Raymond Huber:Bees — Books for Children

Lore and Language of Children

August 4th, 2018

Iona and Peter Opie were like the Brothers’ Grimm of the 1950s. Their fabulous book was The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, an epic collection of children’s rhymes, riddles, superstitions, jeers, and customs, garnered from interviews with thousands of English children in the 1950s. Many of these rhymes and tricks persist in the playground today. Here are some gems from the Opie’s collection:

Pinch-me, Punch-me, and Steponmytoes,
Went down to the river to swim,
Two of the three were drowned,
Who do you think was saved?

Old Mr Kelly,
Had a pimple on his belly;
His wife cut it off,
It tasted like jelly.

When the war is over Hitler will be dead,
He hopes to go to heaven with a crown upon his head.
But the Lord said, No! You’ll have to go below,
There’s only room for Churchill, so cheery, cheery oh.

God made the bees
The bees make the honey;
We do the work,
The teacher gets the money.

Scab and matter custard,
Green snot pies,
Dead dog’s giblets
Dead cat’s eyes.
Hard boiled snails, Spread it thick
Wash it down with a cup of cold sick!

 

 

The Happy Prince – Wilde

July 8th, 2018

It’s really, really heartbreaking. But for some reason you want to read it again and again. It’s an extraordinary love story.– Michael Morpurgo

Almost every Sunday morning as a child  I’d listen to Oscar Wilde’s short story, The Happy Prince (1888), on the radio and cry into my pillow so my brother nearby wouldn’t hear. A statue being stripped of his gold to feed the poor seems an unlikely plot for children. I didn’t understand all of Wilde’s lyrical language back then but the story shaped my values concerning wealth, poverty, and authority figures:

“The living always think that gold can make them happy.”

Listen to that radio version read by Robert Morley.

Outside Over There

June 9th, 2018

That touch of reality in a child’s life is a child’s comfort. The child gets the sense that this person who wrote this book knows about me and knows the world can be a troubling, incomprehensible place. Maurice Sendak

Outside Over There is my favourite Maurice Sendak picture book –  –  nobody else combined the real and the unreal so well. It’s a  tale of separation and siblings (that features a creepy ice baby) and is both haunting and comforting.

Sendak’s books can be exuberant (In the Night Kitchen), spiritual (Dear Mili), and funny (Pierre, a cautionary tale). I like his vision of atoms dancing to form molecules from the first book he illustrated (when 19 years old), Atomics for the Millions:

sendak-atoms

Love Bees

May 5th, 2018

Pollination: ‘a love story that feeds the Earth.’ – Louie Schwartzberg

We can’t survive without bees and bees won’t survive unless we love them. It’s a unique partnership between ‘wild’ creatures and humans: honey bees give us fruit, vegetables, and pastures – we must make sure they have a variety of flowering plants and clean habitats (avoid pesticides, especially neonicotinoids).

Human beings have fabricated the illusion that they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services. – Achim Steiner

 Watch a sweet little film, Dance of the Honey Bee’ (Vimeo).

Everyone loves honey bees…even Daleks:

5 Ways Books Help Children

April 6th, 2018

Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives. – Graham Greene

In a world that offers children so many digital delights, why bother with books?

1. Books help children understand the world

Books expose children to new ideas and help shape their world view – reading is a meeting of minds.

While reading, we can leave our own consciousness, and pass over into the consciousness of another person, another age, another culture – Maryanne Wolf

2. Books help children understand themselves

Stories give a frame of reference by which they can measure their experiences and feelings.

We read books to find out who we are. – Ursula K Le Guin

3. Books develop children’s imagination

Reading is imagination, and imagination enriches the real world.

Children do not despise real woods because they have read of enchanted woods; the reading makes all woods a little enchanted. – C.S. Lewis

4. Books develop children’s brains

Books boost a child’s intellectual development. The brain changes when children learn to read: it creates new neural pathways….reading and thinking enhance each other.

5. Books are enjoyable.

Ultimately a child must want to read. The child who reads for pleasure is forming a wonderful habit – and there’s also pleasure for parents in reading aloud.

