All posts by donna burke esgro

Reclaiming Halloween for the Children

IMG_3877

Sign seen in local shop this Halloween

***

I remember windy nights, leaves swirling, black cats silhouetted in windows and warmly lit porches. There was a time when Halloween had an edgy innocence that tilted on the fear of fruit bats, before severed limbs, decapitations, and hatchets dripping with blood were considered plausible decorations for front lawns. What, in our culture, drives this macabre fascination with violence to ever deeper and darker places, changing what used to be a fun night for children, when BOO! was the scariest word around and candy was the main objective, into a vampiric holiday that lusts on fear?

It’s hard now, amid the ever increasing grotesquery, to believe that the origin of the word Halloween is holy evening. Festivals were held in ancient times to honor the sacredness and mystery of death. Flickering jack-o-lanterns grinned and grimaced from doorsteps to scare away any evil spirits that may drop by. But, today, even a very young child knows that a pumpkin is no match against Freddy Krueger or Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

Parents make an effort to shield their children from violence, whether it be spurious or on the nightly news. But around Halloween, the depictions of ax murderers and deranged clowns abound. Once a child is exposed to an image that he or she finds terrifying all the reassurances that “It’s only pretend” are to no avail. It is not uncommon that these children will suffer a level of PTSD that leaves them with nightmares and vague anxieties that can last for several months. How do we protect our littlest ones from such emotional and spiritual trauma? Sadly, it is not 100% possible. Even the local Walmart’s Halloween section can be too much for a child. But there is much we can do to keep Halloween fun scary and not overly shocking. Your teenager may want to visit the seasonal big box costume shops, but leave the young ones at home. There are many wonderful Halloween themed books available that allow a child to experience the spooky mystique of Halloween while safe in a parent’s arms. In many neighborhoods, anatomic and screeching Halloween displays have become increasingly malevolent. A good way to avoid the experience of trick-or-treating becoming a bad memory is to have your child go to a few select houses, then to a party with a few of their friends. In this way parents are in control of just how age appropriately scary they want the party to be. It is healthy to confront our fears. Fake spider webs and skeletons can make a child jump, and then laugh. This is the level of scariness you want. It gives Halloween the off kilter experience that children need in order to achieve those heights of self esteem that come from conquering the unknown.

While we are protecting our children, it is important to be aware of what they actually need distance from. There is a great difference between the natural death of a loved one and violent death used  to sell products, or reported endlessly on the news. Avoiding talking about the sad parts of being human only makes children confused and likely to be misinformed. We can’t protect our children from pain. Knowing death is an important part of knowing life and children need the truth from us. That does not mean that they need to know about mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and other random acts of evil. This adult knowledge will come in time. But, for now, respect your child enough to let him grieve in a natural way for a death that touches him personally.  It is important to honor these fleeting years of sensitive physic vulnerability even though our system generally either ignores or tries to capitalize on them.

Perhaps it is our culture’s fear of death that makes us both fascinated and repelled by it. We idolize youth, spend billions on anti-aging products, and hesitate to come to terms even when the family fish dies. While it is important to protect our children from violence, we should not shield them from death, but instead help them to viscerally understand that the end of life is as reverential and hallowed as the beginning of life – a natural part of the the wondrous cycle of being.

The Symbiosis of Writer & Illustrator

4f8fd330f31cd7827908566c69a2194b--honey-bear-illustration-children

One of the earliest books ever read to me was Honey Bear by Dixie Wilson (1923), illustrated by Maginel Wright Barney. As a very young child I was mesmerized, both with the rhyming story and the exquisite illustrations-the dusky velvet sky, the deep lavender shadows, Honey Bear in his rumpled rose colored jacket…

*

Once upon a summer in the hills by the river

Was a deep green forest where the wild things grew

There were caves as dark as midnight

There were tangled trees and thickets

And a thousand little places where the sky looked through

*

Later, as an adult, I read Algonquin Publishing’s introduction to their series of books for children:

“The makers of Sunny Books believe that books for children should be not only entertaining, but conform to the highest ideals of beauty in book-making, so that the fortunate child who owns them will develop good taste in reading and in art.”

Fortunate, indeed, I was, to fall so completely and sweetly in star dusted love with literature long before I could read.

When choosing first books for your child, be aware of the quality of both writer and illustrator. There is deeper enchantment in the reading of a story when both artists work in harmony with respect and passion for their material.

Unknown copy

The Mad Hatter: “Have I gone mad?”

