Wow, what a long strange few months! I have been reading, but have not had the chance to do my traditional visits to libraries and bookstores to review books…until today! There are so many great new books out there and I am thrilled to get back into reviewing them for you!
Highlights from the quarantined classroom…
Like the rest of the teachers in the country, I was forced online for the last few months of the school year. Since my department of world language teachers has already used a lot of technology and has always been open to working together to try new things, I was probably better prepared than most. Not to mention that my school district is relatively well funded and was very proactive about ensuring that students had access to technology via Chromebooks, hot-spots, etc.
But what did all that really mean for teaching? Without going into a lot of pedagogical detail, teaching German remotely meant continuing with most of the material I would have done anyway, but in slightly different ways. We already use Google Classroom (an online platform for organizing and delivering content), so providing students with videos, online practice, etc. was easy. I left a few things behind which would not have been practical (such as my game-play unit in which students play card games together in German) and filled that space with other activities.
The most important change, and the reason for this post (in what is usually a blog focused on writing and book reviews) is flexibility: allowing students to show what they know and can do in a variety of ways. With inspiration from my fellow teachers both at my school and across the country, I found ways to encourage student creativity and motivate them to engage with the material at home. (By the way, do other occupations support each other in Facebook groups like teachers? They should! I get my best ideas from the German teacher Facebook groups!) Here are a few examples:
I am in a group for authors with books coming out in 2020 (“2020 Picture Book Stars”), so I have been anxious to read In a Jar, a book by fellow group member Deborah Marcero. In the process, I figured I might as well give some love to other books which are brand spanking new in 2020– and even though it’s only mid-February, there are already a bunch of beauties out there! Let’s explore them!
Wow, I haven’t done a set of reviews in a while! Sorry about that! My day job gets in the way sometimes! However, having just submitted my semester grades this past Wednesday, my husband insisted I have some “me time” and go off to read picture books. He’s a good guy!
What an overwhelming selection of great stuff is out there right now! So hard to choose! I am going with some of my favorite authors this time– almost all of them are sequels of a sort. Let’s dig in!!
Hello Blog readers!
Happy New Year!! As I look ahead to what 2020 will bring, I am more and more excited for the arrival of my picture book, The Great Holiday Cookie Fight, which will be published on October 15 of this year.
Of course, New Year’s Day is also the final day of Kwanzaa, which runs from Dec. 26th to January 1st. The holiday was invented in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga as a way to honor African-American culture, but also to celebrate family and community. Each of the seven days represents a different principle: unity, self-determination, collective work & responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. That means New Year’s Day is not only a worldwide celebration of new beginnings, but also a day, as Karenga wrote, “To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”
Now I am white and would not presume to fully understand the struggles of people of color in America, but I like to think we can all be more sensitive at this time of year and that includes learning a little about the myriad of celebrations which unite us more than they divide us.* We can all use a little more faith and belief in our parents, teachers and leaders: a little more hope for the year to come.
With that in mind, I have chosen to bake benne wafers this year in celebration of the intersection of Kwanzaa’s day of faith and of New Year’s Day. Benne is the Bantu word for sesame, which symbolizes good luck in many cultures and is a symbol of immortality for the Brahmins– perfect for New Year’s. Benne wafers themselves are African in origin and particularly popular in Charleston, South Carolina, where I lived for four years while teaching at the College of Charleston. The cookies are nutty, buttery, and not too sweet, a lovely antidote to the overindulging you may have done in the past week.
You can find recipes for benne wafers online, or just wait for the extra special recipe in my book, coming this year! May you move into 2020 with hope and faith in a beautiful future for the year to come! Harambee!
*To paraphrase Akilah Bolden-Monifa in his article “Can White People Celebrate Kwanzaa And Other Questions You Were Too Afraid To Ask,” white people CAN celebrate Kwanzaa because American culture is becoming more multi-racial and diverse. He goes on to write, “When invited, I go to cultural and religious celebrations that are not part of my cultural or religious heritage. I participate in a way that is comfortable for my host and for me. It would be arrogant of me, a non-Jew, to dominate a Seder or Hanukkah celebration, for example. People who are not of African descent should approach Kwanzaa with the same attitude. A proverb often quoted during Kwanzaa reads: “I am because we are; because we are, I am.” Harambee! (Let’s pull together!)
October is here! This weekend I took down my second gallery show ever — a culmination of work on the “Art & Poetry Project” — a writing critique group which was originally founded to pair writers and artists but which has evolved over the years as each poet’s interpretation of that theme. My first show, “Family Album,” in fall of 2017, was a show of 12 poems which sought to capture the lives of family members as represented by vintage photos. It was very meaningful to me, as it let me put a dozen family photos together of my Aunt Helyn, my Uncle Larry, my Grammy Dot, etc., but I was surprised that my stories seemed to strike a chord with the community as well and help them to treasure their own family stories.
