joey’s box

 

My newest nephew is almost two, which means he’s well into the book loving years, which means books from this aunt will be in his future.

I’ve already given him a few, one of the first being The Wonky Donkey, which has resulted in him forming a friendship with a local donkey that must now be driven past any time he’s in a car so that he can wave hello and shout heeeeehawwww.

This is the power of literature.

Am currently putting together a whole slew of books from my own shelves because a) I am thinning my shelves, and b) yes I have a collection of kid books, and c) I also happen to have one of those wonderful pre-paid Canada Post mailing cartons that will send eleven pounds of books to Joey’s mailbox.

M is for Moose  by Charles Pachter. Oh my god, I love this for its brilliant simplicity. And art. The art!  Each letter of the alphabet gets a mixture of painting and collage and the stories at the back that explain these seemingly  minimalistic pieces that actually contain SO MUCH. The key is to look long at each page. And there are games to encourage the looking. (How many moose, barns, Queen of Englands, etc. in the book?) AND A BUTTERTART RECIPE  that I have copied for myself because at some point Joey and I will need to discuss buttertarts. All the words are spelled Canadian, as in neighbour, colour, favourite, which is always refreshing, but the best part is that it’s the kind of book you can grow up with… and continue to love as an adult.

Ted Harrison’s O Canada, is an illustrated edition of the anthem, but as it was published in 1992, it’s in need of updating, which this aunt has happily done.

The anthem, btw, originally read: thou dost in us command… and was changed in 1913 to in all our sons command. Changed again (thankfully)  in 2018. The book also includes wee blurbs on each province.

 

Are You My Mother, by P.D. Eastman alhtough I continue to think of as one of my favourite Dr. Zeuss books.

 

The Moon Watched it All, by Shelley Leedahl.

 

Alligator Pie, by Dennis Lee.

 

Seaside Treasures, by Sarah Grindler, because one of my hopefulest hopes for Joey is that he grow up to adore the sea and all it has to offer, not only through its treasures of glass and shells, stones, feathers and driftwood, the sand sculpting, swimming and barefoot walking… but the breathing.

It is my absolute favourite place to breathe and this is a beautiful book to introduce to all kinds of waiting-just-for-him joy.

 

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, by you know who, who knows about hopping Yops and Yinks who like to drink and wink and the sheep who walked at night by the light of the moon, by the light of a star, they walked all night from near to far, and Ned and his bed and the thing we found in the park in the dark who we will call Clark and honestly I’m beginning to wonder if I can even part with this book at all.

If You Could Wear My Sneakers, by Sheree Fitch. Beautifully illustrated by Darcia Labrosse, the poems address fifteen of fifty-four children’s rights listed in the United Nations Conventions, including the right to an education, the right to enjoy your own language and culture, disability rights, all written in Fitch’s inimitable style. On the subject of war, for instance, and a child’s right to protection, the poem has elephants thundering past to… fight a battle, thump-galumphing off to war. Did you hear a small voice say… “What are we fighting for?” and goes on to address a child’s fears and thoughts, all in the voice of a young elephant. At the back of the book are brief discussions of the poems and what they each stand for.

In “The Stinky Truth’, a child’s right to express their opinion is celebrated…

“What do you think?
Do you think that I stink?”
said the skunk.
“Do you thunk that I smell?”
“Well, I think that you stink
but I think for a skunk
that you smell
incredibly
well.”

Another alphabet book, and another Ted Harrison book, ‘A Northern Alphabet’ done with his usual bright illustrations of northern scenes, each page devoted to another letter of the alphabet and chock full of words and places beginning with that letter, all of them relating to the north.

 

 

 

Mice, Morals, & Monkey Business, is a book of Aesop fables, stunningly illustrated by Christopher Wormell. Each double-page spread contains the moral of the story and illustration. At the back of the book, are the fables themselves. Again, this is one I’m tempted to keep. But, okay, fine, yes. The noble thing will be done. Into the Joey Box it goes. There should be a fable about noble book gestures.

 

 

Mixed Beasts, by Wallace Edwards. Again with gorgeous illustrations and verses about such mixed beasts as the bumblebeaver, the pelicantelope, the kangarooster, written by Kenyon Cox. Utterly charming and I suspect when read by Joey’s mum they will give Wonky Donkey some competition.

 

 

 

 

 

To top things off and to bring the poundage to eleven, and because books are best read with bread and jam, a jar of our homemade best.

P’s peach jam.

 

 

 

book title poetry (#1)

 

Taking a page from something started who knows when by who knows who and apparently a ‘thing’ but only recently appearing on my radar, I grab an armful of books from the shelf nearest to me and make the first of a series of book title poems and the making delights me, this new favourite thing in this time of finding new favourite things.

