Love by Anita Moorjani & Angie DeMuro and a Poem by Derek Walcott

“Be your own best friend. Love yourself just as you are!”

is the message that Love: a story about who you truly are teaches children to embrace.

Anita Moorjani, author of Dying to Be Me and What If This is Heaven and illustrator Angie DeMuro have co created this book to help parents teach children how to love themselves, especially through the hard times, and to know and understand that this is something important and valuable for all of us to learn.

Within the beautifully written and illustrated pages of the book, children are taught how to have compassion and acceptance for themselves, and how to love themselves through many everyday situations. The happiness and confidence that can come from learning this ability is a gift that children, even grown-up ones, will carry with them their entire lives.

“You can’t love another unconditionally until you love yourself unconditionally, and when you truly do achieve that, you will never allow anyone to use you or abuse you.”

Anita Moorjani, What If This Is Heaven

At the end of the book is a Love Yourself Pledge, with a space to write the name of the person who has been given the book. Anita Moorjani believes her own childhood might have been changed had she had access to something like this.

Although I have not yet bought a copy for myself, this is a book that I’ve gifted, and one I recommend gifting to anyone who might have the opportunity to read to children and to impart positive messages of love and compassion in today’s increasingly stressful world.

I can’t think of any child that wouldn’t want to be exposed to something as reassuring and heartfelt as this, and it may just make a difference to some who needs to hear its message now, especially as we become more aware of the widespread silencing of victims of bullying and criticism, events or experiences that too often children are too afraid to share with parents.

It reminds me too of a wonderful Derek Walcott poem, which since today is Valentines Day, I share below for you, for not everyone can rely on another to express loving words or gestures on this day, but as Derek shares with us below, we have it in us to do that for ourselves.

So what loving thing are you doing for yourself today?

L O V E   A F T E R   L O V E

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

 Happy Valentine Everyone!

The Poet Slave of Cuba, a biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle

CIMG6788Juan Francisco Manzano was born into the household of a wealthy slave-owner in Cuba in 1797.

We know details about the early years of his life thanks to a collection of his autobiographical notes being smuggled out of Cuba to England, where they were published by abolitionists who hoped to raise support for their cause.

He spent most of his childhood close to a woman who insisted he call her Mama, despite the presence of his own mother Maria del Pilar.

 

Imagine

how he must feel in that other home

CIMG6789where he learns the words

of verses, plays, sermons, sonnets

now he’s a parrot, not a poodle

he listens, listens, listens

repeats every sound he hears

from every book in his godmother’s library

Though he wasn’t formally educated, he had a gift for language and poetry and despite the severe punishments he endured for continuing to express joy and suffering through his words.

The other day he recited words so completely new

that I understood the verse

was his own

not borrowed, memorised,

begged from the godmother’s books

Soaring

he said

Spirit

he whispered

CIMG6790Imprisoned

he murmured

and then he went on

I only caught a  few fragments

of his rhyme of delight,

something about a golden beak

something about singing

and wishes

and hope

The woman who kept him initially allowed his mother and any unborn children to buy their freedom and promised Juan freedom on her death. It was a promise rescinded by those still living after the woman’s death, though his mother continued to try to purchase his freedom without result.

Don’t cry, my other mother, the real one, whispers

this is the end

of your sadness

now you are free!

But I am not

it’s a trick

one swift trip

to the house

of my godparents

and then to La Marquesa

instead of the long-promised

freedom.

The Marquesa is a bitter, cruel woman who even when inflicting the most grotesque punishment on Juan, still finds reason to blame him for her own suffering.

Some people can never be satisfied.

The poet-boy for instance.

Nothing is ever enough for him.

marquesaI have to tell the overseers to teach

the same lessons

over and over

locking his ankles in the stocks

tying him to the cross like Jesus.

Or tying him to a ladder laid out on the ground

face down, mouth down

so he cannot speak

except to count his own lashes out loud.

And even when this is done nine days in a row

still he bleeds and weeps,

trying to show me

that he has won

he has triumphed once again

he has proven that he can still

make me sad.

Evil child.

To find out what happens, read this wonderful story of poems, a beautiful collection and tribute to a life of an exceptional poet.

Juan Francisco Manzano didn’t stop producing spontaneous poems until very late in his life, after being arrested for trying to stir up a slave rebellion through his poetry and spending a year in prison. That experience silenced his voice forever.

