What time is the street ballet?

The ballet of the good city [footpath] never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.

-Jane Jacobs

 

The diversity of urban life lends itself to street ballet every minute every day. As diversity has a spectrum, so echoes the spectrum of the street ballet. The Meanwood ballet’s got nothing on the St Kilda’s ballet. And I would say St Kilda’s street ballet is akin to Venice Beach’s ballet. No destinations? No people. No people? No ballet. William H Whyte was right. People are attracted to people. In neighbourhoods, that means that there are places to see and be seen.

Lucia’s Neigbourhood by Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek elucidates the manifold footpath improvisations occurring in one girl’s neighbourhood. Like Have you Seen my Dragon? or Footpath Flowers, a child walks through the neighbourhood. The intent here, however, is to give you a tour. From an early morning walk through the park, to the opening of the corner shops all the way through evening night markets, Lucia narrates the life of the people in her neighbourhood. She even lends cultural credo by talking about the Senhor Da Pedra festival where the street is decorated like Portugal. Lucia talks about porches, grandmas sitting in the sun, teenagers hanging out and the comings and goings of the tram driver. Illustrations are digitally rendered and are significantly replete with people.

Ankle biter 1 indulged me with this book. It’s not his thing. It encapsulates what he already lives. Honestly, he’d rather live it than read it. (And so he should). The problem with the tour concept is that for him, nothing happens. There’s no ‘adventure’ for him. (This book or this book provides ‘adventures’). It illustrates ‘community’ with all the people out and about but honestly, the static of the scenes doesn’t invite him to participate. Perhaps this will come back out when he’s ready to practice reading. Ahhhh for him to recognise the words ‘street ballet’, ‘neighborhood’ (even sans ‘u’) and porches.

I won’t lie. I ordered this week’s book right off the bat when I read that “seven-year-old-Lucia” was learning about Jane Jacobs. I should have read the title. It’s not blatantly about Jane; it’s about Lucia. This book, however, elucidates the type of neighbourhood that Jane would advocate. There is high movement and involvement among and between people due to the density, mixed neighbourhood uses and small street blocks. This is probably a cheeky primer for undergrads. For children, meh. Although this book is based on Montrose Avenue which has been internationally celebrated. Perhaps better as a moving piece rather than a static one?

Our street ballet usually involves dogs and small kids and sometimes a perusal of our library. Slowly the delight of the daily improv will radiate here. So what time is the street ballet? Depends. Who’s out on your street? What about your neighbourhood attracts other people?

A Free Passport to the World

Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

-Henry James

I do love me a good summer. Summer for me has always meant days immersed in the sun languished in the Channel Islands, Albuquerque tribal lands, an Avonlea farmhouse, the Concord forest. Distant adventures courtesy of the pages of a book. No, not a passport but a bonafide book book. It’s no secret, if you’ve been following along, we love books here. A true passport for a quick getaway, an endless holiday or something inbetween. The library has always been and always remain our travel consultant for our holidaying minds.

This week’s book humbles us. Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra is about a little girl Ana who loves making stories yet owns one book. One day along with the other village children, Ana encounters a man with two donkeys, Alfa and Beto with a sign that reads, Biblioburro (translated: donkey library). This moving library offers children the opportunity to borrow books for a few weeks. In the interim, Ana reads and dreams new stories. She waits for the Biblioburro to return. When they do, she has a surprise for the librarian. The illustrations are stunning with surreal mural montages that celebrate village living and whimsical imagination. It includes a glossary of Spanish terms used in the book.

Anklebiter 1 has recently relished the ‘story’. Move over picture books. He’ll sit and look at images but likes to listen to the unfolding narrative. He loved the notion of burros (donkeys) and a traveling library. He had many questions about Ana’s stories. “Why does the bird have legs?” “Can I fly on a butterfly plane?” He says ‘libro’ (book). This libro has been on rotation for a few weeks now. That says something.

I adore this book because it is inspired by Luis Soriano Bohorquez’s own acts of literary kindness. Bohorquez and his two trusty donkeys deliver books to children living in remote Columbian villages. It opened up my eyes to the various forms of libraries as well as the pulp deficiencies many children experience. An urban imagined for children should always include access to books. With free access to several libraries, we are fortunate and rather spoilt for stories both fiction and factual. Libraries need not always be brick and mortar. And we are sharing the wealth. Before television, before cars and video games, there were books. Books transport us and library cards are the true passports. Where will you travel during these remaining days of a northern hemispheric summer?