*

a manual for cleaning women
asking
how to be both
lives of girls and women
seeing lessons
moving targets, culverts
beneath the narrow road
the alpine path
across the bridge
a room of one’s own
(small change
is
various miracles)
our lady of the lost and found
to the lighthouse

—in this house are many women

excellent women

**

 

 

this is not a review: ‘everybody’s different on everybody street’, written by sheree fitch; illust. by emma fitzgerald

 

This morning I made a pot of lemon verbena/peppermint/orange mint tea with leaves from my garden and read Sheree Fitch and Emma Fitzgerald’s extraordinary Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street..

Is there a better way to start the day than tea and a (picture) book?

Answer: hardly.

And so I sipped. And marvelled over the brilliantly colourful, completely delicious illustrations… (birdcages on head, balloons up one’s skirt, laundry and tomatoes on the roof, street meditation in the presence of turtles [personal favourite], an empty fridge, a command to dance, someone in a wheelchair, others kissing in a tree, a homeless man, an angry woman, images of loneliness and images of joy, all woven against a background of a father reading a story to a young child who imagines this ‘Everybody Street’ as crowded with so many ‘others’ and who comes to realize all of those people are actually one…that we are all of those people and all of those people are us… “Yes… EVERYONE is travelling on EveryBody Street and EveryOne IS EveryOne and AnyOne you meet…”

And as I read I could feel emotions rising as the everbodyness  contained in Fitch’s buoyant poetry practically floated off the pages.

This book is a testament to community, and to joy. It’s also about mental health/illness in its many forms. And to be honest, the power of it kind of takes you by surprise.

Oh but we are in such good hands here because, as only Fitch can do, we are gently (playfully!) shown that all those people who look and act ‘differently’, who for whatever reason fall outside the punishing parameters of what society calls ‘normal’… are simply displaying aspects of being human that we all share.

The very young will only see peacocks and happy chaos… in the way of the very young, who don’t judge. But the message of inclusivity is there, the subliminal suggestion of non-judgement and, for those old enough to understand or who, in the company of a reader sensitive enough to explain, it becomes a thing to celebrate, to embrace, the beginning of meaningful conversation.

I look forward to sharing this with my eight year old niece. We will eat french fries at the beach while we read and we will talk about how we feel some of these feelings some of the time and we’ll notice people around us and make up lives for them… and remind ourselves that they have feelings too.

(The Afterword, written by Fitch, explaining the motivation behind the story, and the difficulty of taking on this subject, is an equally powerful read, in which Fitch says “I don’t like poems that tell me how to think; I like poems that make me think.”)

What a bold book.

And what an important one.

 

I got my copy at Blue Heron Books, and you can too!

Support indies!

 

this is not a review: ‘in this house are many women’, by sheree fitch

 

When you hear the name Sheree Fitch, you may think children’s books, Mable Murple’s creator or simply one of CanLit’s most beloved player of words.

You’d be right, of course, on all counts, but there is also her adult fiction and poetry and if you’ve missed that, you’re missing a lot.

In This House are Many Women  came to me in a most magical way (what I call the Sheree Fitch effect) and I’ve been reading and re-reading it for months so that it’s pretty much found a permanent spot on my coffee table and sometimes bedside table. Poetry combined with story in poetic form, about and from the perspective of women in both difficult and joy-filled situations… motherhood as a homeless woman, daily rituals, escaping domestic violence, finding connection in friendship, and learning to trust oneself. There aren’t enough books from these perspectives, that of women in shelters, and women ultimately helping women.

It’s the kind of thing, thankfully, most women will never know first hand, but … if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to leave your house in the dead of night while someone is threatening to kill you if you leave and you keep leaving anyway, keep running out the door because it’s become apparent to you that your chances of living are much slimmer if you stay (chances of living happily are nil), so you keep running, not sure to where or to what, all you know for now is why...

… if you’ve ever wondered what happens next, then this is the book to read.

It’s Milk and Honey  for grown ups. Only better, and in a league of its own.

First published in 1993 and reissued in 2004 by Goose Lane, In This House are Many Women is a collection of poems that read like prose, a journey through the life of women. Women in peril. Women as community. Women as resilient survivors. While there is plenty of gritty reality, there is much humour, love, hope and, ultimately, the message that women helping women is how it’s always been, and that  is no small potatoes.

In other words, it’s a gem of a book and I’m stunned that I haven’t come across it before. Since discovering it I’ve made a list of people I want to give it to, not the least of which are women staying in shelters.