When time came for a new show, (yes, I was amazingly invited back!) I decided to look to a different family inspiration– the art of my children. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably experienced the deluge of kid art: it comes home in piles, you love it, but do you really need to keep every scrap, doodle, and scribble? A good friend shared her solution of taking photos of everything before you get rid of it, and I do that with some, but some is just too good to toss. Not only that, looking at their creations presented me with a lingering philosophical question on the nature of art. For me, a big part of art is what we love and value. (Would you rather own a portrait of you drawn with love by your child than the Mona Lisa? I would!) Art can answer questions– or raise them. Art can represent — or deconstruct. Art can be skilled — or just attempted. Furthermore, I’ve always wondered just what makes art valuable or “important” enough to be in a museum. Is a canvas painted completely in red with one blue dot a masterpiece? Couldn’t anyone have done it?
Anyway…With that in mind, “Beyond Scribbles” became my new show — 14 works from both of my children paired with my poetry. Most of the poems were written with close inspiration from the art themselves, a few simply caught my eye and made me realize “Hey, I wrote a poem about that already!” Slowly, a collection of poems and art began to take shape, even more so as I framed the pieces I had collected and realized they suddenly looked like “real art.”
The show is down now, but some will be back up for an “encore” to accompany a public reading at 6:30 on Nov. 2nd in the York Public Library, where I will share the stage with the other three poets who also had shows this fall. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come. In the meantime, I will leave you with two of my favorites from the show: “Bigfoot” (art by my son Robbie) and “Egg Beach” (art by my son Maxwell). Enjoy!
BIGFOOT (Inspired by art from Robbie Kyer)
Saw a bigfoot on the way to work,
Taking a shortcut through the woods.
Thought of pulling out my phone,
Posting pictures– going viral.
I don’t need the hassle, nor does he.
Figured he’d be grateful
For his privacy,
Or hers, I guess.
It’s not my place to judge.
Nodded once, the way you do.
Got a nod back with the slightest smirk,
As if to say:
Man, Mondays, am I right?
Copyright July 30, 2019
EGG BEACH (Inspired by art from Maxwell Kyer)
It’s easy to write of depression,
You’ll find it wherever you look:
There’s bombings and wanton aggression,
More pain than could fill up a book.
The news tells of terror and dying,
The darkness can weigh like a curse.
Some days getting up is too trying,
And trying to care makes it worse.
The folks you thought friends now despise you,
The world doesn’t work like it should.
What good will your sorrowful cries do,
When even the “good guys” aren’t good?
But even with too much to handle,
It’s never ok to give in.
It only takes one single candle,
To push back the darkness within.
Oh sure, that’s a lame proposition.
It’s greeting card fodder, cliché.
Just how can it help your condition?
It’s like saying “Have a nice day!”
If that’s true, then never buy ice cream,
Or watch foxes play in the wild.
Don’t pet kittens sleeping in sunbeams,
Or ponder the art of a child.
But my form of immunization,
Against all that threatens my joy
Are lobsters and “Egg Beach” vacations
As seen through the eyes of a boy.
Copyright MK, July 10, 2016
It’s Labor Day Weekend which if you’re a teacher is a little like the long Sunday night before the start of a school week. It’s that last minute chance to reflect on the summer and deal with the flash of panic about what is still not done. While I did get a lot done this summer, there are so many things I wished I’d accomplished– so many books I wish I’d had the time to read! To that end, the books I chose today are those I’ve been “meaning to get to” or just can’t let slip away before I get overwhelmed with school (which actually started last week).
NEWS!!! Loyal readers know that I’m over the moon about the upcoming publication of my first picture book, THE GREAT HOLIDAY COOKIE FIGHT. The biggest news is that I finally have a PUBLICATION DATE!! Mark your calendars for the big book birthday on October 15, 2020! Yes, it’s over a year away, but I’m sure it will fly by!
In honor of my “due date,” I decided to make a trip to my local big box bookstore and check out just where that book is going to live. In other words, where does “Kyer” fall in the bookshelf? Who will my fellow K and L authors be? Today’s book reviews are all picture books which would be found directly before or directly after my book on the shelf. And they’re all lovely neighbors! Enjoy!
My goal is to put out one batch of five picture reviews per month, spending the rest of my writing time on, well, actual writing (and sending out queries to agents and publishers). But when my son told me this morning “Mama, we should go to the bookstore so you can read more books!” how could I resist? My first goal with today’s batch was to choose only books which were NOT faced outward in the store, and I failed that by one, but that’s only because I couldn’t resist a book which, like my upcoming picture book, THE GREAT HOLIDAY COOKIE FIGHT, combines a story with a recipe. All five books are tied together by stories of diversity, acceptance and bravery of one kind or another, and in that way, it’s unfortunate they were not all “face out.”
Father’s Day around our house often means an outing to the bookstore– I rarely buy my husband books because only he knows exactly which ones he’s looking for, and everyone in our family enjoys a good trip to browse new books. So, time for another crop of reviews! Some of today’s choices include father figures, some are just fun. Let’s explore!