Friday, September 19, 2014

Stories in the Bruce Peninsula

My website opens with the phrase "Life is all about Stories"  After our
recent end of summer trip to  Ontario, Canada I was reminded
 "so are places". 

We drove up to Ontario to visit my sister and brother-in-law in their
cottage in the woods (see above at sunrise) on the Bruce Peninsula.
Their children are the third generation to enjoy the cottage my brother
in-law helped build when he was young. Family photos  of good times 
past and present cover the walls.  The paneling in the kitchen is from
the wood of a tree lost in a storm, then milled is the
table the family eats on in the sun porch. An anchor pulled up from a
shipwreck sits by a tree with a inviting swing ...The anchor head
looks every bit like  a creature patiently waiting to tell its story. 
The wood of the old dock lays near the new, holding its stories....Some of the
aged, waterlogged wood  came back to Boston, to become a skiff for one of 
my traveling librarians: 
We went to the Keady farmer's market and livestock auction where
young Mennonite farmers looked over the cattle and my husband
talked of his days growing up on a farm in Oregon.

We walked through woods whose roots reached out with tales, undoubtedly

disturbing some of Ari Berk's earthfasting giants.. (If you need  
further info on earthfasting or details re the life cycle of giants, check 
Ari's 2008 "Codex Giganticum".  Every home library should have this
"Secret History of Giants" for reference when heading into ancient realms.)

I explored a cave on the Georgian Bay. My sister was eager for me to 
see it, confident it was one of  the sites  in my story "Sophia's Quest"
she was helping edit.  I agreed. I wondered if  tales told  in  First Nation
reserves on the peninsula  spoke of this opening to the sea. 

As the others patiently waited above, I climbed down into a grotto 
which  held  many, many stories...trying to absorb at least a few:

If I had not had our good camera, I definitely would have dived
in. The depths were calling.

The next day, a magical forest lured us forward 
to Grieg's caves...where again the family was tolerant while I 
climbed in and around dark recesses with a flashlight and
cell phone so I could capture a few photo memories.

We  explored a big open cave with intriguing
abstract designs on the walls. A large bird flew
out, unhappy at being disturbed.

Now back home  - I am savoring sites, sensations and precious
time with family...holding sunrise images and flying on.

My series of traveling librarians are coming along nicely getting ready 
to be displayed at the Paradise City Arts Festival in Northampton
on Columbus Day weekend...process photos - very soon.

Adventure on!  Wendy

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Words, Wings and books in Ecuador

What is better than seeing the eyes of a child light up
upon opening a favorite book...hearing  children eagerly
fill in the last word of a sentence in a book read to
them by an adult for the hundredth time...seeing little ones
sharing giggles and smiles at a silly illustration or searching
for a detail about a curious insect...or watching a child's
imagination grow wings and soar into new ideas  thanks to
the worlds books have opened to them?

In our cities, where children and parents can walk/ride/bike
skip to the library down the road or path or fill their homes
with inexpensive books (sometimes discarded by those
libraries or schools), it's hard to imagine a world with few
books for young children.  It is even more difficult to figure
out how to instill a love of reading into a child with the
absence of those  favorite books and  the magic of fantastic

When our daughter, Inga,  moved to Cuenca, Ecuador with her
husband, Diego, and two children two years ago, she knew no
libraries awaited, nor would there be many books for small
children in the schools. Raised in an activist family, she acted.
She put out a call to family and friends for children's books to
share with schools in Cuenca.  They ended up taking down 600
books, 400 in English and 200 in Spanish to begin a mobile
library  program.  Once in Cuenca, she  worked  with the school
her children were attending to figure  out how best to offer her
love of books, her storytelling skills, her experience of working
with young  children and her knowledge of libraries.

News of what Inga was creating at one school quickly spread.
Requests from other schools followed.  And so  Inga and
Diego founded:  From Words to  with the motto
" Together we can raise a generation of children who love to
read" and with this cool logo designed by an Ecuadorian friend:

 This past year, Inga and Diego  brought the library  and literacy
program to four schools, including two rural schools high in
the mountains surrounding Cuenca.