His work is astonishing, bold, thought-provoking, intelligent and lengthy. Once you begin reading it you can’t stop and I can see why both his work and his story haunted Margarita Engle for so long. That she has been able to condense his experience and thoughts into this humble volume is a gift to readers young and old.

To read the English translation of some of Juan Francisco’s original work, click on this link or the image below:

Poems by a Slave in the Island of Cuba, Recently Liberated;
Translated from the Spanish, by R. R. Madden, M.D.
With the History of the Early Life of the Negro Poet, Written by Himself

Manzano

Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet who has published a number of books for young readers in free verse and prose poetry. She chooses interesting subjects that make me want to read everything she has written, they are an introduction to explore further the subjects she introduces. The titles alone are seductive.

The artwork in all her books is fantastic, this work illustrated beautifully by Sean Qualls.

I have read and reviewed The Wild Book, based on the life of the author’s grandmother who struggled with dyslexia, and she has other tempting titles such as:

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom

The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba

The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba

Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck

Great Christmas Expectations

Blog in France is a lady with llamas who left Ireland to live in France and has organised a Christmas BlogHop which I am delighted to participate in, including a give-away, just leave a comment to be in the draw to win Paul Durcan’s book and do visit the fabulous blogs participating in this festive foray linked at the end of this post.

I’m sharing favourite Christmas reads and the first book that came to mind that has been my favourite since I heard the author read an extract at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1997, is Paul Durcan’s Christmas Day.

Christmas Day is a 78 page prose poem that reminds us in a humorous way of those who won’t be sharing a traditional Christmas, whether by choice or because they find themselves far from family and friends, and of the traditions we partake in and even when we don’t, that seem to resonate within us anyway.

In cities across the world

I like sitting in churches doing nothing.

I like going to communion:

Standing in line and catching

Glimpses in night skies

Through x-rays of clouds

Of the thin white moon of the host.

The moment I took the decision

Not to go to Mass

I could feel life returning into my body,

My empty cistern filling up,

The Holy Spirit gurgling inside me.

It is a funny, subversive, somewhat melancholic conversation between two men – Paul and Frank who spend Christmas in Dublin trying to make it something, but not quite getting it right. It will have you laughing out loud, nodding your head in acknowledgement and realising the importance of reaching out to at least one person this Christmas.  Not only it is a terrific read, but I was so enamoured with his performance, I bought audio versions as gifts for family, his delightful Irish voice, much a part of the experience for me.

He is unafraid, masterful and exactly what this world needs more of: wild abandon, wild love and sheer mad genius. Alice Sebold

120912_2017_GreatChrist2.jpgMy children’s favourite Christmas story and one that I was asked to read to the class in English comes from The Magic of Christmas storybook. All the stories are great, but their favourite, and a word they just loved to hear repeated is Ridiculous.

Ridiculous is a story about a young tortoise who doesn’t want to hibernate in winter, she decides to go outdoors after her parents have settled down to sleep and explore the snowy surrounds.

She meets a duck, a dog, a cat and a bird, all of whom exclaim and repeat the same thing:

“Whoever heard of a tortoise out in winter?”

Ridiculous!”

Shelley the tortoise disagrees, but discovers she can’t break the ice to get food like a duck, keep warm by running around like a dog, crawl into a nice warm house like a cat, or fly off home like a bird.

My own favourite children’s Christmas story, doesn’t require reading at all, at least it has no words.

120912_2017_GreatChrist5.jpgRaymond Brigg’s delightful The Snowman, is an all-time classic picture book and celebrates the power of the imagination and the wonder of childhood, as a boy builds a snowman and then goes on a night-time adventure with him into the world to places he has never seen.

120912_2017_GreatChrist6.jpgAnd finally, to the book I will be curling up this Christmas. Have you already chosen your festive literary escape?

Last year, I remember losing myself in Abraham Verghese’s wonderful Cutting for Stone and I’m hoping that The Night Circus will do the same for me this year. If not, it might even be a reread of The Snow Child, which was my favourite read of 2012.

So leave a comment if you wish to be in the give-away for a copy of Paul Durcan’s Christmas Day and have fun visiting all the Christmas Bloghop participants below, many of whom are also offering give-aways.

