Yes, I know that is not a picture of Bernard Waber. It is a picture of Mr. Waber’s friend—Lyle.
Mr. Waber died on May 16 at the age of 91. Here is a quote from School Library Journal:
“In one way or another, I seem to find myself thinking of children’s books most of the time,” Waber once…
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
by Jennifer Berne / illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
Chronicle Books April 23, 2013 / 56 pages / $17.99
Kick off the contemplative days of summer with Jennifer Berne’s affectionate tribute to wonder. Told in poetic prose (and often in lovely, rule-defying incomplete sentences) this Albert Einstein portrait succeeds as a children’s picture book because it celebrates not simply Einstein’s brilliance, but his endless curiosity.
Einstein as a beautiful mind can intimidate children; he morphs into the ultimate gifted student or prodigy, and kids tend to clutch an early disappointment of what they suppose they might never become. But Einstein as a daydreamer and quirky ice-cream devotee catches a more joyful beam of light, and readers can begin to appreciate his true gifts to us all—His insistence on remaining his authentic self, down to what he put (or wouldn’t put) on his feet. His willingness to grant an inordinate amount of time to imagination. His determination to pursue thoughtfulness and ambiguity in a culture bursting with noise and feigned certainty. And, ultimately, his willingness to change the world with his own daydreams.
Happy summer, Einstein says, as he pedals around on his bicycle. Enjoy the ice cream.
The South Dakota Humanities Councils has been honored with the Award of Merit from the American Association for State & Local History (AASLH) for the anthology “What Makes a South Dakotan.” The book was launched last year in Sioux Falls at the South Dakota Festival of Books and features stories and essays from dozens of writers with connections to the state.
The book was a signature offering of the Humanities Council’s 40th anniversary celebration and was made possible by the South Dakota Community Foundation’s 25th anniversary partnership.
So, even though we knew the folks around here who carry the banner of history, literature, music, and culture are pretty amazing, it was nice to see that the Leadership in History awards committee of the AASLH thought so too.
Congratulations South Dakotans.
In spite of the hype about the costumes, paired with a few disturbingly sexualized movie trailers, the new film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece turns out to be a fairly faithful retelling of the book. There’s enough manic flash to produce dizzy spells for sure, but, at its heart, the story still spins around Daisy, Nick and Gatsby, perhaps because no amount of amped modernization could dominate the power of Fitzgerald’s nuanced characterization.
Leonardo DiCaprio nails Gatsby’s vulnerability and verbal absurdities and Toby Maguire isn’t afraid to hold the camera as the reluctant writer caught up in the Jazz Age’s decadence and splendor.
For me, this has always been Nick Carraway’s story, so Maquire was the one to watch on screen. If he floundered in his portrayal, the whole film would unravel and spill into disappointment. It took about 20 minutes of visual invitation before I adjusted to seeing the wide-eyed actor embody one of my most beloved literary characters. His affection, confused disengagement, and rage finally won me over.
The Siouxland Libraries staff helped build excitement for the premiere with good-natured reminders to movie-goers that Gatsby also happens to be a singular experience as a novel. Theater-goers were invited to tackle trivia at a library booth set up in the Century 14 lobby in Sioux Falls, and the librarians organized a seriously fun Charleston flash mob to celebrate opening weekend.
Of course, many in the packed house had never read the book. And as the movie raced to its inevitable tragedy, I leaned in to the tension of those around me who didn’t know what to expect. Was this a love story? A mystery? An extended celebration of sumptuous parties and excess? In the end, they were left with Nick Carraway’s words sweeping across the screen regarding careless people retreating into their money wrapped in his thoughts on glitter and light and struggling toward a future beyond the spectacle of the moment.
I went home and cracked the cover once again, and there was Gatsby preserved on the page, just as richly painted and confounding and enigmatic as I remember him to be. He was without a Jay Z soundtrack for sure, but that was a very good thing in the settling darkness of a Friday night. Nick and Daisy and Jordan were gloomy and quietly good-natured on page one, oppressed by the heat of Long Island and all that lay ahead of them, white curtains billowing in the glimmer of a breeze.
I am strolling through the Oak View Library—it must have been a while since I’ve been here, because right near the entrance sits a “Poetry Basket.” And I am paralyzed with regret, because 23 days of April have gone by and I didn’t even know there was a poetry basket. Serves me right for buying so many new books without exercising my library card.
“Take a Poem, Leave a Poem” the sign says, and I am definitely in the mood to take a poem. I dig through the stack of printed papers, and the beauty of it all becomes a little too much and I start to cry. Yep, that’s me. Standing in the library with tears washing my cheeks because it’s poetry month and the whole poetry basket moment is like a gathering of friends. Emily. Ted. Maya. William. Carl. Christina. Edna. They all threw a surprise party for me and dressed up in their finest to say hello. If that doesn’t make a person feel loved, I don’t know what does.