Their website. , launched this past
year. It outlines the specifics of the program so I won't go
into too many details here.  Instead I encourage you to
explore its pages to understand the program and view photos.

This past winter when we visited Ecuador we carried with us
more books and posters donated and purchased by generous
friends and family for the  program.  Shipping costs make
personal  delivery the best  method. Additionally, thanks to
donations, Inga and Diego have  been able to purchase some
books through bookstores in Cuenca. It's important to support
local businesses. Perhaps if the market grows for children's
literature there, the high prices will go down.   Although all
schools in Ecuador teach English, Inga and Diego are focusing
on building inventory of books in  Spanish now.

We had the pleasure of accompanying them to visit two
of the mountain schools to see the impact on and enthusiasm
of the children and staff in those schools and to see the program
in action and building networks.

The drive, a bit challenging at times,

offered beautiful views...

The children greeted Inga and Diego with eagerness -
excited to see what new books they would leave that month
and what story pieces might emerge from the story box when
Inga read them one of the books.

She  lays out a "magic river" to set the  mood.

Dinosaurs emerged from her story box when she was treating
the children in this class to a reading of Jane Yolen's book
"Como comen los dinosaurios" (Among the books we took
down were some that Jane had generously taken off her
bookshelves to donate to From Words to Wings.) Then
she followed up with a non fiction books on dinosaurs.

The students chose which poster encouraging reading
they wanted for their classroom.

This year they also set up a partnership with Boston's
The Learning Project  (which Inga attended 3rd-6th
grades) developing a reciprocal relationship between
students in the mountains and the Learning Project students.
The children traded videos to learn about each others worlds,
and created handmade book for each other. The LP kids
shared Readathon funds to help the mountain school establish
a permanent library at their school.

We saw the room the school is going to transform into their
library.  There will be a grand opening when all is in place,
hopefully sometime this Fall..

They are hoping to set up some additional partnerships
this coming year.  There is  much to be gained on both sides
by the effort.

As all of us know, creating a program, coming up with
a name (not already used on the web), a logo, then legally
setting up a  non-profit and website is no small feat,
especially while raising your own small children at the same
time.  Everything always seems to take longer than dreamed.
Running and maintaining the entity requires creativity,
endurance and constant brainstorming re fundraising and
ways of  spreading the word. But there is not much of true
value in this (or any) world which is done quickly with little

Fortunately, crowd sourcing  opens up new possibilities.
They are hoping to launch a campaign or two in the near future.
Keep an eye out for that.

For my part, this past year, I sold a couple traveling librarian
duos at shows and gave the funds to the program.  I received
great feedback on the concept - both of the figures and the
program, and had so much fun that I'm taking the idea even
further this year. A whole series of traveling librarians will
be venturing forth with me beginning this Fall on various
creatures (including a dragon, of course) and vehicles. My
next few posts will be process photos of them, complete
with a poem or two. I'm on Jane Yolen's  poem a day email
list. Waking to a new poem each morning seems to have stirred
latent musings. I continue amazed, startled, and stumped at
how anyone can write a  poem a  day.

Adventure on...and please do check out the website for
From Words to Wings and spread the good news of
another couple trying to make a difference.  In these
times when media images bombard us with reminders
of  the chaos, misunderstandings, and challenges our world
is facing, remembering the small productive steps that
folks are stubbornly taking to make the world a better,
place is more important than ever.