See also: Guide To Best Books For Children

 

How to Write like E. B. White

March 3rd, 2018

E.B. White wrote only three children’s books and two are America’s top books (Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little). What was his secret? Imagination, yes, but he also took his time and revised a lot to refine his style. Charlotte’s Web is a short book but it took two years to write the first draft, then another year to rewrite it. It has the best opening line of any children’s book  – “Where’s Papa going with that axe?”; and perhaps the finest ending (certainly the most heart-rending).

The ending is as beautiful, bold and full of integrity as Charlotte herself.– Guardian

In a Paris Review interview, White puts a witty spin on procrastination (which writers are good at):

Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer—he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. He waits for the surge (of emotion? of strength? of courage?) that will carry him along. I am apt to let something simmer for a while in my mind before trying to put it into words. I walk around, straightening pictures on the wall, rugs on the floor—as though not until everything in the world was lined up and perfectly true could anybody reasonably expect me to set a word down on paper.

Moomins and Trees

February 1st, 2018

My recent essays:

Moomintrolls For Life, from Saplings magazine.

These books by Tove Jansson are the perfect children’s stories – thrilling, comforting, funny, profound…

The Presence of Trees, from Down In Edin magazine.

Trees are not only smart but are vital to the functioning of the planet’s natural cycles. Trees are also one of our few natural allies in the daunting fight against global warming.

Tane Mahuta, 2000 year old kauri

Books As Old Friends

January 7th, 2018

Books are sensory – they have a pleasing look, a comforting smell, a grainy feel, a satisfying weight. You can lend a book, read it everywhere, stow it anywhere, hide treasures in it.  The best-loved books are dog-eared, coffee-stained, and inscribed: carrying memories locked into untold brain networks by all the experiences you had when reading it.

And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words…― Cornelia Funke (Inkheart)

A book works at my speed, comfortable and slow, faster when I want it to be, then slow again. Many of my books are old friends.– Jack Lasenby (interview here).

When you read a great book, you don’t escape from life, you plunge deeper into it….And for this serious task of imaginative discovery and self-discovery, there is and remains one perfect symbol: the printed book.– Julian Barnes

Inside a Beehive

December 2nd, 2017

A honeycomb is made from wax produced by bees, and shaped into near perfect hexagons. The comb is not only a pantry for storing honey, it’s also the bee’s kitchen, nursery, bedroom and dance floor. This photo shows cells in the comb used to store honey – the bees put a layer of white wax ‘capping’ over the honey to preserve it.

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This next photo shows cells used to raise baby bees (the white larvae are visible in some cells). These larval cells are then capped so the bee can develop into an adult. Lovely photos by artist Claire Beynon (click to enlarge).

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Gecko Book

November 4th, 2017

My new Nature Stroybook, Gecko, is about a day in the life of a gecko, as he hunts for food in the jungle and is himself hunted by deadly predators. With stunning illustrations by Brian Lovelock and published internationally by Walker Books. Learn more about Geckos.

Reading and the Brain

October 1st, 2017

Reading a book leaves us with new neural pathways. Gail Rebuck (Humans Have the Need To Read)

Reading can be learned only because of the brain’s plastic design, and when reading takes place, that individual brain is forever changed. Maryanne Wolf

Readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative… using brain regions that closely mirror those involved when people perform, imagine, or observe similar real-world activities. Washington University

We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically. – Gregory Berns (Emory University)

spencer5mths

Photo: My grandson, Spencer, 5 months old

Best Opening Sentences

September 2nd, 2017

Never open a book with weather.– Elmore Leonard (10 Rules For Writing)

The best opening sentences in novels take the reader captive immediately – they introduce character, setting and problem; they fire the imagination; and the action is clear:

Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on … that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.– Kurt Vonnegut

(Vonnegut’s own Breakfast of Champions begins, “This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.”)

My favourite opening from a children’s novel is from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, deftly introducing people, place, and problem in a single sentence:

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Test Yourself

Match these classic openings from children’s novels to the titles below.

1. All children, except one, grow up.

2. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

3.The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff.

4. Here I am, Ralph William Mountfield, banished to my bedroom on Christmas Day.

5. Keith the boy in the rumpled shorts and shirt, did not know he was being watched as he entered Room 215 of the Mountain View Inn.

