Seeds from a Birch Tree

Writing Haiku and the Spiritual Journey
By Clark Strand
Hyperion, 1997

Category: Adult Non-fiction (Craft)

I found a copy of SEEDS FROM A BIRCH TREE on the used book sale shelf of the Peacedale Public Library, where my kids and I passed a rainy August afternoon during our vacation on the Rhode Island coast. For fifty cents, it was mine, and our (wet) vacation took an unexpected and sunnier turn. The things I’d brought to read sat neglected as I communed instead with this little masterpiece. And wrote haiku.

(Me? Writing haiku? I know it sounds crazy, but …)

Strand’s thoughtful look at the form and his zen approach to creating it is perfect for the tentative beginner. He doesn’t talk about composing poems so much as experiencing nature in a purposeful and meaningful way and, if the words come, recording the experience in seventeen syllables.

(Hey! Even I can do that.)

And Strand frames reading haiku as a spiritual practice, an idea that completely resonated with me.

(Slowing down? Looking deeply? Honoring the spiritual? What better time for that than a vacation?)

SEEDS was as inspirational to me as any book I have ever read. I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t expect it. But there it was. I’ve taken to carrying a notebook when I’m outside in the woods, an idea taken from Strand. Now I walk, and watch, and count syllables off on my fingers. It’s an addicting habit, a lovely practice, and I hope it stays with me.

silent, unmoving,
pine trees cast their hopes to wind
forest seedshower

© Loree Griffin Burns, all rights reserved

For a hefty dose of nonfiction, check out this week’s Nonfiction Monday roundup, over at Wrapped in Foil.

Mud Pies and Other Recipes

By Marjorie Winslow
Illustrated by Erik Blegvad
Walker and Company, 1961

Category: Hands-on Children’s Nonfiction

“Doll cookery is not a very exacting art,” Marjorie Winslow admits in the foreword to this irresistible tribute to that staple of an outdoor childhood: making mudpies. “If a recipe calls for a cupful of something, you can use a measuring cup or a teacup or a buttercup.” The pages that follow are filled with whimsical recipes, plenty of natural ingredients (pine cones, acorn caps, shredded marigold blossoms, and fresh rainwater, to name a few) and endless options for the backyard chef.

How do you toss a Seesaw salad? “Arrange yourself on a seesaw with the bowl in front of you and a friend at the other end. Toss as long as it’s fun, or until well blended.” Of course.

Too tired to cook up a fancy meal? Try a quick Mud Puddle Soup: “Find a mud puddle after a rainstorm and seat your dolls around it. Serve.”

My daughter’s copy of MUD PIES was a gift from a friend more than five years ago, and it looks like a well-loved and much-used cookbook should: dog-eared, annotated, splattered with berry juice, and crunchy with crumbs (of sand). When she pulls it out and starts to cook, I’m mesmerized; this is a book that was first published nearly a decade before I was born, after all, and she and I can still play at it for hours. Here’s a recipe we wrote together this past week, during a soggy couple days near the beach in Rhode Island. It gives you a flavor for the sort of creativity this gem of a book inspires:

Late Summer Beach Soup

Place 6 rain-soaked rose hips in the bottom of a small saucepan. Cover with fresh seawater. Simmer gently on a patch of grass, stirring occasionally, until the sun comes out. Before serving, add shredded beach roses and a sprinkling of sand. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately.

Bon Appetit!

Edited to add: Check out a round-up of today’s Nonfiction Monday posts over at Ana’s Nonfiction Blog.

Blizzard of Glass


By Sally M. Walker
Henry Holt, 2011

Category: Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction

I picked up an Advance Reader’s Edition of this book at the annual conference of the American Library Association last month. Technically, I am too biased to review it: Sally Walker is a friend and Henry Holt is publishing my own next book. But I’m not the sort of girl that would let those things sway her into praising a book she didn’t love … and I love this book too much not to sing about it.

In 1917, a ship carrying munitions into Halifax Harbor collided with another ship, setting off what was then the largest man-made explosion in history. The accident happened on an otherwise humdrum December morning, and Sally Walker tells the story perfectly, bringing readers into Halifax, showing them around, feeding them breakfast, walking them to school, and leading them, moment by painstaking moment, toward the disaster that changed the community forever. She gives special attention to those facets of the story that will most intrigue young people, and she does so with respect and care for both her subjects and her readers.

This is narrative nonfiction at its finest, folks. A page-turner right out of the history books, a disaster story told not for its shock value, but for its enduring value. Today’s kids are surrounded by disaster—natural or manmade, real or in sound-byte. To some of them, it may feel as if disaster is a new thing, as if dealing with it is something humans are not equipped for. The fact is—and BLIZZARD OF GLASS readers come to understand this—we humans have dealt with disaster for our entire history. And time and again, we’ve come together, in community, to help one another through. That message rings powerfully in this book, and its why I made sure both my tweens had a chance to read it before I passed it along, with rave reviews, to my town librarian.

BLIZZARD OF GLASS will be available in bookstores on November 22, 2011. Don’t miss it!

Edited to add:

It’s Nonfiction Monday, which means a gaggle of bloggers are talking about children’s nonfiction. You can see a roundup of today’s offerings at the proseandkahn blog. As always, you can read up on Nonfiction Monday celebrations at the official website.

Nonfiction Galore

January is award season in the children’s publishing world, and the result is lists and lists of books I’d like to read. I’ve compiled a few of my favorite nonfiction book lists here …

From the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the 2011 Orbis Pictus Award and Finalists

From the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12

From the American Library Association, the 2011 YALSA Award for Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction winner and finalists

Also from the American Library Association, the 2011 Sibert Medal winner and honor books

From the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Subaru, the 2010 SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books winners and finalists

And don’t forget the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ 2010 Literary Awards finalists in the Nonfiction Picture Book and Nonfiction Middle Grade and Young Adult Book categories

* * *

Are there lists of this year’s award-winning non-fiction that I’ve missed? Please let me know and I’ll add them.

And what do you think of that rockin’ banner up there? I thought it was a bit loud, but its creator, my son, thinks that is because I’m a bit old.

Finally, did you know you can find all things nonfiction from around the blogosphere every Monday at Nonfiction Monday? Here’s today’s roundup, courtesy of the blog Great Kid Books. Check it out.