to say he was the only left-brained person supporting a family of right-brained people. He, the CPA and numbers guy, was right. I had managed to give him three children: a classics scholar and two theater nerds. Not a business person, engineer, or mathematician in the bunch. Evidently my right-brained, creative genes were stronger than his left-brained sequential, practical genes.

So it was with personal curiosity that I read Oprah's interview. Some of Pink's statements made me think about the impact of our work as writers for children. He said:

"My generation's parents told their children, 'Become an accountant, a lawyer, or an engineer; that will give you a solid foothold in the middle class.' But these jobs are now being sent overseas. So in order to make it today, you have to do work that's hard to outsource hard to automate...Financial firms are sending their back-office jobs overseas. But what do fine artists do? They create something new, unexpected, and delightful that changes the world...

And what, you ask, can a writer for children possibly do that can "change the world?" I'm glad you brought it up! Just think:

How many children have been soothed to sleep because there exists
a Goodnight Moon?

How many "non-readers" plowed their way through over 700 pages of text because there exists a Harry Potter?

How many families established a new holiday tradition because there exists a book called The Polar Express?

How many jobs were created because of these stories? I can think of dozens! All the merchandise that accompanies these books needed people to make them: posters, stuffed animals, action figures, games, CDs, and, of course, magic bells.
Screenwriters got jobs. Actors got jobs. Voice-over artists got jobs. Northern communities host special train rides that take children on a Polar Express adventure every winter.

Somebody designed Halloween costumes. Somebody else started a web site. Somebody figured out a way to market the books in special sets.

All this because a few right-brained, creative people wrote some books for children.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Candy Memories

Jama commented on yesterday's post and asked if Bonomo Turkish Taffy was still available. Sadly, it's not, but if you'd like to learn its history, Michael Kaufmann, a writer at the NY Times, wrote about it in 1999. You can read his article at several sites, including The Turkish Taffy jingle has stuck in my head all these long years! I found one of the Bonomo commercials on YouTube! You'll see why the jingle has stuck!

If you grew up in the 50s and 60s, I'm sure you, too, have many jingles permanently installed in recesses of your brain. I can sing a gazillion of them--Ronzoni macaroni, Pepsodent toothpaste, Rheingold beer, etc.!

So, now I'm stuck in nostalgia-land and Shari Lewis has leapt before my eyes! Here's part of one of her shows, which I probably watched in my youth. (Lewis produced more shows later in her life for a whole 'nother generation of kids.)

We live in a wonderful time when you can relive those old days, or fill in a few of the missing words from a jingle that pops into your head uninvited, simply by spending a few minutes searching on YouTube.

Oh, I almost forgot, you can get a little idea of what Turkish Taffy was like by finding a BB Bat. It's taffy on a lollipop stick. I know they're still available, I had one (banana) not too long ago!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poetry Friday--Memories of 1960

I'm not quite sure what my point was in writing the following--perhaps there is no point other than recapturing a time.

The Regent Theater

Nancy Hubbard
and I spent
many a Saturday afternoon
at the Regent theater
the movies cost 25 cents
a box of candy
was about the same--
milk duds
bonomo turkish taffy
necco wafers
junior mints--
my sweet tooth satisfied
before the lights dimmed
and the curtain went up
Vincent Price in
"House of Usher"
deliciously creepy
some kid's
malted milk balls
rolled down the

Make your way over to Yat-Yee Chong's blog for Poetry Friday Round-Up!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't Forget the Camera!

Yesterday I spoke briefly about our appearance at the Epping Historical Society. I didn't include any pictures of us there because, although both Andy and myself had brought our cameras, neither one of us remembered to take it out of our bags and take a picture!

If you're going to do school, library, bookstore, and other appearances, don't forget to bring your camera!

I remembered my camera last month when several of us appeared at the Toadstool Bookstore in Milford. Here we are outside the store where they had put up a very nice notice of our upcoming visit:

Sometimes you luck out and your hostess takes photos and sends them to you. This is me at the wonderful New York Hall of Science. The librarian there, Rebecca Reitz, took this one:

My children accompanied me to the NY Hall of Science and snapped Rebecca and me outside on the World's Fair grounds:

It's probably good to always have a camera handy to capture candid moments, too. Like this taken at one of our business/soup-sipping sessions at Panera:

And you never know when you might run into the president-elect!

One more thing--don't forget to bring extra batteries!


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Been to Your Local Historical Society Lately?