Have we lost the art of wonder?

wonder. N. a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable or unfamiliar.

 

Even before the anklebiters (and perhaps more so now that they’re here), I have tried to relish in the serendipity of the everyday. The chance to see or experience how the world unfolds in the great outdoors. Both manmade and natural. Framing the world through these eyes has more than once urged others to see the world anew. “You see things differently.” Sure, it started in childhood because how could we not be impressed with water flowing from the sink or wind rustling through the trees or the tickling softness of a brown black caterpillar about to feast on the strawberry reserved for mum’s special treat? Somewhere along the line, boys and pop music and jolly ranchers obscured the vision but added alternative bouts of wonder. But an eighth grade English teacher re-invigorated these eyes, asking to scribble thoughts in a weeklong exercise of observation. And observe I did. The skies opened up with sherbet surprises announcing dusk. Silhouettes of Joshua trees square-danced in the moonlight. I remembered to look up and out and I haven’t stopped. I’ve been lucky. I haven’t lost the art of wonder.

This week’s book is the graphic corollary to my research. Children are experiential beings; they interact with the stimulus around them. Walking is just not walking it is truly the art of wonder. Sidewalk Flowers (or here abroad known as Footpath Flowers) written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith visually entertains such ideas. It is a graphic novella sans words and follows the neighbourhood escapade of a father and daughter. Daughter is enrobed in a red hooded jumper that contrasts with the black and white depictions of the neighbourhood. As Father and Daughter traverse the footpath, passing busstops, shopfronts, park benches, the scenery starts blooming. Colours slowly filter in as Daughter gathers flowers during the jaunt and redistributes such gems. Unbiased kindness as Daughter touches physically and metaphorically the lives she encounters all whilst Father projects an oblivious air as adults often do.

Ankle biter 1 sat through a reading. He didn’t seem impressed Although he did like the canine cameo. “Will he eat (the flowers)? Or is he saving them for later?” Without spoiling too much, he did have questions about the distribution of Daughter’s flowers in the park. I think this one is more for adults or older children than anklebiters. I enjoyed it immensely for all my ranting above. Being surrounded by children and seeing what they are seeing- truly, I cannot help but be immersed in wonder. Truth be told, you don’t need children to be amazed with what’s around you. Get out of your car and open your senses. Skill yourself in this art of wonder because it really isn’t lost it’s just unused.

Can we coexist in shared spaces?

 

I missed a job application deadline.

I would have been a contender. Really. Yep, whip out those violins. Anyways, when investigating the position, I came across the UK’s first affordable cohousing project, Lilac. Imagine: living lightly on the earth and a village helping to raise children. I probably wouldn’t have done it pre-kids but now, I’d do it in a heartbeat. My husband possesses a directly opposite opinion, yea pre-, no post-babies. I suffer currently from a lack of community. But introduce me to a built-in community where my front entrance is a revolving door for little ones, nips of G & T and wedged for moments of silence. Why, yes please.

This all came to mind conveniently with this week’s book The Tree by Neal Layton. Birds, squirrels, owls and rabbits harmoniously live in the tree. Along come the humans with grandeur plans for a mansion in the wilderness. A dislodged nest manifests the reality of natural habitats and a new solution for shared space emerges. Whimsical illustrations coupled with minimal text portray subtle environmental satire reminiscent of Michael Leunig. Can we live lightly with respect to the ecosystem? Absolutely, if we scale down.

Ankle biter 1 and 2 enjoyed the simplicity of the book. The sparse text allowed Ankle biter 1 to narrate his own story. “What’s a drey?” I had to look that one up myself. “What is that cloth around the tree?” The first reading was a good one for Ankle biter 1, subsequent readings were not so as the book is too simple for his budding taste in longer narratives (i.e. chapter books). Ankle biter 2 though will humour me and sit through this short tale.

For me, this book is not exactly co-housing but definitely shared spaces in an infill-kind of way. It opens up questions about sprawl and development of treading lightly on the earth and co-existing with others. Build up not out. Will it instil compassion for others? Who knows, at least it gives a reference point when we see the highly sporadic fallen bird from the tree along our neighbourhood walks. A serious contender for best book about housing development for the young ankle biter set. What about you dear reader? Would you consider co-housing?

