Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Memories of Madeleine Comora, 1962-2013

Madeleine Comora Bhushan on her Wedding Day
My friend Madeleine Comora-Bhushan passed away July 3, 2013.  She was an accomplished poet and author of children’s books as well as a gifted painter.  Her home was in Glendale, but she also lived in India for several years where she embraced its rich culture and history.  Many of us in Southern California knew her and will miss her.

I first met Madeleine when she was a student in the writing course I taught at UCLA Extension.  Her class project was the story of barber surgeons and the history of dentistry, inspired by her father who had been a dentist. We reconnected when I later joined a writers’ critique group to which she belonged. By then Madeleine was having some of her poems published and was working on new book projects such as Rembrandt and Titus.

Her book George Washington’s Teeth was co-written with Deborah Chandra, a member of Myra Cohn Livingston’s poetry group that Madeleine was part of. Some of Madeleine’s other stories and poems included a railroad story, inspired, I believe, by her grandfather, and an imaginative dog story, inspired by her dearly beloved bulldog Eleanor.

Madeleine’s writing came from her life, whether on a personal level or from her interest in art and history. The book we did together, Taj Mahal, grew out of a mutual fascination with India and visits to the Taj Mahal, which we both found far more impressive than we expected. The book started out as a strictly nonfiction project focusing on the background and building of the Taj Mahal, but evolved into a poetic retelling of the tale that is said to have inspired the building of this great monument. In the beginning, we envisioned the book illustrated with photos and historical art, but, when our editor suggested that Madeleine’s husband Rahul, a professional artist, submit some sample art, it became obvious that he was the perfect choice as the illustrator. So, while Madeleine and I labored over the text, making sure that every word and comma was exactly right, Rahul painted the pictures, researching every detail. The final product was a true collaboration. I brought my experience and nonfiction skills, Madeleine was the poet, creating music in every line, and Rahul contributed his beautifully detailed art and his Indian sensibility.

Meanwhile, Madeleine and Rahul became officially engaged and were married in a traditional Hindu ceremony, which I and many of Madeleine’s writer friends attended. Madeleine was the most beautiful bride I had ever seen. And then, not too long after, Madeleine became pregnant, her belly expanding each day with twins. I remember going to a baby shower organized by Madeleine’s sister Aileen. And then Kavi and Shiva were born, so tiny at first. After they came home, I helped with the feeding and diapering, trying a give Madeleine a break during a time Rahul was away. I remember how calm she seemed and so glowing with the joy of motherhood.  I am saddened that Madeleine will not see her boys grow up, but she gave them a good start.

I last communicated with Madeleine in late April. She was on her way home from Seattle where she had been getting medical treatments. She said, “I’ll call you soon.”

Madeleine was a wonderful poet, perceptive critic in our writer’s group, loving wife and mother, teacher, and friend. My heart goes out to her husband Rahul, her twin boys, her mother and sisters. She will be terribly missed.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Activity: Make a Dinosaur Time Line

Many of my books, such as Giant Sea Reptiles of the Dinosaur Age, Pterosaurs: Flying Reptiles of the Dinosaur Age and Dinosaurs With Feathers, are about dinosaurs or animals that lived in the Dinosaur Age (the Mesozoic Era.)  Trying to grasp the huge span of time that these animals were alive--225 to 65 million years ago--and the time that has elapsed since they became extinct is difficult.  One way to appreciate that span of time is to  make a time line of the history of the earth and show when dinosaurs, pterosaurs and giant sea reptiles lived. (Use a roll of shelf paper or draw the time line with chalk on the playground. If one inch equals a million years you will need about 20 feet to go back to the beginning of dinosaurs.)