Last Thursday night we spent the evening at the Epping (NH) Historical Society where we spoke on several of our women from Women of Granite: 25 New Hampshire Women You Should Know.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was examining the walls and display cases in the Society's building. In one of the cases I saw dance cards from the early 20th century. I've seen PBS-type costumed dramas where the heroine writes her dance partners' names on a card, but I had never actually seen a dance card. The ones on display had the dances preprinted on them with a space for a partner's name. The names of many of the dances, such as the waltz, are familiar to 21st century people, even if they don't know how to do the dance themselves. Others, such as the schottische, leave my contemporaries scratching their heads!

There's so much social history that has been forgotten over the years. Fortunately, a children's writer can come across a term such as schottische, or see an interesting item on a historical society wall such as a photo of a prize fighter, and it will open the flood gates. Off she will go running to find all she can on the subject. She'll read and read and read until her dreams fill with her research. At this point, she'll feel a certain familiarity with the time period and will then attempt to imagine how a young girl or boy would have fit into the it.

A preteen named Amelia sits next to her older sister, Lisabet. Lisabet flirts and writes young men's names on her dance card. She accidently drops the dance card and Amelia watches as Henry Post picks it up and and quickly writes his name next to the final waltz. Amelia acknowledges Henry's conspiratorial wink...

Okay, it's trite and predictable, but it's a start. Who knows, maybe our writer will find a way to tear your heart out, or to make you laugh until your stomach hurts! That's all part of the fun of being a writer.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Poetry Friday--Early Worm

Early Worm

Oh if you’re a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early early bird
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.

--Shel Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends

Monday, November 3, 2008

Night of Terror and Your Vote

We elect a new president tomorrow. As I see it, this is one of the most important votes in recent history.

I did want to remind you of another important vote that took place in 1920. That was the year Congress ratified the 19th amendment, which finally gave women the right to vote. White American men have always had that right. Black men were given the right to vote by 1870.

Writing about abolitionist/suffragist Lucretia Mott for Women of the Bay State educated me a little more about the fight women waged for a right we take for granted today. Lucretia suffered horrible stress-related stomach pains throughout her life for the daily criticism she received-- not to mention the bodily harm she was threatened with at every turn. Others also suffered mightily for women's suffrage.

If you've never heard of the Night of Terror, you may want to go to the Library of Congress's website on the National Woman's Party. At the bottom of the page, you'll see a link to an essay about the NWP's last push for women's suffrage.

There's more history about the women's movement here:

Below is an editorial from the early press coverage of the women's voting rights movement: You can see more at:

Reading it reminds me that if I had lived back then, I'd have been in jail with the rest of the women suffragists.

Voting is the one place we are on equal footing with American celebrities, senators, rock stars, stock brokers, entrepreneurs, and the wealthy.

It's your vote -- and your voice.



Our Philadelphia ladies not only possess beauty, but they are celebrated for discretion, modesty, and unfeigned diffidence, as well as wit, vivacity, and good nature. Whoever heard of a Philadelphia lady setting up for a reformer, or standing out for woman's rights, or assisting to man the election grounds, raise a regiment, command a legion, or address a jury? Our ladies glow with a higher ambition. They soar to rule the hearts of their worshipers, and secure obedience by the sceptre of affection. The tenure of their power is a law of nature, not a law of man, and hence they fear no insurrection, and never experience the shock of a revolution in their dominions. But all women are not as reasonable as ours of Philadelphia. The Boston ladies contend for the rights of women. The New York girls aspire to mount the rostrum, to do all the voting, and, we suppose, all the fighting too. . . . Our Philadelphia girls object to fighting and to holding office. They prefer the baby-jumper to the study of Coke and Lyttleton, and the ball-room to the Palo Alto battle. They object to having a George Sand for President of the United States; a Corinna for Governor; a Fanny Wright for Mayor; or a Mrs. Partington for Postmaster. . . . Women have enough influence over human affairs without being politicians. Is not everything managed by female influence? Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sweethearts manage everything. Men have nothing to do but to listen and obey to the "of course, my dear, you will, and of course, my dear, you won't." Their rule is absolute; their power unbounded. Under such a system men have no claim to rights, especially "equal rights."

A woman is nobody. A wife is everything. A pretty girl is equal to ten thousand men, and a mother is, next to God, all powerful. . . . The women of Philadelphia, therefore, under the influence of the most serious "sober second thoughts," are resolved to maintain their rights as Wives, Belles, Virgins, and Mothers, and not as Women."—Philadelphia Ledger and Daily Transcript.