Peace,  Wendy

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Architectural Notes from the Neighborhood - HYCC kids study, observe, learn

...How is it that months slip by so quickly?  Suddenly Spring is
behind us and summer blazing... My apologies for such a long
delay in posts.  As one ages, it seems like time speeds up rather
than slowing down.
One of the activities that kept me busy this Spring was working
with Hawthorne Youth and Community Center's after school
kids  in a project we called "Architectural notes from the
Neighborhood." Landscape architect (and neighbor) Jessica
Leete and I were the facilitators of the 10 week project funded
through a grant from the Boston Foundation for Architecture.
The BFA gives a variety of grants to non-profits and groups in
the Boston area. The ones HYCC has received have made a real
impact on  the kids we work with. Last year we studied
greenhouses and  built a model designed by the kids (see my
 6/29/13 post and 6/15/12 for "making ours green")

Our historic Boston inner city neighborhood is filled with many
styles of architecture from Colonial, Italianate, Greek
Revival, Victorian, medieval to modern and everything in
between.  The project aim was to  help the kids become closer
observers of the neighborhood and  in turn the world around
them.  We did this through taking walks in our Highland Park,
Roxbury community, talking about what we saw and having
them record their observations through note taking, drawing,
and photography.

Usually when you place cameras in  kids' hands, there is an
automatic reaction to take photos of each other We allowed
a bit of that, but kept the focus on the buildings.   We didn't
dictate which houses or features of buildings they wanted to
document so were intrigued to see "their" perspectives.
It's great having digital cameras so you don't have to
limit number of photos taken.  The kids shared three cameras.
As you can see, some of the kids (ages 5-12) have fantastic "eyes"
for  design. It's going to be fun to watch these "Jr. architects"

Jessica worked on drawing with them, teaching them
blind contour drawings - drawing without looking at
their paper, and slowing their eye and hand down to observe
closely....and importantly not worry about what the end
result was on the paper.  The  exercise  helped them
concentrate on line and shape, rather than finished drawing.

 Then they moved on to looking at paper and object. The
 exercise made a  difference in the final drawings the kids made.
 Drawing is definitely not my strength, so I plan on doing more
of the exercise myself. One 2nd grader did an amazing job of
capturing this house.

We talked to them about various architectural styles and
taught them lots of architectural terms to help them talk
about what they saw.  It was fun to see their excitement at
being able to identify features as we walked from their school
to the center - "Hey, that's a gable dormer!!...I see a gambrel
roof".That's a mansard roof, isn't it?"..and to hear their
questions and comments  about the new houses being built
which we watched change day by day. (There is a lot of
construction going on in our neighborhood rehab and new.)

Interactive games always help learning...

Jessica printed  a time line of styles on large format paper along
with some terms. We added photos they had taken and the kids
drew lines connecting features. They saw how many houses
incorporate elements from various styles.  They shared the
game  with parents at our final  presentation at Haley House
bakery Cafe ,challenging  their parents to put term cards on
the big sheet next to photos.

We also  made a matching  game using all their photos
and cards with terms.    Parents and kids played the
game at the celebration.  It will continue to be used
at HYCC and added to.  This fall we'll have the kids
photograph the houses they saw being built so they
can be in the game next to construction photos.

An additional  "product" from the project was a set of 12
note cards.  Together, we looked over the hundreds  of photos 
taken  and voted on 8  favorites  to make into photo note cards. 
We printed up 4 more using  a collage of drawings using
one drawing from each student.  (We thank  BFS Repro 
Graphics  for helping support the printing.)  Each student
received a set of the cards as a  reward for their work. Extras
were made to thank supporters and to sell in the neighborhood
to help fund other activities at HYCC.

Each student wrote up a final paper about a favorite building
including one of their photos and/or a drawing; then presented 
them orally at our final celebration.  To continue the sharing, 
we put up a display of the project at the Dudley Branch library 
for the community to enjoy all summer  (The bench below the
display was made  during a  previous HYCC project.) 

And to encourage summer reading, we left some bookmarks
with drawings by the HYCC kids in the library. 

As these "Jr. architects" walk around the neighborhood and
other places this summer, we're confident they will "see"
in new ways thanks to the project.  I know every time I take
a walk now, I see architectural details I'd never noticed.
As the quote by Arthur Clark in my studio says: "Every
adult needs a child to teach; it's the way adults learn."

More about teaching and children and libraries in my next 
post, one which will go back to our trip to Ecuador. 

Have a great summer everyone...