Is there such a thing as too tidy?

As every parent to ankle biters know, tidiness takes a back seat to cooking, laundry, storey time, laundry, fixing school bus’s perpetually breaking door, laundry, sleep, laundry. I mean we have it easy because we don’t own much ‘stuff’ to even try to tidy. Cutesy trinkets, glamorous flower vases, magazine subscriptions, furniture: we bid you adieu when we moved pre-kids. So yes, keeping the home tidy hasn’t -knock on wood- been too much of a hindrance for this family.

Still, this week’s book is a joy: Tidy by Emily Gravett. Pete the Badger is the Marie Kondo of the forest. He tidies everything and everyone in his wake. Scrub, sweep, discard. To a point where a tidy landscape for Badger meant nary a tree in sight. With no trees to help divert the pouring rain, floods and mud ensue to the bane of Badger’s existence. ‘Concrete over Everything,’ becomes his battle cry to maintain pure, unadulterated tidiness. With a satisfied contentment and associated hunger, Badger seeks respite. Shock horror. His home is buried beneath the concrete. With his forest friends at hand, they replant trees and return the forest to its natural untidiness. The illustrations are lush and unfold across two page sceneries.

I won’t lie, Ankle Biter 1 appreciated this story because of the DIGGER that makes an appearance. “Why is he brushing the birds?” “Where will all the garbage bags go?” “Why is it flooding?” “What are the worms doing?” “Are they eating the worms?” So many questions and only a good book can not only instigate this line of inquiry but help answer them as well.

This book brought back to mind an undergrad class where I learned that while COE meant Corps of Engineers to some, it meant Concrete over Everything to others. So with memory in hand, I chuckled over this book and cherished the complexity emanating from its simple yet engaging story. Yes, everything is connected to everything else. (I’m looking at you fallen leaves, thank you for your mulch).

And Yes, I think there is such a thing as too tidy.

Forget about house tidying.

Stop trying to tidy up the great outdoors off our children.

Uninspired playgrounds, structured play, even our involvement hinders their growth. Play is MESSY. Get outside, dirt beneath the fingernails (of course I bought a nail brush), my goodness, what’s that in your hair, hours in the sun/rain mixed with earth parfum GRUBBINESS. For in all this glorious dirt, the ankle biters learn about movement and imagination and smelling the difference between soil and scat and whole host of other things that I’m sure manifest themselves as the days go by.

Support untidy play.

Bicycle, Airships and Things that GO! A sustainability primer

Sustainability.

Do the ankle biters know what that means? No.

Do they know the watershed from which the water filling their evening personal pool originates? Certainly not.

Do they know that 90% of the things they own are preloved? Maybe the younger one, but he’d never say.

Do they know that their veg is a little less than perfect or their fruits a bit wonky? No way.

But ask them about their favourite way to get to school and from both you’ll get an enthusiastic ‘BIKE.’ Or jogger pram. Sometimes bus. And before they could speak, trams. Do they know that these forms of transport are better for the environment? No. They just know what they like. And they like the freedom and the speed and seriously the wind on their face. “I like the fresh air, mum.” To inculcate sustainability, or preservation for the future, such a concept needs to be incorporated into their daily lives. They know no other and that they have fun doing it, so much the better.

Thus, this week’s book is a special one. Bicycles, Airships and Things that GO! weaves a sneaky spy tale set against a futuristic sustainability backdrop. Written by Bernie McAllister, this book follows a family of four bears on an excursion from their eco-village to deliver an LED light suit created by Momma Bear to the Sunnyside Science Museum. Along the way they embark upon various forms of transport: bicycles, air ships, bike buses, high speed trains and ferries. A mischievous pair, Monkey and Toucan, are out to steal Momma Bear’s invention. Will they succeed? Think of it as a triple scoop delight of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that GO!, Thomas Friedman’s Hot Flat and Crowded and Hanna & Barbera’s the Jetsons. It certainly gives a nod to Scarry’s animal anthropomorphism, explanatory captions as well as the loveable Goldbug (here represented by solar hornet). With its display of wind turbines, solar power plants and electrical vehicle charging stations, it resonates with Friedman’s clean technological breakthroughs. And the Jetsons? Well, the future awaits and we have the inspiration and technology now. The story isn’t overtly about sustainability but it’s easy to convey as much or as little as necessary if you are reading to ankle biters as I do.

