Friday, August 27, 2010

Vote for North American Folktales Picture Books

This August Goodreads' Picture-Book Club selected nominees for their August North American Folktale Theme competition.

The nominees are:
== Snowbear Whittington: An Appalachian Beauty and the Beast
== The Flying Canoe
== Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp
== The First Strawberries
== The Girl Who Spun Gold
Alternate/Optional Reads:
== Swamp Angel
== Borreguita and the Coyote

The club provides a discussion platform for those interested in childrens' literature; from picture-books to juvenile fiction, award-winners, and overlooked gems.

So if you want to cast your vote or if you're just looking around for some reading materials for children, be sure to join the Goodreads' conversation

Goodreads also offers readers and writers alike the following:
* Great book recommendations from people you know.
* Keeping track of what you've read and what you'd like to read.
* Forming book clubs, answering book trivia, collecting your favorite quotes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Balladeer Faces Death

Balladeer Michael Hills plays folk/country western music. His work is kindred to that of Woody Guthrie. He told me recently that such music is the poor white man’s blues.

With one solid Top Ten hit (Matchbooks and Phone Numbers) to his credit he has always found his greatest joy in music.

Composing lyrics for his six or twelve string guitar brings him great relief as well as pleasure. Throughout his life, he has always kept returning to the homey comfort of melodies that rock him gently and the socio-political message of ballads that once helped to shape this nation. It was a country whose wars he has always despised; from the homeless street urchin phase of his youth to his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War he hated wars and the havoc they wreaked upon others.

His efforts to resist the draft found him a medic on the front lines where he salvaged what body parts he could and, like the rest of his unit, was doused repeatedly in the deadly mists of Agent Orange.

His ‘Purple Heart’ body absorbed it all; the nerve-destroying chemicals, the endless landscape of broken bodies, some of which would never be healed, and the absurdity of fighting an endless war that many today realize was ‘unjust.’

Death is on its way to Michael now. The debilitating Agent Orange is staking its final claims upon him.

At 62 years old, he tells me today he’s got six months to leave (according to his doctor)…but maybe he’s got less time than that. Because he’s not going to wait until he’s blind and deaf; until he is catatonic and incapable of being alive. He distinguishes between this and ‘just living.’

Not one to wait around idle while death plays its fiddle – one of Michael’s most favorite instruments – he’s got plans; musical plans that include regular Saturday night gigs at Bill’s Pizza Shack in Prescott, Arizona and keeping his own instruments in top shape so that when Death comes, he’ll be ready to join the band.

Now, this is the Michael I know; have known for the past 28 years. This is the Michael whose gallant efforts and integrity – even in the end - I applaud.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Family Reunions: Living History

Today's TALK OF THE NATION (NPR Radio) covered the upcoming 85th Quander Family Reunion.

What's remarkable about this particular reunion is this:

The Quander family, one of the oldest and largest black families in America, celebrates its 85th reunion this year. They'll convene at Mount Vernon, where the first Quanders were held as slaves.

I was impressed with how this family has organized itself into a folkloric machine, complete with its own non-profit historical society. The Quander Quality is devoted to preserving the family legacy that began on this continent in slavery. The society also strives to keep the family together by coordinating reunions like the one they have planned this year.

Throughout the radio interview, callers also chimed in about their family stories, each of them as unique as the caller and reminded me of my last family reunion.

95 members of the Pizante-Abouaf family took a Mexican cruise in 2008. Family from as far away as Greece were on the ship that, at times, it felt like we owned. Jokingly, I suggested that there were enough of us on the ship to redirect the boat to Rhodes which was once the heart of our family tree. Well, maybe the branches.

Our family were Spanish Jews (Sephardim) who had been forced to leave Spain during the inquisition. With relatives all over the world (thanks to the diaspora) the strain that ended up in Rhodes included my grandfather who arrived in this country in 1917. He paved the way for his brothers and then for his wife and her brothers to find a new life north of San Francisco.

Raphael Pizante's name is on the wall at Ellis Island as it that of his wife Fortunee Abouaf (Pizante). Fortunately for me, most of the Pizante and Abouaf siblings who immigrated lived near one another in Vallejo which was one a thriving port of call. A few siblings found their way to other parts of the country; cities where the Sephardic community still gather together. Those cities include Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle.

In the mobile nature of our fast-paced American society, we are spred out. Cousins I visited weekly now live up to 8 hours away from me by car. My own siblings live anywhere from 1 to 9 hours away and each of us live such full lives that we rarely see one another. The larger family is even harder to get together. We try every five years or so to have a reunion the one we had on the cruise ship. We select different locations and activities and price points so that everyone has an opportunity to participate.

But I am inspired by the NPR show I heard today. The Quander family is looking towards its 100th Family Reunion. Their story made me away of mine: in seven years our family will have been in this country 100 years!

Looks like it's time to start working on our next one. In the meantime, congratulations to the Quander's family and may they continue to prosper!