Adventure on   Wendy

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Fantastic as Entry to Reality

What happens when you gather the multi-dimensional likes of
 writers, Ari Berk, M.T. Anderson, Holly Black, artist/sculpture
Charles Vess, Canadian mythic  swordsmith, Jake Powning,
storyteller Charlie Bethel, Elizabethean scholar Kris
McDermott, psychologist and writer, Larissa Niec, and English
harpist/composer Elizabeth-Jane Baldry for two days of
presentations, readings and discussion in a 1920's movie
theater in Mt. Pleasant Michigan? One fantastic, energizing,
and thought provoking conference. And so "The Imagining 
the Fantastic" conference organized by Ari Berk and funded
by  Central Michigan University  April 11-12 was
 ....and much more

I thank Larissa Niec for encouraging me to hop on a plane
and come and hosting me while there. After looking over the
list of folks invited and topics to be discussed, I figured it was
something not to be missed.  I was correct.

At the conference and through casual conversations before
and after "formal" events, we explored "The Alchemy of
Beginnings"; discussed the use of imagination and the fantastic
as an entry into reality, rather than an escape; joked about
being kind to the Imp of the Perverse who nudges one to
distraction...or great ideas; the art of creation as an act of
healing; the need for the artist, writer or performer to leave
"space" for the reader or viewer to engage; how a story can
save one's life; the romanticization of the "madness of
creativity"; the necessity for grounding; world building in
art and story; the question of "how dark is too dark"
and on and on.
We were treated to amazing presentations including Charlie
Bethel's rendition of Gilgamesh and a screening of the
recently discovered 1924 American black and white silent
movie version of Peter Pan. Elizabeth-Jane accompanied
with the harp score she  composed for the film. She pointed
out that James Barry, himself,  chose the actress to play
Peter Pan and told us to look for the American, not British,
flag raised on the pirate ship after the defeat of Captain

It would have been especially fun to watch the movie with
my costume designer brother,  Peter.   He's been gone  now
over 24 years...but I'm sure he was there at the conference
with me.  He switched to using his middle name, Taylor, in
college, but said it was comforting when nurses called him
"Peter" in the hospital in London where he had lived for years,
Peter Pan had always been a favorite for  Peter and me. He
would have thoroughly enjoyed the 1920's flowing
sophisticated Tinker  Bell and her  dramatic dying scene...
not to mention the 1920's decor of the theater complete
with art nouveau metal seats.

The setting of the conference in the movie theater in
downtown Mt. Pleasant added an intimate and relaxed
atmosphere and encouraged engagement with the attendees.
A generosity of spirit prevailed as questions were taken and
answered and conversations continued after sessions in the
lobby or at meals. Although the age range (17-70's) and fame
of everyone there varied radically, the atmosphere was one
 of peers mulling over important issues together.

Sunday after the conference I was fortunate to be able
to hang out with everyone at Ari and Kris's home...
more discussion ...and a romp in the woods behind
their house where trees, perfect for sketch,story,
animation,...or perhaps habitation by one of my creatures,
were in abundance.
 We came upon a troll house - not there last time Ari
took a walk.  Charles and Jake seemed right at home.

Charlie and I found this tree which called to me. Charlie
offered to boost me up to the first branch... but sadly  it was a
bit  too high..  It would have been an amazing climb.

I returned home challenged.  I loved the painting by Charles
titled "Gathering the Worlds".used as the conference logo.
"What does the world world look like in which my creatures
exist? What sounds or music would they hear? Do they live
in a cohesive world or worlds? I also arrived home determined
to finish the editing of  the long mythic tale I've been working
on for ages, tentatively called Sophia's Quest.  I reconnected
with illustrator, Ingrid Kallick at the conference and
promised  to send her an edited draft to see if she decides
it is something she might want to brainstorm together on.
I've been busy at the computer.The draft is going out by
the end of the week.  The conference and discussions gave
me an insight into the complexities and pitfalls of the
world of publishing. But being tentative never accomplished
much of anything....It's time to leap forward.

Adventure on.  Wendy