Blog in France Bloghop

A Flamingo in Utrecht
Expat Christmas
Box53b
Word By Word
Vive Trianon
Fifty Shades of Greg
Books Are Cool
Perpignan Post
Jive Turkish
Very Bored in Catalunya
Life on La Lune
Scribbler in Seville
Blog in France Christmas
Les Fragnes Christmas
ReadEng. Didi’s Press
Steve Bichard .com
Edit My Book
Zombie Christmas
Christmas in Cordoba
The best Christmas blog ever
The Christmas Surprise.
Sci-fi Writer Jeno Marz
The best Christmas quilting blog ever
Painting in Tuscany
The Business of Life…
Funny tweets
we’ve got a new house but no stuff and it’s Christmas
Paris Cheapskate
What about your saucepans?
When I Wasn’t Home for Christmas or Celebrating
ShockWaves Launch Party
The French Village Diaries
Melanged Magic
Heads Above Water: Staying Afloat in France
Piccavey.com – An English Girl in Granada
Bordeaux Bumpkin
French immersion
Callaloo Soup
Grigory Ryzhakov
Piglet in Portugal
Beyond MÃnana
Chronicles of M Blog

Growing up with a Wild Book

courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Coy

Fefa is dyslexic. Reading makes her feel dizzy. She has never been a great fan of words, the letters get mixed up and make her feel anxious. The doctor has diagnosed ‘word blindness’.

    “Some children can see everything except words.

    They are only blind on paper” he says.

Fefa’s mother refuses to accept his verdict.

    “Seeds of learning grow slowly” she assures me.

She presents her daughter with a book and encourages her:

    “Think of this little book as a garden, throw wild flower seeds all over each page, let the words sprout like seedlings and then relax and watch as your wild diary grows.”

Fefa opens the book hesitantly, finds the pages blank within but wide open to her imagination, a place where she can write unobserved, in any way she wishes.

Soon Fefa is nurturing the slow transforming pages of her wild book as she would a precious flower garden, turning those awkward spiky, complex letters into words of beauty and importance.

Margarita Engle’s delightful ‘The Wild Book’ is a tribute in verse inspired by stories told to her by her maternal grandmother, a young girl growing up in rural Cuba, struggling with dyslexia. It will be enjoyed by readers of all ages, both those who struggle with and those who adore words and of course, lovers of the blank page journal everywhere.  It is a book to read and reread, silently and out loud.

“No one in my family ever throws anything away, not even an old story that can be told and retold late at night, to make the deep darkness feel a little less lonely.”

It is a magical story of a little girl coping with school, homework, older brothers, being left behind as the others go off to boarding school, of facing family threats and danger; all part of daily life on the farm and in the village, aided by a loving mother and uncle who love to recite poetry.

    “After my mother

    finishes her seascape,

    my uncle recites

    a long poem about the sky,

    where sun spirits


        ride glowing chariots,

    and there is someone

    who knows how to fly

    towards the truth

    of dreams…


        I don’t understand

    the whole thrilling verse but I love the way poetry

    turns ordinary words into winged things

    that rise up

    and soar!”

Now couldn’t we all do with a wild book…

Note: This book was an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC), provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Secret Gardens and the Imagination

This week I find myself rereading an old-time classic out loud.  I am being reacquainted with Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’ as I read it aloud to my 9 year daughter while camping out for 10 days with her in the paediatric ward of the hospital.  My French is being elevated to yet another level as we undertake a rapid apprenticeship in living with Type 1 diabetes, which after a rushed call to the hospital, we discovered was the cause of her giant fatigue and unquenchable thirst.

Both of us seeking an escape, we embark on our journey towards the secret garden with 9 year old Mary Lennox, who finds herself removed from an exotic life in India and living with a rarely seen and allegedly cantankerous Uncle, in a grand old manor on the moors of England after both her parents succumb to cholera.

We are a couple of chapters into the book and my daughter is feeling a little deceived.  “There’s no secret garden” she says, “and what does it mean, gloomy”.  I have to admit that for a story chosen to perk up an ailing child, the first few chapters are somewhat gloomy indeed.

The Secret Garden in the daytime...

At this point my daughter decides to take the matter into her own hands and here you can see her first attempt at creating a secret garden of her own.  The joy and allure of a great book title, it inspires the imagination before we have even arrived at the promised treasure the book beholds.

Young Mary has been both pampered and neglected in her former colonial life so England is something of a shock, where staff speak to her as an equal and expect her to be somewhat independent.  But this newfound freedom will lead her to discover the enchanted garden and to make new friends, not just of the human variety.

Needless to say, this wonderful book is about transformation in many guises, the human spirit, the magic and healing power of gardens, the wonder of birds and animals and the joy that acts of kindness engender.  It worked wonders for us both.

The Secret Garden at night...