Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Library for Juana

A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Ines by Pat Mora. Illustrated by Beatriz Vidal.

I enjoy shelving in the children's section of the library even though the work itself is physically much harder than in the adult section. I smile when I see that titles which I loved as a child are still being checked out. And it's a pleasure to discover that some of my favorite childhood authors have written books that I've never had the opportunity to read.

I'm also fascinated by how the selection of nonfiction books has changed over the years. I suppose that's partly a reflection of what sort of reports are assigned by the local schools, which in turn are influenced by what topics our society currently deems important (or at least, fashionable).

The biography section seems to have a much wider selection than when I was young. Although I could wish that there were fewer books about media celebrities, I am pleased that the current emphasis on "diversity" has brought young readers biographies whose subjects lived in countries and time periods less commonly featured when I was young.

A Library for Juana is a biography in picture book format about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a literary nun who lived in 17th century Mexico. The book focuses on young Juana's love of books and study. She grew up in the home of her grandfather who had an extensive library, and she learned to read and write at the age of three, following her older sister to school despite having been told that she was too young to attend. She began to write poetry while still a little girl and hoped someday to study at the university in Mexico City because its library housed thousands of books. When told that only men could attend the university, she appeared at dinner the next day wearing boy's clothes. "I'm practicing so I can go to the university in Mexico City when I'm older. . . I want to study about music and plants and stars. I want to write poems."

Eventually, Juana was sent to Mexico City -- first to live with relatives who hired tutors for her, and later at the viceroy's palace as a lady-in-waiting where she continued to read, study, and write. Eventually she entered a convent where, in addition to serving as accountant and librarian, she produced a prodigious literary output in both poetry and prose. Her own personal library became one of the largest in the Americas.

What shines throughout this book is Juana's love of books, reading, and learning. How could I not love it? The illustrations, executed in watercolor and gouache, give the reader a vivid sense of the time and place in which she lived.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Winter Lights

Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts by Anna Grossnickle Hines.

One of the the perks of my job as a library aide is discovering unusual picture books. This one caught my eye because the author-illustrator is a quilter.

Winter, and special lights and holidays which brighten the darkest days of the year, is the theme of this book of poems. The author's subjects range from Hanukkah to the Winter Solstice to the fireworks of the Chinese New Year to the farolitos which light the way for Mary and Joseph during Christmas celebrations in the Southwest.

I must admit that I preferred the illustrations to the text because my taste in poetry is rather hobbitish and traditional. But I love these quilts! They simply glow with light thanks to the author's judicious use dark fabrics, as in the Christmas tree quilt on the cover. (See above.)

And the piecing techniques which she has chosen for each quilt are also well suited to the subject of each poem. For example, the twisted log cabin blocks which Hines uses to illustrate "Fireplace" and "One Little Candle" bring unexpected movement to her representation of flickering, dancing flames. The aurora borealis is appropriately suggested by the bargello quilt illustrating "A Sight to See." And there is a happy marriage of both color and technique in the author's use of hand-dyes in her appliqued quilt, "Protest," which illustrates the glow of the setting sun in the winter sky and the soft snowy hills.

I would love to show you what I mean by by posting pictures of the quilts I've just referred to, but I am scrupulously respecting Hines's copyright. Fortunately, you can see what I mean by visiting her website, here. Click on the link, "For Quilters" and then scroll down and click on the third book, Winter Lights, to see how she designed and made each quilt. (Unfortunately, the design of the website prevents me from giving you a direct link to the quilts.) Now that I know that she has two other quilt illustrated books, I plan to look them up at my library.

By the way, one poem in particular resonated in my book lover's soul. It dealt with a furtive pleasure with which I am sure we can all sympathize.

Lights Out

I pull the covers
over my head
and let out a few snores
for good measure . . .
then snap on my flashlight
and open my book.
Now this is
reading for pleasure!

Be sure to look at the accompanying quilt on her website!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

In Honor of Mother's Day

" How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No. A woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness."

--G.K. Chesterton, speaking about motherhood in What's Wrong With the World?