Alice: “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

Alice in Wonderland has been illustrated by many artists over the years. But, the original black and white John Tenniel drawings reflect best the oddness and dreaminess of Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece. Carroll was a visual artist as well as a writer and knew the importance of the illustrator’s contribution to the integrity of the story. He could have chosen among dozens of children’s book illustrators adept at depicting whimsical fairylands. Instead he chose the acerbic Tenniel, known for his wicked sense of humor and grotesque political cartooning. The choice is intriguing and telling.

My mother often told me the story about how, when she was a little girl, she would sneak down into her grandfather’s library after everyone was asleep and read. Late at night, in the shadows of the dark room, she was both spellbound by Alice’s adventures and terrified by Tenniel’s drawings. A fact that, I’m sure, both gentlemen would have appreciated.

images-4

Piglet: “How do you spell ‘love’?”

Pooh: “You don’t spell it…you feel it.”

In a similar close relationship, A.A.Milne worked with Ernest H. Shepherd to create the charming Winnie the Pooh books. Together they capture the elusive innocence of a young child’s long golden days at play…the simple drawings a metaphor for the zen like simplicity of the characters. Disney’s much commercialized renditions, with their artificial cuteness that have turned Pooh from a humble sage to a bumbling clown, are loud, garish, and awkward when compared to the delicate and sensitive drawings of the original illustrator.

images-3

Charlotte’s Web would still be a classic without E.B.White’s collaborator Garth Williams’ illustrations, but has anyone else ever drawn Wilbur, Charlotte, Fern, or the well meaning Mr. & Mrs. Arable with greater humor, compassion, gentleness, and love? This is a difficult book emotionally as its principal theme is suffering and death. Yet Charlotte’s story shimmers with hope. Williams’ tender black and white illustrations attend to the sacredness with which the author sees life and death.

images copy

But Charlotte,” said Wilbur, “I’m not terrific.”

“That doesn’t make a particle of difference,” replied Charlotte. “Not a particle. People believe almost anything they see in print. Does anybody here know how to spell ‘terrific’?”

In cases in which a wonderful writer is also an accomplished illustrator, such as the works of Maurice Sendak, Rudyard Kipling, or William Blake, the reader is twice blessed with this deeper plunge into the original story creator’s mind. The fantastical fracas of Sendak, the exotica of Kipling, and the metaphysicality of Blake are omnipresent; as much in each brushstroke as in each word.

Unknown-3 copy

“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”

Although Antoine de Saint-Exupery never considered himself a visual artist, who can help but fall in love with the earnest Little Prince? The spareness of Exupery’s watercolors perfectly express the underlying message of his simple yet profoundly wise moral tale. And although I agree with The Little Prince that “What is essential is invisible to the eye”, it is often through, not only our reading and uses of imagination, but through our contemplative gaze that the invisible is revealed to us, clear, in all its squalor and glory.

***

“Let The wild rumpus start!”

Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are

https://twitter.com/@stoneinthepond

The Way of the Reader

photo-4

©donnaesgro

*

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

 

We live in a distracting world, but we fool ourselves when we think that, by doing more than one thing at a time we are being efficient. To be mindful, fully present in the moments of our lives, sounds deceptively simple, but, especially in this electronic age, is a decided discipline.

Reading, because it slows one down and encourages uses of imagination and focus, can be a gentle bridge to serenity.

As more and more children abandon reading for electronics, neuroimaging research shows that excessive screen time damages the developing brain by creating structural and functional changes in the regions that control emotional processing and cognitive control.

Of particular concern are findings that show damage to areas of the brain that equate physical attributes, such as facial expressions and body language, with emotion. This kind of damage, combined with the rapidly growing trend to spend more time socializing online than face to face, are a cocktail that severely impacts healthy social emotional development.

Conversely, reading develops brain connectivity, particularly in the left temporal cortex, the area of the brain associated with language and in the the sensorimotor region, the region of the brain responsible for something called embodied cognition, the ability to empathize.

Studies show that daily reading also increases connections between the brain’s hemispheres.  These neural pathways aide in the growth of a multitude of complex cognitive functions.

Undoubtedly, reading makes you smart. But does it also make you wise?

When we read to our children we encourage them to be still in body and mind, to listen attentively, and to focus intently. We offer a refuge from the jangle of the modern world and give them our full attention in a joyful and quiet way.

