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Archive for January 22nd, 2015

winter_bees

by Sam Juliano

It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.   -James Joyce

Over the years picture books set in winter have been both plentiful and varied.  In fact if you were to ask a trivia question about the most prevalent word to appear in the titles of the Caldecott Medal winners, it would be the one that starts with the letter ‘s’ and ends with the letter ‘w.’  Still like any other preponderance, truly great ones are rare.  Owl Moon, Snowflake Bentley, The Snowy Day, White Snow Bright Snow and The Big Snow won Caldecott Medals, while the more recent Snow by Uri Schulevitz won an Honor.  Just earlier this year John Rocco released Blizzard, about the ultimate snow event.  There is something about snow that that has always captured the imagination of writers, artists and filmmakers. James Joyce wrote the most famous passage on it, but equally unforgettable are poems by Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens. In classical music one might envision Schubert’s masterpiece song cycle Winterreise, or Tchaikovsky’s “Winter Dreams Symphony” or his ballets, or perhaps even something as exotic as Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia.  Filmmakers too have always been fascinated with the possibilities of this wonder of nature, and just a few of a long scroll of movies set in the snow include The Dead, The Shining, The Fast Runner, Fargo, The Ascent and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.   (more…)

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teacher monster cover

by Sam Juliano

The first time I ever entertained unholy thoughts that my teacher might be a monster was was back in the 60’s, when as a third grader, I faced the everyday terror of a punishing woman named Isabel Ewan.  This was a teacher who exercised disciplinary punishment with impunity.  The slightest infraction resulted in an edict to enter the clothing room, where the fearful Mrs. Ewan ordered you to slap yourself in the face.  If the response was half hearty she’d bark ‘harder!’ and if she unsatisfied, she’d help matters out by holding your hand and assisting in the self-flagellation.  Our class learned the following year that this monster was vanquished by the school’s Board of Education, but for all we knew at that time, she may have just wanted to go somewhere else to teach unruly kids the lesson of a lifetime.  Yet, this monster was all too real, not symbolic, and not with the kind of benevolent side seen in Mrs. Kirby the titular character in Peter Brown’s delightfully subversive My Teacher is a Monster!  Brown, whose masterful Mr. Tiger Goes Wild shockingly missed out on Caldecott Medal and honor acknowledgement last year states at the very outset that his book is about “misunderstood teachers and their misunderstood students” and in conclusion that “monsters are not always what they seem.” (more…)

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