6. My father is put in the stocks again! Oh! the injustice of it!

7. When Old Tip lost his bark, Uncle Trev had to teach his horse to bark and chase the cows up to the shed for milking.

8. It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.

9. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

Titles: The Iron Man, I Capture The Castle, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Devil-in-the-Fog, Matilda, The More the Merrier, Uncle Trev, Peter Pan

More: Advice for writing an effective opening (Jacob Appel).

 charlotte's web

Jane Goodall – Reason For Hope

August 1st, 2017

Jane Goodall’s memoir, Reason For Hope, is certainly that – her life in an inspiration in difficult times. The book covers her childhood in WW2; her studies of chimpanzees which revolutionised biology; and her development work via the Goodall Institute. The writing is honest and poetic, and I like the way she integrates science with her beliefs (which embrace several traditions). Here’s a link to an interview with Jane Goodall; and quotes from the book:

Each one of us matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference.

We either agree with Macbeth that life is nothing more than a ‘tale told by an idiot’, a purposeless emergence of life-forms…or we believe that, as Teilhard de Chardin put it, ‘There is something afoot in the universe, something that looks like gestation and birth.’

Yes, my child, go out into the world; walk slow
And silent, comprehending all, and by and by
Your soul, the Universe, will know
Itself: the Eternal I.

goodallbook

Bees Tell The Time

July 1st, 2017

Honey bees have a body clock to keep track of time – this is vital because flowers produce nectar at different hours of the day – eg. dandelions at about 9AM. We have a similar inner clock but most of us rely on outer clocks to tell the time. If our devices were removed we’d probably revive our body clock. Bees learn very quickly: scientists trained some bees to feed (on sugar water) at 10.30AM, and after that the bees turned up at exactly that time to be fed every day.

LOTUS

 

Peake Pirate

June 4th, 2017

Not another pirate picture book! Yes, but a beautifully offbeat one. Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor (1939) is a masterpiece of illustration by the artist/novelist Mervyn Peake (author of the intricate Gormenghast trilogy). His pirate Captain has a mid-life crisis on a weird pink island where he discovers ‘a creature as bright as butter’ who inspires him to ‘drop out’ (the creature looks ‘like Bob Dylan with cocker-spaniel ears’ – NY Times.) Peake’s son, Fabian, says his father always wanted to live on an island ‘living a bohemian life free from the pressures of modern society’. See more of Peake’s incredible illustrations.

capatainslaughterboard

The Day Boy and the Night Girl

May 7th, 2017

The Day Boy and the Night Girl (1879) is a fairy tale by George MacDonald about a witch who raises two children in a bizarre experiment – the girl, Nycteris, never sees the sunlight, and the boy, Photogen, never sees the night. The two escape and meet at the twilight hour to help each other overcome their fears of dark and light. It’s an eerie romantic allegory which also subverts male/female fairy tale roles. MacDonald was an unorthodox preacher turned writer whose fantasy tales inspired both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. My favourite is The Light Princess (1864) a witty story about a feisty  princess who has lost her gravity – she floats like a helium balloon and can’t take anything seriously, even a prince who gives up his life for her.

MacDonald occupied a major position in the intellectual life of his Victorian contemporaries. His stories are profoundly experimental and subversive. – (The Complete Fairy Tales of George MacDonald)

Plant Intelligence

April 6th, 2017

Plants have between 15 and 20 senses, including smelling, tasting, and sensing light and sounds. The root tips are especially ‘intelligent’: sensing gravity, water, light, pressure, hardness, volume, nutrients, toxins, microbes, and messages from other plants. Here are some remarkable examples of plant behaviour:

  • Some corn plants emit a scent when caterpillars attack them, and the scent attracts parasitic wasps which then eat the caterpillars.
  • Many plants produce caffeine, a drug which encourages bees to remember the plants and return to pollinate them.
  • Forest trees use a ‘wood-wide-web’ of underground fungi through which they deliver food and water to other trees in need, and also signal others about insect attack.
  • Plants eat sunlight!

Read more about intelligent plants in this excellent essay by Michael Pollan.

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King of the Golden River

March 11th, 2017

The King of the Golden River (1841) by John Ruskin is a children’s morality tale that still speaks loudly. It’s unique among fairy tales in having a punchy environmental and social message as well as being highly atmospheric. It’s about two brothers who exploit the land and have no compassion for their workers:

They shot the blackbirds, because they pecked the fruit; and killed the hedgehogs, lest they should suck the cows; they poisoned the crickets for eating the crumbs in the kitchen; and smothered the cicadas, which used to sing all summer in the lime-trees.