Reading develops Theory of Mind (ToM), the ability to understand that others have needs, desires, thoughts, and feelings that may be different than one’s own. These early stirrings of compassion are the foundation on which tolerance is built.
Reading, by its very nature, takes us outside ourselves. We become emotionally and intellectually sympathetic to characters who often are quite unlike us. This creates, in the child, an attitude of acceptance in which he or she is not threatened by foreign ideas…the seeds of a peaceful world.

Like a spiritual practice, reading offers a time to reflect, to ask questions and to examine one’s own life. It helps to foster what Albert Einstein called “holy curiosity.”
It makes us receptive, open to new concepts that inspire wonder, creativity and clarity…Deep reading allows us a singular meditation even in the midst of chaos and confusion.

In an often dark world, books illuminate.
Statistics show that, after their schooling is completed, almost half of the population of the United States never reads a book again.

So, if you ever find your children reading under the covers with a flashlight, quietly close the door and let them stay up late, their growing minds and hearts filled with vivid imagery and emotion as they follow their own singular bumpy twisty  roads to enlightenment.

 

IMG_0332

https://twitter.com/@stoneinthepond

 

The Last Photograph

  • SKM_4750170618110600-2

©donnaesgro

…thinking of my father on Father’s Day -see my post “Consider the Source” for more on who he was

**********************************

The Last Photograph

He lies in the fading sun

in his beloved backyard

my father lies dying

In a tarnished frame

on the mantle

my father lies

in a frozen November

perennially dying

How hard the shadows fall

in my father’s garden

Where once I played

under blooming bushes

petals wet with dew

and bright as blood

How still he lies

his silvery hair tousled

his keen eyes closed

against the last glare

So distant, so cold

behind the glass

beyond complaint

in his little corner of borrowed light

 

donna burke esgro

6/18/17

 

 

 

Be Inspired

IMG_2108-3

©donnaesgro

*

“Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” John Green – The Fault in Our Stars

*

The first story I remember being read to me was Honey Bear, by Dixie Wilson. The cadence of my mother’s voice, the enchantment of the illustrations…I couldn’t get enough of this little book…its Belle Epoque watercolors and rhyming verses like the bells of fairies. It took me to a place I never knew existed, a wondrous place. I was inspired, in the true sense of the word, filled with the spirit of literature.

Yet the feelings this story aroused were not simply of joy, but also, like all epiphanies, laced with longing. I traced my fingers over the delicate illustrations…the glowing cottage in the dark woods…the garden blooming with anthropomorphic flowers. I yearned to be there, a part of this loving family in their rapturous world.

The next book that hit me like a thunderbolt was E.B.White’s Charlotte’s Web. I was seven and longed with all my heart to be Fern…raising a baby pig, sitting silent in the barn privy to the conversations of animals…brave and tender Fern, who stood up to her father to save a helpless runt…reckless Fern, swinging out from the high loft of the barn on an old rope…circumspect Fern, who deeply listened before she spoke.

As an awkward ungainly preteen, the intelligence and independence of Nancy Drew seemed out of reach. Yet, I collected, read and re-read the dozens of blue cloth covered editions…her ordinary world so extraordinary to me, the wide tree lined streets, the stately homes with their generous porches, her stalwart convictions, her steadfast fight for justice while speeding around jauntily in her roadster without a blonde hair out of place.

I abandoned Nancy when I discovered Jane. Austen’s heroines were women I could imagine myself becoming…snubbing high society’s mores while strolling through formal English gardens…exposing hypocrisy while dancing in gilded ceilinged ballrooms.

The spiritual journey that books set me on is a never ending one..sometimes an Autobahn, sometimes a labyrinth, but mostly a twisting path that splits into many side roads…from Anna Karenina to Chekov, Turgenev, and my first true love, Dostoevsky…from a short story by Guy de Maupassant to Flaubert, Victor Hugo, and Proust. Today the books on my nightstand spill into stacks on the floor.

“So many books, so little time.” Frank Zappa

Although it is important to allow a child in a library or bookstore free reign to explore, it is also a good idea for the parent to be aware, just as he or she is aware of what foods are nutritious for the body, what books develop a child’s mind in healthy ways. Publishing for children is, after all, a business, one which is heavily researched and marketed to be delivered in bright shiny packaging designed to lure your child. So be aware, there are books that exploit rather than respect the child. The next time you take your child to pick out books, be involved in the process, find stories you loved as a child and point them out. Don’t forget to get a book for yourself, too. Your example, by way of the value you place on reading, is truly inspirational.

Of course, great children’s literature doesn’t have to be fiction, wonderful nonfiction books such as those by Gail Gibbons, Charlotte Zolotow, and Tana Hoban broaden the child’s knowledge of their immediate environment and answer many of the child’s unasked questions about how the world works.