Source: Press Kit | Kids Future Press

Ankle biter 1 sat intently through an online viewing* of this book. His favourite page features balloon cars. I think it’s because, other than the bikes, it was one of the few tangible things he recognises. “How do they move?” Silence and then “Do the balloons move the cars?” A nascent STEAM wonder on our hands.  He also asked about the wave energy machines. “What is THAT?” I thought they were large ocean snakes. (Are they? *ACK* I had to look it up. Perhaps during later readings, I could talk about biomimicry???  Floating snakes could feasibly inspire wave energy collection, hey?) Given the digital nature of this experience, finding solar hornet was a buzzkill- all pun intended. Rather than the glowing solar entity it should be, solar hornet is a difficult shadow to uncover. As for the story in of itself, it’s agreeable akin to this book about public transport or this book about cross-town adventures. Although when Momma Bear recognises the precariousness of Toucan’s and Monkey’s situation, I expected a tiny act of kindness.

I do adore this book because it provides an opportunity for the ankle biters to envision something different. We can’t expect change- sustainable, resilient, healthy, stimulating, whatever buzzword we want- if we can’t envision alternatives. This book helps depict an urban that I can imagine. I delight in the overflowing bike parking garages, vertical gardens, rooftop gardens, indoor urban farm and most especially the interactive public art installation inspired by this. Building an ankle biter’s budding vocabulary with ‘bus-top garden’ and ‘interactive tiles’? Yes, please. This book is gracious enough to include real world inspirations for each page. As such, there is much that can spark the urban imagination.

Whew. Will you read it? We will, again and again.

*For this review, I was generously given a digital, watermarked copy to review. The opinions here, as always, are my own.

I don’t eat green

 

Just when you think you are doing everything right because the ankle biter inhales everything on his plate, he decides to sprout his authority one evening and say “I don’t eat green.” This coming from the mouth who has curated a fine palate for gorgonzola DOP and Cropwell Bishop Nottinghamshire blue. Don’t get me started on the olives (incidentally a briny green). But anyways, there always comes a day when anything resembling a vegetable gets pushed back. All I can do is push the plate back with a smattering of grapes (a translucent green) or blueberries or rice and soy until this green resistance (obviously aimed at Genus vegetablis) subsides.

So this week’s book, not coincidentally, is a celebration of food. Nikki McClure produces a stunning picture book about local farm fresh food sold by its growers. To Market, To Market follows a mother and her son as they shop at their local market day. They visit stalls selling apples, kale, smoked salmon, honey, blueberry turnovers, napkins and cheese. The story ends with a market feast around the home table with friends and family. The beauty of this book is two-fold. Firstly, Nikki McClure’s paper cut imagery is mesmerising. Each product on the list is showcased in one unmistakeable hue. Secondly, the provenance of each product is shared on a separate page: of how salmon is smoked and cloth napkins dyed. Each mini story ends with a gracious thank you.

Anklebiter 1 liked this book because let’s face it, he’s a closet foodie. For as far as I can remember, he does this thing where he picks food off the page, pops it in his mouth and savours it. For this story, he doesn’t understand why there is blueberry filling spilling from the turnovers or what kale is. But he certainly appreciates the  ‘crunchy apples’ and  the ‘goat making cheese.’ Insert fingers scooping up imaginary food.

I like it because it does bring to the forefront the slow food movement and emphasises that food doesn’t simply show up on grocery chain store shelves.There is a celebration linking people with their food (for example: here, here and here). Local is good but local doesn’t necessarily mean family-owned farms or organic. Although I am a bit weary of how local food has somehow transformed itself into ‘artisanal’. When has grown local, invest in farmers, no mangoes don’t grow year round become cult? It should be the norm and not in the hands of the elite. I refer the non-anklebiters to be inspired by David Mas Masumoto (who I heard speak so eloquently in Las Vegas of all things). Knowing where our food originates and eating with the seasons nourishes our own bodies and sustains local livelihoods. Just for awhile, farmers of green things, I’ve supporting the other colours.

[Sources: top, Getty Images, below, To Market, To Market by Nikki McClure]