The first of four sections opens with a suite of poems following the journey of escape, beginning with ‘The Runner’—

She runs:
past women with drawstring mouths
women with wombs puckered out
from plum to grape to raisin
women who have never known
what wetness means

In ‘What Rhonda Remembers About the First Five Minutes’ there is arrival at the shelter, the sound of a buzzer, strangers, lights, attention, the imagined chorus of:

someone new is coming
someone new is coming
someone new is coming

— giving the sense of entering a prison. That this house of many women is safe and nourishing takes time to discover. At first it’s only not home. The windows are bullet proof, there are security cameras everywhere. The doors are locked, everyone is a stranger, the police are on speed dial. At first there is the matter of safety, then how to simply function, how to deal with the impossibility of emotions running through you while, at the same time, you are numb to all feeling.

In ‘Edna’, the narrator looks at her swollen face in a mirror “wishing I could see the wrinkles”.

Each poem is another woman’s story. You can almost imagine the conversations as women feed their children or sit in communal areas, drinking coffee, smoking, biting their nails as they listen to one another.

In ‘Valerie Listens to Gwendolyn’, the narrator explains how the leaving went for her:

I did not leave because of his violence
I left because of mine
I got another phone call
from another woman
I went in and watched him sleeping
saliva like dried chalk
made a rim around his open
mouth
a perfect target

I had a gun
I placed it on his pillow
then I left.

There are poems about the NIMBYness toward shelters, revelations about the homeless, the roles women play when they share a space, who mothers the others, who is most in need of what and who will provide the whats. Unsurprisingly, from a writer who understands the child mind, there are meditations and revelations from a child’s perspective too (as in god wears flannel shirts).

One of my favourites is ‘Advice’, which is a list of exactly that, beginning with:

Read everything Gloria Steinem ever wrote
her last book first

and ending with:

The best answers will always be questions
You can always call your aunt.

Another, ‘Grand LaPierre, Newfoundland’ tells in pure Fitchean style, the essentials of writing a poem as if one’s life depended on it:

...it doesn’t have to rhyme
but it must always have a beat
a finger-snap
a toe-tap

Fitch is writing here from the inside and the outside. One has the feeling she is both part of this world and an observer at the same time.

The thread running through the book is that words are a lifeline, the writing of our lives, the sharing of our stories, that through kindness and connection with others (including Peter Gzowski’s voice), all kinds of hurdles can be overcome, that we are not alone. It’s not only about women in dire straits, but about women being strong in the way of women…

So you can understand why I can’t bear to shelve it. When a book like this crosses your path it’s good to keep it close, to open it often.

♦♦♦

On any given night in Canada, 3,491 women and their 2,724 children sleep in shelters because it isn’t safe at home.
On any given night, about 300 women and children are turned away because shelters are already full.
‘Why She Stays’

yes i did, i gave a child glass cleaner for xmas

 

The gift I most loved giving this year—

A treasure hunt bag of things that are found among the poems in Sheree Fitch’s Toes in My Nose.

Also included, a ‘discovery form’ for noting which poems and which items correspond (creative interpretation encouraged so there are many options and connections… as I quickly discovered by watching a tiny mind at work—and I don’t mean mine).

When completed the form may be handed in for a prize.

Prize to be determined (but very likely another book… shhh).
IMG_0155

the long and worthwhile road…

—That leads to my bookseller’s door.

Please understand.

I don’t have to drive. I can call the store, phone in my order [and have, often], or place it online through the shop’s website. I can have it delivered to my doorstep—but I prefer the thirty minute drive to pick up the books in person, see how the shelves are stacked, see what’s in the windows, chat with staff about new favourites, gift ideas, book club picks, the best food in town, the latest author reading or event being held in Blue Heron’s studio space [where among this summer’s inaugural events was a Neil Flambe camp for kids with Kevin Sylvester], or just wander about neighbouring shops. It’s the kind of town where you feel encouraged to wander, discover things, where you end up getting back in your car with not only books but goat cheese, olives, pastries, fresh bread—the fixings for a perfect rest of the day.

The bookshop is merely the town’s heart. Stuart McLean named it among his ten favourites in the country.

Recently ordered, collected, or waiting for me, are Joe Brainard’s I Remember, Alice Zorn’s Ruins & Relics, Brenda Schmidt’s Grid, Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat, Alice Peterson’s All the Voices CryLorri Neilsen Glenn’s essays on poetry, Threading Light, the re-release of Sheree Fitch’s classic, Toes in My Nose, and the short story anthologies Riptides  and Bridges. 

All of which has arrived, or will, without a glitch. The phone will ring and I’ll pick a day when I need goat cheese and good bread and head out.

Lucky us for having all that.

And congratulations to Shelley Macbeth, the creative genius and owner of Blue Heron Books, who, this year, [so well deservedly] received the CBA Libris Award for Canadian Bookseller of the Year.

Congratulations.
And thanks.