Would you like to have a pet dinosaur?
Write a story about what you would do if you had a dinosaur, pterosaur, or giant sea reptile as a pet. Where would you keep it? What would it eat?  Do you think you could teach it to do tricks?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer is SUN FUN time! Easy-Read Activities on Kindle

SUN FUN: An Easy Read Activity Book by Caroline Arnold.  Here is the perfect book to inspire activities to do with your kids, grandkids, or students, on a hot summer day! 
     Did you know that you can tell time by the sun, cook with the sun, and make pictures with the sun? This book for children ages 5 to 9 has ten fun activities that use energy from the sun, including making a sun clock, shadow puppets, and sun reflectors. From an ice cube race to learning how to watch a solar eclipse, this book uses easily found materials and simple directions to learn about the sun and solar energy.
     I wrote and illustrated this book in 1981.  Many of the projects were ones that I did with my own children and their friends (who became models for my drawings for the book.)  The book has long been out of print but is now available in digital format as a Kindle book on Amazon and at StarWalk Kids.  Have fun and stay cool!
You can preview the book in this video on YouTube about how to make a sun clock. 
     Illustration note:  This book was illustrated back in the days of preseparated art.  I had only three colors to work with--black, red, and yellow--and had to create a separate drawing for each color.  I worked on a light table to make sure that the images for each color would line up (or register) when the pages were printed. In the printing process, the colors combined to make the final image.
Note:  This is an updated reposting of an early blog.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia, Winner of the FOCAL Award 2013

I am pleased to announce that Rita Williams-Garcia wonderful book, One Crazy Summer, has been chosen to receive the FOCAL Award this year. (FOCAL, Friends of Children and Literature, is the support group for the children’s department at the Los Angeles Public Library.) This was my third year on the FOCAL award committee and I had the role of chair.  Books that are considered for this award must have a California connection, and I must say I always learn more about my state after reading the books each year. This book gave me a new perspective on Oakland–a part-time home for me.
I had the pleasure of meeting Rita Williams-Garcia two years ago at the Judy Lopez Book Award dinner, when she received another of her many honors for this book. I look forward to meeting Rita Williams-Garcia again! The award will be presented at the annual FOCAL Award Luncheon held at the Border Grill in downtown Los Angeles (across from the public library) on December 7, 2013
The luncheon will also honor the winners of the writing contest, children grades 3-8, who have read One Crazy Summer and written essays about it.  Information about the contest will be on the FOCAL website soon.  For a list of all the books that have won the FOCAL award, click here.
Teri Markson, who has previously been on the award committee, wrote an excellent  review of the book for School Library Journal.  Here it is:
School Library Journal (March 1, 2010)
Gr 4-7-It is 1968, and three black sisters from Brooklyn have been put on a California-bound plane by their father to spend a month with their mother, a poet who ran off years before and is living in Oakland. It's the summer after Black Panther founder Huey Newton was jailed and member Bobby Hutton was gunned down trying to surrender to the Oakland police, and there are men in berets shouting "Black Power" on the news. Delphine, 11, remembers her mother, but after years of separation she's more apt to believe what her grandmother has said about her, that Cecile is a selfish, crazy woman who sleeps on the street. At least Cecile lives in a real house, but she reacts to her daughters' arrival without warmth or even curiosity. Instead, she sends the girls to eat breakfast at a center run by the Black Panther Party and tells them to stay out as long as they can so that she can work on her poetry. Over the course of the next four weeks, Delphine and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, spend a lot of time learning about revolution and staying out of their mother's way. Emotionally challenging and beautifully written, this book immerses readers in a time and place and raises difficult questions of cultural and ethnic identity and personal responsibility. With memorable characters (all three girls have engaging, strong voices) and a powerful story, this is a book well worth reading and rereading.-Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A LITTLE FREE LIBRARY in My Neighborhood or Yours!

I was out for a walk around my West Los Angeles neighborhood the other day and discovered that one of my neighbors has put up a library box in front of their house.  It is full of books free for the taking. You can also contribute books to share with the community. I had heard about the free library movement, but this was the first time I had seen it near me.
The Little Free Library movement was started by a group of  builders, stewards, book donors, borrowers, neighbors and friends in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The mission of this movement as stated on the main website is:
  •     To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.
  •     To build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations
  •     To build more than 2,510 libraries around the world – more than Andrew Carnegie!
Inspired by this noble mission a group of people have begun to build a network of Little Free Libraries in the West Los Angeles area. If you are interested in becoming a librarian by building a little free library at your home, school or community center, please contact the Little Free Library for more information.