Below is a link with a list of some outstanding children’s books:

http://www.readingrockets.org/article/75-authorsillustrators-everyone-shouldknow

*

Books provide escape and comfort, but they also introduce the eternal questions, Why am I here?, ponder good vs. evil, and inspire us to wonder. My daughter, in her devotion to one of literature’s greatest female role models, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, would not take off her ruby slippers for weeks, even to go to bed.

Whether you find your inspiration in Candy Fairies or Candide, whether you are reading from a rare first edition or a Kindle, books will always be a journey of egalitarian enlightenment. Follow your heart. The world today needs inspiration.

*

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray

Go throw your TV set away

And in its place you can install

A lovely bookshelf on the wall

Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

drawing001

https://twitter.com/@stoneinthepond

***

What books have inspired you or your children? I’d love to hear from you.

The Wings of a Wren

©donnaesgro

in memory of my mother on this sacred Mother’s Day

Read my post “In praise of Battered Books” for more on how my mother influenced my love of reading..

The Wings of a Wren

I kneel

she lifts her bare foot to me

the skin like parchment

on which is written

in flourishes of violet

the calligraphy of her eighty eight years

a girl with wind tossed hair

picking blueberries

on the craggy Maine coast

a feather boa of fog

the smell of creosote soaked pilings

and the calliope carousel music on the Santa Monica Pier

the bearing and birth of seven infants

one born still…ashen, silenced

blood, water, wonder

the Nautilus spiraled pain of loving too much

veins run rampant

like rivers gone wild

overflowing their borders

breaking madly into rivulets

She falls for the first time

walking across the suddenly too wide street

to the 7 Eleven

She falls for the second time

unable to rise

her morning coffee growing cold on the kitchen counter

She falls for the third time

calling out in a voice

as clear and fragile as glass

I fit the shoe onto her foot

and help her stand

her arms as light and hallow as the wings of a wren

she clings to me

as if I could keep her earth bound

donna burke esgro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reduce Reuse Recycle Resist

FullSizeRender-6Earth Day 2017                                                                                                             ©donnaesgro

*

Treat the earth well

It was not given to you by your parents

It was loaned to you by your children

We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors

We borrow it from our children.

Ancient Indian Proverb

*

Earth Day 2017 took on greater meaning than ever before. Since Trump took office his administration has systematically undermined and dismissed scientific facts such as global warming as liberal hysteria.

In a mere 100 days he and Congress have implemented unprecedented easing of environmental protections beginning with the Orwellian act of excising all mention of climate change from the White House website. This draconian editing process was followed by the appointment of the fossil fuel shill, Scott Pruitt, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pruitt, outspoken in his opposition to the very values that the agency upholds, has stated that “carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to climate change.”  He sued the EPA for supporting President Obama’s Clean Power Act – an important piece of legislation that for the first time set Federal limits on carbon pollution. Pruitt is a man who Trump praises highly, stating that his new head of the EPA “will reverse an out-of-control anti-energy agenda.”

Appointing Scott Pruitt to head the EPA is akin to placing someone who believes that the earth is the center of the universe to head NASA. We will not let the current GOP lead our nation down a perilous path with their “Roadmap to Repeal” (An actual document compiled by The Freedom Partners – a group of wealthy political donors organized by the Koch brothers).

Scientists are accustomed to thinking of things in terms of hundreds of thousands of years (or light years). But, as seen by the massive worldwide turn out for the Science March on Earth Day, the boundary between politics and science is now an illusion.

When Trump repeals environmental safeguards such as the Clean Water Act, which protected the fragile eco-system of our streams and rivers from becoming dumping grounds for toxic waste, and when agencies such as NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) are being treated dismissively as extraneous, scientists have been forced to become activists.

Trump’s careless tweets, his mendacity, his toying with the grave issues of global warming and nuclear war, reveal the vulnerability of our dreams for our children and the world they will inherit. Dreams that are worth fighting for – that have always been worth fighting for…a world that is cleaner, safer, more compassionate, with liberty and justice for all.

Gather your friends and family and lace up your boots. We have seen in the last 100 days that our voices are powerful. We are all connected, just as all waterways are connected as they flow to the sea. Hear the call to action. There is no time to lose.

*

“What used to be a wish list of the oil, coal, and gas industries has become the to do list for Congress and the White House.”

Michael Brune – Executive Director-Sierra Club

*

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttwP02WXB0I

https://twitter.com/@stoneinthepond