Their fertile valley becomes a wasteland and is cursed by the Southwest Wind (illustration below by Richard Doyle). To break the curse the brothers must journey to the Golden River but they fail to help the people they meet on the way. Their younger brother cares for the needy and as a result is saved from the fate of his brothers.

The Importance Of Living

February 5th, 2017

Thoughts from The Importance of Living (1938) by Lin Yutang, Chinese philosopher and inventor.

On writers:

Every word has a life and a personality. A writer always has an instinctive interest in words.

Writing is but the expression of one’s own nature or character… style is not a method, a system or even a decoration; it is but the total impression that the reader gets of the quality of the writer’s mind.

A writer in the ‘familiar’ style speaks in an unbuttoned mood. He completely exposes his weaknesses, and is therefore disarming.

A literary masterpiece is like a stretch of nature itself, well-formed in its formlessness…

On readers:

The ancient peoples called books ‘limp volumes’ and ‘soft volumes’; therefore the best style of reading a book is the leisurely style. In this mood, one develops patience for everything.

I regard the discovery of one’s favourite author as the most critical event in one’s intellectual development. Like a man falling in love with his sweetheart at first sight, everything is right…

A good reader turns an author inside out, like a beggar turning his coat inside out in search of fleas… an itch is a great thing.

linyutang

Am I Stardust?

January 7th, 2017

Am I really made of stardust? Yes, many of my (and your) atoms were made in dying stars – when the stars exploded (‘supernova’) the atoms were flung into the universe and eventually became planets and plankton and people. The atoms themselves have not changed but were constantly recycled into different matter – those same atoms of stardust make up 93% of my body mass (some are hydrogen atoms which are actually Big Bang dust). That means I’m billions of years old… which is strange but oddly hopeful.

‘Our presence in the universe is deeply rooted in this cosmic history.’– Marco Bersanelli, physicist.

puppisMy Mum and Dad? The remnants of two ancient supernova explosions, Puppis and Vela. Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Pinocchio

December 16th, 2016

Would it be possible to find a more ungrateful boy, or one with less heart than I have! – Pinocchio

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (1882) is a rare thing: an archetypal story for children. The puppet-boy represents every disobedient, lazy child who must face life’s hardships, find parental love and grow up. It can also be read as a Christian allegory, a snapshot of society or as a myth. The language of this classic has barely dated. The best recent version is illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, capturing all the pathos of the tale – his iconic artwork combines painterly detail with cinematic angles. This dark, humourous adventure is a far cry from the sanitized (but beautiful!) Disney movie version.

pinocchiocover

Honey Bee Quotes

November 5th, 2016

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour – Isaac Watts

For a long life, breakfast daily on honey. – Pythagoras

Human beings have fabricated the illusion that they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services… – Achim Steiner

Life is all one – as big as the world and as small as a honey bee.  – Hattie Ellis

Bees – their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers. – Ray Bradbury

We have rather chosen to fill our hives with honey and wax; thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light. – Jonathan Swift

The comb of the hive bee is absolutely perfect. – Charles Darwin

COMB

Best Plants For Bees

October 1st, 2016

Honey bees are the glue that holds our agricultural system together…Hannah Nordhaus

One cause of the current honey bee decline is monocultural farming: bees are starving because of a lack of flower diversity. You can help by planting bee-friendly fruit trees, bushes, herbs and wild flowers, such as:
  • Nectar-rich flowers: clovers and mimosa; rosemary, thyme and sage; koromiko and veronicas; brassicas; dandelion, sunflower, dahlias, cosmos, and zinnia
  • Bluish-purple flowers such as Californian lilac, erica, and lavender
  • Flowers that bloom at different times in the year

LAVENDER copy                                                             Photo of lavender by Sarah Anderson

 

 

Feeding The World

September 4th, 2016

About 2 billion people, mostly woman and children, are undernourished. But there’s enough food on Earth to feed everyone. It’s partly a problem of distribution and diet:

The world’s farmers produce enough calories today to feed 9 billion people. – Joel K Bourne Jr (The End of Plenty)

This food is produced mainly in the wealthier, developed countries which also eat more meat and dairy products than others – over two-thirds of the world’s farmland is used to grow feed for livestock. There’s certainly enough money: the world’s military spending is $1.5 trillion/year – just $30 billion of that could feed the hungry for a year.