I can take one of these poems home. All at once I am compelled to snatch up the basket and race out the door with the whole treasure tucked under my arm. But these poems were not meant to be hoarded. They were meant to be shared. A basket of poems would look really spiffy on my dining room table and I would read one every single morning at breakfast and then every day would be nice. But still. The sign says take A poem, and I intend to respect that.
I choose Leo Dangel’s “Farming in a Lilac Shirt,” which I have never read before. I fall in love quickly and I decide this one is the one I will take home. And then I will come back tomorrow and choose another poem. A lovely plan.
But this is not what I do. Here’s what I do instead. The next day I go to a different library branch—one where they don’t really know me. I find their poetry basket and I start sorting. This one they have two copies of. This one everyone has memorized anyway, so it won’t be missed. Here’s one I can’t bear to leave behind. And another. And another. I breathlessly grab a copy of a Billy Collins anthology from the display. I take an April Events Listing flyer. I wrap the flyer around the wad of poems and stuff the whole lot into the Billy Collins book. But wait. In my haste, I have forgotten my library card in the car. I have to put the anthology back and carry the poems naked. To be clear, the poems are naked. The thief is wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt.
My crime is simple. I am going to walk out of the library with a handful of free poems. It is highly unlikely any librarian is going to notice or, in fact, mind. But I’m being greedy and I know it, so I feel as if the security alarm is about to announce my deceit and my mug shot will be on a wanted posted by the five o’clock news.
And, as usual, once I am out the door I realize what I should have done. I should have at least left a poem. I should have brought something to give, something to leave behind to make the basket a little heavier instead of lighter.
A man walks by me on the sidewalk. He is pushing a bicycle. He carries a backpack on his shoulder. He holds out a square of paper and beckons me to take it. “Blessed by Christ” he says to me, and he moves on. I take the paper from this stranger’s hand. It’s a photocopy of a devotional book reminding us to Love One Another. I look back for the man. I’m going to give him a poem in exchange. But he has already vanished.
Is God chastising me for stealing free poetry? Or am I simply being reminded that there is no need to hoard in a world of abundance. Today, I gathered rosebuds. I was nobody and I met another nobody on the sidewalk. Our South Dakota sky that will not stay blue crept behind me on its little cat feet. Beauty, we shall call the gray sky. Beauty, we shall say, come on in.
Here is what I would have left:
This is just to say
I have taken / the poems / that were in / the basket / and which / you were probably / saving / for other patrons
Forgive me / they were delicious / so sweet / and they so longed for a / good home
You came to my daughter’s school this week, and the article written about the day implies that the kids didn’t necessarily know who you are. This made my 12-year-old a little indignant, because no one really asked her what she knew, and one must always, always ask a middle schooler what she knows. So … yes, she knows the difference between Hagar and Hamlet. She knows about your early New Yorker comic, the one with the dog who bit the hand that fed him. She knows you once dressed up as the Fun Fairy at the SCBWI conference and had everyone in stitches as you handed out prizes. (Actually, I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m making that last bit up.)
Yes, she knows you’re kind of a big deal. And not just around here. It’s just that she’d read Hagar every day whether grown ups told her you were a big deal or not.
It’s also true that she reads “Garfield” and “Pearls Before Swine” and that she owns every collection of “Calvin and Hobbes” because she loves the art form. I’m pretty sure she even reads Rex Morgan, but she thinks the teenager in “Zits” can be a jerk. And lately she’s been getting up in the morning hoping to unfold her newspaper and see whether the kids in “Agnes” have harnessed the power of squirrels.
You made her an honorary Viking. You showed her a glimpse of a community of artists who have serious fun at work. You showed her that it’s possible to pursue a career where you can laugh and poke fun and be abundantly creative. You showed her by your words and by your actions and by your endlessly joyful, rabbit-loving spirit.
Last night we went to Barnes and Noble to hang out for a few hours, and she ended up buying a new “Big Nate” compilation. She was reading it and belly-laughing, and she looked at me and asked if it was all right that she loves comics so much.
What would Chris Browne say?
I think he’d be okay with it. I’m pretty cool with it too.
South Dakota Poet Laureate David Allan Evans was scheduled to speak at the Main library last week in honor of National Poetry Month. Then the ice clutched the city’s trees with a death grip too strong for many, and poetry, it seemed, would have to wait.
And now, a few days later, so much has changed. The frozen weight of the past week threatens to snap our collective hearts and hopes into shards.
We clean up what we can. We turn to each other for help and to help. We turn away from the siren song of grief because there is so much work yet to be done.
Our library moves forward as well—with poetry. Why do we need poetry in times such as these? One of the great thinkers of our state will pause to remind us.
Don’t miss it.
Necessity of Poetry with SD Poety Laureate David Allan Evans
Monday, April 22, 2013
7 to 8:30 p.m.