Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Am a Leaf

Childrens Literature - K-2 (Scholastic Books Level 1 Reader – Science)
I Am a Leaf
By Jean Marzollo

This book was read aloud to a crowd of adoring literary fans (my family) by an acclaimed new reader and kindergartner (my daughter).


Bright and cheery, looking like reliefs of construction-paper cutouts (perhaps an homage to Eric Carle?)


As the story opens, we are lured into believing that this will be a light tale of blissful simplicity in nature:

See the ladybug? She’s crawling on me. It tickles!
Yet, this seemingly innocuous account foreshadows the work’s weighty underlying theme: contrasting proletariat transcendence of the establishment with bourgeois hubris of respectability teetering on a cesspool of mediocrity.

The hapless leaf intuitively grasps the transience of its plight:

We have a summer job. We make tree food.
Reliant on an uncertain supply of raw materials (water, light, air), the worker-leaf sacrifices its own sense of self in the substance of chlorophyll (reckoned “KLOR-o-fill” in a transparent attempt at colloquialism to ensnare the trust of the largely illiterate leaf population) to the photosynthetic means of agrarian production:

Then I add something green…Chlorophyll is green. It makes me green.
The leaf acknowledges its non-entity, an anonymous cog in the societal machine:

It [water] flows into my veins. My veins are like little pipes.

The leaf, flora’s embodiment of the biblical Job, is continuously marginalized by the bourgeoisie: A caterpillar eats a hole through our hero’s very substance, a spider be-webs it, and a squirrel tramples upon it. But the leaf transcends each humiliation with selfless virtue:

But I still did my job.
Employment opportunities diminish with eroding raw material supply (sunlight) as production migrates to prey on the populace of a new, unsuspecting solar-emerging nation. The hapless leaf is abandoned to its eventual demise. Yet, the simple leaf does not despair. Just when we think the leaf could show no higher virtue, our hero defies defeat, choosing spiritual freedom as a symbolic victory despite the inevitability of death. Reveling in the magnificence of its autumnal shroud, the leaf hurls itself from its branchy bondage into an ultimate dance upon the wind, a final flight of liberty before returning to dust.

We are left with the image of a new leaf budding in Spring, both testimony to the noble sacrifice of its predecessor and demoralizing evidence of the perpetuity and desensitization of continued oppression. The leaf displays an innate form of arboreal Stockholm Syndrome:

Soon I'll get a job...Mm-m-m. That sun feels good.
Thoroughly depressing. (This, of course, is the essence of high art.)


When synopses contain words like proletariat, oppression, and bourgeoisie and make reference to biblical characters, one feels obliged to applaud the intellectualism of the published work, while recognizing that it is probably a less-than-classic read. I Am a Leaf is no exception. It is, however, engaging enough material for reading practice, with a basic scientific theme thrown in as a bonus. As first readers go, The Mystery of the Missing Tooth by William H. Hooks is still the front-runner in our house.

And, yes, this synopsis has a higher word count than both books combined.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

All your grammar are belong to us

We all could use some help with our writing now and then, even if, like me, you went through 16 years of Catholic education. Following are a couple of resources for improving your writing.

Grammar Girl
I've noted my appreciation for Grammar Girl (Mignon Fogarty) in this blog before. She is the mastermind behind the podcast, Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She has a book available by the same name and will be publishing a new book in October 2009. What I find to be useful, though, beyond Grammar Girl's cyber and print publications, is Grammar Girl's presence on Twitter. She tweets all kinds of interesting tidbits AND will answer your brief grammar questions directly and quickly. It's like having a personal grammar consultant!

Writing the Cyber Highway
Thanks to Grammar Girl, I stumbled upon this website created by Michele Tune. Michele describes the purpose of her site:
My (original and continuing) goal for Writing the Cyber Highway is to provide useful resources and a breath of fresh air to fellow writers, new or seasoned.

It looks like a wonderful resource for writing help. I need to explore it more thoroughly.

Combining the best of both resources, a
contest is underway on Writing the Cyber Highway to win a copy of Grammar Girl's book! Hurry, you must enter by June 13, 2009.

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