Every 10 seconds we lose a child to hunger… we know how to fix this problem…

…says Josette Sheeran, head of the World Food Program. Her ideas for solving the hunger problem include:

  • Encouraging breast-feeding: in poor countries only a tiny percentage of mothers breast-feed their children.
  • Food banks: the community tops them up in good times with ‘food interest’ ready for use in lean times.
  • Malnutrition-busting food packs: made from chick-peas and nutrients and costing only 17 cents a packet.
  • Feeding children at schools: meals cost 25 cents a day and it also pushes up rates of girls’ attendance.

Why War?

August 14th, 2016

There are many potent alternatives to military intervention which are often not pursued. The peace scholar, Gene Sharp, listed 198 non-violent alternatives including noncooperation, protest, sanctions, persuasion, and nonviolent intervention. The world spends about $1.6 trillion a year on the machineries of war – imagine if this was invested in  fighting poverty, in education and health care. Research shows that non-violent campaigns during the last century were more successful than wars in bringing change. When unarmed civilians gather in their thousands on the streets, people power has an impact.

It is the great challenge of our time: how to achieve justice — with struggle, but without war.– Howard Zinn

Video: Jamila Raqib promotes nonviolent resistance to people living under tyranny — and there’s a lot more to it than street protests:

 

 

Connections

July 23rd, 2016

We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.– Ray Bradbury

The human brain:

  • 85 billion neurons (nerve cells)
  • Each neuron is unique
  • Each neuron connects to 10,000 other neurons
  • That’s up to 1,000 trillion connections possible

The universe is not composed of mere matter, but of mind stuff. – Charles Birch

Photo: ‘Facebook’, my limestone bookends inspired by a Polynesian mask.

Chris van Allsburg Books

June 24th, 2016

Rare is the American child who finishes school without at least once being asked to write a story based on one of the eerie, enigmatically captioned illustrations from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.– Meghan Gurdon

Picture books by Chris van Allsburg are not only beautifully illustrated, the stories are open to wide interpretation, which makes them ideal for children. It’s impossible to look at the pictures in Harris Burdick without imagining a story. (There’s also a spinoff, Chronicles of Harris Burdick, short stories by writers including Stephen King and Lemony Snickett). My other surreal favourites are Bad Day at Riverbend, about a black and white cowboy town attacked by a crayon – and The Wretched Stone, about a strange glowing stone which makes the people regress intellectually.

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Puriri Moth

May 29th, 2016

There are few butterflies in New Zealand but there are over 1,650 species of moth (most are found only here) which are important pollinators. The largest is the beautiful puriri, which can be up to 15 cm across its velvety wings. It spends four years as a caterpillar eating rotten wood, then changes into a moth that lives for only a few days.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Puriri Moth, © Robert Hoare (used with permission). Click to enlarge.

Don’t Cross The Line – Review

May 9th, 2016

Gecko Press‘ latest picture book is that rare beast, a message book that also entertains – it’s also artfully designed with eight blank pages and sixty characters! In Don’t Cross the Line by Isabel Minhó Martins, an army general orders a guard to keep the right-hand page of the book blank. But a crowd of people build up on the border, desperately wanting to use the space. What can the guard do? People power succeeds in the end. It’s those eight blank pages that will speak to all ages about freedom:  children see an empty space and want to play in it; teenagers ask why it’s forbidden; and adults see the injustice in it. A wonderful concept with lively illustrations by Bernardo Carvalho. (Read about Peace books for children here)

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Last Child In The Woods

April 23rd, 2016

Just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may also very well need contact with nature.

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv is an inspiring book about how to prevent ‘nature deficit’ in children. Children today are often more aware of threats to the environment (climate change, extinction, pollution) than they are of the environment itself.

If we fill our classrooms with examples of environmental abuse, we may be engendering a subtle form of dissociation. Lacking direct experience of nature children begin to associate it with fear and apocalypse.

Louv brings together a body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development. He takes a positive approach by offering practical solutions in your own backyard.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts…It is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world. – Rachel  Carson

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