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Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou

 

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me: Maya Angelou’s Courageous Children’s Verses, Illustrated by Basquiat

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A priceless primer on poetry and contemporary art for little ones, and a timeless reminder of the power of courage in all of us.

Fear is the enemy of creativity, the hotbed of mediocrity, a critical obstacle to mastering life. Few embody the defiance of fear with greater dignity and grace than reconstructionist Maya Angelou, who has overcome remarkable hardships — childhood rape, poverty, addiction, bereavement — to become one of today’s most celebrated writers. Like a number of other celebrated “adult” poets and novelists who have also written for children — including Sylvia Plath,Mark TwainAnne SextonWilliam Faulkner,James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Mary Shelley, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar WildeAldous Huxley, Gertrude Stein, James Thurber, Carl Sandburg, Salman Rushdie, Ian Fleming, and Langston Hughes — so has Angelou: The 1993 gem Life Doesn’t Frighten Me (public library), conceived and edited by Sara Jane Boyers, pairs Angelou’s simple, strong words with drawings by legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose signature style of child-like fancy and colorful emotional intensity offers a perfect match for Angelou’s courageous verses.

Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hall
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Tough guys fight
All alone at night
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don’t frighten me at all.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Hear Angelou read the poem herself, which she says she wrote “for all children who whistle in the dark and who refuse to admit that they’re frightened out of their wits”:

 

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me is an absolute treat in its entirety, a priceless primer on poetry and contemporary art for little ones and a timeless reminder of the power of courage in all of us. Complement it with Angelou’s stirring meditation on home, belonging, and (never) growing up.

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Reading Picture Books with Older Children

I have two boys, one 15 years old and one 12. They are interested in a lot of different things. They are also bored by a lot of different things. But I have had some success reading non-fiction picture books with them, sitting together on the sofa or on someone’s bed. They don’t sit on my lap anymore, but they do sit next to me and talk. Here are four of our recent ones.

1.

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Alien Deep by Bradley Hague, 2012, Ages 8-10. Like many families, we have always read a lot about the natural world, including animals, storms, lasers, and geology. Marine life was a favorite for a long time, and with the improvement in technology in the last several years, photography has brought us some stunning films and images and lots of new discoveries. Better technology has enabled us to visit the bottom of the ocean with better cameras, better lighting, and better safety for people. The deepest spot, Challenger Deep, was visited by two men in 1960 and then not again until 2012 by James Cameron. This means that all of the newer books feature creatures or places that were only recently discovered. We had a wonderful time looking at the new discoveries and talking about exploration in this book that focuses on hydrothermal vents in the Galapagos Reef. There are many books with amazing marine creatures to interest most readers.

2.

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Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices by David M. Schwartz and Dwight Kuhn, 2013, Ages 4-12. We had such a great time looking at the disgusting (through very high quality) images! I learned something I didn’t know about penicillin: it was discovered because Alexander Fleming noticed that the colonies of penicillin bacteria were surrounded by clean areas, and he asked why. Very interesting. This book was full of different bacteria (I have a child who is interested in that) as well as other creatures who clean up the world around us.

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3.

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Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart, 2012, Ages 7-10. This book was not as gross as the pumpkin book (at least not to me), but very interesting in a different way. All of the gross facts in this book are scientific facts about something animals do to survive. Saliva can be poisonous or healing. We all love learning about the things animals do. Yes, a couple of pages brought out “EEW” for all three of us!

4.

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Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth, 2013, Ages 6-11. This is truly a wonderful, beautiful, and fascinating book. We stared at the breathtaking art on each page for a couple of minutes (how did Susan Roth do that?) before reading the story of the parrots. The book reads top to bottom like a legal pad, which was a little tiring for my arms but opened up many visual possibilities. How often do we get to read a picture book that has a sense of height, from the ground to the sky? I felt like I could see so much more. And I am a particular fan of seeing a long, comprehensive history told in a clear, big-picture way, like a saga, and this was enhanced by the vertical artwork. We could see people farming and birds flying far above. This book has it all: gorgeous, memorable art joined with history, culture, human interest, animal habitat loss and successful conservation efforts. Unforgettable.

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Read the Horn Book review.

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think! And please recommend more books for my kids if you can!

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Official release today!

My first book, an independent project that combines Japanese history and art, is available today!

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Title: Oboshi the Loyal Samurai: The 47 Ronin Story with Japanese Art

Author: me

Illustrators: more than a dozen 19th-century Japanese woodblock print artists and one 17th-century Japanese painter

Format: Paperback (30 pages) and Ebook

Ages: 6-10

Themes: justice and loyalty

I became interested in the history of the 47 ronin when I heard about the movie 47 Ronin coming out at the end of this month. It was back in July, and as I read about the historical events and people, I also discovered the incredible artwork produced by Japanese artists and wanted to share the art and the story with children in an appropriate way. The story of the 47 ronin is sometimes referred to as the National Legend of Japan, and it represents the finest, ideal example of the code of bushido. My version is based on the play that was written soon after the historical event and uses many of the woodblock prints that were portraits of the actors in costume and on stage. You can look inside the book on Amazon and see for yourself!

The wonderful cover design was created by Andrew Brown of DesignforWriters.com. Thank you Andrew!

Let me know what you think!

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Scaredy Cat for the Halloweensie Contest

TA-DA! Here is my entry for Susanna Leonard Hill‘s annual Halloweensie contest!

 

Meow!

I’m a sleek black cat.

Purr.

Herman loves me. He pets me, soft.

Good kitty.

There’s the jack-o-lantern, eyes shining bright and happy!

This is my favorite time of year.

The days are shorter. Night falls sooner.

The jack-o-lanterns give the first lights of the winter to come.

Whoo! Whoo!

Don’t worry. It’s just the neighborhood owl.

He still lives in the oak tree. But he’s too old to be spooky.

Hissssss! Did that crow cackle at me?

THUMP THUMP! What was that?

I jump onto Herman’s bed and curl into his neck.

Mom opens the door.

“Halloween cookies!”

Yum!

 

Thanks for reading, everyone!

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Reblog Friday: Gettin’ Lucky: An Interview with Jennifer Ann Mann, author of SUNNY SWEET IS SO NOT SORRY

It’s Reblog Friday again! I can’t wait to get my hands on this book… and the next one. I don’t have a sister and I didn’t know girls got up to stuff like this. I thought my boys were crazy, but they are no match for Sunny Sweet. Enjoy!

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Today I’m psyched to introduce Jennifer Ann Mann, the author of the hilarious middle-grade, SUNNY SWEET IS SO NOT SORRY. Let me tell you, people, you will never look at your evil genius sister the same way again.

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One little sister, some homemade super glue, and about a million plastic flowers. That’s all it took to make a totally regular morning turn into a super crazy day! Masha has always known her little sister, Sunny, was an evil genius. But this time, Sunny has gone too far. The glue she used to attach plastic daisies to Masha’s head won’t come off! The girls have to stay home from school, and Sunny sets out on an adventure to help fix Masha’s head. Fix it? Yeah, right! Masha just wants to stick to the rules for once. Sunny plans on testing every single one. When this adventure is over, Sunny Sweet is…

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