Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gifts from the Gods

Lise Lunge-Larsen is a professional storyteller and folklorist.  She earned a master’s degree in applied linguistics and wrote her thesis on  using storytelling to teach the English language.  She combines her academic training, her interest in folklore, and her skill in storytelling to create Gifts from the Gods, a fascinating presentation on the derivation of English words which draw their spelling and meaning from Greek and Roman mythology. 

Limiting her scope to words that have their origin in character names, Lunge-Larsen has more than enough material for this illustrated informational book designed for middle grades.  If she had broadened her search to include objects and places, she would have found many more examples.  The Greeks and the Romans sometimes had different names for the gods and goddesses and both came into the English language.  Lunge-Larsen has chosen those whose stories so captured the imaginations that their meanings have endured for centuries.

Lunge-Larsen provides this interesting example:  “The Greek goddess of cleanliness and good health, Hygeia, has given us the word hygiene, which we use to describe good, healthful behaviors.  The Romans called this goddess Salus, and her name, too, survives in English.  As they greeted one another, the Romans called out, ‘Salus!’ meaning ‘How is your health?’  Today we call a greeting a salute, and thus remember the goddess of good health without even realizing it.”

The word fortune means destiny, good or bad luck, or wealth and riches.  Fortuna was the goddess of luck.  She sometimes appeared carrying a “horn of plenty,” meaning that she would bless those she visited with abundance and riches.  A never-ending supply of the most delicious food and drink dripped from this magical horn.  The Romans called the horn of plenty a cornucopia.  Both terms have come into our modern language carrying the very same meaning, a cone-shaped basket overflowing with delectable foods.

Why is a point of weakness called an Achilles heel?  Why do we think of grace as seemingly effortless beauty?  Put this amazing book into the hands of those children who are fascinated by words.  This book is a treasure for any age--Wilma Snyder.  Illustrated by Gareth Hinds; Houghton Mifflin, 2011.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jeff Kinney's Cabin Fever tour stop in Richmond, Virginia

Lucinda Whitehurst
Brenda and Lucinda in our official Cabin Fever tour shirts.

Last week I unexpectedly became a roadie for a day during Jeff Kinney's Cabin Fever book launch tour!  The Diary of a Wimpy Kid author asked his publisher Amulet/Abrams to send his tour to independent bookstores.  My St. Christopher's colleague, Brenda Snead, and I offered to help our friends at bbgb Tales for Kids.  We thought we might be handing out hot chocolate or directing traffic.  Imagine our surprise when we found ourselves up close and personal on the Jeff Kinney autograph line!  From my vantage point of one foot away from Kinney, I had a chance to witness the power of his books.  
3000 people attended the Richmond Cabin Fever event!  Some of the fans waited two, three, even four hours to meet their hero, but since I was their last stop, I only saw their smiles of anticipation.  My favorite was the 9 or 10 year boy who proclaimed, "This is the MOST exciting night of my life!"  A woman who attended middle school with Jeff came through, yearbook in hand.  The publishers' representatives gleefully took pictures of the middle school-aged Kinney, no doubt to abuse him with later.  A teacher brought an entire busload of students and patiently photographed each happy child with Jeff.  Parents rushed to shake Jeff's hand.  Several thanked him for getting their children interested in reading. Jeff Kinney's brother stopped by. Children brought Kinney stories and drawings.  They proudly displayed Wimpy Kid shirts and toys.  One girl handed over a slice of cheese in a plastic bag, spreading the dreaded cheese touch!   Kinney happily greeted every fan.  "Thank you--that means so much to me,"  he said several times, but I think he truly did appreciate each gesture of devotion.  As my own students came through the line, they were surprised to see me so close to the famous visitor.  One asked, "Mrs. Whitehurst, why didn't you tell us you knew Jeff Kinney?!"  
Surveying all the hoopla, one mother said, "You'd think it was Aerosmith or something!"  Her bewildered child gave us a puzzled look (thinking "who's Aerosmith?" I'm sure) but I was on her same wavelength.  I may never go on the road with a rock band, but briefly being on tour with Jeff Kinney has to come close!--Lucinda Whitehurst

One of my students with his sister, me, and Jeff Kinney

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Balloons Over Broadway

 On Thanksgiving morning, many of us will be watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  For more than eighty years, the giant balloons have wobbled and swayed down Broadway.  Has it occurred to you to wonder how the tradition of the balloons began and who invented those balloons anyway?  I have enjoyed a most delightful picture book about that very subject – Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet.

From the time he was a little boy, Tony Sarg loved to figure out how to make things move.  As young as six years old, Tony was inventing gadgets which would help him do his chores.  When Tony grew up, his only job aspiration was to become a puppeteer.  He soon became famous for his marionettes, so he moved to New York City and began performing on Broadway.

R. H. Macy’s Department Store was located on Herald Square.  Tony was hired to decorate Macy’s holiday windows with moving puppets.  The mechanical puppets drew excited lookers and shoppers to the department store.  Many of  the Macy’s employees were immigrants who missed the street celebrations of their native countries.  They influenced their employer to plan a parade and Tony was drafted to help with the planning.  The first Macy’s parade wound its way from Harlem to Herald Square on Thanksgiving Day, 1924.  It was such a success they decided to have a parade every Thanksgiving Day.

The story of how Tony Sarg adapted stick puppets to the huge balloons we see today is told beautifully in Balloons Over Broadway.  Every child who reads this book will look at the parade with new eyes and with greater enjoyment.  Caldecott Honor artist Melissa Sweet has created a picture  book which will delight all ages.  An interesting tidbit I learned is that Bil Baird, the creator of the “Lonely Goatherd” marionette show which was featured in the movie The Sound of Music was an apprentice of Tony Sarg.  In turn, one of Baird’s apprentices was Jim Henson, who invented the Muppets--Wilma Snyder.  (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)